Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Never Gone

Apologies for the cheesy BackStreet Boy-ish title for this entry because I'm having mental block again. Anyway, its good to be blogging again.

I realized that although I've been in living and working here for almost three months, I've not actually talked about Lebanon much. The reason is that I haven't been around much. When I'm not on business trips, I hang out in my apartment.

This month, my girlfriend Xinyi is here for a visit so there's plenty of chance to visit what Lebanon has to offer. Will blog about our sight seeing soon....


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Mental Block

Recently, I ran out of ideas about what to blog. Sometimes I started writing but cannot continue and then I moved on to another topic but stopped halfway as well. It's like the same feeling I get when I was sitting in MPH2 with a paper full of essay questions, an A4 booklet and 3 hours to kill. And then starting to think...

"Which questions to answer? Which questions to answer?"

Then one question starts to look appealing. Halfway through mental block sets in - I'm stuck! I take another look at the question paper again, another question starts to look more appealing. And time is running out....Before I know it, the Chief Examiner proclaim ominously through the microphone...

"You have 15 mins left!"


Haha...many of us sure remember those painful NUS exams. One of my professors, Chan Kwok Bun used to say, "three hours is what it takes to decide your life"! Life really sucks if one fails because one have to repeat the failed module. But what he was talking about is perhaps that the paper also determines one's life chances. During my time, failure of one paper usually eliminates one's chance of qualifying for the honours program. And not doing honours excludes one from a payscale beyond the ordinary bachelor degree. So one starts his/her career at a lower rank in the bureaucracy, gets promoted later than his/her peers, develops a lower self-esteem and ends up being a loser in life. Nah, the example is very ridiculous but you get the idea that how failing a 3 hours paper can do to disrupt one's life. =P

Lucky me, I had the luck of scraping through every paper thrown my way and sneaked my way into the honors program and somehow graduated. Although in the first place, I really have no idea why I enrolled in the honors program.

By the way, here's what the internet has to offer on overcoming mental block:

1. Fake violent convulsions, induce green slime vomiting, shudder erratically claiming the "Martians are coming to get me" and hope that the exam is cancelled or at least postponed because of the emotional upset caused by your sudden illness.

2. The Science of Neuro Linguistic Programming (or NLP for short) has shown that by looking up we access information from our memories. So if you are faced with a mental block, instead of staring at your desk, look up as you search for that crucial information.

3. Stop saying "I don't know this …. I don't know this". Now say to yourself "If I did know the answer, what would I write?" and see what happens.

4. Breathe deeply and relax

(Plagarized from www.positivelymad.co.uk)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Back to Africa!

My next business trip takes me back to North Africa. And yes, I'm flying Air France again! For those of you who have been following my blog, I had two previous bad experiences with flights related to France. As if on cue to avoid disappointment to anyone reading, some incident did happen and I'll share them here.

My flight to Algeria was a MEA/AF coach sharing flight connecting at Paris CDG airport. 40 minutes before arrival to airspace around CDG, the pilot announced that the airport will be closed because of the bad weather so our flight will be directed to Paris Orly airport, the nearest airport. Which was a good thing for me because, I forgot to mention, me connecting flight starts from Orly. I don't have to take the airport bus to transfer between airports. Unexpected good new, Yey!

Anyway, my MEA flight landed about an hour after being re-directed to Orly. As the plane lowered to the ground, all the passengers could see clearly that thick, wet fog that enveloped the Orly airport. It must have been impossible to land the plane without instruments! The visibility was about 400 m. Fortunately, the plane made a safe but bumpy landing and everyone clapped.

And that concludes another eventful trip...;P

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Monster Meets Art

(source: http://www.worth1000.com/)
Michelangelo saw and likes the Aliens Trilogy very much.

Friday, November 11, 2005

First Meal

The first meal I cooked by myself. What else but the easiest - spaghetti bolognaise. The pasta were over done, no al dente and a tad soggy. Not familiar with my utensils yet. But as the saying goes, (in hokkien) cannot swim don't blame the swimming trunks for being oversized. Haha....また頑張ります! p(^O^)q

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Holiday in KL/ Lucus

Left Singapore on 4th November with Xinyi and family to Kuala Lumpur for a short holiday before I catch my flight back to Beirut on the 6th. Its makan all the way! Took a lot of shots, especially of Lucus, my nephew. Check it out! =P

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Took a MAS shutter flight back to Singapore while on transit in Kuala Lumpur from Osaka enroute to Beirut on 29 Oct . Spent about 5 days in Singapore.

Big changes to my room but its great to sleep on my old bed and pillow again. Don't know why my pillow in Beirut isn't as comfortable. I should consider shipping my pillows...

There were so many things I planned to do but only managed to accomplished some.

Nevertheless it was good to be back! =)
Great to see Xinyi, my family, her family!
Glad that ex-colleagues are doing fine!
Those that I failed to meet up because of the time span, we'll catch up in 2006!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Movie Review - 電車男

Saw this on a flight back from Osaka to KL.

The movie was based on a popular Japanese novel of the same title (obviously or it wouldn't have been made right?). The protagonist is an anime/game/collectible otaku who simply cannot talk to the opposite sex. He turns red, stammers and shivers when he has to talk to any female and so he has always been unattached. He should have killed himself when he was 16 but anyway...

Once in a train, he (trainman) courageously stood up for a female passenger who was being harassed by a drunkard. In return, trainman received a pair of Hermes cups from the lady victim as a token of thanks. Our protagonist geek tells a group of anonymous geeks that he chats online all the time about Ms. Hermes' present and they start jumping to conclusions about "Ms. Hermes" having fallen for him and he should go after her. Soon everybody he chats with throw in their two cents worth of advice/suggestions/tips on how to date Ms. Hermes. Through the advice/suggestions/tips, trainman is bit by bit transformed into a dating machine and swept Ms. Hermes off her feet into his arms...or did he?

Basically a simple love story, what's unique about the movie is the bunch of net-denizens supporting the reluctant trainman on his quest. None of them ever met in real life but unite together to help the trainman. In fact, they are so connected to the internet, they seem to have difficulties in human relationships in real life. And helping trainman became part self-discovery and somehow transformed the way they relate better to the people around them. Morale of the story: Losers help loser, everybody wins!

Somehow, I still think that the trainman should have killed himself when he was 16. He is such a sissy when he talks to women. Perhaps his character was over-acted. Ms. Hermes, on the contrary, is self-assured and calm. Not incredibly pretty but she has character and sort of balanced the cast. The movie would have been over-emotional because of the weepy trainman if not for the little parts of humor dosage. I like best the part where trainman was advised by his "friends" to try all the food in a restaurant that was to be the setting for his date with Ms. Hermes, so that he will know what to order during the date. Haha...=P

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Test Drive in Osaka

I love test drives!

To be exact, I love driving at breakneck speed if I know that I am not going to cause an accident. For those not familar with the basic test courses, there's usually four lanes to to a course with four different speed limits. The first lane: 0-50km/h; second lane: 50-100km/h; third lane: 100-160km/h. Finally, the fourth lane slopes upwards at a 45 degrees angle and the car needs a considerable speed to stay on that lane because of the angle. I love the 4th lane!

Actually, the first rule of test drives is not about breaking the sound barrier but to see if the car handles, drives and breaks well under normal driving circumstances. Of course, you are welcomed to test how the car handles at max speed but seldom you need to climb that 4th lane.

But at the test course, everyone will say that the rule is a whole load of bull. Of course you start a slow acceleration to see if it changes gears nicely; then you jam the breaks hard to test the breaking performance. You can test also the steering control and almost every features the car has. Five minutes tops, and then you start to fly on that 4th lane...! (^_^) v

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Tokyo Motor Show

At the motorshow today, I plan to do what most people do at motorshows, which was to take plenty of snapshots of pretty cars and the pretty gals beside them... =P The problem with digital cameras is that the battery always seem to run out faster when photo opportunities present themselves aplenty. It's like there's a correlation or something! Anyway, in preparation of such an event, I always have a spare battery on hand.

