Meteorologists expect the UAE’s unseasonably hot weather to continue next month.Forty-eight degrees. For those of you keeping score at home, and by home I mean America, that's 118.4 beautiful degrees Fahrenheit. Al Ain, here I come!
Weather experts at the Dubai Meteorological Office said average temperatures were higher than usual in May and warned that heat and humidity would continue to rise in June.
“Temperatures for the month of May were not at an all-time high,” said Dr SK Gupta of the Dubai Meteorology Office. “But they were much higher than the average temperature for May. We had temperatures we would normally not see until June."
Average May temperatures typically hover at around 39 degrees Celsius, but over the past few weeks the mercury has pushed into the mid-40s.
June temperatures have been forecast to reach 48 degrees Celsius by the middle of June, significantly higher than the average of 39 degrees for the month.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
But guess where I'm gonna be? Hint: it's a place where Monday is forecast as the coolest day of the next seven, at a brisk 100 degrees.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
And speaking of food, this has just opened up on the bottom floor of the building I'm moving into:
Tomorrow is my day off, and maybe I have big plans and maybe I don't. Allegedly I get paid--dirhams are good. Perhaps I will take that money and buy some stuff, like a stove and a gym bag and sheets and a gym membership.
Friday, May 29, 2009
So instead, let's talk censorship. The UAE just announced that it is banning the sale of Busta Ryhmes' new album. I'm not a huge fan of Busta, but I have never found his music particularly provocative. (and maybe that's why I'm not a huge fan) But on his track "Arab Money," he pushes the envelope a little bit. He quotes the Quran.
Not such a huge deal in absolute terms, maybe, but a lot of folks here found it offensive, apparently. And Busta, who is Muslim himself, apologized.
But clearly it struck a nerve. In fact, as I listened to the song just now on YouTube, one of the editors, who is an Arab, walked by, looked at the screen and said, "it's appalling, isn't it?" I dunno. Probably if you are Muslim. For me it just sounded like a mushy, overproduced hip-hop track.
The lyrics--again, not really inspired--aren't blatantly offensive. It's all about, surprise surprise, how much money there is in the Arab world, and how he is getting it, spending it and impressing women with it. (also "gambling with Arafat," whatever that means) And I am about as anti-censorship as you can get. I'd just as soon see the thing on the shelves, and people can buy it, not buy it or mock it as they please.
On the other hand, it's not that much different from the album censorship attempts in the U.S. back in the '80s, when 2 Live Crew got a lot of attention, and so on. Then the First Amendment kicked in. Of course, there is no First Amendment in the UAE. But the genius of this ban is that no one will really get upset because:
1) You can still buy and download the album online.
2) You are perfectly free to own the album--you just can't buy it in this country. Hello, eBay!
In the end, conservatives are mollified and Busta Rhymes aficionados aren't terribly inconvenienced. It's not the best scenario, but this is a land of compromise. In 20 years, maybe government types here will be incensed about more important things, like what kind of dog the sheikh is getting for his kids.
But names... names are difficult. there is no one-for-one translation of letters and syllables, so you kind of have to make do. And the result is that a painfully Anglo name like mine--melodious though it may be--gets butchered about a million different ways. And that's beside the amusing use of first names and courtesy titles, i.e. Your Favorite Blogger becomes "Mr. Matthew." (mostly because I have given up trying to explain to clerks, HR folks and the like that I use my middle name in everyday life.)
Anyway, my name has been spelled and misspelled and butchered like a Thanksgiving turkey. Mathu, Mathyo, Mathew are just a few of the options to choose from. So if I ever need an alias, several already have been thought up for me.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I think I acquitted myself well: hit a bunch of midrange shots, a couple of threes and posted up as much as I could. The assists piled up. The rebounds rained down.
And so did the sweat. I felt bouncy at the beginning of the evening, but 20 minutes in I was drenched in perspiration, had consumed a half-liter of water and was doing everything I could to avoid running around. After two games of three-on-three (in which my team was humiliated both times), I had to take a break.
Blame it on the heat, blame it on the humidity, blame it on my advanced age. But I was spent. I ended up playing in three more games and survived.
Honestly, it felt really good (mentally speaking) to be playing basketball at all. It's my favorite sport, and it's not exactly a national pastime around here. And I know I sounded like I was patting myself on the back an awful lot above, but I DID do pretty well, some missed layups and clanged jumpshots aside.
It made me a little sad, though, to realize that I'm not as young as I was. Yeah, yeah--that's how time works, I shouldn't be surprised, etc. But it's hard for me to stay in front of someone on defense and although I never had more than a 25-inch vertical, I'm just not explosive anymore. Shot blocking used to be easy. Now it's work.
