The KSA - A Once In A Lifetime Experience

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November 6th 2010
Published: November 21st 2010
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The Golden Grapes

Luckily for me my time in Saudi happened to coincide with the 4th annual Golden Grape awards held on the compound. This consisted of a number of different people from inside and outside of the compound. I arrived at 7pm with my with the scene nicely set around the pool with catering provided and the designated drinking tables set out with the competition entries.

The categories for entry were Beer, White Wine, Red Wine, Ports and Others. Participants that were entering their own brew were allowed to enter one entry per category. Myself and my dad entered into the beer, white & red wine. Once everyone was ready we set off sampling as many of the different categories as you dared to sample. I decided to opt for the beers first. The only issue that faced everyone was the sweltering conditions. It had been 42 earlier in the day and had not cooled off much. We were then hustling to try and taste and rate the beers in the mix with a hundred others. It was a sweat pit, everyone was dripping.

The quality of the beers varied in the extreme, there were three that I personally really liked and a couple that did not taste of anything. I then moved on to the others category which included the very random mix of bailey’s, martini’s and something which I could not name. I have to say the bailey's was excellent but the martini's left a bitter taste in my mouth. I then moved on to the last of the categories that I was willing to try which was the white wines. I have yet to really acquire the taste for white wine at the ripe old age of 23 but was willing to give anything a try.

The partying continued into the night until we headed inside for a bit of karaoke, where I blasted out a truly memorable version of feeling good by Michael Bouble with a little assistance from Scouser John. Jochen then came storming through the door and ordered everyone out to the pool. I duly obliged and performed the most elegant of cannon balls into the deep end. He then started to try and perform a backwards dives off the diving board, each time producing the most spectacularly bad results and ending in severe pain. He then proceeded to goad me into giving it a try myself. For some reason diving has never been a strong point and I have been consistently useless at it for 23 years of my life. The intoxicated state I was in though, decided it was time to change this record. Unfortunately for my belly and my back the results were not as hoped. After numerous failed attempts at both front and backwards dives we both finally decided to relax and chat by the pool with the others.

After half an hour of story exchanging I felt it was time to call it a night, Jochen however thought otherwise and decided it would be best if he pushed me in the pool with my towel and bag of belongings. He did not know that in my bag I was carrying my Iphone, Saudi phone, Dad's camera, pint glasses along with all of my clothes. As I stumbled backwards into the pool I managed to launch the bag off my shoulder and to the safety of the dry poolside. Unfortunately not everything survived the fall as my towel came in with me and the glasses smashed as they hit the poolside. As I stepped out of the pool drenched with my wet towel I set about seeking my revenge and did so by promptly pushing Jochen who is 6'4 and built like a tank straight back into the pool, I then followed this up by picking up his flip flop and flinging it towards his face with great speed and accuracy as it struck him straight between the eyes. Justice had served.

Overall the GG's will live long in my memory whether it be for the hilarious pool antics or the disgusting range of drinks that I attempted to sample.

Fish and Chip night / Bowling and Pool with Patrick and Benjamin

At the compound they hold themed food nights once a month, last month was steak night which was surprisingly nice and this month we were given the chance of sampling a British classic Fish & Chips. So you do get the chance to experience some nice food once at least once a month.

After dinner I headed off for a bit of bowling and pool with my German colleagues Patrick and Benjamin. I have never been a good ten pin bowler and this trend continued as the German's proceeded to demolish me over a series of two games. Luckily I had the chance to restore some pride by beating Benjamin and pool and drawing 1-1 with Patrick.

It was another two weeks before I has the chance to play Patrick at pool again and after a lot of hype and banter I manged to rise to the challenge and easily dispatched him 7-1, he did not take the annihilation well.

Camping Trip To the Desert

A weekend trip to the desert was in order in one of my final weekends in Saudi, it proved to probably be my highlight of my time in the KSA.

We got all packed up and got into Pavol's car where I was greeted with one of the most random mixes of music I have ever experienced. The first song was Peter Andre - Mysterious Girl, an interesting note to start on before moving on to a vast array of tunes from years gone by. Luckily the music detracted from the most tedious of drives with 2 hours of bland scenery on either side of the road before our convoy took a right turn off the road and into the desert.

