Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

Not British

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Phillip loves Chocolate Cake

Oh Poo Poo, our cultures are not the same.

“Wait your turn”, or “First come, first served“, “Respect your elders“, “Do what you are told“, were instilled in me from the day I was born, British sayings that have guided me through my life, are now pulling at my heart strings as I continue to travel, not only the world, but the British Isles.

If two people stand behind another person in Britain, you can be sure, others will join the queue. They will not perhaps know what they are waiting for, but but they will form an orderly queue.

As a small boy, I remember catching the bus to visit my Grandmother or go shopping, and when we arrived at the bus stop, we would mentally work out how many people had arrived before us, and as more people arrived, who was the person who had arrived immediately after us and the sequence of people arriving after them. We were forming a queue, a sequence of order of those who arrived first would get on the bus first, followed by the next person, and so on and so forth.

In the shop, we knew who was before us and who had arrived after us, and thus we had order, “first come, first served“, and if the shop assistant went to serve a customer out of order, the customer would say, “No, I think that person was before me“.

We had respect for others, we had order, we knew our place, we knew the rules, written and unwritten, we knew we must “wait your turn” rule.

At school, queuing was further instilled in us, as before classes we would be required to stand in an orderly line, a queue, not saying a word. Sometimes this queue was further defined by height, or alphabetically by family name or by the sequence in which we sat in the classroom, those sitting at the back would be first in the queue and those sitting at the front of the classroom would be last in the queue.

Large Queue outside EuroRail, London

Large Queue outside EuroRail, London

For my non British readers you can see this in action when watching the tennis on your TV of Wimbledon, where people will queue to buy tickets, and these queues are very long, or when there is a sale at a shop like Harrods in London, or the launch of a new product like the Apple iPhone, people will start queuing days before the start of the sale, bringing along beds and blankets to sleep and keep warm.

These queuers will be allowed to leave the queue by others, and, return without any problems or queries, just by saying, “Can you save my place please?

My first shock to the system, my first challenge to my up-bringing and my beliefs happened in the 1980’s when I worked in Saudi Arabia as the Software Manager for the Texas Instruments distributor, Saudi Computer Services. I had been sent to the capital, Riyadh, to install a new client’s computer system, a task I had done many times, flying from the Red Sea town of Jeddah into the middle of the country where Riyadh is located.

My flights had been arranged, and upon completion of the job, I went to catch my return leg back to Jeddah early, as I had completed the installation ahead of schedule. I went to book-in, only to be told that the flight had been cancelled due to a sand storm and I had been placed on “standby” for the next available flight, and that I should join the queue at the standby desk.

With some fellow standby queuers, all Western Ex-Patriates, we talked and laughed as we waited for the next available seatings.

Phillip Holt wearing thobeAn announcement was made in Arabic, and within seconds from being first in the queue, we found ourselves at the back of the queue, with hundred of shouting, arms waving men in their white thobes and keffiyeh head dress.

Then they were gone, we found ourselves back at the front of the queue, but all spare seats had been taken.

This process continued, at one time we were at the front of the queue, only to find ourselves at the back following an announcement we did not understand, and any available seats were quickly allocated to those pushing to the front of the queue. We were only saved by a kind Saudia Airlines employee taking pity upon us.

The feeling of despair, the feeling of disbelief, the feeling of not fair play, something we say in British colloquialism when people do not play by the rules is “it’s not cricket“, still stays with me today.

I am experiencing this feeling more and more in the UK as more and more visitors and immigrants descend upon the small and overcrowded islands, and especially in London.

Gone are the orderly queues on the Waterloo and City underground line, (The Drain), the two station tube line, linking Waterloo mainline train station to the City of London banking area, where city centre office workers, would each morning and evening, “wait their turn” to board the over crowded trains, often missing several trains until they reached the front of the queue.

Gone are the orderly queues at bus stops.

Gone are the “first come, first served” rules in shops, restaurants and bars, as the shop assistants and waiters are often non British and do not have any concept of British cultural rules, and serve those with the loudest voice, the highest valued bank note, or the person that catches their eye.

