Saturday, February 23, 2008

Salam Aleikum!

Rashid here from United States, and I'm concerned. It's a strange cold world here, and so much rainier than my hometown of Dubai. I'm trying to fit in, but there's just so much that's different about this place. I'll try to keep you all posted on everything I see, and keep a lookout for anything really strange - especially all of these crazy immoral traditions.

Here's one I found at a local petrol pump. Not only does gas cost $3.05 (that's $2.40 more than ours!) per gallon (and what the heck is a gallon? Liters, please!), but these gas stations are very weird. Yesterday, I was paying for gas, and look at what I found:

My kind hosts tell me it is sold at station counters for young children to play a game called "beer pong". While I've heard of beer, I don't see why people should do something so vile while playing ping pong. Just despicable. And "Reload"? How much of this game are they playing? Do they get so desperate late at night that they have to go to the pump for package of plastic cups and replacement ping pong balls?
Honestly, this is just too much. I'm going to buy a coat now, and let you know what else I find out. Rashid the private eye is on the case!

Comatose With a Side of Delicousness

Welcome to the first of many 2Guides "Impressions". We don't say review or recommendation because, frankly, we have a fear of responsibility. That, and we're really busy - this witty banter doesn't write itself, people!

On to recommendation #1: Asado at the Palace Hotel, Burj Dubai. Nevermind that it's set in a hotel that is on a man-made island sitting in a lake up against the tallest building in the world - that just makes it a nice bar. What makes this place special is that once you eat the food, you couldn't care less where it is. While it may or may not be authentic Argentinian (guys, my last name is Mueller - what do I know?), it's authentic deliciousness. As a steakhouse, it's a bit on the pricy side (like most good hotel restaurants in Dubai), but the service, wine list, and ambience all get high marks. The meat itself is paraded out to you like a dessert tray at the end of a meal, and the wait staff is eager to tell you all about the 300-gram raw hunk of meat that you're staring at intensely. Sidebar - what's proper etiquette for staring at raw beef? "Well, that appears to be, umm, red - good, good - mark of a good steak."

Moving on. We had the chateaubriand - a bit like cutting a steak from the cow, setting it aside for later, and eating the whole cow. That said, fantastic. I'm assuming this is similar to much in Dubai, but the steak was pretty underdone, and needed a couple more minutes of heat (my dining companion, Miss Katie herself, is a bit of a sissy for raw meat). The wait staff was more than happy to oblige, and it came back well-cooked and accompanied by both a mustard bar and a selection of salts. Well played, Asado - well played.

All said and done, here's the bill breakdown:
1 bottle of Pelligrino: 60 dirhams
1 bottle of red wine: 230 dirhams (prices weren't that bad)
3 empanadas: 35 dirhams
1 giant steak: 435 dirhams

And as a final treat, Julio Viola, head chef of Asado, has provided his recipe for the Chimichurri sauce served with our steak:
Chimichurri Steak Sauce

INGREDIENTS:
flat parsley 200 gr
thyme 10 gr
spring onion 50 gr
garlic 10 gr
chilli flakes (Argentine dried chilli, which isn't spicy) 5 gr
salt 5 gr
black pepper 2 gr
corn oil (olive oil can be used to refine the taste) 100 ml
white vinegar 30 ml

PREPARATION: Finely chop all the ingredients and combine them to make a sauce. Let it rest for at least 8 hours to fully develop the flavor.

(Recipe courtsey of Julio Viola, Asado Argentine Restaurant Head Chef)

Announcing New Features! 2Guides.com Kicks Off With Rashid

Now that I have your attention from the photo (sorry Malcolm - and ladies, he can be reached at +971-050...), we wanted to announce a couple of new blog features.

First off, we hate carpal tunnel as much as the next guy, so no more long URLs. Just go to http://www.2guides.com/ (or for you fancies, go ahead and spell it out - think we didn't do our homework? http://www.twoguides.com/) from now on. Makes it easier for a) you to type, and b) your office IT administrator to block!

Next up, we are now adding a new series - travel reviews, opinions, and recommendations. Yes, we are taking submissions! If you have a place that was absolutely amazing, incredibly horrible, or that you were just kicked out of for being beligerent (you know who you are), send it in. (If you don't have any relevant pics, we would prefer some sort of embarassing baby photos.)

Lastly, Two Guides are abroad for the next ten days. As such, we have employed our friend Rashid (pictured below) to fill in during our abscence. Little Rashid, whose for a day job is the mascot for Healthcare City, told us that you all really like to see the crazy differences between Dubai and your hometowns. Fortunately, Rashid is in the States right now, and will be letting you all know about the craaaaaazy stuff those Bushies do. Take it away Rashid!

Friday, February 22, 2008

I'll Take What's In The Mystery Box, or "Don't Believe the Hype!"

Bubble: n) A rise in the price of an asset based not on the current or prospective income that it provides but solely on expectations by market participants that the price will rise in the future.
Also, "Bubble" is the ninth single by the English electronic music band Fluke and was their only single released in 1994 (thanks Wikipedia!)

What are you seeing here is a property launch at 10am in Dubai for an apartment building in Abu Dhabi. An apartment building that won't be built until 2011. An apartment building where you have to buy units in CASH. A friend and I were looking to invest in this building, but when the crowd formed, everything broke loose. So much was the hype that people were actually TRAMPELLED just getting the form where you fill out your name and number to get a call back. Eventually, security was called, the crowds were dispersed, and the whole process shut down. Someone asked "Is this a good investment?", and the sales manager actually said "Are you gooding? Look at this crowd - of course it's a good investment!". Oh boy - enough said on that valuation. Enjoy the little lady trying to direct the crowd out of frustration:

video

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Empty Apartment Building Hijinx

video
So, we've gone nuts. Between the elevator races, parking space bingo, and renaming the doorman each day, we are officially obnoxious Americans (because we, like, totally weren't already). Before you get upset and roll your eyes that we are in fact representing stars and stripes in the Middle East, a quick caveat: our building is DESERTED.

The building we are in was just delivered from the construction company to the owners 2 weeks ago - 3 days before we got the keys. We're on the 28th floor, and there's still sand in the living room (and on the windows, on the walls, in the cabinets...). Best guess, there are 5-10 other occupied apartments in the building - out of 170. Other than the aforementioned "new apartment building games" (look for our best seller on the subject), there is a good perk of parking next to the dude with the McLaren every day (he plays parking bingo too). I do think Ferris Bueller said it best: It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Katie Has Left the Building

Well, we're finally out of the hotel, and on our own in the land of glass and schteel. We had such separation anxiety that we ended up staying a couple of extra days - who can leave Swiss hospitality? But alas, water (hot water too!), power, Internet, and TV are all set - so that left little reason to keep ordering room service.

Actually, you'd be surprised - we couldn't wait to get into a place with a kitchen, our own food, and start to do the all-important furniture shopping. As you can see, we started with the critical items first: the white leather couch and super cool mod lights. True, we still don't have a matress, but 48 hours later and we have just about all of the furniture: bedroom done, living room done, and officially have a very comfortable guest bedroom for all of you visitors out there. (as long as you're not afraid of heights - I got a little freaked out on the chaise lounge next tot he window earlier).

Furniture shopping is only slightly different than the states - there are most of the same stores, but it's usually cheaper and higher quality. There are also some fun ones - like "Western Furniture" and "u" (sign is on the installment plan). More pics as it comes together, but right nows, it's bed time

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Communication Problem? But everyone speaks English!

Yes, pretty much everyone speaks English here (which puts us single-linguists to shame), but Katie and I have run into various flavors of English. There's the English you get in a restaurant (usually dead on), the English on most TV stations (really just Arabic), and the all-important "English" our Du cable guy spoke. "Mr. Matthew dial call center!" Yes, I certainly will. Thanks for the tip. For the most part, it's really suprising how good the communication is in the Middle East. Every now and then, though, something gets your attention.

Take for instance Friday night. We went over to the Park Hyatt marina on the creek for a few drinks outside. Our friend Basile (whose English is better than ours, just more, um, French) ordered a "plate of shrimp". Behold the results below, as they arrived from the waiter - Dubai in a nutshell:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's All Fun and Games Until Someone Says "Fatwa"

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

We hope that you are all in good spirits and getting the chance to spend the day with loved ones, of any fashion.
The Hallmark holiday is in full swing here in Dubai. I just headed over to Lamcy Plaza next to our hotel for a quick Starbucks fix, and one my way in I was confronted with a huge crowd of people. It looked like the floor of the stock exchange, men yelling, thrusting money and receipts in the air, grabbing goods at a feverish pitch. Upon further inspection, I realized that some entrepreneurial minded fellow had set up a last minute Valentine's Day kiosk in the lobby. Everything you need: flowers, cards, chocolate, and jewelry and boy, were these guys desperate!
If the innate skill of the American college student is that they can find any reason to throw a party, Dubai's skill lies in being able to justify a reason to shop. Anytime, anywhere, for any reason - shop, shop, shop - they seriously can't get enough. So you can imagine that V-Day provides just one more delightful reason to go indulge.

