I know, I know, I haven’t written much in the last two weeks. I have been working every evening, (except last night when we went out for our weekly Dinner in Dubai) and I just have not found the time to sit down to write. I also haven’t made it to the gym, and I have only been swimming once this week. I feel like I am getting close to being on top of the tasks at work. Hopefully by the end of the weekend I will be where I want/need to be for work. I feel like I said that last week too.
Last Thursday it took me more than 15 minutes to figure out what to wear. Those who know me will recognize this as extremely unusual behaviour. Basically, if it is clean, and it fits, then I grab it and put it on. I have never really worried about how I looked – especially from a fashion perspective. The unofficial dress code for the uWaterloo campus in Dubai is much more formal than the campus in Waterloo. The men are expected to wear a jacket and tie. Although some of the men dress more formally than others, I must admit that I do think the men look more professional when they are dressing up this way. I do not own business wear. I bought some clothes before I came to Dubai, but I didn’t spend much time shopping. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on clothes that I would just be wearing for four months. Now that I am here, I definitely feel underdressed. There are no other female faculty to compare myself to, but all the female staff wear skirts and heels, and are definitely more formal than I.
I think I mentioned this before, but dressing on the weekends has become an issue I didn’t think about either. I want to be comfortable, but I don’t really want to be walking around Dubai in running shoes and track pants all the time. I have become a little obsessed with trying to find comfortable, stylish shoes – something close the the comfort level level of my Birkenstocks, but a bit fancier. Something I can wear to dinner in a restaurant after walking around for a few hours. Since I arrived in Dubai, I have bought five pairs of shoes – and a hat. (Hence the Carrie Bradshaw reference for those people who have watched “Sex in the City”.) Again, those who know me will be quite shocked by that. I probably haven’t bought five pairs of shoes in the last two years, and most of those would be running shoes for basketball. Now, one pair I bought were flip flops that I use to walk around the apartment (the tile floors are cold) and to go down to the pool. One pair are flats that cost me $6 at the Carrefour superstore, that I thought might work as the comfortable shoes that are fancier than my sandals. Unfortunately, walking around with them is like walking on the floor without any shoes on at all. They have no support, and I am sure if I walked for more than an hour with them, I would be in pain. Last Friday afternoon, I went into a Birkenstock store during yet another mall visit (this time it was Deira City Centre). I walked out with a fancier pair of Birkenstocks. I am hopeful that this will take care of most of the weekend footwear issues.
In the same mall where I found the Birkenstock store, I purchased a cell phone. I have a Blackberry, but I didn’t really plan to use it in Dubai. However, I thought I would get a local SIM card and some minutes with pay as you go. Last week I bought the SIM card, but it didn’t seem to work in the Blackberry. Unfortunately, I discovered that Rogers had blocked the phone when I bought it. I specifically did not commit myself to a wireless plan when I bought the phone – I paid full price for the hardware. Although there are unofficial ways to unblock the phone, I contacted Rogers to find out why my phone was blocked in the first place. I got a response that warned me that unblocking my phone was a bad idea, but if I really wanted to do it I could pay a $50 fee. It wasn’t clear to me if I needed to bring the phone to a Rogers store to have the phone unblocked. I was completely frustrated by this response. In the end I decided to buy a cheap cell phone – that cost about $30 including 30 minutes of air time. A year ago I didn’t own a cell phone, and now I have two of them. I hardly recognize myself these days.
After buying the sandals and the cell phone, I met a friend of a friend (Fran) for dinner at the Belgian Beer Cafe, which is a restaurant beside the Crowne Plaza at Festival City. It turned out to be nice, casual evening with Fran, her husband, and her sister. Fran and her husband are from the United States, and they have been living here for about three years. In the course of the discussion at dinner they recommended that I consider Sri Lanka as a place to go during the Eid holiday. They made it sound like a great choice, and I plan to investigate that further. The Belgian Beer Cafe could have been a restaurant anywhere in Canada – except for the significant amount of cigarette smoke that was wafting around. There was even a singer who played classic songs from the last 25 years – and a pretty rowdy group of patrons who were singing along and shouting out requests.
