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Friday, December 25, 2009

Another Bad Day at the Office

It happened Tuesday in Kingston, Jamaica. Approach in heavy thunderstorms resulting in a runway overrun.

American Airlines B737  from Reagan International, USA.

AA 331 crash

Very fortunately, no fatalities.

Look how close the aircraft ended up to the sea!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Time Again! Wooo Hooo!

As you know, I am not one that has to look far to find something to complain about, it's part of my nature to want my world to be perfect and I tend to get my nose out of joint when things don't go my way. This Christmas is one of those times.    

As might be expected, Christian holidays in an Islamic country are low-key at best. The twinkly lights, Christmas carols and other trappings of the holidays are usually found in the malls, tourist hotels and other public venues. Places I usually avoid unless absolutely necessary. The balmy weather is very un-Christmaslike, too with highs in the 80F range.

I have not been a huge Christmas fan since I was about 10 years old, but there is still something about the holidays that stir the old excitement. I always dreaded the shopping aspect of it and dealing with the crazed consumers at the stores, but I always took pride in decorating my house with the best tree I could find and competing with the neighbors for the most garish front yard display of lights. I risked life and limb crawling around on the roof of my house installing lights only to repeat the same to remove them a couple of weeks later. Some of the best times I shared with my ex-wife were spent drinking hot rum toddies in front of a roaring fireplace in our seasonally decorated living room.

I also hosted the "unofficial" office Christmas party in my home. Most all my coworkers looked forward to it and showed up. The booze flowed freely and there were more than enough stories created there to provide water cooler gossip for weeks afterward. I miss those times.

Fast forward to now. Most of my coworkers are out of the country visiting their own family and friends, there are no parties here that I know of . My right arm is swollen and painful with tendonitis and I am feverish and achey. This is more than enough to put me in a bad mood but because it is holiday time, it seems worse for my mental state.

I wish all my family, friends and readers happy holidays. For those fortunate enough to be with loved ones at this time, make the most of your time together, life is short!

I will be OK, its just a tough time to be so far from home and family. I promise I won't end up like this jolly old elf!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Latest from Uncle Sam

In keeping with the spirit of this blog, I am responsible for providing, from time-to-time, some useful information of concern to folks interested in visiting and/or working in the United Arab Emirates.

Many months ago, I did my duty and registered my presence here with the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi. I did this with reluctance as I am not generally fond of getting on "lists" and leaving a trail of bread crumbs behind me, but in this case I thought it would be prudent so if I contracted a debilitating illness or had an accident, my family would contacted and I would not end up with a "John Doe" toe-tag somewhere.

The US Embassy in Abu Dhabi is a strange looking angular building surrounded by embassies of other countries on the same quiet street. I expected to see heavily armed US Marines wearing starched uniforms at attention surrounding the place but what I saw were Filipino contract security guards. They were friendly but very professional and the security in the background seemed very tight. Metal detectors, bulletproof glass and cameras were everywhere. All the doors were very heavy with that special glass installed and had prison cell type latches that made a lot of noise. It is literally a fortress and for good reason considering the events in the last few decades.

Make no mistake, I am sure every eventuality has been considered. I have no doubt there were USMC personnel somewhere on-site, its just they are not visible to the casual visitor anymore. No photos were allowed...anywhere! I had to leave my car keys and change at the front entrance.

Another reason I registered is that although the UAE is very stable and safe, it is common knowledge that their are some "tensions" in areas outside the borders here that historically have caused some volatile events on occasion. In that unlikely event I would expect to receive a call on my mobile phone advising me that a fleet of US Navy ships were "haze gray and underway" to get my scrawny ass out of harm's way. I was in the USN years ago and I know a priority is to protect American citizens living in foreign lands in case of a conflict. One of the things that the US does well is take care of it's own and allies.

I have never felt uncomfortable being an American here and do not obsess of such things but it is good to have that kind of insurance policy. Here is a youtube link to a dynamic situation the famous New York chef Anthony Bourdain experienced in Beirut when he was filming an episode of his show "No Reservations" for the Travel Channel. It depicts how things can get ugly real quick!   No Reservations Evacuation

I am om the Embassy's mailing list and have included the link to an updated email I received today from them. After living here for awhile, I would have to say that except for a few embellishments IMHO (I will let you guess which ones), the rest of the information is spot-on and a worthwhile read!    UAE Update

Friday, December 18, 2009

Haircut Adventures....Again!

Any resident in a new country and culture has challenges in discovering how simple day-to-day things are done. This includes grocery stores, dentists, doctors, traffic laws and personal grooming. The personal grooming, mainly haircuts, for us guys is probably the most difficult. There are hundreds of “Men’s Saloons”  in the city of Abu Dhabi but I live in the suburbs and the choices are slim.

I recently posted about going to a local barber and was asked if I wanted a scalp massage in addition to the trim. As one that will try anything once, I agreed and was treated to what I would call a handful of pink axle grease worked into my hair. At least it washed out!

A few weeks ago, I decided to try a barber in a nearby 5 star hotel. The barber did a good job and was friendly. At the end of the haircut, he noted that I had some stray hairs in my ears and suggested he “wax” them out. Again, being the adventurer that I am, I consented.

I felt him put some warm substance inside both of my ears and after the heat subsided, I felt a sharp pain in my right ear followed by the same in my left as he ripped the wax, and wayward hairs, out. The sting lasted for 20 minutes but was not all that unpleasant.

I now admire people who get more “sensitive” and much larger areas waxed. 

In the US, I went to a traditional barber and knew what to expect when I settled into his gold metalflake chair, a trim and bitching about the government with him and the other guys that were waiting. There were old hunting/ fishing /car/motorcycle/gun magazines to read while you waited as well as conversation with the crusty regulars. A real guy's place. My barber's name is Cliff in St. George, Utah USA and his shop is on Bluff Blvd. Go see him if you are in town. Haircuts and opinions.....$10.00.

Cliff never offered me a Brazilian ear waxing although I obviously needed it. That's where I thank my newly found barber in Abu Dhabi.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

In Transit---Part Deaux

When I left you last time, I was awaiting a phone call from the technicians that were to arrive at my humble abode and finish the job of internet connection the previous guys left incomplete. What follows is a tragic comedy of incompetence, bad timing and piss-poor customer service.

The good news is I did get the all important call, the bad news is that I was in the shower when it was made. After I dried off, I noticed that the little blue lights on the side of my Nokia were blinking, indicating activity. It was a missed call from a number I didn't recognize. I punched the recall button and my phone died due to battery depletion. I plugged the phone into the charger for a quick shot of juice.

After about 15 minutes, I tried the number again and it was indeed the dispatcher of the Local Internet Monopoly. He told me to call another number for the technicians on-site. I tried that number and I got a recording informing me the recipient's phone was turned off....just great!!! I waited another 10 minutes and tried the number again. This time it was answered and I told the guy who I was, my Complaint # and a brief description of the problem. I heard wind noise in the background like a car travelling at highway speed and considered that bad news. This was confirmed when the tech told me he had already left my apartment complex and maybe he would be back in the next three days. I called the dispatcher back and was told the same.