However, looks like our friendly neighbors to the West and South aren't quite as accepting of St. Valentine's holiday. Saudi Arabia has demanded that all shop owners remove all red items from their stores until after Valentine's Day, so the color of these items can't be seen as promoting the holiday. No joke. The only funny part is that now they have created a black-market for roses and other such gifts, sweet move guys. You can click, this link, to get the full story.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How Tyra Banks Brought my Sister and I Together Again! (bet you never thought you see that as a title...)

It was like any old trip to the Du office, when the strangest thing happened. I looked up at the TV and there was my SISTER!
Let me explain. Yesterday evening Matt and I arrived at the Du offices. Du is one of the largest internet and cable providers in Dubai and you actually have to appear in person to apply for and receive service. (More importantly, why were doing this? Because we finally, finally have our apartment!) The place is set up exactly like the DMV. You pick a number, sit down in a hard plastic chair and thumb through the different types of television and internet packages you can purchase, until you are called. After Matt and I made sure our priorities were clear - which would you rather have Style Network or the History Channel? ESPN or BBC News? Do we really need SkySports, I mean how much cricket we watch? - we approached the counter (we of course got all of them, and much to Matt's delight, they tossed in a few free Russian language channels). Lucky for me our station was right below a flat screen TV running The Tyra Banks Show (we were there for almost 45 minutes), and as I look up at the show I see my sister Lisa plain as day on the screen!

This fall, Lisa obtained tickets to The Tyra Show and she and her two roommates took a day trip to NY to be part of the taping. However, you can imagine my surprise when 6 months later I am sitting in the offices of my Dubai internet provider at 8:45pm and I see my sister's face on television.

Lucky for me, I just so happened to be engaged to a very technically savvy man, who just so happened to buy a really expensive phone with a great camera in it (who would expect anything less?) and I was able to capture a few screen shots!

I really like the one where Lisa's face is just to the right of the advertisement on the screen which says that Emirates News is coming on next, also note the Arabic subtitles…should I cue the music to "It's a Small World After All" now?!



Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Yummy, Yummy, in My Tummy!

Ever wondered what Dubai tastes like? Me too! Matt and I ventured to Media City on Saturday to the Taste of Dubai to sample the local cuisine. Actually, I mean, to indulge in every type of food but local cuisine. It is nearly impossible to find authentic local cuisine in Dubai, in fact, Matt and I were told the best place to find some would be to get ourselves invited to a local wedding. That is proving to be just a bit harder than making a reservation on OpenTable, but we are trying!

Nonetheless, everything at Taste of Dubai, was delicious! Once you enter you have to buy a ticket book of "dellas" (totally made-up food currency). The concept is really genius however, because it is designed to make you feel like you are spending much less than you are! Each "della" costs 5 dirhams, and each dish costs between 6 - 8 'dellas', so therefore each dish is nearly 40 dirhams, which for those of you who aren't Econ majors, is about $11 US. So here we are, just blissfully throwing down our 'dellas' with the psychological comfort of the single digit fee to sample each dish.

But, darn if they weren't worth it! Between the two of us we tried:
Chicken Pechuga Pibil, Risotto Funghi e Rucola, Crepes Suzette, Ceviche de Hammour, Chocoflan, Tuna Carpaccio with Lobster and Avocado, White Tomato Soup, and Braised Beef. Don't judge us - they were small portions, I swear! All in all there were 14 restaurants represented, including Gordon Ramsey's Verre. I was really disspointed that he wasn't there, I wanted to see him go crazy on a few customers! The only thing we didn't indulge in was a glass of champagne at the bar, which was priced at 22 'dellas' per glass - you do the math. ($30/glass for those of you scoring at home). Yeah, that's right.
Most of the booths were actually being run by the head chefs, which was really cool. A lot of them were signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. There was also a Chef's Theatre, where each head chef taught a cooking lesson, a wine tasting booth, and a gourmet food market.
Matt and I agree that the winners on the day were the White Tomato Soup and the Tuna Carpaccio with Lobster and Avocado (pictured above). If you are feeling adventurous, all the recipes are on the
website. Just be sure to invite me over for dinner when you make one!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

You've Got To Be Kidding Me

Okay, I hate hijacking a perfectly good blog to highlight some techie, nerdy thing, but this one REALLY needs to come out. Apparently, a solution really needed to be found to circumvent the burka. Even better, they decided on an overly complex, technical solution to this dilly of a dilemna: enter the CharmingBurka (I thought they were all charming?).
Check it out - The kit allows you to add eletronics to the burka that send a "self-defined" picture of the woman beneath to every Bluetooth mobile phone in the vicinity. According to the project's mastermind -- Markus Kison -- no laws of the Koran are broken. Umm, okay. Maybe I'm missing the point.

