On the shores of Beirut

I was not ready for summer in Lebanon. I did not check the weather or climate prior to my arrival. I just knew I had to go. The best thing in preparation for summer was the sun block I bought reluctantly at the convenient store Rossman. The second best thing was that my apartment had an air conditioner, which I did not expect.
When I traveled to the region, I was surprised first by the heat in the Istanbul airport. Then in Beirut, I realized quickly I would have to change clothes more frequently due to the sweat and dust. I dutifully applied sunscreen everyday. My flatmate Ian also reminded me some time later with the pithy observation that Beirut is kind of like the California of the Middle East in terms of the culture and glossy beach-looks on the street.

The taxi driver who drove me to my apartment on the first day of my arrival invited me to see some sights in Beirut. The next day, he drove by with another car and showed me the prehistoric Pigeons' Rock at Raouché. Later, he also invited me to an outdoor cafe for shisha. He was fine with just coffee. It was interesting how he considered coffee to be in the same category as other "intoxicants" and vices. The cool breeze blew around us and everything felt calm. Families also relaxed with one another, and I was genuinely moved by the abundance and sociality. I had heard about the pollution issues, so I did not expect the sea to be as beautiful as it was. More importantly, the nightlife felt vivacious, warm and welcoming. One of the customers' brought their lovely toddler daughter and the waiter would greet and hug the kid like she was his neighbor. I cherish that scene to this day.

After a few days, I realized that I actually lived quite close to the sea and I did not need a car to get there. I realized that when walking from my class back to Hamra and searching for the beach route. Unfortunately the sun was very bright and uncomfortable. But I got a lot of nice pictures that would have otherwise been different at night. During the day there are mostly swimmers and men who are fishing.

A boy says hello to me while floating in the ocean

A fisherman at work.
Dan and I even saw turtles. One turtle was caught on a hook. The fisherman pulled quite a few times but could not get it either up or off. Many people watched and some even told the fisherman to let it go by cutting the string. ("It's inhumane.") Eventually the turtle was let go of. Humanity insaaniyat won!

Some military men finish their run alongside the promenade.

People can also smoke shisha on the rocks. 

A boat in the middle of a beautiful sunset. Some are for hire. Closer to the camera, there are people standing on rocks, waiting to leave or to enter the sea again.

 Another shot of the same beautiful sunset, marking the start of another active night in Beirut.

I also took my friend Morgana there during one Saturday night. She was also surprised by the amount of people and liked the general balmy and raucous atmosphere. We walked back and forth a couple of times. She has the same habit like me: we would like to take more pictures of people whom we find interesting, but we are also afraid of offending them with our camera.

At night, more people come out and the atmosphere is more electrified and mysterious. Linda said that this is a place where supposedly a lot of life changing events happen, such as proposals or romantic chance meetings. I revisited this place many more times to escape the second hand smoke in my apartment.

I noticed how it was different to walk with a man, with a woman, or by oneself in these open spaces. People have different reactions to you. I also noticed that others behaved differently depending on their company. For example, it was more likely that I would be teased for my presence by a group of people rather than an individual. Sometimes men would say hello to me in a friendly way. Once I smiled back and the man was utterly confused because he probably didn't expect me to smile back.

Morgana and I went to sit on the rocks below the walkway. I stole a shot of a pensive young man who was sitting on the rails. Many people sit like this for the sole purpose of people watching.

A man showing off his skills and standing on a moving bicycle

On the right side is another photo of the same man on the bicycle. Sometimes people also dance in this area, or it could be run over with children and their toys as well. It just depends on the day of the week. Once Ian met a child who was from Syria. The child was asking for money. Ian asked him a few questions which the child could barely answer. He lived with his mother but she was also begging somewhere else. So Ian decided to buy him some water and an ice cream from Mcdonalds. Dan and I waited here for him to complete his mission. He felt a bit better after he bought it, even though we knew that the poverty of refugees is much more rampant than we will ever be able to experience on a first-person basis.

On July 12, a family (specifically the two daughters and one mother) asked me in hesitant English what beauty products I use for my skin, since (in their opinion) my face was so smooth and nice... I said Vichy and they immediately knew it. Oh Beirut... The level of sophistication and consumption of western products in this part of the world surprised me at first, and continued to surprise me...

Many men take chances in the supposedly polluted sea. It is also really easy to get hurt from the rocks since the waves are quite unpredictable.


