Sunday, January 31, 2010

V is for Vanilla, Vapid Or Just Plain Bland.

Dinner was awful last night. If it’s free do you still have the right to moan? I got annoyed because they appeared to have lots of vegetarian meals (displaying the ‘V’ sign), but thankfully I remembered to ask if they were ‘pure vegetarian’, and they weren’t. Apparently they all had a ‘tiny bit of meat stock’. They seemed to think the fact that it was a tiny amount would mean that it didn’t matter. But whether it’s a huge great cow, or tiny bit of boiled up cow bone on my plate, it still results in a dead cow. So, I asked what else they had for veggies. Apparently only a vegetable stir fry with soy sauce. If there’s one thing I can’t stand then it’s soy sauce. So, I’m being picky at this point… but the menu clearly stated that there were about six or seven vegetarian choices.

I ended up with, erm… well, this:

[pic to be added]

It’s fried tofu with rice and coconut milk. And nothing else. It was just as dull as it looks. Not a vegetable in sight. But hey - vegetarians like eating bland food, right?
I mentally displayed my own personal brand of ‘V’ sign to them. I didn’t really, but I like a cheap gag.
So, that’s Mango Tree for you. Rubbish. Don’t go. Even my meet eating friend was very disappointed, and believe me, this man isn’t a fussy eater – especially when it comes to free food.

Anyway, this blog was never meant to be one big restaurant review. It was supposed to be about my quest for mental, spiritual and physical wellness. Mango Tree did nothing for any of this.

What did help was the swim I had this morning. Today it was hard to get up. I blame the wine and cocktail I had with dinner. My body is not used to drinking so much, and it’s wearing me out. I suppose you could suggest that I drink less, which I will do after 14th when my dinner reviews dry up. But nothing tastes as good as free food and drink feel.

The swim was a bit scary this morning, actually. It was foggy in Dubai, and the fog had settled on the water. And my lifeguard had locked himself in his office (I suspect he was having a snooze), so I was alone, and it was dark and I was swimming through fog. That’s about as much of a thrill as I can get these days. I will post some pics later whether you are interested in fog or not.

Fartlek is Your Friend

Up until a few months ago, I thought fartlek was just a funny word. Now, as a fledgling runner, I am reading about it all the time.

I just got back from my lunchtime run of 3.5km around Safa Park which I finished in the rubbish time of 23 minutes. In my defense:

- I only started exercising a few months ago, and could barely run to the end of the road. My 3.5km time used to be 27 minutes.
- I have two bad knees so I deliberately go slowly.
- I run in the Dubai midday sun
- I don’t want to push myself too hard and end up really sweaty for the rest of the day at work.

But, I would like to improve my time. I run at a steady pace, so I would like to get it down to at least 20 minutes so that I can run 10km in an hour or less. So, I am going to introduce a fartlek session into my training tomorrow. I will sprint a bit, power walk a bit, jog a bit and see how that affects my fitness and timing. I will also definitely, definitely, definitely do my morning swim tomorrow.

I had a nice realisation after my run. I like exercise. I knew I loved yoga – it makes me feel calm, happier and generally great, but I also enjoy my morning swim, I enjoy my weekend runs or walks on the beach, and I enjoy my lunchtime runs. I also like the resistance machines at gyms, when I get the chance to go (I don’t have a gym membership here – most people have gyms in their building, though). The only things I don’t enjoy are evening runs and my kick boxing. Purely because they are after work and that time is precious to me (though yoga after work feels like a treat). I need to get over that way of thinking because it’s making me lazy – I make excuses to do anything else but exercise – perhaps I need to speak to somebody on Skype, apply for jobs, go for a dinner review or go to the supermarket… I need to start viewing it as ‘me time’, which it is.

So, that said, tonight I am going to do some exercise after my dinner review at Mango Tree. And tomorrow, I have a vinyasa yoga session. Can’t wait.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Weekend 'Whoops'

It’s been a couple of days since I wrote anything. I spent the weekend being incredibly naughty. On Friday I woke up and went for a walk on the beach before breakfast. My knee still hurt, so I thought it best not to run. After this the weekend descended into blissful excess.

I went with my ex to Margaux, a French/ Italian restaurant for another dinner review. It was divine. The food, the wine, the location… it was all beautiful. I had the nicest wine I’ve ever drunk – will edit this later with the name of it – and I ate some truly lovely food… see pics below. What a brilliant restaurant. I ate and drank:

Fresh French breads
Grilled Italian vegetable salad
Mushroom risotto
Vegetable Lasagne
Two French pastries (one coffee, one chocolate)
A warm Madeleine

All the courses were paired with wine, and I drank a caprihina as well.

After that, I was a little tipsy. We hit the mall for a bit (as you do in Dubai), then headed back to watch a film. Needless to say I didn’t need dinner that night.

On Saturday morning, I ate breakfast in bed – some porridge with rice milk and almonds and then a nut bar before heading out to get my hair coloured. I had black hair for about a year, but recently I decided to go back to my natural blonde. It’s taking a long time – my hairdresser piles on as much bleach as my hair can take, then he evens it out with a toner.

So far, my hair is just going lighter and lighter ginger. I was in the hairdressers for nearly five hours on Saturday, which included four applications of bleach. I’m still not blonde. In fact, I look like Anne Robinson (I think we even wear the same glasses as each other). I am very, very ginger. My hairdresser promises that next time I will be blonde. I hope so. Ginger is definitely not my colour. A word to the wise: NEVER DYE YOUR HAIR BLACK. Unless you are prepared to spend weeks and weeks looking like a lemur.

Well, after emerging from the hairdressers after five hours of not eating and watching my hair grow steadily more carroty, I needed a drink. I barely ever drink usually, but what the hell – it was the weekend. So, I went to Park Hyatt’s The Terrace for a couple of glasses of Happy Hour wine and a vodka cocktail. Oh – and some bread and pasta. And perhaps a handful or two of salty almonds as well. Must. Not. Slip. Back. To. Fat. Person. Ways!

I feel terrible for missing yoga all weekend as well.

I got home at 12, didn’t get to bed until 12.30 and so couldn’t get myself out of bed for a swim. Not good. Well, I have slipped up so it’s time to get on the wagon again. Except that I have three dinner reviews this week. Roll on Feb 14th when I can get some routine into my life again.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Making an Eton Mess of Things

I had another lovely dinner last night. I didn’t do my evening laps of Safa park that I had planned, and instead went to the mall. Then we ate another three course meal, this time in Rivington Grill, which was nice. Not as spectacular as Cavalli Club (neither decor nor food-wise), but very pleasant.

Today I have another meal booked at 2pm. I weighed myself this morning and miraculously I am still 61.5kg despite last night’s warm bread and butter, blue cheese salad, pumpkin and blue cheese tart, hazelnut Eton mess and glass of white wine.

I started today with a walk on the beach before breakfast. I like to fire my metabolism up with a bit of pre-brekkie exercise. This morning’s was just a walk rather than my usual weekend beach run because I hurt my knee in the lunchtime jog yeterday. I hurt my other knee a few weeks ago in the same way. I have concluded that I run like an idiot.

Work Woes

Yesterday I talked about how I wanted to be able to allow the negativity I felt at work to just roll off me. I put my concerns to my yoga forum, as the advice on there is always brilliant, and often comes from very accomplished yogis. Here are a some inspirational extracts of their advice:

“Practice love and compassion for them. Forgive them and try to see it as ignorance and not evil. Try meeting negative remarks with positive remarks that show compassion for whatever or whoever is being treated with scorn. Mostly remember you can't change anyone else but you can change how you react to them. Meet negativity with love and your resentment will melt away.”

“As the snake slithers forward in her life she often leaves behind an old skin. There are times we are growing while others around us are not and we simply have outlived that relationship just as the snake no longer needs her shell. So you can, in some cases, pick other friends.”

“On the path of yoga we are constantly being distracted or drawn into the dynamics of the outer world. And, of course we must live in that world to one degree or another - work, travel, eating, family, etcetera. Therefore it is important to clean your aura frequently during the day and that would be something your teacher would share with you for use in your meditation. Creating this bubble of light or cocoon can prevent cording from things outside yourself and perhaps outside of your svadharma (personal life's mission).”

