I Just Witnessed

It’s not Thursday, list day.  But I forgot to make one yesterday, so here’s one.  I was at the pool for the last hour or so and I have seen:

1) A tramp stamp.  On a guy.

2) A transparent-assed black bikini on a woman.  She might have been wearing underwear rather than a swimsuit.  The top had a suspiciously bustier cut.  And what swimsuit honestly has a see-through butt area?

3) Several men with so much body hair that they could be wearing sweaters.

4) A sweet old Russian couple that I was tempted to speak to, but then realized I’d exhaust my knowledge of the Russian language inside of three sentences.

This has taught me that:

1) Tramp stamps belong on women.  And then only maybe.

2) Taste is in short supply.

3) Evolution must be wrong.  Why would Arab men, who have dwelled in this sweltering desert since time began, have so much body hair?  Hair makes a person warmer.  It’s illogical!

Sorry, but I didn’t photograph any of these bizarre but true sightings.

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Furniture and Faux Pas

It’s 4 in the morning. I’m awake because there was a fight of some kind outside, and even on the 16th floor, I could hear some of the shouting and, when I cracked the drapes, see the police cars and ambulances. I’m guessing that there was a brouhaha between drunk Americans (hopefully not teachers). One fine fellow, amidst the hubbub cried out, so loudly that I could hear it clearly from my (closed) window, “I’ll take your head off, motha (you can guess the rest)!” There was wild gesticulating from various members of the crowd, and a woman sat crying on the sidewalk for the duration of all this, until she was escorted to a freshly arriving ambulance.  As I snapped this photo, the crowd had mostly cleared out and one police car and ambulance had already departed.

A run-in with the authorities in these parts could be a terrible idea. Like my Middle-Eastern acquaintance says, “they don’t mess around.”  From my vantage point up here on the 16th floor, I’d guess the various parties were all American, which might make it easier for everyone than if they’d tangled with Emiratis, much like it’s better if foreigners in the USA don’t get into a melee with well-established locals. But who knows. I’m mostly speculating because I’m awake and it’s the wee hours of the morning. Whether I’m right or wrong about the nature of the conflict though, I consider it quite the faux pas to get acquainted with the Abu Dhabi police in such a fashion.

Say, does “wee hours” mean that these are the smallest hours, by the way, or the hours when normal people wake up just long enough to go “wee” in the bathroom? Apologies. Just wondering.

On a whole different note, yesterday (which feels like today, of course) I spent the day furniture shopping. I’ve mentioned before that I suck at shopping. I do. I found stuff I liked in Home Centre (conveniently located across from one entrance of the Marina Mall), but I quickly discovered that if I bought what I liked, I’d have no money left after furnishing only one room in the house. Home Centre offers a 20% discount for ADEC teachers, as well as free moving and set-up. That’s a good savings, but most of their stuff is low quality, and I don’t want the stuff I can afford, I want the nice, expensive stuff!

 

 

I then went across the parking lot. This was a short journey, but one where I had the double pleasure of thawing out and getting very hot. It was downright chilly inside, and of course it’s over 100 degrees outside, so the contrast is intense. After I made this journey of extremes, I went inside the Mall itself and downstairs to Carrefour, where I looked at kitchen appliances and priced various household goods. That was not thrilling. Dishwashers, stoves, washing machines–they’re just not exciting things to shop for. I got a bunch of prices and left, having filled up a couple pages in my trusty notebook and snapped several photos with my lovely iPhone.  Oh, and I can’t forget to tell you that I did a lot of dividing by 3.67, the exchange rate, to get a feeling for prices compared to home.  I don’t like doing math.  Even on a calculator.  How ridiculous am I?

Back at the hotel, I hopped on Dubizzle and spent a while searching for bed sets and used appliances. I have a lead on a decent bedroom set and a full-sized 700 liter fridge, so I hope to follow those tomorrow and see what happens.

I forgot to say that I consulted with the wife repeatedly about this stuff via facebook’s video chat. I held my iPhone up so she could see photos I took, and we talked price, and decided what we need now and can get later, and so forth and so on.

