80 Minutes of Solitude


I look forward to my Sundays.

Not for the inherent laziness it entails. Not for the food that I can cheat on, at least for a day. Not for the multitude of TV shows, movies and cricket matches.

I love my Sunday morning walks, which are always longer ones compared to other days of the week. I typically do 50 minutes of walking on weekday mornings (sometimes 60 minutes), but on Sundays I tend to stay on my walk somewhat longer, typically reaching 80 minutes of continuous, non-stop walk.

It is not just for the sake of satisfying my Fitbit (of course, sheepishly I keep looking at it once in a while to check how I am doing!).

The idea is to have some focused aerobic exercise, for sure. It kind of make my lungs breathe some early morning fresh air, which is just pure goodness in these times of pollution percolating into our lives every moment. I feel good at the end of the walk though I am soaked in sweat.

However, the key benefit that I have to claim is the impervious solitude that I seem to be achieving during every such long walk in areas surrounded by thick shrubbery and water. While my mind keeps processing the inputs from the environment surrounding me during my walk, it also is replaying portions of my life. It also is forcing me to think about life choices. It is in a unique position of quietude when it can challenge me on difficult issues pertaining to my own life. How did I perform when faced with a difficult situation? How did I handle a tough matter? Did I do well when dealing with one of my family members? How would have my life changed had I selected a different option in a decision-tree?

I find the exercise fascinating. Since there is hardly any distraction (apart from bird sounds and ruffling of leaves), the mind is absolutely clear with an unparalleled ability to dissect issues threadbare and lay these down in front of your eyes. Yes, while walking I have been able to witness the power of the mind, which I would not have been able to under normal circumstances.

I have come to love my Sunday morning walks due to the impact that these “walk with me” kind of solitude they provide to me. I did 80 minutes of walk this morning as well, and sheepishly counted 8,000 steps when I walked back into my home on my Fitbit – more or less accurate, I should say. But what is more important to me personally is the “review” that my mind conducted of my doings, behaviour, performance, and life choices.

Where else can I get this kind of service, feedback and advice?

At the end of the day, everything is in our hands. There are many folks who say that everything is in God’s hands, but I disagree. Man and Woman are intelligent human beings created by a greater force, so they are in a position to evaluate things and make appropriate decisions for themselves. Help might come in many different ways, but the responsibility for their actions is always theirs. They cannot and should not blame God for any of their failures.

So, it is very critical to listen to your own self. You are the master of your thoughts, your behaviour, your being and your actions. And the best way to listen to yourself is to seek solitude. I would suggest that you do not go for a walk with your partner as that could become an extension of the household – you do not wish to be debating the same issues that you would be discussing with your better half at the park. Try to be all alone in absolute solitude. And stay that way as long as possible, giving enough space to your mind to debate with YOU.

This works for me. I can tell you that I have come up short during many instances in my life, and now I am staring at the learning that I can indeed achieve by listening to my own mind – it is indeed beautiful, and all of us have beautiful minds.

Think about it, and you might agree with my observation which comes from practice. By the way, I met my target of 98,000 steps for the week of 7 days finishing today (Sunday), so I am doing well on the Fitbit count. Keep walking but also keep thinking.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd June 2019

Serious Downtime


I took couple of days off this past week and travelled around this great island country of mine, with the specific focus of loosening up on my stress levels and giving my car the necessary run time as it had been doing less than 900 KMs a month on the average. I achieved both these objectives.

Cars in Singapore are so expensive that for the average car to even break even, one has to drive it between 1,200 and 1,500 KMs a month depending on the initial investment (I am excluding high-end and luxury cars, of course – the owners of such cars do not have such goals!). However, over the past 38 months of ownership of my socialist-branded car, I have driven only 34,000 KMs; one reason being, I did not drive into Malaysia with this car, though I had done that with my previous cars.

So much for car discussion. Now let me get back to the key objective of how I took my stress levels down – this is what I mean by “serious downtime”.

