Saturday, May 8, 2010

Busy Busy Busy

I am sorry I haven't had much time to post, but life really isn't that exciting these days. I am working long hours to finish the final assignments of the semester: two research review papers and three finals.

My research paper topics are:

"Comparing membrane bioreactors with conventional activated sludge treatment for organic micropollutant removal"


"State of the art wastewater treatment and biological degradation mechanisms for microbial fuel cells"

My final exams will be:

Reaction Engineering
Physical and Chemical Treatment Processes
Clean Fossil Fuels and Biofuels

Sounds exciting, huh?

I took a few hours for lunch with friends and a basketball game yesterday, and I plan to play a little frisbee this evening, but life at KAUST is mostly work right now... I am learning a lot.

I am not the only busy student. One of my mechanical engineering friends complained of four engineering projects that would be due in the next two weeks, the computer scientists are always programming something, and many of the other biologists and marine scientists are also writing frantically these days.

Busy times.

Correction to Blog Post Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

It has been brought to my attention that the "Saudi Oger Recreation Director" mentioned in this post is actually a KAUST-Aramco manager who oversees Saudi Oger's recreation contract. The contracted workers who were suspended are Saudi Oger employees.

Apologies for this misstated fact and the confusion it may have caused. The information has been corrected in the original post.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Reflecting on Jeddah

The Jeddah fountain is, I've heard, the tallest fountain in the world and the city's most distinctive landmark. It is a beautiful sight at night.

I've been to Jeddah more than a dozen times since August for friends, food, and shopping and it has become one of my favorite places in Saudi Arabia - not for the city itself, but for the people who live here.

Jeddah is one of the most diverse cities in the Kingdom. Jeddah has been a major trading port for millennia, and many of its citizens can trace their heritage back to faraway lands in Asia or Africa. More recent immigrants have stayed, sometimes illegally, after preforming Hajj or Umrah. Almost all of the two million Hajj pilgrims come into and out of Jeddah's airport every year.

This cultural mixing is evident in the old market, Al Ballad. Multi-ethnic merchants are selling pashminas from India and Pakistan, carpets from Afghanistan, fruit from Jordan, and every other thing one can think of.

The customers are just as diverse this picture is taken from the gold market - a fun place for the ladies (and their husbands) to browse for fancy jewelry.

Rich and poor, young and old, Saudi and non-Saudi - everyone is here in the old town.

Northern Jeddah, especially along the water front, is much more modern (and more expensive) and has been built up with large houses, fancy hotels, and marinas full of some of the most gigantic yachts I have ever seen.

Eating is another of my favorite Jeddawi pastimes. One of the most famous, and definitely the most crowded restaurant chain is Al Baik, which is a bit like Kentucky Fried Chicken except much, much better (and cheaper!)

Al Baik gets packed. Sometimes these little restaurants get so crowded there is not any room to sit down inside.

Al Baik isn't the only place in Jeddah, this is a pretty traditional chicken and rice dish I got to shared with some friends during Ramadan last year.

And of course, I can never forget the weeks we spent at the Intercontinental hotel and the beginning of the fall semester!

I'll end this reflection with the first picture I took in Saudi Arabia: the view from my hotel window across to the Red Sea.

Jeddah's been great - Ive been to so many restaurants and malls, some friends houses, some coral reef diving trips, and even a wedding. I can't do the city or its people justice with just a few pictures.

Sometimes I wish that KAUST were built bit closer so it would be easier to maintain relationships in the city, but I guess there are reasons for everything.

The Haircut

I can't understand the Arabic spoken by the Moroccan or Turkish barbers (their accents are MUCH different than the Saudis) and they don't speak much English at all.

So getting a haircut at KAUST is always an adventure - because I never know what I will walk away with. One month ago I had a bad experience - the guy took almost an hour to whittle my hair down to nothing. I think I could have done better with an electric razor in five minutes...

This week I got the Turkish guy with a crazy mullet and sharp streaks of styled facial hair across his chin. I wanted desperately to tell him that I wanted a more normal haircut than he was sporting, but the language barrier only allowed me two options: "short" and "long." After trying to convince my barber of the merits of "medium," and him not understanding, we finally settled on "short-long," which he seemed happy with and went to work.

The only successful conversation (I did try!) we were able to share during the whole operation was:

"Where you from?"



He did a great job with the sides and top, but when it came to the back of my head, my mulletted friend left a lot of hair. I said "cut" and he said "no, this beautiful!" I said "cut" again and, a little disappointed, he finished the job.

I have enjoyed the small challenges that living in KSA has brought. Though communicating with the barber took a bit more work, I had fun. It helps to have a sense of humor here.

In spite of the challenge, and with a modification at home, everything turned out just fine...

... and now I have a small story to share!