Thursday, February 23, 2006

Discover the Treasures of the Kingdom

Discover the Treasures of the Kingdom.

The Thai Tourist Authority used that catchy phrase in the 1990ies to promote tourism to their country. They advertised the temples, the tropical fruit and a pretty lady selling them. I saw the poster. Very impressive! And the phrase stuck with me, too.

I kind of adopted it as my own personal motto- basically, every Kingdom or country has its treasures, and it is up to us to discover them. Even some countries that do not advertise themselves have some kind of treasure that we can seek and find.

Take Kuwait, for example. Some people complain that it’s one of the most boring places to be – it is kind of hot, there is nothing exotic there- no old cities, no traditional, “ real” Arab suqs, and some say that there is very little culture there. However, while I was there I was able to discover a treasure-condos overlooking the sea for very little rent.

Kuwait is one of the richest countries in the world but, surprisingly, in some places a bit away from downtown you can rent a condo or an apartment with a gorgeous view on the Person Gulf for very little money. It would be comparable to renting a one bedroom apartment in Santa Monica or Malibu location-wise but not rent-wise. In such prime locations in the US you would pay thousands of dollars a month for a place like that, but in Kuwait, it was something like $200 for a one bedroom apartment with a fantastic view of the sea.

I worked as an ESL teacher in Kuwait, and even though my salary was small, my company rented me one such apartment- every morning I would wake up and walk up to the window to witness a solemn celebration of the sun, the sea and the clouds. As weather would change, the color of the sea would change with it and the combination of the three would change every day like some giant kaleidoscope of nature. I was just a teacher but I had a “room with a view” of the kind that only rich people in the West would have.

I was only 5 minutes away from the beach and I would swim in the sea and then go back to my apartment to relax. Right in front of my place there was a Burger King and a huge Internet café staffed by beautiful Filipina waitresses. It was great life!

Talking about the Philippines, what is the great treasure there? Well, one of the greatest things there is the availability of very cheap but high quality Japanese food and huge numbers of Japanese restaurants. I am a Japanese food lover but it can be so expensive both in the US and in Japan. However, in the Philippines you can get it at one third the price and it is just as good. Every time I was there, I would spend a great part of my time gormandizing on foods and dishes which would cost me hundreds of dollars back home. That was ‘the treasure of the kingdom” there.

In Oman, the treasure is again low rents on both cars and villas. A six room villa in the off-season- September through June in Salalah, Oman can cost as little as $365 a month. And a nice car with insurance can be rented for about the same. One can get a villa on a gorgeous beach for a bit more and watch seagulls flying catching fish while listening to the wind whistling through the high reeds growing from the golden dunes. It is heaven on earth and your villa is only $500 a month. And Oman is not a poor country but for some reason in this part of Oman there are so few tourists that huge villas stand empty and anyone can rent them. There are dune buggies for rent, too. Cheap millionaire style villas are thus the treasure of the kingdom there, or the Sultanate, to be exact.

So when one gets assigned to a particular country that may not be the most popular and romantic destination and finds himself bored and pining to go back home, one needs to remember the motto” Discover the Treasures of the Kingdom” and go out there and find them. Every “Kingdom” has them although they may not be very obvious to those who have newly arrived.

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