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My Japanese Inscriptions: Tokyo

March/April 2018

Japan, a place that has long governed my list of places to see and experience and I finally did! It was one of those dream destinations that was always on my mind. Dreaming of Tokyo, I often imagined neon streets, an energetic buzz that leaves you mesmerized, and the overall excitement of being in such an interesting new world to get lost in. It is everything that I imagined it to be; home to the fascinating, unusual, and bizarre. I noticed how the smallest and most everyday things are subtly different and Japanese in their own way! Overall, a visit to Tokyo most certainly implies a world of discoveries and stimuli for all the senses.

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My first glance at Tokyo!

We landed in Japan during the winter times, and it was freezing cold. Once we arrived in Shiodome, Minato, a redeveloped district known for it’s modern architectural design, we let ourselves get a little lost on the way to our hotel and it was already a sensory overload for me.

I couldn’t wait to explore this treasure trove of encounters and experiences!

On the following morning, we explored the area and went into a small convenience store called “Family Mart” to grab something fun to eat (also known as a Konbini in Japanese).

There were all sorts of interesting-looking snacks, desserts, pastries and bento boxes – and all were labeled in Japanese so it was impossible to understand if only from a cute cartoon drawing on the package. The store had virtually everything you need, from thoughtfully packaged meals to sandwiches. And almost anything I picked up was delicious. We used the Google Translate Camera app to point at the packaging and it would give us a general idea of the content which was really helpful. However, the fun part was randomly picking up a variety of snacks and trying them out for surprise! These mini marts became one of my favorite stops throughout our trip and every time I walked into one I was wide-eyed at the variety of items to try.

Some snacks I tried were clam-flavored ramen and a kind of dried fish and seasoned calamari, and there was even kiri-flavored ice-cream! My favorite part of walking into any Japanese convenience store is their “Hot meal station” next to every cashier for a “grab & go” snack. The photo below shows some rice buns with different fillings and Tsukune, which are tender Japanese chicken meatball skewers glazed in delicious seasoning.

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A Japanese convenience store with a variety of snacks

In every district, I have jotted down my main observations and initial encounters in the area.

Tokyo is divided into several districts, each with their own unique character and charm. Our very first district was Asakusa, where we visited the sacred grounds of the Sensoji Temple.

Getting around Tokyo

It is no doubt that Tokyo’s metro system will get you to many places, but it’s a labyrinth of subway lines. We got lost a few times before eventually getting the hang of it (thanks to my husband who mastered it like a BOSS! Without him I would get stranded 🙂

Japanese people

One aspect of Japan that I found striking is the sheer respect and politeness of Japanese people. From the courteous taxi drivers in their immaculately clean vehicles (with automatic doors that open and close!) to the humble department store workers and businessmen at the subway, I was quite shocked at the amount of genuine hospitality. There were many instances throughout our stay that reinforced this.

One great example was at the metro station, we were seemingly lost and attempting to find the correct subway line. Usually when that happened we would turn to a local for help. This time we approached a business man and he pointed us to line “8”. When we reached, we waited for the metro to arrive and after about 10 minutes we see the man running to our direction apologizing profusely that he was mistaken and the right line was “7”. The fact that he took the time and effort to come back and tell us this left me astonished! Another example was similar except that we asked help from a young college student. He whipped out his phone to search for answers and it really looked like he sincerely wanted to help us. He even missed his train!

I also remember another endearing instance when we were about to get some drinks from a vending machine and my husband accidentally dropped a pile of coins. Children nearby rushed to pick up the coins and give them to us. Where in the world do you see this act of politeness? Respect and etiquette are at the core of Japan and embedded in their culture.

Nostalgia in Japan?

One look at Japan’s traditional culture, technology, innovation and art made me realize that the Japanese actually strive for perfection in everything, which makes it such an orderly and organized nation. There is also an air of nostalgia that I couldn’t point my finger on. It could be the old-school Japan, and I guess I would say that a sense of nostalgia is even reflected in their manga, invoking a longing for the good old days.

ASAKUSA DISTRICT

Asakusa is known for the oldest Buddhist Temple in Tokyo dating back to 645 AD called Sensoji. The path leading to the temple is also one of Japan’s oldest shopping streets called Nakamise Dori. When in Japan, I wasn’t really looking into touristed-out typical travel trinkets. I was more on the lookout for rare Japanese finds, be it handicrafts or only-in-japan traditional souvenirs.

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Toy Capsules (Gachapon in Japanese)

Another one of my favorite things to do was scout the toy capsule machines all around Tokyo, which are itself a cultural phenomenon. Believe it or not, each area has different editions with unique collectibles. Exploring the various miniature works of art in plastic such as capsuled mini food models, anime characters, keychains, and toys is a really fun experience and addicting in a way too. These were quite nostalgic for me because I remember my favorite childhood video game Shenmue where the lead character wondered the streets of Yokosuka, Japan, collecting toy capsules.

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Opened one of my toy capsules to find 551 Horai, which is a popular Asian rice bun outlet.

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A Japanese pickle store – Tsukemono

KIMONOS – THE TRADITIONAL GARMENT OF THE OLD EDO PERIOD

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Kimono rental shops are pretty much everywhere, and it’s always good to consider wearing an authentic kimono as you stroll the old streets of the Edo period. The intricacies that go into wearing one and the rainbow of choices that come in different patterns and colors was interesting to observe. One fact I learned from the lady working at a kimono rental shop was that you can “Level-up” your kimono gear, depending on the pattern and fabric that range from basic kimonos to more elaborate ones worn by Geishas or wedding ceremonies. All in all, dressing up in a kimono is an art by itself.

Owls (Fukuro) everywhere

One of the things I noticed was Japan’s obsession with owls, just like myself. I learned that there is some significance and meaning to owls in Japanese culture. Most if not all Japanese souvenir shops had owl trinkets, charms and owl figures almost as popular as Hello Kitty. Owls actually symbolize luck in Japan, and the word “Fukuro” for owls means “Good luck or fortune”.

20180312_121513                               Each colored owl symbolizes luck, protection or fortune

Arriving at Asakusa’s Sensoji Temple

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Japan’s ancient Buddhist Temple is called Senso-ji, considered to be a very spiritual place in Tokyo. It was crowded when we reached, and masses of people surrounded a cauldron producing a cloud of billowing incense smoke that visitors were wafting over themselves. People light up incense sticks and place them in the giant urn to make a wish before entering the temple ahead.

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Also, before entering the temple there is a fountain of purity. The streams of water are meant to provide spiritual cleansing before moving forward.

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Once in the temple, there are consistent rattling sounds coming from over the temple from people shaking metal containers with hopes of receiving a good fortune. I picked up a box as well and once satisfied with the shaking, I turned it over and a wooden stick came out of a small slit at the bottom. There were some characters written on it with which you have to match on the drawer in front of you. After spotting the correct drawer, I was lead to open it and receive my  “Omikuji” (fortune). I deciphered it, and I turned out to get a good fortune! Normally, if you get a positive reading you take the fortune back home with you, if not, you tie it on to a “Omikuji tree” at the temple and leave it behind.

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Japanese vending machines

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The Japanese have a strong affair with vending machines, and its no wonder as they really are a source of fascination due to the variety of items sold in them. They are very convenient and handy too, dispensing a range of cold and hot beverages with the cutest and most colorful packaging. My husband and I would always stop at one to grab ourselves a nice warm drink, he always got the hot coffee while I had tea with milk.

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The cutest bottle of water!

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Back to Shiodome, Minato

Pachinko Arcades: Gambling?

