Singapore Airlines Soars to New Heights

IT was one of those tricky days in the office for both of us. Australian celebrity chef Matt Moran was in Melbourne, with a rotten head cold and 30 minutes to spare to speak with me about his role with Singapore Airlines before another eight media interviews. I was in Brisbane, with another appointment straight after Matt, parked in my car, my phone to my ear, my eye on the clock and the parking meter, and my notebook perched precariously on the steering wheel. I looked like a cop without the donuts, I really could have murdered a donut right about then. And Matt was running late. When we finally hooked up, I told Matt he sounded like Russell Crowe with his croaky voice. He took it in good humour. (Personally, I would have been cranky had someone told me I sounded like Russell Crowe. Hugh Jackman, no worries, but Rusty?) And we got there in the end with a story recently published in London’s Daily Telegraph.

Last week, Singapore Airlines turned the heat up on airline food, launching its Book the Cook service from Brisbane for its Business and Premium Economy Class customers. Under Book the Cook, customers can pre-order a main meal from a selection of options, with creations inspired by the Airline’s International Culinary Panel of Chefs, including Matt Moran. For customers travelling from Brisbane to Singapore, the new service will be available in Business Class from October 1 and Premium Economy when its first Airbus A350-900 launches on October 17.

On Thursday, I was one of the fortunate few invited to a taste test of this menu. From the Business Class selection, I chose the pan-fried barramundi in native pepper berry sauce, with sautéed vegetables and saffron fettucine pasta, which was my favourite dish of the tastings. Celebrating 50 years of flying into Australia this year, Singapore Airlines is also committed to honouring local flavours and producers, where possible. In fact, last week it also announced it would serve local Brisbane craft brewery Green Beacon beer on its flights from Brisbane. An airline that supports the little guys? You had me at alpha, whiskey, foxtrot.

I also sampled two meals from the Premium Economy Class menu, the lamb with chilli and cumin, jasmine rice and stir fried Gai Lan, which was also a beautiful dish. The pesto fettucine with seafood mornay and panko parmesan crumbs contained fresh seafood, although I would have preferred a little greater mornay sauce/pasta ratio, something I’m sure their regular taste testers (yes, they have these) will pick up on.

Customers who don’t wish to Book the Cook can also choose from inflight menus, but it adds to the experience to select from this wide range of dishes before you even fly. Other dishes to receive the Singapore stamp of approval in Business Class include Chicken Madras with saag aloo gobi, steamed basmati rice, mango chutney and garlic naan bread; Cantonese roasted duck with Asian greens and steamed jasmine rice; and Chargrilled beef fillet in green peppercorn sauce, with seasoned vegetables and gratin potatoes; among others.

In Premium Economy Class, you can also Book the Cook for some Hainanese chicken rice with chilli, ginger and choy sum; and Nasi Lemak with prawn, sambal and green beans with fried onions Ikan Billis and a half-boiled egg; among others.

For a professional travel writer, who flies regularly on myriad airlines around the world, I find Singapore Airlines a consistently excellent airline, offering superb service even when you’re flying Economy. In fact, its Economy Class service rivals that of some of its Asian Business Class neighbours. Who doesn’t love a hot towel on take-off and landing? Service with a smile from their famed Singapore Girls? They’ve got all that and more. There are some airlines I’ll go out of my way to fly and for me, Singapore Airlines is one of these, particularly as it’s partnered with my favourite Australian airline, Virgin Australia. Points I earn on Singapore, can be easily converted to VA. Now, with these new offerings, they’ve signalled they are not content to rest on their laurels. (That Green Beacon Wayfarer American Wheat Beer was so good, I may have taken a sneaky can home with me from lunch). And that, Matt Moran, is something to “Crowe” about, Rusty head cold or not.

The Global Goddess travelled on this culinary journey as a guest of Singapore Airlines.

Honkers is still Bonkers

THOSE same old scents are still there on those same old streets. I catch the perfume of Peking duck, plump and perspiring, a little like me, as I saunter along these sultry pavements. They speak of sweat, soaking showers and dried seafood in the markets. There’s pungent coiled incense spiralling out of the temples, tempting me inside. The trim trams and red taxis are still rattling along the roads, the latter still as manic as ever. A coffin shop sits next door to a coffee shop. On Victoria Harbour it’s all rickety, rockety boats, the sea a cellulite of bumps. This is Hong Kong and in a way, it’s a homecoming.

