Monday, December 14, 2009

Riyadh Zoo vs. Wrist Slitting

Which one wins for being the more fun thing to do? You be the judge.

This past weekend turned out to be fantastic wonderful weather. Sun shining and tummies full from a buffet, we set out for our first visit to the Riyadh Zoo. It seemed like the perfect weekend diversion.

After the first few exhibits, it turned into a pity-fest for us. The orangutans were almost bald, and one of them was limping around on a wounded leg.

It's a bit of a shock for a westerner to see animals being liberally fed by the public. There is a good reason why you are not allowed to do so in any other zoo, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that maybe junk food isn't good for animals (in much the same way it isn't good for humans) not to mention any of the psychosocial factors that weigh into having stuff pelted at them. Popcorn, chocolate bars, used napkins, empty bottles - you name it, it was thrown at an animal at some point. I'm sad to say that it wasn't just the children behind things like that. Makes you wonder whether the right animals have been locked up!

And then there were the curious exhibits that seemed to throw random animals together. See if the below picture makes any sense whatsoever to you. Enlighten me if this mimics any kind of natural habitat anywhere on the face of the earth, and where this mystical place might exist.

On the upside, we did get to see some beautiful animals. The white tigers were stunning and they seemed to be in good shape.

I suppose the whole idea of a zoo itself might be a remnant of our past. They originated before things like television, internet and digital cameras, and it would have been the only way people got to see anything exotic. It seems wrong these days to domesticate wild animals for entertainment value.

The thought of these poor things living through the sweltering heat of a Riyadh summer makes me feel terrible. I'm far from a crazed animal activist (see previous entry on cats), but even I regretted the visit simply on the grounds that humans shouldn't kick ostriches in the face when their child has just offered them a piece of garbage to chew on.

Seriously, what kind of sociopath does that?!


Now you've been warned, so visit at your own risk...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Average expat age = 500 years old

No, not really, but sometimes it seriously feels that way.

I've heard people say that Dubai is for people in their 20's, Abu Dhabi is for the 30's, and Riyadh is 40+... I'm inclined to agree. Perhaps I'm just hopelessly not plugged into the right set here but on certain days, I wake up and I'm convinced that my hair is falling out, my joints are sore, and all I want is prune juice and Matlock for breakfast. In honour of my newfound agedness, I've applied labels to all my postings so that you, my dear readers/lurkers, can access the subjects better. Also in honour of my agedness, I managed to confuse myself with applying the labels to the postings, so you know...if things are out of place... what day is it again?...what was I writing about? Time for some vitamins!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


What to say about Spazio? This ritzy restaurant is located at the top of the Kingdom Tower and it's got quite the view inside. The ambiance is wonderfully rich.

If only the food could match the view. This restaurant is top of the line for presentation but loses serious marks when it comes to 'fine dining' - I'm not a serious foodie, so if I can tell that it's not up to par, it really must be very mediocre. I ordered the crispy salmon packets and what turned up was salmon bits wrapped in wonton wrappers. Crispy yes, tasty no. Oily and bland, it was a disappointment. The soup I ordered was fennel and green apple - but it tasted like cream, salt and apple bits. The sushi was not fresh. Even the service was noticibly lacking for a restaurant that didn't seem very full. The waiter didn't pull out my chair, and wasn't really paying attention to our table, though at least the water glasses were kept full. After full service and the works at the Cristal where the chef heard the hubster was on a diet and served up a fruit plate (off-menu) for him for dessert, it was really hard not to compare, especially since we ordered much more at the Cristal for less money. It was still a great evening, and of course your company matters much more than what you eat, but I would say that if it's fancy food that you're after, give this restaurant a pass.

Riyadh's Secondhand Souk

So I finally made it out to the Secondhand Souk after more than a year in Saudi. I heard about women getting fantastic deals at this souk, finding clothes with the tags still on them, unworn ball gowns for 30 riyals, and I couldn't resist the lure any longer. Here is a pic I took on our bus pulling up to the souk:

In my head, I was picturing the Kuwaiti Souk, but in reality, it kind of turned out to be a really big garage sale. A paradise for some, and a junkyard for others.

There are lots of different parts of this souk - it's huge. They have a lot of furniture there, rugs and upholstery shops, tons of kitchenware, so if you're not looking for clothes, there are lots of other areas to explore. I was in the market for a ball gown. I searched high and low throughout the clothing section, but many of the selections looked like the following samples:

Apparently, many of the locals don't mind dressing up as christmas ornaments...I decided to buy a gown somewhere else. I'm told that you really have to hunt if you're looking for something more simple. I would definitely recommend the souk for cheap abayas and children's clothing, though. Some of the women pulled out gorgeous dresses for their daughters there.

As for safety, I felt a little bit more self conscious here than at other souks. All the women covered their hair on exiting the bus, and the souk was very quiet. It's a bit unnerving when you've lost track of all the other members of your group. We went in the morning, so perhaps it tends to be more on the quiet side in the day, but I felt much safer at the Kuwaiti souk in the evening when there were plenty of people bustling around.

Anyhow, for those of you who love garage sales, definitely check out this souk - you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Why men get fat in Saudi

So this is how it happens. Man X comes to Saudi on contract for a year. He goes through a lot during the transition, but eventually settles in. He can't convince his hunny at home to come with him, or he doesn't have a hunny. Nearing the end of year one, his favourite pants rip a couple of times and his trusty belt struggles to hold his guts in on the last notch. Finally Man X gets on a scale and finds he's gained 15 pounds. Why? Why is he so fat now?!

1. Not a walkable city - temps make it unbearable for half the year plus the city is not designed for it. No mass public transport systems (segregation would be an issue), no substantial green space, basically, no point to walking anywhere at any time.

2. You get fries with everything.

3. Men on their own go to work all day and end up eating out all the time. Problematic because of #2 and no women around to tell them to chew or breathe during meals. This is worsened when men go out to eat with other men who measure manhood by portion sizes.

4. Cultural friction increases workplace stress. This increases stress eating. Problematic because of #2

5. Lack of entertainment options other than eating and shopping.

6. It gets lonely and you work hard, so why not treat yourself to a bit of cake? Or a whole cake? Or three whole cakes? Who's going to stop you?

7. Mayonnaise

8. Ice cream

9. No one to impress here.

10. Lack of peer pressure to be thin - Friends A, B and C are fatter than you, so by these new standards, you are actually not that bad. Therefore, let's have a hot dog.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pets or Pests?

Are you a cat lover? You are? Okay, then we're enemies.

CATS. There's an arrogance about them. The way they ignore you when you call them. They do what they want, when they want. How is there even a comparison to dogs? Dogs are eager to please, they want to love you, they want to get that stick for you, they want to protect you, they want to sit when you tell them to, and will do anything for treat, everything to show you what a good and wonderful dog they are...

And cats? Cats calculate. They're selfish. They'll never fetch a stick for you because in their little cat minds they say to themselves, "What did you throw that stick for? I'm not getting it." And yet, when they're hungry or thirsty, suddenly they sidle up to you, rubbing against your leg, wanting to be friends. What kind of friend is that? Should we reward such manipulative behaviour? Nay. I have allergies to them, hubster has allergies to them, and they are just everywhere on the compounds. Some of them are even aggressive, following you, meowing at you for your entire evening walk. They are unresponsive to hissing, stomping, shouting, water, flip flops, and jabs with crutches. The other day, I got a picture of these PESTS. See what lazy animals they are when they're fed?! You SEE?!

My solution: feed them to the dogs.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Red Sands Hash

This is one of the most memorable hashes I have been on. It's totally worth the effort to make it out to the desert. A good portion of the desert around Riyadh is rocky and dull, but these dunes were really beautiful. We got up to the top of one of the highest dunes in that area and were rewarded with incredible views. A couple pics here for ya. This first one is before we started the walk.

This next pic was taken just after climbing a huge dune. If you've never climbed up a steep dune before, I can tell you it's hard work. No one made it up the hill in one go - everyone, even the most fit people - had to stop to catch their breaths every ten steps or so. It is like doing the stairmaster on the highest setting and you literally inch up the hill because you sink down with each step. You can see in the distance a little cluster of people. That's everyone at the top trying to stuff their hearts back into their chest cavities.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

where do I get that thing I need? aka shopping for newcomers

I know when we first got to Riyadh, we had a whole host of things we believed that Riyadh did not have until we found out where to go to get them. I'm patching together a long and rambling list of that kind of stuff from memory, for all of you new arrivals out there.

110/220 volt kitchen appliances - SACO
For anyone living on compounds that believe converters fry their machines and want to bring them back home to the West after your stint here, Saco has a wide selection of internation toasters, kettles, etc. SACO is our Canadian Tire, so it contains all kinds of kitchen stuff, but also anything hardware related, so you'll get those extension cables, tools, some patio furniture, lightbulbs, some garden equipment, patio furniture etc. etc.

electronics - EXTRA
Alarm clocks, USB sticks, wireless routers, radios, TV's, electric razors, water coolers...OK, you're probably thinking that it's silly to get a water cooler but on our compound at least, everyone has them. The compound store sells huge jugs for about 2 dollars each, and once you find out how they process their tap water here in Saudi, you will fork over the one hundred beans to get your water cooler as well.

art supplies, english books - JARIR
Jarir bookstore will save you from gouging your eyes out when you don't want to watch TV or surf the net.

favourite foods - TAMIMI SUPERMARKET
You miss Ruffles too? Sour Cream and Onion? Yeah, I hear ya. Wish you had that good ol' U.S. steak? Uh huh. Can't find Ginger Ale anywhere? Been there. Done that. Tamimi is your best bet for meats, sauces, and drinks that you can't seem to find in other grocery chains. It has the widest selection of U.S. products since it's owned by Safeway. This is the only place people in the know go to buy their steaks. Another note on food: every grocery store is different when it comes to stocking specialty items (e.g. seaweed for sushi, wasabi, miso paste), so if you come across something that you haven't seen on your other shopping trips, do yourself a favour and buy extra because chances are they won't be there next time.

a good vegetable peeler - CARREFOUR, Many others I assume...
I don't know why, probably bad luck, but I couldn't find this, even after going to the grocery store many many times. I just didn't know where to look. The "Good Grips" line of peelers, which you will find in the knife section at Carrefour has sharp peelers, and you will be in peeling heaven with their products.

internet - WIMAX from Mobily
This is the current favourite - it's user friendly and easy to set up, but it has gotten very popular and as a result, the speeds have gone way down. I'll report back if something else better has come up

cell phone service - Mobily
generally reliable service, and most importantly, there are outlets all over the city where you can pay your bills through automated machines. Just a few tips - this applies to banks as well. You will likely run into problems. Expect that mistakes will be made and just live with it. Be patient and persistent when you're asking them to fix something, and get names & business cards so you can follow up should a promise not be delivered. If simple paperwork or a correction in the computer needs to be made, stay there and stare at them until they do it. =D Good luck!
**edit** - guys, I forgot to mention that the pay as you go option is probably the easiest thing you can do for yourself. I found out recently that we can put money on our phones at our compound store, which makes it super convenient. This also cuts out the hassle of paying a monthly bill and trying fruitlessly to correct billing mistakes made on your account.

cell phones - ??
sorry, I haven't found a good outlet yet. Why are they so outrageously priced? Until I find a good place to buy one, I suggest that you bring your GSM cell phone from your home country.
**edit** - see my posting on "dirt cheap cell phones"

If you buy an abaya at a mall, you are getting royally screwed, a thousand times over. Get yourself to either of the above two souks - probably any souk will do, I just haven't been to other ones - and you should be able to get a nice abaya plus headscarf for 120 riyals. 150 is still okay. Anything above that is highway robbery. Bargain down and be warned: they judge your wealth by your skin tone. Kingdom Coffee Morning is a must for any ex-pat woman new to Riyadh - held on the first monday of every month, this is the place to go to get the abayas with the colourful hoods so that you don't need to bring a headscarf around with you.

shopping malls that do not specialize in sequined material - HAYAT / GRANADA
I've posted about Kingdom mall already. It's really not the best mall. My two favourite malls are Hayat and Granada because both malls have a variety of stores in them, not just women's clothing. Granada is a small mall near the airport, but I have a fondness for it because it has watch stores at a range of prices, it has a traditional arabian store in it if you're not in the mood to go to a souk for a maa-salama gift, a few sports / sports clothing stores, Extra, and a grocery store. And Hayat is a larger version of Granada. For the record, Saudi Arabia has killed my desire to ever see sequins on anything ever again.

home decor - IKEA
also covered in previous posts. It's out in the middle of nowhere, but this Ikea will not fail you. An honourable mention goes out to the Danube at Hayat mall. It has a reasonably nice home decor section and miles of plates, serving platters and related oddities, like ceramic bowls shaped like cupcakes - stuff like that. We bought our nice big fluffy down pillows from the now closed Kika at Riyadh Gallery, RIP. You may still want to check out Mr. Price, it's reincarnation, at Riyadh Gallery for such things as bedding and pillows, though IKEA is probably the first stop I would make for all such items, because it's one stop shopping.

business suits - HUGO BOSS / CANALI
For those with the need for high quality suits, but don't expect the staff to know what they're talking about or have proper tailors in shop.

women's clothing - Stores you'll find in Riyadh in general: Guess, Costa Blanca, Banana Republic, Zara, Urban Behaviour, Marks & Spencers, Mango, Benetton, Esprit, LV, Coach, Gucci, Tiffany's, Debenhams, Harvey Nichols, Nine West, Payless Shoes, Pull & Bear, Promod, Sephora, Body Shop, etc. etc. So basically don't worry about clothes - you'll find whatever you need here, and if you LIKE sequins, you have just won the lottery of your life, my friend.

a car. a huge car. a monstrosity. - GMC / TOYOTA / LANDROVER
Buy a huge SUV for your own safety as you will be rear-ended or worse here, guaranteed. Buy a car that includes a warranty, and choose a common car that will have parts available and a reputable mechanic service. Do not buy a used car older than 5 years. Do not buy a used car from anyone else but the original dealer or another ex-pat who takes good care of it. Be persistent to get your test drive and do your own research. If you're from Europe, cars are cheaper here. If you're not, they're the same price, sometimes more.

I know this is a departure from my usual posts, but I thought it might be useful. Back to our regularly scheduled programming next post.

Monday, November 2, 2009

piggy buntered

I've learned a new british slang term. In certain parts of Britain, if you're a certain type of British lady, and you are feeling absolutely stuffed after a meal, you might comment to your friends that you're "piggy buntered"

This is not to be confused with "piggy buggered", which is a term that does not exist unless you're a Canadian with a short term memory problem. "Buggered", I was told tonight, is rude. And when you say it, it makes proper British people squirm uncomfortably in their seats. It makes less proper British men laugh while they try to explain what it means to you.

