Friday, January 30, 2009

Caitlin Needs Your Help!

Through blogging, I have made many wonderful cyber-friends. One of them is Caitlin. She is a tremendously talented individual and she could use YOUR help to land her dream job - LITERALLY THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD! (Mine too, if only I were a few decades younger!!!)

Caitlin is originally from Australia but has been living in London for the past four years. She's a professional freelance food and travel writer whose works are published in newspapers around the globe. Caitlin has lived in several countries and traveled to many many more and she is a true adventuress.

Caitlin is applying for a blogging job on gorgeous Hamilton Island, in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia.

Can you imagine living in paradise, blogging about it, AND getting paid for it? I was blown away reading the website about this job she is applying for - it's incredible!

All you need to do is to view her video (and it's only one minute long!) and give her a Five Star Rating.

CLICK HERE for the link to watch Caitlin's video and to give her a FIVE STAR RATING so she can land her dream job! Thanks for your help!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

2009 Weblog Awards - Please Vote For ME!

OMG! I just found out that I have been nominated for a prestigious 2009 Weblog "Bloggie" Award! I am shocked, flattered, honored, and flabbergasted all at the same time. The Bloggies are the oldest and most well known blog awards around. My blog has been nominated in the "Asian" category, which includes the Middle East - but mine is the only Middle Eastern blog in the field with four Far Eastern blogs.

There's not a big monetary prize or anything, but just being nominated is a thrill. They even have an Academy Awards-type ceremony in Austin, Texas, where the winners are announced.

I have tried to check out my competition, of course, as well as blogs nominated in other categories. I am humbled to be on the list among such professional looking sites! Unfortunately, I was denied access to some of the other blogs because the Saudi Arabian government has a special department that trolls the web looking for unacceptable and objectionable websites and BLOCKS them from being accessed by the residents of this country! I have written about this department before: the Committee for the Preservation of Virtue and the Promotion of Vice - er, wait a minute - I mean the PREVENTION of Vice! CLICK HERE to read my previous post about it.

You can VOTE ONLY ONCE, so it's not like I'm asking you to vote every day for the next two weeks or anything. This is just a onetime inconvenience, a few minutes out of your life to voice your support for me! But be sure to VOTE BEFORE MONDAY, FEBRUARY 2nd, because that's when the polls close.


To cast your vote, start by CLICKING HERE for the link to the 2009 WEBLOG AWARDS VOTING PAGE.

The page scrolls to the right, not down, so scroll over to the 3rd Category which is Best Asian Weblog, find Susie’s Big Adventure and click on the circle to the left. Cast your vote for some of the other categories while you’re there too! Then you have to scroll all the way to the right where you have to type in two hard-to-read words, below that type in your email address, and then click on “Submit Your Votes!” You will then receive an email with a link that you must click on to confirm your vote. That’s it! If you don’t get the email, your vote won’t count. I had to re-do my vote twice – I’m hoping you won’t have that problem!

I would so totally appreciate your taking the time to VOTE FOR ME! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! MMMMMwah!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Battle of Mount Uhud

When we were in Madinah last month, I got excited when it was announced that we would be going to “the mountain.” I had visions of a picnic, lots of tall shady trees and fresh air. Well, that’s not exactly what I got. The “mountain” would be labeled in MY book more under the “hill” category, and there was no picnic or shade trees in sight.

Instead, Mount Uhud turned out to be the historical site of a famous Islamic battle which took place in the year 625 between a small force of Muslims from Madinah and a much larger force of non-believers from Mecca.

This historic mountain is located just north of Madinah. It’s an easy walk up the hill, which was defended mightily by the smaller Muslim army of arrow shooting warriors from Madinah. The surviving Meccans retreated. The seemingly victorious followers of Mohammed disobeyed his command not to leave their posts on top of the hill, where they could see for miles in every direction.

