Getting out of the city

Well it has been a week since I was last able to write a blog entry. This is midterm time at the university – which is busy for both the students and for me. Last week was relatively uneventful. While my family and friends were celebrating Thanksgiving, I was at work. I guess I will get my revenge in November when I have a holiday and they don’t.

There was one memorable incident last week. While I was going to the grocery store after work one day, I witnessed a car accident. It was just a fender-bender (or rather a fender shatterer) between a taxi and another vehicle. I couldn’t really tell you who was at fault – they were both criss-crossing lanes when the front of the car clipped the taxi’s back bumper. Both vehicles quickly pulled off to the side of the road. The most interesting thing about the incident was a second taxi immediately pulled in behind the other two vehicles. Within 10 seconds, the passenger in the taxi hopped out of the car and jumped into the other taxi. Without hesitation, the second taxi took off with his new passenger in tow. I continued on my way to the store while the two drivers involved in the accident were out of their vehicles yelling at each other.

JBR WalkOn Wednesday, we were back to our dining out tradition. This time we ate at a restaurant in the Jumeirah Beach Residence area close to the marina. The restaurant was called Barbecue Delights and it offered a buffet of Pakistani food. Of course we all ate too much – as buffets tend to encourage. It was finally cool enough in the evening, so we were able to eat outside. The temperature was perfect, and there was a full moon that night. This area has quite a few hotels and restaurants, and it is one of the most pedestrian friendly parts of the city I have seen so far. While we ate we saw lots of people walking by, and several people jogging. There was also a stream of cars driving on the cobblestone street in a scene reminiscent of American Graffiti.  We ended the evening with a walk across the street to the public beach on the gulf, before heading home on the metro.

On Saturday several of the Waterloo faculty took a trip to Al Ain, which is a city in the interior of the Abu Dhabi. It is about 140 km from Dubai, and one of my colleagues (Peter) had arranged to have our driver take a group of us for a day trip. The major features of Al Ain were purported to be the oasis and the mountain. In the end, a group of ten of us, plus our driver Mohammed, headed to Al Ain at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. On my way down to the bus, I encountered my neighbour – whom I had spoken to a few times before. I said that I was heading to Al Ain for the day and and he told me that the best restaurant in the city was called Leisure. This turned out to be a lucky break.

The drive to Al Ain took us through the desert towards Oman. The highway itself is protected by some vegetation which I suspect is maintained in an effort to keep sand off the road. The scenery was nice, despite the fact that it was most just sand with a few shrubs thrown in. On occasion we would catch a glimpse of a herd of domestic camels.  The sand itself had a red tinge to it, and there were a few spectacular dunes to be seen.

When we arrived in Al Ain our driver took us directly to the oasis. Al Ain OasisThere was a gate at the entrance, but there didn’t seem to be anyone attending it. We drove inside along a cobblestone pathway, that I would never have assumed you should drive on. It was pretty narrow and had walls on either side. There were several forks along the way so it was not clear where we were supposed to go to find the oasis. At one point, we passed a truck parked at the side of the road. There were some workers there too, and Mohammed asked them where we should go. They directed us further in the same general direction we had been traveling. I didn’t think we could get past their truck, but somehow Mohammed squeezed by. A few hundred metres down the road, it opened up and Mohammed parked the bus. We all got out and started to wander around to look for the oasis. It still wasn’t clear to us how to find it. A few minutes later, one of my colleagues said that he asked another worker where we should go, and he was told that we had to go back to the gate where we originally entered. We all climbed back into the bus and headed back to the gate.

As it turns out, we were in the oasis the whole time. I was fooled by the fact that there didn’t appear to be any water. I am still not sure if there is actually an above ground source of water or not. It appears that the water comes mostly, if not completely, from underground boreholes. The pathways in the oasis were lined with date trees, and I think that it would have been nice just to walk along in the shade of the trees. Unfortunately, we never really got that chance.

When we returned to the parking lot adjacent to the gate we saw the Al Ain National Museum. You might think that a National Museum houses a very large display, but this museum was quite small. Based on my past experiences, I know that I do not like museums. I have been to several, including the Louvre, the Museum of Antiquities in Athens, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and the golf museum in St. Andrew’s. Although I can appreciate the value of them, I find museums tedious. This museum did not really have anything that grabbed my attention. It did include some archeological finds that dated back over 5000 years which is quite impressive, but I was ready to leave at any time. So far, Al Ain was a bit of a disappointment.

After about a half an hour in the museum, everyone was ready to move on. We got some directions to the Leisure restaurant from the woman at the reception desk. I suspect anyone who has spent time in the U.A.E. will tell you, getting directions from someone is always a bit of a gamble. Essentially, the directions were to go back out to the main road and turn left, and then turn right at a mosque and then make two more right turns and we would get to the restaurant. Using a mosque as a landmark is not a good idea. There are mosques everywhere, and they are not easy to identify by name as you are driving around. We saw a mosque to the left as we were driving, and we were not sure if that was the right landmark or not. To make a long story a bit shorter, we did find a second mosque where we turned right, and after a bit of a detour, Liz spotted the restaurant. One u-turn later, we were able to park and head inside for lunch.

The restaurant offered a Lebanese buffet for 55 dirhams. Everyone seemed very happy with this deal. Once again the food was good and we all ate too much. I was surprised that we seemed to be the only people eating there. When I did walk around a bit, I saw an emirate couple who were tucked in behind some wooden screens. I don’t know if they were there for privacy or if they wanted to segregate themselves from tourists like us. There was also an area in the back of the restaurant that offered separate rooms for women who wanted to smoke shisha. Generally speaking Al Ain appears to be more conservative than Dubai. In particular there seems to be quite a bit of separation based on gender – including separate banking facilities.

After a filling lunch, we headed back to the oasis to look for the Al Ain Palace. It was supposed to be at the opposite end of the oasis from the museum. We got back to the museum gate, and headed through the oasis. Again, after a bit of a detour, we were able to find the palace. Al Ain is the birth place of Sheikh Zayed, who was the “father of the U.A.E.”. The main road through the centre of Dubai is called Sheikh Zayed Road. The palace was the home he lived in until 1966. After we entered the grounds I saw a sign for tour guides. There was no charge for the “tour”. The guide told me to gather everyone to the reception area. We were offered Arabic coffee and dates before the tour began. We were taken to the family tree room, where our guide gave us an overview of the royal family from Sheikh Zayed’s grandfather to his children.Al Ain Palace outside There were pictures of all of the male members of the royal family in the room, but none of the female members.

Sheikh Zayed appears to have been a popular leader. He seemed to emphasize education and healthcare for the people of Abu Dhabi. All of his sons have had formal university-level education, although he was never educated in a school himself. One of the hospitals that was built in Al Ain is referred to as the Canadian hospital because Canadians were very much involved in its creation. Sheikh Zayed had six wives and twenty-seven children – including the current ruler of Abu Dhabi, and president of the U.A.E., Sheikh Khalifa.

After we got the overview of the family history, we were encourage to wander around the grounds and look inside the rooms. Some of the doors were locked, but many were open. Although the palace itself is reasonably large, I was struck by how plain everything was. The rooms were nice, but essentially just functional. The bedrooms basically had a bed and a dresser. The sitting rooms just had pillows and a coffee table. There was very little that I would call ornate. In contrast to the excess I have seen in Dubai, this seemed like a practical, utilitarian residence.

