I recently made a trip to Las Vegas, the most famous sin city in the world.
My defining experience of Las Vegas was not the gambling in the casinos. Rather it was the various shows which seem to be going on for ever in the city.
I saw three shows when I stayed for just over 4 days. The first one was David Copperfield at the MGM Grand. Amazing magician – while I have heard about him, this was the first time I saw him in close action. In one act, he disappeared from the stage, and appeared almost next to me in the middle of the audience. How the hell did he do that ? And, at the end of the show, he vowed the audience by inserting a life-like dinosaur skeleton inside an empty cage on the stage, which made noises and opened its mouth repeatedly !
The David Copperfield show was simply the most amazing magician show that I have seen.
The second one was the Jeff Dunham show. It was equally good. Jeff is a ventriloquist and a stand-up comedian with his set of famous characters which all appeared to be alive and kicking. These are the famous Walter, Peanut, Bubba J, Achmed the Dead Terrorist, Melvin the Superhero Guy, etc., His show is really entertaining, provided one can follow the accents of the various characters closely. I had a bit of struggle with that, but eventually managed to understand what was causing an uproar in the audience. Again, Jeff Dunham show was fantastic, creative, original, and designed to cause unhindered laughter.
The last show that I saw was the Cirque du Soleil. I had big expectations of this circus and entertainment show. Unfortunately, the Ka Show that I saw in Treasure Island casino fell far short of my expectations. It looked highly rehearsed and artificial, and did not have much of an audience connect or impact. My feeling was shared by couple of other folks around me. May be it was the wrong first show of circus for me from Cirque du Soleil, however I expected nothing but the most outstanding quality in any such global show provider.
In any case, the shows were great, and I only regretted that I could not see many other world-famous shows in Las Vegas ! There are a number of shows to be seen, and one tip I can give is that “do not buy the tickets online in advance”. You will be paying full price, the only advantage being you can select the seating. However, if you care to take a walk along the “Strip”, you will find the same tickets for the same shows at 45% discount ! Next time around I am not going to order tickets online.
The other defining experience of Las Vegas was the 4 mile walk up and down the “Strip” – you get to atleast see the exterior of all the major casinos and the shopping malls. And, it is a good walk – on the day I took that walk, I clocked nearly 15 KMs since I walked in and out of most buildings. It is not that hot during April, though a bit warm. You will get to see the “action” on the “Strip” all along, including some excellent food places.
I took the helicopter ride by Maverick to see the Hoover dam. Again, my expectations were high, but the experience was not that great. First, the helicopters have a constant shake going on. Second, the Hoover Dam does not appear that great from the helicopter – it would have been very good if the helicopter goes around the dam a couple of times allowing a better view and photography. But that was not to be. In a nutshell, it was not worth it, and I did not have the time for a Grand Canyon helicopter ride.
Well, all said, Las Vegas is surely worth a trip. You don’t have to be a gambler, though it feels probably good losing money at the black jack for most people around the casinos. I must have walked many KMs up and down the Wynn and Encore casinos and couple of other ones such as MGM Grand. It is all the same. At the end of the day, 99% of the people are losing money and some their shirts even for sure.
9th May 2015
Last week I had been to Mangalore/India for personal work. Mangalore is located on the Western coastline of India in the state of Karnataka, and is accessible from Chennai (where I was visiting) only via Mumbai or Bangalore.
Mangalore is a nice small city, which is known for its very heavy rains during the monsoon season starting sometime in June and also for its wonderful cashews/dry fruits. It is at the confluence of multiple cultures, so people here speak many languages such as Kannada, Tulu, Konkan, and Malayalam (Mangalore is located around 10 KMs from the border with the Kerala State). It is also known for a significant portion of its eligible employees working in the Gulf (Middle East), just like Kerala.
I had good experience in my personal work which involved multiple parties working together in a short time span of less than 24 hours. Such an experience is rare in India. Everyone involved was professional and helpful. They ensured my work was completed on time, and I could get on to a flight back to Chennai the same evening.
I shopped for cashew nuts, dry fruits and banana chips with the help of a friend. The quality was excellent; the price was just right (may be slightly on the higher side because of better quality). For example, 250 GMs of roasted cashew nuts costs INR 260 or just SGD 6 (USD 4), which is cheaper than what you can get in Singapore of course.
I stayed for a night in a pretty decent hotel which costed just INR 1,400 or SGD 31 (USD 23), and the breakfast of 2 idlis, 1 vada and a nescafe coffee costed – you won’t believe this – just INR 70 or SGD 1.6 (USD 1.1). Amazing, isn’t it ? In Singapore, that food would set me back by SGD 10.
