Bungee Jumping, Skydiving, and Race car Driving

Jumping from a cage hoisted 50 meters (that’s 165 feet) in the air, plunging from an airplane at 4,000 meters (13,000 feet), and piloting an Aston Martin GT3 car around the Yas Island F1 circuit–all things I’ve done this year. So far 2015 has been pretty memorable. Jenia tells me I should write about these things because there aren’t many reviews online about them. So here you are; I hope you’re interested because I’m offering my .02 cents worth.

A thrilling moment (or rather split-second)!

A thrilling moment (or rather split-second)!

First, let’s talk about bungee jumping. There’s a place called the Gravity Zone in Dubai that’ll take your money and let you scare yourself. This past Friday was the last day of the season before they knock off because of the extreme heat, and I went with a friend to celebrate his birthday in style. He jumped first, doing a fine impression of Superman, and seemed totally unfazed by the whole thing, but I found myself suddenly suffering from fear of heights when I stepped to the edge of that metal cage and stuck my toes over. 165 feet doesn’t sound low, but man, it looks high when you’re up there with nothing surrounding you. I confess that I had to resist every natural instinct to grab ahold of the cage and stay in there. The instructor counted to three, and off I went. It only took a couple of seconds to bounce a couple times and then I was rapidly lowered onto an air mattress and unharnessed as the next thrill-seeker bunny-hopped to the cage (the bunny hopping is necessary as the ol’ feet are shackled together with the cuffs that will keep you alive).

About to bounce!

About to bounce!

As for the way Gravity Zone worked, I found it professional enough, with repeated checks of the safety harnesses and your weight. It’s not an amusement-park like facility, though, so don’t expect anything particularly glamorous. The facility is a little tricky to locate, off from 311 in the Motor City area of Dubai. But if you follow the signs to Motor City, which is on Hessa Street (61) it’s not too bad. Then head for the Kart Drome, which is where it gets a bit more complicated. Only a bit–look for the “Outdoor Kart Drome” and go there–you’ll see a yellow crane (unless this changes, of course) parked in the parking lot, with an airbag set up underneath to reassure jumpers.

Shon and his instructor, Leigh, ready to board the plane at the Palm Drop Zone.

Shon and his instructor, Leigh, ready to board the plane at the Palm Drop Zone.

Man, is that drop fast! Suddenly everything is fierce wind and racket.

Man, is that drop fast! Suddenly everything is fierce wind and racket.

What about Skydiving? Lots of folks know about Skydive Dubai, which makes splashy videos part of the package for first-time jumpers and also includes excellent photographs of people over the Palm. The long and short of it is the whole package, which has recently gone up to 1,999 AED, following the general trend of inflation around here, is well worth doing if you’ve ever wanted to try parachuting. Jenia bought me a gift certificate for a skydive package as a killer Christmas present, and I booked my jump for the end of April. The folks at Skydive Dubai were all very friendly and they did a good job setting me at ease with a bit of instruction about how to go out of the plane. That more or less erased whatever worries might have flitted through my mind when I signed six pages of waivers saying I’d never dream of holding Skydive Dubai accountable should anything go wrong and I perish or be horrifically handicapped. My instructor was a woman named Leigh who hails from New Zealand, though she’s been making six or seven jumps a day in Dubai for more than two years. My “paparazzi,” as he introduced himself, was a guy called Vova who came from Belarus. He asked me some stupid questions on camera (“What’s your Facebook password?”), and I didn’t know whether I should look at him or the lens (in retrospect, with the clarity of a video to watch, I should have gone with one or the other), so I definitely ended up looking nervous, which I guess was the case. Regardless, those two were fun to be around, and they did a great job helping this newbie have a good time.

Hurtling through the air at 125 miles per hour!

Hurtling through the air at 125 miles per hour!

I’ve seen skydiving described for the first-timer as sensory overload, and that does sum it up pretty well. It’s fast, loud, and overwhelming. Every bit of skin or flesh that can blow in the wind (at approximately 120 miles per hour) does. When the parachute deploys, there are crazy g-forces, and the same when making a hard turn. But once the ‘chute is out, it’s also an amazingly relaxing experience. It’s serene. That’s when I could drink in the scenery and marvel at what man has made of Dubai. From the time we left the ground to the time we landed on the grass, only about 15 minutes elapsed. It was all over very fast. Then it was back to life as usual–grabbing a bite to eat with the fam, going to the beach for a swim, etcetera. The transition from WOW! to normal was odd.