“Perhaps this is a push for you to re-evaluate your working situation. Perhaps you might start sending out energies to attract yourself to a better working environment. Sometimes this can be just a move to a different company, or a complete change to a different line of work. Along with the sending out of energies (which includes physically looking for job opportunities and keeping your mind and eyes open and receptive) to attract a more positive working atmosphere, accompany your search with affirmations, such as "divine light lights my way, and I am perfectly guided," or "Divine love creates a positive atmosphere around me no matter where I am or what I do." Create your positive space, and learn to detach and separate yourself from those negative energies around you. There is a reason you are in this situation, whether it is to help you learn to be and feel positive though negativity surrounds you, or whether it is to teach you to retreat when it is time to retreat for your own mental and spiritual health.”

“The negativity of the coworkers is a result of a poor corporate culture. Hanu, work to change your environment as well as your spirit. I hope you are in a position to do this.”

Put Down the Underwear

Oh dear. There was a change of plan and I ended up skipping the run and heading to Dubai Mall where I bought pants and yoga books (two of each).

Staying Serene in Stressful Situations

The Dalai Lama says to ‘be kind whenever possible. It is always possible’.

I’m really trying to practice that at the moment. My good friend got together with somebody I had a grudge against recently, so I had to swallow my pride and try and be nice, after over a year of animosity. She made it easy. In fact, I enjoyed her company. I felt nice after that because, sadly, I haven’t done anything like that before. It made me want to get in touch with a whole bunch of people and say ‘let’s call it quits’. I will certainly try and wipe the slate clean with a few people where petty arguments have turned into something disproportionately horrid. Not that I have a whole load of enemies, but it would be nice to just wipe the slate clean. It takes up too much energy being mad.

While yoga and exercise have certainly helped me chill out in the last few months, I still get very stressed out about one thing in particular. Hmmm… thinking about it, there are a few things that make me mad. Time for another list? I think so:

1. People not listening to what I’m saying. If you want to see me go nuts, talk over me during an argument.
2. People disguising Islamaphobia or other racism with patriotism.
3. Voluntary ignorance. Whether it’s racism, sexism, or whatever, there is no excuse if you had access to a good education.
4. Pistachio nuts that don’t have a slit in the shell. Just annoying.

The thing that’s worrying me, and most regularly interferes with any calm I might be cultivating is negativity. I wish I knew how to stay happy and positive when you are surrounded by people who have nothing nice to say. I feel like negativity works through osmosis. My office is very depressing, and some people don’t have a nice word to say about anything. Little by little the negative energy seeps in, and by Thursday afternoon (now), I have to listen to yoga mantras (or sometimes the excellent British comedy Peep Show) on a loop to save my sanity and serenity.

I don’t think an outsider would notice per se, but my mood totally flattens when all I hear is stories about stressful scenarios or malicious gossip and remarks. I really wish I knew how to stay happy and kind through this, or even better, to turn the situation into a positive one.

Hello Weekend

I went for my lunchtime run yesterday, but it was the only exercise I did. I had planned to go to kickboxing, but I ended up on Skype to my mum and sister instead. With the four hour time difference, I have to squeeze in chats where I can. Usually they get home at the time I go to bed (I tend to crash at around 10pm on week nights).

I had an interesting chat yesterday as well. Firstly, in the morning my friend had offered me a press trip to the Philippines, which is obviously very exciting. Next up I went and interviewed Deepak Perwani, who is known as the ‘bad boy of Pakistani fashion’. He was great fun and gave really good quotes. At the end of the interview he asked if I fancied coming to Pakistan Fashion Week. And do you know what, I think I do fancy that quite a lot.

So far, I have a vague list of things I want to do in Asia coming together. How I will find the money is another matter entirely:

1. Go to Philippines for press trip
2. Go to Pakistan Fashion Week
3. Stay in Buddhist monastery in Nepal
4. Stay in Ashram in India
5. Stay with my friend who lives in Cambodia
6. Maybe go and visit friends in Bangalore

I told a few people my plan (some people pointed out that it wasn’t a plan, but more of a vague list). Nobody was too worried about how I would afford things, pay off my credit cards or buy food and shelter. If nobody else is worried, that makes me instantly calm about it. I think I might be a bit irresponsible. My bank manager would definitely agree if he could see this blog.

Let’s get back to today. This morning I went for a swim, but only had time for 30 lengths. I ate some peanut butter (organic and palm oil and sugar free) on toast and a nut bar and then went for a very, very leisurely 3.5km jog around Safa park, which took about 25 minutes. But, I wasn’t aiming for speed, I was aiming for a post-exercise high and just to fit a bit more movement into my day.

