Masdar on CNN

Masdar recently was highlighted on Quest Means Business on CNN, check it out to see some recent video footage of my current home:

http://edition.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/world/2010/12/06/quest.masdar.city.cnn.html

Oman – Rock Climbing, SWBD, and Camping

A few of my classmates are really into rock climbing, so we’ve been practicing up in Dubai at The Wall (http://www.climbingdubai.com/index.html).

Climbing at The Wall, near Trade Center, Dubai

Fabi and Josh Climbing

We got to put our skills to the test by joining along on a “climbing” trip near Dibba, Oman, about 3 and a half hours north of Abu Dhabi.  Dibba is an interesting place, apparently it’s part of Oman but is not really connected to the main part of Oman, so you can’t travel from Oman to Dibba without crossing through a part of the UAE. It’s on the northern tip of the UAE and Oman, on the Gulf of Oman. So we still have to pass through a ‘checkpoint’ to get there, but it’s pretty straightforward and you don’t even get a stamp in your passport. Most nationalities don’t even seem to need a visa, especially if you have a UAE residence visa. You also don’t need Omani car insurance, a typical requirement for traveling into Oman proper.  Though this past weekend when we went they took a much longer time checking our passports and trunks than previous visits.  Anyway, we made it through and soon after reach the port and boarded the Dhow boat with a bunch of others from numerous nationalities.  It is an unofficial trip organized by a fellow climber and acquaintance of my advisor at Masdar. It’s really a great time. For 200 dhs (~$55) we board a Dhow boat at around 10am, cruise out to sea for a few hours, drop anchor in a cove, swim up to and boulder along a rock wall.

The Cove near Dibba

Climbing the Wall

Climbing the Wall

Emily, Fabian, and Myself on the Wall

So that’s the strenuous, somewhat athletic part. Then comes SWBD.  This is the most important part.  It stands for Shallow Water Beer Drinking.  Of course, this provides the necessary lubrication to do, how do we say it, more “strategic” climbing and maneuvers, including jumping off the Dhow itself…

The Dhow

And then, after a great day at the wall we went on to the next adventure, camping out in Dibba.  A place about 20 minutes from the port was recommended as a great camping spot.  And it was, totally secluded from everything, on a dirt road, in a valley between some rocks, not even visible from the road, with an amazing view of the stars. Just awesome.

View of the Campsite, from Above

The Campsite

Movember

As a follow up to the Beard-O-Meter from last year, several of us here at Masdar have decided to contribute our facial hair growing skills to a more noble cause. And for me, personally, it’s a chance to honor the man with the most, a man who not only had a legendary mustache, but, equally important, he beat prostate cancer a few years ago. The man, of course, is my pops, Fred. To support him, and to raise awareness about prostate cancer, I’ve joined a global movement called Movember: Growing mustaches for the greater good. Check out my page and donate if you want to: http://us.movember.com/mospace/822494/

Also check out a cool video promotion we made here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPiEjZjcJ_Q

Day 1:

Mustache Growth - Day 1

Day 7...and counting

Day 14. Looking Good.

Day 21

Day 29

Josh and I Sporting our 'Staches

Team Masdar for Movember

Germany for the World Student Environmental Summit

A few months back a mass email went out to the students from our registrar indicating that Masdar would be sending two students to the  3rd annual World Student Environmental Summit (WSES,

http://2010wses.org/) being held in Tubingen, Germany.  Who would pass up a chance to go to Germany for a week  to discuss environmental policy with a bunch of students from all over the world? It was a great opportunity.  Not only that, but I mentioned it to my friend Greg who studies at NYU Stern (for his MBA) and is also interested in renewable energy and environmental policy and he was also admitted into the Summit.  Coincidentally, and luckily, the Summit began just a few days after the famed Oktoberfest in Munich, so Greg and I made sure we left early enough to attend this  event (for purely cultural reasons, of course).  I actually arrived before Greg and was picked up at the airport by my friend from Masdar’s sister and brother (who live outside of Munich in Augsburg).  His family treated me to a great traditional Bavarian breakfast, weisswurst (white sausage) and pretzels (the only thing missing was a nice weissbier). Certainly the breakfast of champions. Though I will never forget again that you have to peel the skin off the weisswurst before you eat. Don’t ask why, you just do.

Weisswurst - And They Are Delicious (not fat free though)!

