In love …..with Hong Kong

Trip 1

On this trip I stayed at the Sheraton in Tsa Shim Tsui , a very nice neighbourhood in Kowloon , the promenade is supposed to be a must visit to get the best view of Hong Kong skyline  and I was fortunate enough to be staying right next door .

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Apparently Hong Kong has no open container law which means you can drink on the street so we decided to buy 3 beers and walked around drinking our beers . I have no idea that open container was such a big deal but in the US , you can only drink in Vegas openly . We then walked over to the Temple Street Night Market with our beers . This is a paradise for  shopping lovers , especially the ones who love to haggle . After picking up some knick knacks which I did not even bother to haggle. We decided to find some place to eat , the local goodies seemed delicious but we ended up going to Indian restaurant because one of us was a vegetarian . The meal was delicious but living in the Bay Area has spoiled me . After a sumptuous meal , we slowly slithered back to our hotel and turned in for the night .

The next morning  I decided to go check out the Giant Buddha and also check Victoria’s peak off my list. But before that I decided to walk around and what do I see but the Peninsula

For James Bond lovers , this hotel is referenced in the Man with the Golden Gun when James Bond asks Mary Goodnight (With apologies to feminists everywhere but one has to admit, Mary Goodnight is a huge improvement over Pussy Galore) to follow a Green Rolls Royce and she informs him rather testily that if it is Green Rolls Royce then it has to go to the Peninsula . As can be seen in the picture, the cavalcade of Green Rolls Royce is still being maintained .

And for Batman fans , the roof of the Peninsula was used to show the meeting between Fox and Lau when Fox is getting off a helicopter . The Peninsula has only one of two private helipads in Hong Kong.

I head towards the train stations known as MTR (here they call it MTR , a source of confusion for me !!! In Singapore it is MRT and even after 18 years , I still cannot say but MRT) . As seems to be usual with all metro trains , navigating was a breeze and I ended up at my destination,Tsuen Wan MTR and walked across the street to find my Cable car . There are several ways to get to the top, you can walk , take a bus or cable car . For obvious reasons , I opted for the cable car . Years earlier I had ridden cable cars in Singapore and Malaysia where they had made a big deal of this particular ride and the one in the Alps . The wait time was (shockingly!!!) documented was 90 minutes , turns out that it was overly optimistic . After 3 hours , I finally got my ticket and there were two options , a glass bottom cable car and a regular cable car . The price difference is nominal , about 90 HKD but I calculated the probability and imagined that the number of glass bottomed cable cars to be far less than that of the regular cars (quite foolishly since I had no prior data). So my wise reader when you do visit , do make sure that you get the tickets online because it will cut your wait time in half and also make sure to get the glass bottomed boat . Dont worry about the glass bottoms , it is the same material they have used in the CN tower in Toronto and the Skywalk on the Grand Canyon . I am terrified of heights and I have been on both . They have the tensile strength to hold 10 elephants so very safe.

It became apparent to me that this was an entire different island by the name of  Lantau Island.

The views were absolutely breathtaking and I cannot recommend it enough for all.

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And I got an awesome peek at the Hong Kong international airport . It seems as though no matter where I go and how strange the symbols on the planes seem to be , I always see a Fedex plane .

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This is the walk way that is available in case one is interested or one is doing this for religious persuasions. I also caught sight of a quaint waterfall . I would have liked to do it perhaps another time.

At the top is a quaint little village of Ngong Ping on Lantau Island .

Again some shopping available for those interested but I hurried through.The signs have been forced to be of a certain style , so even the 7-11 has to adhere to some specific standards. Reminded me of a McDonalds in Dublin , Ohio which has no golden arches .

I caught sight of the 12 Chinese Zodiac signs , after a cursory reading I realized that these signs were named after Chinese generals who was considered to be the bodyguards for the Buddha . Interestingly the names seemed to be more Hindu in origin .

After I passed the 12 statues , I came across an archway

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However the Buddha was on the opposite side

There are 268 steps to ascend to the top . I climbed it in less than 10 minutes after which I realized that I need to start swimming again . After catching my breath , I started wandering around and took several snaps

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Interesting I watched the various poses and it seemed to me like there was an aspect of the pose from the Buddha in each of the worshipers . I wondered if that was done to invoke a sense of the majestic that he is within all of us or simply a more prosaic reason of bronze castings .

