Last month I took a business trip to Bangalore, India. It had been 6 years since my last visit to India, and Bangalore has changed enough that I barely recognized it.
Even before this trip, I was pretty sold on the power of the community on Twitter. I've gotten involved with many great local projects, and even helped give a presentation on the power of Twitter for your business. So I realize that I wasn't exactly a skeptic going into this, but I still think the story is pretty compelling.
From the moment I commented about heading to Bangalore, I started to acquire new followers. As I was planning my trip, I was really struggling to find a hotel near the airport. I had a flight arriving around 2am, and another one leaving around 9am, and thought it would be great to catch a little real sleep in between them. Just before I booked the hotel, I thought to ask for suggestions on Twitter. I am so glad that I did, because it turns out that they built a new airport in Bangalore, and if you look at where Google Maps says that BLR is, they're off by about 40kms (which in Bangalore traffic is a very, very long distance). So before I even arrived, the Bangalore Twitter crew had saved my bacon.
I got other input throughout my travel, and when I arrived, I got several offers from people to get together. Anyone who has done business travel in a foreign country where you don't know anyone can tell you that it can get pretty boring hanging out at your hotel in the evenings. So it was really exciting to have some opportunities to meet up with people.
The first Tweetup was Wednesday night, and we got together for @jerrymannel's birthday. I think it really says something about how welcoming a group is, when you invite a random stranger from another country to your birthday party. It was a great time for me, although I'm not sure how well it went for Jerry. Apparently the birthday traditions there involve the birthday boy paying for everyone's food, getting cake smashed in his face, and then something about getting kicked by everyone! A very special Thank You goes out to @dkris, who spent a lot of effort on the phone with my completely lost cab driver ensuring that I eventually made it to this Tweetup.
The Twitter community there is very active, and on Saturday they invited me to what they call a Tw-eat-up. I was initially confused when they told me to meet them at Chaat Street, and I couldn't find a restaurant named Chaat Street anywhere. Eventually I realized they were actually referring to a street. "Chaat Street" translates to "Snack Street", and it's exactly what it sounds like. It's a street where up and down on both sides are all sorts of snack vendors. We spent the evening wandering up and down, and eating everything. I can't remember all of the things we ate, but I think my favorite was the pastries at VB Bakery, the most unique was the banana flavored with rose petals, and the only one I didn't like was the Masala Soda (picture a spicy, salty, soft drink). There was even a cow that pushed me out of the way so it could get at the food scraps. Overall, this was a very fun time, and a great culinary adventure. Definitely the highlight of my trip.
I don't think I can say enough about how amazing it was to travel 9000 miles from home, and still have a support network. The Twitter community is amazing, and the folks in Bangalore have a very great thing going on out there. Thanks so much to all my new friends, @dkris, @santoshp, @jerrymannel, @fagunbhavsar, @dhempe, @scorpion032, @tsuvik, @Suksy, @hnprashanth, @9_6, @procoder, and anyone I missed. If you're ever in Bangalore, look them up!
My pictures from the trip can be found here.
I am reaching the tail end of a two week business trip to India. Being here shortly after what is referred to locally as the 26/11 attacks has been an eye opening experience. Reading local newspapers and talking with people who live here gives you a much different viewpoint than the international press does.
This attack hit people pretty hard. On a psychological level, it was a traumatic event in how it unfolded and the exhaustive media coverage of every detail. It also impacted the upper levels of society, who have largely been above the fray in the past. It is very telling that the world media focused on the attacks at the Taj and Oberoi, when the attack on the train station, which claimed the lives of 70 of your average Mumbai citizens was much less publicized.
You also need to realize the devastating economic impact of this. The Indian economy is already hurting because it is strongly tied to ours, and our credit meltdown has hurt them. The US bailouts are front page news here. When you add on top of that the impact of these attacks, it’s bad news. I spent a few days when I first arrived in Goa. Goa is a popular beach destination during December and January. The decrease in tourism there during their peak season is going to result in a pretty lean year for businesses there. Business hotels here in Bangalore, the heart of India’s booming IT industry are similarly empty. This is a painful combination.
