Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Emotional Roller Coaster of Christmas Shopping

Every time I enter the Dubai Mall here – holiday time or not – I always pause mentally to remember how thankful I am to have the benefits that I do.  Not that Dubai is the come all end all of opportunity, but for me nothing screams excess and wealth like a shopping mall.  I don’t live the lifestyle represented in the media about Dubai, or that represented by those high-end brands from many of the shops there.  Yes, I like what I like, and I am fortunate that I have a job and means to do the things I do while many others in the world are struggling.   I do not forget this.

This thought kicks off my Christmas shopping that I set out to complete all in one Saturday afternoon.  As I am not one who really likes to shop, I wanted it done in one shot.

3:00pm Wow, I am thankful to live in such a place
3:15 There sure are a lot of tourists here.  Everyone going to “The Top” of the Burj.
3:15:30 Tour groups following their guide who is holding up a number or flag through the shopping mall…for adults.  The way people just surrender in this situation just seems odd to me.
3:20 I feel like I have conquered something. You can bargain shop in such a place if you have the patience and time to dig around beneath all the high-end stuff.  There is reasonably priced stuff if you just dig.
3:45 Decisions, decisions.. Back and forth, back and forth.
4:00 I ran into friends drinking coffee at the café in the store.  They must think I’m nuts and very indecisive.  I hope they don’t think this is a sign that I am a shopaholic.  I admit, I do have a thing for shoes, but that is a whole different disease.  
4:05 Finally, most of the gifts finished in one store.  Can this be?
4:10 Waiting for gift-wrapping.  It is not that crowded, but wow, these girls are perfectionists and very slow!
4:25 Gifts wrapped, bags back in car so I can travel lightly and fly through the rest of the mall for just a few more gifts.  I am sure I will knock this out soon.
4:26:30 What do you get men that have everything? Hmmmmm
4:30 Pause for one of the very hyped-up Magnolia cupcakes with a macchiato.  As I posted on Facebook that day – it is all about the icing.
4:45 Shot of caffeine, ready to take on the world.
5:00 What do you get men that have everything?… Now things are just looking really expensive.
5:05 A peek into one of the high end stores in the "Fashion Court".  It is packed!  Are there that many people with that much money within one square kilometer?  As I see the crowd in stores like Louis Vuitton and other stores, they must have a give away.
5:10 I see something in the window of a Tom Ford store that is in my mind as a gift for my husband.  Just for fun, let’s take a look and see how much it is.  I love that obvious shock and look of horror / pity on the employees’ faces when they see me in my no name t-shirt, jeans, no make up, insignificant hand bag and practical shoes that scream that I do not make the salary of a movie star.  They were kind and entertained me, but somehow I feel a little more ugly and dirty.
5:15 Walking, thinking, walking, thinking, walking…….
5:20 I was thinking to purchase an accessory for someone with a very fancy handbag.  Maybe a key chain would be within budget.  I head to the other department store that I know sells these.  I look at the coin purses and key chains.  Are they kidding me?  I wonder how many children in Africa that key chain would feed.
5:22  I see Bob the Builder is about to perform.  I had no idea.  A small sense of guilt comes over me as my son is at home.
5:25 Let’s try the other department store.  I wander around aimlessly.  All the same stuff, all the same over priced stuff.  Its just stuff people.  Stuff!!  I am beginning to hate stuff.
5:35 I call one of my friends to see what her kids might like as a gift.  I know what they are into, but I can’t quite find the right thing.  A picture of Michael Jackson is suggested.  Off I go to the toy store.
5:40 Enter Hamley’s toy store.  Please throw me off the balcony now.  Any place where excessive noise, people screaming at you like you are deaf; or those who are confused about the meaning of not speaking English and being deaf are welcoming you at decibels newly known to man, where you have to dodge flying objects is not the "happiest place on earth" as I believe their slogan goes.
5:42 “Do you have any pictures of Michael Jackson?”  They look at me like I am nuts!  (Yes, I am. But still.) I am sure back in 1984 such places would probably have this.  They think I am confused about what decade I am in.  I then proceed to ask if they have anything “Glee” related.  Its popular here, but they have never heard of it.
5:45 Must. Leave. This. Place. STAT.
6:00 More walking.  Have not purchased any gifts since the gift-wrap!  I struck gold there, now I am getting bored.
6:05 I forgot to drink water.  I must be hungry and thirsty, but the overstimulation of stuff has made me forget this.  I drink a very quick glass of fresh mango juice as I continue to shop.
6:10 – who knows when… I continue to wander around with a goal, but yet aimlessly.  I do have gifts in mind for each person, but I can’t quite find anything remotely close.
8:00 – a few more gifts are purchased.  I call my husband to ask a question.  “When are you coming home?”  I am on my way… Little do I know…More thoughts, more confusion, more walking, more fatigue, oh, I forgot to get this one a gift..etc, etc..

Shortly after 9:30 pm, I decided I finally had enough.  On the weekends here the malls are open until midnight.  This can be effective, but after several hours of running around all corners of the Dubai Mall, I don’t think I want to stay and see midnight here.

As I depart, I pass the Magnolia bakery again.  Dare I stop for another cupcake?  Or even worse, take a box home?  Be tempted to eat them in the car?  As much as I feel I earned it, I kept walking.

