After checking taking a few pictures we hopped back onto the school bus and went to a modern souk that is actually part of a hotel. Things were a little overpriced at Souk Madinat Jumeriah, but it was fun to see some of the more traditional trinkets that the UAE has to offer (while still in an air-conditioned environment). I am especially taken by the rugs and can not wait to go on a trip to the best rug souk in a few weeks.
Our next stop was to get a close up view of Burj Al Arab-the "World's Only 7-Star Hotel." You cannot go in the building unless you are a guess or book a tour. (It's the white building the the photos above.)
Next we went to an older souk in the heart of Dubai. One section was the Gold Souk with dozens of shops selling lots of gold (and a little silver), and another section was the Spice Souk. Clearly, I had more fun in the Spice Souk.
We also hopped on a water taxi to check out a cannal and cool off a bit. It was a quick ride that cost only 1 dihram each way.
Lastly, we went to the Dubai Mall to have some lunch and check out the world's largest mall, which is connected to the world's tallest building, Burj Kalifa. The mall is HUGE. It has different sections that feel like different neighborhoods, and it would be easy to spend an entire day walking around the place and still not cover the entire mall. There's an aquarium, an ice rink, a dinosaur museum, movie theaters, hotels, and so much more all within the mall. We only had two hours, so we ate, went out to see Burj Kalifa, and then navigated our way back to where the bus was picking us up.
Dubai is a great place to visit, and I love that it is only an hour and a half away from our place in Abu Dhabi!
Home. It's an interesting concept for expats. We go "home" each summer to visit family and friends, but we also go "home" after school each day. And what about that "home" that we had for a few years but won't be able to visit for a while?
Oliver started pre-school the other day. At orientation, his teacher asked him where he is from. His response? "I'm from Viet Nam." When Owen is asked, he'll say Colorado. How is it that my two boys have different homes?
I think one of my students had the best answer I have heard to the where-is-home question--he said "wherever my backpack is." I would love for my boys to someday feel that comfortable in whatever place they happen to be, but until then, I need to do everything I can to make our current residence into our home.
Housing is provided with our current school. This is awesome because it saves a ton of stress early on in finding suitable living arrangements close to school, but it does present some challenges too. The apartment we are in had nothing but three beds and some loaned basics when we first arrived. Minimally furnished, you could say. The school loaned us some dished and pots and pans to use until our shipment arrived, but we went without things like a couch, a dining room table, enough chairs to seat five people (my mom was here), and blankets for the beds. While it was nice to land and walk straight into the apartment that is now our home, it was quite sad to see the place so bare.
So off to IKEA we went. And a few trips later, our apartment is finally starting to feel like a home. All of the new furniture is great, and it was lovely to get our shipment (the day before students started at school), but I think hanging pictures has made the biggest difference. It takes a lot of work to make an empty apartment feel cozy, but, following the advice of a fellow expat and dear friend, it is well worth the effort. This is our home, after all.
As far as life outside of our apartment goes, we are adjusting to Abu Dhabi quite well. There is so much to do, and we feel like we've barely started exploring our new city. We've been ice-skating and gone to a water park. We've been to beach clubs and markets and taken a boat ride. We've seen the Grand Mosque and gone dune bashing and camel riding. We even went up to Dubai after school one day so that my mom could see the world's tallest building before heading back to the States. But there is so much more here. I just found out yesterday that there are two different art galleries within walking distance of our apartment. (Well, maybe walking distance in November once it cools down.) And we haven't even starting checking out the local cafes!
Culturally, I feel quite comfortable here already--much more so than I did at this point in our Viet Nam adventure. We've learned some key things about living here. Namely, Friday mornings are the absolute best time to go to the grocery store and run errands because most of the city goes to Mosque. As far as culture shock goes, I think I am more shocked by my lack of culture shock than anything else. Yes, I know it will probably hit me when I least expect it, and I am well aware that this is not my home country, but for whatever reason, I currently feel more at home here than I ever did in HCMC.
The transition to Abu Dhabi has been a slow but smooth and steady one. We have been here for about six weeks, and we are just now starting to feel settled. We have a five day weekend coming up (Eid Al Adha is a religious holiday observed in the UAE), and we are staying here. Surprising, I know. But we need the time to finish setting up our house and explore our neighborhood a little better. We do have a weekend trip planned in November with other staff members to Al Ain. The temperature outside ought to be quite pleasant by then...