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Friday, December 31, 2010

Moral Danger

The Dubai Police Department has determined that smart phones are a moral danger. They are urging parents to stop buying smart phones for their children. Apparently, people who own a smart phone are able to view indecent pictures from the internet. According to this article, children are taking indecent photos and sending them to their friends. I find that surprising because if I had a means of taking and sending photos to my friends when I was ten years old, there is no way that I would have send pictures of say, my butt, to my friends. Considering that we have a difficult time stopping professional athletes from sending indecent photos, I think it's the first thing that a ten-year-old would think of.

The article goes on to say that there is social pressure on UAE kids today as in one ten-year-old girl's class, 22 out of 24 students in her class have phones. In addition, these kids don't have a understand that every time they make a call, someone has to pay for it. That sounds like most adult Emiratis. Isn't it nice to know that wealthy countries have their problems, too?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Emergency

Today there was a bit of an emergency at work. While I was finishing up teaching a class, a member of security came into to ask the students a few questions. The main question was, "Does anyone here drive a car with the following license plate ...?" When it was determined that no one in the class drove that car, the security guard moved on. Before he did, I asked him what the matter was. As it turned out, a student parked in the director's reserved parking spot. I asked him how he knew it was a student and he replied with a look that told me, "Of course it was a student. What are you stupid?" The words he used were actually, "The car doesn't have a staff parking sticker."

I went outside to check it out and sure enough, there was a car parked in the director's parking spot. I was hoping to get a look at a student's car being towed away. When I looked out the window about five minutes later, the car was gone. That wasn't enough time for a tow truck to remove it so I guess they found the guilty party. This is a great example of the lack of respect that some students have not only for the gated staff parking lot, but also for the college director's reserved parking spot.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Censorship Revisited

I realize that I'm not covering any new ground with this post, but censorship is a topic that comes to mind occasionally, especially when it's done in a ridiculous fashion. As with the Christina Hendricks cover of GQ, someone has been busy putting white stickers on photos of women's cleavage in order to protect me from impure thoughts. This time the objectionable photo was seen on the back of a box of Special K breakfast cereal. As you can see from the photo, not only is the model's cleavage covered, the sticker with the product information written in Arabic is also being used to cover her thighs in her short dress.

Naturally my thoughts go out to the poor people who are spending their time putting thousands of stickers on magazine covers and cereal boxes to protect others like me from temptation. I wish these brave men (or women?) well for putting themselves in harm's way to keep me safe from the impure thoughts that would naturally occur were I able to see what is under the nearly transparent stickers.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Tekken Tournament

Over the past year and a half, I've suggested that the guys I teach, generally don't have many interests. Well, here is proof to the contrary, there will be a Tekken tournament held in the Abu Dhabi Men's College Auditorium, the same venue that only recently hosted former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Tekken, it is an arcade fighting game from the early to mid 1990's similar to the game Mortal Combat. From what I can tell, it is a big deal because it has been on the notice board for the past week and according to the notice is the United Arab Emirates championship. For details about the event, you can go to the web page run by the Men's College Student Council.

In all seriousness, I am impressed by the interest level and organization of the students involved for organizing this event, even if it is a video game tournament. It starts inabout 10 days andI'll be interested to see how things go for them.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Camel Beauty Contest

As everyone familiar with the story of the first Christmas is aware, Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the desert. To celebrate this Christmas season, I was planning on going to a Camel Beauty Contest. (Click here read about it.) This annual camel festival takes place in Al Dahfra, about a two-hour drive from us. It's part of a two-week festival. This contest, the biggest in the world, has over $26 million in prizes. I was hoping to go last year, but never got around to it and this year, and was too beat to drag the kids there to look at some camels. I kind of regret not going again. Hopefully, I'll make it next year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Low Rent

Abu Dhabi relies entirely on foreign workers for its service industry. With rents in Abu Dhabi going through the roof, a question that comes to mind is, where do the people who work in the shops and restaurants live? How can they afford to live here?

A few months ago when I was in the Hamdan area of town, I noticed all of the utility poles were covered with notices for rental bed spaces. For the most part, all of the advertisements were for a bed space and had specific requirements for "men only" or "women only" or "Muslim only." These weren't the type of advertisements usually in the upscale grocery stores.

