The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi

Precious time in paradise

The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi

As working parents, my husband and I juggle too many things at the same time so once a year, we hit that point where we tell ourselves we need to get off the rat wheel. We need time to decompress. With the kids.

We decided not to travel far this time – a 12 hour flight to Tokyo was off the cards. We packed our bags and left for Maldives and then Sri Lanka last month. Sri Lanka because I’ve always wanted to see it (and it’s only 4 hours away from Dubai) and let the children wander in the wide green spaces and see elephants and Maldives because it’s a short flight from Colombo.

I loved everything about our time in the Maldives – the people, the pace, the sound and smell of the sea, the perfect climate, the breeze that I so wanted to bottle up and bring back to Dubai…the kids loved Maldives, too.

alone time at sunset grace

I enjoyed every bit of my time at The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi Maldives. As an introvert, I appreciate some time alone and it’s amazing how you can think of a thousand and one thoughts at the same time when you find yourself in a serene environment such as this. The resort where we stayed, located far north of the island country was a world away from it all. It gave me the slower, quiet life pace I longed for.

It’s surreal to think how the other part of the world is in chaos, from trivial things such as traffic in the streets of Dubai to bombings in Gaza while there I was, so much at peace and looking at the serene sea and sunset in the horizon.

It’s hard to imagine this is the same world.

The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi

We also learned a lot during this trip, like how important it is to take it slow and to just focus on the basics – that the best thing we can give to our children (and to each other) is time and undivided attention.

Sure it doesn’t have to be in Maldives but surely, spending time at one of the world’s most beautiful, unspoiled paradise doesn’t hurt, yes?

The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi

We both decided that he can work as hard as he needs to, and I won’t complain about the long hours away from us as long as we go out as a family for a month, once a year, wherever it is.

(Maldives was magnificent. The only problem though is that, you won’t ever want to leave.)

No work related phone calls, no conversations about work. Just him and me as full time parents to the kids. And to make time to reset and reconnect our relationship as a couple.

grace and kids in beach side hammock

Right now, we’re back to Dubai and I dread the heat outside. I dread the fact that we cannot just go out and walk outside (for the next couple of months at least) or enjoy the beach because it is too hot. The kids are back, cooped in the four corners of the house again.

grace in water villa dock

I can still remember the feeling of the warm sun touching my skin. Most of all, I remember the moments we spent as a family – our walks on the beach, baths in open air Maldivian style shower, and the nights we spent outside stargazing at the pitch black sky when the stars looked like bright diamonds.

deluxe beach villa

Our lovely experience in paradise was short but we brought home memories enough to last a lifetime. I felt reborn and rejuvenated. It will be another 12 months or so before our next holiday but I am already excited.


That one thing to remember on Iftar


I had a major Ramadan related faux pas last night at Iftar. You would think – 8th Ramadan in the UAE, nothing could go wrong. Culture, tradition, special events, I should’ve covered all the bases in terms of how to behave and act and know the rules during this special time in Islamic world. Last night, I was surprised with myself. WHY did I ever?

We were at a lavish Iftar setting in one of the hotels here. We arrived early, say around 7 pm. Iftar would start at around 7:15, when the sun sets and Muslims break their fast. We were seated in the corner of a very crowded restaurant and I looked at my watch: 7:10. The waiters told us we can get food now. We stood up and went to the buffet stations, filled our plates, sat back and looked at my watch again. 


We started eating. The food was really good!

I never even bothered to look at the people around. I knew they have filled their plates too and seated in their respective seats. A woman in abaya looked at me from the table beside us. I continued eating. (With our office Ramadan timing of 8 am – 2 pm and no breaks, I didn’t have lunch, just little nibbles in discreet at the kitchen pantry. In short, I was really hungry.)

My brother and I continued eating and discussing how juicy and tender the lamb ouzi was. A waiter approached us, asking if we would like to order any drinks. Then went away and came back asking how old is my daughter. He hesitated, had a crooked smile and finally said in his trembling voice:

“Erm, madam…Iftar has not started yet. You shouldn’t start eating.”


You know that moment when you wish the earth would open and swallow you whole in a split second? THAT.

It was so embarrassing. No wonder that arab lady was looking at me like she wanted to tell me something. No wonder the waiter was asking many questions – it was to distract us! So we would refrain from eating and answer him. But did we? My golly, no. I continued to munch on and answered every question he asked. I am good at multi-tasking! Fark.

The sound of the call of prayer echoed through the hall. It signaled the end of the fast that day, followed by the booming sound of the canon. It’s time to break the fast and start the eating marathon…but we were already halfway. 

