Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's Tuesday

Therefore, kittens. Now that's the kind of non sequitur we can all get behind.

Catpile!

Well, one kitten, anyway. The other one, which also was lying on top of its mom in the courtyard, scampered off when the big, scary guy with the cell phone camera tried to get close enough for a good shot. What can I say, it's hard for me to sneak up on people.

Still learning the language

A new phrase in Taxiese, which, as I'm learning, is an even more vital means of communication than Arabic and English combined. Which is ironic, because that's essentially what Taxiese is.

Anyway, as I was riding to the grocery store on Sunday, the taxi was cut off by a gargantuan Lexus SUV. The driver snorted and said:

Too much business adj.: 1 too wealthy to pay attention to one's surroundings.

It took me a couple of minutes (and another SUV cutting across three lanes of busy traffic) for me to figure out what he meant. But now you know what to say the next time a financial analyst in a Honda Civic swerves into your lane on Southwest Trafficway.

Monday, June 29, 2009

My evening of blah

So, yeah, got all excited about the U.S. playing Brazil. And then...

-Spent an hour at the grocery store buying taco fixings, then two hours waiting for a taxi.

-Discovered that the game was not being broadcast on local TV... it was being REbroadcast at 1 a.m.

-Hang on, a minor victory:

At right, Macbook. At center, Macbook writ large.

... but then it was back to blah. Because:

-The U.S. coughed up a two-goal lead.

-Slept poorly and woke up feeling like I needed a do-over.

-I have to find an acceptable use for the truckload of cheese dip I made.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

In which the author wears pants that are fancy (and tight)

I mentioned last week a trip to Dubai. Clothes were involved. And now the truth can be revealed: I was sent to a boutique to find out what fashionable gents wear during the UAE summers.

Here's what I wrote in The National:

Stop me if you have heard this one before: “A journalist walks into a boutique to meet a personal stylist.”

That is the set-up. I just hoped I wouldn’t end up being a human punchline.

My wardrobe is in fine shape, I think, at least for a writer: jeans that fit, shoes that shine, a collection of ties that make me look more important than I am.

But I had never had a personal shopper on my side before, and that is why my editor delivered me into the hands of Boutique 1 in Dubai.

“I can tell you have a good handle on style,” I was told as I arrived. Instantly likeable, this place.


Its personal styling service is the kind of thing usually rolled out for supermodels and superstars, not 32-year-old word jockeys. Yet the shop seemed up to the challenge. The principle, I was told, was to find clothes that made me look great without making me greatly uncomfortable.

That was a few minutes before I was handed a sequinned T-shirt.

First, though, I was led through the boutique’s labyrinth of high style, from clothes to accessories to housewares to an art gallery. Upstairs, in a sun-splashed white-walled forest of evening gowns, the entrance to the VIP section beckoned.

Citrus-scented air, muted lighting, brown-on-beige carpeting, couches, mirrored tiles set in the ceiling, coffee, fresh orange juice, cookies that spelt “B1” – it was truly a place for the very important. But the clothes were the real stars.

My orders were to obtain a stylish summer wardrobe. Beyond that, I was a lanky blank slate. And really, that is the genius of personal shopping: my problem isn’t a lack of taste, exactly, but a lack of style vocabulary.

Looking good in the summer is about more than just short sleeves, according to the personal shopping team. Even dark jackets, for instance, add style without sweat, as long as they are lightweight. Skip the undershirt and stick with breezy fabrics for collared shirts, or wear a T-shirt – just make sure it stands out with an eye-catching design or clever wordplay. And trousers? Well... I’ll get to them in a moment.

First, I was coaxed into Diesel jeans, the Costume National sequinned T-shirt – less scary than expected – and a satin-trimmed jacket by Paul & Joe. Finishing the look, in addition to my first encounter with bedazzling, was another first: a white belt by Nigel Hall. My heart was only slightly broken that there were no white shoes grand enough to accommodate my size 15 (US) feet.

But we forged ahead. Next came the same jacket over a black shirt by Richard James. The Denim Is Everything jeans were “spray-on denim”, I was told, which apparently is fashion code for “walking is painful”. A clubby look: fashionable, but not necessarily something I could throw on for an evening of falafel and football.

We finished with my favourite outfit, a lightweight shirt by Daniel Alessandrini, a Richard James suit jacket and Missoni jeans that, somehow, were tighter than the second pair. Now this was an outfit that would allow me to both dazzle my co-workers and head off into the Abu Dhabi evening.

At an average of Dh4,000 per outfit, though, such sartorial services probably won’t be a regular activity for me. I am but a humble journalist: I like flip-flops and have no problem eating pickles out of a jar.

But the experience was a good one. Having an expert to hack a path through the fashion jungle makes it relaxing to look good, snug trousers aside. Everyone involved agreed: the Doyle Beautification Project was a success. No joke.

But you know what they say about pictures. In this case, it is worth about 650 words. But they are well-chosen.

Not pictured: My feet. That's because they are bare.

