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:)

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.

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.

New Hotel

I’m tired out. Exhausted.

This morning it turned out that they’d sent me to the wrong hotel last night, and that I was supposed to be in the Intercontinental, where the other teachers who are working in Al Ain will be. So after orientation and such, I was told to get my bags and wait in the lobby. Five other teachers found themselves in the same situation. It was a hassle–sort of a hurry up and wait kind of thing.

At 3:30pm, I got checked into the Intercontinental. This hotel has better views and larger rooms, but their internet isn’t as good and the building itself isn’t quite as classy. Tomorrow I’ll try out their breakfast buffet, but I’m willing to bet it’s not as incredible as the huge spread at the Beach Rotana.

Napped. Woke up. Napped.

Tonight I went with friends to a furniture store and one of the larger malls. Anything you want is available there.

Taxis are cheap.

Busses, when available, are, I think, even cheaper.

I took a few photos, but I don’t feel like messing with them now. I’ll share some soon, though.

Oh, one small mistake today: while waiting in the lobby, I took a swig of the bottled water that was complimentary in my room. One of the concierges approached me and nicely reminded me that it’s Ramadan and that I might offend somebody. So I became an unwilling participant in the fast for a while.

Just Arrived!

After being delayed in Chicago, which I actually kind of enjoyed, we English Medium Teachers had a fantastic AA flight to London.  It was possibly the smoothest flight I’ve ever experienced.

My whirlwind tour of downtown Chicago began below an elevated train.

Chicago with a Millennium Park footbridge in the foreground.

At the baggage claim.

Inside the AD Airport.

The lobby of the hotel.

To continue the narrative, after our AA flight to London, we had to rush to catch our connecting British Airways flight to Abu Dhabi (“Final boarding call for BA 073” came over the loudspeakers as we were boarding the train to Terminal 5 at Heathrow), the dozen or so of us that were traveling together have landed safe and sound. An ADEC rep named Kimberly was waiting for us, and she ushered us through the arrival process with swiftness and ease. Then some of us went to one hotel (the Intercontinental) and others to this one–the Beach Rotana. After a basic orientation to the hotel, showering and changing, a group of us went to the mall (it’s connected to the hotel) and found some food. Now it’s time to get to bed and drop off to sleep.  I’ll share more details later. My head is spinning from exhaustion.