How Bad is Bad? You Decide – Days 15 & 16

The important part of Thursday was that we met with the CEO for coffee at 5pm. During this session, we discussed the last piece of the project that had not yet been addressed. At the end of the meeting, we talked about what we had been doing to enjoy Dubai. He had two suggestions:

1) Go to Oman

2) Go to Abu Dhabi

As the team broke from this meeting, we were determined to make both happen. On short notice, we booked a car and cleared our plans for Friday to make it happen. However, it didn’t go anywhere near the way we had hoped.

Sometimes it’s tough to sugarcoat a bad day and those stories also contribute to a great travel experience. Well, today, we got a boatload of great experiences from a bunch of messy one’s.

To start off with a brief background: Kate found some girls blog about a trip to Oman (https://blog.virgin-atlantic.com/t5/Our-Places/Mini-Road-Trip-Dubai-to-the-Musandam-Peninsula/ba-p/1408#.U3ZaW_ldWxk), which looked amazing. Our goal was to replicate the same trip.

1) In attempting to get to the first stop, it took Travis taking the car off road before we realized nobody knew where we were going. Matt then stepped in with the iPhone – this seemed good at the time but in the end the results were mixed courtesy of Googlemaps shortcomings. More to come on this. Regardless, this wasted a lot of time.

2) It’s Friday here and so everything is closed. When we got to the second stop, nowhere was open to eat but a mall food court.

3) I start driving with Matt giving directions from his iPhone. We drive 20 miles, which took 45 minutes because it was a windy road. We finally get close to the Oman border and the road becomes a dirt/rock path – Google was still telling us to keep going. We get to a checkpoint and the officer says its closed. Apparently it was only for Emirati’s and the military – not foreigners. Fail. Now we need to go back all the way to where we started from the mall.

Despite this being listed as a fail, there were some positives. First, we were winding in the mountains (we didn’t know they existed here) and saw a ton of wild goats on the side of the road. I even had to honk at one of them to get it to move out of the middle of the street. Second, the experience at the border gate is the type of story I enjoy. It was a mix of his confusion and our confusion – it makes travelling fun. Regardless, it didn’t help us get to where we wanted to go on this trip though.

Off Road
This is a picture of me at the wheel. Note, there is no road, only rocks. Thank you GoogleMaps for the great directions.

4) We finally get on the right path, and drive another 20 miles up the shore to the Oman/UAE border. We go in to pay a fee to leave the UAE and we don’t have the car registration. No registration, no leaving the UAE. The rental company, who knew we were going to Oman never mentioned it to us when we picked up the car. Either way, we called them from the border, and they still couldn’t do anything for us over the phone.

At this point, we were 0-2 on entering Oman. However, this time, the border was 10 feet away and we could see the border check for Oman. But, we had to turn back.

Another positive side to this story was how nice their customs officials were. They let us use their personal cell phone, not the border office phone, to call the rental company. Give credit where it’s due.

5) We drive back 20 miles to find a Budget Rent a Car store. The guy gets us the right forms and now its 5:15 or so. The sun goes down here at 6:50 and most of the things we were going to do in Oman require sunlight – hiking around, boat ride, seeing the shoreline, etc.

Another shout out, the guy at Budget was awesome. He listened to the situation and responded as quickly as possible, and yes, he got results. Thank you Mike!

6) A 30 minute debate ensued as Travis frantically drove us back towards the border. I kept saying, when we get there, it’s going to be dark, and it’s going to be a waste, let’s go back tomorrow and enjoy it and not rush through it. Finally, the group agreed – but this will cost me Abu Dhabi. Either way, by the time the decision was reached, we had driven 15 miles back towards the border. Backtracking again, and now back to Dubai.

7) In the car, it seemed like a good idea to take the others to the shawarma place we went to a few days before – it cost $1 for a shawarma or fallafel. Well, again, Googlemaps had no idea what was going on. The voice was way off with what it was saying as compared to the screen. We have Matt trying to figure out whats on the screen, Travis is trying to drive and has no idea what to do. A couple times he stopped with a green light or even on a divided highway (with cars behind us) and broke the law with illegal turns. Not good, not good at all.

8) We finally get to the shawarma area and we can’t park.

9) Once we finally get the shawarma, we need gas. Travis pulls into the gas station the wrong way. Both the employees working there and other customers are upset. Not sure why this was a huge deal for them, but it seemed to be.

10) When we get back to the condo, we don’t know where to put the car. Most of the parking is reserved and while our owner has a spot we don’t know where it is. We’re driving around the lot, which has cars parked illegally everywhere, cars acting aggressively to steal spots or get around. Horrible. Finally, we share our problem with the parking attendant and not only does he not help, but he starts getting sarcastic with us and having a good time doing it.

By now, I have had it. Somehow Travis gets the job done after I took an aggressive approach with the guy. The issue was, he thought we were playing games and lying about staying in the condo above.

So I as I think about where today went south, sometimes you just have a bad day and tomorrow will be better. We plan to head back to Oman and hopefully we can make it 1 for 3 (because a .333 batting average is Hall of Fame status) and also get back to the UAE. If you click the link I included above, it truly looks incredible and I can’t wait to see it myself.

 

Old School Chic – Day 14

Another day of work and for the most part, business as usual on that end. The best part of the work day was the decision to go to the pool during lunch. Nothing like taking a quick dip before headed back to the office (aka our condo). With that said, I’ll quickly move into the more interesting part of the day which was post work. Travis, Gina and I hopped on the Metro and headed back to the Fish Souq/Gold Souq area once again in search of a great stories and possibly custom clothing.

The second we got off the Metro, we blasted with the smell of fish – the station was right across the way from the Fish Souq, so this made sense despite the fact that the market had been closed for 8 hours. As we came out of the station, we headed back to the area we had been in a few days before. Since we had previously found a textile vendor in that neighborhood, we knew we wanted to talk to the tailor they had recommended to ensure the price would be as low as we expected. When we got to the area, we searched for a few minutes to find the tailor. Again, there are many streets and alley’s filled with shops so we had to walk around for a few to find the place. We discovered the place in a less frequented alley and proceeded inside. It was about 10′ by 8′ and filled with tables, sewing machines and finished products. It was obvious they do a lot of business despite the location as they seemed to be busy altering and creating shirts when we went in. They confirmed for us that if we brought them material, tailoring/creating a shirt would be 30 AED ($7.50). With that, we ran back over to the textile shop.

The place was lined with fabrics, both for suits and shirts. I wanted to test the waters with a couple casual shirts instead of going with more expensive material off the bat, just to make sure they would turn out right. Once Travis and I initially selected the materials we wanted, the gentleman working in the store kept telling us they didn’t have enough fabric to make a shirt out of it. I’m looking at the roll and thinking, how much fabric do they need? I’m not a huge guy and it looked like the roll had the 2.5 meters necessary to make the shirt. He kept pointing us to more expensive fabrics and so I quickly realized he thought he could outsmart us. I had a strategy and couldn’t be changed. I was going with the casual patterns I wanted – no questions.

Finally, Travis asked another guy in the store who appeared to be the owner: “How much fabric do we need? Why is this not enough?” With this, finally they conceded and let us get the patterns we wanted. We took them right over to the tailor and got sized up. As we were doing this, a British couple walked in and took a look at a finished product they had made. It was crazy. Pink silk inside of a black blazer, red thread on the buttons. It was chic. Turns out the guy owns a business, capitalizing on the arbitrage of having cheap suits made and selling them in the UK at a huge markup. It costs about $140 to make a suit, and they sell it in the UK for $1,100. Craziness.

Image

The before (the plaid fabrics are mine)

Image

After getting sized up, we ventured around the neighborhood to find other textile stores and food. Like the previous night, we found another shawarma restaurant. The combined total of my dinner, shawarma and fallafel, was 9 AED ($2.25).

As we rode the Metro back, we were crazy excited to see what our end products will look like. In two days, we will find out. 

Image

Note the sign in front of the Fish Souq Metro stop. We saw this on the way back.

*Update, as I write the post for Wednesday night and it’s now Thursday, we have just decided to audible our plans for the weekend and head to Oman tomorrow and Abu Dhabi on Saturday. More details to come.

Souq City – Day 13

After yesterday’s meeting with the executive team, we had clear marching orders on how to proceed today. Most of the day was spent working through our tasks, and trying to discuss strategy. In the afternoon, a few of us went to meet the CFO at a unique cafe in our neighborhood, Dubai Marina/JBR. The place was called Make Business Happen and essentially was a cafe designed for mobile workers. If you were interested in having access to plugs, you reserve a space for 3 hours, 4 hours, or all day. With each of those options, you get a different combination of coffee and food. I doubt I would use it if I were a mobile worker as it was slightly expensive, but for a day, I’d consider it. Anyway, the meeting went well and he walked us through his process to determine the financials for the UAE business.

As the work day came to a close, it was time to head back to the souq’s. This was something we had been hoping to do for the last couple days, and today we were able to make it happen. We jumped in a cab and drove up the textile souq area, but we had not figured out if it was a building we were looking for or if it were an area. The maps and websites were not absolutely clear for us. The cab, which cost only $20 for a 50 minute ride, dropped us off in a neighborhood near the souq, or maybe it was the souq, we didn’t know. We ventured around for a bit, and didn’t see anything that appeared to be the souq building we expected, so we grabbed dinner.

