Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Dubai cancels New Year's Eve

All celebrations of "Western" New Years Eve tonight in Dubai have been cancelled on the orders of the Ruler:
No word from the other Emirates at this point on whether they will follow Sheikh Mohammed's lead.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The economic tsunami hits the sandy shores of Dubai.

In the past couple of months the world seems to have shifted on its axes (yep, that's the plural of axis). The tsunami that is the world economic downturn has arrived on the sandy shores of the UAE. A couple of weeks ago, the Dubai government announced that it has debts of $80 billion. Abu Dhabi has stepped in with loans to Dubai, but at what cost nobody seems to know, though there are some interesting rumours on the street which involve the future of Emirates Airlines. Several of the major developers here have put what were considered flagship developments "on hold", and redundancies are now happening on a daily basis: 500 people were let go from Nakheel last week, 400 from Emaar, and 70 from the World Trade Centre Real Estate division. There have also been redundancies at Omniyat, Al Ghurair, Damac and Better Homes amongst others.

Meraas has also made a number of staff redundant and their 350 billion dirham Jumeirah Gardens is one of the developments now on the backburner or in CorpSpeak "....we are reviewing...the phasing and roll-out of the Jumeirah Gardens project...". It was the proposed development of Jumeirah Gardens which caused us to be evicted at speed from Satwa by our landlord (Al Ghurair). In the past few months huge sections of Satwa's housing area have been bulldozed and it now seems that those piles of rubble will remain into the foreseeable future as silent monuments to greed gone mad. Still, if the deferral of Jumeirah Gardens means a reprieve for the best Pakistani restaurant in the known universe then its a good thing. Schon Properties developers of the Lagoons have announced they are 'scaling back'. Trump Tower is on hold as of yesterday with resulting redundancies here in Dubai. Australia's largest construction firm Leighton Holdings Group was involved in the building of Trump Tower through its connection with Al Habtoor Engineering. Despite the announcement that Nakheel will cover all Al Habtoor Leighton's costs, Leighton's share price in Australia has dropped 7.3%. All the redundancies referred to are expats but of course the labourers from the sub-continent will be effected immediately too: No work=go home.

The government in the UAE is closed for business for the next 10 days due to Eid so there's no official visa or employment related information available. The websites are no help. I imagine sales of the latest issue of UAE Labour Law at McGrudys have rocketed as a result. There's a growing number of people facing redundancy who can’t find the answers to some very important questions.

1. Once a person is made redundant they and their family have 30 days to leave the country before their visas are cancelled. If they are lucky, they might get 3 months notice period or their employer may hold off cancelling the visa until the employee finds a new job or makes arrangements to move back to their country of origin. 30 days isn't very long to find another job or failing that, organise flights home, pack up a household etc. As the holiday season is close, flights to most Western destination are heavily booked.

2. My understanding is that many of the people being made redundant will also be banned for 6 month from working in UAE. This is a blanket action but the ban can be “bought off” for 1,000 dirhams by the next employer (if there is one…..).

3. How do you get your rent back when its been paid 12 months in advance and you have 30 days to leave the country?

4. Can you get a refund on school fees paid in advance?

5. There is a justifiable fear that the bank accounts of people who’ve been made redundant will be frozen. This happens in Dubai.

6. Will an exit visa system (like that in Saudi) be introduced so no expat resident can leave Dubai unless they can produce a letter from the bank stating that their debts are cleared?
If someone has purchased a property here and, worst case scenario can’t get another job in Dubai, how do they pay the mortgage? Renting is the obvious answer but while rents aren’t going down as yet, the number of renters will fall eventually.

7. What if you’ve bought “off plan” and the development has now been put on hold? In Dubai, the purchaser pays the full price of the unit before they move in, but what if there’s nothing to move into? Residential units in the Lagoons which were initially scheduled for completion by December 2007 are now expected to be ready in 2011.

8. Rumours of increasing numbers of loan defaults are starting to circulate; people who are ‘cutting and running’.

9. As of last week, you cannot get a credit card in Dubai unless you have worked for the same employer for 2 years earning 20,000+ dirhams per month (this from Barclays Bank and confirmed by a contact at HSBC)

10. No loans to lease a car available from any of the banks, strict criteria for loans for vehicle purchase now in place.

I’m no expert and if anyone can help answer any of these questions it’d be appreciated as there are some very worried people searching anxiously for answers.

Gulf News?

