22 December 2011 Chennai
Today was our first full day in Chennai, India. This city was previously known as Madras, and as many Indian cities it has changed its name from the one left by the British.
On our first day in a city/country we had many housekeeping activities to keep us (me) busy. While Liz attended a vocal concert at the Music Academy, I went about several tasks: getting money and getting our local mobile (cell or hand) phone number activated.
Given our previous adventure in getting an Indian mobile number (2010 in Gurgaon), I was prepared. I first went to the hotel desk clerk and asked for assistance. He referred me to the hotel manager. A copy of my official registration materials, countersigned by the hotel manager, and stamped with the official stamp of the hotel I headed off for a cell phone store to get my SIM card. I only needed a SIM card since I use an unlocked GSM phone….4 band so I can use it in North America as well. While it may cost more upfront, I have the freedom to switch carriers at will, as I travel across continents.
Finding the cell phone store was no simple task. I looked along the main road. None was to be seen. The previous night I had seen many cell phone stores for the taxi as we came in from the airport, but today none seemed to pop out at me. I asked a clerk at a luggage shop and he directed me to the Chennai City Centre. As it was some distance away, I went by auto rickshaw. Later I was to read that this was an upscale mall in south Chennai. Yes there was a cell phone store and it was open. I presented to the clerk my documents: the letter from the hotel manager, copies of my passport and visa, and thought I was done. Wrong….I forgot to bring a passport photo. Never mind that the copies of my passport pages included a photo. All my paperwork was handed back to me and off I went to find a photo store.
I was assured it was close….no more than a 5 minute walk. I have come to believe that distances are measured by minutes. Five minutes stands in for relative close buy, 10 minutes medium distance, 15 minutes somewhat further. It does not really relate to how many minutes it will take to get there.
I walked down a busy street…past a series of lumber stores, plywood stores, wood molding stores. All varieties of vehicles were hauling away lumber: pickup trucks, tri wheel vehicles, small lorries, bicycle delivery vehicles, and hand carts. Large lorries were delivering supplies, while cars, bicycles, buses, autocabs, and rickshaws swirled about. A few hundred feet beyond lay a small market area with vegetables and fruit stands.
Finally I saw the sign for a photo shop. Eight (8) passport photos in 10 minutes and only 80 rp (about USD 1.60). I went in. I was told it would take 1 hour. I said I would wait and sat down. Someone handed me a copy of the local English language newspaper. I read that. The man behind the desk announced it would be 15 minutes. Then he said, come….come. He handed me a comb to fix my hair, sat me down and took two photos. He loaded them into Photoshop, cleaned up the background and printed them out. I also got the photos and the photoshop file on a CD.
Next it was back to the mall and the cell phone shop. I presented the documents, and the photo. In return I received a SIM card for my phone. After a few minutes my phone came to life. Settings began to be changed automatically, registration information began to be displayed, and I made a phone call to the proprietor’s phone to check it out. I wanted to add some value to the phone card (being prepaid) but was told that I would need to go to another store for that. (Nothing is really simple). I have since added 555 rp to the phone….mainly to call to the US over Christmas holidays, sent several SMS and received a call. Life is great.
I now have an Indian Phone number, to go along with my 4 Malaysian numbers, and my one US number with an area code for a state I no longer live in. I wonder if I will get an Indonesian number next month.
Oh yes, Christmas is celebrated in Chennai.
Next blog for me…an Indian pharmacy.