I see the wealth around me.  I feel the weight of the bags that I carry.  Yes, I am fortunate.  I am fortunate that I entered the world in a body that happened to live in a place where I would have access to peace, opportunity and the ability to achieve my goals more easily than if I had been born somewhere else – in another country, in another body, in another situation.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Since my mother-in-law and sister-in-law are visiting this week, we ventured out of Dubai yesterday to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, to take a tour of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque that just opened about two years ago.
The project began back in the 1980’s and is now the eight largest mosque in the world. It can hold over 40,000 worshippers – the size of a town. It houses the world’s largest carpet, dome and chandelier. I found the carpet most impressive because it was all one piece and hand made.
I had always seen the mosque in the past during drives to Abu Dhabi for business, but I never knew much about it. Sometimes such a large structure can be overwhelming, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from a place that has 28 different types of marble in it. I found it to be a stunning, beautiful building.
I have visited other mosques and religious sites before so I dressed appropriately. I wore jeans and a loose fitting shirt and came prepared with a shawl in case I needed to cover my head. I am always prepared with this valuable accessory anyway as a result of the artic air conditioning indoors here.
When we arrived, I was disappointed at first because women could not go inside unless they were wearing an abaya (the black dress-like garment with black head scarf). While the air conditioning has made me consider this as an option before, I definitely do not carry one of those around in my bag, much less own one. But as we neared the main entrance, I learned that they were giving them out for all visitors to wear. Yeah! I was excited.
I also noticed that they were giving out kanduras, or dishtashes for the men to wear who came wearing shorts. This is something I will never really understand. Why is it that so many Western tourists who visit foreign countries go to religious places wearing something that they would not wear into their own place of worship at home? I’ve seen it everywhere.
Ladies, would you wear your “Daisy Duke’s” to church? Of course you wouldn’t. Of course this is aside from the question if you own them in the first place. (Slang translation: Daisy Dukes - Shorts that are very, very short and show your butt. Named after the character Daisy from the television show “The Dukes of Hazard”).
Of course I struggled with the head scarf having no clue how to wear it in that very nice way the women do so it is flattering to their face and stays in place. Having a camera strap around my neck did not help it either. My sister-in-law and a woman in our tour group helped me fix it a couple of times, but in the end I wore it loose while covering everything. I’m sure it wasn’t the best, but it worked.
To visit the mosque they don’t just let you roam randomly through it, but they have designated tour guides and take you in small groups. It is a great service and wonderful promotion for cultural exchange and understanding. A local cultural guide goes with you to tell you about the mosque and also to answer any questions about religion.
When my parents visited Dubai they took a tour of the much smaller, Jumeriah mosque and had a similar experience. A Dutch woman who converted to Islam gives the tours and answers any question asked. It is very educational.
Of course I had my camera, but I did not take as many photos as I wanted. One, my son was with me. However, I have no regrets about this because it was a different experience for him, and when you take children anywhere new it is always interesting.
Since all the women were covered in the same garment, I quickly realized the only way my son could identify me was by my camera. I always wondered this about small children who grow up with mothers who are covered in public. I assume at home they see them uncovered, but if you are in a country where everyone is in black and fully covered, what is the identifier. I don’t mean this is a sarcastic way by any means, but I’ve always been curious. I wonder if over time they recognize their mother’s form in the abaya, and of course there is always that expensive handbag for some that will make a difference.
My son wanted to run through the mosque – and who could blame him with over 22,000 square meters of space. There is a large outdoor open space as well as the large prayer area inside with that lovely hand made, soft carpet under your bare feet. Before we went inside we had that talk where we needed to be quiet and well behaved since we were visiting a special place. But when I looked around and saw Muslim parents letting their children run free, I took the “When in Rome” approach. At the time this seemed like a better option than strangulation as my son pulled on the tail of my headscarf playfully to hide in it.
I later saw him kneeling on the floor and thought that he was imitating the worshippers who were praying at the far end of the prayer room. Very cute. Oh, but no. He just needed to go to the toilet. Even though we are potty training, and he is pretty much trained, when going to places like this, I don’t risk it just yet. Thankfully!
The other reason I did not take as many photos as I wanted was because I was torn in wanting to experience the place for the first time. I love photography and taking pictures of things, but I also believe that occasionally you just need to step back and observe something and recall that in your memory as well as in a picture frame. There is something to be said about capturing the essence of a place. While first impressions are also important, you also want to give your subject proper attention and convey the feeling of it, or in this case it’s grandeur. The good portrait and wedding photographers usually will not go in and start shooting their clients without having met them first or knowing something about them personally. I have read of the occasional brilliant “cold cut”, but I think this is very rare.
The same can be said for Africa. People go to Africa, but they are so busy taking pictures of the animals, you never really get to watch them because you never paused for a moment to recall where you are and focus on what your other senses are experiencing. This is what makes professional wildlife photographers great at what they do. Of course they have been working on their profession for years, but as a result they understand the animals, spend a lot of time watching them and can often anticipate their behavior.
Maybe this is a naive approach, as I know life and time does not always allow for a retake or another visit. But knowing that this is just an hour and a half drive away and that I will definitely come back by myself another day to take more pictures, I was able to pause, take it all in and envision my next visit with the camera. Our tour was very brief as the sunset prayers were about to begin. We were allowed to stay outside. Listening to the prayer as the sun set, it was a very beautiful experience.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Random thoughts about my visit to Hong Kong

We went to Hong Kong a few weeks ago for the Eid Holiday. This was our first time there and I can say we all really enjoyed it. Since I have the number 30 on my mind as the “write 30 random things about yourself” note is going around Facebook, I’ll write 30 not so random things about my trip to Hong Kong.

1. We stayed at a friend’s home in an area called Stanley, which I guess kind of equates to a suburb because it was outside of the city. But it didn’t have typical suburbia feel because it was sitting on a hill overlooking a bay. It reminded my husband of Sausalito.

2. It was a crowded, happening city. But honestly, it did not feel that densely crowded to me. Maybe Istanbul conditioned me for this, but it felt very comfortable.

3. It was so clean. One of the cleanest cities I have ever been to. Every city has their not so clean spaces, but even the average establishment had a very clean bathroom. – Potty training a toddler, I can appreciate this.

4. Hong Kong seems like a great place for shopping. I do not really like to shop, and do not know how prices for things compare to other places, but there were shops of all kinds. The line waiting to get in the Chanel store must have meant something!

5. The few times I needed a coffee I had to choose Starbucks. Much to my surprise, it was the only place that had soymilk! Now, I do not seek out chain places when I travel, but Starbucks is everywhere and when a girl needs some coffee, she needs some coffee. I tried to give my business to the other places first, but in the end it was the place with soymilk that won.

6. Every day I would see at least two or three photo shoots going on in the city. It was beautiful weather. They were either fashion shoots or wedding pictures.

7. I found everyone to be attractive and well dressed. I love cities in Asia because you often see a little quirkiness too. Especially with the young girls, I desperately wanted to take pictures of them all. They were cool.

8. In one of the larger train stations there was a shop that only sold combs. They seemed to be of high quality and were displayed very carefully. It all seemed very upscale. Combing my hair has never crossed my mind while on a train.

9. Because of jet lag, we started the days later so walked the streets late at night. This was a lot of fun and a great way to explore the city.

10. We went up to the Peak one night to see the city at night. It is beautiful, but do not wait around for the light show unless there is a huge event going on. There was only really one building that seemed to participate the night we went up.

11. The weather was always pretty hazy.

12. Taking the Star Ferry and looking at the view of the city from the water was pretty spectacular and surreal all at the same time. It has been a scene in so many movies you can’t help but feel like something serious was about to go down.

13. My son is blonde and blue eyed. That was a novelty for many people. Some people would take his picture. When they asked, I asked him. He said no which was fine by me.

14. We ate at a Chinese restaurant that is geared toward Chinese tourists. It was nice, and all the people there were nice. I do not know if it was just this particular group of tourists that happened to be there when we were, but they were so loud. I am usually not easily disturbed by others around me.

15. We went to Hong Kong Disneyland. It was a very manageable size as it is much smaller than any other Disney park. We appreciated this and it was the perfect size to get most of the things done that our son could enjoy in about 7 or 8 hours.

16. The train on the way to Disney was all Mickey themed. I am sure they have this at other Disney theme parks, but I really liked it. The windows were shaped like Mickey as well as the rings to hold.

