Week 2 in Saudi...
It's been a hectic week since the last update, so here's a quick (I hope) summary...
First of all - HOUSE IS SOLD!!! A huge relief! Now to continue the selling / pack up process. After moves from Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Edmonton I think Lisa has this down to a science. Hope the new owners have a respect for the fun and shenanigans that have happened in that house!
How's the new job?
It's been a busy week settling in but everyone's been great! I spent an hour or so each day with the key people, including having my 2 direct bosses take me to lunch. A lot of the discussion was around the customs and culture to help me adapt and 'get it right' in training. For example, if you're walking to a door, the person on the right always goes first. Lots of other cool things, including how the Saudis have tons of respect for Americans that's a story over a beer someday.
Our team does the "core" training for selected Saudi Aramco employees. This is built on 7 modules that we teach to them to provide a basic understanding of Leadership and self-improvement.
The certification process is awesome. This upcoming week, I'll sit in a course called "Needs Based Coaching". The following week, I teach 1 section of it and the original facilitator gives me feedback on passing or "not yet". Once I pass, then I teach a 2nd section the following week. After I've passed all 4 sections, then I need to pass the entire course to be "certified" to teach it. This continues for all 7 modules.
Here are some pics from work, including a couple of the many (over 25) training rooms they have. Lots of corporate logo'ing, including Kleenex boxes! Wow.
Each compound has it's own golf course. The Ras Tanura course (where I work) has a sand course that is free - here are some pics
Dhahran has a professional quality course that looks awesome - here are some pics of it
The Family Life at Saudi Aramco
It looks like quite an amazing place to bring up your kids! Families seem so happy and I've chatted with many that have told me about the experience. Aramco includes schooling on camp for kids to grade 8. Parents can also elect to send them to the British or US schools in town and will bus them for free.
One lady I talked to said her kid just got back from a 2 week spring break 'field trip' to Australia. Wow! We would go 15 minutes to Pine Cree!
There are tons of activities for kids on camp - beach, softball, soccer, swimming, etc. There are many rec centres where they can play games and video games.
Interesting note - Once they get to grade 9, parents can send the kids to boarding schools ANYWHERE in the world and Aramco will not only pay for their schooling, housing, etc, but also pays for trips for parents/kids to visit. Nice!
Here are some pics of 'kid stuff':
Finding a Home to live
So here's how the housing works...if we were to live on an Aramco camp, we would be subsidized and pay $300-500 per home each month depending on size. They are full so we need to find a non-Aramco compound. The amount they give you is based on # of kids. Having no kids, we get 175,000 Saudi Riyals, which is about $47K US. They pay to us to pay the accommodation for a year. Not bad, as that includes electricity, water, cable, and Internet.
Going to see one more on Sunday, but right now it's narrowed down to 2. We want to find something with lots of activities to keep Lisa busy, like personal trainers, pilates, yoga, etc.
The compounds are gated communities with security at the front gates - they check everyone's ID, the vehicle hood, and even under the vehicle. Crazy! They have tennis courts, pools, hot tubs, gyms, spas, barber shops/salons, BBQ areas, nail places, bowling alleys, games rooms, squash courts, restaurants, and the one has 3 private beaches. Many offer maid services as well. Here are some pics:
This one is located in Al Khobar (71km south of Jeff's work).
This is located in the Fanateer location in the north part of Jubail (96km north of Jeff's work) near the 'corniche' (beach area) that has lots of shops/restaurants. Pretty tough to beat the view from that gym...unless it was on a patio with a beer in your hand!
Thursday I get into work to find out that my Iquama is ready! Best email of my life!!!
This is the golden ticket that allows to get on with life!
I bus into Dhahran to grab it and then apply for my multi-entry/exit Visa so I can go in and out of the country, like to Bahrain (for a beer...soon!)
That visa should be here within a couple weeks.
Then off to the security building to get my temporary ID switched to a permanent ID.
Then off to the bank to open a Saudi account.
Then off to get a post-paid cell plan with SIM card attached to my Iquama number. Cell phone place waaaay too busy - will do that Sunday.
This week, I can now apply to get Lisa here (she's flying to Houston for her medical tomorrow) and then she needs to mail her passport to them for processing.
Now to get my Saudi drivers license and buy a car.
Friday morning I hit the beach since it was so hot - here are some pics and a video - can't believe how clear the water was. Saw many fish and a couple sting rays as I walked around listening to tunes. Also some pics of the "Desert Designs" sale that reminded me of the 'markets' that get set up in Caribbean resorts at night.
Friday Night at the Mall
To kill the boredom of the bachelor camp, I bused into town to the mall for dinner - here are some random pics, including some work done by 'the Sharpie guy' ... His job is to color in any
'revealing' clothing so nobody gets offended.