I have always loved the Nature Parks and Reservoirs of Singapore. After visiting the urbanized parts of Singapore (most of it is urbanized big time), a visitor would never believe his eyes when he visits the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve or the MacRitchie Reservoir, or the Labrador Park. The government has consciously attempted to keep Singapore as green as possible, and has avoided disrupting the nature reserves in particular. It has also gone about expanding the footprint of existing reservoirs and nature reserves, and establishing new nature parks such as the Windsor Park, located not far from my home. I used to go to one of these parks or reservoirs during weekends (I did that even today, being a Saturday), but this time around, for the first time ever, I took off from my office work for spending time with nature! It is a big thing for me as I am really not a slacker during weekdays, and rarely ever take off from work for doing “nothing”. I will quickly get bored of staying at home and drinking coffee.

I loved the two forenoons that I spent earlier this week. On day #1, I went to the Mandai Reservoir (now called Upper Seletar Reservoir) located close to the world-famous Singapore Zoo. There are couple of golf courses around this part of Singapore, and I crossed the Executive Golf Course before reaching the reservoir (I had played a 9-hole game in this course some 15 years ago, and I recalled that while passing by…………nice reminiscences!). I am giving the URL link here for you to take an “official” look!

https://www.nparks.gov.sg/gardens-parks-and-nature/parks-and-nature-reserves/upper-seletar-reservoir-park

I have not been to this reservoir (except from the Singapore Zoo side) before, and it was good to walk around (though it was hot sun shining overhead) and take some pictures.

There is so much to see at any such place in Singapore, the only deterrent being the hot sun. Obviously, I wore a cap and dark sun glasses (which I rarely use) to protect myself, but nevertheless it was a wonderful experience, away from the “maddening crowds” so to say!

From the Upper Seletar Reservoir, I drove down to the Lower Peirce Reservoir Park which is located on the Old Upper Thomson Road. It is a very old reservoir, but very appealing – I thought it was “cooling” to just take a walk into the park. I did not take pictures at this park, but captured an interesting sign board on the way out.

Singapore is very strict about maintaining cleanliness at all public places, and has now become extremely tough on public smoking.

On day #2, I again chose a place which I have never visited – it was the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, known as the habitat of migratory birds from as far as Alaska and Russia. While I was walking around this Reserve, I witnessed the passion of bird watchers from all over, who had chosen a nice Wednesday morning to visit the Reserve with their heavy duty photographic equipment to capture photos of their favourite migratory birds. This is what I call true passion – I cannot just dismiss these folks as guys with money, so they can do whatever they wish to do. That assumption may not be true at all. These guys are serious ornithologists probably, and driven by passion about one thing – birds which do not live in Singapore but use it as a transit point. This Reserve is Singapore’s first ASEAN Heritage Park. A must visit place for all, and was I surprised when I found out that my colleagues have not yet visited this Reserve – not at all. Most of the visitors were foreigners as far as I could tell! Apparently, Singaporeans like to work all the available time, and then do shopping; very few of them ever develop a serious life passion such as ornithology, though I did see a few of them at this Reserve.

I am going to make another trip to this place along with my family – it is simply too wonderful to be missed at a mere 22 KMs from my home, and best of all, the entrance and parking (!) are free, though I should warn you that food and coffee/tea are not available anywhere nearby. Come prepared!

Singapore has many such parks and reservoirs operated by the National Parks organization. Kudos to them for developing and maintaining such a lovely eco system in this very small island nation. Even big countries are learning from Singapore’s experience and expertise.

I plan to continue this exploration, and you will see more coverage from me, hopefully soon. I suggest you do this activity during a busy workday, rather than during the usual weekends, as that would reflect your utter seriousness in giving yourself the much-needed downtime away from all the noise, allowing you to concentrate on nature in a manner you would have never indulged so far. Try it, and I can assure you that it not only brings down all pressures in the body, but also knocks off the stress. You will feel like you are getting a rejuvenation of mind and body. Only one thing – put your mobile phone on silent mode, and don’t check your emails. I did that and cursed myself as somebody asked me to do something and then I got into the bad urge of instantly replying to that email. Not good. Don’t do it.

Have a wonderful weekend folks. And do enjoy what Mother Nature has given us. All for free. Reinvigorating and Rejuvenating, for sure.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th February 2019

Hangzhou – an amazing destination


I spent the past few days in Hangzhou, the 4th largest metropolitan area of China, just an hour away from Shanghai by high-speed bullet train.

