Saturday, February 27, 2010

A day at the races...

So this is a quick post about my experience seeing a camel race. Yes, a camel race. These races are a cherished aspect of the "Qatari Culture". When we arrived, as with any event that is arab, people are milling around, and there isn't any clear understanding of what is going on and what time things are starting. Eventually we figured out that the races were occurring on a different track a little further back from where we were. So we walked over to the track and hopped on a bus to follow the camels. The camel race is a 5 minute race around a huge track. The Qataris used to use little children to ride the camels and whip them to go faster.
Due to recent human-rights and safety laws (thank god) children can no longer be used. Instead they use little robots that have whips. What happens is that the Qatari men drive along side the camels with a remote control in order to control the robot's whipping. And the camel, has an ear piece in it's ear that the men in the land cruiser use to scream at them to go faster.... it's quite hilarious.

So as a spectator, because the track is so long, we hop onto a bus that drives along the other side of the camel track so you can see... sounds crazy, I know. It was a fun experience that I will never forget. For pictures click here!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Dubai and Abu Dhabi

So I just realized that I promised a post about my trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi... so here it goes.
A couple of weeks ago Lindsay and I flew to Dubai using a really cheap, regional carrier called FlyDubai. We both got our round trip tickets for about $100. You can get cheaper tickets depending how early you book. The planes are really nice but they try to nickel & dime you for
everything. We paid $2 a person to pre-choose our seat, and paid $10 for each bag we checked in (only one, so not too bad). They also try to sell you food and drinks the entire time during the flight... outside of that, the service is great!

We arrived in Dubai late on a Tuesday night and took a cab to the hotel that we booked
through Orbitz. The hotel was VERY nice and very reasonably priced for being a 5-star. Thanks to the recent financial down-turn in Dubai, hotels are slashing prices to get people to come! The name of the hotel is Bonnington Hotel (never heard of it) but the room was very fancy and it had a huge shower with the rain-style shower head that came from the ceiling. The hotel pool and hot-tub were located on the 11th floor and and it was open air. The building itself was quite interesting because the 11th floor was open air while there were still a good 8 or 10 floors above it...

The first day Lindsay and I hopped a taxi (after figuring out that we were not walking distance from a working metro station (one of Dubai's claims of fame is their new metro system that is about 50% complete, but in traditional arab fashion, they opened it anyway). The taxi brought us to Mall of the Emirates which is known mostly for it's indoor skiing park. Yes, that's right, indoor skiing, only in Dubai! After we checked out the mall we grabbed lunch at popular chain here in the gulf called "Chili's" yeah they are here everywhere too. After lunch we hopped
another taxi to Dubai Mall, which claims to be the largest in the world. It was a huge mall and very nice. The area where Dubai Mall is located is where the new Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world) resides.
We spent some time in the mall, we went shopping for some new shoes which turned out to be a great deal because of the shopping festival that was going on at that
time. I picked up three pairs of Steve Madden shoes for $125, which is great because I hardly buy shoes. After walking around for a bit we bought movie tickets to see "Up in the Air" with George Clooney. Great movie, little depressing but very good! This reminds me that I need to explain to you all how movie theaters work here in the gulf.

Move Theaters: Ok, so if there is one thing that the GCC (Gulf Coast Countries) do well, it is movie theaters. First off, the theaters are amazing, especially the one in Dubai Mall which is three stories high. When you buy a movie ticket you don't just "buy a ticket" you also choose a seat. So it is common to go earlier in the day and buy your tickets and choose your seats. This ensures that you can show up 1 min before the movie starts and your dead-center middle row seat will be waiting for you. And yes, 1 minute before it starts, because movies here start on
time. Lindsay and I got a good laugh out of a new service that we saw in Dubai, VIP movie tickets... everything in the GCC has a VIP option. Even Dubai's metro system has a "gold car" that you can pay more to ride in. Status is a big thing here in the GCC! Anyway, the VIP movie ticket comes with a butler-service, private viewing and food for about 3 times the cost of the regular movie ticket... we were tempted but didn't do it. After the movie we went back to the hotel to relax and get ready to dinner out at
On The Boarder Mexican Restaurant. Mexican food is a shared love between Lindsay and I and we take full advantage of eating Mexican food when it's near by. After dinner we hopped a cab back to the hotel and relaxed.

The next day we decided to see if we could get into Burj Khalifa but the tickets were $40 to go half way, so we said "no thanks". We ended up catching another movie "Law Abiding Citizen" with Jaimee Fox and Gerald Butler (I think). It was ok, a little bloody. After the movie we
walked around some more and then returned back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. That night we went to a very nice souk-mall for dinner (near Burj Khalifa) and went to a restaurant called "The Mango Tree" it served Thai food and to Lindsay's delight, lemon-berry martinis... she found a new favorite drink. I ordered grilled sea bass wrapped in a banana leaf and Lindsay got Pad Thai.

The next day we rented a car from Hertz and drove to Abu Dhabi, which was about 1 hour away. It was weird driving in Dubai because the roads are straight and long (similar to the US) but in Doha, I've become to quick stops and short accelerations. When we got to Abu Dhabi, we went to the huge Mosque and looked around. Lindsay had to cover, as all woman have to when
entering a mosque.
Lindsay HATES covering, but I LOVE poking fun at her. After the mosque, we drove to a mall in Abu Dhabi. The setting of Abu Dhabi is much different than Dubai and Qatar, it's very green, lots of trees and looks like a real city. However, Abu Dhabi is quite boring. Dubai is the vegas of the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Abu Dhabi is the more responsible country, hence why Abu Dhabi just bailed out Dubai for 13 billion dollars).

