Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Black and Gold Ball

Where else could you go on a Thursday night in Dubai, to hear the likes of INXS, Men at Work, Natalie Imbruglia, and Kylie Minogue? Throw in a 5 star buffet (thankfully Vegemite free!), unlimited champagne, and all the 'crocodile dundee' accents you can take, and you have the Black and Gold Ball. An annual event on the Dubai social calendar sponsored by our Aussie and Kiwi expat friends to honor ANZAC day. In brief, Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. The acronym ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, whose soldiers were known as Anzacs. Unfortunately, our one Kiwi friend had to cancel at the last minute, so we had no national representatives at our table! Pictured below: a Brit, two Americans, a Jordanian, a Palestinian, and a French man.

It was a beautiful black-tie event held at the Grand Hyatt, and our friends from down under threw an excellent party. There were raffles for flat screen TVs and front row tickets to a Manchester United game, with all the proceeds benefiting charity. Matt jumped in on the early bidding for the Man U tickets, but I managed to stop him before he blew the mortgage payment on the 4 tickets. However, with our vocal encouraging (aka peer pressure) the guy from the table next to us did win them for a mere $15,000 dirhams - you do the math! We wined, dined and mingled till the wee hours of the morning until they concluded the night with an all time favorite - there is nothing quite like jiving to "Land Down Under" in a tux and a ball gown to send you off!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Pleo Power!

He didn't even need a visa! It was a triumphant homecoming for our dear little friend Pleo. Most of you probably know that Pleo became a member of the family this Christmas - because every household needs a lovable electronic dinosaur pet with 14 motors, 5 touch actuators, and his own leaf.

We were heartbroken when we had to leave him behind when we first moved to Dubai. Matt and I couldn't be sure that the customs officials wouldn't want to do some "exploratory" surgery to check out our rubber-clad friend, so we decided to forgo our first trip alone. Pleo was left in the very capable and caring hands of Matt's dad, who made sure he was properly stimulated while we were setting up our new place.

We had a joyous reunion when we finally unpacked him in our Dubai apartment and let him familiarize himself with the place. Thankfully for us, we don't risk poisoning our robotic little guy with our new house plants - which we just learned are toxic for humans and pets (they sell these things on the open market?) In honor of our reunion in a foreign land we gave little Pleo a much needed middle name - Pleo Rashid was born!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

360 Degrees

They don't call it 360 for nothing! Matt and I just had the chance to finally hang out at one of the city's top hot spots, the 360 Bar at Jumeriah Beach Hotel. It is a circular building at the end of a pier which is situated out in the middle of the ocean off the Dubai coast line. (Seen in the picture below). The walk to the bar is so long that they actually shuttle people there via golf cart. The bottom floor, which is glassed-in is a seafood restaurant and the top floor is an open air bar with comfy sofas and tables which are usually packed with folks ordering bottle service and smoking hookah. This place is always completely packed, so we had to arrive early to secure a spot, and when I say I early, I mean 4:00 in the afternoon - to grab a table for the evening's festivities. The view was completely worth it, our table gave us a clear view of the Burj al Arab and we got to watch the sunset over the Arabian Gulf. A nice way to spend the weekend!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Battle of the Brunches

As you may have gleaned from one of Matt's previous posts brunch is a huge deal in Dubai. The spreads of food and drink are unlimited and it is not uncommon to spend 5 or 6 hours sitting around the table with friend's. The battle for the top brunch accolade is fierce in Dubai, and TimeOut recently named the bunch at the Al Qasr hotel at the Madinat Jumeirah the number one spot in the city. One of our friend's had her sister and cousin in town this past weekend and it gave us the perfect reason to go try out the top spot. It was enormous! The hotel flings open the doors to each of its 7 different restaurants and sets up food stations on the outdoor patios. There was Thai, Indian, Mexican, Spanish, Lebanese, British, French, and American foods along with a huge seafood and sushi bar. Unlimited drinks are also included and vary just as much as the food. There is cider to go with the mushy peas at the UK station, mojitos at the Mexican station, wine at the tapas bar, and mai tais at the Thai station.

