Ok, so last weekend, my hubby and I were being driven home from a late night out by our friends when we all collectively decided that it was the appropriate time to get ice cream from McDonald's. I know, high class all the way - that's how we roll.
When we pulled up to McDonald's at around 12:30am, it was packed! There were cars *everywhere* as we rolled up to the menu board. As we were waiting in line, an employee came up to the driver's window and greeted him personally, saying it had been a while since his last visit. Apparently, our friend is a regular at this location. They continued to chat for a little while and the man waved goodbye. Weird, I thought... but then it got weirder.
As we passed the menu board, we came upon another McDonald's employee standing on the curb. Meanwhile, I was thinking, "who's this? another VIP greeter?!" Nope, I was wrong. This is apparently how ordering is done here in Riyadh at midnight. No talking into the machine, no crackling voice coming out of half broken speakers, an actual person stands beside the board to take our orders! Our friend, the driver, began to break down how to construct a quadruple decker hamburger while I laughed hysterically in the back at the whole situation. After the orders were taken by the employee, we rolled on to pay at one window and then pick up at another, as per usual. We then capped it all off with another exceptionally happy looking McDonald's employee stationed at the end of the line to direct traffic in and out of the parking lot.
In our discussion of the five star McDonald's drivethru service, I found out that they do this in the UK as well. Well well well. It seems the whole man vs. machine debate has been not been unequivocally settled as far as drivethrus go!...
We went to this Japanese restaurant the other day, and it was great. I thought I'd never see sushi again when I moved to Riyadh, but I was dead wrong. They offer all the main dishes that you would expect of a japanese restaurant, but of course with their own spin. Not all the dishes will taste authentic (.e.g noodles), but many of them come close and are still tasty in their own way. They have fresh sashimi, and they do a really good tempura. It's also priced reasonably in comparison to places like Shogun.
Tokyo used to be a teppanyaki place, but they said they closed down that service because of complaints about the smells (!??!). Do not get too excited if you see a teppanyaki table - that knife show is not gonna happen for you. The family section is entirely sectioned into booths. I'm not sure about the singles section, but in general it's definitely not the fanciest looking restaurant in Riyadh. Like Diamond, it also has mirrors plastered all over the ceiling for some unknown, unholy reason.
My raving review must unfortunately come with one strong caveat. Tokyo is inconsistent. If you happen to be there on a day when their fish arrive, you will be extremely happy with your sashimi. If you happen to be there on a day where their stock is a few days old, you will taste it. So like shooting a dart blindfolded, but still worth a go if you're really missing your sushi.
Okay guys, I just came back from Batha...sorry I've got no pictures because I was running errands while I was there.
Batha is a sprawling collection of shops and markets, so it's very easy to get lost there. The part I visited today was marked by a post office in the middle of a parking lot. Mental note: this is the first post office I've ever seen in Riyadh. It was empty. I didn't see any stamps. I don't understand!
Anyhow, the first thing you'll notice about the demographics here is a lot of Indians but also a lot of Filipinos. As a result, you'll find a ton of Filipino grocery shops and bakeries with delicious bread in them. The male to female ratio seems a bit higher at this souk than at Deira or Kuwaiti. That's just an anecdotal observation so I can't say it for certain, but if you get uncomfortable having too many sets of eyes on you at one time, this might not be the market to go to alone.
I believe I was wandering around in the electronics section of the Batha market, and consequently had nothing to buy. There are a couple of malls that are just full of computers, DVD players, TV's, clocks, etc. etc. Lots more back-of-a-van type stuff.
Batha also has a sizeable fish market and you can smell it from a mile away. I won't lie, it's pretty nasty looking, but I'm from Toronto where the closest thing we have to a fish market is Kensington, which is about ten notches up on the sanitary ladder to God, but then again, Canada is cleaner than most parts of the world. I know people who buy fish in Batha and they love it; they go out of their way to go there. So don't let me sway you either way.
Batha also has a fabrics section and many tailoring shops. We've accompanied a groom to help him choose material for a suit before, which was fun. This souk is definitely geared towards men, so there are a lot of men's clothing stores and shoe stores. Also, they have your usual cornucopia of junkyard sh*t - like a tower of duct tape next to a bin of socks, things like that.
They also have a row of uniform shops there, so you can buy yourself any kind of service industry outfit you need. Mechanic jumpers, maid outfits, waiters and stuff like that. If you're wondering why you would need anything like that, well I don't know. I'm just telling you what I saw!
Regarding safety, people recommend that you cover your head there and at Dira as well because there are supposedly a lot of Muttawa nearby. I know a woman who got her boob grabbed at Batha. And there are rumours of people getting stabbed in the Kuwaiti Souk. People have also talked about being mugged too. Well my only advice is to be alert, don't get lost, and try and bring a friend with you if you can. I've gone alone against common advice because I don't have any friends ha ha ha. I'm kidding (sort of). That being said, I didn't see too many other women there walking around by themselves. Riyadh's already restrictive enough without all the fear-mongering chatter, so do make a visit to Batha if you're curious - I, your internet friend - think you'll be fine. Just watch out for your boobs!
Okay, I have been wondering about this ever since I came to Riyadh. I think I'm going to have to ask you readers to enlighten me because I can never get a respectful answer out of an expat about this.
Why do I so often see Saudi families parked by the highway having a picnic? The bridge thing I see a bit more when it gets to summer, but right now...it's not that hot in the daytime. And just today, we were driving home from the mall, and I saw it with my own two eyes - a family with a van parked right off the road, happily sitting in lawn chairs in a neat row on rocks and dirt beside their car, having a picnic! I don't really buy the whole idea that families are by the road just for the breeze they get from the cars whizzing by cuz as I said, it's a good temperature this time of year. I know there's a sorry lack of green space in the city. Perhaps because I live on a compound which is relatively lush, with grass everywhere, I don't quite "get it" - but I still don't think I completely understand what drives families to partake in this roadside ritual...
Went on the bus today to the Deira Souk. The souks are all a little bit different, so I thought I'd do a post on the ones that expats frequent the most.
The Deira souk goes by a bunch of different names - some people call it the Clocktower souk, because of the clocktower right near the large square. It's actually a beautiful square, built in classic Saudi style. The square is known to Westerners as "Chop Chop Square" because this is where public executions are held. That sounds like the beginning of a joke, but there's no punchline because it's not a joke and they actually happen(!). Rumour has it that if a westerner happens to be at the square during an execution, they will get pushed to the front to ensure the guest has a proper view. **edit - I've been informed that the public executions are now held in the areas where crime actually takes place, and that they've stopped holding executions in the square in the last four or five years** Deira is also known occasionally as the gold souk, but both the Kuwaiti and Deira souks have jewellery sections, so referencing the "gold souk" could be either place. Who knows, there could be other gold souks in the Riyadh too?
Next to the square is Al Musmak Castle.
It literally looks like a sandcastle you might build on a beach. It's actually been converted into a nice little museum and I definitely recommend a visit there to snoop around.
The history of the castle is recounted through displays in arabic and english, so don't be shy. It's like a maze inside, but you won't get lost as there's huge arrows everywhere, so don't worry you have nothing to be afraid of. Just be careful you don't fall down the well because there's all kinds of dead bodies down there.
OKAY this is turning out to be a long post. I guess I'll get to the stuff you actually care about, as in - what can you buy there? Well, let's see. You can buy gold and jewellery, abayas, some "saudi" decorations for your house (which won't be Saudi, they will be from India), maybe some kids clothing...um....that's about it on the list of things that you might realistically purchase in this souk. I made a map for anyone interested to get an idea of where things are. It's not to scale or pretty, it's just to give you a general idea of what to expect, because I know it's easy to get lost in the souks. I think you should be able to enlarge the picture by clicking on it.
In the square near the parking lot is a man who sells honey, and it's very good. He has honey from Russia, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, all over the place, and he is happy to give you a taste if you ask for it. It's not a big shop, a bit of a dive really. If you get there and go, "whoah, hold on, why is the honey in gasoline containers?" I have no answer for you. I try not to ask questions like that when I go to the souks.
One peculiarity of Riyadh is that there seems to be no minimum age where Saudis deem it acceptable for one to begin driving. As such it's not unusual to see young boys behind the drivers seat in a vehicle - it's a daily occurrance to see them on the road. And let me stress that the correct label to apply is indeed "boys" as it is questionable as to whether even half of them have passed puberty yet. This whole post was prompted by a picture I took of a boy in the car next to us at a traffic light (decided not to post it). He had no seatbelt, and his little brother was sitting next to him in the passenger's seat, also with no seatbelt, and barely able to see over the dashboard. Oh yeah, and big brother also had a lollipop sticking out of his mouth. Nice touch.
Needless to say, I cannot fathom what twist of logic brings a society to the conclusion that a Y chromosome makes little boys more fit to drive than me. But here we are. >blah blah blah angry angry arghh!! blah blah blah<
Blatant sexism aside, what of the question of what age a person is deemed old enough - mature enough - to drive?? Is 16 a logical and fair number, or is it arbitrary? A lot of countries have a minimum age of 18. But I understand in parts of the U.S. that have a lot of farmland, some people have to learn how to drive in their early teens out of practicality. Here, where only men can drive, the policy cuts into the number of drivers in a household; does it necessitate that men learn at a younger age in order to keep everything running?
You know, I think I can see people debating age, but I can't see them debating seatbelts. Seatbelts won this debate a long time ago. Back to that picture, it just totaly riles me up for a mulititude of reasons. And every time I look at it I just want to rip that lollipop out of that boy's mouth and knock it on his skull till he put his seatbelt on! I should probably just delete it...
Of course I have to blog about Diamond now that I've mentioned the Localizer. Because why? Because Diamond restaurant is located in the Localizer mall. One of the entrances is located inside at the end near the Second Cup, the great and hallowed Canadian landmark.
