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.