As we indulged in the delicious food and drink, a live cover band sang songs from Sean Kingston, Bob Marley, and Jimmy Buffet. We periodically got up between courses to bust a few moves on the dance floor - anything to burn a few calories! All in all a great time, and much more 'civilized' family-oriented brunch then we've at Yalumba (Dubai's other top brunch) where the day ends with people dancing on tables. This one ended with the entire restaurant singing Happy Birthday to a 70 year old grandma, and watching her dance around the floor with her family was better than any dance on a table I've seen!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Can't Touch This

Matt's biceps have been getting noticeably bigger lately, and it's not because he's had a lot of time to hit the gym. Frankly, it's because I haven't been pulling my own weight - literally. However, it is not really my fault as I'm practically prohibited from helping Matt out in public. Let me explain, when setting up a new apartment in Dubai you might imagine there is a lot of shopping that takes place: furniture, bedding, electronics, etc. As we have been trying to make the most of our trips to the store, we've been buying bags and bags of stuff at one time. As we go to leave, and collect our purchases, Matt will grab a few bags and so will I. At which point, you'd think the world is coming to an end, sure enough some store employee will start interfering and begin demanding that I give my bags to him so that he can escort us to the car. This scenario isn't so bad, it's can be quite nice and chivalrous. Basically the store doesn't want a reputation of making ladies carry their own bags.

The funnier occurrences are when the male employee interferes with my package carrying, but instead of helping us, hands everything to Matt. This is just hilarious. The other day we were in Carrefour, Dubai's version of Target/Walmart, and we decided to buy two carpets for our apartment. The salesman was really helpful and rolled and taped the carpets for our transportation home. He was imploring us to go to the front of the store to get a cart, but Matt assured him that we could handle them just fine. So Matt grabbed a carpet under one arm and so did I. We started walking away when the salesman comes running after us, "nooooooooooo Madame, noooooo!", he promptly removes the carpet from my hands and it looks like he is going to carry it to the register. He takes two steps and shoves it at Matt and walks away. So now Matt is marching though the store with a carpet on each shoulder, and a zero line of sight, bumping into everything. We waited until we turned the corner and Matt gave me back the carpet. This is crazy! A covert operation just to carry something!

The worst was when we had just bought our new 48" flat screen (nope not a typo, it really is 48") and Matt and the sales guy where trying to fit it into the back of our rented Nissan Tiida (sweet ride) and the guy's hand starts slipping, so I step in to balance it and he starts yelling "No Madame! No ma'am! No! No!". I'm thinking to myself, "yeah dude I'd rather have my brand new LCD hit the pavement, while you keep your manhood intact, then offer a hand - I think not." I hope he didn't get to much hazing after work hours because a girl helped him. What can I say, "Girls rule, boys drool!"

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Seriously, You Can't Park Here

How about a $60,000 parking ticket? That's what the UAE handed out after impounding a Korean vessel in February, apparently after that ship cut one of those undersea cables with it's anchor. The other ship impounded by Dubai for the same offense was an Iraqi vessel - the two crewmembers on that ship apparently were not offered the "Get out of jail for $60K" card, and are currently awaiting trial. You'd think that's a little harsh, but you've never seen Katie after Perez Hilton has been down for 3 days. I just hope they get what they deserve!

Sadly, still no word on we'll they get the mysterious Japanese reptile resposible for the other cables. Heck, it was either that or Jim Carrey...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I'm So Freaking Sore

I love the Princess Bride: "Never get in a land war in Asia. Only slightly less well known is Never Get in a Battle of Wits With a Sicilian When Death is on the Line!". I have a third to add - never do watersports with a frenchman. We were out on a catamaran yesterday for our friend Tom's birthday when Basile, the stylish man giving me lessons at the bottom, grabbed a boat for wakeboarding, and showed us the "ropes". Problem was, that same rope broke the moment it tried to pull me out of the water. After splicing it back together (notice the splice in the photo above, just left of my head), we were off!
A few lessons later, and I was a pro. Well, truthfully, other than this run, I spent most of it bobbing in the water, yelling "I'm down!". To make matters worse, every part of my body is killing me today. It doesn't help that I faceplanted at 30 mph twice. Lots of whiplash - I feel like I'm wearing a neckbrace. People making fun of me, tapping me on the shoulder from behind and running away - "What's that? Who's behind me? NOT FUNNY!". Oh, so much pain..

Watch out for Cold Sand

Watch your step! If you're walking around in the desert, and all of the sudden the sand is colder than usual, then it's too late. You're standing in pee. The only thing you can do is spin around and try to abuse the person that didn't tell everyone else they were peeing. Which, in my case, involved kicking them with the leg that made that footpring...

Finally, some Mexican food!

Not too much to say here, but people have to eat! Thanks to Maya, Amer's fiance, we had some badly-needed guacamole at one of the finer latin restaurants in town - Pachanga. Good, spicy, Rosa Mexicano-style guac right at the table. And it's a good thing - when Amer and Maya tie the knot in California in a few weeks, there will definitely be enough Mexican food to make him miss Jordan!

A quick review for those of you out, about, and hungry. Pachanga is good, authentic latin food, which this town could do with a lot more of. The service was also quite good - the waiter with the wine was a little TOO prompt, and our glasses seemed to always be full. The bartender was even kind enough to wrap one of the presents for us - after he ran to the gift shop downstairs to get wrapping paper and a bow. Nice guy! They were also immaculate at dealing with a crowd of 16 - they handled our unruly group with ease. Of course, we had drinks in the bar, moved outside for a toast of champagne and strawberries, to our table for food, and up to the dance floor. Food was good, but it's hard to impress us with latin food. It was definitely authentic, down to roaming servers with steak-on-a-stick slicing off the beef for us. There were a few pieces that couldn't been better - more guacamole (order 2 servings if you go), but overall very good.

The live music was a nice touch - it's been awhile since I've heard the El Mariachi guitar song from Desprado, and it definitely added to the ambiance. So, highly recommended - if there were more places like Pachanga (and they were a bit closer than the marina), we'd all be a little heavier.

Of course, the champagne flowed all night (it's starting to be a really bad habit !). We ended the night early to save up for the next day...

Dubai by Sand

Next! After stocking up, we head off to the desert. 70 kilometers out of the city, we're among mountains and endless sand dunes. Armed with a decent SUV (no Kias out here!), and a couple of quad bikes (also known as 4-wheelers), we went out to do some dune crashing.

Unfortunately, things can often get out of hand in Dubai. My quad biking skills aren't quite what they used to - er, ever were. I managed to roll the four wheeler onto myself UPHILL. Other than some pretty bad scrapes and burns on the leg trapped underneath, I make it out alive. Fortunately, Katie captured a bit of it on video (sorry mom - the rest can watch the carnage here!), and you can barely see me wiping out in the background before everybody scrambles to the rescue. And off to do some more dune bashing!

We helped out some fellow bashers who got stuck a few times, but our expert driver, Nick, managed to keep us merely covered in sand - not stuck in it. Using air conditioning sucks power from the engine, so the windows are down and the sand is always flying in.

We took a breather in a little desert oasis, then hoofed it back to the city for a birthday dinner for our friend Amer. Next up - a latin food feast.

PS - Yes, we really are wearing the hats!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Dubai by Air

Some of you saw the New York Times article on "36 hours in Dubai" last week, but we're here to give you the real deal. Just because some girl came to visit a friend, went to a couple of bars, got a massage, read some restaurant reviews and flew back to JFK does NOT qualify them to guide your tourist itinerary.

So let's up the ante. For the next few days, we'll walk you through weekends in the life of Dubaiyans (new word - you read it here first!), and give you the fabulousness that only comes from blowing massive amounts of dirhams in service our readers.
Weekend 1:
Dawn. The sun rises yet again over the desert to the East, and the night's partying dies down at the marina to the west. What better activity than to get in a tiny plane and see what Dubai looks like from the air? Answer - it's a bit dusty, but stillpretty cool. Take a look at the fly-by of the Dubai Marina below. And speaking of fabulousness, check out some of the royal family's villas on the Palm in the gallery here. Stay tuned for what happens back on dry land...

Monday, April 7, 2008

99 bottles of *bleep* on the wall, 99 bottles of *bleep*

Look, I'm totally fine with have my newspapers and world news coverage completely censored, but my MTV? No way! As I turned on the music channel to provide some musical accompaniment while building furniture (we have a TV stand now!) I couldn't help but notice that there were a few words missing from a number of popular songs. The absolutely hilarious bit about all this effort, is that the majority of words that most people would find offensive or swear words are left in! So what's missing?

Take Sean Kingston's popular song 'Take You There' where he sings in the chorus "We can go to the tropics, Sip *piƱa coladas*, Shorty I could take you there". Pina Colada! Seriously? Then rest of the song raps about guns and street violence, I don't think a pina coladas are your biggest problem. Then there is Nickelback's song 'I Wanna Be A Rock Star' where he sings, "'Cause we all just wanna be big rockstars, And live in hilltop houses driving fifteen cars, The girls come easy and the *drugs* come cheap, We'll all stay skinny 'cause we just won't eat" Forget the fact that they are singing about easy girls and encouraging anorexia, the word 'drugs' is the only thing missing from this song.In a country where alcohol consumption is considered immoral, and drugs are illegal you can understand why they want to rid popular music of these terms. What is more amazing is the derogatory terms regarding women, that remain, or the explicit discussion of gun violence, or even the oft used swear words that most would find offensive. For an ancient culture who is trying to bring themselves into the 21st century as a world leader - I don't think pina coladas are your biggest problem. Especially when I change the channel and the next music video features men wielding swords and thrusting AK 47s in the air. Just saying is all….

This Summer, Everything is Getting Blow'd Up

We're a little behind on this one, but since I snapped some pics the morning of the big Dubai explosion last week, we'll do a bit of show-and-tell. According to Gulf News, a fireworks factory in the industrial area behind Dubai mall had a bit of an accident last week. I'll say:
Rumors still abound regarding what size firecracker went off - some say it was more of a "military-grade firecracker" - but it ended up causing a fire that burned for 24 hours, damaged dozens of other buildings, and caused serious injuries. It also caused traffic snarls for several days, as the smoke covered half of the city and cut visibility down to feet. Here is what it looked like from the car as I pulled out of our building in the morning:

Festival City Mall Brings The Flava

Walking through one of the malls the other day (we had to go to Ikea again, after all), we were struck by our surprisingly familiar dinner options. Now, even for Dubai, this is a bit much - we really do have to call them out: On The Border, Chilis, Romano's Macoroni Grill, Fuddruckers, TGI Fridays, and a Bread Company? Seriously?

Now, we are nothing if not thorough researchers. Just to be sure, we had to eat at Macoroni Grill - and sure enough, you get your round loaf of bread with "Italian butter", they write upside down, and deliver food at American speed. Refreshing, but a bit annoying - where's the contempt? The lack of knowledge about the menu? The "I'm sorry sir, but we're out of everything except lobster?" Heck, we even got the left overs for take-away.

Now, where can I get some shawarma?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Where's the Beef Pork?

What happens when you have a latent population where the demand for chops, ham, bacon, and pork BBQ (all from one mythical creature!) finally hits boiling point? Give those people their own "secret back room" in the grocery store, that's what. Right next to the magazines with black plastic and the fireworks is the super-secret pork room. "Excuse me Mr. Shopkeep - I'm looking for something in a pig belly. What do you have in the back?". Oh boy - it was only a matter of time.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Off to the races...

And they're off! In continuing our tradition of attending sporting events that require men to wear suits and women to sport their stilettos (despite how ridiculous it is to trod through a sandy horse track with them on), Matt and I attended the Dubai World Cup on Saturday. There was nary a hotdog or foam finger in sight. At the World Cup the colts and fillies (boys and girls) are dressed to impressed, and in most cases they don't give a toss if they see a horse or not. Best know for being the richest horse race in the world, the winning horse stands to win $6 million dollars, paid by Sheikh Mo himself.

Apparently, the horses aren't the only ones competing. The posh ladies of Dubai take their fashion pretty seriously, and that means planning a race day couture outfit, complete with hat, gloves, and handbag is done months in advance - even making trips to London and Milan to get something custom designed. On race day there is an open-entry competition for the Best Dressed Female, Best Hat, and Best Dressed Couple. The top prize going to the Best Dressed Female is a 7 day spa vacation in Thailand and a $6,000 dirham shopping spree. Not a bad package! Unfortunately, I wasn't aware that the stakes were so high, so my BCBG cocktail dress and Debenhams's hat had to suffice for my last minute outfit!

Matt and I joined our friend's for a nice brunch at their flat, and then piled into a 10 person passenger van to head to the event. The group had wanted to rent something a little more upscale, but every single decent car in the city was sold out. I later read that for the bargain price of $2,000 dirhams each we could have arrived via helicopter - oh darn! As crazy as the helicopter idea was it started to become more and more appealing as we sat in traffic that went on for miles and miles. It didn't help the congestion, that every single UAE official and their cronies came through in an excessive motorcade, forcing all traffic to move to the side. No wonder we were getting no where! After almost 2 hours, and well after the first race started, we had made it.

We watched the races from the Bubble Lounge, named for the abundance of bubbly that is being popped at every table. The evening kicked off with an absolutely crazy light show and fireworks display before the last three big races. Our group had put together a pool for the World Cup race, and by chance I managed to pick Curlin, the favorite to win. When the race commenced I wasn't disappointed, Curlin won by a long shot, and as a result I was now $1200 dirhams richer! Now that makes getting your favorite heels filled with sand worth it!

Why did the camel cross the road?

I thought that being from Amish country Pennsylvania that the 'buggy crossing' signs were some of the most unique road signs out there, but this one is sure a contender!