Tokyo Traveler Tales – Part 2: Tokyo and thereabouts

This is the second in a series of posts on my recent trip to Japan. Here is the itinerary of our trip to provide some context to the time we spent in Japan.
Saturday (Day 0): Flew out of US.
Sunday (Day 1): Arrived in Tokyo at night. Checked into hotel in Tokyo.
Monday (Day 2): Day #1 in Tokyo covering Sensoji temple in Asakusa, Shinjuku National Garden, Harajuku, and Shibuya Starbucks intersection at night.
Tuesday (Day 3): Day #2 in Tokyo – day trip to Mt. Fuji and Lake Ashi (planned tour). Night stay in Shinjuku.
Wednesday (Day 4): Morning train to Narai-juku. Spend day in Narai-juku. Evening train to Kyoto via Nagoya. Night stay in downtown Kyoto.
Thursday (Day 5): Day 1 in Kyoto covering Nijoji castle, Kinkakuji temple and Ginkakuji temple.
Friday (Day 6): Day 2 in Kyoto covering Fushimi-Inari (Vermillion Gates), Nishiki market and generally exploring city by foot. Evening Shinkansen (bullet train) back to Tokyo. Night stay in Nihonbashi.
Saturday (Day 7): Day 2 in Tokyo (shopping focused) covering Ginza and Akhihabara.
Sunday (Day 8): Early morning flight back to the US.

 

In the first post, I talked about my motivation to travel to Japan and how we went about planning for the trip. In this post, I will talk about our time in Tokyo.

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
We landed in Tokyo late the previous night so this was really our first day in town. My wife had done extensive research on how to get from Iidabashi where we were staying to get to other spots in Tokyo. So we picked up a day pass on the metro and started our sightseeing in right earnest. We started with the Sensoji temple in Asakusa.

 

Sensoji temple is the oldest temple in Tokyo founded over 1400 years ago. This spot was also a good quick introduction to the crowds in Tokyo. As soon as we saw the road leading up to the temple we were reminded of the hustling streets back in India. Specifically this. And yes, it was pretty crowded. This was also the moment we realized that cherry blossoms had not bloomed in Tokyo yet which was a bummer. We waded through shops peddling umbrellas and ninja toys and sweetmeats and sweets and meats to the temple. The temple itself was beautiful as was the garden next to it. It was also an interesting contrast looking at the temple with the Tokyo high-rises in the background. Old and new.

 

The Sumida river runs close by and we had read about cherry blossom trees lining up the roads next to it. So we walked in the hopes of spotting some blossoms. We did, but it was very few. What we did see was the unique building that can only be described as weird, the Asahi Beer Building with the odd looking flame on top. I swear, to us it looked like a golden radish. It is unmissable and uniquely weird.

 

We took the train to head to our next hanami at the Shinjuku National Garden. We got there and realized we were famished. Worry not as there was a Neapolitan pizzeria nearby where we treated ourselves to a fantastic margherita pizza.Food in, we walked to the garden which was packed for hanami with locals and tourists on what was turning out to be a pretty cloudy and chilly day. We walked through the length of the large park with the occasional blossom here and there. We were feeling bummed on the lack of quality blossoms when we happened upon this wonderful grove of blossoms at their peak. It was gorgeous.

 

We wrapped up and walked a bit and then took a cab to Harajuku. We weren’t sure what to expect to Harajuku but Takeshita street toon dispelled that doubt. What a crowd. Ranganathan street in Japan. Throngs of people, eating and shopping. We dropped into a large Daiso (much bigger than the ones in US) and the little guy picked up a gigantic cotton candy in rainbow colors. Rain started falling and we picked up an umbrella at a nearby store and headed to the train station. We were tired but wanted to finish off Shibuya intersection before heading back. The Shibuya junction was even more packed in a much larger scale compared to Takeshita street. Great sight at night. We took a train back to our hotel and promptly lost our way from the station to the hotel. A nearby Indian restaurant employee was helpful enough to point us the right way. Long way, many new things seen, tired and off to sleep.

