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Showing posts from December, 2008

It does not take two months; more like two hours, for a camel to cure depression

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Okay, maybe "cure" is a strong word. But ease? Definitely. I giggled this week when a camel farmer from Oman told one of The National's reporters that a French psychologist had found that spending 60 days with a camel can cure depression. Not being able to locate the study in question, we are just left with so many more questions than answers. Why a psychologist from France, where there are no camels? How did he come to study this - by accident? And was it that after 60 days he, or his subjects, ended up just so happy to be back among people he/they could talk to that any signs of melancholy magically lifted? It is one of my New Year's Resolutions to track down this study; any hints or leads would be greatly appreciated.



So the Al Dhafra Camel Festival wraps up today; a friend and I headed down there on the weekend to see what was what. We concluded that for us, driving two hours to the camel festival was not really worth it, but we were conflicted. Because you can&…

Hokey end-of-year blog post: starting now

This time last year, I was about to celebrate in the back woods of Quebec, in a couple of small chalets with a bunch of my closest friends. We drank champagne, and had a very good time. I was also, and I mean this in a more general sense, trying to stay content while being increasingly unable to silence the voice in my head that kept asking "is this all there is?" Funny, that, as I had just days before shipped off an email asking about a job over here, and was soon to hear back from my now-boss.

Anyhoo, flash forward a year, and here I am. Missing my family and friends, yes, always, but unable to imagine if I stayed put. I guess that's the thing about going, isn't it? You never know until you get there. It's been far from perfect: I felt I might die, many nights, from homesickness. I've been aggravated and defeated and annoyed and upset more times than I can count. And during my first weeks and months here I couldn't imagine a time when I would not use any…

My wallet came back to me, just as everyone said it would

I lost my wallet on Christmas night, somewhere between work and home - there were four stops that evening, all offering some form of Christmas cheer - and absolutely panicked the next day when it was not in my purse. I have not lost my wallet since university, when I used to throw my purse under a table for the evening, while I danced and mingled the night away. I consider myself a lot more responsible since then, and I have to say, might have been a tad judgemental of others who let their wallets get away.

Losing one's wallet is a bit of an epidemic here, actually. I have a friend who lost his twice, and for a brief time, carried a man purse in an attempt to keep his belongings safe. That passed. Anyway, the uniting factor is that everyone I have talked to who lost their wallet has found it. Someone in Dubai, a little worse for the wear, who could not remember where he got into a cab or even, roughly, what time, got his back. Another colleague, also in Dubai, had his returned. A w…

Not just a late-night fast food binge, apparently

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McDonald's may very well be 100% halal, or permitted under Islamic law (those things that are forbidden are haram) but I don't think anyone would argue that it is healthy, which is why these adverts make me giggle. They just make the ingredients look so wholesome. There is another set running on television, with a gentle man's voiceover saying "come, inspect my kitchen" as a McDonald's employee stands beside a spotless deep-fryer and sweeps his hand to the side in a welcome manner.

I wonder what they would say if I just stopped to check it out?

Christmas: 24 hours in Abu Dhabi

So I have survived my first Christmas away from home. (Actually, that might be premature - I am heading to a party now, and like all of our get-togethers, I predict debauchery)

Last night I set out with a friend from work after we wrapped our shift on the revise desk. We headed to the Sheraton Tavern pub, where there were loads of British people already acting badly, a painfully loud and average band, lots of Santa hats and, as there always is, a cougar-ish woman wearing one of those trampy Santa dresses. Quite a few pints and lots of interesting conversation I can't really recall later, we meandered over to the Howard Johnson's last resort, The Cellar, which was like a drunken scene out of Ally McBeal (in that it was full of my colleagues, and they were all singing along with the band, and dancing dramatically). There were more Santa hats. It got a bit blurry after that. My friend tells me slept in his glasses and hiking boots, which is odd, because he was wearing shoes last …

Christmas in Abu Dhabi: Can you see the difference?

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A couple of weeks ago I caught a screening of the Vince Vaughn/Reese Witherspoon comedy Four Christmases - I loved, hilarious - but curiously the name had been de-Christmasized for this region. I say curiously because, well, even though this is a Muslim country, the signs of Christmas are everywhere. People clearly love this stuff.

Also curiously, because you can change the title, remove the red bow from the movie poster and change the presents she's standing on to suitcases, but the plot remains the same, as does the major Jesus-and-Mary Christmas pageant scene. Wouldn't you rather tell people what the movie is about than have them find out in the theatre? Just asking.

Christmas in Abu Dhabi: Santa?

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Who the heck is that scaling the roof of Finz at the Beach Rotana?



No, not that man in a Speedo.



Bingo!

Christmas in Abu Dhabi: Gingerbread houses galore

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The Beach Rotana, like many of the hotels in the city, has erected real, life-size gingerbread houses in honour of the season. My friend got a little tipsy during a lunch at Prego's the other day and ate a bit of one (although, as you can see, she was clearly breaking the rules). She was reprimanded by the nice elf manning the shop. Today I saw one of the hotel chefs fiddling with the door, possibly replacing whatever piece she had eaten.







The sky seems to be falling...

"It's beginning to collapse. The dream of Dubai is turning sour as toxic debt begins to claim its banks and its construction industry."

Check out the rest of my colleague's "House of Cards" take at Sand Castles in the Sky.

Sigh.

And then it sunk in: I really won't be going home for Christmas

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(December 2007, before an NFL game in Detroit. That's me, my bro and his wife - the tiny one - on the left. Yes, we were the only santas in the stadium that day)

Each year (except for one, I will get to that later) I have spent the holiday at that same green-and-white bungalow across from my old public school in London, Ontario, Canada. I can picture it: snowbanks piled up on either side of my dad's grey minivan in the driveway, multi-coloured lights wound with garland around the post on the front porch and a red glow from the same three faux candles that are always hanging in each window. It was only in recent years that my father stopped putting up the wreath I had fashioned from garbage bags, decorated with plastic fruit and sprayed with canned fake snow back in eighth grade. That was probably for the best, although I still hope he didn't throw it away.

I knew I wouldn't be going home this year, never planned on it, and have actually given the whole thing very little…

I saw the Crown Prince last night

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Of course I see him everywhere, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed: his portrait hanging on the side of buildings, screened on car windshields, his photo on the front page of the paper I work for. But this was the real thing. It happened in Vascoe's at the Hiltonia Beach Club, as I watched my friend talking, when suddenly a palpable hush fell over the restaurant. (She had not yet noticed and kept talking; I looked over to see what was happening) At the next table, a man in a white dish dash was standing by, clutching the hands of a woman. Behind him, dozens of military personnel and other big-wigs (or so they looked) lined up between the tables. A photographer from WAM hovered nearby. Everyone was looking.

"I think that is the Crown Prince," I told my friend (who was the only person still talking, other than the hushed tones of the Crown Prince as he murmured to the woman nearby).

She stopped talking, we all stared, and I noticed the male diners in the place had stood up in his ho…

This is very, very scary, for several reasons

A page three article in The National today took my breath away: banks, fearing redundancies among their customers as the financial crisis hits the UAE, have been arbitrarily, and without proper notice, dramatically cutting credit limits and maximum ATM withdrawals. Can they even do that? They are, doing that. Can you imagine if this were to happen back home?

Even my bank, HSBC, has done so. I haven't received the Dec 11 letter yet informing me of the change. But I am just about to head out to buy a new laptop, so we will see what happens.

Things have changed so dramatically since I arrived eight months ago. We all opened accounts and joked about the level of credit they were throwing at us. Cards just seemed to keep arriving in the mail. A car loan was like hailing a cab. And I was told I could get a mortgage for a $500,000 Cdn property. The agent kept saying "two bedroom" when all I wanted was one.

Now this really is hard to imagine actually happening

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Not like everything else: the most expensive bottle of water, the largest building, acrylic wall, mall, magazine cover and whatever else can be blown up to Dubai proportions. But the Palazzo Versace Hotel in Dubai is planning to have an air-conditioned beach when it opens in 2010. Something about heat-absorbing pipes under the sand and giant wind-blowers. That's right: when it is 50 degrees (and that is how hot it gets) its guests can be burnt to a crisp under the searing August sun without even realising it. Lovely. Also probably great for the environment.

They are also planning to cool their pool, which is a novel idea (aside from the aforementioned environmental implications). Swimming in the UAE in the summer, anywhere, is like taking a hot bath in a steam room.