There is a video, too, painstakingly shot and edited by my talented multimedia colleagues. And it takes some serious talent to make me look like I am comfortable wandering around a high-end boutique.

I didn't get to see a ton of Dubai on this jaunt--the shop is at the end of Dubai closest to Abu Dhabi. But everything anyone has ever said to you about cranes in that city is true. It is a hurricane of construction activity. And there is enough dust in the air that the city center is invisible, even from just a couple of kilometers away, even with the tallest building in the world jutting from the middle of it.


Not-quite-downtown-Dubai.

And in between here and there? Desert.


Home on Al Range.

And no, I didn't get to keep any of the clothes. And through circumstances outside our control, the actual personal shopper--there was one, he had a name and everything--had to be excised from the story, images and video. But that's OK. Not only has the Fiance of the Blog already started my education in the Dark Art of fashion, but my salary is probably better spent on other things, like buffalo and firearms.

The Aussie might be onto something

My roommate has been promising (threatening?) to make me an "Aussie Burger" for a while now. It sounds like the kind of thing you would find on a menu at Chili's, perhaps with a side of chicken fingers or an onion blossom.

And yet. In dire need of grease on Friday, the Aussie--we'll call him "John"--went ahead and whipped a couple up. Cardiologists, please avert your eyes.


Grease topped with grease, and a side order of grease (and beet juice).

Like love and baseball, the Aussie Burger is a many-splendored thing. Unfortunately, one of the main splendors, bacon, was not readily available. But it turned out great anyway. The remaining ingredients:

-Beef
-Toasted bun
-Chopped lettuce
-Chopped onions
-Barbecue sauce
-Sliced tomatoes
-A fried egg
-Cheese
-Beets
-Grease

Guess which one of those items I was most surprised to see piled onto an already overloaded burger? But the beets tasted great, kind of playing sweetly off the tartness of the onions. It's basically like putting a salad on a hamburger. And that's what personal trainers call "rationalization."

Anyway, delicious, if not nutritious, and the perfect way to start an afternoon. It shows a beautiful symmetry in the expat experience: The Scots invented the hangover; the Australians invented the cure.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Apparently Michael Jackson dying is big news worldwide

I know this because tomorrow's The National will have several stories devoted to him, and BBC News spent a full half-hour on his death during the morning broadcast. Meanwhile there are still some unhappy people in Iran, but what are you gonna do?

I'll tell you what I did--I had a hamburger with fried egg and beets on it. And failed to buy a Mini DisplayPort-to-RCA cable.

I won't try to pretend that Jackson's death isn't a big deal in terms of entertainment news. But I also won't try to pretend that he or his work had any great impact on my life. I remember vaguely Jackson, at the height of a "Thriller"-induced wave of adulation, causing a huge stir simply by being in Kansas City. A family friend produced "KC [hearts] Michael" stickers. Arrowhead was introduced to the moonwalk. I danced my goofy Gerry-as-a-small-child dance to his songs at weddings (note: this is strikingly similar to the Gerry-as-an-adult dance) and, much later, wondered what had gnawed on his nose.

These are my memories of Michael Jackson. Worthy of massive news coverage? Debatable. Worthy of a Friday afternoon blog post? Why not.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pitch perfect

Oh, yeah.


That's how you say "GOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!" in English, suckas.

But lest I sound too jingoistic, let me assure you that I went into the match expecting a Spain-administered bloodbath. And throughout, I kept thinking to myself, the defense is just playing TOO well. So at the end of 93 minutes, the score seemed a bit surreal.

I'll tell you something else surreal: being taken to a Filippino nightclub to celebrate.

"Open Arms," as performed by five dancing girls and a dude with a bleached mohawk.

Then I went home and realized that my sheets and pillowcases, which I had washed during the day, were still hanging out to dry... on the balcony outside my roommate's bedroom. But I guess sleeping fully clothed (the A/C gets quite chilly at night) on a bare mattress is a small price to pay for a glorious victory and the opportunity to teach my British friends how to properly chest-bump.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How do you say "GOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLLLLL!" in Arabic?

A couple of days ago, the U.S. men's soccer team somewhat miraculously trounced Egypt in the Confederations Cup in South Africa.


How the U.S. rolls (the ball into the net).

Love the shove in the back at the beginning of the first goal, by the way. Anyhoo, perhaps even more miraculously, Italy lost to Brazil 3-0. The goal differential (the U.S. won 3-0 as well) meant that the U.S., which already had lost badly to the highly regarded Italian and Brazilian squads, was headed to the next round.

Italy, meanwhile, was headed home. Awwww. Such a shame.

So tonight I will try to find someplace that will show the Americans' next match, a likely humiliating defeat at the hands of world power Spain. But it will be fun. The last time I watched a U.S. game abroad was actually IN Spain, when I was a teenager on an exchange trip with my high school. This time, at least, I can buy beer legally.

Don't take my red stapler

Greetings from Siberia. I have been exiled to the far reaches of the newsroom here at The National because... well, no one is really sure. But! I can tell you for sure that I am not in Siberia. My desk, in reality, was simply moved about 20 feet to the east.

