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23 Aug 2006

ISRAEL: There ain't no bombs on us!

These Israelis are gosh-darn serious about airport security. Woah. And I thought the Americans were crazy with their shoe fetish!

Here's how it went down for me:

I arrive, go to section 'B' which is where the Air Canada check-in counter is. I wait, then at the front of the line (no where near the ticket counter yet, btw) a nice lady looks at my passport and starts to ask me questions about what I was doing here, where I stayed, with whom, etc. And she doesn't just glance at my passport like I'm used to, she REALLY looked and compared me to my photo and asked me my name several times.

She doesn't so much believe me, so another fellow comes over and asks me the same questions again. I said the same things "Business, CopperGate, Iris, 9 days..." - then she asks me for a letter from the company I was with here. I don't have one, so there are some more questions. Finally I show them the receipt from the hotel, and its all cool. She puts purple stickers on my bags and passport.

Then, all my luggage is X-Rayed, with laptop out of the bag, of course.

Since I am questionable, I go to secondary luggage checking. Standing in another line, then the lady goes through my bags. Surprisingly, she wasn't interested in all the electronics I have with me, but she wanded all my Dead Sea mud I brought back. They were also very keen on making sure the CD that Boaz gave me was not a bomb. Also they swipe everything (thoroughly) for explosives residue.

Then, after all my luggage had been gone through (although only half of my things were on the counter for all to see, thankfully I put my dirty clothes at the bottom and they stayed in), it was time to get a boarding pass.

Another line (this one surprisingly slow, but I chatted with a nice Toronto lady), and again they look at my passport (purple sticker) and ask me more questions. My lack of green card caused a ruckus, and I had to stand to the side for a while. I was expecting to have to explain NAFTA and the TN visa, but a lady came by a few minutes later and gave me my boarding passes without a hassle. Since I have this hiking backpack with me instead of a suitcase, I had to go to a freight elevator to put the odd-size luggage there.

I go towards the elevator, and again they check my passport, and a security lady walks me to the elevator.

The security man at the elevator checks my passport again (although the purple sticker did it for him, that's all he cared about). Ok, then I was in the pre-security area! W00t! I had breakfast.

Then, you go through security. HAH!

This is more like security I am used to on domestic flights, except more thorough. My passport and boarding pass are checked. My laptop out of the bag and X-rayed, purse through xray. Me through metal detector. My carry-on bags (purse, laptop) and my shoes are swiped again VERY thoroughly for explosive residue. They really take their time and don't rush.

Then for passport control they stamp something - I didn't actually say one word to that lady.

That's it. Very lax, and you can see. I was going to buy some wine at the duty free, but there's a sign saying "All US Flights blah blah we'll throw out your wine...blah" so I abandoned the dream.

ISRAEL: Hebrew - So Mysterious.

People obviously speak Hebrew here, and I don't know a single word. Well, that's a lie, I know "Shalom" and .... yeah.

I'm actually surprised at the level of English. Almost everyone speaks VERY good English. Yet when left to themselves they immediately break back into Hebrew, despite their best intentions of staying in English. Its all the "th"s, I think.

New immigrants immediately get working on their Hebrew when they arrive, and most Jewish people visiting Israel (I think) know at least a LITTLE Hebrew from Hebrew school when they were kids. There are some funny times because people automatically expect me to know at least a little Hebrew.

For example:

The nice HR lady showed me the ladies' room on my first day of work. It is outside of the suite - so she had to show my the keycode to get back in. With that taken care of I was ready to go - but where was it??? There were the elevators, and another suite, and a few doors with words on them. ?? Perhaps it was on another floor?

I went back into (using the keycode) and asked the HR lady - where are the bathrooms? On the floor below?

And she points at the door [see photo below] - "No! There!"



22 Aug 2006

ISRAEL: The Holiest site in all Christendom.

I think the word 'Christendom' is fun.

We went to Jerusalem on Saturday. I wanted to do the Stations of the Cross. I thought it would be neat to do the actual stations themselves.

About 8 people came, and they were very good natured about being dragged around to Christen sites (being Jewish and not having not so much interest in where Jesus fell the 3rd time).

