Thursday, September 23, 2010

New Texas Apartment

While I was away in the Middle East, the company apartment I live in was moved from one apartment complex to another one approximately two miles down the road. Before I left, I stashed all my stuff at a coworker's place for the five weeks I'd be gone. So my first full day back in the country was spent moving in to a new apartment.

Fortunately, I live a relatively unmaterialistic life at the moment, as I know the important stuff has to fit in a suitcase at a moment's notice. So I was able to completely move house in two easy car loads in my little Honda Civic. The new apartment had been decorated by an apartment-management company before I arrived, so some if it is definitely not "me" but I'm sure that will change over time. Here are a few shots of the new place, more or less before I moved in:

The Kitchen. There's a washer and dryer in the closet through the door on the left.

The Living Room. The TV is pretty dinky, but I don't watch much TV these days anyway. On the plus side, there's a DVR, which I've never had the pleasure of using before this apartment. And I positively love the armchair on the left.

My bedroom.

A huge closet, which I am very happy about!

Why the decorators thought I (or anybody, for that matter) would need six pillows is beyond me. Beds are short enough as it is! Losing two feet of real estate to cushions would mean my legs would hang off the bed to the knees!

So, that's the new apartment. I'm sharing with two roommates: Yalin, the Chinese drilling engineer I roomed with before; and Abid (pronounced Ah-beed), the Regional Safety Manager who's slumming it with the junior engineers until his family moves out here from Houston in December. We each have our own room, though I'm sharing a bathroom with Abid.

I'll post some "After" pictures this weekend.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Back in Dubai

I finished my time in the Middle East with two more days in Dubai, with no deadlines or projects or assignments hanging over my head. It was still sweltering out, so I mostly stayed in air conditioned areas. Two of note were the Burj Khalifa and the Mall of the Emirates.

The Mall of the Emirates was huge, and mainly consisted of high priced designer clothes. It also included an indoor ski area. It's nothing compared to an actual mountain, but I suppose when you're in the middle of the desert, you have to make do with what you have.

Getting to the observation deck on 140th floor (out of 160) of the Burj Khalifa (currently the tallest building in the world) was a bit of a pain. I bought my ticket around noon, and was told to come back at 9:30pm. When I entered through the first gate at 9:30, I found myself in a waiting area.

It took another hour to get through various lines and up the long elevator ride to the observation deck. By that point I was very tired and footsore, and about ready to be out of the country. The view was pretty fantastic, though:

One last view of the Burj Khalifa on my last night in Dubai:

All my pictures from Abu Dhabi and Dubai (often with further comments) can be found here.

Some final thoughts:

While a lot of the building in Dubai showed what unfettered human creativity can construct, defying the laws of gravity and common sense, I came away from the area with a deep impression that the entire area was entirely artificial, almost as if a thin sheet of plastic had been stretched over the desert to hide the sand, and that was all the foundation to be found underneath this glittering metropolis. It seemed that half the luxurious skyscrapers I passed had "for rent" signs hanging prominently out front, even as new buildings were going up next door. And often, I could see strips of sand were the carefully maintained grounds of one building ended and the next began.

The air in this region holds a lot of dust, and in the daylight many of the brand new glass and steel structures look like expensive cars that have not been washed in a year - grimy and dirty.

There's a lot to say about the people, as well. I definitely did not pick up on any anti-american vibe, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. At the airport, when I had to call in to the training center for driving directions, a random guy simply gave me his phone card, wouldn't accept any repayment and insisted I hang on to it.

It was pretty strange seeing people wearing traditional Arabic robes and listening to iPods.

Muslim women in the United Arab Emirates apparently have more fashion freedom than is normal. As far as I could tell, if they were wearing a head scarf, they were ok. I saw everything from full black burkhas with complete face veils, leaving only eye slits open, to skin-tight jeans and tight T-shirts (topped with a head scarf) and nobody seemed to note the difference. Burkhas came in some variety as well. Plain black was the most common, but there were "dressy" burkhas with embroidary, sequins and swarovski crystals as well.

I'm glad for the opportunity to visit, but I'm very glad to be back in the United States once again!

Playing Tourist

The first place I visited in Egypt (after catching up on sleep) was the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. This was an easy walk from the hostel, and after the heat in Abu Dhabi, the walk actually felt rather pleasant.

Photos were not allowed inside the museum, and I had to check my camera at a will-call booth before going through security to access the museum interior. They neglected to take my iPhone. At one point, when I was alone, I quickly snapped a picture of a particularly large statue:

As soon as I snapped the photo, a security guard popped up out of nowhere and chewed me out. I kept my phone in my pocket after that, for fear of getting it confiscated.

The next day I made a trip out to the Pyramids at Giza. As it turned out, the Taxi driver I chanced upon took me the long way around in order to increase his fare. On the plus side, I got better look at Cairo. One thing that stuck out was the massive number of brick and concrete tenements that were going up.

Many of these were very poorly constructed. Apparently they were a state-run program to house the poor. I don't know where all these poor people had been living before, but there were a LOT of these buildings going up.

When I got to Giza, I found out that they closed early during Ramadan, and I had arrived too late. My taxi driver had known this all along, and offered initially to set me up with a friend of his who could get me through the fence. When I refused that, he wanted to take me back, and pick me up in the morning. I left his cab and walked around a bit, snapping a photo through the bars in the gate. Then I found another taxi, which took me back to my hostel in a third of the time as the trip out.

The next day I hired a driver and car through the hostel for the day, which worked out much better. I took a camel ride through Giza (and paid five times what I should have. I take solace in the knowledge that Egyptian currency is relatively worthless), visited a papyrus museum and a rug-weaving school, and walked inside the Red Pyramid at Dahshur. A complete set of photos (with additional commentary) can be found here.


Climbing out of the Red Pyramid at Dahshur.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Arrival in Egypt

I arrived in Egypt at Terminal 1 at the Cairo International Airport. After purchasing an entry visa for $15 American and pulling 200 Egyptian Pounds (which turned out to be about $35) out of an ATM, I made it through customs and out into the open air.

On the plane I met Hathim (on the right), an American from Philidelphia, whose mother is Egyptian. He had just been laid off, so he was visiting family on his mother's side. His friend Mohammed (left) bragged that he could find me my hotel faster than any taxi. I took him up on it, and after 45 minutes and stopping to ask directions 6 times, we finally found it.

I rented a private room at the Meramees hostel, because I had found out online that only the private rooms had air conditioning. I love the internet. Actually, I recommend it. The staff was great, the rooms were clean, the AC worked, and it was dirt cheap. Only downside: It was on the fifth and sixth floors, and the elevator was an antique that I really didn't trust with my weight.

I had a great balcony on my room as well. This was the real Cairo - pedestrians and cars fighting for space on the roads, street vendors and stores of all stripes (I was cajoled, dragged almost, into a perfume shop two blocks from the hostel), and a mosque one building over. Other people complained about the 6am call to prayer, but I never even heard it.

The common area was a great place to end the day, meeting new people, comparing stories and journeys, and giving advice on avoiding scams. It's pretty weird at this point in my life to be the least-traveled person in the room, but it happened pretty often on this trip. Also: trying out the local garb. 


Up next: Playing Tourist.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Leaving Dubai

The Dubai Airport is my new favorite airport. I got there early with the expectation of spending time wandering around, and I was not disappointed. I stayed inside Terminal 1, and it still took me an hour to walk from one end of the building to another, and I wasn't walking all that slowly. There were plenty of luxury items for sale, and all of it at airport prices. The kiosk in the picture below sold gold. Nothing else, just gold.

During take-off I managed to snap a picture of the city as we flew by:

The large buildings in Dubai are laid out in a strip so they can all be serviced by the new Metro, which happens to be the nicest form of public transportation I've used. It's difficult to really appreciate how big the buildings are, until you realize that the "flat" area in front of the strip is composed of buildings that are generally five stories or taller. Gives you a little appreciation for just how tall the central spike of the Burj Khalifa really is.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


I have a week off, and I'm in the Middle East. What to do, what to do...

How about...


I have a ticket to Cairo in my pocket! Well, actually, I have a ticket number saved to my iPhone. Pretty much the same thing. Tomorrow morning I'll take the bus to Dubai and catch a plane to Cairo, with a layover in Bahrain. Four days in Cairo to check out the Pyramids, the Sphinx, the Cairo Museum and anything else that catches my fancy, then back to Dubai for two more days before catching the long flight back to the States.

It's gonna be a fun week.

Course is over!

Phew, finally made it to the end of DeepBlue 2. I'm about sick of this computer. I've never had a computer crash on me so many times in such a short space of time. I guess that's what happens when you're learning powerful new software. Here's a photo of my class:

Next up: Vacation!