Monday, February 22, 2010

Year of the Tiger

You are a certain animal in Chinese astrology. However, unless you are a tiger, of course you would like to be like one of us. Tigers are most wonderful creatures, no question about it.

One option is to dress up in a tiger suit, but another, much more meaningful one is to take a rigourous programme of courses and obtain certification. There's probably an international school for this in a city near you.

Courses include:
- Basic Tiger Survival Skills - in Zoos, Forests, and on urban outskirts
- Advanced Tiger Grammar and Phonetics - Rar! in Practice and Theory
- How to Love another Tiger - Safe and Non-destructive Nibbling Techniques
- Practical Tiger Grooming - Common Hammam Practices for the Very Hairy
- Tiger Cuisine - New Explorations in Raw Meat

Upon completion you get a nice flea collar with a gold name tag. You then have the privilege of learning the secret tiger purr as well as a song which describes how fabulous and amazing tigers are - and this you need to sing 5 times a day in order to maintain your certification of practice.


It is my last week in Damascus. I am keeping to a similar schedule as usual - a blend of Arabic, cooking, reading, exploring - but there's more gift-giving just now as I lighten up my load, and a bit more personal admin as I organize my next few weeks as I go on the road again.

My Arabic is just getting good. I have been verbing so much that I long to be an adjective again. I have learnt to phonetically approximate the secret code for "Can you give me a discount" - a sentence complex enough that I don't quiet know what the structure is yet, but it apparently impresses shopowners enough to reduce whatever I am buying by a dollar or so. Arabic is slowly paying off.

It has been a very Christian week for me the past week. Last Friday was a short day trip to Seidnayya, a town just 1/2 hour away. An important pilgrimage town in the Middle Ages, second only to Jerusalem. The main monastery was spatially amazing - stairs, courtyards, balconies, terraces in a full 3D labyrinth. Tough to say how old it was - like most buildings here there is a lot of ongoing rebuilding. On Sunday I went to the Armenian Orthodox Church for service, which lasted 2 hours. They also have a curtain, like the Armenian Catholic Church. But here it was always drawn. Full Mystery. Like coming to a theatre to see a play, but the curtains remained closed.

Also finally went to a hammam here. "Only" 12th century - the oldest here is 9th century but that is only for men. The one I went to was really nice, a good honest scrub in very nice surroundings with a couple of friends. There is one in Aleppo that I hope to try too.

Looking forward to Aleppo. One book says there are 10km of souq, another says 30km. Probably a truly delightful commercial experience, however long it is. Due to its location, one book says that they really had to work to get people to come to Aleppo, as it is not a natural crossroads. And because it has been so ignored for the past hundred years it has not been modernized - so pretty ideal for the modern tourist now. A very old city, and it will probably look it, much more than Damascus. Even the Jdeide Quarter or "New Quarter" refers to an area that began in the 15th century.

Also gearing up for the route afterwards. I am languishing for rice rolls and jook, so have already made arrangements to go to Crispy Duck Restaurant with some friends in London. I'm just there for a night, after which I am off to Muscat for the last 2 weeks in March, and then Melbourne for April to visit family.

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