Monthly Archives: April 2010
This will be a pointless set of ramblings, without theme or purpose. I just feel like writing y’all and telling you some tidbits about life here on the Arabian side of the coconut that might otherwise go unstated. Bear with me, don’t look for a thread here, I am just jumping from branch to branch.
I read the Gulf News every day. I read all of it. I even read the want ads and classifieds. Primarily of course I read the front section, but I also always read the business section. I NEVER read the business section of the LA times, so I either have a lot of time on my hands, or I find entertainment in it. Both actually. I will dispense with the want ads and classifieds to say I now know that I could never get a job here, and I also know what a used Bentley costs. (Yes, I am enamored with Bentleys)
Lets look at premium Dubai realty first. The tallest building in the world is named the Burj Khalifa. Burj translates into tower. I forget how many floors this tower has,but I know if you took the world trade center buildings and stood them on top of each other, they would not be as tall as the Khalifa. The tower has hotels, restuarants, businesses and yes apartments. Wanna move to deluxe apartment in the sky? Well Armani, the Italian designer, just opened a hotel in the Burj, and he also designed and is selling apartments. A 2 bedroom, 2237 sq ft apartment (so high you probably cannot hear the call to prayer) will run you a mere AED 21,000,000. The AED (dirham) exchanges with the US$ at a fixed rate of 3.655 Aeds to the $ You do the math.
There are also a wide range of Villas available in Dubai. Some of them are huge. In fact, a student of one of Mary Ann’s colleagues lamented that she had to call her father because she had not seen him in 5 days. The prof asked “is your father travelling?” She said “no, he is home, but the house is so big I just don’t see him for days sometimes.”
OK, you are all wondering what a Bentley will cost me when I talk Mary Ann into it (Hiya babe, just kidding) In todays classifieds, a 2005 Bentley can be had for a mere AUD 349,000. Or, a Porsche 911 Gembala can be had for 319,000. A new Range Rover for 289,000, a 2005 Lamborghini for 319,000. Of course there are the less expensive Mercedes, and then for us plebeians, Fords.
Bored yet? Don’t go away unhappy, read on.
The business section is somehow always interesting. It seems that luxury is the main attraction here, surprise. Every once in a while there is a story about the UAE based Emirates Airlines having survived the worldwide economic down turn by offering more and better first class services (you can take a shower on a long haul Emirates Air flight in first class, yes a shower) Dubai luxury hotel units increased by 16% this year, and occupancy went up by more than that.
Now, the fun news. I will grant you this, the papers cannot be critical of the rulers. That is forbidden. Say what you want.
Every time a ruler type appears in a photo in the paper, which is multiple times a day, especially the ruler of Dubai, his entire name and title appear in the caption. So, a typical caption might read “Sheik Mohammed al Quatani al Aid Minister of finance, Supreme Commander of the armed forces and ruler of Dubai, cuts the ribbon to open a new office building”. Under that is another photo, same guy, with this caption “Sheik Mohammed al Quatani al Aid Minister of finance, Supreme Commander of the armed forces and ruler of Dubai, meets the President of Somewhere” It gets old, and you just learn to skip titles.
This guy, the Ruler of Dubai impresses me. He is always out doing something to promote his Emirate and the UAE in general. This week he is hosting a worldwide confab of sports big shots. Dubai, as I posted earlier, already has the best race track for horses. They host very fine golf tournaments as well as tennis. They also host many other sporting events of worldwide stature. The ruler is now talking about a possible bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics. He was quoted as saying that if they bid, they will bid to win. He talked about Dubai’s “can do” ethics. He is serious about promoting sports because he says that the UAE culture has gone soft due to the luxury they enjoy now. He is worried that over 40% of UAE children have diabetes, and he thinks strong sports programs are a good step towards lowering that problem. Good for him.
Now summer in Dubai can be brutal. However, they can most assuredly build air-conditioned facilities for just about anything. I don’t know about the equestrian events, and I truly wonder about the Marathon, but the rest can all be done indoors. Remember, this is the desert country that put a ski slope in a shopping mall!
