I expect that this blog entry will be short – and it only has one picture. I just wanted to quickly go through my cultural experiences in Dubai last week.
Last Saturday evening I went to the Madinat theatre to see “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. I had been told about the theatre a couple of weeks ago, so I went online to see what plays were being put on while I was here. This one looked like a performance that would be most interesting to me. I ended up buying the last ticket that was available for the final performance. It was in the middle row of the balcony at the end of the row. The theatre itself only holds about 400 people. I thought that balcony seats would be fine.
I dressed up a little for the night out, although not quite as formally as I dressed for the breakfast at the Burj Al Arab. I had a feeling that this theatre experience would be more casual. I really only go to the theatre once a year these days – a trip to Stratford. I take a group of high school girls to see a play there during a week-long workshop that I run. I always tell the girls that to me going to the theatre is a dress up occasion. I am a little disappointed when I arrive there and there are people dressed in shorts and t-shirts getting ready to watch Shakespeare.
The first thing I noticed after I sat down in my seat before the show was that some of the patrons were coming into the theatre with drinks in their hands. I was a little surprised by that, but that was nothing compared to the surprise of watching other patrons walk in with popcorn and nachos with salsa, sour cream and guacamole to munch on during the play. As I suspected there was a lot of casual dress, in particular by the men in the audience. Although I would say the majority of the people in the theatre came as part of a couple, there were definitely more women than men. When the play started, I was distracted by the very poor quality sound. I have probably been spoiled by watching plays at Stratford, when they do not use any electronic enhancement of the voices. I suspect part of the problem was my location relative to the speakers, but overall I prefer theatre that avoids requiring microphones.
The play was fine – it was full of predictable cliches about men and women and their relationships. It was a one-man show, and the actor tried to get some audience participation; however he really only played to the orchestra seats. At one point he had a couple come up on stage to read some of the dialog. I couldn’t help but notice that the man was wearing jeans, boots, and a casual shirt, and his date/wife was wearing a long, white, formal dress. The audience reacted well to the material, and I definitely laughed along at times. I just kept thinking it would have been better if the one act was by a man and the other act was by a woman. I can’t say it was a great play, but it was a nice evening out.
On Wednesday evening, I went out for dinner with a couple of my colleagues and their families. I committed a rookie mistake by forgetting my camera at home. I have told myself a few times, never leave the apartment without something that can take a picture. Tonight was another classic example of this. I went to the Dubai Mall this evening. I wanted to get a Lonely Planet book about Sri Lanka. I thought I would go after dark and catch one or two fountain shows while I was there. I briefly thought as I left, “should I bring a camera?”. I couldn’t imagine why I would need it. I have pictures of the fountain, and I was just quickly going into one store to buy a book. What could I possibly see while I was running this errand that would make me want to take a picture. Well, after I bought the book I knew it was going to be about 20 minutes before the next fountain show. I decided to walk towards the Dubai Mall aquarium. You can see the outer part of it without paying. As I approached the aquarium, I saw what appeared to be a person in scuba gear inside it. At first I thought it was a mannequin. When I got closer, I saw that there were two scuba divers inside the aquarium, scrubbing the walls. Why didn’t I bring my camera?
Anyway, last Wednesday the restaurant we chose for our Dining Out in Dubai evening offered Filipino food. Dubai has a relatively large Filipino community, but apparently not many restaurants with this food choice. The restaurant is called the Grill Corner, and it had a very good review in Time Out Dubai. It was located in Satwa, which is adjacent to where our hotel is, but finding out exactly where it was became a bit of a challenge. After sending an email, and calling on the phone, I had what I hoped would be enough information to get us to the restaurant by taxi. There were six of us in total, and we headed out in two cabs.
As we drove through the Satwa area of the city, I really liked the feeling I got. It is a bit hard to describe, but it felt alive and authentic. It was similar to Bur Dubai near the gold souq in that there were lots of shops and people wandering around. The stores were lit up with neon signs. There was definitely an Indian and Asian influence in this part of the city. When we reached the Satwa roundabout, which apparently every one references when talking about this area, the taxi driver let us out. We were not sure exactly where the restaurant was from here, but I had been told that it was at the roundabout, so we had to be close.
It was at this point I really regretted not bringing my camera. There is a very nice fountain in the middle of the roundabout. Again I was struck by the vitality of the area. I will definitely have to go back there, both in the daytime and in the evening to get pictures. Although I was only walking outside for a few minutes, I really liked what I saw. I was told the next day that Satwa was in danger of being razed to make room for more modern development. However, plans for the development have been postponed because of the global financial crisis. According to Wikipedia, the development is called Jumeirah Garden City. From what I have seen, I would be sad to see this area of the city disappear.
We did manage to spot the restaurant on the opposite side of the roundabout. It was a very simple cafe, which was quite small and the tables were crowded. However, the staff was very attentive and helpful. They seemed very excited to see us, my guess is that they do not see many customers from North America. We ordered drinks and appetizers to begin. I ordered the “ice tea special” to drink. To be honest, it tasted like iced tea we used to drink when we were kids that you made from the Nestea crystals. It was incredibly sweet. The appetizers we shared were the dimsum platter, spring rolls and buchi. The waiter brought us complementary soup as well. The soup was mushroom cream soup, and it was quite good. The dimsum was very nice, and the spring rolls were good. The buchi was not really my taste. It was a ball that was coated in sesame seeds and filled with almond paste.
For dinner we just ordered a bunch of things from the menu and then shared amongst the six of us. (Note, we did not order the spaghetti +10 pieces of fried chicken wings for 10.) I think this turned out to be a very good idea. We had tapsilog (a dried, cured beef), tofu and brocolli in oyster sauce, kare kare (a beef stew with a peanut base), daing na bangus (milk fish), nasi goreng (fried rice), and mix mikibihon (different styles of noodles mixed together). According to a poster on the wall, nasi goreng is Barack Obama’s favourite Filipino dish. My favourite was the mix mikibihon and the fish. The fish was presented in a really interesting way. It basically looked like the whole fish, minus the head, that had been sliced open and then grilled. Again I wished I had my camera.
It was a very casual evening out. The food was good, not great – but I would go back again. The price was fantastic – 45 dirhams for the whole meal. But what I enjoyed most about the evening was the overall feel of eating in a local establishment in Satwa.