2017年8月28日星期一

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.

Sunset


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.

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