I waited the next day, and the next and then on the third day I called the dispatcher's number again and asked if/when someone would be out here to fix my problem. Over what sounded like a loud party in the background, he told me that it was a holiday and the techs would be off for the next two days which I realized would bring us into the two day weekend for a total of four day at least before another attempt would be made. He suggested I call the main customer service center and hung up.

At the customer service center, a pleasant sounding woman answered the phone. I told her my predicament and after I gave her the original Complaint # there was a pause and then she dropped the bomb! According to her, the original Complaint # had been cancelled back on the first day!!! When I asked why, she said the reason was that I could not be "contacted". I told her the tech tried to call me exactly ONCE and that I called back the same day and talked with both the dispatcher and the tech guy and made follow-up calls on the following days. The tech had cancelled the complaint after he could not get me on the phone with his single attempt. I was in the shower, remember?

To make a long story short (I know, too late!), I had to get a brand new Complaint # issued and start on the bottom of the stack again. Three days later the problem was fixed by two guys, one worked hard setting up my WiFi and his sidekick that used my bathroom without the courtesy of asking and then sat and watched a History Channel show that was on the TV. I didn't care as long as the job was done.

So I am all sorted out now. It "only" took the Local Internet Monopoly 3 1/2 weeks to shift my internet service to a different apartment in the same complex. I sure chose a hell of a time to take a shower on that first day!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

In Transit

Again, I apologize with the lack of posts here recently, but I am in the midst of moving to a new apartment. The new place is in a recently completed phase of the same complex I lived in before. I was offered a brand new, larger apartment and I accepted having long forgot the trials and tribulations of relocating in this part of the world.

The physical moving of all my worldly items went smoothly enough. The movers showed up on time and were efficient, careful and polite. In a few hours all my goods were settled into my new place just 300 meters from the old. All that was left for me to do was unpack the boxes and sort things out.

The REAL struggles I knew that were ahead of me would be the shifting of the electricity, TV cable and internet accounts to my new address. I was not wrong! I now have electricity and cable, but after 2 weeks I still do not have the internet due to a screw up by the government owned monopoly that administers online services.

I wanted my web services shifted on the 14th and had to spend 3 hours of my life that I will never get back to go downtown and let the internet monopoly know this requirement. I could not do it online or by phone. As an aside, transferring the cable TV took TWO trips to their downtown offices. I also owe the electricity people a second visit.

So a few days ago I get a knock on the door and there were two guys standing there with electronics boxes under there arms. I was ecstatic that I was finally getting back in contact with the outside world as I had already gone through my DVD movie collection twice and terminal boredom was settling in.

Those two guys were there a total of 10 minutes and after confirming I had a proper picture on the TV and the remote control worked, they were gone. I noticed that my internet modem had more lights lit on it than before and assumed the installers got that going too. I got the PC fired-up and ......nothing. I tried all sorts of things to get that little green "internet" LED to light on the modem, but to no avail.

I gave it a day thinking that the authorization may take some time, but the modem was still dead. I finally broke down and called the customer help phone center. The unusually helpful guy had me run some diagnostics, but in the end we were unsuccessful and he agreed that a technician visit was inevitable. Something was badly wrong. I was sure the installers had forgotten something in their whirlwind visit.

What the phone center guy said next was a great example of the state of customer service in the UAE. I asked when I can expect to get the problem resolved as I had been webless for 2 weeks, he said "someone will call you", I asked "when?", he said "soon". Kind of what I expected, but here is the good part, he followed that up with "if it is not our fault, you will be charged 100 Dirhams ($37USD)" for the service call. I then asked him if the problem turns out to be on his company's end, will I receive the same 100 Dirhams from them for MY inconvenience caused by their slacker installers? There was a long silence and finally he said "That is not our policy."

So there you have it! I thought my logic was perfect....tit for tat, but that is not the way government utility monopolies operate here or anywhere for that matter, you gotta go along to get along. That was two days ago and I have yet to get the phone call that someone will be coming over to take care of the problem.

By the way, in case you are wondering how I am posting without internet service, I am pirating some anonymous stray WIFI signal from some other resident in my apartment complex. Many thanks to those who choose to have there networks unsecured, they are providing an invaluable service to folks like me!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Real Americana in Abu Dhabi

Today I stepped outside for a work break and immediately this beauty caught my eye. It is a 1955 Oldsmobile 98 four door sedan. It was in excellent shape. It had been recently painted as I caught a whiff of dying enamel as a did a brief walk-around. I noticed at the center of the vintage wide-whitewall tires were chrome hubcaps that were labelled "Chrysler" but they fit well and you couldn't tell 3 feet away anyway. I guess the real one were hard to get.

Surrounded by Kias, Toyotas, Hondas and Land Rovers, it looks as out of place in this Middle Eastern country as I do. It seemed as if as I was in the presence of a fellow countryman because these cars are so uniquely American.

These dinosaurs represent a time when Detroit Iron set the automotive world standard. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler were then industrial giants that dominated the American economy and were respected and feared. GM is now partly owned by Uncle Sam, Chrysler is owned by Fiat, but Ford is surprisingly doing relatively well on its own. Hell, they don't even make Oldsmobiles anymore, the brand was retired a few years ago. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

American cars of that era were huge, powerful, fast, reliable, chrome encrusted tanks. They were the ultimate status symbol around the world. Kings and Sheiks drove them. Everyone wanted one!

No one back then in the U.S. would think about buying something foreign. Most imported cars were considered to be uncomfortable, ugly, underpowered machines that only ran properly during the full moon. Repairs and parts were impossible to obtain for them. That was a fact!

Besides VW Beetles, the only other imports that were readily available in America at that time seemed to be English sports cars that were usually owned by the weird old guy down the street. He never socialized with the neighbors because he was always working on the car to keep it running.

American cars seemed to run forever. They were crude and could be repaired with bailing wire and chewing gum. If needed, repairs and parts could be had at the corner gas station. They embodied the independent American culture and soul back then.

The reality now is that the foreign manufacturers have more than caught up in the auto biz. Compared to the modern stuff, these old American cars were unsafe, didn't handle well at all and didn't last more than 50,000 miles. Usually folks bought a new car annually because the body styles changed radically every year to "keep-up with the Joneses". The rollout of the new models in October every year was a big event in most communities. Planned obsolescence is also a Detroit invention.

I know that this post is not much about Abu Dhabi, but the reason I wrote it was that the 1955 Oldsmobile 98 pictured in the photo above was same year, make and model as the first car I remember my father owning. He had that Olds for many years and that car may have be responsible for my being a lifelong enthusiast of all things automotive. My eyes got misty when I saw that big old hunk of steel in the parking lot today!

Monday, November 2, 2009


OK, this will be the last time I mention automobile racing this year. I promise. I am an incurable Petrolhead (Gearhead in the U.S.) so I can't help it.

What I am about to say is probably going to alienate me from many friends, readers and coworkers. The Abu Dhabi Formula 1 race I saw on TV was BORING! I was not excited by a race car going by every two seconds on an otherwise empty track. It looked like the qualifying rounds the day before. There was only one instance of overtaking that I know of. These guys weren't racing, they were just driving fast. The race was too short at 55 laps and an hour and a half of action is inadequate for the culmination of four days of festivities. I was hoping for Round 2. It was anti climatic.

The most exciting racing I saw at Yas was the Porsche Supercup. Those guys were intense!!

To be fair, this is the first Formula 1 race I have seen from start to finish as in the U.S. there is not much media coverage and maybe this race was a bad example. I always considered F1 cars to be the pinnacle of technological advancement but I think the track designs that discourage overtaking and head-to-head racing do a disservice to the sport and fans. I understand the F1 hot-shots are considering rules to make the series more NASCAR-like, re: entertaining.

I grew up in the South of the U.S. where NASCAR rules. Many consider NASCAR crude and the drivers lacking in skills, but from a fan's point of view, it is a much more entertaining event in my opinion. You can see the whole track from your seat. The cars are actually within feet of each other for most of the event, door handle to door handle and a lot of "trading paint" is going on. With the cars in close proximity, tactical moves are key and there are many lead changes. Look at the photos above and judge which one you would rather watch as a spectator.

There are usually enough yellow flags during the long races to keep the pack together. The races are much more than 55 laps and it is an all day event. NASCAR races are not all pedal to the metal and turn left, there are a variety of tracks and even some road courses where they get to turn right a few times.

Also, the rumble of 43 big bore American V8's passing by the grandstands at full throttle can't be beat.

Anyway, both types of racing have their advantages. From my initial exposure to F1, I remain a NASCAR fan for now, but I have an open mind.

I found the "celebrity aspect " of the F1 race here somewhat off-putting too. It diluted the intent of the event. Somewhat like the hoopla surrounding NFL Superbowl in the U.S.

Everything seemed to run smoothly and I have heard mostly good reports. The Yas Marina complex was completed just in time for the race and it could have been much worse if not for the massive efforts of the developers, promoters and sponsors. Abu Dhabi finally got some worldwide attention. Good job!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Where is Robin Leach when you need him?

Pictured is a small flotilla of private yachts owned by well-heeled race fans moored alongside the Yas Island Formula 1 Circuit Complex in Abu Dhabi. To me it looks like the cruise ship terminal in Miami. I can't even imagine having that kind of money or what scruples one has to discard to accumulate such wealth. OK, I may be a bit jealous. Even the huge motorhomes full of drunk rednecks that occupy NASCAR racetrack infields are dwarfed by these vessels.

In the background of the photo, the tall structure you see is the pedestrian walkway from the car park for us common folks........just kidding!

I know a lot of people that are going to the biggest event of the year here and I feel like I will be missing an opportunity as I have other plans and am not attending the race. On the other hand, I just got back a few days ago from London where I saw an American NFL football game at Wembley stadium and I have my temporary quota filled of crowded public venues with all the inconveniences and discomforts. My team lost badly. I have read reports that many logistical details at the Yas Island Circuit have yet to be ironed out.

In addition, the Formula 1 tickets are roughly $400 for two days. I would have been more open to the idea if there were one day tickets for $200 available. Two days are too much. I know there are concerts after the races by world-class performers, but Aerosmith is the only one I care to see.

So, it looks like I will try to catch the race on the telly. The consolation will be that I will have a bathroom available with no queues and cold beer in the refrigerator a mere few steps away, just like the guys on those yachts!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Rave

Good news!!!
Your's truly has been invited to write a regular feature column for a bold new magazine in Abu Dhabi. It's called Abu Dhabi Tempo and the creators are dedicated to providing fun, fresh news about this unique city to both residents and visitors. The magazine is free and available at business and resort venues throughout the city. If you don't see one, ask.

Check out the website:

Make sure you download the .pdf version of the charter issue from the site!

In the U.A.E, Dubai has historically gotten most of the attention and it is good to see the people at Abu Dhabi Tempo magazine giving the capitol city of Abu Dhabi it's deserved due. I have met with the creators and they are sincere and driven to deliver a quality product.

My first scribblings will be published in next month's issue (A Yank in Sand Land). My intention is to entertain my loyal readers and I wish to be successful at that. Nothing makes me happier! I had to alter my style slightly for the wider audience, but stay tuned to my blog for the rawer stuff. That's what blogs are good for, unlimited space and freedom.

A Rant

I don't want to be known as a chronic complainer, but there is one thing I want to get off my chest. The appliances available here designed to wash and dry clothes suck! I bought one of those "All-In-One" contraptions that is a combined washer and dryer. This type of unit seems to be the standard in this part of the world and while it seems to wash OK, the drying function is sorely lacking.

Back in the U.S., the norm is to have a separate washer and dryer. Each one is specially designed to do it's specific job and they do it very well. One only has to transfer the wet washed clothes from the washer to the dryer. When the dryer is done you get nice, dry, unshrunk, wrinkle-free clothes that are ready to be folded and put away. Easy! As a single guy, I like easy when it comes to domestic chores.

The appliance I have now is supposed to perform both functions. Throw the dirty clothes in the front hatch, add detergent, set the knobs and turn it on. It has a lot of settings on it and it is a quite sophisticated machine. The device is of Italian origin, but so far it has been very reliable. It then starts it's programmed cycle of washing, spinning and drying. Sounds simple, huh?

During the spin cycle, it does remind me of a Boeing 747 revving up for takeoff, but I think that is kind of cool except when I am on the phone.

The problem is exposed when the cycle is at the end and the flashing light tells me that the hatch is unlocked and I can remove my rags. What comes out is an example of the worst case of fabric abuse one can imagine. After an hour on "Dry" the clothes are anything but. Not only are they wrinkled beyond description, they are still damp and steaming! I then have to hang them up all over the apartment for drying to complete and I have yet to make friends with an iron. I have tried setting the dryer function for 90 minutes and the clothes do come out dryer but unfortunately are about 2/3rds the size they were the last time I saw them. I think the microwave oven could do a better job. I am tempted!

The U.S. does do some things right. I would give a pinky finger for a nice, big Whirlpool, Maytag or Kenmore dedicated dryer. As far I know these are not available here. Unfortunately, even if I could find one I have no place to put it in the apartment. My current machine occupies a space under the kitchen counter.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Yas Island Formula One Update

I didn't intend to spoil it for you all that are planning on attending the inaugural Etihad Abu Dhabi Formula One race at the brand spanking new track, but here are some rather blurry photos of the complex at night. Featured is the translucent shroud that partially covers the trackside hotel that magically changes colors ( I can't even imagine how much the tariff is on those rooms per night!). It is the only hotel in the world that has part of the racetrack running through it.

The lights are amazing! I have been watching the testing of them for weeks. Some nights the shroud has bands of contrasting colors pulsating from front to back, like some sort of exotic deep sea animal. I have seen every color of the rainbow represented. It is a very organic shape. Las Vegas can learn some lessons here!

I envy those that will be attending. I was planning to go to the race days and concerts, but I have some good friends from back home due to visit during that time and unfortunately they are not interested and I was not going to abandon them after all the effort they are going through. I have to be a good host. I would rather spend time with them, although next year is a must for me at the races.

Since I have followed the progress of this complex for over a year and have posted some photos in this blog every few months, I am happy to say that it looks like it will be ready for business on-time. I had my doubts earlier this year as the heavy construction cranes just left the site a few months ago and it seemed a Herculean effort would be required to finish in time for the race. From what I see, the management and crew pulled it off with moments to spare. Kudos to them! I am sure that failure was not an option.

So in the last few days of October and the first of November I will be finding excuses to be outside to hear the erotic shriek of high-strung V8's turning 18,000 RPMs and maybe later, if I am lucky, some Aerosmith!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Liquor License Redux

My liquor license expires this month so being the beer aficionado that I am, the task of renewing it jumped to the top of my "to-do" list to insure an unlimited future supply of suds.

Unfortunately I chose the wrong day to do it.

I got off work at 7AM and came home to take a nap. I can sleep for an hour and am good to go for hours after that. A trip to the grocery store, a car wash and the Liquor License renewal was planned for the day.

The grocery store trip went well but I was fourth in line for the ADNOC car wash so that took some time.

Then off to the police station where the necessary paperwork, passport photos, letters of permission, visa copies and Dirhams would be exchanged for a shiny new Liquor License that is good for another year.

When I arrived at the police station, I was issued a visitor's ID and proceeded to the area where the transaction would take place. There was a long counter with 5 stations. One station was labelled for the Liquor Licenses and the other four had signs that said "Black List". I don't know what that meant but I am sure it was bad and I was glad I wasn't there for that.

The Black List stations were empty but the Liquor License area had about eight people waiting in chairs. I pulled a queue number from the machine and took a seat. After about 12 minutes the clerk called the eight people up to the counter and a lot of arm waving and loud vocal protests immediately began on the part of the applicants. This went on for some time and, being in a police station, I was surprised that no officer showed up out of curiosity to assess the situation although many walked by. The clerks manning the Black List stations were actually smiling and laughing at the scene going on.

After five minutes of this fiasco, the woman in charge of the Liquor Licenses (sporting a blue camouflage uniform, teeth braces and a black beret) walked out from behind the counter and led the irritated customers to an office somewhere out of my view. I continued to sit there and watched as the customers left the office and walked out of the police station one-by-one with dejected looks on their faces.

I sat there some more and curiosity got the best of me so I approached the counter. I asked one of the Black List ladies what was going on. She explained to me that they had run out of blank Liquor Licenses and that it would be one month before the stock will be replenished. She told me to come back then.

No wonder my fellow expats were agitated, they were there to follow the rules and were probably down to their last bottle of Chardonnay. Now it will be at least a month before they can legally purchase alcohol in the Emirates. Not to mention all the other expats who hope to get/renew a Liquor License in the next few weeks. As I was told, it can't be done.

I took it in stride as I am fortunate enough to have enough supplies to last me until then, but if I was down to my last two beers, I might not be so patient and understanding.

I appreciate the fact that the U.A.E. government allows us expats our vices. I think that is very generous. They don't have to do it, but I am glad they do.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pattaya Thailand

First of all, I have to apologize for not posting in a while. I enjoy writing here and I was shocked at myself when I discovered I haven't written anything here in almost a month.

I have two excuses:

1)I am a lazy bastard that mostly disdains the trivial crap that must be done in everyday life, but has moments of inspiration and motivation to contribute to this blog. Today is such a day.

2) I just got back from spending 9 days in Pattaya, Thailand.

I went to Pattaya with a couple of friends that have been there before. This was my first visit to Siam so I relied on them to show me the ropes. They told me that Pattaya is a very unique place and to be prepared to be open to the experience. I thought "yeah, yeah, I have heard this before".

Well, they were right! This place was unlike anyplace I have ever seen. Pattaya is a resort town situated on the Gulf of Thailand 2 hours by car from Bangkok. The beach there is idyllic with soft white sands, blue waters and beautiful sunsets. It's only when you stray away from the Beach Road that you see the real Pattaya. The streets are literally lined with beer bars, go-go bars, discos and nightclubs. Most of these establishments have ladies sitting outside urging the passers-by to come in and spend some time (and money) with them.

Anyway, without being too specific, I really enjoyed my time in Pattaya. It is the equivalent of a Disneyland for guys. Beer, bands, billiards and stunning women are all in ample supply. The combination of the fantastic scenery, the great food, the relaxed lifestyle and the hospitality of the Thais I met makes Pattaya I place I will return to. It makes Las Vegas, Bourbon Street and Miami Beach look lame in comparison.

If Mom is reading this, I saw a lot of temples and museums during my stay.

A final thought: I know Pattaya is not a true representation of Thailand and I want to return to see more of the country. Like so many others, I am impressed with the country and people. Variety is the spice of life and my visit there provided me with a nice respite from my life in the UAE. The temporary change did me good. Watching the late night thunderstorms from my hotel balcony was a plus!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lessons Learned

The following is my response to an email I received from an American woman whose husband had recently accepted a job in Abu Dhabi. She was naturally anxious about the move and wrote me asking some questions about my experiences here. She said would have to leave her own job, rent their house for less than the mortgage, leave friends and family behind and was apprehensive about her role of being a Western woman in an Arabic society.

After I wrote it, I thought it would be a good idea to post it on this blog for all to see. Although I touched on some of her particular issues, the advice is generic enough for anyone who is contemplating a move to this part of the world. My advice is from my own experiences of being in Abu Dhabi for a little over a year now. So here goes:

Dear "Concerned in Colorado",

I understand what you are going through. My last few months as a US resident were also filled with anxiety, fear of the unknown and second guessing tempered with the excitement of starting a new life in a new country. There was so much to do to prepare for the move, the more I did, the more I saw that needed to be done. I was zombie-like in the last few weeks before my departure.

When getting settled here, I realized that I underestimated the effort needed to keep the ball rolling back home regarding bills, taxes, cars, property and friends/family. Problems with any of these are magnified when one is on the other side of the world.

I also have a house I am renting to someone back in the States and the rent doesn't cover the mortgage I have to pay. Plus if you get a bad renter you could find yourself with months of no rental income. That will take a big chunk out of your Abu Dhabi salary. That and other things that happen "back home" are much harder to deal with and settle from here. Get a trusted friend in the US and open a joint bank account with them to help you deal with issues that arise(an they will!) back home. Get a rental management company to deal with your house, that should help. The stuff that has occurred to my interests back in the US has been as stressful as some of the things here.

I have found out the idea is to keep thing simple here and back home as well. Try to reduce your US financial obligations before you come. Consolidate your debt so you will only have one or two bills to pay from the UAE. Sell all you can before you move. Put the rest in storage on an "auto pay" deal. The almost unattainable ideal situation is to move here with no assets, debts, propery or vehicles back in the US.

As far a simplicity goes in the Emirates, do not succumb to temptation and purchase a new car with a five year note here as soon as you arrive. Most people do this (I did and regret it). It is easy as the banks are very accommodating. You can get a brand new Mercedes or Land Rover here with as little as two months on the job and a signature. You will get the payments too, of course!

While the car may seem like a nice symbol of your new lifestyle here in the UAE, it will become a millstone around your neck if one of both of you decide the Sandbox is not for you after a year or two. If you quit your job, the employer has to cancel your resident visa, you have 30 days to vacate the country, your bank is notified and the account is frozen. You then have that 30 days to sell the car (probably at a huge loss even if you CAN sell it in 4 weeks) and repay the bank. If you can't sell the car or settle with the bank and try to leave you can be detained and arrested at the airport. It is illegal to leave the UAE if you owe money. There are no bankruptcy laws here. The only other option is to sneak out and leave your employer and bank holding the bag. That won't make for peace of mind or expected good recommendations from your ex-UAE employer for future jobs. There are a lot of dust covered cars in airport parking lots left by people who saw no other way out.

My best recommendation is to lease car(s)on a monthly basis. You stay financially agile that way, the most you would owe is one month's rent. These leases are quite cheap here and usually include insurance. In other words, don't bet your freedom on a long term financial commitment with such an unsure thing as moving to and working in a foreign country. The rules are different here. You can always buy your dream car later after you both feel happy and comfortable.

Another thing to keep in mind is accommodation. Rents are still insane in Abu Dhabi (they are easing in Dubai). Most landlords want an entire year's rent in advance. Some want only 6 months but it still is a lot of money.

In this case, you would have to get a personal loan from a bank or an advance from your employer to secure a pad. Unfortunately that puts you right back into the long term financial obligation category that is to be avoided.

If you paid for a year in advance and decided to leave before then you lose the balance or,if you had a loan for the rent from a bank or your employer, you will have to sneak out of the country or get detained at the airport again if you quit properly. see the pattern here?

I am lucky to have a very nice apartment given to me gratis by my employer. That is what you guys should strive for, employer supplied housing, it is much simpler that way, you owe nobody.

As far as most employers go, the usual probation period is six months, you must be with the same company for a year before you can change (and even then you need permission to do so) and if you don't stay with the same employer for at least 3 years there are financial penalties such as owing back the "Settlement Allowance" they fronted you to move here. However, if you stay 3+ years there seems to be some substantial financial benefits to doing so. Have Hubby check his contract carefully. Two years sounds too short You will need 3 years anyway to save any amount of money to make the move worthwhile.

As far as the emotional ups-and-downs go, there have been plenty for me. But I am a guy and probably cannot sufficiently convey those to a woman's satisfaction. There are the usual experiences of lonliness, isolation, homesickness and irritation at the different ways of life over here. For me, these were most intense between the 3rd and 9th months after getting here. The first few months are full of excitement and after about a year here you become more acclimated.

As a background, I was divorced about 5 months before I was offered my job over here. Newly free, I considered it a good idea and still do. Personally, I don't think my ex-wife would have flourished over here and I would not have considered it in my wedded state but that is me. Additionally, the position I was hired for what is considered the pinnacle of my profession and I would get experience that was not to be had in the US.

I too left a good job back in the States. I was at that job for 10 years and made many good friends that I still love and miss dearly. Not to see them everyday pains me. However, I felt I was getting stale there and I considered this an adventure that not many people get to do in their lifetimes and when I get down, I reconsider that thought and I get a better attitude.

Your big difference that you have that I don't have is being in a married situation. That can be a great asset or a problem in my opinion. I am sure you are tired of hearing "It's all what you make of it", but part of that is true. It seems that some don't, but you may "find your paradise" here. It's up to you and how adventurous and open you are. If your marriage is strong now, it will continue to be strong. If not,then problems will be exposed. This is not a place to "fix" a relationship.

The expat community is great over here and you will find a lot of help and kindred spirits. The cultural differences between males and females over here is not as great as you may have seen on the American TV network news. You do not have to wear a Burkka and you can wear bikinis at the wonderful beaches. You can get a job if you want. I work with many expat and local women. The travel opportunities are great and it has been life enrichening for me to live and work among many different nationalities. The US is somewhat isolated and it has been a breath of fresh air to get out for awhile.

I realize you guys have already made your decision to move and I remember how crazy I was the last few months before my departure, it was overwhelming! I was almost catatonic most days. It gets better.

Remember: keep it simple (especially finances), have a sense of humor, have a Plan B, try and stay adventurous and optimistic!

Good Luck and keep in touch!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Explanation

Bad timing, inappropriate subject and being reluctant to step on the toes of the citizens of my host country. That's why I removed my post. I should have known better than to blog about religious topics especially now. I do appreciate a healthy debate but after careful consideration, I thought that this was neither the time or the place to air my opinions on the subject. Nothing good could have possible become of it.

I realize I am a guest in the UAE and will respect the rules of living here, as I would expect those who chose to move to my home country to do the same. I have no problem with abiding by the sensibiliites of my host country just as I would think that Muslim immigrants in the USA should not assume the majority Christian population there would unconditionally accept Muslim rules and practices.

That was the point behind my taxi driver story. In the USA, I should be able to get a ride to my hotel from an airport, alcohol or not. Taxi companies are regulated by the local governments and there are laws to assure equal access to all. If a Muslim taxi driver sees a problem with that, then he/she is in the wrong business because a lot of travelers have alcohol on or in them. The refusal of Muslim taxi drivers to transport alcohol became a big issue in the US media and the misunderstood Fatwa from the local Mullah was finally rescinded. the UAE, I have never had a problem. I expect to be sensitive to religious ideals here in the UAE, but back in the US I shouldn't need the same diligence.

I am willing to be flexible here but Muslims living in my home country need to be the same. That's only fair.

Again, I apologize if I offended anyone, that was not my intention. Live and Let Live!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dubai Demolition Derby

This is video taken from a police camera in a tunnel near Dubai airport. Note the selfishness, aggressiveness and the total lack of spatial awareness displayed by some of the drivers. These are somewhat extreme examples, but lesser degrees of these behaviors are observed on almost every trip to the supermarket, restaurant, parking lot or petrol station. If you are lucky it is at much lower velocities!

The scary thing is that these probably are not drunk drivers, In a country where there there is ZERO tolerance for driving under the influence (you will be jailed, lose your job, bank account frozen and deported). I find it hard to believe there are that many chemically impaired drivers on the road. They are just naturally dense and/or clueless.

The U. A. E. is a melting pot of many kinds of driving from a multitude of countries and they don't mix well. I am not going into the distinctive driving habits of certain ethnicities here, but take it from me, one can guess quite accurately after a short time from a long distance who is behind the wheel!

The link below is to a long, dry and somewhat dated discussion on the matter, but there are a lot of statistics and graphs:

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Dog Days of Summer

It is now August in Abu Dhabi which means running from one air conditioned space to another as efficiently as possible. Outdoor diversions are not practical or healthy so most residents spend the Summer behind closed doors. Expat spouses and children usually high-tail it back to their countries of origin to wait out the brutal Gulf climate in more temperate areas while the kids are out of school. Even the shortest automobile trip will turn you into a "wetback" as the car's A/C struggles to transform 120 degree air into a more comfortable temperature. It's usually a losing battle.

