Friday, 28 December 2007

christmas, birthdays and all that

I'm another year older. A year ago I hadn't imagined myself celebrating my birthday 10,000 kms from home, I hadn't imagined having 5 waiters come to my table carrying a tiny cake with candle and singing 'happy birthday' and I hadn't imagined dining with new friends. The other things I hadn't imagined were manifold, amongst them the increasing saggy-baggyness of my skin, my increasingly drooping eyelids and the increasing number of wrinkles. To be fair though, I am sitting at my computer with strong morning uplight reflecting my face onto the screen in front of me. Frankly I'd rather not have to be looking at it!

Christmas has come and gone. We had a lovely Christmas dinner with half a dozen of our neighbours. The hosts went all out. The table and dining room were beautifully decorated in red and green with sparklies all around, the food and drink were top notch and the company was wonderfully engaging. Christmas day itself was topped and tailed by other 'does' around and about the place. It's been a lovely few days.

I ventured off to the zoo with my students on Christmas day. We had a ball.

The bird show is always a highlight. It was quite up close and personal as there were only 14 of us. Later some of the girls were even brave enough, after a few minutes, to have snakes dangling from their arms. Unfortunately it's not appropriate to take pics of the girls, so I didn't get many shots. This is the largest falcon in the UAE.

Now the New Year is almost upon us. My plan for this year is simply to survive another year reasonably intact. That's not so ambitious and should be achievable.

On a completely different note, we had pizza for lunch the other day and later ventured out into the laneway at back. I spotted a room full of sheesha pipes with these three out the front in the process of being cleaned.

Saturday, 22 December 2007


We ventured right into the thick of Oman for the first time. The border crossing was messy. You have to drive through an immigration post, then get out of the car, fill in a form, hand it in to a guy who takes the form, checks the passport and stamps it. Then you have to pay to leave the country, get back in the car and show some papers at the exit booth. That's to leave UAE.

After that you drive through a kind of no-man's land for 5 - 10 mins before finally driving past an Omani immigration booth, handing in your passports, getting out of the car, going into a fairly swish building, queueing up to get your passports back, queueing up to pay for a visa, filling out some forms, queueing up again to have the forms and passports checked and finally being able to leave. But, hey, not so easy ... there was the issue of the Omani insurance that, though it had been paid for when buying the car, was not evident on the card we had. So we couldn't get past the immigration exit booth and had to go back to immigration to repay insurance that had already been paid! During our initial stint inside the building the other woman in our group was questioned about where her husband was (he was standing next to her) and K was looked upon with suspicion and questioned about why HE wasn't working in UAE. The implication here was that as a man he should be working. Never mind that he is actually working, just not in UAE and not for a UAE organisation. Also it seems that a woman on her own shouldn't be travelling. She should be accompanied by her husband. We were left wondering if these moral judgements made us unworthy travellers in Oman and why on earth the bureacracy couldn't get the insurance right. None of this was consistent with the stories we'd heard about how lovely and friendly the Omani people were.

An hour later, after passing a lone mosque set in the mountains, we found ourselves in Sohar. We'd heard about the beaches there and decided to check them out. Our drive took us through some narrow back streets that were really interesting for us. The housing was very basic brick huts, some with ornate doorways. Groups of men and youths were sitting in doorways (it was a holiday). We didn't see many women, but a few colourfully dressed girls were about. We got the impression that we were reasonably interesting for the locals too as they were all waving and saying hello as we drove by. Had no westerner gone this way before?

The sea seemed to be undervalued. A few old houses backed onto it, but none made use of the views. The sand was littered with debris; soft drink cans and papers. We found a relatively clean area and had a picnic lunch (making sure not to add to the debris!!). After lunch I ventured down to the water and was shocked to find that the 'lumps' I'd seen from the distance, and assumed to be jellyfish, were actually goat pelts. They were mainly skin and fur with the odd hoof. One goat consisted of just a pelt and a head. I quickly remembered that it was Eid. At this time of year the locals sacrifice an animal in memory of Ibrahim's sacrificial offering of his son to God. Along the highway out of Sohar towards Muscat there were goat carcasses strewn here and there. Although I knew about the practice, it was difficult being confronted with it in this way.

Things picked up once we hit Muscat. It is a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful city with many forts, magnificent mosques and an array of interesting buildings, old and new. There was no confronting evidence of sacrifical practices. We indulged ourselves well beyond any kind of sensible budget and stayed at the Grand Hyatt. Wow! It was sensational; a feast for the eyes. Every interior, every exterior view was magnificently opulent. From our room we had a view over the beautiful gardens and pools out to the Indian ocean.

