Sunday, July 30, 2006

Stay Gold

Remember that wonderfully life-altering book from your early adolescence, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton? It was made into a film in the eighties, with a stellar cast. Anyway, there is a scene in the book (and movie) when Ponyboy and Johnny are in hiding in the church and are watching the sunrise, and Pony recites that Robert Frost poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay":

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

When you're 13, you immediately get it. The poem, and Pony's explanation of it, speak volumes. You are at that turning point in your life when you're just beginning the process of letting go of your innocence, and you know it, and you're so excited about it. But at the same time, you're scared, and a tiny bit sad to say good-bye to your childhood, although you'd never admit it.

I woke up this morning reciting this poem in my head. I am now more than double the age I was when I first read it. My golden innocence is no longer something I feel slipping away from me - it's been gone for a long time. So why was I thinking about it? I guess because lately I've realized that, no matter how much it pains me to know this or admit it, life is not, nor can it be, perfect. I try so hard with everything I do in life, big and small, significant and trivial, to make life absolutely picture perfect, and it hardly ever turns out that way. It's probably (or rather, obviously) because there are so many things that have happened to me, and continue to happen to me, in life that are totally out of my control, that I try as hard as possible to keep total control over everything else. I invest so much effort and energy into wanting, trying, to make everything perfect. But life isn't perfect. And even things that are perfect, can never last that way forever. Eventually, life will catch up to them and bring them back down to reality. Because, "nothing gold can stay."

This over obsessive perfectionism is something I have developed as an adult, in recent years, and while I realize that it can be destructive, there is little I can do to change it. Before, if I was a perfectionist, it was mainly something I used positively - in my academic work, for example, through college. Or in my professional work after college. But now, it's different. Now I apply it to everything, big and small, and it's mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting.

And I guess the pain of realizing now, in my late twenties, that no matter how hard you try, life cannot be totally controlled, nor be totally perfect, is similar to the pain you feel in your adolescence. That combination of emotions when you first realize that your life is something that happens to you as much as it is something that you lead. When you're a teenager and you first realize that life can be unfair, you feel angry, bitter, depressed - you brood and overdramatize, you lock yourself in your room and listen to music and take your anger out in your journal. When you're in your late twenties and you realize once again just how unfair, and uncontrollable, life can be, all it does is make you sad.

What makes it all easier, and more bearable, is having someone you love, and who loves you unconditionally, by your side. Someone to remind you that even if life isn't perfect, and doesn't always turn out as planned, you will always be OK because you have found perfection in, with, and between each other.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

YO! Sushi = NO! Sushi

So Marina Mall has recently opened what I like to call the London corner - Yo! Sushi, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Pizzeria Cucina (which is apparently a home-grown Gulf restaurant but that gets its ingredients from a pizzeria in Knightsbridge - which I've been told is the famous pizzeria in Harrod's), and Morelli's Gelato. P and I tried out Gourmet Burger the other day (I haven't been to the one in London yet since I have one of the best burger places in town around the corner from my flat so there's no need to explore any further). It was good, but still not quite as good as Burger Boutique (to compare it with Kuwait's other gourmet burger place). But I like nice burger places that don't feel like you're eating fast food so when it comes to having a burger craving, it's a nice addition to our choices of places to eat in Kuwait. (But I gotta add, when it comes to burgers, Johnny Rockets still does it for me!)

Anyway, tonight we wanted to have ice cream from Morelli's so we decided to try out Yo! Sushi, have a light meal, and then save room for dessert. Didn't quite turn out as planned. First of all, I have only been to Yo! Sushi in London once, and that was a few years ago. Why go there when you can go to Itsu, which is a million times better? But anyway, I decided to give the one here the benefit of the doubt. Boy was that a mistake.

The first annoying thing was that they had all these different types of cold drinks on their menu, but none was actually available. All that was available was soft drinks and three types of fruit juices (very plain) - none of the nice cold fusion teas, nor the flavoured San Pellegrino drinks, that were listed on the menu were available to order.

