Monday, January 17, 2011

and just for fun...

I don't know if i have mentioned much about the amazing cars we have seen on this trip, so let me just go ahead and take a moment to do so now...

The citizens of Dubai are extremely wealthy and buy tons of cars, nice ones. For example, here is one guy's house.
Out front are 3 Mercedes, a Cadillac Escalade, a Bentley, and a Lexus SUV (not pictured). I didn't even bother taking pictures of Mercedes, Lexus, Porche, or BMWs. They were the average car. The really nice cars that we saw around are as follows:

These were pretty standard. All over the place.

There were a lot of these, but i only got a picture of one.

MaseratisThese were less common, but the coolest car we saw was a Maserati. It was parked outside of a hotel down on JBR.

I really didn't get that many good pictures of cars, but we saw them all over the place. A few honorable mentions that i didn't get pictures of but saw are below.

Astin Martin

Rolls Royce

And last but not least, this is what Sheik Mohammad drives

His license plate number is 1.

Day 13

Well... this is it. Our last day in Dubai. I slept in this morning, which was really nice. In fact, the whole day was pretty laid back. Not too much to worry about, so it was a nice relaxing day. Mariella and Leonard left early this morning to go on one last trip with Jamie, Mary Jane and some other students. It was optional and you had to pay for it, but they drove across the UAE to the Oman border to a small town called Al Ain. It's an oasis town where the ruling family hails from. I am sick of sitting on a tour bus and didn't want to spend the time or money, so i didn't go. Only a few actually did, and from talking to Leonard and Mariella afterward, it was totally lame and took all day. But i am getting ahead of myself. My morning was pretty laid back and lazy. I talked to Jenn on skype this morning for a bit and worked on getting my laundry done and started folding clothes and packing up my bags. Those of us who didn't go to Al Ain met up around noon and made plans for the day.

Danielle, Marisol, Tatiana, Josie and i all headed down to the JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence) to the beach. It's the beach where the wave runner races were going on about a week ago when we came here. On the way down there we passed "the twisted building", or at least that's what people have called it. It's still under construction, but pretty sweet looking. They rotate the entire building by one degree every floor they go up, so the whole building looks like a spiral. Pretty neat stuff. Never a dull place, this Dubai. Our cabbie was pretty crazy (again), but that's to be expected at this point. He was speaking English, but we couldn't understand a word he said. We told him to take us to JBR and he said something long and drawn out to me, and all i could say in return was, "i have no idea what you're saying right now." It happened the whole car ride too. I would ask something or say something, he would respond with a drawn out answer of gibberish, and i would just look at him afterward and say, "i can't understand anything you're saying to me." He was a nice guy though, and he got us where we needed to go, so that's all that matters i suppose. We had seen a cool looking restaurant called Bo House that we wanted to eat at, cuz it looks like it's called "Ho House". The inside was nice, but we ended up sitting outside and enjoying the warm sun and view of the beach. The food was really good too. Definitely a place i would come back to if i ever make it back to Dubai, and hopefully for breakfast next time. It seems like this place is the breakfast kind of place, but we got here too late to order breakfast food. Khalid came down to meet us while we were eating and we walked down to the beach after and hung out for a really long time. It was a nice relaxing day. I got in the water a few more times and looked for sea shells, and we all just kinda hung out on the beach and talked a while and got some sun. There were constant streams of helicopters coming out over the gulf and people would jump from them and parachute down to a little island by the palm. We watched them jumping out and slowly gliding down just to go back up again for hours. I think i'd like to do that if i ever come back here. It looks kind of scary though. you're not that high up in the air to start with, and some of the maneuvers they were pulling look tough.

Around 4:00 or so, Khalid drove us back to the Academy where i took a shower and finished packing up all my stuff. We told Khalid he had to come to dinner with us tonight since Daisy and Hana were gone and the dinner was already covered. He asked if that would be ok, and we cleared it with Mary Jane and Jamie who said it would be fine. So he met up with us for the evening and we all piled on another tour bus and drove down to the creek where they have some old dhows that have been turned into floating restaurants. The food being served was (you guessed it) buffet style Arabic food. Not exactly what i was hoping for on my last night, but it was already covered in our program fee so i ate. The boat was pretty cool. The inside of the boat was set up as a restaurant with the buffet at one end and the tables in the middle. On top of the boat was a deck where you could chill afterward and watch the passing buildings as the boat floated out into the creek, down to the mouth of the gulf, turned around and came back. It was pretty neat. Something i'd do again (as long as i wasn't already so sick of the food). It was cool to see the old part of the city at night downtown when all the crowds had left and it was more vacant and open. The lights of the building were all lit up and reflected on the creek. It was really relaxing and comfortable. I even dosed off for a bit on the top deck. Khalid and i talked for a long time, mostly about movies and what not. He has some good tastes in films, and he watches a lot of them since he wants to go into the film industry.

