Sunday, August 25, 2013

Reverse...Let's go Back to Dubai!

Leaving the beach, with a favorite newly completed building in the background.  Cayan Towers/aka "Infinity Towers" tops out at 80 stories and has a twist of 90 degrees -- each floor is rotated 1.2-degrees.  It's a residential building and because it's in the land of the biggest, the best, the tallest the most-est, it's the "World's Tallest Twisted Building" overtaking Malmo, Sweden's "Turning Torso."  It's a fete of engineering quite different from any other turning/twisted structure in that the frame itself is twisted (the swedes build cantilevered+rotating floors onto a straight frame). The design is from Skidmore, Owings and Merill (SOM), the same who build Dubai's Burj Khalifa (the world's tallest) and Chicago's Trump Towers. 

Let's reverse all the way to LAST year's trip to Dubai and then fast forward to our trip THIS YEAR before I carry on with Thailand.  It's such a strange place, and it's always sandwiched in between things that it's a bit hard to process our time there.  Additionally, the extreme temperatures make photography not only difficult but a bit risky.

2012.  Midnight.  106 degrees F.  The boys taking 2 minutes outside between icebox taxi and icebox mall.
Going from the ski-lodge to the 106-degree F/90% humidity can really do a number on not only the body, the mind but the equipment as well.

Dubai = Insanity.

What about Dubai isn't completely off-it's-rocker-over-the-top-insane?  I'm sure we'd get a grip on the subtleties of the place if we spent more than a long-weekend there but everything there is just....nuts. 

The fact that the city exists is the first obstacle to wrapping my head about this place.  Then you have to put things into context.  And for us, we have to put it mentally and visually in this weird space between Africa and America -- or Africa and Asia.
Don't worry about anything else when you are in Dubai.  "YOU ARE HERE" is really all you need to know
A rotten photo of the Burj Kahlifa, at 2am.   We had just exited the mall and were looking for a taxi.  It took a while to find one b/c we didn't know we had to go to the climate-controlled taxi bay.  We did see a ferrari and a few other flashy cars picking people up at the mall:  "MOM!  Don't you DARE pick me up in the Benz!"  Completed in 2009 and measuring 829 meters/2,722 feet.  It remains the world's tallest man-made structure in the world. (By comparison, the tallest building in Seattle is the Columbia Tower  286m/ 937 feet).  The Burj's "Armani Residences" are going for $3,500 per square foot.  Office space will run you $4,000 a square foot

We love Dubai for all it's craziness.  "WHY are you going to DUBAI?" is the most-asked question every year.  The implied question (I am guessing from all the crazy-faces people make when they ask us is: "WHY WOULD ANYONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WANT GO TO DUBAI?"  It's a fair question.

The thing we love most about Dubai of course is seeing our friends.  If there is any that draws us back it's that.  The dads are buddies, the moms are tight (big love) and the kids, like kids do everywhere, are  able to jump right in and play even if it's been a year since they last hung out.  We really appreciate the perspective that they can give us too, even if after a few years, they seem as baffled by the place we we are!

Aren't we cute?  2012 and 2013.  We just get wiser every year. ha ha ha. We try to keep up matching hair-dos over the miles and years but I think we need to be in the same climate to make this actually happen.  The matching beach hats were by accident.  I didn't have one, TR had 2. Thanks for the sharesies, babe.

One thing I love about visiting friends in a new place is just seeing the how's and where's of regular daily life. Any host can attest, I ask too many questions about dumb stuff like what kind of coffee do you get? can you order good pizza? How far do you drive to school each day.  What's the morning commute?

