INGULFED

In Shanghai

Archive for history

New Sense

“I can’t talk Arabic when I’m drunk,” said Yasser, a Bahraini born and bred. Alcohol and the official language of a religion that forbids it, I thought — something about this dissonance was too much. Plus, he told me with a light flick of his cigarette, we think everything western is better.

It felt honest, that Bahrain was a country that had handed over the reigns to someone else. On the weekends, SUV-loads of shop-and-drink-deprived Saudis drive the 16 mile-long bridge from Dammam to use the tiny island nation as their playground — the kind of playground teachers let the older kids supervise while they have their cigarette break somewhere far away.

I had spent the night on the sofa of a friendly local host who answered my CouchSurfing request. When I woke up, he was making banana pancakes.

Perfetto!” Taher was pleased. His other guest, a young Swiss woman looking for work in town, seemed used to the treatment. Taher, 36, had started a contracting business to become his own boss and to leave more time for travel — a month earlier, he was touring Southeast Asia; before that, Europe. “No one even knows anyone that has done what I’ve done,” he said, unaffected. For a country that pulls so much in, it seems to send very little out.

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Hanging on Howitzers —معلقة على مدافع هاوتزر

Every year (or decade, as necessary), Lonely Planet and Explorer choose with alacrity the face of many nations, one that is both representative and alluring: Pakistan boasts majestic, snow-topped mountains; Saudi Arabia fronts the angular domes of Medina’s Qoba Mosque as its guide’s cover photo. Kuwait’s good side, in the eyes of both publishers, is the two giant balls of the 32 year-old Kuwait Towers. Both balls are filled with water; the tallest, which reaches 187 meters at the top, also has a restaurant. That’s where we ate our first night, savoring the most authentic and traditional Gulfi fare: the intercontinental buffet.

Most of Kuwait is behind a curtain, only to be lifted on appointment. What Lonely Planet’s latest Kuwait guide (from eleven years ago) leaves out is the necessity of friends of friends to arrange tours and visits when and where you’d like them. One such friend-in-law told me repeatedly, “Four days, it’s not enough!” — and with him in charge, local and well-connected, he was right. In Abu Dhabi, colleagues had a different tone: “Four days in Kuwait? Christ.” They were right, too.

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Feeling Istanbullish

(اسطنبولية (لعبة الكالمات بلغة الانجليزية

Vast swaths of light race towards the city as the plane descends, over something that looks more like a game of Tron than a human settlement. At night, it appears as the sprawling metropoleis of an alien planet. This is the way to Istanbul.

Really, though, underneath the streetlights and after the sunrise, Istanbul is anything but alien: it is a layering of so many things human, bolstered by a settled history a dozen times longer than that of Sharjah — the Emirate I’d flown out of, conservative, but stamped with its own space-age mosque-like Airport.

I found my own history there as well, in friends that have known me for longer than the seven months I’ve been in the Emirates. Not to say that new friends aren’t important — they are. Oh, how much they are. (Not least of all because a desert offers little but the companionship of other desert-dwellers.) But old friends have a history that fuels itself, that needs no input to give back, that runs as a hybrid of trust and shared stories. And as someone who forgets his own stories (hint: why blog?), it often takes other people to remind me who I is. I just counted — I’ve been here eight months.

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الكويت: الانطباعات والتعبيرات الاولية — Kuwait: First Impressions and Expressions

With thousands of dollars wrapped up in a paper envelope and tucked away in my backpack, I packed onto a bus for the Dubai Airport — Terminal 2, where budget flights leave daily for all the places they don’t let most of us go anymore. Kuwait isn’t one of those places. In my role as “trip leader” (I couldn’t help but think of the line in Star Wars where one of Luke’s friends radios “Roger, red leader,” before exploding into a billion pieces), my job was to keep things safe.

We launched out of Dubai and very simply left The World behind. In less time than it took to drive from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, we were descending over a stretch of oil-soaked desert so barren it looked like a sandbox that had engulfed some of those old spiny antennae TVs used to have.

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Forget-me-not

Sri Lanka Part Ten

Sri Lanka Part Nine
They told us we would find elephants on the road to Hambantota at dawn. It was six-thirty, and in the air that hung with a heavy mist and a distinct paucity of elephants, we pushed west. And when we got west, elephants, as they had for so many days, were not.

In Hambantota, the fast paved road continued through northwest to the ancient city Anuradhapura, famous as an ancient capital of the island nation, and not at all known for having elephants. Let down, I turned off onto an uninviting dirt road just to have a peek and to turn around. And lo, the giant hindquarters of our proboscidean friend materialized, just down the path.


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