Emiratis are lovely people, just hard to meet

It's the tiny poll that just keeps on giving: in what has to be installment number 14 of HSBC International's Expat Explorer Survey, just 54% of people asked in the UAE said they had made friends with locals.

I think my desk debated last time this survey made news, and we figured that of the 2,155 expats in 48 countries on four continents that were contacted between February and April, the UAE's contingent had to be shockingly small. And considering the number of people pouring into this country every day, they could have just arrived. And when locals make up just 20% of the population, well, it's just that much more difficult. Then there is this whole rising issue of Emiratis and the Government wanting to protect their culture from the continuing expat invasion. Language barrier. Religious differences. A tendency to hang in different places. Oh, and the decided pecking order here. You get the idea.

I have however, finally made the beginnings of a friendship with an Em…

Cross cultural Facebook come-on of the day

Subject line: hey

Message: hey...

It's like Pamela Anderson saw a different Abu Dhabi

I am housesitting a villa - and a cat - this week, and with it comes Showtime Arabia, and with that comes E!, which = me wasting a lot of time on crap stuff like Living Lohan and Pam: Girl on the Loose and lots of E! True Hollywood Story. (Funny, even after an hour I don't feel like I really know Vanessa Williams) There is even a show I've watched a couple of times about a Los Angeles tanning shop mini-empire called Sunset Tan. Suprisingly, the tanning business is very high drama.

Back to Pamela Anderson, who can talk like no other person I've known. I just watched for 15 minutes while waiting for a ride, but that short segment had her meeting with a guy named Sheerez, a representative of Abu Dhabi. Anderson was here for a charity 'do at the Emirates Palace last summer, and called the capital "glamorous and sexy and chic", leading me to wonder if she actually ever left the hotel. "You were on the front of all the papers", he told her, which also mad…

Happy Eid al Adha

It's a strange thing, living in a place where people are in the midst of celebrations that have nothing to do with me. It also, for some reason, has conjured up some buried crankiness with those old farts back home who argue they should be able to wish anyone and everyone "Merry Christmas" this time of year, regardless of their religion. Lowell Green, I am talking to you, though even if you could hear me, I doubt you would stop bloviating long enough to listen. But then again, I'd happily take a "Happy Eid al Adha" today, so perhaps I should just let that go.

Today is the day in the UAE where Muslims slaughter a sheep or goat to commemorate Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son to God. (He didn't, actually, end up having to go through with it.) As pilgrims are climbing up Mount Arafah on the last leg of their haj journeys near Mina, Saudi Arabia, the streets of Abu Dhabi are dotted with frightened-looking livestock. (Or maybe, knowing their fat…

Cross cultural Facebook come-on of the day

"All I can say is - woow , i mean hi

where have u been all my life??

you must be from another planet , this kind of sweetness is to much for us human to handle , have some mercy on us ;)"

A few feelings, from the sky above Dubai

I was lucky to go on a press trip to the Czech Republic last week (I had photographs, it was lovely, but you won't see any as my camera is gone, gone, gone... the photos below were taken - and downloaded! - before I left) and although we left from Abu Dhabi, we flew back into Dubai.

We flew Turkish Airlines this time, which was lovely, but Emirates is nice too, and the airport is world class and miles ahead of Abu Dhabi (where the tight quarters and constant flow of loud announcements never fails to make me cranky) but flying into Dubai I am nervous in spite of myself. Nervous about being strip searched. For absolutely no reason, as I have done nothing wrong. But this is the airport where my fellow Canadian, Nicole Stroop-Gillis, was detained this fall after falling out with a security guard after couple of drinks while on a layover on her way from Kandahar to Mozambique. Where people are arrested for having a speck of a dubious substance on their shoe, or for possessing the natu…

Cat in the office, and outside the office, and my hotel, and just about everywhere else

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I was in The National newsroom working very late one night, in a rare moment by myself, and the sight of wild cats sneaking around in my peripheral vision kept giving me chills. There are an estimated 10,000 wild cats in Abu Dhabi. Many of them, like the crew that lives in the courtyard of the newspaper, have been rounded up and spayed by a group called Feline Friends, as evidenced by the giant chunks missing from their ears. There has also been talk of a "culling" program, which is something I do not want to think about.



