Our new life

A peek into our lives as as we go from a family of three in America to a family of four in China!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Our Final Day. :(

Friday, March 30th—Our final day in Dubai—our flight leaves in the morning at 2 a.m. This morning Brooke, Benjamin, Amanda, I, and the girls went for brunch at The Lime Tree Café in Jumeriah. After eating we went to the beach and played in the Arabian Gulf. The girls had so much fun. The water was very nice and we loved the shots of the Burj.

Our final Dubai activity just ended. We went to Al Barsha Spa and Resort for High Tea, a falcon show, and camel rides. It was so much fun. We’re going to look into a camel for a new pet – much more worthwhile than Huck and Boogie!

We leave shortly. We’re sad to be going. We should be home late Saturday and then next week back to the real world – work, bills, schedules, etc. It’s always so hard to end a vacation. This one has been so nice!
Amanda with Ibby and Mimi
Finally! A camel ride!!!

GOLF! (and some other things, too)

Thursday, March 29th—Today I woke up and played golf at The Montgomerie. Very nice! Much different than the Emirates but very nice. The accommodations are spectacular. The crazy thing is that for an hour of my golf, it rained! That never happens here – they get .19” per year (I think all of that today).
Until a recent renovation, this was the largest green in the world.
Not a shabby view from the driving range.

The clubhouse was amazing!

After playing golf Amanda and I went to Ibn Battuta—a different mall. Much different than Mall of the Emirates. This has 5 different areas based on the 5 countries where Ibn Battuta traveled. The malls here are much different than back home and much more crowded. When it is 130 degrees outside many people flock to the malls. After spending time at the mall we decided to go back to the marina and have dinner. Very nice Lebanese food! And very nice views! After eating we decided to go back to the Mall of the Emirates to buy some art work at a gallery there. Like I said the malls are very crowded here and have I mentioned that they stay open until midnight 7 days a week. Thursday night here is like there Friday night back home. The weekends here are Friday/Saturday. We were there until 10:30 last night and there were thousands of people there! It’s funny to see teenagers here – they put on their snazzy dishdashes and abayas for weekend mall hanging.

Wednesday, March 28th—Today we decided to take it pretty easy because of the weather. The last couple of days it has been about 100 degrees. Very, very hot!!! So today we just went to get a coffee this morning—really went for Ibby (the 3 year old) so she could get a baby-chino. Amanda has her hooked! We decided to go back to the souks and do some more haggling. I bought myself a straw hat for $2! From there we went back to the Mall of the Emirates and had dinner and saw a movie, Alpha Dog. It was in English but crazy to see the whole movie with Arabic subtitles. After the movie we went for coffee and desserts at Après which is situated at the base of the main slope of Ski Dubai - - it offers an amazing view and it was fun to watch all the skiers and snowboarders – some very amateur and some really, really great.

Amanda at the creek

Hank at the entrance to the gold souk.

The gold souk is crazy - talk about some bling bling! It's just store after store after store like this.

Hank on the creek (in his new, super expensive hat!)

Grand Adventure!

Tuesday, March 27th—We got up this morning and went to Jumeirah Mosque. Through the Sheikh Mohammed (he’s the big kahuna here – “Sheikh Mo” as he lets us call him) Centre for Cultural Understanding, they open the mosque to non-Muslims for tours and information (though women must still dress conservatively AND cover their heads before entering. I summoned up my Jackie O. persona and headed in). It was really interesting to gain a deeper understanding of Islam. Muslims are very committed to their religion. They are called to pray 5 times each day, based on the lunar system. You can hear the call to prayer all over town when it is time for them to pray. The earliest one is around 4 a.m. (before dawn) and the latest right now is around 8-9 (after dusk). Every home must have a mosque within walking distance so you see them EVERYWHERE. In Dubai, with a population of 1.5 million, there are 560 mosques (and we thought we had a lot of Southern Baptist churches!).

