Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dubai Part 1

October 26, 2008, Dubai UAE: In the fall of 2008, I was asked to join a partner roadshow that had events in Dubai, Hong Kong and Tokyo. As the flight from Tokyo to Shanghai is only a few hours, I was given permission to also spend a week in China to finish training one of our new colleagues, Sandy, with whom I'd been working long distance that year. Thank you, John for letting me take this trip.

A lot of people have a great deal of curiosity about Dubai. I had sent many of my friends my best photos from this trip by email, within this blog, I'd like to look at what I saw more closely over several different postings. Also, as Mireya and I just bought a house in San Jose and are in the process of moving, my festival going days are on hold for a short while.

I didn't know much about Dubai before I left, other than what my friend, Reem, told me over dinner one evening. Reem worked for Cisco in Dubai for about 2 years and speaks fluent Arabic. I knew that I liked staying at Hyatt's so I chose the Hyatt Regency near the airport. You'll notice that there's a long stretch of nothing behind the hotel in this photo. Actually, there is nothing like having nothing as your hotel room neighbor. It was quiet.

Upon arrival, I discovered that the hotel was 32 Km (20 miles) away from the office, which is in the Dubai Internet City, but the roads are good and the drive was interesting. Most of the other Cisco people who attended the same meetings stayed at hotels that were much closer to the office, but that were also next to construction sites. And, for them, the hammers pounded continuously 24 hours a day.

One trick to Dubai: there are not enough taxis and it was impossible to get a taxi between 7 and 9 in the morning or between 5 and 7 in the evening. Maybe that's better now due to the downturn and the fact that they turn on their light rail last year.

Where is Dubai? My favorite reference is the opening logo sequence for movies from Universal Studios. I added a green circle to these screen captures to show you where the United Arab Emirates are. I think about the UAE every time I see this sequence at home on a DVD or in the theatre. We flew over Iraq to get there, flying just south of the Iranian airspace.

As with many hotels I've seen in Asia, the room was luxurious and nicely decorated although the room rate was quite reasonable.

Apples as art or, in the case of Dubai, an exotic fruit that's a funny notion for me coming from the Pacific Southwest (of Canada.) That reminds me about something someone once told me about a valley in Oman that gets a lot of rain, Wadi Bani Khalid. It is a favorite vacation spot for wealthy families from all over the Arabian world. I once worked as a contractor for IBM who were installing a new phone system for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and people who had come back from Riyadh told us about this Wadi. Exotic rainy weather is a strange to me as exotic apples.

On the right: tea services are always a big deal in Asian hotels. With bottled water to boil. I'm sure the tap water was properly filtered, but you don't want to take any chances so far from home on a short visit.

Don't you love a cylindrical shower? They're totally tubular. If you look at the first interior photo with the round area behind the desk chair, that's the back side of the shower.

Yes, there was a touch of Europe in the facilities. Bidet anyone? There was also a full-length bathtub at the other end.

The breakfast bar sure beats the the one at the Best Western in Kendallville, Indiana (been there... twice!)

The view out the window shows an old neighborhood. According to Reem, that is what Abu Dhabi looks like. So, Sex in the City 2, has some explaining to do. Actually, they couldn't shoot in the Emirates due to the word, Sex, being in the title of the movie, so they shot it in Morocco.

Across the water, there was that magnificent nothing. The millimeter beyond the limit of human development has nothing. 

The buttons in the elevator betrayed one of the Arabian world's best kept secrets. In English, we call our numbers, Arabic numerals. But, Arabians don't use Arabic numerals, they use different numerals. Note that our 5 looks like a small o or 0 in Arabic. So, 15 in our Arabic numerals looks like 10, which explains the basis of an argument I had with the taxi driver from the airport.
"15 Dirhams, sir."
"But, your meter says, 10!"

Even the hotel room directions off of the elevator lobbies had translated numerals.

Looking the other way, while waiting for the elevator, you can see the city of Sharjah, which is where many of my Cisco peers live as Dubai was too expensive for them. Short distance, but a 30 minute drive due to heavy traffic. 

On the window ledge, a pointer to Mecca or, Makkah as it was transliterated into English here.

Next, riding in the taxi from the hotel to the office.

Copyright © 2010 David G. Kelly

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Shanghai Expo

Milpitas, CA, June 10, 2010: Early last month, our friend Huiyan, who lives in Shanghai, sent us two adorable figurines: mascots from the Shanghai Expo. At about the same time, while sorting through boxes in our garage, I found a set of toy street food items that I had purchased years ago in Hong Kong and forgotten about. Naturally, I put the two together at my desk.

