Since my wife and I (both BIG Baseball fans) moved to the Middle East, we have missed the taken-for-granted ability to drive to a stadium or turn on the TV and watch the world’s best sport. Living here is like living in the off-season all year ’round. The two daily English language newspapers are run by Brits, so once you get past the most minute details of every soccer (football) game played from Europe to the Southern Sudan, the sports section has very little room for anything else. They cover auto or horse racing if there is a local angle, and to fill in the space where they cannot sell an ad, they cover Cricket. But Baseball might as well be a rumor that hasn’t gone viral. I stay up with it using all the modern media, but I do miss the sport in a big way.
Brits try to tell us that Baseball evolved from Cricket. Hogwash. The only thing the sports have in common is they both use a ball, and the balls are not that much alike.
Before I try to educate you anymore about this sport, let me tell you why I have decided to write about it.
Specifically I have become a fan of Twenty20. This a relatively new type of cricket. Basically, it is the same game. T20 was intended to deliver a fast paced game that lasted about as long as any normal sporting event, between 2 and three hours, well within my attention span.
T20 is practically a brand new style of the sport. It was introduced in England in 2003. It was introduced to bring in young fans. The old guard that still attended 3 or 4 day long “test” matches were dying out, probably from boredom.
Because it is available I have become a fan. The World Cup of T20 has qualifying rounds and this year the UAE is hosting one of these qualifying tournaments. The very first match was to be played mere miles from my home here in Sharjah, and it was between Uganda and the USA! It wasn’t like the Dodgers coming to town, but I still got excited to go.
That made me unique. When I showed up, the only people in the parking lot were a couple of very bored looking security guards. One of them walked up me and asked me for my pass. I looked at him and said “I am just a fan.” The look on his face should have been enough to clue me in for the rest of the experience. About then, a fancy car with diplomatic plates pulled up. A handsome well dressed black man, expensive suit, shiny shoes, and an air of authority got out of the back and headed directly for the VIP entrance. I knew he was the Ugandan consul, so me, in a T shirt, jeans and flip flops just tagged alongside him. Moments later I was in the VIP seating area of a 20,000 seat stadium.
I looked around and realized we were it. TWO fans, 2, dos, in the entire stadium. Incredible.
I took a seat right behind the USA bench and started cheering for the red white and blue. Most of the players on the USA squad had Indian or Pakistani names. Probably kids of immigrants to Silicone Valley. There was one really American looking kid named Korns. I yelled out “Hey Korns, you from Nebraska?” He turned around and in the perfect accent said “Houston, Texas”. I would love to hear his story about how he started playing Cricket in Texas.
The two top winners in this tourney get to go to the world cup tournament in Sri Lanka this year. So I started trying to pump up my team by saying things like “Sri Lanka, great beaches, beautiful women and excellent beer”.
Then I realized that with only two fans in attendance (actually the Ugandan Consul guy may have been there because he had to be, so maybe I was the ONLY fan) there was not going to be a souvenir stand. So I started asking the boys on the team to sell me their caps. I was saying “look, I’m the only fan here! I may be the only USA Cricket fan in all of the UAE, or maybe the whole wide world! C’mon, sell me a cap!” Finally the manager got up and went to the equipment box and pulled out a cap and a t shirt and tossed them to me. Made my day!
USA got severely beaten by Uganda. They got beat by something like 7 wickets, which is really a trouncing.
Learning to enjoy this sport means learning a new language.
Young Cricketer. “Yes, I cocked one off the splice in the gully and the blighter gathered it.”
Father. “Yes, but how did you get out? Were you caught, stumped or bowled, or what?”
I will try here to educate you on terms and rules
“Twenty20” refers to the number of overs each team bowls to the other in their innings.
I could go on and on with rules and terms, but I won’t. They all sound so Dickensonian and would just make you wonder why I ever picked up a bug for this game. But give T20 a try sometime, you might find it more exciting than say lawn bowling or Golf.
Thanks for reading. tell a friend, make a comment. I hope you were bowled over. This is a cricket term that means…ah look it up.
- ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier: Italy, Uganda prevail in tournament openers – Cricket News Update (blogs.bettor.com)
A three day holiday was declared in the UAE so people could celebrate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Mary Ann and I decided it was our three day 4th of July holiday, albeit a few days early. Never look a gift holiday in the mouth I always say.
Three days obviously is not a long enough time to take an international trip, and with 3 or 4 of those planned to round out the year, we decided not fly anywhere.
We had never been to Abu Dhabi. It is the capitol of the UAE. AD is the largest Emirate of the 7. It is also the richest, by far.
Our transportation for this trip was a 2 hour bus ride. The cost of the ride was under US$10. We were travelling with the workers from Pakistan and India going to visit comrade workers or simply take a little break. The bus was full.
Have I mentioned that it was HOT? Not the bus, the air conditioner worked. The whole country was HOT. Beyond the heat, a sandstorm started up and lasted all weekend. This was not the type of sandstorm you see in the Hollywood movies like Lawrence of Arabia. It reminded me more of when I experienced a white-out in the arctic, except it was HOT. Everything was grey/white. Visibility was less than a mile, and in case I forgot to tell you, it was HOT!
When we decided to go, Mary Ann did her usual expert travel agent work and found out that many of the hotels had big discounts at this time of year. Why? Because it is HOT.
We arrived, got off the bus and into an air-conditioned taxi and arrived at our hotel. This is the AD branch of world-wide chain which usually gets 4 stars or better. Our cab was not met at the door with helpful doorman to greet you and take the bags, Why? I guess it was too HOT. After we carried our luckily light bags into the reception area, we took one look at the line at the counter, and said to each other “lunch.”
We ate lunch in a little café with a view of the line at the counter. I began to wonder if maybe it was really a sculpture of a line put there as a gag, because it was not moving. The published check-in time is 2:30, it was 1:30 when we were done with lunch and the same people were still in line. We figured the hip thing to do was check our bags with the concierge, and hit the mall.
The mall, indeed the entire city lacks the glitz, the pizzazz, and the bling of Dubai. AD has much more oil, hence wealth, than Dubai, but the city does not display it. Neither did this mall. After the malls in Dubia, it was like walking into a mall in Beverly Hills, way below the Dubai level. The architecture of the city is simply not as amazing as Dubai. It is very functional instead of fun. So was this mall. OK, it had the Rolex outlets, but the place just lacked the magic carpet effect the Dubai malls have. It was equally air conditioned, if not overly air conditioned so we window shopped for a couple of hours, then we walked back to the hotel. Yes, we walked, and yes it was still HOT.
We walked into lobby and the check-in line was only half as long. We went to the little café and ordered some draft beers. Yes, you can drink in the UAE. It is allowed in hotels and restaurants connected to hotels. Drinking is also allowed in airports. This is not some liberalization of the law. This is from the Quran. Travelers have always been exempt from the restriction on alcohol. Invariably you will find an Emirati gentleman in his dish-dash (white robe thingie) having a cold one in the next booth. I always want to take a picture and post it with my blog, but I lack the rudeness needed to do that. And he just may be a traveler also, so what?
OK, so it is now 4:30ish. I go stand in line and watch the slowest desk clerk this side of the invention of electricity try to check people in. Finally it all worked and we finally got into our room at 5:30 after first arriving at noon. Believe me, TripAdvisor heard about it!
We had already planned on visiting the Yas Island Circuit the next day. Yas Island is the island next to AD, which by the way is also an island. Yas Island is building up lately with fancy hotels and attractions. The Circuit is a Formula 1 track. I am not an F1 fan, but we TripAdvisor said the tour was really cool, even when it is HOT, so I called the concierge to have him book it for us. No good. I mean here we are in an expensive hotel and all the concierge can do is hold your luggage and get you a taxi.
So we went out to a “authentic” English pub in the hotel and had fish and chips and real “draught” beer.
You could even smoke at the table! I had noticed in the mall that people were smoking! This emirate is behind the curve on the no smoking zealotry. I have a feeling the ruler is a Marlboro man.
Next morning we took off for Yas Island. The circuit tour was awesome.
The only other thing we wanted to see was the grand mosque. This is the 3rd largest mosque in the world. I will never see the first (Mecca) or the second (Medina) for obvious reasons. It has the world’s largest carpet, which is gorgeous.
That was our HOT weekend. How HOT was it? It was like being in the Arabian Desert in the summer. Ahh, come to think of it…
FACTOID: 70% of the electricity generated in the UAE is used for AIR CONDITIONING!
Thanks for reading. Please share this with your FB community and make a comment.
As I start packing for yet another intercontinental flight, I came to the happy realization that I am now quite good at this. I know not to take more than one pair of shoes, two pairs of jeans, and save the weight and space for a few extra pair of BVDs.
In the last year I have been in five continents and if you want to get technical, I could claim two sub continents. India is known as a subcontinent, but the Indian people are fond of telling you that they are their own continent. It is hard to argue with 1.2 billion people. And then there is the Middle East. I live here and I’ll be damned if I know what continent I live in. This aint Asia, nor Europe, nor Africa. I have never heard of anyone calling this area a subcontinent, so what is it? I’ll just go with subcontinent for ease of calculations.
As far as air travel goes, the Middle East is Middle Earth. Both Dubai and Doha bill themselves as the cross roads for the world. In a way that is very true. A person can fly from Dubai or Doha to anywhere important directly. Both cities are home to an excellent airline. Dubai boasts Emirates Air, and Doha is the proud home of Qatar Airlines, subtitled “The World’s Five Star Airline”. There is virtually no major country that is not served by either of them, together they have the globe covered. On top of that Emirates Air just reduced their fares because the price of oil dropped. Name me one other airline that did that!
I live in the UAE, about a half hour away from the Dubai Airport. This being Emirates home base you would think that I would be loyal to the home boys and that at least the majority of my travel would be with them. However, as any of you who know me are thinking right now, not necessarily. For my trips to Thailand, the third of which I am packing for right now, and for our trip to Hong Kong last month, I take Qatar. Why? Well, simply put $. Hundreds of $’s less. More $’s to spend on tours and stupid souvenirs. To fly Qatar I must first fly to Doha, which is a very short flight, then change planes at the Doha Airport. Qatar is building a new super airport, but I have no idea when it will be completed. For now, all planes coming and going must park in the next county. Passengers must ride a bus into the terminal, and then another bus back out. It is a bit annoying and adds at least a couple of hours to my travel time, but it is the price I pay to save the $s.
Now that I have been a steady customer of Qatar, I am starting to climb up the ladder of their frequent flyer program. Soon I will be a Silver Flyer (please do not confuse that with Silver Surfer) and with a little creativity I will enter the ranks of the Golden Ones (please do not confuse that with getting older). As anyone who flies a lot and stays loyal to one carrier knows, stepping up a rank means multiplying every mile you travel towards the grail of a free ticket. Someday, Qatar will owe me a free trip to somewhere I would never pay to fly to. (I hope that makes more sense to you than it does to me) I am considering adding that to my bucket list; “Get a free flight to somewhere, anywhere at all”. It would not be my first time to achieve this, but last time I did it, mining companies were buying my tickets and it did not mean as much to me.
Back to my inspirational moment that led to this posting. Being good at international travel means more than leaving room in your suitcase for underwear (clean and otherwise) and souvenirs.
Let us consider proper travelling clothes. First let me say that anyone who dresses up for a flight is living in the fifties. Today, unless you have to go to a meeting right off the plane, it is ridiculous. Think of flying like taking the bus, it will simplify the journey.
So what to wear?I’ll do this from the bottom up.
Wear flip-flops or sandals. Not all airports make you take off you shoes, but when you have to, it is really nice to just kick off the sandals. In fact, a lot of TSA types will just let you pass if you are wearing nothing but flip-flops. If you are unfortunate enough that your destination is, say, Minnesota in January, you can pack a pair of mukluks and put them on before you leave the terminal.
Pants. Loose and baggy. That way they do not creep up on you and cause a lack of blood flow to sensitive regions. Also, if you can find loose and baggy cargo pants, then you can carry some essential in-transit items on your person, such as a couple of power bars, Ipod and ear plugs, reading glasses, stuff like that. Yes, it means divesting your gear in one of those little trays before you pass through the security gate, but the trade-off is worth it. If you put all these things in your carry on bag it just causes more work for you once you get to your seat.
Shirt or blouse. Planes are notoriously over air-conditioned. What I find works best is a long sleeve cotton T.
Head gear. Most people do not wear anything. I always wear a ball cap, even when I am not travelling. I have found that this strange custom of mine is great on an airplane when I want to sleep. I can pull it down over my eyes. Combine that with the Ipod and you can drift into another world, while on your way to another world. The hat also keeps your head warm.
These days airlines have started stocking their inventory with planes that have the acronym ER at the end of the type designator. I.E. B777ER. The ER stands for Extended Range. If you look at international routes available you will find some TRULY Extended Range flights. I think the longest regularly scheduled flight these days is from Atlanta to Johannesburg. That is something like 19 hours. Dubai to Los Angeles is 16 or so. Just a few years ago either of these flights would have been impossible. You would have had to change planes and probably carriers in London, or Amsterdam. Maybe more than one stop. If you think 16 hours is too damn long to be cooped up in a steel tube at 38,000 feet with recirculated air spreading flu germs, well you are not alone. A lot of people still opt for a lay-over in some city. But the problems with that solution are scarier to me than catching this years flu bug. Let’s take a look at them.
Lost luggage. Every time you switch planes in transit you give overworked underpaid luggage handlers another chance to send your bag to Shanghai when your destination is Topeka. Don’t even bother wondering how they do it, but misdirected luggage is still a significant problem even though the world’s airlines are getting much better about getting your bag on the same plane you are on. That being said, it has never happened to me (knock knock) .
Another disadvantage of a lay over is the extra costs. An overnight in say London could just about double your airfare, considering hotel, taxis, meals and a night on the town.
Maybe all you want to do is get out of the flying tube and walk around an airport for 4 hours between flights, like the good old days. Consider this, count meals, that trip to the book store, some time in the bar, the cute souvenir refrigerator magnet at the gift shop that you would not have bought if you had not made the trip to the bar and before you know it your travel budget has taken a hit. Plus, that gives the luggage handlers four extra hours to choose which plane to put your bag on.
