Tuesday, August 31, 2010
A few teachers pointed out that some of the photos are too good, too well timed, such as catching a man riding a jet-ski in mid flip. I prefer to avoid cynicism and say that for the most part the students took pride in the accomplishment of having their photos selected. I was in the room when one of my students received notification that his photo (directly below) had won honorable mention. His reaction was genuine and a joy to watch.
The next two photos were just pictures that I liked for one reason or another.
Lastly, here is the winner. I think it's a nice photo and gives a real feel for traditional Arabic life.
I offer my apologies for only providing crappy photos taken with a camera on a phone. It was my intention to provide a link where people could view the photos for themselves. Unfortunately, search as I may, I just couldn't find any presence on the web. They're possibly buried in some campus news story on the inter-college portal in which you have to log in on, but what use would that be? I really think that the organizers dropped the ball on what could have been a wonderful promotion opportunity.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
This first photo is taken from this page and while is not near our place, is typical of certain parts of Abu Dhabi. The following photo was taken from this web page and shows some of the more typical ways that people park their cars. These photos accompany letters to the editor that complain about how Abu Dhabi's paid parking has made things worse. To avoid paying for parking, people are finding free spots in nearby neighborhoods. As paid parking moves closer to where I live, I'm afraid that I'm going to start seeing more situations like this near my apartment. Add to the fact that there are about five 20-story apartment buildings under construction within a 10-minute walk of my apartment then it's easy to see how bleak my parking situation is. As it is, people around here already park without regard to others.
You'll notice that the cars are parked in the middle of the road. That's been pretty common in any of the parking areas that I've seen. I've always figured that it was illegal but tolerated. The other day I saw parking lines painted in the middle of a through street. Parking in the middle of the road has officially been sanctioned by the city of Abu Dhabi. It looks like everyone has accepted that the only way people are going to be able to park their cars is by parking like a knob.
Friday, August 27, 2010
Today was my daughter's fifth birthday. We were considering throwing her a small party at an amusement arcade or restaurant until we realized that nothing is open in the daytime during Ramadan. Instead, we took Tia and Lucas to see Toy Story 3. With the show being at 12:15 on a Friday, I figured the place would be swamped with tons of kids around so we got there 30 minutes early. Including the four of us, there were seven people in the movie theater.
One nice thing about it not being crowded was when Tia told one of the ushers that it was her birthday, he came back with a glossy Toy Story 3 picture with a nice birthday greeting written on the back. The cost was 47 dirhams each ($12.90) and that was with us already having the 3D glasses from Shrek. When I see it written in dollars, it doesn't seem as much, but in dirhams it was a little bit of a shock.
Afterward, I wanted to take the kids to a play center, but it wasn't open until 6:00 pm so we just went home and had cake. I still can't get over how things specifically aimed at small children here don't open until late in the evening. There's a free Sesame Street show that's playing from 9:00 pm to 1:00 am at the shopping mall near our place. It features "everyone’s favourite Sesame characters – Elmo, Bert, Ernie and Khokha ."(Khokha?) In the end, we had a pretty good, low key day with friends in our apartment building. For me, that's better than trying to cram in as much fun as possible until we burst.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Just after leaving the vehicle registration place, I headed straight of the insurance company to have the Jeep assessed. As mentioned before, the company only does assessments from 10:00 to 11:00 am during Ramadan. I arrived at 9:40 to be safe and couldn't find any parking. Now that parking in that area is paid parking, the city has even drawn lines in the middle of the road for cars to park. Even with that, there was no parking available so I double parked along with a few other cars and buses. I ran up to hand in the paperwork and the man behind the desk warned me that the police have been fining people recently so I should move my car. After driving around for about 10 minutes, I proudly found a place about two blocks away.
