Friday, December 28, 2007


Singapore is all decked up for Christmas and New the Year grand party that culminates with one of the best fireworks displays in the World. Its all open to the public at the Marina Bay area. Hotels all round the Marina Bay have been booked up, like it was last year. Yours truly was there last year and yours truly is going to be there for this one too.

Christmas cheer was everywhere; Singapore had been transformed into a Christmas wonderland of sorts, a show that had been put out at its best. There was everything except the snow, I mean real snow. In putting on a show, Singapore does it best and this is validated by the fact that record arrivals of tourists from around the World each month and total visitor arrivals crossed the 10 million mark.

Now a bit about the rest of the World; there were things to cheer about and then there were things that we could have lived without. It was not all cheer and not meant to be either. Humans they say evolved, and rather quickly in the last fifty years they say, evidence to the contrary seems to manifest itself right through 2007. At least mentally they haven’t. Disregard to the environment, ignoring the plight of the masses that still go to sleep each night without food, the ugly head of terrorism rearing up everywhere and so on. Then there are some good things that also happen and won’t make the news because the media is not interested. Who’ll watch good news? Is 2008 going to be any better? I hope so and I hope humans do evolve and are able to set aside petty differences. That’s wishful thinking but a thought nevertheless.

2007 has been great for aviation and I have written quite a bit about that. The next year is going to look good as well, albeit an anticipated slow down in World economy. So they say. I’m looking ahead to reporting here on the Singapore Air Show in February next year. My own company Orion Air Pvt Ltd completed 9 years this year. My latest baby is operational as of yesterday, a new Jet provider incorporated in Singapore called Jeteezy Pte Ltd. Projects next year will see me work more and blog less, this becoming the norm. I’d like to blog more, just to keep a diary of sorts and something I can re-read years later and have a laugh.

So, let’s cheer ourselves up, get out this depressing madness that the World has seen in the region the last few days and truly look forward to evolving. It starts at home, I’ve been told, and I hope it spreads throughout humanity. Cheers to all for a wonderful and successful 2008.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Corny title I know but it sort of fits because this is about my brief stay in Dubai since I was attending the Dubai Air Show that I wrote about in my last blog piece. Dubai is a fast developing emirate of the United Arab Emirates. Most Indians have either been there or going there and half the guys from the Indian States of Kerala are working there, far outnumbering the local populace. It is reported that Dubai is growing so fat, that 50% of the World' cranes used in construction are to be found in Dubai. A popular local joke is in the form of a question: What is the national bird of Dubai? And the answer: The crane! Mallus in Dubai invented this joke it seems and a Mallu dear friend of mine told me this while chuckling at his own joke! And it could be true because everywhere you look, you’ll see cranes lifting something or the other at a construction site.

But speaking of real birds, did you know that Dubai creek leads to the creation of a sort of wetland reserve in Dubai that attracts lots of sea birds? Chief among them is a healthy population of greater flamingos and I saw them. Took no pictures sadly, but I saw plenty of them wading in the shallow pools caused by the creek. This area is now called the Ras Al Khor wetland wildlife sanctuary.

(Sunset at Dubai Creek)

Dubai offers the visitor many things and it will take more than a single trip for me to write about all on offer. In fact, the only time I had was each day at the end of the air show; I had the evenings off for wandering around. I stayed in Bur Dubai, one of the districts of Dubai known for its offices and residences. On the other flank of the Dubai creek (a sea waterway) is Deira, famous for its shopping and the World famous Gold Souk or Gold Market. I managed to literally walk all around the place, the evening weather at this time of the year being rather pleasant and all. I even crossed the Dubai Creek, under the creek in a narrow long tunnel that goes down and down and then across and up and up again. For those of you who are even remotely claustrophobic, do not try this, it is a sure recipe for freaking you out.

(Entrance to the Gold Souk street)

Bur Dubai side of the creek has the Dubai heritage village, made to look like how Dubai was in the olden days, a small Arabian village that was a center for trade and shipping and how it grew into the metropolis that it is now, without being largely dependant on oil to sustain it’s development. Alongside the Dubai creek are some local sidewalk café’s that are really elegant and offer great views of Arab dhows that still ply the creek with goods from afar.

(boat with heritage village in the backdrop and below Arab Dhows moored)

The entrance to the heritage village from the water’s edge is just after these elegant restaurants. For those that needed to wet their whistles, this is a good watering hole. Beers on tap, that is. The heritage villages has a lovely atmosphere to it, naturally feels like you’d walked into an Arabian nights setting. The “village” is open till late, I remember reading 11:30 PM and is free.

(Near the entrance of the heritage village)

Inside the complex one comes across tribesmen and women sitting and gossiping, manning shops with local merchandise and letting their camels rest. From a toothless, ageless woman (who may have been at least thousand years old) I almost bought a magic carpet to fly across to Deira but instead dived into the tunnel that seemed to go on for a long time, I half expected to end up in a room, staring a mummy or a sarcophagus in the face. It was like going through the tunnels at the Giza in Egypt (an earlier trip of mine).

(Inside the complex)

Now Deira is exactly as you may imagine (don’t imagine mate, just click on the pictures), in the sense, it resembles a much cleaner and organized Mumbai. There’s no such thing as a cleaner and organized Mumbai but you get the picture. Lots of places with garish sign boards, neon everywhere and walking through the maze, one cannot miss stumbling into the Gold Souk. Now I can tell you with certainty that this place perhaps has more gold and other jewels, next only to Fort Knox. It is a maze of side streets and everywhere one looked, there were Indians buying and Indians selling. The rest of the “foreigners” were only taking pictures it seemed. The Indian appetite for gold and jewelry is manifested in this one area of Dubai.

(All Deira side pix)

Plus side of Dubai is that they have some good busses that ply between these important places and rather cheap, the place is largely clean and pedestrian friendly sidewalks, most people who visit from India can just about get by speaking in Hindi, lots of local Arabs speak the language too. The downside of Dubai is that they let everyone smoke wherever they want, inside close-environment cyber café’s, inside hotel lobbies, pretty much wherever they want. This is irritating to those of us who choke on second hand smoking and abhor it. I hope this is stopped. Taxis can be a problem, not enough and they won’t show up even if called on the phone. For those of us who are spoiled by the orderliness of places like Singapore, this may be a little shocking, things cannot be taken for granted that we normally take for granted in Singapore or elsewhere in the developed World. Bur Dubai has also become a bit raunchy and rough looking at night time because of all the so-called discos that are filled with Russian women selling themselves and loud music that continues into the night. However, it is not unsafe to be in that area at night or need to worry about being mugged. Some of the good budget hotels are in this area.

(Using bulls to draw well water, like they used to centuries ago)

I have walked alongside the creek and watched the dhows sail by late evenings and night time. I found many local and expat women by themselves or with another female companion sitting on one of the park benches along the creek, without fear or worry for their safety and that is one of Dubai’s strengths. No, I did not manage the desert safari, did not spend the night in a camp on the dunes with belly dancing for entertainment, did not go to the financial district or see the Burj Arab hotel and no I did not hitch a ride on a flying carpet. I took Air Arabia instead! And I kept all these things for next time. There’s got to be things to do when I do another trip, hopefully on vacation.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


The Dubai Air Show was on between 11th and 14th of November 2007 and I was there for the event. It was my first appearance at this show, as a trade visitor. It was held at the Airport Expo pavilion, a part of the Dubai Airport Complex. This year's representation from the aviation industry surpassed the previous years by a long shot. The general mood in aviation circles such as Airline Industry, General Aviation and Military was upbeat. And it should have been because deals worth more than US$100 Billion were signed during this air show and that’s no small change.

The large tarmac outside the pavilion hosted the static display of all types of Aircraft - from single piston engine trainers to large jets. The trick was adjusting to the difference in the sunny outside temperature and the cold air-conditioned interior. Like most Air Shows, there were people from the defense forces from around the region, I found too many of them from the Pakistani Air Force, looking like they were on a holiday. Here I thought that they had an emergency going on in that country and there was a noose around the General's neck. Didn't seem like that at all! What's more amusing is that many of these chaps just go around picking up free bags and fill them up with free hand-outs, brochures, trinkets and such.

The Air Show itself was a good show and well organized except for the transportation to and from Dubai city which was poorly done. At the end of each day it was no uncommon to see serpentine queues for taxis and taxis in these parts are rare and expensive. For those who drove or had made arrangements for cars, they’d get a free bus ride to a general parking area. I’d dread to drive there; the traffic was horrendous to say the least. Hotels were outrageously priced too, because of the Airshow and I even found big company executives complaining over a normal lunch time conversation about this. Some last minute attendees had been slapped with US$800 a night tariffs at the same hotel’s where it would have a been a quarter of that during any other period in Dubai.

