Saudi Arabia is undergoing a mind-boggling transformation.
“It has made the impossible possible,” said 62-year-old Robert G. Fernandez , an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) currently on vacation in the Philippines after being away for seven years.
It was in 2015, he said, when he last came home for a vacation because he was busy with his responsibilities as quality control manager at the Al Babtain Contracting, which is part of the giant Al Babtain Group.
“I travel all over the Kingdom in connection with my work,” he said. If not traveling by plane, he drives his company-provided car, a Toyota Fortuner.
In a recent reunion-meeting at the Peers & Beers Kitchen N Resto Bar on Quezon City’s Morato Ave., which looked a little like Riyadh’s Thalia Street, Robert described the transformations taking place in Riyadh.
He said the old Riyadh air base, the Riyadh International Airport from 1946 to 1983, had completely been transformed.
“It has been converted into the King Salman Park, which boasts of a neatly manicured 18-hole golf course,” he said.
“Riyadh’s golf enthusiasts, the Saudi capital’s elite golfers, flock there on weekends or whenever they have the time for a round or two,” he said.
He added that recreational facilities and amenities of modern living had also been made available.
This development has made Riyadh old-timers look into the distance with awe, if not wonderment as they think of the air base’s storied past.
For many years, it was the Saudi capital’s only air base. During the Gulf War (1990-1991), a Scud missile fired by Iraqi troops fell inside the base.
The base was also the venue of the nightly press conferences on the war held by then Brig. General Ahmed Assiri to explain the Kingdom’s side on the Saudi-led attacks against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Fernandez also shared that the Riyadh Metro had started operations with the bus service now open to passengers.
The Riyadh Metro, also called King Abdulaziz Public Transport Project, cost US$22.5 billion.
A portion of Exit 2, which used to be a forbidding desert on both sides, has become a throbbing business center.
“About a kilometer on both sides of the road going to the new airport, or King Khaled International Airport (KKIA), is now a business center pulsating with life,” he said.
The place boasts of various business establishments and outlets dealing in high-end products.
Exit 4 has also undergone changes and is now called The Riyadh Boulevard.
“By the looks of it, it’s going the way of New York. It conjures up images of developments that have taken place in the world’s premier capital cities,” he said.
Residents and visitors go there for the sheer beauty of the place and the excitement.
The reunion-meeting at the posh watering hole owned and managed by retired OFWs Johnny and Maureen Monje was attended by Jun L. Nacion, a prominent but silent community leader in Riyadh.
Noel Santos, also a retired OFW but active community leader, was there with Mike Pera, another former community leader in Riyadh, and friends.