Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The old-fashioned future

Jeremy and I are taking a belated 10th anniversary trip to Kuwait soon. Exciting, I know. Our destination decision had more to do with airfares and schedules than brilliant tourist attractions, but I am still beyond thrilled to be going somewhere - anywhere - with just my husband for a few days.

What was not so thrilling was the process of buying the plane tickets. The airline we purchased them from has a nice website, but no matter how many times (and how many browsers) I tried, the transaction would not go through. So I reverted to the old-fashioned way of buying things, namely picking up the phone and calling the airline.

I got almost all the way through the process of breaking down the language barrier enough to convey the specifics of our itinerary and the spellings of our names, and then found out that while booking online is free, booking over the phone costs 20 dhs per passenger (about $5). I half-jokingly asked the airline employee who was assisting me if the website "wasn't working" because then the airline can rake in the telephone fees. He just laughed. Hmm.

However, then that purchase wouldn't go through for bizarre credit-card related reasons. The airline employee insisted it was my credit card, not the airline system, but I don't know about that since I tried multiple cards and none of them worked. Weird.

In any case, here's what I ended up doing: going to an ATM, withdrawing good old-fashioned cash, driving to the actual airport, walking up to the actual, physical office of the airline, and purchasing airplane tickets, in cash, in person. It was so bizarre to be buying a ticket that would allow me to sit in a chair and be propelled through the sky at high speed inside of a futuristic mode of travel...using the most outdated form of commerce imaginable. And they charged me $10 for the privilege.

Anyway, the tickets are purchased and our vacation awaits us this weekend. Old-fashioned buying methods aside, I'll take it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Kosovo, Unearthly, The Virginian


The Hemingway Book Club of KosovoThe Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo by Paula Huntley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent first book for 2012. The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo is a gem. It brought back so many memories of teaching in Syria. The author does a good job of giving life and depth to her experiences in Kosovo without coming off as a privileged, entitled American - well done!





The Storyteller's Daughter: One Woman's Return to Her Lost HomelandThe Storyteller's Daughter: One Woman's Return to Her Lost Homeland by Saira Shah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very beautiful writing and an interesting little mini-memoir. I admit I was a little caught off guard by this book because I thought I was reading THIS The Storyteller's Daughter so it took me a few chapters to realize that I wasn't. Still, it was a happy mistake.




My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ever so slightly sloppy, but super fun to read! This book gets the honor of being the first one I read in its entirety on my new Kindle, and hoo boy was I ever glad to get out of having to tote this cover around in public.




My rating: 5 of 5 stars
How have I never read this book before? It's a little bit The Count of Monte Cristo, a little bit A Pair of Blue Eyes, and a little bit Little House on the Prairie, with a dash of High Noon and (I'm going to say it) Twilight thrown in. It's not a perfect book - the pacing is uneven sometimes and while I liked the way the narrator elbowed himself into the story every few chapters, it wasn't always clear how he knew some things but not others. Is there such a thing as a semiscient narrator?

But it's a lovely member of that category of slow, thoughtful books that read like a love letter to their setting, in this case the American West. Maybe Minerva Teichert should illustrate some future reprinted edition.

Friday, January 27, 2012

January 27th, outsourced

I had to strip this image from its source in order to not give away the answer: can you tell what these are?

Here's a moderately entertaining video spoofing Lionel Richie's "Hello."

All those babies who were adopted from the former USSR (and other places) are teenagers now and seeking out the countries of their birth. Fascinating.

This article about an Arizona political candidate's English proficiency coming into question interested me on so many levels. Not least of which was the part where the BYU's own Dr. Eggington was called in to consult on the case.

This is an old article, but it's never a bad time to share an argument for email communication being more efficient and less bothersome than telephone communication. I know there are times when the phone is best...and yet.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Musandum, Oman

Musandum, Oman is pretty amazing. We drove up to Khasab on Tuesday and found some dudes to take us around the fjords in a boat. Miriam wasn't too sure about the whole operation until a real, live dolphin started swimming along the boat. It was smooth sailing from there. 

I can't imagine how my life would have been different if at some point during my childhood a real, live dolphin had swam alongside a boat upon which I was a passenger. Isn't that every 6-year-old's dream come true? Heck, I'm 30 and it was kind of a dream come true for me.

 We cruised around the fjords for several hours, until late afternoon. When the weather is warmer, the dhow (traditional boat) will drop anchor and you can swim in the turquoise water. It was not that warm on this day so we stuck to the boat.

