Saturday, July 21, 2012

Travel Part 1: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Disclaimer: A) This post is a little off-topic (and rambly) in regards to makeup and perhaps personal buuuuut compensation will be done in a related Part 2 and 3 of this Travel series! B) Please excuse the blurry photos as most were taken in a moving car.

I briefly mentioned I would be moving in a few posts BUT long story short: on July 30th, I landed in Jubail, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)! I'll most likely be here for a year and will probably move back to Toronto to finish up my degree but in the meantime I should mention that having moved quite a bit through out my childhood (having an engineer dad has its perks, ahem) and growing up in Toronto, the move to Wisconsin in 2007 lacked the "culture shock" factor entirely because we were still within North America. Of course there was the shock of going from a city to a tiiiiiny town but still workable.



The Saudi Arabian flag

But then having to move to another continent all together? Saying goodbye to our friends of 4 years was definitely the hardest to deal with, and then having to pack up everything (obviously my biggest dilemma was how to pack le stash, ahem) and decicing what to pack with me and what to pack in the freight container knowing it would arrive in Saudi Arabia after 2 months (!!!!) Sigh. But aside from all that, it's definitely been a very tough last month and a half.


Flying day arrived and on the 28th of June. We had our flight from Chicago which meant a 4-hour Coach bus ride to the O'Hare Airport from Madison, Wisconsin and a 13 hour (!!) flight to Abu Dhabi where we had a 4 hour stay (hello, Duty Free Shop! A mini haul will be posted shortly!) and then finally a 90-minute flight to Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Oh and a drive to our current city, Jubail. x_x


Just to get an idea of the kind of place I lived in Wisconsin here is some photographic evidence of the green-lushness we left behind. At the time, it was pretty mind-boggling what a drastic change it was from a HUGE diverse city like Toronto when we moved in 2007 (and leaving behind friends and our life of 12+ years) but regardless it was UBER-lush with greenery, cows and farms and certainly very beautiful! It took some time getting used to and we made some great friends in the 4 years and certainly had a wonderful time but alas, c'est la vie. =(



Last party w/ friends =(  



And now, Saudi Arabia. Talk about polar opposites, right?


My dad's company set us up in a villa (standard practice for most expatriates, especially those from America, Canada and the United Kingdom, heh) in a compound which is exclusively for expatriates from North American/European countries. Having neighbors speak a language I'm familiar with has definitely made the adjustment far easier. And yes, as a woman I can't drive here in Saudi Arabia but within this gated and UBER-secure compound there is access to swimming pools, a gym, a wonderful library (YAY), a mini grocery store and a restaurant to keep us entertained. There's also a possibility of a little kitty joining the Vintage Gulab household. =D



Tropical hotel? No. Saudi Arabian compound? Yes.

Here are some photos that I managed to take in-between road trips to Riyadh to attend a family wedding. Days spanning from July 1st to July 19th.



Road-side mosque (one of many).






That sweet kid was helping my dad park the car by waving his hands and such. =* ADORABLE.



Jubail's fish market.


Some things I love or find interesting/new/different/scary about Saudi Arabia:

1. Beautiful Aladdin-esque sand dunes and deserts. *_*

2. The language! Arabic sounds absolutely gorgeous and I've made it my mission to learn it ASAP. I'm glad I can read it and find some words similar to Urdu/Hindi but wow, it sounds gorgeous when spoken/written. MUST. LEARN.

3. Langauge reminds me: I find it so funny when I hear Arabs pronounce the Ps as Bs. So for example, a "Pizza Hut" is really a "Bizza Hut" because the Arabic alphabet has no concept of the sound P. But then they also have sounds we don't in English, two being these throaty "Eh" and "Kh" sounds which require a lot of practice to get the hang of using day-to-day. 

4. Seeing road-side camels instead of Wisconsin cows. And seeing the variety of colors they come in. Wow@ how ditzy and touristy I sound but I had no idea camels came in black and white. >.<

5. The segregation of public places. A restaurant will have a "family section" and a men's section. Women and families are also served and tended to first, ahem.



