Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The end is coming, just thought you should know

I pulled up behind this guy the other day (I am on vacation in Canada, and was in Ottawa) and he had a message. I thought I should pass it along. This is the best part, though:

Snap caption: If it looks like a duck...

Shadow Lake, near Norland Ontario

Saturday, June 26, 2010

One bar attempts to air-condition the outdoors

I am in Canada at the moment - the weather is freaking glorious - and I basically ran out of Abu Dhabi in relief because it was already so hot I felt like a hair dryer was being pointed at my face.

It's only going to get hotter, of course, and will remain so until the end of September, and I think that is why when I left most people were freaking out and exhibiting short tempers. (Or maybe that was just me) Anyway, I snapped this really crappy pic with my phone just to show how one of my favourite hangouts in the city is trying to keep people outside as the temperature rises. Thirty 1st at the Holiday Inn has erected these fans, which mist water as they blow. The reviews have been mixed (and ladies if you go, don't put any effort into styling your hair beforehand) but I spent a night there before I left and while it was very moist, and I don't even want to think about the environmental implications (energy, desalinated water, oi!) I was able to be outside for part of an evening without feeling as though I was suffocating, and that was a very good thing.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The true meaning of devotion: anytime, anywhere

A recent Friday morning, after prayers were called. There is not nearly enough room for everyone, so they pray where they can, by dumpsters, on sidewalks and sand, in parking lots and on the side of the road.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mini-restaurant review: Elements, at Fairmont Bab Al Bahr

Elements is a buffet restaurant and has a pretty great Friday brunch I'm told, but we went there for my birthday dinner. All I can say is: oysters and shrimp and sushi. LOADS. Don't bother with anything else actually - it looked pretty passable to me. Five cooking stations blah blah blah. I think I might have taken a piece of cheese and some moutabel, but other than that I just gorged on seafood. And then entered the dessert room. Everything was delicious (not like other brunches where the desserts just look delicious but rarely are) and I loved how it was all cut up into tiny portions for you. No more passing on a cheesecake because it has been rendered unrecognisable by the heavy hands of those who came before you.

It was my birthday and I was with my friends, so this meal gets :) :) :) :) :) automatically, although it's not cheap: with a few drinks it was well over Dh300 per person and like all buffets, I can't be entirely sure it was worth it. Also, and if I can head off just one buffet meal at the pass here by saying this, I will be happy: do you really need to gorge yourself? Wouldn't a restaurant where you can order off the menu do just as nicely? I thought so.

Fairmont Bab al Bahr: Where even cigarette butts get the posh treatment

The Fairmont Bab al Bahr is one fancy dancy place. The hill to get up there alone is daunting, and then there is the disco-glitter lobby. But this is what really did it for me: even the sand where people put out their cigarettes before getting in the elevator (not that many people in Abu Dhabi do, you know, bother to stop smoking on elevators) is upscale:

(Imagine having that job, fishing the butts out and re-swirling the sand?) 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Overheard at the yoga studio

"Why do you do this to me? Every year, you ruin my summer."
-Man at the Yoga Tree Monday night, after the ashtanga teacher announced it would be her last class until September

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tip list for moving to Abu Dhabi

I am contacted by loads of people who are considering moving here and want to know what it is like. (Like it is possible to explain this crazy place) However I completely understand, and remain grateful to the high school friend of a guy I was dating before I came here. She patiently asked every last one of my screwball questions in a series of email exchanges, easing my anxieties and providing a realistic window you just cannot get from the Internet. The artistic renderings are just the beginning, my friends.

Anyway, a few things popped into my mind today, stuff I wish I'd thought about before arriving. I may add some others as they occur to me later, but here goes:

1. Vow that you will only shop for clothes and shoes on trips to Dubai or when you are out of the country. My group of friends is always complaining about aimless days spent in the malls getting out of the heat, which usually involve a pointless purchase from the Gap (no bargain rack, last year's designs) or somewhere else that is equally lame. You'll be tempted, but everything is too expensive and really not that great most of the time and you can save a lot of your hard-earned dollars this way, trust me.

2. Ladies, men from this region are lovely. But some have a courting approach that could best be described as of the "stalking" variety. At the very least you will find it far different from the standoffish tendencies of their counterparts in the West. I have been followed in cars and in malls, cornered by a shopping cart in the vegetable section of the supermarket and pestered by a man idling in his car, shining his brights at me while I desperately tried to hail a cab. More than once. My friend once found a man peering back at her through the clothes on a rack at Mango. Fending off someone repeating "I just want to know you" or "please have coffee with me" while exhibiting behaviour that could warrant criminal charges back home ceases to be entertaining. I am sure these men meant nothing untoward, but I've never been into finding out. Avoiding eye contact, I have learned, is key to avoid anything getting started.

3. Negotiate your salary before you get here. It's worth it just to add a couple thousand a year to what you will be paid, as once you get here all leverage is gone. It's not uncommon for bonuses and other promised perks to evaporate upon arrival, and just like other places, few people are getting raises. At least you can avoid kicking yourself.

