air kick-ass

FLACFed up with violent passengers, Hong Kong Airlines recently announced that it’s cabin crew will now be required to learn Win Chun, a form of Kung Fu, to fight off aggressive flyers. Apparently in Asia, it is not too unusual to encounter disruptive passengers. The Hong Kong based carrier claims that such incidents occur at least three times a week and bosses at the airline have had enough of flyers hitting out at their staff when flights are delayed or canceled. The short, sharp martial arts techniques are ideal for close combat in the confined spaces of an aircraft cabin, and will be applied to dealing with unruly passengers whose reasoning have been impaired by too many drinks. It’s all part of the carrier’s new marketing campaign designed to appeal to Asian business travelers, who enjoy the mystique of attractive women defending their honor. No word on whether or not staff will have license to engage in a full-on takedown, but it still sounds pretty badass, if you ask me.


no ocean? no problem

s_s22_23188486Think “surfing hotspot” and it’s unlikely China’s Qiantang River springs to mind. But not only is the 285-mile river home to the Moon Festival, an annual event attracting the best surfers from around the world, it’s also the site of a rare wave phenomenon that has mesmerized tourists for centuries. Each autumn, a massive tidal bore — a wave that travels against the current — surges up the river. At thirty-feet high and traveling at 25 miles per hour, the “Silver Dragon,” as it is known, is the largest tidal bore in the world and so powerful that only a few hefty commercial boats are allowed on the river at the same time. Now a group of American surfers has launched an annual festival on the river, using jet skis to reach the bore which pounds through the city of Hangzhou. Skyscrapers can be seen looming behind the daring surfers as they ride the murky Silver Dragon, while hundreds of thousands of people stand on the banks and watch this natural phenomenon barrel past. Like the fortune cookie said: no ocean, no problem.


dude looks like a lady

richard bransonEntrepreneur Richard Branson has been called many things, but today he made sure that welcher would never be one of them. The billionaire boss of Virgin Airlines fulfilled a bet he lost to Tony Fernandes, CEO of rival AirAsia, by donning full drag and doing his best trolley dolly impersonation. About 300 passengers on board the AirAsia flight from Perth to Kuala Lumpur were treated to the sky-high show of Sir Richard sporting the airline’s short, tight red uniform, freshly shaved legs, and a full face of makeup. The flamboyant 63-year-old’s first duty was to take out a drinks tray, which he mischievously upended all over Fernandes. “It slipped, it really did,” Branson insisted. Fernandes, who had to change into a dry set of clothes, quickly made it clear who was in charge: “You’re going to be cleaning the toilets,” he said. Branson admitted to wearing a dress only once before, when he launched the ill-fated Virgin Brides business. “I could get to like this,” he said, putting a stocking-clad leg up on a passenger’s chair. “All the girls want to have a touch. I don’t normally get that.” Despite a stellar performance of the safety demonstration – which earned a round of applause – the flight ended with Branson being fired before he and Fernandes sprayed each other with champagne. “I’m a great believer in having fun, throwing yourself into everything you do,” Branson said. “If you lose a bet you’ve got to honor that bet and if you can raise lots of money for charity, which we’ve done today, so much the better.” Branson lost the bet to Fernandes more than two years ago. The pair wagered on which one of their Formula One racing teams would finish ahead of the other, in the debut season of the 2010 Formula One Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi. AirAsia X is donating $100 from each seat sold on the flight to the Starlight Children’s Foundation in Australia. At a cocktail party last night benefactors chipped in for the opportunity to shave Branson’s legs on stage. A total of $200,000 has been raised so far.


video: fast-track shopping

As if the daily grind of grocery shopping wasn’t enough, try having to navigate around the train schedule, too, like these shoppers at the Maeklong Railway Market outside of Bangkok.


baohaus is a very, very, very fine haus

IMG_1530Bao, for the uninitiated, are steamed, filled, bread-like Chinese buns. You’re most likely familiar with that pillowy staple of Cantonese cuisine, the steamed pork bun. At BaoHaus, the tricked-out fast food joint co-owned by lawyer turned anti-establishment chef Eddie Huang and his brother, they do things a bit differently. The buns aren’t so much filled as they are stuffed, or wrapped. Think of them as dim sum taco sliders. A graffiti covered counter takes up half of the restaurant (“do not stand on the counter” a small sign gently scolds) while hip hop blares out onto 14th Street, but don’t let the head-shop-meets-college-hangout ambiance distract you; the limited menu of mainly Taiwanese street food at BaoHaus is a serious culinary offering. A deliciously unctuous layer of fat frames braised Berkshire pork belly in the trademark Chairman Bao. A Birdhaus Bao spotlights chicken, brined for 24 hours before deep-frying in soy oil. Snake River Farms steak makes the Wagyu Haus Bao a savory melt in your mouth experience. Toppings are optional but a liberal dusting of crushed peanut, cilantro, haus relish and Taiwanese red sugar provides a point-counterpoint of fresh flavor and a kick of texture. An icy can of Hey Song Sarsaparilla – with a strong flavor of root and much less sweetness - makes an intriguing, earthy foil. (Root beer it is not.) Next visit I’m determined to try the taro fries. And the fresh homemade soy milk. Because Baohaus, is one very, very, very fine haus indeed; one that could easily become habit-forming.




top 100 (off shoot edition): sushi of gari 46

sushiMy go-to Japanese has long been Sushi of Gari. Simple and unpretentious, with a meticulous presentation that borders on wizardry, it’s an Upper East Side anomaly hidden on a sleepy side street. When it comes to omakase (letting the chef decide what you eat) it’s easily the best deal in town, too. The only drawback is that the room is tiny, making a casual drop-by almost impossible. Over the past year, however, chef Gari has grown his humble one-off into a mini fish empire, opening branches in Tribeca, the Upper West Side, the Theater District, and even the food halls underneath The Plaza Hotel. Can Gari’s reputation for quality and fastidious attention to detail hold up across so many outlets? If Sushi of Gari 46 is any barometer the answer would be no. The setting is more refined, the lighting more forgiving, but there’s a chain mentality at work here that seems to be less about divinely sliced fish and more about herding people in and out as quickly as possible. The front of house is brusque, the servers even more so. And while you’d love to linger longer over a sweet, unfiltered nigori which comes to the table in a beautiful flask of blown glass, subliminally you’re waiting for a not-so-subtle cattle prod to signal your time is up. The sushi and sashimi are respectable, if not sublime – and certainly not worth making a special trip. But it is the atmosphere, which borders on aggressively hostile, that is so off-putting. Part of the allure of the east side original has always been that it’s very much a neighborhood joint, albeit one where the man with his name on the door is the one behind the counter wielding the shokunin. Sushi of Gari 46 might have style to spare, but it lacks the appeal that comes with having soul.




IMG_1093Part of the allure of Hakkasan is that you’d walk on by if you didn’t know it was there. A large steel door on a grotty stretch of 43rd Street – which was not too long ago a major thoroughfare for the dispossessed, the deranged, and the deviant – is your only clue. In fact, I strolled past not once but three times, wondering if I had gotten the location right. It’s a peculiarly British fashion, this ramshackle exclusivity designed to be enjoyed like a secret among those in the know. In Hong Kong the idiom reaches a highpoint as a lingering legacy of a restrictive class system: the city is pockmarked with private dining clubs secreted down blind alleyways and atop skyscrapers, where the price of admission demands a secret knock or password. Though an import from London – with outposts in Las Vegas, Doha and Mumbai – Hakkasan feels less like the former and much more like the latter. Opening that steel door is akin to Alice falling down the rabbit hole. A long, ghostly illuminated hallway leads you to a check-in desk, watched over by a pair of grinning Cheshire cats. You wonder yet again if you’ve come to the right place and suddenly have a sinking feeling that perhaps you might get turned away because you don’t know the password. No worries, this is New York: democracy and dollars rule. You have a reservation; you’re warmly greeted and ushered through an expansive marble-clad bar area, thumping with techno music, turning past the kitchen and down another hallway before arriving in the land of the lotus eaters. It’s disorienting, but I expect that’s the objective; you’re so relieved to be seated that the excessively priced menu doesn’t make you blanch: an $888 plate of Japanese abalone? $345 for a Peking duck, albeit garnished with caviar? What, no shark fin or swallows nest soup? Searching for reasonably priced items while sipping an $18 glass of Sauvignon Blanc you’ll recall the wise words of Confucius – not to mention Chinese chowhounds: the less you pay, the more satisfying the meal. A traditional Hakka dim sum platter made for a colorful start: scallop shumai, prawn and chive dumpling, black pepper duck dumpling, and har gau, all pretty to look at – and even tastier to eat – and at $28, or roughly $4 per dumpling, what passes for a bargain here. Udon noodles ($18) are nothing out of the ordinary and skimp on the advertised shredded roast duck but they’re satisfying dressed in plenty of spicy, seafood-rich XO sauce. The Assam Seafood Claypot ($42) is perhaps the most successful plate of the night. Studded with chunks of fish, shrimp, and squid in a savory curry broth, it’s big enough to share and even budget friendly if you load up on rice. Pak choi are bright and crispy but really, $15 for a side of veg? When the bill comes it’s a bit of a shocker, despite best attempts at avoiding anything approaching excess: $200 with tip. For a pre-theater meal it feels like a bit of a rip-off. Then again if I was with the high-rollers in Macao, or above the clouds and looking down on the Hong Kong skyline, I wouldn’t think twice. Perhaps that’s the best way to approach a meal here: close your eyes, drink the potion, and embrace the fantasy of being in a place far more magical than midtown.

