Tuesday, August 29, 2006

London Calling

I have one more week in Kuwait. This summer has flown by. Since coming back from Lebanon, all my days have been spent at home writing my dissertation, and then my evenings have been spent with P - the two of us watching "Prison Break" (finally) and endless episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm", having dinner, shopping, playing, talking, laughing, and hanging out with family and friends. Weekends are spent at chalet. It's all gone by too fast. I'm almost done with my dissertation. I have a couple more days of work on it to do here, then I'm going to put it aside for a few days, and then go back to edit and fine tune once I'm back in London.

While I am really sad that my time in Kuwait is almost over, I have actually come to realize that I miss London. I am devastated about the idea of leaving my family and my P in a week. But the idea of being back in London is more pleasurable to me this time around than it was on my previous trips home.

First of all, I'm really looking forward to the two weeks I'll have off between September 15, when I turn in my dissertation, and the beginning of October, when my PhD programme starts. Those will be my first two weeks of proper vacation in over a year. By vacation I mean the first time I'll be totally free from academic stress: no worries, no impending deadlines looming on the horizon, no feelings of guilt when I'm having fun, telling myself that I should be working. This time, it's going to be two weeks of pure down time. I plan on staying in London and just having fun. Some of my friends will be leaving right after we turn in our dissertations to wherever the next stage of their lives takes them, but a core handful are staying on in London to find jobs.

Other little things I'm looking forward to in London: this show my friends and I are going to, which sounds brilliant. The fact that autumn is coming and in a few more weeks I'll be wearing cardigans and Doc Martens again. Getting started on my PhD research and being back in the British Library. The London Film Festival which runs from October 18 to November 2. The French courses I'll be taking this year at the Institut Français. Buying new books. Having a p!nt. Sitting in my flat and writing, with a big mug of coffee and my window open. Walking down the streets with my iPod on. And, all the while, daydreaming about moving back to Kuwait to begin the rest of my life with him.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

My (Long) Review of the Burger Hub

Note: This review is extremely outdated. To read my updated review of the Burger Hub (29 August 2007), with major improvements from this old review, click here.

P and I went to the Burger Hub in Kuwait City tonight for dinner. We'd heard that they were one of the best burger joints in town, so we decided to see for ourselves. Overall, disappointing. Before I get into it, let me say that I'm not trying to be overly critical here. I understand that this is a small Kuwaiti business and it's a very good start, but let me give my honest assessment first and then get into that at the end.

Our first impression when we approached it from the parking lot and when we first walked in was: "Wow. Nice." It's quite small but in a nice way - cute and cozy. They were quite crowded and didn't have a table for two available so we sat at the bar. Once we settled into our seats, we started to look around and take it all in. The first thing I noticed was that every single customer in there was Kuwaiti. Not that it really meant anything to me - it's just something I noticed right off the bat. (Lots of girls dressed to the nines just to eat a burger. Maybe they were trying to impress the cow.)

As I sat at the bar, one of the first things I thought was that they could have used the space better. P noticed it too - he immediately said they could have added a small upstairs seating area (I think there's an office or storage room up in that block you see in the picture). Also, the bar was way too big, and is totally unnecessary. Let's face it, we're in Kuwait. Unless you're serving alcohol, why have a bar/counter that big when you're short on space? Remove it altogether, and just add tables.

It was five minutes before we got menus and another ten minutes before someone took our order (both times I had to call the attention of the waiter). Anyway, the burger selection was quite interesting and diverse, which is always a plus. But when it comes to burgers, unless it's Lindy's Red Lion in DC, I'm going for a regular old gourmet cheeseburger. When I asked what else came in the bun, the waiter told me ketchup and mayonnaise. So I asked him to add lettuce and chopped onions. So he said, "Caramelized onions." And I said, "No, regular onions, chopped." "Ah yes, OK." Then, as he was writing down my order, he mumbled out loud, "Add lettuce and tomato." I said, "No, no tomato. Lettuce, and c-h-o-p-p-e-d o-n-i-o-n-s." "Ah yes, OK, lettuce and tom-, uh, and chopped onion." Then he took down P's order, which was called "La Rosee" (don't ask why) and had mushrooms, caramelized onions, and swiss cheese. One plate of fries to share. We were told that our burgers would take 20 minutes, but that we would get our drinks and fries first. That's fine.

As we sat waiting for our food, we began our critique. P and I are both design freaks - we love and appreciate good design and unique styles, and so we notice everything. I mean everything, even things that most people wouldn't. And we always end up having the exact same comments. For example, the first thing we both said should go was the set of superfluous four panels up on the wall (in the picture above). In general, the interior design was quite nice - I liked certain bits of it. But the overall product was...well...a bit of a clusterfuck, to be honest. You had the whole copper industrial part, which I liked - industrial is always a good look (although it's been done better in Kuwait). Then you had the whole stained glass part, which was also nice, and actually meshed well with the copper. But then you had some walls (not the ones carrying on the copper industrial theme but like the one behind the four panels) that were really tacky. I'm not sure what that design technique is called, but it's where the paint is really textured and rough - but it wasn't done well at all. And it just didn't go with the rest of the place at all. It ruined it.

Then there's the other design aspect - their logo, branding, etc. First of all, their logo is not even worth talking about - I'm pretty sure the person who designed it has absolutely no background in design or anything remotely creative. Then, the colour scheme is totally off. On the logo on the sign outside, they use a bright red and yellow. These same colours are used on their takeaway boxes. However, their menus are maroon and more of a brownish-mustard yellow. Then their placemats are something different altogether - kind of a light brown (for red) and cream (for yellow). The menus themselves were done very cheaply - they were just very bland and felt like laminated paper...kind of like what you'd expect from share3 alma6a3em. The placemats were paper and the design was brown and cream stripes - they just didn't go with anything at all.

Also, and this is a big one, if you're going to put a paragraph of text in the menu (a sort of message from the owner, talking about the history of the hamburger and the reason Burger Hub was created and all that) then at least have someone edit it for you before going to print. I don't expect everyone to have perfect English skills - not at all - but before printing something like a menu for your own restaurant, just let someone who speaks fluent English look it over for you. It wouldn't take more than 10 minutes to edit. One example: "mince-meat" was spelled "mints meat". For a place that specializes in burgers, I found that hilarious. The whole menu was full of little grammatical, spelling, and typographical mistakes. Again, something you'd expect from share3 alma6a3em, but not from the type of place this is trying to be.

By that point, every little thing I found wrong just got to me. For example, they had a little specials menu on each table (by then we had moved to a regular table), which was typed out on red construction paper, laminated. Fine. But, if you're going to have a list of special burgers with special names, you have to at least provide the list of ingredients that comes on each! How the hell am I supposed to know what a "[insert stupid meaningless name here] burger" is? Then, I'm going to have to ask the waiter to tell me what's in each, and all that's going to do is slow down what is already extremely slow and inept service.

Speaking of inept service, guess what my burger came with? That's right - lettuce and tomato, no onions. At that point I decided not to say anything and just eat it. So I ate it. And here's the most important part of this review...the burger. To both me and P, the burger was less than average. I get more pleasure from a McDonald's double-cheeseburger than I did from this. First of all, the meat had too many offensive spices in it. Not the usual good mix of spices - ones that just threw the taste right off. And it just wasn't good quality meat. Then, the bread was...bad. Dry and bland. The overall thing itself just didn't have much taste (other than those damn spices). I asked for mustard hoping it would give it a kick, but even the mustard was bad. The fries were boring and not great. Oh, and we didn't get the fries first like we were told, but with our burgers, and we didn't get our drinks until about two minutes before that (and I was first given a Coke instead of the Diet Coke which I ordered).

Anyway, the final clincher was that the music was way too loud. The music was actually OK. I was just glad they weren't playing trashy R'n'B like most places play, nor did the place have a plasma screen showing J.Lo or Shakira in concert like other small places in Kuwait like to do (think Maki and Fusion). They were playing chillout house - mostly Buddha Bar stuff which I find very cliché and annoying under normal circumstances but which was a relief here, knowing what could have been thoroughly ruining my dining experience. But it was just way too loud for such a small place.