What is ironic about the decrease in travel is that I have felt very safe here. Security is much more thorough here than at any airport or hotel in the US. It’s largely a matter of publicity. The level of media exposure for the attacks has resulted in some knee jerk reactions, that are understandable, but probably not fully justified. I’m not expecting to turn the tide here, but at least I can say my piece that I haven’t felt threatened at all during my time here.
The people here are amazing. Almost every person I meet treats me like an old friend, offers to take me to dinner, offers me rides, talks to me. Equally impressive is how they have handled their response to these attacks. Of course there is outrage, and some finger pointing at the government level. However, Muslim, Hindu and Christian have all joined hands to condemn the attacks and refuse to make this a religious issue. It’s very different from the sort of reactions I saw in the US in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. They are determined to not give in to fear and hatred and let the terrorists win.
As a fairly recent transplant to the South, I'm still adjusting to the lack of a winter. One way to ease the withdrawal is to drive the 4 hours from Charleston up to the mountains of North Carolina. This weekend some friends and I took a trip up to the Shining Rock Wilderness. The idea behind the trip was that we were going to get a great view of the Leonid Meteor Shower. Of course, that meant it was overcast most of the trip, but it still was a great time, and we got something we didn't expect to see quite this early in the year: SNOW!
Overall it was a fairly low key trip, but it was a great warmup trip for some further winter hiking ambitions we have. The hike out in the morning was absolutely beautiful. The wind blew pretty hard all night, and made for some interesting snow coverage patterns. No meteors, but I didn't hear any complaints.
As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about hiking and mountaineering, I spend a lot of time thinking about gear purchases. When someone asks me for advice, I tend to write them a dissertation. Here's something I wrote up recently. It's just my opinion, but I hope it will be helpful to folks out there in the same situation as the friend I wrote this up for.
Q: I have some hiking gear, but I want to get into cold weather camping, and I need to upgrade my tent, backpack, and sleeping bag. I am on a budget, and want to know how to use my money most effectively.
A: I would highly recommend asking around to see what you can borrow or make
do with before making investments. One of my friends has a saying,
"buy nice or buy twice". It's worth it to get the good stuff, but you
want to know what features you like and dislike in a particular piece of gear before you spend
that kind of money. I'm always willing to loan out gear as long as you
promise to guard it with your life, and you can probably find others who will too.
I think a good sleeping bag is probably the first investment I'd recommend. With a good sleeping bag, you can be pretty comfortable in the winter even in a 3 season tent. Down is more expensive, but it lasts much longer. I have a synthetic bag and a down bag that I bought around the same time, probably 5-6 years ago, and the synthetic bag is pretty beat down and not nearly as warm, where the down bag is still in great condition. There are other considerations in the down vs synthetic debate that could fill up pages, but durability is something that directly impacts your budget.
As far as a pack, as long as you can fit what you need in it, and it fits you properly, you don't need to get too fancy. Usually the more expensive packs are just lighter, which is great, but probably not a priority in the budget. If you have a local store that specializes in outdoor gear, they probably have some experienced pack fitters, if you're buying something big there(like a down sleeping bag), they might be willing to help you fit your pack. A good pack can be great, but if you have one that is usable, I'd wait on upgrading.
A good tent is a worthwhile investment too. Unless you're going to be doing a ton of solo trips, I'd recommend a two person tent, as they usually work out to a good deal less weight per person, and give you more room to get changed, etc. That's a little bit of a personal preference issue. I'd recommend trying to borrow some different styles and sizes of tent before you buy to make sure you can fit in it comfortably. A 4 season tent will be a must have on serious mountaineering trips, but they are expensive, and can often be borrowed or rented. You can probably delay this purchase for a bit as well.
This past weekend, I was lucky enough to get two days of clear skies for our trip to Congaree National Park. I've planned 4 camping trips in the past two months, and have had them cancelled by everything from hurricanes to funerals, so I was pretty excited that this one actually happened. Congaree National Park is a beautiful old growth floodplain forest just outside of Columbia, SC.