Weird news that my sensibilities cannot grok include the following:
A man from India (maybe Pakistan, I can’t tell them apart) was arrested for wearing a Sarong on the street. (Hey KIWI, you reading this ? I’d love it if you came to visit, but you would need to wear pants)
A school bus was stopped by the police and told to remove the curtains it had up over the windows. There is a law against curtains and tinted windows on school buses, I do not know why.
A Brit was arrested for flipping the rigid didget on the road at another driver who angered him. The “victim” called in the brit’s license number and the police came and arrested him. The accuser does not need to appear in court. The Brit faces a fine, incarceration, then deportation. I have a bad habit of using my middle finger demonstratively at times, I might tape it to my palm.
And finally, a Brit expat working here, brought a paramour down from Britain for a luxury vacation in Dubai. They were staying in a very expensive hotel in a ritzy resort area. They were seen embracing each other. They say it was a peck on the cheek. The woman who reported them said that her children were subjected to a amorous display of lust. The real story is somewhere between the two I am sure, but the short end is that this couple faces four years in prison, and then of course deportation. I have stopped kissing Mary Ann anywhere outside of our hotel room.
Well, that is enough for now. Sorry to bore you if you read this far, thanks, and tell a friend. By the way, on a good day, I am getting 30 to 34 hits on my blog. I am hungry for attention and want more MORE!
Last night we were watching television. A commercial came on for Haagen Daaz ice cream. I lamented “I have never seen Haagen Daaz in any of the stores I have been in.”
She replied, “You have not been to Spinneys.”
“Spinneys is the ‘Gringo’ supermarket. It is a British chain, they import stuff from everywhere. But don’t be disappointed if they do not have Haagen Daaz.”
Needless to say, I set off to find a Spinneys.
I have been quite happy with the UAE chains here, and finding different foods has been a big part of the adventure.
But Spinneys, OMG! They had everything from Peach Chutney to Grits and even fresh out of the oven BAGELS!
But the biggest thing I did not believe until I ate the entire quart I bought…are you ready for this…no Haagen Daaz, better…
Ben & Jerry’s CHERRY GARCIA!
Think I was happy here before? I am now in a state of euphoria.
I found the little old watch repairman. He was not swiss, but he was grizzled, hunched over and his eyes squinted from looking at too many watch works through one of those tiny microscopes, Lupes?
Anyway, the reason I had to go was because I own three watches that did not survive their time in Bocas, where everything rots, rusts or gets stolen. Two were antique Swiss watches. He looked at them and said simply “very old”. “Yessir, older than you” Anyway, in three days I find out if they can be saved.
But here is why I am posting. He had for sale, on the wall behind his cluttered counter, a cuckoo clock, in the shape of a Mosque.
Just when I was thinking I had seen it all!
I’ll keep this short. Some people have written me that I seemed to have stopped posting stuff. I took a few days off, OK. Why? Well, maybe I am getting used to life here and find less to poke fun at. I really am having a great time. The people are warm, and the weather warmer.
Shakespeare you ask? Yes by golly by jove. The AUS Dramatic Arts department did A Mid-Summer’s Night Dream over the weekend. One of Mary Ann’s co-workers husband is head of the department, so we decided to go. All the Student actors were either middle-eastern or Indian, with the attendant accents . Combine that with Shakespearean English and you have an interesting communication hurdle. I have never been a fan or student of the Bard, so I had a tough time following the story. I did enjoy the fairy Puck as she zoomed across the stage on roller blades, but that is what kept me awake the 20% of time I was not sleeping. All in all it was well done.
The night before we went out to dinner with Librarians from all over the UAE. Wake up! I’m not done. It was at a fancy hotel in Dubai. It was “Latin Night”. Not a Taco in sight, not a burrito to be had. The live music was provided by a band from Africa in Dashikis. After listening to a dozen or so top forty easy listening tunes (none of them Latin) I decided to make a request. It was, remember, Latin Night, so I requested Guantanamero. AMAZING! They played maybe the best version of Gitmonero I have ever heard. But that was it for Latin Night.
Some weird things….
American Express will not allow a person to pay their bill from any middle eastern bank. Oh sure, you can charge to it, but pay direct? No. Not even if you walk into the Amex office in Dubai with cash in hand can you pay it from here. Nope. So, you have to transfer $ to an American bank, then pay the bill from there. I do not even want to know why.
ATMS are everywhere. Like any where else, they are affiliated with certain banks. I walked up to one, in a mall and put the card in. The machine spit it back out. Invalid. I looked at the sponsoring bank…National Bank of Iran. OK fuck you too.
As I said in a previous post, there is no such thing as street addresses here. For mail, everyone uses P.O. boxes. Great. But this morning I needed to find a watch repair shop. They have yellow pages here, wonderful. Looked under watch repair, there was one in the Emirate I am currently in, wonderful. Address? A P.O. Box “lottafriggengood, mumble mumble mumble” So I called them. It took a half hour to explain that I wanted to find their office, or store, physically. Without street addresses, and with street names being arbitrary or not pronounce-able to westerners and Pakistanis alike, everyone uses landmarks to tell you where they are. This guy had the nerve, the gall, to tell me he was near “the mosque”. You cannot swing a dead camel in this country without hitting a mosque. So I asked him for another landmark. I think I have it now. I am about to get into a cab with a Pakistani Driver, (they are ALL Pakistanis) and try to find it.
OK, so not sio short, tanks for reading and tell a friend!
I took these photos on a little tourist jaunt. I hope you like them.
There is no such thing as street addresses in the UAE. Every neighborhood has one or more of these kiosks where you pick up your mail.
On our way up in the Eye!
The architecture here is full of surprises.
I hope you enjoyed the Photos. Please make comments!
This is the Holy day, Friday. Mary Ann has gone to church. I stayed home to eat bacon.
The hotel we are in is right next door to a Mosque. Everything in a Moslem country is right next door to a mosque.
The image you might have is a guy in the Minaret calling out to the faithful to pray. The guy has been replaced by loudspeakers. Inside is the Inman, who “sings” the call to prayer. As far as I can tell, it is a different verse of the Koran every time. One thing I know for sure is that it is LOUD. The call to prayer must be able to be heard everywhere, except I guess in a mall or a movie theater. Living right next door to one assures us that we will hear it. It is like living next door to a disco in Bocas. But this only happens 5 times a day. The times are determined by the sun, oddly enough. The first call is at sunrise, so Mary Ann uses it as an alarm clock. I have learned to sleep through it. This first session is to ask Allah for a sinless day. The next three are to remind you to go forth and sin no more, the fifth is to forgive your sins of the day. Because they are timed to the sun, they start earlier now that summer is coming, and end later. But the last one is still around 8:00 pm. The calls only last maybe 5 minutes. It is not like having boom boom disco going until 4 in the morning. My only complaint is that the Inman should be chosen by his ability to carry a tune. (Arabian Idol??)
The picture is taken in the mid morning session on Holy Day. The Mosque is full, and more faithful are out in front. They bring their own prayer rugs if the mosque is full. Inside, the entire floor is one big rug. Notice, no Mercedes, this is Ajman, not Dubai. Also notice the shoes. You must remove your shoes to enter the mosque. You must also perform a ritual of cleansing I think is called absolution. It involves washing your hands, left then right, your arms, L/R, your feet, L/R then your nostrils, again, L/R.
Anyway, I thought you might like this little insight.
Yesterday Mary Ann came home with my passport. It had a full-page Visa in it. The visa has my photograph on it and a holographic stamp. It is quite impressive. AND, it is good for three years.
Now, We must proceed to the next step. We have to get the UAE equivalent of Cedulas. Here they are called EIADs an acronym Emirites Identity Authority doodah. I look forward to having this card. Not only because it make me totally legal, and allow me to do things like get a driver’s license so I can rent a car, and a liquor license so I can buy beer, but because it is being touted by the government as the most modern identification card ever. I guess your whole life is contained on this card in electronic format, even a scan of your eyeball. I am starting to fill out the application on-line, but I have stopped because I simply cannot answer some oft the questions. Here they are;
English First Name…ok, easy enuff
English Middle Name…do I really want to say Bozo?
English Grandfather Name…my grandfather was not English
English Famous Name…Englebert Humperdink?
English Other Names…jerk-off, layabout, I’m sure you can suggest some
English Family Name…Hmmm
Clan….Well, Mary Ann is Irish of the Ash Tree Clan, but me…
Tribe…I am going to say Hopi and Hopi it works.
And this is page 1 of the app. I’ll let you know about page two soon.
We took another tour. This time to a city called Al Ain. It is on the border with Oman, but seems how the University had my passport, I could not pass across the frontier.
Back to the tour.
The drive to Al Ain was really nice. The desert changes color from the coast where it is grey, to further inland where it is brown, and then it quickly changes to a warm red. The highway was a modern freeway. It was nice to get out of the metropolis’ of Dubai and into the countryside, if for no other reason than there was no traffic.
Before we left Dubai, our guide took us to the Dubai Art Gallery. I walked in and was truly admiring the incredible works of art on the walls and displays. The word priceless came to mind. Until I noticed price tags. I worked up the courage to check the asking price of a wall hanging done in silk and precious stones. My math skills suck, and I could not divide the very long number by 3.65 (which is the exchange rate, 1 US$ = 3.65 Dirhams) and I did not feel like pulling out my calculator equipped cell phone to do the math. I already felt like a bumpkin anyway. Then the guide dropped us off at a place called “World of Luxury”. I thought the malls here were expensive. No no. THIS is where the real money is spent. As we were walking from little boutique store to little boutique store selling very expensive clothes and jewelry Mary Ann and I both said, at the same time, “I wonder where the food court is”. The only thing we could afford in there was natural pearl necklaces. Before the UAE discovered oil, their biggest trade item was the pearl. They still harvest natural pearls in abundance and the prices reflect it. Mary Ann knows what she is getting for her birthday.
Then we went out of the city and Drove across the country to Al Ain. The first stop on any tour is always a museum. This one had cool stuff, many antiquities, but the coolest was a collection of photographs from the past. I looked at some fotos from the same era I was living in Bolivia as a child. I thought Bolivia was undeveloped because we could not make an international phone call or get Television. These people were still living in tents and herding camels. In a generation they have gone from that to this, while Bolivia sleeps.
Then we went to a Camel Market! Yeah, coulda bought a real camel.
The above camel was brand new mama. When Mary Ann was told there was a one day old baby nearby, she walked over to see it. This mama ran over and bellowed like, well like a camel, to scare Mary Ann away. The baby was really cute, about the size of a large dog.
We had lunch at the camel market. A real honest to goodness Arabian lunch, although I used two hands to eat.
After lunch I was ready for a siesta
Then we went to “The Green Zone”
This is a park that the govt of Abu Dhabi has established for recreation. I t has a hot springs recreation area and a new community. They are retaking the desert here. The picture is taken from a mountain above it. In the far far distance is Saudi Arabia.
Then we drove back to Sharjah. The drive back, all the way across the country took less time than the drive across the City of Sharjah. For all the fancy building they do here, they laid out their roads abysmally. I’ll say it again, traffic here is horrible. We entered Sharjah from the desert side, into the industrial zone. In a while we were in the used car parts section of town. Every where in this country, commerce is segregated. If you want a cell phone, you go to the cell phone sector where entire city blocks have nothing but cell phone stores. Same for anything else you can name, furniture etc. This used car parts section went on for it seemed miles. It got me thinking about a law they have in the UAE. No car can be more than ten years old. No cash for clunkers here. They crush a ten-year old car and sell it for scrap metal, to China where they make new clunkers out of them. So I asked our guide (a brief aside, he was a great kid, Pakistani, who speaks 7 languages) “but what if you own a 10-year-old Mercedes of Lamborghini, or a Bentley? You don’t crush a ten-year old Bentley!” He said that those get consigned to Auction houses for purchase and shipment to other countries. I have decided I want to export a Bentley to Panama. Anyone want it in Bocas?
I have now lived in 6 countries other than the USA. Traveled in many more. Never ever before have I been illegal. Never ever before have I been without my beautiful blue passport. I do not even have an ID card right now.
When you enter the UAE, you are given a 30 day visa, not 90 in like say Panama. Mary Ann came in with a work visa, and she is good ’til the camels fly. But I had to enter as a visitor (they don’t say tourist here, it is a visitor visa). I had gone thru hoops back in the states to get paperwork so that I would qualify as a dependent. I have done all I can do.
