Friday, December 23, 2005

Home Sweet Home

Hi everyone! It is good to be back in Iowa…but I wish the weather was a bit warmer.

I am awake now but still very sleepy. Kristin says I am suffering from “jet lag”. She says many people get jet lag after traveling far distances across many time zones on airplanes. I guess it will take a few days for me to get back to my normal sleeping pattern.

My trip home was nothing like my trip to the region. We didn’t get delayed along the way. According to my watch we arrived only 8 hours after we left Dubai but I know that it took MUCH longer than that to fly back to America.

I tried to sleep most of the trip but I was awake when we landed in Frankfurt. Here you can see me with a bowl of real German gummy bears. They had these out for breakfast in the business lounge! Can you believe it?

And here I am helping Kristin unpack my camel from her suitcase after the long trip.

I want to thank Michael for allowing me to take this trip. I also want to thank my friends Keith and Kristin for taking me along on their great adventure to the Middle East. I learned so much and saw so many things that I never imagined I would ever see in my life. I hope someday you will get to see the same great places I visited.

I hope you had as much fun reading my online journal as I did on the trip.

Until the next great adventure….goodbye!

A Quick Update From Flat Michael

Hi Everyone! I wanted to write a quick note to let you know I am back in Iowa! Kristin and I are very, very tired so it will be awhile before I can post my latest photos.

You may notice that the blog looks different. I noticed when I checked the blog on Kristin’s computer tonight that it looked funny. I was using Netscape to update on my trip and all of my messages looked fine but I see there are funny characters on Kristin’s Internet Explorer version of the blog. So, Kristin helped me change the template tonight.

I still see some problems but I am too tired to go back and change all of my posts. Sorry about the problems. I think the blog may also be tired from the trip!

Goodbye for now!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Goodbye Dubai!

In a few hours we will be leaving for the airport for the return trip to Iowa.

Our first flight leaves Dubai at 2:55AM Thursday morning! (VERY EARLY)! We are flying to Frankfurt, Germany and then we board another plane and fly to Chicago. Kristin will then drive us home. If everything remains on time and we aren’t delayed along the way, I should be back in Iowa by Thursday evening. Do you realize that the trip will actually take nearly 24 hours but we go through so many time zones that we arrive back in the US on the same day we leave here? Very confusing and very tiring.

Kristin and Keith are busy packing their suitcases and their equipment. Here you can see me helping Kristin pack my new camel into her suitcase.

I am sad that I am leaving because I have met so many nice people during the trip and because the weather in Doha and Dubai right now is like summer in Iowa. But, I do miss my friends and family so I am glad we are heading home.

Wish us luck with our flights! Goodbye for now.

Chocolate, Clams and Koi

Hi again. While Keith and Kristin were busy interviewing people at their conference, I decided to stretch my legs and explore the hotel today.

I was curious about the floor labeled “R” in the elevator so I decided to go there first. I soon learned that “R” stands for restaurant. There are at least 5 different restaurants on that floor. I could choose from Asian, German, and Lebanese food or I could visit “The Marketplace.” This is a restaurant where people visit various booths to pick food that comes from all over the world.

My favorite was the dessert booth. It has a chocolate fountain! I didn’t know chocolate could flow from a fountain like water. It is really cool. Next to the chocolate fountain, you can choose a number of different sweets, put them on long toothpicks, and then place it under the fountain so it is covered in chocolate. I picked marshmallows on a stick. Yum! (Shh….don’t tell anyone I actually ate dessert first.)

I then made my way to the Asian restaurant. It is called “Bamboo Lagoon.” It has a stream running through it with REAL fish in it! The fish are many colors and look like super large goldfish. Kristin told me the fish are called Koi. Look closely and you will see one near me in this photo.

Did I mention there are clams or clamshells everywhere in Doha and Dubai? Many of them look like the shells I see in downtown Muscatine at the museum. Here at the hotel every restaurant has baskets full of these shells.

I asked Kristin about these shells. She told me that may years ago men used to harvest clams from the Persian Gulf (the large body of water bordering Qatar and UAE). They were looking for pearls inside of the clams. Kristin says the pearls were made into necklaces. Kristin says the “pearl industry” as she called it is no longer the main business here. Her story reminds me of the pearl button business in Muscatine that I hear about in history class.

Santa was at the entrance to the Bamboo Lagoon. Since I didn’t get a chance to talk to him before I left on this trip I decided to visit him here.

