Tasty little Mystery Bags

Never let it be said – or written – that haxtrax.com won’t give something new a go.

To me, these tapioca dumplings (Banh Bot Loc) look like steamed prawn dumplings still in their embryonic stage.

Verdict: good. Chewy but in a nice way.

They remind me of the tapioca dessert at old Mrs Coish’s Kiewa farm.

In hindsight, a generous squeeze of lemon/lime juice (like Mrs Coish did) should replace the little bag of ubiquitous “sweet chilli/ginger dipping syrup” (ed: the little red chilli rings in that syrup can be hot and dangerous – think of bright blue rings on an octopus).

NB: The “Thousand Island” dressing was on standby in case of emergency tastebud resuscitation. It wasn’t needed.

China, lobsters and soaring prices

A roast chicken USD10, average live lobster USD50, airport taxi USD30: The huge Chinese “spend” in South-East Asia is causing a rapid inflation of prices.

Expect enormous inflationary pressure to soon weigh on the smaller economies as locals struggle to cope with rocketing property/food/transport costs.

It’ll be much worst if tourism turns away from “once cheap” Asia…

Clarification: roast chooks in SE Asia haven’t yet undergone the Ingham/Steggles “miniaturisation” program and are a decent size, and come with claws and head cooked and intact – woo hoo, a bonus locals love!

 

All that gold coin in the pouch must be weighing down our Flying Kangaroo

Australians today have 35 million reasons to shake their head in dismay at Qantas.

From the proud reputation of being World’s Best, in a decade or so Qantas has become “the poor man’s cousin” of Asian airlines for service and satisfaction. The class division between First and Economy has become staggeringly stark.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce’s egregiously disproportionate $24.6 million pay in 2017, and $10.9 million in 2018, could’ve been used to ease the strain on the airline’s cabin staff (they, not the execs, bring the customers back), or on a strategy to reduce fares, or maybe even serve warm food in economy class – there’s an idea.

Qantas’s talented publicists must be working faster than a Rolls-Royce Trent jet engine, to counter-spin the bad media attention. The latest: members of Rock group The Veronicas are talking of suing Qantas after being evicted from a flight over a carry-on luggage dispute.

During the Global Financial Crisis, Qantas’ Joyce and John Borghetti must have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on First Class lounges with Italian marble opulence etc. In a Global Financial Crisis? Is that smart management? No wonder the “fare war” with Virgin, and fuel cost spikes, hit Qantas so severely.

Consequently, Joyce took Qantas to a situation where our proud National Carrier did not have to pay corporate tax. The Qantas Board’s reward to the CEO: $24.6 million pay/bonus one year, $10.9 million the next. What do Qantas-travelling taxpayers think about that?     

I’ve flown on many airlines, and, in my opinion, Qantas now sadly trails behind its Asian competitors. Qantas economy fares are overpriced and with a lacklustre service (though I saw cabin staff trying very hard). Passengers’ complaints about in-flight food arriving cold – or running out, especially on long-haul flights when it’s most relied on – have become all too common.

Qantas was ranked the worst major airline for fuel efficiency and carbon emissions when flying across the Pacific in 2016 (source: ABC news). For evidence of the decline over the past two decades, look at passenger comments posted on http://www.consumeraffairs.com/travel/qantas To be fair, people are more likely to post negative than positive comments, but it’s a good snapshot of passenger sentiment.

I will keep flying with Qantas. My parents and their generation helped build Qantas with their loyalty back when air travel was a much more costly endeavour.

We should be proud of the Flying Kangaroo, and the hard working check-in and cabin staff – including in economy class, the paying passengers who are the “bread and butter” that keep an airline healthy. We shouldn’t be red faced and shaking our fists in anger at the stomach churning excess of CEO salaries, and the arrogant segregation of paying passengers.

 

QANTAS OFFERS COLD COMFORT

Have no fear of burning your mouth when eating the inflight meal in Qantas economy class. The meal warmers at the paupers’ end of the plane must have one setting: cool. Hey, you might even find a frozen woolly mammoth in the middle of the veggie lasagna. OK, that last bit is an exaggeration, but it’s a pity the Qantas “cattle class” meals (which are notorious for running out) have a reputation for arriving lukewarm at best. Why? Cathay, Vietnam, Thai, Singapore – the Asian airlines’ meals have to be opened and left to cool before consumption.

REACQUAINTING WITH QANTAS

This is my first Qantas flight since ditching the disappointing Australian national carrier 4 years ago, and I’m on what I dub the “M&M flight”: Monday Midday, Melbourne to Singapore. It’s a fair fare – all airfares have leaped lately as fuel prices soar – I like the daytime departure, and the cabin crew are friendly. And digital-savvy: “If you like my service, please go online and say so – don’t forget to hashtag Qantas,” ebullient Ana tells a bubbly bunch of Aussie ladies as she serves their second drink with their (tepid) lunch. It’s good vibes, all round. My mini bottle of a cheeky Embrazen shiraz warms the soul where the limp lasagne failed (it was tasty and wholesome, if only it was not cold). The passenger on my left only nibbles at his “pre-ordered meal”, the passenger on my right takes one mouthful of her Asian chicken and declines the rest, saying the food is cold and the chilli is way too hot. Oh the irony! You just know the preferred passengers in Business and First, sitting above you – literally, as they are seated on the top deck – are being fawned over. For more than a decade, Qantas management’s attitude has imbued an elitism; a segregation in travel. There are the important “us”, and then there’s “them” down the back there. But so long as Ana and her cabin colleagues keep up their good service and friendly fun, the flying majority will remain happy in economy class and perhaps stay loyal to the Flying Kangaroo.

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MIRACLE ON A MOTORBIKE

Moses. This motorbike taxi bloke from now on is known as “Moses”. The way he parted the storm clouds, all the way from Bui Vien Street to Ho Chi Minh City airport, was nothing short of a travel miracle. Or maybe an even better moniker is “Charlton Heston”, the actor who played Moses in the movie. After all, Heston also played Ben-Hur – and starred in that unforgettable scene with the racing chariots weaving and dodging, trying to “knock off” each other. Today, there was thunder and lighting to our left, to our right, to the north, to the south, and yet my man has delivered me – via Vietnam peak-hour traffic, a dirt road and the wrong way around a roundabout – to the International Terminal “bone dry” and in one piece (though my crook back is screaming for painkillers). And then he’s charged me double – a whopping 6,000 dong (USD25), while telling me how much he “loves Melbourne, Australia: Number 1”. Maybe “Charlton Heston’s agent”, is a more appropriate nickname.

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IT’S SENSIBLE TO BE SUS

Stop staring at the clock, it won’t tick any faster: I’m bored and sitting at HCMC Airport, waiting to check-in. A man in his early 20s, wearing black framed glasses, shorts, a tired looking T-shirt, thongs and looking very much like a stressed out uni student, approaches me and, in a good effort at speaking English: “Excuse me sir, but I was wondering if you can please help me to buy a ticket.”

Me: “Why? What’s the problem?”

Student: “I must catch the flight but my card has been declined. Can you please help me? I can pay you back…”

Me: (CENSORED)

I watch “uni student”, who has small markings on the ankles and calves of both legs – which may be from bed bugs or needle tracks but let’s presume bed bugs – walk the length of the departures area several times and approach middle-aged men of Western appearance. But to no avail and he eventually wanders off into the crowd, empty handed.

I really do hope I misjudged the guy and that he was genuinely seeking assistance. I mean, at least he didn’t ask me to carry his backpack on the flight for him …

(Article from Asian Journeys magazine, August-September 2019 issue)