Thursday, 3 April 2014

The final chapter

It was my last day in Riyadh and of course it rained.  The locals told me when I arrived that Riyadh rarely received rain however it has occurred four times during stay.  I guess I’m either very good luck or very bad luck.  They probably need the water, but with no drainage system the rain plays havoc with the transport network.

My driver took me home through a heavy downpour. Actually with the amount of dust in the atmosphere it was almost raining mud!  The rain stopped shortly after we arrived at my apartment.  I went in to do a final pack and change whilst he made the curious decision to wash the car.  I thought it was a rather pointless decision as his next task was to drive me across the city to the airport.  With no stormwater drainage system the car was filthy by the time we reach the international terminal.  He managed to successfully drop me off at the wrong terminal (there are four) so a had a quick walk in the rain.

The next problem was to find the Gulf Air check-in counter.  Whilst that wasn’t particularly difficult of the four manned counters only one was accepting passengers.  The other three staff members just waved passengers away.  Now all these would-be passengers were from the Indian sub-continent and they passively accept being at the bottom of the hierarchy.  Whilst they forlornly stood around with their taped and bound large cardboard boxes containing their worldly possessions (one had a large cardboard box with “toothbrushes” printed on it) I marched up to one of the bored looking check-in officers and requested he complete my check-in.  He was halfway through telling me his computer wasn’t working when another more senior Gulf Air rep requested my travel documents and processed my boarding cards.  The incident made me feel quite guilty!   

There was a long queue at security because the x-ray machine operator was also checking the contents of suspicious hand luggage.  He had a colleague but obviously the second man didn’t feel the need to assist.  The problem was a Filipino woman who was carrying a child’s toy set which contained a plastic pistol.  She didn’t want to forfeit it and the security official wouldn’t allow her to carry it onto the aircraft. A long discussion occurred whilst the queue got longer.

After that was sorted I went to find my gate.  The boarding card stated boarding with start at 8.50pm and departure was at 9.30pm and; as requested; I had arrived two hours prior to check-in.  At 8.50 there was no sign of the arriving aircraft.  At 9.30 the aircraft still hadn’t arrived.  By 10.00pm the Indians, Pakistani’s and Bangladeshi's were starting to get restless.  By 10.30 I was starting to get restless!  At 10.45 I cornered one of the nearby Gulf Air ground staff and asked if I was going to make my connection in Bahrain.  He told me “You can’t!”  “What!” says me. “I won’t make my connection!”  He replies”You can’t!”  I seek clarification.  Apparently he is telling me I can make the connection!   Heart rate slows.

The aircraft arrives at 11.00 and we depart 20 minutes later.  The aircraft captain gives us some cock and bull story about bad weather in the Gulf causing the delay.  We have one of the smoothest flights you could imagine between Riyadh & Bahrain.

Our aircraft arrives at the same time my onward flight is due to depart.  It’s a sprint through transit and then to the opposite end of the terminal where my aircraft and other passengers are waiting.  After arriving in a sweat I spend the next 40 minutes waiting for more passengers from other delayed Gulf Air flights.

The aircraft is an Airbus 320-200.  I have a window seat.  Not a good move on an Airbus because the leg room on Airbus window seats is obstructed by a steel box under the seat in front.  We depart 90 minutes late and my problems compound when a large fruitbat decides to change her seat and occupy the window seat in front of me.  She promptly puts back her seat almost smacking me in the face. I decide not to make an issue of it because she looks like she has probably previously played in the All Black front row!  I decide to recline my own seatback only to find the chair is broken.  There isn’t going to be much sleep for me on this flight!  But it gets worse; she has a hacking cough and also grunts in her sleep.

But what do I care.  Sleep or no sleep I’m heading home.

So if you arrived at this blog from my other blog you will know where to go to follow the story.

This will be the last post on Sandy Tales.

Sunday, 30 March 2014


It appears I may have been too hasty in blaming my cooking for my ill health.  After twice experiencing a burning sensation in my stomach I have given up coke cola and substituted it for flavoured milk and yoghurt.  As a consequence I'm feeling much better.  My guess is the local cola has a very high level of phosphoric acid and I may have done some damage to my stomach lining.  The milk and yoghurt are alkaline which might just be reversing the process.  A long term likely replacement for the cola is sparkling apple juice which is known locally as Saudi Champagne!  The strawberry flavoured non alcoholic beer can stay on the shelf!

Boredom set in yesterday so I took the free compound bus to the nearby Carrefour supermarket in Khurais Road where I bought another £20 7" android colour tablet

It's the same tablet that I bought two weeks ago from another Carrefour supermarket.  However this is an XTouch whilst the first tablet is a Nikai.  They are EXACTLY the same tablet but with different splash screens and labelling.  I haggled them into providing a case.  The interesting part was the payment system.

