Saturday, September 26, 2009

Smart Board

I finally took a picture of my SmartBoard connected to my computer. I was going to snap a picture while the kids were working but since next week is no school (everything is closed to prevent the spread of swine flu) I decided not to wait. It's an interactive touch screen. I can stand at the board and type, open up web pages or move things around - really a great tool!!!

Heading for Dubai

All my life I thought of Dubai as a city in the United Arab Emirates. Well…I was wrong. It’s actually an emirate (like a state) – one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE. It is the most populated one of the seven and the 2nd largest. See what you learn from someone living overseas??!! I know…now you want a map so you can tell where in the world we went….

We’re back the “-est” competition here. The Dubai Airport is the largest in the world by floor space. Don’t ask…I have no idea how else one would measure the size of an airport – though you could check on number of visitors (it’s 6th in the world) or cargo or….guess the list goes on. We were only in one very small section of it – complete with trees, waterfall and koi pond!

Dubai Tour

Since we were indeed tourists, we did do the tourist thing, taking one of the buses around town and having the chance to see things around the area. First stop was the Dubai museum. Now, at first glance it was rather primitive. Located in the old Al Fahidi Fort, it started with a courtyard filled with Old cannons, old dhows, a small hut and other old artifacts. However….when you entered the last room, you entered a warren of displays and halls that led underground and through a fabulous trip through time and the history of Dubai! It was very well done and quite interesting.

Historical Dubai

Dubai is working on creating a cultural heritage site where they can highlight traditional crafts and culture – for the tourists, of course. This heritage village includes a pearl diving village with many different craftsmen working and demonstrating their crafts as well as small shops to buy touristy things. Sadly, we were there during the day so…very few people were demonstrating much. (nothing seems to be open during the day in the ME but wait until 6:00- then all the non-tourists come out!) The early homes in Dubai were made from the palm leaves that woven together to make everything from homes to mats to baskets – basically much of what they needed. They also invented a form of early air conditioning – they put a “chimney” up on the roof with a screen (woven, of course) inside. Apparently they could rotate it to catch the breeze and direct it into the house. There was on set up in the museum but I have to admit I didn’t notice any particular cooling inside the hut…but then again it may be that it was really hot. That said, it must have been an efficient invention because variations of it are found on many traditional buildings. Apparently they closed off one side so that air would come in, be directed down and then out on the other side. Once again I can’t speak for its efficacy…all of the buildings have air con now so….

Dubai Creek

Our tour also included a boat trip down the Dubai Creek. First, ignore the word creek. At one time perhaps it would have fit our definition of creek but now, it’s a river. Once the center for pearl diving and fishing, it has become a large port where ships come from all over the region. Goods are brought in and repacked to send out to ports all over the region (our shipments all came through Dubai, then sent on to Doha). They still have abras, river boat taxis, plying the river, carrying people from up and down and back and forth across the creek.

I really like the picture of the building with the glass front. You can see the far side of the river as well as our small dhow as we sailed down the creek. I thought it was kinda cool.

Malls, Malls, Everywhere you look

OK...I know this doesn't follow because I'm attempting to orchestrate a normal time sequence on a blog designed to work the opposite direction however, here it is....I have more pictures of malls than I could put in the entries following this one so...this one will just have to introduce the malls.
The ornateness and details in some of these places is absolutely outstanding. One had a complete stained glass window scene - you have to wonder what story they are telling in the different panels. Others had sculpted and carved woods, glass, lamps, you name it, they suspended it.

And even more malls!

The current growth factor in Dubai seems to be for tourists – and what do tourists want to do??? Shop, they hope. They have built so many malls it is unbelievable! They boast the world’s largest mall – by available square footage or some such designation – who knows…but it is big. They also have the world’s future tallest building – including that all important antenna on top!

And the malls!! I’m not really certain about these places. Certainly they want you to come in and buy stuff, however, they really go all out here to attract people to their malls – and Dubai has them all. We can start with the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest by some measure. Besides the lagoon out in front, the picturesque views of the world’s tallest building and outdoor dining, the gigantic mall also has an ice skating rink, 3 movie theaters and an aquarium, complete with shark dives (wish I had had my Padi card with me!).

