Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Laundry in Dubai

It's a generally mundane topic, I know. But laundry here in Dubai is a cultural thing. Let me explain.

If you're a member of the white collar (professional) society, you send your laundry out or your live-in maid does it for you. 

If you have a live-in maid, her quarters consist of a tiny room, usually windowless and usually off the kitchen. Your maid also helps with house cleaning, child-minding, grocery shopping, cooking, dog-walking, errand running and tea making. She is indispensable. 

If you send your laundry out, you choose to have the clothing items laundered, pressed (freshened) or dry-cleaned. You don't flinch at paying 19 AED ($5.17) to have one men's shirt laundered. A safari suit (Indian male attire) cleaning will set you back 45 AED ($12.25). And that three-piece tux will come back clean for a mere 75 AED ($20.42). 

Oh, and apparently they do this weird thing to western style men's suits. After they dry clean the suit, they steam it and then kind of buff it so it's rather ... shiny. Not everyone wants to sport a reflective look, but apparently this is what they deem appropriate.

So far, I've done a tubful of hand washing (horror!) and accepted a generous offer from Greg's colleague to impose upon his apartment and washing machine. 

Isn't it funny how you take these things for granted, until it becomes hugely, disproportionately important?

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

First impressions of Dubai, a city in the desert

When Greg was asked by his employer to go to Dubai for a couple months to work alongside the team there, he was of course agreeable. And since I'm doing work which isn't time/place dependent, I was agreeable too. So here we are in the United Arab Emirates, staying at the Hilton on Jumeirah Beach. We've been here for almost a week now, and I'd like to share some (admittedly outsider) first impressions.... 

- They are overstaffed nearly everywhere. Example: buying ibuprofen at Boots apparently requires  three employees, two hand-offs and one consultation.

- As expected, there is a fair bit of male-female separation (not just in mosques). For example, I took a pink-topped taxi the other day which was driven by a woman, who are allowed to take fares from women.

- There are very few 'natives' since this is a very young country technically speaking - only 17% of the population is Emirati. Of course, there were tribes roaming these lands around 5500 BC...

- Americans don't come here much, but this place is overrun with rather sunburned Brits, and our East Slavic brethren who make Dubai's Jumeirah Beach area feel like Russia-on-the-Sea. 

- There's a prevailing attitude that if you don't have history, you just pay to build it. 

- Also as expected, the culture has certain parameters one should respect. For example, there is a zero tolerance policy on drinking and driving (like ANY drinking). One drink with dinner at a restaurant, and you aren't driving home. Better have a car service or taxi waiting. Not that it's a concern for me, as I'm a woman so I can't rent a car anyway.

- There is a bit of a 'haves and have nots' caste system going on. It determines your role and your job. 

- Excess is kind of expected. Indoor skiing, anyone?

- The prevailing newspaper here is very politically correct (though the op-ed section is progressive), and publishes page after page of pics of governmental leaders at meetings, conferences and ribbon cuttings. It's almost as if they have 10 stock photos they rotate daily. 

And so, those are the first impressions. I have lots more exploring to do, a lot of treasures to cover and a lot of hummus to eat!

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Sunday, April 7, 2013

A lunch affair to remember

I don't normally go out for lunch (usually I'm at the gym), but a recent opportunity with Houston Foodie Friends was just too tempting to miss. And am I ever glad I didn't miss this one!

March was wine month at Smith & Wollensky, which meant that you could enjoy a flight of wine with your meal at a modest cost. Even though Smith & Wollensky is a chain, the standards by which they operate are extremely high. And normally, so are the prices but they do reflect the quality of the food.

Fortunately, since the staff knew that it was a group of foodies visiting, they took us on a VIP food journey. Of course, there were the obligatory starters: truffled chicken salad in wonton cones, tomato and mozzarella skewers with balsamic drizzle, crabcakes, mini beef wellingtons.  

And there is THAT bread. Apparently it is a labor of love with many steps for them to make this decadent stuff, with a lovely outer crust dusted with rosemary and pleasantly large salt crystals, served with some of the best butter you'll find anywhere.

The cobb salad was equally decadent, and didn't just have regular bacon - we're talking thick cubes of pork belly. Expertly mixed with evenly distributed dressing, the creaminess of the avocado wove itself through every bite.

While the salmon wasn't something I tried, the presentation with micro-greens and creme fraiche was colorful and showy.

And they treated us to this ridiculous assortment of desserts. I don't even want to know how many calories were loaded onto this tray, but the six of us made quite a large dent in this one!

The most memorable dessert here, hands-down, was the coconut cake. Not only was it beyond fresh, but also it was topped with a headdress of massive strips of coconut. What's not to love? 

Between these wonderful treats and a parting gift of a bottle of the signature steak sauce, I knew I was spoiled. And needed to get myself to the gym toute suite.

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