Sunday, April 29, 2012

Australia, Monsoon, Flavia, Joan, and Pinker

The Other Side Of Dawn (Tomorrow, #7)The Other Side Of Dawn and Burning for Revenge by John Marsden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent conclusion to the Tomorrow, When the War Began series.

Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American PowerMonsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power by Robert D. Kaplan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another thorough and thought-provoking book from Kaplan. Monsoon had a very personal feel for me. Although it is only very peripherally about the UAE, it is also somehow ALL about the UAE. The nations of the Indian Ocean (Oman, Pakistan, Iran, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, and to a lesser extent, Burma) are all heavily present in the population of the UAE. They run this place. Ever since we moved here, I've thought that the UAE represented a kind of future where national boundaries don't matter that much, and language and ethnicities who might be political enemies back home mix together happily for the sake of trade and business. It turns out that this is not (only) the future, it's how it's been in this area in the past, too. Fascinating.

This was close to a five-star read, but I thought Monsoon was ever-so-slightly less lyrical than Kaplan's other books. Maybe I just know his formula too well. Also, I personally was not so interested in the chapter about the Chinese navy. And sentences like this made my work-and-MA-beleaguered brain hurt:
"Despite all the pageantry and stagy contrivances of Sukarno's leftist theater state, which developed a useful myth for the new Indonesian nation, and the Dutch- and Japanese-style post-colonialism of Suharto's right-wing military state, which fortified that myth with new institutions, geography has eventually overwhelmed both those attempts at extreme centralization."
Four (or 4.5) stars it is, and required reading for anyone who wants to understand more about the people who make up UAE society.

(PS - when we first moved here, I met a stunning, exotically beautiful woman who was half Yemeni, half Zanzibarian. I decided that was the craziest mix of parentage I'd ever heard of. Turns out, it's a totally logical marriage connection when you know more about the trade routes around here.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

April 27th, outsourced

The BYU-Hawaii student body president says being among Mormons made him a better Muslim. Yes, you read that correctly: the student body president of BYU-H is Muslim. [HT Ashi]

I'm sure you've seen this link in half a dozen places already: A female Episcopal priest visits a Mormon temple.

Read the short article, and watch the video. It is fascinating to learn about an American teenager studying ballet at the Bolshoi. [HT Ashi]

The worst places to be a woman, as featured in Foreign Policy.

Why do they hate us? - on pervasive misogyny in the Middle East, by Mona Eltahawy, as featured in Foreign Policy. Even if you don't take everything the author says at face value, this is a riveting and disturbing article, and the main picture accompanying it (not the freaky painted ladies, but the woman being beaten in Cairo) is one of the most horrible images I've seen. I hate everything that picture stands for. [HT Jeremy]

In response to the above: some alternate viewpoints.

Look, just because the church is true doesn't mean it wasn't responsible for producing some truly sappy dreck back in the 1990s. A lot of people were putting out sappy dreck back then, ok? This particular specimen happens to star Aaron Eckhart, aka Harvey Dent. Enjoy...or SHUDDER. [HT Jill, but I kind of wish I could un-see this.]

To cleanse your palate, watch this video of a girl being swallowed up by a collapsing sidewalk in China, and her rescue by a brave taxi driver. [HT Ashi]

Here is some interesting context/background information about George Zimmerman, re: the Trayvon Martin shooting.

This. Article. I can't. The sloppy research. The horrible sixth paragraph. The misspelling of "pursued." I just. UGH. The flames. Flames, on the side of my face...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sustainable busyness

The "wheeee!" period of being a grad student/teacher/mom is coming to a close. It's still a major-ambition-come-true to be getting my MA, and it's fulfilling and enriching to teach, and my kids keep parenting pretty exciting, but WOAH. Sometimes I am just exhausted and I don't know if all that I'm doing now, and have been doing since September (and since a year ago, to a lesser degree, when I was doing my MA but not teaching), is sustainable. Each midterm completed, and each class taught, I am that much closer to being done...for this semester. And then it will start all over again soon enough. Thank goodness for summer...I guess?

Even though I enjoy everything I am doing and feel the positive impact on my life, it is also very wearying. When the paper is done, there is still the lesson to plan, and dinner to make. The work is never finished anyway when you're a mom - there is always more to do, more messes to clean up, more things to talk about with your kids, more skills to teach them, more activities to plan - and I'm feeling that sense of never-ending work from the other areas of my life, too.

I'll probably laugh at all this the day after finals are over. I recharged fairly quickly during the last semester break and I'm hoping this summer (after that summer term course I take, sigh) will put some extra gas in my tank, to shore up my reserves for Fall 2012. In the meantime, I'm trying to be grateful that this is truly a temporary - if very long temporary - stage of my life. After I finish my MA (estimated completion: next summer-ish), I will probably never be juggling three major roles at once like I am now. I know there are women out there with kids who are studying and working and being moms, with a lot longer than a-year-and-a-bit stretching out in front of them. God bless them.

Have you ever had a period of life where you were unsustainably busy? How did you get through it? Or did you?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Good traffic-related news

The great scourge of people who wish to travel between Dubai and Sharjah is called National Paints. It's a hiss and a byword around here because it is the location of epic gridlock on a constant and dependable basis. National Paints is the name of a prominent business on a very busy roundabout where there is a lot of traffic, under a flyover where there is also a lot of traffic, which is fed by and feeds into a three-lane highway that also has a lot of traffic. The highway is called Emirates Road, or the 311.

I don't think there are physically too many cars trying to get from Dubai to Sharjah (or vice versa). (OK, maybe a few too many cars.) Whatever overcrowding issues there are are horribly exacerbated by the poor road design in this junction area between the two emirates. And lucky us - this interchange is right by our house, and is the only way to get on to Emirates Road!

Last summer, they began road improvements on Emirates Road in the area of National Paints. I knew things would get worse before they got better. And they did. One of the main problems was that for a good stretch of highway, all the feeder roads were prevented from merging smoothly into the regular flow of traffic, slow as it was, by a raised curb that separated the two roads. Even when traffic was, by some miracle, flying down Emirates Road, those of us coming from the feeder roads were crawling along at a snail's pace, taking 15 minutes or more to get to the highway that was literally 400 meters away.
The green is the regular flow of Emirates Road traffic. The red lines are all the roads that feed in to one narrow frontage lane that is separated from the highway by a curb. Ridiculous, isn't it?

ANYWAY. The other day I noticed that construction was really progressing because that horrid curb was gone. However, there was a long string of construction cones in its place so we still couldn't merge efficiently.

Then yesterday, about half the cones were gone and I couldn't believe how fast we got through that feeder road when I was used to spending a good 10 minutes of my life checking out  in detail the scenery surrounding it.

Then, today, glorious day: the cones were completely gone. Like any normal feeder road, I was able to merge onto the highway without any delay. It was amazing.

They're not at all done with the improvements so I'm sure this lack of gridlock will last only a short time before some road closure somewhere nearby puts a new wrinkle in the traffic landscape. But in the meantime, I'm happy to be sitting in traffic for 15 fewer minutes than usual anytime I go to Dubai. Hooray!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Language learning methods

In my Methods and Materials class, we've been learning about all the major approaches to second language teaching, and how they related to contemporary theories of psychology or learning. Basically, every era that produces a method thinks it's The One...until they are overthrown a decade later by the next new thing.

Of peripheral interest is the fact that I can now look back on my own language-learning experiences and classify them into these methods, along with all the value judgments associated with them (some methods are very much frowned upon these days).

A quick primer:

The Grammar-Translation Method, aka The Classical Method. Language students sit in class and discuss L2 (the second language) almost exclusively in L1 (the native or common language). They read from L2 texts and translate them into L1. The written word is paramount and you can get out of a Grammar Translation class without ever having learned how to actually speak. The focus is on conjugation drills and the minutiae of grammar. This is how we learn dead languages, or languages we only need to do academic research.

