I help with Melbourne Perl Mongers.
I spend an awful lot of time talking about Perl, and have had my picture in the Australian newspapers with a camel. That's rather scary.
Saudi Arabian Adventures - Day 0
The events in this entry occurred on the 11th/12th June
At the start of this year, Kirrily "Skud" Robert made a remark about new year resolutions that are easy and fun to keep. As an example, she included "never turn down an adventure".
While I'm not one to make (or keep) new year resolutions, this one stuck in my mind as a particularly good one to have. While it's certainly been a fun resolution, I disagree about it being easy to keep. It's this particular resolution that had me stripping off to go swimming in waters of unknown depth, quality, and temperature when travelling around Tasmania with Peter, Donna and Jacinta after Linux.conf.au this year.
The same resolution of "never turn down an adventure" now has me in Saudi Arabia, giving a Perl course to the world's largest oil company. It would have been easy for me not to be here. As it happens, I arrived only a day before my entry visa expired. The amount of legwork required to set up a trip like this for the first time is quite considerable, and actually started back in Feburary! So far, it certainly has been an adventure.
It started with my flight from Dubai to Dammam. Emirates was kind enough to upgrade me to business class, which was nice, and meant a very comfortable flight. At the end of the flight I leisurely strolled off the plane and through the airport, looking at the scenery and taking my time. When I rounded the last corner, I immediately realised I had made a terrible mistake. Despite the flight having lasted only an hour, I had flown internationally, with hundreds of other people. There would be passport control and customs. These things are rarely quick, and one really wants to be at the front.
I found myself about three-quarters down the back of a queue, with only a small number of passport control officers. I noticed that processing each person took a long time, maybe five minutes or more, as they needed document checks, and fingerprints, and photographs, and sometimes a short interview, and (if they looked unwell) a check by doctors concerned about swine flu. It was about 10pm at night, and after counting the people in front of me, and doing some maths, I estimated I would be through passport control at approximately 2am!
As luck would have it, another passport control officer was put on duty, and I managed to get through customs after only a three-and-a-half hour wait. There was then a rather ominous moment of me realising that while there were lots of drivers waiting with signs and people's names, none of them held my name. Luckily, my driver had only gone to get a cup of tea (quite understandable after 3.5 hrs waiting!), and we met after only a few minutes of me wandering about looking lost.
After chatting a bit with the driver, I must admit that I slept most of the trip to the hotel. It seemed to involve the single longest stretch of road possible; I woke up a few times, and we were still on the same highway. It also had what I could only describe as christmas-tree lights strung along the edges (so one didn't drive off into the desert), and all the electronic signs (eg, roadwork ahead) were animated in such a way that if one ever appeared in my web-browser, I would immediately add it to my block-list.
After going through a number of security checkpoints (which I would later learn are required for all entry and exits to the Aramco campus), I finally arrived at my hotel. This felt like being in America; it had American power points, all the light-switches were the wrong way around, and the lamps have these funny knobs that I keep turning the wrong way.
At this point, most people would fall asleep, exhausted. However I'm equipped with the geek version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, so the first thing I did upon arriving was wake up the poor reception staff so I could be connected to the wireless network, and dent/tweet that I had arrived.