Bon Appetit- Washington DC

I am no critic, I do not belong to Zagat nor do I claim to have any special taste buds extraordinaire. But as an avid foodie, bent on exploring international cuisines in the DC region I present to you what’s yum and what’s not.

Washington DC has for sure, a lot to offer to tickle taste buds of someone who has limited meat eating abilities, not necessarily  finicky but certainly limited. Speaking from the perspective of someone who grew up in middle class cosmopolitan India, there was absolutely zero exposures to anything outside the traditional north Indian cuisines. Well may be Indian version of Chinese may have crept in towards the mid 80s. That’s about it. So with that as the backdrop, I am freely experimenting anything that DC has on offer. Indian food or curry houses are dime a dozen and have spawned across the region and even sordid looking places which actually could be sorry excuses for food are seen around the several strip malls in the area.

Indians as stereotypical as they may be lend credibility to this word. The only “eating out” is getting all excited at the sight of an Indian restaurant and of course when the weekend buffets are on offer, the trails of saliva have been known to resemble a Mumbai monsoons.

Getting out of the box and willing to venture out takes some doing, a bit of daredevilry accompanied by some adventure. Having done this for over 12 years now, I am going to stick my neck out and offer my opinions. Opinions as they they say is free but my only underlying message to people who have not been too exposed to some rather exotic cuisine is “just try it”. It may not turn on your palate but the trip and ambience are most certainly worth the efforts. And eating at the food courts do not count.

Italian- Maggiano’s, Chevy Chase- Awesome ambience, great wines and great value for your $$

Thai- Mai Thai, Georgetown- Great variety of dishes for the veggies too, with that warm Saki to wash it all down

Indian- Rasika, Westend (Dupont circle)- You need to plan for this, you have to book weeks in advance if you want to get in for prime time dinner slot. A little on the expensive side but this place blows me away all the time

Ethiopian- Try Das, M St, Georgetown- Its not too dissimilar to some version of Indian grub. Spicy for sure and the townhome settings makes it for an amazing experience.

Turkish- Zaytinya, 9th St NW, DC- Small portions, great wine selections and some super mouth watering appies and entrees. Its a lively place and brings cheer to the inner self. Still have to book a few weeks in advance to get in at a decent hour.

Peruvian- The spice levels of the food at the Cochina is a place for a special occasion.Not too much for the veggies though.Bit pricy, I suppose.

Asian fusion- Banana Leaf, Florida Ave- A nice informal townhome setting, the array of choices from a fusion cuisine of Malay, Indonesian, Thai and Japanese is an absolute must for the curry munchers or the not not so curry inclined too.

Now if you were to decide to go for a mean steak or lobsters, your options grow exponentially.

Bon Appetit!

 

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Nostalgia – Overrated?

As traditional as it gets. A quick visit to my birthplace, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, India after 25 years. Some things never quite change, like stuck in a time capsule. A place where time not only has stood still but every street every alley has retained its unique charisma. As nostalgic as it sounds, it certainly doesn’t appear that I will be back anytime soon. For those who grew up in cosmopolitan India, a place like Bhopal (Central India) is what I have always considered home. Just being born someplace doesn’t make it home.
I have seen people fawn over nostalgic things and true to spirit, nostalgia may not be related to a place but it could be old pictures, old books and other such forms.
I would be interested to hear what you think of this.

South Africa- Izwe imilingo

I have been meaning to write for a few days now. Now after finally having overcome the jet lag between Australia and South Africa, its good to be alive again. Coming to South Africa although for a short stint; I see this as an opportunity to see more of the world. Additionally some experience in the Aluminium smelter business is enriching.

This country is indeed interesting. Since the end of apartheid, it seems the country has exploded into chaos. While taking a drive around the countryside, the fields and meadows resemble India in so many ways. You see people walking along the road in the middle of wilderness, stark poverty evident everywhere. While this country is not a classic 3rd world country, it is more like a two and half! We have been asked by security experts not to be complacent or travel alone. Crime is quite prevalent and Johannesburg, the largest city is pretty overwhelming for first timers.

My next door neighbour at the apartment block is a South African of Indian origin. He was telling me how his forefathers travelled across the Indian Ocean in 1861 from India to work on the sugar cane plantations outside Durban.

 

Working 6 days a week leaves only Sunday to explore. Last Sunday 3 of us (Myself, a Canadian, a New Zealander) managed a trip to visit a Zulu village, where the Zulus still live as did way back at the turn of the 20th century. Very interesting to see how they go about their lives (I have attached a picture of me with a Zulu chief)

Few more weekends we plan to go see a crocodile farm and go on an African safari.

 

 

Another interesting day trip: Driving by the African savannah and entering the St Lucia estuary. This place is at the southern end of the Mozambiquan coastal plain and is classified as a World Heritage site (Inaugurated by Nelson Mandela “Madiba”) in 1995. Taking a boat on the river you can see the water is full of hippos and crocodiles. Lazing around in the sun, hanging out in water, these are abound. I was just over 200 k’s from the South African borders of Swaziland and Mozambique.

 

A little fact I found out that Nelson Mandela actually married the Mozambique strongman, Samora Machel’s widow. The lady has the unique distinction of being the first lady twice!

 

Tourism is the only industry that thrives here while locals make their livelihood on the cane and pineapple plantations. Poverty is very visible but for a person who grew up in India, its not all that shocking.

Europeans come to African not only to watch the big game but some of them have been known to indulge in game hunting. Game hunting primarily refers to hunting of the Big five (African elephant, Lion, Leaopard, Cape Buffalo and the White Rhino). Game hunting packages cost as much as $25,000 for a 12 day  trip.

 

While there is plenty of game to watch, I am not sure if some of the power hungry corrupt African dictators are not more dangerous. When you look north from South Africa, Zimbabwe (Mugabe) and the chronically tribal warfare infested countries of Burundi. Rwanda, Angola stand out. And with Western hired guns to add fuel to the fire, Africa continues to sustain its sobriquet of the “Dark Continent”.

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Talking to an Indian South African guy, he tells me how bad it was pre 1994 during the days of Apartheid. No right to vote, not allowed to enter white neighborhoods, running scared of the white man, eating in different sections in the same restaurant..Terrible..Wonder why they think its okay to treat a person of a darker color differently. Bloody shame!

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Just three weeks in this country and while my travels have not been extensive, the time still allows to get a fairly good perception of lifestyle and dynamics in the current South African society. I have had the opportunity to speak with several people from varying nationalities. Many non South Africans, primarily Europeans and Australians see the society and culture as backward and third- worldy. No surprises here, since over 90% of the populations consisting of native blacks and coloured were repressed for a prolonged period. Just lifting the restrictions and ending apartheid does not lead to the native development automatically. This seems like it is a process and may take a generation and a half. Meantime the economic situation amongst the previously underprivileged populace continues to worsen.

It used to an enforced segregation until 1994 and now almost two decades later, its more of a natural self segregation. So much so, that illiteracy and prevalent crimes have come to be associated with the blacks. And its conveniently forgotten that it is the minority who created this situation in the first place. This is an unfortunate stigma many South Africans will carry for the rest of their lives.

 

The repeatedly flashing pictures of people living in shanty towns on a bare subsistence are extremely visible throughout the country. The native folk are extremely friendly and take pride in what they do and graciously accept any kind of tips. The same is to be said of the White minority; nowhere do the common white people appear to be dictators or the despots they were made to be. The common folks have been fairly friendly to us foreigners ,I would say, more so than the Australians. So at a grass roots level, the true citizens are as integrated but cultural and economic differences do make it appear that society is stratified.

 

The leadership could be doing a lot more than soaking in corruption and polygamy. The basic tenet of leading by example is surely absent. The continuing paucity of power and the consequences faced by the government in terms of rioters and power line tappers does not look to be improving anytime soon. The presence of hired guns like ourselves is noticeable in almost all industries. Power, Aluminium smelting and other such core industries have a plethora of expatriate experts while the local talent is almost invisible. These expatriates could do a lot better by actually training the locals rather than earning a few quick rands and complaining about the lack of initiative on part of the local populace. The leadership may well treat this as a chronic problem and these issue be addressed before South Africa goes the way of its other fellow African nations.

 

The visit to the Umfolozi game reserve would be considered as a once in a lifetime opportunity. The massive 500 hectare wild life reserve opened up in 1895 to create a reserve for the great white southern Rhinoceros. The white hunters had been shooting them for game for several years and it took them a few years to realize the fun and games will cause the white rhinos to be extinct. This necessitated opening of the game reserve; subsequently followed by introduction of major wild life into the park. And one thing that surprised me immensely was the fact that the animals are not fed. They are in open country and are wild animals, pure and simple. Therefore they have to hunt their own food and survive the jungle and be part of the food chain.

