Thursday, June 30, 2011

Job Hunt Update

It's been a productive week on the job hunt front I'm very happy to report. Last week, while in Dubai, I met with a Recruiting firm who has a Training Manager position available in Abu Dhabi. They have passed along my resume and I now wait to hear if I've got an interview. This week I had two interviews with two different and very nice companies. Both positions are focused on leadership development. 

The first interview in Abu Dhabi (I'm leaving out company names and position titles so as not to jinx myself! Superstitious, I know, but I don't want to take any chances. :) went really well and came about through the husband of one of the friends I've met over here. He passed along my CV to the Learning & Development department and the timing was right as they are considering some new positions to review and revamp their leadership development programs. I hit it off with both interviewers and the company has many similarities to TDS, which I really liked. They let me know that things were still in the early stages so I probably wouldn't hear back for a couple of weeks. ... THE NEXT DAY one of their recruiters called me back and said they were interested in offering me a position!! Now I'm waiting for the final job description and specific job offer to consider, which should be coming early next week. They liked me, they really like me! :)

The second interview was in Dubai and also went well. This position is a Director level and overseas leadership development, customer service and sales. I applied for this job through the internet last Friday and was contacted by a recruiter on Sunday who passed along my CV and then scheduled for an interview on Wednesday this week. The speed with which this all happened got me pretty excited. The interview went well and the company and building are pretty impressive. The interview room was on the 36th floor with a breathtaking view overlooking the Gulf! WOW! For this job, I'm working with a recruiter so she is doing all the negotiating on my behalf. She called me back a few hours after the interview and said they'd like to see me for a second interview next week! My goodness, when it rains it pours!

If all goes well, I hope to have two job offers to consider, which would leave me with a difficult decision to make. And what a great problem to have!!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bargaining in Dubai

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of my goals for last week's stay in Dubai was to find the bargain shopping places instead of the big huge malls that make Dubai so famous. I wrote about the Dragon Mart and mentioned my plan to find a good designer handbag copy, which amounted to nothing. So, the next day I set out for round two.

I had originally decided to find the Dubai Antique Museum, which is supposed to be this huge warehouse filled with everything Arabic you could imagine. I had found a map to it while at home in Abu Dhabi, but forgot to bookmark it so I headed to the business center at the hotel to Google a map ... and couldn't find one that would allow it to be printed. (I know, I thought it was weird too). So, I copied down some basic directions thinking that a taxi driver would surely be able to find the place. Yeah, you can guess how that turned out, can't you? I hopped into the first taxi and, as I have learned to do here, first asked him if he knew the place ... he didn't. Then I read off my crude directions, still no luck, so I told him I'd find another taxi. He then told me that "no one knows this place, let me call someone". So, he called someone who also didn't know where the Dubai Ant EE Cue Museum was. I decided to go back into the hotel and see if the Concierge could help. Well, to make a loonngg story short(er), after some web searching, a phone call to the place and a clear impression that even if I did find it, I might have a hard time getting a taxi back, I decided to skip the trip and go somewhere else. But don't worry, next time I have the car in Dubai, I'll gladly take on the adventure of finding it - just didn't want to rack up a $100 cab ride and still end up lost. :)

So instead I went to the Al Karama market, which is an area of the city (called Karama) which is known for good handbag copies (as well as other things like jeans, sunglasses, perfumes, etc). This time, the taxi knew exactly where I was headed (whew!) Now this was a market! Lots of stores crammed with all kinds of cool stuff and shop owners beckoning you to "just have a look inside madam". I was in heaven and looking forward to bargaining for a good deal on a Louis Vuitton handbag copy.

Now, something you should know about the fake handbag trade is that there are frequent police raids in an effort to eliminate the selling of fakes (just like NYC) so the fakes are kept in upstairs or back rooms that are concealed behind fake walls or hidden doorways. And you have to be subtle about what you're looking for. I found this out the hard way as shop after shop was telling me they didn't have any copies. I finally browsed through one shop that was selling Coach purses and I happened to ask if they also carried Louis Vuitton. Well, I must have made a good impression because he asked his partner to bring some out from the back. While he was gone he told me that they have to be careful of the police and that "families are no problem. groups of women are no problem. but you, shopping alone, makes us nervous." Ahhhhh, that's why I was having some trouble. Well, now that I knew, I better understood and adjusted my approach.

