96 and other movies


Over the past 10 days or so, I had the opportunity to see 4 movies, which is rather unusual. Nowadays, it has become my regular habit to see some Netflix serial to relax and I have become a fan of Netflix based on the variety of shows and movies that they present. I recently saw “The Angel” on Netflix which is a full movie involving Egypt – Israel war and relationship.

Since I was visiting Chennai last week, my family booked not one, but two movies which anyway they were planning to see in theatre – I was just added to the ticket list! I thought why not, let us see Kollywood fare for a change [Kollywood stands for movies produced in Chennai, the Tamil Nadu capital city in South India, as against Bollywood which identifies movies produced out of Bombay, or Mumbai, the movie capital of India].

My sister selected “96” and “Johnny English Strikes Again”. The first was a unique love story and the second was Mr Bean in action as a British intelligence agent. Again, unusual selection of movies for a change!

Apart from the above, I also saw “Imaikka Nodigal” yesterday, which is a rather strange, unusual Tamil thriller.

OK, now let me give you a quick rundown on what I think of these movies. These are not full movie reviews, just my short opinion. So, my view may not corroborate with what a generalist population thinks or how you feel. I refuse to fall into the cult of heroism of any movie actor or actress, which unfortunately plagues much of India. Whether I like an actor’s acting or not is not a reflection on what I think about that actor – it is the result of the actor’s acting under a particular set of constraints, directed by a director who may or may not be able to bring the best out of the actor, and also contributed in large measure by co-actors.

Given then that I am not a typical “movie buff” or a “hero/heroine follower”, I was pleased with the above selection overall. Let me outline my views as below:

“The Angel”: This is a true-life story of Ashraf Marwan, who was the son-in-law of Egyptian President, Gamel Abdel Nasser. Probably Marwan was a double-spy working both for Mossad of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. He is also probably the only hero felicitated in both Egypt and Israel as a national icon who persevered for peace between the two countries. The complex question of whether peace in the Middle East is worth the sacrifice of passing military secrets between two of the most critical nations at war is forever a challenging one to decipher. The mind of Marwan is portrayed as complex and sort of, convoluted. He struggles with himself while trying to do his job and save his family. His job becomes rather difficult given that he is viewed as an ineffectual son-in-law of a powerful President (Nasser). Israel’s Mossad handles Marwan well in the beginning but loses its confidence when key assertions by Marwan do not pan out.

An interesting and dramatic history lesson, “The Angel” is a fascinating watch – especially for us who are far removed from the Middle East.

“96”: This is a beautiful Tamil language movie centred on the teenage love between the two prime characters. It has an excellent cast, and a great director. The movie can be considered to be “slow” paced in today’s world. While I was seeing the movie, I was wondering what I did during my Grade X! Nothing unique, as I was not in a co-ed school anyway. This movie will prod you to reminisce on your school days, especially on the stupid things – I am not meaning the teenage infatuation here! Sorry!!

Nostalgia gets a new meaning when you experience what the characters go through in this movie. It happens to be a love story which did not go well, but it could have been anything. How the hero and heroine (who could not consummate their love) deal with a long night without even so much as touching each other is very well shot by the director and beautifully acted by the two actors. You would guess that they are on to “something” and that is what the friends of the two actors also think, going by visual and body language. Nothing of that sort happens though, and the heroine returns to her family while longing for what she has lost in her life by some stupid reaction. See the movie for learning what she did in college!

“Johnny English Strikes Again”: Absolute nonsense made enjoyable by the antics of our favourite comedian of all times, Mr Bean. I would not gone to see this movie in a theatre spending some serious money as it is all the same nonsense anyway when it comes to British spy stories. This is a ridiculous story about some software bloke who steals the identities of all secret service agents in Britain, and so the government leans on Johnny English to save the Queen’s country from blackmail. The unique point in this movie is the depiction of “older analogue” technologies by an agent who has not yet comprehended the latest digital technologies of spying and warfare. He still wins (he has to, of course), but then everything about this movie is not realistic or believable at all. For some time passing and laughter, yes go and see it. But is it worth spending money on? No, not at all. Mr Bean should stop acting in such totally stupid movies when even the common man thinks it is totally rubbish when Mr Bean cannot even handle an app on his smartphone and trashes it. How is he even going to get his position on the map? Give it a miss.

“Imaikka Nodigal” Absolute thriller with lots of twists and turns. I did not expect the last 15 minutes which reveals who is the actual murderer on the loose. The suspense is kept on for almost the entire duration of the movie and the audience suspects that it is someone who has been revealed by the director early on in the movie – but that does not turn out to be entirely true. This movie is in the league of high quality Hollywood movies of the same genre. That a director of the calibre of Anurag Kashyap from Bollywood can act so well (he is the menacing serial killer in this movie) is a huge surprise. The director has done an amazing job – excellent movie.

