Thursday, August 11. Sidon and Tyre. Sidon (Saida in Arabic) is a coastal city about a one hour mini-bus ride south of Beirut. Its attractions are a small Crusader Sea Castle originally built in the early 13th century and the Old City. The Old City is a maze of souqs, small alleyways, and old building dating back to the Middle Ages. From Sidon, Tyre (Sour in Arabic) is another coastal town one hour south, with several Roman ruins.
I text messaged a couple of Singapore women that I met at the pension (Julia and SJ), and we met in the evening for drinks in downtown. An American and a Canadian ("Bruce" and Gus) joined us from the pension, as well as Lynette from Miami. The local Lebanese beer is brand is Almaza, a pilsner. Very nice and smooth. After drinks, Lynette, Bruce, and I walked south to Rue Monet, Beirut's night spot for more drinks. Beirut reputably has the best nightlife in the Middle East. Lynette concurred that Rue Monot was reminiscent of South Beach Miami—Lebanese smartly dressed for a night out on the town. Oddly though, the area began closing down at 2 a.m., early compared to Greece, which would just be getting started.
I had a very enjoyable stay in Lebanon. The people are extremely friendly. It was safe to walk everywhere at all hours. There are soldiers with rifles guarding many key buildings and downtown. Driving, particularly in Beirut, is hazardous. There are very few traffic lights in Beirut, and those that work are usually not obeyed. Neither are traffic signs. After several days of watching the drivers, I still could not figure out the road rules perhaps because there were none. Cars here are large compared to Greece. Many were the newest Mercedes, BMWs, Porsches, and Range Rovers. There were also lots of SUVs, including American brands (Hummer, Cadillac, GM). The proportion of luxury cars appeared to rival Orange County, California.
Most Lebanese women wore western style clothing and would fit perfectly well in LA. Still, there were a significant percentage who wore the hejab (modest dress) or the chador (a tent like cloak, usually black). With the hejab, all parts of the body, except hands, feet and the face above the neckline and below the hairline, should be covered. Seeing the chador in large numbers for the first time was an eye opening experience—
Most in chador were covered head to toe in black, with only a slit for their eyes (one major variation is to allow the face to show). Usually I saw women in chador in groups. The only real distinguishable feature of women in chador were their eyes. I found myself staring into the beautiful eyes of these women. They in turn stared back at me, probably because I was one of the few Chinese in the country. Interestingly, the women in chador frequenting the same downtown restaurants, cafes, and shops as those in western dress, some even smoking sheesha pipes.
Wherever I went, Lebanese would greet me with a warm "Welcome!". They also use "Welcome" as short for "You're welcome" and for goodbye. Oftentimes, "Welcome!" would be followed by "Where are you from?". I usually respond with "Hawaii" and, if they knew where Hawaii was, they would respond "Ah, America! Welcome!" I learned a few Arabic phrases including "Salam 'alaykum" ("Peace be upon you") to which the response is "Wa alaykum as-salam" ("And upon you be peace").