By about 4:00 p.m. we were ready to head to the main attraction of Al Ain which is the mountain Jebel Hafeet. The drive to the top of the mountain was very nice. It was quite steep, with lots of switchbacks. A couple of times we would turn a corner that would open up to an awesome view. Unfortunately Mohammed seemed to be on a mission to get us to the top as quickly as possible. I didn’t really notice if there were any lookout areas where you could pull off as we were climbing. It was not really possible to get good pictures as we drove along. We did stop at one point about 3/4 of the way up and took some pictures, but it felt that we missed some good photo opportunities lower down. We eventually made it to the end of the road, that was not quite at the peak. We took some pictures there, and then headed back to the Mercure-Hotel which was a few hundred metres down the mountain. There we sat and had a beverage while watching the sunset. The trip up the mountain was definitely the highlight of the day for me. Although the day started off with a few disappointments, by the end it was a very nice day trip that was definitely worth the drive.Jebel Hafeet top

I just wanted to take a walk.

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.

Canadian Thanksgiving in DubaI 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.Fountain with new camera 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.

Twisty building near the Dubai Marina

Twisty building being constructed in the Dubai Marina area.

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. Atlantis, The PalmThe 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.

I only speak one language (assuming you don’t count Python).

I can hardly believe that I have been in Dubai for more than a month already. In some ways I feel completely at home, but then I look at my behaviour here and I hardly recognize myself. I have already commented about the extremely unusual shopping/fashion obsession; now let me talk about my eating habits. I have been out at a restaurant for dinner, at least once a week since I got here. I am probably averaging two or three meals out each week – either at restaurants, or enjoying the kindness of my colleagues. If you don’t count eating at fast food restaurants, there was never a time in my life when I ate out as much.

The social dynamic reminds me of when I got my first full-time job teaching high school in northwestern Ontario. I was in a small town with teaching at a school with about 300 students and 30 teachers. As the new teacher on staff, I quickly got to know everyone, and people were friendly and generous. Now I am teaching in a big city, but a small school – less than 150 students and a small staff. I often find it hard to get to interact with people I don’t know well, and, despite the fact that we all worked at the same university in Canada, I didn’t know anyone before accepting this job. But here it has seemed very easy to connect with my colleagues in social settings. You might assume that this was obviously going to happen because we are all expats working at same place. However, I look around and see people with very different experiences from me. Of the approximately 20 employees of the University of Waterloo Dubai campus (faculty and staff), I think there are only three of us who were born in Canada. I feel a little guilty that I only speak English, when almost everyone else around me speaks at least two languages. I definitely feel somewhat intimidated by other people’s broader cultural experience, but I am also grateful that everyone is so willing to share their knowledge.

Another surprise for me has been the fact that I have actually met so many family members of the people I work with. This past week was a good example of that. Last Wednesday our Dining out in Dubai dinner was at a restaurant within walking distance of our hotel. We were invited by Elnaz, who is the Executive Manager on campus, and her father. The restaurant offered a nice casual atmosphere, and good Persian food options. At the end of the dinner a few people were having tea and Elnaz suggested that I try some. Even drinking tea in Dubai is a cultural learning experience. I was introduced to saffron laced sugar, and told that the saucer was not just decoration, but part of the tea drinking process. I was encouraged by one of my colleagues, Mazda who is from Iran, that the proper way way to drink the tea was to pour it into the saucer and then drink it from there. Now, a small part of me thought that he might have been pulling a practical joke on a gullible Canadian, but I took him at his word and drank from the saucer. The idea is that pouring the hot tea in the saucer will cool it down more quickly – and that was absolutely true. I never really appreciated a saucer until this dinner.

Two days later I went to dinner with Karuna, my new friend who encouraged me to buy my silver watch, and her son Jonathan. We went back to the gold souq so that I could get the watch band adjusted. From there we went on to have a very nice dinner at a Pakistani restaurant with a fantastic buffet. Al Ibrahimi restaurantThe restaurant was very glitzy on the outside. There was a little person who was dress in traditional clothing who opened the large wooden door for us. Again, once inside, I felt culturally illiterate. I had to keep asking Jonathan what each dish was. I can’t really remember the names of anything, so I took pictures of the buffet. Of course I ate too much food, but still managed to find room for the homemade pistachio ice cream on a stick at the end of dinner. I was another very nice evening out, although Karuna was clearly not feeling well.

Ibn Battuta Mall Starbucks

The Starbucks at Ibn Battuta Mall.

Earlier in the day on Friday I spent a couple of hours at the Ibn Battuta mall. For those of you who are counting, I believe that this is mall number five for me since I arrived. (Have I mentioned that I hate going to the mall?) Well, as much as I dislike the mall I must admit that the Ibn Battuta mall is an experience – and I will probably go back again. I didn’t give myself enough time to really explore the place, but what I saw was stunning. The mall is divided up into different sections, representing different regions in the middle east. The ceilings in particular are awesome. Just when I was starting to feel more like a resident of the city, I acted completely like a tourist in the mall snapping pictures everywhere.

I took the metro to the mall, and it was about a 45 minute trip – near the end of the line. The nice thing about being near the end of the line, is that you are almost guaranteed a seat when you get on the train – even at busy times. Within a few stops, there were no more seats available, and I was grateful that I was able to sit down for the long ride. At one point an Emirate man and his wife and two young children entered the car. I didn’t immediately realize why this seemed odd, but then I realized that I had not seen many Emirate riding the metro at all, and those who did were in the Gold class car. The man beside me immediately jumped out of his seat and offered it to the Emirate’s wife. The man in the next seat over also quickly got out of his seat and offered it to the Emirate man himself. The Emirate man declined the offer, but his daughter took the seat. He seemed a little confused about how the metro worked and asked about the Gold class ticket. Another man (I think he was from India) in the car explained to him that the Gold class seats were at the end of the train. The Emirate man said that this was his first time on the metro – and he was heading to the Dubai Mall/Burj Khalifa. The man from India recommended that he take a taxi from the metro station to the mall. The Emirate man was confused by this, and I chimed in that you needed to take a bus from the metro station to the mall. He asked if it was possible to walk from the metro station, and we suggested that it was probably too far to walk. I found the whole situation a little surreal – giving directions to a man who was a true native of Dubai.

Last Saturday was one of my favourite days in Dubai since I  arrived. On the first Saturday of the month there is a flea market in Safa Park. This is a relatively large park, just two metro stations away from our hotel. Six of us headed to the flea market at 8:00 a.m. Even at that time of the morning we were sweating as we walked from the metro station to the park. Safa Park flea marketThe flea market was basically just a large community garage sale – except the community was very multi-cultural. The people selling things were from all parts of the world – including one Australian wearing a T.J. Ford Raptor’s jersey. The market itself was set up under a section of palm trees, which made it bearable to walk around. Many shoppers came well prepared; toting suitcases behind them as they went to look for bargains.

I have been to many garage sales in Canada – and my mother is what I would call a garage sale expert. She would have been annoyed by the prices of things at this flea market. Only under extreme duress, would my mother pay more than 10 cents for a book, and people were charging between five and 10 dirhams (almost $3) for old, used paperbacks. Nobody had prices on anything, and many of them didn’t seem to have an idea of what they wanted to charge. It turns out that I was the only one from our group who actually purchased anything. I bought season one of Lost on DVD for 10 dirhams (down from the original asking price of 20 dirhams).

