Shopping @ Mustafa Centre


Mustafa Centre in the Little India area of Singapore is the largest super market in Singapore which is open 24 x 7 all through the year, offering almost everything that you might be looking for.

But, it is not the most desirable shopping experience that one would look for. It is not the fault of Mustafa, it is more the pressing issue of crowding which has long been a trademark of Little India (also called Serangoon area). Tourists of all types throng the area for its historical importance, its temples, its great restaurants offering a variety of Indian fare, and of course, for Mustafa shopping. Mustafa is always crowded, whatever be the time of the day, or whatever day it is. I avoid going there during the weekends which have always been very stressful.

First, you have to find a parking space. The Mustafa parking is always full, so one needs to find a designated paid parking lot on the Syed Alwi Road, or one of the parallel roads. Or, one has to park at the City Square Shopping Mall and walk to Mustafa, but then it will be tough to carry the things you bought in the hot sun back to the Mall. The best way is to take a cab and get dropped right in front of the Mustafa Centre, but the Singapore residents who drive a car, almost always try to roam around the adjoining roads to find an empty parking lot.

Assuming you are able to find one and squeeze your car carefully into the lot, then you find your way to the nearest entrance of Mustafa Centre. It is a huge place, but I have been going there for a quarter century now (at least once a month), so I know exactly where to go to find the thing I need and then get out. For browsing tourists, it is going to be annoying with too many folks pushing their way around through narrow shopping aisles. And, there are just too many shopping assistants in Mustafa like in the past – nothing has changed on that count. Not that they are any more helpful – they mind their own stuff till you ask some question about a product. That is the way Mustafa operates – you go there once you have figured out what you wish to buy, which brand/what model, and then just pick that up. Not many questions should be on your mind – do all the product investigations elsewhere, like in those expensive malls dotting the island which have exclusive shops for various brands. Mustafa is not the place for trying to get explanation on which brand or model to buy.

There is surely some price variations between Mustafa and Orchard Road malls, Mustafa being generally cheaper for the same genuine goods – there are no fake products in Singapore for international brands anyway. Whatever little discount Mustafa gets, they seem to be passing on to the shoppers, so it is not unusual to get a 5 to 10% drop in price at Mustafa.

Nowadays, I am not shopping for white goods at Mustafa – for example, for upgrading my Fitbit Alta to Fitbit Versa (the latest model), I used the online shopping site, Lazada. It is more convenient, and I know that Mustafa is unlikely to have Fitbit. Even for protective screen for my iPhone, I used Lazada, which seems to be offering unbelievable deals.

However, for fresh fruits and vegetables, for plant nuts, for biscuits & chocolates of certain types, and for groceries of our preference, Mustafa still remains as the best choice. Since I consume fresh fruits and plant nuts in significant quantities, I go to Mustafa at least twice a month. Occasionally, I also pick up fruits in Fairprice Supermarket, so I balance out my needs. It goes without saying that Mustafa offers good prices for fruits – one simple comparison will be ink blue dark seedless grapes which cost SGD 3.50 for 500 gms in Mustafa, which is priced at SGD 4.95 at Fairprice and Cold Storage. Green Kiwi fruit is priced at SGD 3.50 for a pack of 5 at Mustafa, as against SGD3.45 for a pack of 4 in Fairprice or even more at Cold Storage. New Zealand Queen Apples (big size) is priced at SGD 0.90 per apple at Mustafa, and the same costs SGD 1.25 at Fairprice, and so on and so forth. It does not make sense to go through all the troubles of shopping at Mustafa unless you buy big quantities and have the storage at home to protect and preserve the perishables.

I go nuts just shopping for nuts at Mustafa. It is not exactly cheap, but the variety is amazing. Since I am using plant nuts as part of a diet program, I need to buy significant quantities of various nuts – almonds, pistachios, walnuts, macademia nuts, and sometimes hazel nuts, apart from sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. I have not been able to get better prices online elsewhere in Singapore, though I know for sure the prices are much cheaper in the U.S. and in Australia.

My wife picks up Indian vegetables (imported from India) and mangoes (abundant during this season). She also uses the Chinese veggies in cooking, but the imported Indian veggies are not available in the major super markets – we have to come to Mustafa or go to one of the smaller shops in Serangoon.

For tourists, Mustafa visit is a must it appears – I see many of them with big shopping bags getting out of Mustafa and waiting for taxi. People of all kinds shop in Mustafa these days, as against mostly Indians some 20 years ago. The brand is very well established and the value proposition is very clear to one and all.

Enjoy your shopping, and have a good week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

18th June 2018

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Two Dictators and their Antics


Singapore was witness to a historic summit between two dictators earlier this week (on the 12th June 2018) in the idyllic small island of Sentosa off the main Singapore island.

One dictator has established himself as a ruthless governor of the pariah state of North Korea (NK or otherwise known as DPRK – Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea). He has been the leader of NK for the past 7 years only, but has amply demonstrated his cruelty by murdering many of his people in the shortest possible time, including his own uncle. His citizens are starving. He has channeled all his slush funds into developing ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs, and his unstable government has incited fears even in his closest ally, China. I do not understand the relationship between NK and Russia, however. May be technology transfer? In a nutshell, NK is neither democratic nor socialistic – people are just slaves of the Kim family for over 7 decades.

All these things are well documented, with news coverage of NK being incessant over the past 12 to 18 months or so, with the aggressive posturing of its young leader, often against the U.S.

The other dictator I am referring to here is of course, Donald Trump, the President of the U.S. who is unpredictable, unstable, and easily incited into drastic actions. How can he be the so-called “leader of the Free World”?. Under his stewardship, the U.S. is being castigated for a series of diplomatic and trade-related missteps. No one in the U.S. government or even the White House knows what Trump is up to with his early morning tweets setting government policy and heavily criticizing his opponents and the media. He wants his way in everything that matters to him, and appears to be totally devoid of careful counsel. And, that is exactly the way he made the trip to Singapore to meet with Kim Jong Un.

The meeting was totally unscripted and was deemed to be a “relationship” meeting as Trump continually attempted to downgrade expectations, having built up those expectations to a feverish level in the days leading up to the “dictators’ meting” in Singapore. Kim was wiser, he hardly stated anything publicly, and kept his counsel, and demonstrated a cool head during his Singapore visit without appearing to be unduly excited.

Why should he be? He was, in any case, not giving away anything to Trump. The meeting was hailed as an outstanding success by Trump, though many observers thought it was a complete waste of time having accomplished nothing of substance – no complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization; no stopping of missile launches; no resolution to the thorny issue of abducted Japanese citizens by NK agents; no tight time schedule for anything; no way forward on the big human rights violations by NK against its own citizens; and no, no, no for many other demands.

For Trump, it was a public relations exercise, becoming the first ever sitting President of the U.S. to have met with the leader of NK – ever. He thinks he has figured Kim out and can handle him well. How? All by touch and feel, as Trump claimed in his media interactions? Why would he think and then say that Kim is a “talented” guy? Trump expressed his appreciation of the fact that Kim took over as Chairman in 2011 when he was barely 26 years of age, and brushed aside questions on the very bad human rights record of NK.

In my opinion, it was a waste of time with no solid returns for the stakeholders – South Korea, Japan and the U.S. It was a failure.

It was horrifying to see that the leader of the Free World has now become a close friend of the worst dictator on earth. For a very long time, the U.S. has entertained dictators all over the world, and antagonized democracies. Any one who has followed world history will attest to this fact. The U.S. always hid behind domestic compulsions, national security, and cold war antagonism. In the past one week, Trump has even alienated his closest allies in the G-8 meeting in Canada, and blasted Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, as a dishonest person and a liar.

So, the world is heading towards a circus play of these two dictators. We have no choice but to play along, as otherwise the world will be headed towards another war – as Trump himself stated during his Singapore trip, he has saved 28M lives! Totally ridiculous, unacceptable and irresponsible.

Singapore spent a lot of money in organizing this summit of the two dictators – upwards of $15M. Many locations, especially the hotels in which the two dictators were staying, and the meeting venue in Sentosa were all in locked-down status. Thousands of police personnel were pressed into duty. For Singapore, it was beneficial as it gained worldwide attention as the venue of the summit, having been friends with both sides over the years. Singapore is a close military ally of the U.S. and it also has other wide-ranging business, trade, economic relations with the U.S. Singapore has also maintained diplomatic relations with NK, though it complied with the U.N. sanctions against the regime.

Chairman Kim Jong Un gained big publicity as well – he was treated as a visiting head of state and acquired legitimacy as a leader in his own right. This would not have happened for a long, long time under the U.N. sanctions scenario (which still apply).

So, in a nutshell, lot of noise and fanfare for a very weak 4 points agreement which has been touted as something huge back in the U.S. by President Trump, and deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize.

Nobel Prize? Forget it. NK has a long way to go before the world recognizes it on par with South Korea (unless there is a merger).

In any case, visit Singapore and see the Capella Hotel in Sentosa Island – you might like to walk along the same corridor that both the dictators walked on!

Here’s Wishing all Friends a “Selamat Hari Raya or Eid Mubarak”.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th June 2018

 

La Femme Nikita


It appears that I have fallen in love with French movies and their mysterious directors.

Just saw this 1990 movie by the famous French director, Luc Besson. His style is unlike that of the usual movie directors – he has a thriller concept and builds it around a main character in a rather fast-paced manner, and the movie sequences that fall out of his camera seem to be stylish with a nice merger into the overall concept. There are many directors who are famous for their directorial output and class of movies. But if you wish to witness style in action, go for Luc Besson, who has been called the Steven Spielberg of French cinema.

La Femme Nikita is about a fierce drug-addicted girl (very young) who was caught in a drugstore robbery and assault, after having shot at a policeman. She is uncontrollable and gets angry very fast, and is rather violent even in prison. The government decides that they would fake her death and recruit her to be a secret assassin for a super-secret government agency. She is trained rigorously and then sent out into the society. She has no feelings of a normal woman. The whole story is about her discovering her feelings of being a woman and falling in love with a commoner. At the same time, the government does not let her forget her past and her commitment to be an assassin. As you can see, the conflict which then arises is too much to handle.

The destruction of the soul of a young girl by drug addiction and violence is followed by a similar destruction of her soul by the secret agency which makes her commit crimes and assassinations. She cannot escape from her government handlers, and have to do their bidding via phone calls received at odd times. All these activities create suspicion in the mind of her new lover, who becomes rather worried for her safety. The nice thing is that this guy continues to lover her instead of chucking her out of his apartment. She could have secured a nice life with him – someone she dearly loves – but fate would have some other roadmap for her.

I felt bad that she had to go away from her new found love because she wanted to be away from it all – all the violence and destruction. She wants to have a normal life, having discovered her potential as a young woman of substance. Unfortunately, her secret agency handler is not in a position to let her go of her own accord. More assignments are coming her way because she was really talented – as a killer.

La Femme Nikita is a psychological thriller and it is not beyond the realm of reality. Anne Parillaud has delivered a great performance as Nikita (she is actually the wife of Luc Besson at that time), with emotions clogging her face when she had to obey the agency’s orders. Tcheky Karyo as Nikita’s government handler is amazing – he rarely shows any emotions in his stoic countenance, and carries out his task without a trace of smile or sorrow. Except in the last scene! Jean Hugues-Anglade as the super market billing counter guy comes in a simple role but establishes his credentials by his love and affection for Nikita, and for letting her go towards the end as she will not be safe in Paris. Amazing cast of actors chosen by Luc Besson. I will be remiss if I do not mention Jeanne Moreau who as an instructor at the secret agency transforms Nikita into a beautiful woman.

The psychological transformation of Nikita is captured wonderfully via Luc Besson’s skillful direction and editing. Her vulnerability is portrayed in an elegant manner despite her violent tendencies which she exhibits in ample measure towards her training instructors at the secret agency’s school. Anne Parillaud is simply an amazing actress who transforms herself into the character of Nikita in a seamless manner and delivers an outstanding performance as a drug addict, a violent killer, a lover, a woman of substance, and a romantic whose love life goes awry at the end.

I bet you would like to see this 28 years old movie if you have not seen it. Enjoy it and let me know if you like it.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

10th June 2018

 

The Hong Kong Efficiency


I have been to Hong Kong a number of times over the past over two decades or so, but I have not been there for the past few years.

When I went last week, should I say I was impressed? Yes, nothing much has changed in terms of efficiency and fast movement. By efficiency, I mean that almost everything happens in clockwork fashion. The train from the airport is the most efficient way to transport yourself to the heart of town, and I wonder why people, especially many foreigners, continue to use the expensive taxis. I could purchase a return ticket from airport to Kowloon and back for less than SGD 20, which I thought was a very reasonable fare for a very effective use of one’s time.

By fast movement, I mean the people who are moving through the subway system, malls and everywhere else. I could not see a single slacker anywhere. For Hong Kong people, time is money, and they appear on an everlasting mission to make money all the time. Even more than the Singaporeans. People were on a rush, moving in and out of activities everywhere – I could feel the buzz in the air. The escalators were overloaded. It appeared to me that people did not wish to miss a “trade” – they were all traders in a sense.

With a GDP per capita of over USD 44,000 Hong Kong is one of the most prosperous countries (Sorry! – it is now part of China as a special administrative region) in the world. You can see wealth everywhere, in the malls which are glitzier than those of Singapore, in the cars zooming along the roads, in the real estate prices (the most expensive in the entire world), in the high-end restaurants, and finally in the prices which cabbies charge you! At an average of USD 3,000 per sq foot of condominium space, and still climbing, it is hard to buy anything more than 500 Sq Ft and most Hong Kong folks make do with very small apartments. Cars are expensive but much cheaper than in Singapore. Parking space is priced the worst – there have been reports that car parking spaces have been sold for more than USD 1M.

If you recall, the Eighties saw the emergence of four economic tigers – South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. All these countries have been successful due to their early recognition of the fact that people need bread foremost, and nations need free trade. They also recognized the importance of manufacturing in building up their economic bases. The fundamental premise that economics should take precedence over everything else constituted the foundation of these economies. It proved to be prescient and hugely successful.

Hong Kong is also the city with the most skyscrapers in the world. They continue to build very tall buildings, and have not stopped building. The influx of people from China with huge amounts of cash has driven prices up. A decent meal for two in a nice restaurant is likely to set you back by SGD 120 to 150. A more advanced meal in an elegant restaurant with drinks et al, is likely to cost you in the range of SGD 300 to 400. I do not believe Singapore is the most expensive city in all of Asia Pacific, after seeing taxi and restaurant prices in Tokyo and Hong Kong recently.

With a relentless focus on the pursuit of perfection and efficiency, Hong Kong has built one of the most resilient economies in the world which is still growing. Of course, I complained about lack of credit card payment facility in taxis which is highly inconvenient for tourists who are forced to convert their respective currencies to Hong Kong Dollars. Uber is not that prevalent, though I used it and got a Tesla electric car to ride which was fabulous. The famous Didi taxi app from China works in Hong Kong, but there was no English version and the map was portrayed inaccurately so I could not use it. The powerful taxi union of Hong Kong is stopping the Hong Kong Government from introducing modern technologies – that was the only conclusion I could draw. When I used Uber, it was not cheaper than using the normal taxi, leading me to conclude that the taxi union has forced Uber to raise prices (which happened indeed).

British legacy can be witnessed in several areas including trade unionism!

That Hong Kong is very expensive can also be seen when you use a taxi to cross the tunnel under the sea. It can cost upwards of SGD 12 per crossing, which is very high. If everything is added, one can see the reason why Hong Kong is much more expensive than Singapore. Taxis, tolls, restaurants, and real estate are cheaper in Singapore. Only cars are more expensive. So I do not understand how Singapore is the most expensive city in the world (as some reports have stated).

Overall, Hong Kong is a great city with unrivalled business efficiency and fabulous views across the harbour (and almost from any high tower). In the night, it provides an unbeatable view – the glitziest in the world.

Have a wonderful weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th June 2018

Feeling Good in Today’s World


Feeling good becomes a continuous challenge as one gets older and his/her social engagements continue to drop from the peaks of corporate, family or social networking, which allowed the “feel good” factor to flourish.

This is to be expected, however people who are entering or encountering such a phase in their lives sometimes struggle to deal with the challenge. It is more because they did not hone their strategy of continuous engagement with all their networks before hitting the slow down. Once such a slow down occurs, the struggle starts and re-connection with networks becomes an issue as the position from which one used to operate is now gone. It might appear that others tend to ignore you, but that is mostly not the case. Compounding this issue is the global scenario which sometimes makes anyone feel despondent. It appears the world is splitting at its seams with unnecessary conflicts.

Feeling good is a critical aspect of living well. It is crucial to keep going with a positive mindset and orientation towards life and others who are involved with you. It may be simple things like catching up with someone you have known for a while and just talking shop – like what is happening around the world, how is the weather shaping up, who is doing what, etc., The smiles and the bonhomie of meeting with someone known to you are important elements of every engagement, and keeps you full of life’s zest.

When we work in a corporate or academic setting, there are always lots of things to do, meetings to attend, deadlines to meet, targets to chase, and friends to network with. Life is full of activities and actions which keep you moving from one day to the next, looking forward to the future in a continuous but relentless fashion. Things happen, or you have to make things happen, you need to collaborate with lots of folks, talk to remote colleagues, prepare pitches to present to or convince a client, and so on and so forth. This non-stop series of activities slows down at some stage, and then declines completely once you retire from active duty.

The ability to feel good on shaping things in corporate life drops down, as the retired life is all about shaping yourself to face the oncoming uncertain future – may be you shape your spouse as well so that the journey to future could be congruous. Suddenly, the scope and variety of challenges and problems to solve reduce dramatically. Your kids have grown up and moved on. The only thing which can then keep you engaged in life is to develop a meaning or strong purpose.

A strong meaning or purpose lends a sense of direction to you, and as you keep executing and fulfilling the duties generated by that purpose, you achieve a sense of fulfillment, which in turn leads to a feeling of positivity and goodness. About yourself and about others around you. This is a very important feeling which we all should aim to achieve during every day of our lives. It makes your life credible and purposeful, with a sense of orientation towards accomplishing meaningful objectives, similar to what you were doing during your corporate life.