The Direct Method, aka The Berlitz Method. I have a soft spot in my heart for this one. Basically some educators realized that sometimes it would be nice to, you know, communicate in a foreign language you've learned, and they came up with this approach. Berlitz has taken it mainstream. Check out their commercials here and here and here. Students of this method use only L2 in class and have to rely on the teacher's pantomime and use of real-life objects to convey the meaning of what is being taught. The Direct Method tries to skip over L1 and directly activate L2.

The Audiolingual Method, aka The Army Method. In the 1950s and 1960s, two things happened. First, Skinner's Behaviorist model of human learning, with all its repetition and imitation, became huge. Second, the United States decided it needed people to spy on the Russians and put military personnel through foreign language training using this method. The Audiolingual Method featured the teacher as the conductor of the class, and students repeated and mimicked and parroted canned phrases and dialogues until they could spit out gems like "I want a chicken salad sandwich" like a native. The problem is, we've since decided that that's not the best way to learn. Also, students of the Audiolingual Method are sometimes incapable of reorganizing their memorized, fluent-sounding phrases into more meaningful language, such as "I want a smoked turkey sandwich." They're stuck with chicken salad FOREVER.

Fast forward through The Silent Way, Community Language Learning, Desuggestopedia, and Total Physical Reponse.

The Communicative Approach. This is the current darling of the field of second language teaching. It values authentic language learning situations and contexts, and aims to prepare learners to function in real foreign-language situations. The Communicative Approach recognizes that there is more to language than just grammar, or just canned key phrases, and takes into account wider issues such as pragmatics and sociocultural considerations.

I'm pretty sure I learned Spanish and German via the Communicative Approach. The German textbook we used was called Kontakte, for crying out loud. I learned Russian in Russia and Arabic in Arabia, outside of a regular language classroom, so I can't say that instruction fell under any one method.

The biggest "what the heck?" moment for me when it comes to these methods is realizing, years after the fact, that I learned Japanese at the BYU using the horribly maligned Audiolingual Method. I have no idea how this managed to happen. I have dim memories of professors defending the textbook we used (Japanese: The Spoken Language) at the beginning of each semester, but at the time, I didn't realize why they were so defensive about it. Now, reflecting back on the language lab and the memorized dialogues, it's all clear: we were using an out-of-date method.

Still, I can't really pass judgment on the efficacy of the Audiolingual Method (or lack thereof) because my foundation of learning Japanese was four years in high school, where we used some kind of hybrid method created by the teacher. He seemed to draw from all areas of these methods and from all kinds of materials and I learned Japanese from him pretty dang well.

If you have studied a foreign language, what method did your teacher use, and how did it work for you?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

M:I 4 Ghost Protocol

Have you seen this movie? Jeremy and I watched it on Thursday. I loved it. My only regret is that we didn't go see it in the theater so we could enjoy watching Dubai on the big screen with other UAEians. There is something so fun about seeing a place that you live/know well presented in a movie, and I thought MI4 did a great job using Dubai as a backdrop for so much of the film. They might have stretched the truth (slightly) with the intensity of that sandstorm, but that amazing shot where they're driving out of a seemingly endless desert and the Dubai skyline shows up out of nowhere - totally real.

Those colorful boats loaded up with all kinds of cargo on Dubai Creek - also totally real, along with insane people driving the wrong way on the roads sometimes. And even though it's a little cliche, it is also true that there are sometimes camels on the road.

Anyway, well done Mission: Impossible for both entertainment and use-of-Dubai reasons. Go see it if you haven't already.

On the topic of movies set in places we've lived: The Sum of All Fears was fun to watch in Russia since we got to hear everyone in the theater laugh at Ciaran Hinds' horrible Russian (but bless him for trying). The Saint is super fun to watch after you know Moscow because you see how fast and loose they played with the locations (and protocol for entering the American Embassy). The Bourne Supremacy makes me nostalgic for Russia even as it terrifies me with that visceral car chase scene. Aaaand I guess a lot of movies are set in Russia...?

