January 18, 2016 - Phil Hodgen

From RUH, Terminal 1

Greetings from the Premier Lounge in Riyadh’s King Khaled International Airport, Terminal 1.

I’ve been up since 4:20 a.m. because inexplicably someone at the hotel decided to program a wake-up alarm into that little glowing box beside the bed. It is now closing in on midnight and we take off shortly before 1 a.m.

I know I’m not the only one who is exhausted. The guy behind me here in the lounge is snoring. 🙂

Lufthansa to Frankfurt, then Los Angeles. As soon as the flight takes off, my seat goes horizontal and I will go to sleep.

Many of Riyadh’s streets are torn asunder because of construction (they’re putting in an amazingly extensive metro system) and traffic is thus worse than normal. I stayed at the Al Faisaliah Hotel (under renovation; it is an extremely high quality hotel but the decor is dated).

My normal Starbucks is closed (to be expected — the street is blocked off with excavation for the metro). The Al Faisaliah Mall is in deep turmoil — the metro construction has clearly taken its toll, the lower level has been closed (metro construction, I’m sure) and many stores are closed, to be replaced with new tenants.

Business was done. It’s time to head home. And that makes me happy.

This is, by far, the most interesting trip I have made in terms of politics and economics. The Saudi stock market is down. Oil prices are down. Political factors are fluid. Today the Chinese President was in Riyadh, and there were a couple of diplomatic events at the Al Faisaliah Hotel.

And the uncertainty (let’s just put it that way) amongst many of the people I talked to was palpable. That they were willing to talk about it — even more interesting.

I listen to them. And as I do, I think of Marcus Aurelius, whose Meditations I read through on my Kindle, and when I am finished, I start again.

Consider the course of history. The Roman Empire. Emporers (like Marcus Aurelius) succeeding emporers, the Empire ever in flux. Consider the internal politics of this country. The external forces, economic and diplomatic. It is easy to become afraid, confused, timid.

And instead, I turn the conversation to their children or grandchildren. They beam with delight and pride. They ask about my wife and children. I beam with delight and pride. 🙂

We die. The people who remember us die. And the people who remember the people who remember us — they die too. Remember this.

Do what is right.

Interesting side note about citizenship-based taxation. I met a gentleman from Eritrea who has lived here in Saudi Arabia.

I had to ask. “Is it true that you pay tax to Eritrea on the money you make here in Saudi Arabia?”

It is true. He sends 2% tax to Eritrea.

He, on the other hand, was shocked that I, as a U.S. citizen, would be taxed by the USA if I lived outside the United States.

He completely understood why he needed to pay tax to his home country — to fund the ongoing war against Ethiopia. His brother has been in the Army for 20 years. Once you are in, you do not get out. That is why he is here — so he and his children would avoid the war and the Army.

But why would the USA want tax from its citizens outside the country?


I’m back in the office on Wednesday; expect me to be jetlagged and I will clear my inbox as fast as I can.

Obligatory Travel Tip: if you do any quantity of international travel, ditch your current mobile phone carrier and sign up with T-Mobile.

Free internet (slowish in some places, but . . . frrreeeeee and perfectly servicable), phone calls at 20 cents/minute, free texts. I no longer do the mandatory trip to buy a local SIM card.

I used to burn a couple of hours and $60 in the Mobily store every time I came here. No need now. T-Mobile and WhatsApp and I’m cooking.

Stay in touch.


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