As you can see our Japan trip was bookended by stays in Tokyo. This was intentional. Since we were checking in and out of hotels on an almost daily basis, we didn’t have the luxury of shopping until the end of the trip. Japan offers so many interesting things to see and buy that we felt it deserved a day on its own and so we had to schedule a day in Tokyo at the end of the trip. This way, we didn’t walk around lugging it for the entire week. Of course, it is a different story altogether that I stole that day entirely for myself by spending it stationery, manga and electronic shops. More on that in a bit.
Day #1 – Asakusa, Shinjuku, Harajuku and Shibuya
Day #2 – Day trip to Mt. Fuji and Hakone
Day #7 – Ginza, Akhihabara
Why should you read this?
Preparing for the trip
- Japan, as mentioned before is different in many ways and it all starts with the visa process. For citizens of US, a visa is not required. For everyone else, a trip to the Consulate is the best way. We went to the Consulate in San Francisco. The form is super simple. Only requirement is that you have a planned itinerary with a flight ticket. You can get away with blocking a ticket and then cancelling it after the interview but we ended up just reserving our actual ticket prior to the Embassy trip. Visa costs are very affordable ($7 if you are an Indian citizen). It takes a week to process the Visa and you need to get back to the Consulate to pick it up.
- We reserved all the hotels via Orbitz. Things to look for while making a reservation – if you prefer a non-smoking room, make sure you confirm you are booking one. Unlike the US, many Japanese hotels offer smoking and non-smoking rooms. Locations can be tricky. Look up the Japanese public transit maps (Google Maps is pretty good with it) and try to pick a place close to public transportation. Given how much you will rely on it, it helps to be close to a station or a bus stop.
- Take cash. Lots of it. Unlike most other countries, many, many shops and vendors in Japan still take only cash. Trickier still, we couldn’t use our US credit cards to reserve train tickets especially Shinkansen which tends to be around $100/person/trip (Tokyo to Kyoto for an adult on Shinkansen was ~$130 on an unreserved coach). Cash is the king. We observed that the Travelex booth in airports was offering a much lower conversion rate (94 yen/ $) than the hotel we stayed (104 yen/$). So I would recommend picking up dollars from the ATM machine(103 yen/$) and converting it at your hotel. Another alternative we used was directly use our ATM cards in 7-11s and Japan Post ATMs. The conversation rate offered was pretty solid.
- Pack nice walking shoes, a small umbrella (or buy one in Japan- the options are insane in terms of size, quality and prints), your basic medicines and a nice backpack. We walked a lot and it rained on and off during our trip. We packed light since we were going to be checking out of hotels in the morning and off sightseeing during the day. We couldn’t lug heavy luggage around town.
- Make yourself familiar with all the public transit options in Japan- especially Tokyo. While the system is super friendly and simple to use- some background research helped. We had to change trains going from point A to point B and knowing where to switch and what line to take in advance was super helpful. Large signs are in Japanese but there is English in smaller print. Metro maps are also offered in English. Also pack a nice camera- Japan has so many remarkable places to see that a camera is a must.
- Make sure you can get WiFi on your phone. I am on ATT and utilized their Global WiFi service ($40 for 30 days) which allowed me 200 MB of cellular data but more importantly, access to ATT’s partner WiFi networks in Japan which was hugely useful. Most hotels offer free WiFi but when you are in the streets trying to navigate from one place to another, having WiFi on your phone will be super useful.
- We opted to fly into Narita airport which is a good one hour away from Tokyo central. If you get an affordable option to fly into Haneda instead, take it. Haneda is much closer to the city locations. Also, if you are vegetarian make sure you request the meal choice in advance. We made the mistake on one leg of our onward journey on Asiana Airlines and they had absolutely nothing for vegetarians.
- One thing we didn’t get to do was to stay in a Ryokan, which is a Japanese style Inn. They are usually a little more expensive than hotels, but since we were going during the cherry blossom season and did our booking late, rates were quite high and so we had to skip this.