 Along the way, we passed villages that are accessible only by boat. They have electricity thanks to the wires some intrepid soul has strung along the mountains, but the villages themselves have no roads or cars. It's kind of strange to think about, and behold.

We didn't go far off the beaten path on this first trip to Musandum. I know there is a lot more to do beyond the standard dhow cruise, but those activities will have to wait for another time. One major strike against Musandum, however, is the dicey drive up there from Dubai/Sharjah. It's a scant 160 kilometers or so away but once you reach the end of Emirates Road (the 311) you have to make your way through what has to be the ugliest and most truck-trafficky section of Ras Al Khaimah for what seems like forever. Then the border crossing process is less than seamless (and costs more than free). The drive into Musandum on the Oman side is truly breathtaking, or I imagine it would be if you're not the one driving and thus are able to take your eyes off the road, which is cut into the side of the mountain, for more than a moment. I think to truly be enjoyed, and to shake the bad aftertaste of the annoying trip to get there, you should spend at least one night and two days in Musandum. We'll see if we can work that out the next time. Maybe we can camp in the village with no cars/roads...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Koreans who wouldn't go away

We went to Musandum today, which is technically in Oman but which is separated from the rest of that country by the entirety of the UAE, perhaps in a bid to extract more visa fees from visiting foreigners. I'll write more about Musandum itself another time, including how a dolphin swam along in the turquoise water next to our boat as we sailed among the fjords.

But this post is about the Koreans who wouldn't go away. We first ran into them at the border crossing from the UAE into Oman. As they got out of their car next to us, one of them asked me about Oman car insurance and after I gave him the information he needed, we exchanged friendly well wishes for a great trip in Musandum and said goodbye.

Then of course we saw each other ten minutes later at the Oman half of the UAE/Oman border crossing.

Then, later that afternoon, entirely by chance, we spent four hours together on a hired dhow, cruising along the fjords. There were only two parties who had hired out that dhow from that group of sailors on that day at that time - their party of five and our party of six. It was a fun afternoon with our Korean friends.

We parted ways (again) at the dock at the end of the boat ride and I'm sure we all thought that was that. BUT NO. At the last moment on the way out of town, we decided to stop at the LuLu Hypermarket that is randomly in Khassab. A few of us had a hankering for some Pringles so I headed to that aisle. In the extensive chip aisle, who did I see browsing the selection but the Koreans?!? "How funny that they are in the very aisle I am in!" I thought. Then I noticed that they were right by the Pringles. Then, as I grabbed a can, I noticed that one of the Korean men was holding the exact kind of can of Pringles that I had just selected: sour cream and onion, reduced fat, supersize can. WEIRD. We said hello and goodbye (again!) to each other and parted ways, surely for the last time.

Except then we saw them at the Oman/UAE border. They were in front of us in the passport control line.

And that was the last time we met.

I'm thinking next time we should just arrange an outing together with the Koreans ahead of time. It would really cut down on the awkward non-goodbyes.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Oman 2012

Can you handle another blog post about Oman? Good.

You'll be happy to know that we didn't get stuck on any two-lane winding camel-ridden mountain roads for five hours this time. We stumbled onto the brand new dual carriageway from Muscat to the south just as we hoped we would and had hardly any wrong turns after that. Oman is still throwing down new highways like it's going out of style but the signage is still abysmal. Oh well. We had a lovely trip. Here are some highlights of things I haven't blogged about Oman before.

Church. I really enjoy going to church in foreign countries. It's trickier to do than you think - you have to be in the country on the day they have church (Friday, Saturday, or Sunday), in the city where there's a congregation, and in the know about where the building is. We finally made it to church in Muscat and although I spent 1.5 of the three hours dozing on the couch in the foyer (as the designated Oman driver, I was allowed this privilege), it was awesome. It was also the perfect travel break - we got to stretch our legs, be spiritually uplifted, meet some new people, use a clean bathroom, and the girls got to play with children. Yep, perfect travel break.

Friday, January 20, 2012

January 20th, outsourced

As you read this, I am probably in the wilds of Oman. OK, or Muscat, on my way to the wilds. I don't have much for you, but what I do have, enjoy!

Have you ever wanted to read the classics with the genders reversed, so all the men are on the hunt for wives instead of the other way around? Here you go.

It's been twenty years since the fall of the Soviet Union. This makes me feel old, and happy.

I haven't actually taken it yet because I'm afraid of Season 2 spoilers, but here's a Downton Abbey personality quiz for you.

This is how they serve ice cream in Dubai. OF COURSE.

This is a gallery of the best street art of 2011. Some are funny, some are clever, some are beautiful, and some are downright disturbing. My personal favorite is the building painted to look like its teeth are falling out.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

An Indiana Jones British colonial India childhood

About a week after we moved here in the fall of 2010, a friend of mine took me to these two huge warehouses on the outskirts of Sharjah filled with...stuff. It was mostly furniture but there were also a lot of odds and ends, a lot of which I couldn't even identify a purpose for. When I walked in, I at once felt like I was in that warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark (except with the crates removed) and also that I was suddenly a young British child growing up in British colonial India. Mary Lennox, maybe?

I got to repeat the experience the other day and also introduce my mom and my friend Carolyn to it:
Most of the furniture is of Indian workmanship, with a mix of old and new. They'll take an old shutter or door, for example, wrench it off its hinges, and then re-work it as a table or cabinet. Some of the pieces are quite beautiful.

This small chest of drawers with colored accents is my favorite, and someday it (or something like it) shall be mine.
Seriously, just HEAPS of stuff lying around.

I'm not really a shopper but I think I will take anyone and everyone who comes to visit me shopping at this mystery warehouse (I don't know its name - you just drive around in the industrial area of Sharjah near National Paints and it's there). We didn't happen to buy anything on our last visit - shockingly, furniture is tough to fit in your suitcase - but maybe we'll make a return trip soon.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Al-Noor Mosque @ Sharjah

Even though I've lived in Muslim-majority countries for several years now, there is still a lot I don't know about Islam. You can pick up quite a bit through that phenomenon of cultural osmosis I talked about before, and of course I've also read some books on the subject, but my picture of that religion remained incomplete.

My knowledge is still incomplete, but not nearly as much as before, thanks to a visit to Al-Noor Mosque in Sharjah. Unlike some other countries in the Middle East, the UAE does not allow non-Muslims to visit their mosques. There are three exceptions: Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi (one of the largest mosques in the world), a mosque in Jumeirah (Dubai), and just recently, Al-Noor Mosque in Sharjah. Every Monday at 10am, they run an information session inside the mosque meant especially for non-Muslim visitors and residents in the UAE.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Like magic

Every once in a while (OK, every day...) I get to wishing that dinner would just clean itself up for once. Like I could finish eating and then go do whatever and when I came back, it would all be washed up, cleaned up, and put away. Like magic.

Well, last night, it happened. I finished eating, left my plate on the table, and then went to read Little House in the Big Woods on the couch with Miriam. When I looked up, the table was clear and the dishes were done. How did this happen? My mom is in town, that's how.

She and our family friend Carolyn arrived on Friday and it has been fun fun fun ever since, interspersed with the occasional work period since the semester still isn't quite over. They came to the UAE bearing belated Christmas gifts from our families in the US as well as a bunch of things Jeremy and I ordered on Amazon and had sent to my parents' house. (One of those Amazon things is a Kindle Touch, by the way. I'll get to that another day.)

When we're not gorging ourselves on Kirkland Signature natural peanut butter, York peppermint patties, instant breakfast, and Tillamook cheese (!!!!!!!), we're enjoying our time out and about in Sharjah with our guests. It's always nice to have visitors. Especially when they clean up dinner.

Friday, January 13, 2012

January 13th, outsourced

Sometimes I enjoy reading train wrecks like the comments on this Consumerist post.

I saw this article about (not) loving every moment of parenthood everywhere at once, and for good reason. Because it is true and awesome.

Finally, some good news re: kids and balconies in the UAE. Bravo to the policeman. Boo to the parents.

I've actually never seen the Rocky movies but this song (for the hypothetical (?) musical) cracks me up.

One of my students showed me this video that features interviews with Gazans talking about the new year and I really enjoyed it! I thought you might, too.

My favorite painting-as-a-photograph was #9. [HT Kathy]

Newest rediscovered nerdy pastime: playing with the MLA nationwide language distribution maps. You're welcome.

Introducing the newest, best beauty product. [HT Missy]

This Socially Awkward Penguin meme has changed my life, and I only saw it for the first time this morning. It's as groundbreaking for me as that The Atlantic article about introverts was. There are so many behaviors mentioned on this meme that I never imagined anyone else besides me ever experienced. Now I know that I am not alone. Wow. Just WOW. (Warning for some language.) [HT Scotty]

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Apple salsa

I love seeing a cooking refuse pile like this one:

Those are the peels and cuttings and clippings of apple salsa, something that sounded really gross but tasted really good.