Enjoy your weekend, folks! And, see some good movies!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

13th October 2018

 

 

 

Laughing Stock


The widely covered and reported saga of Brett Kavanaugh for appointment as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has become a laughing stock for all the world to witness as an example of things which have gone wrong in the U.S. democratic system of governance.

It was apparent from the beginning that the FBI had not conducted a thorough check of the background of Judge Kavanaugh. At least it was clear that the FBI had not dialled back even up to his Yale college days, an investigation of which would have provided grist upon his bad drinking habits and sexual exposition.

While what happened at age 17 or 18 should not be of major concern after 36 years have passed (though disturbing if you had seen the testimony of Dr Christine Ford in the Senate Judiciary Committe hearing), the key aspect for any public appointment, and more so for a judicial appointment, is integrity, and it was apparent that Judge Kavanaugh lied in his testimony about his drinking problem. Lying is clearly a non-starter in pursuing public office, and apart from this, it was also clear that the Judge was a wild adolescent and then a wild adult during his Yale college days. I cannot recall any other appointment which has caused such a major controversy, partisan split, and serious doubts about the adequacy of the candidate (not his competency).

In India, the Judicial Collegium shortlists and recommends judicial nominees for the government to approve. While there has been a serious disconnect between the Indian Supreme Court and the government on the last such appointment a few months ago, the government had to ultimately yield to the Collegium. There is no public hearing for public service appointments in India.

I am not suggesting that the Indian system of selecting judges is better, but it is important to recognize alternative systems are in place around the world. Not that there is no controversy – we know that the last judicial appointment led to a tough public fight between the Supreme Court and the government, represented by the Law Minister (India’s equivalent of Jeff Sessions).

Of course, the whole world looks up to the example of the U.S. democracy in full action, as it played out in this case in a totally public fashion. Every day, right through all of September, the world witnessed the intense testimonies and the tough questioning of Judge Kavanaugh at the U.S. Senate.

There is one long-standing and widely respected (though now widely adopted) principle in public service life in democratic nations, and that is simply the following: even if there is an iota of doubt about a nominee for high office in the minds of the selectors, as to his/her complete suitability, competency, integrity, and commitment, then that nominee needs to be thoroughly investigated, and in most cases the nomination should be withdrawn for the greater good of the larger public. The loss of faith in the ability of one to discharge public duties and service cannot be sustained if there is a slight doubt on one’s integrity.

The argument that the nominee’s reputation and future are irreversibly damaged by unsubstantiated and unverified allegations, and so these accusations should be dispensed with forthright, is not amenable to a logical and rational interpretation on how nominees should be prepared for a totally open and transparent yet risky interrogation and investigation.

Given what has transpired, especially the emotional outbursts of Judge Kavanaugh against Democratic Senators who questioned him vigorously and his explicit allegiance to President Trump and the ideals of the GOP, it would be rather interesting to carefully watch how Justice Kavanaugh plays out and leverages the conservative majority in the Supreme Court in the months and years to come. Don’t forget the fact that the Supreme Court appointments are for lifetime, and so what happens to the decisions of the Supreme Court now tainted by overt partisanship is no longer anybody’s guess – it will hit Americans in a way they would not have imagined till now.

Well, the idiosyncracies of democracy are well known. Unfortunately, there are significant negatives and inefficiency in the system of checks and balances.

Let us see how this drama unfolds in critical legal policy issues confronting the U.S. Supreme Court.

Have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th October 2018

Traffic Anarchy


I have been in Chennai, India for the past couple of days.

I do not have my laptop with me during this trip, so I am keying this blog post on my iPhone, for the first time ever! Its a bit strange though, however not that inconvenient to type.

The rainy season has started in Tamil Nadu State, with the threat of a cyclone coming during this weekend. While the State Government has issued warnings via a “red alert” for this Sunday 7th October, people don’t seem to be bothering, and everything looks normal on the roads, with occasional drizzles and some good rains during night times. I did not see many folks with umbrellas, which seemed strange, given the potential hazards of getting drenched in heavy rains anytime during the day. I became like the local folks, and decided not to take the umbrella yesterday when my mom proferred one with the warning that rains were coming – I walked out like an absolute local with no cover over my head. And it was drizzling a bit, and I enjoyed it, though I had no intent of getting drenched in the rain!

