End of year 1 living in Abu Dhabi, UAE
It has been 1 whole year living permanently in Abu Dhabi, UAE and what a year it has been.
Where to start…
For those reading that don’t know, a little background, my family (my self, my wife and 2 children) left the UK in August 2021 to travel around the world for a year, we ended up travelling for 535 days, visited 14 countries, took 26 flights, stayed in 65 hotels and assisted in the birth of 4 kittens (2 of which we now have as pets but more to come about that).
So the question I normally get asked is, Why did you stop travelling?
However amazing the travelling experience was there are only so many temples you can see before they start to all look the same. Near the end of the trip we found ourselves not engaging with the trips we did or things to see and realised we were just a bit travelled out, when you think of it as 75 x 1 week holidays back to back you start to understand the level of input that generates.
The typical next question is, Why the UAE and why Abu Dhabi?
We have visited the UAE for holidays over the last 15 years so it is familiar and during that time we have seen the evolution of the country. So when we decided to stop travelling and not being ready to return back to the UK, a few countries came to mind but the UAE was very much at the top of the list.
The UAE is very much known globally because of Dubai, with the famous “Habibi Come to Dubai” marketing slogan it seems everyone decided too and the city is on fire but with that growth and explosion in population it really has become a bustling city with lots of people and that wasn't what we were after.
We wanted somewhere a bit more chilled, welcome to Abu Dhabi.
Now before I start talking about Abu Dhabi, I want to be clear that I have fully drunk the koolaid, it is an amazing city and in the next five years it will be hard to beat globally as somewhere to live or visit.
Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the UAE, though larger in geographic area than Dubai, it has a much smaller population at around 1.5 million people. The emirate (the UAE is made up of 7 emirates) of Abu Dhabi is made up of around 200 islands of varying sizes. The majority of the emirate is desert with the city covering the coastal area, you can drive from one side of the city to the other in less than 45 minutes.
When we arrived in Abu Dhabi we did so with just four suitcases, for the first month we lived in an apartment hotel whilst we worked out where we would live in the city. There are many options depending on the lifestyle you want for example; the hustle and bustle of downtown, the sea views of the Corniche, theme parks on your doorstep on Yas island or the white sandy beaches of Saadiyat.
We had been educating our children for the 18 months we travelled and before that they had to undergo the inconsistency of covid schooling. Though as children always do, they adapted. They settled into a new school environment and made some great friends very quickly. I am not a big fan of traditional education but the one thing schools do give children is an environment for children to be with other children.
They started school in classes of roughly 24 children and that 24 was made up of 16 different nationalities. This has been maybe one of the most amazing parts of being in Abu Dhabi, the cultural lens my children are getting to see is priceless. I remember one day early in our move here, my daughter had come back from school and said;
“dad, I was speaking with X today and we were talking about why we are in UAE, I explained our travels and then she explained how she was here because her family had to flee their home country in the middle of the night”.
This put not being able to get the right type of chocolate into perspective.
We found a lovely home with a great community vibe, I can only compare to what it was like growing up in the 80s and 90s where you could go out and play and it is safe to do so. For me that is a massively important part of why the UAE is appealing, apart from the amazing weather, it is very safe place. I am not going to be like those on social media who don’t lock their doors or leave their wallet in a cafe for the day to see if it gets stolen, I am still British after all. But the sentiment is true, in the last year here I have never once felt unsafe for myself, my wife or my children. If anything did happen I have no concern that when I call the police they would turn up, something I wouldn't say for the UK.
Now to the thing you're really here for, the cats
During our travels we stayed in Abu Dhabi for some time with friends and some how assisted a stray cat. It turned out the boy stray cat wasn’t in fact a boy but was a pregnant girl and was due to give birth in two weeks. Boomerang as she became known (for always coming back for food) gave birth to four beautiful kittens which we as a family got to witness.
We managed to get Boomerang and the kittens adopted before we carried on our travels. Though when we returned to live here, two of the four kittens were being looked after at a stables and we were asked if we want to adopt them back. So I give you Sam and Elephant Butt (we go with EB for short).
There is one big problem with Abu Dhabi
There really is too much awesome stuff to do. I really mean it, there is all the stuff that is here all the time; theme parks, water parks, arenas, F1 track (which you can run or cycle for free and provided a bike, helmet and water 4 times a week), beaches, golf courses, world class hotels and food, star gazing, camping or quad biking in the desert (I didn’t realise how much I would fall in love with the desert), cultural locations such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abrahamic Family House, The Louvre, Qasr Al Watan, The Children's Library. This will become even more amazing with the opening of The Guggenheim, Zayed National Museum, The Natural History Museum and the Museum of Curiosity by Teamlab in the coming years.
Then there are the events and experience that come here from UFC to Hamilton (a week to go 🥳), countless concerts (foo fighters was the true highlight of the year) or getting the opportunity to talk with Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi live from the International Space Station.
I really do wonder what amazing things we will get to do in 2024.
And now to the airport, the new terminal is 🤯, the old airport terminal was great compared to European standards but the new terminal is on par (if not better) than Doha and Singapore.
This place is really something else and I could go on for another thousand words on all the activities and experiences you can do but you are best to visit and see for yourself.
Now we move on to technology and AI
It is very rare to find a place to live that provides this quality of living and great work opportunities. There must be a catch, you get nice personal time but you hate your job. I am sorry to disappoint, the UAE and particularly Abu Dhabi have made AI and advanced technology a core principle for their growth. Abu Dhabi’s own TII (Technology Innovation Institute) released the first open source, commercial usage LLM model (Falcon) to rival OpenAI and chatGPT and the work ADGM are doing to make regulation cutting edge and accessible is unbelievable and I look forward to sharing some of the things I have been working on with them this year.
To slightly zoom out for second, the wider GCC region with Saudi Arabia 2030 vision is gearing forward towards more diverse economies and technology/AI are at the core. So as economic pressures are felt around the world, the Middle East feels like there is no slowing down and the need for technology talent in the region.
As we begin year two of this adventure I look forward to more amazing experiences and working on more interesting AI projects and if you are visiting the capital give me a shout, I would love to be your mini tour guide.