October 20, 2005

Saudi part6

From Sandy:

Sept 24, 2005

Last Tuesday I learned quite a bit about Saudi Arabia. I asked the 3D graphics class members were sharing examples of effective and not so effective packaging. One student showed a Saudi wedding invitation. It looked like a stall thin stationary box. She indicated it was overkill, considering that it contained one sheet of paper and looked more like a corporate identity piece than a wedding invitation. It was constructed of heavy boxboard similar to a cigar box. I pointed out that postage for something that heavy would be quite high. They looked at me like I had two heads, possibly three.

Mail? No, wedding invitations as with any invitation are delivered by the drivers by hand. They were stunned that we would use the mail for anything. This explains why we donít get any mail. There is no junk mail. I asked how we would know if we had mail at the compound. The person I asked said to just buy a postage stamp and put it at the main office here. No, no, says I. Incoming mail. I got the same pitch about the stamp.

My boss confirmed Ė there really isnít any mail and if someone sends it, it might never get delivered.

Same class, same students. I asked them to sketch or photograph (without getting caught) some of the apartment buildings with balconies. These are very creative. They were surprised. Why? Well, surface texture, for one, says I. No one uses them, I was told. Not only it is too hot to be outside, but a woman would still have to wear an abaya and head scarf. So, I suggested a balcony design which would allow people to use it during the cooler parts of the year.

Three heads again. No one uses them. The newer apartment buildings donít even have them. So, I am looking oddly at them. Americans use them? They asked. Sure. The barbeque grill is out there. Chairs, toys, plants. It becomes another room of the house. They were surprised.

We (some faculty) drove to a new restaurant called Senses for dinner Tuesday night. It is a new, rather swanky restaurant and it was stunning. The family area (where women or families must be) was upstairs. The bottom half of the stairway was lit up Ė orange, with a spiral rail. Upstairs was quite nice. From my vantage point I could look into the menís eating area Ė waterfalls cascade down the walls and the guys sit on the floor on pillows and eat amid pools of water that are recirculated the waterfall.

Turns out the king lives in Jeddah. I assumed he lived in Riyahd, but I guess he has palaces all over the kingdom. King Fahd (recently deceased) has a palace which is easily half the size of Cloquet.

There was a party in the compound last night Ė described by another female here as a drunk and drool party. Lot of the guys in the compound are married, but there families live elsewhere. When that description came of the wires, three of us decided to eat at my place. We watched CNN and Hurricane Rita.

I have started watching a Saudi news program in English. Two men read the news with appropriate news clips. They just read it without editorial comment. Though it tends to be boring, it is just the facts, even when talking about Israel. No sensationalism. This is an interesting contrast to US news.

The print ads here are more graphic than in the US and the foreign ads for US companies or middle-eastern companies are humorous or quite beautiful.

Oh-I finally feel like Iím in Saudi Arabia. We went to a place called Ballad today. It is a huge market by the Red Sea - yes I have finally seen the Red Sea. This market has some very expensive department stores and a couple of air-conditioned buildings with three floors of little stores but OUTSIDE in the heat are the little shops which reminded me of the street markets in Sicily. The further you go into this long alleyway of stores, the cheaper the prices are. I purchased much needed local clothing and some cashews called morning cashews which have been slowly roasted for two days and were warm. Oh, were they good.

And trust me folks, being an old hippie, the Ramadan clothing (which I guess are supposed to wear to school) is a dream come true. It is colorful and embroidered with wonderful patterns all over the piece. Photos to follow.

Guess when the king travels they shut down the route for and hour or so and run all kinds of vehicles so you wonít know what heís riding in Ė including an ambulance and a fire truck. Ok. The general take on King Abdullah (who has been running the country since King Fahdís stroke in 1995) is that he is a very nice man. Everyone likes him.

Every cabbie in town is well versed on the number of wives and children each of the sons of Ibn Saud have. Ibn Saud (who united the kingdom) had 60 wives, 100 sons and 80 daughters. I wonder if he had children he had never metÖ. One cabbie said that Abdullah who had 30 or so wives and over 100 children (I canít keep it all straight) as 7500 descendants when you figure children, grandchildren, greats and great=greats, but the spouses of all these folks.

I noticed that there are quite a few black African women who pick through the debrie fields where buildings have been torn down and others use these places as dumps. They basically are the recycling crew. I understand they are freed slaves. Gasp. Slavery ended here during the Kennedy Administration, so the pecking order starts with the royal family, then goes to Saudis Ė then down the ranks to the lowest Indian castes, where the women beg and then the homeless freed slaves.

I donít know if I endeared or upset my class when we were all talking about recycling. They were stunned to know that some Americans take recycling into consideration when purchasing products Ė let alone taking that into consideration when designing the product. One student pointed out that recycling was done by the homeless. I suggested that with some help, if they started recycling businesses, they could pull themselves out of poverty and perform something wonderful for the kingdom.

Some of the Americans here consider this abhorrent and put down the local culture. Somehow they donít look at the similar circumstances in the US. We all have a lot to learn.

Tomorrow classes only meet until 11:00 and then there are National Saudi Day celebrations for the rest of the day. Today was national Saudi Independence Day. When Margaret and I were in the Ballad a museum which she had always wanted to see was open. In it were the hand written, illuminated, illustrated texts of the Koran from hundreds of years ago. They were beautiful. It reminded me of the trip I took as a grad student with Janice Kmetz to the manuscript museum at the Twin Cities campus. I thought of you, Janice.

So, I think I learned more about S.A. last week, but this is what I remember learning. I havenít gained any weight, which surprises me. Iíve been eating so many carbs.

I sure appreciate any messages that come backÖ and as always, if you donít want to be on the mailing list for these, let me know.

S of Arabia

at October 20, 2005 9:23 AM