I told Santa I have been VERY good on this trip so I hope he will visit me later this week in Iowa. :)

That’s all for now. Until next time!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Royal Dinner

WOW! I just returned from the most amazing dinner. Tonight Keith, Kristin and the rest of their conference participants boarded a small bus (like the ones in Muscatine) and went to the newest hotel in Dubai, The Palm Hyatt, for dinner.

It is a VERY nice hotel and Kristin says it is only 6 months old. It even SMELLED new.

Anyway, Kristin let me come along for the ride in her purse because she knew it was going to be an important night. Guess what? I was watching from Kristin’s purse when she and Keith met His Royal Highness Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. Wow….that is a long name!

Why was this so special? The Sheikh is the Minister of Information for the United Arab Emirates. More importantly, he is a member of the royal family that governs this country. K eith says his brother is the Crown Prince of UAE. Yes, I got to see royalty tonight!

This was a very formal meeting. We had to wait in a lounge at the hotel for the Sheikh to arrive. When he did arrive everyone stood and he shook everyone’s hand. Then people gathered around to hear him speak. It was just like in the movies. I couldn’t believe it! Kristin said it was "surreal." I don't know what that means but it was cool!

I wish I had a picture to show you but Kristin said it would have been very rude to ask the Sheikh for a photo. After seeing how people acted around him, I could tell he was special. So I think Kristin was right about not taking the photo.

The Sheikh spent at least 20 minutes talking about things I don’t understand. Keith told me much of the talk was about the politics of the Arab region. He also told me it was OK if I didn’t completely understand because Keith says the politics of the region can be very confusing. Whew!

Afterwards, the Sheikh hosted a dinner for the conference group. I have never seen so much food in my entire life. Kristin said there was lamb, beef, chicken, and every kind of vegetable you could imagine on the table. And that was just the start. Kristin said they served the best lemon cheesecake she has ever tasted and lots of other sweet treats.

We didn’t leave the dinner until well after midnight. I was SO tired that I fell asleep on the way back to our hotel. So Kristin kindly tucked me into bed with my stuffed Camel.

By the way, I haven’t decided on a name for my new camel. Perhaps you can help me come up with a name when I return home.

Until next time…..

Monday, December 19, 2005

da Bears and Christmas in the Desert

Hi again.

All is well here in Dubai. Keith and Kristin are busy getting ready for their conference so I spent part of the day flipping through the television to see what I might find on TV.

One channel here shows ESPN’s Sunday night football game. I was quite excited to find out this week’s game was Chicago versus Atlanta. Kristin was very excited. She is a big Bears fan. Here you can see me watching the game (sorry Aunt Lynn).

I enjoyed watching even if it was a Bears game. I hope Green Bay wins tonight! It looked very cold in Chicago during the football game. I suppose it is the same in Iowa. It is still nice and warm here. I’m not sure I am looking forward to the cold weather when I return home.

But, the cold weather reminded me that Christmas is less than a week away. It is hard for me to believe that Santa is coming soon. It doesn’t feel like Christmas here in Dubai but it certainly LOOKS like Christmas everywhere I go. Do you see me in the tree?

If you didn’t see me, Keith took a picture of Kristin and me by the same tree here in the hotel.

I have seen signs of winter and Christmas in both Doha and Dubai. Our hotels have multiple Christmas trees, gingerbread houses, reindeer, and other holiday reminders. The store windows in the mall have holiday sale posters and many, many places have pictures of snowflakes. Kristin told me she even saw a place to visit Santa in one of the Dubai malls.

I was surprised to see the snowflakes and other winter-like items such as heavy coats, sweaters, and snow boots since it is so warm here and it doesn’t snow in the desert. I also wasn’t surprised to see Christmas trees because that’s what I see at home this time of year. But, Keith and Kristin told me they were very surprised to see so many signs of Christmas because Christmas isn’t celebrated in the religion here. I had no idea.

Keith and Kristin have learned that the rulers of both Qatar and Dubai want to respect the holidays of other parts of the world and that’s why we are seeing so many signs of Christmas.

That’s all for now. Go Packers!

Dubai Update

Hi everyone!

Sorry for the long break. Keith and Kristin have been very busy the past two days exploring “Dubai Media City.” This is a special area built to bring media companies to Dubai. It seems to have worked! Keith tells me 5 years ago there were only three buildings in Media City. Now there are buildings, even skyscrapers, as far as I can see.

Media City is home to hundreds of TV, radio, Internet, and publishing companies. Kristin says many more want to move to Media City but there is no more space. All of the buildings that are under construction have businesses ready to move in.

I was amazed at Media City. It really is like a mini-city complete with restaurants, banks, and a road system. Here I am with Keith outside of the Media City management office.

Keith and Kristin visited several local radio stations where they produce programming in English, Arabic, Hindu and Urdu. Do you know where they speak Hindu and Urdu? See if you can look it up.

Keith and Kristin also shadowed a presenter for news channel Al Arabiya, which is based in Media City. A presenter is what we call a news "anchor" in America. Al Arabiya is similar to Al Jazeera but Keith and Kristin say the stories are more balanced.

During one of their breaks, Keith and Kristin visited a local shopping mall that is home to more than 300 stores. It is much larger than Northpark Mall in Davenport. It has two food courts, a hotel, and many stores. There were some I recognized including Old Navy, the Gap, and Radio Shack. Kristin was especially excited to see a Tiffany’s store. I wasn’t familiar with it but she told me it is an expensive jewelry store based in New York City. She says a very famous movie was made about the store in New York. Who knew?

The best part of the mall was escalators. In parts of the mall, they didn’t have stairs like they do in America. Instead they were flat moving panels like a ramp. I’ve never seen anything like it. But it makes sense. Some people were using the ramps to move items in a grocery cart.

Keith and Kristin say they will be attending a conference at the hotel for much of the rest of our trip. The conference, co-sponsored by the Stanley Foundation, is about Arab media. Kristin was worried that I might be bored during the conference so she bought me a stuffed camel to keep me company in her room.

Now I have a friend to watch TV with. And there are many things to watch on TV including American shows like Friends and Seinfeld. The hotel also has Cartoon Network so I don’t think I will be bored over the next few days.

That’s all for now.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Happy Friday from Dubai!

Hi again. Today, as I mentioned in a previous message, is a weekend day here so Keith and Kristin weren’t able to interview anyone for their radio program today. Instead we took a cab to a local “souk” or market called “Madinat Jumeirah.” It is a very nice market that is located near Dubai’s famous Burj al Arab. The Burj al Arab is a very tall building that looks like the tall sail on a sailboat. It must have been very hard to build. Here you can see the building behind me as we stopped to look at the small boats moving through the souk.

This souk was very different from the one we visited in Doha. It was much more organized, cleaner, and more expensive. It even had a food court complete with a Cinnabon! Kristin LOVES Cinnabon but instead visited a TCBY store later in the day.

After we left the souk we visited an area along Dubai Creek, a waterway that divides the older portion of Dubai from the new sections of the city. Keith told me that many of the buildings I saw in the cab today on the way to the souk were built in the last 10 years. Some people say they can build an entire story of a new office building in less than a week here in Dubai. That is really fast! And, Keith says they are now building what it supposed to be the tallest building in the world here in Dubai. I don't know when it will be done but I might have to come back here to see it.

That’s all for now. Until next time….

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Hi from Dubai!

Hi everyone. We have made it safely to Dubai. It is a very busy city with many, many cars and tall buildings. It is nothing like Doha. Doha seems much more like a small town than a large city. Kristin says Dubai reminds her of a mixture between New York City and Las Vegas.

We are staying at the Marriott here in Dubai. It is VERY nice. They even have a rubber ducky I can play with in the bathtub if I want….although Kristin says it will cost me money if I want to take it home. Oh well, I will use it until I leave.

Did you know that weekends in the Arab world are different than they are in America? Today (Thursday) is like our Saturday. Tomorrow (Friday) is like our Sunday. No one really works here on Friday. So, I will likely use the day to catch up on my sleep. Traveling makes me very tired.

I hope all is well back in Iowa.

Until next time…..

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Camels and McDonalds!

Hi again. I had another very exciting day. Kristin has found space for me in her day bag and so now she lets me travel with her throughout the day. This is a great treat!

Today Haitham took us to the town of Al-Shahaniya, west of Doha, because Kristin wanted to see camels. I was amazed as we drove out of town. All I could see for miles and miles was flat desert sand and small dry plants. Many of the houses on the road looked like sand castles I would build at the beach. Very interesting.

It didn’t take long for us to find camels roaming the desert. Keith and Kristin told me to start looking out the window as soon as they saw a sign along the side of the road with a camel on it. In Iowa we have “deer crossing” road signs. In Qatar they have “camel crossing signs.”

I was able to see camels roaming freely not very far from the road. Then we took a road to the place where they hold camel races. The races are similar to the horse races in America only they race camels. There were no races today but there were plenty of camels training on the long sand track. Here you can see me with Kristin near a camel crossing sign. Look closely and you will see many camels in the background.

I didn’t get any closer to the camels. I’m not sure I want to pet one but they are nice to look at.

By the way, have I mentioned that it is nice and warm here? The temperature is in the mid 80’s everyday. Haitham says it gets very, very hot in the summer here in Doha. So all of the local businesses close between noon and 4pm so people can stay indoors during the hottest part of the day. I think this must be similar to siesta time in Mexico.

Later in the day we went to the local goods market. The market, called a “souq” in the Arab region is a series of small outdoor booths with vendors that sell everything from fabric to soap to spices. The spice section smelled very nice. Keith bought a “thobe al-nashl” at the market. I don’t know how to say the name but it is a floor-length white shirt that many men here wear. Haitham calls it traditional clothing. Keith also purchased the traditional headdress. It is a red and white scarf and black cords. Not everyone wears traditional clothing here. Many men wear the same clothes I would wear at home. It is a good thing because they didn’t have a thobe in my size!

Keith and Kristin tell me there are markets like this one all over the world. It is nothing like a shopping mall. However, Kristin says there are shopping malls here in Doha that are like Northpark Mall in Davenport.

After the market, Haitham drove us to a place that I was very familiar with: McDonalds. I have noticed on my trips through Doha several restaurants and stores that I see in America. I recognize the signs but they are printed with a series of lines and symbols that I don’t recognize. Kristin and Keith tell me that I am seeing the Arabic translation of the English words. Arabic is the local language. Here you can see the local McDonalds sign.

Here Keith holds me up next to his diet coke and French fries. They both taste just like they do in America. Yummy!

There are many other stores that I see in America including Starbucks, Applebee’s, Chili’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream, TCBY, and Hardees. There is even a very large Toys-R-Us store here….but Kristin said we didn’t have time to stop and visit it. :(

Tonight Keith and Kristin are packing their equipment and bags because tomorrow we head to Dubai.

I will check-in with you once I am settled in Dubai. Goodbye for now.

Monday, December 12, 2005

My Visit to a TV Network

Hi again from Doha. Today was very exciting for me. Keith and Kristin took me along as they visited Al Jazeera, the most watched Arab news channel.

Keith and Kristin told me that some people do not like Al Jazeera. But they also told me that as journalists they must be fair when they present a story. So they visited Al Jazeera because it was important to talk with Al Jazeera even if some people don’t like its point of view.

Keith and Kristin were there to talk with the managing director and top editors. They visited the big newsroom gathering sound of people working. The newsroom is where journalists put together newscasts. It is very colorful and has lots of TV screens. The newsroom was very busy today with people rushing around. Keith and Kristin told me there was an important news story happening while we were in the newsroom and that’s why people were in a big rush.

Here you can see me with Kristin near a TV and a machine they call a teleprompter.

The teleprompter is what the news people read when they are on the air. I always wondered how news people could tell the news without looking at a paper. Now I know.

My favorite part of the visit was the tour of the “control room.” This is the room where people direct the newscasters and reporters. This room has many TV sets on one wall and the workers can switch from one screen to another. I think you have to be very smart to work in the control room because all of the TVs and buttons looked very confusing to me.

I am learning that being a journalist is hard work. When Keith and Kristin return to the hotel they must download all of the audio they record to their computer, work on photos and write their stories. They call their stories scripts. Here I am watching Kristin as she works on a script.

One thing I have noticed is that the electrical outlets here in Qatar are not the same as in America. This means Keith and Kristin have to use special connectors to make their equipment work. Here you can see me standing near the outlet Kristin is using to power her computer. You can see all of the connectors she is using are almost as big as me!

Until next time.....

Sunday, December 11, 2005

We Have Arrived in Doha FINALLY!

Hi. I have had quite a long day. Below, in my earlier post from Munich, you will see we were supposed to fly to Athens today and then to Doha.

We never made it to Athens. One of the plane’s engines failed as we were taking off. The plane never made it off the ground so we didn’t know what was wrong until the pilot told us.

Whew…that was a close call. It could have been very bad if the engine failed while we were in the air.

To make a very long story short, Keith and Kristin were able to get us tickets on Emirates Air, an airline based in the United Arab Emirates. See if you can find it on the map.

We had to wait a very long time in Munich for our next flight but I enjoyed watching workers get our plane ready.

This plane flew us to Dubai, a city in the United Arab Emirates. We then moved to another plane and arrived in Doha, Qatar at 2:10AM!

Kristin says most countries must check your passport before they allow you to leave the airport. Keith and Kristin have stamps from all over the world in their passports and now they have what is known as a “visa” stamp in their passports. This allows them to stay in Qatar for up to 21 days. I don’t have a passport but now I know that I must get one for future trips.

