Travel

So, how many offices do I need to stop at?

Everybody talks a lot about going and living the expat lifestyle. And, when you look at it on the surface, it all looks pretty glamorous. People living in foreign countries, interacting with foreign traditions and having grand adventures. While all of this is certainly true, to some degree, there are a myriad of things that get left out of those rosy pictures of life abroad. It is safe to say that living abroad and vacationing abroad are two completely different things.

In different posts I have touched on things like insurance, and limiting home-country bills so that you don’t have dead-end expenses. I would like to think that those are fairly obvious items to be considered. Everyone thinks about what they need to do before they leave. I would say that few people, myself included, think about what they are going to go through once they get there. In some countries it isn’t so bad. If you are headed toward the Middle East, I would suggest that you reach out to either someone that you know in the area or the company that you are going to work for. When you reach out to them, find out what is required to become a worker in that country and how to handle that process.

If you are lucky, as I was, the company that you are going to be working for will have a representative or subcontractor that is tasked with helping you navigate the myriad ministry and governmental institutions required to get your in-country paperwork completed. Unless you are fluent in Arabic and have unlimited self-restraint, I strongly suggest that you ask this question of your new employer, and not just assume someone will help you out. If you are left to your own devices when navigating the different ministry offices, you will want to get back on a plane and fly home. I have literally had to travel to three different offices, in three different parts of the city, to get one form taken care of. (Just so you know, there were several forms needing to be handled when I landed in-country.)

Depending upon the country you may be heading into, you will find that several differing items will need to be handled. I was in the position of having to change my visa from one vise form to another, get a civil ID card, sign Arabic versions of my employment contract, and acquire a local country driver’s license. Without the patient help of the Host Nation subcontractor representative our company employs, each one of these items would have proved almost impossible to successfully acquire with one outing. The Middle East is overrun with government and ministry offices that all have to be stopped at. Each of these different offices is usually located in a different section of the city from the next. Each one of these offices has different hours and prerequisites for visiting. And usually none of them speak English. It can be exasperating, at minimum. If it wasn’t for our Host Nations Representative, I would not have gotten any of it done. There is literally no way. The group that my company used as our Host Nation representatives were outstanding. Their helpfulness and usefulness CAN NOT be overstated.

If you’re planning the expat adventure, check with your new company and find out if they have someone to help with in-country paperwork. It will be a conversation you will be glad you had before you get there. And, even happier that you did, once you are there. For full disclosure, I did not do this. I assumed everything would just work itself out once I got in-country. DO NOT DO THIS. It’s not a good way to keep your sanity.

The sign behind the van. that’s the place where the official driver’s license photos were taken. Yup.

 

Don’t let the fear slow you down. Get out there!

Advertisements
Standard
Travel

Thunderstorms? In the desert?

I don’t really consider inclement weather in desert settings. Isn’t the desert an inclement weather setting of its own? I always thought it was. That being said, even the desert gets bad weather. Who knew?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent time in several desert settings. The deserts of Turkey were serene most day. It didn’t rain while I was there. It was just sunny and hot.

I have also spent several stints in the southern USA over the years. When it rains there, it literally pours. You can see it coming at you from a ways away, and you hunker down when it hits you. Unless you’re on a motorcycle at the time (Like I was several years ago, riding the southwest with some friends of mine), then you put on rain gear and just suck it up. Have I mentioned that I HATE being out in the rain yet? Oh, okay.

Here in the Middle East, it’s kind of like the southwestern USA. When it rains … IT RAINS. I have seen two types of rain since I have been here. The light, maybe lasting five minutes, sprinkle. Everybody prepares for the flood, and when it doesn’t come they go back to what they were doing. That’s happened several times. If it rains for more than five minutes there is mud to contend with, but that’s about it. I actually like these quick sprinkling events, as they knock all the suspended dust and grit out of the air. The quick rain makes the air clear for several days afterwards. It’s a pleasant change.

Interestingly enough, when it rains lightly, and knocks all the dust and grit out of the air, it kind of rains mud. If you’re wearing anything that shows dirt, when you come inside it will be covered with little mud spots. That was the dust you were breathing in for the last however many days. It’s funny the first time it happens, but you adjust pretty fast.