The view:

What you can't see is that my back is to a bookcase.

All this happened overnight, and who knows how it will affect my life in the long run. Right now it seems like a wash: farther from some of the people I need to interact with nightly, but closer to the vending machines.

Now that my desk is firmly established, though, I need some decorations to make it feel, you know, lived-in. Plants? Pictures? Flags? I'm open to suggestions.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What a generous country

My dad got this e-mail--perhaps a late Father's Day gift?--from one of the UAE's many well-qualified surgeons with estate issues.

Hello,

Good to whatever the time indicates to you. I am sorry if this e-mail came as a surprised to you. I am Dr. Fredrick Franklin, a medical surgeon based in Dubai - U.A.E

I have a patient here who is suffering from esophageal cancer and have just less than 3 months to live. My patient is in need of a trusted individual or group of people that can handle his estate after he might have passed on. Please, with all due regard, if you think that you can handle and manage the estate of my patient after he is gone, please, do not hesitate to call on me urgently.

Best regards,
Dr. Fredrick Franklin

Dear Dr. Franklin:

Thank you for your generous offer. Have you considered talking to your patient's family?

If that isn't an option, please send me your bank account number, address, home phone and government ID number and I'll take care of the rest.

Kisses,

Read Ink

Monday, June 22, 2009

The stove, I have used it

I believe I already relayed the sordid tale of how I bought buffalo. Now, the postscript: How I also cooked the buffalo, and some onions and garlic, and later bought rolls.

I don't have any pictures of the buffalo actually braising. Which is fine, because as it turns out, frozen Indian buffalo is not that high quality. Some of it wasn't pullable, which, after braising for three hours, is saying somethin'.

So. After pulling the good bits and chopping some onions and garlic, this was the scene in the kitchen of Apartment 101 in the Budget Building:


Ready for liftoff.

Then I sauteed a little garlic in a lot of butter, then added the onions until they were sweating, and then added the meat, plus some barbecue sauce. And not just any sauce: about half of it was Jack Stack.


The sauce was a long way from home.

Oh, it simmered and it steamed and it smelled awesome. And after an hour of that....


Sweet--and spicy--victory.

I went down to the bakery and bought eight fresh baked rolls (Dh4!) and the Roommate of the Blog procured some Arabian pickles, and it was game time. (Literally. Rugby, Italy vs. Australia.)

Overall, it turned out much, much better than I thought it would after a first viewing of the meat. Lean, tender, saucy--everything you want in a pulled meat sandwich. A success for both the cook and the cooker.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Heading to Dubai today...

... for a fashion shoot. And all I wanted was a haircut.

More later.

It's Saturday night

So I think it's a perfectly appropriate time to share a video clip from what is quickly becoming one of my favorite bars in Abu Dhabi.

video

A quick guide to what you just saw: a Bulgarian cover band playing (I think) Olivia Newton John. Foreground: a bunch of people dancing, including some of my co-workers. The bar is great because of all of the stuff it pulls together. Iniquity, bizarre music, people of all nationalities and lots of cigarette smoke. It's like a modern-day pirate cove, but with fewer eye patches.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

In your face, slave-owner

A friend of mine directed me to this piece at digitalhistory.uh.edu. It apparently is an authentic letter from a former slave to his former master, who asked him to come back and work.

The result is an truly ingenious concoction of snark, sarcasm and wit. The postscript is my favorite.

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here; I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here call her Mrs. Anderson), and the children, Milly, Jane and Grundy, go to school and are learning well; the teacher says grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday- School, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated; sometimes we overhear others saying, "The colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master. Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free- papers in 1864 from the Provost- Marshal- General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly- - and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty- two years and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, esq, Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay day for the Negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good- looking girls. You know how it was with Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve and die if it comes to that than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood, the great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits. <>P.S. -- Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson

Source: Cincinnati Commercial, reprinted in New York Tribune, August 22, 1865.



And that, my friends, is how you tell someone off.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The revolution will most certainly be televised

So: Iran is going through some nice political upheaval at the moment. And it is an interesting study in technology and the value of journalism.

First of all, I dislike Twitter with the fiery hatred of a millon supernovas. In general, it is vapid chattering that does nothing but waste the Internet. (hilarious attempts at politicizing it aside) But in Iran, as has been observed many times during the last week, it has proved an invaluable means of communication.

Not only that, but as Iran's current leaders blame the country's turmoil on foreign media and restrict their access to anything outside their hotel rooms and offices, venues like Twitter, Facebook and even simple text messages have been the only way to get any first-hand accounts of protests, crackdowns and general unrest.

Some might interpret this as illustrating the demise of traditional media. I think the opposite is the case. Consider how the events would appear without any journalists on the ground at all: on the one hand, you would have a flood of government images and words describing "thugs" causing "riots" while protesting a legitimate election. On the other hand you would have a separate barrage from the protesters, describing government crackdowns, rigged elections and brutally quashed dissent. Facts would be few; agendas would dominate.