Having exhausted all my options (and realizing that it is past 5) , I decided to head down and out . I took one last look at the Buddha and took a snap

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As I headed for the cable car which I had purchased a return for , I saw the line say the same dreaded “90 Minutes” . I remembered seeing a bus stand and I promptly headed that direction after asking my neighbor to keep my place in the line . Fortunately the buses came in every 20 minutes and though it took me almost 30 minutes to get to the train station , it was far better than the “90 Minutes” by cable car.  I took the train back to Kowloon and passed by the Avenue of the Stars and in the Subway , I saw this poster

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I saw it a long time ago , probably the only time that I saw a Kung Fu movie with my father and that too in Chennai and I remember telling my mother about it so precious memories associated with this movie. Regardless of my nostalgia,  it was a wonderful movie with some very deep lessons that I remember to this day , for instance “Practice makes perfect” is depicted very elegantly and forcefully. It was too late for me to head towards Victoria’s peak so I decided to head towards the hotel.

After I reached the hotel , my friend was done with his work and we decided to grab some food . Our vegetarian friend was gone so we decided to find us some local food . We went to a small hole in the wall restaurant which specialized in Clay pot rice .My friend is white and I am Indian so we were the only non Chinese in that establishment ,everybody looked askance at us . The owner came to us and asked “Drink” . My friend ordered a Tsing-Tao and while we were looking around at the various assorted meats that we tried to identify, we got a bowl of boiling hot water and two glasses . I was puzzled but my friend rinsed his glass in the water and dried it with paper towels, I proceeded to follow his example ; Smart!!! disinfect your glasses . A liter bottle of Tsing-Tao came over and we ordered our food , he ordered Sausage rice and I ordered eel rice . My rice was absolutely delicious and it was incidentally also the first time in my life that I was eating rice with chop sticks comfortably  . Eating fried rice with chop sticks is difficult but eating sticky rice with chop sticks is far easier. Having eaten the delicious meal , we made our way back to the hotel and crept into bed . Monday morning , we had to head back to work in China.

Trip 2

I headed out on Friday evening by myself from Shenzhen to Hong Kong. After the customary clearing of Customs which never ceases to baffle me . Hong Kong is supposed to be a part of China but I have fill out papers that  say that I am leaving China and my passport gets a good grilling over by both the Chinese and the Hong Kong officials . After we leave the ‘border’ my driver suddenly takes off at 140 km an hour on the wrong side of the road . For those of you metrically challenged, that is 90 miles/hour. I was in a purple panic and I could not communicate with the guy . They don’t speak English and I don’t speak Mandarin or in this case Cantonese. About 10 heart stopping minutes later , I realized Hong Kong is left hand drive. DAMN BRITISH!!!! If you are thinking, why did I not yell , earlier this year in Shanghai , I yelled at the driver to look out and instead he decided to turn around to look at me promptly slamming into a parked mini van and then bounced off a bus. So I have become a little wary of screaming at drivers while they are driving.

Today I was going to stay at the W which is what my friend had recommended .  The view was absolutely gorgeous .

The W sits on top of a mall so I decided to walk around the mall and there were several different restaurants . I finally ventured into it and I looked at the Menu in shock and delight . top of the Chef’s recommendations was Snake soup . I asked the waiter if that really meant snake . He grinned and said yes but sadly they are out today . I was disappointed and relieved at the same time. Last year I had read about this incident where a soup chef had been bitten by a cobra while he was throwing its severed head into the trash . That had got me extremely curious.  I got myself a crab claw soup with egg white and house fried rice . The food was absolutely delicious and the portion of the house fried rice was probably enough for 4 people.

The next morning my agenda was to get on top of Victoria’s peak but I decided to get my swim in . I loved the swimming pool at Le Meridian in Shanghai which was on the 20th floor with a beautiful view of Nanjing rd but the St Regis in Shenzhen  with the 76th floor swimming pool blew me away ,however nothing prepared me for the swimming pool at the W

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The swimming pool is on the top of the hotel and as can be seen , it is an open air swimming pool . The water is deliciously cold (about 77F) and refreshes you up instantly .

The elevator surprised me

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I was afraid to step on it.

After my swim , I headed out to the train station ,ignoring my concierge’s advice that I should take a taxi,to get to Victoria’s Peak . I got off at Hong Kong station where I found this really cool alphabet (no relation to Google’s parent company) sculpture

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I walked for about 10 minutes and reached the Tram station.

