Archive | October, 2012

I Shop, Therefore I Am

25 Oct

Avenues MallTraveling for 22 hours after  3 months of work every day without a day (or night off), five hours of Ambien induced sleep and then a day of interviews, you’d think all I want to do is return to my hotel room, have a hot bath, perhaps order up some room service (love that) and crash for the night. Yeh, me too. But really, I’m here for two nights with no guarantees I will be back so sleep will have to wait.

Upon returning to my hotel (my driver, Abu, is back!) I head over to the Concierge desk to inquire about transportation to The Avenues, one of the largest malls in the Middle East. One of the things I like about Kuwait is the ease of getting around. I don’t mean that there’s no traffic, on the contrary, afternoon rush hour here lasts pretty much from 11:00am to 7:00pm. What I’m speaking of is Drivers. Everyone, it seems, has a driver. The country, being so wealthy due to the business of oil, has a ridiculous amount of luxury vehicles on the road. Firefighters driving Porsche’s (not that they shouldn’t, mind you. After all, they save lives), 16 year olds driving Maserati’s, you name it. But many people have drivers as it employs the foreigners and, well, as each Kuwaiti citizen is given money from the government on a regular basis, much of it tends to be spent hiring people to do everyday tasks that most people in the U.S. do for themselves (Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey excluded). Hotels have drivers to bring guests (and I mean ordinary guests like me, not Donald or Oprah) to a variety of places and, since the national pastime is going to the mall, my hotel will be happy to take me.

As it’s currently 4:00 pm and the car won’t leave for the mall until 6:00, I decide to take advantage of the hotel’s gym (ok, there’s a chance I am running on pure adrenaline but, I figure, why not take advantage of it?). One hour later (okay, maybe 45 minutes, whatever), elliptical trainer and weights done, I shower and change for my trip to the mall.

Fifteen minutes later, after my driver has negotiated around the enormous amount of road construction (seriously, every road in this city seems to be under construction) I enter the mall. My driver has told me that he will pick me up at 8:30. My first thought, I don’t know if I can stay awake that long. When I walk into the mall I’m suddenly energized. It’s as if they are pumping endorphins or caffeine in through the air conditioning system. The mall is beautiful. Open spaces, bright and shiny tile floors, and a wide variety of shops and restaurants. Part of my goal tonight is to go to stores we have at home (more on that in a minute) and price items that I know the cost of at home in order to get an idea of how far my money will go when it’s Kuwaiti Dinars. I head to Bath and Bodyworks and price some Body Butter. I price shoes and clothing. I buy a nice bag of apple tea to relive memories of leading tours in Turkey as well as a box of Turkish Delight (candy) to give to friends when I return.

As I am a huge people watcher, this takes up much of my time. I notice many families walking in the mall. Many of the men are dressed in all white “sheikh” type clothing with a Keffiyeh (traditional headdress) while others are in business suits and still others (many of them teenagers or twenty-somethings) are dressed in shorts or jeans and T-shirts. The women are dressed in outfits ranging from fashionable western ensembles to full Abaya (traditional black cloak) with a Hijab (headscarf) and Niqāb (a veil which covers the face). Many women simply wear western style clothing with a colored headscarf (many have rhinestones on them which, anyone who knows me would know makes me smile as I like sparkly things). The general rule of dress is to keep your shoulders and knees covered (works well for me as I got my mom’s thighs).

Men here seem to truly enjoy being with their children. They play games with them and laugh as they walk throughout the mall. I see one man with what appears to be his wife and four daughters. I comment, “Wow, lots of girls. Good luck!” He laughs and responds, “I love girls!” It seems to me that I won’t find many men sitting on Barco Loungers in the furniture department of Sears while watching the football game.Applebees

I’m starving and walk from restaurant to restaurant trying to find a place with a nice atmosphere that has some traditional Kuwaiti food. This is harder than you might think. I pass a Dean & Deluca, Starbucks, Pinkberry, Applebees, Au Bon StarbucksPain, Benihana, Ruby Tuesday, TGI Friday’s, P.F. Chang, Pizzeria Uno, Nathan’s Hot Dogs, Johnny Rockets (3 of them!) and Chile’s. Hhmmmm, perhaps this is “traditional” Kuwaiti food. I end up choosing a French Restaurant as the waiters at the entrance are charming and assure me they have one traditional Kuwaiti dish. I sit and order the traditional shrimp and rice dish as well as a “cocktail.” This brings me to something very different Auntie Anne'sfrom the U.S. Kuwait is a dry country. No alcohol here. Anyone who knows me understands that I enjoy a nice glass of red wine with dinner or perhaps a 12 year old, single malt Scotch Whiskey after a particularly hard day. This will definitely take some adjusting to. Anyway, not shying away from the subject of prohibition, this restaurant actually has a “Cocktail” Menu. I order a drink with many juices, some soda water and some Blue Curacao (which goes completely against my personal rule of not drinking anything blue out of concern for walking around looking around looking like I’m oxygen deprived).

While waiting for my meal the manager comes over to make friendly conversation. She and her husband came here from the Philippines (there’s a huge Filipino community here) and enjoy most things. She does not enjoy the six day work week (standard in Kuwait) or the strangeness of the Thursday/Friday weekend due to the Friday Muslim Holy Day. She does enjoy the company that she works for which happens to be the company I am interviewing with (no big surprise as they are they seem to own everything in Kuwait). PinkberryWe speak about the benefits of working for the company as well as the discount which employees get for all stores and restaurants that company owns (Ooh, not buying retail? This Jewish girl loves that).

My meal comes and I relax, people watch and eat. Yummm. The waiter asks how I enjoy it and I tell him it’s just as good as promised. He is happy but tells me that if I want real, traditional Kuwaiti food I should go across to Dean & Deluca. What? Are you kidding?Dean & Deluca

Before I know it it’s 8:30 and my driver is transferring me back to my hotel. Aah, bed never felt so good.

Tomorrow read Interviews, Presentations and Tours, oh my.

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Kuwait Just a Minute

18 Oct

At this point I should probably take the time to mention the various reactions I received from friends when I told people I was coming to Kuwait. You see, I am a Jewish girl, more by tradition than by religious following. Still, my last name is quite ethnic. I went to high school in an amazing place in Michigan called Oak Park. It’s a suburb of Detroit (while Eminem grew up at 8 Mile, I grew up at 9 Mile. Yup, 1 mile away – we’re very creative with our street names). The student population at Oak Park High was composed of 50% black and 50% white students. The whites were fairly evenly divided between Jews and Chaldeans (Christians from Iraq who were escaping the Iran/Iraq war). Many of my friends on Facebook are people I grew up with. When I mentioned my plans on Facebook one old classmate asked, “Why would you go to Kuwait?” A valid question. My response, “Speaking as a Traveler, because I’ve never been before.” Her response, “Okay, but could you maybe stop in Israel on your way home?” Hhmmmm, do I need to cleanse myself and get the Jew back in me? Another response I received from somebody still living back home was, “Ok, just be careful there.” Nice thought, and I appreciate the well-wishes. My response may have been a bit snarky (uh, it’s me remember) whenIi said, “Thanks, and you be careful there in Detroit.” I think most people believe ‘better the devil you know than the one you don’t.’

That said, on with the day. I wake up this morning not so refreshed. It’s 6:00am you see and I went to sleep at around 2:00am. This is not only unnecessary but incredibly irritating as the car doesn’t pick me up at 11:30. I lay there with my eyes closed refusing to accept that I am awake. After a couple of hours I finally drift back to sleep for a bit longer. When I wake up and go to get dressed, I ponder the outfits I’ve brought. How does one dress for a job interview in Kuwait? I choose the safe bet, a black suit.

I head to the breakfast buffet (my absolute favorite part of staying in an international hotel in a foreign country). I try small bites of some things I recognize and many things i don’t. The humus alone is a reason to move to Kuwait. Yummm. I stop back up to my room to grab a portfolio and drop my iPad and get a call that my driver is waiting downstairs.

