First I decided to take the bus to IKEA and the Avenues Mall. No one could tell me which line would get me closest, so I decided to ride the 102 into Kuwait City to the main office to ask them. Before this I stopped by my favorite little local restaurant for some breakfast of minced meat, hummous and fresh baked flatbread...mmm good. Tomorrow I promised to stop by again so I can try the final dish available for breakfast (some sort of hot dog thing with scrambled eggs), yesterday's was a tomato egg scramble.
Thus fortified I had no troubled hopping a nice air conditioned bus and was downtown in no time. At the KPTC bus station I was *finally* able to procure a bus route map! It was given to me with the warning that it wasn't exactly up to date...but hey, a general idea is better than nothing. They then told me to take bus 51 to go down to the Avenues Mall/IKEA, which I promptly did. This short hop only cost me 100 fils.
I was dropped off (literally, the bus was still in motion) onto a little island in the midst of much traffic, and after walking around the fenced perimeter of IKEA I found a spot where someone had fortuitously ripped an opening in the fence and made my way through (deja vu). It was just after opening time 10am (on a weekday) so the place was nearly deserted. A far cry from the experience most everyone else has had I'm sure. I've never had such a relaxing and fast trip through IKEA before. Some observations: 1) The prices are what you'd expect, about the same for the really cheap stuff, and more expensive then I'll ever spend for everything else. Some items are surprisingly expensive, some are surprisingly cheap, it just depends. 2) They did not have a single covered travel mug, the main item I planned on buying there. 3) IKEA is a great place to practice your Arabic numerals, as each price tag is in Arabic on one side and English on the other, usually with the Arabic facing you first. Flash cards for free! 4) They use *real* LCD TVs in this IKEA...none of those fake plastic ones like in the States. 5) If you get the IKEA card (you get points for shopping) then you can have free coffee from their espresso machine until the end of December! But...you need a civil ID to get one...darn! 6) They have excellent chicken shawarmas at the final food place just after the checkout stands, at 200 fils they even beat the typical street price. I had to have one of course. 7) Yes, the AS-IS section exists! 8) The kids play area is alive and well too, they allow you to check them in for 2 hours. 8) It does get crowded apparently, but only in the evenings and especially on weekends. But if you come early on a weekday, it is heaven.
After that I walked The Avenues, quite a large mall, not done yet as at on end it was blocked off presumably for future growth. It was one of the most pleasant malls I have toured so far, and there were actual stores where I might possibly buy something. There is a very large grocery/electronics/appliance store inside called Carrefour which was quite nice and had some nice surprises like the fact that their butchery only handles meat that has never been frozen or thawed. All processed meats (I think they mean like ground) are from fresh cuts handled there at the store. The meats are even divided up by where they come from, so if you want to pay a premium for locally raised beef...you can. They had an extensive vegetable area, pretty good prices, and hey, you can pick up that semi-automatic clothes washer too if you want (still trying to figure out the whole "semi-automatic" thing). I found a small, easy to carry little book called "The Arabic Language for English Speakers" which looks like a nice compact starter for picking up words and phrases for 1 KD. I also ran across a couple of cigar stores, at one of which I bought a Cuban (my first!) Romeo y Julieta for 2KD.
Then it was time to figure out how to get home. I looked on my newly aquired route map and saw that the 105 looked like it would go south and eventually wind up in Fahaheel. The stop didn't look too far away, so I crossed the busy highway and started walking. It was very dusty and windy today, you could almost feel the sand pelting into your skin. You could look directly at the sun, a pale disk obscured by the cloudy sky. I walked what felt like about a mile and found the bus stop. After waiting about 10 minutes, a 105 stopped and I got on, asking how much to Fahaheel. After a bit of confusion, the driver made me understand I was heading the wrong direction, so he nicely stopped at the next stop going the other way and let me off. I crossed the highway again and waited about 20 minutes for the next 105 going north. This bus was not as nice as the one I came into town on, not bad, but the air con was barely registering, and the seats were pretty hard and uncomfortable for the 2+ hour trip home. Oh yes, the 105 is the loooooong way to get to Fahaheel...it meanders all over the place, taking back roads and barely touching the freeway. I should have taken a bus back to the main station and then taken the 102, but oh well. It was fun to see some new areas and get more of a feel for the lay of the land.
