Singapore’s Kaya Toast

Many fellow travelers have played up Singapore’s role as an eating paradise.  That said, my first time there, in August 2004, I didn’t have much choice in what – or where – I ate.  That said, I was instantly fond of two foods in the Lion City.  The first, fried mantou (steamed buns), chili crab and its delicious sauce at the East Coast dining promenade.  The second?  Kaya jam and toast.

Kaya jam counts as its main ingredients coconut milk, eggs, sugar, and pandan,  a tropical leaf with a uniquely sweet flavor that has also been used to enhance the taste of ice cream, as well as on its own in cakes.  The color of kaya can be more green (as in the jar above) or more brown, depending on how much pandan is used.  I think the stuff is great, but undoubtedly sweet; after a pandan binge in Kuala Lumpur, I was incapacitated for a few minutes.  It’s common in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, and I’ve found it in the states as well, in a few different Chinatowns.

Usually, it’s spread on grilled toast.  With butter.

What’s that…coconut and butter?  Well, just take a look:

The layer of butter is almost thicker than a slice of bread

Singapore makes it easy for you.  There’s no need to spare a moment to search the city-state for this artery-clogging delight.  As soon as you arrive at Changi Airport, make a beeline for a food court, where the fun awaits.  You say there are long queues at immigration, and you don’t have any Singapore dollars?  No worries, use your excess euros, drams, people’s money, or punts and make sure to get a “sandwich” for passport control too, it beats the unusually-flavored hard candies that they offer when you are allowed in.

Oh, and in case you think the kaya toast counters might dash your dreams and run out of butter:

Seems (US) state fair-worthy

If you have tried kaya jam before, how have you enjoyed it?  Virtual high-fives to all of those folks who eat it right out of the jar.

The Wazir Khan Mosque of Lahore (Pakistan)

Thankfully, there’s an amusing anecdote regarding how I learned of the Wazir Khan Mosque.

I was sitting in front of the Lahore Fort, one of the primary tourist spots of Lahore, Pakistan.  To my surprise, an older man came to sit next to me, trying to preach about Jesus.  After telling him where I was from, he decided to invite me to his apartment in the labyrinthine old city for some delicious raita, chapatti, and curry (curiously, only the men in the family were allowed to eat, but the women helped serve the food):

We chatted for a couple of hours, during which point he mentioned the Wazir Khan Masjid (Mosque) as worthy of a visit.  By then it was nighttime, so I thanked him, and made my plan for the following day.

After an embarrassing attempt at playing cricket with some local youth, as well as an excellent glass of ginger, lime, and sugar cane juice, I finally located the Wazir Khan Mosque.

Construction of the Wazir Khan Mosque took place between 1634 and 1641, and was headed by  Hakim Ilmud Din Ansari, a government physician upon whom the title Wazir (minister) Khan was bestowed.  Though the structure is the best-preserved example of Mughal architecture at a mosque, it was built during the reign of Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor who had the Taj Mahal mausoleum created for his wife.

The Wazir Khan Mosque was built surrounding the site of the tomb of a Persian Sufi mystic named Miran Badshah who had come to Lahore in the 13th century.

Since the mosque was constructed for imperial Friday prayers for rulers taking the short walk from the Lahore Fort, its walls and minarets were ornately designed with frescoes, plaster, tile mosaics, and Persian calligraphy quoting the Quran.  It also came with its own pay-to-enter hammam, or bathhouse, as well as a row of shops, called the Calligrapher’s Bazaar.


Indeed, the Wazir Khan Mosque is a must-see in Pakistan if architecture and design appeal to you.  Since visiting the Great Mosque of Córdoba, Spain in 2003, I’ve been captivated by Islamic art.  My number one travel goal is Iran, in large part due to its immense history.

Besides, I have another anecdote about being thought of as Iranian…

Relics of the Future (Hong Kong, August 2003)

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.

What?!

That’s right, the time was August 2003, when the SARS pandemic was still on every Hong Konger’s mind, even while case numbers were decreasing.

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?

Never Flying Again

That’s right!  These airlines are never flying again.

Or, are they?  I don’t know.

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.

As all Indonesian airlines were prohibited from flying to the EU between 2007 and 2018, due to grave concerns about safety and working standards, it may not have been as shocking to learn that maintenance staff were rushing repairs to Adam Air’s Boeing 737 fleet.  With back-to-back crashes happening in January and February 2007, the writing was on the wall; Adam Air, along with other LCCs (low-cost carriers) were told by the Indonesian government to shape up.  They greatly reduced their  number of daily flights, but public confidence in Indonesian aviation was obviously quite shaken.  With losses piling up and aircraft being seized, the carpet was pulled out from under them in June 2008.

Adam Air Water (Taken at Jakarta CGK)

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, Bagan NYU – Yangon RGN Inflight Meal, Spring 2009

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.

Sun Air Express was purchased in 2016 by Southern Airways Express, which is partners with the Hawai’i-based Mokulele Express carrier.  Sun Air Express’s routes were mostly continued, though their Piper Chieftain fleet was forsaken in favor of Cessna Caravans.


Though this list isn’t exhaustive, these are the defunct airlines for which I have photos.  How about you?  Do you have any photos, or unusual memories of former airlines?

Traffic, Dhaka-Style: The World’s Rickshaw Capital (Bangladesh)

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?

Almost.

Enter– Dhaka, Bangladesh, the undisputed rickshaw (Bengali: রিকশা) capital of the world; by some estimates, there are more than one million rickshaws (aka pedicabs) throughout the city.  They are well-known for their colorful designs featuring monuments, cityscapes, and movie stars, and regularly jostle with lead and methane-emitting cars, trucks, and buses.  So congested are Dhaka’s streets that in 2018, the average driving speed was said to be just above 4 miles per hour.

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:


Fortunately, the first line of a Dhaka metro system – as well as a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) scheme – are under construction.  Given that the city is monsoon fodder, I’m hoping that these two modes of public transit have some sort of buttress against flooding.

Chinese Desserts: Fried Mantou with Condensed Milk

When much of the world thinks of Chinese food, do bread, dairy and dessert often come to mind?  I’m not even referring to ingredients or dishes from hundreds or thousands of years ago, or Chinese restaurant kitchens adapted to local tastes.

My introduction to 馒头 (mán​tou), steamed wheat bread originally from northern China, is actually one of my fondest food memories.  In 2004 I visited Singapore with my dad, and a couple of natives invited us to try chili crab.  Not only was the crab delicious – but it was equally fun to sop up the chili sauce with fried mantou.

It’s easy to satisfy salty and umami cravings in China, but what if wanted to grab me somethin’ sweet?

From having lived all over Shenzhen, China – a city built by and on internal migration – I had come to get familiar with menus from regional Chinese cuisines.  However, based on those experiences, there seemed to be no better way to conclude a meal drowned in reused cooking oil and loaded with MSG than by getting served A) sliced tomatoes covered in granulated sugar, B) caramelized potatoes that will singe your mouth or C) durian anything.

Shenzhen, China- Fried Manotu with Condensed Milk

Or, occasionally, there was choice D) fried (金炸 jīnzhà) mantou with 炼奶 (liàn​nǎi), or sweetened condensed milk.


Have you tried this combo before?  If you’re really looking to overdo it, order it with can of root beer.

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?