Sunday, December 26, 2010

Office Space

I haven't written a new blog entry in such a long time, I almost forgot my password! Unfortunately, I haven't had much to write about now that I'm an adult and work full time. I miss my days of being a bum. I would really miss it if it weren't for the fact that I had watched every season/episode to date of mad men, watched all the new movies, and find myself hard pressed to stay amused. Alhamdulilah, I have been had the great opportunity to intern with PwC here in Dubai. It has been an amazing experience. I've learned new things, met new people, and learned that apparently the British have a bunch of different spellings and grammar rules than Americans. I can't wait till I no longer have to write colour, globalisation, realise, favourite, or mum.

My days in my cubicle are filled with hours of facebook and finding great recipes on foodnetwork.com. As the intern, I'm usually left to my own devices till I am needed; which is fine by me. Some days my cubicle is my friend, sometimes I feel like its a dementor from Harry Potter and is literally sucking my soul from me. 5 days a week I sit down to the same sight: a cup of coffee, my company laptop, and facebook.


I work with such a multinational, multicultural group of people. Its like the UN with all the different faces and languages spoken. As the only American and only Libyan in my office, I find myself needing to represent both of the rich cultures that describe and define me. So I've pimped out my humble cubicle so there is no guessing or denying my background. 


Its all pretty dull but a priceless experience nonetheless. I finish the internship at the end of January and Insha'Allah will be home in March. That leaves the month of February to get back to being a tourist, finish up my Dubai ''to-do'' list and start the blog back up. Thank you to my loyal readers. Sorry its been so long. Good things happen to those who wait!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

New Plan

I've been in Dubai for what seems to be a lifetime; really its only been a little under three months. I've traveled to far away lands, drunk camel milk, and frequented the worlds largest shopping mall. My trip was to draw to a close on November 29th, but something came up. I was given the opportunity to intern at a consulting firm here in Dubai. With similar opportunities in the States being nearly nonexistent, I knew it would be a waste to pass it up. So I've signed on to stay for an additional three months making my tentative return to America sometime in February.

 Of course this has its advantages, such as avoiding freezing and dreary winter weather, but also its disadvantages. I really miss my family and my friends. Mentally, I was prepared to come home at the end of November. I am very lucky to have an opportunity such as this, but I can't help think of all the things I will miss out on. My friend is getting married, the undie run at the end of the semester, and Christmas lights. I love Christmas. People are always so nice and there seems to be a general air of good will about. All that aside, I will put on a happy face and just start a new count down!

So now that I'm all employed and what not, I'll try my best to continue to blog. Frequency will probably drop as I won't have time to be exploring as much as I was. Hopefully there will be new things to talk about like winter in Dubai and New Years.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Dubai Fountain

Where the back of Dubai Mall there and the Front of Burj Al-Khaleefa meet there is a "lake". Really its just a 900ft long, 4 foot deep chlorine pool. Nightly, from 6 to 11, there is a fountain show that goes off every 30 mins. It is the world's LARGEST dancing fountain (just another 'world's largest' Dubai can boast) shooting 22,000 gallons of water 500ft in the air.

 Last night we had dinner at a delicious water front Italian restaurant and watched 3 shows all showcasing 3 different pieces of music and ensembles. It was SPECTACULAR. If you are in Dubai YOU MUST SEE THESE FOUNTAINS. I can't explain how majestic it was, so I'll just show you a video. 

                                                      Part 1
video
                                                                          Part 2
video

Monday, October 25, 2010

Economy...FAIL!

For the last two or so years, it has become a guarantee that when you read or watch the news, US or international, you will hear about crumbling economic conditions. This has become a very real and apparent situation in Dubai. This city-state, founded on speculation and investment on the promise of large future returns, was hit very hard by the economic turn down. A few months ago Dubai's economic struggle almost became one of epic proportions when it nearly failed to pay its first installments on massive loans. A default of this size would be disastrous not only to Dubai but to other economies as well.

Signs of the turn down aren't only apparent to those who follow economics or the news, but can be seen just driving down the street.


Only a year ago, cranes use to cram the skyline. Buildings were going up as fast as was humanly possibly. Today, only few dot the view. Construction equipment, like those above, sit in endless rows, unused filling empty parking lots. Tens of thousands of laborers, engineers, and construction workers were sent home.

Massive projects slated to begin were halted. Below is the proposed "Dubailand" Universal Studios amusement park that only got as far as an entrance arch. The project is suppose to resume when funding is available. Till then, the acres of land sit sandy and empty.

