Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bridget's first ticket

Until today, I've never been issued any kind of ticket for a traffic violation. No parking tickets, speeding tickets, no at-fault accident tickets, nothing.

So perhaps you can see why I am peeved at having my perfect record sullied by a Dubai speeding ticket. At the moment, I am finding only small consolation in the fact that, much like getting groped in Cairo, getting a speeding ticket in the UAE is more a matter of when than if. The speed limits are odd enough, and sparsely marked enough, and the speed cameras ubiquitous enough, that it's just something that's going to happen to everyone, eventually. But I was proud of myself for going this long without getting caught.

The worst part is that it wasn't like I was intentionally speeding for an awesome reason. It was late at night, on the way home from Abu Dhabi, back when my mom was in town (there is considerable lag in getting a traffic ticket and finding out about it. As it is, I am only finding out about it now, and not at my annual vehicle registration, because it happened in a rental car). At the time of the infraction, I was heading from the E11 to the 311 by way of Al Khail Road. The speed limit on the E11 is 100-120kph. On Al Khail Road, it's 100 kph. On the elevated road in front of the Dubai Mall that connects the two, the speed limit is apparently much, much lower, since the automatically generated citation claims I was driving at least 21kph above the legal limit.

Hmph.

I only wish the ticket included the photo of the car taken by the automatic speed camera. I would have liked to see my last moment of traffic-ticket-freeness caught on film.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Daughter, Mormon, Death Cure, French Kiss, and Alice

Daughter of the Forest  (Sevenwaters, #1)Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had three different friends recommend this book to me within the space of about a week, so I couldn't resist. It turned out to be the perfect Kindle indulgence, too. I didn't feel bad about using my Amazon Christmas gift certificate from Jeremy on a book that was only eight bucks and many hundreds of pages long. I definitely got my money's worth.

However, while I am giving this book five stars, it's not without reservations. I have to wonder if an editor ever took a look at Daughter of the Forest. If so, why did s/he not tell the author to cut the length down to about 2/3 of its current state? The first fourth of the book is incredibly slow-moving and the prose throughout is overwrought enough that it could have been trimmed down without losing any of the story. Also, there were a few weird parts while I was reading where, if this book were a person, I would have backed away slowly while smiling and nodding.

Really, it's the last 3/4 of the book that is engrossing and inventive enough to deserve five stars. I could hardly put it down. Be sure to have some Loreena McKennitt music ready to have on in the background while you read, mmkay?

Monday, February 27, 2012

That's not what he meant to do

Let's see if I can adequately convey to you the hilariousness of what I saw at Ace Hardware the other day.

There are two separate automatic doors leading into the store. One is Entrance Only, and the other is Exit Only. So if you're trying to get out of the store, and you're standing in front of the Entrance Only doors, they're not going to open for you, no matter how long you stand there. Of course, if someone happened to be coming into the store through the Entrance Only doors at the time you were trying to go out, you could take advantage of their triggering the automatic doors to open and slip out. But you'd have to make sure your timing was just right, otherwise the doors would slam right on you.

Now that we've established the inner workings of the automatic doors at Ace, let's move on.

As I approached the Entrance Only, from a distance, I saw that a young Emirati woman was attempting to exit the store from the wrong side of the automatic doors. She wasn't having much luck, though, since the door wouldn't automatically open for her, approaching from the wrong side, as she was. A helpful employee of Ace, wearing a yellow jumpsuit, saw the situation and rushed over to help. Rather than direct her to the Exit Only exit, he anticipated the next person coming into the store and tried to leap through the automatic door to get on the other side and trigger the sensor to hold it open for the young woman.

It was a very nice gesture, one intended to improve the shopping experience of the dignified young lady in distress and spare her any further embarrassment. However, it failed spectacularly.

Because what actually happened when the employee jumped through the Entrance Only, from the exit side, was that the sliding automatic doors came crashing shut on him AND the young lady, smooshing them together for an incredibly awkward moment, trapped in the embrace of the automatic entrance.