Muscat is set in a valley with the white houses and buildings nestled against a magnificent rugged mountain backdrop. The roadsides are green and planted with colourful flowers again contrasting with the red / brown of the mountains and the white of the buildings. There were no signs of rubbish. Everything was kempt and picture perfect. Later we drove through some of the less salubrious parts of town. They were interesting in their own right. The older areas had narrow streets with fairly shabby housing. All of the housing seemed to have air-con and satellite dishes though. Some of the areas in, around and just out of the city have magnificent views of housing, mountains, bay and / or ocean. It is picture post-card perfect in all directions.

We visited a wonderful village. Goats and chickens were wandering freely in the sand, scrub and laneways. A few locals were sitting about or getting on with their day to day lives. Wooden boats rested on the sand attesting to the importance of fishing in this village.

Everywhere we went was either sensational to look at or remarkably interesting. I'd happily go back to do some exploring. I'd even give Sohar another look in, but not at Eid! The return across the border went reasonably quickly and without frustration.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

don't get sick on saturday

The hospitals here in Al Ain are plain weird. It is difficult to locate the appropriate outpatients desk and then once you get there, you don't know what to do. Should you queue up? Should you go straight to a desk where people seem intent on ignoring you? What are the procedures? Should you let your spouse keel over and die while staff happily ignore you both? I decided against the latter and insisted on getting some attention. My spouse was quickly seated while I was sent to the other end of the hospital to register. Once I'd registered, I had to make a point of asking what we had to do next, because I wasn't told. Armed with the appropriate information, K and I went to the nurses' desk and again I had to let it be known that we needed to see a doctor quickly.

Saturday, I have to tell you, is not a good day to get sick as the hospital has a lot in common with the Japanese subway where they have staff employed to stuff half a dozen more people into the already overcrowded carriages!

We soon jumped the queues and got to see a nurse who wired K up to a machine and then attempted to administer some oxygen. Unfortunately the oxygen cylinder was empty, so an orderly was quickly called to bring in a new one. The new one was wired up and the mask was put over K's face. With his entire body pinioned under a series of leads going off in all directions, he started trying to get to his hand to his face and was told to leave the mask alone as he needed oxygen for his heart muscles. He kept struggling. The nurse took the mask off his face and K informed him with his last gasp that he couldn't breathe. It turned out that the replacement gas cylinder was empty too! A third one was soon delivered. After the ECG K was given some meds and choofed off to another room for blood tests. Two and a half hours later some of the results came back! I was despatched to an office in Area B. I wasn't told what for, but I dutifully went. It turned out that I had to pay my 50Dhs insurance excess. An hour later the rest of the results came back. Half an hour after that he saw the doctor, who was very good!

When queue jumping takes over 4 hours you have to feel sorry for those who patiently wait their turn!

The whole time in the hospital you are not sure where you are supposed to go or what you are waiting for. You get told to go to various locations, but you are not sure why. It seems that the staff know their routines and what everything is, and it is assumed that patients know it all too!

The standard of medical care is good (apart from the odd incident of almost suffocating patients with non-existent oxygen), but the standard of communciation about where to go and why is very poor. And ... I'm not sure that there is actually a triage. It seems that to get urgent attention you need to jump up and down a bit.

Well that was my Saturday! How was yours? Oh, K's much better now.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

the honeymoon is over

I've read about the phases we go through with new events in our lives like working or studying overseas. The graph starts about 70 percent up the vertical axis (denoting satisfaction level) and increases albeit with a few dips over the first couple of weeks as our emotions range from anticipation and excitement through to frustration and disappointment. This is quickly followed by a honeymoon period, often lasting about three months, where the graph peaks. During this time everything is wonderful. The odd setback is hardly noticed.

After this there is a sharp dip where we wonder what we are doing in this strange place with these strange people. Why are we doing what we are doing? Should we have come here? How long can we manage to stay? What is going to go wrong next? Were we crazy to embark on the venture? The graph bottoms out.

This period can last weeks to months and is then followed by a recovery period during which we tend to go up to between 60 and 80 percent on the satisfaction level scale and pretty much stay there, though it can be interupted by a period of homesickness.

For me the honeymoon is over. I'm tumbling and hoping I've bottomed out! Can't wait for the recovery phase to hit. It will hit, won't it?

Wednesday, 5 December 2007


Darkness. The narrow cobblestone road glistens, reflecting shoplights as a light rain falls. A man walks by hands in coat pockets. A girl wrapped in a woolly hat and scarf passes by chatting on a mobile phone. Couples hand in hand stroll by as the rain drizzles. A man in uniform comes running around the corner and disappears down the stairs into the Turkish Delight shop opposite. We watch it all from our vantage point by a large window in a warm and cosy restaurant.

We just got back from Istanbul. What a fabulous city!