Things started well and I was happily snapping away with my aging Canon Ixus, when the dreaded battery icon started to flash on my camera screen. As I reached into my bag to get the spare battery, I realized that I left my spare battery with Sakai for some forgotten reasons! Earlier on, our delegation had splitted into two groups and Sakai was leading the other group. The situation likens to being in a chocolate factory and having no appertite! There's so many photo opportunities here but my dead camera can't take pictures.

Solution? Appoint a photographer. The Moroccan GM for sales was so happily snapping at everything and anything, that he willingly obliged to share with me all his pictures. Please enjoy some of them here....

Lexus LFA Concept - Damn bloody nice car!

The new RAV-4 (front)

The new RAV-4 (back) - Think about it, Wanli


Daihatsu Copen: Cute like the MR-S [I'm test driving it tomorrow =) ]

Daihatsu Pretty

VW Polo GTI! The VW booth was the best booth IMO ^_^

King of Cars! 23 Skyline GTR! _/ ̄\○"

Nice touch by Mini =P

Saturday, October 22, 2005


やっとう,日本出張は現実になりました!2 か月間中近東で働く後,今度の出張は初めてアジアに戻られる旅です.または,今年2番目の日本出張!(^O^)v

My Japanese is really going down the drain. Two sentences are the max I can go to express myself in writing! Well, what the heck! =P

Friday, October 21, 2005

France 2: 0 Sencha

It's incredible that I encountered two problems with Air France in one single month! My impression of France now is already bad even before I visited the country!

If you remember, Air France lost my luggage for a week because of labor strike in Paris in the beginning of October. This time as I was coming back from Algiers, they screwed up again! The French are simply marvellous at screwing up!

There I was on my return trip, with Sakai, sitting comfortably on ME212 (coach share with AF), waiting for take off, when they ordered all passenger to disembark. Fortunately or unfortunately, when alighting, we met Hisham, a colleague working for our Moroccan distributor, on his way to Beirut. Sham told us that when the ground crew was retracting the boarding stairs from the plane, the machinery sliced through the door of the plane and badly damaged the door.

So we were stuck in Charles de Gaulle airport while the ground crew tried to repair the plane. Turned out, the spare part they need can only be found in Hamburg and it is not likely for the part to arrive in such a short time. Incredible! Airbus has no spare parts in France? Seems like all the passengers will be stuck in Paris for a while because there wasn't a way for the repair to be done so quickly.

After two hours, AF staff finally hatched a plan. They would book accomodations in a transit hotel and put us up for the night and arrange us to fly on the first available flight to Beirut the next morning. So after being stucked in the terminal for 5 hours past our schedule flight, we could finally leave the airport and go to the transit hotel. But we couldn't leave Sham behind. Being a Morrocan, Sham needs a visa to enter Paris and so we stayed back in the terminal with him.

It was the beginning of the long wait with Sham and some of the other passengers who had their passports detained to apply for their temporary visa. We watched as the AF staff, who were dispatched to handle us, disappear one by one. The promised 1 hour wait stretched to 3 hours. By then, we decided to check on the visa application status with the AF booth outside the terminal. Guess what? They have no clue about Sham and the other passengers without visa. Sakai mentioned that this could be real-life event of The Terminal in the making but fortunately, Sham didn't watch the movie. The new AF staff only followed-up on the visa application status when one of the Lebanese "aunties" and Sham started to complain loudly. I guess there was no proper handover of the issue because after the complaint, the AF staff were able to come up with their passports and a collective visa. Finally, it was okay for us to leave for the transit hotel at about 10 pm after such a long ordeal at the airport.

There were approximately 90 people from our delayed flight scheduled for the next day 9pm morning flight to Beirut. There were approximately 90 people who didn't brush their teeth and change their clothes that morning...

After such a bad experience with Air France (twice for me!), we didn't have much to expect from them other than just get us where we want to go safely. As usual, almost on cue, our new flight was delayed for an hour because the cabin crew couldn't ascertain the correct number of people on the flight and they kept counting and counting from back to front and front to back. Amazing!

When we were stuck in the airport, the three of us started to play a little game called, Renaming Air France. The objective of the game is to come up with the best definition for the acronym AF. Sakai won the game with a new acronym for Air France..... AF - Always Frustrating!

Monday, October 17, 2005


It finally rained in Algiers after several months of drought, on the day of my arrival. Mabrouk to all the farmers here who have been bearing the brunt of crop shortage. The view of the mountains nearby the airport was of exceptional clarity because the rain has washed away all the dust and smog.

This period is also the period of Ramadan, which means that people will stop eating, drinking, and smoking after sunrise and resume food-intake after sunset. I'm quite familiar with Ramadan because of the large population of Muslims back in Singapore. Unlike in Singapore and Lebanon, Algerians are more strict with their observance of Ramadan, so there is no food and drinks sales anywhere throughout the day.

Our group of visitors to Algeria decided among ourselves that we should probably observe the local customs as well. Which means for the Japanese, no alcohol at all, which is a big sacrifice for them! For the past few days, we have either skipped meals or reduce our food intake drastically to just a bottle of water or a piece of fruits for lunch. Today was my second day of full fledge fasting and I think it is doing me good because it is reducing my stock of fats which, I have been diligently accumulating. Since yesterday, I opted to begin eating only one meal in the evening for the entire day. Its nice to be able to observe the local customs to show one's respect I think. A good way of gaining local respect through genchi genbutsu.

Still three hours and a half to go until the official breakfast time at 6:30pm. Everyone looks hungry (locals included) and we were just a while ago discussing dinner plans at a local pasta restaurant at the hotel and the visit to the El Khaima (traditional Ramadan performance) after dinner. Pasta sounds very good indeed!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Luggage Lost and Found...

I lost my luggage in Paris when I was flying back from Morocco on the 4th last Tuesday...

My flight from Charles de Gaulle Aeroport was delayed for two hours because there was a strike involving French transport workers, including those working at the airport. My luggage must have gotten lost. I realized that my luggage was missing at the baggage collection point along with 20 over people from the same flight. To register for luggage claim, I have to queue for another 2 hours.

It was a terrible experience because almost everything I own in Lebanon, I carried in my luggage. One of my colleague helped me by lending me some clothes to wear. Other stuffs, I had to buy. I even had to go to a colleague's "posh" wedding dinner without any formal wear! So...Tak Glam.... =(

Today morning, the company recep told me that they found it. Finally! A colleague drove me to the airport and I had to get through the bureaucracy to retrieve my luggage. It was almost one week due....

In post mortem analysis, the main culprit for this inconvenience is........AIR FRANCE !!!

A few colleagues and superiors had taken the same flight before and also had their luggage lost.
Yes, not everything European are first class. In fact, Air France is quite sub-standard. The service wasn't something to yell about...There was no procedure for lost luggage handling. You lose your luggage? Too bad! Don't complain and wait until it comes....No bloody mention of compensation for the delay at all!

Take Air France at your own risk....Have a nice FRIGHT!

Grrr....Have to get even....I want to watch The Last of The Mohicans movie DVD again to see the French get their ass kicked!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

When will I go diving again?

Darn! I haven't dived since July with Xinyi. Almost three months has passed.

My basic gears are still sitting in a DHL box ready to be shipped over from Singapore, once I have the official address for my apartment in Beirut.

To rub salt to the wound, the office in Morocco has a full view of the Atlantic ocean which made me longed to be out at sea rather than stuck in the office for meeting the entire weekend. Sigh...

A colleague in Beirut told me that the underwater landscape of Lebanon is dotted with sunken ships and planes. Really hope to be able to explore them.

I have to get out and blow some bubbles soon. Bloop bloop

Plus, I've yet to complete my PADI Underwater Banana Eating Specialty!

Monday, October 03, 2005

No Guys Allowed....

On a flight to Morocco, I read in Newsweek that some prominent hotels are wooing female customers with guest rooms exclusive with ladies. Quoting a top exec of a UK hotel, the article said that many hotels are realizing that 50% of business travellers are female and they hope to cater to this trend. Exclusive female guestrooms will have features that appeal to the lady traveller, such as feminine interior decorations, pink couches and other amenities. Also to come in the future, entire wings of hotels and resorts will be made exclusive to the female traveller. One hotel manager maintains that this is not discrimination.