When 10:00 came, the assessor led a parade of people around to various cars and took pictures of the damage. Most of the cars and buses were the ones that I had seen double parked previously. Everyone was shouting for him to "assess" their car next. When I finally got the assessor to look at my car, he walked halfway to it, yelled at me for parking so far away and told me to double-park my car with the rest of them. At least by then I could stay by my car and wait for the guy. After he "assessed" the damage (i.e. took a few pictures of it) he told me to bring my car back at about 2:00 tomorrow so someone could drive it across town to a mechanic, have it repaired, and bring it back. What a convenience! I don't see how this plan could possibly go wrong.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Then it came. I was missing the vital document: proof of insurance. I carried over the insurance policy from the previous owner until September, but they needed proof of insurance for the next year. Luckily, they have the offices of seven insurance providers in the next building. Unluckily, they don't have the insurance that I have my SUV under so I had to wander around Abu Dhabi to find their office.
On my way there, I was waiting at a light when a bus clipped my car. Luckily, I only had a big dent in my bumper and a smashed tail light, but the bumper came off the bus. Now, I've heard that the police will generally come pretty quickly and settle things within minutes. I'll admit that the police were there fairly quickly, but we spent at least 30 minutes by the side of the road in the heat and another 30 minutes at the station dealing with this. The driver (Pakistani?) was arguing vehemently with the police that I had somehow moved and was to blame for the accident. I feel bad for the guy because he will likely lose a month or two salary over it, but I feel a lot less bad due to his blatant lies.
In the end, got a paper with the report to show the mechanic or insurance company or whoever asks to say that the accident wasn't my fault. Apparently, it's illegal here for a mechanic to do body work on a car without an accident report due to all the hit and run cases. After I got the paper, I was told to go to Buddy's insurance company to look at my car and tell me how much they'll give me to repair it. (I'll be interested to see how that turns out.) I tried to go there today but by the time I found it, they were just closing. A worker told me that they were open from 8:00 am tomorrow and I should come back then. Luckily, someone else who works there and overheard my story told me to be there form 9:45 because the claims adjuster only looks at cars from 10:00 to 11:00 during Ramadan. Of course!
I was able to call my insurance company from home and buy a new policy from my provider. I have to go pick up the policy from their office tomorrow. Hopefully then I'll be able to register the car finally. It's a good thing I already had the inspection.
Monday, August 23, 2010
After living in Abu Dhabi for just over a year, I've come to expect that I'll have to make a few trips any time I want to do anything official like getting an I.D., bank account, or registering for something. Tonight, I wasn't disappointed. In the U.S. or Japan, you can count on being able to look at a website or call ahead to find things like hours of operation or documents needed. Fortunately, institutions in the U.A.E. have progressed beyond that and no longer feel the need to stick to such rigid methods of passing along information.
Anytime something needs to be done, I assume that I'll need at least one reconnaissance mission to find out the real hours of operation or times I can come back when I won't have to wait for three hours. Sometimes there will be the document that I need that wasn't listed on the website. Looking at the website can be marginally helpful and calling while expecting someone to answer is laughable. During Ramadan when working hours are completely different, count on the usual hours to be the exact opposite of normal hours.
Since most Ramadan hours involve the evening when people have eaten and had something to drink so they aren't sleepy, hungry and dehydrated. The website said they were open until 9:00 pm so I thought maybe they would be open later. I wasn't surprised to see that when I got there at 8:20, they were closed and there were very few cars there. Suddenly, within a minute of arriving, about three or four cars got in line behind me to get their cars checked out. I must've happened to arrive just as the call to prayer was finishing. Within minutes, the place was packed. People around me said that the Vehicle Registration Center would likely open after prayer around 9:30, about an hour later. I figured I would wait.
Five minutes later, the manager of the center drove up and told everyone to go home and come back tomorrow between 8:30a m and 4:00 pm. I waited around to see if anything happened anyway but everyone else started to go. Later on someone was telling me that they would be open until 6:00 pm, but I wouldn't count on it. I think that means they'll be open tomorrow until they feel like closing.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Also with Ramadan, we have shorter work hours. We're only expected to be there from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and I've gotten funny looks from people when I'm still sitting at my desk at 3:05 because I'm in the middle of something. I have to admit that aspect of the holy month is nice, but I'm still thirsty all the time.