So that one very important to remember during Iftar parties: WAIT for the signal. There will be and it’s a loud one. You can’t miss it.


Kids and UAE summer don’t mix


I heard a very familiar scream over the phone. One of my children having that annual tantrum fest. The one that happens at this time of the year where they just snap. It has been easier on the older one compared to the previous years – she can read books, entertain herself by talking to friends over the phone (at least friends who have stayed behind – they help each other out) but for Benjamin who’s just nearly 3 years old, very eager to explore the outside world, staying indoors most days of the week had become a torture.

This has been happening lately especially after weekend is over.  When my husband and I are both home on the weekend, we take them out and it’s all fun, fun, fun until we go back to work. If Benjamin remembers the water fun in Japan last year at the park, I bet he would want to do it every single day!

One of the things I am thankful for though is that during Ramadan, my work time is shortened to 6 hours instead of 8 and a half (starting today for the next 30 days). My work time is from 8 am to 2 pm this year (the previous years, it was 9 am to 3 pm). 

DIY teepe

I can utilize the time to be with my very bored child but sadly due to the weather, there is no way I can take them to the park even if I really want to. While we love living in the UAE, I dread the ruthless summer months. Summer in the UAE is tough for the kids – and tougher for children with working parents because they will be cooped up indoors for long hours. There is zero outdoor life. Should you choose to entertain your children outside the 4 walls of the house, it’s always the mall. And here’s another problem, we only have one car which is used by my husband for work. I cannot take them out to wait for the cab in this heat, at least not everyday.

Forget going to your children’s friend’s house – most are out of the country. This is the time of the year I wish I can whisk away my children to somewhere they can play freely without getting sick, dehydrated or get sun stroke.

Of course, there are a lot of summer camps going on but most are expensive (at least for us). Some have no bus services that one of the parents has to take the kids to the venue and pick up. Most are pretty pricey too. For example, this one from the famous Dubai Holiday Camps is AED595 per week (5 days a week, 8 am – 2 pm only) and transport is AED160 per week in a location nearest to us. Daily fee is AED140. Other summer camp I found is the E-sports summer holiday camp, the venues are far from where we live and again, it is not cheap.

List of other camps published in the Knowledge and Human Development Authority website here. In case, you’re looking for a place to send your kids to. Expatwoman has compiled a great list of summer camps in Dubai too, if you’re interested.

That said, we will be leaving in 14 days – out of the country for 3 weeks. I know they will love it but then after we come back, there will be at least 5 weeks of staying at home until school starts…My annual leave is 4 weeks every year, I envy the moms who can freely take their children outside the country for whole two months (or more).

Top photo credit

Are you an expat with kids living in the UAE? What do you do to entertain your kids in the summer months?

Jumeirah open beach

Perfect time for the beach!

Jumeirah open beach

It’s the weekend again tomorrow and I remember, it’s going to be a week since we went to the beach. We had a long weekend last week so my brother who lives in Abu Dhabi came over and my sister too (she lives in Dubai as well). My brother had been bugging us to go to the beach for the longest time as he is tired of his everyday view of the endless desert and camels at his work site. I can’t believe we waited until May to go. The temperature is hitting the 40’s (Celcius) at mid-day already!

Solution? Get up early and go to the beach while the sun is not too fierce yet. And the beach is not too crowded!

Never mind the smallest member of the family is still in his pajamas!

babe in pajama

As soon as he changed into his swimming costume, he run into the water as fast as he could!

beach babes

 These children love the water so much, there’s no doubt they are my children.

What is nice about going to the beach here early in the morning (we were there before 8 am by the way and headed home at 9:30!) is that the water is calm, clean and the tide is low…which means little ones can play in the water and mommy can relax a bit. And of course, there’s our highly qualified baby sitter/uncle always to the rescue so mommy can swim! (or take photos!)

alain and ben on the beach

 What we love about the beach here (particularly in Jumeirah open beach near the Burj Al Arab) is that the sand is super fine, there are no rocks to step on or seaweeds (yuck). Here’s Pristine on the pristine beach. You can actually see your whole body underwater as the water is very, very clear.

pristine beach 2

 The water temperature was perfect. It felt sooo good to be in the water. I didn’t want to get out…but if I won’t, I would be toast and with my skin color, you would’t be able to see me after sunset!

grace beach 3

The water is so clean there are school of fishes around us, even in the shallow waters. Benjamin was so thrilled to be in the water seeing the fishes around. I risked taking my phone without waterproof cover/case so I can take photos of our fun day at the beach.

ben covering p face 2

I think Benjamin is being naughty and deliberately covering big sister’s face!! 

