Monday, December 18, 2006

I realized I haven’t updated on the apartment situation since moving in….two words…LOVING IT! I seriously feel like I am living in the lap of luxury (by cairo standards). Some might say (yes you know who you are) that living on an 18th floor penthouse is giving me a big head. I wouldn’t disagree so easily!

And yes, it’s true you can see the Pyramids from my balcony! In fact, if my curtains aren’t drawn, I can sit up and see them from the comforts of my own bed. Every morning, I get up, go out on to my balcony and say hello to Cairo. The noise of the traffic, the crisp Cairo winter morning shielded by the hot sun on my face, and of course the gorgeous view……pretty sweet for a wake-up call.

Nay-Nay and I already have a routine. Every evening we laze out on our living room couch, which is an amazingly cosy L-shape, turn the heater on - get on our laptops and waste the hours away. Sometimes we’re so lazy we even IM each other on gmail and facebook. I’m so glad she understands me! We do however have a New Years resolution. After Jan 1, we’re only allowed a maximum of 1 hour internet lazing time on the couch, after that we have go out and enjoy Cairo for what it is! And if that doesn’t work, Resolution #2 is to break both laptops.

And did I mention that my new roomie is a fantastic dancer?? Nay-Nay has been dancing since she was 3 and she rocks every single party we have here….so I get a grrrreat view and free dance lessons. What a sweet deal! :D

the good and the bad

So Saturday night was the epitome of my taxi riding experiences here in Cairo. For the first time ever, my cabbie refused to take payment from me!

It all started with him asking me where I was from. Then he asked what I was doing here in Cairo. (Oh and amazingly, I have no idea how you ask these in Arabic, but you start recognizing these questions when you hear them like a billion times)…and since I am queen paranoia, I decided to use my newfound bank of useful Arabic phrases...

So I told him I was married. To an Egyptian.

You should’ve seen him after that. He just wouldn’t stop talking! He kept proclaiming things, showing me the thumbs up, and telling me at one point that my face was full of ‘noor’ (pointing to the car lights to make sure I understood). I didn’t understand 95% of what he said, but I did get when he asked me whether I was going to stay in Egypt, to which I replied, “La! Me and my Egyptian husband are moving to Canada”. Don’t ask. Lol. I actually kinda enjoyed my make-believe story, and felt happy that I had married a man from a country of nice cab drivers. Oh and by the way, he’s super hot too. And has a nice car.

Before stepping out of my cab, mr nice cabby man kept saying something, but I had no idea what it was…... At times like this, I wish I knew Arabic, because he seemed like a nice man trying to say genuinely nice things to me :)

the mother ship has landed

My mama is here in Cairo! Which explains me being slightly M.I.A. It has been busy, busy, busy. Going to work, not going to work, looking for another job/traineeship in Cairo (more on this later), and taking mum out as much as possible….AND getting my beauty sleep has been hectic! My dad flies in today and together mum and dad fly out to Dubai on Friday morning. And I join them in Dubai on Sunday!! Will be spending Christmas in DUbai, as a very close friend of mum’s is throwing her daughter’s wedding there the very same week.

About my mum – did I ever mention what a star she is? Fourth day in Cairo, and she trekked it ALL ALONE to Khan El Khalili, didn’t get ripped off by the cabbie or shopkeepers, and made it back one piece! Even I haven’t done this! I HATE going to Khan, it gives me a monstrous headache, so mum has had to fend for herself. She’s been doing this on a daily basis, going out alone, exploring different shopping districts (lol) and coming home and showing me her finds. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to do so much sightseeing as it gets dark by 5pm and I’m usually so busy during the day. But hopefully until Friday, Mum will be able to do some exploring with her hubby dearest.

Most importantly, I have been so gastronomically satisfied in the last week and half, because my mother is officially the best cook in the world, and after 1 month of fattah’s, koushary’s and not so great shwarma’s – coming home to mum’s prawn curry is like exploding in culinary happiness. (ok that phrase has probably never been used, but I’m just not sure how to describe the feeling I get from eating mum’s food). And I’m not the only one. Kent has been comin over to enjoy my mum’s company, cooking and bonding with her by gangin up against me! I WILL HAVE MY NUTELLA, and nobody can stop me!! Check out his blog post about cooking with mama dearest.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

“Ana mit-gow-ay-za….I am married!”

A useful phrase to know, when your prepubescent taxi driver starts telling you he wants to be your 'friend' because he realizes in the 5 minutes you’ve sat in his cab that “Inti I Love You”. I only wish I had known how to say this BEFORE embarking on this most eventful-yet-common activity of catching taxis in Cairo.

Seriously, all my stories seem to emanate from taxi journeys here!

Did you know? When entering a taxi with food in your hands, it is only polite to offer your driver a bite. Imagine the double take I did when I saw Omar offering his sandwich to our taxi driver one day. Am I selfish if I don’t want to do that…? Am I elitist for thinking I'm gonna get taxi driver cooties? Should I be shot?

Byebye Percy

My first farewell in Cairo! People are already starting to leave..... Last Friday, Percy left Cairo after 5 months here!

Percy is from Mumbai, India and although I've only known him for like a month, I felt quite sad that he was leaving. Being a trainee here means you get attached to fellow trainees quite easily, they're all you have! He's a gentle soul, something hard to find....especially when you got me barraging him with questions about Zoroastrians on our first conversation. Percy is officially the first Parsi I have ever met in my life - i thought that was so cool! I've always read so much about them in books, and now I finally met one :P

Anyway, here's to Percy - and as I've said so many times this year - it's not the end, i don't do catch you soon (dont be surprised if i turn up in mumbai)! xx

Peace in this dusty heaven

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

Monday, December 04, 2006

As usual, I am late. I’m meant to meet Nay-Nay at the supermarket to go for our first grocery shopping expedition. By the time I’m there, she’s done and coming back with 3 big bags of shopping. I ask her how much she spent, and realize I’m pitifully equipped with 30 pounds in my handbag. But I go ahead anyway.

Get to the supermarket and realize I don’t know Egyptian numbers….!

3 weeks in Cairo and I cant even read their goddamn numbers as yet. So I scope out everything with a price in single digits. If it’s a single digit, I must be able to afford it! Another good tip: Buy only products with Arabic writing on them i.e local produce. Cornflakes? Buy the Arabic version. Butter? Arabic butter, very good, very cheap.

Somehow, I manage to scrape by, paying only LE 34.50…..phew!!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

encounters on a cairean train

I’m on the train back to Cairo, and as we approach the station, a non-Arab looking woman asks me something in Arabic. I give her my usual, “No Arabic” and then she looks at me for a second, and asks, “Hablas Espanol? Speak Spanish?” I reply, “Si, un poco! Yes, a little!” and a wonderful conversation ensues.

She tells me she is from Argentina, here to do a project related to a philosopher she follows named Silo, she gives me a book about him, we exchange email addresses and finally part with a hug outside the station. Despite the odd stilted sentences, I’m uplifted for the rest of the evening. I’m ecstatic just for the fact that she *thought* I might speak Spanish, and thought to ask me so simply…as random as it was. I mean, who goes around Egypt asking people if they speak Spanish!

Ironic too, that the first full-fledged conversation I have with a non-English speaking stranger in Egypt…….is carried out in Spanish!!! While struggling with the language barrier here in Egypt, I find myself constantly with Spanish words on the tip of my tongue when I’m trying to communicate with people, just because it’s the only foreign language I know! Just convinces me further that I need to go to Spain or Latin America….InshaAllah, my next traineeship :)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

No longer homeless :D

Finally, after more than 3 weeks in Cairo, I have my own place to live!!

I’ll be sharing a sick-ass apartment in Dokki with these 2 American girls from the American University in Cairo and another AIESEC trainee, Nay-Nay, who is relocating from Alexandria to Cairo this weekend!! I’m so excited, Nay-Nay is really cool and I cant wait to be living together! We’re lookin forward to our first grocery shopping outing :P

Our apartment is on the 18th floor, and I think it’s meant to be like a penthouse. It’s the only split-level apartment I have seen in Cairo so far, and its on the top floor. My room itself is MASSIVE, it has its own bathroom and balcony! One side of the balcony overlooks the Nile and from the other end you can somehow see the Pyramids on a clear night (apparently). It’s such a wicked place to chill…Now I wish I was living in Cairo for 6 months not 3! L

The room itself is a little expensive (ok actually it’s very expensive) by Egyptian standards, but by London rent standards it’s a bargain and a half. So I’m trying to console myself with that fact lol. Also, after 3 weeks on a living room floor, I decided, Sod it, it’s time to pimp it out in Cairo!

