Jerusalem Visit #2


More pics and story of Jerusalem…………an amazing city that’s a must for everyone to visit and experience…………..

Cemeteries that one sees first before entering Jerusalem……….they bury the dead and have been doing so for hundreds of years……….

A road in the Old City of Jerusalem……….it is surprising they allow cars in the narrow streets of the Old City

A building which has Hebrew, Arabic and English on the name board – it is actually a small church

A scroll of the Torah (written by hand on a leather parchment) – which is the first 5 books of the Bible.

A Synagogue in the Old City………….

 

The story of this Synagogue……….

The inside of the Synagogue – the first time I have ever been inside one………..

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation

A view of the Western Wall……..

Jews praying at the Western Wall

Jews praying at the Western Wall

Inside an enclosure at the Western Wall – old and young pray

Vijay posing at the plaque at the entrance to the Western Wall

No one can go near this place at the Western Wall – the stones are from 2,000 years ago

Inside the Walled area of the Moslem Quarter of the Old Jerusalem City

Another view of the Wall

The bridge which provides access to the Moslem Quarter

Another view

A partial view of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the hills at a distance

A view from the parapet opposite the wall

 

A view of the golden dome inside the Moslem Quarter

Jerusalem continues to amaze – it is the confluence of multiple large religions and religious followers, multiple cultures, multiple philosophies, and multiple intense histories. It is a great place to visit with a guide like what I did. There are so many places to visit in the Old City and outside the Old City, that it would be better to dedicate a minimum of 2 days. There is also the “Capitol” or the area where there are several government institutions such as the Knesset (the Parliament), the Central Bank, the Prime Minister’s residence, the National Library, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept, and so on……………..

Plan a visit!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th August 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerusalem Visit #1


I visited Israel this week.

Here are some pics from my Jerusalem trip on the 6th August.

On the Highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The four Quarters dividing the Old City of Jerusalem: Christian, Armenian, Jewish and Moslem

Walking into the Old City of Jerusalem

A view of the Old City

The Temple Mount in the Moslem Quarter, fortified with solid gold by the King of Jordan

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter

A beautiful view of the Jerusalem skyline

Armenian Church

Holy Sepulchre Church

Inside the Church

Inside the Church

 

The Room of the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples

Room of the Last Supper

Another view of the room of the Last Supper

David’s Tomb, a holy place for the Jews

Inside the Old City

2,000 year old columns

Complete Columns from 2,300 years ago

This is a painting of life in the Byzantine era, around 300 AD (300 years after Christ)

Entrance to the Holy Sepulchre Church where Jesus was entombed by the Romans after his Crucifixion

Devotees praying and kissing the slab in which Jesus was laid down after his Crucifixion

The Orthodox Russian or Armenian area of Cruxifixion

The Catholic area of Crucifixion (just adjoining the above orthodox area)

The dome above the area of Crucifixion

The tomb of Jesus

T

The tomb of Jesus

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It was simply amazing feeling to visit Jerusalem. I cannot describe it adequately. Whatever be one’s religious belief or denomination, it gives a sense of agelessness to walk on the same ground in which so much of history has occurred. There is enough evidence in the Old City of Jerusalem to prove that the stones used and the architectural designs belonged to the age of over 2,000 ago. So much of history, so many conflicts, and so much of global attention………

I will publish more pics in the next installment.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

8th August 2018

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL

 

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!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

12th May 2018

The fragility of human life


When I take a long walk (around 90 minutes) in the morning, I tend to do one of three things – either I walk in total silence focusing exclusively on the terrain ahead, or listen to my old-time favourite songs (almost always Abba or Carpenters or Lionel Ritchie or Michael Jackson, or sometimes Norah Jones), or engage in some serious thoughts with good clarity of mind in a very calm environment (there are very few people walking or jogging at the time I usually go in the morning).

