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Vance's Abu Dhabi Journal

Here you'll find a few vignettes of life in Abu Dhabi, as I feel like writing them.

What life is really like in Abu Dhabi
A day at Jazira Beach Resort
Entertainment by Red Arrows precision flying team


August 18, 2000: Reflections a few years on

I haven't been writing in this journal, but we're still here after 3 years and beginning a new contract, and I guess I feel this way about every place I've ever been. This is about the nicest place I've ever lived. I got out of Houston to live in Saudi Arabia, and not knowing any better, had the time of my life there. We moved from there to Hawaii, and what an improvement on Saudi! When we went to Oman from Hawaii I thought I was in for a downer, but Oman proved to have almost everything Hawaii had including more space, more travel, more comfortable accommodations, the expat community that's so much fun. California proved to be a fine place to live once we got out of the house and started touring the back yard, the ski fields and hiking trails and redwood forests with all the caving opportunities. And Abu Dhabi? Not so much of an adventure place to live, but very very comfortable. We like our house, and there are a lot of small things living here that are hard to put your finger on. Here's one.

The other night I was loading the car with dive gear. In the car which was parked in the public lot out of doors downstairs, I put thousands of dollars worth of gear, dive computers, etc., camping gear, the lot, and went back upstairs to sleep comfortably in my bed with the a/c humming all night long.

It occurred to me that I would never do that in California. Maybe on the Big Island of Hawaii, but never on Oahu. In Oman it would be OK. But it would be perfectly alright to leave whatever you please in a parked and locked car in Abu Dhabi and not worry a bit that it might not be there next morning. Not only morning, I was leaving it there all day.

But this wouldn't apply to some of the harbors over on the Eastern Emirates. Cars parked there while the owners are away boating are regularly vandalized. I've lost two antennas from my car there already, while parked at Dibba harbor, about $10 each to replace, but an aggravation. One guy returned to find that whoever had broken into his car had left his lights on so his car battery was completely run down. Much worse has happened. Where the ADSAC divers moor their boat, we all haul our gear there in our cars and then drive our cars back to the 'villa' and leave them, and return in a sacrificial vehicle, usually an old clunker or someone's work vehicle. The culprits don't seem to be into it for goods and money so much as to indulge in juvenile delinquent pranks.

But aside from that glaring lapse in security of personal property, the Emirates is pretty safe, and this refreshing aspect of life there came to me as I walked away from my parking lot having left my car full of gear with no qualms at all.

January 9, 1998: What life is really like in Abu Dhabi

It's hard to find an instance that characterizes that unique quality of life in the Persian Gulf. To an American you can say, well, at businesses, they still answer their phones. Tried calling a computer industry customer support line lately? Well, at Etisalat, they pick up the phone, a person says hello, and usually answers your question, correctly no less, in just a minute or two.

On the down side, try parking in Abu Dhabi. The other night I left a shop and got back to my car just in time to tell the Arab getting out of a big Nissan Patrol directly behind mine that it was my car he was blocking in. Of course he politely moved his car immediately, but if I'd appeared a moment later I'd have had to wait for him to finish his business and move his car before I could have left in mine. And the other night, I just managed to squeeze into the last possible parking space between two vehicles both crowding the white parking lines. They're only just beginning to ticket cars for parking illegally where we live. Check out this note I found tucked under my wiper blades the next morning.

The note was handwritten, in an envelope addressed to "Dear Car owner". It said:

"Hi there - good morning to you ...

Just a note to inform you that I have issued parking tickets to the two cars next to your car for parking wrongly. You know the car should be parked between lines and not directly on them. I am sure that you did not park like this on purpose, because being an American, which I was told that you are, you would be concious of these things; I know this, I lived in America for five years, plus, my wife is American while I am local.

You know now hard it is to find parking slots here by own building, So, I request you not to parking like this, please!!

I am aware that the Nissan next to your car is the cause of all this missparking, and thats why he got a ticket as you can see on his windshiel, and the red Mercedes.

Anyway, let us be an example for those who do not know.

I thank your concern, Sir, or Mam.



Friday, November 29, 1997: A day at Jazira Beach Resort

One trouble with living in Abu Dhabi is that if you want to go anywhere for the weekend, it's a long drive. The most usual drive is between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, about 2 hours or less depending on speed and desire to live. Today there was a 14-km run at Jazira Beach Resort near Dubai. Run registration was between 7:30 and 8:00 for a civilized 8:30 start, but in order to get there in time, it's 5:00 a.m. reveille in Abu Dhabi. So we did that and got on the road at sunup, down the old familiar stretch past the ticky tacky housing and miles of bleak desert, and equally bleak and inadequate roadway with speed bumps every 5 km.

We had been anticipating the beach resort but were disappointed to find that "beach" included the 5 km of sand between the resort and the actual ocean. So Dusty and Bobbi ended up playing miniature golf (for free) while I was out running in the early a.m. The run was a 14 km loop on tarmac from the resort to the indeed in fact beach and back.

After the run, someone from Dubai came down to show us a car which we didn't want to buy, so they were peeved at our putting them to the trouble and insulted they said by our paltry offer. After our interlude with these odd people, we joined our friends under a tent on the beach resort lawn to drink free cokes and await the awards ceremony while breathing smoke from the barbecue to follow. We were now with friends, newly made friends, but runners, automatic friends, so conversation was pleasant, and all shared in our efforts to find a car. By 12:30 we were heading back home. Not a very eventful day, but that's the way it is in Abu Dhabi and thereabouts.


Thursday, November 13, 1997: Entertainment by Red Arrows precision flying team

I've been sick the past couple of weeks. At first, characteristically, I tried to just ignore the illness, and I went on running as if I were well. I'd just cough through the run and afterwards cough myself to sleep, and worse, except for one night when I lost my voice and couldn't do it, I continued teaching my diving class. The Tuesday after my last dive class, I couldn't make it to work in the morning, so I went to the doctor instead. The doctor, a friendly Dane whose hands trembled and who was probably on his last posting, wrote me out a prescription and an excuse to miss work for 12 days.

I'll only miss work for two days (I told them at the office I'd just keep the paper the doctor gave me in case I wanted to take some time off later). But if I have to miss work at all, it's time to take care of myself. I decided to stay home the weekend and miss the half marathon on Friday, and the party afterwards (very much against my grain). But this vignette is not about Friday. It's about Thursday, one of the days I spent convalescing at home.

Our apartment on the 11th floor has a long balcony overlooking the Corniche. The Corniche is a nice stretch of real estate. Especially now that the weather is turning cool, it's fun to run along the Corniche. You can see the causeway from our house, which leads to what may have been an island at one point and where there are some seaside restaurants. You can go there and smoke shisha in the evenings and drink strong coffee, and you can take dhows from there that cruise to the end of the harbor and back while you to dine on board and admire the city from one of its finest vantages. Just beyond the causeway is the Hilton, which again you can see from our balcony. There's a monthly 5 km run from there whose course is back along the Corniche 2 1/2 km almost to the park in front of our flat, and return to the Hilton. I jog over to the Hilton often, and when there's a run, I jog down there to take part.

Just below and in front of our house there is a garden in the park. There are two mosques in the garden, one for men and one for ladies. There is parking all around which is usually empty; kids play soccer there. But on this Thursday, the parking was full. Although it wasn't announced in the English papers, there were boat races scheduled for today, and the parking was filling from the crowds coming down to watch. We'd been watching the viewing stands being erected for the previous week. It was strange that this was the only indication to the English speaking population of Abu Dhabi that an event was about to take place, let along when it would happen.

But when it did happen, even though I was sick, I could see it all from my balcony. First, early in the afternoon, the jet ski races took place on the water just in front of our house. I constructed a set of cassette shelves out of castaway wood while watching them. Then the sailboats sailed out from the island. We are often entertained by the spectacle of boats, sailboats, windsurfers, old dhows, you name it, passing in view on the water beneath our balcony, but sailboat racing on such a grand scale is a treat to inspire a barbecue. Fortunately, we had some old dead meat in the ice box, so I got the barbie going and sat back to watch the fun (wishing I could be sailing myself, but never mind, it only happens once ever few years, disease that is).

We were all of us, Bobbi, Dusty and I, sitting down to our dinner on the balcony, enjoying the breezes that were moving the sailboats, when out of a sudden roar, from behind a building, the jets flew by. It was an air show put on by a British precision flying team. They buzzed us time and time again, releasing blue, red, and white smoke, veering into impossible patterns trailing firework contrails in the sky as we sat and enjoyed our steak and corn on the cob on our balcony. Time and again they returned, now veering crazily in and out of formation at water level, now shooting straight up and diverging at great altitude to fall back in pairs in opposite arcs, nearly colliding at the end of their respective loup de loups as they whizzed past each other just above the water. Dusty was thrilled. I took a few pictures. We could almost taste the petrol base of the smoke they released as we savored our garlic rice.

As the jets peeled off into the sunset, the usual solar spectacle commenced. The sun grew large and settled into the ocean in a huge red orb, setting the clouds into a spectrum of orange and grays. But that happens every day on our balcony. On this day, the music began with the dusk. Arab musicians had been laid on to entertain the crowds into the evening, and we could hear them clearly on our balcony. Nice music, snappy rhythms punctuated with percussion. What a nice night, and the cool weather made it pleasant to keep the doors open to enjoy the sound. And that's it. End of installment one of the Abu Dhabi Journal.


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Last updated: August 18, 2000 in Word 97