Will put up some pictures soon as I move in!!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A peculiar thing about Cairo/Egypt. Landlords here are obsessed with making sure they are renting out to tenants of 'good character'. Alot of landlords stipulate in the contract that unrelated men and women cannot share an apartment together, people of the opposite sex cannot stayover or even crash at your place, unless you're related and they keep a check on this through the bowebs (doormen) who report on what's going on. People get their security deposits confiscated or even evicted and so on. I've never seen anything like this in another country. Even in Bangladesh! Alot of the time the landlord is conservative or is worried about what people will say, regarding the kind of people he is leasing his apartment to. Some of the female AIESEC trainees live in a flat together, and at one point the boweb started thinking they were running a whore-house, and began interrogating every single male who tried entering the building. Some have to bribe their bowebs if they want to throw a party. lol!

I finally got my password generator from work, which means I can now work from home, or anywhere with DSL. A huge relief, because now that Luli is on a work-trip to Sweden, its not easy finding somebody to drive me to work. On Sunday I had to go in, so I took a cab which cost me 50 pounds! A normal trip here costs like 5 pounds max! Thats 50p. You dont even get one-way trips to work in London costing 5 quid!

Anyway, things are super messed up at the moment. I actually found a real nice place to live, with Nay-Nay another trainee, but the girls who are living there at the moment are holding out on making a final decision because they want someone to live there for 6months not 2. So, we wait. And wait. To top it all off, the guys I've been crashing with have been evicted from their flat. Yep. So now they are as homeless as me. Cairo is being over-run by homeless AIESEC trainees.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What not to do when getting food delivered in Cairo

Dial phone number of local Egyptian eatery.

Arab man on phone: Salaam
Stupid trainee called Zine who doesn't know a word of Arabic: Hello? Salaam Can I get some delivery?
Arab man: booga wooga?
Zine: Crap. Do you speak English?
Arab man: No. Booga wooga. Hold on.
Arab man #2: Hullo! Yes?
Zine: Hello! Salaam. I would like to order some delivery please. Can I have a fata? With meat.
Arab man: ok, address!
Zine: ok. 94...Mohie El Din
Arab man: 94? booga wooga? Arabic!
Zine: Erm....94. NINE FOUR.
Arab man:94?
Zine: NINETY FOUR. La Arabiya (No arabic!)
Arab man: ok. address
Zine: 94, Mohie El Din Aboul Ezz...door number 2
Arab man: two?
Zine: Yes, two. one, two? Two.
Arab man: Khamsa (5)?
Zine: No! la Khamsa! not 5! two!
Arab man: ok. ok booga wooga booga wooga.

Click. Man hangs up.

Sit around. Worrying whether food is gonna end up coming. Feel like on the brink of starvation. Someone returns home, so write down how to say 94 and 2 in Arabic.

Re-dial number of shop again:

Zine: Hello. I ordered some Fatah 5 mins ago, and I wanted to give you my address again.
Arab man: Booga wooga, fata? meat or chicken?
Zine: *alarmed* No no! Im not ordering again! I just wanna give you my address again! Its me Zine! I called you 5 mins ago!
Arab man: Booga wooga booga wooga booga wooga stupid foreign girl booga wooga


Sit on couch. Wonder if food will arrive. Or if two portions of food will arrive. Twiddle thumbs. Door bell rings. Yaaaaaaaay!

The above incident was quite frustrating so when the delivery guy asked me if I wanted more fatah tomorrow, and I said yes, and he asked for my number and gave me his, I thought whoopee! He's just made my life easier, a one-stop-call for fatah at my door. But when I came back into the flat, everyone gave me the biggest bollocking, telling me I should never EVER give a random Egyptian guy my phone number, because apparently they think us foreign girls are an easy lay :S According to Kent, he could even start stalking me, and calling me constantly. I promised never to do it again, but I still think the guy just wanted to make our future transactions a bit easier... :S We shall have to wait and see..

And as a follow up to this entry, please refer to Kent's blog:

So at the moment I look like Quasimodo. A mosquito bit me on my right eye the night before last, and my eyelid swelled up and I couldn’t open it properly. So I took the day off. Lol. Yes any excuse I know.

I feel bad that I haven’t blogged in a while, so I’m gonna spin off a lazy entry.

My work situation is very relaxed at the moment. The project I came to do I haven’t even started as yet, because I’ve been waiting for all sorts of programmes and networks to be downloaded onto my work laptop. Now that I do finally have them, I need to be trained by someone to use them. So once I have been trained I can start on my project. Funny thing is, at work there aren’t enough desks to go around, so a lot of people work from home. And if I can get myself access to DSL at home, I could work from home too! My boss only comes in like 2 days a week as well. It’s wicked. It majorly helps because getting to work is a major hassle for me, havin to carpool, and getting stuck in traffic, all in all, makes me grateful to be able to work from home. I gotta say my first week was rough. Wakin up at that early in the morning, sitting in front of a laptop for 8 hours a day (even if I am not working the whole 8 hours) really got to me. All I’m telling myself is, thank god this aint forever. Even though before I always knew I couldn’t do the 9-5pm, office job, at least now I can say, been there, done that, no thank you! Nevertheless I am still appreciating the professional experience, and I’m not regretting this traineeship at all. But lets just say it’s great as a traineeship, and not a lifelong career!

My 2nd week, I got out a little bit more. Went to Khan El Khalili this big souk here, and the Pyramids (I actually beat some of the long term trainees to that, they still haven’t been!), took the Metro finally (very impressed btw) once accompanied, and once alone.. .yay! Now I can say I have conquered the Cairo metro :P) I’m hardly taking photos, I’m surprised. I think at some point you lose the enthusiasm for snapping shot after shot of things you probably won't look at again. So I take shots of people. Now that, I can do, because a lot of my time spent here in Cairo is spent chilling with other trainees and AIESEC Egyptians. But I do need to get off my ass and see Cairo properly.

The food in Egypt. I gotta admit, I aint too impressed. To be honest: I aint such a big fan of Middle eastern cuisine. Lebanese is most common in London, and really what else have they got besides pita bread and meat. Not that I am denying Helens kebab is the most scrumptious meal I have ever had. Nevertheless I have been surviving on a lot of Egyptian food here mainly because its cheaper than everything else. Fata, Howowshy, Koushury, Mashed Potato in pitta bread, which is my favourite, it costs 1 pound and is so simple yet yummy etc. Its also the one thing I can never remember how to say in Arabic. Life here makes you lazy as hell. Goddamn everything can be delivered to your door, so many a night I get home from work and just order my food home. Fine, fine, I got KFC delivered twice so far. Sorry :P

A curious pheonomenon. They are bit like being in university, I’m discovering. Everyone thrown into a pressure cooker of friendships, relationships and gossip mills. People become friends very quickly, becoming dependent on each other very quickly, its just like living in halls. The whole AIESEC thing is a curious thing. I’m slowly trying to figure it out. I joined as an SN, so I was never a full fledged AIESEC member. So I don’t know any of the terms or how this organisation works. All I know is they have some super passionate members. It really is fascinating. Some would call it a cult, some would just call it an amazing network with incredible opportunities. But hey, it got me to Cairo, so I aint complaining. And seriously, my 4th day in Cairo I was walking around downtown and I bumped into 3 AIESECers….that was so cool. How else would one be in a completely new, random city and manage to bump into familiar faces? Only on an AIESEC traineeship… !!!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Chaotic and polluted, swarming with humanity, and electrifyingly noisy and alive, this not a city for the faint hearted, rather for those who grab life by the horn and hang on for the bumpy ride."

So I’m feelin in a bit of a daze this morning. It’s Wednesday, which effectively is a ‘Thursday’ here in Cairo, meaning tomorrow the weekend starts!! Woohoo!!