Seriously, check it out - video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13PDuXjWvSE

Cut Four Undersea Cables, Shame on You, Cut a Fifth, Also Shame on You

In a move that parents of teenagers everywhere can sympthasize with, yet another undersea cable has been cut in effort to get people in the Middle East to stop those late-night phone calls and chat sessions (or better yet, browsing for knock-off auctions on Souq.com). So if you're only reading our blog because everything else you normally read is offline, here's why: a fifth undersea cable has now been reported as cut, responsible for yet another few other million people off Al Gore's Internets. Things were already looking awfully suspicious when a fourth undersea cable in the Mediterranean was cut yesterday, and while nothing about a fifth cable being cut necessarily means some sort of sabotage is to blame, it's not exactly reassuring.
(Thanks to Engadget for the graphics and writing my post for me :)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Big Brother is Watching!

I can't figure out how ENews online is at odds with the social and moral values of the UAE, but it looks like I am going to find a more acceptable source for my juicy Hollywood gossip! Does anyone know if the Economist has a column?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Global Village in the House!

Ever have dreams of visiting Afghanistan, Tunisia, Yemen, Laos, Czech Republic, Iran, and Senegal in one day? It can be realized! At Global Village, that is… On Saturday, Matt and I traveled west of Dubai to the Global Village, a festival held on a huge fairgrounds that is owned by Tatweer. Lucky for us, it was family day and since Matt's hospital is owned by Tatweer we were eligible for not only free entry, but one free chicken curry per ticket! Unfortunately for me (I have a now full blown addiction to all food Indian) Matt refused to indulge me with yet another Indian meal, it might have something to do with the fact that I had curry for lunch, and, ahem, breakfast that morning. I can't stop! So whist strolling the fair grounds we noshed on one of my other favorite foods - soft pretzels! I was in heaven! We managed to avoid buying a Krispy Kreme doughnut, although we had about five opportunities to get one at the many stands.
We had a great time popping in and out of all the different countries' tents (with the US conspicuously missing), however, they began to all run together after a while. Each tent was virtually guaranteed to be hawking discount pashminas, fake silk rugs, gaudy gold jewelry, and bizarre spices - come on guys, at least try to distinguish yourselves! Well, there was that guy selling the toy AK 47's - that puts a whole new spin on playing cops and robbers!

I also got a chance to catch up with my good friend,
Um Saloom, she is one of the characters in my new favorite TV show, Freej (it means neighborhood in Arabic). You'll note that she is a Bedouin (she wears a traditional covering on her face), anyway the whole show is like a Bedouin 'Golden Girls', these four ladies get themselves in all kinds of trouble and it is hilarious! It's a really clever show about how these national women deal with the changing Dubai around them. Everyone is going to get the first season DV from me for Christmas!

Friday, February 1, 2008

It's in my eyes! I'm blind!

Today marks our first sandstorm in Dubai. Camping's out, since 35 mph winds bringing a polar air mass (seriously - it's freaking cold out, jacket cold!) have swept in and dropped visibility to less than a mile. That, and my eyes are covered in sand after a quick walk to the ATM. Something about the prospect of driving into a sandstorm, pitching a tent, not being able to make a fire, and somehow sleeping without being blown over just didn't make much sense. So most of Dubai is huddled inside today, with internet lines cut earlier in the week, eating and drinking themselves into oblivion.

A bit about Fridays here - on Thursday, everyone has GRAND plans for their Friday. Without fail, a "calm" night turns into yet another bottle service night at a megaclub (last night was our 4th round of such festivities), and you sleep in. I mean really sleep in - noon is standard. At that point, the Dubai brunch begins. Running anywhere between $50 and $150 for the afternoon, these are massive (and delicious) buffets setup by hotels and restaurants (Sheraton is below). So, the cycle continues - you roll out of bed, roll down to brunch at 1pm, get your unlimited champagne and fois gras crepe (I kid you not - they had them this afternoon), and eat for 3 hours. The secret? One bite per food item - you can actually try everything, then say "Ooooooohhhh...I don't feel so good", and head upstairs for another nap.

And you know what? I don't feel so good - I think that I had way too many eclairs. I'm going to lie down now.