Thursday, December 31, 2009

Toilet tips may have been (slightly) be lost in translation

Putting aside the totally awesome memo title and "ENJOY IT!!!!" postscript and moving back to #2, why would I, why should I clean the seat for "people who enjoy sprinkling in the process of tinkling"?

Shouldn't "people who enjoy sprinkling in the process of tinkling" actually be cleaning the seat for me?

Two services available in Dubai Mall I am quite sure are not offered back in Canada

Does this appeal to the person who was already planning to have their car windows tinted, but just has not been able to find the time? Or perhaps the impulse tinter? As in, "tinted windows? What a cool idea! It's so sunny here. And they can do it in the time it will take for me to have The Nail Spa Heaven Facial and pop into Waitrose!"

Do you just leave your phone and shop? Or cool your heels and wait for it to charge? Would people let their earpieces dangle idly, or remove them and then put them back on when their phone was functional again? What the heck do people do while waiting for their phones to charge? All anyone does around here when they have a free second is check their phone for messages.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why hotels are a total ripoff OR this letter probably cost more to send than the water

I stayed in Toronto's Yorkville neighbourhood for three nights during my recent trip to Canada. I've only been back for a few days, so imagine my surprise to get this at work today. A bill for a bottle of Fuji water they didn't notice I drank until after I left.

Thanks $9.20 Canadian dollars, my friends.

To service charge or not service charge

It's confounded me since arriving and been an ongoing source of debate among friends: why do restaurants and bars in Abu Dhabi charge upwards of a 10% "service charge" on bills? Is it a gratuity? Do the staff ever see one fil of it? Do you tip on top of it? If so, how much, 15 to 20% as you would in other restaurants? (I've been out with cheap people who like to use it as an excuse not to leave any tip at all, something that has always irked me a little as a former long-time server)

Ask around and it seems that a lot of the staff in the bars, pubs and restaurants around Abu Dhabi do not get a share of this so-called service charge, not that they'd complain about it. Service staff in Abu Dhabi seem to me, while lovely, an intimidated and deferential lot, and I do not blame them. Labour laws here do not, after all, provide much backing should "issues" arise and not only does your management control your pay, but often your housing and always your right to residence, making it almost impossible to whinge when things are unfair. Of course, this applies to most of the population here, and if we don't like it, we can always go back home.

Then last week on WAM, the state news agency, the Ministry of the Economy came out and said the service charges were actually illegal under a law passed in 2006 that banned unfair price increases. Yesterday, they clarified the issue, saying the charges were permitted in places governed by various tourist authorities. That is, the expensive ones in hotels. (For those outside the UAE, hotel eateries are the only ones that serve alcohol. Any place else is dry as a bone)

So the way it works is that the fast food restaurants and ethnic joints and TGIFs cannot implement a charge, even though eating there reaps bills that are a fraction of what they would be at, say Prego in the Rotana, or Bordeaux in the Shangri-la?

The truth is, if I'm going to be charged more than 10% on a bill in a hotel, I'd sure like to know that the staff are getting extra pay – even though I am still going to tip them well, to make sure – rather than a five-star hotel being allowed to levy whatever they feel like on food and beverage to pump up margins.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Snap caption: One of the downsides of makeshift animal transport

Taken on the highway to Muscat, Oman.

Any body else think the hamster's abandoned the wheel of the UAE's internet machine?

For the last two days some sites are barely working (say, Gmail) while others are failing to load at all (The Globe and Mail, Facebook).

And when some sites do finally load, they look sort of 1999-ish, you know what I mean?

Etisalat, what say you?

Or maybe it's just me.

A great perspective on Friday's near disaster on a plane bound for Detroit, and not just because it uses the term "underwear bomb"

From the folks over at Feministing (don't be put off by the name, boyz): Race Does Not Determine Criminality.

My love of this reasoned piece also has nothing to do with hearing the news that Canadians can no longer take hand luggage on flights to the US.

But seriously, not even a purse? What the?

Seeking a roommate and yes, nationality is an issue

More of my continued obsession with the way people advertise their "bed spaces" in Abu Dhabi.

Monday, December 28, 2009

She will not be wearing "a woolen sweater and comfortable pair of jeans", I'm sure

Just read claims over at Oh No They Didn't (which seems to be based on a Daily Mirror story published on Sunday) that Rihanna has been told to cover up for her New Year's Eve gig at Emirates Palace.

