Dubai is Cool.

The line above says it all.  Dubai is infinitely cooler than its stodgy cousin Abu Dhabi and ever so much more exciting than pastoral Al Ain.

What is it that makes the city so cool?  Is it the towering skyline that looms like Manhattan on the Gulf?  Is it the proportion of cool people to uncool ones?  Is it because you can purchase a 24K gold plated iPad there?  Well, based on our experience celebrating our fifth anniversary (and the last one alone, without a curtain-climbing munchkin crawling about), Dubai is cool because it is considerably more relaxed and foreigner-friendly than the other places I mentioned.  Dubai is cool because there is always something going on, which you just might happen to luck into being part of.  Dubai is cool because if you’re looking for it, it’s probably there, somewhere.

The view from our hotel in the Bur Dubai area.

We spent the night at the reasonably-priced (at least via booking.com) 4-star Dhow Palace hotel, which we found just opulent enough to satisfy our need for feeling special, and for dinner we ventured over to the rather more opulent Rotana near the airport, and had a splendid meal at the none-too-reasonably-priced Blue Elephant Thai restaurant housed within.  We were charmed by the decor of the place, as well as the waterfall and koi fish.  The service was excellent, as was our food–a vegetarian delight, I tell you!  Of course, we did splurge on the 5-course meal, but considering the occasion and our burning desire for tasty Thai, it was well worth it.  When we were leaving, the hostess stopped us and we were given a fresh orchid to take home.  Sweet.

Now, say what you like about the Dubai Mall being the embodiment of modern consumerism (and use that tone of superiority if you must, go ahead), criticize it if you like for being just a bit phony (I mean, what about that psuedo-souk?) or over the top (’cause, yeah, it is), we like it.  So we went there.  As we strode about the densely-packed Mall, which is basically shopper heaven, bustling with people of all shapes and sizes, tastefully dressed and not, abayas and short (for here, yeah, yeah, I know) skirts side-by-side, we noticed flyers for an afternoon event: Freestyle Moto X.  Motocross in Burj Park?  Heck, yeah.  So we strolled a bit more, through the throngs and outdoors, below the Burj Khalifa, to find ourselves a place to watch the motorcycle action.  My wife was not particularly thrilled with the idea of watching some motorcycle riders, but the first time one of the riders went soaring off the large jump they had set up, she got mighty interested.  In fact, she was aghast at the stunts that the Australian team of riders pulled off.  I myself was in awe of the feats of bravado and daring that I witnessed.  We both snapped photos like crazy.

Trials rider Jack demonstrates some of his capabilities.

I think this is called a “double grab” or something. Jenia calls it scary.

Triple threat! Would you do this?

If you believe Emaar’s (that’d be the company that owns and evidently operates the whole development area) hype, then Downtown Dubai is smack-dab “in the center of now,” and I have to admit, it does feel pretty hip.  Is it a bit artificial?  Yeah, maybe.  But it’s also cool.  And that seems to describe the city as a whole.  There’s always something interesting happening, and it’s pretty fun to blunder into nifty stuff.  The city in general is just oozing coolness.  There’s coolness dripping from the futuristic Metro stations, from the spire of the Burj Khalifa and into the over-hyped fountains below, from the overpasses of the unnecessarily confusing highways, and from the neon lights which are spread about accenting the, uh, coolness of the place.  You get the idea.  Dubai is cool, especially this time of year, when you can go outside and enjoy walking around, instead of dissolving into a big nasty pile of sweat.

Just when you thought I was joking. Look, 24kt gold-plated iPads. Yup.

One last chestnut: here’s a video I shot with my trusty iPhone whilst we were taking in the motocross action.  Enjoy:)

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Rookie Dune Bashing

Man, I”ll tell you what–I want to buy a 4×4 (I mean, a real 4×4, something brawny, not the puny Kia Sorento we happen to own) and head to the desert as often as possible.

Friday afternoon I had a great time in the dunes with a bunch of off-roading newbies and a crew of very patient and helpful experienced pros.

I’ve never once done this kind of thing before.  It was great.  There is nothing quite like the experience of cresting a dune (and getting stuck while driving your buddy’s Jeep) in the middle of the Arabian desert.  Ditto that descending a steep slope.  The ascent is a curious mixture of gentle approach (depending on the angle of the wall) and then nail-it-to-the-floorboards-and-watch-the-sand-fly power.  Learning the balance is a bit of a challenge.  The descent is generally pretty easy: approach slowly, keep it in low gear, and let the engine to the braking as you float down the slope.  However, go too fast off a steep hill, and you can find yourself in trouble, as you might damage your vehicle, or at the very least, bottom out the suspension.  Yeah, the suspension bottoming thing happened to us a couple times.  Vroom–swish–crash!  But not when I was behind the wheel.  I promise.

