Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Finally. I'm Like SO Done With This. Fa-real, Please, Seriously, Finally.

Okay, fingers and toes crossed, planets have to align, and Dubai has to be efficient. Problem is, you have to pay for a full year's rent upfront. And you have to write a check. And it has to be a local check. So, let's say you don't have your residents visa yet. And you need that to open a bank account. And you need that local account to get your money over from the states. You'd be stuck, right? Yup. Unless you can convince your company to cough up $50K in 24 hours and write a check for you to a landlord you've only met once (but no worries - you handed him an envelope with $9,500 in cash when you met him last time, so you're sure he's a stand-up guy).

Now let's say IF that all happens tomorrow, we're all set with our new apartment! We've put a deposit in (i.e., envelope of a cash to the nice Pakistani man), signed a contract, gotten keys, and had our first meal (see the video below) in our new digs right next to the tallest building in the world. It's a nice two-bedroom in a brand new building (development company released it 4 days ago) with all of the niceties. Most importantly, floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the Burj Dubai, Arabian Gulf and The World Islands, skyline of Dubai, the lake of Business Bay, and "Old Town" (don't kid yourself - they're still being built). Yes, we're 300 feet up, and yet, the building is still settling - it's a weird feeling when you walk up to the edge of the building and all of the windows creak at the same time. But don't worry, it's solid (ish). What happens if it all falls through, you say? Then we come home, and I punch you in the shoulder.

Now, you're all missing the biggest point - TWO BEDROOMS. An extra full bed, an extra full bath, and a full hug for everyone who wants to visit - we guarantee a five star vacation at rock bottom 8 star prices. You know you want it! Check out the gallery for more fun and more echoey video.

Evening in the Middle East, Dinner in Zurich

It's coming up on evening over there in the States (hey, we know our readership! Censors from the UAE notwithstanding...), and we thought we'd reflect a little bit on what evening is like in the desert. First off, everything here is two hours behind - dinner is at 9 or so, and work doesn't start until later in the morning. So when I knocked off at 4:30 today to get some things taken care of (and these shots), it was, well, poor form. Katie and I did have to catch a flight to Zurich, which we thankfully made - all for about $10. Problem was, dinner with Swiss fondue at Apres, while wonderfully slopeside, was still in an Arabic Country. Ah, Ski Dubai - why must you be so tempting! There is something really nice about watching kids wipe out learning to snow board while you drink a glass of wine, and a muslim National (Dubai-an) to your right takes a blond out on a date - and yes, she's drinking. Stay tuned for this weekend, when we really do freeze - camping in the desert!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

"I Visited The Spice Souk And All I Got Was This Lousy Upper Respiratory Infection"

Well, that's not accurate - I'm sure I got something else as well! Today, after the entirely necessary trip to Ikea (where we realized we already had the catalog memorized), we joined up with the Arnolds and company for part of Mike Arnold's trademark Dubai tour: Souk & Creek Chapter. We started at the Dubai museum (electricity in 1958), on to the water taxi (check out the video below), and then to the spice and gold souks. The crasiest thing of it all? The people hawking wares (or salt, or saris, or silver, or...) do it in at least 8 languages. "Where are you from? Deutsch? Willkommen! Irish? Are you Irish? Welcome! Oi oi, Bienvenue?". You have to hand it to anyone who can sell rock salt, Persian rugs, and room temparature rotting shrimp equally well in any language.

As usual, you can get the obligatory photo gallery here.

Dubai INXS ("in excess" for those of you not lucky enough to be a child of the '80's)

When you start the morning by ordering a bottle of water, and the waiter asks you "what temperature would you like that. Madame?", you know you're in a high maintenance city. Meals are followed by hot towels smelling of rosewater, ladies purses' each get their own little step stool to sit on while dining (couldn't possibly let your Louis V touch the ground could we?) and everyone, and I mean everyone, calls your ma'am or sir.

The excess of the city is borne out on the diamond encrusted cell phones of the locals, the women's bejeweled veils complimented by Dior sunglasses and the "there are only five of these in the world" Ferrari's zipping in and out of the valet at the Burg Al Arab (the "sail hotel"). Every project is bigger, better and more excessive than the last. Speaking of excess, this is one we could get used to, using Matt for scale, check out the picture of him and the 103" plasma flat screen TV on display at Festival City!
If you need a break from leveraging your first born to pay for brunch at the Raffles, don't worry there is just one cheap alternative we've found so far! All the Swedish meatballs you desire…at IKEA! That's right, IKEA Dubai's cafeteria boasts the same cheap eats as its American cousin with some interesting alternatives available like salmon pie, for example - don't ask. It's comforting to know that no matter how far we travel we always will have easy access to a new MALM bed frame. We skipped the salmon pie, but of course couldn't resist ordering two vanilla frozen yogurt cones on the way out, for just 6 dirhams!

Void of any real explanation, or purpose, there was this awesome multi-colored camel statue on the way into the Swedish furniture store…Matt gave it some good American loving on our way in!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Worst Dubai Guide You've Ever Read

A number of you have been pitching questions our way - What food do you miss the most? Do they speak English? What do you have to wear? Even some zanier ones that I'll leave out for now :) To answer these questions, there are a number of intelligent, well written books on the subject. What the market is clearly missing is a half-researched, poorly written (grammer AND spalling), diatribe that panders to its readers and generalizes a whole country. So here it is!

Part I: What food do you miss the most?
The short answer is that you can get everything you want in Dubai - it's getting something that's different (or even local, but I'm not that adventurous) that's the real trick. Just last Friday, recovering from a night out, we had to order Papa John's pizza and cheesesticks - fortunately there's one next door. Interested in Chili's? Yup - all over the place. Baskin Robbins, Lebanese Taverna (particularly funny), Benihana - the hills are alive with the tastes of America! That, and Starbucks. LOTS of Starbucks. Next to each other, on top of each other, Starbucks inside Starbucks.

Check out one of their Takeout Taxi sites,

or (Select American cuisine for kicks - there's even a BW-3 and TWO Rock Bottom Breweries)
So folks, it seems no matter how far you travel, you're never really more than 5 minutes away from the Tyson's Corner mall. I'm off Panera for breakfast, but at least at the ones here, Katie can get her curry to start the day!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I Love the Smell of Nepotism in the Morning

So, I must admit, I do for the most part think that the US is overly PC. I'm a big believer, that you can't really sanitize the world. So let's just all relax. Well a brief look at the Gulf News today, and I think I might be rethinking my position, just a bit.

In my search, both for a job and an apartment, I've come to realize that employers and landlords here can be a little bit more prescriptive regarding just what they are looking for. ACLU, eat your heart out!

There are receptionist jobs for a "Young lady graduate with a dynamic personality, who must be on their father's or husband's visa". Want to be an Events Manger for a large firm? "Only UAE Nationals, will be considered". How about an HR Executive? "Female candidates only" accepted at one firm. Are you thinking, but what about the men? Just wait, we have roles just for you guys too! The UAE Postal Service is looking for male-only candidates for network and administration engineer's (just email Mohammed for more details…). Barclays Bank could be an option, but only for those of you who are " 22-35 year old Arab, Indian, Sri Lankan, Pakistani candidates." There is a leading waste management firm looking for top talent, but sadly that job ,too, is for "an Arab National", there is another opening for a secretary however! You just better make sure to go take some glamour shots, because these candidates are going to be evaluated by the color picture they must submit with the application.
The only thing more disturbing that the job opportunities section (called Appointments), is the housing section (Properties). No Fair Housing Acts here! By far the most shocking ads are for the "Labour Camps". These are the huge concrete jungles that developers here buy up, and house all their labourers in. "10 people per room" one boasts, and "suitable amenities" says another. I don't know if I would call 1 bathroom for 50 people "suitable". The treatment and amenities provided to all the workers, that are the engine behind Dubai's insane growth, is constantly called into question here. The government is "working on it."

Landlords here can get pretty picky too. Indian bachelors-only need apply for the villa on the otherside of town. A great penthouse with ""gulf views" will only allow Indian executives to live there. Other one bedrooms are available for "working ladies" or a "non-drinking Filipino lady" or even a "European lady aged 50+". Some times just being Indian isn't enough, "
Mangalorean's only" should apply for the two bedroom down the road and other one bedroom apartment is available but only for "Keralite bachelors". (This is a kin to saying only single men from Texas can rent my house). There are plenty more requests Persian and Pakistani couples, as well.

This really takes the 'non-smoking', or the 'no-pet', requests to a whole new level! I'm waiting to open up the paper to find height and weight restrictions tomorrow (hey whey not toss in hair and eye color too!)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Matt's New Hospital!

Matt's hospital, just blessed by Sheikh Mohammed, launched today!
Check it out here!Yesterday there was a big press conference offically announcing the plans for the University Hospital and attached Harvard Medical School in Dubai Healthcare City (or UH and DHCC for those in the know...). But don't be fooled - in Dubai parlance, a "launch" just means they'll be opening at some point (in this case, doors open at the beginning of 2011, and even though we're 9 hours ahead, that's still a long, long time!)
The team there got really BIG news, which is that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, affectionally refered to as "Sheikh Mo" is going to lend his moniker to the project. Although the formal name will be much longer, since anyone worth knowing here has about six of them. It is expected to be dubbed Sheik Mo Medical Center. Dubai One, the English speaking news channel here, covered the press conference on the news last night. (Check it out here, and be sure to select 21 January 2008 for the archive date.) Everyone is really excited!

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Tale of Two Toothpastes

The evening started off with a picturesque dinner slopeside at Ski Dubai, which is of course located in a shopping mall (The Mall of the Emriates) inside a country who's tempaturate only gets into the 60s in the dead of winter. Set that aside for a minute, and wonder at the splender of the Dubai pharmacies. Prescriptions? None required, but that's no big shocker. Helpful staff, rock bottom prices? Check. But the truly life changing revelation: we no longer live in a one-toothpaste world. Gone are the days where you have to get your morning caffeine from coffee, soap, or mints. No more are the nights where you have to lather your teeth one at a time with aloe, lavender, and chamomile. Now, there are toothpastes that handle these monotonous chores for you! Better living through chemistry - today, it is truly tomorrow in Dubai. Just check the clock on your right.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Apartment Shopping

Again, 4:45am and we can't sleep! However, we are really to blame because we really haven't done our share to fight the good fight with our jet lag. On Saturday, I slept from 9:00am - 7:00pm, not very condusive to adjusting!

Yesterday, Matt and I spent the entire day shopping for apartments with our friends Lauren and Tom Arnold. The Arnold's have just been amazing in their hospitality and are just overwhelming us with their help and support during the transition. They rented a car and with the help of a global concierge we were able to visit with a few agents who showed us a handful of properties.

A few things to note about the Dubai property market:
1. There is no central database for brokers to search for available properties, ie. MLS, instead each individual agent has their own relationship with a variety of developers and landlords. You literally have to call about 10 of them to see 10 units in the same building.
2. In order to rent in Dubai, you have to pay 100% of the rent, up front, in cash. That's right, the whole year's worth. It's considered a big perk to live in a place that is "willing" to accept just 50% at the start.
3. You have to have a visa to rent. Doesn't sound too bad, but follow my logic here. Matt is the one with the visa. He doesn't have it yet because you need to submit your passport to get the visa, and he had to use it to fly here, of course. It takes 30-45 days to get a visa. However, we need to be out of our hotel in 25 days and in an apartment by that time. Hmmmm. This will be interesting.
4. Also, if you want to buy you are not able to obtain a mortgage if you are over 55 years old. Doesn't affect us directly, but still surprising.

We looked at places in the Burj Dubai - that is the area right next to the tallest building in the world (or supposed to be when it is finished, but it is a secret how many floors it will be), the Palm, and Old Town. Matt and I really like the location and the view from the Burj apartments, and hopefully going to see a few more today!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Jet Lag? What's That?

Okay, so we lied. We can't seem to drag ourselves out of the hotel before 5pm, or manage to get to sleep before 9am. The good news is that leaves Dubai's nightlife square in our prime hours - and we've certainly been taking advantage! After customs and UPS were kind enough to deliver all of our boxes (can you believe it?) to the hotel, we decided to venture out on the town.

Last night, we went to a nice wine bar in the Fairmont hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road, and began to meet our new crowd. Tom introduced us to some of the heaviest drinkers we've ever met - and the night went on from there. We left the lounge and went to a club blasting house music not too far from our own hotel. If you take a look at the gallery, you can see that we redecorated the club a bit. Unfortunately, I lost my leather jacket in the process - bittersweet, but I guess that means another trip to Florence in our future!

After sleeping everything off today (we didn't set foot outside the room until it was night again), we went out for what we thought was going to be a nice, calm evening. No chance there - what started as a boat right in a man-made canal turned into a 9-bar "golf" bar crawl. We cut out after Left Bank (the third hole, and yes, the same Left Bank from DC), headed home, and tried to get our bodies back on a normal sleep cycle. Problem here, I'm here blogging at 6am, so yeah, didn't work all that well :)

Today we're off to look for a more permanent home - we're going to take a peek at the residence apartments next to the Burj Dubai (tallest building the world, under construction), the Palm out in the Gulf, or the Marina (way out west - think a couple of counties away). We'll keep you posted!

Our New Home for 30 Days

Matt and I arrived safely at the Movenpick hotel, a Swedish hotel in the heart of Bur Dubai, just few minutes from the Healthcare city. We are slated to be here for 30 days as we look for our own apartment and get settled in. Most of yesterday was spent sleeping off the jet lag and getting the Internet to work. Today we are venturing out to get me an international cell phone and to begin to get acclimated to the city!

My First Taste of Dubai

My first impression of Dubai, taken from the airport, was that I couldn't believe how accommodating and easy everything seems. In fact, we probably would have had more trouble navigating the Atlanta airport. All our bags arrived - which I couldn't believe! - all 8 bags that we checked made it and we sailed through baggage claim and customs. Matt was briefly questioned, as usual, regarding some of the electronics in his "tech" bag. He and I can only imagine what this thing looks like on an X ray machine! Wires, batteries, hard drives, chips, cards, adapters, etc.

My first international experience came in the ladies room at the airport. I walked in to find a lady in traditional brightly colored African grab, a woman in a Sari, two Emirati women dressed in head to toe black, and me in my gray track suit. Standing in line waiting for a car service to the hotel we heard Arabic, Swedish, Russian, English - with a colorful array of accents, Hindu, German, Japanese, and Korean, just as a small sampling. I truly couldn't believe the mix of people!

Downpour of a Welcome

As luck would have it, our arrival in Dubai defied all the odds. The emirate receives about 5 days of rain a year and even then it is a meager amount. In fact in they recently suffered a 5 year drought - literally no rain, at all. We landed amidst a downpour! The city is obviously not built with any drainage in mind, and it had been raining non-stop for 24 hours - apparently they had received 14 cm (oh yeah, I'm trying to conjure up my 5th grade training on the metric system again...) and the entire city was flooded. Water stood 2 and 3 feet (or should I say1 meter) deep on all the roads. Cars were stuck, construction sites filled the streets with mud, and traffic stood in nearly 2 hours in some places. When we arrived word had just come that they had cancelled school for tomorrow! Can you imagine? Dubai's version of the snow day is a rain day.

Enroute to Dubai

The flight over to Dubai was great! I've never been so comfortable in an airplane! Matt's company booked me a coach seat and Matt used his points to upgrade me to business class right next to him. The service was incredible, the food great, and the chairs are each in their own pods which fully recline. We both slept for 8 uninterrupted hours! I couldn't believe that I was fully sprawled out sleeping on my stomach on this trans-Atlantic flight. It almost seemed a shame to sleep, because there were so many gadgets to keep us busy! The chairs are massage chairs, and each is equipped with a flat touch screen TV with hundreds of current movies, games, and TV. We also arrived to JFK early so we were able to take full advantage of the business lounge. Snacking on filet minion, caprese salad, gnocchi, and champagne wasn't a bad way to leave the country!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Finally leaving!

It seemed that we weren't ever going to hop on that plane! Matt and I were originally slated to hop on a plane January 3rd. Over Christmas break that was pushed back to January 7th, as the Harvard Medical International folks wanted to have him in Boston for few days of meetings with the executive team. The 7th finally became the 14th, Matt and the executive team were delayed one last time for a three day site visit at UPMC before we were finally ready to leave.

I for one was really thankful for the time, it allowed me to be at home with my family for an entire week, which I didn't expect. While I spent most of my time nursing a terrible sinus infection (figures! my Dad said that people always get sick, ironically, when they finally have time to rest, unfortunately I was no exception...) I did get a chance to visit Lisa at Temple for the weekend. She graduates in May, so I was really glad that Ryan, Matt and I were able to go visit and see her house - it was our only opportunity! I spent the other half of my time trying to scope out a site for our wedding! A very, very challenging job, when you have over 200 people on the guest list - my family alone puts us at 120 - with a Mom who is one of 8 and a Dad who is one of 5 siblings, plus first cousins, the list is big! One of the planners I was working with told me the first thing that I have to decide is if I am a "ballroom girl" or a "unique girl". The trouble is I'd like to think I am both, and I certainly don't think a ballroom as opposed to a manor home, or historic site, makes me not unique. Continuing this search from the Internet in Dubai is particularly daunting especially when ever site we looked at is practically already booked for the fall of 2009!