Sunday, November 30, 2008

Guest blog from Canada: Things are sort of &%$# up right now, aren't they?

I got this email today from one of my best friends back in Canada. He is hilarious, but like a lot of us, sort of can't wrap his head around things from time to time. He also explained to me that it was past his bedtime, he'd (quite dangerously) stopped thinking about work and was still suffering the effects of a breakdown in his VPN software, whatever that is. Still, he sort of sums things up, doesn't he?

You were the first person that I thought of when I heard about the nightmare in India.
If I thought that there was a safe place in this topsy turvy world, I'd tell you to go there right now.
But, accepting the reality, I guess the UAE is as good a place as any.
I really think that we are witnessing a horrible history, living in a time not so unlike WW1, 2, or the depression.
Melodramatic maybe, but I don't see it getter better anytime soon.
I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I am a believer in equilibrium and something feels globally off.
I feel as though I did not properly or fully appreciate the last decade as much as I should have.
I don't feel reassured by the leaders of our world.
Their words fall short of my ears. They have lost their power.
They have become salespeople to me.
All I hear is them pushing their wares; their repetitive rhetoric turning into a hypnotic rhythm that just becomes pressure on my eardrums.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cross cultural Facebook come-on of the day

"hello,,,,,how are u,,,,,,,,
i am mo from dubai and i would like to know u so hope to hear from u soon..........

He belongs to one group: Russian Bride, "a Belarus Bride and Marraige Agency for Men".

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A brief tour of my neighbourhood

This is the hotel that I have called home for the last (almost) eight months.

This is Jeff the stray cat who lives outside the hotel. I am the only one who calls her Jeff. She is a very needy cat. There is a chunk missing from her ear, which means she has been rounded up and spayed.

This is the corner store with the nicest staff ever.

This is the place I take my laundry. They iron everything, even my yoga pants. Once I went in to pick up my laundry and noticed a pair of boxer shorts I like to wear sitting on the counter. "Are those my shorts?" I asked. "Yes yes," said the man behind the counter, "it's okay." It really wasn't okay, but I left it at that.

This is the mosque that wakes me up with the pre-dawn call to prayer most days.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nap time

This is a picture of some of the UAE's construction workers – "blue suits", my friend back home calls them – snoozing on their noon-hour break outside my hotel. As you can see, they are exhausted.

These guys can sleep anywhere. I was walking to work yesterday and encountered a group - all of them, out - on the sidewalk. As I stepped gingerly around them, not wanting to wake anyone up, I noticed one man was using a brick as a pillow.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Be nice to your maid, the ads say

I wrote a story for The National last week about a new series of television public service ads that basically encouraged people not to abuse their domestic staff. (I would link to it but the paper's website is a little wonky right now) One of the ads shows a woman yelling at her maid in front of her friends; in another, a man yells at his maid and driver because they asked for their wages, which were two months late. Another reporter, Rym Ghazal, wrote a column about it, which has prompted people to pipe up with their own stories of seeing domestic staff treated badly in and around Abu Dhabi.

The day the article ran I stopped into grab a coffee at a Starbucks in Al Wahda mall. An Emirati woman was waiting to pick up whatever she had ordered, and a tiny woman sort of lurked in the background. I motioned to her, as if she was in line. She just shook her head. As I was ordering my drink, she followed on the heels as the Emirati woman headed out into the mall.

The picture above is from a print ad that will run in some newspapers in Saudi Arabia. It's hard for me to imagine anyone abusing anyone, verbally or otherwise. But even the thought that woman would not be offered her own hot drink to enjoy breaks my heart. How do all these people living and working here, far away from their own families - often their own children - survive when they are being treated well, let alone badly?

Hopefully those ads will hit home. But it's been my experience that people who behave badly rarely recognise themselves when it is reflected back to them.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday morning, the gym

I do not often see the inside of my gym on a Friday morning, as I am more likely to be sleeping in after being out late. (Such is Abu Dhabi. Plus, Thursday night is like Friday here) But this morning I did, 9.30am, and boy was it a shock.

Of course the regulars from the rest of the week were there: the lady who is wearing the exact same Lululemon top each time I see her; the lazy woman, who basically slumps against whatever machine she is on, moving her legs on it as if in slow motion, at the lowest level, and the woman who wears her long hair down and lots of makeup to work out. Anyone with long hair knows you do not want your hair down when you work out. It's just awful. That is why anyone with long hair knows a woman who wears her hair down at the gym - with full makeup - is highly interested in attracting attention. If you know what I mean. There was also the nice gym attendant and, per usual, a random man who started doing free weights in the same space it was clear to anyone with eyes I had already set up shop in, forcing me to move and get grumpy.