I can't believe how cheap some things are here! A haircut was 15 SAR, which is about $5CDN. Typical lunch prices - chicken fajitas - $7 or 8, chicken shawarma - $6 or 7. Crazy!!
Saw sheep in a truck today and some camels wandering around - here are some pics from the drive to Jubail.
Okay everyone...thanks again for sticking with me for another long-winded update.
Keep in touch!!
Talk soon, JT/cak
Notes from the "first week"
Here is a quick summary of my first week continuing on from my last update. As an intro, Tuesday was my day off to recover from any jet lag. Then Wednesday/Thursday was orientation in Dhahran. Friday/Saturday is my "weekend" here. I'm typing this and having a coffee on Saturday morning before heading to the beach. Here's a view from my "office" right now...
Orientation (Wednesday & Thursday)
Day 1 didn't start off so good. Taxi was supposed to pick me up at my building at 6AM. I waited until 6:40 and since my cell wasn't working, had no way to call them. Not wanting to be late, I started walking to the security gate to catch the 7AM bus, only to find out that the gate didn't open until 8AM. My only option was to walk to the other end by my place, go through that gate, and all the way around. I'm a pretty positive guy, but that experience, combined with walking quickly in 24 degree Celcius heat, and a ton of humidity was testing me. All good - can't get me down. Onto the bus and away I go!
These buses are fantastic! Sit back, very comfy and clean, great air conditioning and wifi for the trip. Here are some pics of them.
Orientation was good - some expat orientation, meeting with personnel, getting temporary ID cards, meeting with housing to determine needs, etc. As expected, working for the world's largest energy company, safety and security are critical. We had sessions with Business Ethics, IT Security, Road Safety, as well as Home Safety.
Some interesting things:
- 32 Aramco employees killed last year in traffic accidents - drivers are BRUTAL here. Lisa is going to freak! But at least she'll finally be comfortable with my driving...maybe.
- we get points that add up over time - performance reviews, time in role, etc can add points. These lead to bonuses and the more points, the better housing you can get. Here's the catch...you can lose points:
a) if there are any fires/damage to your home (even if it's from Lisa's cooking!)
b) any traffic violations - speeding, accidents, parking, etc. If I drive, even a golf cart and I park it with a tire on the white line, I can get a ticket and lose points. Same if Lisa does that! If I cab home, I have to show my ID at the gate - if he drops me off and has a traffic violation, it impacts me. Sumbitch!
Here are some pics from the orientation days...
I was waiting in line forever until I finally got a cell phone SIM card and number. The cell places were so busy because the Saudi government recently said you needed a fingerprint attached to your SIM card or it would be deactivated by a certain time. Here's the friggin' lineup from one day...
A couple other interesting things:
- Not sure if it's everywhere in Saudi Arabia, but instead of just pressing a button to catch an elevator, before you get to the elevators, you press what floor you want to go to and 'enter'. Then it tells you which elevator to go to, Different.
- I received a website link and a book that's about an inch or more thing that has travel discounts for Aramco employees - 9-16% off major airlines and 48-78% off hotels and resorts worldwide. Hmmm...something tells me that we will take advantage of that!
- I learned of a cool place just south of our city called Half Moon Bay - on the way there you can see lots of camels and they also rent ATV's to go drive around in the desert. Can't wait for that!
Learned the corporate values, which are posted EVERYWHERE and discussed in pretty much every session. Interesting how they've ingrained them into the people. Here they are - in case you care.
I went to grab a couple groceries after my last day. A couple interesting things:
- not exactly a fan of their milk - it's kind of sweet. Kind of like milk after you have eaten the cereal.
- Bottled water is about 1 SAR (Saudi Riyal), which is about 30 cents Canadian. Crazy!
- the produce section of the grocery store is similar to others in Europe. Pick your fruits and veggies, then weigh them or have them weigh them...then they sticker it with the price. Then you take to the cashier. Speeds up the tills for sure!
Friday - 1st day of my weekend
I must've been tired. Slept from 7pm to 8:15am and hopped up to get busy. Not sure what that was but would wing it.
Ended the day with over 29,000 steps on my Fitbit...here's how:
I started off walking down the beach again - here are some pics:
I made my way to the Ras Tanura golf course, which is free and has a free driving range. The fairways and greens are sand. Fairways are hard and greens are oiled for putting. Golfers carry a grass pad to shoot off of on tee boxes and fairways. Maybe I'll fix my shitty sand game here?
Went to the golf clubhouse for lunch. Cheap and tasty food. Sat at a table beside a guy who had a McGill University shirt on, asked if he was from Canada and he said yes. I mentioned I was too and had just arrived - him and his wife invited me to sit with them. They were very friendly and welcoming. They are from Edmonton and have been here for 25 years, loving every minute of it. Lots of great stories from them on travels - Bali, Jordan, Australia were some of their favorites. Offered me a ride but said I was going to walk. Shared their phone numbers and address in case I need anything.
