These events happened during my recent trip to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabian Adventures - Days 3-4
On the third day of teaching my class swapped over to new students
at lunchtime. Included in this group was Abdulaziz, who I had
spoken to on the phone a few times, and who formally introduced
me to the class on the first day. Abdulaziz spoke English with
an American accent, and I was later to learn that he gone to
college in America.
Lunch on the second last day Abdulaziz took me to the golf course.
Saudi Aramco has a huge golf course, with beautifully kept
grass, and is in stark contrast to the surrounding desert. Here
they serve a variety of meals, cooked to order. Since it was the
middle of a business day, nobody was actually playing golf.
There have been a few things that I've noticed over here.
Business attire is very much traditional western
or traditional Arabic,
with both being very common. Teenage girls can be often seen
wearing flowing black over-robes that were very Harry Potter-esque.
Lawns and garden beds are covered with a huge number of very fine mist
sprinklers, and they run during the day. These sorts of
sprinklers are practically outlawed in Australia, with most states
suffering from severe water shortages.
At the food hall, I learnt an important lesson. If I was asked if
I wanted something to "take away", then that actually meant the food
serving would feed a football team, and my answer to such questions
should always be in the affirmative. The first time I foolishly said no,
and found myself wondering what to do with the incredible amount of
food in front of me.
Having wireless access in my room is a real blessing. I don't
know where I'd get it otherwise.
Saudi Arabian Adventures - Day 5
Today was my second-last day of teaching, and Abdulaziz
informed me that I needed to make sure the class finished
early (3pm) as a meeting had been arranged between myself
To make my day more interesting, we had a trainer who wanted to
install software for her course next week. Her name was Tina,
and her opening line was "Hi, you're a software
developer, aren't you?" When I asked how she knew, she
claimed "It's the look. You're all trendy, with long hair."
That's the first time I've ever heard developers get called
trendy, so I can only assume that I mis-heard.
At 3pm we finished early so that I could meet with EDMD management.
For some reason, whenever anyone said "EDMD" I would hear "AD&D",
my mind would fill with images of dungeon-crawling geologists in
flowing black robes fighting an onslaught of umber hulks.
The meeting with management was made more interesting because I
didn't have my Aramco ID, which meant Abdulaziz had to make
a couple of bluff checks at the security checkpoints to get
The meeting itself was very management-focused. What does Perl
do, who uses it, what's its future, and so on? I honestly don't
know how I fared with these questions, and in hindsight I fear
my answers may have been a little too much on the technical
side, but everyone seemed happy.
Afterwards I met Omar, who I had spoken to on the phone a number
of times before my trip, but who wasn't enrolled in the course.
Omar is a dual-classed geo/developer, and already knows Perl. It
also rapidly became apparent that he was very open-source friendly.
"We have a program that parses $horrible_file_format, and would
like to bundle it into a module and release it to the CPAN. Is
that something you can help with?"
That night, Fuad, Abdulaziz, Omar and Mohammed took me out to
a traditional Arabic restaurant. The trip getting there
was an adventure in itself. Saudi Arabia seemed to lack anything
resembling road rules, or if they existed, they were ignored
by most of the drivers on the road. Lane-changes happened at
random, and cars would speed down the road at breakneck velocity.
The primary form of communication between drivers was a brief flash of
high-beams, which meant "I am going 40km/hr faster than you,
and I'm not changing lanes. You should." This was in stark
contrast to driving inside the Aramco campus, where everyone
was slow, careful, and polite. Somehow, Omar drove
through all this without breaking a sweat or losing his cool.
In the car we talked about content management systems, web
technologies, AJAX, Catalyst, Jifty, PHP, package management
and deployment, virtual worlds, and a variety of other FOSS-oriented
technical subjects. This was good, as it distracted me from the
traffic around us.
At the restaurant I was treated to Arabic coffee, which apparently
is made from the unroasted beans, and is very good. It also
rapidly became apparent that this was a restaurant/museum, with
many historical photos and items on the upper floors. There was a
large water feature in the middle of the building, and a large
lantern feature. It was explained to me that these sorts of lanterns
were traditionally lit and placed outside houses at the start of
the month of Ramadan.
After a tour of the historical section, we were given quite a
banquet of food, some items which I have had before (such as
the dips), and some which I had not. One of the most memorable (and
most tasty) dishes was a thick paste made of a variety of grains.
This was eaten with a thin broth, and stuck to one's teeth almost
After dinner, and tea, and dates, and more talking,
we drove back to the camp, with discussions mostly focusing around
virtual worlds, 3D web interfaces, and tunnelling procedure calls from
Second Life to Perl.
Sleep was an immediate priority when I returned to my room, as it
had become quite late, and I was certain I'd need an extra cup of
coffee to get me up in the morning.