Sunday, October 18, 2015

Home Sweet Home

Here's a bit about where people live in Dubai. Some ex-pats who work white collar, professional type jobs live in high rise apartments in the Marina area or Downtown like me. Some, especially those with school aged kids, live in villas (like condos) in semi-suburban areas- there's one area called Mirdiff and there's a stereotyped stay at home ex-pat mom referred to as the "Mirdiff Mary", a bit like the Stepford Wife".

Service sector employees- sales gals, cable guys and so on- might live in more low rise apartment buildings or even one story units that aren't exactly apartments or villas in tightly packed neighborhoods near the older part of the city.

The guys who labor on road crews and in construction are housed by their companies in rough barracks with shared facilities.

Emirati families- from what I can tell- tend to have compounds in neighborhoods where two or more generations might live. Some in the same suburban neighborhoods as ex-pats though there doesn't tend to be a whole lot of hanging out in the neighborhood if you're a National. Chances are you've already got a pretty busy social life with hordes of cousins coming and going at the house. Good fences (or tall cement walls) make good neighbors as the saying goes.

standing in living room looking back toward front door
Here are a few pictures. First, my place. I know I've posted pictures of the view before so I won't re-post here. I'll just mention that from 14 stories up (there are 54 stories in my building) I look out onto Sheik Zayed Blvd which is a 10 lane highway that runs through the downtown area. From the guest bedroom, I have a great view of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. My floors are marble, my walls are concrete (that's the main reason I don't have more things hanging on the walls- it's a small construction project to get stuff up.) There's a small independent grocery store (mini mart) on the ground floor of the building
kitchen is a separate room- no open plan here
master bedroom. standing by the built-in closets/shelves
next to mine if I run out of milk . Every door in my house locks including the kitchen and a hallway door. I understand that this is in case I want to lock my live-in maid (which I don't have!) out . Fridges often come with a lock for the same reason. My fridge does not have a lock. I had to get a vanity for the bedroom to dry my hair with a mirror because there are no outlets in any of the bathrooms.  My place has 2 bedrooms and 2.5 baths. It's over 1600 square feet (that's bigger than my house in Vegas.) I'm seriously lucky to have this particular unit as it has a balcony and those views- not all in the building do.

on the tattoo couch with the "bedroom" past the wardrobe
In June, I had the chance to visit a place far more modest that my set up or the apartments and villas of my colleagues. A guy Amanda met who falls into that broad range of "people in various service jobs" is also a tattoo artist. He invited Amanda and I over so she could get a small tattoo. His house is set up for his hobby in a major way so it's probably not exactly like his neighbors' places but they're probably pretty alike in terms of general size and amenities. His place is a single story cement construction that shared walls with the units on either side. He has a kind of unfinished front room with concrete walls and floors but the roof was canvas, I think. Or there was no roof? I forget. No AC, no windows, a side room had a spigot and if I had to guess, a toilet of some kind or another, and there was a built in counter opposite with an electric 2 burner cooktop. there might have been a fridge. We walked through the front room pretty quickly because of the lack of AC and hung out most of the time in the only other room in the place- a combo bedroom, living room, office, hobby studio. Cement walls, floor, ceiling with an AC unit in the wall. One window into the unfinished front room. He had put some linoleum down and split the room with a wardrobe. His couch doubled as a place for friends getting tattoos to spread out, his laptop with an extra wall mounted screen served as TV/ entertainment. There was room for a couple of small chairs, while a bunk bed on the other side was both for sleeping and storage. He managed to really make it work.

Like any city, the range and nature of the accommodations is pretty broad. I am ever grateful that ZU set me up with a really great place. Visiting a very different kind of situation was a really good opportunity. I hope I have the chance, in time, to visit others in their homes and to experience the whole spectrum. Here are some random neighborhood shots.
an example of a kind of compound for a large family

probably an Emirati family home

one of the low rise apt cluster areas

in the older part of Dubai

Saturday, September 5, 2015

(VERY VERY belated) Ramadan Kareem

I wanted to reflect on and write a bit about being in the UAE for part of Ramadan this year back in June. "Ramadan Kareem" is a greeting, used like "happy holidays!" But I think it's lovely that the more literal translation is something like "have a Ramadan season full of charity and generosity." That's one of the elements of the month-long season as we learned at the Ramadan 101 session we went to sponsored by the Sheik Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding. The big public obvious part of Ramadan is the fasting. No food, drink (not even water) from first light until after sunset. Exceptions for the aged, the young, travelers and menstruating women. At Ramadan 101 class, we also learned that smoking, being a rude driver, thinking uncharitable thoughts and engaging in sex are no nos at this time. But Ramadan isn't all about what not to do, it's also about what you ought to do during the season- namely pray more, enjoy family time, be selfless and generous.

click on the pic to read- temp walls blocking the food court
My friend Amanda had a go at fasting- it's actually made easier by the many rules about not eating or drinking in public during the day time and by the slow pace of things. Many cafes and restaurants close during the day, the ones that stay open cover their windows or put up temporary walls to block the view of people enjoying lunch for passers-by. At work, there is a special dining room with drapes that close where employees who are not observing the fast can go- I mostly just had water and light snacks in my office behind a closed door. Because there's no lunch break and because people are running on empty, work days are shorter. Everyone heading home early to relax, pray, or prepare for the iftar. Iftar is the Arabic word for breakfast and also describes the lovely meal that breaks the day's fast during Ramadan.

our iftar at the Oberoi hotel
We were lucky enough to join several iftars, all with a different feel, each one really great. On the first night of Ramadan, we shared iftar with my friend and colleague, Shaimaa, and her family. We had traditional Egyptian dishes and strawberry shortcake for dessert- our contribution! It was a sweet and homey meal where we learned about their family traditions and favorite iftar treats. The next night, we went to an iftar hosted by my South African friends in Abu Dhabi. While they, like me,  were not fasting, at least half of their guests were. As the evening call to prayer sounded, people broke their fasts with some juice and dates, something small to not overwhelm the system. Some went to pray right after while others ran outside to have a long anticipated cigarette, and then on to pray. There was more silliness at this iftar, and a mix of great foods including a South African ground meat dish that I'm hooked on (bobotie)! We went out one night to a special iftar set up in a hotel ballroom. This is pretty typical, hotels set up tents or deck out the ballrooms to look sort of tent-like and offer a big, luxurious buffet spread. There are all kinds of iftar deals and offers- I guess it's kind of like hotels and restaurants making a special Christmas dinner, just doing it every night for almost a month. They set aside places for prayer and serve traditional foods and drinks: dates and juices are pretty much required.
box packing assembly lines

While I wasn't up for the fasting (especially from water! It was June in Dubai!), I was pretty into the idea of doing some service for the season. We volunteered for a few hours one night packing boxes of foodstuffs for distribution to needy families. I got a kick out of the items included. Some staple goods like flour, sugar, rice, pasta were not so unusual. I also think many places in the world would find lentils, tea, canned tomatoes and a vat of cooking oil pretty normal. The regionally specific items were cans of foul (a yummy dish a bit like baked beans) and a bottle of Vimto which I just learned (from the Wikipedia entry on it) originates in the UK but is a big tradition at Ramadan. It's a bit like a fruit soda, I guess. I worked the lentils loading area mostly and because the workroom AC couldn't begin to deal with the open loading dock door and the hordes of hard working volunteers, I had a number of stray lentils from burst bags sticking to my sweaty arms!
chairity box top- Ramadan Kareem

I was only in the UAE for about 6 days of Ramadan this year before heading to the US for a conference and vacation, but the date changes and I suspect I might be around for a bit more of the holy season next year. The dates coincide with the Islamic calendar which has lunar months lasting approximately 28 days instead of the 30 or 31 most calendar months run so Ramadan moves approximately 10 day earlier each year. The actual start date, however, can't be known until it happens. There is an official Moon Sighting Committee whose members must actually see the moon in the proper phase and point in the sky in order to announce the first day of Ramadan. Cloudy weather can postpone things, luckily, there aren't so many rainstorms around here so there are some pretty good guesses about the start date before it's official but in the end, it's not about official moon timetables, it's dependent on actual sightings.

