Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Day at Rice University

Houston is the fourth largest city in the USA and so it should not surprise anyone that our fair city has some excellent universities - one of which is Rice University. I had to visit Rice U. today (Tuesday, Dec. 30) to discuss plans for a research project at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering which our company intends to support in 2009. Even though today was officially a vacation day for me, I didn't mind going to Rice for a few hours of work. Besides being a great university with some 400 world-renowned instructors, the Rice campus offers visitors some of the finest examples of architecture. And since the weather today was perfect (only a few clouds were visible), I brought along our new Canon 50D digital SLR and can now share some photos of the campus with my readers. Enjoy!!
Lovett Hall - one of THE main buildings on the Rice campus. This courtyard is where the annual graduation ceremony is usually held.
Rear view of Lovett Hall.

Close up view of the arches along one of the walkways.

Another impressive-looking building in the central campus ....

A statue of the university founder, William Marsh Rice.

And, lastly, the official university seal!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Beer Can House!

Yesterday, I spent my Sunday afternoon (Dec. 28) taking in two "hot spots" in Houston's expanding art world! Images from one of these places are worth sharing with my readers.

Last April I posted some pictures from Houston's annual Art Car Parade. This event is sponsored by an organization called "The Orange Show". Turns out T.O.S. recently purchased a Houston icon located near downtown called "The Beer Can House". This little bungalow got its name for reasons that should become obvious once you examine the pictures below. The building was originally a simple little home but after the owner, John Milkovisch, retired, the place took on a new appearance - to say the least! Have a look below ......

The Beer Can House is now covered with the shells of empty beer cans and the front porch and fence are adorned with many, many cans and parts of beer cans.

A close-up view of the fence out in front of the Beer Can House.

A close-up view of the siding which completely covers the house (except for the roof). The owner meticulously cut up beer cans, rolled out the beer can body into small strips of aluminum which he then nailed onto the exterior surface of his home.

The former owner - John Milkovisch -and his wife. Sadly, John passed away in 1988 but thanks to "The Orange Show" art organization, the home was purchased and preserved and is now open to the public an Saturdays and Sundays.

A quotation from the former owner and artistic creator of The Beer Can House.

If you have patience, you can zoom in or print out the above and read the complete history of The Beer Can House. FYI: There is NO CHARGE to enter and inspect the inside of this place.

Actually, my first stop for the day was at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Currently featured was an exhibit entitled "Hot Glass". On display were some absolutely amazing works of art made entirely out of glass. Sadly, the gallery does not hold the copyrights to the works of art in the gallery and hence I was unable to take any photographs and so I cannot share any images of the artwork on display. Then I went to The Beer Can House (above) where, thankfully, there were no restrictions on taking pictures!!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

UPDATE on Starbucks Closure in Al Zour, Kuwait

UPDATE: Regarding the closure last month of the Starbucks nearest my work site in Al Zour, Kuwait (reference my earlier posting in November), a trusted Saudi colleague informed me yesterday that the Al Zour Starbucks is STILL CLOSED!! Honestly, I wonder what is going through the minds of the local Kuwaiti authorities when they closed this shop down ostensibly because the owner simply needed some paperwork! It really sends a bad signal to the world. When I stopped by the place on the last weekend it was open (way back in November), it was packed - both inside and outside. I only wish they settle this mess and reopen the place before my next anticipated return trip!! As the Saudis and Kuwaitis would say - "Inshallah" (translation: "if Allah wills it").

PS: I fully realize this topic may not concern many of my followers, but I am sure that Cheryl - who just signed on as one of my followers and is a self-confessed "coffee addict" - may wish to take note! :-)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

Merry Christmas to everyone! For your information, we are having a very warm winter here in Houston. Today's temperature was about 74 deg F!! It just doesn't feel like Christmas. At any rate, it sure feels great not having to go through airports especially with all the winter weather causing havoc at the main airports in Chicago, New York, etc. Staying home is not so bad! I've had a pleasant time at the area malls. (Madame Lefty: I agree with you - Memorial City Mall is really nice. For reasons I can't explain, I found the Galleria mall to be not as nice as I remembered from prior visits. The Galleria didn't have quite the holiday "feel" to it this time around.) And I took in the new movie - Valkyrie - today and was pleasantly pleased with the historical accuracy of the facts presented. I recommend this film to those who like WWII-themed movies.

Oh well, that's about it for now. I will leave you with the following pictures of some of the Holiday decorations that I have managed to spot throughout the Houston metro area. Enjoy!!

And Merry Christmas!!

My favorite house in the Houston metro area ... this home has the most decorations that I've spotted in the past two weeks. Yes, I suppose all these balloons can seem a bit silly, but what the heck - it sure looks different.

Not too bad - a good runner up as home decorations go.

Plain and simple - wooden reindeer. I suspect these decorations are quite old and predate all the balloon-like figures we see nowadays.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas 2008 - At Home in Houston

True Confession from the "Traveling Chemist": It sure is great not having to travel over the Christmas Holiday!! I get to stay home, take care of chores and hang out at the mall. Sounds boring I know but after a year of being on the move, I have no complaints!

Here are a few of the sights in and around the Houston metropolitan area:

(1) An increasing number of homes have these inflatable figures on the front lawn. (One problem: criminals sometimes vandalize these ballon figures leaving behind a deflated mess and some very disappointed young children.)

(2) This weekend (Saturday, December 20th) I ventured to Sugar Land, TX and took in the First Colony Mall - one of the largest in the Houston area:

The Sugar Land City Hall building all decked out for the Christmas Holiday.

The Santa at the First Colony Mall was prefectly dressed for the part!

The main entrance to the First Colony Mall. It took me only about 20 minutes to drive to the mall from my apartment .... and ten (10) minutes to find a parking space!!! When I left at 12:45 pm, the parking lot was full and more cars were streaming in!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Thanks in part to my frequent travel schedule throughout this year, I have managed to accumulate a lot of vacation time. Unfortunately, our new department president (bless her heart!) has decided to forbid the carrying over of any time off into the new year. Thankfully, I've managed to get a small exemption and will carry over one week which I MUST use up in the first quarter of 2009. So, for the next four (4) weeks, yours truly will be at home enjoying some badly needed R&R. Hence, the "Traveling Chemist" will NOT travel anywhere - except to The Mall for Christmas shopping! (Memorial City, The Galleria - pictured above - and First Colony are just a few of Houston's finest places where I will likely lose - I mean spend - some of my hard-earned money.) To keep my readers interest from lagging, however, during the intervening lull caused by my not traveling, I will be posting examples of what I hope will be some fine photography of sights throughout the Houston metropolitan area (population 3 million people) during the Holiday season. Our work team purchased a new Canon 50D digital SLR camera and I have been allowed to take this camera home with me and play with my new "toy" and learn about its new features.

Happy Holidays everyone. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Homeward Bound

Traveling certainly offers me many opportunities to visit new places, meet new people, experience new cultures and of course take many pictures. Why would I want it to end? Well, when the Christmas Holiday approaches, it's hard to explain but I just want to get home! And so it happened this Thursday (Dec. 4). After a reasonably comfortable overnight stay at the Sheraton Hotel at Frankfurt Airport, I boarded Lufthansa Flight 440 and - after a 50 minute delay caused by an unexplained "airport emergency" - we took off at 11:50 am local time in Frankfurt and landed at Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) at 3:15 pm Central time. About 10 hours and 25 minutes of flying time. As my cousin would say - a real "butt burner"!! And so it goes ... another trip completed and some well deserved REST.

I've been soooooo very busy this year that I have been unable to take much of my allotted vacation time. Hence, I am now on "mandatory vacation"! I must use up most of my 2008 vacation time in the second half of December and the first half of January. During this time interval, I will try to share my Christmas cheer in the form of photos which I will post from time to time. I plan on making NO TRIPS during the Christmas Holiday and will instead remain at home-sweet-home taking care of chores that I've put off doing the rest of this year. And as one wise friend once said to me: "Christmas is the time of year when people who normally don't travel that much, travel". And he's correct! That's why I prefer to stay away from crowded airports, avoid the flight delays, don't get stuck in traffic snarls, etc and simply stay home. Besides, I'm sure there will be plenty of travel next year!

So before I close, here are a few pictures of my return trip home:

Pay attention to the escalator sign!! Press the handle down!! Releasing the handle LOCKS the cart in place and as the escalator goes UP the cart rolls DOWN .... and can hit the passenger standing behind the cart. I am still nursing the leg wound caused by the cart banging into my shin! Ouch!

CAUTION: Stay away from the Starbucks at Terminal 1, Wing 'B' at Frankfurt Airport ... if you like decaffeinated coffee, you will hate what this place dispenses. The decaf Americano I ordered tasted so weak, it was basically warm, brown-colored water with so very little flavor. Shame on you Starbucks!

Flight 440 departed from Gate 15. What was unique about this gate is that it is connected to its very own Business Class lounge. You board the plane directly from the lounge area! What a concept!