I assign a huge value to feeling good. I used to drink a glass of chardonnay every other evening and reminisce on what I have done during the day; but now that I have given up drinking, I do the same thing with a glass of oat or almond milk (which have become my favourite drinks, along with soda/tonic water when I go out pubbing). I was (and still am) able to focus on the positive aspects of the day to day interactions and engagements with a glass of wine. The feel good factor stayed with me till I went to sleep, and I believe it was a strong reason why I never struggled to sleep.

So, in a nutshell, I am advocating that you develop a sense of purpose – you should have meaning in your life. Think about your life and its impact on others around you. What have you done to help people? Did you mentor anyone? Did you help your colleague solve an intractable problem? Was that person happy with your help? Did you walk out of the office everyday feeling a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction on the role you had played during the day?

If the responses to the above questions are positive, then your ability to feel good is firmly in place. And, once that feeling is in place, you would look at the world around you in a positive manner. You would go out of your way to help the destitute, or your neighbours. You would not discriminate against anyone. Your helpful dispensation will not go unrecognized by the people around you, your colleagues, your neighbours and the society at large.

All this make a big difference to your own life, and it could well mean that you would live longer than the average life mortality figure. You have a strong reason to exist, and that would keep you going. This is despite all the reasons to feel down in today’s uncertain world. This is despite all the wars, conflicts, and other bad things which happen in the world every day.

So, feeling good is essential. Always aim to feel good about yourself, your family and friends. Don’t forget it has a direct impact on your mental well-being and health.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

3rd June 2018

 

“Raazi” Movie Review


In Singapore movie theatres, they show English sub-titles for Hindi movies. This has been a motivator for me to go to theatre sometimes, as it is really hard to get English sub-titles except for Netflix movies. For other language movies, the sub-titles are generally in Mandarin, not useful for me. I am yet to learn Mandarin despite a quarter century of exposure and experience operating in largely Chinese markets. In the meanwhile, everyone is already speaking in English in all these markets!

My wife mentioned to me that the “Raazi” movie has been received rather well by movie audiences and it would be interesting to see a Pakistan-oriented movie in a spy thriller setting. I thought it is not a bad idea to sacrifice one late evening for such a thriller and so we went yesterday for what indeed turned out to be an excellent movie with some very good acting. I do not go for the usual Bollywood and Kollywood movies as mostly their focus is on escapism and violence combined with some salacious romance. I can count the number of movies that I have seen in a theatre over the past decade.

I liked “Raazi” which in Hindi means “Agree”. While I do not understand its literary impact, I believe this word implies the acceptance of the “spy” actress in the movie, called Sehmat, of the wish of her father – to go into Pakistan as a spy for India. Alia Bhatt has delivered a stunning performance as a young college-going girl who transitions herself successfully into a spy, while performing the chores of married life in a Pakistani army family. The director has done a great job of pulling together a spy thriller without showing bombs going up everywhere, except in the last 10 minutes of the movie.

This movie is all about human emotions and patriotism, rather than bombing each other. The most outstanding performances in this movie are by Jaideep Ahlawat who acts as the Intelligence Bureau head who uses Alia Bhatt (I am using actual names) as a spy. Notwithstanding his initial doubts, he demonstrates a quiet confidence on the capabilities of his newest lady spy, and his trust was not misplaced. Even he is astounded by her effectiveness as a spy in an alien setting, and that too as the wife of an army officer. While the army family is all about attacking India, Alia Bhatt is all about her patriotism for India and the task handed over to her by her dad. She stays true to her objective, despite the love she develops for her new husband, Vicky Kaushal, who delivers a subtle and conscientious performance in a difficult role in which he had to balance his love for his new charming wife and for Pakistan.

The movie revolves around these key characters who are very well directed by Meghna Gulzar. I liked some of the thrilling situations in which Alia Bhatt finds herself in, mostly caused by her actions as a spy who executes her training in the field amazingly well with dedication and quiet efficiency. There are close calls, of course, like when an army file was missing and people come looking for it while Alia Bhatt was copying information from it and sending to the Intelligence Bureau in India.

After every major action that Alia executes, like when she almost kills the household head servant, she comes back home and explodes her emotions in the bathroom. This was an outstanding performance by Alia Bhatt, who did not expect that she would be a killer one day, and that too so soon. She is not able to stomach the emotions and needs help – probably from her parents, but they are not in close proximity to her – they are in India and she is in Pakistan. Alia also murders her own brother-in-law who is another army officer who starts to develop some suspicion on her. All these critical actions are unavoidable in her spy role, as otherwise she would have been exposed. The emotional outburst is a natural outcome in her role as a young and inexperienced spy, and she demonstrates it well. Another instance worth watching is when she really discovers the gold mine – the plan of Pakistani Army/Navy to attack the Indian Aircraft Carrier, INS Vikrant. She is overcome emotionally, almost paralyzed, but rushes to send this hugely important information to her Indian intelligence handlers.

