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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Journey to Saudi and Bahrain #1

It took a while to writing this series of posts, so thanks for your patience.

Back in May, during Japan's Golden Week holiday, I attended a teaching conference in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Getting there was not nearly as big a problem as getting the visa to get in because Saudi has one of the most restrictive visa policies in the world.

It was a lot of trouble to get this.

The visa required me to not only obtain a letter of invitation, but also a letter of reference from my university. The application form also asked me for my religion (with 'Jew' and 'Atheist' being inadvisable answers, or so I have heard), which felt like a rather intrusive kind of question. There was also a special agency in Tokyo affiliated with the Japanese Foreign Ministry which provided me with guidance on how to go through the steps of applying.

So, after finally qualifying for a visa, I flew on Emirates airlines through Dubai to wind-up in Bahrain. I was to be picked-up at the airport by a driver who would take me across the King Fahd causeway which connects the two countries.

The causeway wasn't anything special, though getting through customs on its artificial mid-point island was something of an interesting experience. (It involved huddling rather than queuing to get my fingerprints taken.)

So I arrived in Dhahran, which is considered one of Saudi Arabia's more liberal cities. (Apparently, women are not required to cover their faces there.) There was, unfortunately, a real paucity of interesting things to photograph. Pretty much every view of the city was a combination of nondescript white buildings, asphalt, strewn rubble and/or sand with the odd date palm or bit of heavily-watered greenery thrown-in.

Coming-up next: Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd University.