The Gulf News, the major English language newspaper here in the UAE ran a front page story earlier this week saying that residents with certain listed occupations would be barred from getting drivers licences, with immediate effect. The article did not list the banned occupations nor give a link to any relevant government website with further information. It also intimated that eventually only people with a university degree would be allowed to hold a UAE drivers licence. Naturally, a large degree of concern resulted amongst the public who rely on their cars to get around. There's no alternative to the private car as there's no public transport system aside from a few buses and the metro is not due to open until Sept 09.

A couple of days later the GN happily informs its readers that the ban applies only to the Emirate of Sharjah. Why did nobody at Gulf News think that, instead of just printing a government press release without question, they could have asked two simple questions, which would have been of huge public interest and benefit:
  1. "Does this ban apply to the whole of the UAE?" (Answer: no, only the moment anyway); and
  2. "Where can the public find out if their particular job is on the banned list?" (Answer: nowhere, the list is not available to the public).
In further developments, according to a government spokesman, the 31 December 08 deadline to obtain the National ID card has not been extended, but as from 1 Jan 09 residents without the ID card won't have their bank accounts frozen nor will they be refused hospital treatment etc. (There are no ID application interview appointments available until mid-Feb anyway).

This week the previously announced UAE government ban on registering cars over 20 years old has also been reversed.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Satwa development on hold

So, there we are. After evicting so many people and rushing the demolition crews in to flatten acres of Satwa, the whole thing has all but ground to a near halt. The Jumeirah Gardens development was unveiled at Citiscape just back in October, which seems like a lifetime ago, but is now being "revisted" and parts of it delayed due to the economic downturn.

The developers, Nakheel (who laid off 500 people yesterday) are delaying parts of several of its flagship projects, including the Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali, The Universe and Waterfront but they still say that the world's tallest tower will go ahead (like the world needs another "tallest tower".)

The Trump Tower project has also been suspended with layoffs involved.

Still, if that means a reprieve for Ravis then its good news!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008


Colin and I were married today. Thank you to our friends who shared our wonderful day and especially to my Big Bro Terry and Cathy and Stan who all travelled so far to be with us.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

We've got your money - and we're keeping it!

Investors rally to the cause
The National Newspaper: 24th November 2008

An amendment to a property law in Dubai has brought together a group of angry off-plan buyers who are fearful of losing a third of their investment to developers they believe may not even proceed with construction. According to the new amendment, off-plan buyers wishing to halt their payments have to cancel their contract and forfeit 30 per cent of the total value of the property, instead of only 30 per cent of the money they have paid.

The investors, who formed their group after an online forum on the issue, have yet to see evidence of construction on their projects and fear losing more of their money to developers in the current global slowdown if they continue their payments – but under the new amendment they could lose a third of their properties’ value if they do not. The new administrative circular was issued by the Dubai Land Department on Nov 10 concerning amended Law 13 on the pre-registration of off-plan properties, which was issued in August.

“Many investors have already paid 20 per cent to 50 per cent in projects which haven’t even started, hence they stopped payments in order to avoid further losses caused by possible bankruptcy of the developer,” said Tommy Carlsson, one of the organisers of the Dubai Property Investors group.

“Developers are misusing this interpretation of the law to terminate as many contracts as possible and forfeit our funds instead of finding solutions together with investors.”
Investors fear that developers who already know they cannot proceed with a project will keep the 30 per cent and then later on cancel the project without needing to refund buyers.

The group, which met for the second time on Sunday and is planning to hire a lawyer to represent them, is asking for two things. It suggests that before allowing a developer to cancel contracts, the developer must first submit the audit of its escrow to the Land Department.

According to Law 8, developers must audit their accounts, but many of them have not done this yet. “We want developers to prove they have the ability to build,” said Nigel Knight, a co-founder of the group.

Second, contract cancellations should be put on hold if the client has already paid 20 per cent and construction has not started, with the payment plan proceeding only when construction actually starts.“We see that as the responsibility of the Government to make investigations about the developers and find out whom we can trust and who is not OK. We only ask the Government to protect us,” Mr Mohammed said. “We got e-mails from a developer saying we were not allowed to form a group. Somebody even tried to hack [into] our e-mail account.”

Among the developers that investors are concerned about is Schön Properties.

“Some people paid over 60 per cent of [Schön’s] Dubai Lagoon,” said Mr Mohammed, the co-founder of the investors group who did not wish to give his family name. “People ask why they should continue to pay. The developer hasn’t even started construction of their units. The developer is saying that if they don’t continue [to pay] they will cancel the contract and forfeit their money.”

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

National ID card: The farce continues

And the farce continues: There's a rumour going round of an extension to the 31 December deadline which has motivated the UAE government in Abu Dhabi to make an official announcement that there is *no* deadline extension and that bank account suspension will commence after the passing of the deadline.