It was a very ordinary and rather tedious day, for the most part. Yup. Sucky shopper. I know. Anyway, now I hope to go back to sleep.

Ta ta.

Flexible Pricing and Cheap Translation

Flexible pricing is one of the odd things to be aware of here in Abu Dhabi.  Even big, shiny, reputable looking companies do it.  Case in point: the company that we were recommended (Let’s call them IfS; the name has been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty alike). They don’t have prices for some of their services posted anywhere. I have, like several others, paid 110 dirhams per document for translation services. I also paid 200 dirhams to have my marriage certificate attested. Yesterday I left my driver’s license with them to get it interpreted, again paying 110 dirhams, which is what I paid for the marriage certificate translation.

I have since discovered that there are also several people who got things translated for 60 dirhams and attested for 150 by the very same folks in the very same establishment. That’s a considerable difference in pricing, with no difference in service or explanation for the discrepancy.

IfS is also not the most affordable place around (at least not when they decide to charge folks the higher prices). There is talk about a place on Hamdan Street behind the Etisalat building (that would be the one with the golf ball on top, if you know AD) which translates for 75 dirhams per document. Other folks tell about getting a quantity discount because they went in a group. A reliable source tells me that the driver’s license facility actually will translate it while you wait for 60 dirhams.

dirhams

Here’s the moral of the story, kids: ask around about pricing for services, and insist on the lower prices if you hear of a place which, like IfS, has flexible pricing. Sadly for me, I didn’t know that other folks were having things done more cheaply until I’d already paid up front for the service.

As a sort of footnote, don’t underestimate the helpfulness of the hotel concierge, either. The concierge can give advice on a wide range of things. It’s very possible that the concierge could have recommended a place that would be reliable and more affordable for these services. One of my colleagues got a laptop fixed very cheaply because the concierge steered him in the best direction.

When it comes down to it, the 420 dirhams ($114.50) that I’ve paid for having my license translated and marriage certificate both attested and interpreted isn’t just totally outrageous. I mean, Jenia is worth that much to me and then some, and I’ve got to have this stuff done in order to get her here. But if you make this journey, bear my words in mind, because you might save some hard-earned cash if you are a bit more savvy than me.

OK, So There are Cool Things in Abu Dhabi.

Yeah, this is cooler than things in Cuthbert.  I’ll admit it.

I bumped into my friends, the same ones I mentioned before, as they were getting ready to  tour the Grand Mosque, and I ended up going with them.  (It was free, since Shawn was driving, so I am still saving my fils, in case your wonder) If you’re in the neighborhood and want to see the Mosque, be sure that you take a tour (usually at 11:00am and 5:00pm, but be sure to check their schedule).

You can look up all kinds of information about the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, but I will offer a few neat tidbits: it is among the 10 largest mosques in the world; it contains the largest carpet in the world; it has one of the largest Swarovski crystal chandeliers in the world; it’s an all-around neat place to tour with a guide who is willing to answer all sorts of questions.

The photos following below were snapped with my iPhone, so the resolution isn’t exactly stellar.  I look forward to Jenia arriving so that we can get some nice photos with the Canon (there are other reasons I look forward to her arriving, too, but I’ll leave those to you to deduce).

The Mosque grounds are still under construction, although the building itself has been open since 2007.

There are all kinds of marble inlaid into the floor.  The domes are topped off with 24K gold.

The columns are inlaid with semi-precious stones.

Looking through the main entrance into the courtyard.

A shot of the floor.

This is one of the small chandeliers. The big one is, well, bigger.  Notice the flowers on the wall–they’re made from various kinds of marble, and symbolize the gardens that will be found in heaven.

The carpet was made in Iran and installed in the mosque in one piece.

When we finished the tour, the light outside was simply magical. If only I’d had Jenia’s good camera with that sweet 15mm lens! For the evening’s light alone, I’d recommend the evening tour.

