Abu Dhabi Weather

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tony Blair

I said it was a shame that Queen Elizabeth of England didn't come to the Higher Colleges to speak. I said I was looking forward to the next mandatory lecture. Well this is what I get. Yesterday, Tony Blair came to Abu Dhabi Men's College and I was required to watch him speak. To be perfectly honest, this is one that I wanted to see. The day began with me not being allowed to park in my usual parking area. I was given the choice of parking in the student parking lot or in the far away CERT lot. I chose the latter.

We were told to be in the auditorium at 10:30 for the 11:00 arrival of the dignitaries. They arrived about 11:30. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the Chancellor of the Higher Colleges of Technology was also in attendance.

The Sheikh introduced Mr. Blair who kept his talk short. He mainly wanted to discuss the "Tony Blair Faith Foundation" and to present plaques to the donors. Here is one plaque that the recipient kindly allowed me to photograph.

Afterward, they had a formal cake-cutting ceremony, but I had to go to class by the time they were doling out the cake so I didn't get any.
After the ceremony I went to quickly eat lunch before my next class. I was sitting fairly close to the entrance with a mouth full of Subway sandwich when the procession including Tony Blair walked by me.
I found it interesting the number of British people who refused to attend the ceremony out of principle. I'm fairly unhappy with a number of past and present U.S. politicians, but wouldn't hesitate to see them speak. I'm just a sucker for the glamor surrounding career politicians.

Monday, November 29, 2010

National Day Celebration

Thursday is the UAE National Day so our school had a celebration yesterday morning. It started out with everyone standing outside to wait for the police band to arrive then perform. Here they are playing the bagpipes in formation.

Once we got back into the auditorium, we were treated to a musical performance by some of the students. They played four songs beautifully. The first and third were classical Arab songs played on instruments from the region. I was very impressed with how well they were played and was disappointed that they weren't longer. The second song, sandwiched between the Arab music was "Nothing Else Matters" by Metallica. While it is a slow song, I thought it was an interesting choice. However, it wasn't as interesting as the fourth song, "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen. It was great to see how into the chorus the audience got and quite surreal to see the students clapping along and chanting "Hallelujah."

After the music, there were some students who read poetry in Arabic. Despite having no idea what they were saying, it had a really good rhythm to it and was entrancing. As someone who didn't know what was being said, I felt the poetry went on a bit long, though the students who hadn't sneaked out by that point really got into it.

The presentations were followed by a two hour buffet lunch outside in the shade. That was my morning classes shot. I was a little surprised to find my afternoon students showed up but there you have it. With National Day on Thursday we have a four day weekend. Combine that with all the planned celebrations this week, I don't feel like teaching so you can imagine that the students won't feel like studying.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Football Village

In the same spot as the Formula One Fan Zone is now the Football Village. This is in response to the upcoming Soccer Club World Cup. There's a space on the boardwalk near our apartment that is used to promote major events that are going on in Abu Dhabi. I thought it might be fun to take the kids there today. As with the Formula One Fan Zone from a couple of weeks ago, I thought it would be a good idea to get there just after they open.
While I was impressed with what they had on offer in celebration of the Grand Prix final, I was doubly impressed with Football Village. It wasn't as high tech as the Fan Zone, but there was loads more for the kids to do.There were several stations for kids and adults to kick a goal.
Kids could play goalie as well. Here they launched balls at people at high speed. I stopped one that hurt my wrist. Kids got a slower speed.
They had a bouncy soccer field with participants harnessed to the walls with bungee cords.

The actual Club World Cup trophy was on display.
You could even see some of the hot new Toyota Yaris on display.Inside was mostly more of the same, but it was targeted more at younger kids. Here is a virtual soccer field in which the ball is moved by shadows.
There were trainers available to help kids with their soccer skills.
The kids could play a soccer game in one of the mini soccer courts.
Kids could even try their hand at one of the six or so foosball tables.
There were loads of other things that we did including a reflex test and an obstacle course. It was really a great day. I'd only intended to stay for an hour or so, but we ended up staying for a couple of hours. There are loads of other events like concerts and movies in the evenings. There will even be a vertical football match in which the participants will be suspended by bungee cords. The best part of it all is everything is free of charge.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ice Hockey Tournament

Yesterday, I caught up with a friend of mine who I knew from Fukuoka. He moved to Muscat, Oman about 2 years ago and was in Abu Dhabi for an ice hockey tournament at Zayed Sports City. We met for lunch then I went back with my family to watch him play in the evening.

I'd heard good things about the place, but had never been there. It was also fun to see my wife and kids really get into watching the game. It was the first time I've seen my kids completely engaged in watching a live sporting event. It was good catching up with him and in addition, it was good to finally get out to see the ice skating facilities.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth II is currently in Abu Dhabi and visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque today. (For the exciting details, click here.) This is the Queen's first visit to the U.A.E. in 31 years. With the Queen being the head of the Church of England, she is the first head of another religion to visit the Mosque. Unfortunately, she was unable to make it to the Abu Dhabi Men's College. I would have like to have heard her give a lecture.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bicycle Shop

With living in Abu Dhabi, like any foreign country, you have to sometimes accept that doing what would be considered a simple task in your home country can be a major undertaking. Having lived in the same city in Japan for twelve years, I generally felt almost as comfortable running errands in Fukuoka than I would in Milwaukee. Not so with getting something done in Abu Dhabi,. Here I feel like my comfort zone is expanding. In some cases, I feel qualified to give advice about certain things like a good bike shop to get parts or minor repairs done. Unfortunately, when it comes to children's bicycles, that's a different story.

Because the weather has finally gotten to the point in which it is comfortable to be outside in the daylight hours, I wanted to take the kids out on the bicycle ride they've been asking for. I'd planned to take them out on Saturday morning when it was cooler. I was putting air into the bicycle tires after they had been sitting on the balcony for the past seven months when I snapped the end off one of the valves. I have plenty of tubes for my bike but no idea of where to get one for my son's bike. I figured that I might be able to take the wheel to Lulu's, the department store where we bought the bike last year but wasn't counting on much help from them. Sure enough, they refused to sell me a tube and gave me the advice that I'd been dreading: go to a bike shop on Hamdan Street.

Hamdan is a part of town where you can find hundreds of little shops that sell almost everything cheaply. It is also under heavy construction and impossible to find parking. It's a maze of tiny streets with cars on either side and in the middle. If you are lucky enough to find parking, you'd better not leave your car too long unless you want it parked in. In the above picture you can see a sample of the parking I saw on Saturday while looking for a shop.

A friend of mine gave me some advice as to where I could find a good shop selling children's bike parts. I drove close to the area where I thought it was and as soon as I found a parking spot, I got out and began asking around for a bike shop. I didn't see any bike shops but I did see thousands of hair salons copy centers and electronics shops. After a while, someone told me that it had moved and I walked to the new area and began to ask around again.

Eventually I found it. The shop was a nice little shop selling only kid's bikes and various parts for them. The bikes were more reasonable than department stores and, I'm guessing, better quality. In addition, there was much better service than you'll get at stupid Lulu's. I was able to buy a couple of tubes for the bikes really cheaply. When the kids eventually outgrow their current bikes, I know where to go now. Since everything is so chaotic in that area of town, I've always avoided it. I went mostly as an exercise to see if I could find a shop. In the end, I got a new bit of knowledge and now dread going to Hamdan a little less than I did before.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Another Lecture

It seems that I got my wish much sooner than I'd expected. Today, just after lunchtime I received another "invitation" to watch a prestigious speaker at the Abu Dhabi Men's College. Lord Norman Foster gave a lecture on sustainable cities for growing populations with a focus on Masdar City, the completely self-sustaining city that is being built in Abu Dhabi. Once again I was one of the fortunate ones to have an open space in my schedule. Once I got the invitation to attend the 5:00pm lecture, I immediately called my wife to let her know that I would be late and that she shouldn't hold dinner for me. I explained that I simply couldn't miss this lecture.

