Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Post Dubai, pre-Spain

The title says it all.

marronerosso, a really good cafe at one of the malls here in astana
But first, I'll say that I had my 30th birthday here in Astana. I took the day of and the day after off from work because fuck it. I want them off. I went and had a relaxing lunch with some coffee and a chocolate croissant, before heading to the 2017 Expo and checking out a few of the pavilions setup by different countries. It was Korea, Japan, USA, and I think Cuba as well. 
At the expo, the Nur Alem is the large sphere centrally located.

I was also there to see a concert, a classical rendition of Beatles music called "Beatles Go Baroque", performed by stringed instruments, in several styles, such as Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi. It was good.

The architecture and art at the Expo was really something else. Very futuristic styles
 Afterwards my friend Elenea and I went with a few of her friends out for a few drinks and some food at a local bar. It was REALLY loud inside, but I had a good time with them. I'm glad I wasn't alone on my birthday. 
In front of the ballet theater, looking towards the Expo.

The next day I just kinda did nothing as I had the day off, so that was nice. I haven't really experienced anything out of my ordinary daily schedule leading up to the Dubai trip.
Astana's Bayterek tower at night.

As per Arabtec's request, Hashem and I flew to Dubai on the 7th and came back on the 15th.
The purpose being for us to learn more about company procedures and gain valuable knowledge for our career development. IF that happened, I'm not sure I'm aware of it. But the trip was great in any sense.

Our host and guide to this whole trip was Mark, a really solid employee and straight shooter. We arrived to meet him in the airport with our driver John. After getting into the hotel at around 8pm, we took some time to get cleaned up, and wanted to go out. So, I found a post on reddit about a concert that was happening that night, and convinced Hashem it would be a good idea to go. Turns out, it was. The band was a Canadian hardcore metal band, and the venue was filled with some grungy, smelly, long haired, tattooed, leather jacket, studded belt, biker-esque types. So it was PERFECT for me. I felt I had been transported to a punk rock show back in the states. It was great to say the least.

Hashem and I took a shot of tequila and drank a beer immediately, as we arrived kinda late and the main band had literally just started as we walked in.For me, the band sounded great, and people were slightly rocking back and forth of head banging or tapping their feet, but that wasn't enough for me. It looked like i was gonna have to show these folks how to really enjoy a metal show...

So I definitely instigated some mosh pit style 'dancing' by pushing a few people around on the dance floor, bumping into the people directly in front of the stage. Maybe even spilling some people's drinks or whatever. I think the crowd got the point because from that point on there was actually some dancing and a mosh pit.


Nonetheless, it was a good time, and after getting a ride from our driver back to the hotel, we stepped into the hotel lobby and immediately into the bar/nightclub on the ground floor. It was FILLED with an international crowd, live music, tons of indoor smoking, and a bar, of course. There were people from Africa, Europe, Pakistan, India, all over Asia, and wouldn't you know it, plenty of Arabs. We stuck around for about an hour or so, having a few beers, chatting with whoever, winding down the night, so I thought. Turns out as soon as we stepped into the elevator, Hashem just slumped down on the ground, and I knew he was really drunk. Upon arrival on the 11th floor, where our rooms were, I grabbed him up and walked him to his room, next to mine. It was about 10 minutes later he came back knocking yelling about how he needs help and he's drunk. So I threw him in the bathroom where he could vomit in the toilet.
Now, I don't know if it's a common thing, but it's very common if I'm taking care of an ol'drunky McLushMouth at the end of the night, they ALWAYS just wanna throw up in the sink or the bathtub, even after I tell them to ONLY go into the toilet.
So in proper fashion, Hashem pulls himself up to my hotel sink to give it a good cloggin'. And I proceed to try and persuade him back towards the toilet, whilst forcing him to drink bottle after bottle of water from the vending machine, verbally degrading him when he refused water, because I know he needed to drink more water. Water...

Anyways, he was totally fine the next day somehow. I know I would have probably been out a good 2 or 3 days if I was in that condition the night before. But hey, he's younger I guess. Luckily, we had that Saturday as a free day to explore and relax before working. Our hotel was about a 3 minute walk from the Mall of the Emirates, and after walking outside for 3 minutes, I was pretty much drenched in sweat, at an average daily temperature of 100 deg F and 93% RH. So we had some lunch there at the mall. A really REALLY delicious restaurant called Dean and DeLuca. We had some hummus, muhammara, fried truffle mac and cheese, a flatbread pizza, and some sirlion kebabs. It was crazy good. After that we really didn't do much on our free day. We did swim in the rooftop pool at the hotel for a while. It was a bit like taking a bath. But still refreshing. I did end up meeting later that night with a Turkish geneticist named Ayca (eye-cha) for a few beers and we talked for a bit before heading home. She was very pleasant and we actually met up again before I left Dubai.
View from the rooftop pool area. Not much to see, except my face of detest for the heat.

