Gulistan: Another Shalimar Alternative

Gulistan Restaurant
34579 Alvarado Niles Rd
Union City,CA,94587
Telephone: 510 471-6536

If you are a big fan of Pakistani food and a frequent visitor of Shalimar or Pakwan in the bay area, I recently discovered an alternative that you might want to try. The place is relatively small, clean and homely. It appears to be family run and the owners are Bangladeshis. So if you like Bengali food, Gulistan might be an interesting option especially because of some fish menu items. Price-wise, this restaurant is a little more expensive than Shalimar. Nevertheless, worth a try.

Air Deccan: Dramatic Improvements

Treat this as anecdotal evidence. Air Deccan has show dramatic improvements in its ability to fly on time. In the past I have noticed that their flights were almost always late. They also had a serious image issue. A friend of mine said “Give me a call just before the flight takes off and another call just after you land. Only then you can be sure that Air Deccan has actually landed!” If my most recent experience is any metric, this image is due for a makeover. Not sure if this change has anything to do with the deal with Kingfisher Airlines. Nevertheless, a great sign for a low cost airline.

Dubai: The Mess Starts at the Airport

Dubai has been in the Western media for many reasons of late (the Dubai ports scandal, the recent Nasdaq deal, the burst of construction etc.). None of these reports ever talks about the challenges of everyday living in Dubai. Nothing prepares you for the big mess in the Dubai airport until you actually experience it.

A grand sprawling airport equipped with all the so-called latest features fails to do a decent job of handling the crowds.

  • The flight boarding area (gates) for each flight is behind a check-in counter (similar to London Heathrow but unlike the airports in the US). As expected the check-in counter opens less than an hour before the flights. This means that the large passenger waiting area behind the counter remain inaccessible until just before the flight. The result is that you have an assembly line of gates with empty seats and a long corridor with just a single row of seats which invariably gets filled up in no time. With no where else to go, transit passengers literally sleep all over the place on the floor!
  • Emirate Airlines (UAE’s state owned official airlines) does not issue a day long visa to get out of the airport (unlike for instance in Singapore). They instead insist on transit passengers purchasing a package that includes hotel and visa. Even if I could take care of myself in Dubai for a few hours and return for my connection flight, I had no option but to buy the package or stay put in the airport. (Apart from this, Emirates is an excellent airline — great service, international crew etc.)
  • The smoking areas at the airport are not rooms or complete enclosures. Instead they are small areas bang in the center of the walkways with no clear seclusion. So there is no shortage of second hand cigarette smoke.
  • There is free wifi available at the airport. The bad news is that this service is at best sporadic.
  • The free Internet terminals are cramped in a partial enclosure very similar to the smoking area! Its hard to get in and if you do its even harder to get out! Some of the terminal don’t work and the rest are pretty slow.
  • Emirate Airlines provides one free meal to passengers (at the Sahar restaurant) who have transit time of over four hours. The queue to grab a meal at this restaurant is akin to a line for food at a refugee camp. Its long and painful.
  • There are no courtesy phones for transit passengers to use. If they exist, they are well hidden because I could not find any.
Don’t know if the challenges facing Dubai airport are simply a case of bad planning and design or an inability to deal with unprecedented growth in traffic through Dubai. In any case, Dubai’s mess starts at the airport. As for the rest of the city it is one big parking lot with perennially clogged roads, sweltering heat, and endless construction sites in the midst of tall fancy buildings of various shapes, colors and sizes.

Note: If your destination is Dubai then the airport experience is pretty smooth. It is transit at Dubai that is very painful.

Kids Castle Newark, CA

Kids Castle in Newark is a great place these days for kids birthday parties. The owners have given it a face lift recently. The various play things have been fixed and re-organized. There is now a giant screen on which they can play movies, TV etc.

Desi pizzas are an added attraction (this has been available for a while). Pav Bhaji pizza being my personal favorite. Beer is a recent addition too. Nice way to spend an evening with friends and family. Kids are sure to have a great time.

They also have a website (who doesn’t) these days. Though a crummy site, it gives you a starting point.

Domestic Airlines in India: Pains and Gains

With the consistent growth in the India economy, domestic air travel has dramatically increased and competition among Airlines has become cut-throat. It is understandable given that there are plenty of new airlines and a glut of travelers. Unused to handling such high traffic, the airports around the country are struggling. The result is that over 40% of the flights are late according to a recent study. My personal experience with delays on domestic airlines in India was 100% and this includes flights on Kingfisher, Air Deccan, and Indian Airlines. In general, the travelers are not very demanding, and airline employees don’t seem particularly concerned about delays. It is common to find announcements about the departure time being made well after the previously scheduled time has come and gone. In general, a “chalta hai” mood prevails on both sides. The real concern however should be on safety standards. I noticed that several pilots on domestic flights in India were actually foreigners, a clear sign that there is a shortage of trained manpower in India in the airline sector.
Internet Booking: The good news is that there are many online booking sites that cater to domestic air travel in India. The bad news is that they are still very poorly developed. The user interface and reliability are way below the mark. After you enter your credit card number, be prepared for a blank screen! Sometimes you go through the process of completing an entire form and the “submit” button does not work! If you call their toll free number, in all likelihood, the customer service agent will hang up on you all of a sudden because (I hear) they have aggressive customer call duration metrics! Besides, they never call you back.

Positives: On the positive side, there are flights available if you wish to travel, unlike in the past where it was just Indian Airlines all the way. Day trips for business are a possibility assuming you can manage to get work done despite factoring in delays. A 1-2 flight to Bangalore, plus 2-3 hours in Bangalore traffic, plus a couple of hours of flight delays still leaves you with a few hours in the day to conduct business. When there are delays, airlines do call to inform you, though this happens quite often after you have arrived up at the airport. Kingfisher offers “really cool” check in services by airline personnel carrying a mobile device, like the car-return services in the US. A great way to cut down the lines.

Cedar’s: Great Lebanese Restaurant in Chennai

If you are interested in non-desi food in Chennai, check out Cedar’s in Kotturpuram (I don’t know the exact location, if I am not mistaken its not far from Gandhi Mandapam) which serves Lebanese food.

The food is excellent. The restaurant feels more like a house with an upstairs, terrace etc., so you don’t feel like you are eating at a restaurant, which is nice. There was nice middle eastern music playing all along. To add to this, when asked, the cook and the waiters (all Indians trained under a Lebanese cook who worked here for 2+ years) are capable of "radiating lots of fundas" about the food and the cooking, like you normally observe in western countries. The costs average about Rs. 300+ per dish. Sheesha (hookah) is also available at the restaurant.

The picture shows the cook (Sundar) and the waiter (Milton), both were very impressive with their knowledge of Lebanese food.

Kids Castle in Newark, CA

Kids Castle in Newark seems to made a dramatic recovery since its slump a couple of years back. Many of the toys in the arcade appear to actually work now (hopefully this situation lasts). The “desi” pizzas (particularly the pav bhaji) are excellent. Its a good place for a family dinner outing or for a kids birthday party. The crowds appear to back as well.