There are lapses in the movie – several of them, but one noticeable issue is how come a Pakistani army officer comes into India so easily and gets married and goes back? How is it possible for Alia to escape so easily when the entire Pakistani Army and Pakistani Intelligence are looking for her?

Nevertheless, this movie is a successful one due to the power of its direction and the choice of its cast. All actors have performed well together and there is a subtle tension which runs in the background which has been knit rather well.

I would suggest that you see the movie – it is different from the usual song and dance movies of Bollywood, absorbing, thoughtful, well acted and well directed. I am giving it a 4 Star rating (I rarely give 4.5 and never a 5).

Have a wonderful weekend, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

2nd June 2018

The Leaf Healthy House


We visited this nice little restaurant in the heart of George Town, Penang, yesterday for lunch. Of course, we chose this restaurant based on some recommendations as it suited our preference after some heavy foodie kind of stuff the past couple of days. We wanted something healthy, made of natural ingredients with less or no salt, etc., and my wife found out about this place and we decided to give it a try.

We were not disappointed.

After some 30 minutes of drive from Kek Lok Si Temple, we reached the Little India area of George Town but got lost during the search for The Leaf Healthy House. Finally we found it, hidden somewhat, behind some leaves and shrubs!

It is a nice cosy place with no ostentation. The menu provided lot of details, and each one of us selected different kinds of dishes. I wanted to have some hot tea, so I started with “Rosehip & Hibiscus” Flora/Herbal Tea. It had a nice fragrance but otherwise it was just a hot drink, nothing special though the menu claims it reduces blood pressure and cholesterol. Each food item or drink had a rationale behind it which was fascinating to read, though I am not sure as to the veracity of the claim.

I ordered the following food items for myself:

The Leaf Spaghetti with Basil and Pine Nuts sauce – my rating is “very good” – since I was not feeling full after this small portion of spaghetti, I decided to order another main course which was the “Rainbow Mix Rice” which had brown rice with fibrous burdock root – my rating is “excellent”. I loved this burdock based rice. I also shared some boiled Edamame.

My family members were unanimous in their verdict – this was probably the best vegetarian food that they have had. The ingredients were fresh and natural, the salt content was low or non-existent, the taste was good and the selection of food was fantastic. Even the fruit juice that my wife had was “cold pressed” natural juice which means that no nutrients were lost due to heat, and there was no sugar or the sugar syrup that most other restaurants add to their juice offerings.

I was wondering why such restaurants do not exist in other parts of the world. Given the inclination of younger folks towards health food, this must be a no-brainer. Singapore should be having some place similar, only I haven’t come across it so far.

The food and tea/juice costed approximately SGD 22 for three of us, and we just could not believe it. I should say we briefly bought health for lunch at a throwaway pricing. The food was filling and healthy, and I was not surprised to see the restaurant filling up with office goers and young people at lunch time. We were fortunate to get a place, as were a little early – it is not a big restaurant. They had less than 30 seats.

If you are travelling to Penang, please try to visit this restaurant. You will not regret it.

Enjoy healthy food.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th May 2018

Few Days in Batu Ferringhi


I am sure most of my readers are right now googling to find out where is Batu Ferringhi. It is located in the northern part of the Penang island in Malaysia. It was my second trip to Penang but my first trip was many years ago, and Penang has changed substantially over the years. Now it looks modern and well built-out with several large shopping malls and many condominiums all over the island.

Penang has been one of Malaysia’s success stories, which has offered skilled workforce to many of the leading global electronics manufacturers, and one can see a line of factories on both sides of the highway from the airport towards the city. It is well governed by the state administration and the people that I met were generally industrious and helpful, with good level of English communication. I was told that the occupancy rates of the famous hotels in Batu Ferringhi area were low at this point of the year, but I found that the Hard Rock hotel where I stayed was crowded, and it was difficult to get a reservation at their famous Hard Rock Cafe. However, the hotel itself is meant for families with young children, and one cannot complain when disturbed by shrieking noises of tens of kids from the swimming pool. I am not recommending this hotel if you just adults on a sight-seeing trip coming back tired and wanting to just relax. It is rather noisy, and the noise takes on a different colour as the late evening approaches as you get a vivacious DJ and enterprising singers belting out Western songs well into the night, which means only that you cannot get sleep easily as the noise drifts up to your room some couple of floors up! So, look for some other hotel if your requirements are not compatible.