I really enjoyed learning more about Ramadan and I liked the slow pace and reflection on sacrifice that was a part of the experience for me. I might even try a modified fast next year to feel even more in the spirit of things.

Monday, May 25, 2015


Thamel - morning street scene
Nepal has been on my mind of late with the devastation caused by the earthquakes all over the news. I was lucky enough to have visited Kathmandu for a long weekend last December. It was supposed to have been the first of many trips to enjoy this nearby (normally a quick 3 hour flight from DXB), laid back city with a lot of good culture, cheap beer and fun shopping but now I wonder when and how they'll be able to support a return of tourists. I heard that the airport runways were damaged by the heavy cargo planes full of relief aid and supplies. We spent A LOT of time in that tiny airport. There had been fog earlier in the day of our arrival which led to a back up of planes. Nepal's only international airport has just one runway and, apparently, no "instrument landing system" which I think means the pilots really have to be able to see where they're going. We circled, along with some other planes, for about half an hour before we had to divert to Lucknow, India for a refueling stop. This is one occasion when you're not especially excited to hear the pilot say, "You're in Lucknow!" (luck now... get it?) When we finally did land in Kathmandu, it was with a string of other flights that had been due to arrive in well spaced intervals but instead, all hit at the same time. Baggage claim monitors were not working, and if you've ever seen ex-pats returning to their home country from places with greater opportunities for
guesthouse breakfast courtyard
consumerism, you can, perhaps, envision the chaos. Hundreds of returnees each with luggage trolleys hauling washing-machine-sized boxes of stuff, giant saran-wrapped pieces of luggage, and 52 inch flat screen TVs collected off of straining baggage carousels. One of our bags hadn't made the flight but our delays were so significant that we really only needed to wait an additional 30 minutes or so for the bags off the next Dubai flight which had left several hours after ours. Gave us the chance to watch the chaos and note the tractor printer at the claims desk- where does one get tractor printer paper in this day and age? When we finally made it to our guesthouse in the Thamel neighborhood (Ambassador Garden Home), everything was pretty well closed up for the night. Kathmandu hits the hay around 10pm or so and it was easily midnight. Our host, the hotel manager who had arranged for our airport driver to wait on us for 6 hours, also magically procured some cheese sandwiches and cold beer for us. Perfect.

monekys at the main stupa
After a rough start that first evening, everything else was smooth sailing. As I mentioned it was December, the UAE's National Day holiday weekend and the weather in Kathmandu was perfect for walking around, about 70 by day, a bit cooler at night, light jacket weather. Somehow I had it in my head that  all of Nepal was cold and snowy, like Everest, especially in winter, but nope. After breakfast, we grabbed a driver and guide to set out to see some of the gorgeous temples, stupas and historic buildings, some of which now, no longer exist. It's heartbreaking. First up was the monkey temple (complete with holy monkeys, fed both by the tourists, and also by the local monks), Swayambunath, right in the city. The stupa is the big domed structure with the eyes of Buddha (including the third eye and the number 1 in Davanagari script which looks like a nose) painted on each of the 4 sides. From post quake stories, i understand that some parts of the complex were destroyed though it looks like the main stupa held up.
this temple may no longer exist