Instead, they hastily descended the hill, some say, to greedily confiscate the spoils of their short lived victory. The Meccans seized the opportunity and returned, much to the surprise of the Muslims, and managed to turn their embarrassing loss into a victory.

At the base of the mountain is the burial site of some 70 fallen Muslim fighters, including Mohammed’s brave uncle, Hamza. He is considered a martyr in Islam. The graves are unmarked, which is typical of Islamic burial sites, but it has been preserved by the construction of a large fence around it.

Later in the evening of that same day, we were watching TV and there was a movie on which depicted the Battle of Mount Uhud. The dialogue was all in Arabic, so I couldn't understand most of what was said, but others kept pointing out various characters to me and some of what was being said, so I was able to keep up with what was happening in the movie. It was pretty cool that we had just been to the site earlier that day and I was somewhat familiar with the story.

Madinah is the second holiest city of Islam because it was chosen by the Prophet Mohammed as the location for the very first mosque ever built. This mosque is called the Quba Mosque. (See photo at right.) The original structure was torn down and completely rebuilt in the 20th century, but still stands on the very same spot that the Prophet chose for it initially.

Another very famous mosque in Madinah is called the Prophet's Mosque. This mosque is visited by millions of Muslims every year because it is where the remains of the Prophet himself lie buried in a tomb there.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Shopping Malls of Jeddah

One of the few things that women can do here in Saudi Arabia outside the home is shop. Consequently Jeddah is bursting at the seams with the newest craze in the whole shopping experience: "destination malls." Saudi Arabia is a shopper's paradise. The real bargains to be had are at the old souks, and shopping there is a fascinating cultural experience. But on the other side of the cultural coin are the most modern and upscale shopping malls one can imagine. Almost all of these unbelievable malls have a full-scale amusement / entertainment park, fountains and other water features, and separate men's and women's facilities for prayer conveniently located right inside. Several of the malls offer ice skating. The reason for these destination malls, of course, is because shopping is just about the only family activity to do here in Saudi Arabia, besides going to the homes of other members of the family. There are no movie theaters here. Sports are mostly for men only - women aren't even allowed on site just to watch their sons or husbands play! And, if women play a sport, only women can attend. There are also no concerts here either. The only activity where men and women actually can come into "limited" contact with each other is shopping.

As I've said before, many Saudi women here have maids, nannies, cooks, and drivers. So if a Saudi woman wants to go shopping, she just gets the driver to take her to a mall with her kids and the nanny in tow. In general, she gives the nanny money to keep the kids entertained and fed while she leisurely goes on her way shopping. The driver, in the meantime, either waits outside the mall, congregating with all the other dozens of drivers who are waiting, or he might be sent on errands for the mistress of the house, coming back later to pick up the family when summoned.

Of course I haven't been to every mall in Jeddah yet. You've heard that saying: So Many Malls, So Little Time! I wouldn't be surprised if it was written to describe Saudi Arabia. But the malls I have been to are quite impressive. Many chain stores similar to the states, like Limited Too, MotherCare, Nike, and Adidas can be found in many malls. Food courts include the likes of Cheesecake Factory, Cinnabon, Starbucks, Crispy Creme, Tony Romas, On the Border, McDonalds and Burger King, among others.

The women shoppers all wear the requisite floor length black abayas. Men shoppers are either dressed in the traditional long white dresses called thobes, topped off with the red checked scarf (shemagh), or they might CHOOSE to wear jeans and a T-shirt. Yes, you see, men here have a CHOICE of what THEY can wear to the mall! Mall employees like sales clerks, cashiers, store managers, security, and all the other positions available are all filled with ONLY MALES. Women are not allowed to work in the malls in these capacities; however, I have seen some women mall employees who clean the women's restrooms, and for clarification, these are not Saudi women.

One thing that takes some getting used to is that most of the malls all open in the morning at 9 or 10am, but many of the shops close by about 1pm and don't re-open again until 5pm. You can find a few stores in the malls open in between those times, but they close for at least half an hour or more for each of the prayer times. Shoppers can pray at the malls or just hang out until the stores open back up for business. I guess you could consider it a forced rest period for those who like to shop until they drop!

The newest and largest mall in Jeddah is the "MALL OF ARABIA." With 330 stores and restaurants occupying three levels, a covered parking garage, quiet lounges, huge spectacular restrooms, and unusual architectural details, plus a full scale amusement park, this ultra-modern mall is phenomenal. It recently opened but parts of it are still under construction, including a Snow Village, where visitors will be able to frolick in the snow year round. Plans are also in the works to open two hotel facilities right at the mall as well. One of the anchor stores of the mall is called Geant, a beautiful French chain store similar to Super Target with shiny wide aisles and a large selection of products. The mall has a nautical theme and makes you feel as though you're on a cruise ship. There is a huge glassed-in open area with spacious comfy seating and large screen TVSs secluded from the shops. The Mall of Arabia also offers a variety of hands on workshops like cooking, magic, puppet shows and theater that are geared mostly for kids. Shopping at the Mall of Arabia is an experience unto itself.

Another beautiful, large new mall that opened within the past year is the spectacular "RED SEA MALL," anchored by a popular chain store called Danube. This tri-level mall even has trams that carry customers around the mall. It has eighteen entrance gates, impressive fountains and huge aquariums, and 4000 parking spaces. It too offers a complete family amusement area on site and a lovely food court. The Red Sea Mall has a special club for kids which schedules kids' events, has face painting, and other entertainment.

Heraa International Mall is an enormous bright and shiny single level mall with about 240 stores and offering a food court and an extensive children's playground. Its numerous arched entrances are adorned with yellow smiley faces, which is eye-catching but I think it looks a little cheesey. But once inside, it is a shopper's haven with an abundance of stores to delight anyone, including Laura Ashley, Diesel and Mothercare.

Jeddah Mall is a smaller, more intimate mall, but lovely none the less. Several floors circle around and look down upon a lower level food court dining area, complete with bridges, fountains, waterways, and lighted palm trees interspersed amidst the tables.

Roshan Mall is another of the destination malls of Jeddah. It is so big I still haven't seen all of it and I've been there several times. One of its anchor stores is HyperPanda, similar again to Super Target in the states. It also has a popular family entertainment and amusement area, and a big underground parking garage.

The malls here are incredibly amazing and there are just too many to mention all of them. Some other favorites are Aziz Mall, Mega Mall, Sultan Mall, Tahlia Mall and Al-Mahmal Mall, which is located in downtown Jeddah. At the present time, there are at least two other enormous destination malls under construction that I know of which will be opening in the next few months.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hot Flashes

I t's the middle of January and I'm still hot. Not as hot as spring, summer, or fall, that's for sure, but I just don't find the weather in the winter as cool here in Jeddah as everyone else seems to. Maybe it's just that the older I get the less tolerant I am of the heat. Ok, it could be because I have more built-in padded insulation than most other people around here. Or perhaps it's due to my own personal internal thermostat just always seems to be set on "hot." And no doubt, having to wear the abaya plus covering my head and neck certainly contribute to my overheating problem. Whatever the reason, I am feeling doomed to live in hot climates all my life – Arizona, Texas, Florida, and now Saudi Arabia. I am just dying to live in a cooler climate, and I have just the place picked out already – Washington State. Half of my family has migrated there over the years, and every time I go there I just feel like I belong and I don’t want to leave. Did you ever feel that way about a place?

The other day we were at the home of my sister-in-law (SIL) “B” for dinner. Her home is enormous. We ate all together in the cavernous upstairs family room, which is probably four times as big as the family room at our place, and I'm not exaggerating. Very typically, the maids set up the dining area on the thick plush carpeted floor by spreading out a large plastic tablecloth. There were sixteen of us who sat around on the floor eating the meal of biryani with lamb (a spicy Pakistani rice dish), curry chicken, scalloped potatoes, and more. After the meal, several of us went to one side of the room to play cards, and the rest were in the seating area having tea, dessert, and conversation. Now this room is so big that it has four separate AC wall units. Each room in our home only has one per room. Many homes in Jeddah do not have central air but are instead equipped with individual AC units in each room. Many homes are so oversized that this probably cuts down on the cooling bill since you’re generally not cooling down the entire house.