By that time, I was close enough to trigger the doors opening with my own entrance through the Entrance Only and the mortified couple were able to break apart. There was no acknowledgement between the two of them, or from the two of them to me, about the extraordinary event that had just happened. I could tell the lady was super embarrassed and so I guess she thought it best to just carry on like nothing had happened, head held high.

It was an awesome little oddity to witness and I've been giggling about it ever since.

Friday, February 24, 2012

February 24, outsourced

I think my favorite moments of this socially awkward video are from 0:06 - 0:10. [HT Scotty]

I found these baby products to be absolutely hilarious. [HT Katie]

This is my new favorite website. [via BCC]

I really identified with some of these quirks of living alone, except as applied to life as a SAHM with only small children around to see all the weird things I do. My time as a SAHM has made me develop such socially unacceptable habits as not closing the bathroom door and also announcing my intentions to go to the bathroom (usually phrased as "I need to go potty").

I can't believe I wasted my time with Fartsy Barbie when this was going on! [HT Jen]

Elizabeth Smart got married. I think this should mark the point where the press decides to let her live her life without undue attention from here on out. God bless her.

FMH reminded me of The Bechdel Test, which was recently applied to the 2012 Oscar nominees for Best Picture.

I'm sure this guy is not functionally perfect in each of these languages, or equally proficient in each of these languages, but this video sure is a sight to behold. Bravo. [HT Jeremy]

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Three things today

1. Today in the class I teach, the subject of the evils of alcohol came up. I took the opportunity to tell my students (all Muslim, but not all Arab) that I have never had a drink of alcohol, ever. They were super impressed and actually burst into spontaneous applause. I love telling Muslims that I don't drink alcohol or have sex before marriage. It feels good to break down Christian stereotypes.

2. Also in class, in a discussion about whether people at AUS look for a potential spouse among their classmates, the subject of bride kidnapping somehow came up. One of my students is from Dagestan and he casually remarked that when he was in ninth grade, a 14-year-old girl was kidnapped from his class at school. As in, he was sitting in class with her, and some people came in and kidnapped her right then and there. As a teacher in the UAE, I have to be careful about passing judgment (or perceived judgment) on the religious or traditional practices of my students, so it was one of those times when I had to paste on a smile and make a comment about how cultural differences sure are fascinating!!! And really, they are.

3. Someone is messing with me. Yesterday I wrote about how strangely Australia is portrayed in its literature and today I got an email from a person at a university in Australia. It appears that Other Bridget is now studying at James Cook University in Queensland and someone sent her a message about a professional project. Here's an excerpt of the email I received:

"I have put the gelli baff with the laptop and the key is in the second drawer of the workstation you normally sit at. I ran out of time therefore I will make the snot at home and email you my thoughts about it, I hope that is ok with you."

Discussion questions: what is a "gelli baff"? And what possible alternate meaning have Australians given to "snot"?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stuff I learned about Australia from reading novels.

(This post is dedicated to my Australian friends, Joe and Alison, who may or may not read my blog.)

I have gained such a strange mental picture of Australia from reading novels. Most of the weird Australian books I've read are YA literature, probably because I used to check in with Persnickety Snark a lot for recommendations, and she's Australian. Off the top of my head, here are novels about Australia that I remember reading recently:

Does My Head Look Big in This?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sisters and coloring pages

Yesterday after school, Magdalena requested a coloring page to work on. I asked her what she wanted, and she said something with Hello Kitty. So we had a look through the dozens of Google Images results for "Hello Kitty coloring page" and she chose a nice one:


Then Miriam came home from school. Sometime during the day, she had colored a coloring page, too. (I think the classroom has a stack of them for kids to take if they have free time.) She chose this one:

Yep, these two really are sisters.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Syria protests

A pro-Syrian rally on Mezze Autostrad, 2005.
Over the last several years, I've considered writing a book about our time in Syria. In the back of my mind, a nebulous deadline has always existed, a sense of moderate urgency to write before "it" happened - "it" being something that would someday thrust Syria into the news limelight. I think anyone who follows politics in the Middle East had the same sense that things would not always be the same in Syria as they were in the early 2000s, during the first years of Bashar al-Assad's reign. We all knew that change would come. Of course, we all hoped it would be the positive, bloodless kind.

I think "it" is finally happening, and my book remains unwritten. I've typed out good chunks of it on an extensive Google Doc, but it's mostly strings of loosely connected anecdotes and hastily recorded, unpolished impressions of experiences, places, and people. I may never actually write the book. But recently, I took a look at the vignettes of Syria I had written down years ago and it's amazing to me how much has already changed.

Yesterday, it got even more personal as I clicked through to the most recent NYT story about Syria and saw the lead picture. The place where the people are protesting is Mezze Autostrad. The Syriatel/MTN building you can see is where we got our mobile phone SIM cards in 2004 (price: $20), and again in 2010 (price: $1). If you walked down the street and up and around the corner, you'd see our apartment building.

But it gets even closer. Last night, Jeremy and I watched this video.

Nobody should be able to watch a video of something like that happening and be able to say, "I lived there. I shopped there. You see where the grass is? It used to be a string of car-repair shops. The off-street parking is new and the internet cafe you can see behind the crowds used to be the most popular one in the neighborhood, in those early days when an at-home dial-up connection was so hard to get. Our favorite juice shop is just outside the frame and I bought my first maternity clothes next door. In 2006 and 2010 when we visited, our kids played on that grass and walked on that sidewalk and bought toys from that store and we marveled at the impression of home we continued to get from that place, even after moving away."

Nobody should be able to say that.

When we first moved to Syria I remember thinking that I was living in a bizarre CNN newscast, one of those clips you see as a kid where the traffic is chaotic and entire families squash onto single motorcycles to get around town and there's dust in the air and a call to prayer echoing in the background. I had only ever seen something so foreign on TV, and suddenly there I was, in Syria, living it. To cope, to make what I was experiencing somehow familiar, I reached to my memories of those news broadcasts because that was something I knew.

I feel that now I'm experiencing some kind of reverse phenomenon. I've lived it, and I'm now struggling to connect what I see on TV with the place that I know. And now the CNN newscasts are infinitely more foreign to me. It's not just chaotic traffic and dust and calls to prayer anymore.

It's painful enough to be an observer. I can only imagine how it would feel if Syria were actually my country, and I continue to hope and pray for their deliverance, never mind from what, or to what.

Friday, February 17, 2012

February 17th, outsourced

If you've ever lived in Russia, you will "get" this video making fun of those snooty blue-light cars. [HT Jeremy]


This is something that happened. It's not quite as ha-ha funny as the BYU-I skinny jeans thing, though.

Once Upon a Time in Tehran. These images are almost unbelievable.

Have you ever wanted to see the presidents of various countries kissing their own significant others? Well, I enjoyed this slideshow.

The fountains at Dubai Mall, beneath the Burj Khalifah, did a tribute performance to Whitney Houston.

Here is a sweet/sad piece by C. Jane.

Finally, this quiz, presented by Miss Jill, made me laugh and laugh. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Diploma equalization (certificate of degree equivalency) in the UAE

When I was accepted into the master's program in TESOL at AUS, it was contingent upon my obtaining an Equivalency of Degree certificate from the Ministry of Higher Education in Abu Dhabi. The mention of this requirement was allotted a scant paragraph in the acceptance letter, so I didn't think it would be that big of a deal. I was wrong.

