Today is Diwali or “Deepavali” as we call the most important Hindu festival in South India. It is a very key occasion when Hindus all over the world celebrate the victory of good over evil, and lights abolish darkness for ever. While it is a religious occasion, it is also a time to celebrate time with families and friends – a time for acquiring a “feel good” feeling which kind of emancipates us from the clutches of daily routine and frustrations, and brings a strong whiff of good will and smiles all around. Of course, we eat a lot, specifically sweets and savouries, which add to our waistlines and continue the long-standing Indian tradition of diabetic influence in our lives as we chugg along.
Not very different from Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or any of the other major religious festivals around the world.
We are fortunate that Singapore (and Malaysia) celebrates Diwali like a national festival, and has a public holiday today (like India), considering a significant population of Singapore are from Indian ethnicity. Other ethnic compatriots like the Chinese and Malays wish us “Happy Diwali” when they see us in public places like condominium lobbies, and that greeting enhances the bonding that we all have towards Singapore. The “Little India” area of Singapore has been lit with “Happy Deepavali” LED lights for nearly a month now.
For the first time ever in my career, I became an avowed Diwali enthusiast, and declined business meetings on the eve of Diwali and during the Diwali holiday (which is today). I realized that it is time that I respect my own private time during this auspicious occasion, and avoid taking calls in temples (of all places!). Calls came, of course, on Tuesday evenings, but I politely declined. The world needs to understand that Diwali is celebrated by almost a Billion Hindus, and the festival needs to be respected. Even the White House celebrated Diwali! President Trump read out a statement and then lit the lamp adorned by bright flowers, surrounded by key Indian officials.
I also declined calls during the day today (most of Asia works today), and did not look at my laptop all day. This was an unusual departure from my usual practice over the years, when I treated Diwali as any other working day (though it was always a public holiday in Singapore and India), and continued to transact business. Now, I am of the opinion that all religious festivals of national importance have to be given the requisite space and attention, whether one has any faith or otherwise. It is the sheer number of folks who follow the faith(s) and the festival(s). I also realized that the crucial message of the festival would not percolate down to our children, if I continue to be nonchalant about its importance and its place in our life.
As I sit down this evening with a glass of wine and contemplate the times when I was very young (less than 15 years old), I feel an overwhelming sense of self-pity and gloom that I have missed out a lot. May be it is true, but for me it is an emotional recall of my younger days in the city of Madurai in South India where I grew up. I am able to easily visualize the Deepavali noise and celebrations in front of my house in Palace Road and Mahal Vadambokki Street in the 1960s and 1970s. My eyes are wandering down Palace Road and making a turn towards my famous school – the St Marys’ High School of Madurai. I remember most of what was going on during some of those years, though not able to correlate the specific year with a specific event.
It is a far cry now where I am sitting in the Thomson locality of Singapore, but I believe my soul never left Madurai. Though I have not gone back to Madurai since the year 2000 (my India base is now Madras or Chennai), I still have those Deepavali and other connections to Madurai tugging me, asking me to visit the place. Some of my school mates are still living there, and I have been in constant touch with them through the magic of WhatsApp.
So, now I am thinking about Deepavali and its critical annual role in providing me with a sense of relief and liberating thoughts. I did not go to temple today as we as a family decided to stay away from the crowds. We went to the temple Monday evening, and I was so happy to make a quiet visit to the Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon area of Singapore with very little crowd at 6:30 PM. Apart from the temple visit, I also enjoyed the free “prasadam” or temple food paid for by a devotee, which in my opinion is a lucky occasion. If I am able to stand in the queue and receive the temple prasadam, I am fortunate as I then totally forget that my family was supposed to go elsewhere for dinner! The food was so delicious that we decided to eat the same and dropped the dinner plans. Such is the simple beauty of utter simplicity in thoughts and deeds. There were others who had driven their Mercedes and BMWs into the temple parking lot who were also queuing to receive the temple prasadam. We all do not need it, but we relish the important fact that the temple cooked the simple food, and we have to sit down on the temple floor to eat it on a piece of “butter” paper!