Yeah right! That means that the next time I travel to a hotel, I will have half the chance of getting a room because the other half is reserved for the ladies, whether they turn up or not. I certainly will object to staying in a room with complimentary sanitary napkins in the drawers and pink fluffy pillows on the bed. Worse, I will be totally barred from an exclusive female wing of a hotel.

Seriously, I have never even considered that guestrooms are unfriendly to womankind. Aren't they neutral? Moreover, good hotels tend to be flexible to their customers' needs and give them almost what they want. Other than class and status, since when is gender an issue?

Without a doubt, this is certainly a marketing gimmick to pander to the rising spending power of women at the expense of men. Indeed, rise in women consumerism is bit by bit eroding the notion of men as the stronger sex. I'm not arguing that men should be the dominant gender but stating that this notion is sometimes far from the reality...We can be the weaker sex at some point as well, ladies...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Caught in a Demonstration / Oyako Donburi @ Tsuzuki’s

Yesterday was eventful. Earlier in the week, Mr. Tsuzuki invited me and Sakai over to his apartment for beer and oyako don. That afternoon, I went to Monoprix supermarket near Hamra to buy some toiletries for my apartment. I took a cab on the way back but was caught in a traffic jam. The traffic jam was caused by a political demonstration, which closed off road linking downtown Beirut to the Hamra shopping district. My apartment is on the other side. I was going to be late.

The cab then refused to take me to my destination as it was impossible to go through the demonstrators gathered by car. Eventually, I had to cut through the demonstrators to get home on foot. For the first time I found myself in the middle of a political rally albeit I was just passing through. If some rioting breaks out, I would be caught standing in the open holding nothing but two shopping bags filled with tissue papers, napkins and tooth-paste. It would be an amusing sight but I made it home uneventfully.

The demonstration stopped just outside Mr. Tsuzuki’s apartment to form up for a political rally. To get to his place, I was forced to make a huge detour and arrived half an hour later than the appointed time. Sakai was late because he too was caught in the demonstration.

Mr. Tsuzuki is a down-to-earth guy. It is a rare trait for an ex-TMC Division General Manager. He is always cheerful and very easy to get along with. Yesterday, he lost his golf buddies to business trips so he decided to do some cooking at home and invited us over to taste it. I like this dish and I am quite proud of the oyako don I prepare (Oh, the shame!). This was the first time I tasted oyako don in Nagoya style although I don’t think there was much difference. It would be nice if furikake was available to go with the rice but alas we are not in Japan. Nevertheless, it was a nice meal and a small lesson in home cooking.

Sakai, being the “rice bucket” as usual, downed 3 big bowls, practically clearing out the rice cooker. In the midst of my second helping, I reflected gratefully that I’m indeed fortunate to have Asian colleagues here to share and to care for each other.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Apartment Hunting Woes Ended

Finally, I am moving to my own apartment soon. I took a semi-furnished studio apartment in a newly renovated apartment that is not far from downtown Beirut, my workplace. The rent isn't cheap for a place that isn't big, and I had to stretch my budget a bit for it.

It's just big enough for one to two person. Not as cramped as a Japanese apartment but slightly bigger. I like the place because of the furnishing and interior design (I can be such a sucker!), that I was willing to overlook its few drawbacks: No space for a washing machine, no balcony, and not located near any major supermarket.

I spent the entire day yesterday buying stuff for my new home, accompanied by Sakai and newfound friends, Nabir and Samir. Nabir commented that my apartment is indeed too small for the price I paid and offered to help me look for a bigger and cheaper apartment that is located in a more convenient location. Let's see what comes up...

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Staying with Sakai

My colleague Sakai generously offered me to stay with him while I continue to look for my apartment. He is staying in East Beirut in an old but renovated unfurnished three-room apartment. The apartment has an 80s feel to it, which made me feel like I was back to my childhood years when my family was staying in our Clementi flat.

So here I was, after leaving Singapore more than a month ago, without a home and suitcase packed ready to go. I moved into Sakai's aparment on the 16th evening after work. His place was very conveniently located near Spinneys, a large supermarket, and ABC, a mall and cineplex. I really wished that my future apartment could be near these amenities but seems like its difficult to find such housing on a budget. I'm not as lucky as he is.

