Sunday, April 26, 2009

Visiting Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum. Never heard of it? Now you have.

Before moving to Jordan, Elodie first had to sell me on the idea of living out in the middle east. My only images of the middle east of course were CNN (otherwise known as 'Certainly Not News') and of course, Iron Man.

Elodie of course, simplified her sales pitch by saying 'Jordan has the ancient city of Petra, where they filmed Indiana Jones 3.' Oh, well if you put it that way, it must be good!

Sooo, before I begin my story... let me sell my story to you first... 'Wadi Rum, its where they are filming for the up and coming Transformers 2!'

Lets begin.

Wadi Rum is famous for its amazing rock formations and desert landscape. The area is inhabited by native Jordanians called Bedouins, who are known for their deep hospitality. Legend has it that they are pretty welcoming because in ancient times you could be travelling through the sand for days and have no one but your camel to talk to. So when someone comes by they usually invite you to stay and drink a shitload of tea with them.

The place is also famous as a former stomping ground for Lawrence of Arabia where he based his operations for the Arab revolt of 1917-18. That by the way was also made as a film if you want to learn more.

Wadi Rum is a red sand desert known for its incredible rock formations. The giant red cliffs look like giant melting lava honeycombs. Most people I show these pictures to comment that it looks likes tons of snakes and scorpions are just waiting to feast on you should you dare to go near.

We arrived in Wadi Rum at about 5 PM on a friday night and camped out in traditional bedouin tents. When we asked if it was OK for us to drink a few beers around the campfire, our guide responded in a very serious manner 'This is the desert. You must respect her and eat biscuits and natural tea.' We eventually figured out that he was joking and that lots of people bring their own alcohol. It was a great treat to find out that our guide was pretty funny, but I get the feeling that desert humor is very dry (get it?.. ha ha).

I was wondering what the hell he was burying in the sand while we were out exploring the rocks around the campsite. At around 7 PM he started to unbury whatever the hell he buried and we discovered that he had in fact cooked us a traditional Bedouin meal underground. So evidently when you leave out for the day to tend to camels and such, you don't want to come home and cook. So they have this slow cook process for the morning where they dig a hole in the sand, build a fire, throw food on it, cover it to keep the sand out, then bury it for a slow cook process.

I wish that I could report that I slept well, but its pretty hard to go back to sleep when you feel the little pitter patter of tiny feet across your back at 3 am in the morning. Evidently you could see the tracks of a desert mouse in the sand outside our tent, so I opted for playing my Nintendo DS rather than allow unwanted visitors crawl into my ear canals during my deep slumber.

The next morning we set out for our adventure. Cool winds, 85 degree weather and no tourists.. It was just us, the desert, and a mouse. Wadi Rum is exceptional because the massive size of the rock formations really makes it an exceptional visit...sort of akin to visiting the Grand Canyon.

The most interesting place to visit was a crevice in between two cliffs. Evidently in ancient times when people travelled through the region on camel for the Mecca pilgrimage they would use it as a stopping ground. There are ancient messages in forgotten languages carved into the stone. Some travelers signaled danger by carving a picture of a man with a knife, or would tell you to climb up higher by carving a picture of two feet. Someone carved Ahmed + Sameera 4 ever which must mean something profound in ancient arabic.

We ended our trip exhausted, sunburnt, dehydrated but extremely enthusiastic. If you ever get a chance to visit Jordan, this is definitely a top destination!

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

When not to eat a Banh Mi

Ahhhh Gay Paris...

People have been asking my why I haven't been blogging recently. I had to explain that I actually had to BE in Jordan to blog about living in Jordan. Yes, I have gone back to paris for 6 weeks and subjected myself to an unrelentless bombardment of muslim sin.

Elodie asked me what I wanted to do as soon as I got off the plane. I replied, 'I want BOOZE, PORK PRODUCTS, AND I WANT TO SLEEP IN WITHOUT BEING WOKEN UP BY A MOSQUE AT 5 AM'.

The next tier down from that list is international food and entertainment which are the two other things in short supply in Amman (here, Bennigans is listed as a 3 star restaurant) . No Pho, no bibimbap, and the so called 'sushi' restaurants are all run with Philippinos pretending to be Japanese. I went up to the sushi bar once at The Living Room and said 'kamusta ka (hello in Tagolog)' and the blood from his face drained as sheer white panic gripped him. He didn't say anything, but I could read his mind. SH*T! The gigs up! I've been exposed! Somone knows my name really isn't Nakamura!

Luckily for me, I have friends who have culture in France. I got my ass dragged down to ART exhibits, which for me is 10 times more effective at putting me to sleep than an extra strength NyQuil. Since I was forced to see art, I forced them to eat Vietnamese. Vietnamese food that is... not the people.

A recent controversy sparked by a New York Times article got me interested in checking out the legendary Vietnamese sandwich. Man these Vietnamese are really pissed off about changing a sandwich! You would think that with all that anger Ho Chi Minh himself was behind all of this!

So off we went to Belleville in the 10th district, the now up and coming place to get your 'grub on' for asian food. Mike, Sabrina, and Peggy.. the three French that I brought with me were pretty hesitant about walking in with all these asians everywhere and strange mystery meats spread out all over the sandwich counter. Vietnamese salami, chilis, paté, a tub of gloopy vietnamese mayonnaise. My favorite topping is fromage de tête, which is chopped pigs ears held together with savoury gelatin. It makes the sandwich 'croquant' which is translated to CRUNCHY!

I bit into the Banh Mi and ran a mental check in my head to see if it was authentic.

Savory Vietnamese Mayo on bottom slice of bread - CHECK
Salty mystery meat - CHECK
Crudite - CHECK
Cleared sinuses from eating raw chilis - CHECK
Bleeding gums and scratched up roof of mouth from chomping into Crunchy Bread - CHECK

It was so authentically good that I saved half of the sandwich for savouring throughout the day.

So Mike, Sabrina, and Peggy brought me to an exhibit that they thought wouldn't bore me to tears. Its called the Our Body exhibit in Paris and its a scientific exhibit where they took 20 dead people from China and sliced them up into 100 cross sections to teach about anatomy. Its amazing that our countries are so dependent on China for cheap imports, we even go to them for cheaper dead bodies! Coincidentally, I just read that the French government has shut down the exhibit because it offends public decency. The director of course was surprised since they were 'not showing anything that could have been shocking people.'

I mean, who would be shocked at seeing this?

Did you ever have déjà vu, like as if you've been somewhere before? Eventually, I passed by an exhibit with cross sections of a human being preserved in a gelatinous resin. It really made me feel like I was back at that Vietnamese sandwich place with all the cuts of meat and crunchy ears fanned out on the counter. The only thing missing was the julienned carrots.

To give credit to the Banh Mi being one of the tastiest sandwiches on this planet earth, even after the exhibit I couldn't resist the urge to finish my leftover sandwich.

Really, I couldn't understand why the French leaving the exhibit were freaking out at the site of me eating that sandwich. I mean, haven't they had a Banh Mi before???

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What its like to eat with Diplomats in Amman

What blog about expat living would be complete without detailing a dinner with a diplomat?

Elodie and I had the pleasure of being invited to the home of a senior official at the French Embassy. Local legend rumours that whilst the American embassy will occasionally host a bbq with american made frozen hamburgers, the French embassy will throw a classy soirée on a regular basis.

So I was quite excited by the fact that we were going to be received at a French dinner party. I was more curious about what we were going to eat actually. I mean, just how do you cook french food when everything is banned? Lardon (french bacon) is completely illegal, wine is more expensive than crude oil, and crème fraiche will run you about 7 dollars for a little tub. If you remove these ingredients in French food, then you basically have British food (YUCK).

Now, I've been to a few diplomatic dinners from my days as a lowly intern at the American Embassy in Tokyo. There is a certain protocol to these events. One must wear a dinner jacket or some chic extravagant accessory (A texan would wear a bolo tie, a european would wear a one of those neck scarves that barons often do).

Next you would be accompanied by your wife who is either an opera singer you married during your assignment in Kenya or an artist from Argentina that you met while teaching the indigenous people how to farm.

Following the introductions and declarations of who you are, where your from, and what organization you work with..the next questions that follow are polite versions of what I call the 'What the HELL brings you this far from home and HOW the hell did you two meet?' Of course, everyone asks a married Korean-French couple how they met but atleast in this environment everyone is kind of like us. Just about everyone we know is mixed couple here. Italian-Spanish, Jordanian-Lebanese, Spanish-Canadian, Italian-Estonian. A lot of people think that mixed kids look really cute, but I have seen a few freaks in my lifetime too. But, I digress....

In haute culture you serve an aperitif which is an opening drink of alcohol or juice just before dinner is served. While the martinis and olives are being served, the bragging about all your world adventures begins. Little drops about 'Oh that one time I was at that beautiful open-air theater in Bulgaria...' or 'I found that the best preservation of work life balance to be in Africa.' Elodie and I are pretty traveled people, but we found ourselves outnumbered and outgunned at this party. Having only lived in one or two developing nations and only a quarter of the G20 nations in our lifetime, we felt a bit sheepish to discuss any of our past destinations.

With the wafts of dinner aromas we were called to the table. French culture dictates that seats at the table are pre-selected as to optimise the flow of conversation and comfort of your guests. At the head of the table was our gracious host. Seated on his side were all the other diplomats and international aid representatives. WTF?!? I got seated with all the bored housewives while my wife got seated with all the men!!! Am I in the bored housewife category?!?

Its a good thing that I like to cook so I spent the evening exchanging recipes and pretending to know something about fine French wines. Dinner was ready and our hostess served.... Grilled Lamb in olive oil, garlic and herbs! Probably the ONLY food that is exactly the same between the middle east and France. Atlast, curiousity solved.

A typical ex-pat dinner party will feature some local main course, but will be spiced up with exotic treats picked up during their travels. Lebanese wine, European chocolates, African nutmeg, Brazilien rain forest honey. Anything that will act as a centerpiece for discussion is always a bonus.

Dinner is finished and now it is time for digestifs and after drinks to finish the evening. As people get to know more about eachother, the discussions within these circles always tends to gravitate towards politics and world news. The crisis in Sudan, the North Korean missile launch, Afghanistan, Slumdog Millionaire.

When the discussion focused on Obama and all that he needs to accomplish over the next 4 years, all eyes turned on me to see what my opinion of what lies ahead for the US.

So Frank... Do you think that Obama is up for the job?
(hushed crowd)
(pensive thought....)

(slow...deliberate...sage tone of voice proceeds....)

" With Great Power comes a Great Responsibility"

(a wowwww emotion overcomes the audience)

"Spiderman 2"

Elodie was NOT pleased with my joke.