Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Haider - not a review

I've read a lot of reviews of the movie Haider - more than I normally read for any movie. The thread is the same. It showcases the Indian Army as a villian, is totally anti-Indian in its sentiment, not a true depiction of the Kashmir problem at all, completely ignores the Kashmiri Pundits extermination from Kashmir and so on and so forth. Yet, in one or two reviews, folks have mentioned, that all that said, they would not call for a ban of the movie since it works against freedom of expression and/or the era of censorship is so outdated.

What most people seem to have missed (especially chest-thumping anti-BJP folks) is that this movie was let release and run in halls without any kind of state intervention and censorship from the government of any sort. And that, when a man hailed as the devil himself is at the helm of affairs in the country. Either we are too pathetic and don't care about any kind of nationalistic spirit or we are a tolerable species inherently. (It is no secret, Hinduism has time and again proven to be the most tolerant of all religions) More importantly, here is a state which is not into stifling freedom of speech/expression unlike what most people predicted and proclaimed it would be!

Sadly, most missed this point.

The wives and their cars

In most of the couples I know, the wife drives the better and bigger (by implication, more expensive) car. Wonder why. I was doing one of my stray thinking bouts when I happened to see one such couple I know driving past - the husband driving the car for a change, that it was the wife's car, she usually drives around in that. Then thoughts went to Rohan's friend's mom and dad, there too, wife drives the more expensive, bigger car. Then I started thinking about it and surely I noticed a pattern. It's not at all uncommon. Wonder what the deal is with guys buying their wives, or couples investing in bigger, more expensive cars for the woman.

Considering our thought process being that a woman is the weaker driver compared to a man, surely this doesn't fit in. Another thing to notice is that when the couple drive together, it is always the husband who drives the car when they take out the wife's. Again an infallible repetition.

Just an observation jotted down.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A dozen year romance - the Gym and I

It was a very wary 21 year old that walked in, completely in awe of the various pieces of equipment, free weights, trainers, people working out etc. It was overwhelming to say the least.

N, my then roomie, initiated me into Racquetball. There was a course offering the Spring of 2002 and she insisted I join. I was wondering if I have enough money to splurge on a Racquet and Ball and goggles, but I enrolled, bought everything that was needed and started. Both of us used to show up for classes in the mornings on the scheduled days. It was in SERF and that also housed a temperature controlled full fledged Swimming floor with a shallow and a deep pool, a complete indoor running track and a full fledged gym along with the Racquetball courts. (Check that link, will you?) I was drawn in. Little by little I started exploring the gym. See, I was just back from my Europe trip, and only when I met my cousins did they realize and consequently made me too, that I had bloated up like a balloon pumped with air. That too within a span of 5 months, they had seen me off in Hyderabad/Bangalore before I left for the US. Call it comfort eating or the irresistible Babcock flavours, (I mean, which university has a full department researching ice cream flavours?! That was nuts. But my favourite was half scoop mocha and half scoop peanut butter in a generous waffle cone. Darn, I have to go to Madison, like now!!) I bloated. Without ever realizing it! I had to do something to stop looking like a pumpkin.

That is how it all started. I still remember going religiously to SERF, SHELL and NAT. SHELL was probably my least favorite but that was because it was not really a full-fledged gym. The only reason I went to it in later years is because it was on a bus route and closest to me when I had to travel by bus since I was living a little after State Street. I remember walking in the snow, with just a light jacket and sneakers, to the bus stop, and taking the bus to SHELL because unlike when I was a student, I was now interning and had to get to work by 8.30 AM. So early AM workouts were the only thing that would work for me. Yes, even in freezing February! Since in the evening I used to do German classes and used to swim at SERF on days when I didn't have German classes. Boy! Did I keep myself busy or what.

So anyway, after all those days at those excellent UW-Mad rec facilities (really, what a shame it would have been to not make use of those sexy facilities!), my gyms' standards have continued to drop but those 2-3 years' practices have gone on and on to date where unless it is a weekend or a holiday or I am traveling - I do not miss a single day of gym/workout. I was telling friends the other day, its become an addicition I cannot do without. I feel all antsy the day I miss it. I feel upset and moody and what not.

That 21 year old would never, ever have thought that things would come to this after a few years!