During my previous visit, I was not able to spend any time to see places of importance in Hangzhou, so I was determined to spend a day of personal time during last week’s trip.

As it has become the normal impact on any visitor, most major cities of China astound you with their modernity, infrastructure, lovely hotels, organized traffic and cleanliness. Hangzhou is no different. It is sleek and modern. It has relatively newer infrastructure with some gleaming new malls (I visited two of them). It is well-industrialized, and has a per-capita GDP of over USD 20K! It has good roads, and apparently well-managed traffic, but then Chinese drivers are as bad as Indian drivers in Indian roads, they cut across others and try to squeeze their way between two lanes, and quite rash in terms of speeding up.

Apart from the above, Hangzhou has a long rich history going back couple of thousand years. It has managed to integrate its historical past with its modern society, but I was not happy about the manner in which they are maintaining their old Buddhist temples. More about that later in this post.

I had time only to visit two important tourist destinations in Hangzhou: one was the West Lake, designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site; the other was the stunning Lingyin Buddhist Temple & Monastery, also called “Temple of Soul’s Retreat”. Both places are so huge, it will be an injustice to write about the smallish experiences I had, but then I would like to share what little I did during just half-day of precious time!

First, I went to Lingyin Temple (it costs RMB 45 for an admission ticket or SGD 9). One thing you got to be prepared anywhere of tourist importance in China is the crowd. Even on a weekday, you will find thousands of people streaming in – not unlike India, but more in terms of numbers. Nobody speaks English, including the staff manning ticket counters, so you have to use sign language [I am always even more amazed with the huge growth of China’s economy given that the people struggle with any foreign languages, especially English, and still manage to sell all that they produce to the world!]. The only signs of Westernization are the KFC, McDonald’s and Starbucks – which are all ubiquitous across China. But even at these outlets, no one speaks or understands English so use your fingers to point items on the menu!

The Temple and Monastery were established at the present location by an Indian monk in 4th Century AD (a very important contribution by India to China!!). I went around the temple and walked on stone slabs which were probably 1,500 years old. Lingyin Temple is considered as one of the top Buddhist temples in all of China, and so it is no wonder it continues to attract thousands of devotees from around China.

From the Temple, I went to the “Broken Bridge” across the West Lake (around 5 KMs cab ride), which is the Northern part of the West Lake. As I said, it is a beautiful part of Hangzhou, which has inspired monks and artists over many centuries. It was so pleasant to walk across this bridge – I decided to spend more time and walk for a couple of KMs to enjoy the fresh air and see the Lotus flowers floating on the lake along with some pretty swans as well. A nice walk, but it was bit foggy around 5 PM. My guess is that the fog will clear off towards the nightfall, and it would be a beautiful locale with lights all around the lake’s periphery. I should say it was an excellent walk!

It was a great experience, but I quickly became modern by walking into a Starbucks outlet across the street (difficult to cross, like it is in India) located in a nice two-storey house.

I believe I have not even scratched the surface of Hangzhou. To demonstrate how modern is Hangzhou, I thought it would be pertinent to show to you the walls of a modern restaurant in a glitzy mall that I went to for dinner. Make your own conclusions!!!

Let me also say one thing about Hangzhou that would be rather surprising: taxi fares and food are cheaper than Singapore, or even India. Definitely far cheaper than the Western world, for sure. I used the DIDI app for calling cab to the airport (and my friend did it for other locations) and it costed just RMB 100 (or SGD 20) for a distance of nearly 30 KMs in a new comfortable limousine (called “premier taxi” in the DIDI app). The DIDI app is similar to the OLA app in India or the GRAB app in Singapore, very convenient with reasonable fares, and it also has an in-built English to Mandarin translator!!!

Cheers, and Have a Great Weekend, Folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd September 2018

Catoctin Mountain Park Maryland


While visiting Washington DC earlier this week, we decided to go hiking at one of the nearby national parks. A uniquely American experience, I would strongly recommend taking a hike in any of the national parks. Americans make it a great marketing experience with big support to any visitors – they have a nice visitor centre with all amenities and officers on hand to explain everything about the park.

We chose to visit the Catoctin Mountain Park some 50 miles outside of Washington DC, in Thurmont Maryland, because it was a bit closer than the original selection of the Blue Ridge mountain, and had easier treks for the first time visitors. The drive itself was smooth with much less traffic than we had anticipated, and we reached the Catoctin Mountain Park in about an hour and fifteen minutes. My daughter mentioned that this was a smaller park in terms of area allocated due to its vicinity to Camp David with its high security. You can take a look at the following websites Catoctin Mountain Park and National Park Foundation – Catoctin Mountain Park

The officer at the visitor centre of the park took time to explain the various possibilities for trekking at the park, he also suggested we do the Cunningham Falls trail loop which will be a 2.8 mile round trip, followed by a visit to the Blue Ridge Summit via the Hog Rock. The map provided by him was helpful in understanding the route. We got ready for the trek and went into the dense park of tall trees with cool weather despite the blazing sun outside. It took all of around 2 hours for visiting Cunningham Falls at the end of this trail and return to the visitor centre.

On a scale of 1 to 5, probably this trek would rate at a less than moderate 2 in terms of difficulty. Mostly flat, with some climbing and ground undulations, combined with crossing some fallen trees, made it an interesting though not tough trek. I was wondering if I should have brought my Merrell shoes from Singapore – on this trip I was just wearing the usual walking/running shoes which do not provide good grip while walking on gravel. I have always had problems while coming down from an elevation, as I tend to slip on the gravel; further, going down causes strain on the knees.

The visitor centre brochures covered one dreadful aspect of the trek into this park which is the potential for catching Lyme disease which is an infectious disease caused by ticks. We were a bit scared after reading the printed material, but then chose to proceed anyway. You can read about this disease at Lyme disease .

It was good fun and is a nice bonding time with the family. When I was unstable at some point, my son would stand ready at my back to steady me and make me all right. There were many photo opportunities on the way and at Cunningham Falls. It was a good experience and we all liked the park and its trail that we undertook.

I kept talking to my family about how well the U.S. is organized in terms of infrastructure, provision of assistance (like the visitor centre), the helpful indicators provided while navigating the park, the interest that they create in children and also adults about the importance of such recreational activities (the visitor centre was full of young children when we visited), and the whole approach towards dealing with citizens/visitors which is imbued with a marketing flavour.

I believe that this is what we lack in many other parts of the world, and especially in India. There is rarely such guidance, infrastructure or marketing provided by the governments in many countries which probably have equally beautiful national parks or forests.

In any case, we decided to have such a national park hiking expedition during every visit to the U.S. or Canada in future.

Hopefully, you folks who are reading this post, will also love trekking and take a hike soon!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th June 2017

Anti-Climate


President Donald Trump again made history this week.

He withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, which was signed by 195 countries, including the U.S. It was a signature achievement of President Obama, working closely with other world leaders. The U.S. became a leader in effecting positive climate change under the auspices of this historic climate agreement, in close cooperation with countries such as Germany, France, China and India.

Now, the biggest Carbon emitter of the world is leaving this agreement.

President Trump stated that the agreement was unfair to Americans. He promised to walk out of the agreement during his campaign, and he has done so, without so much as consultation with energy academics and the industry.

Good. Now the global climate leadership shifts to who else, but China. Increasingly, China is finding itself in leadership roles due to the vacuum created by the U.S. and it is happily grabbing the same with glee. Why not? Europe is looking for replacing the U.S. with China, and it is already happening this week, with the visit of the Chinese Premier to Germany.

President Trump needs to realize that he does not need to keep all his campaign promises. He is now President of the U.S. and the U.S. has a global obligation not to walk out of agreements that it has signed on. This is notwithstanding the fact that the Paris agreement is non-binding. Once signed, it should stay signed on for ever.

Climate change is for real, and if the global temperatures rise by 2 degrees there will be disaster. I am wondering how come the vaunted U.S. academics in the field of energy and environment did not make serious attempts to influence the thinking of the U.S. government and President Trump on this most critical challenge confronting the planet.