Although the way, we saw the birthplace of Mary (see below). So they say. If its true - that's pretty neat. A monk fellow game me some Holy oil from her .... um, either it was her tomb or her birthplace. We weren't allowed to actually go down. Wait, it must be her tomb. Duh.

My favourite station was IX - "The third fall"

We entered a little courtyard, and saw a Roman column and thought that must be it (see photo to the right - you can see the column in the background). We took a photo, and then a lady pops her head out and asks if we want to see the church. Ok! Turns out she's a cute little Greek Othodox nun, from the states. (Meaning her English is - Awesome! Totally! TomCruiseBlueJeans!). She brings me down a corridor, then into a hallway, and unlocks another door - then BAM we're in a Greek Orthodox Church (see photo below).

I think I have never been in a Greek Orthodox church, because I thought it was pretty wild. Lamps haning everywhere, and saints with golden halos so much like Bedford United. ;)

The nun was really nice, and brought me around and told me about a few of her favourite saints. She showed me the ACTUAL spot where Jesus was supposed to have fallen the third time. Not sure if its true, but its really neat. (see photo ->)

The last four stations are all in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

That is one wacky Church. Several different religions share it (how friendly!) - Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, etc., etc.

I found it very confusing - I did ask a German monk for directions to Station X, and was super proud to have understood! :)

The holisiet site in Christendom is therefore the tomb of Christ (see photo below), although of course surrounded with controversy.

Two more posts coming! :)

21 Aug 2006

ISRAEL: 22 hours of birthday fun

So - my birthday. Sorry for the delay in posting! (This turned into a mega-post. Make sure you have your morning coffee with you.)

We woke up at 2:15am, Shachar (Iris' boyfriend) came and picked us up at 2:30. 'Us' was me and Iris' roommate Rita. Rita was really cool. She had lived in Boston for 10 years, so her English was SUPER. Also, she only immigrated to Israel 3 years ago, so she had lots of perspective about the culture vs American culture, etc.

We drove to some town about .5 hrs away where Shachar's parents live to pick up his Dad's car. I think his parents are in Ireland, so we took their car - his Dad's company pays for his gas. That is very common here - you lease a car and your company pays your gas and insurance. Neat-o! We also picked up his friend from highschool (and I think they were also in the army together) named Boaz. Boaz is very nice, but very blond, I was worried he would burn all day!

Then we drove to Masada (here I am hoping you read the wiki Masada entry, as background reading to the blog). We missed sunrise - the driving took longer than Shachar thought. I actually was a smidge disapointed with Masada. I had the impression it was a gruelling two-hour+ hike, and after all our hard work we'd be rewarded with a glourious site on top. Eh, not so much. It was sort of like climbing a few flights of stairs. Took about 15 minutes, and we stopped to take pictures a couple of times.

On top it was cool, with lots of ruins and whatnot.

Then, we went down to do another hike. Since we hit Masada a bit late, we didn't get to the next trail head until about 10am. I was dying. It was Stupid hot.

I still contend that a wet T-Shirt is nature's perfect air conditioner. So before we started the hike I wet my shirt (a long sleeve cool shirt over my tank) - SO much better.

The hike were were doing was the Wadi Aurugot in Ein Gedi

It was still amazingly hot. I mean - its August, in the desert. Why does God try to melt me and scorch my skin??

We hiked along for a few mintues, then we saw a stream. We were very excited, and ended up going to sit in the stream for a bit. By this time everyone was on board with the wet-clothing idea, extended to pants and shoes.

It was a very very nice hike. We continued along for a few hours, often in the stream itself (which slowed us, but was super fun). At the end of the hike - WATERFALL! w00t!

The water was really nice and lovely. Probably one could drink it, but I am not so brave. It is bottled and sold here ("Ein Gedi water"), but I am thinking perhaps there is some filtering that goes on before its bottled.

We hiked back out quickly (we took the high and dry path) - because we were Starving. We had maybe not brought quite enough food.

We picked up a Dutch girl on the way, and she came to the Dead Sea with us. Before the Dead Sea we had a birthday luncheon in a weird little mall. I take this opportunity to point out I haven't had any good meat in Israel. I suspect the chicken might be pretty good, but we all know my feelings about chicken. My shiskebab was dry and horrid. Vegematarians have it made here though.

Anyhoo, on we went to the Dead Sea.