Tomorrow, it’s Friday again. If we lived nearby, it would be the beach again. This public, open beach in Jumeirah is at least 30 minutes drive away from where we live. 

close to water 2

 So tomorrow, I think we may just stay at home. But this shot? It made me really want to have that Life Proof waterproof case!

* Word of caution though: I saw some small jellyfishes even in the shallow waters (also blue ones – they were beautiful!). Take care when you go swimming! It’s pretty clear to see what’s underwater so be cautious. They weren’t many, maybe 3 but it still scared me a bit, especially with the children with us. Maybe better to know first aid in case of a jellyfish sting? Time to Google…

Have a great weekend, everyone!

family photo shoot Dubai

Family photo shoot 2014

family photo shoot Dubai

We’re on our 8th year in Dubai and I have taken lots of and lots of pictures in and around town, with the kids in it, the landscape, the scenes. But we have not taken a professional family photograph. The kids are growing up fast and learning the lesson from my own family, moments are fleeting. The only and last time I had a photograph of myself together with my parents and all five siblings was when I was 17 and that was it.

I would like to start a tradition of documenting our life here in Dubai, even for every couple of years into a photo book.

family photo shoot Dubai

The moment I saw Stephanie Hamilton‘s work online, I was in love. I am an old soul and I love the look and feel of vintage and nostalgia and warm colors. Her photographs are unique too – the color processing make the colors pop out differently and the photos, well, they tell a story. 

family photo shoot Dubai

I told Stephanie of my wish to have her photograph my family way back in December but then I backed out thinking (I’ll be really honest here) – “I should really lose a few pounds (actually a lot) before I even embark on putting myself out there in public.”

BUT – I realized lately as with my recent post titled, putting mom back into the picture, that I should live in the here and now. And that all moms come in different shapes and sizes. I don’t have to be scared or be apologetic of how I look. I just need to get in the picture, with the kids, with my family.

And so I did.

family photo shoot Dubai

…extra pounds and all.

family photo shoot Dubai

The first leg of our shoot was in Safa Park, a huge green space in the middle of Dubai’s concrete jungle. My brother and sister who also live in the UAE was with us too. They are a big part of our children’s lives. I would want to capture that on camera, too.

family photo shoot Dubai

family photo shoot dubai

At 4 pm, it was so hot at Safa Park and we were all sweating. I can’t believe how I waited till it’s already April! Nevertheless, Stephanie got good shots of us in the park.

family photo shoot Dubai

After about an hour at the park, we were off to the beach. Our shoot was initially scheduled on a Friday but Stephanie was kind enough to check the location and told us, there was no way we could squeeze in the beach and have a good angle to take photos of because it was too packed! The weather and water temperature is perfect for swimming recently like maybe half of Dubai’s population is there or something.

We rescheduled for Saturday. And it was still crowded but not too much. We were lucky to get a spot, however, there are people in the background but that’s ok – it depicts a typical weekend scene at the beach here.

family photo shoot Dubai

Benjamin couldn’t care less about the camera, he was too busy playing in the water!

family photo shoot Dubai

I LOVE how the photos turned out. Stephanie’s photo shoots are very relaxed although I was really nervous before going – freaking out about which clothes to wear, makeup? hair? Those typical girl stuff. 

family photo shoot Dubai

I ended up wearing the clothes most comfortable for me and what makeup? Everything melted in the heat! LOL.

It was a fun day and I am sure to cherish these photos and patiently waiting for the photo book now. I can’t believe Stephanie took all our good angles despite just meeting us for the first time. She certainly have an eye for this and great talent, don’t you agree?

family photo shoot Dubai

What I liked most about the photo shoot session is that with Stephanie, you don’t have to strike a pose, per se. You just have to be yourself.


If you would like Stephanie to capture your family’s precious moments, you can get in touch with her via Facebook or write her an email at nektar1111 at gmail dot com.

As if passport photos are not horrible enough

photo studio

At the photo studio last night.

Me: Passport size ID photo, please.

Lady: Which passport?

* Apparently, the size, focus, position of face and background color differs from country to country.

Me: Japanese passport.

Lady: (puzzled looks and studied me closely) You mean, visa? Japanese visa?


Lady: Madam, passport and visa are two different things…

*cue horror music*

I imagine having to deal with this every time I renew my passport. Thankfully, it’s only every ten years!

Top photo credit

Moving to Dubai

On the Up: Moving to the UAE and What to Consider

Moving to Dubai

People are flocking to the United Arab Emirates these days. With the subtropical climate,flashy lifestyle and all the travel opportunities a place like Dubai offers, it’s hard to blame anyone for upping sticks and grabbing a piece of this for a few days. Dubai tourism has grown significantly in recent years and although the city is a great tourist destination, or stopover between destinations, many people are making their stay in this international hub more permanent.

