The first time I visited Hong Kong, I was in awe of the countless apartment complexes juxtaposed on the subtropical hills, the myriad roads that could easily double as parts of Manhattan’s Canal Street, and a health form asking me if I had a fever, cough, or other common ailments.
Although SARS did reach Ontario, Canada, it was mostly focused on China – where it originated, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. However, given that it was much less contagious, all I recall regarding plans to prevent its spread was a temperature check at Hong Kong’s airport, that flimsy health form, and some prescient leaflets at hotels and restaurants dotting the metropolis:
See anything familiar? What’s it like eating out – if that’s still possible – in your area?
In April 2016, the 下水報道プラットホーム, or Sewer PR Platform, decided to capitalize on Japan’s increasingly popular マンホールの蓋/ふた, or manhole cover designs, and introduced the first set of limited edition trading cards. Although April Fool’s Day is not Japanese holiday – nor is it a holiday in any country, for that matter – the first edition was issued on April 1st. And collectors are called manholers.
There’s got to be a joke somewhere in there.
Roughly every quarter since then, a new batch has been introduced, showcasing manhole cover art from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures. To get them, it might be as simple as going to a visitor information center next to a train station, or more awkwardly by paying a visit to a city/town hall or sewage treatment information center. Whatever it is, the cards are free, and you’re limited to one per visit. As far as I know, English versions of the cards also exist.
Having first noticed these sewer covers a number of years back, I just wish that these were printed way back then, if for no other reason than to learn the background story to the designs. The front of a card shows a colorized manhole cover and city coordinates (and some type of manhole card collection legend in the lower right), and the back, a description of the art, as well as when the design was first executed:
After checking the invaluable Sewer PR Platform website, I decided to check out one of these sewer cards with my own eyes, this time in Fukui, the prefectural capital of Fukui…prefecture.
Although it’s best known for dinosaur fossils, according to the above, with Fukui suffering from the calamities of earthquakes and air raids, the city government adopted the 不死鳥 (ふしちょう・fushichou), or phoenix, as its symbol, and as the design on its manhole covers. Though plenty of other Japanese cities could join them in choosing the phoenix for the same reasons, the backgrounder goes on to note that the phoenix was selected in 1989, to celebrate the centennial of the establishment of Fukui as a city. Huzzah!
Yes, these carriers once served a purpose, be it skidding off of runways, or skidding back onto runways. Occasionally, they took to the air. Now, their memories for me last only in the form of years-old digital photos taken back when I was a more jittery flier…which, in the case of at least one of these airlines, was a reasonable reaction.
Let’s start in chronological order of when I flew these defunct jetliners.
Jet Airways: BOM Mumbai, India – DEL New Delhi, India, June 2006
First Flight: May 5, 1993
Ceased Flights: April 17, 2019
I’d like to note that at the time, I got harassed for taking photos at Indian airports/on planes (naturally, locals weren’t getting bothered); this partially explains the blurry nature of some photos. Perhaps things are different now.
At their peak, Jet Airways had hubs in Chennai, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Amsterdam, covering a mix of domestic Indian routes, and key flights throughout Asia, Europe, and to New York City and Toronto. Due to its better-than-average reputation – particularly among Indian carriers – some investors look to be reviving the brand and its valuable slots by the summer of 2021.
Air Sahara: New Delhi (DEL) – (Patna PAT) – Varanasi (VNS), June 2006
First Flight: 1993
Last Flight: Purchased by Jet Airways in 2007
Air Sahara started off as Sahara Airlines, commencing flights on December 3, 1993. They most flew domestic Indian routes, though added some regional flights, as well as one to London by the mid-2000s. After Jet Airways took them over in April 2007, Air Sahara became JetLite, and then JetKonnect in 2012.
The word sahaara in Hindi (सहारा) means “help;” perhaps its owners should have thought of the repercussions of that name, since at the time of their purchase by Jet Airways, they had a mere 12% market share in India, as compared to Jet’s 43%.
Indian Airlines: New Delhi (DEL) – Jaipur (JAI), June 2006
First Flight: 1953
Ceased Flights: February 26, 2011 (Merged with Air India)
In 1953, just six years after gaining independence, the Indian government decided to nationalize its airlines. To simplify the process, Air India was strictly for international flights, and Indian Airlines – formed out of a number of domestic carriers – handled flights entirely within India.
Since they were the main event for decades for flying domestically in India, Indian Airlines also saw the introduction of the first Airbus A300, the Airbus A320, and shuttle flights (between New Delhi and Mumbai). With the liberalization of the domestic airline industry in the 1980s, Indian Airlines dominance over local traffic was conspicuously diminished.
In spite of a series of crashes and hijackings in the 1980s and 1990s, they were generally profitable; it didn’t hurt that they were owned 51% by the Indian government. Air India absorbed them in early 2011.
Adam Air: Bali DPS – Jakarta CGK, February 2008
First Flight: December 2003
Ceased Flights: June 18, 2008
Named for the son of one of the airline’s founders, and notable for its…unique livery (color scheme), Adam Air had a brief and rocky existence, reduced to dregs consequent to inexperience and cutting corners.
Adam Air’s stand-out orange and green colors, low-fares and in-flight meals regardless of the stage length of a flight were a huge hit with Indonesians looking for cheaper alternatives to the standard two carriers, Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air. However, its explosive growth in popularity was masking a fatal issue.
On a personal note, the only one of these airline trips that I vividly remember is Adam Air. I had a crazy Friday trying to get to Bali from Jakarta; at one point, I was walking waist-high in flooded fertilizer and cobwebs along the Jakarta (CGK) airport highway. It was pitch black, and I was alone.
After making to Bali (with the intent to fly to Timor Leste), my papers were rejected, but because of the severe flooding in Jakarta, I had a hell of a time getting back. Luckily, I befriended some folks at the Merpati Nusantara airline office of Bali Airport, giving them free English lessons. After eight hours of hanging out with them, one of them finally found a ticket back to Jakarta, only it was with Adam Air. To speak candidly, I was a bit nervous, but it was my only practical option. My seat had some horribly bright colors, and parts of the cabin were held together with duct tape, including by the window and oxygen masks. It was the only flight I’ve ever taken where I held my breath. Upon returning to Jakarta, traffic took about four hours to get back (usually, it was 45 minutes). UGH.
Merpati Nusantara Airlines: Dili (DIL) – Bali (DPS), March 2008
First Flight: Late 1962
Ceased Flights: February 2014
Merpati Nusantara, which means “dove archipelago” in Indonesian, took over for the Dutch De Kroonduif carrier of Netherlands New Guinea (present-day Irian Jaya province) in 1963. The merpati, or dove, aspect of the nomenclature might be related to the kroonduif, which means “crown dove” in Dutch, named after the once common bird found in Irian Jaya. Also, with Indonesia consisting of thousands of islands stretching thousands of miles, the nusantara, or archipelago, was intended to evoke the airline’s breadth.
After being bought and divested from Garuda in 1978 and 1997, respectively, Merpati Nusantara also had its fair share of incidents. With rising debt and oil prices at the time, the airline went bus in early 2014, though it seems some investors are hoping to form a Merpati Version 2.0.
Air Bagan: Bagan NYU – Yangon RGN, Spring 2009
First Flight: Late 2004
Ceased Flights: In 2015 (as Air Bagan), then lost their license in 2018
Air Bagan holds a number of “firsts” for Burma aka Myanmar: the first private airline 100% owned by a Burmese citizen, the first to use jets, the first to have female pilots, the first to introduce a frequent flyer program, and among others, the first private airline 100% owned by a Burmese citizen to go bankrupt. It is named for one of the country’s most famous attractions, the stupa and temples of Bagan (Nyaung U).
Their first flights were in 2004, primarily to serve tourists. Then, after the devastating Cyclone Nargis in 2008, Air Bagan was recruited to provide humanitarian services to the hard-hit southern portion of the Burma. In spite of these efforts, the US government authorized sanctions on the airline, which contributed to their eventual downfall. They first stopped flying in 2015, though ultimately lost their operating license in 2018. Fortunately, if they ever want to reappear, they’ve still got the domain name.
Sun Air Express: Lancaster, Pennsylvania (LNS) – Washington Dulles (IAD) – Hagerstown, Maryland (HGR), 2015
First Flight: 2012
Ceased Flights: Bought by Southern Airways Express in 2016
Formed years earlier as Sun Air International, Sun Air Express first flew in in 2008 between Florida and the Bahamas. In 2012, with assistance from the Essential Air Service program – i.e. federal subsidies for rural/remote communities – they began flights out of Houston, and Washington Dulles to regional airports…because when you think of sunny days, suburban D.C. comes to mind. Then, in 2014, they received more EAS support for flights out of Pittsburgh.
