Wednesday, 28 March 2007

The Shopping Report

The coming summer in Dubai is predicted to be one of the hottest yet and we've already been told to expect temperatures of 54 degrees on a regular basis. Every morning over the past week or so I've noticed as I walk to work that its been getting noticeably warmer. Today at lunchtime it was 34 degrees outside but for some unknown reason they set the air-con at work to 20 degrees which was a bit of a shock to the system. I'm sort-of prepared for summer. I have my tea plantation memsahib umbrella to keep the sun off and I learnt from my experience last summer not to put on make up before I walk to work. If I do, I arrive with my mascara running down my cheeks and looking a lot like Alice Cooper's sister. Not a good look.

Just outside the city area of Dubai there's an area called Al Aweer which up to the 1990s was a farming village . Al Aweer's claim to fame now is that its the site of a huge second hand car yard. The car yard was set up by Dubai Municipality to deal with the import of used cars into the local market. It's big, 14 hectares in total, with lots of dealer showrooms and an auction area. There's every sort of car for sale out there from Kia Rios to stretch Hummers , right up to Lamborghinis. The cars are all second hand and, depending on who you ask, they're either:

· Stolen from Europe, fenced in Dubai and shipped to Africa;
· Stolen from Africa, fenced in Dubai and shipped to Europe;
· Just plain stolen; or
· Completely legitimate imports .

Strangely though, despite all the countries in this part of the world being left hand drive there is what I can only describe as a "less classy" section out the back of the car yard that's full of right hand drive cars. By "less classy" I mean that it's just a area of desert that's been fenced off. The cars in this section are parked in the sand and are being sold by prestigious joints with names like, for example, Kilimanjaro Motors. Walking round this part of the car yard was like being on the set of a Western movie just before the gunfight; deserted, silent, sandy, I half expected some tumbleweed to roll down the street. There were numerous cars with all their interiors removed and the contents, dash, seats, door panels etc stacked on the car roof. The last time I saw this method of vehicle refurbishment was when the local boys were stripping a stolen Monaro in the bush off our bottom track at Waitakere (remember that Rae?) Anyway back to Al Aweer, many of the RHD cars were recognisable shapes but had different brandings for example there was a car that looked like a Prado but was badged as a Cygnus and had a registration sticker on the back window in Chinese characters. Trawling the net threw up the fact that the Cygnus comes from either Japan or Russia. Hmmm…the guys who work in th e less classy area speak Russian, all look like Kostya Tszyu's brother and did not seem like blokes to be trifled with . The place would rank very highly on the 'International Scale of Suss-ness'.

Life in general requires a degree of moral flexibility and that's no exception here in Dubai. When it comes to DVDs, the only people who pay retail in real shops for legitimate DVDs are the certifiably insane or tourists. Everyone else has their own Chinese DVD lady who supplies the latest movies, some even before they've been released in the cinemas. These ladies, and there's an army of them in Dubai, either come round to your apartment or you call them on their mobile and arrange to meet them somewhere like a dark alley or under a lamppost to buy the DVDs. You lurk around the pre arranged meeting spot and the lady will suddenly emerge from the shadows towing an overnight bag jammed full of knock-off DVDs. All very clandestine. All very illegal. All very cheap! The DVDs cost around 10 dirhams each, that's $3. Of course, its caveat emptor and you can end up with such gems as 'The Departed' dubbed entirely in Russian with Chinese subtitles which is no use whatsoever or the film may have subtitles in English that have been generated by Babelfish or something which are totally bizarre and hilarious. Some of the subtitles are better than the movies. Also highly amusing, to me anyway, are the write-ups on the packets the DVDs come in. Let's play a game, try to guess which movie is being described by this blurb taken word for word from the back of the pack. We have some serious movie buffs amongst us.

"Los Angeles: People in the area discovered the dismemberment of a class body with Yan traces of heavy beatings and abuse, expired one day. It is a young woman. This work killing case that caused a furore is the most egregious case of California history. A survey to find out through a series of facts, I will cast her for a modern small girl one-woman or at least might have done."

Answer:'Black Dahlia'. Egregious? For heaven's sake, nobody except DH Bloom QC has actually used the word 'egregious' in the past 150 years! And does anyone know what a 'modern small girl one-woman' is? While I'm asking questions, I heard Brett Lee's Bollywood song on the radio this evening and my question is: "Why?"

Ok, what about this one?

"There is most influence in the United States of black help the eldest brother to tie to is an in uncomfortable position very much recently, at walk sideways and did not hate so long later, just join a soon third-grade magician of regiment recently, makes track for the kill to block up to cut in the FBI under, decide to forsake darkness for light, become the police's stain witness, hand in all gang commit crime of proof in track from the breadth."

