INGULFED

In Shanghai

A Stopped Clock — ساعة موقوفة

Day One

Woke up in a new place. Turned out the gulf was right out my window, draped in a haze of sand that dropped like a wall a few hundred meters offshore. And holy crowned prince! — I’m already thinking in meters.

According to my schedule, my first day in the UAE and my first day at work began at 9:30. At 9, I stepped outside and the heat punched me by surprise, even though the morning was a relatively cool one. It was about 105, which in Celsius… is some other number.

My job is with the brand new New York University Abu Dhabi, located until 2014 in the Madinat Zayed neighborhood of downtown Abu Dhabi. (In February 2014, the University will move to Saadiyat Island, the site of numerous architectural and artistic endeavors, including new branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre.) And in the glistening purple and gray buildings, I kind of learned what sorts of things I will be doing for the (at the very least) next 53 weeks.


The day was spent in meetings and meeting people, preparing for the arrival of 150 of the world’s brightest soon-to-be undergraduates, and somehow, not falling asleep. Jet lag is an interesting thing.

Now I’m sure I could google things about this, but I’d rather just make great big sweeping assumptions about science. Coming from a time zone now eleven hours behind, I arrived at night and felt sleepy. Good. I woke up in the morning after having slept not enough and felt a bit tired. Fine. It got to be siesta time and I slowed down a little. Normal. And at night when people I once lived down the hall from started waking up, I woke up excitedly to speak with them.

It doesn’t seem like jet lag has anything to do with the jets. Eleven hours is backward enough to just hit the reset button and reteach yourself everything you ever knew about time. Me brain, you body. Morning. Me tired. You tired. Hey, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. I just happened to replug mine in half a day after I pulled it out.

Also not a bad idea to reprogram your basic assumptions about class structure and what it means to be polite. So far, it seems that socioeconomic placement is almost color-coded, made evident by a man’s shade of uniform, work shirt, or coveralls. White shirts (security) and up smile at almost every opportunity, but beige (depending on shade, as in taxis or construction) or red shirts (maintenance) often prefer to avoid much interaction, maybe even because they believe it makes you feel uncomfortable.

Of course, I’ve been here for about 12 hours. Not exactly an expert.

In one meeting, we discussed alternate possibilities for dinner depending on the moon. That is to say, on Ramadan, which ends on the sighting of the new moon. As this is confirmed the naked eyes of a moon-sighting committee, dates are never set in stone and back up plans are prepared for all those who wish to do one thing on the last day of Ramadan and another on the first day of Eid al-Fitr. The short of NYUAD policy: let’s just celebrate every night. Problem solved.

Until the next post, I will continue work on my undercover Colbert Report-style special report: “Powershirts: The Colored Rungscape of the Social Laddershpere,” and try to remember what day it is.

Because, after all, a stopped clock is right twice a day, but a stopped calendar is a piece of shit.

2 Comments»

  Ari wrote @

Lol @ last line.

  Mom wrote @

FYI: a watched clock never boils (even in the UAE). Stay cool! You very funny writer!


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