Our luggage arrived with no problems. Keith and Kristin’s friend Haitham picked us up at the airport and took us to our hotel. Haitham is a “fixer.” He is a journalist who helps journalists like Keith and Kristin set up appointments in foreign countries. Haitham is very nice.

There is a lot of security at the hotel. I don’t mind...I got to go through the x-ray machine again. I think that is so fun.

I am very tired from traveling and since Doha is 10 hours ahead of Iowa time I can barely keep my eyes open. This means it is the afternoon here while it is the middle of the night in Iowa. Kristin says it will take a few days to adjust completely.

Kristin finally tucked me into bed around 4:00AM.

Goodbye for now!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Hi from Munich!

WOW! I have had an even bigger adventure than I expected. I am in Germany now but it took a great deal of effort to get here.

Kristin drove through a blinding snowstorm to get us to O’Hare airport in Chicago. It was scary but Kristin is a safe driver. When we got to the airport Kristin and Keith had to unload their luggage and take it to the ticket counter. There we found out our flight to London was delayed because of the snow but we were given our tickets anyway.

Before we could go to the business lounge where Keith and Kristin wait for their flights we had to go through security. I decided to go through the x-ray machine in Keith’s bag. It was a short ride but it was cool to see me and the other items in Keith’s bag on the x-ray monitor.

I learned very quickly that you have to be patient when you travel because sometimes flights are late. We waited in the business lounge. Here you can see me sitting next to Keith.

In the end, the flight to London was 5 hours late. We took off at 2:10AM. That is WAY past my bedtime so I slept all the way to London.

I also learned today that sometimes you have to run to catch your next flight. Keith and Kristin flew through Heathrow airport to reach the gate for Munich. But that plane was also late because it was very foggy in London.

The fog delayed many people and the business lounge was SO full that the only place for me to sit was on the Christmas tree. I heard people speaking in many languages I did not recognize. Keith and Kristin told me I was hearing people speak in French and German. I didn’t understand a word but it was very interesting to listen. Someday maybe I will learn another language.

Kristin took a picture as I waited patiently in the tree.

Keith and Kristin ran into a friend of theirs from Washington, DC in the London airport. I guess it really is a small world.

Our flight to Munich finally left London. But we arrived too late in Munich to catch our Doha flight. Kristin and Keith were very sad but the airline (Lufthansa) paid for them to stay at an airport hotel. They also got a free dinner. I had a snack in London so I read the local Munich paper while Kristin and Keith ate their dinner.

OK, I wasn’t really reading the paper because it was printed in German but the pictures were very nice.

Kristin tucked me into bed around midnight. We have to get up in just a few hours to return to the airport. Tomorrow we get to fly to Athens, Greece before we can get onto our flight to Doha, Qatar. It should be exciting but I hope the weather doesn’t cause a problem tomorrow because I think Keith and Kristin really want to get to Doha soon.

Goodbye for now.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

My Adventure Begins Tomorrow!

Greetings! It is WAY past my bedtime but Kristin is still busy packing for our trip. We leave tomorrow (December 8). We are driving to Chicago and then we will board a plane for London, England. Once we arrive in London we will get on another plane and fly to Munich, Germany. There we will get on another plane to reach our final destination: Doha, Qatar. See if you can find Qatar on the map.

Below you will see I helped Kristin pack the radio equipment case.

I had NO idea how much equipment is needed to make a good radio program. Keith and Kristin's equipment case includes microphones, microphone cords, audio recorders, headphones and tons of batteries (Kristin and Keith like to be extra prepared). The radio case is REALLY heavy. It is even heavier than Kristin's clothing suitcase! Kristin and Keith are also bringing a computer and camera (to take pictures of me!).

I have a "seat" in Kristin's trip notebook. But if I am really good, Kristin and Keith will bring me along to some of their meetings.

I am really excited but I had better get some sleep. Kristin says it will take almost 2 days to reach Doha so I have a long trip ahead of me. Bye for now!

Welcome to My Blog!

Greetings and welcome to my blog. My name is Flat Michael but you can call me "Flat Mike" if you like.

My alter-ego, Michael, loves to have me around but sometimes I want to stretch my legs. So Michael has asked his friends Keith and Kristin to take me along on their latest trip.

Keith and Kristin work for the Stanley Foundation. They have lots of big-people responsibilities but one of their jobs is to make radio news programs. Keith and Kristin travel around the world to report the news. They have been to dozens of locations in Africa, Europe, and Asia.

This week they are headed to the Middle East! They are working on a new program on Arab media.

Keith and Kristin tell me I'll get to see many great things over the next few weeks. I hope you will follow along.