When I am able to come down from my elitism to the simplest common denominator of a guy walking down Serangoon Road, then I have become a Socialist craving equality among the masses. In essence, that is who I am. While I am not saying no to the comfort of my savings, it gives me more pleasure when I am one among the people who are commoners doing things which 90% of the world’s population does on any specific day. No one else does anything for me at least. If I am able and willing to do things on my own, then I am a Social Animal and unlike what the Rich folks say, I am willing to work hard for myself and my family and earn my worth. The Rich Republicans (I am using the U.S. example here to ease the understanding of the readers) always point that the “Left: or the Socialists are weak and poor, and do not deserve subsidies or handouts, and do not work at all”. It kind of aggravates me – that is utter nonsense. Most people want to work and earn. Sorry, I am distracting you into a completely different topic, but the essence of what I am saying is that being an elite removes you from the sufferings of the masses.
So, that is the conclusion of my Diwali holiday today, and back to the office tomorrow. In the meanwhile, enjoy your respective fatty foods and sugars and drinks today. After all, we have driven out the evil darkness from our lives, and the life ahead is full of light.
18th October 2017
I met with an old friend of mine yesterday who worked with me in Singapore many years ago. He is from the Philippines and was visiting Singapore on business. He is some 7 years younger to me, but is wiser than me and I should say, more broad-minded. I always try to meet up with him whenever he visits Singapore, and has been the beneficiary of his counsel on many matters of life.
He thinks highly of me as well, and shares his views on business and life with me. We know each others’ families, and I have stayed with him in Manila during one of my trips. My views on the Philippines is largely shaped by his commentary on his country.
Yesterday’s meeting was no different. It was a real pleasure to catch up, and the meeting veered towards substantive life issues. Charlie has been impacted by his father’s recent demise. He also described the cancer plaguing one of our mutual friends in the U.S. He mentioned that life is fragile and we all need to do things which we enjoy right away without any undue delay. No procrastination. Spend more time with your family and friends. Do not have regrets.
He asked me a rhetorical question – “is the world going to miss you tomorrow morning if you are gone today”, and the answer was a firm “No”. The world will move on with its business, and a small group of family members and close friends will probably shed tears and express remorse and grief, and that would be all. Things will get back to normal and even close family and friends will move on in life, except for occasional remembrances.
It is kind of difficult to understand and digest this aspect of life. What can we then do today that would impact folks around us? How can people feel the positive impact of anyone in their lives? We are not talking here about the great historical figures who built nations (like Mahatma Gandhi, or Lee Kuan Yew), or who discovered scientific breakthroughs (like Albert Einstein, or Thomas Edison), or the first astronaut who flew around the earth (Yuri Gagarin), et al. Many of these people have had strong impact in the manner in which nations and lives have developed during the 20th Century, and there are hundred of such figures whose names can easily be recalled. But, how about yours? Will anyone outside your immediate circle recall your positive contributions to society? Will anyone even remember us?
If a person has led a good life, causing no harm to others, always wanting to help others especially the downtrodden, and tries to contribute to society in some positive manner, it is not necessary that he or she should be famous with an easily recallable name. The small positive contribution will be recognised by the society. However, the most important effect is that his or her children carry on the same principles in their respective lives, and inculcate similar philosophies in their immediate circles. A small group of people will surely recall how good a person was during his or her lifetime. And, that should be enough.
Coming back to Charlie, he was gazing beyond me yesterday and thinking seriously about the fragility of human life. I told him that I completely synchronise with him on his line of thinking, and suggested that we should spend more time together discussing these aspects of life. It is critical to decipher when one becomes happy, and most of us do not ask ourselves that question – “what makes us truly happy?”. Think about it for a couple of minutes and you will see that the answer is quite complex. There are many happy things that you can do, there are things that you can do which makes others happy, but what exactly that you do that makes you very happy? Think about it.
