During my recent survey, I visited the Avenue Mall in Manama, a seafront mall stretching for 1.5 km. It reminded me of the Avenue Mall in Kuwait because it provides an outdoor feeling with large glass windows and skylights, while protecting shoppers from the burning sun. As anyone that’s traveled to Bahrain knows, the country is a popular destination for residents of Saudi Arabia seeking recreation and malls are one of the top attractions. Numerous expatriates and Saudi Arabians visit Bahrain for the shopping, movies, restaurants, waterparks, and other activities.
Having worked as a surveyor for AIRINC, I can tell you it is one of the most unique and fascinating jobs in the world. On the surface, this is the dream job for anyone that thrives on challenging global travel – the kind that takes grit and determination to grind through as you move on a seemingly daily basis. Instead of touring from site to site though, you move from store to store and source to source, collecting data to populate a market basket of goods, services, housing, and hardship data.
On my last survey, a five-week trip across Africa, I visited Lagos, Nigeria and Cairo, Egypt, two of the most notorious traffic destinations in the world. These locations lived up to their hype, and I spent a lot of time sitting in traffic. However, I was surprised to find that Nairobi, Kenya’s traffic was almost as bad despite lacking the same level of notoriety. Nairobi’s three main issues are a shortage of stop signs and traffic lights at intersections, poor road quality, and incredible amounts of construction that disrupt traffic routes.
During my recent survey, I visited two small cities in Kazakhstan near the Caspian Sea. Oil is the main industry in this region, and these cities are no exception. The first of these cities I visited was Aktau, which directly overlooks the Caspian Sea. The city was originally built as an oil camp decades ago, and even now the city feels rural. The air in the city is dry and roads are not particularly walkable.
During my survey of Bangkok, I found the multiple transportation systems available for use extremely helpful, especially in comparison to other Southeast Asian cities. In Yangon, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City, I was entirely dependent on taxis and rideshare apps, as there are no functioning rail systems, the buses are difficult for foreigners to use, and the cities are not particularly pedestrian friendly. Conversely, in Bangkok, I used a much more balanced mix of rideshare, metro (MRT), Skytrain (BTS), and walking.
During my recent survey, I visited a number of cities in Kazakhstan, including Almaty, the country’s largest city and former capital, and Nur-Sultan, the capital since 1997 and known as Astana until March 2019. Nur-Sultan was a city planned under the direction of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev and was once called “the space station in the steppes” by the Guardian newspaper.
Despite the availability of options, public transportation in Casablanca feels prohibitive. The bus system is not really an option for expats or visitors as the vehicles are old and falling apart. The tram is modern, but stops are limited, and it doesn’t connect with major malls, hotels, or restaurants.
In Cairo, expatriates typically use a driver rather than relying on public transportation options. During my August survey I found that, even though taxis have meters, drivers are frustratingly unwilling to use them when driving expats.
Language barriers are common on survey, but each year technology makes it easier to get around and collect cost of living survey information. While in Bratislava during my recent survey, I arrived at a transport ticket counter to find that none of the staff were able to speak English, but this wasn’t as much of an inconvenience as it would have been a few years ago.
I recently surveyed Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, a city in the far east Russia, for the third time. Given the city’s size, it is easy to notice any changes. Sakhalin Island is developing in accordance with the government’s plan to promote tourism, which would also increase recreation options for expatriates.