Now, I know most of you are probably thinking, "Damn, they just ripped that place to shreds." And I know that sounds like a mean and unfair thing to do to a small, local business that is trying something new. But let me say why we were so critical. First of all, I think what this guy has done is great (at least I think it's just the one guy whose name was on the menu). OK, so maybe it's kind of copying Burger Boutique, but at least he's investing his money and time and energy into opening a good quality local establishment, trying to break the franchise obsession Kuwaitis have. And he's done a good job - the food concept is great, the interior design is modern and cool, the name is nice, and the place isn't expensive. Also, anyone who knows me knows how much I love, admire, and support small Kuwaiti businesses. But, at the same time, because I so want to see these places succeed, I am more critical of them than I am of places I don't really care about.

This place has tons of potential. They were on the right track - but somewhere along the way they fell short of being great. And what disappoints me is that the areas in which I find Burger Hub to be lacking make me think that their lack of perfection was a result of laziness and perhaps an attempt to cut costs. For example, the bathroom is really nice - dark wood and dull metals - carrying on the industrial theme from the restaurant. But then your eyes fall on the toilet seat itself: bright white porcelain. It's a major eyesore in an otherwise gorgeous bathroom. Why? Why not continue the thought and spend a bit more effort trying to find a toilet seat that matches well? OK, maybe I'm nitpicking here, but I just don't see the logic in it, other than the fact that someone got lazy. Also, the whole branding and printing thing is a disaster (the logo, takeout boxes, menu, placemats). That must have been the result of cost-cutting. But there were definitely areas in which he could have cut some unnecessary costs (like those four ugly panels) and put that money into hiring a freelance designer to do the logo and print materials. The way I see it is, if you're gonna do something, do it as absolutely perfectly as you can. It might take an extra day or week or month, and might cost an extra buck, but if this is your baby, your private business, your brainchild, just do it!

As P and I left we acknowledged the fact that most of the things we found wrong with the place, most people would probably not even notice. We are both perfectionists and are both overly in tune with our senses - sight, sound, and taste, in this case. We appreciate little things that most people overlook, and so we notice the details. And when we see the potential for perfection being obstructed by carelessness, laziness, cheapness, or whatever the case may be, it drives us both up the wall. I'm sure that most people who go to the Burger Hub walk out completely satisfied, visually and gastronomically. And I think that's a good thing - because I'd like to see this place succeed. I would love to see it fix some of its shortcomings, but I think the person/people who created it should be given props for going their own way and taking a risk.

Oh, and they tried to charge me .250 fils for the onions I didn't get.

And, for the record, while most of the service was below average, there was one guy - who I think is the host - who was great. He was very friendly and capable and did a great job. I didn't get his name but he was the only Indian man on staff - at least tonight.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Retail Therapy

I'm not a typical Kuwaiti "name brand" ("marka") type of girl, whatsoever. I have my own style when it comes to clothes and shoes, and it's part of what makes me Me. The most expensive items in my wardrobe are my 14 eyelet teal Doc Martens which cost me nearly £100 and which I absolutely love, and my pair of Seven jeans (which, let's face it, are worth every penny). Other than that, my wardrobe is more than happy being in the student-income-bracket. In London I shop in Covent Garden and Camden Town. In Kuwait I have only ever stepped foot in Villa Moda once, for a party back in the day.

I will admit, however, that I love to engage in a bit of retail therapy every now and then. In London I'm always broke so on the rare occasions that I can actually invest in a new item or two, it's a real treat and it can put me on a high for days. Like when I first bought my Docs above, or my maroon and yellow Converse, or my black Osiris skate shoes. (Funky footwear is my weakness.)

So anyway, having prefaced this post with that bit of information about myself, I would now like to share with you the two newest additions to my wardrobe, both of which I absolutely love, and both of which are just so unbelievably "me", I couldn't have designed them better myself.

First, this necklace was part of my birthday gift from my sister Raine.

I think this is just such a unique and funky piece. First of all, it looks exactly like the turntable I have in my flat in London, only mine is white. Second of all, it perfectly represents a passion that I share with P. And third, I just love vinyls and I think turntables are where it's at. The turntable arm on the necklace actually moves, so you can put it over the vinyl. I usually don't wear much yellow gold but this looks perfect the way it is. It's by Swatch, by the way. I've always loved Swatch.

Second, I bought this bag for myself the other day.

