Saturday, March 24, 2012

Doha Diaries: Days 90-91, The Abu Dhabi Trip, Days 2 & 3, High Tea, Art, and a Disappearing Abaya

[Day 90] Friday, January 27, High Tea, Art, 49'ers, and Tex Mex

"High Tea"

No, it's not a wacky comedy about Cheech and Chong waking up in Sri Lanka.  In fact, the interwebs tell me that what the folks at Time Out Abu Dhabi, the hotels, and even my UK team mate in Doha call "high tea" is, in fact, not actually high tea.  If you want the low down on the correct usage of low tea vs. high tea, go read this page or this page.  Apparently, high tea historically referred to an actual meal, blah, blah, blah.  Regardless of historical accuracy, the term "high tea" seems to be used to essentially mean "fancy afternoon tea" and that is what I understood it to mean from context; in practice, that is what it ends up meaning.  That was the type of high tea I was after - scones, finger sandwiches, etc.  Fancy tea!

As luck would have it, there happened to be an article comparing and contrasting some high tea locations in the city.  Based upon what I read, I decided on the St. Regis hotel, over on Saadiyat island.  Of course, I wanted a fancy tea where I could dress casually, because...I am an enigma, don't try to understand it!  The location convenient too, as I wanted to visit a museum on the same island.  It was great!  Witness the fancy!

I took my time, relaxed, and enjoyed the scenery and the tea and snacks.  Oh my, it was wonderful.  On the way out, I spied an interesting

While I waited for a cab to the museum, I snapped a picture of a nice fountain in the St. Regis main entrance.

The Manarat Al Saadiyat (an art museum)

I visited an art museum on Saadiyat Island, the Manarat Al Saadiyat.

Ninja Birds

When I arrived, I was welcomed by ninja birds, so-called (by me) because they made a cacophony without being seen.  This video does two things - 1) gives you a sample of their sounds and 2) shows you why you should not hold an iPhone at arm's length while shielding it from the wind if you want a steady shot.

Emirati Expressions

The main exhibit on display was Emirati Expressions.  It consisted of ten native UAE photographers that were given the opportunity to express themselves through photography, with guidance/mentoring from...some (presumably awesome) Western photographer...whose name I forgot...the article tells me it was Stephen Shore.

It was a fine exhibit.  Some stretched themselves artistically, some didn't.  One seemed bound and determined to be downright silly.  Here is the video that was shown in the exhibit, at the start.  It explains the exhibit and the various artists speak about their motivations and work.  Overall, it was inspirational, not so much for the work as the intent and meaning behind it.  My favorite quote was this:
I do not believe the UAE is losing its identity, but rather creating a new one.
- Salem Al-Qassimi
I don't know if his thinking is typical or highly unusual for the region, but just knowing that at least one native thinks this way gives me hope for a harmonious global future.

I felt weird taking pictures of pictures, especially ones that comprise an art I have no photos of this exhibit.

Future Plans for Saadiyat Island

There was also a static exhibit showcasing the development of the island.  This is where I learned about:
  • A future Guggenheim location in Abu Dhabi
  • A future Louvre Abu Dhabi (in coordination with the French government)
Also, there was a collection of nifty models of the future development.

And lest you think it's safe in model land...witness the carnage!

Where are the bodies?!  They must have been attacked by miniature cannibals.

The modelers did a good job with using epoxy for their water effects (not trivial, by the way).

Parting Shots

As I waited, and waited, and waited for my taxi, I took a couple of pictures of the front.

I trust that the words in the next picture translate into "Manarat Al Saadiyat" and not "Photography Punishable by Death".

In Search of "Tex Mex"

For some reason, I have decided that it is important for me to evaluate the Tex Mex offerings in any foreign city I visit.  Insanity? Maybe, but it's something to do and who better than a Texan to embark on such a quest?

So I opened up Time Out Abu Dhabi and picked the place with the strongest reviews. The phrase "one of the best Tex Mex outlets in the city" sounded pretty strong.  I hopped in a taxi and headed over to the Armed Forces Officers' Club (AFOC), where it is housed.

Note: If, like me, you jumped to the silly conclusion that it was US armed forces officers, then, like me, you would be wrong.  This club was for the officers of the UAE armed forces.

The AFOC is huge, extravagant, and beautiful; the exact opposite of what I expected.  One local explained to me, "The government put too much money into this."  Maybe, but it would be neat if all buildings were as aesthetically pleasing.  Check out this picture I photographed.

Yeah, I thought it was a concept photo too; if it is, it is pretty realistic.  Check out the Google satellite image.

Amazing, huh? And the place was barren.  I saw a dozen patrons, at most.  I saw more staff than patrons!  It was like a ghost town in there.  The foyer was huge:

But on to the dinner at Taverna, the "Tex Mex" restaurant inside the AFOC.  Here is a picture from my table capturing every last scrap of Tex Mex aesthetic.

This was comically tragic, and consistent with the theme I have found in the region of, "hmm, it's like they made this based on a *picture* of the food, but I don't think they actually had the recipe for it."  However, this was a novel experience for me.  It *is* the first time I have had beef fajitas with what I can only describe as a barbecue sauce...

