Monday, February 27, 2006


I just spent the most wonderful five days in Beirut. It was an extremely short trip, but it felt like much longer than it actually was. I saw a lot of close friends and family from home, including Raine, Rampurple, nibaq, and others, as well as some friends from Beirut. I got to do a little bit of everything, and it was a beautiful week.

Because it was National Day weekend in Kuwait, the city was, of course, crawling with Kuwaitis. But the good thing is you only see them in certain places (i.e. Phoenicia and downtown) and they never go to the really cool places, which is good. Besides, nobody ever thinks I’m Kuwaiti – even in Kuwait most of the time people assume I’m not – and so unless someone knows me personally they don’t give me a second “look” (besides which, most people I know don’t even recognize me these days because of my hair!). It was funny, every single person I came into contact with at the airport there, both upon arrival and departure, would take my passport, see that it’s Kuwaiti, look back up at me surprised and immediately say that they never would have guessed I was Kuwaiti. The guy at passport control when I arrived asked if I was originally Lebanese and I said no but that my grandmother is and he said he knew he saw a Lebanese vein in me. ;)

I absolutely love Beirut. It is my favourite Arab city, and Lebanon is the only Arab country, along with Kuwait, that I would seriously consider living in. Something about the place makes me feel at home there. I have been to Lebanon many times, and usually always go with someone who is from there, and so I get to see a side of Beirut that most visitors don't get to see - the local side. I obviously have a close personal affinity to Lebanon, other than just my own family connection, and it makes me happy that through that connection it'll always be a part of me.

All in all, a wonderful trip, and a refreshing break.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Lunch with Zahra

I spent the day in Essex today, having lunch at the home of Zahra (Dickson) Freeth and her daughter. Zahra is the daughter of Lt.-Col. H.R.P. and Dame Violet Dickson. As a quick history lesson: Col. Dickson was the British Political Agent to Kuwait from 1929-1936, who then worked for the Kuwait Oil Company after he retired from the British government. Col. Dickson passed away in 1959 but his wife, Dame Violet, also known as Umm Saud, remained in Kuwait in their family home on the Gulf Road until she passed away in 1991 at the age of 92. Most people in Kuwait still remember Umm Saud, as she was a fixture in Kuwait up until the invasion. Zahra spent her childhood years with her parents in Kuwat in the 1930s before going away to boarding school. She is an absolutely lovely lady, and a magnificent source of information on Kuwaiti history. I became friends with the family a few years ago, and it was nice to be able to spend the day with them again. Unfortunately, I found out that her brother Saud, who also spent a few years in Kuwait as a child with their parents, passed away this past May.

It was wonderful to get out of the city and into the English countryside. It was so beautiful and peaceful, and it was great sitting there and talking for hours with someone who knows so much about Kuwaiti history, first hand. She has so many stories, knows so many different sides to Kuwait's history that you never really hear. Although she has written books on Kuwait, she still has so much more knowledge that she hasn't shared. So we decided that in a couple of months, once my coursework settles down, I will go back down to Essex with a tape recorder and record an oral history of her life and experiences and memories of Kuwait.

I also found out that a well known English historian on Kuwait acknowledged me in one of his recent books, which I didn't know about. I had been in touch with him years ago and I vaguely remember assisting him with something via E-mail (I now know what that something is but to disclose it here would be to give out too much info!). Anyway, apparently he thanked me in his book, which I have actually seen and looked through before without noticing it (who reads the acknowledgements when flipping through a book?). So I can't wait to buy a copy for myself now!

And finally, I love traveling by train. Not the tube, but the actual rail. I hadn't been on a train for about a year now, not since last year in Italy, and so it felt nice for a change. I absolutely adore trains - somehow the world seems right when you're staring out at it from the window of a train - you feel like everything in life is OK. I don't know what it is...but it's the right way to travel.

Anyway, going back, as many of you may know the Dickson House still exists in Kuwait and is located across the street from the Souq Sharq Fish Market. It is open for visitors during regular working hours, and I would advise you to go and check it out if you've never been there. It's a beautiful home and so many historical events in Kuwait took place within those walls (like the signing of Kuwait's first oil concession, although the table it was signed on was stolen during the invasion).