We headed back to the Academy after dinner and said good bye to Khalid for the last time (almost...) and everyone finished packing up and taking care of loose ends. I skyped with Jenn for the last time, packed up my computer and got everything else in order and went out by the pool and waited with everyone else for the tour bus. The stupid thing about the tour buses is that they were always late, the entire trip, by at least 15 minutes or more. But the tour bus this time dropped us off and left when they knew they had to pick us back up a half hour after they dropped us off. So i don't know why they didn't just stay and wait. So anyway, long story short, they didn't come and get us. Mary Jane was calling them and we were worried we would miss our flights, so after 30 mins of waiting, we just walked down to the corner to get into some cabs. We needed to get a lot of them since we had at least 10 people with all their luggage, and we were worried we wouldn't make it on time, when guess who comes barrelling around the corner in his Suburban... Khalid pulled up and loaded a ton of people and luggage in his car. I guess Danielle had been texting him and told him the situation and he came right over to help out. Seriously, this dude is such a stud. We were able to pile everyone into his Suburban and just needed one taxi to get the rest of us to the airport. We all made it onto the flight with no problems. Mary Jane finally heard back from Alpha Tours, who told her their bus got into a wreck and that's why he was late. I think it was just a way of covering for their mistake, but it didn't matter at this point. We were already at the airport. It was a 2:35 AM flight, and the airport was PACKED. They say this is their busy time here. It took a while to get through security. One thing i noticed is that we walked through 3 metal detector and bag screening/x-raying areas. One just to get into the airport, one to get into the terminals, and one to get into the gate your plane departs from. Pretty intense. I blew all the rest of my dirhams on candy in the duty free shop, including on a camel milk chocolate bar for Jenn, and then went to my gate. Tomorrow we will be in London for a while, and i will be back home on Sunday night.

It's been an amazing trip, one i won't soon forget. My final thoughts about this place are only positive. This would be a really neat place to live for a while. Not somewhere i want to be permanently, but a neat atmosphere none the less. When am disgustingly rich and if i like you by then, maybe i'll bring you back here with me and Jenn. Anyone who gets a chance to come here before then though, i would highly recommend it.

Day 12

The nice thing about this free day was the chance i had to sleep in this morning. It was much needed, as it seems like we are always on the go with our hectic schedule. It was a pretty laid back day for the most par. I got up around 9:00 or so to skype with Jenn and then met up with Danielle, Mariella, and Leonard and got a cab back to the beach they went to on her birthday when i was asleep. It is called Nismi Beach and it is a part of the Atlantis resort property, so we were back out on the Palm. Marisol didn't go, she said she just wanted to sleep in today and chill at the Academy. So the four of us headed out to the beach. It was really nice there. Unfortunately i didn't get any pictures of it, but there were bean bags, tables with umbrellas, and beach chairs all over the place. They serve food and drinks so you could literally just hang out all day if you wanted to. The water was still cold but nice today, and the sun was warm so we all laid out and got some more sun rays. We were there for quite a while, just sun tanning and hanging out. Leonard and i got in the water a couple times. When we were ready to leave, we got into one of the waiting cabs in a line outside the resort. There was a water taxi from this beach to the souks downtown (which is where we were headed), but it is only worth it if there are a lot of people taking it. The charge is for the boat, not per person, and for the four of us to take it would have been too expensive.

We wandered around the gold souk for a while. Danielle wanted to look at fake hand bags and Leonard wanted to get a kandura, which is the national dress. We went to several of the back room shops they had, including the one where i bought my fake Rolex, and just walked through the tiny alleyways of the souk. It's much different during the day when you can see everything. It didn't seem like there were as many people here either, which Shaheem told us there wouldn't be since today is Friday, which is the Sabbath here. He said he doubted the souks would even be open before about 3:00, so that's when we came down here. There were still a lot of people here, but most were Indians and Pakistanis who were the merchants trying to get us to come into their stores. One set of store owners literally jump in front of you with big smiles on their faces, blocking your way in the crowded alley and directing you into their shops. We politely pushed past them as we wandered around looking for national dress for Leonard. He ended up going to a shop run by Afghani men, and i went to one just down the alley from it to buy another scarf for Jenn's sisters to share (i'm bad atbuying souvenirs, but Jenn told me to get one for them). The guys who ran this store were Afghani also. They asked where we were from, and i have gotten into the habit of asking where they think i am from to hear their responses. So far i have gotten Italy, Germany, France, England, and Australia. They never respond with the U.S., probably because all these other places are so much closer that they see a lot more of these visitors. When i tell them i am from the states they get big smiles on their faces and tell me they are Taliban and say they are friends with Osama bin Laden. I just smile, knowing they are looking for a reaction. I should have asked if they knew where he was. There is a $25 million bounty on his head, and i would have gladly given them 25 million dirham for their help. They were really cool though, both young men in their mid twenties. One's name was John, or something similar to it, and the other's name was Abdullah Karsi. "Like President Karsi," i say, referring to their current president. He tells me the president's first name is Hammad and they aren't related. But this gets us on the topic of politics, and i sit and talk to them for a long time about politics while Leonard is getting his national dress down the alley. It was really interesting though speaking with them because they talked so candidly with me. They told me i should visit Afghanistan. "I don't think i'd be very welcome," i respond. Abdullah tells me i wouldn't have a problem. "You're a tourist, you'll be fine. It's your politicians we don't like." I tell him i can't disagree with him about that. He talks a lot about Obama and how he doesn't know what really goes on over there. He says that Karsi pretends like he is working with the U.S., but tells his people that he would never hurt the Taliban. "They are our brothers," Abdullah explains. "Why would he want to hurt them?" He says the Taliban is willing to work with Karsi and come to terms on a lot of issues, but their one condition is that the U.S. must leave Afghanistan first and stay out of it. I tell him i agree and i promise not to tell Obama. We talk for a while and then he sells me a scarf for 15 dirhams, which is 20 less than i bought the same one in a different color for from a different merchant. He has the best prices around, and he's super cool. Leonard walks up at this time with his new kandura, completely decked out in his national dress and headscarf. With his dark complexion and aviator sunglasses, he can pull it off too. It looks good. Abdullah asks how much he paid, and he says 150 dirhams (about $42). When Leonard walks away, he tells me if i want the same thing he will give it to me for 75 dirhams ($21), but not to tell Leonard since he just bought it. I tell him i'm not looking to get one. But i must say, they are pretty sweet. Khalid told us he prefers them because they are so comfortable. I think i would feel like i'm wearing a dress and don't know if i can do it. I tell Abdullah that if anyone in our group comes down to the souks i will send them to him because he's a good dude and has great prices. He gives me a card and then the four of us leave. We rush out of the souk to get a cab to get back to the Academy. Leonard is still in his national dress and merchants are stopping and staring at him as he walks by. It's pretty funny. I wish i would have got a picture of him.