I have not written here in a while for various reasons but no better time to get back in the game than with my annual tradition of writing a letter to my son on his birthday. So here we go.
At some point, I have to stop calling you a little guy because you are starting to talk less like a little guy and atleast for the sake of this letter, call you just the “dude”. To me and your mother, you will always be that little guy. No changing that. Ever. But to get to the point, Happy Birthday my dearest dude.
You are taller. You are skinnier and just a tad, a super little tad gawky. You have the nerd glasses. The obsession with fantasy, robots, Legos, pointed objects is all there. And new for this past year, the insane number of secrets being shared with your buddies. Those hush-hush messages being exchanged while your mother and I ferry you from place to place, the incredibly funny reactions between you and your friends as we walked past Victoria’s Secret, the giggling at the back of the school chorus- all of those are new too. In a way, you are reminding us of the joys of childhood as you grow in front of us. Too quickly, I must add.
Our love affair with basketball ended just as quickly as soccer. Now we are on to volleyball and tennis. Wonder how long that will last. However long it does, I hope you find joy with it. As long as you dont pick an expensive sport, I am OK with these brief affairs. Speaking of sports, we both experienced the shared high of seeing the Patriots win the Super Bowl. Someday we will sit back and describe the experience to your kids. Cant wait to hear you talk about these memories.
I would like to remind you that we are still stuck at “Attack of the Clones”. We have 5 more after this. By the time we get to 7, it is likely that you will be a father. We are at “The Half-Blood Prince” and really need to get moving to get to Deathly Hallows. I know you have read it many times over. But the movie is quite good. Let us get on with the program, shall we.
Taekwondo is still a thing. So thats good. As is swimming. And piano. So thats all good. Carnatic Music seems to be our moment of togetherness. Although the practice of the same ends up being our regular battleground. I have to get used to the highs and the lows within the same framework of joyous music. I can see the progress you are making and it fills my heart with absolute joy- every time I hear you sing. It is an indescribable feeling. Truly.
I would be amiss if I didn’t point out what your mother reminds me everyday- you and I have a remarkably tempestuous relationship. Of high highs and low lows. And that doesnt look to be changing anytime soon. So buckle up, buddy.
Here is to another year of new discoveries and shared experiences, of new lessons and newer wonders. Wish you a spectacular year, my boy. We cant wait for you to teach us all the new things you learn everyday.
Thanks to the Bay Area Rajini Fans Facebook group, I got the opportunity to go see Superstar Rajinikanth’s latest blockbuster, Kabali at the premiere show in Towne 3 Cinemas in San Jose, CA. Here are my late night, sleep addled thoughts on it.
The Rajini movie experience is something unique that has to be experienced to be believed. It is unlike anything else. Across the world, I would argue that Rajinikanth is the only star who commands an almost religious following, especially on the eve of his movie releases. His movies are so few and far in-between that fans eagerly await every morsel of information from that rare original poster during the shooting of the movie to the launch of the soundtrack and then the trailer. Irrespective of how the movies fare, the experience itself is a celebration of the unabashed love the crores of fans have for their beloved superstar.
As a huge transplanted fan of the super star, I often long for the experience of watching a Rajini movie on the first day- something I had the luxury of growing up, year after year. The last time I watched a Rajini movie on the first day, it was the incredibly enjoyable Enthiran (Robot). I could not make it to Lingaa and wasn’t keen on watching Kochadaiyaan. Which brings me to Kabali.
Kabali got me excited from the get-go. I have not seen Pa.Ranjith’s movies. So I was unaware of what he brings to the table. But the prospect of Rajini playing his age alone is worth the price of admission ($25, no less). Leading up to today, the incredible fans have kept the expectation sky-high. A stylishly cut trailer with an excellent BGM also helped the cause. A few committed folks took great pains to organize the showing, printed unique commemorative tickets and had a streamlined process for fans to be part of the experience. Hats off to their organization. It was super well done.
I got to the theater, an hour or so before the show. There were a bunch of festivities planned and it was super fun watching folks just let it go! Never the one to dive in to a dance unfortunately, I was content being part of it and watching so many fans have the time of their lives. If you havent been part of a Rajini movie premiere show festivities, you truly have missed something. Endhiran 2.0 is on its way. That would be an excellent opportunity to make that happen. This one was fantastic and so much fun to watch in person and take in the thrill of the Rajini experience.
I have penned down a short and simple spoiler-free review of the movie below if you are interested. I will tell you this- if you can watch it in the theater, just go for it. It is worth it. I am not sure how many more opportunities we will get to watch a new Rajini movie on the silver screen. While we have that privilege, I would encourage one and all to experience the Rajini magic on screen.
Spoiler-free mini review of Kabali
Here is my super short, spoiler free review of the movie. Let us get the broad feedback out of the way.
The movie is pretty good. I enjoyed it and don’t regret one bit paying $25 and heading to the theater on a busy work weekday. It is not what I expected and it is definitely not your classic Rajini movie in many ways. Yes, it has his signature style in old and new ways. And his charisma continues to thrill as it did, 30 years ago. But this is a movie driven by a lot of emotional underpinnings and Rajini emotes, more so that I have ever seen him do. And he does a fantastic job. He is ably supported by a bunch of character actors none of whom has a standout role but has something to contribute to the plot. Overall, it is a movie worth watching. I typically watch 1-2 Indian movies every year, if that. Using that slot for Kabali was a good decision. Rajini continues to appeal to the child in me.
The good stuff
- Rajinikanth – this man can do it all and in a way that so many others try and fail miserably.
- A bunch of supporting characters who move the story along.
- An actual plot. Yes, it is not deep or complex but there is a story to keep things moving along.
- Watching it in a theater filled with screaming fans.
- Being part of the excitement leading up to the movie, thanks again to the BayArea Rajini Fans Facebook group.
The not-so-good stuff
- The pacing sags for about 30 minutes midway through the movie- leading up to and during the India segment. This segment could have been trimmed by 20 or so minutes.
- Every once in a while, the screenplay needs a little push to keep rolling. The director definitely should have tightened it.
- The violence. It is the bloodiest movie of Rajini I have ever seen and that part disturbs me. As a parent in these dark times, I abhor violence, even in movies. Yes, I understand that a gangster movie leans towards gore as part of its realism pitch but still too much blood.
- This is not a movie to take kids. Most certainly not. I have never recommended an Indian movie for kids and this movie will miss that bar by a large margin.
It is time for one more of my annual birthday letters to my son who turns eight tomorrow (or today based on where you live). Someday very soon, he will discover this blog and my series of posts on his birthdays. I will have a lot of explaining to do. I cant wait to do it- he deserves to know all this, first hand. Without further ado, here is my letter to my son on his eighth birthday.
Dear little guy
Every year around this time, your mother and I are reminded about the infinitesimally small bundle that was placed in our hands by the wonderful nurse, Amy. With every passing year, some of the finer details of those early weeks of your birth have drifted away from us. We hold on to the precious few things we remember and fill in the gaps with our photos and videos that are and were woefully inadequate (Note to parents to be- dont ever skimp on the photos and videos. Just shoot them and store them away on the cloud. You will never regret it). The one thing we can never forget is how special you were and still are to us.
Your seventh year has been as eventful, if not more than all the years before. You are up to my shoulder now. Soon, you will be as tall as me and I will have to treat you as my friend. Just so we clear, that still does not make you right when you try to argue with me.
Your interest in reading is awesome. We just invested in a very large bookshelf, just for you. I know I insist that you finish your homework and all your daily practice sessions before diving into a book. But I cant be more thrilled about how you continue to get lost in reading. As a kid, I lived in a thrilling world populated by bows and arrows and later by spies and spells. Your world of talking mice and lightsabers and droids and Ninjas are equally awesome.
Basketball came and went. Surprisingly, soccer is back. As is the all new interest in becoming the next Tom Brady. We will see how far that goes. Suffice to say, you have started with the right role model. Speaking of Brady, your increased understanding of all the plays continues to make watching the game with you, so much fun.
Contrary to your theory that you aren’t funny (wherever did you get that idea?), you are a hoot. Intentionally and unintentionally. Your sense of humor is so much of who you are. Never think any less of it.
Your smile with all the gaping holes for the missing teeth continue to light up the house every day. Just make sure you brush them properly every day. Twice.
This year, you and I discovered Star Wars together. Between Disney Infinity on the PS3, the movies and the Star Wars story books, it seems like we have a lot to talk about. I cant wait to see the seventh movie with you. Once we finish the five before that. At the rate we are going, will get to Episode 7 by the time you are writing these letters to your kid.
This year, your teacher got you started on writing daily journal entries. Never have I see the imagination of a child in full force than when you write these daily. From your ultimate gizmo ideas to solve global warming and saving the whales to your obsession with the Millennium Falcon, every journal entry is a priceless window into your head. It has been such an awesome read every day, I cant wait for the next day and what that entry brings us.
You continue to be strongly interested in math and science. As much as your mother and I would like you to not follow our path, it looks increasingly like a losing battle. You will go far with the things you create with a simple piece of paper and lots and lots of tape.
Your passion for music- both vocal and instrumental is a constant source of joy for your mother and I. I may have abandoned my singing but the joy and peace I derive from listening to it, only grows with time. I hope you learn to not just sing and play an instrument but to appreciate it and integrate it into your life as a source of strength and pleasure.
We started martial arts for you this year with Tae Kwon Do and you have taken to it very well. Your practice sessions at home are worth the price of admission to your classes. We hope it gives you the strength to defend yourself when you need to but more importantly, develop a sense of respect for non-violence.
It is getting harder and harder for me to lift you and plant a big kiss on your cheek without feeling the weight. But I refuse to give up, whatever my body tells me.
And last but not in the very least, as a second grader, you continue to allow me to hug you and kiss you in public in front of your classmates when I drop you off at school every day. Yes, you did tell your mom that you are a tad embarrassed about it but continue to let me do it. The sheer joy I get out of it is hard to describe. All I can say is that I have a huge smile on my lips as I type this.
We don’t know what this next year will bring us. More challenges, more new experiences and what not. But suffice to say- we would have it no other way. You continue to teach us a lot by just being you and we cannot wait for you to lead us on to the next leg of this wonderful journey.
Growing up, I was ridiculously forgetful of things. So much so, my dad drove back with me to school atleast once a week if not more to pick up what I left. I have come back home with one shoe. I have come back with just the lid of my lunch box. Yes, you may wonder- how is this even possible. But it is. It is.
My wife on the other hand, does not remember losing anything as a child. While that is an exaggeration, the broader point is that she was very mindful of her possessions.
Here is the twist in the tale – I have a pretty solid memory. I rarely forget. Today, one of my biggest strengths is my memory. My wife on the other hand wishes that she had my memory. So where is this all leading to – our almost 8-year old.
My son is like most other kids. Or so I think. He lives in his own world. Often times, we need to jolt him out of it to tell him to do the mundane stuff. He is cooking up the next greatest weapon in the world to attack the bad guys or a rocket to take him to Saturn. Drinking his milk and getting ready to school on time are not in his priority list. Ever.
He recently forgot his jacket in school. This is the second time this year that he has lost something in school. My wife was trying to decipher this and I told her that it was absolutely normal for his age, and almost pedestrian going by my track record. She disagreed with my definition of normal and I went the crowdsourcing route. The results were unsurprising and proved my point, strongly. So here we go.
Study and Results
This was the question I posed on Facebook and to a couple of Whatsapp groups. Remember that this is a purely unscientific poll.
A small poll for parents of kids between 5 and 15 if you will indulge me. Respond with a number based on what applies best to you.
