Tuesday, July 29, 2008

That's one big plate of dates



I'm not sure if you've been paying attention to this back in Canada (and if you aren't, why not exactly?) but there has been quite a to-do down at the fourth annual Liwa Date Festival. Liwa is an oasis village located south of Abu Dhabi near the border with Saudi Arabia.

The date festival runs for 17 days. I am not sure if I will make it down because a) it's still very hot here and going outside makes me wish I hadn't b) lots of dates make their way to me, here at the office, even those which have been dipped in chocolate and c) I do not yet have my driving licence and even if I did, am afraid of breaking down in the desert without enough water, and then dying.

My favourite quote from coverage of the date festival, if you must ask? "Dates are more important than oil".

I have been following with curiosity the festival's attempt to make it into the Guinness World Book of Records by having the largest plate of dates. (The the previous record for dates was set in Japan in 1996. If you are interested, the record for the largest plate of hummus was set last year in Jerusalem: four metres and 440 kgs. Mmmmmm. PS, if you like hummus as much as I do, check out The Hummus Blog. )

Judges from the Guinness book originally disqualified the UAE entry, saying the stainless steel platter organisers had specially made for the festival was the wrong material. Apparently, it needed to be made from crystal, porcelain or clay to qualify. At the 11th hour, judges relented and created a new category. So the Liwa Date Festival's 12 metres by two metres platter, heaped with dates, is the largest stainless steel platter of dates in the world.

Wow, I wish this sort of thing would have happened back when I was a competitive figure skater. I could have cleaned up if only the judges were a little more out of the box and thought to create a "wore a pretty dress but mopped the ice with it" category.

My new obsession is Noor, though the plot escapes me

(There is a lot of this type of staring going on, only more fraught)

Noor is a Turkish soap opera - formerly called Gumus - that flopped in 2005, only to resurrected by a Syrian production company, dubbed into classical Arabic, and broadcast nightly on a Saudi Arabian satellite channel. Sex, wine with dinner, women walking about in regular clothes, a blonde, blue-eyed leading man who knows how to treat his woman, most of the time - no wonder millions in the Middle East are transfixed. Or that the Saudi grand mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al Sheikh, just prohibited Muslims from watching.

He called it “replete with evil” and a “warrior against God and his Prophet”. And I've been enjoying it! Even though so far, the only Arabic word I can recognise is "later" and I find myself quite befuddled by the goings-on. If you want to find out more of my thoughts on the soap opera I love but do not understand, visit Abu Dhabi Nomads.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Things I like about Abu Dhabi: Part one

1. Arabian bread
2. Egyptian feta (seriously, it's the best - as creamy as chevre but tart too)
3. Taking cabs everywhere
4. Tons of stray cats
5. The language, though the only Arabic word I can recognise so far is the one for "tonight" and that's only from watching the promos on TV.
6. Hummus
7. Saying "Abu Dhabi"
8. Getting text messages that tell me whenever I have completed a banking transaction.
9. When people say "what is your good name?"
10. Getting almost any sort of food - from Italian to Subway - delivered in less than 30 minutes.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Things I miss about Canada, first edition

1. The outdoors
2. Bacon
3. Peameal bacon
4. Unfettered internet access
5. Sundresses, no sweater
6. Clouds
7. Ham
8. Kissing someone I like, right there on the street corner
9. Starbucks' rye bread and egg salad sandwiches
10. The PVR

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Life on the inside of a Bikram yoga studio, part II

So the men in the office have begun wearing T-shirts for the five-minute walk from their staff apartments to work, then changing into dress shirts upon arrival.

The alternative is rather unappealing.

Today my iGoogle Weatherbug says it is 50C. Which I reckon means at least 56C.

One of the things that is hard to get used to about life in Abu Dhabi...

... is how they give you telephone numbers here. Four digits and then three digits. It always hurts my brain a little bit when someone is rhyming numbers off and they begin with "3679". It's just a tiny shift in where the pause falls, but it confuses me every time.

I think it might have origins in the language, since it is spoken and read from right to left.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Um, okay?



This sign is hanging in one of the staff apartments (that I have not been lucky enough to move into). So it's all newspaper people living there, or mostly. The best part is that someone has actually edited this sign, yet they failed to correct "shoot."

