It’s been nearly two weeks since I came to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on a business visit. A lot of assumptions that I had either made up myself or was forced to make due to inputs from others have either been proved wrong or reinforced even more strongly. When I first mentioned coming over here for a month or so, people (family and friends) made faces, scared the hell out of me and made me believe I wasn’t safe here. Whereas, people at my organization assured me things would be just fine and Saudi Arabia is a great place for living and getting business. Since, both of them care for me from different angles, I decided to believe fractions of what each one said.
We took a Saudi Arabian Airlines’ flight on May 18, 2009 that would take us from Bangalore directly to Riyadh. I was travelling along with my HR Manager Mr. Raja. The flight was scheduled to leave at 1.30pm, but took 30 minutes more for reasons that weren’t explained to us. We took our allotted seats and waited patiently for the flight to take off. We landed in Riyadh 4 hours and a few minutes later. The very first process at the airport, that of getting ourselves immigrated, pissed me to the core. We had to wait for 4 long hours, standing in a line predominantly populated by other Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis. The staff at the airport would treat you terribly if you are brown. It doesn’t matter if you have come for business, leisure or for toiling in scorching sun to lay roads and build building for them. Finally, when our turn came to face the immigration officer, we had to show our passport, get all our ten fingers scanned and get our photograph taken.
When we were finally done and came out, you cannot but feel the hot Arabian weather. It is hot as crazy! Yet, since there is absolutely no humidity here, you won’t sweat a bit. Luckily, my company had sent a driver who was standing for us outside the airport with our names printed with bold letters on an A4 sheet. He took us to our office-cum-residence close to Thabab Street near Olaya. I currently stay on the road exactly opposed to King Fahad Medical City. As you drive back from the airport towards the city, the tall buildings, fast cars and wide roads would never stop amazing you. Since Olaya is like the Central Business District here in Riyadh, you can find all major food and clothing brands here. The city is peppered with shopping malls, fast food joints and apparel stores (many of whom offer great discounts!). I knew my next few weeks here wouldn’t be as bad as many of the people had warned me about back at home.
My first few days passed by meeting clients and working on few marketing material for our new office. I also had a chance to go meet my sister and brother-in-law who also stay in Riyadh. At least, there is someone to make me feel at home. Each evening we take a walk on Thabab Street and go eat Shawarma Rolls and drink a tin of Coke. Taxis are available in plenty and don’t charge you a lot due to cheap oil. You can normally go to any corner of the city for less than SAR 20-30 (Around $8), if you negotiate well. Most of the taxi drivers here are either Pakistanis or Bangladeshis. They normally try to chat with you asking where you are from, how long you would be staying in Saudi and other questions that would let them compare their own lives against yours.
I had a chance to go to a lot of hypermarkets, apparel stores, shopping area including Hyper Panda, Tamimi, Geant, Centerpoint, Carrefour, Euro Marche etc., and there are tones of other places that we have planned to go visit sometime soon. I also had a chance to go visit ‘Kingdom Tower’. It’s the tallest building here in Saudi Arabia and is 300-ish meters tall. They have constructed a skywalk right at the top from where you can see the entire city. At night, the city is fully lit up and looks lovely. The food here is also great. You get to eat a lot of things here. I just loved Cinnabons and Dunkin Donuts. Coke and Pepsi is also cheaper here compared to India with a tin selling at Rs. 13!
I guess my first impression of Riyadh has been pleasant and I have started to like this place a bit. But staying away from my dumbo, family and friends is the toughest thing to do. I really miss home and at times feel so lonely out here. But since I would be back home in another two weeks time, I try to not think too much about home and depress myself. I intend to write a lot more about specific incidents that took place here since I came over. Hope you find them interesting. 🙂