Hawaii Island for Foodies

When I first visited Hawaii back in the ’80s, there was really no such thing as local cuisine, unless you count shave ice and spam musubi.  Since then, though, there has been a real revolution in the local food scene, first with Hawaii Regional Cuisine, and now with the farm to table movement really taking hold over the last few years, following the death of the sugar cane plantations and the birth of diversified agriculture.  Hawaii still hasn’t reached the level of, say Northern California, in the size and sophistication of the farmers’ markets, but it has come a long, long way and there are a growing number of agri-tourism businesses as well.  There is even a Hawaii Agritourism Association to support farmers and encourage innovation.

It pretty much started with the coffee and mac nut farms offering tours and tastings, and over the last few years has expanded to include a wide range of farm tours featuring everything from vanilla and lavender to organic chocolate and exotic tropical fruits.   Many offer educational tours, most have some kind of tastings, and a number offer full fledged farm to table meals by well regarded local chefs.  The coffee growers have developed a number of tours and tasting rooms and there is an annual Coffee Festival with competitions, ‘cuppings,’ entertainment and a Miss Coffee.   One of the better known and well regarded coffee farm tours is Greenwell’s http://www.greenwellfarms.com/farm-tour and the Kona Historical Society has a living history coffee farm demonstrating how coffee was grown in the later 1800s and early 1900s.  http://www.konahistorical.org/index.php/tours/kona-coffee-living-history-farm/ and they have recently added a Portuguese stone oven and bread baking demonstration as well:  http://www.konahistorical.org/index.php/tours/portuguese-stone-oven-baking/

One of the earlier entrants in the field of agri-tourism was the Hawaii Vanilla Company.  The first commercial vanilla producer in the United States, the family business started in 1989 and since then, they have grown into a sophisticated operation offering tours, several options for meals, a plethora of recipes on their web page and features on the Food Network, Discovery Channel, and Travel Channel.  Their tour offerings can be seen at http://thevanillachef.com/tours/

Just for fun, here is their video on making your very own vanilla extract:


Next post will cover the newer Original Hawaiian Chocolate Farm, and the Chocolate Festival (sorry – you just missed it – it is held annually in March.)

Changi Airport

The world’s top airport 6 times since 2000, including 2013, 14 and 15, is Changi Airport in Singapore. Not to rest on their laurels, this was recently announced to further enhance an already amazing airport experience, and probably cementing Changi’s place at the top of the list of world airports for some time to come!


Airport Update: Changi Airport Singapore

Major upgrades at Singapore’s Changi Airport enhance the travel experience

by Lisa Matte | May 2015

Just in time for its 50th anniversary, Changi Airport is upping the ante with infrastructure improvements designed to enhance the 21st-century traveler experience.

In March, Changi Airport Group, the management company that oversees airport operations, awarded a $238 million contract to Takenaka Corp. for projects related to the expansion of Terminal 1. Takenaka was involved in the 2012 upgrade of T1, in addition to upgrades at T2 in 2006 and ongoing construction of T4.

This most recent project, slated for completion in 2019, involves revamping the departure check-in hall, including the installation of two new check-in ports to increase processing capacity. While travelers may experience some minor inconvenience due to the necessary closure of five retail and dining venues during the second quarter of 2015, the closures will expedite the renovation timetable. The T1 project also includes upgrades to the terminal’s baggage handling system, moving from semi-automatic to fully automatic, which enhances sorting capability to enable a streamlined self check-in and bag-drop procedure.

T1 redevelopment coincides with the construction of Jewel Changi Airport, a joint venture between Changi Airport Group and CapitaMalls Asia. The mixed-use complex, to be located in front of T1 on land previously used as an open-air parking lot, will feature visitor attractions, retail outlets, a hotel and facilities for airport operations.

When the stunning glass-and-steel structure opens in late 2018, the 10-story complex (five above ground and five below ground) will lure visitors with shopping, dining and attractions set amid lush greenery — Jewel will showcase almost 237,000 square feet of indoor landscaping, including Forest Valley, a five-story garden featuring thousands of trees, plants, ferns, shrubs and waterfalls. Located at the core of the complex, a 130-foot indoor waterfall will set a relaxing tone during daylight hours and transform to a captivating light and sound show in the evening.

Throughout its 50th anniversary year, dubbed SG50, Changi Airport plans a line-up of events centered on the theme “Changi, I’m Home.” Features include displays showcasing curated icons and artifacts, and a campaign to encourage Singaporeans to share their memories via an online photo-sharing contest.

Changi Airport is the world’s sixth-busiest airport for international traffic. It served a record 54.1 million passengers from around the globe in 2014.


April 21, 2015

Lessons from Singapore

Ran across this on Travel Weekly – a lovely tribute to Lee Kuan Yew and some good lessons for both individuals and governments:

By Yeoh Siew Hoon / April 14, 2015


March 23 to 28 was a cathartic week for those of us living in Singapore. It was the week we mourned the passing of its founder, Lee Kuan Yew.

In my 20 years living in this small island nation of 4.5 million people, I had never seen such unity and gratitude expressed for a man who took this place from a small fishing village to one of the world’s greatest metropolises.

In that time, too, lots of stories emerged about him, his life, his work, and it was heartening to note the impact and influence he had on the world.

Henry Kissinger’s tribute to him and Charlie Munger’s comments in a YouTube video were two that stood out for me

I suppose it is human nature that we never fully appreciate what we have until it’s gone, but in that week, many of us took time to reflect on his life and what we could learn from it.

It certainly made me realize that in many ways, Singapore is like a start-up and the late Mr. Lee its founder.

Here are the 10 lessons I feel we could take from him.

1) Surround yourself with people smarter than you.

In Lee’s case, he married a woman smarter than him. This is one of the points raised in the video of Charlie Munger. In his talk, Munger said that if we wanted to study a successful society, “study the life and work of Lee Kuan Yew. You’ll be flabbergasted.”

One example he gave was how Mr. Lee went against traditional Asian culture by not “marrying the younger woman with bigger boobs” but the smarter one. His wife was his collaborator and adviser throughout his life.

2) Don’t get discouraged by the first setback. Reboot, and plough on.

When Singapore was kicked out of Malaysia in 1965, for wanting to pursue its vision of a state where all races were equal, Lee was devastated. The image of him breaking down after separation played over and over again during the week. However he wasn’t defeated. He stuck to his vision but thought up a new model.

3) Be frugal. Every dollar spent is revenue.

Lee was known for his frugality. His house was simple, and he didn’t make changes to it. Furniture remained unchanged. The best example of this frugality was told during the funeral service when former Senior Minister of State, Sidek bin Sanaff, spoke of a trip to China. Lee asked him if he had a coat for the cold. He said he would buy one, but Lee said, borrow one, don’t buy. Then Lee asked him if he had boots, and he said no, and he would buy them. Same response: Don’t buy. Borrow. And so he went off to China with a borrowed coat and a borrowed pair of boots.

4) Pay attention to details because they reflect on you and your business.

Former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong spoke of how, when Lee relinquished the prime minister’s role to him, he would appear at all functions before Goh. Even though Goh said it wasn’t necessary at unofficial functions, Lee insisted, saying that people might draw the wrong conclusion: that he didn’t respect Goh.

On another occasion, during a Chinese New Year ceremony, the firecrackers went off at the wrong time. Lee said, “If we can’t get this right, how can we run a country?”

5) Set strong and clear values from the start.

Former Cabinet Minister S. Dhanabalan said that from the start, Lee wanted an honest, corruption-free government. That set the tone for all decisions.

6) Don’t dictate. Argue and articulate to get your team’s buy-in.

Dhanabalan said that contrary to perception that Lee just ordered and people followed him like sheep, the truth was that Lee argued tirelessly to get people behind him.

7) Act pragmatically, but be driven by ideals.

Again, contrary to perception that Lee was a “complete political pragmatist,” Dhanabalan said was an idealist at heart. Pursuing his vision of a multilingual society, Dhanabalan said, was the act of an idealist. A pragmatist would have gone for the easier option.

8) Be a lifelong learner.

Lee took Mandarin classes all his life. On the day before he was admitted to the hospital, he had a session with his Mandarin teacher.

9) Collaborate, influence and stay relevant so you can punch above your weight.

Lee proved that size didn’t matter. He ran a small business really: 4.5 million people on a very small island. But he knew who to collaborate with, how to build and nurture partnerships, how to influence those whose views and friendships mattered. And he did this by staying relevant and keeping up with the times, trends and issues.

10) Don’t plan on running the show forever; have a succession plan.

Lee gave himself a long runway to develop a new generation of leaders. The man who took over the reins from him, Goh Chok Tong, spoke of that moment when Lee asked him to take over. He chose character, fortitude and ability over academic qualifications, Goh said. Some people were upset that they weren’t chosen, but each decision was made after much agonizing. He believed in leadership renewal.

Merrie Monarch Hula Festival

One of Hawaii’s most culturally significant events, the annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, is scheduled for April 5 through 11 this year.  The Aloha State’s premiere hula competition, the weeklong series of events is dedicated to King David Kalakaua, the “Merrie Monarch” best remembered for his efforts to restore Hawaiian culture and traditions in the late 1800s.

The festival features free daily hula and musical performances, along with a popular arts and crafts festival. However, the true Merrie Monarch highlights are ticketed competitions for Miss Aloha Hula and the group kahiko (ancient) and auana (modern) hula specialties, danced by hula halau, or schools, from across the state, and from as far away as Japan, at Hilo’s Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium.

The festivities started on Easter Sunday with a ho’olaulea – a celebration – at the stadium and in the days following, there were numerous free hula presentations, workshops and events such as lei making contests.  Tonight there will be a free Ho’ike Night – a sort of taste of the competition for those who were unable to get tickets to the real competition, together with the presentation of the Royal Court – a group chosen annually, initially in conjunction with the annual Aloha Festival, but who now serve throughout the year and grace events such as this one – representing the ancient Ali’i and honoring the spirit of King David Kalakaua.

The Royal Court Enters

A major craft fair, the Invitational Arts Fair, has developed around the Festival and there’s even the beginnings of a “Hilo Fashion Week” in the making.


Well known local designer Nita Pilago’s Wahine Toa line has been shown at the Fair for the last six years, and has become so popular that her booth has been given it’s own entrance and she sells out her collection nearly every day, restocking each night from the large trailer she and her family pack just for the Fair.  Nita, her husband and her children are all artists and the designs are all hand drawn by them.
“We are all artists — my husband, my two boys — we all draw. So all of the art is all original art. That was my vision to put our art on clothing and each of our art there’s a mana’o — there’s a story behind it — and I think that’s part of the spirit and the essence that we try to put into the clothing,” described Pilago in a recent television interview.

The Art Fair continues through Saturday.  Meanwhile, the hula competition commences on Thursday and will be televised locally.  First up on the competition schedule is the contest for Miss Aloha Hula on Thursday evening.  The Merrie Monarch Festival concludes with a parade through the town of Hilo on Saturday, April 11 beginning at 10:30 a.m.

Long flights home

Back in Hawaii, after two long flights, one four plus hour layover, and one short flight. What with the 4 AM wake up call for the 6:30 AM flight from Singapore to Narita, the long layover, and the relatively short flight (6 1/2 hours) from Narita to Honolulu, I hadn’t slept for, essentially, 48 hours. Managed to get home, get the suitcases into the house, and then crashed. I was out like a light yesterday at shortly after noon, and didn’t get up until 6:30 this morning. I think I may live now.

Getting back into the routine, walked the pups, will take our house sitters to the airport shortly, do a bit of grocery shopping and try and get back into the right time zone now.

We shared the interisland flight with a lot of folks on their way over to the Big Island for the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival. Will try to get a little info posted on that in the next day or two.


Well, we’re back safe and sound in Singapore waiting for our next set of flights to take us home tomorrow – or- oh, well, I never get the date line stuff right and it makes my brain hurt. We depart on Monday at 6:15 AM and arrive in Honolulu on Monday at 6:55 AM after flying all day and night and having a 4 hour layover in Narita.  And, by the way – the airport in Siem Reap is uncannily similar to the Kona Airport!  Right up to no jetways and stairs at front and rear of the plane, so it was very deja vu all over again flying from there today.

We’ve been talking about the trip and have decided it is certainly up in the top two or three we have ever done, principally because everything was so unfamiliar to us, I think. Myanmar and Cambodia were certainly the highlights and they are similar in many ways, with extremely tragic recent history, deep and profound historical roots and past golden ages, and alike in the focus of the current working generation’s focus on making sure that their children and grandchildren have a better life in a more peaceful and democratic world than they and their parents have had.

Both countries also have something of a ‘missing’ generation – which felt particularly weird to us since it is our generation that is missing. It was less noticeable in Myanmar, but in Cambodia, due to the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge massacres, there are very few people in the 60 plus age group. I could easily count on my fingers the number of people we saw in our several days of touring, which included a couple of long drives through the country side and several passages back and forth across the city of Siem Reap, who had wrinkles or gray hair. It was very easy to note and keep track of the few we did see. Our guide had lost his mother, father, older brothers, grandparents and some aunts and uncles as well as more members of his extended family. Very few people had living grandparents, many also had lost parents, and all we spoke to talked of their hopes for the future, for their children and grandchildren, and about how important it was to them to work hard and assure that the next generations had more opportunities and happier lives.

That said, it isn’t that the people of Myanmar and Cambodia are melancholy – far from it! They are gracious, humorous, good natured, and friendly. In Myanmar, foreigners are such a novelty still that people stop you on the street to take your picture with them on their ubiquitous cell phones – they may not have electricity at home, or indoor plumbing, but everyone has a cell phone! Cambodians are more accustomed to visitors, albeit the bulk of their tourist trade comes from within Asia, with Koreans and Chinese predominating, so there were less requests for pictures.

But still, there is great curiosity about what life is like in the west and a surprising openness in discussing what is still amiss in their own country, as was also the case with the people of Myanmar. They are pinning many of their hopes for the future on the next election and on hopes that Aung San Suu Kyi will finally take her place as the head of government. I was so sad to see on the news yesterday that she is casting doubt on the validity of the upcoming election process and may not be participating, as it is going to be a great disappointment to her many supporters there who see The Lady as they call her, as a savior. Sadly, the political scene in Cambodia is so bleak that there doesn’t even seem to be anyone or any party that holds out hope for change in the near term and there is open discussion both in speech with individuals and in the press of the wide spread corruption in the government.

When I look around at what has been accomplished in the last several decades here in Singapore by, essentially, one man with a vision and a strong grip on the mechanics of governance, I can also be hopeful for my new friends in Myanmar and Cambodia. I certainly will be taking a lot more notice of political and other news from the region after having this amazing opportunity to experience these emerging nations and to meet and get to know, a little bit, some of their people, their history, and their aspirations – which, after all, is what travel is all about.

Cultural Show at Borei Angkor Resort

We decided to spend our last night in Cambodia attending the in-house cultural show, presented in concert with a set menu Khmer dinner. Both were well worth doing. The dances were timed with the courses and provided a nice glimpse into Cambodian music and traditional dance, beginning with a welcome dance, through a harvest dance and concluding with an Aspara dance, demonstrating some of the dance movements shown on the temple walls. The dancers were graceful, costumed beautifully, and the tempo of most of the dances is slow and deliberate, an almost yoga like movement from pose to pose. Sadly, my little camera doesn’t do all that well with low light situations, but the pictures at least give some idea how colorful the presentation was, and how lovely the dancers are.

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Tonle Sap

The Great Lake, or Tonle Sap, is the largest fresh-water lake in Southeast Asia, and a UNESCO designated biosphere, and also home to a collection of stilted and floating homes for Cambodians who could not afford to obtain farms or construct homes elsewhere and who manage to make their living fishing and ferrying the tourists through this unique environment. Flooded for roughly six months of the year, we visited at the dry season, which made for a long, rough, and dusty ride to the canal that remains deep enough for year round navigation. Prices are set by the government and there is a ticket station on the road where the $20 US per person for the boat ride – around an hour – is collected. The fee is split between the government and the boat owner/operators, with the government getting $30 of the $40 we paid.

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Residents of the floating villages essentially live all their lives on the lake, which contains schools, shops, and what appeared to be restaurants and we even saw a couple of guys playing pool – although that establishment was set up on land above the floating settlement.

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Birders will see numerous species of water birds, particularly in the wet season. Others will observe daily life in what is largely a subsistence settlement.  There are many small fish farms, principally raising catfish, and at least one crocodile farm. We passed on visiting this, however. Fish traps were pulled and some were being repaired, as this is the spawning season and fishing was not allowed in the larger lake area, although it was okay in the canals and right around the floating homes.

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Quality of the boats can vary pretty significantly, and our guide was able to get a larger vessel with a canopy and bench seats for the three of us, mostly because we were there quite early – right around 7:00 AM. On our way back, we passed the first large group of the day at around 8:00 and we saw several other buses headed down the one lane dirt road on our way out.

Banteay Srei



The Ladies’ Temple, as it is also known, or the Temple of Beauty, is a small temple completed in 967, built of red and gold sandstone and very elaborately decorated. The temple was dedicated to Shiva, and built by a courtier of Rajendravaraman II named Yajinavaraha. The temple is a good distance from the other major Angkor complex temples, some 37 kilometers from Siem Reap. As with other temples, the best time to arrive is early – at 7:00 AM it was both reasonably cool and almost completely empty – there was one other car in the parking lot and the stalls and vendors were not even open.

