Monday, April 25, 2011

Paris (Hilton), Dubai?

Oh as if the Vanity Fair article wasn't enough bad press for Dubai!  I'm not sure if Ms. Hilton is going to help our case.  Almost 2 years ago Paris Hilton was in town filming a season of her My BFF reality television show, in which twenty-something hopefuls vie for the chance to play best friends with Paris.  We had thought that it might not see the light of day since I hadn't heard anything about it for so long - but like the prodigal son - it has returned.

The trailer for her upcoming season filmed in Dubai has been unleashed on the world.  Feast your eyes below.

If the preview is any indication we are in for quite the treat (grimace).  Hey at least this MTV generation will be able to find Dubai on a map (hopefully) after seeing this!  Who says TV can't be educational? 

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Weekend in Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah

The weekend started like this...(I'll explain).
But we finally got to this...
But the journey is part of the fun!  I'll begin with the components. A fast (and free) car, a hotel stay, and a birthday present all combined their forces to pull together one fabulous weekend in our neighboring emirates - Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah.  Lisa, dear sister that she is, gave Matt and I a night's stay at Le Meridien in Fujairah to thank us for boarding her for six weeks whist she made the move to London (anytime sissy!).  Then Matt decided that while we were on the way back we might as well check out the new Banyan Tree resort in the desert of Ras Al Khaimah as a belated birthday present (who was I to protest?).

Then there was the car.  With winning the Best Dressed Couple at the Dubai World Cup, we were afforded the privilege of zipping around town in a 2010 XKR Jaguar.  Did I say zip?  More like flew.  A weekend out of town was the perfect opportunity to enjoy her on the open (and non-radar controlled roads).

I picked her up from the dealer and called Matt to tell him that this piece of machinery might make me a "car girl".  I looked down at the speedometer to find myself doing 160km in a 80km.  Hmm, double the speed limit and smooth as silk.  Hadn't even noticed - this car was dangerous.  For you car folks, here is what the manual told me: 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds powered by a supercharged 5.0 liter V8 engine.  Matt was impressed.  Here he is enjoying his first few minutes down Sheikh Zayed Road.

He fulfilled his need for speed, while I played with the touch screen controls, awesome audio and activated the seat coolers.

Now for the ostrich.  With an emergency pit stop necessary, and signs indicating we couldn't find another gas station for 60km we were forced to take the Jag to Bedouinland - the only establishment for miles - to find some facilities.  The 9 foot tall ostriches roaming the facility took a particular interest in Matt (seen above) and stalked us all the way back to the car.

Pay close attention to this picture, because this car is STUCK.  That's right.  When the dealer said "no off roading" I didn't know it meant that the car would get stuck in 1 inch of sand!  Just after this photo, we were huffing and puffing trying to push the car out of the dimple of sand it was caught in.  In the nick of time, two young Emiratis came flying over the dunes in a quad bike and helped push us out.  I could just see it on their faces, "these people got a $150,000 sports car stuck in parking spot..."  Yup.  That's me.  But seriously Jag?

Finally we arrived at the Meridien in Fujairah and enjoyed the view from our balcony, mountains and sea, it was just fabulous.
And what a balcony it was!  Thank you Lisa!  To see more on our Fujairah activities visit Matt's post on the local fishing techniques.

On Saturday we made our way to the Banyan Tree resort in Ras Al Khaimah (RAK).  The emirate is known for having picturesque dunes and abundant desert wildlife, which provides insight into what Dubai might have looked like back in the day.
The villa (the smallest they had) was fit for a queen.  The art work, lighting, wood carving, and carpets were all wonderful.
We enjoyed a barbecue on the beach while enjoying the fresh catch of the day (we think we met some of them earlier in the fishing net!)
The Moon Bar under the light of a (near) full moon.
The desert scenery by night.
The pool off our villa.  It was amazing!
The next morning we had the chance to go horse back riding.  The scenery was beautiful, and it was a much different way to experience the dunes.  I loved it!
The horses were just amazing.  They are all pure bred Arabians who are former racers and show jumpers, and they come from the Sheikh Mohammad center for rehabilitating race horses.  My gal, Thunder, is 30!  (Looking good Thunder!)  She is an ex-show jumper and now has a great life here at the resort.

With Thunder, and Matt's headstrong buddy, Zach, he's 25 and apparently likes to pal around with Thunder.  But she likes much younger men.  I'm told that she and Toby are an item, he's 14.

