Showing posts from June, 2009

So July 1 isn't special for everyone, I get that

I was chatting with a British friend on Skype tonight who asked if I was going to join a group watching the tennis tomorrow, and I explained that while I will be at the same bar (this is Abu Dhabi, after all) I will be there celebrating Canada Day with a bunch of, you know, Canadians.

Me: How could you forget?

Her: Actually, I didn't. I was just hoping you would be more excited about Wimbledon and say yes.

Me: It's pretty hard to trump Canada Day.

Her: Well .....

Happy Canada Day!

Canada Day 2008, the dock, Blue Sea Lake, Quebec (also known as my favourite place on earth)

The Summer Olympics in Dubai? Seriously?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, has come out to say the emirate is going to look seriously at making a bid to host the 2020 Summer Games. No one who is in the UAE at the moment can actually believe this, and not just because the minute you walk outside your glasses fog up and it becomes difficult to breathe. And it's only June.

No doubt this would a boon to Dubai and the UAE (although I am not really sure the Emirates want the world's spotlight on their labour and human rights record, although things could have changed a lot by then). But... seriously? How can anyone think this will fly? I am really not the defeatist sort, but there is a reason the Summer Games are not held in this region and it seems insurmountable. Qatar made a bid for the 2016 Summer Games, but their proposal was to move it to the fall, and that doesn't really merge with the interests of the television broadcasters or the athlete's training schedules.

A random thing I feel the need to semi-publicly confess

...I have been reading From Rags to Riches: A Story of Abu Dhabi, a 190-page book by Mohammed Al-Fahim, for 14 months.

I am on page 135, having stalled at Aug 6, 1966: the day Sheikh Zayed becomes ruler of Abu Dhabi.

Sugar Daddy's does Michael Jackson cupcakes

Sugar Daddy's is an awesome cupcake shop in Dubai I highly recommend - just last week an intern brought us in a three-pack, and I devoured a red velvet version. Quick-thinking staff too: on Friday they whipped up these babies, just hours after the news broke and well before the radio stations started playing his music wall-to-wall.

Via Cupcakes Take the Cake (my new favourite non-UAE blog).

Not to go on and on about the cats-in-the-office-at-night-thing, but seriously


Snap caption: My first parking ticket

Now if only I knew how much it was for...

Today my internet was connected, a few days shy of the four-month anniversary of me ordering it

And I thought getting Showtime hooked up was a comedy of errors:

7.19am call
"Ma'am it's Matthew from Etisalat, can I come now?

7.45am call
"Ma'am can I have your internet account number?"

8.15am call
"Ma'am where do you live?" (he's been here before) A five minute conversation ensues where I give directions to my flat, which includes mention of four main arterial roads, a laundry and the furnishings store on the main floor.

8.30am call
"Across from Zayed University?"

Matthew arrives

"Ma'am where is your watchman? Because the internet is not working."

He tells me my computer is configured, it's communicating with the router, but someone has fiddled with my line in "the telephone room" and it's broken. He goes to find the watchman while I try to phone the building manager.

10am Matthew comes back, having found my watchman (and kudos, because I have never been able to) but been unable to communicate w…

Almost every night, at about 8.30pm

I've switched to a new job as a news editor, one that has me here in the evenings. There are thousands of stray cats in Abu Dhabi, some of them cute, some of them like this guy.

And one thing I've learned we can be sure of is that this cat will wander in the newsroom during the shift (possibly making a foray into the rafters back by the kitchen), that he will make a lot of noise, and several people will gather around him, and one of them will succeed in coaxing him out.

Snap caption: Sheikh Zayed, father of the nation


Little things entertain us here

... including new restaurants and grocery stores opening. It seems like just yesterday that the One to One hotel opened, fairly near the office. It's been weeks, but still, all it takes is a walk into the beer garden to stumble across at least two other tables from The National before I find the friends I came to meet.

So while it may seem odd, much of the office is abuzz with the fun news that a popular Australian upscale grocery chain, Jones, is opening up just across the street. I am sold purely on their offer of a "walk in cheese room". On Friday I was invited to brunch there, and it is not yet open.

It's that time of year again...