17. The “street snacks” at Disney included dried squid and fish balls. My husband tried them and did not find them very good… and he eats pretty much anything compared to me, so it had to be bad for him to say that. We didn’t eat a whole lot there.

18. My son’s favorite ride was the teacups – why does this not surprise me.

19. There was a dead mouse on the electric car track at Disneyland. I don’t think it was Mickey.

20. I learned on this trip that I do not really like Chinese food as much as I thought I did. I ate 5-star food as well as regular cheap food. I do love other Asian foods. Perhaps I just need to try some more.

21. The chicken tasted very different than what I am used to. Perhaps it is not as hormoned up as what is sold elsewhere.

22. I was very proud of my son, who is two years old, who was so well behaved at Man Wah, the Chinese restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

23. I learned that you should not drop a ball into that conical exhibit thing at the space museum if you need to pee. If you are with your young child, you will have to wait until that ball falls into the hole. It takes way too long.

24. It’s true. There are not a lot of old structures left in Hong Kong as everything is built over with modern skyscrapers. I was pleased to find an old firehouse, although now an expensive store, with an old fire truck on display.

25. I drank bamboo juice on the street. I liked it.

26. The only place to get anything hot to drink in one of the parks we visited was Starbucks – not good! No Chinese tea?

27. My husband lost the key to our friend’s house one night, so we got to experience a city hotel for one night.

28. It was pretty warm outside – maybe 25C / 80F. People were wearing boots and winter coats!

29. We went to the Chinese market one day. I love markets, but they have kind of lost their novelty for me. I think this is because everything everywhere is now made in China. The originality is gone.

30. I love that you can check in, and even check your bags in at the central train station. You can enjoy a hassle free ride out of the city.

...and I must leave you with one additional one that I can't resist...

31. The day I came home, I read a letter to the newspaper where someone was begging the government to not call such a long holiday! It had something to do with the banks being closed.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

While I have not been in the US for several years to celebrate Thanksgiving, I usually do end up going to a dinner somewhere or cooking dinner. I think this is the case worldwide for many Americans and others who have spent some time there. There are many hotels in Dubai that offer wonderful, traditional dinners. However, it is not always the same. Every time I have gone to a dinner out for Thanksgiving, no matter who I am with, we end up closing the place down. I don't know why this is, but as a result I prefer to cook at home.

This year I will cook dinner at home as I did last year for a small group of friends. I think this is our third Thanksgiving dinner together here.

Once a few years ago at a dinner at a friend's home in Istanbul we all went around the table and shared what we are thankful for. This morning I thought of that moment and realize that I am really so thankful for everything. Thankful for my family, friends, the people in my life. Thankful to be where I am and doing what I do and living the lifestyle that I have selected.

So this year I am very excited and looking forward to my home cooked dinner. As in the past several years I have spent it in the company of good friends which I love dearly. I think the one thing that brings us so close, is not the distance that we are from our "homes", but it is the realization that life is short, we do not take things for granted and live each day to the fullest and encourage each other to do so.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

For the Guy who wanted a picture with my drumstick...

I would like to apologize to the guy at the Prince concert who wanted a picture with the drumstick I "caught". It is a very long story as to why I would not take it out of my hand, but if you are out there and read this, then hopefully you will understand me a little better.

During the small rush of people to the stage, I understood how people could potentially get crushed in a concert or crowd. It is as though you are in an earthquake and the earth is moving and you have no control over where you are going. It wasn’t a massive surge, but it still shocked me.

Much to my surprise I ended up in the front row. (We were previously about 3 or 4 people behind). At about that time the band starting playing The Bird from the Time. I love that song, so thought what the heck. I would hang out and watch from my unplanned position even though I did not find front row of a standing room only pit that comfortable to enjoy a concert.

However, when I was pushed forward I ended up right next to a very large woman. And it seemed that she thought I was the one pushing forward, or she was going to take the aftermath of the stage rush out on me. She kept yelling at me “Oh no you don’t” over and over and then started to throw her arms around very aggressively as she “danced”.

Me being me, I tried to reason with her and explain what happened. I quickly understood that was not working and since I did not want to get injured or in a fight so I just kind of stepped aside. A guy then tried to move closer to his friends who were near her asked me if I minded if he cut in. Not at all.

He encountered the same thing, but maybe worse. He proceeded to turn to me and use a few choice words to describe her behavior. All true I’m afraid. At that point, I was getting annoyed because I was missing The Bird. I moved back two people deep back to the security of being next to my husband.

With everyone on stage, Love Bazaar began. This song took me way back. I love it. I did have a little laugh because I thought people who paid good money for tickets to see a bunch of 40 year olds on stage being goofy might not have been too happy.

Everyone reconvened and we waited and insisted and Prince came back yet again for another encore. I don’t think I’ve seen a show with that many encores before. Everyone would have easily stayed until sunrise if he kept going.

Somewhere in between Love Bazaar and the next song the drummer threw his drumsticks into the audience for the second time. Much to our surprise, one hit my husband in the stomach. We looked down and there it was at our feet. We were completely shocked.

As I reached down to pick it up, as if it had a life of its own, it moved, as several other people quickly kicked it. I followed it across the ground as it went behind me. There, I met a man at his chest. I do not know what got into me, but I was very determined. Maybe it is because my husband is big on percussion. If there is ever a party in our house, it often ends with a lot of various drums and percussion instruments coming out. Wherever we travel, he picks up a local percussion instrument to bring home. Perhaps I felt this truly destined to be his in some way.

So I then stood on the drumstick and looked up at the guy towering over me. He seemed to back off, but then stood on it also. Things were kind of in slow motion up to this point as I bent down to pick up the drumstick. I had it in my hand and just as I was about to stand upright again, out of nowhere another hand was suddenly on the drumstick and pulling me upfield with it! Insert horror movie scene here where your favorite “star” stalks the girl and then drags her out from her hiding space. For a few seconds, I was that girl in different circumstances.

I had some kind of death grip on the stick that I didn’t know I had in me. However, I think I also still had a lot of adrenaline in me from my encounter with the biggest Prince fan in the front row during the stage rush (no pun intended). Fortunately, two girls stepped in and called the drumstick swiper / girl dragger off. Thank you ladies.

It all happened so fast and came from out of nowhere. I was there one second, and the next my husband was wondering where in the heck I went. I was fortunately fine and escaped the incident with only a broken strap on my party purse.

I will say the drumstick is impressive. I am sure it was new when the show started. By the time we got it, it had been beaten like crazy. All the dents in it are a very cool reminder.

I enjoyed the rest of the concert with my stick. When Prince threw his microphone into the crowd after the concert, I must admit I was somewhat relieved to not be anywhere near it after my experience. I would have been drug back to Dubai for sure!

As the lights were up and people were leaving, many people started to notice the drumstick. We discussed the whole incident with a very nice Indian family for a few minutes.

Shortly after, you guys came up to me. (Two British guys - one wanting his friend to take a picture of him with the stick). Again, it could have been the events of the evening, but something in me said, “Don’t do it”. I had visions of you running off and heading home to Ebay to post a drumstick from a Prince concert for sale.

Even though you proceeded to give me one of your rings, it just didn’t seem to be equivalent collateral. In the end, I apologized, and I really am sorry. As I mentioned that night and explained above in any voice I had left, I was drug around already by someone and where I come from, I just don’t easily trust strangers. The best compromise I could think of was to hold the stick for your photo.

I am sure I could have been part of some nasty Facebook status that evening. If the intention was genuine, then I am very sorry. In the grand scheme of things, it is just a drumstick, but after being drug around and pushed a bit, it was difficult to trust other concertgoers that night.

Thank you for your understanding.

Prince – The Abu Dhabi Experience Part 2

So, we make it to the concert. Like most popular concerts here, there is no seating. Standing room only. I have no idea how big the field is where everyone is standing, but as far as the eye can see it is packed - hundreds upon hundreds of people.

Even the VIP area for which I am forever grateful to have received tickets for is packed with people. No one is really on top of each other, but we are close.

So within about 5 to 10 minutes after we arrived to the pit, the lights went down. That famous, unmistakable chord is struck and you see only that symbol. THE symbol. A silhouette appears. “Dearly beloved. We are gathered here today to this thing called life.” Prince fan or not, I don’t think anyone can deny that they got chills at that moment. It was a grand entrance and the show began.

As Prince noted much later, there were way too many songs for him to sing. It started with Let’s Go Crazy followed by many other popular songs. We Partied Like it was 1999, enjoyed Raspberry Beret, Kiss; he went old school with Uptown and Delirious. Much to my surprise he sang Cream after he introduced it as “your song”. I was hoping the explicit lyrics rating would digress from there because those are some of the best songs. I’m not in it for the lyrics, but the groove to some of his more explicit songs is the best. There were other songs like You’ve Got the Look and he and his back up singers did a beautiful rendition of Love…Thy Will be Done.

He had a few wardrobe changes throughout the show, which allowed his band and back up singers to showcase their amazing talents. They were all powerhouses in their own right.

One thing I noticed about Prince’s wardrobe was he is timeless. He still dresses as he did in the 1980s and throughout his career. If anyone else tried to wear what he does, they would fail miserably. Who else can pull off a purple silk shirt with ruffles and pants to match and look as good as he does?

After another costume change to a black and white outfit – one half black, the other half white – Prince got his groove on. The crowd was more than thrilled.

After many songs that time came when he started to say Goodnight and Thank you. I think the crowd felt the same as I did -It was way too early for departure. A few people actually left, but very few. I feel for them because the show was nowhere near over.

At the end of one set he sent one of his back up singers into the crowd to find eight women to come up and dance with him. Once people realized this was happening, there was a small rush to the stage.

With everyone on stage, Prince then proceeded to set up Love Bazaar. He called Nicole Scherzinger from the Pussycat Dolls to the stage to accompany him. It was good and we enjoyed it even though Prince was bombarded with Gen X’ers who rushed the stage and were all over him with cell phones trying to take a picture. After only a short time into the song Prince was lost in the crowd on stage somewhere.

Prince and crew came back again and sang Baby I’m a Star, which was so much fun. After that incredible energetic number he came back out and closed the show alone and said his goodbyes for real this time. After what seemed to be a very sincere thank you and declaration of his happiness, he threw the microphone into the crowd. Everyone was sorry to see him go, but he did more than what anyone could expect.

It was truly one of, if not the best concert I have ever seen. I always liked Prince and have some favorite songs. However, I would often change the radio on many songs that I always felt were overplayed.

About mid-way through the concert, when Prince played Purple Rain, the German philosopher Walter Benjamin came to mind. In short, one of his theories states that the technical production of something, or a copy of something is not the original. It cannot capture the essence of the original, or the aura of a work of art. This is so true of Prince’s talent. He is an aura in and of himself when performing.

I will never change the radio again when I hear a Prince song as I used to do. Obviously a studio recording is not the same as being there, but now having been in the aura of someone so talented has given me new perspective.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Prince - The Abu Dhabi Experience Part 1

Are we there yet?

Last week Prince performed the final concert for the Formula 1 race in Abu Dhabi. I was very excited when I first learned about this because I had never seen him before. But as I looked at the dates, I became disappointed because we were planning to travel for the upcoming Eid holiday and were not going to be in Dubai to make the 1.5 – 2 hour drive for the concert.

As the date drew closer, no one was still sure when Eid would start, so instead of leaving over the weekend, we decided to schedule our flight on Monday morning. This would possibly give us one working day before we left, so not a bad idea.

In many Islamic countries, since the religious holidays are based on a lunar calendar, they still wait for the official (meaning an Imam) citing of the moon to call the holiday. This is nice and traditional, but it doesn’t support planning if you have limited vacation time.

We didn’t plan it intentionally, but since we decided to leave on Monday morning, we could catch the Prince concert the night before.

As usual things were very busy leading up to departure. I had not had much time to even think of Prince. I was reminded a couple of days before when a Facebook friend posted she was looking for tickets. Yes, I still wanted to go.

With her advice, I joined a couple of F1 groups on Facebook as there were several people posting extra tickets they had. – I love the internet and social network tools in this way. It really is amazing how quickly and efficiently you can get information and get connected.

I also learned in this instance how amazingly expensive it was going to be to see Prince. You couldn’t just buy a ticket for the Prince concert. You had to buy the whole F1 package, which was running for one or two thousand Dirhams per ticket from what I could tell in the news feed – approximately 250 USD or more. I am still not certain of what the exact price was, but I knew that was more than I wanted to pay. I mean I like Prince, and love music and a good concert, but was I really willing to pay that much? Opportunity cost.

So I did not act on anything. I knew I wanted to get more done and didn’t have time to start negotiating for tickets much less go meet someone to pick them up. I even spoke to my husband that we might be able to just show up and find someone at the gate wanting to get rid of some extras for a discount. I’ve done this before for other concerts before and there are always tickets around.

I later see that some of our close friends have already been to a Prince concert because they posted a great picture him on Facebook. I do have blonde moments, but was I really that confused that I got my dates mixed up? Apparently.

Or not… I learn that this was a VIP performance at the F1 Skybar. Ah, ok still time. But still I wasn’t sure if it were a good idea. To go or not to go… that is the question. Yes, Prince fans in retrospect, I can’t believe I even debated this with myself.

In the end, to cut this long story short, the night before my husband got an email saying that we had been given two VIP tickets for the Prince concert. I am excited.