Friday, April 20, 2012

April 20th, outsourced

I really enjoyed reading the list of rejected titles for Ken Jennings' new book about debunking parental myths.

Was anyone else weirded out by the fact that the NYT ran a really positive, really accurate piece about Mormon missionary work? I don't know if the author of the article had previous familiarity with Mormon missionaries, but he did a good job conveying the essence of the thing in not too many words.

Do you live in a bubble? I probably broke the survey since I don't think it's meant to be taken overseas, but I got a 36 when I considered the places we've lived in the US. [HT MFB]

There are problems with the assumptions of some of the sources of this infographic, but it is still really interesting: What are the hardest languages to learn?

Another informative poster, on how to treat an introvert. [HT Jeremy]

Here's a beautiful article (from Dialogue) about what it means to be a Mormon and a feminist, from none other than Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. [HT Cait]

OH MY GOSH, I think I've experienced every single one of these. The "can you tie my shoe?" requests while I'm driving the car baffle me every time.

Making men walk a mile in high-heeled women's shoes to raise awareness about sexual violence toward women is a neat idea. It will also teach them the lesser lesson of what a pain it is to walk in high-heeled shoes. [HT Kathy]

Some really great pranks went down while I was a student at the BYU. I'm glad YouTube is around now so we can enjoy watching an especially elaborate prank.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Socially Awkward Bridget

Two things you should know about me, as background for what happened at Carrefour today.

1. Sometimes I buy ice cream here, even though it's either of horrible quality or really expensive. And I usually go for the expensive stuff. I laugh at/pine for the days when I could wait for 1.5 quarts of Breyer's to go on sale for $2 and that was something that actually happened. Here, the exact same size of ice cream, except more freezer-burny from multiple thawings and chillings, is 30 dhs ($8). But I only eat ice cream once a week. Well, let me rephrase that: I only eat ice cream during one 24-hour period a week. My point: sometimes I buy ice cream, and it's a big deal when I do because it costs so much.

2. I am socially awkward. At the grocery store, I cringe whenever I feel like someone is looking at what I'm buying, even if it's just fruits and vegetables and bread. I just don't want anyone to judge my grocery shopping decisions. I hate laying it out for the cashier to see, too, but that's a necessary evil. There are certain things I am STILL, at the ripe old age of 30, embarrassed to buy. Even when I need something mundane (like toothpaste) at the store, and I end up at that part of the aisle, and someone is standing in front of the area I need to peruse, I will walk on and not buy that thing, rather than draw attention to myself and the fact that I also need to buy that thing by standing there and waiting for the person to move. It's like this:

I understand this penguin completely.

So today at Carrefour, I made a covert foray into the ice cream section. There were two official-ish ladies hanging out there but they were far enough away from my cart that I didn't feel in danger of their judgment of  my shopping cart contents. However, they were really paying attention to how I was assessing my various ice cream choices. It bothered me. I pulled an item out of the freezer to get a closer look, and I could feel their eyes on me. I felt so self-conscious and socially awkward that I decided to just put the ice cream in my cart and get out of there.

However, as soon as I turned my cart out of the aisle, the ladies swooped in on me and asked if they could administer a survey. I didn't have the heart to say no, and then I was subjected to five minutes of tortuous questions about my shopping preferences, particularly as they related to ice cream. IT WAS SO AWKWARD. For me, not for them. It was as if someone had designed a social experiment just for Socially Awkward Bridget. And they won. And now I have some random ice cream sitting in my freezer and I might cringe all over again when I eat it on Friday. Sigh.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Happy tax day!

Hooray for taxes! Mine are done. Last year I ended up farming them out to a third party to deal with. It was just too much to wrap my head around (and if you read that post and see all the weird loopholes and exceptions we had, I think you will sympathize). I'm kind of glad I did so...but I will also never do that again. I didn't like not being in control of paperwork related to my finances and family, and it made it that much harder to get back into the game this year.

Having said that, I totally figured out our taxes this year, and I am so proud of myself. It's true that our foreign income isn't taxed, but you still have to fill out a return and it's more complicated than regular old US-based income. Then there was the issue of state residency to deal with. Some US expats give up residency; some hang on to a particular state for personal reasons. We severed ties with NY and are now non-resident residents of Oregon. And Oregon is happy to have us on that basis (some states are not so generous).

Then there was form TD F 90-22.1, a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts. I actually still need to mail that in (but "Do NOT file with your Federal Tax Return").

My WAHM job income was all that was taxable in 2011, but that's a good thing since it's still income, and it allows us the privilege of contributing to a Roth IRA.

What weird things did you deal with on your taxes this year? I swear I never feel more like a grownup than on April 15th (or thereabouts).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Books that need to be made into movies

Why haven't these books been made into movies yet?

A Pair of Blue Eyes. Someone get on this. Immediately.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, or any of the Flavia de Luce books.

The Book Thief. I think it could be done.

Ender's Game. I think there's a lot of movie possibility drama history behind this one but I'm not familiar with the ins and outs of it. Apparently it really is going to be a movie soon...? Good.

Princess Academy. Or Goose Girl. Pick a Shannon Hale, any Shannon Hale, and MAKE A MOVIE.

Papa Married a Mormon. It could even be a TV series! But a really nice one, like PBS would feature on Masterpiece.

And can we please have remakes of the following book-movies?

Into Thin Air. I think they wasted this fabulous book on a straight-to-TV aberration a few years ago. Shame.

Les Miserables. OK, I know they made one with a great cast about 10 years ago, but the second half fell so flat it was awful. I also know they're in the process of making another version. However, this version seems to have Anne Hathaway in it. Can we not just get this right? Please?

Gone With the Wind. Not because the original was terrible, but because it's never too soon for another rendition of this awesome book.

What did I miss?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It gets better

When I was a student at the BYU, an emotionally charged and at times hateful exchange of letters was published over the course of a few weeks in the Opinion page of The Daily Universe. The topic was homosexuality, and one of the letter writers was expressing how hard it was to be gay and Mormon. He didn't meet with much understanding, at least not in the pages of that newspaper.

Some time later, someone wrote in to the Opinion page and gave readers the sad news that the gay man, Stuart  Matis, had committed suicide.

It was one of those things that we BYU students experienced together, and yet didn't really talk about. If there were follow-up letters to the editor about what had been a very public exchange of ideas on homosexuality, IF there were, I don't remember them being published. Looking back on my days in Provo, this event was one of the saddest things I experienced. As a 17/18-year-old college freshman, I wasn't sure what my exact views on homosexuality were, but I knew that the hate I saw coming through that Opinion page, directed toward Stuart Matis before his death, was wrong.

As a 30-year-old, I still am not sure what my exact views on homosexuality are, but I know that things like what this video describes are a huge step in the right direction.

If Stuart Matis wrote in to the Opinion page of The Daily Universe today, I'd like to think that there wouldn't be any hateful responses, or if there were, that they wouldn't be dignified by publication. Or if they were published, I'd like to think that there would be enough public love and support for Stuart from BYU students and others that he would never have felt it necessary to end his life.

Friday, April 13, 2012

April 13th, outsourced

Sorry I didn't share these with you earlier: The creepiest Easter bunny photos ever taken. [HT Elisa]

Great reading from The Atlantic on the DREAM Act.

I know a lot about The Simpsons, but there was so much still to learn from Matt Groening's interview in Smithsonian magazine. [HT Suzanne]

I used to display all kinds of LSAT facts and figures to my LSAT Prep students at the BYU. If I were still teaching there, I would have to tell them how the wrong people are deciding not to go to law school.

I feel it is my duty to share these latest pictures from North Korea with you, showing preparations for Kim Il Sung's 100th birthday celebrations this month.

