Tag Archives: Learning

Five Cities and What They Taught Me About Life

By Siddhi: 

Throughout my travels, every place I’ve visited has touched me in some way, making my explorations a constant transformation of who I am and how I perceive the incredible world that surrounds me. This is a list of five cities and what they taught me about life. Although some of my descriptions may seem like generalizations, and honestly may be so, what I’ve written is an attempt to put into words the life lessons I’ve taken away from these unforgettable places.

So, in no particular order, here we go!

1.  New York City

Having completed my freshman year of college in the city with some time to reflect upon the experience, I can say that New York has made an indelible mark on who I am as a person.  Moving into the city, the single song that was played endlessly at welcome week events was “Empire State Of Mind” by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. Of course, the world knows the Great Apple to be the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothin’ you can’t do.” And yet, I was skeptical. Because beneath every supposed silver lining is a much less appealing truth. Initially, adjusting to life in the city was a bit difficult. I knew coming in that this wasn’t going to be the traditional college experience with expansive lawns (well, except for the greatest one ever in Central Park) and a true sense of “community”. I was quickly hit with the harsh reality that in the city that houses over eight million people, life goes goes on. At first, I approached this realization with a fearfully negative mindset. I was only eighteen years old and needed a support blanket to cushion my growth over the next four years. But with time, the apprehension of a city that wouldn’t wait for me to grip my bearings transformed into something incredible. In New York, you don’t march to the metronome of the majority. You live and dream at your own pace because nobody is dictating what you do and how you do it. The one thing this city has taught me more than anything else is that if you have dreams, there’s a way here to make them come true. Because when you’re dancing to your own beat in life, it doesn’t matter how fast the world around you moves because. If anything, it’s tremendously empowering.

2. Rio de Janeiro

If there is one place that has completely altered the way I perceive life on a day-to-day basis, it is Rio. I learned here that no matter how one-dimensional something may appear, there is always a hidden soul beneath is surface. The luxury beach lifestyle that defines the city to most of the world is exactly what a tourist experiences when they step foot onto Brazilian soil. There is little reason to venture outside this bubble of beauty and pleasure. But a spontaneous decision to do a tour of Rio’s favelas completely shattered my previous acceptance of surface level understandings. Rio had a troubling, difficult life that roared beneath its deceptive exterior. A life subdued to the public by the utopia the city is often marketed as. After witnessing the poverty that plagued millions in the City of God, I could never see the beaches, luxury, and beauty of the place in the same light. Yes, they undoubtedly existed. But they were also misleading illusions that tried to trap a city of emotional and historic depth into superficial characterizations. Rio de Janeiro taught me that there is always another meaning. One that we can find if we just make a conscious effort to look just a little more.

3. Tokyo

Tokyo taught me that serenity can exist in chaos. Even on a weekday morning in a crowded subway station, the commuters on their way to work weren’t rushing. Or maybe they were, but their faces seemed at ease. The stark contrast between the way the Japanese approached life in the city compared to New Yorkers was jarring (this is in no way to condemn the New York lifestyle, which I absolutely love. It’s simple to notice how two cultures in similar environments can approach life so differently). Although clichéd, thisphrase best describes what Tokyo embodies: life is made in the journey, not in the destination. The effort made to savor life in between Point A and B means more to people than getting to wherever they have to be. The ultimate destination is subsidiary to everything there is to cherish on the way there. We hear that this is the way to live life all the time. But it’s easy to ignore until we see enough people following that philosophy. Tokyo made me feel at peace while still embracing its identity as one of the biggest metropolitan zones on the planet. And for any city to do that is just an incredible statement on the humanity that inhabits it.

3 & 4.  Amsterdam and Rome

European lifestyle in general has been a very compelling testament for the need to love life. From the North Sea to the Mediterranean, so much of what I’ve encountered in Europe has been framed by a willingness to just be happy. But this ethos was especially captured in my visits to Amsterdam and Rome. The former city is probably the most powerful attestation of the tried but true philosophy “carpe diem”.  There was this universal need to juice every moment of life to its ultimate capacity, and when that had been done, to find more. It was one of the only trips I’ve been on where I felt the same leaving and coming back to my hotel everyday: content and smiling because the people around me just loved life so much. I experienced a very similar approach to living in Rome. On our daily strolls through the streets of the marvelous Italian capital, I saw business executives taking lunchtime naps at roadside cafés after a cappuccino or gelato. I saw people searching for love and people living the love they had found. I saw more people laughing than I had seen in any other city I’d visited (alongside Amsterdam). Both Amsterdam and Rome to me epitomize that you’ve only got one life and there’s no point in putting off living it.

5.  Hong Kong 

To this day, Hong Kong ends up battling with a changing set of others for the number one spot on my list of favorite cities. Why? Because Hong Kong represents how commercialization doesn’t have to entail a loss of beauty in humanity. Despite the massive corporate presence that makes the city one of the most densely populated places in the world, walking through the streets of Hong Kong is a wholly different experience than walking through New York or any other city that acts as a significant commercial hub. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Hong Kong multiple times, and each time my plane scrapes the runway and I walk into the city streets, I feel a tremendous sense of belonging. There is a natural beauty and spiritual thread that unites all of Hong Kong in an almost inconceivable sense considering the financial and social stratification of the city.  Yet, no matter where you are in Hong Kong, there is this inspiring kinship that seems to bind together the people and landmarks of the Fragrant Harbor (the meaning of Hong Kong). We are able to see the fascinating spirit of life trump over the dollar sign. Something I will never forget is driving down from the Victoria Peak in a light drizzle as all of the New Year’s Eve lights came twinkling on in the city. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of “togetherness”, one that is foreign to many city-going experiences.