We rushed back to the Academy because a lot of our group was signed up to go on a desert safari. Cody Paris ended up going with us too, and he's the one who recommended it above anything else. He said every year his students do this and it's always the highlight of the trip. I wouldn't call it the highlight, but it was pretty sweet. Right when we get back to the Academy, i take a quick shower and meet up with everyone else out by the pool. Marisol is coming on the safari, as well as Leonard and Mariella, but Danielle decides to stay home. It's 200 dirham per person (about $56), and she doesn't want to spend the money on it. Besides the four of us, Jamie and Mary Jane go, as well as David, Jennifer, Daisy, Tatiana, and Jill. Josie and Danielle stay home, and Hana is out spending time with her dad who lives in Qatar and who she hasn't seen for 7 to 10 years or so. The safari is run through Alpha tours, and they pick us up in two Toyota Land Cruisers and drive us way out into the desert. Now THIS is what i expected the desert here to look like. Miles and miles of sand dunes out in the middle of no where. No local freeways cutting through anywhere close, no houses or buildings in sight. We are way out in the desert on the border of the Dubai and Sharjah emirates. Our group only took up two Land Cruisers, but we were part of a 15 or so car caravan. These Land Cruisers have modified engines and special sand tires on them for 4-wheeling. I can't imagine they last long, because the way our driver was driving was insane. They beat the crap out of these things. I don't know how the engines don't cease from all the sand they must suck up. It's crazy, but it was a lot of fun. Scary at times, but fairly cool. Like a roller coaster that was unsafe enough to make exciting but not terrifying. We drove around for around an hour and a half, up and down dunes, flying sideways and drifting around corners, throwing sand everywhere as we went. We stopped on one particularly tall dune to get a glimpse of the sun as it was setting. Everyone got out and walked around for a bit. The sand here is so fine, it's not like any beach i know. It gets everywhere and it's quite hard to even walk in. You sink in almost to your ankle with each step.

As the sun was throwing out it's last rays before setting over the horizon, we pulled up to a camp area where they would serve us dinner. It almost looked to me like a little
walled in area where they would drop us off, take our wallets, and leave us there. That wasn't the case however. Apparently they want to be able to keep doing this in the future. They cooked us dinner, which was buffet style Arabic food again (i'm officially tired of it), and they put on a show similar to the night we were at Bab Al Shams. They had a belly dancer and music, food and drinks, and even sand surfing, which is riding down the sand dunes on a snowboard. It sounds much cooler than it is. It was actually quite boring. You go so slow and it isn't thrilling at all. It's nothing like snowboarding or surfing. if you had someone pulling you behind a Land Cruiser, it could be like wake boarding, but you're going to get so much sand thrown in your face that it's probably not a good idea.There was also a lady there doing free henna tattoos. She was pretty good too, and a lot
of the girls got flowery designs put on their hands and arms. I got one that said "I'm So Cool", which reflects the terrible life decision it would have been had it been a real tattoo because it turned out really bad. She didn't know how to write in English very well, and i drew it on my arm for her but it was conceptually bad from the start. People rode camels, we all ate and hung out, and then we piled back into the Land Cruisers and our driver drove us back to the Academy just as maniacally as if we were still on the dunes. As if i haven't said it enough, i will say it again; drivers here are CRAZY.

Once back home, everyone gets cleaned up and ready for our last free night out on the town in Dubai. Khalid makes an appearance with his cousin Rashid, and Danielle, Marisol, Mariella, Tatiana, Josie, Leonard and I all go out with them to a hotel where we can get some food and everyone can get drinks. People get pretty smashed tonight, and Khalid asks me if i would drive his Suburban home since i was the only one not drinking. I told him that wasn't a problem. He is telling me we need to keep in touch, which i definitely want to. I tell him that i like Shaheem and his brother Salem, but that Khalid is way cooler and we all feel that way. He is seriously a super stud.

We hung out at the hotel for a while and just talked and what not, and then we all piled in his Suburban and i got a taste of driving in Dubai. Granted, it was late at night, and no one was on the roads, but i still drove. When we got back to the Academy, Leonard was really drunk and it was suggested that he walk around a while so he's not hung over in the morning. So a few of us walked down to the local public beach near by. Leonard strips down to his underwear and jumps in the water, which is insane considering it's already cold out tonight and the water has to be freezing. He puts his clothes back on and we walk back to the Academy and everyone goes to bed. Tomorrow is our last day in Dubai. We have a dinner planned for tomorrow night with everyone before we head to the airport for our red-eye flight back home. I tell Khalid he needs to come chill with us during the day at least tomorrow, and he says he'll be in touch. These two weeks have flown by already. There is still so much we haven't seen or done, but we are going to just take it easy and get everything we need to taken care of tomorrow, like packing and what not. At least that's what i plan to do.

Day 11

So staying out super late last night was a terrible idea. By the time i laid down and went to sleep, i barely got any sleep for today. We had to start early early because the people from Sharjah sent us a bus to pick us up at 8:00 in the morning. I have been using my ipod as an alarm and it's not the most reliable thing to use since every time i plug it in to charge it the time resets. So i woke up literally about 15 minutes before we had to board the bus, and that was only due to commotion in the hallways outside my room. Needless to say, i had no time to shower or anything. I wreaked of smoke from the night before in the soccer bar and looked like a pile of garbage all day long. Mariella told me i was the smelly kid, which i slightly resented but ultimately didn't really care about considering how tired i was the whole time. Sharjah is just a little ways north of the creek from Dubai. You can still see the Burj Khalifa from Sharjah. I couldn't tell you about the bus ride there though, because i was passed out the entire time.

