Monday, June 16, 2008

I love this country.

Amongst the culture-shocked IMV expats, somehow Val and I have maintained our composure. I don’t know what it is. Perhaps the previous visit in February to acclimatize? Maybe my previous travels to Egypt and Jordan? Perhaps my previous exposure to hot weather in Spain or Trinidad? Although, to be fair, only Egypt compares to the heat. Having constant company is nice. Or maybe it’s because we’re young. I don’t know the answer. All I know is this place is awesome.

Sure, things are done a little differently in the UAE than in Canada. Yesterday, the search for a mattress was futile. The intentions of staying in my new villa are coming to fruition and I’m not going to sleep on the floor. IKEA, Home Centre, Carrefour… no mattresses in stock? Delivery in two weeks? You kidding me? I was on my way to Carrefour to buy an inflatable mattress and then wait until Friday or next week for a real one, but decided to check out the small, local furniture shop across from work.

Curt: You have mattresses for sale?
Samer: Yes. What size?
Curt: 180 x 200
Samer: How about that one?
Curt: Cool, that’s a mattress alright. How much?
Samer: 650 DHS
(Note that this is an average mattress price, and a bordlerline good deal)
Curt: What about delivery and when can you deliver it?
Samer: It’s included. How about half an hour?
Curt: Sold.

Like I said, I love this country.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Back to School

Well, I’m here again.

After three months of mixed (as always) Calgary weather, finding replacements, saying goodbyes, buying things, selling things, and piles of red tape, I’m back in the UAE.

While it’s no USSR, it’s a heck of a place.

This is the place where taxis beckon you and will even reverse through on a busy street to pick you up. Witnessing a cement truck reverse to get out of said taxi’s way is truly icing on the cake. Speaking of cake, the desserts here might put me in dangerous risk of becoming one of those ugly fat expats you see struggling up a flight of stairs on their way to their villa.

Speaking of villas, I have found a place to live. Since losing the MBZ (Mohammed Bin Zayed City) apartment to a managerial decision, I was only prowl for new digs for approximately one day. Places to live here are skyrocketing in price – certainly loftier than Calgary in price and much smaller. This makes good real estate a luxury, so I feel pretty lucky to have found a couple of rooms in a nice villa located about 10 minutes drive from work. After driving 30 minutes from MBZ, this is way better. It’s getting fixed up as we speak, and I have an ever-improving optimism on its completion date scheduled for next week. I’m supposed to get a key today. My partner in crime also located a few rooms in the same villa. What my spot lacks in kitchen space, her’s makes up for in spades. Between the two of us, we should be living quite comfortably.

Hmmm… comfort. Now that I’ve experienced business class from Toronto to Abu Dhabi, I am finally enlightened. While jet lag still sunk in pretty well, my body was not ravaged or destroyed by a cramped middle seat and my mind was not driven to the brink due to lack of entertainment, hydration, food, or sleep. Think I’m spoiled? Think I’m weak? Think I’m a whiner? Well, how many overseas flights have you been on? How many flights over four hours do you take a year? I think one business class experience isn’t bad for me. Direct from Toronto is too far to not take business class.

Speaking of Toronto, I got to visit with Elizabeth Logan on the way over here. Everyone’s favorite Toronto engineer came out for breakfast and to hang out with a tired and smelly Curt and Val. She promised to visit in the next year. Let’s hope it happens! When she says something like that, she’s usually good for it. Her name is good that way.

Speaking of good names, I’m learning many new names here. Chidam Baranathan… Boopati Dharmalingam… My name seems so boring. My favorite client is still with us. Jafer!

I think I’ve learned a lot in the past few months. One skill I’ve started to hone is certainly “patience”. Having sat through several longstanding errands/accomplishments (some of them taking over a month) required to get out of Canada, I’ve got a little more of it these days. This is certainly an asset, as things tend to move rather slowly here. Many-an hour is spent waiting for somebody that promised to meet you an hour ago. Or provide you with something (food, a ride, etc). Or anything. That’s cool though, man. Cuz I got a little more patience now.

Well, that’s about all I have time for right now. Hopefully, this note finds everyone well. Thanks for all the nice messages, everyone. All is well here and it’s safe.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

One Last Time

Hey all,

It's been a while since I sent out an update, and with this little adventure beginning to come to an end, it's probably best to send one more. The month really has flown by and I'd have to say that personally and professionally, this has been an exceptional experience. I definitely feel lucky and appreciate the opportunity that IMV gave me. The people here at this office are great and fun to work with. Not only that, but I've been able to try some new stuff. Hell, I even learned, well... a lot.

