Our Dubai story

Dubai creek

When the name Mark Fonseca Rendeiro popped up in my inbox the other day, I was like, “hey, I have heard of this name somewhere!”. A few Google search moments later, I found out that the guy who just sent me an email asking if he can interview me about my “Dubai life” was indeed the citizen reporter and journalist who publishes articles and podcasts at Citizen Reporter. I’ve read about his new project, The Dubai Taxi Driver – crowd-funded via Kickstarter.

From the 7 Days Abu Dhabi article,

Donations have poured in through the Kickstarter website so that Mark Fonseca Rendeiro can listen to the life stories of the city’s taxi drivers and upload their tales to an online podcast.

Kickstarter is a ‘crowd-funding’ initiative that enables people to raise money from the public online. People donate according to how good they believe the project to be.

I thought that was cool.

I’ve been here for 7 years and one of the habits I’ve picked up had been making conversations with taxi drivers. Some of them have been living and working in Dubai for decades and they have so many interesting personal stories to tell. Some were also pretty new (I always get the “Sorry madam, I just started yesterday…”) and it’s also interesting to listen to them tell stories full of hope and how they have come here to help their families back home (while I help navigate which road to turn!).

Mark wanted to hear my story of why and how we came to Dubai from Japan, what we love about living here, why I started blogging, what do I write and things like that. What was planned to be a 30 minute conversation turned into almost 3 hours!

I realized, I love retelling our Dubai story.

I’ve wrote about why we took the plunge to relocate here in 2007. Fast forward more than six years later, I wrote my expat story last year. But what I am about to write now is the most exhaustive version of our Dubai story. So here goes.

I started this blog in 2007 to document our new adventure – we’re a young family, me and my husband in our late 20’s with a 3 year old daughter. We just bought a house in Japan in the summer of 2005 when I got a job offer in summer of 2006 – from a company in Dubai!

And I don’t even know where “Dubai” was!

They said they’ll be coming to Tokyo to interview me, I said yes but then it got postponed and postponed until September 2006 when they emailed: “How would you like to come to Dubai for an interview? We’ll take care of the plane ticket and hotel reservations.”

In my mind that time, it was nothing but a free trip. I had a job in Japan and we just bought a house. While I was looking to relocate our family to an English speaking country, never in my wildest dream did I think of living in the Middle East! So I took it lightly and boarded the plane to my free trip. I arrived on October and it was so humid and so hot. Autumn was just starting in Japan and the difference between cool, crisp autumn air to the killer humidity and desert heat was unbelievable. I thought I couldn’t breathe!

I went through the interview anyway and called my husband. The people seemed to be happier here despite the heat, the sun is always shining (reputedly, 330 days a year) and the “winters” are glorious, as is the beach. “You will love it here.” I was assured by my then future boss who’s been living in Dubai with his family for more than 15 years.

“If we are to go in an adventure, we better do it while we’re young. Now. Japan will always be there and our house is just bricks and mortar we can always go back to, if we want to. Let’s do this.”

…was our decision.

We packed our clothes and sold our things, posted our house for rent and landed in Dubai on January 13, 2007. Sure enough, everyone was right about the weather – it was glorious. We loved how it wasn’t hot and not too cold as well. There was no snow to deal with. No heaters to turn on, no heavy winter comforters and we can sleep comfortably in t-shirt!

The below photo was taken the day after we landed and this is the guest house (a line of apartments)..we only had a room though.

second day in dubai

The beach was…something, straight out of a sun worshipper’s wild dreams. We bought a city guide book and map and went to the beach on our first weekend.

Maki and Pristine in Mamzar

We got hooked to the beach and started going almost every single week while our friends back home in Japan looked at our photos and wish they were here and not clutching on to their warm, down jackets.

Pristine in Jumeirah Beach Park

Jumeirah open beach

Jumeirah beach

But that time, Dubai was in crazy construction boom: the Metro was under construction with so many roads closed (we vowed not to leave Dubai until the Metro is finished so we can enjoy the fruit of our sacrifice…sort of!), traffic was severe, buses were old and very crowded, taxis were scarce.

Dubai marina buildings

Unlike some expats who came here with the full expat package, we didn’t have a car, or a villa and was staying temporarily in the company guest house without a kitchen (only because it’s a walking distance to my work place). The guest house in Deira was on the flight path to Dubai International Airport so when we open the room window and reach out just a little, we can touch the belly of the plane trying to land!

The noise was insane with planes coming in every 5 minutes or less. They say it just takes a little getting used to but I never got used to it. I was sleep deprived for three months, the whole duration of our stay in that guest house. We were staying in the guest house because the apartment in Al Qusais that my company has provided for us was not finished yet.

When we finally moved, the very small flat had nothing on it, as in nothing. Bare as bare can be. We came to Dubai with only 3 suitcases, all with our clothes only, and my favorite kitchen knife I had for years (I’m a weirdo like that). Since we were really not sure how many years we’ll stay, we opted to buy pre-loved furniture sold online, from Dubai expats who’s going back to their home countries or moving elsewhere. (Dubai is a very transient place with people sometimes moving out within the first year of relocating here)

empty apartment

(We picked up furniture from different parts of Dubai with the help of a Pakistani driver Mr. Aslam who had a truck for hire – he was one of our first friends in Dubai and he has been living here for more than 25 years. He had lots of stories to tell!)

