Sunday, November 27, 2005
I'd never been to Dubai or an Air Show for that matter. I was very impressed by both.
The Air Show boasted a very impressive French aerobatic show, fly-bys from the top planes in the world including the new monstrous Airbus 380, and exhibition booths most of which probably cost more to build than my apartment did.
I was only there for 2 days/3 nights so I didn't get to see that much of Dubai, but from what I experienced, it was a very interesting place. The first thing that I noticed was it is immaculately clean. Unlike Amman or Beirut there is absolutely no litter and no empty sand lots. It actually puts any U.S. major city to shame in terms of cleanliness. I was told they have an immigrant workforce of about 1 million (mostly Indians) who take care of the city. They also have strict fines for littering. For example, tossing a cigarette butt out of your car brings a fine of $50.
Dubai is very modern in general. They are always attempting to build things bigger and more creative than anywhere else in the world. They currently have the world's only 7-star hotel, a development complex built in the Ocean shaped like a Palm tree (see the picture to the right that I took from the airplane). They are working on one in the shape of the world. They are also building the world's tallest building, the world's largest shopping mall and a hotel with an indoor ski slope. They recently abandoned plans for building a hotel completely under the ocean because of pressure from environmentalists.
The people are interesting too. I've never witnessed such polarized cultures colliding. The locals dress very traditional. The men all wear white gowns and headresses, the women wear all black with decorated black veils. Almost all the locals are wealthy from acting as "sponsors" to foreign businesses. Meanwhile, the infrastructure and lifestyle there is modern. There are an abundance of Russian and other immigrants from all over. You see many women dressed in tube tops and mini skirts. Even at the airshow, there were so many locals, westerners and skimpily dressed women all hanging out together. It's quite a scene.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
So we packed up a day early and headed to Phi Phi Island where we discovered the paradise we were looking for. Lush green islands with white sand beaches surrounded crystal clear blue waters. While the infrastructure was still recovering from the Tsunami, the natural landscape was awash in beauty.
We went scuba diving 3 days during our trip but our best day was 60km off the coast of Phi Phi at the dive sites: Hin Daeng and Hin Muang. Our first dive we literally swam for 45 minutes with three 15-20ft manta rays swooping around us (check out the above picture to get a good idea of the scale of these monstrous, graceful rays--see the diver at the bottom).
The next dive, we saw the rays again, but we also saw a leopard shark, tons of giant moray eels, a huge school of barracudas and another large school of these giant batfish. It was truly astonishing. Both Shane and I agree these dives are must-dos for avid divers.
On Phi Phi we also did some other great dives and some good snorkeling around the island where they filmed the movie "The Beach" with Leonardo Di Caprio.
We didn't stay where the resorts were located at Tonsai Village, but rather up the beach at the northern most tip of Laem Tong. There was hardly anyone else there which was amazing and they had this romantic restaurant that served you on mats that were right on the sand. The only downside was that to go to an ATM, or buy anything you had to take a long tail boat a good 1/2 hour around the island.
We were supposed to go to Krabi, Thailand but decided to spend all of our time in Phi Phi, a decision neither of us regret at all. We had wanted to ride an elephant in Krabi, but once in paradise, we couldn't tear ourselves away.
We did spend the last day in Thailand in Bangkok, which we had been warned was not a very pretty city. While it seemed a step up from Cairo infrastructure-wise, it didn't have the attractions of the pyramids to make it worthwhile to spend any time in (other than gaining culturally). We half attempted to visit the Grand Palace but didn't go in after finding out the Temple of the Emerald Buddha was closed for an event. We did check out the local markets which were very interesting. Such a wild mix of sights and smells. My favorite part was when a group of teenage girls followed Shane for 3 blocks through the market to get his autograph.
We had an amazing trip but we also learned a lot about how to do the trip better. Unless you're into go-go bars, we'd recommend skipping Phuket. Also, don't bother with more than 1/2 a day in Bangkok unless you like wandering around strange markets for long periods of time (1/2 a day was enough for us). For divers, snorkelers and water people, we'd recommend doing Ko Phi Phi and then Ko Lak (which is right next to the famous dive sites in the Similan Islands). I also heard Ko Lanta is amazing.
We'd both go back in a heartbeat to Thailand. I admit to being fully jealous of our 23-27 year old dive instructors who lived on the island and just dove everyday while living the carefree beach -bum island life.
