Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Turkish bath experience, admittedly, might not be for everyone

Istanbul, Turkey

I saw it - hundreds of years old - and of course I wanted to do it. And I did it without thinking. Once inside, I have to say, was just about the most nude experience I have ever had. All the woman – clients, and the staff – were, um, dressed down as it were.

All the woman were instructed to lay on a round marble slab in the middle of the room, and called over when the turkish bath ladies were ready for them.

As I lay there, fretting quietly, three funny British women, also new to the experience, did the same thing out loud. What is going on? said one of them, giggling.

Finally a woman called me over and began sloughing me with a loofah-like object as I lay on a towel. Then buckets of warm water and a soap down, before she washed my hair, and I left, dazed and confused, not sure what I thought. When I look back on it, it seems pleasant enough. I just can't imagine sitting in my apartment though, looking at my diary, wondering when I might be able to fit in another one.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Yep, it's as awesome in person as it looks in this picture

Basicila Cistern, Istanbul

Turkish delight

...it sure looks gorgeous but fortunately, most of the sweets outside the West cannot tempt me.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The language of love

Presented without comment

Beyoğlu, Instabul

Istanbul is one great city

I encourage you to visit if you haven't already... I think it might be one of my favourites so far. This picture is from a restaurant that we went to that we didn't quite understand. It was very tiny, and there was no kitchen, bar to speak of, or toilets. The waiter went next door to get our drinks and he went next door to fetch our food.

We loved the funky decor though.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Hagia Sofia in Istanbul was beautiful and amazing...

...but in the middle of all that history and beauty I found myself fascinated by these cats, sunning themselves and loving the attention they got in two spotlights on the massive pulpit.

Snap caption: You say potato

İstiklal Avenue in the Beyoğlu, Istanbul

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Living in Abu Dhabi tip #2

I was feeling stressed out recently and couldn't sleep. Whenever that happens I pay a couple of visits to the Jessie, the amazing acupuncturist at Gulf Chinese Medical Centre. Not only did she give me an painful acupressure massage, she raked my neck with a plastic device and attached hot cups to my back. Then acupuncture. This is no luxury spa treatment and as you might expect, I left disfigured.

You might ask why I would bother going through all this. Because it takes all the stress away: I left feeling lighter and as though I did not have a care in the world. A consultation with the doctor at the centre is Dh100, and treatments are Dh150. The centre is open mornings and evenings.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Another ill-advised vacation purchase

Does this happen to you? I do it all the time: go away somewhere, and once there, unburdened by the practicalities of daily life, envision that I have an entirely different existence back home. One that can accommodate clothes that I will not even consider wearing upon my return, such as very high heels, small bikinis, one-piece jumpsuits, small, short dresses and these. You see when I asked myself the question - why don't I have a pair of harem pants? – I should have just answered the obvious. Because they look ridiculous.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Yogalosophy brings you beach yoga

Saturday morning, 9 to 10.30am, on the Corniche by Gate 2, (that's the one by the Chevrolet dealership, before all the food kiosks kick in). You get 90 minutes of gorgeous flow under guaranteed sunlight with an excellent teacher. Dh60 includes the class and access to the beach.

Go before it's too hot. You will not be sorry.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Presented without comment

Find an Irish bar...

...anywhere in the world, and chances are there will be a group of Irishmen drinking in it. This is the U2 cafe – about the size of my living room – in the Beyoğlu, Istanbul.

It closes at 7am, by the way. That's right, 7am. Happy St Patrick's Day.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Who is going to say no?

A woman just knocked on my door: she was holding a very tiny baby, and talking quietly in Arabic. The one thing I did understand was "money", so I gave her some. I can hear the baby gurgling and her ringing the doorbells of my neighbours as I type.

Anyone had this happen to them? Begging of any form, by the way, is illegal in Abu Dhabi. This marks the second time someone has asked me for cash, aside from children during Eid.

Important petition: U-turns in RAK

This comes from Hash, who lost his sister in a crash at the U-turn at the E-11 in Ras al Khaimah and wants it closed. For more information on his sister and his cause, visit here. To sign the petition, go here.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Please, please, please - I beg! - figure out EXACTLY where you live, and do it now

I had a scary experience last night when a very sick colleague who lives across the hall pounded on my door in the middle of the night. Whether it was food poisoning or an allergic reaction – she has before gone into anaphylaxic shock and felt she was again – she'd called an ambulance via 999 and wanted me to wait with her until they arrived.

Until they arrived! I can only be thankful that her condition did not worsen, as I spent the next 30 or so minutes on the phone with the ambulance driver, finally running blocks away because it is pretty hard to convey a set of directions that involve four major cross streets, a bunch of left and right turns, one university, a place called "White Cat Laundry" and a series of other minor landmarks I was too tired and confused to remember.

There is no street addressing system in Abu Dhabi - the city is due one by the end of the year - and I have heard tales before of people who try to get ambulances and cop cars to them, seeing the lights and hearing the sirens but not being able to direct them closer. Now I know why the US Overseas Security Advisory Council advises that those who move to the city prepare a set of workable directions that can be kept by the phone, and that they make sure the emergency operator fully understands them. Getting an ambulance to one's house is a little different than inviting a bunch of people over for a dinner party. There is no luxury of time.