In a nutshell, this was my least favorite day. I don't know if it was subliminal from what Khalid told me the night before, but Sharjah lived up to all he expectations he set for me. Sharjah is much more conservative than Dubai, and is no where as rich as Dubai. Really, the only to Emirates that have much money or influence in the UAE are Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The others don't have the resources to attract the tourists and investors that Abu Dhabi and Dubai does. So to make a name for itself, Sharjah uses the little money it get from oil revenues to build museums and preserve the history of the region. It's a noble thing and i am not knocking them for it. In fact, Sharjah is known as a World Heritage Site, which is apparently a tough accolade to earn. It's just not as sparkly and exciting as the rest of the trip has been. The first place we visit is the Supreme Council for Family Affairs. This is the government agency that invited our group to come and tour Sharjah and set everything up. Our instructors were glad to accept the invitation because they didn't need to do anything. At the first meeting we went to, we sat in a room and watched a video on what the Supreme Council for Family Affairs does for the people of Sharjah. It's a noble cause, promoting development and education for children and families, especially those with special needs and what not. They also focus on advancement of women. I can't speak for all Muslim countries, but the women of the UAE are encouraged to develop themselves through education and careers. If they want to work, there are jobs for them. It's a far cry from the perception many in the west have that women are oppressed in Muslim countries. That being said, they do follow the cultural traditional dress more strictly than in Dubai. All the women we meet (the staff of the Council hosting our tour today is all women) are wearing black abias and head scarfs, many also have their faces covered. I know it's bad to say, but every time i see them, i can't help but think "ninja". They don't let us take pictures of them, and the older women who are married politely decline to even shake my hand, or any of the men in our group for that matter. It is a very conservative society, but they are very focused on community from what i can gather from the video. After the video, we do a little question and answer session and are treated to a light breakfast before we get back on the bus and head to the first museum.

The first one we go to is the Sharjah Archaeological Museum. Our guide is a man dressed in a kandura (white robe) and head scarf, and he's very knowledgeable about the subject of archeology. It was interesting to me that they approach the subject in such a scientific way. A lot of what he said seems to fall in line with a lot of evolutionists claim, which is surprising to me considering how conservatively Muslim the region of Sharjah is. They even record time differently, meaning they don't use the BC and AD notations for years. They have another way of doing it, but i couldn't tell you what it stand for and what the significance of it is. Still, the way he talks about archeology and how the region came to be the way it is based upon fossil records is impressive. Apparently Sharjah is a hot spot for the area in regards to archeology. Unlike Dubai, Sharjah has a variety of geographical landscapes. Dubai is nearly all flat desert, but Sharjah is the only Emirate with two coasts, one on the Arabian gulf and one touching the Indian Ocean. The side of Sharjah by the Indian Ocean is quite mountainous and is an area where archaeologists from around the world come to work. The tour is interesting enough and isn't too terribly long, maybe an hour or so.

Our next stop is another museum, the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization. This museum is dedicated more toward the religion of the region and accomplishments of Arabs through history. Our tour guides are women who tell us all about Islam and many of the practices and basic beliefs. Islam is built upon 5 Pillars (each has specific names, but i don't remember them); faith in Allah, prayer 5 times a day, charity for the poor, fasting, and a pilgrimage to Mecca. Our tour guide focused most on the pilgrimage. At least once in their life, every Muslim must make a pilgrimage to visit Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Mecca is the holiest city in the Muslim world and Muslims face Mecca when they pray. The month of Ramadan in the Islamic calender is the holiest month in which they fast during daylight hours. Most Muslims make their pilgrimage to Mecca during Ramadan, and our tour guide told us all about the events that go on at the largest mosque in the world there.

the model on the left is the largest mosque in the world located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. I'll be honest, i don't know what the model on the right is.

I didn't understand them that well, but it was interesting. Coincidentally, only Muslims are allowed to go to the mosque in Mecca. She threw around a lot of Arabic words to describe objects and events, so it was a bit confusing, but i still found the whole museum quite interesting. It was laid out in a long corridor, almost like the mosque we visited in Abu Dhabi was laid out. in each of the rooms along the corridor, different exhibits showed different aspects of either Islam or of Arabic culture through history. One exhibit that i thought was interesting was the astronomy exhibit. They have several of the tools ancient astronomers used. There are many famous ancient Arabic astronomers. In fact, several stars' names come directly from Arabic. The Arabs did a lot to advance the field of study, and it was neat to see some of the methods they used long before telescopes and remote sensing technology. I took a lot of pictures of that kind of stuff, even though i am sure Jenn will hate them all because they don't have any people in them.

When we left the Islamic Civilization museum, we loaded on the bus and went to yet another museum. Personally, at this point i was a little tired of museums. To go to three in a row, and in such close succession, was probably a bit of poor planning. But i just figure "it's Sharjah" and this is about all the excitement we're going to be treated to here. The last museum was the Sharjah Maritime Museum, and it was my least favorite even though it was the most interactive. It was all about boats and the dependence on the gulf in the Emirates. Before the discovery of oil, this region of the world relied heavily on pearls. This was a hot bed of pearls for a long time until the advent of cultured pearls. At that point, people in the region realized they needed to diversify and get into more than just one industry. The tour guide here was a young guy who anyone would immediately decide is gay. He had the most obvious gay lisp i have ever heard in my life. Homosexuality is still a big taboo in this part of the world though, and even with all its tolerances, Dubai probably wouldn't look too kindly upon an openly gay individual. The fact that we were in Sharjah only compounds the issue. He may not have been gay at all, but either way i still felt really bad for him. He either is and has to hide it for fear of legal issues (it's illegal to be gay in the UAE), or he isn't but constantly has to defend himself and say he's not. Anyway, he was extremely excited to have so many people to share his knowledge with about all things relating to boats and maritime practices in the gulf. Unfortunately, i and many others like me were done with museums at this point and just sat on the sidelines or walked around aimlessly while he took a small group through THE ENTIRE MUSEUM. There wasn't an exhibit he missed. It seemed like a long time, probably more so because i wasn't listening to him at all and just waiting till he was done.

