giovedì 2 settembre 2010

domenica 2 dicembre 2007

Another exciting week!

This past week began with a concert of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in the Emirates Palace. It was very nice.

It's great to see Abu Dhabi expanding its cultural base virtually by the month. The city is trying to establish itself as a city rich in the arts, and judging by its future plans, it is well on its way. The state ha HUGE plans to build one-of-a-kind island complete with the worlds greatest art and architecture museums. 2010 (if I'm not mistaken), Saadiyat Island will be complete, with a Guggenheim museum, a Louvre, and some other very interesting/important stuff. I'm no authority on art, and given that this will be the island's primary focus, it's best to give you the link for further research. The designs of some of the places are mind-blowing, and here's the web link if you're interested in learning more:

This weekend was a big celebration in the UAE, marking the country's 36th Anniversary. People celebrate it in strange ways, but we'll get to that later.

National Day Celebration at school That's right, the UAE is only 36 years old, and no matter what people think of this place, it's pretty damn impressive to see how far a country can come along in 36 years. They went from nothing but desert to what is becoming one of the world centers of business, luxury, and eventually, even art. The official National Day was yesterdat (Sunday), but we celebrated it at school on Monday. Some photos of it will follow. All Arabic students dressed up in their traditional clothing. It was a great, relaxed day in which they shared with us their love and joy of their culture. If I got anything out of these celebrations, it was a great lesson in nationalism. People here are VERY proud of their culture, seemingly much more so than we are in the USA.

Me and some of my students in the classroom.

Yousuf (on the left) is from Egypt and Tsotne is from Georgia (of course the country and not the state in the USA).

The boy on the left is not one of my students, but his mother is from New Jersey, so we have this cool little connection with each other. The boy on the right is Azfar. He's one of my students. He's Canadian and Pakistani. Very kind, polite, and respectful boy!

This is the courtyard of the school during the celebrations. The day included traditional dances and lots and lots of traditional food, which you will see next. Now, our school, for whatever reason, is where the majority of the royal family sends their children to study. In fact, I even teach the son of the president of this country, which is quite interesting. The family is wealthy beyond anyone's imagination, and every once and a while, they give back to the school. For example, they provided lunch on this day, which was no small task. They completely transformed the school courtyard into a banquet hall. Here are some photos:

There were several trucks loaded to the top with trays of food. Each tray was loaded with excellent, natural, home-cooked food. The royal family's had their private kitchen staff prepare it all for us.

This was just one corner of the line. There was another table just like this on the other side that wrapped around, and given that our school is co-ed, the same amount of food was served on the girls side, as well! The food was incredible! I just wish I could eat like that everyday!

This is part of a professional singing and dancing band. They are hired for weddings and other special events. The royal family hired them to perform today for all at school.

This is the car of one of the members of the royal family. One of the facts that I find most interesting about this country is that their license plates are actually ranked based on your status. If you're the most important person in the country, your license plate is number one. This goes all the way up to the 100's, and as the number goes up, so does the quality of the car! It's pretty important to these people, and last year, someone apparently auctioned off their very low-numbered license plate for an amount of money that reached into the millions!

This is the Rolls-Royce of one of the members of the royal family. As you can see, license plate #64. Very important person. Quite interesting to see.

These are the janitors of our school. All wonderful men, but paid very little for their job. Their situation opens up my eyes to the unfortunate reality of life for so many! They're all here to support their family's back home. With the exchange rate, they send good money home, but here, they live quite a meager existence. It makes me both value what I have and share it with them at the same time!

Finally, the official National Day Celebration

Some things just plain blow my mind. As a soccer fanatic, many of you have seen or heard of me at my wildest, but what I saw last night was beyond wild. It has already gone down in history as one of the funniest things that I would have ever seen in my life. For last night's National Day celebration, it seemed that the thing to do was decorate your car in the wildest way possible, line up on the main highway of the city, and rev your engine and honk your horn for hours on end. People were literally sitting and standing on the hoods of their cars. The fact that they were on a highway did not seem to matter. I was walking on the lanes in the stopped traffic taking photos of these people. It was BRILLIANT, and I can't remember the last time that I laughed that hard. Here are some photos of what I saw:

The photos are cool, but they don't do enough justice to what the scene was like. I tried repeatedly to load some videos here, but for some reason it didn't work. Anyhow, imagine that the only audible sound for 3 hours straight anywhere in the city is the revving/destroying of engines. The stench of burning rubber from screetching tires was overwhelming, and the beauty of it all is that it's done just because the country turned 36 years old. Even more disturbing is that they do this each year. We were laughing last night that if they were to ever win the world cup, they'd probably knock some of their buildings down in celebration... All this said, it was still thoroughly entertaining!!!

