Today I got my residence visa – and my passport back. This means I passed the tests and I can get a local SIM card. Yesterday at lunch one of my colleagues said that he was thinking about the strange questions that the doctor had asked me and Cristina. He speculated that maybe the doctor was trying to determine if either of us was pregnant. I thought that was a definite possibility. Perhaps the doctor assumed that if Cristina was not married then there was no possibility she could be pregnant. He probably assumed that I was married and, as long as I still was having my period and it had taken place with the last couple of weeks, I must not be pregnant either. I would have preferred he just ask me if there was any chance I was pregnant if that was the case.
I have enjoyed lunch at work generally speaking, but the last couple of days have been particularly nice. Yesterday I sat with an accounting professor, an economics professor, and a civil engineering professor from the UW Dubai campus. We had a great conversation at lunch that ranged from politics to movies. In Waterloo I have been in the habit of eating lunch in my office. I hardly ever just sit with my colleagues and talk about non-work related topics, and I would almost never be eating with anyone from another department. Today there were eight of us sitting around a table in the cafeteria at lunch. There was a little shop talk, but it was mostly variable topics including a bit of an intense conversation about the future design of steering in cars in the next few years. I feel like I had better start reading more to keep up with the level of discussion.
In a conversation on the way to work a few days earlier, the idea of getting together to go out for dinner on a regular basis came up. I took it upon myself to send out an email to all of the faculty proposing we start a “Dining out in Dubai” club. We would pick a restaurant and then go out together on Wednesday nights. Most, not all, replied and said they thought it was a good idea. Some said they didn’t think they could make every Wednesday, but they were still interested. Last week I had purchased my ticket to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa on Wednesday (yesterday) night. Peter, a colleague who was in Dubai last fall as well, suggested a good restaurant for the first dinner near the Burj and the Dubai Mall.
Since it was completed in January 2010 (and actually more two years earlier during construction) the Burj Khalifa surpassed the CN Tower in Toronto as the world’s tallest freestanding building. It is 828m tall, and is actually the tallest man-made structure in the world. With all due respect to my fellow Canadians, there is no comparison between the Burj Khalifa and the CN Tower. Not only is the Burj more than 270m taller, but its architecture is beautiful. It sits in the middle of the city, and it sparkles in the daytime. The shape, and multi-level observation decks are interesting, and it is a functional building. It is used as a hotel, there are residences inside, along with being a communication tower. And, as I was told later at dinner by Cristina, Jay-Z owns one of the apartments.
At the entrance to the Burj Khalifa, there are several displays about the construction and the building itself. One display informed me that part of the next Mission Impossible movie had been filmed here. The director’s chair that was in the display had the name Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on it. The movie hasn’t been released yet, but if you are interested, at about 1:50 of this trailer you can see the Burj Khalifa featured.
There was a bit of a walk from the entrance in the Dubai Mall to the base of the Burj Khalifa. Along the way we had to pass through a metal detector. Immediately after that, we were told to stand in front of a green screen to have our pictures taken. I knew that was going to result in a cheesy photograph that would be for sale as we left. There were also a few displays giving more information about the construction process of the building. People bunched up at the entrance to the elevators that would take us to the 124th floor observation deck, but a video display played while we waited in line to distract us. There were three facts about the Burj Khalifa that caught my attention. First, at the peak, there were 12 000 people working daily on its construction. Second, since the air conditioning system generates quite a bit of condensation, it has been designed to recover that moisture. The water collected is eventually used to irrigate the park at the base of the building. Finally, if it took less than six years to build the world’s tallest building, then why has it taken more than three years to finish the nanotechnology building on the Waterloo campus – that building is less than six stories I think.
Getting to the observation deck is an incredibly smooth elevator ride. If it wasn’t for the fact that my ears were popping a bit, I would barely be aware that I was moving. However, I will give credit to the CN Tower for the glass elevators – that is definitely a more dramatic way to ascend. There is an observation deck that covers about one quarter of the circumference of the building. Glass surrounds the deck, but there are gaps in the glass that are about six inches wide at about eye level. This means that you can take pictures of the view without having to look through glass. I have an old digital camera, so my pictures aren’t great. Also, it happens that Wednesday was the only day in the 14-day forecast that showed variable cloudiness during the day. Every other day was absolutely sunny. The clouds manifested themselves as a haze on the horizon. In particular, I could barely see the Burj Al Arab (the sailboat hotel) in the distance. I was told later that often it appears hazy near the horizon even on cloudless days because of the blowing sand. One unique feature I saw was the Gold ATM. The cheapest thing you could purchase from it was the 2.5 gram gold bar with an etching of the Burj Khalifa, for 790 dirhams. You could spend ten times that amount for a one ounce bar if you wanted it.