I love the Brits, but why can't they just use normal english to address everything instead of having slang for everything? Anyhow, I'm *knackered* so I'm going to bed.

more on bbq's

So, yours truly has gone through someone else' trash and come away with a new/old barbeque. Yes, I'm pleased with myself, because in a country that does not recycle, I have defied the status quo of the establishment.

Oh hell. I just love getting stuff for free.

It's a small rectangular bbq and it is not flashy but it does the job. It's probably worth about $20... Hubster has not touched a grill in a long time so yours truly worked it all out this weekend. I never understood the whole man + meat + fire thing before, but I think I get it. Grilling is awesome. It smells awesome, it feels awesome, and I am roasting some chestnuts tomorrow on it!!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


There's lots of good restaurants in Riyadh, but I have to say that Cristal is one of the best ones they have here. It's real fine dining.

Cristal is located on the ground floor of the Faisaliah and it's almost always empty if you arrive when it opens. There is one advantage to eating at an empty restaurant though - the service. The head chef came out and talked to us for a little while before we ordered, and then it seemed that the manager, the maitre D and the waiter were all competing to serve us. They even switched our bread basket mid-meal to make sure that bread would be warm. At the end of the night I had a headache and they brought out some Panadol on a plate for me. That's service!

The hours are a bit of a mystery - it's not open on Fridays and when we got there on Monday night, they opened at 8pm. So you might want to call before you get there. But all in all, better food and value than the Globe, even though the view is pretty spectacular up there.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

hot ghetto mess

One of the joys of living on a compound is that you get to meet people from all over the world. You're thrown together with people you would never think that you would get along with, but somehow you just do. I think the best thing you can do is laugh about your differences - to me, it's a lighthearted way of celebrating them. You might wanna skip the rest of this post if you don't agree....

Today I spent some time with an African American woman and we had a good laugh talking about stereotypes about our cultures and of course, every ethnic person's favourite target - white people. We also evaluated our own levels of whiteness. To find out how white you are, I recommend consulting this list.
My personal favourites of stuff white people like: "being the only white person around" "standing still at concerts" and "appearing to enjoy classical music" - in my opinion, there's a blaring hole in the list. Where is "sailing"???

Anyhow, somewhere in our conversation my friend agreed to teach me ebonics. My first lesson was learning the term "hot ghetto mess." What is it? When a woman pulls up to the Wendy's drivethrough and her cheque bounces, it's a hot ghetto mess. I'm not making this up, it's on youtube.
Wendy's Drivethrough Story

It's basically any problem that a person experiences that's 'ghetto'...and the problem can range from a heated yo' mama argument on the bus to poor clothing choices. You don't have to be black to be ghetto. Youtube it. Google it. Seriously.

I recommend this site to educate yourself on all the aspects of "hot ghetto mess."

peace out.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ha ha halloumi!

I discovered the best cheese here. The first time I tasted Halloumi, I thought it was God-awful. Weird texture, way too salty, I went "blech" and thought I'd put it down forever. Then I found out you're supposed to COOK it!!! I fry slices of Halloumi on medium/high heat and throw a thai red chilli in to give it a kick. With a layer of sizzling oil, you fry a minute on each side, and when you do it right, you'll have a nice crunch to the outer shell and then a soft almost-gooey texture in the centre. It tastes amazing on salads and vegetables (especially fried red/green/yellow peppers) and goes well with fennel, rosemary, mint, any strong herb. It's the cheese of the year in my books.

Oh man, I want to halloumi right now.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

bbq 4evR

Ahh...the favourite past time of all expats in Riyadh. The BBQ. On weekends, I love walking around and smelling that charcoal lighting up on all corners of the compound. We don't have the place for it, but we are lucky enough to get invitations from our friends who do, and there ain't nothin' like a good cookout.

Part of the joy of living on a compound is being able to walk around without your abaya on to visit friends living nearby. Even if you haven't made specific plans for the weekend, it's nice to get out, sit by the pool in your skimpy bikini (gasp!), and receive impromptu invites to bbq's. We've made friends here through our living circumstances that we would never have made back home. When different age groups, backgrounds, and etc. get together, it invariably centers around putting some meat on a grill. Inside these high security walls, there's such a sense of community through shared hardship that I'm sure I will miss it when I leave. At home in Canada, people go back into their holes during the week and there's no such thing as walking down the block on a Monday night to sit down on a friend's couch and shoot the sh*t. When you're away from your favourite malls, your favourite coffee shop, your favourite sushi and pho restaurants, and most of all, your favourite people, it makes you incredibly grateful for a BBQ.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

maintenance changes our lightbulbs

I wonder if people will lose respect for me when they find out I do zero amounts of housework. I'm just not very good at it, and I can't motivate myself to clean things that I know will only get dirty again. I don't have kids, but we have a maid anyway who comes in twice a week because we can afford it here, whereas back home in Canada maids are very expensive in comparison, and I have to make a half-hearted effort to clean up after myself =(

Many families love it out here because the help is cheap and living in a compound makes having a house pretty easy. If anything goes wrong you just call maintenance and they'll fix it for you. When I say anything, I really mean anything. Like, if you can't reach the lightbulbs on the ceiling, they'll come by with a ladder and change them for you, and if you can't figure out why your freezer door is not closing, they'll fix that too. Living on a compound is expensive, so it's not like we don't pay for these services, it's just that I know that is one big thing that I will miss about Saudi Arabia when I go home. I just can't stand cleaning!!!

pork substitutions

As you all know, pork is illegal here in Saudi. In Dubai, you can go into grocery stores and those products are in their own dirty little section, but in Saudi they are banned outright. I confess, I'm not huge on pork. In Canada, I typically choose chicken and beef over pork. Pork's just...I dunno. It's just there sometimes. It's that in-between kind of meat, in terms of flavour. I don't miss it all that much.

That being said, I believe there are a couple of no-sub pork items that just don't taste as good with beef when you've gone oink. I'm reminiscing here, so I hope no one takes offense. Perhaps sone of you are disgusted with me now, but all I can say is oink. Oinkity oinking oink pig snort oink!!! =D

Exhibit A: BACON

Beef bacon is okay, but I think beef bacon will always be jealous of pork bacon, like Cinderella and her step-sisters. No, to be fair, actually some of that beef bacon is pretty good, and pretty close to the 'real thing' but I swear I can taste the difference. Please do NOT even defile me with the mention of gobble gobble bacon. That's just revolting... My favourite bacon dish? Brussel sprouts fried with bacon and walnuts. Yes, I miss pork bacon terribly. There's a specific ache near my spleen that aches only for oinky bacon.


Okay, now this picture just says it all. I don't have to write anything, but I will. There's nothing more succulent and flavourful than a slow roasted rack of baby back ribs. It must be the pork fat that makes it so perfect. There is a reason why God put pigs on the earth, and ladies and gentlemen, this could be it.

As a sidenote another product that can be difficult to get in Saudi is Vanilla. Not the cream or powder - I'm talking the delicious smelling dark liquid - the nectar of the gods that make cakes and cookies so delectable. Those of you who have it in your house in the West take a look at your bottle of vanilla and you'll see our dear friend Mr. Alcohol, another banned substance here in Saudi.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Toys Toys Toys

So I shop a lot at Carrefour, a chain of grocery stores here in the Kingdom. The stores stock half food/grocery items and half completely random sh*t. The random half usually has a household section and an electrical section, a section where they sell tacky clothing, etc. etc. And of course there are the toys. Now don't get the wrong impression - they do have cheap knock-off western toys, but I think what's more fascinating to see are the muslim geared items.

For instance, muslim Barbie.

And a board game to teach young muslims that mosque can be fun (???) I'm terribly curious about how to play this game, so if any of you could shed light on this, I'd be uber grateful. I won't lie, there is a part of me that really really wants to buy this game just to see what's inside.

Here's another one. I assume that the game doesn't really revolve around washing your face and going to the bathroom, 'cause I mastered those skills at four and fail to see the challenge in that.... No, it must have something to do with prayer time, am I right?

And this is just a picture I took at Ikea. This is their stuffed beaver display and it reminded me of home. There's something kind of macabre about seeing your national mascot scattered on the floor like this. Is Ikea trying to send us a message, Canada?

Monday, August 31, 2009


Iftar is the meal when the fast is broken during Ramadan. Tonight hubster and I were treated to an awesome traditional Iftar buffet at the Marriott by our friends. Sorry guys, I would have taken pictures, but I'm bad at doing the I-didn't-know-that-was-a-rule face when security starts shouting at me. I could expand on this section but I will not. =)

This was my first time having some of the 'national' food. We've had lebanese food before, and I'm sure a lot of the dishes could be classified generally as 'middle eastern' but hey. To me it was mostly new. Some things I've never had before - date juice - "Jalab". MMMmm that was good. It wasn't too sweet, which was nice, and I had 3 cups of it. Dates are commonly the first food that a muslim will break their fast with, so of course I had a couple of those too. There was a lot of delicious grilled meat - lamb, chicken, beef, though no camel, and of course no bacon. A ton of different types of appetizers and salads, and all kinds of dessert. Many of the traditional desserts seem to be coated with some kind of sugary syrup that makes your teeth hurt. But that's okay, right? 'Cause who needs teeth? My favourite by far was the Um Ali, otherwise known as Ali's mom. Let me tell you - Ali's mom tastes like buttery creamy goodness with almonds on top. I will take Ali's mom home with me any day of the week. Don't ask hubster how he enjoyed dessert because all he got was fruit and a marshmallow. Hubster is on a diet and that's how he likes it, so don't feel sorry for him, because I don't. (I do a little but it's important that I don't show pity or he might cave) (it's okay he never reads this blog)

One kind of weird thing was that a clown showed up to dinner. This clown was all decked out in clown ecoutrements - you know, the wig, the big shoes, the crazy costume, the scary makeup. We were sitting in what seemed like a giant pile of screaming children, and as soon as the clown showed up you know what happened, right? I don't even have to tell you what happened because you already know that all the children started crying. Because let's face it, that's what clowns *really* do to children. We were told that it isn't the most common thing to see clowns around during Iftar(thank god, for the children) but that it does happen occasionally, since this is a festive time for everyone. No Santa, right? You gotta give the kids something I guess...

Speaking of kids - next post will be toys!

Monday, August 17, 2009


It's a beautiful concept - like Christmas dinners for a month, I hear. People put up Christmas lights and last year when I peeked into some homes that were celebrating on my compound, everyone looked like they were having a great time. It was like that scene from Home Alone when Kevin watches the old shovel man reunite with his family through a window.

But for expats a lot of us are here without family and without our friends from home, what we see of Ramadan is that we can't eat in public during daylight for a month, the stores all keep even wonkier hours than they normally do, and there's chaos on the roads and in the malls in the evening. Because of this, many expats leave the country during this holiday, which leaves compounds deserted, and the remaining people sitting around wondering when everyone is coming back. Another trifle of inconvenience is wearing a headscarf. During this month in public, even non-muslim women are expected to cover their hair out of respect. Headscarves were specifically designed to fall off the head while you are holding groceries, so that people around you can give you dirty looks. Ahhh... Ramadan.

On the upside, we'll hopefully be having some people over who celebrate Ramadan during Iftar, the breaking of the fast. Looking forward to that! Hubster also has shortened hours, which is also a very good thing. There's always some kind of silver lining, right?

Monday, August 10, 2009

jet lagging it

I've been bouncing between the world of the unconscious and reality. The last couple of trips I've had here I've been able to adjust pretty quickly, but now, a full one and a half weeks after my arrival, I've only had a couple full nights sleep. Either I sleep only for a few hours at night and then get up and putter around, or else I sleep for 12 hours and I get up and putter around. This means I've also been missing all the morning bus rides to get groceries and to go to souks and the like. Disappointing! Hopefully I'll get into the swing of things in the next week or so. I've been taking the odd antihistamine to help get to sleep, which works, but I don't want to deplete my supply in case something major happens, like if I get bitten by a muttawa and have an allergic reaction. No, I jest. But seriously, I can't get Benadryl here - they don't have even a generic brand of it. They have chlorphenirmine, which could be a good antihistimine....for me to poop on! No, I jest again. I suppose there's nothing wrong with chlorphenirmine and I could try it, I'm just used to Benadryl. So. I've been rationing my supply. Hubster says we should go buy some Ambien, which is a prescription product in the US, but is an ask-and-thou-shalt-receive product here. And I could always try melatonin or valerion here, I suppose... Or I could just do nothing, which I'm pretty good at doing according to my mother.

Friday, August 7, 2009

marhaban back

I love to welcome myself back to the kingdom. It has been a nice week back on the compound and I've met a few new faces and said hello to some old ones. Each trip back gets a bit easier. I did a little bit of practice at the driving range at the Intercontinental this and managed to leave my abaya at home. Which is not the biggest deal, because you are allowed to be unsheathed on the golf course. But obviously I am still getting back into the swing of things here. Some people ask if you can get thrown in jail if you're not wearing an abaya in public spaces and the answer is no, but you *can* get harassed and stared at, which is every foreigner's dream come true. The good news is that they come in a variety of colours, ranging from jet black all the way to blue black, and all the black you can handle in between. You know what they say - "Black: it's the new rainbow."

I went to a maa salama party last night, which is basically a goodbye party. Riyadh is a transient place for many westerners and people come and go, quite often collecting on hardship postings and then returning home or jetting off to some other form of civilization. They are typically all-evening affairs and guests usually bring some kind of maa salama gift, often serving as a reminder of the person's time abroad. Or, if you are a guest like me and are suddenly informed of this custom in the car on the way to a maa salama, you bring a dolphin shaped balloon (that has nothing to do with anything) because that's all you could find at Riyadh Gallery, a mall that seems to sell women's clothing exclusively, and it would be even more (but not much more) ridiculous to bring women's clothing as a gift.

Anyhow, I thought it was interesting to begin my trip here with a goodbye. It was really kind of sad that it had to be that way because they were a very very nice couple, but at the same time everyone was happy for them to be moving on.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A little visitor

Hello All, nice to see you again. I see there are some new comments on my blog, even while I've abandoned it completely to frolic in the non-summer of Toronto. Non-summer because Toronto was frightfully cold and damp while I was back, no doubt the man upstairs had known about my return and decided to vex me personally with all that rain. Anyhow, thanks very much to anyone who's dropped by and left a note.

I usually fly Emirates into the Kingdom and it always involves a lengthy unavoidable layover in Dubai before the 1.5 hr flight into Riyadh. Any Emirates layover that is longer than 8 hours and less than 24 results in a complimentary stay at their hotel in Dubai. It's not a bad hotel, it's really not. It's usually quite clean and good enough for its purposes. But this time in the middle of the night as I was engrossed in a TV movie, I had a little visitor.

