Getting paperwork done in Kuwait

Posted by Mark

passport

Getting government related paperwork done can be such an emotional roller coaster. I got a new passport yesterday and all I had to do was move my residency from the old passport to the new one and the processes was just so exhausting. I originally went to the Hawalli Immigration office who then told me to go the Kuwait City office who then told me to go back to the Hawalli office. I was like no way, I just came from there and they said I needed to get the transfer done here. I was then sent from one person to another, to another, to another and had to do lots of pointless waiting around before I finally ended up in a room by myself with all hope lost of getting my stuff done before I travel in a few days. Then suddenly out of the blue, a guy randomly walked in, looked at my papers, signed them, called someone in another department and then sent me to him to get the papers processed. Just like that by mere coincidence I was done.

It’s insane, you literally have to walk on egg shells every time you get sent to someone to get a signature or a stamp. You have to hope they’re in a good mood, you need to make sure you don’t do anything that might aggravate them like stand too close to the desk or interrupt them while they’re whatsapping. It feels like you need a favor from every person you need a signature or stamp from. I hate it.

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On the bright side, not sure if many of you know about this but there is a half decent government website with information and forms you need to get various jobs done. It’s the Kuwait Government Online website and the section I’m talking about is called Citizens & Residents. Check it out [Here]


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Atlantis, The Palm

Posted by Mark

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Last week while in Dubai I ended up staying at the Atlantis hotel. Since it’s launch I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about the place and I now understand why, it’s not meant for everyone, me included.

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When I first arrived at the hotel which is located on the artificial island The Palm, I thought I was walking into a shopping mall. There were a lot of people outside the entrance of the hotel and even more people inside the gigantic lobby. It was super busy like no other hotel I’ve ever walked into. It felt like a mall but then I realized it also felt like a Disney resort. My room was their standard room and it looked really generic but had a beautiful view and was pretty large in size. What makes Atlantis so special is the activities they have ranging from swimming with the dolphins to their large Aquaventure Waterpark.

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They even have a huge aquarium right inside the hotel thats a lot bigger and nicer than the one we have at the Scientific Center. The hotel also has 21 restaurants, bars and lounges including the very popular Nobu, they have a ton of stores to shop at and they also have a very impressive gym. I actually thought the gym was the trendiest looking place in the whole hotel, it’s very nicely designed, one of the best looking gyms I’ve ever seen.

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While at the hotel we were given a tour of the most expensive hotel room in the Middle East, the Royal Bridge Suite. It costs around KD10,000 a night and it’s huge. You check check out the pictures below. And yes I said KD10,000 a night, that’s not an extra zero there by accident.

Personally I didn’t like the hotel. Not that where was anything wrong with it on the contrary, I actually found the hotel really fascinating. I remember watching a documentary once on Harrods and it was mostly a behind the scenes documentary on how the store handles all the traffic and what it takes to keep the place running, I would be very very interested to watch a similar documentary on Atlantis. The hotel is ginormous with over 1,500 rooms and so much foot traffic but yet they still manage to provide great service. In the three days I was there I never felt like I was just another guest. But still, the hotel just wasn’t for me, I prefer my rooms to be trendier looking, I also like my hotels to be a lot smaller and more importantly on this trip I wasn’t interested in any of their activities and thats really what Atlantis is about. On the other hand this is definitely a great place to stay at with children for the weekend. You would never have to leave the hotel and the children would never get bored with all the things to do. Check out their website [Here]


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The Porsche Cayman S

Posted by Mark

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I’ve had my eye on the new Porsche Cayman S ever since it got released last year. Along with the Jaguar F-Type Coupe it’s one of the two cars I’ve recently been considering for myself. I’ve actually been building my own Cayman on the Porsche website for the past few months, choosing all the different extra options I wanted, deciding on the exterior color and wheels, a very fun process. They even have the KD265,000 918 Spyder available to customize online. I finally decided I’d take the car for a test drive, that way I could have content for my blog as well as decide if the Cayman S is the car for me.