Next we headed a bit further afield in the Kathmandu Valley to the UNESCO site, the city of Bhaktapur. This video footage really shows the damage the quake did, especially, ironically, to a temple to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. The video also mentions something that I noticed and appreciated about the towns and squares and monuments we visited in Nepal, while they are centuries old, they are still very much a part of a contemporary and living culture. People of all ages and multiple faiths (Hindus and Buddhists mainly) visit the shrines and temples in Bhaktapur and Durbar Square or tucked into the narrow side streets on a daily basis. Bhaktapur also had craftsmen- pottery and hammered metal bowls with alloys rumored to heal and energize, stylized Thangka paintings depicting Buddhist life lessons... We wrapped up guided-tour-day at Boudhanath, one of the largest stupas in the world and one of my favorites for its
i like big Boudhnath and i cannot lie
big round curves, splashed with saffron and the hundreds of colorful strings of prayer
flags dancing optimistically in the wind. Maybe size really does matter. Reports are that this site did not suffer much damage at all. So nice to hear a bit of good news among all the terrible reports.

felted wool slippers
On our second day, we took to the streets on foot. It was a Christmas shopping frenzy given the many options for dramatic jewelry pieces, handmade felted wool items, paper crafts, knit hats, embroidered bags.... all at reasonable prices and  all in different sizes, colors, styles. Tourism is one of the biggest contributors to the Nepalese economy (the biggest is "remittances"- money sent home by Nepalese laborers who work in other countries, like the UAE). We were trying to do our part! I hope that the tourism sector can recover quickly, after the aid slows to a trickle, there are still going to be huge infrastructure needs- they existed before the earthquakes, now after, the situation is even more problematic.

the Kumari's palace
We walked to the historic Durbar Square (also quite damaged now) and lucked out on catching a view of the Kumari, or living goddess, in her palace window.The "job" of Kumari goes to a young girl, selected from among the traditional Newari families of Kathmandu. She is usually around 3-5 years old when she is selected and made the goddess or incarnation of the goddess Durga. She stays in a palace in Durbar square with her attendants and participates in grand ceremonies several times a year and smaller appearances, like leaning out the window so her followers and tourists can gaze upon her (but no pictures allowed) for a few minutes most days. She wears dramatic make up and bright red ceremonial clothing and looks quite serious sitting in her window. She remains the goddess until puberty when a new girl is chosen for the position. At that time, she returns to her family and tries to resume a normal-ish life. I'm happy to learn that the Kumari and her palace were unscathed by the quakes. Our walk back was through tiny streets congested with motorcycles, rickshaws, cars, pedestrians, bicycles... colorful fabrics, pashminas, bright pots and pans, all manner of stuff burst from the store fronts and little temples or ornately carved doors were dotted along the streets. The place was just jam packed and
Durbar Square
bustling and fun.

We wrapped up our Kathmandu weekend with a morning stroll through the serene Garden of Dreams and an early afternoon leg and foot massage before a last taste of momos- tasty dumplings with various fillings- my favorite was the "buff" (water buffalo) done "combo" style. Momos can be steamed or fried or, for those of us who can't make our minds, "combo" style where they're steamed and then pan fried on one side. We went to the Momo Hut, which I am convinced could be a wildly successful international franchise operation. Who doesn't love dumplings? We had veggie, pork, chicken, buff and even some non-traditional dessert momos!
colorful wares for sale on the steps of a shrine

Dubai is home to thousands of Nepalese ex-pats. Our plane home was mostly full of eager seeming young men sporting matching hats with a construction company logo and clutching work visa papers. Their jobs in Dubai are likely to be pretty tough and their working and living conditions not-enviable but they come by the hundreds all the time because despite all of the drawbacks, the earning potential is here and not at home in Nepal. A couple of the guys who work the desk in my apartment building are also from Nepal, thankfully their families were not injured, they are struggling, however with damage to homes and such a major hit to an already weak infrastructure. I'm rooting for Nepal and am so proud of the out pouring of support and aid, both governmental and personal, from the US and the UAE. I'm hoping for the chance to revisit this lovely place soon!

spinning prayer wheels at the monkey temple complex

the handmade hammered alloy bowl energizing water in Bhaktapur

doorways on a street near Durbar Square

keeping up with the news in Durbar Square

school girls doing pooja (like a prayer/ blessing) at a temple in Durbar Square

In the Garden of Dreams

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Umm al Qwain

BBC article map- check out the horse head shaped north
Recently a colleague shared this brief BBC article about the 5 lesser known Emirates. The thing
about it that most caught my eye was the map at the end! I look at maps, mostly online, to figure out how to get from point A to point B, not to see assigned boundaries between Emirates. I knew there were a few enclaves- completely encircled bits of land managed by a different government that that of the surrounding area- but wow! There's giant Abu Dhabi, taking up the whole south and then the horse head shaped north which is a crazy patchwork of the other 6 Emirates. Not to mention Oman. Oman is the grey stuff- the horse's eye, under the neck. behind the ear- all bits of Oman that are surrounded by the UAE. I've explored a bit of 6 of the 7 but have only, really driven through Ajman so I need to do a little more there. Here's a bit about Umm al Qwain.

UaQ Museum

playing dress up at the museum
The article describes Umm al Qwain as a sleepy backwater with a lassez faire attitude. That jives with my experience and contributes to making it probably my favorite Emirate- at least right now.We went to the Umm al Qwain museum one day last fall and quite enjoyed it. It's housed in an old home/fort with some of the rooms set up essentially as they were when the Sheikh's family would have lived there- not all THAT long ago, they lived there until the late 1960s. It was built originally in the late 1760s. Some rooms had displays of quaint things like the first telephone that was in service in UaQ or the passports of residents when UaQ was a British protectorate. a trucial state and eventually, part of the UAE. There were documents listing the damages a family could expect if an employee was injured while working for the British Petroleum Company (not much) and an opportunity to dress up in a colorful local dress! After we toured the fort, we thought we were done but the guy at the door gestured for us to follow a security guard across the street to a modern, official looking building. The guard unlocked the building and we had the local archeology museum to ourselves- special showing. It was really impressive. They had beautiful pieces of pottery and metalwork from the Bronze Age all collected from area digs.
rare cloudy day- looking out the back door of my room at Imar

UaQ is home to Imar Spa- a sweet little ladies only spa that does a brisk business with locals and ex-pats alike.Often when we're there there is a group of local gals getting wedding ready with elaborate blow drys and up-dos with big bun enhancer donut things under piles of curls. There also seem to be plump older Russians having exotic facial treatments.We have to wear bathing caps in the pool which is a bit of a drag but good for a laugh at ourselves in our weird cheap pink lumpy caps at least. They have half a dozen rooms where you can spend the night. A group of us will often pick up groupons for an overnight stay with a huge, tasty breakfast, a 60 minute massage and a mani-pedi all for just over $100US. We book all 6 rooms and after 9pm they lock the doors into the spa area and the staff retires to their nearby accommodations (each room has a back door out to the patio and tiny beach area, so we're not locked in in some kind of spa horror movie plot) and we have the place to ourselves. Last time a hallway card game went on until late fueled in part by a recently arrived care package of Girl Scout cookies.
UaQ also boasts the Barracuda, a hotel that frankly, looks as tho as it has seen better years. But people don't flock to the Barracuda for the "resort"- they come for the Costco sized warehouse of adult beverages. The choice is kind of staggering, especially in spirits. I had no idea there were that many variations on rum. People stock up, the prices are reasonable and the service is great. Purchases are boxed and bagged both so as not to be obvious and disrespectful of laws and customs in the country more generally.
at the UAE's largest pool bar- or so they brag

Near the Bararcuda is Dreamland Aqua Park- the latest reason for me to love UaQ. Went there this weekend. Dubai and Abu Dhabi boast some very swanky water parks with some seriously intense slides and rides. I haven't actually made it to any of those yet- I'm sure I will. I was excited to visit Dreamland as my first UAE water park because it's a little low budget,  little less glitzy- totally my speed. Virtually no lines, lots of shade trees and greenery, views of the sea as you climb up the (only slightly dodgy) stairs to get to the top of the water slides, a pool bar that manages to have both a party feel and simultaneously, a fairly family friendly vibe, opportunities to smoke shisha (hookah) seemingly anywhere (Dubai is cracking down on shisha smoking in open air places like parks and beaches- I get it, it's a public health issue and I see the rationale- but I personally prefer the more relaxed attitude in UaQ, let adults, be adults and manage their own health risks.) You can camp overnight at Dreamland, I think that's just been added to my UAE bucket list! We had a blast, mostly on the tame water slides though we did at least one that was rated thrill level: "aggressive". Got some water up my nose on that one.