The ladies in the group all wore long skirts and sleeves, and covered their heads with scarves.  We had to kill a little time before the tour began, which wasn’t a problem, but by the time we made it inside, that air conditioning sure felt good to them.  In truth, they keep it very cold inside.  “This light is magical,” I told Shawn as we stepped out and put our shoes back on.  “Yeah,” he muttered, holding up his camera–the lens was all fogged up (again–this happened when we first arrived and got out of the car, too) and it took forever to get back to normal.  It was worse when he took the lens off, and then the inside of the camera fogged over, too.

The moral of the story: The Mosque is great.  But keep your camera in the case and let the temperature adjust before you bother trying to take any photos.

Food Friday

While my darling husband is living the life of leisure and counting fils, I’m working like a beaver (said with a lovely Maine accent, in imitation of Shon’s late Grandma) and spending money left and right. Well, not really. I am, indeed, working my online job 6 hours a day, which feels like a rather long time to spend staring at a laptop. Most of the $$, however, is going towards bills.

But this week I decided I needed a nice break, too, so here I am, writing from the beaches of the Gulf – of Mexico. The city (haha) of Cuthbert, fondly referred to by some as the armpit of Georgia, is conveniently located 3 hours away from Panama City Beach. This is close enough for a day trip, but this year has been really hectic, and we haven’t gone a single time.

Knowing that a) we are hoping to not have to live in South GA again and b) Shon doesn’t care if he never sees a beach again, I figured this might be
my last chance to see the white sands in the next two decades, and drove 3 hours this morning for a day of self-loving. Beach is extremely important to my kinesthetic self: I get giddy from feeling the sand under my feet and between my fingers, being surrounded by the water, smelling the air, and tasting the salty waves. It’s a religious experience, too, but I cannot explain why.

 

By now you are wondering what this has to do with food 🙂 well, a trip to PCB is not complete without a lunch at Raggae J’s. Both Mom and Dear Cousin Erika can testify to the deliciousness of their Mahi-Mahi sandwich with sweet potato fries, as well as the irresistibility of the Key Lime pie.

If you ever make it here, make sure to try some!

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How to Bring Your Wife to the Emirates, Part I

It costs a little money.  Not a lot, but enough that you should plan on it.  Basically, Jenia needs all the things that I needed–passport photos, copies of her passport, and a couple of other documents.  Here’s how to go about it if you’re an ADEC teacher and your spouse is following you.

1) Have the marriage certificate that you got authenticated in the USA attested and translated.  Infinity Services, in the Marina Mall in Dubai (and other places) is a good reputable place.  It costs 210 dirhams for the attestation and 100 for the translation.

2) Follow the instructions that ADEC provides.  If you’re unaware of those, the gist is this: fill out an application online, then, after that is approved, provide original documents to ADEC.  They’ll get a visa prepared.

3) The last step is a medical exam, followed by submitting your spouse’s passport to ADEC so that they can put the final visa in it.

The prevailing wisdom is to get #1 done right away, since it might not take very long for us to get our passports back, and if step #1 is already complete, the rest is pretty easy (or at least so I’m told).

I’ll write another entry after I get to experience more of the process.

Infinity Services is found on the Lower Basement level of the Marina Mall, below the Paris Gallery.

 

Thursday List: Observations.

Abu Dhabi is an amazing place. Judging by the number of construction projects, it has managed to avoid the recession which still plagues the US.  Here are some observations from my first week here.

1. You’re as likely to run into someone who speaks Tagalog or some Hindi dialect as you are someone who speaks Arabic.  Perhaps more.

2.  It’s easy to get around.  Most everyone speaks English to some degree.

3.  Meeting people is easy.

4.  Most people are friendly.

5. Emiratis don’t have what some of us might call “real jobs;” laborers are largely from India; clerks and staff are commonly from the Philippines; those from the USA and Europe seem to represent the middle class.  Emiratis typically hold down the white-collar jobs and are the ones driving the Ferraris and Porsches.

6.  There are too many Porsches and BMWs.  They lose their elegance when you see one on every street corner.  As a result, I have determined not to buy one.

Georgia vs. Abu Dhabi

Jenia thinks I’m having all the fun while she’s stuck at home doing nothing.

She’s kind of right.