All kidding aside, the lecture was pretty interesting and from looking at his credentials, Lord Foster has been involved in some pretty prestigious projects. It was good to hear him speak, but there has been increasing resentment from the staff about the mandatory attendance to these vanity lectures meant to promote the Higher Colleges with only several hours notice. The truly annoying thing about this particular lecture is that they really didn't need to require people to be there. The auditorium was standing-room only by people from outside the college who genuinely wanted to hear him speak.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Release

Once again I had the good fortune to be invited to a prestigious event hosted by the Higher Colleges of Technology given in our very own Abu Dhabi Men's College Auditorium. Despite only finding out about it this morning, I was lucky enough to have a gap in my teaching schedule which allowed me to attend the Official Book Release of "Governing Business & Relationships" by Swami Parthasarathy. From attending the Swami's lecture his book is a self-help book. If you know me, you know how dear this topic is to me.

This event was so in demand that every faculty member who received an invitation and wasn't already teaching a class couldn't stay away. When the lecture ran into the next teaching period, all in attendance remained seated. I was a little concerned until I saw a few of the students in my next class who couldn't tear themselves away. These sudden events seem to be a trend and I'm looking forward to hearing about the next one.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Musandam (Part Three)

Thursday was our final day in Musandam, Oman. The two families packed up our tents and headed to the port to catch our dhow tour that we had reserved the previous day. We got there in plenty of time only to realize that we inadvertently booked the full-day tour. We had just missed the half-day tour boat but the tour company kindly offered to take us in a motor boat to try to catch the boat we had just missed.
That worked out well for us because not only did we get a slow cruise thought the fjords for some dolphin watching, we got to take a speed-boat there. Just as we got to the boat we saw some dolphins swimming in our wake.
After we switched to the more traditional dhow, we were taken on a slow cruise. We reached a point where we stopped and could do some snorkeling. There wasn't really that much wildlife to see, but it was nice to go for a swim.
We even saw a group of kayaks on a tour of the canyon.
Once we got back we exchanged contact details and said our goodbyes to our camping buddies. From there, the rest of the trip was farily uneventful. Now that we know we can reach the border in three hours, going to Musandam seems like something that we could do over a long weekend; just not when everyone else has off of work.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Musandam (Part Two)

After the ordeal with immigration on Tuesday, I was glad to be relaxing on a beach with our tent set up. To be perfectly honest, I didn't really want to camp in the mountains, but after you spend three hours getting to know someone in line to get into a country, you trust them when they say a spot is good. The next day, I was planning on moving on to the next place but was glad when our new friends said that they were in no mood to pack up the tents and suggested that we stay in the same place for the next day.

At their suggestion, we made plans to go on a dhow cruise through the fjords of Musandam, something we were advised to do by friends. Unfortunately, we were unable to book a tour for that day so we made plans to go the following day. Instead, we went to visit Khasab Castle, a renovated fort. I was quite impressed with the set-up on a few levels. It was a maze of interesting information, there wasn't much that kids could hurt themselves on or break so whether or not it was meant to be, it was interactive. There was also plenty of space for the kids to run around in and it was well-maintained. Oh, and they had really nice bathrooms.

After we finished with the fort, we decided to head into the mountains for lunch. We stopped at a restaurant for some take-away then to a gas station for our friends to fill up. Once we realized that all the gas stations in town were out of gas, our friends told us that they didn't have enough gas to go up the mountain and had to head back to a station near the border. We decided to move on and were glad that we did. Eating our lunch on some rocky ground with goat poop everywhere wasn't anything that great, but the drive up was spectacular. The roads were curvy gravel roads with a drop off on one side. Some points were a bit sketchy, but it was exiting to drive up and down with beautiful scenery.
We got back to our tents in mid-afternoon, our friends had found a gas station that was selling gas and had filled their truck. We were able to spend the rest of the daylight relaxing on the beach playing baseball, flying a kite and splashing around in the water. We had a good evening anticipating the boat ride into the fjords of Musandam the next day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Musandam (Part One)

After a night's rest, we decided to go camping again. We left most of the equipment in the truck while we stayed at home on Monday. Tuesday morning, we headed out. Because we were a bit tired from the previous couple of days we got up a little late and as a result left a little later than I had originally planned.