On the way to the small but bustling city of Guanajuato, capital of the eponymous state – known for silver mines and narrow streets – I noticed that some road signs on the outskirts were written in three languages– Spanish, English, and Japanese.
On January 1, 1994 NAFTA, the tripartite free-trade agreement involving Mexico, the US, and Canada, came into effect. In short (i.e. for the purposes of this post), globalization swung Mexico’s lower-cost and less-regulated doors wide-open to manufacturing. (On July 1, 2020 NAFTA morphed into the USMCA, though many of NAFTA’s original provisions still ring true.)
GM opened its first plant in Guanajuato soon after NAFTA was introduced. Years later, other countries such as Germany and Japan followed, with VW, Mazda, and Toyota as the primary brands. This is in addition to the maquiladoras, foreign-run factories, often by the US-Mexico border, which typically produce goods for the company’s home base.
Mexico, thus far, is one of my three favorite countries in which to eat –the other two being Japan and Turkey. During my brief time in Southern California, I used to cross over to Tijuana just to get a series of lunches, and then overdo it by chomping on churros while waiting to get back in the US.
After meeting some affable Mexican folks in my travels, my awareness of regional Mexican cuisines grew, as we started taking road trips throughout their delicious country. I will cover more of these stories in later posts, but for now, we’re going to take a look at the tlayuda, the Oaxacan specialty that might count pizza as a distant relative…all the way in Italy.
Tlayuda are eaten either with granulated sugar, or with any number of savory ingredients…
Time for the good stuff! Savory tlayuda are first, smothered in a mix of refried beans and pork lard, the latter called asiento. Then…whatever! For the one above, I ordered it with ground chorizo, squash blossoms, quesillo (Oaxaca cheese; roughly similar to mozzarella), radishes, avocados, tomatoes, and a couple of flora unique to the region.
On the left, the green pod (and its seeds) is called guaje. Although the pod is inedible, the seeds have an eclectic flavor profile, something of a grassy pumpkin seed. More importantly, the guaje, being plentiful in the region during the time of Cortés, lent present-day Oaxaca its name. Since the Spanish couldn’t pronounce Huāxyacac, the Nahuatl word for the plant, they abridged it to become Oaxaca. So much easier, right???
And on the right, pipicha, or chepiche. Does it bear a striking resemblance to tarragon? Yes…but the flavor is more like a citrus cilantro, with a hint of minty licorice. Used by Aztecs and other ancient tribes to treat the liver, pipicha also are high in antioxidants, and can be used to cleanse the palate after a meal. I felt that the flavor was quite strong, so I would recommend using it sparingly.
While in the Marshallese commercial, cultural, and political hub, being in a new country and region, I just had to try some of the local Marshallese food. And if you’re thinking it’s simply coconuts and fish… partial credit.
The first local meal I recall trying was at The Tide Table restaurant of the Hotel Robert Reimers. Being jet-lagged but peckish, I chatted with the waitress about Marshallese eats; surprise, surprise, coconuts and fish came up, in addition to the Hawaiian dish known as “loco moco.”
Loco moco consists of boiled white rice, a hamburger, scrambled eggs, and some mysterious brown gravy. It’s not local, but then again, it was the most regional dish on their menu (take that, Caesar salad). I kinda liked it, but perhaps the drinks menu could offer something nuanced?
Eureka! Pandanus juice– that’s the orange liquid in the mysteriously unlabeled bottle. It was delicious! But describing the flavor of pandan(us) – an ingredient common to Southeast Asian desserts, too – is a bit difficult. Quite sweet, and probably a better name for something that people eat than its synonym, screw pine.
Now, if we take pandanus and put it on the delicious side of the Marshallese spectrum, what’s at the other end? Easy peasy: the noni fruit.
The noni fruit – native to Southeast Asia and Polynesian islands – might be known to some of you in pill or extract form to treat various maladies. I know it better as a disgusting, vile food that might even put some durian to shame.
For background, I went to a beach party, and found one of these pock-marked fruits lying around on a table. Ever the adventurous if naïve eater, I took a bite. Yuck! It tasted of rotten bleu cheese. One of my peers saw my reaction, and brought a fresh coconut over to drink. If a friend invites you to some noni and shirako, you might want to start interviewing for new amigos.
Eventually, I was able to explore Majuro, primarily to investigate local bites. The Marshall Islands accepts US dollars, so I was free to spend the wad without forex fees…but the question is, what to spend it on?
