Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mahabalipuram, Muttukadu & Crocodile Park - A visit to ECR attractions

We had been to the East Coast Road (ECR) during the New Year Holidays to see a few attractions. We rented/hired Tata Safari for Rs.1900 and visited a few tourist places along the coast, including Mahabalipuram. It is several years since I drove past ECR and the areas along ECR has grown by leaps and bounds. The road condition is really very good. There are lots of places to see/visit near ECR. Our first stop was at Muttukadu Boat House.

Also read: 

A visit to Arignar Anna Zoological Park - Vandalur
A visit to Children's Park & Snake Park in Guindy

I was quite impressed with the way in which the boat house is maintained. Muttukadu Boat House has adequate parking facilities, neat restaurant, and well maintained rest rooms. The boats had life jackets for everyone. Of course, they charged about Rs.400 for 7 people (which was on the higher end). There was a separate fee for still camera and camcorder (I guess I paid about Rs.50 for the camcorder and Rs.25 for the still camera). We had reached a bit earlier in the day (by 9.30 am). So, it wasn't very crowded. Also, the weather was very pleasant for boating. They also had water scooters. The motor boat driver took us around for nearly 20 minutes. The lake was clean and the scenery around was beautiful. We came back from the ride and paid Rs.10 as tip for the boat driver (Well, the driver asked for it even before we got down from the boat). We spent about an hour in the boat house.

We then visited the Crocodile Park. They charged about Rs.20 for adults and Rs.10 for the kids. However, the charge for video camera (camcorder) was whopping Rs.100. The crocodile park was maintained very well (except for the restrooms, which could be a bit more cleaner). This is the largest collection of crocodiles that I've ever seen in my life. They had pools in which there are nearly 100+ crocodiles. This justifies the huge amount that they collected for the video camera. They also have a pool with glass viewing and it was awesome. I believe you can also feed/touch crocodiles and we didn't try that (Though, there were a few head hunters roaming around. I guess they get a commission, if they sign-up people for crocodile feeding). We spent nearly 2 hours in the Crocodile Park. Kids would definitely love this place.

Our next destination was Mahabalipuram. Oh my god ! It was heavily crowded. I guess New Years weekend is the wrong time to go to this place. It took us nearly 30 minutes to get to the parking lot. Also, there was hardly any space to move around near the Shore Temple, parking lot. It is nearly 15+ years since I visited Mahabalipuram. The place has developed many folds. Our government has been doing a wonderful job of developing and maintaining the infrastructure, there. There are beautiful parks around every attraction, with proper rest areas & restroom facilities. We had packed and brought lunch with us. We had our lunch in the park. The entry fee was very nominal - just Rs.10 for one person. There was no camera or camcorder fee, in any of the Mahabalipuram attractions. We visited Shore Temple, Five Rathas, and Krishna's butter ball. We were very tired and didn't have the energy to climb to the light house. So, we dropped that from our list. We spent nearly 4 - 5 hours in Mahabalipuram and left the place by around 5.30 pm.

We made a stopover in Tiger's cave and it was very dark at that time. We went to the beach from there and spent a few minutes drenching our legs in the sea water. The return traffic was very bad and we reached home by 8.30 pm.

Overall, I was quite impressed with our government's job in maintaining these attractions. Most noticeable of all is the maintenance of rest areas and restroom. Kudos to them !!

This is the first mega outing since my R2I with entire family and friends. It was very enjoyable and memorable.

Also read: 

A visit to Arignar Anna Zoological Park - Vandalur
A visit to Children's Park & Snake Park in Guindy

American library in US consulate - for history lovers

My book reading habit came to a screeching halt a few months ago. It was not that I ran out of books to read, but I didn't have books that suit my interest. Enrolling in a library was in my to-do list for a while. However, I was just procrastinating it. While in US, I used to visit Milpitas/Sunnyvale libraries at least twice a month. Both the libraries are simply amazing. They have large volumes of books in the areas of management, and self development. They have wonderful online interfaces to check catalog, and to hold/renew books. When I did some research, I found that the US consulate (near Gemini Flyover) in Chennai had a library section. I decided to visit them over the weekend. (Also read: Connemara Public Library, Chennai - Disappointing)

With lots of expectations, I visited the American Library in US consulate on Saturday. They had a stringent security procedure. You cannot park your vehicle at/near the US consulate. You are not allowed to carry anything inside the library, including your mobile phones. You are thoroughly checked/scanned before allowed-in. It takes at least 15 minutes to just clear the security procedure and get into the library.

The American library in Chennai is a very small library. There were handful of people in the library - mostly, students and old aged folks. The library didn't have many collections. I was expecting it to be similar to a city library in US. But, most of the books were about history, politics and economics. There were only few books on management/leadership. They had about 50 DVDs/CDs on marketing, communication etc., I was not very excited to sign-up as a member, right away. They charge Rs.400 for a yearly membership & Rs.700 for two years membership. I decided to visit other libraries in Chennai and then select the right one for me. Stay tuned for my experiences with other libraries ...

Also read:

10 things to know if you are thinking of Returning to India (R2I)
Anna Tower Park - A Boon for Anna Nagar residents
Connemara Public Library, Chennai - Disappointing 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Nilkamal's @home - Not designed for me

I had been to the @home store in Nelson Manickam (NM) Road, Chennai during this weekend. Every day, I go past NM Road, I used to stare at this store from outside. I wanted to buy a kid's writing table, this weekend - so I decided to go to this shop. (Also read: R2I - List of things to pack/bring from US)

Normally, wherever you go in Chennai, parking lots are filled with 2-wheelers. Surprisingly, in @home showroom, the parking lot was filled with cars and there were only few two-wheelers. I was puzzled by this. I parked my two-wheeler and entered the showroom. A few steps into the store, I realized that this isn't a shopping place for me. The store was sparkling with lots of gift articles (designer class) and all of them with a 4 digit price tag. I climbed up the stairs to go to the 2nd floor and it was filled with model bedrooms. If you had been to IKEA showrooms in US, you would understand what I'm talking about. I was quite impressed by their presentation and of course, all of them were very costly. The 3rd floor had model living rooms & kitchen. I can confidently say that the place was for people who make at least 5 or 6 digit income, everyday (such as cine stars, business men, politicians etc.,).

Finally, I couldn't find a writing table for my kid. I came back very disappointed. But, if you are really looking to furnish your home with things that you would normally see in a movie and if you are ready to spend a lot of money, Nilkamal's @home is the place to go.

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Skywalk Ampa Mall - Multiplex ++
The need for more money never ends

Chikungunya - Deadly !

New Year started with a bang for me. Since the new year began, Chikungunya has sabotaged almost the entire family. I have heard about Chikungunya, in the past. But, this is the first time I was seeing people going through the pain. Chikungunya is caused by a virus that spreads through mosquitoes, which breed in clear water. Chikungunya shows up with very high fever, and stays for nearly 4 days. Doctors prescribe Paracetamol & some pain killer as the medication. You should be drinking lots of water during this period to keep yourself from getting dehydrated. This helps to bring down the body temperature.

Chikungunya just doesn't come & go - it leaves its mark. The residual or after effects of Chikungunya include:
  • Body/join pain and difficulty to walk/move around comfortably
  • Getting tired very fast
  • Head ache (actually, heaviness of head)
  • Rashes on the skin
  • Throwing up
I heard that it takes months (or even years) for people to completely recover. My little one recovered relatively faster than the adults in the family. My dad was affected the worst and he has to be hospitalized for a day.

I was astonished when the virus didn't strike me. I guess my body has better immunity. Thanks to my vegan diet! I become a stronger believer of vegetarianism & vegan diet, because of instances like this.

If you are interested to learn more about Chikungunya, you can visit this website

Also read:

Why am I a Vegan?
Sunday - a day of mass murders in India

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Work environment in India - Then & Now

Work environment in IT companies, in India, has changed quite significantly in the last decade. There are several catalysts that influenced the changes in our work environment such as Cheaper International Calling Rates, Broadband penetration, Frugality and Growth in Engineering Colleges.
  • During those days, calling from India to US or US to India was a big affair. Today, International calling rates have come down tremendously. This has improved the communication between US and India employees. At the same time, it has completely engulfed our 'private' life. Employers expect you to participate in late night or early morning calls, from home. You cannot 'plan' your day and cannot spend 'quality' time with family.
  • During those days, Working from Home (WFH) concept wasn't very popular in India. Many homes hardly had Internet access. Today, almost all IT engineers have broadband connectivity at home. Companies expect people to work from home. So, your worries do not just stop at your work place. They follow you to your home. Of course, WFH gives you extra flexibility when you decide to work from home for personal reasons.
  • Several work place benefits are cut under the name of frugality - limited team lunches per year, limited spot awards, no cool drinks at work place, no evening snacks and the list goes on and on.
  • Almost, all the companies in the IT sector, give medical insurance to their employees, now. This concept wasn't very popular during those days. It is very beneficial to employees - we don't have to shell out big bucks during hospital visits. It is automatically deducted from the Insurance. I heard that hospitals increase their treatment costs if you say that you are paying by Insurance.
  • Laptops are given to employees, by many companies. Partly because the cost of these toys have come down quite a bit and partly because employers want you to work from home.
  • The growth in engineering colleges has completely changed the equation, at the work place:
  1. There is abundant Engineering graduates in the market. With more supply (& less demand     due to the recession), there is lots of young graduates without jobs. Many of them settle down for BPO/Call Center jobs, for just Rs.6,000 or Rs.7,000 monthly pay. Compare it to Rs.10,000 per month, earned by a construction worker or Rs.6,000 per month earned by a security guard. Not many job openings are available for freshers.
  2. Fresher's starting salary hasn't kept up with the inflation. For example, the cost of commodities have nearly doubled or tripled. However, fresher's salary hasn't increased that much. On an average, good companies pay Rs.15,000 - Rs.20,000 per month for freshers.
  3. Many folks at work, have below average skills. College students just 'buy' projects from 'vendors' to meet the requirements of their final year academic project. (Also read: How to be a STAR performer?)
  4. I still remember the long hours that we used to put during college days to complete our academic projects. I don't see the same determination/commitment with the current generation. 
  5. Employees aren't valued as before. If you leave, there is lots of people in the market to fill your position. 
  6. During those days, majority of the folks leave work early (at around 6 pm). Very few folks work till 8 pm and only a handful of folks work late in the night. Today, I see many of my classmates/colleagues online, even at mid night. They face increased pressure from their peers.
  • Employees are expected to work for at least 10 hours per day. Employees' availability is taken for granted. Employers don't care if you are really productive or not. They care whether you are available or not.
I've compiled this list based on my experience and learning from other folks. These issues are common to all IT companies - service & product oriented, startups and established companies, local & MNC organizations.

(I'll update this post, as & when I hear/learn new things about work place in India)

Also read:

10 tips for R2I salary negotiation
R2I - List of MNCs in Chennai

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Smell of fresh air - rejuvenating

I visited Tiruvengadam, a small village near Rajapalayam, in December. I had been to this village nearly 15 years ago (and several times before that). The village used to be lot more beautiful during my childhood days - with grazing cattle, tiny fishes/turtles in ponds, marching rivers, overflowing wells and last but not the least, the smell of fresh air that traverses through crops and paddy fields. In addition, there used to be lot of people, most of them young.

The village has changed significantly in the last 15 years. The density of youth has come down significantly. Most of them have moved to cities in search of jobs. In addition to farm jobs, there used to be lots of jobs to produce match boxes and match sticks. It looks like those jobs have completely vanished due to the advent of machinery.

Today, the ones who are doing farming are just the old people. The ponds do not have water anymore and are filled with thorn trees. The rivers have just rocks and small pockets of water. The villagers use ground water for irrigation. The water table has gone down tremendously over the years, due to lack of proper rains.

In those days, the villagers used to cultivate lots of paddy, cotton, and chilly. Now, they've switched to cultivating corn and they say the returns are high (I guess the returns are high because corn is heavily used for producing ethanol).

I visited the corn fields and enjoyed breathing fresh air after a very long time. We wouldn't realize it - but, many English words have become part of our every day conversation. I realized it only when conversing with the people in the village. It was tough for me to translate/explain certain things to people.

Government has done a good job of providing the villagers with proper sewage disposal system, electricity and drinking water. Several people carry mobile phones and you can easily see a few mobile phone towers here and there. Overall, I enjoyed my short visit to Tiruvengadam. I'm hoping to go there again for a longer stay, to get the hang of village life.

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What can you do to reduce the impact of climate change?

COVID-19 Vaccination Experience in Chennai

Booking a vaccination slot in India through the CoWIN portal was similar to booking a H1B Visa appointment in US Consulate (not sure if that...