Am sitting at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Helsinki writing this post. We just arrived in Helsinki and met with the fourth member of our gang (Scott), who was flying in from China to join us in our trip to the Lapland.
This Saturday and Sunday was spent in Tallinn old town in Estonia. The trip to Estonia was one of the spur of the moment decision as we had 2 days in our hands in Helsinki before our friend would meet us. It was a decision well worth the time and effort. There are a number of ferries between Helsinki and Tallinn and it takes about 2 hrs to get to the town. We had booked ourselves in a hotel in the old town area in Tallinn which feels like nothing’s changed since the middle ages. Buildings over 500 years are plenty in this town and the neon lights and souvenir shops gives it away, as modern life exists in this middle age town.
We stayed in a boutique hotel called St. Petersbourg, bang in the middle of the downtown in the old town. Sitting in a cafe that’s housed in a 700 years old tower it was eerie yet exciting. People were quite curious to see us; probably not may from Asia travel to these places or it was just plain curiosity to see a bunch of Indian guys in the middle of winter wandering around as tourists.
Earlier on Saturday, having nothing planned to do for the day, we rented a tiny Toyota car and decided to just drive with no destination in mind.
Turns out that we drove north east of Estonia to a place called Jagala where in the 1980s they discovered one of the oldest graves dating around 3000 BC. There was a tiny museum with the unearthed artifacts on display. Having indulged in some Estonian history, we learnt that there was a waterfall nearby that place and one of the popular tourist destinations in the summer time. We are not the ones to miss a chance to see a water fall and we quickly took directions and were on our way. This water fall called Jagala Juga is the highest waterfall in Estonia. At 8 meters, it was definitely worth the visit. The waterfall was almost frozen save for a small stream trickling down. We managed to walk, slip and slide close to the frozen waterfall and spent some time exploring the stalagmite like formation of the frozen water. @Nat was not too keen to go down the path and he was looking for some locations to shoot the scenery.
The person, from whom we rented the car, suggested that we visit a popular manor and marked the location in the GPS. The way we were driving on impulse, the GPS was constantly showing us the new route to the destination and we decided anyway to go there. It happens to be about 70 Kms north east of Tallinn and by the time we reached the place it was getting dark and started to snow. It so happens that Estonia has over 1300 such manors all over the country. It was in fashion to build these in the 17th – 19th century by wealthy individuals to be used as summer houses. Today they are tourist attractions and serves as a source of income to many small establishments in and around that area.
It was quite dark by then and we decided to stop for a quick bite at a nearby restaurant. We had excellent food prepared by a German guy. His restaurant was called The Coffee Pot in the Land of Bays (the English version of his Estonian name). It was a pleasant experience to find vegetarian food in almost all of the restaurants we’ve had food so far.
We finally reached the hotel at around 6 in the evening, returned the car and started to explore the old town on foot till late into the night.
Just landed in Helsinki and encountered a beautiful and perfect weather. -3 celcius, sunny and mild breeze. Last February I was at the cold land of Russia and this year it is the Nordic country. Pretty much the same gang minus couple of guys. @nat, @aish, @scott and I.
Took this picture from the plane with bright sunshine just before mid-day above the Helsinki airport. Few pleasant surprises, English is spoken by most people I’ve encountered so far, restaurants have vegetarian options and the airport is just nice, small cozy and nice coffee place to sit and browse with free Internet!
Once @aish arrives, we plan to take the bus to the harbour and a ferry to Tallinn. Two days there and then off to north Finland and hope we catch a glimpse of the northern lights.
Nine churches in one location; that used to be the St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, Moscow. Built in the 1550s, this building is no longer a church (as far as my understanding goes) and is the centre of attraction for anyone visiting the Red Square. We did the pilgrimage too and it was time and effort well spent. This building that looks like a collection of lollipops looks awesome in winter with snow-capped roofs. This picture was taken just before we left the Red Square. At the time we arrived, this place was filled with tourists and one could hardly get a decent photo without someone distracting the picture with their presence. After our visit, we went over to a cafe nearby (rather inside the Red Square itself) and when we stepped out, we were surprised to see the square empty. I believe some politician was about to visit and they cleared the place for security reasons. Time to get the camera out and we shot some decent images without any people in it. But unfortunately we couldn’t be bang in the centre to get the building in the right perspective. Nevertheless, this was one of my decent shots.
