Saturday, January 28, 2006

From Kuala Lumpur

Early yesterday morning, I left the lovely (but cold) Kyoto, took a fast train to Kansai International Airport, and took a flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I arrived here in early evening, and the change is absolutely dramatic.

For once, the city is all red, since I came in the middle of the Chinese New Year celebration (Year of the Dog, woof woof), and the place is a real festive mood teaming with tourists (both internal and foreign), I am staying a stone throw away from the petronas towers, which I am writing this post from, these are magnificent buildings, and at night, absolutely jaw dropping.

I will keep this post short, and I know that you got tired of my travelouge and would rather read my abnoxious commentary on current events and an expanded catalouge of my pet peeves, so I leave you in peace, and this will be my last post until I am back in Dubai.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas in Power !

First of all, it must be said, the choice of the people must be respected, regardless of if we like it or not, Hamas has appearantly won a democratic election, we have no choice but to acknowledge the people's vote.

Second, I am sad today, in my tiny hotel room in Kyoto, not because Fatah lost, they deserve to, but because in protest at Fatah corruption and mismanagement, the Palestinian people (in West Bank and Gaza only, the majority of Palestinians did not get to vote as they are refugees outside of Palestine) chose a faction with very narrow minded ideological (even dogmatic) direction, and socially (and probably politically), this is a step backward, not forward.

I don't claim to represent the majority of Palestinians (the vote today clearly shown that), but I am really concerned about further conservative shift in the Palestinian society, which will make us more insular, less accepting, more fearful of the outside world and its influences. Unfortunately, if the clamp down on individual freedoms that I see coming does happen, most of the people who could pick up and leave will simply do that, rather than to stand up to it. On that count, I don't think that Hamas actually has a majority, but that no longer matters.

I hope that I am wrong on this, but this event has finally solved dilemma for me, when I get back to Dubai, I will start the application process for immigration, which I long resisted. I have no tolerance of ever living under a theological regime ala Iran, even if it was made of my own people. Pitty the people who don't have that choice.

Monday, January 23, 2006

From Kyoto!

I just arrived in Kyoto, checked into my hotel, and was pleasantly surprised to find a free 100Mbps ADSL in the room, what a relief!

As you can see I managed to post some pictures of my first 3 days in Japan, covering parts of Tokyo I posted about earlier.

Last Sunday, Jan. 22nd was my birthday, I went on nice walks in Tokyo, then treated myself to dinner with a friend from the top of the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills, I think it is the world 6th tallest building, and the 52nd floor is an observatory called Tokyo City View, offering a 360 degree view of Greater Tokyo, it was amazing, the only problem is my usually trusty Nikon was not up to the task of photographing from behind glass, so the pics came out, lets say, artistic!

Yesterday I went on another kind of pilgrimage, I traveled to Urasa, Niigata Prefecture, to visit my Alma Mater, I gave a talk (attended by 15) to current students about how to develop their career and how to equip themselves for outside world.
As my luck will have it, I arrived and left in a middle of snow blizzard of epic proportions, there is more than 4 meters of snow in the ground, street needed to be dug out every 30 minutes!
That did not stop me going out to dinner with one of my mentors, and we had long discussion and that alone was worth the trip.

I woke up early this morning, took the shinkansen (bullet train) 350 KM back to Tokyo, and then took another shinkansen for a further 550 KM south to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, the combined trip took 3 hours and a half, I love fast trains, but again, mishaps happen, I fell asleep for only 10 minutes after we left, and I missed seeing mount Fuji!! the train is so fast that landscape really rush by you.

I will take it slow today, and post new pictures hopefully tomorrow.

Yasukuni Shrine Posted by Picasa

The (dark) walk to Yasukuni shrine, center of the current contervorsy  Posted by Picasa

Imperial Palace Plaza Posted by Picasa

Tokyo Metropolitan government buildings  Posted by Picasa

A bit of more modern buildings! Posted by Picasa

A view from the top of Tokyo Posted by Picasa

Roof at Meiji-Jingu Posted by Picasa

Meiji-Jingu Shrine Posted by Picasa

Torji at Meihi-Jingu Shrine Posted by Picasa

Friday, January 20, 2006

Quick post from snowy Tokyo!