In any case, now that the damage is done, what next?

The world will go on, now with only 194 countries supporting the climate agreement. Who are the three dissenters? Nicaragua, Syria and the U.S. Does the U.S. want to be in this glorious company of nations? President Trump needs to think more carefully about making such critical decisions for the welfare of his own country. It is a wrong and completely misinformed decision.

I am sure that the decision will be reversed. If not by President Trump, by the very next President.

Coal is out of fashion in the environment conscious world. Citizens want clean energy. They want clean air and clean water. Fossil fuels is not the way to go. It should be nuclear energy, solar energy, wind energy, et al………the world is changing, old habits are dying, new habits are taking root with the young demographics……….how can anyone refute this positive momentum coursing throughout the world?

When China and India signed on to this agreement after arduous negotiations, the world heaved a sigh of relief. The most difficult country was India which did not wish to sacrifice economic growth and jobs for the sake of signing the climate agreement. Compromises were made and finally India signed on and the world celebrated, and now the U.S. which applied so much pressure on India to sign, has exited the agreement.

What kind of message does this U.S. action send to India, China and the rest of the world?

Let us hope no other nation exits the agreement.

Climate change is for real.

It will affect the future of our planet earth irretrievably.

If we do not take much needed actions today and strictly control carbon emissions.

So, let us all execute what our respective nation has committed to honour via this agreement.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

03 June 2017

Man as the Maker


I guess the title sounds kind of deterministic or a sort of prognosis for things to come.

I thought a lot writing about this subject due to its sensitivity and the abject lack of sensitivity on the part of religious opponents who might see this as an affront to their religious choices and their theories that there can be no “maker” other than god. Religions are a part of the fabric of human life on this earth, and they have had an outsized influence on the development and behaviour of human species. However, most religious dogmas were the creation of man, and their continued sustenance demonstrates their hold on humanity, despite evidence that such dogmas resulted in the loss of millions of lives over the past few centuries and especially in the 20th century. Those religious dogmas have no scientific basis.

This is not a blog post which will argue the benefits or otherwise of following a religious faith or the practicing of non-religious faiths such as agnosticism or atheism. This post is more about the most crucial development in science today which allows man to play god, the creator of human beings of any characteristic, outside of the normal process of conception and delivery. If Man can play the role of the Creator, then can it be said that “Creationism” as a philosophy of the arrival of human species on earth could have been right in some way? If Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is correct, how can Man play god and create a new human or animal species?

I am sure the answer is based on Science. But I got this question into my head and could not get it out of my head for a while. Scientific Research has advanced to such a stage that today, man can create any kind of species (almost, not yet fully!) in a test tube in the labaratory environment. Science is not going to stop its inevitable march towards discovering new things all the time, and Scientists are pursuing the causes of things in this world based on evidence and research. Science is not going to go away and proclaim that all things in this world are a result of some godly intervention to make them happen, which is the Creationism Theory. Or, justify in some research-oriented manner, that god is an “intelligent designer” of all things on this planet, and these things are complex and could not have come into existence without a proper cause.

Man is on a non-stop quest on scientific matters. At the same time, religious conservatives are on a non-stop quest on establishing Creationism as the essential cause of all things we see around us. Both aspects are amazing, but it is clear which one is on the right direction.

If Man can create a human being from a test-tube, and shape its genes and chromosomes, and that can result in a particular species which has certain pre-identified characteristics, what does it mean? Are we all at an inflection point? Are we going to witness the usurping of all things godly by Man who seems to be assuming great powers to make things as he deems fit? Does this sound like the “Maker”?

Well, it is abundantly clear that man’s quest for scientific discoveries is going to lead him to more surprises and more influences than he can manage. He will ultimately gain full and complete access to the technique of making a man. Then, can he be considered as a “He”, meaning god with a capital “G”? Would Man then have arrived at a point when he can demonstrate that capability to all and sundry? Would he be excommunicated by the religious gurus we will have by then? Will people believe in this Man? What will happen?

Nobody knows.

It is only funny that Man has come full circle around. He originally offered the Theory of Evolution to justify how man evolved from monkeys and chimpanzees. Now he discovered Creationism of his own type, based on scientific methodologies. How will the original religious Creationists take this kind of intervention by Man?