The next annoying thing was that the sushi dishes going by on the conveyor were not labeled. Maybe I'm too used to Itsu, but I would think that even Yo! Sushi in London labels the dishes, no? So it was up to us to guess what we were picking up.

And it's not like you could really tell what was inside a given roll, seeing as 97% of the roll was just rice. That was the major problem we had with the place. Each roll was quite big, but predominantly consisted of rice, with a tiny bit of actual ingredients - fish or veg - in the middle. So no matter what you ate, you couldn't really taste it because all that you were aware of was the excess of rice. We started with two dishes, and were immediately unsatisfied. We were actually fighting over who was not going to eat the last roll. We sat and waited for something appetizing to come by, but nothing did. It was all rice, rice, rice, and tiny bits of unidentifiable "food" embedded deep in the middle. Finally we just looked at each other, conceded defeat, and decided to get the check and relocate someplace else.

And here's the best part. Two unsatisfying dishes - one with 4 small pieces of salmon sashimi and one with 3 rolls of rice with I-don't-know-what - came out to KD 4! Oh...including the Diet Coke and 7-Up. It's a good thing we decided to stop there.

The only good part of the ten minute experience was our waiter. He was very nice, and was quite disappointed that we were leaving so soon. He asked if there was something wrong or if we were unsatisfied with something, and under normal circumstances I would take that as an invitation to begin my ten minute critique. But he was just so nice and sincerely perturbed by our sudden desire to leave that I just mumbled something about having to leave to meet people. But then I decided to "make a suggestion" - about the huge amount of rice in each roll, and how they really weren't giving their customers a fair value-for-money deal. He listened very carefully and said he would tell the chef.

Anyway, we were still in the mood for sushi but didn't want to go too far (i.e. we didn't feel like driving straight home to Edo as you would expect). So we decided to go to Wasabi in that new area in Bide3 with all the restuarants. This was my first time going to Wasabi and I must say, it wasn't bad at all. Still not quite as good as Edo, but better than any of the other (non-Edo) sushi places in Kuwait. The atmosphere was nice, décor was pleasing, food was good, and the best part is that the old manager of Edo who is now the manager of Wasabi was there. Hadn't seen him in a couple of years!

Here are some pictures from Yo! Sushi of some of the dishes that passed us by. Notice the amount of rice, the small amount of actual filler, and then check out the price.

KD 0.800

KD 1.400

KD 1.800

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Lebanon Evacuation

Here are some pictures and short videos from our evacuation out of Lebanon. The quality isn't great because they were taken with my Sony Ericsson K700i. I haven't uploaded P's pictures and videos yet but I will tomorrow in case you're interested.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Home, safe and sound

On Friday morning, P and I began our journey to get out of Lebanon, and we arrived back to Kuwait last night (i.e. Sunday night). First off, big thank you to Jazz Central for picking us up from the airport!

My god, what an exhausting, surreal, and stressful ordeal. I'll write out the highlights of our story here for those of you who are interested. (This will probably be a long post so no need to read if you're not interested - I just figure this is easier than repeating the story over and over.)

Initially, when the problems began on Wednesday, we had decided to stay in Lebanon and ride it out - we really didn't expect things to escalate much. Our flight was already booked for Sunday (yesterday), and so we assumed the airport would reopen by then. And if not, we were willing to stay on a few extra days until things settled down. By Friday, however, things had gotten much worse and we had heard that the Kuwaiti Embassy was organizing buses from the Safir Hotel in Bhamdoun to go across the Syrian border. We checked on Jazeera's website and they said all their flights had been re-routed through Damascus. So we packed our luggage and headed up to Bhamdoun.