It is snowing heavily in Tokyo, while Tokyo is usually very cold in the winter (Same average tempeture as Stockholm), snow is quite unusual.

My laptop is refusing to work from the same freespot that I used earlier, so I am using am internet cafe until I remedies the situation. That also means that pictures have to wait, I spent over an hour handling the pics to make them blog ready, and that have to be frozen for now.

On thursday night, I went out in Roppongi, and I had a very wild time, but it took me 36 hours to recover, and my bank account might never do. :-(

Friday, I went to pay a visit to the Imperial Palace, and the close-by Yaskuni Shrine, the center of controversy between Japan and neighboring countries, because the shrine is dedicated to all Japanese war dead, including the convicted war criminals.

Friday night I met an old friend, Kiyomi (Kim to her friends) and her 9 months old baby, I visited her apartment (much bigger than mine in Dubai) and we went on an increasingly desperate quest to find a Japanese restaurant with vacant table on friday night. After 13 trials, we struck gold in the 14th place, a traditional Japanese Izakaya, the food and the drink was marvellous. After a wondeful catching up session and a great meal, it was time to go back. For about 10 seconds I considered going out again, but the cooler bald head prevailed.

Tonight I am meeting another old friend and we are going out together later, I think I have the energy for another bender!

I will try to find a way to post the pics very soon.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

In Tokyo!

I am finally here!

After an 18 hours journey, I had to really sleep off the jet lag, and it took 11 hours of sleep to do that.

Japan took me with open arms, and I reverted to behaving like a resident, my limited vocabulary flooded back, I asked for directions in Japanese and understood the answers (at least the important part of them)!

Tokyo is as seductive as ever, I did my obligatory pilgrimage to Meji-Jingo, one of the most beautiful Shinto shrines in Japan, located in the heart of Harajuku, spilled the water, clapped my hands and wished a wish. The feeling of peace was unbelievable while walking the long wooded path.

Went to Shinjuku, and to my favourite garden on the roof of Tokyo, located at the roof of Takashimaya Town Square Department Store, and saw the skyline again, it is little changed, but still as stunning. Took loads of pictures.

Walked to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices, the twin futuristic building, and I had a totaly different appreciation for them 10 years after I first saw them. Thank you Ahmad for teaching me how to appreciate modern architecture!

Now I am sitting of all places in a Seattle’s Best Coffee outlet (Free Hotspot!) in the amazing Roppongi Hill complex. I just cannot describe how post-modern this edifice is, pics will have to tell the story!

I will post again in 2 days with pictures!


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Back to blissful exile of yesteryear!

Tomorrow’s night I am getting on a flight to go to Japan, the country that “took me in” 11 years ago, and I enjoyed that hospitality for more than 2 years. It has been almost 9 years since I was there last, and I am really looking forward to the experience of re-acquaintance.

I have to say that the Japan experience changed me in many ways, as Arabs and Middle Eastern, we are very Eurocentric by instinct, our perception of the world is colored equally by our own culture and by the Western influence that came through geographic proximity, trade and cultural (and sometimes military) interactions, and finally the legacy of European colonialism.

To live in East Asia in general and in Japan in particular is challenge the core schools of thought, paradigms, and norms of behavior that was programmed into us by western-influenced education.

The shocking difference begins with how foreign the place is, almost nobody speak English, the streets layouts is maddening, there are no recognized brands in the supermarket, the restaurant does not have forks or knifes for you to use. Then it goes deeper, the map is the world has Asia in the middle, work-based groups are more important than individual, decision making has different routes, perception of the world and our place in it is markedly different.

I could write pages on how many differences people encounter in Japan, the real eye opener for me, is to see how Japanese have two very peculiar characteristics; first, they collect the best of the world and then make it Japanese in a way that you will doubt that it was not invented there. The other trait is, Japanese have amazing ability to peacefully combine what you will consider to be diametrically opposed values. In Japan, you could be Buddhist, Shinto, Christian and any other religion at the same time.

The last 10 years have not been easy on Japan, with the economy mired in a slump, in typical Japanese fashion, adversity led to a wave of reinvention and creativity that has just started to blossom, like the famous Japanese Sakura or Hana, after a long bitter winter.

