Do Stuff: Awesome Skate Park in Dbayeh with Epic View

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So, I’ve been hearing about a concrete skate park somewhere in Dbayeh for a while now, and I finally got the chance to check it out, and I loved it.

For starters, entrance fee is just 10,000 LBP and you can stay as long as you like. The skate park is concrete, and includes plenty of quarter pipes, rails, benches, banks, barriers, spines, stairs and tables.

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If you’re not much of a skater and are a bit rusty on the roller blades or BMX, you can book training sessions with a trainer, and rent the gear if you can’t afford them just yet.

The nice thing about it is it’s not very far from the coast, just a 2-minute drive from Le Royal Hotel right off the highway. They have an amazing view of Beirut, the surrounding mountains (Awkar, Zouk Mosbeh) and the Mediterranean Sea. They also have a snack and a spacious seating area, to cool down after your sessions.

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Honestly, I love skating and skate parks were always fun to visit in places like LA, so, it’s kinda nice seeing a park that looks like it’s straight out of Venice Beach, right here close to home. Check out these photos I took while there.

 

I know I’ve been focusing on other countries and clubbing for a while now, but I promise the “Do Stuff” series will feature loads of cool stuff like this skate park you can do, without paying a lot of money, and right here in our beloved Lebanon.

Check them out on Facebook here.

#GinoTrippin: Jordan Series

As those of you who follow me on Instagram and Twitter might already know, I was on a trip to Jordan last week on an invitation by the Jordan Tourism Board. So firstly, allow me to thank the JTB for the awesome invite and time in Jordan. And also, to say I wish our own Tourism Ministry would do such an awesome initiative of inviting journalists and bloggers from across the world to show them what Jordan has to offer.

Our group was particularly more interesting because we were grouped with the Palestinian one, which allowed us a rare chance to meet folks who are from and live in cities in the West Bank like Ramallah, and the Bibilical Bethlehem and Nazareth, and become good friends over the course of the week.

Must-Visit Landmarks

Jerash

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Jerash is the first, and though it is less-known than the legendary Petra, it’s just as awesome. The ruins there date back to the second century, and most of it is pretty intact or restored very well after a series of devastating wars and earthquakes, after it was unearthed from under the sand in the early 1800s.

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It features two large amphitheatres, one used for debating laws and legislation, and another, grander one where artists still perform till this day. Another cool thing were the colonnades that line its main avenues, and other less-glorious, but equally fascinating things: like how they created earthquake early-warning systems with a special kind of rock, and how they handled the sewage systems almost 1900 years ago.

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Best part is, it’s not as crowded with tourists as other sites, mainly because it’s so large. So, you’ll get an intimate enough experience as you reflect on how life must’ve been back then. Also, USAID has the entire site filled with informative plaques in English, French and Arabic, so, no need to worry about a guide if you’re a bit of an archeology buff and understand what “Hellenistic” and “2nd century” mean.

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Petra

Petra is considered by many as one of the 7 wonders of the world. My favorite thing about this city, is that it’s not the traditional type of ruins we’re used to close the Mediterranean basin. It’s not Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Phoenician, etc. It’s from a little-known people, The Nabateans, whose rose stone-carven city has unique influences, but not quite the same as all the other civilizations that passed through the region, add to that the breathtaking geology, and you’ve got a pretty good day spent there.

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The walk itself is mind-blowing, before you even get to the vault or the monastery. Some people choose to ride donkeys, camels or chariots, but, I feel bad for the animals, so I’d urge you to walk around at your own pace instead of worry about how much to pay the guide. The locals there are just as interesting as the site itself. Many of them live in and around the site, and have done so for generations, and yet, even without traditional education, you can find many of the locals there fluent in everything from Japanese to Italian, with one particular 12yo kid, Mohammed (in the photo below expertly using a 5D to take a group photo of us), fixing up my kaffiyeh then saying “bye! brother from another mother”, which was awesome.

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Try to spend the night there too, the way the light everything up by candle light is an experience we sadly missed, but definitely one that would be memorable.

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Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is one of the lowest points on Earth (423 meters below sea level), so, you should expect something out of the ordinary. The Dead Sea area though, is more of a posh resorts place, and don’t expect to just drive by and find a cheap b&b to stay in. Think mega-resorts, and from the ones we visited, I’d definitely recommend the Kempinski (good house music, nice minimal architecture). However, there are plenty of public beaches too, so if you’re not looking for the weekend-getaway with your special someone alone in a private suite near the sea and spa, then you could spend the day there on one of the free public beaches.