Medinat Mall

Next we have the Medinat. The setting for this one is quite nice. The buildings are sandstone with the wind towers in the corner and sheltered dining around yet another, much smaller, lagoon. The shopping arcade more closely resembles the souk where small shops with wares inside and out are found throughout the winding halls. During the cooler weather I’m sure it extends outside – we saw numerous small carts out in the courtyards where I’m sure people set up their smaller shops.
Ah yes, I almost forgot! The view from this mall also includes a spectacular building - at least a unique building. This building is not only the "tallest hotel on Earth", but it's also "the world's tallest structure with a membrane facade". (It's like a giant sail; its exoskeleton is comprised of a woven, Teflon-coated fiberglass cloth.) How's that for making sure you're on top! It's a seven star hotel and you quite literally fly to get there - they don't even allow gawkers to take a look. Views from the Medinat are probably as close as we'll ever get.

Raffles Dubai

There’s also the Wafi Mall (do you get the impression we went to one or two malls? Don’t even ask what I think of malls!). This one is connected to Raffles Dubai (remember Raffles when we went to Singapore? They’ve expanded. ) The courtyard / dining area is very reminiscent of the one in the original Raffles.

Ibn Battuta Mall

Now for the most unusual mall of all. The mall called the Ibn Battuta Mall, the world’s largest “themed” mall (oh brother) is actually very unique and interesting. It is divided into six very distinctive world styles. We entered through China, through the Forbidden City – the outside of the building actually looks exactly like the Forbidden City in Beijing. The centerpiece of this area is filled with Chinese junks, fabulous carvings and ornate ceiling paintings.
From there you enter India along with a total change of décor. Travel from there through Persia, Egypt, Tunisia and Andalusia, each themed area taking on a completely different look. It was quite fascinating to see. Now…did we wander through stores, making purchases? No! We wandered through, taking pictures, checking out the uniqueness of the place. Maybe there’s such a thing as too gimmicky to make money…..

Waiting in Style

Almost forgot – public transportation here. There’s really not too much of it in our limited experience (Doha and Dubai) but…Dubai is doing it right. They’re adding a Max line – one section is working and they’ve got ambitious plans all around the city. They also have the water taxis plying the river and buses on land – along with air conditioned waiting areas!!!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dune Trip Caravan

This week we have celebrated Eid – well, to be honest, the Muslims have celebrated Eid, the rest of us have had a holiday!

To start it off, the desert savvy crew from ASD took many of us “newbies” on a desert adventure, complete with sand dunes. Has to be a reason why everyone drives a 4-wheel drive vehicle here – and this is it.

We started off as a caravan – all told there were 20 cars, all packed for picnics, swimming, and, of course traveling through the dunes. Our fearless leader, Will, is an old hand at traveling through the dunes and he led the group with Clint and Melissa trailing behind, ready to help people out who got stuck. Sadly, it didn’t take too long. We, being novices, started off following people much too close, meaning that when the car in front got stuck, so did you! Didn’t take too long for most of us to spread out a bit more. Some of the starts were horrendous, speeding up to the dune, hitting the first bump (it was a lulu) and then slip sliding your way to the top. Jeff did a great job and kept us going all the time – even making it up a couple of times around the others who got stuck.

Even with the waiting, a few people got stuck. The last picture shows our fearless leaders on a race up the dune! Have to look carefully - there really are two little dots there - the 2 cars!

Sand Dunes...more pictures

The views were spectacular – amazing how much was similar and different to the deserts of Mongolia. Didn’t see any camels and far more sand. The scrub grass the dotted much of the land in Mongolia was very sparse in the area where we were. Did see a hand glider – but couldn’t get a picture. Pictures from the back of a rocking car left much to be desired.

Dune Trip...continued

We drove out to a place called the Inland Sea. It’s clear down at the base of Qatar, right where it joins the Saudi mainland. In fact, the place where we picnicked and swam was right across from Saudi. The water was warm – almost like a bath tub! There was a strong current so you could float down quite a ways and then work your way back. The kids really enjoyed the sand dune – they climbed up to the top and then tumbled, jumped and rolled all the way to the water. I’m sure they all weighed about 20 pounds extra with the sand!

Returning in the middle of the night was quite interesting. Those same dunes you could see in the day were quite eerie at night. It wasn’t easy to see the top, how much gas should you give, what was on the side….lots more questions….as well as many stuck people – we lost 8 people just getting out of where we had parked!!! Finally, we made it back up to refill our tires and head for home.

This sport is not for the timid. While we waited for our turn to fill the tires (you let air out to give you better traction in the sand), a group of cars took off into the desert – it was truly a race track – they hauled across the road, hit the sand and just kept going. Sure glad we were out already!