This is a place that survives on landmarks. I even wrote about this for the Globe and Mail last year, and just to give you an idea of what it is like, here is an excerpt:

Julie Greenhalgh, a British expatriate, has lived in the capital for seven years and runs a reflexology business out of her home. Without any major landmarks to reference in her neighbourhood, she e-mails her clients a map and provides a series of directions that includes "a mosque on the right, a low yellow building that's a new school ... two buildings that used to be yellow and now are brown," the colour of her villa, the pink bougainvillea draped over its walls, and her sandy-coloured Mitsubishi SUV parked outside.
"I'd say 70 per cent of my clients still can't find it," she said. "I'm used to standing in street waving."

But try to remember landmarks when you think a person could be dying! Last night I had a paramedic telling me repeatedly he was by "Technical Scissors", a store on Muroor Road almost one major city block from our place. I tried to direct him to us, saying he should head to the Corniche, turn left and then a quick right. But I quickly grew defeated as I wondered how to navigate past all the twisty turny roads to our place. It didn't help that every time I asked him where he was, he said "Technical Scissors". At one point he was a block away, heading in the wrong direction. I was running towards the store, now far away from a very sick friend, when I found this out. I am ashamed to say that a few minutes later when I asked him where he was and he said "Technical Scissors", I began to scream "how is it possible that can you be at Technical Scissors again???" (To his credit, he simply asked me not to yell at him. Later, when we were chatting as our patient was being loaded into the ambulance and we were having a debrief - and after I apologised - I mentioned Technical Scissors. He smiled and said "let's not talk about Technical Scissors".)

Alls well that ends well, and she is recovering in hospital and I am about to have a big nap. As soon as I wake I am doing exactly as the US Overseas Security Advisory Council advises and keeping clear instructions by the phone. What if it was life and death and there was not 30 minutes to spare? After experiencing what it is like to get an ambulance while groggy, panicked and dealing with the ever-present language barrier, in a city that waits for street names and numbers that all of its residents will follow and use, in an apartment building that might as well be hidden, I implore anyone who reads this (and hopefully all the friends, family and colleagues they tell) to do the same.

Burj Khalifa, lovingly rendered in first Oreos and now 160,000 (I assume) used phone cards

Don't pretend you didn't want to check out the 4-metre replica at the Al Barsha Lulu's just before the world's tallest building was unveiled and renamed in one fell swoop in January. But you didn't, and now it's too late to take a gander at all that chocolatey goodness (and to dream of a giant mug of milk and upending the thing into it). At least I hope it's too late; that thing would be getting seriously gnarly right about now.

Several weeks later, and I don't know how I missed this little gem, someone made a Burj out of toothpicks. Fittingly, considering it is Dubai, the American who did this believes he constructed the world's smallest replica of the landmark. As Steven J. Backman, a San Francisco native who has also crafted the Empire State Building and a Golden Gate Bridge, put it: "The miniature replica I created of Burj Khalifa took me seven hours to create and a bucket of patience."

But as the Gulf News again reports, all is not lost on the Burj-replica front. Succeeding in his third attempt, Manoj Khira spent six months and Dh110,00 (almost $31,000 Cdn) making his own version out of phone cards. Instead of the house-of-cards version, he (rather ingeniously, to me) separated the cards into bundles, and taped them together to make little bricks.

The result is about 3.6 metres tall. He is expecting the Guiness World Records people within a few weeks.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Only if you are going my way, lady

The taxi situation in Abu Dhabi is much, much improved from when I arrived almost two years ago. I rarely have to wait for a taxi for longer than five minutes, and when they stop, there is no longer a lot of arguing about the destination or a bunch of whining about it on the way there, or an attempt to squeeze me for twice or three times the fare.

This is mostly because of a Municipal plan to replace the aging little Toyotas, with their gold and white exteriors and hand-painted green signs in Arabic on the doors, with shiny silver taxis. I had a kind of romantic view of the old taxis when I first arrived, mostly because a lot of them were decorated with fancy tassles and sequins and their drivers wore variations on the Shalwar Qameez (Pakistani men wear these, they look sort of like pyjamas) and were from places so foreign to me - Yemen and Afghanistan a lot of the time.

It quickly wore off, though. I mean how many times can you be boiling in the hot sun, empty taxi after empty taxi passing you by? And when they do stop, the driver refuses to let you in as he is "going to Musaffah".

These days those taxis are so few and far between they look like total relics. Yet their drivers - the ones I encounter, anyway - continue to act like they are the only game in town. I was stuck off Hamdan street in an awkward spot on Airport Road Wednesday night. After failing to get a silver taxi, one of the old ones stopped. Guess what? He was only going to Musaffah, demanded 20 dirhams for a 5 dirham trip to dart out of his way, and complained about the traffic the entire time he did.

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 ...