Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Clouds over a Setting Sun

So as our holiday draws to a close and we sit watching the rain fall into a beautiful swimming pool in a five star hotel (end in luxury- why not?!) I thought I'd write a little something about what we've been up to since last time.

 Cinnamon Citadel, Kandy- like this but overcast and raining!

We spent another day in Unawatuna, swimming in the sea and in the evening drinking with a Greek girl and Norwegian guy to celebrate his birthday. On recommendation we then headed up to a 'romantic' spot called Tengalle, but were sadly disappointed. The area consisted of a horribly busy road, a tiny   town with nothing in it but traffic, and a rocky beach. Realising our mistake as soon as we arrived, we left the next day despite having planned to stay there for three nights and caught a 7 hour train from Matara in the south up to Kandy. The train was quite entertaining and full of locals, with plenty of people going up and down selling food and curious children leaning over Lee's shoulder to watch him play on computer games. The scenery was great too and I enjoyed the open window, allowing me to hang out of it and take photos. We arrived at our family run guest house at 9pm, and went straight out in search of something to do. Sri Lanka is an early to bed nation so when we arrived at he Slightly Chilled Bar at 10.40 we were a bit worried. But hooray, the party came to us! The English owner invited us to go with them to a Halloween night at another bar. I was worried at first for being given free entry for being female (I wouldn't go near a place like that at home) but it turned out to be really fun, like a techno school disco. A lot of men came and talked to us, but half the time I wasn't sure if they wanted to dance with me or Lee, as just like in Korea there was a definite air of homosexuality (sorry Koreans but it's true!) The guest house was a bit weird , a little like staying with your Grandma- when we got up the next day the land lady said 'you were out late last night, weren't you,' then proceeded to tell us off about leaving the lights on. Needless to say we are making the very most of the Cinnamon Citadel hotel and drinking as much beer as we can before returning to Saudi. Annoyingly (for us) yesterday was the Buddhist full moon holiday, so we got to the hotel to find the bar was closed for the day. Sometimes I think the world is trying to tell me something...

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Greetings from Sri Lanka!

Dear Readers,


I'm having a great time in Sri Lanka. The weather has been mostly very sunny, except when we had a massive rain storm and had to hide inside the hotel. We stayed for 4 nights in an amazing hotel in Hikkaduwa (west coast Sri- Lanka) called Coral Rock, where we had a beach front balcony and the most amazing shower I've ever been in. We spent a lot of time on the beach, swimming in the clear but choppy sea, and fed some huge sea turtles one morning. Lee also made friends with a baby monkey. Since leaving Hikkaduwa we've found out that it was a popular hippy destination in the 70's but now it's considered somewhat sad and old, especially the 'coral sanctuary' which is mostly dead from boat pollution. But nevertheless, it was fun.
Now we are further down the coast in Unawatuna. There is a long beautiful beach with lots of places to eat and drink along it. Theres quite a lot of remaining evidence of the Tsunami in 2004, such as half eaten walls in restaurants.  It was interesting to find out that afterwards the people rebuilt their hotels etc way too close to the water, which is why there is pratically no dry sand any time of day or night. We stayed in a creepily massive hotel where we were the only guests, but now we've moved to a cheap and cheerful guest house on the beach. 
Yesterday we went to the city of Galle, which has a the ruins of a large 'fort' made by the Portugese. It was interesting to look round and the views were spectacular. We found ourselves a little tour guide (or should I say he found us) who explained some history and told us how the fort walls protected Galle from the Tsunami. Unfortunately, after being cajoled by said tour guide into going on a long tuk-tuk ride to places we didn't particularly want to see, we had an argument over money and things were left on sour terms. But at least we got a massage and a rather lovely carved wooden elephant from our outing. I must say, when the massage guy made me take off my t-shirt and then undid my bra I felt pretty embarrassed. I think this is in part due to having been in a place where to show an ankle or wrist to a man would be considered a bit too much. On a related note I can now check off one sight to see before I die: a burka on the beach.

Gotta go, beer to drink!

Wish you were here,
Rachel x

Monday, 15 October 2012

Cover your head!

I'm sitting here sipping my ice cold non-alcoholic beer and finding myself asking the question, why? If it's non alcoholic then what's wrong with juice or pop instead? Since being here I've been comforted by the beer bottles and the recognisable brands such as Budweiser, feeling happier with one in my hand on a Wednesday night (that's a Friday night to you lot) than with a glass of lemonade. I've been through a vast array of flavours- apple, pineapple, pomegranate and classic. The one I've got right now is a classic Bario and I'm pleased to announce it tastes like an ever so slightly watered down Corona.
It's funny how not drinking comes with some big highs and lows. I have to say that I really and truly enjoy never having a hangover.
But on the other hand, I am overly aware that it is approximately 115 hours until we get to the bar in Bahrain airport on our way to Sri Lanka...
Anyway, enough about (non) alcohol. On Thursday I went back to Granada Mall to do some holiday shopping. Keen not to be caught during prayer times again, we headed there at 7pm. Unfortunately for us, the Saudis are also wise to this plan, so it was mega busy. Damn.
When we were finished shopping, we headed up to the food court for the delivery of a bribe called 'we can have a McDonald's if you come shopping with me' (a win-win for me). I had my first, and then second, experience of being told to cover my head  by the mutawwa *the religious police, known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Saudi Arabia, Customs and Culture, Nicholas Buchele). I have to say it wasn't as scary as I'd imagined, but rather made me feel somewhat initiated into the ways of this land.
I was highly amused at the McDonald's counter, where Lee took the decision to queue in the 'singles' section, rather than the bustling 'family' section. Whilst waiting at a distance I pondered these titles, wondering why they aren't just called men's and women's sections (as this is pretty much what they are). Then it dawned on me: the names give men the option of going to either one.
Once we had our food we entered the concealed family area of the food court. And my goodness was it packed. Apparently, as we found out later, 9.30 is prime eating out time for Saudis. As we fought for a seat we were appalled by how incredibly dirty the place was and by how many children were running riot, rolling around on the floor, screaming and shouting and sitting on the  tables. Nobody was cleaning up after themselves, but seemed instead to be going out of their way to throw their rubbish on the floor.
One thing's for sure, the experience gave me a mega insight into how the children come to be so badly behaved at school.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Me and My Shadow

Thought I'd give you all a quick laugh today by showing you exactly what my life has become!

The headscarf serves only to create a double chin and accentuate my innate pea-headedness. What a look. 

I'm having a little trouble adapting to life like this, I have to say. On Wednesday, I tripped at least three times, once going up the stairs to my flat, and the rest whilst walking to the shop. The kerbs are really big here and if you don't remember to hitch up your skirts then before you know it some pesky flapping piece of material's hooked under a flip flop and you're away. Thankfully I haven't fallen flat on my face as yet, but there's definitely still time. Men here drive like complete twats which makes crossing the road a bit of an ordeal anyway, but if you add to that the inability to run for fear of tripping, it can be quite terrifying. And my Abaya is actually fairly short (saucy), which makes me wonder how on earth the other women manage.

The heat plus Abaya is obviously a recipe for disaster, as I am prone to being a bit of a sweaty betty at the best of times. But one good thing I've found is that I can just walk around in very little clothing and no one knows about it! A small victory I feel, but a victory nonetheless.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

No Men Allowed

Gentlemen, if you ever want to really punish a lady for some wrongdoing they have commited  towards you, just deposit them for a couple of hours at Bushra Mall, Riyadh. I went to this 'Ladies Mall' with two friends recently with the hope of being able to shed our Abayas and be free to shop in a trendy, relaxed environment.
Oh how wrong I was.
Going in to the carefully covered entrance, we were greeted with an area like a cloakroom at a club. Our bags were searched, my friends lighter was taken hostage and we were told to leave any phones or cameras there for the duration of our visit. What did they think we we're gonna do- take photos of these women in real clothes and spread them around for all of mankind to see? Shock horror.
Actually I did see one girl undo her Abaya when she walked in to reveal what was basically little more than a bra. Apparently it's quite a trend here to wear sexy underwear underneath and not a lot else.
So in we went to Bushra and I have to say I think it is a place that Allah forgot. I can only describe it as being made up of shops from the worst parts of Peckham: far too many sequins and unprovable 'discounts' in the windows. There was not one single shop I wanted to go in, and in fact we did only go in an Abaya shop the whole time we were there. I realised also that when people say 'Ladies Mall' it actually means 'Ladies and their 5000 screaming running kids, Mall.' There were so many children that it felt more like a daycare centre than anything else. People were having picnics on mats on the floor, like it was some kind of trip out to the park. And the weird thing was that at least half the women didn't take off their Abayas anyway, so we still got stared at by people who obviously weren't happy with our infidel uncovering.
I experienced a little bit of Saudi logic whilst trying to flee the dreaded place. We had to exit out of the same door we came in, past the cloak room. But there was no one stopping the incoming floods of traffic (seriously people, are you flocking here for real?), causing the entrance room to get more and more full. After about ten minutes we realised that the only way to get out would be to push for our lives, the thought of dying a slow and miserable death inside Bushra spurring us on.

The following weekend I went to a far better mixed Mall called Granada. There were shops like New Look, H and M and Topshop, but looking for work clothes proved rather futile as they stocked the same clothes they do in the west. What's the point, I ask you, in trying to sell tank tops and mini skirts and other things that no one is allowed to wear? Very strange.
Our shopping was interrupted twice by Salah (prayer time), during which the shops shut and everyone was booted out. We went up to the food court to quickly try and buy something to keep us occupied for the half an hour before we could resume our shopping.
The food court was absolutely heaving with people who clearly had the same idea as us. But my question is this: if you are all here, then what are all the shops bothering to shut for. Are you not supposed to be praying?

I have become accustomed to the call to prayer that blasts out from the Mosque loudspeakers five times a day. It can be strangely beautiful and eerie, apart from of course at 4.30 in the morning when it is just plain annoying.

A song that is in my head a lot at the moment. I wonder why....