The cockroach was about the size of my thumb, crawling across the floor. I don't know where he came from but I was panic stricken as I'm terribly scared of insects. The first thing I did was look through the drawer for a Bible of some sort, and then shook my head at myself for thinking there would be a Bible there. No matter, I found a much better weapon at my disposal: Mr. Phone Book. One swift throw across the room accompanied by a girly squeal from me, and that little sucker was squashed. I couldn't bring myself to clean it up because I'm very squeamish about this sort of thing.

In the daylight the maid came in and removed all traces of the gruesome murder. So that's how I'm starting my trip back to the Kingdom: as a deadly killer.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Saudis at our house

Here's another old entry for ya!

So I'm still a bit surprised that we had a Saudi at our home last week, because it all happened so fast. A casual invitation turned into a serious one and a couple of Saudi men came over for a snack.

Ok, just a bit of background - Saudis and expats don't really mix socially very often - it happens, just it's not the most common thing. It's beyond a language barrier as many Saudis speak excellent English; it's a cultural divide. So, suffice it to say that I haven't really properly interacted with any Saudis here, especially not men. I was surprised to find myself fretting about the whole thing, and wondering the whole time what kinds of things would be rude to say, and what kinds of things would be halal. I worried about giving everyone a hearty handshake like I usually do in Canada. What kinds of cold cuts are on the platter? Would it be funny to say "mystery meat" to a Saudi?

I think the most interesting thing about this whole encounter was that the Saudis seemed a lot more comfortable with this visit than I did. It only took a few short months of zero contact with Saudi men to turn me into a bumbling jittery teenager around these men. It really makes me think about what it would be like to be born into this type of segregation. Does it make you think about it? Just think about it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Riding the schoolbus

This is an entry I wrote a couple months ago that I never posted:

Hello hello... no, I'm not taking the schoolbus to school, it's taking me shopping. Most compounds I know of provide this service for bored housewives. They take us to all the most popular malls and souks on a daily basis. My husband is reading over my shoulder right now and is correcting my spelling even though he is himself a notoriously bad typer. He also says it's important to have these buses because the women keep the house running. He said this in a machismo way, with his chest puffed out. How irritating to have this running commentary behind me. And he is still sitting here reading this. OK he just took a hint, got up, did something obscene, and left.

I can't imagine Riyadh without malls, though a guy from McDonalds told me that there were no malls when he showed up here in 2000. Riyadh without malls? That's like yin without yang...cowboys without chaps...John Travolta without disco... This morning, as I was about to hop on the bus, it occurred to me that the last time I was on a bus like this it was high school. If someone told me back then that the next schoolbus I would be riding was this one, my jaw would have dropped open. I also would have gotten up, done something obscene, and left.

Anyways, all this to say that the buses that take the ladies out of the compounds to the malls are a big part of compound life unless you have your own personal driver/ baby-sitter/dog walker/gardner. Blah blah blah, that's it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

where is mecca?

During a layover in Dubai I noticed a dirty mark on the ceiling and as I lay in bed, I thought it over. What kind of hooligan makes stains on a ceiling? I put two and two together and a furniture move later, I was soon examining this sticker, up close and personal. You can make out a picture of Mecca and an arrow - I thought this was indeed a super-cool thing to find in a hotel, and as any consummate tourist would do I had to take a picture and post it. It made me stop for a moment and reflect on the state of spirituality in Canada. That moment was over pretty quickly when I heard the theme song of Friends playing on the TV. Oh Chandler you goof!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I hear the call to prayer

I stay in a little apartment here in Toronto and I often leave the window open at night to let the air circulate. As such, I often hear the traffic in the streets below, the drunks yelling obscenities, and general random *bangs* in the night that I assume to be gunshots and hubster says are just mufflers going off. No, hubster, they are gunshots, I swear it by the hair of my chinny chin chin. Every once in a while as I am drifting off to sleep, I hear the call to prayer. Of course, it's not the real call to prayer - it's the bus station a block away announcing random stuff over the loudspeakers. But being in the blur of almost-sleep, I often find myself wondering in the midnight hours what country I am in! I wonder if this happens to all the expats when they go back to their homelands...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

no pets

One of the joys of taking a walk in Toronto, especially in the parks, is seeing people walking around with man's best friend. No, not a cellphone you senseless technophiles, it's called a "DOG". I've always wanted to own one myself, but these days I could never justify it, with all the travelling and living in small condos, it wouldn't be fair to the dog. I love seeing their wagging tails, their open mouths panting for a bit of bacon, their excitement at sniffing pools of urine...dogs are the BEST! But it's one thing you won't see on the streets in Riyadh. As of July of 2008 Riyadh banned dog walking and also the sale of cats and dogs in an effort to curb the scandalous flirtations between unmarried men and women that were occurring in pet shops and streets all over the city.

So, a tip for all you singles in Toronto out there - get a dog and join your local dog community - if it worked (so well that it became illegal) for Saudis, it can work for you!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

parboiled rice - a crime against humanity?

I'm not sure if we have this brand of rice in Canada, but I thought some of you might appreciate, or might *not* appreciate, seeing this particular rice manufacturer's logo. This brand seems to be in every grocery store here, though I can't recall ever seeing it in Toronto. I had to laugh when I first saw this because parboiled rice is already offensive enough on its own without a terrible yellow cartoon slapped on it. They say it's more nutritious, but I say it's doing a global disservice to proper rice. Because now, when people think about rice, they could think "Uncle Ben" instead of jasmine or basmati. Real rice is insulted by the very existence of the parboiled stuff. It's the ultimate cardinal sin!!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Yes, I'll have that doughnut, and that one too.

So another thing you might not know about Saudi Arabia is that they have a wide selection of sticky treats to feed the sugar craving of even the rottiest-toothed kid. The two most popular western ones that seem to crop up a lot are doughnuts and cinnabuns. It seems every foodcourt in malls has one or the other. I have noticed that when I have been at malls in the mornings, these are the only kinds of restaurants open for business. Them and MacDonald's.

I wanted to mention that I often seem to get discounts at donut shops for no apparent reason, other than that I am a foreigner. There is a unique form of kinship that develops in Riyadh that allows strangers to reach out to each other, and propels them to toss extra donuts in bags, or charge a little less for hamburgers. Now that I am not in the thick of things, I do miss that a little bit, because I think we could all use a little more solidarity, whether or not we are expats in a crazy city, or office workers on Bay street.

By the way, I'm sure you all recognized that logo, and for those of you who did not, here it is in english ;)

A run-down on Kingdom Mall

I'm still a bit undecided about whether I like this mall or not.

The Kingdom Mall has a sort of bizarre architecture to the inside. It's an oblong/oval shape, so in the middle of the mall on the bottom floor, you have a few booths sitting on their own, but then the rest of it is a massive waste of space. Because of the shape of the mall, there aren't actually that many stores in this mall, in comparison to others. There are also pod-like structures lining the railings on each floor, jutting out into the centre; they are actually stores. But you can't see what they sell until you actually enter them. Visibility is a continuously obnoxious issue in the mall, because sometimes the pods look like elevators, and you can't get a good view of signage because the pods are in the way. If you are at the mall more than once during a one week period, you will come to hate the pods. The mall also has such expensive brands in it that I rarely emerge from Kingdom with any shopping bags.

