Cairo Times

I heard about this movie last year, and just got around to watching it.

Here’s what the movie got right:

– The film was made in Egypt, you can tell because the whole deal with traffic is pretty much spot on. There’s no real concept of traffic lanes in Egypt, nor does the concept of traffic lights exist – there are none.  Taxis are from the 60s, some release toxic fume from the inside.  But most of the time you are poisoned from the pollution from out the window.  Keeping the taxi drivers awake is also important.

– Patricia Clarkson’s character’s surprise in having men follow her everywhere when she goes out in blouses and skirts.  Women get this pretty quickly: you either cover up, or you are “asking for it”.  Unwanted sexual attention that is.  And it goes without saying that every Arabic men that approaches you on the street will have no trouble telling you how beautiful you are. Without fail.

– There are too many camels and not enough donkeys in the film. There are more donkeys in Egypt.

– Yes, you will be offered hot hibiscus tea all the time, even when it’s 40 degrees outside and you are trying to cool down. Tea is usually served with spoonfuls of sugar.

– The gushing new foreigner, and the cynical long-term expat.

– When Clarkson says, I’ll write something about street children, and Tareq says, you don’t live here, it’s complicated.  Right on.

– Everyone you meet seems to be studying some combination of language and tourism. Becoming a tour guide and one day running their own travel agency seems to be the best prospects for a lot of young people.  I have heard every major language spoken while I was there, including impeccable Chinese while inside the Egyptian Museum.

– “Tomorrow I will take the day off.”  Many Egyptian men that endlessly wander the street seem to have this luxury. Under-employment and outright unemployment seems to be a chronic malaise.

Where it’s not one hundred percent:

– It’s not that hot in November. During the days, you can get by with a sleeveless shirt, but it’s no sweltering heat.  At night, it gets chilly fast.

– Venturing out to the oasis doesn’t really count as going out in Cairo.  The white desert is a few hours away, and you need a 4×4 jeep to get out there.  These trips are done overnight, usually with Bedouin tour guides.

– Sailing on the Nile: it’s almost pointless to sail on the Niles during smoggy days, you can’t see three meters from the boat.  Most people sail at night, while eating on one of those boat restaurants.  Much cooler, plus the pollution would’ve been more settled by then.

Emerging adulthood and other Wednesday links

I’m not completely sold on this: women’s success in finding a male partner don’t pay off in the labor market.

Ambiguity over just exactly what “blood diamond” means.

When the EU Parliament “cuts” its budget.

Call centres are coming back onshore?

How can Sweden come up on top, when the majority of working women there work for the public sector and get paid less?  Or is it merely a study of gender pay based on the same job, not accounting for the difference in how socio-economic factors sway career choices?

On the ascent of Serge Gainsbourg’s as a historical reflection on the ongoing battle for French identity.

Finland, the best country in the world?  More like Jekyll-and-Hyde?

Emerging adulthood, except we never come out on the other side.

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The new silk road and Monday morning links

Detroit’s decline reflected in its specific breed of strip bars.

Two sides of history on Churchill.

A divided India.

Power and ethical lapses.

Europe in 1914.

Helping girls in conflict resolution and confidence building early on.

Everyone has an opinion on if and how the Internet might be changing the way we think.

Caucasus, pipelines, and the new silk road.

China takes over Japan, officially second largest economy.

Russia’s “legal nihilism” and the exile generation.

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Direct EU taxation

Who’s for it, and who’s against it.

Spain, Poland, Austria, and Belgium are backing the concept, France, UK, Germany and the Netherlands are against.

It seems that the more up-and-coming, politically and economically unstable ones are looking to the the EU for more centralized (and with luck, fair) power partitioning. Poland is still waiting on the doorsteps of the inner circle Europe, so you take good will where you can get it?  Austria’s still awaiting the verdict on its eastern European investments, Spain struggling with higher unemployment and general economic ruin, Belgium barely able to keep the country together.

Bigger states like France and Germany want to retain more sovereignty, and it would look both politically untenable and silly to hand over more power when both believe they control the institution anyway.  In the UK and Netherlands, the shift to the right has a distinct and not at all unsurprising anti-EU slant to it.

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The right to vacation

Before the whole Greek fiasco, euro crisis, and the news that European banks were on the verge of collapse (which is not happening according to this), some EU commissioner had the audacity to declare the travel some kind of human right.  Actually, the idea was to convince more foreigners to come to Europe and spend their hard-earned money on a continent where tourism is the 3rd largest business and accounts for 12% of its jobs.

But of course the financial shit storms hit and this initiative is now probably buried deep inside Euro castles somewhere in Brussels or Strasbourg.

This is my first summer here with no off-continent travels, and I’ve seen first-hand the kind of exodus that happens on the road when July and August hit.

People schedule their vacations to coincide with their children’s schooling. The construction sector is closed for an entire month between July and August for vacation, and some government agencies also close for August.  Half of the small/independent shops in my neighbourhood are closed, so if you want pizza or beef from the butcher, or dry-cleaning services, then tough luck.

There are several so-called Black Saturdays, where people literally pack up as much personal belongings and household apparatus as possible in their cars, endure hours of congested traffic, in order to drive to their neighbouring countries to camp.

Camping is huge.  I haven’t tried it yet, but hearsay tells me camp grounds are generally more compact, well-serviced and in some cases, cheaper than across the pond.

Stay-cations are also almost unheard of here. Recession or not, the majority of people surveyed (at least in the Netherlands, although I can’t quite find the link) said they intend to go on vacation.

For most, that means packing up your house, drive 5 to 10 hours, and set up camp in a neighbouring country.  I have seen everything from cars loaded up with camping and cooking wares, to more luxurious foldable tent set-ups hooked to the back of a car, to plastic picnic table strung on the top of a car, all to keep the vacation cost as low as possible, and to make those foreign destination feel as homely as possible.

With this kind of set-up in: price (low, camping), convenience (high, drive anywhere in a few hours), and availability (of holidays and destinations, also high), I can see why most Europeans exercise their rights to vacations.

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On Luxemburg

Over the weekend, I met a couple of guys that actually lived (and one still living) in the city-state of Luxemburg.  There’s around half a million of people residing in all of the 999 square miles of the country. But in the word of the young French banker-type, “the real Luxemburgish are all in hiding.”

Over the years, the country has literally been taken over by the neighbouring Italians, Germans and French, not to count the influx of Eastern Europeans once the EU borders opened.  Most work in banking and related service industries.  Taxes are lower (both consumption and income), wages are higher, so many make the 1-2 hour cross-border commutes everyday back to their home countries.

Both of these guys described the country as an incredibly dull place, with little to do except making money and going out to bars, and with no redeeming qualities of other well-known banking countries (and tax havens) like Switzerland and Monaco.  Nor were they kind about the locals – red-neck farmers driving Ferraris – since selling their land to the banking businesses, and I’m guessing from some of the rich mineral deposits in the south of the country too.

I look forward to visiting someday.

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