Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Google Reader and Posting Comments

I was just musing on the fact that since most of the people I know have started using Google Reader to keep on top of blog updates (myself included), I have seen a sharp decline in comments on my blog. And I dare say that I comment less on others' blogs, too. Maybe it's the extra effort it takes to open up the blog page and then leave a comment, rather than having a comment link readily available. Maybe it's because I don't read other peoples' comments and, therefore, don't feel the need to put in your own two cents. Has anyone else noticed this phenomenon? I guess I shouldn't solicit comments like that. A lack of comment on this blog would only validate my point even more. Anyway, food for thought . . . 

Sunday, April 27, 2008

International Trip - Part V - The souks

One of the things that I was most excited for in Dubai was a visit to what are often referred to as the "gold souks." The souks are the open markets and shops in Dubai, and they sell more than gold. There are souks that sell silver, cashmere, silk, crafts, spices, etc. It is an atmosphere where no one pays ticket price for anything and bartering is expected and encouraged. I had left on my trip with a request from my wife to get her a white gold ring, if possible. So that was my number one goal. 

After visiting a few different craft and fabric souks (and coming away with a couple of cashmere scarves), I started my search in earnest for a simple white gold ring. The record low exchange rate with the US dollar and record high prices for gold were two strikes I had against me. Luckily, I had two great accomplices to aid in the adventure - Chris, my roommate for the trip - who also was a veteran of working at a jewelry store - and Kathy, one of our advisors - who was well-versed in international barter markets. 

The first couple of shop didn't have anything that caught my eye, and a bartering exchange at the third shop was unsuccessful. It was getting close to the time we needed to meet back with our group and I was beginning to lose hope. But we went to one last store where I saw a potential ring in the window. After pointing it out to the shop employee from outside, he grabbed it and we went inside. 

The price tag on the ring was asking about 1600 dirhams.* We took a look at the ring and offered 400 dirhams. The salesman scoffed at the offer, explaining the intricacies of the 18-karat white gold with the small diamond in the center. He offered around 1200 dirhams. I hesitated for while, trying to let the salesman know that I was interested in the ring, but wasn't afraid of walking away either. After discussing with my accomplices, I came back with an offer of 600 dirhams. The salesman was undeterred and was only willing to go down to around 1000 dirhams. It looked unlikely that we would be able to come to an agreement, as I was nearing the most I was willing to pay for the ring. I knew I could only afford to pay about 750 dirhams for the ring. With the salesman looking on, I discussed with Kathy whether or not I wanted to counter-offer at 700-750 dirhams. Then the breakthrough happened.

Chris was looking at the ring and all of a sudden exclaimed - "Hey, this doesn't have an '18K' stamp on it! How do we know it is really-18 karat gold?"

The saleman took the ring and looked all over, knowing that it must have an 18K stamp on it somewhere. But Chris was right - there was no stamp to be found. The salesman tried to assure us that the ring was, indeed, 18-karat gold. He even offered to stamp it right then. We explained that having him stamp it there would not prove to us that it was 18-karat gold. He then had another salesman find similar rings to the one I was looking at - rings that did have the 18 K stamp. I explained to him that I was only interested in the original ring, but would not pay as much because of the lack of stamp. 

Chris suggested reducing the offer to 500 dirhams, which I did. The salesman was still trying to dig himself out of this predicament and offered 800 dirhams. After a little discussion I came back with an offer of 600 dirhams, and we told the salesman that was our final offer. It was time to meet with our group and we were ready to leave if he rejected our offer. Defeatedly, he resigned and accepted the final offer.

After leaving the shop, Chris turned to me and explained how I really got a great deal. The ring was almost certainly 18-karat gold, and the diamond in the ring alone was easily worth the money I paid.  We talked like nerds about how our negotiating techniques mirrored what we had learned in our Labor and Employee Relations class. It was so much fun to negotiate to a positive conclusion. It made me feel like we did much better than your average tourist would. I'm glad Chris and Kathy were with me to assist me in accomplishing my goal.

Mission Accomplished!

* I do not remember the exact prices we haggled over. The prices in this post are estimates as close as I can remember.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

International Trip - Part IV - The Desert Safari

One of the evenings we were in Dubai, we rode in SUVs out to the desert for a desert safari. Once we got there, we made our first stop so that the drivers could take air out of the tires to make it easier to get around in the desert. We used that opportunity to get our first pictures.

Then we got back in our vehicles and proceeded to ride the roller coaster of desert sand dunes. I did pretty well, considering I hadn't taken any dramamine. It was actually a lot of fun.

Along the way, we saw some camel caravans out for a stroll.

Our final stop before we got to our destination allowed us the opportunity to take in the desert sunset.

