Sunday, November 29, 2009

A couple of days off, a couple of yoga classes

I've been off for the last few days for Eid, and rather than go anywhere (I'm going to Canada for Christmas in a couple of weeks) I just took it easy. I've also taken in a few vinyasa classes at One to One hotel's new yoga studio Yogalosophy. Check out my review here (scroll down a bit).

When I lived in Ottawa I never appreciated that there were at least 3 yoga studios offering a ton of classes within walking distance from my place. Until now, Abu Dhabi has had just one dedicated studio, Yoga Tree. I'll never forget finally finding it, enjoying my first actual yoga class in months (not just Eon Finn on DVD in my hotel room) only to hear the teacher say "have a good summer everyone, the studio will reopen in September.

Now there are a ton more options to get your warrior on. And even though I didn't know about it, Yogalosophy was open through the summer.

Also, and this is a bit of a tangent, but it's fun living in a place that is always adding new things.

Things I learned or was reminded of this November

1. Irish whiskey, not scotch.

2. When the Starbucks barista says "skim milk, ma'am", as those he's telling, rather than asking, it's time to get back to the freaking gym.

3. Hardware stores in Abu Dhabi rarely sell the hardware you are seeking.

4. Even moustaches start to look good, if you have enough time – ie all of "Movember" – to get used to them.

5. Again, to never give up: 13 months after completing a freelance assignment for the University of Ottawa, the cheque really was in the mail.

6. Bit torrent=just one more thing for a borderline OCD to obsess over.

7. Flying home for Christmas from this far away is very expensive.

8. If you leave a car in a parking lot for long enough, someone here will hit or scrape it.

9. Never try to drive anywhere in Abu Dhabi rush hour, between the hours of 2 and 8pm.

10. Mosquitos in the Middle East.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Overheard at the yoga studio

"It's just that I've never heard of anyone going on vacation to Calgary before."

-Yoga teacher, reacting to a student's Eid travel plans

Snap caption: Only in the Middle East, where nationality reigns supreme

An ode to happy corn



(Terrible picture; excellent snack) Ladies and gentleman, I give you "happy corn" (actual brand names my vary, deliciousness does not)

Since arriving in Abu Dhabi 18 months ago, I have noticed the little stands in malls at supermarkets selling what appeared to be styrofoam cups of corn and been intrigued by them. But as I explained to my brother at the outset of this Abu Dhabi adventure, there are only so many new things I handle doing each day. And so I didn't actually get around to trying happy corn until last week, after a friend at work raved about it. I didn't know how to order it so I just got the same thing as the guy in front of me: lemon, pepper and salt. Sigh. Nirvana. There are a ton of other options, spicy, sweet, etc, but I loved the lemon-pepper-salt combo so much I am not sure I can branch out.

I'm sold. All I have to say is this: if you have not tried happy corn, what exactly are you waiting for?

24 hours in dry Abu Dhabi

Every Eid and Ramadan there is usually a floating "dry" day, where restaurants and bars don't serve any alcohol. I've been here for 18 months now, and there just seems to be no easy way of determining when this will happen. It's not like the newspapers publish a heads-up; it's not like the government in a Muslim country places any priority at all in informing expats their steady and cherished flow of booze will be interrupted.

But it's always a pretty big topic of conversation when it happens, and a surprise at the same time. And invariably, whether you are a big drinker or not, the dry day falls just when you've made plans that involve alcohol. For example this time around a friend and I had planned to see the Guggenheim exhibit at Emirates Palace and then head to a pub. Instead I woke up to the news in the form of a text: "What is there to do on a dry day off in Abu Dhabi?"

We survived.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Overheard in the newsroom

Reporter #1 camping out at another reporter's desk: I don't have my power charger, so I am like a stateless Palestinian refugee.

Reporter #2: At least you are not being dramatic about it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Oh Oprah (said in a disappointed tone)

I am sure no one expects that when The Oprah Winfrey Show does those "Women around the World" episodes that those women represent everyone in their country. No one expects Oprah, from Chicago, to tackle complex issues like human trafficking, exploitation and social stratification in foreign lands.

But I think we do expect a show with such a broad reach, with what has to arguably be one of the most experienced talk-show production staff in the business, to at least do the slightest bit of fact checking. To perhaps Google the place they are talking about.

I heard the promos for the recent episode where Dubai was included for days before it screened. "Is everyone in Dubai rich?" Oprah could be heard asking.

Has the woman read a newspaper? Good lord. Anyhoo, while I wasn't expecting a labour camp expose or anything like that, I was pretty shocked to watch as Dr Lamees Hamdan, an Emirati woman living what is clearly a pretty sweet life, told Oprah that in addition to not paying any taxes (true) people in the UAE don't pay for electricity or health care. Not true. Women here were also not happy that in talking about not wearing the traditional sheila (head covering) and abaya (clothing covering), she called it a "cultural" and not religious decision.

And the story travels. Today Oprah officials apologise to Dubai in a story in the New York Post: "It was never the intention of the 'Oprah' show to misrepresent the people of Dubai," a spokesperson for the show said. "Dr. Hamdan appeared live on our program to speak about her personal life experience as a citizen of Dubai. We apologize if any of our viewers were offended."

The paper also pointed out an interesting side angle:

"Another issue was that the interview was conducted via Skype: The Web-based phone system is banned in the UAE, though the rule was waived for Oprah's segment."

PS: No one else has talked about two of my favourite moments from that show. A) A woman living in Copenhagen says people there often leave their babies sleeping in carriages on the sidewalk. And for different reasons B) Dr Hamdan's husband talks about his long white khandoura and calls it a "T-shirt, business suit and tuxedo, all in one!"

No matter how long I live here...

...I do not think I will ever get used to this.

Be warned: what I am talking about is Dubai Police releasing pictures of a dead person in an identification attempt, and a newspaper publishing them.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Canadian in Abu Dhabi abruptly stops eating hummus after stumbling across the world's largest bowl while on a mini-break in Beirut

We were wandering through the streets of downtown Beirut a few weeks ago when we stumbled across a busy-looking market and went inside. After making our way past a random assortment of kiosks, selling everything from black studded "I heart Lebanon" baseball caps, children's toys, beer and bottles of Arak, a fiery – and strong! – aniseed liqueur of the region, we noticed one serious commotion.



Turns out about 250 chefs had gathered to make the world's largest bowl of hummus in an attempt to reclaim their Guinness World Record from Israel. (Apparently to add to simmering political tensions in the region, Lebanon accuses Israel of claiming to have invented some of the most popular Middle Eastern dishes.)

The bottom line is this bowl contained two tons of hummus – kept cold by a complex equation shown below.



I am sure I do not have to point out it is quite a lot of hummus. Quite possibly too much hummus to see in one all at once, even for an avid hummus fan such as myself. And so, after 18 months of eating several tubs of hummus several times a week (and not eating more simply because that would be too much, but wanting to) all it took was the sight of so much of it in one place at one time to quell my cravings. When I think about hummus now, the big bowl presides.

Thank goodness we did not return for the biggest bowl of tabouleh the next night. Losing that as a staple would be too much to bear.

And just to reiterate:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Possibly the world's laziest mall sign



And in Dubai Mall, where with 1,200 shops, not only do you regularly need detailed directions, a person can be pretty sure level one and two will have "more shops".

I travelled almost 11,000 kilometres from Canada, and still cannot escape Nickelback

Covering them at the Juno Awards, running into lead singer Chad Kroeger and his tight jeans and crispy bleached '80s bob and sinister goatee in malls and bars, reviewing their concerts, putting up with an old boyfriend who loved them – even forking over for two concert tickets so he and someone else could go – and punching the car radio to another station every time the first notes of "This is how you remind me" rasped up... it was all in the rearview mirror when I boarded the plane for the UAE. Frankly, and I did not realise this until just now, but in addition to a wild adventure I have just had 18 months of sweet, sweet peace.

And then this: news the Vancouver band will play Dubai's Gulf Bike Festival, Feb 4-6.

I am pretty sure I must rearrange my stereo wires that week.

Friend's Facebook update sums up Emirati approach nicely

"Out on a run tonight when a black SUV starts trailing me. I eventually stop and the window rolls down to reveal youngish Emirati. Him: Excuse me, do you have a minute? I would like to ask you something. Me: Of course (ever polite, thinking he might be lost, despite the fact I am beetroot, sweating and in lycra). Him: I am going to Australia next week, do you think I should fly direct or transit in Singapore?"

Monday, November 9, 2009

18 months later: things that no longer shock me about the UAE

1. Men making horrible sounds in their throat and then spitting.

2. Labourers catching naps on small grassy stretches at the side of busy roads.


3. Children not buckled in to their parents' cars, babies on drivers' laps, or toddlers standing up and sometimes even poking their heads out the sun roof or the rear window for a peak.

4. Cats missing tails, eyes, ears paws and possessing the most horrible rasping meow you can imagine. Oh, and cats in the newsroom. Namely these two characters: Ceiling Cat (left) and Bill.



5. Cars and trucks drag racing down a main street at top speeds in the middle of the day.

6. Cars and trucks undertaking people travelling in the fast lane on the inner shoulder of major highways.

7. Children playing with things that even I, not a parent and inexperienced in the area, know aren't safe ie plastic drycleaner bags and fire composed of gas and matches.

8. Men stopping and offering me a ride while I wait for a taxi; some even circle around the block to check a second time if I am sure. (Although last night's version did raise an eyebrow: two men on a motorcycle, one mumbling "you need a ride" as I crossed in front of them at the signal. Not sure he had fully thought that one through)

9. The view, which is rarely beautiful (except in the desert) but often interesting. Take this one, from my room at the Monarch Hotel in Dubai.



10. Seeing women swim in abayas.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009

What do you think the owner of the car means by this sticker?

My sharp-eyed friend spotted this gem on a car outside my apartment in the Water Tank area one night. We were pretty floored. Is it the equivalent of the "girls keep out" sign in the boys' treehouse, ya think?

Snap caption: Woman's washroom in Emirates Palace tops for towel art

Dragon boat racing, UAE-style

Or you could just go to a marriage counsellor

Sometimes when I read newspapers over here I think I am still in the west, and forget to prepare myself for stuff like this, from the Gulf News piece Official stresses need for marital reconciliation on Sunday.

Abdul Aziz Al Hammadi, a marriage counsellor at Dubai Courts' Family Guidance and Reconciliation Section, points out there are loads of silly cases of divorce in the UAE. Men, he says, should not be divorcing their wives because they use too much salt in their food or call while he is watching football. (I have a hard time believing anyone would divorce anyone over this, but we are in a place where it is possible for a man to divorce a woman via text message so what do I know).

According to Sharia, a husband is advised to take a more civilised approach to keeping the magic alive.

So says Mr Al Hammadi:

"We call that ... the gradual edifying reconciliation method … whenever a husband notices a bizarre behaviour from his wife, he can advise her, then avoid sleeping with her in one room and if that doesn't work out then he can whip her gently in a manner that makes her understand the situation."