Unionville: The Beauty behind the Beast

While Toronto, Canada does not possess the grandeur and beauty of a city like Paris or London, it does have numerous neighborhoods downtown that are distinctive and vibrant with culture diversity, character and charm. The suburbs of Toronto however, are a very different story. Like many North American cities that have kowtowed to the culture of the car and urban sprawl, the suburbs are remarkably unremarkable - heinous rows of condominiums, parking lots, strip malls and cookie cutter homes.

There is however, a little gem located just north of Toronto - hidden behind a speeding eight lane highway lined with endless mind-numbing strip malls, bland chain stores and generic restaurants. Surprisingly, once you turn the street corner into the town of Unionville, the sounds of traffic become a distant memory. Get out of your car and walk around Main Street - you won't find a chain store here. Main Street is dotted with galleries, fun stores and restaurants, gazebos and picturesque little parks. The town is not very large and it will not take you very long to stroll from one end to the other, but you will find yourself much calmer and happier when you do.

If you get a chance to venture up to Unionville, there are two stores in particular I enjoyed visiting. Noteworthy is elegant store tucked below a staircase off Main Street. They sell beautiful and ornate paper products, unusual hand-made cards, organizers, etc. Distinct Living is a home store with chic and unique home decorations, and kitchenware that you won't find easily anywhere else.

161 Main Street
Unionville, ON

209 Main Street
Unionville, ON

For information on Unionville, visit the following websites:
Unionville Tourism


Life of an Expat in Dubai

A few months ago, a close friend of my sister from law school, shortly after getting married, packed up her life in Toronto, Canada and moved with her husband clear across the planet to Dubai in search of new experiences and her pot of gold. She had never been there before, and up until then had minimal if any exposure to the Middle East. Her first trip to Dubai was to meet her new colleagues and sign her employment contract as an attorney for a luxury goods company. Since her big move, she has been, on occasion, sending fascinating descriptions of her experiences as an expatriate in Dubai. With her permission, I am sharing some of it on my blog. Her write-ups provide an interesting perspective on a city, that we have been hearing so much about but really know so little; and the common struggles of settling in a foreign environment.

July 2008

It is hot out here!!! With temperatures soaring over 40 degrees Celsius regularly, we are hardly ever outside and for the few minutes that we walk from air-conditioned car to air-conditioned building, it is positively sweltering and our skin prickles from the scorching sun. Apparently, some temperature records have been broken, when we hit over 47 degrees and a few people have died from sunstroke/heat exhaustion, although these are predominantly construction workers who have to toil in this heat. Not sure how those poor guys work in inferno-like conditions, even with the laws forbidding construction from 12-3 pm in the summer, the rest of the day and even the nights feel like being in an oven.

The summer months in Dubai are known to be very quiet (even with the big summer sales) with a mass exodus of expats to their home country, leaving from a month to the whole summer, as a return ticket home yearly is usually part of the compensation package. This is also in line with the Labour Laws that permit our vacations to be broken up into a maximum of two parts only, which is totally contrary to what I had expected.

After 1.5 months in the hotel apartment, we moved to a friends’ villa a few weeks ago when they went home to Canada. The villa we stayed at for almost 3 weeks was HUGE!!! with 4 bedrooms, a lounge and 3 bathrooms upstairs in addition to the regular downstairs rooms and also had a large maid’s quarters (anything over a 2 bedroom here comes with maid’s quarters, even some apartments, as it is virtually unthinkable to do one’s own chores here). The backyard was a lovely oasis with 2 little pools and trees, but with the scorching heat, it was very much like a hot bath so we only used the pool for 5 minutes once. We did, however, make much use of the BBQ and had some friends over for dinner a few times.

The Social Scene
We’ve been meeting lots of new people through friends’ introductions, networking events, and I’ve joined a women's social club called Bridget, after Bridget Jones, originally for singletons, till they realized that not all married women here fit the stereotypical profile of Expat Wives (the parent organization of Bridget) whose daily lives consisted of spa appointments, lunch, and shopping, but that some of us were independent career women as well. The club hosts monthly brunch buffets (one of the key Dubai hallmarks is the all-you-can-eat and drink Friday, the first day of our weekend, brunches), drinks nights and other events.

