Sunday, September 28, 2008

Singapore hosts World's First Night Grand Prix..

"... and we dont have the tickets to it!! We must be the worlds biggest losers!!... "
This is the desperate post I was about to post until on Saturday, my luck struck big time, and finally I ended up getting tickets to the Formula One Grand Prix !!!!

Its an amazing experience, in that you feel the sheer raw power of the vehicles as they blaze past you in thunderous speed, the ground virtually shaking under their speed and sound. We had to wear earmuffs to reduce the damage of the sound. The engines and fuel for GPs apparently challenge even airplanes. You can feel the flash as the car goes by at speeds of around 300 kmph, and wonder at the beauty of the car and the drivers skill.

But unfortunately, unless you know what car belongs to who, you cant even make out whether it was a Hamilton who zoomed past you or a Raikkonen :-). We had to stand at the turnings where the cars slow down to even get a look at the cars. You can see the 'whoosh' in some of our pics even (not uploaded yet, will do soon).

The Singapore GP, the worlds record-setting first night-time GP, was held over 3 days. Friday: the Practise sessions for the drivers, Saturday : the Qualifiers, which is what we went to, and Sunday : The main race We went at around 7, watched a practise session, then walked around the place seeing different angles of the circuit. The funny part about the GP (similar to what happens at a cricket match) is that you cant follow anything at all about the race unless you get to a good old TV somewhere. So ultimately we saw in a TV screen that Massa had got Pole position through the qualifiers :-).

Other than that, the atmosphere was thrilling, and the scenery of skyscrapers against a backdrop of the Singapore Marina and some nice hotels was awesome(it was at the heart of Singapore city). There were plenty of Europeans around I can say(theyre apparently crazy about F1), and lots of food stalls and entertainment camps scattered all around the place too.

Could'nt catch much of the finals though :-(, and missed seeing Alonso fight it to the top from the bottom of the list, while Massa, who was at pole position, went all the way to the bottom by the end of the race.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Park Hopping @Spore

So, what have I been doing in Singapore? Heres what the last 3 weeks have been about.

Theres an unsaid understanding among our group of friends here (thats me, Naren, Ravi, Deepak, Ashish and Amrith) that no weekend shall be spent boring away to death at the Laboratory here, like the rest of the week. So we came upon the Park-Hopper deal.

Park-Hopper was a 3-in-1 : the Singapore Night Safari, Singapore Bird Park, and Singapore Zoo. For 40$, I must say it was an awesome deal. We decided to start off with the Night Safari, since it sounded the coolest.

Singapore Night Safari :

Dont be fooled by the name - Night Safari is just a zoo with a more natural setting, and animals that are more nocturnal in nature. It was nice nevertheless. There are 3 'trails' that lead you by footpath among not-so-dense forest covered areas through enclosed areas containing animals.

The night-time experience was good enough, with the nocturnal animals conveniently seeming to appear at the right places for the viewers to see. Though the Night safari wasnt quite natural and adventurous as I expected it, cos the animals were all fully enclosed, it was still entertaining to walk around the 3 trails (leopard trail, fishing cat trail, and tree giants trail).

The worst problem was that being night, we couldnt take too many photos, as flash also was not allowed since it scared the creatures away. So the only photos we could take ended up being those at Z-bar :-) and the entrance.

The night safari ended up being a midnight one, as we lost both our last train as well as last bus. We ended up taking a bus to the closest heard bus stop to our campus, having a midnight snack at MacDonalds, and then walking by foot over 2 hours to our hostels.

Jurong Bird Park

The Singapore Bird Park at Jurong is reportedly the worlds finest one. I had half expected it to be boring, but it turned out to be an awesome experience than ever!

The highlights of the trip, apart from being able to see all species of rare and beautiful birds like eagles, vultures, hawks, ostriches, mackaws, penguins, lories, cockatoos, toucans, pelicans, etc, was

1. Feeding the Lories, at the Lory loft. This was an enclosure in which lories fly freely about. If you're ready to feed them, they get real friendly and even perch on you while having a snack. Beware, really hungry ones can get violent and competitive in stealing the food from their friends.

2. Watching the shows, which were too cool. The first one was in general about bird species, where birds were made to do tricks. For example, one Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo was made to fly upto where I was seated and give me a free-drinks voucher :-). Unfortunately, I ended up buyin a more expensive pic of the same(below)

The second show was about birds of prey, and we got to see some of the biggest birds in the world! Including the Himalayan Eagles, the Bald-headed eagles, Brahmin Kites, etc

Unbelievably, we also got to see, touch and even take photos with a penguin!.. And talk to cockatoos(they say "Hello", their name, etc).. And go into the 'World of darkness' where we caught some really exotic owl species.. The whole package was really entertaining, notwithstanding the good collection of 'Chicks' that were roaming about :-).

Singapore Zoo

So you might think, after all this, what would a zoo have to offer? Well, whatever doesnt fall into the above 2, comes in the zoo.

So somehow we ended up at the last phase of the park-hopper trilogy in the morning(oops, afternoon). By now, we had become experienced 'park-hoppers', and had hence come with full supplies of food and water in our bags, and also the mental courage to last walking till evening.

There was a wide variety of animals, to say the least. I cannot possibly set out on a list of species that we came across. Some surprises for me included the polar bears (here in Asia?), the white tigers and the sealions (I thought they were for the ocean !), apart from the species shown on the right here(the 'park hopper team'). We(especially Naren) engaged in particularly vigourous photography here, not sparing any of the animals from a "Say Cheese.."

There were 3 animal shows here, both involving tricks with trained animals. The Splash show involving sealions was particularly awesome, and the sealions showed excellent form and intelligence in performing the tricks. There were shows by apes, elephants, etc also, and shows centering on rainforest conservation. We got the chance to get kissed by a sealion at one of these Yea.. you guys must be like.. "Yuck!.." now.. it was a particularly juicy kiss. Like Naren said, I hope its not my last kiss :-)

However, I must mention one thing. Going to all these has definitely brought about in all of us a greater sense of belongingness to nature. And a greater want to protect teh environment and save its species ( as if I already wasnt tree hugging enough :-) ). So much that We are all into watching nature documentaries now on DVD :-)

So before I finish, heres a pic of a board we saw at the zoo before we left. Its apparently some native Indian saying. And those lines will remain with me forever.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Wall-E.. with a Green message..

I initially planned just a movie review about Wall-E. 'It rocks', 'must see', etc. But thats just not what this movie is about. Its about the message. A message that has been around for sometime and yet finds it hard to enter human brains nowadays. So this will not be a review exactly.

Wall-E by Walt Disney, as you all may already know, is an Animation movie about the robot Wall-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth Class). Wall-E is all that is left on a desolated Earth that has nothing but leftovers of a human civilisation. I wondered whether it would be worth watching an animation movie in the theatre. Maybe, maybe not. But for Wall-E, the theatre makes a difference - The first 10 minutes of the movie will hit you full in the face. A large screen with an earth filled with nothing but trash. A picture of the future of Earth. Scary stuff, man.

Trash, trash all around. That's what Earth is becoming. Or even the space above Earth for that matter. Why dont we realise it? Even if we realise it, why dont we wake up to it? We know the 3 R's (Reuse, Reduce, Recycle - do you know? :-) ). We know we can do it. And yet, why dont we go ahead and practise conservation like our lives depended on it? Cos our lives do depend on it, u know.

"Feel your place is becoming a trash can? Well, dont worry, let Wall-E clean it up for you..".. Ya right..

Plastic bags, for example. We all know how easy it is to reuse plastic bags for our shopping. And yet anywhere I go, no one seems to want to reuse them. All of them want brand new bags from the grocery, more junk for Earth to consume. It is not being miserly, you cannot save money by reusing plastic bags. You can only save Earth.

Just think, if you reused a plastic bag 1 more time by taking it to the grocery store, you cut down your plastic consumption by half! 2 more times, it becomes 1/3rd. If everyone did that, the plastic bag consumption would fall drastically! Why hesitate to take a bag to the store and tell the store-lady that she can pack it for you in your own bags? What right does she have to refuse you and insist you use her own plastic, and thereby add more of her own plastic waste to Earths system? I try my best wherever I am to reduce plastic consumption, many people do. Yet a few people cannot make a difference. Thats why I blog :-)

Yes, Wall-E is scary. Apart from the future of the Earth, and inducing a sense of love towards trees and greenery (the green colour rarely comes in the movie that you actually love it when you see it), it wakes you up to the negatives of mechanization. Imagine a world of couch-potatoes, not used to walking, not used to socialising, stuck to their screens (I am now :-) ), not knowing whats outside. Getting lazier. And obese. Man, I really felt like taking a walk after I saw that scene.

Wall-E ends on a good note. The robot Eve looked cute, and Wall-E even cuter :-). The Robot-romance scences were nice alright, well shown. But the environmental feeling - thats what I carried out of the theatre.

I'll end with a dialogue from the movie. Sorry guys, I may be spoiling a bit of suspense here, but like I said, this is not a review. So if you dont want to lose suspense dont read the below conversation between the Captain of the Axiom ship and the Bot 'Auto'. My favorite dialogue.

Captain : "This place.. Earth is beautiful. Auto, take me to Earth right now"
Auto : "Captain, conditions on Earth are not good. You may not survive"
Captain : "I dont want to Survive ! I want to LIVE ! ..I want to do it on Earth !"

Conservation is no longer our gift to the environment. It is our duty to nature. It is a sin not to conserve. By not conserving, we are guilty of murder. Of our future. This is not a doomsday prediction, or a conspiracy theory. It is, as Al Gore put it, an Inconvenient truth.