Sunday, January 29, 2012

Part 26 - Gun in hand (USA)

We switch back to the US travelogue...
When I was in Baltimore with my friend, for the first time, he showed me around Baltimore. There was the aquarium and all but there was one thing that was very special in that trip.
It was late in the evening and my friend casually asked, “Do you want to go shooting?”
“Shooting? Just like that?”
“Yeah; want to?”
“Sure. No need of a shooting license and all?”
“Nope. It’s been a long time since I went; not sure if it’s still there.”

Am allowed in the shooting range

I was excited and anxious. I’d never even held a real gun in my hand. He drove around trying to figure out the spot based on memory. As we went on the main road, he remembered the block and turned around to the other side of the street. In a side lane there was this building with a board “Select Fire”.

We walked into the shop slowly; the walls were filled with guns. This was it.
“We wanted to use the shooting range,” my friend asked.
My heart, for some reason, was lubbing and dubbing heavily.

The man behind the counter casually pushed across a couple of forms to fill out. It was a simple form. My friend clarified if I was allowed to use it and he just asked for my passport. They kept my passport and my friend’s driving license while we were in the shooting range. After filling the form, he told us that we could only use the pistol to start with. After we put 5 shots (or maybe he said 10) in the center, we could use another weapon - an automatic and so on.

He took two guns but my friend said one would be sufficient. He also handed over a box of ammunition. He gave us a big headset - the one you see used by pilots and people working on airport runways. He also gave goggles.
“Put it on before you cross the door.”

He also handed us a couple of huge sheets of paper. On them were the target practice diagram - the sheet you see in movies when the hero is practicing shooting. Basically the outline in the shape of a man with a few concentric circles. It was thicker than a bond paper but thinner than chart paper.

Ready, aim, fire

We opened the door and could hear gun shots inside. This was an indoor shooting range; about 4 lanes available and there was a group of 4, including a lady, who were using the last lane. Each lane had a switch box that would move the target clip hanger down the lane - so you don’t need to walk to the end of the lane and fix the target sheet. You just flick the switch and it would come to you; you clip on the target sheet and flick the switch again to move it away. So there I was with a real gun and real ammunition. It was a .22 pistol.

My friend, who had some experience before, opened the ammunition box and showed me how to use the pistol. The ammunition box had 100 cartridges. He showed me the safety catch and he showed me how to load the bullets in the revolver. And then he fired a round. After that you have to empty the revolver of the used cartridges. And then I tried my hand at it.

I used my left hand to keep my right hand steady to handle the recoil. The recoil isn’t a huge one; you can fire with a single hand but the left hand helps keep aim. After firing a few shots I realized that the recoil was taking my shot to the upper left from my aim. After emptying a round of cartridges, we’d retrieve the target sheet to see how we did. I struck a few in the center! I had to aim for the lower right to get the shot right.

The gun was very similar to the toy guns we played with except for the recoil and the fact that a bullet was being fired. The sound was pretty similar. A few rounds later, someone occupied the first lane and fired a machine gun. The headset doesn’t completely eliminate all sound; you could still hear gun shots.

Armed, dangerous and worrying

You certainly need a lot of practice with shooting to get a perfect aim; even shooting a stationary target is not easy; imagine shooting a running target. And imagine how in movies the hero picks the gun for the first time and shoots a person who is more than 50 feet away - need a big dose of luck to do that! 

The thought that I had in hand something that can kill very easily was worrying. It was a strange feeling - and the cost of shooting wasn’t high; for $25 or so you could use the gun for an hour in the shooting range. Buying a gun also wasn’t that costly - you could buy guns from Walmart - they had one section for guns.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Part IV - Metro, fines & Wafi

There were some nice things I noticed during my short stay.

It's like New York
The metros were still spic and span – no dirt or garbage and tiles shining. The government was certainly spending enough to keep up the maintenance for so long. I saw a couple of South East Asians scrubbing the staircase in the metro. It’s ultimately the ground level workers who decide the outcome!
Last year I thought that perhaps people in Dubai might not use the metro much; but I was wrong. A lot of office goers used it for commuting. In the mornings and late in the evenings, the metros are packed with crowds; reminded me of New York crowds. There were only two lines - the red line and the newly opened green line. You had a train every 5 minutes. There were also a few of the metro staff who walked around like inspectors in the train. Once one man was told, “Chewing gum is not allowed Sir.” He was lucky to get away with just an advice. Eating and drinking was prohibited even in the stations - it helped them maintain cleanliness.

(pic to the left is an interesting structure in Wafi mall)
The RTA (Road & Transport Authority was responsible for the buses and metros) had a good call center. You could call them any time regarding reaching a destination and they would give you the bus numbers and approximate time it would take. The same information was also available online. Another useful system was that each bus stop had a board which displayed bus timings for the buses that came to that stop. Of course it isn’t exact but it gives a fair idea of how long you would need to wait.
Speaking of crowds, the crowd psychology applies even out here. Once when the train came, people were pushing others to get into the train. It was orderly; it seemed like everyone was just thinking, “I have to get in; who cares about others.” They kept one compartment reserved for children and women but even those got crowded during peak hours. And the crowd psychology applies at all levels across ages.

