Abu Dhabi Weather

Monday, August 31, 2009


I've noticed a phenomenon here that I haven't seen since my days of living in Milwaukee. In Milwaukee during the winter, walking from the cold outside to the heated inside, glasses fog up and you have to wait a minute or two to see. For the most part, I've been wearing contacts for the past ten years so it hasn't affected me much, especially since there isn't that much of a temperature differential in Japan. Now, I have the same thing happen to my sunglasses when going outside from the air conditioning into the sauna that is Abu Dhabi. I have to walk from the building where my desk is to the building where my classes are and my glasses don't have time to acclimate. I have to cross the student parking lot filled with BMWs, Mercedes Benzes, and huge SUVs. I'm worried that with all the horns blaring and general 18-year-old aggression behind the wheel I'll get run over.

Also, I'm having to adjust to the students' names. In Japan there was a first and last name only, both of which were easily to read through phonetically. The worst I had to deal with was wondering if Yuki was a boy's or girl's name. Here, it's the opposite extreme with about five or six names per student to sort through. Plus, the names aren't as easily read. There are a few new sounds to learn to pronounce. I generally project my computer screen with the attendance on it onto the SMART board and have the students tell me when I see their name. So far it's worked. In a class of less than 20 it's easy enough to match the people present on the attendance to the people sitting in front of me. I still don't see how I'm ever going to remember their names.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Still no internet connection at home. I called on Saturday to find out why 3 to 4 days had become 11 days and was informed that my application had been canceled because I applied for a type of internet not available in my building. The customer service rep told me to come down to adjust the application. After waiting in three different lines for a total of about 2 hours I was told that my application shouldn't have been canceled, the service I applied for is available and and that they would have internet for me in 3 to 4 days. I also got my ATM card for my bank account and arranged for water to be delivered to our place (after two weeks of being told "today") so I felt that Saturday was pretty productive.

Friday is the beginning of the weekend. That combined with Ramadan means that not may stores were open on Friday. Each store determines it's own hours during Ramadan, so there's no telling when things are open. That made sofa shopping annoying and necessitated two trips to the mall to come home with some comfortable chairs. IKEA was open a good part of the day and is conveniently located next to the Men's Prayer Room which is a common feature in most public places.

I was able to get a long cycle in on Friday morning and a reasonable swim on Saturday. Since there's no eating and drinking in public, that made an 85 kilometer bike ride in 90 degree heat a bit of a challenge. When we got to the break point after an hour of cycling, we all just drank our water and ate our energy bars behind the gas station next to the exit fan of the air conditioners. We were able to take sneaky drinks the rest of the time when there were no cars around, but we still had to be careful.

This paragraph is for my biking friends. If you have no interest in biking, feel free to skip to the following paragraph. I felt that this week I was able to keep up much better. Having my bike computer working also gave me an idea of what to expect. Up until the break we kept it between 32 - 34 km/hour bust everyone took off at what I found out later was over 40 km/hour. For the first 70 km, I averaged just over 30 km/hour but after that, I hit a wall and was struggling at around 26km/hour. I can really feel the difference on my new bike. On the hybrid, the only time I ever saw it go over 40 kph was on a steep downhill, but I was able to get to 40 fairly easily on the new bike. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep up the pace the whole ride next week.

Today was the first day of classes. While I've had a few negative things to say about Ramadan, having shortened classes is definitely a bonus. I felt that teaching from 9:40 until 12:15 was a good way to start out the semester. tomorrow I teach from 9:00 until 12:15 (fairly close to my hours at Fukuoka University). On non-Ramadan days, I'll be teaching either from 8:00 to 12:45 of 8:55 to 12:45. I feel I got lucky in having my classes together. However, they are all pushed together with no breaks so that might not be that great. I teach five different groups and I see each of them twice a week. The technology in each of the rooms is pretty impressive with an internet connection and smart board in each room. I can basically bring up a web page and physically press the board to show the students where to to click and have the page advance. I can also write on the screen. For a demo of a smart board, look at the first two minutes of this video. In all honesty, the math I'm teaching is way too low to really take advantage of the features past the beginning of the video. There's not much that you couldn't do with a computer screen projected on a whiteboard. The more advanced features look pretty good if we can get the students up to speed.