While the traffic on arterial roads was heavy, overall the traffic situation was not bad. There was thin traffic in the early hours of the afternoon, and when I left for the airport at 6 PM, I thought we are going to be held up in the evening traffic but it was not to be – there was not much traffic and I reached the airport in 25 minutes for a distance of some 16 KMs !
I had assumed that the old style cyber centres for providing internet access to consumers had disappeared in most cities, but Mangalore had a plethora of these centres. I had to use such a facility twice that day I was visiting Mangalore, since otherwise it would have taken considerable time to go to someone’s office or home. I got my e-ticket for the flight back to Chennai booked and issued at a cyber centre !
The airport was a nice experience – it is an international airport with good facilities and not much crowd. I got annoyed a bit in the waiting lounge as one of the passengers was shouting non-stop at a loud pitch into his cell phone and did not look like going to stop. I was disturbed because I was trying to concentrate at reading a new book I had bought – “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande, and that required good concentration.
In a nutshell, Mangalore is a good city with nice people overall. And it is worth a visit for various reasons including the fact that it is located close to Udupi, Coorg and Manipal.
12th April 2015
I took a family vacation in Vietnam recently.
When we think about Vietnam, only one thing usually comes up in our mind – the Vietnam War which lasted for more than two decades, and the fact that Vietnam remains the only country in the world to have formally defeated the U.S., the mightiest country in the world.
IndoChina is a rather complex region with long history and a convoluted geography, with Vietnam being at its centre. Chinese, French, American, Russian and other influences have dominated IndoChina for a long time, but apparently the country has retained its culture and old-world charm, despite suffering one of the worst war calamities ever to strike a human population.
When we entered the country, none of the above was on our minds. We were more curious about the people and the land itself, and sometimes were amazed at the scenic beauty of its countryside. Halong Bay was a beautiful place to visit in Northern Vietnam, around 3.5 hours by car from Hanoi, the capital city. Hanoi itself is a charming city, with large French influence, a densely populated ‘old quarters” of the town which is also the downtown of Hanoi. Shopping is a nice experience, and the spas are good. Food is fabulous with wide-ranging choices, but we preferred the Vietnamese cuisine (“pho” has become common vocabulary in our household now – it is the Vietnamese vermicelli noodles).
While each location we visited would require a separate web post (rightfully so), I thought it would be better to give a summary post here on Vietnam itself. We visited several places – Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, My Son (pronounced “mee sun”), Hoi An, Danang, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Mekong Delta, Cu Chi, Cao Dai, etc., All are impressive places worth a visit, but one learning is that these places always need more time to spend ! There are many things to be seen, appreciated, learnt about…..this is a country with deep history and a vast geography. And, also a country with a deep sense of pride on their identity and culture, and their past abilities to defend their motherland.
The most distinguishing factor is of course, the people – it has got to be – these people have a kind of grit and determination that we can only dream about. An example – they lived underground in tunnels that they painstakingly built to avoid getting hit by the U.S. bombing which was relentless during the war, especially after 1965. The war ended in 1975, and to most Americans, the picture of U.S. helicopters pulling out U.S. citizens atop the U.S. Embassy in Saigon is firmly etched in their minds. It was an ignominious defeat at the hands of Communism for the most powerful country in the world – that defeat happened because the Vietnamese were of the “gritty” and tough variety who knew intimately how to fight a guerrilla war and defeat a very powerful army.
So we were rather surprised to see very nice, simple and courteous people in Vietnam, though they probably were surprised to see Indians like us in the heartland of Vietnam; the tourists in these parts of Vietnam are mostly from Western countries – from Europe, ANZ, the U.K. and the U.S. Surprisingly, we did not see many Singaporeans or Malaysians (may be all of them have already seen Vietnam over the past 20 years !).
Of course, the Vietnamese do not easily understand our English, and tend to nod their acceptance sometimes without understanding. So, we found it is very critical to ensure that the other side fully understands what we want – sometimes, I resorted to writing down what I wanted or intended………better that way. English-speaking guides are not always great either……their English is not what you would expect from an English-educated person, but somehow we got through.
All in all, Vietnam is a highly recommended tourist destination in South East Asia – good people, great food, scenic beauty, and outstanding history with huge lessons for all of mankind.
We plan to visit again !
06 July 2014
Last night I was at the International Airport Terminal to receive someone. It was well past 1 AM.
The Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Mumbai, though it left Frankfurt some 30 minutes late arrived on time at Mumbai International Airport at 1:22 AM (some 3 minutes earlier than scheduled). So, I was waiting in the car park, hoping to see the passenger in some 30 minutes given the recent good track record of clearing arrivals at Mumbai.
But the hope was short-lived. My passenger cleared immigration rather quickly but got stuck up in the baggage conveyor belt. She reported that they waited close to an hour before the baggages arrived, due to the breakdown of the conveyor belt ! This is simply unacceptable in an international airport. Mumbai can ill afford such negative reputation.
So the passenger came out at 2:40 AM, the airport managed to waste everybody’s time. She said that there were many transit passengers still waiting for their bags at the same belt from the same flight. This was pathetic, and reminds all of us that India has to work harder to fix glitches and public authorities have to pay penalties for undue delays in the provision of services to their customers. In any developed country, the airport operator would have to face fines if a complaint were to be lodged, not so in India. There is total apathy in India. I would not put the entire blame on the service provider. When the citizens, in this specific case the passengers, do not complain and accept their misfortunes (in a stoic manner), then how will things change on the ground for the better ?
In any case, such instances of poor performance abound in Mumbai (forget about Delhi), and if Mumbai wishes to gain the status of an international financial centre and a global metropolis, in the same league of a Singapore, or a Hong Kong, or a New York, then it better attend to such ills with rapid speed. Things have to be fixed, and international investors and visitors expect the place to work, come what may. Any parochial treatment of the situation under the guise of nationalism would go nowhere, but to our heads !
Well, it is good time to fix problems anyway.
8th January 2011
The other day, one of my close friends in Singapore asked me if I would ever consider returning to Singapore.
First I demurred. It was hard to give an immediate response, given that my affiliation with Singapore is still pretty strong – in term of my fondness for the discipline and cleanliness, the efficiency and alacrity, the paronoia of being left behind, the smallness of the place, the perseverance of its peoples, the incorruptibility of its government and the police, et al. If there was ever an “efficient utopia”, this was it !
It has been four years since we returned to India, but since I have been visiting Singapore regularly (atleast 4 times a year), and have been in touch with my friends there, I can say I have been in sync with Singapore more or less. I have seen the ups and several downs, and the current resurgence in terms of its real estate market !
However, in the final reckoning, I guess it would be difficult to return for couple of reasons – one is the schooling system, which differs widely between India and Singapore ; the other reason being old parents requiring local support. It has got nothing to do per se with the respective places of living – more to do with the family in the first place.
It is far easier to live in Singapore with all creature comforts to be taken for granted, unlike in India where sometimes one has to struggle for most everything. But things have improved over the past few years in India. Nowadays, Indians do not go purely for shopping to Singapore or Dubai or Hong Kong. Most goods are available locally at prices which are not much different. And, living accommodation has vastly improved. The one thing which is still difficult in India are the road conditions. That is not about to change anytime soon !
Well, people have different opinions. Many people will vote for Singapore even today. Even I will vote ! However, each person’s situation is different, and one has to take into consideration the personal issues and challenges before making a huge decision. I have taken a series of adventurous steps over the course of my working career, shifting countries and industries seamlessly, so further changes are not an issue. However, for the moment, India is the place to be in.
And, look at the sizzling economy. Singapore is also doing well, but on an annualized basis it is more like 5% GDP growth for Singapore whereas it is going to be around 8.5% for such a large economy in India (roughly 12 times the size of Singapore economy but with a population nearly 280 times more than that of Singapore !). One has to make a call……..for oneself depending on one’s situation, preferences, and opportunities.
27th April 2010
I just got back to Mumbai.
When I was in Singapore, I thought that the mercury was blazing at 32/33 degrees Celsius. It was rather sultry during the day, while the evenings were not too bad.
But when I returned to Mumbai (after almost two weeks of travel), I found Mumbai’s weather was sweltering, though the temperature was around the same figure. One thing I noticed is that the night time temperature in Mumbai was higher than it was in Singapore. Mumbai was almost 29 degrees Celsius at 10:30 PM on Thursday evening last week when I touched down from Singapore, some 3 degrees more than Singapore.
Nights are now quite stuffy in Mumbai, so I am switching on air-conditioner for atleast the first three hours of sleep. The fan runs simultaneously. During the day (for example, today), it was horrible. I was profusely sweating.
Even now, it is really bad (it is 6:45 PM on Saturday), I am sweating badly without fan or aircon.
Hope this is not an indication of poor rains coming up in June. I would like for Mumbai to get heavy rains (but not too heavy), so the cooling effect is good, and the greens turn greener !
Pray to the Weather God !
24th April 2010