Sunday, June 30, 2013

Photo Diary: Temple in Taipei

I saw this temple on the side of the road while walking through Taipei. This kind of gorgeousity is merely normal for Taipei, as I was told that such temple exists on every street corner. Well! 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Memoirs of a Morrocan-Zanzibari Wedding

In Dubai, it's all about who you know.

Your connections can mean massive hook ups -  I mean - of course, in a professional sense.

Friends are your key to jobs, apartments, visas, and all sort of opportunities.

Sometimes, even weddings. Morrocan-Zanzibari Weddings.

Let me paint a scene for you.

It's around 4:00 pm in Dubai International Airport, Terminal 1, which looks and feels, by the way, like a Las Vegas casino. If you've never been to Vegas, imagine marble floors, multi-story ceilings pillars, and fake indoor palm trees.

I just step off a plane from Pakistan, where I've been for the last two weeks, and I'm in Dubai for one day before taking the 15-hour flight back to the states. I'm expecting my friend to pick me up and take me to her home, where I plan to have a nice hot shower, un-pack and repack, then promptly fall asleep.

Instead, I'm greeted by my host in a pair of 5-inch heals, and she says, "Welcome back, do you wanna go to a wedding?"

So a coworker's friend's friend's daughter was getting married, and hosting an immaculate party at one of the upscale hotels in Dubai. If course, this being Dubai, we were not the only foreigners there. Neither the couple nor the guests were from the region. The bride was from Zanzibar, and the groom was from Morocco. Both, I heard, were now living in London.

The ballroom

guests lining up to dance

This particular wedding function was an all-female post-wedding reception,  lasting from 2:00 pm until 10:00 pm. Apparently the wedding ceremony itself had taken place that previous night, and on the following day the are single-sex segregated events to celebrate.

 When we arrived at 5:30 the bride and groom had not even shown up yet. Instead, guests feasted on the buffet and danced for another two hours.

I liked being at a party of all women. After enduring cat calls and suggestive glances from practically every man on the street in Dubai, it was very relaxing to being in an all-women environment.

It was also nice because, instead of being surrounded by women in black abayas, I actually got to see what they were wearing underneath! When women entered the party, the would be covered in black head to toe, but once inside the ballroom they would remove their abayas and head scarves and drape them over the chairs. Underneath they wore the most beautiful and exquisite gowns I have ever seen. Some of their gowns were also extremely sexy and revealing. I'm talking skin-tight, full cleavage exposed, mesh-fabric-with-pasties-kind of revealing.
Too bad I didn't get a picture of that...

some women did leave their headscarfs on

abayas draped oer chairs

food from the buffet

the bride enters with her entourage

When the bride and groom arrived they entered the room followed by a procession, like a king and queen. They were then both seated on a stage and watched a belly-dancing show. Later on gifts were presented to them, and the guests continued to dance. Finally, for only a few minutes, the bride stepped down off the stage and danced with her friends in the crowd.

Honestly, it did not look very fun to be a bride  at this ceremony, sitting on that stage in silence. She did not have a chance to eat the food, and she could not walk around and mingle like I could with the crowd. It seemed way more fun to be a guest.

I absolutely loved the bride's dress and hijab. She looked like an exquisite queen. I didn't know that head coverings could be so elaborate until I saw her. True to hijab, she had her hair covered, and was wearing a loose-fitting robe which showed no skin. And she looked amazing.

Just before the couple left, they brought out a huge cake, and proceeded to cut the cake with a long sword. This looked very cumbersome, but it must have been a tradition. I had been eyeing the cake for a while, and was eager to sink my teeth into it.

To my great dismay however, the cake was so rich that it tasted like a stick of butter, rather than a cake. It was also very dry.

a dry, buttery cake

This wedding, like all events in Dubai, was an amalgamation of culture.
A bride from Zanzibar in a Moroccan dress, with a Moroccan groom, flies from her home in London to her wedding site in Dubai with her mother's Zanzibari friends. A Nigerien-Brazillian American who is a friend-of-a-friend shows up to the reception, and brings along her Greek-American friend who just stepped off a plane from Pakistan. The two friends dance until 9:00 pm, eat cake, then catch a ride home from a female police officer who drives them through the sandstorm to their apartment.

Dubai, I will miss you, not in spite of your randomness, your craziness, your spontaneity...

but because of it.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

McDonald's at a Wedding in Pakistan

my mehndi hand with Iced coffee and fries

For better or worse, I ended up eating McDonald's in Pakistan three times.
Yes, three.
And all three times were purely by accident, coincidence, chance.

It may seem hard to fathom that I would accidentally eat at this conglomerate fast-food chain three times, especially since I usually make a  purposeful visit to McDonald's in many countries.

However, in Pakistan, all bets where off. 
I didn't want to have anything on my To-Do list, because I knew I would be at the mercy of my hosts. The last thing I wanted to do was inconvenience anyone by making them drive all over the city looking for a McDonald's for me. And besides, I checked out McDonald's Pakistan website, and there looked to be no interesting menu items or anything unique about the restaurants in Pakistan. Oh well, I thought, guess I'll miss this one.

Then something incredible happen.
Something unexpected.
Something that can only happen in Pakistan.

It was the night of a friend's wedding, (the same wedding I had flown all the way to Pakistan to see), and the bride had spent three hours in the parlour getting her hair and make up done. It was already 10:00 pm. The wedding invitation said the ceremony would begin at 8:00 pm. But I learned quickly that nothing in Pakistan begins on time. If the wedding invitation says 8:00 pm, that means you start getting ready at 8:00 pm. Don't trouble yourself showing up before 11:00 pm.

