Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jet Setting

Well I got back from Australia yesterday... for those readers who aren't already aware, Dad had a triple bypass and is as we speak sitting in the hospital recovering nicely.  All will be OK it seems and I left Sydney on Sunday night with him in good spirits.

I have now been in Dubai 24hrs and tonight we fly out for our vacation in France.  2 nights in Bordeaux, 4 nights in Paris and 3 nights at EuroDisney.  It will be a "busy but enjoyable" holiday and its one that I have been thinking about for about 10 years.  I went to Paris in 2001 on the back end of a business trip and I promised I would take Niki back there.  Initially I said it would be a great place for the 2 of us to go for our 10th wedding anniversary (which would have been 2005) but come 2005 we had two small children and it wasn't easy to go.

So now, after being here in Dubai for a bit over 18mths, we finally get to go and take the kids with us.  I am really looking forward to it as are Niki and the girls.

So, this blog will be "updateless" for the next 10-11 days or so but will put some pics up when we get back.

Au revoir!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Contingency Plans

When we moved here to Dubai, one of the big issues mentally was the fact that we were leaving our families.  Upping and moving around the world to a foreign country without your support network of friends and family was a big deal for us.

One of the things, and its not a great thing to think about, is what happens when something important happens in Australia?  What do we do?  Its not like we can "pop back" anytime... there needs to be a level of importance attached to things.

Well, we reached that point this week when my Mum rang me to tell me that Dad had had a 'minor heart attack' on Saturday night.  To me, there is nothing minor about any heart attack and I was instantly worried.  Calls to home were positive... it was nothing major, it was a heart attack but Mum did the right thing and rang the ambulance quickly and a test on Tuesday will show what damage was done and Dad would have to start to think about changing very ingrained habits.

Unfortunately the tests showed major blockages and Dad is scheduled to have a quadruple bypass on Thursday.  I found all this out this morning and by early afternoon I am booked on a plane to Sydney.  I land very early morning and depending on the timing of the surgery I could be getting straight into a taxi and heading to the hospital.

It is one of those moments that we had talked about between Niki and I and it was an automatic reaction to call my travel guy and get on the next available plane.  I must admit though it is still a shock to actually have this scenario play out and its a bit surreal that in a bit over 24hrs I will be touching down in Sydney.

But this is what family is about and this is what we had discussed when we moved here... the dreaded "what if" scenarios and the contingency plan is being put into effect.

Hopefully though Dad will be OK... it is major surgery but at the same time it almost feels routine these days.  Niki's Dad had the same operation a number of years ago and he's as fit as a fiddle these days, so I know what its going to be like after the surgery.  But nevertheless, its something you have to be there for.

Good luck Dad!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Getting on with it....

Been a weird period of late... Ramadan is on, work has been busy and I am counting down to when I take my holidays... I guess at this stage of life, you can very much say that we're now "in a routine" in living in the Emirates.

I feel very comfortable driving around the place, the Islamic culture has grown on me, I am feeling like I truly live here and not on holidays. Its little things too, like when someone mentions a place and you know where it is or when someone refers to a Mohammed at work and you know which one they mean (that sounds terribly racist and I dont mean it that way, but its true).

Life is pretty much running normal.

The number of moments in which I say to myself "wow, how unusual is that" are reducing and when little surprises pop up, you just tend to roll with things and get on with it. For example, our power got cut off the other day and Niki rang me at work to tell me she was suddenly without air con. Turns out that my bill hadnt arrived for two months due to the vague lack of any postal service here and the power company just cut us off. No problem, I get in the car, drive from Abu Dhabi to Dubai (roughly 140kms) and pay the bill and the power was back on in two hours.

Yes, its bureaucratic and yes if it happened in Sydney I would be "outraged" but here its just "meh... bloody postal company". We get on with it...

Niki and the kids though are in holiday mode and the kids have moved into this half nocturnal pattern of bed by 11pm and they get up at 11am... In my view, let em do it as they cannot go anywhere unless they want to forgo food due to Ramadan (hard for kids) and its very hot outside, so let them sleep... it means I get home from work and they're full of beans which is nice.

And today, I will be heading home sometime between 3 and 4pm today... its about time I too start enjoying the Ramadan slow down. Two weeks to France!!

(3 minutes later)

OK, need to do a PS here... I just hit "send" and published the above post and my mobile rang. It was the bank and a lady introduced herself and said she was from the bank and for security reasons can she confirm my ID. She asks me the usual "mothers maiden name" and my date of birth etc etc... She then asks me to confirm my country of birth and I said Australia. She then asks "are you traveling there today?"

I reply "um, no... I am at work..."

"Mr Clayton are you traveling there this weekend?"

"Um... no... not going until Christmas" I reply.

"OK, thank you sir." and she then hangs up.

What was the point of the call? Why did she ring me?

