Thursday, April 29, 2010
"Progress and renaissance are not to be measured by reinforced concrete structures, but rather by building human beings and providing citizens with everything that makes them live in happiness and have a decent life."
Sheikh Zayed, Ruler of the UAE.
Laura, Rene and I outside a little mosque in Sharjah.
The United Arab Emirates: I feel like there is a lot I would like to say but I somehow can't get my tongue around the words to express how I feel about the place. In 2007, I was contacted by my Canadian University about doing a short teaching stint there and I jumped at the chance. Even though my Canadian University had pulled out of the project before we all arrived, I was the only one in our group who decided to stay on and spent two years of my life living and working in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.
There is a real aesthetic about Islamic countries that make me salivate. I know that sounds kind of ironic, salivating over things in a Muslim country but believe me, it does happen! I am a mosque-ophile. I'd be a terrible driver in the UAE because my head immediately swings in the direction of any minaret that looks slightly cool. In my opinion, Dubai had the best minarets out of the three main cities of Abu Dhabi, Al Ain or and Dubai. I once impressed a Muslim colleague driving passed the Shangri-la one day because in the distance, I recognised a minaret I had studied in Art History.
"Over there is a replica of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem." I confidently announced.
He didn't believe me. We made a bet of one Starbuck's latte and veered off the highway in search of my minaret. I did a happy dance in the car as we pulled up in front of a full replica of the Dome of the Rock, though I imagine a much smaller version. Damn, that latte was good!
The UAE is a land of superlatives. The hottest land, the tallest buildings, the richest population, the biggest malls. It's also a land of contradictions. The poorest paid working like mad Vs. the highest paid who work very little. A land where the women are considered 'The precious flowers of the desert" Yet, I didn't feel very respected at times. I had big dreams for the Emirates, and when dreams are lost there is a residue of sadness left over in the place those dreams had been.
However, you if you always focus on the closed door, you don't see the other doors that are open in front of you. Onwards and upwards. But I am remembering the good times about the Emirates more and more now, the great friends I had there, the yoga community I found, watching new buildings pop up here and there. I may be back for another stint this summer and I'm already compiling the list of things I'd like to do. Heat permitting, of course!
I didn't have the opportunity to explore Sharjah very well. I'd like to go this summer if at all possible. We wore these borrowed abayas to visit the mosque, but didn't have to wear them all the time. It's the number one question I get asked by Canadians since returning to Canada. No, I didn't have to wear an abaya all the time.
Chunky little cement mosque in Al Ain. I loved to draw these while driving along the highway. I have a bazillion pictures of little mosques like these, tiny and cute and standing on practically every street corner. I still haven't figured out how many mosques have women's quarters, but I do know foreigners are not permitted inside mosques, which is one of the things I didn't like about the UAE. I've been in mosques in several other countries with no problems.
Sheikh Zayed's Mosque. It's a beautiful over the top building, but for me it lacks the soul of other mosques I've been in. Too clean, too new, too regulated. I love mosques that are used like community centres, where people come to gather on the carpets for a quiet chat or even a snooze. I remember in Cairo Rene and i were joined by a whole group of school girls who were just curious about us. We spent an extra hour chatting with them about all things we had in common.
The guy on the left was a worker who was on the team that was inlaying the marble floor in the courtyard. Two things here: I couldn't get over how hard these guys worked and how little paid/respected they were. 2. I didn't like how I got stared at like this whenever I was out in public on my own. This guy turned up in a number of my photos. I was told it was because I was a single woman and I shouldn't be out on my own, but in my case, that simply wasn't an option.
A model of the future of Dubai. It is estimated that the average Emirati citizen in Abu Dhabi is worth ten million dollars. The Emirate of Abu Dhabi itself has 10% of the world's oil production. Through reinvesting oil money into other areas, even if the money from oil stopped tomorrow, it is said that no Emirati citizen would ever have to work again. Ever.
The view from my bedroom when I first arrived in Al Ain, early morning. The Hajaar Mountains are on the Omani side, and we were very close to the big green fence that separated us from Oman.
Some people are shocked when I tell them how much I rode the public bus system in the Emirates. This is a mini van on the way to Dubai, more convenient than the bus because they will stop anywhere and let you off. Less convenient because you've got to get really friendly with your neighbours, though they do try to put women together in seats. There is always a grateful Filipino lady who was willing to sit with me.
Friday Prayers. I was lucky to have a good vantage point this Friday. The overflow of the mosque just sets up in the middle of the road, between the cars. I watched the whole thing. It was pretty cool.