We grabbed a quick bite at a restaurant in the mall then headed back to Dubai. When we got back we took a taxi to the old part of Dubai and saw the gold-souk and went on a quick boat ride
over to see the old souks of Dubai. That evening we went to another Mexican restaurant called El Chico's which was a lot better than On the Boarder...

The last day we grabbed a taxi to the closest metro station to try out the metro system. Little did we know it would take 45 min to get to the airport. We both got a little nervous because we were approaching the hour cut off point for our flight check-in and then we got really panicked when we got off at the only airport drop off point, "terminal two" to find out that our terminal "terminal 3" was a 15 minute cab ride... what the hell? We got a fast taxi driver and he got us there just in the knick of time!

The trip to Dubai was great, it's an interesting city in that it shows how fast a city can grow with vast amounts of wealth. At the same time, it shows how empty a city can become when the wealth and investments are only surface level. For more pictures, click here!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Busy times ahead... and behind


The past couple of weeks have been busy busy busy. Part of my job is to work with student housing assignments and applications for the next school year (2010-2011). This is always a fun job when students go to pick their residence hall and roommates. What made this year's process even more fun was the sub-par software program that we piloted this year. After countless emails, error messages and questions, I can safely say that we are heading towards the end of the tunnel, I can see the light! Working with a student population that has a mix of medical students from Cornell, engineering students from Texas A&M and even fashion design students from VCU always makes the job more interesting. Each student feels that his or her degree or program is "more important" or "harder" than the other, so many of the conversations with students about priority for selecting rooms revolves around this issue of "I'm more important". It doesn't help that each school here fosters this thinking with their own students.... this is one of the many challenges that arises from having 6 schools with very unique cultures coming together on one campus.

Education City has been busy this past month. We've had the Vienna Symphony Orchestra perform outside at Education City. I watched from the grassy area across the street because I didn't want to pay the $100+ ticket price. Also, Hillary Clinton visited Education City, during her visit to the middle-east to round up support for new sanctions against Iran. She spoke with students here at campus. I saw her motorcade drive by, which was quite big. Hillary's main message here in the gulf was that the US fears Iran is becoming a military dictatorship and it threatens the region. It will be interesting to see if her visit pays off.

Outside of work, things are going well. I started P90X work-out routine which is a video work-out program that takes 90 days. All I needed to buy was a pull-up bar, two dumbbells and a yoga mat. Right now I'm in what is called "Phase 1" that focuses on burning fat and building muscle. There is a very strict diet on this program but I'm just doing my own diet of eating healthier and less sugar (which is very very hard to do here in Doha). I don't believe in "diets" or "eating plans" because I want whatever I do to be a lifestyle change versus a "phase". My routine is pretty hard but I like it. Sundays are Chest and Back, Mondays are Plyometrics, which is a lot of jumping and squats, Tuesdays are Arms and Shoulders, Wednesdays are Yoga X (VERY HARD!), Thursdays are Legs and Back, Fridays are Kenpo X which is a lot of punching and kicking and Saturday is my rest day! Wish me luck!

Lindsay and I are having a great time. We've been together for a little short of 5 months and I've never been happier. We are busy planning our next two trips together which is looking like a summer trip to Malaysia and fall trip to either Thailand or Switzerland to see U2 her favorite band. Lindsay has been very busy at work too and she is leaving tomorrow to go to Indonesia with a group of students for an alternative spring break trip. The students from Education City will be going to Indonesia to teach high school students basic lessons in art, computer skills etc...

My future outlook is busy. I leave on March 17th to head to ACPA conference in Boston then I fly home for a week to visit my mom, dad, sister and grandparents. I haven't been home for 8 months! I can't wait. One of the first things I plan on doing, after hugging all my family, is to go to Wal-Mart and go CRAZY! I miss some American products and I need to stock up! I will get back into Doha on the 1st of April and the rest of the month will be packed with programs and events around EC. April 8th is a big RHC program called "Sports on the Spine" so I'm sure I'll be busy advising my RHC group as they get closer and closer to that date.

I recently found out that my summer will be quite busy. My good friend Jenna from Westminster College will be flying out on May 25th and will be in Doha with me until June 6th. I'm excited to have her come out and see my work and the country! Jenna departs on the 6th and I plan to follow a few days after to be home for my sister's graduation. I then will fly back to Doha to pick up some students that will be attending a conference with me in San Diego from June 20-24th. This conference is called NACURH which is a huge student organization that I was apart of in my undergraduate career. It means a lot to me to be bringing a group of students to this conference. NACURH was a big part of my life in undergrad and I hope they have a great experience too. From NACURH I will fly directly to Austin, TX for a conference called ACUHO-I (Association of College and University Housing Officers - International). I was selected to present at this conference in a session. I'm very nervous but excited! After I leave Texas, I will arrive back to Doha for a couple of days before heading out to Malaysia, inshallah (who remembers what this means? "God Willing").

So that's a break down of what I've been doing and what I will be doing in the coming months. I'll keep you posted on any changes and of course will do my best to keep posting!