31 March 2006

The souq, train-wreck karaoke, and 5000 bottles of wine

Well, I finally have some time to sit and make a blog entry from Bahrain. I have been here five days now, and the first three were at a trade show and thus insanely busy and tiring. Being 10 hours off from SHG has made communication erratic and not as fulfilling as I would hope: When he is waking up I am beat. When I am up and shiny, he’s ready for bed. *sigh*. But I will be home in Texas in a week! Yay!

The Trade Show

The show went well, though I came basically to provide expert support for operations in the Gulf Region and thus did not get too much for my own territory of US/Canada. I did get some good leads for Europe. It’s all for the company as a whole, and that is what is important. I am amazed at how many people I know. I come to this little rock in the Arabian Gulf and wind up running into lost colleagues and folks I have worked with and current customers. The show hours were long so I was pretty wiped each evening. Not to mention I was periodically ready to choke a couple of my fellow staff.

The Souq

Wednesday (so, “Friday” here b/c of their weekend being Thu/Fri) evening, I wandered off to the souq (market) to just soak up the whole thing. This is still a third world country, except with Ferraris. I really love the Middle East, and one of my favorite things to do is to go to the souq. It’s just madness. Especially the old souq, with narrow streets, food vendors, shops with trinkets, clothes, jewelry, local crafts, and CRAP. Lots of CRAP. Bahrain is a melting pot and crossroads of the Gulf Region: less than 1/2 the people here are Bahraini. Most are Arabic or Indian. So the souq here is extra fun. It is just like in a movie. I found the trinkets I wanted and spent about 3 hours just wandering and exploring and eating, soaking up the smells (not all good!) and sounds and sights. I especially love haggling with the sellers of stuff: You want what for that? 2 dinar!? [$5 for a linen scarf] Never! Look at me! Do I look rich? I will give you 750 fil at most! 1 dinar 500? No! I will find it elsewhere, you are not giving me the lowest price in all of the souq! I’m leaving! OK, 1 dinar, sold. And put it in a bag!

Train-wreck Karaoke

After the souq, I went to an expatriate-dominated “pub” frequented by Saudis (they come across the causeway for the weekend to drink and fuck - prostitution is big here). There are several of these pups around due to all the expatriates and the cross-roads thing. It was the night that the notorious (among-expats) Thai calypso/salsa/north African/Indian Bollywood band was playing. OH MY GOD. What odd music! Then came the dancers, who broke into this Brittany Spears-like gyrating/grinding to the music. I thought the Saudis, in full white-robes were going to cum. Seriously. Then came train-wreck karaoke. The principle: A video plays properly – tonight only Shania Twain (cool!) and Shakira (Cool, but she has become such a whore), both I guess providing good fantasy value for the Saudis. Then the same fucking song is sung by some drunk European woman. Oh, it was a train wreck. After two songs, back to the band. After three songs, back to Karaoke. I got hammered on Heineken on draught and Jaegermeister shots bought by a scarey 400 yr old Brit for several of us. She invited me and another guy back to her home for a “nightcap”, so I excused myself to pee and trotted back to my hotel room.

Hanging with Friends

Last night, my good friend G, who is in charge of our office here, had myself and some friends over to his apartment. I really like his wife, she is really sweet and a true Parisian – always so welcoming. The food was awesome, including fresh cheese from France brought by somebody else from our office for G on his way to the convention. The people were really interesting, and it made for good conversation. All French, and truly considerate to speak only English all night. After a while it came to the topic of what I do for a living (they only knew me as G’s friend here on business), so I told them in 50 words or less, and then politely asked what they did? Well, one guy is the chief trainer of the King of Bahrain’s horses. Wow. His wife is a finance attorney. The other guy works in Riyadh Saudi Arabia and spends weekdays there, weekends here. He is director of a Belgian arms manufacturing facility there dedicated to the Saudi government. Oh my. His wife is a financial attorney as well. So there I am, with all these exotic (at least, to me) people who are really nice, down-to-earth people. At the end of the evening arms-guy insisted on driving me back to the hotel – oh NO, no taxi for you! Like any drunk person, I had no sense of how drunk he was. Did you know that a 2006 Ferrari can go from 0-230 km/hour on a city street in about 1 second? I do now.

Today, I went to the beach with G and his wife, meeting same friends there, and more. 1/2 of Bahrain is a military base, and the other half has one beach, at the Ritz Carlton, which you have to pay $50 for as a guest of a member of the club. Sheeesh! But wow, it was swank. It was great to be at the beach. The water has such a calming effect on me. What was funny was that even though I thought the dinner guests thought I was interesting last night, today when they saw my tattoos I was far more interesting: But you look so clean cut and vanilla! I told them it’s the quiet ones you have to worry about, which they did not get until I managed to get the point across in French. It must have been the beer and sun that helped me to do that.

There was one guy there (not at dinner the night before, but at drinkies after we came off the beach) who did not really seem to like me, as if I care. He asked where in Paris I lived, and I told him, and he made a point of saying, “Oh, my 5,000 bottle collection of wine is stored there, at…”. Whatever, I thought. I have SHG.