Monday, October 10, 2011

Update from Mark

This week's post is from Mark. Since we have only been able to talk very briefly and only two or three times, and his email access has been very limited, I haven't gotten many details so this description of what it's been like delighted me.

After One Week
Today, thinking back after one week I now realize the last normalness was the great flight in business class from SFO to Dubai. Once off the plane the adventure in a new world starts.

To get through customs you must have a visa. For tourists no problem, the airline allows you to apply for a tourist visa through their website and all is set. For me, a soon to be expat, my company supplies the visa. Once off the plane you must go to the ‘Collect Visa’ booth in the airport to pick up your company supplied visa. I finally find the booth, show a copy of my visa to a young East Indian clerk who looks through all the shelves with stacks of visas but no visa for me. Looks again, looks again etc. finally he says “no visa here.” Twenty minutes have passed. Nothing happens for a while then some other guy comes out from behind a door, my guy huddles with him and both of them go through the stacked visas and come up empty. More time passes, finally the new guy makes a couple of phone calls and says “your visa may be in Terminal 1. Go there only twenty minutes away.”

Off I go to Terminal 1, back up the elevator five floors to the arrival level, down the long glass lined corridor, to the end where I thought Terminal 1 was. It ends at a glass wall, now I’m confused, go back and try again looking for missed turnoffs or signs for directions. This whole time, Friday night at about 8 PM, the terminal is almost empty so it’s hard to find anyone for help. I finally find a janitor who does not speak English, then a guy in some kind of company outfit points me down the hall where I was and says “escalator”. I saw the small escalator on my first try but it was to the side, before the end and since it was small I did not think it was the way. I went back and took it. It lands you at the start of another long glass corridor that I proceed down. After a long walk I start following some arriving passengers and find the “collect visa” boot for Terminal 1. Thank god they had my visa. I get back to Terminal 3 in about an hour not 20 minutes. Those terminals are at least a mile apart. I get my eye photographed, visa and passport stamped, collect my two big bags and exit though customs where they don’t check anything.

Once out of Dubai airport customs I find my prearranged limo ride to the Abu Dhabi Intercontinental Hotel. The limo, actually rather small black Toyota, pulls up 90 minutes later after shooting down the ten lane UAE 10 freeway at 140 km/hr and through the crammed Abu Dhabi downtown. During the ride I’m relieved to see all the road signs are in Arabic and English. We go by the beautiful, light blue lit Sheikh Zayed mosque. It is the largest mosque in the world able to hold 40,000 worshipers. Sheikh Zayed had it built and was buried there in 2004 after losing to cancer before it was finished. It’s open to visitors so one day well take a look see.

Once I get to the Intercon, I’m supposed to find Tom and stay at his Villa but I have no way to contact him. I have his phone number and email but no working phone or internet access. I ask the hotel concierge if I can get an internet connection she takes me to the business center logs me on and I finally get to check my email. To my great relief there are a bunch of messages from Tom. He’s at the British Club with friends, he tells me to go downstairs to the Belgian Café and wait. He shows up after a bit with Lee an Englishman and his girlfriend Britt a Swedish woman and we proceed to drink several great tasting beers. Lee and Britt are both big smokers and so are most in the Café, really a pub, another not so pleasant clue that I’m really in a different place. Oh well…

The next morning at Tom’s Villa we get up have eggs and bacon, yea real bacon. After that great breakfast, Tom suggests a walk to the Intercon Hotel to pick up his car. Why is his car at the hotel? There are a lot of no no’s in Abu Dhabi (AD) but two driving ones especially affect expatiates. Don’t drive after drinking - even a little bit and don’t go through red lights. Drunk driving will get you in jail, not at all pleasant, and they take your car for a month for going through a red light which they catch you with photo machines at each intersection. Since cabs are plentiful and cheap you take them.

We start our walk and it’s hot and humid. Really hot and humid but I can tough it out I say to myself. I’m finally getting over the sinus cold Peter Cameron gave me when we delivered Wildcard to Nevada last weekend and I’m a little miserable, sniffling and weak but a walk is always good. Tom’s all cheers and tells me the walk will sweat it out. Well sweat we did, except we did not bring water to replenish. We get about a mile away and I’m drenched and starting to fade. Tom says “want to get a cab?” I go ok trying to mask my exhaustion. We try to hail one down on the Corniche, the beautiful waterfront drive, but the cabs are all full, seems they don’t cruise the Corniche for passenger pick ups, it’s more of a scenic drive and city bypass than taxi stop. So we continue staggering towards the Intercon maybe a mile or two away, uh oh.

As we walk, me marveling at all the passing cars, Tom explains the Emirates are the only ones allowed to tint their car windows so you can always ID an Emirate car. They are also the ones to stay clear of because they can do no wrong on the road. If they hit you, it’s your fault. Saeed, our Emirate Deputy Director and great guy, tells of the time when he lost his brakes and tried to miss the car in front but couldn’t. He tried to explain this to the police but they hauled the poor guy he hit away anyway. Note to Mark, driving is not to be taken lightly.

I’m still thinking I can make it to the Intercon Hotel in this heat. There are a few refreshment places along the Corniche but they are closed. Pretty soon I tell Tom I NEED water. We go off the Corniche a few blocks and go to a Spinneys supermarket. We get in and it’s fantastic, cool and packed with everything just like Safeway - a cooked food center, an unbelievably beautiful veggies and fruit section, bakery, a large butcher counter with three or four of the same kinds of beef where you choose from Australia, Brazil or Europe imports.  The food situation is looking good in Abu Dhabi. After oogling over the food and we grab some drinks and a cab and jet to the Intercon for Tom’s car.

We go back to Tom’s villa, pick up my bags, his live-in maid and go to my apartment. Not sure the difference between a villa and an apartment. I guess an apartment has several floors. Ours has three, one bedroom on the bottom, a two bedroom unit on top and my three bedroom unit in the middle. At first glance everything is cool but after a bit you notice some oddities. We have three bathrooms, one in the master suite that’s normal but for some reason there are two bathrooms next to each other in the hall. I guess it helps minimize bathroom lines at the giant parties. Then you notice there are no electrical outlets in the bathrooms.
The apartment is spanking new so some stuff does not work. Like my shower and the air conditioning in one of the bedrooms. There is no place to put the clothes dryer or anywhere plug it in as its plug is different from all the wall sockets. The hot failed air conditioned bedroom works out because without a dryer it now becomes the clothes dryer and it works as good as my mom’s drying system an outdoor clothes line. Hey I’m green!

The company filled the apartment with all kinds of stuff like TVs, plates, wine glasses, casserole dishes, towels, bed sheets, covers and furniture but is missing some important stuff like pots, pans coffee cups, an ironing board and other necessities which I continue to discover every day. Anyway Tom opens all the boxes and bags of household stuff, I unpack my bags and the maid makes the beds and folds and puts away all the towels and extra bed covers. After that we are tired and hungry. We get an invite from Lee and Brit to go to the British Club for dinner so we jet off back to Toms and on to a great dinner.
This isn’t normal but it is not so bad. To be continued.

No comments: