My Travels…

February 19, 2009

More on Saudi Arabia

Filed under: Asia, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Glenn @ 3:09 am

Bahrain and Saudi Arabia Part Deux

I’ve been in the Middle East for a few weeks now and I have a different perspective and more information on the countries I’ve been in. I’ve met many people and made some new friends that have explained a lot about the differences between our cultures.

First of all there’s the interesting aspects of marriage here in Saudi Arabia. Generally, the man has to pay the wife’s family in order to marry her. He decides on who he wants to marry first of all. The thing I can’t figure out and no one has told me yet is how he decides this. It’s illegal for a single woman to be with a man outside her family (not that way you perverts) so I’m not sure how they know they want to marry a particular person to begin with. I think they still have arranged marriages here so that would be one way to do it but I don’t think all marriages are arranged. Men can’t talk to single women and usually don’t even see them uncovered. The man will make arrangements to talk to the women’s father to tell him he would like to marry his daughter. If the father agrees the man will be allowed to met the woman for a short time. This will be the only time they will talk before they are married. An amount is agreed upon for the bride. I’m not sure when this takes place or what it’s called but it’s something like a dowry I guess. One of the people we work with said he had to pay 10,000 Saudi Riyals (around $2,500) for his wife. It usually takes them a few years to save up the money for this. I guess if you’re not in oil or one of the other lucrative businesses here you don’t make much.

The Saudi men are allowed to have multiple wives, I heard up to four. I asked if they had to buy a separate house for each wife thinking there might be some jealousy involved between the wives but they usually just buy a house with many rooms or maybe one with several floors to divide the different wives and children.

The houses here can be pretty spectacular. I’ve seen some that must be 5,000 square feet or more. There are many apartment type buildings too but you wouldn’t believe the number of big, nice houses around here. I’ve heard a decent house is maybe 1,000,000 SR, about $250,000, so not much higher than in the US. The houses all have walls and really beautiful gates. I’m not sure why. I noticed this in Italy as well but the walls and gates here are much more decorative. The apartment type housing can be anywhere from very nice, high end apartments to slums. I would imagine the people living in the older, more broken down buildings are foreign workers but I’m not sure about that.

The Saudis apparently think the desert is a big trash can. The amount of trash in the desert is incredible. You see many piles of old building material all over the place as well as piles of old tires. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen trash thrown out of car windows here. You see it everywhere but it’s really bad here.

I’ve heard the Saudis are pretty arrogant but I haven’t really noticed it myself. They say that Saudis think that everything is theirs to do with as they please. They also apparently have no fear of dying if you watch the way they drive. You’ll have a three lane highway with a speed limit of 120 KPH (around 65 MPH) with a car in each lane. Suddenly you’ll have a car (usually a small car) come flying up the inside breakdown lane at a ridiculous speed making four lanes of traffic. If the person in the inside lane has room they will move over, if not, there could be an accident. I see an accident almost every day on the drive between Khobar and Jubail. I even watched a truck loose it from the outside lane and go flying across the other two lanes and into a divider wall.

Traffic Accident

Traffic Accident

Traffic Accident

Traffic Accident

I couldn’t tell if anyone was hurt or not but I would imagine there was some kind of injury involved. I’ve seen a car up on a retaining wall and multiple car accidents (8 cars is the record so far). They drive really bad here. I haven’t driven yet but I’m sure I will eventually. You have to pay attention everywhere here or you will get hurt.

They also don’t follow any kind of traffic rules. They cut in front of each other whenever they can, cut each other off all the time, follow too close way too fast (think NASCAR drafting), speed like there’s no tomorrow, and just generally have no fear when it comes to being on the road.

I see camels every day out in the desert. On the drive to the job site there is a Bedouin camp and apparently they have a couple of camels. I call them Larry and Darryl. There is also a goat herder in the same area, maybe the guy that owns the camels.