Just one AC unit was on in the whole room, and fortunately it was in the card-playing side. None-the-less, I was still warm. Because my brother-in-law was there, I had to have my hair and neck covered. I mentioned to my niece that I thought it was hot and she immediately got up and turned on the other AC unit that was on our side of the room. After a bit, I started to feel more comfortable, but I also noticed that one of my other nieces went and got a sweater for my mother-in-law. And then another niece took the baby into another room and when they came out he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt. A short while later, my two other nieces grabbed a couple of sheets and wrapped them around themselves. Three of them huddled together on the couch in an effort to keep warm. They were all sitting there freezing so I would feel comfortable!

When we finished playing cards, we joined the rest of the group in the seating area. I turned to my hubby and said quietly, “Everybody else is cold with the AC on just so I won’t feel hot!” My husband turned and loudly addressed everyone in the room, saying something in Arabic. Several of them responded in Arabic and others giggled. I grinned sheepishly.

Hubby told me, “They are all suffering because of you. They are talking about what method they should use to eliminate you.” Everyone was laughing out loud at this point.

“Well, just make sure it’s not with a gun or knife – I really don’t like the sight of blood,” I joked.

My SIL “B,” who was sitting near me, pointed to my drink and quipped, “Susie, drink up!”

“They went with poison,” Hubby chuckled, half whispering.

“That must be why I’m feeling a headache coming on!” I whimpered, dramatically sweeping the back of my hand to my forehead.

“Yes, that’s the first symptom. You should be getting gas and the runs any minute!” teased SIL ”B.”

“Great! I’ve had THAT since I moved here!” I took another sip, grabbed my throat, rolled my eyes back and coughed my way down to the floor in a dead heap, amidst a roomful of laughter.

And yet another example of how much they make me feel like a welcome addition to this warm and wonderful fun-loving family . . .

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Adventurous Women Blog

I  am thrilled to announce that I have been interviewed on another blog that is near and dear to my heart called the "ADVENTUROUS WOMEN BLOG." Published in a two part series starting on January 7th and concluding on January 8th, you can read my interview which covers why we moved here to Saudi Arabia in the first place, to how I feel about, among other things, what I have to wear now whenever I'm out of the house.

The "ADVENTUROUS WOMEN BLOG" features quite an array of various types of adventures for, by and of women. Several years ago the blog's author Michaelle and several of her friends started an adventure club for women. They organize and plan four trips a year, free of husbands and children, and just about anything under the sun is considered an "adventure."

The "ADVENTUROUS WOMEN BLOG" is loaded with a wide variety of informative articles, ideas, giveaways, and tips on on a wide variety of interesting topics. You can read about women who have made a difference in our world. Or you can get encouragement to finally try baking that homemade pie totally from scratch. You can sign up for women's only ski trips or get some ideas on how to buy the perfect gift for an adventurous woman.

Michaelle's subject matter knows no bounds. From women ghost hunters to women building homes for Habitat for Humanity, "ADVENTUROUS WOMEN BLOG" has it all. From recipes to belly dancing to solar-powered bras (yes, you heard that right!), Michaelle's blog has something for everyone. And don't let the name fool ya! I would even go so far as to say that I think Michaelle has a number of closeted readers of the male persuasion as well women!

So please click on over to the ADVENTUROUS WOMEN BLOG" for Part 1 and then here to see Part 2 of the interview featuring MOI, and while you're there, check out all the other great stuff Michaelle has to offer. And be sure to let Michaelle know what you think by commenting on any of her terrific posts.