Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Day 7

I went to bed really late last night, so when i woke up thi morning at 5:30 AM to Marisol's alarm, it sounded like a car bomb going off. It literally jolted me out of my bed. She left her computer and phone in my room over night to charge since the outlets in her room were not working due to a blown fuse. It turned out to my advantage though because i was able to use her alarm later to wake myself up. The internet was down for most of last night and this morning, so i had to wait to skype with Jenn till it was fixed. We woke up around 9:30 though and Marisol, Mariella, Leonard, Danielle and I all made breakfast burritos in Leonard's room. It was pretty good for what we had. Leonard was the master chef behind the plan, and he did a good job. Today was Sunday and we had all the morning time off, so we were able to do some things on our own mostly. They were cleaning our rooms most of the morning, so once i could get back into my room and the internet was up and running again, i skyed with Jenn for a bit to catch up on all the things that i had been missing on telling her. She posted some cute videos she made with her new camera on her blog about wanting me to come home. It was fun to watch them and they turned out pretty good. Once we were all finished doing all the morning stuff we needed to, Mariella, Leonard, Danielle and I all met and went down to the local beach here by the Academy. It's within walking distance and it was a nice enough day outside, so we all get in beach gear and head down to get some sun. One thing i will say about the roads here is that they are really weird for pedestrians to walk around on. The sidewalks are usually really narrow and start and stop at weird places. Also, crossing the road at cross walks can be tricky. They have the little walk guy to tell you to walk across the street, but almost every cross walk makes you stop and wait in the middle of the road for a second walk guy to tell you to cross again. So you are often stuck in the middle of the road with traffic on both sides of you. It seems like a really weird and in efficient way to do it, but these are the typical cross walks here. As a result, we mostly just j-walk everywhere. Shaheem tells us it's ok and we aren't going to get into trouble, so it's just easier this way. I asked a cabbie why the cross walks were like this and he just said, "just walk on greens and run on reds." So that has also been the protocol.

The beach was nice and we ran into Mary Jane, Jamie, Josie, and Tatiana down there. We didn't really hang out with them though, we walked down the beach a bit farther to a different spot. There aren't a lot of people on the beach, but there are a few Europeans in speedos strolling around. Leonard, Mariella and I all get into the water for a bit and it's quite nice. A bit chilly, but it feels good once we get all the way in and then get out of the water. The warm sun is a big contrast from yesterday's cold and windy weather when we were at the beach. I fall asleep in the sun and get a pretty good amount of color. You'll see on the rest of the pictures that i look like i've been cooked, but i didn't really burn as bad as it looks. Once we are done with the beach and looking to head back, we walk past a small little shack that is selling newspapers and drinks and what not, and Leonard says he wants to stop for a soda. He said he has a bunch of loose dirhams he wants to get rid of. Then a few seconds later, he says "loose dirhams" sounds like a medical condition. We all got a good laugh out of it, and now every time i need to go to the bathroom, i say i have a bad case of loose dirhams. When we get back, i put some of my music on a flash drive for Leonard. He says he like mostly country, which is a crying shame, but he said he likes The Fray and Coldplay type music as well, so i put some of that music on his flash drive for him. Hopefully he appreciates it. I take a shower and get ready for the evening.

Our class meets around 3:00 and we finish going over paper presentations and get on a bus to head out to Bab Al Shams for the rest of the night. Bab Al Shams is Jumeirah resort out in the desert. It's about a 40 minute drive by bus to get out there. The name Bab Al Shams means "Gate of the Sun", and it's supposed to be more secluded and has a heavy Arabic theme in the style of architecture and amenities. The tour guide gives us a tour of the place and shows us around. The rooms are nice, but not amazing. It would be cool to stay here, but it doesn't look like five-star quality to me. Jamie tells me there is only so much they can do to make the rooms five-star, and the rest relies on services offered and the like. My main gripe is that none of the rooms even have flat screens, just smaller tube TVs. The guide says this is because they want to make the theme more ancient and less modern. I think if that's the case, just don't have any TVs at all. The rooms are still really nice though, and the grounds are gorgeous. What i enjoyed the most was the camels and falcons they had there. The falcon is the national bird of the UAE, like our bald eagle. Owning and training a falcon was a big part of Bedouin life. I don't know all there is to know about falcons, and apparently, there are several different types, but these guys love their falcons. People here don't typically have cats on dogs, they have falcons, but it's also not like every household has one. They are the only animal (or at least bird) allowed to fly with Emiraties on airplanes as a guest in the cabin. As a result, the falcon has to have a passport and a visa when flying out of the country. How weird is that? I don't know of any other animal that has those kinds of privileges. To hold the falcon, you just have to wear this little arm cover they have with a patch of AstroTurf on top. The bird was completely docile and you could touch it and hold it on your arm no problem. It was fun.