Concert day arrives and I still have not finished packing by any means. I had a couple of meetings and errands to run, so I knew I would not finish but was hoping to get close to finishing. And I had the extra stress that my husband wanted me to pack for him. – This is not something I ever do. EVER. I can barely organize me and my son. And to do it for a third person who is the ultimate organized packer was an added stress. Since he was the one who received the email with news of our tickets, I guess it gave him special powers that way. So I agreed to try.

He arrived on time, the taxi was early, I was not on time and things were everywhere. I leave it as is, get dressed and go. I knew it would be a late night after the concert anyway, but that’s ok. I would be an airplane potato on the 7-hour ride to Hong Kong, so be it.

It didn’t start great. I was late and traffic for concerts is always unpredictable, and something so large was sure to have some traffic. If it can take us four hours to get home from a Shakira concert that would otherwise be a 25-minute drive, anything is possible.

The driver called 30 minutes before our departure to let us know he was waiting. We go outside and he is not there. Long telephone conversations short, finally, he arrives. He was on the other side of the complex or something.

We get in the taxi. My husband being experienced with different drivers for business trips to Abu Dhabi knows the drill and the anticipation that we will get lost. The discussion starts something like this:

We are going to Abu Dhabi to Yas Island to the Formula 1 concert. Do you know where this is?


We are going to Abu Dhabi to Yas Island. Do you know where that is?

Ah, okay okay.

Do you know where you are going?

Pause… I know the general area.

Sarper then asks him to stop so he can answer the question to confirm what we expect. After about five minutes of discussion, we get it out of him that he really has no idea where he is going. I have learned there are some cultures that will never tell you “no”. I don’t know if its considered rude, or why, but they will tell you anything but the negative – even if you know its factual. They will avoid the issue.

Sure, it is easy to get on Sheikh Zayed and drive in the direction of Abu Dhabi, but we weren’t really looking for that service. So the driver calls one of his friends and then gets directions. Of course we really can’t be certain of this because we do not speak the same language. I hear a lot of discussion about roundabouts.

We stop at McDonald’s on the way that is connected to a local gas station. Yes, I know – disgusting. I hate McDonald’s, but Sarper didn’t eat anything and it is fast and on the way. The drive through line is long so we ask the driver to park outside and Sarper runs in and gets food. One thing I can say about the McDonald’s staff in Dubai: They are some of the best service I have seen in Dubai. They are always smiling, polite and fast. I think they are well trained and (I hope) well taken care of. Their service seems genuine.

My husband comes back to the car in about five minutes. The driver then proceeds to pull over to get gas. We were speechless because he could have done that while Sarper was inside getting food as this was immediately next to where we parked. Or, even better, if you know you are going to drive someone that far, why not fill up the tank before you pick up the passenger. It all seemed reasonable to him, so we just sit in the back and eat our fries.

So we get to the border of Abu Dhabi where the F1 track is. We see the signs and start telling him what roads to follow because he near missed it. I tend to be an intuitive driver, if there is such a thing. I get lost, but always seem to find my way and get very lucky that I end up wherever I am going in a relatively painless way. However, it is not rocket science that whenever there is an event, following the flow of traffic is not an accidental coincidence.

Sarper and I were talking about something and just as I was about to tell the driver to stop and ask one of the many policemen directing traffic, the driver proceeds to turn onto a road that seems like it will take us in the opposite direction of where we want to go. So he asks us to wait a minute and he then walks back down this freeway exit ramp to go ask the police?! He confirms that yes, it is the wrong way. So the policemen tell him to turn around, but he has no clue as to how to do that, and there is really no place to do this. – For those of you who drive here, there are many cases where turning around is not always a simple u-turn when it comes to the major freeways.

So our very confused driver is going further out into the abyss of the desert with no chance to turn around anytime soon. He then pulls over in the middle of nowhere and calls his friend who he called back when we were in front of our home, who he has talked to several times on the way. I think we can confirm by now that neither of them know where this place is.

Now I am no linguist, but I do know enough to know I could easily have taken the driver’s phone and thrown it into the desert. I could tell for the first five minutes of the conversation that the driver was just reliving over and over again what happened. Painful. They did not seem to be getting anywhere and frankly we did not know exactly where to go either, so there was not a lot we could do except wait.

After several minutes Sarper called the guy who referred this driver and he then proceeded to tell him which direction to go. After there very long discussion, we were then getting somewhere when I began to hear a lot of okay okay. Fortunately, as we finally moved on in the same direction, there was another exit for the Formula 1 facilities.

We made it in, but driving by the various gates was equally painful. No one seemed to know for sure where to go, and even the policemen were not sure where the concert was. The entire F1 complex is massive. I know nothing about car racing and of course the track needs to be big, but this is huge. The size of a small city.

We eventually arrived and all was well. Does this have anything to do with Prince? No. Does it have anything to do with language and cultural barriers? Yes. And often when you live abroad you meet people who may not approach things the same way you would. It all seems illogical and will try your patience to the max. With the added fact that none of us are from the area to know exactly where to go doesn’t make it any easier. There are other occasions when this is much easier and you just roll with it. Sometimes not - Breathe deep and move on.

...I promise the next post will have everything to do with Prince!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Dubai Metro - My Experience

Last week I did something that I have wanted to do for a long time now… I used the Dubai metro to get to and from work. The Dubai metro opened for passengers on September 9, 2009 – yes, 9/9/9. It is special technology from Japan and different reports say it cost anywhere from 4 to 7 billion US dollars. Not cheap.

So I decided since it is there, and I live relatively close to a station and they recently opened the station near my office, I should give it a try. After all, I loved taking the metro when I lived in Istanbul. I was so excited when that finally opened that one friend said I was speaking of the metro as if it were my lover! My 45-minute door-to-door metro journey was better than the alternative 2-hour, 5-kilometer (3-mile) car journey at rush hour. There is a lot to be said for gaining one to two hours of your day, and anyone or anything that can do that is magical!

I left my home at the usual time I would if I were driving. One thing I noticed was the ode to camel smell outside our complex. Way on the other side of the road there are some camels. I don’t know if they race them, milk them or what, but they have just recently started to not smell so pleasant. Conclusion: camels should be seen, not smelled. Finally after about five minutes, I am far enough away that the wind is blowing a different direction. Meanwhile, I am just hoping I do not carry that perfume to work with me.

I notice that even though our fall is here, it is a little warm. In other cities you would have more buildings shading you, or more trees creating a breeze. No breeze in newly landscaped areas. I know this will change as the trees continue to grow.

While it seems like the station should be close to me, it took me 30-minutes to walk there. I am a bit annoyed because I would be very settled in one of the few hot desks at work by now. If all goes well, I usually get there in about 20-minutes by car. But I committed to doing this, so I keep going.

I also notice during the walk, there is pretty much no one else walking. I am in a strange sort of ghost town with moving vehicles around me. It’s like that film from the 1980’s, Night of the Comet. A comet hits the earth and everyone is wiped out except a few teenagers. I feel like one of those teenagers. (If you have not seen this movie, you are not missing anything.)

Not only were there no people, there were no shops, nothing. Just building. Concrete. I passed the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa and the surrounding offices. The shops, the people, the sights and activities of a city – the daily nuances of street life – there is none. With the exception of some workers putting up what seems to be new street lamps that are in the shape of the Burj, no one else.

One thing I anticipated was the very small side walks in some areas. I always observed this when the media announced a metro was underway. Dubai is not a walking city. How would people walk in critical areas where the sidewalks are so small without getting clipped by one of the speeding cars? Well, I guess the answer is through luck and a lot of inshallah – God willing, you won’t get hit kind of logic.

I debate if the station in the other direction would have been closer. Perhaps, but there is still a lot of construction there and no sidewalks what so ever. I would have been road kill for sure.

Finally, I make it to the station. My heart sank for a brief second. I saw two pieces of paper posted on the door. My first thought, it’s closed. And why would I think it was open – there were no people! As I got closer, the doors opened as an employee came out. Yeah! So in I go.

The station itself is beautiful. I really wish it were a photography play day where I did not have to go to work and I had my camera with me. Which I will go back and do, but there is a lot to be said for how you see things in your first impression. Of course it is all very new and clean. Well air conditioned as you expect of any place in Dubai.

I find it expensive for a metro that is supposed to be for public use. To my office, one-way costs 6.50 AED. That is about 1.75 USD. Considering the income of some of the service employees here who would use public transportation a lot, I find this expensive. Yes, it’s a lovely, expensive project, but if it is a metro for the people, it needs to be more feasible for their income. It is very high end. Even the paper used to print the tickets is expensive – thick, shiny paper. I guess it needs to be for their high-tech entry system, but those things are not being reused and that must go into the mark up on this fancy ride.

While I didn’t see any people walking to the metro, when I got in I was relieved to see a few people waiting and the train fairly full. I got in the last car. The population seemed fairly young, and somewhat representative of the distribution of Dubai. However, I did not see one Caucasian person! Only me. I have no issue being the minority. The issue is why are more people not using this thing? Outside of the employees, I also did not see any locals. However, a local woman who works with a friend of mine once told him it would be shameful to use the metro! I hope this is not a common feeling. I doubt it is, but I am amazed with the candidness to claim such a crazy thing.

Here the metro is above ground, as I would expect in a desert. It’s fast and smooth, so it’s a nice ride. We finally arrive at my stop… but wait, that’s not my stop. My office is in Internet City, but the Internet City stop is early - more in Media City. If I were to walk that it would take a good 30 minutes or more. Since the train has already left me behind, I cheat a bit and see there are taxis outside the station. I jump in one and get to the office. When I finally arrive, I check my watch. It is one hour in total from door to door.

Later that day one of my colleagues asked me if I rode in the women’s car. What? A women’s section?! I completely forgot about that. He also reminded me there was a VIP section. Yes, if you pay more, you can also ride in “Gold Class”. I was definitely going to try the women’s section on the way home.

I ended up working late that day. Reluctant to go back the same long way knowing I would not get there before 9:30pm, I endure.

I went to the closer station this time. I got up to the ticket booth and I decided against the women’s section. A Gold Class sounded a little absurd to me, so I had to try it to see what was inside. Honestly, nothing. There is a uniformed woman in the cart and leather, or wanna-be leather seats. That’s about it. It’s a car either at the front or back of the train depending on the direction. It cost 11 AED, which is 3 USD. This is very steep for not much added value. What kind of people ride in Gold Class? Normal people. I enjoyed watching two young local girls who were escorted to the car by a metro employee at the Mall of the Emirates stop. They were either tourists or on the metro for the first time taking pictures of each other with their phones. It was cute to see them excited about it. And when I take Erin (in regular class) I’ll be doing the same.

I arrive back to my stop at the Dubai Mall and make the 30-minute walk back. Again, there are not that many people walking. More than in the morning, but I passed no more than five. In those places with no sidewalk or a small sidewalk, the cars were really speeding by. I decided to go through the sand instead of risk being a story in 7 Days (a small, but effective free local newspaper).

I’m only halfway through my walk back and what is that I smell – Camel No. 5 – again?! It’s too soon! I guess if the wind is blowing the right way anything is possible. I finally make it home and stop holding my breath. As expected, one hour later.

So that is my rather long account of my first metro experience in Dubai. Will I do it again? I hope so, but it is difficult to be motivated when it takes so long and I have so much to get done in a limited time.

And it’s not necessarily cheap. I find it very risky in some areas that are not finished, or have extra small sidewalks. I was challenged to walk and pull my rolling computer bag behind me. It is not something I would walk with my son, or recommend to anyone with children. Those small sidewalks are way too narrow and close to the traffic. Note – these small sidewalks are where the traffic is exiting from Sheikh Zayed Road. Its never a typical city street.

Metro systems and public transport are generally appealing in other cities because it saves time, is safe and affordable. With all due respect to HH Sheikh Mohammed and the RTA (Road Transport Authority), the Dubai metro has a few more years to go before it can become more feasible. First and foremost, please fix the safety factor for pedestrians. I can forego the fancy Burj lamps for wider sidewalks.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Something happened to me about one year ago. Life was unexpectedly put in perspective – I mean really put into perspective.

At the end of August of 2009, my son was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, or Type 1 diabetes. This is not something that runs in our family so to say it was a shock is an understatement. Immediately he was admitted into the hospital because his blood sugar had been high for who knows how long and needed to be corrected immediately before it caused serious damage to his little 20-month old body.

Like any mom in the same situation, I experienced the emotional roller coaster of feelings - upset, angry, wondering if I did something to cause this to happen because it was so unexpected. Since my husband and I both work in healthcare, we immediately called all our contacts in the UAE, Turkey and the US to determine what we could do and where we could find the best treatment. Texas Children’s Hospital was the end result.

Having worked in hospitals and consulted to various healthcare organizations, I always thought that TCH and others like it would be an amazing place. And it was. Such dedicated staff like I have never experienced before. After spending some time abroad I forgot how good healthcare could be. Don’t get me wrong, there are great doctors and good facilities everywhere, but when everyone in the system is at the top of their game and giving so much, it is an incredible experience to receive that kind of service and results in the best healthcare you could possibly receive.

Erin and I stayed in Houston for almost a month – at the advice of the doctor to extend our stay that we naively planned for about a week or 10 days - to ensure I was comfortable enough with what I would need to do to manage Erin’s disease for him. Not that I didn’t understand what needed to be done, but he knew there would be no healthcare providers here to provide the support or follow up required. He was right.

