Traveling to the Wrong Destination is Still Traveling

Ever end up in the wrong city?  I ask this, because I read a story a few years ago about someone flying to the wrong “Taiwan.”  Which is to say, the passenger meant to go to the island, but ended up in Taiyuan, China instead.  Never mind that the two places are spelled differently – in both English and Chinese, that the former isn’t a city, and that the person likely needed a visa for China, but I decided to see how common this type of mistake was.  Indeed, it does happen from time to time, that folks end up in the wrong place– just ask these travelers.

Although China did for a spell have a thing for building its own versions of European hotspots – Austrian villages, anyone? – supposedly, the central government has put the kibosh on those.  Then again, it’s unlikely one would confuse Paris, Tianducheng for Paris, France…or even Paris, Texas.

And then we have Atlanta, which really doesn’t want you to get anywhere quickly if you’re looking for an address on Peachtree Street.  (Hint: there are no less than 71 streets with the name Peachtree in them.)

Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Located – I’m Shocked – on Peachtree Street

Thus, in the vein of this topic, I’ll pose this question to my readers– if someone offered you a trip to Mecca, which would you choose?:

Mecca, population ~ 7, 100, in California?  It is also close to the fascinatingly dubious Salton Sea, which I’ll get to in a later post.

Or…

Mecca, population ~ 1.5 million, in Saudi Arabia?

Suggestion: Having been to both, Saudi dates are the best I’ve ever tried.

Airline Safety Cards

Note: With two notable exceptions below, I always ask one of the flight crew if I can take an airline safety card.

Do I really want to take an airline safety card as a souvenir?  They’re typically cooped up in one of those seat-back pockets, probably the nastiest place on a plane – save for the loo/next to anyone eating Macca’s – to place your electronics/reading material/children/etc.  Not to mention, they have those please do not remove from the aircraft labels…well, that’s why you ask first.

But I enjoy the various languages written on them, the amusing graphics, and from time to time, review them to see the bizarre and unique airlines and aircraft types I’ve tried out.

As a shoutout to COVID-19, let’s travel vicariously through some airline safety cards:

airline-safety-card-continental-dc-10As stated above, this is one of those that I didn’t ask to take…likely because I was a little snot way back then.

But, why does this one deserve recognition?  One, it’s the oldest airline safety card in my pile (that’s where “5/94” comes in).  Two, Continental doesn’t exist anymore.  ThreeDC-10s no longer offer scheduled passenger flights.  Four, how nice of them to include Italian in the olden days.

airline-safety-card-adam-air-boeing-737-400-1I took one flight with the bygone Adam Air, between Bali DPS and Jakarta CGK.  The Merpati (another defunct Indonesian carrier) staff at DPS helped me buy this ticket, due to some overeager flooding causing capacity issues at Jakarta airport that weekend.

It’s also one of the few flights from 2008 and earlier that I vividly remember.  Inside the plane, there was duct tape liberally used to hold various parts/doors together.  Pieces of my seat were missing, and the plane rattled from take-off to touchdown.  Might as well thrown in a couple more photos of Adam Air, because it seemed that they were doomed from day one.

adam-air-dps-cgk-2adam-air-dps-cgk-1In fact, just a month after my trip, due to a variety of sordid affairs, they ceased operations.

airline-safety-card-american-airlines-dc-9-80-s80Taken from two American Airlines “Super 80s,” or DC-9-80s’.  The logo may have changed, but the stale and unwelcoming interior remains constant.

Would be even weirder if these two cards are from the same plane, just years apart.

airline-safety-card-air-asia-boeing-737-300-2Way to go, Air Asia.  Your retrofitting of this safety card really instills confidence in me…

airline-safety-card-air-asia-boeing-737-300-1Oh.  That’ll do.

airline-safety-card-garuda-indonesia-crj1000This CRJ1000 card from Garuda Indonesia is the newest (in terms of aircraft age) in my collection.