A get together at the Living Room for Dima's Birthday
My iJordan bosses at our 5th Anniversary party (my company is one of the few women owned businesses in Jordan).
Hanging out with the ladies at Nigh for all you can eat Sushi night.
One of our favorite activities: bowling at the Kempinski hotel.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
But when I moved over here, I started to realize the extent to which the U.S. administration propaganda of fear has penetrated our society at all levels--including the educated, liberal class that usually remains less duped. Once again, I do not want to downgrade the seriousness of these bombings around the world, but before judging a whole section of the world full of, for the most part, wonderful people with the same wants and needs as the rest of us, please remember the extent to which our Government has irrationally blinded us with fear on many issues to keep themselves in power.
Back to my personal experience, in the last two years I have lived in Washington, D.C. and Amman. I can tell you that without a doubt I feel safer on a daily basis in Amman then I ever did in D.C.
I couldn't find any hard crime data on Amman but I can tell you that they do not have problems with muggings, rapes, robberies or murders. I can walk alone as a woman at night and not fear for my safety. I take taxis everywhere and the men treat me with respect.
In Washington, D.C., I was scared to walk home alone at night. A waiter was shot in the head and killed in my upscale neighborhood of Dupont when he didn't hand over his wallet to a band of armed robbers. A year before I moved there an airplane was driven into the Pentagon building. I worried on a regular basis about my metro ride to Union Station at rush hour. I saw intense poverty and racism. I see this same scenerio all over the world. Over the last few years there have been bombings in India, Indonesia, Turkey, Spain and London to name a few. I wonder if my friend Kathryn who is studying in London feels the same pressures to come home?
I'm still trying to figure out why my situation is so inherently more dangerous than hers? No, that's not true. I understand there are differences between London and Jordan. Yes, I now live in a rough neighborhood and it is admittedly a horrible time to be an American in the Middle East. But things should be put into perspective (a perspective that many cannot comprehend until they see it for themselves--mom, dad, how have your attitudes changed about my life after your visit here? I hope you will add some of your honest thoughts).
I have a nice life here with good friends who are much more educated on history, religion and politics than 99.9% of Americans. They are almost all Sunni Muslims and speak fervently of their religion as one that teaches only peace. Most also admit that their leaders must do much more to expel the myths blanketing the globe and covering all of them with a stigma that is difficult to shake off. Mostly, they feel more and more isolated as we continue to generalize about an entire generation of people who live in a region that has had to endure thousands of years of conflict but managed to persevere. Of course, I'm not trying to defend all Arab countries or the decisions of their leaders. Moreover, I have difficulties with the oppression of women justified through popular Islamic law. I am only asking that we not blanket a whole region as one of the same--or label the majority their citizens as terrorists. Check out some of the tourism sites on Jordan, and you'll see that it's considered relatively safe and beautiful. And Petra is a magical place you won't want to miss.
Friday, November 11, 2005
Thank you all for your concern and compassion.
We are both fine. The bombings happened around 9:30pm as Shane and I were packing up to head to the airport for a midnight flight to Bangkok. We didn't hear the blasts but heard the sirens as they came whizzing by our apartment to the Radisson SAS hotel 1/4 a mile away and the Grand Hyatt Amman less than 1/2 a mile away. We caught the only flight that left Amman that evening, and arrived safely in Thailand 10 hours later.
We are both shaken up and sad for the country that we have come to call home. We mourn for all the wonderful people we know who have been affected by this tragedy.
Shane and I trying to enjoy Thailand, and then will decide what to do next. While we recognize we we must be concerned for our own safety (we are both in hotels and public places often for work), we are also determined not give the terrorists too much credit. Unfortunately, no big city right now here or in the U.S. is completely safe. We must all keep living our lives. Living in the Middle East with people that have dealt with much turmoil in the past and present, I have learned that if we afraid and isolate ourselves, or our minds, then we let the terrorists win.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
No, I'm not talking about extremist Islam, the current favorite fear inducer, I'm talking about fundamentalists from the fastest growing religion in the Western Hemisphere: Mormonism.
I just finished the book "Under the Banner of Heaven" by John Krakauer. He writes a stimulating narrative exposing the underbelly of extremist mormonism in the U.S. I really recommend this book. We are so quick to cast stones outside our borders, meanwhile, these fundamentalist Mormon sects across the U.S. are receiving millions in Government aid (their polygamous wives are not legally married and hence considered single moms) and raping hundreds of little girls every year. And that is just the beginning. Read this book and it will make you angry.