Sakai only furnished his apartment with the most basic items and left most of his apartment empty. One of the rooms was never used. I moved in to the small living room because there is a sofa bed which I could use. There was nothing else in the small living room except for an eerie looking, aged cupboard (no one knows who it belongs to and how old is it!), a foldable table and two chairs. It felt like when I was living in a military camp where I had absolutely nothing and everything I have was right beside me.

But at least I get music because Sakai likes to blast his L'arc en Ciel or Ken Hirai CD on his mini hifi every night after coming home from work. It was kind of pleasant actually as we chilled out on the balcony and singing to the tune of Laruku's Blurry Eyes.

Sakai has great neighbours too. Maria and her roomie leaving next door invites him over for meals. Nabir and his brother living upstairs also invites him for meals and takes him out sightseeing. Last Friday evening, Nabir dropped by Sakai's place while we were chilling out on the balcony and shared with us his experience of staying in this same apartment during the civil war. We could still see the bullet holes in the next building from where we were sitting.

Hopefully, I'll get such wonderful neighbours too! I think I wish for too many things!...

Blurry Eyes

遠くの風を身にまとう 貴方には届かない
言葉並べてみても また視線は何処か

籠の中の鳥のような 虚ろな目に


Why do you stare at the sky
with your blurry eyes?


振り向いたその瞳に 小さな溜息


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Apartment hunting woes...

After staying in the hotel for two weeks, I'm finally kicked out. Company policy thinks that a normal expat needs about two weeks to look for an apartment. It's better for me too because I can now officially qualify for housing allowances.

Unfortunately, unlike the normal expat, I'm more choosy, have higher benchmarks and a lower budget to satisfy those benchmarks. To be fair, I was also invovlved in a series of long meetings and didn't really have the time to look for an apartment myself. The company appointed an agent to help me with the apartment hunt. But as are most Lebanese, my agent likes to take his time and is usually non-responsive to phone calls.

Apartments in Beirut I have viewed are either old/big or new/small. The old ones were usually built before the civil war when land isn't that expensive yet, I guess. The new ones are constructed after the war and they are build small and cost a lot! Quite similar to our HDBs which are getting smaller and smaller by the day because of scarcity in land. I'm looking for an apartment that is near to a supermarket. Most of the candidate apartments near the supermarket are too old, too big or too expensive. Right now, there are a couple of candidate apartments that my agent has recommended. It all boils down to price negotiations and availability.

In the meantime, I'm homeless!

Thursday, September 15, 2005


In Algeria, Morocco or Lebanon, people often ask me where I come from? When I said Singapore, quite a number of them nod their heads and said, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, indicating that they have some geographical knowledge about South-east Asia.

I remembered telling some Singaporeans that I was leaving for Beirut, Lebanon but stopping over at Algeria and Morocco first. The responses were amusing but disappointing.

"Where's Lebanon?"
"Where's Algeria?"
"Is Lebanon in Africa?"
"What kind of country is Beirut?"
"Middle east? Are you going to be shot at?!?!"

And Singapore is a highly globalized society....
.... 分かるな...I think we need to better our geography and current affairs knowledge in schools...

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Yay! I don't have to wear a tie to work anymore!

My first day at work was on 1 Sept 2005. The morning sun was ablazed as we took a taxi to the office. My colleague had waited at the hotel to serve as a guide.

My workplace is at the Beirut Commercial District or BCD for short. BCD also stands for the lovely Buoyancy Control Device for Scuba Diving, but I'm digressing here.

The BCD, or downtown Beirut, is perhaps the most new and rebuilt part of Beirut after the civil war. The west of BCD is dominated by Muslims and the east side is dominated by the Christians. So its not difficult to imagine that during the civil war, both sides were shooting at each other across the BCD and laying waste to this city center. After the war in 1990, the BCD was easily rebuilt since it was destroyed so thoroughly.