Making apple salsa has helped to lift me out of a cooking rut. Thinking up all the breakfasts/lunches/snacks/dinners for an entire week, breaking them down into their components for the grocery list, doing the shopping, and then cooking, serving, and cleaning up all that food takes a lot of effort. Who knew?

It's nice to have something fresh and delicious to add to the rotation once in a while. I've got my eye on Citrus Pomegranate Quinoa Salad next, though I haven't been able to find quinoa here. I picked up some barley at the store, though. We'll see how that works out.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Things I learned from watching The Amazing Race

The Amazing Race turned out to be the perfect show to watch clips of over the holidays. I also put it on quite a bit while I was grading homework. Here's what I've learned from consuming parts of seasons 14, 15, 17, and 19 over the last few weeks.

1. There is, sadly, no shortage of jerky guys out there who treat their petite, blonde girlfriends like crap.

2. What are they carrying in those backpacks?? I realize the contestants are probably under contractual obligation to look hot at all times, and thus must haul around all the accoutrements that make that possible, but dear goodness their backpacks look heavy.

3. So, what is so hard about reading the words on the clue? I cannot believe how often people fail to pay close attention to directions that are trying to teach them how to win a million dollars.

4. Perhaps this is putting too fine a point on gender roles, but hear me out: I think it's just easier for a team that includes at least one male to win the whole race. A lot of the challenges involve sheer physical strength, and I think it's a fact that men are generally stronger than women. I saw one episode where a team of two women that was adequately qualified in all other respects had to quit (not get legitimately eliminated) because there was one tiny part of a task they could not complete due to not having enough physical strength. Which, fine. If the show wants it that way, they don't have to make an exception. BUT. Then there was another episode where a challenge involved putting on traditional Chinese opera makeup. Just as we can generally state that men are stronger than women, I think we could generally state that women are better at applying makeup than men. Sure enough, one of the men on a team did a horrendous job of applying the makeup. It was awful in comparison to the work the girls on the show were doing. But they let him pass the challenge! If they're not going to make exceptions for brute strength, maybe they should hold a higher makeup-application standard, as well. I'm just saying.

5. Another thing I've learned is that people should be nicer to taxi drivers. You probably won't get to where you need to go any faster by being mean.

6. I have to admit that I was super gratified to see that a team was eliminated from the race in Oman due to the poor signage and maps and roads that exist in that country. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who made one wrong turn in Oman and wasted the next five hours driving on a two-lane country road. Also, in Dubai another team got horribly lost on the confusing highways here and was eliminated. So it's not just me.

I would LOVE to stumble upon The Amazing Race filming somewhere around here. I also think it would be fun to be on the show with Jeremy. Too bad you have to be a resident of the United States. Hmph.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Downton Abbey Season 1 Review

Please talk about Downton Abbey with me. Jeremy and I recently re-watched Season 1 in preparation for the legal release of Season 2 on iTunes/PBS.org this week. Ask me about my self control in resisting the YouTubed and pirated versions that I know have been out there for months. It took a lot.

So, what do you think? (No Season 2 spoilers allowed. I have been studiously avoiding any headlines or promos or articles or reviews or anything so that nothing is ruined.)

I think Downton Abbey is brilliant. I realize it's essentially a soap opera that takes place in the olden days (the surprise pregnancy, the indecisive fiancee, the backstabbing, overlooked middle child) but good heavens, is it well-acted and lovingly produced. How do they even find these delightful actors and actresses, and how do they play their parts so naturally? It's marvelous. My favorite straight-up character is Sybil (the youngest daughter) because she is a gem of humanity. I appreciate the nuance and unabashed cynicism of Mary even as I recognize that she is a flawed, flawed person. I loooooooooove Thomas as a villain. I love that O'Brien is a villain too, but I was moved by her transformation in the final episode - don't we all have the occasional "O'Brien, you're better than this" moments when we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror?

Friday, January 06, 2012

January 6th, outsourced

Unfortunately, we didn't go, but the fireworks at the Burj Khalifah this year were AMAZING...

...but were they so amazing that it was worth it to not get home (within the city of Dubai) until 5am? I'm not sure.

This is winter in the UAE. [HT Ashi]

It is a fact that I read this article well after midnight when I was taking a break from working on a paper all day, so it's possible I was a little slap happy. But still, HILARIOUS.

Also hilarious, and smart, and true: Why the GOP Nomination Should be a Romantic Comedy. [HT Liz]

I loved reading about this cartographer's beautiful, handcrafted map! [HT Ken Jennings]

It's possible you will violently disagree with her, but Katie at The Red Kitchen has an interesting take on what baby items are worth it.

I'm trying to decide if this guy's tale of lost luggage is better than ours. It certainly involves more policemen. [HT BCC]

Now I am officially allowed to say, "When I was a student at the BYU and lived in Heritage Halls, there were six girls in each apartment and only one bathroom." Because apparently it's not like that anymore.

You WILL end up watching this video a few hundred times. [HT Anna Ray]

I loved this article if for no other reason than that the rule about the shameless attention-getting headlines you see these days is SO TRUE and should be implemented immediately. [HT Jen]

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

2011 Book Stats

Here are some interesting (?) stats about the books I read in 2011.

The books I read in 2011 were:

53% fiction.

47% non-fiction (obviously).

Furthermore, 66% of the fiction was Young Adult (just like last year!).

Overall, 35% of the books I read were Young Adult.

18% of the books I read in 2011 were non-first-time reads.

17% of 2011's reading list were books that Jeremy also read this year.

69% of the books were checked out from the library. The rest I either own or were downloaded through a free trial with audible.com.

Speaking of which, 12.5% of the books I read in 2011 were audiobooks.

The longest stretches between completion of a book were two periods of 25 days each. The first time was in October when it took me almost the whole month to read The Count of Monte Cristo. The other time was in November when I finished Mud, Sweat, and Tears and didn't pick up (well, download the audio of) Between Shades of Gray until the second week of December.

Which leads us to the great item of nerdery that is my 2011 reading progress chart. Still haven't figured out how to make it pretty, sorry.


As you can see, my reading slowed down the second half of the year, especially once the fall semester started. It got to the point where I didn't even want to start a book because then I would just be wanting to read it when there was so much else I needed to do. Fridays were by far my most productive reading days - there were a few Fridays in the year when I read an entire book in an afternoon. Which leads me to my last stat: my most productive stretch of reading. In April, I read Baghdad Without a Map, Three Cups of Deceit, and Girls of Riyadh in three days total. (However, Three Cups of Deceit is only about 70 pages long.)

The end!

Edited to add: Except I just figured out how to do an animated version of the chart. Check it out.

I feel like Hans Rosling, except that I, unlike him, have no reason to exclaim, "WHAT a catastrophe!" in a Swedish accent. Which is a shame.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

H&M and a pool

Two recent shopping experiences gave me pause.

1. Not to complain about H&M again (because I love that store), but I had another unfortunate experience where the final attitude of the staff was "we don't care." Take a look at this rack of girls' leggings:

How much do you think they cost? If you said 29 dirhams, you're WRONG, as was I when I took a few pairs up to the register. It turns out that most of them cost 49 dirhams. When I protested, at first the cashier tried to tell me that I must have grabbed the leggings from a different display. So I physically walked her over to the rack and showed her the display sign that clearly said, "Leggings, girls 1-8 years, DHS 29." That really stumped her...but only for a moment. Because then she told me that oh, the signs only display the lowest price of any item on that rack. Somewhere in there is a pair of leggings that costs 29 dirhams. If the pairs I actually pull from the rack cost 49 dirhams, well, it's on me to notice that.

I escalated the situation (nicely, I promise) to a manager, and then to his manager, and the answer I got was the same: H&M signage is allowed to post the lowest price of an item in any given display. I have a problem with that, and I'll tell you why. "Leggings, girls 1-8 years, DHS 29" to me means that any leggings in that display that are size 1-8 years, for girls, cost 29 dhs. If they want it to mean otherwise, they need to change the wording. How about, "Non-patterned leggings, girls 1-8 years, DHS 29"? Or "Leggings, girls 1-8 years, DHS 29 and up"? The way it stands, it's just plain flat-out lying. Too bad the manager was deaf to my protests. So I just filled out a complaint form (which maybe they threw in the trash after I left). And then wrote this blog post.

2. Outside of a sporting goods store in Festival City, we found a mini trampoline on display. Right next to it was a set up, filled up swimming pool. Does anyone besides me see that as a glaringly obvious safety hazard??
And now I'm wondering if the pool really costs 289 dhs or if the sign just says that, or 289 dhs is the cost of the water, or something. Hmph.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2011 Stats


Here are some blog stats for your review/entertainment (2010 stats here).

Bridget of Arabia 2011 Stats


Total posts: 269

Total number of comments: 1939

  • Average number of comments per post: 7
  • Number of posts with no comments: 1 (this one)
  • Highest number of comments on one post: 35
Number of subscribers (Google Reader only, I don't know how to find out anything else): 183

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