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A craze that I found in almost every corner were Japanese arcades known as “Pachinkos”. When we entered one, it looked like a form of gambling and the majority playing were middle-aged men in suits fixated on the screens of their machines which were blaring and making incessant noise. It almost seemed like they were oblivious to their surroundings and focusing solely on the game in front of them. I tried to understand what they were playing exactly, but all I could make out were flashy colors and random balls, it mostly resembled a pinball game. Honestly, I couldn’t stay in one for more than 3 minutes as the sounds were overwhelmingly loud and unpleasant. I guess when you’re so into the game you kind of block out the noise overtime.

White surgical masks: Protection or a long-standing trend?

You might always wonder why the majority of Japanese, especially from Tokyo, wear white masks like just another clothing garment and at first it may seem puzzling. In reality it is a social etiquette, either to block viruses or allergies or prevent yourself from spreading them to others. I also learnt from one Japanese that it helps battle the “hay fever” season caused by a specific Japanese cedar tree, therefore donning a mask helps alleviate the symptoms. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if masks are actually considered a fashion statement in Japan as there are all kinds of styles and colors sold everywhere.

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Japanese Tea: A way of philosophy

Tea is a Japanese cultural activity and custom that involves a ceremonial preparation and presentation of the Japan’s favorite powdered “Matcha” green tea, and there’s a whole philosophy behind it that helps one enjoy their tea through a relaxing experience.  It’s less about the drink and more about the appreciation of the nature and art of making the tea. When we entered an old tea shop, there were a wide variety of tea leaves with premium being the highest quality. The man working there offered to prepare a sample for us with his ceremony utensils, and the whole preparation looked like a form of mastery representing harmony, purity, serenity and respect.

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The Imperial Palace

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The Imperial Palace

The Imperial palace is set amidst beautiful traditional Japanese gardens and is the place where the Emperor of Japan resides. It was especially stunning during the season of Cherry Blossoms which we were very luck to witness! The entire grounds gave us a feel of ancient legacy.

The Enchanting Sakura: Shades of Pink

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It’s a lovely sight to witness when gardens and parks are blanketed with blossoms of pale pink, baby pink, and deep pink hues. This is when we knew it was the onset of Spring in Japan. The Imperial Palace was amongst the best spots for cherry-blossom-viewing. I hadn’t known prior to traveling to Japan, that there is more than one type of Sakura tree. There are actually over 600. It was certainly a dream come true to be walking amidst their magical beauty and a great memory I’ll cherish!

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A type of “Yellow Sakura”

Cherry blossoms are so iconic and loved all over the world, that the Japanese have an entire word for “looking at flowers” which is called “Hanami”. There are several “Hanami spots” throughout Japan to admire the blossoms.

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Hanami picnics – an ancient tradition and national pasttime

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Sakura flavored treats are also very common, with sakura flavored Starbucks Pink Milk Lattes to sakura-layered white chocolate Mille Feuille and Sakura-infused tea.

Ginza District

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Ginza is known as Shopping Heaven. You can find everything from high-end luxury brands for men’s and women’s fashion in multi-storied designer buildings to traditional Japanese goods ranging from stationary stores to expensive Japanese pottery shops.

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Cutting-edge galleries

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Tokyo in general has a lively art scene, but in Ginza in particular there are a variety of arts, antiques, and crafts for display in galleries which make for great spots for inspiration.

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Japanese glazed porcelain dolls

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The art of Japanese dolls

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Japanese Stationary: The 100-year stationary store

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If there’s another thing that Japan and I have in common, it’s our passion for stationary! In this digital age, I still go nostalgic for beautiful artful greeting cards and postcards. In Japan, there’s an entire century-old stationary store devoted just to stationary goods called Itoya. And of course, I went wild.

With over 7 floors, you can find your ideal ballpoint pen, make your very own customized notebook through a color, texture & thickness chart, home care goods, Japanese colored paper art works, and a whole floor dedicated to postcards, greeting cards and stickers. The stationary looks so cute, I wanted to get everything. Aside from the cuteness, Japanese stationary puts quality, design and functionality at the forefront.

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A greeting card portraying the famous Sagano Railway in Japan.

The original Sheseido Cosmetics Building

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Sheseido is huge in the beauty industry, and it’s personally one of my favorite Japanese cosmetic brands. That’s why spotting Ginza’s original Sheseido building of 9 floors got me excited! Starting with make up on the first floor followed by skincare on the second where I received a personalized beauty diagnostic. They have several stations devoted to various skincare needs, from anti-aging, moisturizing, serums and more. I also stopped by 2 more floors which had a hairdresser and photo make up studio. I stocked up on a lot of exclusive Japanese Sheseido make up and skincare after spending hours exploring their items which was a delightful experience 🙂

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Only a street away is an another entire building dedicated to a Sheseido bakery known as Sheseido Parlour. This is a fact I hadn’t previously known about, which is that Sheseido has it’s own line of baking goods that come in beautifully-packed containers. One of the most well-known items is their signature Sheseido cheesecake which was popularized in Ginza itself.

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Japanese beauty gadgets

Japanese beauty tools are everywhere, from innovations meant to exercise your face muscles, to spooky-looking masks, breast gymnastics massagers, nose beauty lifts to knee brightening foams.

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Sauna face mask. The mask is supposed to tense your muscles and make your face sweat, hence resulting in a slimmer face cut.

Aside from that, within every 3 meters of walking any street there are multiple drugstores with a dizzying number of beauty bottles, tonics, emulsions and packs at every corner. Skin conditioners, skin softening, deep cleansing are the main pillars of Japanese skincare regimes and they are known for their quality, effectivity and innovation.

I got to know a couple of traditional Japanese cosmetic brands as well, those of which use old Japanese beauty practices such as silkworm cocoons and the rich camellia oil for hair.

The Food Scene (My Favorite): Navigating Japan’s Food Wonders

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There’s hardly a corner in Tokyo that isn’t peppered with stalls, labels, posters and displays of food. I was mostly interested in eating like a local and trying out unusual things. We wondered the narrow streets of Ginza with a very wide range of restaurants. Japanese food is so diverse we wanted to have a bite of everything! There is much more to classic Japanese food than what we are used to having (like tempura, ramen, and sushi) as Japanese cuisine is steeped in culture and all about artistry. The Japanese make the most out of natural flavors and sparingly use any spices, fats, or red meats , therefore it is considered healthy and typical Japanese food tastes vastly different in texture and flavor when compared to other cuisines.

Initially we were on the lookout for a Yakitori Restaurant which serves traditional Japanese grilled skewers of meat and vegetables. However, we ended up in a different cozy restaurant by mistake which served Japanese “Shabu Shabu”. 

The Japanese “Fondue”: Shabu Shabu DIY cooking

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Upon entering, we were seated on a high-chair table resembling a bar which was lined with boiling “hot pots” of soup. The chef then served us a fresh spread of raw vegetables and thinly sliced A5 grade Wagyu beef.

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We were also given special utensils to make a sesame-based sauce for dipping. The fun part was being in total control of your ingredients once you start throwing them in to the steaming pot to cook.  When you drop in a slice of Wagyu it momentarily simmers and cooks within seconds before melting in your mouth. I loved this dining experience. It’s great for sharing, and it’s light and healthy.

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The chef demonstrating the Shabu Shabu for us

At first, the big spread of beef slices might come off as a large portion but it disappears before you even realize it. That’s how light it is! The guys seated next to us had those slices coming one after the other.

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Interviewed by Japanese TV

To our surprise, there was a camera crew present on sight at the restaurant as well. We stood out as foreigners and I guess they were intrigued by us. The interviewee and the cameraman approached us and asked if we wanted to participate in their show on Otaku TV by answering a couple of their questions about our Japanese dining experience as tourists. They  documented our dining experience and asked all kinds of questions ranging from how our food back in Kuwait compares, how we discovered Shabu Shabu, to what we enjoyed most about the whole experience. It was a very interested encounter! I’ve yet to receive the coverage from the TV station 🙂

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Japanese plastic food models (Sampuru)

Looking so good you could eat them

Strolling the streets of Japan, we would often find menu displays of “dish replicas” at restaurants which actually look highly realistic and very interesting to look at.

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They are so popular, that they come in keychains and have even turned into a fashion business with designs for accessories and phone cases!

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It’s a really interesting phenomenon unique to Japanese culture. The food models look like culinary art forms! The life-like replicas are actually not that far from reality, and the exquisite amount of details makes them perfect at giving you a very close idea of what your dish will look like. Picking out something to eat as we walk by a restaurant is like going through an art exhibition and there are actual craftsmen behind these models that paint and sculpture them to look as delicious as possible. Interestingly, plastic food models were invented by a Japanese man called Takizo Iwasaki in the 1800’s.

I can see why these cute-looking dishes and imitation of food aesthetics can turn into a collecting hobby as there is an enormous wide variety of them which are all tempting to have!

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Akiko Obata holds the Guiness record for the largest collection of food replicas! (taken from Google)

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Food illusions…

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There are Sampuru workshops around too where tourists can sculpt and paint their very own plastic food dish and master the art of faking it. It’s practically like a real kitchen where every element keeps the aspect of its original, except for the taste!

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A Sampuru workshop for kids

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     A ramen vending machine at a restaurant

The Sweet sides of Japanese: Wagashi & Dango

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In Japan, if you’re craving something sweet you are most likely to indulge in typical Japanese desserts. One of these is called Wagashi made out of Mochi (rice pounded into paste). With each season comes different flavors. Since I was in the Sakura season, I tried the Sakura mochi which is a type of Wagashi. It’s definitely an acquired taste I would say. The glutinous rice ball is wrapped with a Sakura leaf which has a pickled taste to it, while the rice is chewy and sweet with a savory bean paste filling.

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Another type of Wagashi

Most of the desserts are really pretty and colorful to look at!

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Back to Shiodome, Minato

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Japan’s tiny futuristic cubes in Shimbashi (Nakagin)

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While on a night time stroll in Shimbashi district, I decided to take my husband to see the famous unusual capsule concrete structure known in Japan. It looked quite spooky at night and had somewhat of a decaying facade but very cool nevertheless! At first, we tried to access it and when we inquired the security guard about it we assumed we could just pass by inside and have a look but he mentioned it being an apartment complex. So, these capsules are actually residences and few people live in them. Some have turned into offices as well. It was built in the 1970’s and the 70’s interior remains the same and during that time it was marketed as living quarters. The cubes were designed in such a way that they were meant to be detached and replaced with new ones. People back then perceived the capsule building as an optimistic symbol of a Utopian sci-fi ideal. Sadly, what the structure used to represent has sadly been forgotten and now it stands as solely an icon of the past.

Japan’s Museum of Advertising

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This museum was one of our many highlights and told us so much about the history of Japanese advertising. The very first thing that impressed me was the museum’s method of presenting and displaying the information, which was very engaging, catchy, and innovative.

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The first room featured decorative advertisements and actual artifacts of the Edo Period. The practice of handing out flyers and promoting business venues was already popular back then and overtime the museum shows how these marketing tools have adapted to changing times.

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Samples of old promotional flyers and posters from the Edo Period

You might think advertising wasn’t so advanced back then but the museum proves you otherwise. People in the past were actually very creative with their tools in order to visually attract customers to their shops, by using handcrafted shop signs to perfect the art of advertising.

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Different types of ADs were like various forms of art

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The very first AD for the famous Japanese cosmetics brand Sheseido

Then came a wonderful display giving insight into the newspaper period in Japan, followed by the major introduction of mass media such as radio, television, newspapers and magazines.

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A fascinating part of the museum was the 2000’s, which showed how items and products changed with society. Different ADs portrayed the evolution of societal ideologies as new technological platforms emerged. It also showed the way consumer culture and lifestyles evolved in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s to the present 21st century. The whole museum is like one giant timeline. My favorite part was a large screen displaying ADs from the past to present. It really changes your perspective when you look at how advertising accelerated throughout the years.

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OWL CAFE (AKIFA FUKUROU): A CRAZE UNIQUE TO JAPAN

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Owls…the mysterious creatures of the night featured in tales of magical realism. In literature and filmography, they are majestic creatures imbued with mystery. With their somewhat enchanting calls that echo through the night and charismatic faces, most cultures hail owls as symbols of wisdom, good luck and fortune. The Japanese word for owls is Fukurou, which literally translates to luck.my long-time favorite animal for as long as I can remember. As an owl collector (of figurines, trinkets, postcards, paintings and so on), I eventually found myself in an Owl Cafe!

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 Japan isn’t short of bizarrely-themed cafes. From Maid Cafés, the world’s first cat café and even hedgehog cafes, at the heart of Tokyo lies Japan’s popular Owl Café, Akiba Fukurou, which is home to 25 distinct species of owls. In the world’s most hi-tech metropolis at Akihabara street, I was about to re-connect with nature in the most unusual way. As an owl lover, this was going to be an immensely interesting and special one-of-a-kind experience.

Being as popular as they are, I was eager to successfully secure a spot at the café which meant an hour of up-close and personal time with these beautiful birds.

Before entering we were given a brief tutorial on owl-handling with an adorable introduction to the owl family tree. We entered a relaxed little mellow café with serene owls tethered on to long perches around the walls, some snoozing while others widely alert of their surroundings.

Each owl has a name and presumably a personality ranging from social, defensive, quiet, to moody. One of the rules cautioned to us was to remain as quiet as possible with no sudden movements, therefore everyone had to resort to whispering. We were told that we could gently pat them on the head or beaks with our pinkie fingers.

Utterly transfixed by the whole bizarre experience, it was time for everyone to select a favorite to hold and interact with. There are several baby owlets to much bigger and intimidating ones for every comfort level and every owl fan. I was particularly drawn to the white owls. Apparently the one I fancied had quite a bit of a defensive attitude, as told by the coach. Therefore, I took back my decision and picked another white one that was friendlier and relatively social. The coach gently took him off from the bar he was resting on and with his help carefully placed him on my arm. By that time I totally forgot that we were in a café and didn’t even end up ordering a drink! (couldn’t imagine holding an owl on one arm and a drink in my hand on the other).

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The Owl Cafe

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The beautiful owl I made friends with!

 

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The whole encounter had a very calming effect, and I felt a special connection being so close to a beautiful and wild predator staring right at me with curiosity. It seemed so comfortable on my shoulder, that I was suddenly taken aback when it decided to pounce on top of my head and stay there! I tried not to think of it as much of a big deal and the coach asked if I was okay. With time, he said it would be better to take him away as it could get dangerous with those claws! Overall, I would go as far as saying it was a transcendent one-hour experience. As an owl fanatic, I can totally check this off my list now!

Dangerously good: Beard Papa’s cream puffs

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Whenever we entered the subway on the way to our next route, we always walked passed an irresistible aroma of vanilla and bakery. It was impossible not to lure you in. These are the fresh and creamy puffs made by “Beard Papa’s”. Our senses were automatically overwhelmed by the warm, sugary smell. My husband and I would instantly turn to each other with that look of “Are you craving one too?” I originally thought they are Japan-based but actually they are a bakery in New York and I think someone should bring the franchise to Kuwait for me to get my fix every now and then! The first ones we tried were the cookies & cream puffs. Light, flaky, crunchy and sweet on the outside, and creamy and luscious on the inside with whipped cream and custard fillings that overall tastes like a homemade creation.

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AKIHABARA ELECTRIC TOWN:

THE GEEKY SIDE OF TOKYO

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The one district that we were overly excited to visit is the famed Akihabara, known for being a haven of games, electronics, gadgets, anime, manga and model kits. At first sight, the place feels overwhelming as your senses are assaulted in all directions from the colorful billboards emitting neon glows and Japanese pop flaring from screens on high-rise buildings. There’s certainly a lot to take in!

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There are numerous shops with Nintendo merchandise, I went crazy for Super Mario!

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There are huge electronics stores such as Softmap and laox.

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One of our visits included a stop at Super Potato, known for retro video games and gadgets with unique vintage finds, it’s practically a candy shop for geeks offering vintage game cartridges with rows of retro consoles,  All in all, it’s the ultimate place to experience Geek culture at full force.

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On the way through Akihabara there are toy arcades at every stop, which became our newfound addiction in Japan. These are located in Game Centers, featuring “Crane machines” offering a chance to snag limited edition toys and figurines of well-known anime characters which make great souvenirs to take back home. To catch one, it’s surprisingly difficult but so satisfying when we finally did! (mostly with a generous and friendly helping hand from the staff working there!).

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One of the little things I fell in love with are also their model kits. These are small packaged house or stores that you need to assemble yourself. It takes some precision and persistence to finish the entire model but the results are simply amazing and satisfying and look great on a shelf!

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Maid Cafes 

If you are in Tokyo, you will inevitably stumble upon the famous Maid Cafes. As we strolled the streets of Akihabara, we were cheerfully greeted by a girl dressed in a maid costume. Full of energy, she guided us to the cafe upstairs where we were greeted by more waitresses dressed up as maids who jumped with enthusiasm once we entered.  Adopting child-like anime voices, cutesy gestures and overly girly behavior, the waitresses mostly spoke in Japanese and rarely a word of English. As we were seated, they handed us a menu of cute-looking desserts and bunny ears to wear. It really did feel like we were being served by characters from a manga comic! We chose to have some ice cream which was adorably decorated with playful designs and messages.

At the end, we were  asked to take a polaroid photo with the maids for memories, which is dated and signed by the maid.  However, in general no photos were allowed to be taken within the cafe. Overall it was a very unusual and funny experience. My husband and I couldn’t stop laughing the entire time and enjoyed it a lot!

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Pablo’s CheeseCake: Japan’s cheesecake cult

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Very popular in Japan are Pablo cheesecakes. These freshly prepared cheese tarts originated in Osaka and come in classic cheese, matcha flavor, chocolate and Sakura (and probably many more seasonal flavors). The first time we heard of them was online, as it seems that they actually went viral on social media. Once you take a bite, it’s gooey and creamy in the inside. There’s usually a long queue for these in every branch!

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Sightseeing with Mario Karts

Wishing to live the the real-life Mario Kart experience? Tokyo offers a private go-karting Mario-themed tour. We didn’t have an international driving license with us at the time otherwise we would have definitely tried the experience!

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Shinjuku District: The city that never sleeps

Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku’s Night Life District

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Laser lights, electronic music, and a crazy robotic show. We ascended up the techni-colored psychedelic stairway and took our seats with our flashing light bulb juice.

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At the beginning, a dancing troupe made their grand entrance with drums, followed by complex choreographed dancing replete with giant robots and special effects all of which resembled a Japanese festival of robots.

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I guess you could say it’s the Moulin Rouge of Japan. The cabaret-style show is themed around the future of technology, with performers dressed as robots and moving vehicles and large-scale robots move on stage using a remote control. The stage was pretty tight, which meant the machines were very close to the audience. It was a joyfully chaotic atmosphere of non-stop madness and entertainment! It was definitely a one-of-a-kind thrilling experience.

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Japanese Artisan Bakeries

During our time in Japan, we were in for an unexpected treat; Japanese pastries. The European-inspired baked goods actually made it to the land of rice and before visiting Japan, pastries wasn’t something that came to mind. Buying bread at bakeries in Japan comes in self-service style, and the array of offerings are really delicious. For breakfast, we loaded our trays with  choices of quiche, salmon and cream cheese tarts, custards puffs, to sausage rolls all freshly-made and packaged to enjoy on the go or during a quick trip in the metro.

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Ueno District

Ueno Zoo: The Oldest Zoo in Japan

Known for it’s giant beloved pandas and urban zoological park, Ueno Zoo dates back to 1880 and houses 2500 animals with 450 species. Actually, it was pouring rain when we got there!

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The most unusual animals for me were the gorillas and the elusive panda. When we reached the zoo, we immediately caught sight of a really long line queuing up to see a nursery of panda cubs. There was no way to get in line as you needed to purchase tickets in advance and they were already sold out. So we moved on to the section which houses the giant panda, brought all the way from China. Again, it was in a very far and glass-enclosed space that we hardly had a good look at it, also aside from the fact that others were also trying to catch a glimpse.

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Spirited away at the Ghibli Animation Museum : Hayao Miyazaki

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Tickets to the museum are extremely limited and it was hard to get it. The museum is dedicated to the studio’s work and the beautiful world of Japanese animation.

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Ever since I watched Spirited Away and House of the Fireflies I instantly became a big fan of Ghibli Studios. It’s a wonderful work of art on imagination and storytelling and truly a treasured gem in cinematography. Anything Ghibli related I instantly bought as a souvenir! One of my favorite things is the paper theatre, which is a paper craft kit that recreates famous scenes of various characters by assembling together laser cut paper parts.

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Odaiba District: Tokyo’s artificial Island

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The man-made Island on Tokyo Bay houses many shopping malls and entertainment districts. I personally loved Odaiba, it was one my favorite districts which I found to have elements of futuristic, unique, and even strange.

One of the first things we noticed was a giant replica of New York’s Statue of Liberty overlooking the bay with a rainbow bridge sweeping across a view of Odaiba’s skyline.

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The Shamisen

When we just arrived, there was a booth with a lady dressed in traditional Japanese attire teaching a little boy the Japanese guitar. As we stood there, the lady beckoned to us to try it too. In my hands, I held a 3 stringed instrument known as Shamisen which is a type of Japanese guitar. It is said to be heard in most traditional Japanese songs in Kabuki theaters and Geisha performances. Resembling a banjo, the strings are made of silk thread contributing to it’s unique sounds. It is actually quite easy to play once I got the hand of it. It takes a degree of good muscle memory and rhythm to get it right!

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Sega Joypolis: Tokyo’s largest indoor theme park

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One place to be completely immersed is Joypolis, a really fun entertainment district. With the latest Virtual Reality attractions where you can take down attacking zombies, indoor rides, to many more thrilling horror games. One of the aspects I enjoyed in this place most is traditional Japanese horror. Their culture is replete with horrors, and they have a library of ghost tales, monsters, and spirits to draw upon.

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The original Japanese Resident Evil experience.

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One of my favorite games: Ace Attorney

Miraikan: The National Museum of Emerging Science & Technology

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The geo-sphere is the symbol of the museum. Made up of LED screens, it displays the most updated state of the earth as it is seen from space in real-time. Only one of it’s kind in the world.

Miraikan is the place where we experienced Japan’s cutting-edge technology. There are over 200 exhibits that are overseen and designed by active scientists. Everywhere you look, people (including children) are focused and engaged. From issues faced by our planet Earth to solutions to better living, Miraikan is a source of scientific inspiration, excitement and exploration.

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You can ride this personal mobility device called the Uni-Cub by Honda. You can use it to move around the museum!

Robots: Our future

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The museum also has several showcases of android robots. One of them is an Otonaroid, which is a hybrid of a human and android! They are eerily life-like, and a real person is used a template to create them. She can move her eyes and blink, make eyebrow movements, sync her lips to audio, and replicate other human facial expressions. From their smooth silicon skin to eloquent articulations, some of these robots are even used to help customers at museums, shoppings malls and airports.

Japanese robotics expert, inventor, and professor in Osaka University at Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, Hiroshi Ishiguro says he uses research on human interaction and data on what differentiates humans and robots by examining the question of “what is emotion, what is awareness, and what is thinking.”

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Thought-provoking questions by scientists

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A fascinating exhibition we enjoyed called “Odors fill the world”. It draws on the most recent research on our sense of smell. Visitors can actually smell a number of odors on display and learn about the mechanisms through which our noses capture scents. Odors range from stinky ones to much more pleasant ones.

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The Space & Exploration section

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Astronauts’ food

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Time for lunch

After a fun and educational time, we walked to a nearby popular shopping mall called Aqua City to choose from a variety of restaurants (love this part!).

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We sat at a traditional/modern restaurant overlooking Odaiba’s skyline and ordered some soba noodles with a side of soup and Japanese grilled skewers (Yakitori) with a grilled rice ball (Yaki Onigiri).

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Bite-sized Yakitori of mushrooms, minced chicken, fish and meat.

Soba noodles a very a historic Japanese dish and the practice of making them is centuries old. Made from Buckwheat, they are high in nutrients and low on fat giving it a distinctive earthy flavor and can be eaten either hot or cold.

Yakitori are charcoal-grilled and one of the most popular ways to each them is from different parts of a chicken such as liver, heart, wings and breast which are brushed with a special sauce before grilled.

The Yaki Onigiri rice balls are a national snack favorite and it’s said to be found in every Japanese kid’s school lunchbox. This snack goes back to Samurai times, when the Samurai carried Onigiri balls in bamboo leaves. The fire adds a crisp to the rice creating a delicious crust!

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Gundam

A jaw-dropping experience was the life-sized Gundam statue, one of Odaiba’s biggest attractions. I was surprised at the sheer size of the full scale statue which stands at 18 meters tall.

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I think it would have been really cool if Gundam demonstrated some movements to make it look even more realistic! I am sure with Japan’s technology, they will eventually figure out how to get it to walk!

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On the Way to Toyota City Museum

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Part car showcase, part amusement center and part automobile museum, the place explores the various facets of Toyota’s automobile brand. The entire point of the center is to look, ride, and feel the cars.  I am not much of an automobile enthusiast, however I did enjoy the museum’s “History Garage” section displaying vintage cars from the 1950’s to 1970’s, chronicling Toyota’s past.

I liked the overall feel of the interior decor showcasing the selection of cars. It is a walk-through exhibition fashioned in a way to resemble the streets of a small town in 1950’s America with similar evocative settings. The smallest details were taken into consideration, with shop window displays of retro books and children’s toys, a vintage coke vending machine, and even a replica of an old Japanese home. It was interesting to notice all the detailing of the exhibition which added a lot of authenticity to the overall place.

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An old Japanese home in the 1950’s

Another good morning in Odaiba

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Tulip Time

Apart from the beautiful cherry blossom season that comes with Spring, there is another flower festival known in Odaiba that is a highly notable spring wonder. The promenade park becomes home to 20,000 planted tulips in full bloom. The flower beds are are really beautiful and I’ve never seen so many tulips in my life in one place!

I learned that Tulips are considered to be the luxury flower of Japan available only to the elite in the past.

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Roppongi Hills District

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Street Art – A Giant Spider called Maman

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One of the best views from the deck of Mori Tower, offering a 360 vista of Tokyo.

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From Mori Tower, we visited the Mori Art Museum, which focused on contemporary Asian and international art through innovative exhibitions of modern art.

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A quick lunch

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Yokohama China Town

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If there was one word to assign to China Town, it would be FOOD. We did get the feeling like we had just wandered into China and the most fun part was browsing the expansive area of bright Chinese shops and temples tucked in between all the bustle.  Everywhere we looked there were steaming buns, dim sums and noodles!

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Most restaurants had a dizzying array of menu displays of with various styles of specialty Chinese cuisine.

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To Kyoto…Chapter 2

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An Art Spree: Kuwait’s 60’s Art Gallery

I have decided to go on a long spree around Kuwait’s art galleries to check out the current art scene.

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Today, I decided to visit the Sultan Gallery, which is located in the industrial area of Subhan city. 

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The gallery was founded in Kuwait in 1969 by the Sultan family, with the purpose of bringing together artists and intellectuals to explore and address various aspects of Arab Society through contemporary art.

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The current owner is Farida Al-Sultan, who has been working with a range of artists to advance the “discourse of art” that’s steadily emerging in the country. Based on my conversation with the gallery owner, she is keen on supporting rising artists around the Middle East and Kuwait, particularly drawing the youth to partake in the art scene too.

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At the time I was there, an exhibition was in place on the topic of “Q8 Gas Stations” around European continents. The primary goal is to tell the story of the stations and their role in branding Kuwait abroad.

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There was an exert in one of the books at the exhibition that read:

“For Kuwait, domestic policy became foreign architecture – the creation of a Kuwait abroad through a network of gas stations and oil infrastructure to build demand and secure a market for Kuwaiti oil. The gas stations would sell the Kuwait name and product, but there would be no Q8s in Kuwait, nor any political or social involvement in the country – as a result, Q8 was purely a foreign architecture with the aim of supporting the country – but otherwise invisible to the average Kuwaiti. The adoption of Q8 as a brand meant that Kuwait had to be simultaneously sold to the European citizen yet not to be so flagrant as to brand itself as Kuwait. The choice of Q8 was to then attempt to find a middle-ground, a form of soft-nationalism where one is both exposed to the idea of Kuwait, but without the over-bearing associations of an exported national identity.”

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The exhibition imagines the future of these gas stations for the years to come in terms of a changing global citizen and the changing idea of Kuwait at home, as well as the idea of Kuwait abroad. This photo depicts a possible re-imagining of the Q8 service station in countries across Europe.

Interestingly, in 1979, a British-Irish comedian called Spike Milligan started a BBC comedy series called The Q. Each episode was titled Q1, Q2, Q3, and so on. The episode Q8, played on the fact that it sounded like the word Kuwait. The following year the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation was formed, and decided to adopt the moniker ‘Q8’ for its petrol stations.

Some snippets of the exhibition…

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The Story of Mila, the Cat 🐈 : Days in the Life of a Stray Kitten that Survived the Streets and Became Our Friend.

It was a summer afternoon when I drove to our house to water our indoor plants. My parents were vacationing at the time. As I enter our backyard there’s a frightened and timid kitten, about 7-8 months old, with white fur and an orange-tinged head and tail. Whenever spotted, she would scurry towards a corner, occasionally peeking out at the stranger with curiosity. Her hiding place was a dark outdoor staircase leading to our basement.

Mila was cautious, yet at the same time, seemingly desperate for somebody to feed her. I could tell she wanted to be approached and feel safe, but with the unknown harsh streets out there she kept her guard. She was super dehydrated, starved, and miserable from months of scavenging trash and fending for herself. Keep in mind, this was last year in July at the height of summer in Kuwait.

I immediately entered our house and fetched a can of tuna, the readily available go-to snack for pretty much every street cat out there!

I stepped outside with a plastic bowl of tuna and water in the other, and walked to her hiding spot. I approached Mila slowly, speaking softly to reassure her I’m safe to be around. At that exact moment, she surrendered to her hopeless condition. I was no longer a stranger, no longer a threat. Perhaps Mila didn’t care anymore, and just wanted to be fed and cared for. Before the bowls even touched the ground, her skinny and boney neck reached out headfirst to feed. At this point, Mila’s desperate hunger and cry for help was greater than her fears.

