5 weeks have passed since we arrived in Abu Dhabi and there have been mountains of changes. We found our apartment, furnished it and moved in. After touring a few nurseries, we finally picked one for TT and she begins a new adventure in September. Most recently, our belongings finally arrived and nearly everything has been unpacked. And the day after we arrived, the husband went back to work after taking 8 months off to study Arabic. It’s been a whirlwind of a beginning and we’ve settled in very quickly, which I’m extremely glad for.
While I’d say we wanted to give TT some permanence as soon as possible, the truth is that she’s handled the past year like a trooper and adjusted better than us whenever we moved. Now that the dust has settled, and I can sit comfortably at our little dining nook in the kitchen while TT has her dinner, here are a few thoughts and observations about our new city.
So where exactly is Abu Dhabi?
Whenever we told someone back home that we were moving to Abu Dhabi, most of the time they had no idea where Abu Dhabi was. They only knew it was in the Middle East and they would have one of a few common reactions – 1) “Middle East? Do you need to cover up?” 2) Their eyes would soften with sympathy and they’d say “That’ll be tough, no?” 3) “What? You and your daughter are following your husband there?” 4) “Middle East? So hot!!!”
In response to some of these questions/comments, 1) No, I don’t have to cover up my body or face, although it’s only respectful to dress decently according to the norms of the culture 2) It would have been tough whichever country we relocated to, we just have to work within the limits and run with what we have 3) Of course we’d go with my husband, we’d go to the ends of the world with him! 4) Okay, this is the only thing anyone got right, it can get really really HOT!
Whatever implications and flawed understanding of the Middle East and Abu Dhabi lie beneath these comments, let’s leave them behind. Hopefully a few more people will get to know a bit more about this city and country as we chronicle our time here. So where exactly is Abu Dhabi? It is part of the United Arab Emirates, which is made up of 7 emirates. While the more commonly known city of Dubai is part of the UAE, Abu Dhabi is the capital of the country. So Abu Dhabi is close to Dubai, 1.5hr drive close. It’s as modern as Dubai but in my opinion, more compact, less chaotic and easier to navigate. And no, it’s not a third-world country. We have access to the best restaurants, amenities and conveniences we could want, so there’s no need to worry about us. Neither is it in the boondocks where no one comes; on the contrary it’s a popular alternative to Dubai and we even met David Hasselfhoff in the mall while shopping.
How hot is hot?
It’s funny how everyone thinks the Middle East is a constant sweltering, unbearable heat. Unlike Singapore which has a mostly constant temperature throughout the year, there are 4 seasons here. Yes, it does get hot in summer and at its height, temperatures can hit 40 degrees or more. But it gets nice and cool in winter; one feels like there’s air-conditioning everywhere when it’s a comfortable 25 degrees during the day. Right now, it’s hot but it’s going to get hotter in the next two months. What I find difficult about the heat is that it’s searing, dry, stagnant, and dehydrating. It’s also harder during this time because it’s Ramadan and you can’t drink water in public. I noticed that TT’s scalp started flaking when she got here, I’m guessing it’s because of the dry weather. I switched shampoos and hoping her scalp will slowly acclimatise (like my lips which are cracking and dry, dry, dry!).
What do you do without Pork or Alcohol?
I was watching an Aussie cooking show on a local channel and a contestant was preparing braised pigs’ trotters. When the name of the dish appeared on screen, the word “pig” was pixelated (but the dish wasn’t). Since the UAE is a Muslim country, I knew that pork and alcohol would not be easily available but I’m still not quite sure of the extent of prohibiting porcine representations, and will need to ask someone about this. Would it be offensive for TT to wear her Peppa Pig t-shirt in public? But Peppa Pig books are sold in the bookstores, so ?? These and many other questions need to be answered.
Pork and alcohol are haram (prohibited) in Islam, but that doesn’t mean it’s banned here. At supermarkets, there’s usually a little room for pork products but which is closed off. At my local supermarket, there’s a sign at the entrance of the room that says “For Non-Muslims” and you have to a press a little button to gain entry. As for alcohol, it’s served in many hotels and restaurants. However, to buy alcohol for your own consumption at home is a little trickier. There are a few shops in the city that sell alcohol, but in order to buy any, you need to apply for and obtain a liquor license. A little circuitous, but worth the trouble for a little tipple now and then!
Are there many expats?
Since we’ve moved into our apartment, I’ve met many people from a vast number of countries – Australia, Thailand, China, Russia, Philippines, France, Myanmar and the list goes on. The truth is, I haven’t really met any locals. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised considering that the city has an 80% expat community. One thing I’ve noticed is, especially in our building, is that everyone is super friendly and when they find out that we’ve just relocated here, they’ll share all their tips and advice. I’ve made friends with quite a few parents in the playroom and have had lengthy conversations about nurseries, laundries, super-marketing, cleaning etc while our children monkey around on the slide and empty the toy bins of every single Lego block and doll. Even though I’ve tried to read up to the city and have constantly turned to the internet to google things from ‘best laundry’ to ‘what not to do’, nothing trumps getting first-hand information from others.
What do kids do?
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Abu Dhabi is extremely kid-friendly. In most shopping centres, there is a usually a kid’s play gym or arcade for kids to amuse themselves. There are also many activities catering to kids’ interests from language, dance and music lessons, to pony and train rides. With summer arriving and schools shutting down till the new school year in September, I’ve seen many summer camps being advertised that will keep children busy during the break. In restaurants, there are kids’ menus (even in the fancier places) and lots of colouring material. Waiters and waitresses have also been very kind in talking to TT and playing with her especially when she hops off her seat and runs around the place. Our building even has a little playroom that’s open at certain times during the day, which is great for us to get out for awhile and also for me to chit-chat with other parents. It looks like Abu Dhabi is a great place for us and TT!
I’m sure there’ll be thousands of new things I’ll discover about this city, and my new friends will definitely teach me a thing or two about what they already know. We’re finally settled in, and I’m excited for us to start our journey as residents of this interesting city!
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