On Thursday, I hosted my first dinner party in Dubai. The apartment is set up for a maximum of six people to eat at the same time. There are six chairs at the dining room table, there are six plates, six forks, six knives, …, you get the idea. Deciding who to invite for dinner was going to be the hard part. The easy part was deciding what to cook. I only really cook one thing – vegetarian lasagna.
The good news is that I have had many compliments on the lasagna in the past; the bad news was I wasn’t sure if I could find all of the ingredients that I needed here in Dubai. The secret to the vegetarian lasagna is Kraft four cheese blend shredded cheese. (I would like to point out that it was my secret ingredient before they made a commercial about it.) I was having difficulty finding most of the ingredients – at least in the form I was used to seeing them. However, in the past couple of weeks I had started to spot some of them – including spinach lasagna noodles, and shredded mozzarella cheese. I knew that I could probably get the four different cheeses in block form from the deli counter, but I really didn’t want to spend an hour grating cheese for the lasagna. I have become pretty spoiled on that front. One of the big stumbling block from making the lasagna was finding grated Parmesan cheese. I could find it in block form, but not the granular grated cheese I needed for the sauce to put on top. I had resigned myself to just using a block of cheese and grating it myself – although I was worried that it would really change the nature of the sauce – when I found a container of “Italian Grated Cheese” that looked like it was close enough. I was a little confused by the milk options, there was only low fat and full cream – no 2% available. However, I had been told that “low fat” in Dubai is equivalent to regular or high fat in Canada. I thought I had everything when I realized I had not found cottage cheese. I went up and down the aisle in the Carrefour, when I finally spotted what looked like it might be cottage cheese. Unfortunately, the writing on the package appeared to be Russian, and I did not have a translator handy. I decided to throw the package into my cart anyway and taste it when I got home to find out for sure. As I was about to put it in the cart, I saw the small print in English on the bottom that said “cottage cheese”. I was ready to cook.
I had decided to invite the two colleagues who had invited me for dinner already and their wives. Unfortunately Peter and Liz were unavailable – but that just means I can cook the lasagna another time, and it will be new for them. In the end I invited Surya and his wife Amy, Mazda, and Zoran. I even opened a bottle of wine that I had purchased at the Duty Free when I arrived at the airport. Getting alcohol in Dubai is tricky – it is basically only easily available at restaurants that are linked to hotels. It turns out that a bottle of wine serves five glasses pretty nicely. (I drank a glass with dinner myself, which will surprise most people who know me. I actually enjoyed it – maybe I can develop a taste for white wine.) Overall I was pretty happy with the end product, although I overcooked it a bit and the top was a darker brown than it should have been. I am not sure if that was because I didn’t do a very good job of converting Fahrenheit to Celsius or if the oven just cooks things differently than I am used to. The Russian cottage cheese had a much stronger taste than the cottage cheese I use in Canada, but in the end it tasted fine. My guests were all gracious and said they enjoyed the meal. I enjoyed the company and the conversation.
On Friday the plan was to go to the CBC (Canadian Business Council) Canadian Thanksgiving brunch. The University of Waterloo in Dubai is a member of the CBC, and at the last faculty meeting the director (Peter) asked if any of us wanted to attend. I immediately jumped at the chance to celebrate Thanksgiving in some way in Dubai. Nobody else indicated that they were interested except Peter. As it turns out, by the end of the day on Thursday, about half of the faculty decided to attend the brunch. The brunch was supposed to start at noon, and several people who wanted to go normally attend church on Friday mornings. Arrangements were made with our driver, Mohammed, to pick up the church-goers in the morning and drop them off near Jebel Ali, which is close to the brunch location. Then Mohammed was to come back to the hotel and pick up those who did not go to church at 11:30 a.m. Then we would go back to Jebel Ali to pick up the church-goers, and then we would all go to the brunch. There were just two of us who planned to attend the brunch waiting for Mohammed in the hotel lobby at 11:30. When there was no sign of the bus ten minutes later, I figured something had gone wrong with the plan. Fortunately I happened to get Mohammed’s cell phone number earlier that week, and I called him. He was in Jebel Ali, waiting for the church services to finish. I knew that it was at least a 1/2 an hour drive from Jebel Ali to the hotel and and another 1/2 an hour back to the location of the brunch. I told Mohammed that we would get ourselves to the brunch, and so we went to get a taxi outside. It cost us 50 dirhams to get to the location. If I was religious, I suppose I could look at this as God’s punishment on the heathens for not attending church.
I was really looking forward to doing something to celebrate Thanksgiving. I knew that this was going to be the time of the term that I would miss being home the most. The event was nice, but nothing particularly memorable. The hotel had a nice lobby and pool area – and the beach was very pretty. I couldn’t really take any pictures of it because it would be inappropriate. They had an MC for the brunch, and there was a quick welcome from the director of the CBC and a representative from the Canadian consulate in Dubai. There were a few games, mostly for the kids. The most memorable things about the brunch was that the food was good and it was HOT outside. Even the utensils on the table were too hot to pick up. They did serve turkey and dressing (not as good as my mom’s), but they also served fatoosh and humus. There were many desserts available, but no Cool Whip for the top of the pie. The event was outside which was nice, but they had very few umbrellas to protect the tables from the sun. Eventually they brought out more, but I ended up without any shade – and I had forgotten my hat. I was dripping with sweat by the end of the meal. One highlight for me was that I won a raffle prize. I never win these things, but I had bought five tickets for 100 dirhams. I really wanted to win the Blackberry Playbook, but instead I got a 50 dirham gift certificate for Centrepoint which appears to be yet another shopping centre in Dubai. At least I recovered half of my investment to help support my quickly escalating shopping addiction.
