Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Money doesn’t get a lot of respect in Dubai in general. Things are unreasonably expensive here but most people have enough not to make a big deal out of it. Ferrari’s and Hummers are a common sight on the crammed highways and if you judge by the occasional till queues you’d think designer shops are supermarkets.
Most companies pay their staff a decent salary so it isn’t hard to get by for the average employee. However, running into problems with money makes Dubai almost unliveable for some.
Since minor health problems have prevented me from working fulltime during the last few months I have been on a pretty tight budget recently. Much of my time was spent catching up on my DVD education and reading books that have been left untouched on my bookshelf.
Yet in the end we all need to get out, mingle and find some action. What I have discovered (with a little help from the new man in my life) is that there are more than a few simple things to enjoy in this bling world.
For instance, the cost of food varies hugely in Dubai. Of course, it is a desert and most things have to be imported so it becomes very expensive. Yet there are also certain products that come from lush neighbouring countries so it’s always worth comparing prices. For instance, melons from Oman, strawberries from Egypt and bananas from Pakistan are pretty cheap compared to fruits imported from the US, Australia and even Europe.
Interestingly enough the Gulf News recently reported that there’s a new trend taking the world by storm called locavorism. Fuelled by the recession, people now have a new found passion for local food; the more local the better, cheaper and healthier for you.
Same goes for restaurants in Dubai. Italian food costs a lot more than Lebanese or Indian and it’s worth looking out for small little cafes with delicious fare rather than going for places with fancy interiors and less fanciful food.
Street cafes worth a visit are Zeyara Cafeteria in Abu Hail area where they make delicious home style burgers and the best fresh fruit juice in town. My favourite is a prawn sandwich with a spicy mayonnaise for around AED 4 ($1). Even Dubai’s rich and famous pass by here to pick up karak (cardamom) tea for around AED 1 ($0.2) per cup – not because it’s that cheap but because it’s that good.
In the same area there is a street café called Fatayer Alla Attayer which makes Lebanese pastries. It's the perfect place to visit on the way to Al Mamzar beach to pick up snacks for a picnic while enjoying the lovely Dubai winter weather.
Other than that the current Dubai Shopping Festival is offering incredible discounts. I bought trousers for just about AED 30 ($8) from City Centre a few days ago and then went to see a ‘buy one get one free’ movie at the cinema there.
Yet, if all else fails and city life becomes just a little too expensive, there's nothing better than heading off into the desert and camping out under the stars after watching the big red sunset. Bonding over a campfire is priceless indeed.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
A new year is usually the time when we reassess where we are in life and where we are heading. In 2007/08 I was heading everywhere with little time in between to think about my experiences, what they mean and how they are changing me.
2009 will bring travels less in quantity but hopefully more in quality time. My dad always says ‘everything in moderation’ and he is right. It’s because I have been obsessively overdoing the travelling thing that my body finally said: enough.
However, more rest in between travels have been rewarding me with small epiphanies that may or may not mean anything at all. A friend was teasing me recently about how my tea collection now exceeds my red wine supplies - when it suddenly dawned on me that the two drinks have more than a few things in common.
While green tea is as ingrained in Eastern cultures as red wine is in Europe and other Western countries, they also have similar health properties and are both seen as an art form. Tea estates and wine estates are each breathtaking in their own way and the harvest of grapes as well as tea leaves undergo many processes to create different types of end products that could be matched with food or enjoyed on its own.
Similarly, while learning more about Islam here in Dubai, I realised that the salaat and the sun salutation also show similarities. Both are spiritual practices where one touches the forehead to the floor. The fluid movements massage the internal organs and encourage the body to move towards a sense of balance.
We always seem to think that cultures are so different but the fact is that as human beings we often lean towards the same things. Yet in different parts of the world we have different resources to draw from (tea trees in China as opposed to vines in Cape Town) while different groups (Buddhism and Islam) may independently adapt similar practices for wellbeing.
Is it perhaps that we are not as different as we would like to believe? Who knows; the girls who introduced me to the traditional Chinese tea ceremony in Shanghai could have been my kin if I was born into a different skin.
The more I find connections the more this world becomes an exciting and wonderfully complex place that I can’t wait to discover more.