I always opt for the non stop on the ER. Just remember, you get on the plane, and sooner or later, you get off the plane.
Now about that recirculated air. Well, other than looking like a Tokyo traffic cop and wear a surgical mask, there just is not anything you can do. However, the air up there is not the only source of exotic diseases in an airplane. The plastic tray and the arms on your seat can hold and transmit all sorts of maladies. And then there is the toilet. I always carry a little bottle of hand sanitizer and I use it before and after I touch anything. I think of it as preventing others from catching what I have, so I don’t feel like a paranoid. I also wipe down the food tray and the arm rests. Why risk it? Catching one of the worlds staphylococci can really ruin a nice vacation.
If the person sitting next to you is coughing, hacking, sneezing or bleeding uncontrollably, ask to be moved. Same thing if they stink, or especially if they are so fat they should have been made to buy two seats. If there are any empty seats, the cabin crew will try to help you, if you ask nicely. If you are not nice to them, about anything at all, they will not be nice to you, about anything at all. Frankly I think it is pretty shitty job which I would never do. Nobody tips you and some passengers can be real jerks.
Always carry a pen with you because you will need to fill out one of those immigration forms before you stand in the long line to have your passport inspected. Borrowing a pen from another (read: better prepared) passenger is embarrassing and brands you as a novice.
Many people will go to the trouble of finding the local currency exchange and buying Rupees (whatever) before they leave home. I wonder if they have ever heard of an ATM machine? Also, I just can’t understand why anyone uses travelers checks these days. These must be the same people who dress up for the flight. Hello? Eisenhower is not President anymore.
Thats it for today. I am off for Thailand now. All packed in my style, which means I probably forgot some stuff. My next blog will be from Chiang Mai. Stay tuned, tell a friend and please make a comment. Even if you do not know me, just tell me what you think about this post, even if you think it stinks like the guy who sat next to you on your last flight.
Dubai is a city of extremes. Just about everywhere you go you can find the biggest, the fastest, the tallest.
My mother came to visit my wife and I last week, and we decided to be tourists in our own town. Technically we live in Sharjah, which is next door to Dubai. While being a rather sleepy town (Emirate actually) it is lovely, but without the superlatives you encounter in Dubai. Dubai seems to be working towards the Guinness Book of World Records for the most entries by a municipality in the Guinness Book of World Records.
We visited, in order;
Attached to this mall is the new icon of Dubai
On the top of the Burj we visited
The elevator to this observation tower is the worlds fastest elevator, 124 floors in 45 seconds. Yes, your ears pop.
All along we were met with plaques put in place by the Guinness book people. However, I just know that when I went to the gents room in this observation toiwer I was using the world’s highest urinal. Even though there was no plaque. I did not have a magic marker or I would have written graffiti to let people know what an honor it was to urinate there.
We also visited
To top it off my mom flew round trip on the 4th longest regularly scheduled air rout. LAX/Dubai/LAX. It is a 15 hour flight one way. Way to go mom!
Dubai is like the land of Oz. It is becoming a big tourist destination, for cause. The tourists are mostly European and Asian. Americans watch too much Fox news. I just feel lucky to live here.
Thats is it for this post. Next week I am off to Chiang Mai and the first week of June…KENYA! Stay tuned. Tell a friend, and please make a comment.
This is not a travel blog. But, there is no where else to express this philosophical idea that has been running around in my brain like hamster in one of those wheels. Do not suggest FaceBook. I have tried to post items of FaceBook that do not have anything to do with a mangy puppie, or what I had for lunch,and no one seems to care. In fact, I think I have be defriended by a few people because I dared to use facebook for something that was not inane. So, I am breaking tradition here, breaking my travel rhythm, to express an idea.
Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the light hearted travel stuff next week.
I think this is a new idea, at least I have never heard it spoken about by pundits or serious commentators. Being at least new to me, it is both historically and philosophically immature. It might get some “hurrumphs” and it might get some people’s ire raised, but you know me, that is what I do. So sit back, have a coffee or tea or a beer or some other form of mind relaxing (but not hallucinogenic) substance and read on.
I have come to the conclusion that Democracy, with a large D, is a joke. Maybe a cruel joke. I have become convinced that it is a conspiratorial enterprise serving pablum to the masses.
I grew up in what is called a Democracy. I participated in my Democracy at the local state and national level. My political experiences started in 1968. Motivated by, or more aptly put, disgusted by, the Viet Nam war I was looking for something I could do, even though I was still too young to vote. I started by taking Eugene McCarthy flower shaped bumper stickers from the local “Clean for Gene” office and pasting them on the rear of expensive cars in the shopping mall near my home. But the most memorable thing for me that election cycle was that I shook hands with Bobby Kennedy, on the morning of the last day of his life.
The next election cycle I got serious for George McGovern because my future included a draft to fight in a war I thought was just plain wrong. I stuffed mailboxes and made phone calls.
“Hello, good evening, Sorry to call you at eleven o’clock at night. I am calling on behalf of the McGovern Campaign. We need your vote to help defeat Tricky Dick.”
I was now old enough to vote and I was motivated to participate inside the system. St. George could not slay the dragon Nixon, but praise to everything holy I did not get drafted or have to move to Canada. I never wanted to be a Toronto Blue Jays fan anyway. During that election I watched McGovern self implode. I also watched one of his main campaign managers in action, a smart young guy named Gary Hart. I was among the first people to actively (very actively) work for Hart when he formed his “exploratory committee” to run for President in 1984 As a result of my efforts I became a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. We all know what happened to him. Damn, I was hoping to become to cultural atache to Bolivia. Oh well.
My last full blown effort at politics found me the co-manager of a campaign for a bright young man who was running for a seat in the California Assembly. From that insiders viewpoint, I witnessed Machiavellian machinations that left me numb. I stopped my active political life. Since then I have donated a few $ to Obama, and yes, I have even voted when motivated.
So do not say I do not know how Democracies work. Also, be slow to disagree with me when I say they don’t. Allow me to blabber on before you call me names, OK?
My first exposure to a democracy being a joke was when I was a 10 year old wide-eyed kid living in Bolivia. They had an “election” while I was there. The parties (about 6 of them) were known by their colors. People voted blue, green orange, yellow, or even red. It soon became apparent even to a ten year-old that there was not a lot of (what I would later learn to be) critical thinking going on here. When the peasants (about 95% of Bolivians can be called peasants without any derogatory meaning, they just are) who were almost all illiterate went to the polling place they voted for the same color as their comrades out of nothing more than peer pressure. They had no idea what Mr. Green or Mr. Chartreuse would do for them, or for that matter why they were voting, except that it made them think they were in control of something. PABLUM.
Since then I have lived in Chile, Peru and Panama. Chile is rather well educated. They had an elction to end the rule of Pinochet (more on him later) and re-install democracy in their country. Pinochet seized power in the worst way, but I was left with impression when he left power that in the end he helped Chile an awful lot. A benevolent Dictator.
Peru had an election while I lived there. Peru, has two faces. The urban educated upper classes, and the rural pablum eaters. On a couple of occasions Peru has gone out on a limb and elected reformers, however the reforms never seem to happen. Just more pablum and frustration for the people.