It’s late afternoon and we drop into a sweet shop for something to have after dinner. The girl behind the counter urges us to try a piece of Turkish delight with pistachio in it. Yum. Next she wants us to try some pistachio with orange, then some chocolate delight, then some … and it goes on until we tell her we couldn’t possible try anything else. It’s all delicious. We purchase some of the things we tried and some we didn’t. There are some absolute gems amongst them. The 5-star winner is the pistachio nut surrounded by chocolate flavoured Turkish delight and then choc dipped with pistachio powder on top. Who thought of that one? Sensational! Some of the sweets are cut from 45 centimetre wide, 60 centimetre high cylinders much like the cylinders that kebab meat is cut from.

Some of the shop names make us laugh; ‘Dagi’ has to be a bad name for a fashion shop! The person who named the 'Hotel Ufuk' probably wasn't an English speaker!

We found that the restaurants advertising 'authentic Turkish food' were very ordinary while the little cafes (borek shops) were fantastic; cheap and delicious. Interestingly we didn't come across what we understood to be Turkish food. We were familiar with Turkish food from Sydney Road in Melbourne, Australia. This kind of food didn't seem to exist in Istanbul, or we couldn't find it, and we are wondering if perhaps it is peasant food. The Turkish bread in Melbourne is senstational, and is quite different to the bread in the restaurants in Istanbul where it was largely Greek style white bread.

I adored the Blue Mosque. The Hagia Sophia was really interesting. It has a history of hundreds of years as a church before being converted hundreds of years ago to a mosque. Although I enjoyed visiting the Topkapi palace and the Dolmabache, I found that I got a bit of a case of 'opulence fatigue.' Gold plated walls and ceilings are amazing, but you can only maintain interest for a limited number of rooms. The remains of a Roman hippodrome are pretty amazing.

I'd never realised previously that the river Bosphoros splits the city in two with one side being on the European continent and the other being in Asia. But then, I'm sure that there's an awful lot I haven't realised!

Saturday, 24 November 2007

election day

It's election day in Aus. My daughter is casting her vote for the first time and, surprisingly, she is actually revved up, has done her research and has been instrumental in getting her mates to do their research and take their vote seriously.

My son and his girlfriend are actually running a polling booth in central Queensland. Previously my son has shown lacklustre interest. This time he's right in the thick of it.

Voting in Aus is compulsory with a monetary penalty for not doing so. K and I had a 'vote and dine' trip to Abu Dhabi yesterday, so we've done our bit.

I'm ecstatic that my kids are taking their votes seriously; it's so good to see the younger generation feeling like they can make a difference. I remember when I felt empowered! Ah, thems were the days! NowI've become one of those jaded, cynical, older people. I vote in a safe seat that is held by a party I'd never support. My vote will be a vote against the incumbent, but it won't dislodge him. I wonder if there is any point.

I'll be watching the live streaming broadcast this afternoon hoping that my vote will be part of a swing that will see seats change hands and hoping that the results will continue to enthuse the younger generation and make them feel like they can have an influence. How good would it be to see the young actively involved and pushing for change to make this a better planet to live on?

Monday, 12 November 2007


There's been an extraordinary number of birthdays here in Al Ain this month. There must be something about expats and locals alike that happens in February.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

no fuss hairdressing

A hairdresser who comes to your home here in Al Ain,cuts your hair, chats pleasantly while she works and then leaves! The whole ordeal is over with in no time. What a find!

I don't usually like going to the hairdresser because I don't like the whole 'pamper me' thing. I far prefer the 'do it quick and efficient' approach to hair cuts. I'm a happy customer today.

Al Ain has lots of little secrets waiting to be uncovered.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

expat trap

I'm starting to feel comfortable with this expat lifestyle and I can see how people find it difficult to ever go back home! The salary here isn't fantabulous, but it is quite reasonable and more than most EFL teachers would get in their own country. The cost of living is cheaper than at home and a huge plus is that we don't have to pay health insurance, accommodation or tax. The teaching and professional development standards are excellent. There's lots of opportunity for travel. The holidays are wonderful.

If we go home, it becomes something of a struggle to make ends meet. Why would you do it?

Saturday, 27 October 2007

family, fossils and the zoo

I've been to Aus and back since my last post because my brother-in-law passed away quite suddenly. Although it is sad, there is some comfort in the fact that he was happy and quite active in his last few years. He regularly rode his bicycle 200 kms or more on the weekend. That's like riding to Dubai and back! He had lots of friends, family and was involved in the community in a number of capacities.

His passing struck my niece and nephew hardest. They lost their mother 10 years ago and now their father. Their courage in the circumstances was amazing. They are both married with young children. Both have a three year old and a one year old. They organised the funeral at which they both spoke. They met all of their father's friends and relatives and remained composed throughout. As well as managing their familes and the funeral, they had to sort out their father's business affairs. He was a lawyer who worked from home and had a large client list with many cases half done and in urgent need of attention. Neither of them work in that area, but they managed to contact the appropriate people to help them sort through it all. In addition they had to find the will and start thinking about what will happen to the property. I was amazed by their ability to cope. I was proud of them and know that my sister, their mother, would have been very proud of her children.

On a far more mundane note, I finally ventured over the border into Oman. We went to a souk in Buraimi and on to a hotel for lunch. Later we peeped at fossil valley which is quite a sensational landscape. Speaking of fossils, I wouldn't have been surprised if John Wayne had ridden by on horseback wearing his red and white kerchief. It is a stunning landscape.

Oh, and I recently went to the zoo. I just love it. We went during Eid but having heard about the likelihood of crowds, we got there at 8:30 in the morning so it was reasonably quiet. Some of the exhibits are a little sad. There is a lone gorilla who was intent on showing his back to any onlookers. The monkeys looked a little cramped. The highlight was the giraffes. It was quite funny to see a keeper wheeling a wheelbarrow along being followed by giraffes, deer, ibises, emu and an assortment of other animals. Clearly it was breakfast time!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

driving in Al Ain

This strikes me as being a telling juxtaposition of postings! If anything drives me out of Al Ain, it'll be the traffic. It's just manic. We took a wrong turn last night at about 9pm and ended up in the city which was not quite what we had in mind. It was 10pm before we managed to get out the other end!

To say the traffic was bumper to bumper is to put it mildly. It was side panel to side panel, front right corner to front left fender, back left fender to bumper. If there was half a centimetre to spare anywhere, a car was sure to see that as an opportunity to jump in. Pedestrians were leaping off dark sidewalks criss crossing the traffic, so anytime cars moved at more than .25 of a km an hour brakes were slammed on suddenly. A couple of times we wanted to go one way, but someone more determined and more assertive muscled their way infront of us and forced us to go another direction. At one stage we ended up in a grid locked car park we hadn't intended to be in. It took a 53 point turn and some derring-do to get out. It was impossible to see what was happening at roundabouts because there was almost always either a 4WD or a car with tinted windows on our left.

I should laugh, but it really is quite stressful.

Monday, 8 October 2007

all grown up

I got my licence. I got my licence. (sung to the tune of the kids taunt ... nah nah nah nah-nah.)

Friday, 5 October 2007

a good day in doobs

I went back to Dubai last weekend for the first time since 'the accident.' I felt quite safe as we were in a ginormous 4-wheel drive. My previous impressions of Dubai were that it was one huge construction site with unreasonble heat, traffic accidents and ridiculously big shopping malls.

This time it was a magic place. At sunset we wandered through the narrow cobblestone laneways of a souk near a river where dhows were making their way up and down and the call to prayer was sounding in the background. (The cost of a dhow trip is Dh1 unless you are a westerner in which case they'll try to charge Dh10. If you happen to be Japanese it seems that the cost is likely to be Dh100. The thing to do apparently is to hand over Dh1 and laugh if they try to tell you it is more.) We'll save the dhow trip until next time as the spice market across the river wasn't open; and that seems to be the place to go.

That evening we went out for dinner and had drinks on a lantern-lit terrace by a river upon which once again dhows were criss crossing. It was beautiful; straight out of a fairytale. I wouldn't have been too surprised if Aladdin had flown by on a magic carpet. The weekend was topped off by getting up at 8am on Saturday morning just in time to watch the Australian Football League Grand Final live from Melbourne. A sensational, unexpected treat; and Geelong won for the first time in over 40 years - way to go Geelong!

So what do I think of Dubai? Well, it has bad days, but it definitely has good days too.

Thursday, 27 September 2007


Why does technology insist on being 2 steps forward and 1.99 steps back? It's soooooo frustrating sometimes. 'They' say (and we all know what an authority 'they' is) that problems with technology are as stress-inducing as divorce. I've never tried divorce, but I can attest to the absolute frustration and elevated blood pressure induced by FTP program glitches and various other technological mishaps. It's a wonder that my laptop hasn't been flung across the room to lie shattered into teensy slivers. A compounding factor is that my website host is in Aus and is virtually incommunicado.

On the other hand, I can't imagine life without technology.

Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

jebel hafeet

Have I mentioned that I can see Jebel Hafeet from my lounge window? It's the highest mountain in UAE, though to be fair, it isn't very high at all. However, in a largely flat landscape it is significant. It has a paved road snaking up it which is lined with street lamps and looks just sensational at night. It really does look like the stairway to heaven.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

time to grow up

The hardest thing about being an expat here in Al Ain is the sense of being a child again. I feel like I can't do anything without assitance. I need to get my driver licence, but first I need to get my Aussie licence translated. Where do I do that? Why can't it be at 352 High Street near the corner of Smith? Why does it have to be past this roundabout towards Choitrums (how do you spell that) down that lane with the women's tailor on the corner, three doors up, take the stairs ... etc. And what time are they open during Ramadan anyway? I need some more water delivered. Why can't I give the guy a street address? Why do I need to describe it in terms of landmarks to someone whose language I can't speak and who only has a bare smattering of my language? Why haven't I figured out yet how to get some stamps to post a letter? How on earth do I get my electricity bill? How do I pay it? Aggghhh.

Either this is going to beat me, or I'm going to beat it. I think I have to just grow up!

Monday, 10 September 2007

ramsay street - listen to moi

What does it mean when you get in a cab in Al Ain and give them directions to your apartment ... dewar Sanaiya, cedar, yameen ... and so on, and the driver, who has very little English, says, "Ah, Ramsay Street?"

Okay, I find it hard to believe too, but I'm told that it happened! I think that I got it third or fourth hand ... and now I'm passing it on.

For anyone who isn't an Aussie or a Brit, that may be a bit cryptic. Ramsay Street is an imaginary street in Australia that's the setting for an Australian soapie called 'Neighbours.' Ramsay Street residents all know each other and each other's business and are forever in and out of each other's houses borrowing cups of sugar, giving advice or offering a shoulder to cry on.

When we arrived here, we jokingly dubbed the apartments 'Ramsay Street' because of the large number of Brits and Aussies here, and it seems that someone's been training the taxi drivers. Hmmmm.

Another Aussie show that's been talked about here at Ramsay Street (Al Ain) recently is 'Kath and Kim.' If you get a chance to see it, then do! It makes one cringe so much that it's funny. Kath and Kim are a middle-aged Aussie woman and her adult daughter living in the suburbs of Melbourne, Aust. They live in an imginary suburb (I think/hope it's imaginary!) called Fountain Gate. We see their every day problems with husbands, weight loss, shopping and so on. They send up life in the burbs (suburbs) in Australia delightfully. Critics refer to them as the 'foxy morons.' The women who play the roles of Kath and Kim are the creators/writers of the show. Kudos to them. They've done it brilliantly. One of the catch cries from the show is 'Listen to moi. Listen to moi.' (moi=me). Totally cringe-worthy.
The pic of course is 'Ramsay Street' Al Ain.

Friday, 31 August 2007

and it hasn't even been a month

Before I came to the UAE I read and heard so much about the roads here and how they are wild. Accidents, I was told, are a far too frequent occurence and an inevitable result of too much speed. I haven't even completed my first month here and already I've been involved in a traffic accident.

Two buses, too much speed and then indecision at a red light. Our bus slams on the brakes and comes to an abrupt holt jolting us all forward and then back. Then miliseconds later ... kabang! The second bus runs up the back of my bus shattering the back window and again throwing all the passengers forward and then back. Whiplash and confusion all around. People in shock. People holding their necks, some crying, others limping. Taxis taking people to hospital. New buses to ferry the other stranded passengers to our destination.

And all of this by 11am. The day ended reasonably well and I believe (and hope) that no-one has a lasting injury. It's certainly a day to remember. I hope it's the last experience of a traffic accident for all of us.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

week 3 in Al Ain

What a funny place this is! I'm learning about local time. There've been a few problems with our apartment. There's been a burst water tank (and consequent flood), a tap strategically placed so that we couldn't use the oven and various minor issues. However, as it's a brand new apartment, we can take these things in our stride. Luckily we have contacts to ring and get these kinds of things sorted. The drama in all this though is the constant waiting. The guy to fix the plumbing issues is supposed to turn up at 9am. By 3pm he still isn't here. We ring a few times and are always told that he'll be here in half an hour. He eventually turns up at 11am next day and decides that he can't do much until the guy who fixes the electrics does his thing. The electrian guy turns up 5 hours after the appointed time, does half the job and says he'll be back in the morning. He arrives the following evening and finished the job. Then we have to wait again for the plumber guy and then the guy who's gonna fix the tiling that's been damaged by the electric guy and the plumber. This situation is repeated again and again with each problem that we discover! So we're forever waiting.

Luckily for me, I get to go to work during the day. K is supposed to be working from home, so he gets to do most of the waiting. Of course, K can't actually do much work yet as the net connection which is supposed to be 2mg is less than a quarter of that speed, so the provider is going to pull up the cables which they laid last week and relay them next week. So our net connection is likely to disappear.

Whenever someone turns up to do something at the apartment, there is always one guy to do the job and two who just watch. I haven't quite figured that one out yet. A couple of days ago an Arabic guy turned up with 3 guys who spoke no English. While the Arabic guy was talking to K, I was communicating with one of the non-English guys via sign language. We had a good understanding of what I wanted and what he was going to do. We'd sorted it. The Arabic guy then turned to me and said something quite incomprehensible. I said, 'sorry?' He repeated it. I said 'Sorry, I'm not sure what you mean.' He repeated it looking quite annoyed. I had to tell him that I just didn't understand. He asked me, in a very irritated tone, if I spoke English. I had to laugh.