The guy at the rear hatch was putting a new memory stick in the on-board video recorder.

The guy at the rear hatch was putting a new memory stick in the on-board video recorder.

So what about driving a race car? Once again, thanks to the wife’s gift-giving (this one was for my birthday), I got behind the wheel of an Aston-Martin GT3 car on the Yas Island track. I can’t say it was the F1 circuit, because since there’s a stretch of very slow, technical corners on one part of the circuit, it was closed off and we were using only a portion of the track. Upon arrival, the folks behind the counter tried to up-sell me to full coverage insurance for my 20-minute drive. I declined, deciding not to wreck the car and settle instead for the basic coverage provided at the regular price. Then there was a briefing about how to drive–“Keep your hands gripping the wheel at 10 and 2 all the time,” stuff like that, as well as, “Entry points at each corner are marked with an orange cone and exit points with green ones.” The laps aren’t officially timed because that would bump the driving experience into a differently regulated category. My friends timed my laps unofficially as I drove past. I didn’t perform that well, honestly, and having not been on a track before (other than a brief stint behind the wheel of a sweet, Rotax-powered go-kart at Al Ain Raceway, and that’s not quite the same), I had to learn a thing or two about “using your whole line,” as my co-pilot told me. Yes, I’ve played video games like Forza Racing, and I should have been able to carry that knowledge–entering from the outside, exiting wide, etc.–over into real life, but it’s hard to break 20 years worth of on-road driving habits and move all over the track, rather than staying on one side of the road. It sounds silly, but that’s the way it was for me.

The little one had a blast just sitting beside the track and watching all the cars go past.

The little one had a blast just sitting beside the track and watching all the cars go past.

What was the drive like? The car was hard to squeeze in and out of, due to its full roll cage, a little slow to start, sounded great (ah, great, yes, a ripping, roaring, rumbling V8), and had lots of power, as you’d expect. But it didn’t flatten my eyeballs when I nailed it; it wasn’t a magical beast that put me in a whole different dimension of performance. Maybe I was expecting it to be like hopping on a Yamaha YZF-R1 and blasting to 150 miles per hour in about the time it takes to write this sentence. But I digress. To return to describing the drive: there was also no air conditioning (it’s a race car, come on, what’d you expect?!), it was very loud which made communication with my copilot/nanny a challenge (hand signals and shouting), and the rearview mirror was angled for the copilot to see out of, not me, so I had no idea when any of the other 7 cars on the track were on my 6, which irked me a bit. The highest speed I managed to reach on the straight was around 135mph, then I had to scrub speed like crazy and go through a couple of tight curves. The brakes were effective but felt sort of agricultural–not what I’d anticipated. Get on the gas too vigorously and the rear end squirmed around and started to go sideways. Nothing surprising there. To be honest, I was expecting more out of the car. To drive it like a pro, I’d need a lot more than 20 minutes to learn what I was doing, of course. The time in the car was really just adequate for me to get comfortable with it and feel like I could start to use it decently. Would I rate the Yas Island Aston-Martin Racing Experience worthwhile? Yes, sure, because when else would I get behind the wheel of a legitimate race car, never mind an Aston? But it wasn’t that great. Maybe it was the nanny beside me; maybe it was simply the nature of the experience as a beginner on a racetrack. Honestly, standing beside the track and listening to the cars, watching them go, that was almost as much fun as actually being behind the wheel.

For something really memorable, of the three experiences I’ve written about, I’d pick skydiving if I had to do only one of them, or do one again. That’s something that’s truly singular, and it’s something that challenged and rearranged my perceptions of what it’s possible to do.

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Drop Everything and Go.

Maybe you don’t know the names Ted Simon or Charley Boorman. That’s okay. I’ll tell you who the two men are. Simon rode his Triumph around the world on an incredible 4-year journey, and Boorman rode a BMW around the globe in 2004 in less than 4 months. They’re dyed in the wool motorcyclists and dedicated adventurers. They love to explore the world and both authors have made livings based on their travels.

I must admit my only exposure to Ted Simon was through the TV mini-series “The Long Way Round,” which chronicled Boorman’s trip from London to New York City with his friend Ewan McGregor. The show is, by the way, worth your time–it’s fun, funny, and will appeal to the adventurer in you, even if you don’t ride a motorcycle or understand why some of us do. Take a minute and look it up, then set some time aside to enjoy a fascinating look at the world from the point of view of a couple of motorcyclists. That said, Simon is, as it turns out, the very model of adventurousness.

But I get ahead of myself. See, I attended the Emirates Literature Festival today in Dubai, and went to a session called “Around the Globe with Charley and Ted,” during which the authors discussed some of their commonalities: how wanderlust struck, how they started their travels, managed to fund them, and so forth. Held in a ballroom at the Intercontinental hotel in Festival City, the event was pretty full. I found an open seat at the front, and enjoyed an hour of the men’s musings.

The Intercontinental at Festival City.

The Intercontinental at Festival City.

Simon’s big journey included run-ins with the law (arrested as a suspected spy, for example), romance, and the momentous discovery that people all over the world are generally nice, welcoming, and helpful. Boorman didn’t get arrested, but found much the same thing–people everywhere, and I mean everywhere, are kind and helpful.

Speaking of countries that are deemed dangerous, Boorman said, “When anything bad happens, the news makes a big deal out of it.” He mentioned 24 hour news networks and the need for them to fill up space and time. “You never see a news reporter saying, ‘I’m here, and there’s nothing happening.'” To illustrate the point, Boorman mentioned looking over rice paddies in northern Iran, in a scene that might have been Thailand, with people working and wonderful agriculture everywhere. This seems a far cry from the image that Fox and the other news networks paint of Iran, doesn’t it?

Many of us don’t realize how much what we see and hear on the news shapes our perceptions. Simon elaborated on the idea, to much the same effect. Don’t forget there are millions of people living absolutely normal lives in most of the countries that are deemed “dangerous” by those selling newspapers. In essence, the world is a safer place than it is made out to be.

Indeed, there were plenty of people who advised me against moving to the UAE–it could be unsafe, it would be hard on Jenia as a woman, and so forth–but most of these people, though meaning well, hadn’t lived here, or even been here. They were all wrong; it’s been a great place for us to live.

Simon said that many people approach him and tell him they’d love to go on a similar adventure, but they can’t, because they have a mortgage, a job, etc. His response was profound: “Drop it all and leave it because you’ll be a much more valuable person when you come back.”

In 2003, I was talking to a friend named Gwen, a woman who was practically a surrogate mom for a while there. “I’d love to go to England,” I told her. “Well, why don’t you go?” She said. I blinked my eyes a few times, processing that. It really was that simple. I could save up some money, quit my meager little job, and go see more of the world. A moment before I hadn’t considered it that clearly. It had seemed like I had shackles holding me back–commitments and stuff–but they didn’t make an ounce of difference. That was more or less the beginning of my serious international explorations.

You’ve seen my posts on here about how living and teaching abroad have changed Jenia and me for the better. At this point, I couldn’t agree more with Simon’s advice. I may not travel the world in as extreme a manner as Simon did, and I may not host a TV show or manage to ride my bike as much as Boorman does his, but in the same manner as these two men, I’ve found a way to fund my globe trotting, to indulge the travel bug and discover that the basic desires of every person on the planet are the same.

If you want to explore, you should. Don’t worry about your place in the pecking order, don’t fret over what you’ll leave behind, just go, because it will change you fundamentally. Fear of leaving the familiar behind and exchanging it for the unfamiliar, fear of dangerous countries, or fear of talking to new people may prevent us leaving our comfort zones. Don’t be afraid. Go.

Charley Boorman, happy to pose for a picture with me at today's book signing.

Charley Boorman, happy to pose for a picture with me at today’s book signing.

Surprise Day Off!

Even Google is celebrating Dubai’s hosting of the Expo!


It’s almost 6:00pm in Al Ain as I write this. Today is Thanksgiving for America, and we’re thrilled to be celebrating it with a surprise day off here in the UAE. You see…

Yesterday Dubai won its bid to host Expo 2020. This will supposedly generate billions of dollars ($35 billion, according to one article) of revenue for the area. Accordingly, Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, up and decided that today should be a national holiday.

As my friend PJ Smalley wrote last night, “The ruler of Dubai just informed the nation that there will be no school tomorrow in celebration of winning the bid for World Expo 2020. Why doesn’t President Obama order more spur-of-the-moment holidays? Gosh, who voted for that guy?”