Finally, we reached our destination, where we were able to partake of a great feast of lamb and chicken, mediterranean olives, flatbread, and a lot of other things I do not recall. In addition to dinner we also had the opportunity to take camel rides.

We were also treated to a belly dancing show, part of which included some volunteers from the audience. I don't know if you should consider yourself lucky or unlucky, but I have not obtained a video or pictures of the belly dancing masterpiece of the two Chrises (myself and my trip roommate). 

We also got henna tattoos - a form of temporary tattoo that stains the skins and lasts about 2-3 weeks. I got one of a camel on the inside of my forearm and then this work of art on my upper arm to show my wife how much I love her. Pretty romantic, right? 

This was definitely the most authentic arabic/middle eastern part of our visit to Dubai. The city itself is so urbanized, that it was almost like being in the US. I am glad we were able to take part in this fun and very memorable activity to take in a little bit of the culture while we were there.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Young @ Heart Choir

There is a documentary out about this choir of old folks called Young @ Heart that sings all sorts of punk and rock songs. I really want to go see it. I found this particular video pretty funny.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Why my wife is cool - Sunday School

So this may be the first in a series of "Why my wife is cool." This edition is about our Sunday School class today. We attended the Marriage & Family Relations class, only to find out there was not a teacher. I went to see what was going on. One of my responsibilities is to oversee the Sunday School. There had been a mix up in teachers-- with moves, releasings and a new Sunday School presidency in the past few weeks. Deidra turned to me and said "Do you want to go get a teacher's manual? We can teach." So I did.

It was fun to teach a lesson on the fly and take turns engaging the class in discussion while the other person quickly read through the next part of the lesson. Even the Bishop agreed that it was a job well done. I am glad to have a wife with the positive attitude and initiative to take charge in that kind of situation. We used to teach Gospel Doctrine class together and I certainly miss that. So this was a good reminder of why I love my wife and how cool she is.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

International Trip - Part III: The luxury suite

When we arrived at Dubai, we went straight to the hotel, where we were told that our rooms were not yet ready. After waiting for a good 30 minutes (the hotel staff told us it would only take about 10), they had some rooms ready. Being the gentlemen that we are, we allowed the women to take the available rooms.

After another 30 minutes of going back and forth with the hotel, our group leader sternly insisted that rooms be found for the rest of us. Apparently, there weren't any rooms that were close to being ready, because they instead put the rest of us into luxury apartments in an adjoining building. That, my friends, is the reward of chivalry. Normally, these apartments are for people who are staying weeks or months at a time. It even had a washer/dryer combo . . . in one machine! It was magical . . . except that it took about 4 hours to do one load of laundry. Here's a video detailing the room - though I'm not promising that the shoddy cameraman won't make you sick.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

International Trip - Part II - Overview of Dubai

Dubai was referred to as a typical tropical "crane" forest

This will soon be the tallest building in the world
Just a few pictures from the streets of Dubai. This is where the old souks used to be.
from the rooftops . . .
how cool are these little shanties?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

International Trip Recap - Part I - Manchester, England

Deidra dropped me off at the school at 3am on Saturday morning (Mar. 8) and we took two buses, with a total of 20 students and 3 adults (minus those that were meeting us at the airport), to the Salt Lake City airport. From SLC, we flew to Atlanta, and then from Atlanta to London on a red-eye flight (the first of many). Then we flew from London to Manchester. Because of our extended layovers at each airport and the time we lost going traveling east (6 hours), we arrived in Manchester on Sunday at approximately 3pm. We went to our hotel, took showers and got freshened up, and headed to a Pub for dinner. As an official tourist in England, I felt it my duty to get authentic fish and chips, which turned out to be quite tasty.

While in Manchester, we had breakfast at the hotel restaurant, The Beefeater.

We learned that a "proper English breakfast" consists of eggs, sautéed mushrooms, fried tomatoes, baked beans, sausage, and back bacon (which is about 100 times better than American bacon). I decided to substitute toast, fruit, and granola for the tomato and baked beans. But it was a great way to start your day.

We visited two Weir Services facilities in England, including the facility pictured in the previous post. In addition, we toured a Jaguar/Land Rover plant not far outside of Liverpool. The automated fitting and welding operations were pretty impressive.

The last night we were there (Monday), we had some free time in the evening to have dinner and walk around a bit. We split up into numerous groups and my group ended up eating in Picadilly Square at Barburrito - a Mexican Grill which seemed to be the English equivalent of Chipotle. I could not have been happier. We then walked around and saw the sights a bit. My camera (really, Deidra's camera, which she let me borrow) does not do well in the darkness, but here's a picture I tried taking of a cool fence and building.

Stay tuned for Part II - Dubai . . .