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.
Note: Pictures of my trip to the Middle East are now available.
The events in this entry happened on 12-13th June
Saudi Arabian Adventures - Day 1
My first true day in Saudi Arabia was one of rest. After 30+ hours of travel, being able to sleep in a bed was truly lovely. I woke up fairly late in the day, caught up on e-mail, and then decided to go exploring. There was a food hall just around the corner from the hotel, and while I gawked at the sign displaying opening times, (I was concerned I had missed lunch), and worried about the wording that said the hall was for Saudi Aramco staff only, one of the staff members waved me in with a smile.
What I discovered is that the food hall has both very good and very affordable food. Cans of drink, bottles of water, and cups of coffee were almost universally 1 riyal (about $0.30 AUD). Some basic meals were available for about 4-5 riyals (under $2.00 AUD), with the best value for money undoubtedly being the "budget meal", which provided soup, vegetables, rice/potatoes, a generous main meal serving, and a dessert, all for 11.5 riyals (about $4 AUD).
I got myself a salad (which were excellent), some soup, and some coffee, and felt very thankful that I had changed myself some 300 riyals (about $100 AUD) while in Dubai, since I hadn't spotted any way of doing money exchange at the Dammam airport.
The rest of my travels included a walk around the camp, the most interesting part of which was a fenced area that seemed to include a library and a bowling alley. Here also a large sign proclaimed the facilities were for Aramco employees only, and passes will be checked on entry. I was getting the feeling that having an employee pass would be a good idea.
Saudi Arabian Adventures - Day 2
Today was my first day of teaching. Fuad, my contact at Aramco, had arranged to meet me at 7am at the hotel, and I had noted from my trip to the food hall yesterday that it opened for breakfast at 5am. Collectively, these were hints that Saudis were morning people. I set my alarm for 5am, which in my jet-lagged state would feel like waking up at noon in Australia.
Going to the food hall for breakfast once again had me feel like I was in America; the most popular food that people ordered were waffles! Of course, I didn't fly half-way around the world just to have waffles for breakfast, so I ordered a generous bowl of ful medames... and waffles.
Of the two breakfast foods, ful was the clear winner. It tasted good, and unlike the waffles, it had actual nutritional content. I finished breakfast with plenty of time to meet Fuad back at the hotel at 7am.
Fuad chuckled at my attempts at an Arabic greeting, and asked in
perfect English "where are you learning this stuff, a phrase book?".
I think that means my Arabic has some ways to go.
Fuad asked about my flight here, explained that the Aramco camp was generally divided into zones, the general business hours (7:30am-3:30pm), and helped me get set up with my lab. I was also glad to hear he would be attending my first course.
At this point, I should explain a little about what I was teaching. My class consisted primarily of people with job titles that started with "Geo-", and who regularly had to deal with data that was in formats different to what they would prefer. Unsurprisingly, they'd like to use Perl to help solve these problems. That's an increasingly common story with the courses I teach.
What made this interesting is that rather than having a good four or five days (which is what I'd prefer), I was teaching two classes, a dozen students in each, with only 2.5 days per class. To top that off, I was in a different country, and I had no idea how comprehensible my Australian accent would be. I'd put together a plan that covered the basics (syntax, variables, and control structures) a tour of the CPAN, and as much regexp content as I could squeeze in.
When we were doing introductions, it became clear that my class had a good sense of my humour. My favourite introduction was from one student who said "my name is very hard to remember... it's Mohammed".
The first day of teaching went well, and from the bountiful, well-thought out questions, it was clear that I was being understood.