Saturday, September 30, 2006

Adventure Island Revisited

This is probably the first time I write a post asking my fellow bloggers for (technical) help.

Fractal00's latest post got me thinking. I'm not at all into modern day video games of any sort. My gaming identity ends with Namco's Galaga and Nintendo's Adventure Island, both of which my sisters and I used to play in the 80s on one of those old school Nintendo consoles. Of course there was also lots of Pacman, Super Mario Bros., and Tetris (and in the earlier years, Atari). But Galaga and Adventure Island were our favourites. In DC there is a pool hall called Georgetown Billiards that has an old vintage Galaga arcade machine. When I first discovered it, I went nuts. My friends and I used to go there quite often to play pool (which I also love), and I would change like $5 into quarters and just sit there for hours playing Galaga (OK, so sometimes it was $10). To be honest, there were even some days when I would be shopping or running errands around Georgetown alone, and would wander in there and just play for over an hour. Then a couple of years ago I was back in DC visiting friends and I found a dream-come-true in Urban Outfitters. Some company (don't know if it was actually Namco and Atari or some third party) had released a series of joysticks with built-in vintage games that you can just plug into your TV and play. I bought a Namco one that had Galaga, Ms. Pacman, and a car racing game, and an Atari one with a bunch of old Atari games.

Now, to show you just how out-of-date I am when it comes to these things, I have never once in my entire life touched a PlayStation or Xbox. Ever. I don't know why, but I just don't find the idea of modern games as fun as those old two-dimensional games. (Oh wait, there was brief period of my life when I used to play Street Fighter all the time at an arcade in Italy. But anyway...)

Two years ago I mentioned to Stallion that I used to love playing Adventure Island. Then one day he shows up with his laptop and the game downloaded for me to play. I was ecstatic! I hadn't played it since I was a kid, and it brought back so many memories. I started to remember where all the hidden eggs were, when something would shoot out at you from nowhere, where the hidden passageways were, etc. I remember asking him how he got it and he began explaining it to me, but I started to get lost so just decided to play on his computer instead. But now, after reading fractal00's latest post, it got me thinking about Adventure Island again. I would love to get it to play on my PowerBook. So here's where my request for help comes in.

I consider myself to be pretty technologically savvy. When I need to learn something new, I feel lost at first, but once I throw myself into it (with a bit of guidance at the beginning), I pick it up fine. So anyway, is there anyone out there who would like to take a bit of time to explain to me how I can go about downloading Adventure Island onto my Mac (preferably for free but we'll see)? I know I could just do a bit of research online myself and figure it out but in this instance I'm going to be lazy and hope that someone wants to help me out! Also, once I do download it, is it possible to get some sort of (simple!) joystick to plug into my PowerBook to play from? Am I sounding like a total idiot to those of you who know what you're doing?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

People Gotta Lighten Up

I want to write about something that has really upset me regarding this blog. I just received comments on my post from July about my review of the Paul van Dyk gig in Beirut. In my post I pointed out the things that we didn't like about it - about the event itself. About PVD's set and how it wasn't what we were used to from him, the heat, the difference between rave crowds today and how it used to be in the earlier days, all the trash on the floor, etc. I was pointing these things out to show the areas where the event could improve. In the comments section there then ensued a lively discussion about raves, trance music, DJ's, etc. Then suddenly today I received three hostile comments calling me a racist, anti-Arab, anti-Lebanese, and other insulting things like that. I can take criticism, but I will not tolerate that.

First of all, these two kids failed to realize that I am Arab (they called me American), and that I am also part Lebanese. Second of all, why do people assume that if you are criticizing something as small as a one-night event, you are criticizing a people as a whole?? If they think I don't "qualify" to offer my opinion, I also spoke to many Lebanese people who were there that night who said the exact same things that I did. Were they also being anti-Lebanese racists? What I have realized through this blog and reading other blogs is that people just do not see the difference between offering constructive criticism, and being political. People just love to jump on the defensive and call people anti-this and anti-that. I've seen it in other blogs too. When a non-Kuwaiti mentions something he doesn't like in Kuwait, he then gets all these comments from people telling him to get the hell out. I just don't understand that mentality (which is usually given by people who are too young to understand how to discuss things without getting hysterical). It's so childish to get all riled up and hostile about something as silly as a rave - especially when our region has so many other critical things we should be concentrating on.

Anyway, I've just come to realize that people will always attack you for your own opinions, even in as informal a setting as a blog. If you identify an area for improvement, they will call you a racist. What these people fail to realize, is that it is precisely us who should identify the areas for improvement in our own region, because we are the ones who should be working to make things better for ourselves. I'm not going to stick my head in the sand and just because I am an Arab say that everything in the Middle East is the best in the world. No, when I see things that can be better, I'm going to point them out. And that's what separates people like me from people like that. They will never make a difference in our region because they immediately get on the defensive and can't take criticism. I, on the other hand, will always have my eyes open for areas of improvement to help make my country, my region, and my people absolutely perfect. I will be working for the rest of my life to help this region rise to the top - in every little thing. Socially, politically, economically, and yes, even when it comes to something as seemingly trivial as a rave. Because if we don't strive to be better, who will? And to those who want to attack people for wanting our region to be perfect - it is you who I consider to be the racist.

In the meantime, I've realized that people just can't handle an insignificant little opinion, and for that I'm just going to just stop offering one. It's not worth it because this evidently is not a forum for discussion, but rather one to attack and insult. If people want to be hostile, let them do it in their own space. I prefer my blog to be about discussion, debate, sharing ideas and opinions, and even individual criticism about me if people so choose. But outright slander by being called a racist simply because I thought there was too much trash on the floor or because I thought it was silly that so many people were wearing sunglasses indoors - that I will not tolerate.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


I officially enrolled into my PhD programme today. The morning was quite hectic - taking care of all the logistical stuff. But the advantage I had was that I'm a returning student so I got to skip quite a bit. It's actually a strange feeling, going from the MA to PhD programmes, because so many people have left, and so many new people have come in, and I just sit somewhere in between. Nearly all the MA students I knew have either gone to other schools (everyone follows a supervisor), or have gone to work. So it's strange being a returning student without knowing many people, and at the same time enrolling in a new programme and having to go through it all over again.

Anyway, the second part of the day was great. I had a nice long meeting with my research supervisor (same professor who supervised my MA), and we set up our regular one-on-one meetings this year for once every two weeks, starting this coming Monday. I then met with the professor who will be conducting the history research methodology seminar, who is new to the university and who I absolutely loved. He defaults as a member of my research committee, which I am ecstatic about because I really got along well with him. Then later in the day there was a reception for all PhD students, and I finally bumped into someone who was with me last year - a girl who I really like both personally and academically, and who I am very happy is going to be in my programme.

What struck me most while I was in the history department today, meeting with faculty and saying hi to people, was how shockingly different the whole experience already is. As one of the professors said during the reception today, we are now in between being students and being academics - and you really do feel it. It's life on a whole different plane, and I love it. You feel that your relationship with the university has changed. I think it's probably most detectable when you attend the same place for the MA and PhD. Then you can really compare the difference. You feel different when you talk to faculty, and to each other. Chatting with one of my professors from last year in the corridor, exchanging stories about our research experiences over the summer - me for my dissertation and him for his latest book - I just felt that much closer on an academic level. I feel like I have climbed up such a huge step since May/June, and I am so ready to get started on this now.

This is what I love. This is why I'm here. I am looking forward to this year more than I ever have to anything I have ever done in my life. It's going to be a tremendous amount of work, but I'm excited about that. This really is a labour of love...it has to be, otherwise you really won't be able to survive. And I'm more than ready for it.

But in the meantime...I have just under one more week of pure freedom!

