Thursday, June 30, 2011

Did I Blog Too Soon?

The day started off with such promise. We were going to the London Eye to get a view of the city from above. It was the only thing Lucy really wanted to do and seemed like a nice, relaxing and recuperative activity for a family still recovering from a red eye flight and jet lag. Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men.

First there were the tube delays. What started out as an adventure on the London Underground soon devolved into the tedium of waiting. I give this to the British, they are a people who know how to wait (as evidenced by their natural affinity for the queue)

The view of the Parliment Buildings and Big Ben roused us briefly, but it was not to last.

Then there was the disappointment of not going on the London Eye (we really should have booked on line). The lines, though well ordered, were a little excessive.

Are we there yet?
Followed by that there was the seemingly interminable walk to The Tate Modern.
There was this big green sofa at the National Theatre but there was no real joy.
It was an obligatory photo op.

Even the happy discovery of my new favourite fast food restaurant did little to lift the spirits of my children. The food was great. How can you not love a fast food restaurant where they don't even give you the option of fries as your side? Miranda and James had fish and Lucy and Liam both went for the Sweet potato falafel. Julie and I shared a great salad and meatball dish. I not sure if my rhapsodizing about the restaurant speaks to the quality of the experience or to the disappointments found throughout the rest of the day.

"This is art?"

And then there was modern art, which failed to do anything but confuse my children. I instantly fell in love with the space, but I could only push my kids so far before eventually abandoning the enterprise. At least I got to see some Picassos and a Lichtenstein.

The Millenium Bridge was just more walking and the sight of St. Pauls Cathedral lost some of its grandeur because it was so hard for some of the kids to lift their heads to take it all on.

Julie headed back to the apartment with Lucy, Miranda and James while Liam and I forged on. Our new mission, and it was nice to have a mission, was to procure tickets for Les Mis for Julie and I. Julie had never seen a production before and that was something that simply had to be rectified. Unfortunately, the sign on the box office door said the show was sold out (another lesson in the merits of advance booking), but I thought I should ask anyway. It turned out that the theatre had reserved a few seats for Wimbledon players in case they wanted to come, and those tickets had just opened up before we arrived.

It was fun to explore London with Liam for a bit in the afternoon. We got turned around and lost a couple of times while looking for the theatre. But getting lost in London for us meant we got to see Trafalgar Square, China Town, and, best of all, M&M World. By the time we came back to the apartment, Liam was riding the Tube like a pro and walking with the swagger of an experienced world traveller. I felt so proud.

"Look at me in Trafalgar Square. I don't get what the big deal is
but Dad says it's a pretty important place."

The people who work here really like their jobs.

After feeding the kids and getting them set up with a movie, Julie and I were off on our date (I must say there is something devastatingly romantic about attending a West End show with the love of your life). The show was fantastic. Great staging and phenomenal performances across the board. Liam really rose to the occasion holding down the fort, and we were really grateful to Mom and Mike for being on standby in case the kids needed anything. So I guess the day wasn't a complete disaster for Liam, Julie and I, which kind of makes me feel a little like a heel.

Today's lesson was that adrenaline will only carry you so far for so long even in London.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

London--36 Hours, No Sleep and, surprisingly, No Tears!

Lucy anticipating. I hope we didn't get her hopes up too high.
Our good friend Quin Seamons drove us out to the airport on Monday night at around 11:00 PM. I'd heard stories about the mass exodus of expats from Abu Dhabi at the commencement of summer and we didn't want to get left behind. Our fears, it would appear, were unfounded. I don't know if I've ever had a smoother airport experience in my life and that was with two airport security checks and an immigration officer. Even though our flight was full, we had no difficulty getting on early and becoming quite comfortable situated.
Bored waiting to board.

James at 12:30 "What's the big deal?"

There are times when Abu Dhabi has a small town feel, especially when you look around the plane and see that you're flying with two families that you know pretty well. We visited a little with one of my coworkers and with a family we knew from church, but it was mostly just nice to have some familiar faces around us.

The flight took off at 2:15 in the morning, and for most of its 7 hours, it was pretty uneventful. I struggled a bit with getting comfortable, but most everyone else seemed to be able to steal a little bit of sleep. Sure, there was a little bit of confusion with the airport taxi we had hired and the traffic was atrocious, but even with those minor bumps, we couldn't have asked for a smoother experiences.

After the grand tour of Mom and Mike's new digs and their accompanying garden, we packed up and headed to the Science Museum. It was a pretty remarkable facility, definitely too much to take in all at once, but what was most remarkable was how our kids just kept going and going and going. What I understood about the body and its limits was redefined this day.
Onslow Gardens. One forgets how one misses the little things, like the color green.

If we could somehow tap into James' energy source,
I truly believe we could halt our dependence on big oil and
save the environment too!

TV and Nintendo in London. We're giving our kids a true international experience.

The science museum.

I call this: "Liam, a study in blue."

Still standing (most of us that is)!
We ended with a great dinner at Nandos (peri peri sauce is my new favorite) with Mom and Mike. The food was good and the quantities able enough to sate my ravenous brood. Only James fell victim to the soporific qualities of roast chicken. He was eventually roused and conceded to walk home with minimal complaint. Before this, I was trying to get the kids to join me in a betting pool to see who would be the first to break down in tears from stress and fatigue (my money was, of course, on me) but no one was willing to take me up on it. Oh, did I mention that everyone but me and Lucy is sick with sore throats? And their still smiling until they have to swallow something. Best family ever!

Everyone say, "Sleep!"

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What difference can ten months make?

Every one's become much more fashionable.
Obviously the prevalence of Prada has rubbed off.

As we come to the end of our first stage of Middle Eastern living, I want to identify and catalogue the ways I've changed. The empirist in me likes clear and tangible data, goals that I've met, mountains I've conquered. This is one of the reasons I find I'm a little jealous of Liam, Lucy and Miranda and their adventures in Karate. At the very least they have their belt progressions to show for their efforts here. They came here as white belts and they'll go home as blue, green and yellow belts respectively.

Well, when I look at the last year, I feel that my life has consisted of many of the same routines I was experiencing in Nova Scotia. Sure there are a few differences in how the organization is run, but those changes have little real impact on my day to day interactions with the students. I get up, I put on a tie, I go to work and I teach English. I feel like I’ve made improvements as a teacher. I’m better at incorporating technology into the classroom which should come as no surprise to people who know me. And I’ve learned from some of the excellent teachers with whom I work. Sure, it's a little warm and there's a little bit of suspense every time you interact with someone not knowing how well they will understand you, but I'm basically living the same life I lived a year ago.
Watching the kids grow, makes me feel like I’ve been standing still the whole time. Even the way Julie and the kids have taken the challenges of a new culture and new lifestyle has made me feel downright slothful in how I’ve embraced the newness of the place. One of the greatest blessings of coming here was to learn how resilient and adaptable my family is. Whether it's the new language or culture, the new foods and smells, the adjustments to downtown apartment living, or the difficulties of being so far from friends and family, Julie and the kids have risen to each challenge in a manner that has humbled me. I feel like I'll be going back to Canada with a new family, but perhaps they're the same and this place has just given me an opportunity to see them more clearly. So maybe I have changed after all.

Anyone who visits needs to see Red Sea Antiques, that is if they can fit into the shop.

Lucy's green belt test.

Yes, my son now intimidates me.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

We've got wheels!

Well, we’ve gone as long as we could, but it was time to get a vehicle. That vehicle ended up being a Mercury Mountaineer, a beast of an SUV, and no friend to fossil fuels. I believe the word I used when talking about people who drove SUVs was 'unconscionable.' Now, the buses and cabs made getting around the city very doable, but not always pleasant. There were some drawbacks to being a car-less family of six in Abu Dhabi.

  • I will not miss those looks of pity as we walked away from church in search of a cab, nor will I miss the apologies people have made for not being able to squeeze the six of us into their vehicles.
  • I will not miss the sense of guilt I felt sitting in the front seat with ample leg room while my wife and four children squished into the back of a Nissan Altima.
  • I will not miss mentally having to calculate the weight of the groceries in my cart because I had to get everything from the cab to the apartment in one trip.
We're really looking forward to how having a vehicle will open up the rest of the country when we come back in the fall. There are so many places that we want to visit and experience. We're running out of blog fodder.

Some Karate Pics of Liam and Miranda

Some friends invited Liam and I out for a day on the ocean. It was a lot of fun, but we paid for it with sunburns (I could've sworn the sunblock said Waterproof).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Distractions and Diversions in Abu Dhabi

It feels like months since I've posted any of our doings on here. On the one hand, life has felt like a pretty steady routine of work/schoolwork, church, and the occasional sitcom/reality TV show. Julie and I have gotten a little hooked on 30 Rock and, as a family, we're pretty invested in the outcome of "The Voice."

Summer movie time is in full swing in Abu Dhabi, and since in this heat the only place to find refuge other than your apartment is the mall, we've done our share of movie watching. The theatres here are pretty good and you get used to the Arabic subtitles pretty quickly. However, there definitely seems to be a different etiquette when it comes to movie watching in this part of the world. Based on the conversations that surround us and the almost compulsive amount of texting lighting up the theatre, one gets the impression that most people don't actually care about seeing the movie. It doesn't matter what's even playing. The lines at the ticket booths are slowed down by people who are still deciding what movie they want to see (I suspect more movies are chosen based on which seats are available than on reviews). Movies here are a different kind of escape. Growing up, movies were always a way for me to escape into a different world; here, the air conditioned theatres are escape enough, and the movies playing on the big screen are just an added bonus. Needless to say, big loud movies like Thor play really well here because they do a good job of covering up all the chatter, but the quieter films lose a little something. Julie and I really enjoyed Super 8 earlier this week, and nothing was lost in that fantastic train wreck, but it felt like I was the only one invested in all of the father/son scenes--perhaps that says more about me than Abu Dhabi.

One Line Summer Movie Reviews:
Thor: Thunderous! As expected. Great performances by all the leads. Swagger is not an easy thing to pull off, but kind of necessary for someone playing a Norse god.

X-Men: A lot better than the last couple of entries in the franchise, but that's not saying much. Again, the lead performance was great, I just found large chunks of it kind of tedious. I never thought I'd say this, but Hero training sequences are starting to wear thin.

Kung Fu Panda 2: Entertaining. Not as funny as the first, but, surprisingly, more touching, and we were able to find a theatre not showing it in 3-D. Hallelujah!

Super 8: Managed to recapture the vibe of stuff like The Goonies,  The Explorers or Gremlins without feeling derivative. Easily the most enjoyable thing I've seen so far this summer.

It's not the Ferrari or the Lamborghini in our parking lot that's surprising; it's the Civic that's parked between them.

The Franksyness Wall of Art

Put together the following post over a month ago but forgot to hit the publish button.

It's starting to get hot here which means if the fam doesn't get out early in the morning, they don't get out, unless it's to the air conditioned refuge of one of the many malls here. So, our kids have been making extra use of their time indoors to explore their artistic sides. It's been great fun to see their talents develop in this area and we thought we should share.

Just try to imagine these meticulously arranged upon a refrigerator door. I've been to the Louvre, and I've got to tell you, nothing beats the kitchen as an art gallery.

Miranda's works of art:

Liam's contribution to the show:

James' impressionistic streak on full display:

Lucy's likenesses: