May 13th, 2008

Driving and getting more lost in Dubai and falcons

13 May 08

I know I should spend more time writing. But I am caught in
the coils of an old addiction. I kept telling myself that after
30 minutes of that or a couple of games, I will go update that blog,
go for a swim in hotel pool, go read a book or whatever. That 30 minutes dragged on to 4-5 hours every day as immediately after each game, I went on to the next game.

I was addicted to that old royal game of chess, played over 64 squares. In the past, I had taken part in many chess tournaments and reached a high level. Not as lofty as International Master, but quite close to there. That meant I was good enough to beat most people who think they can play chess. Chess then reached the Internet. And there I was, happily playing with many others like me around the world.

That changed when Tinkerbell came into my life.

Tinkerbell would have none of it. She did what my wife failed. But then, my wife would not literally fly into the room squarking at me and viciously pull at the keys in keyboad and tried to bit the mouse wire away. Tink allowed me time to do email and even to
oggle at scantly clothed girls. But should I tried to play chess, all hell
would break loose. It was as if she sensed my brain waves going into catatonic limbo lost in the world of kings , knights , rooks and pawns. Into a fight for life, judging the changing merits of material against positions and tempo.

You then ignore the rest of the universe. But a ball of sqwarking grey flew in landing on keyboard trying to bite that to pieces intimidated me. Peacce came only when I shut down that interface to that chess world.

I had thoughts of chucking her into her cage. But I sensed my wife would recognised a useful ally , and would just let her out to stop me from playing chess just to spite me.

Though Tink was not with me since Oct 04, I hardly played much chess. When I was in Brisbane, now and then I would go to Surfers Paradise to have a few games with people. As an Asian, other players had not expected me to be good, until I cut the claimed best player there to pieces, chewing the flesh off him and spitting out his bones.

In that pastoral town near that Queensland/NSW border that I visited regularly, the folks there love chess. They were all so friendly to start with. So I partly played and partly lectured during those games as the atmosphere was so nice and friendly.

None of them, or visitors to that town won any games from me during the weekends when we were there. I lost once, which was the cause of big celebrations.

Then this Scottish colleague SG joined me on this project in Brisbane. Hulking size of a guy who used to play rugby for Scotland. Even more intriguing to me was that he played chess. In between work, we talked on rugby, and stuff, and chess. We talked about having some chess games. I was not exactly worried about him, but SG dropped names that made me thought perhaps he might not be such a pushover.

Then I thought I better polish up my chess a wee bit first.

And I got back into Internet chess.

No Tinkerbell around, and a lovely tolerant wife in Brisbane. I played
a bit then, maybe 30-45 minutes every night.

Now in Dubai with no Tink and no wife and a huge distaste to drive in the massive traffic jams after work, chess came back with a vengence.

But today I will try to write and not play chess until later.

On the 6th May, it was the first time I drove to the office. I got lost. There
was this sandstorm blowing that morning, and I still had to pay the price of
being in a new country. Then in the evening, I tried to drive to that falcon
and heritage center. I got lost but this time was more encouraging as I was
lost in that vicinity.

It was on the next day that with a better understanding of the road systems that I managed to reach that Falcon & Heritage Sports Center at Meyden Road. There was this museum dedicated to falconry and vets offices. At 6 pm they were all closed. But there were shops in there, selling beautiful falcons.

In most places in Dubai, you can get around with English as migrant workers and expats all spoke English. Falconry is uniquely done by the locals, who do not speak English. But language was not important to understand each other. I went to this shop with falcons perched on their stand. The owner came to me and I took out some of the photos of Tinkerbell and Yingshiong. He was delighted with that going through those photos slowly one by one.

Just as in Riyadh, those photos were my passport here. That I love, and I do understand birds. He took off the hood of a falcon. He gave me a glove and signaled I picked up that falcon. I spoke to her. Saying nice things to her from my heart. And with a rolling sweep, got her to step up. She was majestic.

He used my camera to take some shots of us together. In time, I had to leave. I hope in time I will be able to upload those photos into Flickr.

I had earlier thought of having a falcon. Perhaps to see if a falcon can be a hunter as well as a companion. To do that, I needed to find suitable accomodations that can house a falcon as well. That meant a villa. But with the horrendous cost of housing here in Dubai, that villa might cost 200K AED/year or more. And the owner might say no to me having a falcon. Unless that owner is a local who likes falconry too.

The next few days had me driving and getting more lost. Then a dim understanding of the road systems and key landmarks became more grounded into my heart. Looking in a good map is not good enough. Getting lost again and again is the best way of understanding any new place. Than the fragments will collase together and your getting lost just will be less and less frequent.

I thought I get a place further away with more affordable villas. After work on Thursday, I drove on to Ajman, a coastal Emirate 30 km beyond Dubai.
For the first 30 minutes, it was a good drive. Then it was a crawl for an hour as you hit the residential areas of Sharjah. Ajman was beautiful and enchanting. It was easy to talk to people here. A smile, or nod of head, was all that took. I was told by a local a 4 room apartment here was 60K as compared to 150k in Dubai. Then I drove back to my Villa Rotana. It was a horrendous 3 hours of torturous drive. After the weekend back in the office, I was told that many people would take off on Thursday noon. When I drove there in the evening of Thursday, the roads were relatively clear in comparison to other work days.

There is this city of Al Ain 120 km from Dubai set up by the mountains. The area, historically known as the Buraimi Oasis, has been continuously inhabited for more than four thousand years and Al Ain is considered central to the cultural heritage of the country.

So on Friday morning, I thought of driving there early. But I thought I have a couple of chess games first. I play 10 minutes blitz, in that you will kill the other within 10 minutes or you lose that game. It was only by 1130 am I left my hotel.

That place might be 120 km away. But with very little traffic and very straight and wide road, that was just an hour drive away. It could have been even less time. It would have been so easy to do 160km/hour safely. But all cars here have an irritating beeper which will go off whenever you exceed 120km/hour.

Gasoline in UAE is about 1.50USD/gallon, so price of petrol isnt much of a concern.

I was quite delighted with Al Ain. It was a garden city. I was told villas here might be about 80k/year. At least my wife and I might be able to have our kitty. Not Ivan as much as I missed him. He is old now and not that well as to travel.

We might have our Ekkies or Grey. Or even a falcon. I might first try a one month stay in an Al Ain hotel to see if that distance is ok with me. Housing leases in UAE are one year lease, to be paid in advance. No refund will be possible.

On Saturday (UAE Sunday equivalent), I drove about Dubai towards the Palm Jumeirah. As I drove there, other massive developments came into view out of the haze. The area I lived in was big. But because of the haze, I never seen other parts of Dubai.

( I adjourned the writing for short break. Then I got drawn into chess. I told myself just a couple of games. That became nearly 4 hours. That meant I be writing less than I wanted. The rest of that Taiwan trip that I hoped to write will be postponed yet again.)

Then other massive buildings came into sight. Its an incredible display of wealth. That 8 star hotel Burj Al Arab appeared.

What I seen from photos and TV did not prepare me for this. And I was driving on the main road far away from that hotel built on an artificial island.
Here are some reviews of people who stayed there.

Sorry, I do need to take my bath and get ready to sleep.

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