No place like here

This city is crazy.  That’s all I can think to say whenever I learn something new about Dubai.  Just 30 years ago this place was straight up desert, and now it’s home to the world’s tallest building.  I can’t wait to share more of it with you as I discover all the unique things it has to offer.

I know you’re wondering, so I’ll cut to the chase.  Yes, it is hot and very humid here, but I think spending a summer in LA has helped me adjust to the climate easily.

One week in Dubai just isn’t enough, especially when you spend most of your time settling in, getting a student visa and starting classes.  The campus here is small but very nice and modern, and the people (students, staff and professors) are so welcoming and friendly.

moving in to the all girls’ housing

I share a cozy dorm room with an Egyptian who is so sweet.  She and I are having a fun time bonding over how much we have in common.  I’ve also had the chance to meet other visiting students (mostly from the US) and a good number of cool locals.  I can’t wait to get to know more people, especially native Arabic-speakers.

This semester I’m taking Middle Eastern Studies courses:

  1. Introduction to Middle East History
  2. Islamic Art and Architecture – we actually have art projects as a part of our class!
  3. The Qur’an:  History, Text and Meaning – with everyone’s favorite professor
  4. Iraq:  Reinventing the Nation – I’m the only American taking it
  5. Arabic Proficiency – by far the hardest class I have this semester, considering most of the students are native Arabic-speakers

Actually there’s a funny story about that last class.  It’s pretty obvious to everyone here that I am a visiting student (I’m white with dark blonde hair) so everyone speaks English with me.  Well I showed up a little early, and some girls in my class introduced themselves to me (in English).  They were surprised that I’m studying Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies but also very encouraging.  Then they turned around and continued their conversation in dialectical Arabic.  It was the first time in a few years when I didn’t understand most of what was said.  When it came for me to speak in posh, old school Arabic I was still disoriented by the constant bouncing around of different dialects and jokes I must have missed the punchline to.  But after class the same girls approached me in awe.  “We didn’t know you can speak Arabic!  Where did you learn?!”  When I told them I’ve only been studying it for two years they were shocked.  s/o to U of A’s Arabic department.

Also, s/o to the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa,

in front of the world famous Dubai Mall fountain
the world’s tallest building on a Monday night nbd

…and the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, which welcomed us in true Emirati style.

SMCCU in Bastakiya, Al Fahidi Historic District

I even got to try on the traditional women’s clothing:  an abaya (long black dress),  hijab (head scarf) and niqab (veil).  We normally call this outfit a burka, but (who knew?) that’s actually incorrect.  A burqa is a gold face mask, like the one Krishna is wearing in the second photo.

Krishna and I modeling the traditional dress

And s/o to family friends who have been generous enough to show me around and help me get settled in.

So far it’s been a good start to the semester and such a blessing to meet new people and have new experiences.  I’m excited to continue exploring this crazy city that I live in.  And by crazy, I mean crazy in a good way.  There’s no place like home (for four months).  No place like Dubai!


The City

Westminster Abbey

In my last post I talked about the struggle, but I’d hate for anyone to think that I didn’t enjoy London. Of course I did! My little British heart is so happy. (Yes, I’m still convinced I’m actually from the UK because a gate agent thought I had dual citizenship.) Anyway, it was so much fun, and there were several funny moments…
1. Soya. When I got off the underground for the first time I followed a crowd of students to Kings College Strand, which makes me think of Columbia University. It’s beautiful! Anyway when in London I did like the Londoners do: I got a hot beverage at Pret à manger. Due to some confusion I ended up with a soya latte. Yes soy-ah. Not soy. I had no idea what it was, but I drank half of it before I decided to be wise and make sure it’s lactose-free. Like all introverted millennials, I googled it. Turns out it’s soy milk sold in the UK, and it’s perfect for lattes! It was actually foamy and only half the price of an almond milk latte in the states. s/o to my lactose intolerant friends: next time we meet up let’s get coffee in London.

2. Doors. While touring Westminster Abbey I found a door hidden away in a corridor. It didn’t look all that special, just like a prop from the set of Braveheart. Turns out it’s England’s oldest door. I wonder if Narnia is behind it – why didn’t I check!? 

3. Grape juice. I also had the chance to join in communion at the abbey. They don’t serve grape juice.

4. Bagpipes or lightsabers? Once I stepped out of the abbey I was immediately affronted with the sound of bag pipes. Sure enough there was a street performer in a kilt, playing the theme music of Star Wars. Sir, the force is strong with you.

5. Trends. We all know London is a stylish place, especially on Regent Street. What you might not know is that the young are outdoing everyone else in trends. And by young I mean 10 years and under. I saw several little boys with man buns.

6. She Way Out. I now understand The 1975 on a profoundly deeper level. The exit signs in the underground say, WAY OUT.

courtesy of Liv’s fast thumbs

Also, if you wanna find love then you know where the city is.

7. Hogwarts really does exist. Or at least some of the quirky terms J.K. Rowling uses throughout the books. A gate agent at check-in had to help me figure out a problem with my bags. After 10 stressful minutes on the phone she said, “Ah! Thank you.” *slams phone* “Sorted.” I hope my bags are in Slytherin, too.

8. Madam. Like everything else involving my flights, my special meal request wasn’t processed in enough time for it to be served to me on my flight from London to Dubai. I asked for the option that sounded safe, but they had just run out. The flight attendant felt so bad when he found out I have allergies that he had someone make a special meal just for me. (Reason #1 to fly with British Airways.) He came back a few minutes later and said, “Madam, do you eat prawns?” What?? He repeated, “Is it alright to top off your salad with prawns?” I just agreed. I figured it was some sort of obscure vegetable or root. When it arrived later it was this: Turns out prawns is the British English word for shrimp. First class status! (Reason #2 for BA.) “Madam” is Reason #3. I wish American servers would call their guests Sirs and Madams. Not that I necessarily like the formality, but probably more because the way he said it made me think of the classic Chick-fil-a line “It’s my pleasure.”


Thanks for the memories, Sherlock

London. Living the dream on a 14-hour layover. I could bore you with how much I love the city, its people (and their accents) and its diversity, but let’s be real. What’s worth reading is the weirdness that went down.
1. Passport Control.  I finally arrive at Heathrow. I haven’t showered in two days, but I’m fresh of the plane, wide-eyed and ready to take on the city. I’m here all of five minutes when I almost get kicked out. Okay, that’s over-dramatic, but I did unlatch a fence to help a lady and her two small children get in the family lane at passport control, and then I couldn’t relatch it so I kinda panicked. Luckily two older women from Mississippi helped me before an agent walked by on patrol. The Australians in front of me thought it was funny. Thanks guys for judging all of the United States on a moment of awkwardness.

2. Streets. Everyone knows that in England they drive on “the wrong side of the road.” However I didn’t know that the street gutters would give me directions. Like the famous MIND THE GAP messages in the underground, the curbs tell you which way to look before crossing the street. When I first saw this, I thought, “Thanks Westminster. Because I haven’t known how to cross the street properly since, I dunno, kindergarten.” But after a close call with a double-decker I realised why: it’s not Right. Left. Right and go. It’s Left. Right. Left.

3. Wifi. Exploring without data is very difficult! I actually had to talk to people. How did they do it before in the Dark Ages!? At first I figured I could find a Starbucks (cos there are 20 on each block in New York) and use their wifi. Apparently the English version of Starbs is Pret à manger. But it’s not on every corner. So I connected to wifi a grand total of three times over a distance of 20 miles. I now know what it’s like to be off the grid. Sidenote: good luck charging your phone without a European power adapter. USB charging ports are rarer than Starbucks.

4. Food. Aside from my lactose intolerance, I will eat almost anything. But without wifi, finding a place to eat that’s fast but not junk food was a challenge. I wanted to go to Nando’s but chickened out when I found out it was a sit down restaurant. I don’t want to be that one random person eating alone in a formal setting. So I opted for Whole Foods cafe. I should have taken Lyle Lovett’s advice: don’t eat Mexican east of the Mississippi.

5. Losses in translation. I’d like to think that I understand British English better than the average American. And I think that theory holds true, but the problem was they couldn’t understand me. I really hope that I looked so much like a local that they just expected a British accent, not that my Southern American accent is that thick. But there’s grace; near the end of the day I was shocked to hear an agent at the airport speak in a British accent, and I had been hearing it all day.

Sidenote: interacting with British Airways flight attendants is hilarious, especially when they come by your seat every five minutes to serve you food. “Madam, would you like some tea?” (That story deserves its own post, so TBC…)

6. 221B Baker Street. Near the end of the day I hoped to stop by Sherlock Holmes’ house on my way back to LHR. I knew it would be a little difficult to find because Westminster purposely gave it 221B instead of the house number it really should have, which is something like 274. (When Doyle wrote the books Baker Street houses only went up to 100.) Anyway, after 10 minutes of frantically walking around Baker Street Station, I gave up. But I did manage to get these:

Thanks for the memories, Sherly.

10 things to know about ORD overnight

I’ve flown a lot this summer. With my sister’s job as a flight attendant I can fly standby domestically for basically free. Standby is crazy because it’s a total gamble. It took me 18 hours and 4 airports to get home from LA in July. So I figured as a paying customer with guaranteed seats my international travel would be a sinch. 

No. I spent the night in Chicago O’Hare International Airport last night. Here are some pro-tips for roughing it in the terminal.

10. So you missed your connecting flight. Don’t panic. Of course you missed it; ORD is notoriously the WOAT. And all the gate agents are busy getting off their shifts or dealing with passengers angrier than you. 

Hack: rebooking stations throughout the terminal. Just go and pick up an ancient device that looks like a payphone to connect automatically with a real person who will help you for free. 

9. There is more than one Starbucks in Terminal 3. Don’t waste your time waiting for your americano behind common white girls’ lattes and macchiatos.
Hack: the hidden, bigger Starbs is at gate K15.

8. There is no free wifi connection. You can have one 30-minute free trial connection per device. Choose and use wisely.

Hack: the Starbys mentioned above (at K15) has free attwifi. 

7. Everything shuts down by midnight, except the McDonald’s at the intersection of H & K. 

Hack: the employees are friendly and there’s a security camera in case you get scared.

6. If you can pull an all-nighter till 4 am, and you’re willing to pay $60 for a day pass, you can sleep at the fancy people’s Admirals Club.

The club’s hack: they’re currently under construction so one-time guests aren’t allowed.

5. Just outside the country club are several couches.

Hack: they’re decently comfortable for a nap in the wee hours of the morning.

4. But if you’re sleeping there you’ll need a blanket.

Hack: Hudson News (located at literally every corner) sells fleece blankets for less than $20. Do not, I repeat DO NOT spend upwards of $40 on a tacky tourist sweatshirt.

3. Smoking is prohibited in the terminal and within 15 feet of the doors, and the intercom will remind you every hour.

2. If your caffeine fix hasn’t kicked in yet, stop by Harley Davidson. They are blaring heavy rock over the stereo and their hilariously overpriced t-shirts.

1. Don’t worry, you’re not crazy. That wall of frankincense you hit head-on like a bird smacking against a glass door is coming from the Duty Free Store. I thought I was imagining it, too.