In the beginning of February some old friends of mine came to visit Chennai. I got to know them a couple of years back while living in China. Last time I met them was when I returned back to Wuhan for a visit, just days after I started dating A. They gave me a lot of advises on intercultural relationships, and also had me try real Indian food for the first time. Meeting them again in an Indian context was a completely new experience.
Auntie found a way for us to get away from the city apartment, and arranged for us to stay at a local retreat center outside Chennai. It was actually exclusive for families and married couples to come here, but she managed to smuggle us in. “They are all like children to me” seemed to be a winning argument.
And what a retreat place it was! Century old houses with beautiful rooms, a well-kept park and hammocks in the shade. Sweet tea and spicy meals were cooked and served, from early morning to night. An endless beach waited a short walk away.
One of these days was my birthday. This was the second birthday I spent with A, and he always makes them memorable and special. We started of with waking up at 5 am and walking down to the beach together.
It was a little too cloudy to see the sunrise. But still strikingly beautiful. Later in the morning A tricked me out for another short walk. Suddenly he got a phone call, spoke something in Tamil I couldn’t understand, and took me back to the house again. I didn’t suspect anything, am I really that easily fooled?
As soon as we came inside a small surprise party started, and all the others jumped out singing for me. Somehow they had managed to bring a secret cake from Chennai.
All meals were served were genuine and home cooked, but also very spicy. One day I almost killed my tongue by eating a fantastic chicken stew. It was so spicy my eyes were tearing, but still so tasty I had to finish all of it. Afterwards I drank a couple of cups of salty curd (?) to calm down my tongue. Everything was served on pizza-sized metal plates. We ate with hands and drunk from shared water cups.
The idea is quite smart: Many desis are able to drink without touching the cup with their lips. They bend their heads backwards and pour the water directly in an open mouth. And if you don’t touch the mug, you can share it with other people without being unhygienic. I still need some practice to master this skill!