The rest of the people at the gym, however, were the sort of superfits that just make you feel bad about yourself. Ones who look as if they just walked out of a Reebok ad. Who like to bundle together an hour long body-pump class and an "intense" RPM (spinning) class on their day off, and view it as some sort of social activity. The sort who are always "in shape". As I fiddled with my iPod and arm band, a couple bounced in and moved in on the scale. Jabbing at each other and laughing, each trying to get on to it, I thought "what is this all about?" No man I have ever been seeing will be in the same room when I step on a scale; there certainly would not be jostling and giggling about the whole thing, as if it were some sort of event they were looking forward to. You know, "honey, I lost two more pounds. Oh my gaaaa, I just can't keep weight on anymore since we've upped the cardio!" Do couples like these, who seem like all they really have time for is to work out, and weigh themselves, ever just say "do you want to just eat pasta and drink wine tonight?"

Needless to say, they were still there, feeling the burn, an hour later. I, on the other hand, was heading to the pool.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Never reuse anything, Abu Dhabi

A few words from a British colleague

A few weeks ago, the Daily Mail ran a story, accompanied online with grainy footage, about an angry gnome, or more likely, a gnome-like creature, that had been terrorizing kids in Argentina. After watching it, my colleage had this to say:

"Is it a gnome, or just a toddler in a pointy hat?"

More rain please

It rained here yesterday, quit a lot. There was thunder and everything.

At first I thought the roof in the kitchenette had finally fallen in, but then I looked outside and saw a downpour. I think my mouth was open: it was the first precipitation I have witnessed in almost eight months. (Interestingly, I had just the night before read an article about the "rain show" out at Marina Mall. Apparently they simulate thunder and downpours out there, for entertainment purposes)

Anyway, I was so excited to wake up to the sound of rain I immediately lay back down, just to have the pleasure of listening to it. Then it stopped, five minutes after it started. I feel back asleep and when I woke up an hour later, it was sunny again as if nothing had happened.

To give you an idea of just what a big deal this was, our front page picture today was a photo of a mall reflected into a puddle. And here was the Question of the Day: "Yesterday's rainstorm in Abu Dhabi triggered 25 car accidents. What more can be done to educate motorists about the dangers of driving in adverse weather?"

I am not responsible for this carnage

And how do bugs always manage to flip onto their backs when they die?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I tire of the meaningless world records in Dubai

Since I arrived in April they seem to come every week and grow increasingly ridiculous. Two notables were the world's most expensive magazine cover (it was covered in gold flakes and had its own press conference) and the world's largest acrylic wall, which just happens to be at the new aquarium. Could not let that one go unnoticed, could you Dubai?

The latest, but not really the most ridiculous, is a "rare" bottle of Evian created and designed by Christian Lacroix that was auctioned for US$23,000 this week at a flashy food festival called the Jumeirah Festival of Taste.

The auction was attended by an adjudicator from Guinness World Records (one who must be growing weary of his frequent trips to this Middle East outpost) who confirmed another world record: the most expensive litre of water.

I could not find a picture of it online, but I imagine it to be something like this, only more fancy:

Snap caption: I am not sure what the problem is, officer

Winter is coming, and apparently it is going to be quite cold

The stuff for sale in the shops would have me believe snow is about to fall here any minute, and I have to tell you, I am a little rattled. I brought nothing with me but summer clothes and sandals. People tells me it goes down to 15C at night, and I guess after being steamed alive all summer I am having a little trouble remembering just how that feels. Looking back on last September in Canada, I do not recall having to don a puffy vest or scarf, but perhaps that will all change now that I am in Abu Dhabi.

Somehow, I don't think so though. Another expat wrote in to The National today complaining about the stock in stores after her husband left two pairs of shorts behind on a trip abroad. He has been unable to find another pair.

"Why is it that the multinational clothing chains insist that their outlets here stock the same seasonal items as their stores in America and Europe? Don't they ever compare temperatures?" she asked. "I mean, when was the last time you ever saw anyone in Abu Dhabi or Dubai wearing a duffel coat?"

