Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Living It Up In Beirut

If life in Algiers is like season 1 of Prison Break, where all the action was cooped up in a restrained area, then my visit to Beirut is like season 2 of Prison Break - where the action just keeps getting better and I'm moving from places to places all the time. ...bear with me, I think I'm overdosed on Prison Break...

Anyway, I'd been back in Beirut for two weeks now. Beirut is my first whiff of freedom after months of being cooped up in Algeria with nothing to expect but work. This mediterranean city is constanting boasting of nice places to eat, shop, hang-out, club. It is full of vibrancy and life that one can only dream of while in Algeria.

They told me that Lebanon is still suffering from the unstable situation since last year. Downtown Beirut looks a bit quiet and deserted. But the bad situation didn't stop some business from running nor spoil my appetite for good Sharwarma. (Arabic skewered meat)
As expected, there are no lack of places to hangout in Beirut.
Watermelon @ ABC Mall, Asharafieh was enjoying a full crowd when I visited with Xinyi. Nice thing about the restaurant? It's theme colors, menu and waiters' uniform changes according to the four seasons.

Their table mats have some liquid goo inside. They look so cool that I wish I could take one home to use as a mousepad. We were on diet and so we ordered some wings to share...

...and a salad, that's really big! (check out the depth of the bowl!)


Located not on the European continent but in west Beirut, this little pub attracts a young crowd from the nearby American University of Beirut. Since me and my colleagues were staying nearby in Hamra, we like to pop by this pub after work for a dose of Almazar, a local beer, or their Nakad house wine.

er... camera 'buay' steady after 3 Almazars...haha...

City Mall

City Mall can be found 10mins out of Beirut by car at Dora (pronounced dow-rah). The first time I heard about this place I thought ... Big Deal ... sounds like my friendly neighbourhood Lot 1 kinda shopping mall, where you can see the quinessential aunties struggling over each other to dig out from the pile, the last remaining piece of maroon and green bedsheet going at $9.90.

It's not a big place compared to Takashimaya but big enough. Familiar labels like Springfield, Timberland and Nike can be found there. There's a huge Carrefour style supermarket, Geant Casino, to complete the store line-up. All in all, there several good reasons to go there to shop.

But now there's a better reason to go there after I learned that their 9 theaters cineplex has already opened for business. I've been starved of my fair share of going to the theaters when I'm in Algeria to the point of desperation. Maybe desperation is an understatement. The experience of going to the movies armed with a bucket of pop-corn (half buttered, half caramel please....) simply cannot be replaced by watching DVDs at home, unless your system is THX certified but mine isn't. Anyway, it's the big screen, big sound or nothing while I'm in Beirut...

Look ma! They also have big cineplexes in Lebanon!

Hard Rock Cafe

HRC promotes Open Wings Open Beer all-you-can-eat every monday nights. We went there on the monday night before the Labor Day public holiday, and saw the biggest crowd that I have ever seen.

I spent a really good time there with my colleagues that night. The music ranged from vintage rock anthems to latest dancey pop helped to spice up the party ambience. And I'm pretty sure the beer helped too...


Faraya is a popular Ski resort in Lebanon for a good reason: European standards at a fraction of the price. But when we went to Faraya, it wasn't ski season anymore.

The snow was already melting. But we went up anyway to the InterContinental ski resort...
To enjoy tarts and hot chocolate...

Sadly, I couldn't find Bob, the snowman that I built when I came here last year. (I will miss you Bob~ )
But it was most definitely had been a very chillout trip for us...

Friday, April 20, 2007

Cooking Thai in Algiers (Mar '07)

"Finger like that and you won't cut yourself..." Na Min said as he demonstrated the technique to slice garlic. Na Min is one of the 10 Thai mechanics working in our after sales service department in Algiers. Na Min is an unassuming and easygoing man of average height. He looks to be in his mid 40s and for that reason he is referred by the other Thais as 'Na', which means 'Uncle' as a form of respect. And also because he does a lot of cooking for them. He was also my Thai cooking teacher and he was obviously very amused by my inaptitude with the kitchen knife.

It all started much earlier when I made friends with the Thai mechanics here. Anyway, one thing led to another, they got to know that I love Thai food. As the common wisdom goes: teach a man how to fish, it will feed him for a lifetime, so about a month ago by chance, I got the opportunity to learn how to prepare some common Thai dishes from Na Min. The recipes weren't that difficult to follow but getting all the ingredients may be a challenge in Algeria. Some of the ingredients such as the spices for green curry and chilli were brought by the Thais during their vacation back home. That means I have to stock up on Thai ingredients during my next visit back to Singapore.

The first dish Na Min taught me was Gang Keao Wan Gai (Thai green curry with chicken).

I was much surprised and relieved that one of my favourite Thai food is quite easy to prepare.

The second dish was Pad Ka Pow Goong (Stir-fried prawns with chilli and basil)

I don't eat prawns but it is easy to substitute using chicken or other meats. Cooking with basil really enhance the smell!

Finally, I prepared Larb Gai (Stir-fried Chicken Salad)

Larb is also one of my favourite Thai food. It was also surprisingly easy to prepare. They say practice makes perfect and I'm willing to spend lots of time and effort to perfect this dish.

The Verdict: Satisfactory (7/10)
Under expert supervision I was able to cook a authentic and tasty meal, even though some of the ingredients used weren't indigenious Thai. The larb dish was my particular favourite because Na Min's recipe was unlike those that I have tasted.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Join The Army They Say...

I am a trained riflemen.

Although I don't ever consider myself an expert in marksmanship and I'm also out of touch as well but I had received some pretty good training. Some of the things that you learned, you won't easily forget ... just like riding a bike or driving a car. If it comes to the crunch, training takes over and I think I can shoot pretty well.

I remembered marksmenship training to be tough. We were taught to shoot at stationery and moving targets from various positions and from different situations. I remembered seeing a lot of interesting reactions that came with people who are handling deadly weapons. But I had never seen this....

Wah lao...I am glad that there isn't this kind of bonding in my army.

Oh Baby Baby It's A Wild World

Yes, indeed it is. Just take a look at the recent outbreaks of suicidal style killings in Algeria and Morocco, two countries that I happened to be in at the time coincidentally.

In Morocco, Casablanca April 10th, 3 suicide bombers wearing explosive belts blew themselves up in Casablanca killing a policeman and wounding others. A 4th bomber was gunned down by a police sniper before he had any chance of blowing himself up. (CNN source)

Then on April 11th, a suicide bomber killed 30 and wounded 200 or more when he detonated his car in downtown Algiers. Another bomb also killed 11 people when it went off near a police station. (CNN source)

A day after my arrival in Casablanca on Friday 13th, another two suicide bombers blew themselves up near the American Cultural Center. A third suspected bomber was arrested before he could blow himself up.

And not to mention many more similar terrorist acts around the world, especially Iraq and even in the US.

Why are these people so eager to take their lives and harm the lives of many other innocent people in the process? The common justification for such kinds of action is that the aged old idea of "good vs evil" sometimes with heavy religious overtones. The perpetuators rationalize themselves as the good guys who are fighting against something perceived as evil. However, I believe that any religion worth its salt will never condone any form of reckless killing no matter how noble the ideals maybe.

Incidently the issue reminded me of an espisode in the series Supernatural that I watched recently. In the episode, the spirit of a recently deceased pastor, due to a violent shooting, started to reappear to others as a holy vision. The spirit, believing that he had become God's avenging angel, started appealling as a vision to some 'low life' (a prostitute and an alcoholic), and offered them 'redemption' by taking the life of someone, whom the spirit knew had committed or is going to commit a grievous crime. At the end of the episode, the pastor's spirit, summoned by a séance performed by Sam Winchester, defended his actions and that he was acting upon the word of God, to strike down those who has sinned against humanity. Hearing that, the mentor of the dead pastor disagreed and said, "'Thou shall not kill!' THAT is the word of God!"

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Turmoil in Algiers?

Algeria made it on Strait Times Interactive today with a majoy league bad news that reads: 2 Algiers bombs kill 30, stoke security fears." According to another similar news article on sg.yahoo, it was the first time since the 1990s that the Algiers city center was targeted. The suicide bombing was targetted at the prime minister's headquarters. Hospital sources put the toll from the two bombings at 30. Earlier, the official APS news agency put the toll at 17 dead with 82 wounded. The main guerilla group, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which has adopted a new name since January after it deepened its ties to al Qaeda, has since claimed responsibility. The group, now called the al Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb, has been responsible for a number of deadly bombings targeting security forces and foreigners.


Well at least the situation reported by the news is better than what I heard from the locals this morning. They told me there were five explosions altogether and 16 unexploded bombs discovered by the security forces. One of the explosion was just few kilometers near our office. Although there is no way of comfirming these hearsay but I believe that the locals are pretty fond of blowing things out of proportion (no pun intended).

It was widespread belief that that the islamic insurgency was a thing of the past after the issue of presidential amnesty for the insurgents (see my previous entry). Any occurences of violence are restricted to the mountainous regions while populated regions are heavily patrolled by security forces. Seems like this theory has been proven wrong.

But before everyone panics, it may be wise to look at the current situation objectively. According to the latest popular belief, the escalation of insurgent attacks is aimed at disrupting the coming general election in May. So everyone can expect a step-up in attacks from now until May. We just have to avoid public places in order to be safe. All in all, Algeria is still a safe place given the low statistics of attack occurences compared to the large numbers of foreigners here.

Does knowing this help? Hell, no. Our group of expatriates has to commute from our guest apartment to the office daily through congested and narrow city streets for about 20 - 40 mins, depending on traffic conditions, in a big Hiace passenger van. We are going to be sitting ducks vulnerable to road side bombs or sidewalk gun fire attacks if we are being targeted. Am I being paranoid? I don't think so, there had been one such attack on expatriates of an American company last year and a similar incident on a Russian company bus last month. While the situation is not totally FUBAR but it will be something to think about on the daily commute.

Man, life in Algiers is getting more interesting!