Once we were done at the Maritime Museum, we went to an area that i guess is supposed to be like the modern shopping and gathering spot for people in the city. It wasn't very big and there is a big channel of water running right through the middle of it, but it seemed like the Sharjah version of the Dubai Marina (which was really cool compared to this). This picture is on a bridge spanning the channel of water, but there are more buildings on the other side of the water. Mostly shops and restaurants and what not. There is a scary fair ground in the background too, and as i've never been a fan of Ferris wheels, we didn't bother trying to go for a ride. We really didn't have much time there anyway. They just dropped us off and gave us about 20 to 30 minutes to walk around and then we were back on the bus. Not enough time to do anything really, but to be honest, i didn't see much that i would really want to do. So the short amount of time wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

Our next stop was a hotel, and not like any of the hotels we visited in Dubai. Just a regular hotel you might find just outside of any airport in any town. We went there to have a late lunch. Needless to say, it wasn't amazing. It was just bad Arabic food buffet style, which we have had a ton of this trip. We tried to talk to some of the girls with us from Sharjah on the tour because i felt bad like we were ignoring them. It wasn't much use though, and they seemed really reluctant to talk to any of the men in the group. We got really short answers from them and conversations died out pretty quickly. They were young girls, but again, i think the conservative society they were brought up in made it hard for them to speak casually with us. Probably just nervous or something. Once we were done with lunch, we went to our final stop of the trip; the souk. This place was so different from any of the souks in Dubai. It was completely dead. We walked into a covered corridor and it was seriously almost deadly silent. For a while we were the only people there. The shops were so weird too. They had a few regular souvenir shops, but many of the shops sold just unwanted junk. There were several shops full of lots of actually really cool old stuff like old war relics and clothes, antique watches, old cameras, and currency from countries all over the world. You could even buy Iraqi money with Saddam's face on the bills. Of course, they are worthless now, but it seems cool just for the keep sake or collectors aspect of it. I would have gotten pictures of some of it, but the shop owners wouldn't allow most of the time. And for that matter, even the shop owners were really subdued. In Dubai, they jump down your throat trying to get you to buy things from them. You either have to fight them off, telling them no constantly, or just buy something. Here in Sharjah, you just said no thanks once and they said ok and went and sat back down. Very different. We walked around the souk for a while and then met back up with everyone near the entrance. The ladies from the Council gave each person in our group a little camel that you can open the hump and put something in it. Here is a picture of it next to a 1 dirham coin for scale, so you can see how small it really is and how impractical the hidden compartment is. I don't know what anyone would put inside there, unless it was cocaine. It's just too small for anything else. But regardless, it was a nice gesture and we all accepted them graciously. I named mine Cokey the Camel. At least if i ever decide to do cocaine, i will have somewhere to put it. We said our thanks and good buys to the ladies of the Council and loaded back on the bus. I promptly went back to sleep on our ride home. I was told we were pulled over and the bus driver got a ticket for having too dark of tinted windows. I guess it's not illegal to have this dark of windows in Sharjah, but because he had to drive us back to Dubai he got busted. Sucks for him.

When we got back, i finally got my chance to shower and clean myself up so i didn't feel like such a scumbag. I met up with the group of kids i have been hanging out with for most of the trip; Leonard, Mariella, Marisol and Danielle. We decided to call ourselves the Jive 5. A dumb name, i know, but we made the decision among ourselves that we're much cooler than everyone else on the trip. It's pretty obvious really. The 5 of us want to go get some dinner, so we go to get a cab by the Burj Al Arab. We need a big cab since there are 5 of us, but a Pakistani cabbie pulls over in a regular cab and tells us to get in. We tell him we need a big cab, and he says it's ok. He could get in a lot of trouble for this, but we figure that's his problem and not ours. Getting in his cab was both the best and worst decision we'd made all week. This dude was CRAZY. I know i talk a lot about crazy cabbies here, but he was by far the craziest one yet. He barely spoke English and drove like a maniac. We told him to take us down to the Marina Walk, and he of course didn't know where it was cuz he's crazy, so he starts driving like a lunatic at full speed, swerving to miss parked cars and slamming on his brakes at lights. We ask him if he can play some music, so he screams "YEAH!" and turns on the radio to some techno station and turns the volume up as loud as it will go. It doesn't even sound good this loud, it's just rattling speakers, but he is loving it, pumping his brakes to make the car shake as he's speeding down side roads. It would be really scary if we all weren't laughing so much. We tell him to kill the music cuz it just sounds terrible, and we are trying to talk to him while directing him how to get to the Marina. I ask him if he likes soccer, and he says yes and that he likes cricket too. He asks if i like cricket and i say no and that i don't know anything about it, and between the laughter and music (which was just turned down and not off), i can't understand what he is saying or asking me after that. So he asks me something and i just keep saying i don't like cricket. This goes on for a good 2 to 3 minutes, until finally someone else clues me in that he is asking what i like. I ask him what he means, and he asks what sport. I tell him basketball. He nods his head. I ask if he likes basketball, and he says no. Then he asks what team i like. I tell him the Boston Celtics. He doesn't say anything and i say, "do you know who they are?" He says no, and i say, "well that was kind of a waste of time then, wasn't it. I think we have a language barrier." Everyone is laughing the whole time, and he never lets up on his insane driving. So then i say, "driver! take us to bakha lakha dakha street!", which has been an inside joke the whole trip. It's probably really rude, but we all got a big laugh out of it and he doesn't have a clue what we are saying anyway.