* Just to clarify, in the British system "enrollment" as an activity is more or less equivalent to registration and orientation in the American system, but, in the case of my uni, without the luxury of an online system. It's basically the process of letting them know you're here, paying and/or finalizing scholarship info, collecting handbooks, getting your ID if you're a new student, and finally registering for classes if in a taught programme. There are also all the other "orientation" types of activities for students who are new to the university. In my case, as a research student who is also returning, I just had to wait in a long queue to activate my file, double-check my scholarship details, and pick up my research student logbook. The rest is all done directly in my department. Nothing actually starts, however, until next week.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Early Morning Lullaby

My current favourite song is "12:59 Lullaby" by Bedouin Soundclash. They're a really good Canadian band (as so many really cool musicians are), that sort of fuses reggae with indie rock. This song is the first release off their third album "Street Gospels," to be released in 2007. It's just such a wonderful song. Their vocalist Jay Malinowski is one of those singers whose voice just works so well for my ears - like Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie/The Postal Service, although the two have very different sounds. Ben's voice is angelic, while Jay's is more raw, yet equally sweet. But the way he sounds in this latest song just tugs at my heartstrings. This is the kind of song you watch the sun rise over the city to. Like the best of them, it is bitter-sweet. You're not quite sure if you're happy, or sad - most probably a little bit of both. It makes you yearn for something - it makes you miss with all your heart.

You can listen to "12:59 Lullaby" here.

"It’s suddenly early morning
The only sound is my breathing
As I lay awake not knowing
Where it will be I’m going
But I know
Time moves slow..."

Friday, September 22, 2006

London's Kuwaitis, and Me

The other night I was on a bus heading west up to Kilburn to visit my friends' new flat. As we were passing through Oxford Street a guy came on and sat next to me and asked in a very strong accent if the bus passed in front of Selfridges. I said yes, and was sure the guy was Arab, and very possibly Gulfie. Now, I had my "Kuwait bag" with me, and it was laying on my lap, soor side up. Anyway, the guy started chatting to me, telling me that he was tired and that he had walked more today than he had ever walked before. I just nodded and smiled and gave some stupid reply like "Oh, really?" and then looked out the window. I didn't want to be rude, but at the same time I have become your average Londoner that doesn't always enjoy making small-talk on public transport - especially not with a potential Gulfie (damn my iPod for dying on me!). Anyway, I put my hand over the part of my bag that says "Kuwait gate" in small print, and tried to obstruct the view of the picture (of course I wasn't about to put it on the grimy bus floor). A few minutes into the ride he started chatting again. He told me that "in his country" the shops stayed open from 10am to 10pm, unlike in London (it was about 8pm and the shops on Oxford Street were slowly closing). Anyway, then he said that this was his first time in the UK, and that he was sent here on a course from his work. I kept nodding and smiling and giving my one-word-feigned-interest answers, all the while realizing that this guy was definitely khaleeji. He kept going on about how he worked for a petroleum company (the signs didn't need to be more obvious than that!), and the projects he's worked on and places he's been sent to. I kept trying to be polite while simultaneously trying to end the conversation by fiddling with my phone, while desperately trying to cover up my bag. Then, as he was finishing off a sentence with the phrase "my country", he added, "...Kuwait...I am from Kuwait." I looked him straight in the face and just said, "Oh yeah, really? That's nice." And you know those moments when you feel like you're going to explode into a childish, hysterical fit of laughter? I'm amazed that I was able to keep such a straight face in that moment. And as I said my innocent "that's nice" comment, I picked up the bag of groceries I had on the floor that I was taking up to my friends' place for dinner and proceeded to plop it on my lap right on top of the soor, while maintaining eye-contact so he wouldn't notice. All he had to do was look down and the jig would have been up! As he continued talking, to avoid laughing and to try to get out of the situation I sent an sms to my friend Abs who is in town to "Please call me!" Then the bus stopped outside of Bond Street station and he asked if he could get a superman costume for his son at the Disney Store across the street and I said I doubted it because Superman wasn't done by Disney. Then I added, "This is the stop for Selfridges, by the way, if that's where you're going?" and I pointed to where it was (it really was the right stop!) and he quickly thanked me and jumped off.

Poor guy. First time in London, and he had absolutely no idea that (probably) the first bus he went on, he happened to be sitting next to none other than a Kuwaiti girl! I really just did not feel like being a Kuwaiti at that moment - too many questions, too much overly-jubilant small-talk. I know it might sound mean of me to have withheld information like that from him - which in such a point blank circumstance is tantamount to lying - but I just really didn't feel in the mood.

