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?
Coins are obnoxious. It’s not their fault…no, no, it’s because governments ’round the world can’t resist weighing down our jeans or handbags – or not, as you’ll see shortly – with coinage. Is it in deference to those of us easily distracted folk, eager to make music out of the clanging currency? Or, are they still produced so that cuprolaminophobics – look it up! – can amble over to the nearest train track to have their way with coins?
Getting back on track, I guess I used to be something of a numismatist, or coin collector. The majority of my collection consists of coins more useful these days as paper weights than legal tender – for instance, pre-euro, and something from Zimbabwe in the ’80s – but that’s part of the point of it being a hobby, no? What follows is a sampling of some of the less welcome members to pockets worldwide (and yes, I realize that they’re still money)…
The left column, with examples (top to bottom) from Hong Kong, the Maldives, Zimbabwe, and the UK, are ones that have not been eluded by the American diet. However, if one of those ever fell from your hand or pocket, you’d definitely notice it.
At the same time, are those any more obnoxious by their extremely light opposites in the right column? We have the Japanese one (y)en, the Indonesian 500 rupiah, and the bane of my consumerist existence while in China, the fen. If a cashier gives you a fen, it’s a euphemism for the country laughing at you. Bad advice: try spending it in Taiwan.
With the US quarter as a guide, the left column, with Costa Rica and the UK again, as well as the right column with Hong Kong, Belize, and the same 50p from the UK, display coins that are too darn big. Though we’re nowhere near the scale of the monolithic currency of some Pacific Islands, what’s the reason for this? Save for Costa Rica, it seems as if imperialism isn’t the only category in which the British got carried away…
The right column also shows some of the funkier shapes of coins. Someone was asleep at the switch one day, and now his/her handy work gets the attention of bloggers.
Starting from the left, we have the Japanese five (y)en, the US dime, 50 cents from South Africa, 5 sentimo from the Philippines, one tetri from Georgia, 5 koruna from the Czech Republic, and 20 colones from Costa Rica.
The first time I noticed a perforated coin was in Japan. Curious about why some coins have a hole in them? Necklaces are one reason, sewing coins into clothing, another. Thinking about it another way, the Japanese 5 en coin isn’t worth much – particularly outside of Japan – but string it onto some jewelry, and watch your coffers grow.
As for the middle column, that coinage is ridiculous small; the US penny – for its size and its denomination – and the 20 colones, were placed in the photo for comparison. I’d feel sheepish (particularly outside of their home countries) trying to pay for something with tetri, or the colones for that matter. Can you imagine a coin-only checkout line?
I hope that you enjoyed this brief tour of coins around the world. Are there any standouts in your book?
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.
As a child, I used to think that the Manhattan Chinatown was one of the coolest neighborhoods to wander around, be puzzled by the Chinese characters written all over the place, and to visit a vastly different culture without needing to hop on a plane. Later on, I learned that you could get ersatz versions of Western desserts for low prices, but the standout for me was always the (Portuguese-inspired) egg tart.
In any event, after starting to travel, I realized that New York City’s Chinatowns were missing something prominent that other 华埠 (huábù) / 唐人街 (tángrén jiē) proudly displayed– a paifang (牌坊 páifāng).
Breaking down the word paifang, the pai refers to any number of communities in a fang, or precinct. Originally, they served as markers to designate individual fang, but eventually became more ornamental in purpose.
Paifang were historically inscribed with specific moral principles to obey, and/or praise the government for recent accomplishments. Thereafter, icons such as plants and animals whose sounds were homophones with auspicious words – e.g. fruit bat, which also sounds like “blessing.” Though, modern ones take a more…hospitable approach to phraseology. For example, a number of paifang have carved into them the idiom 天下为公 (天下 tiānxià “everywhere below heaven,” “the whole world/China;” 为 wèi “for;”公 gōng “the public,” collectively owned”)– this roughly translates as the world is for everyone.
With that background exposited, let’s dive into some Chinatown paifang photos from around the world…with a couple of surprises added to the mix.
What?! A paifang in China? Of course! This one leads the way to the Ge’an community (隔岸村), in the Bao’an district of Shenzhen. If you’re a tourist and you ended up here, you’ve got quite the wanderlust.
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.
Traffic is one of those detestable facts of life that seems to follow you, no matter where you go. Whether it’s waiting on line at a market, inhaling exhaust from the cars during rush hour, or you’re trying to buy a pair of limited edition Super Mario Bros. shoes on the Puma website right after their release, traffic swoops in to sap your vitality.
Not to mention, if you like traveling, you probably have stories of superlative traffic situations. One of mine stems from taking an airport bus from Congonhas Airport to downtown São Paulo; we moved roughly three miles in two and a half hours. Then, you have the pipe that fell on a highway between Mexico City and Puebla; on that bus, we waited around eleven hours before the go-ahead. And have fun trying to cross a street in a Vietnamese city.
Ah, yes, Vietnam. Being a pedestrian in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi takes some guts, what with the never-ending swathes of motorbikes narrowly missing knocking you over. It’s usually worth it though, given how delicious much of the coffee and street food is. But, is there an analogous metropolis out there, known for its mesmerizing traffic, perhaps somewhere in South Asia?
Having recently read that the Dhaka government is planning to remove all pedicabs by next year, I wonder how successful this initiative will be. COVID-19 may have put a temporary stop to it, but irrespective of the pandemic, millions of residents rely on the pedicabs for commuting, as their quotidian job, or for transporting goods. Overall, Dhaka’s infrastructure is not equipped for the more than 19 million that live in the metro area, and completely eliminating rickshaws would only add to the vehicular traffic. Also, if they go the Jakarta route – getting rid of rickshaws coupled with a rising middle class – it might pave the way for motorbikes, which again would add to the traffic crisis.
On that note, I leave you with this nocturnal image, as a passenger in a Dhaka rickshaw in 2007:
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?
Though Russian points of interest will make future appearances on LearningFeelsGood, most fresh in my recent stroll through trip photos is the unexpected amusement found in the form of Moscow vending machines…and here I thought Japan had already cornered the market on this stuff.
Without further ado, let’s take a gander at a few surprising – and one not so surprising – souvenirs:
Now you too can own a t-shirt of Dear Leader Putin wearing shades. Or a hat. Or neither. Not to mention, why isn’t Patriot Box written in Russian too? Because locals. Already. Know.
Contact lenses in a vending machine. Stick your eye into that little slot in the lower right…no, that’s not it. So then, was this purpose-built with one person in mind? Yeah, if I had my own vending machine, it would probably sell pillows. Or tacos.
This is a neat idea–a vending machine selling only Japanese products. When I bought a bottle of green tea from this one, it uttered “有り難う御座います” (arigatou gozaimasu/thank you). Also, note that the upper left sign is pointing to the hot drinks, and the lower right, the chilled drinks.
Actual oranges being squeezed in this Zummo machine, presumably with nothing else added…sweeeeet! But, how long have they been sitting there?
Food. Well, to me at least. This is what you were expecting to find in Russia, right– a caviar vending machine? Maybe by the Caspian Sea.
Even with the agreeable exchange rate, I still didn’t dive in to a jar of икра (ee-kra). Guess I’ll have to settle for the fake stuff for now.
Which of these products, if any, appeals most to you? Seen any vending machines in Moscow that should be added to the list?
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.