There is a beach area in Khobar named Half Moon Bay. We went there one weekend and there were a lot of people there. The water is cold so no one was swimming but apparently when the women go into the water the wear the usual clothing so no skin is showing. There was a huge market we came across. Pony rides for the kids as well as horse and camels rides were everywhere.

I had to work in Riyadh for a few days while I was here. Riyadh is a huge city and very modern. They have a couple of very impressive skyscrapers. The traffic was ridiculous, I was in two accidents in less than an hour. I wasn’t driving and no one was hurt. Everyone just got out of there cars, checked the damage, waved and went on their way.

Market Camel

Market Camel

Desert Camels

Desert Camels

During the drive between Khobar and Riyadh I must have seen 1000 camels. I saw anywhere from a single one to a herd of probably 100 or so. They were usually attended by a herder. There were also a lot of Bedouin camps.

There are private beaches here too where people are allowed to wear whatever they want in the water. These are usually owned by rich Saudis or Western corporations.

The Westerners that come here to work for long projects usually live in compounds specifically for them. In these compounds the rules are more relaxed. They have bars, socials, pools with no rules on covering up, etc. They sound decent. If I was here long term that’s where I’d want to live. They’ve also had problems in these compounds in the past. I guess in 2006 some terrorists got into one and started killing any Westerners they could find. This was mainly women and children as the men were at work. They were finally stopped but killed a lot of people before they were taken out.

The main entertainment here as far as I can tell is shopping. There are stores and malls everywhere. It’s interesting but gets boring pretty quick. 90% of the stores are for women’s clothing and such. There’s not much for the men at the malls here except cell phone and watch stores. We did make an excursion out into the desert one weekend when we were bored but got stuck in the sand as soon as we got off the road. Several Saudi’s came and helped us get out. Very friendly folks out in the desert.

More notes on the customs and cultural differences here.

Everyone, both men and women, are supposed to have clothing that covers their arms and legs at all times. This isn’t really enforced, especially for Westerners.

Women are allowed to go to school here, including college. They go to special women only coolleges with only women professors. They are allowed to work but it’s rare to see.

Wearing gold is a sin but they have huge gold markets (souks) where you can buy it for good prices. You also see a lot of gold jewelry in the malls. You also see a lot of clothing stores for women in the malls and I’m not sure why, They’re not allowed to wear it out in public without covering up.

You have to watch out for the religious police. They are the ones that enforce the cultural rules here. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one but they are around apparently. Khobar is a lot looser than other cities.

The desert is apparently a big landfill. Everywhere you look near any kind of civilization you see piles of trash and old building material.

You see traffic accidents nearly every day on the highway. These people cannot drive.

it’s hard to be a pedestrian in Saudi. There are very few crosswalks and even fewer pedestriqan bridges. I see people take their lives in their hands all the time running across major roads because there is nowhere to cross.

Leaving Venezuela

Filed under: South America — Tags: , , , — Glenn @ 2:25 am

So, you always wanted to know what it’s like to travel in Venezuela. Let me tell you a story…

A coworker and I were released from the job site on Friday, December 19th, to go home for Christmas. We went to the local airport named Las Piedras to arrange tickets to Aruba or Caracas so we could get home. No buying flight tickets on the Internet here. We were told that there were no available flights to Aruba which the best option out of Venezuela from where we work since it’s a 20 minute flight away so we were left with flying to Caracas. We were unable to arrange tickets before Sunday so we stayed in the hotel until about 5:30 PM. The earliest flight we could get was 8:20 PM. So we get to the airport the required 2 hours early (don’t ask me why but that‘s what they tell us we have to do). We get our boarding passes and all’s well. The flight was supposed to start boarding at 7:50 se we had plenty of time to get a meal at the airport restaurant. We head upstairs to where the restaurant is located and have a seat. The server comes over and we ask what they have. “Club sandwich” was the answer. Not much of a choice here. I figured maybe the cook was off because it was Sunday evening so club sandwich it is. There was a baseball game on, not the US major leagues but the Venezuelan league. The two people working in the restaurant were pretty into the game so it took a little while to get the sandwiches. When they come, they were basically a club “type” sandwich, double stacked with jamon (ham) and a fried egg. They drizzled mayonnaise and catsup over it, too. It actually wasn’t too bad.