Monday, October 06, 2014

Singapore & Legoland 2014

I am writing a travelogue after a long time! There is actually quite a few trivia I realized as well

1) After we moved back from the US to India, this is the first international flight I've taken - Subhash has been on a couple to the UK, but me, none. So it has taken 6.5 years for me to venture out after moving back. That is quite a long time. I never realized its been that long!
2) The older one matches Subhash in that his first flight ever was a domestic one and this one was his first international one. The younger one matches me, his first flight ever was an international one.
3) Coincidentally my first flight which was international was to Malaysia - about 13.5 years ago - which I visited this time too.
4) I also realized I have now been out of the US for as long as I was in there. I spent 6y 7.5m in the US in all and now it's been about 6.5 since we moved back. Time does indeed fly! Where, god knows!

So anyway, back to the travelogue - we spent a week in Singapore and made a single day journey to Johor, Malaysia to visit Legoland since Rohan turned 5 and we wanted to celebrate it by doing something he wanted. He got to choose between Disneyland and Legoland and he consistently picked Legoland over the past two years of questioning so Legoland it was.

There were two hitches in the trip - one, the sentencing of Jaya "amma" right the day before we were meant to travel. Our tickets were booked from Chennai (a bit more on that in some time), and we were planning to drive down and catch the flight. I had confirmed train tickets to and from Chennai which I canceled because driving seemed more comfortable and exciting. Only to discover that the time was just not right to drive through TN roads with a KA number plate. So we booked last-minute one-way flight tickets to Chennai which costed a bomb :( Oh well, at least we arrived in Chennai airport safe and got onto our flight.

Next at Singapore immigration, we discovered just me and Subhash had multiple journey visas. And the rest of the family, all 5 of them got single journey visas. In my mind, this was Ok, since it was one trip, so I never thought anything amiss till the immigration guy told us how no one will be able to come back from Legoland if we were to go. Oh god, as soon as I stepped out I was terribly disappointed - this whole trip was made for Legoland and if we couldn't go there, then what was the point. We explored a few options, pushing Legoland to the end and flying out of Malaysia or just requesting to convert the older one's visa to multiple journey. Finally ruled out everything else, after calling the ICA guys, decided the simplest and easiest thing to do was to re-apply for a visa. Again spoke to T who helped apply the visas the first time and applied for just the kids. Got their visas by the end of the day. Next day we were hoping to go to Legoland, but did not want to leave parents behind on their own in Singapore, so canceled that and instead applied for all of them again as well, and got all visas by end of our third day there. Again, many thanks to Singapore ICA guys. Truly, leading by example in how hassle-free an immigration processes should be.

After that was reasonably happy, in spite of the extra costs and headache and tension, finally we would be able to go to Legoland!

This was what we did -

Day 1 - Jurong Bird Park - very boring, it was. We were tired after our red-eye flight. So didn't enjoy it at all. I was terribly disappointed when Rohan said, let's go back to Bangalore tomorrow.

Day 2 - Singapore Duck Tours and Singapore Flyer. We went to Singapore Flyer as suggested by the hotel to catch one of the duck tours. Now, this Flyer thingy is new and was not there when I last visited Singapore (2007 July). We took the MRT which was a little tiring for everyone but we were at the Flyer at last. The Duck tours guy had a package for flyer which we bought after checking the speed of the flyer. It was so slow in rotation that we were sure even the parents would not mind it - it was not your typical giant wheel (the roller-coaster in India). Duck tour was standard. But the flyer experience was fantastic. Not for the views or anything but the car, the speed and the fact that we were to ourselves in the car. Kids monkeyed around, rolled on the car's floor and what not. Everyone had a fantastic time. After the disastrous day 1, this was getting good :) Till now, I have very fond memories of the Flyer - just for this one reason - it transformed our trip. Rohan said, I like this place I want to stay for a little longer :) I asked him if he wanted to go back to Bangalore the next day like he was asking earlier, and the answer was a firm no ;) Evening went to dinner with A and U by Boat Quay which was a lovely experience. Also it was just me and Subhash who went since kids were asleep by then and parents tired so we left them at the hotel and went.

Day 3- Sentosa. This was when we were originally planning to take the kids to Legoland and plan something for the parents in Singapore, later chucked the idea and swapped the Sentosa day with Legoland. Went by cable car (again, after a long MRT ride to Harbourfront). Sentosa was a nice, made-for-tourists island. We went directly to Resorts World Sentosa. It is an oversized mall housing a lot of stuff including Universal Studios, but we just went to the S.E.A Aquarium and were Ok with it. I mean, if we were water species enthusiasts I guess we would have enjoyed it more. The younger one was mightly excited - we were able to make out he would love aquariums on the Jurong Park trip when he was super happy to see Penguins in the glass case. So he had fun and we just roamed around, went to the Typhoon experience theatre - it was rather ordinary. Had lunch after hunting around for the most vegetarian friendly place and found one Bali Thai and had food there. Went to the casino and discovered there was no way they were going to let us in because we left our passports at the hotel (we forgot and realized but still wanted to try our luck, did not work out). So just came back, surely, richer for the savings ;) On the way back went to Mount Faber although I was not really keen. But I was happy Subhash insisted. It had some fabulous views :) Since it was late, went directly from Harbourfront to T's place and had dinner with T and family at their place - finally caught up in the middle of the trip.

Day 4 - Singapore Zoo - wanted to do this on the day we went to Flyer because I wanted to go late so we can cover the Night Safari but both U/A and T/R had suggested against it with kids, saying they might be scared so dropped it and went during the day instead. Zoo was better than the bird park. Still nothing spectacular. Did the tram ride multiple times and got back. Again kids were sleeping and so we left them at the hotel with parents and took a walk around Orchard (the heart of Singapore shopping district where our hotel was) and I had a Pretzel after a long long time and also Garrett's popcorn (after Chicago, this was the first time I was having it). So a happy tummy! :) Then dinner with A, my cousin and childhood pal :) Evening well spent :)

Day 5 - Legoland finally! Arrived at the coach office at the Flyer - was happy to be back :) Finished the journey and the immigrations without event and reached the park at 12 mid-day. It was so hot! and no shade to speak of in the park. I was keen on taking Rohan to the driving jaunt while he was fresh still and luckily it was at the entrance. The track for kids his age was too small for him. He finished his allotted two rounds while the other kids were still finishing the first one - we figured we should have taken him to the bigger track. Then we got him a "license" which he treasures a lot now ;) Finished about 75% of the park when it was time to get back. Got a souvenir shirt for both kids, some mandatory lego sets and some stickers and came back. Kids were tired and so were the parents. And we had to leave early the next day so finished dinner at an Indian fine diner in the Flyer itself and reached the hotel by 8.

All in all a great trip but a tad bit tiring with all the walking we needed to do. Hotel was nice, well worth it's #6 rating on TripAdvisor :)

More general observations about Singapore

1) Weather resembles Chennai - something I cannot tolerate. But somehow managed. Was happy to get back home :)
2) For the strength of the currency (1SGD =50 INR) the SGD didn't go very far in terms of what we could buy. Absolutely no purchasing power for the currency within the country. We were comparing to the USD, and both of us agreed that the USD went a lot further in buying power than the SGD within their own respective countries. We came back home to read that Singapore was just minted as the world's most expensive city - that explains it ;) Not surprised at all.
3) The city is forever in construction mode. And the traffic, oh, what a pain it is. In spite of the near-perfect infrastructure, and the world-class MRT, they have some stupendous traffic snarls! I learnt to appreciate Bangalore traffic which we can at least blame on the total lack of infrastructure. So I am complaining a lot less now. Let's see how long this lasts!
4) A lot of the tourist attractions are over-hyped. Some of the parks you find in India are much much better. All in the marketing I guess :)
5) Singapore is much much less vegetarian-friendly than what we were expecting. In fact I remember Kuala Lumpur about 14 years ago was far more evolved as far as this area is concerned. Singapore was definitely disappointing.

Chennai airport deserves special mention. It is what one would call a "fish market" in younger days at school. Major chaos everywhere, huge lines (which we luckily avoided thanks to traveling with an infant), absolutely bad facilities and so on and so forth! And the whole town was pasted with Amma come back posters. Phew! Now I know why tickets from Chennai were so much more cheaper, I bet the airport surcharges are an absolute low here - next time I am wondering if I would actually mind paying a lot more just to be able to fly out of Bangalore which is a far more evolved and better maintained airport!