Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Comfort of Strangers

So the Irish chef loaned me the novella, The Comfort of Strangers (1981), by Ian McEwan, two weeks ago. Although I wasn't rushing to get through it (it was rather disturbing), I couldn't help being drawn to it. The novel, which was made into a movie in 1990, starring Christopher Walken, Rupert Everett, Natasha Richardson and Helen Mirren, is quite the sadistic story and makes 50 Shades of Grey look like a Harlequin paperback (I think 50 Shades of Grey is a romance novel in the guise of S&M. I'm not a fan). Anyhow, if you haven't read McEwan's haunting gem, go and do so. McEwan sums it all up on the last page (he makes certain claims about relationships) and, I think in many ways, he gets it right. Maybe it's his theories [about relationships] that disturb me the most, I'm not entirely sure. Whatever it is, the story was engrossing, and I haven't felt that way about literature in a long time. Next up? A massive novel entitled The Various Flavours Coffee, written by Anthony Capella. I purchased this bad boy from Costco in Canada (NOT a frequent habit of mine). I'll keep you posted and let you know how it goes. I'm also going to borrow the Irish chef's book of poetry by the Caribbean poet Derek Walcott and a compilation of Chekhov's short stories. I'm very excited to rediscover my love for poetry!

You'd think with all of this reading to do that that's what I would have done on Thursday night (TGI...? Wait a minute...). However, I spent my "Friday" night with some co-workers, buying groceries (we like to live on the wild side), and then having dinner together (I'm really trying not being an antisocial hermit). The Polish lady, the Irish chef, a Serbian lady, a Serbian gentleman (a prof at the university) and I all went out to a highly recommended fish and chips restaurant called 'Organica Fish and Chips,' located quite close to our apartments in Mahboula. I have been dying to try out more restaurants here! Organica Fish and Chips is a  cozy place and feels more like a surf and turf eatery you'd find  in Florida or a sleepy cottage town in Ontario rather than in Kuwait. We all had fish and chips, but I couldn't resist and also ordered some calamari (yep, just me!). The chef of the restaurant is Southeast Asian, the cuisine is British fare, and yet it's in the Middle East...I didn't know what to expect, but I can assure you it was delicious! The batter, resembling the lightness of tempura batter, was crispy and golden. The fish was cooked perfectly and the steak-cut fries were yummy! Instead of covering the food in table salt, we were given various types of rock and sea salt, malt vinegar (yes, I doused my fries in that), tartar sauce and fresh lemons. The calamari was awesome!!! I would have been happy with just the fish and calamari (this is likely because they didn't have mayonnaise). Ohhhh, man! I am DEFINITELY taking dad to this place when he visits! We stuffed ourselves silly and dragged our sad and sorry butts home. The gentlemen sent us ladies home in the first taxi and followed behind in another. We managed to find room for ice cream bars for dessert then called it a night since at that point, gluttony was upon us, not to mention the fact that we were exhausted from our first week of teaching. Organica Fish & Chips gets our seal of approval:

Speaking of our first week teaching, all went well. The school has mostly segregated classes (boys or girls classes), and my sections are girls (only). The girls are kind and quite smart. I think they like that my classes allow them a chance to speak openly about-almost-whatever they want to. Since some topics are off limits (religion/faith, romantic relationships, sex, drugs, alcohol and even sometimes familial relationships), I am continuing to learn how to hold back (non-communicative, stand off-ish and cold? Yep, that sounds like me alright). Part of the perk for this first month of work is that everyday, my colleagues and I are driven to and from work by a driver, and one night last week we were stuck for over 30 minutes in a traffic-jam about a five-minute walk from our apartment/flat. The driver refused to let us out to walk home and so we tried not to be frustrated. We were all pretty tired and it was hard to deal with the drivers behind us laying on their horns. The cacophonous symphony was a useless show of frustration considering we couldn't move ANYWHERE. What could possibly make the situation worse??? How about the police cruiser behind us continually honking and using its siren. I expect it wanted us to move, but to move where? There was honestly NOWHERE for our van to move and so the cruiser hit us because...Well, I have no friggin' idea why it hit us, but our driver began to yell and people were yelling on the street at other drivers. Needless to say, my co-workers and I have all decided not to pursue obtaining a driver's license here.