We went this past Thursday night with a group of people to eat around nine and boy were we glad that we had reservations. This place was hopping. The decor was Asian, reflecting the menu, and some of the booths had those Chinese style roofs jutting down from above. There's also a porn style smattering of mirrors on the ceiling, which I had a good laugh about. But the best part of the layout is that the entire section in the middle is quite open instead of sectioning everyone off into booths, and it makes you feel like you're at any other restaurant in any other city.
I cannot resist going into detail about their Happy Birthday serenade. At Diamond, it is not singing, it's drums and chanting. And when I say drums, I don't mean little toy drums, I mean loud, booming, conversation stopping drums. After the seventh time it 0can get a bit old. And I'm not using poetic license here - I literally counted seven Happy Birthday Beheading Jungle Chants.
Anyhow, onto the thing you actually care about, the food. The food was good. I would describe it as Asian fusion rather than real Asian food. Spoiled little me from Toronto will attest that none of it is really how true Chinese, Thai, Japanese or Korean food is prepared, but Fusion has its own rightful place as a type of cooking style, and they do a decent job of it. I'm sure it depends on what you order, but everything we had was satisfying. The Noodle House in Centria Mall is probably a level above this in their fusion food - but Diamond's not too bad as long as you are not expecting expert Schechwan cooking from a Master Chef. I guess ditto goes for Mirage and the Gulf Royal (or is it Royal Gulf?) that are all part of the same chain and therefore have the same menu.
The day a true Chinese or Korean man sets up a proper, quality shop in this city is the day they decimate the competition. And that is the day I will show up expectantly, holding a pair of chopsticks and a camera.
I was at the Localizer this weekend and thought I'd write a bit about it. The Localizer is famous for being one of the pre-eminent male malls of Riyadh. Sound ridiculous? It's totally not! It's a mall where men are allowed to roam free without being bothered by security for travelling in packs. What kinds of things can you buy there? If you are really into expensive T-shirts, you have just found paradise. If you would like to have an animal of your choice stuffed at a machine - well again, you are in luck. And a watch covered in fake diamonds? Boy, you are on a roll!
Many of the malls in Riyadh have a no singles policy in effect on the weekends, a rule designed mainly to keep groups of young men from harrassing women. Which sort of begs the question of where these men *are* harrassing women if it's not at malls. In Toronto, we have designated harrassment spots: clubs, bars, Yonge street... It's very different for Saudi men though, very different indeed.
To be fair, if you live here, you might understand why single men are banned from malls on the weekend. It's not like I haven't had obscene things whispered into my ears before, but there's a different quality to the rude stuff you see here when you do see it - something a bit more intense. In such a conservative country you can sort of see why there's no tolerance for it. I just don't know whether to be glad about the ban, or feel sorry for the men.
Anyhow, there you have it. Localizer Mall. Enjoyyy
OKAY folks, if you are Canadian, you know that hockey is not just a sport. It is THE sport. Yesterday's Olympic gold medal match was not just about winning another gold, it was about a long standing David and Goliath competition that has been going on for years now. It's not just that we won gold in a magnificent overtime goal by a god on skates, no, it was that we won it against the U.S. Don't get me wrong - the U.S. is our friend, our affectionate if not a bit opinionated big brother. But when it comes to hockey.... oooh boy, that is different. That is like the war of 1812 where we draw the line, stand our ground, and if need be, shoot you mofo's down and set fire to your White House.
The truth is, we know we are outmatched by our neighbour to the south in practically every way. They have more money, more people, more talent, more brainpower, more tanks and guns, more glitz and grandeur, more power, more everything than us. And now, even the NHL which was Canada's domain in the golden Gretzky years is dominated by American teams, and has been for a while. It makes Canadians sad. Most of us don't cry about it, but some of us get quite close. And if you are from Toronto, you know we are extra miserable about losing our chance at the Stanley Cup every frickin frackin fruckin season since 19-fr@#ing-'67 ARGHefhiIHF!!!
Now when we look at the Olympics, and take all our boys back from the American teams they've migrated to, and we compare which country is better, it feels good to know that yes indeed, we are still better at SOMEthing! Yes, it's a bit of an inferiority complex that fuels the rage and passion, but can you blame us? We are small, and yes we do have a rodent as a national symbol, but doggone it, we don't always want to be famous for poutine and peacekeeping.
Anyhow, for anyone curious, I stayed up to watch this game. My friends at home are probably snickering at this, because I'm not a sports person at all. But being an ex-pat makes you patriotic. My hubby and I also went to the Canadian Embassy tonight to watch the game again, with pizza and beer - a traditional Canadian meal. We all stood for the national anthem at the end of the game and sang together. It was so nice to feel like we were close to home, where they are probably all still celebrating.... Go Canada Go!!!!
p.s. not that it affects his ability to govern, but doesn't Stephen Harper look a bit pudgy in a jersey?