My blood boils when waiting for a bus, especially at London Heathrow Airport after a long flight, where workers are more often than not from ethnic minority backgrounds, especially from the Indian subcontinent, where “Wait your turn”, or “First come, first served” appears does not exist in their culture.

More often of not I have just missed a bus and thus first in the queue with my suitcase for the next one, only to find when the bus arrives I am last on the bus with no seats left.

At the luggage carrousels in airport baggage halls, I am often one of the first to arrive to claim my suitcase as I can bye-pass the often long immigration queues with my biometric passport. At the carrousel, as at all airports, there is a distinctive yellow line which states, “Stand behind the line“. I follow this rule, and stand there like a statue or a soldier on guard, only to find myself soon unable to see the conveyer belt and the suitcases gliding past, as I am pushed to the back as others do not follow the rules and do what they are told, to “Stand behind the line“.

On a recent short flight from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, I resisted the need to get on the aircraft first, because as soon as the announcement was made that the flight was ready for boarding, and that we would be boarding by seat numbers, passengers raced to the departure gate, disregarding the request that only the few backseat passengers, rows 55 – 60 go forward.

For goodness sake, the plane will not leave without us.

I waited my turn and boarded the plane to take my allocated seat 6F, a window seat I had booked the day before and printed on my ticket. When I got to row 6, my seat was taken by an Indian looking young man. I politely asked him what was his ticketed seat number which turned-out to be 6D, the aisle seat. Not to cause a fuss and ask the gentleman sitting in the middle seat, 6E, to move so we could swop seats, I smiled and said I would take the aisle seat.

The air steward hearing what was happening and to my compromise to allow the person to occupy my seat, and yes I prefer the window seat, gave me a knowing smile and nod.

We were ready for taxiing out to the runway, and the announcement was made in two languages to make sure the seats were upright, tray tables stowed away, seat belts fastened, all electronic devices switched off and phone set to flight mode.

At this point, the Indian looking guy, started making a telephone call, and continued as we were pulling onto the runway to take-off. Faces of people turned to him in disbelief, but he continued, so I shouted at him to switch it off. He did.

As we were descending into Penang the announcement was made to make sure seat belts were fastened, seat backs were upright, tray tables stowed away and electronical devices switched off. He followed non of these instructions, his tray table still pocking into his stomach.

We landed in Penang, and as soon as we touched down, not even off the runway, he was making another call, again people gave him dirty looks, but this time I stayed calm and said nothing.

As we came to a stop at the gate. He stood-up waiting to get off the aircraft. Why people do it, I will never know, because we have to wait until those nearest the exit door get off first.

As I stood up to get my hand luggage from the overhead compartments, he tried to push me out of the way. I stood my ground and shouted at him to WAIT.

He looked at me sheepishly as said “sorry sir” and sat down. Faces around me gave me a knowing smile.

Being near to the front of the plane, I was one of the first off and thus one of the first at the baggage carrousel, and I dutifully stood waiting behind the yellow line. As the luggage started to arrive more passengers arrived, and I found myself once again with people infront of me, mostly of Indian ethnicity, craning to see if their suitcase was coming.

My suitcase came before those who had pushed infront of me, and it was quite a struggle to extract the suitcase from the carrousel as I had to push and shove my way in and out of the scrummage.

Oh, and the Indian looking guy was on the opposite side of the carrousel having just arrived from disembarking from the aircraft, and his luggage still not delivered.

It is against my nature, my culture not to “Wait my turn”, or accept “First come, first served“, “Respect your elders“, “Do what you are told“, but these days when I sense I could be forced to the back of the queue, it becomes playtime for Phillip. I use my body to stop these “I must be first, I have no regard for others around me” people, from getting infront of me, often forcing them to board last, allowing others to get on or served first, I’m using Phillip’s Sausage to know their every move, and counteracting them, letting them feel the frustration I feel against them.

I love my job, and my games.

Phillip loves Chocolate Cake

Phillip loves Chocolate Cake

Sleep Power-Nap

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sleeping man power nap

 I do not know what it is, the heat, the humidity, or the different time zone to the UK, Malaysia being eight hours in front, but often I need an afternoon nap, a small sleep in the afternoon.