It was 'Smoking Aces'. That was easy wasn't it? Fine movie too. It had a 'Lock, Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels' feel about it, only American, with a bit of 'Grosse Point Blanc' story line thrown in. Alicia Keys is in it and does a good job as one half of a female hit squad (the 'Queens of the Hotel Hit' from 'Grosse Point Blanc' maybe, except they were Phillipina weren't they?) Anyway I digress, as usual.
Dancers, I finally went to a class last Saturday. The story, and there is one of course, can be found on the Bhuz forum under "Rant alert: Beginners class, is this usual?" I think that gives you an immediate clue about what happened but you won't believe it until you read it.

Off to Jordan with Colin tomorrow for 5 days: one night in the capital Amman, a night at Hammamat Ma'in near the Dead Sea, two nights at Petra and a night in the desert at Wadi Rum.

Saturday, 17 March 2007


Dubai has been under a cloud for the last couple of days as a heavy sandstorm has swept through over the past few days. Buildings that I can usually see clearly from work have disappeared, the photo above was taken from the roof of my building, and it gives you an idea of how thick the cloud has been. The sand isn't gritty like beach sand but is more like a fine dust. The wind sweeps it across the roads, sometimes forming little dust devils (willywillys if you're Australian). The sand banks up against the kerbs and when the wind blows across the surface it forms interesting wave shapes so they look like miniature sand dunes. The heavy cloud of sand makes the light seem strange. We went to the Boat Show this evening and the light was almost eerie. The cloud was so low that the light from the spotlights was reflecting off the cloud in a strange vaguely sci-fi way. The wind and the swirling sand makes life hell for Dubai's contact lens wearers too (I'm one of them). I think the only answer is to wear swimming goggles all day. I could paint them in fashion colours and then stick faux jewels on them a la Dame Edna.
The traditional Arabic mens' headdress the keffiyeh (called a gutra in the Gulf) comes into its own in this weather as it can be wrapped around the head to provide protection for the nose and mouth. The gutra is worn over a skull cap with a black band called an argul over the top. Most local men in the Gulf wear white gutras, the red/white checked ones are mostly worn by Jordanian, Lebanese and Syrian men. The black/white checked gutras are commonly identified with Yasser Arafat though wearing a black/white one doesn't necessarily mean the wearer is Palestinian, its just a colour choice.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Behind the wheel again.......

On Sunday I took my passport application papers to the Australian Consulate. The usual waiting time for a passport to be issued is 10 days but yesterday (Wed) Gail from the consulate rang me to say it was ready for collection.
Today Ramesh our office assistance took me to the RTA office in the frozen foods aisle of the Union Co-Op supermarket in Al Wasl where I presented my Australian licence and Australian passport. Hallelujah or more appropriately mash'allah, they issued me with a UAE drivers licence. A slight potential snaffu could have been caused by the fact that my residency permit is in my NZ passport and I was presenting an Aus passport to get the licence but luckily the issue didn't arise. The UAE drivers licence looks like a gold credit card (how Dubai).

Friday, 9 March 2007

Dinner at the Marriott

We went to the Lebanese restaurant at the JW Marriott in Deira for dinner last night. Interesting, tasty food in a lovely setting. The bread for the diners was produced 'live' by a woman who sat cross legged on a platform with a hot plate in front of her. She rolled the dough then threw it up in the air several times all the while stretching it until it was about 12 inches in diameter. She then put it on the hotplate to cook producing thin, light and fluffy bread.
There was live music (4 man band) but no bellydancer as according to the waiter she was 'doing a visa run' though that may be the Dubai equivalent of the old Sydney favourite 'she's sick tonight'.

Dubai Jazz Festival

Tonight was the second night of the Dubai Jazz Festival which is being held at the Amphitheatre at Media City. We were a bit late arriving so most of the seating at the table and chairs was alraedy taken but fortunately we were able to grab two of the beanbags so we had comfortable seating for the rest of the evening. The group playing when we arrived was the Sergio Bekhazi Trio. Sergio is Lebanese and is based in Dubai usually performing with the Blues Drivers. They play a driving, rock influenced style of blues which reminded me of early Clapton. Really enjoyed what I saw of their set. If anyone knows where the Blues Drivers are playing locally in Dubai please email me.
Next up on the main stage were the Three Ladies of the Blues. Powerful, gutsy voices. Following them, but on the second stage, were Randy Brecker and Ada Rovatti. The crowd had to move between stages to watch the acts but as Toto were playing next on the main stage (where Roger Waters had played the previous week) I didn’t want to lose my prime spot so we sat in our bean bags, drank coffee and watched the performance from the second stage on the big screen.
Toto came on just after 10:30pm to a huge response and played until midnight. They’ve been together for 30 years and I’ve been a big fan since the days of “Hold the Line” so it was really exciting to finally see them live. The bass player was Lee Sklar, last seen in Dubai playing for Phil Collins. Lee's filling in while Mike Pocaro is recovering from a hand injury. After their first song which was, to be honest, rather rusty, they got into their stride and set about doing a brilliant show. There were plenty of old favourites, the crowd was singing along to “Rosanna”, “Hold the Line” and “Africa”. Its so good to see musicians doing what they’re best at and still having fun. They sound a lot like Foreigner at times but that’s not a bad thing IMHO.