As I tried to start the process, I realized that nobody knew how to do it, including the university who asked me to do it, as well as the various ministries and embassies involved. It was the ultimate challenge of bureaucracy - convoluted, obscure, ill-defined, many-layered, time-consuming, expensive, and it had to be completed almost entirely without helpful instructions. The goal of this post (and its dry, informative, highly searchable title) is to help others who have been asked to obtain a diploma equalization/certificate of degree equivalency in the UAE. Basically, I'm doing for you what I wish someone had done for me, over a year ago.

Here are the steps:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Downton Abbey Season 2 (SPOILERS)

source
I believe that there is nobody left who is NOT watching this show, so let's go ahead and discuss Season 2, which concluded (save next week's Very Special Christmas Episode) last night. Spoilers ahead.

Overall: I liked Season 1 better than Season 2. Season 1 did a better job of maintaining the illusion that I was not watching a soap opera. It is true that Season 2 took the action up a notch - there were actual, literal explosions taking place on screen and some pretty horrific flu symptoms - but the plot took some ridiculous turns.

Favorite plot points: Thomas' new role at Downton, and then him re-insinuating himself into the situation when the house was short-handed. Branson's non-assassination of the general. O'Brien trying to be good but getting sucked into backstabbing plots.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Good Mom

Every once in a while I feel like a good mom. Today was one of those times. I've spent probably five minutes total on Pinterest since joining a few months ago, which seems to be unusual. I think I don't understand it well enough to get addicted. Anyway, today I spent another five minutes on Pinterest browsing through the Valentine's Day activities for kids ideas. I found a great idea on Pinterest (thanks, Jessie, for the Pinterest usage guide) for these:

You write in white crayon on white paper and then paint over it with watercolor. I ended up doing the writing because it's harder to write invisibly than you might think. The girls loved it and actually, so did I. And now they have some cute Valentines to bring to their classmates tomorrow!

Speaking of which, hoo boy did I have a fun time writing all of Miriam's classmates' names. She wanted to paint the girl hearts different colors than the boy hearts, so before I wrote each name I had to ask if it was a girl or a boy. My initial guess was wrong more than half the time. For example, Aria is a boy, and it's pronounced uh-REE-uh.

Hooray for Good Mom days!

Then again, in the time I was on Pinterest I saw a lot of examples of moms being A LOT better than me, so the benefit of finding the cool craft idea on there was cancelled out. Oh well.

Friday, February 10, 2012

February 10th, outsourced

Here in the UAE, I end up being around British people and their news a lot, and this is really how it sounds. [HT Scotty]

Maybe this is a fad that's already dying out, but I don't care because this video collection of Stuff Nobody Says made me laugh. [via dooce]

Azerbaijan is planning to build the world's tallest building.

Thanks to a blog post from Ken Jennings a few weeks back, human wormholes have been on my mind. So I loved reading this article telling me about more of them. [HT Andrew]

Here are some pictures of Europe's cold snap.

Downton Abbey stars out of their period context!!!!

I don't really know how to properly link to stuff on Twitter, but @waitwait had a great run during the Super Bowl with #superdowntonabbeybowl.

Here's how it goes down when The Atlantic discovers that a 20-year-old photo they printed was doctored.

OK, so. I'm kind of tired of hearing how crappy we Americans are at parenting our children. Apparently the French are even better at parenting than the Chinese are. SIGH.

Finally, I give you the paradox of The American University of Sharjah, brilliantly presented by Anna Ray in this article about why AUS is a great study abroad destination even if it's not an Arabic immersion environment.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

On food

I think you'll find that when it comes to American women cooking in their overseas homes, their frequency of use of imported ingredients from their home country can best be classified as falling somewhere along a spectrum. At one end, you have people like (forgive my characterizations if they are imperfect, ladies) Amira and Sarah, who seem to be skilled at - and dedicated to - eating as "natively" as possible. Even when some essential ingredient isn't available, they find a great local substitution, or cope simply by not making that food anymore.

On the other end of the spectrum is my friend Ashley, whose skill at planning, buying, shipping, and unpacking a few years' worth of American consumables for use in Azerbaijan amazes me. She has everything she needs to cook her favorites, and it's thanks to her superior organizational habits, not the whims of the local grocery stores.