Friday was a group journey to the airport to go to the ONLY bank open on a Friday in this country. We were packed like sardines into two taxis and lined up to get some cold, hard cash. I tried to see if any of the mobile phone stands/booths would unlock my phone, but was told that I'm not going to find someone in Kuwait who'll do that because unlocking phones isn't common. Raise your hand if you believe that. It doesn't matter, because I could care less. This is only the second place I've inquired about unlocking my phone. I'd rather not have a phone at all. I'm seven hours ahead of my family and friends in Ontario, ten ahead of friends on the west coast (both in Canada and the U.S.), and six hours behind family and friends in Japan. There's really no point. Especially since I don't know anyone in Kuwait except my co-workers and we all live close to each other and have email. I do LOVE being unattached because it makes me have to communicate with people by actually making an effort to talk with them face-to-face. Besides, I'm not popular enough to need a cell phone.

After returning from the airport I decided to brave it and go to the Avenues mall. So out I went with the Irish chef...Except the taxi driver took us to 360 degree mall....A very nice, posh place, but not what I had been expecting. So there we were at 360 on a Friday night. We got dinner at Shabestan, an Iranian restaurant, and it was delicious!!! I ate slowly and thoughtfully, but I ate heartily! The pictures below don't do the food justice.

 Pita with salad (cheese, olives, walnuts and tomatoes with lemon) and barley cream soup

I did a very bad job at capturing the meal. It was a fish dish with saffron, dill and plain basmati rice.

The following website has pictures of the restaurant and they're gorgeous shots. 
The restaurant itself is beautiful and has a very intimate and exotic ambiance. A good date spot. Too bad you're not supposed to date openly here. We weren't on a date, so no worries there. I've never had Iranian food before and I can tell you that I really like it and want to see if there are other Iranian spots closer to my apartment so dad and I can try it out.

At 360, I tried not to drag the Irish chef around too much and, obviously, buying the things I really needed (unmentionables) was out of the question. So I purchased some work clothes (which I also needed), and then snapped a shot of this glass masterpiece. Again, my picture doesn't do it justice. It's HUGE and incredible!

This afternoon, I made my second attempt to get to the Avenues Mall, hahaha! The Serbian lady and gentleman and the Irish chef and I all went to the Avenues with the hope of getting different things: The Serbian lady needed things from Ikea to furnish her new apartment, the Irish chef wanted new cooking utensils, and the Serbian gentleman was on the hunt for a new laptop. I went on a mission to look for more work clothes...And also to see if the new Marilyn Monroe collection had been unveiled at MAC. I found more clothing, but the MM collection has not been released at MAC here! NOOOO!!! WHY??? The ONLY good thing about this is that my wallet was thankful, but honestly, I did want to treat myself to just one small thing this pay day *Sigh*. I tried to hide my disappointment, but instead I just got homesick. No pumpkin spice lattes or pumpkin loaf, no MM collection at MAC...Nothing that I can easily get at home. I was feeling a bit down and was passing by Bath & Body Works and saw huge sale signs; I thought I would venture in just to check if the autumn candles released in North America had magically been released here, too. Guess what? They were! Not ALL of them mind you, but I did manage to get an apple cinnamon candle and one called leaves that smells like fall in Ontario. Yes, I'm very weird. I bought a bag full of them and I have been extremely giddy all day. I'm burning the apple cinnamon in the main room and the leaves scent in my bedroom right now!!! I feel autumn in the air...or at least in my apartment!!!

I would have loved to do more shopping because I'm in the mood to shop now, but I'm going to be good and wait until later when I can splurge at Makeup Forever, MAC and Sephora. I want to try the new Tarte Amazonian clay blush in 'Exposed' and I need a new foundation since mine is too dark. I blame Damir (but not really) for taking me to the beach sooo much this summer and "making" me relax, hahaha! Lucky me, I was in very good company this summer.

As I prep for teaching this week, I'm already looking forward to the weekend! Plans for next weekend include, but are not limited to: TWO birthdays (the Serbian lady's and the Irish chef's, at their new place in Fintas), a trip to the Old Souq (Souq Marbarakia) in Kuwait City and FINALLY dinner with a Lebanese co-worker and her new husband from, where else? London, Ontario. This kind of chance encounter reminds me of the Epps. I'm suddenly not homesick.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Confessions of a (Former) Shopaholic

Interesting fact: Kuwaitis love to shop. A lot. What does that mean? That means when I need to get my students engaged in the material I'm teaching I simply bring up anything that has to do with shopping, clothing, fashion, etc., and they're all mine. I ask them what part of speech Prada, Coach and Tiffany are and they can tell me that they're proper nouns. I ask what part of speech the following are words: shop, buy, wear, and the students know that those words are verbs. Awesome.