Really Cool City of Augsburg

It turned out that this year was also the 200th anniversary of this event, the king of all beer festivals. Though we didn’t have enough money to buy lederhosen (about 130 euro, without the shirt and shoes) we fit in well enough with the rest of the Germans and other tourists. It started out rough, we had no idea where to go, everyone was speaking German, drinking beers, lining up in front of the tents, and it was still only 9am.

The Beer Tents

Augustiner Tent - Where we eventually ended up

We somehow ended up on line at the Augustiner Tent (though we didn’t know it) and, after much hustle and bustle, pushing and failed attempts at speaking German, we were somehow ushered inside around 10am and, after about 20 minutes of frantically searching for seats at a table, found some space with a few British blokes. We were extremely lucky, and even more thankful to the well-mannered Brits.

Our Table at Oktoberfest

Then came the waiting. They don’t start serving beer until noon, so we had to essentially sit there, thirsty as anything, for two hours.  We weren’t smart enough to bring cards or anything else to do, though we made some good conversation. Just before noon, with much pomp and circumstance, in marches a band and soon thereafter they tap into the first keg and start delivering the foamy, delicious, and wonderful liters of beer, with the waitresses somehow exuding superhuman (or German) strength, carrying over a dozen liters of beer at a time to satiate the frenzied crowd.  For a mere 10 euro (including tip) we had a great wassail and tippled ourselves as much as we could stomach.

Panorama of the Augustiner Tent

Drinking my first Bier!

Riding the Rollercoaster at Oktoberfest (not entirely the best idea after drinking for 5 hours, but a good time nonetheless)

After recovering from the rollercoaster ride and abundance of beer we moved on to the Summit which took place in the rural area outside of Tubingen, a beautiful college town in southwestern Germany. We stayed at a place called Sonnenmatte, about 30 miles from anything remotely resembling civilization, with a feel much closer to summer camp than an academic summit, though perhaps appropriate for young environmentalists.

Our temporary Home at Sonnenmatte

Our Little Cabin

The Summit was quite enjoyable, especially because it was such a relief to be back in a temperate climate with greenery and out of the searing heat of the desert.  It was attended by 64 students from 36 universities representing 23 countries from Cameroon to China to Brazil. The Summit focused on the main issues that my generation is (and will be) facing, including Energy, Consumption, Education, and the Economy, all in the context of sustainability and environmental and social consciousness.  We attended numerous lectures and participated in workshops to help us start fleshing out ways we, as students, could influence decision makers both at our universities and in our local and regional governments to begin or maintain initiatives that encouraged more sustainable development. At the close of the Summit several of us stayed for an additional week in Tubingen to write-up an Outcomes Report of the Summit as well as a Policy Proposal that we subsequently delivered to the German Ministry of the Environment in Berlin (http://2010wses.org/results/reports/). The students were tasked with developing their own proposal for their respective university to influence their school’s administration to play a more active role in sustainable development and education.  Overall it was a great few weeks and I hope to be able to stay in touch with the leaders of the program to help out at next year’s WSES at the Blekinge Institute of Technology in Sweden in mid-May 2011 (http://www.bth.se/eng soon to be 2011wses.org).

Some pictures of Tubingen below (definitely one of the most picturesque cities I’ve been to)…

Panorama of Tubingen from our Guest House

Busy in the Writer's Session Room at the University of Tubingen

Greg and I at the Bridge in Tubingen

Summer in Abu Dhabi & Beirut

After somewhat of a hiatus from posting to this site, I thought it was due time for another update.  The summer has gone by quite leisurely, I must say, having finished classes in early May and not starting up again until September 19th.  I got get back to the states for about 3 weeks, enjoyed some time with some great old friends in Ft. Lauderdale, partied for the 4th of July in the Hamptons, celebrated my friend from high school’s wedding (the first of our group to take the plunge) and have been back in the Dhabs since mid-July working on my research.

Quick Masdar updates: Due to conditions (apparently) out of Masdar’s control, we still have not moved into our permanent campus in Masdar City.  The consolation is that we are thoroughly enjoying life at the Trader’s Hotel in Abu Dhabi (http://www.shangri-la.com/en/property/abudhabi/traders), where we’ve been for nearly a month now.  Masdar City is nearing its completion:

Masdar City Site 1A, the Masdar Institute, Summer 2010

More importantly, after spring classes were over about a dozen of us decided to take a little break. We took advantage of Fly Dubai’s ridiculously cheap flight deals and went to Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon, and apparently one of the Middle East’s best party cities.  Upon arrival our first order of business was, of course, to take advantage of Beirut’s European style drinking laws, which are, needless to say, quite liberal.  Beirut is so liberal a city that they don’t even really enforce traffic laws. Driving there is absolutely insane.  Traffic lanes are a waste of time and stopping fully at stop signs is a sin.  Even red lights are purposefully ignored.  We met a friend of ours from Masdar who is from Beirut and he drove us around a bit, thankfully.  We rented a few cars and our German ex-Autobahner classmate took the wheel of one while our Mexican classmate took the other (apparently after driving in Mexico City, Beirut wasn’t so bad).  So we peeled ourselves away from ‘the bottle’ for the day and drove to Byblos, supposedly the oldest continually inhabited city in the world (founded in ~5000 BC).  It was a beautiful spot where we grabbed a nice little meal and had some wine overlooking the port and did a bit of walking around.

Byblos Ruins

Panorama of Byblos Port

We left Byblos in the afternoon and ventured to the Jeita Grotto, a set of amazing caves with some of the most incredible stalagmites and stalactites (including the world’s largest stalactite) I’ve ever seen (not that I’m too avid a spelunker). No pictures allowed inside though.  I was surprised and disappointed, for a site vying to be one of the new 7 wonders of the world, there wasn’t much in terms of information provided about the cave. You essentially just walk through and “ooh” and “aaah” when you feel it is appropriate, but there are almost no plaques or boards indicating the origin of the cave, how it formed, when it was discovered, and the like.  No audio tours, almost nothing.  I guess I’m used to the American style of pointing out every little detail of every item just so that the site can claim the world first/best/most/largest/smallest insignificant title for something completely irrelevant and uninteresting.  Just drive across the USA (or read Bill Bryson’s “The Lost Continent” to save time) to get my meaning.  Though I did thoroughly enjoy the quick boat ride that’s part of the tour, one part which you have to actually duck down to avoid decapitation by stalactite. Definitely worth seeing.

Jeita Grotto

The next day we did some city touring. It’s a city of contrast.  There are the most insane drivers, beautiful new hotels, churches, mosques, and downtown shops, contrasted side by side with battle-torn buildings and memories of past conflicts.

Old Church, New Mosque

Our hotel, though a bargain, may be one of the few places in Beirut that many would agree should be targeted in the next air raid.

The fabulous Versailles Grand Hotel

It’s also a surprisingly safe feeling city, probably thanks to the countless military men posted on nearly every street corner, armed with automatic weapons. They sure don’t scare the taxi drivers away from trying to rip you off though.  But with the US dollar worth about 1,500 Lebanese pounds, you feel rich almost all the time, though paying 6,000 of any currency for a beer never feels good.

Beirut Military Men Just Chilling

Some of our group went on some other extra-city trips over the next few days while the rest of us focused on the other thing Beirut is famous for, nightlife.  We went out to this street with just nothing but bars called Gemaizy (check my spelling) and bounced around a bit. We then thought it prudent to go to an after hours spot called B 018 (http://www.b018.com/main.html), a club famous for its retractable roof that is opened, you guessed it, when the sun rises the next day.  Needless to say, I don’t remember this supposed sunrise. I also apparently forgot to use my free drink ticket, so I’ll be sure to make a return trip there to get my money’s worth.  Almost equally cool was our cab drive over there from the bars, complete with strobe lights and pumping bass, something we hadn’t expected but surely appreciated at around 2:30 am.

Dune Bashing with the Dutch

The Dutch guy in my program is on an Abu Dhabi Dutch Embassy distribution list that periodically lets him know about events that they put on for Dutch people living in and around Abu Dhabi.  He came up to us with the bright idea to go on this Dune Bashing trip with some other Dutch people. Apparently it’s their biggest event of the year.  What’s different about this trip than your typical desert safari is that everyone brings their own car and drives it through the dunes.  We figured it shouldn’t be a big deal to drive a bit through the desert. We’d rent a car and just follow the leader.  How tough could it really be?

So myself, the Dutch guy (Jasper), our token German (Fabian), and a Pennsylvanian (Josh) go out and rent a Toyota Rav4.  Don’t worry we paid for the insurance (though we were slightly dismayed a few hours later to read in it that it specifically says we are not covered for damage done in the desert). Little did we know that our Rav4 was hardly enough car to handle the beating that the desert would provide. When we showed up everyone else had jacked up Land Rovers and other SUV’s with desert tires and body kits. Our dinky little Toyota didn’t stand a chance.