Walked back to the commissary (grocery store) and saw some ladies sitting outside. Asked how far it was to walk to the nearby town called Rahima. They said 30-45 minutes and asked if I wanted to borrow their car...what??? I decided to get more 30 cent water and walk over there (off the compound).
Smokin hot and humid with sun bouncing off the concrete and sand. Went to the Panda Supermarket and grabbed more water. On the way back, saw Hardee's, KFC, McDonalds, and Burger King. They all have "Family" and "Single" sections. In fact, all restaurants and even mall food courts have this. I am considered a 'single' so I can only sit there. If Lisa goes by herself, she sits in 'family' and if we go together, we both sit in 'family'. Unless, of course, I've pissed her off - then she can sit in 'family' and make me sit in 'single'. Will advise if that happens!
Here are a couple pics from Rahima:
Trip to Mall of Dhahran
I took the 3pm bus to the city - it will drop you off at a few shopping areas - IKEA, Mall of Dhahran, Khobar Mall, Rashid Mall, or Lulu Supermarket. One of these (not sure which one) has Fuddruckers and Tim Hortons. I decided to go to the Mall of Dhahran, which I hear is the best.
At the bus stop, an Irish guy named Eddie comes up to me after hopping off his golf cart. He says "I haven't met you before, I'm Eddie." Once he finds out that I'm new, he quickly introduces me to his family and gives me his cell phone number, saying to call me if I need anything or have any questions. Even if I want to come by for a BBQ.
What??? People are so friendly here, LOVE IT!!!
On to the mall...
I could not believe how big and how clean this place was. EXCEPT for the bathrooms, which were brutal. In fact, I have not seen ANY public bathroom that I'd say was cleaner than the average Mexican bathroom. Lisa is gonna hate that! The men's bathroom had no toilets or urinals, just the things shown in the pics below. Not sure what this is??
Lots of stores I recognized at the mall and what surprised me the most was how fashion-forward the clothing was. Puts Canadian malls to shame.
One interesting thing was to see the prayer happen - the prayer started at 6:03pm and all stores close for 20 minutes while they go pray. People hang out in the aisles and then re-convene their shopping once stores re-open.
As for food, lots of North American options if you want, including the places I mentioned earlier, as well as Subway, Cinnabon, Dairy Queen, Chili's, Outback Steakhouse, and more that I've probably missed.
Here are some pics from the mall, including the skating rink. Oh ya, there's also a pretty cool amusement park!
So that brings us to today. Took a walk to the "Surf House". Grabbed a tasty coffee. Made my 'to do' list for paperwork, shipping items over, getting Lisa here, programming key numbers into my cell, and then had a major task of updating the blog.
Here are some pics of the beach today:
It's noon now. My plan? Go to the beach and enjoy a couple of these:
And yes, they are non-alcoholic. Fuck!
Life could be worse.
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more updates. Feel free to comment or ask questions.
April 10, 2016 - Go Time
Updated by Jeff
Doing this blog from my cell so hope it works. Here's an update on the past couple of weeks...
Since we announced that we are moving, we've had lots of questions and a ton of support from everyone.
A great Easter weekend was spent with Dad and Arn (Jeff's brother). Great to see them before going.
The following weekend was the "send off weekend" that started as a 1-day party but quickly escalated into a 2-day debacle. They must've really wanted to get rid of us! A visit from many Calgary and Edmonton friends including a great friend, Jeff Aston, who detoured back from Vegas to join for the party! An incredible night Saturday filled with a limo ride, ugly shirt party, and a ton of amazing friends! Check Facebook for many pics/blackmail.
The following week was my last day at work. The amazing team there surprised me with an impromptu meeting, which turned out to be a slide show including a freaking hologram of me! WTF??? That was awesome! And they gave me a cool card with personalized messages from everyone, which I've read several times over the past few days! Had a few pints to celebrate with them Wednesday!
Thursday - packed our sports memorabilia and went with Rob and Avi to Jr's place to store it. Thanks again guys for the ride and storage! Gave the Juniors our Christmas tree and decorations since we can't bring them into Saudi! Before we left, we seized the opportunity to meet Doubles at the new Pour pub in their neighbourhood. Great people.
Spent my last Friday hanging with Lisa since we won't see each other for a couple months! A beauty day in Calgary which included a long walk with pub breaks to ensure we were hydrated! Also celebrated selling Lisa's Jeep, even though it was a $16k loss. Fak! We also went to the NE part of Calgary to go Abaya shopping for Lisa. An abaya is the dark dress she will wear off the compound - just google it.