Are you feeling glum? Watching this video about Caine's Arcade will cheer you right up!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Random formative events from childhood

Sometimes as a kid, you don't know which mildly exciting or semi-normal events will end up having a meaningful effect on you. I was thinking about it the other day, and here are a few experiences from my childhood that, in retrospect, really made an impression on me.

1. A few times when I was young, my family hosted pairs of exchange students from Japan. They gave me books of Japanese fairy tales translated into English and lots of odds and ends from their home country. As soon as I got the chance in ninth grade, I started studying Japanese. This had a huge effect on the rest of my life - I majored in Japanese in college and spent time there as a student in 2000 and loved it beyond all reason. Thanks, random Japanese exchange students!

2. We used to go camping at the Oregon coast, at a place called Ft. Stevens. I really liked that place, even if, as my sister and I always laughed/worried about, the doors on the bathroom stalls were not large enough to guarantee one's privacy. We rode bikes all over the place and explored the abandoned battery and saw old covered bridges (? - I swear I remember this) and paddled boats across the lake and roamed the beach and gazed wistfully at the wreck of the Peter Iredale. I can't point to a specific direction my life took as a result of spending time at Ft. Stevens. I just know that I always felt that life and God were good when I was there.

3. When I was in seventh grade, I went with my family to a migrant workers' camp to distribute donated clothing to the people who lived/worked there. I have no idea what the context was, or why I went, but it really had an impact on me. I was learning Spanish that year at school and this was the first time I used it with real, live people whose only language was Spanish. It was a formative experience because I saw, very close up, a different way of life. And I mean that in both material and linguistic terms.

4. When I was 12, my oldest brother left for college. The family dynamics were so different when he was gone.  All at once, I missed him...and yet really enjoyed his absence. I think it was the first glimpse I had of the concept that we five kids were all growing up, as well as the happier realization that someday maybe we would exist as siblings without beating each other up all the time or fighting over toys. It was a bittersweet time, I guess.

5. One of my Mormon Seminary (an optional class we took during lunchtime in high school) teachers had a tradition called The Circle, or something like that. Once each year, he sat the class down in a circle and read them some fake scenario about being stuck in a well (?) and only a few people could be rescued (?) and everyone would end up crying and saying how much they loved everyone else. BY THE GRACE OF GOD, I somehow missed that single day of Seminary, unintentionally, every year. That is called divine intervention, because if I had been present for that "lesson," it is possible that I would have run out of the building screaming and never gone back. I am not kidding. I was a bit of a cynic when it came to Seminary and I think that would have pushed me over the edge. Manipulating teenagers into feeling generic strong emotion and then suggesting a relationship to sincere religious feeling: Just. Don't.

Anyway, these are some events in my life that didn't seem big at the time but have really helped make me who I am. I'm sure there are more that will come to mind over the years. What seemingly insignificant events in your life have helped forge your identity?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Hunger Games movie

Jeremy and I went to see The Hunger Games on Saturday. I really liked it, but something is keeping me from saying I LOVED it. I can't figure out what. I think part of it might be that it was pretty much exactly like the book, and even exactly like I had imagined the book in my mind. It didn't add anything appreciably new or inventive to the presentation of the story on the big screen, even as it was extraordinarily faithful to the book.

So yeah, I liked it. I thought the main actors all did a good job, especially Cinna. The movie definitely sucked me into its world (just like the book), so that when it was over and we emerged into the light of the real world, I was disoriented for a while.

Speaking of emerging from the movie theater, for a couple of hours, wow did I ever feel like we were living in The Capitol. Dubai has a lot of similarities with that place. Thankfully, hosting a death tournament for teenagers is not one of them.

Also, I think the inspiration for Seneca Crane's facial hair sculpting could easily have come from the impeccably trimmed stubble-beards a lot of Emirati and Saudi men have here.

If I have to have a definitive complaint about the movie, it would be about the overuse of shaky-cam, especially in the beginning. I get that they felt a need to obscure some of the violence, but it came close to giving me a headache.

