Notes by Nectar

Your destiny lies in your own hands

Dubai 2015: Week 5

After my session with Trevor on Sunday morning, I had to get down to some work as I was still swamped. At about 4pm I decided I needed a break so I walked up to Tim Horton’s and sat down with a coffee and my book. I wanted to finish reading Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón so I could move on to something else. It was an easy read, but as I’d predicted it was nowhere near as good as Shadow of the Wind.

I went to yoga at the Shangri-La on Monday morning. I was home by 9.45 and had the whole day to work. I was supposed to have a piano lesson that afternoon but I had so many deadlines that I ended up cancelling it. That evening I went to the Scene Club in Knowledge Village – they were screening ‘Factory Girl’, an Egyptian movie about a girl who works in a garment factory and has a crush on the manager. It was a good movie – but it did make me angry. Angry that things don’t really seem to change for women in the Middle East, and angry that people will believe a rumour about a person which turns that person’s life completely upside down.

I had yoga at home on Tuesday and was home the rest of the day – just working!

I had a friend in town from Lagos – so we met up for an early lunch on Wednesday. We went to Wafi Gourmet at the Dubai Mall and we overate – hummus with pine nuts, grilled halloumi, muhamara, fried aubergine in yoghurt, potato harra. I couldn’t move after that – but we still went to Eataly for dessert where we shared a Nutella crepe!

I got home, did some work and then went to my piano lesson. That night, Dad and I went to Sobahn, a Korean restaurant on Sheikh Zayed Road. I’d been there once before – I didn’t think it was great (nothing is as good as Arirang in London), but it was close by and I knew we’d be home early. I’d booked a table online in the afternoon but when we got there, they said they had no record of the booking. It wasn’t a problem as the restaurant wasn’t crowded, and I had a confirmation email and a text and I wondered whether they just hadn’t bothered to check their messages.

We were shown to a table and sat down. I ordered a small bottle of still water and Dad ordered a small bottle of sparkling water. They brought both but no glasses. Dad asked the waiter for some glasses and he brought us one. Were we supposed to share it? So we asked for another one, obviously. We flicked through the menu – this page amused me:

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What is ‘flap meat’? I didn’t fancy trying it. To start with, we ordered the pah jeon (without seafood) and Dad ordered a kim chi soup. Little dishes of a variety of kim chi were brought to our table and were complimentary. For our main course we ordered a beef bulgogi and spicy prawns. I asked the waiter to bring the starters first and then the main course – and not to bring everything at once. The waiter came back and said they didn’t have any beef bulgogi – so I ordered bee bim bab instead.

So, what did the waiter bring? The pah jeon and the spicy prawns.

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‘I specifically asked you to bring the starters first.’

‘The prawns are a starter.’

‘So when I ordered it as a main course, why didn’t you say so?’

No response.

Then they brought the bee bim bab and the soup. Crazy. The food was average – I’m not sure I would go back.

On Thursday morning, I had to go to Sharjah to collect my passport and I had to be there by 10am. I was in and out in about 5 minutes but there was a lot of traffic on the way back. I got home, did some work, had lunch and then went to get my hair done.

That night I had dinner with some friends at Rivington Grill in Madinat Jumeirah. We hadn’t seen each other since November so we had lots to catch up on. We had a bottle of Shiraz, skipped the starters and went straight to the mains. I had the lamb chop (disappointing), one friend had the rainbow trout, another had the Dover sole and the fourth was still full from lunch so he ordered a starter portion of calamari and a portion of chips. We shared an apple and blackberry crumble for dessert. After dinner we went to The Agency next door for another drink. It was quite a late night and it was 2.45 by the time I got home.

On Friday I had lunch with a couple of friends at Maison Bagatelle. I ordered the beetroot and goat cheese salad with spinach and pine nuts, one of my friends had the full English breakfast and the third had a steak. Every time I’ve been there, the food has been very good – and this time was no exception. We decided to share a blueberry tart for dessert and finished with coffee. After lunch, I walked to the mall and ended up at Kinokuniya. While browsing, guess what I came across? Two Folio copies of Travels with Charley that I’d been looking for the week before! I should have known the man at the information desk had no idea what he was talking about. I wanted to see if he was there, but it was a woman at the desk. How infuriating!

On Friday night, Dad and I went to Y by Yabani at City Walk for dinner. I ordered the starters first and told them I’d order the main course when we were ready. I didn’t want them bringing everything at once like they did at the Korean restaurant! I ordered a sesame seed cucumber salad and some spicy rock shrimp tempura. Dad also ordered a miso soup. When we’d finished that I ordered the salmon and tuna izuzukuri (thin slices of salmon and tuna, coriander, sesame seeds, green chilli, chilli powder, spring onion, izuzukuri sauce). We ordered black cod with miso and nasu miso for our main course with some sushi rolls. There was too much food but it was all so good. We could have definitely done without the aubergine and I think I would have chosen either sushi or black cod – not both. We were home early and I helped Dad pack as he was off the next day.

Dad left on Saturday afternoon and I was home all day. That evening I went to see Zakir Hussain’s Nirvana 2015 at the World Trade Centre. It was an Indo-Celtic fusion concert and it was fantastic. Also on stage with him were: Rakesh Chaurasia (bansuri – Indian bamboo flute), Ganesh Rajgopalan (violin and vocals), Navin Sharma (dol and percussion), Charlie McKerron (fiddle), Patsy Reid (fiddle), Jean-Michel Veillon (flute), Fraser Fifield (bagpipes and whistle), Tony Byrne (guitar) and John Joe Kelly (bodhran).

The musicians were incredible, but the event organisation let them down. The acoustics in the hall we were in were pretty awful, and the lighting was a joke. During the concert, the house lights were switched on and off, and one strip of lights (right above us) was even left on for about 20 minutes right in the middle of the concert.

The concert finished at about 10.30 and my friend and I went to Zuma for a late dinner. We ordered the yellowtail sashimi, tuna tataki, prawn and black cod gyoza, dynamite spider roll and spicy tuna roll. We were till about 1am and then went home.

I love my life.

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Dubai 2015: Week 4

I had to cancel my Sunday morning session with Trevor as I had to be in Sharjah by 10am and I wasn’t sure I’d be back in time. I got to Sharjah, had my blood test and X-ray and was done in about 20 minutes. The traffic coming back to Dubai was pretty bad and I’m glad I’d cancelled the session.

Instead of going straight home, I decided to go to the Dubai Mall and have a look around. I needed to get a birthday present for a friend and I’d seen the perfect book at Kinokuniya – Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck (Charley was Steinbeck’s dog and my friend has a dog called Charlie). On a previous visit to Kinokuniya I’d noticed three Folio Society copies of the book and thought I’d get one. I also wanted a couple of books for myself (naturally). The Folio Society copies were nowhere to be found. I couldn’t believe that three people had bought them and I went to the Information desk to find out if they had any in stock. I gave the man behind the desk the title, the author, the publisher – and he insisted they’d never had that edition in stock. And I insisted that they had at one point. Why was I so sure, he asked me. Because I used to work at that publisher in London, and I worked on that particular book. Anyway, I ended up getting the Penguin Classics edition of the book – it’s nowhere near as impressive as the Folio Society edition, but there you go. I also picked up the new Wally Lamb book (We Are Water) and a book called Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It was written before Shadow of the Wind but was only translated a couple of years ago. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have bought the second book because I doubt it will be as good as The Shadow of the Wind! While I was browsing I was horrified to see this sign on one of the shelves.

I was so horrified I went to Debenhams and bought a dress to cheer myself up. I was home in time for lunch and spent the rest of the day at home.

I woke up at about 6am on Monday – all I could hear was the wind howling outside. It was dark and looked like rain. It rained most of the day and I hoped that my piano lesson would be cancelled (it wasn’t). Luckily, when I left for my lesson it had stopped raining and only started again after I got back home. I could still see lightning and hear thunder as I got into bed at around midnight.

I had yoga on Tuesday morning and then met up with NP for lunch at Tasha’s in Galleria Mall on Al Wasl Road. NP got there a little before me and managed to snap up the last available table. There were already people waiting when I got there at 1pm. She had the wagyu burger – she said it was better than the one at Jones the Grocer. I had my usual quinoa salad with chicken and a carrot/beetroot/apple/ginger juice. We both had a coffee after that and went our separate ways.

I got home and did a bit of work. I was reading Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writing and it made me want to start writing again so I decided that my project for the week would be to clear up my desk. (I finished reading the book later that night, and to sum up her ‘true secret’ of writing: Shut up and write.)