This afternoon sleep, may last from ten minutes to one hour, but I find it such a deep sleep, the whole body plus my brain seems to shut down.

When working in Saudi Arabia, we had a time when the office hours were changed from working 9am – 6pm, to working 9am – 1pm, we would then go home to return to the office at 5pm and work until 9pm.

I would enjoy an afternoon sleep, away from the midday heat, but what a waste of a day, by the time we had returned home in the afternoon, had lunch and a nap, it was time to go back to the office, and in the evening, by the time we got home, prepared a meal, it was time to get to bed.

On my many trips to China giving training, it really confused me to see straight after lunch, office workers, participants, ordinary people, suddenly fall asleep at their desk, in their chair, but just for say half an hour.

Much research has been undertaken on afternoon naps, or what is known as “power-naps”.

In a California University, many years ago, researchers undertook tests on a group of cats.

The cats were taught a challenge, something special to do, and their brain waves were monitored. After a while the group of cats were split into two, and one of the groups was allowed to sleep or nap, whilst the other was allowed to learn the challenge.

A while later, the group of cats were woken, and the two groups were tested on how well they had learned the challenge. It was the group of cats that had slept who had mastered the challenge better. Sleep had increased learning.

Whilst the cats were taking the nap, researchers noticed unusual brain activity, and at a time when the sleep was at its’ deepest, when the cats entered REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep. The researchers said that this was the first time they had seen the brain learning, the short-term memory passing information to long-term memory, a function they called the plasticity of the brain.

Further research has been carried out on REM sleep, in Harvard University (USA) and University of Surrey (UK). It was found that when nappers took 1 hour to 90 minutes sleep say around 2pm, and which involved slow wave sleep, that is light sleep, which also included REM sleep, that is deep sleep which is often identified with dreams, they performed better than those who did not sleep or had a “power-nap“.

It was also noted that the “power-nap” enhance performance of work and duties in the afternoon, but remarkably only if REM was achieved as well as light sleep. Also noted was that the “power-nap” was no substitute for a normal good nights sleep.

Research at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center suggests that a nap does not effect the normal nights sleep, in fact they found that the nap could be beneficial for improved cognitive performance, to perform arithmetic, decision-making and reaction time tests and mental for up a day after.

It is said that there have been famous and great “power-nappers” in our time including Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Lance Armstrong (the cyclist), yachtswoman Ellan MacArthur, Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison, and that they could/can exist with a few hours sleep a night. But experts say that a full night’s sleep is still necessary for many bodily functions.

Will a “power-nap” influence the circadian rhythm or biological clock? No, only if you take more than 90 minutes for a nap.

sleeping man power nap sleeping man power nap

So sleep and nap well, I will.

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Still a boy racer in my RX7

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Phillip Holt Rotary engine Mazda RX7

My early introduction to cars as seen in the previous article My early introduction to racing cars had and still has an influence on me. In Saudi Arabia I had a Nissan 280ZX sports car, not very good for carrying diving equipment and driving in the desert. I replaced that car with a Toyota Celica. Still a little sporty, but I could just about travel in the desert with it.

Phillip Holt Nissan 280ZX
My Nissan 280ZX in Saudi Arabia.

It was my intention, my dream whilst working in Saudi Arabia to own a Mazda RX7. I wanted to drive the car from Jeddah, all the way back to the UK. That was not to happen.

But, syncronicity, the first garage I went to on my return to the UK looking for a car after years of working in the Middle East, was a Mazda dealer, and they were selling their managing directors wifes RX7 car, she had owned for six months and hardly ever used.

The car is still mine, all mine.

I have not used it, and it has not moved for nearly five years, as I have a Mercedes to carry all my sound equipment about in, but today I got the RX7 back on the road, taken it to a local garage for a full service, in the hope that I can drive it once again.

Phillip Holt Rotary engine Mazda RX7
Phillips’ Rotary engine Mazda RX7

Mazda introduced the RX7 in 1978, although my car was first registered in 1988. It has a twin rotor rotary engine, also known as a Wankel rotary which it had licensed from NSU-Wankel, rather than having the conventional piston engine.