The company provided us accommodations at this hotel CityMax Al Barsha, and a driver to transport us around to each of the construction sites and main office. In total we visited 6 work sites, including some villas, the main workshop in Dubai, a twin high rise towers project, and the Midfield Terminal Building (MTB), which was basically a new airport extension of massive proportions. All in all, there wasn't anything too interesting or different about these projects in comparison to the project here in Astana, except that everything actually runs smoothly and is executed in a professional manner the way it should be.

We would get up and have breakfast in the hotel before getting picked up anywhere from 7:00 to 7:45, depending on the schedule that day. Three of the days were full of traveling and meeting people on the site, ending at around 4:00pm. The first day we drove to Abu Dhabi, which is close to a 2 hour drive from Dubai. This is where the villas project and MTB project were located. The first project, the villas, were basically 2 story housing units in the middle of the desert. It's amazing to see Abu Dhabi amd think that it will be the next Dubai, because basically there are construction projects in the middle of a huge wasteland of a desert. We toured the maintenance facitilites, worksite, etc. with the lead maintenance engineer. Had some lunch, and headed to the MTB project, where we basically did the exact same thing. But at the MTB things were a bit stricter, with security, speed limits of about 10mph, and really a huge number of machines on the site. Over 1000. This projct is a joint venture between three companies, our employer Arabtec, CCC, and TAV,  a Turkish company specializing in airport construction. The project is about 5 years old and has about 47 terminals at the moment, and is scheduled to finish at the beginning of next year. So after that was finished, we decided to head back to Dubai. We could have stayed and went to the beach, Ferrari world, a water park, or whatever, but we just figured we could get back to the hotel and do something in Dubai.

All in all the business end of the trip seemed to be repetition of the same conversation with different employees, just in different locations. We ended up going to Fujairah to visit a site, construction of villas in the desert, again, and it was deeeeeeeepressing. Mostly because the site had to generate their own electricity, there was NOTHING around, the provided food was super basic, cell phones couldn't get internet connections, there was no beach nearby, not a trace of any entertainment, and the site laborers were all living together in very close proximity in shared accommodations. Even the camps for management and upper level employees were shared accommodations with basically just the bare necessities for you to survive and complete your work. I would never want to live like that, yet, many of these laborers consider themselves lucky to have the job at all. Most of them are from India, and I'm guessing will work for years just to send money home or live a meager existence until their eventual death. So I'll just say I'm thankful for the life I am living as it has been and for what it is seemingly going to be.

 After touring the work site, steel-yard, labor camps, offices, and having lunch in "town" we definitely wanted to get back to Dubai. Lunch was really great though. I had a dish called mansaf, which is traditionally eaten with your hands, and so I did, and it was good.
I think it may have been later that night that we met up with Hashem's friend Nader at a New Orleans themed bar called Nola Bar for some beers and they also had live music. It was strange because you had to walk through a hotel lobby, take an elevator down to the parking garage, exit through the back through a narrow corridor, and eventually arrive at a door that leads into a restaurant/bar. It was a pretty good night, nothing too crazy.

The rest of our business activities would keep us in Dubai, touring the main workshop, meeting with the lead engineers for the hoist section, for the tower crane section, for the fabrication department, and other office workers or administrative employees.

We did eventually make it to the beach, once at night and once during the day. The night time was pretty nice, because it was cooler, although the water was still warm. It actually isn't a traditional ocean, so there's no replenishing currents. It really is one big bath, the Persian Gulf.
The Burj Al Arab in the distance at the beach at night. Kinda blurry.
During the beach day trip, we went to a bar called Barasti Beach. It had chairs right near the water, a bar at the beach, and a volleyball net set up. We mostly just hung out in the water, not being too active. But afterwards, the inside of this bar somewhat turns into a nightclub. It's all jungle themed and air conditioned. We ordered some different tapas foods, a few beers, and then some live music was played at a certain point. we stayed for a while there also. It was a fun night.
At the Barasti Beach bar. Just a few hundred million dollars worth of yachts in the distance...
More of the same for work the next day. Hours spent drinking tea, sitting with people whom continually would tell me things I already know. Hashem was literally playing Pokemon and solitaire on his phone point blank while people were talking to us. It was that kind of boring. We did manage to get a tour of the office/administration side of the workshop that day, which was uhhhhh, kinda also boring in my opinion. Just walking around from office to office, being introduced as the guys from Kazakhstan, making people stand up while we were there, asking them what they do when you already know what they do, then leaving and going to the next office. But, after this, we sat with the big boss man himself. GM of the division. The man who gave us jobs basically. We had some sfiha and mana'eesh which was kinda like pizza bread with some different cheeses and spices. it was pretty damn good. But we had the lunch, and eventually made it back to the hotel for a quick rest for an hour. Afterwards, we met up with one of the site managers at a project called Damac Heights, another high rise project near the Dubai marina. It was a good experience as we got to see some tie-ins for an external tower crane, something we don't have on our site here in Kazakhstan. Also, it was a good view from the top of the marina.