... people are saying a lot of things like "see you in September" – which makes me panic, cause I am not going anywhere until at least mid-August – and it's getting hotter and hotter. I am not sure if it's worse this year knowing how hot it is going to get, but everyone around me is preparing for the 50Cs that are to come. Many of us have hunkered down with entire seasons of DVDs to watch - I am peeling through various seasons of Grey's Anatomy, Lost, Dexter, and Mad Men, not to mention the fabulous British shows Peep Show and Pulling, trying to avoid spoilers that are everywhere. (For example just this morning I read that Daniel Faraday was shot by his mother, which bends my mind and also makes me cranky, as he still very much alive - although speeding through time, of course - in the Lost episodes I've got going; also I just read that Mad Men's Don Draper's wife is pregnant and the baby is his, despite her fling, grrr). I've also joined a tiny g…

Snap caption: Umbrella time


Oh man... I can really say about this.

Sigh. Watch your drinks, ladies. Everything is not as it seems, not by a long shot.

She's been called the Muslim Dr Ruth

There was a great piece in the New York Times earlier this month that I just stumbled on, about Wedad Lootah, a marital counselor at Dubai's main courthouse who has written a frank book of erotic advice. Rooted in the Quran, published in January here in Arabic, Top Secret: Sexual Guidance for Married Couples is proving controversial, to put it mildly.

"People have said I was crazy, that I was straying from Islam, that I should be killed," Ms Lootah said. "Even my family ask why I must talk about this. I say: 'These problems happen every day and should not be ignored. This is the reality we are living'."

Paris Hilton is in Dubai, right now!

Now if this was my old paper, the Ottawa Sun, we'd slap a Sens jersey on her and put her on the front page tomorrow. The National? I suspect it will be somewhere inside. And let's hope the hotel heiress has covered up.

Apparently she's here to shoot the second season of her reality show, Paris Hilton's My New BFF. The disdain is palpable.

When I go home later this summer, my birthday package from May 2008 will be waiting for me

I was terribly homesick in the months after moving here, and on my birthday last year, looked forward to care packages shipped over by my oldest friend, and also my brother and his wife. I carefully noted the newspaper's address - my new colleagues all seemed to be receiving mail quite frequently – and waited for a bit of home.

And waited. And waited. By July it was clear there was a problem. My brother did not keep receipts for anything in his package, which included entire seasons of DVDS. My friend on the other hand, had kept receipts for almost everything: books, special organic bars I love, a cool T-shirt, and was incensed that basically the best birthday package ever had, as it seemed, been stolen somewhere between Toronto and Abu Dhabi.

No one tried to send me anything for my birthday this year, and really, I don't blame them. Also, I have been unable to let go of the idea that one or both of those packages might some day arrive. For months I would look up hopefully when…

Kids - and adults – love snowballs, even in the desert

There is one thing you can count on during a visit to Ski Dubai, in the Mall of the Emirates: that besides people skiing and snowboarding down the man-made indoor hill, there will be kids of all ages playing in the snow at the bottom. I was watching through the window on Friday when some of them started throwing snowballs at me.

Speaking of scary...

... Previously I have been scared to death of these vans, having only watched them hurtling down the highway. But last weekend took one of them to Dubai - me and 14 men. It's actually pretty cool. You wander over to the bus station on Muroor Road, find the men yelling "Dubai, Dubai", hand them 20 dirhams and get in.

The driver was very safe (and did not seem at all sleepy, as has been my fear) and even dropped me off on the side of the road by Mall of the Emirates so I didn't have to double back from the Dubai bus station to the marina. I couldn't find evidence of a seatbelt, though, so there's that.

Yikes! I knew I was lucky to be alive

Having scraped up a rental car last week, a mere 2.5 hours after getting behind the wheel – and having a friend who was rear-ended on the WAY HOME from picking up the used Mercedes he had just bought – and, well, just having eyes in my head, I am not at all shocked by a slew of recent stories about the mayhem on UAE roads.

I have seen some of the most shocking manouvres as a passenger here. Early one morning I watched from a taxi as a motorcycle screamed past down a main thoroughfare on its front wheel, its driver seemingly hovering in the air behind it. A Lexus SUV passed our car in the fast lane on the highway - but not the way you might think, instead on the inside lane that is not really a lane. We call it "undertaking", for obvious reasons, and it is very scary when it happens to you. I can't count how many times I've seen a group of cars mimicking something they must have seen in a Fast and the Furious installment; and don't get a driver mad, either. He will…

Saudi official speaks, says there is no real reason for truck backlog

The most bizarre and appalling situation has been brewing 350km from Abu Dhabi, at the Al Ghuwafait border crossing into Saudi Arabia, where this week a line of more than 8,000 vehicles waited to pass. Drivers have spent up to five days in baking 50C heat - some laying under their trucks for some relief from the relentless sun.

Heat exhaustion, fights, from frayed nerves and general desperation have set in. Can you imagine how depressing it would be? These men can't leave their trucks. It's a miracle someone has not died. The situation has been attributed to some sort of escalation in security measures to prevent smuggling, but last night a Saudi Ministry of the Interior official said that wasn't the case, things had just gotten a little backed up, is all.

Meanwhile the government has dispatched volunteer teams from the Red Crescent Authority (the Middle East's Red Cross) to hand out food and water, and private businesses and citizens have driven down there to hand out …

Does this not seem like quite a lot of gear for an internet connection...

... let alone one that doesn't function?

The laundry keeps misplacing my clothes...

...something I only realise when I go to put something on. Sure, sure, I could buy a washing machine and do them myself, but it seems like a lot of work and I've grown to enjoy having everything washed and pressed. When I try to explain the clothes I am missing to the men at the laundry, all I get are blank stares. So last night I printed out these pictures that I found on the internet and took them in. I still don't have them, but it makes me feel proactive.

Hey Dubizzle, welcome to Abu Dhabi

Now everyone can go online to find an outrageously expensive apartment.

Conversational snippet from a night in Dubai

"We're here to make money. We're not here to make the world right."

-American expat businessman

Etisalat, I try to understand you, but you make it so very difficult OR long and probably crazy rant about how I can't get an internet connection

Living in the UAE tests the patience from time to time - most of us who have moved here accept that and do our best to cope. But in the 14 months I've lived here nothing has quite tested my patience – not to be too dramatic, but at times my very sanity – like trying to get an internet connection. Etisalat is, quite simply, the most discombobulated company I have ever had the misfortune to become involved with.

Some 3.5 months ago I wandered into the Etisalat offices on Muroor Road to sign up for a wireless connection. As the fellow behind the big, granite desk filled in my user card I had an intuitive moment. "This isn't going to happen," something deep inside said.

And it didn't. I called. I called again. I called more times. I yelled into the phone. When I can flip open my lap top to see a half-dozen of my neighbours' connections (locked - I would steal them to avoid aggravation, oh yes I would, in a heartbeat), when the fellow who lived in the apartment just…

You just don't really see buildings like this going up anywhere else these days, do you?

I was driving back from Dubai the other day and was well impressed with progress on the Yas Marina Hotel, which will be the centrepiece of the Formula One circuit when the races come to town in November. At night the entire exterior will change colour, and though you can't really see it, an inverted 'V' at the base of the hotel sits over the track, meaning during the race the cars will pass right under it.

Apparently though this is going to be one of those hotels where you can't just wander in, but need to prove you have a reservation or a room to get onto the premises.

A few choice words from WAM, the state news agency

From a story about the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department adopting the latest techniques in risk management:

"Risk management works on controlling risks and reducing them though adopting a series of proven strategies and tactics."

Snap caption: If you say so


Overheard at the Etisalat office

"Do you want me to sketch it for you?"

-There is no workable addressing system in Abu Dhabi - although one is apparently in the works – which is why I laughed when I heard a woman say this as she tried to impart just where it is she lived to a staffer coming to hook up her telephone.

Snap caption: If only it were that easy


An idea, not necessarily a good one

I don't smoke shisha, having been thrown into coughing fits whenever I've tried, but what I gather from all the men whiling the nights away in the city's cafes is that it is supposed to be a relaxing activity. That is why I noticed when M, the magazine, did a brief piece on the weekend about a new product from Japan's Mitsuba Corporation: the portable shisha pipe.

It would make my day to spot someone walking around with this unit strapped around them.

So many times I can't quite sort out what exactly is going on

... like where everyone lives, exactly. My neighbourhood, dubbed the Water Tank area, is crammed with apartment buildings that like much of Abu Dhabi have shops and restaurants on the main floor. Yet the people who work in those shops and restaurants most likely don't live in the apartments above them, at least I don't think they do, because the rent for those apartments is outrageous.

