Gardenia’s “Golden Age of Air Travel”

S E Asia’s famous Gardenia Brand was a child of the sixties “Golden Age of Air-Travel”.   It was a time of glamorous air hostesses, gourmet meals and of ample leg room for all.  It was also the time when intercontinental transatlantic and transpacific globe circumnavigating long range routes were being pioneered and proven commercially by European and US Flag Carrier Airlines, and in particular lead by the two great doyens of the world’s fraternity of Legacy Airlines which were USA’s Pan American (Pan-Am) and United Kingdom’s British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).

USA’s Pan-American (Pan-Am) pioneered transpacific, transatlantic and intercontinental routes between the North and South American continents, while United Kingdom’s British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) pioneered both transatlantic flights and the lucrative “Kangaroo Route” flights between Great Britain and the antipodes.  With London’s Heathrow Airport as BOAC’s primal international air-terminal at the time, her “Kangaroo Route” flights would depart for the antipodes, and on the way stopping over at Rome, Bahrain, Bombay (Mumbai), Ceylon (Sri-Lanka) Singapore and finally ending in Sydney Australia.  As the pioneer of this route BOAC naturally held a virtual monopoly over the “Kangaroo Route” until Qantas (Queensland and Northern Territories Aerial Services) joined as the other half of a duopoly.  This duopoly had on firm grip on the Kangaroo Route right up to 1977, when Singapore Airlines and BOAC shared a ground breaking Supersonic Concorde joint flight operation from London to Sydney and stopping over in Bahrain and Singapore.  The two airlines went to such great lengths in co-branding as to divide the exterior surfaces of Concorde’s fuselage into its two left and right halve sides, then allocating each half side of the aircraft fuselage exterior surfaces respectively to the two partner airlines for the exclusive advertisement placement of their own brand’s livery.  

The inauguration of the Supersonic Concord flight operations on the Kangaroo Route was Singapore Airlines coming of age debut as the third member of a troika of world class airline brands that successfully dominated the marketing of a the lucrative “Kangaroo Route” and this branding accolade held right to the end of the last millennium. 

The growth of air-travel in the sixties was driven by competition in a cosmopolitan world that resulted in greater internationalization accelerating 20th Century globalisation.  Air travel in the “swinging sixties” was instrumental to opening up business and tourist air-travel between Europe and the continents of North & South America, Europe, Africa, and beyond to the far flung corners of the world to reach exotic destinations in the Far-East and South-East Asia.  Hollywood too played its part in internationalisation to break a still traumatised and xenophobic post WW2 world, by bringing out popular movies like “The World of Suzy Wong” “The Road to Bali” “South Pacific” and last but not least, Ian Fleming’s James Bond spy travelogue to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Japan and the Far East.

Aeronautical engineering and manufacturing resource capabilities

In the early post WW2 years USA and Great Britain came out of WW2 as the worlds’ two leading industrialised nations with the necessary aeronautical engineering and manufacturing resources and capability built up during their respective war economy that was essential to winning WW2 and was now ready at hand to meet the global expansion needs of aviations’ pioneering national Flag Carrier airlines.  

Initially in the early post-war years, Aviation’s commercial passengers needs was met by using the large inventory of retired and mothballed strategic bombers left over from WW2 which were converted for use in long-range commercial passenger flights.  But from day one of operations it became patently clear to the airline marketers that tomorrow’s commercial air-travel passenger consumer demand was for faster, higher and more comfortable passenger aircrafts that the converted military strategic bombers that they were using at the time just could not offer and perhaps the jet engine was the answer to their prayers.  

This marked the beginning of an unofficial technological and marketing race between the two great industrialised aviation nations of Great Britain and the United States, to be the first to build a purpose designed commercial passenger jet-aircraft that could be the answer to aviation’s air-travel consumer’s dreams and demands.   