I do not even know what a duffel coat is. But I have to say I find it comforting to know that should I take an unplanned trip back to my home and native land this winter, Abu Dhabi's malls are offering everything I need to outfit myself, including a plethora of turtlenecks, wool dresses and trousers, tall boots both stiletto and furry, mitts and gloves and, of course, snowboards.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Atlantis, The Palm, deconstructed

A couple of weeks ago I spent some time at Atlantis, the massive new hotel on the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai.

So I was particularly interested this morning, when I opened the first-ever Saturday edition of The National, to see a review of it in the travel section. I was even more pleased to see it was written by Rupert Wright, a business editor at the paper and one of my new favourite writers on the planet. I mean, he makes business kinda funny - not an easy feat these days.

One does not expect to laugh out loud during a hotel review, and certainly not more than once. But then again, most writers do not come up with stuff like this: "Nobu was spectacular, although my wife complained about the interior and I found the chairs unnecessarily hard" and "one day you will be able to catch the monorail from the city; now you just hear the sound of welding as you lie on your sun-lounger".

He also hated, as I do, that the hotel makes guests pay for internet access: "What will they charge for next? The air-conditioning?" and praised his male masseur, describing him as "jolly handy with his hot stones".

Here is the glass fountain in the lobby he dubs "ghastly":

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Facebook come-on of the day

"sorry to disturb you
honestly i dont know you but would like to be
your friend"

From a fellow 10 years younger than I, who belongs to but one FB group: MATURE WOMEN ARE SEXY & GOT IT ALL

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Kraft Dinner, not quite

I was totally jonesing for some good old-fashioned North American guilty pleasure comfort food a couple of days ago. As I wandered around the supermarket, looking for things - chips and dip? can't find sour cream. Hot dogs? Nowhere near the Spinney's pork room - I stumbled on this.

Dubai: magnificent views and near vomit-inducing dune bashing. And camels.

Wm. Srite photo

Finally. After 7.5 months in the UAE I saw a camel. Well, I saw a bunch of them, as the picture indicates. A few in the wild too, and I would have snapped a picture of those if I wasn't doing my very best not to be sick all over the back of a Land Cruiser.

We went on a safari, and sand dune bashing - or, as I like to call it, an excuse for driving recklessly - was the main event. My party was not really prepared for this aspect, have overrefreshed ourselves the night before. Many people loved it. I, however, am still nibbling on saltines and drinking ginger things. I should have known when they stopped all the vehicles and deflated the tires.

Rob Evans photo

Anyway, a weekend outing to Dubai by a group of expats from Abu Dhabi was otherwise a success. There were the camels, and lots of other slightly hokey stuff, on the Orient Tours Safari I would have enjoyed were I not continuously nauseous. Tiny camel rides - as in walking around a circle - sand boarding and sledding. Also, oddly, belly dancing.

But you do those kinds of things when you go away, don't you? And even though you know it's all touristy, at the end of the day, when you are riding home in the dark, sandy and tired, you are glad you did.

Bonus: the picture below may look like one of those photographic renderings the UAE is famous for (I was sorely disappointed in Abu Dhabi at night when I arrived, simply because it did not look like the Vegas-on-the-moon pictures I had seen online) but it is not. Instead, awesomely, it is the view from my friend's apartment, on the 11th floor of a building in the Dubai Marina. Parts of it are really shaping up, aren't they?

Wm Srite photo

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Leaders, leaders everywhere

One thing a person who moves to Abu Dhabi or Dubai gets used to quickly are the photos of leaders. They are literally everywhere.

You get so used to seeing them that you don't even think twice when you realise you are staring at a giant framed portrait of Sheikh Zayed, founder of the nation, on the highway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

But now and then you see some images, and then you realise, these are stickers.

It's this way

All the hotels here have handy arrows pointing to Mecca on the ceiling, called the Qibla, so people know the right direction to face when they are praying.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The world's most annoying commercial...

... is on a Saudi channel, MBC 4, (the only one I watch, funny enough).

A beautiful woman in a headscarf makes her way around her pristine home, which seems to be entirely in white. Everyone else seems to be dressed in white too.

Woman moves around her home, accompanied by a voiceover:

"I love my life, and there are some things I love being perfect at..."

Women puts on makeup

"like taking care of my beauty..."

Woman greets friends

"taking care of my guests..."

Woman hugs a child

"taking care of my family..."

Woman hauls out a big jug of Clorox bleach

"and taking care of my laundry whitening".