The new home is no longer walking distance to my office and I had to take the bus. This was 2007 and public transport services in Dubai leave even the most optimistic resident in despair. I used to wait for at least an hour for the bus to come, only to fight to get in, elbows, body odor and all.

It’s those moments you start to question,

“What am I doing here?”

“Is this worth it?”

But then, sometimes there are moments when we felt it’s worth it.

That time when we moved here, I was the one offered a job and my husband was the trailing spouse. We’re the opposite of the typical Dubai expats – where the wife and children follow the husband as he settles in the posh villa, arranges for kids’ schools and readies the Pajero. My husband was a stay at home dad for almost 5 months until my mother came to help us around so he can look for a job. My workaholic Japanese husband, at home for 5 months – this was by far the biggest transition in our lives (and living on a single income). But it was actually one of the best times in our marriage and as a family – he was free from work pressure and he was able to tie up the loose ends of his straining relationship with our 3 year old toddler (and our marriage). In Japan, he was all work and barely have time to bond with his daughter or with us.

In 5 months they were together at home, they got close and our daughter realized that she has two parents. Hah! Pristine is very close to her father now and I think we owe it to the time they were together on our early days here.

That was actually a bonus and an unexpected thing to happen. Our main goal of relocation was Pristine to learn English while she is small and Dubai was our answer for that, that time.

Some highlights in 2007 was the construction of the Metro train system.

Metro construction

The world’s tallest building was only half of what it is now.

Burj Khalifa in 2007

A 20 minute rain will flood the roads…and create heavier traffic.


You can see the Metro Green Line under construction here in I think 2008?


Road diversions due to floods and Metro construction.


Meanwhile, Pristine was used to be around kids since she was in the daycare center for the whole day, 5 days a week in Japan. It was difficult to entertain her at home for the whole day and given we don’t have any ‘kiddie’ stuff except for that one Little Mermaid DVD we brought. Her father used to take her around the neighborhood as they look for parks but there’s one thing strange her: most municipal parks are for ladies and children only on weekdays! Only the big parks are open to all (Safa Park, Zabeel). That was a challenge because Pristine wanted to go inside the park but her dad is not allowed entry!

We found a school after spending time looking around. She wasn’t happy at first and crying on the bus every single morning. Pristine only spoke Japanese when we came here so that must have been very stressful for her! Thankfully, when she came back around noon time, she was all smiles.

Pristine first school in Dubai

Pristine and her dad would meet up with me at 1:00 pm near where I work and we would have lunch together. Then they go home and have a nap.

I continued writing my blog but didn’t just diary our personal moments. Readers found me on the internet and they were interested in reading about Dubai – the Dubai that is beyond what is written in the glossy travel books. The Dubai that’s not all about glitz and glamour or shopping. And that not all are well off here. Not all expats came here to seek greener pastures. Some like us are not generally richer or poorer here, just the same but the quality of life is better for us. For my family, our pastures is not greener, just sandier.

This blog is meant to show that normal people like us exist here, the ones that struggled with the public transport, to tell a story of a working mom juggling career and family. Sure there are times when I started to miss our former home in the mountains of Nagano, Japan and battled questions that start with what if.

But seven years later, we are still here, enjoying the convenience of the very improved transport system – I was particularly very happy with the opening of the Green Line which shortened my commute to work big time, and among other things to be happy about!

Home… has been the here and now, Dubai.

Despite some discomforts, especially during the early years, we can still find reasons to stay (most important being, we seem to be healthier here, especially the husband and the kids – stable-ish weather that’s not too cold in the winter, temperature controlled house). And I’ve stopped thinking if we’d be happier there (or somewhere else) than here because a country alone cannot make you happy.


  1. We’ll be 7 years in UAE on March 🙂 Arrived in Dubai with just the clothes in the suitcases, in visit visas and both of hubby and I looking for a job the very next day…oh my, I remember the terrible traffic before when you should be in the bus at least 2 hours before work time! I’m now a stay at home mom and we’ve settled in Sharjah although hubby still works in Dubai. We do however still reminisce the adventures we had in Dubai on our first years there. And try to visit almost every week 😀



  2. I love having the overview of why you’re there and the changes! Can you imagine having to go back to no metro now??? 😉 We loved using the metro in Paris even though we had a pretty long walk to the last stop from our apartment (about 20 minutes) it was good exercise and then you never have to worry about parking your car or anything!
    I was just thinking about you this morning. To tell you that I’ve officially stopped nursing the girls. We made it to 22 months and then I was done. They have asked a few times, but are not heartbroken about it. If anything they are a little more snuggly which is nice!



    1. The Metro is such a huge help and it’s not expensive. Actually, very cheap! Congratulations on weaning your babies!! You’ve done a really good job!! Hats off to you, mommy Krista!



  3. Lovely story Grace. I have been following my husband around the world too due to his job. We have now been living in Australia since January 2007, but hope to stay for good, as we love it here.
    We will be flying via Dubai to Europe in June and I’m looking forward to a stopover visit.



    1. Hi, thanks for reading and leaving a comment! The Dubai in the glossy travel magazines only speak half truth of the lives of the people here.

      It’s true that there are people earning ridiculous amounts of money (Someone posted at the expatwoman.com forum before: “Can I live decently in Dubai and save with AED70,000 per month (villa, school fees shouldered by company)?”




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