Though, hah, I have some pretty bad luck flying from Bali, as this particular flight had to return to Bali airport to refuel. In other words, the routing was Bali-Bali.

airline-safety-card-air-koryo-tupolev-134The pièce de résistance- an airline safety card from a Tupolev 134 of North Korea’s Air Koryo. Definitely didn’t ask permission to take this one. Furthermore, it’s the only Soviet-made plane with a presence in my archives, and it’s one of two Soviet jets that I’ve flown (the other – also with Air Koryo – was an Ilyushin 62).


Sure, some of these airline safety cards have amusing graphics, too, but that wasn’t the focus of today’s post.  Though, if you have any photos of unforgettable cards that you’d like to submit, let me know!

Façadism: Not the Only Controversy in Architecture

In the simplest terms, façadism – also known as facadism – refers to when the front-facing exterior (façade) of a building is preserved, regardless of what happens to the remaining part of the structure.  For an example, let’s take this façade, located relatively near the sweets market in La Merced, Mexico City:

Mexico City might be a more nuanced place for facadism, if only because it is very prone to earthquakes.  Indeed, there could be any number of occurrences as to why a façade would be salvaged; among those, historical preservation, unique beauty, and and a state beyond repair for the rest of the building are some of the more common reasons.

The concept of facadism has been controversial for years, though has become much more so due to the skyrocketing real estate prices in such cities as New York, London, and Sydney.  Often availing of historic facades as a scapegoat for skyscraper projects that completely ignore the original building’s raison d’être, property developers are generally the last ones standing in a court battle with city officials and/or defiant communities.  To clarify, some of those facades might be on national lists of historic preservation, therefore cannot be bulldozed save for being in dangerous condition; that developers can do what they wish behind-the-scenes, so to speak, is just a facet of capitalism.

Egyptian Revival Façade of the former Pennsylvania Fire Insurance Company, now part of Penn Mutual Tower, Philadelphia, USA

Façadism isn’t always done distastefully; though highly subjective, I tend to think the Greek Revival example serving as the entrance to the American wing in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is a standout.  But, if you tend to think it’s all an eyesore, you might be interested to know that there used to be a tongue-in-cheek award – the Carbuncle Cup -given out annually to the worst offender in the United Kingdom.

Now that we’ve learned a bit about facadism, I hypothesize that there are other aspects of architectural grievances that are overlooked, particularly in the face of tourism.  Namely, I am referring to Shiro Syndrome, a phrase that I originally concocted while traveling to Osaka, Japan in 2005.

Shiro Syndrome – in Japanese, shiro 城 means “castle” – refers to the reconstruction of castles (and temples, shrines, historic sites, etc.), frequently with contemporary materials.  This is not specific to Japan, but being that it’s one of my most-visited countries, I can’t help but think about it, and that one moment in Osaka that started it all:

Although construction started on the castle in 1583, due to a combination of domestic strife and lightning, the current ferro-concrete structure was finished in 1931.  Further repairs were completed in 1997, and an elevator was added soon after.

Which brings me to the question…do you think the present-day Osaka Castle should still be considered historic?

The same could be asked of many of the pagodas in Bagan, Myanmar:

Bagan, which was the seat of an eponymous kingdom between the 9th and 13th centuries, saw the construction of hundreds of pagodas during that time.  However, subsequent to a catastrophic earthquake in 1975, many pagodas were hastily renovated with modern technology; another earthquake in 2016 damaged many more extant pagodas, worrying historians and archeologists alike about how the repairs would be carried out.

Then, we have the truly unusual Kawasaki Warehouse, in Kawasaki, Japan, which closed late last year.

Directly inspired by long-destroyed Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong
A feeble attempt at recreating Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City

The entire concept of the building was to capture the essence of Hong Kong’s infamous Kowloon Walled City, a massive ghetto which was finally razed in 1994.  If you’re curious about how it looked, the movie Bloodsport was allowed to film inside the labyrinthine Kowloon Walled City.


What is your opinion of façadism?  How would you compare it to the other two architectural topics mentioned above?

If Food Had Passports: Guatemalan Cardamom

Source: https://qtradeteas.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/cardamom/
Source: Qtradeteas

Ever since I started raiding the breath freshener (and carminative) trays at Indian restaurants, I’ve been curious about cardamom.  Whereas my usual reason for diving into those trays was for the candy-coated fennel seeds, the inimitable aggressive and unique flavor of cardamom always stood out.  When else could I find the expensive pods in my food?  Atop biryanis, in milk and as a seasoning for teas.

And in Antigua, Guatemala, in chocolate:

Antigua, Guatemala - Cardamom Chocolate (2)Prior to World War I, German coffee farmer Oscar Majus Kloeffer introduced cardamom to the fertile soil of Alta Verapáz.  Guatemala is currently the world’s largest exporter of cardamom, though hardly uses it on the domestic front, save for adding it to bars of local chocolate much to the amusement of self-declared travel/food bloggers.  Most of it is shipped to the Middle East and India, the latter of which frequently expressing sour grapes over one of its native crops.

If you’re curious about the history of cardamom – a distant relative of my favorite root, ginger – visit the Western Ghats of India to discover its origin.


Are you a fan of cardamom?  Have you ever been to Guatemala?

Hot Chocolate, Two Ways (Mérida, México)

Two years ago, I took a road trip with some friends around southeastern Mexico, starting and ending in Orizaba, Veracruz, ultimately getting as far as Cancun.  As I may have mentioned before, Mexico – thus far – is one of my top three countries for eating…thus, I was not only looking forward to exploring more of the country with locals, but also to trying new and familiar foods along the way.

For instance, there’s chocolate.  I’ve wondered why Mexican chocolate doesn’t get much attention around the world, in spite of being the ancestral home of Theobroma cacao, the Latin name for the original cacao tree.  Of course, colonial empires and globalization have played a role in spreading the harvesting of cacao throughout many tropical countries, namely the Ivory Coast, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

Fast forward to my road trip, and the city of Mérida, located in the state of Yucatan.  Although counting nearly one million inhabitants in its metro area, its downtown area has a cozy feel to it.  Mérida is hot year-round, has boulevards lined with mansions built almost entirely thanks to rope, and owing to Mayan tradition, unique foods found nowhere else in México.

Plus, due to its recognition as being one of the safest cities in the country and with that, a sizable expat population, they’ve got some fine places eat and drink.  Places like Ki’XOCOLATL, a small chocolate shop adjacent to Santa Lucia Park.

Hot Chocolate, Two Ways, Ki’XOCOLATL (from left to right, “brown sugar, cinnamon, achiote, allspice, and habanero;” honey is in the container on the central plate)

Though there are some debates as to the origins of the word chocolate, it no doubt stems from Nahuatl, a language spoken for centuries in rural parts of central Mexico; xocolia means “to make bitter,” and atl refers to “water.”

When it was first discovered nearly 4000 years ago by pre-Olmec cultures, it was consumed in its naturally bitter state, ground into a paste with water.  Subsequent civilizations started to add in what was organically found at the time in Mexican jungles and rain forests, namely honey, chilies, and vanilla.

After a long stroll through downtown Merida, I wanted to sit down and relax with some sweets.  Ki’XOCOLATL offered hot chocolate, two ways, I as I deem it.  The first method was the contemporary style, sweetened with sugar.  The latter, evoking how Olmecs and Mayans may have enjoyed it, started off by merely being the bitter cacao seed heated up with water.  The waiter served it alongside honey, brown sugar, achiote – a yellow-orange seed typically used to add color to foods, allspice, habanero, and cinnamon, although cinnamon hails from Sri Lanka.

Although the ancient hot chocolate took a bit of getting used to, I admit that the modern one was the best cup of it I have ever tried.


Where have you tried your favorite cup of hot chocolate?  Whether it was in Mexico or somewhere else, let me know!