At 10:00 pm the parlour is well passed closed, the female staff don their abayas, cover their hair, and lock the front door. All six of us guests and the bride are about to pack into a mid-sized sedan and drive to the wedding, when the bride says something so uncharacteristic of a bride before her wedding: 
"I just really want some fries and a McFlurry."
After minutes of discussion in the car and final approval from her mother, we drove to McDonald's and went through the drive-thru.

It was the first time I had ever gone out for fast food right before a wedding, with the bride in her gown, no less. And it was probably the first time McDonalds in Hyderabad, Pakistan,  had ever seen a bride come through their drive-thru.

Of course, in keeping with Pakistani culture, we did not just order for ourselves. We ordered for the whole family back at the wedding. We even brought the food and left it right on stage so that other family members could eat it. Although there was plenty of great wedding food to be had.

McDonald's on the wedding carpet

And you know what I realized?

I was wrong about McDonald's in Pakistan.

It is complete different and unique from McDonalds's in other countries. Case and point:

1. The Middlemen

At the drive-thru window, customers do not call out their order directly from their car, instead a McDonald's employee stands outside the restaurant and takes orders from the drivers, then tells them to the staff inside the restaurant. I'm not sure what this is for, security, convenience?

2. Metal Detectors

This is also the first time I have seen a metal detector at McDonalds. Seriously, I can't recall even seeing a metal detector at the McDonald's in East LA, and that place really needed one. Don't you love how it is disguised with a cardboard cutout  so that it will not be obvious to children.

Alright, the top two images look a little sinister, especially at night. McDonald's is really not a scary place in Pakistan, but I will say that the other two times I went were not at adventurous. The second time was when I was  late for a plane, and ended up missing my flight (well, there is more to that story), so my friends and I hung out at the McDonald's outside of Karachi airport. The third time was in Lahore, after a group of us and stayed up really late, decided we were hungry, and ordered take out from McD's at 2:00 am. 

Again, I got another taste of the uniqueness which is McDonald's Pakistan.

3. Iced coffee

The iced coffee there is creamy and rich like no other iced coffee in the world. My Pakistani friends say that this is because the milk in Pakistan has more fat in it. 

Every time I went to McDonald's I ordered an ice coffee. My second time, I also ordered a tropical juice, thinking it may be fresh-squeezed like the other juice I had from the street carts...but alas, it was not. 

juice and iced coffee

4. Sweet Chili sauce. 

McDonald's also serves a "sweet chili" sauce in addition to catch up. It is actually pretty gross. It tastes exactly like the Asian chili sauces I have put on dumplings, but I don't want to dip fries in it!

5. Halal

Halal, as it pertains to food, dictates how an animal can be slaughtered and eaten. Because Pakistan is predominantly Muslim, the preparation and eating of food must adhere to Islamic law. Whenever an animal is killed, it must be killed by having the throat sliced, and allowing the blood to drain while a prayer is said. 

A Halal label is placed on all packaged foods containing animal product so that the customer knows the food adheres to Islamic law. The Halal label does not only appear on products containing meat, but products containing any animal product in which the animal was required to die to produce the product.

*milk and diary products do not need a Halal label because the animals did not have to die for the diary to be produced. 

*seafood does not need a Halal label because when you take sea animals out of the water, they automatically die.

*McDonald's fries are Halal, because their fries use animal fat. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Scenes from my Daily Life: Portland, OR

Travel blogging is a dream. 
It's an escape form reality. 
It's the immortalization of those fleeting moments that encompass the 1% of our waking hours worth immortalizing.

I don't travel year round.
I'm not always in Dubai, or Taipei, or Helsinki. 
In fact, I'm never there.
Most of the time I'm in Portand, Oregon.  And most of the time I'm not doing things worth blogging about.

Or am I?

This is a reality check. 
This is how I really spend my time, when I'm not traveling, and not writing about traveling.

Like most people on earth I have to work for a living, and I do (well - did until I quit my job), from 9:00 am-6:00 pm every weekday. In the evenings I exercise (sometimes), cook Indian food for dinner, and do a bit of writing before bed.

On the weekends I have my routine, and I adhere to it steadfastly.
Now that I am about to leave sweet, sweet Portland, I wanted to capture the moments from my last summer in this city.

I have recently become very interested in how people knowingly or unknowingly spend their free time. This always changes, depending on the point we are at in our lives.

These mundane routines can say as much about ourselves as our wildest adventures, in fact, they can say a lot more. 

When one of my friend's was preparing to move to Beijing, she took a Chinese class at 8:00 am every morning. She spent her mornings walking to the grocery store, picking up one piece of fruit, and eating it on the way to class. 
When another friend was in college, she go to Starbucks every morning, order a grande soy chai, and eating a pumpkin score while studying her anatomy textbook.

As for me, here is a scene from my mornings in Portland:

Sitting in a papasan chair, on the balcony of my second floor apartment, eating a Higher Taste Breakfast Burrito, with homemade salsa (tomatoes, onions, cilantro, jalapenos, salt), and drinking a Yerba Mate Pomegranate tea. I'm always reading a book, and right now, that happens to be Anna Karenina.

IMG_4660 IMG_4661

If you're the type to notice details, you cal tell by the shadows that these photos weren't exactly taken at dawn. Yep, since I quit my job, my mornings begin at 11:00 am~! 

Touchdown Tokyo

Every time I fly to Japan, I have this routine of changing clothes in one of the large, accessible stalls in the arrivals lobby. I would do ...