Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 19 2013

Middle East trip, part 1


We were driven to the airport by a robot. I mean, he was apparently a human driver, but he didn’t react to our conversation, nor did he flinch or even remark upon the fact that the car just ahead of us had just hit a bird with such force that it produced a fireworks show of feathers in our path for roughly half a second. That said, I have to say Taiwan’s traffic controls seem to be working pretty well.

Our flight was leaving from the old terminal, but it had been spruced up since I’d last seen it, covered in 70’s-era wood and other highlights that actually made it cooler than the “new” terminal. God knows what they’re going to do with the new Terminal 3 – Steampunk would be my best guess. One area in which they either haven’t improved yet or have decided to go full-on retro with is the automatic face recognition immigration controls, which I’ve used on several occasions and find rather convenient. Fortunately, lines were short.

Our Airbus took off into the sodden clouds, bursting suddenly into bright sunlight with no warning, and we were soon winging our way over the white cotton quilt to Hong Kong, home of convenient free wi-fi and a Popeye’s Chicken branch that continues the tradition of making me wonder what was so wonderful about this stuff that I had to have it instead of a real meal.

We had to stop over in Bangkok to pick up more fuel so that we could make the flight to Bangkok, instead of going directly to our destination of Amman, Jordan, which would have obviated the need for a stopover – if that makes sense. In any case, the layover in Bangkok was rather boring and filled with dodging various Thai cleaners, as we weren’t allowed off the plane for the two-hour water-free stretch. The newcomers on our plane consisted of more European passengers with more voluminous carry-ons, and a Middle Eastern crew with 53% more attitude. The fellow in front of me proceeded to put his seat all the way back, only raising it for a few seconds whenever asked to do so by a crewmember, putting it back again the moment backs were turned. He also never bothered with his seatbelt.

I watched some TV shows and movies on the way, and then slept with my Ostrich pillow on my head. At one point I awoke from the unnatural position I was forced into, and looked out the window to see sub-continental India spread out before me, various huge metropoli marching towards the horizon under a spectacular array of bright stars. A while later the golden coast of Dubai slid slowly under us. The stewardess at the back of the plane seemed relieved that I’d accidentally spilled water all over the counter. “It will give me something to do!” she told me when I apologized. About an hour before our arrival, a Middle Eastern woman came charging after a European woman who had just come out of the bathroom. “WHY DID YOU DO THAT?” she shouted, accusing the latter of cutting in line. After we landed, people started getting up to get their luggage, and a steward had to command them, dog-like, to SIT DOWN. They ignored him. Outside, it was still pitch black at 6:30 a.m.

After disembarking at the airport, we waited a long time in a short line for immigration rather than visit the rather dirty, broken bathrooms. The immigration guards tickled each other for fun. Outside, our Jordanian friends met us with hugs and a pair of SUVs, in which they took us to their offices, where they served us spiced coffee and freely discussed the little packets of perfume that all Jordanian men apparently carry. The coffee was, I have to admit, probably the best I’d ever tasted. Our presence in the office was tinged with embarrassment, as we seemed to be in the way of people and staff there.

Basem, one of our Jordanian friends, had spent quite a bit of time and effort, along with his little brother, Mohammed, to arrange our schedule. This involved taking us to a pastry shop whose fares were entirely too sweet, which I’d never really considered a possibility before.

Basem had Important Work to do, so we took a van driven my an older man who seemed rather sore at the influx of rich Iraqis to the neighborhood, to lunch on chicken served by a waiter who didn’t understand Chenbl’s enquiry about a “camel sandwich”. I spent most of lunch gazing longingly out onto the street, where fascinating scenes were playing out under great light.

After lunch, the restaurant’s manager packed all seven of us into a small van and sent us to with one of his young cubs to stroll the streets of the old downtown, full of alleys, shops, men smoking on balconies and men walking stridently in front of approaching vehicles. Amman seems to be densely packed with crème-colored buildings, cheek-to-jowl across hills and valleys, making it a fascinatingly three-dimensional place. It was fun, and I got the first inkling of a feeling that I was actually in Jordan. It would be lovely to be able to do some street photography here on my own someday. The cub rubbed cheeks and noses with various peers in shops and lanes, and we explored an old Roman ruin lousy with cats, and found ourselves at a large mosque where men were allowed and women weren’t (unless their heads were covered, I guess). I bought three hats. I will buy more.

The call to prayer was echoing through the city as we arrived at the Imperial Palace Hotel, where we found the sink drain stuck closed, the fridge full of broken glass left over from a bottle explosion, and exorbitant wi-fi charges. We went out again for nice dinner at a rest-stop place with Basem, Mohammed, and a furry young nephew named Fahed. The mint-lemon tea was excellent, and for some reason Chenbl decided to embarrass the entire kitchen staff with a full-on press event tour of the kitchens. In the meantime, our hosts explained the word “Sababa” as we ate.

posted by Poagao at 5:58 am  

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