Hank in front of Jumeirah Mosque.
After lunch at Basta Art Café (in Bastakiya – the old area where the first Iranian settlers lived) we went to do some shopping in the souks down by the creek (river). We took an abra (boat) over to the souks. Here in Dubai there are 3 main souks: spice, textile, and gold. As you walk down the street you have people constantly telling you to come in there store (you hear about a 1,000 times a day, “you want copy handbags – Prada, LV – how about a Rolex - - it’s pretty funny! Let us know if you want a Rolex – It might say RolAx on it - - but it will be cheap!). When you go in they definitely want you to buy something. If you don’t like the price they want you to haggle until you will buy it. A lot of times the people will say, “If you are happy with price I am happy.” At one particular store, the guy grabbed Hank in this long embrace. Hank was a little uncomfortable – I think the embrace was about two minutes longer than he liked. They will do anything for a sale. It is very hard to haggle with them in the first place because of the prices are unreal to begin with. In one particular store Amanda bought 4 pashminas and a shirt. I thought we had spent a lot of money but when I walked out and converted dirams to dollars we had spent less than $20. We made a lot of friends in the souks! Spend a little money, make some friends! After buying they want to talk and talk and talk and shake your hand (or even a hug – though Hank was happy with just one a day!).
Some of our new friends from the souks. The guy on the left owns one of the shops and we had quite a tasting there - saffon, dried shrimp, some other scary stuff that we didn't recognize. He also took us to his "relations" shop for Iranian ice cream. Good stuff! We're still not totally sure what's in it but we think it has something to do with rice and lemon juice. We think. :)

At 3 o’clock is where the adventure really began. We decided to do an excursion: a desert safari. It starts with (hopefully, as you will later see) an experienced driver picks you up and drives you to the desert along with 20 other cars. Once there it gets crazy. They drive like a bat out of hell, go on two wheels, and go down huge embankments. Definitely an adrenaline rush. On the way out to the dunes we were guessing about how many cars flip on a typical safari when we looked over to see the car right beside us rolling down the dune we’d just descended! What happens: all the people jump out of the Toyota LandCruiser, laugh, the drivers flip the car back over, and leave it there. After 2 hours of dune bashing (and some serious carsickness for Amanda [though still totally worth it!]) you end up in “camp” in the middle of the desert – there you can have dinner, ride a camel, watch belly dancing, henna painting, sisha pipe smoking, and finally they take you home at 9:30. The crazy thing is that this 6 ½ hours of fun only cost you $50 a person here. Back home this would cost somewhere around $200 to $300.

There were probably 20 LandCruisers like this one on our trip.

Camels! Camels! Everywhere!!! As we were awaiting the other cars to arrive there were abour 25 camels that walked right past us. We stopped to watch the sunset and climb on the dunes.

Why our mothers worry about us...

Seems Hank and I seem to seek adventure. They say, "there's a chance your car will roll." We say, "can you promise?" :) We were not in this car but it was quite a surreal experience to look beside you and see a car rolling down a dune!

So, we start adding it up - 120 people at $50 each is $6000 - - I'm no insurance adjuster but that appears to be more than $6,000 in damage. This doesn't seem like an impressive business plan to me!

My first henna

The Arabian Hank and Amanda Welch!

We could really get used to dressing this way - no worrying about what to wear, shopping is pretty simple, and what woman wouldn't what to wearing slimming black all the time?!?!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

And we're off...

Monday, March 26th—We woke up this morning and went to the Mall of the Emirates. It was very nice. The mall is 3 stories in some areas with every kind of store imaginable. This mall is so interesting, though, because it is home to Ski Dubai. It has an actual ski slope inside the mall. Amazing! It is an enclosed area that has chair lifts, lots of snow, and a few different slopes. The price is also incredible. It cost $80 for the entire day and this includes your pants, coat, skis/snowboard, and lift pass (you have to buy gloves – for $2!!!). It amazes me that it can be 100+ degrees outside and you can have snow inside the mall.

