Thursday, 9 September 2010

More on Dubai

As I start writing this post, I’ve now completed four days’ teaching out here in sunny Dubai, but it turned out that the last day and a half were rather compressed, as my last day here has actually been declared to be a holiday. The first picture here shows a general view of the campus where the two buildings we use are located.

Having lost a day of my scheduled teaching time, I did my best to cover as much of the material as I could in the available time. This wasn’t ideal, but there wasn’t much option. As far as I could judge, the students coped well, and in any case I did leave them with copies of the teaching material I used, plus diverse references and web-links to enable them to follow up and consolidate what we covered. They can also e-mail me if they need further advice.

But why was a holiday suddenly announced? It was called to mark the end of Ramadan, the Eid holiday. But this is not a fixed date, and the month of Ramadan does not appear to have a fixed length either. To determine the ‘correct’ date for the start of the Eid holiday, the government establishes a very high-level moon-sighting committee to judge when the moon will attain exactly the right configuration. As soon as this committee makes its judgement and reports back, the date is then announced publicly. Civilian life then adjusts accordingly, and that includes shutting down the university at short notice. But that’s fine, it’s an important aspect of the culture out here, so naturally it must be respected.

The result, for me, is that I get an extra day to look around, and since I’ve never been here before, that’s not at all bad. My plan is to visit the Dubai Museum, take a look at the Creek and the old markets in that area, and then see what else I have time or inclination to do, bearing in mind the intense heat – so I probably won’t want to be out and about much in the middle of the day. And anyway, when it’s just too hot to be outdoors, I have various bits of work to catch up with, so the day certainly won’t be wasted. The second picture shows that I did get to the Museum, which was actually more interesting than I had been told.

Having done one short spell of teaching here, it seems that Heriot-Watt might want me to come out and do some more teaching to a larger postgraduate class, instead of the small undergraduate group I had this time. That could be a lot of fun – also a lot of work, naturally – so I’ll quite likely agree to come out in February. It’ll be cooler then, and walking around will be much pleasanter than it is right now. By then, too, there should be some significant progress with our new buildings, and that will be interesting to see.

After one short visit, how do I assess Dubai? Well, even though I’d seen lots of pictures before coming, nothing really prepares you for the scale of the place, and the rapid pace of change even during this recession. Similarly, though I’ve visited universities in many places, I’ve never been to one in the middle of a desert – definitely a novelty for me. On the other hand, until this week I’ve also never been anywhere near a desert without seeing a single camel. People tell me there are some wild camels in some places, so maybe next time…….. Last, just seeing this incredible place and reading a little about it while here makes me want to read lots more about this region of the Middle East, so when I come back I’ll hopefully have a better understanding of how it works.

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