1. My child never loses things in school.
2. My child loses things but rarely (1-2 items per school year)
3. My child loses things quite often (5-6 items per school year)
4. Don’t get me started. My child loses a lot (10 or more items per school year).
Items could be lunch bags, water bottles, sweatshirts, or similar items.
Thanks in advance.
So what did we learn? Here are the raw results, 5 hours after I asked the question.
On an average, kids forget between 2-5 items in a school year. Boys were closer to 4 (2.5 approximating to a number between 2 (option 2) and 5 (option 3) while girls were closer to 2. Yes, boys lost twice as much as girls, going by this data set. Based on personal experiences, this can be a surprise or not. From our household’s history, this seems to be par for the course and expected.
So what does this tell us?
Here is the real deal. Kids lose stuff. This is natural. In their precious childhood, it is but most natural for them to forget about trivial things like water bottles and sweatshirts and live in their wonderful cocoon filled with imagination and boundless possibility. If I could live in one such world and in the process end up losing a thing or two, I would gladly make the trade.
My own transition from being a kid who never had his bearings to one with a strong memory and a solid habit of writing daily notes, todos and priority lists (which I learnt from my wife :)) should bear testament to the fact that what they are as kids is not necessarily what they will be as adults.
If there is one takeaway from this study- it is this. The next time your kids forgets something or loses something, think about this study. And the responses of many many parents who are in the same boat as you are. This is just your kid being a kid. Nothing more. Nothing less. Let them be. They will turn out just fine.
Over the past few years, I have experienced what can best be described as “digital fatigue”. I had (have) a lot of devices around me– laptops, desktops, smartphones and tablets. These devices helped me stay productive but also at increasing level of distraction and eye strain. My work and personal calendars started getting populated faster than ever before. I yearned for a simple way to collect my thoughts, to follow them through and to understand, process and execute on all my work and personal goals. About three and a half years ago, I started going back to pen and paper. Around the same time I had just begun experimenting with fountain pens after last using them in my high school. Little did I realize, how well timed that experiment was.
I started small with a $1.50 fountain pen and a notebook from Daiso. At work, the note-taking approach was painful in the beginning since I had to do the double duty of writing, interpreting and then translating the notes to actions on a computer. At that time, I was using a ToDo app that synced across my phone, tablet and laptop, a note taking app (EverNote) and multiple calendars (Outlook for work and Google Calendar for personal stuff). My love for fountain pens and good quality paper was growing faster than my frustration with the double effort and thankfully so.
Within a few months, I had established a routine. A balance between my analog and digital tools – I used pen and paper to keep notes in my meetings. I took a few minutes to review them afterwards and then convert only those that were important into a list of handwritten todos. Appointments and meetings stayed on my digital calendars because of notifications.
As I got into my groove with this routine, I started feeling more in control of what I was listening to and discussing in meetings. I was no longer distracted by the incessant emails dropping in during meetings. Instead I was focused on what was being said and discussed. The writing experience made me think about it before I put pen to paper. If something did not make sense before writing, I was forced to question or follow up to get my doubts clarified.
While I see many engineers carry their Moleskines to meetings, the preference is still to use more of the computer and less of the notebook. I have flipped my workflow completely now- I avoid taking laptops to meetings. For one-on-one’s I try to skip taking my smartphone. This way, the only thing I can and will do in the discussion is to listen, absorb and process.
My eyes feel better. I remember things better. I have ready references to what was discussed months if not years ago on a topic. And most of all, I love the process of writing things down. It feels natural. It just feels right. If you are in the same boat as I was, a few years ago, do consider trying to analog route. There is nothing to lose and much to gain in the process.
My Analog Tools
I initially started off with a single medium size notebook for everything. Soon I realized, I needed to separate my work and personal notes. I settled on a medium size notebook for longer meetings and a smaller pocket notebook for shorter meetings. I dedicated a pocket notebook for all things personal- like writing the outline for this blog post and more. Recently I added a third one purely for doodling and as my creative outlet. I rotate my fountain pens ( I have many of those by now) and will someday do a separate post on choosing the right kind of notebooks and paper.