Coming to the Airplanes part of the show, there were many manufacturers on display. The crowds of delegates and trade visitors were treated to the usual afternoon flying displays featuring aerobatic teams from around the World. There was a spectacular Airbus Super Jumbo A380 demo flight as well. The Aircraft made an appearance in Airbus colors and not in the livery of any Airline. Funny, I’d have thought they’d come in Emirates Airlines colors, since they are the largest A380 customers. In the pavilion area, deals were getting signed with Boeing and Airbus primarily and Airbus seems to have been the overall winner here. General and Corporate aviation saw plenty of activity too, with Embraer and Cessna Jets making a big presence felt and populating their order books.

(click on pic to enlarge and see formation aerobatic aircraft in the background sky)

On the tarmac outside were Embraer Jets, Bombardier Jets, all of the Gulfstream Jets available, the futuristic looking Piaggio Avanti pusher turbo prop, turbine islanders, Cessna Mustang VLJ (Very Light Jet), Eclipse 500 VLJ, Single engine turbo prop Cessna Caravan well you name it and it was there. What caught my eye however was a rare appearance of a Mooney. People have almost forgotten about the World’s fastest single piston engine Aircraft and many of us who had a US exposure 20 years ago remember fondly, this airplane. The company has changed hands many times and has re-started production of it’s popular line of Aircraft and speaking to the reps there, it had been a last minute decision from Mooney to attend the air show.

(Piaggio Avanti Pusher Turboprop - above)

(Mooney cockpit-all glass)

Some concept jets were also on the tarmac, with mock ups and this included the Grob Jet. For me, meeting many of the people I knew and a lot of them I didn’t know was the exciting part. So much knowledge about the latest happenings in aviation and future trends is available at these air shows. The next air show here is in 2009.

The next major show is in Singapore in February 2008 coming up real soon. I'd also like to mention here that Dubai is attracting aviation companies by huge numbers. Their New Dubai Aviation City being developed is going to attract the biggest and the best in aviation including the World's largest MRO. Makes this aerospace technology park in Singapore that is also to come up at the same time, look rather small. I know Singapore is more than capable of catching up and they really need to because the competition in S.E. Asia is intense.

During the evening, I managed to have a look around the Dubai City area and found a few nice surprises. That’s going to form my next blog piece and may be of more interest to my readers who have been following my travels. This one’s for the aviation buffs.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


For those who live in Singapore, the options for traveling around in the region is immense and inexpensive. If ones wants a change of scene from the organized, clean, orderly environment that Singapore is, one can escape to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia (of course) or perhaps a ferry ride across to one of the nearby Indonesian Islands. Yours truly did just that a couple of weeks back and this time it was for a holiday, a quick break at that.

Harborfront ferry embarkation area

Batam Waterfront ferry Arrival complex

From Singapore's Harbor Front terminal, there are ferries to the Indonesian Islands of Batam and Bintan. I chose Batam and after an easy 50 minute airconditioned ferry boat ride, we put into the Batam gateway at Sekupang. Most of those on board, especially day trippers from Singapore got off here because Sekupang entry point is connected to the biggest shopping Mall on Batam and also happens to be the "city Center". A few of us stayed on board to continue for a few minutes more and alighted at the "Waterfront City" gateway to Batam. Now, don't be fooled, there is no real city here but vast countryside, plenty of greenery and the waterfront area of course. Indians and others at the present, can clear Indonesian immigration at the visa-on-arrival counter at the arrival area by paying US$10 and please be wise to bring exact amount or you may get short-changed! They'll paste the entire page of your passport with a nice visa that's only good for one visit!

Main Mosque at the city center

I'd booked a spa package consisting of a Javanese aromatherapy massages at the Holiday Inn resort, minutes away from the waterfront City arrival complex and that's where we headed. After a seamless check in and putting the bags away, we used the hotel's free shuttle service that only runs on some days of the week, to go on a countryside trip and ending at the big mall that is the center of the city, mentioned earlier. Wandering around the city was fun and rather brief. Walking around the mall, like most mall rats and running into more Singaporeans than back home, we decided to get a meal. Veggies have no fear, options are here! We of course chickened out and ate at the cheapest Pizza Hut (the original franchise) that I have ever been to. It is a bit shocking when one first arrives here and looks at the cost of everything and one has to mentally calculate everything into Singapore Dollars to make sense of how cheap things are. If no calculations are made, prices appear in thousands of Rupiahs, the Indon currency. A meal and a couple of drinks can set us back by more than 60,000 Rupiahs. Basically around ten bucks in Singy money!

