Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Hole in the Wall!

It exists. And yes, it is a hole in the wall. No sign outside. Set way off the main street behind a construction site.  The only way I found it was when I saw a smiling Brit walking out with a big bag.

They had everything from very expensive Champagne, all types of wine from everywhere from expensive to affordable, all the booze you might want, including great scotches, but no Bourbon. I’m not sure what the world outside of Dixie has against good bourbon.

Did I buy any thing? Is the ruler Moslem? Yes, and I snuck it back into the hotel quite fine. Now I can start the day the way I like and my wonderful wife can have a cold one when she gets home. See below.

A picture can say it all!

Frosty in Dubai

I have been neglecting my writing for a few days. That is not good. I must write. You don’t necessarily need to read this tripe, but I must write.

First, the ponies. Dubai opened up the worlds largest race track, with the worlds biggest purse races Saturday night. I told you before, they do everything they do BIG. The races were fantastic. The horses were the best from all over the world, and the big race, the Dubai World Cup had a purse of US$10 million! It was a photo finish, less than a nose! Great race! But the most impressive part of the night was the grand opening ceremony. It rivaled and surpassed IMHO any opening ceremony for any Olympics I have ever seen, and folks, this was for a race track!

I must admit I do not like the lack of a tote board in the infield. Horse racing is much better when you have a few bucks involved. But, when in Rome…

We did not go, mainly because it was on a Saturday night and Mary Ann’s work week starts on Sunday. We watched it on TV.  I spoke to an expat on the Metro yesterday and she said that everything was fabulous except the sound at the Elton John concert after the show, which was terrible. Too bad. I’m sure they will figure something out because they want to use this venue for concerts in the future, it holds 60k easily.

The Metro you say. Oh yes. I explored the Metro in Dubai. Now,  they say that this is “The worlds longest Metro”. Define Metro. BART is longer. But, it is brand spanking new and fabulous. Of course (this IS Dubai) they have a FIRST CLASS section, on a metro!

Attendant who helped you find the right stop. Notice the comfy seats. THIS IS A METRO!

OK, so I had to choose a destination, I did not know if they would just let me ride around all day and enjoy the comfort and the view. So, I chose The Mall of the Emirates. Yes, another mall. But this is the mall the world knows about because it has a ski slope!

No, not just a slope, a ski village.

Outside the mall, it is 100 degrees!

It cost 200 Dirhams (that is about 56 Balboas)  to get into the winter wonderland, which includes Ski boots, skis, ski jackets. You have to pay more for lessons. The slope is 4 stories tall. People were getting a good run down.

Hans to Mohammed "bend you knees like you are praying"

The ski instructor were all big blonde Teutonic looking guys trying to teach 15 year old Arabs.

Without having to pony up the fee, you could watch all the fun from a number of Alpine like restaurants  surrounding the ski area.

There was a crackling fireplace also

The walk from the Metro entrance to this, the west end of the mall, took a half hour. Yes, it is a BIG mall. I got hungry, so I of course went to the food court. I felt under dressed.

Should I bus my own table?

Then I took the shortest path back to the Metro entrance. Altogether I had spent over an hour just walking past stores I had no business going into.

I strated walking faster when i saw this display, really fast

That hour of walking covered 1/3 of the 4 floors of the mall. I’m no good at math, but I think that means a full tour, without stopping to shop at DeBeers or anywhere else would take 12 hours.

Today, I am off to find a place called “The hole in the Wall” where apparently I can score a six pack. If I am still free tomorrow, I’ll write about it!

Inside a Mosque

Today, by the calendar a Saturday, is by the work week a Sunday. We spent this “Sunday” like good tourists should and discovered a bit more about Dubai.

No, we did not go to the Dubai World Cup, but when we got home we watched on TV and I will cover it in the next post. One word, MAGNIFICENT.

OK, so we decided we would take the metro to Dubai, from Sharjah. The line into Sharjah just opened a month ago.

