Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Book Review: "The Lies of Locke Lamora" by Scott Lynch

When Virgin Megastore first opened in Jeddah I was among the first visitors. The promise of a new bookstore (with a potentially new collection) was far too seducing for me. The place was still in soft opening mode and the books section in particular was a mess. Still, being the bibliophile that I am, I waded bravely through the convoluted sea of pulp, seeing if I could find any treasure. And treasures I did find. Among my catch was "The Lies of Locke Lamora" which has been on my Amazon wish list for a while now. When it first hit the public consciousness, this debut book by Scott Lynch made plenty of waves, garnering accolades from critics and readers alike. Even getting itself a movie license. Quite a reputation to a live up to. Unto the purchase pile with ye, then.

Locke Lamora is the celebrated Thorn of Camorr; master thief, con artist extraordinaire, and man of mysteries. A man whose prowess is the stuff of legends. A reputation that suits the less remarkable Locke just fine. But things never go smoothly in the turbulent underworld of the fantastic city of Camorr. Just as Locke and his crew, the Gentlemen Bastards, are conducting their latest con, a shadowy figure enters the city and tips the careful criminal balance, threatening to overthrow the current leaders of not only the lawless underworld, but the noble masters of the city itself.

Now this book was fun! Think of it as an Ocean's Eleven set in a fantasy city based on Venice. The city of Camorr, with its rich and detailed imagery and history, quickly becomes something of a second character in the book, with its own personality and charm. But even more charming is Locke. While he is not exactly the most complex of literary characters he is very fun to read. Following his development from cunning street urchin to charming confidence trickster is almost as enjoyable as watching him navigate through yet another scam. Don't come here looking for high literary worth, or deep philosophical insight. This is a light read that doesn't claim to be anything other than that.

For some reason people love to read about other people getting tricked, which explains the success of the "heist" genre. "The Lies of Locke Lamora" delivers the goods and should ensure an enjoyable evening read.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

10 Months of Being Married - The Aftermath

So, the official reason I haven't been blogging for such a long while was that my new state as the King of the Damned a happily married husband has been taking much of my time. While partially true, the real reason was a combination of laziness and a chronic case of the dreaded writer's block. Hning of Hningswara finally convinced me to finally try and dust off the cobwebs. I may not return to any form of regular update, but I'm going to give it another try.

So it's been 10 months of marriage for this previously anti marriage person. While it's more traditional to wait for a year before one would wax lyrical about a new experience, I thought I'd go anti-establishment and use the more metric 10 month mark. Most of it will be rambling while I find my writing voice again, if I ever actually had one in the first place.

Plus it gives me an excuse to write.

So here it goes; a review of the marital state of being.

Progression to Harmony

I was under no illusions. Marriage is one part romance, three parts compromise. Having two different people, both with highly independent streaks not only to co-habitate but to share a life is no easy task. And it wasn't. After the honey moon, it was a turbulent month or so while we set boundaries, marked territories, found common ground, and agreed on what not to agree on. Afterwards, the dust settled, and all the spilled paint turned to a nice, comfortable, uniform gray.

A huge number of marriages fail in this test, I had always known. Delaying the trial by fire would only prolong the suffering. So with gritted teeth I shouldred my lance and spurred my warhorse into the frey. Which is why I saw us passing this crucial rite of passage relatively unharmed as a confirmation of the commitment both of us had to making this relationship work.

Compromise and Change

I now listen to more Arabic music, watch Turkish soap operas, have (much) better fashion sense. She has a new found appreciation for the works of Hayao Miyazaki and stupid stoner comedy. But we still have an unresolved discussion over the artistic worth of romantic comedies and violent action movies. On the other hand, we share a common love for horror movies, Italian food, and Monopoly.

We were two different people, with many incompatibilities. Now, we are still two different people with many incompatibilities, but with a greater understanding of our individuality coupled with enough confidence in one's self not to feel threatened by the other person's field of independance.


We find that our view of the marital state of being is somewhat unchanged. It is still not for everybody, and find that society's inclination to force people into marriage to be laughable at best. That being said, if you are one of those lucky enough to have had the configuration of the stars just right, then I give matrimony five stars (out of how many stars? Ah, wouldn't you like to know!), and am looking forward to the next challenge; explaining to the persistant would-be-grandmothers why we have not reproduced our genetic code yet.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Furniture Expo in Jeddah - WTF?

For a few days now there have been several signs in Jeddah advertising the upcoming (and I quote) "International Furniture Exhibition". Great, I thought. Although my new apartment is already furnished with the basics, I still had an extra room that I'm planning on working on at a later date. My wife is also something of an amateur decor designer and has a gazillion and one design magazines, so we were both hyped about this.

So taking a few hours off of our busy schedule (heh heh) we hopped over to the JIEC, and for a moment I thought we had made a mistake about the dates. The grounds were uncharacteristically empty. Anyone who has been to the JIEC during their annual motor shows and computer shows knows how jam packed the place can get. Now, for the first time in living memory, I managed to find parking space inside the exhibition center. Crazy, I know. Feeling more than a little worried, I stepped into the expo center with my wife.

My worries were substantiated.

There was a grand total of maybe five furniture related shops inside. Tops. One of them was Syrian, so I guess the "international" bit of the name was right. The rest? Jewellery, textiles, nuts and spices, stuff you find in your usual run-of-the-mill souq.

Jeddah Ghair indeed.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Triumphant Return

Back again, this time with a particularly binding metal band on my left ring finger.

