Archive for November 2009
One of the great things about living in Dubai (to date) is that things are built really, really quickly – anything from houses and apartment blocks to new mass-transit systems, skyscrapers and 12-lane highways. One day you read about the plans in the paper and, in next to no time, there it is on the landscape.
We have a little joke here that, if you go away on holiday for more than a couple of weeks, you’d better take a look around as it’ll all have changed by the time you get back.
(I say all this in good faith that this will continue to be the case though, of course, one never knows what the future will bring, especially in this part of the world and while we’re all a-waiting for a statement from the holidaying royal family on what exactly’s going down with that there loan).
So, it was with more than a little passing interest that I looked at two strange erections that suddenly appeared round the back of a nearby community centre last week (see pic).
What could they be? A recycling centre? Public loos? An al fresco branch of Costa? A champagne and oyster bar? (A girl can dream).
Today, all was revealed: they are post boxes. At last!
If you want to receive mail in Dubai, you have to have a PO Box number because there is no postal delivery service. Can you imagine how difficult it is to get online shops to deliver your new season’s over-the-knee boots to a PO Box? How the whole system goes into meltdown when you can’t enter a postcode into the ‘Zip code’ box of the online order form? The things we Dubai girls have to go through…
The reason there is no postal delivery service here is because many areas don’t actually have specific addresses.
Directions in many of the more traditional residential areas tend to be along the lines of, ‘Take the third left after such-and-such roundabout (you know, the one that’s now traffic lights and has that new cafe on the corner). When you see a blue house, look for three big bins in a row and take the first right after that. Pass the house with a white dog in the yard and there’s an unmade road on the left. We’re number 15 – it’s next door to number 9 and there’s usually a scraggy white cat outside.’
It’s all very well for dinner party invitations, but try writing that on an envelope.
So, back to the post boxes. At present my friends and family back home despair that we rarely check our PO Box. Why? Because it’s a 75km round trip. I love getting letters as much as the next person, but not when picking up the mail involves a half-day outing , a packed lunch and a Thermos of tea.
And now, after four years of living where we do, we’ll soon be able to pick up our mail with relative convenience. I can’t tell you what a blessing that will be.
As DH and I tucked into a lovely dinner from The Noodle Room tonight I must have sighed or moaned, or given off some sense of inner turmoil, for DH asked me what the problem was. No cashews in my veggie hakka noodles? Puffy little curry buns not spicy enough?
No. The problem was a report I’d read before dinner on skynews.com and it’d quite put the spoiler on my Singaporean spring rolls.
‘Can I write about the so-called “sub-prime crisis of the desert” on my blog?’ I asked DH. ‘Can I write about the crappy media reporting, misrepresentation and hype and how infuriating it is that so many people believe the rubbish the media feeds them, no matter what?’
DH took a measured bite of his Thai red chicken curry and looked sideways at me.
‘No,’ he said. ‘Why raise the tone of your blog?’
I tell you what, he nearly got the curry buns stuffed up his nostrils for that.
The article that got me so riled is on skynews.com and is called ‘Expats Quit Dubai As Property Prices Plunge’. It’s about a couple who are returning to England, actually NOT because of Dubai’s ‘plunging property prices’, but to care for their elderly parents. They say:
‘Our move to the United Kingdom is a move we want to make, not one we absolutely have to do.’
They mention that their apartment in Dubai, which they bought for £150,000 is now ONLY worth about two and a half times what they paid for it (oh, how the recession bites). They go on to say that all their other friends are in Dubai long-term, so they all have time to wait out the uncertain times and see what happens.
So – to recap: couple leaving to care for parents; property worth two and a half times what they paid for it; friends staying long-term. Tell me, Sky News, how is this ‘Expats Quit Dubai As Property Prices Plunge’?
My four-year-old could put together a better news story than that.
Now, maybe I’m just an optimistic Pollyanna type of a Housewife, but I have to say at this point that I have every faith in Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai, to know exactly what he’s doing here. It’s my guess that he’s got something up his sleeve; we just don’t know what.
What I DO know is that Dubai has not YET defaulted on its loan, and that optimists have been proven to live longer than pessimists.
I realise I’ve stepped out of my Desperate Housewife brief(s) here, so tomorrow I’ll be back to writing about Housewifely concerns. Maybe some nice crock-pot recipes or some useful tips on how to keep the domestic staff busy. Good night, and bon voyage to the Sky News couple!
I didn’t put the article link in earlier as it’s really long, but here it is:
It’s a sweet-faced Filipina who walks up to DD and I in a shopping mall. I don’t suspect a thing. She’s holding a clutch of foil balloons.
