Monday, June 28, 2010

Peace Be With You

I saw this road sign on my way out of Al Ain and back to Abu Dhabi. Most of these types of signs, at least in the US, usually have greetings thanking you for the visit or wishing you safe travels ahead. No, not here.

I was tempted to stop, go out of the vehicle, and shake the hands or hug the sign with a hearty reply of "and also with you."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Near my apartment is a busy highway interchange with several routes taking you into and out of Abu Dhabi. It is just right off the two main bridges in and out of the city --the city of Abu Dhabi is an island. I live in one end of the city by the bridges; the other end would be the waterfront. The distance is about 7.5 miles from one end to the other end. Around and under the huge interchange is a park-like setting and fully "lawned" grounds. During the late afternoons and early evenings, it is used extensively by locals and expats for soccer and cricket games.

I happen to visit this area one late Friday afternoon to get panoramic photos of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. The mosque opened in 2007. The mosque is open to the public Saturday thru Thursday. My day off falls on a Friday when this place is closed to the public. My Saturdays, lately, have been spent at work. I will have to take a Saturday off from work and visit this mosque soon. I would love to visit the mosque and explore the entire grounds. From the pictures I have seen, the mosque's interior and its courtyard are magnificent.

For now, I can only show you photos from the outside.

Parts of the outer grounds are still being completed, as seen from the following two pictures.

I happen to be there just before sunset. Here are a few photos as the sun is about to set. (Click on the photo to enlarge.)

Proudly Pinoy

I saw this on a huge banner announcing the program for a 12 June Philippines Independence Day celebration at Khalidiya Mall in Abu Dhabi. It is an interesting rendition of the Filipino flag with the sun and three stars at the tips of suitably colored ribbons.

Friday, June 25, 2010

View from the Top

Not really much of a view because of the dusty weather and poor visibility, but it is from the observation deck of Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure in the world. It is again Friday -- usually my day to explore and sightsee. I drove to Dubai this morning. On the way, I stopped at Yas Island (just outside of Abu Dhabi and home of a Formula One race course, soon to open Ferrari World, Yas Marina Hotel, and many other ongoing developments). In Dubai, I visited Dubai Mall. Since they had opening for a tour to the viewing area of Burj Khalifa, I jumped at the opportunity.

The trip to the observation deck takes you to the 124th floor, not really the top, but it is the highest outdoor observation deck at 1,450 ft or just more than half of the total building height. It costs 100 dhs or about $27. The elevator ride was a "straight shot" to the 124th floor - no elevator car transfer required. It was really nothing spectacular, especially with the poor visibility. I had hoped to see some of Dubai's landmarks, such as Palm Jumeirah island and the Burj Al Arab hotel, from above. But it wasn't to be. I got to see just the surrounding area near the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall.

Pictures from the outdoor observation deck.

This is the remaining part of the building from 124th floor on.

Part of Dubai Mall is shown on the left side.  The development that encompasses most of the picture is a mixture of residential (hotels, apartments, and condos), and retail (stores, shops, cafes, and restaurants), and the aqua colored area is a man-made lagoon that includes the Dubai Fountain (not seen on the photo).

More views from the top.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Recurring Nightmare

I have had this recurring nightmare ever since I graduated from University of Washington in June 1987. It doesn’t happen as much anymore as it did the first couple of years after graduation, but I still occasionally experience it. It is one of those dreams where I suddenly realize that I did not graduate because I received a failing grade on a required course. And, that I would have to return to school an extra term to finish. I wake up in the middle of the night and feel the relief once I realize that it is only a dream.

I took a Mechanical Engineering required course, ME 469 – Advanced Dynamics, my last term at UW. The course grade solely depended on a mid-term and a final test. The mid-term counts for 40% and the final 60% of your course grade. It did not matter if you attended the classes and lectures, as long as you were there for the test. Homework, although assigned, were not required to be turned in. If you showed up for the tests and were able to pass them, even if you did not attend most of the class sessions, then you were still credited for the class. The professor warned us not to take this course lightly. He assured us that if we followed his lectures and performed the required exercises, we would do fine in the class. I attended all the classes but did not care to do the homework or review assignments up to the midterm.

The mid-term consisted of two problems, worth 50 points each. On the test, I was able to do the second problem, or so I thought. I did not know how to proceed with the first question. The next day, the professor handed back our graded exams. Before handing the test papers back to each individual, the professor tells the entire class in a disdainful voice: “Out of 100, the highest score was a 65. The average is in the low 40’s. Someone scored a 10 and another an 8. I want these two people to see me after class.” When I did get my test back, I was shocked by what I saw on it – a test score of 10. I thought I got the second problem entirely correct and had received a 50. But, no.

