Oh right, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

So I went to the VIP Preview exhibition, Seeing Through Light: Selections from the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Collection, a couple weeks ago. It was an exhibition of works on loan from other Guggenheim outposts as well as 19 pieces acquired for the permanent collection of the under construction Abu Dhabi version. I basically remember two things about the show – the long drive from Dubai, and Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room (below). This was the piece that caused all the long lines when a version was presented at David Zwirner Gallery in NYC in 2013.

Although I remember next to nothing of the other works on view (aside from the requisite Dan Flavin piece), Infinity Mirrored Room is definitely worth experiencing if you happen to be in the vicinity of Saadiyat Island. The only potential drawback is if you’re hoping for a moment of pause, wonder and contemplation, you might not get it. When we were there the security guards were yelling at people to keep on moving. Likely a result of it being opening night. My recommendation? Ignore them and soak it it.



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Eating North Korea


Okryugwan – Dubai Chapter

As I wind down this most recent visit to Dubai I’ve been really trying to get into the spirit of things, namely by consuming as much as possible. In my regular down-to-earth Canadian life I’m ethically opposed to over-consumption. But as they say, “when in Rome”. As a result, this has been a trip of reserved excess. Reserved because I’m not on vacation and therefore cannot simply surrender to the siren’s song of consumerism.  Reserved also because my consumption is, I like to think, an aesthetic one, which is to say it’s a slightly elevated experience than the all you can eat breakfast buffet or the tour bus that shuttles the British seniors between the hotel, Jumeira Beach, and Dubai Mall.

Yes, the only defense against the mundane is to put on an air of self-importance. This too I learned over the weeks, which seems like years, in Dubai. What’s the point of all this you might ask? Well, the point is precisely this: North Korea has a restaurant called Okryugwan which is apparently a global chain and the have a branch in Dubai and this is what Wikipedia said of it:

“Okryugwan has various branches throughout China, which help the North Korean government to earn badly needed foreign exchange. Okryugwan is thus well-known even in South Korea. Each restaurant is reportedly required to remit US$100,000 to US$300,000 to Pyongyang per year, depending on local conditions.”

The tour buses are sadly not stopping here. But as responsible global citizens and sympathetic to the Great Leader’s need for foreign exchange (who doesn’t want to diversify their cash flow?) – and more importantly, people curious as hell about a North Korean chain restaurant, we simply had to give it a go. We proclaimed yesterday as Great Leader Appreciation Day to make it more festive. Strangely enough, I was the only person out of our party of 5 who had any real experience with Korean cuisine (shout outs to my peeps at Paldo Gangsan Toronto!). As a result, I think I was the only one who realized that North Korean cuisine is pretty much what my friends and I back home like to call, “Korean food”. We ordered a variety of dishes and as we ate the reality of the situation in North Korea was not lost on us. The thought that kept creeping into my head was, “This has gotta be soft power gone wrong.”

The Experience

They ask your nationality when you make a reservation. Not sure what the wrong answer is, but so far I can confirm Norwegian and Canadian are ok. Overall though the ladies that worked there were lovely and hospitable. It was a strange experience though because everything is perfectly orchestrated, from the woman dressed in traditional costume guarding the door, to the impeccable manners of the wait staff, to how they insist on walking you to the bathroom. The experience is diminished by reports that potential defectors and asylum seekers working at the restaurant risk punishment on their families back home.

They claim most of the food is imported from North Korea…which I sincerely hope is not the case (how about feeding your people first?). Below are images of what we ate. Pretty basic stuff if you know Korean food.

Cabbage Kim Chi

Cabbage Kim Chi

Marinated Raw Beef

Marinated Raw Beef

Mixed Mushrooms

Mixed Mushrooms


Braised Beef

Ox tail soup

Ox tail soup


Sideways view of cold noodles

Sideways view of cold noodles


What happened after the meal was totally unexpected…cue karaoke night. Yes, we were the only ones in the restaurant and we ended up having special juice singing terrible renditions of songs ranging from the Backstreet Boys to yours truly belting out Eminem’s Stan to the applause of our sweet and very hospitable hostesses. Internal ethical considerations aside I would highly recommend going to Okryugwan. It’s definitely an experience to remember.

First song of the night.

First song of the night.

Strangely fun.

Strangely fun.


For more about Okryugwan see:

Dubai the Weird

Dubai Comp

Well, it’s been a month since my last post. I had intended to write regularly while I was in Dubai having arrived on August 12th from Bombay, but work, sun and the searing heat got the better of me.