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There are two versions of the Cayman, the regular Cayman and the Cayman S. The biggest difference between the two is the regular Cayman has 275HP while the S has 325HP. I picked up the car on Thursday once I got back from Dubai but was really too tired that day to do much driving. Instead I went to sleep early and woke up Friday morning and headed out to the middle of nowhere. Around 5 or 6 years ago while looking for the “Tank Graveyard” I remembered driving on a two lane paved road in the middle of the desert. I figured it would be a great place to take photos and the drive was far enough to allow me to get a chance to properly drive the car. So I headed out from Salmiya north towards the desert and around 50 minutes later ended up at the road I had been on years ago only now it no longer was a two lane road but a six lane highway. I was disappointed since I had driven all the way with a shot visualized in my head and now I wouldn’t be able to do it. I decided to keep on driving in hopes of finding a new location which I did. After another 15 minutes on that road I found an exit which wasn’t marked on the cars navigation nor on Google Maps and I decided to take it and drive and drive. The weather was great, the sky was beautiful and I finally found a spot that I liked and took all the photos I needed.

The car was a lot of fun to drive and I ended up covering more than 200KM that morning. It made me feel a bit guilty since when I had picked up the car from the dealer it only had around 200KM mileage and here in just one morning I doubled it for them. The engine is mid mounted meaning it’s located behind the drivers seat and in front of the rear wheels. It’s basically the best place to put an engine in the car if you want terrific handling. Because the weight is right behind you its as if the weight is where your body is and so you kinda become one with the car if that makes sense. I think that’s the best way of describing it. The car is pretty compact, there are no rear seats just the driver and passenger seat so driving the car feels like driving a go kart which is why it’s so fun. It’s not intimidating at all and right from the get-go you’ll feel very confident in the drivers seat making it a fairly easy car to drive. The car felt a bit stiff and the steering a bit heavy during normal city driving but once I was out in the open and I was able to step on it, the car felt right at home.

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Whenever I used to customize my Cayman S on the Porsche website I’d make sure I would add all the cool sounding sports features like active suspension management (PASM) and torque vectoring (PTV) or say the sports exhaust system. What I realized after driving the test drive model which didn’t have any of those features is that I don’t really need them. The stock exhaust for example sounds pretty quiet when driving around normally but as soon as you give it a kick down it starts screaming. It sounds beautiful the way it is so I don’t think I want to pay an extra KD590 for the sport exhaust system. The car I drove had a horrible red interior, I mean I don’t mind red leather seats if say the rest of the interior is all black to calm it down but the model I drove had red leather everything, seats, doors dashboard, steering just red leather everywhere. Which brings me to another expensive add-on you don’t need, a full blown leather interior, just stick to the leather seats. One feature I would highly recommend is an upgraded sound system. The model I drove had the stock sound system but for most of my music it just sounded too boomy. Luckily Porsche offer two different sound system upgrades, for an extra KD160 you get a slightly better BOSE sound system or do what I would do and splurge and get the Burmester high end system for an extra KD910. Expensive yes but it’s not like you can get a better sound system down the line if you’re not happy with what it originally came with.

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I don’t think there was anything I didn’t like about the car. Other than the ugly interior color and the sound system, both of which are easily fixed when building your own car, I think the only other issue I had with the car was storage space. I couldn’t find a place where I could put my phone and have easy access to it. There’s space in the door but then you can’t charge it or you can charge it in the arm rest compartment but then if you get a call or you need your phone you have to open the compartment awkwardly and take out the phone. The car also doesn’t have enough space for a single piece of luggage, the front trunk is too small to fit a full sized bag and so is the rear trunk. The only kind of bag you could fit into the car is a carry on and that’s it.

I’m personally still undecided if I’d get the car or not, I’d have to test drive the F-Type Coupe once it launches in May to decide. But, in this price range the Cayman S and F-Type are still my two favorite choices. The regular Cayman starts at KD16,200 while the S version starts at KD18,300. With all the options I want the car ends up costing like KD24,000. If you want to try building your own Cayman (or any other Porsche for that matter) click [Here]


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Flying Business with FlyDubai

Posted by Mark

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Last week I was invited to try out FlyDubai’s business class during a short two night trip to Dubai. I hadn’t flown FlyDubai for quite some time now and I hadn’t flown their business class at all since they introduced it this past November.

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Since last September FlyDubai has also been flying out of Kuwait from the Sheikh Saad Terminal (the terminal previously used by the now defunct Wataniya Airways). There are a number of advantages to this terminal over the main Kuwait International Airport. Firstly the airport is a lot more visually tasteful, it’s cleaner and it has more natural daylight coming in. It’s also smaller which means the process of checking in or landing and getting your bags is a lot quicker. For business travelers you also get a whole wing of the airport just for yourselves. The business class section of the airport consists of multiple lounges, a food area and shower rooms. The lounge looks pretty much the same from when Wataniya Airways was running it which is a good thing. If you have Diners Club or American Express you can also use this lounge even if you’re flying economy. The downside to the airport is that you don’t have a proper restaurant to eat at just a Starbucks. Also, the long term parking at Sheikh Saad Terminal is expensive costing KD5 a day while the long term parking at the regular airport is just KD2 a day. But if you don’t mind walking a bit, there is free parking across the street near the military airbase although I could imagine that filling up pretty quickly.

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The business class on FlyDubai is a proper business class with large fancy seats and all the business class amenities you’d expect to find. Their business class reminded me a bit of Wataniya Airways, actually because we were flying out of Sheikh Saad Terminal the whole experience felt like flying Wataniya Airways and thats a good thing since I used to love flying with Wataniya Airways. First thing I spotted when I sat down in my seat was the bottle of Evian water. They could have used any other brand like most airlines would do, but I suspect because they really want the customers to feel this is a true business class, they went with a brand easily associated with luxury.

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The seats also had power plugs and large touch screens with access to in-flight entertainment. Before take off we were also served complimentary drinks and once we were in the air we were served breakfast. Disappointingly we didn’t have a choice for breakfast and so I was stuck with yogurt and granola. On the bright side, they did have a drinks menu which includes alcohol and I have to say their Sauvignon blanc was surprisingly very good for breakfast.

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After arriving to Dubai, we were shuttled to the terminal in a small bus. Once we arrived to the terminal we had our own priority pass line and within minutes we were picking up our luggage. A very smooth and quick process.

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Leaving Dubai is where I thought I would have an issue. The reason I used to dislike flying with FlyDubai is because their airport in Dubai (Terminal 2) used to be the saddest airport ever, like worse than the Kuwait Airport even. But since the last time I flew with Dubai their airport has gone through a major overhaul. The airport looks a lot better now, theres more seating and there’s also more options for food with Paul open there as well as Costa and Subway. Definitely a much more pleasant experience and from what I’m told there is still more work being done.

I started flying with FlyDubai because they usually had the cheapest tickets to Dubai and I would guess it was like that with a lot of other people. This is why FlyDubai has to work twice as hard to build their business class brand and reputation. They want people to realize that although their economy class has no frills, their business class is a completely different experience. It’s why I was invited to fly with them, to help spread the word about this. Their business class ticket prices seem pretty competitive, I just checked tickets to Dubai this weekend and the cheapest business class ticket Emirates had was KD362 while FlyDubai was KD173. Thing is they fly to a ton of other destinations other than Dubai and I would imagine their business class prices would be competitive on all the routes as well. So overall, FlyDubai’s business class is pretty damn good.

Update: I was just informed there is actually a Chili’s Express and other coffee shops on the 2nd floor of the airport before checking in.


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A few things needed

Posted by Mark

1- If you’re a Flash designer [Email Me]

2- Anyone know who to contact if I need a piano tuned and moved?


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The Art of a Portrait Shot

Posted by Mark

passport

Recently I needed to get two portrait shots done, one for my Civil ID and the other for my passport. Ever since I was a kid I used to get all my portrait shots taken at Boushahri Studio in Salmiya but since they closed down their studio I haven’t been able to find a decent alternative. I’ve tried two places so far and they’ve both been horrible. The first place turned my photo into a glamour shot with so much retouching I looked like I was made out of plastic while the second studio had the most mind boggling photographer.

According to my passport requirements, I should have my photo taken in front of a white background and it shouldn’t be edited in any way. So I go into the studio and I see a bright green background. I sit down in front of it and ask the photographer shouldn’t I be in front of a white background? He’s like yes and proceeds to set up the lights and is getting ready to take a photo. I’m like the background behind me is green. He was like yes we’ll change it later (as in he’ll edit it later on the computer). I was like but the instruction clearly say the photo shouldn’t be altered in anyway. He was like yeah but we always do this. So I was like don’t you have a white background? So he goes yes and then presses a button on a remote and a white background comes down. I mean wtf? If you have a white background that requires a click of a button to drop down, why would you shoot me in front of a green background and then edit the background to white on the computer? It’s so much easier and proper to just shoot me in front of a white back drop in the first place.

I miss the old days when the photographer would shoot with film and had to get the shot right on camera.


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I Wing Walked!

Posted by Mark

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This past Saturday, the Breitling Wingwalkers performed a show at Marina Crescent which everyone on the ground got to enjoy. A day earlier though on Friday, the Breitling Wingwalkers invited 6 people to experience wing walking and I was lucky enough to be one of them.

I headed to Sheikh Saad Terminal early Friday morning where the Breitling Wingwalkers were waiting for us. Me and another person were part of the first team that would fly out that day and I was extremely excited. It was a warm morning but we were told to bring a light sweater or jacket since it would be cold up in the air and we were also told not have anything on us, no phones, no wallets not even a watch. After getting a short briefing we headed towards the runway where the two beautiful biplanes were waiting for us.

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A wing walker nicknamed ‘Bird’ was my guide that morning. First thing she had to do was show me how to get on top of the plane which wasn’t as difficult as I was expecting it to be. Once we were on top I had to put goggles on and then get strapped into a standing seat before she proceeded to give a set of instructions like if I wanted the pilot to land what hand signals I needed to give or in case of emergency how to unfasten the strap quickly.

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After waiting on the tarmac around 10 minutes we got the go ahead from the Kuwait Airport control tower to take off and we proceeded to the runway. Being strapped on top of a plane while going down an airport runway is an experience by itself. You really don’t realize how long and wide the runway is when you’re cooped up inside a plane, but when you’re sitting on top of one it’s just mind boggling. It’s why all car shows take the fast cars to airport runways for straight line speed test, it’s kinda like an infinitely straight 12 lane highway and it’s all yours.

The two planes stopped for a bit on the runway before hitting full throttle and and taking off a few seconds right after. First thing I noticed was the amount of wind that started hitting me, it was insane, my cheeks were flapping and if I opened my mouth a bit it would just fill up with air instantly. There was so much wind resistance I have no idea how the girls perform all the stunts on top of the plane. They make it look really easy that’s for sure.

We spent around 10 to 15 minutes circling the airport and the airports vicinity while the two biplanes flew in tandem. I kinda wished I had my phone with me so I could instagram live from the sky like when I went paragliding in Lebanon and powered paragliding here in Kuwait but with the amount of wind hitting me the phone would most likely have flown out of my hand. I didn’t find the experience scary at all and actually wished they had performed some loops with us even though they had told us they wouldn’t.

It all felt very casual as I was experiencing it and it only hit me yesterday when they sent me the photo of me on top of the plane in the sky taken by their photographer did I realize wow, I was on top of a motherfucking plane! Definitely a once in a lifetime experience and I’m so glad and appreciative that I got to experience this.


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Pizzeria Amami

Posted by Mark

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Pizzeria Amami used to be located in Salmiya near AUK and behind Smash Burger, but last week they moved to a new location in Symphony Mall. I hadn’t tried the place until earlier today when I passed by for lunch with a friend of mine.