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Update on Neighbours: Part 2

I was just sitting here at my desk trying to work on a paper (it is 11:30pm) and the footsteps from upstairs were driving me insane so I decided to take a book and give the ceiling a couple of firm hits. Five minutes later, while back at my desk, I heard a knock at my door. So I very coldly called out: "Yes?" It was a girl. She asked if I was hearing any noise, and I said yes, and she said that nobody upstairs was moving and I said well as long as I keep hearing banging I'm gonna keep banging back. Anyway, we were talking through the door and I didn't get up from where I was sitting because I felt like being a bitch. But then she said that maybe the noise was coming from somewhere else so at that point I got up and opened the door. She said she heard me bang and so asked her flatmate if he was making noise and he said no (liar!). She also said that the person who wakes up everyday at 4am-ish is her flatmate. She lives up there with her boyfriend and two flatmates, and she and her boyfriend go to sleep early every night.

Anyway, highlights of the discussion were: the lease is in her name and so she received the complaint from the landlord, she never received the first note I left in November and when she asked her flatmate he said he had left it on the kitchen counter but never said anything and she never saw it, her flatmate was the one who turned on the washing machine the other night at 1am after they got my note and she got upset and he said "But it's only 11:30pm" (which I guess was when he turned it on but the noisy bit comes at the end of the cycle) and she said "Yes, but when you finish it'll be 1am!" Anyway, we determined that it is in fact her flatmates' room that is above my bedroom, which is why I hear the noise at 4am. She said she was unaware that they move about that much because she is asleep and it's true, you can't really hear foot stomping room to room, it's through the floorboards. Anyway, she was really sweet and gave me her phone number and told me to call if I need to complain. Also, while we were standing there talking she suddenly heard a bang from upstairs and stopped mid-sentence and looked up surprised and said, "Is that what you hear?!" and I said, "Yes, constantly."

Anyway, I feel bad for complaining to the landlord now. Because the lease is in her name and she was really nice and is not the one making the noise. It's her damn flatmates, and they never bothered to inform her about the first note. I want to write to the landlord and tell her that it was not the girl that was the problem but I'm not sure if the landlord is even aware that there are four people living up there! Anyway, I turned myself off bitch-mode very early on in the conversation because she was really nice and sincere. But now that she knows, and since the lease is in her name, I'm hoping she will be more strict on her flatmates. What pisses me off, though, is that when I just banged the ceiling I used a tiny book, and I was sure they didn't hear it because they never seem to hear when I bang with the big book. But she came right down which means they can hear it. So every night when I bang my bedroom ceiling with all my might with that big book hoping that they might hear something, they are hearing it just fine, they are just totally ignoring me! This was the first time I bang above my living room, which is where her bedroom is...which means her flatmates are inconsiderate pricks.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

This is Denmark

My sister ("red" in blog comments) was at an academic conference in Denmark in November and saw this ad on TV and loved it, and sent me the link. It is beautiful. I haven't seen this in London yet, and I wanted to share it with you guys. While you're watching it I want you to think about one thing: the director, Nicolai Fuglsig, is Danish. Beautiful balls bouncing down the street vs. angry mobs killing each other. Beauty trumps anger in my book.

Click here to view the Sony BRAVIA ad, which was shot in San Francisco using 250,000 colored bouncing balls...this is real.

Choose the Extended Version (180 secs), preferably High Quality (H.264). Let it load completely before watching it so you can watch it straight through. You must have QuickTime Player to view. Enjoy.

Update on Neighbours: Part 1

So yesterday at around 11am I was still laying in bed listening to the radio and suddenly there was a knock at my front door, which was strange because nobody buzzed up on the entry phone. So I called out: "Who is it?" And the response came back: "Pest control!" Pest control? Ooh ooh, maybe someone was coming to finally get rid of my bloody upstairs neighbours! So I opened the door and the guy said they do routine checks on the building and could he inspect my flat? I was so tempted to say: "I can save you the time, the damn vermin live upstairs." But I held it in and let him do his rounds. He walked in, looked around, and said: "Wow. This is a really nice place. You have the cleanest flat in the building by far!" I think I have the cleanest flat in London by far - the majority of people live like pigs!

But I'm digressing. So if you remember I put the note up on Sunday, and that night they ran their washing machine anyway. So I gave them three nights to redeem themselves, which they obviously didn't. By Wednesday, yesterday, I decided enough was enough. I called my landlord's office and complained. The woman on the phone was really nice, very sympathetic, and nearly jumped into the phone when I told her they have taken to turning on the washing machine at 3am. She asked me to send her the complaint in writing by Email, which I did, attaching the note I wrote to them as well. Today I got an Email from her saying that she spoke to them and is also giving them a complaint in writing. She said to contact her if the noise persists. I can't wait till tonight to see if there's a difference! I will give them one week to ship up or I'm complaining again. This is fun!!

Btw I am happy to report that no pests were found in my flat!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Just Get Wet

I had to walk home tonight in the pouring rain, the kind that makes you feel like you're taking a shower. The streets were empty, with everyone running from point A to point B to avoid getting wet. Not having my umbrella with me, I was initially inclined to do the same. But then I realized, there was no way to avoid getting wet seeing as I had a ten minute walk ahead of me. So why not just enjoy it? So, with my boy short hair not really caring about getting wet, my feet protected by my 14-hole teal Doc Martens, and the new Belle & Sebastian album playing on my iPod (specifically "The Blues Are Still Blue" and "Dress Up In You"), I decided to JUST GET WET. And it was gorgeous. I stomped with two feet into every puddle that crossed my path, I looked up at the sky and let my face get hit with rain, I ran my fingers through my soaking hair, and I let everyone else trying to escape the inevitable run past me. And I must say, it was the most therapeutic experience I have had in ages. You always see it in movies and commericals and music videos, and in your mind it is just such a cliché - the whole "singing in the rain" thing. But I gotta tell you, it was just brilliant! There is something oddly liberating about it. Granted I wasn't literally singing...but in a stange way with every puddle I jumped into, the happier I felt. By the time I reached my front door I had such a big smile on my face I'm sure the people running past me thought I was insane. Sure, I couldn't hang my jacket on my coat stand because it was soaked through and I didn't want to get my other jackets wet, but my Docs did their job and kept my feet dry and with a quick towel rub to my short hair I was warm and snug inside my heated flat.

The moral of this story is:
Pouring rain + Great music on iPod =
Beautiful London Moment.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Brain Drain

I have reached a level of mental stress that I have never experienced before in my life (not to be confused with emotional, and also physical, stress, which are quite different). Mental stress is exhausting - it breaks you down in ways that you don't expect. And I'm in it - right smack in the middle of it. My brain is in shock. And yet it's impossible to slow it down right now. And it's not just about all the work I have to do in the next few months - although that is a huge factor. But coupled onto that is all the other stuff - planning, organizing, doing preliminary background research on the feasibility of my upcoming research (don't even ask), and just thinking, reading, thinking, reading, thinking, thinking, THINKING. Usually my brain can prioritize and manage things in a very rigidly organized way; anyone who has ever worked with me knows that while my desk would always be messy as hell, piled high with papers, when it came to getting the job done I would do it with a very narrow margin of error (and I'd usually catch those errors before going from PPRD to PROD, to print, or publication!) because my brain was right on top if it. But now my brain is just staring back at me saying "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?" Oh, I know I'll get it done, hopefully with the same minimal margin of error - the question is will I manage to get it done without throwing a bottle out my window at 2am at the drunken louts on my street?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Bloody Neighbours

I just left my upstairs neighbours a second note complaining about all the noise from their flat late at night. I left a first note in November, to absolutely no avail. There are three people who live in the flat above me, and I think they are Korean. Anyway, they are so bloody loud. I live in a three-storey walk-up (one flat per floor), and as it is the floorboards in these buildings are very thin. You can hear every footstep coming through, so you get used to it. However, there are ways of making a conscious effort to be considerate. For example, I never wear shoes inside my flat, and when I walk around I literally always walk on my toes, because when you walk flat-footed or with your heals you make more noise. What I don't understand is how oblivious people can be to the noise they make with their own feet. Anyway, I never run my washing machine and dryer past like 8pm, and never shut doors late at night. If I come home late, I tip-toe up the stairwell in the commonparts. I have an old lady who lives under me on the first floor so I am uber-conscious not to make too much noise.