After taking lots of pictures from many angles, I went back down the elevator, and returned to the Dubai Mall. When I did return to the ground floor, I was offered a photograph which was a picture of me with the Dubai night sky in the background. The superimposed image wasn’t really that good – although that may have been because I was wearing green pants. It was so artificial, I had no interest in the picture at all. As I started to walk away, the salesperson said, “just 400 dirhams”. I said no and before I could take another half a step, he said “just 100 dirhams”. That is a valuable lesson that you should never take the first price offered when some one is trying to sell you something in Dubai.
I had made arrangements to meet the people who were coming out for dinner at 6:30 at the ticket counter for the Burj in the mall. There turned out to be eight of us for dinner, including the two daughters of a couple of my colleagues. Before I left the hotel, I thought about changing my clothes and shoes to something more casual. However, I thought people might dress up for dinner out, but everyone arrived in pretty casual clothes. I thought it was a bit ironic that the men had worn jackets and ties at work during the day, but were wearing golf shirts and shorts to go out to dinner. I was really regretting not changing at that point, because my feet were sore from wearing heels all day.
Peter had made reservations at a Lebanese restaurant. It was in the Souk Al Bahar, which is sort of the third corner of a triangle that surrounds the fountains and is formed with the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa. We had dinner on the patio outside so we could watch the fountain show that started at 7:00 p.m. It was fantastic. I took a video with my Blackberry, but the quality is very bad. This video is much more worthy of the spectacular nature of the show. We were eating in the building that you can see on the left side of the video, on the second floor. There was a show every half hour that lasted for about ten minutes. The music that played for each show was varied, from Arab music to Celine Dion. One thing you can’t see from the video is that there are lights on the Burj Khalifa that flash in sync with the fountain show. Giovanni, who is a civil engineering professor, was particularly impressed by the height that the spouts of water could reach. In the end we saw all or most of five shows.
Once again I had a wonderful meal. The server had convinced us to order a variety of appetizers for the table. We ended up with about ten different items, and of course I tried almost every one. This meant that I was quite full, before the entree arrived. I thought I should probably just ask for a doggy bag as soon as it was served. However, by the time it arrived I thought I could eat a little more. The portion size for the entree was much smaller than I expected. In North America, we have been conditioned to expect over-sized plates piled high with food when we order in a restaurant. This plate was a reasonable size with a reasonable amount of meat. I did manage to eat my mixed grill entree; I thought the lamb was the best part of the grill. However, I definitely did overeat, and I am planning to bring my own lunch on Wednesdays from now on – probably a light salad.
The mixture of good food, good conversation, and good entertainment made for a great night out. The only negative part of the evening for me was when I had finished eating. I smelled smoke. When I looked around to see the source it turns out that it was one of my colleagues at the opposite end of the table who had lit up a large cigar. I was downwind, and the smoke was annoying. It was a small blip in an otherwise perfect evening.
When we were done dinner, Peter and Eric (who also had worked in Dubai during a previous term) led us for a walk back towards the hotel. I warned everyone that I may be slow, because I had sore feet from my shoes. It turns out I wasn’t that slow, and the walk felt good after eating so much. It was a nice walk around to the opposite side of the Burj Khalifa. The group split up as we got to the metro station entrance. I joined the group who took the train home. Eric suggested that I ride in the front car, which is not always an option. One of the cars is designated for passengers holding a “Gold Card”. Fortunately, the elite car was at the opposite end of the train given the direction we were traveling. It was an interesting view, but a short ride. I will have to try it again sometime when I am taking a longer ride.
Overall, the I would say that the first gathering of the “Dining Out in Dubai” club was a great success. I expect that having dinner on the patio of a restaurant in the Souk Al Bahar to watch the fountain shows will make my top five list of things to do in Dubai. Of course, this is only my second week in the city. I expect to make a few more trips to the Dubai mall in the evening to watch it again while I am here.