Friday, January 7, 2011
I started the day by getting up and messing around on the internet for a while. I have things i have to do for my class, like look up a recent news article about Dubai relating to my research paper, but i can't do it at night because the internet is so slow and usually doesn't connect. So i looked for some articles about gambling in Dubai. It is of course illegal right now, but since Dubai has allowed a lot of concessions on social laws to accommodate tourists, it seems building a casino to attract tourism should be the next reasonable step. So far they have not made any plans to build a casino, though the Burj al Arab was originally designed with a casino. It was finished in 1999, and the area where the casino was supposed to be was changed to a bar when the government wouldn't approve of gambling in the UAE. Shaheem seems to think the government will come around within the next 10 years. I can't find much on the internet about gambling in Dubai, and a lot of sites are blocked, but what i found was that although Dubai bans gambling, it is one of the biggest investors in Las Vegas property, owning a large portion of MGM stock. Interesting.
Jenn and i skyped this morning like usual. She is going to be staying at Cheryl's over the weekend since Travis will be gone hunting so the two of them can have someone to be with and be so in love with each other. So that should be exciting for her. After talking with Jenn, i got ready and met up with Danielle and Leonard. The three of us had a tee time on one of the local golf courses here. I like playing golf, but i am not good at it. Danielle tells me she is about the same, though she golfs more often than i do in a year. Leonard played all through high school. We get a cab down by the Burj al Arab and ask him to take us to the Emirates Golf Club. He doesn't speak English very well, and i repeat the name to him several time and tell him it's down by the Marina Walk. So he starts driving. The whole time, i am under the impression he has no idea where he is going. When the cabbie last night took us to the Marina Walk, we drove right past the golf course and he pointed it out to us. This guy doesn't know where he's going. I finally tell him i think we need to go just East of Sheik Zayed road and just north of the Marina Walk (for those of you who are unaware, i have a good sense of direction. I'm not bragging, but it's true). Danielle whips out her phone and looks up a map to show him. He looks at it and starts going the right way. The area we are looking at has about 3 or 4 golf courses all lumped together in the same spot. So he is unaware of which course to drop us at. He ends dropping us at the Address Golf Academy. The Address is a hotel down by the Burj Khalifa, and this course is a lot more expensive than the one we have booked a tee time for. So once we realize he has dropped us at the wrong spot, we get another cabbie who actually knows what he's doing to take us down to the Emirates Golf Club. You would think our troubles end here, but we walk around this freaking place for at least 15 to 20 minutes, going from building to building looking for the par 3 course we have a tee time with. We finally find it, but they are giving Leonard crap about his shoes. They said he needs closed toe trainers, and he's wearing vans. He tells them his shoes are closed toe, but they said they need to be training shoes, like tennis shoes. Leonard makes a big fuss about it, maybe more than needed, and asks to speak with a manager. It really is a ridiculous situation though. The shoes he is wearing are fine. It all shakes out that he has to go rent some golf shoes from the pro shop, but because the guy at the caddy shack wants to smooth things over he gives us a discount on our rental clubs. In the meantime though, we have to go all the way back over to the pro shop to get shoes for Leonard. While there, Danielle and i go in together on a box of 15 balls. It is the same price as if we bought 3 balls each, and Danielle is worried about losing them along the way and not being able to find them.
Once we have our balls and Leonard has his shoes, we go back and get our clubs and finally get started golfing about an hour after our scheduled tee time. It's ok though, because there is no one on the course really, so we can take our time. The course is in a pretty cool location. It has the high rise skyline to the west and south, and everything else around us is lush residential area. You can see in this picture of Leonard there is a big portrait of the Sheiks Zayed and (i think) Mohammad on the side of one of the sky scrapers. The building in the picture of me are to the south and are closer to the Marina Walk. I have a rough start with golfing. We wanted to get here early to get some practice swings in at the driving range, but with the misdirected cabbie and shoe fiasco, we didn't have time to warm up. As a result, i shot a 9 on a par 3 for the first 2 holes. The whole course is a par 3 course. So i am a bit discouraged at the beginning. For only being a par 3 though, it's kind of a challenging course. The grass is fine, but it's sparse. This is the least expensive of the courses we chose to play at, and as a result receives the least amount of attention. The reality is that there are basically enormous sand traps between every tee box and green. And it's not loose sand, it's packed down and hard to get underneath, so it's hard for me to get my groove the first couple holes. Once i get to hole 3 though, i finally get the knack of it and start to do decently well. I bogey most of the holes from here through the rest of my game. I had a couple par opportunities, but botched them during my short game. Leonard lives up to his high school experience and does really well. Danielle does about as well as i do, with the exception of starting well and ending well. She mentions that this study abroad seems much more like a vacation than a school study program (i guess she's done a few study abroads). I think Jamie and Mary Jane planned it this way so we would have lots of free time. Either way, i'm enjoying myself. We play through the course and finish up with only losing 2 balls, one from her and one from me. The reality is that we probably could have done without buying the 15 pack of balls because neither of us want to take them home with us. I have a golf bag at home full of balls. Danielle has the idea of selling them to someone in the parking lot, but we never really give it a chance to pan out. I suggest maybe we come back and just hit some balls at the driving range and put those in with the range balls and leave them on the course. We'll see what happens. After returning the shoes, we ask the receptionist to contact a cabbie for us, which she does. We don't expect it to be an unmarked Lexus cabbie though, which is what shows up. It's apparently the same price, and we have him drop us at the Mall of Emirates so i can change some dollars for dirhams and so Leonard can hit an ATM. Then we head back to the Academy.
At home, we meet up with Mariella and Marisol and all head across the street to the Wild Wadi Water Park. It's 200 dirhams for all day admission or 165 after 4:00, which we do (about $45). The park closes at 6:00, but we are thinking that 2 hours is really all we will need. It's a cool little park that has an interesting lay out. There is a tube slide that basically goes around the entire park and is connected by lazy rivers. The slides have sections where water jets push you, usually up the slides, so there is no need to get out and climb up. It's cool cuz you can sit in your tube and ride all the slides without getting out. It takes about 15 minutes to do the full circuit and there are lots of different tube slide options to choose from that end up in the same place, so you can do it a few time with different rides each time. It's also a way of transporting yourself to different slides because there are plenty of little stopping areas where you can get out of the tube and climb up some stairs in whatever part of the park you want to be in. So it's kind of a neat little set up. The downside to the park is that it's not fully open right now. They have a big set of slides that we aren't able to go on at all. They aren't going to be open till Jan 11th, though Daniel tells us it will probably be more like March cuz they never open on time. So outside of the tube circuit, there is just really one other big slide that you ride tubeless. It has a few big drops, but it's not anything really special. It was fun though and Danielle and i ride it twice. They had a couple wave machines like the one that was on Jenn's and my cruise we took last summer, but we didn't do them. We didn't really take any pictures inside the park cuz we were in the water most of the time, but we got this really cheezy one outside afterward. By the end of our time there it was pretty cold too. It was fun, but i think i would be more interested in what the water park at Atlantis has to offer. Apparently there is a slide there that goes through a tank of sharks. OOOOHHH! Scary!
The rest of the night was pretty uneventful. We came back to the Academy and changed and had dinner here. We got food from the diner here, and then Shaheem brought out some food that his mom had made for us. It was traditional Emirati food, a version of chicken and rice that was specific to this area. It was really really good, and super nice of him to do for us. Yaz is out chatting with people. The students here start school on Sunday, so they are just taking it easy until then. I would think they would want to go out and live it up before school starts, but he said they kinda just lay low. He said two weeks in Dubai is good, but once you're here for a few years, you've done it all and there is nothing else to see or do. I can see that. That's how i felt about Moab. Good place to visit, but i wouldn't chose to live there long term.
After dinner i just came back to my room. I was going to get on the internet and do a little more research for my news article, but the internet is so bad here in the evenings. It's incredibly slow or usually just doesn't connect at all. So i laid down for a brief nap around 7:00 and woke up just after midnight. So much for a brief nap. I should have gone to the movie theater and watched Tron by myself since Jenn doesn't want to see it with me and i don't know that anyone here wants to see it. But anyway, i will probably take a shower now and mess around on the internet for a bit before trying to go back to sleep.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
from left to right: Jennifer, Mary Jane, Prof. Abdullah, Leonard, Hana, me, Jill, Tatiana, Danielle (the short one), Marisol, Mariella, David, Josie, Daisy
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.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
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.
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.
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.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Mary Jane and Jamie - our two ASU sanctioned instructors on our journey here in Dubai. Mary Jane speaks Arabic fairly fluently, but she admits she has some work to do when it comes to reading it. I don't blame her. Arabic script looks extremely hard to decipher. She served in the Peace Corp. in Morocco, which is a place i think i never want to go. She has also traveled several places in the Middle East, including Turkey, Egypt and others. This is her first trip to Dubai. She has ran several of the study abroad programs through ASU before. She's probably in her early to mid 50s, long greying stringy hair, and doesn't wear make up. She's very nice though and very knowledgeable (which i suppose makes sense since she's an instructor). Jamie is probably in his mid to late 30s. He's very tall and skinny, nearly completely bald, and wears glasses. He too is very knowledgeable. I think he's ran study abroads before as well, but this is his first time in Dubai also. I don't know much about him other than he really likes nice cars. People ask him questions of the "should i this" or "should i that" nature, and he seems like he wants us to be kind of low key and really conservative, but still try and be adventurous and enjoy ourselves. Not sure if that makes sense. But i can see where he's coming from being half way around the world and responsible for 12 kids' well being.
Daisy - a student in our program. Daisy is probably the only student in the program older than me. She is a Filipino woman with a husband and a couple kids back home. Just guessing, but she's probably around 35 to 39 years old. Daisy is a pretty lady, small like most Filipinos, and nice. She's interested in the night life and wants to get out and go to clubs and bars. Probably looking for a nice break from her kids to have some personal time. I know she works for an airline because she talked to me before about coming on the flight with me through London, but later said she is just seeing what the best deal is for her since she has the option to fly for free. She ended up taking a different flight altogether, which is fine.
Josie - another student in our program. She's somewhat tall for a girl, pleasant enough looking with long dark hair and a cute face. I don't know how old she is, but i know that she's had a rough go since she got here. She started getting a sore throat on the plane and by the time she got here it was full-blown strep throat. As a result we really haven't seen much of her. She's just been in her room taking medicine and trying to get better. I feel bad cuz i know how bad that sucks. I always get sick when i travel for some reason, and i had strep for the few days before i left for this trip. Luckily i got some antibiotics and got it cleared up before hand. I am still taking them now. I don't really know much else about her cuz i haven't talked with her much, but she is in the dorm directly across the hall from me.
Marisol - i don't know if i spelled that right, but she is a student from ASU. She lives near Esther Mendoza in North Central Phoenix, but i doubt they know each other. She admits it's a ghetto area, but she seems like a pretty cool girl. She is Mexican, 20 years old, very white looking though with green eyes. She's very nice and easy to talk to. She works in a hookah bar back home so you would think she wouldn't be as excited as she is to go to a sheesha bar here. She says this trip is the biggest or most elaborate thing she's ever done. As far as travel goes, i think most people would feel the same about themselves, myself included.
Tatiana - another student with the program. Tatiana is 21 and originally comes from the Los Angeles area, but from the way she looks, talks, and acts, you would think she's from the cast of Jersey Shore. Since she's been here, all she talks about is getting hammered and dancing at the clubs. She is ready to rage all day everyday. She's pretty tall for a girl, dresses quite scandalously, but isn't really what i would consider attractive. She's not ugly either, but she has a muscular athletic build and is of Lebanese decent. I don't dislike her, but i don't think like she and i have a lot in common. However, she seems to want to hang out with Mariella a lot, and since Mariella and Leonard and i have been chumming around she wants us all to go out with her. I don't have a problem going out and experiencing the night life, but Tatiana makes it sound like it's not going to be fun unless things are going to get sloppy and everyone is blitzed, and i really don't want to be a part of that kind of scene. This is just the first impression, so i'll have to reassess later i suppose.
David - one of the students not from ASU. David actually comes from Chicago, but is attending with our program. This is the first time any of us have met him. He's a nice dude, a little quiet, but he seems like he wants to get to know people and make friends. Not sure how old he is, but i would guess around 22 or 23. He looks a lot like a kid i grew up with name Andrew Mills. He's a little chubby, but not like over weight or anything. David can talk some wicked I.T. stuff, so he also reminds me of my old roommate Rob. We hung out intermittently a few different times today, and so far i think he's a decent guy.
Jennifer - a student from ASU. Jennifer is kind of hippy-ish from what i can tell. I don't really like hippies cuz i don't have anything in common with them and think they are lame, but Jennifer seems nice enough. She reminds me a little of a girl Candace that i dated. She and Jill seem to talk a lot and have a good deal in common though, so that's a good thing. I have only talked with her for a bit, but she seems like the pretty big world traveler type. She's all about experiencing the culture. She got here early yesterday, but just went by herself down to old town Dubai to the spice souk and talked and shopped with locals and visited a mosque and what not. I think she's probably about the same age as me, but may actually be a little older. She's very fair skinned and has long blonde hair.
Danielle - the other student in our program not from ASU. Danielle is from St. Louis and like David is just attending ASU for this program. She reminds me somewhat of my brother-in-law Greg's wife Brooke with the way she looks and her mannerisms. She really small, pretty, short dark hair and expensive looking clothes. She talks a lot too, but i get the feeling she is going to be one of those people who puts their foot in their mouth pretty regularly. I know Leonard isn't too fond of her already because she managed to say something that offended him. That seems hard to do. Leonard is such an easy going guy. She talks a lot about St. Louis, which is fine because it's what she knows. From the sounds of it she comes from money because she talks a lot about how she wants some very expensive things and talks as if it's not difficult for her to obtain them. She will turn 21 on this trip in a few days. Kind of not sure what my opinion of her right now is either. We'll see.
Hana - the last student in our program. I have met her, but i haven't talked to her much at all. She seems nice enough though. She looks like she's either a Pacific Islander or from Micronesia. She's fairly dark and is a pretty girl. I'm guessing she's pretty young, but not sure exactly how old she is. Other than that, i really don't know anything about her.
That's everyone in our program including myself and the descriptions of Leonard, Mariella, and Jill i posted yesterday. i woke up naturally at about 8:10, which was nice because i was supposed to skype Jenn around that time. I don't have an alarm clock here. I was planning to use my phone, but it's not working at all over here. It won't register a time at all. David told me tonight that he could probably set it up for me so i am going to have him take a look at it tomorrow. That will be nice too because i want to start carrying a calculator to make simple conversions, like dollars-to-dirhams and Celsius-to-Fahrenheit. Anyway, when i wake up this morning i get out of bed and skype with Jenn for a while. It wasn't so late this time, so her family was there and was watching us talk. Again, we just kind of review the day. I told her i was doing this blog and she said she would go on and read it. Our group met today around 10:00 to just say hi and get reacquainted. We went over todays events, which are sparse. After the meeting, a few of us walk to the local grocery store for a few things. I want some dish soap to do dishes with in my room, and other people have some basic groceries they need. The grocery store is really just a 5 minute walk from the Academy, but everyone is relying on me since they all got in late last night. So i lead them all to the store, and i apparently don't know the area as well as i think because we took "the long way". It wasn't bad though, we got to get out and just walk around the neighborhood. It's a very new and really nice part of town. The houses in this area are huge and very fancy. There are new ones going up all over the place, mostly made of concrete. The finished ones look like mini-mansions, and they are all different architectural styles. Pretty neat to look at. The long walk also took us past the Thai Embassy so we could get a good look at that (not like it has any significance for us) and we got a good look at the local mosque. It was very ornate and a neat structure to look at. Of course, we didn't try and go inside. I don't think we would have been turned away, but none of us were dressed necessarily "respectfully". The grocery store is right next to the mosque, so we went inside and all did our separate shopping. The grocery store isn't really any different from one in the states except that they played Arabic music instead of grocery store music.
