Monday, March 15, 2010

Act III: Damascus

Before I continue writing about my travels, I have a message for all of you reading my blog: Chinese people are friendly, and would love to welcome you to their country. Haha, this message comes from my students. Each week in my writing class I have them do a free-writing on a random topic. Last week I asked them what story about China they would tell the world if they were an international reporter. I received lots of different responses, but the most common was some way of conveying that China and Chinese people are friendly and would love to be your friend. From my experience, this is quite true. Although, as I will soon explain, Syrians certainly give them a run for their money in the "friendliest people" competition.

Last I wrote of my travels, I shared some of my experiences in Beirut with Tyler. About 5 days into my time in Beirut, he finished his exams so we went to visit his friends in Syria. Tyler studied in Damascus for about 8 months, so he has good friends there that he visits often. This was when I discovered "Syria fun!", as his friends liked to say. There were varying degrees of English skill among his friends - I didn't speak a word of Arabic - so communication was difficult but amusing.

We did a lot of walking around Damascus, ate the most life-changingly delicious falafel (whose very existence, in my opinion, leaves no excuse not to be a vegetarian. You can, in fact, give up meat and still eat well,) and, well, ate some more. There is something very important you should know about Arab hospitality: it's marvelous. And not only that, but it involves feeding one's guests. A lot. I very much liked this brand of hospitality...

We did do some sight-seeing though, including the famous Umayyad Mosque. It's one of the holiest mosques in Islam, and it (supposedly) contains the head of John the Baptist. The mosque was beautiful, with amazing gold mosaics.

Also, as you can see in the pictures below, the floor is made of smooth marble. Lots of children played in the courtyard, sliding around on their socks. It made for good people watching.

We also went to a mountain overlooking Damascus to see the city lit up at night (where the fuzzy picture at the beginning comes from.) Tyler's friends, being the exceedingly friendly and hospitable people they are, insisted on driving us around to see various sights around Damascus and Syria. I'll share some more of those adventures soon.

I also got to couchsurf again! I can't say enough positive things about couchsurfing. Check it out!

Conclusion: Ignore the hoopla about "rogue states" and go visit Syria: home of fantastic falafel and the friendliest people on the planet. (Don't tell the Chinese.)

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