Apparently, if your menu contains 1) nachos, 2) quesadilla's, and 3) fajitas, you may be able to qualify as "one of the best Tex Mex outlets in the city" in the *print* version of Time Out Abu Dhabi, even if your restaurant's name is "Taverna" and printed on the Italian tricolore.  Granted, the Mexican flag has the same color scheme with a big ol' emblem in the middle, but this restaurant's special was fried calamari and salmon with an aioli sauce.  OK, there was a "Texas Chili" on the menu, but the menu also housed about 40 other non Tex Mex things, and not one taco, burrito, enchilada, relleno, chalupa, sopapilla, tamale, taquito, etc. be found.

As I wandered out from dinner, I heard and felt the rhythmic thumping of dance music upstairs.  I thought to myself, "all right, I know where I am spending the rest of the evening!"  I jogged up the stairs, eager for the experience I imagined.  I craned my head to figure out the angle from whence the music was coming and took off towards an open door.  A short, nondescript woman was sitting there.  She looked at me as if I had been on an Interpol briefing she just read.   Her eyes grew wide, she hopped to her feet, and she rushed to intercept me.

"You cannot go."

I pointed at the door.

"Is that a dance club?  I can't go in?"

"No, for women only."

After the shock wore off, I turned about, crestfallen, and headed back to the entrance to get a taxi.  During the half an hour or so it took a taxi to find the place, I learned that what I was trying to crash  was an all female "coming of age" party.  The little monkey lurking in the back of my brain pondered if it might have been worth getting in trouble to crash it...


I returned back to the area of the city where I was staying and wandered about a bit, revisiting some of the places I saw last night.  I checked out a new place, called 49'ers, because, as a Texan, I am obligated to investigate foreign establishments that claim to be "Western" or in any way associated with cowboys.

The Magical, Disappearing Abaya!

So, I hopped into the elevator with a man and a woman (not together).  The woman, dressed in an abaya, turns to me and asks, "Do you mind?"  I have no idea what she means, but like any confused man confronted by an attractive woman (well, what little I could see was attractive), I went with the default assumption that I should go along.  I answered, "No?"

She glanced at the other, equally-confused, guy who shrugged and shook his head "No."

She then proceeded to reach down to grab her abaya and pull it up over her head, revealing a short cocktail dress.

Many times I had heard the story of a woman wearing an abaya somewhere and then whipping it off to reveal sexy clothes beneath.  Finally, just a few days before heading back to the USA, potentially for good, I had a chance to witness it.   Cool.

A Good Old Fashioned Pick Up Joint

Once I got inside, I found that it was basically a place to pick up women.  The only wrinkle in that was that I was pretty sure that many of the women might be prostitutes, so tread carefully.  How do you even screen that?  Casually mention how much you dislike paying for sex?

Well, that's all I can remember of that night...

[Day 91] Saturday, January 28, Back to Doha

I am certain that I had plans for Saturday, but once Saturday arrived, I just wanted to sleep as late as possible, then get on the plane home.  So I did just that and caught an earlier flight back "home" to Doha.  Before I headed to the airport, I stopped by the mall for some "fast food". I love that in the Middle East, this yummy, healthy meal is "fast food".

Mmmm, lamb shank.

As we moved to take off, I managed to grab a quick picture of their pretty traffic control tower (well, that is what I assume it was).

And thus ends the Abu Dhabi trip!

Doha Diaries: Day 89, The Abu Dhabi Trip, Day 1, Rock and Roll Abaya, Vampires, and Mothra's Cousin


I had a friend stationed at the U.S. Air Force Base in the United Arab Emirates.  It's so super sekrit, that it has a Wikipedia page. Which is to say, it is not.

Anyway, he and I had grand plans (well, my plans were grand; like The Hangover movie grand) to get together in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai for a weekend and hang out (and wake up with a hangover, a tiger in the bathroom, etc.).

Week after week would go by and some new wrinkle would postpone the plan.  He had TDY, I have to go back to the USA for an eyes-bleeding 10-day visit to consultants and partners, he can't leave base for X time, and so on.  But then, it all came together. We would both be free and able to go to Abu Dhabi on MY VERY LAST WEEKEND IN THE MIDDLE EAST! Yay!

I booked a room at the Beach Rotana, researched activities, booked a ticket on Qatar Airways, bars, etc.  Then, with very little notice, he was told he would not be able to leave base that weekend.


Well, I turned that smile upside down and decided to make the most of my (now completely paid for so I might as well enjoy it) Abu Dhabi getaway!

[Day 89] Thursday, January 26, Abayas, Pubs, Vampires

If you recall, with the Muslim work week, which runs from Sunday through Thursday, this is our "Friday".  Well, the work day was done and I hustled to the airport.  Apparently, I was on the abaya express flight, because about half of the passengers were women in abayas.