My sister told me a story about a man who was caught by traffic police for crossing the road instead of using the walkway bridge. He was taken directly to the police station. He had the guts to cross the road exactly at the place where they had put a huge warning sign for pedestrians saying “Use the footbridge”.
In Abu Dhabi, the police started levying spot fines on people littering the streets. It had helped the city become cleaner.

Kids help business

There were just a few malls that I had missed in my previous visit. Wafi city, with Wafi Mall, was one of them. The ‘city’ is a complex with a hotel, mall, spas and even some residence. The mall is themed on Egypt. There were these pharos and sphinxes. Inside there was a huge Christmas tree - it was beautiful. And as usual there was a Santa sitting in a little house; to have a snap with him you had to pay. All kids were naturally pulling their parents to the queue - around 15 families were in queue. Kids can certainly help businesses by making their parents spend.

I noticed it in McDonalds as well - Alvin and the Chipmunks part 3 movie was running and kids love the chipmunks. We went to watch it because of my niece - she has seen the second part on dvd probably hundred times at home. Part 3 was okay; not as good as the first one but kids were happy. McDonalds offered a kids meal in which you’d get a chipmunk toy - there were 8 toys to collect and invariably all kids asked for the kids meal mainly because of the toy.

There is a souk (market place - pic to the left) that is kind of hidden within Wafi mall. But it is a beautiful place worth checking out. There are different divisions like Turkish, Egyptian etc. with plenty of shops. Being hidden, there was hardly anyone except for us and the shopkeepers. In another section of Wafi, there was Asha Bhosle's restaurant called “Asha's". We stepped in to just take a look at the menu - there was one menu just for drinks. Ambience was good but food prices were very costly.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Part III - New year near the Burj...

This vacation trip was quite sudden – hardly any preparation or planning; on a Saturday evening it was decided that I’ll travel and I hadn’t booked the ticket or applied for the visa yet with my travel date being Wednesday. Struggled with booking a ticket online in Emirates because of a software bug and had to make a phone reservation for the ticket – online booking costs less than phone booking. On Monday bought the ticket, applied for a visa in the express category and Tuesday late evening got the visa as well. Emirates seems to have some tie-up with the visa authority because other travel agents and airlines said that it would at least take a week for visa processing since this was the peak season; I got mine in 18 hours.

Heading to the Burj Khalifa

We returned from the trip to Hatta and Fujairah on 31st afternoon. The fireworks in the world’s tallest building (situated near the Dubai mall), I heard, were grand last time and so we didn’t want to miss it this time. The Government had obviously learnt from last time’s mela – they diverted all traffic in Dubai mall, extended the working hours for the metro, displayed advertisements to encourage the public to use the metros on New Year’s eve and had plenty of traffic cops deployed. We dropped the idea of going into the mall because with two kids going in that crowd and returning back would be quite a challenge. We started at 10pm from home planning to watch the fireworks from the vehicle. The roads leading to the mall were packed and as we neared the Burj Khalifa, a lot of cars searched for places to park or places to double-park while seated inside the vehicle. The public transport buses were packed even though every minute (literally every minute) there was at least one bus heading to the mall. After 11pm, the crowd of pedestrians increased rapidly - the young, the old, Asians, westerners, variety of fashion clothes, traditional clothes and just about everything.

Happy new year

When our Pajero clock read 12:00, there was nothing. Even after a couple of minutes there was nothing. My bro-in-law said that they’d off the lights at 12:00. At this point, there were 3 buses waiting in traffic and the drivers opened the door in the main road itself. People stepped out of their vehicles leaving the cars on the main road, anxiously awaiting lights to go out. And then it did. All lights on the world’s tallest building went off for a few seconds.

The fireworks were awesome; I never remember having seen fireworks being shot from different floors on a building. It was synchronized well and you had fireworks going from the bottom of the building to the top and then from the top to the bottom. There were a couple of fireworks from the left and right side of the tower as well. There were plenty of colours – red, yellow, orange, white, purple, green. It lasted just 7 minutes. And after it was over, all the vehicles honked to signal the new year. For a while it appeared like a large palm tree in lights.

After that traffic was at a standstill for 35 minutes while pedestrians walked out of the Dubai mall. 35 minutes non stop there were waves of people; reminded me of Ranganathan street! People came in different attire – temperature was 23 degrees but pretty chill and yet there were few women in mini shorts and some in low back (or no-back) dresses. One RTA employee walked briskly past us as if it were early morning; he must’ve had one hectic day managing public transportation and it wasn’t yet over.

(the above pic was the end - that's the world's tallest building in a blaze of glory)
My bro-in-law said, “This firework display will help with developing business.”
It probably would – can help boost tourism with images of fireworks from the tallest building being published; and from the mall perspective, getting space in the mall must be very expensive. This mall is crowded on pretty much every day because of the added attraction of the Burj Khalifa and the fountains.

It took 1.5 hours for us to get back home; there were some nice Tamil songs playing on FM. And on our way back we saw that the other road (heading to Dubai mall) was packed with traffic for a few kilometers! People who had started late were stuck far far away!