My unscientific research tells me a few things.  Since it's all about over-sharing, I'll carry on.  Housing options in Dubai are varied.  You can live in a sprawling suburbia like "The Springs", below. (They just left this neighborhood last week -- we're waiting to see pics of the new pad!).  Cute, right?  The houses/villas are oriented around a series of ponds and everyone has a cute little patch of actual GRASS and you can stroll.  It's quite sweet.  TR may disagree....
Or you can live in a high-rise condo (where we crashed last year at our BFF Adrien's loft).  Here the the little guy checking things out and lamenting the quick sunrise.  It was Ramadan and because of some poor planning food for us for the day. Man alive.  One of life's tough lessons for non-Muslims traveling. We could see the main downtown area to the right, and even had a view of the Burj if you pressed your face against the glass.  40 floors up was dizzyingly high and these full length windows freaked me out but then again, standing on a tall stool freaks me out.

You could live (below) somewhere "out at there" at "The Palms" which is an artificial archipelago (one of Dubai's two palm-frond shaped archipelagos actually)  featuring, amongst other things, 4,000 private residences. You could also probably get a place actually underwater if you like.  Anything's possible. Out at the Palm is the Atlantis Hotel which has rooms both above and under water.  The Lost Chamber Suites' "windows" open the lagoon filled with 65,000 marine animals including sharks, manta rays and other fantastic tropical sea creatures.  (You can inner tube down a shark filled tunnel for your commute if you feel like it or hang with the dolphins -- brought in from the Solomon Islands.)
O and TNT making their way out toward The Palms....trying to get to deeper, cooler water or maybe they are hallucinating that the floats are ice cream.  You never know. It IS Dubai.  They could be made of ice cream.
Downtown living.  We are trying simply to make it the two blocks from the beach to a cafe.  The kids are fading fast at this point, the Parents, even faster.  TR was SUCH a trooper to show us around when it was too hot to do anything.  (Warning: We're planning the next visit already but hope you'll be back in Z before we are back in UAE again!)
Evidence of LIFE!
The sun.  It's hot. I can see O's watch, it's just 10 am and already way too hot to be outside.
We made it to the cafe.  Hilarity ensued.  It took a good hour and 2L of ice cold mint lemonade apiece to recover from our 830-10am visit to the beach. 
Sorry Seattle
Housed in the world's largest mall is the Dubai Aquarium which boasts....the world's largest acrylic panel.  Measuring 27 x 107.8 feet and holding back the aquariums 2.65 million gallons of water and 33,000+ animals (dwarfing Seattle's "mammoth" 20x40 120,000 gallon exhibit with 800+ fish species).
Looking down to the aquarium's main entry level - I could only get part of the wall in the photo.
The super-panel opens to the mall and it's about the biggest living billboard one could kind of HAVE TO see what else is in the aquarium.  "Like what?" you ask. How about the acrylic tunnel that runs thru this tank of sharks, fish, crabs, manta rays? or maybe you want to take a glass-bottom boat ride in the world's largest aquarium tank?  or see the world's largest crabs or....the possibilities are of course....endless and nearly beyond your imagination.  
Inside the tunnel with the sharks. It's past midnight.  We've been up for days. We don't know what time zone we are in.  Everyone is a wee bit punchy.  BUT....We're in a shark tunnel! COOL!

I think if you could imagine ANYTHING, someone in Dubai will have already made it, or ... they'll gladly make it for you.  Just as long as it's the biggest, the best, the hottest, the coldest, the most....

