c*devotchka

having my Cake, eating it – and not counting every last calorie

oh, i could worship the kitties July 24, 2007

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i really thought we were going to die today.

usually, i enjoy turbulence – quite like a rollercoaster ride – but today, i found that the shaking, vibrating and thick, blinding, opaque clouds (instead of the usual clear view of Changi) of the Dubai-Singapore flight we experienced wasn’t exactly fun.

when we landed with a hard thud, i sighed, “i get to buy my mee goreng.”

a home cooked meal, (steaming hot, fragrant white rice with sambal tumis udang, sayor lemak, sambal goreng pengantin and fried tofu with sambal kicap), a morning and evening frolicking with the cats and a delicious afternoon nap – it all feels like home to me.

am off in a hurry now.

Wadi Rum 1

in Wadi Rum, Jordan. we can’t wait to return.

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oh, all the Titi-s and the Rati-s of Egypt old! July 19, 2007

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it’s our 2nd last night of our 3 weeks holiday and it’s been a blast.

we’re exhausted, and i am afraid to report, are suffering from Egypt Fatigue. it is not true that if you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen em all. but after seeing 4000 year old temple ruins one after the other, you thirst for a complete piece of modern architecture with shiny new windows and … Starbucks.

i am ashamed to say that i can no longer say, “la(k), shukran” (no thanks) with a smile to the touts and shopkeepers. the moment we step out of the hotel, they descend upon us like vultures to carrion. which part of “no” do they not get?

i especially love it when they say, “looking for free, no hassle” – then they harass you until you get passed on to the next tout like a game of Pass-the-Tourist. on good days, i can still laugh and smile but on some days, like today, i really felt like smacking the kid who kept following me, touching me, insisting i take a tuft of grass from him (for a dollar in return).

unfortunately, he’s probably an offshoot of his parents who most likely went around from tourist to tourist, child in tow, begging for “baksheesh” while insinuating they’ve nothing to eat. the best tools to pass on to your children are the tricks of the survival trade!

after shooing one off, the guy at our hotel said, “they are not poor, this is business.”

we’re heading back for Dubai past midnight tomorrow. technically, we’re homeless, but luckily, we’re putting up with a friend for a few days. then it’s off to sunny xin jia po for 2 weeks, whoohoooo! sambal tumis udang, here i come!

for Nicole of New York, i’m gonna try and find out more about that dramatic “Singapura, SINGAPURA!” song you heard at our National Museum.

 

cairene pleasures July 13, 2007

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we’re in cairo at the mo.

i’m loving it.

we’re having issues getting our flight postponed to a week later. we can’t get through to air arabia’s Cairo office (it self terminates) and the lady at the call centre at Sharjah is a moron.

we’ve had a pretty great week plus. and last night, Ravi got real excited while peeling off burnt skin off my back. indians and all of their pigmentation don’t shed like snakes. we also found a pretty cool bookstore on Zamalek called Diwan. we’ve bought giant coffeetable books.

Petra, sleeping under thousands of stars in the desert of Wadi Rum, hiking up to the peak of Mt Sinai, swimming with the fishes at Sharm el Sheikh, exploring Cairo and tomorrow, Alexandria.

this holiday is coming to an end too soon.

 

it isn’t worth it July 4, 2007

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we woke up early to head to the Israeli embassy. before the cab arrived at our destination, it was clear where we were. the chaos before us was familiar. tens and tens of people outside barricades, no queues, and two Israeli embassy employees behind the barricades, shouting and rejecting, and accepting very few people into the embassy.

we were horrified.

a Jordanian told us, “don’t wait here with us, this is for Arabs, maybe you can go in because you are not Arabs.”

i wish he was right.

the employees didn’t speak very good English and to top it off, were extremely frustrated, disgruntled employees. they were, in typical Allenby fashion, extremely rude and dismissive.

even before Ravi had a chance to say anything, to explain that we had spoken with someone inside the embassy, the guy waved him off and said “i cannot give you access. is your name on the paper? is your name on the paper?” he mocked.

how the fuck would we have known to have gotten our names on THE PAPER? what bloody paper?

we hung around for an hour, long enough to see the others waiting with us being shoo-ed off. yes, SHOO-ED off like flies.

they were shoo-ed off like they were not Palestinians with Jordanian passports who have homes in Israel. imagine having that much difficulty going home.

that’s right, we don’t have American passports. we can’t just waltz in and out of Israel, the country the Brits created ,then washed their hands off of when the heat was turned on.

