Monday, October 20, 2008


Well I am back on the road again. A "short" 13hr flight in economy class later, and here I am in Tokyo. Although I am not keen on flying to Asia anymore, because it takes too long to get there, and I have been multiple times. I still enjoy going to Japan. For the most part, the Japanese are kind, polite and patient people. As long as it doesn't involve waiting in line (they are big butters) or riding their bikes on the sidewalk (everyone in Haneda does it, from kids to grandmas).

I was really excited about Japanese curry, which I never see in Japanese restaurants in North America. The humble curry is completely ignored. Everyone imagines bright reds, greens, yellows, but not the brown stew-ish looking curry from Japan. I find the mild and fruity taste delightful and the flavour lingers. Not to mention it has multiple uses, the sauce can go on omelettes, in dough balls, or on rice. Oh the possibilities!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Hello from Kuwait

Stepping off my British Airways flight into Kuwait yesterday morning, I must admit I was a little intimidated. Even though Kuwait is more moderate then Saudi Arabia or Iran, it still doesn't allow any alcohol into the country, and most women were wearing at a minimum a head scarf. After I got my visa and collected my bags, I went outside to wait for my driver. Looking around, I saw men dressed in the traditional long white robe and head covering drinking Starbucks. My driver showed up with a Dodge Charger, and while we sped off into Kuwait city, I was serenaded with Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera. I could hardly believe I was in Kuwait, until I heard the radio sensor Christina Aguilera song candy man (they removed "he makes my cherry pop") geeze, its only candy!

I stayed at the hotel Le Meridien, and from my balcony I could see a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, and just down the road was an Apple Bees. If it wasn't written in Arabic, I would have sworn I was still the US. Its funny that the US keeps trying to export Democracy, yet the only thing we are really successful at exporting is junk food and giant SUV's.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day-The impact of travel on the environment

I am not oblivious to the wear and tear that travel has on our planet. In fact it's one of those inner conflicts my conscious faces. The love of travel versus the love of the environment. From the moment you step on the plane and they hand you your disposable head phones, your on the express jet to increasing global warming.

It's not just the fuel that the airplanes use that increases your carbon foot print (a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of green house gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide- source but the whole flight is designed to be disposable.

A regular Boeing 747 can hold about 416 passengers and about 300 of those are probably economy class. On a 10 hour flight you can conservatively estimate at least 3 beverages per person which adds up to 900 plastic cups on one flight! There is also the disposable packaging from the meal service, you can estimate at least two meals per 300 passengers. According to the National Air Traffic Controllers website, on any given day there are 87,000 flights in the skies in the United States, out of that number 28, 537 are commercial aircraft. So you can only imagine the number of flights world wide, and all the disposable items that go with it.

If your lucky enough to fly business class, long haul or at night, you can expect a nice little overnight bag which contains socks, tooth brush, eye mask and some other cosmetic stuff. Imagine if the bag is opened and used just for the eye mask, and then it's tossed out. On some flights destined for Asia they give you slippers, again they are worn for maybe 10 hours and then thrown out.

The environment damage doesn't stop there, imagine this scenario: After a long flight you finally arrive at your destination, but instead of taking a the hotel shuttle bus or public transportation you decide to take a taxi, because its faster. When you arrive at your hotel you're really thirsty so you open a bottle of water from the mini bar. You take a long hot shower using the hotel soap and shampoo, and leave your towels on the floor. The next day when you leave for sightseeing, the maid changes your sheets and brings you new towels. You leave the air conditioner on all day since its hot outside (and your not paying for the electricity) and grab a few more plastic bottles of water for the road.

Because this is your vacation, you don't want to concern your self with the details of how much plastic waste you produced, or the amount of fresh water and electricity used to wash your sheets and towels daily. But when millions of people go on vacation, it can really start to add up.

So how can you ease the load of your burdensome conscious? Well you can help reduce the amount of waste on the plane by bringing a water bottle (purchased after security of course), and ask the flight attendants to refill your bottle, instead of getting those micro glasses of water every 30 minutes. Also, when they give you disposable head sets, really try to keep them for the next flight, or they just end up in the garbage. If your in Business Class, save the rest of your overnight kit and give it friends or family for the next time they travel (assuming they are stuck in economy)

When you're staying at a hotel, try to re-use your towel a few times and don't get them to change your bed sheets until after you leave (unless you change your sheets daily at that case your problem to much of a clean freak to stay in a hotel anyways). Bring home left over shampoo and conditioner bottles, and recycle the containers after use. As for the bottled water, personally I say don't risk drinking tap water unless you really know it's safe. Just imagine how many trees they would have to chop down if you had a bad case of the runs.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

An Inconvenient Bug

Sometimes when you travel, you pick up a free souvenir that you could definitely do without. This little present is microscopic, but let's it's presence be known at the most in opportune of times. I am talking about an inconvenient bug a.k.a food poisoning, food borne illness, non stop vomiting and the runs. You get my drift. I am quite proud to boast a UN assembly of bacteria and viruses, peacefully (most of the time) co-habiting in my intestinal system. However, this does not mean that I am immune to sickness. There are times that one bug will assemble an army so large that it can literally reduce me, a grown human, to be on my knees, hugging a cold toilet for comfort.

My first experience with food borne illness that I can recall, happened 3 years ago in Thailand. I was heading back from Chang Mai to Bangkok on 12 hr train ride at night. Earlier that day, I had taken a Thai cooking course, and I thought it was a bit strange that I hadn't washed my hands, in fact, nobody had washed their hands in my class. Oh well, we happily consumed a 6 course meal without much thought. Until later on that night., at about 11pm on the train, I started to feel a bit ill, and very warm. I got down from my bunk and headed for the washroom. There I broke out into a sweat and felt the nausea crawl up my throat. With one hand I held on to the rocking side of the train to steady myself, as I emptied the contents of my stomach. I stumbled all the way down the corridor back to my bunk to lie down. I cannot imagine a worse place to be sick than on a rocking train, except maybe going a merry go round or a roller coaster. Every 20 minutes I would have to climb down from my bunk and walk down the corridor to throw up. To make things worse, I started to sweat orange on my clothes, as my body rejected the fake tanner I had put on the day before. ( I was embarrassed to come home white after 3 months of travel, so I applied a fake tanner). I decided to give up on cleanliness and opt for practicality, and sat outside the bathroom door. At this point one of the train conductors was rightly concerned. He asked me in broken English, if it was a baby. I said “No Baby…Food poisoning” So he produced charcoal of some sorts and I took it because nothing could be worse then what I felt. He also offered me his make shift bed that he was resting on, right across from the bathroom, and I gratefully took it. I arrived at Bangkok airport exhausted and presumably smelly, and then I took a flight to Malaysia where I fell asleep as soon as I sat in my chair on the plane.

Another episode happened a few years later when I was working in Cape Town, South Africa. This time I think the culprit was Shish Taouk (the Labenese shaved chicken on pita with yummy garlic sauce). My second day in Cape Town I woke up not feeling so good, but I assumed it was because I had sun burnt myself the day before. So I got a bottle of water and hailed a cab and headed for work, to inspect the kitchen. The car ride was not pleasant and my nausea continued. When I arrived the kitchen I informed the quality manager that we maybe shouldn’t go in to the kitchen just yet, because I was unsure if I was sick. So we spent the morning looking at records. At one point I was feeling better so I said lets go into the dry storage area and look at the food. The moment we walked in there, the heat of the storage room immediately brought back the nausea full force. I was ill a few times, but wanted to keep working since I had a tight schedule, so we went back to looking at records. After eating a few bites of bread, and throwing up some more, I decided it was time to pack it in and go to my hotel. I realized that I would have to see a doctor or else I couldn’t return to the kitchen. Luckily my hotel was 5 star, so they had doctors that could come to your hotel room, instead of waiting 6 hours at a local hospital. The next morning a doctor came to my room (a very handsome doctor I might add) and he diagnosed me as having some food borne illness and prescribed antibiotics. I also made sure to get a note saying I would be safe to return to the kitchen to continue my inspection in two days, so they couldn’t try to refuse me.

The last time I was sick,was this year in April, when I was working in Lima, Peru . I spent four days with my friends in-laws, who graciously cooked for me, and played tour guide. Although we ate out a lot, I think the root cause of my illness came from my friends mother in-law. She would leave stew out overnight, and one time I saw her leave cooked rice in her rice cooker for a few days. Which I believe she later served to me, because it was cold and I hadn’t seen her prepare any rice that day. So I tried very hard not to eat any of the rice, but I couldn’t appear to be rude either. The next day I was working at the flight kitchen, I was telling the quality manager all the Peruvian foods I had tried, she was amazed that I hadn’t gotten sick. I think I may have boasted that I was immune or something like that. But that wouldn’t last long, as I was soon running for the toilet. I had to fly out right after work the next day, you can only imagine how I was looking forward to flying for 9 hrs to Amsterdam, having a 4 hour layover and than flying another 7 hours home. My stomach was constantly gurgling and producing the most foul smelling gas. I spent most of the flight going back and forth between the washroom and my seat. When I landed in Amsterdam, I sought out a pharmacy and bought some diarrhea pills for the flight home. This worked quite miraculously on the way home, and led me to falsely believe I was well the next day. It took me a week to finally see a doctor and get some antibiotics. It will always be remembered as the week I couldn't have any coffee, or good tasting food (at least without any drastic consequences) and it seemed to last an eternity.