Like?  an indoor olympic-size ice skating rink (in the same mall) or... an indoor snow-boarding/skiing facility (again at a different wing of the same mall) with actual snow.  Oh yeah, and PENGUINS running around.  Penguins. In the desert. In a mall in the desert.
"All Systems are GO" says Captain TNT.
O headed up the first little slope (he is skier #4 headed up) to have his lesson on a second one, out of view from our mall-perch at the St. Moritz Cafe. (Notice the Zorb-ball headed down? Nice touch. Everyone needs one of those. Or a dozen.  You can fit a lot of penguins in a zorb ball.)
Steamy and fully loaded down with 4 suitcases, 4 trunks, four rolling carryons, one stuffed backpack, one stuffed laptop bag and a guitar.  which somehow fit in the clown car below WITH US (+ the driver) ALSO RIDING IN THIS SAME CAR.  I don't think any laws of physics were observed packing everything/everyone into that tiny car. Maybe this is the secret of Dubai: the city exists but in some weird anomaly worm-holey type space? It's the only reasonable explanation.
Notable about this morning (aside from the miracle of how we fit into that vehicle) was that we HEARD A BIRD.  Otherwise we had not heard or seen any animal or evidence of any animals.  It could have been a recording of a bird.
Flast forward to 2013...The gang is traveling light: in the Dubai Airport 2013, headed to Thailand with ALL of our luggage and carryons and everything.  That one actual full-size suitcase actually has our second suitcase inside of it b/c we did do expect we would do some shopping in Bangkok.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

To market, to market

The boys with Sawanee inspecting some special fruit.  these pears were and melons were imported and not for man-handling. Most of the produce and goods in this market were local or at least from within Thailand.
t didn't occur to us until after we got home that for many tourists, esp. western tourists the idea of going to the local market would be a big deal.  But coming from Z where market day is a regular (and often annoying!) errand, we had a bit different perspective.

That said, there are plenty of nuances to appreciate -- and LOTS of snacks.  Snacks are a novel concept. Street food is not common here -- and if it's offered, you had better trust your source.  (There are a few fritter/donut stands I have been known to frequent in Mondevu (yes I have eaten food there if it's cooked in front of me).

We passed on a few things like the fresh-frog parts, blood tofu bucket-o-eels but were honestly tempted by the 'birds in baskets' which you purchase in order to set free.  This is something people do in Zambia where the 'caged bird' trade is a roadside phenomenon.  In Thailand it's part of a spiritual ritual, in Z it's more of a social/ethical/environmental statement.

Let's carry on with the market tour:

Not your normal glazed donut.  While a regular ole fried dough is called Pa Thong Ko, these golden beauties are just slightly sweet with green onions (to balance the sweetness).  The surprise is that hiding inside a sweet-bean-curd.  You know your baker/fryer has done them properly if when you shake the fritter, it feels like there is a marble inside.
This smiley guy has the job of forming the curd ball and then wrapping it in dough.

Motorbikes in the marketplace

This is the list of chicken/chicken parts for sale.  I think the chicken breast - boneless/skinless is the priciest. Suwanee pointed out that no part of the chicken goes un-used.  Even the blood is used to make a version of blood-sausage or is used to make a tofu that goes into noodle dishes.  Americans (is this true?) seem to have a unique aversion to blood-foods, eh?  I will include myself in this category, tho the rest of the world really doesn't seem to share this feeling.

Our first stop of the day - we sat and had sweet potato fritters, ice tea and ice coffee, fresh juice and picked the day's menu.  Trying new things was difficult for our guys who, by this point of the trip had been told a hundred times, "just try it!"  The boys are going in for paternity/maternity tests - of all the food they have tried and love:  mexican, indian, ethiopian, japanese....thai food remains on the 'naughty list.' We are not sure how.  They were such troopers to do the cooking class tho -- very excited about the shopping and the cooking, comparing everyone's soup-subtleties (one chili vs. green/one red/none, more lime, less fish sauce), they just were fully not into the eating.  They both did find a few things that the liked which they ate for the entire trip when western fare was not available.  My new favourite is stir fried morning glory (water spinach). Yum. Yum. YUM.
SEASFOOD!  Brought up from the Gulf of Thailand and from the Indian Ocean/Andamans side to the markets up north, our host pointed us to 'more local' options for our menu. We did not end up with the seafood fest we'd dreamed of on this trip but were so distracted by all the other amazing food that we did not suffer or even notice until we got back and were quizzed about it in land-locked Lusaka.
The seeds of the lotus Nelumbo nucifera are eaten raw or boiled, mainly in certain Thai desserts. For sale at the market are these beautiful lotus fruit pods -- the seeds are inside (each one individually in a rubbery skin) can be seen popping out through the surface of the pods. (thanks wikipedia for settling this question! I knew it was from the Lotus but couldn't figure out for the life of me what anyone would do with them or what part of the plant I was looking at.)
Tiny birds, not for lunch...but instead they are ready to be set free in religious ceremonies.
For food or release? I must share this link to a supermarket tour I found trying to find out about the fate of these turtles.
eeeeeeek.  eeeeeels.  This just reminded us all of the Sargasso Sea book that O (and hence all the rest of us) memorized as a 3 year old: 

"...this inky place appeals to lots of slinky eels.  
They migrate by the millions to the bottom of the sea 
from both sides of the Atlantic for a sunless spawning spree.  
For miles they swim to say good-bye, 
to  shed their eggs and then to die...
so babies by the billions hatch, and seem to know 
instinctively exactly what to do and where to go.

They drift to where the rivers meet an angry salty sea.
It takes one year for those going west, to Europe it takes three.

European fisherman catch tons of gleaming eels 
whose fate it is to then become....delicious gourmet meals."

(yes.  THREE years old...and this is just from the last 2 pages of this huge long book.  see how much trouble we knew we were in by this point?  And the book that Thing 2 couldn't put down? Screwtape Letters.  ah, man - really? crazy boys. God Bless Great Aunts who give crazy books like this to their nephews.  never question an aunt. They know what kids can handle despite what's 'appropriate'.  This is me, speaking from my Auntie-pedestal, as a mother and the grateful recipient of much awesome aunt/great aunt advice.)
What's going on here nestled in with the eel/turtle/fruit and fish? a FROGGER! Is that do you call a frog-butcher?

'O to be a frog, lads, and live aloof from care'  (from the greek poet Theocritus, who obviously never traveled to Thailand!) 

One example of something a typical tourist might not notice or care much about -- aside from the beauty of this 'wall-o-shallots' ... we don't have shallots in S. this market stall allowed for a brief but wistful moment for me and the allium family.

Why.....Hello, Temple!
Keeping the crazy lychees happy and beautiful.  They look suspiciously like they come from Dr. Seuss's truffula tree.  I'm not sure how MANY different kinds of lychees we saw and ate in Thailand but I know we can't wait for lychee season here, even if we only have one boring (but delicious kind.)  They don't come out in Z until around Nov/Dec -- I know b/c of the year CS brought a big huge branch DRIPPING with fruit and we hung it up outside for the kids to grab while they waiting for our Thanksgiving feast.

The famous DURIAN.  Known for it's distinctive small...which for some reason...I actually could not smell.

"The edible flesh emits a distinctive odour that is strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Some people regard the durian as pleasantly fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and revolting. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as almonds, rotten onions,turpentine, raw sewage. The persistence of its odour has led to the fruit's banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in southeast Asia." (again, Wikipedia -- does it make me lazy? for always using/trusting wikipedia?) I had to include this bit of text as 'proof' of the strangeness of the fact that I couldn't smell it.)

O, took the camera...for some reason the kids are both obsessed with padlocks and keys and safes.  Secondary school kids have LOCKERS, maybe that is why Thing 1 is so excited to get back to Z for the school year?  One safe at our beach resort decided to keep my wedding rings...refusing to accept the pin-code.  Eventually they were released. (I'm just glad we remembered they were in there when we checked out - I stashed them so they wouldn't slip off and get left behind on some salty snorkelling reef.)
red curry paste....enough to flavor an olympic pool full of noodles.

I love this set of photos -- mostly done in black and white --- but when I peaked out from behind the lens I got a shock!   (which is live-view and I was looking at the steamy scene in black and white)  It was a surprise to see in living color the subject of my photography!  It's some sort of slightly-sweet steamed rice/coconut confection).