'Till the next time!

venerdì 23 novembre 2007

Lots and Lots and Lots of good things to share

Well, friends, life here is really becoming a pleasure. It almost feels like each day that goes by brings another great friend and/or experience into my life. It's getting to the point where there is so much to share that there is a HUGE backup on the system! Nonetheless, I will keep posting (when I have time, of course)!

The one major setback about my job here is that the middle school is new, and for this reason, we are creating EVERYTHING from scratch. I work straight through from 7:00AM-4:00PM every weekday. No break, around wild grade 7 boys all day long. It's fun, but exhausting, and because I have no break during the day, my reward is that I get to take home a stack of papers to grade each night. So, after cooking dinner and cleaning up, I get to grading, which I do at least a minimum of one hour each night. When that's all said and done, I do some sort of workout, whether it be Yoga or a fine game of soccer (which I'm happily calling Football here in Abu Dhabi). Life keeps itself busy, that's for sure.

But, no more ranting about that. Here's some stuff that you will find to be more interesting:

This is one of the many advertisements found throughout the city. What this woman is wearing is the traditional female dress for this part of the world. The woman is very attractive, but this is the most that ANYONE would ever be able to see of her in public. Well, that's besides her husband, of course. Many distinctions to this dress exist in the Middle East itself. For example (or at least from what I understand), women in Saudi Arabia can't even show their faces, as they must be fully covered. Instead, it's optional here, and more women exercize that right than I would have imagined. It's apparently up to the husband to decide how much his wife should cover herself in public, which of course to me is odd, but we'll leave such discussions for other times and places. In sum, some Muslims feel that the UAE is too liberal with the way it allows their women to dress, such as the woman in the ad. However, it must also be mentioned that some people here are also very open-minded. People have mixed feelings about this, but I've been lucky enough to find the cool ones.

The drinking water debate is also an interesting one here, and all of you know how much I love debates. You see, the water here is desalinised, meaning that it comes from the ocean and goes through lots and lots of chemical processes to clean it enough so that it's drinkable. We can't forget that Abu Dhabi is in the pure desert, and it's only thanks to the incredible wealth that the country has that allows it to have even minute traces of modern life. Everything that we have here besides the sand and camels is artificially created. So, back to the drinking water. The water is clean from the source, but the debate comes from the pipes through which the water travels to get to the home. They say it's not guaranteed that they don't contaminate your water in some way or another. The local newspapers say that it's safe to drink, but some engineers that work on the projects themselves advise us to buy the bottled water. The strange part is that the water from the bottles is actually the desalinated water right when it comes out of the plant and before it passes through the pipes. It's a known fact that while the water bottles have pictures of beautiful, pure mountains on them, what's inside is really sea water with a new look. In the end, choice is simple:

1) drink water from the tap with no guarantee of being safe
2) spend the 50 cents-per-large bottle of water for some more piece of mind

After being stubborn for some time, I've succumbed to option two, most likely because I spent two years of my college-life drinking formerly contaminated water courtesy of the IBM plant in Endicott, NY, which has most likely supplied my body with enough toxins to last me a lifetime!

If you all had the chance to come here, you wouldn't believe how modern life here is. I seriously can't think of anything that's missing. It's incredible, even though it's often too excessive. This is where Lilas's daughter Lea had her birthday party. It's an arcade called Action Zone, which is no different than any of the arcades that we have in the USA, complete with rip-you-off prizes based on the number of tokens that come out of the game machines.

This is a quick look inside the joint...

Lea's own private little birthday "castle," complete with the freaky clowns (yes, there are also clowns in the Gulf).

Action Zone is conveniently located next to ACE Hardware, and just incase you forget how to read in English, it's also written in Arabic (which, let's not forget, is read from right to left).

And, better yet, if you'd like to drop your kids off next door while you shop for the latest hammers and nails, they'll play happily in Toys R' US (unfortunately the computer doesn't allow me to type in the dyslexic "R").

Once again, Arabic writing incase you hit your head and temporarily forget how to read in English.