This was a high stakes race which could make or break even the largest of the giant USA and Great Britain’s aircraft manufacturers of the time which grew out of WW2’s war economy.  The pressure to succeed was so great that in a mere 5 years after the end of WW2 the iconic De Havilland Comet 1 prototype flew for the first time and soon after entered service with BOAC in 1952 as the world’s first commercial passenger carrying jet-aircraft.  With the benefit of hindsight perhaps this proved to be a little too early as almost immediately in next year 1953, the De-Havilland Comet legacy was tragically marred by the total loss of two of BOAC’s Comet aircrafts when they literally dropped out of the sky after departure from Rome.  This resulted in the immediate grounding of all Comet aircrafts pending an official government order to carry out a full inquiry and accident investigation.  

A year of intensive forensic accident investigation followed which was lead by Great Britain’s Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) in Farnborough that involved building an enormous water pressure test tank for immersion of a full scale DH Comet 1 fuselage.  Eventually the D.H Comet was found to have suffered catastrophic structural failure caused by metal fatigue from repeated fuselage pressurisation cycles coupled with concentration of stress forces arising due to the corner shape of window openings let into the fuselage pressure cylinder. 

This unfortunate concatenation of little innocuous events that each in itself as separate isolated incidence would not have caused a catastrophic structural failure, but as a dynamic chain reaction of mechanically linked events that were invisible to the naked eye could cumulatively leads to a catastrophe structural failure was a little known phenomena at the time.  As a result the DH Comet airframe was then completely redesigned and the following iterations of Comet 2, 3, 4b and 4s went on to restore the DH Comet’s rightful place as one of aviations’ safest passenger jet aircrafts.

Soon after the launch of the DH Comet 2, 3 and 4b in quick succession, its rival Boeing’s 707 entered service with Pan Am in 1958 as the runner-up in an unofficial race to build aviation’s first jet-aircraft passenger plane.  But ironically it was the Boeing 707 who eventually took the crown as Aviation’s most successful commercial passenger jet-aircraft of all time.   

With the jet-age well on its way, there followed an explosion of ground breaking passenger jet airplane designs from De Havilland, Vickers, Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed, and with the success of these sixties aeronautical-engineering marvels, air-travel began to eclipse trains and steamships as the preferred mode of conveyance for travelling on transcontinental, transatlantic and transpacific routes.  

Jet Setters

With every iteration of passenger jet aircraft design introduced in the late 50’s and throughout the 60s, long range passenger air-travel time was cut dramatically while at the same time the increase of passenger traffic numbers coupled with increased passenger payload capacity of jet-aircrafts lowered the price of an air-ticket significantly and with the leaps and bound in progress made in safety, lead to building consumer confidence amongst business and leisure air-travellers for jet travel, that by the end of the “swinging sixties” became the preferred mode of travel. 

The term the Jet-Set of the “swinging sixties”, was perhaps best encapsulated by the movie “The VIPs” Starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and jet-setting no longer remained the preserve of Europeans and North American travellers but emancipated a new generation of Asian and African jet-setters.

In 1966 Sir Freddie Laker truly broke the mould of jet-set air-travel being previously confined to the preserve of the elite socialites and celebrities and his ground breaking Laker Airways opened a new “class” of “jet-set” business and holiday air-travellers.  But history will bear witness that Sir Freddie Laker was an innovative entrepreneur who was a little ahead of his time and it needed the advent of Boeing 747 wide bodied Jumbo jet in 1970, and the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Airlines in 1984 to offer the air-travel consumer a choice range of air-travel ticket products from budget “no frills” to premium “all-frills” fares as the logical marketing progression of the sixties jet-set age. 

IATA, PATA, National Flag Carrier Legacy Airlines & Global International Air-Travel Hubs

Global air-travel couldn’t have achieved its rapid exponential growth in the sixties without its development being coordinated in the air by IATA (The International Air Transportation Association) accompanied by coordinated development on the ground by respective Airlines and Tourism industry’s government linked organisations; and as a generalisation coordinated by respective USA, UK and Western European Nations’ Tourism Agencies in the Atlantic hemisphere and PATA (Pacific Asia Tourism Association) for the Pacific hemisphere. 

The sixties saw the establishment of a comprehensive network of major global air-travel hub cities; the larger of which were London, Paris, Amsterdam, Singapore, Sidney, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Honolulu, New York, Los Angeles and San-Francisco.  These global air-travel hub cities were the location of respective National Flag Carrier Airlines’ fixed base operations, and collectively constituted air-travel industry’s essential infrastructure hardware and software for supporting goods and services provider and supply chain businesses; such as aircraft maintenance services contractors, travel agencies, international transit gateway airport and city franchised chain hotel accommodation and the all important transportation’s intermodal connectivity critical to the efficient operations and functioning of a massive modern global air-travel “hub and spoke” network system.

Long range intercontinental transatlantic and transpacific air traffic were routed through the major international air-terminal hubs which were strategically located to meet the fuel range and marketing’s traffic considerations of the early jet aircrafts and well as to opportunistically collect market share of incidental passenger traffic demand in the vicinity.  These global international air-travel airport hubs in turn served as regional air-travel intermodal and inter-airline passenger transfer “hubs”, that were fed by incoming passenger traffic emanating from the radiating “spokes” of routes that connected to a second tier “regional hub” network of airports that served large regional urban centres and conurbations. The larger of the second tier “regional hubs” were and still are Rome and Frankfurt in Europe, and Chicago, San Diego and Atlanta in North America.  In the USA arising from its large domestic market base, the second tier “regional hubs” were fed by a third tier commuter and general aviation traffic originating from “sub-regional airports”; and where the fixed based operators for small commuter airlines and general aviation were located.

British North Borneo, Golden Age of Commercial Sail’s “The Land below the Wind”

British North Borneo’s earned its moniker as “The Land below the Wind” which was a sailor’s truism that harked from the Golden Age of Commercial Sail when great Clipper Ships in the period between the mid-18th century and early 19th century took advantage of favourable “Trade Winds” and plied the global circumnavigating commercial maritime routes.  The Clipper Ships were the Jumbo Boeing 747 of their time conveying bulky trading cargo of goods and commodities at speed between Great Britain and the rest of the world.  

The Golden Age of Commercial Sail was a milestone for European global trade interests which pivoted from the ancient world land based trade routes where the old “silk road’s” caravan camel trains were the “ships of the desert” that conveyed cargo of the goods and products of global trade overland through the Orient and beyond to India sub-continent, the Far-East and China.  In the Golden Age of Commercial Sail’s “maritime silk road” allowed global trade conveyance routes to bypass and avoid a decaying overland silk roads that were by now exacting an exorbitant “usurious rent-seeking toll” on the ancient world’s intercontinental global trade conveyance routes.   

The Clipper Ship seafarers who navigated the “new age” global maritime silk-roads knew that in the South of China seas off southern China, favourable “monsoonal” trade wind directions on which their maritime conveyance business relied on, didn’t visit the shores of North Borneo as the “monsoonal” trade winds in the South of China seas blew parallel to the West Coastline of North Borneo and reversing their wind direction on a quarterly period.

Furthermore the early Clippers Ships had “square rigged sails” which meant they were fastest running before the wind and couldn’t point upwind to any great degree.  Thus the outward leg of a typical journey heading for Canton in China, would begin in Great Britain’s Port of London and then the Clippers Ships would drive down to round Cape of Good Hope to catch the fabled “roaring forties” Westerly Trade Winds with which to traverse the Indian Ocean and reaching North to the island of Singapore .  At Singapore the Clipper Ship would stop over and wait for the a change in weather to favourable South Westerly “monsoonal” trade winds when they would then set off in a North Easterly heading to drive up to Canton where they would discharge their consignment of valuable cargo.  At Canton they would take onboard London’s cargo consignments just in time to catch favourable North Easterly “monsoonal” trade winds to begin their return trip in setting off in the South of China seas on a reciprocal heading to Singapore.  This round trip took approximately 6 months to complete the two legs between Singapore and Canton and consequently the natural periodic quarterly change in monsoonal “trade wind directions” in the South of China Seas, determined that the Square Rigged Clipper commercial ships couldn’t linger in the South of China Seas in wasting valuable time by calling into port along North Borneo’s west coastline, thus imparting North Borneo’s moniker as “The Land below the Winds”.  

Even with the later arrival of the steamships that were free of the dictates of the winds direction for speed and allowed steering a course independent of prevailing trade winds direction did not change the pattern of global trade and conveyance services.  The technology of the Golden Age of commercial sail had faded into history but had established and left behind the great entrepôt trading ports and financial cities of the 20th Century which were the nodes of international maritime trade that locked in the pattern of global trade until the end of the 20th Century.  The notable exception was when Communism finally wrested control of mainland China, she effectively sequestered itself out of international global world trade, and this was the reason for the rise of British Colony of Hong Kong replacing Canton as the British Empire’s pre-eminent entrepôt trade’s gateway port of entry mainland China’s and the Far East Asia’s burgeoning consumer markets.  This pattern of global trade conveyance largely set by the Golden Age of Commercial Sail was locked into place until the handover of the Hong Kong sovereignty by the United Kingdom to China by a 1997 Treaty (when Hong Kong became China’s Special Administrative Region).

Beginnings; TheLand below the Wind,late Fifties and early Sixties.

North Borneo remained as the “Land below the Wind”, throughout the Nineteenth Century and into the first half of the Twentieth Century, however the post WW2 new world order in the fifties and sixties would figuratively speaking “blow” the colony of British North Borneo from the Nineteenth Century Golden Age of Commercial Sail into the Twentieth Century Golden Age of Air-Travel.

Broadly speaking, the Golden Age of Air-Travel was born and shaped by the post WW2 geo-political new world order, communications technological advances and the consequences on one hand of the sun-setting old world Europeans Empires which were reinventing themselves and consolidating as regional “supranational” states (such as the USSR and European Union),  with the concomitant hurried independence of their respective and now “orphaned” inhabitants of former Colonies as reborn nation states; coupled on the other hand with the impact of the Cold War as the consequence of a United Nation’s “Uniting Nation” “political art” narrative which was at the chagrin of an aggrieved USA European, and Japan nation states, who were only recently warring Empires and now losing sovereignty over a retinue of colonies dotted around a now fast shrinking and smaller disuniting world. 

 This was a new world order where the “gun-boat” diplomacy of the 20th Century was replaced by a creeping “real politick” diplomacy which became empowered on the formation of a United Nation and its consequential “Uniting Nations” political art” narrative.  This was a neo-diplomatic force that was surreptitiously politically impacted and divided by an emergent troika of 20th Century “superpowers” namely the Soviet Union, USA and People’s Republic of China as the main global “super” supranational protagonists. 

In this post-WW2 new world order, British North-Borneo was returned to the United Kingdom as a protectorate colony largely as the governing British North-Borneo Chartered Company just didn’t have the necessary funds to rebuild its WW2 war-devastated capital “Jesselton” which was North Borneo’s main and only port essential to her hinterland plantations and townships for the export of its rubber, copra, hemp, and cocoa plantation commodities and base products.  Furthermore the Board of Directors of The North Borneo Chartered Company could not or would not deal with a looming humanity disaster in the making from the growing cases of starvation and malnutrition occurring in the void left by the departing wartime Japanese Occupational Government.  

These were the very concatenation of events that the British and USA allies post WW2 caretaker military government in British North Borneo knew from the experience of recent history will certainly attract the unwanted attention of a growing communist insurgent threats to peace, brokered by the not so subtle egregious efforts and “real politick” disuniting machinations in the Far East of their WW2 one time allies, namely Stalinist Russia and Maoist China. 

The concatenation of post-war geo-political economic and communications technological advances sealed British North Borneo’s fate and its now “orphaned” colonial inhabitants could no longer be left to remain in the back waters of a fast paced globalising and modernising world and were thrust headlong into the 20th Century theatres of superpower driven alignments and realignments “proxy” egregious confrontation at the United Nation General Assembly, and was a direct consequence of her  “Uniting Nations” “political art” narrative as the “go to” venue for dealing with the unfinished business of WW2.