"And, as she's said to be making $500,000 for her performance, she's likely to do exactly what she's told," reports the blog, "which means the white slashed latex body suit she wore at the American Music Awards [not to mention her collection of eye-popping bras] will be mothballed."

First of all, as it is a one-night gig, Rihanna's "collection of eye-popping bras" hardly has to be "mothballed" (does anything these days?) unless she's planning on moving to the Middle East permanently. Even then, like many of the ladies here, including those who cover to varying degrees, the number of shops selling sexy, lacy lingerie indicate she could continue to wear them, albeit privately. Also, in late December, while Abu Dhabi is not "sweltering", it's hardly cold enough for a pop star to be comfortable performing a lively show wearing wool, as the authors suggest.

More importantly, as the lone photo I lazily took of the video screen during Beyonce's fantastic concert on Yas Island at the F1 last month reveals, when it comes to live performances by pop superstars, "eye-popping bras" seem not that much of a deal-breaker, or even an issue at all, here in Abu Dhabi.

The longer I live here, the more I get tired of these types of stories sprouting from the West. Although, and this is a nod to the value of perspective, when I used to live in Canada I found them interesting and entirely believable. One can almost expect an "(insert sexy celeb here) told to cover up or tone it down" piece in the run up to a major concert or appearance in the UAE (and Malaysia, and Yemen and Saudi - actually, scratch those last two).

Of course Rihanna could come out on stage in some sort of overly conservative adopted ethnic garb Friday night, a la Paris Hilton in Dubai, and then both she and I can seem ridiculous.

TUESDAY UPDATE: Gulf News is reporting Rihanna has not been asked to change her wardrobe for Thursday night's show.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

New year's resolutions, etc

In addition to hitting the gym and yoga studio more often, spending less money at the office Gloria Jean's franchise, eating more vegetables and drinking less beer (I am seriously boring myself here, but I did just return from what felt like a 10 day-long Canadian feast) I plan to be a better blogger.

This little spot on the webs and the increasing number of people from different backgrounds and parts of the world who have been faithfully dropping by for the last 18 months or so has been one of the most satisfying parts of coming to Abu Dhabi. I got a little off track in the last quarter of 2009, launched, I believe, by a severe bout of jet lag - more on that later - that was perpetuated by a more demanding position at work, a happy new relationship, and, to be honest, a bout of ennui and a slight existential crisis about the UAE expat experience in general (also more on that later).

Never mind, I plan to rectify that as of now, as I have returned full of vim and vigour, determined to make the rest of my time here – however long that may be – count.

To start I will cheat a little and point you to the Ever the Nomad blog, kept by the cool travel writer Anja Mutic, who earlier this month asked me to write a guest post on life in Abu Dhabi.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fourteen hours too many or, and I can't believe I am saying this, I prefer the overnight flight

Living overseas creates a whole host of conundrums - how long will I be here? where will I send my money? where to go on vacation? hmmm, electricity, how to get it? - but living this far overseas makes one thing all that more difficult: getting home. And the longer I live here, the more trips I make, the less impressed I am.

I flew to Toronto and back for a two-week vacation last summer and it was not so bad. Night flight, helped along by my super-flyer combo: get too little sleep the night before, wear stretchy pants and do some tiring exercise day of, nip into the Piano Bar at Abu Dhabi International Airport (by the way, have you seen the Piano Bar? It has about four seats and no piano) and down a double Jack Daniels, followed by two Gravol. Read a magazine article, don neck pillow, eye mask and ear plugs, and Bob's yer uncle.

Yes, fine, but now Etihad flies out of Terminal 3 and anyway, the Abu Dhabi-Toronto jaunt has been moved to the day. In addition to three continually screaming toddlers placed strategically in aisles around me (who when they weren't screaming sadly, were screaming happily, which I have decided in the case of repeated Old McDonald Had a Farm refrains, is worse) I failed to come up with a foolproof flight plan that would ease my adjustment to the night ahead upon landing.