Have you seen The Hunger Games? What did you think?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Two car incidents

1. On Saturday, some friends of ours watched our kids for us while we went to see a movie. When we went to pick the kids up, we parked where we always do when we go to our friends' house: the empty area in front of their building's utility meters. We were only inside for a few minutes. When we came outside, one of our front tires was flat.

No big deal. That kind of thing happens. Jeremy immediately started the process of removing the flat tire and putting on the spare. We successfully turned down one very earnest offer of help from a passerby (Jeremy was handling the task just fine, and the passerby was obviously trying to get somewhere), but when a neighbor of our friends came out, he would not take no for an answer. He insisted on helping, busted out an air pump that he connected to our car battery, and successfully re-inflated the tire in a jiffy.

We thanked him, and then mentioned that we were still going to go to a garage to have the tire checked for a puncture. But he kept saying that wasn't necessary - he was so sure that there wasn't a puncture. It was strange. Finally, it came out that the reason he knew there was no puncture was because he was the one who had let the air out of the tire. What the?!? I guess a neighbor across the way has a car like ours and parks in the spot we were in, and does so in a way that bothers this particular guy. Apparently there are three imaginary parking spots in the unmarked area in front of the meter, and for about 10 minutes, we were rudely parking across two of those three spots. So, you know, he did what any self-respecting neighbor would do in that situation: he let the air out of our tire. In his defense (?), he thought we were the annoying neighbor who was always doing that, not just one-time offenders.

Whatever. At least he helped us re-inflate it.

2. We went straight from there to a repair garage in Sharjah to have our brake pads replaced. When we got to the garage, the dudes there had the girls and me stay in the car, with the engine running (it's hot enough to need AC these days). To them, it seemed to be the better alternative to having a woman and two little kids running around their repair garage. To me, it was a very strange experience. They even kept us in there while they lifted the car up on one of those elevator things to check the alignment. And then they re-aligned the car with the engine running.

It was certainly very convenient! And Jeremy got to sit outside and shoot the breeze with various people, including an imam who tried to convert him to Islam.

And I hope I don't have anything re: our car to blog about for a long time hence.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Our Un-Easter

Easter was a little neglected this year. It fell on the Sunday we went back to work/school after Spring Break, so we all stumbled through the day a little bleary-eyed and disoriented. I exchanged a few half-hearted "Happy Easter" greetings to co-workers. I think those of us who are Christian felt a bit wistful for a Sabbath day off on Easter. But that's ok. We live in a Muslim country without a significant indigenous Christian population. I get it. I absolutely don't expect to have "my" holidays accommodated for. I just wish I would have prepared a little better so Jeremy and I could have decisively told our kids that we were going to celebrate Easter on one particular day (say, Friday or Saturday) instead of stretching it out all piecemeal-like.

Still, it's kind of nice to be having a whole Easter week. And it's not even entirely illegitimate because Orthodox Easter falls on April 15th. I got to exchange a Христос воскрес/Воистину воскрес with a Russian mom at Miriam's ballet class yesterday. That was nice.

I guess what I'm saying is that it didn't really feel like Easter this year. But it also kind of did. Just in a different way.

Happy Easter! Christ is risen. Truly, He is risen.

Friday, April 06, 2012

April 6th, outsourced

Foreign Policy's 8 worst hot mic blunders of all time.

I swear this exact thing happened with me, too. I kept seeing Sam Worthington in everything and thinking he was someone completely new.

Harry Potter travel posters!

When is the best time to buy airline tickets for summer travel? Eight weeks before you want to leave, preferably at 3pm on a Tuesday. But maybe earlier, if fuel prices are on the rise.

My new favorite song. Sorry if this is old news in the US. I just heard it for the first time today, thanks to my friend Crys.

Here's a look at what professors are paid throughout the world.

Finally, I give you one of my favorite blog posts of the year, every year: Bloggity Blog's rundown of the 2011 Rexburg, Idaho baby names.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Ski Dubai

We didn't travel anywhere this Spring Break. Instead, we went to Ski Dubai yesterday and called it good. It was the first time our family has been there together (Miriam went with Jeremy when we first moved here, and then Miriam went again in December on a school field trip).

