Monday, January 25, 2010

In the news...

There was a lot of 'ladies' news today in the local paper. The first was that the transportation department has reserved parking spaces in public garages for use by women only. Like Handicapped parking the spaces will be close to entrances. This was billed as a safety measure as many women complained that they feel uncomfortable in underground garages. I'm curious as to how they're going to police this, but otherwise I find it interesting. I'm getting used to the fact that in clinics, government buildings and even banks there can be separate entrances and waiting areas for men and women. This has seemed more cumbersome than helpful to me. Often the clerk helping you in the women's area is male and once you're brought back to the doctor you are in a unisex area. When visiting a specialist for my daughter, my husband and I couldn't wait together with her but we had to run back and forth to let him know where we were. I've never been bothered before in a waiting room by the fact that the other customers are men. The parking thing, however, does seem like a good idea. There's nothing creepier than a poorly lit parking garage at night. It does make one feel unsafe and in this culture where, it seems, women are more attuned to that it could be liberating.

The other, very entertaining article regarded public indecency. I'm guessing it's in reaction to the emirates trying to get tourists to be more aware that they are in a rather conservative culture while not scaring them about visiting. The gist of the article was that there are no 'instructions' in the UAE that expressly ask police to question two unrelated people holding hands or alone in a car (apparently part and parcel to being 'publicly indecent'). So unless they are otherwise suspicious they will be left alone. More apparent displays such as kissing in public are violations but the officer should show discretion.
And I swear this is the example given...kissing your husband goodbye or at an airport is fine, but they draw the line at a 'hot kiss'. The policeman interviewed (a Colonel) says there's a "clear difference with a hot kiss" but he judge gets the final word. So much for clear.
I wonder what type of rubric is used to make that decision....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

141 out of 194!

International Living has recently published its 2010 Quality of Life index. The list presumably gives you the list of the best places to live based on 10 criteria. So apparently I've downgraded... a LOT. France was #1, as it has been for the last 5 years. And the UAE...141...that's below Kenya (with it's election violence and poverty), Kyrgyzsatan and North Korea. North Korea!! I can take being below Kyrgyzstan...but I really draw the line at North Korea!
Apparently 'we' lost points in the freedom and climate categories. Seriously are we lower than North Korea in freedom?? I have to admit that it is disconcerting to live somewhere in which you're unsure of your rights--or actually, sure that you don't have many. I am pretty skeptical though of the idea that I'd feel any better in North Korea or Kyrgyzstan.
Now climate...that's truly a joke. After 11 years in Paris I'd say the number one reason for leaving was climate. Unless of course you're a fan of damp and gray. Whereas the climate here is lovely. Beautiful days with a breeze. Chilly enough for a sweater in the morning and evening. Is it hot in summer? You betcha. I'd be willing to wager though that the days we're kept indoors do to heat are fewer than the days les francais are bemoaning the rain. France received 87/100 for climate while the UAE received 10/100. Wow.
Now one place the UAE can really improve is health. (They received 76/100). Yesterday I had my first experience with a 'specialist' at the Sheikh Khalifa Hospital when I went to see the dermatologist. I have been unlucky enough to have already had 2 melanomas excised in previous years. That coupled with my fair skin leads me to be careful and to get body checks on a regular basis. Yesterday I was severely underwhelmed. The doctor (a local woman) did not even ask me to take off all my clothes. She never looked at my legs. She had a dermatoscope that hadn't been charged so she didn't use it--instead using a small magnifying glass. Her nurse asked me if my melanomas were benign. Really. I explained that by definition they were not. And she nodded. Hmmm. I'm not feeling confident about that. I then had a 20 minute lecture on covering up completely, like say, by wearing an abaya. Again....hmmm.
So does the UAE deserve to be number 1? No, I don't think so, but it could sure move up a few notches. We'll see next year....

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The tent at the end of the street

So yesterday morning I went out to walk the dogs and they'd put up a tent at the end of the street. I'm not talking pup tent, I'm talking wedding tent (which is in fact what we think it is). It has at least 6 air conditioning units (although I currently have none on in my house). It has silk curtains, oriental carpets, and lots 'o furniture. (Please see the picture of the interior and note the many tissue boxes on each table--they are seriously tissue happy in the Middle East. I'm not sure what that's about). Now Abu Dhabi is not as large as Paris, but I do live in a city and my street is fairly well-travelled. There's a school with it's daily mob at pick up and drop off AND a restaurant. The tent takes up two and 1/3 lanes of the street leaving just 2/3 of a lane for drivers. Now that, as they say in Panama, takes cojones. But what can you do?? (It must be said that the blocks are so big here that to go the other way is fairly long).
Anyway tonight we're going to sneak down there and check out the action...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Burj Khalifa up close and personal

After all my ranting about how difficult it was to buy tickets for the Burj it seems that I wasn't the only one scared off. The promised hordes of unwieldy tourists were no where to be found. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that there was almost no merchandise to be purchased since no one has had time to make stuff emblazoned with Burj Khalifa (instead of Burj Dubai). Burj, by the way, means tower.
Yesterday we marched up and were able to buy tickets with just two hours advance notice (of course, that means we'll be going twice as we were supposed to be on a scouting mission to buy tickets for next week for the whole family---which we did--but Sebastian and I couldn't resist taking a quick look ourselves).
A few days ago, one of the elevators (the fastest in the world--10m/second) was stuck at 400m for over an hour. I'm pretty certain I would have gone from that elevator to the morgue as my heart doesn't beat for me at that height when stuck and hanging from a cable with 11 other people. Lucky for me, our elevator had no such problem. The view is quite amazing as is the fact that it's sort of on the edge of civilization...or that's how it looks from up there.

Oh and buy the way...the concrete they used in the building is the weight of 100,000 elephants. (Do you think those are the African or the Asian variety???)

Monday, January 11, 2010

outdoor yoga and the quest continues

One of the many benefits of this climate is all the stuff you can do outdoors. Today it was yoga in the garden of the Hiltonia looking out on the water. Pretty spectacular for January 11. I'm feeling the pain a bit now, but it was well worth it.

Now, some of you may remember from the other blog that one of my good friends challenged me when I moved to Abu Dhabi that I must befriend a local who wears an abaya. But really make a true friend. Since I'm not working and the few Emirati families that have children in school with mine are not often at the pick up gate, my opportunities for meeting locals are few and fewer.
But last night we had 'step 1'. It's almost embarrassing just how cliche this is....I met someone while walking the dogs. In fact, I was studiously avoiding crossing the street with the dogs to pass in front of the group gathered in lawn chairs outside one of the neighboring villas. There were two older women in the traditional burkha (face covering) and a younger one who was veiled but not in black, plus a few kids. They were outside chatting and catching the evening breeze as two maids hovered and passed around cups of arabic coffee.
I was avoiding them not because I didn't want to talk to them, au contraire! Snuggy had yet to 'preform digestively' and I didn't want her to do that on the sidewalk at their feet (she LOVES an audience). But the older woman shouted to me to come over (I surmised) and kept it up. She immediately started saying coffee, coffee. This is a big point of pride with the Emiratis (to be hospitable and always offer coffee and tea). I took the coffee (although it was 7:30pm and at that hour if I have arabic coffee I need serious downers (read: wine) to get me to sleep before morning). And she called her daughter out to translate to me. She seemed so happy to have us there. The first question she asked...."Where's your mother?" Very interesting. After that, she wanted to know where my villa was and when I'd come again. She was very sweet. Unfortunately without her daughter we can do little more than nod at each other, but I'm determined to redouble my arabic language efforts.
The quest continues...but I'm chipping away at it!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Burj Khalifa and desert picnics

So they can build the world's tallest building...but can they sell you a ticket to get to the top of it? Can they get a website up and running?
Wow, talk about an exercise in frustration! All the local newspapers yesterday had headlines about getting to the top of the Burj Khalifa. It's so popular an attraction that the lines have been crazy and in order to 'encourage' people to schedule ahead of time they've doubled and tripled the prices for immediate tickets (tickets were up to $150/person to take the elevator ride!).
That's not a problem for 'super-organized' moi, I'd prepare and pre-buy. I scanned all the articles, but bien sur there is absolutely no information on where to book these pre-scheduled tickets. No problem, again. I'll just get on google and pull that info right up. HA!
As you may or may not have heard, to the surprise of almost everyone (except perhaps Sheikh Khalifa himself) the Burj Dubai was renamed the Burj Khalifa at the inaugural. Not only does that mean that there is millions of $ of Burj Dubai merchandise out there (t-shirts, plastic towers, etc) that is now worthless, but the website is now outdated. And it seems someone scooped up almost immediately after the announcement came through! So try and find their website.
Well, anyway, none of that really matters because once I finally found a phone number and got through to someone--their on-line ticketing won't be up and running until AT LEAST the end of January. So why bother? They can't even tell you if you show up today when you might be able to reasonably assume you could climb the tower--tomorrow? next week? who knows....
Ah, a prime example of NQR (not quite right).
At least, in the de-stress column, we went out to the desert last night for a barbecue. Just less than an hour from our downtown address, we were in the middle of the dunes building a bonfire and grilling in the desert. Incredible. Forget the Burj Khalifa, it's well worth a visit to Abu Dhabi just for an afternoon in the desert.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dirty little secret (#1 ... for this year)

So yesterday I waxed poetic on all the wonders of Sir Bani Yas Island (and in particular the Desert Islands Lodge). It was superb. It was superb...but...
there were flies.
Lots of them. So many that you couldn't sit out by the pool or on the beach for too long. And you certainly couldn't eat outside for lunch, although the weather was delightful.
Apparently there are seasons. Not the summer, winter, spring, fall stuff of more temperate climes--no no no. We have horridly hot and humid, incredibly gorgeous, and, now, a tiny bit chilly with large quantities of flies. These are the seasons thus far.
I'll keep you posted on new ones as I experience them.
I never said it was perfect :).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

desert island

It's logical that any island here would be a desert island...and we were not disappointed. Sheikh Zayed (the revered father of the UAE) stumbled upon Sir Bani Yas and decided to use it for two projects...the 'greening of the desert' with mangroves, succulent grasses and massive amounts of irrigation to make the desert more hospitable and a nature preserve. Sheikh Zayed was a huge fan of animals. He brought in giraffes (one of his faves), arabian oryx (endangered and now extinct in the wild), all types of indigenous gazelle and antelopes. After Sheikh Zayed died the island was closed completely to tourists. About 18 months ago it reopened with a resort run by Anantara. At the resort they offer game walks and drives, kayaking, snorkeling, archery etc. They've added cheetah, hyena (striped) and ostriches among others to the games preserve. Some of the animals are currently in enclosures (one cheetah is injured and a pair of hyena are awaiting DNA tests to be sure they're not related to the other hyena in the park) but otherwise the animals roam. The island is just off the coast (about a 20 minute boat ride) from Ruwais which apparently is where a good part of Abu Dhabi's oil hides. The island is incredibly rich in minerals. Almost every rock you see is laden with copper or gypsum and fossils abound. The beach is unspoiled and the water crystaline despite the off-shore lights of oil tankers at night. The guides (hired by the government tourist authority -- TDIC --- not Anantara) were mostly English speakers, South Africans and Brits, until recent complaints by locals pushed them to hire a Jordanian and some north Africans. The only other buildings on the island are employee housing and Zayed's palace buildings (the resort, in fact, was a guest house). The old palace is still used occasionally by the royals although we're told the younger generation enjoys the relative modern comfort of the resort.
There are big plans for Sir Bani Yas (two other eco-friendly lodges and more activities) so the time to visit may be now.

New Year's Eve in Abu Dhabi

Just so you know January 1st is not New Year's for everyone.... I know you're all familiar with Rosh Hoshana and Chinese New Year, but I'm referring more to Islamic New Year which happens to fall sometime round about 20 days after Eid al Adha, so basically anytime. This year it happened to be December 18. But like people everywhere the Emiratis are very keen to join a party and the do so in style. For there non-holiday last year they hosted Shakira at the Emirates Palace with a huge fireworks display to boot (they do love their fireworks) and this year Rihanna came to do the countdown (she actually didn't countdown which was a bit of a disappointment...but she did say Happy New Year!). The government even gave New Year's day as a holiday. (Not much of a big deal since it fell on a Friday -- the equivalent of our Sunday--but it's the thought that counts).
In any event the parties continued long into the morning -- at least in our neighborhood. Some things don't change no matter where we are.