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Monday, April 21, 2014

Singapore First Time as a Tourist

So finally I managed to go to Singapore as a tourist with family. And just like most of our trips, this one also happened on an impulse. Since we had nothing planned for the summers, a sudden official trip of mine became a good excuse to cover the country as a tourist.

So after speaking to many friends, especially the ones with children,  I drew up the following plan.

Day 1 was arrival in the morning because that way we saved up on a night of hotel stay as the other option was to arrive late night. We had booked in VIP hotel through Agoda and despite reservations, I realised that it turned out to be a good place. My criteria for hotel selection was getting a place which would allow the children to stay in our room. Most hotels offered connecting rooms which would never be feasible with our clingy kids. So this hotel near Newton MRT was the best that we could get and this was a boutique style place with a cursory complementary breakfast of bread, eggs, sausages and baked beans and no room service. It is located in a very European kind of locality and tucked inside the colony yet not very far away from a market\, bus stop and MRT.
What we did not like- check out time is 12 noon and check in is 2 pm. I asked for an early check in which was indicated subject to availability which is fair but what I did not like was that by 10.30 am the room was vacated, cleaned and available yet the staff refused to let us in, giving the excuse that the room is not ready and we could see for ourselves that the room was readied by the housekeeping. They went on saying,
we will give you in half an hour, we can give you by 2 pm, then again wait for 15 minutes. Why dont you go shopping and come back by 2. Cant they see that we have traveled overnight with  kids and inspite of that they ask me to go shopping. If the room was not ready, I would have camped in a friend's place but I could see that the room is ready and it was pointless of them to refuse and for us to go to a friend's place carrying our change of clothes. The staff seemed programmed and not at all willing to help until the time we stood in front of them not willing to budge.

Another problem was providing water bottles. I in fact found the night duty men very generous but the morning ladies were a pain. in spite of three asks, they never gave me the bottles. Said , we will charge you, Let me get them for you, wait a minute.....the bottles never came.

Ask the ladies for a have to pay us service charge,
The men did not ask us to pay!!
Were they being racists? I hazard a thought and I will not be surprised if it turns out to be true because there was an Indian lady who gave us the real facts that helped us negotiate to get the room earlier.

This comes as a surprise because early check in option was given to us at the time of booking by agoda subject to availability.

Anyway, we had a long sleep as soon as we got the room. The bathroom was spacious and comfortable and toilet kit generously provided. Four bottles of water were provided per day and the extras as I mentioned depended on the people in the reception for there was no room service facility.

We headed out for the Gardens by the Bay in the evening, taking the MRT that dropped  us within walking distance. Now this is relative because we were walking anything between 10 and 15 km per day so shoes are an absolute necessity else  one gets tired and so are bottle of water, how many ever you can carry, Gardens by the bay has water stations from were one can fill the bottles once they empty.

We got a discount on jet airways boarding card. The Tulipmania was on and it made a lovely sight. I was very impressed with the cloud conservatory also. A great place for nature and plant lovers. There was an interesting movie on global warming running which was very informative. But I guess it gets dull and dimly lit by nightfall.

\We walked up to the Marina Bay and managed to catch the sound and light show which was fascinating but overhyped.

The next day we did the river safari and the zoo. I had office passes so they were free for us and I must say, the  best things in life are  really free or cheap. You will see why I say that.

The river safari is an indoor river themed aquarium sort of place which covers marine species of five major rivers of the world including Nile, Missisippi, Ganges etc.
The kids loved it and we especially liked the Pandas that put quite a show of not showing his face until the very end. We also had a river cruise which showed us Flamingos as the most attractive part of the safari among other things.

We had lunch in KFC and then headed to the zoo in the same area and we were honestly tired with a 5 km walk done in the river safari and could have taken the tram but we are stubborn that way and tram means a lot of waiting because it is a hop on and off thing. We loved the penguins that we almost missed, Ojas is still wondering how come he missed the komodo dragon but we were too tired to persist. We liked the fragile forest which is a small enclosed rainforest recreation which has free ranging animals, birds, flying fox and butterflies. We loved that small place and wish it was bigger.  The kids loved chasing the birds and animals.
We also saw a reptile moving about freely in place where it was not supposed to be. Lucky us!

The squirrel monkeys were kind of cute and friendly. We missed most of the shows except the best one that is the feeding session. Loved the white tiger feeding session, most impressive.

The children were most happy here and we could see the excitement on their faces.
We also managed to take the double decker and a Chrysler taxi on the way back - the first on my wish list and the second on the kids'.

Day 3 was the most regrettable one. It was easter and that was the only day we had for doing Universal studio. In perspective we spent Rs 12000 to do the following
-- wait for 2 hours in a claustrophobia inducing space to do a 10 minute ride on a transformer which had 4 D scenes which the kids loved but declared as fake so not very high on the niceness of the whole thing. Given a chance they will do it again but after all it is fake.
- tempers flared because everywhere the queue was at least 45 minutes long and we did not have the courage to get into another queue in our lifetime.
- we went back to do the SEA Aquarium which had a discount after 4 pm that day on Universal Studio tickets. And thankfully I had the foresight to get myself stamped for re entry.
- the kids loved the aquarium which is based on ocean habitats across the world. We saw the hammer head shark from under the transparent chute which is supposed to be the longest in the world at 9 feet length.
There were lovely jelly fish which the kids were most amazed with and other crustaceans.
 - went back to Universal only because I could not see the 12K getting wasted over doing nothing. Managed to take the Madagascar and accelerate ride. The rest of them had at least half an hour waiting time so we did not have the courage to do it.
We also did the 4 D movie which was enjoyable.

We walked both ways on the board from the mainland to Sentosa and back through Vivo City mall and there fore clocked atleast 16km that day including the walk back from MRT.

 Enjoyment quotient- should not have done it at all because a) my kids are not amusement park people
b) what they do not know does not hurt
c) just because transformer is of interest to them, I should not have wasted money but bought them transformer toys instead because that would be extremely cheap.
But they really loved the various characters that appeared in 3 D
In that way it was worth it and on a weekday perhaps I would have managed a few more rides.

It did not make sense to pay double to get the express queue tickets on such a busy day.

Day 4 was the most fruitful because we did only the Science centre in Jurong. Had to forgo bird park much to Ojas' disappointment but I could not be asked to see another fish or monkey or bird anymore.
Science centre turned out to be a total value for money experience. Kids and us were thrilled . Me with the concept exposure and kids because they could touch everything in sight, touch every button, experience everything., It was amazing. I loved the tiny magnet balls that could be combined and formed into shapes. I loved the illusions
The fire show is cool  and so is the tesla coil. We loved the earthquake demo and also the egg hatching demo set up. We waited for a long time but the eggs did not hatch.

This place again had water stations uinlike Universal studio and zoo/ safari where you have to buy the bottles.

The shop was totally blah. I expected more cool stuff. 4 pieces of chinese puzzles cost a fortune when I know that they do not cost more than the cost of a key chain. Puzzle books were another tiny fortune  especially when compared to Indian cost for books.

On Sunday once the husband and children left, I wallowed in self pit for a while then took a bus to China town. Oh it was great fun doing local stuff but careful, come out before 8pm as the shops  start closing and you will want to come out of the place by then.
A complete street market at a bargain but you see one, you have seen all.
Reminded me of the 1000 steps Church area in Paris which had  a similar souvenir street

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Sisterhood and A Book Give Away of Once Upon A Crush

It is 4 am and you notice your friend is online. You don't think twice and message her, "why up so early?" conveniently forgetting that you are also up and about so early.
She replies and you two get talking first through messages and then you or she can't resist  calling up the other and gossiping merrily until morning arrives. You start off from where you had left perhaps a day ago or a few years ago, it does not matter. But the very fact that she is there online at the same time as you are is enough to get the two if you started. May be you talk everyday, may be you don't but you are in sync with what is happening in each other's life, through mails, through social media or the occasional phone call or message.

You suddenly come across something funny which you can share with only one person. And that is your best female friend. The two of you message each other or talk and giggle about it to glory. The conversation veers to common topics and in no time the short call morphs into a good old heart to heart chat.

You are bored and the only way to pep you up is a coffee or lunch meeting with your friend.

Not even a day passes without the two of you meeting and getting a rundown of each other's day.

She is your bitch buddy, coffee buddy, lunch buddy, shopping buddy, salon buddy, book buddy, exercise buddy. She could be one, she could be one for each activity.

She could be your classmate, college friend or office colleague or neighbour. She is the one with whom you vent your problems. She knows you well, she is your sounding board and she is your agony aunt and vice versa. You talk about your pet peeves, your crushes and your problems  together. You talk, you argue and most importantly, you connect.

In short, life without a best friend would be incomplete. Sisterhood so to speak. What would one do without them?

Do you have a best female friend with whom you do some or all of the above ? Give us your funniest or most touching or most dramatic experience with sorority.  Kiran Manral, whose next book Once Upon a Crush is out on the stands this April will be choosing that one person who impresses her most with her sisterhood story and send her an author signed copy of the book. India address only.

And here we have a hello from Kiran Manral 

My protagonist Rayna De, is a confused soul, who gets by, as I do, with a little help from her friends. College friends, work friends, school friends. 
This book is a tribute to the sisterhoods, the friendships, both online and offline, that sustain us, keep us going, prop us up, take us through dark days, share our good days. Sisterhoods that begin as giggling backbenchers in class, that survive crushes on the same hunk through college, that see each other through the diaper change phase, the seven year itch, the empty nest syndrome. In the blogworld, I would like to doff a hat to my sorority of blogging mom friends, friends who have gone beyond the virtual and become closer than friends in the real world.

You could pre order the much awaited book here

So get started, tell us your goofy/ fun/ touching moments of sisterhood!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

DIG it- Dirt is Good

How Often Do you see a child's play face?

Pertinent question isn't it? Something that most of us would like to respond with an answer like- all day, everyday, every moment, as often as I want, always....
But today I am not sure how much do we watch our children really play. No I am not talking about the play on gadgets. I am talking about mud play, water play, playing in the grass, in the soil, doing physical activity. Getting messy and dirty and playing with stuff that are not toys but improvised from everyday objects.
Have you ever noticed the laughter that emerges when they are doing real play vs gadget play is totally different. It is more spontaneous, natural and healthy?
It ensures that the children build a healthy mind and body for life and most importantly, build happy memories of their childhood. Just like we have our own memories of playtime.

I often say, my kids are my own clay to mould and therefore I would like to give them experiences that only I know as a parent that is going to become a rarity as they grow old. Which is why, in the presence of so many distractions for the children of the internet era, I insist that they get as much free play as possible. Which means, get out of the house, switch off the gadgets and play, run around and do physical activity. Play ball, play cricket and cycle. Feel the breeze on your face, look at the lizards darting on the walls and the flowers fallen on the grass. Look at the bug crawling on the grounds and make a mini pond in the place where the grass has worn off. 

Watch a cat beg for food and count the number of puppies that have just been born. Count the number of crows lined on the wall and watch the squirrels skip across the branches.

Imbibe as much as you can about nature in the city and make sure you do not miss a single day of play. 

Get as much dirty as possible for dirt is good!

And so is the grass and the leaves that cling to your clothes.

And didn't mamma tell you that a denims should not be watered so much! Well, watch out, for that is what she is about to tell you next and you will be sure to remember that and not water them and the cactus in a hurry henceforth!

Play is part of the serious business of growing up. Indoors or outdoors, on muddy fields or at home, children find play irresistible for a good reason - and you can see the benefits written all over their faces.

The grouse that I had when my kids joined play school was that they do not get enough time to enjoy the swings! I could be called an antithesis of parenthood. Whoever asks the teachers to allow their kids to play in the swings? Everyday I would ask y kids, did you play on the swings today? Because I know that swings can be found only in Nichols and if you do not get to play thee you do not get to play them at all.

More kids today are growing up in cities than ever before - but cities are not always designed for children.  When Surf Excel asked kids what they'd change, they had all sorts of ideas. But more than anything, they wanted space to play. By 2020 half of the world's children will live in cities. Let's make sure we listen to them.

Which is why I always insisted that my kids get out in the only green space I had, play there, even if it meant getting wet with the water pipe that was watering the garden or getting bitten by bugs.
Even if it meant they would pluck a few leaves from my precious plants but still, at least they got round to exploring a green space.
I am fortunate that my building has enough space to play. In fact that was the reason why we zeroed on this apartment even before we became parents. Because, in our minds, we wee sure that we would not want our children to grow closeted in the house without space to play. In the town where I grew up, there were huge maidan spaces left vacant after every few rows of houses. And these were used as play grounds by the children in the vicinity. This is something that urban cities do not have and of course busy parents like us do not have the time to take children to a park to play. So we ensured we have everything we need right in our complex and we also got a mini garden space as unexpected bonus. And what a boon it turned out to be!

Learning is Messy
Scientists are making amazing steps forward in improving our understanding of how children's brains and behavior develop through childhood. These new advances help us understand better than ever before how important it is to allow our children the freedom to get dirty.

Hence I never stopped them from muddying up by digging into my empty pots and filling them with soil, or rolling over the grass and getting grass stains on their light blue jeans.

They would dig out soil and spread them all over the stair case and I would sneak out of my apartment in the night and quickly sweep the mud before anyone slipped.
The phase passed soon but still the children found other things to play. The great Indian cricket and football. Or even climbing of the solo frangipani tree causing great trepidation among the parents in the building!
Well, that phase passed and we heaved a sigh of relief. Yet I am glad that they still want to play rather than stand outside and gossip as older children do!

See a fresh perspective on childhood:
"We've created the Surf Excel Kids Today Project to get a fresh perspective on modern childhood -- especially looking at the importance of hands on experience and getting dirty in our children's development. Dirt is proof that children are living life, participating, exploring and experiencing. We believe that Dirt Is Good."

Which also means that kids love to do things by themselves. The messier the activity the better. Polishing shoes, washing slippers, folding clothes, climbing upon the basin and washing dishes, sweeping or rather breaking the brooms with vigorous sweeping, putting veggies in storage, playing with dishes pretending to arrange them but actually messing them up....we could go on. They say every such activity builds cognisance and hand eye coordination. In the earlier days there was no organised play, only free play and most children learnt by imitating their parents. Which also meant that the only toys they had were the objects in and around the house, ever wonder why kids live banging vessels!

The Surf Excel Kids Today Project

Have you ever noticed that childhood today is more work and less play than it used to be? You are not alone!

Surf Excel has conducted new research amongst 1,000 Indian mums and found that they strive to find the best way to ensure their children are well-prepared for the competitive world ahead:
•    60% of mums believe their child’s future happiness is dependent on them doing well at school
•    One in four would like their child to spend more time at school
•    However, mums also believe learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom – children can learn life skills from everyday experiences (82%)
•    Collaboration and teamwork are more important than being successful academically (66%)

To help redress the balance, Surf Excel has launched The Kids Today Project to show that recreation and hands-on experiences are not nice-to-haves, but are in fact critical to every child's developmental success. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Re discovering

Forgotten songs on radio station playing on the TV....bliss.
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Friday, February 21, 2014

Junk Food

Just to make life easier for myself for a day this morning, I said the kids could take a pack of chips and a pack of cheetos as snacks to school.

The sons- We dont want chips for snacks
Mamma- almost fainted with shock and panic because there was no other alternative. No no take it. Its ok

The sons- No, C mam has told you should bring healthy snacks to school and no junk food.
Also Mamma, can you please add vegetables when you give me noodles?

Mamma- completely fainted with shock

The sons- can we take Rs 20 to school to eat lollipo from the canteen
Mamma- chicken?
The sons- no ice cream

I wonder if argument 1 was done to lead to demand 2

Monday, February 10, 2014

Recognize us

So this Saturday the kids of the building sang bhajans in the nearby temple.
We hired costumes of Krishna, Jesus etc for the occasion.

The high point of the entire thing was that some generous soul gifted chandamama's Ramayana in comic form to each child.

And the most incongruous item among the hired clothes of krishna and jesus were the gap underwears!

Of course personally I felt jesus looked more like Romeo roaming the streets in tattered clothing and overgrown facial hair.

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Friday, January 31, 2014

Garden craze

So the pots bought at dastkaar and the rest of the empty pots in the garden have been utilized with colourful crotons and flowers. Check them out.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Game of badminton

Ojas- I won the badminton game with periappa.
Me- how.
Ojas- I hit 5 times and he 2 time. It was a five point game..I also won the game with the girls.
Me - how come?
Ojas - it was easy level. With periappa it was middle level
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Sceptical Score

A very interesting article on Scott Adams Blog had me cracking my sides. Check it out.

While the past age milestones seem to be too far away but I could say that

In my late thirties, I stopped believing in-
1. regular and intensive work out results in a proportionate weight loss

2. Your salary grows exponentially when you jump companies.

3. When you become old enough you can eat whatever you want.
What caused me to stop believing in this - canteen food, weight ensures you will not eat what you can.

4. You are what you eat

5. One day you will stop feeling the irrational urge to shop

6. You can change your husband to suit yourself.

7. What you lack in intelligence department, you can compensate with hard work

8. Write a few lines everyday and one day you will have a best seller. (blogging for 7.5 years!!! and facebooking for like 5 years???)

9. Oiling, conditioning and using hair fall solutions etc will stop hair fall.

10. If you wake up an hour earlier than usual, you will not be late by 10 minutes which you always are.

11. One day Patna roads will improve.

12. One day India will become a super power

13. One day Indian rupee will be worth more than the dollar

14. Gold and oil will be discovered in India and India will become rich.

15. When kids grow up they will study on their own.

16. If you stretch your house budget exponentially you will b able to buy your dream house

I had here what Scott Adam's blog post says. What is your list?

A rational mind needs regular maintenance. One of the maintenance systems I employ is to remind myself of things I used to be sure about and later discovered to be untrue. I started a list organized by the approximate ages at which I realized my errors. A healthy rational mind needs regular doses of humility. (I might need more humility than most people.)

Here is the approximate age at which I stopped believing in different stuff.

Age 8

Santa Claus
Tooth Fairy
Easter Bunny

Age 11

Money isn't important for happiness


People are mostly rational
Unquestioned patriotism is a good thing
Any college is as good as any other
Memories are generally accurate
Looks don't matter
Wealth doesn't make you more attractive
Gay is a choice
Alcoholism is a choice


School reputation doesn't matter
History as taught in school is generally accurate
You can do anything you set your mind to
Flying saucers are visiting on a regular basis
Hard work is almost always rewarded
Some men don't enjoy porn
Individuals can pick good stocks if they do research
Management is a science


Food pyramid
Vitamin supplements are backed by science
Free will
Solving your problems can bring you lasting happiness

Age 50

Common sense exists (as opposed to experience)
Drink eight glasses of water a day
Exercising is a big help for losing weight
A calorie is a calorie
Don't swim soon after eating
Wash hands with hot water to kill germs
Marijuana is bad for adult health (Note: still probably bad for kids)
Stretching helps athletic performance
Humans are more likely to be real than artificial/software
Everyone will die
The government isn't controlled by big money
The stock market is mostly legitimate

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

So What Did You Buy at the Datkaari Haat?

I happened to know that the Dastkaari haat is back in Kalakshetra at a very inconvenient time. When I was not in town. Which means I missed three days counting from the opening day and that means the best of the loot is already being used in someone's home and here I am just lusting about it.
The haat is back in Chennai after a gap of 2 loooong years and believe me, we have almost lost hope of it ever coming back.

So this Monday I rushed home from office, getting impatient at every signal, dumped my stuff at home, waved a cheery good bye to the husband who was busy on a telco (tell me something new) and almost ran the entire 5 minutes distance to the gate of the haat grounds.

in the first round, I just looked. My learning from past experience has been to just look first, identify the stuff you want to buy, of course ensure there are plenty of them just in case it doesn't get over when you come back the second time.

The next round I began to buy.
My first purchase was the leather bag from the Calcutta stall.

Then I picked up three door mats- the thick ones that really last long.

A blue cotton kurta material and a green-gold silk one.
Two silk kurtas in black and orange from a stall who claimed to be the ones stitching for Fab India.

I saw a lovely matka silk saree in red and parrot green that I fell in love with but did not buy.

Of course I was not satisfied with these and went back the next day to pick up more stuff.
I picked up a couple of leather pouches to house my medicines/ creams/ chargers etc so that they can be organised inside the bag instead of being all over the place.

And then I picked up a few wooden combs which smell very nice and woody as one combs the hair. It is said that it does not cause static and therefore prevents hair breakage. Whatever.

And finally, recalling that I want to beautify the garden and that the pots that I had bought from Valluvarkottam craft fair nearly a decade ago still survives, I bought a few colourful planters.

I wanted to buy more but then controlled myself and headed back happy but not satisfied.