But the biggest indicator that times had changed was my right knee. Cartilage damage in high school (also playing basketball) meant arthroscopic surgery a few years ago and a surgeon telling me that the game was basically off-limits to me. Day to day, it's not a problem. But after two hours of high-heat hoops... look out.
It hurt last night. But today I'm walking like the old man I evidently am. I guess that's the import tariff on the world's greatest game.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
Anyway. First I had to strip down (my life) and pack up all the stuff I needed--sunscreen, neckties, sandals--with the notable exception of Mrs. Blog. Then I had to "live" in a hotel for a month. And now I'm moving again.
It's an odd feeling, because the lack of permanent accommodations has led directly to a slight lack of a permanent feeling. I suspect that will change as I move into my new flat, which may or may not have a cupcake shop opening on the ground floor... I can't think of any reason why Budget would have big pastry illustrations added to their windows.
In the meantime I'm packing my bags again and getting ready to hit the road... although the jet lag will be a little less deadly this time. And the time in transit--spent crashing with the Scots--will surely be more fun.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
-There were 18 violent deaths in Abu Dhabi last month, nearly all of which were traffic-related. To put that in context, as the population of the emirate is about 1 million, that's 240 traffic deaths per million people per year. The US is around 130 per million; Britain weighs in at 50 per million.
-41 injuries last month were caused by falls from high places. Which strikes me as astromonically high for a place this (relatively) small.
And my favorite, and I quote:
-"The police responded to 13 calls of childbirth."
In closing, stay out of the roads and you are unlikely to run into any problems, unless you're pregnant.
A Pakistani reporter here at The National tipped me off to a few good places to try. Being in need of a stroll, I picked the one nearest to my hotel and started off. Of course, I wasn't so foolish as to simply try to follow the "directions" to the place: something along the lines of "on Electra, on the right as you head toward Le Meridien." The street is of course several kilometers long. So I checked with Google first, and armed with a better location, I hit the road.
The place was called Al Ibrahimi, and this was the first sign I saw.
Pursuing the storefront around the corner, however, I found joy. So much joy, in fact, that it took two pictures to capture.
Inside, no one really spoke English, but that was OK, because the menu was translated and I knew exactly what I wanted. Nehari, rice, raitha, sweet lassi. And that's what I got.
The only silverware I got was used for scooping rice and shredding beef. Fortunately I had learned in India to eat using just bread and my right hand--it paid off here. And then, my belly full of burning goodness, I tried to take the bus to work.
It went better than last time, but not by a huge margin. The No. 44 heads up Al Karamah Street, which looks closer to the office on a map than it really is. Especially on a 100-degree day. Next time I'll take the 32. Actually, next time I'll probably be living just a half-kilometer from the office... score one for reducing greenhouse emissions.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
But here's the thing--sorry, Helga--I haven't used any of it. And I haven't gotten sunburned! Granted, I haven't exactly been sunbathing... my only shirtless moments at the beach were around sunset, so no harm done there. But I HAVE been outside quite a bit, and I DO have a pasty Irish complexion, so what gives? Perhaps my sweat has some kind of prismatic anti-UV properties, in which case I need to bottle the stuff and get rich.
The bigger hazard at the moment seems to be getting a tan (or at least a "less pale") in the pattern of my clothing. Worse, because I wear sunglasses everywhere, I'm worried about the dreaded raccoon tan. (I searched for a good picture of it, but they were all so horrifying I just gave up)
Sadly, I think we know how this story ends. I get overconfident... I play beach volleyball for eight straight hours at the Corniche... I turn fire-engine red. The blog post will be epic; weep for me now.
On a more positive note, I have pictures of Hop Fest, the somewhat lackluster beer festival most notable for occurring in the Middle East, and of the dual victory today of both finding nehari and riding the bus to (almost) work. Coming soon.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Click here because my ridiculously bad hotel Internet connection takes hours to upload the video. In the meantime, look at this pretty Space Shuttle picture.
For a space dork like me, this stuff is catnip. The last camera view is my favorite, at least until it gets spattered with gunk from the booster's burnout.
For another, you learn that at beer festivals, people of different nationalities are quite willing to teach you foreign insults. A Scottish guy--we'll call him "Matt"--explained to me that three individually innocuous words, delivered with the right intonation and appropriately crude hand gesture, can start a rockin' bar fight.
That's information you can't pay for.
Also, apparently no one on the British side of the pond has heard of Mr. Rogers. Not sure what to do about that one.
In conclusion, there will be photos at some point. Stay tuned.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
And the stars in general have always fascinated me. I remember the first time I really saw the Milky Way: I was taking a night-time shower in Paraguay, trying not to think too hard about the fact that anyone with a flashlight could get as good a view as they wanted, and I looked up. Bam. The entire galaxy was spread out above me. It helped that there were maybe a dozen electric lights in the surrounding 100 square miles.