The wait time was almost 90 minutes but fortunately I started chatting up the blonde standing next to me after I realized she could speak English, turns out she is from Chicago . Small world!!!

The tram came pretty quickly and as we were heading up , I was watching for an illusion where the buildings seem to fall towards you because of the angle of the ascent. I took several pictures but the pictures failed to provide the illusion . After we reached the top , we took several pictures

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At which point my companion bid adieu and went her way because she was getting cold . I decided to hang around and I found a walk way that I started walking towards and as I kept walking, I ran into signs that kept saying Public toilet but seeing no evidence of it anywhere unless they wanted you to go over the railing which I doubt . I found another girl walking by and when I asked her, she responded in flawless East Coast accent that she was new. I asked where she was from , she said New York. When I told her that I was from California , she looked distinctly relieved and said that I was the first American she had seen . It turned out she is doing her PhD in Political Science at the University of Kobe which led to some interesting talk about Kobe beef , turns out that she has never eaten Kobe beef and we exchanged some of our experiences in Japan . About 45 minutes later  and some more scenic shots later

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I bid adieu to her

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I decided to head down and as I am waiting , I hear two guys behind me yapping away in English with an American accent  and three women talking in English with a clipped European accent , as I debated where to break the ice , things were made easy by the women switching to French, I turn to the guys and ask them where they were from , turns out they are from Marin county and Atlanta(oddly he had no accent) , but after that I got to hear an earful of their travel plans for this year and the arrangements that they made in Vietnam and the rate that they paid per day and what they did last year and the year before that and what their respective mothers would say about their travels and how well traveled they were and the list of the funicular railways that they had been on and how the one in Bogota is scarier than this one. I silently endured the torture until the tram hit the bottom and after I bid adieu , I reflected that I had met two women and two men and by far the women were far more interesting . Moral of the story : Don’t talk to somebody just because they speak English.

I decided that I was going to do the Symphony of Lights harbor cruise in the evening but before that ride the Star Ferry across to Kowloon instead of taking the train . I slowly walked over towards the Star ferry taking in the various sights

My maternal family has been involved in the shipping business for generations so I have a inexplicable attraction for the sea and ships and anything that resembles ships .So I enjoyed seeing the Jardine house which looked as though it was full of portholes

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I always love seeing IFC , perhaps because of the Dark Knight

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I got back to Kowloon for a mere 4.5 HKD and I reserve a ticket for myself on the Symphony of Lights Harbor cruise .

The Symphony of lights is a true feast for the eyes , they tell the story of Hong Kong and the sky scrapers light up .

The whole show lasted for an hour and no trip to Hong Kong is complete without this cruise .

It had been a long day , as I slowly walked back towards the hotel , I happened to catch this sight

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The next morning I was due to catch my flight back to San Francisco and I notice a wonderful convenience . They have something called “In Town” check in . So at the Basement of the W hotel is the Kowloon station and I checked in my suitcase and having done that, I was free to do what I pleased , I could have roamed around the mall but having been there for the last two days . I opted to go to the Airport instead and get some breakfast there . The McDonalds had a line that snaked impossibly , I had seen some strange breakfast items that looked intriguing but I opted to eat at the neighboring Chinese place where I got myself Congee and glutinous rice with Lotus stems. The Congee had some meat in it and so did the rice which was sweet . They were both simple and delicious . As I walked towards the security area, I promised myself that I was going to return .

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Automating ourselves out of life

So the last two weeks  I have been at one of the largest factories in Shenzhen producing an extremely popular product . This product belongs to a company that is beloved for its customers , not a simple Facebook  like , not a mere thumbs up but  passions that are hitherto unknown to the human race with regard to a mere thing. 20 years ago when I was a mere stripling of a programmer , I was part of a flame war where I was against the company but these days that same company provides me with bread and butter and the more I use it, the more I like it and I am beginning to understand the motivations of my friends whom I previously thought were uninformed . This company represents  creativity , freedom and other wonderful ideals that I would happily lay down my life for. In a way , it is representative of America itself , the freedom , the disdain for authority , the boldness to throw off shackles of traditions and define new path breaking ways of seeing the world . In my view all of that defines the American way of life . Most people imagine that the American way of life is a house with a 2 car garage and a dog . In my opinion the American way is having the freedom to choose your life and live it your way on your terms. It has taken me a long time to understand that , most of it was learnt in the school of hard knocks . Benjamin Franklin liked to say that “Experience is a hard teacher but fools will learn in no other ” , I will leave you , my learned reader to draw your own conclusions to my inability to learn anywhere but the school of experience

But I digress . The plant is a superb example of finely tuned engineering and automation principles. Henry Ford would be proud to see his brain child, the assembly line being adopted and improvised all over the world.  Microscopic electronic components are placed using special opto-magnetic screw drivers handled by lines and lines of semi skilled laborers probably procured from the deep interior of China. These laborers are the unsung heroes of my blog today .

Anybody who has been inside a factory tends to have their eyes glazed over at the monumental achievements of technology finely tuned to produce the products that we as a race tend to take for granted whether it is your car or your phone . The initial dazzle tends to fade off after a little while , for me it faded after a few days . Then I became aware of smells , various kinds of body odour which evoked memories from a bygone age . I had smelt that when I worked around people who worked in the factory , the smell is various body odours ; smelly feet , un-deodorized armpits and the familiar unpleasant smell of ammonia and uric acid . I imagine that some of the people are so poor that they have no money to spend on luxuries like deodorant . Ironically I used to smell that on my dad who was fanatical about general body hygiene. I did not notice that smell on him on Thursdays which was his day off and interestingly after he retired, I never smelt that on him . As amazing as that sounds , the only way that I can explain is that body odors follow the law of association, hang around a stinky person and thou shall stink as well.  So while it did evoke some familiar childhood memories , I was not enthusiastic about smelling any of it. As I walked around the lines and watched people engaged in monotonous laborious activity, I watched the expressions of people who took a few minutes break to look around and as they surveyed the stranger in their midst . I would imagine they had seen Indians before but they had an odd look about them  . Some days I would interpret that as envy, other days as curiosity and slowly I realized that I was guilty of charging all their expressions under one collective bucket and I started paying more attention to individuals , the expression most common seemed reminiscent of fear , I was not sure if it was a fear that I was about to automate some jobs away and deprive them of their livelihood or just a general fear of strange looking people. The prior fear was well justified considering that we had deployed technologies where we had replaced people with robots . The work is mindless and numbing , personally I would not want to ever do anything like it but I realize after talking to a girl who had just graduated from MIT that some of these people may not have choices . I am not sure what skills they have but technology and automation in its relentless progress has managed to render some if not all of those skills obsolete. It is a painful realization that ones cherished work can do away with the livelihood of people rather than add time to people’s lives . I have always been very proud of that , the fact that I literally add time to people’s lives . I had bought in on Thomas Jefferson’s vision where technology would help the human race relegate its tedious jobs to technology so that humans could spend their time enriching themselves . That was certainly my dream and cherished vision . But suddenly the bile of bitter truth comes surging up as I look at these faces and I wonder about what my dad would think about my vocation. I was 26 when he passed away but I never for the life of me figured out what he did .All I knew was that he had slaved in a factory for 30 some years in India and that is what he raised me and my sister on. I look at some of these faces again and they are intent on doing whatever it is that they are doing while the conveyor moves on and brings new assemblies to them to work on and one of the most common actions that I see is where they push the parts back . That is one common action to everybody working on a assembly line . Reminds me of time moving forward , slowly and inexorably while we vainly grasp at it as it slips through our fingers , time passing us by while we are marching with our heads down and struggling with whatever it is that sucks our attention . But in the midst of that , I watch somebody do a dance , not a fancy dance just a happy dance as he goes from one end of the line to the other rolling his empty cart and I smile happily . His happiness is contagious and remarkably as I smile broadly , several of the individuals on the line catch me smiling and smile back to me. The conveyor keeps moving on inexorably bringing more assemblies to be worked on and while I have no idea how many assemblies we would have put out today , I will never forget the happy dance of my nameless co-worker . It still brings a smile to my face . The conveyor of life moves on just as inexorably if not more so but we do have time to smile at our fellow passengers and brighten their day as that young Chinese boy did to me.

Travelling fantasies

I had known Virendra since first grade . He was extremely fair skinned , had light green eyes and was a Brahmin from the Konkan region of Maharashtra. There is a peculiar affliction that seems to be found only among Indians and that seems to the servile fawning attitudes towards fair skin, I imagine it is some form of Anglophilia, a sycophancy that probably derives its roots from the colonization over the past few centuries .

While most of you would be puzzled and ask me if the fawning tendencies for fairer skin are not true the world around . Women are considered the fairer sex and we all fawn over them. Even the great Benjamin Franklin makes a case for fair skin (in his days they considered Germans to be dark skinned , go figure!!!!) and he makes a case for pursuing English or French women only. But modern day Indians take that sentiment to heart. The concept of tanning inside a tanning booth would probably get you admitted to a lunatic asylum in India . Indians do everything to ensure that fair skin is kept as pristine and fair as possible , some mothers will even prevent their children from playing too long in the sun where they might run into the virulent danger of  losing their pristine natural advantage. But coming back to Virendra , being blessed with natural advantages had certainly made him cocky and arrogant. The longer we knew him, the more we all fawned on him , around 3rd grade he let us on to a secret . The coming summer, he was headed to America to visit Disneyland. We were flabbergasted , Disneyland!!! Actually going to see Mickey mouse , Donald Duck , Goofy !!! We were insanely jealous of his good fortune . How does one get to be so damned lucky?? Envy was probably writ large on every single face .

So fourth grade was all about Disney characters , we had to hear stories of Disneyland and the long plane ride and the stop over in England , the beautiful princesses in Disneyland, the hot dog and ice cream vendors . He had even introduced certain Americanisms into his speech such as “Gotcha” and “Gonna” By the end of the year , we had gotten tired of his silly Americanisms ,Disneyland , London , the beautiful princesses and the Disney characters and heartily wished that Mr Disney had found himself another career, envy notwithstanding.

If fourth grade was awesome, few things could compare to a fifth grader’s dream vacation as his vacation actually turned out to be . It was a month in Kenya and then an African Safari through the Congo. He regaled us with tales of seeing Lion cubs in the wild , uncut precious stones lying unclaimed , the heart wrenching but utterly graceful hunts of the gazelle by the cheetah. We found ourselves cheering in turn for the cheetah and the gazelle in turn.We then heard stories of his house in Mombasa where they housed a small zoo , we were regaled of stories of how he would feed pygmy pigs to his pet python, the garden that housed peacocks , the leopard cubs that had been rescued by Zulu, the son of his Kenyan nanny, Elinah . He even showed us a peacock feather that he assured us was the real deal from one of his pet peacocks. We were fed an inveterate diet of all things Kenyan , Kenyan customs , Kenyan culture , Kenyan diet . Needless to say . we were  envious at his astonishing good fortune and by the end of the year , completely fed up with Kenya and all things Kenyan.

One day my curiosity and envy could stand it no longer and so I asked him how did he manage it , to which he proudly replied that his father was a pilot and they could take free trips anywhere around the world anytime they pleased and since the pilots get paid so handsomely , they had over a dozen houses in different exotic locales. Lucky Bastard!!! He won the ovarian lottery!!! I wished my dad would do something as cool so that I could do all those wonderful things . I wanted to see the Savannah , I wanted to see the animals in the wild, do a safari , go prospecting for gemstones in the rough and a million other things . I had no idea what a bucket list was but I already had a lengthy bucket list thanks to Virendra’s travels.

As the years passed , it became normal for us to expect him to regale us with stories as the school year started . It was always an exotic vacation;  skiing in the Alps while in Europe , going diving in the great barrier reef with sharks, snorkeling with amazing wildlife in Hawaii , even going diving in the dreaded Bermuda triangle, glacier watching in Greenland , and a trip through world war II museums and locations in Germany ,Austria and Poland that impressed even our history teacher in 10th grade and turned us all greener with envy. We just hated the bastard but we were falling over each other to hear more of his exploits , stories of his travels were common place even amongst the girls and several apparently had already vied for the enviable epithet of being his girlfriend. Which just made things that much worse for all of us , even Renu a girl that I had a soft corner for , seemed to be smitten with him , seemed to go out of her way to talk to him where as I barely existed . Oh how the green eyed monster of jealousy inflamed me!!!

After passing out of high school, we went our separate ways . I was destined to be an engineer , if I was not destined to be, my father made sure that I developed proclivities that were suited for engineering . His parents were more lackadaisical and allowed him to go to culinary school which I thought was to be expected , his parents had money, they could afford to let him indulge whereas I had to provide for my family. Moreover I was also envious because I had always heard about the loose women that ended up in culinary schools , I am sure that with his god given good looks, he would be busy sowing wild oats galore . By the time we ended up in college , I had lost touch with him .But my bucket list still housed a ton of places to see and travel , that list owed more to him than to the travel channel and my envy at his good fortune was probably intact but dormant . I eventually gave up any hopes of meeting him , assumed that he would move abroad to one of his dozen houses that his family owned around the world and move on to better things .

I finished my graduation with flying colors and it was imposed upon me that I had to get my masters . When I was trying to get admission for my Masters , I had to run pillar to post and I was in Modern college and whom do I see but my old pal , Virendra in the finance dept . I started in surprise . He had not seen me yet , I snuck towards him unseen and hurried in delight to meet him and I heard the words from his mouth “I will see you later dad”. I stopped and stared in startled disbelief . The man that was being addressed looked just like Virendra , older , fair skin , green eyes so I had little doubt that he was indeed Virendra’s dad . A pilot who has houses in the US , Switzerland , Kenya and a dozen other exotic locales does not need to work in the accounting department of Modern college . I looked at the man slowly , scrutinizing him carefully , head to toe.The thread bare sweater and the faded pants and the worn out chappals painted a picture that was slowly coming into focus for me . The face wore the withdrawn look of a man who had cherished dreams and hopes and watched life batter away at them like a gale against a flimsy raft , it was certainly not the face of a man who was used to getting his way .  As I stared , comprehension slowly dawned on me . Comprehension is a funny beast ,this sudden insight had the unexpected effect of tying seemingly disparate pieces of information together into a consummate whole.  A realization hitherto safely hidden from view, floated up into my consciousness . I had been a ‘close friend’ for over 15 years and in those 15 years, I have never been to his house .Anger crept in when I realized that I had been fooled , for the better part of 15 years. All that envy and  misery over the years, jealousy at his good fortune suddenly seemed like an utter waste of my life and  the feeling of sour and bitter humiliation slowly made its way and I wanted to throw up, I could imagine him chuckling at all of us  being fooled by his imaginative stories . He must think we are all idiots.  The anger and fury gave way to an overwhelming desire to humiliate him , sweet humiliating retribution in front of his father for making me and all our friends look like idiots. But fortunately before my vicious ploy could be put to work , providence bailed me out. The department was crowded with students trying to pay fees so he never saw me as he turned and left. And my father came by and took me away to the meeting that was scheduled; we had to focus on more important issues.

But as time passed , the need for providing a dramatic expose , weighed on me , sucking up useful energy and time . I should have instead spent time figuring out how to tell my dad how grateful I was for his upbringing, I did not have great vacations but I was sufficiently comfortable in my skin that I did not have to create elaborate fantasies to hide who I was and for that I had only my father to thank for but these valuable lessons are learnt by the truly wise ones amongst us, most of us focus on petty issues and I was no exception , I focused on silly plans to satiate petty desires , one of which included formulating a plan for a dramatic expose . In retrospect I should have been more respectful of Old Man Time because he has taken great pains to teach me some very hard and painful lessons ; tell your parents how much you love and appreciate them because death does not always warn before it comes knocking , tell the woman you love how much she means to you because once you lose her, you may never get an opportunity to get her back, indulge your children because once they grow up, they move on with their own lives and don’t have time for your regrets.

My dad passed away quite suddenly due a heart attack . Doctors assured me that smoking was responsible , that did not do anything to inspire me to quit my smoking habit however my dad’s death did change my perspectives in relation to a number of issues , including my seemingly insatiable need for exposing Virendra . Overnight I failed to see the point of the exercise .I was looking at this from a different vantage point , a vantage point where I would give anything to tell my dad how proud I was of him and everything that he did for us . This vantage point  made me thank providence that Virendra had not seen me that crowded day in the Modern College Accounting dept and let my silly ploy come to fruition. I would have been guilty of poisoning the relationship of a father to his son, perhaps even inspire the worst question that a parent can ask of themselves  “Is my child ashamed of me?”

I did not see Virendra for another 20 years . I finally tracked him down on Facebook and was happy to see that he was doing well for himself . We got in contact and started setting up meetings in places where our travels intersected ; Toronto , Shanghai ,  San Francisco, London ,Tokyo , Paris , Sydney , Johannesburg, Buenos Aires etc .  At our meeting in Tokyo we decided to meet at the world famous Tsukiji fish market and have sushi and sake. After several hours of pounding cold sake and eating delicious blue fin tuna sushi , I finally mustered up the courage to ask him about his childhood adventures and he unabashedly answered “National Geographic” . I burst out laughing and he smiled and we raised another toast , to his inventive mind but I also raised a silent toast to the friendship where he felt comfortable telling the truth and to providence that had saved me from destroying it . The confession was an admission of the strength of our friendship but everything that was left unsaid was a far greater testament to the durability of this relationship, the silent confidence that everything was understood, nothing need to be said or explained or apologized for

Perhaps it is only befitting that these two restless souls , one so highly imaginative that he imagined entire travels of exotic locales from the cozy comfort of his humble home and the other who was so entranced by his friend’s journeys that he was inspired to see places that he otherwise might never have, should meet in faraway lands , in any place but what they both had once considered home.