‘Hello baby,’ she says in a sing-song voice to DD (who’s torn between objecting to being called ‘baby’ at four and a half years old and wanting a balloon). ‘You want a balloon?’
DD smiles and the lady hands her a Minnie Mouse balloon. DD looks at me for reassurance. She’s pleased, but she knows something’s not right.
‘Thanks,’ I say to the lady. Now she looks timid. I clock on. ‘What? I have to pay you for it?’
The balloon is Dhs 10 – almost two quid. I offer her half that. She says no.
‘You’ve got to be joking,’ I tell her. ‘You can’t just give a balloon to a child and expect her to give it back.’ I ask DD if she really wants it. She’s holding it, and she’s not letting go.
I hand over the money to the woman. ‘I don’t like the way you did that,’ I tell her. ‘Please don’t do that to any other parents. You can’t give a kid a balloon and expect her to give it back. It’s really mean.’
The woman apologises, but I see her doing it to someone else in the next few minutes. A man approaches me and sympathises – he was also also sucked in by her.
We have lunch. Afterwards, DD wants ice cream. I’m fuming about the balloon woman’s methods. Of course it’s not the money; it’s the way she did it. I don’t want DD learning that this sort of behaviour is okay. I tell DD that maybe we should find the balloon woman, sell the balloon back to her and spend the money on ice cream. She thinks that’s a great idea (she doesn’t really want the balloon – I know that; she just doesn’t want to let go of it once it’s in her hand). DH takes DD off to choose ice cream while I hunt down the balloon woman. I’m on a mission, and I find her.
‘Hold this for me,’ I say, pretending I can’t hold the balloon, the nappy bag, my handbag and DS’s pram. She takes the balloon. ‘That’s Dhs 20 thanks,’ I tell her.
She looks shocked, then she clicks who I am.
‘See how it feels? ‘ I ask her. ‘You take the balloon, I’ll have my Dhs 10 back and we’ll call it quits.’ She looks like she’s going to object, then she gets me the refund.
‘I’m sorry, ma’am,’ she says. ‘I know it was wrong.’
We both know it was wrong, but she won’t stop doing it, will she?
So, Dubai’s debt crisis has gone public and Dubai is in financial meltdown, at least as far as the international press would tell you. It seems to me the Western press likes nothing more than a juicy story about Dubai’s decline; how its excesses of recent years have come back to bite it on the bum. Schadenfreude and all that.
But it’s not my place to talk politics or economics; I’m just a housewife with two sick kids. (DD is much better, thanks, but DS is worrying me stupid with his high fever and lack of appetite for food or even milk).
What I do know about Dubai is this: the Burj Dubai – slated to open Jan 4 – has been lit up at night and it’s a sight to make anyone smile. Anyone. Even those with debts of $80 billion. How can you see this every day and not breathe even just the littlest ‘wow’?
Yesterday afternoon I took DD to see ‘The Tales of Peter Rabbit’ (Beatrix Potter) at the theatre while DS stayed home with Gerlie.
It was a lovely show – cheerful songs, nice dances, an age-appropriate telling of the story and an enthusiastic audience. DD was excited to be out after dark but I was slightly antsy about leaving DS to be fed, bathed and put to bed by Gerlie – so far I haven’t missed a single dinner, bath or bedtime of his life, so we rushed home pronto after the show.
DS was still up when we got in. The moment I kissed him I knew he had a fever.
It was a long night; he woke every hour (as did we). At 6.30am, after I’d got DD into her school uniform and made her breakfast, she also failed the ‘lips’ temperature test. (Your lips always tell you if your kids have a temperature).
My day was spent 100% at home, administering Calpol, mopping brows and babying both the baby and the four-year-old. It was my first time with two sick kids and I’m hoping all the running around has burned off at least a zillion calories. I do feel thinner already.
Still, we spent much of the day outdoors – DS took his naps in the pram in the garden while I lay on the sun lounger and directed DD’s writing and drawing efforts over a cup of tea. Given how sick they both are, I’m SO glad we’re not flying off to Malaysia or the Maldives in the morning.
We have a run of public holidays coming up. Arafat Day, this Thursday, runs directly into Eid Al Adha, which is followed closely by National Day. The schools will be closed for 10 days, giving us a nice stretch of time for a pre-Christmas family get-away.
We agonised over whether we should go away. I’m desperate to get away, yet reluctant to play the airport security and jet-lag hoopla with a small baby.
Anyway, as every mum knows, ‘getting away’ when you’ve got a small baby is a bit of a fallacy – you don’t ‘get away’ – you just relocate the feeding, entertaining and nappy-changing to another country.