After getting home and dropping stuff off upstairs I washed the dust and grime from my face and contemplated a full-on shower. But then I decided to go have my hair washed and cut instead, which it needed. Then it was up the coast for a short walk to a sheesha place that juts out into the sea between two beaches, where I had a glass of juice and smoked my cigar. Very pleasant.
While there I called Mohammed, the Kuwaiti I met a couple of weeks back at the Persian restaurant near Al Manshar. He had been in the Emirates for a week or so, and I had been busy with my new schedule and work, but he had wanted to show me around and I figured I'd see if he was free tomorrow as I have Thanksgiving off too (this is a 3 day weekend for me). He wondered when I was free tomorrow and I said most of the day until evening around 5pm (I've been invited to a friend's place for Thanksgiving). He laughed and said "5pm is afternoon!" Hah...maybe if you *don't* get up at 3am! So he said he'd drive down and pick me up right now.
About 30 minutes later he picked me up in is small 2 door chevy something or other (very unassuming car) and proceeded to take me up to Salmiya. Actually, he said he wanted me to drive to get a feel for the place so he got out and we swapped places. We discussed cars as I have found a car I'm planning to buy (more on that later) and he tried to pursuade me to buy something like his car new and then sell it in 3 years. He casually mentioned that even though he is a multi-millionaire he prefers to buy these small cheap cars for a few years then buy a new one, as that way he never has to worry about stuff going wrong. I said that was fine for him, but I prefer to pay cash for my cars if possible and not do the whole payment thing, besides only being here for one or two years I didn't want to get into more debt then I was already in.
Anyway, he took me up to the Kuwait Towers which are very interesting architecturally. You go up this elevator in one and there is a viewing deck inside the dome which rotates slowly and you can see all of Kuwait city spread below you. Very nice in the evening with the lights and all. Mohammed was very enthusiastic and pleasant and we talked of many things. I like him quite a lot and he seems to reciprocate.
After this we drove a little more then he got a call from a friend he was going to meet at 8pm, so he asked if I'd like to come along. I said sure, so we drove down to Manqaf (just a little north of Fahaheel) and met his friend abu Salelem. We smoked some sheesha and had some tea, talking of lots of things concerning culture, the states, some about the craziness in the world. Mohammed and abu Salelem talked a little business in Arabic (something about a partner in Dubai who is real schmuck and they are halting the business deal) and otherwise hung out. Turns out abu Salelem is the head of a joint venture between Kuwaiti Oil and the Saudi oil interestes represented by Chevron Saudi. He speaks very good english and seems like a genuinely nice guy. Both of these men are very easy going and kind, polite to everyone around them, and very generous (wouldn't let me pay for a thing of course). The exact opposite of what everyone else around here tells me Kuwaiti's are like. They both want to invite me to meet their families and are of course wanting to meet my family when they arrive. Mohammed in particular is most insistent that he must show us the Emirates. And Egypt. And Oman. Like I said, very enthusiastic.
As we were leaving I found out about the names. Actually both men are named Mohammed, but they call each other abu <son's name> which means "father of <son>". It's a name that denotes a close friend. So Mohammed (the man I met first) could be called abu Khaled (though he has no son, so in his case it's his father's nickname). Abu Salalem is father of Salalem, and I am now to be called Jesse abu Rowan. People here have paragraphs for their full names as there is a personal name, a family name, and usually mentions of ones father and/or son in there too.
I'm kinda bummed as apparently abu Khaled's sister's family had invited him and myself to a barbecue at their getaway in the desert tomorrow evening, but unfortunately I had to decline given my previous engagement and the fact that I have to get up at freaking 3am the next morning. But I offered my deepest apologies and said perhaps another time.
By the way, the sheesha this time was much better. They initially warned me off what they were having (well abu Salelem doesn't smoke) as it was too "strong", but I said I would probably like it better than the froofy stuff I tried before and I was right. It was much more like a good pipe tobacco, and though you do have to pull it in to your lungs to make it work, it is considered fine to just smoke for a little and then set the pipe down when you've had enough.