C.H.A.O.S. The hotel was totally insane. There was absolutely no sense of order in the lobby, you had no idea where to go or what to do, there was only like four people from the embassy there, and most of them either didn't know what was going on, or were being really blasé and rude. The scene we saw at that hotel made me thoroughly ashamed to be a Kuwaiti. It's not like people were panicking because they were scared or whatever. No, they were just being pushy and unorganized and hysterical. We figured out that the "procedure" was to register our names down on a "list" with our phone numbers, and once they had buses available for us they would call us to assign us a specific bus number. But first priority went to families with children and elderly. Fair enough. Was there any chance we'd get out today? Not likely. And before you ask, no, they did not offer to put us up for the night. We had to fork out $250 to have a roof over our head. Next thing we had to do was get rid of our car rental. At first the company wasn't willing to come up to Bhamdoun to get it: "The agreement was that since you collected the car from the airport, you should return it at the airport." "WHAT AIRPORT?!" "Oh, yeah. OK, we're on our way." So then we sat and waited for our phone call. A couple of hours later, P went back to the lobby to check on things, and now the official from the embassy who was in charge of putting people on the buses told him that to get on a bus all we had to go was get our luggage and go claim a seat on one. Since when? So we got our luggage and went to find the guy again and he said that there were some more buses on the way for that night, but that there were also better buses coming for the following morning. By that point it was about 6pm. He said we could leave that night, but he advised we wait and leave in the morning. It would be safer and more comfortable that way, plus we’d have a better chance of finding a flight out. I asked why we had been told to wait for a phone call and he basically laughed (i.e. at us), and said their "system" fell apart because all the people were fighting to get on buses (apparently we were the only ones following orders and patiently/naively waiting for a phone call). Weighing all the options, we decided to take a bus the following morning. He told us to be down there at 7am.

We went down at 5am to be safe. The lobby was already packed and chaotic again. People were screaming and fighting and pushing and crowding around the table where we apparently had to "register" our names again to get on a bus (yesterday’s list was gone with the wind). People would cram up to the table (no lines, no order) and would shove like 20 passports in the guy's face. Nobody would help us with only two. Finally, I saw the guy who we had spoken to the night before and he managed to help us and got our names down. It was pure insanity. Once they had a few lists full of 50 names each (one list per bus), they started taking people outside to the buses, which was like a race. They would read out a list of names, get everyone on that list together, and then say "OK, you're on bus 4" and then everyone would RUN, with all their hundreds of pieces of luggage, to the bus. Then it turned into the fight to get your suitcases into the luggage compartment. Each family had like 15 suitcases with them. I have no idea how all the luggage made it across.

Finally, we got on a bus at 7 am, with our two suitcases safely tucked away. Then began our six-hour journey across the border. The drive to the Lebanese border took about 2 1/2 hours or so. But then we spent more than an hour at the border itself. Then about another 45 minutes to an hour at the Syrian border. The route itself was quite nerve wracking. We took the Zahle route, through the Bekaa valley. Some of the roads we took I honestly think can only be described as hiking trails. But we made it, and our bus driver took care of all logistics on the borders. Less than half an hour after we crossed the border, the exact route we had been on was bombed. That happened the day before too - just after arriving in Bhamdoun we heard that one of the bridges near Hazmieh, which we had passed through to drive up to Bhamdoun, had been hit.

Once we got to Damascus airport, the "embassy officials" who we were told would meet us on the other end were nowhere in sight. Supposedly, every person who was put on a bus from Bhamdoun was confirmed on one of the flights out to Kuwait that day. BULLSHIT. It was each man for himself at the airport, which was also in total chaos. We headed straight over to the Jazeera counter, which was, again, pure madness. They told us that only if we were confirmed on a Jazeera flight for that day could we get out (we were confirmed for the following day). So we went up to the Kuwait Airways office where we heard they were taking down people's names to get onto one of the night flights. Again, chaos – no lines, and lots of pushing and shoving. Turned out the waiting list was really long for Kuwait Airways and the guy said that even if we put our names down there would be a very slim chance we'd get out that day. So we decided to forget it, since we were confirmed on Jazeera anyway for the next day.

Next came finding a place for the night. All hotels in Damascus and environs were fully booked. Not one single room. Luckily, some family friends (my sister's in-laws) were arriving into Damascus from Beirut that same afternoon, and they knew an older couple who had agreed to put them and us up for the night – in their family “mazra3a” (farm). It felt strange going over to someone's house who we had never met before to spend the night, but we had no choice. So we got into a cab. After getting pulled over by a cop because the taxi had a curtain on his back windshield, getting lost in the area because the taxi didn’t know where the place was, and then fighting with him because he tried to charge us a double-fare because he got a ticket and got lost, we finally got to the couple’s apartment in Damascus.

