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Monday, December 28, 2009

Avatar


First of all, without giving away any of the plot, if you haven't already seen it, you should see the movie Avatar and you should see it in a theater with the new 3D technology. Otherwise you might as well wait for it on DVD. Don't worry, this entry isn't going to be a movie review. I just felt it was really cool to be in a theater full of people and to feel the energy of excitement with this new added sensation to the movie going experience was unveiled. I haven't been this impressed since I heard the digital audio of Jurassic Park for the first time or witnessing the special effects of The Matrix. Now that these things have been done to death in every other movie, it's not as cool, but it's fun to see something when it first comes out.

Enough about the actual movie. I had plans to see it on Saturday, but it was sold out. We had to buy tickets for today's (Monday's) showing. The theater was packed. I realize that this is a big movie, but I can't remember a movie that I've seen in the past five years in Japan in which more than a third of the theater was filled. Even for big movies on opening weekend. Avatar has been out for over a week and you still have to buy tickets in advance. I'm not sure if it's a reflection on the movie-going audience here or if it's a reflection on Avatar.

I'm guessing that the movie sensors here had a bit of a dilemma. I've only seen three other films here (Japanese animated film "Ponyo," Japanese dolphin killing movie "The Cove," and Michael Moore documentary "Capitalism: A Love Story") none of which had a many love scenes. (Don't be fooled by the title of the Michael Moore film!) Therefore, I've had to take people's word for it when I hear that movies here get butchered. Any scene with kissing, affection or more sensitive scenes get taken out along with any kind of nudity. According to IMDB, Avatar was given a PG-13 rating for "for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking." The warfare and smoking would pose no problem and probably the language wouldn't be an issue. I'm surprised that the sensuality and the blue, 3-meter-tall alien boobies made it through. They aren't prominent, but I'm willing to bet that if the actors were wearing the exact same costumes without the blue make-up it wouldn't have gotten through. Then again, I haven't seen the movie outside the U.A.E. so maybe some of it did get cut.

While I did enjoy the film as a whole, I had one major annoyance. There were no English subtitles for when the aliens were speaking. I understand that I live in a country in which the predominant language is not English. I could kind of accept it in Japan where less than 0.2% of the population was a native speaker of English but here 80% of the population is foreign. Of that 80%, most don't speak Arabic and most speak English as a second language at least. I'm guessing not many speak the blue alien language, either.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas

Normally, I would have to work on Christmas. This is a fact that I've gotten used to with living in non-Christian countries over the past 13 years. This year, Christmas fell on a Friday which is the weekend here. For the first time since my kids were old enough to have a concept of Christmas, I could spend Christmas morning with them. So naturally, I planned a bike ride with one of my friends. That didn't go over very well with my wife so that got canceled.

For the most part, we had a relaxing day with the kids. We let them ride their new bikes along the walkway near the beach. It was the first time that I've experienced warm weather on Christmas apart from one year when I was a kid and it was 60 degrees and my mom wouldn't let me wear shorts. I wished I'd have worn shorts this year because I was a little warm walking in the sun.

We eventually ended up at another really big park near our apartment. I've seen it a little, but it's on the other side of a hill on a busy street so I never really had the chance to go there. It was a pretty sizable park with a whole bunch of different playground equipment and now that we know where it is, we have a new place to take the kids.

For those of you who are wondering, Christmas is widely celebrated here. While shopping malls don't seem to decorate as much as in Japan, it is easier to actually buy decorations and other Christmas stuff. Also, the city left up the white, red and green (the U.A.E. national colors) lights from National Day earlier this month so it actually looks a bit a bit Christmas-like. There is some speculation as to whether that's done on purpose, but I like to think that it is. Even though most of the locals don't celebrate Christmas, they respect and understand those who do. I also like that unlike in Japan, they don't try and make co-opt it into the culture without really understanding it. Instead, they make the decorations available, step back and let people do what they will.

Merry Christmas everybody.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Security

On Wednesday, McDonald's took me down again. This time I tried the Chicken Big Mac set but I didn't eat all of my fries. I blame my students coming into the classroom with the McDonald's smell for putting the idea in my head. Also, back when I was on a strictly Subway diet, I never went to the back part of the cafeteria where McDonald's is. That new restaurant that I like is just too close.

Over the past few days, we've had the access to our desks restricted. Whereas usually there is one main door and two side doors, the side doors have been locked. There is now a security guard guarding the main door and he has to press a button to open the sliding doors for anyone who enters. As a staff member, I just have to smile and wave and he opens it right up. Students either have to have an appointment written down on a list or have to know their teacher's extension so the security guard can call them and verify that they are going to see them. The reason? Exam time! Yes, that's right. The school distrusts our students to the point where they will restrict access to the teachers' desks to keep exams from being stolen or compromised somehow.

I would have to say that this is justified, too. Say what you want about Japanese students versus Emirati students. The students here are way better at cheating than Japanese students. When I was teaching in Japan, I would leave the weekly quizzes in my bag at the front of the room and go out to talk to other teachers. I would have a copy of the final exam sitting under my teacher's book and taunt the students with it during class. I'd be one of the first to admit that I was pretty horrible with exam security in Japan but I really don't think it was necessary. I don't mean to suggest that it was because Japanese students are entirely honest. It more had to do with the fact that I didn't think they had the guts to go rifling around in a teacher's bag looking for a quiz. Alternately, any student who would do that, wouldn't care enough about the quiz to do it.

Here, however, it's a different story. The students do have the guts to steal a test and do care enough to try to do it. Unfortunately, they don't care enough to actually put in the effort studying. I tend to take the attitude towards cheating that a teacher doesn't have to make cheating impossible. They just have to make it more difficult to cheat than to actually do the work to succeed. If a student wants to cheat that badly that they'll put in more effort than studying, that's fine with me. That attitude doesn't work here. A lot of students will put more effort into cheating than it would take to study and do well on the exam honestly. That's where the guy in front of the entrance to the teachers' area comes in.

On Wednesday, I had to proctor an exam. The students weren't too bad because it was a higher level course. Still, there was a level of trying to share answers that I didn't see in Japan. As someone who is pretty attune to how people could cheat, even I was impressed by some of the ingenuity. It had to be a two-way street and there was an element of plausible denyability, but it was pretty good.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Promotion

As you may have determined from my previous entries, the place I work has money and they like people to think highly of them. The school pumps a serious amount of money into classroom technology and wants people to know it. I will admit that in many cases it isn't necessary and sometimes can even get in the way. One such example is the SMART board in each classroom. They're kind of cool to play around with and let you add text to a computer screen, but in the way they're used, you could achieve the same thing with a computer projector and a whiteboard. They can be used for so much more but with the students I teach, you can't really do a lot more with them. I get the feeling that even with what I use it for, a lot of other teachers use it for less. I've heard complaints that it's in the way of the actual whiteboards and as a result, the whiteboards are pushed to the side where they're harder for students to see.

My feeling is the technology is there so I might as well learn how to use it and possibly think of ways in which it can really help my teaching. At the very least, I might as well learn how to use it so I can put it on a resume and impress some future employer. Sure, getting into my classroom a minimum of five minutes early to get everything set up is annoying, but once you get into a routine, it's no big deal.