My family wanted to see the Penang Hill with its Funicular train up the hill, and so we went to see that place. The funicular train is a fast one at a steep incline which is somewhat exciting as it climbs a distance of some 700M up the hill at a rapid pace. We enjoyed walking up the hill and reaching the Habitat Walk area from which one can get a complete 360 degree view of entire Penang. It requires some serious step climbing so you should pace it out over a couple of hours as you can combine it with some serious botanical investigation (there is a guided tour as well). Good experience, and good walking, helping me to reach some walking steps target!

Another day we visited the famous Kek Lok Si Buddhist Temple, located not far from the Penang Hill area. This visit necessitated a full two hours. It is South East Asia’s biggest Buddhist temple. There is an ornate Pagoda and several prayer halls, very similar to what I saw in Bangkok. There is also a small train carriage which pulls up passengers up the hill towards the statue of Kuan Yin or Goddess of Mercy. We walked around and learnt a few things about the temple, and its plans to expand further (they seem to be having plenty of land around). Penang being a largely Chinese society, the temple receives donations from the community for various activities.

We did not see all the tourist destinations due to lack of time. However, our Penang experience has been positive with good feelings about the visit. It is a nice place (though not cheap if you are using one of the big name hotels such as Shangri-La) with nice people; and you would find that taxis are cheap and food is also cheap if you eat in the town area (George Town) which has hundreds of eateries.

Now, let me see if I can post a few pictures from my trip to Penang:

 

All the pictures above are from the Kek Lok Si Temple. It was a great experience just exploring what the temple has to offer in terms of peace and tranquillity to any visitor, whether believer or not. Just silence everywhere, except when busloads of tourists arrive at the entrance of the temple!

The above pictures are from the beautiful Penang Hill.

Make a trip and enjoy the pristine environs of Penang!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th May 2018

The fallacy of elections


Just this week we saw how democratic election results can be hijacked by instruments of democracy – I am referring here to the State Elections in the Southern Indian State of Karnataka. As most people know, Bangalore is the famed capital city of the Karnataka State which is responsible for the IT revolution which propelled India as the world’s leading software services power.

This is not the first time, and it will not be the last time that such hijacks take place in the democratic process. By and large, India has proved that democracy does work as a system of government over the past seven decades, except for a brief two-year period when it was itself hijacked with the imposition of “emergency” in 1975 -77. Well, there are many lacunae in any system of government, and democracy is no exception. It has its own share of problems in implementation, but that is for another blog post!

The federally appointed Governor of Karnataka State invited the Opposition BJP Party to form the government, instead of inviting the ruling Congress Party which had formed an alliance with another party, the JDS. The number of legislators in this alliance was 117, as against the 104 in BJP. In the normal procedure, the Governor would have invited the biggest alliance which can then win a trust vote in the State Assembly.

However, the Governor invited the single largest party (the BJP) and gave it 15 days to prove its majority in the State Assembly, which is only possible if BJP is able to snare at least 8 legislators from Congress/JDS alliance. And, how will that happen? Just think about it. India has already passed the Anti-Defection Law, which means it would be hard for legislators or parliamentarians to cross the aisle and join the other party. It is also not moral to do so, having been elected under the auspices of the party under whose symbol the legislator(s) won the election.

In other State Elections in India, the respective Governors had invited the biggest alliance to form the government, not the single largest party. That suited BJP (the party which rules India at the federal level) in couple of States. However, in the case of Karnataka, they tried to change that rule which a Governor should follow once he or she receives the letters of commitment from the legislators.

So, what happened?

In a tense 3 days of drama, played out in the Supreme Court of India and in Bangalore, the BJP lost out against the alliance of Congress/JDS. I am not in favour of either party, but I am concerned when the powers that be plays out the political game with utter disregard towards established precedents under their own rule. The Supreme Court played a central and decisive role in the whole episode and determined what way things should go in Karnataka State Assembly – it gave just 24 hours to the BJP Chief Minister (who had been invited by the State Governor to form the government) to face a trust vote in the Assembly. So, left with no time to indulge in horse-trading both sides brought their safely guarded legislators to the Assembly for the trust vote. Facing the loss of the trust vote, the BJP Chief Minister resigned.

The whole drama could have been avoided if the Prime Minister had intervened and ensured that proper procedures are followed. The fight should be at the hustings, not at the assembly after the elections were completed. Exposing the respective parties’ machinations to the common man and to the world at large, and going to the Supreme Court which was forced to intervene are not good examples of running the world’s largest democracy.

This proves that at the end of the day, all politicians are the same in India. Some are articulate, polished, well-behaved, and most are corrupt and bend rules in their favour. However, when it comes to winning elections, they let lose anarchy and throw principles to the wind. Similar things happen in other nations as well in varying degrees. However, India cannot risk its strong democratic institutions and the three well delineated arms of governance – the Executive, the Parliament/Legislature, and the Judiciary. These are self-balancing to a large extent, and each one is expected to check on the abuse of power by any other arm, and eventually balance the overall system of governance.