Universal Studios archway

It is however projected that the economy of Dubai has the worse behind it. It should start to make slow but gradual incline. By 2015 everything should be right back where it was.  As for the American economy, thats another story.

Old McDonald had a Farm

Through out my blogs I keep saying how I have learned and experienced so much while abroad. I've become more aware of not only different places and faces, but I've been exposed to things that have made me learn new things not just about different countries, but also about the U.S.

Today, Hend and I were grocery shopping and she bought this huge bag of oranges. I didn't understand why she would buy so many when I was sure they weren't going to be ripe. I told her "Hend, its not the season, they wont be sweet."  Winter is the season for oranges, everyone knows that. She shrugged and told me "Its Winter somewhere." It was true, the oranges came from South Africa and they were delicious. 

One of the things that has become very salient to me is how protected the American agricultural business and American farmers really are. The American agricultural business is essentially under lock and key to foreign markets. American farmers are very protected. With few exceptions of South American products, most fruits and vegetables are home grown. The reasons behind this are many, but fall under two categories: National Pride or Economics. 

Being the desert, Dubai has to ship in all of their resources, but there is a benefit to all this. I've become a world citizen vis-a-vis the grocery store. I've eaten apples from Brazil, watermelon from Iran, tomatoes from Malaysia, onions from Holland, potatoes from Jordan, grapes from Italy, broccoli from the US, carrots from India, and peaches from Morocco. Its amazing to taste all these fruits and vegetables from different places. The varieties are slightly different than ones grown in America. 

Yet another opportunity in Dubai, I wouldn't have in the US! 

Friday, October 15, 2010

How can I not help you?

As an American Passport holder, I get an automatic entrance visa into the U.A.E. for 30 days. If I wish to stay longer, I have to exit the U.A.E. and reenter to get an additional 30 days. I can continue to do this with no limits imposed and  until I leave for good; it is free of cost. So here is my question; if they aren't going to charge me a fee and will automatically unlimitedly renew my visa, why hassle me in exiting and reentering? I can see no benefit. Since I can't personally restructure the policies of U.A.E. tourism I'll simply comply. Today I headed out to Oman to exit and reenter to obtain an additional 30 days.




It was a 54 mile drive that had some of the most spectacular views, it was almost worth the hassle. The difference in geography between the U.A.E. and Oman is crazy. Where the U.A.E. is crazy national geographic sand dunes, Oman is mountainous like the Rockies.

 Oman also has  a lot of  "Wadi" which are valleys. Currently because of the hot summer months they are dried up, but once the rain season starts they will fill with lots of water. It can be dangerous sometimes because the water over flows and can run into the roadway and catching motorists in the flow.

Can't say we didn't warn you!
Driving to Oman, and away from the bustling city, I began to really feel like I was in an Arab country. With the modern feel of Dubai, you forget you aren't in the Western world. With every mile we drove, it was as if we were going back 10 years.  I felt like I was in Geryan, my hometown in Libya. Humble homes, small  mom and pop shops, old cars (most are stalled), and hand made pottery being sold on the street all made me feel like I was in a place I already knew.


It was a great drive and a neat mini-adventure. I now have one more visa stamp in my passport and an additional 30 days to enjoy the U.A.E.



Until next month....

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Slow Down

So far in my trip I have had an amazing time Al-Hamdulilah. I've seen so much, eaten crazy stuff, and finally went to a water park. I am half way through my trip and the rate of seeing new things is slowing quickly. Dubai has begun to feel normal or homey to me. The glitz and adventure have worn down a bit. It seems I keep doing the same things over again, eating at awesome restaurants, going to obscenely large shopping malls, and spotting $300,000 cars everyday.

I'm finding its harder to find things to blog about. I've completely run out of pictures. If you were waiting for me to get back home so you can see my photos, tough luck. There are a few things on the horizon, but it will be a bit flat line for awhile. Know that I haven't neglected my blog, I simply don't have anything to write about. I've spent the last few days watch Mad Men.

More adventures are coming Insha'Allah!  Soon, I'll have to start a count down for coming home, eeek!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tomato Tomahto

Dubai has a lot to offer tourists, one of the most alluring attractions is the beautiful beach.


Now, depending on who you ask, the name of the body of water of Dubai's coast may get two different answers. Arabs call it the Arab Gulf, but according to Wikipedia historically and internationally (AKA The West) it is know as the Persian gulf. Its a case of "tomato tomahto", who cares? Its all arbitrary anyway. I digress. Dubai's beach front is breathtaking.




 The sand is so white and clean. I can't explain how mad I get when I go to a beach and people have discarded their trash on the sand. Chicken bones, diapers, cigarette butts,  and empty cans do not belong on the "Shut" (beach). The water is very still. Only small waves occur as the water hits the sand. The still water really made it possible to create the man made islands of The Palm and The World.

The water is also ALWAYS warm, actually it could almost be called hot. I have yet to swim in the gulf because it is so hot outside. Unlike the dumb British tourists, I am uninterested in 2nd degree burns and becoming a lobster. I'm happy to come early morning with a cup of coffee, before the oppressive sun comes out in full force, and enjoy the scene.

Wild Wadi!

 The biggest allure of Dubai for me is how women friendly it is. By that I mean, as a Muslim women that wears Hijab, sometimes my options  of things to do are limited. In Dubai, they have taken care to ensure that both men and women can enjoy attractions. A prime is example is Wild Wadi.



Wild Wadi  is an outdoor water park with a heated/cooled wave pool, multiple water slides and two artificial surfing machines. Wild Wadi has the largest water slide outside of North America.


It was the SCARIEST thing I've ever been on in my life. This slide is 80ft high and as you slide down, you gain speed of up to 50MPH!!! At some point your body is actually suspended in mid-air. It kind of feels like that stomach drop at during a roller coaster ride. I forced myself to keep my eyes open and according to Hend, I was screaming the whole way down; I don't remember that part.

I had such an amazing time on all the different rides. It was the first time I had ever been to a water park. I use to always look at the giant water parks in America with envy. I knew I was missing out, and I was right. It doesn't matter if you're an adult or a kid, people LOVE playing in water.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mosques of Dubai

My favorite part of being in a Muslim country is seeing the different Masajid, or Mosques. The Masajid in Dubai are really beautiful. The only thing is they all pretty much look the same. But hey, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sorry!

I've been having issues with blogger and uploading pictures. I've been trying for the last 5 days to upload pictures of vietnam, but it just hasn't worked. So I decided I am going to skip blogging about Vietnam. Insha'Allah when I see many of you in person, I can tell you all about it. From now on, I will continue to blog about Dubai.

Salamat Hari Raya Aidalfitiri!

I have  had every Eid of my life in Lexington. Our routine is always the same. In the morning we would go to Salat Al-Eid, Eid prayer, come home have a family breakfast and then meet up with the local libyans for a Eid party filled with pizza, games, and gift exchanges. This year however, I couldn't have been further away from Lexington if I tried. For my very first Eid away from Lexington, I was in Malaysia.

A Happy Eid banner
Eid in Kuala Lumpur was such a disappointment. Because KL is such a cosmopolitan city with such a large mixture of people, there was nothing signifying it as Eid. The staff at the hotel were surprisingly unhelpful in finding a Mosque or when Eid prayer was held. Eid morning was spent in the hotel watching old episodes of America's Next Top Model. The events that I look forward to each year were not a possibility and the day continued as any other. I was really shocked, I figured with a 60% Muslim population there would be some sort of sign of Eid. Nothing. The City was nearly emptied as people went back to their respective towns to celebrate with family and friends.

It was the most depressing Eid I ever had. I was almost 10,000 miles away from my family and friends. I couldn't help but sulk a little bit. The only thing that lifted my spirits was knowing that the next day we were off to Vietnam. So unfortunately, I can't tell you guys what Eid in like in Malaysia, I wish I knew.

On the plane the next day to Vietnam, These posters were plastered all over the plane, it was kindda cute.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

National Mosque of Malaysia

Malaysia's population is 60% Muslim. All ethnic Malays are Muslim. In Kuala Lumpur we saw a few small mosques and then there was Masjid Negara, the national mosque of Malaysia.

This beautiful Masjid has the capacity to hold 15,000 people! I have never seen such a clear and clean place in all my life. I was blown away to see a space that serves to many to be so immaculate. When you first enter the masjid grounds, you have to take off your shoes, this includes the bathrooms! No where on the premises are shoes allowed. The actual prayer area is beautiful. I started to take pictures but then a man ran up to me and informed me I wasn't allowed. here are the few I got.



The columns of the Masjid had this impressive work



Every window was this stained glass that said "Mohamed" or "Allah"



Thursday, September 23, 2010

KL offerings

Kuala Lumpur is a bustling city. People come from all over to vacation, especially from the UAE. While in the hotel lobby I saw so many Emiratis I thought I hadn't left Dubai. KL is a cosmopolitan Asian city that is very modern.  I was a bit disappointed because it's authenticity, or local culture, has been seemingly diluted with the influx of globalization: shopping malls with Gucci, Chanel, and Zara, McDonald's on every corner, and an influx of migration from all over the world. The sidewalks, unemcumbered by on and off ramps for any unfortunate travelers requiring wheelchair assistance or parents with strollers, are nearly nonexistent due to nonexistent urban planning, spilling over with residents and tourists.


McDonalds in Kuala Lumpur is 24 hrs!

In terms of things to do, there wasn't a lot. Our group was also very large so our options were limited. The top two things to do in KL are eating and open air reflexology parlors (ancient Chinese massage technique involving the correlation of pressure points on feet, hands and back, to the health of your internal organs and overall health) I indulged in both, especially in the latter - amazing after a long day pounding the uneven pavement. What KL does have is a nice night atmosphere. You can dine al fresco at one of the hundreds of restaurants (almost all halal!), have a cup of coffee under the illuminated Patronas towers, drop a coin in a fountain  (ever notice how much Arabs LOVE fountains?), or see one of the many street acts performing 'Look how odd I am in full body glitter...take a picture with me for a dollar acts.  There were also sword swallowers, fire jugglers, and the third-world sad practice of displaying extreme physical deformity for handouts. 

John Wall at Patronas Towers!

I guess I had expected a more "Asian" feel when I ventured to Malaysia. I'm not even sure what that means but what I had done was underestimate its development and commerical attraction.

Thank you and Don't Forget!

I just wanted to take a minute to thank everyone who visits and reads my blog. I have been getting lots of positive feedback about it! I can't say enough how flattered I am and how encouraged I am to continue to write. I really appreciate all the readers and followers. I love being able to share with you all of the amazing experiences I've had on my trip.With that being said, I still would like this blog to be more interactive. I don't want to be the only one talking. I'd love to read comments or questions from my readers. If you have any questions about my travels, something I did, or anything at all, please comment and let me know!

Lord willing I will continue to blog, I still have lots to share!

Thanks Again!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Funny Signs Around Malaysia

Non-Halal bar... go figure.

Apparently this is a really big problem in Kuala Lumpur. You have to especially look out for the "Cowboy" theif. They ride on Moped and snap your purse and drive off!

                                                 

Malaysian Cuisine

 Malaysian cuisine reflects the multicultural aspects of Malaysia. The influences from India, China, and Indonesia mesh to create the Malay ethnicity. The various ethnic groups in Malaysia have their own dishes, but many dishes in Malaysia are derived from those multi-ethnic influences. So while I love the flavors, taste, and spices used in Indian, Chinese, and Indonesian food, when together they are not pallet pleasing. The problem is, the flavors used in those cuisines are so distinct and strong, when used in unison your tongue is confused because it can't capture and enjoy a particular flavor. I  have concluded that I don't care for the combination of texture and consistency of Malaysian food.
    When I was a kid, my mom always got angry with me if I said food was gross or nasty. She would tell me that it was "Na3mat Allah" or the blessings of God and we should be thankful. So, out of respect to my mother and the blessings of God, I won't use either term to describe Malaysian food. Rather, I will say it is "not my favorite".  
       
This looks more like dinner than breakfast!

 Each morning at our hotel, they had this HUGE breakfast buffet. It had the western foods of cereal, waffles, fresh fruit, pastries and yogurt. But it also had authentic Malay breakfast of 4-6 different curries and rice. It may just be me, and I may not be familiar, but I consider curry and rice to be a lunch/dinner food. The first morning we went down to eat, I was so overwhelmed by all the choices. I was feeling only mildly adventurous so I tried some curry.
    There was a silver lining however. If you don't want to eat rice with your curry, Malays sop it up with Roti Canai, a thin bread cooked on a hot iron skillet, it is EXACTLY like Libyan ftat! If you don't know Libyan ftat is a thin bread prepared the same way that is eaten with honey. I was so excited to see something I was familiar with and longing. While I ate it the Libyan way instead of the Malay way, it was still delicious. I especially appreciated it on Eid. It is always a tradition in my family to eat Ftat on Eid morning, this Eid I was as far away from my home as imaginable, but I still got my ftat!


Monday, September 20, 2010

Selamat Datang ke Malaysia!

When we departed Dubai it was Mughraib. When we landed it was Fajir, it almost felt like I never stopped fasting that day. It was still dark when we arrived, so I couldn't see an aerial view of Kuala Lumpur (KL). But by the time we went through customs, got our bags, grabbed a taxi, it was light out and I saw the stark difference between Dubai and KL.

Malaysia is so lush and tropical, its really amazing. I have never seen a place so green. The variety of flora is incredible, its so dense its almost jungle like. I didn't realize how much I had missed seeing plant life after being in Dubai only three weeks! It rained the entire first day.  And when I heard the sound of thunder and rain falling, I was so happy. You don't realize there are sounds that you are use to hearing and bring comfort to you. The familiarity of a rain shower was so nice after being in the desert.

We stayed at the Royale Chulan in downtown KL. It was a fabulous hotel. Maybe its my inner child, but I LOVE staying in hotels. Its just my thing. This place was great. Clean rooms, great amenities, and this crazy Malaysian breakfast buffet, which I'll blog about by itself. It deserves its own post.



The view from outside my window was amazing. I could see the Patronas Towers, which were the worlds tallest buildings from 1998-2004.


 After we checked in  and I was able to settle down, I slept like a log till Mughraib. For Iftar we went ate at the authentic Malaysian dinner buffet set up by the Hotel, it was crazy. I can't wait to tell you about it....

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Malaysian Airlines....FAIL

We flew Malaysian Airlines to Kuala Lumpur direct from Dubai. The flight was 7.5 hours and I was not looking forward to it. Apart from being a poor flier, I was just starting to get over the jet lag and flight to Dubai and then found myself off again.  Still, I was really excited to fly on what i had read online was a 5 star quality airline that I had never flown before and probably wont ever use again.

Post-trip conclusion? Malaysian Airlines = FAIL. Their slogan is "This is Malaysian Hospitality" and after that first flight and their hospitality, I was afraid of what I would find in the country. Thankfully it was just a single bad flight and the country was great. My complaints of the flight:

1. The entertainment system was blurry. While everyone got their own TV, most didn't work and only 2 movies played - The Last Airbender and Prince of Persia (MORE FAILS), and they were played on a loop. Also there was nothing for the kids to watch like cartoons. Since we had many kids with us, this was major Parenting Requirement FAIL.


Even Aya said The Last Airbender sucked.
2. The food was too spicy. While I  like some bite to a dish, not everyone does. MA is catering to a large and diverse group of passengers, not just Malays, who may not be use to eating Spicy Chicken Biryani with a Tangy Mango Chutney Salad. And let's be honest, one's digestive system isn't exactly operating harmoniously 38,000 miles in the air, and adding that extra hurdle to your traveling experience isn't necessary. Ever heard of beef stroganoff MA?


Got Tums?

3. They only served Pepsi and 7up, thats it! And tough luck for diabetics, there were no sugar free options (other than water). The flight attendant told me this was because they served what Dubai Catering services gave them. I later found this to be true.
4. While not really a complaint, the chairs were all these funky colors. It was like they bought the fabric for their fleet from a Joanna's Fabrics remnants sale. Not eye pleasing.


                                   
Something very cool was when we departed it was nearly Mughraib, and still being Ramadan, they announced the Iftar time, and distributed individually wrapped dates!

At this point in the trip, I didn't have much to rave about.

How Refreshing!

It was so refreshing, so enchanting to fly out of Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, and Ho Chi Minh City International Airports. The reason why? I wasn't made to feel like a criminal. I can't explain how nice it was to go to an airport and not have everyone staring at you nervously. People from every country, religious background, and subsequently, wearing a different headress/ethnic garb, sat next to each other at food court tables, or stood in security checkpoint lines, oblivious to their differences. 


Immediately I noticed the calm in the airport. There wasn't that nervous and scary feeling that hangs in the air at U.S. airports. An ominous voice didn't get on the PA system and repeatedly remind us what color the security level was. We didn't need prompting to be alert of suspicious behavior. All of these airports are just as safe as any American airport but they don't have the atmosphere of alarm.

I always thought the fear mongering at airports in the U.S was ridiculous. Now I know it is. You don't have to scare people to be safe. I shouldn't have to act extra secular, modern, and western so people don't think I work for Bin Laden. People don't have to be ostracized to insure security.

While flying out of airports in the non-western world, I have never felt more relaxed, secure, and at ease while traveling.