The temple was in active use until the 14th century, and was gradually abandoned and lost to the jungle, and rediscovered by the French in 1914, and became a cause celebre due to an art theft in 1923 when one Andre Malraux removed four of the devata carvings. He was quickly apprehended and the statues were returned to the site, but the case stirred interest in the site and a major restoration effort, utilizing, to the maximum extent possible, the original architectural elements, was undertaken starting in 1930. Restoration work continues to the current day.IMG_7811


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The lintels and pediments are deeply and intricately carved with scenes from myths involving Shiva and with motifs such as the devatas, and various mythic beasts from the Hindu myths such as the kala, a many toothed monster representing time. Most of the statues within the three concentric enclosures are replicas, with originals having either been looted or removed for preservation to some of the Cambodian museums.


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As with some of the other great temples, Banteay Srei also played host to troops, in this case invading Vietnamese, and sustained some damage, particularly to the outer walls, during the various wars of the 20th century. Fortunately, the damage was not severe and this small jewel of a temple remains an outstanding example of temple construction and ornamentation from this period.



Angkor Wat

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The great Angkor Wat complex was built by King Suryavarman II over a 37 year period, and it was largely completed by his death around 1099 AD. The temple was devoted to Vishnu, although it later became a Buddhist temple, and there are still altars to both Buddha and Vishnu in active use in the interior.




Angkor Wat is surrounded by a huge moat, and actually floats on a table of subterranean water. Some 600,000 people were supposedly involved in the construction, from digging the moat to cutting and transporting the laverite and sandstone building blocks, building the walls and structures and the vast task of carving and decoration of the walls, columns, huge galleries with bas reliefs telling the stories of Vishnu, Rama, and battles of the gods and demons. In some of the more protected areas, the carvings are as fresh today as they were when they were carved some thousand years ago, and the colors that the walls were painted can still be seen.


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Sadly, also to be seen are bullet holes in some of the carvings and walls that are reminders of Cambodia’s more recent and tragic history, as Pol Pot’s troops had an encampment within the walls of Angkor Wat and there were some fire fights within the precinct.


Note the bullet hole in the abdomen of the figure to the far right


The engineering feat of constructing such a huge complex in what is essentially a swamp is mind-boggling and was facilitated by the use of laverite, a volcanic stone that essentially acts somewhat like a sponge to stabilize the water table. With the moat and an elaborate internal drainage system, the high water table is maintained at a stable level in both the rainy and the dry seasons, allowing the buildings to remain stable without foundational shifting.



The great galleries show historical and mythological stories. The South Gallery is devoted to the army of Suryavarman II and to the representation of the Heavens and Hells, with the Hells segments showing exceptionally imaginative tortures of the souls of the damned. The East Gallery depicts the great creation myth of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. The gods and demons, in an attempt to obtain the Elixir of Immortality, churn the Sea of Milk using the body of the Naga Vauki, who is twisted around the pivot. Vishnu directs the activity, and from the churning, for thousands of years, the dancing Apsaras were created. When, at last, the Elixir is distilled from the churning, the Apsaras distracted the demons and they did not drink of the Elixir, while the gods did, and thus was set up the great conflict between the demons and the gods. The North Gallery shows the victory of Krishna over the Demon Bana and the battles between the gods and demons. The West Gallery shows the story of Ravana and Rama and their battle over Rama’s wife Sita, who was kidnapped by Ravana.


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Overall, the structure of Angkor Wat, similar in concept to temples in India, represents the structure of the universe, with the highest central tower being Mount Meru, where the gods live. The third and highest level of the structure was meant only for the king and his family, the highest officials of the priesthood and the gods. There are surrounding towers representing the mountains that surround Mount Meru. Angkor Wat is oriented to the West, the direction of death, and it served as a mausoleum for the king, but West is also the direction sacred to Vishnu, and the temple is dedicated to him, so it is not clear why the builders oriented the temple in this direction.


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Over time, as Buddhism became the dominant faith in Cambodia, the temple became a Buddhist shrine, and portions of the central structure which had been open galleries were closed in and some of the images were removed, repurposed, or replaced.  However, the numerous images of the goddesses, the devatas were left untouched, and there are said to be 1,850 devata bas reliefs on the walls of the inner and outer gates and on the walls of the three stages of the central pyramid structure, and some call Angkor Wat the Temple of the Devatas.  The figures are charming and show details of elaborate costumes, jewelry and headdresses and hair styles.


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There are areas where the wall carvings were not completed upon the death of the king, and these remain unfinished showing the techniques that were used to first stencil and then ‘sketch’ in the carvings, which were then completed by the master carvers.



In the area surrounding the site, there are hundreds of stands selling everything from post cards to vegetables and the traffic coming into the site is frantic by 9:00 AM, although the precinct is fairly quiet from around 7:00 AM until around 8:30 or so, as the ‘sunrise’ visitors who arrive at around 5:30 are gone and the main groups haven’t yet started to arrive.


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