In the past we had bad experiences with looking for a campsite in the dark and I wanted to avoid a repeat of that. To top things off, I didn't have a solid plan of where we were going apart from what our off-road map said and what I had heard from people who have been there. Ah well, things work out in the end, don't they? We got a few miles away from the border within three hours, with plenty of time to fill up the car and stop for lunch before we crossed over.

Even though Musandam is a chunk of Oman not connected to the rest of the country sticking out in the Straight of Hormuz (see the above map with Abu Dhabi and Musandam circled in red), we need our passports. We also need to go through immigration. I've heard that it usually takes about three hours to get through, but since it was a holiday, expected it to be a little longer. Without getting into too much detail, it took over three hours to get through. With a combination of bad luck choosing which line to stand in, an extra slow immigration officer, and not realizing that people were handing stacks of passports to their friends inside until too late we didn't get back in our car and on the road until after 5:00.

Fortunately, we had plenty of time to get to know the family in line in front of us who had been to the area a number of times and agreed to let us follow them to a campsite they knew. Unfortunately, the spot they were planning on was up in the mountains and with darkness quickly approaching, we didn't have time to drive up the treacherous roads. (I later realized why he didn't want to drive up in the dark.) We were able to find a nice beach that wasn't too crowded and had a hill blocking it from the road. And as another positive, it didn't have any broken glass on it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


While we were driving from Dibba to Umm Al Quwain on Sunday, we found ourselves on a narrow trucking road with only one lane going in either direction and the lanes separated by a construction barrier. About ten vehicles ahead, I could see that there was a semi-trailer truck that had stalled. Either it had overheated or run out of gas, but the point was that it obviously had a problem, there was nowhere for it to go, and we weren't going anywhere until it was moved. To add to the problem, the roundabout we had just come off of, was packed and traffic was quickly backing up.

Almost immediately, some guys in SUVs who were behind it, began pushing the construction fence into the other lane while others began signaling to the oncoming cars to drive on the shoulder. They pushed the barrier over enough to get a truck through to tow the stalled truck a few hundred feet so it was out of the way. While I was expecting a scene out of a Three Stooges movie, the whole process took about ten to fifteen minutes tops. The amazing thing to me was how quickly people were able to get together and get things taken care of. Things would go a lot more smoothly in the U.A.E. if more things worked like this.

Monday, November 15, 2010


With having a week off of work for the Eid holiday, I wanted to go somewhere. The problem that I have is in paying loads of cash to go somewhere to do something that we could do around our home. While the idea of traveling to exciting new cities appeals to me, the idea of dragging two complaining kids around an exciting new city fills me with dread. As much as I'd like to tell myself that we'd be organized enough to plan around the kids, I know that we wouldn't and that traveling out of the country with our kids would be hell.

A few weeks ago, a student of mine suggested that we go camping in his hometown, Dibba. (To see where Dibba is in relation to Abu Dhabi, have a look at the map below.) He told me that he could show us a secret little beach that he knew that wouldn't be be busy. I've had similar offers before and they tend to come from students who are the biggest pains. I tend to just ignore them until the students forget. This guy mentioned it a few times and since he's a genuinely nice guy, I thought we could take him up on his offer.

I was slightly worried because I wasn't sure whether he'd be available like he said he would. Also, we had friends who were coming with us who hadn't been camping in the Middle East before who were relying on us. My wife and I made alternate plans in case things didn't work out, but since I'd never led a camping trip before, there was added pressure.

We left on Saturday morning and got to Dibba at about 12:30, just in time for lunch. I called my student after we ate lunch and he took us to the combination internet cafe, gaming center complete with Playstation 3's, a pool table, and table soccer. We were able to relax and enjoy my student's hospitality before heading off to his secluded spot.