Our group reconvened after an hour or so, and at that point half wanted to go back to the hotel and get out of the heat. Peter and his wife Liz had walked around the park a bit and said that there was a waterfallWaterfall in Safa Park and pond to see. I was definitely interested in seeing more of the park and Peter and Liz decided to stay as well. Although it was hot, there was a nice breeze, and I was comfortable enough walking around slowly. It was so nice to spend some time outside, surrounded by greenery. The park includes a maze, and several ponds. There is a padded track that encircles the park, outside the fence. When I was on the metro today, I saw lots of people walking and running around this track. At one end of the park there is a building that contains a prayer room for men, and a prayer room for women. Liz and I looked inside the women’s prayer room. I was pleasantly surprised that it was air conditioned. We had been walking for almost an hour since leaving the flea market by this time, and I was starting to feel the heat.View from Safa Park

Liz, Peter and I headed back towards the hotel for lunch. We decided to have lunch at the same restaurant where we had eaten dinner on Wednesday evening. The three of us enjoyed a leisurely 90 minute meal and then walked back to the hotel. At this point, I decided just to stay in for the rest of the day. I stopped by Mazda’s apartment to drop off a few movies that Karuna had given to me to pass on to him. He invited me in, and we had a very nice chat over iced tea. He said that he may go to the gym later and asked if I was planning to go. I had managed to find lots of excuses not to go to the gym lately (too much work, I was sick, …), and I was regretting not getting in more work outs. Mostly I was just trying to avoid running on the treadmill. When I got back to my apartment, I spent some time on the computer – but didn’t really get much work done. I decided to head down to the gym at about 5:30. After doing some intervals on the treadmill I started to do some weights. Liz and Peter had been at the pool, and saw me in the gym. Liz asked me if I wanted to join them for dinner, and I accepted the invitation. Just as I was finishing my workout Mazda arrived at the gym. I wished I could stay for one more circuit, but I had to get cleaned up before dinner. Of course as much as I dreaded the treadmill, I felt so good after finishing a workout. Once again I had a nice meal and conversation with Liz and Peter. Although I have known Peter for a month now, I just met Liz for the first time on Wednesday (she had just arrived from Canada earlier in the week). By the end of Saturday, I felt that I had known her for years. Throughout the entire day, everything felt very familiar. It is amazing how much this place feels like home after just a month.

Just call me Carrie Bradshaw.

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. Singer Belgian Beer CafeThere 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.

Outside Green Line station

Outside Al Ghubaiba Station in Old Dubai.

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.Abra crossing 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. Dubai Museum - Al Fahidi FortThe 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. Pearl Diver ExhibitMy 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.

I am being paid to be here.

I have not been able to write a blog entry for four days, and I am feeling a bit guilty about it. Thank you to everyone who has sent me messages letting me know that you are reading the blog. The Tim Hortons blog entry got a surprising reaction. Apparently people were finding it on Google. The wife of one of my colleagues, who is currently in Canada, Googled Tim Hortons in Dubai and found my blog – that contained a picture of her husband. I got a message from “a fellow Canadian in Dubai” who also found the blog through Google. Four days ago, the top link on Google for “Tim Hortons grand opening in Dubai” was my blog. Now it has dropped to fifth or sixth with several newspaper articles showing up higher on the list. (Aside: As I was writing this blog entry, I got a notification that I was quoted in – The internet is a fascinating medium – I wonder what Marshall McLuhan would say about that.)

I did want to write before today, but I just couldn’t find the time. Writing the blog itself takes longer than I expected. In an effort to squeeze in as many experiences as I can, as well as take advantage of the hotel fitness amenities, and a few social engagements, I have struggled to get on top of my actual work. I am finding teaching here more time consuming that I expected. As I have said to many people, depending on how you count, I have been teaching the course material for my classes for either three years or 20 years. I was not at all worried about the course content before I left Waterloo. However, normally I teach two sections of the same course in a term, usually with a reasonably large group of instructors teaching other sections of the same course. There is also a great support staff assigned to the courses who manage most of the administrative components of the course including the course webpage and student registration concerns. In Dubai, I am teaching two different courses. In one case, I am essentially the only instructor, although there is a large team teaching the same course in Waterloo, and in the other case, I am trying to collaborate with one other instructor teaching two sections in Waterloo. Creating assignments for both courses, and marking schemes, as well as partially managing the course website material has more than doubled my normal teaching duties. I am also teaching the lab and tutorial sections for each of these courses, which is handled by students in Waterloo. In the end, I feel that I am falling behind, and I needed to get caught up and hopefully ahead of things. There are other projects that I would like to get to while I am in Dubai, and until now, I have not had a chance to think about anything outside of the courses I am teaching. What that meant this week is that Thursday evening, and a good part of Friday were devoted to work. There was no time to blog.

I received an invitation for dinner from my colleague Surya. He and his wife Amy invited me and another colleague – Peter. I had wondered if I would be invited to dinner here in the hotel apartments, and I worried about whether or not I could reciprocate. The apartment is set up to reasonably serve a meal to a maximum of six people. There are six chairs around the dining room table, there are six plates, six bowls, six forks, six knives, etc. Including wives, and children, there are approximately seventeen people from Waterloo currently living in the same hotel (not including me). So there are two problems with me inviting people for dinner. First, I don’t really cook – except I do make a good meat lasagna and a very good vegetarian lasagna. I have always been intimidated by my friends’ abilities to cook an interesting meal. Second, who do you invite when the seating capacity is much smaller than the potential guest list?

I was happy to join Surya, Amy and Peter for what Surya described as “nothing fancy, whatever we have at home”. I was immediately skeptical that this would be a casual dining experience. When I arrived, there was humous as an appetizer. This was reasonable, since humous is definitely a staple around here. However, where I would probably just scoop some on a plate, this humous was garnished with some oil and I think parsley. The pita bread accompanying it had been toasted. When we sat down for dinner, I admonished myself for not bringing my camera. The presentation was something you would see in an upscale restaurant. The meal was basically fish, potatoes, and salad, but that description doesn’t do it justice. The seasoning on the fish was something Amy had created herself. The salad was a fatoosh salad that was equivalent to the fattoush we had had last week at the Abd el Wahab restaurant near the Dubai Mall. I think she used more spices to prepare this meal, than I have ever owned. I feel very inadequate in the kitchen, and now I am worried about returning the invitation. Does anyone else worry about this kind of thing?

Despite dreading the idea of hosting a future dinner, the evening itself was very nice. It was a comfortable atmosphere where I got to find out more about my colleagues. The next night was our second official “Dining out in Dubai” experience. This time we went to the Kahn Murjahn in the Wafi Centre of Dubai. The architectural signature of this area is a hotel shaped like pyramid called Raffles. I hadn’t really noticed the pyramid on the skyline, until Peter used it as a landmark to describe the location of the restaurant. Now I see it all the time. There were only six of us going out for dinner this week, but half were people who had not joined in last week. We decided to take the metro to the restaurant, because the new green line had a stop that was very close to the Wafi Centre. I am really enjoying riding the metro to get around the city. We didn’t really get to see much of the Wafi Centre, either before or after dinner. Wafi Centre statuesThere is definitely an Egyptian motif to the area. Besides the pyramid, there were many replicas of Egyptian statues and designs on the walls. Everything looked like it was built out of marble, but I don’t know if it is real or fake stone. The pictures I took are not good, because my camera is old and not sophisticated enough to get good pictures in low light.

The buildings surrounding the restaurant were supposed to be set up like a souq. The souq is divided into different sections, such as Egyptian, Lebanese, Iranian, and Turkish. I have been told that the locals don’t spend much time in the Wafi centre area, and I can understand why. Although it was nice, it felt very artificial. I will probably come back at some point and explore the area later, but I don’t expect to spend much time here.

