Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

This is how Chicago celebrates. Looks kind of disgusting, doesn't it?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

My New Digs






Monday, October 29, 2007

A Tradition Completed

There are few traditions I follow before, during, or after living abroad. Why would I want to routinize my existence when it's the non-routinzed life that keeps me travelling?

Certain things have, coincidently, happened each and every time I have travelled from Canada. One is staying with my friend Kate. And the only other one I can think of is showing up in the foreign land in desperate need of a haircut.

Maybe I'm just lazy or maybe I secretly long for the scissors of an unknown barbershop, but for some reason I always make sure my hair is nice and long (relatively) before travelling. Then, when I arrive, one of the first things I look for is someone that can rid me of my copious locks.

Last night, after some shopping (I am the proud new owner of pants), I found a barbershop/pirated DVD store/local hangout. I'm past the point of saying "This was going to be an experience..." The reality is that it all goes something like this (translated into English from whatever language happens to be spoken in the country):

Kent - (points to his hair and mimics a scissor motion)
Barber - (points to a chair)
Kent - (sits down in said chair)
Barber - (puts bib thing around me)
Kent - (mimics the word "short" with his fingers)
Barber - (shows me the clipper attachment)
Kent - (nods at said clipper attachment)
Barber - (starts clipping, re-affirms that it is ok)
Kent - (nods in approval)
Barber - (finishes the sides and then goes to the scissors for the top)
Kent - (predicts that the barber will leave the top way too long)
Barber - (leaves the top way too long)
Kent - (mimics "keep going")
Barber - (goes back to work, but still leaves it too long)
Kent - (points out that it's still too long)
Barber - (takes out the clippers and just shaves it all off)
Kent - (nods in approval)
Barber - (requests payment)
Kent - (pays)

Simple. I guess I didn't need to translate anything.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The View From Here



This is the view from the office. The Caspian Sea is in the background.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

After 10 Days, I'm Finally Here

After a whirlwind journey through Chicago, London, and Riga, I've finally arrived in Baku.

So far, it seems like a nice place. The weather is great and the development level is definitely higher than in Egypt and India. Some things remind me of Mongolia, although I don't remember Ulaanbaatar having Armani or Gucci shops.

My apartment is definitely a step up from Egypt. It's fully-furnished and quite modern. Oh, and it's kiddy corner to the building that collapsed a couple of months ago.

More to come once I get my bearings and figure out what's going on.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Here We Go Again....

Four times in the past 3 years I have waited in the Vancouver Airport for an international flight. You'd think I would know what I'm getting myself into by now, but I really don't.

The routine was the same...travel to Vancouver, stay with the relatives, then with Kate. She gives me a ride to the airport and is the last person I see before embarking on some crazy voyage. But each time there are these feelings of anticipation and "why do I keep doing this?"

In the end, these feelings only point to one thing: a long, exhausting journey that for some strange reason I look forward to. There's something about showing up in random countries completely "knackered" (as the Brits would say). It's just a good thing that the customs official stamped a used page in my passport, but only after asking if I had worked in Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Russia.

Excellent.

Until next time, Canada. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pictures Are Finally Up-to-Date

It took a while, but I've finally got my picture website up-to-date. I cleared out a lot of the old pictures from India, Mongolia, and China. What's left from those are the pics I felt were good.

If you're interested, you can view them here.

Cairo All-Stars: Farzina


A flattering picture, isn't it?

Farzina arrived about 2 months after I did. I remember coming home late one night, having hear a new trainee was in town, to see a body lying on the floor of all places. "I wonder who that is. I guess I'll found out in the morning," I thought.

I awoke to find Farzina hanging out on the couch. Salman and Miguel had already left for work. No doubt I was probably dressed in my normal in-house attire: no shirt, shorts. It wouldn't be the first time I met someone dressed like that, and I guarantee it won't be the last. Farzina was probably questioning my sanity, but, as time would tell, that introduction didn't have much of an effect on our friendship.

Over breakfast, Farzina and I engaged in some intelligent discussion. I was impressed to meet someone who could discuss religion with an open mind. Then the oddest thing happened. We were talking about favourite game shows and I just happened to say "Supermarket Sweep" when the question was posed to her. She gave me this shocked look and was like, "Ya, how did you know that?" What are the chances that both of us would like the same game show. Especially as one as obscure as Supermarket Sweep.

