Rose Latte


My readers have come to expect atleast one weighty topic of global importance every weekend. I usually like writing about topics which are of public importance in a global sense. Of course, I also love writing about my wines and sundry things that I have accomplished in my life. Life is interesting if we set out to make it more colourful in a passionate way. I try to do that occasionally, and nowadays more often than not.

I read about this new Cafe in Changi Village called “Chock Full of Beans” which serves unique lattes with 3D art and a rose latte. I was intrigued. What is a rose latte and why haven’t I heard of it till now, not seen it at any of the myriad coffee shops that I have patronized for so long?

So I decided to check it out. My wife and I drove 25 KMs to reach Changi Village (I have been to this place only twice in the past so far) – probably considered as a “long distance” drive in Singapore! On the way back, we drove nearly 30 KMs. All just to have a latte? Looks like, right?

Well, we reached Changi Village with all its limited parking availability, and were lucky to find one just opposite to the block housing the Cafe. There was a lot of people milling around due to the ferry terminal just next door, though the vehicular traffic was light. We located the Chock Full of Beans Cafe, which was not crowded at 4:45 PM, though one would expect it to be. Later I found the reason – there were a series of cafes around the place, and many local eateries wherein one can get coffee for SGD 1.80. Further, had Chock Full of Beans were not covered in the newspaper, I would not have discovered it. My guess is many people don’t know about such cafes, and even if they do, would find it difficult to traverse the distance for just having a coffee.

Now, let us look at the real product offering. Of course, we came for Rose Latte and so we ordered the hot one after engaging in a conversation with the waiter on which is better – hot or cold, and which one is more preferred. The answer was typical – 50:50! We also ordered some truffle fries so that we can check out how they are in the food department. We did not try anything else from their Western Food Menu (you can view the same at CHOCK FULL OF BEANS), so we cannot comment on their overall food quality.

It took a long while to get even the coffee (more than 10 minutes), which is fine with us, as were anyway chatting about everything under the sun and what was going on around us. We noticed that there were several restaurants across the road in the opposite block – a French restaurant (!) and an Indian one with “Shalom” written on their banner outside (!!). I did not see any ferry travellers in the Cafe. I told my wife that travellers will usually be in a rush to get on to their ferry, and upon returning will rush back home, so it is unlikely that they walk around looking for coffee with their luggage.

Th Rose Latte finally arrived. My wife liked the rose petals floating on the coffee and the bunny pic on the face of the coffee. The Cafe would do 3D art on the coffee provided they get adequate time to do the art work. The coffee smelled nice, and tasted fine with the rose essence emanating from it. My wife liked it, but then she asked me to finish it off as she could not take a lot of it. As we had originally asked for very less sugar, it was fine with me, though I don’t understand why almost all cafes deliver the lattes at lower temperatures – my wife says that they mix cold milk instead of hot milk like what we do at home. So, if you order latte, ask the cafe to deliver it real hot. I would give only a passing grade to their Rose Latte, may be 3.5 out of 5.0, so there was some disappointment in my face.

The truffle fries were a bigger disappointment. The quality was not great, and the quantity was small for the price they were charging. Truffle fries usually are more expensive than the normal fries due to the cheese, but I have had far better quality and quantity at similar prices in the town itself. So, on this count as well I have to state that the cafe quality was average.

Overall, it was OK to have travelled more than 50 KMs in all to have a coffee; the question is, what else can we do in Singapore and how to optimize available time. One has to try out new things which crop up, and one has to express what one thinks in a blog post like this!

Thanks for reading a not so great post about an average experience. Let me look for better experiences.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th May 2017

Windsor Nature Park Trek


By now, my readers and friends know that I like to take very long walks (exceeding 14 KMs on the average every day of the week) and trek around the national parks of Singapore. I do not like the hot sun on my skin (which is the usual pattern of weather in Singapore), so I tend to go for my trek early in the morning. However, that does not always work as it is pretty dark in the parks and I am usually forced to stick to the roads in the park/reservoir areas, till the daylight streams in. Usually, I try to finish my walk or trek by 8:30 AM at the latest (during the weekends and public holidays). When my wife joins me for the trek, we start slightly later at around 6:30 AM or even later sometimes, and we return home by 9:30 AM or so. Every weekend day is different, and I enjoy the walking experience more than anything else. Of course, I am interested in the “Fitbit” metrics, and have written about it in my previous blog posts.

While MacRitchie Reservoir and Labrador Park remain my favourites, I also tend to explore anything new which crops up in Singapore. Recently, the National Parks Board of Singapore opened the Windsor Nature Park in Upper Thomson area, which is the sixth nature park in Singapore. I am always amazed how much of greenery exists in Singapore, one of the most urbanized cities of the world. It is the result of conscious decisions made to retain trees and greenery which provide oxygen for the concrete jungle in which we all live.

Further details of the Windsor Nature Park can be found in the official announcement linked below with due acknowledgement to National Parks Board of Singapore, so that the readers of my blog can benefit: NParks opens Windsor Nature Park, Singapore’s sixth nature park, and announces plans for a new Rifle Range Nature Park

My wife and I wanted to go to the Tree-top Walk and it took us more than 2.5 KMs of intense walking through Windsor Park to get there. The other way to get to the Tree-top Walk is via the MacRitchie Reservoir Park with which we are intimately familiar. We thoroughly enjoyed the walk, though when we reached the Tree-top Walk it was just 8:00 AM, and we found out that the Walk opens only at 8:30 AM on weekends and public holidays. Thankfully, the operator of the Walk arrived 15 minutes early, and our wait did not go beyond 20 minutes or so. While the Walk as usual is a great one at a height of more than 25 metres, with lots of things to see on either side of the Walkway, it is not conducive to enjoyment when there are many people pushing you to move ahead. I do not understand the point of rushing through the Walk which offers a lot to be enjoyed by visitors. But then, this is Singapore where people are always in a hurry. We had to move fast forward without so much as getting time to take selfies. For folks who have not visited, this is one of the best experiences in Singapore with an excellent connection to nature. Go at less crowded times like late mornings or early afternoons and enjoy the walk, relishing it slowly.

Overall, we walked close to 7 KMs through Windor Park (to and fro), and enjoyed every bit of it. I realized the value of trekking shoes – my Merrel shoes worked hard during the trek! While ordinary sports shoes might be adequate, it does serve you well to have anti-slip, ankle-protecting trekking shoes with strong grip on the gravel.

I am strongly recommending that you take a trek through the new Windsor Nature Park with its multiple trails, new boardwalks, water streams all over the place, and interesting flora and fauna. Focus on the pleasure of walking through it all, and you will realize how much we have missed all through our lives! Yes, in the past, I never did all this kind of stuff, and my senses were not up to the mark of hearing sounds or smelling fragrances in almost a forest kind of environment. This Park is almost like a forest in a city area with condominiums and houses all around, with a golf club (Singapore Island Country Club) adjoining it, and yet you will get a feel of nature with no intervention capable of disrupting the experience.

Enjoy it while you can. Have a great weekend!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

13th May 2017

A negative vote today in French Elections


Will France follow Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the U.S. Presidential Elections and the Brexit philosophy endorsed by millions of British voters to get Britain out of the European Union (EU)? Will the French voters elect an untested nationalist, against a well-established urbanite with a global outlook?

How France decides today in its Presidential Elections (7th May Sunday) will have far-reaching ramifications around Europe and the world. It will determine if the EU survives as a political and economic entity.

While I have no personal views on the French Elections, I am debating if  young, disillusioned French voters will swing in favour of Marine Le Pen, against Emmanuel Macron. If that swing happens in a wild fashion, it is not inconceivable for Le Pen to claim the French Presidency and that would turn Europe upside down. Le Pen is against all established norms in French and European society – against trade, against immigration, against globalization.