But those bastards above me...man! They make so much noise during the day and evening, but, as annoying as that is, I can accept it because it's when I'm awake. But then, the noises at night! And no, don't get all excited, it's nothing kinky. They just make no effort whatsoever to be quiet. From what I gather one of them leaves for work or whatever very early in the morning, at around 5am, so he is up-and-at-'em by like 3am. He thumps around the flat so loudly that sometimes I think he's doing it on purpose. Then there are these random bumps and bangs, and doors slamming shut, etc. Then on more than one occasion I have woken up to music suddenly coming through (and really cheesy music too, like soft rock ballads), and believe it or not more than once the bastard(s) has turned on the washing machine and dryer at like 3am! Do you have any idea how loud the machine is? My whole flat vibrates from their machine, so imagine it at 3am when you're asleep. Anyway, I have taken to banging on my ceiling with a large book, but to no avail. Then when the guy leaves the flat, he runs down the stairs in the commonparts and it is so loud it sounds like the building is coming down, and then he just slams the front door to the street shut without any thought to the fact that it is bloody 5am and the rest of us are asleep!

Anyway, I have wanted to go up at night and tell them to shut the fuck up but a part of me has always been a bit scared to go up by myself! But finally last night I said enough is enough. No, I didn't go up and confront them, but I did take the nerdy route and wrote them a second long note, quoting clauses from our tenancy agreement that they are in violation of (the landlord owns all three flats in the building). If I don't see a difference in the next couple of days I am gonna call and tattle to our landlord.

I wonder just how many people actually live up there. And not just because of the noise. We get our mail dropped through the slot in the front door so we see each other's mail, and I have seen letters for that flat addressed to at least 10 different names so far. All of whom are valid because they never get put in the "wrong mail" stack. So either they are letting their friends send their mail here, or they are running some sort of a sweatshop up there. Personally I suspect the latter.

Update: It is nearly 1am and the bastards have their washing machine and dryer on! After I specifically specified in the note that turning the machines on after midnight was unacceptable (I gave them an extra 1 1/2 hours, because our tenancy agreement says no loud equipment/machinery after 10:30pm). That's it, I'm calling the landlord tomorrow. This is just simply an act of defiance! THIS MEANS WAR!!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

My London Soundtrack Update

Contiuously on my iPod this week:

This is the new album by Belle and Sebastian, one of my favourite bands. They are one of those bands where every song on every album released is great. Their new album "The Life Pursuit" hasn't let me down. It's one of those "soundtrack to your life" type albums. Love it. If you want to download a taste, go for "Act of the Apostle Part I", "Dress Up In You", "Another Sunny Day", and "Mornington Crescent". I love the last one because of the area it's talking about in London, Mornington Crescent, which is in Camden Town a couple of tube stops away from my flat, and a place where I spend a lot of my non-studying time.

Télépopmusik is a great French electronica band. I just got their new album "Angel Milk" but I've been listening to tracks off their old album "Genetic World" these days as well. Favourite on the older one is "Smile". Haven't decided on a favourite from the new one yet. Download whatever comes up in a search for a taste because their stuff is so diverse you have to decide for yourself what you like!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

"F*** off!"

The wierdest thing just happened to me.