So in fact, I think, we see the value of traditional media in collecting and disseminating something as close to objective truth as possible. If that weren't the case, governments like Iran's wouldn't feel the need to shut down the media.

All that aside, I, like everyone else in the world, am watching closely to see what happens in Iran. The fact that I now live hundreds of miles away from what may be a nascent democracy instead of thousands just makes it that much more fascinating.

And as the ayatollah comes down firmly on the side of Ahmadinejad and orders the protests to stop, I hope that the people who already have put their lives on the line in the name of free elections continue to make their voices heard. It is awful watching the government savage peaceful protesters... but it is inspiring to see the rivers of people demanding change and justice anyway.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Candlestick maker optional

Following through on my threats to make pulled beef sandwiches, I set out to buy a casserole dish (for braising) and some beef (also for braising).

Casserole dish was a success. The local grocery store, the big one, not only sells all the foodstuffs a guy might want within a two-block radius of his home, but a whole galaxy of random other stuff. Rope. Flatware. Watches. T-shirts.

So that was fun. Then I headed to the butcher.

Look at the happy animals.

It was packed. There were people waiting for meat, butchers chopping the meat people were waiting for, and me, looking through the window for an easily identifiable brisket. Sadly, I was running low on time, so I sighed the deep sigh of a barbecue-deprived Kansas Citian and headed back to the grocery store... where I procured two pounds of frozen buffalo meat.

Worry not: the preparation of pulled buffalo sandwiches will be well-documented.

And finally, just so the post title makes sense, between my front door and the office is the bakery:

So modern it's hidden behind a wall of cars.

The great thing about all this, besides the imminent buffalo barbecue debacle, is that it establishes firmly that I live in a walkable neighborhood. Meat, bread, T-shirts: it's all there. Except, evidently, candles.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What the Internet is for

Some say it's about communication. Some say it's about a near-boundless supply of information.

And judging by my online correspondence the last couple of days...



... it's also about cats. And keyboards. Keyboard cats. And Helen Hunt. And, uh, Hall and Oates? Obviously. I'm glad we had this talk.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Several hours after "after tomorrow"

That's when my stove arrived. Shockingly, the driver had a hard time finding my apartment. I wonder what could help with that... oh, I know, ADDRESSES.

A brief recreation of the conversation, which, by the way, occurred as I was walking to work two hours after they were supposed to deliver the thing.

DRIVER
Mr. Matthew?

ME
Yes?

DRIVER
We are from Carrefour. We are coming with your cooker.

ME
OK....

DRIVER
What is your address?

I mentally bang my head against a mental wall. I know how this conversation is going to go.

ME
It is the Budget building. In Tankar Mai.

DRIVER
Dubai!?

ME
No. Tankar Mai. The neighborhood in Abu Dhabi.

DRIVER
Near Delma Street?

ME
Yes, near Delma Street. By Muroor Road. If you are going toward airport on Muroor, turn right on 15th, then right, then go to Spike of Prosperity.

DRIVER
Muroor?

ME
OK, if you are going toward airport, Budget building is on your right.

DRIVER
OK, no problem, turn right on Muroor. (hangs up)

25 minutes later, totally unsurprised to find myself still alone, I hit redial.

ME
It's Mr. Matthew. You have my cooker? Where are...

DRIVER
Yes, sir, looking for parking.

About 10 minutes after THAT, a guy appears down the block wheeling a large cardboard box on a dolly. The part of the box labeled "this side up" is quite clearly facing down. I have no idea where they put their truck, but I hope it wasn't Dubai.

Anyway, the end result was this:

Shiny, new, and ideally not leaking any gas.

A small victory. But a victory that will cook food. And now this chapter of my life can come to a close, at least until I attempt to make something in the oven. Which I am planning to do after tomorrow.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ceiling Cat iz Watchin U Journalize

You definitely can't make this kind of thing up. The courtyard cats have invaded the newsroom, specifically the HVAC system.

KEY:
(1) Cat
(2) Reporter's head

The cat considers whether the coaxing treats on top of the vending machine are worth the effort.

What are they doing up there? Who knows. Plotting our demise, criticizing our headlines, laughing at our concern. Pretty much the same stuff they do every other day, I guess.

It is done.

The new stove is purchased. Some call it a cooker. I call it "now I can braise some beef."


Five burners of fury. Italian flag decal optional.

Guess when it will arrive? I'll give you one guess.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The view from my back porch

Foreground: sand. Middle distance: palm trees. Background: city that didn't exist 40 years ago.

Allegedly it got up to 115 degrees today, but by the time I got around to lounging on the porch it was pretty comfortable. And there is something nice and comforting about sitting in the heat and watching the sun go down.

Everything you wanted to know about the UAE but didn't care enough to ask

This guy purports to have all the answers.

I came across "Ask Ali" while reading an open letter from him to Paris Hilton, who somewhat unbelievably is here to shoot part of her new TV show. His first bit of advice? Don't bring any, er, homemade adult entertainment into the country.

