Thursday, September 27, 2007

Joy in Thailand

After months living in Abu Dhabi, Q and I took our first together-trip to Thailand. Even though it was quite short (only six days), it was joyful nevertheless, filled with - you guessed it - food. Anyways, photos are worth a thousand words, so here they are, all through Q's observing eyes (In case you are wondering, I left my camera at home thanks to my blondeness).

As for impression of the country, we both felt that we barely scratched the surface, and will definitely go back for more. To me, it was even a bit interesting since it's my first Asian country outside China, it was, different yet familiar. I was relieved to see the Thais seemed to have done a better job in preserving the some traditions, but just about everywhere supermarkets are popping up, cornering out the local markets, so maybe it's just a matter of time.

With just a few days back home, we're itching to set off on a month-long journey in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Should be very exciting!!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Children in Cars

Here in UAE we have noticed that most of the time the children are not strapped into any sort of seat belts, let alone baby seats. Q and I often gasp at the sight of kids running around wild in moving vehicles and sticking their little heads from the back seat row to the front.

A couple days ago I saw one that was the case at its worst display. As a car was pulling away from a parking lot, I saw the driver (I'm guessing the father) was holding a baby with one arm and steering wheel in another, and the baby was only too happy to drink from its milk bottle. The mother sat in the seat next to the driver, and she had a little boy standing in front of her knees. Yeah, what a great family outing! ...NOT! (Sorry, that was my Borat imitation slipped out.)

This is particularly a problem if you read the news article today that apparently there were over 240,000 accidents reported last year on Dubai roads alone, and that is about one every two minutes. I only hope the local authority will start some awareness campaign sooner rather than later.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The fire scare

It's been three months since we moved into the apartment. After about 2 dozen false fire alarms during those months, today we finally got the real fire scare.
This afternoon the fire alarm kept going off. We tried to ignore it, as proper ignorant citizens should do, but when we actually smelled smoke enter our apartment through the ventilation system, we thought it best to head down the fire escape.

And it proved a sound decision. On the way down, there was smoke building up on the 8th floor. In only a few minutes the Fire Department (or, as they call themselves, Civil Defense) and Police were on location and proceeded to fight the fire.
It turned out to be an 'ordinary' kitchen fire, and they managed to extinguish the fire quite quickly. But it did alert us to what could happen so easily!
Fortunately no one got hurt, and our apartment is fine. We could return to it after an hour and a half.

Interesting thing... even as we already were standing outside for half an hour, people sporadically still were coming out of the building. People who earlier obviously had ignored or not heard the fire alarm...

Yes, time to get our home insurance set up!

Kol A'Am Entt Bekheer!

Kol A'Am Entt Bekheer is how you can greet a friend when you see each other for the first time during Ramadan, pronounced as 'kol aam entuh begeer' (for Dutchies).

'Ramadan Kareem!' is different way of greeting people, and certainly much easier to remember!

Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims, has begun. This year it started on Sept 13th and will finish on Oct 12th in UAE (each country's calendar can be different based on the ministries' moon reading). Among a few other things, one of the most important aspects of Ramadan is that Muslims have to fast (i.e. no food or drink) from sunrise to sunset, and additional prayers throughout the day.

For us non-Muslims, even though we are not part of the Ramadan, our lives are noticeably affected by it. We are not allowed to eat or drink in public during daylight hours, so we have to wait until we get get back to the privacy of our home (or for instance here at work in the recreation room). A lot of restaurants are closed during the Holy Month, some do open, but they only deliver during the day and then open only after night falls. Rumor has it that some restaurants are open during daylight, but windows are blinded - we have yet to find those!

We also notice the other side: when the sun sets, people break their fasts with Iftar, a meal containing a lot of sweets. Often the first thing they eat is a date. It is celebrated together with family and loved ones in big tents setup throughout the city. We are still looking forward to joining one of the Iftar celebrations. Other perks are shorter working hours for a lot of people, which unfortunately doesn't include me... (Shu is happy, since her comfort food restaurant has extended it's opening hours until 2.30 am!)

We are warned by other expats that the half hour before Iftar is the most dangerous time of day to be in the streets, as people are tired since they have been up long (they have breakfast before sunrise), haven't eaten or drunk anything for hours, and want to join their families for Iftar. This makes them speed (well, when don't they speed!), and generally more reckless while driving. That's why it's no surprise that minor accidents caused massive traffic jam in Dubai yesterday. Half an hour after Iftar starts, the situation is back to normal... you might even call it 'quiet'!