I got into an auto rickshaw, the affordable three-wheeler still dominating the streets of most cities and towns in India. I had booked the vehicle using the OLA app (similar to UBER or GRAB app), which provides dynamic real-time pricing, and had lot of difficulty in securing one due to the rains. It was annoying to keep getting the same message “no autos are available now – please try again later”, and also keep seeing an ever-increasing price every time. Finally, I had to pay more (like a surge price), and get an auto, it took nearly 30 minutes overall, which was not a pleasant waiting experience. Of course, I am not blaming the OLA app itself, as it cannot do much if even the higher real-time pricing does not elicit a response from the auto drivers who are waiting nearby to my location.

Now, let me come to the traffic part.

Indian cities (except a couple) are notorious for their disorganized and uncontrolled traffic conditions on even the arterial city roads. The road in which my apartment is located is known for its bad traffic all day round, with couple of large shopping malls, many apartment blocks, cinema theatres, a bus terminus, a major hospital and a large IT company building, all located within a stretch of less than 1 KM. I have to almost always make a U-turn just ahead of my apartment to get to the city, and that other side of the road is always super congested.

I suggested to my auto driver that he should take a short cut via some lane instead of joining the bursting traffic on the other side of the road, as I was making a rather short trip to the post office nearby and did not wish to waste a lot of time on the road.

He thought for some 5 seconds and decided to U-turn on my side of the road itself, and started driving against the oncoming traffic to my horror! He asked me not to worry!! The beauty was that the traffic coming against us “slightly” adjusted their traffic curvature to accommodate our vehicle, making a “sincere” attempt to avoid hitting us!!! This “adjustment” is a unique part of the driving culture in India.

After some 30 metres or so, he deftly turned into a side road and proceeded in the “right” side of the traffic, and was able to reach the desired traffic junction undercutting all of the traffic chaos on the other side of my main road by making appropriate quick turns!

Looks like many folks (except cars and heavy vehicles) are doing the same motions to undercut the traffic, with the potential threat of a traffic cop stopping the vehicle anytime, and issuing a traffic violation ticket, or demanding a hefty “contribution”.

Coming to think of it, it is not possible to get control of the city traffic situation in most cities of India without some sort of “ERP” system like that of Singapore – ERP stands for Electronic Road Pricing, and it is a dynamic road pricing system which increases the cost to drivers at peak traffic times. There will be huge protests if such a system is introduced in India, but I believe that there is no alternative due to the lack of proper, well maintained roads and also lack of adequate road space and improper/illegal constructions occupying road corners. Singapore has successfully and effectively used ERP to control traffic congestion for the past two decades.

With the rains hitting Chennai, I could see the very badly maintained roads taking further hits, creating big holes on the roads which are dangerous to all drivers, especially to the smaller vehicles such as autos and two wheelers. Who is responsible for this sorry state of affairs?

The traffic situation is bad especially during the rains, but I discovered the joys of listening to music like Abba, Boney M, and Ed Sheeren using Spotify app on my iPhone. Music one likes or loves to hear would reduce the the stress on Indian roads. Now I am downloading more songs via Spotify! Hopefully, other drivers will resort to some such non-distracting driving aids while encountering the chaos and the poor roads.

In any case, there is no escape from going outside the cosy house and doing your job. Millions of people endure this traffic anarchy right through the day, and they must be always wondering “when is someone going to put an end to all this chaos?”.

Have a wonderful, rain-soaked weekend, folks! At least the folks in South India!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th October 2018

Some useful snacks


I come back to one of my favourite topics: healthy food. How to keep ourselves satiated with good snacks without the extra sugar and bad elements which affect our health?

I hope you have read my post on “Kale”. While it is not a snack, it should form part of your primary meal – either lunch or dinner, at least 2 to 3 times a week. Today, being Sunday, I had the pleasure of having a Kale salad – mostly kale, but with cherry tomatoes, avocado, beetroot, etc., mixed with millet (which has become my favourite grain) and balsamic vinegar. On top of these ingredients, I added pomegranate seeds and sprinkled cinnamon powder. It was quite a filling lunch.

Now, back to snacks. Usually mid-morning, I have some tea without milk and put together a melange of my nuts (pistachios, walnut, almonds, cashews, hazel nuts – 8 pieces each) and also add a little bit of sunflower seeds & pumpkin seeds. This is quite a filling snack and goes down well with some flavoured tea (my choice today was peach tea).

I thought it would be appropriate to share the results of some of my additional experiments on snack foods. It is hard not to be careful while selecting snacks, as mostly the pre-packaged snacks available widely in supermarkets have undesirable ingredients. I am very discerning in rejecting most of these snacks without mercy, and consistently put most of them on my “snack black-list”, so that I do not keep wasting time again and again.

My new list of some excellent snacks as follows:

  • Goji Berries (also known as Wolfberries) – the variety I like is “Dried Tibetan Goji Berries” from Nature Super Foods in Singapore – just 1 or 2 tablespoons
  • Blueberries – we know this for a long time, but I am now consciously having this great nutritious fruit – available in most supermarkets: take just 15 to 20 pieces
  • Whole Grain Rye Bread / Pumpernickel Bread from PEMA Germany – just one thin slice, topped either with hummus or gouda / feta cheese – have this at around 6 PM; if this particular brand is not available, you should be able to find some equivalent easily: this is a very light snack but you will feel “good”
  • Pomegranates – amazing fruit with incredible properties – just one small cup or may be 4 tablespoons
  • Dark grapes – black in colour and really luscious: take just 10 or so – again grapes have amazing properties

There are many more, but then we cannot confuse our body mechanisms by putting in too many of these good things as well. The key thing is to drop the bad stuff – do not eat fried snacks for instance.

Apart from snacks, I have come to depend on key addition to my food habits – just before going to bed, I either have 4 teaspoons of Apple Cider Vinegar (about which I have written earlier), or a cup of unsweetened almond milk of the organic type. There are several brands available from Australia mostly. I alternate between the Australian variety or the U.S. made almond milk – please note that the sugar content should be zero. Almond milk provides protein which is necessary for my food mix. You may or may not need it, but then it cannot be harmful to anyone.

While I used to snack at odd times in the past (6 months ago), I have conditioned myself to expect snacks at scheduled times through the day. This conditioning helps, but it gets affected while travelling, which in  my case, is quite often. I try to adhere to the schedule most of the days, and very firmly avoid the food that I have put in black-list. And, that list includes long-standing favourites such as pasta, bread (not the ones mentioned above), rice, naan, chappathi, and other high-carbs foods – these are completely out.

With this approach, I am finally gaining some control on my body. I think it is essential, and sometimes I ruminate on the lost opportunities in my life so far to do such things which are effective from the perspective of one’s own healthcare. I recall that I hardly looked at any info’ on diets and their effects on health. I would say that it was stupid to have dropped the ball on this aspect of healthcare for a long time, as what goes in affects your health for sure.

I am encouraging you to do your own research before changing your long-established food patterns, which are also dominated by culture and habit. I could make the changes that I determined would be necessary for my own good, implement the same rigorously, and track the results on a weekly basis. I am now only on my 14th week of such tough food regimen, and I can tell you that the results are there – without any medications whatsoever. You can drop all your medicines if you control what goes inside your body, and also understand the implications. Of course, this applies only to those folks who are more or less fine with some struggle in terms of arresting some of the “curves” – I mean graphs not body curves!

Make your own decisions and choices.

Hope you enjoyed reading this post, have a wonderful week ahead.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th September 2018

Deep Insights and Thinking Process


When we fiddle around with something like a smartphone, or a TV remote controller, our mind is not going to think on any big topic of importance. You are struggling with something, or you are searching for something, or you are wondering why the TV remote is not working in the manner it should. Nothing beyond those very mundane things.

Not surprising, right?

So, when do people really think?

I have been thinking about this fascinating topic for the past few days, after my wife asked me to look out of the balcony into the inspiring skyline with absolutely nothing on my mind, which I did.

When I did that, I could see some kind of calmness descend on me, my mind became clear, and I start to think of things which are critical to me, such as my family matters and how to resolve some issues, et al. I even thought how to resolve the Palestinian conflict, can you beat that?

The difference that I understood lay in the way our mind perceives our distractions. When you are messing around with some technological marvels, talking into your Alexa asking it to forecast tomorrow’s weather, playing around with your car’s controls, etc., our mind is pre-occupied. It is not allowed (by you) to think on more important matters. You are constraining the immense utility of your powerful brain. Your mind is thinking through smallish issues that you are forcing it to tackle.

However, things and our perspective change when you do nothing. Yes, do absolutely nothing at all.

This means exactly what it means – just sit there and look out of your window or balcony, or stare into space. You are not seeing anyone, or talking to anyone – you are with yourself, and you are striving to be at peace.

Then what happens? A lot of things happen when you do nothing. Am I taking you for a ride? No.

Just think. Yes, just look out and force your mind to think.

It is not difficult. It might sound like nonsense, it might sound like some mysterious exercise.

It is not.

Just try doing this right now – first close your eyes, while being seated near a window or a balcony or a chair in the nearby park. Keep your eyes closed at least for a minute. Now open your eyes, while keeping your head tilted looking up.

What do you see? Either a blue sky or the sun setting at dusk, or horizon full of green tree tops – something like that, right? Do not look at peoples’ faces, and for this reason, place yourself in a calm quiet place with no traffic.

