Saturday, May 28, 2016

Looking Forward to the "Someday"

As a crazy traveler himself, the author is quite fond of trading travel stories with fellow travelers met anywhere, for short-term or long-term.  Talking about travel stories is especially exciting when the person or people being spoken to has been to the same destinations as the author.  But asking them about their impressions of the same places, the author can gain whole new perspectives that he did not acquire firsthand during his own travels to those places, while giving himself another, second opportunities to savor the beauty and greatness of those destinations, days, months, and even years after the actual travels happened.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Hassle of Money Changing in the Middle East as a Reflection of the Regional Fractures

The author is quite used to having the ease of currency exchange as an expected convenience. In particular, he is quite used to the situation in Asia, where currency exchanges in all countries nearly always operate with no less than 15 currencies, taking in the standard set of hard currencies (USD, Euro, British pounds, Swiss francs) while making available practically all currencies of East and Southeast Asia, barring only those with small/closed economies (Cambodia, Laos, East Timor, to name a few).

Saturday, May 21, 2016

How Much Role Can the UN Play in the Reconciliation of Conflicting Parties?

In supposedly war-torn Cyprus, the United Nations headquarters is aptly located in a bombed out hotel.  During the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Ledra Palace Hotel, one of the best in Cypriot capital of Nicosia, at the time, was on the receiving end of the constant barrages.  With the hotel situated directly on the UN-mandated "Green Line" that separated the city's northern Turkish districts from the southern Greek zones, the 1974 war saw it become the very frontlines of devastating military conflict that left millions internally displaced in its aftermath.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Assessing the Risks of Flying Egyptair on the Last Leg of a Journey Home

Another day, another plane crash.  This time with Egyptair over the Mediterranean.  Like the times of old, global media wasted no time in jumping with their various versions of speculations and conspiracy theories.  Now everyone flying the general region is all tensed up as TV coverage repeat the videos of crying family members and terse official statements from the Egyptian government.  Like the fiasco faced by Malaysian Airlines after two crashes, the company's image and revenues are both bound to suffer, a true misfortune to the first commercial airlines of the Middle East.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Still-Unending Stream of Jewish Immigration to Israel

"Oh, I am from (Country A or B or C), but I am Jewish and just got to Israel as a new immigrant."  This was one of the oft-repeated lines from self-introductions when the author spent his Wednesday night in Tel Aviv mingling with the local expat working crowd in one of the city's high-end beach bars.  "I still need to settle down, take those Hebrew lessons, and find a job, but so far it is great," the new immigrants would mention, quite hopeful of their situations in a completely new country for many of them despite their Jewish heritage.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Effortful Friendliness of a Militarized Country in Perpetual Danger

This blog previously described Singapore as a country perpetually insecure but achieved prosperity nonetheless.  To say that Israel is the Middle Eastern equivalent of Singapore in this aspect may easily draw agreements from the local populace.  Despite peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, the country still face attacks from Hezbollah and Hamas, and face threats from likes of Iran and ISIS further afield.  "To defend the country," here, is not just an empty patriotic statement taught to students in school, it is a very real duty required of every citizen.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Does the Lack of Public Transport Benefit the Tourism Industry?

For a country that is relatively economically developed compared to some of its neighbors, Jordan does pretty terribly in one area: the provision of comprehensive and timely public transport.  Some of the country's population centers are served by minibuses, but they are often available during daylight hours and leave only when full.  For tourist destinations not near any towns of significant size, there may or may not be a couple of buses a day at odd hours.  For the traveler with limited funds and time, Jordan might as well be the least convenient location to travel in the general region.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Egypt: the Sick Man of the Arab World?

As he came in from Amman's North Bus Station to his hotel for the night, the author got into a quick conversation with the taxi driver getting him to his destination.

"Where are you coming in from," the driver, in his fifties, asked in perfectly proficient English.

"Oh, just came in from Egypt," the author replied, continuing the conversation with a rather light-hearted remark: "it is quite different from here."

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Country Unapologetic about Its Perpetual State of Cash Shortage

On his way out of Egypt, the author goes to the foreign exchange counter at Cairo Airport to get his Egyptian Pounds changed into Jordanian Dinar for the next leg of the journey.  It is a transaction that cannot be any more mundane for banks at the international terminal of a country’s main international gateway.  As the author goes up to the bank counter in the departure, he gets a blank stare and from the guy behind the counter.  Before the author opens his mouth, the guy harshly says, “No."  

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Ill-Paid Should Not be Guardians of Antiquities

On paper, the rules for tourists at Luxor's famed Valley of Kings seem pretty strict.  No photos inside or outside the tombs, no speaking or even fast walking inside, and definitely no touching of any walls.  The reason is plain and simple: after 3000 years sealed underground, the world is lucky to just see the colorful wall painting of the royal tombs at all; the paintings are so fragile that anything that can possibly damage it must be avoided.  The strict rules, at least in theory, are the main ways to keep the paintings alive for posterity while keeping the tourists coming.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Should Being “Polite” and “Nice” be Part of Efficient, Professional Customer Service?

The Lebanese, especially the men, are not a people conducive to smiling.  Many seem to be keen on maintaining a sense of personal gravitas through almost a poker face, staring down others in serious expressions that may easily frighten the clueless.  Any smile that come out of such situation probably borders more on the sneer to the point of ridicule, rather than anything that can remotely be taken as courtesy or congeniality.  If anything, smiling between strangers should be avoided in certain cases, for fear that it is taken as a personal offence in disguise.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Young Female Beirutis' Sexy Fashion Sense: A Resilient Sign of Liberalism in a Region of Religious Fundamentalism

Being in Beirut, it is just too easy for one to forget for a moment that the sources of some of the Middle East's most violent religious conflicts are but a few hundred kilometers away.  While ISIS, Hamas, and to a lesser extent, Hezbollah, impose their versions of religious orthodoxy on a hapless local population, Beirutis are still out in force, displaying their socially liberal tendencies that is increasingly one the wane in the region.  One of the most visible, and beautiful, ways for Beirutis to express that freedom, is through how they dress.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Deliberate Invisibility of an Ignored Minority

On his way to Beirut to begin his two-week journey across the Middle East, the author notices an interesting phenomenon at the now-too-familiar waiting areas of Addis airport.  Standing between the author and the boarding gate for the flight to Beirut are 40-some young Ethiopian women, getting their work permits confirmed by the airport officials before preparing themselves for what seems to all, their first-ever flights.  All seemed nervous, clueless as to what is happening around them, and surely uncertain of what awaits them in the completely foreign country they will head to.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Unmissable Significance of Visual Praise

Back in those undergrad years, a common refrain among the author's classmates were the sheer pointlessness of paying such high prices for education.  In that process, the college diploma, or as everyone called it, "a piece of paper bought with four years of life and tens of thousands of dollars," was consistently butt of jokes.  Even to this day, the author's diploma sits inside a folder in his cabinet, occasionally brought out to serve as paperwork for visa, grad school, or job applications, but never framed or hung on the wall, like it was intended to be upon its creation and reception.