You know nothing can happen in a way that allows people to plan anything in advance around here, and this is no exception. But it’s nice anyway. Let me tell you how the official word came around. This begins at 10:45pm. 1) Text Message from Pj–no school tomorrow. Check Facebook. 2) Facebook groups for EMTs and such–“No school tomorrow!” “Is this true?” “It’s true–here’s a link to such and such a newspaper website article.” 3) Phone call from my school’s English department coordinator: “My neighbor’s Principal said they’re off tomorrow; my wife’s Principal says they’re off tomorrow, and I’m assuming we’re off tomorrow. So don’t come to school.” My coworker who rides with me every day didn’t even believe me at first when I called him at 11:00pm to inform him that we wouldn’t be working the next morning.

To sweeten the deal a bit more, Baskin Robbins, everyone’s favorite purveyor of fattening junk food, announced they would give away free ice cream today. Our neighbors got some before it ran out.

Another of my friends, Katrina, writes: “I love this – the stuff legends are made of. A whole generation of today’s schoolchildren will grow up and tell their grandchildren, ‘I remember the day Dubai won the World Expo. They closed all the schools and there was free ice cream for everyone.'” I think she’s right.

Any way you slice it, this is the kind of thing that makes living here so wildly, and in this case, wonderfully, different from living in the USA. Surprise days off are nice!

If you’re interested in more of the stuff that’s been going on today, click on this link to The National. There’s been more interestingness…

Normalcy

Dear reader,

Today I’m offering my newspaper column’s entry for the week.  It is something that any expat can probably relate to.  If you’re an expat and you agree or disagree, let me know.  I enjoy hearing your thoughts more than you probably know.

-Shon

How long until seeing this becomes normal?

How long until seeing this becomes normal?  Eh, give or take six months.

Vantage Points: Teaching Abroad

Normalcy

Normalcy is defined by freedictionary.com as “being within certain limits that define normal functioning.”  So, in terms of living our lives, normalcy is what we’re used to.  Our routines, our home, our friends, and so forth, all contribute to our sense of having a nice, normal life.  And all that is quite definitely abandoned when you move overseas.  How long does it take to achieve normalcy when you move to a new country?  Well, you go through a few marked stages before any kind of new normal can be established.  Experts say you go through a state of euphoria when you first arrive in the new place.  That’s when most everything is lovely and you’re all excited about being in a new country, a new culture, and having new experiences.  Then you swing to the other extreme, and basically hate everything about the new place.   Everything that isn’t like it is at home drives you mad.  Then, finally, you end up back in the middle, more or less, and living in this foreign country becomes normal.  Based on my own time here in the UAE, I’d say that’s entirely correct.  I went through each of those stages.  And now I’m more or less back to feeling normal.  I recognize that this country is vastly different from home, but generally I feel comfortable.  The other night I was hanging out with a friend who has traveled extensively. He and his wife taught English in Japan and Korea before coming here. Anyway, he commented that it takes about 3 or 4 months to get financially comfortable in a new country.  He’s completely right.  The first month is consumed by running about doing paperwork and errands concerned with residency.  The next month is more or less burned up with adjusting to everything else, making sure your apartment is furnished, and all that sort of thing; the third month, finally, is when you might just be able to put some money back into savings.  That’s when things start to balance out.  That’s when you start to have some expendable income for a change, and when you can think about things that make life more normal—getting a used car, purchasing a guitar, whatever.  I’ll tell you what: I never really appreciated how nice it is to just have things good and normal until I left my own country to come here.  And now that I’ve adjusted to life here, I’m glad to have normalcy return.

More Dubai: Mondial 2012

It’s supposed to be Money Monday.  And I’ll find a way to make this work: I’ll talk about the price of admission for this nifty event we attended today.

Anyway, on the the subject.  Today’s recreational event: go to Dubai.  To do this, we have to find our way past at least two closed roads to SkyDive Dubai, within sight of the Palm Jumeirah, which is hosting the Mondial 2012 world parachuting championships.  Our agenda is simple enough: watch skydivers from all over the world compete.  What we end up doing instead is watching them practice their formations on the ground and pack their chutes.  While this is kind of interesting, there isn’t anyone actually coming down in parachutes.  So we hang out and talk for a while, and basically do a bit of baking in the sun.  ‘Cause it’s still pretty hot.  Shorts weather, easily.  And finally, after what seems like forever, we almost leave when there’s still no parachutists descending.  Our friends, Frank and Melissa, who have their baby in tow, are getting restless, and so are we.  “Let’s wait five minutes,” I say, hoping, but quite doubtfully, that we might yet get to see some action.  And then, as we are on the verge of leaving, to our delight, the distance championship event begins.

In the Air Chutist1 Duo Windsock Sign

Here’s what it’s like: you’re standing in the sun, a tad too warm, the sun blazing right at the point that the plane has just dropped sky divers from.  That makes it hard to see them, because you’re squinting and covering your eyes.  But you can see them, nonetheless, even though you’ve scrunched your face up like a kid who just sampled his first lemon.  And you watch as they gently float along the air currents, turning now and then.  Then one of them, a bit lower than the others, kicks up his feet and tugs on the lines, and he leans forward, the leading edge of the parachute tilting, and he picks up speed like mad.  You hear the speed, the sizzling of air cut by the parachutist and his canopy, and then he’s skimming the pool in front of you, before he pulls up at the end of it to try to gain some height and fly the greatest distance possible before he touches the ground.

Now, in between all of this boredom and drama, we decide it’s high time to grab some lunch.  There’s a camel tethered near the gate, on display for tourists like us (and like the Asian skydivers who were posing and photographing each other next to it when we arrived).  It’s keeper, an old Emirati guy wearing a tan kandora, spies the beast spread his legs a little and start urinating.  What’s the old fellow do?  He goes over and sticks his hand under the stream, cups it, and lifts it to his face.  “What’s he doing?”  Asks Melissa.  “Is he smelling it?” says Frank.  “I don’t know,” I say, but I have my suspicions.  We can see more clearly the next time he does it.  Yup.  He’s drinking the urine.  It is like a horrific car accident–you can’t take your eyes off it, it’s so terrible.  Sadly, or fortunately, in Jenia’s opinion, we are too far away to capture this singular act on film.  Anyway, the women making repelled faces and Frank and I wearing rather more intrigued ones, we we make our way to the dining hall.  And when we get there, we end up, quite by accident, with front row seats for a stunt show by a young Polish motorcyclist named Rafal who goes by the moniker Stunter13.

Our friends were posing for a lovely shot with this camel, well before the urine drinking took place, when suddenly he started sneezing.  Melissa was a little taken aback.

Now, allow me a switch to the past tense as I finish up.

There were also BMX stunt riders and a motocross team on hand doing hourly shows. At one point there was a standing invitation to go take a leap from a tower into a huge airbag below.  Would’ve done it, but by that time we were all ready to go.

Oh, I forgot to mention the part about money.  Want to guess the asking price? All of this was entirely free.

Tired of baking in the sun, regardless of the nifty stuff going on, we moved on to the huge Mall of the Emirates to eat a real meal (because there wasn’t much available at the Mondial) and enjoy some air conditioning.  Thank goodness for technology, and particularly for navigation systems, because Dubai’s roads are nothing if not confusing, and several were closed so we had to take more circuitous routes.

Russian Team

The Russian team enjoys the sunshine while packing their ‘chutes.

For some video of the parachutists and the motorcycles stunt show, click here: (I shot it myself, using that dandy iPhone of mine).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0P2jiPKghYE

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:)

Burj, Beach, and Birthday

Shon celebrated his birthday on Sunday with the traditional carrot cake, a new book by J.K. Rowling, and a bunch of friends.  On Saturday, however, we went to Dubai, so that he could receive the first part of his present: a tour to the tallest building in the world – Burj Khalifa.

If you have seen “Mission Impossible 4,” you know this building.  If you haven’t you should.

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The Burj (it means “tower”) is 852 meters tall. The observation deck is almost half-way up, and is, you guessed it, the highest observation deck in the world!

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Us on the deck

The view is great if you ignore the ever-present haze:

ImageDubai Mall, yes, exactly, the largest shopping center in the world (by total territory) is the huge building from the road to the water.

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See the haze I keep talking about?

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us looking all cute

ImageAnd then we went to the beach! I have to say, the beach itself is not as beautiful as the Gulf of Mexico beaches, but the water… the water is simply phenomenal here! It is turquoise even when you are in it, it is very, very clear, and delightfully warm. We should invest in some goggles, though, because it is very salty (which makes it quite a bit easier to swim.)

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Shon loves it!

It was only at the end of the day that I truly realized I was in Dubai: the sun just set into the Arabian Gulf, we could see Burj Khalifa in the distance, and Burj Al Arab (the sail-looking building) right next to us. And then, the evening call to prayer came from several of the nearby mosques. It was simply beautiful.

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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.