Celebrating my birthday in Dubai

Eid Mubarak everyone. While I am at it, a happy belated Diwali (Indian festival of lights) and Hindu New Year. These are three celebrations I was completely oblivious to a year ago. On the opening day of Diwali a couple of weeks ago, several of the female students dressed up in formal wear, and I was greeted with Happy Diwali at the beginning of my class that morning. Eid Mubarak is a greeting for Eid al-Adha, which occurs about two and a half months after the end of Ramadan. In our official school calendar, we were designated three days for the holiday – Sunday through Tuesday. However, for all practical purposes, Wednesday and Thursday would be almost impossible to use as teaching days since most students would not be around. Unlike North American holidays where the dates are known years in advance, some official holidays in the U.A.E. are announced just days before they occur. Last week we were formally told that Sunday through Tuesday were in fact going to be designated Eid holidays. On Thursday, at 3:45 p.m., the last day before the beginning of the Eid holiday, I received an email from the Higher Colleges of Technology that stated that the official holiday was extended to include Wednesday and Thursday. It is a good thing I had already assumed this week would have no classes – and planned accordingly.

Yesterday was my birthday. I don’t really do much to celebrate my birthday generally. With the exception of my 40th birthday, which was my absolute favourite for a few reasons, I can’t say I have had many memorable birthdays. I am not complaining, and I don’t feel badly about it, that is just a statement of fact. Early in November in Canada, generally is not the best time to have a birthday. It is a dull time of year, right after Hallowe’en. In the past few years I have spent some of my birthdays at a Raptor’s game, but more often than not, I have spent them without any celebration at all. I didn’t really have any expectations this year, because I knew many of my colleagues would have left for the Eid holiday before my actual birthday, so I didn’t try to plan anything.

On Wednesday, a group of us went out for our weekly Dining Out in Dubai evening. This time we went to Madinat Jumeirah. I had already been to the area, but some of the others had not. It was very nice at night, with a colourful view of the Burj Al Arab.

Burj Al Arab from the Souk Madinat bridge

We were meeting people there, but that didn’t go smoothly. Eventually we gave up waiting for the other two people we expected, and started to look for a place to eat. While we were checking out the restaurant choices, we ran into the people we were planning to meet, and the ten of us looked for a place to have dinner. We finally decided on a Persian restaurant called Anar (which means pomegranate) which offered good food, but it was definitely pricier than most of the places we had been so far. I guess when you are a stone’s throw away from the Burj Al Arab, you are expecting clientele that don’t care about prices.

Since it took so long to sit down down to dinner, by the time we had eaten and taken a taxi back to the hotel it was past 10:30. It had become a bit of a tradition to end the evening with a nightcap of Grand Marnier at Giovanni’s apartment. He had brought the bottle with him when I had invited him and others for dinner last weekend, and insisted that I keep the rest. I decided to go up to my apartment and drop off my camera and grab the bottle before the nightcap. By this time I was pretty tired, and considered not going back downstairs, but I felt that I should at least bring the liqueur for everyone else. When I got to Giovanni’s apartment, I was surprised that most of the other diners were not already there. They all have apartments on the same floor, so they should have been there before me. A few minutes later, I heard a ruckus outside the door, but no knock. Giovanni eventually opened the door after hearing the noise, and I realized what was going on. They had a “birthday cake” for me and everyone came inside the apartment singing Happy Birthday. The cake was actually a dessert created at the French Bakery nearby, composed of a brownie base with profiteroles piled on top, which is a french cream puff filled with icecream. We all shared the dessert and sparkling wine in celebration. I was completely surprised, and incredibly grateful for the thoughtfulness. My only regret was that I had no idea when anyone else’s birthday was, because I felt that I should return the good will.

The next day (Thursday) was the last day of classes scheduled for me for a week. I had found out earlier in the term that one of the 12 students in my second year class, Zahra, shared my birthday, which was actually on Friday. I had bought a cake to take to school with me that I planned to share with everyone at the end of the morning class. I did this before I knew about the cake on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, I had my computer, the cake for the class, the leftover cake from the night before, and clothes and a tennis racquet to take to school. I had made plans with one of my colleagues to play tennis at the university that day. That meant that my hands were full. I normally bring my computer with another bag that has my wallet and my old digital camera in it. I couldn’t really carry that extra bag, and briefly considered grabbing the camera and putting it in my computer bag. However, I couldn’t think of a reason I would need a camera at school so I left it. Of course there was an occasion to take a picture that I missed.

With about five minutes left in class, I stopped the lesson and announced that since there were two of us celebrating a birthday the next day, I had brought a cake. One of the other students jumped up and told me to wait. He left the class and came back with a cheesecake he had made to celebrate Zahra’s birthday. So there we were with two birthday cakes. The next few minutes were a bit chaotic. Before we could cut the cakes, Zahra wanted have some pictures taken. (Of course I didn’t have my camera to get any pictures.) Then, several students who were changing classes ended up coming in our room to see what was going on. I ended up at the front of the room with Zahra in several group shots – that included some Engineering students I didn’t know at all. Finally things settled down and we were able to serve the cakes. Both of them were very tasty. Now I had had three birthday cakes in two days and it wasn’t even my birthday yet.

At lunch that day, I went to play tennis for the first time in about five years. I had thought about bringing my tennis racquet to Dubai, but forgot to pack it. I found out recently that one of my colleagues (Stan) plays tennis and has his racquet with him. When I found out he was looking for a chance to play tennis, I decided to buy an inexpensive racquet here. I found one at the Carrefour (which is sort of like Walmart except its focus is on groceries, but also sells things like flat screen televisions). The racquet is not a high end product, but it does have Roger Federer’s name on it. Roger Federer tennis racquet I think it actually might be a junior racquet, because it is quite light, but it is good enough to do the job here in the short term. We made plans to play at the university that day. I changed in the washroom near my office before walking over to the sports desk of Dubai Men’s College. We eventually were directed to the stadium court to play. A combination of heat, humidity, and my lack of playing tennis for many years meant that we only hit balls for about a half an hour. Stan is definitely a good player. The most I have hit a tennis ball recently is at the cottage when I play fetch with my mother’s dog. In that game, it is good to hit the ball high in the air, but it is not a good technique when you are trying to hit balls that will stay inside the lines of the tennis court.

I wasn’t hitting the ball very well, but Stan was patient. I really enjoyed getting out on the court again. Afterwards I went to the women’s locker room to shower and change. Across from the locker room I saw a sign for the women’s only fitness room. I looked inside to see what equipment they had. It was actually a really good set up. There were several treadmills, lots of steps and exercise balls, and some weight-training machines. One thing I noticed in particular was that there was a full set of free weights, starting at lower weights and stepping up one kilogram at a time. I have been frustrated with the gym in our hotel and the gym at the university in Waterloo, that they do not have enough smaller free weights for women. It would be a great room to work out in, but the timing of doing weight training on campus isn’t practical. After I changed, I saw a note that was posted on the door inside the locker room. It stated that women were only allowed to wear shorts and sleeveless tops in the women’s only fitness room. Women were required to wear shirts with sleeves, and full track pants for all other fitness activities, including squash and tennis. I have been very conscientious about covering my shoulders and covering my knees when I am out in public. However, I really thought that it would be acceptable to play tennis in 30 degree weather in shorts. I feel that since this is where I work, I really need to respect this policy, but I can’t say I am happy about it. I think that next time I will wear track pants over my shorts to the court, but take them off while playing. There was nobody around the court to see me except Stan. I hope this is acceptable.

The next day was the beginning of the holiday, and my actual birthday. The actual day was pretty low key. Stan and I made plans to play tennis again that morning. There is a court that I can see from my window beside a small park. It is surrounded by two basketball courts that are quite busy early in the morning, and after dark. I had been watching the tennis court and noticed it was not used much, and appeared only to be busy at all around sunset and into the early evening. Stan and I walked to the court at about 8:00 a.m. There was a maintenance worker there sweeping the court. We walked on and started hitting balls, and the worker left. We hit back and forth for about 15 minutes, when the maintenance worker returned with a security guard. The security guard told Stan that it actually cost 50 dirhams to play on the court. Fortunately, we had both brought some money and were able to pay the court fee. We continued to hit until 9:00. I felt that I did better the second day, and it was definitely cooler to play in the morning. I hope that we will get onto the court regularly over the next couple of months.

I actually spent much of the rest of the day working, because I was trying to get a few things done before I left for my own Eid holiday. I did decide to go to the Dubai Mall that night though to see a fountain show or two. I got to the mall in time to see the 9:30 fountain show set to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. Fountain show from TGIFridays I decided to try to get something to eat at the TGIFriday’s on the top floor of the Dubai Mall. It has a balcony that looks over the fountain and from what I could see, it didn’t look like it was filled. I managed to get a table on the balcony, but not on the railing. I ordered a California club sandwich, and waited for the next show. I can’t recommend the food, the sandwich was not great, but I was pretty happy just to sit at outside the Dubai Mall, with a view of the Burj Khalifa, and an incredible fountain show for my birthday dinner. It was definitely a memorable way to celebrate.

Tomorrow I am heading for Sri Lanka for six days. I got an email from Emirates Air which directed me to do an online check-in to save time at the airport. It also included a weather forecast for Colombo Sri Lanka, which calls for thunderstorms during the first three days of my trip. Of course I didn’t pack anything for my trip to Dubai to deal with wet weather. Today I decided to search the city for an umbrella. At about the time I was getting ready to leave, there was an annoying screeching from somewhere in my apartment. It happened a couple of more times, once with a person calling “Attention, attention.”, but I couldn’t make out anything else. I didn’t rush to leave, but by the time I got down to the ground floor, there were dozens of people in the small lobby area, and outside the hotel. I guess the screeching was call to evacuate the building. Hotel evacuation There were some staff members handing out water bottles for everyone who wanted them. When I was offered one, I asked what why we had been evacuated, and the employee said he didn’t know. There were several police milling around, but there didn’t seem to be any real panic. I headed to the metro station on a mission to find an umbrella. I decided to go to Deira City Centre for this shopping trip. I wasn’t really sure what store would sell an umbrella. In the end I decided to try the Carrefour and I was successful. I realized that some women do use umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun, so it was not as impossible a task as I thought it might be. When I got back to the hotel, I stopped at the front desk to arrange a wake up call for the morning. I asked why the hotel had been evacuated. The desk clerk said that it was just a standard drill that is supposed to take place on a regular basis. I found it a bit hard to believe that they would schedule a fire drill on one of the busiest days of the year for the hotel, but I guess that is the official story.

Tomorrow I fly to Colombo, and I will not be taking my computer. My itinerary is still a bit up in the air, but I hope it will turn into a great trip. After checking the weather forecast, it looks like there is a chance of sun by Wednesday, but my day on the beach at Negombo on Sunday is looking a little wet. I definitely won’t be writing the blog for at least a week, but I hope to come back with some good stories.

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