So, I was one of two students that had to talk to the professor after class. What he essentially told both of us was that we had two options: Drop the class and take it again next time it is offered, or hope that we ace the final exam and that the class test score average is low enough to boost our course grade in the passing range. The first option was not an option for me because I would have to stay in school for the upcoming autumn term. The class was not offered during the summer term. So, I stuck with the course and hoped that I could do well enough in the final test to get a passing grade for the entire course.

The remaining part of that spring quarter most of my spare time was spent at the ME Building studying. Dynamics was a hard enough course, but advanced dynamics was very challenging. To this very day, I don’t think I used anything from that class in the real world. I was lucky enough that I had a vehicle of my own by that time because I spent a lot of overnighters in that building studying with fellow students.

I felt confident after taking the final test. It consisted of 4 problems. I thought I did well enough to get a passing grade for the entire class. Because the class was graded on a curve and I was able to do well enough on the final exam, I was able to pass the class and receive a 2.7 grade for the entire course, a B-. I never checked the results of the final test, but I must have aced it and the class average must have been low to boost my grade to a “B-”.

So, all you budding or “backseat” psycho-analysts out there, what does this mean? Why am I haunted by this nightmare even though I passed the class and received my diploma?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Camel Crossing

It really is too hot right now in the UAE to do anything outside during the daytime. Temperature in Abu Dhabi has been reaching 110+ degrees F regularly, with greater than 90% humidity. But it's my weekend and I don't like being cooped up in my apartment. So I ventured again to Al Ain, my second visit. Al Ain is more inland, about 140 km (75 miles) from Abu Dhabi. It gets hotter in Al Ain, but less humid. And yes, dry heat even at slightly higher temperature feels better than the lower temp and higher humidity of Abu Dhabi.

I took a more circuitous route this time. Instead of the freeway, I followed Truck Road - a two lane highway used mainly by commercial truckers. It is usually a busy road, but on Friday's it's fairly open. I made a few stops along the way to marvel at the desert scenery. The orange-tinted sand with its undulating and rippled lines provides a soothing vista of the desert landscape.

Here are a few pictures along the way:

To my surprise is this camel crossing road sign, no kidding:

Not too far away were camels being tended by a young boy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A New Car

Well, almost a new car. My leased vehicle has been upgraded to the VX model of Toyota LandCruiser Prado. The old one has just reached 70,000km (42,000 miles). The lease contract stipulates that the vehicle should have less than 15,000 km (9,000 miles); that is the reason for the replacement. The replacement vehicle has just exceeded 3,000 miles. It has a DVD player with two small viewing screens for passengers in the back. A built-in GPS --a big plus since I have never bothered to purchase a UAE or Middle East SD card for my portable GPS purchased in Germany. Like the old one, the front middle console is equipped with a small refrigerated compartment --ideal to keep bottled water or other drinks cool.

My colleagues recommended that I should ask for a lighter color interior because it makes a big difference as far as reflecting rather than absorbing heat during the hot summer temperatures. The lighter color interior does seem to stay a bit cooler inside when the car has been outside in the sun for a prolonged period. My previous vehicle had a dark gray interior.

The car just seems too big for me. But it does help in the longer drives when visiting Dubai, Al Ain, or other parts of UAE. A lot of miles will surely be added as I explore UAE with this vehicle.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Date Palms

Palm trees are grown all over UAE as ornamental plants. Most of these are of the date palm variety, which bear edible sweet fruits known as dates. Dates are an important traditional crop in the Middle East. They are traditionally served with yoghurt, and milk, or used as accompaniment snack with coffee or tea.

This time of the year most of these trees are flaunting their bunches of fruits, at least the ones I see that are used as ornamental plants. I am not sure if these bunches of fruits are left on the tree to ripen or are harvested prior to ripening. I have seen dates that are green, yellow, red, and many shades in between. These are due to the different varieties, as well as different stages of ripening. Some of the palm trees are fairly short in stature. I have been tempted to harvest just one "bunch" and dry the dates on my balcony.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Leaning Tower of Abu Dhabi

The Guiness Book of World Records has recently recognized Abu Dhabi's Capital Gate Tower as the furthest leaning tower in the world. The Capital Gate Tower leans 18 degrees compared to Pisa's Leaning Tower slant of 4 degrees. The major difference: the Abu Dhabi structure was designed to lean, whereas, the Pisa tower started to slant with time. The Capital Gate Tower will house a five star hotel and offices. It is not yet complete, but it is scheduled to open by the end of the year.