It's not only the Kuwaiti who wander through and hangout at malls. All different ethnic groups here love malls, or at least spend a lot of their free time there. So why is it that people here love to shop so much (or love being at the mall)? Perhaps it's because alcohol is prohibited and thus there is no real night life. Perhaps it's because Kuwaiti nationals have quite a bit of money. I'm not 100% sure, but it seems like there is much more money flowing freely around here than in other countries I have visited. I know that my students wear clothing that's much more expensive than mine. Maybe because their education is fully funded by the government they can spend their tuition fees on Gucci and Fendi instead? It could be that malls are THE place to be because malls not only house stores, but also movie theatres, restaurants, spas and nail and hair salons (one mall even has some place called Color me Mine, whatever that is). Who knows? I do know that shopping malls are packed from Thursday night to Sunday night (the work week is Sunday to Thursday because Friday is a religious holiday).

Now, once upon a time I would have called myself a professional shopper, but minimal funds and time spent on getting my degree haven't allowed for such frivolity in the past few years. Now, I still don't have time...However, I have managed to get out a few times to Al-kout (the name of the mall). Let me explain a bit about the area I live in first though.

I live in an area called Mahboula. Some of my co-workers complain that the area is a dusty wasteland, but what did they expect??

Mikiko's co-worker: I hate Mahboula. It's too dusty.
Mikiko: Uh, yeah...You know we live in the desert, right?
Mikiko's co-worker: Yeah, well, like, there are other areas that aren't as dusty.
Mikiko: Yeah? Close by?
Mikiko's co-worker: Yeah.
Mikiko: Where's that? Europe? By the way, good luck with the sandstorms.

I understand that sand isn't for everyone. Believe me, I get it. Flip flops are a staple item here because it's like you're always walking on the beach, and forget about keeping your expensive leather shoes or long dress pants in good condition, and anything black will not remain black for very long, but no place is perfect. Anyway, isn't sand part of the experience?!?

Another complaint I hear in regards to Mahboula is the construction. This I also understand, but there's construction EVERYWHERE in the world. Have you ever been to Ontario in the spring, summer or fall??? Below is the beautiful view from my balcony, and yes, that statement is dripping with sarcasm.

Obviously, it's not the breathtaking, panoramic view of the snow-capped mountain range I woke up to every morning in Victoria (BC). Nor is it the outline of the majestic Mount Fuji that I got to see when I was living in Oizumigakuen (大泉学園) in Tokyo. It's rather desolate and noisy, actually, but I still love it. In fact, my new place is just down the street from my current apartment. I think I really like this spot because a.) it's quite close to work (on good days it's not even a 10 minute drive between Mahboula and the university); b.) the area has a nice mix of ethnicities, not only Caucasian expats, or Arabs; c.) if I'm on my balcony and just turn my head left I can see the sea! It's a 5-minute walk from my apartment to the water's edge; d.) I'm literally right across the street from a brand-spanking new hospital (and guess who just got her medical insurance card? That's right. Moi!); e.) I'm not far from Salmiya (a busier area with more shopping and entertainment spots), and Fahaheel (another area with shopping and entertainment spots). Actually, nothing is far from anything in this country, lol!

The view of the sea (to the left) from my balcony

I have ventured out to shop a little bit. I would like to have shopped more, but I want to wait until pay day before I go somewhere where I can really shop, like the Avenues Mall. Renown for being ginormous (gigantic/enormous), the Avenues is beside an Ikea and, apparently, can provide more than enough shopping and entertainment for an entire weekend. Sounds...Hmmm, I'm not sure. I love to shop, but it seems over-the-top. I feel like I'd need to make a plan just to shop and I'm all about planning, but a plan for shopping? Not leisurely shopping, thank you very much. Maybe knowing that I can find Carolina Herrera, Marc Jacobs, DKNY, Michael Kors, United Colors of Benetton (LOVE!), and Top Shop (which only opened in Toronto last year) will entice me? Or just depress me because I can't afford anything from those stores, hahaha! When I do plan that shopping trip, it will have to be done sans boys and, I'm sure, will be an adventure all on its own :)   Check  out the Avenues Mall here:

Honestly, I've really only been to Al-kout a few times and although it's a pretty big mall, it was actually a bit overwhelming when I first went. It consists of two parts divided by a large fountain that's especially beautiful when it's lit up at night. The mall itself is situated on the coast, and people have their boats docked all around the perimeter of the mall. It's beautiful to be there looking out over the water as the sun sets. The first time I was in Fahaheel (the area where the mall is located), on my way to Al-kout, I was with some Lebanese ladies (colleagues), and so fascinated by all of the shops along the street that when they suggested we go to a spot in Fahaheel called V Lounge nothing registered. Then I remembered: V Lounge was frequented by...Let's call him 'Habibi' (a very kind pseudonym considering). Anyhow, Habibi had told me about his visits to V Lounge, but I had no idea where the place was. Suddenly, there it was. I wished I was in Qatar. However, after the past few years nothing really fazes me, and hey, I was going shopping for (what else?) FOOD!!! Really, there isn't much that makes me as happy as food does (I think you all know that by now).