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However, swimming in the sea does hurt your eyes and the snorkeling there is more for the salt formations than the fish (most of which can’t survive the saltiness of the water, hence “dead” sea). The Dead Sea mud though, is the shiz. Feels awesome rubbing it all over your body and waiting for it to settle in. Your skin will feel nice and tingly, and the locals swear on their honor that if you have a scrape or cut, it’ll be good as new after some mud treatment.

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We had a blast there, and the weather was pretty good for the most part. Think of it as a place to relax and unwind for a couple of days, not more, not less. Oh, and it’s a few meters away from the border, so make sure you turn your geo-tagging off on Facebook, or it might tag your location falsely as “Israel”. And make sure you go the Baptism Site, where Jesus is thought to have been baptised by St John. It’s cool, because you’re separated by tourists on the other side by just a couple of meters of river, who you can wave and shout to, across a border us Lebanese cannot cross under any circumstance.

Wadi Rum

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I love deserts, and this one in particular is absolutely gorgeous. In fact, other than classics like Indiana Jones, it still plays host to movie sets. Only 10 days before our visit, our bedouin guide, Abou Salem, told us Matt Damon was here filming a new Mars-themed blockbuster set to be released in 2016, which was kinda cool. Although, I’d say the region looked more like Tatooine than Mars, but hey, it’s all good.

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Taking a 4×4 is the best way to see the desert riddle with beautiful mountains all over. Its important you have a guide, who often live in the area they show you around. One thing I like about deserts is the silence and calm, and witnessing a sunset there, was one of the best I’ve ever seen. The colors of the rock and sand morph beautifully into hues of orange, red and pink, and the silhouettes of the oddly shaped mountains make for an amazing backdrop.

A must-see. I wish they still did the Distant Heat festivals there though!

Less Touristy Parts (Nightlife)

As much as I love traveling, I love meeting locals and living the tourist-free experience most of all. That’s why, I strayed off from the group for a day and two nights, and tried out the Amman nightlife experience, and I must say, I was not disappointed.

If I had to put Amman on a scale, I’d say between Beirut and Dubai. It’s not as new and fake as Dubai, but definitely better kept than Beirut. It’s also not as restrictive and strict as Dubai, but definitely not as lax and corrupt as Beirut. Alcohol is pretty expensive compared as well, hence why the pre-gaming scene is where most of the fun happens.

Two places I went to on weeknight were Jar’D and Kube. Jar’D was an awesome pub with “2000s” music is that’s a thing now. Everything from “Milkshake” to Nelly and Ja’Rule with some Taylor Swift sprinkled here and there. It was definitely a departure from my strictly Techno menu, but it was fun singing along to a few friends I had bumped into there!

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On that note, that night was awesome, because after my good friend and renowned photographer Bashar Alaedin picked me up to show me around Amman, we ended up at Jar’D where I saw Caroline and Malak, who I know from Beirut, and their friends Shaker, Joan, Fouad, Ghassan, Omar and everyone else who I couldn’t remember the names of after one-too-many “mini jar” shots (hence the name Jar’D). After that, we went to the place next door, Kube, which has an 80s-themed night on Wednesdays. 80s music is definitely not my cup of tea, but it was a pretty awesome vibe nonetheless. Definitely not what I was expecting on a Wednesday night in Amman.

Thursday night was the real test though, and we went to a place called Canvas which holds “TBA” nights every Friday. On the menu, much to my delight, was Hello Psychaleppo and Massive Attack’s Daddy G. I love Hello Psychaleppo, and think he’s a musical genius, both in his productions and epic live shows. Sadly, the music was interrupted a few times because the sound system couldn’t handle his awesomeness, but after a healthy dose of his music straight out of Aleppo and Beirut, we had Daddy G spin one of his sets that covers many genres in electronic music, softened up by the classic Massive Attack tracks remixed to whole new levels. All in all, TBA was awesome, but folks come too late to the party, and the cops complaining about loud music is also a risk factor. I’m sure both can be fixed though, and next time I’m in Amman, TBA is definitely on the menu, and the closest thing to Beirut’s epic nightlife in Amman (as many Jordanian friends who attended school in Beirut assured me).

All in All

Jordan was a blast, and I’m bummed we didn’t get to see Aqaba this time. The people are generally very welcoming and helpful, and the police are nice. Keep in mind though, a lot of the people at the important sites are Bedouins, and you need to be careful about not offending their sensibilities (which my beard and quick temper when I’m being unrightfully discriminated against caused in Petra with an “official”, but was quickly resolved by the police there). Try to avoid talking politics there, and the Royal family is off-limits in general, and you noticed that during our very pleasant encounter with Queen Rania. The Jordanian Dinar is a bit expensive, so make sure you’re getting a bargain before you see a low price (10 JD is more than 14$). What struck me the most, was how patriotic and nationalistic most people were, something we lack here in Lebanon. Another thing was how safe and tranquil everything seemed. Police cars everywhere, security checks at hotel lobbies make you feel safe enough from the hands of terrorism that has hurt us all at one point.

So, if you wanna discover somewhere close to home, without needing a visa, with stuff to offer we don’t have and a language you can all easily understand and speak, then Jordan is definitely on the list. The best part is, we don’t need a visa as Lebanese, and that’s one of the main reasons I love countries like that (and Nepal for example <3). Whether its just beach and spa, or discovering cool cultures, or some extreme sports, religious tourism or just a weekend away, check out Discover Jordan.

Even Dogs Wanna Leave: BETA Launches Lebanese Expat Pets Program

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It’s no secret many of us dream of a a visa to live and work abroad. Lebanese folks with dual citizenships are often seen as the lucky ones, and even a good catch if you’re looking to get married. This sad reality isn’t just for Lebanon’s humans though, it’s also applicable to Lebanon’s shelter dogs.

BETA’s shelter is full, but local adoption rates are very low. The fact that most dogs are not puppies, pure-bred or have a permanent injury because of abuse from Lebanese people, means that many dogs don’t find a loving home here. Also, BETA has a no-kill policy, which means dogs that never get adopted are not killed like in other animal shelters.

So, BETA has decided to ask expats and foreign folks to adopt their dogs. They launched a website, www.xpatpets.com in hopes of both encouraging local adoption, and finding a loving home for these cutie pies anywhere around the world.

I really hope this encourages some of you to adopt a doggie, or at least donate or volunteer whatever you can. And if you’re abroad, consider this, and just look at their adorable faces <3

Gino’s Blog Interviews Maz Jobrani

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So, I had the honor of getting an exclusive interview with Maz Jobrani before his show for Sanad in Beirut on Sunday. The folks at the Hitlon Hotels in Lebanon were kind enough to invite me for lunch and an uncensored chat with a comedian I look up to and appreciate. Here’s our interview:

It’s not your first time here in Beirut, so, what do you think of our city?

I’ve been here a couple of times, but I never stayed long enough, you know, I have two kids at home and my schedule. My first time was with the Axis of Evil in 2007. We did like 5 shows, so they took us around, up into the mountains. We even tried to meet Hezbollah at one point! It was a crazy trip. Then another time, I came with my wife when my son was almost 2-years-old and we stayed in the beautiful Downtown Beirut.

I love Beirut, I think Beirut is amazing. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. I really would love to spend more time here.

Have you partied in Beirut? Like, not just your shows, but our nightlife?

When we came with Axis of Evil, we did party! I didn’t know much about Lebanon and Beirut before coming here. I didn’t know the levels you guys take your parties to.

We went to a club called Crystal, it was a Wednesday, an off-day, and it was rock and roll, I mean not rock and roll music, but Techno or whatever. I look over and there’s chains coming from the ceiling and girls were holding those chains and like making out. It was crazy, and the guy turned to me and said, “Yeah, you should come Friday,” and I was like, it gets even crazier!

Yeah, the level of partying in Beirut is at another level. When I was in Beirut with my wife and kid before heading out to New York, our friends from there got in touch and told us they couldn’t wait for us to fly in to party hard. And I said, “this is the party capital, Beirut.” And my theory is that apart from the Lebanese I know being very much into living life and enjoying life, part of it has to do that with the Civil War, people just got tired of it. So, when fighting would break out in the streets, people would just say, let’s take it up to the mountains!”. There’s a resilience that the Lebanese people have, and I think it’s beautiful. You guys are some of the top partiers in the world, easy.

