Tel Aviv, May 2008

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Machine guns dangle at their hips. Almost every girl and boy in Israel joins the army for a year or two, right after high school, working for room & board and about $100/month spending money. Some get exemptions for religious reasons. Soldiers and semi-military security guards and police are everywhere, relaxed with their machine guns and pistols and batons. Checking your backpack before you enter the bar, checking the trunk of your taxi before you enter IAI’s company compound or pass a highway checkpoint, they’re friendly but very serious. Just off duty, soldiers wander through the mall, some with cellphones, some still carrying their machine gun.

The beach is the most fun I’ve ever seen. Thousands of colourful lounge chairs and beach umbrellas along kilometres of beach, at the edge of the city. Beach volleyball nets are every 100 metres. Just a broad curving promenade separates the beach from the busy streets. Skyscrapers and chain hotels dot the city, with construction cranes and tenements between. On the seaside, cafés dot the beach. Today I ate my lunch with my bare feet in the sand, a big beach umbrella over my head, a beer in my hand, and a terrific Thai chicken salad on my table. Gorgeous girls in bikinis walked by every few minutes. I often say less than 15% of women are beautiful to me (as an engineer, I’ve actually counted!), but on the Tel Aviv beach, the statistic almost doubles.

Kevin and I power-walked to dinner in Jaffa the other night, 45 minutes of beachfront as the sun dipped into the Mediterranean. Over the kilometres, the happy middle class Jew gave way to the poor Arab, the streets got dirtier, the fashion less polished. There are gentrified neighbourhoods there, a tourist draw on the fortified old British port, but a world away from the happy-go-lucky beach a couple kilometres away. But the food! A simple place with an Arabic name, nearly wordless service, and ridiculously low prices, gave me the best meal I’ve had since leaving home. Arab-style salad came as a plate of humus in the middle, and a dozen little plates of delectable salads around it, with naan-like bread so delicious you can forget to eat the other food. A dozen tiny salads, some spicy, some sweet, all wonderfully fresh and piquant. The waiter tried to push back on a 20-shekel tip as too much, wanting only 10.

As we power-walked back along the beach again, I noticed the humidity. Like Avi at IAI explained, the summer temperatures here are only a few degrees above today’s 30, but the humidity rises 20% and that’s what makes you suffer. Me, I’m thinking the air conditioning and the ocean to swim in make humidity a non-problem… and I’m reminded how lucky I am to have this office job. In the past year, I’ve stayed in London England, Puerto Vallarta Mexico, Tel Aviv Israel, Seoul Korea, and scattered bits of China. Wow!

The Israelis work so hard. No wonder they’ve built this middle class paradise out of a hostile desert in 60 years. Our friends at IAI come to work around 7 or 8am, and most of them are still there when I usually leave around 6pm. They work those hours 5 or 6 days a week, steady. Sure, the production labourers leave on the 200 company buses after a normal shift at 4:15pm, but the parking lot’s full of cars at 8pm.