I haven't had dinner, but I'm not hungry really. That breakfast and the IKEA shawarma have kept me going no problem (and I guess I'm getting used to not eating dinner).
Oh, the car...forgot I hadn't blogged about it. A few days back a guy from work mentioned he was going to look at cars afterwards, and I asked if I could come along. He's already living on his own and has been renting a car (from Budget) while he looks for a car. We went to Al Ghanim which is just up the road from Al Manshar in Fahaheel. They primarily had new chevy's in their showroom, but out in the parking lot had a few used cars. My friend (Josh) had his eyes on a red Saab going for 5000KD. My eye fell on a white 2001 BMW wagon that had recently been sold for 1600KD, but I was given to know that this person was looking to resell it. I asked a bunch of questions like could I buy it without a civil ID (no problem if buying in cash, just have someone else buy it and transfer it later for 9KD) and could I take it for a test drive/mechanic check out. No problem...so the next night I took it for a short drive, and the next day (yesterday) I took it to a mechanic who thoroughly checked it out for 30KD. I was told that they should only charge 10KD, but when I asked why it was 30KD they said that 10KD would be for only one item, like just the engine. 30KD bought me engine, differential, chassis, etc... They really did go over it with a fine toothed comb, and there are some issues, such as leaks that should be fixed, the engine does need a tuneup, and it was in a minor accident. But otherwise they said it was a pretty good deal. The guy wants to sell it to me for 1750KD, which is about $6200. KBB and other sites list the car for between $9000 and $12000, so I figure I'm getting a pretty good deal (at least for the US). It has about 130000 miles on it, lower than any car I've bought yet! Drives very nicely and has all sorts of fun little niceties like separate temperature controls for drivers side and passenger, a full on computer/tv in the dashboard, etc. The airconditioning wasn't working at first, but they seller had that fixed before I took it to the mechanic. Since he's selling it for only 150KD more than he bought it for, I don't think I have any wiggle room for bargaining really. Anyway, I've already put 100KD down as deposit and I've been working on getting the rest of the money over here. He understands it might take a week or two, and I'm hoping by then to have my civil ID and drivers license so we don't have to put it in someone else's name.
Speaking of the money, at first I started pulling as much money as I could out of ATMs, but my bank (wells fargo) doesn't let me pull more than about $350 (100KD) out per day (and slaps me with a $5 fee each time). I can move $350 per day from my checking account to my Eagle Cash card on base, and buy up to 300KD a day at the finance office, but that still puts me at about 200 KD per day total, at which rate it would take quite some time to pull out 1750KD. So I asked a guy from work who has a local checking account if I could wire the money to him and pull it out all at once. He was very kind and agreed to give me his account information, so Kerri just finished doing that. Already my bank has registered the transaction, and just FYI it was a mere $30 charge to wire $6000. Definitely the way to go for large chunks of money, so I may have to open one myself just in case I need it. It might take a week for the money to get here, but I'm confident there will be no problem now.
I was a bit worried about where to put the car, but I spoke with the people at my building and they said they allot 2 cars per apartment, and since we only used 1 company car I could either park my car in our apartment's spot, or park it in visitors parking. Nice that they arebeing accomodating.
Well, that pretty much brings everything up to date.
Oh! I almost forgot, Kerri bought the plane tickets for her and Rowan to come to Kuwait! She got a great deal flying from Portland to Frankfurt and then directly to Kuwait for $1500 total (her and Rowan). They are scheduled to arrive at 5:30pm on January 11th, a Friday. I am hoping to be able to leave work a little early to go pick them up and then take my Christmas/New Year's holidays (3 days) and then have a weekend free (5 days total) to get them settled. I have yet to ask if this is ok, but I'm pretty sure it'll be fine. Most people are taking their vacation days earlier during the season. It's really great to have a hard deadline to shoot for. Now I know I need to have that apartment by the end of December for sure! At least I should have the car in plenty of time, insha'Allah!