Paradise Gained!!!

So I finally resigned from my contracting gig at the manufacturing behemoth . It was a tremendous relief  for me. People who hardly ever perused the current code base insisted on code stratagems and design patterns that could not make any sense to folks who had developed the code or spent lot of time trying to understand and make it work but that is any industry , I suppose which is why the grunts can never understand what the managers are blabbing about and the managers find the grunt too dumb to implement what the managers want .

If you ever wish to see a modern day tower of babel , go to a software shop and watch the manager from higher echelons talking to the developers .

But today , we will only talk about the so called exit interview process . We will call the protagonists B(Business minded) and T(Technology minded) to protect the guilty. I announced the decision to B who was very laid back and said is there anything that he could do to make me stay , I laid out a series of well thought out arguments where I pointed that it would be best if I did leave, both for the company and me . I am not motivated in my current position . I did not move to California just to be a wage slave . There are tools and techniques that I need to learn to make my start up dream come true . Writing programs to control robots and conveyors was not going to do that for me, it was fun early on to learn something new . But today most of it is common place and fairly uninteresting and tedious. Worse I get bored easily , probably a character flaw but one that I have not been able to quell with sheer will power and I have actually found out using willpower in this case is detrimental to my long term growth and attitude . He silently listened and trying to make some weak arguments that I was mistaken but I knew that I had convinced him or perhaps he had always known and was happy that I was leaving . I found out later that perhaps he was not really happy because he did try to impress upon me that he would be willing to match whatever I was making . In the past two years , I had the money talk with him several times and it was consistently made clear to me that Apple was paying below market rates for me because I was a green horn with respect to automation on the west coast. I never bought into his spiel because my boss at Apple never tired of reminding us that all US Apple contractors were paid the same standard rates.   I tried to call up T but he was busy with a client.

The next morning T  shows up at the office , cheerful and immediately lays into me  “Dude , you ruined my evening . I could not sleep at night” . I listened to him smiling and thinking that relationships have done that to me , not jobs!!!!  He is a seasoned veteran and he is giving me the soft soap. I am not going to call him on it, this was fun . He lays his laptop down and looks around the lab . “Nobody here huh” . I responded in the affirmative . “Well let us go get some coffee ” , a disagreeable thought but I quietly acquiesced. He has come today in his Mercedes GLE SUV. He usually drives his glorified electric golf cart that we all know as the Nissan Leaf.  I was silently wondering if this is another ploy , hint at the amount of money that he is making and perhaps if I changed my mind, I would get a piece of the pie. While we are driving he proceeds to informs me about the new venture that he is getting into; IOT or internet of things . Internet of Things is essentially a scheme where your fridge will order your milk if it is low and many many other such conveniences , in 1999 I was smitten with the idea and Sun Microsystems had released a version of its famed Java language for network devices called Jini , a word play on the word genie . But lately it has become nondescript with our cell phones and the gadgets that Amazon and Google and Apple are releasing but it is a huge untapped market so he is trying to convince me that this latest shiny bauble that he is working on, will indeed be the philosopher’s stone and he will offer me all kinds of options so I could be on easy street once the dust settles by early 2020. “So just give me 6 more months ,after all this is Silicon Valley and jobs are dime a dozen , six more months is not going to change anything” , he is still at his persuasive best. “I have  no idea what i  want to create but whatever idea that I get , I will seek venture capital funding right away.”, he ends with a triumphant flourish. I silently listen wondering if he has drunk too much of his own Kool aid, he does not have a product in mind but he already has dreams of getting VC funding, I have been in the valley for less than 2 years and I have a very good idea of how hard it is to get funding from VCs . He has also assured me that he will match whatever I am making at my new gig. Just a few months back when I had asked him to bump up my pay packet , he had responded with the statement that my package was very competitive and there was no way that he was going to bump it up but suddenly a competitor snatching me up seems to have awoken his sense of fair play and justice. He also proceeds to tell me that he had talked to one of the head honchos at Apple and they had finally agreed after months of patient negotiation to pay the same rate for me and he was planning to bump up my pay packet anyway at the end of the year but he is perfectly willing to do so right now . He then proceeds to make a philosophical comment about how all deals are done between men , I thought it sounded a bit sexist and started wondering where this was going when he immediately goes on to implicate himself by launching into a lengthy discussion that when he says men, he meant human kind and he has always thought that men and women are equal and his first partner was a woman . There are some folks who have told me that I am easy to read and there are some that have told me that I am impossible to read . The former include my ex wife who could not really read me and the latter includes my sister who also cannot read me but he had somehow picked up on the fact that I had zeroed in on his “men” comment and found it distasteful. I was watching something very interesting ,the tendency of people to pretend they were something that they were not because the truth is either not fashionable or it is distasteful to them. In any case  , I let him ramble and my mind wandered away

