About sandyindubai

I am a lecturer at the University of Waterloo. I teach computer science and do high school outreach. In particular, I am interested in attracting more young women to the field of computer science. After living my whole life in Ontario, Canada, I will be living and working for four months in Dubai, U.A.E. When I have traveled in the past, I have kept a journal. It seemed appropriate to keep a blog during this time.

My Last Days in Dubai – Surrounded by Water

I am back in Canada now, after a fantastic four months in Dubai. I had a great time, saw some amazing things, and made some good friends. The next task is to get over my jet lag as quickly as possible, hopefully in time for the visit from my two young nephews tomorrow.

On my last Saturday in Dubai, I decided to visit the Aquarium in the Dubai Mall. I had some 2-for-1 coupons, but nobody to go with. I thought I would just get in line for tickets and find someone there that could share the savings. The main tank for the aquarium is visible from public sections of the mall. The tickets allowed you to go inside, through a tunnel in the tank and into the Underwater Zoo. I am not a big fan of zoos, because I don’t really like to see animals caged. However, I don’t have the same problem with fish in aquariums. When I tried to find someone to share the coupon, I discovered that the coupon was for the most basic package. There was a “platinum” level package that included a behind the scenes tour, and an “ultimate” package that included a glass bottom boat ride. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to do the most basic tour, so I gave up trying and decided to take the platinum package myself.

I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the tour. The inside view of the aquarium tank didn’t give me much more than the outside view. There was one section of the tunnel which was set up like a cave, and the sharks were hovering around that area. I did like the opportunity to see the sharks from underneath, but overall I was not really impressed. The Underwater Zoo was ok, but not great. I liked the otters, water rats and penguins the best, but at the same time I didn’t like to see them in a relatively small enclosure. penguin At one point, I was trying to take a picture of a penguin, and I was waiting for it to turn around. All of the sudden, it started running away. I noticed all of the penguins in the enclosure hopping up onto the rocks. It was dinner time, and they knew it as soon as the staff member opened the door. I also got a chance to see the water rats at feeding time. The behind the scenes tour was fine, but not great. I didn’t think there was much to see, and I didn’t think that I learned much more than what I could have found out on their website. The best part was when the guide showed us a shark egg. She said that her favourite display was the progression of shark eggs over time. I asked her where that display was and she told me it was near the penguin exposure. I had missed it the first time I walked by, and I was glad I went back. It showed live shark eggs at 10 days, 40 days, 80 days, and 120 days (if I am remembering properly). For the later eggs you can see the embryo pretty clearly moving around. I am sure that other people would enjoy and find value in visiting the aquarium, but overall I was underwhelmed.

That afternoon I had made plans with some of my colleagues to take a water taxi from Dubai Creek to Dubai Marina. The taxi service has several drop off and pick up points, with set prices between stops. However, you can also rent the taxi for an hour for 400 dirhams, which is about $120. The taxi has room for 10 passengers, and we filled it: me, my colleague Giovanni and his daughter Cristina, my colleague Surya and his wife Amy, and my colleague Eric with his wife and three daughters. The boat has an enclosed area with seating for 10, that I think is air conditioned. You can also stand or sit outside at the back of the taxi. I spent the entire trip outside. The route follows the shoreline of the Arabian Gulf (also known as the Persian Gulf – but the name depends on where you are in the world), so we got a wonderful view of the city from the water. I took lots of pictures, but the quality of the photographs is not great. Dubai skyline from the water There were two problems: first the ride was pretty bumpy so many of the pictures are on an angle, and second the city itself looks hazy from a distance. The hazy look to the city is common, and I have been told that the effect is usually from the sand blowing around. It is not something I notice when I am walking around, but I definitely notice when looking out at a distance.

The best views we saw were of the Burj Al Arab and Atlantis. As we drove by those hotels, the taxi driver slowed down, so we got a really good view and had a chance to take some pictures. Overall, I really enjoyed this trip. I would recommend it to anyone, especially if you can get a group of 8 or 10 to share the cost. Burj Al Arab from the water

After the ride, we stopped at a restaurant in the Dubai Marina for a snack/dinner. There are many places to eat there, and they all had staff, ready with menus, trying to coax us to sit down. Giovanni negotiated a free pizza for us at one of restaurants. They didn’t have a table outside that was big enough for 10 people, so we split up. This is a really nice area for dining, with a view of the marina. You can’t see the Gulf from here the way you can from restaurants on Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) Walk, but here there is no noisy traffic to distract you. After the snack, we headed back to the hotel on the metro. Surya, Amy, and I decided to go to the Bahri Bar in Madinat Jumeirah. It was a very nice bar, with a fantastic view of the Burj Al Arab. We sat and had a couple of drinks and some appetizers. At one point a man came in with his family, and a staff person told him that the kids were not allowed to stay. As he left, he complained that this policy was ridiculous, which I thought was silly – it was a bar after all.

On my last Monday in Dubai, I went to Aquaventure with my colleague Giovanni. I had wanted to go to one of the water parks in Dubai before I left. Aquaventure is beside the Atlantis Hotel, Atlantis Hotel from the water which is on the man-made, palm-shaped island. I had 2-for-1 coupons for the water park which saved us 200 dirhams for the all-day pass. I knew a little bit about about Aquaventure, because it was highlighted on an episode of the Amazing Race. For fans of that show, they will remember a challenge where the contestants had to slide down “The Leap of Faith” waterslide (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSv5u3LgDWM). The Leap of Faith is a slide that drops 27 metres, at an angle that is close to 90 degrees. I would say that the shots from The Amazing Race do not give an accurate impression of how steep the drop is. When it flattens out at the bottom, you go through a tunnel in an aquarium that houses sharks and manta rays. Giovanni was very excited about that slide, and he said we should go there first. I was planning to go down it, but I can’t say that I was excited. I could feel my heart beating faster while we climbed up the structure, shaped like a temple, which was the centre for all of the water slides. I am not particularly afraid of heights, but I am a klutz. I didn’t think that I would die going down this slide, but I was afraid I might get tangled up and break a leg or something. When we got to the top, there was not much of a lineup. After the two people ahead went down, it was my turn. I sat down, and immediately pushed off. I knew that I didn’t want to sit there for any amount of time, and think more about the drop. I think I might have closed my eyes as I went over the edge. When I opened my eyes, I couldn’t really see anything, since water was rushing over my body – even as the slide straightened out. I am not sure if I kept my legs together as I went down; if you cross your legs it might make it possible to see more. The ride was over in a second or two. I got up at the bottom and turned around to watch Giovanni. I was incredible how quickly he appeared at the bottom. As we walked out together, I was definitely shaking, but not nearly as much as I was after riding the world’s fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World. Giovanni said we needed to plan to go down at least two more times during the day. I told him that once was enough for me.

For the rest of the slides, you needed to ride in an inflatable tube, that fits either one or two people. You can find the tubes all over the park, but the best place is to look at the lagoon area of the Torrent River. The river winds its way around the park, and you can float on the tubes. There are some sections that have a pretty slow current, but there are some sections that have rapids. Giovanni and I took a trip around the river, and I did enjoy the rapids in particular. There were some sections where the current was not particularly strong, so it was easier to get out and walk. I have to say that the park employees were really great. For some of them it was their job to redirect the tubes if they were floating off course as you enter the rapid sections. I saw the same people there all day, and they always had a big smile and a friendly greeting. I can’t believe that is an easy job, standing in the water all day pulling people around.

After our tour on the river, we took our tubes and headed back to the top of the temple (known as Ziggurat). Aquaventure Ziggurat Each in our own tube, we went down The Surge, which started at the same level as The Leap of Faith. The first drop was pretty steep, but what surprised me on the ride is that most of it is inside a tunnel, with no lights. I was just holding onto the handles of my tube, not knowing which direction I would be moving next. Once I got used to the idea that it was going to be dark, I felt better, but it was a bit of a shock to begin. After going down this slide, we were back in the river. This time instead of going down the rapids, we took a turn back to Ziggurat. It took a bit of time, but we ended up at the bottom of a conveyor belt, which took us to the first level. There was a choice to go left or right, and we chose left – The Stinger, and then the next time we chose right – The Falls. At this point, I would say that The Falls was my favourite ride, because it had more outside in the light than most of the other rides. After these two rides, Giovanni decided to go down The Leap of Faith again, before we headed for lunch.

We had a nice lunch at the Shark Bites restaurant. I was a little surprised that they sold alcohol in the park, but I guess since it is associated with the Atlantis Hotel, I should have expected it. I didn’t have anything to drink, but I did have a pretty good cheeseburger and some curly fries. When you enter the park, you are given a plastic wrist band that is in the shape of a watch. You need to wave the wrist band at a scanner to let you through the main gate turnstiles. You can rent a locker, and the locker is also accessed by the wrist band. You can also put money on the wrist band at the ticket counters, so you do not need to carry it with you around the park. When we paid for our lunches, we just waved the wristband in front of a scanner. At the end of the day you can cash out any money you have left on the wrist band. I thought this was a great system.

After lunch we tried a couple of waterslides we had not done yet – Shark Attack and The Plunge. The Shark Attack slide was like most of the rest of them, except at the end, you float through a tunnel in the shark and manta ray aquarium. I was a little disappointed with this, because it was hard to see the fish swimming around, even though you moved pretty slowly, because the natural light was too bright. At this point we were winding down for the day, and thought we had done all of the slides. However, my colleague Peter had told me about a slide that pushes you with water, up the temple. I had not managed to find the entrance to that slide, but I thought I spotted the exit at the same level as The Plunge. I asked an attendant where the start of the slide was, and he just said it was at the bottom of the temple.

Giovanni and I decided to do one more loop on the river with the rapids. I was going to look for signs that would indicate where the start of this other slide was. When I approached the first set of rapids, the attendant pushed my tube towards the entrance, but I drifted to the right. I was about to hit the corner of the wall, so I pulled my feet back so I wouldn’t hit them on the concrete. Unfortunately, that shift in weight, along with the rapid current, flipped me backwards out of the tube. The water was quite shallow, and I banged my head on the concrete bottom. When I came back up to the surface I was heading down the rapids without the tube. I didn’t panic, and just sat in the water with my feet in front of me, until the current slowed down enough for me to stand up. A few seconds later, my tube came floating down, and a grabbed it. There are life guards all along the river, and one of them blew his whistle. At the bottom of the rapids, another attended came towards me to see if I was ok, and if I needed medical attention. I said I was fine, but the bump on my head was pretty sore. By the time I got through the next couple of rapids and back to the main lagoon area, I told Giovanni I was done for the day.

We had to climb back up the Ziggurat to get Giovanni’s shoes. When we got to the middle level, I again asked where the start of the slide whose exit I could see. This time we got a more complete answer. That slide was called the Shamal, but you had to go on it with a two-person tube. The attendant said the best way was to go down The Plunge, and then just ask the attendants at the bottom how to get to the entrance to the Shamal. To get to that entrance, you have to exit the river, just before you get to the conveyor belt. Then you walk around in a section that seems deserted. There was nobody in line for this ride. It was as Peter had described, a ride that pushed you up to the middle level of the temple. There were some drops as well that made it like a roller coaster. It turned out to be my favourite ride. When we got to the top, the attendant recognized us and gave us a thumbs up. He said that the slides were going to close in 15 minutes, so we went back down one more time, and the up the Shamal. I was really glad that I got a chance to do that slide, despite the relatively large goose egg that I could feel forming on the back of my head.

I had a really good time at Aquaventure. There are other things to do there, especially for younger kids. It also has a beautiful beach with lounge chairs. It was a really good choice for my last tourist adventure in Dubai.

World Class Golf in Dubai

I find it hard to believe that this is my last weekend in Dubai. Time has just flown by. Although I didn’t necessarily get a chance to do everything I wanted while I was here, I think I have managed to have many great experiences. I have no regrets at this point.

Last week I visited Global Village. It was described to me as an outdoor mall, that is only open from November until March every year. I would describe it as a Dubai version of a fall fair. A “Dubai version” by my definition means everything is on a large scale. The Village is comprised of tented buildings (pavilions) representing different countries in the world. Global Village Iraq and Pakistan Each pavilion has several booths inside, selling goods, crafts, or food. There is a midway area with one large Ferris wheel, and several other rides. There are a few stages continuously showing some dance performances. A canal flows between the pavilions, where you can take an abra ride if you like.

I had heard mixed reviews of Global Village – some people really love it and others are not as impressed. It opens at 4:00 p.m., so I got dropped off there on the way back from the university campus along with my colleagues Zoran and Mazda. I was mostly interested in going to look around and take pictures, whereas Zoran and Mazda were looking for Christmas gifts for their families. We made plans to meet after about an hour and a half, so I headed off to take some pictures before the sun went down. I can see why people like Global Village, but I can’t say that I loved it. I think it would be a good place to visit with a family, or if you were interested in shopping for souvenirs, but neither of these applied to me. As I wandered around and through some of the pavilions, one pleasant surprise was that I could walk by the booths for the most part and not be hassled to look and purchase something. This was a very different experience from walking along the streets in the souq area around the creek. At one point I walked by one of the pavilions and saw a man outside with a yellow python wrapped around him. There was a woman who was encouraging me to come inside to see more snakes, but I wasn’t interested, especially if it meant that I had to pay to go in.