This is a fine view of one of the city streets from a friend's 15th story balcony. The funky looking building furthest to the back is designed quite interestingly. It's all glass and is shaped like a folded newspaper if looked at from a certain angle. At night it's lit in entirely white lights, which is cool, but strong rumor has it that it needs to be knocked down and rebuilt because its foundation is sinking after only three years of being built. As of now all tenants have left it because it has been deemed unsafe. Even more sad is that this is not a rare occurence for this country. They rush projects because they want them to be the biggest and the best, but they sometimes fail to realize that Rome wasn't built in a day. On the other hand, I don't think any other major city in the world was built in 30 years, so we have all got to hand it to them for that...

On a work note, this is my office. It's the new middle school office, and there are ten of us in there. Very fortunately, we all get along just fine, which makes things go over a lot better! You can see me in the distance grading papers. That's my desk (my usual organized chaos is visible in the following photos).
Attentively grading papers one afternoon after school. The globe above and in front of me has Israel blacked out with a permanent marker, because in this country (as well as others in the Middle East) Israel is not recognized and can therefore not be discussed in any school setting, PERIOD. The last director of the school was fired over a whole scandal regarding the issue. Quite powerful stuff...

My fine disorder. Probably doesn't look good for business, but YES, I DO KNOW WHERE EVERYTHING IS within that pile...

Here are some photos of the school soccer team. One of my roomates is the coach and the kids are a great group of guys. I'm dying to coach, but I had to make the smart choice and focus on work this year as we start this new middle school. I can't wait to get on the field and get things going. I've been doing some after school soccer with the elementary school students, which was fine, but the most important thing that I got out of it is the wonderful reassurance that God did not make me to be an elementary school teacher, and I'm happy to have made the right choice!

The main entrance to our school. The main doors are at the top of the picture and this is the reception desk.

Here is the UAE flag and the picture of the former president, Sheikh Zayed, who is a true legend here. He is the founder of this country. I've learned a lot about nationalism here. People in this country are incredibly proud of the UAE, and even seem to be more patriotic than we are in the USA.

Well, this is it for now. One hour posting and time to get ready for work tomorrow. Lots of exciting things coming up this week. Tomorrow night a performance of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra at the Emirates Palace, and Thursday's National Day, which is the national holiday here in the UAE. I can't wait to see how they celebrate it. I hear it's truly amazing. I'll take plenty of photos and make an album out of that. The whole country is decked out in lights and fireworks. Should be something great for ALL OF US to see!

All my love to each of you,
Paul : )

martedì 13 novembre 2007

The power of money (as if we all didn't know of it already)

Well, by this point, it's no mystery that Abu Dhabi has lots of money thanks to the famous three letter word:


Little did I know, however, how much money this place really has. That was of course, until I arrived. I still can't get over the concept of how much money these people can spend, and to top it off, they spend it some pretty crazy things. Take this, for example:

Now, this is a photo that I've already posted in my blog. For once, I don't want you to look at me. That's correct, I am not the center of attention here. What I do want you notice is the background. You see that fancy looking park with all the beautiful trees and fountains there? How about all of the green? Well, that's all completely fake. In fact, two years ago, it didn't even exist, and what was there instead was water. (the water that you see behind the park, of course). The balcony that I was standing on was a waterfront building. It was literally on the beach. One day, they decided to beautify the area a bit more, so they dredged the water and built the park and another highway. In other words, they completely reconstructed the natural structure of this place, which is something that they do A LOT here in the UAE. It doesn't seem that they take the environment into account, either. Recycling in this country is virtually non-existent, which is kind of sad to see.
As with anything, it's important to share all sides of the story! This, of course, is what I'm doing!
Enjoy and stay tuned,
Paul : )

domenica 11 novembre 2007

And yes folks, he still is alive!