I’ve made a few friends from there and have been meeting up with them regularly already, and have also signed up for a Dinner Club as well so there are lots of opportunities to go out and mingle. Thus far, the friends we’ve made are from the Netherlands (via Nigeria for 6 years), Ireland (viaEngland for a few years), Germany (via London for 10 years), a few from Canada and the United States - a reflection of the very diverse nature of Dubai.

From One Temporary Abode to Another....

Because of the ridiculously high rent, e.g. US$5000 per month for anything less than one-year lease and US$3500 per month for a one-year lease (12 month rent to be paid in advance – which is why employers will give us cash advance for housing), we had been hoping to buy an apartment relatively quickly. As most banks require presence in the UAE for 6 months, we had limited options although one bank was willing to consider us, but had to wait for my 2nd paycheque to be deposited and then of course, the waiting game began.

The top of our list of frustrations is how long everything takes here, the red tape (e.g. buying a mobile requires showing of passport), and how inconsistent things can be depending on who you ask and what mood they’re in etc. However, my husband did benefit from such haphazard application of rules as he managed to have me, a mere woman, sponsor him for residency. Rules are changing all the time, but last time we had checked only female doctors and engineers could sponsor their husbands. However, given my position and package, they considered me eligible to sponsor him, even though they didn’t ask for our marriage certificate (which we had to have notarized in Canada, attested by the UAE Embassy in Canada, the Foreign Affairs Department of Canada, and the UAE consulate in Dubai).

After many searches and disappointments, we finally made an offer on an apartment on Tuesday, which was accepted yesterday. The apartment we bought, a one bedroom (approx. 900 sqft) has a partial marina view (full marina views only come with 2 bedrooms) and while it is a little smaller than what we were originally hoping for, the price for this area is quite good and is with our preferred developer. (Can't trust the other lesser known developers here since there are horror stories due to the lack of regulation. Everything can be quite sketchy). The great thing is that it is right next door to the Marina Promenade, with shops and restaurants and the other retail outlets close by.

Marina - Jumeirah

Local and Cultural News

Nothing can be depended on here nor can you hope that people can actually do their jobs properly. The phrase “Inshallah” meaning “God willing” is one of my favourite ones, as people will promise you something prefaced with “Inshallah”, which we usually take for, “maybe we’ll try, but don’t hold your breath that it will actually happen”. All of these incompetencies and delays just make me want to yell “Khallas!” (“enough!”) already. Of course, the never-ending traffic jams and horrendous driving will induce one to cry out “Yalla!” (“hurry up” or “come on”). That coupled with the very confusing roads and endless construction, which means getting lost and doing lots of U-turns, do not make commuting a very pleasant experience here.

Some of you may have heard that the US and UK embassies issued terrorist alerts for the UAE in June, but that turned out to be a conversation overheard by two blokes at a pub that joked about bombs, so no worries so far on that front for us over here.

Other interesting news that may have hit the international news waves is the two Britons who were caught having sex on the beach here. The pair who just met was quite liquored from the all-you-can-drink/eat Friday brunch and got all frisky on the beach in broad daylight. The police officer who happened upon them gave them a warning and then returned to find them at it again. He proceeded to arrest them and was then verbally abused and assaulted by the woman with her shoe. The pair are facing up to 6 years in prison and have apparently gotten married to reduce the sex before marriage offense. They have denied the offense (DNA test results are still pending!), although one would have thought that they should have realized that assaulting an officer would have been the bigger offense. This will likely cause problems for other expats as there have already been recent complaints by local Emiratis about the immoral nature of expats in terms of public displays of affection and scantily clad women. A lot of expats fail to realize that we are still in a Muslim country with conservative values in spite of the fact that they permit alcohol and Western cultural norms. These expats are expecting to party like it is Ibiza or Cancun. Hopefully, they won’t cause the authorities to really clamp down and tighten up the restraints and make life difficult on the rest of us.

Jumeirah Mosque
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