Sunday, May 16, 2004

First Impressions

Our apartment has “family” status, because the lease-holder is married and his company agreed to sponsor a family visa. His wife, however, does not live with us right now because she found a job in Riyadh and so she moved there together with their daughter. The other fellow was on vacation when I arrived but also works in the Industrial City where our office is located. He arrived last Sunday. In the beginning I lost the bearings on my natural compass so I relied mostly on landmarks. I used to be very proud that I could find my way anywhere in Metro Manila. In a few months, I can probably say the same here. I already walked the maze of Khobar (about 28 city blocks – I walked from end to end since the shops begin at 1st street and my flat is on 27th street) and pretty soon I will be able to tell which place is where. I bet if I get my own vehicle I will get around.

It's a shame there are no places to cruise and watch for girls that I know of. One can walk to a Ladies' Center (the only places for single women to get apartments - there is one about a five-minute walk away from the apartment, at the Silver Tower), but that's about it, because security guard meanies get in the way. Best of luck to anyone trying to get in there.
Getting a drink in a public place is out of the question as well. Another thing that is sadly true is the erosion of morality among our expats. Should there be any relations of men and women here, it is highly possible that they are illegal – meaning one or both are married back home. Bachelors are a favorite here especially if they have money.

Even worse is that some women have really taken to the oldest of all trades – prostitution – all the while keeping their day jobs. There is only one case I know of who has run away from her employer and then staying in the country illegally, surviving on the money given to her by her customers.

Gays for sale take the cake, though. Though I haven’t heard of any cases of “soliciting” around here, I’m sure that with the local grapevine you can get information on any kind of shit you need. It is for this and many reasons that Filipinos have earned a bad rep even though among all the non-Arab Asian expats we are better qualified than most excepting for some of the Indians in the technical positions. Definitely in the service sector Filipinos are preferred – shop salesclerks, restaurant managers, counter servers, tellers in some banks – Filipinos provide better service. Bad eggs really ruin the rest of the pile.

Meantime, it is fun to walk at night – just don’t bring a lot of money on you. Just stick to the main roads, walk where there are many people, and things are o.k. Until the humid season, that is. I walk almost every night if my other activities permit. On Fridays, though, I hardly go out because it takes until 4:00pm for all the stores to open and besides, I like sleeping in on a weekend. If I have to leave on Friday, maybe it will be to attend to errands or something like that. Before I bought a TV and hooked it up to TFC, sleeping time was about 11:00 to 11:30pm. I am running out of stuff to read. I finished all the books I brought with me when I left and I bought even more.

Work is starting to pick up, which is great. My objective is that I will work to clear my desk within two to three days. I don't aim for hero status, so I'm not moving all that fast.

Malling, on the other hand, is not a great option because there are no cinemas. I heard that in Bahrain there are cinemas. Anyhow, the malls are small compared to ours because the population here is not that big (the whole Kingdom supports about 18 million citizens and about 5+ million expatriate workers). There is a place for bachelor dining and another for family dining. The family section always has curtains so that the Muslim women can remove their face veils and eat their meals properly. The largest mall in Dammam/Khobar, Al-Rashid, has many such “ninjas.” In going about regular activities, one wouldn’t want to run in with the religious police or mutawwa. Some people cheat by buying fake marriage certificates so that they can go out with their girlfriends in public, though some people get away because it is not so strict over here.

The stories about corporal (and capital) punishment are all true. For those caught fraternizing illegally with females, males are imprisoned and then flogged (executions, public flogging with wooden staves, and other public punishments take place on Fridays, and broadcast over the papers) while the females are imprisoned for a few days and normally raped by their jailers. If repatriated, some of the women are likely to be raped by their DOLE handlers too. It’s a shitty thing. Our DOLE people have also been accused of the same in Malaysia and other places. What a world to live in. The tag “crime-free” no longer applies to KSA because Filipinos lose their wallets to snatchers or pickpockets, get held up in taxis, and in really bad cases, are raped by the drivers and/or stick-up men. Many crimes are committed by young males who are of school age but because they don’t qualify for university (bad study habits and lack of ability often the case) and are otherwise unemployed, they have nothing else to do.

Poverty is still a problem here, despite all the efforts of the government to engage their citizens in productive work. Welfare is still around but of course that is not the solution. You could imagine the huge budget deficit the government is running - I have a feeling they have practically sold their oil revenue for the next 10 years or so. Every other corner, there is a mosque supported by private initiative or by the government. Since Islam prohibits usury, loans for nationals are cheap, easy to acquire, and the rebate system on such loans is so friendly that loans are actually discounted. And the cost for social services! - education, health care, welfare - is so huge. Even with the "zakat" or mandatory contributions of business to government or other charities, the amount spent for maintaining the infrastructure and social services, not even including the high-tech weaponry acquired for the armed forces, so that this place can be considered "first-world" are prohibitive. Even so, there are some people who fall outside the system and get by "miraculously" by begging. Some beggars, mostly women, can collar as much as SR300 A DAY, but then they start feeding their dependents - which can cost a minor fortune.

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