I now understand why people look forward to the weekend so much….now that I have done about 5 days of working 9-5pm, sittin in front of a computer the whole day, and generally feelin very uninspired. I haven’t been trained as yet for the project I came here to do, so I’m just doing odds and ends. The working day is tough. My 9-5 schedule isn’t so rigid, its generally dependent on when I can get a ride to and from work, and how bad the traffic is. On my first day at work, we took 2 hours to get home on a road that should take 30mins. So sometimes we leave around 7pm, because it means getting home at the same time, but not being stuck in traffic the entire time.

I also haven’t found a place to live. It ain’t easy finding a place to live here. You don’t really have a system like gumtree or anything. It’s either going to check the AUC boards to find flyers, or finding a broker to show you places….which hasn’t been so successful. Everything is either too expensive or too depressing. Or they want somebody staying longer than 3 months. Or the location is too inconvenient for me to get to work. Sigh.

And I finally experienced the joys of Egyptian timing the other day. Our broker told us to meet him at 2.15pm. At 2.45, he arrives, and tells us the guy who HE is hookin up with aint gonna be here till 3.30pm. So we go wait in the flat. At 3.30pm, the other guy calls and says he will come at 4pm. We wait more. At 4pm, we head out on to the main road to meet this dude. We stand in the dusty, polluted street for 30mins, and he doesn’t arrive….at something like 4.45pm, he comes, and he shows us an apartment. But the commission he charges us is like 1 months rent for me.

I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised. In Dhaka, the ‘timing’ culture is similar. Nobody makes plans too ahead of time. You kinda go along with it and see what works out. People are always doin things at the spur of the moment, which creates a very laid back culture. As they say, InshaAllah…..What a contrast from London. Over there, people are booked up like 2 weeks in advance. If you don’t let people know the plans for the evening, they will get PISSED OFF. People need to know what the ‘plans’ are for every minute of the day. I’m not sure yet which culture I prefer. London is more stressful though, that’s for sure.

I just read my entry, and realized how much I am moaning. Goddamn, is this culture shock?! LOL.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Nile

Mysterious Flood,--that through the silent sands Hast wandered, century on century, Watering the length of great Egyptian lands, Which were not, but for thee. - Bayard Taylor, To the Nile

So I'm in the taxi, heading downtown to meet some AUC AIESECers. About two minutes into crossing a bridge, I realise I am beholding the ancient, much-talked about, millenia of history filled River Nile. And why has it taken me two long minutes to realise this? Because it looks like the bloody Thames, that's why!

I apologise for my naivete, but I think I expected the banks to be slightly more isolated, not strained between hotels, big yachts, and TGI Fridays. Hell, I think I expected to see a baby Moses floating by on a straw basket! Quite the disappointment, clearly...but nevertheless the weekend ensued with a lot of time spent on this river.

Friday night, I attended a typical boat party, and literally danced under the stars as the dj spun tracks from the roof of the boat...but Saturday night allowed a much more intimate brush with the Nile, with a group of us renting a feluka, a small sail boat, available for private hire for an hour or so. The captain of our feluka looked straight out of a Mauritanian desert, albeit the fake rolex watch on his wrist, and he sat there serenely guiding the boat, listening to us singing the Nile deaf and generally having a good time as we drifted down the river.

Definitely not an experience you can buy on the Thames on any given day...

cabbing it in cairo

Day two in Cairo. Preparing myself to go on my first solo taxi ride across town. I do not know the language. I do not know the directions. I do not know how to even pronounce my destination.

Kent emails me a letter he drafted advising all newcomers to Cairo on the etiquettes’ of getting about in taxis here.

1. Flag taxi down.
2. Tell him your destination in pitifully pronounced Arabic. Do NOT mention the fare.
3. Wait for him to repeat what you just said with a 'you goddamn foreigners butcher my language' look on his face. [and reality followed theory to the T, in my case]
4. Get in the cab, hang on for dear life.
5. Get out of cab at destination. Pay him without negotiation.But Kent clearly failed to mention one small detail, catching me off guard when the following happened:

I am riding in the backseat of a Cairo taxi. I see people standing by the road waiting for other taxis. They glance at me sitting at the back, then they shout at my taxi driver telling him where they want to go. I think to myself, “what a bunch of idiots. Can they not see me in the backseat?!” This happens several times. I start thinking Caireans are a little thick. Then, all of a sudden, my taxi stops, and a random Egyptian woman off the streets hops into the front seat?! And I’m sitting up looking around startled, wandering, “Did anybody else just see that?!”.

So yeah it turns out they take multiple passengers here. That would be Number #6 on the list. On my return journey, same thing happened, except this time, I invaded the taxi of another young girl, who very calmly got out and let me in to sit next to her. She didn’t seem as perplexed as I felt, so I figured this was normal. Thankfully the first time a male passenger didn’t get in, or I would’ve shouted bloody murder!!!

In fact i realised, my taxi driver kept slowing down each and every time someone else tried flagging him down, in order to hear what destination they were headed for…. Convincing me the traffic in Cairo isn’t caused by too many cars, rather by taxi drivers trying to maximize on their profits on each journey!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

working girl

It is the end of my first day at work in Cairo....and I've been given a laptop to take home! I even get a mobile phone! Woo-hoo!

So this has been a totally new experience. I have never worked for a multi-national company, never worked in a typical 'office', never really done 9-5pm and never got lost in a sea of nameless, faceless employees that make up the immense companies of today. For the first time, I have a job which can't be summed up with one word, like 'Teacher' or 'Journalist'. Good God, I am Chandler, with a job where nobody really knows what I do!!

My building (yes I have an entire one) is situated quite far out of downtown Cairo, and its a minimum 30 minute commute by car. Sometimes, I am told, it can take 2hours with traffic. Eek. I am currently catching rides with people, Luli drove me to work this morning. She is a former AIESECer too, now working full-time in my company. We are in this huge corporate neighbourhood, surrounded by loads of other big companies like Microsoft and Vodafone. Its pretty cool though, there are alot of AIESEC people who have worked, or currently work in my company. My colleagues are all really friendly, and the work enviornment seems chilled out thankfully. I can wear denim to work, which I am so grateful for because I have only one pair of black trousers and 1 work shirt!

I don't have my own desk at work as yet, so this makes me homeless AND deskless. lol. Perfect!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Another great thing, I found out that quite a few other trainees, such as Kent and Tom, aspire to be journalists. That just made me feel so much better (even though I am feeling pretty damn great anyway about being in Cairo regardless) about being here, doing this traineeship with Ericsson, even though it is not completely relevant to my journalism career.

My dad tells me there is no point being a "jack of all trades" (lol, his words) but I dont see it that way. I don't blame his scepticism, because I know where it comes from: I've always tried so many different things, gone in so many directions, and am always changing my mind about what I am going to do with my life, and so on. When I was younger, I went into gymnastics, drama, choir in school. I never stuck to any of them long term. I started piano lessons for 6 months, and quit. I then took 6 months of organ playing, and quit that too. And all this was before I turned 12!! I've done the whole TEFL thing, now I am doing a management traineeship, and ultimately, I hope to pursue journalism, but I have never regretted anything I've done, career/work wise. My TEFL certificate may have cost me 800 quid, but the job it got me, paid me like 5 times that amount, so I never lost anything. I only gained more skills and professional experience.

So, yes, I think it's in my nature to just try out everything, and I like that. Goddamnit, I can't even stick to one country!! Life is too short to stick to one hobby, one profession and one calling ALL your life. I'm very serious about journalism, definitely, but I think one of the biggest draws of journalism is also because it is so flexible and ever-changing. So it suits me perfectly. I am only 22, and I will never get a chance to experience an AIESEC traineeship ever again, since commitments pile up, so yes I feel really really happy I made the decision to come to Cairo..... :)

Lastly, a small note about my flight here:
Qatar Airways is a little wierd. My 8 hour flight from Singapore to Doha, had no personal televisions, only those big mains screen hanging on the top of every 50 seats....yet my 4 hour flight from Doha to Cairo was amazingly fitted out with great screens, and plenty of viewing choices. I felt a bit peed off about that. Although i did manage to sleep the entire 8 hours, but its the principle that counts. I must have 200 films at my disposal!!

apartment hunting

Last night we went apartment hunting. One of the AIESEC members, Omar, hooked up with a broker who took us around to view the various flats. We were laughing because he first told us there were only 2 apartments to view, but when we had seen them, found them dismal and rejected them, he suddenly materialized with like another 6 apartments! Only about 2 were actually liveable, but also extremely expensive. They seem to hike up prices when they see foreigners, naturally, but what they don’t realize is that we are very poor foreigners! We’re AIESEC trainees! Anyway, our search continues tomorrow....

