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.
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?
There doesn’t seem to be any good seat in economy class. Window seats force you to play Twister in case you need to get up for anything; aisle seats mean bags may fall on you whenever the overhead is opened, someone is going to impel you to stand in the aisle once everyone can disembark, your elbow becomes a bullseye for drink carts, and sometimes a giant metal box is under the seat in front of you, c/o in-flight entertainment (IFE); a middle seat has barely any of those issues, phew, except good luck trying to free a limb to do anything. Not to mention, don’t you get such a kick out of when the check-in agent says the flight is “very, VERY full,” “completely full” or the ingeniously crafted “full,” only to realize that there are seats still unoccupied? Heck, on some US flights, they will charge you to switch to certain “Economy Plus” seats…are those for extra legroom, or less COVID exposure?
Hey now, then why do I always choose an aisle seat, given the non-exhaustive list of negatives above? I like wandering about, hitting up the galley where frozen apples and bananas are available to all, sometimes chatting with flight attendants (who are also often frozen) and joining in the elderly Japanese folks who always manage to establish a pop-up gymnasium in the back. Also, bowing to slight irony, using my knowledge of geography (…and with some assistance from the in-flight map, if available), I’d trek to one of the emergency exit doors to peer out the window. Why not just choose a window seat then? I’d make enemies for life with my restless legs and prevailing Middle Eastern countenance.
Just like non-smoking rooms at a Chinese hotel couldn’t be further from the truth, you don’t always have a choice in where you sit on a plane. Nevertheless, for flights less 3.5 hours, I will attempt a window seat, in order to get views like these:
Oh, let’s not forget, if you’re seated at the window, you get to use your whole noggin to peer out, so that no one else has a chance of seeing anything. Never mind that merely sitting still will get you nearly the same view…
As a former frequent leisure traveler, this COVID-19 pandemic is a real cliché dust-creator for passports. Nevertheless, I wanted to reflect on a few airline meals, that stood out not for being good, but just because even unpleasant in-flight service meant that you were traveling somewhere.
Baked beans and mushrooms? Thanks for your contribution, Her Majesty
The US airlines for the most part make it simple these days when flying between and in the fifty states- no free meals in economy class, save for a few cross-country flights. On the flip side, I guess we can’t blame them for the inevitably inferior quality if they were still serving meals. Still, if I could get one of those rock-solid pieces of bread with butter, it could tide us over for a spell. Better to have never received free food in-flight in the first place, because passengers wouldn’t be able to make that their excuse du jour. Shoot, if I’m going to be stuck on an airplane for any amount of time, I’d rather be eating something I know is good, say a five dollar bottle of Hudson News-water, two Advil or take-out from a Salvadorean restaurant.
Ahh, Salvadorean food. Sure, airport security in many places wouldn’t permit you to take the condiments– pickled cabbage being the número uno cause of airborne anarchy– through the checkpoints, but I wonder how many people have been introduced to a country’s cuisine based on the airline they were flying. We’ve already taken a peek at a British breakfast above, but that was with Emirates, which might as well be the 3rd British carrier, but let’s see what kind of hometown pride other airlines have:
We’ll begin with the most painful volunteer, American Airlines, from Miami to La Paz, Bolivia. Did you know that there’s as much fat in that salad dressing as there is in the person in the seat next to you? Oh, hello rock-solid piece of bread. La Paz Airport is the second highest in the world, so I couldn’t tell if I was sick because of the altitude or the…wait, is that Vaseline? I’m getting out of here.
Dragonair (now known as Cathay Dragon, based in Hong Kong), Hong Kong to Dhaka. Never thought you’d see feta cheese and soy-glazed pea pods together? The most representative Hong Kong food in this picture is the TimeOut chocolate bar. Why? It’s produced by Cadbury, a British company. HK was a British territory from the early 1840s until 1997. Folks, that’s the best I got…
Sichuan Airlines (based in Chengdu, China), Chengdu to Shenzhen. Aviation food! No need for the reminder, alas it’s not so much different from Chinese terra firma food. That’s a standard Chinese breakfast food on the right, 粥 zhōu, or rice porridge. In that oh-so-common air-tight packet to its lower left, pickled MSG. No, it’s pickled daikon, a root vegetable. If they gave a packet of sunflower seeds instead of pickles, the aisle would become louder than the engines at take-off.
Bangkok Airways, Luang Prabang, Laos to Bangkok, Thailand. Khao niao, whereas khao=rice and niao=sticky in the Lao language, is present. That’s the best we can do here. Are those carrots wrapped in egg? I have to start prioritizing my memory.
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.
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?
For starters, a lot less tourists. But I’ve gotta give Italy the edge for pizza;)
The first time I went to Bali, way back in 2005, I was a much different traveler. Having just visited a few countries at that time made me nervous about solo travel, and coupled with that, fearful of taking rides at airports, especially after a disorienting flight. So visceral was my anxiety that instead of taking the hotel shuttle to Jimbaran, I walked for about 2+ hours at night, wheeling two suitcases in that exhausting tropical humidity. This was also before mobile phones could show you where you were, so I was working off of rapidly disintegrating printed maps to get to the hotel.
What does that have to do with Balinese Hinduism? Nothing…except that I probably accidentally tripped over more than a few of the ubiquitous canang sari along the way.
What exactly is canang sari? Loosely translated as essence (sari) in a palm frond tray (canang, pronounced cha-nang), canang sari are offerings to local gods left daily by Balinese women, typically in the early morning or around dusk. Depending on the ritual and importance of that day, they may either small or grandiose, and will be filled with flowers, herbs, food, money, and incense.
Canang sari are strategically placed by entrances to family compounds, altars, temples, in addition to restaurants, hotels, and other structures. Chiefly, canang sari show to the deities the time spent by each family in making them, to keep the good and bad balanced, and as a thanks for keeping the family harmonious.
Vishnu, the preserver, represented by a red betel nut
Brahma, the creator, represented by a green gambier leaf
On top of the canang sari are flowers dedicated to sincerity and love, placed in specific cardinal directions:
White petals for Ishvara, supreme lord/personal god, pointing East
Red petals for Brahma, pointing South
Yellow petals for Shiva, pointing West
Blue/Green petals for Vishnu, pointing North
Once that incense fizzles out, however, you might notice some local fauna nibbling away at canang sari. According to tradition, as long as there’s no more incense to be burned, it’s totally ok to do so…not that the animals know anyway!