Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My First Week in Kuwait: Bureaucracy, Extreme Desert Heat and Doughnut Day!

Hello again from Kuwait! I arived safely last Wednesday evening on time. Turns out Thursday (July 23) was declared a Holiday. The actual holiday fell on Monday (July 20th) but the Kuwaiti parliament (bless their hearts) decided to let everyone have a three-day weekend and made Thursday the actual day off for all workers. So I had three days during which time I was able to recouperate from the loooooong journey over here.

I ran around Fahaheel on Thursday and got in a little too much sun for my first day in country so I chose to stay home and rest all day on Friday. Saturday was my 'grocery-shopping-day-of-the-week' and also the day when a colleague drove me to Kuwait International Airport to pick up my rental car - a GMC Envoy. Then lunch at Applebees in Mangaf.

The first week here in Wonderful Wafra Field (located inside the Partitioned Neutral Zone - a strip of land between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) has been rather hectic. One pleasant note: Tuesday was DOUGHNUT DAY! A local contractor has a tradition whereby they bring in doughnuts for us office people and we gorge ourselves on all that 'health food'. The doughnuts have all the basic food ingredients: fat, sugar, carbs ..... but they sure are Mmm-mmm good! The least pleasant note came also on Tuesday. I attempted to pick up my company car but a bureaucrat sniffed and said he needed to see proof of insurance. I replied that since I was a company employee, that should not be necessary. He said it was and without an 'insurance certificate', well, there'd be no car for the Traveling Chemist! Frustrated, I returned to the office and employed the help of our capable office admin person who - hopefully - will contact the appropriate people and secure whatever paper the bureaucrat needs and maybe (or "inshallah" as the locals say) I shall have my car by the end of this week. Maybe. Stay tuned. But that's the way things work over here in the Middle East. Once you solve one problem, the 'system' manages to create another roadblock somehow, someway!

For your information, the day time high temps have hovered around 115 - 120 deg F!

Until my next posting ....
- - - - - - - -
PS: The black cat, whose image I managed to capture above, graced my front door a few days ago. It stared at me for about one minute or so. Not sure if this is a good omen or what? What do some of my Followers have to say? Comments??

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On the Road Again!!

Well, it's THAT time again! Time to gather up my stuff, pack up my old kit bag and hit the road - so to speak. I am off again for more "fun in the sun". Once again, I tried to get a ticket on Emirates but they are still way overpriced in comparison to other airlines. Emirates is still asking for $8,500 USD for a round-trip business class seat!! Qatar Airways, which now operates a non-stop flight from Houston to Doha, is also considerably overpriced ($7,000 USD). Given the depressed US economy, the low, low oil prices and the need to cut costs within our company, I must choose my itinerary carefully and can only select from a list of 'approved' airlines (i.e., the cheaper the better!!). The airline I had to choose - once again - is good 'ol Lufthansa which is charging my company $5,000 USD. A relative 'bargain' in comparison to Emirates and Qatar Airways! Too bad ... I would have loved to try a different flight routing! Ah well, such is life!

I am packed, I got my sunscreen, wide brimmed hat, sun glasses, light weight clothing - all the essential items anyone needs for a visit to the summer-time desert climate of the Middle East. And of course I have printed out copies of my travel itinerary. Used to be I had to also carry along the actual plane tickets but I haven't used paper tickets anymore for the last few years! Everything is now electronic (except for when I had to have a paper ticket for a flight to Sumatra and Kalimantan, Indonesia in 2007). Has anyone had to use paper tickets recently??

Wish me luck and a pleasant flight! I shall check in with everyone at some point once I am settled in and rested ....

Some good news: I managed to snag an upgrade to FIRST CLASS using some of my United Airlines frequent flyer miles. Having a large seat in first class sure helped with the overnight portion of my journey ... although as usual I could not manage to sleep on board the flight.

We arrived in Frankfurt at precisely 9 am local time (7 hours ahead of Houston). Total flying time from Houston = 9 hours + 7 minutes.

I checked in to the Sheraton Hotel (as I have many times in the past). The Sheraton is across the street from the main terminal building. Very convenient!

Once again I had to use one of Lufthansa's famous toilets with a view!! Unlike the toilet I encountered last November (see Nov. 8, 2008 post) on another Lufthansa flight, this toilet (or "lavatory" in airline speak) had a lot of room .... a true walk-in affair .... almost enough room for two people! (Not sure why I mention that!)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
PS: Before concluding this posting, I couldn't resist taking this photo of a giant saxophone outside the front entrance of a now closed and bankrupt Houston restaurant near Richmond Ave. and Fondren Rd.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July

The Fourth of July - the anniversary of American Independence from the UK!

The other day I reminded my good colleague in Scotland that I was taking the day off from work to celebrate my country's independence from England - hoping that would get a chuckle from him. Without missing a beat, and being the good Scotsman that he is, he happily replied: "I wish we could too"!!

Something seems nicer about today than prior Fourth of Julys. Maybe it's the fact we have a three-day holiday (with Friday off from work and then July Fourth itself falling on a Saturday), but today seems a wee bit more special than the usual Fourth of July. At any rate, it was a nice - but terribly HOT - day here in Houston. I am enjoying staying at home a while and not having to travel anywhere. [But fear not, followers, my next trip to the Middle East is not far off! I was supposed to depart in a little over a week from now but had to delay my departure thanks in part to an onslaught of work.]

I wanted to take in something special today, but what to do? Tonight there is what is billed as one of the largest fireworks displays in the USA being held near downtown Houston. Several hundred thousand people are expected to crowd into Eleanor Tinsley park. I'd like to go but I can't stand negotiating my way through heavy traffic and then trying to find a parking space. Instead, I went to downtown Houston near Discovery Park and took in the sights of people enjoying their Fourth of July ....

A yoga class ... probably should join them. With all the stress I have at work, I should fit in real nicely!

The past few weeks have seen unusually dry and HOT weather in Houston with our daily high temperatures exceeding 100 deg F for many days in a row! About the only good thing I can say about this heat is that at least I am getting acclimated to Middle East weather before actually leaving home!

Discovery Green Park - I was here in April of last year on opening day. [click here for last year's posting.]

A quiet pond affords a place for quiet contemplation and relaxation ....

I managed to snap this photo of some children frolicking in the water. Only wish I could have done the same to help me cool off.
The only sour note of the day came after I captured this photo. A private security guard approached me and told me not to take any more pictures since I "was not with a family". I guess this is for privacy concerns (parents not wanting their kids photographed, perhaps?). I am used to being a bit self conscious when taking pictures in the Middle East but here at home ... well, I sort of resent being asked NOT to photograph something. Still, I understand where kids are concerned. Being an amateur photographer myself, I'd be interested if any professional photographers out there might comment on any of their recent experiences in taking pictures and then being told not to.
Replies to Comments:
Searching Soul: Glad to hear you weren't arrested :-) It's getting so that we have to look over our shoulders when we take pictures in certain places ..... and sometimes those places are right here at home!
Dan: Thanks, as well, for your comments (both here and in your excellent blog) and for your opinions on the topic of photographing certain locations and situations.
John: Thanks for your comment!! Being hasseled by "security guards" - real or otherwise - is one reason I often feel inhibited when taking photographs .... especially when I am in the Middle East. You just never know how much authority the guard actually has and what he can do to a photographer.