Probably good advice wherever you go.

The guidelines for expats on his site are interesting, mostly because they describe a scenario more conservative than what I have witnessed here. For example, he says, "Shorts are generally not acceptable for men or women." But the reality, at least through my eyes, is more like, "Shorts are quite informal." No one is going to be offended unless you have wandered into a mosque or a five-star restaurant.

Anyway. He does have quite a bit of practical information in there, such as phone numbers, government offices and procedures for various things. And it is interesting that he has commoditized himself as a cultural instructor. But hey, that's capitalism--one philosophy that both Westerners and Emiratis have embraced wholeheartedly.

Friday, June 12, 2009

An interesting day

One of the hardest things about living abroad is not being able to do anything about stressful events back in the homeland. So today I am preoccupied.

But there is good news floating around in the world today. Iran is holding elections, for one thing. (An interesting analysis on Iranian polling can be found here.) Without choosing sides here, I can say that at the very least a peaceful, democratic transfer of power is a really big deal. We take it for granted in the United States--ridiculous court battles aside--but in reality it's a tricky thing to pull off. No one likes to lose.

For another thing, one of the first stories I read after arriving in the office was about how the aviation industry in the Emirates, and remember I am an aerospace dork, is being dominated by women.

“When I got here in November, I noticed I had lots and lots of women in my classes, 40 to 60 per cent,” says Professor David Worrells, who teaches several undergraduate and graduate classes at EAC. In America, they’d be 10 per cent at most.”

...snip...

At a recent class on airline fleet planning, the women students diligently scribbled down notes, raised hands and asked more questions than their male classmates during discussions about industry competition.
Professor Worrells says the male-female imbalance provides for some animated classroom debates and healthy competition.
“When I looked at test results and the writing assignment results, the women tend to do better than the guys. Spelling, grammar, analysis, reasoning, following the instructions.”

That's cool for a number of reasons, and really illustrates the value of education to a balanced society. I don't have the stats handy, but I would bet money that more educated women equals a wealthier and more stable country. Whether that is a cause or an effect is something I won't speculate on.

And finally, I went to the gym, then stopped by (yet another) burger-less "burger joint" on my way to work and bought a delicious fresh fruit drink for lunch. Thank you, Father Gazelle; I forgive you for the 109-degree temperatures.

Here's hoping that the good vibes in the Gulf reach back home.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tastes like desperation

Came home from work and watched a bit of TV with the Roommate of the Blog. He had found some show on the Discovery Channel about disgusting foods.

One of the chefs on the program was making the point over and over that these "disgusting" foods were actually great sources of nutrients, etc., and that it was only our squeamishness that kept us from eating them.

And it struck me that, no, it's not squeamishness. It's that other stuff tastes better. I don't care how much protein there is in a Madagascar hissing cockroach, it's always going to taste like a freaking cockroach. Steak, on the other hand, tastes like steak. Game over, as far as I'm concerned. There is novelty in exotic foods, and some of them are delicious, but just because something is edible does not make it a good idea to go ahead and, like, eat it.

Having said that, I kind of want to try camel.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"After tomorrow," redux

So the guy sitting next to me, we'll call him "Karl," just received a surprise package in the mail today. From his bank. It was a checkbook (or "chequebooque," as the British call them) that had been promised to him a while back. How far back? He was told "after tomorrow" approximately 75 after tomorrows ago.

Meanwhile, despite being an officially recognized worker here, with papers and clear chest X-rays and everything, I still don't have online access to my bank account. Which makes details like "paying bills" and "knowing how much money I have" a bit of a hassle.

Too many air quotes in this post.

On the plus side, I pays my money and I goes to the gym today, got a good workout, did some math in my head by converting kilogram dumbbells to pounds and crashed the pool. Findings from this pool visit: 20 minutes in the sun=no sunburn, and poolside tiles will melt the soles of your feet if you stand still. The water was perfect, though.

Small economic victories

Today I picked up my dry cleaning. The shop is, I would say, a 15-second walk from the front door of my building. Less than 100 feet.

Total items collected: Two shirts, one pair of pants.

Total cost: Dh11. For those of you keeping score with the currency of the United States of 9.4 Percent Unemployment, that's $2.99.

With a turnaround time of two days! Brilliant. They also do ironing for, I believe, Dh2 per item. I really, really planned on ironing my own shirts after I took them down from the clothesline, but... well... you know. So anyway, they have three wrinkly shirts to work on now too.

Spike of Prosperity: Not as dangerous as it sounds. My apartment: about 15o feet to the right of the store's front door.

I also picked up a loaf of bread and a half-gallon of milk from the corner store and paid a bit more than I expected: Dh15, or $4. Not bad, but not awesome. Certainly more than you would pay at a big grocery store, but hey--you're paying for convenience when you patronize* the Spike of Prosperity grocery.

*Scary event: I just spelled "patronize" with an S and had to go back and correct it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Kittens!

One of the courtyard cats has given birth to a litter of two kittens. And apparently they are just now old enough where they are stumbling about on their own, seeing the Abu Dhabi Media Company world and eating whatever we fawning journalists toss in front of them.

