Sunday, January 9, 2011

Day 6

So there was a minor complication yesterday... we were without internet for about 24 hours. As a result, i couldn't get on and update the blog. I will do it now though for 2 days, which might make them shorter posts since it's late. Probably not though.

After Wild Wadi and dinner from Shaheem on Friday, i actually fell asleep around 7:00 at night. I was just going to lay down for quick nap and ended up waking up at 1:00 AM. So i was up all night, mostly updating the blog with pictures since i could now add them with the help of the USB memory card reader i picked up in the souk. When the sun began to rise i took a shower and then decided to walk over to the grocery store around the corner and get a few things.

Arabian sunrise

I came back and made myself breakfast, skyped with Jenn for a bit, and then met with the rest of the class outside. We went over a few more paper presentations from the other students and i was falling asleep during them the whole time. Once those were done, we piled into 3 cabs and headed down to the Emirates Environmental Society to meet with the guy who runs it. Mary Jane and Jamie set it up so some of the students could talk to him about the programs they run there to improve environmental conditions in the UAE. Dubai has really only recently began developing, but they have done it at such a fast rate that they currently have the second largest carbon footprint in the world, second only to USA. I still don't buy into a lot of that global warming stuff, but the fact is that Dubai has a lot of pollution already, and it's happened in a very short amount of time. So they are taking steps to try and reign it in before it gets out of hand. Despite that though, Dubai is a fairly clean city. Besides being in a perpetual state of construction and expansion and having a brown cloud of air pollution hanging over the city, there isn't a lot of trash or anything just lying around. Anyway, meeting the environmental guy was a big highlight for a lot of the students that are studying environmental sciences. Mary Jane gave three people pieces of paper with the address of the place so the cabbies would know where to take us. I got in a cab with Marisol, Leonard and Mariella, and i give the paper with the address to the cabbie. He drives us down to the general location and then keeps asking me for the road number. Side note, i have no idea how they number and name their roads here. It doesn't seem to make any sense at all. The cabbie says he needs a road number, and i tell him i don't know anything except what's on the paper. He drives around for a good 15 minutes, getting progressively more mad at me and yelling for a road number. I keep telling him to calm down because i wasn't the one who wrote down the address and i don't know anything but what is on the paper. The general area is between the Dubai Zoo and some place called the Beach Center, which is essentially a small mall. We drive around this residential area looking for the address and everyone in the cab is frustrated, the cabbie with us and us with him. We stop and ask at least 4 people for directions but no one seems to have a clue where this place is. Finally we get a decent tip and spot the other people waiting outside of the place. Turns out they arrived late too though because both the other cabs got pulled over and got tickets. Their cabbies were mad at them too. It ended up costing us about 10 to 15 more dirhams than needed. I don't know what it is with cabbies in this city, but a lot of them don't know where they are going half the time.

The environmental thing was boring for a lot of us, so i didn't pay much attention. I practiced copying some Arabic writing to pass the time. When we were done, a lot of us headed back to the Academy and then Leonard, Mariella, Danielle, Marisol and i got into beach clothes and got a cab to take us down to the Jumeirah Beach Residence Walk (JBR Walk). It's down near the Marina Walk, but closer to the beach, and is essentially just like the Marina Walk. There are lots of shops and restaurants around, as well as hotels and other touristy things. Lots of nice cars rolling through there. We stopped for lunch at another Mexican place, but it wasn't nearly as good as the first one and our service wasn't great. It took forever to get the food, eat, and get down to the beach. As a rest we missed a lot of the prime sun time, and by the time we got settled on the beach we only really had about an hour before the sun was ready to set and it got too cold to want to be out there much longer. There was a ton going on though. The beach was packed with people because there was a wave runner race going on in the sea, two propeller planes doing tandem stunts overhead, and skydivers peacefully drifting down over the Jumeirah Palm. It was a lot to take in and there were so many things to watch that it was almost like sensory overload. I tried to get a video of everything going on, but i am sure it doesn't do justice to the whole experience. Once most of it concluded and people began leaving the beach, we took it as a queue that we should probably bail too. That, and the fact that it was getting pretty cold and none of us were really dressed for it.

Dubai has a monorail system and i thought it might be nice to check it out and see how it does. It's so new though that it is really only one line. Another is being built, but isn't open as of right now (at least i don't think). However, the one that is up and running services enough places that we could take it from where we were to the Mall of the Emirates and then go from there. So we decided to do that. The Metro system is really nice and new. All the metro stations look like futuristic looking Star Trek buildings. And it is fairly inexpensive to ride. We all got short distance tickets for only 4 dirhams (about $1.10). What we didn't realize is that short distance means from one stop to the next. We rode it for 6 stops, and what we found out is that you have to use your ticket not only to get into the station, but out of the station as well. Because we had bought the wrong tickets, we couldn't get out of the station without buying another ticket which allows you to travel within one zone as many stops as you like. So it was another 6 1/2 dirhams to get out of the station (about $1.80). That's still really cheap, but i was pretty upset about the absurdity of the whole situation. Nothing was explained well at all and i have never ridden on a metro that you had to use your ticket to get off as well as on. It was dumb. The metro has potential to be good, but it's just not there yet. It would have been cheaper and saved us time to just take a cab. Maybe if you were traveling alone it would be worth it because it is very cheap.

We got off at Mall of the Emirates and decided to walk to the grocery store by the Academy (not terribly far) because we are planning to make breakfast burritos in the morning since we have it free. So we all get a few items from the store and then head back to the Academy to meet up with Shaheem and his brother Salem. They have promised to take us all out into the desert for a bonfire.

from left to right: Khalid (Salem's friend from the University that i couldn't remember his name), Mariella, Salem

The 5 of us pile into two big SUVs with Jennifer, David, and Jill as well and we all drive for what seems like a really long time out into the desert. We stop at this little gas station area that is basically almost a shack to get some firewood. I hop out to try and use a bathroom, and i am directed to behind the shack. It's a living quarters area with 4 to 5 half dressed Indian and Pakistani men doing laundry by hand, cooking food, and the like. It's filthy, and when i ask to use the bathroom they point me to a wooden door. They open it for me and there is a man showering and a filthy toilet area. I decide i am just going to hold it. We get back in the cars and drive a little farther out to the "desert". I say "desert" because although it was quite desolate and there was indeed a lot of sand and little vegetation, it wasn't exactly as isolated as i thought it was going to be. We were no more than about 300 yard from a major freeway which was visible the entire time and lined with street lights. All around in the distance, the lights of the city could be seen. We could even see the Burj Khalifa towering in the distance. It was still fun, but i kind of expected to be much farther away from everything. I guess that's probably getting harder to do here with the urban sprawl going on.

We sit in the sand around a very small fire and just sit and talk with Salem, Shaheem, and Khalid. They brought some local hot tea they like to drink for everyone to enjoy. At one point another vehicle drives up and a guy named Mohammad jumps out. They are all very cool and we discuss a number of topics. We talk a lot about religion, particularly Islam. We talk a lot about the culture and what it's like to be an Emirati. We talk about what it's like to date in the Arab culture. They are happy to answer our questions and have several of their own about our beliefs and America and the like. Salem is convinced the moon landing was faked, and i have to chime in on this topic. I have heard and seen plenty about the moon landing, and it's just so absurd to think that it never happened. The faked moon landing scenarios are so ridiculous. It was a good time though and we all had fun sitting and talking. When we go to leave, the weirdest thing that was so counter intuitive to us was that instead of putting out the fire, they threw everything on it and made it extra big. I asked if they were worried about it getting out of control, and they just laughed. "What, burn down the desert?" I guess they have a point. They say they do it for the ghosts of those who inhabited this land before them. It's kind of a little Arabic tradition.

Khalid took the 5 of us home and the others climb into Salem's car. Khalid is a cool kid. He reminds me a lot of Jacob Arnison from Moab. He was born in the states and attended school in the UK and Canada. He likes being an Emirati and likes Dubai, but doesn't want to live here forever. He thinks when he is done with university he will probably try and go back to Montreal for a while. When we get back people are talking about going to get a bite to eat at a Lebanese restaurant and we invite Khalid. It's really late already, but he says he will come, so he, Shaheem, Leonard, Mariella, Danielle, Marisol, Jennifer and i all go to a place on Jumeirah Road. It's really nice and we have a really good time for the most part, but we got into a touch of trouble with the staff. We asked for some sample
food for about 6 people and some desserts to share. Some of the people there order sheesha as well, which i am finding is a big part of the culture here. Almost all restaurants serve sheesha. It's an event for a lot of people, like going to the movies or something like that. Anyway, the waiters bring us an unbelievable amount of food, seriously enough to feed 20+ people. It's ridiculous and we don't eat anywhere near what they bring us. So we tell them we need to cancel dessert because we have way too much food, and they give us a lot of trouble. They said the order is already in and they can't cancel it. Shaheem and Khalid are talking to the waiters in Arabic, and then they get the manager to come over. Another heated exchange happens and the manager basically tells them we are disturbing business and that we have bad attitude and just need to lighten up. How were we disturbing business? It's 2:00 in the morning and hardly anyone is here. They got him to cancel our dessert order, but for the rest of the time they don't serve us at all. Any time we ask for something, they say they will bring it but never do. After about an hour of that, we just ask for the bill. They charge us for basically 2 of everything on the appetizer menu and the total is 845 dirhams (about $235). Ridiculous. We're all obviously upset, but just pay the bill without leaving a tip (tips aren't really expected much here anyway) and start walking out. When we are getting in our cars, one of the waiters comes out and tries to tell us we didn't leave enough money. Khalid tells him to count it again, he does coming up about 100 dirhams short, and Khalid tells him that he's not counting it right because one of the bills is a 200 dirham note. The waiter then apologizes and says it's his mistake, and Khalid says, "yeah, it was" and drives off. He says that was the lamest attempt at trying to get a tip he's ever seen. Emiratis seem really indignant to serving classes around here. I mean, granted, they really did screw us over on everything and were gigantic butt holes about it afterward, but i still don't think i could be as mean and rude to them as he was. On the same hand though, it was funny and i think they deserved it. At this point though it was about 3:00 AM and he just dropped us off and we all came in and crashed.

I tried to get on last night to write this, but the combination of complete exhaustion and the internet still being down meant i needed to go to bed. The problem is that it's already late tonight and i have an early morning again tomorrow, so i don't think i will be able to do that other post tonight. I hate playing catch up like this, but i have to get to bed. I'm tired.