I was on assignment in the UAE for about 3 weeks where my days consisted of attending site visits, the odd client meetings, doing research and putzing around my hotel room trying to resist the urge to just go for a swim. Eventually, time lost all sense of proportion, measured largely by the hours between room service meals. There would be days when the only conversations I’d had was with the Filipino, Indian or Pakistani staff that make up the bulk of the service industry. Space too starts to feel out of joint – understood as the distance between the chair and the bed, or the bed and the pool, or the air-conditioned hotel entrance to the similarly air-conditioned Al Fahidi Metro station.

I’d heard a lot about Dubai from friends who had visited. More often than not the reviews were unflattering. Those who love Dubai often speak of the luxurious standard of living and the high level of service that expats can expect. Those who dislike Dubai decry above all the highly visible social stratification and inequities that exists side by side with the glitz and glam of the world’s tallest building and the most insane shopping malls I’ve ever seen.

The story of the UAE, a country so young yet progressing at such a blinding pace, is a bit of a marvel. The speed of development fueled in large part by oil revenues has resulted in a place that is, simply put, weird.

4/5ths of the population are foreigners. It’s a Muslim country, but with a strangely permissive feel. For some it shines with the brightness of possibilities. For others it’s nothing more or less than the realities of foot on pavement, sweat on brow and the physical labour spent to realize someone else’s dream. The extreme wealth in contrast with poverty served with a smile left me feeling empty. As impressive as the views are from the Burj Khalifa, what I’ll remember most is the conversations I had with some of the workers I met. I’ll remember their questions about Canada and whether things are better here.

There were moments when, under the heat of the Arabian sun, sitting in my crappy rental car, I felt completely at ease with my dislocation because the place just doesn’t feel real. For most, it’s just a place of transition, a pit stop on the way to something else. Dubai is like a mirage and even now, as I write this back home in Toronto, my experiences of the emirate seem a distant memory. In a few more days it will be as if the trip never happened. It will feel like Dubai doesn’t exist.

Bombay Round-up

Basically over my jet-lag just in time to prepare for the trip to Dubai. Here’s what happened in the last couple days:

Chennai Express opened today! Featuring SRK and Deepika Padukone. Look out Salmon Khan! SRK has you in his sights! I actually have no idea what this movie is about, but all my friends here seem disinterested. Speculation about SRK and Salmon Khan’s competition is not my own, I just stole that from the interwebs.


I had lunch in a food court where I had to buy a pre-paid debit card and then get a refund on my balance. Operationally inefficient if you ask me. I had a tandoori chicken kebab sampler. It was ok.


I was dazzled by the lights of Churchgate Station. Things were bustling as people prepared for the Eid holiday.



I had masala chai on the street with some friends. Apparently this stand is where they typically go and it’s 5 INR for a cup. Interestingly, this time he charged 6 INR. I suspect the extra rupee was a foreigner surcharge because I was there…just kidding! We had 2 cups and it was pretty tasty. The rupee surcharge was just to cover overhead costs which have sky rocketed.


Finally, here’s a shot outside of Indian Village Restaurant. It’s a resto in South Bombay that is themed around an…Indian Village. The parrots are in reference to Indian fortune tellers. Apparently, if you were to actually see a fortune teller there would be a parrot that would come out of its cage and pick up a piece of paper and your fortune would be told within. I think that pretty much qualifies for the most adorable fortune ever. Though there’s also a fortune telling lady involved — details of her potentially grisly appearance remain unknown so the experience could yet prove terrifying.




Jet-lag Poetry #2

Day #2: Still jet-lagged and the crows are at it again. After a full day of meetings I went by the sea outside the office to get some air and feel the breeze as the monsoon humidity hung in the air. Looking across the bay at the slums I took some pictures. Looking down at the rocks I realized there was a dude taking a dump. Looking at my phone I realized he is in my photos.

Thus was inspired Jet-lag Poem #2: Taking pictures of Arabian Sea. Man takin’ a shit on the beach.


Arabian Sea BM


Jetlagged Musing #1

My friend and ex-professor Yoke-Sum commented on my FB page that I am poetic when I’m jetlagged because of this status update: 5am. Wide awake. A murder of crows outside the window squawking like it’s doomsday.

Update: It’s now 5:40am and the crows outside the window continue to keep me company.

Update 2: I’m watching an Australian program called Bondai Rescue on Nat Geo Adventure. I prefer the crows.

Update 3: This is what jetlag looks like from the hotel window at 5:54am.

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Bombay Horoscope

Jetlagged after travelling for over 20 hours and back in Bombay. Savouring the travel weary haze and monsoon breeze in Colaba. Today is the first day of a 28-day working trip split between Bombay and Dubai. Here’s a promising horoscope that I read over the gross hotel breakfast this morning: