Year End Review : 2011

Sometimes the best you can give to the world are things you give yourself FIRST and only later share with others. Firstly because you want the gift’s most grateful recipient to enjoy it. And because that recipient will then polish it and make it even better when it’s released into the wider world. Call it Selfish-Beta.This post, following in last years tradition,  is Selfish-Beta v 1.0.

Till quite recently I used to think of such introspective, ‘Review of a period in time’ post as a masochist chore that I would reflexively postponed into the future (….As the Spanish aphorism cuttingly observes – “Tomorrow is the busiest day of the week” )

Things change.

Now I find myself surprisingly energized and looking forward to the activity. Does writing often make exercising the fingers over the keyboard a easier activity ? ….I suspect regular bloggers would vote in the affirmative to that query.

And books are not really reviewed below. They were done in a separate post.

Onwards.

The earlier year, 2010, was the Year of Wanderlust.

That translated into THIS happy collage below :

(click on any photo in this blog to auto expand it to its FULL size)

And 2011 was a year of years. The arc of it’s kinetic narrative moves almost exactly like it did for one specific activity I dived into in the year. Scuba.

First a sense of foreboding. Then nervousness. Followed by panic. Then a sense of calm. Then unsteady  excitement that eventually morphed into full throated Woohoo!

Luckily the last phase lasted the longest.  And in the right order instead of the reverse! And that is, in my thin book of the mind,  a Good Damn Year. I would tag 2011, That year of New Activities tried.

And the number #1 lesson reinforced this year ?

OK. Now I sense this post in danger of becoming a bit of a narcissistic  ‘above-waist self-patting’ gooey Louis Armstrong affair and so I am going to deftly veer into a different terrain.

AWARDS!

Awards that I , the customer of the below things/stuff/experiences , gave to various entities and experiences last year that I am going to now replicate this year.

This post is a ton of fun and if I do it next year in 2013 I can claim tradition (three times in 3 years in a row is tradition in my book)

Note, these below are MY home brewed opinions. And some opinions are just invitations to be proven wrong.

So without ado, here are are The JAC Awards.

#Best New Brand I came in touch with in 2010 : Air Asia
#Best New Brand I came in touch with in 2011 : Chipotle

I will sell my soul any  damn day for a lifetime lunch of their delicious burritos.

{Wins because : Simple product. very well priced. consistent and brilliantly awesome every single time. While these previous adjectives look deceptively easy to nail down, believe me. It’s not. Chipotle manages it. Consistently}
Runner Up : Thai Airways

#Best Value For Money 2010 : Street food in Bangkok
#Best Value For Money 2011 : Full body Thai Massage, @KIM at Phuket, Thailand

{Wins because : For what J and I paid, we got one of the best VFMs in 2011. 60 mins of pounding, pressing, squeezing, beating and kneading that left us born again and stunned so much was given for so LITTLE in cost. Most of the times when you exit the shop/establishment in India/anywhere you are thinking the exact OPPOSITE so this here is an ART }
Runner Up : Scuba Diving @ Ko Phi Phi

[note : in both 2010 and in 2011, all VFM propositions have emerged from ONE country : Thailand. This is not just chance I suspect. Go there someday ye frugal traveler]

#Best FREE service 2010: The Staten Island Ferry
#Best FREE service 2011:  Instapaper

{Wins because : It passes the #1 test of this category – tomorrow, if this went PAID, would I pay ? Answer : Hell Yes!! Very Happily. I donated already. Btw donate to Wikipedia you shameless users all of you. I did. Instapaper has taken my Kindle and made it into a SUPER-device, and I find myself reading less books and more deep thoughtful LONGFORM articles from publications around the world and I can confirm: They are BRILLIANT. Try it out. It’s open to all, not just Kindle users by the way. google INSTAPAPER)

Runner Up : Dropbox (what a nifty funky service)

# Best Travel Customer Service Experience 2010: Virgin Atlantic, @London Heathrow.
# Best Travel Customer Service Experience 2011: ‘Tickets episode’ with Thai Airways


{Wins because : When J and I needed our tickets changed, Thai did it without fuss, without too much bumbling and best of all for us : FREE. Most airlines would have bled us dry given half a chance. And have)

Runner Up : PP Aquanauts Diving School, Ko Phi Phi

#Best FREE city experience 2010 : Courtesy the municipality of Paris
#Best FREE city experience 2011 : Pier Seats at Boston by the Charles River

{Wins because : Helped by the balmy weather and Boston summer weekend vibe by the river, the deck chairs on the pier offerd great view of the Boston East Side shore and just sitting there and soaking in the atmosphere was priceless. Thank you dear Boston Municipality!}

#Most Unexpected Good Meal : A very unassuming bakery in Rome that served the most orgasmic lasagna I have yet tasted.
#Most Unexpected Good Meal : The Spicy Tom Yum Chicken soup at a beach side restaurant at Kata Beach, Phuket

{Wins for the sheer unexpected drug-like hit it gives the tongue. I was NOT expecting it there and promptly ordered ONLY that soup for my entire stay in Thailand!}

Runner Up : Chipolte

#Most anticipated Good Meal that delivered 2010: Cu Cha (sea food like you will never taste again or have before) and W.A.W (world’s best chicken wings) on Jalan Alor St.
#Most anticipated Good Meal that delivered 2011: Steak at Ruby’s @ Cincinnati, Ohio

{Wins because : ….make NO mistakes. That above is really one of the most delicious pieces of food I have put into my mouth. Ever. My Scottish friends know how MUCH I love Holy Cow in my unholy mouth and this steak piece above above was beyond compare. People well versed in Hindu Mythology will find deep irony in a guy named ‘Shiva’ finding great joy in putting Nandi’s cousin into his mouth. Western friends : Just think of it like Santa eating his reindeers} ~ All this made possible thanks to Jackie and Mel.

#Worst Rip off at a tourist trap 2010 : The visually inviting street side restaurants near the common tourist spots in Rome.
#Worst Rip off at a tourist trap 2011 : Meal at Las Iguanas at SouthBank, London

{Bloody Waste of Lot of Money. Horrible}

#Best FREE sublime experience 2010 : Crowd watching parked on the fountain footsteps near the Pantheon, Rome.
#Best FREE sublime experience 2011 : Watching sunsets over Goa (snap below taken on iphone and then Instagram’d)

#Product I(we?) have the most ‘love hate’ relationship with : Facebook
#Product I(we?) have the most ‘love hate’ relationship with : Facebook [Still]

#Most Welcoming Experience : Being allowed INSIDE Harvard Business School’s famed Baker Library AND its underground book depository collection without being a student or bring escorted by one.
#Most Welcoming Experience : Stay at Hotel CasaBlanca, Phuket

{imagine staying at a cozy clean new hotel. where you never see other guests. and the staff wait on you hand and foot. and at midnight, drunk, you go the closed pool. and swim. and dry off. and no one bothers you. That pool you see above was just OUR pool!)

#Most reliably consistent product : The BlackBerry Bold 9000
#Most reliably consistent product : Omron Pedometer

{Wins because : Really. I never went anywhere without it. for a year. And it delivered. And I am fitter}

#Most irritating company to deal with as a customer either by telephone or on their website : Lloyds Bank!
#Most irritating company to deal with as a customer either by telephone or on their website : Ebay

{Their customer service is a very bad joke. On the Customer. Nothing shows their disdain than the way they treat anyone trying to reach out to ebay india. 17 emails and NOT ONE REPLY}

#City that quite doesn’t deliver : Singapore
#City that quite doesn’t deliver : NCR

Really?!!? you want me EXPAND and EXPLAIN this ?!!?! The smog, the crimes, the filth and the stray cows and dogs are not the worst of it actually. It’s the sheer rudeness of the residents. Painfully visible in the way Old people are shoved aside in the metro and the way traffic rules are totally disregarded. NCR is not so much a city as the waiting room to Hell.
Runner Up :  Phuket TOWN- Boring place versus all else Thailand has to offer. An in-between stop at best.

#Most overpriced service/product not worth repeating : The GMAT exam as ‘sold’ by gmac.
#Most overpriced service/product not worth repeating :  Phi Phi Island Cabana Hotel, Ko Phi Phi

#Most stunning good discovery : At the ‘will be crowded soon’ I.G.I-T3 Food Court, 4Fingers.
#Most stunning good discovery : Hotel Casa Blanca, Phuket

#Best website you probably don’t know about on the net : http://www.couchsurfing.com
#Best website you probably don’t know about on the net : http://www.longreads.com

{seriously, Longreads + Instapaper + Kindle = Goodbye boredom. Forever}

#Experience I regret rushing through : The Met in NYC and the Louvre in Paris.
#Experience I regret rushing through : Lake Shore Drive Area, Chicago

{Really. should have spent way way longer time there. did’nt. Totally regretted it}

#Most consistent brand in 2011 : Flipkart

{Just works. Exactly as advertised on the tin}

#Best author discovered this year : V.S.Naipaul. Christopher Hitches.
#Best author discovered this year : J.M Coetzee

{The Prose. OMG. What a t a l e n t e d dude. Read at once.}

#Product of the Year : Amazon Kindle
#Product of the Year : Timex Heart monitor

{Has TOTALLY redefined my approach at the gym. I now ONLY do as the watch tells me. “The Zone” is all}

#Location of the Year : Soi Rambutri St, Bangkok.
#Location of the Year : Ko Phi Phi

[click on this pic belos to see it in its actual AWESOME size, taken by a friend who was with us there – Lou]

Runner Up : Cambridge (snap you see below was taken by VERY talented gf bobbing  and punting on our boat!)

#Experience of the Year : Paris.
#Experience of the Year : Diving at Ko Phi Phi

{There I was. On the edge of the boat. With a lifelong fear of deep water. Strapped to 20 litres of oxygen. Being egged on by my dive mater to jump in. After what seemed like an eternity, I did. Where the only sound was my own shallow scared breathing consuming that oxygen way too fast. And after a few minutes, when the initial terror subsided, I opened my eyes. And everything till then, leading to THAT ONE moment, …all that…they became worth it. I was in another world and I knew it then : I’ll forever remember this moment }

After all that happened this wonderful year, one of my all time fave author captures it’s Spark.

So 2012 has a high benchmark to top. This will have to be driven by the RIGHT question. As all good things are. And what’s The Question driving 2012 for me ??

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Year End Review : 2010

2010 has drawn to a close, the lists and best/worst awards are all being punctually distributed. I am going to add mine to the mix. 2010 was an awesome year and here is to 2011 making it look ‘meh’. Happy New Year.

Here goes the totally gut based unscientifically selected winners …and added bonus for me: Of all the posts I penned so far on my blog, this one I really really enjoyed writing. Didn’t feel like a chore at all.

#Best New Brand I came in touch with in 2010 : Air Asia

Low Low prices. Smokin hottt crew. Sanitary bathrooms. Clean new planes. So I am totally rah-rah’ing behind them for being able to demonstrate how you can be Cheap without being ‘Cheap’. Something demonstrated by Air India and American Airlines to be astoundingly easy.

Take Away : Being able to convincingly demonstrate an inverse link between the product experience and its pricing is an art and Air Asia is looking like Van Gogh.

#Best Value For Money : Street food in Bangkok

Back here, low-priced food means you are also involuntarily participating in heath roulette. You may or may not get sick you brave gambler you. Not so in Bangkok. Low prices only meant you just didn’t get the silverware with the food. All else was totally top notch.

Take Away : being able to demonstrate how you can be low-priced without being unhealthy/poisonous.

#Best FREE service: The Staten Island Ferry

There is no better way to glimpse Lady Liberty, enjoy the view of Manhattan from a distance AND  avoid the hassles of a touristy trap up close than this surprisingly free ride to Staten Island and back on the ferry. The ferry is clean, well maintained and run by a decent crew.

Take Away : being able to demonstrate how you can be govt owned and run without being dirty or inefficient.

# Best Customer Service Experience : Virgin Atlantic, @London Heathrow.  Missing a Virgin Atlantic London Delhi flight by 9 minutes and getting a NO CHARGE  NO HASSLE next day ticket in the next 9 minutes. Stupid me did not catch the name of the customer service rep girl. But she made her airline look bloody darn good. Take Away : Being able to demonstrate all airline reps are not hostile surly harridans.

#Best FREE city experience : Courtesy the municipality of Paris. Free deck chairs at the Jardin des Tuileries near the Louvre in the summer, allowing anyone to park their tired selves and just enjoy straight line views of the Arc De Triomphe and the Eiffel.Take Away : Sometimes all the citizens want is a good view and a place to see it from.

#Most Unexpected Good Meal : A very unassuming bakery in Rome that served the most orgasmic lasagna I have yet tasted. And a price that did not do justice to what the dish managed to do to your tongue and mood.  For those interested, this one is right at the entrance of the Battistini Metro Station. A bowl of mussels at a restaurant near the Nation metro St in Paris comes a close second and beaten because the price was too damn low for the lasagna.

#Most anticipated Good Meal that delivered: Cu Cha (sea food like you will never taste again or have before) and W.A.W (world’s best chicken wings) on Jalan Alor St. I could just park permanently at these two places, drink the local beer and watch the Kuala Lumpur crowd all day till the inevitable heart attack from obesity gets me.

#Worst Rip off at a tourist trap : The visually inviting street side restaurants near the common tourist spots in Rome. Justyna and I were parted with what was a frightening amount of our  euros for what was a very bland and forgetful meal near the Pantheon.

Take Away : Location.Location.Location. We get it. But don’t just stop there. Work on the damn product!

#Best FREE quality Performances : Edinburgh Festival, August 2010. The theater was the street and by God, what theater!

#Best FREE sublime experience : Crowd watching parked on the fountain footsteps near the Pantheon, Rome. The people, the passing performers and sheer variety of tiny interesting people related episodes unfolding before you is a treat, made sweeter by the fact it’s totally absolutely free.

#Product I(we?) have the most ‘love hate’ relationship with.

#Most Welcoming Experience : Being allowed INSIDE Harvard Business School’s famed Baker Library AND its underground book depository collection without being a student or bring escorted by one. The whole campus had a vibe around ‘visitors’ that was so amazingly friendly for a place of its size and importance. Local 2 bit malls’ here are 100 times more paranoid, brooding and hostile to the casual visitor.

Take Away : For proving importance CAN have a inverse relationship with security theater vs a direct one.

#Most reliably consistent product : The BlackBerry Bold 9000. Dropped it in snow, concrete, puddles, from a height plus a myriad other abuses and it just keep on getting and diligently sending them emails. BlackBerry…oh how I love thee.

Take Away : sometime being a hedgehog that does one thing very well and consistently is all a user wants,needs and requires of a product. When commercially profitable, pander to the instinct if you can.

#Most irritating company to deal with as a customer either by telephone or on their website : Lloyds Bank!

#Most overpriced service/product not worth repeating : the GMAT exam as ‘sold’ by gmac.

#City that quite doesn’t deliver : Singapore. It’s a fantastic city but feels a tad too sterile and unimaginative. But I am still going to say I am a fan. Sue me for the contradictions.

#Most stunning good discovery : At the ‘will be crowded soon’ I.G.I-T3 Food Court : My travel buddy and I came across this food joint. Best fries ever. Name ? Like that best burger episode from HIMYM, I do NOT remember. ‘Four’ something . If you know which place i refer to, gimme a shout.

#Best website you probably don’t know about on the net : www.couchsurfing.com~ the experience it encourages will solve so such of all that is wrong out there in the world and as a bonus, will give its users one hell of an eye-opening experience in the process. Huge fan. Second Spot :  www.AirBnB.com. Just plain works as advertised on the tin. I paid 900 rupees (=$18) a day for a 3 bedroom flat all to myself in Budapest.

#Experience I regret rushing through : The Met in NYC and the Louvre in Paris. I made the cardinal sin of seeing them in a hurry. Shame on me.

#Best author discovered this year : Ouch. This one is close. So I will (because I can!) award it to two geniuses I stumbled onto this year : V.S.Naipaul. Christopher Hitches.

And now the GRAND Prizes….

###Product of the Year : Amazon Kindle.Where do I even begin. Yes, I am a bibliophile and so it may feel nerdy to vote for this but here is the kicker: This year I ALSO came into an iPhone 3G and the latter doesn’t hold a candle. And that IS saying something, considering the rabid fans and press apple enjoys. From the physical product to the reading experience to the ease of purchase and download of books, this 200 gms baby is a true game changer. It has actually fuelled one of my resolutions to have NO physical books in 5 years. Move everything to this tiny marvel, an ode to all this is right about technology.

###Location of the Year : Soi Rambutri St, Bangkok.

There is, on this venerable street, a restaurant that spills over onto the street with a sheesha seller near by (order the double apple flavor) This place is by policy and open boast: NEVER closed. From early every evening till very very late at night (4 am), if you are looking for the experience to cherish : just get your mates, order the double apple sheesa from Rahul, a few bottles of chilled Singha beers and just sit back for the world’s best ‘lounge music + street fashion show’ combo experience. And end it with a non-sleazy massage at the myriad options nearby. Welcome to the good life. no riders. no big bill at the end.

###Experience of the Year : Paris.

To watch the Eiffel light up at midnight, with your gf, on your birthday, on a anchored boat on the Seine that you surreptitiously sneaked into at midnight, with beers and pizza, under a cool evening. Hard to top. But then…..would you really want to ?

(2011 Update : The winners of the 2011 ‘awards’ are here)