By then the other family had arrived as well. We all had some dinner, and then the couple drove us out to their mazra3a. We were expecting a farm of some sort - not necessarily animals and all, but at least some agriculture. Turns out, the word "mazra3a" is just a loosely used term to describe all the houses and estates in that specific area. In fact, the place we were going to was their weekend getaway home - kind of like a chalet. But boy was it not what we were expecting. When we drove onto the grounds, we were shocked. It was like we had arrived at the von Trapp family home, except without the children and merriment. It was enormous! It was like a five-star luxury resort - complete with main villa (huge), guest villa (bigger than my house in Kuwait), gardens, barbeque patios, more gardens, nature paths, swimming pool, jacuzzi, fountains, etc. Only problem was, 98% of it was totally under renovation. The only place that was inhabitable was the top floor of the guesthouse, which had two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room and a kitchen. That was where we would be crashing for the night: us, and our friends - a family of five. OK, that was do-able. But, then it turned out that the electricity wasn't working. So we had to wait outside for well over an hour until the electrician arrived from Damascus proper and got to work on restoring it. By the time the lights finally came back on, it was past 10pm. I could hardly keep my eyes open.

Skip ahead to the next day. Our flight was for 9pm that night, but even though the Jazeera guy we spoke to said to come to the airport at 7pm, we decided to be there by around 4pm to be safe, especially since we had fought with the people in their main office earlier that afternoon because we couldn’t figure out if we were confirmed or not. When we got to the Jazeera counter the guy said they were only checking in people confirmed on the 6:45 flight, and if we wanted to try to get on that flight rather than the 9pm one, we could come back to the counter at 6pm to try. We decided to get something to eat and just sat on our luggage near the front of the counter waiting. By 6pm we knew for a fact that we weren't getting on that flight. So we stood near the front ready to be the first when they opened the counter at around 7pm to start checking people in for the 9pm flight. Suddenly, at about 6:40, I just happened to go up to the counter to ask someone something when I heard them saying that they had to move the check-in for the 9pm flight. Where to? Terminal 2. Why? Because Damascus airport wasn't willing to accommodate the Jazeera replacement flight from Beirut in that terminal. So what do we do? Follow me.

And this had to be the most insane, and disturbingly hilarious, part of the night. Everyone around the counter area started to hear that we were moving to Terminal 2, and that we had to follow the guy, who had started walking towards the door. So suddenly there was a massive mob of people and trolleys and luggage rushing behind him. But, lo and behold, there is no actual EXIT from the check-in area. No, to get out, we had to go against the tide of people trying to ENTER through the security area (don't even ask about fire or emergency exits - there were none - if there was a fire, everyone would burn to a crisp). We were still following the Jazeera guy - nearly 100 people with their trolleys, angry and confused and panicked. The guy was arguing with the security people who didn't want to let us all out through any of the three doorways that people were entering from. He had to fight to get them to agree, and then we had to push the people who were trying to get in aside so that we could get out. I'm serious here - literal shoving - because we didn't know where to go and we didn't want to lose the guy, who was walking in a hurry ahead of us. So we just pushed and shoved our way out. Then we ran across the airport after him. Then we exited the airport, and thus began the race (literally) to the other terminal building. People were literally running, pulling suitcases, pushing trolleys. I can't describe to you how strange and yet hilarious it all looked. P and I got to the front of the mob. All you could think to do was run - why we were running, I'm still not sure. But damn it, we wanted to be at the front of the insanity we knew was about to unfold in the terminal. And we were fed up after two days of chaos and bullshit. So we ran. We ran to restore our sanity and peace of mind. In fact, we ran so fast, we outran the Jazeera guy. When we entered the terminal building (and I'm using that term generously - it was more like a shack) along with a handful of other fast runners (all non-Kuwaiti other than myself), the security people got flustered and a bit frightened by this mad mob of people suddenly rushing in. They said that the only flight leaving from there was for Cairo and tried to stop us from entering, and we said that we were going through, and if they had a problem with it they could take it up with the Jazeera guy, who had just entered. We were all tired, frustrated, and fed up - mob mentality had totally taken over, and we descended upon that security check like a swarm of angry bees, taking no shit from no one. By that point P and I had realized that there was no point in trying to act civilized – in two days that had literally gotten us nowhere. Anyway, our Jazeera hero fought with the terminal people until they gave him two counters to check us in. We were second in line behind another couple. By then the rest of the passengers started coming in, and security had managed to get back on their guard, and tried to actually restore order at the entrance. Anyway, within ten minutes we were checked in. Then passport control. Then we had to sit around and wait until the "gate" opened. Once in there, we found our first chairs of the day to actually sit on. We were in a room with two windows and two flimsy looking glass doors leading out onto the tarmac. We sat around there for about an hour, waiting, knowing that we would have to take a bus back to Terminal 1 where our plane still was. Finally, the Jazeera man of the hour arrived, and we heard him speaking on his mobile asking if the plane was ready and if he could send the first busload of people over. When he got his confirmation, he had to open the window and yell out to someone on the tarmac to come unlock the door for us. MASKHARA!! I'm telling you, it was like nothing I've ever seen - the whole airport experience. AY SHAY!

Once on the plane, we relaxed a bit. But P and I didn't feel as happy as everyone else on the flight seemed. Yes, we were glad that we were able to get out safely, and that we were almost home. We were glad that our families and friends weren't worrying anymore. But the truth is, there wasn't much to feel happy about. We had to escape because Lebanon is under attack, and so all we could, and do, feel is angry and sad. It breaks my heart to see Lebanon sucked into this kind of a mess all over again. It's unfair, and unnecessary. In all honesty, neither of us really wanted to leave. If it had been up to us (i.e. if our primary concern was not easing the minds of our families and friends), we would have gone up into the mountains and stayed with some friends, at least until the airport opened. Doing the whole border crossing thing - I don't know, we didn't like it. Not because we were scared or anything like that - symbolically, we didn't like it.

I can't wait to go back for New Year's to go skiing. (Begin big sister panic session...NOW!)

I'll add pictures tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


I opened my hotmail today (which I barely check because nobody ever really Emails me there anymore) and I had two Emails from my university scholarship office. For some reason the admissions office still uses my hotmail address, which I had on my original application for the MA programme, even though I now have a university Email address with them (which I used on my PhD application). Anyway, I wasn't expecting to see any real mail in there, but when I saw two Emails back to back, each with the name of one of the two scholarships I applied for to fund my PhD in the subject fields, my heart dropped to my feet. I only applied to two because as an international PhD student I was only eligible for two. One is a research scholarship offered by my university to students across all disciplines, and from what I've heard there are only about six of these available. The other is the Overseas Research Students Awards Scheme, which is an award from the British Government but administered through the university (and students are chosen directly by the university), and there is also a very small number of these awards available at my university - again only around six or so. Students can only get one award or the other - not both.

Anyway, I opened the Email with the university research award in the subject with my heart pounding. Unfortunately, "...I am sorry to inform you..." Oh well. I knew that with such a limited number of scholarships available, it was a long shot. I went back to my inbox and without any expectations I opened the ORSAS Email, seriously preparing myself for another rejection. But this time, my eyes fell on the words "...I am pleased to inform you..." It took my brain a few seconds to register what I was reading. Then it hit me.

I got it!! I got funding for my PhD! The first thing I did, after squealing it out to P who was sitting next to me watching TV, was Email my supervisor to share the good news with her. I wasn't expecting to find out by Email - I thought I would have to wait till my friend in London who has the key to my flat checks my mail for me at the end of the month. So this was a wonderfully unexpected surprise, and P is taking me out to dinner tonight to celebrate. Boy do I feel a load off.