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Yes, that is a bottle of vodka. No, I haven’t been drinking it – I inherited it half full. What else is on there? Camera lenses, books, papers, sunscreen, makeup, my old laptop from three years ago which I must get rid of. I haven’t worked at my desk in about two years and I need to start using it again. Where do I work? On my bed. No comments, please.

So I put off clearing up my desk until the evening. And then I spent about four hours sorting out papers, emptying drawers and basically throwing out a lot of sh*t.

On Wednesday morning, my desk looked like this:

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Miles better, but still room for improvement! After my session with Trevor that morning, I had to get ready in a rush to go back to Sharjah to finish off the rest of the visa renewal process. I was in the visa application centre this time. My dad had arranged for someone to take me through the procedure as I had no idea what to do or what queue to stand in. I had to wait in line at the front desk while they stamped all my forms, then I had to queue to pay for my renewal, then I had to queue to submit my passport, then finally I had to submit the rest of the forms. I sat in the chair opposite a local woman. She looked at me and decided she’d rather continue chatting to the male colleague on her right. For about ten minutes. Eventually, she decided she’d better get on with her job and looked through my forms. She told me one form was missing, so the guy I was with rushed off to get it while I waited there, and this ‘official’ folded her arms on her desk and just put her head down. Erm – that’s professional. The guy came back with the form, I filled it in, signed it, she woke up and that was it.

I had a piano lesson on Wednesday afternoon – we spent the entire hour working on the Debussy Arabesque. I spent a few more hours clearing up my desk that day. I even came across my first plane ticket which my mum had saved.

By Thursday morning, my desk looked like this:

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Yes, there was still crap under the desk and that’s a work in progress. But – I’ve been feeling very positive and energised since clearing it up.

On Thursday night, I went to my friend’s Gatsby-themed birthday party at his house (I wore my new dress and he loved Travels with Charley). It was a nice evening – and not as many people as I thought there would be. I had just two glasses of red wine (I hadn’t had any alcohol since my friends left after that mad week they were here). I hadn’t really missed it and even started with a mocktail, but because we were outdoors and it was quite chilly I thought the red wine would warm me up. I got home at about 2.30 and went to bed.

I worked all day on Friday and most of Saturday. I had a sudden influx of work on Thursday and my only option was to work all weekend.

On Saturday evening a friend and I went to visit some friends who’d had a baby just before Christmas. We were there for about an hour and then headed home. And I went back to work for a few more hours! I love being busy at work, but I’d been swamped on Friday and Saturday. According to one of my clients, I should expect it to be like that for the next couple of weeks. Oh well, more work equals more money!

I love my life.

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Applying for my Nigerian visa: part 3

Last week I wrote about my latest Nigerian visa application – and how the process was much smoother this time round.

If only collecting my passport and visa had been as simple…

When I submitted my passport and application last week, I was given a receipt with the date 29th August and a collection time of 3.30-4.30 printed on it. ’29th is a bank holiday,’ I told the man. ‘You are open on the bank holiday?’ 

‘Eh… Yes,’ he replied.

Hmm. I wasn’t entirely convinced but left it at that.

On Friday I called the visa enquiry number at the High Commission just to make sure they were going to be open. 

‘Eh… We are doing collections from 12 to 1,’ the man told me.

‘But my receipt says 3.30-4.30.’

‘Eh… but it’s a holiday so come at 12.’

So if I hadn’t called to check and shown up at 3.30 as planned, they’d have been closed! FFS.

So, I left home on Monday morning, got there at about 11.50, and went into the visa hall and waited. 

And waited.

And waited.

Nothing happened. There were about 15 people waiting with me.

At 1pm I went to the counter and asked the man what was happening – when would the collections be ready?

‘Eh… They are not ready.’

‘Yes, but *when* will they be ready?’

‘Eh… We think by 2 o’clock. You can go and come back.’

FFS. Go where, exactly? 

I went out to get a sandwich and was back in the visa hall by 1.30. At about 2.15pm they started calling out receipt numbers – mine was first. There were LOADS of passports awaiting collection – but I don’t think their owners knew that they had to collect them early as it was a holiday. I took my passport and got the hell out of there. Thank goodness I’d taken a book with me… I’d have been bored out of my brains otherwise.

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Applying for my Nigerian visa: part 2

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was planning a trip to Lagos for Vinay’s first birthday and that once again I would need to brave the Nigerian High Commission in London.

