Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A milestone

OK. Just opened the balcony door to collect some laundry that had been drying. The laundry was dry. Not shocking.

What WAS shocking was this observation: It is the exact same temperature outside as it is inside. Twenty-two and a half degrees Celsius, or about 72 degrees Fahrenheit. That's pretty remarkable, considering it hit 122 degrees F at one point this summer.

Unfortunately, we don't have any screens, so the windows remain oh-so-tragically shut.

Oh, man

It has been a week since I last posted. I have a good excuse, but no good pictures (Mrs. Blog is in charge of those at the moment).

We have had friends in town of the old, dear variety, visiting us from New Zealand. Naturally, we wanted to show our digs off to them, so the last week has been filled with mosque visits, beach lounging, camel riding--yeah, I know that's where the lack of pictures really hurts--and a ton of driving.

Also, I fixed a tape adapter for a car stereo. I think.

Anyway, although life remains busy, as soon as I have some digital images in my possession, they'll be up here, amazing and entertaining you. The sand of the Empty Quarter, for instance, would work perfectly as a screen saver. It's that beautiful. And sandy.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and rather than cook a turkey and be American, not that there is anything wrong with that, run-on sentence, we are packing up our Audi and heading to Oman. Oh, man, indeed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A twenty-four-point shot

What does 24 hours of college basketball mean to you?

For me, it means laughing a little as I watch St. Peter's and Monmouth play at 5:30 U.S. time. I salute you, two schools I know nothing about, for waking up early to keep me entertained.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How living abroad enhances my dorkiness

First of all, I had a nice post about a Disco Camel all queued up and ready to go, but for some reason my phone stopped being able to e-mail photos. So that bit of glitter will have to wait.

As for the subject of this post, it's simple. I have written at some length about my weakness for barbecue, basketball and space flight, not necessarily in that order. Being a dork, I think, means knowing tons of useless information about a subject... possibly a subject that excites you but not, you know, the rest of the world.

Although I'm not alone in enjoying basketball, I was probably--literally--the only person in the Middle East to have awakened at 5 a.m. to watch an exhibition game.

How do you say "posterized" in Arabic?

Of course, as the above clip indicates, it was in many ways worth it. I was tired (and went back to sleep after the game was over), but there is something cool, maybe even extra cool, about waking up early to watch a sporting event. I felt the same way about 3 a.m. World Cup matches. And with any luck, inshallah as they say here, there will be more highlights as the season progresses.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Disco Camel!

[editor's note: in the wake of several inquiries asking "what's a disco camel?" I have tracked down a picture of the beast from the Internet. It's not the one I took with my somewhat-functional cell phone. Thanks for listening.]

Once again, I have fallen behind on keeping you, dear reader, abreast of life in Abu Dhabi.

We took our first road trip--to Dubai--in the new car. This time, the destination was a hotel in the middle of the city. The takeaway: it's more fun to be by the beach. But we did see a rare species of camel.

My eyes! My eyes!

In other news, all the curtains have been hung. We are now hunting for art, big art, to decorate the living room with. Giant portraits of Sheikh Zayed are popular here, but it's a matter of finding the right one. You don't just go out and buy the first velvet painting you see. Suggestions are welcome.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

This is how we roll

It seems there is a little confusion over our new vehicle. "Does it transform?" people want to know. No, no... I just wanted to find something more interesting than the obligatory magazine cover shot.

So, to clarify:

1) It does not turn into a robot
2) It is black, not orange
3) It is an Audi A6

Note: There are no wet streets in Abu Dhabi.

Today we took 'er to the gym, and I have to say, it makes the whole experience a lot more pleasant. No more hunting down a cab to get there. No more waiting on notoriously cab-poor Al Saada Street for a cab to take us back home. And of course there are leather seats.

Anyway. As much as it hurts my soul to be part of the car problem here, having a car solves a lot of problems. And because Abu Dhabi is the land of a million daily annoyances, that goes a long way... and a longer way, now that we're not walking.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The importance of attending an event when covering it

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix went off yesterday. No one was hurt, a German guy won the race, it was great weather and Aerosmith played their first Abu Dhabi show. All the local media, including my employer, covered it--the F-1 was perhaps the biggest event, and certainly the biggest sporting event, in the country's short history.

This is the Khaleej Times' version. See if you can spot a couple of obvious problems here.

DUBAI — At 5pm on Sunday as the sun began to sink shyly behind the mountains, the top stars of the world’s Formula One Race Circuit were ready for ignition, so they could set the pace at Abu Dhabi’s impressive Yas Marina Circuit. Spot on, as thousands watched, the F1 first ever day-night race was flagged off.

It is a magnificent obsession. It isn’t just the groupies and the fans and smell of gasoline and exhaust spiralling into the air, the brilliance of the pit teams as they pamper these metal monsters and the mighty roar of all that rampant horsepower that creates the ambience. It is the speed and the thrill, the sense of ‘being there’ at what is truly an international event that generates the pulsating excitement.