Another trait of Summer here is the haze. I shot the photo above at noon local time today from my balcony at the Moonbase 20 miles West of Abu Dhabi City. You can see that the visibility is severely hampered by the crud in the air. Most of my life I lived in the Southeastern U. S. and expected Summers to be a little hazy due to inversions and hydrocarbon emissions from pine trees and such, but the haze here is over the top!

The origin of the haze is a mystery to me. It is not fog. The wind is not strong enough today to kick up a dust storm. It is not pollution or smog, there is no smell. Not enough natural vegetation exists here for their emissions to be a factor. I am stumped! I can only guess that this is dust blown from far away and it is settling here. But then I remember that I also lived in a desert environment in Southwestern Utah which should have been similarly affected by dust from neighboring regions too but the Summer skies there are clear and blue. In other seasons, the Abu Dhabi skies are normal. Maybe Iran is testing some nerve gas, I don't know!

Anyway, because of the Summer climate here people are afflicted with a malaise that is usually associated with the Arctic regions, Cabin Fever. This is where the outside environment is at the least uncomfortable and at the most life-threatening so people tend to stay inside for extended periods of time which eventually drives them crazy from boredom.

How individuals deal with this depends on their situation and character. I am lucky as I don't have a spouse, children or a roommate so I deal with it by surfing the net, emails, Facebook, blogging, cooking, Playstation 3 and accelerated rates of alcohol consumption. I can't get in much trouble doing these. A side effect is that I am saving a boatload of money and the quiet afternoon naps are great. When the weather moderates, I will be back to my old restless self again looking for trouble and excitement. Also, I have a lot of leave left so I have some long weekends planned in more Northern latitudes in the next couple of months.

It must be much tougher for those that are living in close proximity to a roommate, spouse and offspring. Little things quickly become big things and soon divorce and/or manslaughter seem to be reasonable and thoughtful ways to relieve the boredom. As I have said before, if you plan to relocate here with a family make damn sure you all know what you are getting in to and that your bonds are strong. This is no place to come to with the idea that a "change of scenery" will revitalize a relationship.

Tomorrow (August 3) will mark my first anniversity here with boots on the ground in the Emirates. I have learned many things and gone through a lot of ups and downs in the past 12 months. Although it hasn't been all good or all bad, I feel this experience has enriched my life and that I would have ended up regretting it if I had not accepted the challenge. More about this soon in a future blog...stay tuned, don't touch that dial!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Photos For Wingnuts

I am a Wingnut myself. If I am having a conversation with you and I hear an aircraft passing overhead, forgive me if I look up into the sky in mid-sentence in order to look at the plane. It's not personal, I am not being rude but you must understand that I have an illness that causes involuntary upwards head movements whenever I hear a turbine whine or an unmuffled, aircooled horizontally opposed or radial engine overhead. Cessna, Boeing, Piper, Lockheed, Grumman or McDonnell-Douglas, it doesn't matter. I am gonna look.

I have been this way since I can remember. I can spend hours just looking at airplane photos on A perfect day for me is lying on the hood of my car at the approach end of the runway of an international airport watching the endless parade of airliners passing over my sunburned tonsils. Fellow sufferers of this malady will understand, the rest won't and never will.

To me, aircraft and the act of flying them is a combination of skill, beauty, art and technology. Nothing else comes close.

I wanted to share the attached photos that a good friend sent me (thanks Rog). They are of the F-35 Lightning II, the USAF's next generation air superiority fighter. Variants of the F-35 are being developed to serve with the Navy and Marine Corps including a VTOL version to replace the excellent, but aging Harrier.

The F-35 is chased by an F-16 Falcon. The photos are taken over the beaches of the Florida Panhandle which just happens to be where I was born and raised. The aircraft are based out of Eglin Air Force Base which is visible in the background in a couple of the photos.

To me, all aircraft are easy on the eye due to the "form follows function" rule, especially the high performance ones. Any machine designed to cheat gravity and go faster than a bullet at the same time has to have a pleasing, organic shape that gets along with, rather than fight natural forces.

The F-35 may be the last advanced U.S. fighter designed to have a human at the controls. The recent advances in remote control via satellite and the success that the UAV's have been having as armed platforms at the front lines may make manned fighters an anachronism. The end of an era for the "Knights of the Sky".

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Abu Dhabi Formula One Construction Update

It has been 3 months since I posted a photo of the construction of the Yas Island Formula One venue from my apartment balcony. At that time I questioned the progress so far and speculated that exceptional efforts would be needed to have the facility fully functional by race day on October 30th.

Attached are some new photos that I took today. Although the details are hard to see through the ubiquitous Abu Dhabi Summer haze, I tried to get some different angles. The part of the hotel that spans the track seems to be completed and some of the white fabric features are up over the Southern grandstands.

I will let you judge for yourselves, but with three months to go until race day, I can imagine there is a fair amount of stomach antacid being swilled in the construction managers' Porta-Kabins!

The first photo shows an overview.

The second photo shows a detail of the Support Pit Grandstands with the hotel on the right.

The third photo shows a detail of the South Grandstands with the hotel to the left.

The road in the foreground is the main Abu Dhabi-Dubai motorway.

I would like to attend the event, but with 2 day tickets starting at a cool $420 USD, I might have other plans. I could live like an Emperor at a NASCAR race for that kind of scratch!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Liwa Date Festival

Liwa is an oasis community in the extreme Southwest area of the Abu Dhabi emirate bordering on Saudi Arabia known as the Empty Quarter. The name accurately describes the environs. There you will find the the real Emerati culture as it was a mere 40 years ago. It is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Abu Dhabi City and Dubai and is just 2 hours down the road.

I always am surprised at the resiliency of the human race from the Eskimos in the Arctic regions to the residents of Liwa that have not only existed but thrived in one of the harshest environments on the planet. Because of a freak geological formation, the water table is unusually high in Liwa which allowed date palms to grow in a limited area. These seeds of the date palm are what sustained generations of Emeratis in the past centuries.

Google "date fruit" and you will find out that dates are a very complete food item densely packed with vitamins and minerals with many health benefits. Those of you in Western countries miss out on eating them from close to the source. I used to hate them until I tasted fresh ones here. The Emeratis have a very enjoyable custom of supplying fresh dates and a pot of sweet Arabic tea as hospitality items in business waiting rooms all over the country. I enjoyed this perk when I waited to have my oil changed in the Jeep at the dealership last week.

I have attached a video link to the Liwa Date Festival from one of the local newpapers. I understand it will be running though the 26th of July so I just may have to make a road trip!

If the video loads slow, hit pause and go get a beer and let it load fully and hit play again.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Mystery of Arabic Numerals

Like most people educated in the West, I was always told from a very early age that there were two major number systems in the world, Roman numerals and Arabic numerals. The Roman numerals were lightly touched upon as their use in modern times have been relegated to fancy clocks and copyright dates at the end of movies. All of those X's, L's, V's, C's and M's are rarely seen anymore much less understood. Like Latin, it is the numerical equivalent of that dead language (why the Latin language died is also a mystery to me). There is a good reason for the Roman numerals' demise which I will cover later.

So my whole life I thought that I had been using Arabic numerals on a daily basis. My watch, my speedometer, my electronic calculator, my bank statement, etc., were all in Arabic numerals, or so I thought until moving to the Middle East.

Take a look the photo above of a bi-numeral pay telephone keypad and you will immedeately see that REAL Arabic numerals look nothing like the ones I had come to know and love. The 1 looks kind of like a 1, the 2 and 3 bear no resemblance to the ones I am used to, the 4 looks like a backwards 3, the 5 a zero, The 6 a shaky 7, the 7 a V, the 8 a tent, the 9 looked vaguely familiar and the poor zero is nothing but a dot.

This surprised me as I thought that living in the middle of Arabia I would at least recognize the digits, after all that's what I was learning according to my educators from a very early age. Written Arabic is equally inscrutable. Like Japanese, it is written and read from right to left, but the cruel twist is that the numbers are written and read from left to right. Are you still with me?

A quick internet search revealed that India initially developed the current number system we all use. Indian mathematicians invented the concept of "zero" as a place holder and the concept of "positional notation" which simply means that a number positioned to the left of another number has 10X (in a base 10 system) the value of the number to its right. The zero acts as a place holder with no value but it moves the leftmost number one or more positions to the left which increases that number's value by 10X. For example: we all know the number 23 to mean 2 tens and 3 ones, add a place holder zero in the middle and the valueless zero promotes the 2 to represent 2 hundreds and three ones....203.

Well, this concept proved invaluable to the development of higher mathematics and spread Westward where some Arabian mathematicians developed algebra (the fiends!) and eventually the Western countries caught on to this better idea as a lot of them were still using Roman numerals which were very limited in mathematical utility.

The reason the Roman numeral system was flawed was that although it was a decimal system using 10 symbols (I-X....1 to 10) there was no zero to act as a place holder therefore there was no orderly way to multiply the numbers, no positional notation. IX=9 even though the I was to the left of the X, it subtracted from instead of neatly multiplying the number to the right 10X as the Hindu-Arabic system did. This made advanced mathematics unwieldy for the Roman system and it was quickly abandoned.

Because of its utility, the Hindu-Arabic system quickly spread Westward and became the world standard. The symbols for Hindu-Arabic numbers morphed into what we commonly recognize today in Western countries (0-9), but it is cool to see the original symbols still in use here in the Middle East!

One caution: at 2AM after several lagers in a dark pub, one would be advised to count the dots (zeros) on the local Dirham bills used to pay the tab. Those dots to the right are easy to miss in a dim light with compromised vision and will provide an expensive lesson in the role of zeros in positional notation when one pays a 50 Dirham tab with a 500 Dirham note. Ask me how I know!
See the corner of a 200 UAE Dirham bill above.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Gloved One

I have been watching on-and-off the news coverage of Michael Jackson's demise. In my opinion, he was one of the most talented, versatile and creative entertainers that I have experienced in my life and I give him unabashed credit for that.

On the other hand, he was a loner that abused drugs, kids, power and the freedom to have plastic surgery. To me he was constantly trying to put his blackness behind him as if he was ashamed. He lied about the skin bleachings by saying it was a skin condition. As it turns out, he had his three kids by artificial insemination, the sperm came from Caucasians and was implanted into white women. Apparently MJ did not want black offspring. In light of these revelations I am surprised at the U. S. black community embracing him now in death as one of their own when MJ so blatently tried to distance himself from them for almost his whole life.

It is sad to note that Michael Jackson's strange lifestyle was in large part due to his being robbed of his own normal, innocent childhood by a violent, greedy and manipulating father. At the end of the day, MJ's adult problems can probably be traced to his father, Joe Jackson, who considered his youngest son to be his personal ATM. Google images of Joe, he looks like Satan incarnate, he's a scary looking MoFo! MJ's will left not a penny to Papa. That says alot. Michael's longing for time with children, Neverland, Bubbles the Chimp and general escape from adult life was a desparate attempt to regain the chilhood he never had. I am not a psychologist but I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Michael Jackson was a great entertainer, but that's all he was, a court jester. Yes, he helped organize the "We are the World" circle jerk some decades ago and they raised a lot of money for hungry people but the entertainers went home in their Gulfstreams when the stage lights dimmed and didn't much give-a-damn where all that money went. Most likely the well-meaning cash from the innocent benefactors lined some tin-horned dictator's pockets and the food never got to the starving citizens. The dictator got a new Mercedes fleet and the entertainers slept well in their Bel Air mansions with a feeling of "giving back" and everyone was happy. M. J. blew through his own millions like a drunken sailor and died leaving tremendous debt. Some hero and role model for our kids, huh?

That is the problem in the U. S. today. Michael Jackson was a child and drug abuser yet his death from a drug overdose gets more coverage than the moon landing. He was a SAINT, don't you know? !?! Sure he had some problems that were due to an effed-up childhood but does his life and death warrant all this attention? Maybe a lot of the coverage is a distraction to the dire economic futures people have in the Republic. Maybe it is the deifying of celebrities because our own lives are so meaningless and boring. Maybe it is the ongoing feminization of America where the tough issues are ignored in favor of emotions and "feel-good" diversions (boy, will I get in trouble for that one!) re: Oprah, The View, Dr. Phil, Nancy Pelosi, Rosie O'Donnell et al.

Three question Michael Jackson quiz:

1. I would have let Michael Jackson babysit my children overnight without reservation.
Yes or No

2. The fact that Michael Jackson lived on this Earth at the same time I did made my life better.
Yes or No

3. Michael Jackson was a great singer and dancer.
Yes or No

Best 2 out of 3, no cheating! Now tell me again why this guy needs two weeks of hysterical news coverage! I enjoyed his music but I would not have cared to share a few beers with him. Just my opinion and you all know what that is worth.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I Got Big Brothered!

Late last year the U.A.E. suddenly announced that EVERYONE (expats and citizens alike) residing within it's borders would have to get a new national I.D. card. Apparently it does not suffice that I have a driver's licence, a residence visa, a liquor licence, an employment sponsor, auto registration, health cards and that they have numerous copies of my passport-sized photos, NOC (No Objection) letters from my employer, copies of my passport and a scan of my retina.

The idea is to replace these numerous documents with a single smart card that you would present to facilitate everything from entering the country to getting your electricity and phone connected. It is a move toward e-Government as they said on the website.

That sounds all well and goood but there are 5 MILLION people that have to get these cards by the end of 2010 or some folks will be shit-out-of-luck. The way it is explained is that a person won't be able to get a loaf of bread or a tank full of gasoline unless they have one of these cards. As it is said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The premise may be well-meaning but the execution has been lacking so far. It takes a long time to process that many people.

