Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Arrival at KAUST

The picturesque grand mosque
I am visiting King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or commonly known as KAUST for two months. It was kind of them to receive the students and visitors (not just the professors and leaders) at the airport. I had someone from KAUST waiting for me to direct me towards the immigration (not that I am new to immigration, and honestly I would have done that myself without help. But the kind gesture matters). Then he also leads me towards the taxi driver, who was holding my name "Welcome Mr. Pradeeban Kathiravelu" in a big piece of paper.

The taxi driver, authorized by KAUST (only authorized taxies can enter the KAUST compound), was from Uttar Pradesh (UP), India. He asked me "Hindi Malum?" (Do you speak Hindi?). I said, "No, in Sri Lanka, only Sinhala and Tamil." He is a Muslim. Very pleasant guy. He also had a Sri Lankan friend (a Muslim from Colombo), who is also a driver. He called him on his mobile, and we talked in Tamil!

Finally, arrived in KAUST, got the temporary visitor ID at the visitor office, and then we entered the compound. The taxi took me to the SGA office where I signed the accommodation contract and got the key to my apartment. It was a huge apartment - all for me. A large living room with a TV, big kitchen with stove, oven, microwave, and fridge, a small storeroom, a little enclosed space for washing machine and dryer, a WC - all on the ground floor, together with a large balcony that connects to the street. In the first floor, I have the master bedroom with a balcony, a study room, and a WC+bathroom. My bedroom has two beds, though the apartment is just for me.

Sorry female persons!
KAUST town has many apartments split into three basically. Male only apartments for single males and males who cannot or did not bring their wife/family, female only apartments for the females in the same situation, family apartments for those who came with their spouse or family. It was interesting. KAUST has a cinema (which shows movies for 5 SAR, which is around 1.13 Euro), some mosques (one is the biggest mosque), and one big supermarket (Tamimi) and another Tamimi close to the campus. There are a few restaurants. The campus canteen food is pretty nice, and I like it. The budget option is 15 SAR. It is pretty decent (the main dish, salad, soup, dessert, and a drink). The meal is available for lunch and dinner, all seven days a week. We work from the lab all seven days. The weekend here is Friday and Saturday. However, since we collaborate with EU mostly, we have to work on Fridays for the meetings. That leaves us with Saturdays as the only free day. However, since nothing much to do for me (not to mistake - there are many activities - just I am not so into them as I am busy with my research), I like working from the lab every day. Even my lab friends do the same! 

In average I spend 32.5 SAR per day. That is 7.34 Euro. 15 SAR goes for lunch (fixed expense as I have my lunch in the canteen every day), and the remaining for dinner, breakfast, and other variable costs (such as fruits, tooth paste, etc). Apartment and transportation are free! Right now, the weather here right now is enjoyable. Just like in Colombo or Maldives.  I heard that I am just lucky that I arrived when the weather is not too hot. We also went for bird watching, which was quite fun (I have seen all those birds in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. but the experience of bird watching by the mangroves of the Red Sea was quite fun).

Coming from Europe, there was of course a significant cultural shock. If I came from Sri Lanka directly, probably the cultural shock would be smaller. I could also write a weekly blog post on my stay here as each week I was experiencing something new. I had the same feeling when I came to Portugal in 2012, and I had a habit of weekly blog post. Afterwards, I moved to many countries - Sweden, Croatia, USA, and Belgium. However, there was not much difference. Coming back to Asia had a drastic change. I am actually missing the west (Europe and the USA). 11 days out of my 58 days-long stay have already passed! Time is passing quick. Though I can write more about my experiences, time is quite limited. I might recall and blog more on my experience in December once I have returned to the EU.

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