Monday, October 22, 2007

Back To The Middle Ages

Sometimes I feel that coming back to Algeria is like being back to the Middle Ages.

When I return to my apartment in Cheraga, I discovered these:

1) Heater for apartment and water spoilt and dismantled. The apartment is getting cold (20 degrees celcius interior)and I have to shower at co-workers apartment everyday. I felt very inconvenienced.

2) Wireless internet down. Router missing.

3) Cable TV down

It's back to basic living...

4) Housekeeping lady ate my pork Bah Kua!
I found few pieces of my vacuum packed bah kua missing. Only the housekeeping lady has been in the apartment since I'm gone and she has been known to eat our food and take our things.

Is it a sin if a Muslim ate pork, even though unkowningly? Well she deserves it for taking food without asking anyway.

2nd Freshmen Training Camp Begins!

So the 2nd company 'freshies' training camp has begun in Algeria from Oct 21 until Nov 15. Company has decided, following a successful season in Morocco last year, to increase the intake from 40 to 120!

The big intake was to provide a pool of TW-trained inductees to cater for our Algerian distributor's human resource problems. This is also the first year our regional training academy begins to train associates for our distributors/dealer in other countries like Egypt, Syria, China, Japan, Morocco and Sudan, which explains the huge intake as well.

I pity the 'freshies' who are used to creature comforts like me. Upon arrival, they were sent to El Bahir hotel, an enclosed compound that is pretty away from civilization (at the 'attractive price of USD21/night!), and immediately began facing water and food problems. The showers weren't working and food catering wasn't sufficient.

Nothing to shout about in the interior decorations area too. The furniture and room design is circa 60s.

I began to feel that my apartment in Cheraga is a paradise.

"Grand Opening Night"

So yesterday was the opening party of the freshmen camp on site at El Bahir hotel. I was invited.

As usual dinner started late so I took a look around at the facilities. The hotel features a swimming pool albeit it was drained during autumn and winter.

The design of the swimming pool is certainly one of a kind. A rectangle pool that is length-wise olympic standard, albeit narrower in breadth. Right at one end of the pool are two cylindrical pillars with each a tree growing in the middle.

I wonder very often what the Algerians are thinking?!?!

Lifeguard: "Swimmer in Lane 5, WATCH OUT for that tree!!!!"

The dinner portion of the event was in reality very short. The freshies were already starving because breakfast and lunch was light. When the late dinner started, everyone rushed to the food.

The picture did not do justice to reality. I had never seen a buffet spread suffered a more savage and brutal multi-pronged attack other than yesterday evening.

Algerian and Moroccan forces forced a decisive armored pincer push on poulet. Egyptian and Syrian troops launched an airborne blitz assault on poisson. Chinese and Sudan special forces struck at the rear on viande.

It took tops 15 mins for the dinner guests to clear out 3 large table spread of food! Even the dessert table was mopped up simultaneously. Indeed, the adage "Leave No Eclair Behind" was proudly upheld by the freshies last evening.

Highlights of Last Evening's Dinner?

1) Visited by the Japanese ambassador to Algeria at the dinner. He was invited by the chief executive of the local distributor since they are friends. Our core business is Japanese cars so maybe it was a good PR move on the CE part.

2) My first taste of Mattake (matsutake or pine tree mushroom). A luxury product in Japan it is reputed to fetch a high price of USD 1,000/1 kg. In Algeria, they told me that it is growing in abundance. It tastes quite good when barbequed with soya sauce which complement the fresh pine aroma very well.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Congratulations To Jackson Again!

Dude, you made it into the final 6! Yes!!!


All the best for the last part of the contest!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Leaving Beirut

I'm leaving Beirut for Algeria on an evening flight today.

In the days before leaving, we got a celebratory mood going and spent some nights partying.

The pictures will do the talking.

Open Beer, Open Wings @ HRC

Me, Pablo, my Columbian co-worker, looking silly with HRC waitress

We partied with a group of Armenian guys and it was double the fun. Boy, were they were rowdy!

Bora wants to be the new Ghost Rider

Xinyi's Birthday Dinner @ Molly Malone's Irish Pub @ Gemayze

This cosy little pub got really crowded with people soon after our arrival

Gaelic steak; Xinyi said it was one of the steak she had tasted. I agreed after trying the taste.

Irish Stew; Disappointing taste and quantity. I like my stew hearty!

Happy Birthday! to Xinyi

Sunday, October 14, 2007

England Through To Rugby World Cup Finals

Josh Lewsy's early try

The traditional rivalry between the English and French was re-ignited in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals yesterday. The English must defend their championship title against the French on their own turf in Saint Denis.

France is the host country for this year's rugby world cup. The French had very high hopes of going into the finals and winning the the world cup for the first time.

The game was telecast live at The Celtic, an Irish pub along Monot Street (like Mohammad Sultan in Singapore). The mood was high as the pub was crowded with French and English supporters there to cheer their national teams on in this important match.

An Irishman told me, due to obvious reasons, he is sticking with the French. Interesting.

An early try two minutes into the game by Josh Lewsey brought England ahead by 5 points. Johnny Wilkinson's failure to convert the try to increase the score margin would haunt England for the entire game as both sides were neck to neck in their score throughout the game.

