Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Overheard in the newsroom: A super special triple Thursday edition

"You act like I am some sort of lush. I am just a family man who likes to throw some back."

"I keep getting SMS messages from Big & Tall because they think I am still fat."

"Don't Canadians make bagels?"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A trend I wish would die: Gold to go (and this time, Burj Khalifa-style)

First Emirates Palace, now the Burj Khalifa: ATMs that dispense gold bars. As a colleague pointed out, this time one would have to pay (at least Dh100, or about $30, if you book ahead) just to get access to the gold machine on the 124th floor.

One ounce for Dh5,645, almost Dh1000 more than it would cost on the international market. 

Snap caption: Sign about Korans in Al Ain Carrefour jarring, but true

Photo courtesy of Essam al Ghalib.

For more information on handling, go here. (Other links welcome) Thoughts?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Overheard in the newsroom

"Now we have Floor Cat, too?"

-Response to mewling below the floor boards, from a tiny "I want-to-explore" offspring of the always awesome but quite loud Ceiling Cat.

Overheard in the pilates studio

The reaction of one pilates teacher as another talks about her fender-bender earlier than morning:

"Did you brace your core for the impact?"

Monday, January 24, 2011

New UAE visa rules leaves Canadians stranded

Oh dear, not surprising this happened given the new visa rules, which see Canadians having to secure a $250 visitors visa for a simple trip into the country. Checking with authorities at the Canadian embassy in Abu Dhabi and with UAE authorities upon leaving the country was not enough for 69-year-old Donald Caufield. He spent 24 hours at the airport, unable to come back in via India to visit his wife, who lives and works here.

Then this statement:

A spokesperson for Emirates said: "There is no evidence that Canadian travellers are deterred from coming to the UAE because of visa requirements. Capacity to and from Canada is severely constrained due to the limited number of flights."

Hmmm, Canadians, what would deter you from fleeing a Lethbridge winter for the sunny climes of the UAE: the lack of flights to and fro (because the rest of the world offers no other airlines or routes that are much cheaper and take roughly the same amount of time as Etihad or Emirates, surely), or the extra $250 the UAE has lovingly decided to tack onto your trip?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fills my heart with joy: seen these recycling containers along the Corniche?

This place is starting to look like it cares about the environment!

18 degrees celsius=bundle up!

The last two days of weather in Abu Dhabi have been awesome: cool (for here) rainy - not a sunbeam in sight. I cannot explain as someone who did not grow up here how pleased I am to see the sun disappear. Isn't that weird?

I guess the moral of the story is an important one: when you live in a place where it's sunny every day, you will miss the clouds and rain. (Not sure I would say the same about driving snow, black ice, drifts and sleet though)

Anyway, this time of year cracks me up. I am way more vulnerable to the slightest chill than when I moved here, donning a sweatshirt when the thermometre dips below 20. But it still cracks me up how everyone else deals with it. I have seen so many people wearing thick, heavy leather jackets, wool caps, big, big scarves wrapped around their necks – gloves! puffy coats even!– that I can't help but smile.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When you wake up tomorrow, it will almost be time for kimchi

The Holiday Inn's Silk Route Cafe has brought in a Korean chef and offers an authentic Korean buffet every Thursday night, which I was lucky enough to attend last week. Not only was it very busy, but I saw a lot of Korean people there, enjoying the food, which I always think is a good sign. (Funny that I think that. It's not like if I saw a bunch of Americans in Denny's pigging out on sausages and pancakes, I would think "they must do American food well!") Anyhoo, it was my first time eating kimchi, yum yum, and an assortment of delish noodles and chicken and beef dishes. I also enjoyed a Hite beer and a shot of the famous Korean liquor, Soju, which tasted a little as though someone had disinfected a cut in my mouth. I'd make a reservation to be safe. 02 657 4888 Every Thursday between 7 and 11pm. Dh145

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

#DubaiJamesBond: "Tomorrow Never Dies, Inshallah"

The new James Bond novel, Carte Blanche, will be set in Dubai, we learned at the launch of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature yesterday. Moments later, Twitter started up with silly #DubaiJamesBond chatter. This was the best (in my opinion):

"The name's Bond. Unsecured $26bn sharia-compliant Bond"

followed closely by:

"Spy Who Treated Me In a Culturally Appropriate Manner That Reflected Local Traditions" 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Travel tip: Be prepared for the worst

A colleague of mine has had a very bad accident while on holiday in Sri Lanka and while our health insurance coverage is very good, it does not seem to cover his return to the UAE. Returns of this sort – if you need to be on a stretcher, accompanied by a nurse, as he does – can be very expensive. As in "you need to pay for seven seats" expensive.

If you travel a lot, might be time to think about a little top-up plan.

Telephone troubles: Etisalat, you are, not. so. good.

