Monday, 26 June 2017

Dubai: Catch-up / FAQ

I've been meaning to write this for a while as I never really talked about moving to Dubai on my blog before I moved and then I got here and wanted to wait awhile before I did. I've had a few questions as I never did a "moving away" type blog post or announcement. I didn't even tell most non-internet friends until about two months before I moved.


Hopefully this answers some questions or is just interesting! If there's anything else then just ask in the comments or send me a tweet and I'll do my best to answer.

Why move to Dubai?

I had too many summer clothes that I wasn't wearing enough for my liking...? My main motivation for moving here was work - I was feeling pretty uninspired with my job in London and all the things I loved about London life (parties, pub on a school night, 2am, an early twenties social life) were gradually fizzling away. I first visited Dubai in 2008, when the implications of the financial crisis had not quite sunk in and when it felt like a city filled with crazy optimism and where literally anything was possible (the air conditioned beach never did get built - sad!). My twenty-one year-old self, in the way that you can at that age thought "cool, maybe I'll live here one day!" because when you're 21 it feels like life milestones will just happen and you'll wake-up at 25 with a house and a husband and ooh, maybe you'll live abroad? Anyway, once Brexit happened and my 30th birthday started looming large without marriage/babies/joining Guardian Soulmates sounding appealing I started looking for jobs and updating my CV and doing some research etc. and then the planets aligned and I had a job offer a few months later.

What do you do?

I work as a corporate lawyer for a British law firm's Dubai office. I've never really talked about what I "do" do on this blog but maybe I will another day.

But, are women allowed to work in the Middle East?

Oh, wait, sorry, I've actually been on holiday for the last few months while my imaginary husband brings home the (turkey) bacon... The UAE (of which Dubai is a part of) kindly allows women to work, drive cars and fly fighter jets... Working for a British firm out here my day-to-day working experience is not affected at all by being a woman at all. I mean, no more than it was in London - there's obviously still a way to go before certain careers become gender-equal but, again, maybe one for another day.

What is the working culture like?

General working hours here are 9am - 6pm so the working day is slightly longer than in London although working as a lawyer generally entails leaving the office later than 6pm the world over. The working week is Sunday - Thursday with Friday and Saturday as the weekend, it takes some getting used to. Most of my colleagues are ex-pats, it helps to break the ice as everyone has had the same trials of settling in to new country. Lawyers are generally introverts and senior male colleagues don't care about my love of shoe shopping but we can all joke about the crazy weather or complain about the traffic. It's definitely been an easier ride bonding with junior colleagues here than if I'd moved to an American or European city in which others had grown-up in - I'm actually yet to meet anyone who is Dubai born and bred.

Where do you live?

I live in "Downtown Dubai" as I wanted a short commute to work (a thirty minute walk or 5-10 minute taxi ride compared with my five-minute walk in London). Ex-pats don't live in gated communities here or anything like that - there are a few popular neighborhoods but it comes down to personal preference and lifestyle, if you're happy to buy a car then you have a lot more choice as to where to live but you'll have to contend with traffic, road tolls and a slightly different driving style to the UK. Dubai isn't a cheap city to live in but, IMO, you get a nicer apartment for your money then I could have dreamed of in London.

What did you do to prepare?

I'd already visited Dubai on holiday four of five times so I had a good idea of what the city was like. My father grew up in Iran so while I've only ever lived in the UK I do feel like that having the cultural understanding was a huge benefit, both in making my decision and settling in to life here. That said, a lot of people move here without ever visiting and having no connection to the region. I would recommend that you visit somewhere at least once before uprooting your life. I read blogs like Laura's while worrying about where on earth I would get my haircut and Expat Woman is more useful than the girly pink site design suggests.

In terms of practical preparation, the visa process was dealt with my employer (I think this is usually the case) and I was able to ship some possessions over. Most of the practical things have to wait until you arrive - until your visa and Emirates ID card are issued you can't open a bank account or rent an apartment. My employer provided me with temporary accommodation for the first month and that gave me plenty of time to find somewhere to live.


Do you have to dress in a certain way?

Not really. Five days a week I'm in the office so my usual dress, cardi (for the aircon) and heels uniform works just as well as it did in London. If you are visiting a court here (in a professional capacity only I would hope) then there is a stricter dress code, as there is for courts in the UK (cue a panic-stricken trip to New Look for a pair of trousers and a long-sleeved blouse). If you're visiting as a tourist you can wear what you like in hotels and on beaches but hot pants and cropped tops are not appropriate for a trip to the mall (that doesn't mean that I don't frequently see these eye-roll inducing outfits - ultimately Dubai is a conservative country so just exercise some common sense and you'll be fine).