I've had more run-ins with Kuwaitis this week than I have had in my entire year in London. I never see Kuwaitis much in my part of town because they tend to stay west of Oxford Circus. But I also happen to live on a street with a very popular restaurant that the Gulfies love. I am actually glad for the presence of the place because it has rescued my street (which is nothing more than a glorified alley) from being really dodgy at night! The rest of the street/alley is dotted with really dingy pubs and a couple of Spanish tapas bars that have quasi-hidden entrances and potential mafia attachments. (Let me say here, though, that despite the dark shadows, I love my street - it's one of the funkiest streets in London, in my opinion.) Anyway, so the other night I had my window open and I suddenly heard a loud "shukran 3ammy" ("thank you, uncle") from the street downstairs. I peered out my window and saw a family of Kuwaitis getting into a Mercedes directly beneath me. I propped my elbows on the window sill and watched them chat happily in a language that only I could understand for miles, and in that moment, at that safe distance, I missed my fellow countrymen and women. Until my next encounter.

Later in the week I went downstairs at around 8pm clad in jeans, a sweatshirt I sleep in, and sneakers to grab something to drink from Sainsbury's. I mention my outfit because as I opened my front door I got the attention of a chickie-dee who was standing a few feet away talking loudly on her mobile in full-on Kuwaiti, decked to the nines, and who gave me a disapproving (read: bitchy) once- (read: twice-) over as I passed by. "Maskeeeeena," she probably said to herself, thinking how happy she was to be staying in South Ken and not in the (comparative) slums like this poor girl, dressed like a boy. Little did she know, the girl was a Kuwaiti too. All that disapproval and disdain in her eyes...just imagine the looks I would have gotten if she knew I was Kuwaiti! I've had one or two other instances since I've lived here where I've passed Kuwaitis on my street on my way to or from my front door, and I actually find it hilarious, and a bit empowering. I'll stare them right in the face and they'll have no idea, because 1) I don't look Kuwaiti, and 2) no Kuwaiti in their right mind would live anywhere other than an SW or NW postcode.

Note: I'd never heard of the restaurant before moving to the street and it was a few months after moving in that I discovered the Kuwaitis love it. It's official - you can't escape them. For such a small population, we certainly have explored the depths of the globe.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Soundtrack of Our Beginning

"Don't waste your time on me you're already the voice inside my head...I miss you, miss you." ("I Miss You" - Blink 182)

"But the thing that makes me love you...Is the unforgettable smell of your skin." ("Walkabout" - The Sugarcubes)

"I lie in my bed - totally still...My eyes wide open - I'm in rapture...I don't believe this - I'm in love..." ("Hit" - The Sugarcubes)

"You left a world of memories...Capacious as the sea...Between eternity and time...Your consciousness and me." ("Legacy" - Push) - (lyrics are a twist of Emily Dickinson's poem "You Left Me, Sweet, Two Legacies")

"I forgot that I might see...So many beautiful things...I forgot that I might need...To find out what life could bring." ("Beautiful Things" - Andain)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Myth Indeed

On Saturday night I went to see the show Qaddafi: A Living Myth at the Coliseum. The production has been categorized as an opera/musical - or, to put it more accurately, an "anti-musical", as its creator Steve Chandra Savale has described it. Steve and the Asian Dub Foundation collaborated with the English National Opera, and Production Director David Freeman, to put together this mixture of theatre, music, dance, and film - and, of course, political commentary.

