Saturday, August 30, 2008

Our Weekend in Riyadh

So I'm not sure how many of you know this, but the weekend here in Saudi is Thursday and Friday rather than Saturday and Sunday. It takes some getting used to. Anyhow, we had a pretty interesting weekend. On Thursday morning my man and I went out to the pool to relax where we ate a big breakfast cooked by yours truly. We saw a familiar face by the pool and my man went into complaint mode with our new friend about his hair and teeth, while I swam in the baby section of the pool...we must seem a little batty. Thursday evening we had our first party at our house, which ended up being fairly well attended mainly due to some very friendly Americans, and we had all sorts of interesting people show up.

The next day, we ate leftovers and vegetated in front of the television in various states of sleep. By the time the late afternoon rolled around it was beginning to look like a pretty uneventful day until our Aussie friend a block away talked us into visiting a textile souk with him. We were shocked to find ourselves in an area of town teeming with south asians with virtually no arabs in sight. It reminded me of the massive blackout in the summer of 2003 in Toronto that caused utter chaos on the roads - everyone spilled into the streets downtown, milling around in confusion. At the souk, people were bartering for fresh fruits and vegetables, and frying peanuts. It was great! We went into a couple of suit shops - here is our friend's driver, modelling some fabric for us. He takes modelling very seriously:

In the evening, we went out for a fantastic steak dinner at a restaurant called Entrecote at the top of Faisaliah. Here is a photo of the mall section of Faisaliah. You are not mistaken, that is indeed a giant bee in the lower right hand corner. This is the kid's section of the mall, and what do kids love more than giant bees?

The Entrecote restaurant has a lot of atmosphere - it's like Panorama in Toronto, except a million times better with steak and no alcohol. And family sections. And plush leather menus. And security screenings with machine-gun toting guards. You know, it's really not like Panorama at all. Anyways, have a look at this beautiful view from the balcony:

While waiting for our driver to show up after dinner, I took a picture of Starbucks - It was 11:45pm and the Starbucks was still open. You can see some saudi men in traditional thobes.

Oh, and these are a couple of random pics I keep meaning to post. Here is a picture of the kids section in one of the malls - every single mall I have been to has one of these sections in it. Some have roller coasters inside. I just wanted to show you how elaborate these children's areas are because we generally don't have anything like it in Canadian malls. Because in Canada I guess we don't care if the kids are bored at the mall - that is their lot in life. We are adults, hear us roar.

And this is a touchscreen electronic map of the Hyatt mall, complete with a Saudi lady avatar that speaks to you. Nifty! Though I still got lost.....

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Shopping in the Kingdom

Last week, my man and I took a trip to IKEA and grabbed dinner there. IKEA food is the same around the world, though not every IKEA has family sections set up like this:

All malls have family sections organized in a similar way to IKEA where tables are sectioned off with screens so that families can eat in privacy and women can take off their head coverings. At one mall last week the food court was full at dinner time and there were not enough screens, so I watched a saudi woman eat her meal with her veil on and it was awkward to say the least.

Yesterday I was taken on a shopping trip by my new asian friend. We visited the Kingdom mall, which is supposed to be one of the ritziest malls here in Riyadh, with Tiffany's, Dolce & Gabbana, LV, etc. etc. inside. August is a great time to be shopping here as everything is on sale, and though I thought I couldn't afford anything in this mall, I was soon proven wrong. I should have known that asians all over the world are the same: we are all looking for those $10 pants.

For the record, these pants were $7

Well enough bragging - onto other issues, like where to get camel meat for dinner. Yum yum! No problem - your local grocery store has some in stock:

And it comes ground as well for camelburgers:

Oh by the way, they do indeed have ketchup chips here, and basil as well, as well as 110v kettles. Someone said to me the other day that you can find anything you need here in the Kingdom, you just have to know where to look for it. I am discovering every day that Riyadh is totally livable.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Snacking Riyadh style

So they have some chip flavours here that we don't have back home. As you can see "Vine Leaves" is a popular flavour and I must say that the chips do indeed taste like the middle eastern dish. I was so curious that I opened them up in the grocery store at the cash register. I offered some to the baggers but they declined with smiles, probably because they saw the hungry look in my know - that look that says, "I'm offering this to you because I recognize you are working a hard job for pennies, but I fully intend to eat this entire bag before we hit the parking lot."

This second snack - the Yoki rice crackers I have just started munching on - taste like a stick version of rice crispies with salt on it. I couldn't find Canada's famous ketchup chips but this was supposed to be a substitute of didn't quite work for me.

I'm going to show you our backyard. Here it is - I know you are falling off your chair in amazement right now but please try to contain yourself, it is only a backyard:

While I was taking a picture of my beautiful backyard to show you, I found something else in my backyard:

Did you fall out of your chair yet? I almost screamed, but I didn't; those mystery legs were literally a meter away from me. Anyways, I assume the legs have gone with their owner back to work because I just had another look and they're not there anymore.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Life in Riyadh

I like it here. I have a vision of myself in early retirement.

Let me show you the compound where I am living. The compound is a ghost town with only staff members populating the public buildings, and a few cats around. What's with these cats???

Here is our bowling alley (I don't bowl, but I could):

And here is our gym (I don't work out, but I could):

Here is the pool in the middle of the compound - very nice at night:

And here are some stores that I have seen at the mall. You might recognize some of these shops. There's a saudi woman in my shot who would probably not have liked being in a picture but I had my flash off so neener neener! you're in my picture and you didn't even notice!