Twenty-five years ago, as a young cadet newspaper journalist and when Rupert Murdoch still owned the South China Morning Post, I was sent to work and live in Hong Kong and gain some valuable news reporting skills. I was a green Gold Coast journo, not the jade you’ll still find in the markets here, but naïve. But, back then, journalism was all about being plunged into the deep end, and so I dove, hard. On any given day I’d be running around the sordid back streets, uncovering stories on illegal rhino horn being used in Chinese medicine. Chasing celebrating stock brokers when the Hang Seng hit record levels, and breaking a front-page yarn on Filipino maids that were not allowed in lifts in which dogs were allowed, in the lofty heights of Mid-Levels living. These were heady Hong Kong days indeed.

Last week, I returned for the first time in two decades. Wondering whether I’d find more change in this city, or myself, over the past 20 years.
Mr Chow, my limo driver, picks me up at the airport with a broad smile and a face full of opinions on the past 20 years on Hong Kong.
“We are always arguing on the political issues with China. Hong Kong people became used to their freedom. Since we went back to China we are feeling our freedom less and less,” he says.
“Before if there was a protest the police would just stand by. But now the police are becoming involved. They are controlling freedom of speech.
“The population has now grown from 5.7 million people to 7.3 million before. The Chinese people are looking for a better life in Hong Kong as they want to get a job more easily. The people from China do many things the Hong Kong people don’t like, like sitting on the floor, spitting, talking loudly and never queueing.
“We view ourselves very differently to the Chinese. We have a very different culture. We don’t like their manner and attitude. We are China but we still have one country and two systems. This is very important. We have our own life, they have their own life.
“This time you come back it will be very exciting for you. You will find it is quite a big change in some parts.”

Mr Chow is right. These days there’s funky new neighbourhoods. Soho, Poho and Noho. Urban artists are claiming the streets as public space. Hong Kong’s favourite son Bruce Lee adorns one wall. I pause for a sweet sugar cane juice in an old Chinese shop house, which dates back to the 1940s. In Wan Chai, under the flyover, I visit a “villain hitter” who beats my bad luck away with an old shoe. They’ve been doing this here for five decades. One minute I dine in ancient dim sum halls, the next, in Michelin-star restaurants. I seek solace in temples and drink in edgy bars.

In two decades I had imagined there would be little of the old charm left. How wrong I was. The same heady Hong Kong is here. And it’s a little like me. The old structure which makes me unique remains. But there have been transformations. I’m no longer the naïve, young journalist from the Gold Coast who chase ambulances for a living. These days I’m seeking more substance from my existence and my writing. I’m trying to slow down but reap more from both work and life. It’s that constant paradox and similar to how I view Hong Kong. And inside every city, and every human, perhaps that’s the key. We are all a little east and west, yin and yang, dark and light. Given how difficult it is to understand our changing selves, how could we possibly know anyone else, or any one place? Twenty years on and I’m slowly figuring it out, this life business. Embracing the impermanence that a colourful city like Hong Kong, and a constant thirst for life, can teach a willing student like me.
The writer travelled as a guest of the Hong Kong Tourism Board – and Cathay Pacific –

Cathay’s A350 aircraft boast 38 business class seats, fine dining, luxury amenity kits and plenty of storage. While in Hong Kong, check out Cathay’s newest lounge, the Pier, which includes an exclusive Noodle Bar and Teahouse.

Hong Kong: Small on Space, Huge of Heart

I’M currently on assignment in Hong Kong and Macau, but wanted to send you a pictorial post card of Hong Kong’s eclectic use of its tiny spaces. Please enjoy.

Washer woman. This elderly woman perches precariously on her outside ledge. No backyard in which to hang your washing? No worries. Hong Kongers use every inch of space and washing is no exception.

Hot off the press. I’m told this old printing press is now a secret bar in Hong Kong. Next time I’m in the city I’m coming for a tipple.

Stairway to heaven. A steep and mysterious stair case replete with traditional Chinese entrance to frame it. One of the few old staircases of its type left.

Sky high. This is One96, the new boutique hotel in which I’ve been staying for the past three nights. Each room is its own floor. But don’t get excited. They are tiny floors, but excellent use of space.

Sassy street art. Graffiti art is slowly creeping into this city, whose government remains conservative about urban art. You’ll find cheeky pieces everywhere.

Packed to the rafters. A traditional Chinese shop. This one has been serving succulent sugar cane juice for decades.

Cutting it fine. Potentially the world’s smallest barber shop. For $16 you can expect a hair cut and shave.

Clinging on for life. Even this beautiful banyan tree has found a way to co-exist in this city of limited space.

