Fasting to Beat Jet Lag

A team from Harvard and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston has concocted an elegant remedy to combat jet lag: the anti–jet lag fast. The international traveler, they counsel, can avoid jet lag by simply not eating for twelve to sixteen hours before breakfast time in the new time zone.

According to the Harvard team, the fast works because our bodies have, in addition to our circadian clock, a second clock that might be thought of as a food clock or, perhaps better, a master clock. When food is scarce, this master clock suspends the circadian clock and commands the body to sleep much less than normally. Only after the body starts eating again does the master clock switch the circadian clock back on.

The master clock probably evolved because when our prehistoric forebears were starving, they would have been tempted in their weakness to sleep rather than forage for the food they needed to survive. Today, when a traveler suspends his circadian clock before flying from Los Angeles to London, and then reactivates it upon breaking the fast, the clock doesn’t know that it should still be on Pacific Time. It knows only that the breakfast and the daylight declare morning in Mayfair, and it resets the body’s rhythms accordingly.

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(via Harpers. Note: this story isn’t new).

Testing the Boeing 787 Dreamliner

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner is supposed to revolutionize air travel. It promises a better cabin climate, less airsickness, reduced jet lag, fewer headaches…and even babies that may not cry as much. The Wall Street Journal put these claims to the test in a recent flight from Tokyo to Frankfurt.

Boeing points to design changes both inside and out of the cabin that make for a better ride. With a body largely constructed of super-strong plastics—carbon-fiber composite material—instead of aluminum, the 787 can have higher cabin humidity since rust isn’t a worry. The humidity level in the Dreamliner cabin is 10% to 15%, compared with 4% to 7% typical in other airplanes. But 15% is still extremely dry—about the same relative humidity as the average summer afternoon in Las Vegas, according to meteorological data.

The cabin is pressurized to a lower altitude than conventional jets, lessening the effects of being high in the air, such as headaches and fatigue, because of a 6% improvement in oxygen absorbed by the body at 6,000 feet compared with 8,000 feet. Studies show big windows help reduce motion sickness, Boeing said, and LED lighting that can simulate sunrise, for example, can help ease jet-lag effects.

A new aircraft stability system that will make for smoother rides in turbulence is still only partially functional in the five 787s in service, but an updated software load planned within weeks will improve the ride even more, according to the aircraft maker. Fuel efficiency and emissions are 20% better than the Boeing 767, a similarly sized jet.

And the personal takeaways from Scott McCartney, the author of the WSJ piece:

I flew from Tokyo to Frankfurt on Feb. 3 and could feel the Dreamliner differences. My contact lenses didn’t dry out as much as they usually do on long flights; same for my nose. I only slept an hour, partly because a nearby infant wailed several times during the night, even though the Dreamliner is supposed to lessen air-pressure pain in babies. Still, I wasn’t dragging as much as I usually am after sleepless overnight trips.

Small details do make a difference. The plane comes standard with individual air vents over passengers, something that is rarely found on wide-body jets. That gives each passenger more control of air flow and temperature. And the large 787 window offered a beautiful panoramic view of Tokyo on departure.

The Dreamliner ranks as the fastest-selling commercial jet in history, with 59 airlines around the world ordering 870 of them. The Dreamliner should start appearing at U.S. airports later this year.

The Culture That is Japan

This is a fascinating piece on the culture of Japan. Over the last twenty years of recession, the Japanese have traveled abroad and returned with acquired international tastes. In fact, as the piece attests, Japan may be a better destination than its foreign counterparts where the product is made. If you want to test fine French cuisine, head over to Tokyo rather than Paris, and this piece explains why.

Japan has become the most culturally cosmopolitan country on Earth, a place where you can lunch at a bistro that serves 22 types of delicious and thoroughly Gallic terrines, shop for Ivy League–style menswear at a store that puts to shame the old-school shops of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and spend the evening sipping rare single malts in a serene space that boasts a collection of 12,000 jazz, blues and soul albums. The best of everything can be found here, and is now often made here: American-style fashion, haute French cuisine, classic cocktails, modern luxury hotels. It might seem perverse for a traveler to Tokyo to skip sukiyaki in favor of Neapolitan pizza, but just wait until he tastes that crust.

An interesting factoid about the quality of food:

Though many Japanese foodies and critics deride the Michelin Guide for a perceived ignorance of traditional Japanese food culture, the publication of the first Red Guide to Tokyo just four years ago signaled a tectonic shift in the international culinary scene. In the latest guide, 247 of Tokyo’s restaurants have stars—almost four times the number in Paris, and more than the total number in London, New York City and Paris, pointing to the spectacular appeal of this city to foreign palates. 

It’s no surprise to see the top ranks of Japan’s Red Guide populated by tiny sushi bars and extravagant kaiseki restaurants, but each year there are also more and more non-Japanese restaurants earning stars for their creative cooking. One of Tokyo’s three-star establishments—an honor awarded to only 15 restaurants in the main cities of Europe but to 16 in Tokyo alone—is Quintessence, which serves contemporary French food created by a young Japanese chef named Shuzo Kishida.

On Japanese bars:

It’s this embracing of bartending as a vocation that makes Japan’s bars better than those anywhere else in the world. There’s also the hyperspecialization encouraged by the fact that bars can be so small—and that almost every narrow pursuit can find enough customers to at least break even. But maybe the central reason this city is so amazing for drinkers is that the quest to find the best is, by definition, a Sisyphean task.

Read the piece to find out about Katsuyuki Tanaka, an owner of a coffee shop who requires his baristas to train for at least a year before they can serve espressos.

I’ve never been to Japan, but from what I’ve read, the country is quickly becoming the best place in the world in which to eat, drink, shop, and sleep.

The World’s Best Airport

I’ve never been, but I’ve heard great things about Singapore’s Changi International AirportThis Wall Street Journal piece gives some details of the perks you can expect:

The airport offers amenities found elsewhere only in airlines’ fancy lounges for premium passengers. There are comfortable areas for sleeping or watching TV, premium bars, work desks and free Internet. A nap room is about $23 for three hours; a shower can be had for $6. If you want to put your feet in a tank with tiny fish that eat dead skin, that’s $17 for 20 minutes.

The pool is free to guests of the airport’s in-transit hotels; otherwise it’s about $11 a person. A bus tour of Singapore is offered free by the airport. The tour is arranged so that passengers don’t have to clear immigration—the airport retains passports so passengers don’t run off.

Simple steps matter, like minimizing annoying announcements and honking carts and instead playing soothing music to reduce stress. Placing rival currency-exchange booths and clothing stores side-by-side stimulates competition. Touch screens in bathrooms let travelers send text messages to supervisors when toilet paper runs out, for example.

Click through the article to see a video as well.

Visiting Moscow in the Winter

I really like this post in The New York Times travel section about visiting Moscow in the winter.

The author, first of all, is correct in this assessment (having been to Moscow in the winter myself):

It would be a stretch to say that Muscovites embrace the winter, but they come as close as human beings are able to outside a ski resort. Bitterly cold outside? No matter. Snow piles atop snow piles? Life marches on. Restaurants are full. Sidewalks are crowded. Theaters and opera houses are packed. Parks are crisscrossed by people on ice skates along with those who are simply taking a leisurely stroll as though at the height of spring.

The author explains that if you don’t know Russian, it’s tough getting around in the city (this is true):

Communication was difficult. The waitress, dressed in a sexy version of Georgian folk costume, offered little help. So we opted for the famous Georgian dishes we’d read about, a delicious chicken satsivi (cold chunks of white meat in a walnut sauce), some khachapuri (cheese-stuffed bread) and an assortment of grilled, skewered meats. It was very good. But other tables seemed to be having much grander, happier feasts — huge platters of meats and salads and toast after toast, sometimes with the kitchen staff scurrying out to serenade everyone.

On the infamous coat check person found in most Russian establishments:

This was also our first encounter with what we discovered to be a distinct Moscow character: the insistent coat check person. At many modest restaurants, and certainly at the top ones, customers are given no choice but to check their coats (it’s free, and tips are not expected). A dining room free of winter gear seems to be a sign of class, and the whole process becomes a little ceremony, a punctuation point between the cold world outside and the warmth within. It also provides a frame for that most frequent Russian winter activity: wrapping the scarf, putting the coat on, positioning the hat just so, checking to make sure your gloves are in the pocket.  

Why don’t we see the coat check as a tradition in more American cities? It adds a grandeur to the dining experience, I think.

I like the author’s bravery to try the famous Russian sauna (banya):

Inside, men took turns pummeling one another with thick bundles of leafy birch branches soaked in water. I tried whipping myself with the things a few times — it’s supposed to make your skin feel great — but couldn’t quite get the angle right. Every now and then, one of the Russian men walked over to a giant steel door in the wall, opened it to reveal a glowing red inferno and slung in a giant ladle of water. By the time I left, the floor was strewn with leaves and debris, like a driveway after a storm.

Behind the Scenes at LAX

A good piece in Los Angeles Times on the ins-and-outs of how LAX, the world’s seventh busiest airport, is run:

Terminals 4 and 5 are where mega-players American and Delta lease space from the Los Angeles World Airport and, by virtue of their size, run these areas as if they were their own.

Then there are Terminals 1, 2 and 3, co-ops really, where smaller airlines share what feels like a shoe box.

Annual passenger volume is still below what it was before 9/11: 61 million now, 67 million then. Yet the airport, which is celebrating 50 years of jet travel, makes more than $100 million in profit annually on fees it charges airlines to use its facilities.

It sounds like the airport is run like a governmental agency:

Open since December, the Airport Response Coordination Center, or ARCC, is the airport’s central nervous system. Operators here control the stoplights outside the terminals to regulate vehicle flow. From here, an incident desk deploys plumbers to the flood in a restroom in Terminal 2 or a leaky water fountain in Terminal 3.

In a smaller room steps away, a police officer checks hundreds of surveillance cameras that monitor entrances, checkpoints and runways. Zooms in, zooms out, tilts down, pans left. What’s he looking for? Anomalies. Anything that doesn’t make sense in the normal flow of a gigantic airport.

I’d be very interested to read profiles of other major airports, such as that of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, New York’s JFK, or Tokyo’s Narita.

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(hat tip: @matthiasrascher)