As I left for work, I somehow made the decision to take Farzina under my wing and teach her the baladi (local) ways that all Cairo Champions must possess. Later that day, I forwarded her an email on how to navigate the Cairo taxi system. She put it to use, but was quick to point out that, "contrary to the email, cabs will stop to pick other people up when you're sitting in the cab." Point taken.

And then there was the laundry incident. We must've tried four times to find an open laundry place. At last, we bundled up everything and walked down the street looking like a couple of crazy foreigners. When our laundry returned, it was immaculately folded and pressed. The best 10 bucks ever spent.

I did my best to drag Farzina around the lesser-known parts of Cairo. We shared 24 LE/kg kofta on "the other side of the tracks," ate chicken on Sudan St., wondered around Heliopolis, took microbuses, rode the tram, and cooked with ingredients bought from the most local of vendors. All it took to get her to do these things was a well-timed call right before she got up. You'd hear this voice on the phone that you would later know as Farzina's "morning voice." After some cajoling, she would usually say, "Dude, I need an hour." And then you'd be on your way.

Perhaps my fondest moment of the Bangladeshi is when her mom came. I had the honour of cooking with/for her mom, who is by default a master chef of Bengali cuisine. Talk about pressure. One little mistake and she would see past my disguise as an undercover desi. Everything turned out great. But later in the week, Farzina was scolded for not inviting me over for her mom's famous prawn curry. I would eventually get the famous dish, although made by Farzina on my second-to-last night.

Then Farzina went away. But came back a month-and-a-half later. It went by in a flash. So much so that I didn't see the importance in seeing her when she did get back to Cairo. She was none to happy about that. That didn't stop her from getting the ultimate revenge. After much postering, she finally created a Facebook account for me. My status: Worshipping Farzina. My interests: catering to Farzina's every need. Ouch.

There are countless other memories that would take a novel to explain. I'll spare you the marathon and tell you that Farzina was as important to me as a friend in Cairo as anyone. Who else would've planned my six leaving parties? Who else would ask me for cooking advice on MSN...while cooking? Who else would've dragged me to the Pyramids to ride horses at 4 AM? And who else would've moved so many times that she can't remember where she's lived anymore?

Farzina Alam. The Bangladeshi-Singaporean-but went to school in London-and seems to lack any sort of accent-but still uses British mannerisms. She is one person that I can guarantee I will see again.

A Whirlwind Tour

My Azerbaijani visa has arrived, so it's time to start the first of the multiple legs of my journey to the Caucasus. It goes a little something like this:

 

Oct 11th - Leave for Vancouver

Oct 14th - Leave for Chicago

Oct 18th - Leave for London

Oct 23rd - Leave for Riga

Oct 24th - Leave for Baku

 

It's going to be quite the next two weeks. I'm sure I'll be checking in along the way.

Monday, October 01, 2007

An Ode to U Fleku

The Ambience is Drunk and Disorderly

Best Beer in Town

Simply Brilliant.

This is what happens after too much beer.

U Fleku should be enshrined as a historic wonder of Prague. Sure, I may be contradicting myself by providing such lofty recognition to a place where tourists come just because it's in the guidebook, but how could any avid beer drinker and culturalist sit for an hour in the main room and not come away entranced by Greeks, Russians, Italians, and Germans dancing and singing to accordian music?

That's right, they have a live accordian player come through and whip the crowd into a frenzy. It's something most Czechs probably wouldn't want any part of. But I say it's as appropriate for temporary Czech residents and tourists as the pre-beer apertif (usually a herbal liquor known as Becherovka) to get the blood going.

It ranks up there with El Horreya in Cairo, Gymkhana in Chandigarh, and Brauhaus in Ulaanbaatar as places I would love to assemble my all-star beer drinking crew. Can we get this done, Jenny, Megan, Blanka, Tom, Nicholas, Ryan, Marty, Ashley, Svenni, Simon, Amin, Orange, Sagar, Jean, and Claire?

Get back to me on that.