 

Day #2 – Day trip to Mt. Fuji and Hakone
The second day was dedicated to a tour to Mt.Fuji. We boarded the tour bus at a nearby hotel and were taken to a bus depot not far away where we had to jump into one of a dozen or more tourist buses headed in different directions. We settled down with twenty odd folks on a trip to Hakone and Mt.Fuji. The bus had to take a circuitous route due to an accident and the guide entertained us with stories of Japan and their culture. We found out that a recent cold front had dumped a ton of snow at Mt.Fuji and we were lucky that the tour was open. We were not going to go as high as we had originally hoped though. We reached Fuji in a couple of hours. The snow capped Fuji was a sight to behold. Would have loved to go farther into the park. We then were taken to a nearby restaurant for a traditional Japanese meal. We had signed up for a vegetarian meal and were given a melange of fruits and veggies in a platter. It was tasty.

 

From there, we drove to the banks of Lake Aashi where we took a ferry to the other side of the lake to then take the ropeway up 1800 feet to a shrine. It was cold and snowed in but what a gorgeous sight up and down. We made our way back to Shinjuku bus depot around 8 at night and then to our hotel. We were famished and tired. A quick google search told us that “restaurant Muthu” was not far and we walked over to get an average and overpriced but definitively vegetarian meal before calling it a night.

 

Day #7 – Ginza, Akhihabara
We got back to Tokyo on Friday night from our trip to Kyoto (more on that on my next post). We had reserved a furnished apartment in Nihonbashi and after a comedy of errors (on my part), we settled down at our place later than desired and pretty tired. We didn’t do much that night.

 

The next day was our last full day in Japan and we had a ton of shopping to do. So without further ado, we stepped out only to notice a nice little stationery shop 25 steps from our apartment. I loaded up on some basic notebooks and inks, went back to the hotel, dropped things off and restarted our day out. We took a train to Ginza where we saw people, massive stores and more people and more massive stores. We walked around soaking it all in on our way to the stationery Mecca of Itoya.

 

So I can spend another 500 lines describing Itoya but I won’t bore you with it. I will keep it simple. Suffice to say, it is an analog tools lovers paradise. It has pens, pens and more pens. And paper- normal, premium, extra premium. Notebooks, inks, craft material and so much more. We spent the next 3.5 hours in Itoya just exploring the 8 floors of stationery awesomeness. Itoya also boasts a 12th floor Cafe called Cafe Stylo which has a healthy vegetarian menu which was a blessing for us. We also hopped across the street to another Itoya where the little guy and I spent time crafting our perfect notebook. We picked our notebook cover, elastic, paper type and quality and metal studs. We also selected some text to go in the front. The kind folks at Itoya asked us to come back later in the evening to pick up our handcrafted notebook. We got out and took the train to the other dream destination in Tokyo, Akhihabara.

 

Akhihabara is a different kind of a beast compared to Itoya. It is the entertainment and electronics hub of Tokyo. It offers the dazzle of anime and manga to its devotees. It also offers some massive electronics stores like Yodobashi Camera. We had to pick up some manga collectibles for some relatives and went hunting at Mandarake– an 8 floor building filled with geeks and their super expensive toys and comics. After 2 hours of walking around manga stores amidst many many girls and women, all in school girl uniform, we went to Yodobashi Camera.

 

Yodobashi Camera is an massive 8-floor store filled to the hilt with electronics of all kind and folks hawking them to great effect. We checked out the hundreds of camera lenses, smart phones, Bluetooth speakers and so much more. We had to leave soon to head to Itoya to pick up our notebooks. We rushed back to Itoya, picked up our notebooks and then upon the advise of the smart wife, went hunting for a rare specimen- a vegan Ramen place T’s Tan Tan. After 30 minutes of hunting and lots of walking, we landed at our ramen place, deep in the bowels of the Tokyo train station. The ramen was spectacular.  It was a great way to finish off our trip. We headed back to our apartment and started packing.

 

The next morning, we took our train to Narita and headed back home. In the last and final post of this series, I will describe our experiences in Kyoto.
Other Posts in this series

Tokyo Traveler Tales – Part 1: Motivation and Preparing for the trip

We just got back from a week long trip to Japan and as requested by friends, I am writing down as much as possible about the overall experience. This is far from comprehensive and there are many excellent articles and websites devoted to this.
Why should you read this?
Here are some reasons that come to my mind. We are a small family looking to make a budget-conscious trip to a far-away land where people have different customs and etiquette, not to mention a language that we quite don’t understand. We are also vegetarians and as I will explain later, it is quite hard to get good vegetarian food in Japan. We have a nine year- old who we had to consider when we made specific plans on places to visit and things to try and many of you have young kids and understand that problem. With all that in mind, I am putting to words, all that we could think of about this spectacular trip.
Why Japan?
Japan has been on top of my bucket list for a long time. The reasons are varied – I have heard and read about their approach to simplicity as a philosophy. Zen is quite fascinating. They also offer a stark contrast of two cultures- a technology driven economy that has been at the forefront of many of the very pillars of innovation we lean on today. But yet, they are also one of the largest purveyors of analog habits with pens, pencils and paper. From movies to books, I had heard about the legendary honor that Japanese have long lived by and wanted to see it in person. Beyond all of that, the cherry blossoms have been calling to me for a very long time. With that in mind, and with the help of friends who travel to Japan periodically on work, we set out planning this trip.
I will now share all that we did to prepare ourselves for the trip and the things we learnt later that we should have done in advance of the trip. In future posts, I will share specific experiences visiting places.
Preparing for the trip
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
In the next post, I will talk about all our experiences in Tokyo with trips to Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Akhihabara, and Ginza.
Other Posts in this series

The Starbucks Reserve Roastery Experience

I am not a coffee connoisseur. After a lot of effort, I recently broke through my own taste buds and cultivated the habit of drinking coffee. After 35 years of never being able to drink it, I can now enjoy a good cup of coffee. I am still a coobie (coffee newbie). I still prefer a cup of homemade chai over coffee. But that is a discussion for a different day.

This Memorial Day weekend, we made a family trip to Seattle. Included in that trip was a trip to Pike Place market. While the rest of the family was busy exploring the market, I took off on a brisk 15 minute walk to Starbuck’s newest retail experiment, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery.

The Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room as it is called is a huge coffee shop cum bistro cum cafe cum a shop for pricey knick-knacks cum a lot more things. What drew me there in the first place was the Roastery special edition of the Field Notes which I cherish and use daily. As I approached the store, it struck me, how big it really was. Imagine a retail space the size of a mini-Target. It is huge. And it is coppery and silvery everywhere. From the entrance, you are greeted by glinting copper and brass and silver every where. And there are a ton of helpful people walking around, helping you get a feel for the place and what it is attempting to do.

The Experience is the Product

I spent a good 30 minutes taking in the sights, sounds and most importantly, the smells of the roasting coffee beans. This place is bliss for someone who loves the smell of coffee like me. It is heaven for a coffee lover. Just the sheer scale of everything is incredible. I drank a flat white with their Roastery exclusive Gravitas No.1 blend. It tasted great. Then again, I am not the one who can spot the difference. All I can say is that it was pretty good.

I took a whole bunch of photos and had a hard time choosing just a few to share. So here is the entire set. Wade through to experience second hand but if you are ever in Seattle, try to stop by. The first hand experience is that much better.

The Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room experience is the product here. And you can feel it everywhere. I am told this concept store might expand to more locations in the coming months and years. If it comes to your town, definitely stop by. It is well worth it.

{Read, Write, Listen, Express and Do} more

2015 is here. We are a full two weeks into the new year which allows us to commit to things rationally without the hasty decisions we take in the name of New Year resolutions. I have a mixed opinion on resolutions. I think, taken too seriously, they tend to be ineffective. But seen as a fresh start to our personal and professional life, every 365 days, they make much more sense. Especially coming off the year end holidays.

2014 was a great year – I achieved new milestones professionally, made a ton of friends in the community and spent good time with the family. My blogs had over 30,000 views for the year which might be its high water mark ever (more on this later) and I am thankful to all of you for reading all the stuff I write- good and the not so good. Now it is time to commit to goals not just for 2015 but moving forward. Maybe, just maybe, some of you might be interested in a few of the ones I highlight below. See them less as resolutions and more as ongoing experiments in personal improvement.

Read More

This one is fairly obvious. Reading makes us better. I used to be a voracious reader growing up and that slowed down during my early professional years. Over the last 2-3 years, I have been slowly but steadily increasing how much I read. I set fairly conservative goals for each year of 5 works of fiction, 5 works of non-fiction plus magazines, articles, the works. I far surpassed my goal for everything but non-fiction last year and I am out to correct that this year. My Kindle Voyage and local library are my best friends. The reading experience on the Kindle Voyage is remarkable. While the wait for good books in the library is a pain, I have gotten a good portion of fiction reading from my library. I have a whole pile of books I purchased over the past year to get to. For online articles, I favorite the ones I want to read and then use IFTTT to send them to Pocket.  I have Pocket on everything from my phone, Mac and tablets. The image below is the first batch I need to get to**.

Reading List- Q1 2015

Write More

Writing here refers to contributing more online and also to write more with pen and paper. With your support, my blogs have gotten quite popular over the years and while I am still very enthusiastic to continue writing, I would like to explore new vistas and new topics that require more research and introspection. Blog posts will be fewer but hopefully with something more to take with you.

His writing materials

My continuing obsession with fountain pens and good quality paper is the other part of the story. My writing with pen and paper has dramatically increased. This post was composed as a series of bullet points on a 80th anniversary edition of a Rhodia Classic Ice Top Staplebound Notepad with a Hero fountain pen (remember those?) using a Noodlers Ink Heart of Darkness***.This obsession will get its own post soon.

HearListen More

In my notes, I titled this section as “Hear More” but upon further thought, modified it to Listen More. There is the critical difference where I could hear but not really listen and pay attention to what is being said. My penchant for being the talker in the room prevented me for a long time from being a good listener. This is a work in progress.

The other component of “Listen More” is related to podcasts. Podcasts have enjoyed a resurgence in the recent years and thanks to Serial, many more people are jumping in. Podcasts are my daily companion during my commute and a huge source of knowledge. If you are into podcasts, drop me a note. I can recommend a few****. Some off the top of my head worth listening to- The Pen Addict (surprise, surprise), Techpinions (tech analysis), The Critical Path (tech analysis), APM Marketplace (Kai Ryssdal FTW), Accidental Tech Podcast (tech+Apple), The Web Ahead (web dev) and a whole lot more. On my Mac, I use iTunes to listen to podcasts. On iOS devices, I highly recommend Marco Arment’s Overcast app. On Android, I use Podcast Addict.

TalkExpress More

This is part of what is new for 2015. I would like to express myself better. This is through other forms of media beyond plain text online. I am looking to add more videos to my reviews. I started adding hands-on videos to my reviews in 2014. There will be more of this. I attempted adding a read-along version for my book, Mahabharata for Kids. Initial response has been good. I am contemplating more podcast type posts or maybe even an audio version to go with every post. I am open to feedback on this.

Do More

Twenty four hours is never enough. To read and write and listen and express more, 24 hours is definitely not enough. But there is an itch to do more. More local community events, alumni events, side projects for work, personal side projects, an Android and/or iOS app, finishing a full course on one of the MOOCs, and a new book. The list is long. If I can get to half of this list without spending one less minute with my family, it will be a very successful year. Onward march!

But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

– Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening


** On my choice of books:

I enjoyed Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers and St.Claire’s when I was younger. When I saw them during my last trip to India, I jumped on it. I have not read Haruki Murakami before. This is my first attempt. Kurzweil’s book has been on my list for a long time. Finally picked up a copy recently. Walt Isaacson’s “Innovators” came in for good praise last year as did “Asura” in Indian fiction circles.

*** The first sign of obsession on any object, fountain pen, paper or otherwise is that you start documenting specifics. Type of nib (Extra Fine, Fine, Medium, Broad), brand and specifics about the ink and so on.

**** I listen to a ton of podcasts on a variety of topics. Let me know your interest and I can recommend some good ones.

I will miss you, dear recliner.

I am not a sentimentalist. Call me a romantic, maybe. But definitely not a sentimentalist. Or so I always thought. But as I composed my thoughts to write this piece, I started questioning my own self. I checked with a few people I know and none of them exhibited the sense of attachment I bear to many non-living entities. Maybe some of you can help me understand this better.

2013-08-25 22.07.32

A few months ago, we decided to sell our much loved recliners and replace them with a nice and cool sectional set. Simple enough. We picked out the sectional, placed the order and waited impatiently for 2 months for it to be fulfilled. This past week, we were informed that the new furniture had arrived. I had to sell my old ones by the end of the week. I listed them on craigslist. As I created the listing, I felt a small pang of nostalgia. I started getting queries almost instantly and this evening, two of the couches were taken away. As the buyer came in to pick it up, a part of me wanted to push them away and hug the old and used couches. Weird as it may seem, I felt this huge sense of attachment to these objects. I asked my son and wife if they had any such feeling. Nope. None whatsoever.

We are in the process of selling our 7 year old car. It has seen 75K miles and we are looking to replace it with an electric vehicle to make use of the much valued carpool lane in the Bay Area. I have identified the buyer and hope to sell it in the next few days. I cant explain the overwhelming sense of loss I am starting to feel about the car. It is just a car for crying out loud. But I cant shake the feeling of loss I am experiencing.