So, with dinner out of the way we had about 30 minutes to kill. We sat outside the security checkpoint and watched the baseball game. Our boarding time came and went. I walked back to the ticket desk to ask what happened and the girl behind the desk told me the plane was delayed by one hour. This is normal in Venezuela. I don’t think I’ve had an on time flight here yet. That one hour turned into two and we still hadn’t even gone through security yet. Finally about 10:30 we went through security and sat in the holding area. The plane pulled up to the gate and an ambulance pulled up beside it. This was strange. We watched the EMTs take a gurney to the plane and waited to see what would happen. People began to get off the plane and walk into the terminal. Finally after everyone had gotten off the plane they wheeled the gurney out with someone on it. They put the person in the ambulance (which looked just like the ones you see in the USA) and took off.

I was charged for excess baggage weight, which had never happened here before. No problem, I expense it anyways. The problem was it took the girls behind the counter 2 hours to figure out how to give me a receipt. I don’t know if that means they don’t charge the fee that often or they don’t usually give a receipt for it. It took way too long but luckily, the fllight was late as well.

As usual, the flight was delayed. I never heard why but in Venezuela they don’t need an excuse. It’s expected. The problem was the flight was very late, almost 3 hours. I’ve never had one that late before. And, of course, we had an early flight the next day which meant a late arrival, maybe 3 hours sleep, then back to the airport for the outbound flight. It always happens this way no matter which way I’m going.

So we get to the airport in plenty of time the next morning only to find out that our flight was over booked. This was on santa Barbara Air. I’d flown them before but only in Venezuela. We ended up with business class tickets as that was all that showed up when we checked and it just so happened that business class was full and the two Americans got bumped. How convenient. The options were to fly in coach at the scheduled time or wait for 3 hours for the next flight. My coworker opted for the early coach flight. I wasn’t about to give them the satisfaction so I waited for the next flight. He had connections and I didn’t. All was well after that except there are no seats in the airport waiting area. I’m not sure why that is. I had breakfast at a little restaurant and sat there for a little while but got antsy and had to mov around some. I don’t like just sitting there for long. There’s nothing to do at the airport so I just wandered around until I could get my boarding pass to get out of there. Eventually I made it home but it was an adventure.

I never had to go back to that site. I was sent to a job in Saudi Arabia instead. Of course I got the call to go back after the job in SA was confirmed but it was late. Too bad. I’m now stuck with 1,300 BSF that I can’t exchange anywhere (around $300 at the black market prices I paid for them). I guess I’ll see if I can sell them on Ebay.

I doubt I would go back to Venezuela again unless I had to. I was in one of the safer areas and it sucked. There were jobs in worse areas and I heard the guys wouldn’t go out at all due to the danger involved. There is a job coming up near Margaretta Island that didn’t sound too bad but I’d have to think hard anout it if they wanted me to go there.

My Impression of China

Filed under: Asia — Tags: , , , , — Glenn @ 2:22 am

Traffic is hysterical. Look in every direction before you cross the street. If you don’t, you’ll die. Here, yellow means “Get ready to haul ass and hit people” as the light goes from red to yellow to green. Some actually are yellow before red. They love using the horn, too. We aren’t allowed to drive here for safety reasons. The good news is taxi’s are cheap. All day long you hear car horns, bus horns, truck horns, scooter horns. HORNS, HORNS, HORNS!!!!