After a little more than an hour, I was walking through the Iran pavillion, and I heard my name. I turned around and saw Zoran and Mazda. They were still looking for gifts, and I had seen most of what I wanted to see, so I spent the rest of my time with them. Occasionally, Mazda or Zoran would ask for my opinion on an item they were thinking of buying. I am not a good shopper, so I didn’t think my advice would be very useful. I tried to be helpful, so I asked them questions like “What colours does your wife like to wear?” when Mazda was looking at clothing items, and “What colour is your couch?” when Zoran was looking at pillow shams. Sometimes they were able to answer, but other times they were not. I hope their wives are happy with the eventual purchases.

Mazda bought the most stuff; I think he finished his Christmas shopping in one trip to Global Village. He also spent quite a bit of time looking at tasbih prayer beads. It was fascinating to watch how he chose from a large selection. The beads come in lots of different colours, but he eventually narrowed it down to the colour black. At that point the merchant had about five sets of beads for him to look at. After about five minutes of trying them out, he chose the set that he wanted. I am not sure I took that much care to buy my last vehicle.

At one point we walked by a stall that was selling leather jackets. I told Mazda and Zoran they should try one on. Zoran said that he was sensitive to leather, but with a little prodding, Mazda tried on a jacket. To show Mazda the quality of the leather, the merchant took a lighter and passed it along the sleeve of the jacket. He wanted to show that there was no mark left after it had been exposed to the flame. After trying a few jackets, he eventually picked one and made an offer. After a little bit of haggling, he walked away with the jacket for 200 dirhams, which is about $60 Cdn. I don’t know much about leather, but that seemed like a great deal to me.

We had a few other random experiences during our time at Global Village. This included watching a fountain show and listening to a musical performance. I took a ride in the large Ferris Wheel, which offered a very nice view, but it was enclosed, so it didn’t feel exactly right. At one point Mazda bought us all drinks from a vendor selling erekoos. These vendors walked along with a large silver canister on their backs. Global Village ekesoosTo serve the drink, they have to bend over and let it pour into the cup. The task was much more difficult than it sounds. I also took Zoran and Mazda back to the snake tent and treated them to the inside tour. I wasn’t that impressed by the displays they had – seeing the python outside was the highlight as far as I was concerned. Inside, they did offer to take a picture of you (for a fee) holding a python, but we all declined.

More than a month ago, I found out that the final event for the European Golf Tour was being held in Dubai from December 8 – 11. Even better than that, I found out that tickets to this event were free. This is an invitational event to the top 60 money winners on the European Tour for 2011. I am a golf fan, but I don’t follow it as closely as I used to, and I definitely do not follow the European Tour events outside of The Open Championship. However, many of the top players on the PGA Tour are European, so there were lots of names that I recognized. The marquee players attending were the world number one player: Luke Donald, and the U.S. Open Champion and world number two player: Rory McIlroy. It seemed to me that Rory was definitely the star of the event.

Now, if you are not interested in golf, you may want to skip the rest of this blog. I spent part of three days at the event, and took over 200 pictures. I had never attended a professional golf tournament, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I thought this was a fantastic experience. Although the tickets were free, getting to the event was going to be a bit expensive. The golf course is not close to the city city core at all. The only reasonable way to get there was by taxi. On Thursday morning, I left the hotel and went to catch a cab. When I asked the driver to take me to Jumeirah Golf Estates, he gave me a blank look. Fortunately, I had printed directions from the website, and after consulting with another taxi driver, and calling in to the dispatcher on the radio, my driver headed to the golf course. As we got closer, I saw lots of large road signs indicating “Dubai World Championship”. I wondered if they were there all year, or just during the time of the tournament. The taxi ride was 80 dirhams, which is much more than I had ever paid for a ride before. This was another indication that this course was somewhat isolated from the city. As we got closer, I noticed that the terrain around the area was basically desert. There was quite a bit of development around the golf course area, but it was unclear if the houses were still being built. Many construction jobs have stalled in Dubai.

I arrived around 9:00 a.m., and picked up a draw sheet for the day. The players were going off in order of their standings for the year, with the top two players teeing off at 12:30. I went to the driving range to see if I could get some pictures. Fortunately, there was a sign with the name of the player when they were hitting balls on the practice tee. Some of the players I would have recognized without the sign, but there were many that I didn’t know. After taking some pictures, I headed out to the 10th hole in an attempt to see Ernie Els. Unfortunately for Ernie, he had one of the earlier tee times – which means he was relatively low on the money list. I had seen Ernie on television many times, but watching him live, I was struck by how tall he is. Ernie Els I am sorry to say that he didn’t seem to be having a great round. I watched him double-bogey the 10th hole.

After following Ernie for awhile, I made my way back to the 9th hole to catch a glimpse of Ratief Goosen. I think he is my mother’s favourite player on tour. I guess that I was a bad luck charm for the South African players though, because Goosen shot a bogey on the 9th hole. I discovered that the players, caddies, and tournament officials were shuttled by golf cart from the 9th green to the 10th tee. That made a lot of sense to me, because it was quite a distance between those holes.

At that point I decided to go back to the practice range to try to get pictures of Donald and McIlroy. On the way past the chipping green, beside the 1st tee, I saw Miguel Angel Jimenez practicing before his tee off time. When I got back to the driving range, I took pictures of Darren Clarke (current British Open Champion), Lee Westwood (former world number one), Martin Kaymer (former PGA Champion), Charl Schwartzel (current Master’s Champion), and Luke Donald. As I was walking back towards the first tee, I just happened to cross paths with Rory McIlroy as he was walking to the driving range. He very politely told two autograph seekers that he did not sign anything before the round, but he would be happy to sign after the round was over. Rory McIlroy I took some pictures as he walked by, and then took some more while he hit balls on the range. He looked a little run down to me, and I found out later that he may have contracted dengue fever. Although he played pretty well in the tournament, especially on Thursday, it is too bad that he was not in top form for this final event.

After getting a few pictures of Rory on the practice range, I headed back to the first hole to watch some of the top players announced and tee off. As I was walking down towards the fairway, a marshal called out to me to let me know that no pictures were allowed. I had been careful not to take photographs while the players were hitting or putting – so all of my photographs are scenes of the players walking down the fairway or off the green, or marking their balls on the green. Occasionally I have some pictures of the players in full swing, but that was when I was far away, and out of earshot. At this point I was carrying my camera around my neck, and the marshal said that it was ok to take pictures when the players were walking by, but not when they were getting ready to play the ball. He said that I needed to keep my camera in the bag, otherwise I would get hassled by every marshal on the course. I thought he was quite reasonable, given that it must be basically impossible to stop people from taking pictures with their phones and small cameras. I spent the rest of the tournament trying to snap pictures quickly after the players finished their shots but before they moved on.

After watching Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald tee off, I headed back to the Championship Village area that had booths set up with food. There was also an area that advertised free lessons (for 10 minutes) with a golf professional. I arranged to get my lesson after lunch, and then moved on to watch Dave Edwards demonstrating trick shots. He was fantastic, and very entertaining. I can’t remember all of the crazy shots that he showed, but one of the most impressive was when he hit three balls at once: one straight, one fading to the right, and one pulling to the left.

After I had some lunch I went for my lesson. I was wearing Birkenstocks, and pants and a shirt that were definitely not made for golf, but I thought I would try to hit a few balls anyway. I was hitting into a net, so it was hard to tell how well I was doing. This next part is mostly for me to remember what the professional told me to improve my swing, since I figure that I probably won’t get a chance to hit a golf ball for another five months or so and I might forget by then. You can skip to the next paragraph if you like. The pro told me that I had a pretty natural swing, but that I should keep my hands lower, and stand closer to the ball. He also told me to shorten my swing (which I knew I should do). Finally he told me that I have a Y setup, where I should have a K setup with my arms, so that my hands are further behind the ball when I address it. The last suggestion felt quite awkward, but I noticed a difference when I moved closer and dropped my hands. I am actually curious to try these tips out at a driving range, and on the course when I get a chance next spring. I was pretty impressed with the 10 minute lesson. Maybe I will look into lessons next summer to get my game back in shape.

After the lesson, I headed to the 13th green to watch some of the players on that par 3 hole. I watched Anders Hanson four putt for a double-bogey, which somehow made me feel better about my game. I saw Lee Westwood double-bogey the same hole, but he had a different path. His first shot landed on the edge of the bunker on the far side of the green. I couldn’t see exactly where the ball was, but when he got to it, he was really upset. He slammed his club against his bag. I guess he had an impossible lie, because he ended up hitting the ball left-handed in a way that looked like he was hitting it with a croquet mallet. He overshot the green, but I thought he had a chance to save bogey on the hole. Unfortunately his next chip was not good and he ended up with a double-bogey. Both Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy fared better on the 13th where they each sunk putts for birdie.

The next day was Friday, and I could only spend the morning at the tournament since I had some work that needed to be done for people back in Waterloo. Trophies I took some pictures of the trophies that were on display, including the Dubai World Championship trophy, the US Open trophy, and the Claret Jug. I spent most of the morning walking back from the 9th hole to the 1st hole. I got pictures of Graeme McDowell, and watched as Like Donald and Louis Oosthuizen each birdied the 5th hole. My main objective that morning was to catch a few holes with Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy who were the second last group to tee off on Friday. They had a large gallery, so I knew I might not get a good view of them. However, I walked on the right side of the 1st fairway, when most people walked down the left side. It was interesting to see how different golfers interacted with each other. Sergio and Rory were chatting as they walked down the fairway together. Some of the other players definitely wanted to be left alone as they moved along the course.

I spent basically the whole day on Saturday at the tournament. Not surprisingly, both Friday and Saturday were definitely busier than Thursday. I walked with Miguel Angel Jimenez and Darren Clarke from the 8th green to the 18th green. Unfortunately for them, they were the third group off on Saturday morning. Darren Clarke was not having a good round, but Jimenez was doing better than the previous two days. At one point, as I was walking away from the tee area, Miguel’s caddy walked beside me. We had a 30 second conversation, where he was complaining that it was difficult to walk this course because there was sand everywhere except the fairways and the greens. I have to agree with him; each day I came home, my feet and legs were covered in dirt. There were no cart paths along most of the fairways. I was surprised at how quickly both the players and the caddies walked. I could barely keep up with the caddie, and he was carrying very heavy bag.

On the 14th hole (I think) both Clarke and Jimenez were in the bunkers after their tee shots. They both hit the green on their approaches, but their caddies were back on the fairway raking the sand while they were standing on the green. They were waiting for the caddies to arrive to pull the flag, and eventually Miguel got it himself. By this point, Darren Clarke knew he was out of the race for the tournament (he ended up in last place as it turns out), and he went from frustrated to relaxed. He and Angel were joking around like they were out for a causal round of golf. They even did a fist bump when they each made birdies on the 15th. It was fun to watch them finish the round.

Sergio Garcia

Sergio Garcia leaving the 18th green.

After they were done, I went back to find Sergio Garcia to follow him for the last 11 holes of his round. I had never really figured out if I liked Sergio or not, but after watching him in this tournament live, he seems like a good guy. He was smiling and chatting most of the round – although this round his playing partner was not interactive. At one point he was flirting with a girl in the crowd – I am not sure if they had met the night before, or they knew each other. After he made a great chip on the 14th hole for birdie, he tossed the ball to a kid as he walked to the next tee. Overall, I was really impressed with him, and I would definitely be rooting for him in the future.

When Sergio was finished the 18th hole, I decided to spend the rest of the day sitting in the grandstand at the 18th green. I spotted several seats up high, but as I made my way to them I saw one empty seat in the front row. I asked if it was taken, and was told it was available. I watched the last seven groups finish their rounds, including an eagle by Paul Lawrie, a birdie by Rory McIlroy after a lucky bounce of a rock near the green, and a bogey by the eventual tournament winner Alvaro Quiros. Quiros made up for that bogey on the final day when he made a very long putt for eagle on the 18th, to win by 3 strokes. Unfortunately I had to work on Sunday, so I only got a chance to see that shot on television rather than live.

Overall, for me, watching this world class golf event was one of the highlights of my time in Dubai. I only wish that there was a tennis tournament here where I could have seen Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic. Unfortunately, they don’t have that tournament until February.

Celebrating 40 years of the U.A.E.

Since I finished teaching classes on November 30th, I would have thought I would have plenty of time to write blog entries. But a combination of trying to finish creating the final exams, and a series of activities aside from work have prevented me from being able to sit down to write. The exams have been finalized, so I am hoping to get a few more blogs written in the next ten days. I can’t believe that I will be leaving Dubai in less than two weeks.