The school is free for all Emiratis. The only thing that they have to pay for is the laptop that each student is required to buy and bring to class. The challenge is not only teaching them to use it, but teaching them to bring it along with a pencil, notebook, and calculator. Because I'm teaching students whose parents were the first in the family to be able to read Arabic, there's not a big culture of education here. Part of what I'm doing is teaching the students how to study. In the two classes I had today, the students were outgoing, friendly, and eager to please. I feel like I was prepared for the worst and able to manage the class fairly easily. At the same time, I'm well aware that once they're used to me, that can all change.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I've made casual references to Ramadan, the Muslim holy month without actually is or what it means to me. A very basic explanation that is probably completely inaccurate is that it is a month without and earthly pleasures from sunrise to sunset. Earthly pleasures include such things as food, coffee, tea, water, caffeine, cigarettes, "affection from women," aspirin and gum. This self deprivation allows a person to reflect on their lives and be grateful for all they have in non-Ramadan months. From sunset, Muslims are allowed these pleasures.

What Ramadan means to me is something different. Right before sunset, you don't want to be on the roads because you have a lot of people driving who are hungry, thirsty, sleepy from caffeine deprivation, dying for a cigarette and don't have the fresh minty breath that gum provides, rushing home to be with their families for the post-sunset meal called "iftar."

While non-Muslims can eat in private, no one is allowed to eat or drink in public. No restaurants are open so if I forget my lunch like today, the cafeteria is closed and there's nowhere near school that I can buy lunch. The staff room is OK for lunch and everyone is packed in there recently because there's nowhere else to eat. We're no longer allowed tea, coffee, or water at our desks and smokers have to go on the roof to smoke. We've even been warned not to chew gum while driving because we may get stopped by police and fined.

This presents unique challenges in cycling long distances on the weekends. We start at 5:30 so for the first hour or so, we can drink water at will. For after sunrise I've been told to either bring a camelback or just to drink in remote places when there are no cars around. At the place where we stop for a break, I've heard that they cover the windows with black plastic bags so no one can see in the window and we can refresh ourselves.

In addition, businesses are open different hours, generally later in the morning until early afternoon. In the evening around 8:00, after people have gotten their blood sugar up, businesses open up until midnight or 1:00 a.m. A good example of this was last night being picked up to get my U.A.E. driver's license at about 9:30 at night. (You can't see from the picture but they spelled my name wrong on the license, the same as my visa: "SORNSEN") After that I had the driver from the college drop me off so I could go shopping for work clothes until about 11:30. There were plenty of people in the shopping mall including small children. Even at my school, we have shortened classes and everyone finishes by 2:00 p.m.

The people I work with seem to like Ramadan for this reason, but as someone who is trying to get things like my apartment, internet connection, banking accounts, my kids' school set up, this is a major hassle. Ramadan is on a lunar schedule which means that it starts about ten days earlier each year. This is the first time that it has been at the start of the school year. In a few years, it will be during summer holiday which will mean that we miss Ramadan entirely. While I by that time I will miss the reduced schedule, I wouldn't have minded a few extra weeks of non-Ramadan schedule to get set up.

Monday, August 24, 2009


As of now, I still haven't gotten my internet connection, yet. Luckily for me, there's someone in my building who hasn't secured their wireless so they are nice enough to lend me some bandwidth to take care of the messing around on the internet I didn't have time to do today.

Today was the orientation meeting for new employees. The meeting was from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. with a 30 minute break from 10:15 to 10:45. We got 30 minutes instead of 15 because we were running ahead of schedule. I've heard that generally there are refreshments served and it's a bit more spread out with more breaks, but right now it is the holy month of Ramadan so a lot of people are fasting. The meeting itself wasn't too bad, but there was a lot to cover and nothing was really covered in depth. I was hoping to get a bit more into the technology side of things. From the sounds of it, the tech sounds pretty cool and easy to use. I'm looking forward to that training.

Having a big long meeting in the middle of the day made it difficult to do all the personal business I needed to get done. First of all, I've been trying to track down a package that we sent express mail. Yesterday, I looked online and saw that it reached the Abu Dhabi central post office on the 9th of August, three days after I got here. By the time I realized that, all the relevant people at my school were gone for the day. I went to the central post office and found out that it had been delivered to my school on the 9th. The guy from the post office was helpful enough to give me a print out of the delivery receipt. Today before the meeting, I had time to track down the person who accepted the delivery who kindly took me to the stairwell where he had stored it with a number of other boxes. I told myself before I went to talk to the guy I wasn't going to get snotty about it and was very proud when I unironically mentioned that the package took 6 days to come from Japan to the Abu Dhabi Men's College, only to sit on the stairwell for 15 days. I asked in a very nice way if there was some sort of procedure for him to notify me there was a package (I had been asking about it to various people since the 10th) and he was nice enough to tell me to ask one of the three people in the whole school that I hadn't gotten around to asking.