DH, who escapes home life in the office every day, doesn’t feel the need to get away quite so much, but booked the week off work in case I managed to pull an exotic trip out of the hat.
I looked into Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand (jet-lag issues for DS’s routine), the Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius (only night flights). I looked closer to home: Oman and even other Emirates – Ras Al Khaimah has some super luxe hotels these days. I made a little shortlist.
But then I got thinking about this: we have a gorgeous pool in the garden, and a beautiful outdoor lounge area with a squishy L-shaped sofa, a chaise longue and dining table. We have the services of Gerlie. All the children’s toys are here. The beach is just down the road. The weather, right now, is perfect.
Why would we want to cramp ourselves into a tiny little ‘sea-facing deluxe’ room with no private pool (and no Gerlie to help out) just for the sake of ‘going away’?
I thought hard, and realised that what I like best about holidays, aside from the luxury, is not having to cook – eating out, having someone else do the meal-planning and the slaving over a hot stove. That’s it, really.
So we decided to stay home, enjoy our pool and garden, and order as much food on ‘Room Service’ (the take-away delivery service) as we like. At least DS won’t get jet-lag, and I can spend the change on redesigning the kitchen.
I took the abaya back. The over-priced mini abaya that didn’t fit DD (see yesterday’s post, ‘Challenge Anneka’).
The receipt said, ‘No Exchange, No Refund’ but I plucked up my courage and smiled as sweetly as I could. And, finally, after a little pleading on my part, the salesman agreed to a refund.
It wasn’t just that it didn’t fit. Nobody likes being ripped off, and the rubbish feeling I’d had as the salesman had looked me up and down before setting his extortionate price had stuck with me for days. I’d been taken for a ride, and I’d been too timid to do anything about it at the time.
Dubai used to be the kind of city where it was assumed that expats had a big, fat salary package and could therefore afford to pay inflated prices. As one salesman told me last year, there was the price for something, then there was the ‘Dubai price’ – add about 50 per cent because you’re in Dubai and, well, the expats can afford it. This was, of course, pre-recession.
What I’ve noticed about the recession is this: in a city of people that used to love showing off their wealth, there’s been a gentle – and welcome – shift of perception. In many – but not all – circles, it’s now acceptable to admit that you aren’t made of money.
A year or so ago, if a restaurant or shop overcharged you, many would have paid up without a peep so as not to lose face. It wasn’t the ‘done’ thing to look like you cared about saving pennies. Perhaps you really didn’t care about the pennies.
A year on, people are shopping around for the best deal; they’re ditching the over-priced beach clubs and switching from the super-expensive ‘expat’ supermarkets. They’re flocking to Dubai’s only flea market; car boot sales are starting to appear; websites like souq.com (Dubai’s version of eBay) and Dubizzle are going from strength to strength as people are actually – gasp – buying and selling second-hand items. People are standing up for themselves rather than just putting up with the over-pricing that’s rife over here.
It may seem perfectly normal to the British psyche but, for Dubai even a couple of years ago, all this was inconceivable. I’m glad things have changed; it makes people here a little more human, a little nicer, more realistic. If something good has come from the recession then, for me, this is it.
As for DD’s abaya? I went to a dusty little shop near my favourite low-rent supermarket and got one that fits for a third of the price of the other one. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier.
For more info on Dubai’s first ever – and massively successful – flea market, see:
Do you remember that early 90s TV show, ‘Challenge Anneka’? Each week, a bubbly blonde TV presenter, who had a big mouth like Zippy off ‘Rainbow’, was given a challenge to do against the clock. She got increasingly desperate as the time ran out; my memories are of her panting and gasping as the deadline for each challenge loomed.
I feel a bit like Anneka at the moment. I don’t have her back-up team but the panting is probably quite similar.
It’s DD’s school that’s been chucking the challenges at me lately. Sometimes I feel like the staff committee sit there, coffee in hand, working out what they can next throw at the parents to keep them busy and hence out of their hair.
‘Heh, heh, heh,’ I imagine them cackling over their Nescafe Gold Blend. ‘Let’s get the mums to arrange a one-legged ski competition for the childrens’ pet hamsters. That’ll keep the buggers quiet for a bit. Oh, and we’ll get them to add a raffle of only blue prizes beginning with “p”‘.
There are dress-up days that need costumes, parties to cater for, parent-teacher meetings, winter fayres that need cupcakes baked, raffles and tombolas that need prizes donated and ballet shows that need attending.
This week’s ‘Challenge Anneka’, for example, was (and bear in mind it’s only a four-day week) to send DD to school on Wednesday in national dress and with a traditional Arabic lunch (I am guessing they don’t mean a McArabia burger from McDonalds). ‘National dress’ for girls would be an abaya – the long black gown the Arab ladies wear over their regular clothes.
One of the mums gave me a heads-up one where to find the abaya and I rushed over to the shop only to find they’d already sold out of mini sizes.
After an Anneka-like crescendo of panting around Mall of the Emirates, I found one in an incredibly smart (read ‘expensive’) Arab ladies’ shop – the sort that sells designer silk abayas trimmed with crystals, pearls and diamond-dusted Ferrari keys.
‘Yes, we have,’ said the salesman, looking down his elegant nose at me. ‘How high are the shoulders?’ I gestured loosely.
A suitably small-looking abaya was produced. The label on it said ‘38’ – I hoped it meant Dhs 38 – about £6.50.
‘How much?’ I asked. The salesman looked carefully at me. I know he was checking out my handbag and wondering what he could get away with. (It was the snakeskin Cole Haan that day).
‘150,’ he said finally. I didn’t flinch. ‘And you need the headscarf.’
‘She’ll just lose it,’ I said. ‘There’s no point.’ He produced a square of white silk about smaller than one of DS’s muslin cloths.
‘80. Total, 230.’ Almost 40 quid for an outfit she’ll wear for about an hour.
I nodded. ‘Okay.’
He wrapped it beautifully. Bags and boxes, ribbons and another bag, tied with more ribbon, which was quite possibly shot through with 24-carat gold and the blood of Snow White.
DD loved unpacking it all. I just wish I’d got one that fits her.
Nine months on, nine months off – that’s what they say about the baby weight. And, if I eat nothing for the next month, I may just be on track to achieve that. The final say, though, will come not from the scales but from the fit of my pre-pregnancy clothes.
Every few weeks, I measure myself by taking them out and seeing how far up my thighs I can pull various garments. There are some pieces, however, that I haven’t even begun to try because I know it’ll just be too depressing (I was pretty skinny before conceiving DS).
One such item is a pair of dark blue skinny-flare jeans I bought about 18 months ago. They’re a skinny fit over the bum and thighs, flaring out extravagantly from the knee. When I bought them, I absolutely loved them but, by the time I was just 30 seconds pregnant, I was too fat for them and they were banished to the vacuum bag under the bed.
Today I felt a bit slimmer (and braver) than usual so I tried them on. I slid my right foot in, pulled it up – dare I hope? I slipped the other leg in; pulled them up; breathed in… and did them up. They were tight, but wearable.
Oh deep joy – you can’t believe my happiness. I slipped on some heels and a top and strutted over to the mirror, wiggling my hips and winking at my svelte new self. Glory be! I have my gorgeous jeans back!
And then I saw it. Glaring unmistakeably.
The jeans are dated. Just 18 months after I bought them, they look so wrong. My eyes, attuned to a year and a half of leggings and skinny jeans, widened in shock. I looked like I was in fancy dress; I looked like I needed a crocheted jacket, a pair of star-shaped glasses and an afro wig. I most certainly did not look like a glamorous and stylish Dubai housewife with a handbag collection to make fashion editors weep. The jeans will have to go.
It’s a cruel, cruel world.
DD went on a school trip today. Quite a long way, in a coach, on the motorway. This morning, I slathered her in sunscreen, packed her sunhat, lunch and water bottle in her backpack, took a deep breath and kissed her goodbye.
It’s no big deal – she’s been going on ‘school’ trips since she was two years old. On the first trip, when she was not quite two, I took her myself in the car and met the teachers at the location.
When she was almost three, the class HAD to go on the minibus and I was petrified. As another mum said to me at the time, ‘It’s just a bus full of babies on the highway.’ I volunteered to be a parent-supervisor, and was allowed to take DD separately in the car. Problem solved – only DD was distraught that she wasn’t on the bus with her friends, so I let her go back to nursery on the bus. What she didn’t know was that I followed the bus along Sheikh Zayed Road (a 12-lane highway), watching it every inch of the way.
When she was almost four, she went both ways on the bus. I checked out the bus (big, solid, good seatbelts) and followed it just a few kilometres.
This year, DH and I talked about me following the bus.
‘You’re not going to?’ He sounded surprised.
‘It’s got to stop,’ I said. ‘I don’t want to be following her to the Alps on the Year 6 ski trip.’
‘What do you mean ‘following’?’ said DH. ‘We’ll be in Business Class. Technically, she’ll be following us.’