Kitten One (from left), Kitten Two, Mom. Gerry Doyle / The National

At the moment they are nesting in a doorway next to the company mosque. With any luck they will venture out into the courtyard in coming weeks and cuteness will abound.

Call to prayer redux

Two things are apparent:

1) The audio download I included here isn't that high-quality.

2) It isn't the Maghrib. I think it's the Ishaa. Someone who knows what they're talking about, feel free to correct me. But after browsing through YouTube, I realized that it doesn't sound anything like the Maghrib calls to prayer recorded there.



The Saudis have high production values.

The above is the Maghrib as sung in Saudi Arabia. Maybe it's different here. I clearly have a long way to go as far as understanding the culture I am immersed in.

Because I loves me some aliens

District 9, a science fiction movie filmed as a documentary, comes out this summer. It doesn't appear to feature too much in the way of massive space battles, explosions or even lasers.

It does seem to have an inspired plot, however.



Awesome. Perhaps I will go see it Gold Class.

The elephant: sonic edition

I believe I mentioned how the prevalence of Islam here becomes sort of ordinary after a while. There is a mosque, for instance, about 20 feet out the newsroom's back door (where the cats hang out--apparently there is a litter of kittens out there now, too... I'll look into that). And the calls to prayer just become a part of your day, whether you are Muslim or not.

There are six per day, all sung, all with different names. My favorite is, I think, the Magrib. The following recording is what it sounds like all over the city during the call to prayer--you hear it everywhere. (you may need to crank the volume. I recorded this with my Dh200 cell phone.)

Magrib, as heard from ATM at Muroor Road and 15th Street.

It's pretty in a Gregorian sort of way.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The new boss/different from the old boss

I have been here before.

Not the UAE--it is thoroughly new, even now--but in a newsroom with changing leadership. Today this guy announced that he was moving upstairs to the publishing side, and that this guy would be the paper's new editor.

At the Tribune when this happened, it was scary. People with years of experience and serious journalism credentials were replaced with... well... the opposite. Predictably, their direction did not cover the Tribune in glory; besides laying off scores of talented people and chasing readers with a barrage of Entertainment Tonight journalism, they led a ballyhooed (and poorly conceived) redesign that was followed a few months later with a giant apology for mucking up a perfectly good newspaper. 

Here it feels different. The new editor has Arab roots and a solid background in Western journalism. Perhaps more important, the new publisher (Director of Editorial Operations, actually) has serious chops, which is always welcome in the publisher's office.

So I am hopeful. I have been accused of optimism before. But I think it is warranted here.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Some assembly required

It's a credo that applies not just to building furniture using funny little locking nuts and wooden pegs, but also a new life in a new country.

My bedroom has gone from being a room with a bed and a wardrobe to being a room with a bed and a wardrobe in different positions, to including--as it does now--a bedside table, a desk and two lamps. (and of course a power strip) There is more to come, too. Cooking implements, for instance, as I have promised my Australian roommate that I will introduce him to the joys of brisket and Gates.


1,899 dirhams of pure Italian cooking muscle.

I am narrowing down the field. The above is one option: it has five burners, which we don't need, but is only 200 dirhams more expensive than the 60-centimeter-wide four-burner model. And 60 centimeters, as I judged by trying out a few pots and pans on the cooking surface, is about the minimum amount of space an ambitious cook (or me) would need to do more than one thing at once.

The grocery store, by the way, is an amazing place. You can literally buy anything there, and not in a crappy Wal-Mart quality kind of way. Even shisha.


A fella could have a pretty fun night in Dallas with all this stuff.

Soon after taking that photo, though, a staffer swept by and told me photos were not allowed. Which is his right--it's their store and I was just a dude carrying a camera, a bottle of mouthwash and a fitted sheet that I hadn't yet paid for.

But shopping is big here. Huge. So is staying up late. So what you see is people out buying the hell out of stuff at, say, 11 p.m. That's when the shot below was taken, on a Sunday night. Note that there are so many people out that some men are just sitting on the grass, hanging out.


Not pictured: the hour and a half it took me to find an empty taxi.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of all the commerce is how cheap everything is. That's largely because the economy has to adjust to the low salaries of the bulk of the population--a taxi driver might clear Dh3,700 a month, which is $1,000. But that money goes a long way with everything but housing. And that is defrayed by rooming with six other people. "Bed space" is what the housing ads tout.

Anyway, the low prices are exemplified by this store, "Al Dirhams," which translates to "the dirhams." Unless it's someone's last name, in which case he is "Mr. Dirham."


Suck on that, Dollar Store.

And so I begin a new week with a somewhat furnished apartment, an easygoing roommate and steadily rising temperatures.

X-treme shopping!

Another day, another errand. I scored a bedside table and lamp today--as well as a many-times-over memoir called "Rags to Riches--A History of Abu Dhabi"--and spent a good amount of time wandering the grocery store.*

I have already been smacked down for taking pictures in the grocery store, and yeah, I know, there is only so much entertainment value in funny signs, but come on. Where I come from, this label would belong on a bottle of Mountain Dew:


In my culture, "z" signifies badassery and snowboarding exploits.

I walked away from the store with a decidedly non-EXTREME! haul of food, a tape measure and two outlet adapters. And there are more and better photos to come. But cut me some slack--I fought the Ikea fastener collection today and emerged victorious. Tonight I celebrate. Tomorrow I post.

*I made a Thai soup called tom kha. It was delicious, despite a lack of straw mushrooms.

Friday, June 5, 2009

An indicator of my mental capacity today

For reasons I won't explain, I feel as though my brain has been replaced with tofu, or perhaps tightly packed cottage cheese. From that starting point, then, it makes perfect sense that I was sitting here thinking about how fun it might be to see the new Transformers movie, and when is that coming out, anyway?

And from that point, I found this:



... and laughed. The end.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Learning the local language

Not Arabic. Arabic is quite hard. My vocabulary hasn't progressed much beyond the last time I mentioned it: dog, cat, milk, bread, boy, girl, man, woman, bicycle. I could maybe write a haiku.

No, I'm referring here to the language spoken most often in Abu Dhabi taxis, broken English.

It's frustrating for several reasons. First, because I don't want to learn broken English. I want to learn Arabic (see paragraph 1). Second, because it makes me part of the problem: by communicating with taxi drivers, etc., in this half-baked version of my native tongue, there is a better-than-even chance that at least subconsciously, the folks at the other end of the conversation think this is the way it is supposed to sound.

And yet. It's a little scary how much better results one gets by saying:

"Signal left" -- turn left at the traffic light, good yeoman.

"Parking" (accompanied with point toward curb) -- this would be an appropriate place to stop the car so that I may disembark.

"Too much hot" -- Hot enough for ya?

"Too much traffic" -- My, the roads are certainly congested on this otherwise fine afternoon.

"How long in Abu Dhabi?" -- You appear to have a good working knowledge of this municipality's road system. Have you been living here for a while?

"I am from Canada" -- I am from America.

All this aside, I have had some great conversations with many taxi drivers. Most of them are from Pakistan or Bangladesh, have interesting stories and are eager to talk. And their English is roughly a million times better than my Arabic. So perhaps I should stop worrying about what they are learning and more about what I am not.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The sound of frustration--now in stereo!

I'm not an audiophile by any standard, but I do enjoy listening to my music and hearing all the notes. The high ones, the medium ones, the ones that make your clothes vibrate. And when I listen to a movie, I do enjoy me some surround sound.

And so it was that yesterday I set out to procure a low-cost receiver and surround speaker system*. I thought I had it nailed: the thing played DVDs and CDs, had a (totally extraneous) USB port where you could plug in a thumb drive full of music and had a line-in RCA jack set in the back. This, combined with the low cost and recognizable brand name, Pioneer, led me to think I had done good.

I had not.

The offender. Convicted of crimes against my expectations.

Turns out that the line-in jacks don't produce surround sound. That means that the satellite TV box, no matter how much I swore at it and the reciever and the CEO of Pioneer, would only produce stereo noise. Left, right, period. So I packed it all back in the box, including all the tissue paper and plastic wrap, and took it back today.

Simple process, right? I had a reciept, I had the goods, I had purchased them almost exactly 24 hours earlier, case closed. But no. The following is a transcript of the return process.

ME
Hello, I'd like to return this for a refund. (handing receipt to Customer Service Lady)

Customer Service Lady sighs and hands receipt to co-worker. He sighs even more deeply and makes a phone call. A store employee arrives a few minutes later, eager to help... until he sees the boxes and the reciept.

STORE EMPLOYEE
Does not work?

ME
Well, it's not broken, but it doesn't do what I need it to.

SE
...

ME
The aux in jacks?

SE nods.

ME
... they don't allow surround sound. I plug in the TV, but it is stereo only.

SE
No, sir. We can help you make it surround.

(author's note: this is absolutely not true. The manual actually states as much, in really tiny print)

ME
No, surround sound doesn't work with auxilary jacks. The line-in RCA ports. Surround sound only with DVDs and CDs.

SE
No, sir, you use remote. Come, we will show you.

ME
The remote doesn't change anything. You can't do surround sound with the RCA ports.

SE
Employee will show you.

ME
No! Look (dig manual out of box), it says so right here.

SE reads the manual. Looks at box. Then says,

SE
Box is open. You cannot return.

ME
I have a reciept. Everything is inside. Please, check.

SE
But packing material is thrown away.

ME
No, it's in there too.

Now, the mental version of this conversation had me yelling. Maybe throwing heavy objects. But Real Gerry kept his cool, smiled, asked nicely, and eventually had gathered a crowd of several managers.

SE (to manager)
Box is open.

MANAGER (to me)
The box is open, sir.

ME
Everything is inside. Everything. Paper, plastic, everything.

MANAGER 2
It is broken?

ME
No. No. Please. Look, I just....