Umm al Qwain has more delights in store, I'm sure. Simply driving around the Emirate is enjoyable (well, it's a little speed trappy so you have to chill). The dunes are a lovely warm orange, there are frequently camels quite close to the road and guys sell fruit out of the trunk of their car near the highway on ramp! It's really lovely.

Lazy river- or rather- the Dreamstream!

see family friendly pool bar!

Monday, March 16, 2015

tent time

my piece of heritage gear- a kind of leaning seat
And now for a topic near and dear to my heart: camping! Camping in the UAE, especially desert camping, is part of the local history. They even have a section of gear in some outdoor shops labeled "heritage camping". Heritage camping goods are things like heavy canvas backed carpets, glass and. china tea or coffee sets for 10 or 20 people in clever carrying cases with space for the dallah (traditional coffee pot). I bought seat I haven't taken out yet (maybe next weekend) because I'm always so conscious of not bringing too much gear since I rely on others for rides. More on that below. I was talking to an Emirati woman at work- she's in her 20s. She says basically: Our parents lived in the desert. They like to go back to go camping, it's how they used to live. She told a story about driving around with her aunt who was pointing to one part of a big indistinguishable dune landscape and saying it was called this and then to another area- looked the same as the first- to say it was called that, but to the younger generation, it's just all one desert.

one of our desert camps- my favorite so far
Camping here for me is both more difficult and also much easier than the sort of camping I do in the US. Here, there's never a shortage of places, no need for reservations or permits or fees. There are no elaborate rules about where you can go, when you can burn fires, how many cars you can have at your site. This is because you can camp pretty much anywhere that isn't obviously someone's yard or an official park. The challenge, however, is to get to a site that pleases you.

 I'm nuts about the desert camping that I've been able to do but I'm also totally reliant on other people to get me there and back. You need a 4wd vehicle, you should air down your tires, you need to confidently keep moving over dunes even when you can't see what's over the next crest because as a driver, if you slow down, scream a little and cover your eyes, like I tend to do as a passenger, you'll probably get stuck. You can't really go alone unless you've got some kind of back-up help on call. But once you find your place in the dunes, it's nothing but fine, soft sand in ripples and crests, taking on golden colors at sunset. It's nights full of stars and silence or maybe the sound of the campfire crackling... Well after all your loud friends go to bed, that is! I just love it all.

this flat spot in the mountains had once been some kind of farm

Then there's the mountain camping,sometimes  near the wadis or valleys and ravines. Once again, 4wd is likely to be important as is some knowledge of a flat spot. Much of the mountain terrain is quite rocky and the nice, wide, flatter spots have been snapped up by local farmers. My only night in the mountains so far was weirdly misty and damp but everything burned off in the morning and we explored the nearby foundations and rock storage structures.

I was just introduced to a beach camp spot this past weekend, over near Khorfakan, in the eastern region of the country. While there was a traditional sandy beach part, tides this time of year made it a little small for our group and we knew it was slated to get even a bit smaller before the tides turned again so we set up on a little rise, just 20 or so yards/ meters away from the beach and above a shore area of cool, surf pounded rocks harboring crabs and the occasional sea urchin. There were a lot of nice things about this spot but it was plagued with one of the big problems in the
the trashy (foreground) and the sublime (that sea!)
country: garbage/ litter/ dumping. There were parts of this lovely cove where people had dumped broken ceramic toilet bowls, old tires, diapers, broken glass, plastic sheeting. You name it. Luckily we could set up camp largely away from the worst of it but even where we were the clearing was ringed with mesquite trees, giving us a good place to wander off and use "the little camper's room" in private. But the trees were also a magnet for no end of plastic and cloth trash. I wanted to start picking up like mad, but I also felt overwhelmed, and like I needed way more trash bags and room to haul out trash than we had. I also wanted to gloves, some of that stuff was nasty- next time I'm going prepared. But one of my favorite bits about this site is that I can drive there myself without 4wd and big off road skills and I guess that's attractive to others too, leading to the trash. The Gulf waters, all blue green beautiful were another huge bonus. So refreshing to float a bit among tiny (seemingly non-stingy) jellyfish in the morning before packing up for the 1.5 hour ride home.

I think there's a market for some entrepreneurial Emirati to offer up a semi developed campground, reachable in a sedan but with the beautiful seclusion  and starry skies of the desert or maybe a rustic, mountainside campground, with a port-a-potty and a hiking trail, a couple of fire rings and picnic tables, I think expats with tents and coolers would flock to a place like that. Or would pay good money for a laid back sandy beach spot where they could throw up a tent with a cement block bathhouse and a little non- salt water to rinse off after a swim. I guess that might take away some of the adventure though, and there'd probably have to be rules... for now, I'll keep bumming rides in 4x4s or finding the non-trashy corner of the beach to enjoy one of my favorite ways to spend a night.
at beach camp- the view from the water looking back was pretty nice too

part of the beach camp shoreline was rocks with these creepy-cool barnacles
one more from sunrise desert camp

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Friday around town

scraping bubbly cheese onto my plate
Did a little exploring this weekend. First up was the Ripe Market at Zabeel Park. While it's advertised as an organic farmers market, after visiting, I'd describe it more as a single veggie stand surrounded by a lot of craft and food booths. That said, it had a nice vibe- a big mix of nationalities all out enjoying lovely weather and a nice park and some really yummy food choices. I sampled homemade honey nougat, a cheese I can't pronounce, a dark chocolate and banana snack food that may be the thing that brings me back, houmous, olive oil, pickles... And then, I settled on raclette for breakfast. It's a Swiss delight, kind of in the fondue family if you're not familiar. They heat a hunk of cheese using a clever device until it gets brown and bubbly and then scrape that cheese off and on top of something like crusty bread and salty meat. I paired it with a Pakistani mango lassi (yogurt shake) from the Moti Roti booth- and learned that Moti means fat and Roti is a flatbread, they make their flatbreads fat by wrapping them around some sort of spicy filling. I could have selected grilled sausages from my favorite Australian butcher, poutine or crepes from the Maple Leaf, the Canadian place, all manner of Lebanese street food, burgers, and I can't actually remember what other choices. All in all, produce-wise, it's not going to hold a candle to say, picking blueberries in Michigan or getting the first, perfectly ripe Brigham City peaches at the SLC Downtown Farmers' Market, but once I let go of my hopes for abundant fruit/veggie options, I enjoyed people watching, sampling and eating on a bench in a pretty park quite a bit.

