Mapping Abu Dhabi, Part 2

Mapping Abu Dhabi, Part 2

We continue our progression on unorthodox maps of Abu Dhabi. Check out part one here.

While the maps in the first series focused on physical spaces, the material things they contain, and the transactions that happen within them, this second set of maps takes a slightly different approach to concentrate on the people that occupy these spaces.

Though allocation of space plays a significant role in shaping any urban environment, it is always important to think about the people who inhabit this environment when venturing to represent it. How could you describe New York City, for example, without the flow of people in and out of the subways, without the buskers on the street, or without the teeming masses in Times Square? How could Paris be painted without the chaos of traffic around the Arc de Triomphe, or the crowds browsing the bouquinistes along the Seine? What is Buenos Aires without the Argentine street tango, Tokyo without its Harajuku girls, or Mumbai without its many vendors hawking spicy chaat and syrupy sweets? Abu Dhabi, similarly, is more than just its architecture. The flow of people through Abu Dhabi’s urban landscape is what brings it to life, and though the traffic patterns can change, the movement persists.

The maps of the Family Park, near the Corniche, record the people and activities observed there, showing the fluctuations in the demographic usage of this public space. This mapping process, unlike a more “objective” map, captures some of the lived experience of the park at various times of day. At some points during the day, the park lived up to its name, and there were many families engaged in leisure activity and sport; at other times, it was largely empty or occupied primarily by individuals. This map shows the ways in which this “family park,” regardless of its official name, is appropriated and domesticated to fit the needs of the surrounding community.

By representing Abu Dhabi, or aspects of it, in unconventional ways, these maps lend meaning to the metropolis. Though they may not be as typically “accurate” as something like Google Maps, they speak to the feeling of a briefly lived experience, looking beyond scientific exactitude and official designations to find meaningful patterns hidden within the urban space.

[Cllick on the images below to enlarge them.]


family-park-2 famliy-park-3


 [Maps of the Family Park by Gabrielle Garcia, Krushika Patankar, and Leah Reynolds]

Mapping Abu Dhabi, Part 1

Mapping Abu Dhabi, Part 1

Think about a map. Think about how many times you consult a map, or use GPS, or depend on a landmark to find your way. Maps give us direction and put locations in context, emphasizing certain things more than others—usually transit routes or major tourist attractions. We could even say that maps are representations of a collective reality: in some ways, maps create the places they mean to represent. A map of a city, in other words, becomes the city. Take a look at any standard map of your home city. What do you see in that constructed city, and what is left invisible?

To make a map, one must oversimplify; things are by necessity left out in the process. Most traditional maps, in their quest for objectivity or scientific exactitude, sacrifice representing the lived, sensory experience of a place—an inevitably subjective experience. Recently, there has been a push to create maps that capture this sensory experience, prioritizing emotions over science. Radical and affective cartographies are those that subvert the traditional conventions of cartography and place importance on subjective descriptors to create maps that are not meant to be objective, but are meant to show a specific quality of a place during a specific time.

This alternate cartography was the aim for students in Dale Hudson’s Fall 2012 class, “Maps.” Students mapped the city according to subjective considerations, in an attempt to give Abu Dhabi more meaning—to transform it into a “place” rather than just a “space.” Unlike mere “spaces,” a “place” has personal, subjective meaning, because it is tied to the memory of a sensory or emotional experience. A map depicting “place” therefore aims to tell a story, and to transfer the memories of the cartographer to the map user. Like Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, in which the author compiles several seemingly disparate descriptions of imagined “invisible cities” that ultimately serve to describe his home city, Venice, these maps are an attempt to expose some of the “invisible cities” that exist in Abu Dhabi—representations that together help to give a more varied collage of perspectives on the city, instead of just the one you’d find in a tourist map.

The maps that we will present in this series examine such different locales as fish markets, the restaurants, parks, and churches. All attempt to capture a fleeting, individual experience, and in doing so make an argument about some aspect of Abu Dhabi not necessarily considered in “official” maps.

In Part 1, we present maps of the fish market at Al Mina Port and the restaurants inside an Electra Street superblock. (Click on a map to enlarge it.)







[Maps by Corey Meyer, Robert Moroch, and Anthony Murray, Nam Nguyen]




[Map by Alberto Manca, Rory McDougall, Haley Smith, and Luka Vasilj]

Sushi: Japan’s Small, Yet Powerful Ambassador

Sushi: Japan’s Small, Yet Powerful Ambassador


The voyage was over. After a short journey on the waitress’s lacquered black tray, the wooden sushi boat anchored on my placemat. On the board sat tuna, red snapper, and squid sushis. The pink tuna gleamed silver in the light—a sign of freshness.