It’s not always you watch a famous movie and experience something in life that fits the title of the movie perfectly. That’s exactly what happened to us in our trip. We encountered four weddings in different places and came close to a funeral. Well, I am cheating here a bit. But let me tell you the story first.
Our first wedding encounter was at Ekaterinburg. We were walking to a church and just when we reached the stairs, we saw a couple who were just married, getting into a car. I was a bit too late to get my camera out so I could only get a shot of them just before they got into the car. @nat was quick and he has a very good shot of the couple.
The second wedding was again in Ekaterinburg but this time it was more interactive. We were walking along an isolated park, knee-deep in snow. We came across two guys drinking champagne standing next to a big van. They smiled at us and enquired where we were from. Initially we weren’t too thrilled to talk to them thinking they must be drunk as they had the bottle in their hands with plastic cups for drinking. But courtesy demands and we said hello and were looking for a quick exit. Just when we were about to walk away after the pleasantries, they asked us to wait. Remember all this not in fluent English but just enough to understand each other. So we stopped and the guys opened the van door and one of them walked in and after a few seconds, a big bunch of people, men and women , got out of the van. And finally out came the just married couple. Apparently they had just finished the wending proceedings and took a break to have a drink and celebrate near the park. We realised our apprehension was unfounded and enjoyed a nice conversation and photo session with them. Below is a picture of the bride and the groom.
The 3rd wedding encounter was beautiful. We were in Moscow inside the Red Square, walking towards the St. Basil’s Cathedral. It was snowing mildly that day. Close your eyes and imagine the scene. Mild snowfall, ground carpeted with snow in a large open space with the colourful St. Basil’s Cathedral as the backdrop. Here was a newly married couple dancing in the snow for their photographer to shoot pictures. I didn’t waste anytime and shot a few pictures myself. I like this one the best.
The next stop in the trip was St. Petersburg. And the most important place to visit in St. P is the Hermitage. It is a museum today with innumerable artworks. More on that in another post. This is where we encountered the next wedding couple. Unfortunately, for wedding number 4, I don’t have any pictures. But @nat took them. I was running out of battery and storage space in my camera and there was so much to take in that place. I had to make the tough choice and decided not to fire away.
Finally the funeral bit. I fudged a bit when I said we experienced everything. We didn’t see any funeral, thankfully. But we did see the Lenin’s tomb in Red Square and that makes up all I need to put a catchy title to my blog! Here’s a picture of it.
Who says Americans and Russians don’t get along. All my life I grew up hearing the differences between the USA and erstwhile USSR and how they started an arms and space race. That may have been true in the 60s or even up to the 90s but the Russia today is a very different place and they don’t hold any grudge against anyone, atleast from my perspective. We visited the Red Square on the 22nd of February and the emotions I experienced was something unique. I grew up studying about Trans Siberian Railway in my Geography lessons, enjoyed Misha children’s magazines, bought books publised by the MIR Publications that sold at phenomenolly cheap prices and had a poster of the St. Basil’s Cathedral next to the Kremlin in my bedroom wall for many years. When it really happened and I was about to enter the Red Square, I was thrilled… hmm for two reasons. One, I just mentioned and the second, to see this in front of the Red Square…
Ahem… and do I spot Sponge Bob in the next photo…
Russians seem to have a natural flair for fashion. It is not surprising to see most people walking on the streets and dressed as if they are on their way to a party or some event. They don’t dress expensive if that’s what you are thinking. Some do of course, you can see some ostentatious display of fur (which I frown upon though) but most of them are dressed in simple clothes and winter wear. But what adds to the fashion flair is the way they carry it. Apart from the fact that people (especially women; of course I am biased here ;-) are very beautiful, the dressing style just accentuates their innate beauty. If you are keen to see more people pictures and fashion, go to @nat’s picasaweb album. But today I am not going to be posting and talking about beautiful women, but about kids – they are simply adorable as anywhere in the world.
Kids playing in a playground made of ice, Irkutsk, Russia, 17th February 2010
We came across a some ice sculptures in the middle of the town in Irkutsk. It was late afternoon and a bunch of kids with their parents were having fun in the playground in which everything was made of ice. A brother and sister duo were coming down the ice slide and I fortunately had my camera ready.
Click on the pictures to see the full versions.
Traveling over 12,000 kilometers by train across a vast country like Russia leaves you with countless impressions that I’m afraid will fade over time. Photos can be a great trigger to get those memories back and little snippets of experiences that make the journey worthwhile.
Traveling from Irkutsk to Ekaterinburg, we stopped at several small stations along the way, met wonderful people, shared stories about our lives and philosophised about many things under the sun. One such person was Ilya who spoke a little bit of English and worked in a coal mine in northern Siberia with temperatures going below -60 celsius. Ilya was a nice companion who said something that made a lot of sense to us as our journey progressed. According to him, Siberia was the heart of Russia, Ekaterinburg the intellect, St. Petersburg the face of Russia and Moscow its wallet. How very true! Below is a photo of him when he said goodbye in Novosibirsk station.
I especially like this photo even though it wouldn’t stand a chance for quality photography. It was one of the very few pictures we have of Ilya, and the picture gives a surreal feeling with the wind and snow, late in the evening mixed with happiness and sadness of forming new friendship and parting quite shortly.
(L to R) @aish, @nat, @ilya and @pradeep
Update: Extremely saddened by the bomb blasts in Moscow. We were there in the Lubyanka station more than once while commuting within the city. May the dead rest in peace and their kith and kin be able to bear the loss of their dear ones. Violence is never the answer for any problem. It is sheer madness and we can only hope for a society in future that is free of violence and people matured enough to deal differences through dialogue.
Before we left for Moscow, I read a number of articles on the Internet about the Moscow subway and how beautiful they are. I had high expectations and I was not disappointed. In many ways, the subway experience will remain in my memory for a long time to come. Although the Singapore subway is arguably one of the best in the world, I always found it to be kept that way with a lot of effort both by the companies operating it and the government with strict laws. I am not a proponent of rebellious behaviour but sometimes too much of shepherding can get to you after a while. Non stop announcements as to how we should report strange unattended baggage, how we should mind our step when we get out, in loud speakers can be quite annoying. Moscow has, what I call the people train system where you are responsible for your actions. There is no loud announcements as to how you should behave on the train, no warning signs that says not to cross the yellow line, but people automatically do the right things. They are of course not as clean as Singapore’s subway but I liked it the way it was because, the level of cleanliness was something that people maintained without being threatened with a huge fine for drinking water inside the train.
The trains also run quite deep underground. I timed my escalator ride and it was a good 2 minutes before I got off the escalator at the other end. Most train stations are decorated with frescos, artifacts and chandeliers. They run every three minutes and the timing was perfect. Russian train system can give a stiff competition to Japanese trains with regard to punctuality. Below is the shot of a fresco at the entrance of a subway.
Click on these images to see the enlarged version.
In the entire trip we experienced weather changes from -2 to -34 degrees celsius. Moscow was the first place where the temperatures eased a bit and when we arrived from Ekatrinburg, the temperature was about -3 or so and it was snowing heavily. Below is a photo of three of the six member gang – @nat, @aish and @pradeep. We had to look away from the way wind was blowing as we kept catching the snow in our eyes. This picture was taken right outside the Moscow railway station while we were waiting for the taxi.
One of the good things about this trip was that everyone enjoyed long walks and we took full advantage of it. Below is a photo taken while we were crossing a park. It was snowing mildly and the temperature was just nice for us to enjoy the day walking across the city of Moscow.
When we booked the flight tickets to Vladivostok, we had to find a balance between a not so long flight and cost. Since it was around the Chinese New Year time, any flights via Korea, Japan or Hong Kong was impossible. It was prohibitively expensive. @nat as usual did his research and got tickets for us via Dubai. But we never imagined the strain the long flight was going to put us through. We flew from Singapore-Colombo-Dubai-Moscow-Vladivostok. It was nearly 24 hours of continuous flying. I ended up getting some sort of red spots all over my leg when I reached Vladivostok. But hey, everything turned out alright and I recovered in a day or so.
This photo was taken at the Dubai airport while we were boarding the flight to Moscow. I love the colours the sky throws up at dawn and dusk.