When we got there, we were a bit disappointed to see a lot of broken glass by the rocks near the beach. While the beach itself was fairly nice, there was the worry of the kids cutting themselves. on glass. To be fair, it was cleaner than a lot of beaches and camping spots that I've seen in this area. In addition, with the speed that my student began helping us clean the area up, I could tell that he was a bit embarrassed by the state of things. Once we did a quick check of the beach area to make sure that there weren't any surprises, we were able to reason that as long as we kept the kids away from the rocks where the broke glass was, we'd be fine.

Camping went well with the kids having a blast splashing around in the water and digging in the sand. As the tide went out, we had more and more places to spread out. We built a fire, had our dinner and roasted marshmallows. Once the kids were all riled up from the sugar, we put them to bed and ended up going to bed around 10:00 pm.

Around 2:00 am, my wife woke me up to say that the waves were getting within a few feet of our tent and we had to move it. Both families dragged the tents with kids inside further up the beach and moved everything to a safe distance. Satisfied that we had taken care of the problem, I went back to sleep.

At 4:00 am, my wife woke me up again so we could move our tent again. This time we had to move it to the edge of the rocks and move all the chairs and other camping equipment onto the rocks. We debated whether we should move the tents onto the rocks with all the broken glass in the 4:00am dark, but decided to take our chances with the tide. Fortunately, our gamble paid off with the waves stopping about a foot from out tent.

Although we had originally planned to go camping two nights, our friends' tent broke. We figured that it was probably best just to head back and go to Dreamland water park for the day instead. We got there at about 11:30, ate our picnic lunch in the parking lot, and had the whole afternoon for the kids to splash around. Because Sunday is during the work week and the holiday doesn't start for most people until Tuesday, the park was almost empty. After a quick stop at the best liquor shop I've seen in the UAE (conveniently located next to the water park), we headed home.

While we didn't get to go camping in Musundam, Oman like we'd planned, we had a good trip. We had a day to relax at home before we head out to Musandam for another two days of camping tomorrow.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sports City

Yesterday, my wife and I took the kids to Zayed Sports City, a complex of stadiums, playing fields, and various other venues for sports. We went there for the kids to use one of the practice fields to play Australian Rules Football before a club match then to watch an actual game. I thought it would be a good opportunity for the kids to see a real match and to play on a big field.

The name doesn't lie; it's about the size of a small city. While I've been to Zayed Sports City before for bowling, I didn't give much thought to all of the stuff there. There are soccer stadiums, a tennis stadium, a full-sized running track, a baseball diamond, practice fields, a huge bowling alley and from what I've heard, a nice ice-skating rink. The facilities available for public use are reasonably priced, too.

As we arrived, the UAE Japanese community was playing baseball on the field next to us. My son saw a classmate of his whose father was playing baseball. From that point on, he spent the whole time playing baseball with his friend instead of playing and watching Aussie Rules Football.

After that we went to the bowling alley where there is a full Chinese restaurant inside. The restaurant is good enough that the people I know who recommended it, go to the bowling alley specifically to eat there.

Things looked fairly well maintained, though the running track looks like it's suffered under the Abu Dhabi heat. With a over a week off for Eid, we will probably take the kids back to Sports City for bowling and / or ice skating. It's nice to have a place to go. It looks like it's well-used, though I don't know how many Emiratis go there.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


The UAE government is generally pretty amiable and tries to remain on good diplomatic terms with the rest of the world. Recently, however, one country has been difficult to deal with and has strained diplomatic ties to the point where the UAE government has had to take action. That's right, you guessed it: I'm talking about Canada.

It seems that the "peaceful" nation of Canada has been stirring things up in the Gulf. Even though the UAE helps Canada out by importing more Canadian goods than any other nation, Canada has selfishly refused to allow more Etihad and Emirites flights to land in Canadian airports. Also, in a recent tour of the Gulf, the Canadian trade minister visited most countries except, you guessed it, the UAE. Naturally, the poor UAE government had no other recourse but to close Camp Mirage, Canada's military base in the UAE. In addition, they refused to allow a Canadian plane with Canada's defense minister to land in Camp Mirage.