Many people may then ask, why does the school bother? Part of the answer is, "Because they can." As most people are aware of by now, Dubai is in a financial crisis after a few ostentatious construction projects including palm tree shaped islands, an indoor 400 meter ski slope, and one on the drawing boards that's been put on hold: a rotating building in which each floor rotates independently. The same could be said for these projects: "Because they can." The U.A.E. can afford the best technology in the world and they're going to provide it, whether or not it's necessary. Then they'll tell everyone about it.

Believe me, I have no problem with a school promoting itself and respect a school that recognizes the need to get their name out there. I'm not trying to make fun of how much this school promotes itself. I am just amazed by all the resources that they put into promoting themselves. Here is the advertisement that they put on BBC World last year and the announcement talking about the ad to the staff and students. Keep in mind that this is a school that is for nationals of the U.A.E. only, that is free for said nationals, and was advertised on a worldwide news network.

video

I got into a discussion with a co-worker of mine over who could they could have possibly been advertising to. My reaction was that they were obviously promoting it to teachers. The idea being, get the name out there so the next time a teacher considers looking for a job, the name may possibly remain in their mind and they'll think, "I saw an ad for that on BBC World. That must be a top tier school."

As if that wasn't enough, they have events like the Festival of Thinkers with all the Nobel laureates and whatnot. Also, I'm friends with one of the staff who has the duty of showing visitors around the place. This person listed a number of names of people that she has had to show around and told me that if I want to know who is walking around, look at one of the video notice boards around school which will say, "Abu Dhabi Men's College would like to welcome (name of person) to the school." A few weeks ago was former U.S. ambassador John Bolton. I've seen world leaders like the president of Ireland, as well as various celebrities and academics. Supposedly George W. Bush paid a visit. Pele and Kareem Abdul Jabbar have been through there. I've seen photos of various dignitaries from the past 20 years such as Margaret Thatcher wandering the halls of my illustrious institution along with a dozen others that I have no idea about but I'm sure are pretty important.

The natural question is, "Why would all those people go to Abu Dhabi Men's College for a tour?" It seems that when a foreign dignitary, businessperson, or celebrity comes to the capital of the U.A.E., Abu Dhabi, they are shown the Emirates palace, and perhaps the Grand Mosque. After that, there really isn't anywhere else to take them so they get a grand tour of our facilities such as the library which, if the truth be told, are quite impressive. All I can say is that they don't see the students I teach or the rooms I teach in.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

McDonald's

The inevitable happened and for the first time since coming to Abu Dhabi, I ate at McDonald's. In my cafeteria, there's a Subway, McDonald's, Starbucks, and Dunkin' Donuts along with a restaurant that sells three different healthy set menus each day. I don't know what the name of this restaurant is, but I've started eating there after getting sick of Subway every day. The meals at the new place are rotated on a daily basis so that they have three different selections for each day of the month. I usually enjoy their lunches, but none of them appealed to me today so I went to the Golden Arches next door.

Without really thinking I ordered a Big Mac set with fries and a coke, but after I ordered, I noticed a few other choices that seem specific to the region. There was a chicken Big Mac that I wished I'd ordered, and a few other chicken meals that were "seasoned to the Arab taste" that looked good. If I'd have ordered one of those I could at least justified eating there by saying I wanted to try something new.

There was no Quarter pounder (or "royale with cheese" for you "Pulp Fiction" fans) but there was a pizza pocket type dish that looked pretty unappetizing. Also, I heard that they still fry the apple pies here whereas they started baking them in North America for health reasons. This was presented as a plus for ordering apple pie here. They have no breakfasts, though I've seen them at the McDonalds where get gasoline. They also had the ice cream and sundaes, but no milkshakes.

I checked online and while the official site for the Middle East looks like it's under construction, there's a site that lists all the locations in Abu Dhabi. There's only eight, including the one in my cafeteria (HCT Saada St). According to the site, the one at my local gas station seems to be the only one with breakfasts in Abu Dhabi.

Based on how I felt running with a belly full of McDonald's, I don't think I'll be making this a regular thing. It's nice to know that they have the ice-cream for an occasional treat. At least until the school opens up a Baskin Robbins.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rain (Day 2)

It would seem that my initial assessment of rain in Abu Dhabi as "no big deal" was incorrect. While the rainfall itself wasn't anything to rival Japan, the city's inability to deal with with it made it something to behold. I suppose it's like someone from Wisconsin hearing that the highways in Florida have been shut down because of two inches of snow. "Hah, that's all?" one might say. I felt a similar way to the rain here. Still, after noticing the locals' inability to adjust driving to the conditions and the infrequency with which they have to drive on wet roads made me nervous about driving to work. In fact, I saw an SUV on it's side on the median of the road as I drove to work which didn't help things.

For the most part, it rained only moderately with occasional showers. It wasn't a big deal but after looking at the huge puddles of water gathering everywhere was the first time that I noticed that there aren't any sewer grates or anywhere for the water to go. That was enough reason for any amount of rain to accumulate.

It wasn't that deep, but it was enough to get my feet wet and I did have to walk through it everywhere I went. It didn't rain that hard but it was enough for my kids to complain that they didn't have umbrellas for the two days a year that it rains. One of our neighbors overheard them complaining and brought over some umbrellas for the kids tonight.

My students also seemed to get a kick out of the rain today, too. A lot of them were flying through the parking lot to splash the puddles. I was waiting for someone to hydroplane and take out a row of parked cars. Most of my students made it to class, but were even more antsy than usual. One guy explained to me, "In the summer we go out into the desert and it's so hot but when it rains it feels so cool and refreshing." It's strange to think that most of these guys have seen rain like this 20 or 30 times in their lives and how novel rain must be.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Rain

I've been here for over four months and for the first time, it's raining. It's not really coming down hard, but it's enough of a curiosity where people are taking small children outside to look at the rain. The natural thing for me to do this morning was go get my car washed. That may not make sense in light of the facts that I already pay someone to wash my car and that it's stupid to wash your car only to have it rained on right away. While the guy who usually washes it does a fair job, I wanted to give it a really good washing to get the sand and salt water washed out from under it. Also, I really wanted to have it vacuumed out and they won't do that unless you have the car washed. I could probably vacuum it out myself but they really go to town with the vacuum with four guys cleaning out your car.

I was planning on getting it washed last weekend. I got into line and after about 20 minutes, moved only about three car lengths into the 15-car line. That was enough for me to say "screw this" and move on. I heard that you have to go there right when they open at 7:00 am. Even though it was a little later than that, I figured that most people wouldn't be dumb enough to get their car washed in the rain and was right about that.

I was actually a little disappointed about not having anything more notable to say about the rain. I'd heard that just a little rain is enough to shut down the city and that the drainage system isn't equipped to to handle the water. I was planning on getting some photos of flooding. Apart from a few puddles outside my apartment, there wasn't anything worth taking a picture of.

We drove to the shopping mall a few miles away and the traffic was a little heavy, but I think that's usual for a Saturday in the early afternoon. It rained a bit off and on and I even had to turn on my windshield wipers on intermittent a few times. I grumbled something about "probably getting stranded there because of the rain" but nothing even close to that happened.

People were walking around outside with no umbrellas and even though it wasn't raining that hard, were this Japan everyone would've had an umbrella. Families were even out in the parks playing. I guess that when rain is a novelty, people don't seem to mind it as much. Even with the rain it was about the same as every day.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Killers

I went to see the band "The Killers" last night at the Emirates Palace hotel about a few miles away from my apartment. It was a good show overall. It was a great outdoor venue. Check out the pictures of the stage. As you can see from the second photo, there was a really cute girl dancing next to us.
The only real problem was that the organizers didn't seem to have a full grasp of the amount of alcohol that the average person person going to a rock concert would generally consume. They were not very prepared for the number of people who would be willing to pay $12 for a Heiniken and how many of these beers each person would want. I will say that the people working behind the bar were working hard, there just weren't enough people or taps to serve concert goers adequately.

As if paying ridiculous prices wasn't annoying enough, we had to wait in one long line to buy beer tickets then once the money was spent, there was the even longer, slower-moving line to wait in to get the drinks. Of course, by that time you were committed and couldn't just say "screw this" and get out of line.

Apart from that, the show was really great and even though there weren't any taxis around after the show, my apartment was close enough where we could walk home.

Thing to remember next time: drink more before the show and bring some plastic hip-flasks with some adult beverage. Lesson learned.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Oman (part two)

So we went camping in Oman, right? Well, the day after I was playing Uno with an Omani family while eating chicken in their tent that was lit by a generator (see part one), we packed up and went searching for a beach that was more hospitable. After searching out a few places, we ended up at a nice sandy beach with some great waves for the kids to play in. Everyone went splashing in the waves while my wife started the grill and cooked some hot dogs for lunch.

We had just finished eating when some Omani guys drove up and gave us a box full of fish that they had caught on ice. There was no turning it down so we decided to have fish for lunch as well. I got a kick out of their generosity with the fish while at the same time watching them throw all their garbage out the window of their truck as they pulled away. My wife grabbed a knife and started prepping two of the fresh fish for grilling. We brought the rest over to another family that was picnicing and they gladly accepted them. As we were finishing eating for the second time, another guy walked over and tried giving us more fish. This time we were able to point to the evidence of the fish remains and turn them down on the basis that we had just eaten.

The leader of our expedition started looking for this great place that she had stayed before and started pulling over to ask for directions. In the process of asking a taxi driver how to get there, a guy pulled up and said he'd take us there. After following at breakneck speeds for about a half an hour, the guy pulled over and insisted on inviting us to his place for tea, coffee, and fruit. He was so insistent that we couldn't refuse. When we got there, we were really glad to be able to see his house. The tea and dates were really good.

While there, I took the opportunity to use a proper toilet for the first time in two-and-a-half days. When I got out, my son was running around the house. I went to a room to go get him and an older woman who spoke no English was gesturing to me. She was using the gesture that in Japan and Greece means "come here" but in the U.S. means "go away." I now know that it means "go away" in Oman, too, because I walked to a room where two teen-aged girls were smiling and waving to me. The older woman shouted something in Arabic and the girls immediately covered their faces with their scarves. I later told my wife that she should be prepared for company because I might have to get married again.

After relaxing for a while, we got directions to the next campsite and said our goodbyes. We arrived there just before sunset. It was a campsite with huts, showers and proper toilets. After a few days of roughing it, we all enjoyed being able to get cleaned up and sleep in actual beds. It was on the top of a sand dune which meant that we had to stick our trucks in first gear and gun it up the dune. It took me five tries but I refused to let the guy who worked there do it out of principal. I'm sure that they're used to that sort of thing because they seemed content to let me try it as many times as I wanted.

Once there, we got showered and had a buffet style meal with delicious lamb, chicken, and hummus. I was even able to get a Heiniken to drink with it. After dinner we we listened to the six person band playing and smoked sheesha. The next morning they even provided breakfast. While we were relaxing, we noticed that my daughter had wandered down the dune where some locals were giving camel rides. It was a little touristy, but the two of us took a camel ride.

On our way out we had to let some air out of our tires and have the workers at the campsite drive our trucks out. I'm guessing that's pretty standard because they said it pretty matter of factly the night before that they would be doing that for us.

We finished the trip by visiting some caves, then driving part the way up a mountain only to realize that we'd better turn back before we got stuck up there in the dark. We headed for a town called Nizwa and had some great shwarma at a small restaurant. After that we sped back to Abu Dhabi loaded up on caffeine.

Overall, the trip was great. Now that I've been on a multi-day camping trip we know some things to bring with us for next time like an air compressor to pump up the tires and GPS navigation to be less lost. Most of all, we were glad to have Saturday to relax at home.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Oman (part one)

So last week I was off work, right? I figured that it would be a good time to go camping. There's a bit too much to write in one sitting so I'll be writing about it in parts.

We had a few different people offer to take us camping in various areas of the region. While on the hiking trip with a friend of mine, I met someone who was going camping in Oman for a few days. She has been to Oman a bunch of times and had a 4-year old traveling with her so I figured that after knowing her for only a couple of days and having bought a three-piece sofa set from her, she was just the person to follow on a three-night out of country camping trip. It wasn't until about halfway through the trip that I realized how badly things could have turned out and how lucky we were that her family and her sister's family were pretty cool people and we all got along really well.

The first day, Tuesday, we set out for Muscat. The previous times going to Oman, we only hopped across the border so didn't have to worry about immigration. Because this time we were going pretty far in we had to get visas. By the time we got out of Abu Dhabi, through Oman immigration and into Muscat it was dark. I would've liked to have seen the city in the daylight, but short of leaving a lot earlier or driving a lot faster, we couldn't really avoid it. The woman that was leading the trip knew about a great place that she'd camped at before. We got to a pristine beach that was in a cove next to some ruins and set up our camp. Unlike the last time our friend had been to that site, it was a holiday so there were a bunch of other people camped there. It seemed strange to have so many other people camped close, but everyone was pretty courteous. It was a full moon so we could move around pretty easily.

The next morning when we got up, we noticed that the beach wasn't quite as pristine as we thought. It turned out that we just couldn't see all the garbage in the dark. I even got a nice photo of some of the ruins with our tent blocking the garbage.

We played around at the beach a bit before heading off to the next place. The group I was with knows a lot of cool places to visit in Oman because they've been there a lot. Also, they like to do a lot of exploring to have a look for the next time. In the process of doing this, we took a few scenic roads and drove through a few small towns. We also stopped at a beach and let the kids play around. Unfortunately, we ended up looking for a place to camp after sunset. With knowing the coast well, our friends were able to find a place near the water, but it was a bit rocky with a bit of a drop off into the water. Also, we had to be careful of bits of broken glass. Overall, it wasn't bad.