So far I've learnt about 10 words of Arabic. They enable me to communicate reasonably adequately with most taxi drivers. Most of them seem quite amused at my pronunciation, but that's fine. It's kinda fun and a bit of an ice-breaker.

I daily feel more comfortable here. Tomorrow I'm off to Abu Dhabi to check out the 'bluer than blue ocean' I've heard so much about.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

cigarettes and taxis

The standout items from my first week in Al Ain are that cigarette smoke is ubiquitous and it's challenging to get in a taxi and end up where you want to end up.

In Aus smoking is banned in hotels, restaurants and most work places. It's restricted in outdoor areas. So we've been quite spoilt. Al Ain is a bit of a blast from the past with smoking allowed in most places. Some restaurants seem to have non-smoking areas, but no one has told the smoke to keep within those boundaries and it wafts around as it pleases. Even our hotel room reeks of smoke. I can normally tolerate a bit of smoke, but it is quite overwhelming here as we seem to be subjected to it all day only to retire to the hotel room and inhale it all night.

I'll finish the rant at that point as smoking is obviously something I have to learn to be more tolerant of.

The taxis are all fun and games. We've had some really good taxi drivers with quite good English, but several who have no English, not even 'yes' and 'no.' We can't even show them maps of where we want to go as they are illiterate. They don't understand our poor pronunciation of things like 'jebel bil maya roundabout.' I haven't figured out yet where anything is in relation to anything else, so I don't know my way anywhere and have to rely on the drivers. I even had trouble at one stage communicating 'Hilton Hotel' to a driver. After numerous attempts he eventually got it. He put the stress on 'ton' rather than 'Hil' which explained why he had trouble understanding my prounuciation.

We're moving out of our hotel today and into our apartment. That's a bit scary because at least the hotel is a landmark and it's not too difficult to get drivers to understand. How on earth can we consistently get drivers to and from our apartment? Clearly I'll have to work out where things are myself so that at least I know where I'm going. It's funny to think that in a few weeks this will all be quite easy, but now it's challenging.

Monday, 6 August 2007


Teleporting - when's it gonna happen? How can I invest? How can we make it happen sooner? Long haul travelling ... well frankly, it largely sucks (not that there are any complaints about the staff or service).

We arrived in Al Ain at 3am this morning and were hit with a burst of 37 degree heat as soon as we walked out of the airport. Amusing! We were escorted through passport control and the visa process went through quite easily, though I did feel some guilt at the queue jumping. Scores of people were waiting and we were taken the front of the queue each time.

I've only been here a few hours, but what has struck me so far is the number of staff involved in each service. For example we had brekky at the hotel this morning and each time a plate was emptied or we finished a cup of coffee, someone was at our side offering us more (it was a fixed price smorgasbord, so there was no finanicial incentive for the service). There seem to be scores of staff at the hotel sweeping leaves and sand from paths, polishing floors and doing various jobs. This could take some getting used to.

I'm not sure about the tipping situation. The hotel staff don't seem to expect it, so I haven't given anything. I'd have no idea how much to tip anyway. A website I just checked out said that 2 - 5dhs was a good tip. I'm not sure though and would be interested to hear from others on this.

Oh, and the other point to mention (again) ... it's a bit hot outside!

Saturday, 28 July 2007

one week to go

Bags not packed. Electricity, phone, internet disconnections not organised. Kitchen not packed. Lawns not mowed, gutters not cleaned, pest control not done, palm fronds not cleaned up, contact for services like pool cleaning, pool fencing, council rates and so on not redirected to estate agent. Hmmm. I think I'll have a busy week this week.

On the upside though, a lot was achieved last week. Best of all my 18 year old daughter and her friend finally found a house in Brisbane. They'll be moving out in a few days, thus making the rest of my packing and the house cleaning and letting easier to organise and putting my mind at rest. J will be fine.

The big challenge for this week is firstly to make sure that all the loose ends mentioned above, and those not mentioned, are tied up and secondly to somehow squeeze our worldly belongings into 54kgs of luggage. I keep wondering why the luggage itself has to weigh 4 - 5 kilos per case. Surely they could get it lighter!

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

sand storms

I've read that you can get a great view of Al Ain from the nearby mountains, but the downside is that the city is usually covered in a yellow pall.

I've been wondering just what the dirty air is. Is it pollution? From what I've read Al Ain doesn't seem to be an industrial city. I'm thinking that the yellow may be sand in the air.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

two weeks to go

I've discovered with some amusement that there're at least two stages to solving problems. There's the macro panic and the micro panic. For example:

OMG What'll we do with the cat and dog when we go?
Solution - Stage 1: Ask all our friends and rellies. Finally ... T, our son will take them.
Response: Great! Problem solved.

OMG. T lives 8 hours away by road. How will we get the pets to him?
Solution Stage 2: Make some phone calls, get some quotes. Finally ... send the dog by plane and cat by road.
Response: Great! Problem solved (again).

