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Sundar Narayanan's Travelog

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If it does not serve you, let it go!

Heard this once too often at the beginning of yoga class. Take a deep breath, and when you exale let go of anything that does not serve you... all your negative thoughts.. etc. etc. 

I let go of shaving, just to see if I could grow a beard for 40 days. Given there was no travel in February thanks to Chinese New Year, thought I could pull it off.

In spite of looking a good 20 years older than San, was still smiling.. 

It was coming along nicely to a point where I could pass for "his holiness, the beanie baba".. even the family got used to it as did my co-workers. 

Then the beard turned into a nightmare. It started itching. You try doing a 90 minute yoga class or stay in a 3 hour meeting without constantly trying to scratch your beard ! This beard experiment has been tried before, but never did it reach this critical point..

Then I heard the teacher say yet again "if it does not serve you, let it go!" and decided to let the beard go..

As usual, there are before and after pictures for this social experiment.. 

The itching and scratcing is now over! Funny thing was that after I shaved, it took the kids sometime to even realize the change. 

There is a blatant double standard in the house. I am supposed to notice tiny changes in them.. (refer to this post) and they can't notice the change in the photos above for a good 30 mintues!


"You have no right, appa!" 

On a China trip a few years ago, I got upgraded to an "executive room" because all the other rooms were booked. Had shown up like clockwork every three weeks for a year and suddenly missed showing up at that hotel for two months (we tried another hotel but given my rash saga, we switched back to the one that works).

It is very much possible that the upgrade was to bring me back as a regular. In any case, the upgraded room had two rooms. Given I practically sleep on a flat surface, the largeness of the room doesn't make a difference to me. As long as there is no remnant of cigarette smoke in the room (yes, China hotels have folks frequently violating smoking rules as the fine is 500 RMB.. the hotels spray the room with some type of Febreeze and assign it as non-smoking room to the next guy who shows up.. like me!). The one thing that did make a difference was the bath tub instead of the stand in shower with some nice bath salt packets and the shampoo.

I got a sample back with me to show wife and kids. They also loved it.


Having been to France a few times by that point for business I knew the existance of L'ocittane. This shampoo was divine. On my next trip to France, we actually were in Provonce and there was a L'Occitane store and I got back large bottles of the stuff. 

Then on an India trip, got introduced to Pathanjali's Kesh Kranthi and the entire family switched to that shampoo. Not only did it make my hair feel and smell great, it also brought back memories of a different place and time from my childhood every time I took a shower!

On my last trip ended up in a different hotel and this time there was a shampoo called Le Grand Bain in the shower. The white plain plastic bottles did not say "brand name" but what caught my eye was the Vetiver. It is native to Tamil Nadu and we are used to it as children when grandma adds it to the shikakai powdered for home use as herbal shampoo! 

Now citron is also a smell we love as the most favorite pickle we eat, narthangai, is citron. This thing literally transported me. Okay, by now you are all sensing a theme here. I judge shampoos as though they are transporters on the Starship Enterprise. "This one took me to 1985.. but that one.. gives me memories from a time when I could not form words!" kind of thing..

So, I got some samples back. I have been in a lot of hotels on business and get to abuse my hair with all kinds of concoctions during those travels, but very rarely do I get some gems like this. 

When I told my kids about the shampoo the little one says "You have no right, Appa! you should not be talking about shampoos or any hair products" and Jr. chimes in and says "yeah. there are certain things you should simply stop commenting about!"

I still have some hair. It is not like I have gone totally bald and I do get to use a diverse array of crappy shampoos during my travels. 

There had to be a comeback for something like that.. a beard! Again this Jan and Feb, the beard is making a comeback of sorts. There is no pressure to look like my passport photo at airports for a few weeks and that means I can try.. again.. to grow a beard.

Again, my kids said "you have no right, appa!". What ?! It is my face. The wife and kids turned their faces away, made a few negative comments, put an embargo on kissing or even hugging for that matter and this went on for a week. 

Now that the beard has gone past the patchy phase, they are getting used to it.. or so I think! 

Have told them that the shampoo and conditioner are for the beard, not the hair and that brought a few chuckles and the little one was literally rolling on the floor laughing! 

The facial experiment will last a few more weeks. Till then "right or not", the beard stays! 

Amazon doesn't sell Le Grand Bain and turns out it is a Sheraton brand and it is available only through Sheraton. Shearton should stop doing the hotel business and go into the shampoo business if you ask me. This one is reaaaalllllllly good!

On a side note, my beard is somehow making me focus better in yoga class. Get improved tunnel vision when focussing on my own eyes in the mirror. If they will let me, I would like to wear a ski mask like a bank robber one day and go to yoga class. Maybe the beard hides the face and helps... just thinking about that experiment is making me smile. One has to do experiments to prove theories, no?! That is a post for another day..


The double red line

Everything in my life right now is linked to Yoga. Even this blog post. Not sure if this is true, but Gandhi is said to have mentioned that on a normal day you do your yoga and on a busy day you do it twice, or some such thing. Even if he had not said that, it makes sense!

The last week was a good one, because I did not fall sick. Nothing incubated inside of me after that Asia trip and ravaged me a few days later. The week felt like it had 10 days though. Sometimes you just get into that mode of improving your batting average at work and the more you focus on it, the more balls seem to come your way! It was that kind of week. On Friday, my voice started to crack. That is always an early warning sign for the impending aliens to put me back in bed. One thing leads to another and I am thinking.. "Hmm, I am behind on my yoga attendance and this may be the day to do two classes back to back". 

This is not the first time I am going to a yoga class twice in a day (did 4 over a 24 hour period two years ago with a good nights sleep thrown in) or doing two classes back to back. Usually, I look at the schedule and make sure it is not the "tough love" teachers in both the classes to pace myself and take a breath here and there when we get to the "I am definitely going to die on this mat today" part of class.

The first class was taught by a teacher who is from the "tough love" school. Her default is to kick my ass in class. Just at the exact moment, my head is filled with "best standing bow EVER!" she will go "Sundar, kick harder! you are not kicking hard enough" and I will be screaming inside my head going "that wasn't enough? that is all I got lady! Any more kicking and my head is going to spontaneously combust and you will have to scrape my smoking remains off the mat!". I would get the same feeling from when I was at the toll booth on 680, trying to collect every last quarter, nickel and penny in the car to make the 5$ toll, or risk a 27$ fine only to find that I am 17 cents short!  

All said, made it through the first class! After a quick internal debate with myself on the sanity of going back into the hot room, the side that said "why not? It cannot get any worse!" won. Drank a packet of Vitamins (and the 5g of sugar and electrolytes in it) and went back in. Took a nice 10 minute nap and before I could finish an evening dream of doing a better standing bow, the bell rang and the next class started. 

This time, I did not check the schedule to see who was teaching the two classes. Even if I HAD seen the schedule, it would not have made a difference. The next teacher who showed up, had taught me maybe twice before. Both those classes were overflowing with people and she didn't give me any corrections. This time was different. She knew it was my second class in a row...

If you have watched enough National Geographic videos, you will know that a lioness knows which gazelle is most likely to end up dead at the end of the short video clip, even before she takes the first step towards the watering hole. I was that Gazelle! Okay, that was stretching it a bit far. If you got visions of me gracefully moving through the savanah, let me stop you right there! The comparison is purely for the "dying at the end fo the clip" part. There was no grace, no strength or any sign of a fight left in me, or so I thought. It is one thing for the lioness to know which Gazelle.. but I wonder how the cameraman knows which one. He seems to pick it out with as much accuracy as the lioness.. and if a lioness and a cameraman know..why are the gazelles not able to know as well?!  Where were we? Too much Planet Earth in my head right now. Getting back to the topic...

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is like infinity and 1 is next to nothing, my strength was a 5 and flexibilty was a 3 during the first class. At the end of that class, my strength was a 2 and flexibility was  5! You become suddenly aware that bending comes easy and holding the bend is incredibly hard. 15 minutes into the second class, we are doing the first back bend and the teacher goes "you are already relaxed Sundar. Go for it.. bend!" and I went back in one smooth motion and didn't stop. Almost fell backwards after I could see the baseboard on the back wall! That is as far back as I have ever "back bended" standing up all these years.

Then I promptly panicked. The realization that there was not enough strength to get that heavy head and upper body back up hit me. Tried to come out of the posture immediately and there was a rush of blood from somewhere to somewhere.. and the next thing I know, was sitting down on the mat. For a few moments, everything was white and the teachers voice could not be heard. She was saying something to me but my ears shut down. There were an uncountable number of Jedi warriors fighting in my forehead with light sabres.. or was it an uncountable number of people using vacuum cleaners?!  Maybe it was Jedi warriers with vacuum cleaners?! It was hard to tell.