The dinner was definitely worth the trip however. The restaurant was sunken down about two floors from ground level. However it was open air. When I walked “inside” the first thing I noticed was the smell of shisha smoke. About 3/4 of the tables were smoking. I thought it might be annoying, but it was not overwhelming at our table. Although the restaurant was reasonably full, there seemed to be a separate server for each table. The server was dressed in what I thought of as traditional northern African dress, like something you would see in Casablanca. He wore baggy pants and shirt, and had a round, tall red cap with a tassel (I think). He seemed to be standing by, ready to serve at any time during the hour and a half we were seated. Another thing I noticed for the first time while I was sitting in the restaurant, is that I can’t see any stars. I noticed that again tonight. I don’t know if the reason is that the city is too bright, or if the sand blocks out the starlight.

Khan MurjahnThe menu for the restaurant was divided into sections, like the souq. There were Lebanese, Egyptian, Moroccan, Turkish, Iranian, and Gulf options. We decided to order a variety of appetizers for the table, choosing them from different sections of the menu. We had moutabal and mixed fatayer from the Lebanese menu, rokakat from the Turkish menu, zaalouk from the Moroccan menu, and foul eskandarani, from the Egyptian menu. It was all very good, but my favourite was the zaalouk and the moutabal. Both have eggplant as the main ingredient. I have not eaten much eggplant, but when I have I don’t remember liking it. I don’t know if it had not been prepared properly, but I have enjoyed everything that includes eggplant as an ingredient since I have been here – an moutabal is quickly becoming a favourite. I ordered the Tagine Taghazot Tagine taghazotwhich is a lamb dish that I couldn’t pronounce even after the server said it to me. The entree was served in a shallow clay bowl with a clay cover that looked a bit like an elf’s hat. It was bubbling when it arrived, and continued to bubble for a minute or two. By the time I had finished eating, which was more than 30 minutes later, the food was still hot inside. The meal was good, but too much to eat. The lamb was very tender, but I would not put this dinner at the top of my culinary experiences in Dubai. However, the atmosphere definitely made this a memorable dining experience. Overall, it was another very nice evening with friends.

Settling into a routine.

When I first started writing this blog, I assumed that only my family and friends in Canada would be reading it. I had decided that this would be a great way for me to keep a record of my time here, and to let people back home know what I was doing. I have heard from some of those people and they seem to be enjoying reading the blog, so that makes me happy. I thought that there was a chance that some random person might stumble on the blog and read it, but I would never know who that person was and they wouldn’t know me, so it wouldn’t worry about their reaction to anything I wrote.

Recently I became aware of readers I had not anticipated. Last Thursday I got a couple of messages from people in Waterloo telling me that a link to my blog was posted on the Daily Bulletin. The Daily Bulletin is an electronic news bulletin posted on the University of Waterloo website. That day the hits on my blog shot up, from a previous high of 72 in a single day, to 250 on Thursday. I have no idea how the editor found out about my blog, but I was flattered by the attention – at least for one day. The second surprise happened at work. A couple of students from my first year class came by my office to ask for clarification about an assignment question. As they left, one of them said that she enjoyed reading my blog. I don’t even remember saying anything about it in class, but she told me that I had mentioned it. It never occurred to me that any of my current students would be reading the blog. Finally, one of my colleagues in Dubai also mentioned he read a blog post. I didn’t expect this at all. I did make a conscious decision not to write about something that happened last week. The reason I chose to censor myself was that the incident wasn’t really about me, but rather someone I have met here. I was really just a concerned observer. It really wasn’t my story to tell, and I thought it would be violating this person’s privacy to report about it in the blog. Now, I am even more satisfied I made the right decision. However, I am going to try to write the blog without really thinking about who is reading it.

After two weeks, I can feel myself settling into a routine. After going to the Carrefour (a large grocery store) at the Emirates Mall the previous Friday, I had vowed never to go shopping there again on the weekend. The local grocery store, which is just a five minute walk away, is perfectly adequate. It has a good selection of produce, meat, and fish. There are aisles containing things you would see in a drug store in Canada, and there are a couple of aisles of department store items as well. However, there are a few things I have not been able to find in the local store, including fresh spinach. Now, I had assumed that there would be grocery items that I was used to finding in Canada that I would be unable to find in Dubai. I was perfectly willing to give them up for four months. For example, I didn’t expect to eat any pork until I returned in December. However, since I was taken to the Carrefour when I first arrived, I knew that the big store had some of the things I was missing in the small store. Knowing that the Carrefour had fresh spinach, I didn’t want to go without. I decided I wanted to include a weekly trip to shop at the Carrefour, but that it was not going to happen on a Friday or Saturday.

Just a quick note about buying pork in Dubai. You can get pork at the larger grocery stores like the Carrefour. However, it is sold in a part of the store that is completely isolated. I actually don’t plan to buy or eat pork while I am here.

I decided that Sunday would be my grocery day. I don’t teach on Sundays so I could take the 3:00 p.m. bus trip back from campus and go grocery shopping before dinner. I took the metro to the Carrefour Emirates Mall, which takes about 20 minutes door to door. There may be a large grocery store closer geographically, but I am not sure it would take less time to get to one, unless I took a taxi. The trip to the Emirates Mall has a very nice view of the Burj Al ArabView of the Burj Al Arab from the metro. and the metro station connects inside with the Emirates Mall, and the Carrefour is very close to that tunnel. For the first time on the metro, I encountered attendants checking the validity of the riders. A man walked into the car I was in with a hand-held scanner. He took each person’s card and scanned it to verify that they had paid. I was standing in the middle of the car, and handed him my card. A few seconds later, a second attendant came into the car and was checking people on the other side. He asked for my card, and I said that the other guy had just scanned it, but he could check it again. He continued on and had to wake up one of the passengers to scan his card. I can’t imagine it would be easy to get into the metro without paying – there is so much security. However, it would be quite easy to get on a bus without paying. I wonder how much the buses are checked.

When I got to the Carrefour I noticed it was busy, but not really crowded. I headed over to non-food section of the store. I bought a couple of more houseware items, but I was actually most interested in looking at the prices of the cameras in the store. I do need to buy a new camera, and I am considering stepping up to something more powerful than a digital pocket camera. Right now, I am just pricing them, and I was curious how the Carrefour prices and selection compared. There are certain sections of the store that have brand representatives stocking the shelves and selling the wares. From what I can tell, these are not Carrefour employees. As soon as I approached the cameras, I had two salespeople jumping in my face. I told them that I was just looking at prices. Without being able to do a direct comparison, it seemed that the prices here were not significantly better than other places I had seen in Dubai. The selection wasn’t great, but the major brands like Nikon and Fuji were represented. From what I have seen so far, the prices on the cameras here are a little higher than Canada – although again, I haven’t done a direct comparison yet. I will continue to do my research.

I had a bit of a sore throat when I woke up yesterday, so I thought I would look for some vitamin C when I was shopping. I actually have never bought vitamins before, but I felt that my diet was unusual here, and I might not be getting proper vitamins. There was one little section of the store that seemed to have items like vitamins. After a bit of deliberation I decided to get a multi-vitamin rather than just vitamin C. I was about to head for the main store checkout, when I was told to pay for the vitamins at the cashier within the section. After I paid, the cashier put the purchase in a plastic bag, and stapled the bag. Sitting here now, I wish I had looked around that section more to figure out exactly what else was considered a “controlled substance”.

I  found pre-made salad dressing which is something I had been looking for, but couldn’t find anywhere. I had resigned myself to just adding oil and vinegar to any salad I was going to make. I stood there and debated about buying a bottle, because I know that it is not a healthy choice. In the end, I bought a small bottle of salad dressing, and some balsamic vinegar. I hope I use the latter much more than the former. I also found the fresh spinach that I was at the top of my shopping list, as well as fresh berries that I couldn’t find at the local store. I actually would have preferred frozen berries, but I have not been able to find them anywhere.