My father calls me fairly regularly over here, which is nice, because one thing you find out when you move overseas is that people back home seem to see the "overseas call" as a large barrier to our communication. I'm not sure whether it's the cost, figuring out where to put the "011" to get out of Canada or that they are just glad to be rid of me. But count on it – it's just one of the things you lose (out of many gained) by expanding your life in the (massively eastward) direction. It's fine, you get used to it. And over the bitterness.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I wonder if Bob Rae paid $250 for his visitor's visa

So the opposition MP (and subject of the most underwhelming celebrity spotting of my life, to date – my friend did not even look up from her ice cream when I said "there's Bob Rae!" in Toronto's Eaton Centre some time in the early 2000s) stopped in the UAE for meetings about this whole sorry situation – which seems to have been greatly exacerbated by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's comments last week of the "give me a break" variety. (This is where the vast cultural divide comes in folks. That sort of comment, like water off a duck's back in the Western world, would resonate deep and wide over here where the concept of losing face is very serious).

Mr Rae added some fuel to the dispute, domestically, by writing about it on his blog. He has a lot of good things to say, namely that the two countries need to start talking again, "this time without a megaphone". Accusations that by making the trip he was disloyal, he said, "are patently ridiculous".

One thing Mr Rae's trip did accomplish was to clear a bit of the radio silence on the issue from the UAE side, although what he claims "they" said is quite troubling:

I wanted to hear the views of the UAE first hand, so made a point of stopping in Dubai during a personal visit to the Middle East.  My first sense is that they are genuinely baffled by their experience of the last while – no meetings of substance with Ministers, promises that “better offers” are coming on the landing rights issue, and a final “take it or leave it” proposition that was worse than the status quo, a sense that Canadian Ministers had no real authority to discuss anything, and the one Minister who was said to be “carrying the file” refusing any face to face discussions.

Totally true second-hand story: man, monkey, mobile phone+bicycle

This comes from my hairdresser, who spotted this last week on the Corniche in Abu Dhabi: a man in national dress, riding a bicycle (rather slowly, as you can imagine), head cocked to one side, talking on his mobile, with a live monkey wrapped around his neck. A woman in an abaya walked (also slowly) by his side.

UPDATE: I just happened to check the "keyword analysis" portion of Statcounter, the handy gadget that lets me know how many visitors I have. One in particular jumped out:

"Looking to buy a monkey in Dubai 2011"

Monday, January 10, 2011

Overheard in the newsroom

"I would argue for polygamy that allows me to marry both Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Creepy mall rides, take 2

I tried to post this last week but it didn't work so here goes. Would you let your children ride one of these mangey things? Sure, they move slow, but they are not even attached to anything. Top floor, Abu Dhabi Mall.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dear Frankie's: I love you very, very much

I was sitting at the bar at Frankie's in the Fairmont Bab al Bahr (which I love saying, by the way, just the "Bab al Bahr" part, fast) waiting for a friend the other day when I decided I would try again. The lost cause, as I saw it. Trying to get a proper – okay, just a passable martini – in Abu Dhabi.

And just like that, what I thought was the impossible happened. Jett was a barman, a proper one. My jaw dropped as he took all the right steps, kissing the glass with vermouth, chilling the glass with ice and – soda water! – before giving the vodka a real good shake and pouring it over three delicious olives on a skewer. I almost cried.

Then, when I didn't think it was possible to BE happier, I flipped open the cocktail menu. I almost fell off my stool.

Um, are you kidding me? I can walk into a bar and order a caesar? It's nothing short of a New Year's miracle.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Taxi versus car: Let's get into it

I don't drive in the UAE. Okay, I have my driving license, and I drive sometimes, but I do whatever I can to avoid it and when I have to I am terrified and nervous. At home if I hit someone probably the worst I could face would be a careless driving charge and eternal emotional ruin. Even if someone died in the accident, I am pretty sure unless I ran down a pedestrian or someone saw me swerve on purpose into the other lane or I was drunk (which would never happen) my life could go on.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ode to pomegranate juice: how I love your sweet, refreshing flavour, your antioxidants, your ability to quench my thirst and tickle my tastebuds

But mostly I love how Nabras and all the other corner shwarma shops in Abu Dhabi, Juice Capital of the World® , can turn such an obstinate fruit into this much juice in about 5 minutes. Have you ever tried to de-seed a pomegranate? My only attempts have led to injury, slippage, cursing and juice-stained clothing and sofas. These guys should be building bridges, or constructing skyscrapers down on the Corniche, or taking a crack at world peace. They are true professionals and they have my eternal respect.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tarsier, the tiny monkey

I spotted this hanging from a taxi driver's rear-view the other day. It is a Tarsier monkey, a shy, nocturnal animal also known as the "world's smallest monkey" that hails from the island province of Bohol in the Philippines. In 1997 it seems someone rated it the "planet's cutest animal" but I got tired of looking for who. (And I have no idea why this little one is wearing a skirt - or is it a visor?)

I'll take the furry replica over the real thing I think.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year: My 2011 wishes for the UAE, and beyond, are as follows:

*that human trafficking, contract substitution, cheap goods and services and every other exploitative practice would end so that we could start treating every human being on the planet with the same level of respect and protection they deserve

*that Canada and UAE would kiss and make up

*that I could get into a third reformer class at Soma Pilates

*that better movies would play in this country

*that the men who opened an office in the apartment down the hall WOULD STOP WITH THE F***ING SMOKING ALREADY

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 ...