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This continued daily for a few months ahead. I eventually became a friendly stranger that she waited for in the exact spot at the same time. She was no longer afraid and I won her confidence.

Time passed and suddenly Mila disappeared and we didn’t know anything about her whereabouts. I just assumed that she mustered up the energy she needed and wandered off to face a new path, as with most cats that mature and leave.

But little did I know, that this was not the last time we would be seeing Mila.

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Mila making her second appearance, all grown up!

Months later, on the morning of our outing, we spotted a familiar face in our neighborhood. It was indeed Mila, now a young adult, back from her temporary fling! She instantly recognized us too, and perhaps even remembered the place where she was nurtured and rescued. Around that time it was already the onset of winter, and the ruthless searing weather was not around anymore (thank goodness!). She noticed us from afar, stared for a few minutes, and came sprinting at our direction.

From that day on she became our close neighbor and our loyal companion, visiting us every day from morning to nighttime, taking naps in her little nook, and enjoying our company.

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Stretching after a nap 😴

Whenever we stepped out of the house, we were welcomed by her, and upon returning she would follow us and obediently sit at the foot of the door and wait to be petted, sometimes asking to be caressed with a broken sweeping brush that lay in our backyard.

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Mila looking through the door as she waits

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My father would feed her meals such as fresh fish, yoghurt, some cold cuts, bread and cat snacks. Recently he got her a collar, a better cat house to rest behind our backyard, and even grooms her. He instantly became her best friend (let’s just say she was well-pampered lol).

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Mila waiting for my dad, as she relaxes on his car 😊 .

Mila is very patient, quiet, and compliant for a street cat. She has a unique personality of her own that we love! In return, she shows her affection and appreciation too.

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Mila playing with the kids

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Mila takes comfort in hanging out with us on BBQ nights 🍖

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Most recent photo of Mila, taken in April 2019.

So far, Mila is doing well!

Treatment towards Animal Welfare in Kuwait

Through-out the years, I’ve witnessed lots of stories surrounding the street cats in our neighborhood. Cats and her kittens stuck inside a drain pipe that had to be rescued, orphaned kittens left abandoned on the sidewalk, domesticated cats left astray, and many more incidents. But Mila, was one of those cats that stuck around. To some people, such cases are a trivial matter because they perceive them as pests that continuously breed and populate the streets.

But, Mila’s story made me think about the overall cruelty towards animals in Kuwait which unfortunately still runs rampant. I still see and read about children and teenagers who have violent tendencies towards animals, and I can’t help but wonder why this happens and what goes on through their sick minds. Why do they feel the need to torture and kill an animal that 1) Doesn’t harm them in any way, 2) Is trusting towards humans and 3) Can’t defend themselves because they’re helpless. It’s just all-in-all inhumane, no matter how you look at it.

Animals are constantly faced with the perils of the outdoors because of people like this, who can’t just let them be and they derive some kind of sick fun from animal abuse. Doesn’t our community teach kids to care for them? What goes on in raising these young adults to make them think this is acceptable behavior? Don’t they know about the prophet’s love for felines if you’re so religious and obey god? I believe this only predisposes them to other acts of violence in the future, because this kind of behavior is certainly not normal.

In Kuwait, we aren’t being tough enough towards animal cruelty. Yes, there are shelters (which aren’t supported as much nor taken seriously) and pet businesses are booming with pet cafes and grooming salons. However, that doesn’t erase the fact that animal cruelty still exists.

How many “social media stories” have appeared on platforms, claiming that a local mistreated an animal and the authorities just looked away? Yes, they might charge or fine and even arrest animal abusers when they’re called out by a concerned community of animal lovers, but how far does this ‘punishment’ go and does it teach others anything?

There’s a law to protect pets only, but even owners can be irresponsible (why would you keep a Chow Chow dog in Kuwait when you know the summer is merciless?) A lot of pet owners deem an animal as an accessory more than anything else, instead of a creature with feelings just like any living being on this planet. They’re either neglected, exploited or preyed upon.

Many might argue, that there’s nothing that can be done to reduce the uncontrollable increase of stray cats. The cat outburst that happened in Kuwait a few years ago, lead the government to implement a poisoning campaign. But, in other places around the world, such as Turkey, there’s a community network of cat-caring. It’s not purely idyllic, as animal abuse exists everywhere unfortunately, however, in countries like Italy as well, street cats are well-groomed and well-fed.

In some cities in Germany, street cats should be neutered or spayed by law to control their population. That’s why you probably don’t see as many. They’re also caught and taken to a shelter or housed.

Sometimes, if you go for a walk at Kuwait’s Scientific Center on the seaside where there’s a big population of street cats, you will find cans of food placed for them by strangers. There’s even a small self-made shelter for cats that’s overseen by a caretaker. The cats there are generally cleaner and healthier due to this. A few efforts are indeed done in Kuwait, but increasing punishments for anyone found guilty of intentionally causing harm or distress to animals is still missing.

It starts with reporting more of these cases, teaching children to be kind towards animals, volunteering to help them even if you find one in your backyard that seeks care, and supporting legislation that encourages kindness towards animals.

Until then, there will be cats like Mila in search for compassion.

BetterBooks: A whiff of printed nostalgia. Meet Kuwait’s Community Book Shop

There is no sign, no direction, nor a main entrance. Its intention is to be hidden and discovered.

Better Books is tucked away from the bustling streets of Salmiya, accessed through an obscure entry followed by descending stairs. It reminded me of a hole-in-the-wall.

The down-to-earth second-hand bookshop has been around for 10 years, but this is my first time visiting it. Who knows, there might be a dusty old treasure that’s been sitting on that shelf since 2009, waiting to be given a second chance.

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Books can be a nice source of solace. In a small second-hand bookshop like BetterBooks, there are quite a lot of old finds, collectibles and out-of-print editions. At the time I was there, they had just received a box of Tintin books for the first time, which is great because I’ve wanted to read certain editions but they get sold out quickly and become harder to find. There’s also a whole stack of Archie comics as well, an entire shelf in fact. I spent quite a bit of time rifting through their inventory, searching in the nooks and crannies. I had this nice feeling that I would find something nostalgic perhaps.

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The bookshop not only serves as a place for ‘homeless books’ but also as a library resembling a cozy living room, where you can spend time lounging and simply being engrossed in the words resting in your lap.

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I chatted with the Indian caretaker, Jacob, who was there at the time, and got some insight into the bookstore. He mentioned that the charm of the shop was to keep it low-key and have people just wander in. It’s less of a book “shop”, and more of a community for bibliophiles. Moreover, it’s a way to recycle books by donating unwanted ones. In exchange, if you have a purchased volume you are finished with and want to return, you can also receive half of the price back and this is how the cycle continues. The whole experience might seem like a treasure hunt, as there is only one copy of a book.

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The bookstore is also home to a charming cat and a bird that roam the library. The place is pet-friendly and you can bring in your companions 🐦 🐈 🐢 🐇 🐩

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A new breed of print?

To me, hard copies of paper like books, magazines and newspapers remain alluring even though everything has almost turned digital. I’ve tried picking up an iPad, mobile, and even a kindle to read, but I still find myself going back to savoring each physical page like it’s an indulgent snack.

With the launch of Apple News+, it promises an “immersive magazine and news reading experience” with a comprehensive digital newsstand of up to 300 publications on your devices. It’s definitely great to have an all in one app for that.

But I still feel somehow wedded to print. I feel sentimental about flicking through pages. I get more excited when I purchase a fresh and crisp new publication or even wait to get a hold of one via courier, than simply downloading it instantly online. So I don’t know how it’s going to affect my readership in general.

There’s just something about curling up with a book or magazine in hand and losing yourself between its pages. I continue to have the urge to visit a bookstore or the library to get a physical copy even though I know it’s available digitally. It’s as though the physical version holds more value. I also get enthusiastic when I hear about a new print publication. This reminds me that a few days ago, Buzzfeed, the online media company for news and entertainment, launched a limited edition newspaper of their content for distribution in New York. They called the stunt as “printing out the internet”. It almost seems that we had gotten so used to consuming the internet and the electronic side of things, that having a print version of anything is gradually becoming unusual. Who knows, maybe print will indeed make a comeback someday.

I decided to allocate a post on my current favorite magazine called FLOW because it reminds me of how publications can still be charming in their original form.

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It all started when I was seeking good, print content. I came cross this quarterly magazine from the Netherlands and thought it was interesting. So, I started an annual subscription with them.
This magazine is essentially called a “Magazine for paper lovers” and is filled with artistic inspiration, interviews, and thought-provoking articles on mindful living and positive psychology. Each page is a delight to turn over and meant to nourish your creativity and help you stay connected to the world around us. With each issue, also come postcards, art illustrations, and calendars that you can carefully tear out and collect. You just don’t know what to expect when you turn the page over! It offers plenty of food for thought.

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I think exploring such independent, foreign indie magazines is also what makes print fun. It’s what they call, the work of “slow journalism”, which are publications that simply take their time on quality. That is why Flow Magazine is a quarterly one. It’s not one of those magazines that you toss out after the issue becomes outdated, because it’s usually filled with rigorously edited long form stories and original photography, illustrations and graphics.
Slow Journalism is my new favorite journalistic term now. It’s all about about taking the time to report information with close attention and more depth. I enjoy how, when I open the pages, time slows down in a fast-paced contemporary news world such as ours.

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Inequality and Feminism in Kuwait

I would like to address an issue, or rather, misconception that I commonly hear when it comes to the topic of inequality between men and women. This topic seems to agitate both genders, especially in a seemingly patriarchal society such as Kuwait. Male-dominated societies are most prevalent particularly in the Middle East, which is where I live and that is why I am going to refer to this region the most.

So far, I’ve heard of many definitions and views on inequality and the topic has been discussed repeatedly. But, I would like to explore it myself and voice my personal stance on this subject.

Gender inequality, which is not synonymous with feminism, advocates that women should share the same opportunities and respect as men. Wait a minute, let me rephrase that! Men AND women should share the same opportunities and respect within society. I had to make that clarification because even with the term Gender Equality, we still tend to refer to women when in fact it means equal opportunities for both genders and overall not letting any form of “sexism” act as a constraint in a social or cultural context.

Some men would argue that if women want equality, then they should change the tires themselves if their car breaks down, carry heavy bags on their own without mens’ help, or start doing other roles that are usually dictated to men. Yes, men have said that! That already is a misconception itself because inequality doesn’t emphasize physical equality as that enters biology. That’s all common courtesy. There will always be differences between both sexes, you can’t make them exactly the same in everything and this is also hardly the case in Kuwait. Men in general are wired differently, but I don’t need to tell you that. Men and women are different sides of the same coin.

What’s actually meant of it is, why is a man preferred for a standard office job over a woman? I’ve been faced with that on one occasion from a reputable telecommunications company in Kuwait and they even admitted that they prefer a man for the Marketing role. Although in other cases I would personally never agree to work for a female boss and prefer men (there’s just too much unnecessary drama, jealousy, competitiveness and snake-like behavior but that’s a different story). Women want equally the same strong if not stronger career as men, and that’s great. But then again, if a strong career to support a family is NOT what a man is – what is? If I continue down this path of discussion, the blog post will read like a book.

Also, why is a Kuwaiti woman who smokes still considered indecent? Like inhaling a roll of tobacco somehow defines who she is and her morals. There are some things like this that just don’t make sense and shouldn’t be judged upon. There are more examples that are ingrained in our society and we sometimes stop questioning them altogether because they are internalized by many. It seems that even with discussions about gender equality, women seem to be the main focus and that’s why feminism exists.

Men aside, here come the women with their feminism. At first, I was wondering why females who claimed the title of “feminists” seem to be automatically associated with “man-haters” when in fact, feminism is such a broad term. But then I realized that there’s a growing number of women here who actually believe in this definition. They are usually young women who are upset about the other gender and have either never found luck in love, faced failed relationships and had bad encounters with men. It has turned in to some kind of trend as I see it more often through conversations on social media where they are now constantly dropping the “F-bomb”. Suddenly, men become the bad guys and they advocate that they don’t need one at all in their life and should be thrown from a cliff! To each their own, you just haven’t found the right one, so stay calm and hold your horses! We live in this world in harmony, no gender is more irrelevant or unwanted than the other.

Also, why should women have to shave for men? I didn’t know that was done solely to please them actually. All of a sudden, these women from around the world start coming out with hairy legs as if to reclaim their rights to unshaven body parts. I mean, it really comes down to aesthetics and hygiene at the end of the day. You can go ahead and stop shaving, no one is forcing you to! You have just internalized the concept yourself, just as we have internalized that dresses and skirts are for women.

The constant bashing of men and blaming them for so many problems is equally as concerning and even silly because it’s generalizing and misusing the term “feminism”. Perhaps some use it as a cover for misandry? I really don’t know. However, it’s clear that women’s specific views on these issues are rooted deeply in their own personal and direct experiences that they immediately take out on the entire male population. I wonder, if a man does decide to help you with your flat tire, would you see it as an act of courtesy? Or is it a sexist insult to her strength and competence? That’s why I say that feminism is such a broad term that is misinterpreted by many and has devolved into something it’s not.

Regardless of the individual feminists who do in fact hate men, feminism if distilled down to it’s core in a much broader sense, isn’t even about being equal to men or stepping up to achieve what men have and trying to be “stronger” than them. It focuses solely on women, their liberation all over the world from the harsh misogyny that continues to harm and oppress them. Indeed, women have gained a lot of rights in the past century, but still aren’t held in the same regards as men. Women had no right to vote, a lot of things were and still are considered shameful if a women does them, and until now, some women can’t leave the house un-chaperoned by a man. They still do lack a lot of basic rights in under-developed countries. The male superiority is still there in many occasions, I’m not denying it or complicit of it. Times have changed though especially in my home country, Kuwait, which is deemed “most democratic” of all it’s Middle Eastern neighbors and generally women aren’t oppressed or that disadvantaged, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t existing flawed societal standards and ideologies especially considering that its only been 15 years since women have been granted the right to vote which is quite recent!

I don’t know what kind of feminism is running rampant nowadays, but it certainly isn’t the feminism that’s meant to make women more independent or empowered as done by female activists fighting for a worthy cause. Young women now champion petty things and call it being a feminist which in modern terms comes off as anti-male. Being bitter about the whole situation also doesn’t make women any more empowered or happy!

Photo Diary Part 2: Wandering the streets of Kuwait’s Old Souk, Mubarakiya

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A bookshop with old magazines, publications, and comics that date back to the 40’s.

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The cookware market

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Antique shop

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One of Kuwait’s oldest mosques

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Mosque’s exterior

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This mosque dates back to 1776 and is considered Kuwait’s oldest mosque around! Masjid Al-Haddad.

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Here it is!

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Tea pots

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Getting ready for National & Liberations days

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Just another cat!

Check out part 1 here!

Are you really a “Food Blogger”?

It seems that with the ongoing rise of social media, particularly Instagram, everyone feels the need to call themselves an expert on something.