That done, I still had time to call the school my kids will be going to and put out a few fires (or start a few depending on your perspective). I was able to make another phone call or two during the break and eat one of my sandwiches in the cover of the staff break room in which all the non-Muslims were hanging out drinking their coffee and tea and eating their snacks / lunches.

After the meeting, I still had time to call my kids' school again, arrange to have my driver's license translated , and get a letter from the company so I can get a bank account tomorrow. Now that my residence visa has been processed, the floodgates have opened for all the official paperwork I can take care of. I was about to ask about getting the license to buy alcohol, but I figured I'd asked enough for that day. While the guy in charge of helping me with those things is generally really helpful, I didn't want to further agitate someone who hadn't had anything to eat or drink since 6:00 a.m. and was probably dying for a cigarette.

All in all, despite having a 5 hour meeting in the middle of the day, I felt that I worked around it really well and was able to get a lot done.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I still don't have an internet connection at home, so I can only update from work which is getting harder as I get busier. I was told that the connection would be installed "in a few days" so hopefully I'll be able to post from home.

On Friday morning, I met with a guy who lives in the same building as me at 5:30 a.m. and he took me to the meet point where a group of people start a ride. This was the same group of people I went swimming with last Saturday. We rode for an hour and I gradually fell back and caught up with them at a gas station where we take a break. As you can see from the photos, they have Pocari Sweat (a sports drink for those of you not from Japan) and non-alcohol Budwiser which they put in a green can otherwise people wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

After the break, I fell quickly behind and my friend from my building was kind enough to stay with me so I didn't get lost. We ended up riding 85 kilometers and by the end of it, I could barely pedal. It was my first time using clipless pedals. I didn't have any amusing falls through forgetting to clip out and found that they were useful in helping me to pedal, especially the last 15 km when I could only pedal by pulling up on the pedals.

Because we left so early, it was dark when we left and we got to see a nice sunrise on the ride. I got back to my apartment a little after 9:00, just in time to take the kids for a swim in the pool on the roof of our apartment building. This was a good opportunity to get a little bit of a cool-down.

In the afternoon, I played squash in the squash court in our building. It was my first time playing, but because I've played racquetball before (badly), was able to play squash equally badly pretty quickly. Over the next week, I need to get some time in on the stationary bike in the workout room in our building to build up strength so I can keep up with people on the ride next week. I was planning on meeting people for a ride and a swim early on Saturday a few kilometers from my apartment, but didn't quite make it after an evening of darts and drinks at a nearby hotel bar.

I'm finding that with the triathlon group that I've joined through yahoo groups, there are lots of opportunities for riding, swimming, and running. It's a pretty active scene, even better than Dubai. Dubai is a bigger city, but we still have people making the drive from Dubai to meet us for a 5:30 a.m. ride. The roads are basically 3 or 4 lane highways with a paved shoulder. We ride in groups with lights when it's dark. Also, because we're leaving so early on a day when most people sleep in, the roads are pretty deserted at the beginning of the ride. The nice thing about it is that in getting home at 9:00 or 10:00, I still have a full day to spend with my wife and kids.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I moved to a different workstation yesterday to be closer to the Math people. I was kind of regretting giving up prime real estate over by the English teaching people. I had higher cubicle walls in the back where there was less foot traffic. My new place is a bit more open and towards the front. However, after talking with the people near me, I realized that this is a pretty friendly group, too. The people are also from a wider range of places, which is cool.

I did have issues with getting my internet connection at my desk. I needed a new LAN cable which took most of yesterday to get hooked up. I realized how dependent on the internet I am to do my job. Most of the information I need is on the school network. I REALLY had no idea what to do yesterday with no internet.

I still haven't had my internet connection installed at home. I need to get my visa processed before I can apply for it...or so I thought. I went in to the visa office yesterday and found out that all I needed was a letter saying that the visa was applied for. Once I got that, I caught a cab to the company that provides internet service and did the paperwork. Because I couldn't do much at work anyway, I figured it was a good time to get that taken cared of. I don't really have a good idea what's fast for an internet connection so I signed up for the fastest wireless modem that was available for my building. I was also warned that they would give me two weeks of internet temporarily, but if I didn't bring back my processed visa in that time, they would shut off the net. Considering that in Japan I don't think I would've even got the two weeks, I was happy to get it.