Once you have seen the serene sky for instance, the next step would be to ask your mind to think about some matter of personal importance to you or your family. It could be the upcoming family vacation, or it could be some wedding in the family, or it might be a great investment opportunity. Or, it could be a political conflict, or a war. It could be problems between countries, etc.,

Your mind now starts to think in a quiet, unimpeded manner. Outline of the problem statement, people involved, issues surrounding the problem, the central issue to be resolved, how to go about resolving the problem, what are the repercussions, etc., You are able to visualize the whole problem in almost a figurative, diagrammatic way. If you keep your mind focused even for a few minutes, you would be surprised of the outcomes – you have had the chance of coming across a variety of ways in which a specific problem can be addressed and resolved in a quiet calm manner without distractions of technology or for that matter, chattering people.

So, now you see the value of thinking in an undistracted, calm manner. It is some kind of meditation as you start with keeping your eyes shut. Keep the mind calm and “ready” to think.

I have decided that this appears to be a better way to think about important things, and so you can now find me gazing out of a balcony or a window oftentimes, looking at the sky or the horizon, and then intensely trying to think of some issue or problem. If my eyes are not focused on anyone, then it could be because of this effort silently going on within my mind.

So, it is time for you to stop meddling around, or fiddling around. It is time to start training your mind to think, not at intervals between tasks, but on a dedicated pattern whenever you feel like taking a “down” time. Do not sleep off! This process is guaranteed to deliver deep insights to yourself. On things of critical importance to you. Try it.

Have a great weekend, folks, and look out of the balcony or window right today,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th September 2018

The Unusual President’s Brash Initiatives


When I look at the continuous drama going on in Washington, D.C., I cannot but fail to appreciate the unusual nature of the White House incumbent. Never before had there been a President of the U.S. who has flouted all public norms of decency, all diplomatic protocols, all trade agreements, and whatever has so far formed the foundations of American Democracy.

Some of the President’s, sorry, most of his actions border on incredulity, what else can I say? It is simply unbelievable that so many things that the President says are things which have never been stated publicly (I am including his tweets, obviously). America is changing dramatically during this Presidency, and the America which will exit at the end of this Presidency is going to be vastly different from the one that existed in 2016.

Of course, I am not going to fault this President for some of his “actions”, which are apparently what he promised to the electorate and let us not forget that he got elected via a public election process in the U.S. One cannot hide behind the fact that Hillary Clinton won 3M more public votes than Donald Trump, that is not the way the U.S. Electoral System works.

Let us see what President Trump has accomplished in the past 18 months:

  • The first ever major Tax Reform signed in 30 years
  • Lowest unemployment in 20 years
  • GDP rapidly growing at over 3%
  • More than USD 5T wealth created

There are many actions that President Trump took which have put fear into the most important trading partners of the U.S., such as Canada, Mexico, the U.K., the E.U., China, and India. His “America First” philosophy is now deeply ingrained in the psyche of the U.S. public, and in fact, in most countries around the world.

There are many negatives spawned by President Trump which have impacted the world in the wrong manner, and he is facing several personal scandals as we all know well. The “fake news” media (his term for the mainstream media comprising of liberal news channels and publications) have kept all of us very well informed. I look at Fox News everyday to see how is their version of the news unfolding, and the dichotomy is greatly interesting.

Coming back to my rationale for writing this blog post (I think this is my fourth post on Trump), I cannot disagree on his economic or trade initiatives. I will not cover his immigration and border security initiatives in this post. It requires an American President made up of an entirely different fabric to contest the long-held notions on free trade. But I think he is executing his trade strategy brilliantly, while the U.S. economy is chugging along well and wage growth has started trickling in. The U.S. is the biggest buyer of most goods in the world, and runs a big trade deficit with most large countries, which is simply untenable. I cannot understand why trade parity is so difficult to accomplish – it need not even balance entirely, what the U.S. wants is some kind of parity – not a very lopsided one such as the one it has with China. The U.S. cannot be importing over USD 500B of goods from China, while exporting just around USD 130B to China – highly untenable.

It has become very difficult to gauge President Trump and forecast his next action plan. It is apparent that most of his ideas are actually stemming from his brain, as he hardly trusts his own cabinet. He has seen a continuous exit of his cabinet team members who could not see eye to eye with him on apparently random ideas or actions. It is also very clear that President Trump does not like to wait to take action on his random ideas – he wants almost immediate action. If the Congress does not play along, he will even go to the extent of threatening his own party members!

So, the world is in for a continuous random adhoc ride the likes of which it has never experienced. I am now almost sure that President Trump is going to be re-elected, simply because there is no other contender from his own party, and the Democratic Party is in a state of disarray with no strong personality emerging with less than 18 months to go for campaigning to start for the 2020 Presidential Elections.

Who will the U.S. public go with? A guy who has delivered on his economic and trade promises, though he has misjudged on many other initiatives, and plagued by sleazy scandals? Or, a relatively unknown candidate who is yet to be tested though he might bring new ideas to the table? The jury may be out, but it is my considered guess that President Trump will win a second term, at the end of which the U.S. will be an unassailable economic and military power, though not liked around the world for its exclusivity in global affairs.

If I were an American citizen, my vote will have to be cast for President Trump. There is not much to argue against such a vote as I stand to benefit in a variety of ways – lower taxes, better wages, more economic growth potential, and more demand for American goods.

If I am an Indian or Chinese citizen, my vote will obviously go against President Trump. I would like a pro-trade, pro-immigration candidate.

If I am Singaporean, I may not give a damn, though an inner voice is asking me to stay involved with the U.S. – but, it is not a choice I have, and as a small nation, it is better to manage the middle ground extremely well. There is no point in rocking an already shaky boat. We realize the world is forever, unstable, and it is our duty to demonstrate rationality in decision-making.

That’s it folks, have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd September 2018

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

Kale – a superfood


I have become a fan of Kale, having known it only for the past couple of months! I was ashamed that I did not come to know of it much earlier in life. It is an amazing superfood that every one should have almost every day. Why almost? That’s because it is expensive compared to the usual greens that you get at your usual supermarket. Kai-lan, a derivative of Kale is much cheaper, and is a preferred veggie for Chinese food, along with garlic. Both Kai-lan and garlic combine to give a nutritious and delicious veggie, and I like to order it whenever I visit a Chinese restaurant.

I have come to like the taste of Kale as part of my salad preparation, though I did not like the Kale juice which I made a mistake of buying in the Organic Foods section of my supermarket of choice – which is Fairprice in Singapore, where I shop almost every weekend, along with my wife. It is almost a regimen, much like most people of Singapore. Coming back to Kale juice, it was horrible – the taste was something that I could not stomach. So, I abandoned Kale juice, and chose the greens for direct contribution to my salad.

Kale is one of the most “nutrient dense” food in the entire planet, packed with vitamins and minerals. It is high in fiber, potassium, calcium, antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin B6, iron, beta-carotene,  manganese, copper, etc., Consuming Kale is good for almost fixing any health problem! Please do your own research before you start on your Kale regime, but I am very well into it. It handles all kinds of major health issues such as diabetes, cancer, cholesterol problems, vision-related problems, bone mass issue, liver function problems, heart disease, and so on. The health benefits of Kale are far too many to be listed out in one blog post.

In one single word to define Kale, it simply boosts your immunity and well-being. Very few veggies offer such huge range of health benefits as Kale does, and it is now an integral part of my (almost) daily food routine.

The other veggies with similar characteristics belong to the same cabbage family like Kale – some of these are broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, cauliflower, mustard greens, watercress, arugula, etc.,

In salad preparation, I try to make it an interesting concoction to savour, using a variety of ingredients every time. Of course, you start with lettuce (not too much of it like what they do in the salad shops, filling the bowl mostly with it), or arugula, or spinach, or a combination. Then I add onions, cherry tomatoes, broccolis, beetroots, bell peppers, zucchinis, cucumbers, half cup of millet or quinoa, a variety of nuts such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts and hazel nuts, some goji berries, blueberries, and top up the whole thing with sauteed kale, black olives, with the dressing simply by adding 3 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar. You can add flax seeds and chia seeds, and sprinkle some cinnamon powder as well.

There you go – one of the healthiest salads you can prepare on your own with fresh ingredients, and never mind the cost – it is not going to be as expensive as having a half-done salad in a high-end restaurant. The labour of preparation is your own, which cannot be costed. Well, I forgot – just add some mild and crumbly Greek Feta Cheese on top of the salad.

I am having this kind of salad (or a variation of it) every day, in place of the usual dinner. I can tell you that the benefits of such a salad are amazing. I feel better and energetic from 7 PM till whatever time I want to be awake. I do not feel drowsy, and I feel “full”, not hungry at all afterwards. The salad is healthy and it is also “light” on the stomach. It provides all the necessary nutrients that the body needs every day – I cannot say the same thing of the heavy carbs-oriented food that we all consume for dinner every day.

Further, it is a “perky” kind of food – you are up and ready to go early next morning. The trick is to make it yourselves with your chosen ingredients in a manner that you like, and have it just before 7 PM, consistently every day.