When was the last time anybody ever just simply posted a random moment from their life? Those casual, candid and spontaneous captures? Most if not all people are losing sight of what Instagram was originally about. Honestly, I miss that about social media myself. Now, it has become a playground for advertising and self-promotion, to the point that I get physically nauseated at the endless scrolling and sponsored posts passing me by.

It’s not ALL bad though. Instagram can be a good source of information, a way to share beautiful photography, and connect. But all these good things are being replaced by marketing, online shopping, and some kind of indirect promotion to the point that people have ceased to become just people, instead, they want to become walking advertisements and constantly try to project a certain image of themselves that they can later sell and earn money for. They can do that if they want to, but why does every single simpleton and joe have to become that now? Let it happen naturally. Just do what you love. Don’t force it and pretend to be someone you’re not.

This leads me to the title of my post. It’s ridiculous how some social media users try hard to appear as an expert on a topic, just to earn trust from their followers and potential brands. There are “experts” on fashion, food, sports, and whatnot. Some people can be talented in these areas and there is nothing wrong with showcasing their passion towards a field. They could be professionals or just serious hobbyists. But what does it even say about society when it’s reached to the extent that influence becomes more powerful than expertise? It appears that your status (number of followers) becomes increasingly more important than knowledge. On the other side of the spectrum of professionals, there are those who don’t belong where they claim to be, and you will see what I mean further ahead. I am mainly going to focus on food because that is the current trend I am seeing.

If you’re living in Kuwait, you are probably aware of the huge amount of foodies here. Food is a craze in the country, the dining scene is exploding, and eaters are hungry to try the rising number of new restaurants. With that, there’s a volume of “self-proclaimed” food bloggers. Now, let’s dissect what this really means.

If you look up anything about food reviewers, you would mostly likely find that they are professional journalists usually with a degree in Culinary Arts that write for a large publication. They understand how to write skillfully about the flavors, sights, and smells of what they are eating, which is NOT easy, and they tend to do this for a living. They are good at critiquing the meal in front of them and describing the complexities of a dish and it’s ingredients.

Now that we are clear on that, let’s backtrack to the food bloggers on Instagram, as there is a big difference. Since when does having a Nikon or Canon in hand, a huge appetite, and a social media account, make you a “food reviewer”? You can be a personal food blogger which entails keeping a journal about the food you cook at home, what you enjoy eating, or about the restaurants you are visiting. As long as you know how to “write” about it well, then yes, it’s called blog because you are storytelling.  If you’re just posting appetizing photographs, and placing a rating of a restaurant with information on what you ate, this is NOT a food blog nor is it a food review, even if its coming from a good place within you because you love food. What are these people then? They don’t know how to write about what they are reviewing, yet they want to be perceived as experts on what they are eating and expect to be received this way in the eyes of the online public.

Ok, you enjoy food and are crazy about eating, so am I! You can definitely share your love for food however, please just don’t act like a “food connoisseur”. Mind you, thousands of people are following these guys and viewers actually take your word for it when you attempt to critique a restaurant like a judge on “The Next Big Chef”.  Why should I trust your restaurant review when you are working in a corporate office somewhere in the day and in the night, haunt for dining places to “review?”

Who is this stranger claiming to be a food blogger? What is the meaning of what you are sharing? And you have thousands of followers! This also goes to show that visuals alone SELL. Nowadays, thats the first thing that people care about when they order something, even myself. I always prefer menus with photos. But thats not the entire point!

Let me get to my second point now. These so-called “food bloggers” approach restaurants and even high-end ones from luxury hotels, asking to be invited to “review” the menu. They expect to come in free, and on top of that demand to get paid. When I worked at a certain company, I dealt with some of the food bloggers in Kuwait occasionally and some of them have an inflated ego with self-entitlement. They are actually asking to be paid for their “expertise”.  There was a particular, rather popular, Kuwaiti food blogger I dealt with who, on the first few invites, accepted to come and dine and not charge for his “services” as “a favor”. Please. After those first couple of times, he literally began to angrily request that we invite him to the more expensive restaurants and demanded to be paid. Seriously, who do you think you are? He actually made a big fuss about it! All he does is post a quality photo of the places he eats at, puts a restaurant bio, opening times, and a few words about what he ordered. Usually, we would do follow up calls as well to ask about the dining experiences, and he had the audacity to nitpick the dishes he ate like some kind of pro. If I didn’t like a dish, let’s say the meat was slightly undercooked or rubbery, of course I would point it if out as feedback to the restaurant too, as any customer would. But you are a “food blogger” with thousands of followers who is sharing your opinion like you have a license to be referred to as a food critic.

I have shared plenty of food reviews on my blog but I don’t call myself a food reviewer or blogger because I’m not. I’m simply sharing my opinion of an experience, just like with anything I liked or enjoyed. People like to read about opinionated pieces. But at what point does one demand to be paid to write just an opinion with no professional culinary background and expect to be credited as a food blogger? That’s the equivalent of a deaf person claiming to appreciate good music. You simply don’t know how to respect true gastronomy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you even knew how to cook, yet you tear down a restaurant with a single post or tweet criticizing a PROFESSIONAL CHEF! Next, you will go to a Michelin-starred restaurant or try a cuisine not native to you and nitpick what you ate there too without even understanding what you are eating for the first time, because you don’t have the experience nor gastronomic capacity to be a consultant on food. Actual food reviewers travel globally to experience a wide variety of flavors and cuisines. They have a scope to rely on which is called experience.

So many of Kuwait’s bloggers are also called “innovators”. Taking an already well-known Korean concept called a “Mukbang” to your country for instance, is not an innovation nor are you a trend setter. You are simply following an already existing trend which doesn’t make you a leader. It also doesn’t take much talent or innovation to chew and swallow a feast in front of the camera and broadcast it to people. Viewers enjoy that because it makes them hungry and it feeds their indulgences, I enjoy watching them myself! You just take a foreign idea from abroad, implement it at the right place and time, and voila! Maybe you are the first to introduce it where you live, but again, it’s an existing idea that you didn’t even re-introduce in any new way. And the same applies to pretty much every so-called idea. If you watch any travel channel with Travel & Food programs, you will notice that those hosting the shows are professional chefs and journalists whose main goal is to explore the local culture and it’s food, and ultimately they go back to their kitchen to implement what they’ve learnt from this experience while ALSO adding their own twist and character to the dish. They are experimenting with the original recipe, and using their knowledge to do so.

In my opinion, you would have more credit if you actually stuck to what you already know and what you are genuinely good at. Don’t be hungry for followers and money.  Either these huge number of followers are unaware and aloof of what they are seeing or they simply don’t care and have become numb to the legion of photos on Instagram. Again, I am referring mainly to Kuwait where I live, and this is what I’ve observed. It’s surprising as well, that with such a prominent food scene, the number of self-proclaimed food reviewers outweigh the quality ones (if there are any!). If you think of food blogging or food reviewing as just a fun and leisurely pursuit, I don’t agree with you. You are just a food enthusiast who loves to gobble up food and photograph it.

News flash! There is more to food blogging and reviewing than eating 🙂

 

Photo Diary Part 1: Wandering the corners of Kuwait’s Old Souk, Mubarakiya.

I’ve always loved strolling the streets of the old souk, especially in the early hours. No matter how many times I’ve been there, Mubarakiya always has interesting little corners and scenes to discover and capture every time. That’s what I love about it!

If you keep your eyes peeled and are mindful of the surroundings, you’d be surprised at how many details and moments are hidden in the everyday life of this souk.

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A shop selling cookware

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Coffee break in a shop selling Prayer Beads (Misbah).

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Mubarakiya’s signature mural gives it a youthful and modern touch in the midst of an old souk.

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Reflecting on something… in a perfume shop.

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Accessories for Prayer Beads

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The endless variety of Prayer Beads