Monthly Archives: October 2011

Dubai: Part 2

I am back to astound and amaze with more on Dubai. The photos I present today are from day ‘2’ of our trip—we visited the Dubai Mall (the world’s largest shopping mall, Wikipedia) as well as the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building, Wikipedia).

Like I said, Dubai is full of superlatives.

I was so much fun to walk around such beautiful architecture, landscaping, and cultural contrasts. The strangest thing is that Sean had to keep reminding me that we were in the DESERT. Yes, even though Dubai is a modern-day oasis, it is still a desert geographically speaking.

So do I side with my mother nature, laissez-faire mentality and scorn the irrigation, pollution, and squandering of money on tourism? Or do I put aside my cultural condemnation from a Westerner’s viewpoint and embrace Dubai for what it is; a part of the world entirely new and foreign to me. It would be wrong to say, “Well, if you only did _____, the water would be cleaner.” or “Why doesn’t everyone just _______ instead?”

In the words of Marcel Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

Our walk from the metro (which, remind you, we took everywhere) to the Dubai Mall. I loved all of the plants and green spaces there are in Dubai! (Also notice the stop sign…. that’s a rarity back in Kuwait!)

Sean nabbed this photo of me walking toward the mall. what a pleasant morning… notice the palm trees dotting the left side of the picture. *sigh*. Also notice the lack of garbage on the clean, polished sidewalks…. ALSO a rarity back in Kuwait!

Never miss an opportunity for a smile and a picture 🙂 Beautiful fountain display in front of yet another seven-star hotel…

A futuristic vista…

Inside the Dubai Mall. We still maintain that there are parts of this mall we never saw, even though we spent eight hours in it… it was gigantic!

Sean had fun watching 3D television and trying out all the new tech gadgets in the electronics stores.

Also inside Dubai Mall. How calming!

Yes, there is an ice skating rink inside the mall. This got REALLY crowded at night… kids were skating, jumping, falling, spinning, and doing all of the things I miss watching kids do on the frozen lakes back home.

View from outside the mall. Sean loves this picture because you can count SEVEN construction cranes! Talk about a city that building upward!

There you have it, the Burj Khalifa. The world’s tallest building. Kudos to Sean for setting up such an awesome picture! (On a 10 second timer, too!) Did I mention that we bought tickets to travel up inside the building? Keep reading for pictures…

It’s not every day back in the states that you can stroll the mall and stop to rest in a store like this…

View from another part of Dubai mall. I love how they fused contemporary, futuristic architecture with traditional Arabic designs (like the beautiful bridge…)

All right. Let this be an introduction to our trip up the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world, don’t forget!) This plaque marked our entry into the skyscraper.

Looking down from the Burj Khalifa. Now, understand that we weren’t at THE TOP of the building. We were on the 124th floor. That’s all the higher they let visitors go. The total height of the building is 2,716.5 feet and over 160 stories. The Burj Khalifa holds the following records:

•  Tallest building in the world

•  Tallest free-standing structure in the world

•  Highest number of stories in the world

•  Highest occupied floor in the world

•  Highest outdoor observation deck in the world

•  Elevator with the longest travel distance in the world

•  Tallest service elevator in the world

The outdoor observation desk was an other-worldly experience! The cool air, breeze, and mental realization that we were that high up was really memorable.

Dubai from the outdoor observation deck.

QUESTION: Those of you who know your science, Sean and I have a disagreement about the above photograph. When looking UP the rest of the tower from the outdoor observation deck, we were able to see a dark line cast from the tip of the building. Is this dark line,

A. The sun casting the building’s shadow?

OR

B. The clouds being split apart by the wind as they blew past the Burj Khalifa?

To maintain objectivity, I will unfortunately not be able to acknowledge which of us believes the above hypothesis. The answer to that will come once we determine which of us is right 🙂

Looking down from the observation deck onto the metro. What a cool looking metro, huh? It really was an above-ground monorail. You could cross the city for the equivalent of $2.50!

Sean demonstrating the “outdoor” part of the outdoor observation deck.

We hung around until the sun set… it’s a rough life.

Back in the Dubai Mall, we found a massive aquarium… holding a world record (see plaque below). As if the world’s biggest mall and tallest building aren’t enough, it also has the largest single acrylic panel in the world!

That’s right, if you had too much money and too little desire to hoof it, these taxis would take you around the mall! Can you imagine an indoor space large enough to pay people for this?

And if you still aren’t convinced of traveling to Dubai, maybe a trip to the Rainforest Cafe would help.

A Botero statue outside the Dubai Mall. Tres chic! (Note the Burj Khalifa in the background… it’s hard to take a picture WITHOUT it in the background!)

Every night from 7-11 there is a fountain show outside the mall. It shoots water 50 stories up in the air and is synchronized to lights and music. Oh, did I mention that it is the WORLD’S LARGEST DANCING FOUNTAIN? (Are you getting sick of seeing “world’s largest” in this post yet?)

To close, I want to remind you where we are. After seeing all of these wonderful, awe inspiring things that test the forces of nature and stretch the powers of humankind, we have to remember the little things. Sean and I are in the Middle East, staying in a hotel room at the Holiday Inn Express that has—as seen in the above picture—an arrowing point towards Mecca for the Islamic prayers. Dubai is futuristic, worldly, and internationally renowned, and it’s less than a two hour flight from Kuwait.

I guess what I’m saying here is that I hope my blog unveils another element of the middle east to those of you who, like myself, are unfamiliar with it. It is a land of contrast, of rich traditions and beliefs, of beautiful cultures and juxtaposing landscapes. It is a place that Sean and I have chosen to call home.

I hope that through these blog entries you are not only entertained, but enlightened. I hope you carry this knowledge with you and spread your understanding of a place so often stereotyped and misunderstood to others. Spread awareness and spark interest.

And most importantly, keep reading 😉

 

Stay tuned for the next post, Dubai: Part 3 (the final segment).

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Categories: Dubai | 1 Comment

Dubai: Part 1

Hello friends and family! Long-time-no-post. I apologize for the lackadaisical nature of my blog as of late, but between battling a terrible head cold, obtaining a working visa, and visiting the tallest building in the world, it’s been difficult to stay in touch 😉

Sean and I were in Dubai from Tuesday through Saturday, and let me tell you, it was five days of pure bliss. Dubai really is the city of the future. I half-expected to see a Jetson’s spacecraft fly above my head. It was greener, cleaner, and more modern than Kuwait. The beaches were clean with bright blue water, flowers blossomed on every manicured patch of grass, and the lack of pollution and garbage cluttering the streets was just fantastic. AND there were bicyclists everywhere! I was so envious of their ability to bicycle the clean streets of Dubai, in comparison to Kuwait—world renowned as having the highest traffic fatalities of anywhere else.

Why did we go to Dubai, you may ask? Well, long story short, we arrived in Kuwait on tourist visas. (We had trouble in the States obtaining a working visa due to high traffic at the Department of State and misunderstanding on our behalf), so we had to enter Kuwait on tourist visas. By going to Dubai, we got some blood work done (which provided for interesting pictures below), and had a few key documents stamped by the Kuwait embassy. We then flew back into Kuwait after our time in Dubai and were able to enter on working visas.

Don’t ask me how it works.

Let’s begin looking at pictures! Now, this blog is titled “Dubai: Part 1” because I am going to post Dubai in 3 parts. Hopefully I can do them all within the next three or four days. Something to look forward to!

Sean at our hotel in Dubai, reflecting on our relaxing vacation about to begin. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express… how cultured of us…

The map of Dubai. LOOK AT ALL THE ISLANDS! It hardly seems real, right? Those islands are all man-made… with seven-star hotels and million-dollar homes…

Dubai in the morning, near our hotel. I loved how it looked like something out of Tron. Futuristic buildings rising out of the mists… (and look at that large patch of green, green grass!)

Ahhhh, life in the Middle East. This is the doctor’s office where we did our blood work. It takes some courage to gather your nerves, walk into a place looking like this, and let them stick you with a syringe. As of yet, the injection site is infection free…

Don’t get me, he really was a friendly doctor. He lied to me and told me the iodine was an anesthetic to make me feel better about getting a shot 🙂

The metro system that runs through Dubai. It sure is a contrast to the above photos, hmm? We took the metro for everything—it was the cleanest, most organized metro I’d even been on.

Quick photo outside of the metro on one of the stops. I love the juxtaposition of the wall mural and the high-speed metro…

Our trip into the cultural section of Dubai… it was like an unending scene from Aladdin!

In the high-walls of the old section of Dubai.

We could get lost in all of these alleyways!

We found the Dubai historical village, which included recreations of Dubai’s first educational system!

Hey guys, look, it’s my classroom!

I am SO tempted to post this picture and ONLY this picture and tell everyone that this is my real classroom….

(Don’t be fooled; this is a recreation of the first school in Dubai. Or is it…? The guy in the back is my aide…)

As a part of the historical village, we saw how they built the first buildings—out of coral, I kid you not! Check out the picture below to see a close up.

All of the walls in the building (before it was restored) were made out of this coral. Talk about being resourceful in a land without any trees!

Sean posing in the historical village – I love the architecture.

In the historical village they had a room similar to what the Kuwaiti’s call a “diwaniya”. A diwaniya is a traditional room in Kuwaiti Arabic homes where people gather to drink tea, have snacks, and discuss current affairs. It was a wonderful surprise!

Here we venture into the famous Gold Souq of Dubai. All of the above items are pure gold! The Gold Souq was the most interesting place… aisles and aisles of gold!

The world’s heaviest gold ring. Dubai sure is the city of superlatives! See the Guiness Record below…

Can you believe that?

More of the Gold Souq… Sean got tired of me pretending to be interested in pieces of jewelry to find out their prices 🙂

We made the mistake of talking to a shop keeper for too long, who ended up outfitting Sean in what he called “the good looking style”.

He didn’t touch me, though! Surprise, surprise 🙂

Apparently this is an example of remodeling in old Dubai.

The “Creek” in Dubai is a major waterway, an inlet that serves as the major shipping artery for Dubai. You can take an ‘abra’, or a small wooden boat across the Creek for something like 20 cents!

Me on an ‘abra’ across the Creek.

Once on the other side of the creek, we found a guy selling coconuts for $1. We had fun drinking coconut juice and relaxing in the sun!

It was Sean’s first time having coconut milk. He thought it was pretty tasty…

More fun venturing into the Old Souq of Dubai.

The “fort” of Dubai is an original fort to protect the city from the late 1800’s.

We were able to tour the fort, which was amazing. We saw the evolution of Dubai, and how it has grown as a city. There were also traditional recreated rooms in the fort as well!

Dr. Who anyone?

Beautiful sunset in Dubai…

And the best part to the end of a long day? Sipping a Guiness with my wonderful husband. Now that’s something you can’t find in Kuwait… (the Guiness, that is!)

Sean finally got a Strongbow CIDER on tap! He was the happiest bar patron in the whole joint.

Tune in tomorrow for Dubai: Part 2 where we visit the tallest building in the world!

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Weekend Warriors

High fashion, dimly-lit alleyways, birthdays, and pickles.

Welcome back to the blog from the cheeseheads in the sandbox!

This week, I’d like to treat my lovely readers to a plethora of pictures from the past week or so. We have been spending our weekends socializing, relaxing, and taking small afternoon trips around the city.

To commence, our lovely Minnesota neighbors knocked on our door early Saturday evening. Looking out my peep-hole, I saw a grocery cart (yes, grocery cart) in the hallway yielding boxes upon boxes of fresh produce.

Apparently our neighbors visited a Kuwaiti farm over the weekend, owned by one of the parents at the school. Now, when you hear “farm”, don’t think barnyard. Imagine a winery (minus the wine) with lemons, limes, eggplants, cucumbers, herbs, palm trees, ducks, rabbits, and goats in the middle of the desert. Imagine the amount of energy and manpower that had to go into such a construction! They swam in Olympic-sized swimming pools, walked the vineyard-esque estate, and politely sat amongst hours of Arabic conversation they did not understand. Rumor has it the owner of the “farm” estimates his self-worth to be something like 20 million KD… (which is 3.6X higher than the U.S. dollar). Long story short, they sent our neighbors home with a bumber crop of vegetables they were eager to share!

So, being the resourceful Wisconsinite that I am, what did I do with such bundles of produce?

I made pickles!!!

All right, all right. Enough of my domestic endeavors. But I must say, look at how productive I’ve become by not having television in my life!

 

Moving on, let’s talk about a few of our weekend jaunts as of late. WARNING: Thus begins a series of themeless photos that I simply wanted to share. As an English teacher, I have a real hard time stringing together a series of unrelated photos without a clear direction or topic… so let’s just go with the topic of “Kuwait” shall we?

Below is a photo of Sean along one of the many busy roads in Hawalli (where we live). Note how green everything is! Not what you’d expect in the desert, hmm?

This photo was taken on a walk to the local bookstore (think Barnes & Noble-esque), which was unfortunately closed upon our arrival.  We also came across this lovely titled restaurant… “Shrimpy”. Do you think they might specialize in shrimp? Also interesting to note is the castle-style building… yum… shrimpy…

On a more pleasant note, Sean and I had a lovely “date night” where we went to a new part of town and saw an art & fashion exhibit:

Below: I walk through the old-style alley way lit by lanterns to the art exhibit. Like my skirt? I bought it at a souq for $1.5o. It’s actually a sari (view link for pictures) that I’ve fashioned into an empire-waste skirt….

Speaking of clothing-related items, check out these wild shoes in the fashion/art exhibit. Each pair was selling for around $1,000!

 

After our visit to the fashion exhibit, we traveled to “Souq Sharq” – a beautiful mall and marina on the gulf.

Ahhh… Kuwait at night!

Finally, a picture of the blogger herself! (See, I’m still alive, guys!)

I just thought this place looked really futuristic… they sell frozen yogurt. Note how it’s all women ordering at the counter… 😉

 

Just some more evidence that we have ALLL the luxuries of home 🙂

 

Lastly, my neighbor Nadine encouraged me to snap a quick photo of these adorable little ladies having a heart-to-heart in Marina Mall. How cute!

Well, thus ends our journey this week. Tune in next week for our trip to DUBAI! No joke, we leave tomorrow for Dubai. Home of the world’s tallest building, manmade islands in the shape of palm trees and the seven continents of the world, and FINALLY a country that serves something on tap besides rootbeer…

We have to go to Dubai for visa reasons, which I will explain post-trip. We are looking forward to a nice five-day weekend 🙂 Our first year of teaching hasn’t be TOO bad, has it?

I’ll keep the pictures coming if you keep reading!

 

Categories: Kuwait | 1 Comment

Shark For Sale!

Aloha from Kuwait!  I swear that line will never get old. It’s currently 6pm on Friday night, and Sean and I are relaxing after a long week of teaching. I thought I’d post some pictures to enlighten you all back home as to what’s been going on in our lives.

Things have been pretty low key the past few weeks, and our weekends have just been lovely. We had parent-teacher conferences this week, and were gifted with a four-day weekend. In between telling dishdasha-donning and hijab-clad families that I absolutely love their children, we managed to get a little bit of relaxing in.

I got breakfast with my neighbor Nadine at Marina Crescent this weekend. It’s a beautiful area on the gulf; lined with palm trees, it’s truly idyllic to sip a cup of coffee in the shade and look at all the boats.

Nadine and our lovely host at TeaGschwendner. We sampled a delicious herbal tea and I picked up 250 grams of my favorite tea of all time, Yerba Mate. This bloke knew his tea!

A lovely day in Medan Hawalli (the region we live in). Note the palm trees lining path, the mosque in the background, and the clouds dotting the azure sky. *Sigh*.

Nadine and I took a trip last Saturday to the Ray Center, which was just THE most interesting place. Somewhat strip-mall-esque, it was a series of shops that sold beautiful home furnishings, tapestries, floral displays, artwork, and of course simple household cleaning supplies and electronics. I found two beautiful pieces of fabric as well as a painting of Arabic men in a celebratory atmosphere. I really have no idea of it’s true meaning.

The fabric at the Rai Center. They had the most beautiful Persian rugs, traditional Muslim niqabs, Indian tapestries, and Arabic tableclothes. I’m in love!

Sean and I went to lunch at a traditional Iranian restaurant. It was our first really frustrating experience in Kuwait; there were four or five restaurants all in a row, but NONE of them spoke English and ALL of their menus were in Arabic. After twenty minutes of alternative between restaurants trying to explain the concepts of “vegetarian” and determining what “half a chicken” means when they say it’s only $3.5o, we settled on a place with a full hearth glowing and the seats filled with locals. We made the right choice. Sean had “half a chicken” for only $3,50 and I had enormous pieces of flat bread along with hummus and spinach. Our bill came to $5.00.

Sean at the Iranian restaurant. Note the beautiful tile mural on the wall; true Iranian-style!

In case you haven’t gotten enough Americana in this post, feast your eyes on the largest KFC and Pizza Hut I’ve ever seen.

As much as this blog is devoted to our cultural explorations within Kuwait, I think there is still something to be said about maintaining a certain sense of cultural reticence from our heartstrings that are the Midwest. The above photo is two delicious loaves of homemade, yeast-risen, cinnamon raisin bread! The entire baking process took me over four hours, but it was completely worth it. Never have I known the pleasure of cinnamon-raisin-homemade-bread-peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwiches! I am actually daydreaming of opening a side business selling baked goods to teachers at school… it’d be quite the enjoyable moonlighting endeavor!

Another domestically-related update, I painted our bedroom! It is now a beautiful shade of maroon. Nothing brightens up these high, white walls but a little color. We really love our apartment here. Note the floor-to-ceiling window on the right side of the photo!

For those of you blogging diehards, you are treated to my favorite picture within this post! Sean and I went to the fish market this weekend—yes, a leisurely stroll, I know—and we found an actually SHARK for sale! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I have yet to determine whether or not this is legal…

(And no, Dad, when you come visit, I am NOT going to the fish market and buying ANY of these fish to cook for us! That’s what the supermarket is for.)

Lastly, while I can’t credit this photograph to my own taking, I thought it would be tragic not to share. Since there are no copyright laws that operate internationally, we have seen myriad burned-dvd salesmen and knock-off blockbuster advertisements. We recently saw a Johnny Depp look-alike advertising Pirates of the Caribbean for KFC! The above photo is a Toy Story play being performed somewhere in Kuwait… I can’t imagine how awkward this would be to see in person…

Tune in next week for our trip to Souq Sharq! I miss Wisconsin dearly, especially the month of October—my favorite month of all. I look forward to telling you about Halloween in Kuwait when the time comes…

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Break On Through To The Other Side

Did that grab your attention? I thought we should just dive right in to the good stuff without wasting any time.

All right, I’ve got some explaining to do I suppose.
This weekend, Sean and I went to the AWARE Center, which stands for “Advocates for Western & Arab Relations”. It’s a non-profit, non-government affiliated, private organization whose entire purpose is to promote positive, constructive relations between Westerners and Arabs by organizing social activities and information services related to Arab and Islamic culture. We went to an orientation dinner and information session; I definitely think it is an organization I’d be interested in becoming involved with. They organize trips to the Grand Mosque, boat tours, camel rides, dinners where cheeseheads like us can try on abayas and dishdashas; things that would fill pages and pages of the popular blog, Stuff White People Like. It was a great time.

Have you ever wondered what all of the garments Sean and I are wearing above are called?

Do not be mistaken; MOST Kuwaiti women wear ONLY the Hijab and/or Abaya. The Niqab is very rare to see in Kuwait; it is most common in Saudi Arabia. (The niqab is the flap that covers the face.) Most women wear ONLY the hijab on a daily basis. The hijab is the wrap that goes around the neck and head and is a variety of beautiful colors and fabrics.

Further, when you see Sean’s get-up, you may be thinking, “Wait, isn’t that cloth on his head called a Keffiyeh?” Not in Kuwait. Kuwaitis and other Gulf countries wear the “ghutrah,” while the Keffiyeh is primarily reserved for Palestinians.

The fabrics come in all colors, patterns, and materials; one really does appreciate the beauty of it after a while 🙂

Here are a few pictures of our time at the AWARE center. (Note the ever-present theme of FOOD… maybe I should start wearing an Abaya to hide my waistline!)

 

I would like to leave you with the final picture you see below, which I took on a walk with Sean yesterday afternoon. While it doesn’t directly relate to our trip to the AWARE center, I found a connection I thought worthy of sharing.

The Middle East is known as the land of contrast, and I feel the title particularly applies to Kuwait. I spent this entire blog explaining traditional Arab clothing, and the purpose of an organization built to unite cultures. I, a white American female, walk down the street in Kuwait and see women covered head-to-toe, and women wearing a t-shirt and shorts. All of my students have their own iPad, and only a few of the older girls wear hijab to school. Our school is seen as one of the most progressive in the country as it is co-ed. Formal education has traditionally been gender segregated.

Which brings me to this picture. This country is undergoing a radical change. Growth, expansion, economics, and globalization will ultimately change Kuwait. The students that walk into my classroom every day are treading a fine line between tradition and innovation.

What was once a tiny row of Arabic-titled specialized shops is becoming transformed with nowhere to grow but upwards. The Arabic script is replaced with English billboards advertising money, communication, sex appeal, mass media. Kuwaitis are raising both their eyebrows and expectations.

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