Our favorite store in the mall is Carrefour. It’s like a Super Wal-mart. Dates are very popular here – they are served at bars, with coffee, as dessert, etc. Inside the store the clerk gave me all kinds of different dates to try. I liked them all and I had to walk out of there with 3 different kinds plus 3 different kinds of Arabian candy.

This afternoon was simply well worth me making the trip to Dubai (aside from me getting to see my wife, of course [brownie points]). I played golf at Emirate Hills—the Majilis Course. This was where they played the European Dubai Desert Classic last month. This is in the top 100 courses in the world. It was by far the best golf course I have ever played. From the tees, to the fairways, to the greens it was immaculate. It was also one of the hardest courses I have ever played.

Clubhouse - cool design!

This particular green is for the 9th and 18th hole! It's HUGE!

And the winner of the 2007 Dubai Desert Classic - Hank Welch! Kinda looks like a natural standing there with his prize, doesn't he?

This evening we went to the Dubai Marina to have dinner. Very nice. We had dinner at The Inferno on the 2nd floor overlooking all the boats. We had beautiful views of all the buildings surrounding the marina. So many of the buildings here have beautiful, colorful lights (many that changes every few minutes) – it’s like a rainbow at night. After dinner we walked around the marina before calling it a night.
The view from our table - overlooking the marina.
The aqua-colored building on the right can be seen from our villa. Ibby and I like to check it out at night and make note of the different colors - this particular building changes colors every 5 minutes.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Does it really take 48 hours to get to Dubai?

Sadly, if you are Hank...it does! :( Read on...

Friday, March 23—Roby takes me to the Chattanooga Airport. I am supposed to fly Delta from Chattanooga to Atlanta to New York-JFK. Delta tells me that my plane is going to be 45 minutes late in Chattanooga so they tell me to take US Airways to Charlotte and then on to JFK. This was a very smooth one hour flight. Once in Charlotte I check to see if my next flight is scheduled on time. I see that it is not going to depart until 1 ½ hours late. I check with US Airways to see if there are any other flights that I can take because with this I am going to miss my flight from JFK to Dubai. I spent basically 2 full hours in Charlotte going from US Airways to Delta back to US Airways trying to get them to help me. I was so frustrated and my feet hurt from walking back and forth. It was about a ¾ mile walk from each one and (no joke) I walked it 7 times. So I have no choice but to take the 9:30 flight to JFK. My flight from JFK leaves at 11pm for Dubai. I have no chance of making this! I land at JFK at 11:15 and take off running to the train so I can get to my terminal. My flight to Dubai has already gone. So the only thing I can do now is to take the flight at 11:20 a.m. in the morning. So what do I decide to do? I decide to sleep at the airport on a concrete slab bench—man, how do the homeless do it (Amanda here…I insisted that he grab a cab and find a hotel but I think that took the rugged feel out of the trip for him – so he stayed at the airport)!! I literally got about an hour’s worth of sleep.

Saturday, March 24th—So now I will get to Dubai to see my wife---after a 13 hour flight. Emirates Air is very nice but they tell me I have an exit row seat when in fact I am sitting one row behind the exit row. Man, could I have used the extra space. It’s hard on a 13 hour flight when you are 6’6 to get comfortable when all scrunched up. There is a tv monitor on the back of every seat. I watched Casino Royale, Night at the Museum, The Departed, played video games, and slept (for about 1 ½ hours). Also, on the flight there is a channel that tells you how far you are from Dubai, how fast you’re going, estimated arrival time, and the countries over which you are flying. I thought it was very interesting when flying over Saudi Arabia (probably a couple of hundred miles from Iraq) that on the screen it says you are flying in neutral territory (good thing to know!). The first 6 ½ hours of the flight was very long but the last 6 ½ went by fast. I am now going to switch to Dubai time from here on out—which is 8 hours ahead of Eastern time.

