Wednesday, December 2, 2009

First impressions: Hot sun, cool people

It's been hectic and fun and hot and more than a little crazy.

Getting here was an adventure in itself. Two delays in Atlanta (on the plane, off the plane, back on again), a mad rush to make my connection in New York, which was a waste of time because we sat on the runway for almost 2 hours, then a 13-hour flight ... and when I arrived here one of my bags was lost.

I couldn't sleep when I got here, even though it was close to midnight and I had been traveling for more than 20 hours. I ventured out into the heat (it cools off to about 90-95 at night) to find a cold drink and a bite to eat. And immediately started running into characters.

The first night, I met a guy who left Detroit 25 years ago to work in Singapore, then bounced around from Miami to Bahrain to somewhere in the islands and back to Singapore. He just finished sailing around the world with his wife and a stray cat named Sinbad -- and claims they had never sailed before they left the harbor in Singapore. He showed up in town the same day as I did, to manage a construction job.

My first couple of weeks here, it rarely failed to reach 110-115 degrees each day. And forget the idea that it's a dry heat; it's as humid as Georgia or Florida have ever been. More than once I had to go back upstairs and change into a dry shirt after standing on the street for 20 minutes trying to hail a cab.

I must admit, when I heard the city was only 20 percent locals and rest ex-patriates, I was thinking Western ex-pats. But we are a definite minority, probably less than the locals, even. The vast majority of ex-pats are from Asia, and almost all are men. They come here for jobs as construction workers and taxi drivers and the like. Oil money built this country, but not without the sweat of Indians and Pakistanis trying make a few dirhams to send back home.

A few more interesting people I've met so far:

* An Egyptian pilot from Etihad Airways, who moved here last year with his wife and new baby. Fascinating guy. He's from Cairo, but says he'll never go back because of the "craziness" there.(If Abu Dhabi is sane by comparison, I'm not sure I want to see Cairo.) He knows the town inside and out. He had two pieces of advice: rent a flashy car, and consider switching to Islam. I haven't gotten around to either of those yet.

* An Englishman and an Irishman who are flat out crazy. They fancy themselves the unofficial mayors of the ex-pat population, I think. I don't even know what they do, but at least the Irishman has tons of money. Huge penthouse apartment in a high-rise overlooking the Corniche, with a fully stocked bar, which is a rare thing here. The English guy invited me to run with their Hashers club, which I may do when things cool down a little.

* I didn't get to talk to them much, but I met a cover band from Bulgaria at a place called The Cellar. Everything from John Denver tto the Stones, cranking 'em out one after the other just like a jukebox. The guitar player was bummed the night I was there; it was the day Les Paul died.

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