So I went for a walk in the afternoon, and I have to admit, it was a little intimidating. It’s dusty, there are men everywhere staring or whispering things to you, I don’t know the language and I really don’t know my way around. I’m not sure why I’m finding it harder to imagine going out alone here, it’s not like I’ve never traveled or been to a completely new city/country or wandered unknown neighborhoods on my own abroad. Of course, compared to my other trips abroad, I have probably done the least research into getting around here, I suppose because I’ve slipped into the comfort zone of knowing I’m here for 2-3 months and that there are so many people here who will take me around. Perhaps it’s the same as being in Dhaka, we don’t usually go out for walks to ‘explore’. You just don’t do that in Dhaka. But obviously I want to in Cairo, hopefully I will become more comfortable/independent with maneuvering the Cairean streets.

One thing: I would never drive in this city. I would get smashed to a pulp within 15mins. It’s crazy on the streets here! You have to be so aware, because somebody could bump into you at any minute, people don’t really follow lanes, cars stop randomly on the side of the road and man this city is jam packed with cars. I think I must’ve silently shrieked in the car like 5 times last night!

I had my first Egyptian meal yesterday! We went to El-Omda, a local fastfood chain, and I had Koshary which is a meatless dish with various layers of beans, rice, lentils and pasta with a tomato-cinnamon flavored sauce. Nice!

I’m meant to do a country presentation, sort of like an introduction of where I am from etc, and frankly, I am a little confused about what country to represent! I’m officially representing the UK here because my AIESEC local community is UCL/SOAS, Uni of London….but to be honest, when it comes to cultural exchange between the UK and Egypt, I’m not sure I would be that helpful! And I did grow up in Singapore, but I don’t have any idea of what life is like in Singapore today, I don’t even know the AIESEC there. It’s funny because when I chat to others here, I naturally compare my life or how things are in my country compared to here, and I find myself rotating information about London, Singapore and Dhaka. It must be confusing for those I speak to! Culturally I find myself mentioning Bangladesh the most naturally….so maybe I will do a Bangladesh presentation. Or maybe I’ll just do a bit about all 3 countries!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Welcome to Egypt

Location: Cairo!

I was looking out the window as we drove into town from the airport, and it just felt so surreal. I cant believe I am in Cairo. My first time on the continent of Africa! Also the first time in 10 years exactly, that I am back in the Middle East – and of course – my first time in Egypt! :D

I am currently crashing with some of the other trainees, as I haven’t got a place of my own yet, so last night I slept in the living room of a Mexican, a Canadian and a Pakistani, all AIESEC trainees, sharing a flat in Mohie El Din. Ive already met loads of people, especially other trainees (which there are so many of!) and everyone is really friendly and trying to settle me in as much as possible.

I haven’t seen much of Cairo as yet, yesterday was spent in a half comatose state, May picked me up from the airport, took me back to her home where I met her mum, then we went and dropped my bags off at the flat, and then I was whisked off to spend the evening chilling in the apartment of one of the trainees, eating pizza (apparently you can get ANYTHING delivered here, in any quantity, even 1 small aubergine if need be!), watching the Producers and just chatting to everyone.

I do however have my very own Cairo mobile number. Yay!

First impressions: funnily enough, Cairo reminds me of Dhaka. Besides the odd ancient-ruin-esque sites we drove past on the way back from the airport, so far I am drawing plenty of parallels between life in Dhaka and Cairo. I got out of May’s car and it even smelt like Dhaka (not in the bad sense)! Of course I shouldn’t be speaking too soon, it hasn’t even been 24 hours since I arrived, but I spent some time talking to May about our cultures and the intricacies of being Bengali and Egyptian, and we found many a similarity.

Oh and I just found like 10mins ago, that where I am crashing at the mo, is in Giza, which puts us 20mins away from the Pyramids! I find that so thrilling! I am so tempted to run out of the flat now, and leg it there and have a look, but I shall control myself. A little at a time. Plus, if I did that, I would most likely get immensely lost!

Right now everyone is either working or in uni, and as I haven’t started work yet, I am chilling in the flat on my own. I might go for a walk later, check out the neighbourhood. Later tonight we are going to go apartment-hunting, and I am going to meet my future flat mates.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Bye-bye Singapore, Hello Cairo!!!

Right. So where do I begin? This has all happened so bloody fast!!

On Monday, I got an email from AIESEC in Cairo, saying there was a TRAINEESHIP on offer, for 2 months, web-designing for a huge international telecommunications company in Cairo [yeah I dont think its wise to display what company I am with!] ............. and would I be able to fly down for it asap? I did the phone interview on Wednesday, got accepted that very night and today I confirmed my flight for Monday morning!!!!!!!!!

I cant believe it, I'm actually going to Cairo!!! I haven't even managed to get over my jet lag since arriving in Singapore and I am already leaving! lol! Sorry, Singapore, looks like job-hunting here will have to be put off for now! .....All these months, searching and waiting for the right traineeship, and hoping it would be in Cairo.....and it's all worked out all so suddenly!! I am really all so very overwhelmed!

Right so I have a billion different things to do at the moment, so can't write a long, rambling blog entry about how bloody excited and ecstatic I am about going. But! I will try to keep everyone updated as much as possible.

ALL, and I mean, ALL of you have to come visit me! We'll go camping in the desert! We'll go play hide and seek around the pyramids! We'll do everything! Yaaaaaay!!!! :D

What's that behind you?

Location: Singapore

The other night, Xeina came over and we got rented out some DVDs to watch. The first one was The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Watched it till the end.....and now I am totally creeped out.

Our house is kinda big. It's spread out over 3 floors, and my bedrooms on the 3rd floor. And it's just me, mum and dad living here. Mum and Dad go to sleep at like some ungodly hour of 11pm every night, and I stay up all alone until 6am every night, due to a lethal combination of regular insomnia, jet lag and a generally nocturnal disposition. Leaving me

I also have an unusually unhealthy imagination. Combined with a sadistic desire to scare myself silly, and subsequently regret the consequences, my every turn in this house is filled with dread, espeically since watching Emily Rose.

Why am I even admitting this to the world, I do not know. I'm 22 years old admitting that sometimes, I'm still a little scared of the dark. Isn't that just ridiculously mind-blowingly stupid?

I know though, that, after a few days, when the images from this movie have slowly ebbed away out of my mind, I will resume normal activity in our house, without constantly staring too deeply into every dark corner, and imagining that the hairs on the back of my neck are standing.

But I really sincerely believe sometimes, there are things to be afraid of. Perhaps, not in my own house, but in this world, definitely.

I liked the film, Emily Rose. It handled the concept of the spiritual world in an interesting manner, for a spook film. It displayed the debate between scientific and spiritual explanations of the occult, which, instead of deadening the world of spirits to the viewer, made it seem all the more scary. And the ending was most fascinating. The girl who eventually dies, believes that her death will result in a positive ending, which is that if, because of her, some people start believing in the devil, how can they not believe in God? Which is so true. Apparently, it is a true story, and many now revere this young lady's grave like that of a saint's.

This movie portrayed the possession of Emily Rose by something truly and purely evil. Not a human evil. Not the kind of evil that kills hundreds in a country during a genocide, because of something like racism. But a pure evil, an evil existing in mere opposition to goodness. And the thing is, I got even more spooked when I recalled an event that occurred in the home of my mother's bestfriend. And scarily enough, the details of this real life event mirror the movie a bit too similarly.

Basically, my mum's bestfriend, Aunty Jasmine had just hired a new maid from Bangladesh to live and work in their family apartment. One day, she started acting really crazy, threatening them, saying she had poisoned their dinner and so on. They got totally freaked out, and called a bomoh (a Malay priest who specialises in Exorcisms), and the next day he was told to come to their flat. Apparently, when he tried doing so the next day, he kept getting lost trying to find the flat. They lived in a HDB block of apartments, which btw, are the most common form of housing here in Singapore. You just dont get lost. You'd have to be stupid. In the film, as well, the Father who was meant to do the exorcism the next day, kept getting spooked out the night before, as though 'they' were attempting to stop him from doing the exorcism the next day. Anyway, the bomoh came, did the exorcism, and aparrently, found that there were 3 jinns posessing her. (Jinns are what Muslims believe in, instead of ghosts, spirits etc). In the film, Emily Rose had 6 demons inside her.