As angry and upset as I was at this disease throughout the experience, there are absolutely no words to describe what you go through when you get in the elevator with your child and you are surrounded by children and their parents who are facing much more challenging conditions.

On the particular day in mind, I entered the elevator and there was a child in a wheelchair that had obviously lost their hair from chemotherapy. Just as the elevator doors were closing, someone pushed the button and another patient entered. This time a boy on a stretcher entered with his mother and his personal nurse. He was connected to a very large medical device. I do not know what the machine was for, but obviously, he also had a very serious illness. I am sure no less serious or difficult than the family to my left who was dealing with cancer.

That was the longest elevator ride in my life. The feeling of being in there comes back to me often. How did I ever get so lucky? How was my son blessed with a disease that was manageable? That enabled him to live a full, normal life? I was numb because for days I was so upset that my child had diabetes. The harsh reality of this was realizing that we had won the lottery.

This did not make me jump for joy by any means. My heart ached for those other parents. I didn’t pity them as I was still coming to terms with my own situation. On the contrary, I was in awe at how they were handling everything under such difficult circumstances. I continued to experience this throughout our visit. The children and the diseases they had, it was all so random.

I returned to Dubai with a lot to learn, but at least with the knowledge to become Erin’s pancreas and manage his diabetes for him until he is old enough to do so himself. I have learned many things from this experience in the last year and on some days feel like a pseudo endocrinologist, nurse, dietician and more. But still, nothing is as profound as the 15 seconds I spent in that elevator that day.

Do not sweat the small stuff people. Every day really is a gift. Think you are having a bad day, or angry about something? Think again, because in the grand scheme of things it is often not as significant as you may think.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Dressing up Dogs

Halloween is so big here I even saw an advertisement for pet costumes. I used to think that was kind of cute, but over the years I’m not so sure anymore. Overtime I began to feel they didn’t enjoy it as much as their owners…and perhaps my son felt the same about his fleece green dinosaur costume at age one.

I especially do not understand dressing up a pet daily. They have fur, so it does seem kind of redundant to put a sweater on in most cases. Maybe when it snows its necessary for some, or for sure the booties on the Iditarod are a must. But there are many people that over dress their animals for the seasons and that can’t be comfortable. Although there are people who overdress their children too, so I guess it’s similar.

There was one day in particular that concluded this for me. I was in Istanbul walking to work one autumn morning when the sky was threatening to rain. The hospital I used to work in was in a nice area of the city where quite a few people had dogs. On the sidewalk I saw a man walking his small-ish dog with a bright green plaid sweater on. I wasn’t even wearing a sweater yet, and I’m always cold.

Coming from the other direction was one of the resident stray dogs. I will never forget the look on the face of this dog as he approached the upper class domestic with the bright green sweater. As he walked by it was obvious he was calling his fellow K9 a pansy. Maybe he was snubbing him for rubbing with the upper class and not taking to the streets, but I’m pretty sure it was the sweater. Fortunately, the look on the fashionable dog’s face read that he didn’t know any different and couldn’t understand why this stray was giving him such an odd look. He was pretty oblivious. So both carried on about their business, and I concluded if I ever owned a dog again I would not dress it up. Well, ok, maybe for Halloween, but not daily.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween everyone.

It’s been years since I’ve really gotten into Halloween since leaving the US, but its still out there and the world participates. My husband loved Halloween in the US and the first year we were in Turkey insisted to throw a party. Much to my surprise people got into it and dressed up. Maybe because my parents were never that into it as I was growing up, I never became a huge fan. As I got older, year after year I would just recycle the same costume out of conveniencey. (It was this kind of fighter pilot thing I found in high school – kept using it when necessary until about 7 or 8 years ago.) But now that I have a child, I want to make sure he enjoys his childhood to the fullest, so I am trying to get into it more.

Several places here have parties as a result of the Western influence, so for many, Halloween is definitely big in Dubai. When Erin was one year old I took him to a Baby Loves Disco Halloween party. He was a cute little dinosaur-dragon type thing – so cute he won first place for his costume. I almost felt bad. I mean yes, my boy is cute, but for sure I am biased. And come on, every mom thinks their kid is cute! And honestly, they all were cute. Any child in there could have easily won.

There were so many moms there who you could tell put so much effort into their kids costumes and were so into it all. Pathetically, I just opened a bag and put on the heavy fleece of a green pajama looking thing with scales! And honestly, I can’t even recall if that was a hand-me-down from a friend or not. Being the strung out working mom, I found it kind of ironic for lack of a better word. While we were appreciative of our prize, the event wasn’t that organized for what they charged, so I vowed never again on the Baby Disco party.

Year two, a few months before Halloween, my son was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. We were in the US for most of the month of October for medical care, so we were not very festive. And while everything in moderation is okay now that I know what I am doing with this condition, a holiday that used to celebrate the dead that now worships sugar, was probably not a good idea at the time. The irony of that year was hiding in the kitchen for my occasional candy corn fix – something I am still guilty of again this year, and probably will be for years to come. I wonder when I will get busted. Or will they just let me go on, and it become the family joke. “There goes mom again….”

This year my son was sick and missed his party at school, so in lieu of that we made Halloween cookies, carved a pumpkin, decorated his door with spider webs and plastic spiders (and not the mention the label from the packaging that he insisted was a key piece of the ensemble). However, he is only three, so it wasn’t a huge disappointment for him. I love that about young children – they are always happy because they are always in the moment. They don’t worry much, if at all, about the past and don’t have a grasp on the concept of the future yet, so life is great.

We did get a few trick-or-treaters this year. Every year, no matter how prepared I am, I always forget what day they are coming. Tonight, like every year, kids knocked on my door and surprised me. And since this was my son’s first experience with the concept, he was equally dumbfounded with the vampire and superman at our door. They must think their costumes are really good at scaring me, because seriously, I am always unprepared and surprised.

My first year in Istanbul, I really didn’t expect it. I even forgot what day it was. I had no candy in the house at all. Some kids came to my door thinking for sure I would have candy. After all, I am American and should be dressed up and ready to go with a huge bowl of candy, right? Wrong. I was completely thrown off and did not know what to do. I closed the door and scavenged around the house for something, but what… I had nothing. I didn’t want to turn them away empty handed, so in a panic I gave them money! Yes, my American friends remember when you were a kid and there was always someone who would give small rolls of pennies? Well, I became that lady?!!! How could that be?! Even though I didn’t grow up in an over the top Halloween household I knew enough to know that the lady who gave out money for Halloween was crazy! I remember kids comparing notes on the street about who was giving what and many wouldn’t even bother to go to her house.

