Saturday, September 20, 2014

Jeddah is Not Just a City - III

Unlike Mumbai, Jeddah can expand in all directions except into the Red Sea. Thus, if one researches how Jeddah looked like, say, 90 years ago, and compares it to what it looks like today, one would realise that it is much bigger now than it was before. The other thing is that as time has gone by, the government of Saudi Arabia has invested huge resources into creating a modern, up to date city that can vie with any other big city in the world. I have already mentioned to you about the large and wide roads. The sea-front is marvellous too. There are places where one may simply go to loiter (esp. if you are a male), sit, relax, lie down, take pictures, do a bit of fishing, etc. The roads on the coast are wide and it is a pleasure to drive down them. Here are a few pictures I took ...

This is the pedestrian jetty where people come to stroll, fish, and look

This man is going to use a squid to catch a big fish

A mosque on the shore

This is a 5-star hotel under construction

The pleasure of watching birds on Jeddah shore

This is the view of the entire jetty from a little way off

This is a tern ... hundreds live here on the rocks
In spite of the complexity of the roads and the dense evening traffic, Jeddah is easy to navigate once you get the ropes of the Google Maps Navigation apps on your Android phone, as the roads are parallel to each other like in most developed cities of the world. The confusion arises as most roads in most cities of Saudi Arabia are named after the several members of Royalty from King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud down to the present monarch King Abdullah and his several brothers, off-spring etc. In most of the cases, the road that is the most important is named after King Abdullah, since the history of modernisation of Saudi Arabia is less than 50 years old.

The second thing I noticed was that both, in Jeddah, and in Riyadh, the main roads run on and on for several kilometers, unlike what we see in Mumbai or in most other cities in India. Thus, for example, Prince Majid street runs for over 15 km, traversing many different districts before running into or joining another main road. Also, many roads are known by numerals as well as names of royalty. E.g. the afore mentioned Prince Majid Street is also known as Shaara Sabaaein or Street 70. Jeddah has Street 60, 50, 40 ... etc parallel to street 70. This same nomenclature I saw in Taif and in Riyadh as well. 

Jeddah has hundreds of eateries serving food of all the different nationalities that populate it. I can mention that there are many restaurants from the basic to the luxury level that serve Indian-Pakistani-Bangladesh food, and similarly, Lebanese, Indonesian, Pinoy, Turkish, Afghanistani (Bukhari), Egyptian, Chinese, and even Continental food. I have eaten at a Chinese restaurant once, with my cousin Juzer Kagalwala and his family way back in early 2012; I have also tried most of the others, except the Continental, the Indonesian and the Egyptian restaurants in Jeddah, although I have eaten Egyptian green bhajias (what these guys call Tamia) in Taif. There are great Pakistani/North Indian restaurants in Bani Malik, Ash Sharafiya and Street 70 areas of Jeddah. To look for South Indian foods, you have to dig deeper, but there are several places where you can eat near-authentic dosa, idlis, medu-vada, and south-Indian variations of Fish masala, Avial, etc. From among the Pakistani restaurants, I would recommend Mehraan and Kababish on Street 70, and Nirula in Bani Malik for reasonably priced, tasty food. 

Coming now to the expatriates. As mentioned above, the city of Jeddah has expats from several countries, and each of them have coloured and adorned the city with their own, unique signature. This is not to say that expats have all been helpful to the Kingdom. Of course, there are rotten apples in all the world, and Jeddah is no different. Prostitution, Drugs, Alcohol, Robberies, and even Murder are all present in this old city. No particular nationalities can be blamed for this, but from what I hear, the worst ones are the men from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, and a few other nations. Prostitutes include the poorest of the poor women who live in the Kingdom, and I have often heard that they even include Saudi women, working either alone or in the company of other expats such as Syrians, Pinoys or Indonesians. Crime levels in the Industrial Port area are highest, as those who are settled here are the oldest inhabitants of modern Jeddah, and this area is also the least well-policed. 

Barring these aberrant people, though, the vast majority of expats have infused freshness and variety to the boring monochrome-culture of the Kingdom. They do live as second class citizens, of course, but this is not unique to Jeddah. It is a malady that affects expats all over the Kingdom. This, however, does not include white-skinned people from the Americas, Australia or Europe, as Saudis are in awe of white skin just as much as all Asians, Indians included. These Caucasians bring to the Kingdom its silver lining. It is their presence that makes malls stock things that Saudis would probably never buy, such as organic foods, special herbs for healing, European and American brands of toiletry, lingerie, cosmetics, apparel, shoes, foods, etc. etc. all thrive here. 

Let me end this entry with a few personal thoughts. I guess one can really like Jeddah, once one overcomes the cultural differences between a free city like Mumbai and one that is tightly administered with respect to religious and social sanctions. And, believe me, once you begin to like it, you and your family will enjoy their stay in this city.

(Series concluded)

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