Monthly Archives: November 2012

Comfort Food in Old Dubai

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Comfort Food in Old Dubai

I’ve been longing to have a hearty aroma-infused home-made meal for as long as I can remember. What I didn’t know or expect, was that my long-awaited meal would present itself through a total stranger I had met on the street!

I had posted earlier about a girl around my age who I met at the bus stop while we were both trying to get to the nearby mall. She was on a journey very similar to mine. She was also trying very hard to find a job in this city. It’s as if the Universe had brought us together since we were both working towards the same goal, fighting the same obstacles and coming from matching cultural backgrounds and societies.

We had only met twice (including the brief encounter at the bus stop and walk to the mall) before my new warm-hearted friend had invited me for lunch to the house where she was staying as a guest during her job hunting period. Since I am a novice cook who can make simple dishes that don’t necessarily have a distinctive taste, and since I live alone in a city where loneliness is a feeling that you must adopt to if you want to survive….I immediately accepted the invitation with joy and excitement to spend quality time with my new friend and her relatives, and to finally get to eat a proper home-made meal for a change.

The destination was Deira…Palm Deira I was told. For some reason, I imagined it to be an island surrounded by water from all sides. Something like the Palm Jumeirah…But instead, we were walking down the streets of Deira souq and the ever-popular Naif market. These streets, occupied by mostly men, and full of shops with their merchandise displayed on the pavements, reminded me of downtown Khobar…the city where I am from. The scene where the men were coming out of the local mosque couldn’t emphasize the point any more. It was Friday after all!

My incredibly generous hosts were from Pakistan. Therefore, our main course was a traditional chicken Beryani, served with a refreshing bowl of Raita (yogurt mixed with cucumbers and tomatoes)…if that wasn’t enough to fill a big appetite, a small plate of roasted camel meat along with Dhal and Sag was too good to be neglected. As with Arabic fare, different types of pickled vegetables are an essential addition to a wholesome meal. Complementing our delightful feast was a mango chutney known as Achar, which ironically is an Arabic word used to describe pickles too. The Achar was so appetizing not only did it taste wonderful, it also made you want to eat more…A perfectly made custard sprinkled with saffron was the best way to end our beautiful traditional Pakistani lunch.

As we headed towards the metro station to take a ride back into the modern, Western-influenced part of Dubai, a large sign that warned people from “carrying fish on the metro” was truly amusing! My friend said she had witnessed people carrying big bags of what might have been fresh fish bought from the nearby famous Deira fish market. As odd as the instruction may sound, apparently there was a valid reason to put it up in large fonts.

As much as I love the contemporary, cosmopolitan and modern-day Dubai, the old and traditional corners portray the real face of the region, as well as the lives and culture of its people…a face that never seizes to impress anyone who visits this place; whether a tourist, a local or a resident expat.

Organic Therapy

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Organic Therapy

 

 

I was getting a manicure at Nails; an organic beauty salon and spa conveniently located on the other side of the road from where I live…the nail therapist suggested that I go for the November promotion of a full body scrub and half or full body massage for a fairly reasonable fee. It was the perfect therapy following my dad’s visit and our usual running around the malls, restaurants, cafes and this time, exhibitions!

As I went into the dimly lit treatment room, the therapist held a chart with different colors to me and asked me to choose the color that I disliked the most. After a quick glance at the cards, I chose a bright yellow. I always hated the color yellow. It tends to get on my nerves! My lovely therapist then explained how that color represents the element that my body needed the most at this very moment! Yellow was meant to heal the stomach and it is the color of emotions. She later rubbed the oil from that element onto my hands and I was laughing shortly after that. That’s when she said: see, now you are happy 🙂

The white oil scrub from organic French brand Eminence was used and applied in a gentle scrubbing motion all over the body. As we all know, a body scrub specifically helps in getting rid of ingrown hairs, as well as the obvious skin regeneration benefits.  Once the polishing was done, I was directed to a modern shower just a hop away from the massage bed. Where I took a quick warm shower in preparation for my soothing back massage. I went for the half body massage only, which is what I usually request whenever I decide to go for a massage treatment anywhere. The therapist applied just the right amount of pressure; strong yet soothing and relaxing. A quick scalp massage was the perfect addition to the treatment. All I could think of during the session was that I must go back for another massage treatment since it was so comforting and since I always suffer from tight knots on my back that don’t seem to ever disappear!

After my highly rejuvenating and gratifying therapy, I headed to a nearby Starbucks for a light tuna sandwich and a decaf Caramel Macchiato.  All in all, I’d say I had a pretty chilled and rewarding afternoon/evening.

 

 

Neighbourhood Nightmare

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Neighbourhood Nightmare

We had gotten so used to hearing the fire alarm go off in our building, whenever someone’s food was burning or when anyone was smoking a cigarette in the room…We would just wait patiently for a few minutes until the alarm would stop. I never even bothered opening my door and checking in those scenarios. That night though, the events unfolded differently. I had went to bed at midnight and set my alarm to wake up early to  meet my dad the next day…I was woken up by the loud sound of the alarm and simply rushed to the washroom while waiting for it to end as it always does. This time it didn’t stop though…That’s when I started to be suspicious. Hearing the fire truck siren only made me feel terrified! That was when I changed into a t-shirt and jogging pants and started to head out of my room….before Going back to grab my hand bag.

I joined everyone else in running down the stairs…It was a long trip for me as I live on a relatively high floor. While going down those stairs – seeing everyone carrying their most prized possessions, their young children or their pets – I found out that the fire was in the tower next to ours, and not in our building. That moment of relief was followed by a terrifying image of the huge blaze of fire at the top of the tower in the cluster next to ours. It was supposedly one of the best building developments in our area. And now it was under fire!

Standing outside in a daze, we all watched the fire as it grew vigorously and spread out to the higher floors of the tower. The weather was getting cooler…I went and sat next to my neighbor whom I haven’t seen in a while, and we were catching up on the pavement while staring at the growing blaze in front of us.

As the weather got cooler, we headed into our building’s lobby…and waited for instructions from the security guards. Who later asked us to go up to our apartments and sleep. They said that in case of an emergency, they would pull the fire trigger and we would have to go back down again! A couple of us were happy to follow that advise and took the elevator back to our places. Having left my place in a rush, my phone was still sitting at my night stand when I came back home. Another friend of mine from the building was trying to get through to me, so I called her back. She said that it wasn’t a good idea to stay in the building, in case of an explosion or something like that.

That’s when I shifted from an awkward moment of getting ready to go back to bed to a more serious one of taking my passport, cell phone, and a light cardigan, and heading back out of my door with my hand bag.

I found myself the star of a horror/thriller/action movie flick as I tried to make my way through the fire trucks and police cars and officers. The area was closed and no one was allowed to go in. But I explained to the police officers how I had to meet my friends at the other end of the road. And that’s why I needed to get past this mess to cross the metro bridge to the other side!  After a few phone calls from my friend, two brief encounters with the civil defense guys, and a marathon in the rebel and the flying ashes and hanging debris from the palm trees, I finally made it to the metro station and met up with my friends.

Luckily, our refuge was at a beautiful villa at the palm…and we spent the early morning hours lounging on a sofa at the terrace….in complete awe at how the events have unfolded and how we were transformed from a brutal nightmare setting into an amazingly serene and incredibly peaceful paradise backdrop.

When we finally made it back to our area a few hours later, we were confronted by the aftermath of the sad event. A vertical side of the once pristine and beautifully designed tower was now covered in pitch black ashes and pieces of the cladding were aimlessly hanging on to their lives on the exterior of the building.

Despite the initial shock, the immense panic and stress, the adrenaline rush, and the commotion that left its effects in our hearts and in our souls, I believe that witnessing a real fire makes us loose all our attachments to material things, and gives us a strong reminder of the more important things in life….ones that can never be lost in a massive blaze.

