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Hashemiyeh Street in Amman

“I give you five camels for marriage!’, jokes Abu Josef in Arabic which is swiftly translated by Uncle Sam.

Abu Josef owns a street stall selling antiques on  Hashemiyeh Street. While the majority of the shops on this street offer commercially manufactured souvenirs arranged in its categories, Abu Josef’s stall is cluttered with everything old everywhere. Plates, old cameras and pouches on the table; necklaces and beads hanging from the top; copper tea pots and cups laying on the ground.

I bought a defunct Iraqi dinar note with Saddam Hussein printed on it, got invited to have tea by Uncle Sam, so here I am sitting by Hashemiyeh Street listening to Abu Josef talk on and on.

“Five camels! No, no, ten camels for you!”

It’s been only five minutes since the unpleasant touch-ups at the fruit souq, but I’m already feeling light-hearted at this characterful old man. He is a small, thin man with a tight voice, and is quick to raise his voice  whenever Uncle Sam stumbles at his translations. Uncle Sam, in comparison, is a well built middle aged man with a soothing gentle voice. He has a calming presence and seems like a deep thoughtful person, so different from Abu Josef who chatters on with all sorts of flirtatious comments.

“If you give me five camels, I give you five babies! If ten camels, it’s ten babies!” At my banter Abu Josef comes back with, “A Jordanian/Korean baby will be beautiful! Korean eyes and Arab moustache! Arab moustache and Korean eyes! So beautiful!”

Just imagine that – a baby with tiny slit eyes with thick Arab moustache. God forbid.

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DAY 3: Friday, 20 Sept 2013. Hashemiyeh Street, Amman.

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Fruit Market in Amman: “She thinks I want to f*** her”

I’ve been in Amman for three days already but haven’t been any parts of the capital city yet. So after a quick simple dinner (spicy pasta, 3JD) I set off exploring the Friday nightscape of Amman. The streets are filled with the excitement of a weekend night, and endless rows of cars and taxis honk in a steady rhythm in celebration.

Feeling I’ve been lacking in the intake of Vitamin C, I head for the fruit market, hoping to buy a bag full of fruits to snack on during my 4 hour long bus trip to Aqaba tomorrow. I stop by each stalls, but all the vendors refuse take payment from me, preferring to give me samples of each fruit instead – pear, lime, fig, honeyed date.. They are either too sweet, too sour, or too bland for my taste but I dutifully finish them all.  Before I know it, I am sitting on a barrel that one of the vendors have offered me, this time a quarter of pomegranate in my hand. The vendor who has invited me to sit next to him is an old man, and I feel like a girl receiving treats from her granddad every time he peels a different kind of fruit and places them in my hand.

It seems a young man with stubbles is the only one who can speak English, and he tells me anecdotes about each vendors – and he likes to use f word often.

“That guy over there, he used to have a Filipino wife. He likes to f*** Philippine girls” “F*** America. It’s a bad country. Syria is f***ing America, North Korea is f***ing America. It’s good”

He wants to take a picture with me, and as he sits next to me and pose at the camera, he puts his arm around my neck. His hand ‘happens’ to be placed over my chest, and he even dares to slightly cup his hand.  I stand up making some excuse about having to go back, and the old vendor puts his arm behind me as if to guide my way out protectively, but his hand is on my ass.

The young man offers to walk me back to the hostel and I say ‘it’s okay’, and he announces to everyone, ‘she doesn’t want me to come with her because she thinks I want to f*** her!’, as if telling a great joke. Everyone cheerily laughs and I laugh along with them, but I’m actually in a sour mood. I walk away with an unfinished pomegranate in my hand, with my back turned towards the old vendor who has cheekily asked if I could give him a kiss goodbye on his lips.

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Rounding off Day 2: Handful of yellow beans, a rejected shwarma and the self conscious white pudding.

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It is nearly 6 pm when I come back to Madaba after visiting Bethany Beyond Jordan. A young man from the Peace souvenir shop had offered to take me back to Amman in his car when I was having lunch there earlier on, but I ask the taxi driver to drive me to the bus station directly. I’m not sure whether his invitation was out of friendliness or hoping for something more, but either way I didn’t want to get into a car with someone I have known for 30 minutes.

The sun sets as the bus makes its way from Madaba to Amman’s North Bus station. In my fatigue, everything seems to be slowly moving through an invisible jelly – the bus, the traffic, people getting on the bus….. Half awake, half dozing off, I watch the sky turn from grey blue to jet black, and how city lights grow brighter and busier as we approach Amman.

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Madaba bus station

It’s late in the evening, so the North Bus station is empty when we finally arrive. When I am about to call a taxi to take me back to the hostel, four or five men surround me. ‘Where are you going? No taxi, no taxi. Bus. Free. Come! Bus!’ They put me back in the bus I just got off.

As the bus drives away, the men ask me a few questions in broken English, give me a handful of sour tasting yellow beans (I think) to eat, and just as quickly as I was whisked onto the bus at the station, they drop me off in the middle of a busy roundabout and drive off. I have no idea where I am.

Assuming they dropped me off somewhere closer to the Amman downtown, I get a taxi from there. The driver is an old man, who finds it very amusing that I am travelling by myself without a male company. ‘Do you want to eat dinner with me? I pay for you. You like shwarma?’ On and on he keeps asking.

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Bus to Amman

 

After quick dinner at my hostel, I take a walk to the street food shop that the Crazy Girl recommended. The small square shop is tiled everywhere, and has nothing in it apart from a stainless steel table, giving it a very cold clinical look under the bright fluorescent light.  It is outside the shop that they have set up a counter to sell two things: white drink and white pudding. A kid at the counter scoop up a big ladle of the white stuff into a glass bowl, sprinkle some honey and dessicated coconut on top and hands it to me. I wanted it in a paper cup to take back to hostel, but now I’m stuck with this on the busiest street in Amman with nowhere to sit.  So I just stand there and eat.

A group of teenagers stop by the shop and order a couple of bowls as well. They stand a few steps away from me and stare at me with curiosity peppered with occasional giggles. People in the car peer out the window and some even honk their horn. Another group of men appear and keeps calling out ‘Hey, China!’.  None of the stares are nothing close to an unpleasant leer – just pure curiosity.  Nonetheless I become intensely self conscious and the T-shirt and over-the-knee skirt I am wearing feels way too skimpy. Forget savouring the exotic Jordanian street food. I gulp down the whole lot and rush back to the familiarity of my hostel.

 

DAY 2: Thursday, 19 Sept 2013

‘The Crazy Girl’

IMG_1598The hostel I book is located on the first floor of a building, and as I reach the staircase a man out of nowhere appears and helps me up with the luggage. As he walks behind me, I keep glancing back, paranoid that he may run off with my bag – unbeknown to me that he would later become one of those people that I find the hardest to say goodbye to in Jordan.

My dorm has three beds and everything in it has a yellow tinge to it. The window is facing another hotel just about 6 meters opposite from my hostel, and a few men are sitting on the balcony looking into our room.

I’m glad to find another Asian girl in the dorm – a Chinese girl with a boyish haircut. I spend the whole evening with her and am slightly taken back by her VERY carefree attitude. When a few men try to talk to us on the high street, she gives them her middle finger. With a shop assistant she finds cute, she flirts with him outrageously and insists on seeing her outside his work hours, despite him saying no to it rather firmly. In the hotel lounge she sits with her feet up on the sofa and legs wide open. When a female staff whispers to her that it maybe better to sit in another position, she just doesn’t get why she should. Back in our dorm, she roams around our room just in a T-shirt and her knickers. It’s all fine between us girls, but the problem is, the window is still wide open and the men on the balcony are still looking in – with a lot more intensity, naturally.

‘Perhaps she isn’t so informed of the Muslim culture here’, I think to myself. Her eccentricity has earned her a nickname of ‘The Crazy Girl’ among the people at the hostel, and I continued to meet other travellers who had stories to tell of this girl in other parts of Jordan.

DAY 1: Wednesday, 18 Sept 2013

Amman

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/104035608@N03/

First day in Amman

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After landing at the Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan I take a bus towards downtown Amman.  I had to wait for about 40 minutes for it to take off, but the bus fare only costs 3.250 JD whereas a taxi costs about 20 JD.

I get off at 7th circle as advised by the information desk at the airport, but it turns out to be an incorrect advice as I end up taking a taxi into downtown anyway.

The roads here are absolutely hectic. There are no lanes and cars honk all the time, not as a sign of aggressiveness but simply to let others know of their presence to minimise any crashes or accidents.

The young taxi driver and I chat easily during our 30 minute drive, but when I hand him 10 JD note at arrival, he claims he does not have any change on him and insist I just give him 10 JD. I find it hard to believe that he doesn’t have any change on him, and I remind him that we agreed on 7 JD. I handed him a 5 JD note and all the coins I have in my purse which comes up to the total of 6.750 JD, but he is still pissed off at me.  I don’t like how his smiles quickly turn sour at the mere 750 fils.

My hotel is just a few meters across the street from where I got off the taxi, but it takes ages for me to cross. I’m too scared of the unruly traffic and they don’t show any sign of stopping just for me. The trick is slowly start crossing anyway, and then the drivers will stop, but this is something I learn a few days later.

I’m annoyed, tired, and feel intimidated by all the stares from locals.  Perhaps choosing to travel in such an unfamiliar country by myself wasn’t such a good idea. I start to dread 11 more days to come.

 

DAY 1: Wednesday, 18 Sept 2013

Amman

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