July 30, 2010

Picking Through the Plastic

The amount of packaging here, for food products, is phenomenal. At our home, we go through an appalling amount of plastic wrap and plastic containers and foil and wrappers. We do recycle the containers by washing and reusing them, but there are so many other things we have no control over.

When I go to the grocery store, if I have bought any fresh food, I will emerge with between seven and ten plastic containers. Each one of these will be double-wrapped in plastic wrap. If the food is meat of some sort, then it will be on a styrofoam tray, wrapped in foil and then wrapped in plastic wrap. Muffins come in cupcake papers, in cardboard cupcake holders on top of styrofoam and wrapped in plastic wrap.

It's pretty awful.

And what made me think about this is actually cookies. There are some sugar wafers they sell here that I like. They appear to be made in Dubai, (the company is based in the UAE_ but imported from Lebanon. They also have English, and Spanish on the label. That kind of throws me -- the Spanish.

But perhaps their origin explains the packaging. They are sealed in a foil packet, and then put into a cardboard box. Then they are wrapped again in a foil-type wrapper. Because they are sugar wafers, they don't hold up well in the humidity. This is the only explanation I can think of.

Yet there is no question that everything here is over-packaged. Coming from a culture where it has been drilled into us to recycle and re-use, it's maddening to find the trash filled only with plastic and packaging. And it makes me feel guilty, because I know better.

But recycling is a long way off here. There are recycling bins in some places, and some neighborhoods claim to recycle. But anecdotal information tells us that the recyle trash bins go into the same truck with the regular trash. And if even if the municipality supported recylcling ... where would this happen? We have no recycling plants.

I still think there must be a better way. I have no idea what it is, though, so I do my part by re-using my plastic forks and washing my plastic containers. a

July 29, 2010

Random Thoughts

Random and pointless musing:

It takes a bit of ingenuity to live in a foreign country. It's not that it's difficult, per se, it's just that things are not always done in a manner you are used to.

After living in France so long, I know the French tricks by now. For example, you can't buy aspirin in a grocery store, you must go to the pharmacy. And if you forget how much income tax you owe you can simply go to your local tax bureau and ask them. You can buy stamps at the post office -- or at a bar that sells cigarettes. I had a whole list of these things, but of course now I've forgotten them.

(And an aside: this is why I haven't been blogging -- I get ideas and then forget them by the time I'm anywhere near the computer)

In any case, Abu Dhabi is no different. You can get just about anything you want here -- it's probably better, even, than the US in that sense -- but you need to know where to look. And, of course, that's the trick.

We are staying downtown for the summer, as I'm sure we've mentioned, in a high-rise apartment. Below us are dozens of tiny shops that sell hardware and materials. I don't know exactly what they sell, but they seem to pack a ton of stuff into their little shops.

Like other cities (Hong Kong, for example) the businesses here tend to cluster. We are in the hardware neighborhood. Several blocks over is the cellphone neighborhood, and closer to work is the tailor neighborhood. In these little enclaves, there are dozens of the same businesses. I don't have any idea how this works, in terms of competition.

In any case, I have gone to the little stores for various things, never knowing until I get there if they will have what I want. Tonight, I needed a light bulb. I'm pretty sure I could get one at the big supermarket, but I already did my week's shopping, and I'm not going back until I have to.
Keep in mind, too, that the temperature hasn't dipped below 95 in months, so when I go out, I plan it pretty carefully.

I decided I would go to the little shops tonight, after work. Somehow it seems a bit cooler at night, even though it isn't, really. So I walk over and out of six shops on the nearest side street, five are closed. I forgot that it is Thursday night, and while big shops are open later, small shops close earlier. And these shops cater to builders and handymen; Friday is the one day they take off.

I walk into the store, a bit tentatively. There are faucets and electrical adapters and drills on the walls. I have been to a store like this and had keys made and bought drill bits. Almost nothing is accessible by the consumer. The man behind the counter takes the proffered light bulb from me, and turns to the jam-packed wall behind him. Then, he slides out a hidden shelf filled with light bulbs.

He takes down a package of bulbs, opens the box, compares the bulb to mine and says: "Only frosted." My bulb is clear. I think a minute, and figure well, at least it will last until I can get to a place that sells clear bulbs. Remember, it's (and I've just looked this up) 97 degrees, feels like 118 ... I'm not interested in turning this into a project.

So I say fine. He says four dirhams. I think I've misheard him -- four dirhams is $1.09. For two specialty light bulbs. I give him a five, and he gives me back two -- saying there's a discount. There's always a discount, and I never know why or when. Prices are incredibly flexible here.

Now I have two lightbulbs. That's the whole story. I thought it would be more interesting. But it's not.

Wait till I write about shopping for clothes.