After attracting the attention of a saleman (difficult - note there are no sales ladies) and confirming the price,  he went off to a computer terminal and printed a docket.  Then he signed and stamped the docket. I then had to go to go and queue at a cashier where I presented my docket.  He placed it into a machine which printed some further information on the docket before taking my cash.  The cashier then signed the docket and stamped all four copies before returning the docket to me along with my change.  I then had to walk around the supermarket until I found the "Collection Point" counter.  This was staffed by two men.  One took my docket and went off to get the tablet.  On his return he stamped all four copies and then gave the tablet and docket to his colleague.  He checked the docket and tablet before also stamping all four copies of the docket.  I was then given the tablet and the top copy of the docket.  At the supermarket exit I had to show the tablet to the security guard who then stamped my docket for the last time.

What a great way to create employment.  five people involved in selling me an item.  I assume they learned this off the USSR!  The only Saudi who was involved in this process was the cashier.  I've noticed Saudi's are prepared to be a cashier, checkout chick or receptionist, but the actual working involved in sales, storage and security is done by an expat.  One the sales front they are usually Filipino, Malay or Indonesian whilst the security guard is normally from Africa.

Of course the docket has now gone in the rubbish!

Saudi Arabia must almost be the fast food capital of the world.  I've never seen so many well patronised outlets.  MacDonald's must make the bulk of its profits from Saudi Arabia.

Baskin Robbins is an ice cream parlour and you find outlets everywhere.

At least this fish and chip outlet was open.  But I abstained!

Perhaps you don't know what H&M looks like when written in Arabic

Now look at the NEXT store and it might be clearer

Remember Arabic is written from right to left.  So can you now make out the word NEXT from the Arabic when reading it from right to left........  No... Neither could I! :-)

All these malls are now looking very similar

The usual childrens play area at one end and the food hall at the other.  The only think that gives the building a slightly Islamic feeling is the ceiling where the skylights are made in a mosaic glass pattern.  Damned photo was blurred!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

That Fish Pie

After feeling somewhat queezy yesterday I took a good look at the fish pie.  Even with my poor sense of smell and limited eyesight it appeared to be "a little off" and I reluctantly disposed of my next three meals.  The last portion of the frozen lasagna was crying out for attention.

I know...the photo is out of focus!

I've already forced myself to eat the previous three portions and whilst it doesn't smell that bad, I'm not overly fond of the green layer.  It tastes like finely cut lawn clippings.  My willpower wilted and I opted for the cheese and mushroom pizza.  I'm now four dinners short and will either have have to get more entrepreneurial with my culinary skills or do the weekly four-three diet.  This diet is based on thinking about food for four days and then gorging yourself for the following three!  One thing is for certain, I won't be buying any more of this frozen lasagna.  It came as a frozen brick. All I had available to cut it into portions was a cheap bread knife.  The knife wasn't up to the task, but eventually I managed to break up shatter the brick by repeatedly smashing it against any hard and sharp edge in the kitchen.  Now I'll have to explain the dents in the top lip of the stainless sink.

In the pantry there is a tin of Texas Strawberries, 2kg of flour and a dozen eggs.  I should be OK.  However my work colleagues might have a different opinion!  If I get really desperate I can walk to the local supermarket and buy fresh camel or goat.


Wednesday, 26 March 2014


I appear to have poisoned myself for a second time.  Yes, my culinary skills are obviously in need of improvement.  Or perhaps these days my stomach isn't as "cast iron" as in my youth!  The fish pie will have to be thrown out.  That's a nuisance because I was planning on eating the remains over the next three dinners (lazy cook syndrome).  As a boy my parents made me eat everything on my plate telling me "Think of the starving in Africa".  At times I wanted to send the food to Africa.  My parents loved broad beans and brussel sprouts.  I hate them!  You wouldn't believe how difficult it was to find and marry a girl who also hated broad beans and brussel sprouts. One consequence of this forced feeding regime is I hate wasting food!
No doubt I will have recovered my appetite by tonight and the the last of the frozen lasagna awaits dinner.  It's also looking slightly "tired" and the thought of the defrosted and coagulated lawn clippings isn't that appealing! Still, should I get desperate there is a half bag of chips in the freezer and pizza in the fridge. <burp>

Manuel the cleaner has finally made it to my office.  I've only been here four months!  He leisurely and haphazardly breast fed a small broom around the floor managing to push most of the dirt into the corners.  Then with a beaming smile he left.  I assume leaving the dirt ensures continued employment.  No doubt he will return in four months for a second attempt!

The office phone finally works.  But on my first attempted use there were no free lines.  It's one of those fancy new all singing and dancing phones that can do almost anything.... except cook fish pie!  Of course there was no accompanying user manual.  No doubt they have been carefully stored somewhere for future use and that location has been long forgotten.  Nevermind, after 30 minutes I discovered how to get an outside line.  There's no point in me making a local call as I don't speak Arabic.  But I do need to make several overseas calls to potential suppliers.  Each time I attempted to make a call a man would attempt to tell me something in Arabic.  Eventually I realised there is a bar on the phone making overseas calls.  It's as useful as a chocolate teapot.

One thing I noticed about the Middle East is that males were almost no jewellery.  I've never seen a male wear a chain around their neck.  However wearing a "clunky" looking ring (often made of silver or pewter)  with a large semi-precious stone (green opal?) appears fashionable.  Women do wear necklaces (most of them under the black abaya.  The jewellery shops are always full of locals so I can only assume the females have jewellery parties on alternate days to their dress parties!

I had been wondering how the men prevent their fundamentals from freezing when the cold wind off the desert races up their Thobe.  Then I noticed the white ends of a pair of woollen "long johns" around my drivers ankles.  They cheat!

Monday, 24 March 2014


This roughly follows on from yesterday's post

During a visit to Beijing a friend was given this brochure by the hotel.

Obviously, it has been translated directly, word for word from Mandarin to English.
Getting There
Our representative will make you wait at the airport. The bus to the hotel runs along the lake shore. Soon you will feel pleasure in passing water. You will know that you are getting near the hotel, because you will go round the bend. The manager will await you in the entrance hall. He always tries to have intercourse with all new guests. 
The Hotel
This is a family hotel, so children are very welcome. We of course are always pleased to accept adultery. Highly skilled nurses are available in the evenings to put down your children. Guests are invited to conjugate in the bar and expose themselves to others. But please note that ladies are not allowed to have babies in the bar. We organize social games, so no guest is ever left alone to play with them self. 
The Restaurant
Our menus have been carefully chosen to be ordinary and unexciting. At dinner, our quartet will circulate from table to table, and fiddle with you. 
Your Room
Every room has excellent facilities for your private parts. In winter, every room is on heat. Each room has a balcony offering views of outstanding obscenity! .. You will not be disturbed by traffic noise, since the road between the hotel and the lake is used only by pederasts. 
Your bed has been made in accordance with local tradition. If you have any other ideas please ring for the chambermaid. Please take advantage of her. She will be very pleased to squash your shirts, blouses and underwear. If asked, she will also squeeze your trousers. 
Above All
When you leave us at the end of your holiday, you will have no hope. You will struggle to forget it.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

One in the eye

My driver didn't collect me yesterday morning which had me slightly concerned he might have been involved in an accident.  Eventually another driver arrived making me only a few minutes late for work.  I went downstairs at the end of the day to find my usual driver waiting.  He then turned to look at me and I immediately noticed his very red and weeping left eye.  I think he has been poked in the eye over the weekend.  Despite his injury he managed to deliver me safely home and was then waiting for me at the usual time this morning.

The roadworks here are starting to become dreadful.  Heaven knows what the situation will be like when they start building the new metro train system.  There seems to be a habit of digging holes and then not filling them in after the work has been completed.  At one point on the journey there is a stretch where they have deep excavations on both sides of the road.  Moreover they are separate projects.  Even worse; further back they are starting to excavate a stretch of road that was only recently filled and sealed.

Of course all the excavating has created a traffic choke point.  Saudi Arabian drivers don't like choke points.

So here we are approaching the excavations where the road narrows from four lanes to two.  In anticipation  the traffic has already started to form eight lanes, with even more vehicles coming down the verge on the right to squeeze across.

Of course the traffic gets into a snarl to the musical accompaniment of many car horns.  The traffic gradually squeezes itself into two lanes in 'fits & starts'.

Further along we hit our third stretch of excavations.  This time it's for a new sewer main.

This last portion always amuses me.

Note the large sign in English "Tour Suites".  It should probably read "Holiday Apartments".  But these things happen when you use Google Translate :-).  No doubt the Arabic is correct!  Obviously you noticed the excavation out the front!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Price of Petrol

On one of my recent road trips we had to stop for fuel and whilst seated at the service station I managed to take a photo of the bowser.

0.45 Riyals per litre.  That’s slightly less than 7 pence or 15 cents Australian.

Now consider the Saudi’s have to extract, refine, transport and resell it for a profit.  Yet it only costs 6p?  How can the price of petrol cost approx. £1.36 or A$1.34?   It can’t be the additional cost of transporting it.