I was lucky. My employer is a prominent one in Abu Dhabi and I guess they struck a deal with the Identity Ministry. I had to fill out an online Excel form from my HR department with all the same information I have submitted to them and the Government many times previous. Most others would have to pay to have someone convert the Excel form into the barcode version acceptable to the Ministry. Weeks later, I received an email with an attachment that was full of the barcodes and was told to print it and await further instructions. This was in April. Bond.... James Bond!

I got the "further instructions" 4 days ago via another email. I had an appointment on 05 July at 8AM to meet with a representative at the Ministry of Identity at 8AM. I was told to bring my original passport and money, always the money. I thought I would be expedited through the process by a company representative which was good because I had duty that day and didn't want my co-workers to shoulder my load during my absence.

So I get in the car and after a harrowing, always harrowing, drive down the Coast Road in rush hour traffic I found the office easily (it happened to be near where I buy my beer) and of all wonders, I did not have to circle for 20 minutes to find a parking space. In fact there were several to choose from! This simple discovery improved my mood immensely. You have to live here to understand.

I approached the check-in desk and had to show my documents. I asked about my representative that was supposed to hold my hand throughout the process, but was met with blank stares and was given a slip with a number on it, just like everyone else. I took a seat in the full waiting room, full of despair that things weren't going to go according to plan.

True to Arab custom, there were separate waiting rooms for men and women. That's OK, but I didn't know at the time that I had to sit and watch the Arab equivalent of CNN on a flat screen TV mounted behind the "gatekeeper" for 2 hours while I waited for my turn. It's ironic that the newscast I saw covered the recent U.S. Independence Day celebrations and showed fireworks and the Statue of Liberty but also showed video clips of the jets ramming into the World Trade Center on 9/11. The audio was in Arabic so I didn't know what the point was but I am sure it wasn't malicious, but I felt slightly uncomfortable. I want my fellow countrymen to know that the vast majority of Muslims here are appalled about that occurance.

In typical government efficiency, the order in which one was called had nothing to do with logic. Some were called by number and some were called by name. I was called by name so I got in relatively quickly. I never saw my HR representative but maybe he had something to do with it.
I waited in a small room and then was motioned to a desk and my barcodes were scanned by a guy with a bad attitude. He checked my passport for what seemed like forever and he looked up at me and asked"Are you an American?" Geez, I gave him an American passport and he looked at it and still wasn't convinced until I verbally answered in the affirmative. that seemed to satisfy him, he took my cash, stamped my forms three times and he motioned over to the next station.

They next guy was a bit more cordial. He was the photo, always the photos, and fingerprint guy. He had a high-tech device that would do inkless prints. The usual fingers and thumbs were taken but I was surprised when I had to do a full palm and little finger side of the hand print. Think Karate chop. This guy gave me his stamp on my papers and I was free to go. The new card will be delivered to my work or home.

I don't know what all this information is eventually going to be used for but I felt a little uneasy about giving up my biometrics so easily with the veiled threat that I wouldn't be able to eat, drive a car or enter and exit this country freely unless I did so. It can be used for the common good or it can be misused to the detriment of the citizens and residents.

I tend to think overall a national ID card like this is not a good idea for other nations and urge citizens of those nations to resist the temptations of their governments to implement the same policies. The choices I have is to stay and play or leave. I choose to stay for now and will see how this plays out here so I will abide by my host's rules as long as it benefits me in the long run.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Trip Back Home

I am regretful that I have not written on this blog for awhile but there are good reasons for that which I will detail later.

I recently travelled back to the U.S. in June for three weeks. I went back to the place where I lived and worked for the last ten years, St. George, Utah. I haven't been there since I initially left for Abu Dhabi in August, 2008 so it was a much anticipated trip. Most of my good friends and colleagues live there so it was a time
to catch up and renew bonds. I also own property and a house there so I consider it home.

The trip over was long but I am getting used to that. I arrived in JFK late in the afternoon and spent the night at a hotel near the airport. I took a Delta flight out the next day to Salt lake City. I arrived in St. George late on a Saturday night and after a few drinks at my hosts' house I promptly fell asleep.

The next day when I woke up, I had the strangest sense that I had never left. Everything was instantly so comfortable and familiar. My life in Abu Dhabi that I had left just two days before seemed like a distant memory. It was like a dream-Dorothy waking up at the end of the "Wizard of Oz". I never expected that. Also, I had a wicked case of jet lag that persisted for FOUR damn days. Extreme fatigue and mental dullness ruled those days caused by the 10 hour time zone difference.

I finally snapped out of it and me and some of the boys went to Lake Powell in Arizona for a couple of days of wakeboarding and beer drinking. I haven't had that much fun in a long time! Lake Powell is a unique place where one will see scenery like no other in the world. The initial spacecraft crash scene in the first "Planet of the Apes" movie was filmed there due to the other-worldly looks of the place. See the album.

Two days later, I went to Las Vegas to satisfy my urge to blow a wad of money and get into as much of an un-Muslim environment as possible with all the drinking, gambling and scantily clad women. I even stayed at the Hooter's Hotel and Casino, one of my favorites. I didn't do too bad at the tables and even remembered the basic rules of the games. I ended up losing only $100 after about 4 hours of play, that's a win in my book! A bonus was I met up with CC and her parental units, M&L at the casino. It was real good seeing them! M and I shot the shit at the bar while CC and L molested the slot machines.

The next day I flew to Tucson, Arizona with my St. George hosts to see another friend and ex-coworker. This guy has a Pepperidge Farm route in Tucson so we were awash in cookies and (non-Pepperidge Farm) tequila. His wife cooks the best breakfast burritos West of the Mississippi! Pass the hot sauce. A planned trip to a local bar to shoot pool was cancelled due to the participants' inclination to sit on the patio and veg-out with some cold frosties in the beautiful Southern Arizona desert.

The time to leave came all too soon. I woke up the day of my departure in dread of the 26 or so hours I would be "on the road" back to Abu Dhabi. CK drove me to the airport and it was a painful goodbye as I felt as if I was leaving my home all over again. When I arrived in Abu Dhabi after the 12+ hour flight, one of my checked bags was missing so I spent the next hour filling out forms and waiting for the employees to check the bag room. I would rather have been undergoing a root canal at that point as I was tired and just wanted to go to bed. The missing bag was delivered intact two days later.

I didn't have to report to work for a few days after my arrival back in Abu Dhabi so I had some time to decompress. I had the dreaded jet-lag again but it was combined with a severe case of acute depression. I didn't leave the apartment for four days. I had no energy and a dreadful mental attitude. I think it had to do with being in a comfortable and familiar situation for weeks and then suddenly thrust back into reality in the foreign country where I live and work. It was like leaving "home" all over again. That's why I didn't post to this blog, I needed some time to retreat to my cave. I am OK now but it was devastating for a while.

To all my buds, thanks for the good times---I miss you!

I went to the Spinney's Supermarket yesterday and THE PORK ROOM IS OPEN!!!!!!
Bacon and ham is cooling in my refrigerator right now.