The really interesting thing about the second night was the huge tent that was about 500 meters away from us. Almost immediately after arriving, two older guys said that they had a huge tent and welcomed us to come over if we had any problems, needed any kind of assistance or just wanted to hang out. It seems that they were camped there and were expecting people the next night. We offered a non-committal thanks and went about our business. A little before midnight after everyone in our camp had gone to bed, I wandered over there to see what was up. I turned out that most of the male members of the guy's family were there. with the party going strong. they had a huge tent set up like a living room with a carpet and pillows on it with about three or four smaller tents for sleeping. There was a generator for electricity, and a huge tank of water on a truck trailer. The older fellow had a game of Uno going. Just after I got there I started playing some game that seemed to be a combination of pool and shuffleboard with a 10-year-old, 12-year-old and a guy in his twenties. The guy in his twenties told me that he'd studied in England for six years and had his Master's degree. The older guy that had invited me over was the patriarch and took two extended camping trips to that spot each year. The trips ranged in time from three weeks to two months. His family would join him for a night or two at a time. That particular night, most of the people were going home after eating. Then the food came.

I was offered chicken, lamb and fish that had been cooked on a fire. I had been ready to go to bed just before that so wasn't all that hungry, but ate a bit to be a good guest. It was delicious. Afterwards, we had the best dates I'd ever eaten. Then it was my turn to play Uno. I didn't really want to get caught up in a game, so was a little relieved when the generator went out for about 30 seconds and broke up the game. It gave me an excuse to take my leave. I was only gone for about 45 minutes but had to drive the next day and didn't want to be up all night.

The Omanis were all really hospitable. Only a few spoke English, but it was really interesting interacting with people in their own culture. I was really glad I took the guy's invitation.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Independence Day


On December 2nd is UAE Independence Day. They are celebrating their 38th year as a country and even though it is a few days away, I have to say that the decorations rival even USA Independence Day. Unfortunately, I won't be here for it but from what I've heard, it's definitely something you want to be around for at least once. I've been too lazy to get a lot of good photos of the decorations and lately have a conscience about stealing random people's photos and posting them on here so instead, I'll link to some blogs with photos that people have taken.

This guy has some photos from three years ago when it poured rain on Independence Day. This and this are photos from Abu Dhabi Daily Photo the blog which I've linked to previously.

As for some videos, here's one from last year's celebration that appears to be taken very close to where I live. The main road that the cars are on runs pretty close to where I live and I can hear the traffic from it easily. Unfortunately, because it is before nightfall, you don't get the full effect of the decorations, but they are spectacular.

Lastly, this video from last year is really professionally done. It's about four minutes long and seems to be more of an advertisement for micro aviation but it shows some amazing views of Abu Dhabi and the celebrations. I'd recommend clicking on that last link if only to see the great view of the city.

While I won't be around for the festivities just outside my apartment and gridlocking the city, I hope to see the party next year.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Eid Again


I don't exactly know what Eid is, but it seems to happen twice a year and we get about a week off. This time, it coincides with U.A.E. Independence Day so we get a week and a half off. For those who may think that I hardly ever teach and have tons of time off, it isn't true. It only seems that way. Believe me, after the two-week semester break in January, I won't have any time off until my two-month summer break in June.

Because it's a longer break with the combination of the holidays, I'm not really going too far away. Thursday, (known as Thanksgiving to Americans) we just hung around the apartment most of the morning and went to the beach for a few hours in the afternoon. Yesterday (Friday), I left my wife and kids at home to go on a long hike though some canyons in Oman with some friends that we went camping with a few weeks ago. That was pretty nice, but in the end, I think it took a lot more out of me than I originally thought. The hike was a pretty physical endeavor, but it felt like the sun really took it's toll on me. There was a lot of beautiful scenery that I tried to get with a camera. I tend to be into speed photography which is take out the camera every couple hundred yards, point, shoot, and hope I got something worth saving.

Today, I woke up not necessarily sore, but a bit tired from yesterday. I felt fairly refreshed, but I can tell you that I sure slept well. I didn't do much because I was waiting to get in touch with someone that I went hiking with yesterday so I could buy her sofa set. Most of the day was spent hanging around but in the late afternoon and early evening I went over to her place, decided that I wanted her sofas, and went to the post office to hire some guys to move them for us.

Now, back in the days when my wife was accepting rides from strangers, she went to pick up 13 boxes that we had shipped ourselves. Luckily for her she had her escort to negotiate with the guys who owned the trucks. In my case, I was very fortunate to have the woman I bought the sofas from come with me to negotiate with the gentlemen in the trucks via Arabic. From what she said, you can negotiate in English but then you can expect to pay twice as much. There was a bit of back and forth with the Arabic with me starting to drive away at one point when they wouldn't agree to our price but in the end we agreed to 200 dirham ($55). After picking it up and delivering the furniture I was warned that there would be some complaining afterwards and I should give them another 50 dirham as I slammed the door in their faces. That seemed to work.

So far Eid has been good. We have tentative plans to go camping over the next week and plans to have some friends over. The kids had a great time at the beach and I really enjoyed the hiking yesterday. Even with all that, I'm pretty confident that when I go to work a week from Sunday, the highlight of the holiday will be getting the sofa set.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Students



Previously, I've hinted at what I teach and what the students are like, but I haven't gotten into much detail. The main reason for that is because I didn't understand the system myself. Little by little, I've been figuring out what's going on and will give my interpretation of things. While I hope everyone who is interested in what teaching here is like will find what I've written informative, this posting was mainly meant for the people I know who have heard bits and pieces about teaching in the U.A.E. and have been considering looking for employment here. I'll be as frank as I can but I will put in this disclaimer: You will either read this and say "No way!" or think "Well that seems manageable." If you think that this doesn't sound too bad then read a few of my other postings or contact me via email or Facebook.

Before I talk about the classes, I need to say that I like my job and for the most part don't mind teaching my classes. A lot of what I'm going to say might come across as complaining. In some respects it is. The fact of the matter is that I'm teaching a group of kids that have any material comfort a person could want without ever having had to work for it in their lives given to them by a generation that had every material comfort given to them without having had to work for it. Basically, they're a generation of spoiled kids raised by spoiled adults.

I teach at Abu Dhabi Men's College. The word "college" should be taken to mean community college and even then is a bit lower than a community college. As far as I know there are two different programs that lead up to bachelor's level (the four-year program that most people would call college or university): Diploma and Diploma Foundations. Diploma is a three-year program. After Diploma students are given a certificate and are seen as employable. If they choose, they can then go into the four-year program called Higher Diploma. After they finish Higher Diploma, they can then qualify for the Bachelors program. I'm teaching the lowest of the low at my school. My students are in their first year of Diploma called Diploma Foundations. That means they are seven years away from starting a four-year Bachelor's degree. Yes you read that right. Assuming that a student of mine progresses naturally through the program, they will begin their four-year degree when they are 25 and finish when they are 29 years old.

That leads to the next questions: "What am I teaching them now?" and "What could they possibly have been doing for the previous 12 years of formal schooling?" First of all, keep in mind that I only teach Math so I really haven't been paying attention to what's going on with the English side of things. As far as I've seen they communicate well verbally and can express themselves easily. I would imagine that their written English is weak. On the tests, they don't read instructions or questions well, but I think that they would do equally poorly with Arabic instructions.