In addition, this part of town is completely filled with tiny shops that sell or repair almost anything. I don't usually go down to Hamdan street because of the construction, traffic, or lack of parking but a person without a car wouldn't have to worry about that. While I can't say exactly what part of town these advertisements were for, it's a good bet that they are somewhere near Hamdan, the center of town.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sunset

I've never lived in a place in which I could easily see the sunset. When we moved in to an apartment where we had a clear view of the sunset, I thought that the novelty would wear off fairly quickly. It didn't. While I don't set my alarm to make sure that I see it, I do like to look out the window when I see the sunlight change to red. December 22nd officially being the shortest day of the year in Abu Dhabi. Unfortunately, because it was hazy the 21st and 22nd, here is a photo of the sunset on the 20th of December in which you can see where the sun hits the horizon.

In this photo, you can see where the sun was around June 20, the longest day of the year.

To give some perspective, here is a picture of the horizon with the Emirates palace on the left and Marina Mall on the right.
While I understand the science of it, I am still amazed at the amount that the sun sun moves on the horizon throughout the year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Kids Biking


My kids are off of school this week. Since they don't have to get up early for school tomorrow, I thought I'd take them on a bike ride around the Formula One racetrack on Yas Island. It seems that the event has really built up. It's a lot more organized since the last time that I went. Now it's been expanded to cycling and running and is called "Yas Training Nights." It's most Tuesday nights from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm, but you should go to the web page (click on the name above) to find details. You can also view their page on Facebook. When I inquired via Facebook as to whether or not I could run along behind my kids while they ride their bikes, the reply was "No, cyclists must go counter-clockwise and runners must go clockwise for safety reasons." Because of that, I brought my bike to cycle with the kids. I'm pretty sure that the person who sent me the reply must not have understood my question because there were plenty of parents with small children walking behind them while the kids cycled. Once I got there, the people I asked would have had no problems with me walking behind the kids.
I was pretty happy that my kids rode the whole 5.55km circuit. Some nights they have a shorter circuit which might be better for really young cyclists. I can recommend it for getting your kids out of the house on a Tuesday night. Just make sure to bring a helmet for everyone riding. Another plus, it's free of charge. Again, for details go to Yas Training Nights.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mechanic

I took my truck into the Chevrolet dealer to have the 40,000 kilometer maintenance done on it. Because it wasn't a major job, I was expecting it back a day or two later. That was until the mechanic working on it called me to inform me that my SUV had a leaking gas tank that was going to cost close to 7000 dirhams in parts and labor to fix. Further, the guy at the dealer (rightfully so) refused to release my truck because it was dangerous to drive. While I agreed with the sentiment, I felt that forcing me to pay 6000 dirhams for a new fuel tank when I knew that I could get a used one for a lot cheaper annoyed me.

Ever since my Jeep was clipped by a bus, I was put into contact with a mechanic who will take care of any mechanical or body problem with a car. Any problem that he can't fix, he will outsource. Best of all, he will pick up and drop off the vehicle.

The short story is that I was eventually able to arrange for Nasser the Mechanic to get a gas tank for my truck for 1800 dirhams and 700 to install it. If anyone is looking for a mechanic in Abu Dhabi, I can recommend him.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Tree

With the ideals of Christmas being charity and giving, it's nice to know that the Emirates Palace is displaying a Christmas tree worth $11.5 million. According to The National, the Emirates Palace will be showcasing some jewelry. (To read the details, click here.)

This tree has emeralds, gold, sapphires and diamonds on it. The most expensive "ornament" on it is a diamond necklace worth around $1 million. The least expensive items on it are worth a mere $10,000. (You can view a video of it here.) The insurance on the items had to be negotiated and the eventual premium came to 50,000 dirhams or around $15,000.