Emirati family unit in the Dubai Mall. (Or is it the Khalifa Mall now?) The floor these kids are lying on can lift two or three stories to create a full on catwalk. Kids, husband, wife and maid. I watched this family for while. They seemed to have a pretty happy maid and the wife and her seemed like friends. It's not always the case in the Emirates.
Driving with an Emirati. Crisp Clean Kandoura. I'd show you his face, but Emiratis are really weird about picture taking. For instance, i wasn't allowed to take photos of my female students. Yet they had no problem snapping pictures of me constantly during class though I had told them I wasn't comfortable with it. It was one of those respect issues that I hard a hard time with. The longer I stayed there the weirder about photos I got as well.
This photo was taken from the balcony of my yogi friend Grant's flat, overlooking the beach on the Corniche.
This picture was taken on my first trip to Dubai with friends. We ended up sharing a double room with six people. We were in a little sleep deprived pain in the morning so we caught up on our sleep on the beach.
Here you go, Canadians. I did wear it once for Ramadan, but I didn't have to. The Abaya. I think there is too much focus in the West on this traditional attire. It's a robe, people! not heavy, won't suffocate you, and in the Emirates, it's quite stylish and dare I say it, a little sexy in the tailoring. The headscarf was too hard for me to keep on and so I didn't wear it. But the days I wore it, the male staff around the school were happy and free to chat with me with no reservations. However, I'm happy I don't have to deal with it day after day.
On to the next adventure!
Monday, April 26, 2010
Rene and I pipe out Cookies!
I've decided I prefer icing cookies to cupcakes. These are way more fun! A few of our yummy experiments!
Forgive me the fizziness of this picture. I haven't had a coffee in two days and I apparently have the shakes! But it's a cute butterfly!
Saturday, April 24, 2010
"Looking for peace is like looking for a turtle with a mustache: You won't be able to find it. But when your heart is ready, Peace will come looking for you."
King's Palace, Bangkok. Thailand was really the first place Rene and I donned the backpack. We were both blown away by the King's Palace with its glittering gold, glass mosaic statues, its Buddha's-fingernail-loving and solid-Jade-Buddha worshipping. The first trip was in 1999. This trip was 2006 and I still love the King's Palace in Bangkok as much as the first time.
I cracked a molar in Shanghai, walking down the street, biting into something hard and chewy one of the Chinese students had given me as a present one day. Further inspection at home showed me that had lost a major chunk of tooth, though I was lucky that the nerve hadn't been exposed.
I really really didn't want to have to get my tooth fixed in China- the hospitals were appalling enough, and the gory stories my coworkers told me usually ended with my head between my legs. Chinese New Year was coming, and though I had great plans to return to peaceful Bali, I headed to noisy loud Bangkok instead, to enjoy a lovely holiday of getting a root canal and doing a little yoga. Yeah, I know. I know how to have a smashingly good time!
King's Palace Buddha. I just have the urge to crawl up there and sit in his lap and let the world pass by.
Was it the best trip to Thailand? No. I was on my own and because of the multiple trips to the dentist, I couldn't leave Bangkok long enough to head south. Some people loathe Bangkok, but I love the grunginess of it, the smell of fish sauce and pad thai, the noise, the colour, the smell of rotting mangoes sprinkled with wafts of coconut, lemongrass and incense.
Love it big time. Love it long time.
I managed to squeeze in four days to Chiang Mai while the cap was being created, But other than that, the trip was highly uneventful. (other than the Burmese guy that worked for my hotel wrote me out all the words to Kaanta Laga by Dj Doll in Hindi, and I can now sing it!) This was also the fifth time I had been to Thailand (I'd gone often with my sister when we lived in Taiwan and passed through several times on the way to other parts of the world) So I admit I had a bit of a been there, done that kind of attitude.
Gold Leaf on the Boddhisatva. Rene and I tried to put gold leaf on the reclining Buddha once, but our sweaty sticky fingers didn't help much, and the gold leaf stuck all over us- so we ended up wiping our fingers on the Buddha. It didn't feel very devotional in the end.
In case any of you were wondering about the dentist- It was fantastic. It was clean and professional and cheap. It's now several years later and I still haven't had any problems with it. I had my metal fillings switched to porcelain, my teeth cleaned, my teeth whitened, and my root canal for 800 USD at Siam Family Dental Clinic. (Click here if you want more info.)
Here are a few of the pictures I took of Bangkok. Maybe not my best set of photos, but be easy on me! I was in the middle of getting a root canal!
Bangkok traffic from the overpass on the way to the dental clinic.