The first true stop of the journey was at Irkutsk. I wouldn’t count Vladivostok as one of them since we spent just over 8 hours in that city and didn’t quite get to see it as much as I would have liked. Irkutsk brings a lot of fond memories for me. It was the first place where we got to know the people of the town and found them to be charming and wonderful. Like most cities in Russia, Irkutsk has its landmark churches. The photo below is of the Spasskaya church built around 1706. It was one of the rare ones we saw that was not painted in colours. This is still a functioning church and I thought a fitting image would be one in black & white.
I still need to hone my photo taking skills. I realised that I cropped the cross above the church. But hey, this is part of the learning! We saw few other churches, very colourful. I will post them sometime soon and you can enjoy the rich colourful temple art of Russia. So stay tuned.
(Click on the photo if you want to see a larger version) For those of you who are Seinfeld fans, you’ll know what I mean by the title. Watching the frozen Sea of Japan was quite a serene experience and I was far from the state of mind of George’s father in Seinfeld.
I was sitting and having lunch at Hotel Vladivostok and I could see this through the window of that cafe. It was beautiful. People ice fishing out in the sea (you can see them as black dots in the photo) and some even taking a late afternoon walk along the coast. The temperature was about -18 Celsius. I remember having some vegetarian dumplings for lunch. I have an photo of that dish below. At Vladivostok it was just myself, @nat and @pradeep. @aish, @scott and @angelo joined us later in Irkutsk.
I had a chance of a lifetime to go to Russia and experience the Trans Siberian rail journey starting at Vladivostok and finishing at St. Petersburg. I jumped at it and never regretted it even for a moment except of course the hole it burnt in my pocket. Nevertheless, it was still a journey that ranks as the best I have ever done in my life.
As soon as I came back I wanted to do a travel log and blog about the experiences from day one till the day I came back to Singapore. I wanted to create a photo montage of all the cities I visited and the people I met. But days went by and I didn’t quite do anything of that sort. The folks that I traveled with did justice both in writing about the experiences and posting pictures that they took along the trip. I realised that I was not going to add anything more beautiful than what has already been written and the pictures taken and posted on the Internet. I give below the links to please your visual senses.
But I couldn’t just keep quite about the whole experience, even though I know I’ll never be doing justice to what I really felt and the days I spent with my group in a country that is beyond beautiful. So, I decided I will post random pictures that I took in this trip (hopefully each day) and write just about the picture, the events surrounding it and the story if any associated with it. I start with a not so interesting one but I hope progressively it will get interesting if you follow this blog regularly.
The above picture was taken at the Crown Plaza hotel in Ekaterinburg around mid-morning. I just finished breakfast and was waiting for some of the folks to join me to explore the town. This was along one side of the wall of the cafe inside the hotel. It was a painting on glass, backlit by tubelights behind the glass. I had my first true Russian dish, a vegetarian Borsch made of beetroot. The period when we were in Russia was the period of Lent and several restaurants served vegetarian food and this cafe had a special vegetarian menu. Stroke of luck and I capitalised well on it.
More to come, stay tuned.
Every act of human beings that has been an outcome of civilisation has a structure to it. A general conception is that, structure is for rational minds and not for the artistic. But I beg to disagree. If we dissect an act to its core, we will encounter a structure behind it. And an act that does not have a structure will not have a following.
Allow me to explain this in a little bit more detail. We can straight away assume that any scientific act has a structure to it and we will not ponder on that too much. So, let’s look at some artistic acts like painting and music. My contention is that however abstract a piece of art or music might be, but the one that generates at least a handful of followers or fans, will have an underlying structure based on which it has been built. Most of us are unable to appreciate abstract art is because, we are incapable of seeing the underlying structure and hence unable to appreciate the beauty of that piece of work. And the ones who ‘see’ it either are greatly impressed by the trick the artist has played with that structure or at the least appreciate the twist the artist has created using the structure underlying to it.
The reason I use civilisation in this context is because, I think the first discovery by the people of the first civilisation is the discovery of the human ability to recognise structures and build something on top of it. The moment, you develop the innate capability of observing these structures, you become compelled to act and build on it and that in turn makes that individual or group of individuals civilised. I think it does not necessarily apply to human beings alone. Even in the animal kingdom, one can observe acts of civilisation such as the monkey’s using a straw to draw the ant out of an anthill. This is possible only if they are able to see the underlying structure of that act which results in the ability to draw ants for food. If we extrapolate this to all acts of living beings, you realise that none of them are a random act but an act coordinated to achieve an objective, which means there is a structure (or framework) behind it. Now, I am getting close to the metaphysical argument of whether there is any act of nature that is based on randomness alone without any predetermined objective.
I have read about the quantum physics experiments that shows at an sub-atomic level, we influence the experiment, when we observe them. But for this argument, let’s keep the sub-atomic state of affairs aside and look only at the macro side of things.
Now for argument sake, if we take the premise that every act of nature has a predetermined objective unless interfered by an external force, then does that not indicate that there might be a predetermined objective which explains the meaning of life? The caveat here is the interference by an external force, which in the case of human beings, manifests as the ability of choice. The counter argument could be that the ability of choice prevents a presupposition of an exact meaning for life. But as earlier demonstrated, that an act performed by a person has a structure / framework underlying it and any act based on randomness is detrimental to the actor. So collectively speaking, the choices however numerous, is limited by the frameworks underlying them and hence the choices themselves are predetermined. The net effect could be that we are moving towards a destiny that is already configured and our choices are only giving us an illusion that we have the ability to make our own future.
Is this possible?
I posted the link to my previous post on facebook and I received the following comment:
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” (Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning)
Dutifully, I googled Viktor Frankl and his book Man’s Search for Meaning. I have linked them to save you some time to search. After reading through that and also mulling over the statement above for a while, I re-read it many times for two reasons – one, as to what exactly the author is trying to say and two, why was the comment posted as a response to my post. Anti-climax; I am still trying to figure out the answer for both the points. But, it did get my thoughts to run along other paths, which I thought I’ll write them up as a continuation to my previous post.
The author summarises that we have the onus to determine what our life is supposed to mean by being responsible rather than seek it as a external purpose that we collect (or realise) and apply it on our lives. Which makes sense if we look at the meaning of life from an individual’s point of view – a point of view that is taken by most people when they lack purpose due to an externally imposed circumstance like adversity. Part of my reason for the previous post is taken not from an individualistic view but rather at an existential level as to why evolution provided reason to humankind and is there a purpose behind it. Of course, I realise now that it probably did not come across as clearly as it should have. But as I said before, the comment put me through another path of thinking about the meaning of life from one’s life’s perspective.
The pondering of this question, in most cases, arises when the environment imposes an adverse situation on us. This is not to say that during happy occasions we don’t think about these questions, but more often then not, we are busy being happy that we let little such philosophical questions arise in our minds, lest we lose the moment of happiness we possess. That brings me to one of the key root causes of these thoughts – adversity. Now, adversity has many a forms that you could write a thesis on them but I am particularly intrigued by one element – pain. Pain as in mental agony and not anything physical. Pain that’s caused because of the loss of a dear one, defeat in a cause etc. Let’s narrow this down even more and try to focus on pain that is caused solely because of a situation where you don’t have anything external to blame it on. To quickly draw a contrast to the book by Viktor Frankl (note: I’ve not read the book and my brief knowledge comes from a quick glance at Wikipedia), he talks about the state of mind that exists when one is in a concentration camp and how do deal with such a situation. We need to note here that this adversity and pain is caused externally by a force that you don’t and can’t control. What I am referring to is a situation, where you seem to be the only one that could potentially be ‘blamed’ for the pain that’s causing you.
I think mind here takes an interesting form. Speaking from personal experiences, it first desperately seeks something external to put the blame on. Not finding any, one starts to introspect to find what could have caused the situation. Many a times you realise that the one suffering is pretty much the cause of it as well. Like failing in an examination simply because one did not prepare well for the same. But on some occasions, you actually don’t find yourself to be responsible as well for the situation causing the pain. Or let’s say, the degree of your responsibility it not high enough for you to take the full blame. Then you face a roadblock where you are unsure what to do next. You ponder more, examine the situation with multi-various lenses, simulate the incident in different forms and from different perspectives but still the answer eludes. If the degree of pain being suffered is all encompassing you then it leads to a state of paralysis, where you don’t function in the way you normally do. Then the metaphysical questions are raised as to the purpose of life. The interesting conundrum is that at a holistic level you know you need to take responsibility for life but are paralysed by an event that prevents you from taking the next step of being responsible. You are still bemused by the situation which seems to have no form.
We all come across such incidents in our lives and we get through it somehow – fading memory being one of them. But some leave a lasting impression on you that keeps coming back like a boomerang every now and then to haunt. What do we do under such circumstances – many seek religious help, some seek medical etc but these are safe deposit boxes that temporarily hold on to your issue giving you the illusion that it has been resolved. But depending on how intensive the issue is, it always comes back.
I do not know the answer to deal with them and I have my own demons to fight but I see a clear purpose in raising a metaphysical question here and follow the path of seeking the answer. The reason I say this is not because, I need an excuse to stare at a blank wall in the premise of thinking but rather that this approach could potentially put us on a path of dissecting the problem in a methodical way and peel the skin of the onion, one at a time. In the end, will it help tide over that situation and give you lasting peace… I don’t know. But you could potentially peel the last bit of skin and realise that there is nothing left anymore to peel. The sense of nothingness in everything could help you deal with it. Maybe…
(Arabic phrase from Quran that means ‘in the name of God, the merciful, the beneficent’)
Like many people, I muse about life. I ask some of the cliched questions such as the meaning of life, is there purpose for human life, what should we strive for, is evolution a mere accident in the unimaginable size of this universe etc. And, like most people who ask these questions, I don’t have a definite answer. In fact, there is not even a glimmer of hope that I would find a definitive answer.
I come from a culture that is known for pioneering this study and many a treatise have been written from time immemorial trying to address these and other questions. This innate nature to question would probably not be as strongly entrenched in me, had I not been born and brought up in this microcosmic society (I beg for pardon if this usage of microcosmic society in the sentence is a wrong usage, but I hope you get the point I am driving at). This has an even bigger impact on me since my parents have brought me up with the independence to raise these questions and boldly try to find the answers however rational it may or may not seem. Here I should digress to say a bit about the people who have had the most profound impact on me. I have been blessed with some of the best people one can have the opportunity to know in their life. This includes my parents, my brothers and one friend (whom I consider my teacher and brother in more than one way) and his family in India. I do not wish to name anyone to guard their privacy. But this digression is important to emphasise that few people have this opportunity to meet so many great souls and learn from them to differentiate the different shades of grey that we encounter in our lives.
Coming back to my earlier point on whether these questions are rational enough to ask or not and the reason for which I say that is because, I have had the opportunity to experience scientific way of approaching and the loosely put religious or spiritualistic way of approaching on various aspects of life that portray the different shades of grey that we very often encounter. The thought of rationality appears in this discussion because, science demonstrates to you through the concept of reasoning (and hypothesis and proofs) that the universe is an immensely vast place and the fact that life exists in this piece of rock that we call earth among the uncountable number of such rocks is a mere accident and unavoidable given our knowledge of chemistry. So, if science were to hear my appeal to it to find the answers, it would reply back that there is simply no point in asking this question as it is merely philosophical in nature and having an answer (if an answer exists) will have no bearing on existence (or life as I term it here) itself.
On the other hand, humans have conceptualised (or experienced) God which has given birth to religion in many forms depending on the environment in which it was born. This is not a debate about whether God exists or not but more a philosophical inquiry in what is the purpose (if there is something called a purpose) of life. So from this perspective, if I raised this question to ‘religion’ (and I put this in quotes because that is probably the easiest way to collectively refer to any form of thinking that is not scientific in nature), the answer would be quite different depending on which school of thinking that I raise this question to. But most of these diverse group would agree that self realiasation and experiencing God is the key purpose of life. Now we can debate in length about the concept of God itself and many scientific minds would immediately dismiss it to be a brainwashed concept handed over through many generations. But I do not wish to dismiss it likewise. I think, merit should be given to those thinkers who claim to have experienced God and achieved self-realisation and tried to hand over their experiences so other may also experience the same. I can specifically speak for (if momentarily I take upon that arrogance) the thinkers in the today’s Indian sub-continent. The reason why I do not dismiss like the many scientific minds, even though I reasonably understand the scientific process is because, the thinkers and philosophers in this region did not attempt to teach dogma but rather urged everyone to think, ponder, question and challenge their hypothesis and seek the ‘truth’ for themselves. They provided the tools for people if they needed but never insisted that they use their tools. And this broad minded approach akin to the scientific approach of allowing theories to be disproved by others, does not allow me to throw away their claim of vivid experiences simply because I cannot demonstrate that in a laboratory.
We have all been trained well in the scientific process – learning all branches of sciences in our school curriculum, has enabled us to easily embrace the scientific method but the same cannot be said about the self inquiry school since none of their tools have been taught to us in a structured manner for us to embrace or dismiss the benefits that you can achieve through self-realisation or realisation of God. If for example we take the simplest of the tools – Faith, most of us do not have the greater strength to sustain faith. Even though we try it at different points in our life, we soon lose confidence in it and relapse to our scientific method of approaching a problem. I am not suggesting here that when someone is suffering from a cardiac arrest, the people around that person sit next to him / her and say that we’ll keep faith and hope it cures. That would be madness at least in the context in which we deal with our lives. But faith as one of the tools, here takes a larger role to sustain it to achieve self-realiasation among the using of other tools such as self-inquiry, meditation etc.
I have many a times tried to use these tools to try to understand or seek answers to the questions in my mind. But like most people, I give up, because it is hard, does not align with my predominantly scientific mind, does not have interim results to encourage me to sustain etc. Here, people who solely follow the scientific approach would pooh pooh me saying that there is no point in even trying as one is never going to achieve anything through this. But I resist the temptation to agree with them and give up for reasons stated above. Even if I never see the light of the day in this approach, I think I would be contented that I did experiment with a non-scientific approach to experience the elusive self-realisation or enlightenment and was not pigeon holed into thinking only in terms of hypothesis and proofs in a laboratory.
So, why do I seek answers in the first place? I don’t start asking these questions to achieve enlightenment as I think that is at a farther point of my journey of life but rather to deal with the unexplainable experiences – painful and pleasurable that goes on in our lives and to deal with them with more maturity and with innate strength especially if the experience if painful. When I usually have these discussions with my brothers, I try to give an analogy that people are, in some sense behind a huge wall blocking their vision. So when you attempt to jump up and have a look on the other side, you get a glimpse of it depending on how high you can jump. The ability to jump higher comes from the eagerness to pursue the objective of knowing what is on the other side of the wall and also by gaining more awareness about what you saw during the previous glimpse. So effectively, the more aware you become and more eagerness you have, you can jump higher and higher, until one day you can jump over the wall and maybe that’s what many who have jumped over call it as enlightenment.
The sheer act of attempting this is an enriching experience in itself. No matter if you believe in God or not, or believe in the concept of enlightenment or not, but the journey to self-inquire and peel the skin of abstractness and unexplainable episodes in your life is an exciting one. I constantly endeavour to do this albeit I lose the strength to pursue, but as I said before, being blessed with the some of the great souls in your life, helps you to regain your lost path and pursue it again with new vigour.
I had a thought this afternoon about the economy.
Disclaimer: I am not an economist and probably understand0.0001% of economic principles and the way of the world.
My understanding goes this way: America is the biggest consumer of the world, closely followed by Europe and Japan and a bulk of the world’s production is being consumed by a relatively small population of this planet. For this argument, let’s look at just America as the key consumer. America borrows significantly large sums of money to foster their consumption and the producing worlds lends the monies to America to sustain the consumption. I don’t wish to go into the details to justify this as it is too complex and there is a good possibility that my understanding is flawed.
If the above it mostly true, then it poses an interesting problem. Beyond a critical point, the lending to the consumers does not make sense as you don’t see your earned money appreciating enough as the borrowers are not returning money and neither does the money grow. So what can the producers do to safeguard themselves? For one, they can foster internal consumption so at the least the monies stays within their economic domain, which is probably what Japan did and China and India are trying to do.
This poses an interesting situation. If the developing economies no longer depend on America to consume their produce, they no longer need or care America to consume so much and which means, they are no longer a cheaper destination to produce goods as the local demand increases so does the cost of production (as the demand out paces the supply, at least in the short term, the cost of goods will go up). That leaves America with two choices (loosely speaking) – reduce consumption or produce locally to support internal demand. The first option is harder to implement unless there is a social and cultural change. The second option looks like a practical one, only that the cost of production has reached such a high point that it is too expensive for peoples to afford it unless they borrow more.
