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.