In terms of the music, I thought the production was fantastic. To combine the ENO orchestra, the Asian Dub Foundation band, Arab musicians playing oud and violin, with a pre-recorded backing track playing drum'n'bass and breakbeats - it was definitely a musical collision, that worked. Also, the dialogue of the play was delivered by the actors in a not-quite-spoken, not-quite-sung style - I guess the best way to describe it would be operatic rap. The text had its own rhyme and rhythm that complimented the music well, and the libretto writer Shan Khan has described it as "Shakespearian hip-hop." The dance choreography (yes, there was dance!) fused very well with the rest of the production as well - it was very urban and it definitely got you pumped up. The set was very simple, the main feature being large sheets of white paper on the back wall projecting video images throughout, which was a very nice touch. There was quite often a cameraman on stage filming Qaddafi, just like in real life, and at those times the live video that the cameraman was filming would project off the sheets behind (again, just like on regular Libyan TV). As for the acting, great job all around. Ramon Tikaram did an absolutely fabulous job playing Qaddafi. He got the mannerisms of the man down perfectly. Martin Turner as Ronald Reagan was also fantastic - you really felt like punching him in the chin - as was the rest of the cast.

On to what the production is actually "about". The show follows the life of Muammar Qaddafi - his background, rise to power, and descent into paranoid dictator - as well as the history of Libya, including the discovery of oil in the 1950s, the rise of the monarchy, Qaddafi's military coup of 1969, the nationalization of Libya's oil in the early 70s, the American raid in 1986, the Pan Am crash over Lockerbie in 1988, up to the meeting between Blair and Qaddafi in 2003. The opera neither glorifies Qaddafi, nor does it categorically vilify him. It is not controversial in that respect. Rather, it is about the myth of Qaddafi - almost like his own vision of himself.

Running in parallel to the biographic history lesson is the not-so-subtle political message. Basically, what the production shows is that dictators like Qaddafi do not simply form out of nothing, and oftentimes they actually begin with a solid vision in mind. In Qaddafi's case, his vision was to carry on Nasser's objectives and unite the Arab world, to nationalize Libya's oil and release the region from the hegemonic grip of neo-colonialism (also known as the "seven sisters" - the seven major oil companies vying for power in the region), and even to emancipate women from the abuses of a patriarchal society. However, although his vision might have started off positive, it was not long before paranoia set in, and his fear of being assassinated and overthrown began to overpower his will to do good. His policies and rulings came to be riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies, and his power descended into a ruthless cult of personality.

However, what the play also shows is how the superpowers of the world play the game, and how their hegemonic self-serving policies contribute, in fact lead directly to, the rise of such figures in the Arab world (and elsewhere). Reagan features regularly in the show, and one of the most memorable lines delivered by Ramon Tikaram as Qaddafi was about how there was no difference between Reagan and himself. According to Savale: "In a way Reagan and Qaddafi needed each other to support their own myths, and the piece explores the way leaders get trapped by their own myths." But Qaddafi knows how to play the game right back...he knows how to serve his own interests. Although he started off his career under the umbrella of Nasserist pan-Arabism, most Arab leaders labeled him as insane, crazy, and a joke. After years of nobody taking him seriously as an Arab, Qaddafi decided to turn away from being "Arab" and focus on Africa instead.

Another extremely memorable line, arguably the climax of the night, that Qaddafi says to the audience, is: "If I wasn't here, you'd need an actor to play me." The world will always need a Qaddafi. This production attempts to explore the man behind the myth, and the myth behind the man. Overall, I give it two thumbs up.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I have an MA, and some cool new stuff

I turned in my dissertation today. It feels oddly anti-climactic. You would think that we would all be out celebrating tonight but I think everyone is just too tired and overwhelmed. I finished editing mine a couple of days ago and received very good feedback from my supervisors earlier in the week, so it actually hasn't been as stressful a week for me as it has been for most others. It does feel good though. I now have two weeks off before my PhD programme begins.

After we turned in our dissertations at 11am, my close friend N (who some of you know) and I went for coffee with another friend and "Abs" (a close friend from Kuwait who is in town with family here). We sat outside enjoying the feeling of being free, with the chilly breeze of autumn rushing over us. After a couple of hours out there, we went for lunch at my favourite burger joint near my flat in Fitzrovia. After lunch Abs and I decided to do a bit of shopping, during which I proceeded to engage in a bit of West Soho post-dissertation-retail-therapy. I am extremely pleased with my purchases of the day - which will probably be my main purchases of the month seeing as I can't afford to do much shopping most of the time!

