Monday, December 23, 2013

leaving messes

It's the little things that really demonstrate cultural differences to me. There's a tray in the central hall of the municipal building where you visit the kiosk to take a number for any one of several pesky government functions that involve waiting in line- I was there for my driving license- and on the tray there is a carafe of coffee and about 2 dozen china cups. Sure, there's a chance you'd find coffee on offer in a government building in the States. In some smaller towns it might even be free coffee. But it's pretty unlikely that there's going to be coffee with cute little china cups that need washing. We all seem to have enormous carbon footprints here in the UAE where recycling is infrequent and re-use isn't the norm and so you know that those china cups have nothing to do with the wastefulness of styrofoam or paper. Nope, they're there because coffee is an important part of transactions and should be enjoyed in a real cup and because there's someone to clean the cups. There's always someone to clean whatever messes we make.

My urge to pick up after or take care of myself runs pretty deep. I flounder at lunch on campus daily in the act of walking away and leaving a tray or plate of garbage behind. It feels normal and natural to me to just roll a task chair from one office to the next if it needs to be moved or to lock up the library at the end of the day if I'm the last one there. I'm still holding out and doing my own laundry for now (of course that doesn't include towels and sheets because I'm still in the hotel/ apartment.) but I'm
part of the internatl. section of my grocery store
learning that by being a bit of a lazy slob, I am contributing to the employment of countless individuals (from an equally countless number of countries- this is part of why the UAE is such melting pot and has such interesting sections in the grocery stores- sri lankan food!?) We have an entire team of uniformed men and women who are constantly about the library dusting, washing windows, straightening books, climbing ladders to wipe down shelves, cleaning parts of the building every day that I suspect have never been cleaned in many US libraries. I am supposed to leave the moving of office furniture, even roll-y chairs, to them. If I do it, what do they do? I threaten their employment. Ditto the lunch area employees- subcontracted to the University. There are no trash cans or places to stack trays or dishes anywhere in the large eating complex (which, I should note, features a Subway, a Circle K convenience store, a Baskin Robbins and several other lesser known options much like a mall food court- which is another place you leave your mess.)

The University also subcontracts a large "security" staff. They play a pretty interesting roll. One of the things they do is to clear the common areas like the library of women before the men's hours as male and female students use campus at different times of the day in Dubai. They also sometimes escort visitors around- my check book (spelled cheque book) and ATM card were couriered over after the automated text message that let me choose the day and time window of their arrival and used the location feature on my phone to fill in the place for delivery. The
the grape
courier was escorted to me by a member of security. And security locks and unlocks things. Nearly all things. I have one key to my office and because I'm an associate director, I get a second key to the office/ conference room area. Otherwise, security comes at the drop of a hat. They also seem to be there all the time at all of the many entrances and exits to the building. I did a trial run on my route to work this past weekend to get used to driving "the grape" (my weird green suzuki swift) and to learn the way and in my drive by of a random side entrance, I spotted the usual complement of security staff in the entry area. on a winter break weekend day.

my future apt building
I got a sneak peak at the apartment Butternut and I are slated to move into
the windows in one of the bedrooms
in Feb. I look out through giant floor to ceiling windows pretty directly at the Burj Khalifa (world's tallest building.) Andrea arrives in less than 12 hours and we'll be off on lots of great adventures including a New Year's eve trip to the observation deck of the Khalifa on the 124th floor. yikes.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Blog Stew

4 story high waterfall art at the mother of all malls
These are random things I've been thinking about or noticing or experiencing. I don't have pictures to go with most of them so I'll just post a few unrelated pictures from adventures I haven't had the mental energy to blog about. A mishmash or conglomerate or post stew...

The young women at Zayed largely wear abayas (plural may be abayet). These are black robes, usually paired with a headscarf of one kind or another. From a distance, they look remarkably similar but walking the halls with the students, I can't get over how different and beautiful the abayas are.  Some are floaty chiffon, some are shimmery rayons, some have ruffles, pleats, beads, cut outs, lace, small explosions of colored embroidery, block panels in silver, and other adornments and stylistic flares I don't even know how to describe. They are gorgeous and unique.
for a fee you can scuba at the aquarium in the mall

I have a guy who drives me to and from work every day while I'm waiting to get all the paperwork together to be able to get my driver's license. I've never had a driver before. It's a bit of a let down. Mr. Lui is super punctual and is constantly wiping non-existant dust off his cute little Nissan Juke but I got hooked up with him through the Chinese woman in my building and his English is only marginally better than my Chinese. We gesture at the giant orange ball of the sun setting behind Burj Khalifa on the ride home and pantomime taking pictures to show that we think it's remarkably pretty. We say "Hello." We say "See you later." We drive in silence a lot.

choco bars at the giant candy store by the aquarium for Doris
We drive past Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary every day and I stare longingly at the big flocks of flamingos and the bird blinds they've built ("they" being the city, not the birds) so you can get out into the marshy bits. I don't have a way to communicate that: I'd really love to detour over there for a look-see and how much extra would that cost and is it a matter of you can't get there easily from here because I see them from the highway and I can tell you have to exit a ways back in order to wind up at the blinds...

Those three kings of Orient in the Christmas song? One of them brought Frankincense- probably from or through the Arabian peninsula. It's been part of the trade routes here for 5000 years.
Zayed U's Abu Dhabi campus
Perfume, strong and to me, ancient smelling (and no, I can't describe what makes me think of it as ancient smelling, I just do), is a really big deal here. Perfume bottles are beautiful handblown glass affairs with delicate curlicues, and both men and women are not afraid to douse themselves in scent. One scent in particular, I think it's frankincense, sometimes travels in a cloud around a woman in a store or on campus. I kind of like it and it makes my eyes water at the same time.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tree trek

Many of you know, I like to make an event out of getting my Christmas tree each year. I thought I'd do what I could here and as one of my co-workers pointed out, if you're not going to go with something traditional, you might as well go with something wildly different (she's opted for a red foil bling tree.)

So I dragged along my colleague who lives in the apartment/hotel and we took the space age metro to a place called the Dubai Garden Centre. It was a nice day so we opted to stroll the 1/2 mi from the metro stop to the garden centre. Our route took us past a kind of mini mall dedicated to gold and diamond sales, an automotive salesroom featuring several nice looking Jeeps and a souped up Charger in the window right next to the fancy glass chandelier shop
and then suddenly, a jungle. Complete with animatronic dinosaurs roaring among the lovely fruit trees and water features.There's also a used book store, a cool tropical fish section, bonsai trees, an excessive amount of fake fruit, a giant gorilla and a cafe where we had a snack.

I picked out a leggy plant that blooms bright red and is called a Desert Rose. I liked that it was kind of cartoony looking and also that it needs full sun and can keep living in a pot. We put it in a bag and each took a handle to walk it back to the metro. Do other city dwellers haul live plants the size of toddlers on the metro? I didn't see any others on this trip. We rode in the women and children only cars on the way back as they were a tiny bit less crowded.

 I decorated my "tree" back at the hotel apartment with an ornament my niece, Caroline, gave me just before I left, a small handwoven keyring thing I picked up at the Heritage Village last weekend and a pin someone gave me for National Day. I wrapped the ugly pot in a Thai sarong and an India doorway decoration I brought along and then today, added some lights!
oh tannenbaum?
flower buds are another ornament

my light stringing needs work

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

back to the future and the past

This whole full-time employment thing is having a negative effect on my blogging, not to mention
wreaking havoc on my pool time! But here goes: a midweek catch up post from last weekend. I joined
mad max beyond the dubai metro
a Chinese ZU faculty member living here at the apartment hotel on an outing to Heritage Village, a showcase for traditional Emirati crafts and arts. The outing was put on by a local Islamic Cultural Information Center that she's been frequenting so that was our first destination. We took a shuttle to the metro station near our local mall. Metro stations have a distinctly space age feel. The end of the line metro stop is actually within walking distance of the apartment/hotel but there's no service out here yet- it's like something out of the movie Dune- so we shuttled to the closest stop with service. The metro was super clean and sleek and even beautiful and runs above ground, providing cool views. For double the usual fare you can ride in the gold class car (we didn't) or, if you're female, there's also a car only for women and children (we also didn't ride in that one.)

At the Islamic Center, an earnest young man made an unsuccessful attempt to convert me and then we went on the the Heritage Village.

my Chinese colleague
It's a pretty area right on the creek with people demonstrating different aspects of traditional life. There was an older guy who'd been a pearl diver back in the day (50 or 60 years ago) when they used nose clips made from goat hooves and held their breath for almost 2 minutes at a go while plucking oysters from the beds.There were women weaving bands used to decorate cuff and necklines of Bedouin
style clothes. Some of them wore the full face covering, some wore the mask-like thing they call a burqa here in the UAE. They indicated that it was fine to take photos and some of the women pulled the niqab (covering) over their face for the photo, others were fine with the burqa showing. I drank Arabic coffee (with cardamom) and ate fried dough balls flavored with rosewater. I got a little henna on my hand much to the delight of many of my staff come Sunday at work. There were youngish girls and boys doing traditional dances. One of the moves common in the girl dances was a dramatic hair fling, first to one side, then to the other. When I was in the grocery store last week, I noticed quite a few shampoos were designed to combat "hair fall". I wondered if dramatic flinging might lead to "hair fall" but apparently, it's a thing here. Caused by water that's been de-salinated. Hmm will have to watch for "hair fall."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Deck the Halls

fa la la lobby!
I came home from work one day this week to find that the apartment hotel had put up a Christmas tree in the lobby. It made me smile, so cute and festive. The next time I walked through the lobby, I noted that they had added some wrapped boxes under the tree, how jolly! The next day, they'd hung greens and bows and ornaments all along the railings in front of the building and around our bamboo thick koi ponds. Whoa, they are INTO this Christmas decorating thing. Next day, wreaths and swags in the breakfast room and later that afternoon, also by the elevators! What next? Housekeeping in elf suits?! Front desk carolers? What a hoot.
garland for goldfish (koi pond under the bridge)

Zed U

looking into courtyard at sub tower
Last week, after the National Day holiday, I started work at Zayed University, or Zed U. The campus is striking, It's basically a big square of buildings around the outside, making open space in the center that is split down the middle with a central building to make an open air courtyard on one side and a covered atrium on the other. I really want to take pictures of the atrium side- it's so lively with coffee shops, cafes, a perfume shop! and students, but I have to find a way to get a shot where you can't make out students faces. No random photographs of the girls allowed. I think I can get something from above where you can't see any faces. The middle building has a quirky tower that strongly resembles the smoke stack on a cruise ship or the conning tower on a submarine. This houses the grand staircase entrance to the Library.

grand stair library entrance
I've met a dizzying array of people and I'm frantically trying to keep everyone's names and faces together in my mind. My staff is made up of the following nationalities Emirati, Egyptian, Iraqi, Italian, American, Canadian and more. I have a big empty office so far (with TEAL upholstered chairs for visitors right in front of my desk which my Westminster colleagues will appreciate!) and a login with an email inbox that's rapidly filling but no desktop or laptop computer yet. Insha'allah (basically means God willing, and gets used fairly constantly with a little shrug when things aren't going according to plan) on Sunday when the work week starts again. We work Sun - Thur. Friday mornings are a bit like Sunday mornings in the states. I've been told that's a pretty good time to go out exploring by car when you're new because there's basically no traffic- maybe some other expats roaming around getting brunch.

So work this week meant abbreviated days- thank goodness because I'm not quite right on sleep yet and trying to process so much new stuff is exhausting- and lots of housekeeping tasks. Like any new job there was paperwork and a nice little welcome lunch reception, meeting staff and getting tours... Unlike other new jobs, this one also required processing steps to get my residency visa and Emirates ID. On Thursday, I was taken around to set all those processes in motion. Luckily I had someone from ZU's HR staff holding my hand, I don't envy people trying to work this out on their own when they are new to the county. Even with Shaimaa's help, we hit a snag that everyone says is pretty typical of the way things work here- extreme patience required and a trust that it will all work out in the end. So in order to get an Emirates ID, you need to have a local cell number to receive texts to learn when and where you have to pick up and/or submit materials. So we started at the the local phone service provider planning to grab a sim card with prepaid minutes that will work in the unlocked iPhone I've got (thanks again, Becky and Jim- eventually this is going to work out awesomely.) But just this week! Of course just this week! They changed the computer system so that there's no way to activate a sim card unless the purchaser can provide an Emirates ID. Catch 22 here: need a phone for the ID, can't get a phone without the ID. Everyone in the room acknowledged that this is a problem, but it's how the computers are set up now. Probably won't last, someone will realize that visitors and others without the ID card provide an important market, but right now, we had to put Shaimaa's phone number in my ID application and now she gets my texts. Oh well, I'm surviving with an apartment/hotel phone, a work phone, and mostly email for now and it's fine. After the ID application, it was on to have my lungs x-rayed, my blood drawn, all 10 fingertips and multiple palm prints digitally recorded, my picture taken and a bunch of forms completed and submitted. It costs 370 Dhs for the ID (about $100) which ZU reimburses me for. Not sure if there are also costs for the work visa that the University is paying. I only mention that because I was struck, while waiting on line for the chest x-ray in particular, how many thousands of people come here seeking work and have to figure this all out on their own and pay for it on their own. So many of the guest worker residents here are paid so little, and yet it's still worth all the trouble and cost because even from low wages, there is money to send home to India or Pakistan or the Philippines or wherever home is for so many UAE residents.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Happy Birthday UAE