Hmmm. The transportation won't happen for a couple of weeks. So is the problem actually solved at this point or have we got a virtual solution, or maybe a solution in waiting?

Life must be a bit on the humdrum side when one's waking hours are consumed by such thoughts.

Things are plodding along nicely with lots of problems (mostly employing the two stage panic technique) disappearing and the 'to do' list being whittled away.

The cold here on the GC is unrelenting. It is the coldest winter on record. Usually the highs and lows in winter are 12 - 22. This year they are 0 - 19. What's the point of moving north for the warm winters when the lows are just as cold as in the south?

Sunday, 15 July 2007

three weeks

I wonder how easy it is to upload pics here. I'll give it a go.
This is home on the Gold Coast (to be later contrasted with 'home' in Al Ain.)
Firstly, the beach.

Next, my lounge room.

And a frill necked lizard in my front yard.

And ... it turns out it's very easy to upload pics.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

three weeks to go

Another week has raced by. We've chipped away at the many tasks that need doing. Still need to bring the house up to scratch so we can let it. Lots of little things like smoke alarms and a few big ones like spend billions (okay not quite that much!) on a new pool fence in order to meet safety regulations.

Flights are organised.

It's Saturday night and we just got back from spending the day in Brisbane watching hockey. I'd have liked to have gone to the Gabba to see a game of Aussie Rules Footy tonight, but K and our hockey playing daughter had run out of steam! Pikers!

The local Chinese takeaway is supplying dinner tonight. ... I wonder if there will be many/any Chinese restaurants in Al Ain. They're all over the place in Aus, many dating back to the gold rush days of the 1850s when there were many Chinese here.

Just found out that the Socceroos (Aussie team) copped a walloping from Iraq in the Asian Cup last night! Sigh.

Time to go hunt and gather dinner (from the local Chinese).

Monday, 9 July 2007

four weeks to go

It's sooo cold here on the Gold Coast at the moment. This is the coldest winter in 50+ years. The problem is that winter here usually isn't cold, so no-one has much in the way of heating. We're underprepared for it. I just checked the temp in Al Ain. It's just after 4am and the temp is already 29 degrees. That sounds a bit like the other extreme, but then if there's aircon, the place is equipped for those temps.

I'm sooo ready to leave the cold behind me. I'm over it!

Not much has happened in the last week. There're boxes all over the place and our abode is looking more like a house than a home as pictures, books and knick knacks disappear into the bowels of the boxes (do boxes have bowels? nah ... didn't think so!).

KG hasn't told his workplace yet that he's off for a bit of a jaunt across the world. He works from home and rarely makes the 20 min trip into the office. Maybe it'll be years before they even notice that he's 12,000 kilometres further away.

I'm off to do a stint with the boxes.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

five weeks to go

I'm starting to feel a mixture of impotence and urgency. There's so much to do, but I don't know where to start, so I'm doing nothing. Probably not the best approach.

Australia Post have confirmed that both sets of documents have arrived safely at their destination in Al Ain. However, they haven't updated their online tracking system to reflect this and the college still hasn't confirmed receipt of the documents. But, hey, they gotta be there!

Apparently we are getting a two bedroom apartment near the college. It isn't dog-friendly. I've been apartment hunting with my 18 year old daughter here in Aus (cos we're turfing her out when we go!). She's looking for a 2 bedroom apartment. We've seen shoeboxes for mega-bucks rent per week. And we've seen some that are half-way decent, but aren't in the trendy location an 18 year old likes to hang out in. I'm hoping we find something for our daughter pronto and that our 2 bedroom apartment in Al Ain isn't a shoebox. Our daughter is interstate at the moment playing in the National Hockey Championships, so the apartment search is on hold for another week until she gets back. Time is fleeting - there's a rental accommodation shortage here at present. Worst case scenario she'll stay in our house (which isn't in a suitably trendy location) until she finds something. We'll lose rent money, but at least she won't have to sleep under a bridge!

We've got two possible homes, with relatives, for the dog so hopefully the dog issue should be sorted in the next day or two.

The removalists came in on Friday to give us a quote. We were reprimanded for not swinging into action a month earlier. Sigh! The quote will be back mid-way through next week, so hopefully we can give more serious thought to what to take and what to leave and we can start sorting through years of accumulated 'stuff.'

Sometimes I think that the current issues are kinda fun and keep the old brain ticking over. Other times I wish that I could fast forward a few weeks to avoid the manifold mundane decisions that need to be made.

Looking forward to the drive to Al Ain and the sights along the way.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

six weeks to go

This has been a fairly frustrating week. I still haven't found anyone here in Aus who I'm happy to let adopt my dog. Also I still don't know if the apartment we've been allocated is dog-friendly. And ... time is pressing. If we're gonna take him to Al Ain, we need to get a course of needles started in the next week or so. If we're not gonna take him, we need to find a home with family or friends. Poor Oscar, sometimes I wonder if he has an inkling of what's going on. He seems happily oblivious to it all. We've got the cat sorted. It was quite easy to find a home for him.