Airline Route Map Rhetoric

Before starting to read books (this is ongoing), I chose maps.   That’s right, I can point out where all of the worlds Guineas are (what a novelty).  In fact, I participated in a couple of state geography bees (harsh reality?), but am still lamenting over not applying for a spot on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Contestants who were sent to place buzzers on the then-newly independent CIS states were perpetually bingung, rather, confused (sorry, haven’t written something in Indonesian for a while).

A predilection for cartographic creations has helped make flights seem less long, especially when the only movie offerings are Drop Dead Fred or The Room.  Having a pen makes it even more pleasant, as I get to gerrymander US states or Cypriot regions to the toot of my own horn (note: haven’t done this yet).  Remember when Iran was upset about National Geographic magazine calling it the Arabian Gulf instead of the Persian Gulf?  I don’t have a problem with the complaint, but just as thought-provoking, if less well-known, is that (Western) airlines generally used to added a suffix to their names in order to be able to fly to both China and Taiwan.  The Dutch airline KLM for example stayed that way on flights to the mainland, but was called KLM Asia to the latter.

This will probably be a thread I’ll continually update, once I’m able to find the Delta inflight magazine that showed Kampuchea instead of Cambodia, or the one where Xian, China is listed as the more archaic Chang’an.  Until those encounters happen, take a peek at the oddities, sometimes controversial, sometimes just …odd.  -ities:

The red lines stand for code-share flights, in other words not those actually operated by China Southern (airline code CZ), but a lot happens when you’ve been abroad for about a year.  Minneapolis relocates to Canada, south Florida travels back to 1995 and Maori Island becomes a misnomer.

China Southern Airlines (CZ) Nationalism

Juicy stuff here.  The Senkaku Islands(or as China calls them, the D/Tiaoyu Islands) AND the South China archipelago, (not to mention Taiwan- but that’s a been there, done that), are clearly in attendance on this page of the China Southern route map.  Might as well add “Africa” and the Solomon Islands to that map too…

El Al Route Map

El Al (LY), an Israeli/whatever airline, understandably can’t just overfly certain countries.  Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran (would you ever guess???)  Thus, their long-haul routes become that much more long-haul.  Say, when flying from Tel Aviv to Johannesburg, they have stay right over the Red Sea, and on their Bangkok route, well, ouch.  But this recent news of potential Dubai-Tel Aviv flights might be the black swan moment in their route map’s history…

Etihad, Abu Dhabi AUH- Jakarta CGK “World Map”

Etihad (EY) of the United Arab Emirates went a bit overboard.  I was flying from Abu Dhabi to Jakarta, but they generously wanted to impress me with their knowledge of world geography.  Because what’s going on in Brasilia is directly going to affect my flight over the Bay of Bengal.  Good thing they don’t have any domestic routes.

China Airlines, TPE-HNL

If you squint well enough, you can see…the ocean.  Taipei-Honolulu, another route I’m not sure why I took.

East/West Seas, Asiana In-flight Map

This one’s got two-in-the-hand!  The West Sea is what the Korean Peninsula terms the Yellow Sea, nothing too offensive.  But the East Sea.  Well, in another never-ending spat with Japan, the Koreas can’t possibly agree with the Sea of Japan, so they just used their/an imagination.  By the way, the Sea of Japan has some delicious Echizen crab…

Maybe all airlines should just take a page from Oman Air’s book, and only label the origin and destination points:

Oman Air, Bangkok BKK to Muscat MCT, 2019

Have you noticed anything “nuanced” on airline route/in-flight maps?

Three Tamales and a Cup of Atole in Atzacan, Mexico

As of today – and since many years back – my top three countries for food, in no order, are Mexico, Turkey, and Japan.  There are plenty of countries out there with excellent eats, and I’m still missing what I believe to be heavy-hitters in the culinary world (the biggest one being Iran), but for a variety of factors, those three places are tops.

Thus, having friends or family in those destinations also works out swimmingly.  Whether it’s local knowledge, language help, or having someone who doesn’t mind mouthing off to line-jumpers, you will cherish the experience.