my weak sketch of the bit of my daily drive between 2 palaces
On my way home, still fairly early on a Friday morning, the perfect time to take a "Sunday drive" as it were, I cut through some back streets surrounding the royal palaces, stables, and a whole neighborhood (Zabeel 2) that I can only guess is full of people with some "wasta" (aka clout/ connections/ prestige). There were signs indicating that photographs are not allowed which is a shame, it's a lovely neighborhood and the palaces are awesome looking- the one has a horse drawn chariot rising from the roof, looking rather like Il Vittoriano in Rome and behind/ beside the other there is a large and elegant mosque. My daily drive to work takes me past an exit marked "Private Access" and then under a roundabout that shoots off to giant palaces- residences for the extended family of His Royal Highness, VP of the nation and ruler of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid, on either side of the road- clearly off limits for me. I can see them down long, landscaped entry roads, however. And in driving around the neighborhood that is semi in the shadow of the palaces, I spotted a peacock and a random pen of well groomed long-haired sheep or goats in amongst the lovely homes, most flying the UAE flags high and proud.
In the afternoon, I took my new foldable bike to the nearby former camel racecourse turned cycle
track. I chose a fold up bike in part for easy transport since I think it's likely that I'll often drive to the places I ride to avoid trying to navigate the street traffic. there are rumored to be several tracks set aside for cycling and I'll be checking them all out in time. This one, Nad al Sheba, has the grandstands left over from camel racing days at 2 different places along the path. The first near where you park, also features changing rooms and a small park and a tiny kids track. I was a little unclear of where to
skyline view from abandoned grandstand
ride and so at first followed some pavement out into an area where there were about a dozen cricket matches in full swing. I realized I was not on the main tracks at that point and veered toward another biker until I spotted the purpose-built paved path with solar lights and painted kilometer markers.There are a couple of loops of various lengths- 4, 6 and 8km, I think. It feels a bit random, cycling a loop in a flat expanse of desert. There's some nice views of the city skyline in one direction and of the fancy new horse racing complex in the other direction, some very ugly power lines, some temporary walls blocking a construction site (and the wind, handily enough), and the second empty grandstand which I stopped to checkout. I think if I start riding the loops with any regularity I'm going to wind up coming up with some sort of "grandstand passing moves", I'll ride like the stands are full and cheering me on!
solar lights, ugly power lines, nice track
new horse racing track view

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Going Gold at the Movies

in the Gold Lounge
Since we're suffering a yucky multi day sandstorm (for those of you who haven't seen pictures on FaceBook, I'll put comparison view pictures at the end of this post), I opted to explore one of the things on my Dubai bucket list: going Gold at the movies. I understand that movies with extra nice seats and a full restaurant menu on offer are not exclusive to the UAE but the way they infuse the whole experience with status and luxury here seems to match up nicely with the designer handbags and showy sports cars that are symbolic of a high profile Dubai lifestyle.

We went to see the comic action spy blockbuster, The Kingsmen. Bought tickets online ahead of time. When you show up at the theater, just past the garishly lit popcorn and candy counter for the regular movie goers, there's a smoked glass wall with a simple hostess podium bearing the word
perusing our menus- I guess we could also have been reading magazines
my mini food on slate- served to my recliner
Gold, in gold, of course, on black. We presented our tickets and the glass doors slid open to reveal a lounge. We were invited to have a seat and peruse the menu. I picked a selection of two mini burgers. I could have gone with a mini hot dog or mini potato skins or no end of other bar-food like items classed up by serving them in miniature on a slab of slate with an accompanying mini basket of fries. We also got a popcorn, of course, because it's still the movies. It's just regular popcorn, because why mess with a good thing? After we placed our order in the lounge, we went on into the theater. Oh, except I ran to the loo first and, of course, there were cloth hand towels in a little basket.

There were maybe 40 recliners, stadium seating style so no sight lines are blocked. We took our recliner seats and got our blankets (movie theaters here are just like the ones in the US, always chilly) and shortly they brought our sodas (yes, in other places- heck, even Utah, you can get cocktails, but I am in the Middle East, remember. So no booze, just dry luxury.) We settled in to watch the previews and commercials before the main event and my food arrived (on my personal armrest table) just in time for me to sneak a quick photo before the movie began.
cozied up- blanket and recliner

Some of the naughtiest bits of movies are censored/ cut here. I heard The Wolf of Wall Street was 45 minutes shorter in the UAE. ( I also heard from some people-not fans of the movie- that they wish the film's editors would have made at least 45 minutes worth of cuts if not more.)  Pretty sure nothing was censored in this one- there wasn't much nudity or on screen immoral behavior- a bit of overt suggestion and some violence, but it's a spy action movie after all.

I was a fan of the Gold movie experience! Not sure it was entirely worth the price tag (about $30 per ticket, another $15 or so per person on food) but it was a great splurge for  day when being outside was not so nice and I'm pretty sure I'll splurge again in the future because, well, it's all part of my high rollin' Dubai life!

view from balcony post rain in January

same view mid sandstorm yesterday