I had expected to eat shwarma here every day of the trip – before I got here and realized everything would be western – but I had yet to have a single one. Since the area the souq’s are located in are for locals, there are no western chains, and the food options match the region better. When we found a shwarma place, we immediately jumped on it. As looked at the menu, we were amazed that a shwarma was 5 dirham, or ~$1.25 and a fallafel was 3 dirham, or 75 cents. I started with a shwarma, which was amazing, and then moved on to a fallafel. Great decisions, and insanely cheap. As we left, we asked the manager where the souq’s were and he pointed us down the street.

We followed his directions, but still weren’t able to find it. But, we were now getting into an area where people on the street were coming up to us asking if we wanted to buy purses or watches. So we asked one of them how to get there. After continuing his sales pitch, he finally gave in and told us and then restarted the sales pitch. When he realized we weren’t going to buy anything, he said “Have a great night my brother” and winked. Why does everyone here call me their brother? I have no idea, but I really enjoy it.

Well, with his directions, we found the textile souq area. It runs along the streets and in little, Venice type streets between the main streets. They have street signs on them, but are not wide enough for cars. Every store front was a textile store. Rugs, native dresses, dress shirts, suits, etc. The number of these stores was truly unbelievable. Matt and I were interested in buying custom dress shirts, so we walked into one of the stores and the two employees looked abnormally confused by us. I was confused by this as I figured they would like to have customers walking in the door. However, since it was 99.9% locals in this area, I thought, well, maybe they are surprised to see foreigners. When their faces changed to seem to indicate, “how can I help you?”, I said, we were just hoping to see what you had. He responded that they were wholesalers not retailers.

Image

The bright lights of the big (old part of the) city – textile souq area

After that, I realized that every store had multiple desks that took up almost the whole store and they had phones on them. They seemed to be like stock brokers receiving calls and placing orders. Needless to say, we didn’t try to buy anything else in that area as a result.

As we continued to walk through the neighborhood and navigate the narrow streets with different shops every 5 feet on both sides of us, every vendor stood up as we passed by and tried to get us to come into their store. It created a tunnel effect of sorts and made us feel like kings and queens.

Next, we planned to head across the river to the spice souq. To do this, they have a water taxi, which cost 1 dirham (or 27 cents). We hopped on and the old wood boat and 5 minutes later we were at the spice souq. Unfortunately, many of the shops were closing as we walked by, but we still got the gist of it. The salespeople here are masters of their craft, but they haven’t broken us yet.

And we’re still in search of a place to make custom shirts.

The Run Around – Day 12

Today was the big day: our first day in the office and our initial presentation to the CEO, CFO, and other executive team members. The pressure was on. The morning was spent back in our home office building, also referred to as our condo building. As was the case yesterday, we worked from Caribou, this time to allow housekeeping to come in and clean our place. While we have tried to keep things relatively tidy, without cleaning products, a mop, or even a sponge, this has been challenging. In that regards, it’s been like the Real World Dubai. 6 students coming together to work on a project and spend virtually every second of a 3 week trip together, without any way to keep things clean. Despite this, we’ve had a great experience living together and nobody has been thrown off our 15 story balcony yet.

The clients offices are located about 6 miles away, right next to the Burj Khalifa. We wanted to make sure we didn’t have any issues getting to the office, so we left a couple hours early to do lunch in the Dubai Mall before our meeting which as you may remember is essentially attached to the Burj Khalifa. As we left the building to head to the Metro and up towards that area of town, the sun almost immediately knocked us down.  I checked tonight and the high today was 99 degrees. The Metro station is across the Marina and down the street. I would guess it’s slightly less than a mile to get there, but when you are walking in the sun here, it’s virtually unbearable, especially given that we were in business professional. Even carrying our suit jackets, by the time we were halfway there, we decided we will never be doing that again. Cabs are crazy cheap here (a 15 minute ride is only $5), so lesson learned. Regardless, when we finally arrived in the Metro station, we took a second (or 10 minutes) to breath in the air conditioning.

After riding up the Metro, we finally made it to the right stop, but we still had a ways to go. To give you a better lay of the land, Dubai Mall is attached to the Metro, so you don’t have to walk outside. However, the Metro is (also) close to a mile from the mall. Why is everything a mile or so away? Anyway, the connector is an airport style tunnel complete with moving walkways that wind back and forth through at least three major construction sites (I believe two are 40+ story developments and the other is the Dubai Opera building). Even with the walkways, its 10 minutes before getting to the mall corridor that attaches the walkway to the mall itself – that’s another 400 yards. We thought the clients office was halfway between the actual mall and the Metro station, right off the walkway. Now that you understand why we decided to leave way early…. we were completely exhausted when we got to the mall food court for lunch.