Friday, December 2, 2011 was the 40th anniversary of the creation of the United Arab Emirates, known as National Day. On November 28th, we were informed that the university would be closed on December 1st, in honour of National Day. Since Friday is a normal weekend day, it made sense there would be an extra day off to acknowledge National Day. What was frustrating was the last minute notice of the timing of the extra day. I had expected that Thursday would me my last lecture of the term, but I had to scramble to reschedule the final lecture for Tuesday afternoon. I was surprisingly annoyed at the prospect of a three-day weekend. However, once I managed to finish up the lectures, I did enjoy the extra day away from campus.

On the 28th, there was a celebration of National Day at Dubai Men’s College (DMC). The University of Waterloo campus is housed in one of the buildings of DMC. We were invited to join in the celebration, which was scheduled to start at 4:00 p.m. and go on until 10:00 p.m. The programme was not clear, especially in terms of the times that things would happen. However, there was supposed to be an appearance by Sheikh Nahyan, who is the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research for the U.A.E. I can’t explain why, but I was looking forward to seeing a Sheikh in person. At 4:00 p.m. I started to explore the campus to see what was set up. There did not seem to be much going on yet, so I headed back to the office. National Day DMC camel rideA little while later, I headed to the soccer fields with some of my colleagues. There were supposed to be camels, horses, falcons, and a hot air balloon there. I didn’t see any balloons, big or small, but the animals that were promised were present. My colleagues Giovanni and Kasia rode on a camel. I had ridden one during the first week I was in Dubai, and I was wearing a skirt that day, so I declined to ride myself. The most interesting part of a camel ride is when the camel gets up from the ground, and when it lies down to let off its passengers. It is fascinating to watch, and it is also a jolting part of the ride. Near the camels were some horses. They were beautiful animals, but my impression of them was that they were small. I assume they were Arabian, but I don’t know enough about horses to be sure. There were also several falcons that you could hold. They were standing on perches, with their heads covered with a hood. We each took a turn tolding the birds – with their hoods still on. Falcons are clearly important in the culture of the U.A.E., and a particular interest of the leader of Dubai: Sheikh Mohammed.Me with a falcon on National Day

The main part of the campus festivities was to take place in the auditorium. The formal ceremonies were going to start when the Sheikh arrived, but the arrival time was unclear. We sat waiting for things to begin for quite awhile. Finally, a large group of men arrived and were seated in the front section of the auditorium. I was pretty sure that the Sheikh was not among the group, since I had seen a portrait of him, and there was nobody who looked like him. I was told later that the Sheikh did not appear, but his son was part of the group in attendance.

The first part of the programme was a short film about the life of Sheikh Zayed, who was the founder of the U.A.E. I knew a little bit about him from our trip to the museum and palace in Al Ain earlier in the term. As I suspected, everything was in Arabic. I had hoped that the movie would have English subtitles, but it did not. After the movie, there were four poets who were introduced. Poets National DayThey sat together, along with a moderator, behind a table on the stage. Each of them recited three poems they wrote. Of course all of the poetry was in Arabic, and apparently some was in an older dialect that even Arabic speakers had trouble understanding. I could not understand anything that was being said, but it was interesting gauging the crowd’s response to the different presenters. It was clear that one of the poets was well known and popular. They all definitely have a passion for their work. The poetry readings were the centre point of the auditorium ceremony. This was such a different way to celebrate the birthday of your country as compared to what I have seen in Canada. Poetry appears to be a point of pride for people in the U.A.E. In fact, Sheikh Mohammed and his son Sheikh Hamdan, the crown prince of Dubai are noted poets themselves.

After the presentation of gifts to the poets, the we left the auditorium and headed back to the soccer field. They served cake and cupcakes in the hallway, and there were fireworks outside. This felt more like a Canadian celebration. I was hoping to see a hot air balloon when we got to the soccer field, but none was to be found. Shortly after the fireworks were done, we headed back to the hotel.

Although I had a three day weekend to finish the term, I did not have any big plans. I found out from Liz that there was a hockey game at the Dubai Mall on Wednesday night. Liz, Peter, Stan, Eric, and I all headed to the mall for dinner and to watch hockey.Dubai Mall hockey We had a nice dinner at the Organic Foods & Cafe in the mall, and then went to watch the game. I had been to the Dubai Mall several times, but I had not explored it completely. The mall is big in area, and it has five floors. Most of the time when I went to the mall, I wanted to see the fountain show, and had not seen all of its sections. I knew there was an ice rink in the mall, but what I didn’t realize was that the ice rink was “in the mall”. You literally turn the corner, and the rink is right there, beside an Adidas store and a Reebok store. I was a little shocked when I saw it, but I suppose it is much easier to build a rink in the middle of a mall as compared to a ski hill. You could watch the hockey game from the stands on one side, or you could stand on the railing surrounding the rink on any one of three levels of the mall aisles.

We got to the game about half way through the second period. The score was 3-1, with the Al Ain Vipers leading the Dubai Might Camels. Now, despite being Canadian, I don’t really watch much hockey. I have never been to an NHL game, and I rarely watch games on television. However, I almost always enjoy watching live sports, regardless of the level of play. As I said, I am not an expert, but I wouldn’t call the game “great hockey”, but it was entertaining enough for me. It is a non-checking league from what I could tell. There was one big hit in the corner, but shortly after that one of the players was ejected from the game. At first I didn’t think they were connected, but it might have been an illegal hit. I have never seen an OHL game live, or on television, but I don’t think the hockey is close to that level. I would guess that the players vary in age from their early twenties to their late thirties. I noticed that the players had a small Canadian flag on the front of their jerseys. At first, I thought that everyone had that flag, but then I spotted a few other different flags on some players. I think that they must be wearing flags from their home country, and Canadians dominated the lineups for both teams.

Close to the end of the second period, the Camels had a very nice tic-tac-toe play for a goal to make the score 3-2. However, overall there were far more shots on goal by the Vipers than the Camels. I thought the goalie for the Camels was doing a great job. Unfortunately, there were a couple of quick goals in the 3rd period, and the Camels seemed to lose focus. I think the final score was 6-2.

After the game, we walked back to the hotel. This was the first time I had walked from the Dubai Mall back home. The distance of the walk is not far, but it is awkward. As with most of Dubai, the sidewalks beside roads are intermittent. If I wasn’t following people who knew where they were going, I would have had real trouble getting back – despite the fact that I could see my hotel in the distance most of the time I was walking. When we arrived home, Stan invited us up for a drink, which somehow turned into more than one. We eventually left at about 2:30 in the morning. It is a good thing that the Sheikhs had declared the next day a holiday.

Friday was actually the National Day. I had been invited for dinner that night, so I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go out in the evening – even if there was something to see. However, from what I could tell, there were no official fireworks displays anywhere in Dubai. I was pretty surprised by that. I had been told that the main way the locals celebrate National Day is to decorate their vehicles and cruise along Jumeirah Beach Road. I thought that it would be tough to drive in that area, so I decided to walk to Jumeirah Beach Park. It takes about an hour from my apartment. I headed down there around 2:00 p.m., and was pretty disappointed with the lack of decorated vehicles. National Day decorated vehicle I saw a few, but nothing like what I had expected. I wandered around the public beach for awhile, and then decided to head back to the apartment. As it was getting closer to sunset, I noticed many more decorated vehicles on the road. There was also a noticeable increase in honking, as well as lots of kids who were standing up, holding flags through the sunroof of the cars. Every once in a while, someone would fire a confetti cannon out of their window into traffic. This seemed like an accident ready to happen.

I stayed for awhile and watched some of the cars and took pictures. Then I needed to head home so I would be back in time for dinner. I could see that things were just ramping up for the evening. The roads were getting busier and louder. I am sure that the main time for cruising was after the sun went down. On my way home, I decided to walk through Safa Park. It costs three dirhams to get in, and I could walk around it without going out of my way, but I really wanted to get something to drink. I also thought that the walk through the park would be nice. I was really glad that I decided to take this route home. The park was filled with people. I am not sure if this was a typical weekend day in December, or not. I suspect that Fridays are the busiest days of the week in the parks, but it may have been busier than normal because of National Day. All I had to compare it to was the last time I was walking through Safa Park during the first weekend in October. That day, we were out in the middle of the day, in extreme heat. We had gone to the park to check out the flea market in the morning. Afterwards, Liz, Peter, and I decided to walk around the rest of the park, and it was essentially empty. What a difference two months made. Now the weather was cooler, and the locals were enjoying the outdoors. People were playing soccer, badminton, and cricket. There were people barbecuing and riding in paddle-boats in the small pond. It felt like a completely different place.

Overall I was surprised at the low-key nature of the National Day celebration. Dubai is always boasting that it has the tallest, or the biggest, something. Although the country clearly celebrated, it didn’t seem too opulent. I am glad I was here to see the 40th birthday of the U.A.E.

A trip to Abu Dhabi

Whew! I have one more day of classes, before the end of term. The last couple of weeks have been very busy at work and away from work. I know I have been starting the last few blogs this way, but I am actually really surprised how little time I have had lately. The good news is that I have finalized the last of the course assignments. I hope this means that I will have more time for writing between now and the end of December when I leave.

Last Thursday I headed back to the Gold Souq with Karuna. The purchase of a nice watch seems to have started me on a path to a bit of a jewelry obsession. I needed to buy a chain to go with the amber pendant that Karuna gave me a month ago. So for the third time, we went to the silver shop in the Souq. As we left, Karuna told me that she needed a new purse, because the zipper on the one she had was broken. For anyone who has been to the souq, you know that there are dozens of men walking up and down the alleyways offering Louis Vitton and Gucci purses for very low prices. (There are also “incredible deals” on Rolex watches offered to the men.) Karuna blew off the first couple of guys that approached us, but told one of them that she wanted to see some bags after we finished shopping at the silver shop.

Karuna was looking for a gift for her daughter for Christmas, and I was searching for a simple chain. As I was looking, Karuna spotted a chain that would not work for the pendant, but was very pretty. She insisted that I try it on. I did really like it, but had no idea how much it cost, and that really wasn’t what I planned to purchase. I did find a chain that I liked for the pendant and asked for a price. The merchant took both chains together and weighed them. As usual, I let Karuna do the bargaining. There actually wasn’t much haggling this time; I think the merchant remembered Karuna from our previous visits and knew she wouldn’t budge on her price. I walked out of the store with the two chains for 200 dirhams.

Our next stop was to find a purse for Karuna. If you have seen the movie “Sex in the City II” you may remember that the “girls” took a trip to Abu Dhabi. At one point they were warned not to “go upstairs” when they went shopping in the souqs of the city. (By the way, if you have not seen the movie Sex in the City II, congratulations, you made an excellent choice. Unfortunately, I will never get those two hours back.) This warning from the movie was going through my head as we followed the purse salesman through a few narrow alleys on the way to the purse shop “upstairs”, but I had faith that I was safe with Karuna. We climbed three flights of stairs to get to the shop. The stairwell smelled of urine, and there was liquid evidence on the floor. The “shop” itself was behind a steel door, and was quite bright and clean. It was basically a small office with shelves on every wall, filled with knock-off purses, with brand names like Louis Vitton, Marc Jacobs, and Gucci. I noticed two video monitors above the door showing camera views of the stairwell outside. I had no interest in a purse, so I just waited for Karuna to find something she liked. She wasn’t really impressed with the choices, but settled on a Gucci bag. She offered 70 dirhams for the purse, and was given a counter-offer in another language (possibly Hindi). She seemed insulted by the counter-offer and tried to leave the shop, but was unable to open the door when she pulled on it. A thought quickly flashed through my head that we were not going to be let out until we bought something. After fumbling around a bit, Karuna found a button on the door that released the lock. At about this time another couple came in looking for luggage. The shopkeeper eventually acquiesced, and sold the bag to Karuna for 70 dirhams. We left safely, and headed for dinner. After some good, and not too spicy Indian food, we returned home.

On Saturday, several of the faculty were scheduled to head to Abu Dhabi for the day. I had arranged to have Mohammed, the university’s driver, take a group in our bus to the neighbouring Emirate. At one point it looked like the bus would be full with 14 people. But by Saturday morning there were 10 of us who left the hotel at 7:45 a.m.: Mohammed, my colleague Giovanni and his daughter Cristina, his mother-in-law and father-in-law (who only spoke Italian), my colleague Mazda and his father and brother who were visiting for a few days, my colleague Zoran, and me. I had asked people what they wanted to do when we were in Abu Dhabi, but nobody responded with anything in particular. I knew that I wanted to see the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque,Grand Mosque - Abu Dhabi but there was nothing else that was a priority for me.

About 15 minutes outside of Abu Dhabi, towards Dubai is Yas Island. This is the home of the Abu Dhabi, F1 racetrack, and an indoor amusement park called Ferrari World. I decided that I had seen enough cultural sites in Dubai and in Sri Lanka, so I wanted to spend the morning at the mosque, and the afternoon at Ferrari World. I came up with a plan where people had a choice to spend the afternoon around the Emirates Palace Hotel, Heritage Village, and Corniche (a promenade along the waterfront) area of the city, or go to Ferrari World. Mohammed would take those people who wanted to stay in the city at the Emirates Palace Hotel, and then take those who wanted to go to Ferrari World to Yas Island. Then he would go back to the city and spend the afternoon there, and pick up the people at Ferrari World on the way back to Dubai. I found out that the TAs at the university were planning there own trip to Abu Dhabi the same weekend, and that they were going to be at Ferrari World on Saturday afternoon. So, even if I was the only person who wanted to spend the afternoon at the amusement park, I wouldn’t be alone.