I have another dinner review tonight with my ex boyfriend (and one tomorrow lunchtime), so I am giving up on losing weight. Instead, I am just trying to maintain a 61-62kg weight. The weight loss will commence from Feb 14th when the dinner reviews are over. Saying that, I am going to try and fit two more laps of the park in tonight. Mainly because I am meeting my ex at 8pm, and I don’t want to spend the two hours after work in the mall. Actually, I would very much like to spend two hours in the mall, but I don’t think it’s a great idea because I seem to have an underwear and bag-buying mania at the moment. Or yoga books. I have a pretty extensive yoga library now for somebody who isn’t a fully-fledged yogi.

Thursday in Dubai is the last day of the week (our week runs Sunday – Thurs). I’m going to spend the weekend thinking hard about whether I can make this Asia thing work. To be quite honest, I think I have already decided that it’s going to, whatever happens. I guess if you don’t follow you’re dream, you’ll always wonder if it would have been all you hoped, right? Though there’s always the chance that you follow it and end up stranded in Pakistan with no money and no hope of getting home, and arriving back in the UK to find a pile of CCJs have mounted up for you. But, hey – we’re thinking positively.

To end on a bit of a positive, and wildly unrelated note I am going to post a link to a lovely mantra that always makes me want to go back to Nepal, where I spent a week last year. If you’ve ever been to Goa or Kathmandu or anywhere a bit bohemian and touristy, you will have heard this. I suppose it’s a mainstream mantra. Lovely nonetheless.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Who is Hanu?

I am calling myself Hanu on this blog for the time being. As soon as I quit my job, I’ll come out with my full real name, but Hanu will still remain too.

Hanu came about originally from a typo. Even though I spend ten hours a day at my keyboard, I (to my shame) still cannot type without looking at the keys. When I tried, in an email to a friend, I spelled Gaby (my name) as Hanu. It kind of stuck.

I think of Hanu as the calmer me that’s emerging – the spiritual alter ego to my sometimes stressed-out personality. I’ve always had a bit of a temper, and I lose patience easily. But since I’ve been practicing yoga and being more mindful of how I react to people, I have definitely improved that. When I am feeling zen, I am Hanu. Yes, it’s stupid, but I think that anything that helps you to improve your temper – both for your own health and just to make life a little bit nicer for everyone – then it’s got to be a good thing. Some people might call it schizophrenia, I call it anger management.

So anyway, it turns out Hanu is also short for Hanuman, a Hindu god, and I find stories about Hindi gods extremely exciting. It’s one of the things I Google obsessively at work and buy books about, so Hanu has nice spiritual connotations as well. Here is what Wikipedia says about Hanuman:

Hanuman is one of the most popular concepts of devotees of God in Hinduism and one of the most important personalities in the Indian epic Ramayana. He is considered by some to be the 11th incarnation of Lord Shiva, and is considered the most powerful and intelligent amongst divine beings. His most famous feat, as described in the Ramayana, was leading an army of monkeys to fight the demon King Ravana.

Wow! The resemblence is uncanny. I will tell you about the time I led an army of monkeys some other day.

Anyway, I started to think that if I had a yoga studio of my own one day, I would call it Hanu Yoga, but somebody in Spain has already taken that name. How very disappointing.

I hope that explains Hanu without making me seem too odd.

Inside the Mind of a Daydreamer

Two things I should tell you about me before I go any further; I am fickle and I am easily led. I would prefer to think of these as endearing childlike qualities rather than bad traits. I think of it more as being flexible and adaptable to situations and ideas. Perhaps I can even bend it enough to say that I am just very open-minded. Yes, that sounds better.

To give you an idea of what I mean, in the past few months I have strongly considered the following options very seriously indeed as my next possible career move:

1. Quitting my job and moving to a Buddhist monastery in Nepal for a month. I even put down the deposit on this. I won’t go into the reasons why it didn’t pan out, unless you really want me to…
2. Trying to find media jobs in Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur etc.
3. Moving in with my friends in Sydney and trying to get a job while I’m over there.
4. Becoming a volunteer in Burma.
5. Trying to find a charity job in Asia. Anywhere in Asia.

Today, I have a new idea: Quit my job, go on a press trip with my friends to the Philippines and then try and blag and freelance my way around Asia until I can secure either a lucrative freelance career or get a job working within a charity organisation.