For reasons unknown to me or anyone else in the Universe (except probably my wife), I got back up and kept going. At some point the teacher mentioned she was picking on me to make sure I didn't go into "auto pilot" mode. Translation: "Not going to let you make it easy on yourself. It is my job to make sure you push yourself past that point". Went along with it and did my best ever, on a lot of poses in that class. There was some cramping, but came out of that as well and finished it still breathing. To an average Nat Geo cameraman, it might not have been very impressive, but I came out of that class alive and well!

After class we are having a chat and the teacher goes "I was going to pick on my fiance who was in the class. Didn't pick on him enough. Was trying to make sure you don't take it easy on the 2nd class". I told her "you don't have to say anything to him, to pick on him. You just have to look at him!. When my wife looks at me, I know one of two things...

a. I forgot to do something or

b. I did something wrong in a way it was not supposed to be done

a look is enough!"

Everyone had a good laugh and I started driving back home...

Isn't life like Yoga?! In the almost 19 years of married life, there are the same emotions you go through on the mat that get repeated over longer time frames outside the yoga room. Everything from elation to disappointment, but only fleeting because you know it is all good in the end! and there is the red line..

When San gives me that look, I know that the first red line has been crossed! Something has been forgotten or done wrong. Now it is a question of seconds.. the clock is ticking. If the mistake can be identified within those precious few seconds, sanctions can be avoided and wars can be off the table. Problem is when you don't know that you have crossed the red line. 

This could happen when you have screwed up on multiple fronts and are trying to figure out which one got you that look from your wife. You forgot to wash the dishes.. no, you forgot to put the clothes in the dryer..no, she is at her laptop with that look.. you forgot to print and sign that damn thing at work and our printer at home is out of paper or toner or you were supposed to tell your boss something or you forgot to file your reimbursement or .. or.. or .. your head spins as you try to correct any and all mistakes within those few seconds.. kind of like you try to correct that standing bow with the teacher staring at you.. 

What have you done?! not lock that knee? not stretched that hand? not looking at the right place? not kicking hard enough? The teacher is still going "Sundar.. come on?" They won't tell you, what it is that you are not doing for an agonizing second or two!

(had some fun just now with Jr. recording me doing a standing bow that  I used to do almost 7 years ago, almost 3 years ago and close to present day.. right after munching a lot of carbs while watching Superbowl with friends)

That is when you cross the "double red line"!  Be it home or Yoga room.. that is the "don't make me come there and show you!" look which by now elicits a Pavlovian response from me :

1. Hang down head in shame

2. mutter something to myself

3. realize that I was definitely in the wrong, given my track record 

4. find out if there is any chance to undo the damage real fast

At home, chances of undoing damage fast are a hit or miss, but in the hot room... we do everything TWICE! Thank god for small favors. So I do get to show that what is being said has been understood and corrected in "take two"!

As I write this post, have crossed three red lines and one double red line already. But it shall pass. When you are surrounded by folks who have your back, life is good!


Happy New Year 2018

2017 is done and we are moving on.  The last 8 days saw us visit local places with the BIL's family. My two nieces made photography fun again for me! 

They would randomly come ask me to take pictures in the studio and make funny face poses!

Our plan was to go to the Golden Gate Bridge vista point. However we were not allowed to enter. It was buses only. So we decided to see the bridge from the other side. There also parking was impossible. So we ended up getting flagged to go further and further away from the bridge and next thing we know, we are at a visitor center and there is a beautiful lagoon and a beach with was within eye sight. It said 0.8 miles one way and a mild hike, so off we went. There was a distinct possibility that the little ones might ask to be "lifted" and carried on the way back, but that did not happen. They walked the entire trail and back.

We spent a good 2 hours there and took pictures!

I should have dressed better though. Caught some virus. The rest of 30th and 31st has been spent drinking cough syrup and sleeping. Finally managed to edit the pictures now.. 

We also had the studio set up in the house.. that meant pictures and pictures and more pictures anytime the kids wanted..

we even switched to a black background to test out some shots..

2018 is going to be a busy year for us. My hope is that we all be in better health next year. 

I had the best year health wise for 2017 but managed to mess it up in the last two days! While it is easy to bias an entire year based on the last few days, I did thoroughly enjoy 2017. 

Thankful to my BIL and family for visiting us over the break. When you have little kids running around the house, it lights up the place! 


Cognitive dissonance in a Chinese Hotel

Travel for the year is done. That was 13 trips to Asia in 2017. Of the 26 legs across the Pacific I managed to get upgraded to Polaris aka the "business economy" class 4 times exhausting most of my miles. On some back to back trips, my company got me biz tickets one way and that was another 3 legs.  The one thing I am am trying to do if this back breaking travel keeps continuing is to plan ahead and get more polaris tickets upfront. Travel is fine, but for this type of international travel, my body is having a tough time dealing with this. That is one main disadvantage of working for a startup I guess. We don't have the bargaining power or leverage with airline companies to get discounted bulk ticket prices like the big companies. One last wing view for 2017...

All that said, I did my best on those flights, took my food with me wherever possible and managed to minimize my travel related sick days to the lowest it has been in the last 4 years in 2017! I also think it correlates to the consistancy of doing Yoga at late hours or whenever possible and to waking up at 2 or 3AM and eating cookies or some carbs.

We use the term "biological clock". I think there are multiple clocks. One for sleep wake cycle, one for breakfast, lunch and dinner and another alarm clock that gets you up when you are a light sleeper. Not all these are synchronized when you don't see the sun for days or when you keep switching time zones. In 2017, my issue was not with sleep. I managed to overcome sleep related jet lag issues. It was the stomach related ones that got me a few times. 

My last trip was interesting. I am noticing that Chinese hotels are getting big on Christmas. Have not seen this in any of my previous trips. Sure that the POTUS is going to claim this as another one of his big "victories". Mega displays in hotel lobbies and my Chinese friends are surprised and going "we don't even do this for CHinese new Year. don't know what is up with these guys!"

These were really fancy.. with moving snow etc.. see the video!

I have also started watching infomercials in the local TV channels when in China. They definitely seem to have some creative products. Not sure if this is original or not but the format of the informercials follows the usual QVC types. 

 Then there are little things that I noticed in these hotels. The nice glasses with color only at the bottom..

Then there was an entire display of stuff on the coffee table, all available at a price. I am not used to this in previous hotels. The first thing that got my attention was the water bottle. It was almost 9 USD. Then after asking they gave me 4 free local brand water. Apparently this Evian water is much sought after by international tourists who are willing to pay the price!

Was also not used to seeing Durex on the table in any other hotel. It said "you will be charged if you open this packet" and it was one expensive Durex is what I thinking when my eyes were drawn to a big red box on the right. 

I had spent a good two hours in a cigarette smelling taxi from airport to hotel and was already tired. My brain was getting confused signals after reading the lettering on the box..

It clearly said Emergency Package but the lettering did not suggest something "bad" with the font or the colors. So my first thought was "what kind of emergency package comes packed like a goody bag filled with fancy tea bags?". Again this was one expensive package for whatever emergency it was. You opened it you "will be charged"

I have no idea what those items are in that box. After being married for almost 20 years and fathering two kids, still scratching my head on what those things in the pack were. Was tempted to pay the 20 bucks just to open it and end my curiousity and then decided against it. What is the internet for than to answer such questions?

So I guess this is all sex related. First you have a 10 Dollar problem. If you screwed that up, no pun intended, then you have a 20 dollar problem. If you screwed that up as well, then you have a 20 Million RMB problem in 20 years when you will have to buy your kid an apartment in Shanghai so he can get married. If they had done their marketing right, they should put some real estate fliers on the other end of the table.

Then there was the sunset. People keep telling you that China is polluted, especially in the big cities. Over the last few years I have seen some days where the Sun is not visible though the smog and days when there are blue skies and clouds. Well I guess a lot of it depends on where and when. While the news reports claimed that it was going to be bad air days, I found it to be pretty fresh. There was a beautiful sunset while being on the road for 2 hours towards the hotel. 

Watching the sun go down always resets any and all dissonances!

2017 was a tough but good year for work, home and yoga. It felt like two years but the good thing is it is coming to a close. Have to make the most out of the last few days over the holiday weekend to recharge!

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a wonderful new year!