I knew the area a little (see the photos) and knew that the bike shop that everyone recommends was near. After getting turned around once or twice, I found it. Though the 15 minutes of wandering around in 100 degree heat while wearing a black business suit (black funeral suit in Japan) was enough to sweat through my shirt. After cooling off for a few minutes, I made a note to come back with my bike later and began looking for a taxi. I then realized why the guy who drove me out there asked if I wanted him to wait. There were no empty taxis around. It was a fairly long wait until I caught a driver who was on his way home. Because I was glad to get a ride, I didn't mind that he didn't know where my school was and that I didn't know what to tell him to get me there. The plus side of that is on the ride back, I found the Segway dealership. It's near the hooka shop ("For all your smoking needs")

Monday, August 17, 2009


To start off, I just found out that I won't be teaching English like I was brought over here to do. Instead, I'll be teaching Math. I will say that this is a good thing. I was hoping to get into teaching Math here eventually and it seems that it happened a bit fasted than I'd hoped. Because I have my masters in teaching English along with the experience the school was looking for, I was hired for that. However, because I have my teaching qualification in both Math and and ESL, they were more than happy to give me the Math classes, especially with their shortage of Math teachers. From what people have told me, I'll be teaching fairly simple math for students who don't understand it due to either language difficulties or because they are simply not good at math. I'm pretty excited about the opportunity to get into Math. It also doesn't hurt that I've ingratiated myself to the administration by filling a need. It's a little further out from my comfort zone, but it'll be different and will help me go in the direction I want to.

On a completely different note, I've wanted to mention the driving here for a while. I don't have a driver's license yet, but from what I hear all I have to do is transfer over my American license. For the time being, we've been relying on taxis and rides from friends. My friend Gary lives across the hall and has been helpful in giving me a ride to work in the mornings. He works in a different school, but there are other people in our building who work for my school who may be able to give me a ride in the future.

I see a lot of people driving SUV's and the reason people give is "safety." While in the U.S. I always took that as a lame excuse for people to buy the biggest car they could afford, I think it holds true here. The driving tends to be a bit crazy. In the 60 kilometer per hour zone (about40 mph) people are able to drive up to 99 kph (about 65 mph) without getting a ticket. They take full advantage of it, too. Also, I see a lot of people suddenly changing lanes without signaling.

I see a lot of nice cars here, too. I see Lambourghinis parked on the side of the road. I also see a lot of cars that have been clearly parked in one space for a long time cover in dust. At first I thought it must've been because of all the construction. Then I realized that it was because I live in the middle of a friggin' desert. Parking here is a bit crazy here, too. People park wherever they can find room. There doesn't seem to be too much monitoring of parking. That suits me fine because I'm pretty good at finding illegal places to park.

For the most part, the taxis are pretty cheap (about $2 for a 3 mile ride) so taxis aren't too bad. It's starting to add up, though and is making the prospect of getting a car as soon as possible look like a good idea. They cabs are clean and it seems like they're monitored pretty carefully to keep people from getting ripped off. Also there is the problem of actually getting a taxi when you need one. Yesterday after a long evening of shopping with my son Lucas, we had to wait for 15 minutes in a line to get a taxi. That's in front of a shopping mall where taxis are constantly coming an going. Sometimes it takes about 10 minutes to flag one down in front of our building after waiting in the hot sun with two small children.

I think this is a fairly good example of the taxi experience of Abu Dhabi. I was able to flag down a cab outside my school right away (which I'm told was extremely lucky). After describing where we lived about three different ways, we eventually got to my apartment building. I paid, hopped out and realized that I had forgotten a package that had been sent from Japan in the back seat. The cab was already a good ways down the street. I started chasing after the taxi in my suit in 90 degree heat, hoping he would get caught in traffic. A guy on a bicycle rode past and said, "I will help you." He chased down the taxi and they were waiting for me two blocks away around the corner. The driver apologized and drove me back to my apartment. I got the feeling that he would have brought it back once he discovered it. I don't know how typical this was, but I find the taxi drivers and others to be very helpful and courteous.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


In most Arab countries, the weekend is Friday and Saturday which means that Sunday is the beginning of the work week. I was told last Sunday when I came in to sign some paperwork that I should get everything sorted as far as buying furniture, getting a phone and getting settled last week. This week, I needed to be here at Abu Dhabi Men's College Sunday morning to start work. I wasn't really given a time, but I figured that it was in the morning and that 8:00 sounded good.

When I was originally making plans to move out here, I figured that it's hot so I bought a bunch of short-sleeved shirts. I hate wearing short-sleeved shirts with ties. I then learned that it's a bit more of a formal atmosphere and most people wear long-sleeved shirts, often with a suit. I only brought one pair of slacks, one short-sleeved shirt and one tie, enough to get me to work and pick up my package shipped air-mail with all my work clothes and stupid short-sleeved shirts. The package hasn't arrived so I'll have to buy some new clothes. All of the long-sleeved ones are coming surface mail and will be here in a few months. ("Oh I won't need those until it's cooler") Right now I'm wearing a suit that I had the sense to bring in my luggage. I'll have to go shopping tonight.