After dinner I headed home – I took a cab to the closest metro station, and then the metro the rest of the way. I am getting used to the courtesy of people in Dubai, although it is juxtaposed with some annoying rudeness. One thing I find very frustrating is trying to exit the metro when it is busy. The people who are ready to board the train don’t wait for others to exit first. It means there is a lot of pushing. This is just a subset of the lack of good queuing procedures I have generally observed in Dubai. However, for the most part, I find people very courteous. Most of the time when I pass staff members in the hotel or at the university, I am greeted with “hello ma’am”. Where in Canada I would not normally make eye contact with someone unless I had a question, now I find myself trying to be more aware and respond to the greeting. When I am on the elevator alone, if it stops on a floor and there is a staff person who was waiting, or sometimes even another male guest, they often back away so I have the choice to continue riding alone. Now, I make sure that I let them know that it is ok with me if they join me on the elevator. On the ride back from dinner on Friday, there were lots of empty seats when I boarded the train because the station was near the beginning of the line. I sat down in one of the two-seat spots. As the train moved along, it got busier. At one point, the only empty seat in the car was the one beside me. One man got on the train, but before he sat down, he asked me if it was ok. He got off the metro a couple of stations later. Another man who got on the train also asked for my permission before he took the seat beside me.
On Saturday, I decided to head to the creek area of Dubai which is known as Old Dubai and Deira. I couldn’t figure out the proper timing for the outing. I didn’t really want to go out in the middle of the day, but I also wanted to get home before dinner. In the end I decided to head to the Dubai Museum and left a little after 1:00 p.m. I had to use the new green line of the metro to get to the creek area. I thought that the metro’s red line was nice, but the station on the green line is absolutely beautiful.
I just really wanted to walk around the creek area, but unfortunately, outdoor Dubai is not a pedestrian friendly city – at least the parts of it I have seen so far. As I left the station, I made a wrong turn and ended up heading towards the Heritage Village rather than the Dubai Museum. It looked like it had some interesting buildings, but unfortunately it didn’t open until 4:30 p.m. I continued to walk towards the creek, when I saw a sign that said there was a pedestrian underpass to Deira – the far side of the creek. I thought that it might be easier to walk on the Deira side, and so I headed that way. When I emerged on the far side, I had went under another tunnel that was outdoors. There I saw several men huddled together eating lunch I think, and a four others who appeared to be asleep. This was the first time I felt a bit uncomfortable when walking around by myself. I felt like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wasn’t really scared, but I did feel uncomfortable – like I had disturbed these people. I assumed that these men were workers who were smart enough to be out of the sun during the heat of the day. I hoped they were not homeless.
By this time I had been walking around outside for close to an hour. I was wearing a hat and had put on sunscreen, but I was not smart enough to have brought water. I kept my eyes open, looking for somewhere I could buy something to drink. I would have been very happy to see a Starbucks on the corner – the coffee shop is everywhere in downtown Dubai, but nowhere to be found around the creek. I knew that I could get back across the creek to the museum side by taking an abra for one dirham. I saw signs to the abra crossing ahead. The crossing to the Old Dubai side took about five minutes.
Once I was on the other side, I asked for some directions to the Dubai Museum. I was pointed in the general direction, and started to walk again. I saw a sign for a restaurant called “Fresh and Tasty” (if I am remembering correctly). At this point I was quite thirsty, and didn’t want to get dehydrated in the heat. All I really wanted was to get a bottle of water, but I didn’t feel that I could go in just for something to drink. It turns out that this was an Indian restaurant. I sat down, and immediately ordered some water. I was given a menu, and I looked for something that was relatively light to eat. I selected the prawns and mushrooms, and ordered a diet coke as well. The waiter asked me if that was all I wanted, and if I was sure I didn’t want any rice. I have been eating a lot of rice here, and I was really didn’t want anything extra. I said no rice, but after the waiter left the table, another person came back to confirm that I really didn’t want any rice. After my first bite of the shrimp, I knew I was in trouble. The dish, like most Indian food I suppose, was very spicy. I don’t know if the rice would have been a way to neutralize the heat, or if it would have added to it. I felt that it would be rude not to eat the food that I had ordered, so I did finish the plate. However, the last few bites were literally very tough to swallow. I don’t really know if the food was good or not, because I have a very Canadian palette, and I am not used to spicy food. It might have been great Indian food, but it definitely was not my taste. I ordered another bottle of water before I left, so I would have it with me for the rest of the day.
