Sunday, November 21, 2010

Prince - The Abu Dhabi Experience Part 1

Are we there yet?

Last week Prince performed the final concert for the Formula 1 race in Abu Dhabi. I was very excited when I first learned about this because I had never seen him before. But as I looked at the dates, I became disappointed because we were planning to travel for the upcoming Eid holiday and were not going to be in Dubai to make the 1.5 – 2 hour drive for the concert.

As the date drew closer, no one was still sure when Eid would start, so instead of leaving over the weekend, we decided to schedule our flight on Monday morning. This would possibly give us one working day before we left, so not a bad idea.

In many Islamic countries, since the religious holidays are based on a lunar calendar, they still wait for the official (meaning an Imam) citing of the moon to call the holiday. This is nice and traditional, but it doesn’t support planning if you have limited vacation time.

We didn’t plan it intentionally, but since we decided to leave on Monday morning, we could catch the Prince concert the night before.

As usual things were very busy leading up to departure. I had not had much time to even think of Prince. I was reminded a couple of days before when a Facebook friend posted she was looking for tickets. Yes, I still wanted to go.

With her advice, I joined a couple of F1 groups on Facebook as there were several people posting extra tickets they had. – I love the internet and social network tools in this way. It really is amazing how quickly and efficiently you can get information and get connected.

I also learned in this instance how amazingly expensive it was going to be to see Prince. You couldn’t just buy a ticket for the Prince concert. You had to buy the whole F1 package, which was running for one or two thousand Dirhams per ticket from what I could tell in the news feed – approximately 250 USD or more. I am still not certain of what the exact price was, but I knew that was more than I wanted to pay. I mean I like Prince, and love music and a good concert, but was I really willing to pay that much? Opportunity cost.

So I did not act on anything. I knew I wanted to get more done and didn’t have time to start negotiating for tickets much less go meet someone to pick them up. I even spoke to my husband that we might be able to just show up and find someone at the gate wanting to get rid of some extras for a discount. I’ve done this before for other concerts before and there are always tickets around.

I later see that some of our close friends have already been to a Prince concert because they posted a great picture him on Facebook. I do have blonde moments, but was I really that confused that I got my dates mixed up? Apparently.

Or not… I learn that this was a VIP performance at the F1 Skybar. Ah, ok still time. But still I wasn’t sure if it were a good idea. To go or not to go… that is the question. Yes, Prince fans in retrospect, I can’t believe I even debated this with myself.

In the end, to cut this long story short, the night before my husband got an email saying that we had been given two VIP tickets for the Prince concert. I am excited.

Concert day arrives and I still have not finished packing by any means. I had a couple of meetings and errands to run, so I knew I would not finish but was hoping to get close to finishing. And I had the extra stress that my husband wanted me to pack for him. – This is not something I ever do. EVER. I can barely organize me and my son. And to do it for a third person who is the ultimate organized packer was an added stress. Since he was the one who received the email with news of our tickets, I guess it gave him special powers that way. So I agreed to try.

He arrived on time, the taxi was early, I was not on time and things were everywhere. I leave it as is, get dressed and go. I knew it would be a late night after the concert anyway, but that’s ok. I would be an airplane potato on the 7-hour ride to Hong Kong, so be it.

It didn’t start great. I was late and traffic for concerts is always unpredictable, and something so large was sure to have some traffic. If it can take us four hours to get home from a Shakira concert that would otherwise be a 25-minute drive, anything is possible.

The driver called 30 minutes before our departure to let us know he was waiting. We go outside and he is not there. Long telephone conversations short, finally, he arrives. He was on the other side of the complex or something.

We get in the taxi. My husband being experienced with different drivers for business trips to Abu Dhabi knows the drill and the anticipation that we will get lost. The discussion starts something like this:

We are going to Abu Dhabi to Yas Island to the Formula 1 concert. Do you know where this is?


We are going to Abu Dhabi to Yas Island. Do you know where that is?

Ah, okay okay.

Do you know where you are going?

Pause… I know the general area.

Sarper then asks him to stop so he can answer the question to confirm what we expect. After about five minutes of discussion, we get it out of him that he really has no idea where he is going. I have learned there are some cultures that will never tell you “no”. I don’t know if its considered rude, or why, but they will tell you anything but the negative – even if you know its factual. They will avoid the issue.

Sure, it is easy to get on Sheikh Zayed and drive in the direction of Abu Dhabi, but we weren’t really looking for that service. So the driver calls one of his friends and then gets directions. Of course we really can’t be certain of this because we do not speak the same language. I hear a lot of discussion about roundabouts.

We stop at McDonald’s on the way that is connected to a local gas station. Yes, I know – disgusting. I hate McDonald’s, but Sarper didn’t eat anything and it is fast and on the way. The drive through line is long so we ask the driver to park outside and Sarper runs in and gets food. One thing I can say about the McDonald’s staff in Dubai: They are some of the best service I have seen in Dubai. They are always smiling, polite and fast. I think they are well trained and (I hope) well taken care of. Their service seems genuine.

My husband comes back to the car in about five minutes. The driver then proceeds to pull over to get gas. We were speechless because he could have done that while Sarper was inside getting food as this was immediately next to where we parked. Or, even better, if you know you are going to drive someone that far, why not fill up the tank before you pick up the passenger. It all seemed reasonable to him, so we just sit in the back and eat our fries.

So we get to the border of Abu Dhabi where the F1 track is. We see the signs and start telling him what roads to follow because he near missed it. I tend to be an intuitive driver, if there is such a thing. I get lost, but always seem to find my way and get very lucky that I end up wherever I am going in a relatively painless way. However, it is not rocket science that whenever there is an event, following the flow of traffic is not an accidental coincidence.

Sarper and I were talking about something and just as I was about to tell the driver to stop and ask one of the many policemen directing traffic, the driver proceeds to turn onto a road that seems like it will take us in the opposite direction of where we want to go. So he asks us to wait a minute and he then walks back down this freeway exit ramp to go ask the police?! He confirms that yes, it is the wrong way. So the policemen tell him to turn around, but he has no clue as to how to do that, and there is really no place to do this. – For those of you who drive here, there are many cases where turning around is not always a simple u-turn when it comes to the major freeways.

So our very confused driver is going further out into the abyss of the desert with no chance to turn around anytime soon. He then pulls over in the middle of nowhere and calls his friend who he called back when we were in front of our home, who he has talked to several times on the way. I think we can confirm by now that neither of them know where this place is.

Now I am no linguist, but I do know enough to know I could easily have taken the driver’s phone and thrown it into the desert. I could tell for the first five minutes of the conversation that the driver was just reliving over and over again what happened. Painful. They did not seem to be getting anywhere and frankly we did not know exactly where to go either, so there was not a lot we could do except wait.

After several minutes Sarper called the guy who referred this driver and he then proceeded to tell him which direction to go. After there very long discussion, we were then getting somewhere when I began to hear a lot of okay okay. Fortunately, as we finally moved on in the same direction, there was another exit for the Formula 1 facilities.

We made it in, but driving by the various gates was equally painful. No one seemed to know for sure where to go, and even the policemen were not sure where the concert was. The entire F1 complex is massive. I know nothing about car racing and of course the track needs to be big, but this is huge. The size of a small city.

We eventually arrived and all was well. Does this have anything to do with Prince? No. Does it have anything to do with language and cultural barriers? Yes. And often when you live abroad you meet people who may not approach things the same way you would. It all seems illogical and will try your patience to the max. With the added fact that none of us are from the area to know exactly where to go doesn’t make it any easier. There are other occasions when this is much easier and you just roll with it. Sometimes not - Breathe deep and move on.

...I promise the next post will have everything to do with Prince!

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