In the last few weeks, myself and my partner in crime have continued on our pace to see as much as we can stand. This weekend was no exception as we checked out the newest wonder of the modern world: Dubai. I don't think I can eloquently describe the differences between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but it certainly helped me get a better cross section of the United Arab Emirates. And yes, I saw the indoor ski hill at the mall.

Anyways, to wrap up my last e-mail, I'll leave you with a few general observations of the UAE:

1.) Hotels and malls seem to be the epicenters for activity. All the pubs/bars/clubs/nice restaurants are at hotels in Abu Dhabi. Same for Dubai, except all of the above are also at malls. Malls here are generally completely over the top, which is interesting for a little while, I suppose. I think if I were here with a buddy, less time would be spent in them.

2.) Unlike their counterparts in Calgary, taxis here actually seem to want your business. I can recall a few nights back home literally chasing after cabs, or getting in a cab only to be told that he didn't want to drive me anywhere outside of downtown. Over here, we've had taxis stop in the right lane of a busy roadway to give us a ride. Oh yeah, it's 1/3 the price and they enjoy the thrill of going 120 kph.

3.) They use A4 paper here, which is deceptively similar in size to 8.5 x 11". I've gotten a lot of exercise going to the printer (down two flights of stairs) to re-print excentric-looking reports. But, I digress.

4.) There is apparently in very small punk rock/metal scene in Dubai with the odd show in Abu Dhabi as well. Wish I could have seen one! Despite the heavy censorship laws here, it is still possible to buy most of the CDs you would want. I didn't see any Cannibal Corpse or Mayhem, but the metal section at the Virgin Megastore at the Mall of Emirates was pretty impressive. My favorite was the Ozzy CD in Abu Dhabi that had the horizontal section of the cross blacked out with permanent marker.

5.) Emirati value their cellphones (or mobiles, as the world outside of North America calls them). It's hard to walk on the street without being run over by a mobile store. They run rampant here, and my cheap little phone is apparently a poor choice according to the local standards. Sorry, but I don't feel like spending $500 on something that will allow people to call me with work-related questions.

But, I digress. There are a few pics up and see you work-type people on the 17th.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dunes Were Bashing

Hey everyone,

Time for another installment. I am happy to say that myself and my partner in crime have been making the most of the time spent here. I mean, might as well take advantage of a trip halfway across the world, right?

Between visiting a local movie theatre (where ringing mobile phone seem to be welcome), trying out the local dry cleaner (my shirt smells... tangy), and trying to explain to cab drivers in broken English the correct way home, it's been a pretty unique experience. I hope I don't sound like I'm complaining, because I actually think it's awesome - I love this stuff. Before I get into the next few stories, keep in mind that the weekend in Abu Dhabi spans on Friday and Saturday (Friday being the Holy Day here) and due to a scheduled power outage near IMV's office, Thursday became a day off (this week only). Woo hoo! 3-day weekend!

We tried out a dinner cruise along the Abu Dhabi Corniche (that's the boardwalk along the Persian Gulf) on Thursday, and it was incredible. The city lights in the huge buildings were astounding against the black background, especially on a calm night. Not to mention, the food was great; I just wish someone had prepared me for the sheer quantity of the meal! We filled ourselves with salads, mezza, and seafood before being presented with an additional THREE full courses. I tried to represent the bottomless pit club, but alas, I was met with grave failure (not literally). Oh well... better luck next time, Curt.

Thursday was actually a a really good weather day, so it was spent exploring the Mina (port) area including a fish market, carpet souk, and Iranian souk. We also checked out the Corniche (on land). There are many beautiful gardens here - I'm impressed any work gets done around this place. If a guy had a skateboard, I know where I'd ride it. On Saturday, we also went out to the gold souk and central market, which was pretty cool. All the prices at that place seem to be negotiable. Anyone want a discounted Wii with mod chips?

The last thing I'll tell you about in this edition is the Desert Safari Trip where we got to experience 'Dune Bashing'. That means get your 4x4 SUV and use it for what they were built for: offroading and driving over sand dunes like a maniac. A tour company picked us up late in the afternoon and took us on a rollercoaster ride through the sand in what was probably the craziest ride I've had in a non-roller coaster. Pictures will be up soon, but there were times where we were practically sideways. Thanks to the sand and our good friend centripital force, we were reasonably safe. Totally worth it. After the ride, we managed to grab supper in a desert camp complete with camel rides, good food, and shisha.

Well, hope all is well with you guys. Drop me a line when you get the chance.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Episode II: Attack of the Comparisons

Hey everyone,

Hope all is well in Calgary (and Australia and Norway and Trinidad and Ft. Mac and Saskatoon and you get the picture). I hear the weather continues to improve as always. Over here in Abu Dhabi, the forecast for the weekend is in the high twenties, so hopefully we don't get too sunburned this weekend. Nothing more uncomfortable than a sunburn, I'll tell ya. Things keep on moving here. Work is reasonably busy with many things to accomplish in a month.