I went driving around Abu Dhabi today. One of the things I did was view the Capital Gate Tower from different venues.

View from the road:

From these angles, the building slant is not as noticeable:

It is from this view that you see the more pronounced slant:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jayan's Sour Face

On my visit to Seattle last month, some of the things that my oldest brother couldn't stop telling me about were the new things that Jayan, his grandson, does. He was so excited to tell me. This was before we could even say our greetings to each other. One of these things is Jayan's sour face. Apparently, when you say "sour face" to Jayan, he will make a face that looks like he has just bitten into the most sour fruit. That is, if he is in a good mood. If he is in a bad mood, you'll get this type of face:

Jayan, with the crybaby face, along with Grace and his paternal grampa.

Anyway, I got to see the sourface quite a bit during my visit. It was also captured on camera while Jayan was with me during Ed & Maria's wedding reception.

For similar pictures and additional details, see the following link:, blog site of Jayan's dad.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Post No. 100

It has been 2 1/2 years since I started this blog. I can't believe that this is my 100th posting already. I originally sought out to enter the world of blogging to keep family and friends updated and informed of my life in Germany; relate my musings, rants, and raves; share photos from past travels, as well as current ones; and share my experiences overseas. I was receiving numerous e-mails from friends and families on how I was doing. I usually managed to send regular but separate e-mail updates to family, friends from school, and friends from my previous workplaces. Creating a blog site made it all easier for me because I did not have to send separate e-mail updates to different groups of people. Also, the sharing of photos was to cumbersome via e-mail. This blog and my flickr site make photo sharing simple.

I have been overseas for the past 5 1/2 years now. I have been to Iraq, Bosnia, Germany, and now in the UAE for work. Looking back, I should have started this blogging bit when I first left the US. I have many stories and photos to share about my experiences in Iraq and Bosnia, and work and personal travels while working in Bosnia. I have tried to include some of them in this blog, bit by bit. I plan to provide more postings from that time. I have travelled throughout Europe for work and for personal holidays, while I was working in Germany. For the most part, these have been well documented in this blog, as well as in my flickr account. There are still quite a bit that I have not included, especially travels within Germany. Eventually, I plan to explore the Middle East and neighboring areas; for now, I will explore what I can within the UAE. I will continue to post these adventures. Traveling to new lands and further exploration of places I already have been to are pursuits that really excite me -- they are my passion. I have tried to capture the essence of the places I have visited and the sites I have seen. I enjoy sharing chronicles and snapshots from these journeys.

Even though I am far away, my family is still a big part of my life. I have tried to cover my visits back to Seattle, family gatherings during my visits, and sometimes even family events that I am not there for. Some friends have been reluctant to comment on this blog because they think it is targeted for family only since I have covered my family extensively. They will usually send me comments or notes via e-mail instead. I have somewhat opened up a bit by detailing times when I am homesick and lonely. I have covered heartrending occasions, but also covered joyous events. I will continue to post narratives and pictures of my family. Writing about family and sharing pictures of them serve almost as a therapy for me when homesickness sets in. Sometimes, I goad (that may be too strong of a word), I encourage family members to comment or add to the discussion to some of my posts, but to no avail. Only a few have been regular comment contributors.

I have been gutsy (maybe even too bold) to post myself with my guitar and show my feeble attempt at singing. I will continue to make a fool of myself by continuing to posts a few of these just to surprise a few. It's always worth a good laugh. Once in a while, my creative juices start flowing and I am able to produce, at least what I think are imaginative pieces of prose. I also try to get some humor in a few of my posts. Sporadically, I will add narratives from my past, even as far back as my youth in the Philippines.

Early on, I have only shared this website with family and a few friends, but the site is virtually open to anyone in cyberworld without any restrictions. Many acquaintances, past and current, have come upon this site and sent me comments or e-mails on how delighted they are that they were able to find my blog. I have visitors that come upon my blog when performing searches in the internet. The two most common search words used to access my site by accident are "Tagtagumbao or Cuyapo", my village and town birthplace, most likely from fellow Filipinos from my hometown; and "Mek Mek", a nephew's nickname, that is somehow a common word in Central and Eastern Europe. A few have become regular blog visitors. I also have been more openly sharing this website with other relatives and friends when I see them. Instead of explaining what I have been up to for the last 5 1/2 years, I give a quick recap and tell them to check out my blog for more details.