This is my mum's bestfriend's story. So it's quite close to home. But at the same time, I always think, heck I've never seen anything why act like such a scaredy cat? Or am I speaking too soon? [Nevermind that we grew up in Singapore reading a healthy dose of 'Singapore Ghost Stories', and I spent all summer last year listening to Javed Bhai's Jinn stories when he was visiting us here, my imagination is running to Timbuktu......]

[I think....when you are also bored, and sitting at home, waiting to find a job.....your imagination runs wilder than it normally would! (I shall take solace in that!)]

Thursday, October 26, 2006

watch this and you will never ever need a man in your life

the next chapter begins.

Location: Singapore

My dear darlings in London and the rest of the world,

I arrived in Singapore day before yesterday evening. The weather is sweltering hot, my skin is permanently moist and the air is polluted with haze from indonesian fires. I am currently still immensely jet-lagged, and trying to settle in to being back. It's a bit different this time, because I'm probably going to be here for awhile, so I'm enjoying slowly unpacking all my possessions and decorating my room with them. It feels wierd because I suddenly have triple the amount of space that i normally had the last 3 years in university. I have the entire 3rd floor of our new house to myself, giving me 2 bedrooms and a balcony and my very own bathroom to spread my things out all over. My own bathroom! I can't remember the day I ever had my own bathroom. Actually, I never did...and It's pretty cool. I can leave my toothbrush and towel in there! Yay! I am very much in 'decorating' mode...I cant wait to spruce up my little corner of the world.

The food is good obviously. My ma must be the best cook in the world. I've had her pilao and chicken korma 4 times today. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and nightcap. Yup. And I've forced my parents to allow me to chauffeur them around in our Jeep while they run errands. Feels amazing to be behind the wheel again. Even with mum yelping in the backseat everytime I change lanes. Ha! I love driving! Now all I need to do is muster up the courage to drive around alone on Singaporean streets. I haven't been back in a year, and already I don't recognise our neighbourhood. It's gonna take some getting used to.

I must say life is easy here. As much as I hate to admit it, the standard of living is better, everything is cheaper, and this city runs so smoothly it seriously puts London to shame. The admin is so much more efficient, technology here is light years ahead of London (we got the equivalent to the Oyster card and congestion charging years ago), and frankly, when you can have an amazing meal for a mere 80p, your life is inarguably less stressful. And yet, its not enough.

i miss London.

Damn that scene from the airport will probably haunt me for awhile.

But I hate goodbyes, I just dont do them (as of today). I've probably had too many of them in my life, so from now on I'm gonna just give goodbyes the finger. I have decided the world is an immensely small place, and so long as climate change doesnt push up airlines fares, I'm gonna be okay. And my last week in London confirmed this even more so, because I realised I may be leaving an amazing city behind, but I dont need to let go of the main reason that made living in London the best 6 years of my life: the people. It was a bit of a paradox this last week. Not really wanting to call up or meet friends and family because doing so just made it glaringly real that I was leaving, but at the same time, the hugs and kisses I got from everyone and the effort they made to come see me, and make me feel better that this is not permanent, left me alot more reassured that this isnt as big a deal as I am making it to be.

And the best part of coming back: I'm finally looking for a job (and not having to worry about work permits)! Nothing has popped up yet, but I've already made some phonecalls, and things are looking hopeful! Will keep you guys posted. Fingers crossed!!!

ps: If you miss me very much, which you better do, you can keep texting me on my UK mobile number...I always keep it on me :D I also have a new Singapore number, it's on facebook.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

New York, New York...

People either love or hate New York and I’ve decided I love it! How can you not love this city? The perfectly planned out streets, by gosh, no taxi driver could ever cheat you! And this city really does not sleep, unlike London (bah!). New York has a personal character that London lacks, it’s actually inhabited by NEW YORKERS. Not people from a 101 countries like London. Even though that is what makes London special too, it sometimes makes London a bit of a no mans land. But New York had a people. I hardly saw anything other than black, white, and latino and the odd far-eastern face here and there.

But I was even happier because I conquered New York on the first day. I got off my $15 Chinatown bus, without any maps, refused to feel intimidated. Made my way to the subway, and then finally to the YMCA on the West Side by asking people at every turn. I made sure not to look at anyone in the eyes, as my cousin warned, and I survived! Lol! Just kidding, New Yorkers are lovely!

I did the usual touristy stuff: World Trade Centre site, walk through Central Park, go on the Staten Island ferry and wave at the Statue of Liberty, stand outside the Met Museum’s admissions and peer in because you’re too cheap to pay $20 to go in (never was an art appreciater), rode a yellow cab driven by a mad Arab, spotted Christopher Walken stepping into his limo outside the Rockefellar Centre, and won lottery tickets to go see The Late Show with David Letterman LIVE!!!!!!!!! That was a highlight! And of course, what every loser ‘Friends’ fan like me does, stand outside places like ‘Pottery Barn’ and giggle.

But we also ate. And Ate. And Ate even more. The top 2?

1) Mama Empanada (in Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen) - Amazing Argentinean cafĂ© serving filled empanadas, esp. good are the steak and cheese, the Viagra (seafood cocktail), and the Elvis (peanut butter, bananas and honey) for dessert. Their fruit cocktail is also amazing.

2) Pha-Nom Thai (Greenwich Village) = the chilli stuffed sea bass. That’s all I have to say. This restaurant does good stuff. Very innovative, very fresh.

I also visited the Journalism departments of NYU and Columbia, and shed a tear and a pout standing in front of Columbia’s beautiful library steps. I really liked both institutions, NYU and it being in the heart of Greenwich Village, probably my favourite neighbourhood in Manhattan, and of course, Columbia, its prestige, it’s beautiful Harlem campus, the name Pulitzer all over the damn place! Sigh! Someday....?

The best thing is, I think I felt at home here, because I didn’t feel like a foreigner (hmm!). I think how you sound makes a huge difference, when it comes to being or feeling accepted. And my accent is waaay more American than it is British (strangely so) so I felt more quickly at ease. And I didn’t even feel this ease in Boston strangely. New York definitely suits me.

Monday, September 25, 2006

corndogs, calzones, and quarters

Location: Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachussetts

The education system here is so different. Trying to get my head around state universities, community colleges, private schools, college funds, scholarships. In the UK it all boils down to 3 letters. And it being a liberal arts college, you have to do courses of all sorts, from gym classes to art appreciation. What you end up graduating in can be totally different to what you started out doing, they are so flexible here. I like that. Brandeis is so intense as well, compared to anything in London, its more like Oxford, yet its not even Ivy League. Nabilah has papers due every week, marks as much as 40% given for class participation, exams twice a semester.....and she's doing a BA!

This is my first experience of campus life, and I find it very isolated, especially if u don’t have a car. Not sure I could survive something like this, I've never lived outside a city. I'd love to do my masters here in the States, but it’d have to be somewhere like in New York, where people are everywhere, things are always moving, and you can walk to places.

Nabs has classes during the day so I went down to Boston myself one day. Sat around Harvard yard, ate my sandwich, watched people. I tried imagining myself surrounded by brilliant people, but it didn't work. I'm not sure what I was expecting, people with dictionaries for heads?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Shalom from Brandeis University

Location: Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts

Been in the States for a week now.

Not much has happened in particular, me and Nabilah have mainly been chilling, catching up on waaaaay too much gossip, and eating until we want to burst.

I never gained the Freshers 15 back in London, but I’m guessing that I might compensate for that here in Brandeis. The portions served in this country are so big, we usually share one plate between ourselves. We have been cooking loads though, and we realised that we really enjoy doing simple things like that together. It may be our last time in a long time to get to chill out and just spend time, and Nabs is one of my bestest friends so I am really appreciating the quiet time together. I’ve been getting to know her friends, going to her classes, attending South Asian Soc meetings and friday Jumma prayers, and basically following her around everywhere and being a pest :P

We’ve been to Boston a few times so far, but there’s much more left to do. There’ll be a bit more traveling around from this weekend on, with trips to New York, Philly and Cape Cod planned. The first thing I thought of when we got to Harvard Square in Boston was that it looked more like London than anywhere else in the States. Makes sense, this being New England, and where the British landed first.

Staying with Nabs in Brandeis has certainly been interesting. If you didn’t know, it’s a Jewish college, and nearly everybody here is Jewish. I’m finding the dynamics of being a student here really interesting, but I shall not go into details lest I hurt sensitivities. Let’s just say we don’t discuss politics here. It’s ironic that I am from SOAS which is practically the antithesis of Brandeis.

We went to a campus bash on Friday evening, which was a lot of fun, albeit very very different to parties in London. Because the campus is in the middle of nowhere, most parties happen in the living rooms of dorms here. It’s all so very makeshift, I love it.

I’ve had to complete a long overdue article I’d been researching all of August, so I have been a tad lazy, doing not much else in the last week, I must admit. Nabs got me hooked on Grey’s Anatomy, and there is so much trash tv available to watch, it’s all I do some afternoons. Oops! (Sometimes it doesn't hurt to know about celebrity diets...)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

On a happier note

Location: London, England

I passed my driving test yesterday!

After taking my first ever driving lesson on 24th July 2006, and (ahem) 39 hours more later - I passed on my first try with only 5 minors!! Suck on THAT! :P

Sooo, the summer has officially ended with a feeling of accomplishment. I got my license.... and I also got offered a job working for a local weekly in London, which unfortunately I couldn't accept, but the offer in itself definitely gives me much-needed hope for the future.

So, yes, the future does look bright.

ps. did I mention I got my driver's license...?

the beginning of the end

Location: London, England

So on Monday, I fly to the States, where I will be for the next 5 weeks. Monday also signifies my last real day as a London resident. When I fly back in on October 13th, I return on a tourist visa (I say that phrase with disdain and dismay).

The emotional aspect of last 30 days in London is something I would rather not talk about on a blog. What can you really say to capture having to leave a city that has been home for you since the age of 16, and not know when you will be back again? All I take consolation in is that I am not the only one, this is in fact, for many others like me, the new post-modern way of living: Move, settle, pack up, leave and repeat. I'm 22, nearly 23 and I still don't really know where I see as my real home or where it will end up being. My next destination certainly isn't my last, and I have a feeling that is how it will keep going for awhile.

In terms of the physical journey - I thought I would spend my last month re-visiting all my favourite haunts and doing a 'trip down memory lane' type of journey through London, but I've actually ended up being so busy taking on a billion different projects, that I have ended up unable to. In a way, the busy-ness has been a blessing, giving me less time to sit down, contemplate and realise how heartbreaking my next move is going to be. And in another way, it is also a blessing because a 'trip down memory lane' reeks of goodbyes and never-agains. And that I refuse to accept.

Ok I know sometimes in my attempt to sound deep - i come off leaving people a little confused as to what is actually happening. BASICALLY I am leaving London for a minimum of 1 year, maybe 2 - and my first stop will be in Singapore, where my parents live. I'm not sure as yet whether I am gonna stay put there, because I have a few other options e.g. Bangladesh or the Middle East for my AIESEC traineeship. We shall see as time passes. The future is uncertain - so I shall have to update bit by bit.

Why am I not staying in London? Well, mainly because if I want to pursue my career as a journalist, I can't do so in the UK as it doesn't give out work permits to journalists. Apparently, it isn't a 'shortage' sector, like teaching, and to be honest I will someday either kill myself or kill my poor students should i go into school teaching permanently. And apparently, it is easier to get a permit to do mind-numbing factory-line banking jobs, than it is to do high-flying, exciting journalistic work. Go figure.

So there it is: between choosing life in London and life as a journalist, I choose the latter.

Do you sense my bitterness?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Would you believe...

Location: London, England

Did I ever tell you how cool this job is? Only my 2nd day on a new work placement, and I'm already unable to get over how much I love doing what I do (or rather trying to do).

I shadowed a journalist in the office, following him to a press conference in the City. At the end of it, we're all handed goody bags, and as I peer inside mine, I see a Sony PSP box. I think to myself cautiously, "No...cant be." I overhear someone saying, "Ah yes, they're just empty boxes filled with cookies." There you go. It's just cookies...

As we're walking to the tube station, i overhear one journalist say to another, "Not bad hey? PSPs...Cant wait to go home and play on mine". My hands start trembling and my eyes grow wide. I have a Sony PSP in my hands??? Nooooo! Alone on the tube, and unable to hold my patience any longer, I rip open the goody bag, and lo and behold, IT REALLY IS A SONY PSP!!!

I could keep doing this unpaid placement forever like long as I get my freebies. One to brighten each day of the week!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

back in londonistan

It's been awhile, and the truth is, I couldn't be asked. But other than a few things, it's been a slow 2 weeks.

GRADUATION || My chance at getting on that stage, shaking the hand of some random woman, and having to pose for waaay too many photos. My dad went a little trigger happy with the camera... Only at a SOAS graduation though, do you have white students performing traditional Indonesian gamalan (sp?) music, with lyrics like, "Oeey...aaah!". I must say though graduation day is one big RIP-OFF. The amount of money they make from that day, charging for gowns, tickets, photos, yearbook. Although when sending off the money for the tickets, I thought to myself, what's the point of going to a ceremony? I'm glad I ended up going. It kind of creates closure. Seeing all your classmates from over the years, realising we all made it (somehow).

FREAKY || Our little disabled fish died. RIP. The fish tank has resumed to being the most boring form of keeping a pet. (Who is Freaky?)

DRIVING LESSONS || Drove a car for the very first time in my life (literally), at the ripe old age of 22. Where the excitement of turning 17 and waiting to get my license disappeared during the last 5 years, I have no clue, but I'm proud to say, as of this week, I actually know how to start a car and go! Nevermind that it scares the SHIT out of me. I have this recurrent dream going, where I'm in the drivers seat, and I just cant control the damn beast! And its shit scary. And whaddya know, my instructor tells me my steering is absolutely miserable (ok to be fair I've only had 6 hours of lessons), and I don't where this came from, that I'm too aggressive. He asked me why I was so hyper, and if I always veer between extremes instead of settling in the middle path (cuz I'm either going too fast and when he tells me to slow down, too slow). How the hell does he know all this just from my driving?!? It's all true! Creepy... I asked if I had a lifetime of speeding tickets ahead of me, and very worryingly...he didn't reply.

HUGHES PARRY || So a little birdy told me I've been banned from Hughes Parry for writing that article about them in London Student, so they've put my picture and name up behind the desk warning receptionists not to let me in...LOL! What a bunch of babies!

BOSTON FLIGHTS || On holiday in Europe, and BA starts giving away flights to NY on sale for practically 150 quid less than what I bought mine for. I am not a happy bunny :|

AND FINALLY || Holiday pictures! I'm slowly putting them up! Just check under Photo Albums on the left there to see what's up.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Catch it while you can?

"Yeah, Venice doesn't seem to be ALL THAT, next time let's try Singapore" - An American in Venice

Location: Venice, Italy

It's possible to wander around Venice for hours on end exploring little alleyways. Every turned corner brings new surprises and delights. And when you're tired, there's always a little cafe serving scrumptious pastries and smooth cappuccinos. It's almost like one big theme park, that's how I see Venice. Not many residents, only those serving the multitudes of tourists who come in for the day, week, fortnight. Everyone does the rides, pays the eye-popping 100 euros for a gondola ride (which I must admit was worth it, there's nothing more musical than gliding through Venice's many hidden canals on a traditional gondola). Yes, Venice is a tourist city, nothing more, the residents are leaving, the city is sinking, and the walls are decaying. In a way though, it is this that makes it even more alluring. Catch it while you can?

With Venice, it was love at first sight

We really kept the best for the last. After trudging through alot of monotonous Europe....Venice was a fresh breath of air. Literally. Not a single car in sight, the city hums with the sound of people walking everywhere. I didn't think it could be possible, but the roads in Venice really are made of water. The only 2 forms of transport avilable are walking and by boat. Even bicycles are banned! It can't be denied however, this place is swarming with tourists. I have never seen anywhere as congested with tourists, not even London. But for some reason, it doesn't affect the charm of Venice. It's like we're all sitting back, relaxing and absorbing the wonder that is this city, together. I warn you however, I tend to exaggerate things when I like don't blame me for raising your hopes unfairly....just do what I did. Dispel all expectations. Get off the train at S. Lucia, go to Platform 9, turn around and walk straight out of the station, and into water. You wont be disappointed.

I am so relieved now to be here for another reason. It's the final chapter of this long journey. No more waking up, packing, checking out of the hotel, rushing to catch trains. We are here for a good 3 nights, and for that I am grateful. Everyone got up at the unusually late hour of 11.45am today (gasp!). We've rented a very cute apartment near Rialto. In the morning, woke up, cooked omelets and watch Baywatch in italian.

A meal in the Jewish Ghetto

Location: Venice, Italy

My family only eats halal meat. We also eat kosher meat, because we approve of the way Jews slaughter their animals, and we see them as People of the Book.. So we head down to a very well recommended kosher restaurant one evening for dinner. Every single patron in the restaurant, other than us, is Jewish. A man on the table on our right looks at us as we enter, starts shaking his head as if in disapproval and looks down with a grimace. The table on our left watches us in fascination, and I can't help staring back at the gentleman as he smiles at us, so I smile back, and he gives us a good-natured, 'Hello'. We sit down, we order. Throughout our meal a woman from the first table continuously stares at us eating, making me uncomfortable. The second table also constantly checks us out, except not as grimly. At one point, they do a whole fiasco of taking photos, with the woman leaning so far out from their table, it was quite obvious they were taking photos of us. I found that hilarious! We were like circus acts...token Muslims in a Jewish restaurant.."Must send pictures of THIS back home!"

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Overnight trains

Writing from Florence, Italy! Waiting for much needed laundry to be done. We arrived here yesterday, with much relief, this being our last country stop.No more long distance travel, no more overnights on trains. Our last experience kind of killed our enthusiasm for them....We spent it with a very nasty, drunk, racist British guy. He was about 60 at least and even though he was relatively decent to us, he was shouting at the two Koreans sharing the cabin with us, saying, "I dont wanna talk to that idiot...bloody Japanese, Korean..." and the Korean guy meekly replies, "I am Korean...". Mum and I were arguing over whether they were too polite to tell the guy off or (according to me) they just dont have any backbone. Cuz all the Korean could say back was, "Shut up" at the same decibel level of someone perhaps saying, "I like potatoes. Yes I do." :S

Tonight we head to Venice and from there HOOOME!!! My sister and brother in law have also joined us here in Florence, so im really enjoying their company and especially, my brother in laws fascinating knowledge of food and travel. I am currently on a strict diet of coffee, pizza and spaghetti bolognaise. Anyway, Ciao!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

European Rail

Location: Zurich, Switzerland

Aaah...welcome to the civilised world. Where train stations have escalators. Where the trains have rounded sofas. Where the travel offices speak perfect English, advising you on your next course of action.

The Grammy Awards of EU Rail:
Best toilet in train: Slovenia (Ljubljana-Sezana)
Worst train seats: Romania (Sinaia-Brasov)
Best Seats on train: Switzerland (Zurich-Interlaken)
Best tourist aid in station: Ljubljana, Slovenia
Best views from train: Slovenia (whole country)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Adventures of crossing the Slovenia-Italy border

2.5 h train from Ljubljana to a small border town, Nova Gorica. Take a cab for 5 euros across town and cross immigration sitting down. Go to Gorizia station on the Italian side and get on a train to Venice. Admire the view from the train, the beautiful Adriatic sea. Wonder slightly why its on our right hand side when it should really be on our left, while heading west. Realise we missed our connecting stop and are heading, instead for Trieste!! Ooops!!!

(Get off at Trieste and take train back to Venice!)


Location: Trieste, Italy

Finally reached Italy, and we are confronted with a station info guy who doesnt speak English. SO I let out some Spanish, figuring what the heck, might as well give it a shot. And whaddya know, he lets out some Italian in response and we communicate. What a country! Im already a fan.


Usually my coffee drinking is limited to Starbucks Mocha Frappucino (i.e overloaded with sugar and chocolate). The bitter coffee taste just isnt my cup of tea....But now that I am in Italy, in fact Trieste, the home of Italian coffee, I had to get myself a cup of the real thing. Without chocolate. So I did. One caffe latte at Trieste train station. Shockingly, with only 2 sugars. (I usually take 3-4 with tea). And what i tasted was pure aroma and smoothness. I sense the start of a love affair

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Its Loob-li-yana, not Luh-joob-li-jana

Location: Ljubljana, Slovenia

So from Romania, we took an overnight train back to Budapest, and then took a direct train to the South of Hungary, to a small town called Pecs. Spent a night there, and next morning we got up at the ungodly hour of 5.45am and left for the train station to begin our journey across to Croatia. Pecs is actually at the border, making the trip quite short, except that we had to wait for 3 hours in this random village, at the station waiting for our connection to Zagreb. It was so in the middle of nowhere the village didnt even have INTERNET. Even villages in Bangladesh have internet!!

Anyway, I didnt get to see much of Zagreb, I was so exhausted from 3 nights lack of sleep that I went to bed pretty early after a quick look around. Also, results came out that day, so was a bit stressed. Gulp. No comment. Zagreb seemed very hip though, lots of young, trendy people, and Croatian girls are definitely very very pretty. Its the first city on this trip where I have thought, hmm i wouldnt mind returning here with my mates. Anyway, the only thing of interest was staying in a private room accomodation. Seems to be common around these parts, but we got this creaky old flat in a big mansion, and it was a bit spooky coming home at night, even sleeping there.

So this morning, we took a train to Slovenia, and here we are! Ljubljana has impressed me, it has had the best tourist support i have seen so far, and you definitely start appreciating these things when you are moving between 7 countries in 11 days. Slovenia has also had the most scenic train ride in so far. Beautiful mountain lined rivers as we entered the country and approached the city.

We leave tomorrow to cross over to italy.

So far....

I realised I should add in an itinerary, to prevent any confusion as to where we have been so far. This is also in aid of my generally crap memory.

30th June - London to Bruges, Belgium

1st July - Frankfurt, Germany (overnight to Vienna)

2nd July - Vienna, Austria

3rd July - Salzburg, Austria

4th July - Gyor, Hungary

5th - 6th July - Budapest, Hungary (overnight to Romania)

7th July - Sighisoara, Transylvania, Romania

8th July - Brasov & Sinaia, Translyvania (overnight to Budapest)

9th July - Pecs, Hungary

10th July - Zagreb, Croatia

11th July - Ljubljana, Slovenia

12th July - Cross border into Italy - Venice (transit) - Overnight train to Zurich

13th July - Zurich - Interlaken - Stresa, Italy

14th July - Florence, Italy

15th July - Venice, Italy

17th July - Flying to Liverpool, England

18th July - Train back to London (sigh of relief)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

With love, kisses and bites from Translyvania

Location Transylvania, Romania

Yup. Thats right. We were in Dracula country. Technically my title is incorrect, because I am writing this having left Romania but I couldnt resist using the name Transylvania. Ha.

So basically, from Budapest we took an overnight train to Romania. I wouldnt recommend this because you will find the immigration officials waking you up several times during the night, wanting to see your passport. An unusual way of experiencing customs, for sure. However, Ive realised I really like overnight trains. I feel adventurous whenever we get on one. Definitely, the fact that your covering so much distance, and the smooth rocking of the train putting you to sleep is an experience if any.

So Transylvania. As much as Id like to say dark, gloomy and full of eerie castles, its not really. We stayed in Sighisoara, where Vlad Tepes the inspiration behind Dracula lived, but the dracula cartoons and figures everywhere merely add comical effect to an otherwise very beautiful countryside. We spend 2 days in Sighisoara, Brasov, and Sinaia, a ski resort. Amazing green forests covering big sharped edged mountains, really beautiful to watch as our train chugged through such landscapes decorated with clouds...we were that high up.