Coupled with one of the most random newspaper ads I have ever seen, I sat down at a casual place for a very filling meal. To start, I ordered a predictable coconut water, some pumpkin porridge, and grilled red snapper. Simple fare, both fresh and welcoming.
Note the condiments on the left: tabasco sauce, soy sauce, and ketchup.
Since the porridge and snapper tasted nice, I wanted to give them more business. Above, we have mashed sweetened sweet potatoes, and on the left, a staple starch of the Marshall Islands, the breadfruit. Having never tried a slice of breadfruit, I was blown away by its billowy French toast texture, just-right sweetness, and tropical abundance, for the next time I should have a craving.
Right before leaving Majuro, I went with a few peers to go fishing. Our local contact gave us a sampling of his home-smoked swordfish jerky, and some mercilessly hacked coconut meat.
Individually, they tasted pleasant, but combined they were even better, reminding me that cities like New York City and London might have flavors from all over the world, but the quality from the freshness is sorely lacking.
Another thing, you may not want to eat too much coconut meat, as it’s fattening like no tomorrow.
After one week touring Majuro and a few of its islets, it was time to take the long journey back to the states, starting with that trippy flight to Honolulu. You know, one of those take-off in the evening of Day 1, and land in the early morning of Day 1 flights. There was a problem, though. I forgot to buy edible souvenirs!
No worries, Majuro Airport has you covered.
Rum, Rice Krispies Treats, and eggs. Wow! This flight is going to be blast.
Have you been to the Marshall Islands? Which of the above foods would you most want to try first?
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.
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.)
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.
I wish I could say that my breakfasts in Sapporo, Japan were unforgettable in the positive sense – then again, I did have control over what was to be eaten – but to be fair, it was only one day’s selections that were unique.
I was drawn to Hokkaido’s largest city by, what else, food, and indeed sampled more hits than misses. Down the line, we’ll cover more of what I ate, but today the focus is on one of my multi-breakfast days.
A short walk from my hotel led me to Nijo Market (二条市場), arguably Sapporo’s most famous. A relatively relaxing place compared to other markets in the country, it also has products much harder to find outside of Hokkaido…
Case in point, over at the Nijo Market, you can buy bear-in-a-can (熊kuma in a 缶kan), seal (海豹azarashi) curry and tinned Steller’s sea lion (todo).
It was a tough decision, but I went with stewed sea lion, served in the 大和煮 (yamato-ni) style, which means stewed with soy sauce, ginger, and sugar. How do you wash that all down at 7:30 in the morning? With a US$.80 juice box of sake called “Demon Slayer.”
The stew was well-seasoned – nothing surprising for Japan – and you definitely knew it wasn’t your standard issue beef or pork. Or tube-shaped fish paste cake.
Getting my daily dose of bread was next on the list, so I flocked to the nearest convenience store for inspiration. The brand Yamazaki Pan comes up with rather bizarre crust-less bread creations, and if you couldn’t read Japanese but knew about Japanese food, you might be forgiven for thinking that they are all stuffed with mayonnaise and yakisoba.
That is unless you noticed the handy graphics depicting what is likely inside. In this package, we have Fujiya chocolate wafers and whipped cream. The wafers seemed a bit stale, but on the whole the sandwiches did the trick.
One of my favorite aspects of eating in Japan is hunkering down at a kaitenzushi restaurant (回転寿司屋/conveyor belt sushi). Not only do they have nearly unlimited tea and pickled ginger (made easier because they are self-serve), but you can also often find ネタ (neta, toppings/ingredients for sushi) unique to that establishment. I’ll go over this in more detail another time, but matsutake mushrooms, raw chicken and hamburgers have been spotted in addition to seafood.
Those toppings are head-scratching enough, but what about 白子 (shirako)?
Shirako, or milt, is the seminal fluid of various fish. Yet, it wasn’t so much what I was eating but the texture of it.
That’s a lie. It was both.
Needless to say, that was the best lemon I have ever eaten.
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:
As 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. Three, DC-10s no longer offer scheduled passenger flights. Four, how nice of them to include Italian in the olden days.
I 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.
In fact, just a month after my trip, due to a variety of sordid affairs, they ceased operations.
Taken 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.
Way to go, Air Asia. Your retrofitting of this safety card really instills confidence in me…
Oh. That’ll do.
This 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.
The 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!
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.
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 (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 (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.
If you squint well enough, you can see…the ocean. Taipei-Honolulu, another route I’m not sure why I took.
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:
Have you noticed anything “nuanced” on airline route/in-flight maps?