Monday, May 29, 2006

A Spanish state-of-mind

Since I have arrived in the land of paella and sangria, I have been extremely busy with the usual things you do when you have moved countries for an extended period of time. Apartment, language, groceries, laundry, phone line, new people, etc etc.

The days have gone so quickly, I can‎’t believe I have been here a week already. And I have been so calm within. So at peace with myself. Didn’t think I’d feel so rejuvenated so soon.

I think it’s because it is just refreshing to be in a ‘normal’ country. A ‘real environment’. An environment where the grass is uneven and people don’t shave if they don’t want to. And knowing that I am here for a while makes it mean a lot more. It’s not just a 3 week vacation from life. It is my life for 6 months.

People here are just ‘being’. They are not trying to be the richest in the world, or the smartest. They want their weekends and will not sacrifice them to make some extra bucks. They will drive their 1988 Fiat as long as it runs. They will shut shop at 5pm, go to the beach, have a drink, eat some good food, meet some friends and just chill.

They are not trying to fit into a mould that is has been preconceived as the ideal ‘mould’. They are who they are, they earn what they earn, they do what they want. So natural. The way it should be.

I guess when you have been so accustomed to a place like Dubai where you need to be the best, richest, hottest, smartest, tallest to be noticed, a natural environment hits you like a bolt of lightening. And when you realize that this is how most people live all over the world, you realize what you have been missing living in the bubble of Dubai.

Perhaps it is just a state of mind I am in at the moment. Perhaps I’ll want to fly back home in a few weeks. Perhaps I will appreciate Dubai more than I do at the moment. Perhaps I won‎’t. I really do not know.

Random thoughts from Café de Espana

So I’m sitting in this café around the corner from my apartemente. Actually it’s not even a café. It’s a canopy with 10 tables. About two metres away is a booth built into the wall that has a coffee maker and ice cream. Punto.

I’m sitting here with my feet up, eavesdropping on the conversations of Spaniards around me. ‘Listen then talk’, isn’t that the first principle of communication?

It seems like a hangout for locals; a meeting point for amigos both young and old.
I was the one of two people 10 minutes ago. There are now at least 30. So I did pick the happening spot!

The coffee in Spain is just perfect. The café con leche is not a cappuccino, nor is it a café latte but it tastes better than both. AND, it’s not too hot – I can take a sip the minute I get it! The downside is that I finish it in less than 10 minutes.

A few other things I am enjoying blissfully:

The sun goes down at 10pm!

Public transport. I haven’t used a bus/train/tram in 5 years! (Vacations don’t count)

How I will not see a single Indian on the road, or in school, but randomly meet them in the oddest places: The owner of the kebab shop, the Punjabi owner of the internet shop and the Delhi-ite who owns the telephone centre.

Unfamiliarity of almost every name, place, animal, thing around me. It breeds a constant sense of intrigue and awakens all your senses.

Buying fresh fruit from the street.

How no-one speaks any English but they all listen to Coldplay, Norah Jones and James Blunt.

How people cannot guess where I am from.

How I have all the details of 6 men who want to practice their English and help me speak Spanish - yeah right!

Life is good.

Friday, May 26, 2006

A taste of Salsa in Spain

So I called Manuel Mascarel, (apparently the guy who´s name is synonymous with Salsa in Valencia), nice guy, very friendly. Haven´t met him yet, but hopefully next week.

Went to this bailamos discotecha´Asucar´ last night. Was quiet at first, with just a few people here and there dancing on a large floor. The music is relatively slower than what we are used to (most welcome!) and from what I gathered last night, the Spaniyards dance a mix of LA and Cuban style. And alot of bachata, merengue, chacha. The songs played were all familiar, which was kinda cool - but made me quite nostalgic.

Then the teacher announced a La Rueda session. I gladly jumped in, as it is probably the easiest way to dance with everyone in under 10 minutes. Once announced, the next thing I see is atleast 70 couples ready in a circle on the dance floor for La Rueda. Whoa! where did they all come from!? Was the largest Rueda I have ever done and though very basic, really good fun.

The level of dancing wasn´t very good though. Dubai standard is much better. But a good night, nice people (a few sleazeballs, but all in all nice :) and I was most happy just to be dancing!

Carmen Llorente was there too. Apparently she is the whole and soul of salsa in Valenica. Will talk to her next time.

Anyway, I have been sitting in this internet cafe in some dodgy lane near my house for the last 2 hours, next to two Mexicans who smell of tequila. This is the character you miss in Dubai! :)
Guess that´s my cue to exit.

Hasta luego!