I get in the car and introduce myself. My driver’s name is Abu and I can’t help but think of the monkey from Aladdin. Abu is originally from Egypt and, between his bad English and my nonexistent Arabic, we are still able to learn a bit about each other. Abu moved to Kuwait 14 years ago and has a wife and 3 kids. In his spare time he likes to fish and go to the mall (the national pastime). Abu asks if I’m married. I respond no and wait for the next question (it always comes). “Oh,” he says knowingly. “Do you like men?” he asks. What he is really saying, “Don’t you like men.” I assure him that yes, in fact, I do like men very much. I’ve just never found the right one. Or perhaps he hasn’t found me.

I arrive at the office which takes up an entire street. This company is one of the largest in Kuwait and, in fact, all of the Middle East. After checking in with the receptionist I am met by Cheryl, the Human Resources Administrator who brings me back to look around. We talk for a while and watch a presentation on her computer which tells me more about the company. We then go to meet the Operations Manager who I have spoken with by phone and on Skype. On the way, Cheryl asks if I have jet lag. I put on a brave face and say no, that I’ve slept quite well. Her response, “Oh, you look tired.” Two thoughts come to mind. First, of course I am. I haven’t slept in 4 months! Second, thanks, that’s just what I need to build my confidence as I head into a full day of interviews.

We head into a meeting room where I meet with Sam. Sam is a British man who was hired on as Operations Manager for this new venture. Oh, I suppose I should mention that the job I am interviewing for is Artistic Manager for a kid’s theme park. This park already exists in quite a few locations around the world but, as it’s a franchise, this large company in Kuwait will be franchising it there. Sam and I speak about the project for an hour or so but, as we have already spoken a couple of times, this is more third date. If I’m hired, we will be working closely together. After about an hour, I am handed over to Dina, the Human Resources Manager.

Dina explains that she will be asking me questions about how I have handled challenges and situations in the past. She tells me that I should give specific examples. Not a problem as I am confident in my experience and, in my current role, I handle unusual challenges on a daily (sometime hourly) basis. After about 20 minutes Fernando comes in. Fernando is Sam’s boss and I am due to meet with him next. As his schedule has just changed, he asks if he can meet with me now and Dina and I can continue our conversation later.

I head on over to Fernando’s office where he tells me about his history. He is from Portugal but grew up in England (thus the crazy accent). He was also brought over for this project and has been in Kuwait for nearly a year. He then asks about my life and says he is impressed by my CV (good to hear as I’ve worked hard to gain all that experience). We have a nice conversation and I am getting to know more about the project with each person I talk to.

Next, back with Dina (truly the toughest interviewer of them all) to finish up the final three questions (thank goodness there is no lightning round) and I am once again handed over to Cheryl who takes me to Starbucks for coffee and a bite. There seem to be more Starbucks in Kuwait City than in Seattle. This one is on the grounds of the company’s headquarters (this alone could be a reason to work for this company). After a bit, Cheryl calls my driver (different one and definitely not as fun as Abu) and I head back to the hotel.

Tonight, a trip to the mall. Read about it in I Shop, Therefore I Am

I’ve Got Baggage

17 Oct

Photo courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

So, here I am, sitting at another airport. The day did not get off to a great start, what with the flood in my kitchen. Mopped up (mostly) and water shut off. Can someone please call a plumber so I don’t have to deal with that when I get home?

Twenty five minutes later I’ve pulled up to Phoenix Sky Harbor airport and, after a bit of searching found a great parking space, all the while thinking how great it will be to return with just my carry-on bag, hop into my conveniently located car and drive home on Tuesday. Yes, today is Friday. I am flying to Kuwait for 2 days. Someone that I work with posed the question, “Who flies to Kuwait for two days?” Uh, that would be me, ma’am. Then again, I once flew to Cancun for five hours. Long story.