So on the fly I simply bought a Tim Horton's coffee in the airport, which I promptly spilled by jet-laggedly placing it in a place that was not a cup holder in my friend's jeep – sorry Amber, thanks for coming out to Pearson at rush hour to collect me – and narrowly missed splashing her new Uggs. Back at the hotel, getting ready to go out in the early evening I resisted the urge to ask if we could just go straight to bed. I made it through a delicious steak meal and a bottle of wine in the Keg Mansion on Jarvis Street – which is haunted, don't you know – and headed upstairs to the lounge before finally admitting at 11pm (when my eyelids felt like theatre curtains) we needed to leave the before I was (erroneously) kicked out for drunkeness.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A little too excited about the Belgian Beer Bar

...then again, I'm not the only one.

The pub-to-be has 421 fans on its Facebook page and it isn't even open yet. (That happens next Wednesday, December 16, at the Intercontinental Hotel) The way Abu Dhabi is, I would not be surprised if every last one of those fans turned up on opening night next week for mussels and chips and some seriously potent yet delicious Belgian brew.

Part of the attraction is that this promises to be a normal pub, not some grotty weathered version circa 1978 with sticky floors, the smell of stale smoke in the air and a smattering of leering, wizened expats around the taps. (Not that there's anything wrong with that).

I whiled away quite a few hours at the Dubai version of the Belgian Beer Bar a couple of weeks ago and can't wait.

This is what Abu Dhabi is like people. We get very excited when new venues open.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Not the most earth-shattering headline anywhere else

But here, well, I snapped to attention. From the Gulf News:

"Chance of light rain as temperature falls"

The weather has been gorgeous by the way. Sunny and beautiful during the day. At night it's just getting to the point where in Ottawa I would think about putting on a sweater. That's why I laughed the other evening when I left work: in the lobby I saw a man wearing a sweatshirt and gloves; outside a man had donned a leather jacket.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Radio traffic updates are ALMOST the same in the UAE as at home

Listening to Lady Gaga on Radio One the other morning, aside from the crisp British accents – which so surround me they sound almost normal now – I could almost pretend I was driving along Bronson listening to Hot 89.9 in the nation's capital. And then this, from the announcer urging people to report traffic tie-ups:

"Even if it's a camel jam in Ajman, we want to know about it".

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Happy 38th UAE; hate to tell you, but 40 is right around the corner

Oh Google:

And let's hope not too many of you did this:

Police are handing out Dh200 (almost 60 bucks Canadian) fines.

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.

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."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Random Abu Dhabi fact

There are, or so I am told, as I have not personally counted them, 14 bars in the Howard Johnson hotel.

Overheard in the One to One hotel ladies bathroom:

"Oh don't you just love it when parents leave open wet nappies out?"

Healthcare: Abu Dhabi versus Canada

The system here is confusing, I'll tell you that. But when the lovely internist who serves as my GP here (see what I mean by confusing?) came out to the waiting room this week specifically to apologise for running, in her words, "grossly" late – a half an hour, actually – I realised things are very, very different. I have sat for more than an hour at my doctor's back in Ottawa without so much as a nod from the receptionist, as if keeping people that long for appointments was the most normal thing in the world.

Dr Fatima is one of my favourite things about Abu Dhabi, actually. She is remarkably candid – in speaking about a referral, she joked "I could send you to a female doctor, but she is a serious cow" – and really funny, joking "I am a peddler of drugs" as she wrote out a prescription for antibiotics. She always asks how I am doing, as well, purposely keeping me just a bit longer than I would like, because she is so very thorough. In my early days here, when I hated it sometimes and had turned up with a third throat infection, feeling absolutely awful, she asked how I was and my eyes welled up with tears in spite of myself. "It's hard for everyone," she said, and offered to write me a note for a day off work.

As for the system itself, who knows. I am apparently getting an MRI for a shoulder injury in the next few weeks; cool. When I needed one back home in Ontario a couple of years ago it took 8 months. Having said that, a medical test that was done by a specialist at one of the major hospitals here last Christmas Day? Dr Fatima has not received the results. She asked me to get them for her. "Email is fine," she said. Emailing medical test results? Really? I've heard tell of hospitals that won't accept people with car accident injuries (imagine that happening to you, driving around with a broken wrist looking for a doctor) and tests that insurance won't pay for. So who knows, really.

Dr Fatima though, she's tops.

Of course Brangelina was not coming

A silly rumour for the last few hours was that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie would turn up to walk the red carpet outside Emirates Palace for tonight's opening of the Middle East International Film Festival. Not entirely out of the realm of possibility, as the pair have been in the region doing good works in Jordan and Syria in recent weeks, but pretty implausible. Two stars who did turn up: Demi Moore and Hilary Swank (not really "jaw dropping" as director Peter Scarlet promised yesterday, but you know, fine-ish). Also, and this is pretty random, Dennis Haysbert, who played the president on 24 for five seasons. Even weirder, this appears to be the third time he has been in the UAE this year. That the press covered, anyway. America's first black president, on TV, a friend of Abu Dhabi.

And I continue to be pretty amazed and entirely unimpressed with the festival offering a cool film for the closing night gala – this time George Clooney's Men Who Stare at Goats – that no one but a bunch of VIPs will get to see as they are showing it but once on the last day. I have tickets for about five films, including the Anna Wintour documentary The September Issue, Precious, which I've heard good things about, and No One Knows about Persian Cats, a look at Iran's independent music scene.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

This is really mental, even for Dubai

Habtoor Grand Resort & Spa in Jumeirah Beach has hired this contraption, where apparently you can have dinner at great elevation while strapped into your seat. Wine, spirits, tempting gourmet cuisine served by a chef popped up in the middle of the table (although, not that I can spot it, an easily accessible toilet) are all part of the experience. Launches Oct 1 and runs until May.

Quit playing games with my heart, BBs

This is for real. I'm going - and not ashamed to admit it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

No wonder everyone smokes here

I just watched someone buy three cartons of cigarettes (talk about buying in bulk) and for 36 dirhams – or a cool $10.43 Cdn.

My first (and hopefully last, as it is almost over) Ramadan misadventure

There was a story in the Gulf News today about three people who were arrested and jailed for consuming food and drinks in public during the fasting hours of Ramadan. How dumb do you have to be, I wondered to myself upon reading it.

I mean, I've only just returned from vacation and I can remember not to chow down in front of hungry others, went the thought train. If you've been here the entire time, well, as my favourite character on Fox's old show Arrested Development used to say, "C'mon!"

Flash forward a couple of hours. It's 5:59 pm, and several colleagues have encouraged me to become excited that the Gloria Jeans kiosk in the lobby is about to open, despite the evening call to prayer signalling iftar time being a half-hour away.

As we waited for the coffees we would still need to consume in the "Ramadan" lunch room, one of them offered me a piece of her chocolate cookie. I proceeded to much away, utterly unaware – until we gasped and remembered – that I had become among the clueless few. It all kind of reminds me of this.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dubai Metro launches, I feel slightly less jaded

The long-awaited driverless Dubai Metro launched last night to much pomp and circumstance, with passengers taking to it in excited droves today. Check out this, basically one of my favourite pictures of the year.

So there were some glitches, but overall the thing works and even better, people seem to love it. Entire families turned out yesterday to ride the thing. People snapped tons of pictures. And as one of my colleagues notices, passengers did something strange for the UAE: they talked to each other, even though they don't know each other.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Quote of the day

"Most men ask that a woman's height be between 155cm and 170cm, and they want her to have a fair complexion and be young. But I am against such conditions because I am looking to marry off women who have become spinsters. And I cannot promote something unless I have tried it myself. Three of my wives were spinsters when I married them and they are not even that pretty."

-Jaser al Ghanem, a matchmaker in Jordan who promotes polygamy as a solution to spinsterhood

Say it ain't so!

One of the "don'ts" listed in an advertisement produced by the UAE Ministry to help combat the spread of swine flu is the traditional Emirati nose greeting.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

In the end, pub food. Well, just food.

It's no secret that I love food. So when I am about to go on a trip, chances are tops on my mind will be all the different kinds of yummy eats ahead of me. That's why I had grand plans to eat at all my favourite restaurants this trip, particularly in Ottawa: oysters at Whalesbone on Bank Street in Ottawa; sourdough bread & steak at The Keg; brunch with peameal bacon at The Lieutenant's Pump on Elgin Street; something veggie and healthy at The Wild Oat in the Glebe and a big bowl of pho somewhere on Somerset. In the end - and to my delight - I was invited to a number of barbecues and only ended up eating lunch at The Wild Oat.