British North Borneo’s political existential future was now largely being delineated and directed at the newly formed United Nations U.N Assembly building in New York, which was in effect a “virtual” “global supranational state’s general assembly”, that growingly determined the political fate of the now “orphaned” colonial inhabitants of United States, Europe and Japan Empires.  The U.N’s modus operandi was to set aside the egregious disuniting activities of a motley group of orphaned rebellious inhabitants of US, Europe and Japan colonies, which in time were rebranded as “freedom fighters” seeking legitimacy at the United Nation with its own egregious version of a “Uniting Nations” “political art” narrative for world peace of “freeing” humanity from the “shackles” of past colonialism in rebirth as “new but frankly dispirit nation states”.  At the same time the “now” orphaned colonial inhabitants were “buffeted” by the growing frequency of “the winds of proxy wars” being surreptitiously  prosecuted in the Far East and South East Asia that first serves the new world-order interest and agenda of global political economic and military superpowers symbolised by the “5 permanent standing members” of UN’s security council namely China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, and United States; and secondly were actively being seduced by overtures of the so called “non-aligned” nations interests and agenda which in the latter largely served to hide the neo-imperialist egregious seditious activities of communism as unfinished business of WW2.  The concatenations of the 50’s and 60’s was to distract the inhabitants of colonies from a legitimate but which was for “far too many” Nationalist Independence leaders at the time, an excruciating “far too slow” a process of seeking independence and legitimacy under the auspices of a United Nations and its concomitant “Uniting Nations“ “political art” narrative. 

“The concatenation of political neology conflation and inflation of a Revolution’s cackling of its “great unwashed mob and masses”, its Jacobin neo-liberal “literati” and Supremacist usurpers, continues until today to conflate and at the same time to inflate a genuine twentieth century humanist “democratising” narrative.  But as recent history tells us of the French Revolution as the mother of all modern revolution; creates the very conditions that more often than not, lead to the hijacking of the people’s grass root Revolution democratic narrative by Supremacists usurpers as caricatured by the story of Napoleon Bonaparte.” 

Post WW2 Concatenations 

The early days following founding of the United Nation General Assembly and declaration of its concomitant “Uniting Nations” “political art” narrative that followed, had by and large an equivocal real politick impact on the “now” orphaned inhabitants of USA, European and Japanese colonies;  but from an existential standpoint, was in British North Borneo experience unequivocally beneficial.  The fast changing political and economic landscape in the Far East and S.E. Asia was cause for the Board of Directors of the British North Borneo Chartered Company to regard North Borneo as a liability and the Chartered Company quickly disposed of its Chartered North Borneo territorial land assets in a “sale” back to Great Britain which was concomitant with reverting government administrative responsibilities of the Colony‘s inhabitants to the British Government.  As the consequence of this “new deal”, British North Borneo remained a British Protectorate Colony and a member of the newly formed British Commonwealth, and the inhabitants of British North Borneo who were granted British subject status was now governed directly by the British Colonial office in Whitehall and not by the Acts of Parliament. 

Outside of British North Borneo and in the Pacific and S.E. Asia, the United States was the acclaimed outright “winner” of WW2’s Pacific Theatre and now the pre-eminent wealthy western industrialised and technological advanced country and economy in the world by far.  The United States was effectively the “Master of the Pacific and Atlantic waves, and ergo the Master of the World”.  The post WW2 “Uniting Nations” “political art” narrative was cause of the empowerment of creeping “real politick” diplomacy arising in S.E Asia which displaced Twentieth Century “gun boat” “real politick” diplomacy and one of the “real politick” consequence was for United States to unofficially put pressure on Great Britain to relinquish its former colonies in the Pacific and S.E. Asia.  Effectively through creeping “real politick” diplomacy, Great Britain’s colonial inhabitants would become “protected “freed” nations” of the United States as the world’s foremost political and economic policing power and with effective policing power in the Pacific and S.E. Asia

The post-war concatenation and growing “real politick” diplomacy in S.E. Asia, forced a democratising change of British North Borneo that was now governed by London’s Whitehall Colonial office which hastily began to prepared the former colony as its charge for greater self governance and presumably to “kick the bucket of self rule down the road” to in some later stage in the distant future, in appointing and founding its first North Borneo Legislative Council, and installing a British style jurisprudence and civil service system.

