It’s listed as the ‘tallest of its type in the world.’ This is a tourist attraction. When I think of New York and tourism… Well, at night it’s kind of hard to miss. I’d prefer not to make any editorial comment. Jeddah doesn’t have too many things on the tourism list of attractions as I was surprised to find when I tried to research. There is one shot I’d like. It would be of the sunset sun just behind the fountain. I’ve seen this shot in my mind as I rode home from the hospital. That would be pretty neat to set up someday.
Yes, it actually just happened. For the purposes of a blog you can’t show several hundred shots. There isn’t enough interest. But I can make this post in each of my blogs. So one post in two blogs with two pictures – tortured logic, huh? Flutag – I saw the ad in a website and then have seen flyers and posters and signs all over. There was a fair crowd. There were a lot of people and so there were a lot of cars. Everyone drives, nobody walks so there were way too many cars. The crowd is very polite even though they crowd a lot. My buddy Farid’s brother is handling the account for Red Bull from Dubai. So! We got VIP tickets! What’s it mean? We were right up front, with an excellent view, no crowding, and all the Red Bull you could drink. I had some. To be honest, it didn’t make me nuts. Free food – dilemma – too busy shooting pictures!
Flutag? The object is to build a machine, which will fly. It’s a bunch of sane people thinking they can fly in an event where everyone is pretty much going swimming. I did notice that it’s largely corporate sponsored – McD, Crispy Crème, and KFC. It’s to get visibility for your product?. I guess I should mention Red Bull is the main sponsor. The crowd didn’t mind. In a country where everyone is so private, this was a rare event in which folks let their hair down. Women and men mixed elbow to elbow. Of course in the hot afternoon sun, women stlll wore their abayas. There were great photo ops. I shot crowd, people, candids, and the event. It’s the first time I got to really shoot an event since coming to Jeddah. Hopefully, I’ll notice more things in the future. It remains a problem for me to get around. But that should be less of a problem in the coming months.
In a recent article the NY Times listed 10 blogs you should bookmark. At the bottom was the Expats Blog. The qualification was that you are an expat and blogging your experiences in another country. Yeah, that’s me. So I applied and was added to their list. At this point I am the first and only one to blog Saudi Arabia. Cool. In some ways it’s not so unusual. This is not a tourist destination. If you web search, there aren’t a lot of sights to visit. There are no T-shirts to buy. And most of all, the bar for tourists to enter the country is very high. You pretty much need an invitation to visit. There’s enough oil money that the country does not need tourism. And the conservative religious culture discourages visitors. There’s no alcohol and no pork. All women wear an abaya when in public. No women may drive and on and on. If you come to visit, you will pretty much have the Red Sea to yourself to snorkel or scuba dive. That alone is worth the price of admission. And yes, Jeddah is the gateway to Mecca. Millions upon millions of worshipers come through the airport each year on pilgrimage. The visas for visiting Mecca are highly restricted as there are so many millions who wish to come. And forget about visiting Mecca as a non-Muslim. It’s not permitted. Bottom line – the Expats Blog is for folks who want/need on the ground information that may not necessarily be in a travel guide.
International Medical Center will hereafter be known as IMC. All of you who follow from this point will be secretly in the know. The rest will simply have to catch up. The history, a physician, during his training developed the concept of healing the ‘mind, body, and soul.’ Really! Honest! I was awake during orientation and he repeated this to the audience again. For the first time in my life I have met a physician and administrator who believes that healing is an altruistic pursuit. Of course, the hospital accepts and insists upon payment for medical services. But the intent is to provide high quality health care with high satisfaction. In the next few days I will begin an architectural tour of the hospital. The CEO physician designed the hospital to combine health care in an environment of serenity where healing as well as care are important. This is a view to the internal courtyard from the third floor and looks over the second floor garden with just a peek at the ground floor garden. You can walk there if you are able to brave the fierce heat of the day. But the evenings and mornings are pleasant.
I saw the familiar logo in Arabic first. Then to the left I saw the confirmation in English. Curious, I wandered the store and found many of the same brands as I would find in the USA. And the games were in English. I looked through the Barbie section, no Barbie doll. There was plenty of name brand logo, but no actual doll – censorship? I found wrestling figures but not guns, weapons or other such implements of mayhem. I am told that you can get them. I saw plenty of the real-thing up close elsewhere. Censorship is all around. There are no movie theaters – none.