Last week, before my 30 days were up, I planned on going top Oman for a day. Oman is basically right next door, and very cheap to get to. Unlike Panama, a Visa run does not require a 72 hour stay. Some people walk across the border, have lunch and walk back, good for another 30 days. I planned on flying from Sharjah which has a nice new Intl airport served by many airlines. It is the HQ of AirArabia. Air Arabia is the Middle Easts premiere discount airline. For a trivial amount I could have flown into Muscat.
I had it all planned out. I was going to arrive around 9 a.m. and take the 7 p.m. flight back to Sharjah. That would give me enough time to see a few things in Muscat (there are not more than a few to see anyway) and dip my toes in the Gulf of Oman, which is part of the Indian Ocean. If you do not count the “Southern Ocean” as a real ocean, then I will have wetted my toesies in all the worlds oceans, that being, North and South Atlantic and Pacific, and the Arctic. All I have left is the Indian ocean.
The university said that they were ready to process my passport with the immigration folks. Mary Ann preferred I do that instead of the visa run. So, with trembling hands and a troubled (even more than usual) mind, I turned over my passport to the University beauracracy. I NEVER give my passport to other people for more than a stamp and a scan.
They still have it. It has been a week. As of today I am as illegal as a Mexican migrant in Modesto. I am holed up in the hotel room. I feel like I swam the Rio Grande. If I run out of smokes I guess I will call room service.
There has been a lot of newspaper chatter about illegal copies of passports being made and used for nefarious purposes. Luckily I have a name that most nefarious aimed people would balk at traveling under, but I still worry.
If you see a newspaper story about (insert my name here) robbing the Dubai Diamond exchange, please correctly assume it is a zirconian (insert my name here). The real gem is sitting on my balcony reading a book.
Whenever I go to Dubai from here, I leave from the Sharjah bus station. It is not only far less expensive than a taxi, I get to ride in the upper deck of a big bus (even though like the song says, there is no driver on the top) and the view from there is entertaining. One seeks entertainment while on the road here, the traffic is desperately bad 24/7. Besides, my wife has made me a believer in public transportation. That is quite a feat seems how I am from LA where a person must box the compass to get anywhere on a bus. But back to Sharjah.
Near the bus station I kept noticing a sign that says “Bird and Animal Market”. Now that could mean anything. The two possibilities I considered were birds and animals to eat, or as pets. In fact, it was both.
There were about 50 stores inside the market that sold birds, cats, and fish for pets. There were another 20 or so that sold edible chickens and turkeys. These you could choose while they were alive and they would slay them for you as you watched. But I spent most of my time in the pets section. If you know me, you know I love birds. There were very many types of parakeets and finches for sale. But what caught my attention were of course the parrots. However, I was most impressed by the Falcons! Thats right. You can purchase a falcon at at pet store here!
A falcon in a hotel room just does not work, so no sale. But they are so beautiful.
I do not know the first thing about falconry. There is a falconry center in the desert. It is a sport of types, the falcons compete to bring down rodents I think. I seriously doubt I will ever buy one. I would rather have this.
This is a picture of an an adult. Behind him you can see a 4 month old baby. It was extremely difficult to walk away. My favorite pet in my life was a Blue and Gold McCaw I had in Bolivia. That bird was clever and a great friend. If I could actually raise one, I am sure he would be a great pal, but for now, well, the hotel might have problems with the idea, so I did not bring one home.
Over all impressions about the market are good. They kept it clean, the animals seemed well cared for. They also sold baby Peacocks, in pairs. I could bore you with more details, I wont. If you want to see pictures of birds you never saw before, just ask.
But now, onto another kind of bird.
From the bus station I went to the University that is so generously supporting us here. Yesterday was World Day. This university has students from something like 65 countries. The purpose of World Day is for each country to have a booth showcasing their culture. It was quite the event. Food from everywhere. I got to campus early and spent the time in the library and the student center. The campus does not lack for much at all. Maybe I have been away from campus environments too long, well yes I have, but that aside…This University is not inexpensive. Consequently what you see walking around is the children of wealthy men from all over the middle east, India and Europe. There is no lack of beautiful girls. I could not bring one of them home either….