Abu Dhabi…

I have neglected this blog lately. I am sorry… We have been traveling, and the blog just didn’t get done. Sometimes my husband travels to meetings and conferences with his job. I try to go if I can. We decided when we took this international assignment, that I would travel with him if possible. We won’t always be here in Japan, and when he goes back to his regular job in the US, he won’t have as many opportunities to travel.

At these meetings, there is often a spouses/accompanying persons group. I have gotten to know many of the wives and significant others and we have become friends. We look forward to seeing each other at the different locations where the meetings are held. Most all of us are expats in our various countries of residence. It is interesting to get together and “compare notes” about our experiences. Sometimes there is an arranged tour for us to go on, and there are also evening functions — dinners and receptions — that we are invited to attend.

This last week was a trip to the UAE — United Arab Emirates — at Abu Dhabi. This is, actually the second trip for us to the UAE. My husband was there for another meeting — at the same hotel — just over a year ago. UAE is an interesting place. A starkly beautiful country on the Persian Gulf side of the Arabian Peninsula. The country is largely desert, with most of the population living in cities along the coast. I have been to both Dubai and Abu Dhabi… both are sparkling, opulent, modern jewels in the desert. Everything is bigger, and richer, and more beautiful in the UAE.

The photo on the left was our hotel complex in Abu Dhabi… The Jumeirah at Etihad Towers. Most of the towers are residential, but one belongs to the hotel. All of these towers are between 65 and 75 floors. The other two photos show the view out of our window on the 31st floor. Abu Dhabi is building artificial islands just offshore. Most will be used for homes, apartments, and hotels.

These three photos were taken last year in Dubai. At the top is the Dubai skyline from a harbor cruise that we went on. The top right photo is the Burj al Arab… the seven-star hotel in Dubai ($2000+/night!) Bottom photo is the Burj Kahlifa, currently the world’s tallest building at 160 stories. Dubai has some of the biggest shopping malls in the world. One has an actual indoor ski slope, and another has an Olympic-size ice skating rink. (Abu Dhabi’s largest mall had an indoor trampoline park and a bowling alley.)

UAE has a very diverse population, from countries all over the world. A large percentage of the population are expats, working in UAE, but with families living elsewhere. English is commonly spoken, but also Arab languages. The right photo above is the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi at sunset, and the bottom photo is the Grand Mosque during the day… always a dazzling sight.

We had a very enjoyable trip to the UAE. The people were very kind and welcoming. The culture is fascinating, and the country is modern and progressive. We hope to have the opportunity to visit there again.

Leaving again tomorrow for another trip… another 10+ hours on a plane, and another week in a hotel… Talk to you when I get back!



Ramen — ラーメン… or らーめん

Today I went with my husband to the embassy to pick up visas for a trip we have scheduled later this month. Most of the embassies here in Tokyo seem to be located in or near to Roppongi — an area of central Tokyo just west of the Imperial Palace area. Because so many of the embassies are located here, Roppongi, Azabu, Akasaka… are pretty much considered to be the expat areas of the city.

The subway ride from Shibaura to Roppongi is rather circuitous and clumsy (which is unusual for Tokyo) so we opted to walk the two miles there and back… stopping for lunch somewhere along the way. It was a chilly, rain-spitting morning here in Tokyo, but with umbrellas in hand, we set out. Picking up the visas was pretty easy, we just walked in, handed them our receipts, and walked right back out with our new visas. Now for lunch!

Ramen. Ramen is a very popular noodle soup dish here in Japan. Originally from China, it has become embedded into the cuisine of Japan. You can barely walk a block without seeing at least one ramen shop… ラーメン (in Katakana)… or らーめん (in Hiragana). Ramen has become the quintessential fast food/quick lunch in Japan. What can be better than a steaming bowl of savory broth, noodles, and toppings on a cold, wet, winter day?

Our usual “neighborhood” ramen shop — thicker noodles than some shops, and a quail egg!

Please don’t be thinking of those dried up little noodle bricks you used to reconstitute and eat when you were in college. Yes… you can buy that kind of ramen here too, in all the supermarkets and conbinis (convenience stores). The ramen shops, though, can give you a wonderful steaming bowl of noodles for anywhere from 500¥ to 1000¥ —  depending on extras and toppings, of course. (From $5 to $10 US.)

Our “favorite” ramen shop in Shibuya — This one has pork, egg, veggies, and yuzu zest on top.

A lot of the noodle shops — ramen, soba, and udon — have ticket machines at the entrances. When you go in, you put in your money, push a button, and out pops a ticket that you give to the wait-staff. They direct you to a table, bring water glasses (pitcher on the table), and then bring you your noodles. Some places also offer rice to go with the meal, and there are always jars of condiments on the table to make your bowl of noodles just the way you like it:  pickled ginger, chili oil and pepper, vinegar, shredded long onion, garlic, and sometimes different types of shredded seaweed.

Same shop in Shibuya, but with a piece of fried chicken added.

Pretty much, you can walk into any ramen shop and end up with a delicious meal. Sometimes, however, it can be a bit of an adventure. Today, for example, our ticket machine was all in Japanese (of course), but did not have any pictures to help us decipher the different selections. We could read some of the Japanese, but as the line was backing up behind us, we just decided to wing it and press a button. I knew I was getting a bowl with pork cutlet because I could read “tonkatsu” on the button, but that is about all I had a chance to translate.

soba ticket machine
This ticket machine has pictures to help guide your selection… And, you can pay using your Suica (transit IC) Card!
ticket machine1
Very much like the machine we used today… take your best guess…

Regardless… It turned out fine. I got my bowl of “shio” ramen — ramen in a salt-based broth — and my husband got his “shouyu” ramen — ramen in a soy-sauce-based broth. Both delicious, both warm and steaming and filling.

They say the reason that fast food chains do so well is that people like to know what to expect when they order food. We all like the predictable… predictable selections, and predictable quality. People here are no different. But, “fast food” noodle shops here all seem to provide a predictable and dependably delicious meal… no matter which shop you go to.  Certainly, there is enough variation for everyone to choose a favorite, but in a pinch, you know you can always swing into a convenient noodle shop for a tasty lunch.

This shop adds spinach to the soup… yum.