Friday, April 29, 2005

Riyadh Travelogue - episode 1

Last Thursday, I completed 3 weeks of my stay in Riyadh. A lots of things happened which kept me from updating this blog. Here is my long overdue take on the trip.

I landed in Riyadh on the 7th of April at about 13:00 hrs local time. The immigration and baggage clearance took less time than I anticipated and I was out of the airport within 45 minutes. My colleagues came to pick me up after about 10mins of waiting and finally we were on our way home.

Riyadh has changed quite a bit since the last time I was here, which was nearly a decade ago. A lot of western departmental stores like Debenhams, Harvey Nichols, Saks Fifth Ave (the store where Liz Hurley recently introduced her beachwear collection), etc have set up shop. Mall culture is evident and booming. Kingdom Towers which caters primarily to the affluent is a must see. It boasts a 56m long observatory SkyBridge at the top giving a breathtaking view of the city. I haven't been to the SkyBridge yet, but will definitely make a trip before I return.

There is also another part to Riyadh which one can observe here. This is the more mellowed version where Islam is so central to all aspects of daily life. Shops and businesses remain closed during the prayer timings (which lasts between 10 - 15 minutes) allowing Muslims to perform their prayers. Women wear abaya and gender segregation in public is common. Some of the malls have specific timings for women and families.

For the expatriate population, entertainment is something that is unheard of here unless ofcourse you have the privilege of spending time with family and friends. Thats what I thought..

The weekend before last, my colleagues and I decided to visit Faisaliya Mall, which is walking distance from office. When we got there, we were surprised to see hoardes of cops and security personnel outside the mall, running about chattering on their radio. The scene was tense. We got into the mall and it was crowded; mostly women in their teens or something (its difficult to tell anyway!). Our first thought was that we got in at the wrong time, but then decided to stay as we spotted a few men around.

We headed to the top floor to check out a few gadget stores, the kind I'm interested in. We were greeted with no space to walk. People, mostly women folk were thronging at the center of the mall. We found out that a local celebrity named 'Hisham Abdul Rahman' was visiting the mall to sign some copies of his new album. Apparently, Hisham was the winner of a recent talent search called Star Academy in the Middle East (a la 'American Idol' in the US and copies of the same in India). There were security people (the men-in-black kinds) talkin into their suits and trying to control the crowd. Members from the 'The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice' (called 'mutawwa') were present too, doing their round of checks. Women were blatantly screaming, waiting to catch a glimpse of their celebrity son.

Due to lack of space and also because some of us were scared, we decided to go to the nearby coffee shop and stay away from the crowd, lest we get into trouble with the cops. I had my camera with me and I knew that this was the only chance that I'd ever get to take a snap of a spectacle of this kind and that too, in Saudi Arabia. Now public photography is sort of banned here. But when you have hundreds of people using their camera phones to take pictures, you tend to think twice. So, I took a colleague (the more daring one) and we headed to the centre where people were thronging. We waited.. for Hisham to arrive and, more importantly, for the cops standing right behind us to leave. After waiting for sometime and realising that the cops were busy, we waded ourselves through the crowd inching towards the center where the action was slated to happen.

We stopped when it became impossible to go any further. I took out my camera and started to break sweat. I asked my partner in crime to check if the coast was clear. Meanwhile, a young arab standing right next to me noticed my camera and told me it was okay and showed me pictures that he took on his phone. I changed setting on the camera to night mode, switched of the flash and got ready. After confirmation from my colleague, I took a few snaps.

We headed back to the coffee shop soon after, to join those who hadn't come. On our way back, we noticed the cops ordering all the shops to pull down their shutters. We decided to leave and headed home, discussing what happened, all the way. It was one evening that we will remember for a long time.

One of the things I like about Saudi's, is their taste for cars. That, I'll save for my next post. So, stay tuned..

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Nokia launches NSeries

The iPod finally has some competition with Nokia launching the new Nseries.

The N90 features a two-megapixel camera with autofocus, 20x digital zoom, integrated flash, a special mode for sharp close-ups, and on-phone video editing capabilities.

