Being in the moment

Despite 4 hours walking around Ubud on the first day, and climbing all those steps (there were at least 300 of them!) on the second day, I managed to get up to go to my first yoga class at The Yoga Barn the next day (Monday, 19 Sep). This place was surrounded by rice fields, and the upper studio had the most stunning view and breeze. It really created the perfect atmosphere to practice yoga.

 I went to the ‘Intro to Beginner’s Yoga’ class with a Yogi named LJ. Nice bloke, but talked way too much for my taste- I couldn’t concentrate! I took a few yoga classes with Yogi George in Dubai months ago, and one thing I learned was to focus on the breathing because it helps with the meditation and balancing and stuff. Yea, none of that happened in this class. It was too many quick moves, and coupled with the talking, it was really hard for me to focus. I was all over the place- my balance was off, I couldn’t hold steady in any pose (except Child Pose…that one’s my favorite haha).

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Needless to say, the first 3 days in Ubud left my muscles very strained. So I popped into a recommended spa, that’s just up the alley from The Yoga Barn, for a massage (honestly I just wanted to shower after the class…the way I look at is that I’m paying to use the shower, and getting a massage for free). The great thing about the Balinese people is their service; they will do their best to accommodate you. 

If you’re used to Sensasia or Talise Spa in Dubai, then this place would be a shack compared to them. But whilst the facilities were very basic, it was one hell of a massage. I managed to walk all the way back to the shuttle bus after that (a 30-minute walk)!  At the end of the day, it’s the results that count, not all that other stuff; Sensasia and Talise Spa better shape up in that aspect!

Yesterday (Tuesday, 20 Sep), I went to my second yoga class. On my way, a procession of some sort just appeared on the street. Apparently this type of thing was very common in Ubud.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRtibjsYkcM?wmode=transparent]

Anyways, this class was called ‘Japanese Hatha’, with a different teacher, Balinese. She kept switching between languages when instructing us and she was quite strict. Balance was slightly improved, and she taught us how to do the Downward Dog pose properly. She was a tough teacher!

Today I decided to get up early and try to catch the ‘Slow Flow’ class. Teaching this class was a woman called Tanya, and her teaching method reminded me very much of Yogi George’s. She focused a lot on the breathing, followed by the poses, so I felt a big difference in my focus and balance. 

It’s really important to clear your head and try to just be in the moment. With the madness of living in a city like Dubai, it’s very hard to do that; I tend to either think about the future or dwell over the past whilst managing everything in between. Life can get so overwhelming sometimes, and I need to get better at letting go and  just appreciating the present. I hope these yoga classes will help me do that.
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Temples and Volcanoes

In my last post, I mentioned that on my first day in Ubud, I stopped in Dewa Sita and signed up for my first tour in Bali…

 

I don’t know how I got up for this tour with only 3 hours of sleep, but I did. My legs were already sore from all the walking I did the previous day– I’m not the fittest person (my contribution consists of a monthly donation to Fitness First, i.e. I pay and never go)- but I sucked it up and went along. How bad could it be, right?

The group was a total of 5 people- an old Canadian guy and his much younger wife from Taja-something…one of the countries from the old Soviet Union. I wonder how they met…), two girls from Germany who just graduated in Biology and were touring Asia with leftover college money, and myself. Our first stop was Goa Gajah, aka Elephant Cave Temple:

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Then we went to Gunung Kawi. One thing that Ubud is known for is the rice fields- they are everywhere- and this place was no exception.  In addition to it being a temple, it was surrounded by rice fields. It was an incredible sight! We stayed here for about an hour; exploring this place reminded me of the time I attempted the 1000 steps last year in Melbourne, or the trip to Petra, Jordan, in 2005. Except it was a lot harder. There were so many steps, and being the person that I am, I attempted to climb all the way to the top. And I did- hurrah!

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Then it was time to go back. Oh my God I felt like dying. I was on the last dozen or so steps back up and I just couldn’t take another step! I’ve sworn off stairs for at least a month now…

After Gunung Kawi, we headed to Tampaksiring to see yet another temple. It was really crowded with people going to pray and worship; this was tied to a cremation ceremony that apparently took place in the streets of Ubud yesterday at noon, when I was asleep due to exhaustion

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Then it was off to the coffee plantation in Tampaksiring to see where the coffee and cocoa beans grew in Bali (and some other fruits too), and learn about how they grind the coffee. Being a coffee lover and drinker, this was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me:

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We even had the chance to try different types of coffee and tea! Bali coffee is very mild and not so bitter- a good start for a ‘beginner’ in the world of coffee.The ginseng and ginger coffees were my favorite. I ended up buying some of the former to take home! There was Luwak coffee too, which is basically Civet (the animal in the last set of pics) poop and all kinds of fancy, but I wasn’t daring enough to try it:

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We stopped off for lunch at a restaurant that serves local food, and to also see the stunning Mount Batur. I was hoping this tour would literally take us to the mountain, but having the kind of view while eating lunch was still an experience words can’t describe:

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It was my first time to try Indonesian food, and taste some of the exotic fruits. Yummy!

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Our final stop was in Pujung to see more rice fileds and terraces. Absolutely stunning:

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There were also lots of stalls selling paintings, sarongs and all sorts of pretty things on the side of the road:

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It was a great trip over all, and for some reason I remembered Lara and Terence,and my friends who are currently in Peru on vacation too.

 

That concluded day two in Ubud! I had no idea how I was going to get up for my first yoga class the next day…stay tuned for the next post!

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Finding my bearings: where is the Yoga Barn?

I arrived in Ubud on 16 September at around midnight.  When it comes to accomodation in Ubud, or anywhere in Bali for that matter, there were loads of options- from bungalows to cottages, villas, 3-to-5 star hotels. Accomodation wasn’t something I was going to skimp on because I hate bugs, and I’m on vacation, and I want to be comfortable dammit! I booked a hotel for the first leg of the trip; I have to say it was a risky choice but a good one, given it was relatively new and had very few reviews out there.

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Whenever I arrive at a new place, I usually spend the first day walking around to get my bearings (read: getting lost because I can’t read a map and have no sense of direction). My venturing out on the streets of Ubud started at about 2pm the next day- after waking up for breakfast then going back to bed (the exhaustion of the previous day’s travels hadn’t worn off yet at that point)- with the main objective of finding The Yoga Barn, where I was planning to go for yoga classes during my stay. I read so much about it on trip advisor that I had to go and check it out.

Starting off on the main street, Jl Raya Ubud, I started walking and then made a turn down a street, and then a turn into some other street (yea I had no idea where I was going) that I later found out was called Dewi Sita and has some really cool shops. I found a stand that has all sorts of tours you can do, and after chatting to a Mr. Kiki (really, that’s his name) I opted for the group ‘Kintamani/Volcano Tour’ for the next day (Sunday, 18 Sep); there are private tours where you get your own driver for the whole day and they explain everything to you, but where’s the fun in that if you’re a solo traveler? I figured with a group tour I’d meet other tourists and talk to them and stuff. 

Anyways, I kept on walking, and looking at my map, and walking, and looking at my map again. The streets of Ubud are filled with motor bikes and small-sized cars and mini vans. There are no traffic lights, or lines indiciating a one-way or two-way street. There are pedestrian crossings, but they don’t count because motorists just ignore them. The pavements are uneven, so I really had to watch my step. There’s also offerings on every street corner, monument, pavement- everywhere. Balinese are really committed to their Hindu beliefs.

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I made another turn somewhere and ended up on a street called Hanoman. After walking a little further, I spotted a shop called ‘Namaste’, which I read about in my travel guidebook. I decided I could use a little time out of the sun and check out this ‘little gem’, as the book put it. The couple who own it have been living in Bali for over 40 years- the man was American (but hardly lived there; his parents were travelers) and the woman was born in Bali. The shop sold stones, pendenants, wands, and other pretty things all made by the woman. She went on to explain how each stone has an energy and special meaning whilst my mind wondered off to the wands and the Harry Potter world (Stupefy!). The woman was unbelievably calm…I’ve never met someone so serene. After asking for directions to The Yoga Barn (‘it’s just down the street’), they told me about a the Kafe where ‘everyone hangs out’ that’s ‘just up the street’. So I figured I’d find the Yoga Barn first, then go to Kafe for some much needed rest.