Things then got a little easier and I think as the surrounding shop owners saw me hanging around for a while, they relaxed. I went into probably 10 different shops, each with their own way to 'hide the good stuff' - sometimes it was up the stairs and through a maze of hallways, sometimes it was across the street and in through the hidden door and one place had me wait in the store and they brought the options to me. And while the streets and the main stores didn't seem too crowded the secret rooms were bustling!

I finally settled on a LV handbag and negotiated the price. He started at 480 AED and I got him down to 350 AED (and insisted on a 'free gift' makeup bag to sweeten the deal). I probably could have worked harder, but I felt good about the deal and love the handbag so all was well. (I was tougher when bargaining for the wallet in another store and know I got a good price on that one!) :)

Then I found a souvenir shop and did some more bargaining and picked up some great presents for folks back home. By the time I got back to the Raffles hotel, I needed the bellhop to carry my bags! No seriously, I think I had 5 bags of stuff and there's no way the hotel staff would have let me schlep that up to my room myself. Customer service here means you are waited on, so to carry them myself would have  been considered rude ... I'm not kidding! So, I let them carry my bags and felt like a spoiled princess the rest of the afternoon. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The View from the Top

One of the adventures of our week in Dubai was going to the top of the Burj Khalifa, which is the tallest building in the world. The first step is to get tickets - you can either buy them in advance online for 105 dirham or buy them at the door (and possibly have to wait in line) for 400 dirham ... we purchased online and had to buy them in advance for a specific day and time. So, Wednesday evening at 7pm was our time slot. When I arrived to pick up the tickets (we had 8 of us with the crew in town from Epic) I had to provide my confirmation number, my receipt number, ID and the credit card I used to purchase the tickets. Okay, fairly normal. Then, she had to go and make a copy of my ID to keep on file with my receipt or something.  What?! Can you imagine the paper they generate doing that? Hundreds of people go up to the top every hour, what a waste.

The Burj was started in January 2004 and opened to the public in January of 2010. It was originally named the Burj Dubai, but after the financial crisis, Abu Dhabi helped bail Dubai out of some debt and in return the Burj was renamed, so now it is the Burj Khalifa after the ruler of Abu Dhabi (at least that's the story I heard). The structure is 2716.5 feet high and is currently the tallest building in the world with more than 160 stories. The observation deck sits on Floor 124 (not quite the very top), there's also a fine dining restaurant on 122, over 1000 residences, a hotel with 160 guest rooms, 37 floors for offices and a 4-story fitness and recreation annex called the Club.

In addition to being the tallest building in the world, it also has the tallest service elevator, which is "one of the fastest" in the world. The elevator ride was pretty amazing, incredibly quiet and smooth - if my ears hadn't been popping a bit as we went higher, I would have no idea how high we were really going. At the top, there is an outdoor observation deck, which is where we shot the photos below.

This is the fountain area in front of the Burj and the Dubai Mall.
And this is from the other side with a view of part of downtown Dubai.
A better closeup of The Address, a swanky hotel in the area.
We purchased tickets for 7pm for two reasons: 1) the Epic team was working and didn't finish until almost 6pm, and 2) we wanted to see the fountain show at night. I've written about the fountain before when sharing my adventures in the Dubai Mall. They were designed by the same guy who designed the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas ... but of course, this being Dubai, these are bigger and better. :) They 'dance' every 30 minutes and the music varies from American pop to more traditional Arabic music. They are really impressive from the ground and pretty cool from the top of the Burj as well. Here are a few pics.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Being lazy in Dubai

While Brian is working hard to sell more software in the Middle East, I'm hanging out at the Raffles hotel in Dubai where they've put him up. This is a 5 star hotel with all the amenities you can think of - absolutely gorgeous ... and then there's the pool. Here are a few photos of our room and the pool area.

The pool has this really amazing clock feature. There are 12 fountains around the pool bar that mark the hour, so one fountain starts running at the start of each hour (lower-right photo). Then, along the other side of the pool area are fountains that mark the minutes and are separated by columns at each 15 minute increment, so a new stream starts running every minute (lower-left photo). It's interesting to watch and has the added practicality of helping you tell the time.  The other nice thing about the pool is that you are brought ice cold iced tea or water the whole time you're there as well as cold washcloths about every hour, which is pretty key when the temps are over 100! But, my favorite thing is that the pool is chilled, and not just lukewarm like I've seen with some pools here that are "chilled", this one is actually really refreshing without being bracing. Let's just say I plan to go back again today. :)