What ensued can only be described as one of the most exciting/frightening/life threatening/potentially financially burdensome events of my life. I’ll let the pictures describe our day.

We have to let some of the air out of the tires of the cars before entering the desert for better traction and to avoid sinking into the sand, just like driving on the beach.

Fabian, Jasper, Josh and the Rav4 (clockwise from left). Team Masdar.

Moments after the first test of our car (and our manlihood) we noticed that we left an important item in our wake...our license plate. Josh was happy to fetch it.

Inevitably problems occur. In this case one of our fellow drivers knocked the tire off its rim. Fortunately the Dutch come prepared.

The Dutch, prepared for anything, come equipped with wrenches, jacks, tire irons, air pumps, and shovels. However, notice the man with the shovel has only one arm, thereafter titled just the OAM by us (One Armed Man).

Not long after the flat tire, another car got stuck on the apex of a sand dune. With the wheels spinning out in the soft sand, there was no choice but to tow them out.

Despite the risks, it was well worth it. Awesome views (notice the one armed man, decidedly the best driver of the group, no joke)

Ultimately, we figured we were going to have a tough time returning the car in the condition it was provided to us...

Don’t worry, we were able to take the car back to the shop for some quick repairs before returning it.  We actually were having such a tough time driving it that we left it in the desert and each hopped in some of the other people’s cars so that we wouldn’t continue to hold them up. We returned later in the day to retrieve the car.  Not surprisingly, it was the OAM who was given the reigns and drove our beast back to the road where it was again safe.

To give you an idea of the risks, we heard later that day that a family in another groups was having trouble getting over some of the dunes with their brand new land cruiser because the driver hesitated before clearing the higher dunes.  Finally, convinced by the other drivers in his group and apparently brimming with confidence we gunned it over a pretty big dune.  He ended up going fully airborne with his wife and kids in the car, landed a few meters over the dune on a flat part of the desert.  The impact was such that his radiator split in half and the airbags went off. They had to leave their car there and no one knows how they intended to retrieve it the next day.

The day concluded with an awesome bbq, some beers, and an evening by the pool. No complaints from anyone, least of all Avis Rent-a-Car.

The Troubled Story of the Burj Khalifa

Everyone is still talking about the financial crisis, especially about how Dubai defaulted on something like $80 billion in debt in November 2009 and my current oil-rich home bailed them out…again, probably because they have already committed so much funding to Dubai. In December 2009 Dubai received an additional $10 billion loan from the emirate of Abu Dhabi. (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ae.html).  This all came as an embarrassment to Dubai, which is already struggling with their countless idle cranes and skyscrapers.  They had a brief reprieve last month with the extravagant, albeit 4 month late, grand opening (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FW8wo4-esI0) of the now largest building in the world, formerly the Burj Dubai and now called the Burj Khalifa, after Abu Dhabi’s ruler who bailed them out (http://www.burjkhalifa.ae/the-tower/worlds-tallest-towers.aspx).

Well, we went up to Dubai for a nice weekend away from AD and purchased tickets ahead of time to visit the newly opened skyscraper for 100 dhs ($27).  It was fortunate we bought them ahead of time because they were sold out for about a week when we got there, though you could buy a ticket to go up that day for 400 dhs.  Once you enter, you get whisked to the 124th floor in under a minute with awesome elevator music (unfortunately, though it’s called, “At the Top,” it’s only about 2/3 of the way up the tower) to the observation deck.  Once you equalize the pressure in your head and clear out your ears, it’s a helluva view from there, kind of like looking out the window of an airplane, but not moving anywhere.

As a comparison, the building behind my right shoulder is something like 65 stories. Last summer in one of our first visits to Dubai we had gone to a bar there on the 63rd floor….and we thought that was really high.  Now, we’re twice as high and it looks relatively minuscule.

We had a good time enjoying the view. Worth the money, perhaps, definitely a tourist trap though.

It is definitely a good thing we went up when we did, because about a week later, the elevator got stuck on the 120-something floor, trapping 15 people inside for nearly an hour, shutting the tower down indefinitely until they fix it! (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1249848/Terrifying-Burj-Khalifa-lift-ordeal-Dubai-tourists-stuck-1-600ft-worlds-tallest-building.html) Glad we went when we did! Just add it as another embarrassment to Dubai. Insult to Injury.

Another thing I thought might interest some of the folks from home, a brochure illustrating the Dubai Mall’s courtesy policies (the Dubai Mall is connected underground to the Burj Khalifa).

Self explanatory.

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