jeudi 8 novembre 2018

I AM IN LOVE WITH .........QATAR AIRWAYS

My first flight with Qatar Airways was in February 2014, I think: IAH DOH CGK DOH BRU. Since then I have made every attempt to fly QR Qatar Airways when I have a chance, using Casablanca, Colombo  and Cairo (before blockade) to travel between Miami and Paris, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta or Cochin.
Qatar Airways changed my mind about the narrow view I held of the Persian Gulf states especially Qatar. The reason for that was my interaction with the multinational Cabin Crew as well as the Staff at Al Mourjan Lounge.
In the last two weeks, I have been LUCKY to fly QR
Miami to Doha
Doha to Cochin
Cochin to Doha 
Doha to Brussels 

How did the cabin crew, over the course so many flights (I have flown them to Doha from PHL, BOS, JFK, IAH, ORD, MIA) and to BRU CDG CMN CAI HBE LCA COK CMB KUL SIN CGK) influenced my thought about Qatar?
The first Cabin Crew I was able to chat in depth was from Philippines and she described to me the delights of being a Cabin Crew of Qatar: the ability to see the world, the chance to go home frequently, plan for a future with a family and business, all accomplished while they were still in their youth. The company policy prohibits the Cabin Crew to be in touch with the passengers outside the flight on a social basis. As AP (Cabin Service Manager on my DOH to BRU flight yesterday) explained: When you have to maintain a high level of efficiency and competence in service provided to the public, certain standards have to be met and followed. I have nothing but respect for HE Akbar Al Bakr, the CEO of Qatar Airways and I will not do anything to jeopardize the many friends I have met while flying QR. It is they, the Flight Crew that have made me love Qatar Airways.
On 7th November 2018 I flew COK to DOH and after a brief stay of only two hours at Al Mourjan (at least three of the staff stopped by to say Hello) on to Brussels. I look forward to the first interaction with the FA: they are truly multinational: India, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal, also other SE Asian countries: Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Thailand. Not to mention delightful people from Romania and Poland. I have also met Jamaicans, Eritreans and even a Paraguayan!
I request seat 1 A (One alpha, for those in the know) or 1 K if it is A350 or 787 or 1B on 777 or A330.
COK DOH  seat 1B but no one sitting on 1 A  QR 517
DOH BRU  seat  1B but no one sitting on 1 A   QR 193


 Most of the passengers were Keralites returning to Qatar and other regional countries after holidays, the atmosphere was sombre but that did not, like our compatriot Latin Americans, prevent them from breaking queues and pushing and showing forward to get on the plane. I have admiration for these men and women of Kerala who with their hard work in the Gulf States have contributed to the prosperity of Kerala.
There was a seperate line and I was first on board and I love this routine: Clear Champagne and Warm towel, please..

 I am a Jew but always I pay attention to this Muslim prayer and feel very soothed by the tone of the prayer. We also have special prayers in Hebrew for beginning of a journey. But the emotion I feel strongly at moments like this: offer gratitude for good things in life and feel humble, in front of these people who make my life so comfortable and interesting.



 Because of the blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia led coalition of Muslim countries, the flights to Qatar takes a little longer as they are not allowed to fly over their antagonist's airspace. Few more minutes to enjoy the QR hospitality!
 The flight from Cochin left at 0330, so sleep was the priority and also the Earth Lounge at COK had a chef who prepared a Masala Dosai for me. As the sun rose over the desert and we were approaching Doha, I decided to nibble on something, it was 5 AM and despite the early hour, I decided to ask for a flute of Pommery Champagne..

It was Deepavali in India, I had a Kerala style fish curry at the hotel and then another repast at the Lounge in Cochin, I was not particularly hungry but who can pass up a QR meal.
When I requested a flute of champagne, it was Miss A who brought it over. We looked at each other for a moment and we both realized that just one and a bit ago on my journey from Tel Aviv to Miami via Amman and Doha, she was on the Doha to Miami flight and we recollected even what we talked about. She is from Osaka and we once again talked about Japanese culture (society before the individual), food (fresh and prepared without too much preservatives). I have a brother Eliyahu who speaks Japanese with a Kansai accent and she explained various accents of the Kansai region, osaka versus Kobe..
This flute of champagne felt special. The sun was rising and this chance meeting, like rediscovering an old friend, brought such a pleasure to me. There are over 10 000 Cabin Crew at QR airways and it is extremely rare to run into the same person again, even though like tonight, it does happen. A was off that night (imagine they had just done DOH COK DOH service, a total of 8.5 hours in flight, she will rest for a few hours and then try to fly DOH to Bangkok then on to Osaka!  Good luck to these hardworking dreamers, who try to balance their life, dreams and reality..
After a short stay at Al Mourjan lounge, where I resisted from eating anymore, except a cappuccino brought over by a Filipina whom I had met before at the lounge. More pleasures were waiting on the QR 193 from DOH to BRU
 Even though I cannot tolerate wine (I am not a beer or spirit drinker, but who can say NO to a Pina Colada in Havana at my favourite place, CubaPasion?) and tend not to drink unless it is dinner time and a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc would do, I welcomed a flute offered by Miss L S from Thailand. Miss AP from Bombay was the Cabin Senior and had already introduced herself to me.