Definitely a huge difference when moving from Hungary to Romania. Romania is so much poorer. For the first time we notice beggars, mainly Romas, and the water here is not drinkable. The train station wasnt even paved. We seem to be progressing from poor to poorer as we continue on our trip. The people are also more unused to foreigners. We got ALOT of staring, even in Hungary, which makes me think not many South Asians visit these parts. We only came across hijabi Muslims twice and each time they greeted us and waved excitedly at the sight of other Muslims. Ha. Also, our food situation is so dismal here. Mountain landscapes dont really produce much we are surviving on potatoes and the odd pizza. Im definitely liking Romania though. Only here do you pass by a Roman Orthodox Church and here the sound of grown men in robes singing hymns in beautiful deep voices. The language barrier is also proving much harder here. We had a little mishap while trying to leave our luggage at the station lockers. The old grandad working there, I think suffering from amnesia, made us pay him 3 bucks twice, 2 seconds apart, and we just couldnt get it through to him that we had just paid him. Ah well lol. Doesnt help that Romanian currency runs in 2 kinds, the old and the new, and we are constantly lost wondering if 10,000 lei is equal to 1 lei...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Pictures: Budapest, Hungary

huh? That can't be right...

gorgeous turkish meal for 4 quid total!

budapest rail station

very old buildings in budapest

my pretty mummy

supposedly the oldest underground line in the world?

great market, budapest


With love from Budapest

Location Budapest, Hungary

I am knackered. Today has been a bit of a low, dont feel like walking around, looking for interesting places anymore. And to think only a third of this holiday is over. Eek. I think I'm just a little sore because I really wanted to try a thermal spa but its men-only today. And its hot. And everything has pork in it. Oof. Sorry I sound like a brat lol.

We've been in Hungary for the last 2 days now. On Tuesday night we went from Salzburg via Vienna to Gyor, Hungary. You wouldn't believe how much our plans have changed. We're lucky we can be so flexible. Tuesday night we realised we'd be reaching Budapest very late so we got off early in Gyor, a small university town near the border, and spent the night there. Also, we are no longer going to Greece and Bulgaria, we are going to try Croatia-Slovenia-Bosnia instead!

The train ride was hilarious. The Austrian immigration officer came by to check passports, and before leaving, the guy (who was quite good looking, ahem) says, "The Hungarians are coming...don't be afraid..." and we were like, "Huh?", and then the Hungarian DID come, and I was a bit hyper because all this train immigration stuff is so new and exciting for me (ok i am easily pleased), and he told me to "Sit down" quite gruffly! :S

I like Hungary for several reasons:

  • They put a stamp in my passport.
  • The hotel had window shutters. This in my books, makes the whole country holy, just like Espana dearest.
  • The people seem incredibly helpful, unlike Austrians. On so many occasions people physically got up to help us find our way.
  • No dog poop to be seen here. In fact, I saw a woman walk all the way to a drain just to throw some water away.
  • So cheap! Dinner for 4 quid last night!
When you enter Hungary from Austria, the differences are stark. The train stations change from swanky, shiny electronic board-filled terminals to....well, old-school. All this leaving and arriving in different cities and countries so quickly is making our heads spin. Trying to figure out a fresh map every day, learning what the local word for "road" is, having to adjust to the new languages, scripts and orientation, is exhausting. One thing that has remained constant, all the way from Salzburg....the Danube River. It has been following us all the way here.....

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Images from Vienna and Salzburg


Mexican natives gettin political in Vienna (ok i think, i couldnt really understand their slogan)

Yes i know lots of food pictures....I have a strange obsession with it.


In case you felt hungry?



With love from Austria

Location: Salzburg, Austria

The Brazil and France game ended with me having to watch the 2nd half while rushing about in the train station. We had to catch an overnight train to Vienna, which I must say was...interesting. 6 ppl packed into a tiny cabin with just enough space to sleep, not enough to sit up. We literally got on, said our hellos to the fellow travellers and turned off the lights and went to sleep. We were sharing with an Alabaman family of 3, mother, son and daughter. Luckily i slept quite well, altho it ws probably because I was shattered from the last 2 nights.

Vienna turned out to be a disapointment. Boring, dull, too many big soulless buildings and too much shit on the streets. You literally have to do a dance walking on the pavement trying to avoid the brown goo. We stayed in a HI Hostel, proper dorm style but we got a 4 bed to ourselves. Austrians seem a bit reserved and moody at best, and no offence intended but German is one uh-gly language.....makes me appreciate travelling in Spain so much more, listening to their gorgeous language. It makes such a difference. Perhaps I'm judging Vienna unfairly though, we did arrive there on Sunday, which meant the entire city was d-e-a-d, but we did catch a glimpse of the Vienna film festival, but just as dad and I sat down to watch something, it started drizzling so we legged it! One good thing though is this seafood restaurant we have discovered, Nord word: divine. Dont miss chicken at all.

From Vienna we headed for Salzburg, but on the way stopped at Linz to visit the Mauthausen concentration camp. We took an hours bus ride there, however, only to discover we'd have to walk 2km with all our luggage to get there. We were forced to head back to the station, superbly disappointed. What a waste of a whole day and 24 euros. But things improved vastly upon arriving in Salzburg......birthplace of Mozart and the setting for the Sound of Music! This city is so picturesque, we quickly fell in love with it. So we decided to forego our Switzerland plans and spend the extra day here.

Tonight we head to Budapest!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A Brazilian city in Germany

Location: Frankfurt Germany

Guess where we are! Frankfurt, Germany, HOME OF THE WORLD CUP! This wasn't a planned stop, but we decided to change the itinerary at the last minute....we couldnt pass up the opportunity to be here on such a momentous occasion!The air here is absolutely buzzing. Scores of football fans everywhere, and all you see is the colour YELLOW!! The Brazilians have really brought Brazil to this city. Everyone is partying all day, and obviously its a very significant day....


Funnily enough, you dont see as many France supporters, maybe the colour blue is just hard to notice. Even though im usually quite indifferent to football, i must say the excitement in the air is contagious! We went down to the stadium, but obviously were let nowhere near it! :(

Anway, we are currently on Day 2 of 19. Took an 8 hour bus from London to Brugges, a quaint little Belgian town, yesterday morning. We arrived quite late though, meaning the shops closed before I got to buy my Belgian chocolates, which is really the only thing i was looking forward to in Brugges, cuz I've been there before.

But anyway, we stayed the night there, and this morning set off for Germany. We literally trained it right across Belgium, from Brugge to Brussels, Liege, then crossed the border onto Achen, Germany. Stopped over in Cologne for a bit...where the excitement had already started...

and we got to Frankfurt at around 2 pm today. And tonight, we set off on an overnight train to Vienna, Austria. I'm quite excited, never been on an overnight sleeper train. I'm absolutely shattered by the way, have slept a total of 5 hours last 2 nights. So I hope the train is comfy tonight. Visions of a massage and a hot tub keep drifting in my imagination. Have some very cool pics, but will have to upload them another time. I have only 10mins before the Brazil game starts.

I must say i'm liking the whole train thing. It's very romantic, especially because I have my sisters iPod to set the mood I want :D You get to walk around, and they are so smooth here you can do alot, read, sleep, write in your journal...put on kajol without worrying it'll get all over your forehead :P However, keeping to strict time limits, making it in time for trains which need to be booked beforehand is proving to be slightly stressful. Plus, it doesnt help that we havent booked any hotels...we really are trying to be flexible!

Pictures: Frankfurt, Germany

Brasil supporters at the train station

Brasil everywhere really....from the women...

to the food.......

big screen erected on the river for supporters to watch from both river-banks!

lucky ticket holders make their way to the game, while some hopefuls hold up placards asking for tickets

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Great Rail Journey

Tomorrow we leave for Europe. I've been into Europe loads of times, but this time it's going to be slightly different. We're going overland all the way, using buses, trains and ferries. We're going away for 18 days now. The preliminary plan (if all goes well) goes like this:

London - Belgium - Germany - Austria - Hungary - Romania - Bulgaria - Greece - Italy

On the 18th day, we're flying from Venice to Liverpool straight.

Planning this trip has been looooong! Figuring out train times, deciding which cities we can cover in the limited time we have... Obviously, this is going to be a quick zip through all the above mentioned countries. The point is seeing Europe by rail, taking in the landscape as it passes by. The point is getting from point A to point B within the given time. This isn't a leisurely holiday, soaking in the local culture and all that bollocks. In fact, its more stressful than anything. I've spent many an hour in the last one week tearing my hair out planning this trip. I'm already tired just thinking about it, but I'm also very excited. The planned highlights are: Austrian ex-concentration camp Mauthausen, Transylvania, Greece to Italy by sea, ancient ruins of Pompeii and the romantic waterways of Venice. I hope we do this right. Will try keep things posted, as much as I can. Watch this space!