The British Commonwealth Institution was formed and which gave birth to the Colombo Plan were regional organisations that represent a collective intergovernmental corporative constituted to assist the development of S.E. Asia’s former British colonies.  In addition to development funds as grants from the British Colonial Office, these regional institutions provided additional development funds needed to fund North Borneo’s post-war fifties “great leap-forward” development projects in Health, Education, Urban Reconstruction and modernisation of the Jesselton municipal sewerage, electrical power transmission, potable water purification systems, its road air and shipping port conveyance and intermodal infrastructure to fast track into the twentieth century.  

On the private sector front, the Hong Kong Bank and the Standard Chartered Banks were important British public owned financial institutions and effectively served as Central Banks needed in British North Borneo’s laissez-faire economy to nurture local entrepreneurship and businesses taking a larger role and share of its economic proceeds which was coupled with a gradual introduction of modern fiscal policies on personal and company income taxation.   At the same time through the auspices of the UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO), “free” comprehensive vaccination of North Borneo’s inhabitants for polio and small pox was carried out and eradication of endemic malaria began. 

By the time of British North Borneo independence and concomitant joining the Federation of Malaysia in 1963; Jesselton was a modern urban centre with a thriving commercial sector and businesses community, with a nascent Welfare State’s Medical child and natal care, dental and hospital facilities, which were all brought up to WHO standards.  In North Borneo’s experience, the early “Uniting Nations” “political art” narrative wasn’t mere talk, but was followed by real material and existentially beneficial improvements in environmental quality, living standards, nutrition, urban environment and key municipal utilities amenities and infrastructure.  By independence in 1963 as Sabah a State of Malaysia, these existential exigencies of the ordinary man were of comparable if not of a higher standard when compared with other states in the newly born Federation of Malaysia and indeed compared with other old and new nation states in the rest of the world.

Gardenia, Borneo’s first “Colonial Fusion Steak & Grill Room” to “In-Flight Kitchen Catering Services”

Gardenia Restaurant as a brand (refer Naming Gardenia Brand) was established by my father (Datuk Wong Tze Fatt) in 1959 and was located above his newly established Tong Hing Supermarket 59 Gaya Street Jesselton, capital of British North Borneo (now Sabah Malaysia).  My father had recruited a team of 3 “Hainanese” Chefs and a two man, maitre-de and his deputy team from Singapore (refer The Hainanese German colonial fusion Chicken Rice Recipe) to set up Borneo’s first Western Steak and Grill Restaurant and the restaurant used imported ingredients and Australian Beef purveyed by his own Tong Hing Supermarket 

In the 60’s Gardenia garnered accolade throughout S E Asia gastronomic circles simply as Borneo’s best western Steak & Grill Room that served an authentic contemporary “colonial fusion cuisine” before the word “fusion” became a “buzz word” amongst social-media gastronomic gourmets.  Thus when in 1996 Malaysian Singapore Airlines (MSA) planned to launch its Comet 4s First Class Cabin services between Singapore Paya-Lebah and Jesselton North Borneo to meet the growing demands of a fast internationalising and cosmopolitan jet-set, Gardenia was without question the only local brand name in Jesselton’s (renamed Kota-Kinabalu 1997) fledgling hotel, restaurant and catering businesses that could deliver in-flight food and beverage supply services to meet the jet-set customer’s  “first class” expectations at the commiserate price.

