Some days, I’m pretty glad I’ve ended up living this slightly strange life. In October, at quite short notice, I was offered a week of working in Dubai, running a training course. In my previous working life, being out delivering for 5 days in a row would have been pretty much impossible for me, as I was juggling my own client work, project management and team management amongst other things. But these days, I am a free agent – and with nothing specific planned for the month, I thought, sure, why not. Definitely helping me with my planning not to plan!
So I headed to Dubai, managing to work things out nicely so that I did some work in Bangkok on the way, and managed to see a friend for the day, combining work and play. I even managed to fly with two airlines I have Frequent Flyer cards with, Bangkok Air and Emirates (both recommended should you be interested!).
Bangkok – work
In Bangkok I was only working for a day, although by coincidence, it was the same type of work as I was going to be doing in Dubai, supporting a training course. People keep asking me what I actually do, especially out here in Thailand where most Westerners work as teachers (English or Yoga!), but I have to say, they usually look a bit blank when I tell them. I do a wide variety of consulting as a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, if this helps… This particular piece of work was training people to be accredited to use psychometric tools like ability and personality questionnaires. Yep, I mess with people’s heads, and even teach others to mess with people’s heads – and get paid for it. Ahem.
I’ve loved this year of working in Singapore, Thailand, from home, and now Dubai, and the experience of working with different cultures. It’s very different from being on holiday, or travelling, when I actually work with locals. In Thailand, people are somewhat relaxed about time and therefore coming back from breaks, but they are very respectful to you as a trainer. For example, as I was only supporting on this course, I was slipping away a little early, but when our main client realized this, she looked stricken, and asked if I could stay for a group photo. The main trainer and I got to sit in the middle of the group on throne-like chairs! We were both quite embarrassed… The other very unusual aspect of this course was the dining arrangements, which due to the extreme seniority of the clients we were training, was a three-course meal served in the office itself. Not something I’ve had before…
Bangkok – play
By great coincidence, a friend was staying in Bangkok for a few days around this time, and he and I were able to spend a day hanging out. It was strange for me, meeting a UK-based friend in Bangkok. Easier perhaps because he knows the city probably better than me as he has visited many times, and so, for the first time in many months, someone else was in charge of my itinerary. Despite my controlling nature, when I trust someone, I am very happy to hand over the reins, so this was a very relaxing day for me, following along and doing as I was told (rare indeed!). It’s quite rainy in Bangkok at the moment, so we hit a lot of the big malls, and just mooched, chatted, ate interesting food and drank coffee, and people-watched. In the evening, after taking in a traditional ‘tearoom’ in China town, we had supper in a jazz bar, which was fantastic – the trio were really tight, and created a great atmosphere despite it being a quiet night in the bar. It was a great end to a really enjoyable day.
Dubai – work
The next day it was off to Dubai, where I had a much more punishing schedule, running a five-day training course. And Dubai is three hours behind, so getting up at 6am to ensure everything was ready and prepped felt like 3am to me…I spent the week quite tired… Happily, I was staying in the same place I was running the training course, the Radisson Royal Hotel, which was very convenient, but did mean I didn’t leave my hotel that often. Staying on the 36th floor, unusually, didn’t faze me, and I had great views of the city. My bathroom in particular had stunning views (and tinted glass in case you were wondering!)
My training room was also of a better quality than most. On the 42nd floor, spacious and airy, with a great view. But even better was the view from our coffee area, which had two glass walls on one corner of the 42nd floor. The sun seems of a different quality from that of the sun in Thailand. The Dubai sun is very strong, and brings a strange and harsh beauty to the surrounding land. You will see from the photo above, and then the photo at the bottom of this post how different the views were from different sides of the building – out to one direction, a more traditional Dubai, with low houses and dusty roads, and to another, tall silvery buildings and landscaped grounds.
My delegates were really friendly, and very varied culturally. Apparently, in the United Arab Emirates only about 13% of the population are Emirati. So a lot of expats. And indeed, my course didn’t actually have any Emiratis on it, but did include an Indian, an Egyptian, a Moroccan, 2 Brits and 2 Saudi Arabians. If I’d thought that the Thais were relaxed about coming back from break times, they had nothing on this group. In fact, two of my delegates didn’t actually come to a couple of the sessions – which made some of the logistics and group work a bit challenging! Plus, there are two exams on the course, so there was a fair bit of cramming in there to ensure everyone actually passed… Overall it was an exhausting but good fun course, improved even further by great service from the staff and the amazing and delicious food at the hotel. Yes, I am easily pleased. I actually took a photo of the dessert buffet, as it was not only delicious but also very beautiful!
Dubai – play
Despite being there for 6 nights, I only went out for three of them. I did eat in the very nice Indian restaurant in the hotel one night, and had room service and watched a film on another night, so I felt I took advantage of the facilities – oh, and I sat by the pool one evening – I didn’t actually swim, but I enjoyed the view! Two of the nights out were spent in various malls, one of which I was kindly taken round by one of my delegates. This had the ‘famous’ dancing fountains outside – not exactly the Bellagio but pretty spectacular nonetheless! Dubai can sometimes feel like a grown-up Disneyland as everything is artificial, and not only that, it’s very new – most of the buildings have only sprung up in the last 10 or so years. Not really going outside can also add to this feeling of unreality – the temperature was in the 40s whilst I was there, so you mostly move from air conditioned hotel, to air conditioned car, to air conditioned mall. I didn’t actually buy anything in the malls – it’s the 22nd most expensive city to live in the world, and despite me being on expenses for many things, it still felt quite painful to part with so much money having come directly from Thailand! Retail and tourism are huge industries here however. I also managed a night out with my ex-colleagues in the office out there, catching up on the industry news and what’s happening in my old company. That was somewhat dislocating, but a fun night. Apart from the cigarette smoke in the bar!
Creating a more balanced life
I had a great couple of weeks doing these two work engagements, and really felt I managed to balance the work and play aspects in a way I haven’t managed in the past, ensuring client satisfaction as previously, but also keeping myself sane, centred and enjoying my trips away. And I’ve come back to Chiang Mai with nothing too heavy on the horizon. Well, apart from November’s intensive Thai language course I have planned….I really do have trouble doing nothing…