Sure Canadians would like to think of themselves as the U.S.'s cool-headed neighbor to the north, but if that were the case why would the UAE have to lobby against Canada's bid for a seat in the Security Council of the United Nations? After that, Canadian officials were such poor sports that they required Emirati's traveling to Canada to get a visa. In retaliation for this uncalled for action, the UAE embassy in Ottowa (the Canadians won't even let the UAE have an embassy in their capital, Toronto!) announced that from January 2nd, Canadians will have to get a visa to visit the UAE.

I think that the diplomats and trade ministers of Canada could learn a thing or two from their U.S. counterparts. If people are buying your stuff, you let them do what they want. In times like this, the only thing you can do is shake your head and say, "Oh Canada..."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Yesterday at about 1:40 pm we were given notice that Dr. Enrique Garcia, a prestigious figure in the world of international trade, was giving a speech on Economic Development and challenges of the Latin America at 4:30 pm that same day in our very own auditorium. This intrigued my co-workers and I so much that anyone who wasn't already teaching made sure to be there.

Because I got there just before 4:30, I was worried that I wouldn't get a good seat. Fortunately, someone led me to one of the open seats in the second row, so I had a good view. My seat was just behind the speaker, the Director of our college, and the Vice Chancellor of all of the Higher Colleges of Techlology, Dr. Tayeb Kamali. I was glad to be nicely dressed in a suit because of all the photographs and video being taken for promotional purposes.

I could see that some of the students in the class I had just taught were in attendance. I'm sure that they too heard about Dr, Garcia's lecture and felt compelled to attend. Dr. Garcia was a fine Keynote speaker to Global Entrepreneurship Week at the Higher Colleges. To paraphrase what he said in his speech, "It was a lucky coincidence that [he] happened to be in the country while the colleges were having Global Entrepreneurship Week." What a coincidence, indeed.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Traffic Violations

Recently the Abu Dhabi police have been fairly aggressive about cracking down on road fatalities. Changing the speed limits was one such measure. Now, with the recent addition of cameras all along the roadways of Abu Dhabi, the police are issuing fines based on video evidence. Whether or not the police will consistently enforce the fines remains to be seen, but at least it's a step in the right direction.

Here is some video evidence of some reckless driving. Some of it is pretty minor, but the last clip is a good example of why these cameras are a good idea. Click on some of the other videos to see examples of some of the stellar driving that I have to deal with on a day to day basis.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Phone Comparison

As is common here, I saw a student with several phones on his desk. I've seen this before, but assumed that each was for a different group of people, like business, family, and friends; or something like that.

Seeing three distinct brands of phone aroused my curiosity so I asked my student which one was the best. He hesitated and said that he couldn't really say. Why I asked him why not, he replied, "I use the Blackberry for messaging, the i-phone for playing and the Nokia for calling."

With all those features, who can blame him for being indecisive?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fan Zone

With the Formula One coming to Abu Dhabi next weekend, there are a number of events the weeks leading up to it. They have a number of free concerts, a Brazilian parade on the corniche as well as a newly constructed temporary place at the plaza on 30th street called the Formula One Fan Zone.

There are a lot of things to do for kids like driving motorized cars around a city course.
Inside the building, my kids got to go into a wind tunnel.
After that there were slot car drag races powered by CO2 cartridges.
There were also remote controlled cars on a race track with cameras mounted on the front so it looked like you were driving on the track. For people 15 and over, they had a driving simulator that gave you a chance to drive an Formula One car on the Yas Marina Grand Prix track. Even though I know the track fairly well from the times that I went cycling there, I still had a hard time controlling the car.

The attractions are open from 5:00 pm Sunday to Thursday and from 2:00 pm Friday and Saturday. I would recommend getting there right when they open to avoid the crowds. While we were in the Fan Zone, there were hardly any people so we didn't have to wait for the attractions. It was pretty good value considering the whole thing was free.