Friday and Saturday was more time with friends, as I got to see the greatest friends one could ask for before leaving. It sounds like they are all in for the 2017 T&A trip...right?? After dinner at the Keg, Junior gave me this handmade art to bring with me for memories of some amazing times...pretty awesome!
Sunday, April 10th was departure day, as we borrowed the Patel's SUV to cart my 4 suitcases, computer, and golf clubs to the airport. An $800 shipping fee later, it was time for a teary goodbye with Lisa before going.
Flight from Calgary to Frankfurt, Germany
Got onto the new Air Canada Dreamliner plane and sat in the new pods they have. Aramco paid for business class ($2800) one way - yikes! The experience was top notch - killer menu, free booze, great charging system for phones, lots of movies, and a reclining bed that actually has a massager! Really? Wifi was down but I guess I'll settle! Here are some pics - the smiling old guy pic was meant to show the booze, not him! Flew over Greenland - pretty cool!
Landed and quickly connected to wifi. Had about 50 messages and emails from Lisa that we had an offer on our house and she negotiated and needs papers signed and back to her within 4 hours. Shit! No problem, downloaded an app called HelloSign, signed the papers and sent to her and the realtor! Friggin cool!
Bought a small Bluetooth keyboard at the airport that I'm using now. Pretty slick!
Flight from Frankfurt to Dammam
OK, I thought the paper signing thing at the airport was cool. On this 5 hour flight there was wifi so of course I connected. Right away I get another email from Lisa with a "sign this quickly" message. Download the papers, sign them, send back... All from a fucking airplane! Wow!
Flew over Sarejevo, Kosovo, Athens... Future trip?? I think so!
Flying over Saudi Arabia - lots of sand!
Gonna land soon, better check the temperature. This is 7:44pm Saudi time and Celcius
I get into the airport and there are hundreds of people waiting to go through there very strict customs process, which can apparently take 3-5 hours.
Following my instructions, I go to the Aramco Lounge and meet the guy who tells me to get my bags and come back. All bags show up! Yes! He then takes me to the front of the customs line. Yep, I was that guy! Guess there's some pull when the country's king owns the company!
Went through customs and the guy was super nice - only checked 2 bottles that the scanner showed as potential alcohol. They turned out to be BBQ sauce and hot sauce from Nashville.
I go through and meet Ron and Randy from Aramco who will drive me to my temporary accommodation. Stop to drop off my passport for the Iquama (Saudi residency permit) which arrives in 2-3 weeks with my passport #scary
Ras Tanura compound
After 30 minutes or so, we arrive at the Ras Tanura compound. It is on the peninsula, as shown on the map in the first blog. I'm in a compound called Radhwa and the main area is Najmah.
We unload my stuff into my temp accommodation and they give me a tour of the peninsula, noting that the proper term is now Arabian Gulf and not Persian Gulf.
I get dropped off at the "commissary" which is a grocery store. Thinking Lisa may be wondering if I'm dead, I better get wifi and call her - no wifi. Shit! Security guy saves me by creating a hot spot for me to connect to. Thanks to him!
Back to my temporary pad - instantly go into "holy shit" mode. Small, dirty, and no cooking tools. Bread but no toaster. Corn Flakes but no milk. And WTF is that toilet hose thing? Really??? A "bum gun"??
Telling myself this is temporary and will get better. Glad I came first, as Lisa would've had us back at the airport already. Tired...off to sleep!
Tuesday, April 12 - 1st day in Saudi
Wake up and unpackd everything. Showered up and told myself to get some cleaner at the grocery store for this bathroom.
Off for a coffee and to go get a SIM card for my phone. Store opens at 10, I wait til 10:20 and guy comes to say he isn't working today since his air conditioning isn't working. Damn!
Off for a walk to see the Najmah compound!
Wow! This place is beautiful! Lots of people running and driving their golf carts. Walked to the beach and was snapping pics. Met Scarlet walking her dog as she asked if I'm new! Guess the photo taking gave it away. Super friendly lady from North Carolina who has lived here for 4 years with her husband and 2 kids. Nice to chat with someone!
So many killer beach homes with awesome patios! Hoping like crazy that we can get one of them! Fingers crossed!
Walked the beach and the complexes, seeing the swimming pools, cafes, bowling alley, ball diamond, mini golf, and Leadership Center that I'll be working at. Everyone has been so friendly! Here are some pics
Ok, fingers are sore from typing and I need to go buy groceries and some bathroom cleaner. Thanks for taking the time to read this novel.
Feel free to comment.
Orientation is Wednesday and Thursday, then off for 2 days. Hopefully some golf! Stay tuned for more....
All posts are updated by Jeff & Lisa