23 Nov 2014

Break fast

"You are welcome to stay in the lounge, but we have a much wider selection at the main restaurant." And did they ever. It reminded me how much I like starting my day at a hotel in Asia.

When I first travelled to Singapore some 12 years ago, fortunate circumstances placed me at one of the major hotels in town. The trip marked my first exposure to the fabulous cosmopolitan breakfast buffet.

Not that I am much of a morning guy. Normally, a bowl of cereal or a cup of yogurt will do in the short time between the alarm clock and leaving the house. However, on a normal day I also have to prepare my first meal myself, and am pressed for time.

Breakfast buffets are different. While in North America, they tend to be rather sad affairs of toast, runny scrambled eggs and stale pastries (as I had to find out first hand only a week later), they are sumptuous and varied in Asia, catering to local palates as well as those of travellers from other parts of the vast continent, and the entire world beyond.

Doing as I was told, I traded the lounge for the restaurant and immediately found myself sauntering past an open-kitchen bistro, where keen chefs at various stations hawked their offerings. I started my meal with a platter of European cheeses, smoked salmon and Nordic whole-grain bread. Properly grounded, I then ventured to the steamed dumplings, spicy noodles and fried fish bits that form part of the local cuisine - skipping the congee as much as I would oatmeal or porridge. Of course, I could not end my meal without a sweet note, delivered in the form of some Waffles with maple syrup and a fried sesame ball filled with bean paste.

I chewed not just on my buffet picks, but also on how status of the day's first meal varies between one region and the next. It can be a social occasion, a nutritional foundation for what is to come, or a bothersome nuisance that needs to be taken care on the go with no matter what (I am looking at you, Tim!). A good buffet caters to all these styles.

Personally, I enjoy oscillating between them just like I do going back and forth between the food stations, having converted from my childhood aversion to early morning eating. These days, I am a keen believer in morning indulgence.

But one does not need to be faithful to any of today's nutrition dogmas to sit down at the buffet, order tea and rejoice at the notion that the time has come to break fast.

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5 Nov 2014

Happy Place

"Only you would claim that", she said with a smile. I have confessed to her, and I might as well do so here: I am currently in my Happy Place. 

Not just on vacation. Not just half way around the globe. But here, in this particular spot. In this particular way. I have just flown the world's best airline, in their best cabin, on their longest route, to their home airport. For 16 hours, I was pampered by a crew that went above and beyond. It's the pinnacle of commercial aviation.

After landing, a private cabana with a soaking tub and a rainfall shower awaited. And now, properly refreshed, I am at The Wing, the airline's bright and airy signature lounge, on a cozy balcony overlooking the hustle and bustle in the concourse below and the planes taking off outside. Soothing piano tunes are in the air, waiters keep my Cathay Delight topped up, and I video-chatted with her on the other side of the Earth - real time and for free. How could things be any better?

Many people like travelling, but for me the love is not just for going places, but at least as much for how to get there. I'll go to some lenghts to make sure that it is via my Happy Place. It's a taste I have acquired, and gotten addicted to, at an age where others may take an outsized interest in cars, or fashion, or sports. Come to think of it, it is now 10 years ago that I have first indulged this passion. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to try out a good number of other fine ways to travel, but nothing quite compares. It was love at first sight, and it still holds.

The marketing insider in me chides the emotional geek, who so easily falls for a brand - but the geek will tell the marketer that this brand has delivered without fail, and against implausibly high expectations. Beyond the rational commodity of air transport, there is clearly an emotional relationship here.

I don't mind the long layover. I will order some freshly steamed dim sum, a pot of fragrant jasmine tea, and the local paper. In this place, I will be happy.

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