I have made it out a couple of times for beers and pub food on patios, in Toronto and Ottawa, and I have to say, pub food is something I miss the most in Abu Dhabi. It's just not the same. One thing the UAE does not know how to do (and please, correct me if you know of a place that proves me wrong) is a proper club sandwich. It's not the non-pork thing I mind. Is the addition of weird things, like egg and cucumber. Last night, complete satisfaction at Smokey Joe's on Yonge Street: an amazing club sandwich and delish sweet potato fries, spicy dip for them washed down with a couple of pints.

And I had to giggle this morning when the friend I am staying with – slim and fit but such a kindred spirit food lover she told me about the sweet potato fries before we got to the restaurant – urged me to take advantage of some of the Nutrition in Motion meals that had stacked up in her refrigerator.

"Oh no!" I said. "You should eat them."

"I don't feel like eating them," she said. "I feel like eating bad food."

Good thing I only have a few days left on my vacation. At this rate I might not fit on my plane seat.

UPDATE (Sept 10): Back in Abu Dhabi... wearing stretchy clothes. Completely forgot to write about the deep fried pickles at the Royal Oak. Mmmmmmm.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The vacation continues...

...and as my friend in Ottawa reminded me, "you are not a travelling doctor". Although it feels like it a little bit, save for the administering medicine part. Being home for a couple of weeks is a weird experience, because I am trying to see all the people who are important to me here and soak up a little bit of each one. But how much soaking can you do, really? And the part I can't stand is when people make plans for later this fall, plans I know I can't be part of. You can't have it all, I guess.

One thing about becoming an expat that I have found particularly strange is the sensation that I am not sure where I belong any more, or who I belong to.

Also, in the various conversations I have, I can't properly explain how weird and wonderful living in Abu Dhabi has been for me. The tone is never right: to my ears, I sound as though I am complaining or bragging, and neither is really my style. Plus, no amount of anecdotes could ever properly illustrate it for others anyway (although I guess this is the point of the whole blog, isn't it??)

So I hang out with people I like for a bit, remember what my life used to be like, and at the same time look forward to getting back to what it has become.

One more thing: although sunny and beautiful here, it is brrrrrrrr as well.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ahhh, international travel

It never ceases to amaze me how I can put on an eyemask, push in some earplugs, put my head on my purse and sleep for hours in airports. This is very useful on long layovers, for early departures and of course, when one did not get very much in the way of sleep the night before, for a variety of reasons.

I once woke up drooling in a packed departure lounge at the Orlando airport - one that had been empty 90 minutes before. People were staring. Last year I spent three hours sleeping on the floor at Pearson in Toronto when my Etihad flight was delayed. And last Thursday it was Frankfurt. Understandably, my pet peeve are those airports with loud television news playing (Toronto) and benches with metal armrests separating the seats to discourage sleeping (Toronto). My favourite are first-class lounges with special sleeping rooms (Istanbul).

It occurred to me on the Abu Dhabi-Frankfurt leg that I couldn't decide what was worse: sitting by someone loudly snoring on a plane, an excessive throat-clearer, an repeat sniffer, or an old man who smells, for lack of a better word, dusty. I am still not sure.

And although I am a big fan of the neck pillow, considering them essential for long flights, I wonder about people who wear them outside their seats. There was man with a gray neck pillow on one of my flights and he wore it even when he went to the bathroom.

I also wondered why Lufthansa would ask "movie questions?" and list a special email address after each film. What could I possible ask them that they would answer? "Dear Lufthansa: I am not sure I completely understood what went down in Duplicity, can you walk me through it?" Maybe "could you have more than five movies in your rubbish selection for the flight home? I watched them all already"?

And as for the Internet machines in the (world's most expensive) Frankfurt airport, the ones that charge 16 Euros for an hour use: nice markup.

Overheard on the plane

Lufthansa flight, Frankfurt to Toronto, as the plane begins its final descent. Two young brothers:

Younger brother: Are you going to throw up again this time?

Older brother: Nope.

Younger brother: Why did you throw up last time?

Older brother: I had all those sandwiches...

Younger brother: Well, at least you held it until the end.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A few words about my shoulders

Here's the evolution. I arrived in the UAE almost 18 months ago armed with a series of sweaters, wraps and T-shirts. I would be culturally aware; sensitive to the religious differences here. I wore them, all through last summer's sweltering summer. If I was going to the gym, I'd put a T-shirt over my workout top. If I was wearing a nice halter dress out for dinner, I'd carry a wrap and put it on while in the street. I looked at the other girls in the malls, in Starbucks, wearing strapless dresses and bikini tops with flimsy halters over them and wondered what they were thinking.

Some time over the last year I became less diligent. Much less diligent. Part of it, I think, was chafing a bit at the way it is here. Why can't I just show my shoulders, I would think. It bred a certain defiance. And so I started to forgo the sweater, the T-shirt, the wrap, more so as the weather heated up. I'd nip to my gym a couple of minutes from my apartment, uncovered. I'd walk to work in a sundress, my sweater tucked into my handbag. I'd go out on a Thursday or Friday night, hailing a cab in a tank top and skirt. I'd notice the stares, but they didn't really bother me. Plus I swear I never have to wait long for a taxi that way. (And when a hoard of men would gawk at me at whatever hotel I got out at, I would just pretend I was famous)

But then one night a couple of weeks ago, I ducked out in the evening for an appointment in a sundress. Just a sundress. I was hot and tired and didn't feel like putting on my sweater, so I didn't.

As I got on the elevator at my destination, a building in the old fish market area, two men turned their backs and faced the rear of the elevator. Fine, I thought. A little bit weird.

I didn't immediately start covering my shoulders. But the memory of them having to turn round for reasons I still can't fully understand weighed heavily. So I am covering them again - mostly. It's pretty much always been the right thing to do, I just forgot that for a little while.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Typical Abu Dhabi telephone exchange over directions

Me: So you are on Delma Street?

Salon: Oh, no.

Me: Um, where are you then?

Salon: Across from Zayed University.

Me: So, on Delma Street then?

Salon: Yes.

A rooster, in the middle of my neighbourhood

I was walking to work early the other morning, as I normally do, taking shallow breaths and telling myself that since I can see the building, I definitely won't let myself pass out from the heat before getting there, when I heard "cock-a-doodle-do".

Cool, I thought, blinking fast to try and redirect the stinging beads of sweat on my eyelids. A rooster.

Needle scratching on record. Wha? A rooster? It takes something pretty big to stop my walk to work. Every second, you see, is a second closer to me lying on the ground, my bag lunch strewn to the right, my new Kenneth Cole bag spilling contents to the left, a Hummer H2 charging towards me as a group of Indian shopkeepers puzzle over what to do with the sweaty, comatose Westerner splayed out on the road in what is sure to be another new sundress.

A rooster, I have since learned, is one of those things.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

That's not going to keep it very cold

I was stuck in traffic on Muroor Road yesterday, and when I looked to my right I spotted one of Abu Dhabi's brand-new air-conditioned bus shelters. One guy was sitting inside, and the door was just opening and closing, opening and closing, all on its own.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Quote of the day

From an Abu Dhabi court case yesterday (one in which there was clearly a lot of other stuff going on:

I K was asked by Judge Syed Abdul Baseer whether they had kissed.

She replied through the court translator: “It’s a normal greeting.”

“Maybe it’s normal in Russia,” Judge Abdul Baseer said.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

People are coming back! I am getting ready to leave!

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel this summer – light, ha ha ha, that's funny, I can barely see my computer screen due to sunshine pouring in my window – and the truth is, it hasn't been half bad considering how much I was dreading it.

Some of the people I know are starting to come back into town, teachers, not for the state schools of course, they postponed their start dates until after Ramadan. The Yoga Tree is opening soon (Aug 23); the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink will be taking skaters again (Aug 17, when Magic on Ice wraps) and there are budding signs of life that make me excited about the autumn's revved-up social calendar. There is also Ramadan, set to start within two weeks, and that is a lovely time of year, even for an expat who doesn't celebrate.

Also, a whole bunch of hotels are opening up out by the Shangri-la, and as anyone who lives in Abu Dhabi knows, new places to socialise are always welcome.

And I have torn through Season 5 of Grey's Anatomy, 5 of Lost, 2 of Private Practice (that one just kind of snuck in there) not to mention several books. I'm even in the home stretch of Rags to Riches: A Story of Abu Dhabi, a book you may recall has been my constant companion here in Ab Dhab.

