Monday, January 28, 2008

Back in Africa

The minute I got to breath non-Arabic air I could already feel how much happier I was going to be in this country. Just driving and walking around over the last few days I have been struck by how great this country is. Simple things I never noticed before, like how you can always smell the scent of plants in the air, really make a difference.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Some sights in Khobar

In the interests of education we took a short phtographic expedition around the city of Khobar to try bring back some pictures that really capture the essence of the land. We did this early on a rainy friday morning (The authorities here don't seem to be too hot on people using camera's).

Hygiene and cleanliness

As you can see here, allot of pride is taken in the cleanliness of the land. Most of Saudi looks like this. Trash strewn lots with arbitrarily placed buildings. Because the oil industry gave the country such a rapid injection of income the cities didn't grow and evolve like normal cities, so huge buildings get placed in the middle of nowhere. The surrounding area can be a desolate trash heap and and nobody cares.
Big Malls Everywhere

This is Khobar Mall, about 5 km away is the Mall of Dhahran. They're both huge. All malls everywhere in the world are the same (At least thats my theory) and somewhere there a rediculously rich italian that sold the fake marble florrs for all of them. Malls are the only thing here that borders on entertainment, except taht they don't have cinema's (To much like fun) but do have tons of womens clothing shops, and lots of mens clothing shops selling the exact same item of clothing.

Really Long Road Names

This is one of the major roads in Khobar. It's name after the King. Of course the couldn't just call it King Abdullah Rd (Previously Prince Abdullah Rd), the kings full title must be used when ever he is referenced ("Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz"), listening to news reports here is also funny, it takes almost the whole report to just say who its about. So when a king dies they have to rename all the streets named after the king and any of the princes whose status subtely changes. pretty much every road here is named after a memeber of the royal family. SO please don't complain about minor road renamnings in South Africa.


This is the sign for the "Khobar Model School for Car Driving". I don't think its a very successful educational institute. But if the sign were true it would be a great place, a school where they can teach Saudi's to STOP DRIVING!!!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Frame of reference

Yesterday at a tech support centre I saw a male employee helping and talking to a female customer. I thought, "Wow, that's really liberal". Your frame of reference changes fast here.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Highlights of Dubai

Dubai is a strange place, thats much is obvious, I was only there for 8 hours (After having to rent a hotel room in-order to get a Visa) but these are the three pictures I thought were the most interesting. I could go one ad-nauseum about how ridiculous Dubai is, but it would bore me. But in a way it reminded me of the Dune books, I felt like at any moment a spice feighter was going to dock with the top of one of the buildings.


This is the tallest Building in the world, twice the height of the empire state building. When it's finished it will stand around 820m high. You can pick it out from miles away when you're flying in, it makes the surrounding 50+ story buildings look flat and squat.

Burg Dubai from up close

In comparison to the surrounding city

Ski Dubai

The worlds first in door ski slope, why do you need a ski slope in the desert? No one cares, you don't need reasons for massive pointless investments here. This is from a restaurant over looking it. We tried to get a picture of it from the outside but couldn't get a clear shot.

Ski Dubai

Dusty in Khobar and Freezing in Riyadh

A Sand storm came through yesterday and washed the clean off all my plants. After the sand storm the air looks like a dirty fog and when you walk outside you can feel the dust when you breath. The dust gets everywhere, a room with a window left open will have a layer of dust over everything, like a prematurely aged ruin. The temperature dropped today, it's cold (2°C min - 12°C max). It will hit freezing in Riyadh tonight. I have an odd desert experience.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Clean Skies

The Saudi rainy season started yesterday. Rainfall was uncharacteristically high last year in this region, I suspect that will be repeated. The rains have cleared the air and stabilised the temperature. The sky is clear from dust for the first time in months, it's a beautiful light blue without a cloud in sight. Even the plants are green again, the rain washed away the coat of dust. I was beaten to the mark, damn.

With so little rain each year the government decided it was pointless to build any drainage into the countries infrastructure, so the rains turn the the streets into flowing slews of filth and litter. With no drainage these form cesspools that slowly ferment until the sun dries the roads out. Everywhere there is a more distinct stench of rot in the air. It's a pity because other wise it would be a beautiful day.

I spent my midday break (a short walk around in fresh air) looking at all the clean plants, no different from any plant back home, but they change the palette of the country. Suddenly I'm not surrounded by shades of dull beige and yellow, but bright blues and greens and surface level dark brown muck.

The slicked streets have caused havoc with the traffic. I saw a car mounted on top of the concrete barrier in the middle of the highway, Five lanes away on the other side was a delivery van on the brink of an explosion. No one here knows how to drive anyway, driving when it's raining is unsettling, you fear for your life.