In addition, when trying to schedule time to run or cycle, I now have to leave early in the morning not only to avoid the heat, but to avoid sunrise as well. Wednesday and Thursday I went running and had to make sure that I was finished with my drink before the sun rose. (Here is a photo of the lights along the road I run, the Corniche in Abu Dhabi.) I suppose that I'm being overly paranoid, but I don't want to deal with the hassle of being stopped by a policeman.
This morning, I went cycling and only the hard core people were there because it's hard to drink on our ride. It turned out that I wasn't quite as hard core as I thought when I got separated from the group after about 10 kilometers into the ride. I just couldn't adjust to the heat. As it was, I was always looking around for when no cars were around so I could eat or drink something to keep from passing out.
In the end, I made it home where I can sit around in the air conditioning with a blanket on my lap eating and drinking all that I want.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
In the end the flight was pretty uneventful, it wasn't as shockingly hot as I was expecting, we were able to catch a taxi easily, and arrived at our apartment after dark. We got home, unloaded our full limit of baggage we were allowed to bring on the plane and set to getting back into our lives in Abu Dhabi.
The first matter was to mop up all the water from the overflowed bucket that was collecting water from the ceiling. Then, I had to go down to the maintenance guy to tell him to send someone to look at our air conditioner the next day to do something about the dripping. After that, I went to where we parked our cars to make sure that they were running after not being moved for two months. Luckily, the covers we put on them to protect them from the sun and sand hadn't blown away and were still intact. I moved my filthy Jeep to the front of our building to where I could get to it easily the next day to go to work where the guy who washes would clean it up.
Meanwhile, my wife worked to get the internet running again and to figure out what we needed to do to get our mobile phones working again. We had a year subscription that expired while we were away. It's easy enough to renew them, but it was just a matter of finding out the process.
Because we were all jet lagged, my son woke me up at 3:00 in the morning and it was then that I realized that I should have bought food for lunch the night we got in. We had cleaned out our refrigerator and freezer before we left in the event that there was a power outage (something that happened to friends of ours who came home to a huge mess to clean up after food sat in their refrigerator for a couple of months). With Ramadan having started a week ago, the cafeteria was closed during the daylight hours. In the end I took a packed lunch of breakfast bars and orange juice drink boxes.
While there was a lot to do to get settled in, it's still nice to be back. Hopefully, I'll feel better after I recover from the jet lag.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Throughout my blog, you will read a lot of snide comments about the U.A.E. and Abu Dhabi, but that's just my writing style. Sure there are things that happen that can make living here a trying experience, but overall, this is a pretty nice place to live. Almost everything nice about this place is due to the infrastructure that Sheikh Zayed set up initially.
There are oil-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia, that took the oil wealth and gave it to a privileged few, leaving the rest of the country to fend for itself under oppressive laws. Sheikh Zayed, on the other hand, saw the need to not only spread the wealth around, but to create institutions of higher learning that anyone could attend in order to create an educated population. He also looked to the future, investing the country's surplus wealth in long-term investments for when the oil eventually dries up. He created parks and loads of public green space so families could relax outside when the weather is nice. He was actively involved in the construction of the Grand Mosque, a beautiful landmark where he is laid to rest.
Sure, not all of his plans panned out the way that he'd hoped, but he did a very nice job of founding a country when other countries in similar situations have failed. For that, His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is rightfully revered. I don't think you'll get a lot of argument from anyone on that, least of all me.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Here is a closer view of the Yas Hotel at night taken from this website. The Yas Hotel is the only hotel in the world with a Formula One track running through it. They run things like production car races, and a racing school. In addition, there has been a weekly cycling event run on the track since March. Recently the organizers have been extending the hours and turning on the lights for the cooler (?) evening hours.
Next to the track is a large concert and event venue. During last year's Grand Prix, there were a series of concerts held there: Beyonce, Aerosmith, The Kings of Leon, and Jamiroqui. In that same venue, they held UFC fights.
Yas Island is being built up as an entertainment island and they're working on the infrastructure to make that viable. Right now, it's mostly vacant apart from a few hotels, a Formula One Track and an amusement park set to open later this year. The track itself is a pretty good draw and has loads of events. Hopefully in a few years it will be developed enough to make staying in one of the hotels at any time of the year worth it.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Here, that's completely different. Now, not only am I a minority among English speakers (I swear there must be more Irish living in the U.A.E than in Ireland), but among other nationalities. I work closely with French, Turkish, Lebanese, and Scottish. One of my closest friends is from Syria. They're all wonderful to work with, but it's funny to work while various languages are being spoken around me.
When I go to events for my kids' school or birthday parties for one of their classmates, I feel like one of the only Americans around. Most of the families seem to be Canadian or Australian. There are a lot of European families. In addition to my kids' school, each country seems to have its own international school. Britain, Canada, Australia, the U.S., France, Germany, Japan, I'm sure there are plenty of others that I don't know about.
That, of course, isn't taking into account all the people I see on the street or working in the shops or driving the taxis. It really isn't taking into account all the people working to build all the buildings. Looking on Wikipedia and other websites, I've found that of the approximately 6 million people living in the U.A.E., 1.75 million are Indian nationals and 1.25 million are Pakistani. Yes, that's right, half of the people living here are from India or Pakistan. An additional 600,000 are Bangladeshi. About another million are from other parts of Asia (Iran, the Philippines, Sri Lanka). So far that gives us over 75% of the U.A.E. population. 5% is from other Arab countries as well as North American, Oceania and European countries (100,000 British nationals). This leaver the remaining 20% or so which is Emirati.
These numbers give the U.A.E. the highest net migration rate in the world at 21.71. If that number means as little to you as it does to me, consider that only five countries have a net migration rate over 10 and of the countries in the top ten, eight of them are city-states or tax havens for offshore holding companies.
The upshot of this statistic-heavy entry is that once again I find myself outnumbered as an American. Unlike Japan, it's the other nationalities rather than the natives.
Monday, August 9, 2010
All drinking water is either bottled or provided by water coolers. Every home has its own. a container of 18 liters (about 5 gallons) is 7 dirhams or about U.S. $2 so it works out to not be that bad.
The natural question is: Where does Abu Dhabi get this vast supply of water? The answer is desalination. According to this site, Abu Dhabi gets 72% of its water from desalination with efforts to expand its groundwater wells. In addition, there is an effort to get people to conserve water at home. While I agree with the sentiment, and admire the effort, I have a hard time believing attitudes will change anytime soon.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
I also cant help but notice the ridiculous paint jobs on some cars. Here is a link to a previous post with some pictures of a Bentley painted pink with a Sonic the Hedgehog design. Below is another wonderful paint job that I saw on a Toyota Land Cruiser. While it's not an especially expensive car, I should point out that you can't see from the picture that the pink paint job is glittery.
It's also hard to miss how my students will rev the engines of their expensive trucks in the parking lot of the college until they backfire. As mentioned in previous posts, young Emiratis will drive around the city during times of celebration revving their engines until smoke comes out of them. Hence the first bit of advice that you'll get when you state your intention to buy a car: NEVER buy from an Emirati.
With all the expensive vehicles on the road, you'd think that people would be fairly cautious of how they park. Unfortunately, that's not the case. I've seen some amazing parking techniques. Here is a photo of how someone parked their truck in front of my building. Keep in mind that this isn't running in to get something for five minutes. This is overnight.In addition, there are so many trucks and SUV's on the road combined with so many crazy drivers that you need an SUV here to have any hope of surviving a crash. And crash they do. According to this site, there are 600 auto fatalities per year, 24 per 100,000 residents.
For the people who don't want to brave the roads of Abu Dhabi behind the wheel, there are tons of taxis that are dirt cheap. The only catch is getting one when you really need it. Near where I live, it's getting harder and harder to get one. Initially when we got here, we didn't have a vehicle for the first few months. We were surprised at how cheap and convenient taxis were until we tried getting one at peak hours.
Previously, I'd mentioned that the bus system wasn't worth figuring out. Well, I'll go back on that. It's worth it to me for my wife to figure it out. My wife loves public transportation and it didn't take her long to figure out the bus system. It costs one dirham for adults and kids are free. She's worked out how to get where she wants and pretty much has the whole system figured out by now. Of course, now that we have two vehicles, none of that matters now.
Overall, I'm pretty used to the driving situation in Abu Dhabi. I've also gotten over some of my squeamishness of parking if I know I'll be right back. The real question is: If the traffic situation is that much worse than last year as people say, what's it going to be like next year?
Thursday, August 5, 2010
The chances are that if you're reading a blog about Abu Dhabi, you've heard of the United Arab Emirates. I've found that when I tell people that I live in Abu Dhabi, I tend to get looks ranging from confusion to embarrassment for not knowing where it is. When I tell them that it's in the U.A.E., most people are still not sure of where it is. Finally, when I say the full name of the country, I get mild looks of recognition. It's easy to forget that Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, a country that a lot of people have never heard of, and not a country in itself. It's a young country, only 39 years old.
As a former British colony, oil was discovered in the late 1960's. A few years after that, the sheiks in the area formed a coalition. Britain read the writing on the wall and set December 1st, 1971 as the date that the sheikdoms were on their own. Both Bahrain and Qatar claimed their independence earlier that year. On December 2nd, 1971, the leaders of Abu Dhabi and Dubai got together and convinced the leaders of Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajiman, and Umm Al Quwain to join them in forming the United Arab Emirates. Ras Al Khaimah joined the next year to complete the set of seven Emirates.
The whole thing seems to have worked out for everyone, including the U.S., Britain, and Japan who remain close allies with the U.A.E., their reasonable human rights record, and their oil.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I've had friends remark to me that when I first got here I didn't talk much about the heat, but by the spring, that's all I seemed to talk about. I guess, that once you get used to going out and enjoying the nice weather, you notice not being able to leave your apartment a lot more.
Before I begin with the complaining, I'd like to say that from late October to early April, the weather is beautiful. It is a joy to be outside and as I've mentioned in previous posts, there is a lot going on outside to enjoy. If the weather were like that year-round, I'd never want to leave. But what fun would that be if I only said nice things?
Towards the end of May when I was getting up early to go running or cycling (the only times of the day in which exercise outside is possible that time of the year), I would notice that the temperature on the bank clock would read 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) at 5:30 in the morning and would sometimes read 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) when I was coming home at 9:00 am. I was able to console myself by realizing that exercising in
Most people who don't live in
The point when a lot of people determine that it is no longer possible to enjoy being outside is when you leave a building and your sunglasses automatically steam up. That or when standing outside is enough to make you completely sweat though a shirt in five minutes.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Every shopping mall that I've seen has a family entertainment center with some sort of bowling alley, video arcade and rides including mini roller coasters and bungee-type rides. There are, of course, movie theaters and food courts as well. They're a place to meet friends in the cafe near the fountain in an outdoor-like atmosphere when going outdoors is impossible. They're a meeting point for young people in a society where meeting others of the opposite gender is very difficult. In other words, shopping malls in Abu Dhabi have become a center of socialization in Emirati culture.
That's not to say that shopping isn't important here. You can find some great stores here, be it Wollworth's or the Ed Hardy store. There's Victoria's Secret, Ikea, Toy's 'R Us, and the Ferrari Store. Also, pretty much any high-end store you could think of is available at a shopping mall somewhere in Abu Dhabi.
Unfortunately, Abu Dhabi's shopping mall technology is vastly behind that of Dubai, almost to an embarrassing degree. In Dubai, from what I could see, an aquarium was a requirement for any shopping mall to be considered legitimate. Then of course there's the gimmick. Dubai has developed the shopping mall inside a pyramid, the shopping mall with a 400 meter indoor ski slope and the shopping mall with a world's tallest building. Sure Abu Dhabi has shopping malls with scenic towers, tiny little ice skating rinks and, by the looks of it, seem to be trying to construct a mini indoor ski slope, but there is an obvious shopping mall technology gap between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.