Here are a few things to consider if you’re thinking about joining this ‘nation of expats’:

The UAE is an Islamic nation, so before moving you should research how this might affect you in terms of your job, family and lifestyle. If this is very different to how you’ve grown up and what you’re accustomed to, consider spending a trial month in Dubai to see if a permanent move is right for you and is worthwhile.

Women, especially single women, could find a trial period in the UAE particularly beneficial. Spending time there before you commit to moving will allow you to become acquainted with the local laws, customs and cultural etiquette.

If you’re moving to the UAE, you’ll need a visa that allows you to work there. Visa rules can differ slightly different between the emirates, so it’s best to contact the emirate you’re relocating to and find out what the requirements are. If a job transfer is bringing you to the UAE (congratulations!), then your employer is likely to apply for the appropriate work permit and residence visa for you. Check with them first, of course,rather than take this for granted.

You’ll probably have friends planning their visits to your sunny new homeland, encourage them to look into tourist visas. If you enter the UAE through Dubai, then the Department of Naturalization and Residency Dubai will be the point of contact for all visa-related questions. Tourist visas are typically valid for 30 days, but the visa type required determines according to the type of visa required, so this needs to be researched before any flights are booked.

The UAE health care system is modern and well-equipped. Health insurance laws in Dubai have changed recently, so that all citizens, residents and visitors in Dubai must have health insurance. You won’t be granted a residence visa, or allowed entry as a tourist, to Dubai unless you have health insurance. Make sure this is something you organize before you go.

One of the biggest perks of moving to the UAE is the financial gain possible. Salaries aren’t taxed — though you may have to pay tax to your country of origin, however — so you can move there, work for several years and potentially save a fair amount. However,keep in mind the cost of living can be quite expensive. Renting an apartment or house may be pricier than you’re used to, and you often have to pay for a year’s rent up front.

If you have kids, sending them to school could cost you anywhere from a couple of thousand to dozens of thousands each year.Dubai isn’t the kind of place that you can just walk into, but with some careful planning beforehand you can really enjoy a step up in your lifestyle when you’ve arrived. The sky’s the limit in Dubai. You’ve just got to do the groundwork, or rather the paperwork,first!

Top image by cherrylet, used under Creative Commons licence.


Does being an expat make you fat?


“You were a lucky bitch!”

A friend snapped at me when we were talking about expat life and how it makes one fat – most of the time. But the first time I became an expat, I was not fat – and because of that, I earn the title, “lucky bitch”. 

I was 19 when I landed in Japan from the Philippines. I was on a scholarship program, had a room all to myself in the school dormitory and was given monthly stipend. You know what a young girl would spend with sudden money landing on her lap month after month?

If you guessed clothes, wrong. I was not into clothes. Or shoes. Instead, I was on a mission to buy all the food I didn’t have before. Back home, life was tough having to share everything with five other siblings. I send some of my monthly allowance back home but still had extra. The fear of gaining weight didn’t grip me with fear. I bought and ate whatever I fancied.

When you’re 19 or in the early 20’s, you can actually get away with eating junk and lots of carbohydrates (hello late night ramen!!) and not look like a sumo wrestler. Your metabolism level is kick-ass. My typical days always included lot of whole fat milk, Pringles, sugary drinks, candies and chocolates. I had one ambitious goal that time: test and taste ALL the chocolate brands I could find! And I think I achieved that goal on the first year itself. Too bad this was in 1996-1997 when there were no blogs, Facebook or Instagram!

I remember I used to wake up in the middle of the night and creep through the lonely halls towards the direction of the vending machine in the dormitory ground floor. The vending machines in Japan fascinated me. I’d put coins and press one new button per day. I got hooked to the awesome strawberry milk the most. I also got hooked to Mister Donut, paired with hot chocolate on winters. Whoa.

Graduation day in Japan  2001 – the year I graduated from the university in Japan (I am the one in pink), 4.5 years after I landed

My friend started her life as an expat in the UK last month. She’s 28. Like me, she is amazed by what is available right in front of her eyes. Those things she could not find at home, most importantly, the ones she could not afford before. But at 28, her metabolism is not on kick-ass level anymore and paired with the UK’s ever gloomy, depressing grey and cold weather, she is in no mood to exercise. On the contrary, it makes her want to be in the comfort of chocolates and buttermilk pancakes and hot chocolate drinks.

“Help, I’m getting fat!” was the SOS message I got a month after she landed in the UK. “I know I will get fat but the Toblerones, Cadburys and Ferreros are always on sale and I can actually buy them now. I’ve been hoarding.”