4. Make a plan to save money and do it. Why did you come here, anyway? Sure it was for the adventure and the new friends and the climate and everything else, but you want something to show for it when you go home, don't you? If you go about being here right, you advance your financial situation in ways that would be all but impossible back home. Set up a mechanism immediately that will save what you would have been paying in income tax. Otherwise you will "mean to do" it the entire time or worse, end up like all those Dubai high-flyers who can't leave because they are so in debt.

5. Get a professional to advise you in both tax and foreign exchange issues before leaving. I can't tell you how many people I have had casual conversations with who have no idea what the tax rules are in their home country and seem to be doing things that could result in a big bill they are not expecting later. As for foreign exchange - don't try to understand it, just try to minimise your risk. Take it from someone who had my savings in Canada transferred to US dollars when the currencies were at an unusual parity and put all the money I saved in the first six months in Euros because the savings account offered a higher interest rate. Euros? I am still shaking my head on that one.

6. Be careful the entire time you are here. People are watching and this is not home, no matter how comfortable you feel. That means keeping your head about you, particularly when alcohol is involved, showing no public affection, refraining from flipping anyone the bird – it's illegal and all anyone has to do is accuse you of doing it to land in jail – and being wary of offending anyway, especially Emiratis. Get your alcohol license; don't have a drop to drink when driving – it's zero tolerance, and you could hit someone and then, frankly, you're f---ed – and act like a responsible traveller at all times. You do not want to spark an embarrassing - and expensive - international incident.

7. Decide to accomplish something during your time abroad and then do it. My first boss here told me this at my welcoming dinner, and I have remembered it. I decided to travel, and boy have I ever. More than 10 countries in two years. Of course, I haven't learned Arabic, written a book, done much in the way of volunteering OR joined up with the Abu Dhabi Island Hash House Harriers - but I haven't left yet!

8. Make friends outside of work. I entered a place with hundreds of people who arrived all at the same time, in the same boat, and the opportunities were endless. I have made friends for life at work, and I love them, but two years on the dust has settled and without a lot of people outside hang out with, it can all feel a little claustrophobic. There are loads of social organisations, group activities, outings, fitness classes and ladies nights that can help get you there.

9. Hummus, while delicious and good for you, should be consumed in small doses!Make a plan to avoid the Abu Dhabi or Dubai "stone". Many people (myself included) have gained weight here, some of them a lot of weight, especially in the summer when it is absolutely stifling outside. The cheap and plentiful takeout options and fast food culture do not help. Gyms are expensive and not always conveniently located. And be vigilant as your time wears on! Those pounds can creep on when you least expect it.

10. Appreciate it. Abu Dhabi bashing is practically a verbal sport. It is very easy, when separated from one's family and friends, living in a neighbourhood you would have previously viewed as a tenement while paying exorbinant rents, knowing the situation is impermanent and having no idea what the future holds, to be negative and focus on what the capital does not have versus its many assets. Many people will do this, and you will have to fight regularly to avoid sinking to their level. It's stressful, and it's crazy, and it's also entirely what you make it.

Overheard at Starbucks

"If he tries anything like that again knock him out."

-A mom who returned from buying a snack for her kids to find her older boy had apparently tried to put a bag over his little sister's head. My favourite part of this anecdote was how the little girl just nodded, as in 'right then, will do'.

The sport may differ, but fans are the same the world over

There are several McDonald's ads like this one airing right now in the UAE, ahead of the World Cup 2010, and for some reason they crack me up. I think it might be the dishdash/jersey combo.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Overheard in the office: Another lunch order bites the dust

"I'm sorry - you can't deliver it for two hours?"

SJP on Abu Dhabi: "A lifestyle that most of us only dream about"

"It was actually prompted by (the director) Michael Patrick King. He wanted to take us out of our comfort zone and put us in a completely different culture so he thought of the Middle East, the new Middle East. And the UAE is now one of the most exotic, sought-after locations in the world, a place that is completely modern and entirely traditional and by having Carrie and company take a holiday in Abu Dhabi, our characters and audiences get to experience a lifestyle that most of us only dream about."
-Sarah Jessica Parker, on setting most of Sex and the City 2 in the capital, to Emirates Woman

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nepal: Land of yummy appetizers and mean mosquitos

I just returned from a four-day jaunt to Kathmandu (and again, have to thank the travel gods who brought me to Abu Dhabi, the place in the centre of it all). The place is brilliant. Desperately poor, but full of life and character and colour. We stayed at an amazing, quaint hotel called Dwarika's (not the cheapest option in a land where most everything is underpriced) and took little jaunts out into the city, up into the mountains and to a truly cool medieval city. More on that later. 

I may or may not have had my legs permanently disfigured by a nasty band of mosquitoes, who spent several hours feasting on my calves the first evening as we dined al fresco by the pool. I am now well-acquainted with the manure-esque scent of calamine lotion, and, although a dedicated skirt-lover, am considering investing in a dozen pairs of pants. (And by pants I mean the North American, not British, version)

For now, I introduce you to the little bundles of deliciousness, sticky dumplings and their lovely, spicy sauces, which I cannot get enough of, known as mo mo.

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 ...