Oh, and I am heading back to Canada in T-minus 9 days now for the first time in a year, so there's that too. Touchdown will see me reunite with my family and immediately head to see the Boston Red Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays. There, I will consume a jumbo hot dog and look happily around. It will also probably be raining, as Canada has had an atrocious summer, so I will probably put on a raincoat.

All that to say, life is good people. Life is good.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Snap caption: If I were an aunt and had a pretzel shop

Another thing I like about Abu Dhabi (and another happy place)

Whenever I go over to the local falafel shop around the corner from work Ali gives me one freshly fried-up falafel, which he carefully wraps up in a Kleenex and hands to me with a smile.

It's totally awesome because once I go to that shop I have usually waited far too long to eat and am often quite stressed. So I can just sit there and decompress for a few minutes, munching on a delicious falafel ball, staring at the giant shwarma rack or looking out onto the sunny street.

Plus he's always got the Quran channel on and it too is very soothing. Also, their food is completely delicious.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dust 2.0, or so we're told

Well there was one good thing about the dust cloud (the one that's been around since last week, is forecast to return) and that is it has made me appreciate the sight of the sun.

The National has amazing aerial shots of the cloud this week, with it literally looking like a lump hovering over the little triangle that is the UAE. It really is gross and aside from attacking my eyes, left me short of breath and feeling as though I had smoked a pack of cigarettes AND an entire shisha. But from the look of pics on the wires, Saudia Arabia, and of course Baghdad, had it worst.

Several theories have now been put forward for the cloud – which left an orangey dust all over everything that scientists say may have travelled the length of the Gulf – but it seems no one really knows for sure.

The most outrageous theory, to me, is that years of military operations in Northern Iraq have stirred up the top crust of the desert and broken everything up so it's more floaty and mobile. That's not exactly how the scientists explained it, but you get the drift.

Others pointed to the ongoing drought in Iraq, made worse by the impact of damming and irrigation projects upstream in Turkey and Syria on the Tigris and Euphratest rivers.

Doctors have been telling people to stay inside as much as possible during the storms. And apparently the particles aren't small enough to cause lasting damage to the lungs – ie create the conditions for future emphysema and cancer – although it still can't be good for you.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Update: The Hangover in Abu Dhabi cinemas

Several friends went to see The Hangover this weekend and report that almost nothing has been cut out. It was completely raunchy, to the point that I heard of one guy who was sitting by a couple of Emirati girls and was afraid to laugh at the worst bits.

We were wondering if maybe the censors look for obvious scenes, such as the love scene in Quantum Solace that cut off abruptly as the camera pan hit the bed-post, or the gay kiss in I Love You Man, and miss some of the one-liners, or dirty dialogue.

It reminds me of how if I buy a woman's magazine here, all the cleavage will be blacked out on pictures, but the explicit "how to" articles remain.

It's a bit difficult in a sandstorm, to keep a clean car

Apparently, it's very important to keep a clean car in Abu Dhabi. I understand this, as most people drive nice if not expensive or wildly expensive vehicles.

But even in Canada, with its endearing lack of blowing, settling sand, I wasn't really that good at keeping my car clean. Especially during that dirty time between winter and spring. Occasionally it would get so dirty someone would say something jokey about it, and I'd clean it.

I've been sharing a car rental with a friend this summer and it's going really well – except for the fact that I've scraped the front bumper and she's dented the back, of course. It's one of those white rentals, a Corolla, that fill the streets of Abu Dhabi. Neither of us are that good at keeping it clean, which is why I laughed when making a police report about my scrape. The officer stared at the spot, looked at me, looked at the entire car, and then said "so dirty?" His tone was a mixture of question, bafflement and disgust.

This week a cab driver told me he's known of people who were pulled over by police in Abu Dhabi for their dirty cars (and I've been told in Oman it's actually illegal to drive with a sand-covered car). My friend tells me whenever she is at Al Wahda Mall the men who operated those little portable car-cleaning carts – cool, huh? – are always offering to give ours a wash.They look very confused, she said, when she doesn't want them too.

Last week I was cat sitting an incredibly nice villa, one that has a pool and an exercise room and big flat screens: you know, how the other half lives. There is also a nice man named Murtaza, from Pakistan, who lives in a small apartment inside the villa gates and who I think is sort of a driver/caretaker. The other day he came and asked about my car. I said we could move it to the street from the driveway, if it was blocking in the Land Rover. That's not what he was asking.