Not too kindly, I guess. This is their turf!!!

Religions still dominate our culture. And it is surprising that even in the U.S. wherein scientific discoveries are at the maximum level (including the creation of new species), there are enough number of ultra-religious folks who simply do not believe in any of this science, and push their own ideas on how human species came about – from the one and only god. The British seem to be more sobre. Even Archbishops in the U.K. seem to believe in the Theory of Evolution while not disputing the influence of god.

OK, now it is time to meet Man the Maker of new destinies. This would mean that we indulge in scientific studies ourselves, and discover for ourselves the possibilities at almost the outer realm of science. It is critical not to make judgement calls, and analyze what Man is discovering without actually jumping into it. Take time to analyze and determine for yourself. Check the evidence. Talk to others. Don’t indoctrinate anyone. Let everyone find our for himself or herself.

It is an interesting thought process to follow, and I am not yet done with this line of thinking. There is more to come along these lines. In the meantime, think for yourself, and don’t get indoctrinated by dogmas.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th October 2016

 

The Fitbit Challenge


It has been just about two weeks since I started wearing a Fitbit Alta device on my wrist in my quest to measure my walking performance.

I have seen an amazing change in my otherwise staid walking behaviour. For the record, I walk for about 2.1 KMs every morning (Fitbit measures this distance and also says that I walk for around 3,000 steps) of the working week, and almost 5 to 6 KMs for the weekend morning. So, I approximately walk around 21 to 22 KMs every week.

My challenge has been on setting a target for the number of steps. Initially, I set 7,500 then increased it to 8,500. I realized one day that this figure is not good enough as the American Heart Association says the average number of steps a person needs to walk everyday should be around 10,000 steps. I kept looking at that message from Fitbit for a few days, and then decided to increase the target to 10,000 steps.

It was easy to achieve between 6,000 and 7,000 steps during the period from waking up till returning home in the evening from office. However, I found that I am not that great a walker in the evenings, and could barely ratchet up another 1,000 to 1,500 steps in the evenings. This resulted in couple of behavioural changes.

I started walking within the office more than I usually do. I started walking more often to get a glass of water, for example. That might add some 300 steps. I also started pacing around a large room or meeting area or pantry when I got a call, or I had to make a call to someone. I found that this added a substantial amount of steps, sometimes in excess of 2,000 steps – instead of sitting and taking calls or making calls, I started walking every time. Together with the water trips in the office, I was easily able to add a minimum of 3,000 steps a day, which took my average walking measure close to 9,000 / 9,500 steps.

The balance was easy to make up by walking around the house in the evenings, pacing while taking calls in the evenings, etc., So, I started doing above 11,000 steps a day. I saw this kind of improvement in just about couple of weeks after starting to wear Fitbit.

The other important and somewhat compelling reason for wearing Fitbit was the comparative measurement of other folks who are connected to oneself and using Fitbit. I was able to see how I was doing compared to a few of my friends and colleagues. As it happened, several of my friends and colleagues were veterans of Fitbits, and have collected many badges on the way. They were clearly above 80,000 steps during any preceding week, while I was barely making it to 70,000 steps. This gave additional push to my behavioural change, and I have just started thinking of adding more steps to my daily rigamarole.

My estimate is that 85,000 steps in any one week is a very good figure to achieve for most folks (average of 12,000 steps a day). During the weekend day, I am also trying to ensure that I walk for over 6 KMs at the minimum. There is enough motivation to do so, given the nature trails in Singapore. I get into issues only when I travel, as I have to replicate the steps measure over a treadmill in a gym which is not exactly equivalent to open air brisk walking.

Overall, Fitbit is a good gadget addition to the list of gadgets we all end up with. May be I should go in for the latest device which also has heartbeat. I noticed that the Health app in my iPhone is not exactly producing the same as the Fitbit figures (the app produces far lower numbers as compared to Fitbit numbers). I am going to check out the latest Fitbit device or any other device which can give me more parameters.

Walking makes one feel good (I am sure running also does that). Walk more and eat less is my new motto.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd October 2016