22 April 2009

You'll Leave

I remember a while ago, someone read my palm and told me I would be leaving Bahrain for a long long time. I sort of figured out why over the past few days.

It's getting really crappy here. Yes, we have F1 weekend coming up, woohaa. But that's about it. A few days before the beautiful event that brings millions of eyes upon Bahrain, and brings in tourist to have a good time and their dollars in to spend, the Ministry of Information & Culture decides to ban one and two star hotels from serving alcohol, and bringing in musicians.

Oh, and with a one day notice, ie; "Hellowwww, we just came up with this rule yesterday, so shut up and deal with it", thus basically screwing up half the hotels around here. I'm guessing the concept is supposedly done to get rid of the sleaze, but then we still have sleaze in the 3, 4 and 5 star hotels. Oh trust me, i've seen it. It's just classier sleaze. So all we've ended up doing is screwing up a bunch of hotels in the middle of a recession. Lovely.

Anyway, besides destroying about 40% of the hotel industry here and forcing them out of business (because we all know it's not the super-expensive room rates that are getting them their money) and screwing visitors over, they decide to screw over the local population too. Remember our little friendly internet ban? Well now we've moved from banning porn sites, political garbage and rubbish like that, to actually banning big bank websites, and other government websites. Duh. No seriously, the expensive auto-blocking system they bought to basically search for and block banned content ended up blocking the biggest e-banking website in Bahrain, and the e-gov website. Of course people complained and these have been re-opened, but that just tells you that not only are the people responsible for the blocking trying to restrict freedom of speech, they're actually doing a bad job at it.

Anyway, besides that we have the millions of other things going on, such as traffic jams that keep getting worse, mosquitos that end up biting more, and desert that so beautifully seems to get more dusty by the year. Plus newspapers that publish rubbish and can't seem to tell a word of fact, MP's that can't solve a real case if their beard depended on it, and car agents that won't admit that sales are crap and keep increasing their prices.

Ah yes, from the looks of it, that palm reading might just turn out to be true.

19 April 2009

The Reset Button

That was a good 2 weeks of relaxation.. Much needed, may I add.. Flew over to the UK, to Cardiff specifically, to meet the wifey, chilled there for a few days then over to London for a week, over to Antalya, Turkey for a good five days (heaven on earth, including everything from beaches, to snowy peaked mountains, the best food you'll ever taste, etc etc), back to Cardiff and back to Bahrain today.

The past year has been a rush; 31st of March 2008, I made the decision to quit 'work'. Not to quit working per se, but to quit the regular 'desk-job' type work that is. It was getting to me; i've worked in a bunch of different companies, moving up from one position to the next and getting more responsibility with each switch, and more money along with each. Shifted from Relationship Manager for a global bank, to a Branch Manager for a large bank here in Bahrain, to a Department Head for a telecom company, and a few more positions in between.

Money was great. Wasn't happy.

I guess over the 6 years or so since graduating from college, i've managed to achieve what most people take about twice as long to do. And I could see the career path; it was on it's way up, but I just wasn't enjoying it. I finally made the decision to quit, because I really wasn't getting much out of this whole 'job' thing (besides a big bank balance, which isn't bad but there was still something missing).

The next step was vague; I had no clue what I was about to do next, but to the outsider it seemed like a bit of a joke; the timing of me quitting seemed to coincide with the wifey flying to the UK for studies, and me buying an Xbox with a bunch of games.

Yes, my wife was out of the country, I bought an Xbox, and I quit working. I was a 17 year old bachelor kid again. Woohoow.

The next few steps are a bit of a blur now; it's been a little over a year, in which I decided to follow what I like best to see where that goes; my photography, which I started putting into online galleries, and soon got contacted by companies who wanted to buy images for their company websites, magazines, etc. I also started a little online magazine to cover things to do and places to go in Bahrain. I've always loved music, so I started BahrainTalent to promote all the local musicians in the country (who didn't have any sort of support otherwise), and through that got in touch with a big music company opening up in the region.

The magazine caught on very quickly, with readership increasing by the month, and with that came coverage of events, parties, advertising, sponsorships, and more. BahrainTalent caught on pretty quickly too, with lots of people applying to get featured on the site, and even more visiting just to check out who these musicians are and where they popped out from. Photography increased as I started getting invited to more events and social gatherings, and working with the music company to launch things in the country and region took a bigger role, and the Middle East sort of became my playground. Add into that everything from getting connections for big events (setting up Elham with AlDar for their island trip), to helping put together events (Axis of Evil and other shows), finding talent for events (DJ's for parties, live performers for clubs), to random other things here and there such as writing articles for some of the big publications here, filming and editing short videos, and setting up BIC with local talent for F1 themed songs, etc.

That's not even the half of it; a million other things in between meant that I was buuuhuuussssyyyy. Every day was a rush with one thing after another, never stopping to breathe.

It was great, but it was exhausting. I'm so far away from that desk job business now.

The whole thing started on April 1st 2008 with me sitting at home with that Xbox. Sometimes I wonder if this whole thing is just a big April's fool joke; it's been successful so far. But it got overwhelming, meetings, events, planning things, deadlines, last-minute flights, people calling all the time, millions of emails and messages back and forth, etc etc etc. Staying focused was near impossible.

A year after it all started, well, a year and 2 days to be exact (3rd Apr '09), I took off. Got on a plane and flew thousands of miles away to the UK, and for 2 weeks let the pressure subside. Forgot about everything for a while.

Green parks, beaches, new people and new places, good food, ice cream by the pool. It was great. Total disconnect.

I'm back now, and somehow even though though there are a million things to do, my mind feels clearer and a lot sharper. I've always figured I was focused, but now after this, I know I wasn't. Totally needed break. Guess sometimes you just need to hit that reset button.

12 April 2009

Back to London

London has changed. It's been a while since i've last been there, 12 years to be exact.

I've lived in London for quite a part of my life, first sometime between 83-85, and then again from 1991-1996, visiting numerous times in between; last time I actually went there was in '97. I've managed to pass by a lot of places over the past few years, but London always seemed to be just a transit point. Never really got the chance to drop by even though I really wanted to.

But finally, i'm back! I'm here for a week, and all I wanted to do was check out the old spots I remembered. It's funny how memory gets blurred over the years, adding things and twisting others; the place looks a lot smaller, with a quick walk down Oxford Street proving that point. The shops have definitely changed though, with most of the smaller joints closing down and being replaced with international franchises such as River Island and H&M. Only real survivors here seem to be the Underground stations (duh) and McDonalds. It's sort of sad to see my old favorite shops disappeared, but I guess 12 years is a long time..

Edgware Road; didn't really think much of the place back then besides it being the best place to get "Arab" groceries, but the place has changed quite a bit too. It's filled with Shisha coffee shops now, and mobile phone stores, lol (back when I lived here, mobile phones were 'just' starting to take off. They weren't really an Arabo thing just yet). Stayed at the Hilton Metropole on Edgware, which again feels like staying at any hotel in some random Arab country; Arabs every here.. Checked out Covent Garden, where I used to hang out quite a lot. Still a nice place to hang out, and still the same old jokers performing their regular antics (such as wearing pink underpants in the cold and juggling swords on a unicycle).

Got some time to go over and see my old apartment, the old streets I used to walk down, and funnily enough none of those had changed (besides a new McDonalds opening nearby). Big Ben and the House of Parliament are obviously still the same.

The people seem to be different though. The ratio of actual English people to every other nationality seems to have been reduced; more foreigners from everywhere, most notably Indian and North African. There also seems to be a change in general attitude; everything moves faster, people are less considerate of each other, and even when surrounded by hounds of people, you couldn't feel more lonely. Weird. People don't pick up their trays after them in restaurants any more, and the perfect queues the British were once famous for seem to have dissolved; everyone trying to cut in and so on. Oh, and the Underground seems to be much more crowded; I guess with the influx of people into the country, that's had to happen. There are electric cars, and electric car refill points.

So yes, London has changed. For the worse maybe, for the better maybe, yet I find myself not loving it as much as I used to. It still retains some of it's old charm though, but you need to look a little deeper below the surface. Walked by a busy pub with newspaper wrapped fish and chips soaked in vinegar and salt, under the cold rain, as a big red London bus passed by. Might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it sure did feel like the true heart of London.