Seeing these glorious animals in their natural splendour is an unbeatable sight, unparalled in its grace and memory. Soaking up the knowledge and nuances of many of animal behaviours was an added bonus.

We were fortunate enough to view the Elephant, the White Rhino, the Cape Buffalo, Giraffes, antelopes and zebras at close proximity.

 

Accents- Funny or prejudice?

Accents- A microcosm

Why do different accents sound funny when you clearly know a non-native speaker of that language  is attempting something out of their comfort zone? Just on the subject of English accents, a myriad accents you come across just in the Continental United States.

Why do people feel the compulsive need to belittle a manner of speaking that sounds different? So much so that stand up comedians have made it into a fine art to evoke laughter by pandering to the illiterate desires of their audience, so much so that it totally reeks of prejudice. Humor to some extent is quite welcoming and especially so when it is delivered without a touch of prejudice. But the humor turns into incessant mockery, lines have to be drawn. And anecdotally, how about grammatical correctness that is conspicuous by absence in the colloquial “native” English speaking people? Do you feel the need to mock it or do you feel sorry for them?

A hard working immigrant is trying to make a new life and if this land is indeed a land of opportunities and while doing so, they are attempting to grasp a foreign language. Why is that funny?

Speaking to them  in a loud slow manner is not the solution you morons. Learn to respect other cultures and remember, their English is better than your Spanish, French, Hindi or Mandarin.

 

Alaska- The land beyond

Travelogue, Alaska

Alaska is not in the US, it certainly doesn’t appear to be. It’s not even in this part of world. Its a million miles away from it all. When a state twice the size of Texas and with a population of just fewer than 700,000 is way up there, it’s hard to fathom what’s in there. What’s there is the sheer beauty and magnificence of nature. When you think of a painted landscape of flowing rivers, mountains, cascades, trails, that is in essence the microcosm of Alaska.

Reality strikes however when you fly into Fairbanks, the second largest city in Alaska and that reeks of being fairly ordinary and I overheard people calling it a crummy town. While that may be true, an ugly pit stop is hardly a deterrent to what lies to the north, south, east and west. Of all the wilderness area designated in America, over 60% lies in Alaska. Eskimos and the native Alaskans, the Athabascans still live off the land. Strewn in many remote outposts across the state, they do enjoy many of the benefits that the state has to offer. But when I met a few of them in Fairbanks, they didn’t exactly come off as people enjoying life. Far from it. May be these are the citizens who chose to leave the wilderness and chose the urban life. The whites I came across are the ones who came over for a brief stint from the upper northern states and never left.

The impressive thing is the attitude on how the locals perceive their state as a natural reserve and they are fiercely proud of what they have. They thrive in the winters too when temperatures dip 50- 6- F below zero. Dog mushing, sleds are the order of the season. How some of them live off the land and when we hear politicians bickering about taking guns away from people, I came away from Alaska thinking why would be paint everyone with the same brush and basically take away means of livelihood for these folks who hunt during the summer to provide for winter.

Wild life of course abounds and it would not be uncommon at all to see a big moose crossing the highways, big guys for sure and I am told, the best option is to run when confronted. And grizzly bears thrive in the lands here and finding their ways to eat the wild berries they are visible too. Denali looks like a safe haven for these guys and looking at how NPS maintains the reserve, there is hardly any doubt they will be disturbed. Speaking of the environment, there is a whole peninsula designated by the National Petroleum Service as a reserve. So this is the land many are after. Seemingly this will provide enough oil for generations and make us fully self-sufficient instead of dealing with not-so friendly nations. Drill! Drill! Drill! is the call from many quarters. I was convinced of this before but when you get to feel the fragile Tundra you may change your minds. Just inches below the surface, you actually feel the presence of perm-frost, a think sheet of ice even in the summer. Guess what happens when you start drilling, not only the obvious melting of the frost but imagine the species of flora and fauna it helps sustain. It’s a resort for sure for oil, but a last one at that. Prudhoe Bay, off the Arctic coast in the North West is where they discovered copious amounts of oil in 1968. BP and Exxon promptly got the license to build the 799 mile pipeline from the Bay all the way down to Valdez (Remember Exxon Valdez spill, 1989?). This sustains the state and the way the 140 deg oil is insulated from even getting close to the frigid ground is well kept. It’s a wonderful example of nature co-existing with mankind.

A trip up there may sound fairly touristy but if you bothered to go a little deeper, it may well change your prejudice and may be even some ill-conceived perceptions.

Professional from the desert- Huguette Rahme

Huguette Rahme personifies the female professional in the middle east. People like her set trends for women in a society where not a lot of women entrepreneurs are out and about. Having met her, I found her drive, passion and ambition exemplary. A few words from her and we hope it serves an inspiration to other budding talent in the region. Huguette is Lebanese and here’s what she shares with us.

HG-1

 

Q- What is your profession and tell me about yourself, your background?

HR- Entrepreneur /General manager Since 2011, Scalla human resources consultancy, based in the UAE.

However main activity is the liaison between the client’s requirement in terms of human force and candidates searching for a growth in their career. Very dynamic and enthusiastic business environment. A lot to do with human interaction/ attitude/values.

Prior to that, I was working as business development Manager with a French company in the UAE for 6 years. Earlier, I handled an American franchise in Lebanon for 4 years and earlier, for around 6 years, as a business development manager covering six international territories ( Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, UAE, Qatar, Lebanon) which involved a lot of traveling to conduct meetings and discussions.

I have a master degree in business administration followed with an MBA.

 

Q-What drove you to choose this career path?

HR -A- 50% is coping with life path I didn’t have an interference with. As if it was imposed by life itself, but I had to deal with 50% i can say is by my own choice.

-B-

The entrepreneurial drive, the love for adventure and trying to achieve something and be someone in life.

-C-

I do not have the luxury to be rich, so having to live and take care of dependents I need to work hard and generate income.

 

Q- Have you moved a lot for your profession and do you like travelling?

HR- Yes, as stated above

 

Q- What in your opinion are the three major traits to be successful in your profession?

HR- 1- To start something and to finish it

2- To have a creative mind and a problem solving mind

3- To love what you do, to be honest and clear on what you do.

Even when you face challenges and disappointments, and when reaching the bottom

4- to be flexible and accept people as they are.. And manage to work with the given components

 

Q- What have been your biggest challenges over the course of your career?

HR- 1- Taking major risks financially.

2- Given it all. Mainly Time.

3- Believe in something before it is realized

 

Q- Anything you did in your career you’d advise other upcoming professionals not to do

HR- Yes. Try to check the background of your clients before Signing a contract with.

Some can drag you down without your approval and knowledge

 

Q- Would you recommend this profession to young hopefuls?

HR- Of course. Very dynamic one.

 

Q- What is your advice to young graduates and professionals?

HR- 1- Keep learning every day in every way

2- Don’t take yourself too seriously no matter what. (We r far from perfection)

3- Believe in team work

4- Be honest with yourself. And with others

5- Take risks

6- Be positive.

7- Be happy and appreciate what you have. Don’t think of what you don’t have. This will lead you to nowhere.

8- Do not eat/ sleep/ rest before finishing the task on hands.

9- Pray

10- Live your life

Raquel Lopez- An interview

Raquel López is from Spain. She is a successful architect and much more. She is also a translator, trainer and a multi faceted blog critique. And to top it all up, she also writes. Her responses echo her talent and that wry sense of humor.

A mini interview-

Q- What is your profession and tell me about yourself, your background?

  1. I am A Spanish architect. I am very fond of all that has to do with Art&Creation. I also write fantasy stories and I sing in a jazz band.

 

Q- What drove you to choose this career path?

  1. Architecture is an artistic engineering. I like the combination of those two extremes.

 

Q- Have you moved a lot for your profession and do you like travelling?

  1. I love travelling, but, unfortunately, all jobs that include staying abroad for a while are usually given to male Architects.

MA

 

Q- What in your opinion are the three major traits to be successful in your profession?

  1. Ambition, hard work and relatives who are architects.

 

Q- What have been your biggest challenges over the course of your career?

  1. I cannot recall all of them: since the very moment I put my feet on University ground my life became a hard daily challenge.

 

Q- Would you recommend this profession to young hopefuls?

  1. Only if they have a strong vocation and an Architect daddy.

Q- What is your advice to young graduates and professionals?

  1. If you want to live in peace, choose another path. Women architects: your profession might become your own Mr. Grey.