After about another half an hour of walking, I still couldn’t find it! I made a turn onto another street and asked a shop owner where it was; she told me I’d passed it already (WHERE?!?!) and I had to go back. She also gave me a more detailed map of the area to help. Balinese are just the nicest people!

It turns out that The Yoga Barn is down a tiny alley before this thai-cuisine restaurant, Siam Sally; you’d think they would write that on the website or someone would mention it on Trip Advisor. I made my way down the alley and finally signed up for 5 yoga classes, at The Yoga Barn, starting Monday (19 Sep). Phew!

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I still had some time before the hotel shuttle bus (silver mini-van, to be more accurate. All the hotels and tour guides had them! Suzuki and Toyota are doing very well here) arrived, so I walked back up Hanoman street to Kafe for a late lunch/early dinner and some reading. Then I walked all the way back to the main street to catch the Shuttle bus back to the hotel. By then it was 8pm, but it was really dark. The only lights on the street are from the shops that were open.

 

So that was day one in Ubud! In hindsight, I should’ve probably done the Kinamani tour later on…my legs were so sore…more on that in the next post!

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Getting to Bali

I can’t believe I’ve been in Bali for 4 days already! I haven’t done much, which is kind of the point really…

In my last post I mentioned that booking the flight and all that was a whole other story…

Getting a decent route from Dubai to Bali was a bit tricky. I checked Emirates, Malaysian airlines, Singapore airlines, and Qatar airways. Emirates flights were over 8000dhs, a total rip off in my opinion considering the ridiculous stopovers; flights to Melbourne didn’t cost that much! Sinagpore and Malaysian airlines were slightly cheapers, but like Emirates all of them had overnight stopovers, which meant I would lose a good couple of days out of my vacation. Yea, I wasn’t going to let that happen. Qatar airways had the more reasonable options with reasonable prices too, but I’m a Skywards member, so I really wanted to fly Emirates to get more miles and maintain my tier level. 
I decided to head over to Travelocity, Expedia, and Joob to check out what they had- maybe there’s a route I’d missed. Joob had an interesting flight route that didn’t show up anywhere else, and it was at a really good price too. The departure and arrival times were exactly what I was looking for, and the stop over was in Jakarta (which made perfect sense to me). I ran a check on Emirates for that same route, but it wasn’t there. So I decided to call Joob to double-check. The lady was very nice and helpful, but told me that the flight I’m looking at on their site isn’t showing up in their system. I decided not to take the risk and avoid booking it. Then I figured I’d go back to Emirates.com and try out the ‘multiple cities’ option and manually enter the stopovers. And sure enough, the route I saw on Joob was there! I called Emirates’ customer service to check if it’s considered a connecting flight or would I have to get out of the airport with my luggage and come back in again, or I’d go straight to the transfer desk; the first guy had no idea what I was talking about, but on the second try the guy that answered my call was very helpful and told me it was a connecting flight so there should be no issues.

And that’s how I got the route I wanted, with the price I wanted, on Emirates.

Fast forward to departure day….you read the post before I was about to jet off.

8 hours later- and probably the most pleasant flight I’ve ever had in my life (Indonesians are the nicest people! There were 2 old ladies, sisters, sitting next to me, telling me about their trip to Europe together visiting all their relatives. I hope my sisters and I can go on trips like that when we’re old. Oh, also, they too were surprised that I’m traveling to Bali alone…I don’t get it, am I missing something here?)- I landed in Jakarta. When I was booking my flight to Bali, I’d wondered why Dubai-Jakarta-Bali wasn’t one of the routes that automatically showed in the search results. Now I knew why. The airport was crazy busy- it took 2 hours of standing in line to get the visit visa (tip: make sure you’ve got exactly $25 on you with the forms filled out. Thank you Lonely Planet for that save!), and- surprise surprise- I then had to collect my luggage and go to the the domestic flights desk to check-in to the flight to Bali on Garuda Indonesia. I’m so glad I had 4 hours transit and packed light, or I would’ve missed the flight! Another thing I didn’t count on was all the people in the airport talking to me in their local language- they thought I was Indonesian! I had to keep explaining that I wasn’t, and they kept apologizing…

On the flight from Jakarta to Bali, I sat next to yet another nice old lady, who thought I was ‘brave’ to go to Bali on my own (yea, I still don’t get it). Straight forward flight of just under 2 hours. By the time I landed in Bali, it was past 10pm and I was exhausted. It took another hour’s drive to get to Ubud, where I was planning to spend most of my vacation. By the time I got to the hotel it was nearly midnight. 

Ubud was completely dark and quite; it really caught me by surprise…

In the next post, I’ll be writing about what I’ve been upto in the past few days, with pictures too! Right now, I have to get going to my yoga class. Later!
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Time out

So I’m writing this standing up waiting to board my flight to Bali. People I have old have first expressed shock that I’m going to this island, followed by pity that I’m going on my own. I don’t get it- what’s wrong with traveling solo? It’s not like I had much choice; and I’m not going to put off a much needed vacation because I have no one to go with.

Bali wasn’t on the cards at all- and no, I didn’t get ‘inspired’ by Eat Pray Love (I only got halfway through the India bit). Initially I was planning to go to Canadia to visit family, and make a trip to NYC and Montreal too, but no one was able to take enough time off so I decided not to spend 30 hours flying followed by a fortnight of doing pretty much nothing.

So I started looking up trips to China. I’ve always been interested in their history and culture- I even took up learning Mandarin for a year at one point (it’s so hard!). I was also thinking about Europe; I’ve always wanted to go and travel by train to all the different countries to see the sights. After meeting up with my very good friend and human travel guide, @calltheromans, and sharing these plans I was looking into, I left that evening dead set on going to Europe- he made it sound so exciting!

So I then went on to check out contiki trips to Europe. A friend of mine went on one a few years ago and had loads of fun, but advised that it more fun to go with someone on that trip. I also found the whole thing way over my budget (read: I’d be eating 2-minute noodles for all 3 meals for a very long time) and started thinking ‘do I really want to spend two weeks running around like a headless chicken, packing and unpacking every few days?’

I then remembered a friend of mine (@Siddhi_D) who went to this retreat for cleansing and meditation, and thought ‘hmmm, my life’s been a little crazy lately. I could use a really relaxing vacation like that’.
See, this year was the first time that my car’s registration was overdue by 2 months. It was also the first time I had Saliks of well over 1200dhs because I kept forgetting to top it up. It was the first time I postponed a dentist appointment by 8 months, and took my car to servicing 15000km later instead of the usual 5k. It’s never been so hectic before; so yea I definitely needed to get away and get it together.

I asked Siddhi where she went. She told me it was a retreat in Phuket, Thailand. So I started looking it up, along with similar searches on Emirates Holidays, Trip Advisor and Expedia. And that’s when Bali popped up. I decided to ask another friend of mine who is also a travel guru, @derrickpereira, about Bali vs Phuket for this retreat idea. He said the weather now is better in Bali…

And that’s how it all came about. Booking stuff is a whole other story, and maybe I’ll write about it later. Right now I’m about to board my flight! Later!

P.S. Forgive any typos or grammar mistakes- I wrote this whole thing on my iPhone!

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CPU malfunction

(I’m at the car wash, so while I wait in line I figured I’d take the time to write a post long overdue. It will probably read more like psycho-babble though- you have been warned.)

Writing has always been a way for me to escape from reality and organise my thoughts. I have to admit though that I’ve been finding it extremely difficult to write lately. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to sit and write, but every time I try, I just end up finding something else to do to walk away. And it’s definitely not writer’s block- there are half a dozen posts brewing in my head right now. I’ve been trying to figure out why and I’ve narrowed it down to two possibilities:

1) It might be because I’ve started to miss writing anonymously and really speaking my mind…

Seven years ago when I started blogging, I didn’t reveal my name or location, and the people I spoke about were given nicknames; I felt that I could write about anything and just really speak my mind. Nowadays I feel compelled to write in riddles (which is really tiring!) as a lot people who may read this blog I have met or know in person. As ironic as this sounds, I do like my privacy. I know, it makes no sense…

2) Or it could be because whenever I voice my opinions it often results in my being described as ‘intimidating’- a description I despise- so in an attempt to change this perception I’ve become more reserved and cautious in what I write.

It could be a combination of both or something else entirely, but I know I have to get past it soon- it’s getting a little crowded in my brain.

If you’re a blogger and reading this, I’m curious to know if you’ve gone through something similar and what you did to move past it…

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My moo cards

A while ago I created some personal business cards through moo.com; I’ve had some designs sitting on my drive for years now, and figured this would be a good way to put them to use. I used four different designs for the front of the business card, for variety (people can pick which one they want…like a card trick but without the trick).

Feedback is welcome in the comments.
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iPhone FM transmitter- buying guide

Because the’re only so much crap I’m willing to listen to on the way to and back from work- yes, I am talking about the radio stations here- I decided to buy a new FM transmitter that I can plug into my iPhone 4. I had one by Monster already but it’s not compatible with my iPhone, and my car doesn’t have the auxiliary audio input either (but I still love my Tiida!) so a new FM transmitter’s the only way to go in my case (no, I am not going to buy a new car to go with my iPhone).

In the past week I’ve gone through a few of them, so I hope this post will be a useful guide to those wanting to buy one in the future.

First up, is the iCarPlay Portable by Monster (AED 240; released a couple of months ago). Naturally, I opted for this one because I really liked the older model from these guys, and also because there are no wires and nothing to plug in! The sound quality wasn’t as good as the old one, but the deal breaker was that I had to remove my bumper so it can plug in and work- if you have a case or bumper around your iPhone 4 (who doesn’t?) then it’s not going to fit properly, and I wasn’t not going to keep removing the bumper every time due to poor product design! 

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Second in line was the iKit’s Autocon FM transmitter (AED 229; released in December 2010). This one wasn’t wireless, but it looked really cool- touchscreen controls, hands-free phone option and it plugs in from the headphone jack in the iPhone rather than the bottom which I found more convenient. Sadly, either the one I bought was defected or the quality of it is really bad; the DC connector didn’t work so I bought a Belkin USB charger and connected the transmitter through that. I ended up with a near-deafening screech when the frequencies on the transmitter and radio were the same. I looked this product up later, and apart from a couple of press releases I couldn’t find much else about it, including their website. I tried contacting them on Twitter and Facebook about this, but got no response. So yea, I don’t recommend this one.

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Another one I considered was Belkin’s TuneBase FM (there’s TuneBase Direct for those with AUX input jacks)- they had a really nice one with a stand for the phone and all the other featured mentioned above, but unfortunately the place of the cigarette lighter in my car is just behind the handbreak so it won’t work in my car.

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The last one was today’s buy from Griffin- the iTrip PLAY. Priced at AED 285, it’s the most expensive of the lot, but I am very happy with it so far. This one is wireless like Monster’s but it plugs in nicely with the bumper on; the sound quality is really good and it has an iPhone app, which can auto-scan and set channel presets (easier than dealing with the little device itself). It also has a mini-usb port at the bottom which will come in handy for charging my iPhone (good thing I bought that Belkin USB charger after all!). You can get both the iTrip and the Belkin USB charger from iStyle stores in the UAE.

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The best thing of all is that I don’t have to listen to all 3 songs on the radio anymore! So worth the trouble.

 

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BS

Every now and then, I do a sweep of my Twitter following (I have a system). Usually when I do this, I go through their tweets and see if it’s still worth following them- i.e. are they still awesome on my timeline? This time, however, I decided to read people’s bios instead. I always find what people write about themselves interesting- it’s the side they want you to see the most, but it’s merely a fraction of who they really are. We all have many faces, but if Facebook/Twitter profile pictures are any indication, we all work hard- even if subconsciously- to portray the face we like best (those who know me or kept up with this chameleon of a blog know that my bio’s been ‘thought transfer in progress’ since 2004; before that there was none).

So whilst reading these bios, I noticed a lot of people I follow describe themselves as what they do for a living, and reminded me of a twitter debate sparked by @Malizomg about whether you should put what your job title (which turned into this whole argument with @Wassim_Moumneh…you had to be there…). I personally don’t think what you do defines who you are, but I guess everyone has their reasons for sticking that in their bio.

From time to time I also do Follow Fridays (#FF- I have a system), but frankly it’s getting a little boring for me. So instead of Follow Fridays (#FF) I’ll be doing Bio Saturdays (#BS)- y’know, to mix it up a little. I realise that the hashtag has a double-meaning as Andrew pointed out; however, what is life but two sides of a coin?

Anyhoo, here are my #BS for this week:

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If you’ve come across any interesting bios, #BS ’em! I’ll be on the lookout to add them to a BS list too 🙂

Happy #BS-ing! 

 

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The last GeekFest Dubai…

…at The Shelter. This GeekFest wasn’t as packed as the last one, but it was fun and interesting as always. As usual Geek Talks took place. There were 4 talks and Rupert Bumfrey was timekeeper, so unlike past talks these ones actually lasted 15 minutes each. Some interesting initiatives worth noting:

MidEastPosts: ‘the Huff Po of the Middle East’ is the easiest way to describe the site, which was started by James Mullan and David Westley in October 2010. Check it out; it’s very interesting and I really hope it gains a wider readership in the region (you can follow on Twitter too). They are currently looking for contributors, so if you’re interested click here.

Voila Dubai: is a site where consumers can give reviews about businesses in Dubai. There are many sites like this online (think BBB), but they don’t really cover this part of the world. It’s a community-driven site started by Narain Jashanmal (go figure!) and has been up for about a month. It’s also worth noting that it has no revenue model (yet) so you won’t be seeing any annoying ads on there. Mobile apps for iPhone and BlackBerry come out in a couple of months. Of course such websites rely on people like you and me, so sign up and review places you’ve recently been to, recommend to friends, and help in making this the community site it deserves to be!

There was also a mobile app showcase, which had local developers show off their apps. I’m so glad I passed by them! Here are a couple that caught my attention:

Carbon: is a Twitter app for WebOS and Windows Mobile 7, created by Saleh Esmaeili and Nadeem Mardini. I got a full demo of the app and I have to say that it’s possibly the best I’ve seen across all platforms. The UI is well-designed and the functionality is very smartly done- overall the app has been well thought out. It’s currently out for WebOS and in beta for WM7. If I remember correctly, they have plans to release a Windows desktop an iOS version (which the OS really needs!). I found it interesting that they chose to develop for WebOS and WM7 instead of the usual lot (iOS/BB 6 OS/Android) and I applaud them for it. It’s also great to see great development work come out of the UAE!

CareZone: is an interesting iPhone app/service created by Ritesh Tilani. Basically you can check-in to outlets (that are part of its network) and collect virtual coins. Purchasing something from the outlet will also give you virtual points, the value of which depends on the amount of your purchase. You can redeem those points at any other outlet within the CareZone network, and better yet you can give them towards a cause (hence the name). Every 3 months, CareZone will write out a cheque to the causes based on the virtual coin amounts donated by the community. Like Voila Dubai, CareZone is all about the community with the added benefit of supporting causes in the UAE. Carezone is currently in beta, and I can’t wait for it to launch! If you know of any causes or outlets you would like to see on CareZone, let them know! Update: they’ll be releasing a Symbian (Nokia) app at around the same time, with BB and Android apps to follow. Hurrah for all!

It’s really awesome to see stuff like this come out of the UAE, and I’m sure we’ll all be keeping a close eye on what happens with the above initiatives and future ones as well.
I don’t know when the next GeekFest Dubai is going to be, or where, but I’m going to miss the old Shelter! Update: The next GeekFest is going to be held at the new Shelter on June 23rd. Yay!
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