Planes, Trains, Automobiles … and a Boat

It sure is nice to be home … After a full night’s sleep in my own bed, rising to a cup of tea made just how I like it, and spending some quiet time alone, I think I am ready to face the day.  It will definitely be different at home, time to re-enter the daily tasks of dishes, laundry, and bills.  I read a bit of Ann Voskamp’s book,  A Dare to LIVE FULLY Right Where You Are:  One Thousand Gifts, this morning, and it was spot on for what I needed to hear today.  Finding joy in the every day, giving thanks, taking on the view of a child, and emptying oneself of expectations — leading to a joy in the moment.

Dorm A5, our home away from home.
Dorm A5, our home away from home.

As for the culmination of our world travel, our final day brought adventure, appreciation, and a bit of exhaustion.  We left our home away from home at 8 am, planning to take a taxi into Dubai for more sightseeing before our plane was scheduled to take off at 11 pm.  Our first surprise was that the taxi was not available, so we headed to the line for the bus provided by the tournament.  We were fortunate to be able to make it onto the second bus after waiting only about half an hour, and thankful that we had saved the taxi fare. Our driver was not familiar with the airport and initially dropped us at the wrong terminal, but after I hailed an airport worker and got directions, we made it to the right location.  Actually being familiar with the Dubai airport (odd as it seems), we were able to efficiently store our luggage for the day and hop on the metro to visit the Dubai Mall.

The metro has a car set aside for ladies and children only.  We became thankful for this arrangement when stop after stop the people piled into the train until we felt as if we were in Japan with bodies pressed against one another and people pushing to get off at each stop. When we reached stop 25, we surged toward the door, taking care to avoid the baby stroller.  Ganmama almost didn’t make it off the train, but slipped through the doors as they were closing.  Dubai loves to boast of the tallest tower, the largest fountain display, and on and on.  They can also include the longest hallway of moving walkways in the world. The walkways led us to the opulence of the mall attached to the Burj Khalifa where we would ride the elevator to the 124th floor to view the city from above.

Burj Khalifa.
Burj Khalifa.

From this vaulted vantage point, it was clear to see that this was a city built upon the sand.  We stood in a building with pylons driven deep into the ground, a foundation of cement poured to anchor this spire so that visitors from India, Australia, the US and everywhere in between could stand aloft and feel the Arabian breeze while appreciating the advancement of this new nation.  A city of towers and bridges, built where 20 years ago stood “a few lone buildings in the desert,” Dubai is a study in urban development.  (http://weburbanist.com/2011/02/21/then-now-the-stunning-speed-of-urban-development/)

One view from the Burj Khalifa.
One view from the Burj Khalifa.

We stood looking out the thick glass of the observation deck while unbeknownst to us a large family gathered behind us for a photo.  Ganmama turned and found herself inadvertently popping her head of red hair into the frame.  We ducked behind the 25 or so, until Ganmama mischievously reached a pair of rabbit ears up behind one of the men posing in the back.  Giggling like schoolchildren, we were found out and the group of dark middle easterners pulled Ganmama and Drew into their family photo, laughing and cajoling one another.  They then dispersed with calls of “Bye Auntie, see you next year in Europe!” and we left the tower with smiles and laughter from our brief encounter with another family traveling as well.

Zoe and Drew peer off the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa.
Zoe and Drew peer off the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa.

Prior to leaving Dubai for Al Ain on the front end of our trip, we had made reservations for a sunset cruise prior to our nighttime flight.  Checking our watches, we realized that with the unending moving walkways back to the metro, we would be seriously pressed for time in getting back to the meeting place for our final adventure.  We hurried through the mall, skirting the tourists from around the globe as we progressed through the people movers, and stepped onto the metro once again with bodies pressed close and cultures bumping against one another.  We exited the train at Deira City Center to hail a taxi to the Holiday Inn Express.  Unfortunately, the escalator up from the metro stop was broken and as we climbed the stairs with our bags and cameras, the press of people tight, we had to stop and rest halfway up, faint from the rush and the exertion.  The metro exit was nowhere near the taxi stand, and we had difficulty locating a driver without passengers.  Finally we crossed the street to a waiting cab and settled in — 15 minutes late already for our transport to the cruise.  Pulling up to the hotel, I jumped out of the taxi to find the door closing on our bus.  Just in time, we paid the taxi and boarded the transport.