The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Hong Kong Tourism Board – and Cathay Pacific –
Cathay’s A350 aircraft boast 38 business class seats, fine dining, luxury amenity kits and plenty of storage. While in Hong Kong, check out Cathay’s newest lounge which includes an exclusive Noodle Bar and Teahouse.

Top of my Fish List

AMERICAN actor Vince Vaughn is slouching in the lobby of Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel, clutching a cup of coffee and a wearing face full of pain. Vince looks like he’s had a big night and I know how he feels. I’ve flown some 13 hours from Brisbane to arrive in these palatial surrounds and about the only two things that aren’t elegant in this gracious hotel lobby this morning are Vince and me. Vince is in town to film the movie Deadpool but I’m here for another pool…of fish. I have bigger fish to fry than Vince.

This is a story about fish and fear. About how three years ago when I was up in Canada on another assignment I’d heard of an amazing adventure where you can snorkel with the salmon. I’ll take any chance to snorkel or swim anywhere in the world and this story angle had me hook, line and sinker. And so late last week I found myself in Vancouver, preparing to fly over to Campbell River and the Salmon Capital of the World, to try my luck on yet another jaunty journey.

As per usual, all sorts of irrational thoughts cross my mind. Last year, when I was in Canada, I went on a walking safari with the polar bears up in Churchill but I was more frightened of the minus 14 degree temperatures than those gentle giants out on the arctic tundra. But grizzly and black bears? They seriously scare me. I’ve seen all sorts of nature documentaries where the bears wait for the salmon run and stand on the edge of the river and pluck them straight out of the water. So how, exactly, would I fit into this equation? In terms of Mother Nature’s mathematics, surely I would be more filling and tasty than a salmon?

My Campbell River cab driver Winston Pittendrigh, 76, picks me up at the airport and tells me snorkelling is not his “cup of tea”. (As a curious aside, there doesn’t appear to be a taxi driver in the Salmon Capital of the World who is under 75, so ladies, if you’re looking for love, this may not be the place for you). But I digress.
“I don’t mind the water but I’m not too keen about going underwater,” Winston says.
“There are lots of black bears around these parts. I’ve seen enough whales and bears, I don’t need to go on a tour.
“I’ve been as close as that door (he points to the passenger door) to a bear. The hair rose on the back of my neck. I opened the door and there was a bear looking at me. He looked at me for four or five seconds and then he went back to eating.
“Bears even wander into our homes of the morning. I’ve seen them. I’ve seen one of my neighbour’s porch.”

The next day, Destiny River Adventures owner and tour guide Jamie Turko, who runs the Snorkelling with the Salmon experience, warns us not to wee in his wetsuits or they will become ours, at a price. I’m a little worried, this is a three-hour tour during which we will spend a good part of the time in crisp 14 degree waters. I can’t guarantee anything and hope if I do pee myself, Jamie can’t spot it from the boat. I suspect Jamie sees everything.

Jamie gives us an extensive safety briefing and then asks us “who is responsible for your safety?”.
“You!” I respond, enthusiastically and incorrectly.
“No,” Jamie says, with a dash of disdain, “you are”.
So, I am the only thing between me and a bear. I will definitely wee in my wetsuit.
“It’s important to lay with your face in the water and to keep an eye on the river hazards, such as the many rocks you’ll dodge along the way,” Jamie says.
“The number one hazard is river rocks. You need to fly like Superman or Wonder Woman. At this water level it’s like a giant game of pinball and you are the ball.
“The number two hazard is wood. There are also lots of fisher people in the river and you don’t want to be their next catch.”

This was not in the brochure, I want to protest, but instead, I take the plunge, flying down the river like a super hero in a four-inch wetsuit, salmon whizzing past my face. At one point, caught in some whirling rapids, I think I may die, or at the very least, get hit in the head by a rock as it’s all just white water like I’m in a washing machine spin cycle. Then fear turns to bravado. How cool, I think, if I survive this, imagine explaining the gash and bruises back in Brisbane. I realise this is my very own dead pool. Perhaps Vince Vaughn needs an extra in his movie? I exit the rapids with a huge smile on my face. Jamie is sitting in the river raft grinning at me.
“That was awesome,” I yell across the river.
And I didn’t wee myself once.

The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Destination British Columbia
For all the exciting details of this entire Snorkelling with the Salmon adventure, and other fishy “tails” to have in British Columbia, keep an eye out for Vacations and Travel Magazine. For a poetic version about the symmetry of salmon snorkelling on the Campbell River, keep an eye out for Senior Traveller. Both stories appearing soon.