The visa application process is a little different these days. All applications are processed and paid for online, and once you’ve submitted your application you’re told what date you need to submit your passport to the High Commission. Organised, isn’t it?

Well. Yes and no.

I filled in the application form online, paid for my visa (£90!) and was told I needed to submit my passport on 23 August. Simple.

I then decided to look at the list of things I needed to take with me:

  • Valid passport
  • Printed copy of the online visa application form and a copy of the payment confirmation page and a passport photo
  • Letter of invitation from Nigeria accepting full immigration responsibilities for me while in Nigeria
  • Photocopy of the inviter’s passport
  • Visa fee payment confirmation AND a £20 postal order for processing fees (so I spent £110 on the visa in total)

I had all those things except a printed copy of the online visa application form. I could just print it off after it had been submitted, right? WRONG. I logged in using the details they’d given me only to be told that I couldn’t change my application. I couldn’t even see my application form. Shit – I thought I was going to have to re-apply and pay the £90 again! There must be an easier way, I thought. I emailed the help contact on the website explaining the situation and waited for a reply. It took just 5 minutes for the advisor to get back to me. She said I needed to fill in the online application form again but instead of submitting it, just print it. Now why hadn’t I thought of that? And why don’t they tell people this on the site?

So I managed all that. No problems.

The Visa section of the High Commission officially opens at 10am. At least that’s what it says on their website. I know from past experience that if you get there earlier you can still collect a number and wait in the visa hall. I decided to do that – I got there at 9.15 (in the pouring rain) and was met with a queue outside the building. There were about 20 people in front of me and the queue was moving quickly. When I got to the front, I realised that embassy staff were checking that people were coming in with printed application forms and proof of payment before entering the main hall. You’d be amazed how many people didn’t bring their application forms, their payment confirmation, or even their passports (eh?) – and they were shocked that they were turned away. I didn’t have any problems and the man let me through.

Once I entered the main hall I had to join another queue where another man was also checking documents and he gave me a ticket – number 606. I’m not joking when I say that there were at least 100 people already in this room – men, women, children, babies, strollers. It was noisy and there was nowhere to sit. The person standing next to me had ticket number 025. F***. I was going to be there forever!

At 9.30 they started calling people forward to the counters. I think that’s because they couldn’t fit any more people in the room and the queue outside was growing! My concern about being there all day vanished when they called the first ticket of the day – ticket 600! Visa applications and passport applications have separate numbering systems – thank goodness! I didn’t have long to wait at all…

My application was processed without any problems. The English guy applying at the counter next to me didn’t have a photocopy of the inviter’s passport and was told to come back another day. So they’re serious about all that!

I was out of there by 10.15 and headed to work. I just have to collect my passport in a few days and I’m done.

No mobbed counters and nobody shouting at each other – the process was much more streamlined this time. Thank goodness!

 

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Applying for my Indian visa

I recently wrote about my experiences when applying for a Nigerian visa, but I should also mention that applying for an Indian visa is no easier! Every year it gets more and more difficult to get an Indian visa – and this includes multiple-entry visas for people of Indian origin.

After the arrest of David Headley (the American/Pakistani man arrested for conspiring to bomb targets in Bombay) in 2009, getting visas for India has become tiresome. As I found out last year when I needed a visa.

I was heading to Bali for my brother’s wedding, and didn’t want to go via India at all. If I’d had my way, I’d have gone straight to Bali and spent an extra four days by the beach. However, all my clothes were in Bombay and I needed to try them on and have any last-minute alterations made. I booked a return flight to Bombay and used a separate ticket for my flight from Bombay to Bali. I filled in the application form, took my passports (old and new) and headed to the visa application centre in Victoria.

I would have been happy with a tourist visa, but changes had been made so that once you leave India on a tourist visa you can’t return for 2 months. As I had to return in 2 weeks to get my flight back to London, I thought I’d apply for a multiple-entry 5-year visa. I had one in my previous passport so I didn’t think it would be a problem getting another one. How wrong could I have been?

