Monday, May 31, 2010

Back in the Desert

I arrived early Monday evening in Abu Dhabi from my 10 day Seattle visit. As always, I was not able to accomplish a few things that I wanted to do. But I got a lot done. I attended my nephew Edward & Maria's wedding, had my household goods from Germany delivered to my Seattle home, and hosted a sister's birthday party. In between, I was able to put most of the household goods in place in the house, gave away a few things that I really did not need, cleaned and organized my small library room and bedroom. The aforementioned tasks kept me busy for most of my time there, but I accomplished these tasks in a leisurely pace.

The temperature in Abu Dhabi when I arrived 7pm was 93 degrees F. It was whole lot different than the cool, wet weather during my Seattle visit. I actually welcome being back in Abu Dhabi and look forward to going back to work. My comfort level being here must be improving. My arrival in Abu Dhabi this time was a big change from my initial arrival to the city. No hassle at the customs desk. I walked right out the baggage claim area to a taxi for a $10 ride to my apartment. After I unpacked and took a quick shower, I immediately went to the coffee shop in the lobby and ordered a pita sandwich and coffee. That is where I am right now uploading photos to my storage drive and updating my blog. It is nice to be back.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mng. Evelyn's B-day Party

Mng. Evelyn, my oldest sibling, had a birthday yesterday. I hosted a party to celebrate her birthday this past Saturday --- lots of people, food, and fun by everyone. More pictures to follow in this blog and my flickr account.

Monday, May 24, 2010

My Seven Siblings

You've seen them in many of my photos in this blog and in my flickr account, but I don't think I have posted any with all eight of us - with my two sisters and five brothers, in one photo. I am the youngest one.

The photo was taken this past weekend at Ed & Maria's wedding reception. Edward is a nephew. I am the better looking one of the group (kidding - I am just trying to generate discussion among family). If that does not help, I am the one standing on the right side of the photo wearing white shirt with a black sweater vest.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Waiting Around

I am at the Abu Dhabi International Airport waiting for my flight to Amsterdam. It is 11PM local time. My flight departs at 12:25AM. It should be arriving in Amsterdam about 5:45AM local time. Then I will have about 5 more hours of waiting around the airport before my connecting flight to Seattle. Instead of waiting at the airport, I may risk it and take the quick train to downtown Amsterdam, walk around a bit, have a quick bite, and head back to the airport. If I remember correctly, the train takes about half hour from Schipol Airport to downtown.

I arrive in Seattle about noon on Thursday. I will be in Seattle for about 10 days. I have been in Abu Dhabi for just over two months and I am already craving the mild weather. I have a good excuse to visit -- attend my nephew Edward and Maria wedding, as well as schedule delivery of my household goods from Germany to my house. That is my excuse anyway. It is not that I am homesick. Really, I am not. My work colleagues are giving me a hard time because I am going home so quick. One of my colleague who just got back from vacation stayed here 5 years before he went back to the US. That would be tough for me to do.

Anyway, I am looking forward to see everyone in Seattle. I am looking forward to driving my MiniCoop again. Time to go; my computer is about to run out of battery power.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Burj Khalifa - The Tallest Man-Made Structure

I visited Dubai this past Friday. Dubai is a large, sprawling metropolis with many skyscrapers. Construction is ongoing on many buildings, as well as highways, roads, and other infrastructure. Abu Dhabi (AD) also has scores of ongoing construction, but it pales in comparison to the amount in Dubai. It will be awhile until a majority of the construction is completed due to the quantity and the slow down in the economy. Since I was there for only a day, I focused on a few sites to see. It will probably be a city that I will visit about once a month on a day trip or a entire weekend trip. Dubai is a much bigger and much more westernized city than AD, but I am glad that I live in AD rather than Dubai. It was almost like when I lived outside of LA back in the late 80's thru mid-90's. I had many family and friends visit. Their comments were always the same: It's a nice place to visit, but I would not want to live there.

Anyway, one of the site I got to see was Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. It's fairly impressive. I wanted to go up to the observation deck, but all the spots were already reserved. Every 30 minutes, a group of people is taken up. Next time, I will need to schedule a time and reserve via online. The building is not yet fully open. There are a few offices, a hotel, and obviously, the observation deck that have been opened. Many areas have not officially opened. None of the residential spaces have been moved into. The skyscraper is next to Dubai Mall, the largest (area-wise) mall in the world. The visit to the observation deck starts in the lower level of the mall. I assume there is a passageway from there to get you to the Burj Khalifa. The building is also a walking distance from the Dubai Mall stop of the newly opened Red Line Metro, a driverless fully automated transport system.

The building is 2717 ft. high. It is almost 2/3 the elevation of Jebel Hafeet (the mountain described in my previous post), one of the higher points in the UAE which is about 4000 ft. For another comparison, Columbia Tower, the tallest building in Seattle, rises 937 ft. So Burj Khalifa is essentially three times taller than Columbia Tower.

I asked a fellow Filipino to take me a picture with the building in the background. The top of the building is cut off.

Here are a few more pictures.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Jebel Hafeet

The top of Jebel Hafeet's peak is one of the higher points in the UAE. Jebel Ali is located south of Al Ain. Al Ain is about 1.5 hour drive to the east from Abu Dhabi. Although most of it is in the UAE, part of the mountain straddles Oman. A winding mountain road extending almost 8 miles takes you to the peak. The route has several viewpoints providing a panoramic vista of the desert below and the mountain's sharp-edged rocky terrain. Just before the peak there is a resort hotel, also with a nice viewing area.

On my visit to Al Ain last Friday, I did a side trip to Jebel Hafeet. The mountain road is in good condition; it has 2 lanes for the climb and 1 lane for the descent. Most of the view points have plenty of parking spaces for vehicles. I had lunch at the resort hotel before heading back down. At the foothill of Jebel Hafeet is a park area which has several hot springs.

View from the top.

View from vista points along the mountain road.

The resort hotel near the top of the mountain.

At the foothills of Jebel Hafeet.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Collecting Carabao Chips

When I was in 3rd grade at the Tagtagumbao Primary School, we had a vegetable garden at the front of the school that the entire class tended. We did a few things in school that are not normally done in American schools like growing a vegetable garden, cleaning the outside of the school, and cleaning our classroom. In order for the garden to thrive, it needed fertilizer. And what is the best natural fertilizer? Animal waste. Our teacher, Mr. Esguerra, required his students to collect dried up carabao, or better known as water buffalo, dung from the agricultural fields surrounding our village in order for our school vegetable garden to thrive. It was probably one way for our teacher to get us out of his hair for a day. We were graded on how well our garden was tended. I am not sure if this was for a civics-type or home ec-type class.

In the Philippines, carabaos used to be the common beast of burden to use in the farm for all the arduous work. You can find plenty of these carabao products on roads, access ways, and dirt routes near the agricultural fields. As young third graders are wont to do, we were happy as sh*t, literally, to spend time outside of school with friends just walking around the surrounding pasture and countryside. With burlap sack in hand, we were ready for the challenge in the hunt for dried up chips and collect them with our bare hands. The chips were about six to eight inches in diameter, and about an inch thick. They looked like oversized, flattened cinnamon rolls. You had to be real careful, though. Sometimes it may look dry, but it still may be somewhat moist underneath or inside. The fully dried up ones usually stayed intact; not the semi-fresh ones.

It got to be a competition among a group of classmates on who would fill up the bags first: Amianan vs. Bagatan (northern vs. southern). Yes, even in my small village there was a division depending which side you lived in. We filled up several bags before bringing them back to school.

With the collection of fertilizer we brought, we must have had a thriving garden. I don't remember much of the garden except for the bunches of pechay and kamote. I do remember the time I spent with my boyhood friends out in the field without a care in the world and having a great time, in the hunt for dried up carabao chips.

No, I don't have any accompanying photos. And somehow, I wash my hands often and anxiously whenever this set of memories is brought back.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Amma's 86th B-day

My father (we all call him Amma) spends most of his time in the Philippines, where he is staying with my stepmother. He usually visits the US at least once a year for yearly medical check-ups and retrieve his medications. He stays in Seattle for about 2-3 months then returns to the Philippines. This has been a fairly constant schedule since 2000. His most current visit was late February and stayed in Seattle until mid-April. I was able to see him during my one week visit in Seattle in late February.

Due to his age and COPD (chronic bronchitis and emphysema), travel from the Philippines to Seattle, and return has become a major encumbrance on him. He had been a life-long smoker, from a very young age until he was in his early 60's, when his doctor straightforwardly told him that he had to quit smoking if he wanted to live longer. He did quit, but it was too late to reverse the damage done to his lungs. His lung condition brings on asthma-like attack with more regularity. The morning of my flight to DC from Seatle for orientation to my new job in the UAE, he woke me up to ask him to take him to the emergency room because of breathing difficulty. I had asked an older brother to take him to the hospital. I was restless and was about to cancel my flight until my brother called me to inform me that he would be okay. This was probably his last visit to the US. We will just have to visit him in the Philippines more often.

Most of his grandkids and great-grandkids were able to give him the proper send off back to the Philippines this past April. My father has always been a strong-willed and stubborn individual. I would not be surprised if he insists in visiting Seattle again.

Picture with grandkids and great-grandkids:

My father turned 86 this past weekend. All of us - his kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids - are all in the US. My oldest sister who has moved back to the Philippines is currently in Seattle babysitting her grandkids. A great family friend, who has also become our surrogate sister, in Cuyapo was nice enough to throw a surprise birthday for him at our home village in Tagtagumbao. She planned a nice event with plenty of food and invited neighbors to celebrate this wonderful day with him. There are very few pictures where my father wears a smile. Some of the pictures sent to us taken during his surprise birthday bash, show him with a wide grin - a sight rarely seen. I was overjoyed to see the pictures from the occasion and him having a delightful time.

I want to thank Ms. Lilian Castillo, currently the Chief of Police of our hometown Cuyapo, who made this all possible. Speaking on behalf of the Antonio Family, we appreciate your great deed. As all great deeds, this will never be forgotten.

The following are a few pictures of the occasion:

My father with Ate Lilian (w/ the headband), my stepmother, and a cousin's daughter

My father with a big fat grin, along with my stepmother, my father's older sister, and a neighbor.

His birthday cake. When they were "fishing" to find out how old he was, he told them the wrong age. That is why the cake has "88" rather than "86".

Blowing out the candles.

Yes, that is a smile from my father. I think he is trying hard not to smile.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sand Everywhere

I have been in Abu Dhabi now for almost 7 weeks. Today, Friday, was the first day I ventured out more than 25 miles from where I live. I woke up early to do my usual Friday routine - go to the Corniche and walk along the beach promenade for 1 hour, go to Khalidiyah Mall at 8AM for Starbucks latte and croissant, then do grocery at LuLu's located in the same mall. I got back to my apartment at about 9:30. I dropped off the groceries and immediately left for a drive to Al Ain, a city more inland into UAE and near the Oman border. Al Ain is about 160km (or 96 mi) from Abu Dhabi. The highway has minimum 3-lanes each direction and it is in excellent condition, better than our freeways in the US. It took me about 1.5 hours to get there, with a couple of stops for pictures and a rest break.

Al Ain is literally an oasis in the middle of the desert. It is very verdant, with well tendered parks and gardens. I also drove up to Jebel Hafeet, just south of Al Ain, which is the highest point in the UAE. It is an uphill, winding drive to the top. But it was well worth it with the spectacular views of Al Ain and the surrounding terrain from various vista points. I will include photos of Al Ain and Jebel Hafeet in future postings. Instead, I will post photos of the desert sand. I have not shared any yet.

UAE, no question about it, is mostly desert. So I see the sand everywhere, especially where I work. They manage to work into your shoes, socks, and feet no matter how careful you are stepping into it. On a windy day, the sand will get into your eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. During a sandstorm, it will leave a fine coat not only on your vehicle, but also on your head and face. We have had a few mild sandstorms and one strong one last Sunday. The Sunday sandstorm almost took the aluminum roofing off of our office trailer. No matter how often you clean your office desk, a sandy build-up will develop after a couple of days. The apartment is fine; it is sealed well enough that none manages to get in.

Such an annoyance. But it does have a few positive attributes. The sand in the desert provides beautiful and stunning sceneries. The desert sand around Al Ain has a more orangy tint than the sand in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi has the drab, normal desert sand.

All the pictures are from my drive back from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi this afternoon. The pictures do not give it justice. The sand dunes provide amazing backdrop of the desert. The lines drawn by the wind offer the dunes another dimension, as well as order and symmetry. The first group of pictures was taken about half hour outside of Al Ain. The last three photos were at a location that was closer to Abu Dhabi area. (Click on the photo to enlarge the picture.)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sir, Yes Sir!

