Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Day 3

Today was non-stop. It was all go and i am suffering from it now. I am dead on my feet tired, so i want to make this quick but i also don't want to short change the day on details because there was so much that was done. Luckily i don't think i need to introduce anyone new. Most of the major players have been introduced, and i can fill in the blanks from there.

I got up earlier than normal to shower and skype Jenn because we met together for a class this morning to talk about our papers we have each individually written. I still don't have an alarm clock, but discovered there is an alarm on my ipod. It didn't work this morning though, but i found out i had it set wrong. Hopefully it works for tomorrow morning. I am so wasted tired and i definitely need the sleep. Right after our meeting we all piled into a bus to go to the Middlesex University of England's Dubai satellite campus.

There is a place in Dubai called Knowledge Village which is a fairly small area that has over 50 different colleges there studying a very broad range of topics and degrees. They are all massed into a series of buildings which almost looks like a campus for just one university. Instead, there are over 50 schools sharing the campus, including University of Phoenix where i work. Maybe i can get transferred out here? I doubt it. Anyway, we have a couple presentations. The first was from a professor from India. He is dressed in a suit and his teeth are a train wreck with severe casualties. He looked like he could chew through a dead bolt with little effort and great efficiency. He talked about supply chain management and logistics and how Dubai is positioned such that it can be the world's next great logistics hub. His lecture brought me back to my days of studying for my first bachelor's degree in business finance. Boo. But he did have some interesting things to say and threw out a lot of statistics and info regarding Dubai's growth. One thing he said that i thought was interesting is that the nationals here benefit so much from the government, but not just anyone can become a citizen. For example, if your immigrant parents move to Dubai and you are born here, live here all your life and work and help to build Dubai, you will still never become a citizen. You must be an Emirati born to parents who lived in Dubai prior to 1971 when they declared independence. That's a new spin on immigration reform. Imagine if the U.S. decided to implement something like that. There would be hell to pay. With our current system, it could never work. The bureaucracies would have a field day. With Dubai's system, the government runs the show and you're just along for the ride. It's good to be an Emirati in Dubai, that's for sure. Everyone else still benefits from tax free income, no corporate or sales tax, and little intervention in regards to doing business, but they just are not allowed to own any land or receive a oil revenues from the government as part of their salary. In addition, i just learned several websites are blocked in the UAE. They regulate what you can look at and what you can't. People may scream bloody murder about that around the world, but that's just the way it goes. I really can't say if it's a good or a bad thing. Some may think it's oppressive, but i think it's all relative. Sure, you can look at Dubai and the UAE and say they oppress their citizens because they won't allow them to consume alcohol at all, but the United States does the same thing by banning illicit drugs like heroin and opium when these substances are legal in other parts of the world like Holland and Micronesia. It's all subjective really. Anyway, it was an interesting concept.

back row, from left to right: Cody Paris, Marisol, Jennifer, me, guy with hammered teeth, David
front row, from left to right: Jill, Hana, Daisy, Danielle (the little one), Tatiana (behind Danielle), Mariella, Leonard, Mary Jane

The people at Middlesex gave us a really good buffet lunch and then we had another presentation by a big white guy from Colorado named Cody Paris. He is a graduate from ASU and has 4 degrees, including two masters and a doctorate, all mostly relating to tourism. He said he ran the Dubai study abroad program last year and then was offered a fantastic tax-free salary to teach in Dubai by Middlesex, so he had to take it. I would move to Dubai in a heart beat if the pay was good enough. The tax-free gig for 4 to 5 years sounds pretty sweet to me. He talked a lot about tourism. I guess there are huge plans to make what is being called Dubai Land, which is a giant area of town devoted to theme parks. Universal Studios, Knots Berry Farms, Six Flags, Lego Land, etc. are all in the works. Disney hasn't committed yet. I don't know why. They are such whores and exploit children so much, and this is just a whole huge new market for the Aladdin merchandise they already have in place. I would think they would jump on it in a second. Some of the interesting things Cody talked about included the political stability in Dubai and almost complete lack of crime which make it a prime spot for tourism. Everyone says there is so little crime here, and it's all do to the way the government handles it. For example, it's illegal to owe money here, so if you bounce a check, you go to jail. If you can't pay, you have 30 days to leave the country or you get locked up until you can pay it back. It's also illegal to be unemployed here. If you lose your job, you have 30 days to find a new one or must leave the country. If you break any laws concerning Islamic Law, you're deported and can never come back. In severe enough circumstances, the death penalty is prescribed. They just don't tolerate crime here. The fact is that there is crime, but it's very low because it doesn't have a chance to grow really. It's just removed from the country. They just don't deal with it. Forget trying to correct it, make it someone else's problem and let them deal with it. I don't know if they even have a prison here. Seems like they wouldn't need it. The story is that when the credit crunch happened in 2008 and developers ran out of funds and couldn't pay their debts, they drove to the airport and left the country, leaving their cars there and never coming back. It's either that or get locked up or put to death. They say the population dropped by approximately 1 million that year from people leaving the country. Wild stuff.