Now that I have my shopping routine figured out, I can turn my attention to solidifying my fitness routine – but I will save that for another blog.

Tim Hortons – a Canadian Icon in Dubai.

A few days ago on the way to work I noticed that there was a Tim Hortons coffee shop beside my hotel, opening soon. There are Starbucks coffee shops everywhere, including one in the hallway between the parking lot and my office on campus. I was pretty sure that Tim Hortons were rare in Dubai, and when I went online to find out more I discovered there were no Tim Hortons in the city at all. One of my colleagues told me that the grand opening was to take place on Saturday. He had been to the shop the day before and they were giving away free stuff before the official opening. I was a little disappointed I had missed out on that, but suggested that we get a group together and go there for the grand opening on the weekend.

Yesterday I decided to walk over to the Tim Hortons to try to confirm that the grand opening actually was happening Saturday. I hoped to see a sign on the window, but the windows were opaque and the only writing was “Opening Soon”. There was a couple who approached the door ahead of me and pulled on the handle. To my surprise the door opened. There were quite a few people inside. It was a small foyer so it was a little crowded. One of the employees told me that I could order anything for no charge. I ordered my favourite item from the menu – an ice cappuccino. I wanted it with chocolate milk, but they didn’t have that as an option in the Dubai shop.  After I got my Ice Capp, I decided to ask the couple that had entered ahead of me if they were Canadian. We started chatting, and decided to continue the conversation sitting at a table. That just doesn’t happen at a Tim Hortons in Canada.

Laurie and Eric are originally from Vancouver. Eric is currently working for Emirates Air and they have been living in Dubai for about three years. It turns out that Eric knows a friend of mine’s brother, whom I have never met but he grew up in the same town as I did and he is currently a pilot for Emirates Air. While we were chatting, various members of the staff came by with samples from the menu – including bagels, donuts, french vanilla coffee, soup, and ice capp. There was also a guest book that was passed around, which we signed. We asked one of the employees if he was from Canada. He said that he and several staff were here for three weeks to train the local staff. He looked fairly young, so I thought that was probably a great opportunity for him. A little while later Dave, the manager, stopped by our table and we started asking him lots of questions. Tim Hortons OutsideIt turns out that this is the first Tim Hortons to open in the middle east. There is one being built in Abu Dhabi, but its opening has been delayed. Dave had only been in Dubai for a few months, be he was going to be here for a few years setting up more shops in the U.A.E. He had spent the last few years doing the same thing in Dublin, Ireland. After awhile Dave’s wife Lisa came by, and she ended up sitting down with Laurie, Eric, and I and we continued the chat.

Laurie was a great source of information. She told me about a website: which has lots of information. There is an Annual Breakfast at the Burj Al Arab (shaped like a sailboat) in October. It turns out that the breakfast is on a Sunday, but fortunately I don’t teach on Sundays. I had been debating about whether or not I would go into the Burj Al Arab, because you are not allowed in the doors unless you have a reason to be there. In other words, you would have to be a guest, or have a reservation at a restaurant to get inside. I have been told that the cheapest option is to have tea there for about $80 Cdn. The expatwomen breakfast looks like a really good way of visiting this iconic hotel.

I also asked Laurie and Lisa a good place to buy clothes. I am looking for some casual clothes to wear on the weekends when I go out during the day. I had been told to cover my shoulders and cover my knees. Although that rule is clearly violated by lots of visitors, I feel more comfortable if I do respect the dress code. The problem is that I don’t have any shorts that cover my knees. The only casual long pants I have that do cover my knees are track pants. I have been going out wearing them, but they are hot, and extremely casual. I wanted some thing that was calf length. Both Laurie and Lisa recommended Marks and Spencer in Festival City as a place to get clothes that would fit. After a little while, I had to leave because it was almost 11:30. I wanted to get to the grocery store before it closed for prayers at noon. Before I left, Lisa and I made plans to meet back at the Tim Hortons next Friday morning.

That afternoon, I headed to Festival City with my colleague’s daughter Cristina. I was on a mission to get pants. We took the metro to the Emirates station near the airport. From there we took a cab to the entrance of the shopping centre; it cost 10 dirhams. I had never been in a Marks and Spencers before. The irony that I have been to three different malls in less than two weeks will probably shock my friends and family. As I have said many times before, I hate the mall. I think the only other time I had been in this many stores in this short amount of time is when we were shopping for bridesmaid dresses for my sister’s wedding. I started pulling a bunch of things off the shelf based mostly on what I think might fit. I went into the change room twice, both times with eight items. I ended up buying two pairs of calf length pants and a couple of tops.

As I went to pay for the items, the salesclerk told me I had the option to pay in dirhams or Canadian dollars. I had been given the same offer at the Duty Free shop in the airport when I arrived. I thought I should pay in Canadian dollars, because I expected the rate to be better that way. I did the currency conversion calculations when I got home. It is hard to know for sure what the best deal is, because the rate of exchange varies every day even using the same means of getting the currency. However, the rate of exchange I received by paying in Canadian dollars at the Marks and Spencer was almost 1/3 of a cent higher to purchase 1 dirham as compared to the highest rate I had seen from any source – paying by credit card or getting cash out of a bank machine. Based on that transaction, if I am given that option in the future, I will pay in dirhams.

The Festival City Shopping Centre is an upscale mall. Although I have been to both the Mall of the Emirates and the Dubai Mall, I actually have not explored either one in depth. However, I would say that Festival City is closer to the Dubai Mall than the Emirates Mall in its tone and clientele. Cristina and I spent the rest of the time basically window shopping. There were lots stores I had never heard of, and there were lots of stores that I had heard of, but never seen. In fact, I don’t think there I saw one chain represented in the entire mall I had ever been in before. There is an IKEA in the mall, but I can’t remember if I have ever been in one in Canada.

Abaya Shop

An abaya shop. Notice the painted finger nails on the mannequin.

Some of the stores I had heard of but never seen include: Calvin Klein, DKNY, Ferrari (although I didn’t really think of that brand as being a store in a mall), Fred Perry, Lacoste, Marc Jacobs, and Tommy Hilfiger. There were lots of stores I had never heard of, like Paris Hilton, Handbags and Accessories. And there were lots of stores that had middle eastern wares. One shop sold amber and perfumes. Outside the shop were a couple of contraptions that had smoke rising from them. There were women dressed in abayas, standing  near the smoke as it rose; it seemed that they were trying to get the scent onto their clothes.

I felt completely out of place when I walked into many of the stores. I went into the Marc Jacobs store and wandered around. I was wearing my Adidas track pants, Reebok golf shirt, and Birkenstock sandals, carrying my nylon “CS Girls Rock” bag. I felt that the salesperson was judging me for even walking into the store. He clearly knew that I was not going to buy anything. It reminded me of the time that I walked into Paul Magder’s fur shop in Toronto, when I was in university, similarly dressed and about 20 years old. That is a long story that I won’t go into now – although it does have a very nice ending.

Near the end of our walk through the mall, Cristina and I ended up in the eWalk section. The interesting thing here was that the stores here weren’t generic electronics shops. There was a Toshiba store, and a separate Panasonic store, and a Samsung, store, and an LG store, and so on. Cristina recognized the local wireless service provider name on a store, and I went in to get a SIM card for my phone. Being a neophyte when it comes to cell phones, I was a little confused by the choices, but I got the card. Cristina warned me that my Blackberry may be blocked, and I would have to figure out how to unblock it before I could get the SIM card to work. She was right, and I still don’t have a working phone. I will ask for help at work tomorrow from more experienced cell phone users.

University of Waterloo faculty at Tim HortonsToday I met with several of my colleagues to go to the Grand Opening of the Tim Hortons. I suggested we all meet at 11:00 a.m. Eleven of us walked around the corner to indulge in a Canadian tradition. It turns out that 11:00 a.m. was probably the worst time we could have chosen to go. The place was packed with people, and there was not much space for people to sit inside the store. Also, today everyone had to pay for their food and drink. Still everyone seemed to be happy to be there. We got a picture of most of the uWaterloo Dubai group (and family) along with the store manager, and a fellow Canadian who was originally from Waterloo.

Jumeirah Beach ParkAs we returned to the hotel, I noticed a pretty good breeze. Since the temperature was only 36 degrees and we were standing in the shade, it actually felt tolerable outside. Without a plan for the rest of the day, I decided to go to Jumeirah Beach in the late afternoon. I decided to take a cab to the Jumeirah Beach Park, which turned out to be 15 dirhams. There are several beaches along the same coastline. Some of them are private hotel beaches and some of them are public beaches. You have to pay 5 dirhams to get into the Jumeirah Beach Park. The park is the length of the beach and probably less than 200 metres from the road to the fence separating the park from the beach. The beach itself I would guess at about 1km long. However, I am horrible at estimating distances.

I went directly to the beach. There was a sign that said “No cameras on the beach”. I did respect that notice, but there were others who did not. Those who were taking pictures seemed to be taking them of family members. I would have liked to take some pictures of the beach and of the view. I did take a few pictures from the park looking onto the beach. I don’t know if that was violating the spirit of the law or not. I think the intention was to stop people from taking pictures of women in bikinis without their knowledge or consent. The waterfront was dotted with umbrellas and lounge chairs. As I walked along the edge of the water I saw piles of umbrellas and chairs that seemed to be free for anyone who wanted them, but I am not sure about the protocol. The temperature of the water felt like a warm bath. I had been warned about this. Most people that were in the water were just standing in it, not moving much. That did not appeal to me at all.

It was a nice, but short walk along the beach. The wind from the Gulf made the temperature and humidity tolerable. At the west end of the beach I had a good view of the Burj Al Arab in the distance. There were many kites in the distance that I assumed were being used for kite surfing off of another beach. I would have liked to take a picture of that view. At the other end of the beach there was a group of men playing volleyball. Most of the women that I saw were wearing bikinis, regardless of their shape or age. There were a few women wearing one piece bathing suits, and I saw a couple of women wearing burkinis.Jumeirah Park Beach from the park.

When I left the beach I sat down on a bench in the shade. The bench I was sitting on was sheltered from the wind. Within a few minutes my whole body was coated with sweat. I walked around the park area and took a few pictures. I walked slowly, and felt a breeze most of the time. It was not ideal, but it was nice to be outside. I left the park and tried to get a cab back to the hotel. I see several cabs a minute on the road outside my hotel, but I wasn’t so lucky outside the park. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, and about ten minutes, I finally flagged down a taxi. I will definitely come back to this beach when both the water and the air are cooler. However, I expect that it will be much busier.

Good food, good conversation, good entertainment – a perfect combination.

Today I got my residence visa – and my passport back. This means I passed the tests and I can get a local SIM card. Yesterday at lunch one of my colleagues said that he was thinking about the strange questions that the doctor had asked me and Cristina. He speculated that maybe the doctor was trying to determine if either of us was pregnant. I thought that was a definite possibility. Perhaps the doctor assumed that if Cristina was not married then there was no possibility she could be pregnant. He probably assumed that I was married and, as long as I still was having my period and it had taken place with the last couple of weeks, I must not be pregnant either. I would have preferred he just ask me if there was any chance I was pregnant if that was the case.

I have enjoyed lunch at work generally speaking, but the last couple of days have been particularly nice. Yesterday I sat with an accounting professor, an economics professor, and a civil engineering professor from the UW Dubai campus. We had a great conversation at lunch that ranged from politics to movies. In Waterloo I have been in the habit of eating lunch in my office. I hardly ever just sit with my colleagues and talk about non-work related topics, and I would almost never be eating with anyone from another department. Today there were eight of us sitting around a table in the cafeteria at lunch. There was a little shop talk, but it was mostly variable topics including a bit of an intense conversation about the future design of steering in cars in the next few years. I feel like I had better start reading more to keep up with the level of discussion.

In a conversation on the way to work a few days earlier, the idea of getting together to go out for dinner on a regular basis came up. I took it upon myself to send out an email to all of the faculty proposing we start a “Dining out in Dubai” club. We would pick a restaurant and then go out together on Wednesday nights. Most, not all, replied and said they thought it was a good idea. Some said they didn’t think they could make every Wednesday, but they were still interested. Last week I had purchased my ticket to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa on Wednesday (yesterday) night. Peter, a colleague who was in Dubai last fall as well, suggested a good restaurant for the first dinner near the Burj and the Dubai Mall.

Burj Khalifa from the metro station

A view of the Burj Khalifa from the metro station exit.

Since it was completed in January 2010 (and actually more two years earlier during construction) the Burj Khalifa surpassed the CN Tower in Toronto as the world’s tallest freestanding building. It is 828m tall, and is actually the tallest man-made structure in the world. With all due respect to my fellow Canadians, there is no comparison between the Burj Khalifa and the CN Tower. Not only is the Burj more than 270m taller, but its architecture is beautiful. It sits in the middle of the city, and it sparkles in the daytime. The shape, and multi-level observation decks are interesting, and it is a functional building. It is used as a hotel, there are residences inside, along with being a communication tower. And, as I was told later at dinner by Cristina, Jay-Z owns one of the apartments.

At the entrance to the Burj Khalifa, there are several displays about the construction and the building itself. One display informed me that part of the next Mission Impossible movie had been filmed here. Mission Impossible, Director's ChairThe director’s chair that was in the display had the name Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on it. The movie hasn’t been released yet, but if you are interested, at about 1:50 of this trailer you can see the Burj Khalifa featured.

There was a bit of a walk from the entrance in the Dubai Mall to the base of the Burj Khalifa. Along the way we had to pass through a metal detector. Immediately after that, we were told to stand in front of a green screen to have our pictures taken. I knew that was going to result in a cheesy photograph that would be for sale as we left. There were also a few displays giving more information about the construction process of the building. People bunched up at the entrance to the elevators that would take us to the 124th floor observation deck, but a video display played while we waited in line to distract us. There were three facts about the Burj Khalifa that caught my attention. First, at the peak, there were 12 000 people working daily on its construction. Second, since the air conditioning system generates quite a bit of condensation, it has been designed to recover that moisture. The water collected is eventually used to irrigate the park at the base of the building. Finally, if it took less than six years to build the world’s tallest building, then why has it taken more than three years to finish the nanotechnology building on the Waterloo campus – that building is less than six stories I think.

View of my apartment from the Burj Khalifa

My apartment is the building with the white concrete open square at the top.

Getting to the observation deck is an incredibly smooth elevator ride. If it wasn’t for the fact that my ears were popping a bit, I would barely be aware that I was moving. However, I will give credit to the CN Tower for the glass elevators – that is definitely a more dramatic way to ascend. There is an observation deck that covers about one quarter of the circumference of the building. Glass surrounds the deck, but there are gaps in the glass that are about six inches wide at about eye level. This means that you can take pictures of the view without having to look through glass. I have an old digital camera, so my pictures aren’t great. Also, it happens that Wednesday was the only day in the 14-day forecast that showed variable cloudiness during the day. Every other day was absolutely sunny. The clouds manifested themselves as a haze on the horizon. In particular, I could barely see the Burj Al Arab (the sailboat hotel) in the distance. I was told later that often it appears hazy near the horizon even on cloudless days because of the blowing sand. One unique feature I saw was the Gold ATM. Gold ATMThe cheapest thing you could purchase from it was the 2.5 gram gold bar with an etching of the Burj Khalifa, for 790 dirhams. You could spend ten times that amount for a one ounce bar if you wanted it.

After taking lots of pictures from many angles, I went back down the elevator, and returned to the Dubai Mall. When I did return to the ground floor, I was offered a photograph which was a picture of me with the Dubai night sky in the background. The superimposed image wasn’t really that good – although that may have been because I was wearing green pants. It was so artificial, I had no interest in the picture at all. As I started to walk away, the salesperson said, “just 400 dirhams”. I said no and before I could take another half a step, he said “just 100 dirhams”. That is a valuable lesson that you should never take the first price offered when some one is trying to sell you something in Dubai.

I had made arrangements to meet the people who were coming out for dinner at 6:30 at the ticket counter for the Burj in the mall. There turned out to be eight of us for dinner, including the two daughters of a couple of my colleagues. Before I left the hotel, I thought about changing my clothes and shoes to something more casual. However, I thought people might dress up for dinner out, but everyone arrived in pretty casual clothes. I thought it was a bit ironic that the men had worn jackets and ties at work during the day, but were wearing golf shirts and shorts to go out to dinner. I was really regretting not changing at that point, because my feet were sore from wearing heels all day.

Peter had made reservations at a Lebanese restaurant. It was in the Souk Al Bahar, which is sort of the third corner of a triangle that surrounds the fountains and is formed with the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa. We had dinner on the patio outside so we could watch the fountain show that started at 7:00 p.m. It was fantastic. I took a video with my Blackberry, but the quality is very bad. This video is much more worthy of the spectacular nature of the show. We were eating in the building that you can see on the left side of the video, on the second floor. There was a show every half hour that lasted for about ten minutes. The music that played for each show was varied, from Arab music to Celine Dion. One thing you can’t see from the video is that there are lights on the Burj Khalifa that flash in sync with the fountain show. Giovanni, who is a civil engineering professor, was particularly impressed by the height that the spouts of water could reach. In the end we saw all or most of five shows.

Once again I had a wonderful meal. The server had convinced us to order a variety of appetizers for the table. We ended up with about ten different items, and of course I tried almost every one. This meant that I was quite full, before the entree arrived. I thought I should probably just ask for a doggy bag as soon as it was served. However, by the time it arrived I thought I could eat a little more. The portion size for the entree was much smaller than I expected. In North America, we have been conditioned to expect over-sized plates piled high with food when we order in a restaurant. This plate was a reasonable size with a reasonable amount of meat. I did manage to eat my mixed grill entree; I thought the lamb was the best part of the grill. However, I definitely did overeat, and I am planning to bring my own lunch on Wednesdays from now on – probably a light salad.

The mixture of good food, good conversation, and good entertainment made for a great night out. The only negative part of the evening for me was when I had finished eating. I smelled smoke. When I looked around to see the source it turns out that it was one of my colleagues at the opposite end of the table who had lit up a large cigar. I was downwind, and the smoke was annoying. It was a small blip in an otherwise perfect evening.

When we were done dinner, Peter and Eric (who also had worked in Dubai during a previous term) led us for a walk back towards the hotel. I warned everyone that I may be slow, because I had sore feet from my shoes. It turns out I wasn’t that slow, and the walk felt good after eating so much. It was a nice walk around to the opposite side of the Burj Khalifa. The group split up as we got to the metro station entrance. I joined the group who took the train home. Eric suggested that I ride in the front car, which is not always an option. One of the cars is designated for passengers holding a “Gold Card”. Fortunately, the elite car was at the opposite end of the train given the direction we were traveling. It was an interesting view, but a short ride. I will have to try it again sometime when I am taking a longer ride.

Overall, the I would say that the first gathering of the “Dining Out in Dubai” club was a great success. I expect that having dinner on the patio of a restaurant in the Souk Al Bahar to watch the fountain shows will make my top five list of things to do in Dubai. Of course, this is only my second week in the city. I expect to make a few more trips to the Dubai mall in the evening to watch it again while I am here.

At least he didn’t ask me if I was married.

I feel the need to acknowledge the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Certainly I would never have predicted at that time I would be living in the Middle East ten years later. Like most North Americans, I remember where I was the planes hit the World Trade Center. I was returning from teaching my first class of the 2001 fall term. My friend Ruth, who had the office next to mine, said that two planes had hit the World Trade Center. I assumed that she meant two small planes, and said something like “that sounds like a terrible mistake by an air traffic controller”. I was shocked to find out the details. Two days after the attacks, my father died. I, my mother and my sister, were going through a personal time of mourning, while the United States was going through a public mourning process. It was all surreal to me.

I wondered if living in Dubai would give me a different perspective on the anniversary. The only news I can understand on television is from BBC and CNN. Certainly CNN was dominated by the coverage of the ceremonies in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. The BBC covered it to a lesser extent. The top headline in Gulf News paper today is “America unites in grief”. There is a two page spread inside the World section of the paper, and an op-ed piece about the impact of 9/11 on Pakistan. One of the articles in the paper is entitled “Being a Young American Muslim”. I am guessing that is a perspective not covered by the major networks in the US.

I had a relatively unproductive day yesterday, at least until I got home. I had hoped to work out some issues in the computer lab and get ahead on some of my course work. Things didn’t go as planned in the lab in the morning. I found out that I needed to go for my medical appointment, that would eventually lead to my residence visa, at 10:30. The location of the medical centre seemed to be at the opposite end of the city – but of course I really don’t know where it was because I was driven there.

Before I left, I was told that I wouldn’t have to stand in line because ladies don’t have to wait. There were four of us going for the medical check: two of my colleagues Giovanni and Surya, and Giovanni’s daughter Cristina. When we arrived there were two signs for lining up. One was for men, but the one for women was blocked by chairs. After watching for a minute I realized that we were supposed to sit in line, rather than stand in line. Cristina and I were processed quickly, and sent to see the doctor. There didn’t seem to be much of a lineup for the men, so Giovanni moved along too. I assumed that Surya had already moved around to see the doctor, but I didn’t see him.

When we got to the next “station”, I handed in my paperwork and was told to see the doctor in Room 27. Cristina was sent to the same doctor. There were three men in line, and we stood behind them. The men in line ushered us to move in front. I stood in the doorway as Cristina saw the doctor. He asked this 17 year old girl if she was married. I had to smile at that question. He stamped her forms, and I sat down next. The doctor asked me if I was still having my periods. I said yes. Then he asked me when my last period was. I told him it ended just a couple of days ago. He asked me the date of my period. I asked if he wanted to know when it started or when it ended. He said either was fine. Fortunately it had been fairly recent, otherwise I wouldn’t have had a clue of either date. I said it had ended last Wednesday, but I actually wasn’t even sure of that date. I wondered why he needed to know any of this, but especially an exact date. I also wondered how would he know if I was lying. Afterwards I asked Giovanni and Surya what the doctor asked them, and they both said they had just been asked their names and where they worked. Ironically both Surya and Giovanni saw a female doctor where Cristina and I saw a male doctor.

After we saw the doctor, we went to have a chest X-ray taken and then on to have blood drawn. In both cases there were male and female rooms for the procedures. Things moved along very quickly especially for Cristina and me. We were waiting in the hall for Giovanni and Surya, and I realized that I had never seen Surya as we moved from station to station. It turns out that he was turned away in the first line, because the picture he had taken several months ago didn’t look enough like him today. In particular, his hair was too long now. He had to have another picture taken and attached to his form.

I believe that the university had done quite a bit of work before we went for the medical check compared to what had happened in previous terms. Things did go very smoothly from my point of view. Now I just have to wait for the test results, and I can get my passport back. I am irrationally worried about these results. It has been a long time since I have seen a doctor. I am sure everything will check out, but I will be glad when I receive the final stamp of approval.

I wasn’t even sure I wanted to buy a watch.

Saturday was a much more organized day than Friday. I was thinking about going to the Gold Souk, which is a market near the Dubai Creek. In the morning I got a message from one of the other faculty members that Karuna, the International Recruitment Manager, had invited the tutors to her hotel for tea at 4:00 p.m. Following tea she was taking them on a trip to the Gold Souk, and we were invited. This was perfect timing. I decided to head to the gym for a workout before lunch. When I was finished I thought I should eat my big meal of the day now, because I suspected that tea would be quite filling, and that we would be relatively late returning from the Gold Souk – too late for a big dinner.

Karuna’s hotel is right across the street from my hotel. Five of us met in the lobby and walked together to meet for tea. As I suspected, tea was extravagant. It included juice (orange, tomato, watermelon, or mango), spring rolls, samosas, deep fried vegetables (including jalapeno peppers), cheese and tomato sandwiches with their crusts cut off, dessert optionsfour dessert options, and tea or coffee. We all enjoyed the food and the company. When we were done the tea, Karuna took us up to show off her apartment. She lives on the 65th floor – the top floor of the tallest hotel in the city. It is a wonderful view of the downtown part of the city, including the Burj Khalifa.

There were about 14 of us heading to the Gold Souk, so we started loading into cabs. The cab I was in was the first one to leave the hotel, but it ended up being the last one to arrive. Karuna had arranged for the cost of the cab to be a set price before we left the hotel. We walked down a narrow street, which is only for pedestrians. Then Karuna directed us into the main building for the Gold Souk. Thankfully it was air-conditioned, because even at 6:30 p.m. after the sun was down, it was still very hot and humid outside. The shops in the Gold Souk are basically full of gold and diamonds. Gold Souk shop windowThere is some silver, but very little relatively speaking. I wandered around the hallways and did a little window shopping. I don’t really wear jewelry, and I don’t have an affinity for gold or diamonds, so I was not tempted by the many choices. I noticed that the prices of things were not easily visible. I had noticed that prices are often unclear, including the price of popcorn and a drink at the movie. After we were finished inside, we headed outside to see some more shops. On the street, the men were approached to see if they wanted a fake Rolex and the women were asked if they wanted a fake bag. There were also lots of men each carrying a tray filled with bottled drinks.

My colleague Zoran and I went into a shop that specialized in silver. As soon as we walked into the shop we were told that it only had silver, no gold. I guess that many people assume that all the shops have gold. The shop itself was very small. Zoran was looking for gifts for his wife and daughter, and I had considered buying a watch. The clasp on my dressy watch had been broken for awhile, and I didn’t get it fixed before I came to Dubai. I did want to have a fancier watch than the plastic Timex watch I have been wearing so far. I had no idea how much the watches cost, but there was one in the display case that I thought looked nice. I asked to see it, and asked how much it cost. The first thing they do when they figure out the cost of the jewelry is to weigh it and then calculate the value of the metal (either silver or gold) based its value on the market and the purity of the metal. Then they pull out a calculator and punch in the offer. I think the first offer was for 1400 dirham, which was over $300. I immediately lost interest in purchasing the watch, because I was not planning to spend that much at all. Karuna grabbed the calculator and made a counter offer. She was speaking English and Hindi I think, and saying she could get this much cheaper in India. The price she suggested was 900 dirham, which was still more than $200. Again I was not really interested in paying that much for a watch. It was a very nice watch, and it was pure silver, but I hadn’t even decided if I wanted to buy a watch at all. In the meantime, Zoran had found a couple of bracelets he thought his wife and daughter would like as gifts. Karuna then turned her attention to negotiations on behalf of Zoran. She kept asking the merchant for his “last price”. I could hear some negotiations in the back of the shop and the customers were also asking for the “last price”. When I turned to leave at one point, the merchant asked me what was my “last price”. I can’t remember the details of the negotiations for Zoran, but I think he ended up paying 1050 dirham for the two bracelets, from a starting price of 1600 dirham. While we were waiting for Zoran to pay for the bracelets, Karuna asked if I would be interested in the watch if it was 600 dirhams. I said that was a more reasonable price. When we were leaving the merchant asked Karuna if she was our guide, and she laughed and said no. She told Zoran and me to leave the shop and she stayed behind. A few minutes later she joined us outside with a bag from the shop. She had the watch in a nice gift box, and she had bought it for 600 dirhams.silver watch I was a bit taken aback, but it is a nice watch. If I didn’t know any better I would think that Karuna and the merchant were working together to get me to buy the watch. I didn’t have the money with me and she said that was fine, that I could could settle with her at work on Sunday. When I got the watch home I saw the original price tag was 1945 dirhams.

Karuna lead us through the streets towards the fabric section of the Souk. The very narrow streets were crowded with people and cars, and it seemed to be hotter than when we left the hotel. As we walked along people from our group randomly entered some of the shops. Outside a perfume shop, Karuna told us that the perfume here is made with water, not alcohol. That means it does not last as long on your body because the alcohol absorbs into the skin better. It also means the price of the perfumes was lower. I bought a pair of flip flops I wanted to have for walking on the tile floors in my apartment as well as when I went to the pool. I negotiated the price from 20 dirhams to 15 dirhams.

We arrived at the main building for the Fabric Souk which was an air conditioned building. By this time I was sweating profusely, and was very happy to cool down. Karuna found a bench near the entrance and said she would be waiting there for us. I wanted to buy a large scarf or shawl to wear in the apartment. When I am sitting for too long, the air conditioning is quite cold in the living room and dining room. I realized yesterday that I do not have any long sleeved shirts here. Again I negotiated the price from 25 dirhams to 20 dirhams. I suspect I could have done better, but I didn’t have the energy. As I wandered around the Souk, every merchant who saw me said “Hello ma’am” to get my attention. I didn’t think too much of it until I realized that they were not calling out to everyone who passed. The hallways were quite crowded, but I was the only one they were calling to as far as I could tell. When I looked around, I didn’t see any other white women walking near me. I think that I was definitely being targeted as I wandered around.  When I got back to where Karuna was sitting, Zoran was already there. I sat down and waited for the rest of the group to return. I asked the adult male members of our group if the merchants called out to them as they walked around the Souk. They said no, however they had been constantly approached to buy a fake Rolex on the street earlier.

I showed Zoran and Karuna the scarf I bought. Karuna said I had done well and effortlessly draped the scarf around herself in a way that looked elegant. I am sitting here now with the scarf around me looking like I have a random piece of fabric wrapped around my neck and shoulders. I might have to get scarf wrapping lessons at some point.

Souk intersectionAfter everyone had reconvened we headed outside and started the job of finding cabs to return home. The chaos of the streets was going to make this a much tougher job than getting a cab near the hotel. Zoran managed to grab a taxi that had just dropped off someone, and Karuna told us to jump in. I felt a bit guilty taking the first cab, but you couldn’t really stop to organize things where we were. I am sure everyone got home safely. If I had come to this part of the city myself, I am sure I would have been wandering around aimlessly past the shops. I am so glad that I took my first trip to the Gold Souk with Karuna, even if it did cost me $160.