May be sailing in the sunset with your life partner will make you very happy, or celebrating the arrival of your first grand-son or grand-daughter will make you very happy. But do you become very happy when you receive a huge sales commission or you sell a share for a big profit?
What are you going to do with that money?
We still live on 3 simple meals a day, and our wants are minimal (at least for most of us). One does not need to have huge amount of money unless one wants to donate to charity and help people of Syria, Rwanda, Angola, and other very poor countries.
So, it is time to ruminate your position in the circus of life and whether you are playing it well, not just for your own benefit but for others’ as well. Are people around you happy about you? What are you doing today to positively contribute to the mood at home, or to society at large?
A lot to think for the weekend, I guess.
Have a good one.
15th July 2017
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
6th May 2017
I was taking a walk along the MacRitchie reservoir this evening along with my wife, as part of my weekend walking exercise regimen.
While discussing about the global economy in general and Singapore economic situation in particular, my wife mentioned that it is highly likely that the U.S. Federal Reserve would increase its interest rates 2 to 3 times next year. Given the recent increase of 0.25%, this might lead to somewhere around 1.0% in total over the next 12 months or so. The stock markets have taken a hit around the world as a result of the U.S. Fed rate increase earlier this week.
Given the growing strength of the U.S. Dollar, the drop in the price of Gold, the increase in the price of Oil, etc., it is apparent that the global economy is headed for more shakeups than ever in the coming 12 months. Combined with the uncertainty of the Trump Presidency, all this adds to the growing concern in Asia of the future of the world economy. Currencies in Asia are taking a major hit, the SGD has dropped to 1.44 to the USD already and is projected to hit 1.50 by the end of calendar 2017.
I made a remark to my wife that the Singapore economy is going to face major headwinds as a result of these developments, and the real estate will be a big loser. There will be auctions and loan foreclosures looming in the coming months and a drop in real estate values which will be a boon to folks waiting to buy an apartment (Singapore real estate is one of the priciest in all of Asia, second only to Hong Kong). Interest rates are set to climb up after a long sojourn of very low rates. Rental values have already been dropping over the past couple of years and recently took a further downturn. Given that the Government has been quite tight on employment passes, the demand is dropping from foreign population.
So, my conclusion was that the “magical” economic kingdom of Singapore is all set to take economic knocks in the next 12 months after significant performances over the past several years. The real estate had doubled between 2009 and 2013 and remained more or less at those inflated prices over the past 3 years (with minor drops of 5 to 10%). This obviously cannot continue for ever and finally the situation is all set to change for the worse for home owners who are planning to sell. The buyers are going to sit tight, despite some annual increases in the takeup rate of apartments.
However, Singapore has always found a way out of economic challenges due to the firm guidance provided by the Government. While real estate market prices are something that the Government does not directly control, it has put in place some innovative policy mechanisms to curtail speculation and these seem to have, at least partially, worked.
So, if I were a home buyer, I am rather inclined to wait out for the next 6 to 9 months, see some interest rate increase, some significant price drops, some wait and watch games, before actually seeking out bargains. On the national economic fronts, there are going to be some big pains for the next couple of years before recovery can be made. The U.S. economy is bound to make gains, while the China economy is expected to decelerate. Singapore economy is highly vulnerable to external shocks due to its openness.
See – how much a walk around a reservoir (lake) can generate in terms of economic and real estate discussions! I enjoy such “active” walks which help to accomplish some brisk physical walking combined with energetic discussions with the most important person in one’s life – your spouse!!
Enjoy your walks with your spouse and talk economics, health, household matters, and what not. These are very important for relationships as well.
17th December 2016
Well, I could not think of a better title to this blog post !
Our home had a 300 MBPS fibre internet connection for the past couple of years, and recently the contract ended. I was paying a price higher than that for 1 GBPS (1,000 MBPS) fibre connectivity for more than a year, as there was no point in upgrading during the contract or breaking the contract. This is always the case as the lock-in period deters people from much necessary upgrades, unless one is prepared to pay much more or incur a penalty.