Last night however, we got the other kind of rain. The sky turned a kind of burnt orange color, the wind came up, and the rain pelted down. As it really got good and going, the thunder came in along with it, just to make sure that you were really paying attention. Thunder storms in the stark-dry desert are crazy. I mean legitimately crazy. The rain comes down so fast that it doesn’t knock any of the dust out of the air. It also comes down hard enough to throw all of the loose dust and grit on the ground up into the air. Your car literally looks like you dumped pails of mud on it the next morning. And the air, the air has more dust in it than it did before the rains started. Ok, maybe not more, but it does seem that way. There is this thick film hanging in the air today, like you can’t really tell where the horizon line is. It can be a bit off-putting.

As a funny observation, people in the Middle East don’t really understand the implications of lots of rain on the roadways. The traffic didn’t seem to let up at all as the rain came down harder and harder. The traffic just kept going down the road. I guess, being oblivious to disaster is the best way to avoid it?

I’m not sure how many times a year it is supposed to rain super heavy out this way. I get the sense that it doesn’t happen very often. That’s probably a good thing. We don’t need anything washing away here. I’ll just stay off the roads and things will be ok.

 

Okay, I don’t have any pictures of mud rain. How about some camels?

Nevertheless, don’t be scared by the weather. Get out there. Go see stuff.

 

Standard
Travel

What? No fork?

Though the Middle East is definitely an adventure, I admit that I haven’t been out on the economy as much as I normally would be in other parts of the world. The area that I am living in lack a bit draw as it is very much westernized. That being said, It is NOT remotely first world. They have imported almost every second-tier chain restaurant out of the states, but that’s about it. If chain restaurant food and shiny shopping malls are a sign of civilization, then I guess the place qualifies on that front.

Normally when I travel like to spend time eating local foods, stopping at local shops, and partaking of the local museums. I haven’t found a good outlet for doing that yet. There doesn’t seem to be a big outlet for natural Arabian dishes or culture in the area. The rumor running around the internet is that there is a new museum about to open. I’m definitely looking forward to that. There are also some shopping options available. Locally, it is the knockoff touristy stuff that you would expect in such locals. It’s not really the Souqs that the Middle East countries are famous for, but more the local alley shops that sell things you didn’t think you needed until you see it. Yes, I have bought things that I didn’t think I needed until I saw them.

Okay, that is about shopping, but this little ditty is about food. I will admit that there isn’t a great deal of local Arabian food options to be had. There are a lot of Arabian options. Sadly, they are mostly new and crappy alternatives or modern interpretations of dishes, not actual local food. There isn’t a lot of actual authentic local food available in my area.

That being said, what there is, if you know where to find it, is a fantastic wealth of foods from the regions of the people that are drawn to work here. There are Indian restaurants, and Pakistani restaurants, or Lebanese restaurants to be found. I say, if you know where to find it, because most of these places are in sketchy back alleys and on unpaved side streets. The parts of town you normally just pass through quickly.

The other day, my friend Z took me to a Pakistani restaurant that was absolutely fantastic. The place was called the Wah Ji Wah Restaurant, and was located on the outskirts of the Fahaheel district. It was a local’s type of place, with multiple languages being spoken as we entered. Fortunately for everyone in the group, Z speaks Pakistani. The language barrier might have been a hurdle if he didn’t. Even so, the people at the restaurant were genuinely friendly and welcoming.

It was lunch time during our visit and the place was full. We found seating in the corner and were almost instantly sat upon with food and drinks. Where I am not normally a fan of curry, the food was spicy and delicious. The pita bread was fresh and warm, and we used the bread to soak up all the curried chicken. No forks were needed. Just at the time when you thought you were done, they brought out more food. It was fantastic. It was filling, and unlike most other parts of town, the prices were very reasonable. It was exactly the experience that I wanted from this place.

With such a large immigrant population moving into the Middle East to work in the oil fields and in the construction and general labor trades, I am readjusting my view of what type of experiences I should be looking for. There is this whole layer of good food out there that I hadn’t considered until my friend Z took me to lunch. I am going to look for more of this. It can only be a good thing.

 

 

Some street food from my recent side trip to Dubai. Street food is my preferred method of eating when travelling. It gives a nice overview of the local culture.

 

Keep getting after it. Get out there. Do stuff.

 

Standard
Travel

Last day in Dubai.

Woke up this morning and wasn’t completely sure what to do with my day. The only concrete fact, I needed to be at the airport for a 1725 flight.

So, I thought for a while. What to do. What to do. The Coffee Museum was closed on Friday, so that seemed like the place to start.

I packed up the bag. Checked the room three times to make sure I had every thing, and then sat off for the lobby. Check out successful, I was out the door.

I walked over to the Al Rigga Cemetery to take a quick look around. I wasn’t able to enter, as the cemetery had a high wall surrounding it. I like cemeteries. You can tell a lot about a people by the way they care for their dead people. Oh well, maybe next time.

Caught the Metro to the exit for the Souq and Museum again. This time, I went out and around the Souq. It was a nice walk through the everyday shops in everyday Dubai. I had to take a couple tries at finding the Coffee Museum again. Oh well, the internal navigation works some of the time.

The museum was quite nice for a free museum. It had lots of things on display, and a couple of sections with people getting tourists to act out ancient coffee making techniques. It also had to Coffee bars. All in all, quite worth the walk.

I headed south from the museum, toward the next Metro stop. Once more, more streets full of everyday Dubai.

From the Metto station, I headed north toward the airport. Stopping short, I found myself back at the Irish Village. Intentionally. Its all lunch and booze. Good lunch. Excellent booze. More pints of the black stuff.

Sadly, as all things tend to do, the clock ran out. I was down the street to a taxi stand, and a crazy high-stress ride to the airport.

They say get to the airport 3 hours before an international flight. If you’re flying Fly Dubai out of Terminal 2, don’t bother. I’m way early. Oh well, live and learn. The only major miscalculation … no bar in the Terminal 2 departure area. Ugh!!

Oh well, life goes on!

Yes. They have Astin Martins at the Duty Free in Dubai. Strange place.

Standard
Travel

Day Two in Dubai.

Day two and the word of the day is beer. Guinness to be specific. If there was a better beer being made, I’d certainly be drinking it. After, anything and everything is available in this town.

Today started out as a series of misadventures. First was find the money changer. Interestingly, the best place to find a money changer is at the Metro station. The exchange rate was a little better than the airport, so I was still getting took. But, considering all the Euros I was changing were left over from a trip several years ago, I didn’t feel so bad about it.

Took the metro south into the glitzy high-rise section of Dubai. Massive construction going on everywhere you look as the train zips by. Glad I’m not driving in it.

I get off at the exit for the Dubai Mall. A elevated walkway takes you directly from the Metro to the mall. I went looking for the Harley shop. Sadly, it closed a couple months ago. Apparently, someone forgot to tell google maps about that. Oh well, the Apple Store was there! I love Apples Stores. And this one has an outside terrace with a direct view of both the Dubai Fountain and the Burj Khalifa! Ya, its prominently placed. The North Face store and the Ferrari store were over-priced. Billabong and Quicksilver didn’t have anything I couldn’t live without, so I was off. Off, in search of beers!

A long Metro ride north and a couple block walk led me to the Irish Village. Its basically the outer rim of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium. Its famous with both the ex-pat crowd and Time Out Dubai. The later of the two led me here. Its Irish enough for me. It has beer. The beer is black, and it is cold. I’m good. Probably gonna sit here a while.

Your’s truly. Dubai. Guinness. Right now.

Have a great time everybody!

Standard
Travel

Dubai. Day One.

I need to start by saying that Fly Dubai is definitely worth the money. If you get a chance to utilize their services, I say do it. The planes are new and clean. They are reasonably priced and on-time, and their staff is very nice. I think that the Stewardesses are outfitted by The Gap. Its that kind out uniform.

The Dubai airport is super easy to navigate. Getting through customs (on a US passport) is really easy.

I caught a taxi from the airport to the hotel. The Taxis, like a lot of things in Dubai, aren’t necessarily cheap. But at midnight it seemed the right thing to do. There is an easy to find queue right outside the arrivals door.

My hotel is nice enough. Its in Old Dubai because that seemed to be where the majority of thing I wanted to do were located. Its a bit in the non-touristy area, but the people are nice enough and the price was right! Price is what is seem to work on most. I admit it.

Slept good. Woke up happy. Looked into doing stufff and realized that most of what I wanted to do was closed on Friday or opened late. This is important to remember. In the eastern lands they do not use a western work week. Friday is the start of the weekend and a lot of stuff is closed.

Nevertheless, we drive on, stopped and talked to the front desk person. Got my directions to the metro. Dubai has a fancy new metro system that definitely worth looking into if you’re trying to get around without spent a bunch of dirhams. I picked up a Nol card for 25 AED. It comes preloaded with 19 AED. My first trip across the creek and to the museum area cost me 3AED. At this rate, it should go the weekend without recharging.

As is always the way, I came out of the metro and went in the wrong direction. I suck so bad at navigation. I am constantly going the wrong way. I managed to figure out which way was right (thanks to google maps) and headed on toward the Souq. The Old Dubai Souq is a warren of tight alleys stuffed full of all the standard tourist junk. Anyway, you still have to go. Its kind of a must. The shop keepers are relentless. You need to be able to say no and keep walking, or you’re gonna be broke when you come out the other side. Also,NEVER pay face value. Start your bartering at half what they offer and refuse to go up much. Screwing people is how they make their living, the prices are always super inflated. Don’t believe the sincere expressions or the you’re my good friend speeches. They’re all designed to separate you from your cash. Or DO believe them. Its your money.

I made it out of the Souq with only one purchase. I’m calling that success. I stopped at the museum. It still doesn’t open for another 2.5 hours. Sat and chilled on a bunch for a while. Its not super hot in Dubai, but its still desert. DRINK MORE WATER. Yes, you may have drank some, drink more. There’s usually always some place to find it. In my case, there was a souvenir shop across the street from my bench with bottles of water. Mission solved.

With time to kill, I headed for the other Souq area east of the Museum. Its not really shop alleys. More a recreation of what the place was like in the 1900s. Its cool, and there are a lot of small shops. I was headed for the Coffee Museum. I found it. Its closed on Fridays. Hahahahahaha Such is my day. Now, I’m chilling on a bench writing this. Its a good day, even with the threat of rain in the air.

So far, I like this Dubai place.

Into the Souq!

Later.

Standard
Travel

The first flight out.

Its been a little while since I touched down in the Middle East. So far, it’s been work, work, work. I have been focusing on doing the job and presenting myself in a good light. But, all work is just that, all work. I decided it was time to taken a run to the airport.

This little weekend get away is a couple of firsts. First time taking a cab anywhere. First time working my way through the airports on my own, and just generally getting around the Middle East on my own.

I will classify the experience as, so far so good. The taxi ride through the beginnings of rush hour traffic was anticlimactic. My boss gave me the phone number of her personal taxi guy. (Every western woman living/working over here has a vetted taxi driver that is trustworthy.) he was a good guy, and ran the meter, which can be a problem with some taxi drivers.

The airport hustle was also pretty smooth. Hit the departure terminal at about 5:55pm and the line was only about 10 or15 people deep. I chose FlyDubai for my flight, based on two ideas. One, they fly out of the Sheik Saad terminal II of the Kuwait City airport, and the terminal is only used by that one airline. Second (and a major factor for everybody these days) the has extremely reasonable direct flights to Dubai. Yes, the name does imply as much.

Its my understanding form everyone I talk with that the main airport terminal can be quite the disaster, between ticketing and outgoing customs. Terminal II is small and essay to navigate.

So, I’m off to Dubai for the weekend. After five months in a dry country I wouldn’t go completely out on a limb and say it’s a drinking weekend, but it certainly won’t be dry. Now, Dubai, much like Kuwait, is not a cheap country to visit. You will pay for what you get. So there will be a stop at the duty free when I get off the plane. That is, after the stop at the money changers. For a US lad, the only currency in my pockets is Dinars and Euros. Hahahahahaha Its crazy, but its the way of the world.

I’ll keep you updated along the way!

Enjoy!

Standard