Once we all had our shopping done, we walked back to the Academy (the short way this time). Then we all gathered together again right away and headed to the mall for lunch. Tatiana was meeting a friend of her brothers for lunch at the mall and told us the name of the restaurant. We went looking for places to eat as well, not necessarily the same as her, though many people did end up going there. Turns out it was one of the restaurants in the food court. They have several American places, but i am feeling adventurous today and decide i need to try something i'm not used to. David and i decide we are going to eat at this place called Hatam. I don't know what kind of food it is, but i think it might be Indian influenced. Not sure. Anyway, David and i make an agreement, and he gets the lamb kabab and i get the minced chicken. We are going to split it so we each get half a meal of each. David finishes his pretty quickly and says he thought it was pretty good. I took my time and ultimately end up regretting my decision to be adventurous. I didn't get sick or anything, i just didn't like the food. I wasn't all that impressed with it. It's not disgusting, just not my kind of food. So i eat as much as i can tolerate and chuck the rest.
Those who are here for the first time want to walk around and see everything, so for the second day in a row i find myself roaming the mall. I have seen way too much of this mall lately. I don't think i want to come back unless i have a purpose. I walked around with Jennifer and David for a bit. We go to the toy store upstairs and just look around at some of the stuff they have. There is some neat things in there. One thing i thought was funny was the power wheels they sell for kids. When i think of how cool power wheels were when i was a kid, i think of kids roaming around in little jeeps and trucks. Over here, the power wheels are all little Mercedes, Bentleys, Ferraris, and Jaguars. Kind of funny how the concept converted over. I walk around with David some more and help him find a SIM card for his phone so he can use it just like Leonard did. Then i just kind of wander around by myself for a while. I went up to check out the mosques upstairs. I don't know if they are technically considered mosques, they are separate men's and women's prayer rooms. I didn't actually go in though. I still think that might be kind of disrespectful. I am only in shorts and a t-shirt. Our group all finally meets back up and we take some cabs back to the Academy.
We don't have much time before our 3:00 meeting with the Dean, so everyone goes and changes and meets together again to go to a classroom and have a presentation from the Dean of the Academy. He is a skinny Irish man wearing glasses and a business suit who has spent several years living here in Dubai. His English sounds more upper class British than Irish. I don't hear a trace of Irish accent, even though that's where he spent all his childhood. He tells us all about the college here and what they do. It's a small place. They never have more than about 400 students at a time, and he said they designed it like that. He tells us a lot of interesting as well as uninteresting things about the hotel business, but he also has a presentation based on what it's like to do business in the Gulf region. Some of the stats from that were pretty interesting. For example, there are no business taxes, no income taxes, no capital taxes, but in order to get a business license at all you must give 51% of your profits to an Emirati national. Apparently it's still a lucrative enough deal that people do it all the time. Some of the small nuances were quite interesting. He talked a lot about Arab culture and Islam and how they affect business in this region. That was all quite interesting too. But i don't really care to go into a lot of the detail of it all. It was a 2 hour meeting, and i don't think i can effectively recreate it.
Once the meeting is out, the new people are saying they want to go out and experience the night life. Tatiana is particularly ready to "rage". She's intent on getting hammered tonight. A group of us walk over and meet up with Shaheem and Alex who are sitting over by the diner. We ask them what they are doing and they are just going to take it easy tonight. They want to get some dinner and just stay in and play Magic the Gathering, which i found is really popular with these guys over here. I didn't know anyone played that at all any more. So they are out for the night. I also hear that Yaz's uncle passed away last night and he will be gone for a couple days. I'm sad to hear that. I like Yaz and i hope he's doing ok. That's unfortunate. Our group decides to meet in the courtyard by the diner around 7:00 and make plans to go out. I head back to my room and for the first time since i have been here i turn on the TV. I've heard a lot about some Arabic MTV over here that some other people in the group thought was amusing. I watched about 30 minutes of it and conclude that it's kind of weird. It's their version of cultural "pop" music set to music videos and sung by dudes in long white robes. I wonder how popular it is. I couldn't understand a word, and it's not really like the pop music sound in the states. But i let it play in the background for a bit as i doze off. I finally turn it off and fall asleep.
When i wake up, it's 8:00. I stumble out of my room and go over to the place we were all going to meet. Everyone is gone already. They were just going to go back to the sheesha bar we went to last night. I start walking that direction to catch up and run into Leonard and Mariella headed back to the Academy. They sent the others along and said no one really showed up and they are thinking they don't want to go anymore. This is when Leonard mentions to me he doesn't really like Danielle because of something she said to him. He's kind of in a sour mood over it. So i walk back to the Academy with them thinking i will just go back to sleep or something when Tatiana emerges from her room. It's go time for her. I thought she had already gone over with the other people. She talks Mariella into getting dressed up and going, and Mariella in turn convinces Leonard to go and we all head back to the sheesha bar we were at the night before. We meet Danielle, David and Marisol. They already have drinks and a hookah on the way. Tatiana doesn't waste time getting a waiter to take her drink orders. I pull up a bean bag and we all just talk for a bit. We aren't there very long when Mariella goes to the restroom. While she's there, Leonard decides he thinks he will head back. He doesn't really feel like being out tonight. Not sure if that had anything to do with the company. We all just continue sitting and talking. Mariella comes back a few minutes later and discovers that Leonard is gone. She looks visibly conflicted. She would like to stay but wants Leonard to come back. So she goes to look for him. We tell her he left a while ago and we doubt she will catch him. She leaves to find him and we don't see either of them for the rest of the night.