After being in the hot sun for a couple of hours, by the time I got home I didn’t have much energy. I just crashed on the couch to watch some television – which ended up being a nap in the afternoon. After dinner, I decided to go back to the Dubai Mall to see another fountain show and to buy a new camera. The camera I have is an old digital one that can take a maximum of 40 pictures at a time on its card. I had thought about buying a new camera before coming to Dubai, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to make the investment. Of course once I got here, I was regretting not having a better camera. I had priced digital SLR cameras at several stores as I had visited shopping centres throughout the city. There was absolute consistency on the price of the camera I was considering in every store. Unfortunately the price in Dubai is more expensive than I probably would pay in Canada. When I originally purchased the digital camera I have now, I bought it about six months after I took my first (and possibly only) trip to Africa. The only camera I had when I went to the Pilanesberg game reserve in South Africa was a disposable film camera. I didn’t want to have similar regrets after leaving Dubai that I had the wrong camera to take the pictures I wanted to have as memories of my time here. In particular, in the next couple of weeks I have plans to see some of the surrounding area, so if I was going to get a new camera – now was the time.
I decided that I would go back to the Dubai Mall to make the purchase because I had liked the service there the best. I had already basically decided what I was going to buy – but I thought I would try to haggle on the price. I have done that for some electronics purchases at home, and they often have come down in price on some items. However, in the Dubai Mall, there was no negotiation on the price of the camera. They did have a couple of optional extra bundles for an additional 300 dirhams. I had basically been talked into buying the camera with two extra lenses for the extra 300 dirhams, and I was literally pulling out my wallet, when a man approached me and asked to talk to me before I bought the camera. His name was Mitch and he is a pilot for Emirates Air originally from the U.S. He is a pretty serious photographer, and he wanted to make sure I was making the right choice. After talking with him for a few minutes, we went back to look at the hardware I was considering. After about 20 minutes of looking at the deals available, I ended up purchasing the camera that I originally planned to buy. However, rather than getting the two extra lenses I got the 600 dirham gift card for 300 on top of the basic camera price. With the gift card I purchased an extra battery, an extra memory card, and an external hard drive. I had planned to buy an external hard drive anyway at some point, so this seemed like a good way to spend the gift card money. Mitch also suggested that at some point I consider investing in a better lens, but the cost of a high quality lens is almost as much as the camera itself. That purchase will have to wait. He also wrote down a few websites for me to look at to learn more about the digital SLR camera and photography. I will definitely need to practice and read to take advantage of the new technology. Without knowing how to use any of the features properly, I took a few pictures of the Dubai Mall fountain show as I left.
On Saturday, I decided to take my new camera for a walk. I took the metro to the Dubai Marina area and tried to walk along the coast. The Marina is a very nice area to walk. There are lots of cafes and cobblestone sidewalks. Unfortunately, the area itself was quite small. I decide to try to walk to the Palm Atlantis – the hotel that is on the man-made island that is shaped like a palm tree. This turns out to be basically an impossible task. I quickly ran out of sidewalk, and found myself next to a busy street that was essentially a highway. I tried to get to the water, but all of the beaches in this area were privately owned by hotels. At one point, I thought I had nowhere to go except towards the beach, but I was quickly stopped by a security guard. He told me that I could walk along the grassy area between the highway and the hotel’s fence. This was awkward, but I had passed the point of no return by this time. Eventually I made my way to the next major intersection, which turned out to be near the entrance to the monorail that takes you to the Atlantis resort. I had to wait for about 15 minutes for the train. The ride took less than 10 minutes, and it did offer a nice view of the Atlantis hotel as well as the Burj Al Arab. I took several pictures with my new camera. When we got to the end of the line, there was a good view of the Aquaventure water park. This was a location on the Amazing Race a couple of seasons ago. It includes a water slide that has an almost 90 degree drop that takes you under a shark tank. The resort itself offers other water-themed options including an aquarium and swimming with dolphins. However, it all costs money to see and do, and I didn’t have the energy or the attire to take advantage of any of the facilities. After boosting my energy with some icecream and a bottle of water, I basically looked around a bit and took a couple of pictures. All I really wanted to do was to walk along the beach, but that didn’t seem possible. I am not sure if I will come back here another time. If I do, I would most likely go into Aquaventure. However, that seems to be more suited to be a family activity.
All in all, this wasn’t my favourite weekend in Dubai. The places I saw were nice, but they didn’t compare to the beautiful fall colours of Muskoka. As I finish this blog, I know my family and friends are together for the annual cottage golf tournament, and I am missing them. I am sure that I will be much more enthusiastic for the sight-seeing to come.