Following lunch, we left the food court 40 minutes before the meeting to navigate to the clients office. Well, after hiking through the mall and the walkway corridors, we finally arrived where we thought the meeting was. We walked into the lobby to check in and …. they had never heard of the client name we mention. Momentary confusion set in before they finally directed us to another building, or two (?) – there were two twin towers located across the way perched on top of a parking garage. But, how could we get into the garage and then make our way to the top to get in? Seems easy… yet, it wasn’t. There were no readily accessible entrances we could find. Finally after circling around the building, we found a way in and literally walked through the garage to an elevator bank. We rode to the top but couldn’t get the button on the elevator to work for the plaza level lobby. So we used the stairs, but we had to circle the building to find doors to get in (why are there no doors??). Remember, it was blazing hot.

When we finally found the doors, there was momentary relief … until we realized nobody was on that floor and it was completely under construction. At this point, time was getting tight. We circled back around the building, back to the stairs, back to the elevator and all the way down to floor level to explore further. Most of you probably think the logical entrance would have been the first floor and it ended up that way, but we were told by the last building we had to go to the plaza to get in since the lower levels were a parking garage and just by looking at it from the outside this appeared to be true. Despite the challenges, we made it into the building with minutes to spare.

Image

The office was spectacular and as we looked out the window, the tallest building in the world was the next building over. The meeting itself ended up going great. While the CEO added a lot of input and challenged us with tough questions, at the end, he told us he was impressed and it was a great start. Exactly the feedback we hoped for, and a major relief at least for the moment.

Image

Breaking down the CEO and CFO’s feedback right after our presentation.

Image

The base of the Burj Khalifa. Way to close to get the entire building in view.

After work, I met up with an old friend from my Miami days for dinner. We went for Cuban, again, there are so few local places in most of the areas we have been. He also told me only 12% of the people that live here are Emirati, and people are from all over the world (as we had been noticing), which explains the diversity of food options. Anyway, he’s working for J&J and was just relocated here this winter. While it had been years since we talked, it was great to catch up and hear about how things were going for him, life in Dubai, and sharing MBA war stories.

Image

Miami just never leaves you, hopefully OSU will be the same.

Everybody’s Working for the Weekend – Or Just Those in the UAE – Day 11

Today was not our most exciting day in the UAE. As our work week started, we faced the reality (after an incredible weekend) that we needed to get a ton of work done on our presentation. This was made more challenging and more fun at the same time given that our work day began and many of our friends in Europe and the US were posting and messaging us about their raging Saturday nights. 8:30am here is 12:30am back in Ohio, and 5:30 or 6:30am across Europe… wait, some of the European teams were out that late?? Regardless, the plan for tomorrow is to meet with the company’s CEO and CFO to share our ideas. While we had been working diligently last week, the Powerpoint deck had not been flushed out. So, today was spent hammering out the granular details of the slides, revising, discussing, revising again, and discussing even more.

For all those thinking that these trips are all fun and no work, this is definitely not the case, and today was proof. We worked from 8:30am until 7pm, and then worked again later tonight – all of this from the confines of our condo and the Caribou on the first floor of our building. Tomorrow will be the first day we actually go to the office and we are pretty excited about it – cabin fever during the work day set in days ago.

As we had some serious discussions, one thing lightened the mood again and again. We found pictures of Travis going down Poseidon’s Revenge at Atlantis yesterday (for those just tuning in, it is the craziest water slide in the world – you enter the ride standing up, the floor drops from under your feet and it’s virtually a straight vertical drop). There was something unusual about these pictures though. While all of us smiled in our pictures right before the floor opened, the next shot was always our faces in a panic as we dropped. With Travis, this was not the case. See for yourself, absolutely hilarious – or maybe it’s the cabin fever again, you tell me. The picture made all of us wonder if he has a pulse? No fear. Travis has been our wildcard throughout the trip. He may be a man of few words, but when the opportunity strikes, he’s down for the challenge: eating lamb brain, hot dog and french fry pizza, buying native attire to wear around town, or flying a quadricopter down the beach (possibly running surveillance operations – but we aren’t sure), you just never know with him. I’m starting to think he is Chuck Norris’ lost son. Either way, he has helped all of us feel more engaged in the culture.

Image

Pic 1 – before the floor opened, Pic 2 – already has fallen 2 ft., Pic 3 – captured from a different time down the slide, almost out of view, dropped about 4 ft. – – Still no change in facial expression the whole time.

 

Image

Munching on brain

 

Image

Sand boarding in his new gear.

 

Image

Enjoying hot dog and french fries pizza.

 

Image

Travis with his quadricopter on the beach. Trying to do some recon work. It was pretty cool.

Anyway, we hope to have more exciting stories to share about our venture into the UAE business world tomorrow and the after work excursions we plan to have.

Atlantis Does Exist, and so Does the Craziest Water Ride I Have Ever Seen – Day 10

After yesterday’s cultural experiences, today we went back to the usual here in Dubai, Western focused tourist destinations. On tap for the day was Atlantis on Palm Jumeirah (the palm island), one of Dubai’s most impressive megastructures. Our team had heard great things about the water park they have, Aquaventure, and we didn’t want to miss out. For a visual, the hotel and park are at the center of island and are the furthest point on the island (about 3 miles out to sea). As you drive onto the island, it is so large and developed, that if you didn’t know you were on the palm before you got in the car, you would never know you were on a man-made island. Given the sheer size of it (as with many things in Dubai), and to think that it was built only with natural resources, sand and rock – no concrete – is downright impressive and unbelievable.

As we walked into the park, it seemed like the group was a thrill seeking group. While I like roller coasters, I’m not a fan of straight drop rides (a la Tower of Terror and Top Thrill Dragster). It just isn’t my thing. There were two towers which had multiple water slides on them and we started at the one closest to the entrance. The first slide we went on was a speed slide, called Leap of Faith, which dropped 9 stories. I thought this was my peak level of adventure for the day and that the other slides would be nothing compared to this. I had no idea what was coming next…

We spent the morning on the first tower, which had good/fun slides but nothing compared to the speed slide in terms of thrills. After lunch, we moved over to the other tower, and that’s when it got real. We got in line for one of the group inner tube slides and noticed two slides coming through the waiting area at what seemed like an 80 degree angle. After noticing the nearly vertical drop, we looked outside the structure and it went back up two stories or so. It looked so extreme that we couldn’t comprehend how this ride was possible. We figured the only way it could start was by hanging off a metal pole over the slide and just letting go and falling straight down the slide.

Image

This was not a photographer trick. This was part of the slide and that’s how vertical it was.

But we really had no idea. After we made our way through the line we were in, we decided we had to try it – the ride was called Poseidon’s Revenge. Where did we have to go to get on it? Could it possibly be as extreme as it looked? When we got to the top, all questions were answered: it was one of the most extreme rides I’ve ever seen. You get into this small tube, the door slowly closes, encapsulating you in the tube, and then the floor drops from under your feet, and you essentially free fall on the slide.

This video is the only way to truly show what it was like.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mf9ibLVIaNg (this is not our group, just a random Youtube video I found, but it is only 1:36 and definitely worth it)

Now that you’ve seen that, and as I was standing near the top, I was immediately regretting this decision. I hate to sound like a wimp, but after hearing the screams from the stairwell, watching a bunch of people go back down the stairs with fear on their face, and then finally seeing what it looked like (and for you, seeing the video), could you blame me? My heart was pounding and I’m sure my face told everyone my level of terror. I conveniently let the entire group go before me, which worked out well, because I could have just walked down the stairs… but, not today.

I decided to get into the space ship type container. As I stepped in, I thought, what if the floor gives way as I’m inching in. Luckily it held, but really what did it matter, it was going to give in a second anyway. The shell closed around me. I’m looking out the tube seeing people waiting in line with fear as they look at me. I’m looking back at them wondering what I’m doing. Then an audible countdown, no turning back now: 3, 2, 1 – the floor opens and I’m dropping quick. The entire slide lasted 7 seconds, dropping about 110 feet (remember, after the free fall, you wind around and go up a couple stories, before going back down). I didn’t realize I went up and I also didn’t realize the ride was over when I got to the bottom. The adrenaline was pumping. Did I just become an even bigger thrill seeker? That question will not be determined today. But what I can say is this, I ended up doing that slide three times, and I was scared out of my mind every one of those times (just ask my teammates that saw my face the second and third times). On the second try the countdown went “3,2,1” and the floor never gave way. Immediate terror!! What is happening??? Then “3,2,1” again, and the floor dropped. It added thrill to a person that had already maxed their thrill for the day. Regardless, I loved every second of it.

Image

On my second time down – A split second after the floor gave way, my team found a way to capture me right before I went out of view.

After the thrills subsided, we also had access to the Atlantis Aquarium. It was pretty impressive, or maybe it had been a while since I had been to an aquarium. We were told it had one of the biggest tanks in the Middle East (what, not the biggest in the world?), and it housed 16,000 fish in that one tank. The entire group sat on cushions that were on the floor in front of the tank and we were there for probably 30 minutes just taking it in. Maybe it was the sun, but there was something relaxing about that tank and the fish: big and small, basic colors and multi-colored. We all seemed to enjoy it a lot. As we got back to the condo, everyone was exhausted from an incredible weekend. I don’t know how we can top it here, but we will sure try. The work week starts again tomorrow, let’s see what kind of fun we can have.

Image

Note, all of today’s photo’s were courtesy of Kate and/or her amazing camera.

Going Beyond the Burj – Day 8 & 9

Thursday (the end of the UAE work week) was very busy for us, so I decided to combine Thursday’s and Friday’s posts. Yesterday, we spent the work day trying to compile a good working draft of a Powerpoint deck to show to our client on Monday. While we have Sunday to work on it, we wanted to do as much as possible, as early as possible. When the work day ended, the weekend had arrived and we were desperate to find somewhere to go out. As we’ve been seeing other GAP teams in other countries, we have been having a different kind of fun and as you have seen, it hasn’t involved much going out. Since we hadn’t figured out where people go out here, I asked a friend of mine that lives here half the year and he sent us to the Burj Al Arab area. As a note, the Burj Al Arab is (or at one time, was) the world’s only 7 star hotel. The area was huge and seemed like it had a bunch of options, but we saw one right away that looked fun. They had a live band and they played all the American hits. Another unique part of it was that they had bean bag chairs on the “waterfront”.

Today, we went to planned to go to the souq’s in old town Dubai (probably 15 miles away) at 9am. However, when we went to take the Metro and it’s apparently closed until 1pm. The previous week, I had been told by a cabbie that it was closed after 1pm. Well, the hike to the Metro was a waste, but we just cabbed up to old town instead. This is where the culture part of the trip really started…

Let’s start with the Fish Souq. This place was amazing. It was an old city market, half fruit and vegetable and half fish. The second we got out of the cab, there was a strong smell of fish. As we walked into the market, we quickly noticed, we were the only westerners in the place; we were with the locals. I was admiring the piles and piles of fish as we arrived into the fish section. They were selling sea base, sting ray, sharks, crabs, and every other fish that I don’t recognize just by looking.

One of the stands had very friendly workers as we walked by and they handed me a large fish to hold. However, then they thought I really wanted to buy fish. One of the guys proceeded to follow us up and down the aisles of the entire market. He originally was trying to sell me three sea base in a plastic bag for 120 dirham ($32) and I said I wasn’t interested. I legitimately didn’t want fish. After following me around for a while, he told me “You drive a hard bargain. But, you are my brother, so I will give you a good deal. 50 dirham!” I still didn’t want the fish in the plastic bag. After continuing to pester us, and more specifically me, he finally realized I wasn’t bargaining, but I didn’t want the fish. We both laughed about it.

Image

The other crazy part was that workers were following us with wheelbarrows, ready to pounce to carry our purchases, if we made any. However, when they would hear a yell from somewhere in the market that someone needed them, 10 of the wheelbarrow guys would dart in the direction. They would take you out if you weren’t quick enough. Unfortunately the gold and spice souqs opened later in the day, which wouldn’t work for our schedule, so we plan to go back.

Our next adventure was shopping around the old city, at the stores that were open. Again, you are noticing as we did, the city is not at full speed on Friday’s due to religious requirements. Anyway, we found a store that makes custom dress shirts and suits. You pick the fabric, and tailors will make it for you. The tailors also weren’t open today, but there is no doubt, we are going to do it. We then ran back to the condo as we were being picked up for our desert excursion at 3:30pm.

So the desert excursion… this included dune bashing, sand boarding, a camel ride, dinner and belly dancers. When our driver picked us up, we drove 45 minutes out of the city, into legit desert territory. As of 20 years ago, we probably wouldn’t have had to leave the area, because absolutely nothing was here, but I digress. When we got out there though, there were intense and rolling sand dunes as far as the eye could see. But there were also, seemingly, hundreds of other white 4×4 SUV’s. Our group of about 6 SUV’s met up at a gas station and then drove out to the dunes. The pavement for the street ended and you just drive straight into the sand.

For those unfamiliar with dune bashing, the 4×4’s go in a line and accelerate through tight turns on very soft sand. You are speeding up over the dunes, tilting at what felt like 45 degree angles, and sliding everywhere. It was an incredibly wild ride and only a video will help you to fully understand how bumpy and exciting it was.

After the dune bashing, we proceeded to try to sand board (use a snowboard) to go down a large sand dune/mini mountain. Without a lift, and given how soft the sand was, it was incredibly difficult and exhausting to even get halfway up. Once I made it up there though, I was able to glide down a little bit, but really nobody in our group was able to get too far down without falling.

Image

Next came a brief camel ride, an Arabian dinner and belly dancing.

Image

This is our GAP team in native attire. From the left, Joey, Travis, Kate, Gina, Matt and me. Travis is the only one who owns his gear, which he bought today. I respect his decision, but do not plan to follow suit.

As I mentioned, experiencing even a bit of the culture today was so different than anything we had been doing. Think of Dubai as a vacation destination, trying to be the biggest, best and newest to try and draw in foreigners from all over the world. Because of that, it takes more research to find the culture, but there is no doubt, we did that today… and it was way too much fun.