More likely they live in rooms, cramped spaces, in between the shops and restaurants. (We already know labourers, taxi drivers and many of the other men that fuel the Emirates' development have less than desirable situations going on, and often deplorable ones) I am always catching men coming out of doors – doors they quickly shut whenever they see me – and trying to catch a glimpse inside. Whenever I am successful, I see sinks, bunk beds, shoes, mats – all the signs of people cramped together in not-very-nice quarters with nary a window. And whenever I ask people, say taxi drivers or the gu…

In the Middle East, even a "free cat" poster turns political


Heartbreak: Just one of the 228 brutal stories of loss to emerge out of the Air France crash

Ana Negra Barrabeig was in the last days of her honeymoon when she apparently decided not to fly right back to Dubai, where she'd lived for 2.5 years and worked with her new husband at Oliver Wyman, a management consultancy. She left Rio de Janeiro and headed to Spain to catch up with family for a couple of days before going back to work.

Her new husband, Javier Alvarez, hopped on his flight, only to be met at the Dubai International Airport by two colleagues, bearing another ticket back to Spain and the horrible news her plane had disappeared.

Back in the UAE, where it is a good idea to periodically remind oneself that adultery and sex outside of marraige are actually against the law

It's easy to forget that you are living in a strict Muslim country in the UAE, it really is. After all, you can go to bars, you can buy alcohol with a license, you can show your shoulders if you are a woman, although you really shouldn't out of respect, even though it is getting very hot. Heck, you can even buy pork at Spinneys!

But a few headlines this week have people who are living together, but aren't married, or fooling around on their partners, and there are lots of them, looking over their shoulder. In Sharjah an Emirati man and his young South African employee were jailed and charged with having sex outside of marraige after they were found after hours in a dive shop during a late-night police raid last month. The woman was sentenced to three months in jail, the man six. They have appealed the sentences.

In the northern emirate of Ajman, a married Filipina woman was sentenced to one month in jail, and subsequent deportation, for having an affair. The woman accused th…

Ahhhhhh Australia, Part 2

I think one of my favourite cities in the world might be Sydney. Coming from Abu Dhabi, where the Gulf is often obscured by five-star hotels, and to eat a nice meal or go to a pub you can only go to those hotels, I am sure I would be attracted to any centre that offered such a thriving street life. It was fabulous have breakfast outside in the autumn chill, looking onto a small market and then wandering over to buy some jewellery, watching people mill up and down beg for change and dress strangely and drink beer, right out in the open. I felt strangely at home there.

I also loved The Rocks, the nifty section under the bridge, and all the skateboarders and relentlessly healthy people working out in a pretty deserted Bondi Beach. Again we met the nicest people everywhere we went. We found Sydney to be very short on three things though: hand towels in bathrooms, garbage cans and pay phones. We stayed in King's Cross, which some people said would be dodgy but I found awesome. I learned…

Ahhhhhhh, Australia, Pt 1

Sunset in Coolangatta, Gold Coast, Australia

I encourage anyone to visit this fabulous country, even in autumn, as it is one I endeavor to get back to as soon as I can. I say this despite being sequestered in my friend's Rainbow Bay flat for the better part of the first week, as 30-year record rains pelted – and I do mean pelted, I have never seen such a prolonged torrential downpour – the Gold Coast. The first day, not wanting to waste any time, my friend and I took a bus up to Surfer's Paradise, which was very Daytona Beach-esque and frankly not much of a paradise under those conditions. The next day a man died there, after a sign blew off and through his office window, killing him with the resulting shards of glass. You just never know, do you?

Luckily I was with the very best kind of friend, the one who laughs about pretty much everything. We briefly contemplated dressing up and posing at one of those old fashioned picture joints tourist towns are famous for, but decided $5…

Vintage week ends: My favourite marathoner

The Ottawa Sun
May 21, 2003

Kenyan Joseph Nderitu won the 42-km 2003 National Capital Marathon 10 days ago by running it in two hours and 15 minutes.
When he crossed the finish line, amidst loud cheers and camera flashes, 28-year-old Angela Stiles, a flight attendant from Dartmouth, N.S., was still 45 minutes from the halfway mark.
Stiles started running during a 5K clinic in the fall of 2001 and finished the half-marathon in Ottawa last year with no problem. But she knew her first marathon wouldn't be easy, or quick. A cold which had plagued her for weeks meant she hadn't been able to complete a training run longer than 24 km. When she and her husband Craig left the starting gate, she'd simply been hoping to finish in under six hours.
By the halfway mark of Ottawa's strange double-loop race course, when she hit that awful psychological hump of retracing every step she'd made since the gun fired, Stiles could only walk. She noticed the chip detector and much of the rac…