The question often arises – what do I do when I travel, which is quite often. It is of course, a big challenge. However, I find that most 5-Star hotels have a good salad offering on their menu. You won’t be able to get all the ingredients that I have described above, however, you need to be satisfied with their generic menu items, but you can always ask for extra add-ons, which they will be pleased to provide (such as nuts, fruits, etc.,). Adding lemon juice instead of apple cider vinegar is clearly a good and easy option when travelling. Just squeeze the lemons on to the salad! Avoid adding heavy salad dressings which are always available in hotels – these will take away all the health benefits of the raw salad that you have ordered.

In a nutshell, Kale on top of your salad is an outstanding combination, offering superfood benefits to one and all. Try out Kale, sooner than later!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th September 2018

 

 

 

Jason Bourne


I just saw the 2016 movie “Jason Bourne” (the latest in the Jason Bourne series) – I have been wanting to see this one for quite a while and was happy to see it on Netflix, as otherwise I would have to rely on unreliable streaming sites. Seeing any movie on Netflix is as good as viewing it in a theatre setting. It has been difficult to get anything more than 30 minutes in the evening time (between office timings and late evening global conference calls), but for this movie I continuously sat down at one go, as the action sequences were great.

It is easy to write off the series of Jason Bourne movies as escapist and unrealistic stories in the ultramodern society we live in. To a certain extent, that assertion may be true, till you come across real stuff in news or TV about what happened in a current global conflict or in a prison of torture. It always strikes me when unelected government officials take decisions to eliminate people without any conscience whatsoever, just on some pretext of “national security”. What is indeed national security? It is nonsense, as one single individual is never a threat to a nation, and will anyway be eliminated in an open conflict if he opens fire on law enforcement agents. Using big government resources and money on catching one individual somewhere in the world, while even violating another country’s laws, and killing common people in the process, is totally unacceptable. Unfortunately, many countries cooperate with the U.S. government agencies under duress, especially the Western European countries.

In real terms, Jason Bourne probably reflects 70 to 80% of what goes on in international espionage. It is funny that in this movie the CIA Director tries to eliminate American citizens, such as Jason Bourne (an ex-CIA agent), Heather Lee, Head of Cyber Operations at the CIA, and even the CEO of a Silicon Valley company! All are Americans who are personally against the CIA Director who is a devious, old school man who wants to take revenge, and even violates the orders of his own boss (the Director of National Intelligence).

There is a lot of interesting, though unbelievable action sequences in Jason Bourne, which are quite enjoyable for their sheer stupidity. Yes, crashing big SUVs into a Las Vegas Casino, and driving against traffic, while many police cars are giving an intense chase, are probably so common in Hollywood action thrillers, that you kind of able to predict what is going to happen. The bad guy will ultimately get killed, right? The movie allows the bad CIA “asset” (well acted by Vincent Cassel, the French actor) to go about killing innocent bystanders who happen to be on his way. Matt Damon as Jason Bourne has given a sterling performance with his face conflicted strongly by emotions on his father’s assassination (by Vincent Cassel who was acting under orders from our bad CIA Director), but yet very quick on his feet thinking all the while about the next step to take. He is able to find his way all over Europe from Athens to Berlin to London, without getting caught at immigration though the CIA is looking out for him, reminding me of the fallacy in many Hollywood, Bollywood and Kollywood movies. He is also able to get back into the U.S., with the help of Heather Lee of the CIA ( very well acted by Alicia Vikander, the Swedish actress with a very solemn face which does not show emotions though she gets under lot of work pressure imposed by the CIA Director). I would be remiss if I do not mention about the excellent heavy-duty acting by Tommy Lee Jones, who acts as the bad CIA Director, Robert Dewey.

I always love espionage and thriller movies, one key reason being that I do not encounter such things in my life. Our lives tend to be mundane, and routine in daily activities. Can you imagine the life of a CIA agent or a CIA “asset”? This movie does not make anyone empathize with their lives, of course. In fact, we get angry at the apparent lawlessness and senselessness of the CIA, as depicted in this movie – dominated by personal grudges and animosity between individuals, rather than a determined organization which works as per its charter.

But then, this is the world we live in, and nothing much is going to change in the world of espionage. In fact, it is fast becoming “digital” as we can see in this movie – the CIA Director pushing the CEO of “Deep Dream” [a proxy for Facebook, I would guess], to insert a “backdoor” into the latest release of their software, so that CIA can conduct mass surveillance on Americans. Does it sound familiar, do you recall Edward Snowden?

Overall, this is a good, watchable movie if you are into action-thrillers. There is not much of an acting in this movie (!), all actors seem to be in their “jobs” in real life!!! That is the feeling I got, having been a real fan of Jason Bourne movies from yesteryears.

Enjoy your weekend!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th September 2018

 

The inhibitions of society


Are you making an intelligent guess on what this topic could be about?

You would probably guess it right, I guess.

This post is about the historic, game-changing verdict by the Supreme Court of India on abolishing the British era Section 377 which penalized sexual acts between adults of the same gender. This was a much awaited verdict by the LGBT community.

I am not going into the moral dimensions of the issue or the verdict itself.

It is all about the society in which we live in. For a long long time, the society shunned and ostracized people belonging to the LGBT community, irrespective of any other factors. So the community kept to itself, and operated in secrecy to avoid facing the society and more importantly, the “moral” policing which occurred in many parts of India.

The main premise of the society (which happens to be largely conservative) was always that homosexuality and lesbianism were against the natural order of living. Many a time, there were religious links to the stand taken by the society – it was that God had ordained procreation to occur exclusively between man and woman, and any other form of sexual relationships were anti-religion and immoral. And so on, and so forth.

Society’s worry is about things which are unknown – which it does not understand, it does not know why a different union is required, etc., It is scared.

Obviously, as members of the same society, we had two compulsions: (a) that the society does not approve of such modes of cross-gender living together; and, (b) that non-conformance to the majority view (in excess of 99%) would put even sympathizers into grave difficulties while trying to pursue normal lives. These constructs would challenge any person even if he or she does not belong to the LGBT community, but sympathizes with their cause and right to live in any which way they prefer with any kind of sexual orientation. The society also worried about the impact of such orientation on children and teenagers of impressionable age groups.

If someone asks me straight about my support or lack of support for such societal restrictions, it would be difficult for me to respond. Obviously, I do not wish to take a stand, but that is also timid and smacks of conformance where none is called for. I cannot and do not differentiate against any such orientations if I encounter such people in my business life, as it does not matter to me. I have actually not encountered anyone belonging explicitly to the LGBT community and it is my strong presumption that they are no different from me or my other friends (the “Straight Ones”! – this will no longer be a politically correct expression!!). When there is no impact on business life or corporate situations, why should one bother about social life situations?

Introduction to such a community member in a social context or business networking context is surely not going to affect my view of that person – it should not. However, would I engage with such a person in a family get-together kind of situation – meaning would I invite him/her for a social get-together at my home?

I do not see why not. Of course, I would surely have a challenge if a same-sex couple turned up at my home or for a private function, as I have not experienced such a situation till today. How would I welcome the couple or introduce them as a couple to my family members and other friends?

I am sure I will figure a way out of such a challenge. The key thing is to invite them. Personally, it is a big challenge as I grapple with the acceptance myself. I have to convince myself that nature provides for a variation in sexual orientations amongst the citizens of the world, and there is nothing inherently wrong or immoral for two people of the same sex discovering joy in their union. I will not be able to understand such a union intimately, however, and I am not going to deny it or deny my lack of understanding. But I can appreciate.

I belong to the 99% majority I referred to above, though I am a “liberal” with open views (as you might have seen in this blog). I am a non-conformance specialist, as my opinions are usually contrarian to those of the majority, simply because I spend time thinking for myself on issues and do not just depend on others’ views or those propounded by a religion, sect, or government. When I think through issues, I discover facts or perspectives which are not truly reflected in the majority discussions. While I respect the society in which I live, I am not going to accept the majority view in matters of public importance. So, I usually look at the conclusions of the legal system, rather than at conclusions made by an elected government which could come under popular pressure. It is also true that many a time, an elected government does not bother about popular opinion and makes decisions which it thinks are appropriate or required for a meaningful resolution of the issue at hand. Hence, I cannot be blamed for running my own thought process and respecting myself for making decisions or conclusions, which I retain within myself, or publish on this blog. It does not mean that I do not respect the majority view, or the minority view, or the religious view, or the government view. But in the pecking order, my conclusions reign supreme at #1.

So, in conclusion, while I do not understand the physiological or biological mandate for same sex union, I do understand the preference and sexual orientation of one human being towards another that he or she likes or loves. That is perfectly fine, and should be fine with the larger society as well, though there will continue to be challenges as we saw in several court cases in the U.S. (recall the case of the bakery owner who refused to serve the same-sex couple). I am sure there will be similar challenges in India.

There should be no rationale to discriminate against the LGBT community members – any such discrimination should be prosecuted as per law in force. They have their own right to privacy and human rights in equal measure. As the Supreme Court of India said in its judgement “Morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality. Only constitutional morality exists in our country” – Dipak Misra, Chief Justice of India.

Hence, the only conclusion is to accept the LGBT community members as full-fledged members of the same society that we all live in, and not discriminate against them in any form, and slowly integrate them into the social context with open arms while educating our own family members to pursue an understanding reminiscent of the maturity that the human race has already attained.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th September 2018