The hotel room, which is more of a suite with a sitting area, a desk area, walk in closet space and large bathroom with jacuzzi tub and rainshower, is wonderful and really spacious. It also has a beautiful balcony, but it's a bit hot to sit out there during the day - will have to try it this evening and see if it's cool enough. And, of course the rest of the place is pretty awesome as well - great steak restaurant, huge buffet breakfast (that's included with the room), nice fitness center, steam room, sauna, whirlpool. They also have what looks to be a great spa, but I had to remind myself that I'm not technically on vacation, so should probably refrain. (at least until I start making some money too! :)

And what do I do after the pool? Shop of course ... it's Dubai! But this trip I'm looking for the bargain places, which is quite a search in a place where brand name designer shopping is considered a national pastime. Yesterday I went to the Dragonmart, which has every item ever imported from China, I think. You can find all sorts of crazy things here and it was fun to poke around and see what was available. I was on the hunt for some good designer handbag copies, but didn't see anything that I just had to have so came home empty handed. Here's a photo of the huge fountain out in front.

Today's plan is to try and find the Dubai Antique Museum, which is supposed to be a huge warehouse crammed of all kinds of Arabic antiques. I'm hoping to find some nice gifts and souvenirs ... we'll see.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Few Random Photos

I've been collecting a few photos that don't make a whole post on their own, but might be interesting as a group.

Here's a photo of our car! ... okay just kidding, we saw this in one of the showrooms and couldn't resist snapping a picture. Our car is actually the next one.

Took these outside the Heritage Village, which we still haven't seen because we keep going when they are closed ... one of these days. These are date palms and all of them around the city are ripe with clusters of dates almost ready to be harvested.

Here are a few of the apartment compound. This first one is taken while I'm standing just outside our villa building. And, yes, it was pretty noisy for a while (they've since finished with the foundation pounding at least). Rumor has it they're building a little shopping mall there. Okay, I'll put up with the noise and dust for another mall! :)

I realized I hadn't yet posted any photos of the pool area, so went out that same morning and snapped some. This is the pool which is really nice and not so busy that you can't enjoy yourself. The only trouble is it isn't chilled (yes, they have chilled pools here instead of heated ones!) so it's really not that refreshing unless you go early in the morning or in the evening. I've spent a fair amount of time out here and have the darkest tan I've ever had in my life! (Which is to say I no longer glow in the dark. :) The dark area at the far end is the door to the gym. And the next photo is the little kids play area with sprinklers that you can turn on and off.

And, the post wouldn't be complete without a few photos of our kitty, Rogue, so here she is on her latest lookout spot ... on the window sill, which is only barely wide enough for her, in our bedroom.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cooking at the Intercon

Our subscription to the National newspaper has paid off in a couple of ways. First, I got a 700 dirham voucher for sunglasses (that's about $190) and am now the proud owner of a pair of Tommy Hilfiger glasses (the most expensive pair I've ever owned!) Second, I found out about this fun cooking class at the Intercontinental Hotel Yacht Club Restaurant.

I've been to a few cooking classes before and many of them are simply demonstrations that you get to watch, then eat, and usually take home the recipes to try yourself. In fact, I attended a Chocolate & Pastry "class" earlier this year as part of the Abu Dhabi Gourmet event (see past post). But at this class, we actually got to do some of the cooking ourselves, which I much prefer. (It probably helped that we were making some pretty easy recipes! ;)

We started with a vegetable tempura where we made the tempura batter ourselves, then dredged the veggies in flour and then batter and then put them in the hot oil. Pretty simple, but learned some good tips on how to make great tempura. For example, if you don't start with ice water, your tempura will be soggy no matter how long you fry it in the oil. The chefs were great and since there were only 5 of us in the class, we got plenty of personalized instruction.

Next up was a different type of tempura using Japanese panko bread crumbs and shrimp. Panko bread crumbs are fabulous and I'll never go back to regular bread crumbs again - they make whatever you're cooking so much crispier. This dish was also fairly simple, just flour, egg and bread crumbs and then the shrimp goes in the oil. SIDE NOTE: Everywhere Brian and I have traveled, we've noticed that the plural of shrimp is shrimps. We laughed when we first ran across it in Fiji, but have since seen it pronounced and written that way in Tahiti, Mexico, Roatan and now UAE ... is it only Americans that don't say shrimps when we mean more than one?