We took the half an hour drive over the sand right into the heart of the dunes where we set up camp on top of one of the dunes with a spectacular views surrounding us. As we were setting up camp, I was putting up my dads newly purchased tent when I realised it had no poles to keep it up, no wonder he got such a bargain. A night under the stars it was to be for me.

Just as sunset was hitting some of us managed a quick trip out to so some 'dune bashing' before the sun had set. Apart from getting stuck nearly instantly we had a good trial run as preparation for the morning. The evening was spent with a fantastic BBQ and drinks long into the night exchanging many hilarious tales of experiences in Saudi. Mark 'mr knowledge' hardaker gave us all a lesson in the stars and taught us all about the constellations. It was very entertaining as Jochen once again missed out by being the only one in the group to not see a shooting star. He even became desperate and made up one which know one believed.

The morning came after an eventful free night under the stars and it was blisteringly hot, we set about deflating our tires and hopped in the 4x4's and headed off over the dunes. It was actually more of adrenalin experience that I expected it would be. After mark managing to recover Jochen's and Travis's cars out of the sand we began up the giant dune. It was actually quite the art to conquer in one go as you had to get your acceleration and route spot on, luckily I was in the hands of an experienced pro in Mark. I first got the drive 'The Mighty White' down the dune when Mark's expertise we required elsewhere. Travelling down the dune was actually more of a nerve wracking experience as you had very little control of the car as it snaked it's way down through the sand, luckily I made it down safely in one piece.

Next I had the opportunity to take a drive in Nick's FJ Cruiser (the fastest and most mobile car on show) up the big dune and it was truly amazing as I put pedal to the metal and flew up the sand as I even jumped over a little ridge in the sand on my way up to the summit. Once at the top we took a chance to take in our spectacular surroundings before heading back to camp.

We then packed up and headed home before we got severely burnt in the searing heat of the day. On the way back I was lucky enough to recapture some of my youth and watch a few episodes of the mighty Thunderbirds on Marks in car DVD player, I loved every moment of it and it brought a great trip to an end.

Trip To Kaust University

My last weekend in the KSA was partially spent visiting Kaust (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology). We took the hour drive out of Jeddah and headed towards the desert. We then took a turn off the highway and headed towards the middle of nowhere where in the distance laid a modernised city that has been built from scratch in a year.

Kaust as a university only accepts post graduate students that are studying for there masters or Phd's. As living in the middle of the desert is not every students dream of university they manage to make it appealing in a number of different ways. The students are paid around $30,000 per year to attend, you do however have to be exceptionally smart and gifted to be lucky enough to be offered a place to study.

It was a fascinating experience. I found it was very comparable to a film set or disney land in the way all the houses were picture perfect and everything was almost untouched. As we drove around it almost had an eerie feeling about the area with us seeing more workers than students or lecturers. The facilities that are available to the students are beyond incredible.

Not somewhere I would personally like to be isolated in but a very interesting trip none the less.

Strange Happenings In Jeddah

When walking to a sandwich shop the other day on my lunch break I saw one of the strangest sites I have even seen. As me and Benjamin walked to the sandwich shop I noticed an electronics shop to my left, as I took a closer look inside I noticed the shop only selling remote controls, just hundreds and hundreds of the same remote. I thought this was very strange in itself and struggled to comprehend how somebody could sustain a living from just selling one singular item which can not be in particularly high demand. What I saw next left me in complete disbelief, as I walked on to the next shop window it was all but a mirror image of the last shop, nearly identical just a shop full of remotes with two different employees sitting there. There were a further two shops like this further along and one across the road from it. Utter madness.

One of the lunchtimes spent at work recently I got invited to lunch by Dr Fahad to experience a local favourite that is Al Baik (A cheaper Saudi equivalent of KFC). We took the short drive through town and parked up at the extremely hectic fast food outlet. Once stepping inside into the mayhem of the most popular food outlet around for Saudi's, Dr Fahad ordered and paid for my spicy chicken. I was as usual the only white person in the completely crammed outlet and stood out in my shirt and tie while everyone was in their thobes. I have to say although a little greasy it was exceptionally nice and you can see why all of the locals favour it over the other options available.

The journey back to the office provided me with another example of the shocking attitude of some of the locals. As we were driving back in the car of another one of my colleagues an annoying beeping sound kept going off as we drove, I did not have a clue what this was and then we suddenly pulled over to the side of the road. I looked across and it was the seat belt sign. He then proceeded to lean across and pull the seat belt behind his back as he struggled to place it in its holster before leaning back on the seat belt just to avoid wearing it. Shocking.

I have heard hundreds of entertaining stories whilst I have been out here and one of the most common themes includes Saudis responding with their famous phrase “Its fine sir”. This could not be better highlighted than when Travis (Australian) went to try and purchase some tennis shoes. He went through around nine different sports shops trying to find US13 tennis shoes. He highlighted that one shop owner was very persistent informing him that although he did not have any size 13, he did however have a lovely pair of size 10’s that would be perfect for him. When Travis responded there not going to work for me they would be miles to small, the shop employee merely repeated “They will be fine Sir”. I am not sure if his method of trying to convince someone that their feet are infect smaller than they would believe has worked, but it’s another entertaining tale of how things are run out here.

On my last day in Saudi Arabia I took a visit to my dads work to have a look around at the quite impressive NCB tower, everything was gold every direction I turned as is the norm in Saudi. Once outside, I pulled a cab down and just my luck managed to catch one of the most run down cabs in Saudi and a taxi driver that spoke not one word of English. I mentioned Arabian Holmes as I hopped in and he waved me in. We set off and he did not seem to have a clue where he was going which got me slightly worried (thoughts running through my head of being kidnapped on my last day). He then began to try and communicate with me in Arabic, this proved very entertaining as what I was hearing from his lips sounded like he had made up a language, it sounded ridiculous.

He then phoned the taxi rank while driving as is the norm in Saudi and then passed me the phone, his colleague proceeded to ask me in very limited English where I wanted to go, I tried to explain in my slowest and most patronising voice possible, the destination. He seemed to understand this and I gave the phone back to the driver and we continued on, five minutes later we pulled outside the international medical centre! Not quite what I was hoping for. I then shook my hands and head in unison trying to explain this was wrong, the phone was passed across again where another painful conversation occurred, 3 mins more of slow speech and we were there, he understood and i passed the phone back. Then came one of my funniest few seconds in Saudi, the driver looked delirious as he knew where to take me, he started speaking very excitedly in Arabic and i responded in slow English, neither of us had a clue what was being said to each other so we just laughed and laughed.

10 mins later into the journey and something that was long overdue in my visit, I fittingly saw my first accident in Saudi with a range rover ploughing through a toyota at some traffic lights, luckily everyone in the crumpled mess of a Toyota was ok, but another memory to leave me with of how bad there driving really is.


My time in Saudi Arabia has been a truly memorable one. I have seem somethings that I never imagined possible or expected to see in this lifetime. Its a country where a world of constant frustration soon turns into a series of hilarious anecdotes, and that is something I will genuinely miss. Its somewhere that if you are lucky enough to get the chance to go you should snap off with both hands.

One of the most common annoyances I have experienced in my time is Saudi's complete disregard for any form of manners. You will just be waiting in line at the supermarket when all of a sudden someone moves your shopping and waves there items in front of the cashier as if there in some kind of rush. If that kind of incident happened in England I am sure there would be more than a few expletives shared, but out here it is just another common occurrence.

The amount of time it takes to do simple tasks takes quite a bit of getting used to. The most simplest of tasks that would take a day or 2 days back come can easily drag out for up to a month out here.

The difference in culture has been incredible and far more extreme than I could have imagined. The scenery, although 85% of what I have seen has been mostly run down buildings or unfinished building site there are some spectacular buildings and sights to be seen when travelling around the kingdom. Overall a truly memorable two months.

Much Love

Chaz x x x

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