Monday, July 30, 2007

A Real Cult Classic

I couldn't believe my ears when I found out that people who got the new Harry Potter book at like midnight stayed in the store and read the entire book. In case that wasn't clear:

1. Buy Harry Potter book at midnight
2. Sit in store and read some 600 pages until finished
3. Go for breakfast
4. Fly away on broomstick.

You know you have a cult (cult in a good way, of course) following when people will do what I just described above.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

This Desi Knows How to Take a Picture

See more like it at *Charcoal*.

My Crowning Achievement in Egypt

I think I have reached the pinnacle of my "Egyptianization" process.

It all started last Thursday when poor Rhiannon had been stuck in a taxi for about an hour. The trip should've been no more than 30 minutes, even in bad traffic. She was supposed to meet us before getting on the Bus to Dahab.

It was getting close to the meeting time, so I gave her a call to see where she was at. Turned out she was stuck in a taxi and had no idea where she was. I asked her what she saw. Her response gave me a good idea of her location. Although I wasn't sure why they would've been at that spot. So, I told her to hand the phone to the cab driver.

If you've ever been in a country where you don't know the language all that well, talking to people who don't speak a word of your language on the phone is an unnerving activity. Despite this, I figured it would be a fun exercise to see if I could get Rhiannon to the right place.

The conversation went something like this (all in Arabic):

"Hello. Where are you?"
"Dokki, on the Freedom Bridge."
"Ok. She wants Talaat Harb Square. Do you know it?"
"Yes. Where on Talaat Harb?"
"Talaat Harb Square."
"Ok, but no place on Talaat Harb?"
"Talaat Harb Square."
"Okay, fine."
"Thanks, man."
"You're welcome, man."

When he handed the phone back to Rhiannon, I heard the driver say "Is he Egyptian (in Arabic)?" This prompted a quick fist pump. I had finally done it...had an Egyptian think I was Egyptian.

Luli, where is that honorary Egyptian title?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A New Activity for Me to Beat Nisrin At

Last night we decided to add Clue to our repertoire of Tuesday Night Games. Somehow, I was conned into making dinner out of turn and, thus, almost guaranteeing my demise in Clue and Scrabble.

Nisrin/Luli's kitchen is a hot one. I sweated it out for about 30 minutes and emerged with dinner. After dinner it was on to business.

The first game was Clue. After some of Nisrin's initial head games and Megan's general indifference (plus her struggles with the term "spanner" for "wrench"), I emerged victorious. Professor Plum with the Candlestick in the Lounge.

Scrabble was a bit nastier than usual. Chris laid down the law after some hassling by Nisrin. It was something along the lines of "Nisrin, please shut up." It was all friendly in nature, but the complexion of the game was changed.

Thanks to my 57-point "jolt", I came away with the win, beating the dynamo Annika. More importantly, we all came away fuming. So many verbal barbs were thrown that I wonder if it could possibly get worse.

Luli has an excellent menu planned for next week. Unfortunately, it means increased competition and verbiage.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Babin in Babin

"It was getting dark and there was nowhere to stay so I decided to do a bit of rustic camping. I had no tent, and everywhere was closed except a grocery store, so I went in to buy whatever I could that I could fashion a tent out of. I settled on three Christmas-theme tabled cloths, and then went to find a suitable site. Near the train station, I found a corn field with a grove of trees in the middle, so I walked in in the dark and set up camp. It wasn't all that bad, but as you can imagine, I kept waking up after having dreams of angry Southerners in overalls chasing me out of their 'cawn field.'"

An excerpt from one of my brother's emails. He's currently in Slovakia searching for the town of Babin.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Scrabble Night to Not Remember

There was something about the vibe at my triumphant return to Scrabble Night. It felt like an American history class in an Iranian high school. Everyone looked bored, and seemingly disinterested by the little letters that have captivated us in previous nights.

The night got off to a bad start when Chris and I weren't able to leave work until about an hour after we had originally planned. This prompted calls and MSN messages from the impatient hosts, to the tune of "Kent, hurry up," and "Get your a$$ over here, I'm hungry." To make matters worse, Chris was scheduled to cook dinner, so we were all hungry.

Credit must be given to Chris on a solid meal of burgers. These things were thick-cut. Not those quarter inch pieces of crap you find at certain fast food chains that have somehow made it around the world (not to mention any names...).

As for the Scrabble, I was just happy that Annika didn't show up. I remarked that, "now we at least have a chance." In her place, though, was Purvi, who had recently showed us all what it means to dominate at Scrabble. This was to be a tough game.

It started off poorly. Nobody got more than 14 points throughout the entire game. Chris was able to boast tiles like "LLMMNNY" and "CNNNUTA," while the Nisrin/Purvi team sported "QZXIRK+Blank". No wonder we couldn't score any points.

Alas, the game came down to the wire. I was stuck with "DIDO," without any prospects of finishing in one turn and catching people with big point letters in their collection. That was until Luli played the word "FOE," thus exposing a free "E." It was then that I noticed "DIODE" as a possibly word that would exhaust my tiles and force an abrupt ending.

The final scores were pathetic, with only me reaching 100 on account of Nisrin/Purvi being stuck with 22 points still in their hand.

Monday, July 16, 2007

It' be back

That was until I took one step into my neighbourhood. Just in front of me were the barbers at the shop next to my apartment building. Both of them started shouting "Welcome back," "How are you?," etc. They were truly happy to see me, as was I to see them...even at four o'clock in the morning.

It could be a while til pictures from Prague come. My camera is broken, and how convenient that there isn't a service center in Cairo or Egypt.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

On the Edge

"Every time we went over a slip the bus would skid and tip towards the edge. The back and front wheels both came off the road several times and I lost count of the times we skidded sideways towards the edge. The worst time was when we skidded on a slip and the whole bus tilted so badly that everyone on top of the bus threw themselves onto the bank on the other side of the road, the driver popped out of a trapdoor and everyone inside started screaming. I turned around to see the bags we had been sitting on flying into the 4000ft drop, the bus hanging half over the cliff and everyone inside making a prompt exit from the back door. At this point the driver admitted defeat claiming he could not see a thing (this was true), and it was the worst drive/road of his life although he he had spent his whole life in the region!" -Meryl White

That excerpt comes from mountainous Nepal. Meryl is there teaching English with a friend.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

New Seven Wonders

The New Seven Wonders of the world were announced last night. I agree for the most part, although the Pyramids definitely got the shaft. How could an original seven wonder not make
this list? Egypt was up in arms over the fact that the Pyramids were even on the nomination list. As for as it was concerned, their pride and joy should automatically have been named, while the world could vote for the other six.

Here is the list:

Chichen Itza
Machu Picchu
Statue of Christ Redeemer
Taj Mahal
The Colosseum
The Great Wall of China

Initial Impressions

I was surprised to learn that Prague is inhabitated by only one and a quarter million people. It is not the giant primate city, but it does have many of the same characteristics. People from all over the Czech Republic migrate here in search of work and a better life. That said, some eight and a half million people live outside the heart in small-time cities and rural areas. No doubt these proportions are changing quickly as Prague continues to expand.

The Prague Airport gave me a warm, yet brief welcome. I was the first through customs and my bag came out second onto the conveyor belt. This kind of thing never seems to happen. After being met by Emily, we boarded a bus, then the metro, and finally a tram to get to her place. Along the way, it became obvious that Prague is your typical progressing former communist capital city. Foreign multi-nationals have flocked here in search of cheap, yet highly-skilled labour, big box stores are going up everywhere, and the public transportation infrastructure is brand new. In the face of all that, the train station holds true to communist form. It's no Beijing or Leipzig, but it still dominates the landscape.

Ironically, it wasn't the communist, baroque, and gothic architecture that captivated me, but rather the water pressure in the shower, the selection of products at the Tesco, the absence of crowds, and the extensive train system.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Dinner in Czech, Sleep in Poland

Come to Prague. See the castle. Drink Pilsner by the Vlatava.

A stereotypical trip to the Czech Republic. It's akin to going to Cairo, seeing the Pyramids, and smoking shisha on the Nile. While it is important that these things be done, such tourism offers little insight into a country. Prague gets all the tourist dollars, so why not take your act to the middle of nowhere?

After a suprisingly short Cair0-Prague red eye flight and a chilly reception at 7am, Emily and I took off to Moravia of all places; to a small town on the Polish border offering the chance to walk into Poland by crossing a bridge. By Czech standards, it's in the middle of nowhere.