The rest of the evening, David, Danielle, Marisol, Tatiana and i just sit and chat with one another. This is when i really got to know all of them. Danielle does a lot of the talking, or maybe it just seemed like it. I did my fair share i know. David is fairly quiet, but throws in his input when he feels it is necessary. Marisol is just happy to have a hookah. She works in a hookah bar and says she has been looking forward to the sheesha over here. I guess it's one of her main pleasures in life. She said coming here has made her night, so i am glad she's enjoying herself. She is fairly quiet as she sits and smokes the hookah, but also puts in input when she feels appropriate. Danielle talks a lot about her plans for her 21st birthday when she gets back home. Tatiana tells us she is a rugby player on a girls league at ASU. She has a couple shots and a couple beers, but complains that the drinks aren't very strong. She also tells us she wants to be in the FBI, which is interesting. She is doing her paper here in Dubai on crime and law enforcement. The night slowly winds down and we head back home. It was good and interesting to hang out with these guys and get to know them better, but tonight wasn't as exciting as last night. I think it was too similar. Hopefully we will have better plans for tomorrow. I know Tatiana is looking for the dance club scene. I don't much care for that myself. I mean, look at me... i'm white. I got no dance moves. Ask my wife about dancing in a club on our cruise. It was pretty bad.
So now i'm back home and i am happy to say i will be able to get to bed much earlier than last night. We have a big day planned for tomorrow. Lots of tours and sight seeing of the city of Dubai, so i am excited. Anything sounds good except for wandering the mall for the 3rd straight day.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Anyway, I flew out from Phoenix, AZ on New Years Day on a direct flight to London. I had about an 8 hour layover in London and was able to go see the city there, but i want to devote this strictly to Dubai. London was very cool and i will get to see more of it on my way home, but the majority of my time will be spent here in Dubai. Besides, i know a lot of people who have been to London, but only a few who have come to Dubai. So i will focus on that i think. The flight to London was about 9 hours and the flight from London to Dubai was another 6 1/2. I left at 9:15 PM on the 1st and arrived in Dubai at 8:30 AM on the 3rd. Needless to say, i am a little messed up on sleep right now with all the time changes. I hope to make up for that tonight by sleeping in a real bed. I don't do well sleeping on planes, regardless of how long the flight was.
The flights were smooth, no real bouts with turbulence, and it really didn't drag too much. I don't want to linger on the flights, but just mention that i wasn't hating my life the whole time the way i thought i would. Landing in Dubai felt a little unreal. The airport there is quite large. Either that, or just really spread out. It seemed like it took forever to get out of there. Once we had our bags and were ready to leave, i stopped and exchanged some money. The local currency is the AED, or simply the dirham. The exchange rate was pretty kind to me. $1 will give me 3.6 dirhams, so i exchanged $200 cash for 721 dirhams. It seemed a little weird to me still, and i asked the lady at the counter if that was a lot of money. She just looked at me, almost annoyed, and said, "yeah, that's a lot of money." It is still taking time getting used to the conversions. Everything is priced really high, so i am trying to figure out if it's a good deal or not based on the dollar. For example, when we left the airport we were met by a company contracted through ASU to pick us up and take us to where we are staying. When we got dropped off, i tipped the guy 20 dirhams. It seemed pretty fair to me. Then i went to the store to buy a tooth brush. It was 18 dirhams. So i basically tipped the guy a toothbrush, and that made me feel kind of bad. Some locals we met insisted that was a good tip. I guess tipping over here isn't a big priority. Still, doing the math, 18 dirhams for a toothbrush equals $5. Is that too much for a toothbrush? i don't know, i don't buy them that often. I mean, it's a pretty sweet toothbrush and all, but... anyway, the point is i am dealing with making sure i am getting good deals and not paying too much for simple items. And i still feel bad only tipping that guy a little over $5.
We are staying at a place called the Emirates Academy. The rooms are actually really nice. They are small, single occupancy dorms and everyone in our program gets their own room. We have a small table and chairs, small TV, and small kitchen that is stocked every morning with breakfast stuff. Fruit on the table, eggs, bread, milk, cereal, etc. It's all covered in the program fee. Quite nice. The Emirates Academy is a school based entirely on tourism and hospitality, so all the students here are studying how to manage hotels and run tourist attractions and what not, as well as learning several languages at a time. We've met several of the students, which has been an enormous advantage to us. They are indeed very hospitable, offering to drive us places to save money on cab fare, telling us things to see and things to skip, letting us know how much to spend on certain things, etc. They are very cool and very nice. I guess i should do a run down of the people i have met so far before talking about the day:
Leonard and Mariella - my travel companions. There are about 14 people in the program including the two instructors and we were given a suggested itinerary that the instructors were taking but told that we could get here anyway we wanted as long as we got here by the 3rd. Most people found there own ways here, and i collaborated with a few people via email to fly into London with long layovers so we could see the city. Leonard and Mariella were two of the people who came on the flight with me from Phoenix. They are both 19, Mexican but could pass for Middle Eastern, live in the west valley and have known each other for a while now. Leonard told me they aren't dating, but you wouldn't guess it from watching them. Anyway, they have been very cool so far. Leonard is really talkative and not afraid to engage people. He is the one who first met the students here at the Academy. He's a decent dude, generous, easy to talk to, very agreeable and willing to go with the flow, but also always looking for ways to make the most of the time we have. I can appreciate that. He works as a service rep for Honda, so he is constantly looking at the cars here in Dubai, and with good reason. I've seen more Porches, Mercedes, and Ferraris yesterday and today than i have in 2 months in Phoenix, and there are plenty of them in Phoenix. Mariella is really sweet, a very pretty young girl and truly lovely. She's also easy to talk to and has a good sense of humor. After our night wound down tonight and we were walking back to the Academy, she turned to me and said, "hey Jon, we're in Dubai," sharing the sentiment that this all still seemed so unreal. Leonard and Mariella seemed attached at the hip. They've been a lot of fun and i have enjoyed spending time with them.
Jill - our 4th travel companion. The four of us flew from Phoenix to London, but Jill's flight to Dubai left earlier than ours so she had to split from the group a little sooner to make her flight. Consequently, she got in to Dubai earlier than us as well. She is Persian. Her family comes from Iran, so she is excited since the coast of Iran is within about 100 miles from Dubai. She is also 19 and looks very similar to Jenn's cousin Tyler's wife Lauren, for those of you who know her. I think the two of them would get along very well because they have a lot of the same mannerisms and interests as well (from what i know of both of them, which is very little). She's vegan, which is boo, but she is very nice and willing to go along with things fairly easily. At least she's not a preachy vegan.
Shaheem - the first person we met here at the academy. Shaheem is not really a student here, and i don't really know what he does around here but he knows EVERYONE. He's a local, or what they call a "national", even with family ties to the ruling family of here and neighboring cities. The fact that he is a national is actually kind of rare, as Dubai's approximately 2.3 million people are made up of 85% foreigners. Being a national gives Shaheem a lot of advantages though. He is 28, has a cushy government job, a free house and sizable piece of land given to him by the government, and drives a new Dodge Charger. Shaheem is very friendly, not short but not very tall, and he's got some weight on him. He, like almost everyone else here, smokes like a chimney and speaks fluent English. He's very proud of the fact that he's a national. I ask him if people here like the government, and he replies, "They love it. Why wouldn't they?" It's true. A good job, free house, and no taxes does sound pretty sweet.
Daniel - a Romanian student. He's been here for over a year now and is one of the only people we have met so far who doesn't smoke cigarettes constantly. No one we have met doesn't speak at least very good English if not perfect English. That combined with the fact that everything is written in Arabic and English makes it very difficult for anyone around here to try and learn Arabic if they don't already know it. It's really not necessary, "unless dealing with the police," Shaheem tells me. Daniel also works (or worked) for the Jumeirah Hotel. Jumeriah is also the name of the area around which we are staying, and is pronounced "Jew-mare-ah". Took me a little practice to get it right, because they all say it so fast. I want to call Daniel "The Man". He's 21 and he's so eager to please us and use his hotel connections to get us deals and privileges, so far not coming through very well. But he tries so hard. He is indeed very hospitable. He plans to visit Lake Tahoe and Los Angeles this summer to meet up with a friend. It will be his first time in the states and he's excited. Eventually, he wants to end up back in Europe when he's done with school.
Modji - i am sure i have this name wrong, but he is another student we met here. Modji is 21, he's from Saudi Arabia, a smoker, wears glasses, has thick black hair that he keeps buzzed, and a muscular build with a pot belly. He's very nice, but we didn't get to spend much time with him. He was flying home to Saudi today to see his family since his sister just had her second baby a month ago and he hasn't been back yet. When he left for the airport he had a guitar strapped to him. I think he might have spent some time going to school in the UK as well. He has traces of an accent and says a lot of things Brits say, like "dodgey".
Yassoff - another student that also goes by Yaz, which makes me think of the birth control that causes cancer or whatever. Yaz is also around 21 or 22, short and pudgy, wears glasses, and i think he said he's from Oman, just south of the UAE, but he looks East Indian. He spent quite a bit of time going to school in London, but has been here in Dubai for several years now (around 10 or so). He plays the part of being very jilted and angry, but in a funny way. Really though, he is very nice and likable, cracks the most jokes and usually keeps conversations rolling, making fun of his friends as well as himself. He swears just as much as he smokes, but we have had some good conversations already. He likes to get into the meaty stuff, like what Americans perception of Arabs is. I tell him mine is just based on movies i've seen and asked how accurate he thinks the portrayals are. I list movies like The Kingdom, Syriana, and Body of Lies. He tells me they are definitely accurate in their isolated cases, but that doesn't apply to all Arabs, which i didn't think they would. But he's very candid and open about all of that. Most of the Arab students we have met come from Muslim backgrounds, but are not very devout. I think Yaz falls into this category.
Alex - i think that's his name, but Alex had a reputation before we met him and he lived up to it. He's also around the same age, 21-22, and comes from Serbia, speaks English, Russian, a bit of Arabic, and a bit of French. He's a big boy, muscular, tall and intimidating, but very nice and very talkative. The other students told us he is a martial arts master and not to get on his bad side, which would be very hard to do in the first place. He doesn't disappoint by showcasing some of his moves for us while talking with his friends. I'm not very impressed. I mean, he's big and i am intimidated by him, but i don't think he's ready for the UFC any time soon. I like hearing him speak Russian though, or even more hearing him impersonate a thick Russian accent while speaking English. It's funny and he has some good stories to tell. He also smokes and swears constantly.
There are more people we've met, but these are the ones we have spent the most time with and talked with. So the events of the day go like this: after arriving at the Academy, i set up my laptop right away. I told Jenn i would skype her as soon as i got in and it took me way longer to get through customs than i had expected. She was over at her parents' house using their computer and i told her it would be around 8 or 9 PM her time, but it wasn't actually until about 11:30. We talked a while about London and everything i'd done so far and worked out a schedule to talk for the remainder of the trip. Then i unpacked, took a shower and met up with Leonard and Mariella. We all tracked down Jill, who had been here long before us, and went over to the "diner" for some lunch. The Academy has a lot of amenities right here on campus, like a small gym and a pool, a convenience store with some basic items, and the diner where it seems the students like to eat because it's very good, very cheap, and good portions. They have all kinds of dishes to choose from, and i get a philly cheese steak sandwich with fries for 16 dirhams. I'll have plenty of time to eat local food, i'm just hungry at this point. The sandwich doesn't disappoint. It's very good. We sit out in the sun and breezy 75 degree weather while we eat. This is the time when we meet all of the students i listed above. They all come together throughout the time frame of about 3 1/2 hours, one by one, and we all sit at the table and just talk and get to know each other. It was a good time, just hanging out and getting to know people. They want to make plans for dinner with them for tonight, so we do. A Mexican place they want to take us to. I am skeptical, but willing to go along. I love Mexican food. Just not sure how well it translates in this hemi-sphere.
We decide after sitting and talking for hours that we need to go do and see something. Most of the other people in our program haven't even arrived yet. It's around 3 in the afternoon and they probably won't be here until around 11:30 tonight. Nothing officially gets started till tomorrow, so we have the day to just explore. Daniel gives us some suggestions of things to go see. We decide on the Mall of the Emirates, which is close by, and Shaheem offers to drive us there in his Dodge Charger. The Mall of Emirates isn't the biggest mall around, not by a long shot. Regardless though, it is huge. It's very elegant as well, reminding me a lot of the Chandler Mall in Phoenix (or technically, Chandler). There isn't much difference as far as shops go. There are tons of fancy clothing stores there, like Gucci, Prada, Burberry, etc. as well as plenty of regular American shops like H&M, Adidas, Cold Stone Creamery, Star Bucks, several fast food joints like McDonalds, KFC, Burger King etc. Really, it's not much different from an American mall. Nothing that weird or unusual, except there is a mosque on the top floor and they play a call to prayer over the PA system while we are there. It's actually very neat to hear. Muslims have 5 calls to prayer a day where they must get to a mosque and join. Makes sense there would be one at the mall too i suppose. The thing that sets the Mall of Emirates apart though is the indoor ski slope. It's very large and the distinctive shape can be made out from far away outside the mall. They have tons to do in Ski Dubai, which most of us intend to do during the trip. I think we'll wait for the rest of the group though because they wanted to do it as well.
Shaeem drops us off at the mall and gives Leonard his cell number. Leonard has his iphone set up so he can make calls while here, something i thought about but neglected to see if i could do. I don't think my phone is new enough to do it though. We spent a good amount of time looking at Ski Dubai through the windows and all it has to offer. In addition to the slope and chairlift, they have a snow park area that they a bobsled-like track, kids area, and yes, even a giant hampster ball you can roll down the hill in. It looks a lot more interesting than it probably really is. the rest of the time it seemed like we walked to whole mall over and over and over (and it's a big mall). We also got some soft serve yogurt that i wasn't all that impressed with from a place called Pink Berries. Jill was ecstatic when she saw it and said how much she loved it. I guess it's a chain in California or something. I probably won't go back again. We went to the Walmart-like store where i bought my 18 dirham toothbrush (that was in the mall), and other than that we just looked at things and took pictures of everything we liked. Leonard called Shaheem when we were ready to leave, and he came and picked us up and took us back to the Academy. At this point i was completely wasted tired from all the time changes, jet lag, and lack of sleep, so i crashed hard for about an hour.
I woke up to my in-room phone ringing around 7:30. Leonard and Yaz were calling to see if i wanted to go to dinner. Jill decided she would rather stay home, so Leonard, Mariella and i met up with Yaz, Shaheem and Daniel and piled into Yaz's GMC Yukon. He drove us down Jumeirah Road to show us some of the sites around. Directly west of the Academy is the Burj al Arab. "Burj" apparently means "tower", and many building use it in the name. The Burj al Arab is the sailboat shaped building featured in the picture i have choosen at the top of the blog. It's a hotel and it pretty well known for it's unique architecture. I chose that picture specifically because it shows the Burj al Arab and the wavy building next to it, which is the Jumeirah Hotel. The Academy is directly across the road from the road in the picture running parallel to the beach. If the picture extended to the right just about an inch or more, you would definitely see the Academy. So we can see the Burj al Arab prominantly at all times. Most people i know have seen the famous pictures of the hanging tennis court at the top. I asked the students if anyone could play tennis up there and how much it would cost. They told he it was a helipad, not a tennis court. It was only set up as a tennis court during the opening as a promotional gimmick. Kind of a bummer. I wanted to keep thinking it was a tennis court.
On the way to dinner, the final call to prayer began playing on the PA systems lining the road and Shaheem asks Yaz to turn off the radio during the call to prayer. Yaz, makes a point to let us know he's not a big follower, but he's respectful of Shaheem's wish to not take away from the importance of the event. So far, this seems to be the prevailing attitude we get from most people we talk to here in Dubai. They are fine with people who have different beliefs than them and are even willing to conceed at times when it doesn't harm or upset anyone else. No one was offended that the radio got turned off, no one made a big fuss, and although none of the rest of us in the car were Muslim in theology or practice, Shaheem was able to have that event not be sullied. I don't know how devout he is because he didn't ask to stop at any of the several mosques we passed on the way to the restaurant, but i wasn't concerned about it. It was just an interesting observation of what's important to Shaheem.
I can't remember the name of the restaurant, but my skepticism was met with pleasant surprise. The food was actually very good. Good enough that i would eat there if it were in Arizona over several of our other options. We sat and talked about a lot of different things, just life, and culture, and plans. This is were Yaz and i had our meaty discussion on Americans and Arabs. We also talk about gas prices, and i am astonished when he tells me they spend about 30 cents for a gallon of gas in Dubai. I knew it would be cheap, but i didn't realize it was THAT cheap. He said if you go to Saudi Arabia, it's about 10 cents a gallon. Pretty amazing what we're willing to pay for it. It's around $3 a gallon in Phoenix right now, and we think that's a decent deal. The sun had set and the air was cool and just a touch humid, but not uncomfortable at all. I had a hoodie on and it was quite nice. We all had a really good time, and i was feeling generous and picked up the tab for everyone. They protested, but i told them i had all this colorful money that i didn't know what it was worth, so it was easy enough for me to just take care of it instead of splitting everything up. Plus, i was really thankful for their help with everything, telling us places to go, giving us rides everywhere, etc. I didn't do this intending to have favors to call from everyone, but it ended up turning out that way. So maybe to those looking to go to Dubai, you should befriend some locals and buy them dinner because they are all clamoring to pay me back now. Not that i want them to or anything, but they have such a gracious and hospitible culture here, especially the tourism and hospitality students. The meal for all 6 of us ended up being about 410 dirhams, about $114, and i left a 50 dirham tip which all the students assured was very generous.
Yaz brought us all back home and then had to take off to run some errands. Leonard, Mariella and i decide to walk down to the Burj al Arab to get some pictures, They light it up all different colors at night. Daniel and Shaheem decide to tag along and we head down. This is when Daniel tries to come through as "The Man". He tries to use his hotel connections with the Jumeirah Hotel to get us on to the property and perhaps inside the Burj al Arab, which only those spending the large fees to stay at the hotel have the privilage of doing. This doesn't work out, and we move down to a string of huge and small buildings just south of there. This, Daniel tells us, is called the Modinot (spelled phonetically, i have no idea how it's spelled really). It is a huge resort consisting of three enormous hotels and smaller subset villas, a giant "souck" which is like a merchant house (or basically, a mall), and lots of beach properties, bars, and entertainment. Alcohol is prohibited by Islamic law, but is allowed to be served on hotel property. This is the only places people can go to drink in Dubai. We walk into the first big hotel area and just see how it's so ornately decorated. It's a five-star resort, and it shows. Behind the hotel is a string of canals and waterways with small gondola-like boats called something like abbracks (that's probably not right though). They will take you on a ride around the resort grounds for 50 dirhams per person, which Daniel and Shaheem assure us is a blatant rip off. Again, "The Man" tries to get us a free boat ride, but is denied. He's getting frustrated and feels bad. His last suggestion is to just walk along the path the abbrack would have taken. We are again denied entry to the walk way, and Daniel is told we have to be resort guests. He's upset at this point because his mother came to visit not long ago from Romania and he was able to work all this out for her. Apparently there has been a policy change with the new year since the system has been abused. Daniel feels terrible for making promises he can't deliver on. We tell him it's really no big deal and that we appreciate him even trying, but he insists he needs to take us out to dinner later to make up for it. He has something up his sleeve that he wants to treat us to. Works for me.
We end the night at a sheesha bar. It's basically the exact same thing as a hookah bar, which there are plenty of in Tempe where ASU is. I was unsure though if by sheesha, they meant hash-eesh. As Shaheem smokes from his hookah, i ask him what it is exactly that he is smoking. He tells me it's just fruit flavored tobacco, which is what it is in Tempe. I asked him if people are allowed to smoke weed there. He gives me a stern look and shakes his head saying, "No no no no no! It is highly illegal." I ask him if he means just weed or all drugs, and he confirms that all drugs are illegal there. I know they have a problem in this area of the world with opium and heroin, but he assures me it's all drugs. Dubai is a big smuggling port because there are no taxes and it's duty free. He said you can find anything you want there, which i am sure is true of most big cities. He tells me however that if you are caught using drugs, you get sent to rehab or deported. If you get caught trafficking drugs, you get the death penalty. There is zero tolerance for it. He said people don't do drugs there cuz it's too risky. Those who do are playing with fire. The hookah bar is kind of a neat experience. Everyone is sitting outside on fluffy bean bags or comfortable couches, smoking hookahs and chatting while club music plays in the backgroud. There are young kids around as well, 9 and 10 year olds playing with an ipad, and even a kid that can't be older than 4 sitting with what have to be his grand parents smoking a hookah. It's a funny scene, but also a cool atmosphere. The five of us walk back to the Academy about 30 mins later and head for our seperate dorms.
from left to right: me, Shaheem, Daniel, Leonard, Mariella