The cats at work are often quite funny. There is one that stands on the roof and yells at people as they enter and leave the building. Now and then one of them wanders into a full newsroom, and that scenario is usually marked by loud caterwauling and, one time, a trip to the hospital by a reporter with a nipped finger. These cats do not enjoy being cornered.

Several of them often scrap, while others regularly get into garbage that must have ink from our pres…

I had been wondering what Kate Hudson was up to lately

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Just like The Hills, but in Dubai

Dubai is about to get a reality show treatment, US-style. The Dubai Project is the working title of one of five new shows recently announced by Bravo, the US television network.

Bravo says the program will welcome viewers to the "fastest-growing city on earth" by chronicling the exploits of a group of expatriates from Britain and the US as they "navigate this unique environment to pursue the 'American Dream' in the center of the Middle East". World of Wonder, the company behind E! network's Pamela Anderson reality show, Pam: Girl on the Loose, will produce.

I am obsessed with seeing this show when it's all done, although there has been no word on whether it will air in the UAE. I can also see all sorts of issues arising from it. For example, "expatriates from Britain and the US" is most likely code for "people who use living abroad as an excuse to act up in all manner of ways while they drink frequently and obsessively." What hap…

Makkah, or Mecca: It's that time of year again

I spent far too many hours in the Istanbul airport last week, passing through from Abu Dhabi to Prague and back again. On the way back I saw dozens of men dressed in white towels, basically white hotel towels, wrapped around their waists and draped and safety-pinned around their shoulders. Is this some sort of sect I don't know about, I wondered? That airport is quite a mosaic of different cultures and customs, perhaps more than any other I have been in. A teenager asked to borrow my brush in the bathroom. While her little brother horsed around with the taps, pouring water on his head and killing himself laughing, her older sister asked where I was from and what I was doing there. Turns out they were from Kabul, and were heading on vacation to Italy.

Anyway, I took a great picture of the white towel clan all crowding through the gate to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but of course I can't include it BECAUSE MY CAMERA IS GONE. Not that I am dwelling.

It turns out they were all heading t…

Cross-cultural Facebook come-on of the day

"hi ann
How do you do
I have to say one thing
'You are wow'
I hope i can meet you one day to see how pretty you are is real world ;)"

A few words from a British colleague

I spilled (or as I believe the British would say, "spilt") yoghurt all over the inside of my lunch bag today, and as the only sink in the office that's really accessible is in the washroom (the kitchen was built without one, curiously, and the tea men are very protective of their tiny quarters), I was in there washing off fruit, walnuts etc when a friend walked in and asked:

"Are you having breakfast in the loo?"

UAE National Day: 37 years and counting

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I had a lovely set of photos to illustrate just what has been going on in Abu Dhabi leading up to today, but as I have previously explained, someone has stolen my camera. With all the photos. So, words will (mostly) have to do. The nation is 37 years old today and boy is it proud. I have a little experience with this, having lived in Canada's capital for so many July 1sts. But to witness such displays of patriotism here has been nothing short of fascinating.

Many of the cars, as you can see from these donated photos from my good friend at Sand Castles in the Sky, have been be-Sheikhed in the most hilarious ways. Other cars - big manly ones, like Land Cruisers – have been decorated with green, red, white and black heart stickers or ribbons streaming from the door handles, or both. Or if they are a little older, they have simply been spray painted, graffiti-like.




Right now, outside, all that can be heard is the sound of celebratory honking and helicopters in the sky. A giant firew…

George Michael: I will be the one who loves you, 'til the end of time

Okay, so yes, I did go to the Alicia Keys/George Michael concert last night. No trying to hide it. The big 'do at Zayed Sports City that was supposed to mark Michael's last concert (of course it's not going to be) and usher in UAE National Day (more on that later). We arrived late, my trio and I, and the nice fellow at the ticket gate upgraded us from crappy, cheap with-the-masses ones to "Diamond" VIPs that cost Dh995 (that's almost $340 Cdn y'all). So yes, I did feel special and not at all self-conscious kicking off my shoes and dancing to music more than 20 years old.

Here are a few things I learned:

1) Apparently I know each and every word to Careless Whisper.
2) I am not the only one in Abu Dhabi to possess this knowledge.
3) Contrary to popular belief, people do steal things, such as cameras, in Abu Dhabi; hence the lack of photographs accompanying these words.
4) Big concert organisers in the UAE are still sorting out the drinks-to-expat ratio. Did they…