Add to Technorati Favorites expat Abu Dhabi Dispatches: December 2008

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Honeymoon is Over

This site is intended to give an accurate recount of my experiences here, the good and the bad, for people considering a move to the U. A. E. and specifically Abu Dhabi.  In this post, I am going to attempt to describe what I have been going through in the last few weeks and it is not all good.

When I first got here, everything was exciting and liberating. I was like a child seeing things for the first time.  New job, new country, new opportunities. Just what I wanted after a long stint at my last employer and a failed marriage. A chance to start anew. Did I mention I get bored easily?!? It seemed a dream come true.

Lately though, I have been going through a real trying time dealing with stress and depression. My energy and appetite are gone, I dread going to work and I have turned into kind of a hermit on my days off where I would only leave the apartment when I have to for essentials. This has become a real concern for me as this is not the kind of guy I am. Don't get me wrong, I have met some great people here and I still do some of the social things but my heart hasn't been into it. I have just been going throught the motions.

My new job seems to be the most problematic. I am disappointed at the lack of organization, the antiquated software tools that I have to do my job with, the long and crazy shift hours (I am lucky to find time to eat a quick sandwich at my desk during a 12 hour shift), some back-biting coworkers and a seemingly unsympathetic management. This is from a company who's goal is to be the best in the world at what they do. 

I am lazy and Libertine by nature but I am experienced and good at what I do and will step up to the plate when needed. It's just that the workload on even a quiet shift is overwhelming. As a new guy, help from co-workers is non-existent as they are maxed-out too which makes for a less than ideal teamwork situation as you can imagine. 

This isn't intended to bash my new employer (I know, too late!) they took a chance with me as much as I did with them, but I think it figures into my current state of mind. In fact, new software is on the way that will make my job easier and this will neutralize my current objections. They are trying and it's not entirely their fault if I am feeling screwed up lately. Let's just say it is not what I expected at this point and leave it at that.

Because I was concerned about not being my usual jovial self , I Googled "adjusting to life abroad" and of course found a wealth of information about adjusting to life abroad. It seems that what I am going through is common after a awhile "in country". The first few months are full of wonder and new experiences which evoke a vacation-like attitude. Then the reality sets in and one realizes that one must live here for awhile with job responsibilities just like the place they left but with the differences of the new culture and country. This is where the stress and depression come to play. You start to question why you gave up the access to family, friends and the support system you left. I left a good job with almost 10 years seniority, I have been rethinking that almost everyday.  You wonder if you made a big mistake and feel as if you are on the end of a very long branch.

The good news is that the prognosis is very good for a full recovery from my malaise. The information I got said that the early experiences are the peaks which rapidly descend into valleys after about 6 months and then a sort of peace is made with the situation between 6-12 months. That is a long time for me but I will stick it out. I just wanted to warn people that are considering the "big move" that there are some psychological potholes on the road and take it from me I am hitting a few now. Don't be surprised if you hit some too. 

That being said, Abu Dhabi is a great place to hang your hat! I am still glad I made the move.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Hedgehog Says "Hi"

Greetings from Ron Jeremy to my peeps back home!

I received this a while ago from an ex-coworker who is now living in Las Vegas. She has connections and this is authentic.

Ron Jeremy is one of my personal heroes and quite possibly has the best career a man could hope for. He also has a unique talent that, if I possessed, I would never leave the house. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mr. Jeremy, do a Google search, but not at work or in the presence of minors or spouses. You have been warned!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dogs and Vending Machines

Two things I have not seen in Abu Dhabi:

One could make a killing with a vending machine concession here. Red Bull, Pepsi, Coca Cola--- take it to the bank. Twinkies as well. Maybe there is no trust in the machines, I don't know.

After 4 months here, I have yet to see a dog, maybe it is because Muslims consider a dog's slobber unclean. No strays or even people walking dogs. It's strange.

I do see some feral cats around the city and they look calm, healthy and well fed. They seem to be accepted, but not dogs. 

As a cat guy, I am happy for the cats, but I am also concerned about the dogs.

London R&R

Last week I took a trip to London for a few days to meet up with an ex-coworker ("The Senator") from my last company. I figured that I deserved a change of scenery and looked forward to seeing a familiar face and spending some time in a country with English as the native language and good beer flows like soda-pop.

I had been to London on several occasions before but this was many years ago during my Naval Reserve days where we would spend 2-3 weeks at a time on active duty there once or twice a year and I really enjoyed it. I always felt comfortable in London and I was curious if it had changed in the intervening years. 

After a couple of weeks of planning, it was a go. In fact, it was remarkable that the arrival and departure times at LHR of our respective flights were within two hours of each other despite me coming from Abu Dhabi and the Senator coming from Los Angeles. 

I secured a Business Class seat out of Abu Dhabi and enjoyed a lay-flat seat, gourmet meals and got to see the new Batman movie---two thumbs up! The approach path into Heathrow provided a great view of the Thames River, the Tower Bridge, and the London Eye Ferris Wheel.

Touchdown, arrival at Terminal 3, and a looooong walk to Immigrations. Luckily I had a Fast Track pass thru Immigrations due to being a Business Class passenger and in no time the Senator and I were having a couple of cold frosties in a Terminal 3 bar.  

We took the new Heathrow Express train into Paddington Station. Fast and inexpensive, it is the way to go. Fifteen minutes total time. Curiously, there was a First Class section on the train and I could not see the attraction of that for a 15 minute ride. The Senator is a junkie for upgraded transport and I am surprised he did not insist on this option!

The hotel was a short walk and soon I was unpacking in what could be described as the smallest hotel room I have ever stayed in (see photo). There was literally 2 feet of free space between the edges of the bed and the walls or other obsructions in all directions. That is why the luggage is on the bed in the photos as floor space was so precious it was required for my feet in moving around. I slept with my suitcase on the bed.  It was clean and comfortable though and the large flatscreen TV was good. 

First order of business for the night was to procure some cold weather wear for yours truly. It was 40 F in London and I had nothing warm to wear as finding cold weather gear in Abu Dhabi is like shopping for bikinis in Iceland. Tubed our way to Oxford Street and took care of that with a newly acquired leather jacket and gloves.

Second goal was a steak dinner at the Hard Rock. The one in London is the original. It is truly a museum of the 60's and 70's iconic band items. This was the first steak dinner I have had since I left the U.S. and it hit the spot.  We had a few pints and were there after the big crowds left and got a table visit from the manager. She was very cute and friendly, but she did not buy my claim to be an oil tycoon and declined my invitation to accompany me back to Abu Dhabi on my "private jet". I guess she had heard it all before, bummer. I just have to get more creative!

Warm now and stomachs full, we turned our attention to finding some possible female companionship and the helpful bouncers at the Hard Rock suggested that Leicester Square would fit the bill, so off we went. Leicester Square was a bit of a disappointment as is was getting late, starting to drizzle and it seemed to be kind of a touristy area like Bourbon Street with touts bugging you to come inside their establishments. Back to the hotel to call it a night. 

Next day it was tubing it to Harrod's, the famous London department store. This place is fantastic! Everything one could want in the way of quality goods can be found in this multilevel palace of consumerism. The Senator bought an item to take home and the unexpectedly cheerful and helpful attitude of the cashier took me aback. How refreshing, she seemed to be enjoying her job! Likewise with the guy manning the cigar department. He was knowledgable and I ended up buying more Cohiba Cuban cigars than I had planned. If there ever is a nuclear holocaust, I want to hole up in Harrods, it's got everything you need!

That night, back to Leicester Square for some authentic fish and chips at Mermaid's which was recommended by other coworkers. The mushy peas cannot be missed! Then back to the hotel to chat-up the new love-of-my-life, Lena. Lena is the attendent at the small bar in the hotel we were staying at. She is from Lithuania and has that rare combination of blonde hair, ice-blue eyes and eastern European accent that turns my knees to jelly. I had talked to her the night before and she seemed to be receptive to my jokes and attention, but when I asked her to go out for a few pints after her shift, she politely refused. Swing and a miss! I think she was just shy, yeah that must be it!

Next day, off to the airport. The Senator's flight left 2 hours before mine so we parted ways at the Heathrow Express terminal and I made my way to Terminal 3. I had a pint of vodka in my carry-on so I bought a large coffee and "enhanced" it with the booze while waiting outside. I checked in and got Biz Class again so feeling good about that I went to a sushi bar and got some shrimp and fish from a cute French waitress. She seemed amused by my high school French. Was she laughing at me or with me? I really don't care. I had fun.

As I was going to my gate, security gave me the third degree. Seems I had forgotten about the now mostly depleted vodka bottle. They took everything out of my luggage and seemed pissed-off that I slightly complicated their day. I travel alot and it was a stupid mistake on my part, but they overreacted in my opinion.

The flight home was uneventful. I slept most of the way and woke up about an hour before arrival in Abu Dhabi. The flight attendant wagged her finger at me and reminded me I slept through the meal service. Yeah, yeah, whatever.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Winter....What Winter???

I learned something shocking about my new, ultra-modern, stylish apartment today. IT HAS NO HEAT!

That's right, no provisions for heating the living area. "But Ace, why would you want a heater in one of the hottest places on Earth?", you may ask. Well, being anchored to the Earth, Winter also visits this part of the world. It is here now!

When I first moved here in August the daily high was around 115 F. Air conditioning is rightly considered a life support system and you could literally die in the heat and humidity as some do. Fortunately, this is well taken care of as in most indoor venues in the U.A.E are a nice and frosty 66-70 F. including my apartment which you could hang meat in if you wanted to get it that cold. It has that much excess capacity. 

As much as the AC is over-engineered, no one thought how to handle the chilly nights in the other half of the year or even thought it was necessary. Now that mid-December is upon me and there has been some blustery, rainy weather I grew tired of waking up to an apartment that has been consistently in the low 60's. I started longing for warm feet and goosebumpless shower exits.

There are 2 thermostats in my apartment, one in the living room and one in the bedroom. Each has a switch on it that has a snowflake on one side and a little flame design on the other. Being a gadget guy, I assumed moving the switch from snowflake to flame would instruct the climate control system to change roles from AC to heater as it has done all my life. I longed for that temporary burning dust smell that told me that my extremeties would soon be toasty. To my surprise, the fans kept blowing COLD air when I moved the switches from the snowflake to the flame position and the temperature dropped no matter how high I set the thermostats. After another hasty exit from the shower to grab my bathrobe, I had to admit I was stumped,

When I got to work I complained about the lack of heat to my coworkers and instead of recommendations on how to get the thing fixed, all I heard was that nobody else had heat either. I was floored! Apparently there is not a centrally heated house in this entire country! The best suggestions were to buy several space heaters and blankets to get through the mild Winters here. Granted they ARE mild and short-lived but I need supplemental heat when my living space is hovering in the high 50's!

I never thought I would live in an unheated place unless it was an empty refrigerator box under an interstate bridge, then I would expect to be cold, but not here in a nice place in one of the richest countries in the world! Part of the adventure, I guess! Who woulda thunk?