Ravi said, “forget it, they can keep their Jerusalem.”

we napped a good part of the afternoon and i got a haircut and a pedicure in the evening. it’s typical ya know, you find the perfect hairstylist (finalleh!) and he’s in a foreign country.

my hair’s straight now, in a bob. and quad-coloured.

if the day before i couldn’t stop caressing my post-Dead Sea arms, this day, i couldn’t stop running my fingers through my straight hair.

i’ve never been able to run my fingers through my curly hair.

but i’m sure, when i wash my hair tomorrow, it’s gonna go all Einstein on me again.

i can’t say it enough, we love Jordan, we love Jordanians.

 

salt gets in your eyes

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day 3

we’d planned to stake out at the Israeli embassy for a chance to get a visa for Ravi (why he still holds on to a Malaysian passport is something i cannot understand since he’s more of a Singaporean than anything else) but the lady on the Israeli embassy line told us that we should come the next day instead, cos they didn’t accept visa applications that day.

it was a very strange conversation. she answered my questions very vaguely and only said “i cannot say this now, you should come down tomorrow so we can talk face-to-face.”

we were so hopeful after that!

so we celebrated by heading to Mt Nebo, Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan and an evening at the Dead Sea.

Mt Nebo’s where Moses spotted the Promised Land and is said to have died, at 120 years of age. not sure if that was metaphorical though, perhaps he felt 120 years old, what with all that suffering and walking. but what do i know?

there’s now a Moses Memorial Church at the top of Mt Nebo. the view from up there was stupendous. Pope John Paul II had visited this memorial and i felt the place was more him than Moses, what with the plastic wrapped prayer clothes and pictures of him everywhere. what i found particularly fascinating was the Roman milestone (ya know, that all roads lead to Rome?), it had names i could actually read!

but of course, pictures will come this way only next month.

thereafter, we went off to Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan. passed by the hill where prophet Elijah is said to have ascended to heaven from. Bethany was so hot, my already sunburnt face turned beetroot red like i had put a grater to my face. my hair felt like hay. we were near the lowest point on Earth, at the Dead Sea, temperatures were soaring well close to 40 and above.

i wanted to ascend to heaven.

we got to the spot where Jesus is believed to have been baptised by John the Baptist. they are still excavating the area and are almost convinced that this was the exact spot Jesus was baptised at. the Jordan river 2000 years ago was very different from what it is today. where he was baptised is now dry, and the river runs a different course.

i felt one with history.

in the searing heat and walking to the buzz of the locusts, we walked to the Jordan River, where on the other side of the bank, we saw both the Israeli and Jordanian flags side by side.

like everything’s OK.

we all took turns baptising our feet and stealing Jordanian River water in 1.5L water bottles. one i emptied in 5 minutes because we had not had the foresight to bring an empty bottle.

Ravi went Jesus and dipped his head into the river, much to the amusement of the others amongst us.

the guide said a whole loada things, and lemme tell ya this, information overload. from Jerash to Ajloun, to Mt Nebo and Bethany – i think i switched off in between in waves.

after getting positively fried in the Jordanian Valley sun, we headed to the Dead Sea. being the el cheapo people that we are (Jordan is not a cheap place for tourists), we headed to Amman Beach.

Ravi, who cannot swim, was absolutely excited to bob around the Dead Sea.

“i’m floating! i’m floating!”

“oh my gawd, i so don’t know who you are.”

the sand on the beach was compact, hard, darkish and extremely hot in the summer sun. stepping into the sea itself was freaky for me, because i was so worried i’d cut myself on the stones and salt rocks – then die from pain in the water.

but i was just being very rubbish.

once inside, i didn’t want to come out although i could feel the 40 degree sun burning into everything on my body. i was also hoping nobody would come near us cos i hadn’t shaved both my pits or my legs (cos it’s a bad idea to do so before jumping into the Dead Sea). not many people were around because it was a week day.

we watched two local Jordanians spread mud all over each other and wanted to follow suit. because ya know, when in Jordan, do as the Jordanians do. and for free without a spa!