It was so much fun! I get that it's pretend, and manufactured, and ridiculous, and fake, or whatever other adjectives you sometimes hear applied to Ski Dubai (and to Dubai in general). But anyone with a shred of childlike joy in their heart will enjoy Ski Dubai. Really, how can you not? In the middle of the desert, someone built an indoor snow park. That is awesome. They connected it to the Mall of the Emirates, so when you're in that part of the mall, you can look "outside" at the snowy landscape. Connecting to another side of Ski Dubai is the Kempinski Hotel. Some of the rooms have windows opening up onto the snow, which I think would be pretty neat. In other words, Ski Dubai a great way to pretend that it's cold and snowy outside when it's really 100+ degrees and sunny. That is my kind of amusement park.

We had such a great time with the girls. Miriam got right into things because she remembers living in Ithaca and how to play in snow. Magdalena had to rely more on the cultural snow norms she's observed when watching movies or home videos of Ithaca. She knew that it was a thing to pick up snow and throw it at people. However, she didn't know you're not supposed to throw it at strangers. Good thing she's so cute - people forgave her right away.

On a more thoughtful level, Ski Dubai was a lesson in contrasts. There was the fact that we played in the snow all morning and then, when we got home, hung out our wet things to dry in the 90+ degree heat. Similarly, it was strange to look up every once in a while at the spectators on the other side of the window, dressed in their light, warm-weather clothing. Were they outdoors, or were we? It was easy to forget at times. Also, I will never, ever get used to the sight of people in abaya/hijab + snowsuit, or kandura + snowsuit. In the changing area afterward, we even saw a lady emerge from her snowsuit in a full-fledged sari. Even more varied than the styles of dress were the languages we could hear. I notice this wherever I go in the UAE, but at Ski Dubai it seemed even more pronounced since we were all calling out to friends and kids. There are so many people from so many places here, it's like we're living in some post-national future. I love it.

And I love Ski Dubai! If you have the chance to go, go, preferably with a 2-for-1 coupon from the Entertainer book.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

When is it a good time for Pocari Sweat?

We've rediscovered the sports beverage Pocari Sweat here. It's quite popular and people seem to enjoy it un-ironically. Maybe when English is your second language, Pocari Sweat isn't such a funny name.

There's a certain packaging that comes on a six-pack of Pocari Sweat here that makes Jeremy and me laugh. It lists all the occasions where it might be appropriate to consume Pocari Sweat. I couldn't find the exact wording online (and I haven't seen that packaging recently to get my own picture), but it's something like this, from the official website:

We love this idea that it is ALWAYS a good time to enjoy a Pocari Sweat, no matter how bizarre or insignificant the occasion. Throughout the day, we'll say to each other things like, "I just took out the trash...Oh! Time for a Pocari Sweat!" or "It's almost time for bed...better have a Pocari Sweat."

If Pocari Sweat itself is to believed, it is never not a good time to enjoy one. Hooray!

PS - I am pretty sure that the UAE-available Pocari Sweats don't include that bit about hangovers.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The road less taken

Showing off our home countries at AUS Global Day
A year ago, we decided to enroll Miriam in what I'll refer to as a "non-mainstream" school, for lack of a better term. I call School A non-mainstream because almost without exception, all of my Western friends (another term I don't like, sorry) send their kids to a different school, School S. It was a difficult decision to go against the grain (and a lot of people's advice) and put Miriam on the road less taken. I knew that if things went wrong, I'd feel extra horrible about the decision.

Fortunately, one year later, we are extremely happy with our decision. This has been a great year for Miriam and we are so pleased with the school's efforts to make her educational experience rich, diverse, meaningful, and caring. It was with a great sense of relief, gratitude, and validation that I ticked the "I will send my child to your school again next year" box on the form they sent home a few weeks ago. Our main aims for sending her to School A rather than School S have not been disappointed.


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