In this context I flying back to Yamato land, I missed it like a lovelorn lover, I am looking forward to our amorous embrace, I the returning gaijin, and the reborn land of eternal rising sun. I am looking forward to rush hour on the subway, the greeters at the department stores, to alcohol vending machines on the sidewalk, to ramen, to the hot Onsen bath, to the all sights of beauty, craziness, and post-industrial chaos.

I will hopefully post couple of entries from Tokyo, Yamato machi, and Kyoto, and hopefully pictures as well.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Confessions of an Eid hater!

I never really liked the Eid, while it implied couple of days off and the chance to go out and have some fun, the societal obligation that came bundled with that made the two Eids two holidays to loath for me.

Even as a kid, I was rather ambivalent about it, while it meant acquiring a new set of cloths (the obligatory Eid costume), and a feast of food and sweets to last a century, the constant flood of people coming in to greet and the obligatory return visit ruined the chance of the family spending a quiet quality time together.

Then there are our own family Eid’s tradition, the 6 am visit to the martyrs cemetery on the first day, the constant traveling (for hours) to visit rather unpleasant relatives that we avoid like the plague for the rest of the year. Even collecting the small change that kids get (Eidieh) was not really big thing for me (and my mom usually confiscated that later anyway!)

I know that many people find the chance to reconnect with the relatives and the extended family pleasant reminder of belonging to a bigger entity than you small nuclear family, and I agree if it happens in small doses, and if you actually get a chance to have a meaningful conversation with anybody. Regretfully, at Eid, you only get the downside, there are far too many people around and the visits are usually quite short, so people travel vast distances to come drink their coffee, eat their sweet and then move on to the next chore! Absolute madness!

One of the reasons of me “turning against” the Eid is that I have a large extended family, which means that you waste the three days of Eid in order to be able to visit everyone. I mean really large extended family, I have 11 uncles and aunts on my mother’s side, and 7 on my father’s side, I do have a grand total of over 107 first cousins. Just imagine that when we visit my grandmothers on the Eid, there are usually over 20 children running amok at the same time, it drive me nuts.

I know that I am not alone, a growing wave of people in my age group (early 30s) are deciding each year that they’d rather travel abroad than face all the obligations of the Eid. I am an extreme case only in the sense in that I wear my Eid loathing on my sleeve.

Living here in Dubai, the Eid for me is just another Friday, a time to disconnect and spend time at home reading or watching TV, I make couple of phone calls, but that is about it, I totally relax and let my hair down (this is an inside joke!)

Now that I stated my manifesto against the Eid, I must admit that I miss the date Mamoul that my mom, aunts, and grandmother are so good at, but I think that the sacrifice is worth it.!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

On self-hate and mortality!

It has been quite frustrating and depressing to be Palestinian these days, the scenes of anarchy and absolute chaos on TV is revolting, screaming out to the whole world “these people are not worthy of independence”, sitting here in Dubai, I can only fume and occasionally call home and scream at my poor dad, who is part of the political establishment.

I was at friend’s place yesterday, and he was sick with anger at what transpired 2 days ago in Rafah, where the Fatah gangs (under one of there multiple and interchangeable names) took over the crossing into Egypt, and then breached the barrier into Egypt, and were firing on Egyptian security (they killed 2 of them!). All of that was done to force the Palestinian Authority to release a lowlife who was responsible for kidnapping the three UK pro-Palestinian activists. The blackmail worked, he was released yesterday!

I am almost speechless, what kind of mockery is this? we are going into parliamentary elections in scene rivaling Liberia, absolute absence of any security, and in Gaza at least, we only have ourselves to blame. Nobody will be surprised when Hamas wins the elections. As secular man, I dread that outcome, but I cannot be democratic in name only, if the people choose them, then they deserve to rule, nobody expect them to do any worse than this.

To a related subject, Sharon’s medical condition, I never cared for the man, but there is no reason to be happy that he is finished. The situation will get even more complicated, if our Palestinian house was in order and we don’t interfere in the Israel elections (via suicide attacks), then the Israelis might choose “pro-peace” government that we can negotiate with and reach a long-due settlement. However, with our internal chaos and the idiotic rockets telling Israelis that even if they leave us alone, we won’t, I am not optimistic. Again, I am not very proud of being a Palestinian right now.

