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So I just got back from a long walk in the chilly air on Mount Scopus, and had an interesting evening spent at the Central Bus Station/Mall combination in the middle of the city.

Jumping on the 26 bus outside the Kvar haStudentim (Student Village where the majority of abroad students are housed), my friend Zev and I took the ride down to the Central Bus Station in order to see what it was like. As the name suggests, one can take a bus from there to many, many places in Israel (not just Jerusalem). Arriving, we went through the requisite security precautions and got inside. The first thing we noticed is that compared to the mall we were bussed to by Hebrew University, this one was much, much smaller and far busier as well. It was a fairly standard mall, similar to many at home in the US, albeit with loads of Hebrew/English mixed store names and so forth.

The other huge difference with malls at home was the slew of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers roaming through the place, all with large rucksacks and backpacks on them. The part that was odd is that they seemed to all be on leave, for the evening or perhaps for the weekend: they were all purchasing whatever interested them, and not particularly businesslike about their time. The two details at odd with that background story are that 1) they were all in full uniform, including berets; and 2) they all had compact M16 machine guns slung from their shoulders. Apparently, soldiers on leave in Israel are still partially “on the clock” if you will, as they stay both uniformed and armed at all times. No one else found this odd, of course: since every citizen of the country is required to serve in the military, they are used to such sights.

Zev has some Israeli friends, one of whom gave him a Playstation 2 for the semester so he and I were looking into purchasing games for it. Whereas there is a Nintendo America, Nintendo Japan, and Nintendo Europe, there is no such division for the Middle East or Israel. Similarly, Sony doesn’t have such a component for cheaply distributing their products into Israel. Therefore, PS2 games were retailing for NIS 424, which is approximately USD $105 (which is insane). This is due to the retailer paying the cost of the game plus the international shipping fees plus the customs duties of the state of Israel (which are quite high, as it were). Another peculiar (and somewhat unexpected) way that the world works in Israel.

Finally, my experiences almost everywhere have not really shown me any sense of a world recession. Mind you, I have never before been here, it still seems that almost every store I go into, whether retail or restaurant, it is nearly full. The one set of exceptions to this rule comes from the Old City. Due to both tighter spending around the world and (somewhat accurate, somewhat misplaced) fears of terrorism and echoes of the second intifada, very few Christians make the trip into the Holy Land any more, and so the plethora of shops in the Old City filled to the roof with Christian paraphernalia and artwork and the like simply do much, much less business than they would otherwise. It is somewhat sad, to see the ecstatic looks on some Old City shop owners’ faces when I have gone into their store, only to become glum again after I only look and then leave without making a purchase 😦

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