It was a little cooler than expected, but this actually made for comfortable hiking, and no mosquitos, although I would have probably brought a warmer sleeping bag if I had it to do over again. In the end though, it was a great trip. We hiked in Saturday afternoon, and made camp in the flattest, least swampy spot we could find. On the hike in, we encountered several wild hogs, so we were a little wary through the night, but didn't have any run ins with the natives.
Sunday morning we packed up camp and hiked back to the main visitors' center, where we met up with Ranger Heather, who took us on a canoeing tour of part of the park. The canoeing tour was great. A leisurely paddle along Cedar Creek, it is truly the way to experience the park. It's an almost primeval landscape, and getting down at water level really immerses you in it.
All in all, I really enjoyed this trip, and am excited that we have a National Park of this caliber so close to home!
This past Thursday I picked up my first batch of produce from the fall harvest of the Ambrose Farm CSA. There are a lot of reasons I joined a CSA. It's a great way to support a local business. It helps me eat local and reduce my impact on the environment. It will encourage me to eat healthier, with more vegetables that are mostly organic.
What I didn't expect was the sheer fun of it. When I picked up the box of vegetables, I was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning to open it up and see what was inside. This week's haul included salad greens, arugula, string beans, a cucumber, a bell pepper, green onions, radishes, sweet potatoes, turnips, and my personal favorite, two ears of popping corn. I had a lot of fun this week coming up with dishes to use all the vegetables, it was actually the first time I ever ate turnips. The popcorn added some excitement to movie night, watching it pop right off the cob, and it was quite delicious.
I know it is only the first week, but I'm very glad we joined, and look forward to the weeks to come!
Imagine that one day you woke up and looked out your window to see that an entire mountain was missing. You hear constant explosions that are so violent they crack the foundation of your house. The tap water turns black. The small creek in your backyard fills with a foul smelling, poisonous sludge. Unnatural floods destroy the only bridge to your town, and even carry off your dog. Think this is a scene from a third world country or a war zone? This is happening in West Virginia, right here in the United States of America.
Last Thursday, I attended the Coastal Conservation League Film Festival. The feature film was called simply “Mountaintop Removal Mining.” This is just what it sounds like. The Coal companies literally blast up to 800 feet of elevation clear off the top of a mountain in order to access coal deposits beneath them. They use huge machines called drag lines to scrape away the tons of rock. Thanks to an administrative “correction” made in 2002 to redefine the list of acceptable fill materials, the “overburden”, which is the polite name for all the debris that used to be a mountaintop, can now be dumped directly into the valleys, choking off streams and destroying watersheds. Already over 1200 miles of streams and 400,000 acres have been destroyed in this area, and 1.4 million acres are at risk. 1.4 million acres. That is larger than the state of Delaware.
As the coal is then mined and processed, a waste product called “coal slurry” is formed. This is disposed of by injecting into abandoned mine shafts, or by creating large earthen dams and dumping the sludge into the valleys. One of the images I will never forget from the film is that of Marsh Fork Elementary School. This school is located 400 feet downhill from a dam holding back a lake containing 2.8 BILLION gallons of this toxic slurry.
Now, as someone who spent countless weekends hiking in the hills of West Virginia, or white water rafting with my family, I am horrified by what is being done to this beautiful wilderness. For the sake of argument, let’s say you are not a tree-hugger like me, and don’t care about that. Why should you care about mountaintop removal mining? The USGS estimates that if mountaintop removal continues at its current pace, over 100 million pounds of heavy metals, including Mercury and Arsenic may find their way into the water supply of cities along the east coast. It also destroys jobs. The huge drag lines take only a handful of people to operate, and replace hundreds of traditional mining jobs. All of this destruction generates roughly 5% of the usable coal in the United States.
I’ve probably depressed you enough by now, so I will close with what you can do to help. The first is to help lobby in support of the Clean Water Protection Act. Already over 152 members of congress have voiced their support as co-sponsors of this bill. Get your local congress person to join their ranks. There is a great website http://www.ilovemountains.org with tons of resources to help you do this. It’s an election year, they will listen!