These are the people who yelled at me from across the food court. At first I thought I had been caught unknowingly doing something illegal and was preparing to apologize and feign helplessness. But then I realized they only wanted me to take a picture of them. Actually the asians didn't want to be in the picture - but the guy in the red shirt was very enthusiastic about the photo-op and pulled Mr. Yellow shirt into the picture before he could run away. That's why he has that unamused look on his face:

These are a part of the Doritos section of the grocery store, Carrefour, where we did our grocery shopping. It's like a warehouse inside and reminds me of Walmart. It has most of the things we have back home, though of course, no pork products. And though they had an enormous selection of spices set up in a kind of a souk, I couldn't find Basil. We hope to find Montreal Steak Spice soon. The beef was all shipped in from Brazil at this grocery store. And the chicken tastes different - it's a little tougher and more stringy than back home.

And finally a picture of my man walking through the DQ of Riyadh at night. That's DQ for "Diplomatic Quarter" not "Dairy Queen". You have to be careful here not to get too excited when someone mentions DQ because they are usually (sadly) not referring to ice cream. Baskin Robbins is thriving here in the Middle East, but so far I haven't seen a Dairy Queen at all. No Peanut Buster Parfaits for me for a while! We were at a party last night at the U.S. Embassy, so that's what we were doing wandering around there at night and I would have posted pictures except they took our phones and cameras at the door!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Touring Dubai

We rode a double decker bus to explore Dubai. We had a great time seeing the sights, though the humidity in the air was a bit of a damper on our trip.

We skipped out on the Heritage Village and the Bastakia Quarter, which were deserted. I was content to snap pictures from the air conditioned bus. We stopped by the famous gold souk where we spotted a shirt made of gold. Very classy.

We did manage to step out onto the Jumeirah beach for about 60 seconds to see the famous 7 star hotel Burj Al Arab. For a city that is supposed to be part of the desert, there is a lot of water and greenery around. Apparently Dubai has one of the highest water consumption rates in the world. We stopped by the Mall of the Emirates to have a look at the indoor ski slope. It's actually quite big and you can only see the bottom of the slope from the windows inside the mall. For anyone who thinks this business venture sounds a little insane, I encourage you to count how many people have paid to go in and frolic in the snow:

We also purchased an abaya from the Saudi section of the mall. You would think that since this is a garment that is being worn by half the citizens of the country next door - many of whom end up flooding into Dubai for vacations - that it would be relatively easy to find this item in Dubai. But then you would be wrroooooong!! We managed to get a hold of one eventually. Trying on abayas was as fun as dropping acid in your eyes....

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

shopping in dubai

I visited the BurJaman mall today. It was breathtaking and everything inside was brutally expensive except for the schwarma. Which by the way was very good.

I went to the Emirates Towers and got my hair cut at Toni and Guy. The muslim woman who sat down beside me asked for a screen to be put up around her for privacy as she took off her head covering and abaya. I think my staring might have been a little obvious because the staff moved me to another chair shortly afterwards.

The temperature here is 41 degrees celsius today. The heat is actually not that bad - it's the humidity that's a killer. For this reason, the streets are totally deserted during the day. The only living things I could find on the street were these guys, and they seem to be having a fight:

Sorry it's a little blurry - I took the picture from a car window because I didn't want to get eaten.

Arrival in Dubai

I'm digesting a late night hamburger in my hotel room right now. The flight was great, as forecasted. The Emirates airplane had the most extensive movie selection and the most overhead storage I have ever seen on an airplane. This is also the first time I have received little extras like toiletries and wet towels in economy. On top of that the food was surprisingly good and above par for airplane grub. The pilot listed about 10 languages spoken by the staff on the airplane as we were taking off, including some languages I have never heard of.

The Dubai airport is enormous. It also contains a flying saucer as decoration inside. I was walking for a good 15-20 minutes at a good clip just to get to customs. The lady who checked my passport asked about the purpose of my journey and when I mentioned I have an extended stopover in Dubai before completing my trip to Riyadh, she shot me a look of disapproval mixed with pity and advised, "Take a nice vacation here before you go there." She also told me to go shopping with my man's credit card.

This is my first taste of censorship while surfing the web tonight. I was trying to view some Sesame Street pastry heads. Elmo and Big Bird heads, to be exact.

It's 2am here and 6:45pm Toronto time. My circadian rhythms are all confused by the time difference. I'm going to try to get back to sleep now =)

Monday, August 11, 2008

leaving T.O.

Today is my flight! I am flying Emirates into Dubai, with an extended layover where I will be meeting up with my man, and then together we fly into Riyadh in a few days after playing tourist in Dubai.

I am flying economy on a regular plane, so I'll be having none of that "shower spa" decadence of the airbuses. Apparently, the Saudis say that Emirates is the only way to fly in the middle east, so I am taking my cue from the natives.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Stress levels subsiding

Last night for the first time in a couple of weeks I got my first good night of rest. Perhaps it's because the packing is almost done, but I think it's more likely because I received my VISA for Saudi Arabia yesterday morning by courier. I have been worried that it would be rejected because it was actually missing some stuff, especially after reading in the Star about librarians from Africa scheduled to attend a conference in Toronto having their visas rejected. Apples and Oranges you say? Well I somehow managed to extract the essence of the story and turned it into another reason to lie awake at night thinking about my visa approval, among other things, like what kind of topics librarians discuss at international conferences. And whether it's possible to find abayas in turquoise instead of just black. And whether I could get arrested in Saudi for wearing a turquoise abaya if I had one made for me. Anyways, it felt like Christmas, opening that Purolator envelope up. What a treat! It's done and stamped, and if you ever want to see something funny I'll show you my visa picture.