Case-in-point, let’s take a brief look at the city of Atzacan, located in Mexico’s Veracruz state.

Downtown Atzacan

Last year, with friend who called the region home, I visited the small municipality of Atzacan.  For those linguists out there, the name Atzacan derives from three Náhuatl (a group including the Aztecs) words— atl, or water, tzaqua, or stop, and can, or place; in other words, “the place where the water stops.”

Founded in 1825, Atzacan is best known for its maize (corn) and beans, as well as an annual festival in April celebrating Santa Ana (Saint Anne), its patroness saint.

Beans Vendor at a Food Market in Downtown Atzacan

Of course, we were there to eat.  Given the spectacularly diverse terrain in this part of Mexico – among sloping hills and tropical valleys, volcanoes and thus, fertile soil also pepper the landscape – my friend was tipped off about tamales and atole as being local specialties.

This was a cool find for at least a trio of reasons.  One, it’s Mexican food, so it’s mostly likely going to be delicious.  Two, it’s a locavore’s delight.  And three, my tamale knowledge was woefully limited until that day.

Although the tamal can be found in countless forms stretching from Mexico to Chile, I couldn’t believe how many types there were just in Atzacan!  Given how filling tamales are, we only sampled a few:

Chocolate Tamal, Strawberry Tamal, and a Cup of Corn Atole (not seen, the Rapidly Devoured Coconut Tamal)

Again, given the terroir of the region surrounding Atzacan, ingredients as diverse as berries, chocolate, coconut, pineapple, bananas, and many other things could be mixed in with the masa, or nixtamalized corn dough, to prepare the tamal.

As for the atole, the hot drink made of masa, cinnamon, water, and often raw cane sugar (piloncillo), it’s a particularly heavy pairing with tamales, though no less tasty.  Over time, atoles, too  have come to be prepared with guavas, pineapple, nuts, and other naturally sweet ingredients…though its most famous cousin, champurrado, is made with masa, water, and chocolate.

My short visit to Atzacan was something of an eye-opener.  Not only did it provide more context to the breadth of super-local Mexican cuisine, but it also made me appreciate a bit more places that take pride in what they produce for themselves.


Have you visited Atzacan, or anywhere in the state of Veracruz?  Are you a fan of tamales and atoles?

Nutrition Facts, or Nutrition Lies?

Fuzzy math, indeed.

I was chowing down on some Nature Valley Pumpkin Spice granola bars the other day, when I noticed the perplexing Nutrition Facts label on the packaging:

“Nutrition Facts”

If I am reading the percentages (%) and Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACC) correctly, I should probably hold a conference call with my elementary school teachers first.

Let’s take the Saturated Fat content as an example.  According to this packaging, one (1) granola bar contains 0g of Saturated Fat.  However, doubling that amount to two (2) increases the content to 1g, which suddenly comes to 4% of one’s Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of Saturated Fat.  I suppose we can infer that .25g of Saturated Fat = 1% of the RDA, but if one (1) bar didn’t have any to begin with, how does adding another give us 4%?

Not to mention, should consumers even be aiming for 100% Saturated Fat intake on a daily basis?  Is it analogous to selling products for $9.99 as opposed to $10.00?  Of course not…if you are eating nearly 100% Saturated Fat everyday, you’re going to be in for a world of pain just after a few weeks.  But if you saved one penny everyday on a purchase, you’d have just enough after one year to buy…a package of Nature Valley Granola Bars.  Whoops, there’s tax added after, too bad.

That’s just one of many cogent instances of a mostly pointless yet nearly ubiquitous Nutrition Facts label.  Did you happen to notice the Calcium, Iron, and Protein content, when comparing one to two granola bars?

You see, in the United States Nutrition Facts only became required on packaged food and beverages in 1990; even these days, some smaller packaging asks you to send a letter or call the company to inquire about nutrition information.

Moreover, as per the International Food Information Council Foundation

Serving sizes listed on packaged foods and beverages are determined by how much of that item people typically consume at one time. They are not recommendations for how much people should consume.

