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.
All posts are updated by Jeff & Lisa