Friday, May 30, 2008

The Mattress Incident

When on the road, the quality of simple stuffs like clothes, food, accomodations and means of transportation can make a lot of difference to the travel experience.

My trip in Algeria didn't start well. Yesterday, I found out two things:

1) My means of transportation, a Corolla, which I am sharing with 2 other colleagues, now had to be shared also with over 10 ICTs*. That means my freedom of movement is somewhat curbed because I cannot have all time access to the car.

I can stomach this because it takes a little advanced scheduling and everyone can be satisfied. What I couldn't stomach is the following:

2) I discovered that the mattress in my room at Palm Beach had been swapped with one that is inferior. Consequently, I couldn't get my quality sleep last night because of that.

I thought the guesthouse management swapped my mattress because I hadn't been living in the guesthouse for a long time and my mattress was of good imported quality provided by my company. A little investigation this morning told me that I was wrong about them. A Japanese director from my headquarters company in Beirt is now implicated. The investigation continues...

Dear XXX san,

Yesterday I arrived to Palm Beach guesthouse. During bedtime, I discoverd that my mattress, the one I brought from Cheraga guesthouse had been switched.

My mattress had been switched with a very old mattress that caused backaches. I could feel the spine of the bed for the entire night because the mattress was too soft. As a result, I couldn't sleep well because of that.

This morning I checked with the Palm Beach attendant and a ICT, they told me that you exchanged my mattress with Chinese ICT six weeks ago

May I understand if this is true and the reason why my mattress was changed?


* ICT: (Inter-company transferees) Employees belonging to our distribution companies in other countries transfered to Algeria to work for a length of time.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

In Algiers At Last

After two weeks of waiting for my visa, I was finally able to come to Algeria.

I realized that the process of getting the Algerian visa from Morocco was too complicated because it passed through too many hands. Unfortunately, this time I couldn't help it due to the recent crisis in Lebanon. In the future, I would prefer to apply through the embassy in Beirut.

Moreover, the Moroccan sun can be so punishing. And this is coming from someone who lived all his life in a country that only knows summer.

Seemingly peace has triumphed in Lebanon. A peace settlement brokered by the Arab League had been reached between the fighting Sunni and Shites factions. A new president who was the chief of army was elected.

I was informed that most expats had returned to our Beirut office to resume work. A Lebanese colleague who I met in Casablanca told me that after the blockades to Beirut downtown was removed, the shops and restaurants are all starting to reopen. (The blockade was for several months a Hezbollah-led effort to disrupt the economy and protest against the government before the crisis in May).

That means that I have more choices during lunch when I am back in Beirut.

Will the peace last? Any guess is as good as mine. Since Hezbollah has not agreed to disarm and since it has another agenda outside of Lebanese national interests, international politics may again trigger off events such as the Hezbollah-Israeli war in 2006.

Meanwhile, I will stay in Algiers for one week for work issues. Due to some internal adjustments, I will also be moving out of Palm Beach guesthouse back to the former one in Cheraga.

Just when the good weather is coming, I am moving away from the beach. What a let down.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

An Update From Casablanca

Although I have so much to blog about, I had difficulty accessing a computer until when I arrived in Casablanca. I got a temporary notebook from our local office here. When I was leaving for Europe, I didn't want to bring my notebook along but I didn't expect to miss it.

It had been a very long trip starting since I left Beirut in late April almost one month ago with a large backpack worth of clothes. I'd spend most of my time visiting parts of Europe and Turkey for vacation and for a little business. After my arrival last Wednesday in Morocco, the travel bug apparently hasn't stop biting. Over the weekends, Xinyi and I joined our colleague and his wife on a road trip to Tangiers.

I should be travelling again this time at the end of the week, to Algiers, provided if I am able to get my Algerian visa before the week ends. All because I wasn't able to return to Beirut from the Europe trip due to the political unrest there.

Updates from Lebanon confirmed that the Beirut airport has re-opened. However, I wish to evaluate if the calm will persist in Beirut a little longer before deciding to return. In the meantime, I will be settling in my second home in Algiers.

As I mentioned earlier, there are so many things to blog about. I've yet to update my entries about the Prague business trip. As things had been moving so fast, I missed the opportunity to blog and upload my photos of the exciting Europe trip to the Netherlands and Belgium. In addition, there's the Istanbul and Tangier trip that deserves their separate entries along with lots of photos too.

