Abu Dhabi Weather

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


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


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


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


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


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.