Thursday, January 6, 2011

Day 4

Well, i have good news... i was able to get a device that allows me to get the pictures off my camera while here. So i am going to start posting pictures on this blog. I will do it retroactively but i don't know that i will get to that right away. But i'll do it.

Today was a decent day and we had lots going on. Not as much as yesterday, but it was fun. We started out the day by meeting early and getting taxis to go to a place called the Dubai Society of Science and Culture, or something of that nature. It's a very nice building in the old Arabic architectural style and it's very pretty inside. It's used for seminars, lectures, etc. I am not sure who runs the place, but we meet with an older guy named Professor Abdullah. He is a national who is mentioned a few times in the book we read for this class. He's probably in his late 60's and dressed in traditional clothes. He's very open and nice and tells us he is sure we are tired of sitting through lectures, so he just wants to open it to questions. We go around the room and each take turns asking questions about what interests us, or basically, what will help us to write our final paper. I am writing a paper on what Dubai is tolerating from Western Culture and what it will not in regards to social issues. I know it's illegal to have public displays of affection here, so i ask about the severity of that. I know Jenn and i like to hold hands when we are just walking around anywhere and i ask him how that or kissing in public is looked upon. He said he doesn't think anyone has a problem with holding hands in public. Kissing can be tricky, but he says a long as it's not a big deep kiss and doesn't get attention and get reported, it's not a big deal. There is a story from a couple years ago that is still a big deal here about a British couple having sex on the beach that was deported. That's going to cause trouble in any country though, not just here where views on public displays of affect are very conservative. It was an interesting talk and he was very open and frank with his answers. When we are done, everyone gets a picture with him outside.

from left to right: Jennifer, Mary Jane, Prof. Abdullah, Leonard, Hana, me, Jill, Tatiana, Danielle (the short one), Marisol, Mariella, David, Josie, Daisy

We all pile on a bus headed to our next planned activity at Zayed University. People are talking about sharing pictures on Facebook, and of course it comes out that i don't do Facebook and am strongly against it. Danielle almost takes offense to this, so on the bus ride we hash it out, each presenting our case for and against Facebook. People are upset with me because i tell them the reality of it is we probably won't stay in touch afterward, but it's true. I am a decade older than most of these people and am at a completely different stage in my life, so i was just trying to be real. Of course, i probably could have been more tactful about it than saying, "i don't really need anyone else in my life." It was a funny conversation though and everyone was chiming in. Danielle is actually pretty cool and fun to hang out with in our little group. I was worried she would be offending people left and right because Leonard didn't really like her off the bat, but she seems cool enough. I don't know how Leonard feels about her now that we've hung out with her more.

It takes about 20 minutes by bus, but we finally arrive at Zayed University. Just a quick little history lesson that will be important now and also later is that the current ruler of Dubai is named Sheik Mohammad. Before him was his father, Sheik Rashid, and before Rashid was Mohammad's grandfather, Sheik Saeed. Sheik Zayed was the ruler of Abu Dhabi at the same time as Sheik Rashid. Sheik Zayed was the first "president" of the UAE when it was formed in 1971, so in essence he is considered the George Washington of the UAE. Therefore there are tons of things named after him. This university was an all girl's school up until just a few years ago. The idea of us going there was to have us sit with students our age and just talk with them openly and ask questions about their studies, culture, etc. Just interact with other students. They had a lunch for us, not very good finger foods, and we all sat at different tables and ate and talked. There were a few girls we talked with and one guy at our table. I don't remember the girls names, but the guy was named Salem. We talked with him a good while, and it turns out that it's the most random thing in the world and he just so happens to be Shaheem's brother. So we talk with him a while and he says he wants to take us out in the desert and do a bonfire and ride quads on Saturday night. So we are all up for that. His family has a camel ranch or something like that out there, and he wants us to try camel meat. He says it's really good. I would be up for that.

from left to right: Jill, Josie, me, Salem, Leonard, Salem's friend (i can't remember his name, but he's cool), Mariella, Danielle.

The students give us a tour of the campus afterward and a guy is walking around taking tons of pictures for a news article or something. It's made out to be a pretty big deal. They didn't allow us to take photos on the campus, which was fine, but it was really nice and very modern. Like i said, it's only recently been opened up to men, and Salem tells us we are about to be overtaken by girls. When we walk out into the open courtyard area, there are tons of girls everywhere. They are all in their traditional black robes and head scarfs. Once they see us, most of them begin covering their faces and screaming and giggling. It's a funny site. You can really see how the younger generation is embracing and wanting the Western culture for themselves. They all where the traditional robes, but other than that, they have their hair colored and done up, lots of make up, iphones and Gucci bags everywhere. They have all the nicest things. Emiratis are all very wealthy just for being Emirati. The government pays every Emirati citizen a salary of about $55,000 a year, and that's just for being Emirati. They don't have to work or anything. it comes from sharing the oil wealth. So as a result, they all have super nice things. University is free to Emiratis, and nearly all these students and Emirati. Once we are done with the tour we go into an auditorium and again open it up for discussion and questions. They give us each a gift bag. Inside is a model wind tower, a piece of architecture you see all over the place used in the days before air conditioning to cool the houses by channeling cool air into homes. Pretty neat, and when we were at the Dubai museum we stood below a functioning one, and it actually works. We also get a calender or something. I haven't opened it up yet. A lot more pictures are taken and people are talking and what not. One of the muslim girls comes up to me and asks me if i watch Lost, which i tell her i don't. She tells me she thinks i look like Charlie, and those who know Lost agree that with my beard i kind of do look like him. I don't know who he is until someone says he is the guy who is strung out the whole time, and then it clicks that they all think i look like a hobbit. I really don't think i do, but my group gets a big kick out of it and start calling me Charlie for the rest of the day.

After the university, we are dropped off downtown by the souks again, and we walk around and split up as a group. We are each responsible for our own way home at this point, but most people are headed over to Heritage Village, a small area of town right by the creek that is preserved to look the way Dubai did 50 years ago when it was just a tiny little fishing village. I hear it's very touristy, but cool too. However, we first need to make our way through the souks, which is nearly impossible to do without being accosted by everyone we walk past. One guy walks right up to me and just starts tying a headscarf on me in the traditional fashion. Of course, he lures us into his shop trying to get us to buy his gear, but none of us do and we keep walking. This is the place where i did buy my handy dandy little device that lets me take pictures off my camera so i can put them on this blog. At this point we are so spread out and people have gone their own ways. It's just me and Danielle, Mariella, and Marisol. I ask these girls to help me find something for Jenn. I was looking at shoes, but i can't decide on anything. Danielle lets me email Jenn from my phone with a picture of some i think she might like, but Jenn didn't really like them. I'm bad at getting gifts for her unless she spells it out for me.

We finally make it through the souk and get down to where Heritage Village is, but as we are walking in, Mary Jane, Jamie, Jennifer and Leonard are walking out and saying there isn't much going on. Jennifer says it's better in the morning when people are sleeping during the afternoon heat and what not. I guess she did this a few days ago by herself. Down by heritage village is the home of Skeik Saeed, which is now like a little museum. It's only 2 dirhams to go in (about 70 cents), so we decide to check it out. I have never been to the Alamo, but it looks like what i picture the Alamo would look like. You can see on the picture of the inside what a wind tower looks like. They are on top of building all over the place here, mostly as decoration these days. It's just kind of a small little fort looking structure. It's interesting to see how this was the palace back 100 years ago, and now the palaces are disgustingly huge and ridiculously crazy and ornate. All in all though, it turns out to be kind of boring. It's alright and there are some neat old coins and pictures in there, but i think at this point we are all tired from the heat and from walking, so we don't make the most of our 2 dirham entry fee. Just look around a little and leave. We catch a couple cabs and head back to the Academy.

When we get back, everyone goes back to their rooms and rests for a bit and gets cleaned up. I go out to the pool to see what's going on, and Yaz is out there chillin and talking to people. I sit and talk with him about about the evening. Danielle is looking for a place we can eat outside and Yaz recommends the Dubai Marina Walk. Daisy had done it earlier and said it's really cool too. Yaz says we need to eat at Stephano's. He said it's a decent italian place right on the water with a cool view. He said he would go but he has to go pick up Madji who went home to Saudi Arabia the day we got here (still not sure i have his name correct). So i talk to Danielle, Leonard, Mariella, and Marisol and they say that Stephano's sounds good. We grab a cab and head down to the Marina Walk. It's definitely a cool place. I am not sure what the water is because it's not the creek, but it's like a little channel of water nestled down below huge sky scrappers and the banks are lined with shops and restaurants and people walking on the boardwalk. It's a nice place and a fun atmosphere. We find Stephano's and pull up some seats outside. It's a bit chilly out, but nice. I like the idea of calzones, but i have such bad luck with them because i hate ricotta cheese and they often don't list that it has ricotta in it. But i find one without ricotta and decide to give it a shot. What i didn't realize was that this thing was actually a full pizza just folded over. It's enormous. I only eat about half of it and take the rest home. It's decently good, but they said it has Italian sausage on it and i swear it's just a cut up hot dog. It's fine though. We walked the boardwalk afterward and just chilled and what not. They have these little pedal cars that kids ride around. They are wicked cheap though, only 20 dirhams for half an hour (about $6). We want to do it one of these afternoons or evenings. Just rent some of them all around the boardwalk. Could be fun. Dubai is good at slowly bleeding your money from you. After we walked a bit, we headed back to the Academy.

Tomorrow is Friday, which is the sabbath here. So a lot of the non-touristy places are not going to be opened today. It's also our free day, so we have nothing going on at all. Danielle wants us to go play a round of golf. She says she's not good, but like playing because her dad is really good. Leonard played all through high school, so he's all about it too. So i think we are going to play some golf and then hit the water park in the afternoon.