Friday, January 31, 2014

Chinese New Year homemade nian gao, dinner and art

With a long-awaited special Mid Autumn Festival feast done, I decided to celebrate CNY 4712 with another tradition: nian gao (年糕), or Year Cake.

It's really simple to make. All you need is water, glutinous rice flour and brown sugar in a ratio of 4ml:4g:3g. After dissolving the sugar in the water (first half boiling, second half lukewarm), I whisked in the flour until I got a smooth brown batter.

I poured the batter into a medium oiled tin, and stuck it in a steamer on high heat for about an hour, halfway through which I lay chopped ripe dates (jujubes would have been better) on the top and sprinkled on some roasted sesame seeds (some honey would have be nice at this point, to hold the sesame seeds more firmly to the surface).

After cooling and refrigeration for a few hours, I carried it to work for all to enjoy.

Later in the evening in Abu Dhabi, I managed to convince the parents to go out for authentic Chinese food at Red Castle, one of Abu Dhabi's few options for that cuisine. It was alright, but not as good as some of the places I've been in Dubai in terms of preparation style, availability and attention to detail.

Swiss Art Gate also happened to be doing an exhibition called Year of the Horse at Yas Viceroy Hotel. It was not a Chinese art exhibition per se, but at least it was about horses.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mathematics for the masses

Looking at the his large spider brooch and vintage necktie, I knew this NYU Abu Dhabi public talk was going to be interesting at the very least. But while his curious demeanor and deadpan quips did, in fact, do much to entertain, Institut Henri Poincaré director Dr Cédric Villani can talk math to educate just as well. He took us on a journey through the history of modern mathematics, from Riemann to Boltzmann to Kantorovich, illustrating concepts like geodesics, entropy, and linear programming with what I thought were fairly easily-digestible analogies and visuals, and using examples from real life to show how mathematical topics popularly regarded as distant and abstract have actually long been part of the familiar world. He also gave us an first-hand insight into the world of academic mathematics and the lives of mathematicians.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

NYUAD introduces FIND cultural platform for artists and scholars

If you are interested in UAE life beyond working and partying, NYU Abu Dhabi's cultural dialogue and mapping platform FIND might interest you. I attended the public event at which the university introduced the initiative and hosted UAEU professor Yasser Elsheshtawy and Cuadro Gallery director Roberto Lopardo to discuss their work as fellows.

Yasser Elsheshtawy (L) and Roberto Lopardo (R)

The speakers talked about their projects for mapping Abu Dhabi. Dr Elsheshtawy's academic approach focused on the hidden-in-plain-sight world within the "super-blocks" of the city, observing and analyzing the human dynamics and public culture of "interstitial spaces", such as the bustling "square with a tree" in the middle of a block between Hamdan and Electra. Lopardo, on the other hand, extended his 24-hour picture-a-minute trek modus operandi, successfully executed in a number of other major cities (including Dubai, the result of which I remember seeing at Cuadro a long time ago), to 20 second video clips, and played a few of those clips for discussion. The third fellow, Reem Falaknaz, was unable to make it to the talk; too bad, as she was studying the mountain communities in the Northern Emirates, and would have added a rural perspective to what was otherwise an interesting, but very urban-set discussion.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Pan-Arabia Enquirer and the art of satire

If recent events are any indication, peddling satire in the UAE can be risky. So it was with more than a little skepticism that I took the news of a commissioned Pan-Arabia Enquirer exhibition at DUCTAC's Gallery of Light. But it turns out that this was, oddly enough, not just a big joke.

Fans of the publication know that PAE offers as much insight into the inscrutable idiosyncrasies of life in the Middle East as it does oft-missed satirical humor. A couple of prints are claimed to be early versions, from back when it was apparently called the Dubai Enquirer. Given PAE's premise, I really don't know how seriously I should be taking the descriptions of these. Suffice to say, though, that things have clearly improved since then, although there are still too many easy giveaways for my liking.

Highlights include select spoof ads (I love the job postings), and those facepalm-triggering letters that occasionally become as legendary as the articles themselves.

Print is not all there is to see; you can glance enviously at the VIP area while you wait in queue. A few manufactured artifacts, the articles relevant to some of which I recognize, are also displayed in glass cases.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Alliance Française Dubai launches weekly Cine13 series with Möbius

If the odd theatrical release, screening or film festival do not satisfy your yearning for French cinema, you will be happy to note that French films will be in Dubai as a permanent feature, thanks to the city's Alliance Française. They are launching a series they call "Cine13", in which a fresh French film is rotated weekly at Ibn Battuta Mall's Grand Cineplex, with multiple shows per day to suit as many schedules as possible. I caught a Saturday screening of the first film: the tri-lingual French/English/Russian espionage drama, Möbius.

