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 http://www.konzertduo.de/ 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. http://www.britishcommunityservices.com 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 - http://www.uaeprison.com/camelkids.htm

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 (....in 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!