For dessert ... you guessed it, more tempura, this time with ice cream. It was green tea ice cream rolled in a sponge cake, then dredged in flour and corn flakes and dropped into the hot oil (don't worry, we used different oil for the dessert!). Deep fried ice cream with a slightly different twist than Chi-chi's used to make it. :) The chefs did most of the work ahead of time and we just had to coat the  pastry and drop it in the oil. Still fun to participate rather than just sit and watch.

After our 'hard work' we had lunch and of course they served the dishes we had learned to make. The lunch plates looked a bit neater than the ones we bumbled through during the class. :) The food was good and I met two new ladies - one from India who has lived in Abu Dhabi for 25 years (it was fun to hear from her how things have changed over that time frame!) and one originally from the Philippines and now in UK. That's still my favorite thing about Abu Dhabi, all the interesting stories of where people come from and how they got to Abu Dhabi. Back home, Brian and I are some of the most travelled people around, but here, we're homebodies by comparison!

A fun afternoon and I loved the shrimp dish so much that on the way home, I picked up some panko bread crumbs and some shrimps :) and Brian and I had them for dinner. They were really good too, except deep frying like that really stinks up the apartment. I might have to try them in the oven next time - they won't taste quite as yummy, but the kitchen won't reek all weekend either.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Assessed by Emirates

Now that almost 2 weeks have gone by, I think I can finally write about my interview with E Airlines. Before anyone gets too excited, I didn't get the job, actually, didn't even make it to the second round of interviews, and yes, I was crushed. Let me set the stage a bit and share what happened.

First, you have to understand that I've been job hunting now for almost 5 months ... 5 MONTHS! I send out probably 3-5 CVs each week to various positions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and have had very little interest, which has been frustrating, embarrassing and humbling. So, when E Airlines invited me to participate in an assessment, I was jumping for joy. Not only because someone was interested in my resume, but because the job sounded right up my alley - Manager of their Leadership Training team. The bad news was they invited me at the end of April for the assessment day at the end of May. I had a long month to wait. But, a week or so later, things started looking up as I got 4 different contacts from 4 different recruiters about 4 potential training management jobs. I was stoked and figured things were finally starting to move ... it was just a blip apparently.

On Sunday, I headed for Dubai International Airport and the E airlines headquarters for my 'assessment'. I tried to do some online research to figure out what this assessment would be, but only found references to flight crew interviews. I guessed that maybe it was some kind of language assessment? The assessment was scheduled for 9am on Sunday and if I made it through the assessment, I would go for interviews and psychometric tests (personality tests) on Monday. I cockily figured I'd be making two trips to Dubai, which was good because it would give me a taste of the commute I'd have once I got the position. (I know, I've never had a problem with confidence. :)

The assessment wasn't a language test, but was instead an hour to prepare a 15 minute presentation to the leaders of the airline. Actually, it was fun and I think I did okay. It was nice to have something work related to think about. In fact, being in the Corporate headquarters and talking with the other 4 candidates made me again realize how much I miss working. I'm one of those lucky dorks who really loves what she does. :) Oh, and I didn't mention that there were 5 of us altogether who went through the process of the day. Kinda weird to meet your competition. While the presentations were going on the rest of us waited in the lobby and of course, got to know one another (we're training managers, of course we were talking!) One Brit from Saudi, another Brit from Abu Dhabi, an Australian from Sydney and an American from London. Quite a mix of talents and experience.

After the presentations, the 5 of us had to participate in a group discussion and then give another 10 minute group presentation to the selection committee. Then it was back to the lobby to wait for them to make their decision about who would be staying for the next day's adventures. They called us back one by one to tell us if we'd made it to the next round or not. And it became clear that I've been watching too much reality TV because all I could think of was "this is how they must feel on America's Next Top Model". :) Well, you know the punch line, they didn't ask me to stay for the second day, so I said a hasty goodbye to the group and headed out.

I was devastated. Since I haven't had a lot of interest, I had a lot riding on this interview and really felt like this was my chance to get a job. Looking back, it seems silly that I was so upset, but at the time I just felt so embarrassed and frustrated and disappointed I was really overwhelmed. I headed home and spent the rest of the day wallowing in self pity. I decided to give myself a full day of wallowing before looking on the bright side ... or maybe that was just my excuse to try a new Tiramisu recipe! :) After my 'period of mourning', I got back online and connected with the others who had interviewed. I was so humiliated that I dashed out before finding out the results of everyone else. I know, cowardly, which I can't really explain because it's not really my style, but I was just crushed to hear that I didn't even make it to the second interview.