The other way you can fight this is to lessen the demand. Santee Cooper is one of the only utility companies in the region proposing to build a new Coal-Fired power plant. Not only would this increase demand for coal, it would dump over 114 pounds of mercury into the Pee Dee river each year. Santee Cooper is owned by the state of South Carolina. For those of us living in South Carolina, let’s tell our elected officials we don’t need this power plant. Tell them that we cannot condone the systematic destruction of the land and people of Appalachia in the name of cheaper coal.
I must admit I am a huge fan of the TV show Top Chef. As far as reality television goes, I think it dispenses with most of the drama and just shows you a bunch of amazingly talented chefs going head to head in some tough competition. Throughout the most recent season, filmed in Chicago, my wife and I quickly settled on who was our favorite to win it all, Richard Blais. Turns out he didn't win it all, although he made it all the way to the finals, but he was still our favorite. When we found out that Richard would be coming to town to serve as guest chef at McCrady's, we knew we had to be there!
If I had to describe it in one word, I'd use the word brilliant. I truly felt like for one night, I was Tom Colicchio (one of the Top Chef judges), as eleven delicious courses were brought out, and Richard Blais came out to explain the inspiration for each dish. Richard was very entertaining, funny, and really taught us a lot about the food we were eating. It was great to see how excited he and Sean Brock (head chef at McCrady's) were about this food.
The dishes were (I got too excited about eating and didn't get pictures of all of them):
An Arnold Palmer
This was a frozen cube of sweet tea vodka with lemon soda and a lemon verbena garnish.
Compressed Melon + Pork Jowl + Almond Cotton Candy
The combination of flavors here was perfect.
Oyster and Pearls. A Remix
This one was inspired by Richard's stint at the French Laundry. The pearls were basically grapefruit sorbet dippin dots.
Hamachi Sashimi + Crispy Sweetbread + Smoked Mayonnaise
My first experience with eating thymus glands. The sashimi was so fresh that it was a favorite even among non-sushi lovers at our table.
This one was a tribute to Richard's childhood. Inside the can was a fresh green tomato gazpacho, but the can was a reminder that even great chefs can be raised on Campbell's.
Charleston Crab + Cole Slaw Sorbet
Described by Richard as "a beautiful person in jeans and a t-shirt". In other words, with delicious crab, you don't have to do much with it for it to be good!
Foie Gras Rocks + Fig + Pancakes + Maple
One of the more unique interpretations of pancakes and syrup I've seen, this plate provided an endless number of flavor combinations, and I'm pretty sure they all were delicious.
Country Fried Grouper Steak + Potatoes
This was a fairly simple dish, but quite possibly one of the most perfectly cooked and seasoned pieces of fish I've ever had. This one got huge raves around the table.
Pork Belly + Root Beer + Apple
The only dish of the night to get any complaints. Mine was delicious, but a few people got pieces that were a little tougher. A tough dish to pull off for 125 people simultaneously!
McLamb Rib + Butternut + Peanuts
Yes, this was actually inspired by the McRib sandwich (of which Richard claims to have eaten 4 in one sitting at one point). A few pieces of lamb "meat-glued" together, over a butternut squash puree, and topped with boiled peanuts, a sign that Richard is now a Southerner.
Cornbread + Sweet Tea + Creme Fraiche
A little dessert to finish things off. The cornbread was very rich, and offset by the sweet tea ice cream. I am definitely going to be firing up the ice cream maker sometime soon to try to duplicate that recipe!
It was a night to remember. I'm not sure I've ever seen the chefs come out to a standing ovation after a dinner, but it was well deserved!
We have officially gone live with our new site LowcountryBloggers.com. This is a collaboration between Heather of Home-Ec 101 and myself. For a few years now, Heather has been doing roundups of what is going on in the local blogosphere for a local newspaper. When that ended, we saw that there was a real need for a focus point for the very active local blogger community. We have brought back the roundups, and an event calendar, and from there, the sky is the limit. We're both very excited to be off to the races.