In the U.S. Presidential Elections, I bet against Hillary Clinton and won my bet. I thought that she did not really appeal vigorously to the male, white, Christian, rural base of the middle America – and she didn’t, apart from all the other issues which plagued her campaign (like the email server problem, et al). I was not entirely in favour of Donald Trump, but then there was no other credible alternative, and he easily won the elections against Hillary Clinton, though he missed out on the popular vote count.

Can something like that happen in the French Elections?

Why not? A negative vote is entirely possible.

France is in a crisis. Its political and societal divides have engulfed its core to such an extent that radical outcomes cannot be thrown out of the door. France is under attack by immigrant extremism, or terrorism. Economy is in a turmoil and youth unemployment is rising. France has so many problems today that a traditional, globalized, suave and urban President will not get far into his presidency. Macron could prove himself otherwise, but it is highly unlikely he can fix France’s problems, as he does not have enough political and economic management experience. If he fails in his first year as President, it is almost a given that Le Pen’s supporters will revolt and her base will increase dramatically. And, let us not forget that Macron does not even have any party’s support – in fact, he has no party! Yes, he is coming on the strength of a people movement, not a political party!!

Can Le Pen fix the problems of France?

Even less likely than Macron. Her party has always been on the fringes, and most people are shocked she made it to the final leg of the Presidential Elections. She has no experience managing a large country or economy. She would need a lot of management help if she ever gets close to the seat at the Elysee Palace.

So, in a nutshell, it is going to be a huge challenge for France. May be Macron will win as he has a 25 point lead over Le Pen, but then one never knows. But France has to blame itself for any fiasco, as both candidates have never held elected posts and have hardly got any experience, and may not win parliamentary elections scheduled for June this year. How can this happen? How will a President govern without the support of the French Parliament?

All this points to a hugely challenging time for the French people.

The implications for Europe and the larger world community are huge.

Watch the news today and tomorrow closely to see how France votes for its President.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th May 2017

Washing Your Own Car


Wow! What a topic to write on? Amazing. I know what you are thinking – “this bloke must have run out of things to write”. I don’t mistake you. I also thought the same thing.

But then, I thought that it is an important thing to write upon – it is very important that you wash your own car. I am sure most of you don’t – you either have a maid at home whose SOW (Scope of Work) includes washing of your car, or you will drive into a car-washing facility at a local gas station. But I do neither.

For me, washing my own car is an important bi-weekly action to be undertaken with my own hands – sometimes, I miss the schedule and the car looks really dirty during the third and fourth weeks. It happened today for me – the trigger for me was the ugliness of the car with some bird sh** on the bonnet. I told my wife that it has now become very critical for me to go down and give the car a thorough wash.

The interesting thing is the assemblage of multiple liquids and wiping clothes in preparation for the washing of the car. In my case, it takes a good 5 minutes to put together the car washing liquid, the wiper cleaning liquid, the glass cleaning liquid, and the tyre-blackening liquid, along with a plethora of some 5 different yellow wiping clothes and two buckets, etc., I then triumphantly set out after intimating my entire home that I am going to wash the car. Everyone says bye and they all know well that it would take not less than 75 minutes.

Here I go, and what do I see – atleast two maids washing their owners’ cars. No owner in sight. There are some 200+ cars parked in the parking area of our condominium. Since the owner is not available, the maid cannot move the car to the washing area, and so washes with water from a bucket and no advanced fluids except for a liquid detergent. No polishing either.