This picture is actually really cool; be sure to click on it and see it zoomed. I was almost tempted to post the raw file so you could zoom in a bunch, but I will just narrate with a few highlights.
  • Notice that most of the abaya are unique, whether it's black patterned stitching, white stitching, or bedazzling, they had some distinctive flair
  • Also, the women all have varying levels of bling; the women at the top right has like 20 bracelets, the woman below her has a GIGANTIC ring, to her left, a snazzy fashion watch
  • Almost anyone in an abaya has a snazzy purse
But here comes the pièce de résistance of distinctive, the rock and roll abaya:

That's right, those are shoulder spikes!  They are made from cloth, but still, just the same, rock on!

It was a short flight, a long taxi ride, and there I was at the Beach Rotana.  A decent hotel, clearly designed for vacationing, with a small private beach, beach- and pool-side bar, full gym, tennis courts, and more.

Once night fell, I headed out to see the city.  The first thing that hit me was that Abu Dhabi felt more familiar than Doha, in the sense that it reminded me more of cities I experienced in the USA and UK.  It was more crowded, with more of that city smell and dirt.  And taxis were abundant.

The street outside the main entrance of the hotel.

The intersection down the street, near the Le Meridien hotel.

My first stop was Le Meridien.

But first, I visited the little sculpture (?) / fountain in the middle of the intersection.

While there, I met a distant cousin of Mothra.

I finally went into Le Meridien.  My target destination was the Captain's Arms Pub(a British Pub), and it was also the site of an Australia Day celebration.  Well, an *imminent* celebration which, technically, had started, but consisted of a bunch of people at the pub looking over at the empty stage and seats in the sectioned off Australia Day area, wondering when something interesting would occur.

The pub was quite lively and everyone seemed pretty nice. I found a table and ordered the pub's fish and chips with a Stella Artois.  The food arrived after quite a while...with no malt vinegar.  Harrumph!

Malt vinegar was obtained, but then things got weird.  You see, there had been a bug flying about the area.  Well, as I ate, that turned into, oh, a dozen bugs flying about.  My guess is that they were fruit flies and my vinegar was cider-based, you know, the stuff you use to make fruit fly traps? [Trust me, these work very well, I have done this in the past to great effect.]

Anyway, I fled the gathering swarm, slid past the still dormant Australia Day celebration, and advanced to the next site on my list o' expatriate hang outs, P. J. O'Reilly's Pub (go on, guess what kind of pub it is) at the Royal Meridien (I guess the local hoteliers love that word).  It was decent, and they had small dance floor with a DJ.  Things were slow, so I headed on to the next place on the list...

Al Ain Palace, aka Ally Pally.  This place was described as an absolute dive.  TimeOut Abu Dhabi had this great description along the lines of "don't bring your women here, because it is such a dive" (I am paraphrasing).  It was nestled in the most modest hotel I had seen that night and, humorously, it was the first one that confronted me with a controlled entrance and a cover charge.  I glanced in the door and saw a very disappointingly brightly-lit, unremarkable bar.  I turned about and headed back towards Royal Meridien.

When I arrived at Royal Meridien, I was inspired by a strange desire to just walk around the city, so I hopped out of the cab and started walking back towards the Beach Rotana, a trip that would take about 30 minutes or so without any sightseeing.

Vampires in Abu Dhabi?

Apparently there are vampire coffee drinkers in Abu Dhabi. How else can you explain the Transilvania Cafe?

After a minor obstacle course of construction barricades, I wandered down some back streets and found this tiny little grocery store.

Strange as it may sound, the thing I found most remarkable was that it had tennis balls by the can.  Here is a tiny store where you can barely take a deep breath without knocking anything down filled to the brim with snacks and the usual essentials (bread, milk, etc.)...and tennis balls.  I guess folks gots to gets themselves some tennis!

Another back road and another haven for vampires...that eat shawarma, here at Transilvania Shawarma (I apologize for the picture, my iPhone 4S seems to have trouble with brightly backlit signs).


A Whole Lotta Sheikh Zayed

One thing you get used to in Abu Dhabi is seeing a LOT of things named after Sheikh Zayed, the person most credited for the formation of the United Arab Emirates.  I would not be surprised at all to find an intersection of Zayed Road and Zayed Street.  I kid you not.  And it's not just the name, check out the film store I wandered by in my meanderings.

A whole lotta Sheikh'ing going on.

"Wild West Parking"

Around the corner and through some buildings...and my first encounter with what I call "wild west parking".

Yes, those cars are parked right in the middle of the driveway.  No, there are no marked spaces there.  No, they are not supposed to be parked there.  Around the corner, it gets worse

Yes, they are doubled up a few cars down.  I watched some poor people struggling to get in and out of the actual, LEGAL parking spaces.  Wacky.

To The Mall For...More Vampires!?

I decided to stop by the Abu Dhabi mall and see what the movie theater had to offer.  Hey, another Underworld midnight!  I stopped in the food court while I waited for the movie to start, to discover that the capacity for McDonald's to put "Mc" in front of things was just as strong here with the McArabia.

*This* Is The Exemplar Adu Dhabi Family?

After the movie, on the way back to the hotel, I spotted this ad for the mall.  Apparently, the typical family they are targeting consists of a vaguely Arabic-looking husband, a possibly European wife, and what seem almost like Scandinavian children.  Do they have enough money for custom genetic engineering of their offspring?

And then it was back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep...