Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rental Car Nightmare

Ever since we arrived here we have been having rental car problems.  First, my husband had requested a car that would hold all of our luggage and the car we received was woefully inadequate, but we made do.  Next the car started smoking and stinking and then stopped working so we had to have it towed.  The night we had it towed, we were supposed to be able to get a new car, but the rental agency closed before we could.

The next day, the rental agency did not call my husband (as they had promised), so he contacted them and they said they would deliver a new car, but they did not.  The day after that, they promised a car within “one to three hours” of our request.  Given this precise time frame, we decided not to wait around for the car.  We took taxies around all morning.  It is now eight hours after our request and there is still no car. 

Stay tuned...

Our First Full Day in Aberdeen

Yesterday we spent our first day in Aberdeen.  My husband had to work (all day!), so I was left alone with the kids – I was not too happy about this fact, but we muddled through - jetlagged and sleep deprived as we were.  We ate breakfast at the hotel as a family, the hotel put on a nice buffet.  I always laugh because our 4-year old eats free at buffets, but he could eat most adults under the table when it comes to breakfast food.  He normally has a few eggs, bacon, juice, toast, jam, porridge, cereal and sometimes a pastry.  (I know that there is no fruit or veggies in that list, but he gets his 5 per day during snacks and the other two meals – I make sure).

After breakfast my husband took off for work and I put the cranky kids to bed.  They napped for a bit and then I woke them for a taxi ride to see my older son’s new school.  We toured the school and made a brief stop at the playground (it is amazing).  The term is currently out, so the school was empty, but at the playground there was another family.  My son was playing with their kids and we started talking.  Turns out they are from Calgary – they happen to live in the neighborhood adjacent to ours in Calgary.  Small world!

After the school stop we took another taxi.  I had asked to be taken to a grocery store to get some baby supplies and the taxi driver suggested ADSA.  We walked in, and it was identical to Wal-Mart.  Everything, including the house brands, was the same.  I bought some baby food and supplies (much cheaper than Dubai), and I took my son for lunch (lightly breaded fish, macaroni noodles and peas) at the store cafĂ©.  Then another cab back to the hotel for naps.

Later that afternoon, we were picked up by a relocation specialist to view a property and take a tour.  She was very good.  She spent an hour showing us around and we toured some beautiful areas.  She was incredibly practical and showed me where to buy groceries and nice parks to take the kids to.  The landscape is green and bursting with life.  There are historical buildings, modern granite homes, cows, horses and sheep.  We drove alongside the river Dee and saw old bridges and a park.  As an aside, she drove fast, like a bat out of hell through tree covered laneways and winding roads.  It was slightly terrifying.

After that we had a painful wait for my husband to return from work (late…grrrr).  By the time he got back we were climbing the walls, so we took the easy way out and went to Pizza Hut by the beach for supper.  We ended up sitting near a child’s birthday party – our son sang along with the guests for the birthday song and the host gave him a little treat.  After supper we walked down to the beach and then the reality of the temperature sank in and we turned tail and called a cab.

On the way back to the hotel, we drove through the granite-filled downtown.  In the fading light, it was beautiful – all of the imposing buildings against a cloud-filled, orange-red sky.  The taxi driver proudly showed us countless churches that had been converted to night clubs and other landmarks.

Temperature Reality Check:

It is cold here.  It’s summer (the end of June) but the temperature has not been above +17 degrees Celsius since we arrived.  At night it drops to below +10 degrees Celsius.  I have had long sleeves (but not long pants because of my poor packing) on since we got here, and I have been cold most of the time.  My wardrobe will need a serious reality check before we move for good.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dear hotel manager... manage a nice, brand-name, upmarket hotel.  Can you answer one question for me?  Why, when you know there are 4 people in our room (and I know you know this because you made up the beds for 4 upon our special request), do you still only provide 2 towels? 

Is this an attempt to "save" the environment by laundering fewer towels? 
Do you enjoy and savor my call for more towels? 
Do you want your staff to get more exercise running towels to my room? 
Is this an attempt to "save" the environment by encouraging us to shower less and therefore use less water? 
Do you assume that children do not need to cleanse themselves? 

Come it just to annoy me?

Old People!

One thing that I love about Aberdeen so far is the old people.  By this I mean, there are old people here.  In Dubai, you never see old people - somehow the population seems to grow no older than about 50.  Here there are actual old people, and it seems far more natural.

Our Journey to Scotland...or...How we checked 10 bags between 3 paying airline customers without paying any additional charges

Yesterday we flew from Dubai to Scotland.  Our plan was to move as much of our stuff as possible on this air trip – then that stuff will be waiting for us in Scotland when we get here.   Our allowance was: 7 checked bags, 3 carryon bags, 3 “purses,” 1 diaper bag and 1 stroller - and we filled this allowance.  When we arrived at the airport in Dubai, we checked our 7 bags and went on to have a quick snack at Costa while dragging all of our carry-on with us.

The flight from Dubai to Heathrow was largely uneventful.  It is a testament to our children’s’ good behavior that it was uneventful.  The flight was nearly 7 hours and they were basically just good.  The plane had a car-seat cot for the baby which worked well – much better than the usual bassinette cots.  Our 4-year old reveled in watching hours of TV (we don’t have a TV at home, so it is a real treat).  The entertainment system on our flight was not working properly, so we all got a voucher for in-air shopping.

There was, however, one huge disturbance on our flight.  There was a child, about 3-years old, who literally either ran around or screamed bloody murder the whole flight.  He spent the first 2.5 hours of the flight running from our section into first class with his parents chasing him.  Then, his parents tried to contain him in his seat and he screamed constantly until we had a brief reprieve when he ran into first class again.  I’m not sure why he was screaming, but I can tell you it stressed me out and the other passengers were showing signs of wear as well.  I firmly believe that with our kids we are always “the wrong 10 minutes” away from that type of tantrum, but I still got annoyed with the child’s mum, who insisted on asking him to look at what colours were in his book the entire time he was screaming (as in:  "Darling...what colour is this one?  What colour is that one?  This is a lovely colour?" the whole time he was screaming).  On the other hand, who am I to judge, next time it could be me.

One other complaint about the flight – I was sitting across from my son and husband with the baby.  I was next to a family consisting of a mother and her two kids – a girl in her early teens and a boy who was probably about 10-years old.  The children were so rude!  The girl made a point of establishing as soon as we got onto the plane that I would not be touching the arm rest, even though I was trying to nurse a baby!  They demanded mango juice from the attendant (which he didn’t have) and made him serve them hot tea (but they initially asked for coffee).  The attendant served the girl orange juice (which I swear she asked for) and she said "what is this - I want apple!" and rudely thrust it back at him.  Their mother wanted red bull – but when it was not available on the flight she was rude.  She also wanted to make an in-flight shopping order when the meal was being served and was upset when she could not.  The kids jumped over my legs rather than disturb their mother, and the mother and the children would not put their cabin baggage away for take-off and landing, the attendant had to do it for them.  It appeared to me that the family was expecting preferential and deferential service, but it was not delivered on this British Airways flight, where all customers were treated as equals.

After this flight, we went through some crazy security line ups in Heathrow. One of the clerks asked us if we wanted to check our carryon bags, and we did – for free!  So that’s how we had 10 checked bags with no extra cost.

Next we made our way to Tiffany – I “needed” a sliver chain to go with a charm that my husband got me as a gift.  I chose an 18 inch chain – I thought I would want 16 inches, but after trying it on, it appears that I have a thick neck – wonder where I got that from, Dad.

Next we got takeaway from Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant, Plane Food.  It was delicious.  I had prawn and watercress salad, Parma ham, and a brownie with Devonshire cream and caramel.  I ate it while we waited for our next flight to take off – it was delayed about an hour.  We spent most of that hour in an incredibly hot plane waiting to take off.  But no screaming kid on that plane…

Our flight was short (only an hour), and when we were close to landing, I think I may have fallen in love with Scotland.  From the air it looks so vibrant.  I could see patchwork fields with sheep and cows, tiny winding roads, short crumbling stone walls, lovely stone buildings and a moody but sunny sky.  When we landed, I also fell in love with the people of Scotland.  So many people offered to help me in the airport.

We toted all of our luggage to the car rental carpark, and that is where the trouble started.

My husband had requested a car big enough to hold our luggage, and was assured he would get one.  Unfortunately the car that was waiting for us was a Kia Sedona.  But, as the car rental attendant said “where there’s a will there’s a way” and a half hour later all of the luggage was in the Sedona.  We started to drive and the car worked just fine for a couple of miles.  I was glad I was not driving – on the left hand side and in a standard - but my husband was doing a good job.  Then, all of a sudden the car stopped working.  We still do not know what happened, but apparently the clutch went?  Anyways, it was inconvenient and smelly.

We eventually called a taxi to take me and the kids to the hotel.  Three hours later, my husband arrived with the bulk of our luggage; he had been picked up by a tow truck.    In the interim I had ordered room service, bathed the kids and put them to bed.  Now we need to get a new rental car today, but size will not be such an issue, as all of our baggage is here.

One final thing.  It was +13 degrees Celsius when we landed last night (it was +44 degrees Celsius when we left Dubai), which quickly dropped throughout the evening.  That was OK for me, but the kids were very cold.  The baby currently has no shoes and no proper jacket, so I need to remedy this, and soon!  (But, family and friends if you are reading this and want to buy clothes for the kids please don’t because they are not standard sizes for their ages.)  Today I will put a “fall” snowsuit on the baby when we go out and my son will wear a light fall jacket, which will be good enough for day, but not night.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Shopping Festival

It is the beginning of "Summer Surprises" in Dubai, which is the summer shopping, dining and entertainment festival.  This basically seems to mean that there are rotating sales at all of the stores, and a ton of advertising to encourage everyone to get out to the malls and get shopping.  There is also an "edutainment" venue based on a cartoon character Modhesh (who I have never heard of, but, I had never heard of Ben 10 until recently, so it doesn't mean much if I have not heard of a cartoon character).

I generally do not like to spend my free time going to the mall, but we have run short of indoor activities as of late.  Last weekend when we were at the mall, we popped into a sports store and noticed that the sales are incredible, especially on winter clothes.  For some unknown reason, all of the stores here sell winter boots, winter coats, toques, scarves, etc.  We will need warm woolies for our move to Scotland, and I have picked up some really great gear for cheap.  I am impressed by the sales!

We only have a few days left here – maybe I will have to embrace the favorite Dubai pastime and start shopping!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Wafi Goes Wild

A few days ago we went to Wafi Mall to see the new show, which is called “Wafi Goes Wild.”  You may recall my previous post about the Wafi show called “Return of the Pharaohs” (

“Wafi Goes Wild” is an animal-themed outdoor sound and light show.  The show is about 12 minutes long and it takes place on the same plaza as “Return of the Pharaohs.”  It is a strange show.  Pictures, videos and drawings of animals are shone onto the buildings and, at times, the pictures and videos are co-ordinated to music.  The soundtrack was interesting.  There was some generic “African” sounding music (think “The Lion King” meets “Ladysmith Black Mambas”), Lenny Kravitz’ version of “American Woman,”  “Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones.  During one part of the show, bugs were crawling all over the building/screen and the creepiest music possible was playing – kind of like a horror film suspense soundtrack (that was one of the few parts of the show that “worked” for me).
The pictures were somewhat organized – a bunch of lion pictures all at once, a bunch of bugs all together and some undersea creatures.   During the song “Wild Horses” there was a video playing of some men “breaking” a wild horse – it looked like an activity that PETA would not approve.  They played that video over and over again.
All in all, this was a very strange show.  A blasting soundtrack was accompanied by flashing pictures of animals and some videos.  There was no story line or flow to the show.
The show was weird, but not “artsy” or “trippy” weird…just weird like someone threw it together without much thought.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ferrari World, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

Ever since we found out that we are moving to Scotland, we have been talking about doing one thing before the move – going to Ferrari World.  Ferrari World is an amusement park/theme park in Abu Dhabi.  It is in the Yas Island area of Abu Dhabi, close to the car race track and the Ikea. 
So, after all of that discussion, today was the day, we decided to go.  We are morning people, but, oddly enough, this park does not open until noon, so we spent the morning doing chores and then we drove the 45 minutes to Ferrari World and paid the cripplingly expensive entrance fee.  It is 225 AED per adult and 175 per child.  In Canadian dollars, that is about $60 for each adult and $45 for each child.   Even though I still think the park was expensive, and it may not have been “good value,” we had a great time.
First, I will tell you a bit about the park.  It is the world’s largest indoor theme park, and on the roof is the world’s largest Ferrari logo (3000 metres squared).  You can see this logo from the road as you drive up.  It is a strange shape – it is made from a steel frame with an aluminum roof.  The interior of the building is a dough-nut shape, but the exterior roof extends outward with triangular arms.  It is the only Ferrari-themed park in the world.
We entered the park at noon and it was very empty.  Not as empty as the Wonderland Theme Park, but still very empty.  The park is sparkling clean and it seems brand new.  It also had some insanely aggressive air con.  I was chilly the whole time we were there.  The first thing that you see when you enter the park is a display of Ferraris.  Now, I know it is Ferrari World, so this is to be expected, but when I saw all of these cars I thought “ugh…this is going to be boring…”  But, I was so wrong. 
We turned the first corner and there was an attraction called the Junior Training Camp.  It was a gorgeous car-themed playground.  We didn’t go in because it was not yet opened, and we were on a mission.  We headed for Formula Rossa to get in line.  Formula Rossa is the fastest roller coaster on earth.  It accelerates up to 240 km/h and 52 m in the sky in less than 5 seconds and the G-forces that you experience during the ride are the equivalent of what you would experience in a real F1 car.  I was so excited!  I love roller coasters.
Because of the kids, my husband and I needed to ride separately.  He rode first and I took the kids to the Junior Training Camp playground.  My son played in a human car-wash and then drove a realistic Ferrari pedal car around a track.  When my husband was done, I went to Formula Rossa.  I walked right on; there was no line at all.  It was amazing.  The initial acceleration knocks your socks off both because of the speed and because you are travelling from inside the air conditioned building out to the 40 degree Celsius outdoors.  Then the coaster is unpredictable with its hills and accelerations.  What a ride.

After the coaster, we took our son to the Junior GT, where children drive themselves around in scaled down 430 GT Spider cars.   Our son took a while to cotton on to the gas pedal, but once he got going, he was a surprisingly good driver.  He was especially cute when he stopped at the intersections to check the lights or look both ways.  I was really surprised that a car driving ride for kids so young let them drive without tracks, but they all seemed to figure it out. 

After Junior GT, we did a quick spin on the Carousel, where my son rode in a Ferrari concept car and I rode on a motor bike.  Next my husband raced in a simulator in the Scuderia Challenge.  The next ride was our son’s pick, the Bell’Italia.  This is a slow meandering track with cars that move on their own through scenery like the Italian countryside.  Our infant really liked this ride for some reason.  Next we stopped for lunch at Rosticceria Modena, which was delicious, and not too expensive by theme park standards ($32 for all of us).  I had a meat ball sub, which is totally uncharacteristic (I don’t like ground beef or meatballs), but I saw someone else order it and it looked delicious.  It was delicious.
After lunch we rode the Fiorano GT Challenge rollercoasters.  This is two rollercoasters that run simultaneously on tracks that loop around each other and “race.”  This is probably a really nice roller coaster, but after Formula Rossa, it just did not cut it.  Next we rode Made in Maranello, an edutainment ride about how Ferraris are made.  My husband and son also took in Driving with the champion and we all checked out the displays at the Paddock and Galleria Ferrari.
We took in three shows at the park; the first was a show featuring juggling and unicycle riding.  The second show was amazing – it is a show called La Gara, and it featured dancers and acrobats that were doing stunts and cheer-leading type manoeuvres.  There were also stilt-walkers and stunt-rollerblades.  A large German wheel was also a main feature with acrobats doing stunt on and in the wheel.
The third show was called “The Pit Wall” and it was a mock-game show…pretty disappointing.
We spent about 8 hours at Ferrari World, and during that time we easily saw all of the attractions and went on all of the appropriate rides for our family.  We went on a few of the rides multiple times and my son got to play in the fancy playground for a long time.  The park was appropriate for a young child (4 years old) and the baby was no trouble – there were appropriate facilities to take care of him.  But for the price, I would go back frequently (if we were not moving).

Friday, June 24, 2011

Please Wear Respectful Dress

On mall entry doors and doors to other public buildings in Dubai there are signs that say “Please Wear Respectful Dress.”  Some of the signs have a diagram that accompanies this phrase and others go on to say, “for example, cover the shoulders and the knees.” 

I see these signs as a rule or an expectation being set out with regards to how customers ought to be clothed.  I take care to always cover my shoulders and knees inside facilities with these signs.  Some other patrons pay these signs no heed – they are scantily clad, at best (which is crazy – the air con makes it chilly, even with my shoulders and knees covered).  There is no mechanism to police the request, there are no security guards or other people intervening and requesting appropriate attire.  I personally would feel uncomfortable with my shoulders and knees uncovered after reading the signs.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

In Praise of Napping

I love to nap.  For me, naps, like all sleep, are efficient.  I do not spend the afternoon hours lazing under a sun-drenched quilt.  I like to sleep for 18 to 22 minutes, lying down, and when I wake up I always feel completely recharged.   It is strange; I always wake up feeling like I have slept for hours.  As an added bonus, a short nap seems to help me avoid the 3:00 pm coffee and sweets routine.

Winston Churchill famously praised naps – napping apparently helped him to get through the stress of World War II.  A nap also helps with the stress of raising children.   I hope that I can somehow build a healthy nap into my workday when I return to the office…someday.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Don't call me "Madam"

All of the service people in Dubai (shop assistants, security guards, door men, taxi drivers, salon workers, etc.) call all of the women “Madam” (pronounced “meh-dum”).  This is supposed to be a sign of respect, but I have a hard time seeing it that way.  It is a silly title, and resistance to assist me with whatever I’m asking for often follows being called “Madam.” 

Many things are like this in Dubai.  The surface appearance is far more important than the underlying substance.  If someone appears to be respectful by calling me "Madam," it is more important than actual respect.  If an apartment appears to be well built because it is decorated nicely, it is more important than a solid underlying structure.   If a person appears to be well groomed, wealthy and happy, it is more important than their health, how content they are in their own skin and how they perceive their situation.  

You get the picture. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Swimming Lessons - My own personal hell...

So, my four-year-old son is in swimming lessons and the last lesson that we will be able to attend was today.  The lessons are once per week and they take place at a pool that is located within a school.  The pool is an outdoors and covered by a canvas sunshade, (like most pools in Dubai).  This is great for the kids, they are protected from the sun during their lessons and they are in the cool water.

The problem is where the mums sit while they wait.  The lessons are a half hour and the school is not close to other amenities, so the mothers (and nannies) must wait at the school while the kids are swimming.  Even though the pool is at a school, the school is locked.  We are expected to sit in a shade-free, breeze-free courtyard in the blazing afternoon sun.  There is a small patch of roving shade, which is snapped up by the earliest mother (it is really only large enough for one person).  But, getting there early means spending extra time outside - a really bad idea with the baby, whether I am in the shade or not.  The temperature today at the pool was over 40 degrees Celsius, and no amount of shade makes this acceptable for an infant.

The obvious solution is to sit in the car with the air con running for the duration of the lesson.  This is an environmental nightmare, but it beats the courtyard, which must be as hot as the underworld...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Photo Developing

I went to Dubai Marina Mall today to pick up some much-needed grocery items from Waitrose.  I also needed to develop a handful (25) of photos.  I have not yet developed photos in Dubai, and I was unsure of how to do it. 

I took my photos on a USB stick with me to the Mall.  The security guard told me that photos can be developed in the camera store, so I headed on over to see how it worked.  The store had a self-help machine, where you stick in your USB card and, eventually, get photos out.  On the machine was a big sign directing users to get help from store staff.

A staff member came to help me, but the machine was relatively simple to operate - it was much like the ones at home.  The trick was the payment.  The machine accepts cash only and does not give change.  So, my order cost 50 dirhams.  I only had a 100 dirham bill, and had I put it into the machine I would have lost 50 dirhams.  The clerk helped me to get change, and I asked him what would happen if someone put too much money in – he said the store does not refund the difference.

Anyways – my errands got done without anything eventful happening.

But – you may recall that I have been lost on numerous occasions in parking lots here in Dubai.  Well, Dubai Marina Mall has a system to prevent dotty housewives like me (and everyone else too) from losing their cars.  When you leave the parkade and enter the mall, there is a bank of brochures and one of the slots contains cards that are roughly the size of a business card.  These cards identify which level and section of the parkade you are leaving, so that you can later find your car.  Brilliant!

Air Con

No matter what setting my air conditioning is on, my apartment is an uncomfortable temperature.  I am either sweating or chilly.  When I am sweating, I turn the fan on and then I am immediately chilly, then freezing.  We have an air con controller in every room and they all have three settings - somehow they are all perpetually set wrong.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Food Court Trays

In Canada, food courts at a shopping centre are generally self serve, and you clean up after yourself.  That is not the case here in Dubai.  There is a bunch of staff wandering around the food court at all times collecting trays and trash from the tables.  Sometimes they are overly diligent in their clean up and begin clearing the table as a customer is eating.  This makes for a very clean food court.

The other task that these people do is to tamp the garbage.  They tamp it constantly to make room for more garbage.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Aquarium and Underwater Zoo at the Dubai Mall

We are leaving Dubai for good in a couple of weeks and there are a lot of loose ends to tie up.  My personal project is to make sure that we have “made the most” of being in Dubai (yes, I understand how annoying this probably is to my family).  To “make the most” of our time in Dubai, I want us to see any tourist attractions that we are interested in before we leave.  Before we came to Dubai, I had made a list of things to do.  Because we were going to stay for two years we were spacing out these activities, but now there is a bit of a push (from me) to get some more of them “under our belts” before we leave.  (As an aside – can you imagine vacations with me?  Yes, I love to have a schedule and follow a checklist; I am definitely not relaxed about travel and tourism.)

So, today’s activity was to see the Aquarium and Underwater Zoo at Dubai Mall.  We have seen the outside of the aquarium a few times and it is spectacular.  The side of the aquarium is open into the mall and you can watch the fish as you walk down the mall. You watch through the world’s largest acrylic panel - it is more than 2 stories high.  As you walk by, you can see fish, sharks and rays.  When you go inside (and pay the admission fee), you walk through a tunnel that is built into the fish tank.  I have always thought that the admission price was very expensive, given that you are paying to walk through the tunnel and look at the same fish that you can see for free from the outside.

Anyways, we got to the mall and paid the fee of 50 dirhams each (about $14 Canadian) for tickets to the Aquarium and Underwater Zoo.  I was disappointed that they charged full price for our four-year old.  (Another aside – the age cut-off for the full fee was three-years old.  Some parents that we know would tell a lie and pretend their kid was only three to get the reduced admission price.  As cheap (frugal?) as I am I would never do this – first, I think this is morally distasteful and could lead to bad karma, but also our son is big and we would never get away with it.)

After buying our tickets, we walked along the outside of the tank (same view you can see from the mall, but slightly closer) and around the corner into the area that you can only enter if you have purchased tickets.  We had to stop to pose for the obligatory tourist photo, (you know, the one that they try to sell you at the end) and then we entered the tunnel and it was unbelievable!  It was dark and there were 9 sharks above and next to us.  I was initially terrified because when I turned the corner it was dark and a shark’s face was right next to me.  I knew in my head there was glass in between us (or acrylic) but it was still scary…and incredibly cool.  The shark area alone was worth the admission price.

The sharks were clustered in the first area of the tunnel, I think because it was darker than the other parts of the tunnel.  I didn’t want to leave this part of the tunnel, the sharks were fantastic to watch, and they swam around looking at us with their chilling eyes and sharp, ratty teeth.  Our four-year old didn’t love this part of the tunnel, but he wasn’t scared either.  He wanted to look at the fish in the other parts of the tunnel and eventually we had to leave the sharks and move on.  The other parts of the tank tunnel were equally amazing – there were rays swimming over our heads, schools of fish everywhere and more sharks cruising the tank.  There were a couple of hammerhead sharks – they looked deceptively friendly.  Some of the rays were massive, easily bigger in diameter than an adult human is in height.  We could see them eating because we were beneath them in the tunnel.

We spent nearly an hour in the tunnel and then we went for lunch and did some other errands at the mall.  You will recall that we had tickets for the Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, so after our errands were done we went to check out the Underwater Zoo.  I had no idea what this was, and I was initially not that interested, but, being frugal, I wanted us to get the most we could from our tickets.  Of course I should have had a more open mind because the Underwater Zoo was outstanding.  When we walked in, we were greeted with a huge tank of piranhas.  Then some otters, then water rats (nutrias) – yech!  There were huge tanks of wonderful and beautiful fish, including paddle fish, lion fish, angel fish, sharks (quickly becoming my favourite), king crab (OK, not a fish – but delicious), pig nosed turtles (also not a fish), cichlid fish, jellyfish, eels, rays, alligators etc.  The tanks were all on the ground and were placed within a faux-natural landscape. 

One thing that was absolutely bizarre about the Underwater Zoo was that all of the fish tanks were open on top.  There was no mesh, no guard and no glass or acrylic panels preventing you from putting your hands, trash, camera, child, etc. into the tank (including the piranha tank).  There were signs warning you to not put your hands in, but I could easily have put mine in if I were so inclined.  Our four year old may have been able to as well, he could reach to the top of the tank sides without his arms fully extended.  Another difference between this zoo and others we have been to – very little scientific information.  Normally zoos or other “edutainment” venues have plaques displaying information about the plants and animals on display.  This zoo had some plaques, but the information was minimal – learning takes a backseat to enjoyment in this zoo, and that was kind of fun!  (Yes, I’m the person who likes to read all of the information on every plaque.)

One of the tanks, the one containing lion fish, had a small tunnel underneath leading to a dome in the middle of the tank.  My husband and son ducked in to see the view over their heads.  It was a tight squeeze for my husband.

We made our way through the Underwater Zoo and the last two big displays contained the penguins - the stars of the zoo.  In the first tank the warm-climate penguins were being fed.  They were swimming in the water and frolicking on the shore.  The second penguin display was an Antarctica-based display with snow and a fake ice background.

After the penguins we went upstairs to the area called “Creepy Crawlies.”  There were snakes, cockroaches, frogs, and an iguana.  Needless to say this was not my favourite part of the zoo, but it was interesting.  There was also a snake (not in a tank) that you could take a picture with.  In short, I could not get out of this area fast enough….but there was a cool suspension bridge over the top of the aquarium tanks on the lower floor of the zoo.  I did wonder again at all of the tanks being open on top.

Over all I was most impressed with the aquarium and underwater zoo, it was well worth the price of admission that I begrudgingly paid.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Baby Bjorn

I love my Baby Bjorn and I use it all of the time.  (If you don’t know what a Baby Bjorn is, it is a baby carrier that allows you to carry your baby on your front).  It is a practical way to carry my baby, it makes him happy.  It also helps me to get exercise.  I have not seen many other people using a Baby Bjorn here in Dubai; most babies here are wheeled around in pricy strollers and prams (some of them cost upwards of $2500!).

When I wear the Baby Bjorn out, a lot of people stare at me.  My husband thought that they were staring at our cute baby, and a fraction of them are, but the Baby Born is the real attention-grabber.  Many different kinds of people, from male laborers, to souk clerks to other mums look at the carrier and a lot of people comment on it to me or to their companions.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

For Shame

Shame on you Vancouver rioters and looters.  It's just a game.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I accidentally bought...

               lard instead of butter (hey, the label was in French and I tried my best)
               diapers that have an outer layer akin to a garbage bag
               alcohol free antiperspirant
               insanely spicy hummus
               biryani rice instead of plain (actually, quite delicious)
               an XL coffee from Costa - I had ordered a small, it was almost as big as a 1 litre milk
               shampoo and conditioner that made my hair feel dirty
               date cookies that looked like chocolate
               a 6-cup coffee maker that only makes 2 "Canadian sized" cups
               insanely salty butter
               herbal-flavored toothpaste - nasty!
               socks that were too small for my husband
               cinnamon sticks not powdered cinnamon
               tank tops that were "seconds" - one strap is significantly longer than the others
               a scented scarf – this was gross – I bought a scarf because I thought it was pretty.  The sign said it was “scented,” but I had no idea what that meant.  When I got it home it smelled like spicy Arabic perfume (which I hate).  I washed it over and over and it still reeked!

Car Wash Guys - Continued

You may recall my earlier post about car wash guys.  (Link: 

These are the guys at the mall who wash your car while you shop (“car wash guys”).  They wheel around a water tank and hose and then clean up the cars in situ while the car owners shop.

Today I saw something absolutely side-splittingly funny when I was leaving the mall parking lot.  I was packing my kids into the car when I heard two men talking loudly.  One man, a mall patron, was telling a car wash guy “You silly fool!  You missed an entire side of my car!  This is not what I paid for!” (Not quite in these kind words, but you get the picture.)  

The car wash guy was duly impressed with the force of the criticism and sprang into action.  He ran to get what he needed to fix the problem.  He retrieved from his cart a very large, very dirty cleaning rag and a teacup that was half full of water.  He dipped the rag into the teacup and one corner of the rag absorbed all of the water in the teacup.  Then he circled the whole rag (wet and dry parts) around, Karate-kid style on the side of the car for quite some time while the rag dried out before the car owner was satisfied.

I can picture my dad cringing at this car wash method!  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Time to move on...

So, you know how when you decide to look for a new job your current job gets worse - boring, annoying, etc?  And you know how when you decide to buy a new house your current house has more problems and annoyances - more repairs, the commute is worse, etc?  And how when you decide to find a new hairstyle your current hair cut is more of a pain to style?

This is happening to me with Dubai.  The commute to the school that I chose for my son used to be a lovely drive.  Now it is painfully long.  My preferred grocery store now is too far away and involves too much of a hike through the mall.  The beach is too messy; the pool to dirty ant-filled; and the playground is too hot.  The malls are too crowded; the roads are too dangerous; and the newspaper is too biased.  The once charming people and cultural differences are becoming the bane of my existence.

This means that it is time to leave.  I can see my friends going through this negativity as well.  For them it is a lead-up to the summer break - after they have stayed with relatives for a couple of months, they will be happy to come back here, I'm sure.  I will be glad to move on to our new home in Scotland, where I'm sure I will be infatuated with the lifestyle at first, and then we'll see where it goes from there.

The other strange thing that I have noticed about this new move is that whenever I tell someone about it, they automatically are incredibly supportive and say something indicating that they think we will be much better off in Scotland than Dubai.  This goes for my friends here, my friends and family at home and even our paediatrician!  I have enjoyed my time here in Dubai and I was not longing to leave.  Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to go, but the ladies around here are acting like I have found a lucky escape...I think this is very telling.


The kids and I have pink eye.  It sucks!  We have to cancel a tea party, miss swimming lessons and miss a birthday party.  We have to go back to the doctor, too!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Vaccination #3

Today my beautiful six-months old baby boy had his third set of vaccinations.  To date, all of his vaccinations have been in Dubai.

We drove to the Green Community clinic for the vaccination, this may be the last time we come to the Green Community here in Dubai.  It is a lovely community, although in the summer, like everywhere else, it is too hot outside.  The trees do provide nice shade, but it is hard to beat this heat. For reference, it was around 40 degrees Celsius again today.  Also, the Green Community is difficult to get into from the highway - there is one small entrance for the entire community and it is so busy that there is usually a queue to drive in.

My son's stats are as follows:

Weight - 18 lbs, 2 oz (around 75th percentile)
Height - 70 cm (around 95th percentile)
Head circumference - 45 cm (around 55th percentile)

He took his shots like a pro - he barely cried at all.  I on the other, hand almost cried when I paid the bill - we have to pay cash up front for medical expenses and we are later reimbursed by our insurance company.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

McDonalds Coffee

I am an unashamed drinker of McDonalds coffee here in Dubai.  I probably have a coffee at McDonalds every week to ten days, which is more often than I buy coffee anywhere else.  Why?  Because they make "drip" coffee - something very few other coffee shops offer.

If you want a cup of normal black coffee (i.e. not a latte, cappuccino, espresso, etc.), many of the other coffee shops will simply make a bunch of espresso shots in a cup and add water.  This somehow turns out grainy and ultra-potent.  It also takes forever.  I have had coffee made in this manner at both Costa and Starbucks here in Dubai, so it is not just small, independent shops, but large international chains.  There is clearly something that is "lost in translation" with drip coffee.  McDonalds is the reliable chain-coffee shop drip coffee here in Dubai.

Most people in Dubai coffee shops seem to enjoy milky coffees - and they are somewhat cheaper here than they are at home (but the international brands seem to be the same price).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Emirates Identity Cards

Yesterday, I picked up my Emirates Identity Card.  I probably don’t need it anymore as we are moving, but I didn’t want to leave myself open to some sort of identity theft by not picking it up.  Now both of my children have their cards and so do I, but my husband does not.  The process to get these cards was comically complicated and time consuming, although the website says it will only take five minutes.

The first step is to go to a typing centre, where you retain the clerks to type out your form.  I located a typing centre near my home on the Internet and then found it in real life.  I went in the first week of May around 3:00 one day.  I was asked to come in the next day, because they would not be open long enough to take care of my applications.  I looked at the sign and noticed they are open until 6:00.  Uh oh.  While I was at the typing centre, the receptionist reviewed my paperwork and said I also had to get special photos of the kids done on a blue background.  Then she gave me the application form to fill out at home, so that when I returned that step would be completed.

I could not go back the next day, so I took the kids to get their photos and half a week later I returned to the typing centre, this time at 7:30 in the morning.  I was the first customer of the day.  The receptionist checked my four applications and then gave the applications to the typists.  There were three typists in that day and two typists got one application each, one got two applications.  They set about typing my English answers in Arabic.  There were about fifteen questions on the form, such as:  name; birthdate; gender; and race.

Then we sat and waited while they typed.  While we waited, other customers came in.  After about and hour, one of the typists asked me to check over a printed form for accuracy.  It was correct.  She gave me a piece of paper and went on to another application (for a different family).  Then a half hour later the other two typists each had one application for me to approve.  Then one of those typists started the last application, which took another hour.  The last one was mine, and the typist had misspelled my name. She told me it didn’t matter; she would send an email about it.   Before I left, they made biometrics (eye scan, fingerprint, palm print, photo) appointments for me and for my husband.  My appointment was the next week, but the appointment for my husband was not for ten weeks.  There are far more males in this country, so the wait time for an appointment is longer than for females.  When I left, they said the kids’ applications would take about three weeks. 

The day before my biometrics appointment, I needed to figure out where it was.  It was a long drive from my house, nearly an hour.  There is a biometrics centre near my house, but they would not give me an appointment there, you have to show up wherever the computer selects.  I packed up the kids and hauled them down to the appointment centre.  When I walked into the reception, it was jam-packed with sweaty people waiting for their appointment.  Each had a number.  My heart sank, how long would I have to wait?  And why are the appointments timed if it is a number-taking system?

I had failed to notice that all of the people waiting were male.  I was immediately escorted to a back room by security and there were about ten other women.  There were ten service desks, but only two were operational, so it was a bit of a wait, but not bad.  The clerk seemed very frustrated that I had brought the children (who were being as good as gold) to my appointment.

When it was my turn, my name was still spelled wrong.  She said it wasn’t her fault and that she would send an email.  No previous email was sent.  On my way out, the security guard ran after me and asked me if my name was wrong.  I said it was, and he took me to a manager, who told me that the clerk should not be trusted and I should call a certain phone number that day about my name being spelled wrong or I would have lots of troubles.

This sounded ominous so I went home and called.  A very helpful clerk said he would send and email and that no previous emails had been sent.

About a month later, I got a text message.  Apparently the ID cards were ready at a specific post office and I should bring different ID to come and get them.  The whole family drove to that post office, but there was a sign on the door saying that the ID cards were at another location.  I could not understand the posted map so my husband went in and asked the post clerk about it.  He could not explain where the other location was either.  We finally used the iPhone to locate it.  When we got to the other pick up location, I went in alone there was a huge crowd.  The security guard told me to expect it to be an hour.  I would not leave the rest of the family out in the car in 45 degrees Celsius, so I went out and got them and came back in for the wait.  The baby was my magic ticket, and I was called right to the front of the line.  But, there was only one ID card – the one for the baby.

Two weeks later, I got another text to pick up the cards, and my older son’s ID card was at the same location.

Last week I got a third text and my card was available, but from a different location.  It was a hassle to find this new location because the address is simply “off Al Wasl Road,” but does not indicate which cross street.  Al Wasl Road is about 20 km long.  My name was spelled right!

Now my husband does not have his card but the rest of us are in compliance with the requirements.  I doubt it will be worth it for him to get it, but the application is half-done, so he may need to finish it.

And how did this take five minutes?