Thursday, February 19, 2009

Surviving Amman Taxis

*** NOW, the Jordanians are some of the nicest, sweetest, people I've come across. That being said, I do get into trouble in every 1 out of 4 taxis. This is the story of my worst trip so far***

I still can't believe it. I think that someone connected in the taxi industry has put a contract out on me. I must not have tipped a cabbie enough and the weighted scales of Karma began their oppressive tilt towards making my life a living hell.

The best way to pre-empt this story is to ask you to click here and play this song to the 45-60th second. Please do not read further if you are uncomfortable with graphic descriptions of adult material.

The cab was horribly run down with loud arabic music blasting through the tinny speakers hanging halfway out of their door compartments. The driver dressed in clothes that looked like they hadn't been washed in weeks.

If there is any lesson to be learned for those travelling in a taxi... do NOT ride in the front alone with a taxi driver. In this case, I had to put all of my bags in the back so I was forced to jump in the front.

Imagine if you will a big toothy grin from an unshaven dodgy taxi driver. Now remove the four front teeth. It looked kinda like a run-down hillbilly toothless Borat.

Driver: Where you from? Philipino?

Me: KO-RE-A!

Driver: ah Korea........SMALL! (He flipped out his pinky finger, which I guess is an arabic sign for a small member)

Me: Oh my god. You. Drive!

Driver: SMALL he shouted again. ARABIC MEN --- BIG (He then did an Obama style air fist jab with his right fist and grabbed his right elbow with his left hand to mimic his johnson)!

Me muttering: Why me?

Driver: You like sex? ME BIG (He then started to unzip his pants while driving!).


I then got seriously pissed off at the guy and told him to drive and be quiet. He kept saying things like Pepsi Can and Centimeters and I would have jumped out of the car but we were only a few blocks away. He kept grabbing my leg for a feelskie but I kept beating him off with my backpack on my lap.

As we pulled into the driveway of our apartment building I opened the door and rested my backpack on the ground and prepared to step out. BAD Decision. This was my only protection and it gave him the window of opportunity to grab my JUNK.

Me: AHHHHHHHHH (Scream in terror)! as he squeezed his hand on my short sword.

I grabbed my things and ran out to the safety of the pavement. In a last ditch attempt to try to get some, he put out his desperate sales pitch.

Driver: Me sucky, you f**ky! Me BIG (followed by another Obama style air fist jab and elbow grab)!

Obviously this was a ploy to tempt me so that he does all the heavy lifting. Not going to work tonight!

Now I have taken the experience on with very little trauma, but every time I see a yellow cab pass by I have this raw image of my tormentor burning through my memory.

Below here is an artists rendition of my taxi driver, courtesy of my colleague Fletch. Now you too, shall have the same imagery forced upon you every time you ride a cab.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

West Side Story

The search is over. We have an an apartment.

I my friends, am a man of simple needs. Give me a decent apartment with decent furnishings at a good price and location, plasma tv, sound system, playstation and I am easily satisfied.

My wife on the other hand is French and is not so easy to satisfy. We just about burned through an army of real estate agents and 80% of the rentals in Amman over the past 2 weeks because Elodie has what I would describe to the poor unfortunate souls helping us out as ‘Picky European Female Tastes.’

So just to describe to all of you who only see the Middle East through CNN, Amman is a very safe and modern city with a cool climate. It actually snows in January and February (although due to global warming, those days may now be over). It is like the Denver of the Middle East because it is so high in altitude (They call it the kilometer high city in arabic...just kidding).

Before moving to Jordan, I read a lot of posts about the best places to live in Amman and I think it all depends on what type of experience you are looking for. If you want the locals experience, you live in the East side where the buildings are crumbling and the products that you buy are all imported from China. If you are an expat, a working professional, or a wealthy businessman, you live in the West side. There, all the buildings are new and the products that you buy are all imported from South Korea.

So.. back to the real estate agents (poor things). The apartments in Jordan are built more for function rather than form so its hard to get a building that doesn’t look like it was built out of cement Legos. For the support of Korea exporting, we chose the West Side.

So we were taken to apartments in the West Side of town and we would bludgeon the hapless agents by pointing out the flaw in each place that they proudly presented to us.

The apartment conversations could usually be broken down like this:

Agent: Look this apartment has a view!
Us: A view of a parking lot is not exactly what we had in mind.

Agent: Look this apartment has new furniture!
Us: It looks like Arabian nights meets Saturday Night Fever (A spanish friend here coins it as Disco Rococo).

Agent: Look this apartment is walking distance to shopping!
Us: Walking distance to a canned food shop is not what we had in mind.

So we went through one, two, three, four, five agents. One day turned into two. Then three, then four. One week, now two. We were getting so many calls from Mohammeds that we actually had to ask ‘Which Mohammed are you?’

