If Las Vegas dealt in baklavas instead of money, it would look like Jasmatiyah Street in Damascus.
Everything is big and flashy. Nut-filled pastries are stack higher than people. Rolls of pistachios in vermicelli dough thicker than a forearm beckon stares of disbelief.
In one of many shops, bakers in ethnic headdress prepare halawat with ashta cream. A giant LCD screen above him plays a making-of-sweets promotional reel.
We arrived in Tripoli and for the first time in two Lebanese weeks, we felt like we were in the Middle East.
The look-at-me designer shops that water down Beirut were nowhere in sight. There were no Pepsi billboards or golden arches, or other homogenizers of Western culture in the old city.
The main city square dominated by an old clock tower was abuzz with messengers, merchants transporting goods and ideas, soldiers on coffee break, all the activity you’d expect to see 200 years ago in a touristic corner that hasn’t fallen to tourism.
It’s a shame that so many tourists come to Byblos on a day trip. This is a town that begs for slow, aimless wandering, both during daytime and at night.
It’s an easy mistake to make, though. The historical part of Byblos, and the only one of interest, really, is barely the size of five city blocks. You’re greeted by a souk selling bland clothing, the usual souvenirs, overpriced cafés, and one interesting bookstore specializing in Lebanese literature.
But it’s not the shopping that stirs you, it’s the perfectly resorted stonework of the houses that glow ochre in the Mediterranean light. You can almost picture Romans, Persians, Ottomans, or any of the many civilizations that traipsed though Lebanon haggling for dates. I say almost because the plastic Christmas trees and snowmen the city scattered on the souk destroy any possibility of creative visualization.
Blame it on the Saudis. That’s what the Lebanese do.
The most striking first impression of Beirut is the number of cranes deployed for new luxury condos. Dubai usually gets the fame for unfettered construction, but we were in Dubai, and it’s nothing like this.
It doesn’t make sense. Lebanon is at peace, but for how long is anyone’s guess.
Convenience rules over the mountain town of Kumily, in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Most Keralan specialties, from spices, to wildlife, to theatre to martial arts can be found within its five or six streets. This makes Kumily a cultural Wal-Mart of South India.
But like any all-in-one, each component is of doubtful quality.
After several months in countries where pyjamas are casual street wear and face masks are as banal as earrings (I’m looking at you, Indochina) it was a delight to arrive in Singapore and walk among such well-dressed folk.
It felt like the “work chic” and “party dress” pages of a BCBG catalog had sprung to life with thousands of women around me.
See post for a photo gallery.
Longest beach in world
By a sea of rickshaw fumes
Get me out of here.
Four more haikus inside.
Kuala Lumpur is a city on the move, but it takes its time. It’s Hong Kong Lite, a modern, former British colony that loves business but doesn’t forget to smell the hibiscus.
We spent 17 hours there between Singapore and India – Air Asia flights from KL to Chennai are dirt cheap. We cherished every second.
Click the images below to see a slideshow.
Singapore is a trickster, but it doesn’t know it. It makes you think it’s a business city with obsessive-compulsive disorder and no sense of mirth.
What a farce. Singaporeans take their pleasure very seriously. Venture past the tourist trail of Chinatown, the malls of Orchard Rd. and the overpriced cafés of Sentosa Island and you’ll a city contending for a spot among the great capitals of fun.
If you’re there, don’t miss these delights.
Declining food in Singapore is as productive as asking a computer to hurry up. Insisting is just as foolish.
It is how Singaporeans express affection. It is how they honour guests. It is what they know best.
The challenge of the foreigner is to convert frustration into flattery.
A tragicomedy in three acts.