With so many thing to come, I wonder when will I ever get the time to blog about all of this long trip.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Crisis in Beirut (Again)

Things Gone Awry
If things went as planned, I will be blogging this entry from Beirut about about my European trip. Instead I am now blogging from an Istanbul hotel about the unrest in Beirut.

During the transit in Istanbul with Xinyi after my Prague business trip and our 2 weeks vacation in Europe, it was announced that our Beirut bound flight on late Wednesday night was cancelled.

Approaching the Turkish airlines transit desk for more information, we were joined by many others who were also from the same flight. Personnels at the desk explained that Beirut airport was closed because Hezbollah and the Lebanese army started fighting and the airport was blockaded by either one of the factions.

The Lebanese passengers however told a different story. The airport was merely closed due to a strike. As usual, nobody knows the clear situation in Lebanon, even the Lebanese themselves.

After diverting some passengers to limited seats on flights to Jordan and Syria, the remaining passengers were shuttled to a hotel in Istanbul early Thursday morning to try for the late evening flight to Beirut should the airport be opened by then.

As I have the 'highest confidence' in the Lebanese when it comes to resolving political issues, I am sure that the airport will not reopen that soon. It seems like my vacation still hasn't ended and I will be visiting Turkey. Also I had to mentally prepare myself to be out of a living base for a while for the second time.

An Earlier Than Expected Visit To Turkey.
We were already planning to visit Istanbul in May for business and for a short vacation. In fact, we bought a guide book for Turkey in a book sale when we were in Holland. It was strange that we are unexpectedly in Turkey and the book became handy. Was buying the book a premonition?

Thursday was spent visiting various tourist sites in Istanbul by taking advantage of the hotel's good location within Istanbul old city. We admired the awe-inspiring domes of the Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque), scoured the outskirts of the Aya Sofya museum and park (it was past closing time), shopped for Turkish apple tea and doner (shawarma) at the world's largest covered bazaar (4,400 stores!).

During dinner, it was apparent that things in Beirut don't look so good (heavy street fighting) and the airport will remain closed. Turkish airlines extended our hotel for another night and we will decide alternative travel options the following day.

In the evening, joined by two Dutch men, a German guy and a Lebanese lady, we visited Taksim for drinks. Taksim, in contrast to Istanbul old city, was full of trendy restaurants, chic pubs and modern stores that caters to a vibrant and young Turkish crowd and foreigners. There seem to be no restrictions on public drinking even though the entire population is Muslim.

By Friday noon, it was common knowledge that Beirut is off limits indefinitely. Foreign visitors opted for alternate destinations such as Israel to fly to or return to their home countries. Lebanese passengers chose to fly to Damascus where Turkish airlines will arrange transportation for crossing the border to Lebanon.

I felt that Turkish airlines responded to our cancelled flight situation very professionally and timely. For instance, we were entitled to a good hotel and three meals. However, it would be much more appreciated if the airline management could inform a bit earlier about our options after learning the closure of the Beirut airport.

Situation in Beirut

It seems guilty to be having fun while Lebanon is in crisis and some colleagues were left behind.

Most expatriate colleagues and family in Beirut were being evacuated to Syria when the situation was getting critical in Beirut, some expats and all the Lebanese colleagues remained.

A Columbian colleague contributed on the ground correspondence through sms. He had to spend Thursday night in his favorite Hamra pub with other patrons and staff because gunfire and explosion were going off on the streets. But at least he got free wine.

A Japanese colleague was unable to leave Beirut because his passport has been detained by the authorities for residence permit renewal just prior to the outbreak of violence. The unlucky guy has to live through two nights of street violence.

Eventually, I got information that both of them and all Lebanese colleagues were able to be somewhere safe away from the violence.

I'm not sure how things in Beirut is going to play out. Although the situation in Beirut received some major international attention, it has been downplayed by the cyclon disaster in Burma. Perhaps the world is starting to say to Lebanon that it is time for the Lebanese to solve their own problems instead of depending on others.

Interesting Trivia:
Number of flights cancelling on me: 2 (in France, 2006 and in Turkey, 2008)
Number of times I was lucky to be out of Beirut when the shit hit the fan: 2 (July 2006 and May 2008)
Am I beginning to see a pattern here?