Sunday, November 28, 2010

Snap caption: Ummm, guess not that important

Dear Aramex: I ♥ you

It was just a few days ago that I complained about my Aramex service; excellent service had turned into no service, which last week turned into a very expensive delivery of 12kgs of magazines dating back to July.

Well, all that changed just now, when a big delivery of my December issues was delivered, gratis, in an arrangement made by Alaa the general manager of Aramex in Abu Dhabi hours earlier. In fact it was just a few hours after I first posted about this magazine saga  that the company's CEO, Fadi Ghandour, had posted a comment on this blog apologising for the situation and saying it would be rectified after the weekend. "I am taking a personal interest in your story," he wrote, explaining there was no reason "whatsoever" for the delay.

Now I feel bad for joking about Aramex's love of "reading the Economist", but Alaa didn't seem to take it personally when he mentioned it on the phone this morning. He knew about that too.

With all this prompt attention I can't help but wonder what would happen if I started blogging about jeans that are too tight, bank accounts too empty, a lack of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in the UAE, you know, easy-to-fix stuff. Joking aside, I can't help but be impressed at how on the ball they are (and want to make another joke about the importance of their magazine-reading preparatory work). I guess they feel, rightly, that in this viral age, a company can ill afford even one tiny old blogger complaining about a couple of magazines.

These are cute: Carolina Herrara-designed National Day bracelets

The bracelets commemorate the 39th National Day, this Thursday, December 2. They are available at the CH Carolina Herrara store in Mall of the Emirates and Mirdiff City Centre.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Toki has excellent Japanese food and funky bidets

Toki, the Japanese restaurant at the Hilton Hotel on the Corniche, has great Japanese food and I also really like the atmosphere – very private rooms that make you feel as though you are in your own little world.

What really impressed me though was these futuristic bidets. Almost all bathrooms at hotels, restaurants and malls here have a version of "the hose". So far Toki is the only one I've seen with something so high-tech. Note the "front cleansing", "rear cleansing" and "dryer" functions. I have no idea what the buttons beside that square box do.

Don't even get me started on "oscillating".

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Overheard at the Marina Mall Starbucks: Two incredibly fat men talking

Incredibly fat Western expat man #1: Lisa's put on quite a bit of weight.

Incredibly fat Western expat man #2: Mmmmhmmm.

Incredibly fat Western expat man #1: But she still looks well. Pretty face.

Dear Aramex, the tremendous love I once felt for you and your US mailbox/courier service has most definitely waned

This is what almost 12kgs of magazines look like:

I have never trusted that mail or packages will arrive to me here in Abu Dhabi via regular routes since the birthday-packages debacle of 2008 and 2009.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mmmmm, dates, yum yum yum, delicious, scrumptious, mmmmm yum yum dates

Today is day one of the International Date Palm Festival, which runs until Thursday at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. When reading today's press release, in particular a section about products from the Emirati Al Foah Company, I couldn't help but think of that scene from Forrest Gump where he talks about his love of shrimp:

"Other Zadina products include date ice cream available in 12 flavors, cakes and cookies, fine jams with dates, other fruits and spices available in 10 flavors, a caramel made of date honey, truffles, chocolate coated dates and chocolate coated date pieces infused with other delicious spices such as cinnamon, ginger and rose, as well as the ingenious date gummis which are made almost entirely of date honey, with only a natural plant based thickening agent added to be able to form the sweet into the gummi shapes which children love, thus enabling parents to smuggle some goodness into their children and teach them the benefits of dates and healthy eating from a young age."

Update: I am only really now noticing the genius of the phrase "smuggle some goodness into their children."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Snap caption: Stove is the very picture of shoddy design

Because all the knobs shouldn't melt off while you simply make dinner, right?

Midwakh & dokha: the latest thing in smoking

Wikipedia says dokha is Iranian tobacco mixed with leaves bark and herbs, and that this is a midwakh, or the pipe. Well, it's mixed with something all right, because smoking it renders speech impossible for about 1.5 seconds. This here is the number 2, which is apparently the strongest - a colleague let me try some this week.

These pipes are quite legal and very popular in the UAE, and the smoking of the dokha seems to have as much ritual attached as shisha - just in a more portable fashion. I am sure it is just as bad for you too, if not worse.

My friends from the West have increasingly been smoking these pipes, men AND women, and that alone cracks me up. It is also addictive, because none of them can seem to stop.

Also, one fellow is trying to take some home for his friends to American Thanksgiving. I will try and report back on how that went, if we ever hear from him again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Shall I play a song?" Hey Rob Evans - I didn't say good-bye, and I still can't quite

This has been a very tough week for a lot of people. Rob Evans, an assistant photo editor at The National, 37 and a dad to a nine-year-old boy, died suddenly early Saturday morning. I still can't believe it, keep checking Facebook, reading the obituary in the paper, looking at pictures, trying to have it sink in. Gerry Doyle, a senior editor at The National, wrote this fitting tribute yesterday.

Rob was a pure delight who I have known from the earliest days of this paper, who has given me more laughs and more to think about than most people I've known. He was one of those who, even when he was annoying you, left you feeling better and lighter. He had a wicked laugh, an ever-present smile, a tremendous sense of fun and enthusiasm for life that you couldn't help but catch just by being around him. During a short car ride on Thursday night, so temporary all I could think about was when we'd be out of the car and into the pub, Rob piped up from the back seat to say "Shall I play a song?" Three minutes really wasn't an interval for him; for a music lover and afficianado, for someone who was really good at being in that elusive "present" we all strive for, it was an opportunity for a moment.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Snap caption: Slogan on Kleenex box at falafel shop seems like a tall order

Qatar Airways gets flight landing deal; Canada fails to understand the importance of "timing"...

... and the UAE is sure to be even more p*ssed. According to yesterday's Montreal Gazette, the deal allowing Qatar Airways three passenger and three freight flights a week happened back on October 25.

And even though as I understand it, Qatar Airways (the world's only five-star airline, as the pleasant commercials go) has now obtained landing rights where Emirates and Etihad already had them and are seeking additions, in a week when the UAE has made Canada the only Western country whose residents need to obtain a visa before coming here, the optics ain't good.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Oh Snap: Grumpy UAE insists Canadians visiting the UAE as of Jan 2 need a visa

First Camp Mirage, now this.

What's next, for those of us who live here? Visas revoked? Internment? (Not that I'm suggesting anything)

Eid holiday inconveniently located in the middle of the week

Holidays are funny here. For example we only just found out from WAM, the state news agency, that public sector employees will have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off for Eid al Adha (Schools will be off all next week, however).

Can you imagine if there was a three-day holiday in Canada but no one knew for sure when it would fall until 7 days before?

No, neither can I. But it seems to work here. I mean, the scheduling editor is drawing up a plan as we speak, and everyone was just chilling until now, not knowing for sure when they would be off.

The news is bad for many people though, as beause work-week starts on Sunday and ends on Thursday, they are unable to tack on days from either weekend for a proper getaway. Everything is full and expensive anyway, or so I hear. I think I will wait until it's all over, then book a holiday somewhere rainy and balmy.

Press release of the day: Habib the Hand gets around


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Jann Wenner, not your typical Arab success story

The National's Weekender had a nice piece on Jan Wenner in honour of Monday's launch of Rolling Stone Middle East. It helps answer the question: "So how does an uber-rich left-leaning secular Jewish pop culture media tycoon mesh with the Arab world?"  (Less so, although I shall be Googling, how after decades of marriage and children he announced he was gay and left his wife for a man. Someone needs to make an "it's get better video", pronto.)

I am not sure how I feel about all these Middle East magazine editions. The snob and magazine lover in me doesn't want to like them. I've already shunned the Middle East's Esquire while continuing to get the American version shipped over via Aramex. Not sure why. From what I can see, most of the articles are the same. And the price is right. Tens of dirhams less than the newsstand price or what I pay for shipping, not to mention a fraction of the ecological footprint.

Ditto Shape, which I've also basically ignored and continued to buy for about four times the price. The thing is, they won't be the same, will they? First of all I won't get those fun black squiggles the censors put over breast and bum cleavage. And Esquire won't be as fun-filthy, I know it won't. But the time is coming where this is no longer going to be tenable: the Middle East is the money maker, and there are loads more of these editions on the way, including, it is rumoured, a Vogue edition. (I am guessing probably not Cosmopolitan though. I mean, there is just no way to do the cover lines justice)

I am going to try, if only for my pocketbook and because these editions are going to become increasingly harder to ignore. So next month, the great Middle East edition magazine-reading experiment begins.

Passports, etc

So it's time for a new passport a) because the one I have is full – all those in-and-out of the UAE stamps (not to mention 12 countries in 2.5 years!!!) mean there is no room for a visa should I need one, and I will – and b) because mine expires in March and this is one thing I am not leaving to the last minute.

I have been curious to find out that Canadians face much stricter rules than a lot of nationalities when it comes to this issue. Our passports must be renewed every five years, and we need a proper guarantor: a lawyer or doctor or the like, not always that easy when you haven't lived in a place that long.

Brits, for example, only need to renew their passports every 10 years and any old person they've known for two years can vouch for them. I'm still waiting to find out if I need to part with my passport at all during this process. That prospect scares me. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Camp Mirage: A $300 million moving bill

I don't profess to know very much about diplomacy, but it is kind of hard to imagine that the Canada-UAE spat has come to such an expensive and childish conclusion. It reminds me of when I used to play with my neighbour as a kid: it always ended with one of us slinking home, in tears. Usually me.

Speaking of falcons...

... my colleague was cracking up yesterday, because during her morning commute from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, she saw a man driving a car with a falcon sitting in the passenger seat.

She said you could see the top third or so of the bird, facing forward just like a passenger, so it must have been perching on something. No word on a seatbelt.

Snap caption: Sheikh Mo. Tom Cruise. A falcon.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mandoos: the official shoe of the UAE

For some reason this billboard, at Muroor Road and 15th, makes me giggle.

This week in goat news

I am pretty excited for the weekend, because that is when I will get to read a first-person account by Jonathan Gornall, a witty British journalist aka Microwave Man living in Dubai, as to how, exactly, his passport came to be eaten by a goat. 

Mr Gornall is in the process of getting a new passport and no doubt enjoying saying things like "My passport was eaten by a goat". I don't really know how or where, as the details remain sketchy. All I know is that only the front cover and a portion of his picture remained. Stay tuned for the Motoring section in Saturday's edition of The National for more details.

For now, however, click below to see an exclusive picture of the guilty party.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The machine, thankfully, is now working fine

I met a very upbeat cab driver from Pakistan this weekend. He loves Canada, of course, (every taxi driver does, or so it seems) and apologised for his English. I apologised for my Urdu, which made him laugh hysterically. After he recovered from the shock of my answer to the question "do you have children?" he proceeded to tell me how he came to have some himself. 

Soon it became clear that he was trying to convey that on his wedding night, at 16 – his wife was just 14 – he was unable to consummate the union. Or, more simply and in his words, "machine no working". As I understand the story – and I could, obviously, have gotten things very, very wrong – his mother (somehow?) stepped in and sorted everything out. Not quite sure on the details, but things were apparently executed properly – to everyone's relief – the second night. "Second night good", he said. He also assured me that his "machine" continued "working very good" after that first hurdle, and I guess so: the couple have four children. Not that I needed to know, but he assured me "machine very good  – no problem", even now.

Overheard in the newsroom

"Baby camels are more delicious than big camels."

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 ...