Sunday, January 11, 2015

Around Chennai: Mylapore Festival

This weekend marked the start of the four day Mylapore Festival. Since arriving in Chennai, we've been told this is the "can't miss" event in the city. In the middle of the winter, the temperatures are mostly pleasant (lows in the 70s and highs in the 80s), so it's generally a nice time to be outside. We took a trip with CLO to check it out. We started by watching the hard working Kolam competition contestants. There were almost as many techniques as people and the submissions ranged from simple clean patterns to very complex.
A Kolam is a line drawing with geometric repetition made of rice flour (or occasionally other white powders). Kolams are thought to bring good fortune to the house and are an invitation and welcome to all living creatures. We've even heard (jokingly) that they're made of rice flour so the ants won't have to walk too far to get food... and will find no need to actually enter your house. I can't speak to that, since we have both Kolams outside our house and ants inside, but they are still pleasant additions to the street sides. 

I bet that guy has a great view!
After checking out the Kolam competition, we took a stroll down a couple alleys with vendors. We also saw a large number of people selling colored powder, likely in preparation for Pongal.

The CLO trip ended (as many of them do) with a stop for some delicious vadai and filter coffee. Since we had walked, we started our trip home and stumbled on the street food alley.

Miniature fair rides
We were debating if we wanted food, but were practically dragged (verbally) by a local telling us to "see some traditional Madras culture!" I don't know about all that, but the food was good.

On our way out, we saw the most plantain chips I've ever seen in my life. Unfortunately my picture doesn't really show off the fact that the guy is frying them right there, on the other side of the chip mountain.

On the rest of our walk home, we noticed that there were a huge number of produce vendors around. There were many more than we normally see, but figured it was due to the upcoming Pongal festival. It is also possibly because we're rarely walking around temples on Sunday evenings.

That's some good looking produce.


  1. Hi!

    I've been reading your blog and very interested in your experience with the foreign service. What is it like to live on the FS salary overseas?

    My husband just passed the OA, and we are a family of four so I'm curious.


    1. (Joking) It's much better than living on the FS salary domestically. More seriously, it is fine.
      The base salary that you generally see for FS officers seems a little low, but it does not include all of the allowances and bonuses you get for living overseas. I'll give you an example.

      Let's say you enter as a Grade 5, Step 1 and are stationed in Chennai. The base salary for Grade 5, Step 1 is $43,378. However that number is misleading. In Chennai you also receive:
      Overseas comparibility pay (~16%): $50,379
      Post Diffrential (15% Incentive Pay): +$7,557 ($57,936)
      Post Allowance (Cost of Living Adjustment): +$2,929 ($60,865)
      Free Housing and Maintenence (Conservatively $1k/month): +$12,000 ($72,866)
      Paid flights for a Rest and Recuperation vacation (to US, London, or anywhere that costs the same or less than flying to London): +$4,800 ($77,666)

      In this example you're ending up making almost 80% more than the "base pay." Of course you're also living in India where (depending on your spending habits) you can live significantly cheaper than in the United States. For example, our nanny/housekeeper/cook's monthly wage is approximately 40% of what we paid for daycare in the US and we eat local foods so our food bill is approximately 30% what we paid living in Maryland.

      All of those numbers aside, keep in mind that the State Department (1) knows how much people make, (2) generally expects single career families, and (3) represents the US's main image overseas. It doesn't pay for our country's image to have our officers look destitute. The pay is less than you'd make for similar overseas positions in the private sector, but the benefits (e.g. free mail forwarding from the US to your post) and barrier to entry are much better.

      Thanks for reading!

    2. PS: When I say the housing is "Conservatively $1k/month" I mean when compared to what people might pay in the states. When we lived in Maryland we paid significantly more than that. Similarly, the housing we have here likely costs more than that... but housing prices are hugely dependent on location.

      Also: Some typo corrections... *comparability *Differential *Maintenance