MSA Cabin Services Director (Lee Siong Mai) flew into Jesselton for a summit meeting with my father and a Letter of Understanding for an In-Flight Cabin Catering Services Supply Agreement was forged between my father’s Tong Hing Holdings company and MSA.  This was the beginning of a long and mutually fruitful business joint venture for both parties who were later rebranded respectively as Gardenia In-Flight Kitchen and Malaysian Singapore Airline (which the latter separated as Malaysian Air System and Singapore Airlines).This partnership of pioneers in S.E. Asia’s In-Flight Kitchen services lasted from 1966 till 2014, and which marked the end of 48 years of Gardenia as a pioneer and premier In-Flight Kitchen Catering Services and a fin de siècle of the Golden Age of Air Travel. 

In the days that followed the first summit meeting at Gardenia Steak and Grill Room, Lee Siong Mai returned with his entourage of Executive Chefs and Costs accountants, who were all feted with food tasting lunches and dinners of Gardenia Restaurant’s famed menu.  The Entrees were; Thousand Island Prawn Cocktail, Tomato Soup, Green Pea Soup, Mulligatawny Soup, Beef Consume Soup, Mock Turtle Soup, accompanied with freshly baked Dinner Rolls glazed with Duck egg yolk; 

Followed with; Mains specialities of Sizzling Beef Tournedos Fillet Steak with Pepper Sauce made with classic French style demi-glace, Maryland Spring Chicken, Lobster Thermidor, and Dover Sole; 

And topping it all off with; Desserts of Bombe Alaska and completing the tasting sessions with afternoon tea-cakes, a variety of Sponge Cakes, Classical English Scones and a Battenberg cake.

Gardenia Airport Cafeteria (In-Flight Kitchen services provider operations was managed as an integral part of MAS In-Flight Cabin Services) was renamed as Gardenia In-Flight Kitchen and was the in flight- service provider at Kota Kinabalu (BKI) to the Flag Carrier legacy airlines of Malaysian Air System, Singapore Airlines, Silk Air, Cathay Pacific, and Dragon Air.  

Airlines and Aircrafts in S E Asia’s Golden Age of Air-Travel

Borneo Airways – Malayan Airways

De-Havilland Rapide; Twin Pioneers; 

Douglas Dakota DC3 (Jesselton Kuching Singapore Paya Lebah)

(Menu: Sandwiches)

Malaysia Singapore Airlines (MSA 1966-1972) (Malaysian Air System & Singapore Airlines)

Vickers Viscount (Menu: Sandwiches) Jesselton Airport to Singapore Paya-Lebar route

In 1966 Comet 4s (Menu: In-Flight Kitchen Hot Meals); Jesselton Airport to Singapore Paya-Lebar route

The 70’s Jet-Set Generation; 

Boeing 747-70’sAPEXMass Air-Travel 

Concorde Supersonic Jet-Set

The Federation of Malaysia and Republic of Singapore

Malaysia was formed in 1963 comprising of the 9 British Malaya Federated 11 states (9 Sultanates & 2 Straits Settlements), Sabah (formally British North Borneo), Sarawak and Singapore (which later seceded from Malaysia in 1965).

A Moment of utter joy and happiness in Gardenia’s Golden Age of Jet Air-Travel

In the summer of 1967 as a young man of 16, I was back in Sabah Malaysia from boarding schooling (at Bedales, Hampshire, England) for my long summer break and settling down on my first day at home, when quite unexpectedly my father asked me to leave home and accompany him on a business trip to Singapore.  This was indeed a pleasant surprise and a treat as I knew I was going to be upgraded from my usual economy class to take a seat with my father in the Malaysian Singapore Airlines First-Class Cabin.

As my father and I cleared the required airport departure procedures, I was quite excited to find out that we will be boarding one of Malaysia Singapore Airline’s De-Havilland Comet 4s, newly acquired in a lease from BOAC and put into service earlier that week replacing MAS Vickers Viscount turbo-prop aircraft type for their Jesselton to Singapore Paya-Lebar route.   After flight boarding security ticket and luggage check-in procedures were completed, my father and I boarded the MSA Comet 4s and I settled down in the First Class Cabin sitting at second row right aisle seat and across the aisle from my father who was sitting at the first row aisle seat to the left of aisle.  I then began to fasten my seat belt and browse the passenger safety and promotional pamphlets in the pockets ahead of me, and leaned forwards a little to look past the empty seat to my right and out of the large windows to admire the over-wing view which was devoid of the usual intrusion of airplane propellers.  The stewardess came around with welcome drinks and cold and hot hand towels that in the sixties were only served in Airliners’ First Class cabins.  In the interim between passengers seating with taxiing to the runway threshold and aligning for takeoff on runway 02, I looked around at the first class interior which was an experience in luxury and comfort having only flown in the comparatively plain single-class students chartered flight arranged by Malaysian London Embassy Student Affairs Office to ferry Malaysian students returning home from studies in the U.K. 