Its crazy like they say it is.

Hard to explain - but its actually quite hard to manoeover around. You under NO circumstances want your head to go under, or to have any bit of splash in your mouth or nose. Alas, I did get a bit in my mouth - icky-gross-evil-nasty. If you have any cuts when you go in they burn - even teeny itsy bitsy scratches burn. Magically, I didn't have any.

We went out for food when we got back to the city, but it was kind of lame - m'I bad, I was tired. It was past 11 when we got back, and we needed some FOOOD! We met Jacob and his friends, but we dragged them around a bit looking for somewhere to give us dinner. We settled on a coffee shop and had some soggy sandwiches and bad wine. Meh. I was DEAD tired, and we went home around 12:30 or 1 I think.

All in all, super good birthday.

20 Aug 2006

ISRAEL: I'll be home in a jiff

Well, I'm off to the airport soon.
Sorry for all these lame posts, but I will catch up on my birthday and my Jesusalem trip soon.

In 20-ish short hours I'll be back in SF!

19 Aug 2006

ISRAEL: alright, ok

Yo yo yo!
I'm good still, but we're leaving for Jerusalem now-ish and I don't have much time to blog.

More later!
Birthday was super fun, we packed many activities into a 22-hr birthday period. :)

17 Aug 2006

ISRAEL: a-hem-hem-hem hem-hem.

happy birthday to me
happy birthday to me

Happy Birthday dear Corrie....

happy birthday to me!

Off to Masada!

ISRAEL: Beach, please!

Hold the phone.

This so-called 'Mediterranean' is kickass! Woah! Its fantastic! Stupendous! Amazering! Wonderous-o!

I went for a swim last night, finally. I just missed the sunset - but of course the water was still CRAZY warm and loverly. Mmmm. I can see why people have settled here. Its superrific. Salty, and 'oops! my bathwater has gotten a little cool' temperature.

I had dinner on the beach with Jacob at a really neat-o restaurant. It was very hip - this time, RIGHT on the beach, not on a boardwalk overlooking the sea, but all sandy and fun. Below, see a photo.

Then I went to the 'Gam Cafe' with Eitan and his wife. Iris made him promise to take me there. Its nice - a manmade lake with swans and such right in Tel Aviv (or nearby suburb). Funny though, it sort of reminds me of Victoria Park in Kitchener. Not nearly has impressive as the BEACH!

I am going to try to make it to the beach again tonight, this time for a longer swim. Keeping in mind that we're up at 3am to leave for Masada.


16 Aug 2006


Last night I had dinner with Eitan and his wife. Before dinner we stopped and looked at a house they are thinking of renting. All housing prices (rent/buy) are in USD! Hah!

Then they took me to dinner at the Marina in Hertzilyya. (Did I mention there is no standardized spelling for Hebrew words in English?) I just learned that the Marina is so popular because it is safe for crowds at night - before you go in your car is checked for bombs, and you are wanded and your bag searched before you enter. So - no suicide bombers.

(Left to right: Me, Jacob (aka, Yacov), Eitan, Eitan's wife - Sharon?)

I had sausages for dinner, and I tried some Israeli wine. The wine was pretty ok! :)

After dinner we went to Jaffa.

I sort of wish I had read that Wiki article before we went! Anyhoo, I still had lots of fun - its amazing how OLD the city is! There are some ruins of Egyptian fortresses from 1300 BC exposed. Wow. 3300 years old.


ps If you are confused when I say 'yesterday' and 'last night' - I am too. I was thinking it was Wednesday all day on Tuesday, so I had to remove day references at the last moment - I think because we starting work on Sunday. Woohai!

ISRAEL: Yesterday night

Yesterday night I decided I should stay in and go to sleep early if possible.

Time changes suck.

In HK at I was dead tired at 10pm - so I went to bed. Up at 3am. Lots of time to work out and get ready in the morning - good for business, bad for social activities.

Here, I'm not so tired from 7pm onwards - about 6am I'm ready to sleep. This is gradually changing, but in general I'm dead tired in the mornings, and during the about 5pm I've good to go. This means at night I can go long time, but the mornings are hellish. Bad for business, good for social activities.

This morning I was aiming to get up and go swimming the that sea by my hotel, but I just didn't get out of bed in time.


