Postcards from Abu Dhabi with some tips from Ask Ali

Saying Marhaba (Hello) or As salamu alyakum is a way to greet local people here, so please allow me to greet you with a Marhaba!

This is the first post from our adventures in Middle East, starting from United Arab Emirates (UAE) where we arrived in the scorching and highly humid summer 2014.

Travel Journal to Abu Dhabi UAE by ServicefromHeart Corniche
Our first summer in Abu Dhabi: admiring 123-m flagpole on Marina Island across from Marina Mall. 
Travel Journal to Abu Dhabi UAE by ServicefromHeart Grand Millennium Al Wahda Hotel
A bird view of Abu Dhabi City from Grand Millennium Al Wahda Hotel, where we lived happily for almost 4% of our days this year.


Travel Journal to Abu Dhabi UAE by ServicefromHeart Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque where we learned from a funny tour guide who is also a civil engineer.
Travel Journal to Abu Dhabi UAE by ServicefromHeart Madinat Zayed
Madinat Zayed


Travel Journal to Abu Dhabi UAE by ServicefromHeart Abu Dhabi Mall
Abu Dhabi Mall


Travel Journal to Abu Dhabi UAE by ServicefromHeart Marina Mall
Marina Mall has a Carrefour.


Travel Journal to Abu Dhabi UAE by ServicefromHeart Khalidiyah Mall
Khalidiyah Mall where I attended a worship in a cinema for the first time of my life.


Travel Journal to Abu Dhabi UAE by ServicefromHeart Reem Island Sun Sky sea Gate Towers
A bird view of Reem Island, where we live in 2014.
Travel Journal to Abu Dhabi UAE by ServicefromHeart Gate Towers like Marina Bay Sands
The Gate Towers reminds us on Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.


Travel Journal to Abu Dhabi UAE by ServicefromHeart Gate Towers like Marina Bay Sands
Another view of the Gate Towers and their reflections on the Arc Towers.


Travel Journal to Abu Dhabi UAE by ServicefromHeart Reem Island
Dramatic reflection of sunrise as viewed in Reem Island is always inspiring. 


Travel Journal to Abu Dhabi UAE by ServicefromHeart Reem Island
Night view of Reem Island.

Travel Journal to Abu Dhabi UAE by ServicefromHeart public bus
Public buses e.g. bus 54 of Abu Dhabi cost only 2 dirhams / passenger.

Travel Journal to Abu Dhabi UAE by ServicefromHeart St Joseph's Cathedral Catholics
St Joseph’s Cathedral of Abu Dhabi.

Hand shakes
Remember to shake firmly. If you are a man, it is impolite to offer your hand to a local woman. If a local woman offers her hand, it is then OK to reciprocate. Some Arab men will shake non-local women’s hands, some will not (it is ok too)!

Learn some Arabic words. Based on my experience living in Abu Dhabi, one can survive in Abu Dhabi without knowing Arabic, but it is always wonderful to learn some Arabic words.
Yes : Na’am / Aywah
No : Laa
Bon appetit : Bel Aaafiya
My name is : Ana esmi
Congratulation : Mabrook
Thank you : Shukran
Sorry : Asif / Asifa

Respect – a universal value – for each other’s differences requires open-mindedness, tolerance, adaptability and obedience. Although I have not lived long enough to give wise advice, I have found that respecting yourself and other people (regardless of their social, economic, education status) is among the best policies. Ask Ali also highlights that it is “illegal to defame any member of the ruling families of any of the emirates.”

Be thoughtful. “Even if you must compromise, don’t embarrass your Arab colleagues in public.”
Depending on the context, the opposites may be right.
In Arabic culture, it is impolite not to answer a phone call during meetings.
In Western culture, it is impolite to answer a phone call during meetings.
What if you are in a meeting with both Arabic and Western colleagues?
I remember a meeting that I attended in my first week working in Abu Dhabi. Half-way through the meeting, a phone rang. The most important person (who was originally from USA) said, “I’m glad it’s not mine.”

Arab people may raise their voices when they speak, not out of anger, but to emphasize a point.

Trust Arab people like to do business with those they trust (those whom they know or wit whom they have friends in common). Arab people don’t like to do business over the phone or without initially meeting you.

Local values that I hope to learn more:
generosity / ikramiya
modesty / humility


Social media that I follow: : a virtual majlis of events, news, street talk about Emirati individuals and society. : about successful entrepreneurial Emiratis.
The National : an English newspaper of UAE


Things that I add to the bucket list:

    1. visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE and the eighth largest mosque in the world. It also has a Center library. Gently step on the wool carpet (the most comfortable one I have ever had the blessing to walk on) in the main prayer hall. Admire the Swarovski crystals-decorated chandeliers.
    2. learn Arabic calligraphy as a way of learning Arabic culture.
    3. enjoy a cup of coffee sprinkled with gold leaves @ Emirates Palace with classic luxurious stairwell.
    4. attend exhibitions (and if possible, weddings) @ Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC).
    5. desert safari / dune bashing @ Liwa Oasis ~ 2 hours drive from Abu Dhabi. Imagine a roller-coaster ride over sand dunes accompanied by sunset.
    6. ride a camel.