So, once I was out of the contract, I decided to upgrade the internet speed to 1 GBPS. I was really salivating at the possibilities afforded by increased speed of access, and was hoping that the sales talk was for real – in the sense, that my access speeds will at least triple from where they were before the upgrade. Not an unrealistic expectation, I would say.
But then, reality is always different.
I got the speed upgraded and the provider installed a D-Link cylindrical router in the place of my much-loved ASUS router (which incidentally would be able to handle the increased speed as I found out later). It was a simple installation lasting less than 10 minutes and the guy from the service provider took my signature and left upon completion of his work.
Within couple of hours after the upgrade, complaints started from my household with regard to the speed and quality of the internet access – the speed was apparently lower than the previous lower speed of 300 MBPS! Further, there was “fading in” and “fading out” of the internet – it comes and goes type of complaint. I embarked on some serious testing and found that the complaints were true. I was upset that the provider could do such a shoddy job.
I contacted the service provider and some gracious technical person guided me through the troubleshooting and we jointly found that the old ethernet cable was the problem. I replaced the same with a new cable from the router box and the direct speed from the modem to the laptop increased by a huge amount from less than 100 MBPS to 700 MBPS ! After this experiment, it looked OK but then I found that the mobile broadband speeds and laptop internet access speeds deteriorated significantly after a distance of some 10 metres. For instance, I was getting less than 20 MBPS on mobile broadband just 10 metres from the router. This meant that my surfing from a slightly remote bedroom was impacted, and this was not the case with the previous 300 MBPS fibre speed. It became very clear to me that the service provider has not tested various scenarios within a normal household.
I again contacted them and insisted that their service person should stay on for atleast 30 minutes and prove to us that there was no problem with the internet. Surprisingly, the provider agreed and sent a technical person (who was much better than the previous person who just installed), and he modified some settings on the cylindrical router. I witnessed a massive jump in mobile broadband speeds on my Apple iPhone in the living room wherein the router was installed. It almost approached 292 MBPS on my cell phone, which I thought was fantastic. Further, the remote bedroom speeds more than doubled from the previous levels.
So, I thought all was good and signed off on this second visit from the service provider (within just 4 days of the original installation). I gave a strongly positive rating given the quality of the work done by this second person.
But then the real measurement of performance lies with the big users – my wife and the children. While the children were generally OK with the new speeds, my wife was not as she generally uses the internet from the remote bedroom.
I scratched my head. I thought this will pass and everyone will eventually be “OK”. That was not to be. My wife again complained and asked me why I have not implemented the WiFi range extender which has been under our consideration for quite some time, since we have 3 walls separating the master bedroom from the living room, and I had previously gone around looking for a suitable solution.
So, here I go !!! I went shopping yesterday, and bought a few items. I bought a rather expensive WiFi range extender (TP-Link) since there was a sales person at the Challenger Store who patiently explained that their expensive solution is better for Netflix Video Streaming as compared to their cheaper solution. I asked some questions and got satisfactory answers. I bought the more expensive solution which is basically a powerline internet range extender, came home and proudly installed it. I was worried if it would really work out for us, as I had the immense pressure of satisfying the lady of the house.
I did everything as per the book, “paired” the two devices of the TP-Link solution, and took one of these devices to the bedroom and inserted into the power point. It gave some initial troubles, but then eventually it worked…….we got some very good internet speeds for seeing movies in our bedroom. I am still continuing to test the product, not all done. However, I believe it is a good product. Basically, you connect an ethernet cable from your router to this TP-Link device and then pair it with a similar device. The second device becomes your bedroom range extender as it gives out WiFi signals of good strength via the electrical circuit.
Still testing, but looks good. Hope it is a good investment!
Experiments like these are challenging but good though somewhat expensive!!
02 October 2016
Our family decided to go for a real “bistro” experience in Singapore recently over the past weekend.
We chose the Nassim Hill Bakery Bistro in Tanglin after some research. There are many bistros in Singapore, so choosing one is a tough proposition. One has to take a chance and try out a few.
The Nassim Hill Bakery Bistro experience was good, I would rate them good on the food and service. The ambience, while offering a decent environment, was marred by a lot of noise from a very crowded place on a Saturday morning, with many folks waiting to get in without making a reservation. I would not go for breakfast or lunch, but may be for a nice cup of coffee and pastries another time.
While my family members liked their respective food choices, I had some trouble dealing with an average spaghetti with mushroom meal (vegetarian) which was rather oily (a bit soggy) and defunct of a mushroom density that I had expected while ordering. I ordered the full or larger portion, but I got what appeared to be a half portion, so I checked with the waiter who confirmed it was a full portion indeed. I was surprised. In any case, this spaghetti was not on par with my other spaghetti experiences in Italian restaurants on the island.
The Truffle Fries was really good (better than the one at the famous PS Cafe), the Brownie Parfait and the Triple X Chocolate cake were simply outstanding. I would clearly vote for the Triple X spongy chocolate cake anyday – very well made and very delicious, though I had only couple of small pieces sliced off the big traingle of a cake.
I did not have the Erdinger beer (which I prefer while the choice of wine is limited) for two reasons – it was lunch time and I was driving. Almost everyone in the lunch scenario was having either a beer, a stout or a wine…….giving the impression that Singapore is fast approaching an European ambience at lunch, if only you care to walk into a tavern-based bistro like this one.
I was unhappy about the parking charges in the post office building in which the bakery bistro was located – they were overcharging……for a little over 2 hours, I paid SGD 7.81, which is rather criminal, given that outside the Central Business District (where this building is located, though very close to Orchard Road) it cost an average of SGD 2 per hour or even less. Unfortunately, such overcharging spoils one’s mood when one is exiting after a good lunch, though there may be no connection between the parking service and the bistro bakery itself. May be the bakery needs to advice the patrons to park elsewhere, may be at the cheaper Tanglin Mall across the road for instance.
In a nutshell, the Nassim Hill Bakery Bistro is a good choice for bistro lovers with a penchant for Western food, and eclectic drinks (such as the Berry Green which I tried out). Not inexpensive though. It was apparent many of the diners were there for the first time, as they were focused on taking pictures of the surroundings (the tavern experience), and taking selfies/mulfies, and even asking the waiters to take pictures of themselves.
7th August 2016
My family was looking for dinner options, and my wife came up with this suggestion of a Chinese Vegetarian Restaurant – the Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant located at Quality Hotel Marlow in Balestier Street.
This locale for a restaurant is not usual. I was not even aware there was such a place as the “Quality Hotel Marlow” in Singapore. After finding the place, we located the Lotus restaurant on the second floor of the hotel, and it looked like a traditional Chinese restaurant [we came to know that they are from Taiwan].
The food was good – all 100% vegetarian. But the service was terrible. In fact, it is better not to expect any service at all. Everything is self-service anyway. The variety of the spread is very good, lots of dim sum, vegetables, tofu, et al. Ice Kacang, anyone ? Ice Creams as well, but not great. Salads, pastas, available from special counters. Desserts were good. You have soups and drinks as well included in the buffet price of SGD 26.
I loved the brown rice and the variety of fried noodles. Good quality food.
The crowd inside the restaurant mostly appeared to be tourists staying at the hotel. There were few locals and hardly any Indians. I am used to my almost daily Chinese lunch, so the variety at Lotus proved to be a great enhancement.
Some folks won’t like it though. The taste buds may not work after all !
I would recommend this place for an early evening dinner, but go with a reservation. And, do not expect great service of any sort. Take care of yourself, all by yourself. Then you won’t regret.
Good Chinese food.
13th March 2016