When we get dropped off, we tip him well for how crazy he is and go back to Stephano's. My food was much better this time and i would recommend anyone to go back there for dinner. It was very good. I don't know what they do to cook french fries here in Dubai, but everywhere i have had them they have been amazing. No one has disappointed me. We got to dinner at about 10:00 and ended up sitting and just talking for a long time. We all share our first impressions of each other. Leonard told me he thought i was just a super serious guy who was completely focused on school. I laugh cuz i'm such a child. I laugh at really dumb stuff all the time and don't feel like i take anything seriously. I tell him i thought he was a bro. He seemed like he would be one of those dudes who said "that's so sick" all the time and what not. But Leonard is one of the coolest guys around and he's thoughful and super laid back. We all thought Mariella and Leonard were dating. They were asked to ellaborate, but they kinda just gave each other sideways looks with sly grins on their faces. From what i gather though, Leonard wants to be a couple but Mariella doesn't want to be in a relationship. Watching them though, you would just assume they were together. Most everyone told Danielle they thought she was snobby, and she said she could see how that could be. Her family does well and she went to a private school with lots of really rich kids, so that's just the culture she's used to. Marisol told me she hated me at first because she thought i was too cool to hang out with her. She is seriously super cool though. I didn't really have much of a first impression of her, but i would agree i didn't see us hanging out at all. Not that i was mad at her or hated her for it though. It was a good time though, and we stayed until around midnight before getting a cab and heading back for the night. I am really tired at this point and am looking forward to sleeping in for our free day tomorrow.

Day 10

Today was pretty easy going. We didn't do much at all in the way of school. We met in the morning to go over one of the articles we were supposed to read. Practically no one had read it though, including me. The article was about Amish people and technology that Jamie had actually written. Someone told me he has written a couple textbooks and makes his classes read them. Kinda funny. Jamie apparently has done a lot of research on Amish people and interviewed several of them. His presentation was cut really short, but it was quite funny and interesting. Jamie is a funny dude, and we have really gotten to like him on this trip. He always says things like "my suspicion is" instead of "i think that". So we throw that around a lot. I wish we could have heard more of his presentation about Amish people and technology.

We walked over to the Jumeirah resorts across the street, specifically to the Al Qasar Hotel. There are a bunch of gold Arabian horse statues out front that i didn't manage to get a picture of. The whole hotel is kind of a horse/castle theme (Al Qasar means "the Castle"). Now THIS was a really nice resort. Much nicer than Bab Al Shams in my opinion. It's along the coast and in the middle of town instead of out in the desert, and i just thought all the amenities were much nicer. It was designed by the same person who did the Venetian in Las Vegas, so there are lots of canals and little villas around that you have to use abras to navigate. They also use the wind tower quite liberally as a decorative piece of architecture here. If i were to come back to Dubai as a tourist, i would stay here. The catch is that it's quite expensive. The busy season, which is right now, will run you about 4500 dirhams a night (about $1250). But i think if i had the money, i would do it. It's cheaper during the slow season, but i can't imagine it's much cheaper. Maybe half. The Al Qasar is part of the Madinot Jumeriah, one of 3 resorts in a small area. There is a souk in the middle of the resorts, and this is the best view of the Burj Al Arab i've been able to get. The tour of Al Qasar was really nice, but i was pretty disappointed that it was the only hotel we were able to tour. I was under the impression that we would be seeing inside the Burj Al Arab as well as Jumeirah Beach Resort, but that wasn't the case. The good side of that though is that this is all we had to do today, so we were done by about noon and had the rest of the day to ourselves.
From the Al Qasar, Mariella, Marisol, Leonard, Danielle, Tatiana, Josie, Jill, David and i all got cabs and headed back to Maria Bonita (the really good Mexican restaurant i couldn't remember the name of that we went to on the first night). We had lunch there, and again, it was really delicious. Tatiana can be nice at times, but sometimes i don't really care to be around her. She and Danielle got into an argument about splitting the check that turned out to be a huge ordeal over nothing. It was really uncomfortable for everyone around. I talked to Danielle about it later and she agreed it was dumb, but that she was right and Tatiana was wrong (i would have to agree with Danielle). But once that little episode was settled, i think everyone was able to enjoy their lunch. When we were done, we went to get cabs to get back to the Academy, and since we had 9 people we had to get at least one big cab since you can't put more than 4 in a regular cab. So we go to pull over a regular cab, and second one pulls in behind it. Leonard tells him they have 5 and need a big cab, and the cabbie gets pissed and tries to charge Leonard 10 dirhams just for pulling over. So Leonard gets pissed back and starts arguing and swearing at the guy, but eventually pays him and the cabbie drives off. It was ridiculous. The cab didn't take them anywhere. Why would he think he could charge them 10 dirhams? Granted, it's not that much money in the grand scheme of things (about $3.60), but still, i would have told him to shove it and not paid him. Leonard told us to just go and they would get home later once they found a big cab, so Danielle, Marisol, Jill and i all head back to the Academy.
Once we get back, i laid down and crashed hard. I was just looking for a nap, but i was out for a good 5 hours. When i get up, it's about 6:30 at night. No one is around and i just mess around on my computer for a while until i hear people come home. Danielle tells me that she and Marisol, Mariella, and Leonard went to a place called Nisimi Beach out by Atlantis and that it was awesome. They celebrated her birthday out there (which is today) and just hung out on a awesome resort beach. They tried to knock on my door and call my room before they left, but i was seriously dead to the world cuz i didn't hear any of that. Apparently they had a good enough time without me though, so good for them. When they get back, Danielle gets a hold of Khalid. He and Shaheem take us all down to a shop where they buy dokha. Dokha is a tobacco that is smoked out of a pipe. They say it's just straight tobacco mixed with some local herbs and claim it's way better for you than cigarettes because there are no chemicals in it. Khalid says dokha is a big part of culture here and practically anyone you can see smoking cigarettes (which is everyone) also smokes dokha. Leonard and Marisol buy a pipe and some dokha for themselves, and Danielle gets a pipe and some dokha for her boyfriend. After the dokha shop, they take us to a place called the Belgium Cafe for dinner. It's a little place with three stories, the top being on the roof. It's a fun place, but i am a little cautious about the food. They mostly just do mussels. I get an onion soup with a side of fries and am as happy as can be. People are having a few drinks to celebrate Danielle's birthday, and then Khalid takes us back to the Academy.
At this point it's pretty late. Most of the people want to go to bed, but i have been asleep all afternoon so i am wide awake. So Khalid invites me to go to a crappy little sports bar with him to watch a soccer game. He is a big soccer fan, and his favorite team (Arsenal) is playing tonight. I say sure and Marisol decides to come along, so the three of us go to this crappy little sports bar that Khalid takes us to. It's a tiny place with no windows or natural light and filled with smoke. Khalid comes here all the time because it's an Arsenal fan sports bar. Arsenal is a British team and they air the games live, but since England is 4 hours behind Dubai, all the games air really late at night. I know nothing about soccer, but it was fun watching it with Khalid and having him explain the game. The bar is filled with British people. The team Arsenal is playing is Ipswitch, another British team, so all around are people cheering for both teams. All i know is cheer for the yellow team. Marisol is having a good time too. She tells Khalid he's a "daddy" and said she hated him at first cuz everyone was hogging him and she didn't get to talk to him. Marisol is really funny. She's turned out to be a really cool girl and a lot of fun to hang out with.
The game ends late at night and we head back to the Academy and just chill and talk outside for a while before deciding we should go to bed. We have a really early morning tomorrow. We are supposed to meet at 7:30 to go to Sharjah all day. Khalid tells us Sharjah is super lame and we should skip it, but unfortunately i don't think our professors would approve of that. This Sharjah trip is a last minute thing. One of the students we met at Zayed University is from Sharjah and apparently lined it all up for us, and our professors jumped on the opportunity since they never heard back from the US embassy about visiting them tomorrow. The people from Sharjah have our whole day planned out. Khalid says we will be bored the whole time. By the time we are done talking and decide to go to bed, it's about 4:00 AM.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Day 9

Today was the first overcast day since we've been here. We were told it hasn't rained here in over a year, but we saw a little today. When i say a little though, i mean a tiny touch of sprinkling. Nothing substantial. But still, it felt kind of neat, like it was an event or something. We had to meet at 8:15 for our first appointment, so i got up early to get ready and have some time to skype with Jenn. However, our internet was still down when i woke up, so i wasn't able to skype with Jenn at all. Luckily i had slept through the night though and wasn't tired, so it wasn't a problem getting up a little early. We met together in the morning by the pool and got 3 cabs to drive us back to Knowledge Village where Middlesex University is. There is a London based architectural firm there called HDR and we met with the small office of architects to discuss the growth of Dubai and the current status of the construction business. Almost anywhere you go in Dubai these days, you will see skeletons of large buildings all over the place. At one point during the boom of the development, skyscrapers were being built just to be built. They were popping up all over the place with the "if you build it, they will come" mentality. It is estimated that about 20% of the office and apartment buildings in Dubai are still empty. Just there waiting to be filled. The construction business has all but come to a halt here since the credit crunch of 2009. Most of the projects are on stand still, making the landscape on the outskirts of the coastline look like a high rise graveyard. Patrick is the office manager for HDR Dubai. He is a bald guy with a goatee, fairly short, and from Ireland originally so i like the way he talks and his accent. He tells us that funding is stalled for several of the projects his office is working on, but that they are still very busy with projects in Abu Dhabi. He shows us a slide show of the projects they are working on. They are constantly looking for a futuristic way of designing buildings, and they show us some pretty cool things. Most of the other students don't seem to care much, so I ask most of the questions with these guys, but i really am interested in what they are doing. The speed in which they operate out here is astounding. It is largely due to the lack of red tape they would need to go through in the states or Europe and for the rapid pace of growth demanded by the government and other clients. Patrick tells us it takes about half the time to finish a project here as it would in the U.S. That's pretty amazing when you think that many of these projects are built in as little as 12 months. Of course, when you build so much so fast, you can run into liquidity problems, which is exactly what happened when Dubai ran out of money in 2009. I am sure things will rebound for Dubai, and Patrick seems confident that things are on the rise.