Can you drink alcohol?

Yes! No this wasn't my most-asked question and I'm not reading into it in any way.

Is there any culture? Isn't it all just huge shopping malls?

Shopping is quite a big activity here but no complaints from me there. There are miles of beaches, a huge dessert, an old town and a fledgling gallery district. Cafe culture is huge and I enjoy eating avocado on toast in places that would fit right in in East London but here there's me with my bashed Kindle and on the next table its traditionally dressed locals Instastorying their avo toast with a gold-plated iPhone. People stay up late with or without alcohol, the warm evenings are lush and the best thing about living here as everything is open late. My list of things to do is still huge (theme parks, museums, hotels hidden in the dessert dunes - done!). Sometimes I feel like I could be anywhere in the world but Dubai definitely has it's own culture and personality. The city is clean and safe and I never have to tip-toe around puke or pretend I can't hear drunken men shouting at me.

Any tips?

Not Dubai specific but for moving anyway I'd say don't stress too much about packing - one suitcase was all I had for my first 6 weeks but 8-10 work outfits, 3-4 weekend outfits and workout clothes is more than enough. Once all my other stuff turned up I felt a bit blah about it. Take each day as it comes as you'll go crazy thinking about all the things you need to do and buy and sort out at once. Ask lots of questions but don't take everyone's answers as gospel - figure things out for yourself too and don't mix up someone's opinion with fact (someone told me that you couldn't buy tampons here and, er, you can so use your suitcase space for something else). They'll be ups and downs and times when you question your decision but highs and lows and "what ifs" featured in my London life, too.

Don't let anyone make you feel bad about wanting to make your own adventure - we don't get another chance to do this all again. I used to feel envious of friends who were living abroad until I realised that there was nothing stopping me besides my own feelings of "I can't do that". You can.
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Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Travel: A Weekend At Bab Al Shams


Bab Al Shams means "gateway to the sun" in Arabic. Nestled in the Arabian dessert, the hotel is only an hour's drive from Dubai city but it feels like another world. As my taxi left the skyscrapers and malls behind, the buildings became smaller until they dropped away to reveal an expanse of sand. The city has been a relatively recent imposition here - the dessert likes to occasionally make its claim back by spilling sand onto the tarmac in yellow waves. The road stretches ahead, so hot that it appears to shimmer and gleam like after recent rain, the mirage shrinking and disappearing before you can ever reach it.


The hotel is designed like a traditional Arabic fort with courtyards, hidden walkways and water features - it has the huge advantage over city hotels in having a lot of space to play with. The hotel is low-rise and you can get nicely lost wandering through the maze-like courtyards, finding hidden seating nooks as you go. It's quiet and peaceful, although strange at first to realise that the ambient noise of traffic ever-present in the city has been replaced by chirping birds.


It's pretty hot at this time of year in Dubai so a weekend of doing not much at all was definitely on the agenda. When it's 40+ degrees, even lying by the pool in the shade is tiring work. I couldn't imagine 40+ heat before I moved to Dubai - in reality its not as bad as it sounds but as someone who spends most of the week indoors, a couple of hours by the pool was all I could manage before air-con and a cold Diet Coke started loudly beckoning me inside. I visited during Ramadan and the hotel was business-as-usual, with one restaurant closed for the month. Summer is a quieter season for tourism in Dubai so there are often good deals to be had, I booked this one.


My room was on the ground floor, over looking a courtyard. The rooms are decently sized with giant comfortable beds and corner baths. The entire hotel complex has free wifi and free bottled water is provided. The promotion I booked under didn't include breakfast which is a little cheeky given that there's nowhere else to go - just desert in every direction. I skipped the breakfast buffet in favour of teaching myself to use the in-room Nespresso machine. There's also a kettle for tea-making, I am turning into my mother and now appreciate such touches.


The pool is the standout feature, looking straight out at the flat, endless dessert. It's a huge pool with different sections for sunbathing, seeking shade and swimming. There's a swim-up pool bar and you an order food and drink straight to your sun lounger if the heat is all too much. At sunset, I ventured onto the rooftop bar to watch the sands turn golden. As the sun dipped below the horizon, a line of gazelle ran through the dunes and if I hadn't been clutching my phone I would have felt liked I'd ventured back in time, or at least more than an hour away from the bright lights, crazy traffic and work demands of the city.


