Thursday, 27 February 2014

Localizer Mall Make Over

Localizer Mall looks like it's had a bit of a make over of late, and I have to say, it's quite nice.  The Localizer used to be known as 'the mans mall' because it had a range of shops that catered to blokes fashion.  After all, in a city full of women's fashion malls and boutiques that a male alone was discouraged from entering, where was a bloke to shop?   Up until recently, Localizer was the answer.  The new set up, however, seems to be steering away from blokes and toward women and kids. (Sorry guys!)

A new HiKids toy and candy shop has opened up and if I had set foot in it there may be a review of sorts here, but I was searching for something else, so steered clear of it.  With a Sands play area downstairs and the In Motion Exergame center for kids on the first floor (sorry about the Facebook link for you non-FB'ers, though I find it hard to believe any of those exist, but the Exergamers don't have a website!), the Localizer is starting to look like a place to bring your children for some fun activity and then go shopping.

The food court appears to have come under the paintbrush too, though given that I've never actually eaten there I may have been dreaming this point.  But with Lavazza cafe making an appearance (a bit of competition for Second Cup), and few healthier looking options competing with fast food joints, it's starting to look good.  Or maybe it was just because the singles section has been opened up making the place look more spacious and relaxed, while the family dining area has been moved off to the side (though it doesn't feel completely closed in) and has a small play ground for toddlers.

My trip to Localizer Mall was to check out the Family Running Track they were advertising upstairs.  This was my second attempt at using it - the first time the lift was under repair and I couldn't find any stairs.  Stairs would be a good warm up for a walking track I would've thought, but anyway....  Being a Blokes Mall, the Localizer has a Men Only gym within, and the running track used to circle the entire top floor (so I was told) specifically for them.  It used to rile me that women didn't have the same facilities.  Well, we may not have the gym there yet, but it looks like they've cut the running track in half so both genders can enjoy some much needed exercise.  And today, I was the only one there.

On the walls as you exit the lift onto the second floor are some large and colorful walking action shots to put you in the mood, plus a compilation of the benefits of walking just 30 minutes a day and a list of rules.  (At least I presume that's what they are, cos they're in Arabic).  There are three lanes on the track, suggesting you should bring friends, and arrows indicate the direction you should walk (for busy times I'm supposing).

The area is quite bright and a screen of plastic green foliage, complete with pink and blue rose buds, decorates the track as well as keeping prying eyes from seeing in should they ever look up from the mall floor below.  And for those who get a little worn from the exercise, there's some lovely seating on fake grass with the relaxing trickle of water features nearby so you can catch your breath.

It only took a couple of minutes to circle the track which is another way of saying it's not a huge, but in the summer when the it gets too hot to be walking outdoors, this track may get a lot more use for those wanting to keep up some form of walking exercise.

Though some may consider the walking track a waste of space (Why? I don't know...!), I think Big Ups to management of the Localizer Mall for making this area available for women (although it says 'Family Running Track, I'm guessing it's actually targeting women).  In fact, if you can afford to send your little tackers (children) to Extreme Motion, instead of sitting in the viewing lounge watching your kids going through the program  you could race upstairs and get your own exercise in!

Then you could all go to Lavazza for coffee.
I did.  Nice.
That's probably one of the drawbacks of having the Localizer Mall walking track right above the Food Hall!

Ka Kite,

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Return to The Edge Of The World

We've been to The Edge of The World a few times since arriving in Riyadh.  Now that we know how to get there, it's a quick and relatively easy drive in a 4x4.  One day we drove past a few blokes who were struggling to get motorbikes through the sandy spots.  Given they had taken road bikes off road it wasn't surprising they were finding the going a bit difficult!  It seems the Edge of the World is a popular desert trek that expats like to take on whatever vehicle they have to hand.  Lord knows we tried it once in a Camry.  We didn't make it!

This weekend we headed out there again in our trusty, hired Yukon.  Mr UK is leaving at the end of this week and it was decided a trip to the Edge was required as neither he nor Mr Oz had been yet.  We were joined by a Kiwi couple who were also Edge newbies, and Little Oz, a newbie to Saudi, along with the Braai Master and his wife who thought spending the day with us in the desert sounded like a good plan.

We couldn't believe the changes that have taken place on the way to this popular desert destination.  Mostly in relation to the towns we drive through.  They are expanding.  It's an indication of the money the government is spending on the country.  We've seen the little settlement of Uyayna, just before The Edge Of The World turn off which, by the way, still lacks an actual signpost (though there is a pink skip now marking the turn off point), grow from a scraggly hick town to a place that is a lot more lively with a new Othaim Market and a fancy handbag shop, among others.  (Fancy handbags strike me as an indicator of wealth creation in this country, much like increased lipstick sales is a sign of a country going through economic recession).  We've seen the road connecting Uyayna with Sadous become a smooth dual carriage highway.  And our favorite fruit and vege road side stall is concreted out front.

Off the main road, the trail out to the Edge of The World has also gone through a few changes, the most obvious is the graded road that takes you all the way to the new gateway located next to the dam.  There the road splits with the left side continuing toward the army post we found on our first trip out this way.  Don't take that road.   Go through the right hand side complete with a brand new shiny, metal gate posted right next to a tent with flag.  Today, a chatty bearded man and dog were sitting in attendance and waved us through when we asked if entering was OK.  Past this entrance is a second gateway and soon after you'll find the soft sanded river bed has had truckloads of gravel laid down to make the way a little easier to follow, though you can always get out of the soft sand and follow on firmer ground if you prefer. ( I usually get to drive to the Edge of The World and did take the wheel for a while later in the day, but Hubster wasn't very keen on giving up the driver's seat this time.  What's with that!)

The window in the escarpment hasn't changed much, though there appears to be new rock fall off the sides.   Dandelions and other flowers were blooming on the hillside, a welcome change from the brown barrenness from previous visits.  The walking tracks leading to higher and more precarious viewing vantage points have become more worn as the popularity of area has grown.  The Edge still manages to attract people as close to it as they dare to look at the desert beyond...
Thanks for this pick Hilary -
and for more on Hilary Travels in Saudi visit her blog
...or they pose for photo's pretending to be near the edge..

(the boys were much less adventurous than us girls when it came to edgy views.  Chickens!)

...and then there's the guy who just wants to throw stones over.

Once we more adventurous types had had our fill of standing on the point, we headed back to the truck to find the boys had been scoffing coconut muffins and were wanting lunch!   The best place for a picnic is right  in the middle of the natural window, though remnants of picnic fires can be found in more perilous looking nooks and crannies.  We have, once or twice, carted our chilly bin and magic carpet up the shale hill to rest in a shady overhang.  This time, however, we opted for a picnic spot neath a beautifully spreading tree back along Acacia Valley, just far enough off the river bed not to get dust from passing cars and close enough to bush coverage for walks to the toilet.

Carpets were spread on the ground and chairs opened up for the, ummm, more mature who have difficulty with ground level (both getting there and doing anything useful once down there which, come to think of it, was most of us!)  Tea and snacks were passed around and salads prepped while the master chefs all got busy with their respective Bar-B's: a braai for the meat (this master chef is extremely good at his job), a fire for the Hallumi, tinfoil wrapped spuds, and roasting marshmallows, and a camp burner for hot water.  Why we had so many cookers going is beyond me - but boys will be boys when they are in 'Great White Provider' mode.  Regardless, it was a delicious feast in the desert.

All the while we were entertained by a herd of camels having fun taking dust baths in the sand while being dutifully watched over by a hobbled male.  And every now and then entertainment of the Saudi variety drove past in utes calling, waving and drifting in the sand.  We hoped they didn't hit a log hiding just under the sand because that would have meant running to someones rescue and upsetting our day.  The funniest thing was a ute pulling up and asking in broken English if we had a drink.
'A drink?' we said
'Yes. One glass. Black', they said.
'What?', we said.
'Black Label.  Johnny Walker'
'Ohhhh, we said.  Uh, no.  Sorry.'
It's bizarre to think in this Muslim land that locals not only presume we expats are all soaks carrying booze into the desert (we only had mint tea, cold water, soft drink and and bad coffee), but that they are not averse to asking to participate.

After our meal the carpet came in handy for those who needed a bit of a nap and then it was time for marshmallows over the coals.  Little Oz had never tried those before (What kind of Ozzie are you mate!)  But once shown how he was hooked cos they were delish! (Taking over the cooking and consumption of toasted marshmallows was suitable redemption from further ribbing.)

What topped off the day was Mama Camel coming over to investigate our picnic site.  Because she was sniffing the air filled with smells of spuds and steak and toasting marshmallows, Hubster wondered if she might like a freshly baked potato.  She loved it.  So, he tried her on a baked onion - not so happy with that.  Then he thought, how about some chips.  Mmmmmm, nummy she thought.  And then a couple of the other girls came over, so they got a spud too.

Though the other girls moved off, Mama was perfectly happy to hang around for a scratch and photo opportunity, before slowly making her way back to the rest of her crew.  Our crew were feeling rather chuffed with themselves having that experience.

It was a beautifully relaxing day.
And though it would have been great to stay into the evening with a log fire burning (lord knows we had enough food to last till the morning) as dusk was approaching, it was time to up sticks and head home.  Maybe we'll stay a little longer out near the Edge of the World next time.

In Case You Haven't Been Before Here's a Map with Edge of The world with the starting point being Kingdom Tower.

And Here's Directions to The Edge Of The World.

The Edge of The World Co-ordinates N: 24 56' 31.9" : E:045 59' 31.2" 
If you don't have GPS then, starting from Kingdom Tower, Olaya, take Uruba Road (west).  Watch for the signboard 'King Khalid Eye Hospital' (KKEH), when you see it, move onto the service road.  Go straight through the traffic lights and veer left onto King Khalid Road. Follow King Khalid Road to exit Route 5762 to Salbukh/ Sadous/Jubayla. Take this exit and head to Sadous. You will pass by Jubayla, Uyainah and Sadous.  24.5 km from Jubayla (before the road goes up a rise and passes between two hills) turn left to an off-road. Soon after entering this path, on your left you will find an iron and wire fence. Follow the track until you reach a fenced area with a gate. Enter the gate and follow any convenient track for 22 km heading west.  

Ka Kite,

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Grateful For Winter

It's winter in Riyadh and I'm truly grateful for it.  As this post takes shape my gratefulness is growing. In fact, if someone were to say it sounds as though I'm talking myself into an attitude of gratitude, they'd be right.

I'm walking as I write this post. Outdoors. In the DQ.  It's 1.30pm.  My appointment at the salon is over and my taxi driver (Mr Noors brother today as Mr Noor is busy elsewhere) has called to say he's been denied entry to the DQ.  The guards at the gate have told him to rack off.  His taxi is empty, therefore he's not allowed in.  If he had a passenger then they would let him through, no problem, just as they let me through when I arrived. 

I do wonder how they presume women, or men for that matter, who arrive at the DQ by taxi are expected to leave.  

Presumably I am to catch one of the now empty taxi's searching the Diplomatic Quarter streets for other passengers left standing without their arranged return ride.  But I refuse to do that. Nope.  Though I may be happy to hail a taxi from the street for a short ride about town, safety dictates that jumping in the back of a strangers car for a more lengthy trip is simply a dumb idea. 

Apart from that fact, I don't like the look of any of the taxi drivers who've eyeballed me desperately as they drive by - they all look a shade too shifty - the whole rigmarole of determining how good their English is, assessing if their meter actually works, finding out if they actually know where I want to go is an unexpected and unwelcome hassle I could do without today given there was already a perfect plan in place for my return home  - Mr Noor's brother would come back at a set time and pick me up. Simple. Perfect. 

Simply perfect plans being sent awry, especially when those skewed plans center around drivers and me left waiting make me yearn for being able to drive myself!  Plus it has the potential to put me into one of those negative phases one is wont to go through when life in Saudi throws a completely unnecessary curve ball. 

So, I'm walking to the main gate on this beautiful weekend winter afternoon where Noors brother will pick me up.  I have made a mental note to not make appointments at the DQ salon on the weekend again as a friend, who I called to complain to, explained security is more stringent there on weekends (no kidding!).  And as I walk I'm telling myself how grateful I am that the temps are cool, my hair looks great and that I will get my ride home once I reach the security gate where my ride is waiting for me.  But, bugger me, if anyone hassles me about my undone abaya and bare legs showing below my shorts or uncovered, though beautifully colored, hair, gratefulness will take a back seat and the shitty-ness I'm attempting to keep at bay just might spill over into a terrible emotional mess!

Ka kite

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Hospital Waiting Room Instructoress


Have you ever come across the Waiting Room Instructoress?
I find her a fascinating, mysterious woman.
She is found in the female waiting area of doctors clinics or hospitals.  One might think she wields a great deal of power and influence though, having come across her often enough, I believe she has a naughty, mischievous streak that encourages her to play with social practices, choosing which she will adhere to on any given day, and which she will ignore.

The Saudi Instructoress waits till the time is right before making her play.  Usually it's while there are only two of us present (myself and she), in the female section of the doctors waiting area.  She will call out to her husband, older son or whatever significant male is waiting just over the barrier in the men's waiting section.  He will hear the call, make his way to the ladies waiting area and, standing an acceptable distance outside its boundary, await instructions from her re:whatever they need instructing about.

The Saudi Instructoress beckons him in.
He hesitates.
He looks round the corner of the barrier.
Words are exchanged.
Her eyes (if uncovered) flicker towards me.  If covered, a silence descends on the waiting area and the slightest movement of her head lets me know she's looking in my direction.
The male just outside the waiting area is always cautious initially.

He steps a little closer, looks in, sees me reading.
I look up and meet his eyes, sometimes with a fquerying 'Is there a problem?' look, other times a quick 'I Can see you lookin' at me' glance.  More often than not these days my look is delivered with the beginnings of an 'I know we're both pulling your chain' smile beginning to lift the corner of my mouth.  He hesitates.

More words are exchanged and then, at the insistent tone of his elder, who is presumably saying 'Don't Worry About Her' (the Waiting Room Instructoress is always older and usually has walking issues), he steps slowly over the threshold into the forbidden territory of the Female Waiting Area to receive her directions.

I don't mind.
It doesn't bother me.
It's a bit of humour in my day.  Or if I'm not feeling humourous, it's always a good time to ponder the ins and outs of living a Saudi life.

Once he is treading the Waiting Room carpet, I usually leave my reading long enough to smile at the lady in need of extra assistance, then I might also smile upon said male who sometimes smiles back, other times looks anywhere but at me, or acts like a possum caught in headlights and pauses, for the briefest moment, before focusing on the Instructoress and his task at hand.  I simply return to my book (it's always a good idea to take a book to the hospital, especially for later in the day appointments).

Obviously these women have reached a stage in life, with the wisdom of age, where they feel the rules of the land are a bit silly and should be flouted, and men made to feel uncomfortable, whenever it suits their needs.   Either that or they think infidel me has already gone to hell and there is no saving me.  (Maybe she's right!).

Once or twice I have contemplated engaging the Instructoress.  I would love to get inside her head and see what she is really thinking.  But she is, more often than not, fully covered and seated just far enough away to make starting a conversation a little awkward, hence turning me into the 'Waiting Room Conversation Starting Weirdo'.  Plus, being older, I'm not sure how much English she would speak and I'm ashamed to say that my erratic efforts studying Arabic have not yet made me anywhere near fluent.

So, I am left to imagine who she is, what she thinks and why she's leading men onto the Waiting Room path to hell.  Yes, the Waiting Room Instructoress continues to amuse and mystify me,.. but I think I like her.

Ka Kite,

Saturday, 1 February 2014

38 Again

Tomorrow, I might be 38 - again.
I've been bouncing between 36 and 38 for the last couple of years, and no, I'm not talking bra size.
Do you remember the day the Spice Girls met Nelson Mandela and Ginger told him 'You're as young as the girl you feel'?  Well, every year on my birthday (which is tomorrow in case you've woken up a bit slow this morning) how young I feel on waking determines how old I intend to be that year.

Today I feel 38, but who knows...if I have an awesome day today and an excellent sleep tonight, waking up with more of a bounce in my step than a cramp in my calf, I might feel 36 again.  Feeling 26 would be awesome, but I've seen more of the world of late which has caused me to grow up a little too much to go back there again, and really, the current lack of collagen under the skin makes believing that a bit of a stretch even for me when someone asks 'So, how many years is that now?' if anyone rude enough to ask is actually going to get the truth!

Hubster thinks my maturity levels could still do with more growth, but he's been collecting Grumpy Old Man tickets recently (I sense he's feeling his age - if he adopted my methods I'm fairly certain he'd feel much younger!) and I admit to entertaining myself razzing any of his silly 'Grow Up' suggestions and scowly looks. (Very mature of me!).

Given that kitchen duty at our place belongs to moi, my guess is we'll be heading out for dinner tomorrow evening, probably to our local favourite Chinese place, and order something Tepanyaki to get the Yummy Yummy experience in lieu of a 'Happy Birthday' song.  (At Gate of Jazeera you get Yummy Yummy with any Tepanyaki order, unless it arrives during salah when drumming spoons and shouting 'Yummy Yummy' would not be appropriate).

A couple of years ago singing the 'Happy Birthday' song in restaurants got banned in Saudi by the Fun Police.  The creative types in the country came up with alternatives to the actual song, so now in some establishments you can get a Happy Birthday clap rhythm with associated rap lyrics - something along the lines of
'[clap, clappity, clap, clap clap]
Happy Happy Birthday
[clap, clap, clap. Clap, clappity, clap, clap, clap]
Have a Happy Birthday
[clap, clap, clap],
 Happy Happy Birthday
 [clap, clap, clap],
Happy Happy Birthday [pause] to you'. 
 (Obviously the creative types aren't into original lyrics).

Those new to Saudi who don't realize that celebrating birthdays by singing little ditties is frowned upon are slightly baffled at the rap version of Happy Birthday that accompanies their birthday cake as its carried ceremoniously through diners, with candles ablaze, and placed in front of the surprised and blushing recipient.

Never having been a fan of the rap genre, there is something missing from all the clapping and chanting - oh yes, melody!   And we outgoing types who usually like to join in such festive musical interludes, because its great sharing other peoples joy, happiness and positive vibes, find contributing to the clappity adaptation a little difficult because each location tends to serve up its own rap version.  Anyway, in lieu of the singing Happy Birthday experience or the rappity clappity, I'll settle for Yummy Yummy and marvel at the fact I'm still in Saudi when, once again, I turn 38 - or thereabouts.

Ka Kite,

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