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Sundar Narayanan's Travelog

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Entries in all part of life (175)


It is an interesting life

After coming into 2019, writing all those posts on Belize, trying to get back into the routine.. got some bug from somewhere that had me down for most of the previous week.

Everytime I tried to rest, do yoga, drink fluids and recover, it kind of knocked me back. Even San was sick for a day or two.. to a point where both of us could not get up in the morning and the kid missed first period in school! 

That has not happened in our parenting history.. 

My colleagues were not exactly happy to see me at work every morning and understandably so. I would barely make it to a little post lunch before deciding to come back home. 

The funny thing was that a lot of folks kept honking at me while driving. Given I was not taking any medication that would make me drowsy and I was fully conscious.. and drive slowly.. was really suprised by all that honking.

Then San tells me that the indicator lights are flashing different. Yesterday got honked again but it was raining and in the reflections saw that my turn indicator lights were not flashing!!

That explained all the honking. Promptly took the car to get it checked.  Thought it would be a bad bulb but then the guy tells me to pop the hood to see what is going on and this is what we saw!

The guy is like "what bird nest is that? it has chewed through the insulation and is there for the warmth".. 

Me : I know what did that! It is a squirrel. Recently my neighbor has put some squirrel repellent electronic gizmo around their oak tree and all of them are in our front yard looking for a new home.. we were travelling during the break and the car was parked outside.. guess it made a perfect nesting spot

The top foam is a noise reduction insulation which is something that has to be ordered.

With squirrels come insects.. was scratching my feet yesterday and was wondering why would something bite me in the car.. it is pretty well insulated.. well, now everything is explained.

Now we need to squirrel proof the car. 

Even before this was having a conversation with Jr. when we detected the indicator issue. 

Jr.: can we sell this car and get a small Prius instead? I can drive it

Me : you can drive this car till it can no longer drive. what is wrong with that

Jr. : it is dirty! 

Me: I will wash it

Jr.: you only wash the outside. You have to clean the inside

Me: okay

Jr.: That yogurt stain has been there in the back seat for three years. You don't sit in the back seat okay? I do.. all the time. If you don't get that stain off, you better sell that car and buy another one.

Me: your mom is lobbying for a Tesla. We cannot afford it right now. You want me to replace a car for a Yogurt stain.. Where have I gone wrong?  

Jr.: I am not getting between you, Amma and the Tesla. All I am saying is I don't want to drive the Leaf or this Prius. The Leaf brakes I don't like. The Prius brakes hard and I like it, but I would be more comfortable in a smaller Prius. 

So basically she wants to buy a Leaf sized Prius. I think she also knows that she cannot go far in the Leaf other than school, target, whole foods, trader joes, safeway or one of the local classes she or her sister go to. The prospect of becoming a replacement chauffer for her sister is weighing heavily.. guess she wants to be able to drive "farther".. 

Meanwhile the "Tesla debate" is continuing. The red carpool sticker is still valid only for 3 years. When your commute becomes 2 hours a day.. time to rethink everything. 

My idea of a green car is any fully electric car.

My idea of a commuter car is something that can take me to local places fast. The carpool sticker is more valuable than the car.

My idea of a self driving vehicle is a public transport bus. ( I am not driving !)

Given that logic, the Leaf seems as good as a Tesla given we don't really "need" all those fancy features.  However, people tell me the "feeling" and "experience" part.. etc. 

Many years ago, I was fortunate to work with a Maintenance Manager by the name of Ray Romero. He passed away after fighting cancer. One day in his typical style he called me and said "Sundar, I want to have a chat with you".

So we go to an office and Ray has some popcorn and water melons waiting for me. He goes "you know, I love working with you. You had no experience working with direct labor, but were willing to listen and learn from us. you also have a good sense of where money is wasted"

I knew there was a "but" somewhere in the conversation that was coming... and it did. You know that part you are negotiating? We waited three days and got it down from 5000 to 4000.. but now we are waiting another three days to get it from 4000 to 3800.. The first move was smart. The second one not so. I know when someone called you a "cheap bastard" you told him it will be taken as a compliment. But you should know when there is a diminshing return for time vs money.

It was an important lesson that he taught me. Still use it everyday at work and outside. You should know when to stop haggling.

Where were we? Squirrels, car, one more reason to find fault with the current car to say "let's get a Tesla!"

Forget the car. What do we do about the squirrels?

Might have to buy one of those gizmos and put it inside the hood of the car.. and also try to build them an alternate nesting site of some kind... 


Pampering with a twist..among other things

The previous post on this Belize trip is here..

On the way back from ATM we had seen this ad for road safety with a vehile raised up on a billboard, but the vehicle seemed to have suffered a mafia type gunflight than a highway accident. So we asked our driver what gives and his response was "originally the vehicle was in an accident. but once it was put up there, the locals come out in the night and fire their guns at it as target practice when there is no one around!" .

The last full day (day6) of the trip was reserved as the "free day". Given the whole week was a vacation, it was kind of ironic that we had the kids call it the real vacation day. We got back from ATM and were itching everywhere. God knows how many different insects bit us on that trip. 

The Spa gave us Mosquito coils which brought back so many memories of lighting them up in India as a child. The kids had no idea what they were and we explained it to them. Don't think it made a difference in reality but it had a placebo effect with the kids. 

First a bunch of insects bite you and once the blood comes out, a different set of insects come to grab it. It was interesting..

We got up later than usual at 8AM, had a slow breakfast, said bye to a lot of people who were heading to the airport after breakfast and went for a walk around the resort. The kids promptly went back to the room to read books and listen to music. 

There was a hookah lounge! 

and a shrine of sorts in a gym, which only had weights. Apparently the founder of the Spa was a world record holder power lifting champion.

The spa had a package for a family massage. The kids went for some face treatments which I promptly chose not to remember (one develops a skill to forget such details as time goes by) and San and myself were scheduled for a tea time massage. 

I sat in the mineral tub for an hour and realized that it dyed my poonal blue! It is still blue after almost a week. There was plenty of fresh coconut water to go around. We went for multiple walks and the kids thought something was wrong with us given we were restless and were walking around. 

Then it was massage time. They gave me a lot of names and options and I chose a mud massage. The lady said "we take a picture after we put the mud on".. given there is a blog and interesting pictures are always a good thing, I went back to the room and got my cell phone. I had no idea what I signed up for.

First they give you a disposable jatti which doesnt cover much. They should have a better designed disposable underwear for guys. Then the mud was put on. It was really cold. Later I learned that the mud itself is not cold but it saps the heat from the body. After 45 minutes of this mud / sand paper massage, which actually felt good, the lady says "I am now going to put some color mud on you okay? it is going to feel cold". I was thinking "I am already freezing here inside!". By the time I could respond, the coloring was done.. 

With moves that would have made Jambu sastrigal jump up with envy when he puts vibhuthi on his hands and chest, this lady had turned me into an aboriginal person of sorts.  For lack of a translation, she had "karumbulli sembulli" kuththied me.. only thing left was for me to be paraded around the village on a donkey... but that is what this blog is for!

She took three pictures, one of which ended up almost being R rated. The other two I present to you.. Noted this is a far cry from Sundarananda.. but it is an interesting avatar and makes you wonder what my life would have been as a jungleee in Belize!  I am actually wearing something.. it is just covered in mud. That is what we refer to as UNBELIZEABLE!!!

Then we walked to an open tub behind the spa which was just plain beautiful to wash off. The lady said "hold my hand and get up". I was like "I don't need any support to get up from this tub!" and in a second realized my mistake. My legs had no strength. Apparently normal for people after a mud massage. So with some help took the first few steps out of that bath and then things were fine. 

Slept like a snoring baby after that massage till the family woke me up for dinner. Apparently I had turned away all the critters around the villa making noises with my snoring. San was very happy as her massage did not involved any energy loss, R rated picture taking etc.. The kids were also radiant after their "treatments". 

We had a really good dinner and said goodbye to the folks we had been chatting with over the last week..

Still had the wet shoes to deal with from the ATM trip. Here is a tip. Take some crocs or water shoes with you if you do all these cave adventures. I spent a good hour trying to use a hair dryer to get the shoes to some level of dryness. Eventually two of the shoes were thrown into garbage bags and put in the check in baggage. 

We flew out on day 7 back home.

Ate my "usual lunch" as breakfast.. Roti with Aaloo curry.. They make pooris too.. but call them flatjacks.. everything had a different name.. but coconut rice, roti, aaloo curry was my staple. 