On the other hand, this mall boasts a women's only top floor, where women are allowed to take their abayas off, so it makes it a good place for women to come and have coffee. Some women like to come here to the Debenhams to buy lingerie because of the all-female staff and the presence of changerooms. They have a huge slection of bras. You could browse through the F sizes, F for "Freaking humungous knockers"....

The food court has a good Iranian restaurant and while service is slow, it's usually pretty yummy. The Kodak is another useful store located on the main floor. So basically this is a good place to buy yourself a bra to hold in your enormous chest, which you then wear to the foodcourt for Iranian food, which you then take pictures of, and develop at the Kodak. Now you have seen and done everything there is to do at Kingdom.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Red Sands hashing

Before I left Saudi, some friends of ours were kind enough to let us tag along with them for a nice walk out in the desert. I've blogged about hashing in the past, though I've never mentioned how many locations these people have staked out - I'm pretty sure it's in the hundreds. There are some real dedicated hashers out there committed to finding new spots, who really pour time into organizing. Some of them spend a whole day slicing fruit for the refreshment stations. You have bossy hashers, you have full time hashers, part time hashers, old hashers, young hashers...

I'm the kind that is very part time and very lazy. On a hash, there are usually varying levels of difficulty so that everyone is accommodated. There are difficult/long walks which go over hills, and there are easy/short walks that stay on flat terrain. This particular hash, I wimped out and did the short walk citing a cold (I was truly sick, but then again, I am also truly wimpy), and as I watched those suckers pile up those sandy dunes, I knew I made the right choice, even if 50 people went up the hill and only 6 walked the short one. Later on, I watched as a whole smate of the initially brave shuffled down the hills halfway through to take the rest of the way on the easy path. At least I have no delusions of grandeur.

I think one of the best parts of hashing is the relaxation part, where people sit around, start fires and have snacks. You may not know this about Saudis, but many of them are into the camping scene out in the desert. Saudis love a good campfire as much as Canadians. All the grocery stores have the necessary campfire accoutrements - the snazzy grilling gear, burners, and what not. The first time I saw that section in a grocery store I was utterly confused by where they were taking these items until Hubster explained it all to me. What would I do without Hubster talking in my ear all day? I'd just fall down and die of boredom.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Saturday morning in Toronto

So I had a nice drive back from my parents house down to my place downtown this morning. I felt like Stranger in a Strange Land this morning. First thing I noticed this morning was that I was driving a car. What is this, driving-a-car business? I could get used to it! Then I noticed that there was a four way stop and everyone knew when it was their turn to go. How did they know that? Then, when I got on the highway, everyone stayed in their own lanes, and no one tried to swerve into my lane to kill me. I also turned on the radio and listened to an interview with Jian Ghomeshi about Billy Bob Thornton being a total self-indulgent crazy. I really like hearing news about how insane Billy Bob is. It makes my day. I was at a stoplight and looked over into the next car, so I could see the driver and make up stories to myself about where she permed her hair while I listened to Beyonce on the radio. I admired the different types of buildings on my way into the city, and the various homeless people hanging out at Coffee Time. Hello yuppy in dress clothes on a weekend. Hello girl with a small dog. Hello hippy with dirty hair. Hello hello hello!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

leaving the Kingdom...and IKEA

Yes, it's true, I'm going back to my homeland, glorious and free, oh Canada, we stand on guard for theeee! Who was singing with me? Hmm? No takers? Don't recognize our anthem? Shame on you. Anyways, I've decided it won't be the end of my posting, as people seem to be visiting this blog regularly. I don't know who most of you strange people are, but I feel a weird affection for you, so I'll be going through my pics from the past couple of months and posting about all the things I forgot to post about, and whatever happens in Canada that reminds me of this place.

Well you might be wondering what I've been doing with my last week here. It has been a flurry of decorating as the hubster has a very quiet way of making me feel compelled to do things. He is a master manipulater disguised as a do-gooder, and I bow down to him. The majority of my time has been spent at IKEA, and alternatively, at home assembling things, and waiting for maintenance to show up to hang stuff on the walls and watching with interest as 5 men speaking different languages carried a huge TV cabinet down a flight of stairs. I can tell the maintenance receptionist is tired of hearing my voice on the phone.

IKEA tips in Riyadh:
1. Go in the morning before prayers at noon to avoid horrendous traffic later
2. Multiply your budget by three. IKEA is so cheap you suddenly find yourself needing more stuff and rationalize how inexepensive each item is. Your conscience is silenced by pretty colours and cute little bright things, and then you get the kiss of death at the cash register.
3. Bring a functioning credit card. If your credit card does not work, do not assume they can input another card manually, because they will look at you and say "no m'am." When you insist they try, every cashier will look at you and they will all shake their heads simultaneously at you.
4. Instead of cheap hotdogs, buy cheap schwarmas instead

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Kodak Moment

As promised, I'm fulfilling my duty to my faithful readers about the Kodak at Kingdom Mall. I know you have all just been squirming in your seats waiting for this. I've visited twice and they get an A+ from me. The prices are as one would expect with a photo shop: e.g. 25 riyals for an 8x12 blowup, 2 riyals per 4x6 and more importantly, the two people running the shop both speak excellent English, so it is not difficult to communicate with them. I was grateful to be able to get some pics printed off my USB stick. I know this shouldn't be a big deal, but for some reason I was expecting something to go wrong, and because nothing went wrong and ran as it should have, I was ecstatic. I think it's Riyadh Syndrome, where anything that runs properly is officially labeled "amazing" in your head. During today's visit I got the Palestinian shopkeeper's rundown on how he was born in Saudi but does not hold the Saudi Passport, and how it's different in the middle east from Canada. His sidekick then said with a smirk that it's difficult to be Palestinian, then he laughed a little at his own joke. Then I started laughing at his snickering - that was our Kodak Moment. The service was fast and painless, so I recommend it; yesterday we had four 8x12's done in an hour, and today nine 6x8's done in 20 minutes, and both delivered in the time frame they gave. They do passport pictures in the back as well as kids photos, and cocaine (are you still awake?). Hours are 9:30am-noon & 4:30pm-10:15pm Fri-Tues, and 10:00am-10:15pm Wed & Thurs.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Flooding in the Kingdom

It has been a rainy rainy couple of days in Riyadh. The weather has been downright wonky for the past month. So, in addition to sandstorms, this country also offers the traditional form of weather havoc, and that's heavy rain. It was nothing short of surprising for me to be in an SUV, being driven through water a foot high on dips in the road. There's not a lot of grass & soil around these parts to help soak up some of that water, and certainly no drainage systems like what we have in Toronto that collect it during rains like these. As a result, a downpour like the one we saw today turns traffic into a slow moving sort of chaos. Like chaos is wading through water. For anyone who thinks that SUV's are a big waste of everything, this is one situation where you don't want to be that sucker driving a sedan.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

German Embassy officially better than mine

Tonight my hubby and I went to the German Embassy for a concert by Karlsruher Konzert-Duo and we had a wonderful time. We're not much into classical music, but I think they managed to pick interesting pieces that would appeal to novices as well as the more cerebral bunch. Our fave for the night was Hungarian Dance No.1 in G Minor - very moody and atmospheric music, and something about the sound of a cello really fills a room. The musicians were received so well at the very end that they did a couple of encores for us which was great. In the picture below, the cellist is wondering just how starved people are here for live music.

