Stunning Infrastructure

I was in Shanghai earlier this week. I was visiting Shanghai after several years (I had been going to Beijing more often).

The Pudong Airport was big and clean, and the immigration and customs processing was fast, though they follow the Indian procedure of scanning every bag of every passenger which takes some time as compared to Singapore or even Kuala Lumpur. The other similarity with Indian airports was that there was a long line of placards held by hotel drivers to receive the arriving passengers, and this exists only in pockets at Singapore Changi Airport (and most other global airports).

I picked up some coffee at the Airport Starbucks upon clearing customs, and was surprised to note that the “baristas” at Starbucks understood my English and also had my choice of flat white coffee. As I knew already, China is the second biggest market for Starbucks worldwide, and one can see countless Starbucks outlets all over Beijing for instance.

I was a bit confused as I stepped out and looked for exiting the airport. Of course, my benchmark of Singapore does not always do good at most other airports, as the differences aimed at passenger convenience are often glaring.

The previous times I had taken a taxi from the Pudong International Airport. This time around, however, I decided to take the Maglev high speed train, though I had to anyway take a taxi to the hotel from the destination.

Though the Maglev has been running for more than 15 years, it is still a tourist sensation with a top speed of 430 KMPH. It makes the journey from the airport to its destination (Longyong Road) in just 8 minutes over a distance of 30 KMs. However, when I travelled, the Maglev train reached a maximum of 301 KMPH as displayed on the LED display in every carriage. I could not “feel” the speed but could see that fields and trees were whizzing by. There was no shake or any kind of inconvenience to passengers. It was very smooth, and before I realized, the train had arrived at its destination.

Taxi drivers in China generally do not communicate in English, and I am sure they do not understand spoken English. I always download the Chinese characters for my destination hotel (for example) and show it to the driver – I had to do this anyway at the Longyong Road taxi stand as there was no sign for special areas designated for picking up passengers by call taxis. In China, I use the DIDI app (Uber sold their rights to DIDI), which is as good as any with quick service, reasonable rates, and a unique facility of communicating with driver using English language messaging which will be read in Chinese by the driver (and his reply though keyed in Chinese will come to my app in English).

While inability to communicate to any taxi driver is surely an inconvenience, I would not place much emphasis on it as the DIDI app is wonderful and has worked for me effectively every time I had used it. The e-invoices are mailed to my email account, and there is an option to add tips to the driver if you are happy with his service.

Coming to the road traffic, I am happier comparing it to Indian cities or Bangkok, or Kuala Lumpur. While Shanghai roads are good with expressways dotting the city, the traffic is really bad at peak times, and as congested as you might have experienced in Bangalore or Mumbai or Bangkok. There are simply a huge number of vehicles plying the roads, and it is apparent that people have not been weaned away from cars though the subway system is superbly constructed and convenient to use. Since it takes significant time to travel by road from one part of the city to the other, or to the airport, or to the main railway station (Hongqiao Railway Station), one needs to plan the route and add extra 15 to 30 minutes to the journey time. After seeing the impact of traffic and witnessing some road accident on an expressway, I came to the conclusion that this is not something that can be fixed quickly in such a huge and densely packed city like Shanghai. The only solution is to use the subway.

I liked the Pudong area and wandered around near the main riverside area. There were thousands of tourists and city dwellers taking a stroll, and it did not appear to be a so-called “controlled” city of China, I could feel that it was more like Mumbai’s cosmopolitan culture with emphasis on networking, socializing, partying, dining, enjoying what the city gives, and of course, making business deals.

I saw the beautiful Fairmont Peace Hotel on the Bund, which is an iconic landmark in Shanghai (though I could not afford staying at this 80 years old hotel which has been wonderfully maintained). I walked through the hotel, and I should simply say I was astounded.

Finally, on the railway station infrastructure of China and specifically the one I saw in Shanghai, the Hongqiao Railway Station, I thought that China has perfected the art and science of building infrastructure for its 1.4B people from concept to execution times which are simply unbelievable. I came to the quick (and bad) conclusion that India will never be able to catch up with China on infrastructure – and I believe that even most Western countries won’t be able to catch up with China. It is amazing to witness what has been accomplished just in the past two decades (of course, money was never a problem for China, and manpower came in cheap as well). India specifically is very far behind, and the Indian Government should make it mandatory for Indian Ministers and top bureaucrats to attend China’s world-leading university programs on planning and execution. They just have to take a walk along any railway platform or walk outside the platform areas in the Hongqiao Station which is so spaced out with ability to accommodate thousands of travellers at any time. They even run a free mini-bus service from one end of the station to the other end – probably a little over a KM.