The moral of the story is, eating out in general (at home or abroad) is like playing Russian roulette. When your numbers up, it's up. But you might as well enjoy the good run while it lasts.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Picture from Paphos, Cyprus

This is the view of the sea from Paphos, Cyprus where I went to my first Cypriot wedding.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Universal Four Letter Word.

Someone once asked me, what is a four letter word that is the same in every country. My first response was food (you can see my priority), but after a short pause, I realized the word was Taxi. It doesn’t matter where you go, if you say taxi, you invariably have yourself a car and driver at your disposal. What comes after you get in the taxi, may vary from country to country or city to city.

A ride in a taxi may seem like a trivial thing to write about, but it’s a huge part of the whole travel experience. Its usually your first introduction and first impression to a new country. Taxis' can be a source of local information, where to eat, shop or what to see. It can also be a source of stress and anxiety that may cause frequent gripping of the door handle so tightly your knuckles turn white. Specifically, this might occur when your cabby (wanna be formula 1 racer) drives double the speed limit, zig zags in and out of traffic, barely stops at the stop signs, and oh yeah, you don’t have a seat belt.

One of my very worst taxi experiences occurred during the second month I started working as a Quality Assurance Auditor (a.k.a Food inspector) for airline kitchens. It happened in October 2005 in Rome, Italy. I had just landed at Fiumicino airport from an 11 hour flight from NRT-Tokyo at around 9pm. After collecting my baggage I went outside and grabbed the first taxi I saw. My hotel was located in the city center, near Vatican City, and I had no clue how much the taxi cost would be. When we got to my hotel, the price on the meter read 90 euros! I only had about 50 euros on me (the price the taxi should have been, how he fudged the meter I don’t know) but I didn’t know any better. I asked if he took credit card, but of course he didn’t. So we stopped by an ATM machine, so I could take out more money. My laptop bag was in the back seat, and I never thought to take it with me while I took out money. So, after I paid him and asked for a receipt, I tried to turn the light on, but he said it didn’t work. I got out of the taxi, and immediately realized my laptop bag was lighter. I shouted a few obscenities as you can only imagine, but he was gone, and I didn’t get his cab number. The cherry on top of it all, was when I realized he had given me a fake receipt. It read Chica Chica Boom Boom Lap Dancing club. I guess you can say I got screwed twice, he took my laptop and charged me double. But at least I got a free lap dance!

My biggest gripe about taxi drivers is that for a profession that is based on driving people around, they sometimes don’t have maps, cell phones, or are incapable of listening to verbal instructions given either by myself or the hotel (when I don’t speak the local language). I remember a time in South Africa, where I had written instructions that told the driver when to turn left and right on street names, and he still went the wrong way. Other drivers would stop half a dozen times to ask for directions, meanwhile I am being charged by the minute for their in aptitude to listen to instructions.

I get particularly annoyed with taxi drivers in Montreal, Quebec because the taxi drivers hate taking credit card as a method of payment. It clearly states at the airport taxi stand that they take credit card. But, they always try to get you to pay cash, and make a huge deal about taking out there little credit card machine. Of course they make sure to keep the meter running while they slowly take it out of the glove compartment, and try to find a pen.

Another interesting taxi experience was in China, specifically Beijing, Dalian and Xian. The taxi drivers do not speak any English, and you must give them cards written in Chinese so you can find your way to tourist spots, or your hotel. I have actually managed to haggle the price a bit in Chinese, with my Mandarin vocabulary consisting of 20 words. (Basically I asked how much was the price, said it was too expensive, and gave him my price). Sadly, sitting in traffic inhaling fumes, listening to all the cars honk their horns like mad, (even if no one can go anywhere, and honking is futile) can really dampen that Zen feeling. Also, for some reason the taxi drivers think they have a right to be fussy about their fares. I once flagged down a taxi in Beijing to take me to my hotel, but he told me to get out because the ride was too short, and I was at least 30 minutes walking distance from my hotel. How can no money be better than a little bit of money? I hope they give the taxi drivers a little etiquette 101 before the Olympics start in 2008.

To be completely fair, I have had some novel experiences with taxis. For instance, in Japan the drivers where cute little white cotton gloves, and in Cyprus, your regular cab is a Mercedes and not a Ford of Hyundai like in Canada. In Venezuela, my cab driver knew that I liked the music group Aventura that he was playing, so he pumped up the music, and actually gave me his C.D. I have also had a lot of good conversations with taxi drivers, about their country, about my country, the world and politics.

Unfortunately, I think its human nature to remember the bad things more than we remember the good things. Maybe its because they make for better stories, I mean who wants to hear about the really polite driver, that drove the speed limit, and charged you a fair price? Boring. I don’t for a second think that they have an easy job, as a driver, you have to have a lot of patience dealing with customers, other drivers and traffic. So I respect them. All I ask for in return is that you get me to my destination in one piece, that you don’t screw me over too badly, and you leave my laptop alone.