Well, the way I see it is that if I haven't updated my blog in just about a month, there must be a very good reason as to why not! Well, that is correct. Where to begin, I have no clue, but what I will try to work around is what I think you will find the most interesting of the whole bit. On my last post, I shared that I was going to work at the Middle East International Film Festival here in Abu Dhabi. Indeed, I did do that, and what it led to is what real stories are made of. Basically, as a result of my work at the Film Festival (I worked in the Press Office and wrote some articles for the festival's daily newsletter), I was offered the opportunity to work in film production. I always found this type of work intriguing but never thought that I'd find a way to get involved in this. Well, that's all changed now. Soon enough I'm moving back to NY to start this whole new adventure! I know, I know, I just moved to Abu Dhabi and all. Teaching is a passion of mine and is something that I will undoubtedly go back to, but this is an opportunity that I absolutely MUST take advantage of. If I don't it will be eating away at me forever. In the end, as a friend noted to me, I had to move to the other side of the world just to end up back home again! I'll probably find a place in Manhattan and then take it from there!
This, of course is me. What I'm wearing is called a kandora or a dish-dash, and it is the traditional menswear of the Middle East. Here are some questions that you all most likely have, just like I did when I first got here:
1) No, you don't have to be Muslim to be able to wear this. It is the traditional clothing of Middle East and has no ties with Islam.
2) The thing I'm wearing on my head is one of many colors that can be used. I liked the red and white for this outfit, but there are different colors.
In total, this outfit cost me around $100. 00. I had it tailor-made, so if I put on any weight at all, I'm doomed. I will have to buy another one. I like it, it's kind of cool. I wore it for Halloween here, and I wear it when I go out with my Arabic friends.
As far as that goes, I've made tons of friends from the local area now. Get adjusted here was truly difficult, but that's all behind me now. I work during the week and then on the weekends get the chance to really remember that I am in the Middle East. I hear nothing but Arabic and fully participate in the culture here.

I finally went to Dubai, and I wasn't impressed. To me, it seems like one huge Disneyworld. Everything is totally fake, and even worse, it couldn't be so clear that everything IS artificial. Anyhow, here are some pictures from there:

This is now the world's tallest tower. It is not complete yet, but a few months ago, was declared the tallest standing tower in the world. However, at the rate that new skyscrapers go up, it may not hold that record for too long.

Next, these pictures are from the famous indoor ski slope in Dubai's Emirates Mall. Again, looked like a joke to me. All completely artificial. We saw it from the outside. It's in a mall and you look to one side and see this fake snow and such. It's quite strange, trust me!

Well, I will be updating more regularly now and will also answer some of the questions that you've been asking. Sorry for the hold-up and please stay tuned for more!
- Paul : )

venerdì 12 ottobre 2007

Finally appreciating every moment here...

Well, at this point it's safe to say that I have come to the point where I can truly cherish the experiences that I am living, and to be honest, they are far beyond what I ever imagined that I'd see here in Abu Dhabi. Yesterday, I celebrated Eid Al Fitr, a holiday equal to Christmas for Christians, with the warmest of people. I was immersed in culture, tradition, and hospitality that is difficult to come across. It marked the beginning of some incredible friendships that are the fruit of their wilingness to share their culture and way of life with Westerners, and my willingness to accept their offer. The pictures, although many, genuinly capture my experience. They're available to view at these links:

Album 1:

Album 2:

I've also added a video of the camels to youtube. Follow this link and ejoy it:

I will explain much more about this experience within the next few days, but right now I'm on my way out the door. Being that school is closed this week for the holidays, I've accepted to volunteer for the first Middle East International Film Festival. I'll be working for one week in the press office, making contacts with news outlets in the USA to ensure that they're covering this event and also helping to organize the red carpet photo shoots and video interviews with all of the celebrities that will attend (along with many, many super famous ones from Hollywood). Should be fun!
A big hug to all,
Paul : )

giovedì 11 ottobre 2007

Lots of updating to do...

Well, I guess that I can finally start to say with confidence that I am officially settling in here in Abu Dhabi. I'm over the initial shock of being so far away from everyone and am also starting to appreciate the amazing experiences that I've lived so far and will continue to live over at least these next two years. I have more pictures than I have time to post them, so I will try to feed you with them all little by little!
Here I share with you some simple pictures of my friend Lilas that I wrote about a few posts ago:

This is my wonderful friend Lilas, the one that I met through Facebook. She's the closest that I have here to family, and seeing her, her husband, and her beautiful daughter Lea makes me feel like I'm truly at home!

Here I am a few days after arriving in Abu Dhabi. I've been told that I've lost weight since arriving here, but of course, you can't tell from a picture taken a week after arriving.

A picture of Lea and I.

This is interesting. Everything that you see behind me was under water two years ago. Yes, that is correct. I still can't believe it myself, but the water actually ended under the balcony that I was on. Somehow, they took the water out and built a highway and the park that you see behind me, which all extends for at least one mile on each side of me!

Finally, this is John, the first token American that I met. He's a retired high-ranking military man who now works with the military of the UAE, who are very strong US allies. It's his house that we were at, and he's a super nice guy!

OK, it was too good to be true that I had lots of time to post on my blog! Just got an invitation to eat some chinese food for lunch, so off I go! Please keep reading and know that I think of all of you!!!
- Paul : )