Where does this leave America and the rest of the world. Some thoughts:
- Is this a harbinger that America will no longer be the most powerful country in the world and there will arise a community of powerful nations?
- Is this a harbinger for an exponential increase in consumption to sustain the economy and put a big strain in the natural resource of this planet
- Is this a harbinger for power struggle to stay on the top by a new community of nations when in the past it was a de-facto single country
The above thoughts sure look like bleak ones, but it need not be all bleak. There might be some silver lining. This could foster a cultural / social change of sustaining economy with reduced consumption – which means, new economic / social models evolving out of this bottleneck situation. America is known to be a land of innovation and they could innovate themselves out of it. This could also cause the wealth to be more evenly distributed around the world thus reducing envy, anger and frustration which happens to be the cause of most violence.
There are several ifs and buts and it is hard to really predict what could happen but there sure is a change that seems to be driving the focus away from the Americas as the leading nation in the world and lesser known voices being heard.
So brace yourself for an interesting ride that potentially you might see before your lifetime and I do sincerely hope that is a positive one.
A housemate of mine recently bought a Bike Friday Tikit. He’s, what I would call not-a-keen-biker. But one ride in a foldie changed his perception completely. He was totally smitten by the comfortable ride and the compact folding of the bike. So much so, that he immediately went to a local Bike Friday dealer Diginexx and bought a tikit. And since then he’s been riding it pretty much daily (unless he’s got a date that evening ;-).
I for one have been riding my Trek 1200 SL for couple of years, mostly for recreation. I used to commute to work when I had a bike lodging place in China Town, Singapore but that was intermittent and it was never a convenient thing to do given that the work can sometimes extend the normal working hours. And then there was the Nature as a variable to contend with – rain, hot sun etc and of course, last but not least, the traffic. For an avid cyclist, these are of course a welcome thing to contend with, in some sense it is for me too. But sometimes it can become an annoying thing especially if you’d a long day.
I’ve been a bit suspicious of a foldie unlike @nat, who’s a big fan of the bikes. I refused to try one for a long time. Of course laziness counts a big part of it. But recently, my housemate had a minor surgery and he stopped riding till he’s healed. Now was my chance to take it out for a spin and test it out for myself if the foldie was living up to its reputation. First I tried a long distance ride, about a metric century in Malaysia. The ride went perfect except for my fitness.
Next I decided to take it to work. And I should say, the foldie passed with flying colours. Let’s see how:
- I take about 30-35 minutes by bus to work and I take 20-25 minutes by bike
- The roads are fairly flat which means, I exert less energy than if I were to climb up and down
- I cool down at office / home after my ride in about 15 minutes
- The bike stays right under my desk, so no need to lock it down or find a safe place
- A good exercise regime without specifically taking time off
- Friendly to the environment and if we scale this habit to more people, less traffic and pollution
- People appreciate and sometimes awed that someone is riding to work in this equatorial weather
- and several more…
I’ve been riding for about a week now and it’s been great. I’ll definitely recommend this to everyone. There are several foldable bike options in the market today. Hit the nearest store, do your research online, read @nat’s blog on parts, bike choices and reviews and get one and start riding.
As you may have already read an earlier post about the Yahoo! CEO’s speech at AmCham Singapore; something interesting happened today. Someone from AmCham called me today following up my previous post and informing me about the other events that AmCham organises throughout the year. I was totally surprised – not much by the fact that they read my post and tracked me down to call and sell their other products but by the fact that it was less than 24 hours since I wrote that.
I work in marketing and I know how difficult the new social media is in managing from a marketing perspective. And I must say, I was thoroughly impressed by the speed in which AmCham followed up on their leads. Kudos to their efforts and I am sure things like these are the ones that sets apart the successful from the not so successful.
I am sure someone from AmCham will read this by tomorrow morning!
Yesterday I wrote a post after hearing Yahoo!’s CEO Carol Bartz speak at the AmCham event in Singapore. In it I noted that the biggest problem that Yahoo! faces today is a weakening engineering team (or to its effect) and innovative products. This morning I read this post which says Rasmus Lerdoff the founder of PHP has left Yahoo! after several years of contribution to its engineering team. This comes at a time when several star engineers have left Yahoo! in the recent past.