I also lived in Panama. The educated vote their pocket book, and the indigenous vote with no more discretion than the Bolivian peasants. Sad.
You can look around the world today and see many exercises in Democracy that are just plain bullshit. Iraq? Iran?? Afghanistan??? Southern Sudan? The list goes on. The reason they are bullshit is simple. An uneducated population. At least poorly educated.
Now I am not (as you damn well know) some intellectual powerhouse. But I consider myself an “educated” person. The cornerstone of my University education was a required class (In the California system anyway) called Critical Thinking. It taught me how to read an op-ed piece, an everyday news story, even Hitory. It taught me to take it apart and examine every quote, every supposed fact. Examine who wrote it, to determine the authors pedigree. I can sum up what I learned in one simple question I ask every time I read a politically oriented article or hear a speech or a talking head on TV. I ask myself “He would say that wouldn’t he?” If the answer to that question is yes, then what I just read or heard is useless. However, if the answer to that is no, then maybe I should look into this a bit more. Why would he say that? What is behind the story?
I seriously doubt, in fact I am 100% sure , that the majority of people in “developing nations” (the 3rd world in my day) do not posses this skill. They are led down the path to the polling place by people who want to seize power “Democratically”. All the great intentions of the Carter foundation aside, that is not good democracy.
Now let us look at the United States. Talk about pablum. In this case expensive pablum. I am not sure how many hundreds of millions of dollars were spent in 2008 or 2010 to elect the people now in power. One thing I am sure of is that if all that money went to schools or to feed the poor, the country would benefit a lot more than it has or will from the leaders we now have.
Public Education in the USA was deemed absolutely necessary by Benjamin Franklin because he knew that no democracy could survive unless the people were educated. I agree.
But lets take a look at the most disturbing (to me) facet of American democracy today. That would be the Tea Party. Even if you ARE a Tea Partier, you must admit that you are NOT analyzing what the likes of Sarah Palin have to say. You just can’t be. So why is the Tea Party still tapping kegs and rolling into the night? Simple. Many people in America have grown very tired of elitists, of people smarter than they are running things They do not like having to try and understand what a politician is saying, even though they dumb down their rhetoric so a sixth grader can understand it. So they rally around a dimwit who likes to say “golly gee” and shoot reindeer.
Democracy, yes, even in the USA is a joke.
So what else? Here we go, sit back far enough away from your monitor so you cant’t spit on it or throw it out the window.
I live in such a country now, The UAE. I lived in Chile under what I call a benevolent Dictator. I have traveled and spent time in others. The one thing they all have common, and this is a very rare thing, is an incredible amount of natural resources. Here it is of course oil, in Chile it was copper. Having these resources is not the end all. It requires strong man, a ruler, a one stop shopping power source who just happens to be benevolent.
The rulers here in the UAE (all 7 of them), the Sultan of Oman and the kings of Qatar and Bahrain all qualify as benevolent Rulers. So does the King of Thailand.
As an aside, I was in a class last semester with a princess from Bahrain. A real princess, her Uncle is the Benevolent Ruler. I expressed this philosophy to her and she laughed and said “Ah we have brainwashed you!” I laughed and said “By example.”
Thanks for reading. tell a friend. But this is NOT a democracy, so don’t bother commenting.
Just kidding, fire away.
Day two in Alexandria was another “you’re on your own” day. This was Christmas day and we would rather have been on our own anyway.
The 4 star we were in had an excellent buffet breakfast. Except that they served No Es Café instead of coffee. We decided to walk the cornice and see where it led us. We found a group of maybe 30 fishermen retrieving a large net.
The cornice in Alexandria is miles long. We knew from our touring the night before that there was a 4 Seasons hotel with a Starbucks waaaay down there somewhere so we walked a couple blocks inland and took the trolley.
Back in time…we knew about the Starbucks because the night before our tour took us to see the royal gardens. As we entered the gardens some officious guys in black leather bomber jackets (always a bad sign) stopped the bus. The head guy made our guide pull out all his IDs, asked questions about how many people were on board, basically got very unfriendly. We got in ok. It was already dark, so the guide was saying things like “look, palm trees” Yeah yeah yeah. But these gardens surround the Royal Palace of King Farouk, the last king of Egypt. His palace is now the Guest house for foreign potentates when they visit Alexandria.
This little excursion became memorable on the way out when the same power trippers in bomber jackets stopped the bus. One actually stood in front of it so we could not move. Our guide got out and an argument ensued. Our guard, the dude packing the semi-automatic was riding shotgun, got into the argument through the window. All the leather jacket dudes surrounded our guide, hence there was no one in front of the bus. Sorry, I did not feel like taking my camera out and asking them to say cheese. The guide jumped back on board and yelled at the driver “DUECE DUECE DUECE” which is Egyptian for “Haul Ass”. He did, and the leather jackets were running behind us yelling to the guards at the gate “STOP THEM”. We did not stop, even for the red light at the intersection outside the gate (no one in Alexandria obeys lights anyway). We were now fugitives from the black leather jacket brigade. Some people watched out the back window as we made our way back to the hotel. When pressed by the tourists what these guys wanted the guide said “entrance fees”. There is no entrance fee, so it was a sanctioned hold-up attempt.
OK Back to our free day.
Starbucks was Starbucks. It does not matter what city in the world you are in. At least they sold real coffee, not NO ES CAFÉ. The only thing we had planned for the day was another visit to the library The library has a planetarium. The two O’clock show was “The Stars of the Pharos”. Sounded good to me. We got there very early, bought our tickets (about $5 apiece) and then we went to the library museum. In the tradition of the original Alexandria Library, the new version is also striving to be a learning and cultural center. They have a modern art museum. Classic art museum, and an antiquities museum. We skipped this last one, hell the whole country is an antiquity museum.
The most interesting of the museums was the museum dedicated to Anwar Sadat. If your recent history is not clicking, Sadat signed the Camp David Accord. Still lost? Didn’t read the papers in the 70’s? The Camp David Accords were signed by Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on September 17, 1978, following twelve days of secret negotiations at Camp David. This could be called the only successful peace negotiation in the Middle East, ever. It was Jimmy Carter’s greatest achievement and has survived to the present. But Sadat did not. One of the displays is the blood stained uniform he was wearing when he was gunned down with an automatic weapon while watching a parade on a holiday. One of the vehicles in the parade had Egyptian soldiers in it. Two jumped out and ran to the dais blasting their guns and Sadat was dead. The museum has an original letter from Carter to Sadat suggesting the meets at Camp David, and many photographs of him with foreign leaders and the Pope. The funniest was Sadat and Nixon. Nixon looks like he has to pee and would rather be anywhere else.
The planetarium show was marvelous. I actually learned a lot. It cemented my resolve to return to Egypt and go to Luxor in the south. There are great temples there, and I feel an urge to see them. We will go in summer 2012, when it is warm and there is no fog.
On the way home we found a Shisha house. Shisha is the local way of saying Hookah, or hubbly-bubbly. We had delicious fruit flavored Shisha.
We returned to the hotel and werte met by Santa.
We had our Christmas dinner there. With my dinner I had a bloody Mary. It was nowhere as good as Joan’s Bloody Mary’s at the Cosmic Crab. If you are ever in Bocas Del Toro, Panama, they are the #1 attraction in the whole town.
Mary Ann challenged my writing skills. She said that if I could describe this Christmas dinner experience at all, she would finally give me credit for my talents. Well let me try. The restaurant was all decorated for Christmas . Sleigh bells, Christmas tree bulbs. Lights. They had a Flamenco Guitar player plucking along. They had a fog machine, and even a bubble machine. Everyone had their own Santa hat to wear.
They had a set menu, here it is. OOPS sorry, I cannot figure out how to make my scanner work. The instructions are in 18 languages, and I am not going to figure it out just now. Let me just tell you about it.
It is printed on fake papyrus paper. It starts off with the words HRISTMAS SET MENU. Maybe they did not have spell checkers back when they used papyrus. It describes a 5 course meal, each an adventure in gastronomical spelling.
Smoked salmon in Pineapple boat, duet of white and yellow lump eggs, cocktail sauce
Zucchini and Eggplant Pontage Scented Saffron
Roasted Turkey medallions farced, with chestnut sauce served with seasonal vegetables and potato chateau
Chocolate passion mouse laced with cinnamon and berry sauce
Trio of cheese platter with grapes, and salty crackers served like coffee or tea and Christmas cookies.
OK OK maybe I should have put that up on Facebook. I apologize. But we had a great time sitting there listening to Flamenco music with bubbles floating over the artificial smoke and wondering what lump eggs were, laughing at the creative use of language.
Our Trip Home
Just before dinner we ran into someone from our group. She asked what flight we were on going home. We told her the 3 a.m. flight “No your not” she said. That flight had been cancelled due to fog, and we would be leaving at 10 a.m. Cool with us, we got to sleep longer. Then after dinner she found us again and said the 10 a.m. flight was postponed until 12:30. I was not really worried, but Air Arabia has but two flights a day out of Alexandria to Sharjah, the 3 and the 10. If both were cancelled, what would getting on a flight at 12:30 be like?
The last official act of our tour was “Transfer to Alexandria Airport”. At least it was not in THIS bus.
When we got to the airport, for some reason the gendarmes would not allow the bus to pull up to the terminal. Our guide told the driver to hop the curb. We got half way to the terminal before we were stopped cold. We had to get out about 200 yards from the entrance and carry our bags ourselves. 2500 years of learning how to deal with tourists does not seem to apply to anyone flying. Inside the airport was pure madhouse zany craziness. Our group hung together like lost children, which in effect we were. There was one little sign that said Air Arabia. It did not look like the ticket desk, but it was. Everyone else was pushing and shoving and cutting in line. One of our group took it upon himself to be our hero. He collected all of our passports and pushed and shoved his own way to the counter. He made it clear that we were all members of an Air Arabia sponsored tour, and we all had to get back to work in Sharjah, and he would not accept any nonsense. He managed it! We all had boarding passes and checked baggage.
The flight home, being daylight, was beautiful. The Red Sea, Mt. Sinai were all clear. We got into beautiful Sharjah Airport and home 15 minutes later.
Impressions of Egypt.
I shall return. Only because I did not see Luxor or the Valley of the Kings. I feel like I must. One person I met in our group asked me “If Cairo did not have the Pyramids, would anyone come here?” he asked me that right outside the Egyptian museum. I could not quite agree with him that the pyramids were all there were of interest and I’ll repeat the words of Alexander the Great, Marc Anthony, Napoleon, and Jerry Garcia once again, “oh maaan”. They make the traffic and the overall dingy grey of the city well worth the visit. If you get the chance to go, just do it. I will take this opportunity to thank my wife for the experience, a bucket list item crossed off.
Thanks for reading. Tell a friend, and PLEASE leave a comment.
I’ll start this post at the Pyramids. In the words of Alexander the Great, Marc Anthony, Napoleon, General Montgomery and Jerry Garcia, “oh maaan”. Mary Ann, who has been here before, warned me that I would be overwhelmed and might cry. I was so overwhelmed I had to get into an ambulance, but more on that later.
Let us start with the midnight flight from Sharjah to Alexandria. I have learned to really like Air Arabia. This flight took us over the holy city of Mecca, over Mount Sinai and over the Red Sea, although it was too dark to see any of it. We got into Alexandria at 3 a.m. I had the fantasy that a flight to Egypt leaving at midnight would be nice and quiet. Wrong. The plane was full of crying babies, make that screaming and crying babies. One thing I have learned to not like about the culture here is that they do not shut their kids up when they scream. I have never been on a flight with so many kids. Taking a baby or even a toddler on a midnight flight is just cruel so I cannot blame the kids, but I was ready to crack a few parents heads. But like all flights do, it eventually ended. 3 a.m. in Egypt, and sure enough we were met by the tour company, In Arabic, the word for thank you is Shakran. They even spelled Nash correctly. We have grown used to seeing such a simple name mangled, (Mash, Gash, Rash, and Cash) that it is good sign when they get it right. Plus it meant we had our ride to Cairo, two hours away. It was just us in a Cushy Town Car, no crying kids. Things were looking up.
As an aside here, the rep from the tour company who met us at the airport was named Mohammed. It is the most common name in the Moslem world, so it was easy to remember. At the hotel, we were approached by a cab driver who would take us anywhere we wanted…his name, I swear was Obama. The guy who led the tour the next day was named Osama, “Just call me Sam” he said. But I digress.
We are staying at a hotel called Barcelo Pyramids in Giza. We stayed at a Barcelo before, in Mexico, and they deserve the four stars. We crashed, got up at noon, and went to the roof top pool to have an Egyptian beer.
I got my first view of the Pyramids from there, across a smoggy, unpleasant stretch of Giza. This is not a beautiful city.
That night we went to the Pyramids Sound and Light show. (This is done in the same outdoor theatre where in 1978 The Grateful Dead did a two night stand for Dead Heads who invaded Cairo in tie-dies. I missed it and have always regretted it.) The show borders on cheesy, the sphinx talks, laser beams blast across the Pyramids and anyone with any historical knowledge is not going to learn much. But seeing the Pyramids and sphinx for the first time, all lit up like Las Vegas is mighty impressive. You get an idea of the size of them, even in the dark. Supposedly the footprint of the Great Pyramid of Cheops could contain most of the Vatican, with Rhode Island thrown in just for kicks.
Our first “tour day” was today. We started at the Egyptian Museum.
This is of course where they keep the King Tut stuff. His was the only tomb found in the Valley of the Kings that had not been cleared out by grave robbers. Consequently there is a whole wing just to house his treasures. Amazing because he was a minor pharaoh who died young after ruling less time than Nixon. It leaves you wondering what must have been in the tombs of Pharaohs who ruled as long as FDR. In size, this museum (built in1901 or so) is not as big as any of the Smithsonian museums in DC. But it is so crammed full of everything from mummified crocodiles to King Tut’s death mask that it boggles the mind.