Random Canadian stuff/people I miss

Daylight Saving Time

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

Ben Mulroney (I know! I can't believe it either. And not a pang for Justin Trudeau)

Steam Whistle beer

As It Happens

rampant sarcasm

Clamato juice (and ice and celery salt and tabasco and... you can see where I am going with this)

Rick Mercer

talk radio

Ottawa Senators' games at Scotiabank Place (but not the traffic or parking)

The fully-functioning system of street addressing I rarely thought about

Hot chocolate on Sunday afternoons

Lloyd Robertson, and his almost-pink hair, saying "And that's the kind of day it's been..."

The original Designer Guys


Stuart Maclean

the Saturday Globe and Mail


The Big Apple on the 401

It's the stuff they don't censor that always makes me laugh

Living in the UAE is interesting for a thousand reasons, but I'm not sure I will ever get used the random cuts that are made on television shows. I am always left saying 'hey!' at kisses that last one second – the finale of Bridget Jones' Diary, for example, I know that kiss went on forever – or whenever two people who were talking suddenly end up sweaty and laying down. A friend told me the word "Hanukkah" was cut out of an entire episode of Friends, the one where Ross can't get a Santa suit so he dresses up as "the Holiday Armadillo", making it extra hilarious because he just mouths it over and over.

But I giggle at all the other stuff that slips through. Like in a hip clothing shop, where the blaring music is full of swear words and sexy talk. Or the commercial with a woman strolling through her living room clad in a thong. Although the Sex and the City movie never played here, I managed to find a graphic copy of a book issued to go along with it, complete with an in-the-buff picture of Samantha's next door neighbour and some of the film's raciest dialogue. In the supermarket. I saw the Ben Stiller movie Tropic Thunder and though I have no way of knowing what was cut out of it, I was quite shocked at all the stuff they left in. And then of course, there is the violence. Saw IV is due to play on television here, and I can never find a movie I want to see at the cinema because the selections are always mostly mayhem and violence.

A few words from a British colleague

Made in one of Abu Dhabi's nicer bars, after I commented how much I liked it.

"Yes, and it's peppered with Emiratis as well, so you get the whole cultural experience."

Sunday, November 2, 2008

When taking a road trip in the desert, it is best to be prepared for everything

And by that, I mean have a full tank of gas in the car, note mile markers and know how to call police. Because seriously, there is nothing out there.

I left on a recent getaway to Jebel Danat, down near Ruwais on the border with Saudi Arabia. Once we got there, it was awesome - a five star hotel basically in the middle of nowhere, blue water and fine, sandy beaches. Lovely. Next time I vow to get out to see Yas Island, a nature preserve populated with tons of creatures by the late Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the nation. In the words of a friend, who saw a giraffe there on an excursion where she was the only tourist, "it's Jurassic Park-ish".

The trip there and back, though, are why I talk about preparation. For example, the highway might be called E11 in the road atlas, but no one you ask how to find the exit for it will know what you are talking about. After several misses, two nice Emiratis with dirt bikes in their trailer led us to it. Once heading in the right direction, we drove down a straight path through the desert and thought we were making good time.

Then we hit fog. Not just any fog. The kind of fog I now understand can cause a multiple fatality 200-car accident, like the one on the road between Dubai and Abu Dhabi on Fog Tuesday back in March. Have you ever entered a steam room, and been blinded, afraid to move because you can't see the bench and fear you might accidentally place your hand on a stranger's crotch? Well, it was that kind of fog. It was streaming through the vents in the car, it was night time, and it was all very creepy. It blocked out everything. All the trucks had pulled over to the side of the road, but as two women in a Toyota Yaris well after midnight, we thought maybe we might be safer if we just kept inching along the road. And so we did, in muscle-spasmed silence, for well over an hour.

I have included a picture below, from the balcony, after we arrived, of the moment when it actually looked as though the fog was going to eat us.

On the way back, we couldn't help but grow irritated at how the highway itself had been laid out. In North America, I just took it for granted that if there was a rest stop on one side of the road, there would be one on the other side, too. Not here. Might you think though, that if there was only one gas station, that there would be an option to turn around and double back relatively close to it? Oh no. Getting gas while on this highway involved driving several kilometres in one direction, turning around, stopping, then driving several kilometres in the other direction before being able to get back going in the right direction.

And if you are ever in that neck of the woods, do not forget to watch out for car parts scattered across the road.

Snap caption: Bold T-shirt choice, sir

How to be a happy expat

Because a cloud wall makes you want to take a selfie.  After 10 years living in the UAE, some of that time happy, some miserable and ...