Monday, January 31, 2011

The Expat Community

The term 'expat' refers to anyone living outside their home country of origin and your expat status doesn't change no matter how long you live in the new country either. Felicia, our real estate agent, has lived in UAE off and on since she was 13 years old and she's still considered an expat and always will be.

It's estimated that 60-80% of Abu Dhabi's population is made up of expats. When I first considered this figure, I thought I'd be running into US citizens at every turn, but we are really few and far between. Most prominent are other Arab countries and I'm not observant enough yet to tell them apart - Pakistanis, Lebanese, Saudis, etc. There's also a HUGE Indian population and then lots of Brits, Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans. So I hear a lot of English, but rarely stumble across an American accent.

There also aren't 'communities' in the sense that all the Americans live together in one place, all the Indians ... People come and go so frequently and housing is a bit scarce in Abu Dhabi so it's pretty difficult to be grouped together like that. Some specific businesses do it because of how they set up their housing situations. For example, the Accenture folks working on the hospital project all live in the same building of serviced apartments, but their group isn't in the middle of any American expat grouping or anything. Epic was hoping to group the team together to an extent, but unless some of the new buildings get their permits in the next month, we don't think that's going to be a feasible option, which isn't a bad thing from my perspective. I think living together and working together could get stressful for the team, and it certainly makes meeting new people a lot more challenging.

The biggest expat 'community' I've seen is online. There are a few forums and discussion groups specific to Abu Dhabi, which have already proved helpful. For example, I'm looking for a dry cleaner and this is harder than you might think as word is that many of them ruin your clothes or have unclean working environments. I checked out the forums yesterday and got recommendations for 3 places expats take their clothes and have had good luck with. I've also found info on hairdressers, tailors and the bus that runs from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. The internet is a wonderful thing! :)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

More Observations - day 16

Well, we've surpassed the two week mark and it's starting to sink in that this isn't a vacation, we actually live here now. Still kind of hard to think that way since 1) we currently live in a hotel with housekeeping services, and 2) I don't yet have a job. Here are a few more observations. I will say that I'm definitely getting used to things and had to wrack my brain a bit harder to come up with these - I take that as a good sign! :)

Bottled Water: The water here is actually potable, but it all comes from a desalination plant so tastes funny. As a result everyone drinks bottled water and it seems cheaper than it was in the states. Luckily for now, we get 4 small bottles everyday from housekeeping, so we haven't had to buy much. The gallon we bought our first week was about $1, which seemed pretty reasonable. At least it's just the taste keeping us from drinking from the tap and not like Mexico where you need to be careful when you brush your teeth. 

No Recycling program: The biggest challenge I have with the bottled water is all the plastic bottles we're dumping in the trash. There is no recycling program in the UAE, which just makes me cringe. There was an article about the amount of waste going to landfills in the UAE just last week, so maybe that's a ray of hope that a recycling program is at least being considered?

TV is behind and movie channels are ahead: It's been kind of funny to realize this, but the TV shows are either about a month or an entire season behind what you're watching in the states, but we have 3 movie channels and 2 of them show much more current movies than you could find on the free TV channels in the states. On Saturday, we watched Avatar, which I know isn't that recent, but still isn't available on the free movie channels back home. We also got a VPN to the states set up, so when we're in a pinch, we can access hulu and watch additional shows or the current season of something.

Taxis are cheap:  For such a large city, the taxis are really cheap. There is only one taxi company, they all drive the same vehicle and most of them are fairly new and clean, all the drivers speak English (although not always as well as you'd like), and tipping is as easy as rounding to the next dhiram. The biggest challenge is you really need to have some idea of where you're going because there is no GPS and addresses aren't really used here. Instead, you need to have some kind of landmark reference point like a mall, a hotel, a large building of some kind, then as you get closer either help the driver look or point out where you're headed. For the recruitment fair, the trip was about 20 minutes and maybe 9-10 miles and cost me about $5.50.

No decaf at Starbucks:  Starbucks is essentially the same except for a few minor things. They don't brew a pot of decaf like in the states. You can get a decaf latte or any other drink with a shot of espresso, but they don't have plain brewed decaf coffee. They also don't have a Starbuck's card system and the cards from back home don't work here. Finally, they don't all offer free wi-fi - some do, but not all. Oh and the pastry is much better!

Construction everywhere:  Almost everything in Abu Dhabi is either brand new or under construction. I really don't think you can find many areas in the city itself where there isn't either road construction or some new building going up or some repairs in progress. I sometimes feel like Abu Dhabi will be a really cool city, just as soon as everything is finished. :)

The Hot Corn stand:  The first time I walked into Lulu's hypermarket (grocery store) there was this wonderful smell. I thought at first it was the popcorn stand at the entrance, but no, it was the hot corn stand a little further in. Yes, hot buttered corn you can buy in a couple of different sizes. It's the funniest thing! It's not corn on the cob, but kernel corn smothered in hot butter. I haven't yet tried it (but I assure you I will!) and can't tell if people just take it home to eat or eat it in their car on the way home ... very curious.

What are your questions? Leave me a comment or send me an email and I'd be happy to respond to questions you have!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is in Abu Dhabi and is the largest Mosque in the UAE and the 8th largest in the world. It is also open to the public and they offer free informational tours at certain times each day. We went today and caught the 2pm tour. There are a few rules you need to adhere to when visiting the mosque, the most important being that women need to wear the traditional Abaya and cover their hair with a scarf. These are provided for you or you can bring your own.

Fatima and I appropriately covered for our trip to the Mosque.
 The Mosque is stunning and covers almost 5 football fields. It can accommodate 40,000 worshippers with the main prayer hall alone able to accommodate over 7000. There are separate prayer rooms for men and for women and the reason is that when Muslims pray, they sit in a row touching shoulders and legs. This is to preserve the idea that everyone is connected and together. Because this could be awkward and distracting for a male outside the household to be touching a female, they have separate rooms.

The Islamic faith requires you to pray 5 times each day, and this clock in the outer prayer room indicates the times and names of each prayer in English and Arabic. It also shows both the traditional calendar and the Islamic calendar, which follows the cycles of the moon rather than the sun.

The exterior of the mosque is stunning with 82 domes decorated with gold on the top, about 1000 columns and miles and miles of Italian marble inlaid with all kinds of decorations. Here are a few shots of the exterior.
One of the minarets where the call to prayer is usually conducted. Because the city and the mosque are so big, they use a microphone and speakers from the interior rather than ask the muezzin to climb up here 5 times each day. 

A few of the 82 domes.

This is a tiny section of the inlaid marble floor ... of the OUTDOOR courtyard - really beautiful. The lines you see are so that when they clean (2 times per day) the water can drain through these cracks in the floor.
Just a beautiful random view - the day was perfect - sunny and about 78 with a nice breeze.
And that was just a glimpse of the exterior. The interior is even more stunning and before we could head in there, we had to remove our shoes.
This was the decoration on the walls - inlaid some kind of  stone - really intricate work.
And this was a similar design on the floor done in inlaid colored marble.  No wonder they want everyone to remove their shoes! :) 
This is actually a shot of the ceiling - there isn't one inch of space in this place that isn't beautifully decorated.
This is part of the carpet in the outer prayer room.
This is the outer prayer room which can accommodate 1960 worshippers.
Inside the main prayer room, which can accommodate over 7000. The columns here are also the air conditioning system for the room.
This is the largest chandelier in the world spanning 10 meters in diameter and 15 meters high and weighing over 9 tons. It was made in Germany and cost about $8.2 million. The photo doesn't even begin to do it justice. And this is just one of 3 like it (the other 2  a bit smaller) in the main prayer room.
This is the equivalent of a Christian alter area. The inscriptions on the wall here are the 99 names for God in the Islamic religion. The gold area is recessed and it's where the prayer leader speaks from on Fridays. It's all inlaid gold and glass and just stunning - almost looks liquid.
It's really a beautiful place and the photos don't do it justice. Here are a few more random shots from our visit.

Toast Sanza Party & Wine Tasting

Yesterday was Friday and the first day of the weekend here (work week is Sunday through Thursday), but it feels more like a Sunday because it's the Muslim holy day. People go out for Friday brunch here and the car dealerships are closed as well as other types of businesses that would close on Sunday but be open on Saturday back home. It will take a bit to adjust to this I think because we not only have to start thinking of Friday as the weekend and Sunday as the start of the work week, but we also have to think of Friday here as a Sunday back home and Saturday ... well, I guess Saturday is still Saturday, just in a different order! :)

So anyway, yesterday was Friday and we decided to check out Toast Sanza, which is an annual wine tasting and BBQ event hosted by the South African, New Zealand & Australian groups in town and sponsored by one of the very few liquor stores in the city. The event was held at one of the golf clubs in town and not too far from where we're staying. It was a gorgeous day - high around 80 and very sunny. Towards the later afternoon a cool breeze picked up, which was heaven (except that it tricked us into thinking we weren't getting sunburned!) Yep, all that sunscreen and I forgot to put any on! I now have my first official Middle Eastern sunburn. I know, I know, it could be worse and be frostbite! :)

Tickets to the event were about $60 and included a wine glass, 6 wine taste tickets (which was about 1/2 a glass of wine each so plenty to drink for an afternoon) and lunch, which was a hot dog or hamburger aussie style (that is to say, HUGE). There was a DJ playing great music, some games for the kids and a silent auction. The best part is that a number of the folks from CCAD (Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi) were there so I got to meet a bunch of the people Brian had been talking about as well as the head of HR, who is currently reviewing my CV (fingers crossed!!) It was a really relaxing afternoon and the wine wasn't too bad either. Jacob's Creek, which is an Australian winery, also has a wine club membership and they sponsor wine dinners and other events in Abu Dhabi - we plan to check them out.

Brian and a couple of his Epic colleagues: Jeremy and Fatima. Oh, and don't worry, he's not two fisting it, he's holding my glass while I take the photo.
Good food, good wine, great weather and some new friends - can't ask for a better day than that!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Apartment Hunting - part 2

Yesterday we went out again with our Real Estate agent, Felicia to look at a few more places. Felicia is originally from Sweden (and as such is gorgeous) and has lived in Abu Dhabi off and on from age 13. She's also spent time in Canada, Sweden, the UK and I think a few other places. She knows the area very well and of course is tapped into the real estate scene.

For this trip, we viewed 2 more high rise apartment buildings that are complete except they can't get the final permits that allow them to finally release the apartments and begin move in. There is some confusion and speculation as to why this has been such a challenge. The buildings we saw were originally scheduled to open almost a year ago, but the project got way behind as construction projects are prone to do everywhere. Now, they're ready, but can't seem to get the final paperwork approved. In terms of when they will be ready, we've been told everything from end of February to June, so who knows. The real frustration is that the apartments would be perfect for the team - close to work, nice amenities and within our budget, but the timing is off - we were hoping to move into permanent housing as early as next week, but now it looks like March may be the earliest we can hope for.

You'll also notice I don't have any photos of this trip. For reasons we couldn't understand, security was tight at these buildings. First, Felicia couldn't even secure appointments with more than 2 of the buildings (and there are probably about 6 in total), then we had to sign in 3 different times, be escorted everywhere by at least 3 people, wear visitor badges and promise not to take any photos. It was peculiar. Our only speculation on the subject is that the buildings are finished, but not yet cleaned so maybe they don't want photos getting out that show the properties in less than pristine shape?

So, if the timing will work in our favor, we've found our housing location, but that's a huge IF, especially when we don't even have an idea of when we would know the timing for sure. We'll keep looking in the meantime and keep our fingers crossed that the government provides approval very soon. As nice as the temp housing is, it would be nice to settle in permanently and truly unpack and get organized.

Job Hunting ... Part 1

Job hunting has been interesting in a different culture with an unknown set of rules. Before I came over, I was able to do a little research and apply for some jobs online. I found out, for example, that they use a CV format, which requires a photo and your personal information such as age, nationality and marital status. After working in HR for so long, it was a bit weird to include all that on my CV. Another difference is that it's not at all uncommon for the employer to specify exactly the kind of candidate they'll consider based on race or gender (haven't seen any references to age yet). For example, I've seen job postings specifically asking for males, western educated, UAE National only ...