Also on mortality, the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Maktoum passed away unexpectedly on Wednesday, and the Ruler seat, along with the Premiership of the UAE, has passed to Sheikh Mohammed. The transition was seamless, the funeral very simple, all affairs were taken care of extremely efficiently. I can only admire that.

I was raised in a Marxist family with great disdain for royalty everywhere, yet, here in the UAE, and especially in Dubai, I am amazed by how high-quality the leadership is, Sheikh Mohammed & the family has been working relentlessly to make this place world class, his leadership not only ahead of his own people’s expectations, it is also ahead of the performance of any other leader in the Middle East, elected or not. If I had a vote and they have elections here, I will vote for Sheikh Mohammed without a doubt.

The reforms he instituted in the government sector, his relentless campaign to make Dubai even more attractive to investors, and the sure way in which he encourages UAE citizen to take leadership by working rather than talking are a testament that good governance pays off handsomely. It is not a surprise that Dubai has not seen any indigenous extremist organizations, the people are well led and well fed, when democracy comes, they will be more ready than most.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A peak inside my sick head!

I am afflicted, unfortunately, by the misfortune that led to many mortal ends, this disease, this cross that I bear, my secret burden, is that my head sometimes gets swarmed with words and ideas so maddening that I feel forced to expunge it, to force it, by traumatic osmosis, into speech, paper, or computer screen lest my head explode and beside my definite demise, will lead to my heirs losing the apartment deposit because of all the mess on the wall. I used to call the times I have recurrence of my ailment, my “reflective” seizures, as they coincides with periods of extreme self introspection.

As for speech, I have learned, by the force of grave incidents, that speaking (or shouting) the hurricane winding through my head during these times is ill-advised. The audience invariably took it as the beer or the pill talking, or worse, me trying to impress them by speaking in tongues! Hence, unleashing the beast must be restrained in human company, and I resorted to cocooning myself during these times to avoid the inevitable conflagration.

Writing down the barrage which is disjointed words, streams of emotions, and bottomless anger and frustration that manifest itself in the melon above my shoulder was exit from the dark tunnel. I will write down thoughts, doodle indecipherable sketches and generally fill pages of worthless crap. The only problem for me, because of my horrid handwriting in both languages, that I could barely make sense of what I wrote later, I have no sense of glue that connected all of rivers of information.

During a long introspective period in the early 90s, I used to “write” almost daily, and after a while, I could mould the outcome of the “seizures” into something that hinges on the understandable. I worked this clay into a deformed form of poetry, which only grew with each bout, more and more flowed, it never really came out voluntarily, there was pain involved, lots unpolished thoughts, and extreme fatality, which greatly bothered me. Nevertheless, it was totally therapeutic, I felt great after “giving birth” to each new poem, and somehow, my medicine became my language!

By the mid 90s, my “seizures” decreased as my time filled up with work, and my dissatisfaction with my “poetry” greatly increased as I came acquainted with great poets such as William Blake, T.S Eliot, and Allen Ginsberg. For a while I published the disjointed poems online on Geocities under the title “Wings of Wax and Feather”, how very original! Of all the heroes and villains of mythology, I chose the hapless Icarus as my avatar, a testament to my self image as wayward son!

I will be lying to say I did not have “seizures” between 1997 (the date of last “poem”) and now, I had quite a few. I willed them away with alcohol, TV, or any other distraction, at certain times I did download the virus unto paper, but kept none of it post coitus. I somehow managed to cram the genie back in bottle most of the time. On times that it did escape, the chimera shifted shapes, instead of overly sentimental and self-focused mediocre poetry, rage filled articles and commentary came out! A few of those made it outside a small circle of friend (reminding me of the REM song), one of these “manifestations of the serpent” was an article widely published online and offline, read by over 500,000 sorry readers.

This bring me to why I am writing this quite lengthy post, lately, the demons have awakened, the fire that never quite died was fed somehow, and I have been trying to put it down. Unfortunately for you, my reader, this blog is becoming my outlet, the backroom where the monster is let loose, where some collateral damage is tolerated, and sometimes encouraged.
So the doors of the Colosseum are hereby opened!