Thursday, August 30, 2007

Prague...Finally


I'm sure most of you have heard about Prague's famous clock in Old Town Square. And I'm sure you've all heard of the hoopla surrounding the ticker every hour on the hour. Well let me just tell you that the clock's "behaviour" of sorts is a myth that needs serious debunking.

None of the people I visited in Prague said anything about the clock and its purported hourly extravaganza. They just left it up to me to discover.

So after a dominant Czech lunch, my brother, sister, and I headed to Old Town Square to check out the clock. A big crowd had gathered, most with cameras, some with video cameras. The person standing directly in front of us had his video camera rolling at the dawning of the hour, at which point I remarked to my brother, "Why would anyone want to video tape this?"

That remark still stands. Cool clock, mind you.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Cold as Ice

It's currently 2 degrees outside. And I think it froze last night.

What is wrong with the city?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sometimes Business Class is Just Necessary

Business class is a whole other world of travelling. It takes the base airplane amenities and then multiplies them by a factor of about 200. It's remarkable, really. I had more leg room than I knew what to do with, and I couldn't really sleep because I was always being offered champagne and food. Sounds like a hard life, but it's really not.


Cairo -> Amsterdam

The Cairo Airport seems miles ahead of many other airports in that it offers free wireless throughout. It's so convenient that showing up 6 hours before your flight isn't really that bad.

I boarded the plane and for the first time I was led into the business class cabin. This was followed by a bit of shock and awe, as I tried to comprehend the space between my seat and the one in front of me. Then I spotted the remote control for the chair ... and the private video console ... and the controller for said video console ... and the giant list of movies ... and the free champagne before takeoff. This was bound to be a decent flight. The flight attendant handed me a menu, at which I started drooling over. Smoked salmon at every meal. You can't go wrong with that.

I tuned into the movie 300, tilted my chair into a comfortable reclining position, and sipped champagne until breakfast came. Scrambled eggs, sausage, fruit, smoked salmon, cheese, potatoes, croissants, juice, champagne, a cinnamon bun...tasty.

Amsterdam Airport

I had received an invitation to the business lounge upon check-in at the Cairo Airport, so I was definitely looking forward to seeing what one of these was like. Turns out the one I was in was a bit crowded, but more surprisingly, Amsterdam Airport does not seem to offer free wireless. Go Cairo! However, the business lounge did sport a fully-stocked bar that was all free.

Amsterdam -> Chicago

I wasn't in the highest class this time, but all that meant was that I sat in the very front of the plane (where the cabin kind of forms a "V"). It was our own little room and there was probably about 10 people in there max. The same footroom was available, but this particular class lacked the giant movie listing and remote-controlled chair.

The food, however, was impressive. In business class, you don't get cheap plastic containers with food in them. No sir. You get a white cloth placed before you, with an appetizer course, a main course, and a dessert. All of which are on glass plates. Smoked salmon and champagne was again the order of the day. I don't think I could ever get sick of that.

Chicago Airport

Oh man, what a mess. I could tell I was in the USA about 30 seconds after stepping off the plane. Security guards were being very forceful in there speech, and the accent was just so prevalent. It took about an hour to get from where I arrived to where I currently am, waiting for my flight to Calgary.

The next flight is economy, so I don't expect anything special.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Cairo Points

Calculating Cairo points is a difficult thing. Since you can both gain and lose them, it's really difficult to tell where you stand. Here is a rough estimate:

Street BBQ - 100 points
Street Dance Party - 100 points
Wearing the galabeya around the neighbourhood - 50 points
Taking microbuses - 100 points
Going to Friday Market during a stampede - 200 points
Cooking bread in Cairean ovens - 30 points
Drinking at Horreya - 50 points

Okay, I'm no doubt forgetting a lot of stuff, so I'm just going to go ahead and ballpark it....

7554 Cairo Points

But, wait. Leaving Cairo in the first-class cabin of a KLM aircraft...

minus 7554 Cairo Points.

Grand Total: 0

It was all worth it.

Leaving on a Jetplane...

That's what my friends kept singing to me....

Well, that's about it from Cairo. What an experience it's been. The last two weeks were especially memorable, thanks to so many people. I'll try my best to name them off:

Megan - I hope you do marry my brother some day. You are an incredible friend and an even funner drunk. We'll definitely be meeting up in Turkmenistan.

Tom - You're the true Cairo Champion. The BBQ won't be the same without you. See you in Iran.