After a being pointed in the general direction of the Dubai Museum by the manager of the restaurant, I headed out again. I was definitely in an Indian part of Dubai. There were lots of small shops selling various commodities – including traditional Indian dress. There were also several Indian food restaurants. As when I was in the Souq, the shop keepers were calling out to me as I passed by, even if they were inside the shops. After about a 15 minute walk, I finally made it to the Museum. The outside part of the museum is actually the Al Fahidi Fort – which is the oldest building in Dubai. The fort itself is quite small, and you can’t go up to the top of the walls, so it didn’t take long to see it all. I liked looking at the architecture of the fort. They had one section that was set up as a traditional summer house know as an Arish. The highlight of that display was the wind tower that is built above the sleeping area. Wind towers are designed to catch any little amount of breeze there is and funnel it down into the house. It is called the “pre-electricity” form of air conditioning. When you walk under the tower, there is a perceptible cooling effect. However, after standing there for a minute, it still feels very hot.
The main part of the museum is underground. There are a series of displays that have been put together to show various aspects of life in Dubai in the past. The displays include life sized mannequins that are well constructed along with some subtle sound effects. I must confess, that I do not really like museums. This one was fine, but I can’t say I loved it. I think people who like museums would enjoy the time there. At the beginning of the tour I noticed that none of the displays had an female mannequins. I wondered if women were going to be represented at all. But I also noted that the displays I had seen so far were showing various trades, so it wasn’t surprising that they were all male figures. As I moved along, I did see female mannequins in the displays that depicted the home life. One thing I noted was that, in Dubai, women were allowed to be educated outside the home for the first time in 1959. My favourite display was of pearl diving. The mannequin was upside down at floor level. When I looked up, I saw the bottom of a boat and plastic disks intended to look like water suspended from the ceiling.
After exiting the museum, I started walking in what I hoped was the direction of the metro. I was hot and tired, but I was glad to have finally spent a significant period of the day outside. As I was walking along, I saw a shop with shoes, and a pair that was on display outside caught my eye. Of course as soon as I stopped, the shop keeper came outside to try to make a sale. He kept asking which pair I liked, and I picked one to try on. We went inside, but I didn’t really like they way they fit; they were too big. There didn’t seem to be more than one size of anything, so I told the merchant that I needed a different size. The shop itself couldn’t have been more than 10 feet by 10 feet. I assumed that he wouldn’t have another pair for me to try. I hadn’t noticed the ladder in the corner of the shop. He quickly climbed up into the crawlspace above, and after minute or so came back down with a box containing the size I had requested. I tried on the new pair, but didn’t really like them. I saw another pair on the wall that I thought I might try. These ones fit better, and I thought they might be comfortable to wear. I didn’t really love them, but was feeling obligated to buy at this point. I asked how much the shoes cost, and he said they were 100 dirhams. I made a counter offer of 50 dirhams – I should have said 30. He came back with 90 dirhams and we eventually settled on 80 dirhams. When I looked in my wallet, I only had exact change for 75 dirhams. I did have some larger bills, but I thought I might not be able to get any change – there was no sign of a cash register. I asked if 75 dirhams was ok, and he said “for you I will sell them for 75”. I look at these shoes now, and think I made a bad deal. They are basically plastic shoes made in China. Although they are relatively comfortable to wear, I did get a blister from them when I wore them to work this week. I am afraid if I walk outside in them for more than five minutes, the soles might melt on the sidewalk. I think I need to make a decision one way or another about my future purchases. I may need to invest a little more in some quality attire. Anyway, I made it through this week, without buying any more clothes or shoes. We’ll see what happens on the weekend.