Ravi asked them where they got their mud from and he came back with enough to heal skin diseases of the world. i didn’t think i’d be as excited as i was, spreading mud all over myself. but then again, pigs seem to be very happy creatures.

the water got into my left eye and i was trying very, very hard not to scream. i stumbled to the beach and fumbled for the water bottle. the lifeguard (who’s quite hot and exotic) came and save the day.

he poured the water over my eyes, and voila! the pain was gone! just like that!

and then, i proceeded to get salt water in my eyes again and again and again. then to top it off, in my mouth. i cannot describe the taste. it was bizarre.

we packed the mud into a plastic bag, washed off the mud in the sea, then washed the salt off at the shower stands and proceeded to go back to the hotel.

and then there was an accident! first we heard a loud BOOM! then wheels screeched, then the car overturned and smashed into a lamp post so hard, the two lamps swung from side to side (the sturdy metal ones!) before dropping.

thankfully none of the passengers were hurt.

the Jordanian police were on site within 30 seconds. not exaggerating, i was extremely impressed.

we had dinner at Blue Fig Cafe, an upmarket cafe/bar/restaurant near hip and expensive Abdoun Circle. the food was alright but the hot chocolate was excellent.

i had the Pakistani Catch and Ravi had some kinda hybrid fusion food that tasted as strange as the combination – tahineh + oriental chicken.

our skin were smooth like a baby’s bottom that night. i couldn’t stop touching my arms. mental masturbation, ha ha.

we passed out that night. we’ve had some pretty busy days.

 

you’re not welcome to israel July 1, 2007

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day 2

we’d overslept. again. i think this is the Ravi syndrome. i’m not letting him control the alarm tomorrow. we checked out of Hisham Hotel, almost sad that we were leaving this nice, peaceful gem on Jebel Amman so soon.

we rushed down to the Citadel and were bowled over by the museum there. so much to read, so little time! ruins are exactly that – ruins. you gotta stand there and have a pretty wild imagination to envisage the glory that would have towered over you hundreds of years ago. the view of Amman from up there is breathtaking. we saw the Roman theatre nestled right in the middle of Downtown, though absolutely out of place in a modern city, it commanded some kind of authority over the entire area. it was carved out of the base of the mountain. the guide also expressed wishes that his wife looked like me – we didn’t tip him.

we sped down to Allenby/King Hussein bridge to make our way to Israel. on the Jordanian side, the guards were extremely cordial and even led us to exactly where we needed to be. it was a long waiting game, going to the Israeli side. the bus had to stop a few times and immediately outside the Israeli checkpoint, we waited like what felt like the Jurassic Age.

what was to come was what we had not expected at all.

i’d always imagined Israel to be super-organised. if you were to ask me why that is, it’s got to be everything you see on cnn. the Israeli army always in their green fatigues, strong and muscular, commanding and assertive – the Palestinians with their t-shirts and rocks-in-hand.

here, at the Israeli checkpoint, there was absolute chaos. there wasn’t an efficient system in place. what we experienced cannot be described as a system at all. a Brit lady who constantly shuttles out of Israel had a mouthful and a half for everybody who worked at this checkpoint. i was almost afraid to be associated with her.

this is what you have to do at the Israeli checkpoint.

1. get down from the bus and look like a lost chicken.

2. hang around with other lost chickens with giant backpacks.

3. head towards the area where cackling, experienced chickens could be found with giant luggage bags and large bottles of water. we believe them to be Palestinians who shuttle in and out of Israel regularly for supplies – more of this later.

4. watch the entire process from behind the cackling chickens.

5. follow. hand your bags and passport to the “bag” guy behind the barriers and pray to God (Jew God, Christian God, Islam God, Kitchen God) your bags doesn’t disappear behind the wall, never to appear.

6. watch and tremble silently (with cool exterior) as “bag” guy walks to a row of counters and hands over your passport while your bags disappear behind the wall.

7. pretend you know what’s going on by telling the Swiss guy beside you what to do.