Maybe I have mentioned the taxi drivers here. They are ALL Pakistanis, and the ONLY people in the entire UAE that do not speak English. If you have ever seen the movie The Terminal, the scene where Tom Hanks answers “do you speak English?” with “Yes” about 8 times, that is a Pakistani taxi driver.  Also, they are fresh off the date boat do not know where anything is. I carry a map with me and show them “You are here, here is where we must go” All they say is “Yes” and start off in the wrong direction. They cannot ask for directions of a local because they don’t speak Arabic either, just Hindi. But that’s just what it is. It makes every cab ride an adventure. So today we thought we would give them an easy target. We just said “Metro, Sharjah” Instead of a “yes” we got “No Metro Sharjah”. We tried three cabbies, then gave up and told them to take us to this certain Mosque. We called it by the right name, we showed it to him on the map, and he took us to a mall. No way two white people would be going to a Mosque, right?

Anyway, we got there. It is the only Mosque us Christian white folks are allowed in.  (In contrast, I do not know of a single Mormon Temple I can enter) The Mosque was awesome. Every Mosque (and brother, there are so many, and they are so close you can throw a shish kabaob from one to the next) is a bit different. Most are built as family Mosques by a Sheik. Some are little and less audacious than this one.

We finally found it

Looking up

Here, Mary Ann Had to Cover

This Mosque was built by a Sheikh who also funds the Center for Cultural Understanding.

The center has breakfast and lunch meetings where people like ME can go and try to learn something about the Arab/Moslem culture. I intend to attend a few meetings. The guide we had today was an English woman who converted about 15 years ago. She was very professional and quite entertaining. She explained a few things about the dress customs, and the last thing she said was, “besides, it scares people who watch CNN and BBC.”

No shoes in a Mosque!

Maybe I should cover, ya think?

Anyway, that is it for the Mosque.  A’shalam alekuhm.

Forbidden Fruit

I have had 4 beers in the last week. That is more than any given week when I lived Bocas, where beer is the local sacrament. Don’t tell anyone, I do not have my personal liquor license yet!

The first two were at the Sharjah Wanderers Club. This is a very old club in Sharjah, which I have mentioned before is dry. The club was started by Brits and is still mainly British. It is in fact a throwback to colonial times. I met a woman there who has been  a member for over 20 years. The bartender (Philippino) knew her order before she sat down. We talked for a while about living here and I entertained her with stories about Panama. I had two pints of Fosters, from the tap, nice and cold, and about $5 a glass.

Then last night we went to a fancy hotel for dinner and Mary Ann’s end-of-the-week mini celebration. Remember, the work week here is Sunday through Thursday. I had a couple more beers, and Mary Ann had a couple more than that. She deserves it. Prices there were a lot higher. The clientele was mostly Russians.

Now, Moslems are not allowed in the Wanderers club, because their grandfathered-in liquor license prevents it. But at the table next to us in the hotel there were two Emirate gentlemen enjoying cold ones. I looked for bolts of lightning or chariots from the sky, but nothing.

As you know, Mary Ann is an active Catholic. She calls herself a “chinese menu” catholic in that she feels free to pick and choose which of the conventions of her faith she observes. Church on Sunday is one she is very observant of. Today is Palm Friday, ahhh, that would be Palm Sunday in the Christian world, but here the Holy day is Friday, so we went to church together. She has taken me to church in at least five different countries, and I have gotten used to the Mass. It is the same everywhere, in whatever language. But today, Palm Friday, errr,Sunday,errr whatever, was the service of “The Passion”.  I know it as the part of the bible that Jesus Christ Superstar is based on. It means more to Mary Ann.

So there we are, in a Moslem country and in a Catholic Church. The “Ruler” here in Sharjah gave a large tract of land for Christian sects to build churches so people could worship in their own way. (I did not notice any Southern Baptists or Methodists, I guess everything has a limit)  The mass in the this church is done in English, and many other languages, even once a week in Arabic. The English mass as far as I can tell, is for the Indians. Mary Ann and I were the only white folk out of a thousand souls. I felt like an NBA star, being at least a foot taller than anyone else in the whole place.

Tomorrow we are going to a mosque, as tourists. There is only one in the UAE that gives tours to the heathen, and we are going to go see it.

More, Better Info About the Ponies!

OK, I got more info on the big Race Day. The name of the big race is called the Dubai World Cup.

The winning horse get 6 million dollars. Ten million total in the purse.

The paper today gave the list of horse, post positions, and ODDS! Maybe I am wrong about not being able to wager at the track.  There are two horses at 5-1 and a few out of the 12 entries are running at 50-1. The ponies are from USA, England, France and one from Chile.

This event is 10 years old now. Every winner for the past ten years has had an Emirate trainer. One trainer has 6 victories out of the 10, and one of his horses is running at 5-1.

Everyone who buys a ticket gets one entry in the “Pick 7” contest. There are 7 races being run, of course the World cup is the last one.  The prize for the “Pick 7” will be enormous, depending on attendance. I was wrong about the ticket price. You can buy a cheap seat for as little as US$100, and the Gold Circle are will only cost about US$350.

There is a woman’s hat contest. The rules I read said that “hats/fascinators” will be judged, I have no idea what a fascinator is. Neither does my spell checker.  First prize for the best hat is a new Range Rover. I told Mary Ann to enter wearing a Yankee cap, what the hell. Maybe that qualifies as a fascinator.

There are at least two random raffle prizes. One is a Bentley, and the other more interesting one is 1 million miles on Emirates Airlines.

After the races the crowd will be treated to a concert by Santana and another by Elton John.

Are we going? Naah. Who needs a million miles and what would I do with a Bentley?

What if They Gave a Horse Race….

…and no paramutuels?

That’s right. The worlds richest Horse Race will be in Dubai this weekend. Something like a 6 million dollar prize. The best ponies from the USA and Europe and everywhere else have been flown into Dubai in the last week. They just finished an incredibly beautiful race track with an artificial turf track that is apparently the best surface in the world.

And you cannot place a bet. At least not here, I imagine you can in Vegas or an off-track joint in NYC, but not here.

Mary Ann and I would love to go, but the lowest entry ticket is something like US$300, so we aint going.

Pat Robertson Would Make America like the UAE

First, the top Sheig in each Emirate is referred to as “The Ruler”. Each of the seven Emirates has a ruling family. The guy in Abu Dhabi controls the most oil so he is the richest. But is the UNITED Arab Emirates and they all share in the wealth, to a degree.

By Islamic law, all practising Moslems must give 2 1/2 % of their “excess” income to help the less fortunate.  The sheig in Dubai decided that his emphasis would be on international commerce, banking specifically. He also has the most westernized laws regarding little stuff, like being able to have a beer with a meal. This happens in controlled environments, for instance hotels and clubs, never in a restaurant in a mall . The ruler in Sharjah decided that he would use his wealth on cultural things. And Education. Consequently there is a plethora of museums to visit, and an amazing aquarium. And consequently, Mary Ann has a great job in a very modern University. In an area called University City, there are at least three large Universities, The American University of Sharjah, and two campuses of the University of Sharjah, one for men, the other for women.

Now, if people back in the states ever fall prey to the Christian Right or their wing nut toadies like the Tea party, you will find yourselves living just like I do now. (Mind you, I do not mind it. I remember one night about 1 a.m. trying to sleep while the disco blasted my house saying that I wish I could move to an Arab country with no alcohol, and no friggen discos. Guess what? Here I am.) But the same people in the religious right who would not hesitate to push the button to turn this place to radioactive dust would, if given the power, take America down a similar path to this Islamic culture. How? Internet censorship, nothing resembling a love scene on television, arrests for shows of passion in public, extremely serious sentences for crimes with little or no coddling of criminals, modesty in clothing, and everyone in church. Doubt that do you? Just listen to fruitcakes like Robertson sometime and try to discern the difference between the Christian right and the Islamic culture. You say you don’t want to live like an Arab? Vote liberal.

Dress Codes and Other Stuff

OK, y’all have asked if Mary Ann must “cover” while she is out and about here. The answer is No. She dresses just like (no not really, better) than she did in Bocas. It would be an affront if she wore shorts, which she never did anyway, and another affront if she wore plunging necklines with cleavage showing, which was also never her style. She dresses very professionally when she goes to the office, she always did that in LA. So, no her dress code has not changed.

ME? Y’all know what a slob I am, but here I try very hard to be neater and cleaner than I ever was in Bocas. Cleaner is not a problem, no worries about water and having a hot shower readily available to me (which I seldom did in Bocas) is a treat I avail myself of two or three times a day. Now, if  I could only wear clothes neatly. Or, if I only had neat clothes to wear.

Along those lines, you will remember a few posts ago I mentioned that I was having a “Hawaiian” shirt made by a tailor. I picked it up today. Remember I told the guy “same-same’ . Well, he got almost same-same, except that now I own a Hawaiian shirt with a stiff collar. It is well made and for about $15 altogether not bad. I might have some more clothes made. We will undoubtably need to attend some dress-up affair at the University. I have not owned a suit for an awful long time,  it is now time to go choose the fabric and find a tailor. I have never had a hand-made suit before, so this should be an experience.

different styles

OK, above is a photo of your typical Arab women clothes here. Notice a couple of things. First the handbags. This is ubiquitous. Even the women who wear the simplest baggiest dress, called an Abayaa, carry a fancy designer bag. The Abayaas are evolving into a fashion statement now. Intended as clothing that hides all the curves of the female form, they still do. However, Arab women have discovered “Bling”. Many of the Abayaas, are covered in glittery patterns that look more like a Rhinestone cowboy outfit than anything modest.

But here is the kicker…I don’t know if I find the following disconcerting, ironic, uncomfortable or just down right sexy…but there is something strange about seeing an Arab woman in her modesty ensuring Abayaa, buying sexy lingerie. Oh yeah, I mean killer stuff in expensive stores. A woman dressed to not attract attention choosing stuff in Victoria’s Secret is just astonishing.

In the next blog I will expound on why Pat Robertson would like it here. Stay tuned.

Do Any of You Know How to Use a Bidet?

OK, so the answer might be a bit personal, and might get my blog blocked in the UAE, but I have to ask. Basically, is there anything you can do with a bidet you cannot do in the shower?

Hot water or cold?

I have lived in a few homes with one before, but never even tried it. The hotel of course has one and I stare at it like it is a rare antiquity. You do NOT have to answer me if you have or do use one, that would be way too much information to share in this digital age.

How many kinds of Pistachio nuts are there anyway?

eeny meeny mineee moe?

I found this many, I  imagine there are many more types. This was across the street from the wharf where the dhows come into Sharjah from all over the gulf. I sampled most of them, and yes, they are all a bit different. A pistachio is not just a pistachio. I never knew that. Live (travel) and learn. How much? 20 AED a 1/2 kilo. That works out to about US$5.60 for a little over a pound. I have not bought pistachios for a long time, so I do not know if that is expensive or not, but they sure are good.

Charmin Soft! I have no idea what brand toilet paper the hotel supplies, but I hope I can find it when we move into our own apartment and have to buy stuff like that ourselves. TV here would not, does not, have advertisements for things like toilet paper, feminine hygiene, the list goes on. Again, kind of personal, but leave it said my posterior is comfy.

Going Bananas. Chiquita has competition in the UAE.

Bananas bananas

I am sure I could find more. The fruit market has bunches of bananas from Oman that come on the branch, not in a box. All of these come from the Philippines.

Getting lost in old Sharjah. We went touristing in the Heritage area yesterday. Here are a few shots you might find interesting

Can you call a cab?

Astrolabe, google it

The following two pics are from a museum in the heritage section of town.

wmd info

WMD found

By the way, Mary Ann and I went to a movie theater for the first time in 4 years and saw Green Zone.

That is it for today’s post. subscribe and read all about it!

My New “Hawaiian” Shirt

Probably mistakenly, I thought that my Hawaiian shirts would not be received well here in the UAE. Certainly the scantily clad hula girls would not, and I was worried about my shirts with flowers and the like, because as I understand it, only Allah can make a flower. That is why there are no flowers, plants and such on the carpets.

Anyway, y’all know I love Hawaiian shirts. Big, loose fitting, cool, comfortable shirts.

Now, every where you go in this town, every block, has at least one tailor. Some blocks, many tailors. In between the tailors are fabric stores.

A co-worker of Mary Ann was talking about how easy it was to get a blouse made.  She bought Chinese silk. took a blouse she liked with the silk to the tailor and told him “same-same”.

I went a step further. I found some extremely light Egyptian cotton, and some shell buttons. Then I took the only Hawaiian shirt I brought with me to a tailor and told him “same-same, VERY same-same”. I showed him the collar, “same-same”. The pocket “same-same”. By this time he was nodding to the effect of “I got it, same-same, OK.”

Same-Same

Material, shell buttons, and tailoring together will cost me about $15. We’ll see when it is done, I might have been better off going to Wallahmart.

Stay tuned.

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