assam clay pot


faster than a speeding tuk tuk

sook jai

Couples traveling together to Thailand this month can speed their way through the traffic at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport faster than you can say, “no tuk tuk, no massage.” Register at one of the “Amazing Thailand, Amazing Romance” counters – located on both the East and West concourses – by providing some basic information and receive a heart-shaped sticker and a key chain with the Thailand tourism mascot, Sook Jai, which entitles couples to use the “premium lane” for a fast track through the notoriously congested immigration process. Befitting a country known for its embrace of a third gender, the program applies to same-sex couples, too. I think I feel an emoticon coming on.


a royal send-off

royal guards

Just when you think there’s nothing left to do, no corner left unexplored, Incheon Airport travels back in time as the Korean Royal Family of the Josean Dynasty make a ceremonial procession through the terminal. Dressed in colorful traditional costumes, an enfilade of noblemen and women (staff from the Cultural Heritage Foundation actually) re-enact a scene from a bygone era: the daily walk of the Royal Family. It turns out that transit travelers spend an average of 5.2 hours at Incheon waiting for connecting flights and the procession is part of a push to make the gateway more than just an airport but also a destination representing Korean society. A Cultureport, if you will, which also includes a Traditional Craft Gallery, the Korea Culture Museum, and the Korean Traditional Cultural Experience Centre, all within the terminal confines. Delirious after five hours of shopping and walking and eating and staring at the departures board it made for one of the more intriguing distractions I’ve ever witnessed in an airport and a fun photo-op, too – not to mention a very royal send-off.

the royal procession

the royal guard

a royal nobleman and woman

me and the royal guard


killing time at incheon


With six hours to kill in Seoul’s Incheon Airport – before connecting in Beijing and only then on to home – what’s a weary traveler to do except take random photos of unsuspecting travelers and chance objects? After all, I’ve just slept through an overnight flight from Phuket with miles and miles to go before I sleep again.






the journey home: part one

let the great journey begin


happy endings

paresa wedding

It seemed propitious that on my last afternoon at Paresa (my final day in Thailand, for that matter) an adorable couple tied the knot on the high lanai while I was having lunch. A new beginning twinned with a happy ending; it was a perfect bookend to my adventures in Southeast Asia. Now, to packing.


patong beach


Patong Beach is the main tourist resort in Phuket, just south of where I am staying at Paresa. It’s the center of cheap shopping on the island and probably more famous for its nightlife than the mile-long crescent beach that stretches the length of town. (Think Cancun by way of Southeast Asia.) The shape of the bay being a natural funnel, Patong was also one of the worst affected areas of Phuket when the Boxing Day tsunami struck in 2004. The giant wave caused a great deal of destruction to the waterfront and immediately inland. But you wouldn’t know that today: the town is built-up and teeming with European tourists – plus enough Russians to call for street signs posted near the six-deep beach to be written in Cyrillic. Thanks but no thanks, Patong Beach; I’m not spending my last day in Thailand struggling to discover your dubiously hidden charms. I’m tuk-tukking it back to my villa.

patong beach

tsunami warning

patong beach gals

crowded with russians


speeding home by starlight

stars in their multitudes


upon a floating gypsy village we come

After leaving JBI we came upon Ko Payni, a floating gypsy village at the head of Phang-Nga Bay. Anachronistic as that sounds, it was nevertheless established by nomadic Malay fisherman near the end of the 18th century. (Check out the brief video clip or double-click the panoramic below to get a sense of the scale of the environs.) At that time Thai law limited land ownership solely to people of Thai origin, so the resourceful gypsies built a settlement on stilts, skirting the law on a technicality while giving themselves easy access to the fisherman’s life. As the community grew prosperous, it expanded and today the village is home to some 1,500 people, a mosque, and even a football pitch, all built on barnacle-covered poles over the sea. As I arrived late in the day, I had time for little more than a coffee and a quick poke around, but it left me wondering what the village must be like in the moonlight – and at bed time as the water laps beyond the gaps of the wooden slatted floors.

gypsy panorama

ko payni


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