I turn on the interior light in the car to do just a bit of rearranging and I’m off. I’ve gone online ahead of time to enter my frequent flyer number. People, if you don’t belong to these and hotel clubs you are a fool. I’m rackin’ up 17,000 miles on this trip (your mileage may vary) and choose my seats (I highly recommend www.seatguru.comto get benefits and drawbacks of the seat you have chosen).

Photo courtesy of Chris Gash

The only challenge is my domestic flights as the airline website won’t let me choose seats for these and I am just too busy to call. I wing it (pardon the pun) for the flight to Chicago and end up with a middle seat on a full flight. Woo-hoo! Worse yet, I’m boarding zone 7 which means the plane may already be taxiing to the runway by the time I start boarding. It also means that all of the overhead space will most likely be taken by the time I board.

I approach the gate agent to see if I might get the one seat that is still showing as available. It is an emergency exit and, unless you have status, there is a surcharge. Although I used to have status (aah, the good old days), once you lose it, you also seem to become invisible. I realize that, when seated in the emergency exit, you also get an earlier boarding number. This just might be worth it as, kind folks that they are, the airline has offered to check any carry-on to my final destination when they run out of overhead space, which the gate agent has assured me will most definitely happen. I have a small panic attack about this as I’m flying for two days and I have minimal carry-on. It would be great to have it with me and, with my many connections, not have it lost as I have all of my job interview clothes and make-up (yes, vanity rears its ugly head) in there. I ask the price of this emergency exit “upgrade” (although it bothers me on principle as, I’m 5’3″, I don’t need the extra leg room). From the price quoted, this seat is apparently made from gold and down feathers. And worse yet, the seat has now disappeared from the available column as I’m told that it was just given to somebody with status.

After I explain my situation again (I mean really, some of these people are just flying to Chicago and could check their bags), I ask if I might board with another group. I’m told no and madam gate agent says that I will most likely have to check my bag through to Kuwait City but, “we’ll hope that doesn’t happen.” Aah, hope springs eternal.

Finally, my flight starts boarding and, rebel that I am, I sneak my way into the Zone 6 line where the gate guy tells me I may have to check my bag if there’s no room. Really? I hadn’t heard this. I step on board and there is enough room in the overhead bins to store 3 Volvo’s and a Prius. People boarding after me were not pleased to see all of the open space when they had been made to check their bags. Honestly, if anyone from the airlines is reading this, wake up and stop charging for checked bags and start charging for carry-on.

So here I am, sitting in my middle seat fighting with that kid over the armrest and playing “Where’s My Water” on my iPad (strangely addictive), when a horrible thought pops into my head. I forgot to turn off the interior light in my car after I rearranged my luggage. Carry-on? Check. Car parked in a convenient location to make a quick airport exit on my return? Check. Dead battery requiring the kindness of a stranger to jump start it? Check.

I turn on the TV in the seat back in front of me in order to distract myself. Ooh, a little E! to not only take my mind off my dead battery but to actually turn my brain to mush. Just getting into E! News Daily and      hearing about the Kardashian’s latest escapades (I know, I lost your respect. Mine too) when a message is flashed on the screen telling me to swipe my credit card to continue. #$&@!!!!

A stop in Chicago where I share a pizza and wine with Mary Sue, who I met in the Phoenix airport. (To be more specific, we shared the pizza and we talked over wine. I don’t share my wine with anybody). She is heading to Florence to enjoy 10 days in a Villa with friends who have arranged wine tasting and a personal chef. I ask if she wants to trade trips. She politely declines.

Even before the flight is called people are lining up. As it’s a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt there is a mix of nationalities amongst the passengers with many Germans and Americans. You can easily spot which are which because, apparently there are four lines and the Germans confidently step into place even though there are no signs or stanchions dividing the lines or indicating which lines are which. They are organized, orderly and on time. The Americans, well, not so much. We stand there in a clump asking each other what seat we’re in and trying to figure out which line we should stand in.

Despite our confusion we leave on time. Next stop Frankfurt and then on to Kuwait City. Read about it in Kuwait Just a Minute.