My office is located close to the UN headquarters and also the parliarment house. It occurs to me that such a location makes it a delicious target for terrorist attacks. But security is tight here and no cars are allowed to be parked along the streets here for fear of car bombings. Car bombs are a huge fear here because the ex-PM was assassinated in Feb this year when his motorcade passed through a car bomb near to the BCD. Anyway, security is at its peak now.

There's no specific dress code in my new office so I, following my Asian colleagues who followed their bosses, unceremoniously dismissed the practice of wearing a tie from the standard office wear. Suddenly it felt more like a rite than a right....and so the Asian gang is formed....

(left)....A beautiful mosque downtown

Archeological dugout near the office: Roman bath....(right)

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Finally Beirut!

After half a month's travelling, I've finally arrived to my last destination for this trip. I caught my first glimpse of Beirut as the Middle Eastern Airlines Boeing 777 descent gradually southwards. My first sight was a long stretch of beach, where the waves of Mediterranean Sea continue to clash perpetually with the sands of Lebanon. A marina came into view and at the backdrop was an incomplete construction of what appears to be a highly sophisticated looking office tower. As I looked eastwards, multitudes of aged low-rised buildings dotted the landscape which sloped gradually upwards to the mountains in the distant. Within seconds, I landed with a full view of the International Airport.

The flight in from Paris was actually quite enjoyable. Middle Eastern Airlines (MEA) does keep up a service standard that's pretty on par with SQ. Plus, I got to enjoy movies-on-demand throughout the flight so there's nothing to complain about! I've got to get their mileage card =P

Compared to Algeria and Morocco, Lebanon is more developed. Looking at the streets on the way to the hotel, I could see similarities to streets of Bangkok and Hong Kong albeit less flashy billboards. However, Lebanese seem to have a penchant for showing opulence, I couldn't help but notice the number of luxury cars on the roads. Appears to me that out of 10 cars, 7 cars' a Merc (hey isn't that Singapore?!?!?) but the other 2 are probably an Infinity and a BMW (bourgeois scums! haha).

Arriving a the hotel with Sakai, I was greeted by another Asian colleague. It seems like I've not seen him since my interview a couple of months back. I hurriedly check in because I was hungry and we had dinner. Surprise, surprise, it was serving Asian food!

Saturday, September 03, 2005

1,600 Kilometers, 5 Cities, 4 Days!

In Morocco, we made three road trips.

1) Tanger in the north (to and back: 600 km, 2 days)
2) Fez and Rabbat in the north-east (to and back: 500 km, 1 day)
3) Marakesh in the south (to and back: 500 km, 1 day)
4) All trips began from Casablanca

Boy, were we tired! Even as passengers, we were so tired from the travelling. Kudos to Mr Iraqi and Karim for all the driving! Actually, the trips were rather pleasant. There's nice scenery and smooth traffic throughout. The only two problems were the sunny weather (40 + degrees throughout) and the speedtraps! I have never in my life seen so many policemen along the highway. It would seem to me that this country is so obsessed with speed offenders that they deployed their entire police force to catch them. In that case, Morocco must have an incredibly high ratio of policeman to civillians.

Later I was told that due to the holiday season in Europe from June to August, there was an influx of Moroccans living abroad to travel back to their home country. Therefore, more speed checks were required to keep accidents from happening.

Anyway, a little about some of the cities we visited:

One of the oldest city in Morocco. Consist of two parts: new urban residential areas and the old medina? (city?). Part of the walls that guarded the ancient city was still visible. The primary industry is agriculture and olive oil production. Moroccans like to think that the smartest people originates from here.

We had a heavy lunch at a luxurious Riad (as in ancient rich man's house converted into a hotel thingie). The Riad overlooks the ancient medina as shown in the picture. Standing there at that moment, its not difficult to imagine that I was looking over some epic historical war scene. Any moment, a medival army is going to charge down from the dunes to attack the defenders in the city. Cool! =)

Lucky us! We got some time to tour the ancient city. Hmmm....doesn't it look like Helm's Deep? =P

The capital city. This is the home of the King's political apparatus. We didn't spend much time here except for a brief stop at the showroom. The facade of the showroom has been specially design to reflect the status of the capital city. However, I felt that there's a lack of consistency with the other showrooms and therefore a difficulty for expressing a unified CI - corporate identity. Well if the boss likes it....=P