The team at HDR rents a couple cabs for the day and takes us out to one of their current projects called Dubiotech. It's a research park in the style of Knowledge Village, being built as a hub to attract several research companies to have an office in the middle east. The area is quite large, but lacks buildings as of now. The only one currently built and functioning houses a medical research lab run by an older man from Atlanta. He's a very nice and enthusiastic man and excited to talk to people from the states about the progress they are making there. He looks a lot like Ron Paul, so i already like him. We tour the rest of the building to see that it's mostly
unfinished. Patrick tells us that's the idea, and that the companies that move in will be able to set their offices up anyway they want, which is important based on the type of research being done and the equipment needed. Seems to make sense, and cuts down costs of the architects. Patrick takes us across the street to the Dubiotech headquarters that are being built. HDR designed the building, but like everything else, it's on hold due to lack of funding at the moment. The site should be crawling with workers, but at the moment there are just a few people there to monitor everything. We are taken into the trailer and given hard hats and then make our way up to the site. They load about half of us in a rickety, scary lift that feels increasingly more deadly as it climbs up to the 17th floor. We get off, and the lift goes back down to get the rest of our group. It was nice of them to bring us up here i suppose, but i don't really get the point of it. Maybe to show us the whole area of Dubiotech and where it will reach when it's all completed. The unfinished building we are in is the center of the Dubiotech research park. They talk about some of the challenges they faced, including the truss structure in the middle of the buildings. It's a really unusual shape and require three separate structural engineers evaluating it to convince them it was structurally safe. When the building is done, that will be a conference center as well as hold some retail stores and be a bridge between the two buildings. It is also going to be covered in windows, and the shape of it will make it look like a jewel suspended between the two buildings. Sounds cool, but it looks like it will be a while before we can see it. Some people take the lift back down, while others (including me) take the stairs. This turned out to be not so great an idea because we had to climb over and through scaffolding in several places and walk through points where the stairwell was pitch black. It could have been considered mildly adventurous though, so i didn't mind.

After Dubiotech, Patrick has the cabs drive us all down to the marina walk and he buys us lunch. It was very generous of him to do. However, lunch took a long time and we are late to our next appointment with Patrick, which is a place that has a platinum rating by the LEED system. I don't know anything about the LEED rating system, but apparently it means the building is very environmentally friendly. We are told that getting a platinum rating is extremely hard. This building is the first to get a platinum rating in the Middle East and only the 16th in the world. I am sorry to say i fell asleep in this meeting, so i really didn't get much out of it. I feel bad cuz we show up late and have to skip a lot of their presentation and tour in order to keep our next appointment, and on top of it all, i fell asleep. They probably hate us, but whatever.

Our next appointment is the fun one. We paid 100 dirhams each (about $27) to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa to watch the sunset. The tallest building in the world is 165 stories tall, but people going to the top only get up to the 124th floor where the observation deck is. The ride to the top only takes about 60 seconds, and you can feel your ears popping every few seconds as you go up. On the way down, i counted my ears popping 7 times. The view is pretty awesome. There is no such thing as a clear day in Dubai anymore with the pollution and haze from blowing sand, but today isn't bad. The clouds have cleared away and we are able to see great distances. One of the cool things is the telescopes at the top. They didn't cost anything today for some reason, and they are essentially just a video screen you can point and magnify. They also have 4 settings, a live feed of what you can see right now, a daytime setting to see what it looks like on a particularly clear day during mid-day, a night time setting so see all the lights of the city on a clear night, and a historical setting to see what the area you are looking at looked like only about 10 or more years ago. The picture shown here is looking at the buildings in the background and the historical view of when they weren't there at all. Kind of neat. And of course, the thing we all came for was the sunset, which is shown in the sequence of pictures below. This is looking in the direction of the Burj al Arab, near where we are staying.

Arabian sunset from the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world

The Burj Khalifa is so tall that it was necessary to design it to be able to sway "like a reed in the wind". It is built upon a large spring system in the foundation that allows the building to flex with the wind and rotation of the Earth. Without this feature, the torque on the top of the building would be too great and it would bend or buckle somewhere in the middle, eventually failing and the whole thing would topple over. The top of the Burj can sway up to 1 meter in any direction. Pretty amazing. The view from the outside observation deck shows the city that lies north of the Burj Khalifa. The cluster of buildings lining Sheik Zayed road is known as the financial district of Dubai. Here is a picture of the financial district before sunset and a little while after when the lights of the city begin to come on. We are told that you can watch the sunset from the ground and then ride the elevator up to the top of the Burj to watch it set again. You'd have to be very fast and be able to cut all the lines first though, because it takes a while to get through security and into the elevator. Looking toward the east from the observation desk, you can see the city begin to sprawl into the desert. You can also see the Dubai mall directly below and see just how large it really is. We went to the mall when we got down, but it's not very impressive outside the fact that it's enormous. They have basically all the same stores as the Mall of the Emirates as well as many many more. A lot of people in our group went through the huge aquarium they had in there, but i got my fill of fish at Atlantis and didn't want to spend the money. Marisol, Danielle and i walked around and looked at shops for a while. We ended up in a giant candy store like Dilan's in NYC, but with less of a selection. I got a container of candy for Jenn since i have been bad at buying gifts. I'm pretty bad at getting souvenirs in general. Once everyone else got out of the aquarium, we got a little dinner at Taco Bell, the only one in all the UAE. Kind of a novelty i suppose. No one ate very much though because we planned to go out when we got back. Danielle's 21st birthday is tomorrow and she wants to get a drink at midnight. So after we leave the mall, we get cabs and head back home. At this point, the internet has been fixed and i am able to get on skype and talk to Jenn for a bit. I tell her about Masdar and wanting to look into living there. I thought it would be a hard sell, but she seems pretty open to the idea. It would be something we'd really have to look into. Josie asks me if she can meet Jenn, so she, Mariella, and Danielle come in and say hi. Jenn didn't seem as happy to meet them. She said she looked like a bum.

After i talk with Jenn, we all walk over to the Madinot across the street. Danielle calls Khalid, who comes to meet up with us. We sit outside at the sheesha bar and order some food and wait till midnight so Danielle can get a drink. She has to argue with the bar tender about her birthday and finally gets let it. Once we all finish our food, we head back home and i get Khalid to show me a few ways to tie my head scarfs that i bought. At this point though, it was well after midnight, so i sat down to work on the computer for a bit and then went to sleep.