This past week I have started going to a new café that we discovered last week when S was in town. I liked the place because it is in Covent Garden, about 5 minutes walking from my flat, has a good light food menu, good coffee, is relatively quiet, and is very clean (unlike most small London café's which are quite dingy, which I don't really mind but once in a while you actually would like to be able to touch the table without having to totally wipe it down first). In short, it was a perfect studying/reading spot, and I have gone there three days in a row to do work, extremely successfully. Although it is actually a French patisserie/café, the staff that works there are mostly Russian (not surprising in London). Anyway, yesterday I started to sense a bit of a mafia-type feel to the place. There is always this one (Russian) guy, who is obviously the owner or manager, sitting at a corner table, reading a paper, drinking a bottled beer and smoking, and throughout the evening he always has these random men come in, sit with him for a bit, talk, then leave. Sometimes they go to the back and the owner guy comes out alone, and then the other guy comes out much later. Anyway, it didn't bother me much cos all I'm doing is sitting and studying in a nice café and the guy was actually quite friendly to me - watching my books when I went to wash my hands, saying "see you tomorrow!" as I was leaving yesterday.

So anyway, I have been quite happy with my new discovery, which I decided I was going to share a long-term commitment with during my time in London. So today when two friends of mine and I wanted to go sit somewhere for coffee to study after class, I thought I'd show off my new fabulous spot. So we headed over to Covent Garden, settled in, and they loved the place. We sat reading for a while, drinking coffee and sharing a plate of French fries. Then suddenly one of girls stops our reading and 'fesses up to us that she met a guy recently that she is really interested in, and so, being girls in our twenties, we threw off our iPods and closed our books and she started to spill. Just as she was describing how he looks (i.e. the best part), I suddenly noticed that in the main part of the café the same Russian guy (who said hi to me as I came in) shut off all the lights. We were seated in an adjoining room, where the lights were still on, and other than us there was another table with a group of about five and a table with a couple (and the boyfriend had just gone down to the toilet). Suddenly the Russian guy comes in and is like "That's it, the shop is closed, fuck off, get out." We all looked at him in surprise, and I kind of half laughed thinking he was joking. But he was dead serious and again said "Fuck off, get out, you don't have to pay me just get the fuck out. We're closed. Fuck off." No explanation, no smile, in fact no expression whatsoever, just lots of "fuck offs"! He turned back and continued shutting down the coffee machines, etc. We all looked at each other and realized this guy was serious so started to put our jackets on in shock and make our way to the exit in dead silence - I think we were all too stunned (and not a little bit scared) to say anything to him! The girl whose boyfriend was in the bathroom was still inside as we were leaving and he goes back and said "I told you to fuck off and get out!" And she said "I'm waiting for my boyfriend, he's in the bathroom." And he said "Well tell him to fuck off. We're closed!" They leave and we see him lock the door and walk away.

And the more it sunk in, the wierder it all seemed. We suddenly realized: where had the two waitresses suddenly disappeared to? What the hell happened? He made us leave, without anyone paying! Even if there were some emergency, why not just say, "Sorry folks something has come up and we have to shut the place." Obviously there was no emergency in the place because he left right after us. And again, where had the waitresses gone?? They had just suddenly disappeared, and it all happened so fast. Is this not toally wierd? Why all the "fuck offs"...to patrons...people who you know are regulars?!? And now, what does this mean? I am inclined to just not go there anymore but, now I'm curious! Plus, my café! I like it! There is a salad on the menu I've been dying to try, and I still haven't tried any of their sweet crêpes!

What do you guys think happened, and do you think I should not go there anymore because of this? It's so wierd! I don't know if it comes off in this post as wierd as it really was, but man, I'm still a bit baffled by it all! I think in total he must have told us to "Fuck off" about 20 times, and it all happened in like a span of literally one minute - within 60 seconds we went from the middle of a girlie conversation about a boy to standing on the street in our coats.


Saturday, February 04, 2006

As JC would say: "I is tagged"!!!

It was brought to my attention from Raine that Jazz Central tagged us. I guess this means I'm officially considered a blogger! Here it goes.

Four jobs I’ve had:
1. Director of a main department at a major institution in Kuwait where I worked for 2 1/2 years just before coming to grad school. Can't say much more than that without totally giving it away! Same institution as Jazz Central.
2. Media & Research Coordinator at a think tank in Kuwait.
3. Historical Research Coordinator at a museum in Kuwait.
4. Research intern at a Middle East information center in Washington, DC.