A few vagaries of the Spanish language

Five days and 20 hours of Spanish later, the realization that learning a language includes re-learning your grammar, can be rather daunting to say the least. See, the language seems quite straightforward - but the minute you have rules, everything gets spoilt.

Verbs: regular, irregular, reflexive, infinitive, 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person, tenses, participles and the list goes on. Do you remember this stuff from school?

To further explain the problem here: Every verb form (and there are 6 basic forms of every verb) has a different way of using a word before and after the verb. In short, there are 36 ways of using every verb, dependent on situation. And that’s just for the verbs. Need I say more?

Add to that the fact that I cannot say the Spanish alphabet properly and that my vocabulary is 17 words, I have a bit of a task on my hands. However, one of the comforting factors is that Spaniards speak at the rate of 4 words a second, so if can put enough words together quick enough, no matter what they are, I think I can wing it! :) Apparently, Español is one of the easiest languages to learn.

Another interesting thing about the language, is how its similarity and dissimilarity to English is extreme.

Por ejample: (For example)

Similar = Similardo
Clear = Claro
Different = Differente
Patata = Potato
Tomate = Tomato
Cola = Cacoa
Experience = Experiente
Football = Futball
Equal = Egual

And on the other hand:

Bread = Pan (?)
Chair = Sila
Cucumber = Pepino
Blue = Azul
Bathroom = Lavabo
Prawns = Gambia

Drink = Beber
Us = Nosotros (!)
Them = Vosotros (!!)

Also things like:
Pero = But
Perro = Dog!

Anos = Year
Anus = Ass!

Por que= Why; Porque (one word) = Because ......How are you supposed to know the difference when someone speaks!?

ANNNDDD, to add to all of this, the books we have are entirely in Spanish. Not a word of ingles, and no existence of any translations. *sigh*

I have no doubt I will pick up the language. I just wonder if I will pick up the right form of the language! Comprendo?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

¿´No habla español, habla ingles´?

This line has taken me so far in the last two days that I have been in Valencia! When I arrived here on Sunday, the whole city was closed. It was ghost-town personified. Not a soul on the street. The apartment I booked happens to be in quite a remote area of the city, where mostly old people live with their dogs. Not exactly in fiesta mode, like profoundly read about.

Anyway, 2 days down - 67 ¿´No habla español´s´ and 41 ´habla pocito español´s´later, I have a local phone number, new cables for my laptop, a bank account; have tasted horchata (an extremely sweet milky drink made of almonds or tiger nuts) drank sangria and eaten pig blood sausages with yellow rice.

I know how to get around town by foot, bus and tram AND have caught a glimpse of hot hispanic chicos ;) (No, I haven´t met any yet)

My first impression of Valencia is that it is a large town - as opposed to a city. No highways. No high-rises. Wide roads distributing into smaller lanes, that further lead into tiny alleyways. The plazas, churches and cathedrals around the city contribute largely to the artsy ambiance, and strongly reflect Spains historical and cultural significance. (which I am get to understand!).

The public transport system is excellent with the buses and tram. There is a metro - but I´m not sure here what that means yet. I am impressed at the navigation systems the taxis have (should you be able to find one!). A map of your location appears on the screen accompanied by audio directions. Having said that, Valencia isn´t as tech-savvy as imagined. I haven´t been able to find one wireless "hot spot" yet, and it took me the whole morning to figure out how I may be able to access the Internet, wireless at home.

The general attitude seems rather laid back. The business and money oriented rat race that can be felt in big city hubs is non existent. People seem to live a rather simple and happy life, and are very friendly. The air is fresh, the streets are clean and everyone seems to be doing what they want to do.

I have already had about 10 hours of Spanish lessons at don Quijote. It´s quite intense and I have homework. I hope to be fluent in 6 months, and the way it´s going - if I´m serious enough and actually do my homework , that shouldn´t be a problem at all.

There is a donar kebab shop underneath my building, run by a Pakistani family. Think I will go there for dinner! :)

Will post some pictures soon.

Hasta la vista!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Adios Dubai

This time tomorrow night I will be on a plane to Spain! I will arrive in Valencia Sunday afternoon, and it will be my base for the next 6 months. Hope to learn some Spanish, drink some sangria, eat some paella, and watch some flamenco - la dolce vita! (hopefully I'll say that in Espanol next time :)

I have been lucky to have travelled a lot over the last few years - Cuba, Jamaica, Thailand, Malaysia, Portugal, France; but bound to the 30-day leave period from work , I have never had the chance to be immersed in any one culture completely different to mine. I've been told I'd pass off as an Hispanic chica with my brown skin, dark hair and petite body - I look forward to seeing if that holds true.