Do not use Du – Day 7

Today, we started hammering out the details and follow ups from yesterday’s client meeting. After the last couple days of eating weird stuff, for lunch today, I convinced Matt and Travis to walk down to KFC. While I could have had some “more unique” options, I went with a more standard choice – fried chicken and fries.

Image

I let Joey go with the more unique food option today; he bought Nile River fish.

Image

I have also been having issues with my Du SIM card – basically running through data faster than you can drink water out here. Basically, every time I go to CNN or ESPN (my staples), it uses 3 MB of data – which is insane. At that rate, I’d go through my 1 GB of data in 5 days. Because of this, I logged an issue with them a few days ago and they said they’d respond in a few days. I should also note that it took significant prodding on my part to get them to log the issue as they said, what you use is what you use. When they called back today, it was their billing group and they asked for someone who was not me, but they had my phone number and issue number – we were off to a great start. She followed that up by saying the charges were correct. 2 for 2.

Well, I know their system shows I’m using all the data, I want to understand how all that data is being used to visit a simple website – this had been my original request. After going through 20 minutes of one of the worst customer service help sessions I can remember, I finally got her to agree to have her manager speak with me – however he needed to call me back. In the interim, I decided to walk downstairs to the Du store, where it took forever for them to understand that I wasn’t playing mobile games 24 hours a day to run up that type of data usage. Anyway, the jury is still out on getting it fixed, but the verdict is in on Du – I don’t recommend them.

Our next adventure was that Travis, Matt and I went to the beach tonight – originally I thought it was a great way to get out of the condo (we have mostly been working in the unit, so we barely leave here), but Travis wanted to use his quadricopter that he brought with him on the trip. For those that aren’t familiar with it, as I’m assuming most of you were in the same boat as me, it is a four propelled, mini flying machine. It can fly straight up in the air 1,000 feet and go side to side.

Image

When we went to the beach with Travis planning to fly this machine, I had no idea what to expect. Once he set up the machine, it blew a cloud of dust up in the air as it took off like a rocket. He also had attached a camera to it, which provided some great views of the coast and skyline.

Image

Travis’ quadricopter are the red and green lights on the way left side of the picture.

As we hung out on the beach, we chatted for a while about what we plan to do for our “Friday” night. Again, the UAE work week is Sunday to Thursday, so the weekend is almost here! With there being no sports bars, pubs, or nightclubs, options on a weekend night are very limited. We have also decided to do a desert adventure which includes dune bashing and sand boarding/skiing as well as a desert BBQ.

Use Your Brain and the Epic Fail – Day 6

We woke up this morning to the news that our client was back in the country today and wanted to meet us for lunch at Mall of the Emirates – I’ve never been to a mall this many times in one week in my life. He had told us he’d be in the US until the 12th, so this was completely unexpected. As a result, our team spent the morning collecting our thoughts and planning which ideas we wanted to emphasize in the meeting.

After everyone got themselves together and dressed up, we walked across the marina to the metro station which is nearly a mile away. While the temperature dropped considerably, down to the low 90s yesterday and today, it is still pretty hot walking around. Unfortunately for us, they haven’t finished building the light rail system (what aren’t they building here?) that would go from our condo right to the metro station.

Anyway, we arrived at the mall early, so we had a minute to explore the Hollister store in honor of Natalie and our other Abercrombie alumni. Although I’ve never been in one of these stores in the US, I can say, it has to be virtually the same, outside the fact that the cologne wasn’t emanating as much as usual.

Image

Hollister Dubai

We then moved on to the lunch at a Lebanese restaurant in the mall, but our client, the CEO of the company got pulled away for a last minute meeting with the Sheik of Dubai. As a result, we ended up eating without him. Most of our ordering was typical for a Lebanese place, until we got to Travis. He decided to order brain salad. That is lamb brain salad, minus the salad. Just brain in lemon juice. When I asked what the craziest thing he had ever ate was, he said “This”. Joey was horrified by this as it was delivered to the table. His official response as the waiter even considered putting it in front of him was “Not here, uh uh, keep walking. Get that stuff out of here.” His face was also priceless.

Image

Image Travis enjoying the brain

For some odd reason, I decided to have a micro taste of the brain (see pic below) – again, I’m not sure why. I have to say, it was weird, and the thought of it was worse. I need to slow down on the weird food. I’m starting to think I am developing a habit of bizarre orders and trying strange things. And the trip is just getting started…

Image

Thinking about eating the brain

When the client arrived, we had a great meeting, but our plans will now need to be changed quite a bit. More work for tomorrow and hopefully, more stories will accompany it. We also found out that Dubai’s insane growth is because the Sheik runs the town like a CEO. All of the main companies are like direct reports. Two examples would be Emaar, the developer (having developed Dubai Marina, Dubai Mall and Burj Dubai) and Jumeirah, the resort developer (having developed the Palm Island and the Burj Al Arab, the world’s only 7 star hotel). Everyone is on the same page and decisions are made quickly, which is one of the reasons the city has been able to grow at such an insane pace.

