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April 09, 2008

Kuwait City, Kuwait
Must Loathe Dogs

I pulled my laptop out on the flight to Kuwait. The act jolted the Sri Lankan man next to me from his slumber and sent him into an angry rant about computers and their destructive effect on modern life.

"They try to make me take one of these at my company. I asked them, 'do you want a man who will sit at his computer all day and send emails, or do you want a man who can fix problems?' They said, 'we want a man who can fix problems.' And that's what I do."

He instructed me that my life would be much better if I got rid of the thing.

"When I am at work, I work. When I am at home, I am at home. That is how it should be."
"It's difficult to draw the line these days, isn't it?"
"Very much."

Sirath is an engineer living in Bahrain. He goes around the region helping commercial airlines maintain their engines. I opened up my copy of Flight Simulator and put us on the runway at Sana'a airport in a 737. He looked over the cockpit controls and started tweaking dials here and there, fuel mixtures and whatnot. He pushed the throttles forward, took off, and had a thrilling 30 second ride before flipping the plane and crashing into a sand dune.

To be fair, it's not easy piloting a commercial jet with arrow keys.

He told me some jaw-dropping stories about airline disasters.

Two years ago. Flight out of Cyprus to Greece. A Greek mechanic goes on the radio and says there's some sort of malfunction. The pilot is English, so he doesn't understand. The Greek co-pilot, for whatever reason, fails to take action. A few minutes later, the plane stops responding to air traffic control, so Greece scrambles a couple fighter jets to find out what’s wrong. They pull up alongside the jet, look in the cockpit and see that both pilots are dead; suffocated from lack of oxygen. They have no way of contacting the flight attendants or any of the passengers, so the plane continues flying on autopilot until it runs out of fuel, then crashes.

Fifteen years ago. British 747 off the coast of Malaysia on its way to Australia. All four engines go out simultaneously. The plane begins to glide into the ocean. At 6000 feet, the pilot tries to restart one of the engines. It lights up, and so do the other three. They bring it back up to cruising altitude. All four engines go out again. They plummet. At 6000 feet the engines respond, so they keep it at low altitude and land safely at the nearest airport. An investigation reveals they were flying through a cloud of volcanic ash.

Somehow, this led to Sirath sharing his thoughts on colonialism with me. He felt that Sri Lanka got what it deserved when it was absorbed into the British money-making machine.

"If you leave the front door of your house open and someone comes into your house and steals all of your things, how can you blame them?"
"Uh...because it's wrong?"
"We left our front door wide open. It was foolish."

I told him I wanted to go to Sri Lanka on this trip, but I couldn't fit it in. He said now is not a good time because of the civil war with the Tamil Tigers, which I keep on thinking is a soccer team.

And, inevitably, he whispered his thoughts on Iraq into my ear.

"I think what George Bush did was the right thing. These people, they have become too big for their britches. They needed to be taken down. It was the right thing to do. However, the way in which it was done was a big mistake."
"Well, at least that last part is something we can all agree on."

Changed planes in Bahrain. All I saw of the country was about 50 yards of terminal. In that span, I think I saw ads for every sports car on the market.

Kuwait has no budget accommodation. From what I can tell, none of the gulf states do. In Dubai, they had a couple hotels filled with imported laborers from Ethiopia and Senegal, but there wasn't a lot of room turnover. The other option is flophouses, which is fine as long as you don't mind the banging on the walls and can avoid thinking about who the last people in your bed were.

On my last trip, I was on a flophouse budget. This time around, I can afford the occasional short stint at a low-end business hotel.

There's a convenient division between countries that I get a lot of email from; your Germanys, your South Koreas, your Brazils; and countries where it's easy to find kids playing on the street; your Vietnams, your Madagascars, your Rwandas. Kuwait is the rare country that doesn't comply with either of my two methods for getting people to dance with me. And my sense of Kuwaiti grown-ups is they're not the kind of folks you can get all goofy with and expect a positive response. Not because of race or religion, but because they're filthy rich, and rich people tend to have more barriers.

So I had to do things the old fashioned way: find a nifty landmark that is uniquely Kuwaiti. In Dubai I already knew about the indoor ski mountain. But I've never heard of anything so charmingly frivolous in Kuwait.

Bingo. I saw these on the way in from the airport. I called Melissa and mentioned them. She got all excited, cause she'd done a Flickr search and come up with the same idea.

They're water towers. I'm not sure why they're shaped like that, and our only guess on the blue-and-white stripes is to make it clear they're not military targets.

These things are dotted all over the city, but they're not easy to get to without a car. By the way, nothing in Kuwait is easy to get to without a car.

I called a couple rental places. The best deal I could find without notice was a BMW 530 for $300 a day. Not going to happen.

Instead I took a cab. I got an Indian driver named Nisar. When I asked him to take me to the striped water towers, he took me here.

It's an understandable miscommunication. The two larger spheres of the Swedish-designed Kuwait Towers are, evidently, filled with water. The structure is certainly unique, but tall stuff doesn't really work well for what I'm doing and they struck me as just another symbol of wealth and bad taste.

After some discussion in broken English, Nisar figured out what I was talking about and took me out to an abandoned construction site with water towers nearby. He stood next to me while I set up the shot and tried to figure out what the hell I was doing.

All of a sudden, Nisar leapt in the air with a shriek of unholy terror. He grabbed a clump of sand and threw it in the face of a stray dog that had crept up behind him. From his reaction, you would have thought it was a grizzly bear.

"Are you not afraid?" he asked.
"Afraid of what?"
"This dog!"

I recalled from past experience that it's not uncommon for Indians to be uneasy around dogs (of course, I am speaking in absolute, authoritative terms about all Indians without exception, so if you're Indian and you love dogs, it's urgent that you set me straight).

I let the dog smell my hand, then scratched him behind the ears and we were friends for life.

I continued with my business while Nisar stood at a safe distance, a fresh clump of sand in his hand.

The dog followed me over to the towers, and when I started dancing, he did too.

When I finished, Nisar fled to the safety of his taxi. The dog turned to me and asked, "what the hell is this guy's deal?"

Back on the highway, dodging Ferraris. In my day here, I've witnessed about half a dozen very near disastrous accidents. They mostly involve absurdly high speeds and a total absence of signaling.

I told Nisar I had the rest of the day to see Kuwait and asked where I should go.

"There is nothing in Kuwait," he said. "Only money."

I can't really dispute the statement. From what I saw, most of Kuwait looks like this.

We settled on Sharq Souq; a big giant shopping mall on the waterfront.

Burke-concealed ladies eyeing haute couture. This is an irresistible photo op in the Middle East, and, of course, a big fat cliche.

I was unable to photograph the designer label I noticed on the lining of one burke. Kinda seems like it's missing the point, but who am I to judge?

I followed these ladies around for a while, exploiting their lack of peripheral vision.

There are, I should mention, varying degrees of feminine obfuscation. There's the practical middle ground.

And a leftist extreme that approximates normalcy by Western standards.

Another bad picture, but you can see a man in traditional headgear behind her that I presume is her husband and she had several children prancing about.

Kiddie parks and toy stores abound in Kuwait. There seems to be a passion for family-friendly activity, which I appreciate. On the other hand, the kids playing marbles in the back alleys of Yemen seemed to be having a better time.

I stumbled into a big fish market.

If only I could photograph smells.

Look long enough at that pile of mush and it begins to stare back at you.

Skyline pictures are usually boring. Pictures of people taking skyline pictures are only 5% less boring.

I perambulated the waterfront, looking out into the fog and wishing I could see through it to Iraq and Iran a few dozen miles away.

There was a place renting kayaks in the harbor. I fantasized about a leisurely paddle into less friendly waters.

Someday, when I have my fusion-powered hovercamper, such excursions will be trivial.

Every time I look at this guy I can't help thinking of this song.

Dinner at one of Kuwait's many fine dining options: Applebee's. For dessert, I had to indulge my obsession with the best thing McDonald's has ever created.

I managed to get a plug for these things into USA Today last year. It failed to influence them into adding it to their domestic menu. I will continue lobbying.


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Must Loathe Dogs


Great Story Matt ~ I love reading your adventures.

So the guy who helps Middle Eastern airlines maintain their engines doesn't believe in computers? Hokay . . . .

Another spectacular entry! I think you've done a great job of really capturing the essence of Kuwait.

Am I the only person who wishes there were pictures of those two ladies playing on the giant inflated slide? Yes? Dang.

That story about the Greek plane must be a myth... would that really happen?! Funny blog, especially with the guy from Team America. Kudos

Natasha: Sadly, it's not a myth. http://www.airdisaster.com/cgi-bin/view_details.cgi?date=08142005®=5B-DBY&airline=Helios+Airways

Rob: Thanks for that rather interesting link. An online database of commercial airline disasters isn't something I would have thought to seek out, but I'm not surprised it exists either.

Did you see the statistics pages?


2001 was the first year in their 30+ year database to have a decrease in number of departures.

I also find it interesting that the 747 stands out as a terrible aircraft for Boeing's lineup.

I've always wondered why all those women are covered head to toe in BLACK the HOTTEST color known- while the men-are dressed in white-the coolest. Can someone please explain that one to me?

re: LoudMusic

There's a lot of ways to analyze air crash information, not all of which make the 747 look all that bad. For instance, purely basing the "rate" on fatal incidents/number of flights means that a model like the 747 that primarily does long haul will have a lot more hours of exposure to risk for the same number of flights.

Also, many fatal incidents aren't air frame related. In the 747's case, they include cases where two unbuckled passengers died due to sudden turbulence, a Korean flight strayed into Soviet airspace and was shot down, and where one person died due to injuries sustained during a evacuation due to a fake bomb threat.

Hardly makes the 747 a terrible aircraft.

re: Neil

From the website, "A fatal event is defined as 'an event in which one passenger was fatally injured solely due to the operation of an aircraft.' Hijackings are excluded."

So by those words I would say a passenger failing to buckle their belt or the plane getting shot down wouldn't register as an event.

Even if they did, lets say there were as few as 20 events for the 747. That's still twice the rate of anything else from Boeing.

Also, who's to say the events in the other crafts aren't spotted with bizarre incidents like unbuckled passengers getting tossed to death?

And furthermore, what's causing you to defend the 747? All I'm doing is looking at numbers. And the numbers in that database say it has nearly three times the fatal event rate of the other Boeing craft. That's ODD, to say the least.

Well I'll be damned...


All of the badly ranked planes on that website have one or two things in common. A long range, (meaning they will have less flights, but more hours per flight),or a large passenger count (increasing the chances that at least one person will die in any incedent that occures the ends in a death).

Comparing long range, or high passenger planes against low range low passenger planes is really biased when you do it per flight too. I would be willing to accept something "Odd" about the 747's operational history if this website went on fatal event per hours in the air.

Normally when the safety record of airplanes is talked about they do it on incidents/losses per x hours flying not per flights embarked upon.

@ Loudmusic
The incidents I mentioned are all ones that are listed at airdisaster, and counted in the 747's "fatal event" count. I saw the definition, too, and thought that it was very misleading. While airdisaster may not include hijuackings, they do include bombings and cargo fires - a quick glance shows at least 3 of these. Other 747 incidents not really air frame related include 2 747s colliding on the runway (worst air disaster on record) when a pilot initiated takeoff without clearance, and a tail seperation after a pilot tail-scraped and hit a berm at the end of the runway (tail-scrapes happen when a plane is attempting to take off below minimum speed or when it's overloaded...this was a cargo flight, so I'd guess the latter).

My point isn't that other frames may or may not have these sorts of incidents counted, but that the small number of incidents means that the statistics are easily skewed. Add to that the 747s high flight hours:flight count ratio, and you get an apparently poor safety record, which really isn't very meaningful. In the end, my point is that you shouldn't be changing your travel plans to avoid flying on a 747.

bluefish and Neil,

So, the oddity would be its duty, not its design. Though its design is because of its duty ;)

Bottom line, the stats on that site aren't good for determining "most reliable aircraft", when you're comparing aircraft that serve different roles. I guess if you threw in a fighter plane it might have dramatically different numbers, to say the least.

The McArabia changed my life. Yum.

I really enjoyed reading this, Matt and will read your entries regularly now and also email them to my son.

Hey Matt,

Great entry. As an avid traveler, this is the the stuff that I want my life full off too.


PS - I'm an Indian and an absolute dog lover :)

Good to catch up with your blog -- still in the process of reading a few more I've missed since last time. Excellent read as always :-)

So what's in a McArabia?

hear everyone is going to jail over this website. sounds like fun.

The picture which you pasted that is "supposed" to be what Kuwait mostly looks like is absurd. And to point out that most Kuwaitis will not goof around because of the wealth status is another myth. Sadly, you were taken to Sharq souk, which is one of the most boring places KW has to offer.

Maybe the next time you visit you'll step in with a little more info.

Sadly Matt that you were stepping on the wrong places in q8 and you got the wrong idea about Kuwait. First of all, the dancing. It's very silly that you think just because "SOME" of the people are rich, everyone will feel embarrassed dancing with you! I'm a Kuwaiti and I'll be the first one to dance with you in Kuwait :) . Secondly, choice of the sight seeing. Why Matt Why? you couldn't find a better place to shoot and dance other than the water towers! it's not even a monument! I would prefer to shoot on the fifth biggest tower in the world (Not the one you have in the pictures) or at least if you have some contacts they would've put you on a traditional Kuwaiti dancing on Boats over the sea! that would be cool! thirdly, places to visit. Souq Sharq? mm .. I don't blame you. I blame the idiot driver who took you there. seriously, Kuwait is filled with malls that is much better, much better looking and amazing views over the sea that Souq Sharq. Also for places to eat. Applebee's? you're kidding right? if there is something worth mentioning about Kuwait, that would be Restaurants! and yeah, Kuwaiti traditional restaurants! Grrr .. :) Matt come on .. give Kuwait another chance .. will ya !? :) I'll be your guide in Kuwait next time :) there is my email: infiniti_q8@hotmail.com just let me know if you decide to come back and believe me you won't regret it! :)

you are a piece of shit, and in all honesty dont deserve to step onto kuwaiti soil. u need to speak more respectfully of other cultures u dumbass. and not generalize.

well, there you go, i guess. Q80 & Ali would best describe it, no? all sorts of ppls around & it depends on who you run into, i guess.

Matt...your a great example of what this world doesnt want or need! In other words, your the epitome of rascism!

Matt, I think after travelling all around the world, there must have been one very important trait that you lose. Ignorance. If you hate rich people look at your own country (The richest in the world by all standards). How about you judge people not by how much they have but by how much they contribute to the rest of the world in terms of charity as a % of GDP. Last time I checked the US was down there on the list. It is public information, go dig it.

sorry man.. you phail.

You just missed kuwait.

You visited all the wrong places.

Made the most incorrect comments ever.

you didn't capture the essence of kuwait at all.

sorry man, dont diss kuwait kthx.

Wow, for someone who gets to travel the world the best you can come up with in kuwait is visitng applebee's? Says a lot about you, shame you didnt have the foresight to experiance arabic cuisine. Im not a muslim but your comparison between islam and obsessive compulsive disorder was well out of line. Freedom of speech is one thing, intolerence of another's religion is quite another. Maybe you need to lay off the Mc Arabia's for a while!

yeah we are filthy rich.. and yeah we have borders, especially for forigners like you who wont appreciate our hospitality and disrespect our religion. Btw, it's fun to be so damn rich.

I was starting to enjoy your clips until I read this. Ignorant observations and disrespect for Kuwait and its people.

"Matt thinks Americans need to travel abroad more." this is from your about page, and I couldn't agree more. But it appears all that travel did not do you any good.

Try Again ...

What a way to ruin such a great gesture. Way to go dumbass.


I had to come and check out your site after I saw your video and saw you dancing with the water towers as your backdrop. I would have definitely tried to angle my videocam better for the Kuwait Towers because that place has a lot of history behind it (besides being a landmark). And yes! the 5th biggest tower in the world is a great place (Liberation Tower), but I wonder if they would have let you dance there haha ...
A lot of folks get excited I suppose with the chain of American restaurants; Apple Bees, Ruby Tuesdays, Johnny Carinos, Chilis, TGIF (to name a few), but it would have been amazing if you had just walked across to the other side of the street from the Kuwait Towers and would have ended up at a restaurant called Mais Alghanim. Amazing food, good flavor and you would have left happy than with a McArabia (which I have eaten once when it first came out). And oh!!!! you totally didn't try some kuwaiti dates!!!!

Wish you had some great contacts when you visited Kuwait. You definitely missed a lot of sites. It might be a desert, and Kuwait might have the strongest currency in the world, but it does have a lot of culture, which is becoming better and I guess that has a lot to do with globalisation.

And oh! I am an Indian btw and I do love dogs, I am REALLY not sure where you came up with that idea (generalization does get us into a lot of trouble) and being born and raised in Kuwait has made me love that country. I definitely do miss it now that I have lived in the US for a few years to study ....

The next time you go, shoot me an email - and I will make sure that (a) you have a car for free with a good driver (b) real middle eastern food AND (c) show you some real middle eastern hospitality

Its because of people like u - Countries get a bad name..

Ur full of crap. I am an Indian - born in Kuwait and have lived here most of my life... Kuwait is unique in its own way. You should read up about Kuwait, its culture & tradition before coming here.

Hi Matt. I am Kuwaiti. I find your comments very narrow minded. Its like telling someone they are ugly without getting to know their personality. Kuwait has a beautiful coastline. Beautiful Palm trees. Kind people. Yes we dont have budget hotels but there isnt a target market for it. Most people who visit Kuwait stay with their family, as our culture is very family oriented. I have many dear american friends and I think they wouldn't like the way you represented them.
Cheers, Joanna:)

Hi Matt. I am Kuwaiti. I find your comments very narrow minded. Its like telling someone they are ugly without getting to know their personality. Kuwait has a beautiful coastline. Beautiful Palm trees. Kind people. Yes we dont have budget hotels but there isnt a target market for it. Most people who visit Kuwait stay with their family, as our culture is very family oriented. I have many dear american friends and I think they wouldn't like the way you represented them.
Cheers, Joanna:)

hi , i lived in Kuwait for a long time , and i think you are not right at all , and you can't judge just by there looking. most Kuwaiti are humble and kind . there is a lot of nice place in Kuwait . i have visit nearly 20 country and still believe that Kuwait is special.

Hi Matt.. i live in Kuwait.. and i have one thing to say to you.. you are a typical ignorant American (with all respect to the few non-ignorant ones)

"It is this practice, along with many many others, that brings to mind the alarming similarity between Islamic devotion and obsessive compulsive disorder.

...oh, man. I'm gonna get it for that one."

What a stunning analogy!

Devotion, you "deadbeat" -That is what you refer to yourself on your own website, dont you?- is generally a postive trait in one's character. Devotion, generally with most prefixes, illustrates an individual's discpline and dedicaion. Lest we forget, you have DEVOTED over a year of your life to dancing around the world. A dance that by your own remit, is stupid!

Grow up and get a life and just realize that people are laughing at you not with you, deadbeat


You are a bit of a wanker aren't you matt?
Did you meet any Kuwaitis and speak with them , or just pass sanctimonious judgement ?
Get a life- a proper one, meet real people, talk to them, then pass judgements.

PS: I get to wear what I like............

Hey Matt. I think you got it more-or-less spot on, and I've lived in Kuwait since 1998. I'm surprised people say "ooh you went to Applebee's and that's not Kuwaiti"... well, guess what, Applebees is full of Kuwaitis, as is Chilis, Fuddruckers, McDonalds, Burger King... you get the picture.
And any complaints about your chosen location seem strange to me. They are a landmark of Kuwait. Heck, I even have a fridge magnet of the exact same water towers.
Keep up the good work. You got it right mate.

@Big T

I haven't said anything "Negative" about Matt.I guess you're mixed up with the name order!

ok listen Matt if u wanted to see Kuwait you should've went to the avenues cause souq sharq got nothing on it. second its not our fault that you got yourself a crappy driver who doesent know anything about Kuwait there are millions of things to do and what do you expect going to an abandoned construction site what you should have done go to the mall ans ask people. third there are millions of people who wish they were born here its a wealthy country and WE DO HAVE CHARACTER WE ARE NOT JUST SOME RICH KIDS.

ok listen Matt if u wanted to see Kuwait you should've went to the avenues cause souq sharq got nothing on it. second its not our fault that you got yourself a crappy driver who doesent know anything about Kuwait there are millions of things to do and what do you expect going to an abandoned construction site what you should have done go to the mall ans ask people. third there are millions of people who wish they were born here its a wealthy country and WE DO HAVE CHARACTER WE ARE NOT JUST SOME RICH KIDS.

When i first so your video i really liked your idea.
But when i read the things you wrote above i thought you were the biggest jerk in the world.
How dare you relate Islamic Devotion to obsessive compulsive disorder.

oh yeah, and ..we are filthy rich, eat your heart out .shit face

Hi Matt,

I love your videos because I think they bridge the gaps between cultures.

Unfortunately, I read this blog posting about Kuwait and the joy I felt after viewing the 2008 video (which included Kuwait) quickly diminished.

I am American and travel the world. I've lived in Kuwait for 12 years now.

I really hope that you were just having a bad day when you came to Kuwait and that you aren't honestly as culturally-challenged as you sounded on the post.

Please feel free to write to me ANYTIME and I will show you a positive side of Kuwait. If you are ever back in the neighborhood, I extend an offer to guide you around Kuwait - and not to American fast food chains. If you are going to look for negatives, you will find them. Look for positives and see what our culture here has to offer.

hello ..

all of you need to back off a bit, it's just a silly joke..

I'm an arab myself, and was born muslim too(atheist now), and I can hardly understand why all of you can't take a joke.

In regards to the Indian taxi driver that most of us have been referring to as being an idiot ... Almost all of the taxi drivers are Indian, Sri-lankan, Pakistani, Philipino, Bangladeshi, Egyptian, or Jordanian and a few from other Middle eastern or African countries. I have taken cabs growing up when I was there to go to places like my orthodontist LOL, and you must know these guys are poor people. They came to Kuwait to make money. Maybe the company or their boss (who most of the time would be a Kuwaiti national) should give them training on the where abouts of the country. You can't expect these guys who don't have a good command over english in the first place to respond in perfectly crisp english while they are trying to learn Arabic at the same time.

You must however appreciate the Indian driver for taking Matt to the Kuwait Towers a BETTER landmark THAN Matt's personal choice! Taxi drivers also don't get to spend a lot of time shopping in grand malls like some of us who are from Kuwait or are familiar with that country do. There some good malls, and I know the latest one; "THE AVENUES" is definitely not something that cab drivers would consider going ...

Cut the driver some slack ... if you can't maybe we should have some Kuwaiti nationals who are very well-versed with the country to drive some cabs and help people like Matt who want to take a video shot of him dancing by the watertower! :) If only Matt had picked a place to dance with a lot of people, he would have gotten some people from Kuwait to dance with him !!!! definitely NO doubt about that :) :)

You've just lost whatever goodwill you'd gained with your first video. Some of the comments are just down-right racist. It's sad that despite visiting so many different countries, you're so narrow minded.

Chill out, folks. You're taking one man's post too seriously.

Matt Thank you for your ignorant and racist comments, well what to expect your one more American, you should change your country name into the United States of Prejudice & Ignorance. I am glad that you wrote such comments just more prove that no amount of traveling, education or communication with you ppl will enlighten your stone age minds. How dare you claim that all Indians hate dogs you retard, so now you read minds and know that more than a billion people hate dogs,I think your confused its the other way around " must loath children and others" should be your title cause the whole world know that all Americans hate children and the rest of the world too cause you keep killing children in IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN, SUDAN, SOMALIA, LEBANON, and before that Vietnam, and many more.So keep caring for dogs while you Kill children every day, while the rest of the world suffers from dumass Americans like you. Hope to see you live all your life happily with a dog you dog as you folks say.

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