DDG stages Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Dubai Drama Group's latest Shakespearean venture looks at Hamlet from a different perspective, in the comedy Rosencratz and Guildenstern are Dead. The play, staged at DUCTAC, features much philosophical musing on fate and luck, making humorous references to the minor roles, disposability, and near-anonymity of the titular characters.

Toby Masson and Ciaran Mulhern have great chemistry as the reluctantly duplicitous duo, Rosencratz and Guildenstern, respectively (or vice versa), bumbling their way about the Hamlet universe while the more well-known dramatic events take place around them, and pondering what it all means.

Some of my favorite moments in the play were those featuring Eric Dury as the head tragedian --- a character to which he is very suited. The play is also commendable for the attention paid to detail in production, most evidently in the costumes.

DSF thinks OTB with an outdoor alt market

In the shadow of the world's tallest tower, an anti-mall experience takes place at the Burj Park, where you can do your shopping right out of a shipping container. These icons of the warehouse/freight world (and thus of Dubai's status as a global trade hub) have been painted and converted into shops in a Dubai Shopping Festival event called Market OTB, or Outside the Box.

The weather being what it is, it's a great place to relax, enjoy a concert or show, paint, and partake from some of the excellent food options available.

While many nice household items and art works can be found here, the best thing about the market is the selection of clothing stores. I'm not sure to what extent these are actually "sustainable", but they sure look great.

Checking out Impact Hub Dubai

I went to Souk Al Bahar during the weekend to have a look at the latest entrant in Dubai's non-traditional work space: Impact Hub.

It was their "liftoff" week, and everything was wide open. I like the look of the place; it's bright, spacious and open, with colorful lines of contemporary furniture. While the Hub does offer the usual campus/incubator experience (for a membership fee), its core value proposition is its network of global connections with other Hubs; in fact, the basic membership level centers around access to mainly that, with slabs added on for varying amounts of access to physical space.

It's much larger than just the central hall, with numerous satellite rooms suiting diverse aesthetics and space requirements, and an outdoor space and majlis on the cards. Mindful of the wide variety of cafes and restaurants sharing the Souk al Bahar, the Hub has no food service, instead placing only a self-service convenience snack/beverage bar within the campus.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Visual cello at The Courtyard Playhouse, and Al Quoz Street Night Art

The Courtyard Playhouse hosted its first musical act with a two-night free showcase performance by cellist Isis M, featuring guitarists Alex Pascoe and Adam Hoult. I went to the second show, which also happened to be during the Street Night Art event.

 The concert began with a demonstration of Alex's impressive vocals and songwriting, backed by Adam, and supported by Isis on the cello.

The stage was then left to Isis, as she played several of her own compositions to a backdrop of vintage videos of the sea, as well as a few videos produced by local artists. Although there were quite a few technical hiccups and other lapses, it was a good performance overall, and an interesting concept.

Outside and down the road, about half of street 4B had been taken over by a new street festival organized by ALL Quoz twixt the warehouses.

The artification was, however, to be thoroughly temporary; no warehouse walls were made available for graffiti. Instead, long boards were set up on stands for artists to work on.

Music and/or dance was constantly on somewhere or the other, with performers taking turns with a variety of genres across three stages.

Many activities were available for visitor participation, including bus painting, a street painting studio, a conversation chair, and others. Numerous artists also lined the street with their work, available for bidding or purchase.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

DUMM launches 90 Degrees North at Story Rooftop Lounge

Knowledge Village does not have very many entertainment options, but Dubai Underground Music Movement (DUMM) is looking to start changing that by launching a weekly Wednesday house music night at Story Rooftop Lounge on the top floor of Holiday Inn Express DKV --- incidentally, a short walk from my place.

The venue has undergone a major makeover from its days as the restaurant known as Vista -- itself a recommended destination. I had, in fact, dined there about a year ago. Arriving a bit before sunset got me a nice view of the last rays, as well as a happy hour rate. The food menu is small, and purportedly Peruvian; to my great joy, they did have piquillo peppers, although I wish they were stuffed with the cheese, and not buried under it.