There is something magical about this city. The weather was a grueling 45 degrees in celsius when we arrived but we were immediately captivated by the city's unique feel. It's like going to.....Disney land..... Marakesh is a tourist place. As we wandered into the market place, we were instantly met by a variety of stores, shops and street touts marketing a huge variety of goods. Here's probably the chatuchak of Morocco.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Road Trip to Tanger, Morocco

(Moroccan architecture at Larache)
I arrived in Casablanca, Morocco on 24 August. My first itinerary was to visit our branch in Tanger on the 25-26 August. The distance between Casablanca and Tangier is about 400 km. Karim (a manager with the distributor) took me and my Japanese colleague, Sakai, in his Corolla.

The journey was a pleasant long and straight drive on the autoroute. To our west, we could see the Atlantic ocean, while on the east, stretched miles of farm land. We felt like we were going on a road trip to a vacation, But we were dressed like traveling salesman rather than tourists.

We stopped by a town Kenitra to visit a dealer there who served us very sweet traditional Moroccan pastry and tea. Also, we ate for lunch, the freshest grilled fish at Larache, a former Spanish fishing town. After lunch we had tea at the road side café near an old Spanish fort.

(Old Spanish fort at Larache)
We took more than 5 hours to arrive in Tangier from Casablanca. Downtown Tangier is buzzing with life day and night. Because it is only 14 km away from Spain, this border city is packed with vacationers either going to or coming from Spain. I believe that my good friends, Chien Yee and Steven were here before trying unsuccessfully to enter Spain.

(Façade of hotel)
Our hotel, El Minza, afforded a very nice view of the Mediterranean Sea. Next to El Minza was a very busy street. I tried to take a walk along the busy streets surrounding the hotel but soon felt weird because everyone was looking at me like I was some kind of alien. Basically, I have nothing much to do so I left the streets and went back to my room for some exercise. I desperately need to cut down on some weight gained from the excessive eating since my visit to Bangkok and then Algeria.

(View for my hotel, Spain is on the left but blocked)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Algeria: Surprising Africa

My one week's stay in Algeria completely changed my misconceptions about Africa. I thought Africa is mostly black, but I found in Algeria, mostly Arabs. I thought Africa is dry and barren because of the Sahara desert, but I discovered that Algeria is a large producer of agriculture. The fruits here are huge and "marvelously" sweet.

My experience in Algeria didn’t begin well initially. I arrived in Algeria on 16 August after a tiring 16 hour’s flight. The airport in Algiers was a disappointing sight! It looked something like the train station in Tanjong Pagar, very shabby and rundown. The airport was so small that once I cleared immigration, I was out of the airport. My welcoming party was waiting for me outside the airport gates! Talk about first impressions.

Well, my first impression didn’t last because when I look elsewhere, Algeria is rapidly changing. Under the current president, revenue from oil (a chief resource) is being pumped into a development program. Construction projects are springing up everywhere. Many of these projects were given to Chinese construction companies. Little wonder there are many Chinese living in Algeria. Even the new international airport is now being built by the Chinese construction workers!!!

(French style architecture in downtown Algiers)

In terms of culture, Algerians love the French. Their official business language is French, they watch French TV, their cooking is French style, their laws follow the French legislature, they like to drive French Renaults and Peugeot and their buildings were built by the French. In a nutshell, Algeria is like France with Arabs.

The people of Algeria are warm and humble. Although they are Muslims, many of them do love their wine. Algerian wine tastes excellent – smooth, light and fruity. Algerians love their food too. Every night after work, we are taken by our hosts to a hearty late night dinner. Their food tastes excellent although the portions are too big. Imagine a food lover like me having to refuse more food!!!

(The post office)

The country is not without its flaws too. The service is incredibly inefficient (I waited 20mins for my beer during lunch!!! =P) They don’t have a sense of urgency in what they do. Their flights are normally delayed for more than an hour!!! But after sitting down and dining with them, you tend to see things from their point of view. When you are in Algeria, what’s the hurry?

(Wedding at the airport: the groom has to fly from another city to fetch his bride here)