We arrived at the Grand Mosque just after 9:00 a.m. The first tours of the day occurred at 10:00 a.m., so we were quite early. I felt a bit badly that we had almost an hour to wait for the tours to start, but in picking the departure time I knew I didn’t want to be rushing. As it turns out, I was very happy we arrived when we did. We got a great parking spot, and had a chance to look around and take lots of pictures before it got crowded with people. The picture taking started as soon as we got out of the bus in the parking lot. While we were switching up who was taking the pictures and who was posing, a security guard rushed over to us. He waived at Giovanni’s mother-in-law and daughter and said that they were not allowed to pose in front of the mosque unless they were wearing an abaya. Giovanni’s mother-in-law pulled out a scarf to cover her head, but that was not good enough – women had to be wearing an abaya to be in a picture at the mosque. I knew that we were going to need to wear an abaya once we entered the mosque, but I was surprised that it was required outside. I took a couple of pictures of the men in the group with the mosque in the background,Grand Mosque men only and then Cristina, her grandmother, and I went to get proper attire which is supplied by the mosque.

The three of us were given an abaya and a shayla (headcovering). The abaya had an image of the mosque embroidered on the sleeve. I have not learned the secret of how to keep the shayla covering my head. I tried several different arrangements, but it kept slipping off as I wore it all morning. I kept adjusting it, but it was quite annoying. Wearing the abaya and the shayla made me a bit warm, but I was quite happy to respect the dress code of the mosque. After the three of us were dressed appropriately, it was time to take pictures of the women.

Grand Mosque women in abayasI spend the next 40 minutes wandering around inside and outside taking pictures and marveling at the craftsmanship of the mosque. If you have a chance to visit the U.A.E., going to Abu Dhabi just to see the Grand Mosque is worth the trip. It is spectacular. At 10:00 a.m. I joined one of the many tours that started in the courtyard. By this time there were hundreds of people walking around inside and outside. During the tour we were given some information about Islam, but most of the tour focused on the features of the mosque. It was constructed from 1996 through 2007. Many cultures are represented in the artisan features. For example the chandeliers, which are amazing themselves, were created in Germany, and the carpet was made in Iran.

Grand Mosque chandelier

Designed to look like an upside down palm tree - it weighs over 9 tonnes.

One of the fascinating features I learned about during the tour was that the carpet, which is 5700 square metres is all one piece. The prayer lines which appear to be raised, are actually the result of shaving the carpet between the lines. Also, in the women’s prayer rooms, the pattern that appears on the carpet, also appears in relief on the ceiling. The columns, the floors, the courtyard, the doors, the windows, the prayer clocks, all have beautiful artistic features. The Grand Mosque must be one of the most impressive architectural achievements in the world. It certainly would be near, or at the top of the list of man-made structures that I have seen.

After the tour, we met back at the bus and headed on to the Emirates Palace Hotel. This is the “Burj Al Arab” of Abu Dhabi. Although not as impressive as the Grand Mosque, the Emirates Palace Hotel is also beautiful. Emirates Palace HotelUnlike the Burj Al Arab, you are allowed inside without being a guest or having a reservation for dinner. As it turns out I was the only person from the group who was interested in going to Ferarri World. I did feel a bit guilty making Mohammed drive just one person to Yas Island, but I also was feeling a bit like I deserved to be selfish, since nobody else had expressed an opinion about what to do in Abu Dhabi. I ran inside the Emirates Palace and took a few pictures. I took a few more pictures outside, and then jumped in the bus.

It took about a half an hour to get to Ferrari World. I called Medhat who is a staff member at the university who had traveled with the TAs to Abu Dhabi the night before. I let him know that I was on my way and that I would call again after I got inside. By the time I had bought my ticket I was getting quite hungry for lunch. I got in touch with Medhat and arranged to meet him and the TAs (Yen, Curtis, Ragu, and Paul) at one of the restaurants inside. All of the restaurants served Italian food. I had a very nice salad, and a slice of pizza, along with a pistachio custard in a chocolate cup for dessert. Over lunch the TAs told me that they had already been on all of the rides in the park. Ferrari World is mostly indoors, except for two roller coasters and a “drop tower”, which are rides that you enter from the inside, but go outside for the ride itself. I asked them if it was worth going on the rides a second time, and they said that they were definitely interested in riding the roller coasters again.

After we finished lunch the TAs took me to ride “Formula Rossa” which is “the fastest roller coaster on the planet”. As we were waiting for our turn, it occurred to me that I had not ridden a roller coaster in over 15 years. As I got a bit nervous standing in line, and was thinking that it might not have been a good idea to ride this roller coaster right after eating a fairly big lunch. The closer I got to getting on the ride, the more anxious I became. There were warnings about keeping your head back against the headrest because of the g-forces, and you were required to wear goggles. I noticed some head coverings hanging beside the track. I asked Yen what they were for, and she told me that they were for the women who were wearing head scarfs, to avoid anything loose from flying about during the ride.

Formula Rossa roller coasterIf you have any plans to go to Ferrari World and ride this roller coaster, you may not want to read this paragraph so you can be more surprised by the ride. By the time I did get to the front of the line I was really questioning if this was a good idea. To make matters worse, the safety bars reset three times while we were sitting there waiting for the ride to start. I assumed that the ride would begin, as all roller coasters I have ever ridden begin, by slowly climbing a big hill, and the fast part of it would come as the roller coaster rolled down the first hill. That is not what happens on this ride; the acceleration stars immediately – like you are being shot out of a gun. You accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 2 seconds, and reach a maximum speed of 240 km within the first five seconds.

I was terrified during entire ride. The entire time we were outside, I didn’t see anything except the track in front of me. I had a death grip on the safety bar, like that would somehow save me if something went wrong. The ride does not have any loops, but it does have some very severe turns and at times your body is parallel to the ground. I was literally telling myself that I was not going to die on this roller coaster. During the minute and a half it lasted, I needed constant internal reassurance that the engineers had done a good job in constructing this roller coaster and that I was going to make it to the end in one piece. After I disembarked from the ride I was visibly shaking for about five minutes afterwards. The TAs all told me that I had to try it again in the front seat – I told them that they were crazy. I have never been more scared in an adventure situation in my life.

The next stop was the other roller coaster which was at the opposite end of the building. The Fiorano GT Challenge has two sets of cars running along tracks that cross over and under each other. The cars start at the same time, and you “race” to the finish. The outcome is random, so Medhat and Curtis went on one track and the rest of us went on the other. After the sheer terror of Formula Rossa, this roller coaster was a piece of cake. It was fun “racing” to the finish. There was hardly anyone in line, so after the first run, we made our way back for a second race. I was in the winning car both times, and had bragging rights for the rest of the day over Medhat and Curtis.

At 3:00 p.m. there was a show called La Gara which is somewhere between a good half time show at a Raptors game and Cirque du Soleil. There was some impressive acrobatics. One section had the performers creating music with tools and materials that would be used in a racing pit – things like riveters and tires. Another interesting section had the performers twirling batons with LED lights. As they spun the batons, the lights would be switched to form different patterns like arrows, and checkered flags. At one point you could see the word Ferrari appear as the batons were quickly being rotated.

After the show we headed to the racing simulators. Unfortunately, to ride in the simulators you needed to get a timed ticket. By the time we got there, the earliest time we could get was 6:20. I had made arrangements with Mohammed and the rest of the group to be picked up at 5:30. I wasn’t going to be able to ride in the simulator, and I was disappointed. As it turns out because of miscommunication about how we would work out changing plans, I didn’t get picked up until 6:30. Unfortunately, by the time I found this out, I had already left the park area.

Ferrari World carI spent the rest of the afternoon with the TAs looking at displays of the cars and the history of Ferrari. There was one ride where you watched a movie in a theatre that had moving seats. It was a little fantasy film about a boy who dreamed of working for Ferrari and ended up riding with Fernando Alonso in a racecar. Every once in a while you were actually sprayed with water as the car moved through puddles on the screen. There was another ride that had you moving through a series of pictures and mini movies as a narrator talked about the history of Ferrari and its drivers. There were a few more exhibits that I didn’t get a chance to see, but I think I got most of the best the park had to offer. Before I left, I stopped by the Ferrari Store, looking for a Christmas gift for my brother-in-law, and or my young nephews. I expected the items to be overpriced, but all the prices were outrageous. There was a kid’s shirt that would fit a three year old that cost over $60 Canadian. A small child’s backpack was priced at over $100 Canadian. I just couldn’t justify buying anything at those prices (sorry Tim).

After leaving the TAs at Ferarri World, I was eventually picked up by Mohammed and the rest of the group. During the trip back to Dubai I talked about my adventures in Ferrari World, and got a report on what the others did in Abu Dhabi. They spent most of the time on the beach and walking along the Corniche; they didn’t end up going to the Heritage Village. Overall everyone seemed happy with the trip, and I had a great day myself.

Getting back into a routine

It has been two weeks since my last blog entry. I didn’t mean to take this long before writing again, but it has been hard to find any time lately. During the week of Eid al-Adha, the university was closed and I took a trip to Sri Lanka. I took lots of pictures, and I will have upcoming blog entries about that trip. Catching up, after being away from everything for a week, has been very tough. It didn’t help that I was not feeling well for the first few days back. Anyway, onto the blog.

On Tuesday evening, the University of Waterloo, U.A.E. Campus had its second anniversary dinner at The Address hotel. This hotel is not the most impressive building in Dubai, but it does have my favourite name: “The Address”. The irony is that there are two hotels called “The Address”, but fortunately they are geographically close to each other. Our event was in the brown one in the Dubai Mall. The event included faculty and staff from the Dubai campus, along with the Dean of Math, the Dean of Engineering, the Associate Vice-President of Waterloo International, and the president of the University of Waterloo from main campus, and second year students. There were also members of the U.A.E. business community. I believe that one of the main purposes of the event is to raise the profile of the university, in an effort to connect with more potential co-op employers.

Anniversary DinnerWhen we arrived at the hotel, there were many people in the foyer socializing. It was quite a busy scene with over 200 invited. Everyone was quite dressed up, including the students. After chatting for awhile, we were encouraged to get our food from the buffet stations in the foyer area, and take it to the tables inside. I sat with several of my colleagues near the back of the ballroom. The schedule for the rest of the evening included speeches by 10 different speakers. Honestly, overall I did not think the speeches were great. The opening speaker was from the Canadian Business Council. He was not good at all – he kept referring to the University of Toronto and he referred to the Director of the UW campus in Dubai as Peter Lewis instead of Peter Douglas. The ambassador from Canada to the U.A.E. spoke, which was nice to see. Most of the rest of the presentations were from UW administrators both from main campus and from the Dubai campus. Their speeches were fine, but not exciting – of course I am not the audience that they are really interested in impressing. The second last speaker was a co-op employer, and I thought his speech was pretty good. By far the highlight of the evening was the speech by one of the current second year students in math. Anniversary Dinner SpeechShe talked about her experience coming from Nairobi, Kenya to the University of Waterloo, U.A.E. campus, about her experiences on campus and in her co-op job. She spoke eloquently and passionately. Everyone I spoke to afterwards agreed that her speech was the best part of the event. I suppose that it is difficult to make evenings like this really dynamic. I am not sure how to make it better.

Since we were all going out to dinner on Tuesday evening, I cancelled the regular Dining Out in Dubai dinner on Wednesday. Instead I suggested that we organize a barbeque at a park on Friday afternoon. I was thinking that there might be 10 or 12 people interested in doing this, but by the end of the week, it looked like there were going to be about 30 people altogether. This included family members and the TAs from the campus. On Thursday after work, I went shopping with the Deputy Director (Ilham) and the wife of one of my colleagues (Liz). I was glad that Ilham had offered to drive me to the grocery store, because I was not sure how we were going to get everything back to the hotel – even though it is right across the street. Trying to estimate how much food to buy for 30 people was a bit tricky. In the end we didn’t buy enough meat (luckily, the director happened to bring extra kabobs that made up for the inadequate amount), and probably bought too many vegetables, but fortunately everyone got enough to eat.

BBQThe barbeque took place at Jumeirah Beach Park. This park is relatively small, but it is adjacent to a very nice beach. There is one section that has several grilling areas available. There were two things that I was worried about when planning the barbeque – one was hoping we had the correct amount of food, and the second was hoping we would get a barbeque pit. Fortunately, unlike in Canada, one thing I didn’t have to worry about was the weather. I was guaranteed to have a hot, sunny day.