There have been a few times in the past when this blog was in a lull with limited updates. Recently, I have had more time to provide regular updates. I have tried to balance the content of my blog by providing updates about life overseas, past and present travels, family anecdotes, personal experiences that stand out in my memory bank, and other assorted topics. Give me some feedback. What do you guys think of this site? What improvements can I make? I welcome all comments, good and bad. You can make "anonymous" comments, if you don't want to identify yourself. In the meantime, I hope you continue to follow me for the next 100 postings.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Hog Heaven

I was finally able to make it to Spinney's this past Saturday after work. Spinney's is a grocery store chain and only one of a handful of grocery stores that sells pork meat in the UAE. I get my fill of pork at the base dining facility for breakfast (bacon and sausages) and lunch (every so often they will have pork chops). But I was looking for pork meat that I can cook and also cured pork like bacon, sausages, deli meats, etc. I purchased a cut of fresh pork meat for stir fry dishes, a cured pork belly bacon, Bavarian style sausages, smaller breakfast sausages, longaniza (Filipino-style sausage), and tocino (Filipino-style marinated pork).
The store has a good selection of sausages and deli meats from Germany and Italy. It is a bit spendy, but hey, this is only one of the few places you can get them from. You can not bring these items on your baggage or hand carry; mail order is also out of the question. The pictured items cost me roughly $32. By the way, the pork meat section is a special room within the store with a separate automatic opening/closing door. Spinney's is definitely a grocery store that I will go to regularly for the pork meat selection. So I am in hog heaven.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Dubai Visit

Anyone who is familiar with me knows that I get restless too easily. Get me cooped up too long, and I will bolt to go somewhere for a visit or do something different even if only for a day. After only four days since my return from Seattle, I was getting antsy and my feet were getting restless. Going to work then heading back to the apartment for the last four days have been dull and tedious. Coupled with my jetlag, I haven't been able to do much of anything except work, go home, sleep, and wake up quite early in the morning.

So to change things up, I went to Dubai early Friday morning to spend the day over there. This is my second visit. I focused on seeing two sights: Palm Jumeirah and the Dubai Marina. I will post pictures from the Dubai Marina at a later date.

Palm Jumeirah is an artificial island extending into the Persian Gulf. It is shaped like a palm tree with its trunk, 16 fronds, and a surrounding crescent-shaped island that forms the area's breakwater. See photo below:

Palm Jumeirah is full of residential housing and resort hotels. There is a monorail that takes you from the entrance, the Gateway Station, to the tip, Atlantis Resort Hotel. In between, there are two other stops, Trump Tower and Palm Mall, but have yet to be completed. The monorail line will eventually link up to the Dubai Metro, the recently opened city train line. I drove all the way to the tip and parked my car near the Atlantis Hotel. The hotel has a private beach, a water park, an aquarium complete with a shark tank, and a dolphin bay. Inside the hotel are shops and restaurants. Just outside is the monorail station. I rode the monorail train, roundtrip, to get a better view of the island.

Atlantis Resort Hotel, facing inland, as seen from a monorail train ride.

The hotel from the other side, facing Persian Gulf.

Other shots of the hotel.

Me in front of the hotel.

Inside the water attractions side of the hotel complex.

The water park adjacent to the hotel.

The monorail station.

The monorail tracks with an incoming train. The high rise buildings in the background are on the mainland and not part of Jumeirah Palm.

Inside the monorail train.

View from the monorail train ride approaching the gateway station, which is the first station leading to the Palm Jumeirah.

Imagine the trunk of the palm is where the picture is taken from, with two of the palm fronds on each side where the houses are located and extend outward, and with the water beachfront in between. I did not find the houses spectacular.

There are still a lot of facilities and infrastructure that are under construction and many other areas where construction has yet to commence. It will take awhile (at least 5 more years) until this project is fully complete.

A "frond" without yet any significant construction.

Ongoing construction on the "trunk" part of the island.

I had lunch at Ronda Locatelli, an Italian restaurant, located in the water attractions side of the hotel. For a cannelloni dish with ricotta cheese and spinach, bread, mineral water, and cafe latte, I paid $50 -- way too expensive. It was a nice restaurant with great decor. The food I ordered was above average.

At the tip of the Palm Jumeirah with the Persian Gulf behind me.