I have always found that thinking hard is tough when I am stationary, or just at home doing mundane things. When I am on a solo walk, I tend to be able to think more vigorously. While there are strong positives for thinking in a calm manner while walking a long distance, there are also some downsides. For example, when the mind flies into the future (or into the past occasionally), I tend to be less careful on the terrain ahead, and have fallen down a few times because I failed to “see” some obstacle on the path (there are many stones before I reach the wood-tiled pathway around a lake that I usually go to). I realized that it is not a good idea to keep falling down and hurting myself (especially on the knees) at my age, so have improved my caution while walking which reduces the intensity of thinking somewhat. The other challenge usually is the speed at which some runners tend to overtake me on a narrow path, forcing me to move to the extreme edges of the pathway which could push me into the lake if I am not careful.

This post is however not about my walking per se. It is more about thinking. I always felt that I should have devoted more of my time in my life to thinking hard about every choice open in front of me, or to every issue in my life crying for my attention and resolution. I spent far less time on thinking, or took the easy short-cut of personal advisors, or fell back on just my previous experience.

I still take advice from others close to me, but I spend more times thinking about all issues and come back home with a clarity which is difficult to beat. The result is that I am able to engage with my family members in a calmer manner, and others in a more effective way. As I walk more, I think more. The latest issue surrounding my thought process is the fragility of human life.

We see death and destruction all around the world when ideologies clash and countries end up fighting unnecessary wars or engage in unwarranted conflicts. A beautiful life which existed yesterday with lot of hopes for its future, is suddenly gone today. The ability of man to pluck another life out of this world has only grown tremendously over the years, and that man continues his life without remorse under the guise of morality, the necessity of a “good” war over evil people, or the essential nature of law enforcement – I am sure there are hundreds of reasons that a man can devise for taking the life of another human being for which he needs to answer in his own after-life – such offenses cannot be hidden or explained away under the guise of moral explanations that a government or religion can provide to the man who is plucking the life away. There is no real serious explanation that can be offered for shooting a suspect twenty times all over his body, especially on his head and chest. There is no rationale for bombing a country with cluster or chemical weapons. There is absolutely no possible reason for trying out one country’s latest weaponry on a country which cannot defend itself against such attacks.

So, what could be the reasons why bad things continue to happen all around us establishing the total fragility of human life, which should have always had a “precious” status in humanity?

While no explanations could be acceptable, the lack of fierce responses from religious guardians is absolutely stunning. When defenceless countries and people are bombed, where is the question of religions taking sides with the perpetrators? Where is the neutrality of religious intervention to stop or deter such devious things from happening?

As I think more and more on such topics, it is not unusual for me to get depressed on our inability to stop or vote against such things – there is no possibility that poeple could question or challenge a conflict or a war, unless there is a direct referendum on the most serious matters affecting this planet as a whole. However, that is unlikely.

Our own lives are so fragile, that we are not in a position to devise suitable advance responses to what is happening to our own bodies as we age. Any amount of preparation or planning is not going to help when the inevitable thing eventually occurs in our lives. We go on steering our lives taking some precautions as and when we feel necessary, but one day the fragility of our own lives will be exposed in a natural manner.

So how do we get ready for such a 100% clear possibility at an unknown date?

Try to think of whatever you had ever wanted to do, but could not do or achieve. Create a “bucket” list of such things. Spend more and more time with your family members. Do some charity. Do not expect any returns, and do not think that you will get to heaven or hell. None of that sort might exist. At the end of the day, what matters is whether you have helped people around you, stood for some good cause, made your family members successful in their respective lives, and garnered respect and admiration from friends and relatives for your ability to successfully steer your life and contribute to society in a manner that you could. Forget about emulating other successful people, or investors, or businessmen. It does not matter.

Well, more in future posts on this topic.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th May 2018

Salt Mango Tree


I felt only shame after viewing this Malayalam movie “Salt Mango Tree” on NetFlix along with my wife.

While there are many positive things I can say about my birth country India, there are equally many bad things that exist even today in modern India. I feel very proud when I see global corporate CEOs from India (far outnumbering many other countries), over 100 satellites being placed successfully in orbit by one single rocket launch by the Indian Space Research Organization, the very optimistic young generation in the entire world which India has in abundance, and so on and so forth – it is a rather long list of achievements by India and Indians in a short span of just six decades.

However, the things which went wrong over these same six decades, and which continue to hamper the potential and growth of India still bother me a lot. These should bother all well-wishers of India. What I am referring to here are things like corruption, lack of guaranteed, affordable and accessible education for all, lack of universal healthcare for all citizens, lack of safety and security for women and even for very young girl children, and lack of world-class infrastructure and facilities all across the country including uninterrupted access to electrical power, potable water, proper roads, high speed internet, etc., etc., Though there have been some improvements in the past few years, what India needs cannot be met with incremental enhancements of existing infrastructure. India needs to do what a China has done in the past 30 years of relentless public investment in a non-bureaucratic manner with the sole intention of enhancing the livelihood of its people. Communist China has done a far better job than a democratic India, and I am not going to listen to the democratic nonsense that many armchair philosophers expound on the superiority of democracy. Everything in the corporate world is measured on budgeted outcomes, why not in government and governance?

The movie “Salt Mango Tree” describes one facet of India’s systemic failure in providing quality education for all children. Parents have to run around for getting admissions to prestigeous schools, and are totally stressed out in the process. They have to perform better than their children in school admission interviews. What about children of hawker stalls and poor people? How will they get admission in such schools if the criteria is based on how well the parents perform in interviews? How will they speak in English, let alone come well dressed and well groomed for such nonsensical interviews?

I was seriously embarrassed to see how the movie portrays the anguish of both the parents, who struggle to make a living and save money for their only boy. The movie strongly hints about the so-called “donation” which is nothing but a bribe which parents have to offer to schools. When parents give up on the due process in getting school admissions, they turn towards short cuts such as bribe, and this practice continues throughout the life cycle of their children, embedding and validating the need for systemic corruption. Why would anybody outside the Indian system believe that our quality of education is good and impeccable, on par with the developed countries? Making an incorrect comparison with the IITs and IIMs is wrong, as the folks who get into such schools do so entirely on merit, and they go on to change the greater world in many ways. They are focused on making wealth and very few dedicate their lives to fixing the systemic issues of governance in India (I personally know of only one such classmate).

I am not going to describe the movie here, but the message from the movie cannot be more impactful – to get quality education in India even at the primary level (starting at Kindergarten) today, parents have to prepare well, get trained, perform very well in school admission interviews, and be ready to offer donations. This is not the case in any one of the developed nations of the world. If India wishes to achieve the status of the top 5 countries of the world (not just based on GDP), it has to pay serious attention to education, healthcare, quality of living, public infrastructure, etc., and follow the model of either the Nordic countries or countries like Singapore, where public systems by government trump even the best quality of private systems (which are also available but at a tremendous cost). If India cannot invest at least 5% of its national budget on improving public Education and another 5% on public Healthcare, then the future generations will continue to suffer.

The focus outside India today has turned positive about India after a long dry spell of negative media coverage about the bad things happening in India. I have seen that over the past quarter century (most of which I have spent outside India), and it sometimes used to pain me. I am out of it now and immune to the negative coverage on India. I look for some positive news on India every day. The political news is not encouraging. As I wrote in a recent blog post, my experience in Bangalore traffic in the midst of visiting foreigners was not positive. The “East Asians” detest infrastructure problems as they have long been used to good infrastructure and environment. I make it a point not to bad-mouth India in any manner to them, and I try to keep my views to myself. I tend to talk about the positives and push the envelope for their next visit.

However, as I write here this evening, it pains me again to see that India has not changed in fundamental public services.

Looks like this will be the situation in our life time.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th April 2018

Something mundane after a while………


The world is ever-changing. There are a number of things happening around the world about which I can blog (I usually do), but there comes a point when fatigue catches up with you and tells you to step away for a while. I am sure to come back to the global happenings scenario sooner than later, as it is simply irresistible.

So what am I going to blog about this Sunday morning (I shifted to the morning from my usual evening rendezvous with my blog as I have some engagement in the evening)? Nothing heavy, it is simply the experience of breaking my old iPhone 6 and replacing it with a new iPhone 8Plus.

Once someone gets locked into the Apple world, it is very difficult to get out. This is the way Apple (many examples come to mind from the past, like IBM) holds on to its client base, which is anyway enchanted with whatever Apple is doing all the time. There is of course, no question about the fabulous technology packaged in art form by Apple as compared to other bland competitors. Clearly, Apple does not have a direct competitor of similar stature. This is the primary reason why Apple is also able to charge higher prices to its customers who are ready to pay those prices, which sometimes appear atrocious.

Apple has had its missteps in the past like with the Mac line of computers. But with the iPhone, Apple hit the perennial jackpot, though it is not the top-selling mobile phone in the world. iPhone is something which you desire to own because of its elegant appearance, functions and features, and it kind of makes a fashion statement of sorts. Apple continues to innovate, though at a slightly slower pace.

Let me come to my iPhone 6, which I had owned for almost 2.5 years. It has had rough times during my possession (I still have it) as I am good in dropping the phone on office carpet (which is OK), on pavements (not OK at all), and in car parks (absolutely not at all OK). At one time, I had the entire screen cracked, and at another time, I had the bottom left completely cracked when it fell down with a swoop of the hand (mine of course) in the car park and went under a parked car. I did try to protect the iPhone with special screen which will allow me to drop without damaging the original display of the iPhone. However, one day I came to the sad conclusion that my nice handy iPhone6 has to make way for a newer and bigger phone.

Most of my friends and colleagues who are iPhone users had by now (over the past just 3 months!)  migrated to the iPhone X. I did not like the fact that the iPhone X does not have a home button, and everything needs to be done with a stylish wave of the hand, so to say. After some deliberation, I decided to get the somewhat unwieldy (though almost same in size as the iPhone X) iPhone 8Plus. I liked the display and the familiarity of the home button. The size of the screen also made it easy to read and play around, almost making the laptop redundant. While the battery capacity is higher than the iPhone 6, it still could not sustain more than 24 hours of usage, which was somewhat disappointing. It is necessary to keep charging the phone once the charge drops below 20% and build it up to 80% every day, or keep a battery bank handy all the time while on the move.

I know that Android phones have made huge progress, and in some cases cost almost as much as the iPhone 8 series. One has to look at the prices of the Samsung S9 and make a comparison. The display and battery performance are more brilliant than the iPhone for sure. The speed of operation is more or less the same. The whole hassle is that of the “familiarity” quotient – you like what you have been used to, and you like the fact that there is not much of a change in the way the phone functions.

I am getting used to my new iPhone 8Plus, and have kept the iPhone 6 for other uses (for example, I am going to use that old phone with the Jio SIM when I travel in India). Since I have kept both the old and new phones almost identical in terms of settings and apps, they feel the same. I do have an Android phone with an Airtel number for use in India, which I am thinking of jettisoning soon.

Well, well, that is my story of phone transitioning. There was not much of adjustments required while moving to iPhone 8Plus, except that the cloud restore was not possible due to the lack of space on the iCloud. So I went in the traditional way – connected my old iPhone to my laptop for a full backup using iTunes, and then restoring that backup on to my new phone. It took some tweaks and effort, but I managed to get everything restored on the new phone. It was a wonderful feeling when the new phone started behaving as though it was the old phone with a new clothing.

Apple makes these processes somewhat painless, though if you forget any Apple ID or password or passcode, you are in for a big touble. It happened twice to me in the past, but luckily it didn’t happen this time around.

So folks, that is my experience. Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and avoid drinking alcohol,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th April 2018

 

Flirting with Gymming


What kind of title is that? I had to call it something while trying to figure out what I am going to write about this Saturday evening. I decided that it should be about my new experience at the gym, which is kind of changing me in several ways. I also thought it is appropriate to write about the experience, as I have just completed 50% of the 44 classes that I signed up for, as of today.

I have had several flings with gymming over the years, but nothing has been consistent. Most of the time it was just visiting the gym at the condo and checking out the various equipment without any expert guidance from a friend or a trainer. Sometimes I get an urge to go to the hotel gym when I am travelling, again to check out how a gym at a nice hotel is equipped. I just used to run, sorry walk, on the treadmill and lift some weights and that justified the need to carry my gym shoes and dress while travelling. The condo gym never worked out as usually there was no support of any trainer.

And so it went………with no physical gain from gym related activities over all these years. The only benefit I got was from my usual walking which I have maintained consistently every day of the week – currently my average is 18,000 steps a day.

So one day my wife asked me what I am doing at the gym. I smiled sheepishly and she anyway knew. She forced me to take up a 44-class trainer led program at a leading gym not far from where I live, and to start with I was quite reluctant giving various reasons why it will not work out for me. But she rejected my rationale, and made me start up from the last week of December. Now I am going into my 14th week with 2 classes per week, but then when I travel I miss my classes.

I should say that my trainer is pretty good – let us call him R. He has been tasking me from the very first class in serious gymming, and for the past couple of classes I have been inducted into “free weights” – using my own body instead of the benefit of the machines (which I have been doing almost in every class anyway). Free weights like dumb bells and weights task you like anything and are significantly tougher and more beneficial than the usual gym machines. R told me that repetitions are what matter the most, not increasing weights. It can even be 4 or 6 KG dumb bells, but the work these do on one’s muscles is just incredible. The other technique is “isolation” – instead of using both hands, just train one hand at a time. It is very tough but it is good in building the weak arm. I am learning a wide variety of techniques and approaches towards muscle building from R, and he has been doing this for the past over 2 decades.

As R says, if there is no pain, there is no gain. The machines look good, are easy to understand and operate, and one feels good using the various machines at the gym. However, a collection of machines only delivers overall exercise, not specific muscle-building activities. R told me that I am weak in my arms, shoulders, and legs – and over the past 14 weeks or so, he has been addressing my weaknesses progressively. It is like going through a university course, with all the work being done by the student and the professor just providing appropriate guidance only.

Sometimes, I feel totally drained even after 30 minutes of the 60 minutes class. It is occasionally “back-breaking” so to say. But I get encouraged seeing other trainees under other trainers who are going through similar experiences (only that they are all much younger!). R, however, told me that age is not an issue or hurdle, as long as instructions are followed and muscles are addressed appropriately by the various exercises.

I should say that my perspective on life is beginning to change. I know that I am not into gymming for the “body building” passion; I am into gymming to ensure my muscles do not waste away, and I am able to carry my frame as I age. It may or may not work, but I believe that going to gym under a professional trainer is the right approach. If you throw in your “weight” behind the program, you might start to see some improvement. I wonder at these trainers at the gym, who are into training for 12 hours every day for six days in a week – incredible commitment to a single pursuit. I do strike up conversation with R almost during every class while resting between two exercises, and I was surprised to learn that he trained as a mechanical engineer, but chose this profession to follow his heart. Amazing guy!

So, here I am, almost at the middle of my training program. It is getting increasingly tougher every class as I navigate the program, but there is no escape from this serious commitment designed to help myself. I would strongly encourage my audience to consider the possibility of gymming under a professional trainer, it is something which will be highly productive given the right quality of training.

It took me more than an hour to recoup my energy with some good coffee and snacks after the gym activity, but at the end of the day I feel good about this commitment and investment. It may not turn into a passion, but it is likely to persist during the rest of my life.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

07 April 2017

 

Ability to be honest


Well, as I sit here looking at my computer, I think of many topics to write about this evening. Most of the time, I would have chosen the topic in advance and then thinking about the content for the topic. However, many a time, I run out of topics and then have to think deeply enough to write about something meaningful to me and to my audience.

For today’s blog post, I chose the topic of honesty (and, by extension, integrity). In friendships and relationships that we build, the essential building block is honesty. The ability to be totally transparent and honest with friends is one of the key tenets in building a sustainable relationship. Sometimes, it might lead to a loss of friendship due to the brutal nature of input or feedback – though rarely, as the friends that you choose would be sturdy enough to receive your feedback, otherwise they just become casual acquaintances.

Personal integrity is key to any relationship – if I say that I will do something by a certain time, I will do everything possible to deliver on that commitment to a friend, having agreed to do so in the beginning. It is fundamental to the partnership between two individuals. As I test each building block of a relationship, I am looking for potential cracks and weaknesses. The ability to sustain for the long term is a must. The ability to be honest when things do not go right is also absolutely critical to move the relationship forward on a solid footing.

However, we always encounter friends and especially relatives who do not understand the basics of building a honest partnership based on total trust and integrity. They sometimes take things for granted. I never take things for granted in any relationship. I believe sincere and hard work is always needed to keep nurturing any relationship. The ability to share experiences and expectations without any kind of reservation is also an essential component of this relationship.

I constantly keep testing friendship equations to ensure that these are always “balanced”. If someone asks for a favour, I try to fulfil it if I can figure out a way; being totally transparent as to my strengths in fulfilling the request is very important as it is not mutually beneficial to build any false hopes. I try to restrict (as much as possible) my seeking any favours, as I do not wish to create an obligation for achieving balance in a slightly unequal equation problem. It is very critical to maintain equality in the partnerships; at the same time, I would extend my hand to support genuine requests which are made in the hope that I could fulfil the same.

In a nutshell, honesty and integrity are the cornerstones for building a successful partnership, though it might take a longer time. The idea is to build a sustainable growth based on mutual trust, belief and commitment to each other. It is not necessary that we have to see “eye to eye” on every single issue. In fact, we might differ on most issues, yet see congruity in building the partnership. For example, I might belong to a different political dispensation, a uniquely different social orientation, or a corporate profile not compatible with the “equation” that we are trying to establish. Nevertheless, we both see that we could jointly achieve certain things by working together closely, and we mutually decide to pursue the same. Paths might diverge but thoughts are aligned.

Honesty and integrity are hard to maintain, should we fall prey to the damning persuasion to be just “nice” to each other all the time. While being nice is important, it should not detract us from more critical conversations on matters which are close to our hearts. It is also important to call out positions not compatible with lack of integrity at an early stage, as gradual deterioration would lead to irreversible loss. It is very important to remember this fact.

Being open, communicative, completely transparent, and honest are key ways to lay a strong foundation to building a long term partnership with anyone, even with new unknown friends. And, surely that works even between two companies!

I would say that being honest has paid me dividends over the years, though there were couple of misses, which was fine. One cannot expect the best return all the time. I also know that even in those rare cases, the friends involved maintained respect for the interaction and for me, as they understood I was not hitting them in a personal way. I was attacking the issues involved in a straightforward manner, though they did not like the matter even being raised.

So that is my thesis on the need and ability to be honest all the time in all interactions. such an approach will pay off in the long term.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

11th February 2018

Fine Dining at a higher level


I had the opportunity to dine at the Mezzaluna European Restaurant on the 65th floor of Lebua State Tower in Bangkok recently. It is supposed to be the highest restaurant in all of Bangkok. Specially transported to the 64th floor first (and then you walk up to the 65th floor) in a rather silent lift populated by very well dressed and groomed diners, the Mezzaluna surprised me with its epicurean delights. There are vegetarian options here, however it is not designed to please my vegetarian friends – they might however, delight themselves by having drinks in the bar on the 64th floor with exotic views of the city and the river all around.

Mezzaluna is a beautifully appointed fine dining restaurant with lots of attention to detail and designed to please the most demanding diners by providing not only an outstanding dining experience but also fine music, great views, and well informed servers who explain the details of each dish with sophistication. This is the first time I dined at a “2 Michelin Stars” restaurant. The Mezzaluna has received numerous awards over the years.

The menu does not have a la carte choices – just today’s Tasting Menu paired with some great (though very expensive) wines. I enjoyed every bit of the exotically designed menu offerings, except, of course one beef item. The rest were mostly sea food and couple of vegetarian dishes. In such restaurants, one cannot expect a plateful of food – it is extremely small portion, however you get 5 or 7 course options.

I tasted some exotic dishes from the tasting menu such as “Pen Shell Scallop”, “Langoustine”, “Dover Sole” and “Chocolate Vacherin” – anyone?

Strongly recommended for those with adventurous spirits, but read each and every menu item carefully so that you understand what you are going to eat and enjoy. I have not spent so much time reading up a food menu and then listening carefully to the waiter for his/her explanation of the particular dish that has just been served. Given that it is Bangkok, one would expect some rather difficult English pronunciation, but not at the Mezzaluna – each and every waiter has been trained thoroughly to keep up with the standard of a world class restaurant.

Yes, Mezzaluna can easily pass off as a high quality, high class, fine-dining restaurant in Paris or New York. Just outstanding. An experience to be relished.

Enjoy!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
26th January 2018

Enjoy the “Smallness” of Life


The more I think of it, the more I do – I am referring here to the small, silly things in life that we usually do not focus upon, given our general reluctance to indulge in rather “small” things and what I call as things which appear, prima facie, to be inconsequential. It is funny that we struggle to achieve the “big” things in life (at least what we think are big), and in the process, fail to enjoy what life offers to us. After achieving, or sometimes not achieving, the “big” thing, we set the goal of the next “big” or even “bigger” thing that we should definitely go after in life. And, so the life goes on.

In the process, we forget how to relish, how to enjoy the nice little things that life offers. We do not take the time (as we did many years ago) to enjoy reading the newspaper with a cup of steaming hot cup of coffee, and commenting on certain unsavoury news items to whoever is nearby, most often to our spouses. We would rather hurriedly look at the news headlines of the newspaper, decide it is meaningless quickly, and jump into the smartphone app of the most common news websites, and start browsing while walking, or doing something else. We do not take the time to talk to our own children in a leisurely manner (not just “how you are doing” and “what is happening in school”, and “how did you do in last week’s tests”, etc.,). We do not indulge in excavating the inner selves of people in our own family, while we are prepared to do it to our office colleagues, partners, and clients. We do not even spend time talking to our spouse – he or she might have clues about how to plan or execute certain things, better than we do (they usually are). We do not indulge in “small talk” with our friends who have known us for several decades in some instances. We tend to be formal, and “official”, in terms of communicating our body language to these “receivers” of antenna signals – converting what is essentially a personal relationship to a professional or formal talk.

Why is this happening? What are the reasons for such behavioural tendencies? Who do we not take people around us, those close to us, seriously, and spend more quality time with them?

The reasons are not difficult to find. In most situations, we are stressed out in our own lives (I mean in the simple execution of simple lives); in other situations, we are distracted. In very few circumstances, people find incompatibility, though it is rare after spending few decades in building a partnership with your spouse, or nourishing a friendship with your close friend. However, it is not totally unusual. Our own friends may sometimes desert us causing big pain in our hearts. It has happened to me. After all, everyone has a choice in life to follow a certain path in collaboration with certain others – the immediate ones are the family and close friends. It is understandable that very close friends move away to distant countries and lose touch with us eventually, but it is rather unusual when someone close to you completely drops you and stops responding to you, though apparently you have done nothing wrong. That causes severe pain.

I have come to realise that in life, small things matter a lot more than the big things such as financial gains, material possessions, type of car, et al. When someone connects with you genuinely, sincerely, and in a devoted manner, then life brightens. It may not necessarily for mutual gain of any sort, but rather to seek a true “connection” for lifelong companionship. It is not easy to secure that kind of connection. I have been fortunate to connect with a number of my school and college mates, and few of my ex-colleagues, and maintain those connections on a regular basis. As we all know, for sustenance, relationships have to be nurtured regularly, consistently, and with genuine affection.

In a brand-conscious, status-conscious, and wealthy society, it is often difficult to maintain a life focused on enjoying the small pleasures of life. I remember when I was buying my most recent car, one of my senior colleagues told me that I should go in for Audi, even a second-hand one, as it conveys that you are at a senior level in an organization, and secondly is compatible with the societal expectations. Given the socialist I am, I chose a Nissan which is almost faceless, though I could have gone in for the Audi. Apart from my social ideology, I also realized that in a small city one would need a car only if it is really needed for the family. And all cars take you from point A to point B on almost the same route, under the same road conditions, in similar comfort. So, why bother about more expensive toys?

Another person asked me if I tailor my shirts – I said no. Most of my shirts cost SGD 29, sometimes SGD 39, but I did not tell him that. It is rather puerile that people indulge in such talk, or evaluate you by the shoes you are wearing.

In any case, life is made up of a series of small things which need to be examined and enjoyed. It always is – unless you want to shake up things in a rather big way, affecting people around you. Nothing wrong with that, life can be pursued in many different ways for sure, but do not ignore small things as taking a walk to the nearest coffee shop with your spouse, or going to buy groceries, or fruits and vegetables, or assisting your children to purchase a good non-fiction book and combining that with a nice chocolate cake. In a nutshell, life is small and forgettable for most folks, however we can make it unforgettable by focusing on the small yet important things in our lives. Go for it!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

21st January 2018