As I walked into the mall, I was hit with a wave of incense that was overwhelmingly reminiscent of Habibi's apartment. This incense stays in your clothes like the smell of mothballs and tatami do in Japan. Wonderful. Nothing fazes you, Mik, remember? Right. Nothing could stop me from accomplishing my mission: get my groceries and get out. If I could just do that it would be fantastic, and once I got to the fresh market area it was fantastic! FRESH fish and seafood as far as the eye could see! Fish that I had never even heard of were being bargained for! Figs, dates and nuts were being sold in bulk! Cha-ching!!! I hit the jackpot. I couldn't stop looking at everything and I must have looked...Odd, as always (weird Asians!). It was all so mesmerizing...Until I got to the meat section and saw the butcher grab a live chicken out of the cage! Then the trance was broken and I was outta there!

This link is a picture (on flickr) of the fountain at Al-kout in the evening:  If you google Al-kout images, you'll see a lot of different angles of the place. It's very, very pretty.

The second time I went to Al-kout I was too exhausted to browse or really enjoy the trip. I quickly grabbed my weekly groceries and ingredients for spaghetti as it was my turn to cook for the Irish chef (not to be mistaken with the Iron chef), who had made me pan-fried fish with a butter sauce a few nights before (MMMMM! Butter! I love butter!!!), and Moroccan stew earlier that week. Dad's going to love it when he visits and I make all this food for him! The Irish chef has taken it upon himself to ensure that I eat healthy, home-cooked meals, so don't worry everyone, I'm being taken care of and being taught how to cook new food. The Moroccan stew was especially yummy! Since then, There haven't been many exciting food stories, but I will be trying out the Indian joint next door sometime this weekend; it's run by Indian men and many Indian people frequent it, so I think that's a good sign. Also, I think on Thursday night most of my colleagues and I are going out for dinner together somewhere (Congratulations! You've survived your first month here! Only 10 more to go...). Hey, do you think I could open up a successful Japanese restaurant here? I haven't seen or heard of an amazing authentic Japanese restaurant. It's something to think about for a venture capitalist, or someone with a dream who loves cooking...Or both. Although, what's Japanese food without Japanese beer, sake or Campari cocktails??

Friday, 21 September 2012

"Every leaf speaks bliss to me/fluttering from the autumn tree" (from Emily Bronte's poem, 'Fall, leaves, fall')

I love the sunny weather here, don’t get me wrong, but I keep thinking about autumn in London and what it’s like there right now. For as much as I don’t like the grey weather, this is the time of year I embrace it. This is the one of my favourite transitions between seasons because I look forward to Halloween, the colourful leaves, the chill in the air that makes Emi giddy because sweater weather is on the way, anticipating Thanksgiving and, of course, pumpkin EVERYTHING: Pumpkin pie, pumpkin pie ice cream (go to the Superstore and get some! This blog will still be here when you get back and the ice cream will likely make reading it more enjoyable!), pumpkin spice candles and pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin loaf from Starbucks! This (ridiculous) love I have for anything and everything pumpkin caused me to make the journey to Starbucks (referred to from here on as “SB”), in desperate hope that they would be selling pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin loaf.

My colleagues, a brilliant and gorgeous Polish lady, and a stunning and fierce Georgian lady, joined me on my mission (the Georgian met up with us shortly after the Polish lady and I got to SB). The Polish lady and I were walking to SB when we passed a car with a Kuwaiti man in it (so???). I noticed him eyeing up…Well, one or both of us, who knows. No biggie. I get looked at here a lot, and by that I mean odd looks. The driver drove out of the driveway onto the road and slowly drove beside us, turning into a parking lot next to us. He said something to us, but I couldn’t hear him because my colleague was speaking. I ignored him (advice I was given about how NOT to encourage men of ANY nationality in Kuwait). He then turned his car and followed alongside us, talking to us and honking his horn. My colleague was surprised. I explained that I was told that this happens often. She gave me a look that was Kodak-worthy. It was annoying, but not harmful. Thankfully, these occurrences are passive aggressive. The driver (also annoyed?), sped off (because he didn’t get the results he’d hoped for?). We had a chuckle. We did get several more honks, mostly from taxi drivers (their way of asking if you need a lift). By the time we got to SB, we both felt good because we both love walking!