Kind of like this:
So Texans are good for something. If nothing else, it's a reminder that no matter what stars you see, your relationship to them is tiny and unchanging.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
First of all, I had to get change for the taxi; the relative value of the dirham aside, handing a cabbie a Dh100 note is like handing a U.S. taxi driver a $100 bill. It don't fly... unless you're willing to pay Dh100 for a Dh5 ride.
Outside the mall where I got change was a taxi stand. A taxi came almost immediately; I waved for the woman waiting next to me to get in. Big mistake. I should have thrown some elbows, stepped on the hem of her abaya, something--because my cab-hailing success rate soon went from 100 percent to about 2 percent.
I spent the next hour at several different taxi stands; at each, there was a fairly steady stream of taxis, but they all wanted to go to Mussaffah, an industrial area where many of the laborers live. It's a popular taxi destination because they are always guaranteed a full ride and can get away with charging a flat Dh5 fare because they can turn off their meters when they leave the island.
Then one taxi did agree to give me a lift, and I hopped in the back seat, and an Emirati hopped in the front seat and launched into a heated conversation with the taxi driver. The driver kept pointing back at me and saying, quite obviously, "he was here first" and "I'll come back and get you." Heated escalated to shouting escalated to the driver repeatedly opening the passenger-side door and motioning for the man to get out.
But in the end, I threw my hands in the air and got out before any punches were thrown.
At that point, the bus arrived. I have no idea how the routes work--there are no maps available anyplace but the sides of the buses themselves--but I paid my 1 dirham and hopped onboard, because what the hell, it was headed in the right direction and I only had 15 minutes to get to work.
Sadly, the bus deviated from its helpful course with an unexpected right turn, and I got off. But happily, another 10 minutes at a taxi stand yielded an air-conditioned ride, and I arrived at work... a half-hour late.
So, in closing, no, I do not want to go to Mussaffah, and no, I have no clue how the bus system here works. That must change.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
Sunday, May 17, 2009
But one of the most annoying aspects is that the entire year's rent is due in advance. So on top of high prices, you have to either have super-deep pockets or a company with generous benefits when it comes to housing.
I had thought this was just a quirk, like how Cincinnatians put chili on their spaghetti and Scots deep-fry everything. However, I was told last night it actually stems from Islamic lending practices. A little research shows no proscription against leasing per se, but charging interest or payment penalties are forbidden. So perhaps this just protects landlords, who in theory have no recourse for a tenant who doesn't pay on time... or ever.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Fortunately for a fresh-off-the-boat Westerner like me, the only everyday item you really haggle over anymore is cab fare. And even then you can always play the trump card of insisting the cab driver turn on his meter.
But such an abundance of everyday commerce can cause problems for someone who hasn't dealt with the currency before. Case in point: I go to the falafel shack for dinner last night and the total cost is 12 dirhams. I get a 10 out of my wallet and what I thought was a five. But no. It was a 50.
Fortunately the falafel guy was gracious, didn't mock me too much, and gently asked me if I had a five instead of a 50.
The issue is that the five and the 50 are roughly the same color and only have numbers I can read on one side. The 10 and the 20 are similar, too, especially in the dark. The 200 is the only bill I can recognize without pulling it partway out of my wallet, and that's because it is the only yellow bill.
My European friends assure me that only an idiot or an American (but I repeat myself, ha ha) wouldn't be able to tell the difference among different-sized bills. But are a few millimeters really enough to steer me between red and pink, 5 and 50, "keep the change" and "what a rube"? I say no. Take that to the bank.
Friday, May 15, 2009
But the funny thing is, there exists a somewhat logical addressing system. Every streetcorner has a sign that says what sector and zone the cross-street is in, and gives the street names. And if you look closely, there are actual numbers on the houses.
Meanwhile, the UAE has promised that the postal service will offer home delivery within a couple of years--at the moment, all mail has to be picked up at post office boxes. (or, if you're me, at your office mailbox.)
How will the letter carriers find individual houses? Why--GPS, of course.
The new GPS system will eliminate the confusion of trying to find a location by street name and building number, a major hurdle to a door-to-door delivery service.
At present, people trying to find a building often rely on landmarks and major roads.While authorities in Ras al Khaimah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are in various stages of implementing street name and numbering projects, those would have no bearing on Emirates Post’s plans, Mr al Suwaidi said.
While every building in Abu Dhabi city is numbered and sectored, the green street signs that give a sector, zone number and street number are not commonly used, and building numbers are not prominently displayed.
Because of these difficulties, delivering mail to residents’ doorsteps had been “a dream which we are working to make true”, said Mr al Suwaidi, a member of a committee that worked on the project.
So, to recap, navigation will not get any easier, because who needs addresses when you have longitude/latitude coordinates? "Driver, please take me to N2516.222 E05523.140."
Thursday, May 14, 2009
2) A much worse cover band that plays System of a Down... right after "Heaven Isn't Too Far Away."
Band (2) was in a Filipino bar done up in a jungle motif, complete with vines hanging from the ceiling and a stuffed leopard. Abu Dhabi is an interesting place.
Meanwhile, I learned the origin's of the city's name. Evidently a thirsty Bedouin wandering in the desert followed a gazelle to an oasis. At the oasis was water, obviously, but also a guitar. And thus the city was named Abu Dhabi, which means "father gazelle." Also, "al gazal" means gazelle too. And this story was told to me by a Scottish dude who may or may not have been fabricating an additional element to the story in which the gazelle won the guitar from Stevie Wonder in a game of poker.
Anyway, how this all comes full circle is that it not only explains the name of the city... it explains how the guitar player in band (1) was able to so easily tear through some serious blues riffs.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Here is the shot I arrived there for:
The flagpole there is incredibly tall--several hundred feet. The domed building next to it as the Abu Dhabi Theater (or Theatre, as we say around here), which, given its proximity to the Heritage Village, I think is basically just used for traditional productions.
Now, in my other post I mentioned a "Tony Scott sunset," and this is what I was talking about. The sun turns a brilliant orange and seems to simply melt as it nears the horizon.
However, a problem I ran into almost immediately after getting my camera out of the back is a major drawback of the aforementioned humidity, and one that I can't figure out how to get around. I obviously store my camera in my hotel room, which is fantastically well air-conditioned. And then outside it's like a million degrees out, and the result is insta-condensation. On the UV filter and at both ends of the lens. The result is akin to a generous smearing of vaseline on the glass:
Another hazard is the temptation to take pictures of everyday objects. Hey, that sign's funny. Look at how congested the intersection is. Those construction workers are holding hands. And so on.
So in conclusion, we see that there is brilliant light here, but a host of issues that I have not yet overcome. As I said before, about a 25 percent success rate on photo taking. Anyone with expertise, feel free to weigh in.
Oh, and I almost forgot: Film processing here is the best... film processing... ever. I got prints, a CD (just for you, dear reader) and they threw in a 36-exposure roll of film. Awesome.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Regulators are gearing up to review all outstanding developments under a new law that gives them authority to cancel projects that do not start construction within six months of being approved by the Dubai Government. They are already considering cancelling 27 projects and are ready to halt additional developments that show no sign of being built and force developers to repay any outstanding amounts.
Marwan bin Ghalita, the chief executive of the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA), said the new regulation would bring transparency to the market and encourage developers to follow through with their commitments.
“Many of these projects are from developers that are coming to us and saying ‘we don’t want to be in trouble’,” Mr bin Ghalita said. “It’s better to cancel them, rather than leave them dangling. It will give the market correct data.”
Monday, May 11, 2009
In the Emirates, while 34 per cent of those questioned had a favourable opinion of the superpower, the 40 per cent unfavourable was the second lowest in the survey; only Kuwait, with 34 per cent, was lower.
The Emirates and the US have close political and economic ties. The UAE is America’s biggest single export market in the region. It is the only Arab country to have troops operating alongside the Americans in Afghanistan, and more than 750 US companies have operations here.
Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and the UAE found a region generally more optimistic about Mr Obama, who became US president in January. The UAE is among the most optimistic: 52 per cent of those polled here approved of him, while 19 per cent said they were “neutral” on him. They were topped by Jordan, with a 58 per cent favourable opinion of Mr Obama, and Saudi Arabia, with 53 per cent.
But more telling, Mr Obama had a far lower negative approval rating in the UAE – only 14 per cent of those polled here held an unfavourable opinion of him, compared to Saudi Arabia and Jordan, where 24 and 29 per cent, respectively, were unfavourable.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
And then there are the cats. They live in the courtyard directly behind my desk--a grassy area with a shaded lounge where the paper's many smokers go to inhale North Carolina tar. There is a bag of food and treats, and always a big bowl of water for them to sip on.
As cats tend to do, they mostly just lounge around and meow at things. Sometimes they wander into the newsroom for a nap or a bout of sustained yowling, usually about the time someone orders in something that smells delicious.
I have yet to get a good picture of them wandering among The National's work stations, but here they are in their most common pose:
I don't think they have names or anything, but they are a nice addition to the experience. At least you can count on them to bathe regularly, which is more than you can say for most journalists.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
The high-rises under construction on Al Reem Island in downtown Abu Dhabi. These buildings alone should ease the massive housing crunch here and allow blue-collar schlubs like myself access to fancypants housing.
More (and less lame!) pictures to come.