(Originally written Dec. 25, 2008)
Last Christmas (2007), found the family and I in the picturesque East Coast of Taiwan in a city/town called Hualien.
Hualien is the gateway to Taiwan’s version of the Grand Canyon, Taroko Gorge, an incredible geological formation.
We spent time visiting the gorge, then we ended up eating Christmas dinner at a very packed McDonald’s in town. Believe me, Eleanor still shudders to think that we ate a Christmas dinner at McDonald’s. But hey, our options were as limited as was our spoken Chinese. The night was getting late, the boys were getting hungry, and what kids don’t love chicken mcnuggets, salty French fries, a vanilla ice cream cone, and a indoor play area. The next day, we headed back home to Taipei were we rang in the New Year.
This year (2008), finds the family and I and friends in Nizwa, Oman. Nizwa is an hour and a half West of our new home Muscat. This year, we had good friends visiting for Christmas from Turkey and since we had yet to explore Oman, we decided to explore Oman with our friends Tim, Lizette, and their one year old daughter, Olivia. I usually take on the role of the family travel agent, but this year Eleanor took the reins on our Christmas excursions and I have been impressed by her work and research in preparation for our peregrinations. So, why Nizwa? It has a famous fort that repelled European invaders back in the day and they have a famous Friday market (Anybody wanna buy a goat?) that we have heard that one needs to experience. So, we had an uneventful drive from Muscat, which is a rarity because the driving in Oman is pretty bad.
We arrived at the hotel that was recommended by many people and Eleanor and I were underwhlemed to say the least. This “hotel” would be a motel in many other parts of the world and the frustrating thing about it and with lodging in Oman in general is that it is not cheap! Oman is trying to become a tourist destination and it is trying to cater to a well-heeled clientele (i.e. no backpackers) and the prices for accommodations reflect this. Also, we were traveling in the height of the tourist season and I think this particular establishment is the nicest “hotel” in Nizwa. Not many options in “The Niz.”
We checked in, then we went to the Nizwa Fort which was fine, nice way to spend a leisurely afternoon. The kids had a good time and that’s what it is all about.
After the fort, I got to thinking, so, where are we going to eat this Christmas? Just like in Hualien last Christmas, the day was turning into evening and the kids were getting hungry, as were the adults. I quickly made the executive decision that this year’s Christmas meal would go down at Pizza Hut. Why Pizza Hut? All the kids love pizza, it’s easy, close to the “hotel” and I’ve decided that we will establish a Christmas tradition by dining at global restaurant franchises that we would not normally select on a regular basis ;-). Next year, I’m thinking we will dine at either Burger King or KFC. Too bad there are no Red Lobsters overseas or Cracker Barrels. We usually try to support local establishments and local fare and there was this great shwarma stand, that was also BBQ’ing some very aromatic chicken that we passed en route to the Pizza Hut, but to the Pizza Hut it was. Pizza Hut was good and it may have been the nicest Pizza Hut I had ever been in. It was a great Christmas meal.
Bellies full, appetites sated, we returned to the “hotel” to find the “hotel” staff setting up for the Christmas Party in the courtyard. The stage, the band, speakers were being set up directly in front of our rooms. We all looked at one another with collective looks of, “Oh no!” I asked the manager, “How long will the party last,?” and he replied “Until midnight.” Eleanor gave me a look to say, “It’s all part of the adventure.” Tim just laughed. We all thought, “Good luck trying to get the kids to bed tonight.”
The band came onstage and it was a Filipino duo; man on keyboards and a female singer. Every song they played we heard pretty clearly through our plywood door and thin walls. Billy Ray Cyrus, Eddie Rabbit, and a lot of other older tunes. At one point, Evan looked at me and said, “Daddy, I want Back to Life.” It’s a Haynes Family favorite by Soul II Soul. I said, “That a boy, Evan!” Like I mentioned earlier, our room was directly behind the stage in plain view of the courtyard. So, anytime I ran out, which I had to do a few times, the entire Christmas crowd and it was a decent crowd, could look into our room. All of this just added to the adventure.
We finally got the kids to bed, but I doubt if they were sleeping. I’m in the lobby, which is a stone’s throw away from the activity and I must say the band is not bad. For a duo, they have a big sound and the guy has a good voice. He does a good job imitating the singers and songs he is trying to imitate. He played a long set of Dire Straits tunes that got the mostly older European patrons off their haunches and groovin’ and he sounded a lot like the lead singer of Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler. He also played Bob Marley and many other artists. But is was his rendition of Ricky “Livin’ La Vida Loca” Martin that got the parted started! That’s when the show starting getting off the hook! Then, with the crowd all hyped after Livin’ La Vida Loca, a Moroccan belly dancer appeared out of nowhere. As one can see, this was a truly international get down! The belly dancer was on stage gyrating to an intoxicating beat which found her shaking and shim, shim, shimmying! I could barely focus to write this because I was becoming so distracted by the scene around me. But, the piece de resistance to this international get down, was and I have found since living overseas no party/public gathering is complete unless The Eagles “Hotel California” is played. This settled down the crowd and slow dancing ensued.
Who knew that such a scene would go down at such a dump of a “hotel” Christmas Night in “The Niz!” It was definitely another different Christmas to remember. I wonder where the Haynes Family will be next year for Christmas?