Slowly slip into the routine, forget weekends and womens company.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A sunset from my office window

A sunset from my office window

Like in Johannesburg the sunsets here can look really good. Its all the dust and pollution in the air.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Sexualizing Everything

Walking around the shopping center I see allot of women, all draped head to toe in black. At first they all look the same but I begin to notice differences. There is a range of black garments, some bhurkas which have thick veils, but the majority are a type of cloak with only eye-slits left free. Of these there are two types. The first has a separate head piece, which is tied close to the head by a mask that covers face. The second is a cloak that goes from over the head all the way to the ground as a single piece of fabric. The first type leaves the shape of the womens shoulders exposed, and with the tight head scarf it makes me think of an eastern ninja princess, I imagine a lithe warriors body beneath the black folds of the cloak. The second type reminds me of something that failed to evolve shoulders, a Neanderthalic protohuman. I stop and marvel at my ability to sexualize any situation. Part of me smirks. I can't decide how I should judge this.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Washing Plants

We have two Satellite TV networks in the villa and there's still nothing worth watching. I contemplate reading my book but can't really figure out who the characters are anymore. I do more work.

Today I considered getting a bucket of water and washing all the plants round the office. They would only stay clean for about an our before the dust turned there leaves a pale and white again, but in the long run all cleaning is futile anyway. I am still fascinated by the colours. Over here the whole palette is different, duller, paler. It is so at odds with the modern buildings you see. All over the gulf the favoured architectural style is the shining glass monolith, huge reflective towers. Glass has to be the worst building material imaginable here, it's impossible to keep it clean. All the windows are opaqued by the dust, leaving these theoretically gleaming monoliths fading into the desert like dirty wind screens. Everything fades away.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Back in the Kingdom

The view outside office window looks like a mixture of Iraq on during the Gulf War and Welkom. Everything is dull and light brown. Nothing escapes the dust. Even the sunset looks pale, like colour is only a faded memory here. At midday it go and sit on the steps outside to get some sun. Its a cold desert winter here and my fingers and eyes are beginning to hurt. The sun feels warm on my new jersey, the only clean piece of clothing I had for three days since the airline lost my suitcase. Some one starts riding down the wrong lane of the road in front of me, into oncoming traffic. No one stops they just hoot at each other and swear in Arabic. Its a country full of angry people.

The View From my office window

The Arabic restaurant that I used to eat at each day has closed. I cant understand why, last time I was there the place was constantly full, the had just bought big shiny new sign for there menu, when it came in I never had the heart to tell the proud owner the had misspelled description, spelling it "discription" instead. I see English everywhere, but know for a fact that most people can't read it. English on your sign raises the status of your shop, giving it a slick modern appeal.

With my old favourite eating house gone I am reduced to sandwiches for lunch and take out for supper. For take out I will go to one of the various Identically Huge malls that litter the city scape. Which ever Italian is selling marble flooring here must be a rich man. I try to have a different take out each night, its not a difficult task. Today I will have a subway sandwich, the polite Filipino at the counter will ask for my order, he will tell the Indian cook to prepare it, somewhere at the back a Bangaldeshi will be cleaning the floors. Everything will be conducted in a mangled dialect of English. I would like to say thank you in another language but cannot figure out what would be appropriate, I will retreat to English feeling sadly uneducated. I will walk through the massive marble interior of the mall slowly feeling more claustrophobic. I laugh to myself, the last time I remember when going to the mall was the only fun thing I had to do I was 12, I look around and see an ocean of veiled people that are still stuck in 12 year old me's idea of fun. Slowly a theory of about the arabic mall hysteria will formulate in my mind, When I think out my theory it will disturb me as being xenophobic and ill informed, but I wont be able to shake the feeling that I might be right.

Happy halloween. New years ticks by and I don't even notice, times and days have little relevance here unless you are trying to miss prayer when you go out to eat. Morning turns to midday turns to evening to night, work moves from the home to the office to the home. I think about starting an exercise routine, press ups in the morning and a run in the evening. I have delusions of coming back to South Africa sober,clean and healthy, primed to throw it away as quickly as I can.

Tomorrow I will investigate Saudi Arabia's second biggest industry. I will take an hour off in the evening and go try every type of date I can find. I don't even like dates. My grand father put me off them when he told me they were pressed by people squashing them under their armpits. On Friday we plan a clandestine operation to photograph the street signs of the city and maybe a few of the houses on millionaires row. we will have to wake up early, before the police. People here aren't big on cameras in public.