Even the processing of passengers is super efficient. If you have the ticket, you proceed to security check (yes they have like in airports!), or else you show the printout along with identification to collect the ticket. Then you just proceed to the respective gate, which opens only 15 minutes before the train departure time (they maintain accurate departure and arrival times, and all trains run like clockwork). Passengers are disciplined and queue up in front of the respective carriages (marked on the floor of the platform – no need to ask anyone), they get in upon arrival of the train, and within a few minutes the train departs. If you are late, sorry.

Simply amazing infrastructure with money very well spent – and which is being used by millions of people in an efficient manner. For people who want to travel by train in China, please note that First Class is actually one notch below Business Class. I did not know this till I saw the difference. Business Class section is separate, and it has only few seats (like, less than 10 in the train I took). First Class is like a good and well spaced out Premium Economy Class! I did not see the real Economy Class on the train. For a 200 KM high speed train (which ran at 260 KMPH), I was charged SGD 23 which I thought was quite reasonable.

So, am I embarrassed? No, but China’s achievements cannot be pushed under the carpet stating simply that they are a Communist country with hardly any democratic decision making. I simply do not agree with the foolish arguments from many Indians that India operates under different conditions so lack of achievements is totally justifiable. Another day, another blog post for us to thoroughly argue out on this fascinating topic!


Vijay Srinivasan

12th May 2018


Impressions from Washington DC visit

I visited New York and Washington DC (four days each) recently.

I am yet to meet a person who does not like New York, and I am no exception. I loved the buzz of the city, its vigour and life. Life in New York moves on its subway and on Time Square, it appeared to me. I saw several places in New York and will write about it sometime soon.

Washington DC appeared to me as a more relaxed place – may be that was because I was seeing mostly tourists everywhere. The metro subway network had newer trains and was not crowded even at the busiest stations. Traffic was there but not as heavy as it was in New York. I saw a lot more casual bistros in Washington, and the speed of life seemed to be at a slower pace.

However, the places of tourist attractions were overcrowded. For instance, I was at the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument yesterday, and there were probably a thousand people crowding around these historic places. It was sometimes difficult to get a photo shoot. One thing for sure, Washington DC has some of the best buildings with architecture that could compete with any old European city, with a modern orientation that blends beautifully with old world charm. The huge buildings and the vast spaces between them characterize a global capital city, and its centre of power. The U.S. is indeed the world’s undisputed super power, and Washington is its capital city. It was easy to be over-awed by its enormity.

The other aspect which impressed me thoroughly was the free access to some of the best museums in the world. I had time only for two of them – the Smithsonian Natural History Museum and the Air & Space Museum. Both offer fantastic experiences, and I relished every moment of my visit to these world-class museums. There are plenty of other museums to visit, may be for another time!

The White House view did not impress me that much but the U.S. Capitol was fabulous. I took a free tour of the same, and also attended live sessions of the House and the Senate. It was democracy in action at the heart of the U.S. politics and government. This is the place where U.S. laws are enacted and the country makes decisions which could impact the entire world such as going to war.

Though I did not have time, I took a ride to see George Town, and it was fascinating to see the beautiful townhouses and the riverfront. In my opinion, the whole city appeared to be beautifully designed and constructed with utmost care and attention to detail. Architecture has played a big role in determining the beauty of Washington DC and I would surely rate it as one of the best cities in the world, notwithstanding some unseemly comments that one could chance upon on things like crime rates, etc., It is indeed an impressive city with some of the best architecture one can see around in the world. Apart from the same, the enormity of the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court and the White House descends on you like it would never happen anywhere else in the world – these are the places in which decisions with global import are made regularly.

While there were lots of foreigner tourists visiting these attractions, I estimated that 6 out of 10 folks in any queue are Americans who are exploring their own capital city and the unique things it has to offer. Not surprising given the fact that the U.S. is a huge country and many people normally would not leave their city or state and even travel to the neighbouring state. But then Washington DC has a special attraction for even those kind of folks. Everyone wants to see Washington DC and New York at least once if not more.

Overall, an excellent visit, and I would love to visit again!


Vijay Srinivasan

28th June 2017


Dubai Impressions After 11 years

I landed in Dubai early morning of Friday, past midnight of Thursday. Apparently, it is the busiest time of the airport with a number of flights landing around that time. I was puzzled why Emirates Airlines landing terminal did not have immigration facility – we had to take a lift (elevator) down several levels and then queue up for a train to take us to the main terminal. The crowd was quite heavy, but we somehow cleared the immigration rather quickly and were on our way to the hotel in less than 45 minutes from the time we got out of the aircraft. The A380 flight was very nice with excellent on-board service and very quality of entertainment and food. My guess is that Emirates is overtaking Singapore Airlines firmly as the leading long-haul international airline.

I am visiting Dubai after a long time of 11 years. While the Sheikh Zayed main road was more or less the same, I noticed that they have added another, may be 3 lanes, making it one of the widest highway with 7 lanes in several places. Radar guns and cameras were located frequently, and I heard that the traffic penalties were quite severe. Nevertheless, car drivers were driving well in excess of the permitted speeds, the excellent quality of the roads giving them the motivation to press the accelerator!

Dubai has undergone a massive renovation after the 2009 economic downturn, and appears to be throbbing with life, activities, tourists, and shoppers, everywhere. We are staying at the Dubai Marina, which is a fabulous place to stay, with a great view of the marina and a walkway which is 7 KMs long (ideal for my early morning walks!). The weather is cool, with temperature dropping to 20 deg C and I am enjoying the same coming from hot Singapore where the needle rarely drops below 29 deg C during the day. I saw huge numbers of Western expats everywhere, and a lot of Chinese tourists (probably from Mainland China or Taiwan). Large sized cars are to be found everywhere as car prices are really cheap – for example, I found out that BMW 740iL costs around USD 100K in Dubai as against USD 450K (SGD 590K) in Singapore. Not surprisingly, there are many Ferraris and Lamborghinis cruising the expressways.

Over the past couple of days, I have visited the newly opened IMG Worlds of Adventure, which is slated to be the world’s largest indoor theme park with many scary adventure rides. I also visited the very massive Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa, which is an engineering feat. When I went to the 124th Floor, I did not feel over-awed: the views were fantastic but I did not feel scared for a moment. However, when I came down and stood under the Burj Khalifa tower near the Dubai Fountain, the enormous height and beauty of the Burj Khalifa overwhelmed me. There is no other structure in the world that high at 828 Metres. Just the spire atop the tower is some 200 Metres long!

There are several other places to be seen before I leave from this short holiday of just 5 days, such as the Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, the Atlantis Palm Water Park, the Evening Desert Safari, etc., and more about these places in a later post. I just wanted to share some early impressions of the ever-changing Dubai which is the most dynamic city in all of Middle East.

Great place to visit, but with an appreciating USD (the UAE Dirham is pegged to the USD), it is also an expensive place to visit. A Cafe Latte costs SGD 7 at a coffee shop located in a food court of Dubai Mall – it is more expensive in the individually located coffee shops. Taxis are reasonably priced but given the distances between places, you can easily run up a bill of SGD 100 per day, and if you are going to Abu Dhabi and back it could cost SGD 300 for the day easily. Food is also expensive, but good quality food anywhere in a global city is going to be expensive. Not much point in shopping, as I think Singapore is slightly cheaper for the same items, but then the shops in Dubai are massive and it was a pleasure just walking around the mall.


Vijay Srinivasan

27th November 2016

Manori Adventure

The family decided to take a journey to the small strip of island called Manori off Mumbai with the primary purpose of checking out “Juice Adventures”, which is an adventure park located on Manori island.

The website of Juice Adventures was interesting and I had received an offer from someone couple of months ago to see the place. So, I was inclined to go. We called the place and the person who attended to us spoke very good English – I am always partial to any stranger conversing in good English and that too, a person in a remote corner of Mumbai who is expected to speak only in Marathi or Hindi.

So, the expectation was that this is kind of a well-known, cosmopolitan kind of place, serving the well-heeled folks from Mumbai.

I will come to that point soon. But before that, it is interesting to see how Mumbai manages its nice coastlines. We took a car ride of almost an hour for a distance of some 15 Kms, which is not unusual in Mumbai. Once we reached the Malad-Mudh Ferry point, there was confusion – the only respectable ferry ticket booth loudly proclaimed that they issue tickets only for the Essel World (which is a large amusement park), and when we asked them about Manori, they directed us to check with the ferry operator in another side of the beach.

The beach itself was dirty, jammed with taxis, auto-rickshaws, peddlers, tourists, hawkers, and what not……..the point was that there was no organized way in which the ferry terminal was established to serve any kind of customer who wanted to spend a day off. No body really cared, and there was no single agency monitoring the whole place and servicing the people. The place was crowded, noisy, and like any other tourist location in India was dominated by touts. I don’t see why such practices should continue in what is one of the best locations in India for a scenic ride in the sea.

In any case, we found our way to the ferry which takes all of 7 minutes to cross a narrow patch of sea for INR 14 per person (I thought we could even cross it on foot ! Ha Ha Ha !!). The ferry had no safety provisions, no lifeboats, no life jackets, and no guards. Does that sound unique or strange ? No, it doesn’t in India, unless you own your own yacht or speedboat.

The funny part is that the operator of the ferry loaded anyone who can pay – he even had several horses in the ferry and many motor bikes. It was India and its unique way of operation in all its essence. One cannot complain, just take the ride if you wish and pray that nothing untoward would happen.

So, there we landed at Manori. Juice Adventures was located within 3 minutes from the ferry terminal. There was a good reception for us, as we had made enquiries at the reception by calling beforehand. The person in-charge of the reception gave a good explanation of the facilities, and we were convinced it was worth the trouble of the car + ferry ride with all the attendant experiences.

My son enjoyed the rope exercises, the ATV ride, the Sumo fight, the archery, and especially the zorbing (which I thought was not like the one in NZ on the hills). We liked the place though it was not fully operational with all the games that were mentioned on the brochure. They opened only 3 months ago, and I think it would be better to wait for another 3 months before a visit which can derive full benefits from Juice Adventures.

The thing that I could not fail to notice is that there were no other visitors except us on a Saturday mid-morning, which was rather surprising. There is hardly any such adventure place in Mumbai, apart from the well-established Essel World which does not have some of the adventures featured here in Juice Adventures.

Overall, we enjoyed the place, but instead of the 5 to 6 hours we had allocated, the visit to Juice Adventures was over in about 2 hours. That is bad business given that we would not stay for lunch at their place !

Well, my suggestion would be to wait till about June and then make a visit to Juice Adventures.


Vijay Srinivasan
11th March 2012

DFS – A better deal in India

This was surprising to me.

Shopping at DFS (Duty Free Shops) at the international airports in India was neither useful nor pleasurable from time immemorial, as the shops were not consumer friendly and used to stock things which were not really in demand. The shopping on the India side when you land from overseas was usually ignored by tourists, especially the Indian tourists. Any comparison with overseas DFS shopping did not make any sense at all. Further, the prices in Singapore or Hong Kong Airport DFS shops were much more attractive.

How things have changed, and how things are still changing !

Now, the Duty-Free Shopping experience on the Indian International Airports such as Mumbai and Delhi has improved significantly. There are many more things to shop for, and the shop attendants are hovering around trying to help. Of course, the infrastructure is not comparable as the shops in India are much smaller and are not gleaming reproductions of Singapore shops.

But, the fact is that almost the same things are now available, and at cheaper prices. I don’t know how, I thought stuff should cost more since Indian Rupee has depreciated by some 10 to 15% over the past three months.

The Singapore Changi Airport prices for wines for example, are much higher, and given that one has got to multiply by a much higher exchange rate, the price in Indian Rupees is really high (by more than 20 to 30%) for similar wines. I think the whiskeys are slightly cheaper on the Singapore side, though I did not buy any whiskey. I roamed around the DFS Liquor Shop at Changi for quite some time, and then decided not to purchase, as I came to the conclusion that the prices are higher than on the Indian side.

I still found many folks on my flight carrying stuff from the Changi Airport DFS, but probably they have not done their due diligence, or they are buying non-liquor things which are not readily available at the Indian airports.

As I rightly guessed, the Mumbai International Airport DFS had some very good wines (and many whiskeys and other liquors) and I picked up couple of Australian wines for USD 22 less a discount of USD 4 ! I had to pay in USD, but that was fine. At the end of the day, I know that these wines are more expensive in Singapore and very expensive in the usual wine shops of Mumbai out there in the city.

The pity is that they allow only two bottles of duty-free wine (and just one bottle of whiskey), so one can enjoy only for a short time !

Welcome to DFS experience in India, and keep some USD change while arriving back !!


Vijay Srinivasan
21st January 2012

No Comparison

There is absolutely no comparison.

I am talking about the oft-invoked comparison between two great cities in Asia – Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay) and Shanghai. They are the commercial and financial capitals of India and China respectively.

I was in Shanghai the past few days, and the manner in which the city has been built out over the past decade or so is simply outstanding and truly amazing. It appeared to me that the government and private builders collaborated to really build out what has already emerged as one of the greatest cities of the world. The plan behind the global appearance of Shanghai was evident as one drives around the city. The amazing infrastructure of the city with neatly laid out roads and pavements, and world-class highways and buildings, the neatness of it all, will impress even the most developed country. And, all this has been accomplished in just about a decade or so. The magnetic levitation train from Pudong International Airport to the city and the beautifully laid out river front are examples of what can be achieved with true determination, patience, grit and commitment.

It is easy to brush away this stupendous achievement pointing out the government’s overarching powers in China to do what they please, and the complete lack of public discourse on topics of public interest, and non-availability of means to fight the government. I also used to believe in such factors as aiding the development of China in no small measure.

But, the fact is that today Shanghai has shown to the world what a vision combined with ambition can do to the DNA of a proud people and “old” society. Citizens are apparently proud of what Shanghai looks like today – like many other super cities of the world, but better in several aspects. They have a fabulous airport, the mag-lev train I mentioned earlier, one of the world’s tallest buildings (and another taller one coming up), fantastic road infrastructure, and gleaming hotels with good service.

I noticed how two women in late forties were cleaning a lane which had overgrown grass and stuff thrown into the grass. One of them was cutting the grass and aligning the grass to the edge of the lane, and the other was picking off the waste from the grass and throwing the same into her hand-held basket. I guess they were municipal workers, but they appeared to have pride in the work they were doing to keep their city clean, and there was probably a serious commitment to their work.

Compare with Mumbai. I am not going to write anything which will hurt people, but Mumbai will never look like Shanghai. Mumbai has its positives, but its infrastructure negatives overwhelm positive impression that a visitor would be trying to build upon. I did not see a single crater or a shaky ride on the roads of Shanghai, but we all know the state of roads in Mumbai. To prove my point, just try to take the exit road from Mumbai International Airport to get out of the airport complex, probably the first impact on any tourist, and then tell me if you are happy with the ride. I recall Mr Jeff Immelt, Chairman of GE, telling a business forum in Mumbai sometime ago about the great opportunities in India, but also asking the government to fix the airport access roads.

Geography of a city matters, but what is more important is a drive and true passion combined with a maniacal execution focus to convert Mumbai into a truly world-class city. We cannot just show the insides of five-star hotels to our guests and impress them. Let us understand that global investors make constant comparisons in their minds. Forget the investors, we as local inhabitants truly deserve a Shanghai out of Mumbai.

Till there is a focused execution plan, Mumbai will continue like what it is today, with improvements hardly getting noticed. For a complete transformation, look at Shanghai.


Vijay Srinivasan
16th October 2011

Kharghar and Panvel – Developmental Success

I took a ride towards Kharghar today to meet a friend and an ex-colleague.

The plan was to meet him and then to drive towards Panvel, before returning to my home in the Western Suburbs.

Was I amazed ? Yes, I should say…..coming right after my Kolkata trip, this drive was an eye-opener of sorts. Clearly, Maharashtra is the state to be in – the industrialization all along the way shows that despite all kinds of infrastructural issues and challenges, Maharashtra continues to plod along, albeit successfully, and makes its mark as the #1 Industrialized State in India.

Apart from the employment benefit to people, the drive towards rapid industrialization helps enormously in uplifting semi-rural population by the development of the ancillaries market, as well as enhancing the industrial economy of the country. All this has led successfully to the local economic successes – one can witness the mushrooming of apartments, parks, cineplexes, malls, etc.,

Kharghar is in the middle of this boom, while Panvel has some distance to go. With the new International Airport coming up, hopefully in the next 4 to 5 years, the developmental activities will reach a crescendo in the next few years, establishing Navi Mumbai as distinctly separate from Mumbai itself – a city of its own. Also, the industrial city of Pune is just 90 minutes away on the expressway. And, last but not the least, the road quality is far superior to what we encounter in Mumbai !

Navi Mumbai seems to be well on its way to become the new industrial and economic success story of India. If only other states could learn, and do that in double quick time, India can catch up with China in less than a decade.


Vijay Srinivasan
14th Mar 2010