I got my favourite place to wash however, and started setting up my “equipment”. Following are the steps I used for washing my car today:

  1. Since no hosing is allowed for washing cars, I used small buckets of water to throw on the car and wash it adequately. My estimate is that I used some 15 small buckets (10 litres capacity) of water to remove the dirt and grime accumulated over the past 3 weeks.
  2. I mixed the liquid soap wash in a bucket of water and lathered it up. It was thick and creamy with thick soapy feel. I thought it was of the right mix and density, and proceeded to apply the same using a high quality wiping material (like a hand brush) all over the body of the car. This is the most time-consuming action, as one needs to ensure that almost all areas of the car are well soaped over and rubbed using the soft clothes brush.
  3. Once step #2 is completed, then the major work is throwing water with some force all over the car to clean off the soap. Sometimes, the soapy foam is still there, and it takes some repeated effort to get it off the surface of the car. This will probably required some 20 small buckets of water. One has to be reasonably sure that all the soap is gone completely from the car’s surface.
  4. Now comes the next tedious part – wiping with soft cloth all over the surface of the car and the inside edges of the doors, the boot and the bonnet, apart from the top surface (roof) of the car and the windshields. It is tough and takes time, but this is essential before any further cleaning is tried upon. Also, clean the tires with lots of water and soap, and then again with lots of water to remove all the dirt.
  5. Now, open the bonnet and wipe off any residual water along the edges. Then use the wiper cleaning liquid to fill up the container with 1:10 ratio with water. It should fill up to the brim, and once done, it will be ready for atleast the next 5 to 10 wiper washes. Most people don’t do this and just fill up with plain water. I recommend a wiper cleaner.
  6. It is now time to use the glass cleaning liquid to spray on the front and back windshields as well as the glass windows and side mirrors. This would make visibility 100% and is an essential action that car drivers need to take up, as the weather conditions make all glass areas dirty, with visibility reduction.
  7. Finally, use the tyre-cleaning spray on the tyres (generally this is a whitish liquid) – you should spray only on dry tyres. This liquid will make some mark on a clean surface or road, so ensure that the spraying is done around the washing area, and wash off any marks from the area on which your car is standing. Upon further drying, you will have fresh-looking black tyres, and I can tell you that you would surely like them. Tyres should look shiny black and not greyish black, as you would agree.
  8. Once all this is done, take a smoother cloth (like a vest cloth) and wipe off the entire body of the car. Now, the car should be entirely dry with no residual water on any surfaces.
  9. You have achieved a total car washing phenomenon, and your car should be looking great now, irrespective of its age!

It is very important we do the above all by ourself. I used to get help from my family members long time ago when my kids were young – they were eager to learn how to wash a car. But now, nobody wants to join the experience. I am sure that the children would prefer to go for an auto-wash facility and save time and effort. But I feel that it is a great experience to wash one’s own car (no need to wash others’ cars, though I felt that the drivers in my car park wanted to stop by and ask for my service!!!).

Learning to do something and self-help are the best things life has to offer to us.

Enjoy car washing and the weekend!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th May 2017

Visa to the U.S.


You thought wrong. This is not about Indian IT companies getting the much-coveted H1B visas for their IT professionals, which is under threat from the Trump Administration.

This is not about getting any visa to the U.S. As you are well aware, the U.S. will not grant visas to human rights violators, criminals, and convicted offenders. For more than a decade, the U.S. Government applied this policy against the entry of Indian Prime Minister Modi, till it was gently revoked without much fanfare. Mr Modi’s violation? He was accused of turning a blind eye in the midst of killings of around a thousand Muslims in his Gujarat State in 2002, where he was the Chief Minister, in the aftermath of violent riots.

President Obama reversed the long-established American policy after the Supreme Court of India could not find enough evidence to implicate Mr Modi and his state administration. Not only that, he embraced Mr Modi and his reformist agenda.

However, President Trump is not Obama – in fact, he detests any comparisons with Obama’s rule. Trump thinks he has achieved more than any other president of the U.S. in the first 100 days of his presidency. So, it was not surprising at all that he continues to delude himself, in the hope of achieving a lasting legacy. Not just for the next 1,360 days but may be for another 4 years after the conclusion of his first term, which is not inconceivable though there are a multitude of constituents who would dread that possibility.