That my dear readers is one of life's quirky UAE moments....

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ramadan Kareem!

Well, Ramadan has started once again!  Its a funny time here when Ramadan is on... its a period of religious reflection and in a country that is governed by religion, then it impacts EVERYTHING.  Work, shopping, dining out, driving and socialising in general are all affected.

The rules of Ramadan are this:

1. No eating or drinking, even of water in the daylight hours (this is particularly tough given its summer and temps are 45-50 degrees celcius)
2. No smoking, chewing gum or any other item that goes in the mouth again in daylight hours
3. Work hours are reduced and knock off time (for those observing Ramadan) is 3pm

Ramadan means increased prayer times so instead of Muslims ducking out for prayer for say 5 minutes, they're gone for much longer.  In non-Ramadan times this has no impact on my work day and is almost the same as a "smoko" in Australia, but when 80% of the staff disappear for nearly half an hour at a time, it does impact the work day.

On the roads, and particularly as Ramadan goes on, the driving becomes more erratic.  Muslims are not eating and sleeping and yet are operating motor vehicles at high speed.  Its a mix for a disaster and there were a number of crashes on the roads last year.  The trick is to avoid the 3pm rush but also leave before the Iftar rush (Iftar is the meal that breaks the daily fast which occurs exactly on sunset... which is approx 6:30pm).

Speaking of Iftar, it is like the Xmas Party season in the western world.  My company will be putting on an Iftar Buffet for all staff and their families on August 25 and I have already been invited to another companies Iftar Buffet for their clients next Monday.  Think the Xmas Party scene in Sydney but without the alcohol.

But whilst I point out all these do's and do not's, it is actually a very interesting time to be living and working in the Middle East.  I have a real respect for the Arabic way of life now that I have been here for a while now and it is their holiday season and they do make Westerners feel welcome.  You need to be more careful and you need to be conscious of your own actions (dont sip water, don't eat in front of fasting Muslims) but at the same time the impact on the way of life here is intriguing and a great experience.

And its long... its a full lunar cycle so approximately 29 or 30 days and given its summer, its going to be quite difficult for fasters especially the lack of water!

Ramadan Kareem!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Vive La France!

Well, exciting news here... we're all booked for our French holiday next month.  Yes, as Roy & HG say, we're off to the land of the cheese eating surrender monkeys and we're very excited.

We fly to Paris and then head straight to the train station as we're heading for 2 nights in Bordeaux.  The TGV train is one of those "very fast trains" that the Australian government keeps cancelling and we'll be in the south of France by early afternoon.  We're meeting our friends Marianne and Philippe there who are holidaying as well and given Philippe is French, we'll be glad for the local to help with the language issues.

Then we're heading back north to Paris and four nights to see all the famous Parisian sites.  I was there in 2001 and always wanted to head back with Niki and now we're finally doing it!  We're staying not far from the river Seine and closish to the Eiffel Tower.  Both the girls are pumped to see the Mona Lisa.

After what will undoubetedly be alot of walking, we're then finishing off with three nights at Euro Disney.  Roller coasters and the like will be a great day to finish what we're hoping will be a great trip.  We did say that we'd be making use of the closer proximity to Europe and each northern summer we'll be heading to somewhere new.

In the meantime, I have about three more weeks of work to get through and I am sure it will go really slow!

Sunday, August 01, 2010

LOST - The Finale

For the past six years I have been an avid viewer of a show called LOST. You may have heard of it...

Well this past month whilst Niki was away I watched Season 6 via download and finally got the finale of the entire series this weekend.

I know LOST had many critics and that the "instant satisfaction" generation thought it was a rubbish show, but when you watch all six seasons and then get such a brilliant finale, you realise that perhaps LOST was one of the best tv series ever made.

It was so deep, so layered and so detailed that you basically had to watch every episode otherwise you in turn would be lost yourself (pun intended).

So, what of the finale? How did it end... well beware below if you dont want any spoilers but given that the finale has been done and dusted in both Australia and the US I think I can speak freely...

Essentially in a nutshell, the original passengers of Oceanic 815 did crash, they did survive and they did experience all the things that happened on the island. The Island, is a mystical place that balances the world between good and evil and does act as a holding place for people who have died who had sinned in their lives. It cannot be called Hell or Purgatory because it does exist on Earth.

However, what is not revealed until the finale of Season 6 is that the "alternate world" in which the Lostaways return to lives but their lives are 'different' is actually Purgatory and that until they all realise this individually do they come together and ascend to heaven (or whatever you believe the Afterlife is).

That's a very simplistic explanation and more detailed explanations are on many different blogs and websites such as this one but for me, LOST is the best TV series ever created and if you fell off the LOST bandwagon over the past 6 years, I highly recommend you get the DVD set and be prepared to sit down and watch it back to back.

And I may just do that...