I've been at the native end of the spectrum before, mostly in Syria because western food was almost entirely unavailable there, and at the cushy embassy end, too, thanks to our access to the commissary in Moscow. Here in the UAE, I think I'm somewhere in the middle. I shop at Carrefour, which does have a wide variety of products available from all over the world right alongside the local stuff, but the selection is not skewed toward American tastes.

If I wanted to be completely true to my American cooking habits, I'd have to shop exclusively at Spinney's, specifically at the one in Mirdif, because it is the Mecca of imported-food grocery stores, at least the ones I've seen here.

But you can't get Tillamook cheese here, not even at the Mirdif Spinney's, and all of this is to say that when I ate my first slice of Tillamook Sharp Cheddar (brought to the UAE by my mom a few weeks ago), actual tears came to my eyes. It reminded me so much of my formative years, of my favorite foods, of the country I grew up in. I knew I loved the stuff; I didn't know I would cry at the taste of it.

I guess my cooking habits will always remain a little bit foreign, a little bit American. As much as I'd like to go completely native, there are certain foods I love too much to give up.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

A new semester

I started teaching again today. I'm teaching two more sections of the same class I taught last semester. One of the things I love about teaching is that every once in a while - every year, or semester, or session - you get a fresh, new crop of students. You get to put away all the damage and history and drama of the previous classes and start all over again. Of course, you also have to start from scratch establishing respect, rapport, and understanding, too, so it's not always an entirely welcome changeover.

Today I had a few students from last year come into my office to say hello. It was so nice to know that they were glad to see me. Then again, those students who wouldn't be glad to see me aren't about to seek me out in my office...

This morning's new beginning went well. I met about half my students (the registration process is still ongoing) and I have the usual kids from KSA and the UAE, with a Nigerian, Cameroon/Gabonian, and Chechen thrown in for good measure. I can't wait to see what adventures I'll have this semester! I hope I'll even be able to blog about some of them.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Places where I've attended church worship services

Just because I got to thinking about it.

United States (Several congregations in Oregon, a few each in Arizona, California, Idaho, and Utah, and at least one each in Alaska, New York, Missouri, Vermont, and Massachusetts)

Japan (Kyoto, Tokyo)

Russia (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krasnoyarsk)

Czech Republic (Prague)

Syria (Damascus)

Jordan (Amman, Irbid)

Israel/Palestine (Jerusalem, Tiberias)

Lebanon (Beirut)

Turkey (Istanbul)

Egypt (Cairo)

UAE (Sharjah)

Qatar (Doha)

Oman (Muscat)

Kuwait (Kuwait City)

Setting aside the platitude of "the Church (of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is the same wherever you go," I have to say that Mormondom is a very small world sometimes. We have shown up at random branches in random foreign countries before and run into people we know. It happened to us in Kuwait, in fact, where we knew no fewer than four individuals in that congregation from previous years of our lives.

When we went to church in Oman, the speaker mentioned in his talk a story about a girl we knew in Amman.

In Egypt, I gave a talk in church about the Armenian Mormons in Turkey who were evacuated to Aleppo, Syria in the early 20th century. When I was finished, an American lady who was visiting church that day came up and said to me, "oh, my grandpa was one of those Armenians and you actually said his name during your talk."

SMALL WORLD.

In conclusion, the most beautiful Mormon chapels I've ever seen are the ones in Israel/Palestine. The Jerusalem congregation meets at the BYU Jerusalem Center. You can see the Dome of the Rock from the chapel. In Tiberias, one whole wall of the chapel is a glass window looking out over the Sea of Galilee. Of course, a close third place has to be the cultural hall in Moscow with neon green felt decor and gold balls on the walls. Or perhaps the car repair garage where we met for church in Kyoto. Not.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Blogorrhea re: Kuwait

Except for a momentary panic about the currency conversion for Kuwaiti Dinars - we were tipping the hotel dudes 1 dinar and there was some confusion after the fact as to whether that was a couple of bucks, or a couple of cents - our vacation in Kuwait has been wonderful. It's our first time traveling without the kids and while we are enjoying doing what we want, when we want to, with no regard for the whims and fussing of children, we are also finding ourselves pointing out all the little things they would enjoy if they were here, and wondering what they would say at certain times. Sigh.