The rush and hurry was worth it as we were able to relax in comfort and enjoy the company of families from Australia and New York as we watched the sun sink low over the Arabian Gulf and the lights of Dubai illuminate the skyline.  It was a beautiful end to a magnificent journey, the experience of the other side of the world and the diversity of humanity — an opportunity afforded by the game of chess and the generosity of family to help us on our way.

Sunset over the Arabian Gulf.
Sunset over the Arabian Gulf.
Enjoying our sunset cruise with the Dubai skyline in the background.
Enjoying our sunset cruise with the Dubai skyline in the background.

Two bus rides later we arrived at the airport to find that our flight was delayed a little more than an hour.  It turned out to be a good thing as security was tight.  Not only did we go through the initial passport control and security line, but at the gate we were patted down, our carry on bags were explored, and bodies scanned with some sort of detection device.  The flight was long, more than 15 hours, during which we watched movies, slept, and waited to arrive home.  At the new international terminal in Atlanta, one of the security dogs sniffed out an apple that was lingering in my back pack, causing us to have to wait in the Agricultural Customs line.  The contraband fruit was disposed of by the customs officers, and we were finally on our way to the long awaited for visit to Chick-Fil-A. Ah, sweet tea and the taste of home sweet home!

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Homeward Bound

IMG_6107 We have made it through the tournament and celebrated the US medals in the Open U10 category — Awonder Liang with 10 points won the gold, and David Peng with 9 points took silver.  There were a couple of 4th place finishes and one of Drew’s new friends, Maximillian Lu finished in 5th.

Maximillian Lu, top US finisher for the U8 section.

Drew played a great last round, but couldn’t quite finish off his opponent, ending up with a draw and a total of 5 points for the tournament.  He placed 107th for his section, narrowly missing his goal of being in the top 100.  Drew is the youngest member of the US team, so he has another year to compete in the U8 section.  To do so, he will have to qualify by improving his rating before the end of February, so no chess break for now 🙂  I don’t think that will be a problem for him though as the only thing he wanted to do tonight was play chess in the lobby of the dorm with the other players!

Drew's round 11 opponent, Qianyi Zhang from China.
Drew’s round 11 opponent, Qianyi Zhang from China.

Link to round 11 game:

www.chessvideos.tv/chess-game-replayer.php?id=87822

While I was waiting for Drew to finish his last game, I looked up and noticed World Champion Garry Kasparov about 10 feet away.  I was able to snap this picture of him with one of the Sheikhs of UAE before he was mobbed by the players and parents.

Garry Kasparov with one of the Sheiks of UAE.  The Sheik bears a close resemblance to Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al Nayhan, the ruler of UAE, but I cannot confirm for sure that it is him.
Garry Kasparov with one of the Sheikhs of UAE. The Sheikh bears a close resemblance to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nayhan, the ruler of UAE, but I cannot confirm for sure that it is him.

I must also mention that Drew finished up the blitz tournament this afternoon and won 4 out of 7 rounds, which gave him a top 50 finish.  It was a wonderful experience, but tiring, so we are all hitting the sack so that we can rise early for a long day of travel.  On the docket for tomorrow is a visit to the tallest building in the world before we catch our plane home.

I am hoping to add some final posts with more chess, more pictures, and more stories!  Hopefully when I get home I will be able to make time for writing!  Thanks to everyone for following our adventure — I will see you on the other side … IMG_2452

Chess … Football … Foosball … Friends

It is hard to believe that our sojourn here is almost finished.  While we are certainly home sick (Zoe more so than the rest), it will also feel a little odd to pack up and go.  In some ways, I feel I am just beginning to settle in and get used to the routine — get up for coaching, visit the cafeteria, prepare for the round, then the waiting while Drew plays, and finally the rest and recreation that come in the evenings after game analysis is done.

