Monday, 30 April 2012

Inams Day Out in Riyadh


Mr Inam, our favourite taxi driver Number 2, took us out and about in Riyadh one day, Pakistani style.  We called this tiki tour our an 'Inam Day Out'.  He set the itinerary, we enjoyed the ride.

First stop, which I have written about previously, was cricket with taxi drivers on their day off.  Then it was off to the back blocks of Riyadh to enjoy the views on our way to a picnic sitting on a hill overlooking the desert.

Though the desert has taken some time for us green pasture types  to get used to, there is no doubt it has its own beauty. Capturing that beauty on a pocket camera is proving a little challenging.    Regardless, I continue to try.  I'm always in two minds whether human presence adds to or detracts from the deserts harmony.

Here's some pics of our day.

Real Estate Office


Can you imagine buying in this barreness? 

Country Fence


Love this fence.  Reminds me of Taranaki Gates or marae fences back home.

View from the hill.

There's a certain peace that comes with being up high and looking at nothingness while drinking green tea.

Walkin the empty road

Long and winding desert road with occasional speeding car full of young men who yahoo and wave on the way by.

Dinner.


Inam's recommendation for dinner - absolutely delish.  It's a little place off Al Maa'dha street.  No idea of the name though I took pictures of the menu and the words out front hoping the Arabic script identifies a name.  It doesn't.


When news of Mr Noors return was confirmed Mr Inam did apologize for that fact that he may have talked too much while he was my driver.   I had to smile and thought perhaps I should return the apology for talking equally as much and occasionally, with MP3 earphones plugged into my ears filling my head with the symphonic strains of my favourite musical pieces, bursting into less than melodious song in the back of his taxi.  I thought I sounded fantastic while he probably wished he had earplugs.

We enjoyed our day out with Inam in Riyadh and when Mr Noor returns to Pakistan, which he will do more often now he is a married man, I hope Mr Inam will be around as my driver again.


Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Najd Dining


For traditional Saudi dining, Najd Village Restaurant is the place to go.

Apparently there are two Najd Restaurants. The one we went to was in Takasussi Street.  When Noor dropped us out front I had to ask him where it was because the front is quite unassuming.  No blaring advertisment in neon announcing it's existence which is not a criticism.  In fact, the lack of flashing neon in this city is something I like about it, though it is slowl,y but surely, creeping in.

The restaurant reflects the traditional mudhouses of the area and, as you enter, you find the walls adorned with traditional art, craft and wares.   The main lobby has more antiques and tidbits of interest to look at before heading to the eating areas which, for families, are out the back. 
Our friends had pre-ordered a private room.  Our shoes were left outside the door and there was more than sufficient space for we seven expats to spread our legs because the seating in our little space was traditional Saudi style - long, flat cushions on the floor with a leaner or two spaced here - and sitting cross-legged for many of us (moi included) doesn't happen easily. 



An empty fireplace occupied the back wall (we went to Najd in summer when fires are definately not required) and above it were shelves adorned with dullah (arabic coffee pots), weaved baskets and enamel tea pots reminiscent of days spent camping on the farm with billy's on the campfire, except these pots were painted with pretty patterns.  


The ceiling exposed typical materials of Najd yester-year -strips of wood beneath which thinner natural twine bound wood panels could be spotted.  It reminded me of tukutuku panels.

The evening began with qahwah and dates and a bit of chit chat about life and Saudi living. One of our crew was more au fait with the menu, and Arabic food in general, than the rest of us so was in charge of ordering.    Requests were put in for something lamb, something camel and something trraditional we've never had before.

The food, when it arrived, was served on the floor on a small weaved mat which meant manoeuvring our less than lithe bodies around the mat to serve our food into painted plastic plates.  The effort was worth it.


The food was delicious. 
I can highly recommend a night of traditional Najd dining.



Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Monday, 23 April 2012

Taking Photo's in Saudi


I needed a new camera because I love taking photo's in Saudi, capturing it's uniqueness on film (even though I have a digital camera, but you get the picture).  There is so much to see in Saudi.  Not that I'm much good with a camera.  Considering good angles is not my thing.  I'm more of a point and shoot amateur.

