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.