The smarties at the Spanish Embassy gave me a single entry Espana visa (yes it exists!), which will be nullified if I step over the Spanish border. Guess it's an excuse to visit the corners of Spain - perhaps I'll uncover a lost Indian tribe!

Being in completely unfamiliar territory could result in some interesting posts; will see how much I rave and/or rant about the anomalies of a different way of life.

Till then - Adios!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Revelling in the glory of joblessness

(Time: Activity: *Emotion*)

7:00am Alarm goes off, time for a run. *Bloody hell*

7:30am Still in bed. * Sleep is nice. My bed is so nice*

7:50am Drag myself out of bed, brush my teeth. *Bloody hell*

8:00am On the way to excellent pathan joint for breakfast to have kheema paratha and dal with S1, S2 and A. *Driving, singing and wondering why I am up so early on my day off*

9:00am Waiting for S1, S2 and A to show-up. *Lets pretend to be engaged in earth moving thought*

10:00am 3 cups of tea + a bowl of yogurt in stomach, sun in eyes, movie talk. *How can these people eat this oily meat stuff so early a.m.*

10:30am Off to Bur Juman Mall to do nothing. *How sad, but what the hell*

11:45am Walking aimlessly around Mall. *How sad, but what the hell, there is a certain novelty factor in this + the company is good*

12:00pm Coffee break at Hediard; deep conversation about personality classification. I'm tagged an 'Explorer'. *Yaay. There is hope for me*

12:45pm Walking aimlessly around Mall. S1 gets shopping kick. One hour in Diesel. *I don't particularly like Diesel. But the sales guy is nice. So are the bathrooms *

1:45pm Coffee break at Hediard with local friend M. *Feminist banter on men. I really like espresso.*

2:30pm Time to see M's Maserati. *Niiiicce car. But I'm going to Spain! :) *

3:00pm Off to eat spicy fried fish at Palm beach. *yummmmmmmmmmm*

4:00pm Licking fingers and sculling beer. *Yummmmm. Must bring my dad here*

4:30pm S2 tells us hilarious story on how his face got burnt while trying to drink absynth with finger on fire. *This is the best drunk story I have ever heard. *

4:45pm Still laughing without sympathy on S2's story *Man, if only this was my story to blog*

5:00pm Time to go home, drop S1, conversation. *So cool to have hung out with S1 today. Hanging aimlessly with someone you admire has its own glory*

5:30pm Home, quick drink of water, off to neighbour for meaningful conversation and brownie. *It's nice to be home with a brownie*

7:00pm Back home and time to head out to meet friend for toxic beverage and salsa. *Shyt only half-an-hour to get ready*

7:55pm Lingering thought: 'The journey is the destination" hmm (?)

NB: S1, S2, A and myself, in my books, are successful individuals with interesting backgrounds and seemingly exhilarating futures around the corner. Perpetually bogged down with work, errands and responsibilities, we have never had a day in Dubai, to do nothing useful. An intentionally wasted day was not in our books - Happy Birthday - it was born today. (Thanks to all of us quitting our jobs)

Yes we had fun. Mindless, relaxed, not a care in the world. Yes we had a lot of fun.

Realising that there are people in Dubai who do this everyday was a bit disturbing, to say the least. But hey, to each his own.

We had fun because it was bizarre to us. It was a day that was so simple and full of nothing, that I will always remember it vividly, and perhaps fondly. Will we ever do it again? I don't think so.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


So I'm sitting at Al Ghurair Centre testing the WiFi on my new laptop. Smooth maaan! I feel so connected and up to date with the times now.

Not such a tech savvy person, it's kinda an acheivement to have bought a laptop with no guidance; just window shopping and a million questions to make an "informed" purchase decision. :) Normally, when you have invested in something, you normally find out a few days later that you were ripped off, or that you didn't buy the best features or that nothing is installed in your computer, so you have to pay another 2-3 thousand sorting that out. But nope - so far its all smoooth :)

Anyway, so now since I belong to the upbeat, jobless, wireless community, thought I'd be hep - set out with me notebook and be the cool surfer as I sip on a latté. So I go to Starbucks, set myself up, get a grande caramel latté all ready to browse and blog.

Ofcourse I hadn't a clue I need some IZone access card to be connected. *sigh* . Starbucks doesn't sell them. No coffee shop does.

