Saturday, November 05, 2016

Song of Seoul

After thinking a bit on how to begin this post, I decided on starting it by saying this - the world is not fair, I feel it is nicer to a single woman traveler. There, I have said it, as it's important to point out inequality even while being on the beneficial side of it :)

Seoul was no exception, it was an awesome experience exploring Seoul as a single woman traveler. I have said it so many times but I have to say it here again, for the record that the people there are incredibly nice. They have the warmth and emotions of the east, I felt home interacting with people even though I couldn't speak their language. It started with explaining the address of my hotel to the airport bus driver, I had learnt a few Korean greetings and practiced the street/locality names but I realized very soon that my pronunciation made it impossible for them to understand anything I said. I was amazed by how he and others smiled/laughed when they heard me say anything (not in a condescending way but they really were not understanding what I was trying to say). So I gave up on saying anything in Korean and resorted to my Google translate app from then on :) While am at this point, I should thank Google for making that amazing app, it really made a huge difference to my travel experience! When I was still having trouble explaining where I had to go, one of the guys on the bus suggested that I call the hotel guys and ask them to talk to the driver. So I called them, explained that I needed help in making the driver understand (in English), and they were happy to speak to the driver, they did (in Korean) and I thought it all worked well. Then I thanked the guy for the suggestion and he told me that the next time I call the hotel guys, I need not talk to them but just hand over the phone to the driver :) I smiled at this as that's kind of what we would have done in India as well.

I was there for a conference, so I didn't find it challenging for the first two days in terms of language or food as it was a global conference and they had some vegetarian food. And I had the company of my colleagues on one of the days so they helped explain what all I didn't eat. And then for the rest of the days, I got my colleague to write a note in Korean :)

Seoul subway connectivity is awesome but it takes some effort to get a hang of it as it's a big city and there are way too many trains, and way too many exits in each station! And most of the sign boards are in Korean only, so it's very important to get an English subway map. It's available online ( and in most of the big stations. I got mine from the gangnam station as my hotel was very close to the gangnam street/station. The ones in the station come with both English and Korean text so it helps sometimes when you may have to do some pattern matching. Ok I am kidding, it doesn't get that bad. Plus there are super nice people who walk up to you and tell you they can speak English and they can help, when you are busy reading the English subway map!

And coming to what to do in Seoul, ah, way too many things to do! I got a chance to explore the Hongdae area with my colleagues on a Friday night. It's a university area, very energetic, lively, filled with young people, music, and performances. And they have very nice cafes with very nice desserts. I explored the gangnam street a bit on the Saturday night and that again was a high energy, buzzing, vibrant place. The city never sleeps so the parties and the streets are busy until early mornings, at least on the weekends. Then there are too many areas to explore and shop - Insadong area is artsy, Mengdong is in the heart of the city, with lots of street shops, Ewah women's university area is specially nice for women. I had sugar cane juice here :) I also did some of the touristy stuff, visited the Gyeongbokgung palace, went up the cable car to the N Seoul tower. The Han river is beautiful, the rainbow bridge, specially in the night.
Most of the travel blogs I read seemed to talk about getting your hair done in Seoul so I dared to try that out as well. Women and men dress very well in Seoul, and I had read about that and made sure I didn't carry any lulu-lemons. But I must say that I was surprised to see the hair dresser in a suit. It was a great experience, getting my hair cut. They were super friendly, I used my google translate app and they used their Korean translation app to talk to me :) They seemed to have everything so well organized. Also the equipment used were fancy, with many controls and designed for ease of use. 

In general I noticed that the Koreans are big on organization, automation, and tidiness - I had chosen a Korean hotel and it was evident from the interior design, that they liked things organized and tidy. The kitchen sink, stove, refrigerator, washer, everything was hidden behind the closet doors. They had a single touch screen guest control system that could controls all the lights, temp, music, phone inside the guest room.

I bought various things, like socks, chopsticks, spoons - they had so much to offer to even someone like me who doesn't like shopping. I even bought some clothes, as everything fit me and I didn't have to try anything. Only thing on my list I couldn't find were the Korean movies with English subtitles.

Lastly, this song of Seoul is dedicated to my dear friend, Rush, who is a huge fan of everything Korean, their culture, movies, food, etc. It is she who introduced to me to Korea and it's culture much before I got a chance to travel to Seoul and I think it is because of her I enjoyed this experience so much more :)

Sunday, June 21, 2015


James Lindfield was one of the first few people I got a chance to interact with in Vancouver, outside of my work, when I first moved here. I had chosen to take his class as my first art class as part of a course at the Emily Carr university. Given that all my studies was in India and it was my first experience as a student outside of India, I didn't know what to except (The school had given instructions on what materials and tools to carry so I had all those but that's about it). So there I was on the first day and James seemed like a very kind teacher. After all the introductions and such he got us started on that day's work. And then came a time when I had to answer one of his questions or explain my thought process and I naturally, subconsciously ended the sentence with "sir". He was quite surprised by that and he probably had some idea that students do address their teachers that way so smiled and said "please don't address me as sir, call me James" and I think I said "yes, sir" and he made me say "yes, James" :) 

Hence started my journey as his student. And I have to say that it was an exceptional experience, James was extremely kind, considerate and most of all, very fair, to all his students. He made an exceptional teacher. He made me feel very comfortable, encouraged me and brought the best out of me throughout my course in Emily Carr. He did the same for all his students. I have to give credits to him to what I am able to create today and how I am able to go about it boldly, not having the fear to try and retry.

They say a good teacher opens your mind and touches your heart. And I can tell you now that it's one thing to know it but another to realize it. 
I have always enjoyed drawing and painting, from when I was a child. Thanks to my dad, he encouraged me with this a lot and also many thanks to my teacher Uma during my school says, she made me believe in myself w.r.t my drawing and painting skills. Both these gave me the confidence I needed to continue with it and my inherent desire to always make something new and unique helped me come up with creative works. So the confidence and creativity were covered. But there was one important thing lacking. I was hung up on the perfection bit, I always thought my strength was in being able to do something exactly the way I wanted, no matter how much time it took. It worked well for most parts but without my knowledge it was stopping me from having fun and from being free! This is where James made all the difference, he once told me "You may believe that the God is in perfection, but remember that perfection is also a perception"! And he also said "Ashwini, let it go, you can do much more than what you are able to do now, I can assure you that, just let it go". It took me a while to get used to this but I knew it was true and although I wanted to believe it, it was still very hard to implement it. But then in the end, I did let go. And towards the end of the course, my grade sheets used to have comments like I was never afraid to experiment, I paint fast, furious, wild, I paint very freely. Thank you so much James, for opening my mind, for making me let go and be free!

It amazes me how kind and considerate he was. During that same first class of his I took, he had his exhibition of his roller coaster painting series in a gallery in east van and he had invited us over. Vinay and I had been there to look at his works and he came over and talked to us, introduced us to his wife, and he said that he wants to introduce me to another teacher so it would be great if we can stay until she arrives. So we were hanging out at the gallery and I didn't expect him to remember what he said as he was so busy talking to so many people but to my surprise he come to where we were, and told us that Elizabeth had arrived and he took us to her and introduced me to her. I can't express how touched I was by this act of kindness. And should I add that he also managed to remember that I was vegetarian and say that there were vegetarian sushi as well? 

James passed away on 21st June, 2014, from pneumonia. I was devastated to hear about it, like many of my fellow students and the university staff. Today, it's been an year since the world lost a talented, humble, and kind human being. I wanted to write this today as a tribute to what he was, what he left behind and the difference he made in his students' lives.

Guru Brahma Guru Vishnu Guru Devo Maheshwara
Guru Sakshat Param Brahma Tasmai Shri Gurave Namah

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Daddy's girl

My dad brought me up like a boy. And when I say this I don't really mean that he encouraged me to be tomboyish or behave like boys so but rather he never restricted me from doing something because I was a girl. Growing up in India in the 1980s may not be like that for all the girls as I have seen many girls have a lot of restrictions on what they can and can't do because they were "girls". Fortunately it wasn't like that for me. My dad always encouraged me to talk, ask questions, argue, take sides on a topic and defend my side and to never give up on something if I believed in it. He listened to everything I used to say and he encouraged me to come up with my stories, theories. Not all girls were allowed to speak up, argue at those times because I remember a few people talking about how my dad was spoiling me by letting me say and do all that I wanted. I believe that a lot of my confidence comes from this :)
My dad also never encouraged me to do any work that was meant to be done by girls only - like cooking, cleaning, helping with housework. He wasn't against me doing any of this work - in fact he is the one who taught me how to do dishes in a methodical, clean manner without having to gross out, but he didn't want me to do it all the time. Instead he made me do interesting things that mostly guys did in other households - he made me to change bulbs, fix a radio, tie toraNa (festoon), paint the walls etc. He also taught me how to fix broken things around the house and to make my own things. During festivals usually the men did Abhiheka (offering milk, water etc by pouring them slowing on the idol) but my dad let me do it while he read out the stotras. I believe that by doing this he raised a feminist :)
My dad spent a lot of time teaching, reading things and making me read things. He encouraged me to try out things and take up challenges. I remembered the times when he would tell me to go thank someone by saying a few nice things and I would be quite hesitant but now I happily do that all the time :) I also remember a time in school where I was very worried about an impromptu speech competition as I wasn't sure what topic I might end up picking and I might not know what to say. They had given us the broad topics so my Dad said - so we have the broad topics and we are worried as to which one of those we might pick right - so how about we prepare for all those broad topics in detail as though we picked each one of them? And we did that and I ended up winning that impromptu speech competition. He basically made me understand that there was always a way out :)
And when I was old enough, he treated me like this equal, always asked for my opinion on things. It doesn't mean we didn't have difference of opinions, we did and we fought a lot but he always respected my opinions and I did his and it has been like that all the while :)
I saw this father's day card a few years ago that I sent to Dad but the lines in that so aptly describes my thoughts I have to quote it here -
"Because her father listened to her, she knew she had something to say"
"Because he believed in her, she believed in herself"
"Because he said she could do anything, she did"
Here's to Dad, my inspiration, my strength, my support system, my guru, my hero, my friend! 
Happy Father's day to everyone!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's day

My Amma dearest is an awesome mom, the best mom one could have, like every other mom in this world. So I won't write on how awesome she is. But just about how she surprised me last night. Most of my friends know by now that I learnt to be open and liberal from my mom as I keep mentioning it at every other opportunity I get. I have never had to lie to her or hide something from her. She has always been a very open and positive person. I have hardly seen her being cynical or saying no to something or being hesitant to try something. She is always up for trying new things and willing to listen to any new idea.
So we were talking last night like we always do, for more than an hour or so. We talk about everything under the sun, and we do it every-time we pick up the phone, making my Dad wonder what would we have so much to talk about :) So after touching on all the topics, we were about to say byes and I said "Oh by the way happy mother's day" and a few lines on how she is an awesome mom and she said "Oh yeah, every mom is, nothing too special" etc. And then I said I loved her a lot and hugs and all that and then as I was about to finish the call, she said "Wait it's my turn". And she said "Happy mother's day to you too! You have always been a mom to me, you have been there for me like a mom, shared my joys and sorrows like a mom and taken care of me like a mom and I love you for that Putti,". And I realized tears were just rolling down my face. Now she has told me before that I am like her mom, in different contexts and conversations. But it was so special when she said "You are my mom and have a great mother's day"! That's how open she can be and come up with a new special thought and make me feel I still have a long way to go before I am everything she is :) Here's to my dearest darling mommie and babie, love you like crazy, my Puttu :)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How over What

From Nov 2012

I went to see the Cone sisters collection at VAG with an excitement to look at some of the famous works of Henri Matisse. The only prior knowledge or opinion I had was that I loved his colours and his 
the loose, free style. I had seen his works in MoMA (NYC) before.

I started with the Yellow pottery and The convalescent woman, looked like he clearly liked to give his works an unfinished flavour and the two works were composition-ally similar and had complementary pairs. The thought was kind of complemented by the text on the didactic panel that read “Compositions primitive and simple as though done by a child” and that the critics called them “Works of fauves (wild beasts)”. 

Looking at his sculptures – The Reclining Nudes and Two Negresses next, it was evident that his works were forms centric and also didactic texts reflected this when it read “he exaggerated and simplified the anatomy of figures”. By this time it was kind of making sense what they meant when they said “For Matisse more than what, it's the how that mattered”.

The next thing I looked at were his landscapes – Festival of flowers and The pierced Rock and it was interesting that the text for these read – again the use of colours and the composition really appealed to me so much, I was wondering if it was because he wasn't so hung up on what he was painting but mostly on how he was painting them?

Then I started looking at the works after being influenced by the Islamic art exhibition – Seated Odalisque, left knee bent, Standing reflected in a mirror and the Interiors of his Apartment. These were so brilliant with all the details so well done and yet with his loose style. The didactic text said “He was so awed by the pattern and contrasting brilliant colours during his ecstatic and enchanted days of Moroccan climate. And he felt an irresistible need to express that ecstasy”. This made me think that the subject also mattered to him, it was the “what” that inspired him in this series? 

As I progressed to his later works, I could see that he was back to simplifying the forms and freeing himself of the limits. He was also quite old by this time. But by the time I saw his “Two girls, red and green 
background”, I was convinced that he was master of simplifying the forms and I loved the composition so much. And the colours. The didactic text described the harmony of colours as a harmony analogous to that of a Musial composition.

And finally there was the famous The large reclining nude and the series of photographs showing how he stared it off as an usual figurative of a model posing and the flower vase by her side with chairs around. And how he developed that into the final piece by simplifying it/flattening it out, various times and by now I was convinced that “What” only mattered to him until he had decided on the subject and then it was “How” all the way until he finished it!

I would think that the didactic text helped enormously in appreciating his works in this case. They provided the context and history needed to understand what must have been going through the artist's head. I think the text addressed some of the visual methodologies although not literally, with the Formalism being the most dominant as all his works were heavily forms oriented and Marxism being quite evident in the works influenced by the Moroccan culture.

Iconography and Semiotics also featured in some of the descriptions, again in the context of Islamic culture and the works that featured the Odalisques and others like The Ballet dancer seated on a stool.

Feminism was probably not featured in any didactic text though I think the women as his subjects were quite passive. However the didactic texts did talk about how he respected the Cone sisters. It is also interesting that he was sending photographs to Etta Cone as he developed the Large reclining nude, in order to convince her to buy his work. And also his very touching “Thank you” notes.

First image courtesy: Baltimore Museum of Art via Vancouver Art Gallery via Vancouver Sun blog
Second image courtesy: Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection via

Monday, December 31, 2012

Product making

In the past few months I have been admiring the importance of product making, yes I don't like to refer to it as product management because it makes little sense to manage a product even when adding new features to an existing product.

It's one thing to have an idea for a product and to have the capability to implement it but it's a totally different ballgame to "make" a product. I have found that it's more so in the case of a business to consumer idea compared to a business to business idea. Even though I have mostly worked on b2c projects all these years I could only understand it better when a few of us tried to put together an implementation for a b2c idea recently. I used to think that being able to implement what we want is the key and as long as we can do that quickly we should be good. I think it's still true however there's something more challenging in addition to that - having a complete vision of the exact usage sequence of the product. Knowing what needs to happen from step 0 to step n precisely, can drive one crazy.

For developers it's easy to know this from the architecture/development perspective - things like what should happen on the device, what should happen on the cloud etc. But it's not easy from the business/consumer perspective. It's amazing how many times we can go back on a flow and come up with some other option - this essentially means we don't know exactly what we want to build!

Hence I have a new found respect for product making. I am thinking that it must feel like heaven to know what precisely needs to be done in order to make a product that the users would die to use :)

Growing inequality

is one of the first few things that comes to my mind whenever I visit Bangalore and someone asks how I find it. I thought it wasn't so bad in places like Udupi and Mangalore I visited recently. With Bangalore I feel the gap between the rich and the poor is widening with every visit. While there are people who can afford to spend crazy amounts of money and live a very luxurious life, there are people who is finding is harder and harder to keep up with the ever growing costs. Sure it's a competitive world and all that however it's not hard to see how the income/wage disparity is leading to unequal distribution of wealth. This inequality is ever growing as only the rich gets more and more opportunities to grow while the poor struggle to make ends meet. I am not sure where this will lead us. Sigh.

Riding in Bangalore

It's amazing how forgiving people (drivers, riders, pedestrians) are and how accommodating they are, at least most of them. I have a better understanding of why it works - everyone gives you that space to make some reasonable move (it can as well be an unreasonable move sometimes) in order to be on the road and continue moving. I started off thinking that I should do more defensive riding to stay safe. I soon realized that it was not so hard to trust people, rather it was more challenging to be as forgiving as them and to be able to provide the same space to them. I am getting used to stopping frequently and riding very slowly even when I have a fairly long stretch of almost empty road :)

Friday, January 06, 2012

NASA's Astronaut Training Experience (ATX) at the Kennedy Space Center

It's one of the unique things we did in 2011 holidays. Thanks to Preeth who found out about this program and made reservations for the three of us well in advance, we didn't miss it when we were in Florida/Miami for the Christmas holidays :)

So this is a half-day program where the participant is first made to undergo different training activities followed by a space mission simulation! We get to train like astronauts and to carry out a space mission like astronauts :)

The good thing about it was that it wasn't elementary and they assumed that we would know a bit about computers and simulators and started off with training on the simulation programs -we were told what programs to load and the commands to execute in those programs.
The most important ones were programs for docking up with the international space station and to land the space shuttle.
Docking up with the space station involved looking at different camera feeds and moving the joystick to position the space shuttle and while also entering the commands given by the instructor.
And landing the shuttle involved taking manual control, maneuvering the shuttle according to the desired path (adhering to the given altitude, speed), deploying the landing gear and landing the shuttle on the runway and deploying the chute on touchdown. We were made to try the landing sequence multiple number of times and the instructor noted down the speed, altitude and how well the shuttle was landed. I managed to land it correctly only once (and it was not at all a good landing) and I crashed on the runway once and crashed into the river next to the runway another time. Vinay was the best among us in landing (thanks to his PS3 gaming skills) and he was considered for the commander role along with two others who did good. Based on how close the altitudes and speeds were to a perfect landing they would choose a commander and it was not one of us.

Following this we were given a tour of the space shuttle simulator we would use for our mission later in the day. We then trained on the Multi-axis trainer that randomly spins and twirls its occupant in multiple directions, through 360 deg, for one complete minute. The astronauts were also supposed to interpret their motions and compensate the motions with nitrogen boosts to control the tumbling, in the actual simulator. This was one hell of an experience and the good thing about it is that it won't make us nauseous as our stomach stay centered all the time.

This was followed by training on close to zero gravity or micro-gravity wall. I liked this one the best as it felt like I could climb up and down the wall with almost zero effort! I just had to try to reach down to go down and could use one of my finger to hold on to the higher bar to move up. I could also let go of both my hands and just stay there mid air! It was a neat experience :)

After all the training we started with the space mission simulation. I got to be the pilot for the mission, yay! Vinay was a mission specialist, where he had to maneuver the robotic arm to dock the shuttle with the international space station and deliver a payload to them and Preeth was our boss, the flight director managing us from the Mission control room!
Each one of us were given scripts with our actions and words highlighted, as a pilot my job was mainly to help fly the space craft and acknowledge any emergency alarms and attend to them immediately (the crew from mission control would help us troubleshoot the emergency situations) and finally deploy the landing gear at the correct time for landing and deploying the parachute on touchdown. Our commander was awesome and he landed the shuttle just as it had to be and we were all congratulated by the Space center staff on a very successful mission! Oh yes, and I also got to say the famous "Guys, it was a pleasure flying with you all" to my fellow astronauts on the shuttle :)

We then met a NASA astronaut, Jon McBride. He shared with us his experiences as an astronaut and we got to ask him many questions. One of the highlights was that he used to be a fighter pilot before NASA and he flew those combat aircraft more than 200 times! We also had a graduation ceremony mock-up where we were handed out our certificates, signed by Jon. At the end of it all we seemed like three happy kids who had just gotten to play with very fancy new toys for half a day along with other enthusiastic people!