The place was empty and quiet so we picked a table near the window overlooking the Gulf Road. Once we sat down an Italian waitress came up to us with the menus. From what I could tell everybody working there was Italian which was a great first impression. The menu on the other hand was fairly disappointing being just A4 sheets of paper printed and then enclosed in transparent plastic. Mine was all bent and it just looked very cheap. The waitress recommended us the Parmigiana di Melanzane to start with which was fried eggplant with cheese and tomato sauce. I also ended up ordering the closest thing to a simple mushroom pizza I could find on the menu which was a pizza called Capricciosa containing, tomato sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms, olives and artichoke (I asked them not to include the artichoke). The waitress asked me if I wanted fresh mozzarella with my pizza and I figured the alternative was frozen mozzarella or something so I said yes. Once the bill arrived later I realized by fresh mozzarella she meant extra cheese on my pizza. Not cool but it must have been a lost in translation moment.

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The first thing that arrived was the Parmigiana di Melanzane starter. Although the presentation wasn’t appealing the dish did taste better than it looked. But, I’d still order something else next time since it tasted more like a pizza topping than a standalone starter. Our main dishes arrived once we were done, my pizza was pretty big and looked delicious. I was hesitant to ask the waitress for ketchup since I know it’s usually frowned upon at Italian pizzerias but turns out they didn’t have any issues with ketchup and I was able to get a bottle. The pizza was good although I found it pretty heavy the rest of the day. I left there feeling like I had eaten something very unhealthy but I think that had to do with the fact my pizza had all the extra cheese on it which I hadn’t asked for (I should have said no to fresh mozzarella).

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My biggest issue with the place was with their prices. My pizza cost KD5.5 while my friends Penne Al Formaggio (cheese pasta) cost KD6. With two mains, the starter, three soft drinks and 750fils for the extra cheese, the bill came out to KD19.250. The pizza barely makes it into my top 5 favorite pizzas in Kuwait ranking, maybe at #5 so combine that with the restaurants atmosphere and interior which was bland and the total experience just wasn’t worth it for me. If you’re interested in trying out the place they’re located on the Mezzanine floor of Symphony Mall in Salmiya [Map]. They’re open daily from noon till 11PM except for Fridays when they open a bit later at 2PM. Their phone number is 25770733 but the waitress told me it will only be active from next week.


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Koryokwan Korean Restaurant

Posted by Mark

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Koryokwan is a Korean restaurant that’s been around since the early 80s. They’re considered to be one of the best and even provide the catering for Korean embassy events which is how I found out about them. This past saturday when I passed by the Korean embassy for their lunar new year’s they had the catering from Koryokwan (The Korean embassy in Kuwait by the way has to be the most beautiful embassy I’ve ever been to anywhere). So anyway, I didn’t end up eating at the embassy that day but I did pass by Koryokwan a few days ago to try them out.

Koryokwan is located on the ground floor of the very old Carlton Hotel in Kuwait City. It’s a 3-star hotel that was refurbished awhile back but the building still looks really old from the outside. The interior of Koryokwan on the other hand is just beautiful, one of those places where once you enter you feel like you’re no longer in Kuwait. I actually had the same feeling when I first visited the now defunct Singarea Korean restaurant in Dajeej. I used to love that place and it’s why I ended up mostly being disappointed with Koryokwan. Lets begin with the interior of Koryokwan, even though it looked amazing they had regular English radio music playing and CNN on TV. If this was Singarea for example they would have had either Korean music playing or some strange Korean soap opera on TV. I also found the prices of the dishes expensive. The soups started at around KD4.5 and the main courses at around KD6 and up. That’s 5-star hotel prices which is expected when you’re at a 5-star hotel and getting 5-star service like at Peacock or a restaurant at the Sheraton but this wasn’t the case here. Service was similar to a casual dine in restaurant and it wasn’t that great. Our order for example arrived in this order: Main course followed by our rice 5 minutes later and then followed by our soup. I went there specifically for one dish, the fried chicken with chili sauce and I liked it but you can’t really judge the food on just one dish.

The place is definitely worth trying out but mostly for the experience of trying something new. If you’re interested in passing by they’re open from 10AM to 3PM and then again from 5PM to 10:30PM. They’re located in the Carlton Hotel [Map] and their phone number is 22452759 or 99608277.


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System Maintenance SMS

Posted by Mark

system

Looks like my post worked.


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