Note the dateline: Dubai. The race was in Abu Dhabi. Note the mention of mountains. There are mountains in the UAE, but they are several hundred miles away from the race (and Dubai, for that matter). I also suspect that gasoline fumes didn't waft all the way into the next emirate. Solid work.

Equally funny, at least to me, is that the Gulf News devoted a blog post to complaining that the media had to pay for their food, beverages and Internet connections.

There was a time when visiting sports journalists had described the facilities and hospitality in the UAE while covering international events as ‘Mother of all freebies’.

But things have changed over the years and the Media Centre at the Yas Marina Circuit did catch many by surprise.

Internet connections were charged at Dh275 for the weekends while phone connections are charged. Local scribes were not spared either and the larger chunk of scribes from the region will be in for the minor shock when they come in this morning. And for the first time in my 18 years in the UAE, media persons will also have to pay for their snacks and food!

A visiting motorsport-specialised reporter remarked, ‘Maybe they should have made it free for this inaugural edition.”

However an Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management official, in private said, “Well these charges are nothing compared to what journalists have to pay at media centres in other Formula One venues around the world!’

And when Bernie Ecclestone is involved, nothing comes for free!

Yes, not even two "light-hearted" exclamation points can conceal the irritation. But at least the reporter was actually at the track.

First, I tried the Hitler look

Last month, I kind of sort of promised a friend here that I would grow facial hair as part of a fundraiser to fight prostate cancer, Movember. The problem is that I already had facial hair. And the solution, well... it meant turning back the clock 17 years.

Yes. I have had my goatee since I was 16-ish. Anyone who has met me since high school has witnessed whiskers on my chin. Many of my dearest friends have literally never seen me clean-shaven.

And so it was with great trepidation that I picked up a razor.

What would my face look like? Would I appear older? Younger? Uglier? I tried to make it a bit of a game: Start with the edges of the mustache. Hmmm, no, the Hitler 'stache does not become me. (and I suspect he kind of ruined that look for everyone, forever) Next came no mustache, goatee only. That wasn't bad, but my upper lip looked pale and lonely. Finally I got down to just the soul patch, decided I looked like a jerk, and took it all off.

The result was... this.

The new intern at The National. He never smiles.

I have gotten reactions ranging from "Oh, my God!" to "You are never allowed to shave that again" to "Hey, mate"--the last coming from a guy who knows me but clearly had no idea who I was post-shave. (to be fair, I had just gotten a haircut too)

Personally, I think I look OK but would have trouble buying alcohol without ID back in the States. Don't worry, though... stubble is already taking root.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


And so it was that yesterday--Happy Halloween, by the way--Mrs. Blog and I headed to the race track for the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Our first impression: It seemed kind of unfinished. Lots of roads to nowhere, gravel instead of sidewalk and newly planted vegetation. But our shuttle bus dropped us off exactly where we needed to go, and we headed inside.

Our second impression: F-1 cars are LOUD. And high-pitched. A knowledgeable co-worker told me the engines run at about 18,000 rpm, which is ridiculous. And loud. Did I mention loud? Fortunately they handed out earplugs at the door.

We were close to the track, but not this close.

But despite the brutal power of the F-1 cars, impressive enough in its own right, I guess, the qualifying laps, Saturday's main event, just weren't that interesting. Probably because we had very little clue what was going on. An example: At the end of the last qualifying round, a car crossed the finish line and the stands erupted in cheers. Mrs. Blog and I looked at each other. Shrugged. And later learned that the pole had just been won in some extremely cunning fashion. Okeydoke.

The undercard race, a bunch of souped-up Porsche 911s, was much more interesting. And since our seats in the South Grandstand were right at the end of a long straightaway, we got to witness some jostling for position and spinning out. Good times.

Actual racing.

Outside of the cars going fast--and the beautiful company and weather--I have to say that I was underwhelmed by the track experience. The food wasn't great, but whatever... it's stadium food. Beer, though, you could only drink in the beer tent. Not in the stands. And there was a line several hours long to get into the aforementioned tent. And although there were volunteers all over the place, the operation wasn't very organized.

This was most evident after the post-race Kings of Leon show (which was great, and pictures of which I will post as soon as I have them in hand). There was a massive herd of buses waiting to take people away from Ferrari World, where the concert was staged.

But the vast majority of the buses, at least when we came out, were empty and not moving because they were lined up in a single-lane parking area. The buses we needed to get on were all the way back by where we had entered the track--maybe a mile from the concert venue--so we shrugged and instead of waiting on a bus for an hour we went to a nearby hotel for a cocktail.

And then, after paying a stranger to cart seven expats to Abu Dhabi in his shiny new Tahoe, we retired. Today we will watch the actual race on TV.  And tomorrow Abu Dhabi will return to normal.

Or maybe after tomorrow.