December 19, 2011

Sneaking Away for an Afternoon

It's not so hard to get out of the bad Abu Dhabi and over to the good Abu Dhabi. It just takes a little initiative and some effort.
For the lazy among us, sometimes that's easier said than done.
I had an unusual weekday off today, and decided to take advantage of the lovely winter weather and head to the beach. I just wanted a good place to sit outside and read. We are so seldom outside here, and this time of year that's a shame.
I didn't go to lay out -- sometimes that's too complicated. Swimsuit or shorts? Sunscreen or not? Family beach or regular beach? Rent a chair and umbrella or sit on the sand?... I know, first-world decisions, of course.
Instead, I went to one of the cafes that line the Corniche, and sat in a comfortable chair (above) with a view of the bay and its turquoise waters. I ordered a coke and some fries, so they would let me stay awhile and settled in.
The powers that be seem to have removed the 40-foot portrait of whatever sheikh had previously been on a billboard on Lulu Island (below), which made the view nicer, frankly.
If you can put yourself in a "normal" sort of setting, away from the bustle and contradictions that are the UAE, it's not too hard to pretend you are somewhere exotic and desirable.
A colleague recently wrote about going to Lulu. It's technically off-limits, but nobody enforces that rule (a recurring theme here, to be sure). If you can get yourself there, weather by private boat, kayak or jet ski, the sands are lovely and there are hammocks under thatched palapas -- only I'm certain they aren't called palapas here.
I was thinking I'd like to figure out a way to get there.That would truly be good Abu Dhabi.

Bloom Where You're Planted

Having passed two-plus years here, I don't hate it as much as I used to. Now, living here has been upgraded to "don't really like." That's an improvement, right?
It took a trip to France (and several weeks of interesting travel) for me to really examine my current situation. Ultimately, I have a job I like and one that allows me to lead a comfortable, interesting lifestyle.
In the last six months I have been to California, Sri Lanka, India and France. That's not going to happen with any regularity once I move to, say California or France -- the two places I'd most rather be.
So a big part of adjusting to life here is learning to take advantage: eating on the terrace at the Lebanese restaurant, for example, or going to the beach  when the weather is nice; getting out of town when it isn't. And I'm fortunate enough to have those options.
Friends and former colleagues tease us about all the time off we have. For me, it's especially dear. I had seven weeks of vacation when I worked in France, and I've been an expat for 10 of the last 12 years, so I've really come to value that perq. Going back to two weeks off seems cruel and unusual. I don't think I'll ever manage to do that.
This isn't so much count-your-blessings as a bloom-where-you're planted. And it's taken me a long time to do that.
Should I get the chance to move back to Europe, will I do it? You betcha. But until then, I'm figuring out ways to not waste my life wishing I was elsewhere.

October 2, 2011

An Abu Dhabi Miracle

When we arrived in Abu Dhabi lo these nearly (gulp) two years ago, we inherited two plants on our patio.

When we moved, we took them with us. I have not particularly nurtured these plants, but I have enjoyed them. The first time we took a long trip, I was careful to move them inside and put plastic over them just like my mother taught me, creating mini terrariums.

Goodness knows how long these plants have been around. They get watered once a week by the housekeeper and then promptly forgotten.

And that's what I did when I left for my last vacation -- I forgot the plants. When we came home, the little plant/tree (above) was nothing but sticks. I mourned. It was all my fault. Three weeks in the searing heat with no water.

But I didn't throw it out. I'm not sure if it is because I was too lazy (an obvious option) or because I had some hope it might come back. Paul thought there was a good chance it would come back. (Actually there are two of them, and I think the other is gone for good, it's on the right.)

So, here we are a month or so after our return and we have a healthy, leafy, blooming tree-plant.

It's a miracle.

September 17, 2011

Is Facebook Killing the Blog?

I imagine there are plenty of bloggers out there who write daily, especially those with a following. The mommy bloggers, the travel bloggers -- those who don't just write what occurs to them, but have a thought-out concept.

My blog is neither a must-read or a destination blog. Nobody comes here daily to see what big thoughts I'm having. I don't impart any real wisdom. 