Spa complex at the hotel

Heading back to the hotel and the spa area of the complex, we were accorded a warm welcome, people who did not know us personally acted like they did and escorted us to a lovely Javanese hut. Spent the evening exploring the waterfront area, where dutch style buildings (the dutch ruled the spice islands for a long time and left their impressions everywhere)are occupied by locals who live there.

Buildings at the waterfront

The road next to the waterfront complex leads to the water front (where else!) and that is lined by plenty of outdoor style eateries, pubs, bars and such. Everything cheap on the menu and while seafood forms a bulk of it, not too hard to look for some limited veggie options such as local style fried rice, mixed veggies and such. This part of town is popular with the Batamese as well as foreigners. Ran into many North Americans who are doing projects in Indonesia and from some of the deep Texas drawls one could make out that they were basically drillers, oil men who have proliferated around the World looking for black gold.

The area around the waterfront

The next day, more exploration on foot and literally walked into a sign post by the road side that proclaimed that there was a flying club nearby! That takes the cake I thought and excitedly looked around for any aviation activity. Seeing none, except an abandoned hangar that also proclaims itself as the flying club, I was disappointed with the fact that there was just one microlight Aircraft, in a pretty bad shape, hanging around the hangar and weeds grew everywhere.

The "flying club" grounded!

I walked into the neighboring wake boarding complex to ask about the flying club and a local told me, in broken English, that it was in disuse (although this was starkly apparent) and they had stopped flying because there was no pilot (peeloth as he said it). The wake boarding school is a man made lake that goes around, laid out like a race course. It has these pylons that have motorized winches that's attached to a line. A wake boarder can catch one of those lines and wake board around the course.

Wake boarding

Coming back to Singapore later in the evening, on another seamless ferry ride and taking the MRT home was a tad depressing (The northeast line of the MRT starts and ends here). We had just gotten used to complete silence, no traffic and virtually no people or few people especially in the waterfront city area. The good thing is that places like this are so close to Singapore that, if one has time, or even just the weekend off, one can head out to unlimited options.

View from Batam departure area

Maybe it is Bintan or any other thousands of islands that make the Indon chain next time but that's going to have to wait, I'm off to India for Deepavali, Indian festival of lights and my favourite and then off to the Dubai Air Show. Cheers.

Monday, October 15, 2007


I write this as the first Airbus A380 Super Jumbo is being delivered to Singapore Airlines. The CEO of SIA has just made a speech and standing behind him are a bevy of Flight Attendants, symbolising the famous "Singapore Girl". SIA is the launch customer for this airplane. The CEO of SIA just announced live that while there was a long delay (about 18 months)that this airplane was worth the wait. Once he made the speech, they towed in the Aircraft and the CEO of Airbus and SIA boarded the plane along with the TV camera crew. They are showing the interior just now as I write. History has been made for aviation as well as SIA. As for Singapore, this small country has again stood out in the World and portrays itself as a modern, forward thinking and progressive country. The Super Jumbo epitomizes everything that Singapore stands for.

The Airbus A380 inaugural commercial flight is to take place on the 25th of this month from Singapore. There was a bidding war for seats on the first commercial flight and that has raised a lot of money, intended to go to charity entirely. A noble gesture for sure. SIA has just unveiled the various seating classes in the airplane and while there is additional space in economy class, the business class is the biggest in terms of space in the World. What takes the cake, however, is the Singapore Airlines suite class. For the first time in modern aviation, there is actually a suite, a private enclosure that is more like a small room. The suite class is a step beyond First Class, as they say.

I am impressed, by the show, by the design of it all, by the vision that went behind creating this behemoth of an airplane. I'm also impressed with what it is capable of doing, the efficiency of it's design and the Rolls Royce engines that virtually guarantees the lowest carbon emission per passenger by any airplane flying in the skies to day. I'm of course impressed that this tiny country, Singapore, is the proud first operator of this type of Airplane in the World. So I say, three cheers to all concerned.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Hong Kong - Smog or no smog

Just back from a couple of trips. This one was about a quick trip to Hong Kong. That too during the period said to be the worst time of the year because of air pollution and the pollution index was hovering around the danger mark. The weather was also too warm for this time of the year. Locals told me that this was the time of the year for some pleasant early fall weather. The recent typhoon to hit eastern China, it is said, had something to do with the smog staying around, in a high pressure area. That said, HK is really an easy place to get to. For Indians and many others, it is a seamless 'visa on arrival' and takes no time in getting past the immigration desks unlike in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia where the waiting time for a visa can be excruciating. The new airport is swanky, spacious and easy to get in and out of.

(The smoggy skyline of HK from the Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront)

A high speed train takes one right from the Airport terminal to the heart of downtown HK in about half an hour. That's pretty good speed and a comfy ride. HK is famous in Asia for many things, Disney Land seems to attract a fair bit of Asian crowds who have not been to Disney's theme parks in the States. I was there on business and on this occasion had half a day to spend. Not much one can do, right? Actually, there's plenty to do in a short time and HK has a similar underground train system to the one we have in Singapore that I have written about previously. Except that they call it an MTR in HK. HK also has good busses and a tram system. No comparison to the dilapidated and rickety trams they have in Kolkata.

The MTR connects vast portions of HK territory and some say connects better than the Singapore MRT. It is cheap, fast,efficient and gets you everywhere you want to go. I hopped on one to Kowloon, on the other side of the bay and walked around in the afternoon sun, taking in the sights. Partly due to the weather and partly due to my interest in museums and art, I ventured into the Hong Kong Art Museum in Kowloon, they were exhibiting among many other things, selections from the collections of Asian artifacts housed in the British Museum. Spending most of the day in the air conditioned museum, I was fascinated by HK Museums own collections of Chinese art, Calligraphy and ancient pottery.

(Above and below - HK Art Museum)

Now that was something new to me, having glimpsed Chinese pottery on Nat Geo in the past. The outside area around the Museum is a walkway called as Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront and one gets a good glimpse of the HK skyline and the business district. Nearby is the "Avenue of the stars" and is a tribute to HK's movie scene. The beginning of the avenue has a tall statue of a woman and this is supposed to be the statue awarded to winners at the Hong Kong Film Awards functions. In front of the museum, and just as one exits from the underground road crossing, one comes across a domed structure. This is the Hong Kong Space Museum and the domed structure is an Omnimax theatre. I didn't have time to go in.

(The Movie Maiden)

(The Space Museum)
I'd like to mention a few things about the new Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok. Firstly, it is well laid out and can handle the crowds without looking like a mess. Then the ease at which one can get in and out of the Airport. The options for eating is vast. What caught my eye, obviously, is aviation. This Airport has a large dedicated section for aviation, the technology that goes behind aviation, the history of aviation in Hong Kong and so on. They even have a large scale model of a glass cockpit Airliner that one can walk into. The entrance looks like a runway and the interior looks like an Aviation museum, indeed that's what it is. Working models that can be handled by visitors makes it interactive and gives loads of information. To spend time at the Airport, at this place within the Airport terminal building, is a cinch. Full marks to their efforts in promoting aviation this way. Through all my travels, I have not come across an aviation museum of sorts within an Airport terminal building that can rival this.

I have posted photos above and as always, please click on them to enlarge. I'm going to find time later next week to put in more posts. I have not done HK any justice in this blog. The next time I go there, I'll find more to see and write about. And hopefully the air quality would have improved and it won't be so hot!

Foot note: No, I didn't run into Jackie Chan, a lot of my friends asked me just that when I got back.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


In my last blog piece I had mentioned about the mid-autumn festival in brief and that this was also the time famous for consuming moon cakes. What I'll do here is keep the information brief and let the pictures do the talking. Mid-autumn festival is a Chinese festival. So, this is celebrated wherever Chinese people live, mainland China especially. Singapore has a strong Chinese origin population, hence the hungry ghost and mid-autumn festivals and so on.

(Musicians entertaining the crowd at Clarke Quay)

The festival revolves around the moon or rather stories built around the moon, it being the biggest brightest object in the night skies (when it's not raining, and it is raining a lot these days in Singapore!). Essentially a harvest festival as it started in China. The China town section of Singapore is specially decked up with lanterns, huge and innovative ones. Not ot be left behind, the Clarke Quay area next to the Singapore river is also lined up with such colorful lanterns, adding a bit of music to the festivities. Moon cakes from all the big name hotels are found in stalls, in many malls across the Island. My focus this time was the lanterns near the Singapore river. Enjoy the pictures, click on them to get full size.