Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve is...Cancelled?

This is the news that came buzzing through on my new iPhone this morning (thank you Matt for the fabulous Christmas present!) It must be a joke, I thought. Who can cancel New Year's Eve? Well apparently Sheikh Mohammad can. Last night, New Year's Eve celebrations across Dubai were called off. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ordered the cancellation of all forms of celebrations marking the New Year in Dubai emirate, as an act of solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Naturally, this has thrown all NYE celebrators into a tail spin. It isn't hard to guess that every hotel, bar, and club in the city is throwing huge bashes, and now guests are demanding to know "what the deal is". Matt and I personally have tickets with a few friends for the celebration at the Atlantis and are anxious to find out if we are going to have a NYE at all.

There is an entire blog set up on TimeOut Dubai which is tracking all the latest updates, and so far it looks like good news for us, it appears that only outdoor celebrations, including fireworks and music are cancelled. However, let's not under estimate the importance of branding! Here are some of our favorites:

"The Dubai Drums event is still on. It's going to be called "New moon Desert Drumming For Peace".
"Alpha will not be celebrating NYE tonight, they will however be OPEN and supporting the Palestinians with a live tribute from Osheasis and JoJo De Freq (their already scheduled performers). Donations welcome at the door for Palestinians relief fund."

So far, it looks like our indoor celebration is safe. Matt and I aren't your typical conspiracy theorits, but try this on for size: all NYE celebrations in Abu Dhabi are still on, which as the more conservative of the two emirates is suprising. In fact, there is a huge outdoor concert with Shakria planned and ads on Google are already exclaiming "Abu Dhabi NYE is not cancelled! Buy Shakira tickets now!" This cancelation - which is bound to cost the Dubai economy millions of dirhams, and alienate resident expats and tourists who have travelled here purposefully for New Year's Eve, is only going to benefit Abu Dhabi, financially, and otherwise. This cancellation couldn't be the part of the behind-closed-doors bailout plan they are offering us? Could it?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dubai sex-on-beach offender Vince speaks, should be thrown back in jail with shoe in mouth

CNN is running a video interview on their website today with Vince Acors, the man thrown in jail in Dubai for having sex on a beach after a long bender at a Yolumba Dubai brunch (remember those posts?)

I'll be honest - in the beginning, we were rooting for this guy. Two years in prison for public indecency and drunkeness is a bit much (funny fact: in Canada, it's 10 years!). Then it was commuted to 3 months and deportation, which didn't sound so bad (after all, he was REALLY drunk and resisting arrest, naked).

But then we met himat a party our friend threw before Thanksgiving. Not only did we think it was weird for a guy who was on trial for drinking and out on bail to be completely wasted, but apparently he thinks it's his right to be a complete tool.

At the party, he started destroying furniture and starting fights - run of the mill for some angrier drunks, but this guy had to be locked in a room. When he busted out, the rest of the party locked him out of the apartment just as we were leaving. The four of us are waiting for an elevator watching him, steaming mad, pacing back and forth in front of us. Finally, he says "F*CK IT" at the top of his lungs, gets a running start, and KICKS DOWN THE DOOR of our friend's apartment. The door comes off the hinges, splinters fly everywhere, and we head into the elevator as quick as possible.

Apparently he went back in and started a few more fights before being forcibly subdued - he only paid back the owners of the apartment once they threatened to take him back to the police with a fresh new story of his debauchery.

Unfortunately for the world at large, this guy was convicted, deported, and just set free back in the UK. Of course, this means you can now hear his sad, sad, tale straight from his own mouth on CNN. I especially love the part where he isn't releasing any details of what he did with his girlfriend - until he gets paid by a British tabloid (honestly - his words). The second-favorite part? "I was naive". Umm - "I was just under the impression I could get drunk, take a girl out to the beach, get naked, resist arrest, punch a policeman, start fights at parties, and break down my friend's front door. What, aren't Muslims supposed to be good-natured hosts?"

I can't wait for Jon Steward to get a hold of this one - here's the interview:

Sunday, December 21, 2008

No Place Like Home for the Holidays

The blog has been notably silent for the past week, as we have traveled home to the US for Christmas! (That and our fingers are too frozen to type. Brrrrrrrrr…!) We have been transported to a wintery wonderland, which has been 30 degrees everyday on average, and we haven’t seen the sun for a week! But of course there are the upsides, getting to spend time with family and friends, and our old acquaintances – Chipotle, Bertucci’s, Harry’s Hotdogs, and consuming our fair share of soft pretzels and cheese steaks (ok, well that is just me).
The majority of the time has been spend on a wedding planning blitz, as we try to nail down all the details for our Aug 29th wedding in Washington, DC. My mom, and her twin, my aunt Theresa met us as we came off the flight in NYC where we went to Kleinfeld and found “the dress”!
We then traveled to Lancaster, PA where we met with our wedding photographer, Jeremy Hess, and he treated us to a 3 hour engagement session. Hopefully, we can share the pictures soon!Matt’s been a great sport about the rest of the planning as we’ve been jetting around Washington, DC meeting with the pastor, the florist, the caterer, the reception site, the event logistics team, and the bakeries! Although, I don’t think you have to feel too bad for him, take a peek at the pictures below and see if you pity him for “suffering” through the catering and cake tasting!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Maroon 5 Does Dubai!

Just in case, we weren't exhausted enough stepping off a plane from India at noon, heading to work for a few hours and trying to manage dinner and a quick shower, we decided to try and squeeze in a Maroon 5 concert, just to top everything off.

They were great! Actually much more rock n' roll live then they are on the radio. They appeased the crowd with a bunch of their hits and we had no problem booging down to our favorite songs! Matt also happened to run into our friend, and my boss, Manaf, and we had a great time with his two kids! Matt practiced balancing them on his shoulders periodically so they could see, and I showed them the art of the air guitar and microphone!It was a great finale to a great year. Matt and I are flying home in 24 hours and can't wait to see our family and friends over the Christmas break. It's hard to believe that we've been here a year, and we know that we would have never made it without all of your love. Can't wait to see you all soon!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Incredible !ndia, Part II

We’re safely back in Dubai now, after having another wonderful two days in India. The security concerns were high, and we were subjected to many trunk searches, metal detectors, and bag searches, but it was all worth it! When we talked to a cab driver about the security concerns, he said “don’t worry, things like that don’t happen in Kerala”, when we asked why not, he said “we are all too educated for that”. Nice answer!
On our second day in Kochi we took a cruise along the backwaters of the country side and sailed through the narrow waterways to see the daily life of the folks there. There houses come right up to the water and they were busy trading, washing, bathing, and waving to us! We had a home cooked traditional lunch and when we stopped to eat, two little girls from the village down the path offered us flower corsages, in exchange to practice their English with us! We traded basic conversation and gave them a pen and paper too, they were thrilled beyond belief. I’ll let the pictures speak for some of the other sights!
Our last day was spend on an adventure through the hills to find an “elephant training center”, the center itself didn’t live up to the expectations, it was more of a not-well kept zoo, but that did mean that we got to have lots of interactions with the animals, namely the baby elephant and the free roaming monkeys. Afterwards we grabbed a few coconuts for lunch!
We spent our last night at the Fort Kochi cultural centre watching a beautiful form of dance called Kathakali. It is believed to have begun in the 1st century and it puts a huge emphasis on facial expressions and eye movements, while wearing elaborate costumes to tell a story. We loved the show, but the sad part was that it was our last night in Kochi. We can’t say enough nice things about the sites and the people. Although, my taste buds don’t seem to be too sad not to have curry for breakfast anymore!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ayurvedic Massage - Not for the Timid

I'll warn you now - this post won't have any pictures Earlier today, I went for what I thought would be the "most soothing and relaxing massage" offered by the hotel here in Southern India. Was I prepared for hot oil? Sure. Was I prepared for a slightly for active massage? Yes, indeed. Was I prepared to be stripped, given a string and loin "strip" for protection, and slid around on a wooden table for 75 minutes by not one, but two men? Nope.

And it begins. The massage consits of a head massage with what must have been a litre of oil - I think the guy made my hair into a mohawk for fun. After that, they have you "get comfortable" - which was anything but. They then tie a string around your waist, and a 3" wide piece of cloth to the string in the front. Off comes the underwear (apparently it wasn't optional, like they promised), and he reaches under and ties the strip to your waist in the back.

Yeah, that's protecting nothing.

Then, for 75 minutes, the two men took turns preparing hot oil bags and using them to scrub my skin. What's a hot oil bag? Well, they use the stove to heat a pan of oil, fry herbs in the oil, then pack the hot, fried herb mash into a canvas pouch - which is then periodically reheated as their sear your skin with it.

The whole experience is somewhere between what it must be like to be embalmed and what a Thanksgiving turkey goes through - it didn't help that I swear they were frying this stuff in vegetable oil. At the end of the whole experience, I was burned, sore, violated - and hungry for some chicken. Go figure.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Incredible !ndia

We've arrived, been sufficiently bitten by mosquitoes, been stuck in traffic behind several cows, and had a delicious murg malai kebab for dinner. Yup, we are in southern India. In the state of Kerala to be exact. The self described 'back waters' of India, which the locals call 'God's own country'. The US Dept. of State suggested that we not reveal travel plans until we were safely arrived, given the recent events, but we are happy to say that the people and the sites couldn't be better!

It's a jungle out there, truly. It area is covered in palm trees and overgrowth and it was a balmy 92 degrees today. Matt's assistant who is from Kerala, was nice enough to set us up with a friend of her family's to see us around town. So off we went! We saw the oldest European church in India, Vasco de Gama's burial place, a 15th century Dutch palace, fishing techniques from the 13th century, managed to swing by the Volvo Across the World Sea Race, which had an Indian stop over and absorbed lots of local flavor.

Here are some fun pictures from the day.Season's Greetings! It doesn't feel like Christmas when it is this hot out!A local vendor goes the extra mile to convince Lisa to buy a hat. (She did!)Yum, pure cane juice with lime and ginger!
I get a music lesson, while Matt whips out the cash to buy me this drum.

Excuse me!

An impromtu concert on the streets. Lisa bought a horn made out of a dried gourd.

In front of the Indian Ocean.

Our sweet ride around town.

Rock Climbing in the UAE

Now that we are in India, I’ve had some time to decompress and reflect on the last few days.  Before we left I had the chance to spend the day rock climbing with my friend Tom.  Let me start by saying - it’s hard being a lanky guy – except for the occasional swim meet, monkey impersonation contest, or reaching for ajar on the top shelf, there’s not much we’re good at.
That’s why I jumped at the chance to start rock climbing.  Plus, adrenaline is a great way to clear your head after a long weekend.
Just a few dozen kilometers outsides of Dubai, the desert gives way to barren peaks.  It’s dead quiet as well, with nothing around as far as you can see in any direction But life is there, evidenced by all of the poop on the side of the mountain.  What are goats and camels doing up there anyway?
With perfect 72 degree weather, it was easy to spend an afternoon on the rock.  That, and the weird formations were just like the handholds in the gym climbing wall – very cool.
After getting over the “shear” terror of the cliff, I managed my first climb.  Rappelling back down, I left my first patch of skin on the mountain - sorry, no photos of the blood.
We don’t know who setup all of the clips and chains on the rock, but there are over 40 routes - some easier to find than others.  Apparently, there are quite a few all around the UAE, so stay tuned for some more locations!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mosquitoes Ain't Got Nothing On Us!

You have to hand it to the pharmacies in Dubai. They are pretty much totally deregulated and ready for anything. Matt dropped by our local store just the other day to stock up on some travel essentials for the trip that we will be taking over Eid al-Adha (the "Festival of Sacrifice" is a religious festival celebrated in commemoration of the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. It happens approximately 70 days after Ramadan).

We are lucky enough to have three days off, and have decided to plan a trip to see some of the surrounding areas. For sensitivity reasons, we aren't going to disclose our location until we get there, but let's see if you can guess!

Matt returned from the pharmacy with Advil, Excedrin, Benadryl, Imodium, and two other interesting choices 'TravelGuard' capsules which contain major doses of the 'good' digestive bacterial, you know the stuff found in yogurt, which is supposed to toughen up our stomachs before we go. Oh, and Mephaquin, maybe you've heard of it? No? It's your basic anti malarial tablet. Apparently we weren't aware of the malaria threat at our desired location and as a result we are on a crash course of anti malarial drugs.

The most interesting part? In order to make sure that the drug has the desired prophylactic effect, we need to keep taking it for 4 weeks after our trip! I'll be fighting malaria until after Christmas! Hope it's all worth it! Can you guess where we are going?

Monday, December 1, 2008

All that Glitters...

There is never a shortage of events in Dubai and last week I was lucky enough to get invite to a private dinner and a “jewelry fashion show” at the Burj Al Arab for the launch of Italian jeweler Calgaro’s latest collection. Well I’ve never been to a jewelry fashion show and there is no way I was turning down a free dinner at the Burj so I RSVP’ed Lisa Shaver +1 (The invite was only valid for one person but there was no problem once I explained I was bringing the Director of Communications in the Executive Chairman’s office of Tatweer). The event was held in the Al Falak Ballroom and in addition to the models showcasing the jewelry, the event also included performances by local acrobats and dancers and a four course meal. Katie and I also had our picture printed in the Insider and Masala magazines. The Insider described the guests as “the cream of the Dubai glitterati” and I for one hope that is very fitting!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Better Late Than Never!

So it wasn't celebrated on Thursday, but yesterday we did manage to have a traditional (and delicious) Thanksgiving dinner! Our friends Maya and Amer were kind enough to offer themselves up for the task and expertly put together a beautiful Thanksgiving meal for 15 people. We had the all important turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and cranbery sauce, topped off with a delicious apple crumble. What more could you ask for? Of course, we couldn't ignore the bounty of our new land so there was also hummous and guacamole appetizers.

For our two English friends it was their first Thanksgiving, so I had to take a few minutes to tell the Thanksgiving story, even including the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, for historical accuracy. Lisa also lead the charge in making every person in the room stand up and say what they are thankful for (thanks Mom, we can't shake it now)! All of our friends obliged and the list ranged from: graduating from college, to having cranberry sauce, but most importantly to sharing the day with the friends and family who are in Dubai with us. Ahh, now that's the spirit I was looking for!
Shannan joins us for Thanksgiving.

Chop those gizzards, Maya!

Why is the Englishman the one carving the turkey?

Enlightening our friends across the pond on the Thanksgiving Story.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

There are a lot of things that Dubai can do right, and for the many things that it can't, it at least tries to import them. If there is one thing that I can promise you alludes Dubai, it is a proper American Thanksgiving. Whereas the Muslim holidays are celebrated with significant fanfare, and most of the Hindu calendar gets lots of attention, even country specific holidays for our UK and Aussie friends aren't hard to come by, but due to a significant lack of American expats, Thanksgiving is a holiday spirit that is hard to come by.

It was 80 degrees out, there was no football, no parades, and even no turkey and stuffing. Our friend John is getting up at 5:15am to watch the Texas game on the internet, but that is the closest we got to anyone who was celebrating Turkey Day. Now, we are having a 'make up' Thanksgiving on Saturday which is promising some traditional dishes, but let's just say on this Thursday, it's just not the same.

What we lack in turkey and football, we can definitely make up for in thanks. So here is a big warm and loving thank you to all of our family and friends who take the time to read our blog, leave us comments, write us emails, and send their support (even if it is just mentally)! We might be a world away, but it makes a world of difference to us to have so many people who love us at home. The past year has brought us so many challenges and we certainly couldn't have scaled them with out knowing that we have great folks at home rooting for us. We love you too, and Happy Thanksgiving!

For our international friends, please allow my buddies Hoops and Yo-Yo to help you understand the finer points of our Thanksgiving holiday. Click here!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Never Too Old to be Prom King

The Oil Barons Ball was, well, a ball! We had a great dinner, fun music and beautiful weather. However, I think that Matt and I might have had a bit more fun than our friends. As we walked into the ball there was a lady with a clipboard who approached us and asked if we wouldn't mind having our picture taken in their photo booth. Matt and I figured, that we could spare a few moments for a free picture. I mean we had gotten all dressed up, after all! As we were waiting for the picture, the lady said that they wouldn't be ready until after the awards. Awards? What awards? Turns out the pictures were being used to judge the Best Dressed Female and the Best Dressed Couple awards. Matt and I, looking like a obvious couple as we came in, seemed to have been unwittingly entered into the competition.

It wasn't until halfway through our main course, we realized they were serious, when they told Matt and I that we were finalists and that we needed to come meet with the judges! A bit confused and even more intrigued we followed her to a judges table outside, where the finalists of both competitions had congregated. We actually had to do a mini-interview, and model our clothes! Matt wowed them with his "I made this tux in 6 days" story and I did a couple of spins - and 30 mins later - we had WON!
We were then brought to the stage in front of 5,000 people, chatted with the MC, were awarded flowers and had our pictures taken by various press outlets. Too much fun! What's even more fun (for me) is that the grand prize is 3,000 dirhams to Aftershock, a ladies clothing store. Sorry Matt! They gave him a bottle of champagne to compensate. I think that seems fair, don't you?