Spent the week luxuriating in the Jeddah Hilton and the Nawras Village Resort for some much needed R&R. Though an overzealous desire for a tan has resulted in sunburned shoulders, it's been fun stamping what's left of my bachelorhood to death. Once I get my bearings again I'll be posting some pics.

See when I see you :)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Wonderful World of Southeast Asian Fruits

One of the wonderful things about the tropics is the endless varieties of flora and fauna. The vast cornucopia of colors, flavors and smells of tropical fruit never fail to astound me. As big part of the Jawa culture here in Saudi Arabia, exotic fruits has always been part of my (culinary) identity. So here are some of the most common. You can find most of these in top supermarkets, though they will be far from fresh. But unless you're willing to pay your way to Indonesia every time you crave one of these beauties, supermarket fare should be good enough.

"Rambut" means hair in Indonesian, and it should be quite obvious from the pictures where this fruit gets its name. A relative of the lychee fruit, this sweet and juicy morsel is a popular favorite. Easy to peel and easier to eat. Though the external layer of the seed does tend to stick to the fruit despite one's best efforts. You can also find canned rambutans, which taste pretty good.

You think fruit with hair is weird? Try fruit with snake scale skin! But don't let the serpentine appearance fool you. This fruit is heavenly, especially when fresh. Last time I was in Indonesia I was addicted to the stuff. Inside the skin are 2-3 lobes. The flesh is rather dry and the seed is huge. Oh and don't eat too many. Many a stomach ache I've had back during my salak eating spree.

Manggis (Mangosteen)
Not a particular favorite of mine, but I know a lot of people who adore this fruit, and it's fairly commonly available in supermarkets as well. Inside a thick skin you can find several soft garlic like bulbs. These have a somewhat sweet citrus-like taste, almost like a mandarin.

Belimbing (Star Fruit)
Now this little wonder of nature is beautiful. With its wax like outer layer, its brilliant color and unique shape few fruits in the world make better presentation pieces than the star fruit. Like its name suggests, it's shaped like a five pointed star so make sure you slice it breadth wise for the full effect. They taste very good as well. Nice and tart.

Ooooh the durian. King of Fruits. Stuff of Legend. The strength of the durian's polarizing effect is only rivaled by the strength of its smell. You basically either love it to pieces, or you hate it with a passion. About as big as a mid sized water melon, this fearsome fruit sports a skin that is bristling with military grade thorns. You do not want to be hit in the head with a durian. But its resemblance to medieval weaponry isn't the source of its dire reputation. "It's the smell ..."(paraphrasing Agent Smith from the Matrix). The smell has been described by travel writer Richard Sterling as "pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock." And it's powerful. If you bring a durian home, be rest assured your whole home will smell like durian for days. Some airports and hotels forcefully ban durians from entering the premises.
If, brave soul, you have survived opening up a durian fruit you will find several pieces of yellowish pulp, with a texture that is somewhat custard like. And the taste? Well, that's what separates the lovers from the haters. While I belong to the former camp, my wife-to-be is firmly in the latter. So I guess that's the end of my durian adventures. This fruit is hard to find outside of SE Asia, but you might be able to find durian flavored candy in Asian shops, which are a milder alternative to the real thing and a good starting point for those who don't mind trying something new.

Nangka (Jack Fruit)
Don't mistake this with the durian. Though they may look similar from the outside, they're very different fruits. Inside the thorny husk are several yellow and firm bulbs. They are very sweet with a distinctive flavor that is somewhat similar to a pineapple. They are widely available in canned form.

Jambu (Wax Apple)
Ok I haven't actually seen this fruit outside of Indonesia but I thought I'd mention it since it's a favorite of mine. There was a jambu tree outside Grandfather's house and I grew very fond of them. I remember first biting into one and thinking: "Shape like a pear, red like an apple, and taste like a sweet crunchy tomato!". God I miss them.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Elevator Idiocy

Much like queues, there's something about elevators that brings out the worst in people. Perhaps it's the enclosed space, or the enforced waiting that rubs our inner barbarian the wrong way. Whatever that reason may be, elevators tend to devolve humans into apes.

Some time ago, I was in the legal notary in Makkah doing some legwork for some boring (but necessary) legal matter. Legwork. There's plenty of going up and down stairs. Yes there's an elevator, but it's so old and slow that I usually dispense with its use and depend upon my own personal locomotion facility. I could use the exercise anyway. While waiting for my papers to finish I noticed a couple of people who weren't as industrious as I was, waiting by the elevator. The door opened and there was a woman inside.

"Is this the third floor?" she asked. It was only the second floor.

For the benefit of those not steeped in Saudi etiquette lore; riding in an elevator with an unrelated woman can be considered "simply not done", especially by the more conservative.
So what did our two ne'er-do-wells do?

They said "Yes, it is!".

As the poor confused woman vacated the elevator, the two assholes rushed to get in before she wised up to their subterfuge. Divine Justice struck and the elevator chose this moment to blow a fuse or whatever. The doors chose that moment to close prematurely. On our two crafty villains. Sandwiched like peanut butter and jelly between two iron slices of toast. Understandably, no one moved in to help. One of our dastardly pair had to do a minor feat of gymnastics and stretch his arm behind his back and press the open button to release them from the grip of their sin's vise. Meanwhile, our poor victim climbed the stairs, thanking God she wasn't in the elevator when it decided to go crazy.

I'm sure we all have elevator related stories, and I'll be posting more soon.

See you then.