Yesterday was my first full day in Dubai. I had a nap from 8:00 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. in an effort to stay awake until early evening and get my body clock in sync with the time zone here. By the time I woke up, I was hungry, and all I had to eat was a couple of granola bars and some almonds I had brought with me for snacks. I decided to go out to find some groceries.
There is a metro stop directly across from the hotel. I say metro rather than subway since it appears that the trains are always above ground. I thought that there was a mall one stop away, where I was hopeful I could find a grocery store. I saw some kind of market not too far away from the hotel, but I thought it might be small. So I thought since I had time I would explore a little. As I left the hotel, I noted that there was a Pizza Hut right next door. This was going to be a backup plan if I was unsuccessful finding groceries. When I got to the metro station, it was closed. It appeared that it might reopen at 1:00 p.m. However, as I looked around, I could see that the next metro station was not far away, so I decided to walk to it and hopefully find a mall.
It was definitely hot, but I was walking in the shadows of buildings most of the way. I also think I have been lucky so far with the heat. The highs have been around 40 degrees Celsius and the humidity has been reasonably low. The annoying part for me is that I have been told to cover my shoulders and cover my knees. I wore pants while I was out, and I would have much preferred to wear shorts.
When I got to the next metro station, I asked a security person if there was a mall around this area. He said there was not, so I guess I either walked in the wrong direction, or the metro guide is misleading. I decided to head back to the shopping centre that was on the other side of the hotel.
I got there a little before noon and started to walk into the store. I was stopped by a security person who told me I had to leave the bag in my hand with customer service. I had bought some sunscreen at a pharmacy earlier as I was walking between metro stations. As I dropped off the bag with customer service the person there told me that in 10 minutes they were closing. I said I would be quick, and and went into the store. I needed to find something to eat. As I entered the store, the lights were being flashed and there was an announcement that the store was closing. I rushed around looking for something I could eat. It felt like I was on a game show where I had five minutes to buy as much as I wanted, but if I didn’t get back to the finish line in time, I would not get anything. I found yogurt, eggs, baby carrots, and grapes. That was as much time as I dared take, and I went to the cashier to check out. When I tried to give her the grapes, she asked how much they were. I found out later that there is a person near the produce who weighs and tags all of the loose produce items. I told her to keep the grapes, and I left to pick up my bag from customer service. There was a Subway sandwich shop beside customer service desk, but there was nobody eating there. I asked the attendant if he was closing, and he said he was not. I ordered a sub and a drink and sat down to eat. I asked the attendant if the grocery store was going to open again later in the day, and he said they would be open again at 1:00 p.m.; they were just closing to pray.
Caroline had warned me about this, although it sounds like in Riyadh the prayer time is longer in the middle of the day. There are five times during the day when Muslims are expected to pray. I had heard the call to prayer in the airport and I have since heard the call to prayer faintly from my apartment a couple of times. I am not sure where that voice is originating. As I sat eating my lunch, I watched a clear migration of men only to the mosque beside the shopping centre. I admit at this time that I know very little about any form of religion. On one of the forms I needed to fill out before coming to Dubai, I had to declare my religion. I tried to put n/a, but was told I had to choose either agnostic or atheist. Since I do not feel passionately enough to declare myself atheist, I chose agnostic. I do hope to spend some time getting to understand the basics of the Muslim faith while I am living here.
When I got back to the apartment, there was a message from Ilham, who is the Associate Director of the UW Dubai campus. He offered to take faculty who had arrived yesterday to the Emirates Mall to go grocery shopping. I sent a message back that I would be happy to go. Two other faculty members joined us and we headed to the mall at 3:00 p.m. On the drive there, I got a good look at the Burj Al Arab, which is the hotel shaped like a sailboat. The Emirates Mall is also adjacent to Ski Dubai, the indoor ski hill.
Once we arrived at the mall, we basically just went straight to the grocery store. The mall and the grocery store were reasonably busy – I would compare it to early December in the malls at home. The grocery store was like a Superstore at home – it had everything from food to clothing. Where it normally takes me about a 1/2 an hour to shop for groceries, it took me more than an hour and a half to shop – and I was not the slowest one. Part of the problem was that I had to pick up lots of staples like salt and pepper, plastic wrap, and storage containers. The other problem was it took me awhile to find alternative brands to things I was used to buying. For example, I could not find Bounce sheets, but finally spotted an equivalent on the shelf. I can tell you that advertising works, since in selecting from named brands, I tended to lean towards the familiar. For example I got Knorr mayonnaise and Jif peanut butter, even though I have never actually eaten either of these particular brands. The other interesting thing I noticed was that most of the fresh food was labelled by country. For example the red onions were from India and the salmon was from Scotland. I bought the cherries from Canada for nostalgic reasons.
I was very grateful that Ilham had offered to drive us to the mall, because the first shopping trip was going to end up being a heavy load. If I actually paid attention to how much things cost, I would probably be able to tell you the relative cost for things here versus Canada. My impression is that there is not a big difference. I can tell you that I bought 200 feet of Glad Wrap for about $2.50, a loaf of bread for about $1.40, and a container of mushrooms for about $2.20. Maybe someone can confirm if I am wrong in my conclusion that prices are comparable. Another thing I was grateful for on this trip is I was able to buy reusable grocery bags at the store. In the day and a half I had spent in Dubai, I already had acquired six plastic bags. I am just not used to that, and as far as I can tell there is no recycling. I am glad not to keep using plastic bags, and the reusable bags will be better to carry groceries from the supermarket near the hotel.
By the time I got back to the apartment, I did not feel like spending any time cooking dinner, so I decided just to make some eggs and toast for myself. After putting the groceries away, I spent about 15 minutes trying to figure out how to turn on the burner on the stove. I tried several combinations of dials, but nothing worked. I read the instructions in the folder left for me in the kitchen, but still could not figure it out. Finally I resorted to calling the engineering staff extension listed in the folder. In a few minutes, a gentleman from engineering arrived, and he turned on a switch on the kitchen wall. That was the trick that I missed, and now the burner worked. I felt pretty incompetent, but I was also hungry so getting food was a priority. As the eggs were cooking, I looked to make some toast. After several unsuccessful attempts to keep the bread down, I was about to call back to engineering to learn how to work the toaster. Then I noticed a switch at the outlet. I flicked that switch, and a few minutes later I had toast. After what felt like a day long effort, I finally had cooked my first meal in Dubai – even if it was just fried eggs.
This afternoon I went back to the local grocery store to pick up a few items I had missed yesterday. I think my kitchen is close to being setup completely. In the end, I was unable to get Parmesan cheese, salad dressing, dill spice, or sunflower seeds without shells. I did pick up some vinegar to go along with the olive oil I had bought yesterday. It looks like I will be making my own salad dressing for the next four months. That is probably a good thing. I managed to start the dishwasher on my own – which is trickier than you might think since all of the switches are inside the machine. Tonight I am planning to have chicken stir fry.