The paper lately has been full of articles on the job market for UAE Nationals and how high the unemployment is. There is a big push in UAE right now to hire Emirati nationals, which make up only 15-20% of the population in Abu Dhabi - imagine being a minority in your own country! Many positions are also looking for English and Arabic speaking candidates, so that continues to narrow the field. Even so, I see 1-3 training positions each week, so there is definitely hope. I've applied to a few online, but have yet to hear anything back.

I also have an in with Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi thanks to the project with Epic and Brian's lobbying on my behalf. They actually have a Director of Training & Development posted and I've applied online as well as sent my CV along to some contacts Brian was able to find for me. The latest on that front is that the HR person wants to bring me in for an interview after she gets my CV processed. I'm not holding my breath, but will keep my fingers crossed. We joke that it would be really funny if I were offered that position and then had to go to Verona for training! :)

Today, I attended a Recruiting Fair sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Tawteen Council. The fair ran for 3 days and I went down to the Exhibition Center on Tuesday the day it started only to find out that Tuesday and Wednesday were for UAE nationals only. So, I went again today and made a few contacts. I've never been to a recruiting fair, so had no idea what to expect. Basically, the businesses were set up in booths - some basic and some elaborate. My first stop was du Telecom and was very encouraging as the woman I talked to asked me to wait so I could speak with the head of HR. I spoke with him very briefly, but he gave me his card and asked me to send him my CV. A few other potential leads and I did run into the head of L&D for the Jumierah group, which is a huge hotel/entertainment group, and he took my CV. Unfortunately, I have no idea whatsoever whether it was productive or if the companies were just going through the motions. Time will tell I guess.

I have to keep reminding my impatient self that I've only been here 11 days! I would say that things are off to a decent start. I'll continue to scour the papers and websites and if I'm lucky, I'll get the interview with CCAD and a call back from a few recruiters. I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Review of Today, January 26, 2011

Brian and I had a bunch of errands to run today, so I took along the camera and thought I'd provide a play by play.

We started out about noon and decided to walk because it was a beautiful day (high of 78) and we need the exercise. We headed off to the Novotel hotel to inquire about an apartment for one of the Epic employees who is arriving with her cat (we're having a hard time finding temporary housing that will allow pets). Brian had looked up the location using Google Maps, but when we got to the location, it was a Persian restaurant and a different apartment business. We decided to go in an inquire anyway and as expected, found out they don't allow pets. Strike one.

Since we were close, we decided to check our PO box for mail and are now the proud owners of our first piece of UAE junk mail ... a furniture catalog (which actually might just come in handy later.) From here we decided to walk to the bank where Brian was to pick up our checkbook and ATM card. We weren't actually sure how far the walk would be so decided to head in the right direction and grab a cab if it got to be too long. Along the way, we ran across these beautiful buildings ...

I thought maybe they were villas, but as we walked down the street we saw a sign describing this as the Embassy for Ukraine. I was happy I hadn't taken any pictures further along the road as I probably would have been stopped (the embassies don't take kindly to cameras!)

We continued on our route and figured we'd stop if we ran across a Starbuck's. And sure enough, we did!

I have to be subtle when trying to get photos of Emiraties as it's impolite to take their picture without asking permission. For this shot, I was pretending to show Brian a photo on the camera!

Just as I was settling in to my iced mocha, Brian noticed an Etisalat building across the street. This is the phone company and Brian needed to stop by to get his account corrected (yes, I think this would be trip #5 or 6!) The Etisalat we had been going to was on the other side of town, so this was a lucky break to stumble across one on our way to the bank. We headed off.

The phone company was a repeat of the last 100 times we've gone there ... wait, wait, wait. While Brian settled in to wait, he suggested I go to the Abu Dhabi mall to return a power converter we had bought there a few days earlier. I set off. And along the way, I snapped a few photos. They are all a view of the city from one of those over the road pedestrian bridges.
You can get a small sense of the parking from this photo, but what you can't see clearly is that cars will also park right down the middle of this area. As long as you leave enough room for cars to get by on either side, you can park in the middle as well. It gets pretty tight in some places!
This is a view down one of the side streets. The orange & white barriers are for construction, which is everywhere!!
You can't see it too clearly, but straight ahead is the entrance to the Abu Dhabi mall, one of the hundreds of malls in Abu Dhabi. The mall is three stories, so I'm not sure what the rest of the large building behind it is for.
I made it to the mall and to the Abu Dhabi Co-operative, which is like a Super Wal-Mart with a full scale grocery store. They call this a hypermarket and you can find them in the lower basement level of many of the malls. I found the reception and asked to return the adapter, which was still in the original packaging and had the receipt (and we bought it 3 days ago). After about 5 minutes of hemming and hawing and trying to call many others, the manager said, "just 2 minutes madam, let me go check". While waiting, I read the clearly outlined return policy which said I could return items in 'pristine condition, in original packaging and with receipt". After a while, I decided to take a few photos to pass the time.
Grocery stores are pretty much the same all over. No self-checkout lines here, though and the cashiers have nice chairs they get to sit in.
One difference is that most businesses (probably all) display a picture of the President, and this looks like some other high level officials with him. Can you imagine a picture of Obama hanging in Wal-Mart?! :)
The section on the second floor has electronics, appliances, clothes and household goods. The place is huge!
After the 3rd photo, one of the baggers informed me that taking photos is not allowed without permission, but that I could ask the manager (who was helping me with my return) for permission if I wanted. Ooops, guess hypermarts don't like cameras any better than embassies! :)

Eventually the manager came back and informed me that he couldn't give me my money back, but could provide store credit, which I could use for anything in the grocery store. (sigh) I got my voucher and headed upstairs as we needed a USB cable, some adapters and a file folder system. I found the USB right away and had to pay for it at their special check-out counter. I handed over my voucher and was told, "I'm sorry madam, you can't use that here." ... yeah, you can imagine. Apparently, the electronics department is separate from the grocery and my voucher was for the grocery ... gah! So, down to the grocery to find enough stuff to use up my voucher, which I did.

Meanwhile, at Etisalat, Brian was having his own fun. He was told to go to this office and talk to the woman in there. He waited politely outside the door and after the second person walked in front of him into the office, he stepped in too. The issue is that his name isn't the one listed on his account, which we found out by accident when he attempted to change his number from pre-paid to post-paid. He explained the situation to the manager and she said he had to have the person who is listed on the account come down and sign for the change ... the problem is we have no idea who the person listed on the account is. We think it was a mix up at the airport where Brian bought the pre-paid account. Brian explained this to the manager and she said, okay, then we'll just need a copy of that person's passport and a letter from your company explaining that the person is no longer on the account. ... ... ... Brian was eventually able to explain the situation and after signing away his rights to dispute any charges on the pre-paid account, he was able to transfer his phone service. j

When we met up again at the bank and shared our experiences, we both decided taking up yoga or meditation might be a good idea. :)

The bank was a fun trip too as we went from downstairs to get the checkbook to another counter to get the ATM card, upstairs to get the PIN for the ATM card, back downstairs to get information to set up the online account, back upstairs to get a TIN number that goes with the online account ... oh such fun! But at least everyone was very polite and efficient when we got the right person for each step of the process.

After the bank, we took a taxi to the real Novotel (not even close to where Google maps said it was) to inquire about a hotel that will take cats ... no luck! By this time it was almost 3pm and we were starving so we set off back towards the hotel and on the lookout for a place for lunch. After a few blocks we found The Curry House, which had everything from Indian, Chinese, Nepalese and Thai. We had a huge lunch with enough to take home for another lunch or dinner and for only about $18US, which is probably what we would have spent at the Hardee's we passed on the way to this place. That's one nice thing, if you find a 'local' restaurant, you can eat pretty cheaply.

We continued on our way back home and kept a lookout for a typing center, which is the next step in getting Brian a UAE driver's license. The typing center is used to translate your passport and US driver's license into Arabic, which you need to apply for your Emirates ID card, which you then need to show to get your driver's license. It's a tedious process of paperwork, administrative fees and waiting. The good news is we found a typing center pretty close to the hotel and got the next step underway.

Along the way back, I took a few final photos, mostly to prove that there is some green in Abu Dhabi. :)

Whew! I'm tried and my feet are killing me - time to relax and watch some TV. :)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Observations - Day 9

Sports Page: The sports page on most days is filled with cricket, soccer, horseracing, tennis, golf and once in a while, there will be a small article in the middle about basketball. I haven't seen a single word about American football. Lucky we're not really sports fans! :)

Television: I know I'll have more on this subject when we need to set up service in our permanent housing, but in the hotel apartment, TV is just fine. There are about 4-5 channels in English and they offer a small selection of relatively current US TV programs (Ghost Whisperer, CSI: Miami, LV & NY, Scrubs, Private Practice, The Simpsons, Martha Stewart, Bones ...) There are also 2 movie channels with movies running all day - these are a bit older, but not too bad. The other channels are in Arabic. Radio is the same way - current pop stations in English and Arabic stations as well. And, I just found out we'll have American Idol starting Feb. 2nd. :)

Washing Clothes: Because space is at a premium in the big city, the washer and dryer unit is all-in-one, so if you can figure out the controls, you set it to wash your load and then dry it right after. The challenges with the unit in our apartment is that 1) I couldn't figure out the controls, and 2) each cycle takes 2-3 hours! Laundry becomes an all day affair! Here are some pics of the unit.
This is the whole unit - washes and then dries your clothes

The controls are all in pictures, which is great for a multi-language area except that I couldn't figure out what the pictures meant! About 3 loads later, I think I've got it (and I called the front desk for a manual) ! :)
Tipping: From what we have heard, you're not expected to tip much if at all. For taxi drivers, you simply round up to the next durim, which is sometimes only a few cents. At restaurants it's about 10% and other service people don't expect anything, so it's completely up to you.

Arabic Coffee ServiceIn many of the nicer establishments they offer an Arabic coffee service. The coffee is a very strong brew of coffee with a little cardamon spice in it and is served in very small china cups without handles. Sometimes you are offered coffee or you can just ask for some. The coffee server (always male from what I've seen) will pour your coffee and hand it to your right hand with his right hand. When he comes around again, if you want more, you hold the cup up and if you don't want more you wiggle it back and forth. It's also customary to serve the coffee with a sugared date or sometimes a small sweet cookie. The coffee is very strong and this isn't a situation where you can ask for decaf, cream or sugar. The sweet sugary date, however, cuts the bite of the coffee and it's actually quite good.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Perfect Day ... at the Dubai Mall!!

Today, Brian had to go to Dubai to attend to some business and the Arab Health Conference, so I tagged along and spent 1/2 a day at the Dubai mall. This is the largest mall in Dubai (probably the world), but isn't the mall with the ski slope (that's the Emirates mall). This one only has an Aquarium and an ice rink. :)

I can barely describe the decadence - think of any designer label - literally ANY designer label and it's in this mall ... Chanel, Versace, Marc Jacobs, Burberry, Valentino and on and on and on. And the jewelry stores!! OMG!! You cannot imagine the bling in this mall - I'm saving my pennies cuz' at some point in the next 3 years, I wanna buy something in this mall! Actually ... maybe this would be a good way to invest the money we save from the tax breaks we'll have while living here? :)

Since a picture in this case is truly worth a thousand words, here are a few from today's adventure ...

These are paper butterflies hanging from the ceiling - really pretty floating in the breeze.

They call this the waterfall - it falls 3 stories and the sculptures are divers. Really cool.

This is part of the "underwater zoo" or aquarium in the mall. It' has a walkway underneath it that you can pay to walk through. There were 2 divers in the tank just floating - I figure if I can't find a training gig in Abu Dhabi maybe I'll try to get a job here.

This is part of the view from the French cafe where I had lunch.  It was a beautiful sunny day with a high of about 75. 

This is literally my view at lunch. I took the photo while sitting at the table. Gorgeous! The area in front are the fountains at the foot of the Burg Kalifa - the tallest building in the world. 

And this is the Olympic-sized ice rink also inside the mall. You can rent skates here ... maybe my next trip.

Inside the mall, they have a separate area called the gold souk (which means market) that is styled to look like a traditional Arab market. Lots and lots of jewelry stores in here and some pretty amazing decor.

More decor within the gold souk.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My First Faux Pas

I made my first cultural faux pas this morning in the hotel. If you remember, I wrote earlier last week that many of the new apartments need to provide gym and pool facilities separate for men and women. Now, one would think that after hearing about that and writing about it, that I might just remember that this is the norm around here. Well, I didn't and after more than an hour enjoying the whirlpool, steam room, sauna and relaxation room, I found out I was in the MEN'S!!

How did I come to this realization? That's the funny part. I was on my way out with a wet towel and wasn't sure where to put it. At the same time, the hotel worker for the spa area came in and saw me and exclaimed, "Oh Madam! This is not for you. This is for the mens. The women's is over there!" I almost burst out laughing at her reaction, but was soooo embarrassed I held my tongue. They probably have my name in the computer system now and I won't be allowed in either next time I head down there!

What's even more funny in hindsight is the men that must have walked through and saw me, but were too polite to say anything. Thank goodness it wasn't very busy this morning!!

Getting Mail - Parts 2 through 5

Well, we did it! We now have a Post Office box and it only took 5 trips to the Post office. Our second trip provided us with all the documentation we needed to bring back to apply for the box. The third trip we were told "there's no one here who can help you with that" and that we should come back the next morning. The fourth trip (that next morning they suggested) was met with the same response, "there's no one here this morning who can help you, come back this afternoon". We went back in the afternoon and got the same response, but this time Brian described our adventure and that we'd been there 4 times already and "isn't there anyone here who can help us?" "Let me check" was the response. She went in the back and did something and came out with PO box keys, so now we have a box!

Lesson learned: Always ask if there's someone else available to help you. Ask your request a couple of different ways and you might get a different answer. Be persistent, but not rude.

And, if you are interested in sending us anything, here's our new address:

Mr. Brian Stoll or Mrs. Renee Stoll
PO Box 114212
Abu Dhabi, U. A. E.

And, if you have international calling or texting services, here's my mobile number:
+01 971 50 111 0758

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Getting a Bank Account

Another set-up adventure was setting up a local bank account. This process was a little easier than the Post Office, but still took 4 trips to complete. Here's how the process went for us:

1) visited the bank for the first time and got the scoop on what they offered and what we needed to provide in terms of documentation (one of those was a PO box)

2) wasted trip - the bank was closed - their hours are 8am - 3pm (talk about banker's hours!)

3) had all our documentation in order and opened the account. Our debit card should arrive in about 3-4 days and the credit card (see below) in about a week ... to our new PO box!!

4) After we get the cards, we need to go back to the bank to activate them and to set up online billing.

Credit Card: We can get a credit card through our bank and it's set up a bit differently than back home. Basically, you put money in an account that becomes the capital for your card and dictates your credit limit. This money then stays put as collateral for your card. Then, the credit card works as normal, but you get 3% back into your account so as long as you keep it paid off, it should be a decent account.

I'm not sure yet, but I wonder if we'll end up using cash a lot more here than in the states. For us, we put EVERYTHING on our credit card and then just paid it off each month, but I haven't seen the credit card machines all over like back home (for example, the grocery store). I'll need to pay more attention as they may be there, I just haven't noticed them.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Emirates Palace Hotel

On Friday afternoon, we decided to play tourist and visit the Emirates Palace Hotel - yes, the hotel with the famed $11M Christmas tree! The tree was down, of course, but we were still able to check out the hotel grounds and the gold vending machine (which was surrounded by tourists like us taking photos). Here are a few of the pics from this extravagant place.
This is one of the sitting areas just inside the main entrance.

A shot of the domed ceiling of the main lobby area - the Christmas tree sat under this.

We heard some traditional music as we were coming up the hall and then realized it was live musicians!

A coffee/tea area within the hotel.
Another lavish sitting area. 

This is a view of the back of the hotel and just the center part - imagine each side is even bigger than this - the place is huge!!

Live orchids in this decorative area - there were a number of these throughout the hotel.

Yep, it's the gold ATM!

These were the choices, the smallest piece is about $300.
But good news ... if you're not satisfied, you can return it! :)
The hotel also has a number of very high end shops, nice restaurants and a hallway of artifacts, which are for sale. It's really a beautiful place and maybe if we win the lottery (or I get a job?) we'll have dinner here one night!