We were on our way to our gate for the SFO flight after clearning Immigration and customs at Houston when we bumped into family! We told them of our trip and their story trumped ours by a long shot. Apparently a person died on their flight shortly after take off and their plane ended up back at the starting point. By the time the flight left again and came to Houston, everyone had missed connections and there were 45 people waiting on standby, just to go to SFO for an entire day.. trying their luck on every flight.. We thanked our stars for not encountering issues like that, and made our way home. 

This is probably the first time I managed to blog about the entire trip within a week of coming back. Thanks to editing and downloading the photos while we waited at airports and while flying. 

It will be sometime before another family trip. The routine starts full swing with school starting tomorrow and navigating traffic without access to the carpool lane. Got a notice from DMV saying the "white carpool sticker" is not valid starting Jan 1. Last week was okay as there was no school and lot of people were still on vacation. All that changes tomorrow.

Belize was fun. It was thrilling, relaxing, an almost near perfect vacation. I did not have to drive anywhere and that makes me less grumpy and the overall mood of the family is better.

We are slowly getting better at vacationing.. there were zero fights on this trip. Skirmishes between the kids.. kids and parents .. yes.. Fights, no! 



Jet lag Yoga

We made it back from Belize on New Years eve'ning. One adventure always leads to another .. so came home to four loads of laundry. At the end of the day we are a fiscally conservative family. We take in fresh clothes to a resort and come back with all the clothes in a large garbage bag. 

Started doing laundry right away after coming back. In fact I had quarantined all the clothes and shoes in the entryway and put deet into the suitcases, in the event any Belizian mosquitos or biting flies and assorted insects made it accidentally into the suitcase. I think every insect in that rain forest had some part of the Narayanan family for some meal. 

The washer broke down after the first load! Spent a good hour and a half trying to remove the soaking wet clothes out and drain out the water. Fortunately we have good friends and neighbors. After letting the wet clothes drain overnight, got them done this morning. With help from my neighbor we started troubleshooting the washer. We have now narrowed it down to a faulty drain pump. Given there is no way to go buy one today and most service guys are off today being New Years, the thing is now opened up and waiting for life tomorrow. 

Given this washer lasted almost 15 years, we were thinking of buying a new one. Sometimes old is gold. This one has no fancy electronics. Possibly a simple microcontroller at the most.. it doesn't even have a belt. It is one of those old direct drive motors. No digital displays of any kind.. no fancy algo's to figure out the size of the load etc. etc.. thinking of getting it fixed tomorrow..

In all this hoopla, got no chance to do Yoga this morning. Jet lag is jet lag. It doesn't care if you got it after a week in Asia for a biz trip, or a week in Belize with family. Last night I could not stay up till midnight. Just hit the bed at 10. Especially after being one of few participants in the blood drive to support the insects in Belieze, was feeling a little tired.  

There was one last chance to catch Yoga at 4:30 PM and yet again, New Years is a popular day for folks to try something new. We had a full house at BYSJ and a great class. I got a deja vu because almost the same people were in the front row on New Years class and this is the fourth time for this experience.. 

Finally feeling back to normal. Think we can reasonably conclude that Yoga has had an addictive influence on me...


Happy New Year 2019

The 2000's turned 18. That was a big deal.. When it turns 21, we might subconsciously associate it with another "big year".. Turning 16 was a good thing.. in an American context.. 

19.. seems to be something we skip through! Don't exactly remember going through my 19th year. Hopefully 2019 goes by like that!

2018 was a monotonous year for us with the exception of four things..

1. A visit to India for my nephews Poonal ceremony and being with my parents, brother and sister under one roof even if for two days

2. A two week magical trip to Europe in Summer

3. Jr.'s dance Arangetram

4. A wrap up of the year in Belize for a week

The rest was a routine. Did manage to do yoga 224 times in 2018. As most of you know, the goal is at least 200. So checking that one off. 

The time outside of yoga was mostly spent in picking up and dropping off kids from classes. 

Did 10 trips to Asia this year instead of 12 but had three international personal trips to make up for that.

There was no major sickness this year and that was a big plus. The only negative or scary thing that happened was my father slipping and falling down in October and my mother insisting that I not visit till he is walking again.  He is improving slowly but steadily and that is a good thing.

One regret we did have was not being able to attend my sisters kids Poonal as it crossed with the pre planned Europe trip. We have moved on from that given both the Europe trip and the Poonal went very well. 