Pinching the tuna sushi between my oversized chopsticks, I dipped it upside down in the soy sauce. In one mouthful, it vanished. Blood gushed through my teeth. A Pacific breeze seemed to rush through my nostrils and the sweet aftertaste of the rice and vinegar washed the bloodiness off my tongue. Five thousand miles away from Tokyo, in the Taiki restaurant in Abu Dhabi, I found home.

Taiki, located by the Al Ain Palace Hotel, is not the only place that serves Japanese sushi in Abu Dhabi. Eleven restaurants, many near expensive hotels, offer authentic Japanese cuisine where locals and visitors can sit down to indulge in the Japanese delicacy. The recent Japanese-culture craze, which started with the eccentric costume play of manga and anime maniacs, has recruited fervent sushi-lovers all over the world.

“Japanese food is very famous. Most of the tourists in the Philippines are Japanese. There are many, many Japanese restaurants in the Philippines,” said Chef Nelson Dolana, the head chef of Taiki, who cooked Japanese food for thirty-one years in the Philippines. Taiki is his sixth restaurant.

Chef Sawai Mulsrisuk, one of Dolana’s sous-chefs, worked under a Japanese chef in Thailand before his job at Taiki.

“There are too many Japanese restaurants in Thailand,” he said, throwing his head back in laughter. Sous-chef Jerry Ruiz, who made sushi in Bahrain, smiled beside him as he pressed a palmful of rice into a neat box with his two fingers.

While sushi is best known as Japan’s national dish, sushi’s ancestors originated in Southeast Asia. In Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, and China, people preserved freshwater fish by fermenting it in cooked rice for at least half a year. They ate the fish and discarded the rice.

Sushi arrived in Japan in the 9th century. Banned by Buddhism from eating meat, the Japanese gladly welcomed the new method of fish preservation, which they called nare-zushi, or “aged sushi.” By the 16th century, the addition of rice malt and salmon lees reduced the fermentation process to one month. Shorter fermentation kept the natural flavor of the fish alive. The turning point of sushi history came during the Empo period (1673-81), when physician Yoshiichi Matsumoto found that vinegar accelerated fermentation, softening the fish and flavoring the rice. His discovery led to the creation of haya-zushi, or “fast sushi,” eaten within a day of its preparation.

Finally in the Bunsei period (1818-30), Yohei Hanaya devised the nigiri zushi, or “pressed sushi,” prepared by pressing grilled or pickled fish slices firmly onto beds of rice. The most commonly eaten form of sushi today, nigiri-zushi—made with raw fish—became common during the transition from the Meiji period (1868-1912) to the Taisho period (1912-26) with the invention of refrigeration. Nigiri-zushi quickly found its place as a favorite fast food for commoners in Edo, who frequented the sushi stalls scattered all over the city.

Gaining popularity in Japan, sushi ventured to the U.S. during the 1920s, where it received little applause from an audience unaccustomed to raw foods.  The Ladie’s Home Journal omitted all mentions of raw fish in their feature on Japanese cooking in 1929. Instead, “sushi” recipes involved balancing cooked shrimp on squares of bread, like a French canapé.

Only in the 1970s, as Japanese immigrants poured into Sao Paulo, Los Angeles, and Hawaii, did sushi arrive on overseas tables. Riding on the waves of the Asian cuisine and health foods fads, Japanese chefs opened restaurants where sushi captivated American tastebuds. Fusion sushis arose as chefs catered to customers uneasy about eating raw fish and nori (dried seaweed sheets). Chef Ichiro Manashita and his assistant Ichiro Mashita, from Los Angeles’ Tokyo Kaikan restaurant replaced tuna with avocado and rolled the maki (rolled sushi) inside out. Their ingenuity gave birth to the California roll. Following the California roll, American chefs introduced other innovations, such as the spider roll, Philadelphia roll, and caterpillar roll. By the 1990s, the sushi craze caught fire in Europe.

As celebrities dined at posh sushi bars and elite businessmen ordered take-out sushi for lunch, sushi earned its name as a high-class food. With the rise of technologies such as the sushi robot and conveyer belt sushi bars, however, sushi became available to middle-class families as well. Today, the sushi trend knows no boundaries.

The globalization of sushi led to more eccentric fusion sushis, such as the peanut butter jelly roll. And the further sushi traveled, the further it got from its original shape. In 2006, Toshikatsu Matsuoka, Japanese minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, questioned the authenticity of Japanese cuisine abroad. After spotting Korean barbecue and sushi offered on the same menu in a restaurant in Colorado, Matsuoka could not sit still. He set out on a $2.5 million project to certify Japanese restaurants overseas.

“What we are seeing now are restaurants that pretend to offer Japanese cooking but are really Korean, Chinese, or Filipino. We must protect our food culture,” said Matsuoka.

Media, scholars, restaurant owners, and bloggers, from inside and outside Japan criticized the minister’s project, calling him the “sushi police” and accusing him of nationalism. Responding to the criticisms, the minister changed his strategy from certification to guidance. The government established a nonprofit organization called Japanese Restaurants Overseas (JRO) to help restaurants abroad prepare “better” Japanese food. The JRO recommends Japanese ingredients and teaches cooking tips as well as language and good service.

Even without the JRO’s assistance, Japanese restaurants in Abu Dhabi commit to serving “authentic” Japanese food. Chef Dolana claimed that 95% of Taiki’s ingredients come from Japan as he proudly pointed to the crabmeat, eel, octopus, and mackerel on display in the glass case of the sushi bar. The seafood arrives by plane two days after he places an order.

“Nothing to worry, because it’s fresh,” he reassured.

Moving behind the sushi bar, Chef Dolana emerged from the counter with a small bowl of ten red beads, plump with orange liquid and reflecting stars of light.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“It’s ikura (salmon eggs)!” I answered.

“And this?” He took out a container filled with finer ruby beads.

“Tobiko (flying fish roe)!”

A satisfied smile stretched across his wrinkly face. “Yes. All from Japan as well.”

Chef Dolana disappeared to the kitchen and returned with a bundle of Japanese products: tofu, Kewpie mayonnaise, and soba noodles.

“We use Japanese foods,” said Chef Dolana, passion flickering in his chestnut brown eyes. “We don’t use imitations because we have Japanese guests and they know what is real.”

Yoshiharu Suzuki, a worker at Hitachi Zosen, dined with eight of his colleagues at Taiki on January 16 after holding a pavilion in the World Future Energy Summit.

“When I eat sushi abroad, they always get the ratio of the vinegar and the dashi (fish stock) wrong,” said Suzuki. He put his elbow on the table and rested his head on his hand. “Here, it was so-so.”

For most Japanese, however, fusion sushi hardly scratches their national pride. The JRO may know the correct amount of vinegar to mix in the sumeshi (sushi rice), but the truth stands: no matter its shape or ingredients, sushi is undeniably Japanese. Sushi symbolizes the island nation’s success in asserting its presence across the globe.

“Sushi is a gateway for people to know about Japan,” Suzuki commented.

Whether as a California roll or tuna nigiri, sushi works as a small yet influential ambassador for Japan.

From Pearls to Oil: A Lecture by David Heard

From Pearls to Oil: A Lecture by David Heard


Today the United Arab Emirates is known for its oil wealth, luxurious tourist destinations, and broad diversity of residents. There are millions of foreigners within this nation, enticed by attractive job opportunities and scholarship offers sponsored by the development of a well-endowed nation from a small tribal state to a powerful oil exporter.

Distracted by skyscrapers and shopping malls, it can be easy to forget that the UAE celebrated only its forty-first birthday on Dec 2, National Day.  The history of the UAE, grounded in humble beginnings as a land of pearl divers and Bedouins sometimes seems very far away. Distracted by the decadence of skyscrapers and shopping malls, the contemporary residents of grand cities like Abu Dhabi and Dubai sometimes fail to grasp the history of the United Arab Emirates and how the modern oil powerhouse emerged from a land of Bedouins and pearl divers.

David Heard’s critically acclaimed book From Pearls to Oil offers a comprehensive look at the changes in the human history of the United Arab Emirates. Heard, who came to the region that encompasses the modern United Arab Emirates as a consultant for oil development in 1963, witnessed the foundations of the country and documented them in his book. Heard was the guest of the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute on Oct 14 to talk about his reasons behind the writing of From Pearls to Oil. The conversation was structured as an open question-and-answer session, beginning with designated interviewers and opening up to audience participation.

Heard gave a preview of From Pearls to Oil, reiterating the summary and scope of the book. He defined the time frame of his writings, stating that he chose to focus on the development of the oil situation in the United Arab Emirates from the 1930s to 1970s, or before the establishment of the modern nation. Heard described this time as critical to understanding the social, political, economic and cultural transitions in the United Arab Emirates, because never before had the region been made to open up to the world on such a grand scale. He explained the history of oil in the Middle East and Gulf States, and elaborated on the discovery and politics of oil within the United Arab Emirates, focusing on his own contribution as a mediator between the sheikhs and the oil companies in the process of development.