As the MSA Comet 4s engines spooled up and began its take-off run, the sound of the Comet’s pure jet engine was a completely new sound.  As compared to the turbo-props, the jet engine was very much quieter and more important was free of engine and propeller vibrations and uncomfortable throbbing propeller harmonics of earlier generation of prop-piston engine and turbo prop-jet aircrafts.  At that moment my father glanced over to my seat and waved when he saw that I was clearly enjoying the first class jet-set experience.  Then there was a smooth and sustained acceleration throughout the take off climb and quite unlike the earlier planes which seemed to run out of breath just as they begin to rotate to climb out and as result the Comet 4s climbed at a far higher rate and at a steeper angle.  

As we climbed through the cloud base condensation level, what looked alarmingly like smoke from a fire vented out of the air-conditioning outlets.  But as all the flight attendants were still seated quite unperturbed by the sight and there wasn’t a trace of a burning smell, I quickly realised that it was vapour condensation from a rapid fluctuation of relative air humidity and as we our climb rate was so much higher than previous aircrafts that cabin relative air humidity didn’t have time to normalise and the incoming cold air-vapours from the air-conditioning system was forming a standing wave cloud as it exited its vents and condensed momentarily while passing in and out through its dew point. 

We continued our climb through the tropical late morning layer of cumulus clouds the captain gently weaved to dodge turbulence in the clouds as he turned to a south westerly heading for Singapore. Soon we were well above the cumulous cloud layer and flying in clear blue skies and the Comet 4s gently levelled off into cruise. 

Gardenia pièce de résistance

As the plane settled on its course for Singapore and was cruising in smooth air, the passenger seat belts signs went off with a dulcet ping, and Rediffusion background music came over the Tannoy, and which was a signal for the cabin crew to began to go about their after take-off cabin check list and duties.  From time to time they would emerge with service towels, complimentary playing cards, trays of cocktail peanuts, drinks and beverages, mini-bottles of spirit and of course stylish grown-up sixties canapés which included petite sandwiches made from thin sliced fresh sandwich load bread prepared by Gardenia’s  In-Flight Kitchen.  I began the read the menus and that was when I noticed that the entre was Beef Fillet Tournedos with Black Pepper sauce which I recognised was my father’s Gardenia Restaurant signature recipe.

When the meal trays were served to all the First Class passengers, and I finished my Beef Consume entre and Gardenia cucumber sandwiches, my father turned and looked over to me as I tucked into my choice of a Gardenia Signature Beef Tournedos with Black Pepper Sauce prepared with classic French style demi-glace as my mains. When I responded to my father’s overture with an approvingly gastronomic grin of satisfaction, his first look of concern melted away and was replaced with a smile of utter joy and happiness.  It was in this moment of an epiphany that I realized that while the raison-de-etre for this trip was his business commitments in Singapore, but the “piece-de-resistance” for my father was to watch his eldest son tuck into his famed classic “Gardenia petite canapé cucumber sandwiches and Beef Tournedos with Black Pepper prepared with demi-glace sauce” all prepared in his Gardenia In-Flight Kitchen.  In that moment of joy and happiness I could sense that all the hardship of my father’s earlier Singapore business trips that typically started with the loneliness of leaving his family behind and to boarding a Straits Steamship Kimanis second class berth, vanished away as the trials and tribulations of an existential past that brought us to share this moment of utter joy and happiness that marked a Golden Age of Air-Travel and the arrival of Malaysia’s Jet-Set era.

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