But…

I’m counting my pennies.  That keeps me in the hotel a bit more than I like.  Abu Dhabi isn’t exactly a walker’s paradise–there’s so much construction around that many areas nearby the InterContinental don’t even have sidewalks.  Counting my pennies (or fils, I guess, since dollars don’t work here) also means I try to dine modestly most of the time.  Last night I ate a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my room.  But I do usually manage to go out to eat one meal.  Yesterday I accompanied two other teachers to a Mongolian Chinese joint where we ordered rice and a couple of main courses.  Since I’m the vegetarian, I got bean curd.  We all split the tab, spending a total of 60 dirhams (which is $16.35).  The food was pretty good, so that was nice.  Counting my fils also means that I try to ride with other people to spit cab fare.   Today I finally made it to the Grand Mosque, only because I found someone else who hadn’t gone yet, and we shared the fare.  It was 33 dirhams each way, and I only had to pay one way.  Traveling with other people also means that you and the other people compromise sometimes on what your’e doing and where you’re going.  It doesn’t make getting around easier.  It does make me be a bit more social, though, and surely that’s a good thing.  Except that most of the other teachers here are women, and my wife gets jealous (needlessly, of course).  So it’s not always a good thing to be more social after all.

This view, from the InterContinental, might provide an idea about some of the construction in the neighborhood.

Pinching my fils meant that I went with a Nirvana tour group to Dubai on Monday.  An 11-hour trip in all, most of which was spent in (yawn) the biggest mall in the world.  So eight hours in Dubai…at a very busy shopping mall.  Not my idea of the best trip in the world.  But there were highlights, as I ventured out with new friends Shawn and Ryanne, and Susanne and Fadi and their child, to Dubai Creek (did you guess that we split cab fare?  Yup!), into the silk souk and then across the Creek on a delightfully old-tech abra (that would be a 1-dirham water taxi) to the gold souk.  The heat was oppressive, so oppressive, in fact that the (yawn) mall, with all its air conditioning, started to seem attractive.  Pinching my fils meant that after splurging on some gelato and a coffee in the mall, I sat around on a bench and played on my iPhone.  Pinching my fils meant that although I could ogle the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, I couldn’t spent the 100 dirhams to buy a ticket to the observation deck.

The Burj Khalifa

Tonight I’ll continue being a cheapskate and go to the Marina Mall, head to Carrefour, and purchase some food from the deli.  It’ll be cheaper than it would be to purchase something of questionable nutritional value in the food court (I had some terrible Chinese there one night, and decent-but-not-very-cheap Sbarro pizza another evening).

What it comes down to is that while my wife does mundane day-to-day things in the USA, I’m doing (with a few notable highlights, obviously) pretty mundane day-to-day things in the UAE.  It’s true that I’m meeting new people, but I’m mostly not building deep or lasting friendships.  It’s true that I’m seeing new things, but not at the rate or depth that I’d like.  It’s true that I’m the one who periodically gets scared by a crazy cab driver, and that I’m the one who’s experiencing the peculiarities of UAE society right now.  But, to shift to addressing a specific person now, honey, I think you’ll get more than your share of these kinds of experiences when you arrive next month, and we’ll get to do things the right way–in more depth, and at our leisure together.

Enjoy your time on familiar shores, because it’s different here–and not always in a sensible, logical, or even good way.  It is, however, exciting, and you can look forward to having your mind blown by both the similarities and differences when you get here.  As for similarities and differences, I think I’ll make that the focus of my next post.

Food Fridays: The Lebanese Flower and Assorted Culinary Delights

Ah, it’s Food Friday already!  Well, for those of you readers in the US, I guess it’s not Friday yet, but it will be by the time you read this, I venture.  Last night, I went with a group of fellow teachers (Christine, Nicole and her baby, and Andrea) to The Lebanese Flower, a restaurant on Khalidya Street.  Many folks in our hotel had been there already and were raving about it.  I found my options rather limited as a vegetarian, but the food was pretty good, if not great.  There was a large appetizer served that featured a lot of veggies (including a very spicy type of lettuce) with very soft, thin pita bread, hummus, and a Lebanese cream cheese (the name of which escapes me at the moment), and the company was fun to be around.  To read some more about it, check out Christine’s blog: Christine’s Big Adventure.  You’ll find the non-vegetarians seemed to like their food well enough.

