Thursday, October 23, 2003

Traveling within Traveling
First, the most exciting news. We're going to France in a month! We get an 11 day holiday at the end of November and that combined with Air France offering special flights at 70% off meant that we couldn't afford not to go (at least that's my logic and I'm sticking with it). So we'll fly to Frankfurt then to Paris, spend 3 days in Paris and then rent a car and head wherever for the rest of the week.
We will probably freeze our buns (or is that 'notre petit pains') but it will be fabulous to experience a change of weather. It does get rather dull...sunshine, warm temperatures day after day after day...sorry, had to throw that in because I know many of you have been building arks recently.

Eric and Emily have been traveling too. Emily's class went to Turkey for a week to stay at a space camp. She said it was 'o.k.' Takes a lot to impress kids these days - I remember when a field trip to Goldstream was exciting for them. Actually I think she was most impressed with the airplane, a 777 with individual entertainment centres for each passenger and the ability to play electronic games with people in their seats elsewhere in the plane.

Eric's class went for a few days to an adventure camp on the Indian ocean, about 4 hours drive from here. They waited until their teacher/chaperone went to sleep (wearing earplugs) and then they ran about and 'partied' until 4 a.m. They also went mountain biking, orienteering etc in the Wadi's (sort of like an oasis in the desert). They also did climbing and rappelling, and went for a ride in a dhow (a large wooden boat) out into the Indian Ocean and down to nearby villages...apparently some huge waves added to the adventure.

We had a 4-day weekend a while ago and rented a car and headed over to the Indian Ocean and camped on a beach. We had a tent with us but it was too hot, so we ended up in our sleeping bags on the beach under the stars. The snorkelling was fabulous....amazing coloured fish, turtles... Bob and Eric actually saw a shark too. Only later did I hear the stories about the deadly water snakes that are so poisonous that you don't have a chance if they bite you...they're apparently not aggressive so they'd only bite if threatened....I don't find that reassuring...I just don't like the whole idea of snakes in water, why don't they stay on land where they belong...speaking of which, apparently there are also snakes here that disguise themselves as sticks on the beach...totally unfair, in my opinion...snakes are getting far too clever these days...no feet for kicking, no arms for a front crawl...how do they swim anyway?

Sunday, October 12, 2003

First impressions in the first week. Our first week in Abu Dhabi was interesting because it was a combination of ‘normal’ and ‘hmm, now that’s a bit different’. The 3 college people organizing things for us were terrific…there were about 10 of us new employees all staying at the Meridien hotel, and while our families hung out at the hotel or went off adventuring we had a daily schedule such as medical tests, getting banking organized, getting phone installations organized, getting college papers signed, orientation at the college etc. Then, with our families, we were taken to see our apartments and out to buy furniture etc…more on the shopping spree later.
So, back to first impressions.
1. The heat took some getting used to. It was over 40 degrees celsius every day. Our sunglasses would steam up the minute we walked out of the hotel and we’d have to carry them for a couple of minutes till they cleared and then we’d put them back on again…and you sure need them, everything is so bright, all the building seem to be white…an overall sense of everything outside being bright. I had to slow down several times because I got out of breath when we were only walking for a couple of blocks….ahh walking… that leads into…
2. The taxis are everywhere, little beige and brown cars that zip around constantly beeping their horns…and why are they beeping you may ask? Partly they’re beeping for the usual reasons such as warning people and other vehicles to get out of the way…but they also beeped at us to let us know that they were available…it was considered odd for people, especially westerners like us, to walk anywhere. So they’d give their horns a little ‘tap tap’ sort of beep whenever they saw us…so even a 2 block walk to the nearby Abu Dhabi shopping mall meant hearing a regular litany of little ‘beep beeps’. It felt odd to become non-walkers and to get used to taking taxis everywhere…. which leads into…
3. The safety ‘thing’ is obviously an issue when you go to a new country and a new culture, especially when the war in Iraq is going on just a country or two ‘down the road’, and especially when we are potentially easy targets standing out so clearly as ‘newbies’ without a clue. I have never felt safer in terms of personal safety day or night…safer than anywhere I’ve been (yes, including Victoria). However, the one safety issue is the traffic and the sidewalks. The drivers definitely rule the world here and pedestrians must flee for their lives in the wake of oncoming traffic. There’s never enough time to get across the roads, they drive at high speeds…oh and the really tricky thing is that U turns are not only allowed, they’re encouraged here…and as a result the drivers get a second chance if they miss you the first time ! It was, and still is, a big adjustment to be safe as a pedestrian.
Also, the sidewalks sometimes have holes in them, or bricks missing etc
and no barriers to warn pedestrians. And if you’re busy watching where you’re walking then something can get you from above…Bob was getting out of a taxi one day with grocery bags, when he heard a loud noise and felt sharp things against his arm….there were guys on a construction site merrily throwing down tiles which were smashing and sending ‘shrapnel’ everywhere. We know of other new arrivals having similar experiences…one of our teacher’s daughters narrowly missed being hit by nails from a construction site, and one of our supervisors was in a cast for the first 6 weeks after she stumbled on a rough sidewalk. The result is a peculiar walking style that we’ve adopted of looking down, then up, over the left shoulder (traffic), over the right shoulder (traffic)…then back to down, up, left, right, down, up, left, right….rather furtive and confused looking….which leads into…
4. Questions as first impressions…there were some first impressions that turned into questions for us. For example, we noticed there’s no litter… we would play the ‘litter game’ while driving around in taxis and try to spy one piece of litter or someone who’s job it was to pick up litter, and it wasn’t easy to see either….so do they not throw litter? Who picks it up and when? Is all the litter somewhere else and we just don’t see it in the downtown? We also didn’t see any people begging on the streets, trying to clean your windshield at stop lights, nor did we see any people who appeared to be homeless or poor etc . Are there really no poor people or are they just somewhere else out of sight? The newspapers don’t report negative news…so is there really no crime or is it just not published? It did feel somewhat like a Sim City creation… it will be interesting as the time unfolds to see whether ‘second impressions’ are different from these first ones.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

So where did I leave off....right, we arrived in Abu Dhabi near midnight Aug 16, 30 hours after leaving Victoria. A women with an HCT sign (Higher Colleges of Technology) met us, and another family and another couple, to guide us through customs. Raymond, who has taught at HCT before, won our eternal gratitude when he advised us to buy our limit of 3 bottles of alcohol each iright there in the airport because our liquor licences would take weeks to get...yes, an individual needs a license to buy alcohol here. So while Bob did that I was whisked away into another room, and told to 'look in there'. It looked like binoculars sticking out of the wall, and I thought what a weird time and place for an eye exam, plus my eyes were tiny peep holes cuz of 30 hours travelling. So I looked in, saw nothing, then heard a female robotic voice say "not identified", then I heard a high pitched noise and was told 'o.k.you can go'. I found out later that it was an iris scan. Apparently they do an iris scan on 'undesirables' when they leave the country and this way they would find out if they were trying to return...so it was good that I was 'not identified'.
While we were waiting for our baggage (which miraculously all arrived) it was hard not to stare...most of the women were wearing long black robes and black scarves over their heads, some were fully veiled, and the men were wearing long white robes, and the traditional white head covering too. Picture "Laurence of Arabia".
Then we went outside and whoa...the heat...hits you like a wall even though it was midnight...we all started sweating immediately. It felt like being in a dream as our little bus took us along the highway into Abu Dhabi, first impressions were 'palm trees' , 'good highways" , 'tall, modern buildings, lots of glass, unique architecture not just big rectangles", a huge feeling of relief that things didn't seem all that different, it reminded me of areas of Florida, around Miami."
Soooo tired though, but the hotel was beautiful...they put us up at the Meridien for a week... amazing though how much adrenalin and adventure can carry you through. Next time...first impressions and all the things one needs to do (bureaucratic and otherwise) to start life in a new place....

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Yikes, it's been 6 weeks ...I've composed many of these in my head so it's definitely time to get them down in print.
August 15- Pearce Family Travel Games -- It would have been too easy to expect to leave Victoria on a normal day. No, we left on a day when airports across the country were in chaos because of the black out on the east coast of North America the day before. So, we unintentionally invented some 'travel games' that certainly must have amused fellow travellers.
"Who's Got the Tickets" - This is a good game to play at the ticket counter after being in an extremely long line of travellers worried about missing flights. It involved Bob and I repeatedly asking each other for the tickets, and each of us insisting the other one had them...you get the drift, I'm sure. Great amusement for the people in line! Here's how that game got started...while we were standing in line I had handed the tickets in an envelope to Emily to hand up ahead to Bob, she thought they were photos that Jennifer and Simon had just given us, so Bob who also thought they were photos packed them away in one of the bags. Frantic searches of all the bags eventually turned up the tickets....and we had certainly acquired an audience in the process.
"Show your stuff"This is a good follow up game to "Who's Got the Tickets". We were told the first bag we put on the scale was overweight, so we had to repack it. This involved pulling an empty bag out of another bag and frantically filling it with random items from th e overweight bag. This game could alternately be called "Embarass your teenagers". At one point Bob pulled out a sweatshirt (one of mine) draped it around his shoulders and said "Everyone, just grab stuff and start wearing it" Since the next item I pulled out was a pair of his pants, I refused, and in fact snatched back my sweatshirt from around his neck and found another bag to stuff it in. Jennifer and Simon were standing nearby, politely pretending not to notice this Pearce travel game. They missed their big chance though because they could have sold tickets to this game and made quite a killing.
"Security hijinx" (note, it's hi-jinx...not jacks...we all know not to fool around with that one!) We're used to at least one family member getting 'busted' for something each time we go through security so, since this has become a rather routine game for the Pearce family, we felt we should add an extra twist this time. Last time, the kind people in security found Bob's misplaced swiss army knife.....and we don't need to talk about which family member caused an international incident when found with a banana in her purse at the Seattle airport. This time the kind people in security found Bob's scissors in his shaving kit and promptly did away with them. With minutes to spare to departure we then ran dramatically towards the gate, people stood aside to let us through the line to catch our flight, and as we started out toward the plane Bob did a final check for his wallet....nope, doesn't have it...yes indeed it's back in the little basket back at the x-ray machines...the perfect ending for this newest travel game....back he runs, top speed, finds the wallet, turns around runs back again, top speed, and onto the plane...whew...and this is all before we even left the ground in Victoria.
Train rides X 2 -- We played this travel game during our stop over in Amsterdam...after spending an amazingly long time simply trying to figure out where and how to buy a train ticket to head into Amsterdam for a few hours, we boarded the train, and off we went. Most of the stations were 'announced' as we got to them, but there was one that wasn't announced and we began an animated discussion (we don't argue in travel games) about whether this was indeed the 'central' station where we should get off. As it turns out, they were right and one of us (she shall remain nameless) was wrong...indeed we should have got off because that was the end of the line for the train which promptly did a non-stop return to the airport...where we had to get off and get back on another train and head back into Amsterdam again. Being an optimistic bunch though, we sat on the other side of the train for a different view for our second trip.
Finally, thirty hours after leaving Victoria, we arrived in Abu Dhabi....and the adventures continued....more to come...

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