After Cody spoke to us, we get picked up by a bus from Alpha Tours. Our tour guide is named Ahmed. He's a short guy from Egypt with thinning hair and glasses. He's corny funny and makes really dumb jokes that are so stupid you can't help but chuckle at them. He's a good dude and a good tour guide. He takes us out to the Jumeirah Palm, the smallest of the man made islands in the shape of a palm tree. It is lined with apartments and office buildings on the trunk and all the palm fronds have enormous and beautiful private houses, each with a little piece of beach front property. Ahmed tells us they go for about 30 million dirhams, which is $833,333 each. At the top of the palm tree is the 5-star Atlantis hotel. He gets us inside and gives us a guided tour. It's very extravagant and beautiful. There is a huge aquarium downstairs with some of the weirdest looking fish i have ever seen in my life.One even has a human face, no joke. They are all enormous too, many of them the size of a mid-sized dog. The Atlantis also has the world's largest water park. It's about 250 dirhams ($70), but after 3:00 on Sunday through Thursday it's only about $40. So we are going to do that some time next week. On the way back he is showing us more buildings that are being built and landmarks and what not. One thing i notice about Dubai is that they are really good at copying people in regards to architecture. They basically take an iconic building from somewhere else and build it bigger here. Like the trade center here is two buildings that look just like the Chrysler Building in NYC. They have plans to build a bigger Louvre, and we saw a building that is being built that has to be a replica of Big Ben. it looks just like it, but it's not done, so i don't know if they are going to make it a clock or not.

After Atlantis, Ahmed takes us all over the city. It takes the rest of the day and runs into the evening until the sun goes down. We go by the Burj al Arab, which is no big deal cuz we are staying right next to it already and see it all the time. He then takes us to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. It has only been open a year and was actually supposed to be called the Burj Dubai, but the name was changed at the last minute. The story we had heard was that after the credit crunch it couldn't be paid for, so the neighboring emirate Abu Dhabi (which has the most oil and the most money) bailed Dubai out on the condition that the name of the tower be changed to the name of their ruler, Sheik Khalifa. Ahmed tells us that's not true and it was changed just to symbolize bigger things, but i think that's a load and Ahmed is just covering for the real reason. The Burj Khalifa is right next to the Dubai Mall, the largest mall in Dubai. It's not the largest mall in the world, but it's one of them for sure. The tower is really cool looking and can be seen from all over the city. We stop to take pictures of it, but not to go inside. We have tickets to ride the elevator to the top later next week (i think Tuesday). There is a big bridge you can stand on and look out over a big pond at the Burj Khalifa, and there is a fountain in the pond that does a water show set to music just like the one at the Bellagio in Vegas, only it's (you guessed it) bigger. We will see this next week also.

Ahmed then takes us on a tour of the royal palaces of the ruling family. We are not allowed to take pictures at any of them except the current ruler's, Sheik Mohammad Al Maktoum, and even then the view is very limited. It was neat though. These sprawling palaces are enormous and beautiful. They can hardly be called mansions. Maybe if you mashed 5 mansions together and covered them all in gold. These things are impressive.

Skeik Mohammad Al Moktoum's main palace. He is fond of horses, there are horse statues all over.

outside the palace gates, from left to right: Danielle, Tatiana, Mariella, Leonard, Marisol, Hana, David, Jill, Jennifer, Jamie

Following the tour of the palaces, we go to the old downtown area of Dubai. Downtown Dubai has been developed since the 1970s, so it looks older and more run down than the rest of Dubai. Everything we have seen up to this point is basically 10 years or younger, basically brand new and very clean looking. Downtown Dubai looks a little rough. It's very similar to that of downtown Los Angeles, like RIGHT downtown. Dirty streets lined with shops and crowded with cars. We go to the Dubai Museum downtown and learn a little more about the history of Dubai that we have already learned much of from reading the required text for the class. It was neat and all, and Ahmed says he is only giving us 45 mins in here, but we really need more like 2 hours, but i feel like i got all out of it i wanted to. I like museums in theory, but i rarely make the most of them. I just look at pictures and artifacts and think they are neat and then want to get out to the more exciting stuff. When we leave the Museum, we catch a water taxi on an abra, only this time it only costs 1 dirham instead of 50 dirhams. The water taxi takes us across "the creek" from the south side to the north side of old Dubai. The creek area is infested with seagulls. They are EVERYWHERE. I tried to get a video on my camera but i really don't think it does justice. Jamie and Mariella get crapped on and we all laugh. Ahmed says it's good luck. I think it's just gross.

our tour guide Ahmed guides us through the small crowded alley ways of the souk

The north side of Old Dubai is where the old spice and gold souks are. We go through and look at the spice souk first. There are so many smells assaulting you at once that it smells like an Indian restaurant or a box of potpourri gone wrong. These souks are basically mazes of tiny little alley ways full of shops all selling the exact same thing. As a result, the patrons there attack you at every turn so you buy from them and not the exact same thing from their neighbor. They are very nice, but extremely aggressive. It reminded me of when we went on our cruise to Haiti and haggled with the locals there. And let me tell you, there was not a pair of separate eyebrows in the bunch. It was unreal. It almost seemed like a status symbol. You can't work in the spice souk unless you have a unibrow. The gold souk is a little more spread out and the merchandise a little more varied, but everyone attacks you there too. Leonard wants to look at some fake watches, and the gold souk is the only place in Dubai where knock offs are allowed to be sold. The only thing that must be genuine in the gold souk is the gold and diamonds there. Everything else is a knock off, and they tell you that right away. The first guy that approaches Leonard, Mariella, and me wants to see if we want to see his fake watches. We say yes, and he waives for us to follow him. We think he is just taking us to a shop, but he takes us inside this building, the 4 of us cram into a tiny, dirty, shady elevator and go to the third floor. We follow the guy as he turns the corner in a short hallway, and there is only one big wooden door with a gate on it. He knocks on it a few time, something buzzes, and as he opens the door i am thinking we are about to be kidnapped and become prostitutes for this guy. It is REALLY shady looking. But as soon as the door swings open, the little apartment is set up like a shop with tons of fake watches, belts, hand bags, sunglasses, etc., all designer labels and all priced to move. A few minutes later, David and Hana come walking in. They look relieved to see us and we laugh about how shady this place looks. On a side note, i think David is digging on Hana. He has been hanging out with her all day long. And on another side note, Hana mother is from Southeast Asia, and her dad's from Quatar. Her dad lives there and is coming to visit her while she's here, so she's excited about that. I'm not good at pinpointing age or races. Not my strong suit. Anyway, Leonard looks at a few watches and ends up getting two Rolexes. I think he paid 500 dirhams for them (which is about $70 each). I was originally just looking for a really cheap, hacky, indcredibly obviously fake tacky gold Rolex cuz i thought it would be funny. But it turns out these are actually really nice watches, comparable to a Fossil. They just have fake labels. I find one i actually like a lot, but it's gold. he shows me several that are silver, but i want the black face. So he takes me downstairs and we walk across the souk to another shady back room location. He knocks on a big heavy metal door, it buzzes, he pushes it open, and it's the same story. They come up with a silver Rolex with a black face. We haggle over the price for a while, i finally agree to 250 dirhams ($70), and so now i am the proud owner of an actually kind of nice fake Rolex watch. It's a kinetic watch, so it never needs a battery (or so i'm told). If that's true, then i think that's an alright deal. We head back down stairs and battle our way through the merchants trying to sell us ridiculous stuff we don't want or need and meet up with our group. It's already after dark, and ahmed gathers us up, gets us back on the bus and sends us home.

On the way home we are discussing the plans for the evening. it's already 7:00, and i suggest we all go check out the Ski Dubai in the Emirates Mall. So a good portion of the people on the bus decide to go, and we get back to the Academy, change, gather everything we need, and head over to the mall to have the Ski Dubai experience. It's 180 dirhams to ski for 2 hours (about $50). Leonard, Tatiana, and I decide to snowboard and Jamie, Jennifer, and Jill decide to ski. Mariella, Danielle, Marisol, and Josie, who is now feeling better and has joined the group for the first time since being here, decide to just get something to eat and watch from behind the glass. They keep Ski Dubai really really cold in there. It's not just below freezing, it's WELL below freezing in there. That must be so hard to keep cold in the summer time. The snow isn't awesome, but i didn't expect it to be. It's packed powder and it's sticky, so it doesn't go very fast. In fact, it slows you down a lot as you ride through small patches that have gathered from people carving down the slope. We ride the chairlift up to the middle point. You can get off here if you like, but if you stay on the lift it takes you right to the top. Ski Dubai boasts 5 runs, but that's very generous of themselves. There are really just two runs and a bunny slope. It takes between 5 and 7 minutes to get to the top, and on the fast run, literally under 10 seconds to get to the bottom. It's not very impressive, but you can't ask a lot when you're in the middle of the desert. Leonard isn't great. He can go, but he falls a lot and struggles with turns. That's fine though, he's giving it a shot. Tatiana is actually quite good. She and i make most of our runs together. There are actually several rails and a few very small jumps around, but it's really hard to get enough speed to do any of them. The snow does so much to slow you down. Jamie has skied enough to be compitent and it's both Jill and Jennifer's first time. Jennifer is struggling. She basically skids and rolls down the slope on every run. Jill is surprisingly very good. After only a few short runs, she is literally bombing it from the top of the slope. We are all very impressed. I don't even use my full two hours. It's fun, but as i expected, there is only so much you can do, so both Tatiana and i decide to bail about 30 mins early. I think i gave her a bad wrap. She's not all bad. But she's still a lush. Leonard is done too. He has given it the old college try. We get off the slope and go turn in our stuff. Leonard catches up with the 4 girls watching and they all catch a cab and head back. Tatiana and i wait for Jamie, Jennifer, and Jill to be done and then the 5 of us go up to the food court and get something to eat (i get Japanese food this time cuz i didn't really like that Hatam place last time and i kinda want to play it safe). It's late at this point. We go to get a cab and end up having to take 2 cabs because they won't fit 5 of us into one. Jill and i take a cab back together. Our cab driver is named Veejay and he's from Pakistan. He looks like my good friend James from Moab if James were brown and poor. The resemblance really was quite similar. I talk to Veejay about working and living in Dubai. He doesn't speak great English, so he can't answer a few of my questions, but he tells me that he has a wife and two kids back home in Pakistan. This is typical of most labor force workers that come here. He said he pulls 12 hour shifts. He started at 4 in the afternoon and will be working until 4 in the morning. I ask how often he gets to go home to visit his family and he says he works for 18 months and then goes home for 3 months. That's got to be a tough life, but he says he likes Dubai and it's much better than staying in Pakistan. He can't make the kind of money he makes here (3500 dirhams a month, which is around $1000) and he needs it to support his family. It's a noble thing, but it's got to be hard. I think of our cruise waiter Savio from India that we absolutely loved. He is in the same prediciment. It's a tough go, but they are just doing what they think is right. It's a common thing for foreigners. It's no secret around here that the imported labor force is pretty badly exploited, but that doesn't seem to stop the workers from coming. Anyway, i have tried to get to know most of the cabbies we get rides with. Most of their stories are just like Veejays.

We got back home at 11:30, and that's when i started this blog post. It's been a full day, and it's been a ton of fun. We did so much and it seems like there is just so much more to do. i don't know if we're going to get it all in before we have to leave. For now though, i am ridiculously tired and need to get to sleep. Not sure what tomorrow holds right now, but i have a feeling it's going to be just as busy.