Tonight I am going out for dinner with my main contact here (Eitan)(pronounced eh-TUN) and his wife. I think we are going to Jaffa, which is the old town Tel Aviv is founded near (and since grown around). Umm...I'm not exactly sure about it too much, I need to go look it up in my guidebook before we good.

Speaking of which - that guidebook is Gold. I think reading it beforehand has given me many insights into the culture here. Things that people don't necessarily bring up in casual conversation but speak volumes about the society. For example, soldiers in the Israeli army don't have to follow commands they think are immoral.

Also, I've now at least heard of some of the major figures in Israeli history, whereas before I wouldn't have even known 'of' them. Like Ben Gurion, Israel's first PM. If you squint, you can see his grave in the photo I've added to the 'Negev Desert' post - its the dark area (trees) off in the distance to the left of the photo.

Oh, and no marriage proposals yet. :( Bummer.
Maybe its my hair??


15 Aug 2006

ISRAEL: Long walks on the beach.

Monday night a coworker (Jacob) who lives near my hotel took me out for dinner and a long walk on the beach.

It was my first time in the Mediterraean! W00t! Its SUPER warm and salty and nice. The beaches here have NICE white sand, with very fine grains. Not like the mini-rock beaches of Northern Cali!

Ok, I haven't actually gone for a swim yet. Tried to this morning, but I am SO tired in the mornings still...didn't quite make it out of my room in time.


Sorry for not posting yesterday. The wireless at the hotel is shabby.

But just so you are mentally prepared, on Friday/Saturday there may be no posting, since I'll be off in the Dead Sea and Jesusalem.

ISRAEL: Super Pharm

Hello Blogoshere.

This is it - the long awaited "drugstore" episode.

Alas, drugstores in Israel don't seem to be as exciting as in HK. My hypothesis, is this: because its Shopper's Drug Mart. While I do love Shoppers, I was somewhat surprised to see it in Tel Aviv. Now, its not called "Shopper's Drug Mart", its called [see below] - but its awfully similar! They have the nifty shoppers logo medicine-thingy, and I bought some LIFE brand beauty items. Either there is an international LIFE brand conspiracy, or I just went to Shoppers. Although to be fair, they try and cover it up by calling it 'Super-Pharm'. Super Pharm my ass - perhaps 'Shoppers Drug Mart' doesn't translate well. Or maybe that is actually a dumb name, we're just used to it. Just like 'Drug Barn' sounds hella dodgy, but I suppose to many people it sounds alright.

When I was 8 I thought every drug store ought to be named 'Big V'.

Many things are just as you have them in the US/Canada. Bor-ing. Some (like LIFE brand things) have mostly Hebrew but the occasional English phase ("Best before ...") or ("Auquafresh...hebrewhebrewhebrew...GlaxoSmithKline")

Anyhoo, I did buy some VERY exciting Aloe Gel toothpaste, and you know how I love the Aloe! There is currently a party in my mouth, and its health-oriented! W00t! Minty.

13 Aug 2006

ISRAEL: I am not dead.

Its been yet another day, and I've managed not to die yet (ahem - you know who you are).

My first day of work - Sunday!

Its been ok - I was a smidge brain dead and tired all day, but my coworkers here are all very nice. They took me for lunch - Israeli food. Hummous, salad (cucumbers and tomatoes, not lettuce), pita and falafel. Yummy!!! People here are very health conscious, I'm told.

We didn't quite figure things out yet today, but we're on our merry way. Several cups of coffee had to be consumed to get me going. [Nescafé. Ew.]

A nice fellow from work lives right near my hotel, and he said he might take me out one night. Tonight?? I'm not sure. It would be good, I think. No need to spend two nights in. The nice lady might come too (she's maybe HR, maybe office manager...?).

And I think Eitan (my main contact here, the systems evaluation engineer) will take me out as well to see the Marina and some cafe Iris recommended. Good times.

and AWAY I go!

12 Aug 2006


Today we ended up going to Iris' boyfriend's for lunch - which was nice. I am interested to see how regular Israelis live. Iris' apartment is so CUTE! It has a very Mediterranean feel to it - or what I think Mediterranean is. The appliances are small like in Europe - so cute! She has a lovely balcony off of her bedroom, which she never closes the door to - again, with the warm summer nights, I feel like it has a very Mediterranean feel. I haven't seen too many bugs though - just some ants in the desert.

After lunch we went to have coffee at a VERY swanky restaurant by the ocean. It was in Hertzelia - which is a sort of rich suburb of Tel Aviv. Very fancy houses, more parking. Anyhoo, this place (Roco) was HOT. Beautiful. Full of rich beautiful people - and the fanciest bathroom I've ever seen. This place seemed like it would have been at home in a very chic/snooty part of Malibu.

Tonight I will probably SLEEP. I am very low on sleep - I only caught a few hours sleep last night at Iris'. I just laid down for a few hours willing myself to sleep, but it didn't come. Yay, jet lag! I've had lots of coffee today.

I am going to use this as an excuse for why I am not so zesty in this post.

Oh, also - everyone keeps saying how brave I am to come to Israel right now. See - I'm so tough. RarrR.

ISRAEL: The Negev Desert

Wow wow wow.

The desert was awesome last night. We went on a hike through the desert at dusk, stopping every once in a while to sing Hebrew love songs. It was beautiful. We could see Ben Gurion's grave (first Prime Minister of Israel), which is a point of pilgrimage here.

Then we went to a festival in the hippie desert town of Mitzpe Ramon. There was a cool band playing, where I SWEAR the flute player looked just like Bruce Willis.

This whole trip was a trip for singles organised by a friend of Iris. Which was sorta trippy - everyone was therefore very friendly. Many had some English, and would come up to me and ask about San Francisco.

Hebrew is rather mysterious.

Ok, we're going to a house party for lunch then the beach today with Iris' friends, then she's off to Taiwan.


11 Aug 2006

ISRAEL: I'm HERE! w00t!!!

Ok, I'm here, all safe and sound so far. I can't check into my hotel until 2, so I'm just going to chillax in the lobby until then and blog. ;)

I did manage to call Iris, and she's going to come pick me up at 2:30, we'll go by her apartment, and then we're going to the Negev Desert! We're going on some tour, I don't think we'll be back until 2am. I have a strong feeling I'm going to be very tired, but that's ok.

My first night in Israel! Wow!

Oh, you're probably wondering if the airport was super crazy due to the 24 bombers caught in London and whatnot. Only moderately so. My flight out of SFO was delayed about an hour for people to clear security. Everyone had to leave all fluids behind - although I realized I smuggled some hand santiziter in! Don't tell! Toronto wasn't too insane. All flights to the US had to have their shoes checked (for at least the next 72 hrs), and they took all fluids as well, but no huge delays.

I find it odd that the US is the only country that particularly cares so much about shoes. Since I was going to ISRAEL, I kept my shoes on.

Ok, perhaps I will go read the news. Thank God for the Internet. Its how I called Iris - my cell phone doesn't work, the payphone only takes a card you have to go buy somewhere...I was going to moderately panic if the hotel wireless Internet hadn't come through.

9 Aug 2006

ISRAEL: One day to go before I go there.

I leave tomorrow - EARLY.
I hate 7 am flights. Booooo.

Tonight I have a massage scheduled - is anyone with me here? A 20 hr flight is doing my neck no favours, its much more fun to have it relaxed going in.

Ok, today is for running around like a crazy chicken tying up loose ends. Making sure all my work stuff is together is my main concern right now, actually.

Oh, I wouldn't expect a post tomorrow if I were you - I will obviously be flying through the air (with my relaxed neck). I've been warned that I MUST post every day, and tomorrow this is not so much possible. But usually planes don't crash, so I will most likely be ok.

Word on the street is I may be going on a desert tour on Friday with my friend Iris - how fun! Iris and I went to Waterloo together - in fact, we lived across the hall from each other in first year, and we both worked in San Jose during fourth year (for the same company). So how convenient she lives in Tel Aviv now! Yay!

(And Iris is not pronounced "EYE-risss" it's "EAR-isss". Make no mistake.)

8 Aug 2006

ISRAEL: I leave in 2 days!

I leave for Israel in 2 days! w00t w00t!

I'm very excited.
Tonight is for packing.

In case you're curious - the trip is for work. I'll be taking a few days off (hopefully) at the end of the trip to tour around a bit.