On the way back from the mall, Matt, Gina, Kate and I took the metro back. As we got to the metro platform, I pointed out that the car next to where we were standing was for women and children only from 5-7pm. There were many bright yellow signs stating this, and it was very clear for that car. Matt and I thought, good, it’s only 4:50pm, and we aren’t in that car anyway, so we should be fine. As the train pulled into the station and the doors opened, a flood of women came out of the car we were standing in front of. It seemed strange enough that I even said something to the others. But, this didn’t stop us from getting in. As the doors closed and I looked around, I noticed the car was busy, but there were only three men in it, Matt and I and an elderly man. I then noticed on the wall, a very small sign that said the car was for women only – but why was this other guy in there? Could we stay? What do we do?

At this point, I start making head motions to Matt he needed to look around and I felt like we needed to move out. He wasn’t understanding. A slight panic began to set in, were we violating the culture? How would we get out of this situation? So I continued with the head motions. Finally, as we approached the next station, an elderly women in native attire walks to the door, turns to me and says “women only”. Exhale. At this point, we knew for sure…. we had broken the culture and train etiquette and quickly moved cars. Epic fail.

When we got off the train, I checked the doors again; how could we have missed it? Well, the sign was tiny and in blue, just like the other signs. Why was the car that had varying times for being only for women marked in all yellow and large font, and the car that was exclusively for women was almost unnoticeable? Oh well. Lesson learned.

Image

Trying to snap a quick picture after the incident, while also trying to avoid further embarrassment.

PBJ Burger in Dubai, why not? I’ll tell you why – Day 5

After yesterday’s mall adventures, today was low key from a work perspective. We spent the day in the condo researching, discussing and compiling information regarding the UAE and US food and retail markets. While we don’t have an end product to show, at this point, we have plenty of time and are making good progress.

Outside of work, today’s cultural experiences focused on food and drinks, mostly in honor of Cinco de Mayo. For lunch, one of my teammates, Matt and I walked through Jumeirah Beach Residences (JBR) to find some food. Since we had researched the market, we have been finding all kinds of food options that we are interested in trying. As we walked down the street, we walked past a Subway, an IHOP, a KFC, and a Starbucks – all the American favorites (wait, some of those aren’t?), as well as a few non-traditional options. One of these, which we had also seen yesterday at the mall, was Burger Fuel out of New Zealand. We decided to go for it. After looking at the menu, Matt went with a chicken sandwich, and I ordered a …. PBJ burger? I guess I thought that I would try something unusual and see what happened.

Big mistake! The burger had a peanut sauce, not peanut butter, strawberries and strawberry sauce, not jelly, and mayo (wait, mayo? why?). It was one of the top 5 messiest burgers I have ever had. I can’t remember the other messiest sandwiches, so I can’t say for sure, but I know for sure that it’s in that group. Sometimes messy is okay, and sometimes messy is not. With this combination of flavors and toppings, it was not okay. The thought of this burger still makes me want to gag. With that said, Matt had a great chicken sandwich. So, all blame falls to the orderer, yours truly. But I went down trying something outside my comfort zone.

As the work day began to wrap up, the team wanted to go out and celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a beverage or two. For those that aren’t aware, the UAE operates under strict laws and serving alcohol is prohibited outside of hotels. None of us had taken a sip of alcohol before today as a result of these limitations. However, tonight we were determined to find a bar. As we searched for a bar, we walked past a Mexican restaurant and so we looked at their menu. They had a variety of cocktails listed with no mention that they were virgin drinks, so we asked and they laughed at us and said, they don’t serve alcohol. So we continued walking, which ended up ~3/4 of a mile down the way, to a hotel. We discovered they did in fact serve alcohol!

On the way back, we decided to stop back at the Mexican place, El Chico, which ironically was an American chain that none of us had ever been to. Go figure, you fly 7,000 miles to go to a Mexican place you have never been to, yet is in your back yard.

Another interesting thing about Dubai, at least where we’ve been, is that virtually no one is from here. Seemingly every worker at the Mexican restaurant was from south east Asia. Likewise, most of the service workers around the city are from south east Asia or India. There are just so many opportunities here in Dubai as they hope to welcome 20 million tourists a year by 2020 – a big goal for the 2020 World Expo to be held here. Meanwhile, the construction continues day and night, literally, you can hear the hammering coming from all directions as you go to bed. It’s not just one 40 story tower they are building outside our window, but at least 3, in addition to the countless one’s that have already been built. How many other people need housing here anyway?

Girders - we found a bar

 

El Chico - Happy Cinco de Mayo