Oh, life abroad. I was indeed a lucky bitch for having to taste it all without having to buy bigger jean sizes.  But those were the days – I am feeling the pinch right now, being an expat again in Dubai at a much older age. With all the fantastic dining options available, it is hard not to gain weight. In fact, there’s a popular term called “the Dubai stone” – a catchy expression of the theory that living in Dubai will result in your regular weight increasing by somewhere in the region of 6.3 something kilograms.

But at least I am done with my chocolate experiment. 

Are you an expat? Did you gain weight than when you were back home?

Top photo credit

Outdoor life for kids in the UAE

Pristine at the park

I’ve been asked over and over again – “Is Dubai an ideal place to raise children?” or “We are thinking of moving to Dubai and we have 2 kids, is that a good idea?”

Honestly, there’s no cookie cutter answer to these questions. I wish there was but every family situation is unique. And I can only share my insight based on our personal experience. My daughter’s school recently had a Sports Day event a few days back and these questions sprung up from my mind, especially after I saw my daughter actively participating in the sports events, beaming with joy, running around with her friends under the sun.

Luckily, the weather right now is very pleasant so the children can enjoy running outside without the stifling humidity and scorching desert heat.

Sports Day

I get asked by parents who see the appeal and potential in Dubai but who have children and who are therefore naturally concerned about the type of lifestyle their children will have if they move to the UAE. Here’s what I have to say…

The cost of an international school education in Dubai is most certainly a negative factor.  Fees vary depending on the school and the age of the child, but we’re paying US$8,000 for annual tuition (and this belongs to the cheaper category compared to other British curriculum international schools) – factor in uniforms, extra equipment and school trips on top and it quickly adds up to some seriously high sums of money.

If that doesn’t bother you, the next would be the weather.

The next point you need to consider is that the weather in Dubai is not conducive for outdoor play for the majority of the year.  In the summer, it is simply too hot to allow children to safely and comfortably play outside.

We love living in the UAE – if not, hey, we wouldn’t last for seven years. But if there’s one thing that makes me a bit sad about living in Dubai, it’s the connection of children with nature, or the lack of it.

Outdoor life.

Grass beneath their feet.

Trees to climb. 

Those simple little things.

There are green spaces, yes, big parks like Safa Park and other smaller ones in the small residential areas. But our outdoor life here is limited – we can’t really allow the children to roam wild and free during the hot months that start as early as May and end in November.

Pristine’s love the outdoors so even though she was a bit sick, that nasty cough was back, she didn’t want to miss it for the world.

Sports Day

So, where can and do children hang out to play or socialize? Most meet at friends’ temperature controlled homes or they can hang out at the shopping malls on weekends and in the holidays. I admit, it was ok for us during the early years but a few years on, the mall culture can get to you. It can be exhausting and monotonous even with new and glitzy malls being opened every now and then. Mind you, the government is really doing a great job in entertaining us during the hot summer months. There are plenty of free entertainment inside these malls. But somehow right now, we got too lazy to go out every single weekend and would prefer to stay at home and play (though my heart just breaks for the kids when we couldn’t go on holidays during the summer/school vacation due to my work…). They loved the time when we went to Japan in the summer, sweat and all.

A part of me wishes my children can be more in touch with nature like I was while growing up…

With all that negativity aside, however, there can still be a benefit to enjoying a brief adventure in the United Arab Emirates with your family – it broadens children’s horizons (and yours), generally makes the kids more tolerant, enable them to learn a new language (Arabic which is mandatory even in international schools), make lots of friends from different nationalities and certainly more understanding that there is a far wider, diverse world out there.

Anyway, back to the Sports Day event…

It was a pleasant day for the children with the sun playing hide and seek most of the time and wind was cool. We thought, why don’t we bring the little guy out as well? He loves parks and crazy about running where he can feel unstoppable.

Sports Day

I saw the small kids in kindergarten at the grounds and remembered the time when Pristine was that small. Now she is in Year 5. Next year, Ben could be in that group of kids.

Sports day

Pristine was just telling me the other day that it’s horrible her little brother cannot talk properly yet. “Mom, he needs to go to school. He needs education.” So funny. I agree that he needs to go out more with children his age so I’ve started taking him to the park on Saturdays now that I don’t have work on Saturdays anymore (started last December).

Benjamin at Sports Day

When he walked closer to where the smaller kids were, some of the girls ran to him and started patting his head. He surely loved the attention!

Benjamin at Sports Day

Bye, girls! See you next year…sort of conversation going on here. I am already sure he’s going to love school and every chance of outdoor fun like this when he is ready.

Dubai creek

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.