A view from the window near my seat. The 747 has two engines on each side of the aircraft.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Home for the Holidays!!

Well the day has finally arrived!! I departed Kuwait at the delightful hour of 1:15 am aboard Lufthansa 637. A nice flight and we managed to land in Frankfurt 10 minutes early at 5:07 am local time (2 hours behind Kuwait time). The only problem is that I managed to hit my leg against the luggage cart as I maneuvered the contraption up the moving escalator. It rammed against my leg causing a small (3 cm sized) abrasion. Fortunately I recovered and avoided being knocked down the escalator! I then checked in to the Sheraton at 5:50 am and thankfully they had a room for yours truly so I crawled into bed for some badly needed rest. As I type this post, it is 1:55 pm local time. Just had a nice meal and I'm watching the sky outside. It was snowing this morning. Yes, seeing snow is a nice contrast to the sands of Kuwait .... BUT I only hope that tomorrow's weather does not cause any delay in my flight to home sweet home!!

One little bit of information: because of our early arrival, our pilot indicated that our flight was actually one of the FIRST planes to land at Frankfurt Airport this morning as the entire airport is under a nighttime curfew that ends at 5 am (presumably for noise control).

I will make this a brief posting but before I go I will share a few photos from my last day in Kuwait. Ta ta for now (yawn) ....

Finally a camel picture!! And may I say it's about time! I managed to go the entire trip this time without a single camel picture to share with yawll (that's Texas-speak for "you all"). Well, on my commute to work for my last day (December 2), I came upon a Kuwaiti-style traffic jam so to speak. Had to wait for this guy to cross the street!!

On my last day in the office in Wafra, our waiter made me a cappuccino. Nice!

"Part 1" of the long journey home - my flight from Kuwait to Frankfurt departed Kuwait at the delightful hour of 1:15 am!! I'll give Lufthansa credit - they left ON TIME!!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fourth Weekend in Kuwait (November 28 and 29) A Meal With the Air Force

On Friday, I had the pleasure of being invited to participate in a Thanksgiving Day meal at a friend's villa in our camp in Al Zour. As has been the tradition in years past, we had two busloads of US troops in our camp. This year we had only members of the US Air Force who are stationed in a Kuwaiti air base in the northern part of Kuwait. Nature cooperated by providing some really FINE weather - sunny and cool (25 deg C). The airmen/women played volleyball a while and then we all dove in to the turkey dinner and desserts!!

Members of the US Air Force stationed in Kuwait playing volleyball.

The water was excellent and the weather perfect!!!

And the high point of the day was turkey dinner with all the fixings!!

A perfect day for someone far away from home.

Saturday was reserved for a few chores: my monthly haircut in the nearby town of Fahaheel and then home to cook my own meal. One complaint: the Starbucks at the Hilton Hotel in Mangaf was out of decaffeinated coffee!! Can you believe that??!!

Today - Sunday, November 30 - it's back to work here in our office in Wonderful Wafra!! Only a few days to go before I fly to home sweet home for some badly needed vacation and Christmas shopping!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Well, here I am in Kuwait working away on what would normally be a day off from work on Thanksgiving Day - a BIG holiday in the USA. Just wanted to wish all my loyal followers and readers and everyone else in the USA a HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

As for me, the plan is to go to one of my neighbor's villa tomorrow (Friday) and have a turkey dinner along with about a dozen or so US service men and women. In prior years, our company has a tradition of inviting over about two (2) busloads full of United States troops (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force) who are stationed here in Kuwait at the nearby Camp Arifjan. The troops are typically divided up amongst several families who feed the troops at their villa a home-cooked meal. Hopefully I will have a few pictures to share with my Loyal Followers a few days from now.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Third Weekend in Kuwait (November 21 and 22)

I managed to enjoy another fine weekend here in Kuwait. On Friday, I travelled north from Al Zour along Hwy 30 into Salmiya. Along the way, I passed many fine looking villas - some more elaborate than others! Many of the homes here are built from cement - not like the cheap wood-framed structures that most American homes are constructed. The concrete structures shown here can no doubt withstand hurricanes (wish we had these in Houston for Hurricane Ike!!)

(My favorite home!! Not a clue as to who lives in this fine place!)