Now that I'm back in Prague, here are some of the highlights:

Crossing the Border - as cool as getting new stamps in your passport is, there are limits. The first crossing from the Czech Republic into Poland garnered us a 10 minute wait while the customs officials examined our passports full of Czech, Russian, Egyptian, Mongolian, Chinese, and Indian visas. I always wonder what officials think of my passport...especially in a place where very, very few tourists go. Finally we were stamped on officially in Poland. After a quick check of where the stamp was, I remarked, "Oh, the Egyptians aren't going to be happy about this." Instead of stamping a logical page, both the Airport customs official and the Moravian official stamped the page with my Egyptian re-entry visa.

The Hostel - after a short walk through the beautiful Polish version of the town, we stumbled upon an international youth hostel. First of all, do tourists even come to this town in enough numbers to warrant a youth hostel? Apparently. It was a quaint little place, equipped with a gymnasium, a gym, a ping pong room, and a kitchen. Turns out that the Polish are obsessed with ping pong. On the morning that we left, I was watching kids no older than 7 training to become professionals. One little girl was barely as tall as the table, but could hit a wicked forehand. Remarkable.

Dinner - due to the Thursday holiday, nothing was open. We walked and walked through the entire Polish side, but couldn't find anything cheap. We didn't want to go back into Czech, due to the impending border fiasco, but we realized that we weren't going to be eating unless we did. At the border, it took about 15 minutes, a Polish exit stamp, and another Czech entry stamp before we could continue our search for food. Ridiculous. Four stamps in 24 hours. And we still had to get back into Poland after dinner (which involved a rack of ribs and plenty of beer). On our way back, we had even more fun at the border. Emily attempted to charm her way into getting into Poland without a stamp. The Czech guy seemed content with this, but the Polish guy wasn't having any of it. After much cajoling, we finally made it sans stamp.

Train hopping - the beauty of the Czech Republic is that the trains run pretty much all the time. You buy your ticket from one location to another and then can get off as you please. The ticket is good for a day, so you have some freedom. First, we went to a town with a wooden church, then we went back to the original town we were in, then on to Ostrava, where we went downtown and had a wonderful gulash lunch inside a traditional-looking restaurant. We then learned that the train to Prague was a lot later, so we got on one train to another place, got on another train to somewhere else, then had a three hour wait in that place for the train to Prague.

Mongolians - while in the waiting room, we were sitting across from a northeast Asian-looking couple. Emily and I were talking about Mongolia, among other things, and the girl would look at us everytime the word was mentioned. I then noticed the name of the country on her passport as she pulled it out. It said "Mongolia." I was amazed. As I told Emily about this, I could sense that they understood what I was saying. We kept making eye contact everytime something about Mongolia was mentioned, and we even shared a bit of a laugh after some Mongolia-related comment. It was rather odd. At one point, I was describing the Mongolian hat to Emily. I then looked over and saw the Mongolians snickering to each other.

All in all, a true Czech experience.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Scrabble Night on the Eve of Independence Day

With the promise of a food-induced coma (the best kind of coma) compliments of Nisrin, Chris and I headed over to Luli's place for the 4th Edition of Scrabble night. Luli wasn't available on this night due to some business in Tunisia, of all places.

On the menu was Lebanese cuisine a la Nisrin. This was a rather revolutionary achievement given that for the past nine months, Nisrin has been better known for her culinary blunders. Also, on tap was another impending domination of Scrabble by Annika.

We arrived to the sweet smell of Lebanese Orange Chicken and something else carrying a name I can neither pronounce nor spell. Within minutes, the table was plated and pots of piping hot goodness were set down. Full points should be awarded to Nisrin for a delectable meal. I couldn't get enough of the buttery Lebanese rice and orange chicken.

Moving onto the real business at hand, I learned that playing Scrabble against Annika must be like any men's tennis player playing against Roger Federer on grass or hard court. Not only does she win, but she pulverizes anyone in her path. My ability to pick all consonants from the letter bag was uncanny and certainly didn't help my chances of defeating the Scrabble overlord.

Alas, Chris did manage to squeak out his first ever victory by a slim margin. Still not sure how that happened. To make matters unimaginably worse, American flags were brought out at the stroke of midnight. "Yay, freedom," the Americans yelled. Apparently Canada isn't free in the eyes of the Yanks. They were talking to me like I'm from Zimbabwe or something.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Canada Day!

Celebrate this...

By eating this...

Canada is the big 140 today. Go eat some strawberry shortcake if you have the chance.