Sunday, March 25th—I arrive in Dubai at 8 a.m. I make it through passport control where I head to get my luggage. I stand there and wait and wait and wait but no luggage for me. I have to go to the Emirates Air office where they tell me my luggage didn’t make it on this flight but will be on the 9 p.m. flight tonight. From there I take a cab to the Meadows which is about 45 minutes from the airport. What a ride!!! We almost got hit 3 times and we almost hit someone 2 times. I was so scared! On the way out to the Meadows it is so crazy. There are literally thousands of people doing construction work. It reminds me of back home but rather than everyone working in carpet, they work construction. There is literally a crane on every building and they are working on every road. I finally arrive at the Meadows but at the wrong villa so I have to walk a ½ mile. I am so exhausted that I take a 3 hour nap. I’m glad to finally be at my final destination!!!

Last night was very nice. We went to an Italian restaurant, Tuscana, at Madinat Jumeirah (a shopping area made to resemble the old souks. It’s much nicer – better quality and indoors. There are 2 four-star hotels attached to it) with the Newlands. The food was great and the scenery even better. We took an abra ride around the Jumeirah resort and got to see the Burj at night. We shopped around for a little bit and called it an early night. Gotta get plenty of rest - - tomorrow is golf!
On the abra ride around Jumeirah Resort - with our very unibrowed driver! Remember the broken camera? Well, here is proof. A slightly blurry Hank and Amanda in front of the Burj. This was taken at our table at dinner - nice view and SUPER yummy meal!
Burj at night. It changes colors every 30 minutes.

We interrupt your regularly schedule blog...

The recent lag in new posts is due to the fact that I broke my camera! YIKES! Yes, my super fancy, I-dreamt-of-this-camera-daily-before-receiving-it, only-had-it-4-months, new Nikon camera. I must say, though, it was completely not my fault! While I think the actually camera is fantastic and takes phenomenal pictures, the strap stinks! It came undone while we were leaving the creek and crashed to the ground. Luckily it only damaged a circuit board in the lens and after spending some time being diagnosed at a camera repair place (and finding out that the part takes 4-6 weeks), I have my camera back in hand but with only manual-focusing capabilities! So, there may some slightly blurry pictures in our future (until we return home) but I was lucky enough to pick up a 70-300mm lens from the repairman for a great price - so we just have to decide for the rest of the trip....blurry close-ups OR crisp far-away shots? Check back for a little of both over the next week!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Down by the river

OK, so really they call it a creek but I'd surely define it as a river. But they've not asked my opinion on the subject! Anyway, I went back to the creek yesterday - this time with the Newlands and it was a Saturday. It was a totally different experience than the last time. No awkward stares and all the shops were open so it was nice to see all the items for sale. We didn't spend too much time in the souks (it only holds so much interest for a 1 and 3 year old) but we did eat at Basta Art Cafe' in Bastakiya. Bastakiya is a collection of more than 50 restored buildings on the shore of the creek, dating back the the 1900's when Iranian traders settled in Dubai. It's a cool place and Hank and I will explore it more and share more details on it when he gets here next week.

For the time being, here's a couple pictures of the creek, souks, downtown, and the abras on the creek.This is one of my favorite pictures so far. It's hard to appreciate it in its tiny, blog form but if you can click on it and have it open to full size - it's a cool picture.
It's like a boat convention!
It's pretty neat to see the boats lined up unloading all their goods. The boats are sometimes stacked side-to-side 6-7 deep!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

New Dubai at Night

The area where we are staying is referred to as "New Dubai" - - one look at all the construction around and there is no doubt this place is new - seems nothing is old! Ibby and I have enjoyed some nighttime walks the last couple of nights and tonight we decided to take the camera. It's just amazing to see all the new construction. It's also incredible to see the work going on 24 hours a day!

This picture is in the backyard at night. I love to see the skyline. The pool is heated but despite the 95+ degree days, it gets a little chilly and breezy at night so there have been no late night dips in the pool!