Everything was fine – I got there at the allocated time, I picked a ticket from the machine and was seen by a man at the counter about 5 minutes later. He was about to approve my 5-year visa when the supervisor strolled past and decided to have a look at my papers. I took one look at her and knew then that it was all over. I had no proof of Indian origin, even though there was a 5-year visa in my old passport. She said I couldn’t have one. I told her I needed a multiple-entry visa because of my flight bookings. She said ‘We do advise you not to book anything before applying for your visa’. Such a typical unsatisfactory response. I asked her if there was anything she could do? She said ‘I can try, but I can’t promise.’ So, that’s a ‘no’ then? ‘If you give me your itinerary…’ she started, at which point I asked how I could give her my itinerary if I wasn’t supposed to have booked anything. Did I have an old Indian passport? No, I’ve never been ‘Indian’. Do I have my parents’ old Indian passports? No, does anyone??

Fine, I didn’t have all the documents I needed, but what annoyed me *most* of all was that while we were talking, she was flicking through my old and new passports – and suddenly she had STAPLED THEM TOGTHER. FFS. Did I ask her to do that?? No. Did she even align them so that the edges were even? NO. I asked her to unstaple them and she said that she didn’t think it was a good idea because officials might ask questions if they saw holes in my passport! I wanted to reach over the counter and punch her in the face. I was about to lose it so I gathered my stapled passports and other papers and I left.

2011

(Very. Very. Annoyed.)

2011

I called my parents. My dad has no documents indicating he’s of Indian origin. I don’t think he even knows where his birth certificate is. My mum was in Bombay at the time and miraculously managed to find an old Indian passport of hers! She sent it through someone the next day and I collected it.

Now I needed my birth certificate to prove that she really was my mum. I looked through the safe and found my birth certificate. Well, just half of it really. It was the smaller sheet that basically tells you when and where you were born and I already knew that. It didn’t have my parents’ names on it or anything. I could see my brother’s and my sister’s, but not mine. Dammit! I emailed Hammersmith and Fulham Council and asked if they could send me a copy of my birth certificate – I received it about a week later.

Finally I had everything I thought I needed. I went back to Victoria, hoping to see the same supervisor. Luckily for her, she wasn’t there. I did see her when I went to collect my passport a couple of days later though. She tried to smile at me, but oh, if looks could kill…

Now my parents think I should apply for an OCI and just get it over and done with. My mum tried to do hers this morning – she left home at 8am, got to the High Commission before 9 and said that there were already 500+ people in the queue before her (by the way, read 500+ as 125). I’m really not sure I can be bothered with all this… 

 

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Applying for my Nigerian visa

Now that I’m all booked for Lagos, I have to sort out a Nigerian visa. I want to weep.

When I was growing up and going back to Nigeria regularly I didn’t have to think about visas and other practicalities – every time I’d go back my dad would sort things out for us. As I don’t go back as frequently (the last time was 3 years ago) and my parents don’t live there now, I have to sort these things out myself.

I went back to Lagos in 2006 after a 9-year break. That time, a friend of mine hooked me up with someone at the High Commission and I got my visa in about half an hour. I didn’t even have to go to the main visa application area; he let me wait in the main reception area of the High Commission.

I went back a year later and the same friend sorted me out – I was ever so grateful.

In 2008, I thought it would be really cheeky of me to ask again so I decided to apply on my own…

I used to think that applying for a Nigerian visa was a pain in the ass (until I applied for an Indian visa last summer). You only (!) need the following documents:

  • Passport – yes, you really do need your passport
  • Two passport photos
  • Completed application form
  • A letter from your health insurance company stating coverage – I think this is new because I didn’t have to provide this 3 years ago
  • Proof of an airline booking
  • Current bank statement
  • A letter of invitation from your friends/family

When I applied for my visa in 2008, I got to the High Commission before 10am, took a ticket from the machine and sat down. I looked around – the counters were clearly labelled: visa applications, passport applications, cashier. So far so good.

As soon as the counters opened at 10am, chaos broke out. People were crowding around each counter, regardless of whether it was a visa or passport application – and nobody gave a shit what number they had in their hands. Crap, I thought. This is going to be a nightmare.

And then a young(ish) Nigerian man climbed onto his chair and started shouting: ‘What are you people doing? You’re behaving like animals! No wonder people treat Nigerians like dirt!’ I was shocked. He was shouting at his fellow countrymen – and I think they were shocked too because they all calmed down and looked around sheepishly. They found seats and waited for their numbers to be called out. Did that happen every morning? What would have happened if that man hadn’t been there?

I submitted my application and went to pick up my passport a day later – no problems. 

But now I have to go back in the next few days – and I just don’t know what to expect!

2011

(Just one of the many sights I’m looking forward to seeing…)

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