There are important items, statues and such, from all over Egypt that the guides make sure you see. There are guides speaking most of the major languages to tourists from Japan, China, all over Europe and even America. The worldwide drop in tourism due to a combination of the economy and manufactured fear has not hit Cairo. The joint is jumping. Everywhere you go is jam packed with groups of geese being led by mother hens chattering away like ducks. (How is THAT for mixing metaphors!)
The guides race from the old Kingdom to the middle Kingdom to the third, stopping long enough to quack about a statue or a burial crypt. They move fast to not hold up the other groups behind them, and to keep the tourists from breaking off in search of Tut. They cover the important stuff, but crammed in this corner and that cubbyhole, down some dark hallway, and behind the sign to the men’s room is more STUFF. Thousands of things, large and small. The collection is all over the place. Items that would be the proud possession of the LA County Museum, are just gathering dust with nary a word describing what it is and therefore ignored by the masses. I got the feeling I could walk out with something like a cat statue, and no one would ever miss it. Word is that in 2012, they are opening a new museum behind the pyramids to better display these things, and, believe it or not, empty out the BASEMENT of this museum of STUFF gathering cobwebs since 1901.
Well, Mary Ann and I did break away from our group and headed for the Tut wing. There is enough gold in this collection to pay off some national debts. Impressive, awe inspiring, breathtaking are all insufficient to describe the feeling you get as you wander the length of this wing of the museum. Then, finally you get to the special room where the iconic Tut Death mask is displayed. No photos are allowed anywhere in this entire museum, (unless you are Japanese I guess) and I must say that no pro photo I have ever seen of the Tut mask comes close to the beauty of this treasure. Astounding.
The museum has an excellent gift shop. The only thing I bought was a King Tut baseball. Too bizarre to pass up!
We found our group and headed off for lunch. We found ourselves sitting in a restaurant called the Cleopatra, in Giza, in the shadow of the pyramids, and listening to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” sung by the Chimp Monks. Way too weird.
From there they took us to a papyrus museum. The word museum is a stretch. They did show us how papyrus is made.
But the main purpose of this “museum” is to sell you paintings on papyrus. Some were gorgeous, some, well most, were truly expensive. Our group bought a bunch of them, which is good for the tour guide who gets a cut. He could have taken us to any of a dozen such “museums”, so they take care of him. Me? Well I found a drawing that was on the Grateful Dead poster back in ’78, so I had the artist write, in hieroglyphics, Grateful Dead Cairo 1978. Another useless souvenir.
Now it was bucket list scratch off time. We headed for the Great Pyramid of Cheops, the first and largest of the three. Actually there are nine here, six for queens.
Mary Ann and I either travel by ourselves, or we hire a private guide, usually option 2 so we do not need to deal with Taxis or –gasp- public transportation. This time we booked the entire trip through Air Arabia and we are in a group with a dozen Americans who all work in the UAE. They are good pleasant people. But, you know me well enough to know that I am not one to accept arbitrary limits on my fun. When the guide said, “OK, we are here for20 minutes” I growled “bullshit”. I have been waiting all my life to stand here, and no bozo with a stop watch is going to tell me when it is time to leave.
I was simply not prepared to take in the scope of this edifice, this monument, this tomb, this pile of 10 ton rocks. I could not set my eyeballs on wide angle enough to take it all in at once. My head was spinning back and forth and my neck was bent out of shape from looking up up up. Of course my cheap camera (Have I mentioned I hate my camera?) could not capture any of the grandeur. One could walk a half mile back and take a shot, but are you kidding me? I walked right up to the first layer of stones, taller than I am, petted one and said “You ROCK.”
Then, for some reason beyond all reason, my nose started shooting out blood like I had a severed artery. Nothing like this has ever happened to me. Here I am bleeding on the last of the seven wonders of the ancient world like a stuck pig. A world heritage site now is stained with my type B+. (if you ever visit Cheops tomb, my contribution is on the second stone in from the NE corner).
Mary Ann was wondering what the hell she could do for me. I almost suggested she should put a tourniquet around my neck, but I was afraid she might take me up on it. Then an Egyptian man came running up. I thought maybe he was upset about me defacing his source of income. But he pulled out a pocket sized pack of Kleenex, which I immediately stuffed up my nostrils and turned them bright crimson. He led me away from the royal tomb, which was a good thing on its own, but then he walked me to an ambulance. The paramedic did what he could do. He then told me he wanted to take me to the hospital. I understood him but politely declined. He was not sure I understood him so he waved his finger in a circular motion over his head and went “Whoowhoowhoo.” Maybe laughing was all I needed because the hemorrhaging stopped. I had a larger problem than blood loss to deal with, I was late for the bus.
Our time at the pyramids was not over. Osama took us out into the desert where there was a herd of camels and their owners. Osama told us to beware of most of the guys, but that he knew one who would give us “good price”. I’m sure he got a cut here too, big deal.
Even though 20 minutes earlier my nose was a gusher, I knew Mary Ann really wanted to ride a camel, so I joined her.
We were led by a 12 year old named Adam, who is a hustler in training, but great kid. He had a well developed sense of humor, spoke English to us, shamelessly flirted with Mary Ann, and spoke Hindu to some people from India in our caravan. As long as the pyramids do not fall down, he will make a comfortable living.
From here we went to the Sphinx. As someone might say after they meet a movie star, I thought he was bigger. But he (she some say) was beautiful, even without a nose. Some say the French soldiers shot his/her nose off, some say it was an Egyptian Queen, jealous of how good looking she/he was. This is a very impressive antiquity. Built to protect the tombs, it has stood guard for thousands of years. I think this will remain my favorite memory of Egypt.
Our day was not over. We took a dinner cruise on the Nile with whirling dervishes (one of them a dwarf) and a belly dancer. The belly dancer dragged me onto the dance floor and I did my best to imitate her moves.
And now, my favorite foto of the trip.
Stay tuned for day 2 where we visit a Citadel buil to defend against Crusaders. I will take you to the church where Jesus, Joseph and Mary hid from Herod. 100 yards away from this church is a synagogue where baby Moses was found in the rushes of the Nile by the daughter of a Pharaoh. Amazing as all that sounds, we also visited a Coptic church carved out of the mountain that was the quarry for the rocks that built the pyramids. AND I will take you to a place called garbage city.
Thanks for reading, tell a friend and please make a comment.
I have not written on this bloggie thingie for way too long. Mainly because we have not traveled for like a whole month!
Life on campus is better than I imagined it could be.
Mary Ann is enjoying her job and the people she works with. She gets tired by Thursday (virtual Friday, the Moslem week is Sunday through Thursday) but that is to be expected. She is taking a Yoga class and getting all nimble.
We are both taking a class together called beginning Arabic. Emphasis on beginning. After the hour class is over my brain cells are fried, deep fried. I keep telling myself this is no way to learn a language. I believe that only necessity and immersion are motivators for learning a new language. Jumping into the deep end and dog paddling to stay alive is the only way. Here in the UAE I do not need to speak Arabic. Only 20% of the population are Emiratis. Everyone I deal with speaks English. I have no one to practice with besides Mary Ann, and yes, she tries, flash cards and everything, but she is just learning as well. The New Jersey accent does not help. You must pronounce things accurately in Arabic, and some sounds have absolutely no equivalent in a romantic language. Let me give you an example.
