Under the spell of the watchtower
Arabia/Saudi Arabia
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Under the spell of the watchtower

Summer is sputtering its last in Riyadh; the burning heat of memory and of August is slipping away and a relative cool pervades the mornings and the evenings.  By nine in the evening, the temperature is barely above thirty-five celsius, the sun having dipped below the horizon a little before six.

In the darkness and the cool, a calm descends.  Around the secure compound I am staying on, lights flicker on.  Smoothed curves alternative with ramifying diamonds in Arabic designs crawling up the front of the porches facing the empty streets. In front of each house stands a watered lawn; a lone, proud and tall-standing palm; and a single lamp.  Away in ordered ranks they stretch: house after house, lawn after lawn, palm tree after palm tree, lamp after lamp. And over it all spills the gentle pinky-orange light of the compound’s lights, as gentle as the air is still.

My evening run takes me past each one. A cat stirs. A lonely fellow jogger smiles as we pass. But life is hidden behind the drawn curtains.  I am alone, caught in the spell of a compound watchtower, its bright flood lamp washing over me.  And as I run in this new compound with this new job, do I feel the old being washed away?

 

Returning to Riyadh
Arabia/Saudi Arabia
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Returning to Riyadh

All through the flight, I wasn’t really sure what I felt.  Looking out of the aeroplane’s window, down at the bright gridded lights, I couldn’t pinpoint my response.  Waiting in the airport at immigration, at the luggage carousel and at customs, I wasn’t sure.

Sitting in the car, looking out at the darkness and the dodgy driving, I couldn’t put a name to my emotion.  Driving past my old office, shrouded now in darkness, perhaps to conceal that all these years late, it still remains unfinished, did nothing but mix up the feelings yet further.

The heat, the dust, the kaleidoscope of beige, the endless rubble and building.  How do I respond to this, the most peculiar of returns?

I am back in Riyadh.

Comfort food
Asia/Hong Kong
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Comfort food

Sometimes before a long journey, a little comfort food is needed.  Few cultures do comfort food quite as well as the Cantonese in Hong Kong.

Dim sum for lunch but pork for dinner.  And not just pork: a feast of pork. Four different types of pork for dinner: minced pork with beans, fatty belly with preserved vegetables, honey glazed barbecued pork, and crispy roast pork.  For there is something quite alluring about a restaurant with piles of glistening pork stacked up in trays or hanging from hooks in the window.