Mar 15

How one trip abroad sparked a new life into me

In the 8 years I spent at AOL (2003 – 2011), my career had peaked in 2008. That year, I worked my ass off and made a name for myself in the company, earning accolades from not only the Bangalore office but also from AOL offices in London, New York and Sydney! But despite the praises, the awards, the salary hikes, promotion, etc… by 2009 I was feeling depressed.

When you achieve a certain level of success, your higher ups don’t sit back and tell you to relax and take it easy. The targets for 2009 were even higher, so were the expectations from me. At this point I began asking myself one crucial question: “Am I happy?”

In 2009, I was spending long hours at work and every weekend was spent looking for an apartment. Due to the recession, the housing market was down and it seemed like a good time to purchase property. But no matter how many projects me and my brother saw, we just couldn’t find the right one that suited our budget.

Back at AOL, we saw a change in management when the company got a new CEO. Rumours started flying about certain teams getting shelved and impending layoffs. At around this time, the very higher ups who set the high expectations themselves left the company. How did I feel? Worse. Aside from the fact I was getting tired of the work, I began questioning myself on the point of working so hard now. I mean, I work for months to achieve targets … only to see my projects shut down later? What’s the point?

My personal life was no better. I did travel a bit but even with travel — I was tired of seeing the places in and around Bangalore. I had seen enough of India and felt like traveling abroad. Then one day in November, I woke up and felt a little different. I went online, checked some airline fares and saw a return ticket to Bangkok for just Rs. 15k. I used my credit card and bought it. After my booking was confirmed, I had butterflies in my stomach. I was about to go abroad after a span of 7 years. I was excited but very nervous too. I went to office that day and somehow didn’t seem to care much about talks of layoffs.

Long story short, I visited Thailand for the first time in late 2009. The trip was far from perfect, but I was a rookie. I learned so much from my visit abroad. After landing back in Bangalore and on the way back home, all I could think about was “I want to travel, I want to blog, I want to travel, I want to blog, I want to travel…”. And a few weeks later, mithunonthe.net was born and I began writing about my Thailand trip. And people liked it!

When I went to office the following days, I just stopped caring about office politics and only focused on my work to make money and save up for my travels. In 2010, I went to UAE twice, returned to Thailand and visited Singapore & Malaysia with friends.

It’s amazing how much my attitudes and interests in life changed with just one trip abroad. I really felt I was starting a new life. That one trip sparked a new flame inside me and pushed me to new challenges. Taking the BTS in Bangkok and not driving calmed me down and it made not want to rush in traffic when I returned to Bangalore. Seriously. I was always a patient person but I became a lot more patient and calmer now. That’s how much I changed after that one holiday.

Sure, my credit card bill from that holiday was huge and took me a few months pay to clear it off, but somehow it didn’t bother me as much. This new life, with a new ‘me’ and a new attitude to life, I achieved something my failed career failed to bring me in 2009 — happiness. I was happy, and five years on, nothing has changed. I’m still happy.


Mar 15

With unemployment looming, on the last day of my job… I was happy

I left AOL after working at the Bangalore office for over 8 years. From 2003 to 2011, AOL was the only company I worked for. I joined when I was 21, right after college graduation, and by the time I left, I was 29. I went through many different roles within the company and made my way up to managing a team of 14 people during my final year. I’ve had my ups and downs of course, and rumours of layoffs at AOL had been doing the rounds during the time of the recession.

But somehow, I survived. Until 2011 that is. In January that year, AOL acquired Huffington Post. We knew the acquisition of another online media company was going to affect the division I worked for (AOL Media). And it did. The following month, AOL announced they were going to effectively shut down our offices. Many would be ‘outsourced’ to other IT firms, and some of us (including me) would be laid off. When the news broke, oddly enough, I wasn’t sad.

Okay, so I had a good reason to be happy. As a long time employee, my severance package was much higher than that of most others who were laid off. I had the option to move to a surviving team within AOL India, but I chose not to join them… mostly because the severance money was hard to run away from! Also because, I felt oddly optimistic. Sure, there was some sense of worry as to my future and parents pestering me saying that marriage proposals were going to hard to come by if I didn’t land another job soon. It didn’t matter, I felt I really had to move on. I was in a comfort zone for nearly 8 1/2 years and I never explored life outside of AOL.

But before all that, I went on a vacation. Yes, while others were sobbing over losing their jobs, many were prepping their resume for the eventual job hunt, I on the other hand booked a flight ticket to Philippines to use up some of my remaining leaves. That trip ended up being one of the best trips of my life!

I came back to office to see many of my co-workers already gone. Week after week the chairs began emptying up. The office got quieter. When my final day came, I was anxious, but when my boss accompanied me on the way out… when I swiped my access card for the last time… I had a smile on my face. Deep inside I knew I was a bit sad, but in my mind, I kept wondering if this change was a good thing.

I shared this photo on my Facebook page the day I left AOL

Four years later, I still reminisce about my years at AOL fondly. My friends are still around and we catch up often. But somehow I don’t miss the work. I don’t miss the office politics and least of all, I don’t miss the cafeteria food. I now work from home, I travel when I want, I play an active role in local politics hoping to bring change, and I eat home-cooked food saving a ton of money on a monthly basis.

It’s a change from a 9 to 5 job, but this is a change I welcome. So for those who are too afraid to make that change, I’d say, give it a shot. Chin up, look up, and you never know what’s waiting for you on the other side!

Feb 15

Oman 2014: Muscat bay viewpoints, Qurum beach, The Cave restaurant

Date: 26th October 2014

After the dolphin watching tour, our driver told us he would take us to a viewpoint beyond Marina Bandar Al Rowdha.

Muscat highway Oman

We drove along the highway

Consultative Assembly of Oman Muscat

Drove past the massive Consultative Assembly of Oman building

Uphill road Muscat Oman

We drove uphill

Road to resorts Muscat

And then downhill to a resort complex at the edge of the hill

Blue waters Muscat Oman

The waters are so blue (Took this on my phone)

Viewpoint Oman bay Muscat

We drove back and kept stopping at every nice looking viewpoint. Down below was a very small beach, which seemed only accessible by boat

Muscat open viewpoint Oman

This was another. We walked towards the edge.

Muscat mountains Oman panorama

Took a panorama

Majlis Oman from mountain top Muscat

Zoomed in on the majlis

Muscat rock mural road Oman

We then drove back to Muscat city

Dhow roundabout Muscat Oman

We were planning to visit the incense burner monument

Incense burner hill Muscat Oman

But when we got there

Gates locked incense burner monument Muscat

… gates were locked. Shucks!

PDO beach Muscat Oman

So we drove to a viewpoint near PDO beach

PDO is the Petroleum Development Oman, the nation’s primary petroleum company. And the above is the company’s private beach — for their employees and their families. And if a private beach wasn’t enough of a company perk…

Ras al Hamra golf club PDO Muscat Oman

… PDO owns a golf court too! Ahhh, oil money.

Palm tree shade picnic Oman

Besides that, this viewpoint is a popular picnic jaunt

Luxury houses by sea Muscat

A lot of luxury houses facing the sea

Qurum beach white sand Muscat Oman

Next, we drove down to Qurum beach

Qurum beach Muscat Oman

It’s near PDO beach but open to public

Qurum beach clear blue water Muscat

Very clear water

Al Shati beach road Muscat Oman

After that, it was off to the popular Al Shati beach road. A lot of coffee shops by the beach here.

Al Shati beach Muscat Oman

Al Shati beach in itself is okay

Crowne Plaza hotel Muscat Oman

The Crowne Plaza hotel is the big white building at the edge of the beach

Royal Opera house Muscat Oman

The next stop was the Royal Opera House

Royal Opera House Muscat sign

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much we could see of the Opera House

Inside Royal Opera house Muscat Oman

This was just a lobby, we couldn’t enter the main hall… but we were told it’s impressive! :-)

Royal Opera house ceiling

Impressive interiors

The Cave restaurant Muscat Oman

Done with the day tour, we went to The Cave for lunch. Looks like something from The Flintstones doesn’t it?

The Cave restaurant choices Muscat Oman

You have many choices for restaurants inside The Cave

Unfortunately when we entered, there was no reservation in our names. So we had to contact the travel agent to speak to the front desk and sort things out.

The Cave restaurant buffet Muscat Oman

We settled for the buffet

Pita bread cold cut starters The Cave buffet

What I started with

Rice spring roll The Cave Muscat

Had a bit of everything

Tiger prawns mussels The Cave Muscat

We had ordered some seafood as well

Desserts The Cave restaurant Muscat

Desserts — yeah, I love my sweets!

The Cave restaurant interiors Muscat

I can’t vouch for the menu but the food we had was pretty good and the interiors of The Cave are what really sells this place

After a sumptuous lunch, our driver decided to go for a smoke break and left before us. The rest of us washed up, took some photos of the restaurant and before making our way out. But when we tried to exit the restaurant, we were stopped by one of the staff. When we asked why, she said we have to “pay first”. Stunned, we were (again) perplexed by the lack of communication. We tried to convince her that this was an organized lunch courtesy of Oman Tourism but she called the manager instead. When the manager came, we told them this was being paid for by Oman Tourism and fortunately he knew deal and understood the situation. He then just asked one of us to sign the bill, which I did.

Inside The Cave Muscat Oman

Our driver finally came back to the surprise that we were still inside. That’s him talking to the lady who stopped us from leaving. She later apologized.

Anyway, once we were ‘set free,’ we walked back to our car.

Muscat village Oman

The Cave is situated atop a hill, and this was the view from parking lot

Lulu mall Muscat Oman

Post lunch, we were dropped off at Lulu Hypermarket

Baklavah Lulu supermarket Oman

I wasn’t planning on doing all my shopping now itself. So I just prepared a list of items I planned to buy, and their prices. Baklavah was one of those items!

Grand mall Muscat Oman

After Lulu, we hopped across to Grand Mall

Inside Grand Mall Muscat Oman

Which… wasn’t that impressive to be honest. Another reminder that Muscat cannot be compared to the likes of Bahrain and Dubai when it comes to malls and shopping..

Grand Mall did have a Carrefour and Daiso though. I made note of the prices at Carrefour as well, and realized Lulu Hypermarket was cheaper (in general), and then left after buying some stuff from Daiso. By sunset, we were picked up by the driver to be dropped back at the hotel.

Saravanaa Bhavan  Muscat Oman

Saravanaa Bhavan is in Muscat too!

Tiger prawns fries dinner Radisson Muscat

Dinner was at the Radisson Blu

This was our last night at the Radisson Blu. Tomorrow we would check out, visit the Grand Mosque and leave Muscat for Jebel Shams. Now I was really excited to see what more natural wonders and history Oman had to offer!

Previous post(s) in this series:

Oman 2014: Dolphin watching tour in Muscat

Oman 2014: Landing in Muscat; Al Alam Palace, Mutrah souq and more

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