Sunday, 11 June 2017

Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain

I really enjoyed reading this book the last couple of months and I can easily see it being in the top-10 favourite non-fiction books list of every "quiet" person that comes across it. It is for me. Definitely one of the best popular psychology books that I've read and will probably ever read. The author does a good job discussing concepts like assertiveness, certainty, charisma, charm, confidence, introversion, sensitivity, seriousness, shyness, sociability and verbal fluency in an understandable, relatable and not overly academic manner. If you haven't already, it's worth listening to the one of the author's talks at TED (20 minutes) or Google (40 minutes) before getting the book.

In closing, below are some of my favourite quotes from the book:
"As with other complimentary pairings – masculinity and femininity, East and West, liberal and conservative – humanity would be unrecognisable, and vastly diminished, without both personality styles [introversion/extroversion]."
"Introversion – along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness and shyness – is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man's world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we've turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform."
"Nor are introverts necessarily shy. Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating."
"The pressure to entertain, to sell ourselves, and never to be visibly anxious keeps ratcheting up."
"We fail to realise that participating in an online working group is a form of solitude all its own. Instead we assume that the success of online collaborations will be replicated in the face-to-face world."
"So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don't let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don't force yourself to seek breadth." 
"Probably the most common – and damaging – misunderstanding about personality type is that introverts are antisocial and extroverts are pro-social. But as we've seen, neither formulation is correct; introverts and extroverts are differently social."

Friday, 9 June 2017

Trip to Makkah and Madinah in the first ten days of Ramadhan

Went with the wife to Makkah and Madinah for the first 10 days of Ramadhan. We stayed in Makkah for the first 4.5 days (5 nights) at the Elaf Al Mashaer Hotel and then in Madinah for the second 4.5 days (4 nights) at the Rove Al Madinah Hotel. Both hotels we booked ourselves via the website. We flew via Saudi Airlines which we also booked ourselves direct from the website. Car transfers we arranged with a Pakistani (not Arab thank God!) company called Al-Falah Transport Services (contact details in the comments) which was on point: good prices, good communication and good service overall. The visas we arranged with a London based company called Hassan Hajj Tours. Overall the total cost of the trip for two persons not incluing clothes and dates shopping was £3300 (accommodation [£1500], flights [£1100], visas [£300], transfers [£200], food [£200]).


In Makkah because of the heat and the crowds it's not so easy going back and forth between the Mosque and the hotel for each Salah. Thus the routine that we gravitated towards over the course of our stay was as follows:
  • Fajr (4am) – we would go to the Mosque half an hour before the Adhan, pray and then make our way back to the hotel half an hour after Salah.
  • Between Fajr and Dhuhr – this is when we would get our longest stretch of sleep.
  • Dhuhr (12:30pm) and Asr (3:30pm) – we would make our way to the Mosque half an hour before Dhuhr, pray Dhuhr, hang around until Asr, pray Asr and then make our way back to the hotel half an hour after Salah.
  • Between Asr and Maghrib – we would get some rest at the hotel, freshen up and pack our Iftaar snacks.
  • Maghrib (7pm) – we would get to the Mosque (sometimes inside and sometimes outside) a few minutes before the Adhan and break our fast with dates, yoghurt drink and whatever other little goodies we had with us (croissants, Loacker wafers etc).
  • Between Maghrib and Eisha – we would get in a Tawaf on the first floor. Sometimes we would do the first few circuits on the ground floor and then head up to the first floor when it got too busy and congested.
  • Eisha (9pm) and Tarawih (9:30pm) – we would finish Tawaf before the Adhan, continue half a circuit more to the opposite side of the Mosque and then find a good spot to pray on the mats.
  • Between Tarawih and Fajr – we would go to the third and fourth floors of the Clock Tower building to get some dinner and to purchase some snacks from Abraaj Hypermarket for the next day's Iftaar, then proceed to our hotel to do our social media browsing for the day and then on to the hotel's dining area for some pre-Fajr breakfast.


In Madinah it wasn't as strenuous as it was in Makkah to go back and forth between the hotel and the Mosque and so we tended to come and go between each Salah. Restaurants and takeaways close to the Mosque are in very short supply so we highly recommend arranging breakfast and dinner at your hotel if this is an option. Lastly, for clothes (Jubbas, Jilbabs etc) and dates shopping, Taibah Commercial Center outside the Mosque has plenty of options. You don't need to go anywhere else. There's a Bin Dawood supermarket in here also for you to stock up on snacks and fruits.

Horrible experience flying Saudi Airlines

I flew back from Medinah to London Heathrow airport last Sunday night via Jeddah. The experience was a nightmare to say the least! It was an experience closer to being prodded along by prison guards than being helped along by commercial airline staff.

First: the Saudi Airlines staff at the check-in counter at Medinah airport were horrible. Best way to describe them? Rude, arrogant, snotty. Very similar to the Jeddah airport staff if you've ever experienced that! They would not answer any questions asked of them and instead were more interested in the conversations they were having on their phones. They would operate at a snail's pace but when they were ready to do some work they would wave with their hands and yell "Yallah! Yallah! Hurry up!" On top of that they didn't have the courtesy to notify passengers checking in that our flights had been delayed by half an hour. Absolutely ridiculous.

Second: when it was time to board the plane, the Saudi Airlines staff were again operating at a snail's pace letting through maybe one or two persons every minute. Probably busy again talking to each other rather than doing some work! I was at the back of the line so couldn't tell. When they realised they had 75% of the plane still to board and now very little time to do it in they started ushering everybody on board with very little checking. They were so panicked at this point I saw them physically pushing an old Bangladeshi lady just because she took a second too long to kneel down and pick up her bag. Of course they would not push a Saudi or Western national like this. Absolutely ridiculous.

Third: when we arrived at Jeddah airport for the transfer, it was only by chance that a fellow passenger informed me and my wife that we might have to pick up our baggage and re-check it in. It didn't occur to a single member of the Saudi Airlines staff to inform us of this. When transferring between flights with any other airlines at most other airports this is handled automatically by the airline. It's fine that we had to do it ourself. That's not the biggest problem. What really irritates me is that it did not occur to a single member of the Saudi Airlines staff to inform passengers about this. All of the other passengers who were transferring got a huge shock when word spread that we had to collect and re-check in our bags. It was pure luck that we didn't all proceed to the second flight without collecting our bags.

Once we got onto the plane for the Jeddah to London flight we were bemused to be met with smiles by the on-board staff. It had been a good few hours during which the only emotions we had received from Saudi Airlines staff were sarcasm and disinterest. The ground staff really need to go through the same training as the on-board staff.

All in all: a nightmare experience! It's very unlikely I will be flying with Saudi Airlines again any time soon and definitely in my opinion worth paying a bit more money and flying with a carrier that takes customer service a little more seriously.