The view around is lovely; you can see the Cordoba residences, DKV, the sea, and the buildings of The Palm. It gets even better at night. I also liked the results of the aforementioned interior decoration makeover, which gives it a colorful, boho look inside. They seemed to have some difficulties with the outdoor speakers; I hope those get fixed soon, because the music was good, and the terrace would be an even better place to enjoy it.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Understanding Ethics talk with NYUAD

Part of a broader workshop series, NYUAD's Matthew Silverstein delivered a public talk on the subject of ethics, which has been one of my topics of interest since my college days with the philosophy club. The talk was somewhat brief: an example-laden primer on ethical questions, descriptions of four schools of meta-ethics, and an introduction of Dr Silverstein's project to develop a "constructivism sans relativism" theory of meta-ethics; I was able to pick out from the consequently-longer Q&A that it was based on a rational model of humans, and included a Kantian angle.

DIGITAL trance night launch at Mansion

Bravely scheduling a full-on EDM-o-rama on a school night, Dubai's Audio Project and other collaborators launched a Saturday weekly trance party they call "DIGITAL" at the Mansion club in Melia Hotel.

Despite the Saturday night timing, quite a few trance fans showed up and stayed till late. Probably because DJs Usef Nader and Barrie Birse kept up a strong momentum through the night with seamless, high-energy music, thanks to which I too stayed longer than I originally intended. A really pretty elevated DJ platform with front and rear visual effect screens helps one forget the rebar Borg cube behind the dance floor. Good all-trance music with a mostly trance-friendly ambiance is rare here, so this one is a raver's reason to rejoice.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Peace in an Open Space sound art at DUCTAC

Peace in an Open Space, the latest short exhibition at DUCTAC's Gallery of Light, features a mixture of classic and contemporary sound art. The former includes Leopoldo Perez's reconstruction of Arseny Avraamov's revolution-era piece Symphony of Factory Sirens, as well as a very interesting audio documentary about its background and execution (both available on the exhibition's tumblr through the tablet provided by the gallery). There's also a player for Halim El-Dabh's mid 20th century haunting electronic music piece, The Expression of Za’ar. Worth checking out if you're into sound art.

Irish play Dancing at Lughnasa at DUCTAC

I had myself a little Irish theatre experience over the weekend with Dancing at Lughnasa, the debut production of a group that calls itself "Danu". The play itself, however, has a long history, and was even made into a feature film. About two hours in length, it was staged in one of the better-done sets I've seen at DUCTAC's Kilachand.

Set in inter-bellum coastal Ireland, in a small town, it centers on the relationships of and among five female characters, each written as a different archetype. Conflict between between social norms and personal fulfillment is one of the primary themes, along with insecurity and independence. The cast playing them do a good overall job of bringing to life women who are both strong and vulnerable. I thought Dererca Lynch and Aileen Kelly were particularly outstanding as Christina and Maggie Mundy, respectively.

Among the male characters, my favorite was Father Jack, and not just for the creative writing. Hats off to Paul McMahon for a great performance.

The Market of Everything at The Archive

Many moons after Traffic ground to a halt, The Market of Everything resurfaced for an afternoon at The Archive with some major changes: an 8-hour-long outdoor event in place of a casual week-long indoor market, (consequently) more manned tables, and fewer clothes (on the racks, that is). There seemed to be noticeably fewer secondary market tables too. The weather was good, though, and I did find a few nifty gift-worthy items. And home-bakes --- yum!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Lee Blessing's A Walk in the Woods at DUCTAC

The Indian adaptation of Lee Blessing's A Walk in the Woods returned to Dubai barely nine months after its last appearance in the city, and once again, for a single show night.

Leaving aside the half hour of technical difficulties delaying showtime, and the really annoying prolonged spiel before and after, the play itself was a perfect theatrical experience. Set in the context of contemporary Indo-Pakistani image games instead of the original Soviet-American Cold War, it follows the development of the "frenemy" relationship between two peace negotiators of different ages, cultures and career positions.

Sole cast members Naseeruddin Shah and Rajit Kapur have an excellent onstage chemistry and comedic timing, and play the endearing quirks of both characters to perfection. The execution of the play, directed by actor Ratna Pathak-Shah in her directorial debut, makes for a great study in body language and voice characterization. If the original version of the play were staged here here with as good a cast and crew, I would definitely attend.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Bringing the heat to a winter potluck

We've been having a bit of a chilly spell here in Dubai lately, so I invited a few friends over to help warm things up with a potluck lunch (good thing for ambiance that my Christmas decorations were still up).

Erik brought an addictive homemade olive dip, while Mr & Mrs Sacks brought an experimental coconut water mojito mix, and assembled a creative platter of assorted fresh, dry, sweet and salty hors d'oeuvres.