Lest people become cynical, this is all being done for a good cause: to get into the Guiness Book of World Records as the world's most expensive Christmas tree. This tree breaks the record held by Japan at $10.8 million. Go Abu Dhabi!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Family Day

The Higher Colleges of Technology held it's Family Day at a polo club an hour drive from Abu Dhabi. Fortunately for me, it is at the same resort area at which I do triathlons every month or so. Because I've been there a number of times, it didn't seem so far away. Most of my co-workers were uninterested.
I left for The Ghantoot Polo Club at about 2:30pm. I went with a friend of mine who I do triathlons with so he was familiar with the location and effort to get there. On our way out the building we ran into a more cynical co-worker of ours that commented, "HCT must've gotten free tickets to the Polo Club and decided to call it Family Day." We were promised pony rides, camel rides, face painting, activities for the kids and a polo match. We were disappointed only with the absence of pony rides.
To be honest, I was a little annoyed that we had to pay for our hot dogs and hamburgers, especially since it was an event sponsored by my workplace. Also, the HCT promotion police taking a dozen or so photos and video footage of my wife feeding my daughter a hot dog was a little much. I suppose that we had to earn our entrance fee somehow. Overall, it was a good day out so I can't really complain.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sidewalk Holes

For the past three weeks, we've had a a big hole in the sidewalk in front of our apartment. This is especially helpful when we are trying to get the kids to the bike path on the Corniche. We now have to go into the busy road.

This is a phenomenon in Abu Dhabi that has not gone unnoticed. The National,a local newspaper has written an article about the frequency of this happening around town. (To read the article, click here.) I only hope that they can eventually finish the work that they're doing by the end of the year. At this pace they might be done in time to dig another one.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Billing

Over the past few months, I've seen the amount that I owe the internet service provider increasing. Every month have been paying the bill through my bank on the internet. Yet, when the bill comes, I it hasn't been credited. I haven't been thinking much about it since the bill usually arrives a few days after the due date. I just figured that the previous month's payment arrived after the billing cycle.

When I finally got this month's bill, I saw that I still owed for three months. Companies here don't seem to be too bothered about late payments, but when they cut off service, they do so without warning. This past February, after being reassured many times that I shouldn't worry about never having received an electricity or water bill for six months, service was cut. (Click here for that saga.) There seems to be an attitude of, "Don't worry, it will happen," but unless you doggedly pursue things like this they can blow up in your face.

When I called Etisalat, the internet and phone company, they told me that they have not been receiving the payments that my bank has been electronically deducting from my account. After a few minutes, the service representative informed me that because I added phone service to my internet service, my account number has changed. Over the past several months, I have been making payments to an account with no service attached to it. Apparently, with the dozen or so phone calls and emails Etisalat has given me asking me to change to a service that I already switched to, no one at the company thought to contact me to inform me that I've been paying money into the wrong account.

The operator told me that I would have to go to an Etisalat office to transfer the credits into my new account. Today, after waiting for a half an hour at the office, I went through the procedure of transferring the money I have been paying in my name to an another account in my name. Once finished, the service representative told me that the payments will be credited to my new account in a mere two weeks. This is a perfect example of fine Emirati efficiency at work.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bill Clinton

Yesterday, Bill Clinton visited Dubai. He was in town to launch the Varkey GEMS Foundation in conjunction with the Clinton Global Initiative. GEMS is the world's largest privately owned kindergarten through grade twelve education organization and has its headquarters in Dubai. The owner, Sunny Varkey, has been working with groups such as the Clinton Global Initiative and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation to give educational opportunities to underprivileged children.

Because my kids attend a GEMS school in Abu Dhabi, my family was invited to the event. I would have loved to go except the event was deemed "not suitable for small children." With all the security protocals and waiting around involved, I don't think it is something that our kids could have handled, especially with a 2-hour drive both ways. With my attraction to the glamor surrounding career politicians it would have been nice to go. Also, the thought of my kids causing an international incident makes me chuckle.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Deconstruction

In order to promote the Formula One Championship and the Football (Soccer) Club World Cup, two events hosted by Abu Dhabi, the city built some temporary structures on the plaza on the Corniche and 30th Street. You can see photos of the F1 Fan Zone and Football Village from my previous blog entries. Less than a week after Football Village closed down, this is how the plaza looks now. It just goes to show how temporary things are here.I'm not really surprised that got taken down after only two events. What surprises me is that the structures were actually used for more than one.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge

As I was finishing my Friday morning bike ride this morning, I saw a bunch of people running down the corniche. It was then that I remembered that it was about the time of year for the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge.

Without getting into too much detail, this competition involves 6 days of grueling competitions which include canoeing, running, several sections of mountain biking in various terrain (about 140 kms total), mountaineering (rope climbing, abseiling, flying fox), desert orienteering (between 70 and 120km depending on support) and sea kayaking (between 110 or 128km depending on support). For more information, click here to go to see the program on their website.

The competition is done in teams of four. The teams are co-ed and are roped together in pairs. All four people must cross each station before moving on to the next section. The whole thing is from December 5th to the 10th. Because all the teams have GPS trackers, you can even see how each team is doing in real time by going to this website.

I really can't stress how cool the website detailing this event is. If you click on the "multimedia" drag down menu on the site, you can find video, photos and an interactive map. Alternately, you can watch this youtube clip to get a feel for what's involved. I think that the fact that Abu Dhabi hosts such an event with teams around the world is pretty impressive and I urge people to check it out over the next few days.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Live Performance

Today at lunch we were treated to a live performance from a band named "Touch and Go." They were a cover band that played well enough and had a good female vocalist. While I don't think that I would have gone out of my way to see them, it was nice to have some live music.

Based on their appearance, they looked too straight-laced to be full-time musicians so I assumed that they were teachers in their day jobs. I was wondering what was up since from what I've heard, it is difficult to get a license to perform in Abu Dhabi. A few songs into the performance a woman from the U.S. Embassy announced that the embassy had arranged for them to play for us and that they were part of the U.S. Armed Forces. I'm not exactly sure why the U.S. Embassy is arranging for members of the armed forces to play in the Abu Dhabi Men's College cafeteria during lunchtime, but it made my day a little bit more enjoyable.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Residence Visa

In the Gulf news today, there is an article about labor cards and work visas. Previously three-year work permits were given which meant that workers would also get a three-year residency permit. This pertains to me as I came in on a three-year work visa. While I haven't heard anything about this at work, I'll be interested to see how this affects the three-year contracts that HCT employees are issued. I have less than two years left on my contract, but this might mean that teachers are only issued two-year contracts in the future.

The Labor Ministry has listed the positive as a savings to both workers and employers who sometimes don't finish their three years and won't have that wasted year on the visa. This rationale seems a bit weak and I sense something else going on here.In a country in which the labor force is almost entirely made up of foreign workers, I have to wonder why the Labor Ministry would make it more difficult to work here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Summit

This week the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) had a summit meeting. The GCC is a group of countries on the Arabian Peninsula and includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwaut, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, and Oman. Yemen, although on the peninsula too, doesn't get to play with the big kids. Surprisingly, the leaders of these oil-rich countries who attended this meeting were united on the topics of peace and stability.

What does this mean for me? With so many important politicians meeting at the Emirates Palace two miles from my apartment, it meant that traffic was a nightmare. Not knowing that this meeting was going on, my poor wife got stuck in traffic for a couple of hours on a drive that should have taken minutes. A number of my students were late or missed class completely because they got stuck in traffic. Sacrifices must be made in the name of peace and stability.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dune Bashing

After our first night camping in the Empty Quarter, we wanted to try some desert driving for ourselves, but were a little timid after getting our trucks stuck initially. Neither my friend nor I had any experience driving in the desert. We saw another inexperienced driver get his car incredibly stuck which made us even more nervous. We looked along the main road for some beginner friendly driving and had a short drive in some sandy salt flats.

My son started getting bored so we found a secluded place and set up camp. I figured that there was no point in dune bashing myself if I was going to be too worried about getting stuck to do anything. Only my daughter was interested in going so we gave Gulab, the guy who helped get our cars out of the sand the day before, a call. We met him at his office at the base of the Moreeb Dune. He had given us his card and said that we could choose between having him drive our truck or his truck. He was vague about his pricing, but as it turned out, an hour in my truck was 150 dirhams (about $50) and an hour in his truck was 500 dirhams. Previously, I had decided that having him drive my truck only to be worried about him messing it up the whole time wouldn't be worth it. In the end, I wanted to see what my Chevy Trailblazer was capable of and asked him to drive my vehicle.

