Big Black Mountain (Da Hei Shan)

It’s been a long time since I moved to Dalian, but it took me most of that time (unfortunately) to go and hike in the local national park. The park, which is within about 20 mins by taxi from where I live, is the home to Big Black Mountain (大黑山). So it is a bit shocking that it took me as long as it did to get around to climbing it, and there are some good and some not so good reasons as to why, but for now the important thing is that I did. Twice now.

The first time was foggy so we couldn’t see anything, but there is still something magical about climbing up and up and up into the clouds and it was a great day, so I’ll take it. The view on the way to the top:

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The second time was a sunny day and clear (by Dalian standards), so I was able to visit the temple that is about half way up that we can see from the road on the way to work that has been calling to me to visit since I first noticed it and taunting me each Monday morning after I didn’t. It’s a bit tricky to get a good picture from the car to show the temple from below, but I managed to get one while on the mountain.

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The first time I went, I didn’t know where the trails were and so we ended up taking the road up. The second time I was with people who had been before, so we took the scenic route up steps through a canyon. The canyon was great, with small temples, a mountain spring and such. The fall views were amazing.

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The view from ~500 steps above one small temple.

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A temple at the bottom of the mountain.

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All told, it’s about 2 hours to climb the mountain, and it’s well worth it. The temples are beautiful and (mostly) well maintained. The canyon route has a spring that comes straight out of the mountain where tons of locals go to get some ‘mountain fresh’ drinking water. Getting out of the city and up high above it gives a nice new perspective on things, and the exercise does a body good. Rounding out the hike with what has now become a the traditional spicy hot soup (Ma La Tang) back in town makes for a pretty perfect Saturday.

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China!

View from the hotel

It’s been a while, so we’ll ease into things.  First, out of the desert and into China.  Changes in Visa rules meant that it would take too long to get a visa renewal to stay working in Saudi.  Both good news and bad news, that meant that I was looking for work with the counter counting down until I had to leave Saudi. With short notice, the offer to go to China came up and I accepted it.  SInce I’d already visited Shanghai on one of the R&Rs from Saudi, I knew that it was different from home, but also comfortable and a relatively easy place to live.  I imagined the other people getting the offered the position while still in Montreal and compared that to me getting the offer while in Saudi.  From Montreal, China seems a long way away and for all the horror stories about food contamination, etc etc, I can understand why not many people were keen to go.  For myself, from the dry, hot, 60 hr work week life of Saudi construction camp, China was a big step up in quality of life but still had the adventure of an overseas position that I wanted.

And so here I am, living in Dalian, China.

But first – some pictures of Shanghai.

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Camels!

I took a road trip to Jubail to spend some time away from camp – the result?  I stopped to take pictures of camels!

Notice in the first picture the small white house – it’s a sort of trailer house, and opposite of it was a more typical structure that we see in the desert here.  There’s actually quite a few farms between site and Jubail – pretty amazing to see small farm dwellings out in the dunes.  There are goat, sheep and camel farms – and as you can see not much of anything to eat – I can’t say I understand how it works, but it adds a certain charm to the drive.

The desert is actually quite beautiful (from the comfort of the AC of the truck, of course… ;)  )  It’s difficult to capture it in the camera (probably doesn’t help that I don’t spend much time setting up the pictures and lighting etc, see previous sentence) but the vastness, the clarity and harshness of the light, when it’s not hazy with sand dust in the air.   The shame is that as you get closer and closer to Khobar, the desert next to the highway alternates between highway reststops, desert and what appear to be garbage dumps.  Not food garbage, but old buildings, from the looks of things; scrap building supplies, concrete blocks, broken slabs, rebar, etc., all in nice little humps, formed when the dump truck dumped.

I ended up staying over at my friend’s place in Jubail, since driving at night can be pretty dangerous here, and I was feeling the effects of a lazy day by the pool… The benefit is that I was able to take the route home through Jubail, and snap some pictures of one of the central squares that comes alive at night.  This is about 5:45am, plenty of people up and about – turn right at the big watch on the building and you’ll find the Gold Souk…  at night, that corner was full of vendors, selling shirts, pants, wallets – pretty much the same as what’s in the stores, so who knows what the business plan behind it all is, but this part of Jubail has earned the nickname Little Bombay around camp.