Yes, I hung my head low that year. The next year I made up for it and brought sexy back to the candy bowl. I felt so guilty about the previous year I gave out three times the treats. Don’t know if it increased my cool factor – not that I have one – but I slept well that night.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Reflections on Taxi Drivers

I always notice taxi drivers when I travel.  They often say a lot about a place and its culture, and are some of the most vivid characters of my journeys.
I first noticed this during a trip to San Francisco many years ago. They have some of the funniest taxi drivers I have ever met.
My favorite was a hippie-like man who liked to tell jokes. “How does a blonde stop at a flashing red light?” Being blonde myself, I had no idea. He delivered the punch line by alternating between the brake and accelerator of the car several times. Stop. Go. Stop. Go.
Once in Atlanta I got in a taxi somewhere near the Olympic stadium. The driver was a huge man that said nothing. His size was intimidating, and he had an air about him that only enhanced this. I remember asking a question about the location of a site.  He seemed annoyed that I had asked, and never answered.
Taxi drivers in New York are always interesting because they are often immigrants with an interesting story to tell. The number of modest doctors and scientists from other countries maneuvering through those urban streets is often forgotten.
In Dubai, where I live now, the taxi drivers are usually from India or Pakistan.  Many of them have been in Dubai for several years. Unlike the chatty drivers from San Francisco, these guys are pretty quiet and usually do not speak unless spoken to. In my eight years of living here, I have only had two conversationalists.
The most memorable one was a young Bangladeshi driver who was new to Dubai. In the short time I was in his car, I learned that he is a huge Lady Gaga fan.  One of her songs came on the radio and he cranked it up. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Dubai’s summers are scorching hot otherwise I am sure he would have rolled down the windows for the world to hear him sing.
To this day, my favorite taxi rides have been in Istanbul.  The drivers are always full of conversation and questions.  
I also learned a lot of my basic Turkish from them when I lived there. Even when I could not speak fluent Turkish, they would still try to converse with me as if I did. They would hear my Turkish greeting and immediately try to start a proper conversation.
The first question to a foreigner in a Turkish taxi is “Where are you from?”  Usually, once they learned I was American they were ready to have a friendly political discussion, which would almost always result in them telling me how much they adore Bill Clinton.  Even if I couldn’t understand much outside of the word Clinton, they kept speaking anyway.
I also enjoyed the drivers that were proud of their northern, Black Sea (Karadeniz) heritage.  There was one based at the taxi stand close to where I lived.  He always listened to Radyo Karadenız, the local Black Sea music station.
Black Sea music could be described as the equivalent to Blue Grass music in the States - a little fast, a little fun, and a little country. No matter how dark and grey a morning was, or how tired I was, I would always smile the entire way to work as I listened to this music. 
There were also the professional taxi drivers that took their profession seriously.  I once met a man who was a second-generation taxi driver.  The entire trip’s discussion was about the demise of the profession due to the new hayvanlar, or animals, that drove crazily.
Although I had my share of hayvan drivers from time to time, they were also entertaining.  The drivers that shout loudly to the traffic and other drivers were always entertaining.  And after all, it is Istanbul, and a little craziness on the streets is the norm.
Perhaps my most significant taxi experience was the day that President George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq. At that point, everyone knew it was coming, but when it did, I think there was an energy shift in the world. The air felt quite heavy that day.
As usual, the driver asked me where I was from. What do you say when your leader decides to invade Iraq where so many people the world over did not support it?
I was reluctant to respond.  Not out of fear, but I was just not ready for a political exchange that day. My response was “everyone’s least favorite country today”.
He didn’t understand my sarcasm at first, so I said Amerikaliyim, “I am American”.  He then understood.  
His response, “Abla, Turks understand the difference between people and politics.”
Coming from a country where the gap between political parties seems so wide and people are so quickly judged by affiliation to anything, I was really surprised by his response.  I was not sure what I expected, but not that.
We were both silent the rest of the ride home.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Madam You Used to be So Sexy

One thing that always amazes me once you get outside of Western culture is how incredibly blunt or off some comments can feel sometimes. Yes, in the West we are so politically correct that it is counter productive and quite frankly ridiculous in my opinion. But yet, where does one draw the line? Well, the answer is you can’t because what one person finds insulting another doesn’t.

I have come across this on numerous occasions, and often it is about physical appearance and weight. I was reminded of this again recently when a Filipino woman who works for one of my friends came by my house to pick up something for her. We hadn’t seen each other for several months and while she was quite happy to see me, and vice versa, the first thing she said to me was “Madam what happened to you? You gained weight! You used to be so sexy! “.

Now, I can only laugh about this and the extra comment about being sexy or having been is always interesting to me. Maybe thin equates with sexy in Eastern culture, I am not sure.

For some cultures, I wonder if this could be a way of females bonding in a sisterly way. I figure in some cases if people are bold enough to go there and they have known you for some time, they want to be closer to you? Maybe it’s just my wishful thinking. Or, they already feel close enough that they can tell you? Or, they are just honest with what they feel? As my two-year old son would say, “What is that?”

In Istanbul, I was never so sure of the intent. And it was often confusing because if one person told me I looked good or lost weight, within a few hours another would tell me I gained weight. They all cancelled out any theories I had about cultural norms on this subject.

I’m not sure how it is in Arab culture, or Indian culture. However, I have been bluntly told my some male Indian colleagues if I’ve gained or lost weight. There is nothing harassing or anything behind it. It is all very matter of fact as if you were talking about a scratch on your car.

The Filipinos I know or encounter often do not have any issues telling me this. I can’t help but wonder if it is more of an Eastern thing because once on a trip to Viet Nam, a local male was pointing out “fat” girls to me while we were waiting in the car for my husband. I was completely floored because I could not tell the difference between his definitions of fat and thin at all. They looked the same to me - tiny! I know people often find Americans big – and they are – but I remember thinking I must be huge by comparison if this is their example of fat!

At least the good thing is while a Filipino may feel you are gaining weight, they will tell you when you look good, too. So you know the intent is not malicious. In similar fashion once when I was at a salon in our complex one of the girls who used to work there was very excited to learn that I knew the “Sexy pregnant lady” in our complex. Yes, that’s my neighbor and she is tall and gorgeous, built like Heidi Klum. After she delivers those babies she’s got the same elasticity as Heidi too. It was very sweet though because she is beautiful and while a lot of people get caught up in how much weight someone gains while they are pregnant, while easy to see her beauty, they were not afraid to compliment her on it.

I hear comments from time to time regardless of any weight gain or not. For the first few years living abroad, it bugged me. Now I am quite used to it, and probably at this age don’t care too much about it. However, I am still fascinated by it.

My personal philosophy: It’s still what is on the inside that counts. Regardless of where I live if someone has gained or lost weight I don’t care as long as they are healthy and happy.

So, “What happened to me and why am I not sexy”? I guess baggy jeans, t-shirts, no make up and a bad cold do not constitute sexy in the Philippines.