My trouble, as I've mentioned before, is that by the time I sit down to write the idea is gone. Or worse, all that's left is the idea, and none of the detail.

And this is where Facebook comes in. I have a thought, I post it. I try not to be too banal (although goodness knows I don't always succeed). But it allows me to put down the idea and I don't necessarily have to expand on it. The idea is enough.

Take the cereal episode. I have been wanting to write about cereal for months now. I'm sure nobody cares about cereal, but let's face it -- it's my blog and I write what I want. I have no idea if anybody reads it.

The cereal situation here is weird: all the versions that around when I was a kid are in stock here, but, as in so many other countries, I can't find any plain Cheerios. And this is what I put on my Facebook instead of writing 200 words about Sugar Pops, Apple Jacks and Trix. And the whole idea came about when I was trying to make Rice Krispies treats for a colleague.

Is it lazy? Yeah, probably. But I don't really have a solution.

Today I blogged for the first time in a month. Twice. My Canadian colleague seems to have found the solution. She writes short little items and posts photos. I could probably learn a thing or two from her,

Coupon Mania

Back in June I wrote about my fascination with Groupon/Cobone/GoNabit/Living Social. I had just come back from a fabulous steam, body scrub, massage treatment and was floating on air.

Since then,  I've had a few more experiences and I think the novelty is wearing off. In the beginning, there were loads of deals for beauty and spa treatments. Most of them were for new, well-kept spas and salons. The recent ones, however, have been less impressive.

Today's treatment was in direct opposition to the one I raved about: No steam, weird naked scrub, less than relaxing massage. Although I must admit, the "express facial" left my skin feeling nice. In fact, all three treatments left my skin feeling nice, but there wasn't really a spa experience.

Nobody offered me tea, or a robe, or a shower. There was no soft music, candles, soft lighting. Instead, I was serenaded by adult non-contemporary music (Dan Fogelberg and John Denver anyone?) that was accompanied by my massage therapist singing. The background noises were the employees' (owners'?) children chasing each other through the salon, a blaring TV and the sound of blow dryers.

Paul had a massage the other day, and it included a mani-pedi. I thought he'd really enjoy it. I got one for him and one for me. It was at one of the few co-ed spas in town and he went first. It sounds like the men's area was just an add-on, with leather-looking wallpaper to make it more masculine, It turned out to be a thai massage (more manipulation than relaxation) on a mattress on the floor (that was a little too friendly, as well) with untrained (male) technicians giving him a bad mani (bleeding cuticles!) and an inefficient pedi (no exfoliation??) I am reluctant to use my voucher.

We have one more massage voucher for him, and it's at a men-only spa, so it should be more professional. But after this, I think we may be out of the beauty coupon game.

August 11, 2011

Making a Rest Stop

I've been obsessing about public bathrooms since we left Abu Dhabi for our California vacation.

It started at the brand-new Terminal 3 at Abu Dhabi Airport. I figured wow, a new terminal, good, clean bathrooms -- which was not really the case in the old terminal. Sadly, it's not the case in the new terminal, either.

There is water on the floor, there aren't enough stalls, it's not very clean and people are washing their feet in the sink. I realize this is an important part of prayer, but usually there's a place other than the public bathroom for this. It was almost as bad as the bathroom at the Bahrain airport, just newer.

So I decided to keep track of public bathrooms as I traveled on this trip.

Next stop Chicago O'Hare. Amazing bathrooms. Plenty of bathrooms, plenty of stalls, and really clean. They have those plastic covered rotating seat covers, and everything is touch free. I can't believe I'm raving about a bathroom, but there you go.

So I checked out the bathrooms at a gas and fast food stop on Highway 5 in California. A bazillion people and still, a clean bathroom. Dodger Stadium? Still cleaner than Abu Dhabi.

It took a bathroom at the county fair, outside the demolition derby arena, to find something remotely comparable in badness to the bathrooms at the new Terminal 3.

How wrong is that?

July 12, 2011

A little too much care

There is, obviously, great debate going on in the United States about health care and health insurance. And it's interesting to me that different countries handle it in different ways.