Four movies I can watch over and over:
1. Breakfast at Tiffany's
2. Fame
3. Almost Famous
4. St. Elmo's Fire

Four places I have lived:
1. London
2. Kuwait (born & raised and then again from 2001-2005)
3. Washington, DC (undergrad)
4. California (when I was a kid)

Four TV shows I love:
1. Frasier
2. 24
3. CSI
4. Seinfeld

Four places I’ve vacationed:
1. Rome
2. Paris
3. Prague
4. Beirut

Four of my favorite dishes:
1. Machbous
2. Sushi (preferably Edo!)
3. Anything Italian (literally, ANYTHING)
4. Not really a dish, but good baguette, French cheeses, and cold cuts (salami, bresaola, etc)

Four sites I visit daily:
1. gmail.com (as well as my university Email account)
2. google.co.uk (at least 30 times a day)
3. bbc.co.uk (for quick news updates)
4. amazon.co.uk (for books)

Four places I would rather be right now:
1. Kuwait
2. Kuwait
3. Kuwait (read my last post and it'll make sense!)
4. Paris (next weekend hopefully)

Five people I am tagging:
I don't know enough bloggers so I'm gonna skip this and let the tag die with me.

"Mommy, WOW! I'm a blogger now!" (to be sung to the tune of that Huggies Pull-Ups commercial or whatever it was.)


I have been feeling viciously homesick the past few days...to an unbearable degree. Yesterday I put everything in my life on pause and went to Oxford Street, which I barely go to, away from my daily life here, and just walked around with my iPod on pretending like I was here in London on vacation. I was able to partially convince myself, except for the fact that Raine was missing (if I was on vacation in London she'd be with me). Today I stayed in bed reading all day - not academic reading, but a novel. Again, escape from reality.

The thing is, I know everyone thinks I'm nuts, and don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE London. It is one of the only cities I would want to live in other than Kuwait. But I was having a conversation the other day with some friends from my programme and one girl, from New York, put it perfectly. She said no matter how great London is, we each have our own lives elsewhere and we are not connected to this city the way we are in our own worlds. It is where we live, and no matter how much we do love the city, it is not our place. It is not our Life, with a capital L. And the reason we are unable to, or rather simply don't, connect with it is because for one, we just don't have the time. We are so engrossed in our academic work that we really don't have the time or energy to invest in anything other than studying. But at the same time, for me at least, I just don't have the mental/emotional energy to do it either. This is the third time in my life I have moved. And now that I am older, I just want to be back in my world, my Life, with a capital L.

Laying in bed today, a Saturday, I thought about Thursday in my world, in my Life in Kuwait (let's say it's a non-chalet weekend!). Waking up in the morning and having a cup of tea while enjoying the prospect of an actual weekend. I would get dressed, get in my VW, drive around, run some errands, kill time till lunch. Then I'd go home and enjoy the fact that it's one of the few days Dad and I are both home for lunch together. We'd eat in the dining room and then sit in the TV room for a couple of hours catching up on each other's week, and just talking. About life, Kuwait, society, politics, about our work, about people we know, the latest updates on my friends (many of whom he knows in person but most of whom he knows well enough by name from these countless stories), recounting old family stories filled with loving memories of Mom, and having long talks about history, a passion of mine which he shares, and which makes me realize that no matter how much I study there is no better source for me than my Dad. By the late afternoon P will be done from work so I'll go start getting ready for our evening/night out. In my room, which is probably as big as my flat here in London but with all the comforts of home, I put something on DVD (usually "Frasier") for background noise while I take a shower and get dressed. Then P picks me up and we head out to do one of the million things we love doing together, talking about so much and laughing and listening to music while stuck in traffic. By dinner we'd meet up with the gang at our usual dinner spot or at someone's house or once in a while all go to a barbeque or party. And it doesn't matter how late I get in because tomorrow is Friday and I can sleep in as late as I want.

I know it must all seem so mundane, but that is the world that I fantasize about. My simple, happy, exciting, comfortable world filled with all the people, and THE person, I love most in this world.