Art Lessons at the La Jolla Athenauem – A Lovely Summer Getaway

Athenaeum Art Gallery
Source: La Jolla Athenaeum Website

By Lakshmi:

Who?  Whether you are a professional artist or a wannabe dreamer like me, you can build a lot of artistic skills, from the basic to the advanced.

What? The La Jolla Athenaeum’s School of the Arts is located at 

1008 Wall Street
La Jolla, CA 92037-4418

Phone: 858 454 5872

How? Throughout the year, this school offers a plethora of classes to cater to every skill level.  Their philosophy…. “No matter what your age or the level of your skills, we welcome you and have the right class for you. ”

Why?  Every summer, I have a quandry….how do I keep my kids occupied and yet foster their learning?  And I was honestly getting a little jealous and frustrated that my kids got to explore so many creative angles while all I got to do was hear about their day, admire their work, and stay working in my office.

So, for one summer, I decided I was going to do things differently.  I enrolled both my kids for week-long summer programs at the University of California in San Diego and decided that I was going to study printmaking at the Athenauem.   From the moment I got the catalog to the time I showed up in class, I was like a little kid brimming with excitement.

That excitement came to a screeching halt when I came to class and realized that I was going to be surrounded by artists for a week, people who knew to paint, had exhibits, made prints and sold them… and here was little wannabe me….Well, I had two choices.  I could either feel inferior or just say I was going to make a fool of myself without caring.  I chose the latter and for the next week had a blast.  From selecting colors that worked, to applying the right amount of pressure, to creating texture, we worked all day on making prints.  At lunch, I would wander off and explore a new cafe, grabbing my lunch, sitting by the ocean, feeling just so grateful for this escape and then returning to class to get my hands dirty all over again.  Interestingly, since I was new to the medium, everyone in class wanted to help out.  I would walk around and admire the mosaic-like intricate patterns created by my classmates and go back and create my own version.  A few days into it, when someone complimented me on a creation of concentric circles in shades of blue, purple and black, I felt my inner artist surging with pride.

The week was so enriching, enabling me to explore a part of my brain that had not been tapped into for a while.  I emerged from the class with over a dozen ready to frame pieces and more importantly a can do attitude that given time, I could master an art form as well.

I am sitting now on my couch looking longingly at their summer catalog, wishing I could scrape the time to go back.

If you are looking for a break with some learning, you could not find a more picturesque locale than the lovely town of La Jolla, California.

You can learn more about Athenaeum’s summer classes at


Traveling with Kids – A Way to Raise Global Citizens

Where do we go next?

By Lakshmi:

If you have not guessed already, I live for my trips.  Since the days we could, my husband and I have always taken whatever points we had, adding on to work or school travel to experience the magic of new places ranging from Paris to Penang, Hawaii to Hong Kong, Singapore to San Diego…..all done on bare minimum budgets, but done nevertheless.

So, when we had kids,  curbing our travel did not even cross our minds.  Instead, a choice to get bumped on a trip to Paris when I was pregnant, resulted in enough airline dollars to subsidize a trip to Amsterdam when our little one was barely five months old.  Several months later, a family wedding found us making a trip to India…with our kid screaming the plane down at landing due to severe ear pain.  That should have taught us a lesson, to maybe wait till the kids were older to take trips.  Instead, we reasoned differently….what is 10 minutes of screaming in a trip that lasted over 18 hours?  Not much, and if that was the worst we had to endure, we would just take our chances.  And off we trotted to destinations near and far, sometimes with incredibly supportive infrastructure and at other times with people glaring us down like we had no business traveling.

Early on, we learned one secret to traveling with kids, travel light, rely on local sources of food and entertainment and do not look like you are taking your kids room on wheels for company.  Sure we had to scramble in the Netherlands for baby formula without reading dutch, find medicine for an ear infection in Phuket  , etc….but the interesting thing is we knew we could manage, the kids could survive and with this confidence we marched on.

Fast forward many years and trips later, and our kids tell us that our biggest gift to them has been the exposure to so much at a young age.   A few years ago, my sixth grader opined happily that she felt good experiencing four great civilizations that were being discussed in history class.  My ninth grader at that time was so deeply touched by her visit to Tibet that it formed the foundation of her college essays many years later.  Besides being the “cool” ones in school because of their travels, the real benefits according to them have been the joys of visiting a new place, learning more about the world around them, appreciating people, foods, languages, signage, ads, cultures and most importantly to have a voice based on experience.  Henry Miller once said, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”   And for the kids, their trips made them view so many things in a new light.

– Roaming freely in Cairo and Alexandria months before the Arab Spring and then seeing all the protests and arrests and deaths on TV hit a new note of reality.

– The ability to tread in the Dalai Lama’s Summer and Winter Palaces as foreigners, and recognizing that the Tibetan leader could not be a visitor to his own homes

– Being on the beaches of Chennai and Phuket months before the Tsunami and knowing first hand of the damaged areas

– Reading about an earthquake in Hawaii, soon after we left….the list could go on and on.

The younger one waits for Time magazine every Saturday to catch up on world events and the older one just like us starts her day with visits to a plethora of websites to get the news of the day from not just the CNN perspective, but a multifaceted one.  Of course, they could have always become curious individuals, but we do believe that the trips that they have taken have promoted a level of growth and maturity that no book or education by itself could provide.

So, our little words of wisdom to parents out there, get out with your kids.  It does not have to be exotic….just some place that is just a tad bit different, with people who bring a new perspective to sow that little seed of curiosity that you can nurture over a lifetime.