I, as you might imagine, am the class cut-up. Basically, in a class with professors from around the world I am Jeff Spicoli. So I revel in it. The other night, the scene went like this:
Teacher: “this how you say where is the hospital. Ayna moustafa”
Everyone repeats Ayna Moustafa.
I raise my hand. The teacher, who happens to be woman, but treats me like Mr. Hand treats Spicoli, grudgingly says “Yes Forrest”
“Excuse me, but I truly do not believe I will ever have to ask anyone were the hospital is. Can you teach me how to say something useful like where is the bathroom?’
She says “OK repeat after me AYNA ALHAMMAN”
I repeat AYNA ALHAMAN”
Notice that I spelled them different. My Mr. Hand starts laughing at me.
Startled by her finding me humerous I say “WHAAAT, what did I say”
She then tells me “In Arabic, we have a sound for a M and a different sound for MM. What you just asked me was “where is the pigeon.”
Now everyone is laughing, at my expense. Cool let them learn how to ask where the hospital is, I can now find out where the bathroom is, or a pigeon. My three to their one. All I have to do is figure out how to say MM instead of M. The only example I can think of in English is ham sandwich opposed to Hamms beer. (Either one of which I would almost kill to get my hands on) Here in the UAE, they say” toilet” so the whole embarrassing episode was academic.
I am also taking an upper level History class Called “The History of US Relations With the Middle East” or something like that. I am not a real student, so I do not have to turn in papers or any of that rot. I just sit in class and watch this united nations of students discuss the readings. I do my Spicoli act from time to time. Sometimes I even make an intelligent comment. The prof tolerates me because I think he needs comic relief in his life. He is from Massachusetts and has been here six years. We have a Palestinian guy, a French girl, a girl from no telling where, maybe Pakistan, and guy from Saudi Arabia. There is one American. He is the only blonde on campus. He is an exchange student from the American University in Washington DC. He works summers for USAID. I am quite sure he is on his way to full employment with a certain three letter acronym soon. Then there is, I swear, a princess. She is a member of the Bahrain royal family. She is very well prepared for class, and she secretly laughs at my jokes. In my dreams she invites Mary Ann and I for a weekend in the Palace in Doha. But, why should she. Unless I write her term paper for her. Hm. Or is that Hmm.
I have entered three writing contests, short stories. The first is about my History prof going time travelling, the second is about Yetis actually being extraterrestrials and the third is about Social Networking. You FB people would not like that one. Grand prize is a trip to NYC, in January, for four days. Second prize is a whole week.
OK, unless something absolutely amazing happens, like a day under 90 degrees, or it friggen rains, I will not be posting for maybe three weeks. Mary Ann and I are off to Thailand on Nov 12. That is the start of another EID, so Mary Ann gets 10 days off, without having to take any vacation.
Thanks for reading, please comment, I need the attention.
I know I have not posted for a while now. I have taken some crap for that, thanks sister.
OK, so we are back in Sharjah. Mary Ann is working and loving it. Now that we live on campus in our spacious apartment (condo?) she has a 71/2 minute walk to her office. Some people who live in the same block as us actually drive the three blocks to the main part of the campus. I forgive them. It is always about 100 degrees f. I don’t think the aircon in the car could possibly cool it down in the 2 minute drive, but heh, it is the thought that counts. We have still not decided to buy, lease or rent a vehicle. The university gives us a free bus ride to the Sharjah Co-Op to shop for groceries twice a week, and every other weekend we have a driver who takes us to Dubai. We go to any one of the huge malls and window shop(all we can afford), see a movie (about US$8 for the ticket and the popcorn is always stale) and have dinner. We also do a lot of people watching. There is a fascinating collection of expats and Emirates to watch go by. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we just shake our heads.
Both of us just started an on-campus class in spoken Arabic. They have a class to learn how to read and write it, but there is absolutely no way I could ever decipher that writing, and much less of a chance of ever doing the calligraphy needed to write it. I cannot read my own handwriting in English, so just forget it. Last night I tried to repeat in Arabic that I live in Sharjah, the teacher laughed and told me I just said I live in a shoe box. I have a long way to go before I can do anything important like order a pizza.
I am enrolled in an upper level history class titled something like America and the Middle East. Classrooms are like playing tennis. You never want to play tennis with someone worse than you, that is no fun. I am in a class where everyone is smarter than I am, so I am having fun. There are only six people in the class, but these people actually study and come prepared to discuss the readings. I throw in a few impertinent comments for comic relief, but intellectually I am outclassed. OK, it has been 30 years since I had to be prepared for a classroom situation. Luckily I am only auditing the class so I won’t have to go on academic probation and embarrass Mary Ann. I think my prof is relieved that I will not be turning in any papers, so he won’t have to grade my dribble. In this class, there is one Palestinian, one Saudi, one girl from France one girl who says she can’t be defined by any geopolitical borders a guy from Chicago (yup, the Chicago by the lake) and one girl from either Bahrain or Qatar.
This last girl and the guy from the KSA got into a friendly argument about a sword that was returned to the Saudi’s last week by her country She said “that sword was given to mt grandfather and passed along to his father. It was a present from the King of Saudi Arabia, we should have kept it.” The guy said something about the sword being mythical and magical, or maybe just worth a lot of bucks. Everyone was leaving the room and I missed it. So I have a meeting set up with this girl for Monday to get the whole story. She is going to bring pictures and tell me all about it. I will post on Monday or Tuesday and entertain you with a little ME lore, so stay tuned.
By the time you read this I will be another year older. Mary Ann is taking me to Muscat for my birthday and the weekend. Where? Google it.
I will put up a post on Sunday (this time with pictures, I know you like pictures) all about our weekend in yet another country.
One last thing. I have a good buddy who is in Afghanistan at this moment embedded as a historian, journalist. If you find him on FaceBook (John R Bruning) you will be treated to some amazing photography and stories. I have known him for 20 years. We are oil and water politically, but I admire his gumption to go where he is, zooming around in helicopters and writing about it. So check it out. If like me you think FaceBook is just too insipid to be involved with, then he has a blog at http://theunawriterslair.typepad.com
Stay tuned and tell a friend, and for goodness sake, make a comment.
OhMan off to OMAN
Everyone should see Nepal.
My bonafides for saying that are simple. I have done my share of traveling (not enough yet mind you) and a lot of that has been in back water bizarre places. I have been all over the Altiplanos of Peru and Bolivia. I have been on an island in the middle of Lake Titicaca. I’ve been to Machu Picchu three times. I’ve been so far south in Chile I can almost say I have been in Antarctica. I have walked in the Atacama Desert in a place with zero rainfall ever. I have walked on the Chilean/ Argentine border at 18,000 feet in what I learned afterwards was a mine field. I have been deep in the Amazon jungle, where I swam with pink dolphins and fished for piranhas. I have driven through all of Central America. I spent a year in the Arctic and seen herds of caribou that took hours to walk past me. I lived on a tropical island for four years with hundreds of species of birds. I have hiked where there are no trails and fished where no white man ever did before me. I have been to an Eskimo village and have seen Polar Bears in the wild. I once drove a truck over a bridge on a major river before it was open for business. I have walked on the Hopi Mesas. I have taken a train ride across an Asian country and driven across America. I have even lived in Los Angeles. To top it off I now live in the Arabian Desert.
I say you must see Nepal because it is somehow more intriguing than any of that.
It is not the poverty you’ll find if you look, that is everywhere. It is certainly not the desire to separate a tourist from his money, which is a survival tactic which I admire. It is not the lack of essential services that leave garbage in the streets and cause random blackouts. It is not even the multitude of sacred cows wandering the streets like lost souls.
It isn’t the colorful garb of the people; most people here want to dress like westerners, except for women on ceremonial days and those sensible enough to wear Saris. It is not the maroon robes of the Buddhist monks that sparkle in the city streets and the countryside like so many Thanksgiving mums. It is not the preponderance of Holy Men drifting to and fro with their faces painted and wearing bright yellow silk.
Don’t come here just to relate with Tibetan refugees chased out of their homeland by the Chinese communists, and now doing beautiful weavings and rugs to survive. By the way, the Chicoms will be reincarnated as cockroaches. FREE TIBET!
It isn’t even the thousands of ancient temples of two religions, or the fact that, as old as they are, they are maintained and used for daily worship. It is not that the result of this hetero religious society leaves a wake of tranquility and contentment, no matter a Nepalese’ station in life.
You should not come here just to see the most magnificent mountain range in the world.
But you should make a pilgrimage here for all those reasons. I count my blessings that I am married to a woman who made Nepal possible.
The origin of name Nepal is disputable, and I do not possess enough knowledge to claim I know. Kathmandu is a word derived from “Temple from one tree”. Kathmandu was a stop on the trade routes from India to Tibet and China. The people in this valley traded with the Tibetans for salt mostly. They then traded with the Chinese for what they had. When they began to get prosperous, the King built a giant temple from one Thal tree. It still stands today.
Fast forward to today. Nepal was never colonized. However, being India’s neighbor, as well as China’s the Brits, big in both, decided that a presence in Nepal would be a good idea and opened a type of embassy there in maybe 1850. There is a bit of the colonial influence left over. For instance, they drink tea and drive on the wrong side of the road. The good thing is that English is the second language of Nepal, which is great for tourists.
Nepal has many different regional identities, each with its own culture and style of dress. They have fought each other in the past for domination. They have been united and separated more than a few times. There remains only one Kingdom inside the territorial boundaries of Nepal, a place called Mustang. Mustang sits at the base of the Himal, in the central to western part of the country. There are no roads or air travel to Mustang. You have to walk it. It is not that big on the trekkers list of places to go. You need special permits and Mustangese guides. I have seen photos of the village of Mustang and I could see myself getting into shape, breaking in a pair of hiking boots, and going there someday. But maybe not.
Back to Kathmandu. The area our hotel is in is called Themal. I have mentioned before that it is the trekkers Disneyland. You would only stay in a hotel outside Themal if you were a businessman staying at the Hyatt. The Hyatt is convenient to the airport, and nothing else.
Walking the streets of Themal (not the sidewalks, there are not any sidewalks in Themal) requires a constant effort to not get hit by a motorcycle or a rickshaw. You must do this while sidestepping Tiger balm vendors, flute vendors and little women selling little purses. It is a waste of time to be nice. You just learn to walk down the street muttering no,No,NO even when you are not being approached by a hawker. Learning to walk this gauntlet of cultural capitalism is an art form. Once you have perfected it in Themal, it will serve you in the rest of the world. Every once in a while you might see something in a store window or on a table in the street. If you stop to look at it, boy are you in trouble. The owner of the store will be upon you like a tiger on a lamb. Pick it up and admire it and the owner will consider it sold. The only thing left to do is negotiate the price. DO NOT start doing this unless you really want to buy it. Make that an unwritten rule to follow faithfully. There are no fixed prices, even if there is a price tag on it, which is rare. The vendor will start with “very good price.”
You reply “oh yeah, how much?”
He says, for instance “1000 Rupees.”
You are now into a negotiation which culturally means a sale. You both lose face unless a transaction is completed. You lose face if you pay 1000 Rupees. You should first look surprised, aghast or even insulted by his asking price. Start to put the object down on the table and walk away. This is expected. He will follow you and say a variation of “How much is good price?”
You counter with ½. “500 Rupees”.
This of course will result in him giving you the same look you gave him when he said 1000. He will counter, you will counter, and before you know it you are at 750 Rupees. A sale has been made. Well, not quite. You pull out a 1000 Rupee note and he will invariably claim he has no change. He is counting on you or your partner having to get on your way to dinner, or to answer the call of Yeti’s revenge. You insist. You put the article back. He runs down the street and returns with change. All is well. When you get home you will have a souvenir and a memory. The memory will serve you well, the souvenir maybe not.
One thing you could do in Kathmandu, if so inclined, is to become a Bollywood fan. Bollywood makes movies in India that are immensely popular. Even at a few rupees admission fee they take in more money than most Hollywood productions. We get them on TV here in the UAE because of all the laborers from the sub-continent. In Kathmandu, they are playing in the theatres instead of the latest Hollywood cop movie. They are about 4 hours long. They are not subtitled. They really do not need to be. They are very graphic. Every few minutes, no matter what the plotline, they break into a huge song and dance number. Imagine watching this;
The movie opens with a man and woman obviously falling in love, and singing and dancing about it. They are co-workers and they sing and dance about that. But the woman is engaged to the boss, as revealed by song and dance. The boss is a crook, song and dance. The company is building a dam on the river going thru their town. The boss, instead of paying for concrete is using bat guano building the dam. Sing and dance. There is nothing our young heroes can do about their love or the corruption, so they sing and dance. Then the boss man falls into the cement mixer and becomes part of the damn, and our heroes get together, big song and dance. Then the heroin has a disfiguring accident, sad song and dance. The hero drops her. Sadder song and dance. The heroine disguises herself. The hero falls in love with her again, she then reveals herself and tells him to fuck off while singing and dancing. About this time the monsoons hit and torrential rain is falling. The river is rising and everyone is singing and dancing. Then the bat guano dam breaks, somehow everyone is singing and dancing as they get swept away by the river, but our two heroes hold on to the top of a Stupa and survive and sing and dance happily ever after.
That is Bollywood, the most popular form of entertainment in Kathmandu. Maybe the hash helps, I would not know.
In conclusion, I want to say that Nepal is the most intriguing place I have ever visited. I just began to scratch the top of the culture and religion that is so deep and old. There is really nothing else like it on earth. Nowhere has cultural and religious practices survived as long as they have in Nepal I am looking at opportunities to go back as more than a tourist. One is to go teach young monks to speak English. Live in a monastery and sing and dance the days away. Maybe.
Or maybe I will sell Yeti Tours. My guides and porters will take you deep into the Himal where Yeti sightings have happened, or at least Yeti footprints found. I will guarantee, 100% that you will NOT see a Yeti, even a footprint. If you do, your tour price is refunded.
No I have not been smoking hash.
Note: I am having technical difficulties making a proper presentation of the Kama Sutra post, but I promise it will come. Soon.