Besides the great music, this was our first time at the German embassy here in Riyadh, and while it's not big, it's somehow much nicer than everyone else's embassies. With rocky ponds worked into their landscaping, and a classy looking garden replete with a quiet fountain, it put the giant beaver sculpture in the Canadian embassy to shame. Let's face it, there's no way to make a beaver sculpture look elegant, is there?

They served hors d'oeuvres after the concert and I had missed dinner and had marshmallows for lunch (for reasons we won't go into), so I was dying for food. When I saw the first tray come out it was like something out of "When Animals Attack"...I know it's not rational, but when I'm really hungry at events like these, I believe in the bottom of my heart that they're going to run out of food, and that I have to have my fill before that happens. Well after about the 10th or 15th bitesized morsel had been digested, I was starting to feel a bit heavy, and then embarrassed because all the waiters had turned their antennae on and kept passing by me, smiling and offering more, telling me that they had been looking for me, or following me, or telling me to save room for dessert.

This event got a big thumbs up from me. I'm looking forward to more from the German Embassy.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Photography in Riyadh (?) ...and PIES (!)

I've been bluntly told a little while ago that my assistance is required with decorating the house before I leave to go for a visit to Canada. This was after some more gentle nudging and hinting (e.g. "I wish this would look more like a home..." >big sigh<) a couple months ago. Normally I would scoff at this but without gainful employment and not much else to do, I agree that this would be something constructive for me to work on. The hubster wants pictures up on the walls, which would be great, I agree. But the thing is, it's not like there's a ton of photo developers here. I've seen one Kodak studio in Kingdom Mall and that's it - I suppose I'll go investigate. Taking photographs of Saudis is taboo for religious reasons so my guess is that there's not a lot of demand for these services, which is a shame for someone like me that always comes home with hundreds of pics from vacations. I confess I still get a little confused by the whole photograph issue for the locals. Most photographs I know of are not being used in shrines with incense and candles, except for the one of me taken immediately after winning the World Pie Eating Contest - so what's the big deal? The lack of photo developers seems to be made up with printing services at malls that put photos on mugs and t-shirts. The samples are all of people, mostly kids, on these really tasteless coasters and the like. I also just saw an advertisement for a Saudi movie, starring what appear to be Saudis on the television, which added to the confusion of what's taboo and what's not. I'm assuming it's based on how conservative you are, and that these movie makers must be running wild like heathens with their cameras.

ok I really can't resist writing about the pie eating contest. It's held annually in a bar in Wigan, England and has recently been plagued with problems. In 2006, bowing to health lobbies and "relentless pressure from the Vegetarian Society" (those vicious vegetarians!!!) the rules were changed to concentrate on speed alone, i.e. how long it takes you to eat just one pie, rather than a volume based challenge. Plus, they added a vegetarian pie, which added insult to injury and pissed a lot of pie people off. In 2007, a dog ate all the pies, and in 2008 a junior pastry chef made all the pies using inches instead of centimetres and ended up with "giant" pies.

Can't wait to find out what calamity will befall the contest this year.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Saudi taxi driver 'learns' a lesson

We have just returned from a vacation abroad and I have to share with you a saudi story about our travels. On our first attempt to leave the country we realized at customs that we were missing our saudi visas and we had to retrieve them quickly. We normally would have called a driver but couldn't afford to wait for one to arrive so we decided to take a taxi from the airport to our destination 10 minutes away. A saudi taxi driver approached us first out of a whole mob of drivers and led us to his car where he started putting our bags in the trunk. Before opening the car door I insisted on coming to a price, though he kept trying to get us into the taxi. He finally quietly quoted an exorbitant 80 riyals, to which I offered a more reasonable (and still overpriced) 50 riyals because we were in a rush. Unbelievably, he said no to this with about 30 other drivers watching the whole thing and ready for business. So we removed the bags and just went to the next car, much to his dismay. Upon returning to the same airport about 2 weeks later on our way home, the same taxi driver was hawking his services to us again. Comically, he remembered us and kept repeating "ok ok 50 riyals, 50 riyals" to us, but our driver was already on his way so we had to decline. I'd like to say we taught him a little lesson in free markets and dealing with foreigners, but I'm really not so naive...

Monday, March 23, 2009

What do you eat?

I get asked this question more than you might think because it usually comes from an acquaintance just after an initial shock of being told that I have been whiling my days away in Saudi Arabia. We eat a lot of home cooking, meals at the compound restaurant, and other restaurants in the city. General strong suits are Indian and Lebanese. I have never tried Arabian food because my husband described it to me and it sounds unappetizing. The one time I tried to arrange for it and get directions by phone I ended up throwing a book at the wall. Believe me, if I get there, I'll tell you about it. There's a terrible proliferation of fast food here and many locals and expats end up eating a lot of french fries - it's really disgusting and I feel greasy just typing this. The standard of east asian food is not at the quality level and value that you get in Toronto. So for all you readers out in Toronto I want you to know that you are 100% spoiled rotten! One positive about grocery shopping here is that since I am doing my duties while my hubby is at work, no one is around to gripe about how long I'm taking to pick vegetables or to ask where the soy milk is even though I am clearly not staff. Downsides? Difficult to find certain spices and flavourings (e.g. montreal steak spice, tamarind juice, wasabi) and my favourite soft drink: I really miss Canada Dry Ginger Ale. Please drink that and think of me.

p.s. has a good selection of restaurant reviews; it's actually a good all round site for getting an idea of what it's like to live here and what some of the popular western compounds look like. On top of that you can purchase financial advice and quiches from "Bill" and "Leah"...hey if you have a good website, why not sell your quiches right?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Intercontinental Oasis

One of the nice parts of this city is the Intercontinental Hotel - it has a nice oasis-like atmosphere to it where you forget you are in Saudi Arabia. The grounds are lush and very well kept. They have a small driving range there that I like to go practice on during the day when it is empty. The most disheartening and distracting thing I find at driving ranges are children half your size sending those balls sailing 150 yards straight down the line. When you're doing really badly, you just want to snap their mini-golf clubs in two. Thankfully there's no little Tigers running around especially during the day at this hotel. Here are some pictures of the grounds. Hmm...I have to work on posting a picture of their sad little driving range. It doesn't bother me so much because I can only hit the balls a certain sad little distance.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What a sand storm looks like

I have never in my life seen the sky this colour before. I just want you all to know that I have not touched up these pictures at all and it's actually a very good reflection of how the sky looks right now -i.e. yes, it's really that colour!

When I woke up this morning...well actually it was noon =D...the bedroom was so dark I had this brief moment where I panicked and thought the apocalypse was upon us and that I should repent to be on the safe side. To my relief it was just a sandstorm - no repenting todayyyy! But what a sandstorm this is. This is the worst I have seen it here.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Twinkies in Riyadh - not recommended

So many of you know that I have an awful binge love/hate relationship with snacks. I often become fond of a snack that I will eat until I hate. This often happens within the course of a few hours, where I love love LOVE these cheetos until I hate hate LOATHE those horrid orange cholesterol sticks. I recently came across a big box of Twinkies at the grocery store for 5 riyals (less than $2 canadian) and being the bargain hunter that I am by nature, I could not resist the calling of a good deal. Boy I could not WAIT to dig into those Twinkies. Except when I finally opened one and had a taste, it was so anticlimactic I wanted to cry. The pastry bits are not as light and spongy as the real deal, and the cream is not evenly distributed in the centre of the Twinkie - it resides in pockets in different parts of the Twinkie. It's like I ate the Frankenstein of Twinkies, stitched together with cheap spare parts....what a nightmare...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I heard this thing about camels and children....