As I've mentioned before, funky footwear is my weakness (not in the typical girly-girl sense, but rather cool trainers and boots). Anyway, on our way to lunch I passed by a girl sitting on the front steps of a shop on Windmill Street and I immediately fell in love with her shoes. About an hour later Abs and I were on Carnaby Street and as we passed by the Vans store I saw the exact pair but in another colour in the window and so we went in. They didn't have the colour I'd seen so we left, but then when we entered Kingly Court we saw that Vans had an upstairs so we went back in. And there they were!

I tried them on and fell in love with them on the spot. I usually don't like skater shoes that are made for girls - most brands only make girl's shoes in pink and purple and other colours I don't like so I've had to resort to finding really small men's pairs. But these were the first girly ones I loved.

Next stop, a shop called Lazy Oaf, also in Kingly Court. There I bought a bag...

...and a hoodie sweatshirt.

The straps of the bag are my favourite teal blue. And the sweatshirt is because I am my P's "cerise." The sleeves of the sweatshirt are a bit "on-purpose" short because they use children's sizes.

All in all, a good day both academically and retail-wise.

While we're at it, a couple of days ago Abs and I were in Convent Garden and I bought this coffee thermos from Octopus, one of my favourite insane little stores. Those of you who know me will get it.

I plan on using it to smuggle coffee into the library this year. Click here to see what it looks like open.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Elle est partit, mais elle reviendra - a post by "P"

The weirdest feeling I get is when she leaves - I can't really describe it. It's painful and sad and dark, but at the same time, there is a small good feeling inside hidden in between those painful ones. It's the fact of knowing that she is going to be back soon enough, and, best of all, that being apart during this period is for the good of both of us. It is one of the hardest and yet most important things a person must go through - building and setting up your life in order for you to live happily and comfortably, and to make it last forever.

I am not into writing but my excessive need for self-expression forces me to put this into words. Hugging and cuddling and staring into her eyes and passionate moments are not enough to describe my love for her so at this moment I decided to write it down, with a hope that it will show a part of how I feel. I hope it works.

I think that one of the reasons why a couple sticks together for a lifetime is because it takes a lifetime to describe your love and share it with the other person, and show them what you are all about and how you feel towards them. Words and actions and gestures are the most common methods, but they are slow. I shouldn't be complaining about that because somehow it's great that this is how slow it is...because you get to spend so much time trying to talk, express, write, draw, sketch, do, act, share, show, describe that love of yours, and to reveal that final beautiful sculpture that we pass on to the world through our love and through and to our children.

As a designer, the best way to express myself is to actually design, illustrate, sketch, and draw. I reveal so much in my artwork that I cannot produce when I talk or write. And yet the most fascinating thing is that I am still unable to actually draw or design an artwork that can fully or partially complete the image that I want to show - there is so much I want to tell her and show her, to the extent that the biggest piece of paper or canvas on Earth would not be enough to draw on. If we take it from the point of view of "size doesn't matter", I am still not capable of sitting and starting something because of a "fear" I have inside of me that I am not going to do it perfectly - because what I feel is perfect, whether that word is true or not. The same thing applies if I want to compose music or sounds for her.

I believe this is all good and normal. I know that I am not the only person striving to reach this perfect description and expression. She will help - she does, everyday...every moment we spend together or while being away...every laugh and every tear, adds to our sculpture a touch of beauty and helps in producing the perfect artwork. As much as I have self-confidence in my artistic skills and knowledge, I cannot but honestly say that I am not able to complete this masterpiece alone. I need her help with it, and it is never going to be perfect unless we do it together.

So now, while she is away (my cerise, mamaaaa!), I gave her a brush and all the tools she needs to sculpt and draw, alone, and I will be doing the same here. And everytime she is back we will merge our work together and get a splendid image that we will add to our book of life that we are writing together.

As I told her before, what we are going through right now is like creating a soundtrack. We get the right elements together - we compose and write and shape the best sound lines that fit in perfect harmony with each other. It is a long and hard process, but the end results are surely beautiful. Once done, we hit "play" and we get to hear it, enjoy it, and pass it on to others to listen to and get inspired from.