First he let some air out of the tires for traction in the sand. I wanted him to give me lessons, but he said that he would show me how to drive and the next time we come out he would instruct me. In the meantime, he was explaining what he was doing and why.
video
He took us around in some rolling hills before heading towards the sandier dunes. We stopped for a few minutes at a camel farm so my daughter could see the camels.
It was fairly exciting, especially since it was my truck at stake and not his, but he was careful and I could tell that he knew what he was doing.
video
After the ride, he stopped at a tire center to get the tires filled again. The most terrifying part of the ride was the drive back down curvy two-lane roads.He mentioned that he would take it easy because my daughter was in the truck and because it wasn't his vehicle. I would imagine that for 500 dirhams it would be a much wilder ride. I was glad to have him drive my truck to get an idea of how to drive it in the desert better. At some point, I wouldn't mind trying dune bashing in the desert with his instruction. However, the next time I go there I want to try it in his truck to see what he can do when he really tries.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Empty Quarter

We had a four-day weekend for National Day and the Muslim New Year so I went camping near Liwa in the Empty Quarter, one of the world's biggest deserts. If you have an aversion to getting sand in your tent, I would advise against camping in the Empty Quarter. Fortunately, I've conditioned my wife to not worry about it.We arranged to meet up with some friends that live in Ras Al Khaima that we knew from Fukuoka, Japan. We went to some forts in the area that we read about.
Afterward, we drove to the Moreeb Dune area and after got our trucks stuck. Within minutes, a guy came out to help us get out of the sand and gave us his card saying that he would take us out dune bashing if we wanted. We told him maybe later and decided that was a nice enough place to camp for the night. Looking back at Moreeb Dune (otherwise known as "Big Red"), we could see and hear trucks driving up and down it. It has a 50 degree incline and goes up about 120 meters. At certain times of the year there are organized drag races. (For some videos of that, click here.) In the photo below, the little dots on the dune are trucks driving up and down.We went hiking in the dunes and noticed that it was a popular place for people to drive 4x4 trucks and dune buggies. This lasted until late at night, so unfortunately, we didn't get to experience the quiet of the desert the first night.

We were hoping to do some dune sledding, but the sheets of cardboard didn't really work out. Next time, we might bring some sleds meant for sand sledding. We did have fun playing in the sand dunes. Seeing my kids in the photo below gives an idea of the scale of the dunes.I brought a shisha pipe and in the evening, smoked some shisha tobacco. You can see my brand of choice below.
It got fairly cold in the night and in the morning, everything was covered in dew. There was a blanket of fog that stuck around until about a half hour after sunrise.The first night was fun but we wanted a more serene place to camp the second night. Soon after sunrise, we packed up and moved on to the next place, hoping to get in some dune bashing sometime during the day. For information on how to get there, here is a map courtesy the Abu Dhabi Motors Club.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tree Planting

Last week while we were walking on the Corniche, I saw this vehicle with a palm tree in it on its way to be planted. When we walked past it on the way home, it was already in the ground. There was a hole nearby waiting for another tree to be planted in it. I'm always impressed with the Emirati attitude towards landscaping: "If we want a tree there, we'll put one there.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Paid Parking

Well, it finally happened. The parking meter has been installed in front of our apartment building. As of this week, the curbs haven't been painted black and blue. As soon as they are, we'll have to either get a monthly parking pass or pay two dirhams an hour to park in front of our building.

We're still not entirely sure if the city is going to paint the curbs inside our apartment building's parking area. Even if they don't, we probably won't be able to park there very often. People don't seem to notice the sign that reads "Tenant Parking Only" and it seems a lot less likely that people will respect that if it's the only free parking around.

The good news is that we can still park our cars in the Higher Colleges of Technology central services parking lot next door. HCT is taking it more seriously as well. We can still park there, but we need to have a second parking sticker in addition to the Abu Dhabi Men's College sticker. It has a guard at the gate 24 hours a day so it's a nice safe place. As long as we can keep parking there, we'll be all right.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

National Day Decorations

Today is National Day in the UAE. Last year, I celebrated it by going to Oman and this year we will be celebrating by getting the hell out of Abu Dhabi and going to the Empty Quarter. Emiratis celebrate it by decorating their cars and partying in the streets. I took a few photos of some decorations with my phone and here are a few of my favorites. Enjoy!