Of course, pointing and shooting should be done with care.  Although taking photo's in public places has been allowed since 2006, there are still a few issues such as:
- not eveybody knows the new rules
- there are those who don't care about the new rules.
- local ladies, covered or otherwise, should be avoided on film if possible.
- it's just polite to ask everybody else
- royal palaces and other property considered private require permission to take pics. 
- military types are on the 'best to avoid' list as are government buildings with signs stating 'no photography', or something similar.


Everything else is yours to click away at.

My old camera was a, ummmm......... not very flash.  So a shopping trip was in order.   We decided to go to Xtra, mainly because we couldn't think where there was any other camera shop in Riyadh.  The criteria for a new camera wasn't terribly complex - take nice photos that can be uploaded to blogs, has a good zoom function for still and video but most importantly, fits into my little handbag.

That last criteria did limit my options a little.

It was also the criteria the sales guy had issues with.  He kept showing me camera's that needed their own carry cases even after repeating v-e-r-y  slowly that I wanted a camera that can be easily carried in my handbag.

He can't be blamed for mis-understanding my request.  Most women in Riyadh have king size handbags.   Usually designer label - Coach, Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, Prada, Fendi, Gucci, Marc Jacobs.  You name it, it's here.

Googling 'Handbags' brought up this picture.
My large bag, the one usually lugged around on my shoulders, is not designer label.  It was made for me by my mate Penny.  All manner of things are stuffed into my large bag including my rather dated camera.

This particular night, the night I went camera shopping, I was carrying my little hand bag.  It was brought along specifically to ensure any camera under consideration would fit easily into it.  Often times the occasions I attend require the use of a smart, tidy, trendy little handbag and I like to take my camera to capture whatever may go down.  Hence my criteria that a new camera fit into this handbag. 

It wasn't until I showed Mr Salesman said handbag that he stopped his enthusiastic salesman pitch and paid attention to what I was requesting.  He was also slightly taken back.
'That's your handbag?'
Yes.
Oh! he says, raising his eyebrows and appraising my handbag with the practised scrutiny of one who knows a thing or two about handbags.

Men with opinions on handbags isn't normal....is it?

As he was raising an eyebrow at my handbag, I was raising my own while looking at him with an 'Is there a problem?' look.   He 'tsks' with the air of one who has resigned himself to the fact that an expensive sale is not pending and points out a camera that will fit in my handbag describing, with slightly less enthusiasm than previously, it's benefits.

Hubster returns from his wander through the range of stereo speakers (even though we don't have a stereo but looking at stereo speakers while in a shop that stocks them is a man thing), has a look at the camera I've selected and nods his approval because, not only does it fit in my handbag, it's not so small it gets lost in his hands and he can't manage the dials and buttons easily because every now and then he likes to snap a few pictures too.

So, I can take photo's in Saudi, or anywhere else I may travel to, with my new camera though a few lessons on photography are definitely still required.



Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Ambulance in Riyadh


Above is a picture of an Ambulance in Riyadh making its way through traffic.  It's heading down a one way street against the traffic.  Suffice to say it's not getting very far very fast.

This is not the first time I have seen ambulances stuck in traffic in Riyadh.  It seems to happen with frightening regularity.  Frightening because I would hate to be the one waiting for, or stuck in the back of, the ambulance.

When a situation is so dire you need an ambulance it doesn't help to know that in Riyadh the blaring siren means absolutely nothing to the driving masses.  I've seen ambulances have to wait at round-abouts because the drivers have no intention of giving way.  And I'm not talking little round-abouts with only one fruitcake driver diving in front of the ambulance while its siren is screaming at full pitch.  More the 3 lane variety of traffic circle during the hectic afternoon school pickup and no-one is giving an inch.

On more than one occasion I have told Mr Noor, who can be guilty of lane hogging, to see where the siren is so we can make sure we are out of the way.  Not pulling over for wailing sirens just goes against my grain even if I'm not in the drivers seat.

Occsaionally it has crossed my mind that I ought to find out how to get hold of Emergency Services should I require them.  Admittedly I've also wondered how good are they.  An early experience with a health service for a simple ear ache has made me somewhat dubious about the standard of emergency care for something serious.

As a member of expat-blog.com I came across some very helpful information on Emergency Services in Riyadh.  You can click over and have a read (there is some good tips and information) but what I gathered from the piece is that access to Emergency Services is as convoluted as anthing else in KSA.  However, if I implement a couple of simple strategies I should be ok.

blog expat

Strategy1:
Although Red Crescent is the public ambulance provider (their number is 997 - stick it in your contacts under  'A' for Ambulance) it seems they are not necessarily the ambulance you should call if your compound has an agreement with another Emergency Service provider. 

Finding out who to call is probably a good idea before actually needing them.  Such information should have been crossed off my list of "Very important things to find out" two years ago, when I arrived.  I guess it's better late than never. 



Strategy 2
Its nice to know that having limited knowledge of Arabic is not going to unduly delay assistance coming my way should I get through to the Red Crescent team.   At this point in time my Arabic vocabulary is sadly lacking any words to do with 'Help!'

I just have to learn American terms like 'Paramedic' (we call them ambulances) and 'RTA' or Road Traffic Accident (we say car crash, car accident or major F*n pile up).   Who knew I'd have to learn American when I moved to Saudi!

Strategy 3
Most expats have medical insurance included as part of their contract package.  I recall Hubster saying such inclusion is part of the labour law requirements in KSA though don't quote me because I was only listening with one ear at the time and may have imagined the conversation.  (The other ear was suffering from KSA medical treatment as mentioned previously.)  Finding where I put my BUPA card, and keeping it on me, is probably a good idea.

There are my 3 simple strategy's that should save my rear end should I ever need to call an ambulance while in Riyadh - let's just hope my emergency is not during peak hour traffic.

* * *

Paramedic to the Prince is one paramedics story about living and working in Saudi Arabia. I'm sure you will enjoy it :)




Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Monday, 16 April 2012

Horse Racing in Riyadh


Watching the horse racing in Riyadh over the winter months is quite a nice thing to do, when you're looking for something to do.

The King Abdullah race track isn't far out of town, down Janadriyah road, and racing is on most winter weekends.  Summer in Saudi is far too hot for racing to be any fun for anyone.



The website for the Equestrian Club of Riyadh(http://www.frusiya.com) lets you know what races are on and when.  Most weeks the horse racing starts around 4pm.

There is a restaurant with buffet dinner if you fancy dressing up a little and watching the races in comfort indoors.

Dressed up at the races
Expat organisations often have 'A Night At The Races' events, where they book out one of the buffet rooms and encourage dressing up with fancy hats, almost like you're at home except there are a couple of rules that remind you where you are - no wine or beer with the meal and although abaya's need not be worn in the buffet rooms they have to be redonned if you want to go out closer to the track. 

Abaya redonned outdoors.
The stewards area is always popular, especially with the kids.  It's where you can go lay your hands on a horse  Not one of those sleek, finely chiselled racing horses, but nice all the same. 


The winners circle is in front of the main stadium where important personages are seated (once they arrive) so they get a good view of the track and because the TV cameras are set up nearby so important types get good covereage.



The area around the winners circle is where you can meet a few of the horse racing hierarchy who are usually dressed for warmth in thick jackets, but my favorite are the guys in flowing golden capes.  Why flowing golden capes?  They look good.  And they're probably very warm.



If you don't have the cash for the buffet at the races, or you're on a diet, you can do what we often do - bring a picnic and sit in the cheap seats out front.   You are at the mercy of the weather which can get cool or dusty or both, but it's still a lot of fun.

A sweep stake system is run at the races because you aren't allowed to bet in Saudi.   Down near the track are numbered boxes and for a small fee (I think it's 5 SAR/token)you can put a token into the box that corresponds to the number of your chosen horse. The tokens of the winning horse are taken out after each race and  put into a big lottery type barrel. At the end of the night, from memory, three tokens are drawn from the barrel.  First wins about 2000SAR, second 1500 SAR and third 1000 SAR.  All other money is given to charity, so I've heard.

We tend to run our own style of sweep stake at the races which goes something like this:
  • Numbers from 1 - 25 are written on to paper ripped out of my notebook. (It is rare that you'll get 25 horses in a race).
  • Look at the race program and, after checking for scratching's  pick a couple of horses for upcoming race. (It's important to note that in Saudi the program booklet reads back to front. It took us a while to figure this out on our first visit).

    Your choice for a winning horse can be based on previous form, though learning how to read a race card is a good idea if you want to choose like this. Failing comprehension of the details on the card choosing a horse because it has a nice or catchy name will always suffice - names like 'It's So You' or 'Madame Excererate' or 'Baraa Aem', which sounds kind of vroomy if said with Arabic accent.

    The other option for choosing a horse is to run a discerning eye over the horses as they are paraded prior to the race.

    This is the point where we pretend to know something about horses - "Ohh, I like that one - she's got long legs and looks racey". "Oh, how about that one - so tall and look at her muscle definition". Or, "I like that one, she's so dark and the colors on her rider match her perfectly" - which has nothing to do with horse physique, but when you know nothing about horse flesh you can always fall back on fashion.



    If you're not good at determining horse form, horse flesh or fashion the last option is to pick a horse from the Kings stable. Rumor has it they aren't allowed to be beaten though I prefer to think he probably can afford the best horses, riders and trainers.
  • Whatever method you use, take the number of the horse/horses you like. Make your mind up quick because each number can only be chosen once per race.
  • Any numbered pieces of paper left over (minus those of scratched horses)are then randomly handed out to whoever has come along with us because we like there to be a winner for each race.
  • Watch the race, cheer loudly.
  • If the number you are holding comes in you win a Bounty Bar.
It is possible, if you're good at picking horses, to get fat and/or sick of Bounty Bars when you come to the races with us.

However you choose to do your sweep stake, watching horse racing is always a nice way to spend a winter evening in Riyadh.



Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Motobikes in Riyadh


We own motorbikes in Riyadh.  At least, Hubster does.  A Motoguzzi 1200 Sport and a Motoguzzi Vintage Californian.

The 1200 is so Hubster can go blatting along the roads at rapid speeds with his buddies.  The Vintage is for us to cruise along at a more sedate pace.  He bought both these bikes here, in Riyadh, and he also has a Saudi motobike license.


If I could own a motorbike in Riyadh I would.  We haven't yet ascertained if I'm allowed to. Apparently, although we cannot drive them, we mere females are permitted to register two vehicles in our name.   Can one or both of those be motorbikes? Hmmm. Not sure about that.

I have a preference for a Harley Davidson 2011 Sportster 883L SuperLow.  It's a bike Harley designed especially for those new to biking and, according to their stats, the fastest growing demographic for new bikers is women.   The SuperLow is lighter than other Harleys and, most importantly, its height means women can put their feet on ground and more easily balance the bike when it is stationary.  This is an extremely important point.  Hubster has never let me forget that, nearly 30 years ago when first learning to ride, I dropped one of his bikes.  Me thinks its time he got over that!


The Harley Davidson shop is our favourite place to spend an hour or so looking at the merchandise.  Our grandkids frequently receive Harley outfits.  It pays to influence your moko's from an early age.



Upstairs are new and secondhand bikes for sale.  Hubster and Mr Finland keep their eyes peeled for secondhand bikes.  Saudi's have a tendency to buy bikes then bring them back only a few weeks (or sometimes days) later because they want something else.  Secondhand bikes go real cheap because Saudi's don't like to buy secondhand goods and the Harley shop doesn't have room to keep the returned bikes.


Downstairs is the clubroom, where you can grab a tea or coffee and peruse more bikes some of which are owned and loved.


We like to go bike riding with a group of friends on weekend mornings - the streets are usually relatively empty.  As everybody in KSA knows, the driving here is manic in vehicles of the four wheeled variety.  Being on a motorbike requires being very aware. 

The mornings are also a lot cooler for bike riding.  During the summer we leave a lot earlier so we're back before we melt in our gear.  The winters we get to sleep in for about an hour.

The camera goes on our rides too.  Here's a short video of one of our rides.




I was asked if it's dangerous riding motorbikes in Riyadh.  The short answer is Yes.  The long answer contains words and phrases like experience, care and awareness.  If you're a biker at heart Riyadh isn't going to phase you.



Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Welcome to Riyadh Airport


'Welcome to Riyadh Airport'.
If there is such a sign welcoming visitors to Riyadh's King Khalid International Airport, it must be blending into the surrounds as recollection of seeing it evades me.

The sign for 'Have a Nice Flight, Come Back Soon' is equally elusive. 

The Riyadh International Airport tends to get a lot of bad raps from peeps and admittedly it has some failings but once you know the in's and out's, and if you're a Saudi, other Arab or obvious westerner, it ain't so bad.  For everyone else, the aiport or more specifically, the attitude with which you are treated, can seriously suck.

Departing Riyadh
There are three departure terminals at Riyadh airport - Saudi Airlines international flights, most other international airlines and Saudi domestic flights.  We have used all three.

The first time that most precious of documents, The Exit and Re-entry Visa, was garnered so I could travel to destinations afar, I stood inside the international terminal thinking "Holy Guacamole". 


Having dispensed with the man in green overalls who approached the second I exited the taxi to ask if he could assist (Hubster had advised me to decline their service) the validity of that decision was being seriously questioned given how crowded the airport was.

There were queue's of men and women, mostly from the Asian continent and Filipines, with their luggage stacked closely beside them.  The queues were not moving.  In fact, closer observation showed security were holding up the lines of people and only letting one or two at a time over to the baggage scanner that must be transitted prior to reaching check-in. 

Two things were clear - not a Saudi or white face was in the queue and joining the queue was going to get me nowhere fast, but what else could I do?  Then a Saudi couple walked straight past the queue to the luggage scanner and on to the check-in counters.  Shortly after, a man in business attire headed for the front of the queue. 

I decided to follow The Suit.  Security asked, 'What airline?' I responded. They waved me to continue loading my bag and on through the single scan gate.  One does feel a bit guilty jumping the queue like that, but not guilty enough not to do it!  

If the foyer was crowded, the check-in counter area was bedlam. 

Boxes bound with rope to keep them from flying apart pile up along with the lines of people and plastic wrapped suitcases.  Which counter to use?  If you get the wrong one, regardless of how long you may have waited to reach the man smiling behind it (yes I'm wearing my rose colored glasses making that comment)...

Rose Coloured Glasses - $10 on TradeMe

...you will be sent to the back of the correct line to wait again.  Tempers flare in such situations.  Patience is a definite virtue at this airport.

One can look at a Saudi couple waltzing up to the counter and expecting attention even though you have been waiting for ages and think 'Why can't they wait in line?'  It pays to remember you just jumped ahead of umpteen workers, desparate to get home and, I'm guessing, scared of being denied that pleasure at any point in the going home process.  Bite your tongue, count your blessings!

Once checked in, head back out the same scan gate and over to the customs area, which often requires skirting the still waiting queues of workers.  Looking them in the eye is avoided. 

The customs guys at Riyadh airport have been criticized for being unfriendly.  They're Customs Guys - what do you expect, a cup of tea and a cheery, 'Hope you're having a fab day!'   Customs Guys in lots of countries are unfriendly.   Before leaving the Customs Guy make sure he has returned the precious Entry - Exit visa with your passport (unless of course you have no intention what-so-ever of coming back).  It is easy to leave that separate, yet essential, A4 page behind if you aren't paying attention to proceedings.  Then it's on to another scanner for your hand luggage.

If your of feminine gender ...

Feminine Gender is usually wrapped in black in KSA
...and there is a queue of men at this scanner, jump straight to the front to load your hand luggage.  Off to the side is a room 'Ladies Only', that's our scanning area.  There are usually two security ladies behind the thick curtains covering the entrance to Lady Scanning and food is often spread about the small table inside in various states of unfinishedness.   We get scan wanded and occasionally felt over, back and front, in this room.

If security have an issue with what's in your hand luggage they wait till you're through Lady Scanning  before asking you to reveal its contents.   On more than one occasion I have seen them ask travellers to remove nail scissors from their bag.



There is a shop past this point.  Never having looked at it I have no idea what's in it.  I usually head straight for the coffee shop.  If luck is shining upon me a comfortable seat will be available.  Otherwise, it's a long wait in a hard, butt numbing, plastic fantastic chair.

It's a good idea to be aware of your boarding time in Riyadh airport.  Don't count on announcements.  The PA system makes anything said over it complete echoed garble. 

Once the gate opens there is a rush to the queue.  This is partly from the excitement of going home.  Mostly though, it's wanting to get on the plane first because hand luggage space disappears fast.  The 'one piece of hand luggage per person' request is, like most rules in Saudi, ignored.  The size of some of the hand luggage is ridiculously large.


On a recent flight a man's hand luggage was obviously not going to fit into the overhead locker because it was actually a suitcase.  He lambasted the flight attended for her inability to find space for his bag in the lockers near his seat.  His comment,' This is your responsibility' made me laugh.  Was she also responsible for you packing your bag and calling it your hand luggage?

I chuckled to myself when she took the phrase to heart and said, 'I'm taking your bag and storing it below'.  Left hanging in the air was the rest of the sentence - 'Where your bloody bag should've been checked into anyway'.  He complained.  He wasn't happy.  He let her know.  His bag still went below.

Without fail on a flight there is the last minute 'We aren't happy with the seating arrangements' shuffle just before, or sometimes as, the plane is getting into runway position.

Some Saudi (and Yep it's always Saudi) has decided he doesn't like one of two things things - his seat or the seat His Woman (or Women) is in.   Most 'Plane Seat Shuffle' is due to the latter.  Hostesses have to ask people if they don't mind shifting seats so Woman is not sitting next to unrelated maleness. 

On one flight the hostess was desperately trying to get the Seat Shuffling Saudi's to sit down because the plane had started to taxi.  A call came over the intercom, "All steward staff please take your seats, now!"  Basically the head steward had decided if Saudi's where still standing when the plane took off, so be it, but his staff will be safely buckled in.



Arriving in Riyadh
Arriving in Riyadh is not difficult if all your paper work is in order and you are not one of the Asian labour force. 

Getting off the plane and down to customs is a piece of cake.  Just before the stairs there is a toilet for those western women who want to don the required black garb.  Although a lot of KSA expat forums say an abaya is not necessary at the airport, check whether such commentators are from Jeddah or Riyadh.  Riyadh airport has been known to have abaya spot checks - as in 'I spot you without an abaya - you don't leave here till you go put one on.'

The customs boothes in the arrival hall are divided into Saudi/GCC, business, and other.  Some days the arrival hall is absolutely chocka full of workers who are sent, without fail, to The Other lane.   Westerners fill Business.  I prefer the lane next to Saudi/GCC because once all the locals are through, security often invite women from the closest lane for processing.

Ramadan is not a good time to arrive in Riyadh. Not having eaten all day workers are on a go slow sometimes combined with bad mood. Arriving at Iftar is also a bad idea. This is when all Customs Guys will head off for their first meal of the day and if you're in the arrival hall queue be prepared to sit and wait for at least half an hour. It's funny watching westerners toe tapping, looking at their watches and getting edgy wondering 'what the hell?' All you can say at such times is "Welcome to Saudi".

Baggage claim is chaos.  Our bags have been concertinaed in the jam on the carousel.  Buying expensive luggage is a complete waste of time if you're coming to Riyadh.

What happens if you're paperwork is not is order on entering the country?  That depends on who you are or where you're from.  Most westerners have enough dosh, or a credit card, to get themselves to somewhere comfy, like Dubai, while they get whoever stuffed up their paperword to fix it.  Such repair can take from a few days to a couple of weeks depending on how connected your paperwork man is.

For anybody else, apparently there are cells rooms under the airport for those who turn up with the wrong paperwork and have no way of changing plans or are left 'unclaimed' by prospective sponsors (because no-one gets into the country without a sponsor) according to this article in the Arab News about Stranded Maids.    That must be a terrible situation to be in - What an awesome welcome to Riyadh Airport that would be :(



Ka Kite,
Kiwi

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