Bangkok cops. I read in the paper that there was a procession from one of the old Thai capitals- Sukhothai or Ayyutaya, that re-inacted a Buddha which floated down the river and landed in Bangkok. The people took it as a sign and built a big temple on the spot where the Buddha landed. I can't for the life of me, remember which old city, or which temple in Bangkok. But I happened to be on my way somewhere and I ran into the parade, which was pretty exciting!
Dancing on the temple grounds to welcome the Buddha statue home.
Chiang Mai, one of my favourite stops in Thailand.
I happened to be there during the flower festival, which, was incredible.This lady struck a pose for me in the Chiang Mai Flower Festival Parade.
The entire float was made of flowers. In fact, every float was made with flowers, carefully and perfectly placed in perfect unison all over these floats. Yes, I felt them and they were real. And soft, and fresh.
Offering dish. The Lotus is a symbolic flower, because it sinks into the mud at night and blooms every morning fresh and clean. No matter how dirty it gets on the outside, the inside always remains clean, just the way good people ought to be as well.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Our summer plans are up in the air. So since we are already thinking of doing a few markets this summer, we decided it might be a good idea to experiment with adding Rene's new found culinary expertise into the mix.
Cupcakes and cookies!
Istanbul Turbans and Taiwanese Curly turds!
Our first attempts at icing cupcakes. Rene is still far more at ease than I am at piping stuff, but I am a quick study. Considering she's been doing this stuff for years and this is my first attempt, I'm actually quite proud! But the cupcakes with the wonky tips? Those would be mine.
This little experiment reminds me of my old hairy dog, Muffy.
I'm suffering from the sugar rush though. We made these last night and I laid awake till 4 am my mind blabbering away at me all night. No more sugar for me!
For a first attempt and practice, I think we did well.
Now, Who wants to save us from them?
Next up! Cookies!
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.
Maracas de Mexico! Ole!
I'm not a great fan of beaches, but I am a fan of art history.
I'm far too restless to partake in beach culture for a serious amount of time- one, two days max. So when I decided to visit Mexico a few summers ago, I went straight to the Yucatan to see the ruins.
It wasn't a long trip and I spent half of it with my friend Stephanie who would have loved nothing more than to lay on the beach, drink margaritas and look at hot Italian men frolicking in the waves for a few more days. But she was a good sport and came to a Chichenitza with me and I continued on on my own after that to, you guessed it, even more ruins.
I had a good time despite breaking out in a full body rash, which apparently was an allergic reaction to some sort of bacteria whipped up from the bottom of the ocean by the most recent hurricane. Who would have known I was allergic to something at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea?!??
Near the end of my trip I met a Mayan Indian Contemporary art gallery owner in a park and we talked about the portrayal of Mayan Civilization in society. He was of the mind that tourism was destroying Mexico and Mayan culture. I was of the mind Mexico was exploiting its own culture to attract tourists. I don't think either of us were wrong. The Mayans aren't dead, by the way. They are alive and well in the Yucatan. What did alarm me was the restoration of a lot of the ruins were obviously not restorations but renovations and reinventions to attract tourism. Keep it real, Mexico!
For instance- Check out this complex (Ek Balam) under restoration. See the trees growing out of it on the right? The clump of temple that has yet to be restored there in the bush? Roots destroy buildings pretty quickly.
Yet The restoration on the same building shows figures so detailed, there are even full sets of fingers. there is no way this relief could have survived this intact in the jungle of the Yucatan.
Thanks Mexicans, for being patient with my rusty Espanol and thanks Steph, for putting up with my Indiana Jones-ing! Next time I have the opportunity to visit Mexico, I would like to check out Oaxaca. A few faves from my mini trip to Mexico:
Rusty boats on the way out for a day of snorkelling.
Out for a stroll in Valladolid.
Mexican dippers in a cave outside Valladolid.
The water was icy cold, such a surprise for mid-summer Mexico!
I climbed to the top, But Steph was afraid of heights and stayed at the bottom. I admit, it was steeper than it looked! But the view from the top was pretty cool.
Strolling in Merida! I love big churches.
Sadly, this one was locked the whole time I was there and I never got a peek in.
Merida man giving my leather shoes the once over. I took a great video of him and his old friends chatting with me in Spanish and accidentally deleted it! I'll just have to go back, find him shining shoes in the town square in Merida and take another one.
Uxmal. I love the shape of this pyramid. Round and massive.
Does this give you an idea of how round and massive this structure is?
Iguana hanging out on a carved wall.
The beach in Tulum. This was a Sunday afternoon and I got the impression these people were having a church picnic on the beach.
Steph and I on the beach. She's really not that much taller than me! As I type this, my thoughts are with Stephanie as she is most likely in labour giving birth to a baby boy here in Canada, far far from Mexico, beer, beaches and Italian boys.