What the Karnataka Elections proved is simple – the will of the people have to be respected and cannot be manipulated in the way that one party wants. The alternative would be to call for re-elections at a great cost, annoying the voters; or, to bring down the government once it has been formed by legislative techniques and defections. However, it has been proven time and again that the voters exercise their power at the hustings to elect their representatives and have the ultimate power to dislodge parties which do not perform to their expectations.

Viva La Democracy, or to put it precisely “vive la démocratie!”.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

20th May 2018

 

Lost in Translation and Lifelong Monogamy


It is hard to understand the 2003 movie “Lost in Translation” directed by Sofia Coppola which won the Academy Award for the Best Original Screenplay, and many other awards. Award-winning movies, in general, are difficult to understand as they convey a deeper meaning of ordinary life that cannot be easily grasped by one and all. Such movies can also be generally interpreted in different ways and there is usually some mystery around them.

“Lost in Translation” has no structured presentation as a movie story. It is about two souls – one old and the other very young – who are lost in themselves, but in a foreign land – in this case, Tokyo. The title is also a pun on the Japanese language which none of the main characters in the movie understand (all being Americans). I felt that the movie had nothing going on for quite a while, and suggested to my wife that we should see something else on Netflix. She also felt the same way for quite some time. However, we finally persuaded each other that we must see such a well-awarded movie to its end and see what really happens towards its end. And, what did we see at the end – nothing, yes, simply nothing. There is no conclusion, and not surprisingly, there is no beginning and no middle as well!

Deciphering the movie’s message depends on your understanding of the American culture, way of living, and its psyche about relationships. It happens to be vastly different from Asian way of living. Lifelong monogamy has much less significance in America than it is in the East. We can see the challenges that Bob Harris (Bill Murray) has in his life with his wife of 25 years who is far away in the U.S. He struggles with his forgetfulness (about key dates in his daughter’s life), his wife’s curve balls (like when she says that he can stay back in Japan if he likes Japanese food so much), the difficult long-distance conversations he has with his wife, his comments about children, etc., In our lives, all such things are considered normal – we have issues with our spouses and our children, who doesn’t, but yet we proceed living our lives in the best way we can. Not that there absolutely no distractions or temptations, but we reconcile with our choices we made so assiduously in our lives, and realize that any deviations could cause untold hardships to our families. It must be the same way for Americans, but it sometimes appears so easy for them to deviate from a straight line of a solid family orientation.

On the other hand, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), comes through as a vulnerable, unhappy married housewife, who has not figured out what to do with her own life. She is unsure of herself, and does not know what to do next. She wanders around Tokyo in an almost aimless manner. Her husband is a celebrity photographer, who is always busy, and I wonder why he brought her along to Tokyo if he is always going to be away on assignments. She is left all alone in her hotel room, but it does not jell when the director shows that she has a number of friends in Tokyo – that comes through as unbelievable. Scarlett Johansson delivers a good performance in her role, but she pales in comparison to Bill Murray who delivers an outstanding, seasoned performance as a lonely rich Hollywood actor who has lost it all, though he has money and family. When he gazes through the night sitting in the hotel bar, it is so very communicative – he has a forlorn face, completely lost and lonely, and really sad and totally tired. He ignores the other bar drinkers and does not connect with anyone else easily. He is not connecting with his apparent fame and recognition anywhere in the world.

So the movie is about these two lonely people essentially who hook up in the hotel bar and develop what appears to be a platonic relationship which allows them to enjoy each others’ company while exploring the nightlife of Tokyo. It is indeed cool that two people who are separated so widely by age can reach a silent understanding of each other and then go on to eventually share their thoughts in an intimate fashion. It is rarely the case when anyone will easily open up their most personal views to a total stranger. But it happens in an almost effortless manner between Charlotte and Bob, and several times I thought that Charlotte desires a physical relationship from her longing look at Bob.

After seeing the movie, and thinking for a while, I am getting a bit more clarity on the director’s intentions and messaging. This is a movie for Americans as it almost perfectly reflects the issues and challenges that they face in their married lives (recall both Bob and Charlotte are married folks but yet totally lost and lonely, even with reference to their respective partners). Their ability to resolve those issues and challenges is always almost messed up due to the distractions that life throws at them – in this case in a remote country with a unique language, wherein one’s perceived loneliness can only increase!

Interesting though complex movie, but too slow moving for my taste. Both Charlotte and Bob do not attempt to resolve their problems by talking their issues out with their partners, and I wonder why. May be then there is no story for the movie!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th May 2018