Farzina - Thanks for being there when I needed it the most. Your prawn curry is the new force on the foreigner cooking scene.

Salman - My Cairo twin. We went through it all at the beginning. An invitation to the food blog is on the way.

Harrison - I'm not sure what I'm going to do without your smiling face. You have an incredible knack for making everyone around you happy. Hope the job works out for you.

Nisrin - You're the only American I've ever met who is so vehemently opposed to the concept of "Canada." Thanks for all the wonderful arguments and threats of bodily harm. Scrabble Night would not have been as fun without those things.

Luli - Thanks for the wonderful tour of Alexandria. A blog post recognizing this effort is upcoming. Keep dominating Scrabble Night and please don't ever let Nisrin win again.

Chris P - Ya basha. It was an honour and a pleasure living with you for the last couple of months. We are officially the dominant tag-team Taboo duo. Nobody can every take that away from us.

Luke - My Cairo protege. Don't worry about having to be my replacement. Slap the next person who says that to you Rick James style. And make sure you come down on it...

Kenny - Kenny basha. Thanks for those horreya nights and stories about Alexandrian coffee and tea. I had no idea two drinks could be made in so many different ways.

Purvi - You'll have to find a new undercover desi. You still are the nicest person ever. Enjoy the rest of your stay in Cairo.

Komal - Who knew such a short visit would mean so much. My last two weeks certainly wouldn't have been the same. Enjoy the rest of your vacation and see you in London.

Karim - Ya bashmohandes. Where do I begin? Thanks for the football, the cheesecake, the shisha, the home-cooked meals, the rousing conversations about Chelsea and Man U. We'll be smoking the shisha soon, no doubt.

Mustafa - You cook a mean biryani. If I didn't know any better, I'd think you just might be the undercover desi Purvi is looking for. Take care of yourself.

Orange - I'll see you in the Himalayas, I'm sure. Thanks for the nights out, but please go back to horreya. It misses you.

Sagar - I'm so glad I was able to introduce you to everyone. You were certainly a welcome addition.

Taher - Thanks for the generous hospitality and the ride to the airport. Work wouldn't have been the same without you.

Everyone at the Office - I've never had so much fun at work. Thanks for all the memories and I'm sure we'll see each other again soon.

I wish you all the best!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Last Lunch

The Tea Lady

The Cafe Guys
Where I ate lunch every day for 11 months

The Tea Stand

Suzy and Komal


More of the Cafe Guys

Suzy and I devouring Lunch


Co-Workers Feasting


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cultural Integration and Understanding






Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The New King of Egypt

Compliments to Karim, his mom, and his family's maid for an incredible feast last night. Everything was fantastic.

The real champion of the evening was a guy commonly referred to as Osama. Before you jump to conclusions and assume the notorious Osama Bin Laden decided to grace our presence for dinner, I should clarify that the Osama I'm talking about is no criminal mastermind or Islamic freedom fighter. He is, in fact, the greatest Egyptian that ever lived.

I'll set the scene...

We were about halfway through the meal when Megan, seemingly out of sheer boredom, decided to bet Mr. Osama 200 LE that he could not drink a bowl of molokheya in one go. For those of you who don't know what molokheya is, I'll tell you that most foreigners don't like it. It's this saliva-like goo made from a leafy green that almost no one has ever heard of outside of Egypt.

After some initial haggling the price was set at 150 LE. Megan agreed and then proceeded to watch Osama chug half a litre of the stuff in like 30 seconds. It was the most impressive display of Egyptian manliness since Mohammed Ali Pacha ruled these lands.

The evening ended with Osama regretting his actions, Megan throwing crumpled money around the room, and Karim proclaiming that "living in a cemetery isn't that hard" while sitting on his fancy chair drinking bottled water. 

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Last Night in Pictures





Sheer Epicness

It seems the only way to describe the dominance of yesterday evening is to use a word not once seen in the English language. "Epicness" is simply defined as being beyond what is commonly known as "epic." An example would be my brother setting up a makeshift tent in the Slovakian forest using none other than Christmas Tree-templated table cloths.

What was so epic, you ask?

Tom Gara and I holding court over a local BBQ restaurant and serving up one helluva feast to 23 of our close, personal friends.

The night started at about 7:30pm. Tom and I made our way down to the restaurant clad with spices, soy sauce, honey, balsamic vinegar, vegetables, and garlic. We had, in the offing, half a lamb, five chickens, and an indeterminate amount of kofta meat. This had been negotiated the night before and left us drooling for the chance to cook it up.