The rotary Wankel engine, with few moving parts, is quite and smooth, so smooth that Mazda had to put a buzzer alarm in case drivers over-reved above 7000 rpm. But it is very costly in petrol, only achieving some 18 miles per gallon. *

Very few RX7‘s, styled on the Porsche 944 but looking more like the Porsche 928, were produced, and have since been replaced by the RX8, still with the rotary engine.

* 1 mile per gallon = 0.425143707 kilometers per litter

Culture. It changes.

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On occasions in my training courses I am told, “this is *?&$£: culture, and it will not change”.

What is culture? I think it is beliefs, the way we are raised as children, and the influences of our parents, peers, the media, religion and the governments, but on a grand scale, that is as a country, a city, a town, a street, a family, where those beliefs and way of life are shared and lived.

I was born into a proud family, both on my father’s and mother’s side, not a rich family, but one that worked and saved hard for the future. We had high morals, respecting our elders and those less off than us. My family wanted the best they could afford, without begging, borrowing, or taking credit from banks.

Travel was a major adventure, even to go 15 miles would be planned for days. We stayed in our local community, it was the culture of our family and locality.

It was after I started college education and my computing career that I started to travel further and further from the nest, and experienced different communities, working practices and ways of living and working. My cultural behaviours and beliefs were changing.

Phillip Holt wearing thobebiggest difference in beliefs and culture happened when I went to work in the Islamic country of Saudi Arabia, where a woman had no rights, could not drive, could not be with man unless they were married or family. There were no clubs, pubs, theaters or cinemas, no entertainment. Religion was restricted to Islam and no other. Their dress was completely different than that of the British, with their headdress and white thobe. It was their culture that I had to fit into, and I did for nearly six years, although I did not wear their dress style.

My travel for work and holidays to different countries continued to the far corners of the world, China to Peru. Cultures and beliefs being completely different, country to country, and region to region within those countries. My biggest cultural exposure was marrying Mee Len, a Chinese Malaysian.

The more I travel the more I see cultures beginning to change and to merge, where beliefs are beginning to become similar, but not the same.

Simple things like food. Every country or region has its’ specialties. But food is food, it is the way we prepare it, cook it, the ingredients combined to make it, the presentation and the way we eat it. Lamb is lamb, chicken is chicken, beef is beef and rice is rice.

The emergence of outlets such as Starbucks, Gloria Jeans, MacDonnell’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, kebabs, Indian and Chinese restaurants, in virtually every town in the world is changing the way we eat, for good or bad. These food outlets would not exist if the local people did not want them or eat in them.

The culture of preparing and eating at home, going for convenience food, is changing the culture of communities.

Television, radio, newsprint and the internet is introducing culture and beliefs of one community to another, and the young of the community want what they see, they want the food, they want the fashion.

Retail outlets like Zara, M&S, Carafour, Tesco, Walmart, sell the same products in their shops in London, Singapore, Ankara New York or Madrid, and the purchasing public buy it, changing the dress culture.

We are becoming one in the affluent and younger people, it is the older of us that hold on to the old dress, styles or culture.

The culture of travel is changing as we become more affluent, we buy more cars, we use public transport rather than walking, we tend to travel further from our homes to work, and take convenience food for lunch and snacks.

As we travel further to work and to study, the family structure changes. The family culture is breaking down. This is happening not only in 1st world counties but in 3rd world too, as people seeks work to support their family and changing life styles.

We are loosing cultural differences, and it is happening more quickly day by day. I am sorry to say nothing will stop it, culture has never been static, like language, it is always modifying to the influences of the environment, the community, and our knowledge as they change.

For those who do not like this change or loosing their culture, they can become entrenched in their beliefs of the old ways, and can become very aggressive in their views, often going to extremes to display the culture they believe in, with their dress and behaviour.

We should celebrate our cultural differences and keep them, but we should respect other peoples and communities beliefs and cultures.

We will never stop cultural change.

Click to read next blog about culture.