Apartments and houses I have lived in are perfect candidates for this attachment issue. Even apartments where I spent a year bear a special place in my heart. But none of these come anywhere close to my attachment to my house back home. Every time I make a trip to India and then prepare to leave, I have my ritual of saying goodbye to every single room in my house. It is not just my parents but the house that feels like a living and breathing testament to my childhood.

And that brings me to the root of it all. The recliner is not what I am attached to. I am attached to the memories we made as a family on them. The hours I spent with my baby rocking him to sleep. The hours the three of us tried to squeeze in together. The innumerable times my friends fought over the prized 4 seats. The countless hours I told stories to my son on those recliners and the very many hours I watched my wife and son doze off in peace on it.

The car was there before my little guy was born and has seen the longest and most enjoyable trips we have made as a family- with our parents and then with our boy. It talks of the long drive back in the rain from Niagara with my in-laws. It speaks to me of the very many times my parents, wife and son dozed off after a long trip while I drove in silence. My apartments each tell their own unique stories of a phase of my life that is special. And they all come rushing back when I am am harmlessly filling in my old addresses for some verification process. I smile as I see every address being written in. It is as if they are reminding me of the joys I had living in them.

Some of you are reading this and muttering loudly, “Wuss!.”

I counter back, “Is this not what the beauty of life is all about?”

Goodnight folks while I go back to spending the precious last few hours on my dear old recliners.

 

Bay Area Weekend Visits: Mount Madonna Center in Watsonville, CA

Sankat Mochan Temple, Gilroy

This past weekend, my family was looking to make a trip to the outlet mall in Gilroy, CA. Some friends of ours had talked about an interesting Hindu temple called Sankat Mochan temple in the area and my parents were immediately interested in making a trip to the temple.

The trip itself requires a little bit of planning. Visitors to the temple have to register themselves and their car as parking is limited in the facility. More information on that can be found here. There is no fee. Just a few minutes to sign up the visitor count and car information.

We started off on a warm Saturday morning and soon found ourselves climbing the Santa Cruz mountains. The drive to mount Madonna is very picturesque. There are a bunch of nurseries and wineries on the base of the mountain which can be combined to make it a “Sin and cleanse” kind of trip. We entered the Mount Madonna county park borders soon after.

The Mount Madonna retreat is more than just a temple. It bills itself as a healing center, yoga school and a conference center. In reality, it is a large campus with a school, yoga center, wellness center and the temple. Baba Hari Dass is the founding father of the organization. We had a chance to meet this Silent Monk. I had no prior information about him but it is claimed that he hasn’t spoken since 1952. We had a chance to meet him for a few minutes. He was a genial old man who bowled my toddler over with a high five and a cuddly toy. He uses pen and paper to communicate with everyone.

The campus is spectacular set amidst towering redwood trees and the mountains. The temple is simple yet alluring. The location is calm and serene with incessant bird sounds. There is a pleasant cafe on campus called Anjaneya’s World Cafe that serves Indian snacks and tea along some other finger foods. There is also a bookstore with texts primarily on holistic living and spirituality called Ocean View Books. The campus boasts a fantastic meditation area right under the redwoods that is worth a visit in itself.

Overall, the Mount Madonna Center is worth a visit if you are in the neighborhood. It is a quiet place to pause, ponder and refresh.

Random observations of a parent at the Children’s Museum

I just got back from a trip to the San Jose Children’s Discovery Museum. We like the place. It’s a fun way to kill 3 hours with a kid. While this is inferior to the one in Houston, which absolutely rocks, it aint any bad. Anyway, as I was watching my toddler do stuff and interact with other kids older and younger, I observed some things worth sharing here.

Most kids that end up playing together, almost never hit it off from the start. There is the gentle touch and feel time prior to really hitting it off.

At the museum

My 3 yr old has a thing for well dressed girls. More importantly those with well groomed hair. The hair is a critical gating factor in his approval process. Once approved,  these young ladies are nothing short of worshipped. Dear daughter-in-law from the future, you would be well served to pay good attention to your hair.

San Jose Children's Discovery Museum
So there are all these parents watching their kids play with toys and more importantly other kids. When there are these arguments between kids,  are we supposed to interfere. Should we let our kids learn the hard way?. Should we let him a bully or the bullied or should we jump in? Is it part of the learning process that the child learn how to operate with peers or do we use this opportunity to teach?.  In a dog eat dog world, is teaching to share or to be a go-better the right approach?
I find that the art sections and project areas are thinly populated by boys. Is this a gender thing? I remember enjoying to paint. If I expect my son to want to like a particular activity and do it a particular way, is it unfair on my son or just a dad being a dad?
Children’s museums are a feel good place for any parent. You see other parents getting angry, frustrated and tired at the tantrums of their respective little ones. You realise that you are so not alone. With every screaming kid in the hallway, you smile to yourself in contentment. The world is fair after all. And when the worlds of two misbehaving  kids collide, there is an all-knowing nod between their parents. Yes, I understand.

At work, we tend to set or be set exacting standards but when the child does even the smallest activity in the museum better than one other, there is an overwhelming sense of pride. Like your kid just won the super bowl MVP. And we are quick to tell it to the kid. Does it help them in confidence when we reinforce even the smallest of achievements or are we just setting them up to think they are truly exceptional when they might not be?

Finally, when normal people have kids, do they end up growing to be hyperconscious, paranoid, over-analyzing someone-from-outer-space like me?

 

The fantastic National Parks System and the awesome Park Rangers

With family visiting from India, we have been doing drives and trips to places near and far pretty much every weekend for the last 6 weeks. And one thing that has stood out is the fantastic National Parks system in United States and the great Park Rangers who take care of it. It is easy to be cynical and say that its taxpayer money and we are entitled to it but given the conditions in which these people work tirelessly to maintain and enrich the natural beauty of this country, they deserve all the praise and more.

The parks we have visited in the past weeks include glorious Yosemite, stunning Point Reyes, green and lush Muir Woods, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and San Diego’s Old Town Historic Park (State Park system).

At Yosemite, we were awed by how clean and neat the large expanse of area was. Considering the traffic and crowds, one would have thought the place would be a total mess.

 

yosemite
yosemite

At Point Reyes, in the blistering wind and perennially chilly conditions, a cheerful Ranger explained the origin and history of the famous lighthouse. The 300 step climb alone would bother most of us but here in this relatively isolated place, there were these Rangers smiling and always willing to help.

Point Reyes
Point Reyes

At Muir Woods, in the damp and rainy weather which apparently is a daily occurrence, two Rangers encouraged us to touch banana slugs while guiding us to the different parts of the park.

Muir Woods
Muir Woods

At Golden Gate Park, we were just awed by the tranquility the place offered not too far from the bustling city that is San Francisco.

Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate park

And at Old Town, it was the people and the place- keeping a past era alive amidst the bustle of new town San Diego.

 

Old Town
Old Town

The political system that laid the groundwork for the parks and recreation a few decades ago did something right. Unfortunately they are now cutting back on all the funding thanks to the budget deficit at the state and federal level. Some of the parks are facing severe cuts to their operating budgets. Others could potentially be closed. The debt ceiling talks threaten the parks system in a way that could deal a lasting damage to them.

Hope someone in Washington D.C sees sense and value in keeping these wonderful places and the people who make them what it is, happy and in the best of condition. It is the least the places and people deserve to what in my opinion is most certainly the greatest idea of the American people.

 

 

Bay Area Must Visits: Hiller Aviation Museum

Hiller Aviation Museum

After my second visit to the place, I am now convinced that the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, CA off of 101 is a good visit for adults and a must visit with kids. The place is a relic of the rich aviation history of this country and at once a throwback to innovation and scientific glories of the past.

The place has miniature, medium and large size model planes in addition to real turboprops and pieces from real planes from the past. It also has a bunch of cool display artifacts from jumbo jets and even the cross-section of a never built Boeing supersonic jet. Outside the museum (but part of the experience) is a private airstrip for biplanes and small 2-4-6 seater planes. There is viewing deck that allows adults and kids to watch these small planes land and take off in very close proximity.

The jewel in the crown, atleast according to my toddler is the cockpit and huge propellers from a jumbo jet placed outside the building. Kids can go crazy sitting in the cockpit and playing with all the real dials and knobs.

For slightly older kids, there are flight simulation games and experiences. Older kids will also appreciate all the old-fashioned gadgetry all over the place. I was also informed that there are summer camps aplenty for kids from Grades 1-8. There is a wonderful store in the premises that sells everything related to airplanes from videos to models to DIY paper/wood planes to posters to antique prints and what not.

In all, it is a great place to visit multiple times with kids for 1-3 hours of non-stop fun and entertainment. Strongly recommended.