Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I used a hand-cranked drill to hang a cabinet and mount a shelf

That's why you will now watch a music video of DJ C-Saga feat. $tephen Hawking.

Who knew the universe had a nice backbeat?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Peace harbor

Ah, Dubai. You are apparently in a permanent state of construction and traffic jams, yet your beaches and sci-fi skyline make those problems seem so distant sometimes.

We spent the weekend at Mina a'Salaam--Peace Harbor, Harbor of Peace, Peaceful Harbor, something like that--at the Madinat Jumeirah. Even those of you living in a place that isn't a desert may have heard that name... it's where the Burj Al Arab is. Our room had a nice view of both the Burj (which we didn't visit) and the beach (which we very much did). Proof:

It's like a giant sailboat, except with a hotel instead of a sail.

Downtown Dubai wasn't too far away, but it was pretty hazy. Still, though, I think you can see the "is that REAL?" quality that the half-mile-tall Burj Dubai elicits from a distance.

Not a matte painting. (also not a great photo--taken with my cell phone)

We had a wonderful time. Ate a meal in a beautiful restaurant at the end of a long pier between the Palm and the Burj Al Arab. How long was the pier? They insisted on driving us back to shore in a golf cart. Superlative.

Now we're back in Abu Dhabi, awaiting a couch and pondering hardware choices for hanging lamps. But the peaceful glow will stick for a while.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dear fire alarm,

I appreciate that you are loud enough to wake me up in the middle of the night if there's trouble. That reassures me that, should an emergency arise, we can hustle out to safety.

However, in the future, I think it would be best if you didn't randomly go off at 4 a.m. because of a short circuit or something. Being an alarm system, you never sleep, and that's cool. But the occupants of this building do. And predawn Saturday morning is no time to be awake for just about any reason.


Apartment 101

P.S. Dear guys trying to fix the alarm this morning: 9 a.m. on a Saturday is only marginally more acceptable for fire alarm tests.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Funny things happen here

For one, Mrs. Blog and I found ourselves drinking beer and smoking shisha in the Middle East last night. That's not so surprising today, sure, but it's not something either of us would have predicted, say, last year.

For another, I have a can of regular Coke sitting on my desk--the vending machine was out of Diet--and I can't really finish it. I'm as big of a soda fan as I am a hater of high-fructose corn syrup, so faced with the choice of embracing no-sugar sweeteners or abandoning fizzy drinks altogether, it was a pretty easy decision. The result is that I have been drinking diet sodas for a while now... and all of a sudden the regular stuff tastes like a sugar bomb. I'm not sure what any of this means, but I thought you'd like to know.

And I most likely will be mounting a shoe cabinet to the wall of our second bedroom using a hand drill. Yeah. The kind that runs on elbow grease. Again, not something I would have predicted.

Finally, we're heading to Dubai this weekend, to a hotel on the ocean nicely situated between this:

Fronds to the left of us.

... and this:
Sailcloth to the right.

An island made to look like a palm frond and a tower made to look like a sail: how's that for a funny thing... and a great way to celebrate a whirlwind month.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I'm not sure which is more bizarre:

Moammar Ghadaffi's speech--in which he pulled a Fidel-esque rambler of a nonsensical oratory, suggesting at one point that Obama should be made king for life...


The football and basketball teams of my alma mater getting in not one, not two, but THREE inter-squad scuffles in the last 24 hours. One of which put a basketball player in the hospital with a dislocated thumb.

I'm going to go ahead and vote for Ghadaffi, just because of the unintentional comedic value of making a long speech to a body (the UN) that he explicitly points out he does not recognize as legitimate. I wonder how his jumpshot is....

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In which I ignore professional courtesy for a moment

Dan Brown makes a tremendous living from his work. I would be happy with 1/10 of his financial success.

And yet. And yet. And yet... the man's writing drives me nuts. To me, it seems slapdash, awkward and often just inaccurate. But don't take my word for it.

16. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not move." On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly. Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars. He was broad and tall, with ghost-pale skin and thinning white hair. His irises were pink with dark red pupils.

A silhouette with white hair and pink irises stood chillingly close but 15 feet away. What’s wrong with this picture?

This cracked me up. How couldn't it? And have his publishers given up on editing Mr. Brown altogether? This is the stuff an editing novice would pick up on in one pass where I come from.

Great moments in video game advertising

A couple of years ago, I wrote this.

That was an ad for a video game. Its live-action, documentary feel gave it a broader emotional appeal than you might expect. Now, with Halo 3: ODST hitting the market soon, Bungie has commissioned another live-action ad. And again, I'm impressed with the production values and use of something besides raw gameplay to get people interested.

Halo 3: ODST Live Action Extended Trailer - Watch more Game Trailers

Anyone agree? Or am I just thinking about this too hard?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bits and pieces

So the apartment is coming together. Sure, there's still no couch. And yes, there are various screws, fasteners and bits of cardboard lying around from the mountain of Ikea furniture we have assembled over the last two weeks.

But on the two-week anniversary of our bleary-eyed arrival in the UAE, progress has been made. Today, for instance, I installed a chandelier in Mrs. Blog's pink office. Tomorrow I will be hanging a full-length Hello Kitty mirror.*

Ramadan is over now, and that's a relief for everyone, I think. For those who were fasting, the option of a daytime bite is now on the table. For those who weren't, random Ramadan store hours (closed from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.? Why? WHY!?) are now off the table. Of course, now it's Eid time. Eid was actually on Sunday, and the government declared Monday through Wednesday a public holiday, so I imagine Thursday will be the first opportunity I'll have to, say, visit a post office that is actually open when it says it will be.

In the meantime, though, at least we can drink water on the street, enjoy indoor light that doesn't come from a naked 60-watt bulb and explore the neighborhood in weather that continues to creep below the triple-digit threshold.

*only one of those last two sentences is true.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Let's get Iftarded in here

Last night, we ate Iftar.

What's Iftar? It's the sundown meal during Ramadan--a month of daytime fasting. At the end of a long (and in the UAE, excruciatingly hot) day of not eating or drinking, Iftar is the moment when you can sit down and finally give your stomach what it wants.

Or, in our case, about 10 times what our stomachs wanted.

When the fast-ending prayer sounded, the crowds headed to the buffet, stacking their plates toward the heavens and washing it all down with coffee, water, and mystery beverages (which we later, with the help of Google, discerned were mixed berry and tamarind juices).


The meal began with dates and ended with a plate of sweets. The more or less complete damage, in the order it occurred:

-Dates, apricots, laban (yogurt drink)
-Lentil soup
-Cheeses, breads, crackers
-Pita, hummous, baba ganoush, foul (beans), a mint salad (I think), stewed zucchini salad
-Shrimp, lima beans, falafel, samosas, grilled steak, grilled chicken, "chicken Harris"
-Lamb, rice, chicken jalfrazie, potatoes au gratin, kefta kabob, macaroni and cheese
-Gulab jamon (Indian sweets), sugar cookie, pineapple, I know I'm forgetting some desserts here

Foreground: assorted spreads. Middle ground: a concerned blogger with plate No. 3. Background: Iftar madness. (photos courtesy Mrs. Blog. All rights reserved)

The end result was a serious Iftar coma and the feeling that we would be just fine without eating for the next 24 hours. But that's all part of the fun.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

33--more difficult than I thought

We hit the gym today for the first time since arriving here. It was also my first workout since I headed back to the States... and since I turned 33. The point was driven home when the stationary bike told me that my target heart rate for a cardio workout was now one beat per minute slower than it had been for my 32-year-old self.

I clicked it back to the old target, started pedaling, and survived.

Pedal and survive: It's not a bad mantra when getting re-settled into a place like Abu Dhabi. Things that I kind of took for granted or tuned out--the heat, the occasional maddening paucity of taxis, the basic unwalkability of the city, the view from our front window--can accumulate into a big pile of frustration quickly for someone experiencing them for the first time. The good stuff too, from friends to sights to restaurants... that needs to be accounted for all over again.

It's a transition, and you have to keep rolling with it. Although no one is going to be dumb enough to ride a bike around in Abu Dhabi's streets.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Concrete is mostly sand

I know this not just because I have thoroughly mastered the obvious, but because I drilled through about six inches of it today in hanging a mirror in our bedroom. Concrete is the primary building material around here (No. 2 being tinted glass), and it makes perfect sense, given that it's mostly... sand. And we live in a desert.

But it's a huge pain in the butt when you're trying to make a house a home.

For instance, in most circumstances, if you need to hang a picture, you drill a hole in the drywall and screw in a hook. If it's a massive picture--Center High School Class of '95, for example--then you use a drywall anchor. And if it's a mirror big enough to signal the International Space Station, then you find a stud and cross your fingers.

Here, in the land of concrete, you drill and then pretend that the drywall anchors you buy at Carrefour are actually masonry anchors. You also ignore the fact that the drill you borrowed doesn't quite hold the bits steady, so that 1/8" hole is closer to 1/4" than you'd like it to be. And finally, you'll ignore the fact that everyone apparently uses wood bits to drill into sheet rock, concrete and, who knows, glass, metal, lettuce and styrofoam too.