Josie and I riding a camel. There were two camels and people had to double up to make the most of the sun before it set.

They stand up and sit down really abruptly too, as is evidenced by the look on Josie's face in this picture. It's a weird motion, and i don't know that i would ever get used to it.

Camels are also a lot taller that i thought, much taller than when riding a horse. It's a little unnerving sitting up so high.

The camels were sweet too. We had a lot of fun riding them. This camel was named Ferrari, which i thought was cool. They let us ride them for a while before we all went to dinner, and then during dinner you could go ride them some more if you wanted. They were a bit smelly and when you touched them their fur almost felt damp. Not sure if that's just from sweat or something. The muzzle over their mouths are to prevent them from spitting on you. Camels run wild in the desert here and can cause a big problem. People hit wild camels crossing the road all the time, and it's usually a bad result. They are much larger than deer and do lots of damage. A lot of people die every year from camel strikes.

Once the sun set, we were led to the place where we had our dinner. It was a huge area with buffet style dining of food from several parts of the Arabic world. Tatiana, being Lebanese, was in heaven. She was getting all kinds of crazy stuff that looked a little too questionable for me to want to try. The food that i did try though was absolutely amazing. You could eat as much as you wanted, and it was all really flavorful and fantastic. I am not really adventurous when it comes to food, but i really wanted to make the most of it and wasn't disappointed. I also had a date, which it was recommended i eat while here since they are grown locally. It was really delicious. I expected it to be more like a prune, which i don't much care for, but it was really good and very sweet. Not like a prune really at all. During dinner, they also did this live music and show about the history of Arabia. Lots of people in costumes running around, dancing, playing music, and interacting with the guests. Marisol got a little crazy on the drums in this picture, but it worked with the music. They had play sword fights, belly dancers, men riding Arabian horses, fire, and lots of other stuff to look at. It was a really cool night. The service was really good, and we all had a really fun time. I wouldn't stay at the hotel cuz it's really expensive, but i'd definitely have dinner there again.

When we got onto the bus to leave, we saw this car with this license plate. The picture is too dark to see, but it's a new Rolls-Royce Phantom. We see tons of fantastic cars all day long, so this is really no big deal, but the license plate is of particular interest. The story goes that having a license plate with the least amount of digits as possible and lowest letters in the alphabet (A being the lowest) is a big status symbol. It represents wealth and influence. It's a weird concept, but it's a big deal over here. The fact that this car is a Rolls-Royce in and of itself doesn't mean much. But the fact that it's a Rolls-Royce with a license plate starting with B and being only 2 digits long is a big deal. The license plate alone probably cost around the same as the car (no joke). They said to get a license plate with 4 digits will cost you about 10,000 dirhams (about $2,700). For one with 3 digits runs around 100,000 dirhams (about $27,000). With 2 digits, you're looking around 1,000,000 dirhams (about $270,000). It's a wild concept, but this culture is all about status and reputation, and that's one of the easiest ways to distinguish a guy in a nice car from a REALLY rich guy in a nice car. This is the least amount of digits we've seen on a car yet, and i am suspecting it will be the case for the rest of the trip. I doubt anyone will just have 1 other than the royal family. Word is they have the letter M reserved, for Maktoum (their last name). The same is true for phone numbers here. To get a phone number with the lowest digits in the number means you've spent a lot of money to get it and you have a lot of money. A dating practice here, or at least what it used to be, would be for a line of girls to stand on the side of the road. A guy drives up in a car, they inspect his car and license plate, and then he will shout out his phone number. If it's a low number (ex. 000-0000, which i doubt anyone has unless they are royalty), then it's considered a very impressive and expensive phone number. If the girl is interested based on the man's wealth and influence, she will call him and the dating ritual will commence from there. I really don't understand it, so i think you'd have to see it in action to get the full affect. But the concept alone makes sense i suppose. It's just completely different than we're used to. When Leonard went to get his sim card for his phone here, Shaheem went with him to make sure he could get a good phone number for the money. The idea is that the phone number is actually worth money. You can sell your low phone numbers for a lot of money, along the same guidelines of the license plates. Wild stuff.

Anyway, i am perpetually going to be playing catch up on this blog. I have a couple more days to write for, but i will get to it for sure. Tomorrow is a big day. We go to Abu Dhabi to see what life is like in the biggest and wealthiest Emirate in the UAE.