In all, I had a ball.  I probably should have taken the Canon Rebel along for some better quality photos, but I was a bit afraid it might end up covered in sand and totally ruined.  So rather than risk it, I just had ye olde iPhone in its trusty Otterbox case.  I just may purloin some pictures from fellow photographers for this post, however, and in that case, I’ll give those picture-takers credit.

My buddy Jon and his son as we are preparing to head out.  Here, the 4WD has just been engaged on his old Jeep for the first time since he’s owned it.

On the rough road, getting ready to head into the serious sand.

Jon’s son ended up in the nice, cool, air conditioned cabin of this Jeep Liberty (sold here as a Cherokee) which is shown here about to come down a dune.

 

The day’s only casualty that I’m aware of was this Cherokee and its exploded radiator.

Check this view out. I’d been longing to be out in the dunes ever since I arrived. It was as cool as I hoped.  Don’t turn down the opportunity to get out there with some experienced folks.

And this would be a photo I'm borrowing from Heidi Cothron.  Maybe she'll let me borrow a high-res version later.

And this would be a photo I’m borrowing from Heidi Cothron. Maybe she’ll let me borrow a high-res version later.

So, I’m discovering the joys of living in the Arabian desert.  This off-roading stuff is seriously fun.  It ranks up there, in an altogether different way, of course, with riding a motorcycle.  LIke hopping on a bike and heading into the hills, being in the desert amidst a sea of dunes and away from the city is relaxing, and again, like riding a bike, there is definitely an element of risk involved in heading into the sand.  Your machinery must be in good shape, and it must be tough.  You’ve got to exercise good technique, or you’ll have serious problems on your hands.  Again, this is much like motorcycling.  In other words, it’s great fun and I highly recommend it.

A Checklist of Sorts? AKA, Something ADEC Could Do.

There’s quite a number of ADEC teachers who, like me, have noticed that ADEC does a splendid job with some of the arrangements for new arrivals to the UAE, and not so great with others.

Something that would newcomers help would be a simple checklist provided to teachers. The checklist could look like this:

1.  Residence Visa and Emirates ID applications are part of the process that we, ADEC, take care of for you, right along with the medical checkup.  Check!

However, If you don’t hear from the Emirates ID people after a while, go visit them and make sure everything is going well.  You’ll need a copy of your ID application receipt for number 2 anyway.

2.  UAE driver’s license is something you need to take care of.  Here are the steps:

  • Have your driver’s license translated.  We recommend Infinity Services, but if you go to them, don’t tell them you’re an ADEC employee, or they’ll charge you nearly double what they charge anyone else.
  • Have a copy of the Emirates ID application receipt (which we don’t bother to furnish to you, but you can obtain easily, as noted in step 1).
  • Take your American license and some cash and go to the driver’s licensing center. You’ll need an eye exam there and your license will be issued in 20 minutes after all is said and done.
  • Also, you should try to get this done as soon as you get your residence visa stuck into your passport.

3. Road Rules for Roundabouts.

  • If you enter a roundabout from the right hand lane, plan to exit immediately if there are other cars in the roundabout already.
  • If you enter from the middle, plan on going straight.
  • If you need to turn left, enter from the left lane.
  • Cars in the inside lanes of roundabouts have the right of way.  Don’t mess with them. They will run right the crap into you.

4.  How Utilities Work

  • When we give you your apartment, we give you a utilities letter that says, in Arabic, that you’re responsible for electricity and water expenses.
  • Find out your water and electricity meter numbers and take those, along with this letter, to the Al Ain Distribution Company (or other, if you’re working in Abu Dhabi or Al Gharbia).
  • You will have to pay a 1,000 AED deposit and whatever balance you might have already when you transfer the utilities into your name.
  • Regarding your bills, you can pay online, or at most ATMs, or you can go to AADC.
  • This is also true for gas.  You’re responsible for getting it up and running, and there will be a 1,000 AED deposit.

5.  Spouse Visa Process

  • Your wife (or husband, as the case maybe) will need pretty much the same documents as you.  You’ve probably already brought copies of your important documents: the authenticated marriage certificate is the most important one for the visa process.  We don’t make this very clear, but after you arrive, you need to get your authenticated marriage certificate translated into Arabic.
  • After you get your own residence visa in your passport (about a month), you’ll be able to apply for your wife’s visa.  You’ll need to bring all your wife’s important documents, passport photos, and that translated marriage certificate we just mentioned, to your local ADEC office to have us type the application.  We might tell you that this application form can be downloaded from our website, but don’t believe it.  We will type the application up, and then we’ll print it and give it to you.
  • After you have the application, you have to take it to the immigration authority and submit it.

A simple little list like this would be very helpful.  As is, lots of new arrivals have to figure out what to do by asking around, which usually works, but sometimes it causes an extra measure of frustration.