A simple but thoroughly fine home sweet home!
Following my weekly grocery stop at The Sultan Center in Salmiya, I went to the new Movenpick Hotel and Resort situated along the Gulf Road (Hwy #25), in-between the 5th and 6th Ring Roads. Allegedly this place has been here for 1 year & 3 months. I have no idea how I could have missed this place but I am sure glad I finally came by today!! Next to the Movenpick are several fine restaurants: Chili's, Tumbleweeds, Starbucks (naturally!), Costa Coffee and at least a dozen more places whose names I can't remember. All are as new as the Movenpick. A selection of the photos I took during this lunch stop are shown below:

A camel all set for a ride by the tourists at the Movenpick Hotel's beach area.

I had the Friday Buffet meal which includes a chicken schwarma (shown above). Total cost for the buffet meal was 15.4 KD or $57 USD or 45 Euros. As always, I waddled home fully stuffed.

The poolside area at the Movenpick Hotel in Salmiya, Kuwait.

The front view of the Movenpick Hotel entrance and adjoining Chili's restaurant and many other fine eating places. Well worth a weekend visit!
FYI: The weather this time of year in Kuwait is excellent: 20 - 25 deg C (68 - 75 deg F) with blue skies.

Arabic Calligraphy

Calligraphy: (a): artistic, stylized, or elegant handwriting or lettering; (b): the art of producing such writing.
Above are just a few examples of Arabic calligraphy - one of my favorite art forms. I have no idea what these say but they look GREAT!! All were taken from greeting cards received during the recent Eid Holiday following Ramadan.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

LATEST UPDATE (Nov. 24) on Starbucks Closure in Al Zour - Kuwait

Just a short update to advise everyone on the recent closure of the new Starbucks in Al Zour (Kuwait). As you can see from the above photo, a temporary wooden door has been erected over the existing glass door entryway. There are absolutely NO signs anywhere explaining what is going on leaving us to depend upon any hear-say/scuttlebutt that we can run across. A colleague says he actually talked to the Kuwaiti owner of the franchise and this owner alleges the store was closed because some critical paperwork had not been filed and / or that certain "considerations" had not been paid to the appropriate people. My colleague says he hopes to visit the owner during this weekend and maybe obtain more details about the closure. Naturally, all of us expats in the immediate vicinity are hoping this store's closure is temporary. Again, I am sure many folks who read this posting are likely to laugh and say "just get over it". Still, when one is far away from home, one needs as many comforts of home as possible and the loss of any such "comfort" is always upsetting ... and a great incentive for us expats to speculate and come up with all sorts of "explanations" and theories. Stay tuned ....

LATEST UPDATE (November 24th - Monday): It's confirmed that the reason for the closure is a simple licensing fee! Some licensing paperwork (and fee) needs to be processed and - hopefully - our little lovely local Starbucks is supposed to reopen "in a week".

Ron - a loyal follower from Canada - asks if there is a Tim Horton's coffee shop here in Kuwait. Sadly, I have NOT encountered any such coffee places, Ron! However, there are several Costa Coffee, Second Cup and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf stores around the area here ... in addition to the dozens of Starbucks.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Little Information Please

Having made many postings from Wonderful Wafra, I thought I'd better include a map showing the exact location of where I am working. The red star shown in the above map image indicates that we are in southern Kuwait, a short distance (just a few kilometers) north of the Saudi-Kuwait border. Our oilfield is in what is termed the "Partitioned Neutral Zone". Basically, since Saudi Arabia and Kuwait could not decide exactly where their mutual border was situated, they simply decided to split the oil production 50% / 50% from that area. The US-based company for which I work is the official contractor to the Saudi government and as such we are in charge of producing the Saudi share of the oil from the PNZ.

People ask me what's it like to work over here and I simply respond that as an American living in the Middle East, Kuwait is probably the second best area within this part of the world (the best being Dubai, of course) where an American can ever hope to be assigned. At least the people over here don't hate us as much as may be the case in other Middle Eastern countries (whose names I shall withhold for obvious reasons!). Furthermore, the infrastructure is sound - the water is safe to drink, the power is on 99% of the time, I can get CNN, BBC and Orbit News, a few newsstands sell The International Herald Tribune (THE American expat's favorite newspaper when away from home), and there are many fine hotels where we can eat a very decent meal and relax on the weekends. Alcohol is illegal in the country but I don't care as I don't drink that much anyway. Christians and other non-Muslims can worship as they please and there is a huge Catholic cathedral in downtown Kuwait City with a big cross out front. Overall, I find this a very tolerant country. Not as liberal as Dubai but still a nice place in which to work.

In the interest of shedding a little bit of light on an area of the Middle East with which many folks (particularly Americans) may not be aware, I will try to answer any questions posed by readers about this part of the world.