Really, I just want to travel and earn enough to pay off these credit cards.

I am of the feeling that if all I daydream about is quitting my job and going to Asia, then I really should go there. I wonder what I am waiting for sometimes

The Post-Binge Guilts

Dinner at Cavalli Club was lovely. I pushed myself a bit harder than normal in the run before I headed over to the restaurant (nice and sweaty for dinner – excellent), but I still felt like the champagne cocktail, large glass of wine, wedges of bread dipped in oil, mozzarella salad, ricotta-stuffed ravioli and dessert trio (heaven on a plate - see pic below), may have cancelled out my thirty minute run. But hey, I’m no nutritionist.

This morning I couldn’t even pull myself out of bed for a morning swim. I opted for a little lie-in instead (I hate that sleeping until 6.30am is a lie-in for me these days) and I also shunned my usual porridge breakfast for peanut butter on toast. Even after just two drinks, I still get the urge to eat lots of lovely carbs. Although really, I love any excuse to eat lots of lovely carbs. Drunk? Mmm – a veggie burger will sort that out. Hungover? A loaf of bread will see to that. Tired? A pizza and a lie-down on the sofa will help. You get the idea…

So, as I write this, I am eating a low-sugar nut bar in preparation for my lunchtime run. I like a lunchtime run for four reasons. Firsly, because it gets me out of the office and into the sunshine. Secondly, it doesn’t interfere with my social life the way that after-work exercise can. Thirdly, I feel great afterwards. The fourth and perhaps most important reason is that it makes me feel a bit smug and saintly. I never thought I would be the type of person to do exercise at lunch… I was the last person picked for teams in PE lessons at school – you know the type.

Anyway, as I have just started this blog, I am probably going to blog like crazy for a while, then hopefully settle in to just writing one entry a day!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

And so we begin

Good afternoon! Today I’m starting my blog. I guess I will start by mentioning what I’ve done today, and then over the next few days, I will add photos and stuff and hopefully the blog will just grow organically into something vaguely structured. That’s the plan!

Okay, so at the moment, I am working on some features that require me to do dinner reviews. Sounds awesome, right? It really is. I’m picking some of the nicest restaurants in Dubai to dine in over the course of three weeks. However, this means I am eating out every other night. And because I’m not paying for it, I am milking it for all it’s worth (this is why people hate journalists, perhaps?), so I’m having three course meals and wine. If you knew how feeble a journo’s wage is, you’d understand why I go so wild when the two magical words ‘free’ and ‘food’ come up. Anyway, to make up for the bread basket, the cocktails, the chocolate fondants and so on that tonight will bring, I started the day with a swim.

I’ve decided that getting up at 6am for a swim has three horrid moments. For some reason, acknowledging that helps me get through them. The first moment is actually hauling yourself out of bed at 6am knowing that you are about to swim 40 lengths when you would rather pull the covers over your head. This is the hardest moment. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not easy, but I just make myself do it. It’s only bad for a few seconds. Once I’ve got past that moment, then next horrid moment is stepping outside when it is still dark. It just feels so against nature. But, knowing the sun is just peaking over the horizon and that you’ll see the sunrise over the city helps ease that one. The third bad moment is stepping into the pool wondering if it will be freezing. Thankfully, they heat the outdoor pool I use, so it’s never been cold yet, but I always still worry…

After 40 lengths, I nipped back to my flat, made a hot water, lemon and honey in a Thermos for my poorly throat and got a lift into work with my flat mate.

I’m going on a bit, so I will just quickly do a run-down of what I ate…

Breakfast: porridge with rice milk and mixed fruit and nuts

Snack: Fruit yoghurt and peach

Lunch: HUGE homemade bean and herb salad

Snack: Nut bar, two oat biscuits with peanut butter, three jelly beans and two green teas with mint (err – might have been bored-snacking)

I dread to think what dinner will involve. It’s a swanky Italian restaurant (Cavalli Club), so I anticipate lots of pasta, lots of bread and lots of chocolate. Maybe a bit of wine. Does it make it better that I am going for a 3.5km run* around the park first? Oh god. These dinner reviews will be my downfall. If only I could say no to free Italian food.

*When I say ‘run’ you should know that I always mean an incredibly slow jog. The word ‘run’ just makes me feel sporty.