I used to be intimated when meeting higher ranking officials, especially military officers – Generals to be specific. I literally froze during a presentation to an Air Force general at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana updating him on ongoing projects at the base. In Iraq, the Corps of Engineers’ Gulf Region Commander, a general, ran me ragged as I showed him around the Baghdad Police College projects. Here we were, a guy much older than I am and a bit paunchier than I was, both of us wearing full uniform with Kevlar helmet and vest, on a hot day, walking briskly around a large campus, as I tried to keep up with him. I was short of breath, sweating like a pig, and he keeps barking my name for construction updates – “Antonio, where are we with this building? Antonio, has the sewer line issue been resolved?”. The rest of the general’s entourage probably felt like I did, but we had to keep up with him.

I don’t interact with them as much, but having worked in deployed regions such as Iraq and Bosnia, sometimes it is hard to avoid them. I am more comfortable dealing with their underlings – the NCO’s, Lieutenants, Captains, and Majors.

The following are pictures with a few generals who I have crossed paths with:

Group photo with BG McCoy (standing, 4th from the left) after I hosted the USACE Gulf Region Commander at my Residence Office in Camp Taji, Iraq.

Receiving a coin from BG Bostick at one of my project site in Camp Taji.

Receiving a coin from BG Weber, NATO HQ Sarajevo Commander, at Eagle Base in Tuzla, Bosnia.

Receiving a service award from MG Wightman, NATO HQ Sarajevo Commander, in Sarajevo.

Receiving a coin from BG Semonite, USACE North Atlantic Division Commander, at my cubicle in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Abu Dhabi Update

Because one of my colleague is still on a vacation break, I have been working the past two Saturdays. Also, three Saturdays ago, I had to stay in my apartment to watch contractors install mylar or fragment retention film on all the windows and framed glass balcony railings at my place. Although bomb blasts are unheard of here and my apartment does not face the street but an inner courtyard, the US Embassy is still requiring that the anti-shatter film is installed on all exterior glazing. Anyway, my days off have only been on Friday for the past three weeks.

I have been getting up early these past Fridays to fully take advantage of the day off. Because it is a holy day here, there is minimal traffic on the roads in the morning. I have been going to the Corniche, the nice pedestrian area by the beach area for morning walks. By eight o'clock in the morning, I proceed to a nearby mall to go to Starbucks for coffee and croissant. At this time, the mall parking lot is still fairly empty. Afterward, I go shopping at a large, western style grocery store in the mall. About 10AM, the other stores and shops in the mall start to open. This schedule works well for me. By Friday noon or any other time beside Friday morning, the roads, the beach, the mall, the grocery stores, etc. get busy and hectic. Another option would be to do the grocery shopping late at night around 10PM. By that time, the most of the crowd is gone and obviously, the temperature has gone down considerably. Most of the grocery stores and malls do not close until late.

It is already starting to get hot by 10AM in the morning. Temperatures have been consistently reaching 100 to 105 by mid-day. The best places to hang out when it gets hot are in the malls. I am lucky that my apartment complex has a great coffee shop to hang around to catch up on my reading and a nice shady area near the pool to lounge around when it gets hot.

There are several malls that I have found which have American style grocery stores and open early on Fridays. Some of these malls also have Filipino restaurants. I have found two more Filipino food places: Goto King and Chow King. Goto King is a keeper. It is a nice restaurant with a good selection of traditional Filipino dishes. Chow King is a fast-food franchise. I was not as impressed with their choices.

I am ready to explore places outside of Abu Dhabi. This Friday I plan to drive to Al Ain, a smaller city located more inland, about one hour and half drive from Abu Dhabi. Al Ain is also called the Garden City due to its greenery. It is literally a big oasis in the middle of the desert. I will probably check out Dubai two weekends from now.

The following are a few pictures from Abu Dhabi:

Sheikh Zayed Mosque is located near my apartment. This photo was taken while driving to work in the morning. I have not had a chance to tour this place because it is closed on Fridays. I will have to make time during one of my Saturday day offs.

Downtown Abu Dhabi has many tall buildings. A lot of them are still in under construction.

Inside Khalidiyah Mall.

Inside the Marina Mall.

Coopers Pale Ale, an Australian beer, costs about $7 a bottle at the hotel bar. It is not too bad, but a bit heavy on the wallet.