The park was quite busy when we arrived, but we did manage to find a grilling area to use. I had absolved myself from any barbequing duties during the planning stage. I left things to people who knew much more about the process. There seemed to be a bit of a rocky start, but I kept my distance. It didn’t take too long before the meat and vegetables were successfully grilled, and the food was very good. It was all a bit disjointed, because it was hard to generate food for 30 people on one grill, but everyone did a great job. Some people decided to go swimming, and others just stayed around the grilling area. In many ways it felt like a typical barbeque with family and friends back in Canada – except for the fact that this was all happening in the third week of November.

We left just after sunset, and headed back to the hotel. There was some food left over, so I suggested that we take it to one of the apartments and distribute it. I dropped of my stuff in my apartment, and quickly washed up before going back to my colleague Mazda’s apartment. By the time I got there, his apartment was filled with the other faculty members who lived in the hotel. What started out as just a drink before dinner, lasted more than three hours. We at some snacks that Mazda provided and some of the left over vegetables from the barbeque. I thought it was great that, after spending the whole afternoon together, this group of people wanted to spend more time with each other. It turned out to be one of my favourite days in Dubai.

This morning I visited the Jumeirah mosque. This is the only mosque in Dubai that allows non-Muslim visitors. On Saturdays at 10:00 a.m., the Sheik Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding offers a tour of the mosque as well as information about Islam. I went to the mosque with Mazda, who is Muslim, along with my colleague Surya and his wife Amy.

I am not religious at all. I have not really decided if I am atheist or agnostic. Obviously, religion is very personal, and anything I have to say on the subject is likely to offend someone. However, I do feel that I should clarify my biases before reporting on what I saw and heard at the mosque today. I appreciate the value of a religious community like a church or a mosque as a support system for its membership, particularly in times of personal crisis.  I have great respect for those who practice their faith without judgement of others who do not share their religious views. My impressions of the essential components of most religions is that the lessons are generally good rules to live by – for example the golden rule or karma. However, I feel that historically religion has been used too often to promote hatred and violence. I found out during my trip to Sri Lanka, that in 1959, the president of the country was assassinated by a Buddhist monk. I was extremely disappointed to discover that even Buddhists have used religion as an excuse to kill. Also, my impression of most organized religions is that women are treated differently than men, and in many cases in a subordinate manner. I admit I do not understand much of the politics in the middle east, but I am bothered by constant conflict that appears to be rooted in religious differences. I am equally bothered by the current paranoia towards Muslims in North America – particularly from what I see in the US media.

The practice of Islam is overtly displayed in Dubai, and I suppose in most cities in the middle east. The call to prayer, which happens five times a day, is broadcast over loud speakers all over the city. The first time that I heard it, was in the airport when I arrived. I can hear it faintly in my apartment every day, when I am at a mall, and at the university campus. There are two plaques in my apartment labelled quibla, with an arrow, indicating the direction of Mecca. Every public place, whether it be a mall or a park, has prayer rooms with signage clearly indicating where it is found. I went to the mosque today with the intention of learning more about Islam. I asked Mazda to join me so I could get his insight as well.Jumeirah Mosque

While I was taking the tour, I was expected to cover my legs, back, and shoulders. I was also required to cover my head. I brought a scarf with me, but they did supply a scarf for those women who needed it. The first stop was to explain the ablution, and visitors were invited to participate. This is a process whereby you wash your hands, arms, feet, and head before going to pray. This is supposed to be done before each time you pray, although there are some circumstances under which the act of ablution lasts between prayers. There are two major denominations of Islam – Sunni and Shia. The largest pocket of Shia Muslims is in Iran – which is where Mazda is from. The majority of Muslims in Dubai, and the rest of the world, are Sunni. According to Mazda, the Shia version of the ablution process is different from what I witnessed.

Jumeirah mosque prayerAfter the ablution demonstration we moved into the mosque. There was a presentation by a male and a female guide about the essential components of Islam, including a demonstration of a prayer. We were encouraged to take pictures of the mosque and even of the guide while he was praying. We were told about the five pillars of Islam: the creed, the five daily prayers, charity, fasting during Ramadan, and the hajj (a pilgrimage to Mecca). The times of the prayers are determined by the lunar calendar. Charity is both a set monetary percentage that all Muslims are expected to contribute, and non-monetary acts such as volunteerism or even a smile to a neighbour. I found out that the Kabba, which is the structure in the middle of Mecca, is empty. The structure was built to preserve the area itself, not to house a religious artifact. It is said to be the place where Adam and Mohammed were to have stepped. We were also told that the contents of the services in Dubai were all coordinated with the same message at every mosque in the city.

The emphasis in the presentation was to create an open dialog about Islam. At one point they asked for volunteers, two men and two women, to come to the front. Mazda encouraged me to step up, so I went to the front and stood beside the other women, separated from the men by the guide. In an effort to explain why men and women are separated when praying, he asked me and the other woman how would we feel if we were getting ready to pray, and there was a strange man standing on either side of us. I said that I didn’t think I would feel any different if there was a man or a woman beside me. The other woman said that she would probably feel a bit uncomfortable. He asked the men how they would feel if they were getting ready to pray and there were two young, pretty women standing beside them, and they replied that they would be happy. The guide said that because women would feel uncomfortable and men would feel happy, or distracted, that it was better that they be separated during the prayers. It was also explained that women could pray anywhere, and it would have the same effectiveness. However, men got twice the “value” if they prayed in a mosque rather than praying in another place.

After the presentation, the guides fielded questions. One person asked for an explanation of the difference between Sunni and Shia. After the guide gave the explanation, Mazda said he thought it was a very good answer. After answering a few more questions, they finished the tour. I took a few more pictures inside the mosque. Then, I went to ask a couple of follow up questions. I wanted to know why women had to cover their heads but men didn’t and why non-Muslims were not allowed in the mosque. The head covering was explained as part of the expectation that women dress modestly. A woman’s hair is considered to be more of an issue than a man’s hair in this regard. She also explained that the black abaya was cultural choice in the U.A.E., and that there was no colour specified for the clothes worn by Islam women. The question of not allowing non-Muslims in mosques was explained as an issue of respect. The problem was that non-Muslims were more likely not to dress appropriately and not to remove their shoes before entering the mosque. If someone walked into the mosque with their shoes on, it would dirty the place of worship, which was unacceptable.

Overall, it was an interesting visit. I can’t say that my views on religion have changed much, but I definitely learned more about Islam. This is something I probably would never have done had I not moved to Dubai.

Celebrating my birthday in Dubai

Eid Mubarak everyone. While I am at it, a happy belated Diwali (Indian festival of lights) and Hindu New Year. These are three celebrations I was completely oblivious to a year ago. On the opening day of Diwali a couple of weeks ago, several of the female students dressed up in formal wear, and I was greeted with Happy Diwali at the beginning of my class that morning. Eid Mubarak is a greeting for Eid al-Adha, which occurs about two and a half months after the end of Ramadan. In our official school calendar, we were designated three days for the holiday – Sunday through Tuesday. However, for all practical purposes, Wednesday and Thursday would be almost impossible to use as teaching days since most students would not be around. Unlike North American holidays where the dates are known years in advance, some official holidays in the U.A.E. are announced just days before they occur. Last week we were formally told that Sunday through Tuesday were in fact going to be designated Eid holidays. On Thursday, at 3:45 p.m., the last day before the beginning of the Eid holiday, I received an email from the Higher Colleges of Technology that stated that the official holiday was extended to include Wednesday and Thursday. It is a good thing I had already assumed this week would have no classes – and planned accordingly.

Yesterday was my birthday. I don’t really do much to celebrate my birthday generally. With the exception of my 40th birthday, which was my absolute favourite for a few reasons, I can’t say I have had many memorable birthdays. I am not complaining, and I don’t feel badly about it, that is just a statement of fact. Early in November in Canada, generally is not the best time to have a birthday. It is a dull time of year, right after Hallowe’en. In the past few years I have spent some of my birthdays at a Raptor’s game, but more often than not, I have spent them without any celebration at all. I didn’t really have any expectations this year, because I knew many of my colleagues would have left for the Eid holiday before my actual birthday, so I didn’t try to plan anything.

On Wednesday, a group of us went out for our weekly Dining Out in Dubai evening. This time we went to Madinat Jumeirah. I had already been to the area, but some of the others had not. It was very nice at night, with a colourful view of the Burj Al Arab.

Burj Al Arab from the Souk Madinat bridge

We were meeting people there, but that didn’t go smoothly. Eventually we gave up waiting for the other two people we expected, and started to look for a place to eat. While we were checking out the restaurant choices, we ran into the people we were planning to meet, and the ten of us looked for a place to have dinner. We finally decided on a Persian restaurant called Anar (which means pomegranate) which offered good food, but it was definitely pricier than most of the places we had been so far. I guess when you are a stone’s throw away from the Burj Al Arab, you are expecting clientele that don’t care about prices.

Since it took so long to sit down down to dinner, by the time we had eaten and taken a taxi back to the hotel it was past 10:30. It had become a bit of a tradition to end the evening with a nightcap of Grand Marnier at Giovanni’s apartment. He had brought the bottle with him when I had invited him and others for dinner last weekend, and insisted that I keep the rest. I decided to go up to my apartment and drop off my camera and grab the bottle before the nightcap. By this time I was pretty tired, and considered not going back downstairs, but I felt that I should at least bring the liqueur for everyone else. When I got to Giovanni’s apartment, I was surprised that most of the other diners were not already there. They all have apartments on the same floor, so they should have been there before me. A few minutes later, I heard a ruckus outside the door, but no knock. Giovanni eventually opened the door after hearing the noise, and I realized what was going on. They had a “birthday cake” for me and everyone came inside the apartment singing Happy Birthday. The cake was actually a dessert created at the French Bakery nearby, composed of a brownie base with profiteroles piled on top, which is a french cream puff filled with icecream. We all shared the dessert and sparkling wine in celebration. I was completely surprised, and incredibly grateful for the thoughtfulness. My only regret was that I had no idea when anyone else’s birthday was, because I felt that I should return the good will.

The next day (Thursday) was the last day of classes scheduled for me for a week. I had found out earlier in the term that one of the 12 students in my second year class, Zahra, shared my birthday, which was actually on Friday. I had bought a cake to take to school with me that I planned to share with everyone at the end of the morning class. I did this before I knew about the cake on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, I had my computer, the cake for the class, the leftover cake from the night before, and clothes and a tennis racquet to take to school. I had made plans with one of my colleagues to play tennis at the university that day. That meant that my hands were full. I normally bring my computer with another bag that has my wallet and my old digital camera in it. I couldn’t really carry that extra bag, and briefly considered grabbing the camera and putting it in my computer bag. However, I couldn’t think of a reason I would need a camera at school so I left it. Of course there was an occasion to take a picture that I missed.

With about five minutes left in class, I stopped the lesson and announced that since there were two of us celebrating a birthday the next day, I had brought a cake. One of the other students jumped up and told me to wait. He left the class and came back with a cheesecake he had made to celebrate Zahra’s birthday. So there we were with two birthday cakes. The next few minutes were a bit chaotic. Before we could cut the cakes, Zahra wanted have some pictures taken. (Of course I didn’t have my camera to get any pictures.) Then, several students who were changing classes ended up coming in our room to see what was going on. I ended up at the front of the room with Zahra in several group shots – that included some Engineering students I didn’t know at all. Finally things settled down and we were able to serve the cakes. Both of them were very tasty. Now I had had three birthday cakes in two days and it wasn’t even my birthday yet.

At lunch that day, I went to play tennis for the first time in about five years. I had thought about bringing my tennis racquet to Dubai, but forgot to pack it. I found out recently that one of my colleagues (Stan) plays tennis and has his racquet with him. When I found out he was looking for a chance to play tennis, I decided to buy an inexpensive racquet here. I found one at the Carrefour (which is sort of like Walmart except its focus is on groceries, but also sells things like flat screen televisions). The racquet is not a high end product, but it does have Roger Federer’s name on it. Roger Federer tennis racquet I think it actually might be a junior racquet, because it is quite light, but it is good enough to do the job here in the short term. We made plans to play at the university that day. I changed in the washroom near my office before walking over to the sports desk of Dubai Men’s College. We eventually were directed to the stadium court to play. A combination of heat, humidity, and my lack of playing tennis for many years meant that we only hit balls for about a half an hour. Stan is definitely a good player. The most I have hit a tennis ball recently is at the cottage when I play fetch with my mother’s dog. In that game, it is good to hit the ball high in the air, but it is not a good technique when you are trying to hit balls that will stay inside the lines of the tennis court.

I wasn’t hitting the ball very well, but Stan was patient. I really enjoyed getting out on the court again. Afterwards I went to the women’s locker room to shower and change. Across from the locker room I saw a sign for the women’s only fitness room. I looked inside to see what equipment they had. It was actually a really good set up. There were several treadmills, lots of steps and exercise balls, and some weight-training machines. One thing I noticed in particular was that there was a full set of free weights, starting at lower weights and stepping up one kilogram at a time. I have been frustrated with the gym in our hotel and the gym at the university in Waterloo, that they do not have enough smaller free weights for women. It would be a great room to work out in, but the timing of doing weight training on campus isn’t practical. After I changed, I saw a note that was posted on the door inside the locker room. It stated that women were only allowed to wear shorts and sleeveless tops in the women’s only fitness room. Women were required to wear shirts with sleeves, and full track pants for all other fitness activities, including squash and tennis. I have been very conscientious about covering my shoulders and covering my knees when I am out in public. However, I really thought that it would be acceptable to play tennis in 30 degree weather in shorts. I feel that since this is where I work, I really need to respect this policy, but I can’t say I am happy about it. I think that next time I will wear track pants over my shorts to the court, but take them off while playing. There was nobody around the court to see me except Stan. I hope this is acceptable.

The next day was the beginning of the holiday, and my actual birthday. The actual day was pretty low key. Stan and I made plans to play tennis again that morning. There is a court that I can see from my window beside a small park. It is surrounded by two basketball courts that are quite busy early in the morning, and after dark. I had been watching the tennis court and noticed it was not used much, and appeared only to be busy at all around sunset and into the early evening. Stan and I walked to the court at about 8:00 a.m. There was a maintenance worker there sweeping the court. We walked on and started hitting balls, and the worker left. We hit back and forth for about 15 minutes, when the maintenance worker returned with a security guard. The security guard told Stan that it actually cost 50 dirhams to play on the court. Fortunately, we had both brought some money and were able to pay the court fee. We continued to hit until 9:00. I felt that I did better the second day, and it was definitely cooler to play in the morning. I hope that we will get onto the court regularly over the next couple of months.

I actually spent much of the rest of the day working, because I was trying to get a few things done before I left for my own Eid holiday. I did decide to go to the Dubai Mall that night though to see a fountain show or two. I got to the mall in time to see the 9:30 fountain show set to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. Fountain show from TGIFridays I decided to try to get something to eat at the TGIFriday’s on the top floor of the Dubai Mall. It has a balcony that looks over the fountain and from what I could see, it didn’t look like it was filled. I managed to get a table on the balcony, but not on the railing. I ordered a California club sandwich, and waited for the next show. I can’t recommend the food, the sandwich was not great, but I was pretty happy just to sit at outside the Dubai Mall, with a view of the Burj Khalifa, and an incredible fountain show for my birthday dinner. It was definitely a memorable way to celebrate.

Tomorrow I am heading for Sri Lanka for six days. I got an email from Emirates Air which directed me to do an online check-in to save time at the airport. It also included a weather forecast for Colombo Sri Lanka, which calls for thunderstorms during the first three days of my trip. Of course I didn’t pack anything for my trip to Dubai to deal with wet weather. Today I decided to search the city for an umbrella. At about the time I was getting ready to leave, there was an annoying screeching from somewhere in my apartment. It happened a couple of more times, once with a person calling “Attention, attention.”, but I couldn’t make out anything else. I didn’t rush to leave, but by the time I got down to the ground floor, there were dozens of people in the small lobby area, and outside the hotel. I guess the screeching was call to evacuate the building. Hotel evacuation There were some staff members handing out water bottles for everyone who wanted them. When I was offered one, I asked what why we had been evacuated, and the employee said he didn’t know. There were several police milling around, but there didn’t seem to be any real panic. I headed to the metro station on a mission to find an umbrella. I decided to go to Deira City Centre for this shopping trip. I wasn’t really sure what store would sell an umbrella. In the end I decided to try the Carrefour and I was successful. I realized that some women do use umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun, so it was not as impossible a task as I thought it might be. When I got back to the hotel, I stopped at the front desk to arrange a wake up call for the morning. I asked why the hotel had been evacuated. The desk clerk said that it was just a standard drill that is supposed to take place on a regular basis. I found it a bit hard to believe that they would schedule a fire drill on one of the busiest days of the year for the hotel, but I guess that is the official story.

Tomorrow I fly to Colombo, and I will not be taking my computer. My itinerary is still a bit up in the air, but I hope it will turn into a great trip. After checking the weather forecast, it looks like there is a chance of sun by Wednesday, but my day on the beach at Negombo on Sunday is looking a little wet. I definitely won’t be writing the blog for at least a week, but I hope to come back with some good stories.

Skiing in the Desert

Here is the blog you have all been waiting for. OK, that is probably an exaggeration, but there is a particular subset of my friends back in Canada who insisted that I visit Ski Dubai while I was here. I found their curiosity to be odd, because they are all very good skiers who have done hundreds of run on mountains like Whistler and Blackcomb. They have outrun avalanches on mountains in Europe, and yet they still wanted a detailed ski report the slopes that have been built inside a mall in the desert.

Entrance to Ski DubaiOn Saturday morning I headed to the Mall of the Emirates to go skiing. I dressed in the warmest clothes I had here which were a pair of Adidas track pants and a golf shirt. There were five of us in total going to ski: my colleague Giovanni, his daughter Cristina, and another colleague’s children, Ulkar and Sanan. Giovanni had been skiing once in his life, Cristina had been twice, and Ulkar and Sanan had never skied before. I have been skiing since I was three years old, but I have not been on skis much in the past 14 years. However, I did go skiing twice last Christmas with my 3 1/2 year old nephew. I grew up skiing on small hills in central Ontario, but I have taken trips to several mountains in British Columbia, including Blackcomb, Lake Louise, Red Mountain, and Fernie. However, driving to the ski hill in 30 degree weather – 30 degrees Celsius, not Fahrenheit – was just a bit surreal.

I had been warned that although you are given snow pants and a ski jacket to wear, you are not provided with gloves or a hat. Of course, there is a shop beside the ticket booth that sells hats and gloves with the Ski Dubai logo. Ski Dubai beanies and gloves signI knew I would definitely need gloves for going up the tow, and I bought a hat because I thought it would be a nice souvenir. As a group we scattered a bit when we first arrived because everyone was looking for hats and gloves. I had two coupons that were 2-for-1 tickets. We all got our tickets which were actually plastic RFID cards, and we headed into the clothing and equipment area.

We had to line up and get the ski pants and ski jackets. They did not ask our sizes, but just handed us each our clothing. I had to go back to get a larger size of pants, but everyone else seemed to be ok. The next stop was to get our boots; they also supplied socks here. All of the sizes here are European, but fortunately with my rampant shoe shopping experience here in Dubai, I knew my size. We all went back to the bench area where we had been getting dressed and put on our pants, jackets, and boots. The next step was to get our skis. Of course they needed one of our boots to set the binding properly. I felt silly not realizing that before I had put on my boots – my father used to run a ski hill and I had seen him set up people in equipment hundreds of times. We all took off one of our boots and handed it to the person who would fit our skis. We had to stand on a scale (thank goodness it was in kilograms so the number doesn’t look as big) and the attendant asked if I was a good skier. I knew that he was asking to determine how long my skis should be. He picked out a pair of skis and set the bindings. Each of the other people in our group went up to get their skis too. They all said they were beginners, and they were definitely given shorter skis (relatively speaking). We were told that the poles were upstairs, which meant we were almost ready to ski.

This whole process had taken about an hour from the time we bought the ticket. Our ticket was for two hours, which I assumed (or desperately hoped) did not include the time it took to get dressed. Once we had everything gathered, we headed through a turnstile that read the RFID card we had been given when we bought the tickets. There was a zippered pocket in the arm of the jacket where the card could be stored while you were skiing. We took the escalator up one floor to where the poles were, and then we headed through the door to the slopes of Ski Dubai.

The first thing that I noticed is that it was cold. The second thing that I noticed is that it was dark. It was like skiing in very flat light, late in the afternoon of a day that had a cloud-filled sky. View from the top of Ski Dubai When I had peeked through the window from the mall, I saw a pomalift near the left wall. I thought this was probably where the beginner hill was. It took a few minutes for everyone to get in the door and get their skis on. I headed towards the chairlift because the pomalift was on the other side. There was a line of scanners, similar to what you would see at an airport, that checked the RFID card in your jacket as you tried to get to the chairlift. If you still had time, you could go through the turnstile and get to the lift. Each time you were scanned, it displayed how much time you had left on the card. When I went through the turnstile, I saw a sign at the bottom of the pomalift which said “Expert Run”. I realized that I was wrong about the beginner hill being there.

I asked an attendant where the beginner hill was. He pointed by the wall that was adjacent to the door where we entered. In the meantime, Cristina, Sanan, and Ulkar had gone through the turnstile. I told them to come back through to the beginner hill so I could teach them how to snowplow. I thought they heard me, and I turned to go back towards the entrance. I told Giovanni that the beginner hill was where we entered, and then looked back for the other three. At that point, I saw that they were lined up for the chair lift. I rushed back over, and Giovanni followed me. I told them to get out of the line, because Sanan and Ulkar had never been on skis before. Unfortunately, it was too late; they were in the process of sitting down on the chairlift. Giovanni and I got in line to get on the lift ourselves. I was hoping that at least they would get off at the halfway point of the hill, which was an option. Unfortunately, they did not, and they continued up to the very top. The good news was, that I could see people riding the chair lift down the hill. I hoped they would realize that they should ride down. As I approached the top, I could see that they had stayed on the chair lift as it turned around at the top. I told Giovanni that I would get off at the top, ski down, and meet them all at the bottom. Then we could go to the beginner hill.

It took very little time to get down the hill. It is not steep, probably between a green run and a blue run, and not long. The chair lift on the other hand was very slow. I had to wait for several minutes for everyone to arrive at the bottom. When I did finally see them, I saw Cristina, Sanan, and Ulkar walking towards me in their boots. I asked them what happened to their skis. They told me that the attendant at the top of the lift took them off before they were allowed to ride down. Giovanni showed up a minute later in the same situation. I asked them how their skis were going to get to the bottom of the hill, and they didn’t know. I asked an attendant to help us recover the skis. He asked what had happened and I told him that these were new skiers, and they accidentally got on the chair lift. I was planning to teach them on the beginner hill before we tried the bigger hill. He told me that he would get the skis from the top, but that I was not allowed to teach new skiers – they had to take lessons from Ski Dubai instructors.

By this time, there were about 15 people and two instructors at the beginner hill. I am not sure if you are supposed to pay for lessons, but the attendant said that we could join in without paying. We retrieved the skis from a ski-patroller who brought them from the top. Cristina, Sanan, and Ulkar joined the lesson. Giovanni decided to wait outside the fenced in beginner hill area, and I said that I would do a few runs while they were taking lessons. I went up to the top again on the chair lift. I could see that they were running skiers through a race course on the pomalift hill. It sounded a bit icy. The ski conditions were fair, not great. The snow had a bit of a strange consistency – very granular. There were no bare spots that I could see, and it was hard packed but not icy. On the edges of the hills, there was a bit more accumulation, and the snow was a bit heavy as you turned through that part of the hill. The people who were skiing on the hill were all beginner or intermediate skiers. There were quite a few people, who were clearly first time skiers, and definitely out of control. Again I was annoyed that I had been prevented from helping the new skiers in our group.

I stopped at the top of the beginner hill to see how the lessons were progressing. Cristina was in one group and Sanan and Ulkar were together in the other group. I had not seen it at first, but there was a magic carpet ski lift alongside the wall. This was the first time I had seen one of these. They are a great idea for a beginner hill. The instructors were only letting one skier down the hill at a time. I watched Cristina go down the hill, and she could snowplow, turn, and stop. I yelled at her that she could go on the main hill, and she left the lesson. The lesson with Sanan and Ulkar was tough to watch. The instructor would go down the hill with one skier, and then climb up the hill for the next skier. This made things really slow. I was annoyed that I wasn’t allowed to teach the new skiers in our group myself. After they went down the hill once, Ulkar and Sanan were just standing at the bottom, without any direction from the instructor. They stood there for a few minutes, and I told them to come out with me. I decided that I would try to teach them myself on the chair lift hill.

I told them to get off at the midpoint of the hill. We all went up the chairlift and everyone got off midway, with their skis on. I took them to the far edge, which had the most gentle slope. I told Ulkar and Sanan that if they got out of control, they just needed to sit down, and they would stop. Cristina and Giovanni skied down the hill without any difficulty. Sanan went next, and he got out of control pretty quickly. I yelled for him to sit down, but all he did was squat down, his body wasn’t touching the snow. Eventually, he crashed about halfway to the bottom. I stayed with Ulkar. I tried to show her a snowplow, and get her to follow me down the hill. She lost control pretty quickly, but ran into the snow fence. That stopped her from going too far down the hill. She took off her skis and was ready to give up. I told her that we could go up to the middle part of the hill and work on a snow plow from there. We climbed back to the middle section of the hill where it flattened out. From there we side-stepped up a bit of the top section of the hill, near the wall. I showed Ulkar how to snowplow, and after a few runs like this she was starting to get it. I asked her if she wanted to try skiing down again, and she said yes. Unfortunately, she headed right for the snow fence again. I got her back up, and then held the tips of her skis while I skied backwards. We did this to the next plateau in the hill. That was the steepest part of the bottom half. Once she had the feel of the snowplow, she was able to get to the bottom herself. We went back up together, and did the same thing down the hill again.