"The car is so dirty," he said. "Can I clean?"

He wouldn't let me take no for an answer. He seemed a little upset by the state of it. And he was clearly relieved when I finally let him give it a wash.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Not a big fan of sandstorms

That thing you can't really see on the front page is the Burj Dubai yesterday, surrounding by a whole lotta sand. Yuck.

There are a lot of things I didn't give much thought to when I moved over here. I really wanted to do it, and that's when you tend to pay attention to just the positives. But other than the heat, which really is not that bad right now, I'd have to say one of my least favourite things about living here are the sand and dust storms.

There is the nastiest one here right now, no whipping winds or anything, just a thick cloud of dust that apparently blew in again from Iraq, that hangs in the air, cuts out the sun and leaves a crappy, dirty haze all over everything. It's really weird and a bit eerie – you don't even need sunglasses. Not to mention that I feel as though there are hundreds of particles in my eyes. And I don't even want to think of what this is doing to people with asthma.

It's apparently supposed to lift tomorrow, and then come back later in the week.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Quote of the day

“A person who has dustbins as his source of income cannot rest.”

-A labourer in Sharjah, speaking to The National about how he spends his Government-mandated midday break from construction

The Hangover comes to Abu Dhabi

Yes, it's true, in a Muslim country one of the new(ish) films to hit cinemas yesterday was The Hangover. The Hangover.

How many scenes do you reckon have been cut out? I have half a mind to see it and then compare it with a bootleg copy. Not that I would condone that kind of thing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

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

... I have acquired way too many summer dresses since arriving here 15 months ago. Like, a scary amount.

Things I like about Abu Dhabi are...

...having a few minutes with people like the fellow working the counter at Al Wahda Mall's Costa shop Saturday afternoon. He asked how I was and then, when I did likewise, he motioned out into the mall, where a bunch of kids were bopping around to Lebanese dance tunes as part of the Summer in Abu Dhabi festival.

"I am happy today," he said, "because there is this music."

Re: Dubai in the summer

A colleague, lamenting the heat:

"If I didn't have [my girlfriend] and a parrot, I'd leave."

Headline of the month from WAM, the state news agency

"Man deported for shocking a camel"

Things I like about Abu Dhabi are...

...getting into a cab where the driver is listening to the Quran. Now that, my friends, is devotion.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Classic: Camel-vs-car in India, obviously slightly embarrassed camel walks it off

There are a lot of camel-versus-car crashes in the UAE, and as you can imagine, they are not nearly as funny as they sound.

This one happened in India, where the cars are obviously a lot smaller and the camels a little darker: Camel walks it off "Camel walks it off" via BuzzFeed. Although I remain slightly concerned about internal injuries.

(I am also reminded of that awesome Man of La Mancha song A Little Gossip where Don Quixote's sidekick Sancho recalls the proverb "whether the pitcher hits the stone or the stone hits the pitcher, it's going to be bad for the pitcher". Unless the pitcher is a Hummer, and then all bets are off.)

Snap caption: That's alotta sandals

Another thing I like about Abu Dhabi OR I have found my happy place

I wrote about it today with my colleague John Henzell (who covered Ski Dubai) in the special cold issue of m, The National's Saturday magazine. It is the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink at Sheikh Zayed Sports City, and I am not sure I will find another place that will lift my spirits in such a way, even if their staff did basically sharpen off the toe-picks on my custom-made figure skates.

Oh well, it's been a couple of decades since those babies were crafted to my feet, and they are full of nicks and cuts and not really even the shape of my feet anymore, so I guess I shall be grateful that someone is forcing me to buy a new pair when I go back to Canada in the next couple of weeks. Sentimental value=blisters.

But back to the rink. I thought I would be the only one there. Or that if there were people there, they would be Westerners. I did not expect to find Emiratis in dishdashes whipping around the ice, or a special group of guys in their teens and 20s doing what is basically ice dancing - only a whole lot more entertaining - that they have taught themselves on hockey skates. This happens at rinks in Dubai, in Al Ain and here in Abu Dhabi, and I still can't quite believe my eyes.

And let's not forget Sheikh Zayed on hockey skates:

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 ...