The roads are crowded as usual , I idly wondered if there was any time of the day where this road had no traffic . I have been there as early as 6 AM and as late as 1 AM ,  lot of operations and engineering folks burning the candle at both ends . We arrive at the Starbucks and he proceeds to park in a compact parking spot and takes up two spaces because he cannot park like a normal competent driver . I asked him if he wanted to straighten it so that somebody else can park in the second spot , he shrugs and walks away.  He buys himself a low fat latte and I get myself a black coffee and we perch ourselves and I cannot help but observe our body language , he has already intruded into my space with his hands folded and his coffee cup on my side of the table and he is doing his damnedest to convince me. A used car salesman!!! that is what this ploy reminds me of. I have already leaned back and slightly tilted my body away from him . So he proceeds to lay out my career path for me , I just need to stick it out for a few more months at Apple and then once he has his flash in the pan idea , I can jump in and use my new fangled internet skills . These are the same skills that I have been trying to get them to adopt for a little while. I listen to him silently . He then proceeds to dangle another carrot in front of me . This one is truly mind blowing . I was speechless and dumbfounded . I could not have been more dumb founded if somebody had told me that I had grown an extra pair of eyes . Then he proceeds slowly to unveil his golden proposal to help me work on the technologies that I had previously mentioned to be of interest to me . “All you need to do is work your 8 hours at Apple, after that you can work on these internet technologies , let me see who dares to tell you otherwise” , he spluttered . I gazed at him in wonder , is he actually listening to himself talk.

He then proceeds “You know , I know you , I know your strengths , I know exactly what roles are suitable for you . I am really puzzled as to why an E-commerce company would want you ” . This is a guy who has never worked outside a very limited window of Automation , never written a device driver , would not know how to craft the simplest of web pages , develop an IOS app or create a database . He tends to be very contemptuous of all of the above because he perceives it as the fiefdom of minds far inferior to his own.   Now suddenly he understands web technologies and professes to know what is best for me . Overnight he is my new best friend and knows me better than myself.

I just smile and then he proceeds with more soft soap . “When I come in the morning and see your smiling face , I know that we are golden . The fort is secure “. This one turned out to be a bit of a puzzler for me  , I am still puzzling over it as I write this . I am certainly no gladiator , just a mere software engineer working in a lab . What fort is he referring to?

I quietly decline again and tell him that I am seriously burnt out with automation related software and the ongoing personality issues that I have been dealing with for the past two years . He again proceeds to interrupt me ,”That is normal, you are always going to find somebody that you do not like or cannot get along with. Just tell me what is it that I can change so you will stay”.

I again proceeded to inform him that this is something that I do need to clear my mind , I need a new field and a drastic change. I have no desire to continue but I would definitely like to maintain relations . Now it is my turn for the soft soap . “You have given me a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow , both personally and professionally. Not just the technical aspects but the people aspects as well and I will always be grateful for that”.

If that alleviated his agony , I could not tell . He stared at me quietly and then said “Well I guess if you are not going to change your mind, then I guess we better head back to the office”

I gratefully agreed and he dropped me off at the office and wished me a good trip to China which I had agreed to do .

I turned around and walked towards the office in relief , wondering if I should turn around and see if he was still watching me .  There is an old superstition among Hindus ;after death  we cremate our dead on a funeral pyre, after the pyre is lit and burning, the relatives should walk away without turning around and looking back at the pyre . I felt as though I was walking away from a funeral pyre; of this job; of his hopes;  perhaps it is best if I did not turn around and give hope a chance to rear its head in his bosom.