Your comedy can be categorized as observational, but for someone like me from Middle East, a lot of times it’s like it has a deeper message behind it. Would you say you do? And what message exactly?

I was a big fan of Eddie Murphy as a kid, and ultimately, I just wanted to be funny. And I think as I got into it though, and started to talk about being of Middle-Eastern descent, Iranian descent, and growing up in American, I think issues started coming up that were social and political. I think that if you can’t do comedy that has a message somewhere, you know, it doesn’t have to be obvious, but it’s got some political points in there, is my favorite type of comedy. You know, like you said, I’m also a fan of The Colbert Report as well as The Daily Show. But, also in the middle of my show, I do silly stuff. DL Hugley said this one time: “When you do comedy, it’s like giving people medicine but hiding it in orange juice, so they don’t taste it”

Many Americans aren’t aware of the discrimination of Arab, Middle Eastern and Muslim people, so my joke about the Arab family on the plane, or even people who look Muslim, it could be Christian Lebanese. So, when you tell them the joke, they laugh about it, but they also know, “hey, this is real”. So, it’s a way of delivering the news.

The region is in turmoil, as your jokes illustrate when you say “how do you know the Middle East is going crazy? When Beirut is the safest place there!”. Has that changed your jokes and shows?

I know the rest of the Middle East is going crazy when Lebanon is the most peaceful place in the region. A lot of times, it’s just what really hits me, like for example, I had a Syrian ask me, why don’t you do jokes about Syria. I said, well, I’ve never been to Syria. I don’t sit down and say, I have to write a joke about this topic. If it comes to me, it makes me laugh, then I do it. In light of the situation, I joke about learning to talk Arabic, and I say, if you just say the words you do know and throw in some food in the middle, people will think you speak it. Like, “Yalla, shawarma, yalla yalla, wallahi!” So, I was saying yalla, yalla, hurry, hurry, but you are always late. And Salam Alaykom, which is “may peace be upon you”, and then you go outside and start a war. So, no one is listening to anybody, and it’s a joke Arabs have laughed at.

It’s just about figuring out a light way to say it. I never make fun of the victims or people who are refugees. I think one of the jobs of comedy is to make fun of those in power, not those who don’t have power.

Are you a geek? We were talking about Star Wars earlier, so I had to ask!

I’ll be honest with you, I think I was a bit of a geek when I was younger. I was a big fan of comedy too, that’s why I ended up being a comedian. I don’t have the patience or maybe just lost interest in video games, so not anymore. I loved Star Wars, but didn’t really like the prequels, but when I saw the new trailer, I said, hey maybe I’ll go see the new one. I got excited. My son is 6 now, and I’m kinda waiting for the right age to watch Star Wars with him.

You don’t really distinguish between Persian and Arab, and focus on the Middle East being one kind of “front”. Is that true, and why?

I do, I always make jokes about how Arabs and Persians are different. The problem is that the US is so isolated, that if you don’t open your eyes, if you don’t travel, you’d think everyone’s the same. I used to joke about that, on how my US passport it says “born in Iran” and I’d joke about how some Arab countries like Kuwait don’t get along, and I’d get asked all these questions. Some Arab countries don’t even get along with each other, and I say, the whole area is not one country. I hear people say “just bomb the whole goddamn region”, and you go, “but they’re different countries, which are probably enemies”. Like the Bush administration going into Iraq, where a Sunni minority, was ruling a Shiite majority, and they expected to be greeted with flowers and once you remove the dictator, everyone would just get along (not that the dictator was any good!). But it’s this level of ignorance that is unbelievable. I remember when they were looking for Bin Laden, they asked a bunch of senators if Bin Laden was Shiite or Sunni, and they didn’t know!”

Lebanon has always been known for its free speech and liberal ideals, but recently, a crackdown on free speech and increased censorship is hurting that. What are your thoughts on that?

Well, I’m really bothered by censorship. I think people should be allowed to say what they wanna say. I think there’s some of that going on the in the US as well. I think social media has made it so that if somebody is offended at all, they make a big deal out of it. If you have to limit your thoughts and ideas because you might offend somebody, I think a lot of artistic ideas would be pulled back and that’s bad. On the other side, I’m not with saying things just to provoke. With social media, everyone has a platform. Like, just to say something racist.

I hope Lebanon doesn’t go that way. I think it’s all political and they’re looking for excuses. I think it’s easier for me from the outside to say “just do your thing and don’t worry about it”, but ultimately, those who are trying to stop people from saying what they wanna say, is that we live in an information age. So, no matter what you say, whether you’re in China or Iran or Saudi Arabia or wherever, and you’re trying to block people from hearing or seeing things, hey man, it’s just one click away. It’s almost futile, a futile effort to stop people from saying what they wanna say. And I think a lot of regimes are realizing that young people wanna say what they wanna say, they want their freedom of speech, and the laws need to be fair.

I think the West has progressed a lot more than countries here in that aspect. In the US, I can go up on TV and make fun of the president. There are many countries here where I can’t make fun of the leadership. But that shows you the security of the system, cause the president of the US knows he’s not gonna be overthrown by my joke, whereas in some countries, they feel if you disrespect the leader, others might disrespect the leader and threaten the leadership. But, hey, if you’re secure in your leadership, and you’re fair, you shouldn’t worry about what people say.

I hope that freedom of speech progresses in the region. Online it will, it’s unstoppable. No matter how closed off the regime is, people know what’s going on.

One of the hardest things in comedy is knowing when it’s ok to joke about something, especially something tragic. How do you gauge that?

I’ve seen comedians do jokes about tragedies the same day, especially now with social media. I personally try to be very conscious of not making fun of any victims in any way. If a war were to break out, or like the cop killing in St Louis, I wouldn’t find myself making fun of Michael Brown. But, if the police chief says something ridiculous, you can make fun of that. The incident is so tragic, but you can make fun of something that was said that needs to be ridiculed.

This girl in Kuwait tweeted me after a joke I did after Boston bombing, how my first thought was, my heart goes out to all the victims, but how my second thought was, please don’t be Middle Eastern… Don’t be one of us. So, this girl in Kuwait thought it was offensive because people died, and I tried to explain in the 140 characters that I disagree, or else there’d be no comedy. It’s about making fun of the hypocritical things that come out of tragedy.

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Maz was awesome. He was a lot fun to be around, very knowledgeable about the world’s current affairs and very passionate about what he does. He’s starring in new feature film that will be released in 2015, and is releasing his book “I am not a Terrorist, but I’ve Played One on TV” in February.

Christmas Series: Beirut Chants Till December 23rd! And its Free

I love Classical music. Whether it’s one musician, a quartet, a choir a whole orchestra or all of the above. Christmas is an especially magical time for such performances in Beirut’s many, many historic churches.

For 7 years now, Beirut Chants has been bringing to life these churches with local and international acts of all kinds: choral, sacred music, chamber and philharmonic orchestra performances and appearances by international soloists.

It already started on December 1st, but will continue till the 23rd.

You can check out their complete schedule here. Also, I’ve taken the liberty of selecting a handful I think will be really worth your while:

Friday December 12

The Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, at St Georges Maronite Cathedral in Downtown Beirut. I love the LPO, and their weekly performances in a church near USJ right off Monot Street. This is one Beirut Chant night I definitely will not miss. 8:00PM

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Monday December 15

Vadym Kholodenko in St Louis Capuchin Church (the one with the tall steeple everyone photographs with the mosque minarets in Downtown, right next to the Saraya). Kholodenko is the 2013 Gold Medalist of the Cliburn International Piano Competition. So, if you’re a fan of a grand piano on the altar of a gorgeous old church, then it’s a no-brainer. 8:00PM

Tuesday December 16

The 40-member Fayha Choir from Tripoli and its suburbs will be in the St. Elie Church in Kantari on Tuesday. It’s a beautiful sight and experience, from an amazing city with an unfairly tarnished reputation. You might know them from the Arabs Got Talent show too. So, if you’re into choirs, Kantari is where you wanna be on Tuesday at 8:00PM

Al Fayha' ChoirFriday December 19

The LPO joins forces with the choirs of the National Conservatory, the Antonine University & NDU and Soprano Felicitas Fuchs. This is one of the grandest Christmas concerts of the lineup, and if you miss the 12 December one, you aren’t allowed to miss this one. Starts at 8:00PM in the St Joseph Church in Monot.

There are plenty of other dates and musicians, including several children’s choirs and soloists. I just picked a handful that I’d like to go to myself.