Everyday at 5pm the hotel offers free camel rides and the chance to befriend a falcon. The camels arrived on cue from the dessert, I'm still fascinated by them and relish any chance to use the camel emoji.  I passed on a ride as I've sat astraddle of a camel a couple of times before, it's about as uncomfortable as it sounds does not make for flattering photos. I opted to befriend the falcon instead, he was very heavy and his claws looked pretty terrifying but I think I look pretty calm holding him, all that yoga must be making me more zen than I sometimes feel. 


The offer I booked under included a daily voucher to use at the hotel - I used mine in the spa for a dreamy Thai massage which added to the "relax and get away from it all vibe". I read an entire book from start to finish and, the weekend after the UK elections, kept the TV in my room firmly turned off. Heading back into the city, I felt like I'd been away for more than 24 hours - proof that you don't need to jump on a plane to have a complete change of scene for the weekend. 



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Friday, 16 June 2017

Recipe: Vietnamese Summer Salad Boats



I think this recipe might be on repeat all summer, it's so fresh and tasty and takes ten minutes to make. Wing Yip sent me a hamper of Asian ingredients for Healthy Eating Week and I took inspiration from my favourite Vietnamese summer rolls which are full of colour and flavour but are super light. 

Using lettuce boats takes away any fiddly rice-paper rolling (because I do not have the skills for that). This would be perfect for a summer weekend lunch or as a sharing dish at a BBQ. I've made mine vegan but you could add cooked shrimps to the mix or add in some rice noodles to mix up the textures and make it a more substantial dish. Any crunchy vegetables would work - I love pineapple in savoury dishes, I definitely felt like I should have been eating this on a beach rather than in front of a rather gory episode of Orange Is The New Black.


Ingredients:

1 head of little gem lettuce
Filling - small handful of bean sprouts, grated carrot, finely chopped cabbage, half a chopped red pepper, small handful of pineapple chunks
Garnish - chopped fresh coriander, unsalted peanuts, chilli and ginger (optional)
Sauce - Mushroom Sauce, soy sauce, chilli sauce (optional)


Method:

Throw the fillings into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the sauces - make it as hot as you want (the hotter the better IMO). Pour the sauce over the veg and leave for a few minutes. Fill up the lettuce boats and sprinkle the coriander and chopped peanuts over the top before tucking in.


What's your favourite light summer meal?


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Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Baking: Mary Berry's Banana Loaf

Another bake today, putting my stand mixer to work on one of my family's favourite - we've made Mary Berry's banana loaf countless times before but using good old elbow grease (what a weird expression - mine are a bit on the dry side) and a wooden spoon. It's an easy recipe with no strange ingredients - you probably have all of the baking bits in the cupboard and there's always some bananas going brown in the fruit bowl.

This time, the mixer did all the hard work and the resulting loaf came out lighter, fluffier and more evenly baked than when mixed by hand. Do some dancing or go for a walk while it bakes to make up for the energy not expended battling wooden spoon and mixing bowl. Mary's recipe should be followed to the letter, it goes without saying. For a little twist, pop an extra banana on top which will bubble and caramelise as the loaf bakes or throw a small handful of hazelnuts into the mixture.

Serve with a nice cup of tea (we all could do with one right now) and eat as is or spread with butter, nut butter or (as here) some mixed summer berries. The loaf can be frozen (cut into thick slices first) if it isn't all consumed in one day.





What is your go-to baking recipe?
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Sunday, 11 June 2017

Travel: Five Destinations On My To-Go List

In 2016 I crammed in a personal best for trips abroad. In hindsight, I'm glad I made the most of having a passport that (for now) still has "European Union" emblazoned across it. From travelling the length of Vietnam in a fortnight to hopping across to Denmark for the sole purpose of going to Legoland, I took it as a compliment when friends complained (or delighted) that "you're always away!".

The whole "packing up my life and moving abroad" thing has somewhat scuppered this year's travel plans. I have two "holidays" back in London which I am already beyond excited about - the weather will probably be grim, I will be freezing regardless but I can't wait to catch-up on all things cultural that I definitely miss here and also reacquaint myself with The Pub (maybe it'll be warm enough to sit outside?).