And here's what's worse. When I connected with a few of the others, I found out that only 2 of our 5 made it through and they were the 2 who had Gulf experience and previously worked for airlines! Well duh! Pretty hard to compete with those credentials - I should have felt proud to be part of the assessment group. The other bummer is that the Australian and the American hung out in Dubai the rest of the day and had a really great time ... as I would have if I hadn't been such a big baby.

And come to find out, the job was really not worth getting upset about. The Brit from Saudi was told just this week that he was their choice, but that they have since restructured and offered the position to an internal person!! Yikes - and I was whining about my experience?! This poor guy gets through the whole process, gets his hopes up (he really wants to relocate to UAE), finds out he's been selected for the role (sort of) and then that they're dropping the whole thing.

Lesson learned: No more feeling sorry for myself or letting a rejection get me down ... oh, and I might think twice before flying with E airlines. :)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Even in the land of oil, we have problems with gas

I've been curiously following a series of articles in the paper about gas shortages in the Northern Emirates. (Wait, what did you think I was going to write about? ;) Apparently, a number of gas stations have closed temporarily in the last few weeks. This hasn't affected Abu Dhabi, but there were some issues in Dubai for a day a few weeks ago. People have had to wait in line for hours as the stations that are open have huge lines. And, I think I've mentioned before that there aren't as many gas stations as you might expect in the land of oil. Not at all like in the US where you find them on almost every city street.

It just didn't make any sense to me. How can a region that produces so much oil, have a shortage of gas (or petrol as it's called here)? Well, today's paper presented some additional perspectives. Some retailers were saying that the closings are because they are performing upgrades to the pumps. The problem is, passersby couldn't see any work being done. Another story claims that it's financial. There is a federal cap on petrol prices, which means the retailers have to make up the difference when the price per barrel goes over $45 (it's currently at $100). For some companies, this has meant that selling fuel at the regulated price cost them $400 Million last year and they expect that to increase by 80% this year if prices continue as they are. YIKES!

I don't claim to know the real story, but it sure is interesting that with this much oil you can have trouble filling your tank.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Random Observations - day 139

The high for today is forecast to be 115 degrees with very high humidity ... and so Summer begins in the UAE. I've put off writing about the heat, and will for a bit longer yet as it still hasn't gotten 'really bad'. No use complaining until I really have something to complain about, right? :) So instead, here are a few more random observations about life in Abu Dhabi.

Heating, Cooling & Electricity: 
Things are set up a bit differently here than in the US. First off, each bathroom and the kitchen have a separate water heater, which you can turn on and off with a wall switch. Kind of nice, actually. I have the spare bathroom water heater turned off because we rarely use it and I'll be able to turn them all off when we are on vacation. There are also on/off switches for EACH outlet in the apartment. Seems a little excessive to me, but I suppose if you had children it would be much appreciated. Finally, we have separate air conditioner systems for each room of the apartment, with separate controls. This is really nice too as we can keep one room cooler than another as needed.

We haven't actually been to the movies yet, not sure why, but what I've noticed from outside observation is that first there are a variety of US, European, Indian and Arab movies, so you get quite a mix to choose from. The challenge is that many movies are around for a very short period of time. Water for Elephants only showed for a week at one of the theaters in town. Not sure if that's based on how long the theatre signs up for the movie, or how well it does at the box office?? Most of the theaters are located in malls, but there are a few stand alone theaters as well. Most show between 4-8 movies at a time. Tickets are about $7-10 and you can buy popcorn and all kinds of snacks just like in the states. I'll have to report on the inside experience once we finally get to a movie.

Censorship on TV:
Speaking of entertainment, I just have to share this funny story about censored TV. We've gotten used to the censoring and it's really not that big of a deal. I'm sure there are many shows or movies that aren't shown at all in UAE due to content, but the only one I've heard of so far is Black Swan. Occasionally, you'll see an entire scene cut from a movie due to nudity or drug use, but they don't censor language too much. And that's what made me chuckle over this experience. I've become a HUGE fan of Masterchef Australia, which is a reality TV show where amateur chefs cook dishes each week, get judged and then someone is sent home. This week was the finals for the 2010 season and it was down to Alan and Callum. For his signature dish, Alan decided to do a medley of pork belly dishes.  As you may know, pork is strictly forbidden in Islam so Muslims won't go near it. Well, apparently, they can't even hear the word pork because it was censored out of the program. At first I couldn't figure out what was going on. It almost sounded like Alan was stuttering or something (the censoring is simply silence, no beeps or anything, the word is just edited out). "today, I'm going to made a medley of ... belly. My first ... dish will have braised ... belly with a " Once I finally figured out what was going on, I laughed out loud.

Working Rules in the Heat:
Abu Dhabi has a lot of laborers who work outside year round. The construction projects alone probably employ half the residents of AD. In an effort to make things at least a little more humane for these poor workers, the government has an ordinance that from June 15 until September 15, all workers who spend the majority of their workday outside must have a 12:30 - 3:00pm break, have access to air conditioning, and plenty of water available. Companies who don't comply with these regulations face huge fines. 

Rugrats & Ankle Biters:
At first I thought it was just me, but I've heard others agree that the kids in UAE behave like monsters. A few months ago we were in Carrefour, which is one of the hypermarkets where we do our grocery shopping. The market is two floors with most of the food on the first floor and household items, appliances, etc on the second. While shopping on the first floor, we noticed a man with a kids' bike that he must have got from upstairs. I turned to Brian and said, I'm surprised some evil child isn't riding that around the store. A few minutes later we headed upstairs and there were THREE kids riding bikes around the store!!! And that's just one example. Every time we're out on the weekend in a mall or the hypermarket, kids are running, screaming, chasing each other, yelling, you name it around the store. And where are the parents? Calming shopping away, oblivious to the havoc their children are creating for the rest of us.  I was driving downtown a few weeks ago and was stopped at a light behind a school bus. The kids were running around, jumping up and down and a few had their heads and arms out the windows. All I could think was "that poor driver".

And I know what you're all thinking ... 'just one more reason Renee doesn't have kids' ... and you're right! :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

An American, a Brit, an Armenian and an Arab walk into a bar ...

Last night I went to Cooper's, a bar in the Park Rotana complex to see a Women's Comedy Act that sounded interesting. It was a group of women from different cultures and sounded like it would be pretty funny. ... it wasn't. I guess the best way to describe is to say that's its comedy's equivalent to community theatre (see my post on Urinetown, the Musical to see what I mean). But, since Brian was out of town and I had nothing better to do, it wasn't a complete waste of time, just not as entertaining as expected. And, of course, like all things Abu Dhabi, it started 30 minutes late. ;)

The first performer was the 'host' of the evening and she was Lebanese. So, she had BIG hair, lots of makeup and talked with a very thick syrupy accent. Her schtick was that she was looking for a girl for her son to marry. She then became the emcee as the other women each did their separate act as a kind of a 'tryout' for the Lebanese woman's son. She was annoying, too loud and her accent so think and overdone that I couldn't understand half of the jokes.

Next up was a British women who was, to put it nicely ... awful. She talked about getting stopped at the airport because her passport photo was so bad. I know, it sounds promising, but the delivery and timing were off so it barely hit mildly amusing. Luckily, her act was quite short. ;) Then, an Armenian-American woman did her thing and while she was better than the Brit, she still wasn't that great. Her content was all around the dating scene. After that was the Arab women, dressed in full abaya and sheila (yes, in a bar). She was a little better and had a few good jokes, but I still only cracked a smile a few times. In between each of the acts, the Lebanese women came back out and tried to interact with the crowd (not too successfully).

The last act was an Italian-American and she was actually pretty good (relatively speaking). It might have been because I understood the accent better, or because many of the references were American, so I got them, but she had better timing and a bit more variety to her act as well. I still wasn't anywhere near rolling on the floor, but I did laugh out loud once or twice. The whole thing lasted about an hour, and that worked out just fine for me because after that hour, the smoke from the bar was getting to me and I was ready to leave anyway.

The most interesting part of the evening was the security check I had to undergo to get into the Rotana. All cars were stopped before the entrance and searched from top to bottom. I had to open the trunk for them and another guy was walking around the car with a mirror looking under the car. The SUV in front of me was pulled aside and a dog was brought over to walk around the car (for bombs? drugs?) Then, once I entered the hotel, I had to pass through a metal detector and my bag had to go through a screening machine like they have at the airport. Not too much hassle, just very interesting. One of my neighbors found out that there is a big military/defense event going on and a few American VIPs are staying at the hotel for a month. I wonder who?