As far as Math, they're about high elementary school level. Some of it can be attributed to lack of English, but for the most part, the concepts aren't there. This is mainly because the school system has failed them. This is usually a statement reserved for poor, inner-city school districts, but the system that I work in is an example of how money doesn't solve all problems. From what I've heard the students study through to Calculus in high school. Unfortunately, they don't actually learn through to Calculus. The students are given the processes of how to solve the various problems and repeat them over and over until they can produce them on a test. Then, move on to the next topic and forget that you ever saw the material. There is no relating the material to real life or any explanation as to what the numbers mean.

It just goes to show how much of an impact that parental involvement has. When you consider that most of my students' grandparents were desert nomads who could barely read or write their own language much less a second language, it's easy to consider how students and their parents could be unsure of how to proceed. While families might understand the values of education, they could be excused for not knowing how to motivate their children to study or even how to study.

That brings me to the other part of "what" I teach. I have been told that I'm not only teaching Math and a bit of English, I'm teaching the students how to study. I'm teaching them that they are responsible for getting to class on time and for bringing their book, pencil, and other materials to class. I'm teaching them how to behave like responsible adults and how to deal with others in a courteous manner so they can become employable.

While that sounds a lot like teaching high school or even junior high school (it is), it isn't really that tall an order. Unfortunately, some of the students are accountable for their behavior for the first time in their lives at my school. The students need to attend and be on time. They are actually chucked out if they are constantly late or miss too many classes. If there is serious misbehavior, the students are given warnings. The administration expects us to set definite boundaries for things such as attendance and is wonderful in backing up the teachers.

For the most part, I like my students. In my first semester, I was able to get a pretty good handle on my classes. While I can definitely see things that I could do next semester to make things move more smoothly, I'm pretty happy with the way things are going. Out of my five different classes, I really like three of them. The other two have been ruined by a couple of jokers that are examples of the "spoiled Emirati" that unfortunately happens. While these students are on their way out through poor attendance and attitude, the class attitude has suffered. Things are definitely improving and were never really terrible. It's just a shame how having a few negative influences can ruin a class. Fortunately, guys like that are the exception rather than the rule.

Overall, I can recommend teaching here highly. There are a lot of people here that have taught all over. The staff is truly international. A high percentage have taught in Japan at some point. I know seven people working for the Higher Colleges of Technology (the umbrella name for the schools across the U.A.E.) from Fukuoka alone. Four of us (myself included) started this past August. It's my feeling that the U.A.E. is a gathering point, much like Japan was 20 years ago.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Corniche

We live pretty close to the beach (corniche) where a lot of events are going on. Over the past week we've been awoken in the middle of the night due to some loud cheering that was right outside our apartment accompanied by loads of revving car engines and honking horns. After going into work grumpy the next day, I found out that there were some pretty important World Cup soccer matches for Egypt going on those nights. I thought that possibly the matches were being shown live along the beach. While that may have been the case, people who live across town had the same thing going on in their neighborhoods. It seems that the noise was mostly coming from cafes throughout town. My wife asked why the Emiratis cared so much. My thought was that they didn't and that there are enough Egyptians living here to make that much noise. I guess I can pretty much give up on getting any sleep during mid December when Abu Dhabi is host to FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009.

On Friday afternoon, we were relaxing in our apartment when we heard the sound of people drag racing down the main road that goes along the beach (corniche). When it went on for a while, I figured that it was more than that and poked my head out the balcony to see what was going on. It turned out that there were some boats racing around in the bay nearby. My family and I went down to the beach to have a look. It was one of the first times that we made it down there. When I first got here in August, they were still working on it so there were big construction fences blocking it from view. We haven't really had a chance to check things out and this was a good enough excuse. The kids had a good time watching the Class 1 powerboats practicing while playing in the water and sand. Now that all the construction is done, it's a really nice place to go and I'll have to make more plans to go there, though I know my wife is going to hate all the sand the kids drag into the apartment.

Tonight (Saturday) I went to the cafe in front of my apartment (which was presumably filled with Egyptians watching soccer last week) and smoked some sheesha. This is flavored tobacco that is drawn through a water pipe and is really smooth and mild. I ordered the orange which gave it a pleasant taste. It gives a mild buzz, but because it is filtered through water is much safer than traditional tobacco products such as cigarettes. While I don't plan on smoking it often, the convenience of having the cafe just outside my apartment means I can enjoy a turkish coffee while have a relaxing smoke outside in the cool nighttime air every so often.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Photographs

Some people may have noticed that my photography is less than stellar. I try to give a good impression of where I live and what's going on in my life here through my writing, but haven't been putting much effort into the photos. Generally, I take photos of things with my phone when I see something that looks interesting or funny. Some photos are by my wife who is a little better at photography but her photos are usually of family rather than Abu Dhabi. Well, I've found a pretty good solution that doesn't involve me having to learn to take pictures.

I found that one of the followers of my website also follows this one. As I looked through the photos, I noticed that a lot of them were of Abu Dhabi Men's College where I work. I looked at the name of the person that is managing that blog and matched it to a name on one of the mailboxes in the staff room. After looking at some of the pictures, I realized that I recognized them from one of the in-house publications at the school and know who the guy taking them is. I would recommend that people reading my blog have a look at his blog too, as there are a lot of good pictures of where I work and even some of where I live (I'll probably be hyper-linking to some of those in the future.) I've saved the link in my list of blogs I'm following on the left of this page.

Also, a friend of mine that I know from Fukuoka has been taking some excellent pictures of Ras Al Khaimah, U.A.E. (RAK for short). He came to the U.A.E. around the same time as me but went to a more rural part of the country. His photos are a great contrast to the city and show different sides of the same country. You can see his blog here. I've also listed his blog on the left under blogs I'm following.

Well that takes a little pressure off me to give a visual representation of where I live. I hope you enjoy the much improved photography and that you'll continue to read my blog for written descriptions of the country.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Language

Some people have asked me if I plan on studying Arabic. As any one who has heard me speaking Japanese horribly after my twelve years of living in Japan will tell you, there's no point. If I haven't learned Japanese with being married to a Japanese woman and living in Japan as long as I did, I don't have a lot of hope with Arabic. There's another reason. I would consider English to be the dominant language here.

While not everyone here speaks English, people will try to communicate in English. Keeping in mind that 80% of the population of the U.A.E. is foreign, Arabic isn't as dominant a language as you would think. I'm sure in some circles, it's the only thing spoken. I just don't travel in those circles. Also, I live in one of the main cities where most of the foreign population lives.

Here's the breakdown of the population as I've seen it:

Construction workers. I don't have much contact with them so I would have no idea what languages they speak or their level of English. Because of the nature of their jobs, I would imagine that they have little or no English ability and that they speak their native language and a pidgin (mixture of languages) of Arabic and English.

Taxi drivers. For the most part, the taxi drivers in the newer taxis speak passable English. In a lot of cases, it is near native. In fact, the drivers with a high level of English tend to be the most chatty and have a pretty interesting opinions of Abu Dhabi. The drivers of the older taxis tend to have pretty poor English. Some guys have been pretty good, but for the most part, you'd better know how to get where you're going if you get into one of those cabs.

Housekeepers, cleaning staff, nannies. We just got a house cleaner who comes from India. Her English is fine, but strongly accented. My wife had trouble understanding her at first, but now she's getting used to it. The staff of helpers at work seem to speak English pretty well. The guy who washes my car every day had no difficulties making himself understood when he asked if I had a car. The Filipino nannies who my wife comes into contact with in her day to day life (who confused my wife as a nanny at first) speak English fine.

Shop and restaurant staff. Here for obvious reasons they have to be fluent in English. Sometimes there will be a communication issue and I have to switch to teacher-speak, but usually there's no problem. I have no idea how well they speak Arabic. The staff tend to be a combination of Filipino, Egyptian, and other Arab countries. While I don't think that the Filipinos speak Arabic, there are enough Arab-speaking staff that it's not a problem if a Non-English speaking Emirati needs help, there's not an issue.

Emiratis. The only real contact I have with the native population is with my students. While they have huge issues with listening (no problems with understanding, mind you, problems with paying attention long enough to hear what I'm saying) there aren't any real communication problems. I would say that even though their English isn't great, it's certainly good for a second language. I would imagine that almost all of my students would have no problems with casual contact with a shop staff in English only. I don't think it would ever be an issue with all the Arab-speaking staff around, but in dealing with a cashier, for example, there wouldn't be an issue.

Co-workers. Everyone I work with speaks immaculate English. That said, there are a lot of conversations going on around my desk in other languages. In the brief time I was sitting near the English-teaching staff, most people's native language was English. Now that I'm over by the Math department, I hear a lot of other languages, mainly French and Arabic.

It's strange that even though the language of the U.A.E. is Arabic, English seems to be more widely accepted as the national language. Recently, the Ministry of Education has been working on revamping of the education system here. There's been a push to make English the language of instruction in the Kindergarten to 12th grade system. While I wouldn't mind learning a few greetings in Arabic and working on my pronunciation so I don't slaughter my students' names, I don't really feel the need to learn the language of a country when even the local government wants its citizens to be fluent in English. And I'm lazy.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Camping


I'd intended on writing more and trying to make it more interesting but the longer I wait to write this, the less I feel like writing about it. I would've done it last night but I couldn't connect to Blogger. I figure that for this entry, the pictures are more interesting anyway.

Well after all my crying about not being able to go camping in Oman a month or two ago, we were able to go this past weekend. Now that we have a four-wheel drive truck, we could load it up and follow a caravan of friends. One of my friends used to live in Al Ain, a city on the border of Oman so he knows a lot of good places to camp in that area.

The drive to the border was a couple of hours and we drove a another hour or so in Oman. Normally, we have to get a visa for Oman which costs about 100 dirham ($27) per person but if you cross at a certain point and don't go too far into Oman, you don't need one. If you keep going in Oman, you eventually hit another checkpoint and then have to pay for a visa. Having someone with us who knew this kind of thing was helpful.

We had a little bit of off-roading which was fun. I've never had a truck before so have never had the chance. I'm assuming that the four-wheel drive was helping but since I've never had a truck before, I don't know what using only two-wheel drive would've been like. I was tempted to switch while we were driving to see if I could feel a difference but didn't want to risk getting stuck.

We arrived just a few hours before the sun went down and parked in the shade of the wall of a canyon. After the sun went down, we were expecting it to get cold, but it was really nice weather, in the 60's Fahrenheit. The kids ran around in the wide open area while we got the tents and everything set up. We cooked our dinner on the fire and relaxed. Basically it was how you'd expect camping to be but in a wide open space with not many trees around. The next morning, we packed up and drove a little way to a narrow canyon where we hiked for a little bit and looked for fossils. It involved a little climbing which the kids loved.

Overall, it was a great time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Festival of Thinkers (part two)

I was hoping to give daily updates on my escapades with the Nobel laureates, but things never work out the way we planned. I started this entry a few days ago and had intended on finishing it later in the day. When I tried to come back to it the Internet wasn't working. Apparently in this backward country, if you sign up for a wireless Internet connection but never actually pay any money,they cut off your service after a few months.

Monday started out with us being bused to the Emirates palace where the opening ceremony was held. Before the ceremony there was coffee, juice and pastries available. I started talking with a friend and the man he was shadowing, the inventor of a deep-sea diving suit. He was a really nice guy and I had been talking with him for about 10 minutes before I even realized that he was one of the Thinkers. The most notable thing about the pre-ceremony reception was a seven-foot man by the name of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar walking past me. I didn't have a pen on me or would've asked for his autograph.

The speeches in the opening ceremony were pretty good. The main speaker was Dr. Sirin Ebadi who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. She is notable for being the first Muslim woman as well as the first Iranian to win a Nobel prize. As soon as she started speaking, a majority of the audience got up and left. It was then that I realized what the devices that were sitting on the tables as we walked into the hall were for. They were headsets broadcasting translations of what she was saying. I sat for as long as I could but after a few minutes, I got up to get a headset. She must've been speaking Farsi because both Emiratis and English speakers were running to get the headsets.

After a few more speeches and a few performances, there was a panel discussion about the financial crisis onstage with Mike Moore (former Prime Minister of New Zealand), Cherie Blair (wife of former Prime Minister of Brittan, Tony Blair), John Nash , a former ambassador of the U.S. and the head of the U.K. Atomic Energy commission. It was fun watching Cherie Blair and Mike Moore go at it a little, but I was disappointed that there wasn't more fighting.

Next we got on a minibus to The Abu Dhabi Women's College and had lunch then round table discussions with the Thinkers. The discussions went fairly well and while I thought that the people were just being nice, I still liked hearing the Thinkers tell me that I was doing a good job. My original intention was to give a day by day account, but at this point, I don't feel like it. Instead, it will probably be much more interesting giving some of the highlights:

...moderating a discussion with Prince Nikolaos of Greece on Globalization of Culture and Language

...unintentionally choosing the Iranian student to give his thoughts on using nuclear power to reduce carbon emissions

...watching a panel discussion with a number of pro athletes and Olympic gold medalists

...getting a photo of myself with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (but not an autograph)

...leading a top neurosurgeon to a table discussion when he was clearly not feeling well and trying to escape the room

...watching a panel discussion with two Nobel Prize winners in Physics, the commander of the UK forces in the Gulf War, and the inventor of a deep sea diving suit

...plunking down some students at the table of the inventor of the diving suit while he was trying to eat lunch

...weaseling my way into moderating at the table where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was supposed to participate only to find that he had left early

...expecting to have Dan Clark at my table for a discussion only to have him leave so he could pass out DVDs of his daughter singing a tribute to the Festival of Thinkers


Overall, I had a great time and really got a lot out of it. Even though the discussions were mainly for show, I gained confidence through moderating them with some pretty important people. The onstage panel discussions in particular were really interesting. The main point of everything that I saw was an exercise in promoting the UAE and the school I work for in particular. Nothing was really accomplished apart from some excellent coverage and networking opportunities for the attendees. A few of the international students as well as teachers like myself were personally able to interact with people we never would under other circumstances so I can't really say much bad about it.

On a final note regarding my quest to get Kareem's autograph, I found out that he was being led around the school where I teach today (Thursday) around the time I was correcting some depressingly bad math tests. By the time I found out, he was long gone. I didn't feel bad because I had already met him. Also, it's nice to know that even though the students I teach aren't that great, I teach at a place that has the clout to attract such superstars as the ones I met over the past few days.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Festival of Thinkers (part one)

The Higher Colleges of Technology often has fairly high profile visitors come for a visit. Abu Dhabi Men's College, the school where I teach, is one of the main places that foreign dignitaries end up. I asked someone about this and was given the answer, "When business people or diplomats come to Abu Dhabi, they go to the Emirates palace. After that where else are they going to take these people?" The company I work for likes to have high profile events that give the school the appearance of a prestigious hall of higher learning. One of those events runs Monday to Wednesday this week and is called the "Festival of Thinkers." Basically, the school invites a bunch of people who are the top in their field to come and have discussions about contemporary topics such as poverty alleviation, health and obesity, cultural diversity and whatnot.

The thing about it is that they really do invite top names to come and discuss these points. There are a number of Nobel laureates including John Nash (the subject of the movie "A Beautiful Mind"), the King of Sweden, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Steve Forbes, Mike Moore (former prime minister of New Zealand, not the film maker), just to name a few. It's a great opportunity for some of the higher level students, though some might argue the value of the exercise with all the effort and expense. For the most part it's a show to raise the prestige of the school.

The program includes some panel discussions of the topics in front of an auditorium then breaks into 30 different round-table discussions of ten people each. Each table has a moderator to keep the discussion going and a recorder to write down what's been said by whom. The moderator is supposed to keep people from grandstanding and to give everyone a chance to speak. I've heard that after a few years experience with this annual Festival of thinkers they choose people to be moderators. Somehow after being in the country for three months, I was chosen to moderate a discussion with a neurosurgeon and a former president of a top level architecture firm. To see the full cast, click here. I'm at table 30. You can click on the column heading for table to have it sorted by table.)

I'm not really nervous, just wondering what the heck the organizers were thinking by putting me in as a moderator. I volunteered late and they must've just had a cancellation by someone who was supposed to do it and just slotted me in the moderation position. If you want more details of the event, click on a few of the hyperlinks and it will kind of explain what I haven't. I'll keep everyone updated on how things go.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Parties

Yesterday, a friend of mine told me he had won tickets and a parking pass to see Jamiraquai and asked me if I wanted to go. Later that evening, four of us were on our way to the show with me driving. The show was part of the whole F1 celebration and they must've been giving a lot of tickets away because I knew a lot of people that had got free tickets. Thursday Beyonce played, tonight The Kings of Leon are playing, and tomorrow after the race Aerosmith is playing. In all honesty, I would rather have seen The Kings of Leon or Aerosmith, but you can't complain about a free concert.

The show was in a pretty impressive standing room only venue on a beautiful night. I wasn't sure if you'd be able to buy drinks but as it turned out, they had alcohol for sale on the premesis. Because I was driving, I couldn't drink so instead I had six Red Bulls which pretty much had the same effect. The Red Bulls got me in a wandering mood so while my friends stayed at the back of the venue, I pushed my way to the front and got a fairly good view.

Getting home was pretty smooth and surprisingly well organized. The worst part of it was the 45 minutes it took to drive the last kilometer home and get to where I knew I could park my car because of the concerts a few hunders meters from my apartment including lesser know artists like Ragheb Alama and Timbaland. Luckily, because I live right next to the Higher Colleges Central Services building which contains loads of parking for employees,, I could park there. The only problem was getting there.

Today after the Red Bull buzz finally died down, I started getting my part in the Halloween party organized for tonight. My friend, Gary organizes Trick-or-Treating, in my building. Usually there's a party afterwarts for the kids ao me and two of my coworkers were recruited to help organize it. We loosely divided up duities and were able to get a few games going. While I was happy with what we did, I didn't think it was anything extra-ordinary. Still, I had people say that they have been coming to this event for a few years and that we really raised the bar. Knowing that the kids had a good time made it worth the effort.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cost

I've been asked to write about how much things here cost compared to Japan and North America. The short answer is about the same as the U.S. and cheaper than Japan. Of course, it isn't as simple as that. It depends on how you live and what you spend your money on, but I'm finding that things here seem pretty cheap. I'll do my best to give prices of things that I've found here and to compare them to Japan, but as for the States, I haven't lived there for a while and don't really know what anything costs anymore.

The obvious one for me personally to start with based on the past week is cars. I would say that cars and trucks are about the same as in the States, both new and used. Compared to Japan where you can get a decent 10-year-old car for free, they're expensive. Upkeep here is a different story. Parking is free if you can find a space. (Though I heard only today that there will be a charge for parking in the center of town. I need to find out more about that later.) Around where I live, parking isn't a hassle yet. Gas is pretty cheap with gas being sold for about $1.70 a gallon and unless I'm completely mistaken (I probably am) about 40 yen per liter. A speeding ticket is 700 dirham or $190 and I think that running a red light is the same. Considering that those seem to be the only moving violations that people are concerned with, overall owning a car seems pretty cheap.

One thing that I should have an idea of but really don't know is housing. The school I work for provides housing. After a year, I can apply for a housing stipend and move into another apartment. From what I've heard, due to skyrocketing rental costs it won't cover the cost of rent anymore, so we have to stay in the apartments provided by the school. Since no one I know in my building pays rent, I don't know what the rent is, but I did a search and for apartments in my area and found that 250,000 dirham ($68,000 or 6.25 million yen) a year for an apartment was on the low end. It's a good thing housing is included.

Unfortunately, utilities aren't. I've heard that they're not too bad, but no one can tell me exactly how much I can plan to pay. It's not the monthly cost that is the problem, it's the surprise lump sum that comes at random times. The housing company sends a bill every nine months or so, when they feel like it.

The next big one is alcohol. Depending on where you go, a 24-pack of standard beer like Beck's or Heinekin will be about 100 dirham ($27 or 2500yen). I think a 24-pack of Guiness is about 230 dirham ($62 or 5700 yen)A bottle of liquor can be about 90 dirham ($25 or 2300 yen) with not much difference between low quality and top brands. From what I remember, Vodka was the same for a bottle of Stoli as it was for generic brands. In bars, there isn't much beer selection with your standard lagers like Corona, Fosters and Heiniken or nicer beers like Kilkiney and Guiness. I think a pint of Kilkeney or Guniess typically runs about 30 dirham ($8 or 750 yen) so it ends up being a little more expensive with the current exchange rates.

I bought a Starbucks coffee for the first time since coming here last night and paid 16 dirham ($4.35 or 400 yen) for a grande sized latte so that seemed about the same. We went out to eat a Chilli's and paid 32 dirhams ($8.70 or 800 yen) for a bacon cheeseburger which seemed expensive at the time but looks incredibly cheap now that I look at the converted price. I tend to have lunch at Subway and can get a footlong sub with potato chips and a soda for 28 dirham ($7.60 or 700 yen). For the most part fast food seems to be about the same as the States.

Soda and other western comfort foods are way cheaper than in Japan, too. A can of soda like Coke or Sprite at the hypermarket is 1 dirham ($0.27 or 25 yen). If you want to get fancy with something like root beer, Cherry Pepsi, or Vanilla Dr. Pepper, expect to pay 2.5 dirham ($0.68 or 63 yen). Pretty much any kind of cereal is available for a range of 10 dirham ($2.70 or 250 yen) to 30 dirham ($8.10 or 750 yen). That range can even apply to the same brand, depending on the store and whatever is on sale. Decent frozen pizzas will cost about 35 dirham ($9.50 or 870 yen). Bread is pretty cheap compared with Japan. You can get a really nice loaf of fresh baked bread for 6 dirham ($1.60 or 150 yen) and while I don't remember prices, freshly sliced deli meats and cheeses are cheap, too with a good variety. Pork products, on the other hand run about twice as much.

Electronics seem to be about the same as Japan, too. Blackberries are way more common than i-phones here. I didn't look at how much Blackberries cost, but was intent on getting an i-phone until I saw the 2500 dirham ($810 or 75,000 yen) pricetag for an 8 gig phone. Add to the restrictions they put on them and my miscalculating the conversion rate when I first got here, I couldn't justify it so instead bought a phone for about 600 dirham ($163 or 15,000 yen). We're planning on buying a Nintendo Wii which cost 1150 dirham ($313 or 29,000 yen) including Wii sports.

We just hired a cleaning lady to come in once a week for three hours. She charges 30 dirhams an hour plus 10 dirhams cab fare for a total of 100 dirhams ($27 or 2500 yen) a week. In addition, I hired someone at my school to wash my car every day for a cost of 100 dirham a month. Washing it every day might seem excessive until you see how filthy my car is after two days.

Lastly, Daiso has a nice presence here. For those from the U.S. who are reading this, Daiso is a chain of Japanese 100 yen stores. My wife can get her fix of cheap Japanese products there but instead of 100 yen, things cost 7 dirhams or 175 yen ($1.91). Still, that's not bad and it's nice to know that my wife and kids can easily get things that remind them of home, too.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Vehicle


I bought a 2006 Chevrolet Trailblazer today. It has 25,000 kilometers on it (about 15,000 miles) and with buying it from a dealer included a year warranty. In the past, I've used the words "car" or "truck" to refer to the vehicle I've intended on buying. This has only caused confusion. I've been corrected on this several times, but I have a hard time saying "I'm buying an SUV."

I gave up on the car loan even though I was about a week away from qualifying. I had a bad feeling that even though I almost qualified for the loan, I was a few weeks away from actually having the money to exchange for the car. Instead, I transferred some money from savings. As it was, even that was painful with all the getting accounts set up for transfers and exchanging money. This was a process that I started about three weeks ago. The most difficult thing was the ridiculously short hours at the bank meant that I could only go on Saturdays. At least now my accounts are set up to move money easily.

The whole process leading up to me driving the car off the lot has been so painful that I was pleasantly surprised with how smoothly things went over the past few days. It seems that while banks will pretend that they want to give you the money for a car, they make it difficult to actually get the money in hand. Car dealers, on the other hand, will make it very easy and convenient for you to give them money in exchange for a truck.

First I had to call to arrange insurance last night. They didn't know what a Japanese gold license meant, but when I explained that it means no citations or accidents in the past five years, I was able to get a pretty good deal on insurance. (2590 dirham, about 82,000 yen or about $700 for 13 months) They checked it out then I was good to go.

Once I had the insurance, I could go pick up the car. The dealer sent someone to take me to get it registered. Once there I got my license plates. I was even given a choice of plate size. While I was waiting for my plates to have holes drilled through them so they could be fitted on my truck, an Emirati asked me how much I paid and told me I paid too much. When I told him about the low mileage, another guy said, "Well then it sounds like you got a good deal because it's like new," while giving his friend a look to tell him to shut up.

I drove it home and wasn't used to driving on the right side of the road and really not used to driving a big car. I stopped for gas and had no idea how much it would cost to fill up so I gave the attendant all the money I had on me, 60 dirhams (about $16). I was happy to see that it filled it about three-quarters of the way. While the fuel mileage probably isn't that great, gas is only 5.75 dirham a gallon (about $1.55) so it won't be that bad.

When I got home, I handed my wife the key and told her to try to find it. Even though she had a general idea of where it was, it was funny watching her from the balcony as she walked in the opposite direction, then watching her jump as she pressed the alarm button and it started beeping at her. Then she couldn't figure out how to turn off the interior lights.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with it. I've had about three weeks since I put the initial non-refundable deposit on it to come to terms with everything. I'm just happy to not have to rely on taxis anymore. I figure if we did pay a little more, it was for the low mileage and the year warranty. I've had people either tell me I got a good deal or that I paid way too much for it. The worst is when people say, "Well as long as you're happy"

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Neighborhood

I've gotten a few questions regarding the area I live in. Most people associate the name Abu Dhabi with "the middle of nowhere." Believe me, it is a big city. The other side of the island is pretty crazy, where I live is presently a nice area with a lot of green space and places to take the kids to do things. You can click here to get an map of where we live. The marker on the map is directly in front of our building (right of the marker if you're following the road to the beach). You can zoom out on the map to see our relationship to the rest of Abu Dhabi, the UAE, and the world. I'll be referencing it in this blog.

Last night we went to see the Pixar film "Cars" at an outdoor screening on the beach. All weekend they are showing racing related movies in conjunction with the F1 being held here next weekend. The beach itself is a five minute walk but because the beach and facilities have been under construction since we moved here, this was the first time we went there. It was about a 20 minute walk away on the beach walkway. When we got there, they had big bean bag type pillows on the beach. Before the movie, one of the sponsors of the event (New York Film Academy) gave a green screen demonstration with some volunteers. The organizers projected Lucas (in the blue shirt), Tia (in the pink and white dress) and some other kids flying on a magic carpet on the big screen. The weather was nice and it was a well-organized event. That was the first time I considered doing anything outside and made me realize that the weather is actually nice enough to take advantage of the things around the neighborhood.

Because of that, today I took Lucas and Tia to a park that is right across the street. Even though last night the temperature along the beach was just about right, today at 1:30, it was still a little too hot to be comfortable in the sun. We went to the grove of trees next to the main road on the map. I was impressed with all of the green space so close to my apartment. There are nice walkways, plenty of trees for shade and loads of benches and covered tables to relax by. The grass was landscaped well and there were fenced off ponds which I can only assume are meant to house wildlife in cooler parts of the year.

Unfortunately, the playground equipment was a disappointment. While there were a variety of things to play on it wasn't well-maintained. It looks like it was nice when it was new. In the picture you can see an example with the platform before the slide completely missing. I've heard that happens pretty often here. The government shells out big bucks for shiny new public works but doesn't maintain it very well. Maybe it's a seasonal thing. Hopefully, they just didn't bother trying to fix things when it was hot and no one was playing at the park and will do repairs now that it's cooler and more kids will be out playing.

The exception is landscaping. All the grass, trees, and shrubs are watered and groomed. I cornered a guy walking around with hedge trimmers under the assumption that he worked there and showed him the broken equipment. He said he didn't speak English but seemed to understand. I'm pretty skeptical that it'll get fixed on the basis of that, but you never know.