Farook is not a Citizen of the UAE. I have written about him before, but perhaps have not made it clear that he is a very devoted husband and father, trying to provide as best he can for his family. As part of this effort to provide, he has tried (repeatedly) to separate me from all the lucre I possess, and even rather more than I actually possess. But, when not trying to effect such a separation, he strikes me as a very good, decent man. For that matter, even when trying, I can’t really fault him for trying to provide for his family (but nor have I given him any money).
When I have gotten requests for assistance in the past (from a rather large population of ex-pats), it is usually a prelude. They start by asking for something of non-monetary value which I can give, such as an English translation or assistance in obtaining a visa to a Western country. Then, after I’ve tried to assist them to the best of my (limited) ability, they fawn, thank me, and ask for assistance in the form of cash. Lots of it. So I am always sceptical, when asked for non-monetary assistance, as to whether the person requesting the assistance actually wants my (non-monetary) help, or is just trying to flatter me preparatory to a request for money in the form of cash.
Anyway, today Farook asked me to help him find a school to cram his son for the English test for admission to University. Many universities in the UAE require the student to take either the TOEFL or the IELTS before they can enroll. Some specifically require either one or the other, but most accept both. Farook had no idea what the difference was, or which was better. He had called around, and found that the charges for English cramming vary from about €300 to €700. He wasn’t sure why paying €700 would buy him any more assurance of University admission for his son than paying €300.
I tried to explain, as best I could: ‘TOEFL is an American test of English, using American English; IELTS is a British test, using British English.’ I’d heard an IELTS test where the examinees had to listen to a thick Irish brogue, a thick Scottish burr, a Cockney, and somehow interpret what was being said. I said that I, personally, would have great difficulty passing the IELTS listening examination. If someone said, ‘I’m goin’ u’ th’ apple ta see my blister,’ I wouldn’t have any idea what they were talking about. Similarly with someone reading ‘The kin’si’s i’ Dumfermling toun, drikin’ th’ bluid red wi’e.’
We went to a place that has been teaching the TOEFL cram course for many years, but has recently added the IELTS cram course. The TOEFL cram course lasts longer and costs about €700; the IELTS cram course only costs €400. A lady who claimed to be a Citizen overheard Farook. She said she was from Ras Al Khaimah , and that she’d studied IELTS at the school’s main competitor without learning anything, but that the school where we were at had really helped her learn English. My only problem with her recommendation was that her entire conversation was in Arabic. (She may actually be a Citizen, or she may be like Farook, and only dress like a Citizen. I have no way of knowing.)
Farook said we couldn’t decide without going to the aforesaid main competitor. His son filled out the form given to everyone asking about the courses. (I might add, his son filled the form out incorrectly, since he couldn’t read the English instructions.)
Then we went to the competitor, since Farook wanted to examine all his options. This being Dubai, there was no parking available within a kilometre of the second campus. Farook, dressed exactly like a Citizen, demanded that he be allowed to park. The guard said he would need a letter from the Director of the institute. Farook threatened, and the guard quailed. He said Farook would have to leave his keys, so Farook handed the guard some key, certainly not the key to his car. And we went in to ask about their programme.
The competitor, fearing an attack on any and all institutions associated with the English language, has a scanner, similar to the airlines, situated at the entrance. Farook and I both set the scanner off, since we both had coins and mobiles in our pockets. No one said or did anything. So in we both sailed, potential bombs and all.
The competitor only offers IELTS, and charges the same €400 for the IELTS cram course as the first institution. The IELTS exam is separate, another €140. Farook decided on the first institution, so we left. The guard gave Farook back whatever key Farook had handed over and we drove off. Farook gave his son the money to pay for the course at the first school, then drove us all back to his office, where we had tea.
I couldn’t see a good reason to stay, so I left. Farook was still calling different people asking them about English cram courses.
The Ruler of Dubai promised, last summer, that all the Dubai bus stops would be air-conditioned. As promised, from December through February, especially at night, the A/C was on full blast. Now that it’s July, the A/C seems to be off, and the bus stops are all in the 40’s.
I took the bus to a bookstore in Deira City Centre (more or less on my way home) and found a copy of Waugh’s Vile Bodies
, a book I really want to read, only the price (in paperback) was €45. This seemed, to me, excessive for an old paperback, so I refrained from purchase. They also had three copies of Volume I of Waugh's Sword of Honour
trilogy (I had already purchased the fourth copy).
I ended up buying two novels and a collection of short stories by Henry James for a total of €5. All from another bookstore in City Centre. Then I went home.
I was starving when I finally managed to walk past Wang’s Kitchen. No one of Chinese extraction has ever worked or eaten at Wang’s kitchen, but they have a display of bindi prominently displayed. My Chinese friends agree that bindi is an excellent animal fodder, and have heard that, in some very primitive cultures, bindi is even eaten. Some Chinese feel that this is a ridiculous rumour, but other s believe almost anything is possible among foreign barbarians. So I ordered the bindi, feeling that the South Asians cooking for Wang’s Kitchen would know how to prepare it (and also feeling that they would not know how to prepare any of the nominally Chinese dishes on the menu). I am happy to report that I was correct in my assessment. So, for dinner tonight, I had Wang’s Special Bindi. A dish no Wang has ever heard of.