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Showing posts from February, 2009

The late night, transatlantic call: for friendship reasons, purely

When I first arrived in Abu Dhabi, coming up on a year ago now, I was prone to going out a lot, and very late. After spending hours in one of the city's finer hotels, we might converge at someone's hotel room and for awhile, at a friend's pool, to the increasing chagrin of his neighbours. I heard the dawn prayer call more times than I'd like to admit. It was nutty and I can't believe I sustained the pace. (We talk about it now and figure we were all fuelled by a strange relocation-related adrenaline)

Anyway for some reason, even at those astonishing late hours, sleep proved elusive. So I would call one of two friends back in Ottawa, and they would laugh at me on the phone but listen while I talked about all the fun I was having, and also how much this place freaked me out. Then they would tell me stuff I wouldn't remember, and we would have to go over it all again the next time we chatted.

The calls - and ridiculously frequent and late outings - died off. But t…

A few words from a British colleague

Harried and apologetic as she takes another cigarette from a colleague:

"I mean, basically I need 15 fags to do this job."

Things I am pretty sure I would not hear while calling someone on their mobile for a story back in Canada

"Why are you taking charge like this?"

The week in review: I wouldn't eat it either, Mr President, it is just not worth the mid-afternoon post-sugar energy slump

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1. Margaret Attwood pulled out of Dubai's upcoming Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature, after learning Geraldine Bedell's The Gulf Between Us - featuring a gay character - was going to be excluded from the festival. She may appear via satellite for a debate on censorship in her role as vice-president of PEN International. I know this is all very serious and important, but I can't help thinking about that special tool the notoriously cranky writer adopted a couple of years ago enabling her to sign her books remotely so as to avoid actual encounters with the fans who love and buy them.

2. Saudi Arabia moves ahead, albeit at a glacial pace, appointing Norah al Fayez as deputy education minister. It is the highest government post ever attained by a woman. Letting women drive and putting an end to the guardianship system that keeps them under the control of men? Well, that might take awhile.

3. As the economic downturn continues to hit home in the UAE, the Gove…

Tiger Balm, but better

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A friend read my tender post about Tiger Balm a couple of weeks ago and brought me back the best present from Thailand today. It's White Monkey Holding Peach Balm. It appears to be a similar product: camphor menthol, eucalyptus oil etc. (Before I becoming ill with this terrible cold I used to smell of Dolce & Gabbana's The One; what a long fall - now it is methysalicylate)

Why it is called White Monkey Holding Peach Balm, I am not sure. But the best part is that the box, as you can see, actually features a picture of a monkey holding a peach (and a woman in a rice paddy with a bull, and two kids playing soccer, and three random insects).

Snap caption: A safe spot to sit

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I was wondering if they make a big deal of Valentine's Day here...

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...and then I saw this display in Abu Dhabi Mall.

I am obsessed with: Cranford

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A British friend loaned me this 2007 British miniseries shortly after I arrived and it languished on the table in my hotel for months. He asked several times if I'd watched it yet, arguing that I should because "it's just so good". I am not sure why it took so long; maybe it was all the bonnets on the DVD case that put me off. And I am not really much for period pieces. But one night last week I popped it in and was hooked about 15 minutes later.

This is just an incredibly well-done, intricate series of stories, subtle, deftly weaved, featuring a lot of Britain's top talent. I was particularly taken with Imelda Staunton's dried-up Miss Pole and developed a strange crush on Dr Morgan, a small part played by John Bowe. (Maybe it was the sideburns)



I laughed - there are some great lines and incredibly dry wit in there - and I cried, no exaggeration. It was worth every minute of the five hours I spent watching it. And in honour of Valentine's Day, it is also f…

It never fails to unnerve me, a little

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It's almost 1pm here on Friday, and that means I am hearing the Friday prayer, or Jumu'ah, blasted over loudspeakers from about four different mosques near my hotel. It is, as a colleague said shortly after I arrived, quite "full on". I really wish I could tell what was being said, because the sermon tackles some interesting subjects. Things like marital discord, wasting ones time... it's all pretty compelling stuff.

Last Friday I was out walking around when the call to prayer came. It's hard to describe, but basically hundreds of men start streaming out onto the streets and into and around mosques. I should like to see it from the top floor of a hotel some time. And I couldn't believe all the men and their sons spilling out onto sidewalks and streets, around parked cars, their sandles off, kneeling on their prayer mats on the pavement in the hot sun.

Funny what can make a girl smile in the middle of a weird sandstorm

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Mini-stalked, twice in 12 hours

It occurred to me this morning that men in Ottawa and Abu Dhabi might greatly improve their chances of hooking up with women if they sorted their tactics and met somewhere in the middle. Canada's capital is a lovely but staid government town, and its single women are prone to lamenting a lack of forwardness from the male half. I can vouch for this; it always shocked me a bit whenever I left, even for Toronto or my hometown of London, where men are not afraid to look a woman in the eye and smile. You know, because it doesn't mean anything.

Then again, a boyfriend of mine, while we were still together and I could be sure he was not referring to me, liked to lament Ottawa had offered him "a lot of low fruit". Who is to say, right?

Men in Abu Dhabi (and I am talking about men from the region here) think nothing of stopping to talk to a woman they like. If that doesn't work, they'll follow her. I've been boxed in with a shopping cart at the fruit counter, tailed…

Snap caption: I really would not stand under that sign if I were you. I suspect it won't be dry or clean.

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This is so sad: the forest fires in Australia

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

HE WAS about 10, with the bluest of blue eyes.

They are eyes that Mark, a firefighter from Flowerdale, will never forget.

The boy was found near a ute, doomed, like so many other vehicles fleeing the inferno. Along the road lay the bodies of a woman and another boy, believed to have been his mother and brother.

Click here for the rest.

Guess which name this US chicken chain goes by in the UAE?

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Sigh: 62 pounds, down the drain

I signed up for an Aramex account a couple of months ago. This ingenious little service gives me a post office box in the US and the UK, enabling me to receive mail and packages that otherwise would disappear this side of the Atlantic in regular post.

It's not cheap - 10 bucks for a couple of magazines, usually - but when I open up the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, I don't care. (You can get magazines here, but they are obscenely expensive, so it is still cheaper)

The other day I went a little overboard when, ordering a special large round-barrel hairbrush from a UK website (I have searched high and low here in Abu Dhabi for one) I spotted Aveda products, which I also have not yet found in the UAE and am almost out of. I snapped up several tubes of Madder Root conditioner, which smells amazing and partially restores my hair to a gorgeous shade of red I did not appreciate in my teen years. I checked the banned list. Sure, tea tree oil and Christmas crackers are not allow…

Snap caption: Many, many men

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I was not aware Canada Dry made cola

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Overheard in the newsroom

"Hey, nice piece on the apostrophe."

Sometimes it feels like the sky is falling and there is nowhere to go

I don't like to do things because I am scared. Operating from a place of fear... it just never works for me. I think it screws up the decisions that you make. For example, 10 years ago I decided that I didn't want to be married yet. The biggest thing holding me back from changing my life back then was the fear that if I did I might never get married or have kids. It was powerful; so powerful that it almost kept me from changing my life. So I made a sharp turn, and it's been lonely at times and hard, real hard, at others. But also incredible and exciting and although I still worry, a lot, that my biggest fears will come true, I have never regretted it, or thought for a second it was not the right thing to do.

So every time I start to feel scared and like I want to cling to the things I know, even if it seems like they are not very stable or I might not even want them, I think about that decision, the one that changed everything. Back home it played out time and again: people…

Wouldn't it be nice if the courts everywhere would be this helpful?

The Dubai Courts' "marriage guidance" section, concerned about the rising rate of divorce among Emiratis, issued an unusual warning yesterday.

The message is that absolute honesty in a marriage, particularly when it comes to a husband delving around in what his wife was up to before they got married (not having known her at all), is really not the best policy.

A family counsellor with the Family Guidance and Reformation section said it would be counterproductive for a wife to tell her husband about any previous relationships. Doing so could sow seeds of doubt it could take him years to get over, he said.

“Such questions as ‘who did you love before me?’, ‘to whom were you engaged?’ or ‘with whom did you go out?’ only serve to increase divisions between a couple and are a warning sign of the imminent end of the relationship,” he said.

Funny how people can know in their heart – because you do, at least if you are over 30 – that conversations between two people having a current…

Ummmm, why exactly?

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I took this picture at the Gaza protest a couple of weeks ago, some days after I was rattling on to a friend about men who carry their girlfriend's or wives purses for them. This is like the 'suit jacket over the summer dress in the evening chill at a wedding' gesture - one of my all-time favourites, actually - gone horribly wrong. I am not talking about holding a purse while we rummage, or readjust, or something. Full on carrying: unless both the woman's arms have just fallen off, I say there is no excuse.

Who are these men? More importantly, what is up with their girlfriends?

The dark side

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I was zipping down an alley by the Corniche on my way to catch a cab to work when I saw him. A worker, in a tired, dirty royal blue suit. I was wrapped up in my own thoughts, having just been to the dentist, and almost didn't notice that he was moving his hand by his mouth. He was hungry and wanted money.

In Ottawa I passed by guys like this every day; my place was just across the road from a shelter. Once the mayor, Larry O'Brien, called them pigeons. You know, don't feed them and they'll go away. He installed "kindness metres", which were actually refurbished parking metres painted white, instead. I saw a girl donating to one once in a blizzard; there was a homeless guy in a blanket about two metres away. Although her cash would surely go to a good cause, the whole thing never seemed very kind to me. If I walked uptown from the Byward Market to Elgin St, I could pass a dozen panhandlers in 20 minutes. The Homeless Poet lived outside Chapters on Sussex St, j…

Canadian tax breakfast not actually that boring

I have not seen 630am since... well, I guess since I happily rose to take in Petra almost one month ago. Vacations are different though - getting up early when you are tired never seems like the tragedy it does when the alarm goes off and the first thing one thinks is "Canadian tax breakfast? Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy". (Cue audio clip of the US figure skater Nancy Kerrigan when that thug-for-hire whacked her on the knee with an iron bar before the 1994 Olympics)

Anyway, I thought it was a good idea to attend a breakfast seminar on the subject of Canadian tax for expatriates. And fitting, since this time last year I basically thought of little else. (In hindsight, not being able to focus on the great unknown that was my mad move to Abu Dhabi, I instead laser-focused my immense capacity for anxiety on the tax issue.)

I am not going to go into it here - not likely to get much sympathy from people back home forking it over every pay, I imagine - but let's just say Revenue Canada h…

A random thing I feel the need to semi-publicly confess

I may have let my list of Facebook friends get a little too unwieldy.

Tiger Balm is good for all sorts of things, apparently

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For some reason my first boyfriend introduced me to the merits of Tiger Balm. I can't remember why - he probably used it for sore muscles, like most people. But I was in the supermarket the other day and saw some. Feeling suddenly nostalgic, I picked it up. The next day I had a headache and rubbed some on my neck - I felt better in about a minute. And my colleague said "is that Tiger Balm I smell? I love that stuff!"

That night I read the description on the jar: "Fast effective relief for headaches, stuffy nose, insect bites, itchiness, muscular aches and pains, sprains and flatulence."

That's right, flatulence. Ummm, how, exactly?