I love these two pictures. There are many lakes in these little communities. This particular lake is only a 10 minute walk from our villa. It's lovely because you get such a nice view of the skyline there. I would love to see a picture from this spot 10 years ago to compare with this - - I bet there was nothing! I'd also like to see what it looks like 10 years from now!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Flying solo!

Yesterday after brunch, I decided to go solo down to the creek and explore the souks. It was my first time being alone here and I have to admit, I was a little nervous.

Dubai is an extremely safe place and is the most liberal of all the Arab countries but I had read that single women are still not all that common (not single as in marital status, single as in travelling alone). After a very nice cab ride, my driver dropped me off a far distance from the souks so I could walk along the river and take in all the buildings, boats, and sights. It really is lovely.

It was Friday so there were tons and tons of men out and about everywhere and I was definitely the center of attention. It was odd, I got A LOT of stares but it wasn't like icky male-ogling stares like at home, it was more like I had just sprouted a horn from my forehead - or like I was some alien. I guess to them, I kind of was. You're not likely to find any Girl Power stuff anywhere around here. I had a guy ask me if I would get on his boat and take a picture with him - he said, "we never see women." Like he'd just been released from prison or something. :)

Well, if I had done my homework, I would have known that the souks aren't even open Friday mornings (as it's the holy day) but it was still a grand adventure as I got to see a lot of beautiful buildings and got to experience a little more of typical Dubai life.

There were a few shops open and I was able to pick up a few items - 2 pashminas and a gorgeous shirt. I was feeling a little down because, as it turns out, I SUCK at haggling. I just couldn't make myself do it. They said I price, I handed my dirham over. So, after I purchased the last thing I was walking around feeling pretty down for wasting my money when I could have haggled a better price when I realized (after doing my dirham to dollar conversion) - - I only spent TEN DOLLARS! Who in the world needs to haggle if the first price given is only $10 for two pashminas AND a shirt.

This is one of the little alleyways that starts the textile souk.

This is kind of the typical souk scene.

After putzing around the textile souk for a bit I decided to take the abra over to see if any of the shops were open in the spice souk. The abra ride basically just takes you across the creek and it costs 1 dirham - 27 CENTS! There are tons and tons and tons of abras just going back and forth across the creek. The creek is literally packed with boats, abras, and dhows. The dhows are larger and often offer dinner cruises along the creek. I hope to do one of those when Hank arrives.
This is what the abras look like. There is a even mix of men in the traditional clothing and men in plain clothing - notice though, very few women. Except me. :)

This is where the abras park - - there are several abra stations and you just hop on the boat. Some go to different places so you just have to pay attention to where yours is heading.

Although there were NO shops open in the spice souk, it was still nice to ride over and back as I got some great views of the city and the different boats in the water. Some of the architecture is so interesting. I even got to see one mosque - though it's not the big mosque that I am hoping to see with Hank.

Some of the work on the mosques is so ornate. I loved this little doo-dad!

This is the Bank of Dubai, I believe. This picture does not do it justice, it is absolutely beautiful with the water reflecting off the building.

This mosque is right on the creek and I happened to be right in front of it during the call to prayer. It's a really interesting sound.

Just another interesting building with abra parking right outside. Walking along the creek. There were lots of people in this particular area feeding the birds.

For those not worshipping on a Friday morning, it seems the creek is the place to hang out. There were tons of men just milling around.

As you will notice in the picture above and the one below, the men hold hands with each other. Like, full fingers laced hand holding. It's the strangest thing to see. There is no romantic connotation to it. All of the Arab countries are completely intolerant of homosexuality so this is by no means "couples" - it's just what they do. It's very different from what we're used to at home.

This is definitely a sign of things to come - as far as weather is concerned. There are sun shades almost everywhere - most of the parks have them, public pools have them, this one is just along the creek.The airport is close to downtown - near the creek. It's do odd to see planes around all the buildings!!!