Saturday, 22 June 2013

Saudi Arabia: The Untold Story

As I have been writing about less travelled places, I am blogging this time about cities and towns that you almost never heard of. I am certain you are reading many articles about Europe, Asia and the Caribbean so I guess it is time to read and be informed of the Middle East.

Sand Dunes in Saudi Arabia
You must have read my travelogues about Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei and the 1000 islands in Kingston, Ontario in Canada.  These are the first two of the places I am giving you details and interesting photos. Kampung Ayer in BSB and the small and big islands in 1000 Islands in Kingston are just amazing.

Now, I am writing about a country that you seldom see and read in magazines and on the web.  A Kingdom that I live and work for a couple of years; a sophisticated high rise office surrounded by cities and towns next to the desert, beaches, camels and what have you.

What you see around my office in Saudi Aramco-Dhahran is entirely different from what you see beyond. I mean, it has modern office facilities in a world-class environment in the middle of the desert.

It is very comfortable working with dynamic and talented Saudi co-employees and expatriates coming from all over the globe who contributes combined skills.

Across the street are 16-storey high rise buildings provided for bachelors at Al-Munirah where I occupy a studio-type unit furnished, with all the amenities.  It is, indeed, a comfortable life doing my daily activities from 7 a.m. work in the office, off at 3 p.m. and proceed to downtown Al-Khobar to dine and shop. Then, back to my flat to watch television or go to the only one movie house within the housing facilities, or reading in a huge library or swimming in the pools just beside it.

There is no boring moment in Saudi Aramco because there is so much to do, contrary to what you must be hearing.

View of Saudi Aramco-Dhahran in the background

Air-conditioned buses are readily available to employees and their families to shop, to visit and do personal and business commitments. Saudi Aramco has its own fleet of aircrafts all over the Kingdom. It has its own airports and airline crews in every site as with other airlines. A very convenient and stress-free environment that is.

Going to the Saudi Aramco Beach at Half-Moon Bay for a picnic are what most of us, expats and local employees do. This normally happens on a Thursday or Friday, our weekend in the Kingdom. Otherwise, you will see us strolling in the Cornish area in Al-Khobar.
Chefs preparing for the Event
My friends wonder why I like the weather in Saudi Arabia, Dhahran's climate in particular. It is extremely hot in summer which can rise as high as 50 degrees Celsius and as low as 4 degrees in winter.  The sandstorm in the early months of summer does not bother me at all. Surprisingly, I enjoy all these stuff...no matter what.

King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, popularly known in Saudi Arabia as KFUPM, is our neighbour. Literally, just a stone throw.  I visit the university very often as many of my expat friends work in various departments.  No events and parties within the university that I am not invited.  It's been part of my work and life.  I miss my friends and some of the university students who also become my friends. I also miss the university campus that is part of my comfortable and enjoyable stay in the Kingdom.

There are pros and cons in all countries of the world, and Saudi Arabia is not an exception.  We never talk and possess forbidden items here.  Some of which are alcohol, narcotics, weapons, ammunitions, religion, pork and pornography.  All these are strictly prohibited. Don't even think about it.

Ramadan is a holy month in the Moslem world. Fasting from dawn to dusk is an obligation that has to be followed.  Local people do not eat, drink and smoke and work only six hours a day. Expatriates and non-Moslems are not required to fast. However, eating, drinking, smoking and chewing gum are never allowed in common places.

If you have lived in Saudi Arabia, you must have witnessed the uniqueness of the Kingdom as compared to the rest of the world.

Some people have been asking me what it is like to live in such a different environment. It is not easy at first but as I go along, I learn to adapt myself to every situation.  I can say that people are the same in every country. Respecting traditions and beliefs are equally important to the locals.

Expatriates during an Event
I have not read and heard good news and facts about the Kingdom for a long time. Up until now, the news on the outbreak of respiratory illness in the Middle East is all over. It is so sad to hear only the negative side of the Kingdom.

I can still remember buying jewelries in the gold market where buyers consider the weight of the gold and not the design or workmanship. It is indeed very true, though I have collected designs that I do not see anywhere in the world.

Gold shops are almost always segregated from other stores. They are lined up all in one place. You will not miss the place or get lost as is so bright and sparkling and impossible not to notice them.


Al Rashid Mall Gate 1 - Photo by Al Rashid Mall

The first big shopping mall in Al-Khobar, is the al-Rashid Mall as far as I can remember. Perfumes, brand items and other luxuries can be bought here. Find your choices of carpet, antique and other inexpensive items in the souq or local market as this is the place where you can haggle the price. You may want to buy the Sheesha or Hubbly Bubbly, a smoking pipe that is very famous and widely used by the adult male population.

Carpeted Venue of the Event
Strange as it may seem, there are customs and traditions in Saudi Arabia that one may not see and experience in other part of the world.

Men shake hands and good friends greet with a handshake and kiss on both cheeks. You will see boys and young men holding hands, assume that they are the best of friends and it is a norm. You will never see men and women together in public unless they are husband and wife. If you do, you will not see them displaying affection in public, or anything of that sort.

I was once invited to a wedding celebration of my Saudi co-employee and friend where I enjoyed the reception and witnessed the manner it is being held.  I did not see the bride. Men are separate from the female guests. The groom was with the male guests and the bride was with the women.

At the Saudi Wedding Reception

There was live music entertainment in the open-air big area. There are no tables as the reception area is covered with carpets. The food was served on huge plates while we were seated cross-legged using our right hand only in eating, and almost no conversation. The groom went around and made us feel comfortable. It is, indeed, an experience that I will always remember.

More stories can be told about Saudi Arabia, and you will continue reading them here in our travel blog.  

I can tell you about the white thobes that Saudi men wear during summer and changed at winter season to a darker colour like brown, grey or navy blue.  I can also tell you about the Abaya that is required for women and the traditional dresses that they wear in public places.

Has anyone of you travelled to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

Do you have a story that you are willing to share with us?  Drop me some lines....send me a message.


Thank You Note: 

Some photos courtesy of a friend, MoAmine of KFUPM, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia


From the desk of: 
Freddie Miranda
A blogger and a Canada-based freelance writer. He shares the value of his travel experiences and discoveries with his friends and fellow travellers. Share your passion, join and visit him. Send a message @ fromatravellersdesk(at)gmail(dot)com.