Apparently, they're like oil and water, and one way to get a camel to go really nuts and run like it's on fire is by strapping a kid onto a camel. The kid and the camel are both as freaked out as they could possibly be. The screaming gets louder and so the camel runs faster. Is it all weirdly comical and bizarrely tragic at the same time? yes yes yes! Read this - it's real -

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

what is an abaya?

I used to get this question a lot from my friends, so I thought I would post a couple of pictures of my new abayas that I bought from the Kingdom coffee morning. It's worn over your clothes and typically made of crepe. It covers your body from the neck down and while it's not a legal requirement to wear them, you would be the only woman not doing so in the entire city, so social pressures and the prospect of being harassed by muttawa and saudi men is enough to motivate expats to respect their cultural traditions. Non-muslim expats do not wear headscarves except during Ramadan, out of respect for their holy month. Most Saudi women wear the trio of abaya, headscarf, and niqab (face veil).

Oh by the way I got my friend to model my abayas for me because she doesn't mind the attention.

The abayas with hoods are typically only worn by western women, so that they can cover their heads with the hood instead of carrying around an extra scarf if they get stopped by muttawa

*edit - for more info on where to buy one, click here*

VIP Barber shop

I know my last post was long and boring - this will be short. I've been aching to get a picture of this up for you guys because I laugh every time I see it. Sorry I couldn't get a better one but if you click on it, the pic should enlarge to full size. The rightmost store says "UFUK Barber Shop" and I would loooove to know how you would pronounce that.

My other favourite location name is Yamama. Yamama is a famous district that contains a university, a compound, buildings etc. Yamama university is currently being accredited. I can't keep a straight face any time people mention it because they inevitably say things like "I've heard good things about Yamama" or "Yamama's not that great" or "I'd love to get a look at Yamama and try things out, has anyone been in there??" There, see - you're smiling now too, aren't you?

The Kingdom Coffee Morning

Expat wives living on compounds for the most part fall into two categories - the kind that work, and the kind that don't work. The kind that don't work often fall into their social groups and lifestyle structures based on whether they have young children or grown children. And if you are an expat wife that has no children, is not over 40, and you are not working, lemme tell you boy oh boy the thing to do is to kidnap a couple of babies so you join that baby club. No, I joke. One thing I like though, are the days where people from different groups all show up to the same thing. "Coffee Mornings" are great for that.

"Coffee Mornings" are bazaars that are set up at various compounds where a variety of vendors show up to sell their wares, there's coffee and snacks to buy, and basically women are picked up from their respective compounds for a morning out. There's usually a few each month to go to, but the best one to go to by far is the Kingdom Coffee Morning housed at the Kingdom Compound not to be confused with the Kingdom Mall. Yes, confusion is a specialty here, and happened this morning at our compound when two separate buses left - one for the Mall and one for the Coffee Morning and I watched a commotion develop when 3 French ladies in the seats next to me realized they were on the wrong bus. Sacre bleu! Anyways, the reason this coffee morning is so popular is because everyone shows up to it:

I admit I was on a mission today to buy my husband some German bread from German bakers. When you think German you might think Oktoberfest and sausages, but let me enlighten you if you didn't already know - they are *craaaazy* about their bread. It is seriously a source of national pride for them, so don't ever tell a german that you don't like Rye. Trust me on that one. Because you'll find out very quickly how many different types of rye there are and the different ways to eat them and you could find yourself being driven across town to a German bakery to pick up a ten-pound loaf of bread. By the way, if you are living in Riyadh and looking for this German bakery, let me tell you that you'll never find it because they don't have a store - they just show up to coffee mornings and deliver direct to your house or compound through an order sheet.

They also sell really nice abayas at this coffee morning, which was the other thing that I wanted to get. Mission accomplished (twice)! Always bargain, especially if you buy more than one. The key is to get in right after you've watched him give another woman a deal and just stare him down until he melts.

These are some of the knick knacks they sell along with a lot of jewellery, housewares, and fabrics:

As for the compound itself, it's quite nice, but not the mecca that my husband made it sound like. You know, it's got those fake rocks by the pool and some parrots in a big bird cage, but aside from that, I'm not sure what the big deal is. Arizona is the compound to be at if you ask me, because they have a horse, a golf course and goats. Yeah, GOATS! Booyah!

Monday, March 2, 2009

High Tea at The Globe

I thought I would write a little bit about the Globe, a restaurant that all the westerners seem to frequent. This posh place is situated at the top of the Faisaliah tower, which is part office complex, part hotel, part high-end mall, part-restaurant, part spaceship, etc. The restaurant is literally situated in the globe of the tower and boasts spectacular views out these stunning windows that seem endless when you're up there.

We were there for High Tea, where they set out a beautiful looking buffet of appetizers and finger foods, and of course desserts, including a chocolate fountain. It starts in the late afternoon and runs till after sunset, so you can enjoy watching the city turn on its lights while the sun goes down. It's so pretty that you really forget where you are.

Here's a picture of our table just after the sun had set:

And another one on our way out of the spread. There's a lady in this picture who probably would not have liked being photographed by a sneaky expat let alone posted on the internet. Shhh! we won't tell her that I did that!

Ok well since I posted that one I might as well post this one as well. I just wanted to show you a pic of a Saudi couple out for dinner. Most restaurants provide enclosed spaces for couples and families so that women can uncover their faces to eat. Beside them you can see a family whose little boy touched every marshmallow in the dish on the dessert table. I didn't eat any marshmallows that day.

And here's a picture from the dinner my husband took me to the Globe for another occasion. The lobster bisque I ordered was so heavenly that I had to post it.

The Globe is ridiculously expensive for meals, but I suppose you're paying for the experience as much as the food itself. In fact the experience is so fantastical that they have a button in the elevator that says "The Experience" on it. Below is a picture of the mall at prayer time. You can see that all the stores are locked up while people mill around waiting for it to re-open. I'm in the picture too - I'm the one in the black ;)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

It's Halal ( Bahrain)

This past weekend my husband and I took a road trip with some friends to Bahrain. Many things that are haraam here in Riyadh are permitted (halal) in Bahrain, such as alcohol, pork products, and holding hands. We stayed only one night, but even so it was nice to unwind for a couple of days without an abaya on. Now that I'm back in Riyadh, it all seems like a blissful dream.

Here is a pic I took at a gas station on our way to Bahrain. Be careful not to smoke around this *inflammable* truck because it *might not* blow up

Here I am conquering an ultra high tower on the Ritz property in Bahrain. It was great to be by water again.

We visited the Gulf Hotel in the evening, where we had dinner. It was swank:

This is my sashimi appetizer at the Fusion restaurant - and I know you are feeling a little jealous right now, looking at this picture. Even I'm jealous of the me that was eating this 2 days ago. ARGh! We all hate her!

Later on we went to an English pub called Sherlock Holmes to hang out and listen to this asian rock band that sang everything. They sang rock classics like "My Heart Will Go On" and "Naughty Girl" by Beyonce. The female members of the band wore black bikini tops and leg warmers with silver leggings and animal print cloth around their waists.

I also tried the grits at Ric's Kountry Kitchen, an American restaurant, and it basically tasted like porridge and I'm sure you're supposed to eat it with something, like you would with rice. But I didn't know any better so I ordered it on its own =)

This is some of the scenery that we saw on our way out of Bahrain:

Here are some camels by the side of the road:

Ahh...what a nice trip. I wish we were back there!