The job continues to be interesting and challenging and we are quietly ploughing through challenges one at a time. The hard part of working in a startup is to get a group of folks who don't waste time questioning the problems but just go tackle it. From that stand point, glad to have a bunch of folks who are all in that mindset. Feel the the time at work is being well spent. 

2018 was good on retrospect. 2019 is being welcomed with hopes of the kids doing well in school and work reaching significant milestones.. but what matters is to keep San smiling next to me and have good health throughout the year and cherish friendships old and new! One has to be really fortunate to have good friends and we are blessed in that department!

and yes.. resolutions.. now that yoga 200 times a year is not a resolution anymore (it is a habit), the wish and hope for 2019 is to learn to swim properly. Went for 10 classes in 2005 when Jr. was 3 years old as part of a parents and tots swim class. Could float and swim the length of the pool with two three stops. We went snorkeling in Belize and I stayed 5 feet from the boat at all times because of fear. The ATM trip was also scary going against the river in darkness. 

2019, overcome fear of deep water and waves.. Let's see if I can get that done..


The perfect aftershave..


Yours truly.. Dudeji Beardybaba, as I was affectionately called by friends and family alike over the last few months have had a setback of sorts in prepping for my next career move. 

To put it simply, the beard is gone. It just got to that point where letting it go, became an appeling option.

The beard survived for 7+ weeks and it was no longer patchy. It was an "official" beard that could enter into a beard competition.. it made it to Asia through multiple airport securities without being the cause for "random" security screening as was expected by the rest of the face.

It made it through multiple meetings.. it made it through rides in the Shanghai metro where it was the only beard on the entire damn train.. well I was the only Indian on the entire damn train, but the beard stuck out to the point where kids were staring at me non stop and their parents were politely teaching the kids "not to stare". The beard become a social education tool for Chinese parents.. it had value!

Having finished work in Asia, gave up on biz upgrade chances and flew back early on "premier economy", just to beat jet lag by sleeping in my own bed. The beard became "itchy and scratchy" during the return trip while attempting to sit and sleep by leaning on the plane window!  

It got completely messed up.Could have taught homeless hobos, how to look like legit homeless hobos after getting out of SFO. My Uber driver was not sure if I was the passenger or some guy trying to get a free ride, and was checking twice. Even that believe it or not, was not the last straw.

My lovely wife of almost 20 years, always greets me with an unreserved hug when I come back from Asia.. she is glad to see me because she knows the next pickups and drop offs from classes for kids,  will all be on me at least for a few days post my return.. Today she gave me a hug that said "yes, I would like to hug you, but without getting anywhere close to your face".. it was a hug that one gives their boxing match opponent or a hug your nurse gives you at the time of discharge when you are the huggy type and she too is the huggy type based on her other patients, but you are being discharged, after being treated for rashes.. 

That was it..a line was drawn and I decided to shave. It turns out that shaving a 7 week old beard is not easy. Having had no such prior experience, it was tricky. First you have to use a trimmer to cut it down and then shave, or you can cut yourself pretty badly. (note, if you need additional tips, will be glad to give you some).. 

After 15-20 minutes, the beard was gone.. but it is not easy to get used to its absence. Did not realize that I got used to the beard.. it kind of grew on me!

After coming home, had a severe migraine and stomach pain and did the only thing I could think of under such circumstances.. Go do Bikram Yoga. 

Went to the first class that was available after coming home and the class was awesome. Somehow my symptoms after shaving off a 7 week beard was similar to what folks describe after getting their limb amputated. It was weird. Standing in front of the mirror and breathing made my nose all hot. It was like running an airconditioner without the filter.. 

Then halfway down the class, while doing leg stretching head to knee pose, a few gallons of sweat just went straight into my nose. The whiskers and beard would not have allowed that.. It took me a few minutes to recover from the stinging in my nose and sinuses before rejoining the class. 

There is one good thing about having a clean face. I can actually see myself smile better in the mirror and it makes for great positive reinforcement. 

Also the yoga class did me a world of wonders. When you sweat like crazy, that skin smoothes itself out and all the itching and scratching is gone! 

San took before and after photos..the little one hasn't seen me yet and will possibly be thrilled that the beard is gone. She was not a fan..

Same smile, but one gets trapped in the beard. Now when the teacher in Yoga class says "with your happy smiling face..." there is a visible happy smiling face!!!

The beard did have the best run this time..who knows when it will come back?!!