As we entered SB, I was feeling childish excitement build until I looked at the menu and discovered there was NO PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE OR PUMPKIN LOAF. Nooooooo!!! WHY? WHY??? I settled for a coconut and lime smoothie. You’d think that at a Starbucks in Kuwait that looks EXACTLY like the Starbucks’ in London, Victoria, Seattle, Tokyo, etc., that it would also sell pretty much the same food (don’t assume, Mikiko!). I guess the Kuwaiti aren’t fans of pumpkin. At least I got exercise. Sadly, the jaunt also confirmed a fear of mine: it’s not a good idea to go out for power walks here. I don’t know for sure that it’s unsafe, but I don’t want to risk anything. It’s all good. I’ve just had to add “find a new, fun way to exercise” to my ‘To Do’ list.

After the SB fiasco (you think I’m over exaggerating, but I’m really not), I thought I would cheer myself up by buying some ice cream (I’ll find that “fun” way of exercising tomorrow-I swear!). I decided to try something different since I’m here and should take advantage of the opportunity, right? I got saffron ice cream; I also got a small container of “fruits & cream” ice cream just in case the saffron was a bust. I posted pictures below because the saffron ice cream looks AMAZING! However, I think because my taste buds aren’t accustomed to saffron it just wasn’t satisfying. Strike two. No pumpkin spice lattes. No pumpkin loaf. Unappealing ice cream. I had just ONE chance left with the “fruits & cream” ice cream (Note to the London Dairy company: fruit is a plural noun. You don’t need to add an ‘s’. You’d think I was in Asia or something with English like that). **Insert hilarious website highlighting English being abused in Asia:** All my hopes were on the fruit & cream ice cream, and with pictures of cherries and peaches on the container I was hopeful. I shouldn’t have been. I felt like I was eating Christmas cake ice cream complete with maraschino cherries, dried apricots, raisins and the like. Three strikes and I’m out.

In all seriousness, because I haven’t been serious much since I’ve been here (What? WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MIKIKO?!?), I had an awesome coffee date with the girls and a nice lunch with another colleague who cooked for me. A former chef, he made pasta salad with garlic bread that rivals, and I can’t believe I’m going to actually type this, DaiDai’s (a great Italian restaurant in Ota City, Japan). I really wasn’t upset about missing pumpkin. I really just wanted to feel like I was closer to family and friends in Canada and in other countries far from Kuwait.

This looks sooo yummy topped with pistachios! Where is dad when you need him to help you finish off food you won't eat (so you won't get "fat")?  

Fruits & Cream ice cream, or the more appropriate Name: Christmas cakes

Saturday, 15 September 2012

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food" - George Bernard Shaw

This week, between meetings and workshops I’m surprised the school’s squeezed in anything else for us to do, and yet somehow they managed to fit in a welcome brunch and a start of term dinner gala as well. I’ve learned that this school likes to throw lavish events. Why you ask? My uneducated guess is that they love food and socializing, at least that is what it seems like. I could get used to this, not because of the elegant formalities, but because of the food (come on, you knew that was coming).

We had a welcome brunch for new staff and faculty. Everything looked very pretty and the food was plentiful. I can’t get used to this because I will, in my father’s words, “get fat”. There was a lot of Lebanese food and some Turkish, Egyptian and Western food as well (or so I was told, since I don’t know anything about Egyptian or Turkish food (except for the Turkish dessert ashur). It seems like fruit juice is a big thing here. Servers passed around freshly squeezed lemonade, mango, pineapple, kiwi and strawberry juice, although it looked more like puree. Who cares? It was sooo tasty! This could get dangerous, folks! I’m being spoiled and my waistline is suffering. Below are pictures of the place setting and the plate of food I grabbed.

The expansive buffet-yes, buffet-had a pita making station (someone was laying pitas stuffed with meat and veggies on a flat grill, all made-to-order), a foul making station (again, someone was making the foul), and the main table was reserved for a combination of Lebanese, Turkish, Egyptian and Western food. Even though I only ate one dessert item, the dessert section was delectable!!! I don’t LOVE dessert, but I had riz bi haleeb (Lebanese-style rice pudding)….God help me.

The table setting, complete with my mango juice (and, as always, bottled water) 

 Foul, tabouleh, halloumi (cheese), sandwiches with falafel and grilled veggies, zatar flat bread and more!

The gala event was on Friday the 18th, and boy was it quite the event! We were told to wear our best evening wear (I was kicking myself because I didn’t think I’d need a reason to pack evening wear and left it ALL in Canada). Although the event was lavish-excessively so-it was very relaxed, surprising to me since it was a work event and there was no alcohol flowing. It had an ambiance I felt was more west coast, mixed with the over-the-top, formal style of an event I would normally attend in Ontario. We were invited to the Arraya Ballroom at the Courtyard Marriott Kuwait in Kuwait City. You cannot get the full effect of how luxurious it is from the pictures I took, so please take a peek at the website:

Another buffet-style meal, I took only itsy-bitsy portions this time…I admit I’d had Lebanese take out earlier for lunch (falafel, olives with pickled vegetables, hummus, fattoush and pita (both fresh and deep fried), so I wasn't starving by the time dinner was served (refer to “after” picture below). Are you jealous yet, Em? ;)  For dinner I snuck some grape leaves, (the Middle Eastern version of Greek dolmathes), kibbe, kafta, salmon kabab, shrimp and chicken! Dessert was (more) riz bi haleeb, mango cheesecake and crème caramel. My tummy really hurt after dinner (you’re going to need to exercise, Mik!). After dinner we played a game where tables competed with each other to identify the country of origin of a selection of songs, facts and food. It was hilarious and interesting (how did I miss that Amr Diab is Egyptian, NOT Lebanese?!? Durrrrrr!). The prizes for taking part in the competition were prizes you would want! I heard that electronics was a common theme and my co-worker saw someone open a Wii!!! Since my table was never chosen, I came home without a gift. However, I took the white roses adorning dinner tables and put them on my coffee table (a reminder that even in the driest of places life can thrive). 

"After" lunch: Lebanese food with my co-worker

The driveway to the Arraya Ballroom. Can you see the Kuwaiti flag blowing in the wind?

The lobby of the Arraya Ballroom

My colleague and I before I stuffed myself silly

I’ve realized that one of the main reasons I travel is to eat good food/try new food. I know that a lot of my family and friends love food, too. I honestly wrote this post in hopes that more people will visit if I can promise that they’ll eat delicious food and be satiated. Sadly, I haven’t had much of an appetite today due to overeating last night, ha. However, I do have to venture out to see an apartment now. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Things I'll Never Say

I thought I had posted this entry, but it turns out I'd only saved and closed it! Apologies! I also apologize for the lack of blog posts. I’m a bit stressed out because my co-workers and I have been looking for new places to live (our current location is only available for the first month here as it was specially rented out for us), so we’ve been spending a lot of time after work looking at flats and trying to figure out which areas we like, which are the safest, cleanest, expat-friendly, close to shopping areas and also close to the university.

Before I continue on, I need to clarify something that I should have mentioned in my first post: I don’t want to blog about my complaints, dislikes, problems, frustration, etc…with my experiences here. Although I want people to be well informed about Kuwait, I don’t want to complain-EXPLAINING is okay, but not complaining. Nor do I want to show extreme ignorance by criticizing the country, culture or people. In addition, I will not blog about work (you’re all thanking me mentally, I know!). Lastly, I love you all, but I refuse to spend time defending my decision to move to Kuwait, or trying to convince people about the real reason that I came here. Some of you have asked me point blank if I was moving here for a specific per…reason (other than work), and I appreciate that you asked me instead of assuming. For the record, over two years ago I visited my friends, the Epps, who got me hooked on the idea of teaching in Qatar with them (it’s a pretty amazing gig). Since then, I haven’t been able to get the idea of working in Qatar off of my mind. I wanted to go to Qatar. I never intended or wanted to move to Kuwait. I actually applied to the position I hold in the summer of 2011. Last summer I ALSO sent my resume to schools in UAE (Dubai and Abu Dhabi), Saudi Arabia and Jordan. My current employer was the second school to contact me…The school in Qatar did not wish to hire me (I applied there in January of this year). I heard from Qatar just days before I heard from Kuwait.

So, Mik, what are you going to blog about then?

Gosh, with such a jam-packed social calendar (WORK calendar is more like it), and the amazing night life here in Kuwait (WHAT night life?? There is no night life here), I don’t know if I’ll even have time to blog! If you don’t already know, then please note that alcohol is illegal in Kuwait, and even though there are ways to get it, I wouldn’t recommend pursuing it. According to a source of mine, it’s not the police you have to worry about, but rather the people you get the liquor from! So the glass of red wine I generally like to have to unwind when I’m living alone (Tsk, tsk, Mik, you alcoholic!) will have to wait until I go ANYWHERE ELSE in the Gulf (except Saudi Arabia, of course). Refer to this article for some interesting info about alcohol in the Gulf:

Since I’m not a big drinker anyway, not having alcohol doesn’t really bother me…Now, not being allowed to dance? Well, I’ve discovered that I actually have to watch myself with this. Officially, the law is something along the lines of women are not allowed to dance in public. Anyhow, I was chatting with a colleague (who was recently in Korea), about the “Gangnam Style” YouTube video; I tried to explain the dance by, what else? Moving my body around and trying to imitate the moves, but quickly halted when I realized what I was doing. In an office full of expats, no one cared. (Phew! That was close!). If you don’t know what video I’m referring to, go check it out!   It’s…Horrible, hilarious, and has gone viral (over 220, 000, 000 hits so far and posted only in mid-July this year). I LOVE the kid at the beginning! The singer is a comedian, so don’t take it seriously. I also tend to find myself practicing footwork to lindy and bal youtube video clips (sadly, I still suck, but am determined to learn the shim sham from Patrick and Natasha: I’m not even anywhere near a country where swing dancing is popular, but do I ever miss it.

I'll keep this short (for once! Mik, do you ever shut up?), and will give a quick update in the next few days (^ - ^ )V  <<<That's right. You don't get more Asian than emoticons!

Friday, 14 September 2012

A Formal Introduction to Kuwait

I have been in Kuwait for one week now! Yes…Only one week, hahaha! I haven’t blogged for a few days because it’s been pretty busy. However, before I get into all that, I really want to tell you about Kuwait.

Now, I am by no means an expert, so I will absolutely let you know where I got the following information.

Firstly, Kuwait is in the Middle East and is not spelled with a ‘Q’; it is pronounced “koo-ate,” not “cue-wait”. I have yet to visit Kuwait City, the capital of Kuwait. I have included a map so you can see where Kuwait is situated in the Middle East in relation to other countries (at the bottom of the post). Kuwait shares borders with Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the water of the Persian Gulf. Kuwait is located in the eastern part of the Middle East and is north of Qatar (where the Epps are). Kuwait boasts a large population (3,632,009 people) for a country that’s roughly the size of the state of New Jersey.

Although Kuwaitis make up over 30% of the population here, other Arabs (from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, etc…) account for almost 30% of the population. The other 40% consists of Southeast Asians (just over 35%), as well as “other” ethnicities (who make up the last 5%, roughly, of the population).

Both Arabic and English are spoken in Kuwait, although Arabic is the official language (and as you know, I need to learn Arabic). Kuwait’s literacy rate, 93.3%, is extremely high compared to other countries in the Middle East, and is "the result of extensive government support for the education system." Government support for improving the education system for Kuwaitis is the main reason I'm able to teach here. Most students enter on goverment-funded scholarships.

Kuwait’s climate is dry and hot (it can reach over 50 degrees Celsius), in the summer, and cool in the winter, which is from December to February…However, their idea of “cool” is anywhere from 10-30 degrees Celsius-what most Canadians would call spring or fall, lol! There is very little rain, in this flat, desert area, which just means you don’t need to invest in a Happy Lamp!!!

Kuwait’s natural resources are, as I’m sure most people are aware, oil, natural gas and fish. I have also been told that in Kuwait, pearl diving is popular and that gold is readily available at extremely reasonable prices. However, I have yet to look into pearl diving and purchasing gold. That being said, Kuwaiti dinar (KWD) are expensive. On a good day, 1kd (Kuwaiti dinar), is $3.44 (CAD). The most I've paid is $3.67...YIKES! This conversion rate is the reason I have heart palpitations when I mentally convert the cost of items here.

Despite westerners’ skewed perception of the Middle East, Kuwait is a very safe country, especially when you compare it to other countries in the ME. However, women should always ignore men when they are giving them any attention (because they DO do this…A LOT), and as a foreigner/expat/visitor, just don’t argue with Arab locals. Other than that, the country can be proud of the safe and friendly environment (with the exception of driving, which I've mentioned before). Like any other unknown land, figure out where, as a tourist/traveller, you need to be careful (thieves, unsafe areas, where your embassy is, etc...), and just be aware of your surroundings. Even being a foreign woman here, I feel very comfortable, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to wander around at night, alone, in unlit areas. You just have to use your common sense and it’s all good!

You should visit me in Kuwait. Although, there is a problem with processing tourist visas here right now because of an influx of people who want to enter the country (surprised?). Canadians, if I’ve been correctly informed, do not have to worry about this because we simply get our 3-month travel visas from the visa counter (in the Kuwait airport), after purchasing the visa stamp for your paperwork (3KD). Easy-peasy.