Who is more productive – a focused single-tasker or someone who can multi-task and balance a bunch of tasks at the same time? I ask this in the context of not just our professional roles, but also our personal lives.
“Have you ever wondered how it is on the other side?”
This is a perennial discussion at home. My wife is a fantastic single-tasker. I have rarely seen someone so focused in anything they pick up and direct their energies. When she adopts an effort, she will truly see it through to completion. But there are times, both at work and home where she thinks it would help her far more if she could be a true multi-tasker- balance multiple projects at work, home and more. I think she is already multitasking quite a bit doing all of the aforementioned, admirably well but to her it seems like she always does best when focusing on one task at a time.
I am a multi-tasker. I thrive in balancing multiple efforts at the same time. I sign up, often times, way more than I can manage. I enjoy the ability to jump between one activity and another and back. Yet, there are times when I envy my wife’s ability to take a job from start to finish without getting distracted by other tasks. Again, not to say I cannot focus on a task at a time. To me, the thrill has always been in doing many activities at the same time and performing equally well in all of them.
To both of us, the grass looks greener on the other side.
This got me thinking. Is there an ideal balance here? Does parenting and balancing home and work favor any one style over the other? Is there a distinct advantage to being a single-tasker in specific work roles versus others? How does it play out in a laid back society (is there one left anywhere, anymore?) versus a hyper competitive environment like the Bay Area?
Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you identify yourself as a single-tasker or multi-tasker and what do you feel good about your style and what would you like to change?
2015 is done. We are now onto 2016 and as always it is a good time to use the New Year milestone marker for all major activities- both professional and personal.
2015 was a good year in many ways personally and professionally. As a family, we were very busy with work, school and home but closed out the year with a good vacation. I organized a bunch of stuff in my local community, some of them small and one particular one, really big. All of them were remarkable team efforts that made me a bunch of new friends. After a period of lull in the last few years, my reading is on an uptick and I read more in 2015 than 2014. I hopefully learnt more too. My fitness levels continue to be reasonable, thanks to the wonderful folks at LifeWorx CrossFit.
Professionally, I changed roles from engineering to being a Product Manager. Something I have aspired to do for a while now. I am learning quite a bit in my new job and it has been an interesting and pleasurable experience. Amazon Lab126 continues to be a place where I am learning every day and I am very thankful for that.
This is usually the blog post where I talk about all my writing and how many views I garnered in the previous year. 2015 turned out to be very interesting in that regard. I continued to be excited about blogging but a curious thing happened- I stopped enjoying the process of typing stuff. My love for analog tools (fountain pen, pencil, paper and ink) has grown exponentially and I have a half a dozen blog posts fully written up on a small notebook but without the enthusiasm to type it up. Often times, I hear of people getting tired/bored or out of touch with the physical act of writing. I have gone the other way. I am not as excited about typing as I am about composing my blogs on pen and paper. I am still looking for tools that will do this translation for me. That said, I wrote much fewer posts in 2015 that ended up getting far more views than ever before. With 50% less output, I managed to double my readership from 30000 views to 60000+ views in 2015. Much of this was due to the network effects of writing on LinkedIn. I am thankful to LinkedIn for giving me that reach.
So where does that lead me to in 2016-
- I hope to read more. Much more.
- I hope to write more. Much more.
- I have a bunch of interesting projects in the works in various stages of progress – I hope to get one of them out in public this year.
- I hope to contribute more of my time and resources towards the right kind of causes and to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.
- And most importantly, I hope to spend as much time as possible with my precious family.
The world has had a tough 2015. Between natural disasters and man-made disasters, we have lurched sideways as humanity. There are things to hate and not be optimistic about but humanity as a whole continues to want to do the right things. Atleast most of us, anyway.
I will leave with this parting thought from the bestseller “The Martian” wonderfully written by Andy Weir (must-read in my opinion).
If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are a******s who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do. And because of that, I had billions of people on my side. Pretty cool, eh?”