Here's where I want my next passport stamps to be from (please also throw in unlimited Airmiles and unlimited annual leave):

1. Mumbai, India


Image credit: The Incredible India.
 I am actually going to India later this year to do the Golden Triangle but after reading Shantaram and Midnight's Children I decided that I need to go to Mumbai too.

To do: Visit the Gateway of India, visit the Haji Ali island mosque, shop and bar-hop in Colaba, feast on vegetarian food without having the constant "does this have meant in it, though" feeling.

2. Austin, Texas
Image credit: Adriene Louise.
I did promise myself that I wouldn't be visiting the US until after 2021 but Austin, TX really does seem like my dream city. My experience of the US so far is limited to NYC (a few times) and Las Vegas (one time) and, recent politics aside, I would love to see more of this vast and varied country.

To do: Tick off the last festival on my list, SXSW, visit Austin City Limits, take a yoga class with my favourite person on all of the internet, Yoga With Adriene, check out Austin's thriving vegan food scene.

3. Amman and Petra, Jordan
Image credit: globe.travelpix.

Amman and Petra are around four hours apart by road but it makes sense to combine the two into one trip - a contrast between a buzzing capital city and the heritage site at Petra sounds like the perfect holiday to me and a totally different side of the Middle East to the slick new-ness of Dubai.

To do: Visit the citadel and Roman theatre in Amman, eat falafel, take the ultimate #doyoutravel Instagrams in Petra at the Bab Al Siq (it was good enough for Indiana Jones).

4. Salalah, Oman 
Image credit: Anantara Salalah.
With a flight time of less than two hours from Dubai, Salalah in Oman looks like a universe away from the high rises and glitz of Dubai. I'm planning on heading here for a weekend of doing...not much at all.

To do: Watch the sunset over the Arabian sea, read a book, have a cocktail. Repeat.

5. Tokyo, Japan
Image credit: Hansyhobs.
This one is a bit of a cheat, as I have already been to Tokyo but it was ten (!) years ago and I was on a somewhat smaller budget and only had 24 hours in the city which I don't even need to say is Not Long Enough.

To do: have a drink (vodka tonic) at the New York bar in the Park Hyatt, see the sakura blossoms, re-purchase all my now-depleted Japanese beauty products, visit the cup noodle museum in nearby Yokohama.

What destinations are on your wishlist? 
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Saturday, 3 June 2017

Life: A Few Of My Favourite Links

I've read a lot of articles lately that I've immediately sent to a friend, to my mother or saved on in my bookmarks. The internet is full of passionate, talented and hilarious female writers right now so today I'm sharing my favourite reads of late - my virtual scrap book of pages to read, re-read and share:

I made avocado on toast at home for the first time and it was a revelation. 

1. Millennials and Property

You don't have to search far for articles on millennials and the property ladder. Buying a home is out of the reach of a lot of young people and the factors are more complex than our penchant for avocado on toast and flat whites. I know I am very much one of the "lucky" ones but seeing more years on the mortgage statement than you have so far been alive is a sure way to turn your dreams of becoming a yoga instructor or taking six months out to travel the world become just that. Unless you're a cash buyer (hahahaha) then your home isn't "yours" anyway - it only will be one day if you're able and willing to keep earning the salary that got you your mortgage approval in the first place. This article totally hit the mark - home ownership might seem like the end game but don't forget to live along the way (and, spoiler alert, it may not make you a better person or make it easier to get out of bed in the morning anyway).

2. The Joy of Being Unhealthy

I ran 3.5km at the gym this morning and can tell you that my lunch contained 311 calories. Have you died of boredom yet or do would you rather finish me off first? As a teen my idols were Kate Moss and Brody Dalle - they sure looked like they were having a good time, I doubt they were eating much kale or sleeping for eight hours a night. Teens today have the clean eating brigade and tee-total YouTubers to glean inspiration from. This may not be a bad thing as vodka and Marlborough Lights are y'know, bad for you, but when I think of my own show reel of favourite memories? They were not fuelled by coconut water and Deliciously Ella energy balls (which, full disclosure, I enjoy making but eat them with an "unclean" coffee or chemical-filled Diet Coke). My friendships have been cemented and strengthened by sharing a bottle of gin, getting locked out of a house party while smoking Vogue Menthols on the doorstep and by baking and eating entire trays of "slutty" brownies. Being healthy is great but we sometimes need to remember how fun being unhealthy is.

3. Man Repeller - Hayley Nahman's Writing

I love everything about Man Repeller but Hayley's writing draws me to the site more than the fashion pieces (neither budget nor occasion for, sadly). Hayley is one of those writers who makes every word count, who writes like she is sending me (just me!) an email, who can make me feel goosebumps with her words or make me laugh into my hands at my desk. Her writing makes mine feel like magnetic letters on the side of a fridge but I love her regardless. Her post on body acceptance is raw, real and will make you feel better after an unflattering dress gets stuck on your head in a store changing room with a broken air-conditioner (pro tip: slide your bra off while praying that you don't rip the dress and have to pay for it). Her post on moving to New York is one I read again and again because it's actual poetry. 


I have made no secret that I love Refinery 29's money diaries. There's something immensely gratifying about getting a snapshot into a stranger's life and nothing will reveal more about a person than how they chose to spend their cash. I've been inspired to write my own and to keep a better eye on my own spending but also to come to terms with the fact that I'll never spend Sunday evening preparing lunches for the week ahead, that spending the equivalent of a mini-break on coffee annually kind of sort of does spark some sort of fleeting happiness and that I fall firmly on the "spend" side of the spend/save divide. A new diary popping up on the home page is a joyous occasion, to be slowly devoured before going back to whatever I was meant to be doing. Reading these is also an interesting insight into American life and the comments sections are enlightening, too. 


As a (not quite reformed but slightly improved) shopaholic, I fully support the benefits of retail therapy. Tired? Stuck in the office late? Hungover? Sad? Feeling existential dread? There's an online purchase for that. Post Marie Kondo and minimalism we are supposed to believe that material goods do not bring happiness... I think that actually just means that you haven't quite found the right item, or combination of items. This article may help to find it and will at least give you major US shopping envy. I mostly just want a Sweetgreen and an Anthropologie to open up in Dubai, pretty please.

Share your favourite links below, please! 
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Thursday, 1 June 2017

Life: May Round-Up

Another month over. Time to make my usual comment about time flying by but this month has felt extra-speedy. My parents came to visit and then returned to cooler climes and events at home (both happy and heartbreakingly bloody awful) made me feel, for the first time since moving to Dubai, far away from life as I used to know it. 

The weather here has turned from summery to "sweat profusely while sitting in the shade next to a fan" and it's not even our "summer" yet. I am already looking forward to dusting off my winter coat for my "London holiday' in July. 


1. A little slice of hippie paradise at Life n'One in Jumeriah. This chilled out spot is right up my street in a city which sometimes feels a little too slick to be real. This is an acai bowl, the first time I have had one - I felt very #wellness eating it but think I prefer avocado toast.

2. The scrawl-covered Boxpark sign has been painted over and looks a little stark.

3. I visited the Jumeriah Mosque which is the only one in Dubai that tourists can take a look inside of. It's only ~£4 to visit which includes breakfast, a chance to dress in traditional Arabic clothing and a brief introduction to Islam (which I mostly knew as a dual-culture kiddo but still glad I visited).

4. Work socials are an unavoidable awkwardness of being an adult but it turns out that when they are held at Nikki Beach they are actually more enjoyable then when held at All Bar One.

5. On the roof at Raffles - I took my parents to the aperitivo at Solo Bar, two cocktails and unlimited Italian antipasti for ~£25 each makes it good value in any city. The courgette fritto was delicious and our waiter super friendly. 

6. Back at our favourite, Le Royal Meridian Beach Resort. Felt pretty special that some of the staff remembered us from holidays past.  

7. Taking Conor Oberst to the pool. I'm seeing him for the 7th (or maybe 8th) time in August in London and am as excited as when I was 17. 

8. Befriending the cats at Le Royal Meridian. I carry Dreamies in my handbag for these occasions. There are few things that I look at in such an adoring manner. 

9. Taking an Insta-ponce sunset on the beach photo, soaking up the last of the day's heat and my "staycation" of sorts. 

June will be a little quieter, Ramadan started on Saturday (Ramadan Mubarak!) and has quite a big effect on day to day life here e.g. no eating or drinking in public during daylight hours but fasting is just one aspect of the holy month. I'm looking forward to learning a bit more about my new country's culture and attending my first Iftar meal. I also offered to host my bookclub's next meeting so I'd better stop looking at cats do adopt and do some reading... 
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