Sparkle: A Motown Musical Inspiration

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Sparkle: A Motown Musical Inspiration

 

 

 

As I browsed through the movie listings on all the cinema web sites, only one movie fitted the film category that could make me make a trip to the mall. The movie was a musical starring Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks. A quick search on the movie review site “Rotten Tomatoes” showed a rating of only 58 %. Not high enough to make anyone head to the nearest mall to get a ticket to watch it. I watched the trailer, but still wasn’t fascinated enough to decide to go and see it. I’m not sure what exactly made me go and watch it….maybe it was mainly because there wasn’t anything else that grabbed my attention.

I also knew for a fact that “Rotten Tomatoes” are a tough bunch of folks. They rarely give high ratings to any flick. So if they rated the movie at 58 %, then it must be worth watching. It can’t be that bad. They just didn’t think it was that amazing and not to be missed.

So, I went to the mall, paid a home service bill, had a quick lunch at the food court, then made my way to the cinema located at the other end of the mall. On my way, I passed a coffee place and couldn’t help but think how a nice warm drink would be great to have at the usually chilled theater. A number of new holiday season coffee drinks only gave me the affirmation that I needed to get something from the cafe. I asked for a to-go box for my salted caramel budino and water bottle, and made my way to the cinema’s ticket counter. As I was about to pay for my ticket, the cashier lady informed me that I wasn’t allowed to take in outside food or drinks, and that the cinema policy is quite strict about it. I had been gulping down my lunch and running across the mall to make it on time for the movie, and now I find out that I can’t go inside with my goody box of festive decaf coffee and water! I decided not to buy the ticket and went to sit on a nearby sofa to have my warm drink. Luckily, when I had gone back and purchased my ticket for the same time slot, I still managed to make it on time before the movie had started. Thank God for the 15 minute commercial break.

The movie was set in the 1960’s Motown era. Everything from the fashion to the make-up to the hairstyles reflected the elegance of the decade. Bold colored sequin cocktail dresses adorned the singers’ sexy figures. Puffed-up big hair do’s from the disco days were manifested on all the actresses’ heads. Dramatized eyes, contoured cheeks, and pale shimmery lips made for a beautiful sultry look.

Being a huge fan of vintage home decor, I found myself hooked on the pretty floral prints and antique pieces thrown in the different corners of the rooms….The pale mustard and sage green hues complimented each other in the various settings. I would have loved to star in the movie just to have the privilege of sitting in one of those stylish scenes.

The story revolves around a struggling artist who tries to make it in the music industry, but is faced by family issues. Mainly a very strict and religious mother who believes that her daughters should become doctors or marry ones…the mother played by Whitney Houston would ask her daughters to curl their hair and go to bed early in preparation for church Sundays. She would never support her daughters’ singing career as a result of her own failed marriage due to a career in the music business. Despite all of the rigid rules set by the mother, “Sparkle” played by Jordin Sparks finds a way to make it in the end, even if that meant sneaking out of her bedroom’s window to go and perform at a local club.

I’m a sucker for inspirational stories and this musical was no exception. It proves to you that the journey to realizing your dreams may not be smooth-sailing. There will be many bumps along the way…but if you have the passion and determination, anything can be possible.

Another element that made this movie a winner in my book was the charming Motown love songs and grooves…Have a listen to some of the songs featured in the movie:

 

 

 

Vintage era, Motown grooves, and a happy American dream ending, what more can you wish for? 🙂

Cafe Culture

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Cafe Culture

I was standing inside my building lift, carrying my bulky laptop, on my way to another coffee shop in the city to work and presumably network with others. This concept of working and networking from cafes was recommended to me by my neighbor, as one of many steps I had to take in order to get anywhere in my career life in Dubai.

To me, working from cafes was what I did when I first moved to the city and had no access to the internet from where I was staying. It was a temporary solution that went on for months on end, and that’s why, when I had the “luxury” of being connected from my own place, I never considered working from a cafe again. Oddly enough, it turned out I was wrong! very wrong…Apparently, everyone in Dubai who was not working at an office headed to these work spaces or wired cafes to get their work done and maybe network with others or arrange meetings. When I thought that I was in pure eternal high-speed home internet bliss, that bubble had to be burst and I found myself confronted by yet another task and challenge!

So, in response to my neighbor’s advise, I was back on the running track. This time running around cafes with my not so slim laptop and bulky carry bag. Back to my first line, I was in the building lift, when the lady standing there with me was carrying her beach bag and dressed in her beach clothes. I can’t say I was jealous because I’m not a huge beach fan, especially when it means lounging in the Dubai mid-day summer heat. I think I was jealous of the freedom that allowed her to go to the beach on a week day, while I was obliged to follow my neighbor’s advise to work harder and put more effort and dedication into my goal.

Today I’m writing this post from “The Pavilion”; one of the most popular work spaces in Dubai. My experience today hasn’t been so great. Mainly because I am not feeling too well…I am drained…I am wondering to myself: how many more wi-fi spots do I need to work from before I finally make it in this place? As for my review of this particular work space, the internet connection is not stable, my order of lamb fillet was too tough, and I got a rejection e-mail as soon as I opened my inbox. Well the last bit had nothing to do with the place, but I think my experience has been affected somehow by that message. I can’t say that I won’t be making another trip to “The Pavilion”, as it’s the current meetup location for the Dubai writers’ group…and I can’t let a small thing like a rejection e-mail prevent me from frequenting this classy and contemporary art space.

One place that I have worked from and don’t intend to go back to however is another popular work space at the other end of town. Which is close to where I live…I think that wi-fi hotspot was the first place I went to when I decided to begin my “working from cafes” chapter. The reason I don’t plan on going there again is the fact that their wooden seats are too uncomfortable for long working sessions. Although I was offered a cushion from the friendly waiter to place on the seat, the hours I spent working there on that day resulted to a stiff back and shoulders on the next day, and the desperate need for a deep tissue back massage treatment.

Working at the JBR cafes proved to be more of a leisurely experience than a serious one. Most guests at those places were tourists or families out with their kids on a relaxing day at the walk.  At one cafe, the staff were happily singing along to the music and humming the words to the songs….which certainly doesn’t help anyone who is trying to get some work done at the premise. The quiet atmosphere at Caribou JBR always appeals to me though….so does the coziness of the winter-themed decor and the choice to sit at a comfy couch and sip on a soothing dark hot chocolate or chai latte.

The funniest trip that I made was to a cafe that closes early, and is located near a gold and diamond shopping center. I was the only person sitting at the long wooden table (pictured above) and managed to check some e-mails and have a late lunch. Hey, at least I got to take a good picture for this blog topic.

As with everything I have been through in my journey, you always learn new ways to develop and improve your trials. In this phase, that included finding out about a wi-fi spot located in the heart of Dubai Media City…and is considered to be where media types and journalists go. Once I discovered that piece of information, I chose a date and headed to that cafe for my lunch. The food was great, the atmosphere was chilled, the staff were friendly and greeted you with “Bonjour” since it was a French bakery. But did I manage to network with anyone from the media crowd? unfortunately not. All I did that day was strike up a conversation with a lady I met at the washroom who worked at a telecom flagship store located in the area.

Before I had seriously embarked on my “cafe culture” journey, I was explaining to my neighbor how it wasn’t convenient for me to carry my hefty laptop with me everywhere, especially since I don’t drive. She suggested that I carry it in a back-pack or get an i-pad and use that instead. I answered that I was looking at this stage as a temporary one that will hopefully end when I eventually get a full-time role at a company.

I must conclude by saying that the warm date cake with almond ice-cream at The Pavilion was surely a great mood-enhancer, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who has a sweet tooth….also, if you fancy working or having a go at networking from a cafe in Dubai, here’s a list to get you inspired:

http://www.timeoutdubai.com/gallery/34786-15-wi-fi-hotspots-in-dubai#.UJ-8ZYaWHcw

 
Happy surfing!