Up next: installing a new light fixture knowing for certain only that the blue wire connects to the blue wire, and the brown wire connects to the brown wire.

Jet lag: It's not just for breakfast anymore

In fact, at the moment, it's rearing its bleary head around dinner time.

The most obvious manifestation of jet lag is, quite simply, that your body thinks it is one time while the world--we'll call it reality--reflects something different. It's 9 a.m. in Abu Dhabi: Time to wake up! It's midnight in Chicago: Time to (probably) go to bed!

When I first arrived here, I was up early every morning because, well, that's what my body wanted to do. And I spent enough time walking around during the day that by the time I got home from work (or the Cellar), I was ready to crash. So over a couple of weeks, a routine took shape, and I was good to go.

A week into this most recent arrival, Mrs Blog and I have encountered some annoying stuff like sleeping until 2 p.m. or not being able to sleep at 4 a.m. And in circumstances like that, not even the adrenalin blast of wrangling with Etisalat's customer service can keep a guy conscious.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Similarities and differences

Sunday night with Mrs. Blog in the UAE:

We went out to dinner. Had Italian, as a matter of fact. Her dish was way better than mine. These things, they are not much different from life in the United States.

After dinner, we walked along the Corniche, a long waterfront park in Abu Dhabi that overlooks the Persian-I-mean-Arabian Gulf. It was about a million degrees out (although it didn't feel that way at first). We took pictures of Ramadan decorations. These things, they are very different.

And so that is how our first weekend in the UAE went. Yes, I'm leaving out the fun stuff, like buying, building and moving furniture. But that's not the same or different--it's just part of getting settled into a new home... albeit one that happens to be equidistant to a mosque and the Spike of Prosperty (cq) grocery store.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The easier solution is just close the restaurants

I don't know where this sign is actually from--other than it wouldn't be out of place in Abu Dhabi this time of year.

It's like a sign prohibiting signs.

We were at the mall today procuring some groceries and electronics, and I have to say it was a little odd to walk by all the shut-down restaurants. No gelato, no coffee, no Fuddrucker's... until sundown, your capitalism had to find other outlets.

So we bought a TV.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On football

The start of both the football and "American" football seasons is upon us. While I assembled Ikea furniture last night, England pasted Croatia 5-1 and qualified for the World Cup. Meanwhile, tonight (tomorrow morning if you are in country code +971, holla), the NFL season begins.

I'm not sure I'll be able to watch any of the games--only partly because I do not yet own a television--but I've already had an interesting conversation about fantasy football with the guy sitting behind me. We'll call him Cherry Bear, because that's what he named his fantasy team. Anyway, it was interesting because he's British, and I'm American, and we're supposed to hate soccer and football, respectively, but there we were, talking about World Cup qualification and whether Kerry Collins or Brady Quinn would be a better backup quarterback.

It's enough to make a guy want to go drink some beer, eat a chili dog (but not during daylight hours) and watch grown men tackle each other.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Kansas City, there I was

It has been brought to my attention that I didn't do justice to the two days I spent in my hometown, Kansas City, during this most recent sweep through the beautiful United States of Health Care Confusion. And it's true. I mentioned barbecue, but I didn't mention:

-happy hour with my 97-year-old grandmother
-enjoying homemade chocolate pudd... er, mousse
-to paraphrase a line from Mrs. Blog, a "wonderful meal with wonderful company" at the River Market
-green grass, lush gardens, bubbling fountains and reasonably priced cocktails
-my parents and their hospitality

So there you have it. Kansas City was fun but brief. Ideally, the next time we swing through town we'll be able to see some old friends, relax a bit and maybe even see the Royals slip further into last place.

I'm back, and I'm hungry

Mostly because it's hard to find a daytime meal during Ramadan here. In fact, my desk at work is next to the "eating room" at the office, which is used for eating, because eating in public during the daytime is considered offensive. This also means that the food court at Ikea--where Mrs. Blog and I spent about four hours and [REDACTED] dirhams today--will not serve-a da svedish meatballs.

In short, I'm back from the United States.

I said goodbye to an old home, hello to a new life, watched California burn, ate barbecue and eventually landed back in Abu Dhabi to greet our newly painted apartment (now with pink guest bedroom!). Oh, and I took a bunch of pictures too... although naturally the only ones I have handy at the moment are of...

Bonus points if a) you can pick my favorite aircraft out of this bunch, and b) you can name every plane in the picture.

... airplanes. Specifically, on the deck of the USS Midway in San Diego.

Another California shot:

What has palm trees and water, but is not Abu Dhabi?*

Anyway, despite the lack of easy snacking and the abundance of yet-to-be assembled furniture, life is good. Now let's just hope that I can get NFL games on TV....

*Newport Beach