Sooo, what the heck can you do in Kuwait for fun? Well that’s a blog for another day, but that post will be up soon!

Welcome to Kuwait. We hope you enjoy your stay :)

Map of the Middle East

Friday, 7 September 2012

A Series of Unfortunately Dull Events

I would love to tell you that my journey to Kuwait and first day here were exciting and full of crazy new experiences, but they weren’t. Warning: this may be a dry blog (no pun intended).

This is my second trip to Kuwait, and the flight itinerary was the same as it was when I came here for my job interview in June: fly from London (Ontario) to Chicago (I still do love O’Hare!) where I quickly grab snacks (Combos and my favourite American “candy” bar: PayDay) and McDonalds (NEVER a good decision). Next I fly Lufthansa to Frankfurt, Germany and am reminded that German sounds so beautiful that it destroys the stereotype, and my ignorant belief, that German is a harsh-sounding language. In Frankfurt, I head to the currency exchange booth where I try to be okay with exchanging a lot of Canadian dollars into very few Kuwaiti dinar ($3.47 CAD=1 Kuwaiti dinar). Since I can’t see what Germany is really like from the airport (it looks suspiciously like the landscape around Pearson), I simply head to my gate, cover-up with my trusty travel blanket and pass out until it’s time to board the last flight. I usually wake up on this last flight when people start clapping once we’ve landed: A way of showing thanks to God (and our pilots) that we’ve arrived safely? I don’t know, but I mentally thank God. However, it’s at that point when I remember I still have to get into a vehicle. I start saying my prayers since driving in Kuwait can be terrifying (NOT an understatement).

I still have mixed feelings about the airport in Kuwait. Dealing with different rules that you aren’t familiar with is frustrating. The most irksome to me is that there aren’t any real lines anywhere, just clumps of people hovering. There is a swarm of people by customs, another by the visa counter and yet another around immigration. A person cutting in front of you is normal and accepted. The other pain? The luggage carousel is a hotspot and people have no qualms about pushing you out of the way to get their luggage. This isn’t how my mama raised me! The nice things about it? 1.) There’s always a very kind man willing to help me lift my 50-pound suitcase off of the conveyer belt, 2.) Any counter (phone distributors, limousine services, etc.) will let you use their phone to make a local call, 3.) The airport itself is extremely easy to navigate (only a little more difficult than the airport in Victoria, BC-seriously), and 4.) The exit is ALWAYS full of people waiting with flowers and open arms. In fact, I've never seen an exit at an airport sooo jam-packed. There are even more people at the exit than the luggage carousel! *Chuckling to myself at my bad joke*

My new (although temporary) flat is beautiful and huge! However, being indoors today was too much for me, so I decided to go for it and venture outside for a few household items I needed. The gentlemen who work at the front door don’t speak a speck of English, and so when I asked where the electronics store was, one of the men actually walked me there-giving directions wasn’t going to cut it, I guess. He then took me to the grocery store. I forgot my razor in Canada and needed toilet paper. This led to extremely uncomfortable communication; I was practising my hand gestures in an attempt to explain what I needed to buy…I felt for that man. I now know that I can survive anywhere if I can get the message across that I need toilet paper and a razor. *Insert hilarious images of Mikiko waving her hands around, running to the bathroom and pointing to the toilet paper roll while simultaneously trying to air draw a roll of toilet paper* Thank God I don’t embarrass easily, but the poor man looked like he wished he was somewhere else. I know what you’re all going to say, but, uh, yeah, I didn’t bring an Arabic dictionary. This event confirmed that I’ll definitely need to learn Arabic…And buy an English-Arabic dictionary.

The gentleman stocking food at the grocery store spoke English and kindly assisted me-sans a disturbing game of charades. He’s from Iran and is in the process of obtaining a visa to move to Canada; I thought that was ironic. I know that many people can only dream of moving to Canada. The flip side is, of course, that some of us Canadians keep moving abroad. Why is it that we move? For me, it’s solely about a job opportunity that I cannot secure in Canada right now. We’ll see what the future has in store. I do know that as much as I love to travel, I’m not happy that I had to leave the people I love the most on another continent. That being said, I expect visitors :)

The view of the flat from the front door (check out the welcome basket full of food from Marks & Spencer!).

The front door, dining area and entrance to the kitchen (view from the living area).

The kitchen (from the kitchen entrance door). The washer and dryer are on the left and the fridge is to the right.

The guest bedroom (the room I use).

The master bedroom with the second bathroom...Yes, two bedrooms and two bathrooms...Two, too many for just a single me.