The other issue we've been grappling with is the documents. They've all been sent, but have they arrived? AusPost have this wonderful system where you can track documents sent overseas. So I decided to try it out. It turns out that documents I sent 6 weeks ago are recorded as having been despatched from Brisbane, but then the trail runs cold. So I can confirm that they made it 100kms from home! The second lot of documents I sent a week and a half ago. They are recorded as having arrived in the USA, and then the trail runs cold. Can postal workers really mix up USA and UAE? I've called AusPost and they are 'looking into it.' I've contacted Al Ain to see if the documents arrived there, but I haven't heard back on that front either (though it has been the weekend!). It'll be a mega-pain if the documents haven't arrived. My faith in AusPost is at an all time low. At Christmas I sent a package to my daughter who was in England at the time. I paid a fortune to send it express so that it would only take 3 days and would arrive well before Christmas. The package never arrived!

So I'm not a happy pre-traveller this week! Hopefully the documents issue turns out to be one of sloppy record keeping rather than lost documents!

Monday is almost upon us and I've got lessons to prepare. Better get to it.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

seven weeks to go

Well I've made two discoveries this week.

Firstly I found out that it is plausible to bring my dog to Al Ain with me. It seems that you can get a villa with an outdoor area. Poifect! That's the upside. I was worried about what I was going to do with him. He's cute and reasonably obedient (when he deigns to be), but he's ten years old, so a bit hard to re-house. And the downside ... the cost from Brisbane to Al Ain including all vaccinations, crates, service ... the whole shebang ... will cost just under $3000. Ouch!

My second discovery is a reason to reconsider making the move at all. I've just discovered Rocky Road at the local Cheesecake Shop here in Aus. It is turkish delight-flavoured marshmallow with almonds and chocolate. It is soooooo good.

Other more minor discoveries:
1. There's a chain of shops in UAE that sell most foods and bits and pieces an Aussie would want.
It's a good idea to pencil in a bi-monthly trip to Dubai for any bits and pieces not available in the chain in Al Ain. Eventually as one adjusts to UAE life the Dubai stock-up trips become less necessary.
2. Newcomers are allocated a buddy by the employer. A buddy is a kind-hearted expat who has been in town for a while and is willing to act as a mentor to help with basic survival tips.
3. It's not a good idea to cook in or drink the local water.
4. On arrival the first essentials to buy to furnish the new abode are: a bed and a bottled water cooler.
5. Knee length dresses for women actually means calf-length.
6. Almost no-one is out on the streets during the day. At night people dress up and hit the shops.
7. If you haven't got a helicopter and have to brave the roads, a 4WD is the safest vehicle to be in.
8. Some people actually enjoy driving the freeway between Dubai and Al Ain. They enjoy the sights as they drive at the legal limit of 120kms per hour and become oblivious to the cars speeding past at 180kms.

Well, I think that all of my paper work has been submitted and now I have to work out how to manage things at this end ... what to take, chuck, sell or donate.

Time is fleeting.

Monday, 11 June 2007

minus eight weeks

Okay, so maybe I'm being a bit previous here. I'm not actually in Al Ain, but I'm in 'find out everything you can about Al Ain' mode. I've been scouring blogs and websites to find out what I can. What have I discovered so far?

1. Driving in Al Ain is somewhat nightmarish and not for the feint-hearted.
2. The population is around 400,000 (similar to my city in Aus).
3. This city in the desert is actually the greenest part of UAE. It uses water from an aquifer.
4. There's a Starbucks there - not that I'm into Starbucks, but at least I know I'll be able to get a decaf when I want one - hmmm - or maybe that's an assumption! I wonder if Starbucks in Al Ain have an online menu. ... will have to check that out.
5. I've found two posts about accommodation. One says that their apartment is crappy and that the landlord isn't interested in fixing anything. The other says that their aircon doesn't work properly and it stinks and the landlord doesn't want to know about it! Hmmm. I sure hope I don't get one of those two apartments when I turn up. If only the bloggers had published their addresses! Okay, I know that's too much to ask!
6. Conditions for teachers have deteriorated to the point where people are resigning. Hmmm. That doesn't bode well. I wonder where they were teaching.
7. Furniture and white goods are cheaper than in Aus. So I'm thinking of buying over there rather than shipping everything from Aus. I wonder if that's a good idea.
8. Medical care in UAE generally is the same standard as in Aus.
9. It'll be 50 degrees when I arrive in August. Really? Truly? Surely not!
10. Many streets don't have names. So my address is likely to be ... turn right at the first round about and left into the second street. My apartment is the third one on the right.

Well, I've got pets to rehouse and documents to authenticate. I'd better get back to it.