The Journey Is My Home

Provided that everything goes as it should, we will all be on our flight to Seattle at this time tomorrow. The bags are packed, the laptop is backed up, the audiobooks downloaded, the entertainment for the kids carefully selected.

As the last load of laundry is tumbling in the dryer, I (Jenia here) finally find myself able to breathe again. I can sit back, look around, and think of what will come after the drive, the two flights, and another drive to our apartment in Shenzhen. The adventure.

There is a rush to it. I’m grinning as I type because with all the difficulties of an international move (and there are quite a few: the culture, the language, the initial lack of a community, the lack of knowledge on how to do the most mundane things) there is also the joy of starting anew and the trill of discovery. Right now, there is a bit of mystery to it: will we like the apartment? How shall we manage without an oven? Will we really eat rice every day? What will our neighborhood grocery store look like? Will there be palm trees on the property? Will there be other families with young kids around? What will I think of hot pot? Where shall we go on our first school break? Will I get to touch a panda?

There is also a strange feeling of relief. We’ve never set foot in China and yet I feel like we’re returning. I think Muriel Rukeyser whose quote I used as the title of this post said it well, the journey is my home, too.

I have little doubt we’ll settle down one day. I would love to have a house all our own, airy and bright, with room for all the linens, and ceramics, and art we’ve collected while traveling. Yet right now the world is calling and we are answering.

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Moving to Shenzhen, pt. 3: Learning

Part of the preparation for any of international move involves learning about a culture and location. Even the most rudimentary understanding of some of the unique cultural aspects of a place can go a long way to helping ease the inevitable shock of taking up residence in a foreign place.

There are a few bases we’ve tried to cover to this point. Most important, doubtless, is some knowledge of Chinese language. Learning a language inevitably impacts and helps to form a better understanding of a people, plus we don’t expect a lot of spoken or written English around Shenzhen. While we have a TON left to learn, we’ve found iPhone apps like ChineseSkill and Memrise to be useful. ChineseSkill is really neat, because it has a nicely scaffolded manner of development which covers spoken language, learning Pinyin, and also practicing writing Chinese characters. Memrise is rather less logically laid out, but it is helpful, too. Podcasts are a favorite method of learning for Shon, and he loves the very straightforward lessons the Shao Lan offers in her Chineasy one. What’s more, Shon is using a book called Chinese in 10 Minutes a Day, which is helping expand his (still pitiful) language skills.

There are a number of interesting videos about Shenzhen on YouTube, which give us an idea of what the city is like and where it has come from (it’s only 40 years old and the population surpasses 10 million!). Wired has an interesting documentary about how Shenzhen is basically China’s Silicon Valley.

YouTube is also home of vloggers such as Serpentza, a South African who calls Shenzhen home and creates videos about life there. Here is a link to one of his videos which explains how Shenzhen is one of China’s first tier cities. Needless to say, these videos can be illuminating.

We have also watched TV shows such as Wild China and even, you might laugh, An Idiot Abroad, which has an episode set in China.

That’s all for now!

Moving to Shenzhen, pt. 2: visa office

It’s close to go time. We are supposed to be in China the weekend of August 18th. In the meantime, we are waiting for our visas.

Here’s how that went down. Rather than use a courier service (because the Chinese Embassy won’t accept anything by mail), we took our passports and complete visa applications, along with supporting documents (the list of documents necessary is on the Embassy’s website), to the Chinese Embassy’s visa department, which is, by the way, not in the Embassy building, but on Wisconsin Avenue. We parked under the building, a privilege which cost $10. The attendant told us it would probably take a while: “Very bad. 2, 3 days.” With that cheerfully covered, we took the elevator upstairs to the first floor and found a long line–we joined the que with no less than 60 people in front of us.

That was fine, though. Jenia heard that the Chinese are very picky about the size of the photos that must be included in the packet of stuff to be submitted–they want a rectangular size that is not the usual easy CVS 2×2. There is, on the third floor, a Chinese visa specialist who do pics, etc, so we left the throng and went up there. The pictures didn’t take very long. Our applications were complete with those, so back down to the waiting room.

Long hallway on the third floor. The visa service place is at the end of the hall.

Services the visa place upstairs offers and prices.

We bided our time for about 3 hours before finally getting called to the window. Oddly, the guy behind the window hardly acknowledged our presence, other than to answer our questions. He gave us receipts and told us when the visas would be ready. That was it.

Tomorrow we return to pick the passports up–hopefully with no problems. As soon as I have our visas in hand, then we will have tickets ordered for us by the school.

How to Find Work in the UAE

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The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Mainly, due to my experience as a teacher with ADEC, I have blogged about working with that organization. However, don’t forget that there are many, many schools in the UAE, and for you teachers on the job hunt, ADEC is far from your only option for employment.

First off, certified primary and secondary teachers have quite an array of opportunities. I’m certainly not going to list every place out there that might be a good fit for you, but I’ll name some of those that come to mind immediately. Emirates National School hires many expatriate teachers and offers a sound employment package. Al Ain English Speaking School is a private school in Al Ain which caters to expat families. Formerly Glenelg Schools, ADNOC Schools recruit expats. Try googling those names and seeing what you come up with.

If you’re interested in higher education, then there are plenty of other opportunities, though they often require degrees in ESOL or the equivalent, or some other type of ESL certification, such as the CELTA. I interviewed with a branch of the Higher College of Technology in Al Ain, and they basically ended up telling me that they were looking for someone with a CELTA or what-have-you. Besides HCT, there’s also the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates University, and any number of other institutions, some of which even have Western pedigrees (take the New York University of Abu Dhabi, for example).

Besides simply googling to find out more about schools, I highly recommend a few websites which helped me find work. I’m in no way affiliated with them, though if they offered me money to promote them, I’d happily consider it!

To get a good feeling for whats out there, you can create a profile and search jobs using Gulf Talent. This site lists job opportunities throughout the Gulf area, not just the UAE, so it’s a great way to get acquainted with what’s available. This is how I got my first contact about working in Abu Dhabi, and the school actually got in touch with me, not the other way around. If you’d rather use an agency, which is what I ended up doing to get placement with ADEC, check out Teach Away. You can register on the website, then get in touch with one of their recruiters. They hire heavily for the UAE, seeking teachers at both private and public (i.e. ADEC) schools. You might try out CRS Education as well. They’re a smaller outfit than TeachAway, and while they tend to hire for China, they have conducted job fairs in Abu Dhabi for two years running, and many local schools were represented there. I’ve been very pleased with the level of personal attention I received from CRS representatives.

I hope this helps you on your quest to see the world and experience teaching in one of the world’s premiere travel destinations. Happy job hunting!

 

An Ending Begins

We have 8 days left in the UAE.

The last week has gone by in a blur as I zipped from place to place after invigilation (which ought instead to be called supervised cheating) at school. But it’s Friday, the weekend is upon us, and I’m ensconced in the Hili Rayhaan hotel, comfortably in a king-sized bed, having spent the morning at a leisurely breakfast and then in the pool. There was even a nap this afternoon. Things are looking up.

Here is what happens at the end of working for ADEC. Unsurprisingly, the resignation procedure is much the same as the arrival procedure, only reversed.

The steps are: wait wait wait wait wait for your resignation (which you submitted in the online system well within the official window of time) to be approved, then wait wait wait wait wait wait some more.

Then with about a month of work left, it’s approved and things start moving quickly.

If you’re me, you print a form that you obtained from someone not your principal (who is supposed to have received said form in his email, but may not be aware of it, or perhaps he was just not at work on the day it was sent). You fill this form out, and then you have to collect about seven signatures from various departments at ADEC headquarters (called “The Zone” around here).

You make a trip to The Zone to get the next couple of signatures, because they’re mostly a formality.

