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!!