Life on the inside of a Bikram yoga studio

I realised this last night, when I took out my camera to take a picture. The camera fogged up, was useless, and I scooted back inside. I have never spent so much time inside.

Because outside? Well, outside they TELL you it is 48C, but you know it's more like 54 or 55, because that's what people's car thermometres say and after all, I am not an idiot. I know a six-degree difference when I feel it. I went for a pedicure today. The bottom of my feet were falling off, and I apologised to the aesthetician for the sorry state they were in.

"It's normal ma'am," she said. "Because of the weather."

I was at the beach on the weekend, and I thought I might perish. I interviewed a girl there, a newbie from Scotland, and sweat was dripping off of her face. And mine. We were just standing there, sweating more than either of us had ever sweat before. Everyone who has been driving - in AC or without – has a telltale seatbelt-sized stain of sweat draped across them. And a sweaty back.

Yesterday, while crossing the street from the coffee shop to my hotel, a four minute walk, I felt like the heat had formed a box around me, one that was pressing in from all sides. Oh, and by the time I got into work, I noticed my nose had a slight burn. Today I took a cab back from the grocery store, and that's basically an eight-minute walk. And a friend at work, who fell asleep in the gulf for 30 minutes, came into the office looking as though he might need admittance to the burn ward.

But I'm not complaining! It's sunny every day! And on the positive side, my skin HAS never been so luminous.

I am fairly certain now it cannot get any hotter - or more humid - than this. Fairly.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Last night I learned...



... not to swat playfully at the bougainvillea branches outside my office.

They have thorns.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Abu Dhabi bars have to be experienced to be believed

Many of them are quite atrocious. Jammed with men (and ladies, ladies of the evening, you might say) And every so often when some of the bars we usually drink at close, we wind up at others we rarely drink at. Or, I should say, I rarely drink at. And that is how I found myself at a bar called Safari, in the Howard Johnson Hotel (yes, the Howard Johnson Hotel) at 2 a.m. the other night. I was with two male friends, colleagues from the paper. There is a fake tree in the middle of the bar, and lots of foliage hanging from the ceiling.



A Filipino house band plays, loud. At one point the singer launched into John Denver's Leaving on a Jet Plane and I felt like I was watching the Top 22 episode of Canadian Idol.

In keeping with the bar theme, the bar is overwhelmed by a giant mosaic featuring a large tiger. When I asked the bartender for a bottle of water, he turned around and opened the door to the bar fridge that was underneath the bar's back counter. One would expect to see a row of bottles there, but not in this bar. In this bar, it was just a space, and through it I could see another room. The bartender ducked down and scrambled through the space. He disappeared for a few seconds. Then he reappeared, with my (warm) bottle of water.

We got a pitcher of beer and sat down. It's been a long time since I've shared a pitcher with people, but I stress, this is not a bar where one drinks cocktails. Soon, a man who was trying to fish stuffed animals out of a machine beside us (you know the hanging claw thing that seems so slippery? yes, I thought it was a weird game for a bar too) started waving his cell phone very slowly in front of our table, like he's casting a spell. He was quite over-refreshed, to the point of drooling (I am not kidding about this) and we thought he might be filming us. But actually, on closer inspection, we realised he wanted us to see a video that was playing on his phone. Of a cat, feeding a litter of kittens. He really wanted us to see this video (over and over, apparently) and so he propped his phone up against my glass of beer. He left for a little while, and we were glad. Then he came back, and picked up his phone, and tried to show us the video again. Then he started touching my one friend a lot, and since the other friend was telling me an outrageous story, I stopped paying attention to the drunk man for a little while.

Then the drunk man spilled his full orange juice drink all over my friend's lap. He was very apologetic, trying to clean up my friend's lap, at which point me and the other friend began laughing hysterically, because there is nothing like a guy who has had a drink spilled on his lap not wanting any help cleaning it up from the guy who spilled it. Then my friend lost his patience, but not really. Not like I might have. He was actually quite patient, considering. It continued on like this for a long time, with the cats, and the danger of a new spill from the fresh drink he (not sure how) obtained from the bar. The drunk, drooling man also kept shouting his cell phone number into my ear, accompanied by a fine, vodka-laced saliva spray, while entirely touching me too much, until I told him to go away. It pained me to do this, as I know rejection is so much worse when someone has had too much to drink. He seemed to not notice, because before long, he was back, and repeating the number in my ear.