Squid


6. Treatment of women: as previously mentioned, women are always served first in restaurant settings, from what I have experienced. In fact, women are treated like delicate hummingbirds and have their every need catered to. It can be kind of endearing or annoying depending on how you look at it.  Another thing I've observed: Saudi men are extremely respectful of women. There may be weird gawking from men (of other nationalities. Sorry!) but rarely ever a Saudi man (distinguished by the thobe and ghutra they wear). That last sentence can possibly interpreted in a very ignorant way but I promise I mean it in the most informative way possible. I guess the openly-gawking-and-staring-for-no-apparent-reason carries the same social awkwardness were it to happen in America. There are always exceptions but none that I've experienced so far. As far as dressing is concerned, I do have to wear an abaya and hijab when stepping outside my compound but would it be strange to say I find it...liberating? I can be wearing my Hello Kitty PJs at the most uber-snooty five-star restaurant and no one would even know. My hair could also have a thousand rats' nests and again, no one would know. And because practically everything is air conditioned, overheating is a non-issue. I've actually grown to find my abaya quite convenient. Most of the American women in our compound don't wear a hijab when going out (and it's not compulsory either to cover your hair, surprisingly) so they just slip on their abayas when going out. Saudi women tend to wear full abayas and some even cover their faces/hands/feet.

7. Heat reminds me: the weather is SO humid and sticky that glasses/glass actually mist up when stepping out. Don't even want to know what would happen to my exposed curly hair. -____-



Pretty colors. *_*

July 19th,  2012: mah 21st burthday, ya'll. 


8. Gecko lizards, one of my greatest phobias, crawl on walls regularly. URGH. If only they were as cute and useful as the Geico variety. =_=

9. Gas is cheaper than water. You can practically fill up the tank on a huge SUV for less than $12.  What. Fresh. Hell, right?!

10. SAUDIS ARE OBSESSED WITH SPEEDING. I'm almost grateful I don't drive because even if I could I wouldn't. Drifting and speeding is practically every guy's favorite pastime here and it's so prevalent that they have a league of their own known as 'Saudi Drift'.

11. Most roads are named after Saudi princes (sharing the same family name) and can be very confusing to remember since almost all are "Prince ______ bin ______ bin Abdulaziz Street". The countless Abdulaziz can easily confuse anyone and so GPS, FTW.



Al-Fanateer Beach



Al-Fanateer Beach

Al-Fanateer Beach

Al-Fanateer Beach
12. Shops close down at prayer (and yes, at all 5 of them) times. So you can be grocery shopping and all of a sudden the lights will dim and the men will rush off to the mosques to offer their prayers. It's like the entire country stops functioning for those 15-30 minutes. Really cool to see. Not so cool if you're stuck at a gas station with an empty tank and need to be rushing somewhere. And yes, employees of the gas station fill your gas for you. Haven't seen that in years (last time was while on vacation in Lahore, Pakistan).

13. Saudi women love their makeup and perfumes. You'll find perfume shops at every corner selling local perfumes and scented oils (called attar).  Of course you'll find the niche brands at bigger department stores.

14. I have yet to visit the malls but from what I know brands like Inglot and MAC are easily available. There are pharmacies here which carry French and European brands and hence, I now have access to Avene, Bioderma, Vichy Dermablend, La Roche-Posay etc. YAY!!!!! Also, there are stores like Sephora, Faces, Boots, and Harvey Nichols (the last three not being in America) so I'm not cut off from makeup in the slightest. The only downside is that I can no longer shop online the way I used to but that's where friends come in handy. =P



Saudi currency: Saudi Riyal (SAR). 
__________________________________

All in all, I am really excited about this time in my life. I will be taking proper pictures soon and may do a Saudi update in the future so hope you guys don't mind the occasional off-topic posts. Part 2 and Part 3 (both makeup related) are being posted shortly. =) A part 4 will be posted when my stuff arrives via the freight mid-August containing 70% of my stash. I keep hearing horror stories of stuff being melted/destroyed in transit but I am keeping my fingers crossed that everything will be in perfect condition. I made sure to double and triple pack things with lots of padding and bubble wrap AND made a spread sheet + took detailed pictures but anything can happen.*shudders at the thought*


p.s. I apologize for being a horrible blogger in the last few days but above is the reason why. Thank you for understanding. <3


p.p.s. Before the big move I made sure to read as many Saudi blogs as I could. Mostly day-to-day blogs but some fashion and makeup ones also. Here are some I found extremely helpful and/or entertaining:


1. The Fashion Domain: a fashionista married to a Saudi. Check that hot pink Celine...

2. Blue Abaya: a blog about life in KSA as a Finnish married to a Saudi. Check her hilarious post about the "elaborate" Saudi wedding makeup here
3. Susie's Big Adventure: a blog about an American woman moving to Saudi Arabia.
4. American Bedu: possibly "THE" blog about an expats life in Saudi Arabia. Fascinating and candid.
5. Saudi Jeans: a blog by Ahmed Al Omran, a Saudi-born Columbia-graduate Journalist, about political and social issues of Saudi Arabia.
6. Jeddah Beauty Blog: pretty self-explanatory but this informative beauty and lifestyle blog is run by Nilo Haq, a makeup artist based in Jeddah. 

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