The N91 comes with a 4-gigabyte internal hard drive that Nokia says can hold up to 3,000 songs, depending on the music format.

Damn! Just when I was thinking of getting an iPod!

Friday, April 15, 2005

Today is

Today is my birthday. I turn 23.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Currently Reading

Five point someone - Chetan Bhagat

Sunday, April 10, 2005

WIRED - no more!

Fortunately for me, the laptop I've been assigned is a Centrino. The office here in Riyadh has an excellent wireless infrastructure in place and I had a fun time scanning and switching access points. There were a couple of available networks from nearby offices that were visible but obviously, didn't have access to.

Arabs here have definitely caught up with the wifi age. Most of the organizations here are wifi-enabled and it makes it easier for both the administrator and the user to setup and get things started quickly. Now all it takes for me to connect to the network is to switch on the radio link on my taskbar. I do make it a point to switch it off when I dont need it to keep away from prying eyes, but the experience till now has been good. Really good.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Quote of the day

"IKEA is the web-standards of the furniture world" - Dan Cederholm

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Off to Riyadh

I have at aleast half hour before boarding my flight, so thought I'd check email and catchup with a couple of blogs. Fortunately, Sify has an outlet in the waiting area. I can see my flight right behind me and the view is fantastic. Surprisingly, there is no wifi zone in the airport. There are quite a few passengers trotting laptop bags and I'm sure setting up a hotspot in here would be profitable and I dont see a reason otherwise. Chennai Central, on the other hand, has a hotspot with relatively fewer people carry laptops there.

By the way, I'm off to Riyadh on official visit and should be there for about 2 weeks or so. Its quite exciting to go back after almost 11 years. I did 2 years of schooling there shortly after the Gulf war and I remember that to be the best part of my growing years. So visiting my school there is included in the 'things to do' list apart from cramming as many sights and sounds of Riyadh as I can.

Updates to The RadioHead will be infrequent while I'm there, but hopefully I'll be able to post something occasionally. Saudi Arabia has strict internet laws so I'd be happy if I'm able to check my emails!!


Saturday, April 02, 2005

Live Performances - KK vs. Shibani Kashyap

It was nice for a change. The crowd was small and there was a lot of enthusiasm. Last night's Royal Stag Mega Music Corporate Carnival at Palace Grounds had an eclectic mix of funk, fusion and rock. I reached the venue at about 7pm after recieving a VIP pass from a friend. A few rounds of the choreography competition had gotten over by then. It was good that I got there late - music choices for choreography hasn't changed much over the last 5 years.

Fast forward to post competition - the first performance was by Shibani Kashyap (of 'Hogayi Hain Mohabbat' fame. Frankly I dont remember her in anything else after that). The track 'Sajna' was quite good actually. "Track". Yes, it was a case of pure lip-syncing. The song had too much computer generated vocal (voice processing) and instrumental assistance put into it, that its not possible to do a live version unless, ofcourse, she renders it differently. But thats the whole point of a live performance. Music is meant to be played by artists who have the talent to replay what they've played before. It isn't realistic to expect an artist to sound exactly as in the studios where they have all sorts of equipment and can massage the sound into anything desired. If that was what I wanted, I would have been better off buying the CD. The remaining 3 songs saw her crooning with the aid of backing tracks.

The final and much awaited performance was by KK. This guy is fantastic. Unlike Shibani, KK had a band and they sounded real tight. My favourite was when he fused the tamil and hindi version of A.R. Rahman's 'Strawberry kanne/ankhein' and did the Dappaankuthu. The crowd went ballistic and everyone started doing the same. The instrumental rendition of 'Tadap Tadap', the song that got him noticed for his navigation of complex emotions with relative ease, was simply superb. Ballads like 'Yaaron' and the uber popular 'Pal' was well recieved and had the crowd singing in chorus. All in all, it was a good show and Nitin Arora (the MC) did a good job of keeping the mood high.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Rich Text in GMail

GMail now allows rich text formatting! It is about time.