When we left, he was having a loud argument with a member of the bar's staff. It was all quite something.

Wouldn't you want to eat here? It's seems like such a, I don't know...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Abu Dhabi Nomads, now open

I erroneously reported earlier that Abu Dhabi Nomads - a group blog by reporters and editors at The National, to which I contribute - was open to all. It now is. You can check there for my account of landing in Pearson Airport, only to be confronted with a male horker (Horker: male throat-clearer, often of South Asian descent; he of little mucus) in the woman's bathroom at Pearson Airport.

Michelle and Vincent, I feel for you

Oh these poor two. Everyone is dumping on them, and all they wanted was a little action in the desert. A little kindness from a stranger, in a strange land. Michelle Palmer and Vincent Alcors met at a boozy get together in Dubai last week and several hours later, they were arrested for shagging on the beach.

Well, who hasn't this happened to? I joke. But while everyone else dumps on these two for being complete dummies, perhaps I can provide some perspective from (near) to the scene of the crime.

a) It can get very lonely in the desert.

b) Anyone who has ever attended one of the Friday brunches here in the UAE, the kind that set the wheels in motion for the Palmer-Alcors debacle, where the main attraction is that the champagne is all-you-can drink for hours, can attest they are D-A-N-G-E-R-O-U-S. I so far have attended two of these little shindigs and kept my composure, but only because I was very hungover at one of them and at the other my boss was sitting across from me and there was a child present. I am also scared straight about making international headlines of any sort.

c) After living here for awhile, where it is pleasant and seems harmless and one rarely sees any police presence of any sort, it is easy to forget that the legal system can indeed be very harsh.

I hope these two get sorted soon.

A plane ticket home, three cities, two weddings, five big nights on the town and one Lululemon spree? About $5,000. Canada Day in Canada? Priceless



Canada Day, the dock, Blue Sea Lake, Quebec

I worried that coming home after just three months here would be too soon. It turns out, it was just right. Long enough to get over the sheer terror that is involved with chucking one's entire life and moving halfway around the world. Long enough that I missed everyone terribly, and was happy to see those I could squeeze in. (And I cannot apologise enough to those I did not - it was the most hectic two weeks ever) And short enough that I really wanted to get back and dive into my new life.

While back in Canada I realised something: for the first time in years, even though I have no idea what is going to happen or where I'll end up, I feel at peace. It's a peace from doing something about that nagging feeling I've had since I was 30 or so. The little voice that, nomatter how well my career or personal life was going, said "is this all there is going to be for you?" Aren't you ever going to go for it?"

I always wanted to work overseas. I am working overseas. It took a quick trip back to my home country for it to settle in, for me to realise it, and I am grateful. At the risk of this entire post sounding boastful or superior or anything else I would never want it to, it's a feeling I highly recommend.

The trip to Canada was amazing. I irritated everyone by exclaiming how beautiful the country is. One day, while staying with my brother, I asked him what the weather was like outside. "Sh*tty," he replied. I opened the door to a cool, sunless morning, damp from a recent rain. "I don't think it's shitty," I said, now out on the porch. "I think it's beautiful!" "I'm sure the neighbours are happy," he replied.

Later, up at my favourite place on earth, a friend's cottage on Blue Sea Lake in Quebec, I put on a sweatshirt and curled up by the woodstove with a book as rain fell outside, just like I wanted to. Then, the next day, we woke up to a Canada Day boasting a clear sky and a gentle, gentle sun. One that kissed and caressed, rather than pummeled. In Abu Dhabi, I tried to explain, it's like the sun is punching you in the face.

"How can the sun be so lovely here and so harsh there?" I asked, sprawled on the dock a few hours later, speaking in more vague, atmospheric terms. It is, after, a pretty dumb question if one takes it literally.

"You are closer to it there," someone said. Ah, true. I still wonder, though. When one can hop on an Etihad Airways flight at 2 a.m. and be in Toronto 14 hours later, at 7, the world feels pretty small. That's a comfort. But after being here, and there, and here again, I'm still wrapping my head around how big it is too.