Monday, September 24, 2007

The Curious Incident About The Dog ... & A Wiimote

Although I was never a proud owner of a dog .... yet. I was able to experience the joy and tribulations in having a dog when I read "Marley & Me: Life and love with the world's worst dog" by John Grogan.

Grogan writing probably captured the essence of what it was like to have a dog, judging by the overwhelming responses by dog lovers on his blog.

The book is now and will be providing me with hours more of reading pleasure about the exploits of Marley the lab, when I am due to travel back to Algeria next week. It will make me more resolved to have my own pet dog some day after returning to Singapore. I would like to have an alsatian, although I wouldn't mind a labrador after reading the book.

Anyway, given my current fascination with the labrador, it was amusing to come across a very wacky news about a labrador that swallowed a Nintendo Wiimote whole. Now I cannot imagine what a labrador wouldn't do?

According to the news, a family in Colorado allowed their 3 year old labrador an old TV remote as a chew toy. Unable to discern better, the lab came across a misplaced Wiimote, thought that it was another chew toy, and promptly ate it!

When the lab started spitting up blood, the family grew alarmed and sent it to the vet. Upon an X-ray examination, it was revealed that the lab had swallowed the Wiimote. The vet was able to expel the wiimote after some medication and some belly massaging.

In punishment, the lab got an overnight stay at the vet for further observation. The son paid the ultimate price for misplacing his wiimote. He got two weeks allowance docked as a punishment to replace the chewed up wiimote.

Wish I could say "dog ate my missing PSP".

Can you spot the chewed up Wiimote in the X-ray? I can't

Another Update from Beirut

There was a bomb explosion last week, which killed a politician in Eastern Beirut. It was on the same day I was at ABC Shopping Mall in East Beirut for shopping and movie. I didn't learn about it until the next day but Xinyi and I was wondering the entire time, why there were scarcely any people at the mall?

"It was probably a weekday." was what we thought.

Political assassinations seem to be common in Lebanon nowadays. Yet no one is taking the responsibility for the killings.

The anti-Syrian faction, the ones doing most of the dying, are blaming Syria for the assassinations as revenge on the anti-Syrian faction for plotting an end to the Syrian political domination in 2005. The pro-Syrian faction alleges that the anti-Syrian faction is fond of using Syria as a scapegoat when killing off opponents.

The Lebanese people had grown rather accustomed to these political killings. At the expectant rate of one politician killed every few months, and except for a few unfortunate souls, who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, the Lebanese seems to be unperturbed by any of the violence happening around at all.

Unaffected they may seem though, the Lebanese are probably fretting about the long term impact of this political turmoil. Life goes on as usual but life may not be as rosy as before. Today, the taxi drivers are not bargaining as hard as compared to last year. They figured out that it is at least better to be paid less than to lose a passenger. Peopl are also complaining about the climbing crime rates. Tourism, I think, must be in shambles as tourist are giving Lebanon the detour

The tourist trade in Lebanon, a mainstay of the economy, was given no respite after being disrupted by the Israel-Hezabollah war in late 2006 . Followed soon after by the Lebanese political protest, although a peaceful sit-in demonstration, impacted the economy negatively in several ways, including the closure of downtown Beirut as a vibrant business and dining venue .

Mounting political tensions continued to keep tourists away as two anti-Syrian MPs were assassinated in separate incidents between late 2006 and early 2007.

Then in May of 2007, a bloody insurgency broke out between Lebanese security forces and an outlawed Islamic organization, Fatah al Islam. Ending only in the beginning of this month, it was followed by the explosion that killed the politician two weeks later.

If these events don't scare the tourists away, I don't know what would. If I don't have to stick to my business travel objectives, I wouldn't want to visit Beirut. It is going to take a long time and tantamount efforts before Beirut could regain its reputation as the "Paris of the Middle East".

On a different note, Xinyi and I had a great outing last week at the movies (Ratatouile, in my opinion is an excellent movie) and ate good pasta at Napoletana in ABC Mall.

Italy in your city, the restaurant promises on its slogan

Xinyi's plate: Spaghetti alla Carbonara. It looked pretty good!

My plate: Fusili alla Sicilliani which literally translates as Sicilian twisted pasta. It was an excellent choix.

Monday, September 10, 2007

An Update

All Quiet On the Middle Eastern Front

I will be working in Beirut for the entire month of September because I need to re-apply for my Lebanese work and residence permit.

Due to the unstable political landscape here, many stores and restaurants in the downtown area where I'm working, had relocated to other parts of Beirut. The entire area now resembles a cross between silent hill, minus the gloom and monsters, and an army camp, where you see troops, M113s and concertina wires everywhere.

People are hinting that the month's end election will foster a consensus between the clashing political factions. However, it seems that there were too many unrealized hopes in the past and it doesn't easily give credibility to this election as a resolution to the country's political problems. At least there had been no outbreaks of violence in the recent months.

News From The Home Front

Angus, my nephew, is able to sit up by himself and has begun to eat solid food. My sis has sent me photos of Angus celebrating his 'coming of age' with a foam party.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Fast Food & Algeria

There has been some speculation on why there is no proper fast food in Algeria. I'm talking here about big franchises like MacDonald's or Burger King with their standardized menus and ubiquitous restaurant outlets that are encroaching on the modern and traditional alike, thereby, ruining the historical picturesqueness of some places.

One plausible explanation was that there is a lack of freeze storage technology nor stable electricity supply that fast food chains like MacDonalds require to store their ingredients. Possibly also, there is a lack of trustworthy local ingredients supply (Algerian don't usually consider time nor quality to be essential).

Maybe it's a good thing that there is no MacDonalds or KFC. Academics has warned about the dangers of over-rationalization as exemplified by the rapid institutionalization of fast food and eating habits in society (see Weber's Protestant Ethics, 1958; Rizter's MacDonaldization, 1993; Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, 2001). Too much of something is obviously, no good.

Don't get me wrong, there has been fast food in Algeria for as long as anyone can remember. It is not difficult to get your hands on a hamburger with fries and coke from a local store, shamelessly named McMadrid or McQuince. The local fare is unfortunately sans taste and hygiene, in the "man, my burger is dripping oil and the meat patty looks suspicious" kind of way. (if you want a comparison, it's like Ramli burger sold along a ulu street enroute to KL BUT much much more awful tasting and messier!)

Anyway, depending on your perspective, it may be a bane or a boon when you cannot find the familiar golden arches everytime you turn the corner. For a person far away from home, I just want to sink my teeth into something familiar, something that is reminiscent of familiar times, with a predictable taste and quality.

I mean, a Big Mac should taste, smell and look almost similar whether purchased from an outlet in modern metropolitan Shinjuku or from an outlet in down-trodden, desolated slum of Southern Namibia. One can argue until the cows come home about the taste and quality of a Big Mac but we would be digressing.

So it is not an exaggeration to say that social change has finally arrived with the first opening of a Quick outlet in July 2007 at Ben Mhidi, Algiers.

Quick is a Belgian fast food restaurant chain similar to MacDonald's and has 400 restaurants located in Belgium, France and Luxemburg. It has made plans for 20 outlets in Algeria for the next 5 years, with the next outlet opening in Sidi Yahia.

Given the present situation, it wouldn't hurt abit if Algerians could learn a little bit more standards in food preparation and storage from the fast food MNCs. Food poisoning is a serious problem in Algiers due to lack of knowhow in food storage and the unhygienic way of preparing food. ( Every expat colleague of mine has experienced different degrees of food poisoning while in Algeria making the term halal food rather meaningless.

Often we encounter local restaurants that are simply no longer interested in improving their menu and customer service to woo customers anymore. The emergence of a fast food industry in Algeria will most probably drive competition up, forcing the local business to either level-up or go out of business.

Our Visit to Quick
Deepsixed, Pablo, Felix and me visited the first Quick outlet in Algiers downtown one evening. Was too busy to blog about it until now.

Like any fast food restaurant in other parts of the world, it was crowded with teenagers and families. Although the facade doesn't look like anything special but this IS the first burger restaurant brand owned by an MNC in the history of Algeria. (And we were there, Wow!)

We had to fight the queue in order to order our dinners from the counter. Algerians queue like the way they drive (me first! me first!). There is no respect of proper queueing, people are cutting queues and elbowing each other. It was so frustrating that I forgot to take a picture of the chaos at the counter. Since I grew up taking MacDonalds for granted and these Algerians had been waiting their entire lifetime to eat foreign brand burgers, I relented and allowed some of them cut my queue.

When it was my turn to order, the cashier was able to take my order for four persons correctly amidst the din the shoving crowd was creating (Incredible!). When she returned with our food, she had forgotten to give us fries, which is a typical Algerian habit of not delivering on promise. Anyway, deepsix reminded her and she quickily rectify the mistakes on the spot. A historical achievement for Algerian service industry!
Doesn't my burger and fries look neat or what? It has been a long time since I came across a burger that is nice prepared and neatly wrapped (if the ones in hotel restaurants are to be excluded). Interestingly, my colleague ordered Quick's signature burger, Giant, but it appears to be no bigger than all the other burgers on the menu. Giant is the name but do not necessary refer to the size, I was told later.

I saw a staff in the restaurant who was distributing balloons to children of the customers in the restaurant. Many patrons were approaching him to ask for free balloons, even asking for those that are not yet inflated. I presume that many of these people were asking for balloons for their kids, their next door neighbour's kids, their cousin's kids in the next wilaya, their former room-mate's kids or something.

Again, things that we took so much for granted, they are special here. I later heard that this is probably the first incident of free balloon giveaway in Algiers. Maybe the Algerians had never been able to buy balloons or get a free one before this.