Last night after the first day of Ramadan, it was celebrated in Abu Dhabi with a huge display of fireworks on the Corniche. We went with a group of friends and it was very impressive. (funny side-note, the event was announced only sporadically, so there were not that many spectators. This apparently is 'normal' around here... big (free!) events don't get advertised as much for some reason, and don't get the attention it deserves)

Anyways... we'll only see part of the Ramadan celebrations here in Abu Dhabi, since we'll be on holidays for a few weeks... among others to Malaysia, also an Islamic country and Indonesia, only the biggest Islamic country in the world ;) well, actually, it will be interesting to see how people practise Ramadan in these different countries! And we'll be in Indonesia when Eid, the end of Ramadan, is celebrated!

Read more on Ramadan, Iftar and Eid on Wikipedia. And also a blog on Ramadan around the world.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

塞翁失马, 焉知非福

The Chinese idiom refers to an ancient tale of a man who lost his horse, but gained when his horse returned a few days later with another horse. The moral of the story is that misfortune may actually be a blessing. This was my case when I was stuck at the Geneva airport on the late night of Tuesday, August 14th.

(Rewind to a month ago. Sorry for the delay in sharing!)

My original return ticket from Geneva to Abu Dhabi was a booked ticket for Sept 11th, and since I wanted to return early (4 weeks was already quite along away from Q and new home!), I tried my luck with stand-by ticket on August 14th. I don't know how many of you have had similar experience, but now I've done it, I have to say it can cause a great deal of anxiety and excitement and if you are unlucky like I was, disappointment. I was told that the flight was overbooked, but following Q's advice, I stayed at the gate till the plane took off, and boy was I upset when I was told to go home. It means I was stuck at Geneva for at least two days before trying again with the next outbound flight.

Lucky for me, my couchsurfing host Karine let me crash at her apartment again! Very bummed I arrived at Karine's almost near midnight, but very quickly we came to the idea of going to Interlaken for some adrenaline rush! The next morning we were well on our way to some world-class white-water rafting and parachuting! Needless to say, we had an awesome time! For your viewing pleasure, here is a series of action photos from the rafting trip (click to open, I'm the front-left paddler):

here is a video clip of Karine and her parachute pilot during take-off:

And here is a clip of my parachute during landing:

Later that night we arrived back at Karine's to the good news of a confirmed flight ticket for the following day. All of sudden, missing previous day's flight didn't seem so bad! Two days later, I came back to Abu Dhabi safely with just a few more travel stories. Love it!

UAE Facts and Why Abu Dhabi

First, here are some facts about UAE to help people understand us better:

Fact about the country. U.A.E. stands for "United Arab Emirates" and is a country in the Middle East region, which is part of the Asia continent. The country has seven emirates and each emirate has its own ruler (and rules of course), but together they are united under one governing body, hence the name.

Fact about the rulers. The head of the UAE governing body is the ruler of Abu Dhabi emirate. His full title is "UAE President, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan" with "HH Sheikh Khalifa" in short. Following him is "UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum" with "HH Sheikh Mohammed" in short. FYI, "sheikh" means "prince", "bin" means "son of", and "al" indicates the family name. If you ever visit UAE, you will see posters of big and small with photos of the rulers everywhere:
Fact about the twin cities. Abu Dhabi is the capital city of U.A.E. and Dubai is the biggest city. They are just about 1.5 hr drive apart from each other - without traffic jams of course. (Q says just over 1 hr, but then he speeds and I don't, yet.)

For those of you who asked why Abu Dhabi, Q and I picked it for three main reasons: our passion for a distinctly-different culture, a central location for further travelling and a decent income - simple as that! When Q's friend Maarten the Super Chef suggested Dubai to us, we jumped on the idea right away with a scouting trip earlier in February. As it turned out, Dubai was very impressive, but a bit overwhelming considering how fast and aggressive it grows, so we decide to opt for the lower-key Abu Dhabi, which sits on an island sorta like the Manhattan. This way we can enjoy the less-crazy city life and it's an easy drive to Dubai if we crave for something bigger.

p.s. For those who have shown great concern about my driving, I ensure you that I have successfully passed the honking exercise, i.e. not panicking even when getting honked.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Interview with my old work

My old work in The Netherlands, LVNL, interviewed me about my move to a new country and job. They published the result in their monthly magazine distributed among their employees.

Click the picture to read the article (mind you, it's in Dutch....)

(for some strange reason the article refers me working at Nadia International Airport, this is a mistake, I actually don't work in any airport. let alone that one...=)