On the left: Hula Girl or as it says on the box it came in, "Hawaii Style Haiboa Doll."

On the right: Fireworks Boy ("Tang Suit Haiboa Doll"). I think he needs safety goggles or else he might become the "Law Suit Haiboa Doll."

Haibao is Chinese for "Gumby" (OK, no it isn't.) 

Together, they became part of my desk display. The shelves are too wimpy for books, so what are you going to do, eh? 

I've dined in many restaurants, and tried street vendor food in many cities, but I don't recognize most of these dishes. Do you?

I asked our friend, Joseph, who grew up in Hong Kong and still lives there, what he misses most while traveling: fried rice! Most of the old wet markets in Hong Kong have been replaced with condos and high rises.

By the way, if you click on the top right photo to enlarge it, see that there are white stands with plastic display cases and a propane tank? I was expecting to get those as well. Boy, did I feel ripped off. Oh, well, another reason to go back to Hong Kong.

Back in 2008, Huiyan took me for a walking tour of the Bund, the river front walkway in Shanghai, where we saw real life signs of the expo and street food.

This guy is selling barbecued mystery meat on a stick with hot sauce. "Chicken" and "beef," I presume. My days of eating that, even at a restaurant in Milpitas, where they really do serve chicken and beef, are over.

Rumor has it that this style of back-of-the-bike barbecue was first designed to give the inventor a break from taking his sister to school on the back of his bike.

"But, Mom, I have my fire going on back here."
"Well, then, let her ride on your handlebars!"
"Aw, Mom!"

OK, I made that last one up. But, you'll want to check your brakes before riding around with half a pound of burning embers bringing up your rear.

Huiyan and others told me to stay away from this type of street food. No argument here!

Shanghai literally means, on the sea. Shang=on the; hai=sea. When Greenland melts, Shanghai might well end up in the sea, but, in the words of Joni Mitchell, let's not talk about fare-thee-wells now.

Bund is not a German word, as many people had mistakenly told me in the past, but a variation of band, which is Hindi for esplanade, which is French for embarcadero, which is Spanish for waterfront.

I have several thousand photos from my 2008 trips to the Orient to share. Time to dust off those folders and put them into some essays.

Copyright © 2010 David G. Kelly

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Party Time

San Francisco Bay Area, May 2010
One thing about the Bay Area, the weather is pretty reliable. We've had a wet May this year, but normally, after April 15, you don't get any rain until late September or early October. That fact has given families the confidence to plan birthday parties in the many different city parks around where we live. Our friends, Mitch and Xinghua invited us to celebrate their daughter's first birthday at a park in Campbell. While we were part of a large group, we were one of about 10 different parties going on at the same time.

Last weekend, we were invited to a graduation party held in honor of our friend, Chris. This party was held at his sister, Becky's place in a community that was recently built in one of the farming towns that dot the I-5 south of Sacramento. The house has beautiful landscaping that the extended families helped design and build along with an attractive pool that was full of kids after dinner. One of the girls has such charisma that she became the subject of my favorite photo of the week.

Maybe I should have called this entry, a tale of two parties!

John D. Morgan Park: every large tree held a similar scene. Each party also had its decorated gift table. Families were well prepared with barbecues, folding tables, plates, napkins, cutlery and games for the kids. This is one of the parties that I walked past on my way to seeing our group.

To the right, closer to our party spot, Jeff with his boy. I like how the shadows from the poles work with the position of Jeff, his boy and two kids from the neighboring party to give an enhanced feeling of perspective.

Becky's house. Pretty landscaping and a fun swimming pool. The "Tiki' deck cover was a riot and there were permanent tiki torches placed throughout the garden for nighttime viewing.

To the right: Becky's daughter stole the scene. While she was not actively demanding any more attention than the other kids, from my point of view, her appearance and personality commanded it. As Jeanine Basinger writes in her book, The Star Machine, this girl appears to have that little something extra that you can't teach or train. She certainly did compared to the other kids that day.

As for the photo itself: I like how the sun on her back highlights her arms and how she had raised the ball above the shadow cast by the house. She wasn't posing for me, her smile is natural and genuine. I was lucky with this shot.

Copyright © 2010 David G. Kelly

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bay to Breakers Run 2010

San Francisco, May 16, 2010: Living in the Bay Area, I'd seen photos in the news about the Bay to Breakers race, but had never made an effort to drive up and see what was happening. I figured that it would be impossible to find parking near the start, at the Embarcadero and Howard Streets, so I chose to watch it from the final few miles in Golden Gate park. 

The recommendation from the website, was to take a 6:00 AM train from San Jose to the King Street Station in San Francisco, and then use Muni to get to the race. Well, at 7:00 AM, I was still in bed debating whether I should go. It became one of those, "what the heck, go for it anyway" moments when I left home at 8 something to drive up.

Easy traffic on the freeway and all the way down 19th Avenue towards Golden Gate Park. Being a Canadian, I parked a few blocks from the park and walked over (I've noticed that Americans have a tendency to circle around looking for the closest possible parking spot rather than parking easily a little further away and walking.) At the park, I realized I could have parked the car a block from the Japanese Tea Garden, which is like 2 blocks from where I was going. You see, everyone had made their way to downtown to start the race and nobody in the race had any reason to drive to the park.

I missed the elite and recreational runners, but I saw miles and miles of people in costumes. The San Francisco Chronicle reported some misbehavior along Fell Street which is adjacent to the park's panhandle, but I saw a friendly event with a little drinking and a few bigger than life characters. Here's the best of the 450 photos I took that day.

From the sidewalk in front of the de Young museum. That group with the banner was possibly the final group of actual runners going by.

In the photo on the right, that man in the middle appeared to have forgotten to put any clothes on that day. That flavor of forgetfulness turned out to be somewhat viral, if you know what I mean. 

Look, guys, there was only one Magic Johnson, and he's retired. The rest of us have simple, ordinary Johnsons, and I really don't need to see your Johnson flapping in the wind, if you catch my drift.

All Johnsons aside, it truly was a happy party with many different forms of expression.

Talent comes in so many different varieties that you always see something at these large gatherings that you wouldn't come across otherwise in real life.

This lady was completely comfortable on rollerskates. Only falling down after trying a difficult trick. From the pleasant look on her, it wasn't the first time she had fallen.

Some costumes were from fairy tales and popular culture. I'm not sure what the guy in the middle was supposed to be, a magic mirror? 

On the right at the top, this guy was calling out, "Mama, I want my mama!"

On the bottom right, "Man, I'm bummed, I don't have a costume for the big race."
"Dude, you gonna finish that watermelon?"

I think these were PacMan ghosts on the left, and a fine display of mammaries and daddaries on the top right.

There were a few groups of peacocks like on the bottom right. Maybe it was one big group that had separated en route.

A healthy snack and healthy people.

Below, you haven't lived till you've seen the Tin Man relieve himself in the emerald forest. Follow THAT yellow brick road.

I guess those girls were narwhals. Then we have some hot stuff with Patrick and Sponge Bob ready to clean up.

This young woman in gold was part of the group featured in the next section.

There were many home made floats. By far the group who was the most fun were the Solid Gold dancers. You remember the Solid Gold TV show with Marilyn McCoo, don't you?

Some costumes hearkened back to the Prehistoric Times, which, incidentally wasn't the world's first newspaper. Others were more topical.

There's a big scandal in San Francisco about missing drug evidence from the police crime lab. These guys had white powder all over their faces. The cooler reads, "Evidence: nothing to see here."

They were the funniest costumes that I saw.

Here comes a piece of coral and also from the tropics, limbo, limbo!

On the right, where do they store their cell phones when they're tired of holding them in their hands?

It wasn't exactly freezing, it was 55F (13C). That was warm enough to make me sweat a little in my fleece jacket, but a little cool to be showing off so much skin.

The guy in the top right was suffering unintentionally, the guy in the bottom right looks like he came to suffer.

Transparent paint suits? 

A badminton team with birdies on their backs.

Street curling: who'da thought you'd see that?

What if you went out to see a street sweeping and a curling game broke out? That's my take-off on an old joke, last night I went to see the fights and a hockey game broke out!

On the left: a reminder to check my printer toner when I get home.

On the right: when was the last time you saw a bus stop crowd like that?

There's some talk of discontinuing the race next year, but next year would be the 100th edition. The race was established in the early part of the last century as a way to lift spirits after the earthquake. I'm sure they'll be there next year, and next year, I'm parking at the park.

Afterwards, I went to the Crepevine on Irving at 7th for a late lunch before heading home.

Copyright © 2010 David G. Kelly