flag in the historic district
Yesterday, December 2, was National Day. Think 4th of July in the US, and then think about how the celebrations would feel if the US was just 42 years old. There are parades and fireworks and wearing
of the national colors and decorating cars and buildings with flags, bunting, the national symbol/crest (a stylized gold falcon), and pictures of Sheiks like the founding president, the current president and vice president and other guys I can't ID yet. I thought National Day would be a perfect time to go check out the Dubai Museum. While it's only celebrating the accomplishments of a single emirate, not the nation, it's still pretty representative of the crazy growth and progress of the whole country. And there's a shuttle that goes there from my apartment hotel.

The museum was pretty cool. I knew a bit about the history from my reading but they did a nice job displaying the shift the area has made from a small but busy center for pearl diving and a stopover for nomadic Bedouin people and tradesman to the fantastical global showcase it's become. And they had a camel bladder bagpipe on display and I learned that gerbils are part of the indigenous fauna.
tea house lunch

I had lunch in the leafy courtyard of a tea house- a salad with local greens and herbs and pomegranate seeds and a little plate of pastries and dates. Now I have had excellent dates before in CA, fresh off the tree but these dates were like candy. Insanely soft and sweet. Just wow.

Wandered around the recreated historic district with old style courtyarded places that were once homes but now are galleries and cafes and weird little government houses like the tiny stamp museum I wandered into. Then followed the "creek" (now it's dredged and is a major waterway through the city) to the textile souk, and on to the abra (small
an abra on the creek
on the abra
wooden boat used as a kind of taxi/bus) dock where I caught a ride over to Deria (the opposite side of the creek) and the spice souk which was closing up early for the holiday. Grabbed a taxi home because despite waking up each morning convinced I'm over the jet lag, I find myself seriously in need of a nap each late afternoon.

spice souk
Post nap I did a little skyping with family. I'm 12 hours ahead of Vegas, 11 ahead of Salt Lake, 10 ahead of Chicago and 9 ahead of Michigan until daylight savings ends there, then it's one hour less difference. Also, the weekends here are Friday and Saturday. Sunday is the first day of the work week. 

Back to National Day! wrapped things up watching some fireworks from my balcony and tried to get to bed at a reasonable hour since today was my first day of work! But that's going to have to be another post because I'm too pooped to process any more right now.

fireworks from the balcony

Sunday, December 1, 2013

mall madness

mall christmas

Given the focus on shopping in my new town, it's probably appropriate that most of my adventures in the first few days revolved around malls, though I'm hoping to change that up a bit tomorrow. There's a shuttle from my apartment hotel directly to a very strange mall called Wafi. Wafi is a small complex
with pyramid shaped buildings adorned with obelisks and sphinxes and the like. There's a spa and some fine dining, some high fashion-y shops and then glow in the dark mini golf! There's a re-created souk or middle eastern market in the lower levels- feels a bit like being in the shopping area at the Alladin in Las Vegas just before they changed it over to Planet Hollywood. The mall was decked out half in Christmas and half in National Day bunting and decor. After dark they do a big sound and light show in the courtyard that was conveniently timed and located exactly where and when I needed to be to wait on the shuttle back to my apartment hotel. Not sure I would have sought it out as one of my first sightseeing stops other wise, but it was kinda cool, if a wee bit over dramatic. Drama, and
light show projections
crystals, seem popular here. It's a very blingy place. I'm not much of a sports car person, but I looked up to see which model Lamborghini it was that was so arresting at the mall valet- it was a very fine Aventador LP 700-4 I think with the cool doors that open upwards. Lots of Land Rovers and Porsche SUV type thingys out there, but this was the first seriously monster powerful looking sports car I've seen so far.

more mall light show

Met some coworkers for lunch (at a mall) and learned a few helpful things, one being that my apartment hotel is not findable with Google maps navigation and that I probably better figure out some kind of landmarks to direct taxi drivers (though I am kind of out in a weird undeveloped- for now, until they finish the semi-nearby Versace resort- patch of desert.)

pool with cave
In apartment hotel news: I opened a different cupboard today and discovered that I have a dishwasher! I also spent about an hour this morning at the pool. The water was a perfect temperature and there's a cave behind a waterfall that I can swim into!