MANAGER
You wish to buy something else?

ME
Yes! I wish to buy something else. A different stereo.

And that's when the light bulbs came on. I imagine them being accompanied by the sound of a cash register. And five minutes later, I had store credit.

There were a few more shenanigans--I had to do some thorough in-store testing to make sure I didn't fall into the same pit of uselessness I did the first time, and then it took them 45 minutes to box up the stereo I did buy--but eventually I arrived back at the apartment with a big box and another receipt.

Tonight: The new stereo and I do battle. I'll let you know how it goes.

Oh, and the stove? I am totally going to NOT buy it at Lulu Hypermarket.

*replaces chunky $1,500 setup currently entertaining the Fiance, Puggle and Cat of the Blog in Chicago.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The great thing is, everything is stainless steel

Is it actually a cheaper material? Are U.S. homeowners getting ripped off by the greedy stove manufacturing lobby?

I'm talking about heavy appliances in the UAE. Specifically stoves, or "cookers" in the quite literal European parlance. I need one for my apartment, and this picture happens to be the one I have access to at the moment. Taken with my cell phone. Amid a bunch of signs saying "no pictures."

Feet not included.

An Ariston gas range, four burners plus oven and broiler. A steal at $1,400 dirhams, or roughly $380. Note the shininess. Note the drop-down cover that turns the cooktop into counterspace. Note the, well, narrowness.

You can get six-burner ranges, but then you're over two grand, easy. Worth it?

Prepare to mock

At E3 today (yesterday?) two things were announced that make me more excited than I, as a 32-year-old, should be.

First, a new Halo game called Halo: Reach. Following the trend of pretty much every major Hollywood franchise these days, the game is evidently a prequel to the massively popular (and well-written, in my opinion) Halo games. So that's cool. And second, there was a trailer for Mass Effect 2, a sequel to, you guessed it, Mass Effect, the beautifully written science fiction epic. That game was great because it essentially played out like an interactive movie; unlike most video games, the story arcs were clever enough to get the player invested in the fates of the characters. And the dazzling art and art direction helped too.

Anyway, there you go. Fire away.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Wear your seatbelt

As I mentioned before, the UAE is an extraordinarily safe place... unless you are on a stretch of paved asphalt. More evidence, from tomorrow's The National:

Road deaths account for 15 percent of all deaths in the [Abu Dhabi] emirate, making it the second-leading cause of death overall.

Fifteen percent doesn't sound like a lot until you start looking at context. For instance, in the United States, about 4.5 percent of deaths every year are from accidents of ALL TYPES. Heart disease, cancer, strokes and respiratory failure all are above that category, by a huge margin. That's right. You are more likely to die in a car accident than of one of the world's leading killers here in the UAE.

Part of the issue is that drivers tend to be a bit more, shall we say, aggressive. But as the government points out, a microscopic 11 percent of Emiratis wear their seatbelts. That, combined with fast cars and winding desert roads, creates the kind of scenario middle school drivers-ed filmmakers dream of.

The meaning of "fit" and other observations

In British English, apparently, "fit" doesn't mean "athletic" or "in good cardiovascular health." It's more like hot. As in, "damn--the Bulls' cheerleaders are quite fit." Which, as an example, is pretty awful because it works both ways. But you know what I mean. Additionally, sometimes if someone says it with a Scottish accent, it sounds like "fat," which could potentially lead to hysterical misunderstandings.

The other thing I observed is that despite living in a desert, maintenance types are in no hurry to restore someone's water service if it is interrupted. Happily, the H2O began flowing again roughly 18 hours after it stopped, and everyone got to shower, the end.

Lots of pictures from my Abu Dhabi wanderings yesterday. They'll be coming after I get situated with Internet in the new apartment.

The search for a great cocktail continues

Once again, praise be to [deity of your choice] to the Fiance of the Blog for sending me to bartending school. The best mixed drinks I have had here, I have made myself. And my skills are much-appreciated among the always-thirsty expat set.

On Friday night I went to this place and had a few drinks. Bar No. 1 was a polished, clubby experience packed with (mostly male) expats wielding umbrella drinks. I had a decent, but not awesome, manhattan.


The bar is through those second-floor windows in front of you.

The best part of the experience, besides the company, was that the glass-walled side of the bar looked out over the channel between the mainland and Abu Dhabi island, and more important, onto the Grand Mosque.

Ain't it grand?

Yes, I appreciate the irony of enjoying a drink while viewing a mosque. Let alone a grand one.

Bar No. 2 was the lobby of the hotel. Apparently where the Emiratis hang out. And ignoring the fact that they brought us fries (that's right, Brits--George Washington and I said FRIES), the drinks were awful. My martini had lemon juice in it. I don't know what to add to that.


As my Scottish landlord suggested, the bar decor is a diamond-encrusted man-o-war.

I'll bottom-line it for you: Apparently even 20 dirhams (on top of a Dh100 cover charge, thanks to that Y chromosome) won't buy you a good drink in this town. But I'm working on it.