Serious air pollution here. Someone was telling me last night that once summer hits you won’t see the sun again until it cools down because it’s so thick. A lot of the people you see in the streets wear face masks because of this. Some of them only cover their mouths, though. Doesn’t do much good that way. I’ve also seen some people wearing something like you see on ER, a full face shield. They’re cool because they’re tinted.

If you ever wondered why the USA didn’t ratify the Kyoto treaty come to Shanghai. China was exempt because they are an “emerging” nation. They didn’t have to cut back emissions but we did. I doubt you’ll ever see smog like this anywhere in the US.

Also, seems like most people here have this throat clearing thing going on. Every 30 seconds or so your hear a kind of grunt. Couldn’t be the pollution, naaaaaah….

Went to McDs for dinner tonight. You could tell the kid behind the counter was tickled as hell he had an American to serve. Gave him a chance to speak English. And he was pretty good at it.

Shanghai must be growing. Everywhere you look there are high rise apartments going up, hundreds of them. Like 18 million people aren’t enough.

If a Chinese person wants to live in a different city they have to get the government’s permission to move.

I was in a store one Sunday waiting in the checkout line and a group of about 20 employees started chanting something. It must be one of those psych ups for work you hear about the Japanese doing every morning. They were lined up like a military unit. Pretty cool, actually. The only way into the grocery section is an aisle about 2 feet wide. But they have about 30 checkout lines.

Speaking of the military, there must be an army base near where I’m working. Several times I’ve seen platoons running through the plant (exercise, not attacking). There’s also an airbase. Last week there were fighters all over the place. Pretty cool to see them flying low over the city. None used afterburners, though. Hopefully they didn’t have a war and not tell me.

The people are very nice. Haven’t come close to having a problem yet except for one girl begging money for food outside the hotel. Problem was she was a pretty big girl. You could tell she hadn’t missed many meals lately. She literally chased me to the hotel. Almost had to deck her. The strange thing was it happened three times that night in a span of about 15 minutes. Always 2 girls. One speaks to you in Chinese. Once they see you don’t speak Chinese the other one starts in in English. Time to use some German on their asses. That’ll throw ‘em.

Quite a few cute girls around. You see them all the time. I never really thought Asian girls were cute until I was around them a lot.

Quite a few ugly girls around as well.

Chinese girls seem to have a problem wearing shoes with heels. I saw a girl on the street the other day with a strange walk. Didn’t think much about it. Then I started noticing it more and more. It finally dawned on me that all the ones that walked funny were wearing shoes with heels. Bizarre but entertaining.

There are a lot of scams in the big cities you have to watch out for. Luckily I read about them before I came here. The most notorious is a cute Chinese girl will come up to you and start talking. She’ll ask if you will go to a cooffee house with her so she can practise her English. You go and have a coffee or two. When you get the bill it’s for $100 or some ridiculous amount. The scam, apparently, is the girls works for the coffee house and gets a cut of the high bill. There are variations like the museum and art gallery versions. I even had a guy ask me to have a coffee, a total stranger. I wanted to deck him but I just walked away.

China’s probably one of the few countries where you’ll see an attractive girl in high heels riding a 30 year old bike.

Shanghai must be a cool place to live. Tons of foreigners live here. Huge expat community. It’s pretty cheap, maybe that’s why.

There’s a job for everyone here. Might not be very interesting, though. For 1/2 mile of road you’ll see a half dozen or so sweeping the streets with brooms made of bamboo and a bunch of straw or small tree limbs. Don’t think I’ve seen a normal broom since I got here. The streets are clean, though. The ladders are interesting, too. Almost always bamboo lashed together. If you know construction, the scaffolding is made of lashed together bamboo as well. OSHA would love that…

There was an article in the Shanghai Daily the other day about the wages paid to McDonald’s employees. Apparently if you’re in school and working there you have no minimum wage. The minimum wage at McDs is about 750RMB per month. That’s about $100.

Lots of two-wheeled transportation. It’s a battle between the cars/ busses/trucks and the

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