Now, American human rights policy has hit dirt. President Trump has invited President Duterte of the Philippines to visit him in the White House. He has already met with the dictatorial President of Egypt – Mr Sisi, at the White House. He has welcomed the consolidation of dictatorial powers of President Erdogan of Turkey. He also used to like the strongman president of Russia, Mr Vladimir Putin.

Mr Duterte would not even be considered for a visa in the light of his murderous streak, killing thousands of his own citizens (more than 8,000 at last count) in the name of elimination of drug trade in the Philippines. How can a legally elected popular president be allowed to use his law enforcement machinery to kill the citizens in cold blood? Where is his Congress? Where is the Church of the Philippines? Where are the Courts of Law? And, finally, where is the conscience?

And now, President Trump is going to entertain President Duterte at the White House and legitimize all the killings which have happened and which are going to continue unabated because the leader of the so-called “free world” has endorsed the actions taken by Duterte thus far. How ridiculous it can get?

The U.S. Congress should not allow this visit with all its power and voice. Of course, Trump will do what he wants, but the U.S. should now clearly realize that it has irretrievably lost its bully pulpit of human rights advocacy around the world because of the completely wrong, adhoc actions of its President without much thought or advice whatsoever.

The ASEAN Summit, of course, cannot condemn any killings in member states, as that would be construed as interference and the construct of ASEAN is based on non-interference and non-criticism (I do not agree with that philosophy however). But for the U.S. to show a welcoming approach towards President Duterte at the current juncture is very wrong and is going to damage the standing of the U.S. in the eyes of the free world. There is no more free world in any case. Europe is the last bastion of freedom and democracy and even there a severe test is happening in France.

So to get a visa to the U.S. any elected representative has to commit murders – more so for the invitation from a sitting president. I do not buy the argument that Duterte got the invitation to ensure the Philippines remains as an ally of the U.S. against the interest of China – that shift has already happened.

What about the other dictators? Should they kill more of their own before getting the invite from President Trump?

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 May 2017

Pathetic TN vs Rocking AP


I was visiting Chennai these past few days.

Given that it was almost end of April with the fast approaching “Agni Nakshatra” of May/June, the heat was piercing through to the skin at close to 40 deg C. The evenings were a bit milder but still a strong 34/35 deg C. People were having no respite from the harsh weather, neither were they having any respite from a dysfunctional government reeling from corruption and nepotism.

The Tamil Nadu State was once the second top industrialized state of India, competing with Gujarat State for manufacturing plants of foreign companies setting up shop in India. Now, it has fallen to the bottom rungs of the ladder, with neighbouring Andhra Pradesh State climbing rapidly to the very top.

What is the difference?

In one word, it is “Leadership”. In two words, it can be explained as “development-oriented and corruption-free”. Indian citizens are very tired of corruption and politicians making huge pots of money without delivering any kind of service at all to the nation.

Tamil Nadu has long been reeling in corruption (only Karnataka State beats Tamil Nadu in corruption per capita), nepotism, mismanagement of government departments, distribution of subsidies and election gifts in a deficit state, lack of water, poor power supply situation even in metro cities, and generally characterized by apathy towards improvement in the state of affairs of the state and its people. The latest rumour is that a major Korean car manufacturer decided to move away from its original plans to establish a car manufacturing plant near Chennai due to the exorbitant demand for bribes. Of course, it is a rumour, but the rationale for such decisions need to be explored conscientiously.

Poor Tamilians. They just have to look a little north towards their enterprising neighbour, Andhra Pradesh (AP) which is run by a charismatic, influential, reform-minded and effective CEO kind of Chief Minister, Mr Chandrababu Naidu. He is running AP State as a corporate company, much like Singapore, with an effective administration carrying out his vision. Mr Naidu has always been in favour of induction of technology to address governance and peoples’ problems in the state, and it is no accident that AP State is a front-runner in using technology in all of India.