We went to church in Kuwait.

Friday, February 03, 2012

February 3rd, outsourced

Three book-related links: first, a cute video showing what books in a bookstore do after closing time. [HT Ashi]

Second, this amazing illustrated relationship algorithm for books (or whatever) on Amazon. [HT Matt]

And third, some children's books online for those of us without a kids' library nearby. [HT Nancy]

This happened to me only once during a piano performance, thank goodness.

Here's what the most annoying tweet imaginable would look like. Sounds about right.

I guess I should be glad that my kids have played on all kinds of dangerous playgrounds, with crooked, rusted metal slides and swings with jagged rocks underneath...?

I've never heard it put quite like this, but I think she's right: Mormons don't really believe in hell. (I have Ms. Brooks' The Book of Mormon Girl sitting on my Kindle, waiting to be read, by the way.)

I remember when we lived in Moscow we saw an ad with George Clooney in it and I was kind of surprised. Turns out that kind of thing is totally normal overseas.

The GFY girls' figure skating costume critiques have got to be just as fun as the figure skating itself. Keep a clear eye for a reference to The Cutting Edge.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

In Kuwait

Even though it's just another friendly neighborhood Gulf state, I am so excited to be in Kuwait. I love going somewhere new. I love trying to think beforehand what it's going to look like, and how it will be different, and how it will be the same as the UAE, or the US. This morning, the discoveries started upon analysis of our fellow airplane passengers gathered in the boarding area. There was the same mix of locals (that's what you call the people who are actually from the UAE, or Qatar, or Kuwait, etc.), other Arabs, and Southeast Asian guest workers you get elsewhere in the Gulf, but the natives had a slightly different spin on the kandura and keffiyeh and abaya and hijab. It was interesting to take in the nuances of difference in dress.

Once we arrived at the airport, I got the sense that Kuwait is a more rough-and-tumble Gulf state. Not everything here is crisp and clean and gleaming, and the passport control dudes were certainly more jovial than I've seen since probably Lebanon or Syria. The most potent moment of "we're not in Kansas anymore" realization came when Jeremy and I approached an escalator leading down to the exit. It wasn't moving, and a red light was lit up near it, but those kinds of escalators are in Dubai, too. You walk close enough to them and they engage and start moving. I'm sure to everyone in the know I looked like an idiot, walking toward that escalator and looking confused when it didn't turn on, and then trying to somehow engage the sensor to make it move, and then walking away sheepishly when it didn't work. That kind of stuff happens on a subtle scale so often when you're traveling in different countries in this region, or even in different emirates. It's the same, and yet it's...different.

As for my expectations about Kuwait, so far, from what little I've seen of the city, I'm right. I guessed that Kuwait would be a little bit Gulf, a little bit Syria - in other words, what I imagine Iraq looks like. And I think that's holding true...maybe? Of course it's human nature to compare new places to what you already know, so it may be an imperfect assessment but it's correct to me.

Speaking of Iraq, the part of me that is still nine years old and in third grade can't believe I'm actually in Kuwait. The Persian Gulf War is the first Big Thing that I remember really paying attention to for a long period of time in my childhood. I clipped newspaper articles about it and always paid attention to discussions about it in school. And now here I am, in Kuwait.

I said on Facebook that it is so exotic that we're belatedly celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary in Kuwait, but I'm not sure I was joking. This place IS exotic to me. And I couldn't be happier to spend the weekend here.

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