Embarassed, I quickly wrap up and set out to buy one of these cards. Spinneys, Axiom, Plug Ins, Electronics For Less - not available / sold out. Shu baba! So, rather resigned I head back to my car. I pass Caribou Coffee - a new coffee shop at Ghurair, thought I'd ask them anyway. 'You have WiFi? yes. ' You have IZone card'? No. But you don't need one! What? Buy a coffee here and we will give you an access code you can use for an hour. YAAAAAAAYYY.

So here I am, sipping my second latté, browsing, chatting, blogging, reading. There are three guys sitting in the row of seats parallel to me, they have been here for longer than I have. Doing nothing. No coffee, no reading, no computer, no smoking. Perhaps they plan to follow me and steal my new laptop. A young girl in skirt and flip-flops, alone in a mall with a shining new piece of technology - prime catch. Yikes, when did I become paranoid. Anyways, I have made friends with the staff here - surely they will save me. Perhaps I should get one of them to escort me to my car.

The sun is shining and the staff at Caribou are doing the grapevine to "Every Day People" behind the counter. I think I'm going to join them.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Mission Impossible III

I am quite a sucker for films that are mindless entertainment. Isn't that what films are for anyway? So yeah - that's what MI 3 is. Great action, fast, keeps you on the edge of your seat, makes you laugh, has a plot with a twist and makes you want to work for the Impossible Mission Force. Brilliant bullshit.

Do try to catch it in the cinema. But leave your brains at home.

Gridskipper in Dubai

So I met with Chris Mohney from Gridskipper the other day. Was refreshing to meet with someone from outside Dubai, who gets paid to travel around the world and blog. What an ideal job! I was quite surprised when he said that people who blog for a living, don't last too long as bloggers - 1-2 yrs tops. Guess it gets different when you are compelled to spend a copious amount of time blogging.

Anyway, as much as I was keen to meet with him, shockingly I was a bit anxious too. ' Will I be engaging enough? Do I have enough to say that is interesting? will I be able to hold his attention?
I can't remember the last time I lacked confidence in myself when it comes to meeting someone new - the feeling was daunting.

An hour passed rather quickly and I didn't see him looking at his watch, so I think I did ok :)

When you've lived in the bubble of 'corporate Dubai' for so long, where your conversations rarely go beyond 'hows work?" and 'how was Trilogy last night', I'm not surprised at my lack of confidence. Another reason why I want to get out of here - dire need of better conversation!

Coming back to the subject, while Chris was here for the Arabian Travel Market he covered a lot of ground in Dubai. The Burj, the museum, hot night spots in Dubai, ATM, the architecture, shisha, the abra ride - he's done it all. And it has been written, for a change, with no fear of deportation :)

Check it out here.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Small world

1) The other day, out of the blue, a guy S who I went to college with in Australia wrote to me. After a long stint in Japan, he happened to be in Bangalore. He talked about how he had found a small bunch of salsero's in Bangalore who keep active the small though buzzing underground salsa scene.

I know someone A who has just moved from NY to Bangalore - he had a short spurt in Dubai - and happens to be teaching salsa in Bangalore. I recommended S to get in touch with A- and voila! - turns out that S has already been learning salsa with A, and they know each other quite well.

2) Newley Purnell - a travel blogger/writer I have not met personally, but have followed through his blog and had the odd contact with, recommended a fellow travel blogger/editor to meet me while he is in Dubai for the Arabian Travel Market.

So tomorrow I meet Chris Mohney, editor of urban travel guide

How cool is that!

And my new life begins

My first day without work in 5 years. My gosh it feels so surreal. Couldn't believe that I was wide awake at 6:30am! I have never woken up that early on a working day, let alone a non-working day. Chose not to get out of bed - but then I did, thanks to some moron who decided to call at 7am to ask me what I'm selling my car for. *sigh* It's all good :)

My colleagues put together a video for my going away. With Juanes playing in the background, the video had lots of good wishes, photos and soundbites from close ones, edited well into a 7 minute clip. Cake, card, gift, flowers and beer followed. I bawled my eyes out. It's moments like this you think - ' must've done something right' :) Thanks guys, I'm extremely overwhelmed.

Quite busy this week, sorting things out and catching up with people I'd like to see before I leave (assuming that I'm leaving!) It's kinda cool how your stakes go up when you are leaving.

Decided not to have leaving do. Most of my friends don't know each other - so thought I'd just leave it at that. Besides, I'm rather crap with goodbyes, I'd rather sneak out and drop everyone a hola line from Spain.

Arabian Travel Market starts tomorrow. Look forward to going to it as a visitor for the first time in my life (as opposed to as a PR professional).

It's nice to be chilling. I feel light headed, fresh, excited though a bit lost at the same time.

Life is good.

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