Foozball!! The foursome of Drew, Zoe, Eddie and Milind take on ...
Foosball!! The foursome of Drew, Zoe, Eddie and Milind take on …
grandmasters Magesh Panchanathan and Ben Finegold!
Grandmasters Magesh Panchanathan and Ben Finegold!

It may be a little difficult to re-enter “regular” life.  But we know one of the first things on the list is a visit to Chick-Fil-A.

Drew’s match with fellow K1 Co-Champion Chinguun Bayaraa played into a Sicilian Najdorf which can be a very tricky opening.  Drew played well through the opening, but he lost sight of his opponent’s possibilities and fell prey to attacks in the middle game. After a series of bad moves leading to a knight fork of his king and queen, Drew resigned the game.

Link to round 10 game:

www.chessvideos.tv/chess-game-replayer.php?id=87797

On exiting the tournament hall, Drew and Chinguun came together to give me the news.  Drew was obviously upset and Chinguun reported that Drew played a strong opening but lost after blundering his knight.  Chinguun then promptly asked if he could join Drew for football again this evening after analysis and dinner!  It took Drew a little while to recover from the loss, but he was glad to join his new friend in a different type of competition and even let his sister play as well.  On the “football field,” it was Drew vs. Chinguun and Zoe.  Since neither Zoe nor Chinguun could catch the ball or out run Drew, they lost to the one man team.

Tomorrow will be round 11, the final round of the 2013 World Youth Chess Championship.  Drew will face an opponent from China who also has 4.5 points, hoping to end the tournament with a win for an even score of 5.5 out of 11.  But win, lose, or draw, each tournament and each match provide opportunities for growth.  We will leave here with the memories of new experiences, friendships forged through the shared love of chess (and football, and foosball), an appreciation of home, and many, many pictures.

IMG_5942_MG_9190IMG_5943_MG_9189

Full Circle

The reason that I am sitting here in the Middle East, typing blog entries, is that Drew somehow managed to pull off seven victories in a row at Supernationals V back in April.  I never imagined that he would be able to tie for first place in that tournament, sharing the K1 Championship title with the player who took first on tie-breaks, Chinguun Bayaraa.  (Kyle claims that he thought Drew could do it, but he didn’t share that insight with me until after it was over.)

Drew and Chiguun receive their trophies for winning the K1 National Championship.
Drew and Chinguun receive their trophies for winning the K1 National Championship.

Drew and Chinguun did not get a chance to play each other in April, because entering the last round, there were four undefeated players.  Since arriving here for the World Youth tournament, Drew has had the chance to get to know Chinguun as a team mate and play mate.  They have played soccer, American football, and eaten together at lunch.  They have sat side by side in the tournament hall, representing their country against players from across the globe.

Drew and Chinguun just before the start of round 7.
Drew and Chinguun just before the start of round 7.

Unfortunately, when traveling for a tournament, you sometimes get paired against players from home, as we have seen in national tournaments when we have had to face other players from Georgia.  And here, although we are all representing Team USA, tomorrow Drew will face Chinguun over the board for the first time.  Both players have a total of 4.5 points; Chinguun defeated Atai Shatenov from Kyrgyzstan today, while Drew lost to Leon Mendonca from India.

Drew's 9th round opponent, Leon Mendonca from India.
Drew’s 9th round opponent, Leon Mendonca from India.

Drew played another solid opening but dropped a pawn in the middle game.  As GM Nick de Firmian told him during game analysis, “If you like your cookies, you need to hold onto them!”  Entering the endgame down a pawn proved to be an insurmountable deficit.  Drew attempted to trade off his pawns to achieve a drawn position, but he allowed his opponent’s knight to get behind his pawns, and it was all over from there.

Link to round 9 game:

www.chessvideos.tv/chess-game-replayer.php?id=87781

Round 9 puzzle – play the best move for black:

I love how the Lord often brings things full circle in my life.  One of the lessons that I keep coming back to is that it is the small things that count.  A smile, a hug, a word of encouragement — these little gestures can make all the difference in the world — paying attention to the details, ministering to the “least of these,” and maintaining perspective on our importance in the grander scheme of life.  After all, those pawns sure can be valuable.

Answer to the puzzle:

Ra8 — although this move makes the rook passive, it is necessary to protect the a pawn due to the threat of Nc6. Drew moved Rd8 which proved to be one of the decisive moves of the game.  Play proceeded with  21.  Nc6  Rd6  22.  Nxa7  and Drew is down a pawn.

A Day of Contradictions

The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Christmas in Abu Dhabi.  A visit to one of the largest Mosques in the world.  Lunch in an elegant tent on the Arabian Gulf (they don’t like to call it the Persian Gulf in UAE), with a Christmas tree in the sand and Santa coming by boat to visit the children …

In the middle of lunch, Santa came with his elves by boat to the beach.
In the middle of lunch, Santa came with his elves by boat to the beach.
Christmas tree on the beach.
Christmas tree on the beach.
Christmas day lunch buffet.
Christmas day lunch buffet.

The buffet was a welcome change from the cafeteria food and Subway sandwiches that have become our regular fare at the University campus.  We feasted on everything from shrimp salad and kabobs of lamb, to more traditional roasted turkey and dressing.  The desert table offered edible chocolate houses and an assortment of delectable confectionaries.  We tried new exotic fruits and went back for seconds of our favorite dishes.  And as we dined, there were sunbathers in their bikinis on the beach merely a few yards away.

From lunch, we went with our hostess, the cousin of a friend from Alabama, to the Grand Mosque just across the canal.  To enter the Mosque, women must have arms, legs, and head completely covered. Visitors who are not prepared may borrow a black Abaya to wear over their clothing.  We experimented with wrapping our scarves over our heads, and now looking at the pictures, I see that I did not do a very good job with this!

Drew was quite happy to be able to wear his regular clothes and not have his head covered.
Drew was quite happy to be able to wear his regular clothes and not have his head covered.

Our hosts were gracious to give us a driving tour through the city which ended at the Heritage Village where we were able to see tents and huts typical of the living conditions in this area prior to Sheik Zayed’s leadership.  This country has just celebrated its 42nd year (same age as I am!) and has made amazing progress in modernization during that time.

A hut with a thatch floor very similar to the type of home that our host Ramen lived in as a child.  His family moved to UAE from Iran when he was a young child.
A hut with a thatch floor very similar to the type of home that our host Ramen lived in as a child. His family moved to UAE from Iran when he was a young child.

The family with whom we spent the day was very gracious to entertain us and show us the sights.  We experienced the beauty of this modern city, the stark majesty of the recently completed Mosque, and the combination of southern and Iranian hospitality all rolled into one!

Ramen is now a civil engineer for the municipality of Abu Dhabi, having trained at the University of Alabama.  His work includes this bridge and a three mile tunnel under a portion of the city to relieve traffic.
Ramen is now a civil engineer for the municipality of Abu Dhabi, having trained at the University of Alabama. His work includes this bridge and a three mile tunnel under a portion of the city to relieve traffic.

I must say, however, that it was difficult to be away from family and from home.  The weather was beautiful, but listening to the voice of Gene Autrey singing Christmas music by the beach could not replace the comfort and joy of being home for the holidays.

At the end of the day, we caught the public bus back to Al Ain, and I for one, was glad to see my bed.  Fortunately, the roads here are in perfect condition and travel is easy.  We only had a little sand in our shoes from our visit to the Heritage Village, and as I washed Drew’s feet before he climbed in bed, we talked of how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.  The King of Kings, born a baby in a stable.  The Son of God, a servant to those who followed Him.  And the most divine worship, which does not require the grandeur of a magnificent temple, but takes place in the simple heart of a child surrendered to Him.

Wise Men Still Seek Him

Steps at Muzabarrah.  Zoe thought these steps looked like ones Jesus would have walked.
Steps at Muzabarrah. Zoe thought these steps looked like ones Jesus would have walked.

It is wonderful to see the pictures of friends and family back home celebrating the birth of our Savior together, knowing that Christ still reigns!  As for us, we will be traveling today in this arid land, not so far from where the wise men of old traversed in pursuit of that king born a babe, following the star that led them on.

A Light unto the nations
The King of the Jews
A sign in the heavens
Its course we will choose
Emmanuel

I pray that on this Christmas morn, you will be blessed by the riches of the Savior who will minister His peace and glory in your heart.

Matthew 6:33-34 “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Preparation and Celebration

Drew and Zoe playing bughouse in the lobby of the dorm.
Drew and Zoe playing bughouse in the lobby of the dorm.

Drew was in chess heaven tonight.  A few hours after his victory against the reigning European Union Champion, Andrei Bulgariu from Romania, he returned to the playing hall to participate in a blitz tournament.  The difference between blitz and regular chess is vast:  3 minute time control vs. more than 120 minutes.  The organizers once again had some technical challenges, so the pairings between rounds were not produced quickly.  Drew and his newfound chess compatriots dealt with the delay by playing 3 vs. 3 bughouse.  I cannot quite picture how that would work, but apparently, they have it all figured out.  The main beauty of the arrangement was that the organizers kicked all the parents out of the playing hall prior to play.  Therefore, we were not there to keep things calm.  I’m sure there were some raucous games of bughouse going down.

Drew managed to win three out of five rounds of blitz.  The final two rounds were postponed due to the delays in pairings.

Andrei Bulgariu from Romania.
Andrei Bulgariu from Romania.

IMG_2488

As for the round 8 game, Drew entered the round with preparation from his onsite coach, GM Magesh Panchanathan, his coach back home, IM Carlos Perdomo (via a very shaky Skype connection at just after midnight Atlanta time), and his dad via FaceTime.  I attempted not to mess him up by inserting any of my thoughts!  Although I was nervous about this round, Drew was as cool as a cucumber.  Drew had the white pieces, and his opening progressed well, turning into an advantage for white after black castled long on move 11:

Drew was unable to hold onto this advantage however as he made a mistake on move 16 with Qe2.  After 16.  … b4  17.  Bxa6  bxc3, white is down a knight for a pawn and is now at a disadvantage:

I was very surprised when Drew came out with a victory because team mate Kevin Chor, the top ranked US player in the section, told me that Drew was playing down a piece (Kevin got a relatively quick win in the round and checked the boards of his team mates before coming out of the hall).  Analyzing the game afterwards, Magesh noted that Drew did get down a piece, but then proceeded to crush his opponent.  He appears to be working on evening up his score with “the rest of the world.”

Link to round 8 game:

http://www.chessvideos.tv/chess-game-replayer.php?id=87732

In the meantime, while Drew has been playing chess and bonding with the other U8 American boys, Zoe and Ganmama have been seeing the sights.  They visited the palace of the former Sheik Zayed as well as the Al-Ain museum today.  Zoe said that she saw pottery from “way back in BC.”  She has always been fascinated with the “olden days” which she thinks of as Little House on the Prairie.  She was quite impressed with just how old these artifacts were!

Unfortunately, I have encountered technical problems of my own, and cannot seem to access the pictures on my camera!  I promise that I will update the last few posts with enhanced media as soon as I am able to!

So, as I am writing here, the time has ticked away and moved past the stroke of 12, from Christmas eve onto Christmas day.  It is indeed a very different holiday this year.  But I am reminded that the Lord lives in the hearts of those who love Him and have surrendered their lives to His grace.  Though our traditions may point us to the living, incarnate One, it is not in the traditions themselves that we find meaning, but in the peace and presence of Jesus.

May your heart be thankful today, in whatever circumstances you find yourself, and may His countenance shine on you not only today, but in each and every moment as you seek His face.

View of the parents' waiting area where I spend a significant amount of time.  Do you remember the Where's Waldo books?  Well, let's do a Where's Ganmama on this one!
View of the parents’ waiting area where I spend a significant amount of time. Do you remember the Where’s Waldo books? Well, let’s do a Where’s Ganmama on this one! (Clue, she is one of about two people in the Middle East with red hair!)