In the meantime, I could see Cristina having a great time going down the hill as we were on the chairlift. I saw Giovanni as well, and he seemed to be doing ok. Sanan was still really struggling, but our paths hadn’t crossed in the last few runs. By the third run with Ulkar, we ended up at the top of the hill with Sanan. Ulkar was ready to try going down the hill herself, so I started to help Sanan. I skied down backwards, and controlled his speed for the first part of the hill. He started to get a feeling for the snowplow as well. Unfortunately, by this time I could see we were only going to get two more runs in. I did one more run with Ulkar and Sanan, and then left them to do my final run from the top of the hill. At this point we ran into Giovanni at the base of the hill, and the two of us went to the top together. Me at  the top of Ski Dubai

Giovanni said that he had really enjoyed the time on the slopes. He had been a bit hesitant in the morning, but he said that the hill was a good size and difficulty for him. I could see that Cristina had been having lots of fun skiing as well. I know that Ulkar felt pretty good about her first skiing experience. I felt a little bit badly for Sanan. I think he was just starting to get it, when we had to leave. We all met at the bottom of the hill and left the slopes. We dropped off our poles at the top of the escalator and the skis at the bottom. Then we went back to the benches area to take off our ski boots, pants, and jackets. I told everyone that one of the best things about skiing was the feeling of taking off your boots. I took off my boots and put on my sandals. I had never done that after skiing. We put the boots on a shelf and our jackets and pants in a big bin. I was getting ready to leave, when I realized I had left my RFID card and some money in my jacket pocket. I rifled through the bin looking for my jacket. I finally found it and recovered the money. You had to take your card back to a machine near the entrance that would give you a deposit refund if you inserted the card. We all got our refunds, and then headed into the mall for lunch.

Overall, I was glad that I went. I can’t say that it was great skiing, but I had fun. If I ever went with beginners again, I would be better prepared. I guess now I have some bragging rights over my friends at home who are all great skiers, and have skied may more adventurous runs than I have, but have never skied in the desert.

Never leave the apartment without a camera.

I expect that this blog entry will be short – and it only has one picture. I just wanted to quickly go through my cultural experiences in Dubai last week.

Last Saturday evening I went to the Madinat theatre to see “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. I had been told about the theatre a couple of weeks ago, so I went online to see what plays were being put on while I was here. This one looked like a performance that would be most interesting to me. I ended up buying the last ticket that was available for the final performance. It was in the middle row of the balcony at the end of the row. The theatre itself only holds about 400 people. I thought that balcony seats would be fine.

I dressed up a little for the night out, although not quite as formally as I dressed for the breakfast at the Burj Al Arab. I had a feeling that this theatre experience would be more casual. I really only go to the theatre once a year these days – a trip to Stratford. I take a group of high school girls to see a play there during a week-long workshop that I run. I always tell the girls that to me going to the theatre is a dress up occasion. I am a little disappointed when I arrive there and there are people dressed in shorts and t-shirts getting ready to watch Shakespeare.

Souk MadinatThe first thing I noticed after I sat down in my seat before the show was that some of the patrons were coming into the theatre with drinks in their hands. I was a little surprised by that, but that was nothing compared to the surprise of watching other patrons walk in with popcorn and nachos with salsa, sour cream and guacamole to munch on during the play. As I suspected there was a lot of casual dress, in particular by the men in the audience. Although I would say the majority of the people in the theatre came as part of a couple, there were definitely more women than men. When the play started, I was distracted by the very poor quality sound. I have probably been spoiled by watching plays at Stratford, when they do not use any electronic enhancement of the voices. I suspect part of the problem was my location relative to the speakers, but overall I prefer theatre that avoids requiring microphones.

The play was fine – it was full of predictable cliches about men and women and their relationships. It was a one-man show, and the actor tried to get some audience participation; however he really only played to the orchestra seats. At one point he had a couple come up on stage to read some of the dialog. I couldn’t help but notice that the man was wearing jeans, boots, and a casual shirt, and his date/wife was wearing a long, white, formal dress. The audience reacted well to the material, and I definitely laughed along at times. I just kept thinking it would have been better if the one act was by a man and the other act was by a woman. I can’t say it was a great play, but it was a nice evening out.

On Wednesday evening, I went out for dinner with a couple of my colleagues and their families. I committed a rookie mistake by forgetting my camera at home. I have told myself a few times, never leave the apartment without something that can take a picture. Tonight was another classic example of this. I went to the Dubai Mall this evening. I wanted to get a Lonely Planet book about Sri Lanka. I thought I would go after dark and catch one or two fountain shows while I was there. I briefly thought as I left, “should I bring a camera?”. I couldn’t imagine why I would need it. I have pictures of the fountain, and I was just quickly going into one store to buy a book. What could I possibly see while I was running this errand that would make me want to take a picture. Well, after I bought the book I knew it was going to be about 20 minutes before the next fountain show. I decided to walk towards the Dubai Mall aquarium. You can see the outer part of it without paying. As I approached the aquarium, I saw what appeared to be a person in scuba gear inside it. At first I thought it was a mannequin. When I got closer, I saw that there were two scuba divers inside the aquarium, scrubbing the walls. Why didn’t I bring my camera?

Anyway, last Wednesday the restaurant we chose for our Dining Out in Dubai evening offered Filipino food. Dubai has a relatively large Filipino community, but apparently not many restaurants with this food choice. The restaurant is called the Grill Corner, and it had a very good review in Time Out Dubai. It was located in Satwa, which is adjacent to where our hotel is, but finding out exactly where it was became a bit of a challenge. After sending an email, and calling on the phone, I had what I hoped would be enough information to get us to the restaurant by taxi. There were six of us in total, and we headed out in two cabs.

As we drove through the Satwa area of the city, I really liked the feeling I got. It is a bit hard to describe, but it felt alive and authentic. It was similar to Bur Dubai near the gold souq in that there were lots of shops and people wandering around. The stores were lit up with neon signs. There was definitely an Indian and Asian influence in this part of the city. When we reached the Satwa roundabout, which apparently every one references when talking about this area, the taxi driver let us out. We were not sure exactly where the restaurant was from here, but I had been told that it was at the roundabout, so we had to be close.

It was at this point I really regretted not bringing my camera. There is a very nice fountain in the middle of the roundabout. Again I was struck by the vitality of the area. I will definitely have to go back there, both in the daytime and in the evening to get pictures. Although I was only walking outside for a few minutes, I really liked what I saw. I was told the next day that Satwa was in danger of being razed to make room for more modern development. However, plans for the development have been postponed because of the global financial crisis. According to Wikipedia, the development is called Jumeirah Garden City. From what I have seen, I would be sad to see this area of the city disappear.

We did manage to spot the restaurant on the opposite side of the roundabout. It was a very simple cafe, which was quite small and the tables were crowded. However, the staff was very attentive and helpful. They seemed very excited to see us, my guess is that they do not see many customers from North America. We ordered drinks and appetizers to begin. I ordered the “ice tea special” to drink. To be honest, it tasted like iced tea we used to drink when we were kids that you made from the Nestea crystals. It was incredibly sweet. The appetizers we shared were the dimsum platter, spring rolls and buchi. The waiter brought us complementary soup as well. The soup was mushroom cream soup, and it was quite good. The dimsum was very nice, and the spring rolls were good. The buchi was not really my taste. It was a ball that was coated in sesame seeds and filled with almond paste.

For dinner we just ordered a bunch of things from the menu and then shared amongst the six of us. (Note, we did not order the spaghetti +10 pieces of fried chicken wings for 10.) I think this turned out to be a very good idea. We had tapsilog (a dried, cured beef), tofu and brocolli in oyster sauce, kare kare (a beef stew with a peanut base), daing na bangus (milk fish), nasi goreng (fried rice), and mix mikibihon (different styles of noodles mixed together). According to a poster on the wall, nasi goreng is Barack Obama’s favourite Filipino dish. My favourite was the mix mikibihon and the fish. The fish was presented in a really interesting way. It basically looked like the whole fish, minus the head, that had been sliced open and then grilled. Again I wished I had my camera.

It was a very casual evening out. The food was good, not great – but I would go back again. The price was fantastic – 45 dirhams for the whole meal. But what I enjoyed most about the evening was the overall feel of eating in a local establishment in Satwa.

Be careful what you wish for …

Midterm exams and impossibly slow internet service have deterred me from blogging recently. However, the midterms for both my courses have been written and marked, and the internet seems to be working reasonably well right now. It is amazing to me how much I rely on the internet to motivate me to do work. On Sunday evening, I did have some time to write a blog entry, but I could not connect to the internet. I could have at least written a draft on my computer, but I used the connection issues as an excuse not to do anything that night except go to bed early.

The frustrating part of the internet service here is the random nature of the problems. This past week, service in my apartment has been slow to the point of almost useless at times, but at other times it is fine. On Monday morning I reported to the front desk that I was unable to connect to the internet on Sunday night and it was too slow that morning to even access email. I was told that I would have to be present for them to fix the problem. I asked why, and the desk clerk said that the problem might be with my laptop. I assured him that the problem was not with my laptop because it connected to the internet at work without issue, and it was picking up the signal very well. I asked if he could have someone look into the problem while I was at work. I have no idea if anyone did anything, but everything was fine that evening. However yesterday, for about an hour, again I couldn’t connect properly – and then everything was fine again. It is all just frustrating.

Last weekend I didn’t have any clear plans. I thought I might go to the beach at some point, and I considered exploring Madinat Jumeirah and/or Al Karama – two areas of the city I had not visited yet. On Friday morning I did some school work, and then some shopping. I had a lazy, late lunch and didn’t get moving out of the hotel until almost 3:00 p.m. I decided to head to the Madinat Souk which I had seen from the Burj Al Arab. It is a cluster of buildings with canals running through. I thought it was possible to walk from the Mall of the Emirates metro station to Madinat.

Burj Al Arab from the road

View on the way to Madinat Jumeirah.

I was hoping to get a chance to walk, and I hoped to get a good picture of the Burj Al Arab along the way. As I exited the metro station, I realized that I had forgotten to bring a hat or sunscreen. I was hoping it wouldn’t be too hot at that time of the afternoon, and it turned out that the heat was not a problem. There was a very strong wind blowing as I was heading towards the gulf. Also, for much of the walk, I was in the shade of buildings. The only real problem, that for a long stretch at the beginning of the walk, I was adjacent to a sand lot. The wind and the sand together, meant I had to keep my sunglasses on, just to keep the sand out of my eyes. The walk overall was relatively pleasant. There was a good sidewalk the entire way, which is often not the case in other parts of the city. There was only one really busy roundabout to navigate. My only complaint was that the route was alongside a very busy street, so the traffic noise was not particularly pleasant. However, I felt that I finally had found a path that allowed me to stretch my legs. And, I did get a nice view of the Burj Al Arab as I walked along.

It took about a half an hour for me to walk to the entrance of the Madinat Souk. I arrived at the same time as a busload of tourists were being dropped off. This was a nice place to walk around, but it definitely felt like it just existed for tourists to spend money. You could go shopping inside, or eat at one of the many cafes or restaurants. Most of the restaurants had indoor and patio seating, where the patio looked onto a canal. You could also take canal boat tours, but I didn’t really see the point of that. I was not really interested in spending any money, so looked for a way I could get outside to walk along the canals.Madinat canal

I found my way through the Starbucks, out to the patios that were adjacent to the outdoor amphitheatre. There were several people who were doing a sound-check and setting for a concert. I watched them for awhile, and then decided to find out more details about the concert. A woman who was setting out cushions went to get me a flyer. It was for a band called Golbang, and it appeared to be middle eastern in nature. I had no idea what the music would be like, but I thought it would have been an interesting experience. However, it was now after 5:00 p.m. and the concert started at 7:30. If I had found this a couple of hours earlier I would have gone back to the hotel to see if anyone else was interested in going to the performance. As it was, I didn’t really want to stay around for a couple of hours for a concert that was scheduled to be four hours long, by myself.

A woman that I met at the expat women’s breakfast had told me there was a theatre in Madinat. I had been on the internet earlier in the day, and I saw that there were three plays scheduled between now and the end of December: a production of “The Sound of Music”, “The Blues Brothers”, and “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. I was most interested in the last production, but it was only being staged for three days, and this was the middle of the three days. I went to the theatre box office to find out if there were any tickets available, and there was only one left – for the next night. It seemed like fate that there was only one ticket left, so I bought it.

Afterwards, I decided to walk around the canals and take some pictures, and then I headed back to the main road. I wanted to get a picture of the Burj Al Arab at the entrance. Unfortunately, there were lots of people blocking the view, and the light was going down. I didn’t get a great picture. I turned around and headed back to the Mall of the Emirates. I briefly noticed that I could see Ski Dubai in the distance (which is in the Mall of the Emirates) on the left side of the road, when I thought it should be on the right side. But I didn’t think too much of it because I thought it would straighten itself out as I got closer. I guess I was being absent-minded as I walked, because it was a half-an-hour later when I really looked around to see where I was. I knew that I should have been very close to the metro station by this time, and nothing looked right. I turned around, and saw the Burj Khalifa in the distance. It was directly behind me when I knew that if I had been walking in the correct direction, it should have been at a 90 degree angle to me. At that point I realized that I had obviously been walking along the wrong road.