The view from Damac heights. You can see the support structure of the crane in the left of this picture.

This was referred to as the infinity building. It has a very unique twisting architecture. It's right next to Damac heights.
After this, we were ready for some more R&R. So we decided we would go back to the Barasti beach club that night. We had a few drinks and started talking to these two girls from Sweden, and ended up just chilling with them for the night, drinking Baileys (not from a shoe).
Empty Baileys shot glasses from that one night.

The last day we were there, we had a free day to do whatever we wanted. So I decided I'll go to the mall of Dubai. Hashem was spending some time with one of his friends who was living locally. I took the metro from the Mall of the Emirates to the Dubai mall. For the most part, Dubai seems to be a totally consumer driven market, besides all of the investing in the city itself. But this does elevate the customer service to new heights. The customer really is king if you have the money. Every restaurant, fast food joint, clothing store, information kiosk, taxi, hotel desk, valet, they all have exceptional customer interactions and with a polite smile all the while. Even the janitor sweeping up minuscule pieces of trash at the metro station was kindly helping me with the ticketing machine when I looked like I didn't know what I was doing for only 3 seconds. Good thing because I really didn't.
An inside shot of the Dubai mall.

At the mall I kinda just walked around and tried to take in the massive scale of this world's largest shopping complex. I was specifically there for new running shoes from the saucony store, and I did eventually find them, but not before eating a halal Shake Shack burger and milkshake. It was freakin delicious. I also bought a zippo lighter branded with a picture of Dubai, dressed in gold color of course, to add to my collection.
There was a Hermes store and it had some AMAZING threads on display. Here is just one example that I liked and took a photo of.

 After taking the Metro back to the Emirates mall, and getting back into the hotel, I took a shower and just relaxed for a while. I ended up going back to the Nola bar that night with Ayca where we had a small dinner, a few drinks, a few more drinks, and just talked and enjoyed eachothers' company for a few hours, listening to live jazz music, picking at a cheeseboard.

The last day was travel day, nothing much to say about it. You know the drill. Make sure you're packed, check out, get to the airport early, etc. etc. So that was that. Flew from Dubai to Almaty, and from Almaty to Astana, arriving at around 7pm local time. Luckily there was no real jet lag on either leg of the trip, as the time difference is only 2 hours.

Upon arrival to Astana, nothing much had changed, at work, at home, in general. I did meet up with a girl who plays bluegrass fiddle in a blue grass band. Yes. A bluegrass band in Kazakhstan. What the heck?? Anyhoo, we met up one night and had dinner at this place called Linebrew. Pretty good food, some live music by two guitarists. Chill night. After dinner at around 9:30 we headed to another bar to meetup with a group of people connected through a website called couchsurfing. It was a neat experience. The crowd was mixed with people from Spain, Kazakhstan, Germany, and one guy from New York. HA! It was nice to be able to speak English with an entire crowd. I met a guy and a girl who both used to work at the project before I even started. It was funny because they both kinda knew exactly what I was doing at work and the problems I deal with in trying to get things done.

So, I'll leave you once again with some pictures. I'm traveling to Spain tomorrow for 10 days. Meeting up with my sister, and two friends from Tallahassee, who are now living in Austin. I'll be sure to write another update once I get back. Hopefully I'll have some more pictures next time.

Till next time... Ciao.

It was pretty dusty for the entirety of the trip, but I took some photos anyways. Here you can see the Burj Khalifa in the distance, the tallest building in the world.

Dubai's skyline is a smattering of unique architecture.

Florida, just like home.

The Burj Khalifa from a different, closer perspective.

A wonderful variety of spices, grains, legumes, etc. in the grocery store that was inside the mall of the Emirates.

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