We finally narrowed it down to two choices and took a final viewing. One agent was a rich playboy who’s parents owned the Max Mara fashion chain in Jordan. The other agent was a ‘from the streets of Chicago’ Jordanian re-immigrated to Amman. After visiting the property of the Max Mara one, he dropped us off at the property being shown by the Chicago street agent. Suddenly I heard growls. Stares. Mad Dog looks and fighting stances. Agent vs Agent combat was about to ensue. These guys were ready to throw down!

Luckily for us, the two did not throw fisticuffs, but I think that in the right circumstance it could have happened if we all stepped out of the car and let the two debate in front of us the benefits of going with their properties.

So here we were at the final property. Its perfect. Its on the roof. Its got a full view of Amman below. It got a huge kitchen. Its new. Its too expensive. Damn.

The financial crisis effecting all of us is really, really a terrible thing for all of us to experience. Might as well turn those lemons into lemonade. When traveling abroad, you get to see the real survival instincts of your partner come out. She wanted this apartment and she would stop at nothing. First Elodie said she wanted it for 25% less. Done. Then she asked for a queen sized bed. Done. Then she asked for a gas bbq (she asked this for me because I was too much of a coward). They pleaded for a charcoal bbq. They folded. Gas it is. Every time they said no to her demands, she would come back and say that the neighbor with the empty rental apartment said they would do it for us. Man! I would just cringe while listening to her during the negotiations.

So here we have it folks:

The view from our new apartment with a spare bedroom for guests:

See you in Jordan!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Red Sea Adventure

SO. What would you do in our situation?

A) Land in Jordan and look for an apartment right away.

B) Land in Jordan and Scuba dive in 80 degree sunshine in the middle of winter.

Hmmmm... Let me draw a picture for you...

SCUBA BABY!!!!!!!!

I particularly like this photo due to my Kim Jong Il hairstyle and Elodie is actually smiliing. If you look at the other 50 photos of us underwater elodie has no smile and looks as if she swam next to a dead body (One of these photos is in our facebook album).

That's right folks. Our true colors show and you now know where we hold our priorities.

After living in Seattle-like winter conditions for the past five years in Paris we decided that we should hit the beach and flip the bird towards Europe.

Getting down to the Red Sea was quite an experience in itself. You really feel like you are in a different country as soon as you start taking the public transportation. The bus was actually quite modern (no chickens flying in the back) with built in AC. It felt like any other bus really. There are some differences of course. The women next to us were completely veiled (called a 'Niqab'), the TV was playing an arab action film with the middle eastern world's version of a Keanu Reeves, and the children were completely well behaved. How is it that you have a four hour bus ride with well behaved children, while on European and American transport the kids are running and screaming everywhere?

Elodie and I were really rolling the dice on this voyage because we bought our breakfast off of a dodgy street food snack vendor just before boarding a four hour trip non stop bus. Not the ideal place if you have to do multiple #2's. Thank god Hommous is like quick drying cement for your digestive system.

Upon arriving in Aqaba (the main resort town on the Red Sea), we were mobbed by ruthless taxi drivers. Try this for fun. Get two taxi drivers, then get them to bargain against eachother in a bidding war. I don't speak Arabic, but it sure seemed to be some colorful language from the taxi driver that lost!

I hate being new to a city and only having a lonely planet. The advice is always outdated and often sucks. The french have 'Le Guide de Routard,' but I prefer to call it Le Guide de RETARD. Elodie insisted on getting 'Fresh' Seafood off of a boat from a recommended restaurant. We took the taxi to a rusting tugboat with no customers and homeless people camping around it. Great. We fell into the next trap which is asking the taxi driver for a recommendation. Mistake number 2. He dropped us off at some hole in the wall and said he will come out to say hi to his 'friend.' Realising that we had been duped we just freakin' walked around town to find a restaurant. Go lonely planet... yipeee.

We decided on taking our hotel at the coral bay since it was the furthest from civilisation and had its own dive center. This would most likely guarantee the healthiest coral and sea life. After dropping off our bags, we went out to the beach and jumped into the water to the bewilderment of many amazed arab guests (80 degree weather is like winter for these folks). It was indeed some of the cleanest water and healthiest coral life I've ever seen. I can attest to that because I swallowed the water 3 times accidentally and remarked to myself each time... wow THATs clean water!!

For scuba diving, I would highly recommend the outfit that we had found. We originally tried to go with the Royal Diving Center, but the service and attitude ROYALLY stunk. We found the Red Sea Diving centre and they were so welcoming and open we felt like part of the family. They busted out photos of their father teaching scuba to the king of Jordan and pumped us up full of arabic coffee.

Red Sea Dive Center
Abdullah Al-Momany
+962 (3) 202 2323

Our dive was pretty amazing. Like aquarium amazing. We hit the most famous spot called 'Japanese Gardens' and found ourselves swimming around dozens of puffer fish. Is it called Japanese gardens because its all the fish that japanese like to eat?

I really enjoy scuba diving around coral reefs and this was an exceptional chance to see the reefs in full healthy form. Evidently they have sold every beach front property to mega hotels, so I think these fish and coral will only be around for another ten years before it gets too crowded and beat up. You won't catch me swallowing the water in those times for sure.