Both teams were so evenly matched, no more trys were scored for the first half. The French were able to capitalise on a couple of penalties conceded and led the score over England at half time. Half time - France 6:5 England.

French supporters celebrating their half time lead

The second half was nail-biting for me to watch as the French were slowly inching their way towards victory holding on to their 1 point lead. The British were unable to gain any points as the game will soon draw to a close. England supporters, undaunted, sang the anthem in support for their team both at the stadium and in the pub:

Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home

The bartenders were obviously not taking sides

Wilkinson back on par in the second half scored a penalty and a drop kick with 6 minutes remaining in the game and brought England to victory. Final Score - France 9:14 England

Oh Sweet victory! England supporters celebrating their team's win

World cup dream for les bleu is over. England will play either South Africa or Argentina in the finals on 20 Oct next Saturday.


Despite playing well, the English team lost to the South Africans in the finals yesterday. =(

No repeat victory for England =(

South Africa wins Rugby World Cup for 2nd time

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Eid and The End of Ramadan

In Beirut during Ramadan, things had not been difficult as initially thought. For one, food is readily available.

Several schedule changes occurred during the fasting month. Working hours were adjusted to facilitate the fasting month. Lunch hour is cancelled and Work ends an hour earlier so that the muslims can arrive home earlier to prepare to break their fast. For the non-Muslims, we still get our lunch and knock off with the rest an hour ahead of usual.

In the evening, muslims hang out and enjoy other social activities after the breaking of fast and evening prayers so restaurants and stores stay open until midnight to cater for these customers.

Save for these and some obvious changes to the routine, Ramadan in Beirut did not look that festive to me. In Singapore, muslim households compete with each other to see who can put up a nicer lighting display and glowing green giant ketupats dazzle passing motorists along the streets of Geylang and Eunos.

When I arrived in Lebanon and waited for the beginning of Ramadan, I had expected that the festive atmosphere in Beirut will be even more over the top, given that the Lebanese have a flair for being dramatic. However, I was utterly disappointed. The several nights that I had hanged out along popular Hamra street had not put me in the least celebratory mood at all.

Today is Eid, the first day that marks the end of Ramadan. The streets are almost empty of people and the majority of the stores are closed, saved for popular establishments like coffee houses and shopping malls. It seems that most Beirutians prefer to spend time with their family and relatives during Eid, some even return to their native towns and cities to do that. This is not unlike the Chinese New Year visiting that we do.

The ones that truly enjoyed the coming of Eid holidays were my hotel neighbours (University undergrads?) who stayed up late last night partying, drinking, making a fool of themselves and keeping me up.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Sometimes I cannot recognize my own name.

In the overseas Chinese context, family name (surname) is placed before name. But following the islamic convention, people in Algeria, Lebanon and the entire Arab world go by their first name and their father's name. So names are constructed differently.

In official papers, they do not only ask for family name and first names, but also for my father's name too. So officially my name will be constructed this way: (family name)(name)(father's name)

Suppose my name is Tan Ah Kow and my dad's name is Ah Niao. My name will be Tan Ah Kow Ah Niao.

So no blame can be put on me when I failed to acknowledge to an Arabic twist of Ah Kow Ah Niao, announced over the bank or government office counter.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Yet Another Update From Beirut

So I get to spend yet another week in Beirut.

I cannot return to Algeria because my entry visa isn't ready. It'll take longer than usual this time due to a new ruling.

In partial fulfillment of the Algieran visa application, it is now required of me to get a reference letter from the Singapore consulate in Beirut to certify that I am a Singaporean residing in Lebanon. It is not clear why I have to do so because I have a Lebanese resident permit as document proof.

Although this no longer came as a surprise because I have learned first hand that Algerians are masters of generating redundant paperwork in the universe.

Then the consul general of the Singapore consulate in Beirut (a Lebanese) had to add his own contribution into the paperwork fun. First he wants to know why he needs to issue the reference letter in his capacity.

So I had to fax the consulate (their email is not working) a request letter stating my purpose, attached with scans of my passport and Lebanese resident permit. On top of that I've also attached a sample letter issued by the Malaysian consulate to a co-worker , in case the Singapore consul general doesn't understand my request.

Then the Singapore consul general wants to find out if it is in his capacity to issue the reference letter by running it through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs first. I mean, dude, it is just a simple personal request from a Singaporean citizen overseas, don't make it a foreign affair issue please.

And all this while I am legally and physically residing in Beirut since the beginning of last month and had done so last year before being stationed in Algeria.

Meanwhile, my delayed return to Algeria is driving my paymasters nuts because they prefer to see me earn my pay slogging over there where most of the sales revenues are coming from.

USD/SGD Exchange Rate Hits Record Low

Speaking of my pay, which is calculated in US dollars, the recent decline in USD/SGD exchange rate had been very bad news for me.

My 2 year stint with the company has seen the USD weakening against the SGD. Last month, it broke through the 1.5o mark.

Today, the USD hit another bottom (US$1= SGD$1.472). It has reached the record low in 5 years
. With my pay pegged at USD 1 = SGD 1.65 in my job contract, today's exchange rate implies that I had kenna an approximately 11% paycut!

Why? God, Why?!

Hopefully, my paymasters will have mercy on me and revise up the pay to compensate for exchange rate losses soon. The pay package is beginning to lose it's attraction.