Check the Beirut Chants Facebook page for more information!

Train Train: Trains in Lebanon Again?

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Traffic in Lebanon is insane, and for many reasons. First, Lebanese people are horrible drivers. Lanes and traffic lights and signs might as well just be modern art to them. They speed, overtake each other dangerously, go in the wrong direction, etc. Our traffic cops are good at Whatsapping their friends and whistling at girls walking on the street, the only thing truly enforced are the unfair parking tickets, which are haphazard and mean, given that no alternative parking is ever available, and if it is, some scumbag valet services that’s friends with the cops gets them.

Second, infrastructure projects in Lebanon are always geared towards how much money the contractor will make, not how useful it is for the flow of traffic and taxpayers’ wellbeing. Useless bridges with 8 lanes, just to allow for one lane under them, with a pricetag that’ll add many millions to the companies constructing them who are friends with the government at the time the contracts are awarded.

Third, very poor planning, like the Jounieh bay highway, which magically squeezes into two lanes after being 3 to 4 lanes before and after the Jounieh part. Imagine Lebanese drivers split into 4 lanes (5 actually, I mean, who cares about the lanes, right?) squeezing into 2 lanes in a battle to the death with crazy cab, truck and bus drivers. And with so many buildings crowding that strip of highway, it’s almost unimaginable that it can ever be expanded in a feasible way.

Trains might not be the silver bullet to solve our traffic problems, but it surely is a major part. Here are a few cool facts from the Train Train NGO’s Facebook page:

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Kalam Ennas Cool Reports

Here’s a cool report about the Lebanese railroads’ impressive history

And this one is a heartbreaking account of one of Lebanon’s train conductors, now 85 and abandoned by the country and government he served for almost 50 years.

Byblos-Batroun Rail Plans

Mr Maalouf has been trying to relaunch the line between the coast cities of Byblos and Batroun, to show the feasibility of having trains running again. “We need a success story,” he says. The project, with a budget of £430,000, should take only a matter of months to complete, but Mr Maalouf is still waiting for the green light from the Lebanese government.

via The Independent

It’s hard to believe the government would ever OK this. After all, our members of parliament are only good at a handful of things: punching taxpayers, suing taxpayers, extending their terms and increasing their wages.

But, there are other ways to make the money and get the projects done: the private sector. With enough public support, maybe, just maybe, we could rebuild that railway. I’m not sure how useful a train between the relatively close and congestion-free Byblos and Batroun would be, but still, as Maalouf said “we need a success story”.

Now, many of the remaining tracks and stations are government property: public property. But, so are our beaches, and almost every single centimeter of beach has been built-up by the private sector. So, why not do the same with the railroads, but at least this time, it’s for a nobler cause than making people pay 50,000LBP to swim in a publicly-owned beach.

It’d cost around 700,000 USD according to Train Train, why not let brands sponsor each segment or station, having for example the “Sanita Station” in Halat, the “Bank Byblos Station” near Jbeil, etc. I’m sure 700,000 USD won’t be too hard a sell for such an epic comeback for something our generations never saw live, despite it dating back almost 120 years…

Imagine the jobs it’d create and the momentum it’d kick off to resume rehabilitating our railway all the way from our northernmost tip, to Lebanon’s southernmost and hopefully into the Bekaa. It’ll also be interesting to see how Lebanese will adapt to blocking railroads, like they so casually and consistently do to roads…

Major Victory Against Censorship in Lebanon

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One struggle I’ve been part of for the past few years has been exceptionally fruitful. I’m proud to be part of March, the NGO that stands for freedom of speech and anti-censorship in Lebanon. For the better part of the past 2 years, we’ve been in a bitter fight with the General Security’s Censorship Bureau. A play we originally wrote with the title of “Bto2ta3 aw ma Bto2ta3″ was censored, and the former team at the Censorship Bureau launched a vicious and juvenile media attack, citing anonymous critics’ opinions as reason enough to justify their ban (“expert opinions” included that the “language was too poor” and that the writers “did not have the necessary mental capacity and maturity”.) The play satirized the censorship process in Lebanon.

Unwilling to give up, we rewrote another play titled “La 3younak Sidna”, which was essentially the story of how “Bto2ta3 aw ma Bto2ta3″ was banned. We also included basically the entire script of the original, plus what happened before and after we applied for approval.