How amazing is this? It's a bag with a black and white picture (in fabric) of the soor (town wall) and one of the old gates of Kuwait on one side, and the old souq circa 1937 on the other. What better bag could a historian carry, I ask you? I got this from a little boutique called "Just Me" on the first floor of Galleria 2000 in Salmiya. The lady in the shop told me that the bag was designed by the owner (a young Kuwaiti woman) and that there was only one like it made. Again, I don't normally wear or carry much brown, but it doesn't really matter - it's gonna become my "everyday" bag in London. It's big enough for me to carry to university, and my PowerBook actually fits inside, funky teal fabric protective cover (made personally for me courtesy of "Edo Rex") and all. I absolutely love it. The price was a bit steep - more expensive than I was expecting it to be, and to be totally honest more than I have ever spent on a bag (all I'll say is, it was less than KD 60). But I decided to just get it. It's a totally unique find, nobody else in the world has this, and the concept is just purely me. And at the same time, I get to support a small Kuwaiti business, which I love doing because it really makes me proud to see young Kuwaitis thinking outside the box and doing something original.

While we're on the topic of acccessories, as an afterthought, I thought I'd share that I just got my ears pierced about two weeks ago. I had them pierced as a kid but they got infected so they closed. Then one day a couple of weeks ago P and I were walking around in Marina Mall and for some reason we decided to stop into Claire's to buy a pair of those magnetic stud earrings for fun so that we could both try them on to see how we'd each look (him with only one - and he looked very sexy, btw!). Then it dawned on me - why don't I try again? So the next day we went to the pharmacy in Jabriya where I'd had them pierced as a kid, and P held my hand as they re-pierced them over the old holes. I must admit, they're so cute! Raine also got me a pair of white gold studs for my birthday to replace the special pharmacy ones (which I had to wear for a week), and I now have to keep these in for about a month. Then, a whole new world of fun is gonna open up for me! Although I don't see myself as a dangly-earring type - I think I'm more of a studs kinda girl. It'll suit my short hair better.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

How many five-year-olds?

I know some of you may have already seen this before but I wanted to post about it here now because P and I were talking about it last night. A good friend and former colleague of mine showed me this thread on a forum last year, and I found it extremely fascinating and hilarious. It is a hypothetical question about a hypothetical scenario, and the thread has lasted for well over a year! The first post in the thread was made in January 2005, and the latest post was just two days ago...which means it's still active! That's how brilliant the question is. So let's discuss this here. (I would, however, like to make a disclaimer up front that I do not mean to offend anyone who might be reading this who might have children, and, in particular, a five-year-old. This is all done in jest, and in fact you might be able to offer us some more insight on the matter! However, if you get easily offended by things, please do not read any further.)

Source: 2+2 Forums

The question: How many five-year-olds could you take on at once?

The specifics:

- You are in an enclosed area, roughly the size of a basketball court. There are no foreign objects.
- You are not allowed to touch a wall.
- When you are knocked unconscious, you lose. When they are all knocked unconscious, they lose. Once a kid is knocked unconscious, that kid is "out."
- I (or someone else intent on seeing to it you fail) get to choose the kids from a pool that is twice the size of your magic number. The pool will be 50/50 in terms of gender and will have no discernable abnormalities in terms of demographics, other than they are all healthy Americans (or in this case, Kuwaitis, which could be frightening!).
- The kids receive one day of training from hand-to-hand combat experts who will train them specifically to team up to take down one adult. You will receive one hour of "counter-tactics" training.
- There is no protective padding for any combatant other than the standard-issue cup.
* The kids are motivated enough to not get scared, regardless of the bloodshed. Even the very last one will give it his/her best to take you down.

So P and I seriously discussed this last night. He instinctively first put his number at around 100, but then after thinking about it realistically and looking over the rules he estimated about 25-35. I'm not quite sure. Considering your average 5-year-old weighs about 40 lbs (well, if we're talking non-Kuwaiti at least), that could be dangerous! But then, as people in the forum said, chances are the kids will forget most of their combat training within a few hours. Also, it'll be hard to get them to really work together to bring you down. After all, they're only five years old and most of them probably have A.D.D. But then again, one swift coupe de boule à la Zidane could knock the wind out of you if the kid came towards you running - especially since its head would reach about to your gut. Ugh. Oh, but actually, to hit your gut you'd have to be facing the kid so you'd see it coming, and so you'd have time to stick your knee out to do some serious damage.

So, yeah, I'm not sure where I'd put my number. I think I have to see/test a five-year-old first before I can decide. Does anybody know how I can get my hands on one to try it out? Like P suggested, we could go around the different kindergartens in Kuwait (you know those ones they have in villas in residential neighbourhoods) and tell the parents we are conducting a sociological experiment and we'd pay them KD 500 to use their kid for the day. Then we could charge KD 1000 to each adult who wanted to try it out so that we could break even.

I think I could handle somewhere between 10 and 20 kids.

I love what one person in this forum suggested about knocking out one kid and then using him/her to knock out the other kids as a kind of sword; I envision holding the kid by the feet and spinning round and round in circles and using the head to knock out the rest. Hmmm. I think out of all the tactics, that's the one I'd go for. If I could do that successfully, then I'd go much higher than 20. Hell, then the sky's the limit!

OK I just did a google image search for "five year olds" and they're really not that big. Also, many of them were quite cute and it's starting to soften me and take the fun out of this, so don't really think about what this all means. Don't picture the kids as pretty, cute, charming children. Picture those really bratty, whiney, sweaty terrors we see running around in restaurants here while we're trying to enjoy a decent meal, and think about how many of those you'd want to take out.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Happy birthday to me!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Lilacs and Buttercups

I first fell in love with the song "Mushaboom" by Feist when I moved to London a year ago. It was one of the songs that I began my life in London to, and along with Belle and Sebastian's "I'm a Cuckoo" (an all time favourite), it's the one song that has remained on my "Streets of London" iPod playlist all year long (which I listen to daily when I'm on the move).

Then last month when we were in Lebanon I discovered that Feist recently released a remix album called "Open Season", with different remixes of several of her best tracks. There were four new versions of "Mushaboom" on the album, the best one being, by far, the remix done by The Postal Service (who, by the way, if you don't know them, are mind-blowingly brilliant). The remix is even better than the original track, which was already a practically perfect, albeit beautifully simple, song. The Postal Service remix has taken things to a whole new level, and the track is by far one of the best pieces of musical perfection I have come across in a very long time (aside from the Postal Service's own stuff, of course).

It's just such a nice, simple, beautiful song. It reminds you that life is not always supposed to be so complicated, so frustrating, and so ugly. The original version is quite upbeat and cheerful. It makes you want to run through fields of green like a wonderful old cliché, or dance in circles on your rooftop at dawn with your arms outstretched as you give your city a great big good morning hug (which was one of the best moments of my life back in DC). In the Postal Service remix, the original tempo of the track is actually slowed down a bit, making it more mellow. It's a tad bit more melancholic, but that just makes it even better because now it showers you with such a bitter-sweet feeling that you don't quite know what to do with yourself. And the fact that it will now always remind me of our time in Lebanon right before this hideous war started makes it all the more bitter-sweet for me.

I guess the main thing that makes me never tire of this song, both the original and the remix, is the lyrics. They just perfectly describe the way I think about life - about my future, and my life with P. The beautiful shining light at the end of the tunnel that we still have yet to reach the end of. This song is perfectly us...this is me and P laying in the grass with our heads together, fantasizing about all the little details of our upcoming life together, as we so regularly do.

Go ahead and listen along to "Mushaboom (The Postal Service Remix)" by Feist.

Helping the kids out of their coats
But wait the babies haven't been born
Unpacking the bags and setting up
And planting lilacs and buttercups

But in the meantime I've got it hard
Second floor living without a yard
It may be years until the day
My dreams will match up with my pay

Old dirt road (mushaboom mushaboom)
Knee deep snow (mushaboom mushaboom)
Watching the fire as we grow (mushaboom mushaboom)

I got a man to stick it out
And make a home from a rented house
And we'll collect the moments one by one
I guess that's how the future's done

How many acres how much light
Tucked in the woods and out of sight
Talk to the neighbours and tip my cap
On a little road barely on the map

Old dirt road (mushaboom mushaboom)
Knee deep snow (mushaboom mushaboom)
Watching the fire as we grow (mushaboom mushaboom)

Old dirt road (mushaboom mushaboom)
Rambling rose (mushaboom mushaboom)
Watching the fire as we grow
Well I'm sold...