After dinner, which finally wrapped up after we requested our bill (not “check,” mind you) at around 10:00pm, we walked across the parking lot to the Flower’s bakery, and Nicole, purchased some chocolates to share with the group.  These were good.

My meal, as photographed by Christine.

Then we went into the Beirut Roastery a few doors down.  There was quite a selection of various individually wrapped sliced-nougats which look a lot like Turkish delight.  Nicole and Andrea were intrigued by one which seemed to be rolled in rose petals.  I bought a handful of these creations, and, outdoors in the evening heat, gave the rose-petal ones to Andrea and Nicole.  “It tastes just like roses smell,” said Andrea, biting one in half and offering the other half to Nicole.  “How is it?” said Nicole.  Andrea, betraying no misgivings, said, “Just try it.”  Nicole bit into it and her nose immediately wrinkled.  “Oh,” Nicole exclaimed.  She put it in a nearby plant pot instead of her stomach.  I, being not the least bit interested in roses as a culinary item, tried one of the pistachio nougats.  Not too good, I assure you. I can only imagine how dried rose petals could enhance (sarcasm) the experience.   It’s fun to try new things, though!

The Lebanese Flower. A moment later a Maserati pulled up for some takeout.

The Corniche

I haven’t explored much so far, which makes me feel silly–how come I would travel here and not do any sight-seeing?  I’m tired of seeing malls and furniture stores.  I suck at shopping, I guess.  I began my exploring today, going it solo.  The Corniche is the miles-long beach-front walkway that is nearby.  I caught a cab from the Intercontinental down to it, finding the magnificent Emirates Palace hotel off to my left, and miles of blue-tile-paved walkway stretching away in the opposite direction.   It was ten o’clock, and the beach was mostly empty, despite the temperature not being scorching just yet.  A work crew of Indians were just quitting and exiting a building project on the beach as I arrived.  They loaded into several big buses without air conditioning.

The Corniche stretching into the horizon.

My initial walk wasn’t too bad–I stopped to take photos periodically, admiring the white sand and the interesting structures here and there.  The city, across the road flanking the Corniche, is growing taller day by day.  Across the bay, the Marina Mall’s burj juts into the air.  I’d guess I covered well over a mile before deciding that it was getting too hot and my sunscreen might not endure.

The return walk was an exercise in endurance.  I’d go from one patch of shade to another. The few tourists I encountered were either looking for a suitable beach or else Japanese and busy taking photos of each other.  I stopped at one of the underpasses and stuck my hands in the fountain to cool off.  As I squeezed my digits into a fist, I noticed that my hands were swollen.

These awnings provide much needed shade along the boardwalk.

Instead of taking a cab this time, I decided to just walk back to the hotel, since it wasn’t far.  I found a pretty little park where birds were singing.  I’m going to have to learn what the local birds are.  There are some that I’ve never seen before, in addition to common pigeons and doves.  I christened one, out of sheer ignorance, of course, the Red Butt Bird because of a red spot beneath his tail, and another, similar in size to a robin, the Awe Bird, because he and his compatriots walk around with their mouths wide open, as if they’re exclaiming, “Awe, man, that is pure awesome!”  My walk concluded with a crossing of the four-lane highway in front of the hotel.  This is easier said than done because it’s a construction zone, like a great deal of the city.

Across the bay, the Marina Mall is visible with it’s tower protruding into the sky.

One of my colleagues snapped this photo from the hotel. The patch of trees is the park I enjoyed stopping in.

Crossing a construction zone to get back to the Intercontinental. At the end of the highway the lovely Emirates Palace hotel draws the eye.

When I got back into the air conditioning, I ran into my dining companions from last night, and enjoyed sitting in the lobby for a while before heading back to my room to rehydrate.  Tonight I may head down to the Emirates Palace to walk around and explore the place.  We shall see what the day holds!