I reoriented myself, and discovered that I had been walking on a road that was parallel to the beach. I was about a 10 or 15 minute walk away from the monorail station that takes you to the Palm Jumeirah. I had been walking beside a wall most of the time. At the beginning of the walk, I could peek through a gate, and I saw statues of some gold horses. Gold horses inside beach palace gateThere seemed to be quite a bit of security to get through the gate. I wasn’t really sure what was behind the wall. As I approached the monorail station, I saw several signs by the gates that I passed that said “Beach Palace”. I have since learned that I was walking outside the beach palaces of Sheikh Mohammed and his family.

I thought that if I could get to the monorail station, I would be close to the Nakheel metro station. By this time it was getting quite dark. The path was still very good to walk on, but there were no people anywhere to be seen, only cars whizzing by at 100 km/h. I turned off the road and headed towards what I thought was the monorail station. Before I could get inside, a taxi drove up and the driver asked if I wanted a ride. I said that I just wanted to get to the metro station. He said that he could drive me there for 20 dirhams. I said I wanted to walk, and he asked me how I planned to get across the road. Unfortunately he was right. There did not seem to be any reasonable way to cross the six lanes of fast moving traffic on the road. By this point I was just too tired to argue, so I got in the taxi. It was a white car, which has different rules for fares than the regular yellow taxis. I knew that it was going to cost me much more than a regular cab. However, I got inside and told him to take me to the Mall of the Emirates rather than the Nakheel metro station. The driver told me that it would cost 35 dirhams to go to the mall. I said “fine”, knowing that it would probably cost less than half that amount in a yellow taxi. I just wanted to sit down somewhere and get some dinner.

The good news is that the taxi did drop me off right at a main entrance to the mall. At other times, I had been dropped off in front of a hotel, and had to walk about five minutes to get to a main entrance. At this point I decided to buy a ticket to see a movie and then get something to eat. Since the last time it had taken a ridiculous amount of time in the line up to buy a ticket for a movie, I wanted to get there at least an hour before the movie was scheduled to start. This time however, I got through the line quickly and I ended up having lots of time to eat and wait before the movie started. I watched “Conviction” starring Hilary Swank. The movie was ok, and pretty well acted, but predictable.

On Saturday I planned to go to the beach in the morning. However, I had a lazy start to the day and didn’t leave the apartment until it was almost 11:00 a.m. I had decided that I would try to walk to the beach from the Business Bay metro station. I planned a route that would take me along side Safa park for about half of the distance. This turned out to be a good choice. The park has a padded running track surrounding it, which was shaded by trees on either side. The padding on the track was nice after I had spend quite a long time walking on concrete the day before. It was also a quiet walk, beside a road with very little traffic. Once I got about half way to the water, I had to walk along city streets again. However, the walk was very pleasant. Once again the sidewalks were good, and the traffic was not bad. Even without the protection of the park, much of the walk was shaded.

I reached the beach about an hour after I left the hotel. I decided to go into Jumeirah Park to the semi-private beach – it costs 5 dirhams to get into the park. Along the way I got a good look at the public beach beside the park. The beach looked very nice, and it was less crowed than the park beach. The only down side was that there was nowhere to change or wash after getting out of the water.

I grabbed something to drink in the park before I headed to change. The temperature of the air and the water was much more pleasant than what I had felt a month earlier. I walked into water and was met by some good size waves. It had been windy all weekend. (When I arrived home on Friday at 11:00 p.m., it was windier than I had ever felt during my time in Dubai.) There really wasn’t much to do in the water. I couldn’t really swim because the salt water bothered my eyes. I alternately floated and just stood in the surf. What I was most impressed by was the power of the undertow. While I was floating, I was moving out to sea, without doing anything. There was a floating barrier about 20 or 30 metres off shore that you could grab onto to stop yourself if necessary. After about 15 minutes I was bored. I couldn’t imagine just sitting on the beach. I am definitely not a beach person. I can’t image just sitting on a beach for an entire afternoon, let alone for an entire week’s holiday. I decided just to wash up and grab some lunch before heading back to the hotel.

With the walking to Madinat Jumeirah on Friday, the unexpected long walk beside the Beach Palaces, and the walk to and from the beach on Sunday, I finally got my wish to walk around in the city. It was very nice, but I was definitely a bit sore by Saturday afternoon. Overall, it was very nice to have spent so much time outside.

“I’ve had better breakfasts on British Rail”

Well, my midterms have been created and now I have a bit of a break until they are written next week. I hope that this means that I can get back to semi-regular blog writing. Last week it felt like the weather had started to turn cooler, but this week seemed to be warmer during the day than it had been in weeks. It has been particularly humid in the mornings. Most of the days this week started out with some pretty dense fog. At times during the drive into work in the morning we couldn’t see any other vehicles on the road, or more than a few feet of the shoulder.Foggy morning view

One morning, I got a picture of the view from my bedroom window of the fog surrounding the base of the Emirates Towers. It was a beautiful effect, but unfortunately the picture doesn’t quite do it justice. Part of the problem is that the windows are very sandy, and that mars the view. I hadn’t really noticed that I could see the Emirates Towers from my apartment before this morning. Like much of the architecture in Dubai, these towers are impressive and charming. I was told on the drive back from the university one day that these towers were once the tallest in Dubai. They were built just 15 years ago, and now they can easily get lost in the skyline.

On Sunday morning I headed to the Burj Al Arab for a much anticipated visit to the famous hotel. This is probably the most iconic building in Dubai – the hotel shaped like a sailboat. This hotel does not allow anyone to come inside unless they are guests or have reservations to eat at one of the restaurants inside. I had been told that the most inexpensive way to get inside was to go for tea – which costs about $80 Canadian. I had found out about the Expat Women.com Annual Breakfast at the Burj Al Arab, and so I bought a ticket for 330 dirhams (just under $100 Canadian dollars). The breakfast was scheduled for three hours, and there would potentially be lots of people to meet while I was there. I thought this might be the best way to see this sight.

I was worried about what to wear to a breakfast in a place that is described as the world’s only 7-star hotel. I have a semi-formal event later in the year that is work related. I had been looking for a dress that I could wear both for the breakfast, and then for the dinner in November. I had not managed to find anything that I thought was really appropriate for the dinner. I had a back-up outfit for the breakfast that I thought would be acceptable, but I was worried that I would feel under-dressed in front of all of the other expat women. On Friday, I met some of the other faculty at the Mall of the Emirates for lunch. They had all been to church that morning, I mentioned that I was still looking for a dress for this breakfast and Liz, the wife of one of my colleagues, offered to go shopping with me. I don’t really know how to shop, and Liz was great at it. She pulled lots of things of the racks for me to try. It was nice to get another opinion on the clothes. In the end I found a dress that I liked, and I thought would be good for the dinner in November too. I also bought another pair of shoes (I have lost count on what number this is) because I didn’t really have a pair that was formal enough to go with the dress. In the end, this breakfast ended up costing me about $300 for the ticket, the dress and the shoes.

The only reasonable way to get to the hotel was to take a taxi. I had a leisurely morning and then got dressed for the breakfast. I had seen the Burj Al Arab from several vantage points in the city, but driving directly towards it was by far the most impressive view. The taxi stopped at a closed gateway that lead to the front entrance of the hotel. He rolled down the rear window of the taxi so I could speak with the security guard. I had my ticket in hand with the confirmation number that gave me the right to continue forward. I had been sent an email that said I would probably only need to say that I was there for the Expat Women’s breakfast, and that turned out to be the case. The taxi took me to the roundabout that led to the main entrance of the hotel. When I reached the entrance, there was an attendant who opened the door of the cab for me to exit. As I was approaching the main entrance, I spotted Laurie and Lisa, whom I had met at the Tim Hortons a few weeks ago. Laurie was the woman who told me about the breakfast in the first place.

Laurie and Lisa were in the lobby when I got inside, and Lisa was taking quite a few pictures. I went up to them to say hello. I am pretty sure they recognized me, but I was also pretty sure they didn’t remember my name. I was introduced to a friend of Lisa’s who was also attending the breakfast and another woman who was Lisa’s friend’s friend . I can’t remember either of their names right now, which seems like poetic justice.Burj Al Arab lobby I took some pictures of the lobby of the hotel, and asked Laurie to take one of me in front of the cascading fountain that is between the escalators leading to the next level.

My first impression of the hotel was that it was very nice, but not overwhelmingly impressive. When you take the escalator up to the second level, there is another fountain the the shape of an octagon. After the breakfast I sat for awhile to watch the two fountains, and they were interesting, but again not overwhelming. The motif of the hotel is dominated by brightly coloured rugs and lots of gold accents. For example, the elevators are outlined in a shiny gold metal, that apparently is actually gold, and the doors are covered in a pattern of gold and blue. There is an incredible, large chandelier hanging from the ceiling of the Al Falak Ballroom, which is where the breakfast was held.

I will say that there was one feature of the hotel that I found truly awesome. While I was going up the escalator, I looked up. (Just a piece of advice for anyone visiting Dubai – always take the time to look up when you are walking around, inside or outside.) The inside of the hotel is basically hollow to the top – about 60 floors I think. Burj Al Arab look upI took a picture of it, but the picture really doesn’t give a true impression of the height. That view was by far my favourite part of the building.

I went up to the Al Falak Ballroom with Laurie, Lisa, Lisa’s friend, and Lisa’s friend’s friend (whom I am going to call Barbara for convenience for the rest of this blog), along with several other women who were attending the breakfast. One of the women in the elevator was wearing a dress that I had tried on when I was shopping with Liz. I was really glad I didn’t buy it, because it looked much better on her. When we got to the ballroom, we wandered around before trying to find a seat. I took some pictures inside and of the view outside. It was a hazy morning, so the pictures outside look fuzzy. It turned out that waiting to find a seat was a bad idea. By the time we went down to the seating level, there were very few seats left, and no tables that had a group of five seats.

I ended up sitting at a table with Barbara (not her real name) and several other women whom I had never met. Barbara is a 72-year old woman, originally from Wales, who had been living in various places in the U.A.E. for the past five or six years. Seated on the other side was a woman who was originally from Scotland and her sister-in-law who was just visiting for a couple of weeks. The breakfast itself was pretty mundane. It was a buffet, that had typical breakfast choices like scrambled eggs, pancakes, croissants, sausages and bacon. The pancakes were Nutella pancakes and there was chocolate sauce available as a topping. The sausages were beef sausages and the bacon was turkey bacon – no pork to be found. So there were a few special touches to the food, but I was really expecting some outstanding cuisine. I think most people in the room would agree with my assessment. Barbara commented several times that “I’ve had better breakfasts on British Rail”. Now I have never had a breakfast on British Rail, but I have definitely had better breakfasts – in particular the brunch at Grandview in Huntsville is much more impressive.

I will compliment the hotel on its service. Every time I got up from the table, my napkin was folded for me by the time I returned. The water in my glass never got below 1/3 full before  someone was there to refill it. The staff was very responsive to every request by anyone at the table. I would say that service generally speaking in Dubai is very good, but I could see that there was extra emphasis here.

There were a couple of speakers during the breakfast. The first was a doctor who had grown up in Dubai but left for about 15 years while doing her medical training. The speech wasn’t long, but it she had an interesting perspective on the changes she observed in the last 40 years or so – especially returning as a professional, female Emirate. In between the speeches I made my way across the room to talk to Lisa and Laurie. Lisa’s husband is the manager of the Tim Hortons and she said he has been incredibly busy. I commented that the coffee shop is always busy whenever I see it. After the second speech, which was basically a sales pitch for Mont Blanc (an accessories shop), and the raffle draws (which I didn’t win), I decided to head back to my apartment. I had a busy week ahead.

Jumeirah Beach HotelI took a few more pictures outside – including one of the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. This is the hotel that looks like a wave from the distance to complement the sailboat hotel. By this time of the day it was less hazy, so the pictures were better. I couldn’t really take a good picture of the Burj Al Arab from outside, because I couldn’t get far enough away.

By the time I had finished taking my pictures, the entrance to the hotel was filled with women who were trying to leave. Most of them were waiting for a valet to bring their own vehicles. The roundabout in front is very small, and it essentially caused a traffic jam. I asked one of the attendants if he could get me a taxi. He waved for a vehicle that didn’t look like a typical cab. It was all white, and when I got inside it had DVD players built into the front seat headrests. It turns out that the car was actually a Lexus – although the interior was a bit run down. For the privilege of this special cab, it cost 10 dirhams more to get home than it cost to get to the Burj Al Arab.

Overall, I am glad I went, but I have to say that it really was not worth the money. In particular the meal was overpriced. I would recommend that if you are coming to Dubai for a short period of time that you get close enough to get a good view and a good picture of the Burj Al Arab. However, I would say save your money for other site-seeing. At least I will get more chances to wear the dress and the shoes I invested in for the right to walk inside this “seven-star hotel”.