Quite the revelation…but then again, how does one determine a serving size for butter, soft drinks, or crème brûlée, things no one should be consuming?

Interestingly, it was only in 1973 that Nutrition Facts labels first started to appear on FDA (Food and Drug Administration)-regulated products; the things that had to be shown were:

  • the number of calories
  • protein (in grams)
  • carbohydrates (g)
  • “fat” (g)

and the percentage of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance of:

  • protein
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin C
  • thiamin (vitamin B1, which converts carbs into energy)
  • riboflavin (vitamin B2, breaks down carbs/proteins/fats to produce energy, and allows oxygen to be used by the body)
  • niacin (vitamin B3, helps keep nervous and digestive systems and the skin healthy, is involved in cellular metabolism)
  • calcium
  • iron

Curiously, sodium, saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat contents were not mandated to be on the original Nutrition Facts labels, as categories were at the discretion of the food manufacturers.

Although I have no hope for Nutrition Facts reform in the current Beltway morass, having a quantitative baseline legend ( x {for example, # of grams= 1% of the RDA of a nutrient}, 1+1 = 2, etc.) would be a start.  Not allowing food and beverage companies to include various incomprehensible chemical compounds and additives is a topic for another day – then again, many of us can opt not to buy those things – but I would like to see some clarity and honesty when it comes to nutritional content.

The Leaning Tower of Niles? (USA)

Did you know that the Leaning Tower was actually completed in 1934 as a way to conceal a water tank for swimming pools?

If you didn’t, then you’re not alone.  To be fair, I’m talking about the Leaning Tower of Niles, located in in the Illinois suburbs of Chicago.

In the 1920s, Robert Ilg, owner of the Ilg Hot Air Electric Ventilating Company of Chicago, opened a park – Ilgair Park – in Niles.  Soon after the park opened, he added two swimming pools for his employees; however, he didn’t want to completely ruin the area’s natural beauty.

So as to disguise the water towers, he decided to build a half-sized replica – in other words, 94 feet high, 28 feet in diameter, and leaning 7.4. feet – of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.  Bronze bells were even imported from 17th and 18th century churches in Italy. Construction began in 1931, and finished three years later.

Moon over the Leaning Tower of Niles

In 1960, part of Ilgair Park was donated for the construction of the Leaning Tower YMCA, with the understanding that the YMCA would pay a small amount annually for the upkeep of the tower.

In 1991, Niles formed a sister city relationship with Pisa, Italy, and in 1997, the Leaning Tower Plaza was dedicated in the park, replete with four fountains and a reflecting pool.  Notably, the Leaning Tower of Niles was designated a National Historic Landmark earlier this year, a first for Niles.

But, how does it compare with the Italian original, which was started in 1173 and completed in 1370?

Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy (taken in 2007)

For starters, a lot less tourists.  But I’ve gotta give Italy the edge for pizza;)

St. Louis-Style Pork Steak

Due to the raging pandemic, I recently returned from a family visit near St. Louis, Missouri (USA).  With the notable exceptions of St. Louis city and county, that region of the state was significantly more open for business than where I currently live.  As someone who would normally travel hours just to try new food, and because it had been 25 years since my last visit, naturally, I had barbecue on my mind.

For those of you who may not be familiar, St. Louis is most famous for ribs, and for its high per capita consumption of bbq sauce.  There are other foods
which I may cover in later posts, but for now, let’s talk about the pork steak.

At first glance I thought, pork steak?  Isn’t that just a ridiculous synonym for a pork chop?  Apparently, no…you see, a pork steak – also known as a blade steak or Boston butt- is cut from the shoulder, and is said to be a cheaper cut, whereas a chop is from the rib/loin.

Pork steak, baked sweet potato, and unsweetened tea at Big Sticky’s in Troy, MO

Pork steaks were popularized in the St. Louis area more than a century ago, and may even be more common on an Eastern Missouri menu than the signature ribs.