Hello, I Must Be Going

15 Oct

Hello friends. As you know, I work on board a cruise ship and, although I am in the Entertainment Department, I don’t find it a very creative place. That, combined with the 70+ hours per week that I work and the slow and expensive internet (don’t get me started) and, well, you can usually tell when I’m on vacation because that’s when I look at the world in a more snarky way and decide to share it with you. So welcome to my vacation (hoping you’re buying the drinks).

For the past three months I pretty much lived every Phoenician’s dream. I fled the burning furnace that is Phoenix in the summer to spend time in Alaska. Most people who work on ships like to go to the Caribbean so they can use their Facebook status as a tool to make their friends at home jealous by sharing photos of themselves on a beautiful beach and bragging about the 85 degree temperature in the middle of February. I enjoy taking photos of snow-capped mountains on rainy days and bragging about the 55 degree weather. To each his own.

Tracy Arm

The adventures were also fabulous. Hiking up a mountain and running into a bear is much more exciting than walking on the beach and running into a lady who wants to braid my hair (Really? I have no desire to have a bead chip my tooth every time I turn my head too quickly). Whales? Yep, hung out with them.

What’s the difference between and Orca and a Bear? about 200 feet.

Glaciers? With all that ice falling you’d think they’d be fine with me collecting just a bit for my margarita (not so much). 

Then more bears, this time three of them crossing the road (assuming they did it for the same reason the chicken did). 

After a summer of adventure and trying to make people happy (vacationers as well as my staff and bosses), I need a bit of a rest. So, after four days of rest, I’m sitting on an airplane headed to Kuwait . . . wait what????!!! Let me explain.

After my last vacation I decided that I wanted to move to England (by the way, if you haven’t read about that adventure you can start at “On a Wing and a Prayer”). So, I began following some UK job websites on Twitter and nosing around the internet. I applied for a few jobs explaining that, while I don’t currently hold a visa to work there, I would have no trouble obtaining one due to my lack of any criminal record (I’m pretty sure that fell off by now). Still, it seems that most companies want me to get that pesky visa before they’ll hire me. I also saw an ad for a House Manager for the Queen. As I had just recently walked up her front walk and spent some time on her lawn I was sure she’d remember me. I completed the application (formality, of course she’ll want me!) and waited for her invitation to tea. Not only did I not receive an invitation to tea, but I received a rejection E-mail. Is it possible she doesn’t remember me? Or perhaps she does.

So, while I was busy working at my job cruising Alaska while looking for a job in England, others seemed have different ideas. I received an E-mail from a company based in Kuwait letting me know of their interest in me and requesting my C/V (that’s a resume for all of you Americans). I forwarded it as, you never know, they may be friends with the Queen. Next thing I know they want to talk to me on the phone. I offer up a choice of times to them as, logistically, this seems like a real challenge. Nine hours’ time difference if we do it while I’m in Seattle, 10 hours if we do it from Alaska, we’re not in port very long and it’s way too expensive calling from the ship. Logistical nightmare. With the call time agreed upon I wait for my phone to ring. Nothing. It turns out I wasn’t the only one confused. They got their time conversion wrong. Try number two resulted in a 90 minute phone call between Ketchikan, Alaska and Kuwait City.

Next thing I know I’m shortlisted and they want me to fly out. As I was in the middle of a contract and the only person on board who does my job, my current employers were not so keen on me taking a few days off to fly to Kuwait to go interview with another company. Go figure. Some people are so inflexible.

This brings me to where I sit now. Seat 23B, fighting over the armrest with the kid next to me who doesn’t understand the unwritten rule that, whoever is in the middle seat gets the armrest. The flights add up to 22 hours going there and 28 hours returning. I will be in Kuwait for exactly 49 hours. During that time I will have 4 interviews (one a cultural interview), do 1 presentation and have a tour of Kuwait City. I have come with a carry-on suitcase (which United Airlines threatened to check. Uh, I don’t think so), a Kindle, an iPad (redundant?) and some Ambien. Coming up next, the flights in I’ve Got Baggage.

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