Once at the restaurant, the necessary preparations were made. Tom handled the vegetables and the chicken, while I set to work on flavouring the three-and-a-quarter kilos of lamb. Our menu:

  • Honey-Soy Sauce-Garlic Chicken
  • Grilled vegetable salad
  • Cumin-Coriander-Lemon-Garlic-Turmeric-Oregano Lamb Kebabs
  • Balsamic-Garlic-Oregano Lamb Kebabs 
  • Fennel-Coriander Lamb Kebabs
  • Mango-Mint Lamb Chops
  • Cinnamon-dusted Crispy Lamb Fat

A spread fit for a pacha (duke). The workers in the restaurant seemed overly fascinated by what we were doing to the meat. Egyptians tend to like their meats boring and uneventful, and are often unwilling to delve into the world of flavour. As such, we made sure each and every one of them sampled our creations. One man in particular practically inhaled a piece of chicken after some initial apprehension.

I went into the grilling part of the evening with the expectation of a few surface burns. What with all the scalding hot metal, sizzling oil, and fiery coals, doubt never entered into the equation. I was rewarded some fifteen minutes in after I had accidentally grabbed the coal-moving iron in the wrong place. Ouch!

Being the men behind the grill was as liberating as it was manly. Our galabeyas proved impervious in the face of blasting heat, which was quite a relief after some initial fears that we'd pass out from heat exhaustion. But once we got the meat on the skewers and the chicken on the racks, all was forgotten.

Each serving of meat was promptly devoured the second it hit the table. Tom served his chicken and vegetables on giant silver platters, while I went with the "Get out of the way! Hot kebab skewers coming through!" technique. The fennel-coriander and the mango-mint definitely rocked the lamb world, while Tom's chicken was cooked to nothing short of perfection. I think all involved would say it was a feast for the ages.

The surprising, but perfectly fitting end to the evening came at the hands of a local policeman. Tom and I were happily BBQ'ing the last of our glorious meats when the said policeman walked up to us and asked us where the Prince Restaurant was (in Arabic). Bells started going off when I realized that I knew where the place was, so I promptly explained to him where he needed to go (not that it required much explanation). This provoked a chorus of laughter from the Egyptians restaurant workers, who all seemed to think it was the funniest thing they'd ever seen. Perhaps it was. It still surprises me to this day when locals come up to the only two white people around and ask for directions when Egyptians are present.

A big goes out to Tom, the El Hendawy staff, and everyone who showed up. Let's do it again sometime.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Egypt Being Egypt

1. Luke and I are in a microbus on our way back from Alexandria. At one point, I look over to see something moving in the trunk of a car in front of us. On closer inspection, I realize that there are three kids in the trunk and the lid was bobbing up and down. Last time I checked, the trunk of a car was not a safe place to stow your kids will travelling.

2. On the same journey, only ten minutes later, we were treated to a light show compliments of the hood of an old truck that had fallen off and was grinding against the cement barrier on the side of the road. The truck itself was on the back of a flatbed. After passing the truck, Luke remarked, "Those guys aren't going to be stopping anytime soon."

3. Yet another crazy thing on the aforementioned microbus journey happened while stopped at a restaurant. Luke and I are standing in the parking area enjoying the fact that we weren't sitting in the microbus and wondering if we'd ever make it back to Cairo in time for the party. All of a sudden, two guys on motorbikes pull up to us. One of them decided he was cool and subsequently ran over my foot. I just looked at him with that bewildered "What the?" look, while Luke was inches from threatening physical violence.

4. Luke, Chris, and I are at the Egyptian tourist market, Khan El Khalili, and about to order some sugarcane juice. After I paid for the three juices and collected the little plastic chips required for getting the juice, I turned to see an Arab-looking woman asking me "Itnayn manga lausamaht - Two mango juices, please." After about two seconds of outright puzzlement, I just cracked up. The girl, noticing what she had done, followed suit. Of all the people in a juice stand to order from, the only white guy is probably not your best bet. Turned out the woman was Iraqi, but from the US.

5. The story of the bowwab on my street being in the Lonely Planet, seen below.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Somewhere over the English Channel

That's where the plane I was scheduled to be on is right about now.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Lonely Planet Finally Coming Through in the Clutch

While waiting for my one of my roommates to get ready for work this morning, I was perusing the pages of the Lonely Planet Middle East book looking for the glossy picture pages. None of the other material interested me, except for one particular black and white picture on a random page.

At first I was oblivious to what I was looking at. But upon closer inspection I realized that the man in the picture was a bowwab (door man) from my street. And, incidentally, one of the people I say hi to and shake hands with every morning. He's one of my favourite people in Egypt. Needless to say I was shocked. What are the chances that the one Egyptian Arab shown in the Lonely Planet is someone I know quite well?

When I showed him the picture he showed about ten emotions all at once...bewilderment, shock, awe, amazement, disbelief, bliss. I know that's not ten, but I've run out of synonyms. In any case, I'm pretty sure it made his year.

All that's left now is for Luke, Chris, and I to have a little photoshoot in the neighbour sporting our galabeyas.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Serbia

"Belgrade was experiencing thundershowers and flash floods.  A lady on the train pointed to the lightning and said, 'Clinton.....bombs!' and cackled gleefully.  How outdated is Serbia?  While everyone else in Europe/the world is hating on Bush, I wouldn't be surprised to find someone in Serbia complaining about the Taft administration."

-My Brother

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Nice Try, Russia

"Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has embarked on an Arctic tour, one week after Russia planted a flag on the seabed at the North Pole." -Rferl.org


Go Canada. Way to be imperialistic in the face of Russian "aggression." It's like the Cold War all over again.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

New Template

This has been a long time coming. I had wanted to change the style before I arrived in Egypt, but that didn't work out too well. Well, I finally got around to doing it.

I used probably the best picture I have ever taken as the header and went with kind of a desert theme (it's not actually me in the pic, but my friend Kate). Some rounded corners are missing, I think, but I honestly haven't figured out how to do that.

Hopefully I'll be able to tweak it a bit more over the next few weeks to clean it up a little. Maybe I'll even be able to get to the food blog template...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Excerpts from Bulgaria

"You'll be pleased to know that I'm currently one of the most popular people in Bulgaria, as everywhere I go people shout to me, 'My friend!' and offer me deals on everything from taxi rides to black market designer goods and from matroshka dolls to human organs (probably).  The black market is one of my favourite places.  There is absolutely nothing I want, but when I walk by pushy sales people start throwing clothes at me and offering deals.  One guy showed me a half-button down t-shirt with 'Dolce & Gabbana' in huge letters across the chest.  It was possibly the ugliest shirt in Bulgaria and the fact that a shirt like that exists made me uncomfortable.  He said that I could have it for free and I kept resisting and saying I didn't have room in my backpack.  As he screamed, 'Gratis! Gratis! You're crazy!' I wanted to say, 'Look, I don't know how else to put this to you: when someone says that shirt is so ugly you couldn't give it away, they are being quite serious.'"

-my brother Rory

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Last, But Certainly Not Least

The night started out with Megan opining the intelligent simile "quick like a cougar" and finished with complete and utter domination at the hands of a new force to the Scrabble world: Lunt (or Keke).

First and foremost, Luli must be commended on a fabulous meal. She held true to her word (apparently unlike most Egyptians, according to Luli herself) and produced an epic feast of stuffed grape leaves, breaded chicken breast, tziki, bruschetta, rice, and an odd green drink resembling antifreeze. I drank about 6 glasses and I'm happy to say that I could still see when I woke up this morning.

After the feast, we got down to business. There were eight of us, so teams of two were randomly determined. I ended up with the ever-enigmatic Megan, who had, earlier in the day, written a "putting the gauntlet down" post about the lack of painting going on in my house.

While Megan perused the pages of some British smut magazine, she became obsessed with the word "manatee." This fueled a garish attempt at disguising an upside-down "W" as an "M." It almost worked, but the ever-observant Annika shot us down. In the end, the game ended in a tie. How disappointing.

The second round featured new teams, new attitudes, and an increasingly hostile Nisrin. She threatened physical and verbal violence on no fewer than twenty occasions. Luke, my replacement at the office and at home, and I teamed up to produce a performance for the ages.

After falling behind thanks to a 68-point "deboning" (no one decided to challenge, so the points stood, however we found out minutes later that there was no such word in 1988 (the year of our dictionary)), we stormed back to thoroughly punish the not-so-dynamic duo of Chris and Nisrin, and show Annika how a beating at the hands of Keke (or Lunt) should feel.

This was my last Scrabble night with Luli and Nisrin. I'll definitely miss Luli's competitiveness and charm. It's just too bad I can't say the same about Nisrin's militant attitude.