Then you wait a bit, because you’re hung up getting clearance forms (haven’t you heard of those? They’re forms which officially show that you’ve paid your bills and haven’t got any outstanding balance) from the combined power and water company (Al Ain Distribution Company). This requires a visit to one of the AADC places in town. I’d suggest the Al Ain Mall one, or perhaps the Hili Mall one (which is never busy). If you go to the big headquarters near The Zone, you’ll probably wait forever and a half day. Anyway, the process takes a couple of days. You request a final meter reading and clearance certificate, AADC sends you a text message as acknowledgement, and then, if things go correctly, you get a second message to say you’re all set. From prior experience, I can tell you if that message doesn’t come after two days, go visit an AADC office and ask for an update. This all means getting the AADC clearance takes a couple days. Then you’ll need an Etisalat (phone and internet) clearance form, too, and that company forces you to visit the large, crowded, slow office in Sanaiya to get a clearance letter, although it bears noting that you can get service cancelled at several other locations (such as Bawadi Mall). Again, the clearance from takes a couple of days or more. If you’re me, you make no less than eight trips to Etisalat to get this done, and you still have to go collect the form another time.

After you have your AADC clearance form, you can get your apartment inspected. We pay 180 AED to the apartment manager because one of our screens has a dime-sized hole in it (and it might indeed be our fault, so no problem), then he prints a letter declaring that you’re all set, but in iffier English than that. You take this letter down to The Zone and collect another signature.

By now, you’ve dropped off and then collected, a couple days later, your dependents’ passports at the Infinity Services window in ADEC so they can type up visa cancellation forms for you (saving a few bucks), and you take these passports a few buildings over to immigration and have them cancel the visas. You need to show your own original passport, Emirates ID, and work visa there. The guy in a kandora behind the counter glances at your stuff, then stamps the dependents’ pink visas with red ink which seems to read “cancelled” in Arabic. He also collects their Emirates IDs. A couple moments later a text message arrives from the Ministry of the Interior notifying you of the cancelations. This means your cleared for the next step: having your own visa cancelled. This means I turn in my Emirates ID (bye, little card!) and passport for a day.

The next day, I collect my passport, and the guys older guy sitting in his chair takes a box of passports with paperwork attached to them from a locked cabinet. He looks at my picture carefully, at me, back at the picture, and is smiling and the other guy is laughing.  Then they tell me how somebody else who looked kind of like me picked it up earlier in the day. “Same name,” they said, but I’d be floored if there’s a second Shon Rand running around Al Ain. Regardless, my passport is in my hand, and I can collect another signature on my all-important form. So I do.

And I proceed to housing, where I need another signature. That’s fairly easy. He directs me to hand over another copy of my AADC clearance, and then take copies to the Abu Dhabi Commercial Properties building downtown to get my housing deposit back. I notice it’s almost 3 o’clock, and it’s Thursday, and figure I won’t find anyone there if I go now, so I decide to wait until Sunday for that.

As it turns out, I need to make another trip to ADEC anyway, because I need that Etisalat clearance form which I haven’t got yet in order to submit my super-duper important form to the last people–payroll, who will calculate up my End of Service (EOS) payment.

Thus, over the period of about 9 days, an ending has begun. There is very little left to be done, and hopefully it will all be knocked out on Sunday. There has been a bit of stress, like there was in the beginning, but it’s been tempered by knowledge that things move slowly here, especially when you hope they’ll go fast. We have only 8 days left in the UAE. Wow.

Authentication Revisited

Part of the deal with working here in the UAE was getting a whole slew of documents authenticated.  The authentication process is annoying and overcomplicated, but it is necessary.  So I bit the bullet and did it.

If you go through a company like Teach Away, they’ll help walk you through the process.  It’s not really all that difficult, in truth, just annoying.

Teach Away recommends ProEx Courier Service to deliver and pickup documents from the Embassy in DC.  I used them and had no issues at all; they were fast and efficient.

As far as the individual documents go that you’ll need authenticated, that depends on where you’re from and whether you’re married, have children, etc.  We needed our marriage certificate done, my highest diploma, and a couple other things.  I covered all that before, so I won’t go into it in detail.  The irritating part is doing it at three levels, which is where ProEx enters the scene–they’ll deliver documents from the Department of State in DC to the UAE Embassy there, saving you a long trip and a few days in between.

Do the authentication early so it’ll be stress-free, and then just wait.

Once arriving in the UAE, you have to get those authenticated documents translated into Arabic.  Bargain, or ask around for the best rate.  The place that ADEC uses (Infinity Services) actually increases their fee for ADEC teachers.  If you arrive in Abu Dhabi and take documents to them, be sure not to tell them you’re with ADEC.  If you do, they’ll say, “Special price!”  Yeah, special, alright.  We have “sucker” written all over us.  It shouldn’t cost more than 60 AED for documents to be interpreted, so be aware.  There are plenty of “typing offices” that will interpret for the price I mentioned.

When you get your documents interpreted in the UAE, also have your driver’s license done.  If you’ve got any special endorsements, such as motorcycle, be sure to note that and ask that they include that in the translation, or else you won’t get that endorsement on your UAE license (which is good for a full 10 years, by the way).

I’m leaving on a jet plane!

My bags are not packed, but I sure am ready to go!

This time tomorrow my friend Desi will be driving me to Columbus to take a shuttle to Hartsfield-Jackson. At 5.50pm, I should be heading to Chicago, and from there to Abu Dhabi.

My temporary bedroom looks like a war zone, with clothes, toiletries, papers, and electronics all over the floor and my air mattress. I’m running around town like an Energizer bunny, saying good-byes, changing addresses, canceling insurances and suspending subscriptions.

Saying good-bye to Bruno has been the hardest one so far.

Over the course of the last several days, I’ve had my last (for awhile) Blizzard
Mellow Mushroom pizza
Bottle of ShockTop
Trip to Walmart

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E-Tickets and Communication Struggles

Perhaps we’ve had a small taste of what it’s going to be like dealing with the Arab world.  The other day, I (Shon) finally got an itinerary e-mailed to me from the travel agency that ADEC deals with.  It sounded good–flying American Airlines to Chicago, and then Etihad (AKA the Cadillac of airlines) to Abu Dhabi.  I was asked to confirm it.  So I did, and I asked the agent a question about my wife’s documentation (she’s now an American, so I wanted to make sure we could update her information without any hassles).  I got no response regarding that, but I did get an updated itinerary–flying from Atlanta, again, but then connecting to a Royal Jordanian air flight from Chicago, instead, and with a second layover in Amman.  Okay, right?  Sure, but they added Jenia to the itinerary.  Which would be great, except that traveling on her American passport will simplify things for her, and, more importantly, her passport hasn’t arrived yet.

We’ve been planning on having her fly over later (which is ADEC’s usual procedure).  So to sort out Jenia’s travel arrangements, at least two e-mails from me to the agent end up either misunderstood or ignored.  “ADEC has changed the airlines, so if you want to travel American Air and Etihad, you’ll have to contact them,” I was told.  Well, okay, but that was not really the concern here.  The crux is simple: although she’d love to travel with me, it’ll be better for my wife to follow me.  Eventually, after a couple of days and one final attempt to communicate this, the travel agent got the idea through his head, and had me confirm the new itinerary today, this time with the wife removed from it.  I’m delighted to say I actually have my e-ticket and my visa in my e-mail now.

The outcome of all this is that now we feel a little bad, because we had the chance to travel together, which we hadn’t expected and hadn’t planned for, but we rejected it.  Necessity, of course, lead to the rejection.  But if ADEC or Teach Away or someone had told us that the chances were good that we could leave together, we could have planned for that contingency, and there wouldn’t have been any problem.  It would have been easy to expedite passport processing, for example, and the bits of business Jenia’s planning on taking care of could have been handled already.

So that’s the way it is now.  It’s been a little frustrating, but we determined to just roll with it, and relax, bearing advice from folks with experience in the UAE in mind.

Unclaimed Baggage (and Huntsville)

Last weekend we headed across the big water, into the wild west, the tremendous neighboring state of Alabama.  When I say “the big water,” I’m referring to the Chattahoochee which stands between us, and it’s kind of wide.  There are some bad things about Alabama–such as 8% sales tax and central time, which always confuses Jenia much more than it should, but in general, it’s very much like Georgia.  Northeastern Alabama is hilly and quite pretty.  Nearing the end of our 5 hour journey from Cuthbert to Scottsboro, home of our destination, Unclaimed Baggage, we stopped at a little park overlooking the Tennessee River and snapped a few photos.