After being dropped off at work by my friend and neighbor Gary, I wandered in and found the workstation that I had been shown last week. I introduced myself to those around me and searched out the people I imagine that I should be reporting to. One of the women sitting at a desk in front of an important-looking office gave me an envelope filled with office supplies and asked me to sign for them. After being introduced to people who I'll be having meetings with, I was told that that the schedules will be out in the next few days but until then, there's nothing I can really do. I'm enjoying the internet access but to be honest, I'm not exactly sure what I should be doing that's work-related. I feel like I need to be here and don't think that it would be a good idea to leave. Time to go get some coffee or something.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


I haven't updated in a while but I left the hotel and am waiting for for my visa before I can sign up for my internet connection. I tried to use other people's wireless, but everyone in the building seems to have their wireless secured (bastards!) In the past few days I've moved into my apartment and had it filled up as much as we've had time for and visited friends that we already knew here. I've been saying hi to the people in the building and catching up with friends that I haven't seen for over five years.

Also, I've been making new friends. It seems that there's a pretty good triathlon scene here. While in Japan I got into the Abu Dhabi Triathlon group on Yahoo. Yesterday, I called someone whose number I got in Japan and was able to meet the group for a swim pretty close to where I live. It's the meeting point for running, swimming, and cycling on Friday and Saturday (the weekend here in the U.A.E). The guy who picked me up introduced me to a bunch of people who have offered to get my bike set up and were really helpful. My pedals on my bike somehow didn't make it and I had several offers to give me a spare pair.

We started the swim at 7:00 a.m. in bathwater warm, extremely salty, sky-blue water (I didn't take any pictures but I WILL get some pics of THAT). There were about 20 people from various countries who were here doing various professions: lawyers, pilots, waste management specialists, teachers, ice show performers, a little bit of everything. There were two swims going on: the 1.5 kilometer and the 2.4 kilometer swim. I thought it would be half and half but out of the 20, I was one of 3 who decided to be cautious and go for the short course (along with one of the hung-over guys). it was really courteous and friendly with everyone stopping at various points to make sure everyone was doing OK.

After the swim, a few of us went to a local coffee shop about two blocks from my apartment and hung out for about an hour. I little later Clint, the guy who picked me up for the swim, showed me the only good bike shop in Abu Dhabi then dropped me off at my place.

I know this post doesn't really have a lot to do with living in an Arab country. However, I think it is important to give a feel for the foreign community here, especially considering that 80% of the population in the U.A.E is foreign. I felt like everyone was immediately welcoming and supportive.

Monday, August 10, 2009


In paying a little extra for the amenities, we get access to the free cocktail hour from 6:00 to 9:00. The wines and liquor seems to be all right but the beer selection sucks. It was clearly chosen by someone who doesn't actually drink alcohol but knows the most popular brands in the world. They have Heinekin, Budweiser, Fosters, Amstel Light, and Corona, pretty much what you'll find in any hotel bar around the world. My wife and I keep making the mistake in asking about the various wines and beer because we forget that we're asking the staff to describe something that they have no experience with.

Because 3 hours of free booze isn't enough for us, we had a drink in a nice little pub / sports bar in the basement of the hotel that has a reasonable selection of beers including Guiness and Kilkiney. Pricing wasn't bad and was comparable to what you could expect to pay for a pint of the same beers in Japan. I ordered our beers and we found a table and sat down. Two things about the waitress bringing our beers amused me: 1) she had to tell us which was Guiness and which was Kilkiney (obvious to anyone who drinks beer based on the color) and 2) she automatically place the darker beer next to me when in fact that was my wife's order. Later, I asked for a Bloody Mary which was better than any I'd had in Japan but was clearly made by someone who has a list of ingredients but has never had one.

Another concern of mine is that I need to have my visa before I can get my license to buy alcohol. While it is easy to get, I will need a week or two before I can get one. I guess that it comes down to proving that I am indeed not Muslim and that I know better than to buy booze for Muslims. I don't seem to know enough to not ask them for advice about beer so I hope I can qualify.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

First Day

Today Tony arranged to meet me at 10:00am to take me to my medical check and my apartment then to finalize my appliance purchases and arrange for delivery. Or so I thought...

I was at the meeting point in the ground floor lobby waiting when I overheard two guys saying how they worked for HCT and were going to get their medical check and go to the college to sign their contracts. I talked with them and realized that there was going to be a group of us. Seeing them in their suits, I felt enormously under dressed in my jeans, T-shirt, and sandals. Luckily Tony was late so I ran up to my room and quickly changed into slacks and a shirt and tie.

There ended up being 5 of us getting the medical exam. The hospital looked pretty clean but there seemed to be a lot of people waiting and I figured we were in for a long morning. Not so. Tony talked to someone briefly and we were fast-tracked directly to our thorough medical exam that involved taking some blood and a chest X-ray. As far as I can tell the medical exams main purpose is to screen for AIDS and hepatitis.

After that we made our way to HCT where we met with human resources and were shown around and whatnot. Without getting into too much detail, I'll say the facilities were phenomenal. I'm really looking forward to working there. Being given our relocation allowances, we headed to the bank to cash the checks. Since we had to hand in out passports temporarily until we can get our visas, Tony had to show i.d and sign the checks for us. The number of things that have been fast tracked for me here has lead me to believe (rightly or wrongly) that HCT has serious "wasta" (influence to get stuff done). Either that or Tony is one smooth talker.

Then he took us to a mall to let us scout out furnishings. Because I'm mostly done with that, I took that opportunity to scout out making my phone work. Here's the time for my rant. In breaking my phone contract with the mobile provider in Japan, I had to shell out about $400 US and turn in the SIM card. It wasn't until a day later that I realized the phone wouldn't work without the SIM card which means I could no longer access my schedule, contacts, or use the phone as an MP3 player or camera as I had been. Everyone else I was with had just brought their phones from their home countries and bought a new SIM card but my phone wouldn't accept one from outside Japan. That means I had to pay $400 for a phone that I no longer have any use for.

While everyone else was home furniture shopping, Tony took me around to get a phone. I was going to buy an i-phone but after seeing the $1000 price tag was on the fence until Tony got me to realize that there isn't a love affair with phones here like there is in Japan. Every phone in Japan has 100 millions functions that no one uses. From what I can tell, phones here seem about like shoes. Everyone needs them, but they don't give much thought to them. I have been asked for my mobile number and given the frowny face when I say I don't have one so many times here that I'm convinced your mobile number is almost like your national i.d. number. I settled for a phone that makes calls and has a fairly good camera on it and paid about a fifth as much as an i-phone (which I've heard are awesome). At least now I have a convenient way to take photos of freaky stuff I see here and post it.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Today was more hanging out near the hotel and going to the shopping mall. Not a lot of interesting things happened. We went swimming in the rooftop pool again and tried to avoid annoying people with all the kids' screeching and splashing. Despite already being fairly dark, my wife got a bit of a tan (see the after photo of her tan line) and is already worrying about the limits of how dark she'll get. I keep telling her that this is how our lives will be from now on in Abu Dhabi.

We keep having the feeling that our kids running around and talking loudly and just being kids is annoying people, but the more that I look at people's reactions, the less I feel that way. Some examples of this are the way that our immigration agent just picked up Tia and started carrying her like it was the most natural thing in the world. As annoyed as she seemed with me for being on a flight that was delayed, she picked up Tia very naturally and in a very nurturing way that calmed our daughter. Another example is how when we went to look at the apartment with Tony and had two half-asleep children with us, Tony was very nurturing with both Tia and Lucas in taking them from our arms and helping to carry them. A final example is how when both my wife and I went to the club lounge a mere 50 feet from the hotel room to have a few drinks during cocktail hour while the kids were sleeping (yes, I know we're terrible parents for leaving our kids alone while they were sleeping but we did keep checking on them) we were asked a number of times why we didn't bring the kids (despite the rules being no kids from 6:00 to 9:00 pm) and asking us to please bring the kids tomorrow. You could say that this was just to be polite, but I got the feeling that they wouldn't have been asking us to break the rules unless they had really been interested in seeing our kids.

The natural follow-up questions lead me to say that no, I don't think the stereotypes of people in Arab countries are true. I honestly believe that unlike North American who are visibly annoyed with children running and playing and Japanese who are politely tolerant in children running around as they please, In the UAE, people are generally delighted to be in the company of children and are generally affectionate towards them. I've had friends who have lived in
Arab countries who have told me this about how people react to children so I was on the watch for it. However, I really do notice a different attitude towards children here. Mineko and I are so used to telling our kids to be quiet and stop annoying other people that we've forgotten that there are actually others who do genuinely enjoy other people's kids. That's one of the first cultural adjustments that we both have to make.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Yesterday after being dropped off at the hotel, I swear that our handler (hereafter referred to as "Tony") said he'd be back at 12:00 to take us shopping. Having had a mobile phone recently, I'm used to being able to contact people when things don't go according to plan so I didn't think to press for more details. I just figured that we'd take a nap in the room, eat some breakfast and wait for Tony in the lobby at 12:00. I'd heard about the Arab sense of time so it wasn't until 1:00 that I decided Tony wasn't coming. After calling my school, I was able to get Tony's mobile phone number and call him to find out if I was in the wrong place, the wrong time or even the wrong day. Tony didn't seem to know what I was talking about and even said that he had plans to pick another person up at the airport later in the afternoon so he couldn't meet us until early evening. Now, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I was pretty sure he said he'd meet us at 12:00. It's not a big deal because it's not like we were doing anything else anyway. I do have to say that he has been really helpful and is a pretty nice guy.

We were able to arrange for Tony to pick us up to show us our apartment. We didn't get the villa like we'd hoped but it is a fairly large 3-bedroom apartment with 2 and 1/2 baths. The floors are all marble. It really is a nice place in a good location. We have 5 days to furnish it enough to make it livable. For us that means a fridge, stove, beds, washing machine/dryer, and possibly a sofa (Don't worry, we already have our rice cooker that we bought in Japan).

We were able to get an hour at IKEA yesterday with Tony driving. Today and tomorrow (Friday and Saturday) are weekends so we didn't want to bother Tony so we took a cab to a nearby shopping mall to find out appliances. I have to say that the malls are impeccably clean with pretty much every store and restaurant you'd find in the States. Some examples are: IKEA, The Body Shop, Timberland, Baskin Robbins (every couple blocks or so), Fudruckers, Applebee's, Hardee's, and a number of others that I wouldn't expect to have an international presence.

On the ride home, I got into a taxi that I realized too late was run by a company that a friend of mine warned me against with regards to crazy driving. Watching the meter randomly flip digits that had no bearing on where we were going, I was preparing myself for the inevitable confrontation that would come when the driver presented me with the outrageous fare. We arrived, the driver motioned for me to get out and said something I didn't catch. After asking him to repeat it several times I finally caught what he was saying: "As you like." Apparently he was leaving it to me to decide how much I should pay. Luckily, I knew what the fare was from the ride over or I would've had no idea what to give him. Also, I'm sure I would've overpaid because the price was incredible cheap. Possibly due to the readily available gasoline.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


It's amazing how jet lag knocks you out. One minute we're all ready to go for a swim and the next we all just collapse. Hopefully we'll all be over that soon. Back to the trip out here...

As I said, once we got into Beijing on our scheduled layover, things were looking good. Beijing airport is nice and shiny new with everything well laid out and easy to find. Almost everyone you see speaks English really well. These are obviously due to the Olympics being there last summer and the whole atmosphere made everyone feel better going into the last leg of the journey. Then it came time to board.

As were were just about to board the plane, what we had been dreading happened: my wife was asked to check in the biggest of our carry-on luggage. I was very proud of how quickly she lied: "We didn't have any problems taking this from Dalian to here. They said we could take it (they didn't) because there is a laptop computer in here (there wasn't)." That last hurdle in getting over our allotment of carry-on luggage on the plane, we could all settle in and relax.

About 10 minutes before the plane was scheduled to take off, there was an argument going on with the main cabin attendant and a guy that didn't seem to understand English or Chinese. From what I could tell, the guy was in the right row and seat, but he had a boarding pass from the day before. There was a pretty heated exchange in Chinese between the head and the cabin attendant who let him on the plane, obviously berating him for being so careless. The main guy asked another passenger to interpret in Arabic but from what I could get from the exchange in English, the passenger seemed confused when asked about his carry-on luggage and couldn't answer if he had any checked luggage. He was asked to leave the plane with his carry-on luggage and grabbed something from the overhead bin and said he had another piece of carry-on but couldn't seem to find it.

It was at this point that I leaned over to my wife and said that if they cared anything about security, they would have to have everyone get off the plane with their check-in luggage and re-load the plane. Sure enough, an announcement came over the plane in English and Chinese that everyone would have to get off the plane due to a security issue and that we would be boarding a new plane. Instantly, everyone jumped up, grabbed their luggage and were pushing to get off the plane so they could hurry up and wait at the boarding gate. My wife and I, knowing we'd have to wait at the gate anyway, just sat comfortably in our seats while our daughter Tia slept. Ten minutes...20 minutes...30 minutes passed and no more movement was made. Little by little people started slinking back to their seats. Finally a few announcements were made in Chinese only and everyone loaded up their luggage again and sat down. Because these announcements were in Chinese only, I can only guess at what was said but I'm sure it was something like this:

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are having difficulty getting another plane so there is now no longer a security issue. Please take your seats. The plane will be taking off shortly."

I was torn between relief at not having to spend a few more hours in Beijing and discomfort at the shoddy security. I looked at it this way, if I had to carry six pieces of luggage AND a sleeping three-year-old off the plane and sit in the departure lounge a few more hours while they found a plane, I'd be wishing I was blown up by the end of it.

Once the plane was in the air, the flight was pretty nice and I didn't get yelled at by the attendants like a friend suggested I would be. The kids slept through most of it which was what made things easy.

When we arrived there was a woman at the gate with a sign with our names on it, which was nice. She seemed nice enough but irritated that the plane was an hour late, like that was our fault. She gave me my visa and led us down to a place where I had to get my eyeball scanned. There was a long line that I got in but she told me to go in the place where there was no one waiting. When I got to the attendant, I got yelled at for trying to skip everyone and was told to get to the end of the line where I had just been. I didn't mind waiting so much because it gave me the opportunity to watch everyone else get yelled at and observe what they were getting yelled at for and avoid those mistakes.

When it came time to pick up the luggage, I got another irritated look when I told our immigration agent that in addition to all our carry-on, I had three fairly large suitcases and a bicycle. Having to wait an additional 20 minutes for the bicycle didn't endear me to her and got a few eye rolls from my wife. We had two porters take our luggage to the guy who was driving us from Dubai airport to our hotel in Abu Dhabi. After a few phone calls it was revealed to me that my bike wouldn't fit in his sedan in the box. We managed to fit the three large suitcases, two medium suitcases, my bicycle sans box, the four of us and the driver into the car fairly well I thought.

Overall the hour and a half drive was pretty good as we all slept most of the way. Traffic was light because it was 2:00 in the morning. When we got to the hotel, the driver gave me an envelope with some money and told me it was our food allowance for the week. I did some calculations and thought that it was OK if we were frugal about things. Then I realized that I was off by a factor of 10. (i.e. he had given us ten times more than I thought). It turns out that he works for the school I'll be teaching at (Abu Dhabi Men's College) and is assigned to help me get settled in. I'll be writing more about him later.

The hotel is a five star hotel and pretty nice. After taking into account our generous meal allowance, I signed up for a few amenities like wireless internet, daily breakfasts for the four of us and access to the club lounge. This was an all inclusive price and seemed to be a pretty good deal. I don't know if it was because I signed up for the amenities, but the manager upgraded our room to a two-room suite. I don't know what's more foreign: being in a completely different country or being pampered like this.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


We'll try to keep this as short as possible for now. If you know about this blog it's because I've told you and so you know me and the events that led me to move from Fukuoka, Japan to Abu Dhabi, UAE. This starts with my departure via Air China.

We were a little worried about the flight because we've heard from friends that 1) valuable things go "missing" when flying Air China and 2) were were bringing a bicycle and three large suitcases along with about 6 pieces of carry-on; two of which should've been checked in. Also, my wife was a little annoyed that since the company I'm working for was paying for it, that they didn't spring for Emirates air line which is supposed to be really nice. That means that any time something goes wrong, it's MY fault that we're not on a nicer airline.

Check-in was no drama with plenty of friends there to help with taking care of the kids and to disguise the fact that we had waaaay to much carry-on. I think we were helped by the fact that the counter staff were distracted by the fact that I was the only one with a visa waiting for me. I had brought this up with my new company (hereafter referred to HCT or "Higher Colleges of Technology") but they said it would be taken care of by the agent upon our arrival in Abu Dhabi. The counter staff in Japan weren't buying it. After about 10 minutes of watching them search through various books and having various discussions with each other, they confirmed what I already knew: my wife and kids would have to enter the UAE on tourist visas and change them over later.

Boarding the plane for our "direct flight" to Beijing was easy enough. The only thing is that my definition of "direct flight" is very different from the airline's. for me, "direct" doesn't include the plane taking off, landing in another city, getting off the plane, going through Chinese immigration, getting yelled at for not having a visa, waiting for said visa, waiting to get back on while worrying about the excessive carry-on, then getting back on. This time I was the the one with the visa problem because of my American passport while my wife and kids got through no problems with their Japanese passports. To be fair, I knew about the stop-over in Dalian, China, I just figured a "direct" flight wouldn't involve immigration.

The flight left Dalian incident-free. The flight from Beijing to Dubai, UAE was a different story...