And the corner opposite the previous picture is a building in ruins – I didn’t ask what happened, but when we were there at night there was a digger sitting triumphantly on top of the pile of rubble…  Who knows??

And last but not least, I accidentally caught the sunrise as it came over the mosque, one of at least two on the block…  this would be kitty corner to the  first picture.  Someday I’ll take a night picture and you’ll see the other side of this intersection.

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Al Khobar – Visit to the Al Rashid Mall

Last Thursday night I took a bus organized by the project team down to Al Khobar, which is the nearest big urban centre on this east coast of Saudi.  Jubail is closer, but it’s more of an industrial city, which means there are lots of expats (lots of eastern expats, so Filipinos, Bangladeshi and Indian, and some western ones) who live there, as far as I understand, and as a result, I don’t think it’s quite the “real” Saudi experience. This remains to be verified on other outings on other weekends  :)

At any rate, the designer stores are in Khobar, as is a Filipino market, so long story short, the bus went to Khobar – a three hour ride from where we are.  We dropped our Filipino friends of at a Filipino market and carried onto the Al Rashid Mall. The mall is massive, three stories tall, with hundreds of stores, and since it was a Thursday night (equivalent to our Saturday night), a LOT of Saudis.
I wanted to take pictures, but from what I read, it’s not very accepted to take pictures of people, and especially not women, so I’ve resorted to what I could find on Flickr.
As I said, it was a very busy night, and there were a lot of men and boys all wearing the same “outfit” as the man in the picture above.  Of all the men in the mall, I’d say 50% were basically all wearing the same thing…. the white thobe (think loooong white dress shirt, to the ankles with pockets), and red ghutra (headdress/scarf) and of course all the women in black, with just their eyes showing.

Another cultural icon to witness was the roving groups of young saudi teenagers.  I guess they were quite similar to all teenagers, hanging out at the mall, but there were two things that stuck out that I found interesting.  First, I went to the washroom and there was a guy who was arranging his head scarf, ensuring that the waves in the fabric fell in just the right place, with just the right amount of curve, etc, for pretty much the entire time I was in… I suppose that when the only difference in clothing is your watch and how you organize your ghutra, it becomes important!  The other thing was the hundreds of No Smoking signs and the equal number of the teenagers who were smoking, mostly furvitively, but always with the awkwardness of someone who hasn’t really smoked that much and isn’t comfortable holding a cigarette.

Nighttime and daytime shots, to give you an idea, but they’re not mine…  hopefully in the future I’ll be posting better pictures than these!

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A Filipino Dinner Party

Last Thursday, one of our Filipino colleagues was leaving site, and so his friends decided to throw a party, with barbecued fish and home-cooked traditional soups.  Near-beer was purchased, rice was poured into a mountain on one of the poolside tables, the electric guitar was plugged in (to compete with two acoustics….) and the party was on.

Don’t ask me how they managed to cook the soups – we’re not allowed cooking elements in our rooms and where exactly they found tilapia and oxtail is yet to be discovered, but it was, given all this, really good, a welcome change from the cafeteria food and thanks to the chili I thought was a roasted red pepper, SPICY!

Watching the 30 or so men have a communal dinner, I started the inevitable comparisons of our culture compared to theirs.  The sense of community generated by this dinner party was fun to witness and be a part of (to the extent possible, not understanding a spoken word).  I’ve not yet seen a similar example with the Westerners since we typically run to our rooms after dinner to get to …  Skype? a book? a movie? the TV?  air conditioning?  At any rate, I think we could learn something from out Filipino friends.

Speaking of air-conditioning, the party was on one of the most humid nights I’ve experienced here since arriving – although it’s hard to see in the pictures, my shirt was wet, everywhere, just from being outside for 3 hours.

Stay tuned for more – there’s a trip to Khobar planned for tomorrow night.

 

 

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