I wandered into the supermarket and it was surprisingly well stocked with products with which I was familiar. I saw all the same breakfast cereals, cookies, and staples. It’s a Pepsi town, even though I saw Coke. Everywhere you go, it’s Pepsi in the restaurants. The main difference was the Arabic writing on the packages. I saw bags of shredded mozzarella, which seemed somehow incongruous with Arabic writing. I will add that Domino’s Pizza and Pizza Hut are considered ‘pizza’ around these parts. And there was one other puzzle. The cake cases had bottles of Pepsi displayed around the cakes. This was repeated in other stores. I was told that this was fractured thinking on how display baked goods.
No alcohol. No pork. Those are the major information facts for me. No wonder there are no tourists. You can get bootleg booze. But imagine you’ve traveled half way round the world to unwind and relax. Then you can’t get a cocktail. I will admit that the menu at TGI Friday’s has margaritas. They just don’t have alcohol in them. And that bacon cheeseburger I had, the bacon was beef – so much for fooling the censors. The internet is also censored but I wasn’t around long enough to confirm this fact. Otherwise the market did appear to have a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Junk food? All the old familiar brands – McDonalds, Tuesdays, Friday’s, KFC, and Chili’s were represented. Baskin Robbins ice cream is a favorite.
I hadn’t considered it, but camels are very much a part of desert life. I didn’t expect to encounter camels in the city. By the way there were many feral cats. Dogs are considered unclean and actually the word is an Arabic curse. No dogs but many emaciated cats are on hand. There are also the requisite pigeons, which seem to be universal. Just out side the city along the roadside, my driver brought me to a series of camels gathered in groups of twenty or so. There purpose was not for rides or tourists. The camels are there for the vendors to sell milk.
In fact tourism seems to be largely unknown. I did not come across any souvenir shops selling the requisite Saudi T shirts or any Saudi flags. Tourism is largely ignored as the economy is about oil. A few tourists more or less is not significant to the economy. However, Mecca (Makkah) is a major destination. Most of the pilgrims come through Jeddah in order to get to Mecca.
So the vendors sell milk. They do not want pictures. One vendor didn’t want pictures of his camels. I couldn’t figure that one out. On the other side of the road are a series of tents where the camels and their owners spend their nights. The camels chew sideways. Arabian or dromedary camels have one hump. The hump is a fatty deposit and not for water. It gets more complicated from here with oval red blood cells and so forth. My encounter did not come across any temperamental animals. In fact they were as curious about me as I about them.
The market of old Jeddah is exactly that. The area is a warren of old buildings and narrow alleyways. Some of the streets are covered to protect against the hot sun. Unfortunately, I was there twice during the afternoon siesta. I am told that after dark the streets are crowed. Still I was able to seem some of the old architecture, which has been run down and in renovation for more than twenty years. There were enough people around to give me some photo ops.
After about an hour of snorkeling, I was initiated into what I call the ‘order of the blue thumb.’ We went to the ‘castle’ of one of the Saudi princes. Don’t get too impressed. There are about 5000 princes. This number is difficult to confirm but I will accept the figure. The compound was high walled and we were admitted through a security gate. There were four of us. The other three Lebanese men were planning to scuba dive and spearfish. I did not have a diving license and would snorkel. The reef was rich in fish because the waters of the Red Sea at this location were restricted. As the divers submerged and set off on their quest, I happily snorkeled around the reef. I had a small underwater camera and was attempting to gain experience in a world where the photographer and subjects were simultaneously moving three dimensionally and further hindered by water. I came up to clear my mask and found a Coast Guard lieutenant gesturing to me just outside the reef. I couldn’t climb aboard the patrol boat as they wished. He had me go back to shore and then around the point to where the adjacent walls met the other compound next door. There, three men were standing. Two of them held AK 47 rifles. As my Arabic was poor, the broken conversation revealed that the whereabouts of my companions was of utmost concern. As they surfaced, their route took them across the waters of the adjoining compound. Therein lies the concern. It was the compound of an important prince. Had he been in residence, bullets might have been in play. As it was we were detained in the local Coast Guard station while things were sorted out. We were offered tea and lunch. But the paperwork took all the rest of the day – one hour scuba/snorkel and seven hours of investigation. At one point we were possibly in danger of being detained overnight. A representative from each employer had to appear, as a Saudi national was needed to vouch for us. Later I found that my sponsor’s father knew the General in charge of the Coast Guard and could have facilitated our release. Sometimes it’s about what you know and whom you know. At no point did I feel endangered although the rifles were a bit unnerving. Needless to say I did not take out my camera to photo the guns, coast guard station or any of the pleasant investigators. To secure release we had to confirm the police report. This required a thumbprint in multiple places on the document, hence ‘the blue thumb.’ The four of us all left with indelible ink on our thumbs.