First and finally, please remember the followings:

  1. Stand up when someone approaches you to say hello.
  2. Use your right hand to pick things up or accept things.
  3. Reshuffle your position (at an elevator, a doorway) to place an important person / guest to your right.
  4. Dress modestly.
  5. Remove your shoes before entering your host’s home.
  6. Refer the gulf as Arabian Gulf (not Persian gulf!)
  7. Send a Ramadan Kareem (Blessed Ramadan) card at the beginning of the Ramadan month or an Eid Mubarak (Happy Mubarak) at the end of Ramadan, to your Muslim friends.
  8. Wait until after Ramadan to approach Muslim businessmen with new ideas.
  9. Offer local friends food – a symbol of goodwill and friendship, especially home-cooked food if you know how to cook. Remember to exclude pork or alcohol (even in chocolates)!
  10. Do not touch anyone of the opposite sex. No gentle pat.
  11. Do not schedule any meeting / gathering / sport event on Fridays, at least not until after 4 pm because, to respect people’s need of praying.
  12. Do not leave your host’s home before coffee and Arabic sweets are served (or else they may feel that they have not completed their hospitality duties; hospitality is an important value here, rooted in the harsh desert conditions).
  13. Do not point your soles / the bottom of your fee towards anyone, especially someone’s face.
  14. Do not say Mashallah when praising something beautiful to an Arab.
  15. Do not say swear words.
  16. Do not post sexually suggesting, politically / religiously controversial material.
  17. Do not take photographs of a local person (especially women and families) without asking for a permission.
  18. Do not take photographs of Muslims praying.
  19. Do not take photographs of military sites, the royal family’s palaces, government buildings (e.g. airports, police headquarters).
  20. Do not eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum in public during Ramadan.
  21. Women traveling alone in taxi should sit in the back and not make conversation with the cabbies, as drivers may misinterpret friendliness.

With love,
Last updated 20141026


7 things to do at Mount Alvernia Hospital while waiting for patients

Recently, I accompanied a good friend for a day surgery at Mt. Alvernia Hospital, Singapore. The nurses are polite. A nurse manager (in red maroon uniform) even addressed me with my name when she told me what to expect (e.g. approximate time when I should be back after the operation is done). I am impressed. For professionals who have to attend to high number of customers daily, I greatly appreciate the extra mile of efforts.

After my friend went into the operation theatre, I turned the volume of my mobile phone to maximum, in case the medical staff needs to contact me.

So, what can we do while waiting at hospital?

1. Be patient-centric

Update concerned family members, relatives, friends of patient.

Recall what the nurses, doctors, administrative staff mentioned. Jot them down so we can remind the patient later on.

2. Enjoy food

I had a brunch of ginger soy milk (SGD $2) and salmon sushi with wasabi (SGD $4). Before that, the sushi stall staff, a middle age woman (whom is called auntie in Singapore – though we have no biological relationships) pro-actively promoted her products. That’s why I decided to support her and I was satisfied!

sushi Mt Alvernia Hospital Singapore ServicefromHeart

For lunch, I packed a Subway meal, with extra olives please. While munching my meatball marinara sandwich, I thought of a dinner of udon and a grocery list for it.

3. Visit the beautiful chapel

chapel Mt Alvernia hospital Singapore ServicefromHeart

The stained glasses of predominantly blue tone at the backdrop of the altar, with flashes of moving cars outside, look like a serene ceiling-height aquarium.

I also prayed hard. The background music reminded me on quiet moments in Catholic churches in Europe.

4. Admire newborns

Around noon time, there are few very lovely newborns spotted at the lobby, presumably their parents are waiting for transports to bring them home for the first time! New lives are always inspiring, they are so fragile yet full of potential, with many wonderful years lie ahead.

5. Shop or window-shop at pharmacy and gift shops

We love shopping, especially buying gifts for our loved ones and friends. The pharmacy staff was friendly, answering my inquiry politely. We cannot use the Ladies card to shop for formula milk powder, so I ended up window-shopping.

6. Read — an alternative of playing mobile phones or tablets

At liaison office, I browsed a Mother&Baby magazine (January 2014) and collected a cooler bag with a redemption coupon that comes with my Alvernia’s Ladies card. It was on my to-do-yet-non-urgent list for ~ a year. Done. Happy!

Mt Alvernia hospital Singapore ServicefromHeart

I also finished reading a TimeOut book that I packed with me in the morning.

7. Learn a little history

Stories connect minds and souls. Learning the story of Mt Alvernia Hospital makes me think of extraordinary nuns worldwide who have served from their deepest hearts. While Mother Teresa represents them as a global icon of compassion, agape and love, there have been many, if not countless, sisters who have made significant contributions in the betterment of our lives, directly or indirectly.

In 1949, three intrepid young Catholic nuns of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood (FMDM): Sr Mary Angela McBrien, Sr Mary Camillus Walsh, Sr Mary Baptista Hennessy traveled all the way from Surrey, England* to tropical Singapore.  Professionally trained in healthcare, these sisters started to care for tuberculosis patients at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and lepers at “The Leper Camp” in Woodbridge.

Besides caring patients directly as nurses and caregivers, the Sisters also taught and trained nurses. I really love their ideas and actions to empower and delegate others, because everyone has only limited 24 hours but there are many people to serve.

The Sisters have a vision that every patient would be offered comfort and solace at a retreat where gospel values would pertain and persons would matter for who they are, not for what they have. In 1950s, they started door-to-door appeals for donations to build Mt Alvernia Hospital. Finally, with generosity and enthusiasm from all walks of life, the hospital started to admit patients in 1961.

The first baby born at Mt Alvernia Hospital was named Francis Chan, after the hospital’s patron saint, St Francis of Assisi, who also greatly loves animals and environment. This little story reminds me on Ren’s name which has been inspired by St Luke, patron saint of artists, physicians and students.

Hope this little list makes your hospital wait interesting and less worrying, and please share with me other ideas of yours. I love to hear from you!

With love,

* How I miss my Irish Godmother who is living in England! Hope you are doing well. This post is also dedicated to you ♥