Puppies!  A great ending to a perfect ride.
Next time Matt complains about the time and effort put into a race day outfit, I'm going to show him this!

Fujairah Fish Market: Caught Fresh With a Pickup Truck

Talk about the unexpected - while taking a walk on the beach in Fujairah on Saturday, we stumbled on the locals' secret fishing spot! 
This is definitely not your normal fishing - it's more of the slash-and-burn variety, utilizing huge nets, a couple of boats, and pick-up trucks for the heavy lifting.  First, drag your nets out to sea - a few hundred yards from the beach will do the trick:
Then, hook them up to you trusty Toyota pickup, and drag them back to the shore (how's that for cheating?):
Then pull the trapped fish out of the water, and dump them into your pickup - you're all set for the market (try not to get hit by a flying jellyfish, like I did!)

I know what you're thinking - what about the ones that fall out?  How can we save a couple of fish and feel better about watching this?  Well, one Russian lady took matters into her own hands.  Not terribly effective, just watch:

But the real losers here are the birds, who really didn't like watching breakfast swim away:

Of course, with any massive netting operation, you'll have a few casualties.

The fisherman were only after the small bait fish for the most part, but here are a few other catches of the day - no effort required - just caught in the net with the other guys!
 Jellies were everywhere!
 Sea snakes
 I think this is a Snapper?  (My brother will correct me).
  Sea wormy thing.  Lung fish, maybe?

What is funny is that every single Hammour that they pulled out of the net had gorged itself to gills with bait fish just before being caught:
I will say this though, at least it's fresh!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dubai I Do's

Don't you just love weddings?  Here at Dubai Diary we think that these days of devotion are the tops, which is why we were so excited to receive an invite to a beach side wedding from friends Brian and Maryam this Spring.  In a race to get in the outdoor ceremony and reception before Dubai starts baking, they ended up with an absolutely gorgeous day for their nuptials, and a beautiful sunset to top it all off.

Having only been to one other ballroom wedding Dubai, I was stunned by how beautiful the scenery was at the Al Qasr hotel for their special day.  They chose a private stretch of sand right above the surf for the exchange of their vows, and we were treated to the sounds of a violin player before and during the ceremony which added a wonderful touch to their big day.  The Chinese paper fans were a lovely favor for use during the ceremony, and we were lucky to have a nice breeze going!

Maryam looked beautiful as she was walked down the aisle by her brother, and it was great to meet a lot of Brian's family and friends from Detroit.  Finally the Americans were a majority at a Dubai event (well at least on the dance floor)!  We got down to the sounds of the 80's before we thoroughly exhausted ourselves and send the bride and groom on their merry way.  Here's to a lifetime of happiness!  To Brian and Maryam...

Yes! The perfect accessory.  Fiona and I practice looking demure at the pre-ceremony cocktails.
The groom mixes and mingles before the ceremony!  His custom tailored suit is courtesy of - made in just FIVE days before the wedding.  No kidding, it was dropped off the morning of, not even a fitting needed!
Maryam looking angelic coming down the aisle.  She ordered the dress sight unseen from the US and it fit perfectly.  That's what I call fate.
The bride and groom feed each other honey.  It's an Iranian tradition to help you remember to always have sweetness in life.  Maryam's big sister, Shiva, looks on.
The beautiful setting for the strings.
Getting some face time with the bride.  There was a lot of smiles to go around!
Catching a shot with the Burj Al Arab in the background just as the sun starts to set at the reception.
Their sunset.  The perfect end to a perfect day.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dubai On Empty: A Rebuttal

For anyone who picked up this month's Vanity Fair, you may have stumbled upon a fascinating treatise written about Dubai from author A.A. Gill.  In two pages, Gill rips the city "a new one" as they say.  Never, have a I read an article that is so subjectively one-sided, so mean spirited, and so poorly researched.

The problem with Gill's article is not that it doesn't make a few good points.  Even though they are uncomfortable, a number of his observations might find a basis in reality or truth.  Unfortunately, his seemingly boundless capacity for vitriolic and unnecessary comments damage any real credibility he could have established with a reader of this article.

While I'm tempted to write a point-counterpoint rebuttal of the piece, I'll resist the urge to legitimize his article with my full attention.  However, it's a shame that Mr. Gill couldn't even attempt something actually journalistic, rather than a pandering, salacious piece.

As they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity.  Guilty as charged.  Here is his article:

Unlike Mr. Gill I like to do my research.  Here's a little of what I uncovered about him so you can take this article with a grain - make that a shaker full - of salt.  A rap sheet that would make any mother proud:
  • He was once ejected from one of Gordon Ramsay's restaurants after calling him a "second-rate human being".  Hasn't he watched Kitchen Nightmares?
  • Gill (who is Scottish) has described Welsh people as "loquacious, dissemblers, immoral liars, stunted, bigoted, dark, ugly, pugnacious little trolls" in The Sunday Times (he was reported to the Commission for Racial Equality as racist).
  • Gill has described the English as "embarrassing" and an "ugly race" as well as a "lumpen and louty, coarse, unsubtle, beady-eyed, beefy-bummed herd".  I would love to see what a sketch artist does with that description!
  • Gill sparked controversy by reporting in his Sunday Times column that he shot a baboon dead. He said he knew "perfectly well there [was] absolutely no excuse for [the shooting]", and that he killed the animal in order to "get a sense of what it might be like to kill someone".  He went on to state that "[t]hey die hard, baboons. But not this one. A soft-nosed .357 blew his lungs out." The action prompted outrage from animal rights groups.
  • The Sunday Times disclosed Gill had been the subject of 62 PCC complaints in five years.
  • Gill was nominated for the Stonewall Awards as Bigot of the Year for his remark calling Clare Balding, a "dyke on a bike, puffing up the nooks and crannies at the bottom end of the nation" 
  • In February 2011, Gill described the county of Norfolk as ‘the hernia on the end of England’,causing outrage across the East of England (no problems in  the west, apparently!)
  • In September 2010, the Press Complaints Commission made a formal judgement against Gill for referring to the sexuality of the BBC Sport presenter Clare Balding in "a demeaning and gratuitous way".  They couldn't even print what he said.
I hope that in time Mr. Gill's hateful speech doesn't find a voice in the mainstream media.  In the meantime, a quick shout out to Vanity Fair - you guys should try to assign feature stories to real writers and not food critics (yes, that's his full time qualification - food critic).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Dubai's April Showers Bring May's Blinding Summer Heat

Tonight we received a bit of a surprise - in a town that receives rain once or twice each January, a thunderstorm came out of nowhere and drenched Dubai. 

In addition to an hour of downpour, we were treated to a bit of a light show off of our balcony.  Here are a few of the keepers:

Friday, April 1, 2011

Young Entrepreneurs Competition: No Lemonade Stands Here!

When I wanted to make a little cash as a high school student I had a few options: bake sale, babysitting, or even a few extra household chores.  Times have changed for the 2,500 students participating in the Young Entrepreneur competition held at Dubai Mall this week.  Dubai SME, the entrepreneurship development agency of the Department of Economic Development (DED), launched the "Young Entrepreneur Competition (YEC) .  In a surprisingly sophisticated set up, the corridors of Dubai Mall are lined with small kiosks that students can decorate and augment to set up their own businesses in a head to head revenue generating competition.

Matt and I have enjoyed perusing the projects for the past three years and this year we couldn't believe how much the initiative has grown!  In 2008 there were 102 projects and 103 participants, in 2009 there were 279 projects and 971 participants.  Last year saw an overwhelming participation in the competition with 2000 participants and 700 projects.  With 2,500 students participating this year, things have really taken off.

One of our favorite concepts took center stage last year.  A group of enterprising young men set up a paint ball range next to the Dubai Fountain and let you wail on them for small fee, as they ran back and forth from the safety of the edge.  Ouch!

This year while strolling the packed walkways (it is the place to see and been seen by high school students this week) we saw some amazingly creative offerings!  A 3D sky dive experience (harness and all), make your own chocolate stations, custom silkscreen t-shirts, hand painted iPhone covers, photo booths, and more!  Then there are the kids who are the lucky beneficiaries of parents who own trading companies - one student was simply selling the most recent Blackberry for 25% off market prices.  He was legit.
Something special caught my eye this year.  Those of you nostalgic enough to remember your elementary library time might remember the "Mr." and "Little Miss" series by Roger Hargreaves.  You know - Little Miss Chatter Box, Little Miss Sunshine, Mr. Noisy, etc.
One enterprising young man decided to add a few local touches to some of my favorite characters by adding a burqa to Little Miss Sunshine and a dishdash to Mr. Strong.  I had to have them! 
Now I can fill them with lemonade when I start my stand!