 Middle Eastern and Israeli food is what I call my "genetic food" and it was nice to enjoy an arab breakfast with Foul, and thinking of my brother Eliyahu who would also loved this breakfast.
 The Cabin was quiet, this is usually a connecting flight with people coming in from long flights from other parts of Asia and going home for holidays or work (the passengers were mainly European and some Qatari). Miss AP from Bombay came over and we had a nice chat. Cabin Seniors would have been with the company from anywhere from 5 to 8 years and they have the pleasant job of conveying the spirit of the Qatar Airways. I enjoyed talking with her and hearing snippets of her years with QR. 
I know the company policy prevents contact with the workers and the travelling public, there are times I wish I could become friends with some of the people I meet on QR flights, like Miss AP who has a portuguese name ..

As I said goodbye to Ms A in Doha and Ms AP in Brussels, I felt such a deep sense of well being. How lovely is to make these pleasant connections amidst the multitudes of people that inhabit our planet, with varying dreams, and realities but sharing a good moment together.

Thank you, HE Akbar Al-Bakr 
Thank you, Ms A from Osaka 
Thank you, Ms AP from Bombay and Ms LS from Thailand..


dimanche 4 novembre 2018

HOW INDIA SAVED MY BURMESE BROTHER KO MMMT

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HOW INDIA SAVED MY BURMESE BROTHER KO MMMT

Ko is the affectionate way of addressing your brother, younger one, in the Burmese way. I have Burmese connection (please read Amitav Ghosh’s excellent book THE GLASS PALACE to learn the background) and it was Ko MM that bestowed upon me an auspicious Burmese name, AUNG KHANT.
While on my first ever visit to Siem Reap which was no more than a village at that time, my middle brother Eliyahu and I stayed at the Tah Prohm hotel in the centre of town and when we walked out, our eyes  caught  the sign THE MANDALAY INN.
I went in and introduced myself and of my Burmese connection and instantly we became friends and later brothers.
I can honestly say that Ko MM is the reason for my frequent visits to Siem Reap, even though I have visited the main attraction, The Angkor Ruins, the largest archeological ruins in the world, many times. It was here also that I met my best friend in SE Asia, MYC, in 2008 and our friendship remains strong to this day. My American Indian friends M and A, as well as Mitexi have stayed with Ko MM, and my sister friend, that indefatigable nurse to the Yakama, have stayed here as well. There have been other visitors as well.
It is customary for me to visit Siem Reap twice a year, I checked my passport and since 2014, I have 8 visas stamped on my passport!

Few years ago, I received a call from Ko MM. He has been having vague abdominal symptoms and wanted to discuss with me what has been happening.
In another blog I have written about his trials and tribulations of getting appropriate Medical Care living in this part of the world, where the capitalistic drive of medical care and pharma care is rather stark and bordering on cruelty.

The doctors in Phnom Penh did an upper and lower endoscopy and viola, nothing was found. But they did notice an elevation of white blood corpuscles. No one Cambodia had an expertise in Haematology at that time, so my brother sought a well-known hospital in Thailand, in Bangkok, which is a short ride away from here.
After multiple days of testing, including bone marrow biopsy and CAT scans etc., a diagnosis of a treatable blood disorder was given. The cost of diagnosis was about 26,000 dollars, all payable in Cash. He is an hotelier and rather professional and was doing well with his hotel and tour business and was in a position to pay at that time.
Then came the catch: the medication that would CURE (control indefinitely) this disorder was available in Thailand but the cost per pill was 150 dollars (in the USA it is about 250 dollars per pill, to the total of 140 000 dollars per year).
As soon as I could I planned a trip to Siem Reap, as I am based in Havana in Cuba and Miami in USA, both about 15 000 km away.
When medical matters above my competency (I am a specialist physician in Endocrinology) is presented to me, I seek out my brother and friend (and a fellow foodie traveller) Dr. MW.
We discussed the results and we sought out our colleague at our alma mater JMH, Dr. JH, of the illustrious H hematology family. We discussed the case in detail and I am very grateful for the advice and time of both Drs. MW and JH.
The science and diagnosis was confirmed and the treatment set in place.
But the cost?


I put in a call to a friend who has some pharmacy connections in Bangalore in India. He said that medication is available in India but undergoing litigation because the parent company was suing the Indian manufacturers for breeching patent. But the Indian lawyers brilliantly argued in front of the Supreme Court that this medication, which is marketed under another name and slightly, modified chemical formula, was already out of patent and had been marketed in the past. To the relief of not only myself and but many others, Supreme Court of India sided with the Indian manufacturers and the medications would continue to be sold in India.
The cost of the medication which sells from 100 to 250 dollars per pill in SE Asian and European countries, were selling in INDIA, for 1744 Indian rupees per 10 tablets, i.e. under THREE DOLLARS A PILL.
My hard working Burmese brother, who worked himself from being a low position in the Hotel Industry to own his own boutique hotel in another country, a loving father and husband, he has two sons and one daughter, now could receive the medication for under 5 dollars a pill, delivered to his home in Siem Reap!

Dr. MW occasionally asks about him and I know that Dr. JH at JMH in Miami would always be willing to offer professional advice.
My Burmese Brother, Ko MM, found a competent haematologist in Singapore where he travels to on a regular basis for check up and he gladly informs me that on his last visit, all the laboratory and physical examinations were good with no evidence of any hematological dysfunction.
THANK YOU INDIA ..
During my travels, I come across several stories of poor countries charging very high prices for their medications when acceptable and therapeutically correct medications are available from INDIA..
Why does a country like JAMAICA rely on expensive medications from the USA when they can get similar medication at a fraction of the cost from India?  I hope the African countries are listening. INDIA is good at manufacturing medications (CHINA is not) and we can safely import medications from INDIA.
On this trip to Fort Cochin, I stopped by TARA MEDICALS whose owners have known me for a while. They have a copy of my medical license on file.
Someone I know in Miami, who has very good medical insurance coverage, has been prescribed a blood pressure medication, Nebivolol 5mg per day.  However good his insurance coverage is, they do not cover this medication, which he could obtain for about a dollar per day from his pharmacy. In INDIA, it is sold for 10 rupees per pill (13 cents US)!
Most people in USA can afford ten cents a pill to stave off the complications of Hypertension but not one dollar per pill!
WHO IS TO BLAME?
Who is to be thankful for?  INDIA
THANK YOU, INDIA, IN ALL OF YOUR 23 OFFICIAL LANGUAGES..
Both myself and Dr. MW are Jewish and we have a concept of MITZVAH, the desire to do something for other people and also as doctors we feel part of the Jewish concept of TIKKUN OLAM, to heal the world (in more than just physical fashion).
Thanks to INDIA, we were able to do a MITZVAH
To help the deserving, hard working Burmese brother of mine, Ko MM

YESU TIN BA DE




vendredi 2 novembre 2018

A GREAT HONOUR TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH THE MEMORY OF THE GREATEST ADMIRAL OF THE SEVEN SEAS CHENG HO/ZHENG HE

I cannot remember when I first heard about Cheng HO, the greatest navigator who travelled the realms of the Ming dynasty over the course of many journeys, as far as Somalia and Mombasa and fortified many of the fledgling states such as Malacca, Cochin among others. Left behind great legacies, one of which is the Chinese Fishing Nets dotting the landscape of the Cochin harbour.


In fact, similar fishing contraptions can be seen in all parts of the world of Cheng HO... He was originally from Yunnan and this type of fishing nets were common in Yunnan of that time and variations of this can be seen in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam.. and of course Cochin.

In Galle, the admiral left a stone monument, in three languages Chinese Sinhalese and Arabic and now preserved in the national Museum in Colombo.




When I was visiting my friend Pak Joe in Bogor, he organized a day trip for me to go to Semerang in Java to visit the temple dedicated to Cheng Ho. There are still descendants of the admirals fleet living in Semerang in Indonesia.

While visiting the coast of Salalah in Oman, I imagined how the Admiral must have viewed this landscape, he took back the frankincense native to these parts back to China. 
There is evidence that on this very same spot, Cheng He must have come ashore to supervise repairs to his ships.
I would like to visit Hormuz the port where Cheng Ho stayed which is in Iran. I tried to find some information about Cheng Ho from my iranian friends to no avail. He had visited Mecca.. and of course his visits to the east african coast down to Kenya has been well documented and there are some descendants from his fleet still in Kenya.

There has been two personalities in my life ever since I could begin to think for myself somewhere along the high school years
Cheng HO
and of course I did become a traveller and the other is 
CHE 
I have also paid pilgrimages to Valle Grande, Bolivia, the classroom where he studied in BA in Argentina along with many other places associated with him. Like Che, I have also devoted my life to the welfare of the marginalized, oppressed and poor communities in this world.

so imagine how honoured I felt this morning, in Phnom Penh where I am, I received a letter from Dr Ta Ta Sen, the President of the International Zheng He Society:

There were 4 important bases for Chengho: Quanzhou (China), Champa (Vietnam near Nha Trang) , Malaka, Kochin and Hormuz. 
We must appoint you as our Advisor  of International  ZhengHe Society. Will you accept it?

ta sen

IT WOULD BE A GREAT HONOUR FOR ME TO BE AN INTERNATIONAL ADVISOR TO THE CHENG HO SOCIETY

mardi 30 octobre 2018

DOUBLETREE BY HILTON HOTELS IN KUALA LUMPUR: WHY IS IT SO SPECIAL TO ME?

I do not remember when my love affair with DT in KL began! I had been visiting KL on a regular basis since 2008, but almost always stayed at my best friend's house in Seri Kembangan. As her living situation changed, I had to look elsewhere in the city for board..and by then I had attained Gold Status on HiltonHonours roll..
Since then I have stayed at this hotel many a times and each time, I had been received with warmth and hospitality beyond the ordinary. I usually spend a lot of time at the Executive Lounge and this time was no exception.
These people at Executive Lounge make the visit to the DT KL hotel much more than a commercial transaction between client and hotelier but more like a visit to friends.
 I will miss S on my next visit as she is going off on maternity leave. Good luck to you dear friend, a wonderful example of hospitality, Malaysian style!
 The two new additions to the staff  had airline experiences, one with SQ and the other with QR and compliment the ambiance of the Executive Club perfectly.
 Sh., who was schooled in France, is efficient and pleasant and affords a warm welcome to her guests. 
M, with a Q in his name, likes to say: I have known you ever since I came to work here in 2014! 
It is the reflection of their supervisor that all of them are pleasant, with good manners and have the service with a smile concept.  I am lucky to be the recipient of the kindness of these people on a regular basis..
See you soon, dear friends.
My visit to DT KL would be incomplete with saying hello to the Concierge, also an old friend, deserving of the fabled keys of the concierge!
This has become my home in KL and I look forward to staying with you on my next visit.. 

Cuba and Malaysia have good relationship and I always find a common ground talking about friendship, hospitality and food that is accorded to me in Malaysia with the Malaysian Ambassador(s) to Cuba.
The new ambassador to Cuba, Dato Rozlan, would be no exception



lundi 29 octobre 2018

KUALA LUMPUR DOUBLE TREE HOTEL BY HILTON: CONTINENTAL BREAKFAST HERE MEANS CUISINE FROM VARIOUS CONTINENTS

Average traveller in the USA has become accustomed to accepting poor service (American Airlines staffed by Grandmas, as described by HE Al-Bakr CEO of Qatar Airways, my favoured airline) or poor quality of food served .(the pathetic breakfast of steamed eggs for breakfast with pots of yoghurt for "continental" breakfast served at the Hilton in Omaha, Nebraska). 
While the rest of the world is galloping forward providing excellent service on the air (Qatar Airways and Singapore airlines, just to mention two), hotels of superior quality, better than the ones they have at their home countries ( Marriott Marquis in Doha and Doubletree by Hilton in KL).  Airline lounges charge you for a drink (Admirals Clubs in Miami/American Airlines) cannot hold a candle to the extraordinary service and luxury of Al Mourjan at Doha where there are sit down restaurants serving champagne, and Cafes where you could order to your hearts delight, all included in the price of your ticket. (Qatar Airways)
This morning I went down to Makan Kitchen at Floor 11 of Doubletree by Hilton at KL, and as usual it was a treat to the eyes and palate. 
Indian
Malay
Chinese 
European
Asian 
Five different sections, multiple waiters, i counted at least 20 people preparing food and many made to order items.
I chose to eat at the Indian Section 
Uthappam
Idli
Dosai
Uppuma 
all to remind myself of my friends in Kerala
then a Roti Kaya which would fil the stomach of an elephant so I couldnt finish it. I was tasting various dishes, so I also tasted the omnipotent malay dish  Nasi Lemak 
Someone was preparing Teh Tahrek (the name of Chai here)
Here are some photos..
I do not advise that you eat it all, but at least should taste small morsels of each.
















(the chinese section)

I fondly thought of my middle brother Eliyahu who is currently holidaying in Bali, with whom I have shared this repast .. also to my younger brother Mordecai holidaying in Sedona with whom I would like to share this (of course with Auntie G!)