8. play “I Spy with my Little Eye, a bullet hole in the wall” while they process your passport and every other Palestinian’s passport. “bag” guy returns to the barrier and hands out the passports back to cackling chickens and lost chickens.

9. stare in bewilderment as a girl behind the counter stands up with your passport and your husband’s passport, and shouts to a lady behind the door (where the bags disappear to).

10. wait longer than everybody else.

11. go through the security check, metal detector, bag scanners.

12. get interrogated, er, questioned by the lady behind the door.

13. she questions Ravi separately to tally our answers. we must look very dangerous.

14. she concludes we are safe enough to travel into immigration. wonder why it was you thought “bag” guy and the infinite counters of inefficiency were immigration.

15. go towards “Visitor Pasport Control” (missing S ran away out of fear) and act extremely surprised the Swiss lost chicken is still there. he was pushed from one queue to the next.

16. queue behind hot Swiss lost chicken and engage him in conversation. make friends with very angry Brit lady.

17. hot Swiss lost chicken caught the eye of the gatal immigration girl and we were stuck there for 30 minutes. or so the Brit lady thinks.

18. make friends with the Francescan monk behind you who holds a Vatican passport. contemplate stealing his passport.

19. go to another counter and ask them to stamp your passport and let you through. nicely.

now, here’s the point where i stop having a sense of humour whatsoever.

the girl at the counter was chatting with the other two girls in the cubicle. when i handed over my passport, she grimaced – the kind of look i used to give when Miss Y.L. Low gave us “geophy” homework (she never pronounced “gra”).

she starts asking questions (“stupid questions”, the Brit lady calls ’em) like “what’s your name?”, “what’s your father’s name?”, “what’s your grandfather’s name?”, i swear i thought she’d ask me for my favourite colour.

she started employing the Intimidation Technique.

she doesn’t smile. she’s mean, in fact, i’d say she was a bitch. she wasn’t bitchy. she was a bitch.

in all my life (and Ravi’s longer life), through all the immigration counters and immigration officers i have ever encountered, i have to state for the record that she is the most arrogant, high-handed, rude, ignorant, naive and lazy immigration officer i have ever met.

when asked if i was married, she asked Ravi to come forward.

this was where our problems started.

“why do you want to come to Jerusalem?”

“for a holiday.”

first, she INSISTED that a honeymoon is not a holiday. that Christmas is a holiday.

listen, missy, not everything revolves around the Hebrew-American English dictionary. holidays, vacations – it’s a good time. whatever.

little missy and her two lazy cubicle friends started laughing at us because we are two poor Asians who cannot tell the difference between “holiday” and “vacation”. awww, we must also live in little straw roof huts by rice fields.

i asked politely if it was possible to stamp our Jordanian exit slips which is actually the departure tax receipt. without looking up, she indignantly replied “no” with a lifting lilt at the end of her rude “no”.

in fact, i felt like i was talking to a kid who refused to share her toy with another kid, just because she can.

i am, in no way, exaggerating any of this. i promise.

“we plan to visit Syria and Lebanon, please do not stamp our passports.”

“no.” she didn’t bloody care. like i said, she wasn’t bitchy. she was a bitch.

little missy’s partner-in-sarcasm took on Ravi’s passport. it started becoming more obvious that Ravi’s Malaysian passport was a problem.

“where is your visa?”

“i don’t have one, i don’t need one,” replied Ravi.

listen, this is where it gets weird. Malaysia and all of its so called secularism, does not recognise Israel as a sovereign state.

after this, it was a string of “you need a visa”, “i don’t have a visa”, “he can’t get a visa”s back-and-forth. i explained, “Malaysia does not recognise Israel as a country, which means that an Israeli embassy does not exist in Malaysia – so he cannot apply for a visa.”

“no, you must get a visa.”

i’m not sure if she understood clearly, but i am pretty sure it was more a case of “i don’t give a shit, you don’t have a visa, i don’t care why, too bad, get lost”.

“thousands of Christian Malaysians are allowed entry into Israel even if Malaysia and Israel does not have diplomatic relations. they do not get visas either, how is he any different?”

after waiting for 3 hours, you don’t really feel like giving up. Ravi was pissed, Mr Marble Slab was visibly pissed!

little missy’s friend disappears behind another wall and comes back with the same news “you cannot go in without a visa.”

we started arguing at this point of time and finally she said “ok, i don’t want to fight. wait here.” little miss partner-in-sarcasm actually stopped trying to bully us and dragged her supervisor out.

he – was a lot friendlier than anybody else we had encountered on the Israeli govt’s payroll. he explained the situation to us once more i.e. repeated what we already knew. and we repeated everything back to him.

“i don’t know how the Christian Malaysians got in, i think they came in organised groups.”

oh, so now we are prejudiced against the travelling individual?

i understand it’s a grey area, a very, very grey area – but we were in the best place to find out more. at the checkpoint itself. we wanna get in, so tell us, how do we get in?

but he didn’t know, he didn’t even know where the Israeli embassy in Amman is. he apologised that he wasn’t able to issue Ravi a visa and suggested we try with the Israeli embassy in Amman although it’s only for Jordanians.

“we have an unofficial representative in Dubai,” he said. to which i replied, there is no way we re able to find out where and how, all we found was press releases by UAE which rubbished such statements.

politics. nobody said it wasn’t prickly.

little missy asked if i was going to continue on to Jerusalem without Ravi. perhaps now’s the time to send her to a real English dictionary to find out what “honeymoon” means. and while she’s at it – what “holiday” means in original English i.e. Brit English, ya know, us who spell humour with the “u” and do not misspell “they’re” as “their” or “there”?

and who’s going to explain the way these customs officials treated us?

like when little missy demanded for my tourist visa and i replied politely, “i don’t have one, i don’t need a visa”, to which she snapped mockingly “oh, why? do you have an American passport?” as she held my Singapore passport.

this is how she, and i imagine, half or more of the other customs officials at the Israeli Allenby Bridge checkpoint treats its tourists. me, a tourist. Ravi, a tourist.

the tourist who has come to visit beautiful Israel and all of its wonders? the tourist who makes the conscious decision to contribute to the Israeli economy? the tourist who, more than anything, would like to understand a little more about Israel and its people? the tourist who thinks there might be more to Israel than the iron-wielding fist it holds over Palestinians? or, like Ravi, the tourist who decides to take a risk in visiting Israel although his own country clearly states on page 2 of the passport that travel to Israel is absolutely prohibited?

we had to turn back. we waited for a bus, any bus, to take us back to the Jordanian side. we were guarded. i had to go through the security check again just to take a piss – even though i came from the security check.

we waited and we watched Palestinians doing their thing, handing over their passports and bags to “bag” guy, unsure if they’d be allowed in. and even if they were, if they’d be allowed past immigration – some of them don’t.

we thought to ourselves, “oh my, aren’t we the lucky ones.”

don’t try telling me that these immigration officials are tired and frustrated from processing Palestinians who constantly shuffle between Jordan/Israel, that they are tired from being on their toes all the time.

they were chatting happily amongst each other, but it was completely different towards the rest of us. there is a very, very large difference between being authoritative and a bully.

is being rude and sarcastic absolutely necessary? is being mocking part of being professional? especially towards tourists?

the Brit lady assured us that Tel Aviv immigration officials are nothing, nowhere anything like the ones we encountered, and that we shouldn’t be put off although she herself was beside herself with anger and frustration. even more so than us and the Palestinians.

she got through, and is probably on her way to Tel Aviv.

while we are back in Amman, in PC Corner on 3rd Circle in Jebel Amman, blogging away.

the Brit lady advised, “get hooked up with the Jewish tour agencies, only go with the Jewish tours and everything will be smooth.”

i hope this “Israel is ours, so is Jerusalem, God gave it to us, so we behave however we want while you are grovelling to win your way in” behaviour is not representative of anything else in Israel. in fact, i am almost sure it isn’t.

and i really hope it isn’t. because i really want to love Jerusalem. and Bethlehem. and Tel Aviv. and Haifa. because i’d like to go back to Singapore, Dubai, Malaysia and tell them “you’re wrong, Jews aren’t like ‘that’ at all. they really aren’t. not all of  ’em want war, not all of ’em hate Muslims and they are not, as Hitler had thought, the source of the world’s problems.”

we turned back towards Jordan, feeling a little dejected, but extremely determined to go back as soon as possible. and to the same little missy if possible.

and let me tell you this, we love Jordan.

when we got back to the Jordanian checkpoint, they were all smiles and friendly just as they were 4 hours before. they even made me feel happy to be back in Jordan. even if the cabbie ripped us off for the trip back to Amman atJD25 – just cos it was so late and there was no way to get back to town.

we love Jordan and its people. we can’t wait for the rest of our trip.

and to throw our passports back at little missy. *crossing my fingers for Ravi*

 

welcome to jordan

Filed under: Uncategorized — c*devotchka @ 9:06 pm
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day 1 

we arrived at 0235 but found our way out of Queen Alia airport only at 0415. we were the last to leave customs and Ravi’s bag was found dumped by the conveyor belt. mine was MIA. i didn’t have a chance to worry, a little ginger cat came out from behind the conveyor belt (!) and happily sat out there, like she was Queen Alia. “ah!” thought i, “what a good sign!”

i thought too soon.

we had a booking with Palace Hotel, and had even arranged a hotel pickup with them. the Palace Hotel is “The Author’s Choice” of Lonely Planet’s guide to the Middle East.

our pick up never showed, and when we called the hotel, we found out they had lost our reservation. we were forgotten, completely lost in the abyss of bookings, reservations and foggy brainwaves. you can imagine what hearing this news at 0415 must be like – especially after a flight full of irritable, wailing children.

and 4 days of packing up the entire house to move.

we grabbed a cab, the cabbie was happy to welcome us to his country. he said “welcome to jordan” at least four times, and we thanked him no less than four times too. Ravi was so impressed with the warm welcome that came after the painful delay at customs, he tipped him generously enough for the guy to live for a week on McArabias.

when Ismail greeted us at Hisham Hotel, i wanted to fall into his arms – and the vacation hadn’t even started yet. he was extremely warm and made me feel like Santa Claus was manning the counter that night, complete with beard and all.

our room had a very 70s feel to it. the round, heavy glass lamp on the ceiling of the bathroom looked like it might have served as a crystal fruit bowl once. retro turquoise bathroom tiles, bathtub and fixtures made me feel, strangely, like i was born in the 60s.

it smelled 70s too.

it has 700+ cable channels (and counting, we haven’t reached the end of it yet) including adverts for gay-to-gay chats. we felt like we had to migrate immediately to Jordan – this must be a great place.

by the time we fell asleep, it was 0530, and instead of sleeping in our individual single beds, we, the large buffalo and cow, decided to sleep in the same slim bed and left the other unwarmed. because we are the most logical people around.

the plan was to get up by 0730 and explore Jerash, Ajloun and Amman. but boy, oh boy did we miss that mark. we got up at 1015 and lost half the day.

while making our way north of Amman, we fell in love with Jordan. hills and hills of olive trees and apricot plantations rose and fell before us. different shades of green, browns, greys and whites assaulted us with a sense of history and peace – although the sprawling Palestinian refugee camp at the base of one such hill would beg to differ.

Jerash was a huge site and was absolutely fascinating. i should have built up my stamina before this vacation, because i was out of breath more than i was in step with the guide. a local tried to sell me old coins he found at the site, for JD15 each – i was about to jump at it when Ravi promptly extinguished my dream of owning a little piece of history. instead, Ravi offered to wash the ancient coins for him.

Ajloun was a sweet ,little castle crowning the top of a hill. the roads leading up to the castle gave us a glimpse into the lives of the locals. they live very simply and while their time away on old couches on roadside pavements or at a neighbour’s bakery or car repair shop.

we tried to rush back to Amman to visit the Roman Theatre and Citadel, but we were too late. we passed out on our way back to Amman. we found ourselves at a mall, desperately needing a haircut (Ravi), a tampon (me), a pedicure (me) and a camera bag (again, me). Ravi got what he wanted and more – this is the most perfect “machine number 1” hairshave he has ever gotten. ever. and i got nothing.

we decided to explore the area around Masjid Hussein but were somewhat disappointed – living in Dubai, few things surprise us anymore at these Souks.

we went back to our hotel and it’s 700+ and counting cable channels and dreamt of castles and crusaders.