Gokhan's pan-fried cauliflower with yoghurt and rye bread served as our appetizing appetizer, enhanced by Rosine's extra-tangy family-farmed sumac.

Rosine herself brought a delicious onion thin-crust pie, with a side of fresh greens.

I have waited too long to taste Phil's chili, and I was not disappointed when he volunteered a white chicken chili -- not the kind I am used to, but tasty all the same, with a peppery heat that fit right into the theme.

My own contribution was something I thought of doing for my Russian theme meal a few months ago, but decided against in favor of the more uniquely Russian shchi. I started the borscht by browning about 700g of beef, then boiling it with 10 cups of water for about half an hour, while I prepared the vegetables: 4 quartered beets, 1 shredded small head of cabbage, 1 quartered large onion, and a minced bunch of dill. Along with a few bay leaves, 100ml of chicken consomme mix, and about 400g of tomato sauce, I added these to the pot of meat and let them all simmer for about 2 hours.

About an hour before serving, I added 3 diced large carrots and 2 cups of soaked rice, along with the juice of two lemons. I let this simmer for the remaining hour, and served it with Russian sour cream and minced dill to garnish. The savory sweetness of this dish complemented the chili well, and I will not mind the leftovers at all.

Last, but not least, Zeina and Jesper brought a most divine bread pudding for dessert, topped with chocolate chips and served with orange whipped cream. Second helpings were too hard to resist.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Freshly-baked pumpkin pie, and home concert in Dubai

I finally got around to hosting an event for our Home Concerts meetup, and what a party it was! My apartment was filled with nearly twice as many people as I have ever hosted at the same time, who I was able to accommodate only through creative furniture-moving. We had a bunch of guitarists, a couple of keyboard/piano players, and a conversation-stopping cellist (who, by the way, will be among the local musicians playing at The Courtyard Playhouse during the 4B street arts night later this month). And, of course, many fellow listeners to chip in, chime in and applaud the talent and guts of those who played and/or sang in my makeshift Xmas-light-delineated stage corner.

To sweeten the deal, I baked a belated seasonal treat: pumpkin pie. A very simple one too. I prepared a quick crust by mixing 240g cooled melted butter with two tablespoons each of vegetable oil and sugar and a half teaspoon of salt, then folding in 340g flour to make the dough.

After pressing the dough evenly into the baking tin (I used a large tart tin; the recipe quantities should be halved if using a regular pie tin) and chilling it for half an hour, I poured in the filling, which was comprised of a mixture of 850g canned pumpkin purée, 850g canned sweetened condensed milk, 4 eggs, 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon, half a teaspoon of ground cloves, and a teaspoon each of ground nutmeg and salt.

Baking it at 180C for about an hour, I let it cool before serving. Unfortunately, the whipped cream slipped my mind, though, yes, I would strongly recommend having it on hand. The pie was summarily annihilated nonetheless, and it was a pleasure seeing everyone enjoy it.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Improv musician Michael Rexen at The Fridge Fringe

Although The Fridge pulled together this Michael Rexen concert at somewhat short notice, the early January lull ensured that my evening was open (after some reorganizing). Rexen has actually performed at The Fridge before, but this concert was a solo this time. He layered together a series of ethereal and anti-formulaic improvised compositions, using mostly a loop pedal and a Yamaha GL1 with whatever he picked up on an analog radio, along with his rather pleasant and versatile singing voice. Appearing with a casual thobe and a beanie, he also occasionally expounded on his philosophy of music. And notably, he composes his music using drawings instead of written notes.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Palm Monorail trip

(clockwise from top left) View of Media City; Burj Al Arab across the bridges; Burj Al Arab across the fronds; Final (and only) stop at Atlantis Aquaventure

It was the Sandance NYE hullabaloo that eventually got me to execute my long-delayed plan to try out the Palm Monorail.

Sea of villas (L) and site of planned mall (R)

It's easy to miss the exit from Sufouh Road that leads to the gateway terminal; fortunately, Google Maps helped me out. The Monorail has just one stop at the moment, but the view and the experience are still worth the AED 25 round trip fare. And there's plenty of parking at the gateway terminal. Lots of tourists too; in fact, I think I was the only non-tourist there.

View of the Dubai Marina

I don't think the Trump Tower and Palm Mall -- especially the former --  are going to be make an appearance in the very near future, and it will also take a while before the tram-metro-monorail link is completed. Until then, it's a good vista vantage, and a quick way to travel to Atlantis from the mainland, especially when facing NYE traffic on a record-breaking fireworks night. Too bad it was closed then.