Monday, February 23, 2009

For Emiratis, There is No Downsizing

An interesting development has occured in Dubai - local Emirati nationals, or citizens of Dubai and the UAE (by birth or registration when the UAE was formed in the early 70s) can no longer be laid off if a company needs to downsize. It's an interesting commentary on civics: the growth of a nation, and what it takes to transform a population into an efficient and modern workforce as quickly as possible. Here are a couple of interesting articles and tidbits:

Emiratis can be sacked only if they violate law
Emiratis consider legal action over job loss

Just a few tidbits from those articles:
  • There are approximately 150,000 Emirati nationals in Dubai
  • Of those, 14,861 have registered employment (are working)
  • None of those 14,861 can be fired when a company downsizes
  • They can only be fired in the case of gross negligence, an action that seriously hurts the operations or financial position of their company, or violation of the law
  • All cases will require investigation by the government prior to any Emirati losing their job
  • Their job cannot be performed by an expatriate (any non-National employee) if they are let go

For all non-Nationals, you're only allowed in Dubai if you have a work visa. If you're laid off, you have to leave the country (though the amount of time you get varies from 30 days to a generous 5 months). Curiously, the law doesn't specify what happens when a company that employs Emiratis has to close up shop. In that case, you have to lay off everyone, but as the company owner, your Visa would expire as well, so you have to head to the airport!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The American Woman's Association Gala

We are sure getting great use out of Matt's new tuxedo!Since we've been in Dubai, Matt and I have had ample opportunity to donate and support good causes. Just a month ago we participated in a silent auction for the Palestinian Children's Fund, and other causes have included fundraising for local schools in Dubai and lots of donations towards medical research. Last evening we had a chance to support one of my favorite causes - American Women! - for some reason it is just an issue that hits close to home :) Wooooohoooo, American Women! All kidding aside we were thrilled to be invited by our good friend, Lucy Chow and her husband (pictured below), to the American Woman's Association annual gala event which raises funds for the AWA scholarship program, who give scholarships to American students studying abroad. It was a black tie function which of course mandates a long dress, but I just had to include a picture of my footwear here since these poor babies didn't get much 'air time', but any girl knows: it's all about the shoes!

The AWA put on a really nice event at the Grand Hyatt, complete with live music throughout dinner from a local high school band (ah, that brought back memories). We were even seated next to a couple at dinner who are from Great Falls, VA and who just had a daughter graduate from UVA. As you might guess the conversation topics with Matt were endless.
The only challenge during these fund raising events is trying to keep Matt's competitive nature at bay. There was also a silent auction at this event and Matt skimmed the prizes when we came in. I should have known that something was up when he disappeared from the table at the end of night. The next time I found him he was carrying a 3 1/2 ft. tall vase. Of course. But I really couldn't get too mad, because as soon as we got home he placed on a built-in shelf in our living room that I haven't been able to successfully fill for one year. It looks like his instincts were spot on - this time. A fiance with an eye for interior design and helping out a great cause? That is really a combination to look for.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Excuse Me, Don't You Know Who I Am?

Working at a magazine definitely has its perks! During work on Wednesday I heard about the Etoile Fashion Show that was taking place that evening in Dubai. Never one to miss a fashion show opportunity, I knew I had to get tickets! Unfortunately our editorial team hadn't received any tickets so I decided I had to sharpen my Dubai negotiating skills and find a way into the show.

The show was the finale event for the Dubai Shopping Festival which is when all stores in Dubai heavily discount all of their merchandise for the month. I decided just to get on the DSF website and dial the "Contact Us" number. I explained how a very prominent staff member of the Emirates Woman magazine team (oh yeah that’s me!) was in desperate need of tickets.

After several phone calls I was given the personal mobile phone number of the event planner who I was instructed to call once I was outside the ballroom. Of course, things are never that easy and when we arrived the event planner was no where to be found and wasn’t picking up their phone. So I resorted to a full verbal assault on the security guard, with my friend Fiona, hoping to confuse him with too much information. I just remember repeating the words “magazine” “important” “press” “reserved” “event planner” “did I mention I am from Emirates Woman magazine!!!” It turns out that my scattered word approach worked because he relented and two hours later, my friend Fiona and I were sitting next to the runway looking at the new Christian Dior collection! The show was amazing but I must admit the best part is always the free goody bags! Free Christian Dior perfume anyone?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Love is in the Air (or is that just sand?)

It was a little bit of both this Valentine's Day. The weather had stirred up quite a bit of sand as we winded our way through the dessert to the Hatta Fort Hotel near the Oman border. Matt and I had decided to take a day outside of the city for Valentine's Day and we saw that this hotel, which is something of an institution in Dubai, was running a whole love-themed special. The drive is about 90 minutes from Dubai and it slowly weaves through the dessert which becomes more mountainous near Oman. By the time that you get there the whole, deserted desert resort things starts to sink in. The best way I can describe the place is like that resort in Dirty Dancing. You know the one where there are all sorts of things to do like archery, shooting, tennis, dance lessons, arts and crafts, climbing walls, you name it and they have it. Upon arrival we were given a delicious glass of Guava juice and quickly escorted to the community barbecue for lunch. We were seated next to a couple in full Western attire all the way down to their bandannas, belt buckles, boots and spurs. Had we missed the dress code memo? After our lunch we were taken to our room, which had a great view of the mountains and a very wilderness lodge type feel. After that the door bell just kept on ringing - flowers, then chocolates, then a spa package, then candles. Man, these guys were on romance overload! By the time dinner rolled around, we couldn't wait to see what the next surprise was! And dinner did not disappoint. It was as if the staff had no idea why these Westerners celebrate this crazy holiday, but they were going to do their best to make it great. The restaurant was decorated just like your 6th grade dance would have been: pink and red heart balloons everywhere, Mylar hearts on the wall, and even red water in the vases. As each successive course came, there was bound to be an edible heart on the plate somewhere, and the lounge singer continued to croon '80s love songs as we finished our meal. I’ll admit it was a little bit of a time warp, but the staff’s enthusiasm made up for any misgivings. They were all too happy to help us celebrate Valentine’s Day to its sickeningly sweet conclusion. As we headed back to our room completely overdosing on sappy romance, I headed to take a quick shower, at which point Matt handed me a towel and said “I saved this one for you so you could dry your hair”. Aww, now any lady knows that is real love.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bass Quake!

As many of your might know, I'm not a number one fan of techno, house, electronica, trance, etc. (Apparently there is even something called drum and bass?) So, when we found out that Fat Boy Slim was coming to town I wasn't sure if I was really keen on getting tickets, however Matt reminded me that Mr. Slim plays a lot of pop music and he played me a little "Praise You" and "Weapon of Choice" to sway my decision. And really, how many times do you get to just swing by a Fat Boy Slim concert? Ok, so I was going to go check it out. The venue was outdoors on the shores of the Arabian Gulf and we had some really great weather (just before a sand storm hit). We were able to get pretty close to the stage to enjoy the show. Fat Boy Slim came out right on time at 9:00pm and every one's first reaction was that he is older than any of us thought! We had never really seen him before in his music videos so we didn't know that he is almost 50. The other odd thing is that this was unlike any other ‘concert’ I’ve ever seen. The performance was just this guy, his turntables, and some bizarre art house-esque images on a big screen.
But the guy was rocking it, dancing around on stage, throwing bananas at the crowd, and pulling all sorts of antics. You can check out a video of him saying "hello" to the crowd below. The music was pretty good (remember my bias) but the only thing that I can really remember was the bass - the bone shaking, mind numbing, feel in your chest kind of bass. After adapting to jumping up and down with the crowd, which I still challenge as a valid form of dance, I had two thoughts. 1) I was thirsty and 2) gosh, I wish I had a visor to block my eyes from all these crazy lasers! And that, Matt tells me, means I'm just now discovering what a generation of ravers figured out along time ago. I'm glad to know that even though I am late I can still show up to the party!

Would You Like to Drive Mein Porsche?

Many of you might remember from our last post about the Nutella party, that I was engaged in a competitive silent auction and I had my eye on just one prize. After a triumphant win, I finally got to enjoy my spoils on Wednesday at The Porsche World Tour "day at the track". It consisted of four different driving sessions and a healthy dose of lame German humor. A slew of drivers and engineers are flown around the world by Porsche, "spreading the Porsche virus" everywhere they go. Other notable mentions: "You should buy a Porsche for your wife, your girlfriend, or perhaps both", "You call that braking? That was more like a coffee break", and "That was your one warning. If you fail to control the car again, you're done driving for the day". (Maybe I should've kept the 911 on the track).

We did four courses, most of which were a bit of a sales pitch, but all fun: Slalom with a Cayman and Boxter, Lap Handling with 911's, Off-road with Cayenne's, and "Braking", which really meant flooring it and then braking, in 911 Turbos. Most of the time we had an instructor with us, but for the track laps, I had a very, very scared teenage Porsche owner from Umm Al Quainn named Hassan. His video commentary is still uploading to YouTube - stay tuned!
Again, a great way to spend a day driving around the track, but I can't possibly emphasize how German it was. EVERYTHING was about the features. Our instructor spent 15 minutes explaining and demonstrating the newest 911 "supreme feature package sets", which sounded a bit like "super happy fun cars". Ya. Names like "Launch Control", "Porsche Doppelkupplung", and "Brakes". All equally useless and expensive.
And what did we learn from a day with high performance German automobiles? Two things, actually. One, you never, EVER go into a turn too fast in a Porsche and then hit the gas - unless you're driving the Cayenne SUV and are having fun skidding a family car around the track. Second, German engineers are awesome - but I wonder how long those things last in the sand.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bruised, Beaten, and Sandblasted to a Pulp

Tomorrow marks that huge 30th birthday For a For Friend of ours (he used to play professional Football, but he'll never admit that without a pint). However, since Mondays don't lend themselves to all-day events(even in Dubai with everyone laid off!) we had a weekend extravaganza of pain. Friday was a LOOONG day. Morning: Quad-biking in the Desert, and the birthday boy busts his leg flipping the ATV, and then receives a complimentary covering of sand:

Mid-day: Sand boarding on some big dunes. The way down was pretty safe and slow - it's climbing back up the giant sand down that is just PAINFUL.Afternoon: Paintball at the Sharjah shooting club. It would've all been fun and games until the other team ganged up on me after I was out and shot me a couple of dozen times at point blank range. I couldn't even shoot back - my gun was jammed. I have so many ball-shaped bruises that it looks like I was attacked by a giant octopus.
Evening: Fine food, friends, and there's no word for drinks that starts with F. But it was fun and pain-free!
PS: One of our Friends had enough Foresight to Fit himself for the Full Friday Festivities:

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Reflets by Pierre Gagnaire at Intercontinental Dubai

We went to the Intercontinental hotel last night with expectations of a casual evening with good, lite food.

Wrong. Very, very wrong.

We have eaten at Dubai staples like Verre and Rhodes' Mezzanine, and U.S. institutions Charlie Trotters, Inn at Little Washington, and Jean Georges. And we spent most of the dozen or so courses of food trying to figure out how on Earth this tiny restaurant just happened to be better than almost anything else out there.

For starters (pardon the pun!), we never had a chance. The head chef/part owner in the restaurant is Pierre Gagnaire, who has restaurants Tokyo, Hong Kong, and of course, Paris. Oh yeah, and three Michelin stars next to his name as well. Thanks to our friends at club concierge, he personally cooked us dinner with his Chef de Cuisine, Olivier. And oh yeah again - courtesy of the economic downturn, they provided us with a free glass of champagne while we went on a private tour of the busiest kitchen I'd ever seen with Chef Gagniere (they were cleaning up when I took this pic).

So, the food! It's no wonder the kitchen was busy - we had not one amuse bouche, but ELEVEN. Each of them with a crazy amount of prep and ingredients - scotch and bourbon jelly candy in toasted breadcrumbs, ground mustard biscuits with mustard hummus, fois gras cream lollipops - the list goes on.
(picture stolen from The Fat Expat, who has his own great review of Reflets here)

Katie also threw a kink in the gears when she substituted two things on her tasting menu (she wanted the beef!). That meant that everything had to be changed to match, only there weren't any matching starters. So Chef Gagnaire made up her dishes himself - he thought we didn't see him, but he came out of the kitchen and lurked around the corner from our table watching her whenever she was served. He made her a lobster plate with a broth and claws that tasting like I was on a lobster boat. Following that was a hollowed-out boat of aubergine, filled with a delicious anise sauce and all sorts of other green things (seriously, I'm way out of my league here).

In short, this chef made dishes with absurd numbers of ingredients, and they were phenomenal. Usually, at a restaurant, I can imagine myself able to reproduce the dish after a fair amount of trial and error. At Reflets, I can safely say that the food is just impossible to reproduce. My seafood dish had crab, lobster, fois gras, tomatoes, pasta, and pepper crumbs. Honestly, it tasted amazing together - and I'm still reeling just trying to figure out how he did the broth it was in. Not with years of training would I be able to make what I ate. And to boot, all of this was done with imported ingredients!
It's not just food - in Dubai, wines are overpriced and underserved. The wine pairings we experienced at Reflet out-of-this-"town". Rarely in Dubai do people treat the wine they serve with a vaunted respect, rather than just a non-fizzy beer. We experienced a custom-picked wine pairing for each course, poured at a half-glass size just to keep us from exploding by the end of the night.

So, when we couldn't eat any more (literally, the staff was getting annoyed because we kept saying "NO!" when they brought food), we joined the staff at the bar for an herbal-infused water. They say it aided digestion, and whether it was just sitting at the bar or the herbs, I definitely went from a blueberry kid in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory to just a normal fat guy with a glandular problem.
In the four hours we spent at the restaurant, we experienced truly amazing service, decor, and food. Why am I not throwing any punches here? Well, there was only one thing wrong with the entire experience - the sky-high price. This might have been the best dining experience we've had, but it certainly was the most expensive. So, you truly can have it all - but when you're done, you'll be broke (but yes, it IS worth it!)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Al Ain Airshow

This weekend, we visited the Al Ain airshow, the biggest grouping of families in the UAE that I've ever seen. The whole day was good clean fun, except for the food lines. Two people cooking lunches in the whole stadium wasn't exactly a great idea - but the nachos and popcorn did the trick.
They had a number of aircraft on the ground for people to visit, including the UAE airforce's own Apache helicopter.
In addition to the ground show, there were exhibits of radio controlled airplanes, UAe traditional dance, and - of course - jets buzzing the tower! The Saudi air team made it over as well, with their Hawker jets and put on a great show with red, white, and green smoke trails. So did the Italians, flying a group of World War II Russian Yak fighters. Notice the yahoo below waving to the crowd with the UAE flag hanging out the back. Of course, it wouldn't be a responsible airshow without a "green" aircraft, so they brought a glider! Even he couldn't resist buzzing the stands, so we were able to get some great close ups:
Lastly, with Valentine's coming up, I'll leave it to the Saudis to get the celebration kicked off with "Shot Through the Heart"!For the full gallery, Click Here.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Lovely Luxembourg

I was pretty excited when I received the above invitation! I wasn't sure I knew exactly what a 'Grand Duchy' was, but I was sure interested in finding out, and hopefully having the chance to meet Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade. The invitation happened completely by chance. I had a meeting with (my now new found acquaintance) Hedda who works for a world-wide knowledge management company. When I asked what she was up to in Dubai, aside from meeting with me, she mentioned that they work on behalf of the Luxembourg government and was in town for the week setting up meetings with UAE officials on behalf of the Minister's office. She then was gracious enough to invite me to the Minister's reception!

It was a really lovely, outdoor event, and I was able to nab Matt and invite as well, so we were able to mix and mingle together. There was great food and drinks, and the Minister even gave a speech touching on European-Middle East relationships.

And yes, I did get to meet the Minister! He was very personable and funny and seemed very much to enjoy being the life of the party. We spent a few minutes chatting about his impressions of the UAE, he gave me a brief tutorial on Luxembourgish wine and at the end he even invited me to visit Luxembourg!

I was really bummed that I didn't get any pictures of the event. (It's pretty hard to act composed while saying "hey Minister, smile!" so I left the camera at home.) Although lucky for me Gulf News was there and they covered the event, which appeared in the papers today!

A few closing thoughts about Luxembourg because I am sure that you. like me, know nothing about this precious little country. Here's some brain food:

*Luxembourg is a small landlocked country in Western Europe, bordered by Belgium, France and Germany
*It has a population of fewer than half a million people in an area of approximately 999 sq miles
*It is parliamentary representative democracy with a constitutional monarchy, ruled by a Grand Duke. It is the world's only remaining sovereign Grand Duchy.
*The country has the second highest Gross Domestic Product per capita in the world
*Luxembourg is a founding member of the European Union, NATO, United Nations, Benelux, and the Western European Union, reflecting the political consensus in favor of economic, political, and military integration.
*The city of Luxembourg, the capital and largest city, is the seat of several institutions and agencies of the European Union.
*Luxembourg lies on the cultural divide between Romance Europe and Germanic Europe, borrowing customs from each of the distinct traditions. Luxembourg is a trilingual country; German, French and Luxembourgish are official languages. Although a secular state, Luxembourg is predominantly Roman Catholic.

And there you have it!