The sprawling Tennessee River.

Jenia gazes out at the Tennessee River valley.

From there, it didn’t take too long to cross the marshes and find Scottsboro.  It was about 1 o’clock when we arrived, and the parking lot was crammed full of automobiles from all over.  There were license plates from several different states.  The place is really a shopping destination.  We spent about four hours inside, and didn’t take any pictures while in there, although some of the oddities hung on the walls were probably photo worthy (there was a huge model airplane, Danish wooden shoes, a stuffed goose, some Russian instrument, and other things of that ilk; they even have a Hoggle puppet from the movie The Labyrinthon display in the lobby).  For the most part, though, it’s kind of like a large upscale second-hand store, and that, truly, isn’t particularly memorable.

UB had a sale on Amazon Kindles, so we picked up one ($69 for a 3G in like-new condition with a case–not bad), and gathered a few other things.  The prevailing wisdom is, by the way, to grab anything you’re even thinking about purchasing and carrying it around until you’re certain.  That item probably won’t be there when you come back for it. Despite knowing this, Jenia didn’t grab a bottle of DKNY perfume she later decided she wanted.  When we went back for it, it was already gone.

Is UB worth a trip to Scottsboro?  Well, maybe.  If you’re looking for good buys on electronics, then you might find something, like we did.  But then again, you might not.  We are in the market for a used Apple laptop, and what they had wasn’t priced exceptionally well at all.  In fact, they were kind of high.  Their iPads were only fair, in terms of pricing.  There were some good prices on used Windows laptops.  If you’re in the market for a used smart phone, you might find a good deal.  They had an array of iPhone 4s (not 4S, mind you) on sale for $300-350, which seems very reasonable.  They’re not unlocked, however, which kept us from buying one.  Used baggage itself ran the gamut from downright expensive (even if the bags themselves bore names like London Fog) to reasonable.  I picked up semi-hard duffle with wheels for $26.

One downside to UB is that it closes kind of early.  We left in search of food around 5 o’clock.  We found a cool Indian place called the Bombay Grill next to McDonald’s.  It’s only been open since Father’s Day. The restaurant wasn’t busy at all, and as a result, the Indian couple who run the place lavished attention upon us.  They were thrilled when they found out that we know a little about Indian food.  We were given free stuff–which is always fun, and makes the dining experience that much better.

I bought the spicy/salty Kashmira drink, and the owner gave us a Marinda for free.

A little after 6, we swung back by UB to snap some photos–and the place was closed up as tight as a drum.  The parking lot was deserted.  Everything else in the vicinity, including a generously sized Goodwill, closed at 6, too.

Closed at 6pm, the parking lot was empty when we drove back through town.

Not a car left in the parking lot, and not much after 6 o’clock. Count on getting your shopping done relatively early if you’re going here.

Since Huntsville is close to Scottsboro, we hopped on the 4-lane and headed that way.  We spied a rangy coyote along the way.  A bit of Pricelining found us a hotel room for $60 right next to the US Space and Rocket Center.  On Saturday, we spent several hours there.  Who knew the history of rocketry would be interesting?  Besides the museum indoors and rocket park outside, there’s a Saturn 5 moon-landing rocket on display in its own dedicated building.  We learned a bunch.  One of the volunteers in the Saturn 5 building is a retiree who used to work with Werner von Braun, the scientist who was behind the German V2 rockets and eventually the moon rocket.  A fellow visitor asked him about the Saturn 5 engine testing that took place in a quarry nearby.  “Windows broke in downtown Huntsville,” he said.  “There were lawsuits.” Asked if they could hear the engines being fired in Birmingham, 2 hours away, he nodded and said, “They knew.”

Some of the rockets in Rocket Park, and a mock moon lander, complete with crater.

I know that the Space and Rocket Center doesn’t have much to do with going to the UAE, but after we left there, we made a stop by the Apple store in Huntsville, and I bought a new iPhone 4S.  It’s unlocked, so it should work easily in the UAE.  One more thing to do checked off the list.