The top picture has the sand dune on the left - doesn't look anywhere near as high as it really is. The hills across the water are actually in Saudia Arabia - we were THAT close.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cruising around the city

This is not the easiest city to find your way around. It is laid out in a half circle, centering on the Corniche. Spreading out from there are road rings - B ring road, C ring road etc. Our school is, essentially, on E ring road. OK...that's not bad in theory. In practice, the names change on the roads, D ring is currently under construction in the middle, our part of the E ring has a different name, it's kinda in wiggly circles, making it difficult to figure out exactly where you are going top it off....the majority of roads do not have names. Ah well....

David drove us around today to help us locate various places. The American Embassy for a start.'s on D ring. Should be straight forward but it's not because THAT's the part under construction. go down D ring road...should be a road...and there is have to figure it out. Signs, one would think there would be signs but I guess they're worried about people finding it so there aren't any until you are there and then they tell you to turn right and park. Very useful.

We did drive out to the Syndicate....where they sell the liquor here in Doha. In a Muslim country, alcohol is not allowed, however, they do make an exception for foreigners and hotels. However, you have to register and get a permit in order to buy any liquor. And...just to make sure it's for your personal consumption...the police follow you to your house to make sure you take it home.

As we wandered the streets - and got fairly lost (hope we can find these places again), we drove by a strange building...with a dinosaur on the middle of the desert....HUH? Turns out it's a villa - now why they have it there, I don't know it is.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Skyscape across the Corniche

Now...last but not least...the skyscape visible from the Corniche. This one is out facing towards "The Pearl". It's can click on it and see it clearer. There' just always a haze here. This is called "West Bay".

Walk along the Corniche

Took a walk this morning around the Corniche. It is a 7km long parkway that circles the bay here. It’s amazing…it was in the 80’s (or more) at 6 am and lots of people were out running, walking, and fishing along its length. We walked for an hour, taking in the scenes and taking lots of pictures.
 Have to share a picture of my favorite mosque in Doha. It has a beautiful, spiral minaret, the tower structure on top, where they do the call to prayer.
The skyscape here is dotted with mosques - you can't go far without seeing another one. This is another of the very large ones, also just off the Corniche.

The Dhow

Searching online I have learned more about the dhow than I ever thought I’d learn about any boat. They have an extensive and long history and were used all around India, Greece and the Indian Ocean (as well as elsewhere but if you really want to know more, check the link). Dhows
The brief definition…the “traditional” dhow has two distinctive features (though, of course, there are variations, depending upon where they were made). Basically, they have a triangular sail and, oddly enough, the hull is stitched together. Yeah, that’s what I said, stitched. The boats were stitched together by sewing the boards of the hull together – yeah, sewed together. They used various things such as cords, thongs, and various fibers. To waterproof them they used gooey things like shark or castor oil. They actually still make dhows though these days they use marine varnish and other modern boat supplies to keep them seaworthy.
The building in the background is another view of the Museum of Islamic Art - the same one we went to a while back.

Pearl Diving in Qatar

At one time the Gulf States relied upon the pearl industry to support their economy. It was considered to be a very dangerous industry because you never knew if you would find pearls worth harvesting and you had to fight off all sorts of wonderful marine animals…jellyfish, barracuda, sharks…just your common, every day, deadly creatures.
Here, the men did the diving (it was women who did the diving in Japan). The lungs on them must have been very well developed because it sounds like they stayed down even longer. They would clip their noses with bone or wooden clips and then hold onto a stone to help them drop to the bottom of the sea. So much for slow descents to clear your ears! Not only that, sometimes they’d go down as far as 200 feet! The treatment when they got the bends was horrific!
They persevered, however and would pull or cut the oysters from rocks and drop them into bags. The bags were attached to lines dropped from the surface. The men would stay down until either their bags were full or they were completely exhausted (usually around 2 minutes).
I have to admit that I’m thankful that the discovery of oil here (and the cultivated pearls from Japan) stopped the pearl diving here. There are, however, leftover memories of the industry…and, of course, the tourist attraction aspects…including this pearl on the Corniche and the “Pearl” development we went to earlier.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Gas Stations

You know you've moved to a new land when....this time it's the gas stations. I had become quite accustomed to the Japanese style gas stations - no pump sitting on the ground, just a nozzle dangling above you. Saves lots of space and the Japanese are masters at squeezing the most use out of the smallest amount of ground.
Now...Doha, on the other hand, doesn't really seem to have that concern. Things are BIG here - lots of things are very big here, including the gas stations. This one has 7 sets of gas pumps, with 14 lines possible for the cars. This is just one of many. On the plus side...gas is really cheap here - I just filled up my tank, and it was quite empty, for about $10.00. We have actually, since we moved here, only put gas in the car 3 times - and the first one was the first day because there was NO gas in it.