“Hey, my friend. What country you from?”
It had been raining for the last few days in Chennai, the capital city in the state of Tamil Nadu at the southernmost tip of India. When the sun finally peeked its lazy head, I took a walk in slippers and shorts – a get up I never wear outdoors even when in Manila. Most times, I am always decent and presentable. But I have learned my lesson the previous days in Chennai. I got drenched in the heavy rains, and my rubber shoes and clothes were still being dried by my airconditioning at my hotel suite. My skin had been tanned almost to a crisp brown, but my legs were pasty white – a big contrast to the Tamils who were dark dark brown and round faced. I initially felt naked, but I soon got the hang of it after visiting the post office and checking out some shops along Triplicane’s High Road.
It had become a habit. Checking out some of the guesthouses and hotels listed in the Lonely Planet. I always feel I have to see some of them, especially the highly recommended budget dwellings.
I was walking along this side street - the Vallabha Agraharam Street - when this really tall and thin lady approached me. She had an obtuse facies - a far-way look and a lopsided, albeit conservative smile. I have noticed her standing motionless on my way to Broadlands. On my way back, she extended her hand and I gave her a beaming smile.
“What country you are,” she asked again.
“I am from the Philippines.” She gave me a blank stare. “Manila,” I added. Like most encounters in Bangladesh and India, they looked baffled. Is there such a country? They seemed to be thinking.
“Take my photo,” she asked. Gladly.
And I have been so used to this request. Most Indian nationals – children and adults alike - wanted their photos taken by tourists, just as long as you show them their photo after the session. It is always a pleasure not having to ask people permission to take their photos. I took her photo then showed her the end-product. Then I said my goodbye.
“Give me buy food,” she quipped in fragmented English.
I should have expected that. This has also been a common scenario, but you see, I’ve had several encounters of people bamboozling me into giving them money that they don’t even deserve. I shook my hand and said, “No money.” I smiled politely. And left.
I saw an internet café and took my refuge away from her who seemed to be following me around. This is along Vallabha Agraharam street, where I found Broadlands Lodge and Paradise Guesthouse - two highly recommended budget hotels from the Lonely Planet. I shall post their photos one of these days. They looked comfy – and a lot cheaper than my Hotel Anitha – an executive business hotel along the High Street.
Chennai as marked with an encircled X at the bottom - the blue coloured state at the tip of India.
But I have also learned to take things in stride. I was so far away from home and in my last 6 weeks of travel, I have never seen a single Filipino soul.
But there's one thing I realized, it wasn't such a lonely planet.
This is the Eye in the Sky.