After 4 years in London I thought I was a worldly kind of guy…than I come here and find out I’m about as cultured as sliced white hovis. Everyone speaks Arabic, French and English with horrific ease. The first person I chatted to was an American – he couldn’t understand a word I was saying. Should be an interesting year or so, may as well carry on and blog about it….
Today I was supposed to ‘pre-register’. All the classic university bureaucracy memories came tumbling back. After standing in about 3 queues I give a man my student number and thats it seems to be it. Oh, and hand in your medical certificate signed by your doctor to the infirmary. What? Infirmary? Kind of like Hogwarts, cool. Certificate? Whoops.
I headed to a dunkin’ donuts across the street for the WiFi and a globalised latte to look up what a healthy blood pressure is and a plausible BCG vaccine date before making up a doctor and a really lame signature. We’ll see how that flys tomorrow….
Whilst on the internet i started to think about flats, there are a few Facebook groups but nothing really seems to be going, so I decided that I would at some point need to make some friends and search with them. I then flashbacked to the first day of halls and I panicked at my awful first impression skills. Then, upon graduation, how I spent the first 3 weeks of work avoiding the break room like the plague. Again, the flat will be a problem for another day.
Finally into the streets of Beirut proper, I wondered around in a sweaty daze. I had just finished reading Robert Fisk’s Pity the Nation, which is a fascinating, terrifying, and profoundly moving book about the Lebanese Civil War over 1975-1991 that also contains first hand descriptions of violence so brutal that it makes American Psycho look like The Hungry Caterpillar. As a result, I’m half expecting West Beirut to still be a bombed out ruin with Israeli jets screeching above. Instead, it turns out that it really is a – lame metaphor alert – concrete jungle, with steamy air, electric vines hanging everywhere, and much exotic fruit about the place. A market further south sells monkeys for $300. I promise myself to check it out and enquire about butler training regimes/simian tuxedo tailoring options.
Within minutes a flashy Arab did nothing to dispel the flashy Arab stereotype, rinsing homicidally past in an obscene yellow hummer. Another guy, with slicked back hair and who almost certainly has botox in his pecs, pushed past at a food stall. Even though everyone in the university district (Hamra / Ras Beirut) knows English I’m reduced to pointing like a moron as a result not yet knowing what anything is called. 10 more minutes of walking took me to the seafront, known as the Corniche, where I sipped mint lemonade with the guidebook for about 2 hours to recover. The whole place seemed very quiet, probably due to the fact that the Chili Peppers were doing a huge gig, and I can’t imagine they hit up Lebanon on the regular so to speak.
I was the only foreigner in Chatila Brothers’ seaview cafe, but the waiter was incredibly helpful. He thought I was French when he spoke to me, so I decided to order in French as well, as if it was some sort of compromise, to nobodies benefit. Take that France, Lebanon thinks there’s one more flustered moron from your country than there really is. I reverted to English after that, and thanks to helpfulness of some Beirutians I spoke to I had a cute little Nokia phone with Snake and a plug adapter within half an hour. Apart from Vin Diesel at the taxi rank last night, it doesn’t seem like there is too much of a culture of ripping off dumb westerners here. Nice.
After some more exploring however it soon became clear I would have to use my HTC from home if I wanted to be taken seriously by the iPhone toting locals. I swear even the man rooting through the bins was talking on Siri.
Highlight of the day: The most needed cold shower of all time
Low-point: Mumbling at an American in the registration queue who had no idea what i was on about
Beautiful Lebanese Girl forecast: moderate to swarthy
Sweeping Orientalist statement: The Lebanese are just like Italians