My apologies to the people that didn't get that last email - check for the re-run. This does not mean I have a blog and I am not that geeky. This is simply a way to read, write, or edit a shared on-line journal.

Anyways, as I was saying last time, this place is really interesting and certainly unique. My in-depth reference to the Middle East is Egypt (mostly Cairo) and Jordan, and I think it's entirely unfair to make a true comparison between Abu Dhabi and those places. There are a few superficial similarities: the multiple daily calls to prayer, signs everywhere alternating between English and Arabic, adds for cellphones, cars driving at incredible speeds with seemingly little organization, and an abundance of economically priced taxis. These are superficial at best, as the taxis are all new (not so in Cairo). In fact, I've hardly seen ANY cars here that are derelict. All are nice, shiny, and quite new. In addition, there are quite a few traffic lights and people actually obey them! Stiff fines for those that run a red light (including potential prison term according to my guidebook).

The main part of Abu Dhabi is an island in the Persian Gulf connected to the mainland by a couple of large bridges. The IMV apartment (located in Mohammed Bin Zayed City and named after the new Sheikh) is on the mainland and it takes about 20-30 minutes to get to work in the morning. For the last two mornings, there has been a thick fog that has engulfed the city in total mist. Very cool, but it managed to delay our (knowledgable)driver who couldn't find the apartment in the haze. Crazy!

Culturally speaking, Abu Dhabi is a very diverse part of the world. I've heard that the population is only 30% local and the rest are all expatriates (Expats). So between people from India, Pakistan, the other Arab countries, the Phillipines, and North America/Europe, there's a pretty large cross section of people. Fortunately for us, most people seem to have a decent handle of English, but I've been impressing a few people with the unimpressive few scraps of Arabic that I know.

Yeesh, these emails get long. If you folks want to check out some pictures, feel free to look on Picasa ( More to come, to be sure. And I think we're gonna see a movie tonight at Marina Mall.

Talk to you guys later!


P.S. BIG Happy Birthday wishes to Stripey and Song!

Previous Post

That last entry is in actuality my first mass e-mail I sent out on Thursday February 7th. I'll keep posting them there for archiving purposes. I can't believe I have a blog now. My geek status just went up another few notches.

Arrived Safe And/Or Sound

Hey everyone,

Well, I'm here, I'm safe, I'm at work, and I have things to keep me happily busy. That really is the key point summary isn't it? If you're of short attention span, feel free zone out now, because you know the gist of everything in that one sentence.

For the rest of you, here's what I've managed to go through so far. The flight over was smooth as could be, after smelling what The Rock was cooking on the Calgary-Frankfurt leg, there was a short layover in Frankfurt that consisted mostly of walking and feeling tired. Didn't sleep much on that 9.5 hour flight, but managed to get four restless hours on the next leg between Frankfurt and Bahrain. Most everyone cleared off that plane, and an intrepid few of us surged onward to Abu Dhabi.

"Holy crap" were the first words out of my mouth when entering the secured area. Does anyone remember "Flight of the Navigator?" It was sort of like that, except really really big, really blue, and there were places to eat. I was too in awe/tired to take any pictures, but I will get some on the way out. Wow.

By the time I was out of there it was about 11:30 PM (about 20 hours after leaving home), so grabbed some Lebanese food and went to sleep in the IMV Apartment. IMV has a beautiful apartment here in Abu Dhabi... and right now, the process of refining and furnishing is taking place. Lee "Boy" Osness was staying there last month, and I'm not sure how much he enjoyed sleeping on the mattress that had the plastic factory wrap on it instead of sheets, or the shower that had no curtain, etc. Anyways, as of today, those omissions have been fixed.

The office at IMV is pretty good too. It's a villa, so basically a big residence converted to an office that works really well for myself and the 25 other employees. I have a pretty big office (or rather, cubicle in a room to myself) that actually has it's own bathroom (complete with tub/shower and bidet). How many of YOU have an office with it's own bathroom?? That's what I thought. (I think I just set myself up for Fergie to comment about the stupidity of working in an office). There's also a that brings tea twice a day, so that's pretty sweet. On the downside, the only printer in the office is on the ground floor and I'm on the third floor. Sometimes I pretend I'm Tristan that has to head down to 11 to get my printed documents. Well, not really, but I did call someone an "old sailor." Also, for better or worse, there is no Stadler or Waldorf.

Anyways, I could write lots more, but it would make this e-mail far too long. Next time, I'll try to elaborate a bit on what Abu Dhabi itself is like, but not until after the weekend (that's Fridays and Saturdays here). That's right, my weekend starts in a few hours, so enjoy working for two more days suckers! Pictures to come then, as well.