Many young men like to walk and show off their dogs on this long beach walkway. Hasan was one of them. I observed that they all know each other and there seems to be a kind of health competition among them. They love their dogs, but in a different way than what I experienced in the U.S. The dogs are more markers of status in Beirut and mostly men walk the dogs in this area. In the east side of Beirut, I see more nannies walking the dogs for the owners. 

Hasan and his dog "Killer". Killer is often a dog who inspires fear. Parents often do not allow their kids to touch him. At one point a random man on the street even said to Hasan, "I hope your dog eats you!" Hasan is proud that Killer knows his owner's mind even before he communicates with him.

I take this path when I want to go to the sea. It is kind of steep but also very quiet and reflective. Often there are couples sitting on the steps talking with one another.

Hands down, this was my favorite places in Beirut and I really appreciate that it hasn't become a commercial port and it hasn't privatized yet. Hopefully it will become cleaner and more habitable for animals in the future.


"Remembrance is a form of meeting"

Title is, again, from the poem Sand and Foam

"My friend, thou art not my friend, but how shall I make thee understand? My path is not thy path, yet together we walk, hand in hand." - Khalil Gibran, My Friend

This is an account of the second day Morgana and spent in Bcharre. See this link for the first day.
We woke up and left the hostel around 10am and asked about the best way from other  hostel folks. Then we ventured towards the city center to find transportation in the direction of the Cedar tree national park. I also made sure about the last bus going from Bcharre back to Beirut.

Left is a photo of the classic fountain at city center. I drank some of that water and it didn't suit me well.

We ordered breakfast at the local bakery. The baker was a woman with a cute daughter. 

Our breakfast: a kind of baked egg bread that was very tasty and warm

After we finished breakfast, the Church's mass also ended. We joked that all the drivers would have also just finished mass. We found a man with a car who was willing to drive us there for 6 dollars.

When we arrived, we were greeted by a street full of tourist trinkets. We later learned that this street has been there for hundreds of years.

We donated 5000LL to enter in the beautiful park. In the park, we also saw many Ethiopian ladies on a day out, dressed up in their traditional dresses. Many either work here or have married into a Lebanese family.

"Since ancient times [the cedars'] shadows have fallen on the profusion of cultures that have enriched Lebanon. The hardy trees were used by the pharaohs of ancient Egypt to furnish their tombs, by King Solomon in the building of his great temple in Jerusalem, and by the Phoenicians in the building of their mighty boats which brought such gifts as the phonetic alphabet to the world. For thousands of years they had inspired the mystics and poets of Assyria, Chaldea, Greece, and Rome. All around the young Gibran the cedars stood in silent majesty, echoing his own words: 'The cedars upon thy breast are a mark of nobleness, and the towers about thee chant thy might and valour, my love.'" - Man and Poet: A New Biography, Suheil Bushrui and Joe Jenkins

A unique outdoor church on top of the trail

A perfect altar for the sermon

Inside the church which had no bathroom

A unique sculpture of faces made by a French artist. Different angles show different objects. From the angle of my photo, you can barely see the sculpted parts.

An odd structure where everyone went to pose for a picture, including me.
Many families were there as well and the mothers were particularly ferocious in scolding their kids. But after the scolding, the kids would comfort each other in the cutest way.

"The lengthy branches of the trees spread to encompass within their shade Wadi Qadisha, the sacred valley, with its groves of oak, willow, poplar, and walnut. Every springtime the sacred valley would welcome Tammuz (Adonais), a Phoenician god of death and resurrection, and young girls would wander among the flowers that carpet the valley floors, looking for the handsome young god. " -- Man and Poet: A New Biography, Suheil Bushrui and Joe Jenkins

An up close look of the cedar pine cones.

After we left the cedar park, Morgana and I went to a cafe; she had a glass of orange juice and charged her phone, which we relied on for directions. 

I was very stubborn not to take a car back even though the same driver was there waiting to take us back. So we walked for some time and discussed about the Syrian war and predicament that is Israel's belligerent foreign policy... We walked downhill for at least 30 minutes.

Many cars passed us by. Then one car stopped and two men were sitting in the front. David, who was the driver, asked if we wanted a ride. His companion was Micho, who looked a bit younger. I asked Morgana if she was ok, and she said yes. So I said sure, we will join you. David spoke the most because his English was better. David said he and Micho come to Bcharre once every couple of weeks because he likes the town a lot. David works as an engineer for surveillance cameras and Micho is a drummer. Micho showed us pictures of him at the drum set, which were quite nice. 
Then David invited us for lunch as well. Surprisingly, we went all the way back to where we began our walk down: at one of the cafes across from the cedar park. David said he knew the owner very well. Morgana and I were surprised. Still, we enjoyed the lovely lunch together, where a Lebanese singer even was singing live for us. The atmosphere was very festive and people enjoyed their food even more. Other families even started dancing; David and Morgana briefly joined them while Micho and I watched. David packed some of the leftover for cats. He has a passion for animals, even though he does not have a pet.

David offered to drive us all the way back to Beirut as well. We were happy to accept his offer. He said in order to beat the traffic, we should be on our way soon. I requested that we see one last thing, which was the grotto behind the Gibran museum. David also taught us some Arabic on the way there. he was very glad to meet people from a different cultures, although I am not sure how much experience he had in the past. We went inside the grotto and took pictures together. David said he had never been here before and thanked us for showing him it.

Inside the grotto; a very quiet and peaceful place

Behind the grotto there was also another site to see: a Phonecian tomb. I was the only one who climbed up.

It was a very difficult climb. There were no other tourists. The last leg of the trip had no protective barriers. But I still made it pretty far. Under the tomb, it was all gravel and a particularly steep climb. I did not approach it as close as I would have liked, since I was afraid I might slip, but I still saluted it from a near distance.

The obelisk that marks the tomb is thought to be dated back to 750 BCE! Not as remarkable if you don't know the history. 

On the way back to Beirut, David drove all the way. We all briefly fell asleep from time to time, and I was a bit guilty for not engaging in conversation with him even though I was sitting next to him. He had a Wael Kfoury CD which he played from time to time. He stopped by an ice cream shop and Micho treated us to ice cream as well. 

Trilingual Ice cream sign: Armenian, Arabic, and English.

I also learned at this point that David and Micho are Armenian Christians, one of the first Christians in history. I later asked them if they attended a service, since it was Sunday. David said yes, they went to a neighboring town of Bcharre, which he also recommended us to check out if we had a chance. I asked if the priest gave a sermon. He said no. From what I heard, it sounded quite short and ritual centered.

Left: Ice cream guy scooping from the fruit section. Right: Micho enjoying his ice cream. I was a bit confused with the ice cream types, since some didn't have milk in it. But it was still quite a unique experience.

After ice cream, we were dropped home and said good bye to these two new friends. Summer in Lebanon! What an adventurous day. I was so lucky that Morgana was willing to indulge on these unconventional detours.


"Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky"

(Title is quoted from Khalil Gibran's poem Sand and Foam.)

A reproduction of "The Divine World" alongside the roads of Bcharre, "one of the Gibranean visions (1908-1914)"

The second to last adventures Morgana and I made was to Bcharre in the Qadisha valleys. Although I have not read the Bible in a long time, the reputation of the cedar trees seems to precede even the country's capital. (In Boston, I see Lebanese products that use the cedar symbol as well.) So that was my main interest in visiting the place. Morgana was also read The Prophet, so the birthplace of Khalil Gibran also interested her.

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.” 

July 22nd
We scheduled to meet each other in the Armenian neighborhood of Beirut to take the long distance bus. I didn't have a phone or internet access and the area had no clear meeting point. Neither of us had been here before. I was a bit agitated since we might not be in the same place and there would be no way of contacting the other. I asked a taxi driver and a policeman where the bus would be. They both pointed in the same direction. While I was walking in a different direction than what they said, just to make sure that it wasn't the right direction (gotta test things out!), Morgana called my name and I saw her. We greeted each other with much excitement. The policeman also corrected us in regards to the actual bus loading site and we went towards that way. While getting in the bus, I was a bit surprised we didn't have to buy tickets beforehand. The journey lasted for three hours. The driver played some music by Fairuz played in between. Many people came and left the bus. We ate Manaooshes I bought from the Hamra bakery (furon). The road was very dangerous and windy. The architecture was exclusively Christian. It is so hard to believe that this area is closer to Tripoli geographically than it is to Beirut. I became concerned as we pass through the fog and small towns since this was not my familiar terrain. Luckily Morgana knew; she was more worried about the driving since she survived an accident ion a similar windy mountain road. I was a bit dizzy when we left the bus but I didn't know it would get worse later on.

I bought some yogurt once we arrived in Bcharre. The store owner, a woman with glasses, who looked around 38 years old, was discussing about a piece of paper. It took her some time to come attend to us. Later she said apologetically she had just got married. I realized the paper was probably the marriage certificate and I congratulated her. "Mubarak." (Not sure if it was the right Arabic  word) There was another wedding ceremony going on in the village as well, with much loud and joyous music. We were even eager to join the party but the specific location was less public than the music. We walked uphill to find our hostel where we made a reservation for the night. Morgana wisely took more breaks than I did. In the mean time we also stopped at a beautiful cathedral to take photos. I finished some salad given to me by Bayt Haleb when I bought Knafeh.

The hostel check in experience was quite odd. The female head of the household was not sure which reservation we had and later asked for our passports and information in quite a brusque manner. We were more than happy to leave the place to explore.

After we dropped our stuff at the hostel, Morgana and I went to a cute cafe: Morgana wanted eat some proper food. (In this area and perhaps beyond people served almonds and a special kind of nuts as appetizers). I was not hungry and just had cappuccino.

There were also some tourists from Beijing at the cafe. It was the one and only time I heard Chinese people speak in Chinese during my one month in Lebanon. But since it was customary to ignore one another, we did not greet. The view was amazing and we took turns taking photos. I exclaimed that I never have been to a mountainous area that had such wealth. It doesn't seem that the young people leave for the cities either. There's a lot of social activity and they are caught up with the, latest trends. Morgana also said that the stones used here are quite expensive.

We rushed to the Gibran museum because we were worried it might close. We were so surprised that it was high up in the mountains. I double checked with a man who was sitting at the gas station whether it was uphill or not. He seemed quite entertained that these two foreigners were going to go all the way up.

We had one hour and successfully toured the museum in due time.  Most of the rooms displayed Gibran's paintings that engaged with deep and heavy themes. Both Morgana and I loved the paintings, which  we did not know about before hand. He also drew portraits of his friends and acquaintances, which included Tagore and Carl Jung. I could see a lot of connections with psychoanalysis in his paintings. I would never have thought he would be from such a quaint and simple town given his engagement with rather dark and moody themes. The guide of the museum said it much better than I did: some men were born in caves but have minds of castles. It is quite interesting to think about how he bolsters or prevents the construction of a uniform Lebanese identity.
Gibran never lived at the site of the museum but he was buried here. His family members fulfilled his wishes despite initial difficulties from the religious order that owned the property. We spent some contemplative time in the thoughtful grave room that almost resembles a religious site for communion. Gibran's quote was also written in prominence in Arabic, French and English. Other Lebanese visitors were less inclined to be close to the dead.

Just before we left the museum, it dawned on me that I was suffering from high altitude sickness. I was nauseous and couldn't walk fast. I regretted drinking coffee. I sat for some time and ate almonds offered to me by one lady who socialized in the museum. Morgana, who has lived in the highest city in the world (El Pasco) and thus had no problems at 1500 meters, took care of me for the rest of the day. We walked arm in arm to a nice restaurant by the waterfall and ate some mezzes (snack dishes) for dinner. We discussed some of the friend group competition we experience as ambitious young people.

While walking back to the hotel, we passed through a lot of people who were also having dinner. It was so odd to be so close to people's houses. One young man even said hello from the inside of his house.

Some kind of Christian votive shrine

When we got back to the town center, were lucky enough to see the wedding fireworks shoot up in the sky amidst the old towny buildings. I made a nice video unexpectedly. While we were in awe of the fireworks, someone drove past us and shouted: "Bcharre! You welcome!" It took me a minute to realize he was saying you are welcome to Bcharre. It was a nice sentiment with some surprise. Looking back, we probably would have missed it if I wasn't slowed down by the high altitude sickness.

here are two short videos I made of the fireworks

We memorized some Arabic verbs and went to sleep. Luckily we were the only two in the room. Unluckily, in between 3am and 8am, the insomniac who also stayed at the hostel went in and out of our rooms just to talk a walk. The female householder  also chain smoked throughout the night. But our spirits were still high when we set out for the cedars the next day.

To be continued...