Mr Naidu has achieved a lot in the short span of less than 3 years that he has been in power, after his first long stint of 9 years. The milestone project was the interlinking of the Krishna and Godavari rivers, which not only has irrigated the rice bowl of India but also provided water to the parched villages in the Rayalaseema region of AP State. Apart from his many other achievements, I believe that the linking of two of the key rivers of India will always be recognized as his signature accomplishment. The Congress governments in the past only talked about such water projects but never delivered. Mr Naidu has done that now.

What about Tamil Nadu? It has been begging Karnataka for release of the Cauvery river water, has fought with Karnataka in the Supreme Court, and taken the matter to special arbitration. Over the years, the farmers of Tamil Nadu have suffered. Why? There was just no leadership focused on solving problems of the farmers and suffering people of the state.

In a nutshell, the defining characteristic of a successful government is leadership and the composition of the leadership team. If this active and critical ingredient is missing, no amount of funds or intent can do the job. And when corruption rules the roost, then you can rest assured that development will remain far, far away.

Tamil Nadu is destined to hit the fringe state status very soon, if no effective leadership emerges. What a pathetic situation for a state to be in? Tamil Nadu should aggressively reclaim its premier status and time is not on its side either.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 May 2017

Europe under continuous attack


Europe needs and deserves a firm leadership against terrorist attacks which try to disrupt peaceful co-existence of the 28 countries in the European Union (EU).

Like any other association of nations, the very purpose Europe came together is for trade, employment and joint defense (against U.S.S.R. in the Sixties and Seventies). Similarities in cultural backgrounds help in all such associations, though a common religion plays a much less role. Europe has always been willing to take in immigrants from non-European countries, though various countries in the EU have their own restrictions. Some of them are very liberal, some of them are quite restrictive. Germany is an example of a generous nation, well-to-do people, who have accepted immigrants as long as these folks can adapt to the local culture and learn to speak the German language. The history of Europe is laden with wars and refugees, and crimes against humanity, so it is not surprising that the Europeans are more open than others to war refugees.

However, we will soon find out if Europeans remain tolerant to the vagaries of the refugee influx, especially from Syria and certain other Middle Eastern countries. France is a case in point. Paris has been diligently attacked by terrorists who do not like the French way of living. While it is easy to cast aspersions on a particular religion for these incidents (including the one last week), the French people will do well to recall that their freedom did not come easily – they had to fight for it every inch of the way in the Second World War with the help of the Allied Forces. They had to fight against Nazi occupation – they were refugees in their own country. It is critical to take stern actions today to defend French freedom, no doubt about it. However, it is rather easy to swing to the far right and attack the whole philosophy of Europe and the EU. What positive stuff can come out of it? Why would France try to isolate itself from the rest of Europe?

Colonial powers such as France and the U.K. cannot escape their histoy. If there are millions of Muslims in France, that is the result of French invasion and occupation of North African countries several decades ago, may be a century ago. Clear-headed, rational thinking is called for when a government is dealing with all kinds of its citizens – they do not always come with the same colour, race, ethnicity or religion.

Nevertheless, Europe faces tough times ahead. Elections are a way for the far right to assert their extremist philosophies and gain governance after a long wait. That did not work in Austria and Denmark, and is unlikely to work in France. Germany, in my opinion, will remain centrist for quite some time, unless jobs disappear and crimes increase as a result of uncontrolled immigration.

The solution is to give law enforcement more powers as they are called to face and deal with militant elements of societies. Governments have to make it absolutely clear that cultures and philosophies would not be trampled upon in the name of giving big space to immigrants. Everyone has to live together peacefully, and the message has to go out loud and clear that if immigrants are not happy to adapt and accommodate, they should be free to return to where they came from. This message is critical and needs to be delivered by all types of political parties or governments. immigrants remain as guests of the welcoming host nations till they earn the right to become permanent residents or citizens and start a new way of life. Why should they want to replicate the lives that they lived in their respective repressive countries?

Europe remains a beacon of an elitist kind of democracy that other democratic nations can only aspire to become. It should not be split radically into segments which then cannot work together in the European Union. That would be disastrous for the future of this world.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd April 2017