It used to be something most of us never thought about. You worked for a good company and you got good health insurance. It wasn't complicated. And as time has passed, now if you get health insurance at all -- you're grateful, no matter how meager the benefits.

When I left a part-time job at the NY Times, I was eligible for COBRA. The monthly payments were $1,400. I think I paid $50 a month to get it while I was employed. Once I was out of work, it was roughly half my monthly pay. The value of my job was entirely the cost of the insurance.

I got a new job that had lesser health insurance, and I was just happy to have it. While I was under that coverage, I actually had to use the insurance, something that hadn't really happened when I was younger. My co-pays over the years have ranged from $10 to $35 per visit, and other things are extra. My hospital stay, I had to pay a $500/day co-pay -- in advance.

Before that, in France, there was nationalized health care. I didn't use it that often, but the entire bill was rarely ever more than 40 euros. In fact you could call a service that made house calls, and it only cost 40 euros.  (And here is a good assessment of European health care, in my experience). 
Largely, however, the French have a very non-interventionist attitude toward treatment, but they do love their medications.

Here, we have a perfect example of insurance abuse -- the worst of American problems and a lot of the bad bits about France.

My insurance was excellent when we got here. It covered almost everything, and was valid anywhere in the world. Paul had a late-night emergency room visit shortly after we arrived and there was no wait and no charges. The insurance was downgraded last year and everyone is complaining about the newly initiated co-pay which is a whopping $6.80. And that includes treatments.

Last week I got sick. There was tonsilitis raging through my office, along with a few more itises. Almost everyone was sick, and those who weren't were on their way. When it was my turn, I went to the doctor, prepared to pay my $6.80 and get my antibiotics. At 46, I have had had sinusitis, tonsilitis, bronchitis -- all enough times to know what I have and what I need.

But here, the doctor can't let you go without ordering tests. I've had blood taken three times in less than two years. And this time was no different. The doctor ordered a CT scan. For a sinus infection. I was sort of baffled (and this is why healthcare is out of control!!)

In the US, the doctor would have said yup, you have an infection. Take these antibiotics and drink lots of fluids. End of story. Even if the doctor wanted to prescribe a CT scan for a sinus infection, there is no way the insurance company would approve it, and the co-pay would be hideously expensive.

In France, they would have ushered you out the door before you finished explaining your symptoms, prescription in hand.

So the CT scan. Apparently it showed a blockage, which seems rather obvious since I had acute sinusitis. The insisted I go see an ENT. There aren't really any family doctors here, so they do a booming business in specialists. I can honestly say I've never seen one before. (And after today's experience, I'm not likely to again).

The doctor said yes, the CT did indicate a blockage, but it looked like congestion. (Duh). I'm not sure the referring doctor clued him in about anything. So the ENT decided to take a look for himself. First thing he did was numb my tongue and throat and poke at my tonsils. "You have chronic tonsilitis, he said. Lots of scarring." Um, thanks ... kind of knew that, and I'm for my sinuses.

He looked into my ears next. Didn't like the look of that and flushed my head with a power house. Loved that, too.

But the best part was when he numbed my nose, and stuck a six-inch tube up it (both sides) to take a look around. No problems with the sinuses. (Surprise -- I was sick a week ago and on anthrax-level antibiotics, I'd be stuned if I still had an issue). He said there was some slight swelling, it seemed worse on the right side and decided there was slight deviation. Then he proclaimed I had chronic rhinitis. This is exactly what my pediatrician told my mom when I was 6.

So far, I learned nothing new, and had six inches worth of tubes stuck up my nostrils.

The problems that still remained -- post-nasal drip and laryngitis. He had no real explanation or solution for that. He did, however, stick that $#%#%% hose up my nose again to see if maybe it was my larynx. Did you even know that you could see a larynx by looking up someone's nose? My sense of anatomy is crucially off, apparently.

So, 40 minutes, some discomfort and $6.80 later, he gave me a prescription for actifed.

The national health insurance company is going to go bankrupt at this rate. I know the American system doesn't work, and I know this one doesn't work, either. Maybe France is the middle ground.

Do y