At first Heard was interrogated by the interviewers about the process behind his authorship of the book. Heard explained that he came to the United Arab Emirates before its founding to work directly with the eventual leaders of the nation in oil consultancy. He thus became friendly with key leaders in Emirati history, as well as powerful oil chairmen and political figures throughout the Gulf. Over ten years of research and three years of writing, Heard developed his understanding of the topic of oil and its history in the United Arab Emirates. Heard stressed that his book is intended as a human narrative, rather than a technical discussion; he sees the most important facet of UAE development to be the human story. Heard explained to the audience that he wanted to create characters and bring the story to life. When criticized by a geologist in the audience for leaving out large explanatory excerpts as to the technology behind oil drilling, Heard countered with the fact that he did not intend to write exhaustive texts about technology, because that wouldn’t illuminate the social progress, which is what enables today’s modern state.

Through his description, it was evident that Heard’s political and diplomatic interactions helped to engender a great openness and cultural understanding of the Emirati leaders and foreign oil companies in the foundations of the modern United Arab Emirates and its effective oil business. Heard emphasized in his dialogue with the audience the word “patience,” which was necessary in the 1960s as he mediated talks with Emirati and foreign politicians in order to forge compromises necessary for the success of the oil contracts that recognized both tradition and modernization. This patience and cultural understanding is what Heard highlights in his book, and stresses as still applicable today. Heard concluded his talk with a reference to the traditional saying: “You are in one wadi, I am in another;” we live in different cultures, levels of understanding, and general social conditions, yet we all share a commonality in our mere existence that must be respected. Just as tolerance was essential to the creation of the modern state of the United Arab Emirates, cultural understanding and acceptance must continue for this nation and its residents to flourish.

[Photo courtesy of Matthew French]


Side Streets: Oryx Hotel Rooftop Terrace

Hungry for a bite, we stopped at a sign for a café as we sauntered around the streets of Khalidiya. We went in through the Oryx Hotel: a charming place in the heart of Khalidiya neighborhood that offers a quiet getaway compared to the hustle and bustle of the beachside Corniche resorts.

On the top floor of the hotel is a terrace surrounded by tall pillars evocative of ancient Greece. There is a pool there, too, surrounded wooden lounge chairs, where you can relax after a swim. The place feels like oasis, where you can sit, relax, and enjoy a fresh drink.  There are even poolside shishas are also available from a starting price of 40 Dhs.

The hotel’s Horizon restaurant has a décor reminiscent of a cruise-ship, but its warm vibe seems appropriate for both business meetings and snacks with friends.  The menu choices range from a biryani of the day to the “All American Sirloin Steak (95 Dhs), Jumbo Seafood Prawns (110 Dhs), Italian pizzas and pastas (40-50 Dhs).  The house specializes in Indian food, however, with specialties like Tandoori Malai Chicken (55 Dhs).

As a light snack, we enjoyed crispy potato wedges well seasoned with sweet “chilly” sauce and we sipped on rock shandy and strawberry coconut mocktails.  To reward ourselves after a long walk, we dug into an all-time favorite: warm brownies with vanilla ice cream.

The terrace of the Oryx is an ideal place for an afternoon getaway: the quiet rooftop offers a sanctuary that provides a bird’s-eye view of yet another oasis in this part of Abu Dhabi: the green grass and tall trees of Khalidya Park.  Whether you come for shisha, a swim, or the warm brownies, a trip to the top of the Oryx is worth your time.

Side Streets: Ghaf Gallery, Khalidiya

Abu Dhabi doesn’t exactly brim with art galleries. You couldn’t spend a day ‘gallery hopping’ as you might in other cities, and many people are under the impression that art galleries in Abu Dhabi simply don’t exist. But like so many things in this city, if you seek, you shall find.

The Ghaf Art Gallery, tucked away on Khaleej Al Abari St, behind Khalidiya Park, was opened in 2006 and is aimed at nurturing local talent. The title ‘gallery’ as applied to the Ghaf might seem ambitious to people more accustomed to huge spaces housing lots of work. ‘Hanging space’ might be more appropriate, but the Ghaf nevertheless has an important role to play in the local arts scene.

When I stopped into Ghaf, the exhibit featured six or seven pieces of digitally produced images of a dystopian, post apocalyptic society with the Abu Dhabi skyline lingering in the background. Past exhibits at Ghaf have included work from Zayed University students and other local artists (click here for a review of this work). Exhibits  change monthly, so no visit to the Ghaf will be the same as the next – fitting for a city constantly in flux.

Where: Behind Khalidiya Park on Khaleej Al Arabi St, just past the British Veterinarian. Cabs will take you to the Park, and you can walk down Khaleej St away from the Corniche.

Opening Hours: Saturday-Thursday, 9am-1pm and 5-8pm. Closed Fridays.