Why Did The UN, Canadian and French Embassies Know About The Explosion But Not Us Lebanese?

News of an explosion in the Verdun area of Beirut is currently the most horrifying thing to happen in Lebanon in a long time.

The positive aspect of things is that the damage seems to be only material with BLOM’s HQ being the apparent target. As of now, there are no casualties. The attack happening around Iftar time means that few people were around the area as well.

At a time when some entities want this to become a reality for us in Lebanon, no casualties is a sigh of relief.

One has to wonder though, how did the UN, Canadian and French embassies know that such a thing would happen over the weekend and we, as Lebanese, had no inkling or warning whatsoever?

The pictures at the top of the article are two statements issued by the UN and the Canadian authorities respectively to their constituents to avoid the specific area of Beirut that was targeted, and Hamra in general.

Two days ago, the French Foreign Affairs ministry escalated Lebanon’s security status and warned its citizens from visiting the country.

The above also applies to the instructions workers at international NGOs operating in the country received this weekend.

The question therefore begets itself: where was our entire security apparatus from all of this? Why is our worth as Lebanese always less than every single other nationality in our own country? If international agencies and foreign countries had suspicions that such a thing could happen, were our security forces not aware or were they not in the loop to begin with?

No casualties is no excuse for us to let such a thing pass by unnoticed. It is our right as Lebanese to live in our country with the utmost levels of security, not to be second class entities in our own land and in our own homes.

Right now is not the time to discuss the politics of such an attack and whether it occurring is obvious or not, or whether the context of such an attack and the bank it targets points fingers. Right now is the time to hope that no innocent life has been lost in this country for being at the wrong place at the wrong time once again, for us being perpetual victims of our existence in this land.

Stay safe everyone.

 

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Lebanon’s Cheesecake Factory Was Very Bad

chesecake-logo

My attempts at trying the Cheesecake Factory go back to when I was in the U.S. a few months ago and couldn’t manage to find a table back then. I stood around, watching as servers shuffled around seemingly endless tables, carrying plates with enormous food portions. The cheesecake fridge looked great, but that was the extent of my experience at the time in early April.

Fast forward around 8 months, and the renowned American chain has recently opened up in Lebanon, in its continuing development in the Middle East, after opening up several branches in GCC countries.

Lebanon’s Cheesecake Factory is super busy. Wait times so far, even a week later, are still in the one hour range. They could rise even more. The hostesses were boasting yesterday, as they informed us we were lucky enough to only have to face a 20 minutes delay, that earlier that day some people had to wait three hours.

I have no idea why anyone would want to wait anyone for anything food related, and I’m really thankful I only had to wait 20 minutes to get my “Cheesecake Factory Experience, Lebanon style” because that was the maximum extent of my time – or anyone’s time – that such an experience deserves.

Me No Speak Arabic:

 

When your wait time is done and your buzzer vibrates for salvation, you get a very cheerful hostess – American style – take you to your seat. She gives you the menus, informs you in English that servers will be with you shortly and disappears.

So far so good. At that point, her English doesn’t feel out of place even though you’ve used only Arabic to communicate with all the employees, but no matter.

The server shows up. You ask them in Arabic about their recommendation, because the menu is barely readable with the super dim lighting in the place. They reply in English, sometimes borderline incomprehensible, but you try to maintain the conversation anyway. After taking your order, all forms of interactions with the server occur in English. That is you talk to them in Arabic and they reply in English.

When asked why they kept talking to me in English, their reply was that: this was the store’s policy. As I asked the manager about this, because it gets super annoying, and he said that the American head company has such a stipulation as a requirement to give customers the “American” experience.

Except we’re not American – sadly (unless the experience comes with a free passport) – and while many of us are bi or trilingual, there is absolutely no need to use any other language than my native tongue at a restaurant in my home country unless I wish to do so, and in most cases I do not, and I sure as hell did not want to feel like I was being rendered stupid by talking Lebanese to a server and being replied to in English, à la “get your language up to standards, sir.”

Perhaps this rule works best in GCC countries where most of the Factor’s customers are not native Arabic-speakers, but they desperately need to re-check this policy over here.

Overwhelmed Staff & Subpar Service:

Lebanon’s Cheesecake Factory boasts, according to the manager, more than 96 servers at an average of around 2 tables per server. You’d think with such a low ratio of tables to servers, you’d get excellent service.

It’s far from the case.

The huge number of servers leads to total chaos across the entire restaurant. You get to a point where you don’t know who you’re supposed to talk to in order to communicate a request or a complaint.

The level of the staff being overwhelmed is so high that there were serious shortcomings across the board. I’m not the only one who suffered from this, as several of my colleagues and friends also noted on their visits earlier in the week.

Perhaps it’s opening-week-jitters, but with the presence of staff from already-established Cheesecake Factory outlets to help in the launching phase, I don’t know how much of the service’s shortcomings can be attributed to nervousness.

Maybe it’s the language requirement?

Besides, the service is definitely not as “American” as you’d think it is. We got an aluminum foil piece in the item we ordered and no one reacted until, before paying the bill, we requested to see the manager to inform him about how horrible the experience was and about how we would most likely not visit again, not that they need our business anyway.

The Food Is Overpriced, But The Cakes Are Great:

I don’t know about the bloggers who were invited there for the opening, but if you go there as a normal civilian, you are looking at a bill that is above and beyond anything you’d pay at any other similar Lebanese restaurant, even if it’s American in origin.

In deciding what I wanted to order, I googled the best items of the Factory and found a bunch of results that agreed on a couple of chicken-based dishes, which I ended up ordering. While they food was good enough, it was definitely not worth the $24 price per dish that we paid.

The food is also extremely fatty. Even the “skinnilicious” menu is not that “light.” I’m still stuffed more than 15 hours later, and we were sharing.

The saving grace, however, is that the cheesecakes are great. Seriously. I really hope they offer a way for people just to buy pieces of the cakes without queuing. We ordered a couple different kinds and the “Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake” is God-send. Absolutely great.

Stay Away For Now:

My advice to you, dear reader, is to resist the urge and steer clear of that place until either the mania dies down, or the staff becomes better trained, or they become more accustomed to the Lebanese market and adapt accordingly.

Until then, I have to say I was severely disappointed and would not recommend this place to anyone who’d listen.

It’s nice for the country to bring business in, but I refuse to be taken for granted as a Lebanese customer who can’t wait to set foot in any given franchise, which is sad really because I honestly had high hopes.

 

Lebanon’s Mall Centralization

With the news that ABC is opening another mall in Beirut, set for a 2017 opening, it dawned on me: bureaucracy isn’t the only thing that’s centralized in Lebanon. Malls have their own centralization as well: I will call it Mall Centralization: Al Markaziye Al Malliyé.

Prior to ABC’s grand Verdun-related unveiling, CinemaCity had announced that they will be bringing their cinema experience to Beirut Souks, a souk-mall hybrid that we are all familiar with.
With that, let’s look at the total tally of malls and cinemas in Beirut and immediately around it:
– LeMall in Dbayyeh
– ABC Dbayyeh, less than 200 meters from LeMall
– CityMall, a few kilometers from ABC Dbayyeh
– ABC Achrafieh, a few kilometers from CityMall
– LeMall, Sin el Fil, a few kilometers from ABC Achrafieh
– Beirut Souks, a few kilometers from ABC Achrafieh
– ABC Verdun, a few kilometers from both Beirut Souks and ABC Achrafieh.

All of the above malls have (or will have) multiplex cinemas in them as well.

Which other Lebanese cities have malls other than Beirut? I can think of Saida and that’s mainly because it’s Mr. Hariri’s hometown. If you go North from Beirut, you will find no malls and no cinemas until Las Salinas in the North and City Complex in Tripoli, both cinemas only with the latter having a few stores here and there and both of which are nowhere near decent enough to show movies.

Tripoli is Lebanon’s second biggest city and hasn’t had any major construction projects that found their way to completion even during the periods when the city didn’t experience the clashes that take place today.

And let’s assume Tripoli is a big no-no for political reasons, despite that being downright despicable, what’s wrong in having similar development in Batroun or Jbeil? You know, something to serve those who don’t want to drive an hour in order to watch a movie to buy a shirt.

So while places like Beirut Souks ruin the idea of an old fashioned Souk and while places like ABC Achrafieh overcrowd neighborhoods that are already beyond crowded with cars and traffic, someone saw it fit to add another mall in an empty space in Beirut. Because the city absolutely needed one.

I won’t go into how malls affect negatively smaller retailers that create bustling streets and bring life to some aspects of urban life in Beirut. A metropolitan place like Beirut should have malls and such projects, there’s no denying that.

But the question is the following: What’s Lebanon’s Mall Centralization limit?

I say it’s until every single empty space in Beirut runs out.

Other places in the country don’t (and won’t have) have similar developmental projects hat would bring jobs and some economic life to arguably an entire region.

Flipping the coin of Lebanon’s mall centralization, and in broader terms the centralization of capital, economy and development, is rise in poverty and consequently extremism. But there’s no point in caring – Beirut is getting a new mall soon. The other twenty right next to it were not enough.

Dear Roadster Diner,


I love you. I really do.

Out of all Lebanese restaurants, you might be my second favorite. A close second at that. Sorry, but nothing can top Batroun’s Pizza Royal (and they don’t make my wallet go drastically thinner too).

My relationship with you can be abusive sometimes, mostly from your part both to my wallet and my cholesterol levels. And despite that, I keep going back.

But this is not about me loving you. It’s about you not loving me as much. You see, you, as a franchise, can be categorized as somewhat xenophobic (Dubai doesn’t count). How so? Have you looked at how your branches are spread out across Lebanon?

Take Beirut as the center. Your branches are located all around Beirut. The furthest one to the North is in Kaslik and the furthest one to the south is in Verdun. So say I’m spending summer in my hometown in the North, I cannot eat your Diner Mite 220 unless I go all the way to Kaslik, where I have to wait for ten or more minutes so I can be seated in the non-smoking section. And during summer, the City Mall branch has waiting times that can go to about 30 minutes. To say business is overflowing would be an understatement, right?

So why don’t you invest in spreading out more to the North and further to the South? I’m not saying go all the way to Akkar or the Southern border but you know, Batroun or Saida would be a good stopping place, no? I’d even take Jbeil if Batroun is too far for you.

You see, your rival Crepaway is already spreading out way more than you do. Their Batroun branch has been doing quite well for a few years now and they’re opening up a new branch in Jbeil. I don’t like Crepaway as much as I like you but they’re more accessible, and therefore, more prominent in the Lebanese scene. Look at it this way: more people would readily go to the more available place, right?

The new branches don’t need to be a full blown architectural design like the new Batroun McDonald’s. They can be a small place enough to keep business in the positive range in small Northern cities and enough to satisfy the appetites of your customers whose lives do not revolve around the Lebanese capital.

Sincerely,

A hungry Lebanese citizen.