Days ago, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that our second attempt, was approved fully as-is. Flabbergasted would best describe our reactions at this unexpectedly positive decision by the Censorship Bureau. It’s important to note that since our last attempt, the chief of the bureau and most of the team have been replaced and the new chief and team seemed far less intent on censoring free speech.

This complete shift in attitude and contradicting verdicts only reassure what we’ve always said: that the law is too vague, and allows for interpretation either way depending on the person wearing the censorship hat. So, here, I’d like to thank the bureau for taking the right decision and respecting taxpayers’ right to express themselves freely without consequence. I’d also like to thank the Interior Ministry, who followed up on the process and encouraged a more lenient performance. I also hope that this will be the first of many steps towards a more pragmatic stance on censorship from the government far more acceptable than the past few years’ policies.

We’ll be debuting our new play soon at AUB, more details in the coming few days!

Visit Beirut’s Newly Paint Up-ed Staircase!

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It’s the 7th time the Dizhayners have organized a Paint Up project in Beirut that transforms one of the city’s iconic, deteriorating staircases into an urban art masterpiece. The events are always fun, with volunteers from all over Lebanon joining in to finish the monumental task in just 6 hours.

This time though, Chad the Mad (Chady Abousleiman), one of my favorite street artists in Beirut, collaborated with them and added his awesome signature, surreal touch to the middle-section of the stairs. Meaning, it’s even more awesome than the other staircases we all love and know around Beirut, like the one in Mar Mikhail most Lebanese people have a profile picture or two on.

But, the staircase is supposed to undergo much-needed renovations “soon” (which hopefully isn’t anytime soon given the Lebanese government’s track record), and with other staircases being threatened by the monstrosity that is the Fouad Boutros Highway, these amazing, world-renowned stairs are a very endangered species.

So, make the most of them while we still have them, and participate in the next Paint Up event to help preserve these rare pedestrian lifelines in a city choked with useless, absurdly-priced cement skyscrapers with sidewalks that are not wheelchair-accessible and often serve as a parking spot instead of a safe pedestrian path.

The Azariyeh stairs are located here, and below is a screenshot of their location (the space-age looking thing on the right is ABC Ashrafieh for reference)

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Car-Free Day This Sunday in Sodeco-Abdel Wahab Streets!

10600638_713193452098971_773891049827641658_nI absolutely adore those car-free days Achrafieh 2020 holds regularly. My favorite so far was the Gemmayzeh one, where the kiosks, local businesses, food, drink and entertainment was awesome. The vibes were positive throughout the day, and families, young folks and the elderly all joined in the fun.

I’d like to see iconic streets like Gouraud (Gemmayzeh), Monot, Mar Mikhael, Abdel Wahab, etc. become fully pedestrian. It’d be heaven: no traffic jams, less pollution, more enjoyable atmosphere and MOST IMPORTANTLY: no fucking valet parking.

Here’s to hoping we’ll see that someday during our lifetimes, but for now, one street for one Sunday at a time will have to do! See you all there!

RSVP here.

 

Classic Burger Truck Offering Shares for Fans

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Many of y’all love CBJ. I love it too, and it’s a regular lunch spot for me when in Beirut. It’s fast, easy and tastes good. The success of their business model needs no explanation, as you can see them popping up everywhere and beyond Lebanon now.

What I found especially cool though, is that they’re opening a sister business, Classic Burger Truck. I got an email invitation to check out their Eureeca.com page, and I thought it’s a really cool idea if you have the money. Lotsa times, I wonder how did this or that business choose its investors, and it’s usually friends or people who’ve already done business together. Now, these types of ventures, like “mybar” and “myclub” if you remember, don’t always pick up, but then again, it wasn’t on an online platform like now which operates similar to crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Zoomaal. The main difference I guess only this offers you equity (shares) in the business instead of the perks or products an entrepreneur decides on other crowd-funded sites. Then again, remember, you can pay as littles as a few dollars on those websites, when the desired tickets here are worth 2,500USD…

I don’t have that kind of money, but I wouldn’t mind if one of you guys and gals becomes a big investor and rewards me with some Swiss and Mushroom burgers =P. I also think it’s a great example other successful entrepreneurs might consider using, to make sure they can branch out into uncharted waters, without risking the success of their existing business.

The code is: “classic”