The other recent announcement that the application forms would be available at post offices (once you pay 40 dirhams for the envelope to put them into) has proved to be a non-starter. Colin went to two post offices today. First Satwa PO: no forms available, haven't had them for a week, don't know when they are getting any and they are getting 100+ people enquiring every day. Second Rashadiyya PO: no forms available, shrugged her shoulders and told him to come back in 2 days.

We are told that without the ID card, any resident whether Emirate or expat, will be unable to access health care from 1 January 09. Does this mean that if you are hurt in a car smash they will leave you on the side of the road? If a woman is due to have a baby but she hasn't been able to get the card, will she be refused entry to the maternity hospital? Many married women in the UAE are on their husband's residence visas and will rely on his company to organise the cards but there could be a delay due to the short time frame available for communciation and implementation.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Big Brother - Dubai style

The UAE government has decided that all residents, both expat and Emirati, must obtain a National ID card by the end of December 2008. The ID card which is supposed to replace the current Labour card, medical card, e-gate and the expat residence visa costs 100AED per year for each year of the residence visa. At visa renewal time you have to go through the whole procedure again. Unfortunately in its wisdom, the ID authority has been placing information ads since June in Arabic language newspapers only, as "Arabic is the official language of the UAE" so the news has been rather late in reaching the expat community. While Arabic is the official language of the UAE, placing ads in English language papers wouldn't have been a bad idea given that the majority of expats here are likely to be able to read them.

Applications are supposed to be made via the ID authority website but the site has not been able to cope with the number of users so it continually crashes. Should you be one of the few who's successful in completing the online form and printing the form out, you are given an appointment to attend the application centre. A friend went through this a couple of weeks ago, she arrived early at the application centre, they told her the form she had filled out online was "wrong" as the bar codes had not printed out (this seems to be happening a lot) so she had to have her form typed out manually. Over to the typing centre where she had to take a ticket and wait: they were in the process of typing #13 and she was given number #81! Needless to say she would have been waiting for hours so she gave up and went back to work.

The authority, once it deigned to communicate in English, has announced that residents who fail to obtain their ID cards by the 31 December deadline, for whatever reason, will be unable to conduct any transactions with any government entities ie renewing a drivers licence or residence visa, tenancy etc but most worrying their bank accounts frozen until they obtain the card. As application appointments are now fully booked until February 2009, how is this going to work? Not that I doubt for a second that freezing of accounts couldn't happen, I've been here too long for that sort of naivety. My understanding is that if the authority was working at top speed, it can only process 7,000 ID applications per day and that it will take them 86 working days to process the number of pending applications.

So I wonder, does this mean that if you don't have the card by 31 December you're unable to leave the country?

Or is this a masterful plan to ensure that the skilled expat workforce, the engineers, project managers, architects etc don't leave the country during the current slump, never to return?

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

The Great Galebaya Battle

Just before dusk the boat entered the locks on the Nile River at Esna and before we knew it a number of small boats approached. Each boat had one man rowing and another standing calling out to passengers on the top decks of the cruise boats while waving plastic bags containing tablecloths, galebayas (the national dress of Egypt) and shawls. In what seemed like a death defying act, the guys in the row boat grabbed onto ropes hanging from the side of the ship and then threw a rope to the next small boat to form a chain. The process then is that they throw the galebayas up in a plastic bag, and if you like it after a bit of negotiation you put your money in a plastic bag and drop it over the side of the ship and into their boat. If you don't move fast enough you're liable to get hit by one of the flying galebayas though some of the guys had amazing distance and accuracy when they threw the stuff up to the ships. For long after the boat passed through the lock we could still hear cries of “Lady, lady, hey meester” in the darkness. We docked that night at Edfu.

Next morning we visited the Temple of Horus (falcon god) at Edfu. This temple was built in 327BC. It had a magnificent sanctuary which looks like it is made of burnished metal but is actually highly polished stone. Assem our guide also pointed out the lion head water spouts that were used to drain water from the roof of the temple.

After some more cruising along the Nile, the next day we visited the temple of Kom Ombo which is an unusual site because it is the fusion of two temples, one side dedicated to Horus and the other to the crocodile god Sobek. Prior to the building of the high dam at Aswan, crocs used to be a major hazard for people along the Nile. Our guide told us that if you put a cat on the sanctuary stone of the Horus temple it will sit there happily, but if it is placed on the sanctuary stone of the crocodile god Sobek it will scratch and hiss and run away. Unfortunately no cats were at hand to test this theory. I’d heard a folkloric group playing on the way up to the temple but they were on their break when we returned. I went back to the boat while Colin took some sunset photos. He came back to get me as the band had CDs and DVDs for sale. We had only 10 minutes before the boat sailed but we ran back to the garden where they were playing and I was able to sit with them while they played and had a try at playing the rababa too. It was a great experience. In the evening there was a galebayas party on the boat with all the guests getting dressed up and Egyptian food on the menu for dinner. Colin’s green and gold “Aussie dishdash” was the hit of the evening!

Next day we went to the Aswan quarry to see what would have been the largest obelisk in the world at 42 metres tall, had it not fractured during the carving process. Next stop was a short trip by boat to see the temple of Isis at Philae. This temple was originally located on a small island in the Nile but to save it from the rising river levels after the building of the Aswan dam, it was dismantled. The original island’s topography was recreated on an adjacent island called Agilkia and there the temple was reassembled. Next we headed up to the High Dam of Aswan. The advantages of the High Dam are that there is no longer any annual flooding downstream, the farmers can get three crops each year instead of one, irrigation is no longer a problem and the crocs and hippos that were a danger to the residents are now all on the north side of the dam. The main disadvantage is that without the annual flood carrying the rich silt to replenish the Nile fields the farmers now have to use chemical fertilisers instead. The silt is banking up behind the dam and a further channel is being built to allow some of the silt to flow downstream.

During the afternoon we took a felucca trip to the Botanical Garden on Kitchener's Island in the middle of the Nile then on by boat to visit the Nubian village and have tea with a local family.

Yesterday was a big day. The wakeup call was at 4:15am so we could get to Aswan airport to catch an early morning Air Memphis flight to Abu Simbel. Colin and I were so far ‘down the back of the bus’ that we didn’t have a window! Abu Simbel is unique as its the only temple in Egypt where a pharaoh, Ramses II, has glorified himself as a god. The temple is located in the heart of what was once the nation of Nubia and is only 30 kms across Lake Naser from the Sudanese border. It was carved out of the rock on the orders of Ramses II and is most famous for the 4 huge statues of the seated pharaoh which flank the entrance. Inside the temple the entrance hall is flanked by enormous statues of Ramses, the walls covered with large carvings depicting his various military successes. Once, like all the other temples we’d seen the carvings would have been painted. The hall leads to the sanctuary, 65 metres from the entrance, which contains the statues of four gods including the self appointed god, Ramses himself. At the left of this quartet is the statue of Ptah who was the god of darkness. Twice a year at the equinoxes, the sun reaches into the depth of the temple striking the three statues including Ramses but somehow the ancient Egyptians did the calculations so the sun never shines on Ptah as he only likes darkness. Incredible. Next to the Ramses Temple is a temple dedicated to Ramses No 1 wife, Neferteri. Both temples were relocated in the 1960s to save them from the rising waters of Lake Naser.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Cruising down the Nile

Last Tuesday we flew from Dubai to Cairo, Egypt with our friends Cathy and Stan who've arrived from NZ. We stayed the night at Le Meridien Pyramids in Cairo and could see the pyramids from the front steps of the hotel.

Early the next day we headed out for a full day of sightseeing, first visiting the ancient capital of Egypt, Memphis, where there is a huge statue of King Ramses II (going the Memphis to see the King....). Next stop was Sakkara to see the funeral complex which includes the world's first pyramid built by King Zosar and unlike the pyramids we immediately think of, is constructed in steps or 'benches'. I was amazed by how many other pyramids were visible from the walls of Sakkara including the "Bent Pyramid". Apparently this pyramid was built for one of the early pharaohs who, mid-way through construction, become seriously ill. Fearing the worst the builders hurriedly finished the top section of the pyramid leaving it with a lopsided top. The pharaoh recovered, took one look at the Bent Pyramid, declared it to be rubbish and demanded that a completely new one be built. I guess you can do that when you're a pharaoh. As a result, a whole new pyramid was built and the Bent Pyramid remains the only one that has never been "occupied". Next a quick stop at a carpet factory where we watched local kids making the carpets. The kids go to school for half the day then do a couple of hours work on the carpets. Their fingers move so fast on the loom but apparently they stop working at around 18 years of age as their fingers grow too large to handle the intricate knotting patterns. However, they've learnt a skill that they can use at home and then send their own completed carpets to the factory to be sold. After that we were off to the Giza plateau to see the 3 most famous pyramids. My reaction was the same as the first time I saw them nothing prepares you for their sheer size and they seem to loom over you. The main pyramid (Cheops) was built in 24 years and modern engineers have worked out the number of stone blocks that were used and that, in order to complete the pyramid in that time, the builders would have needed to place one stone block every 2 minutes. As some of the blocks weigh up to 2.5 tons it seems incredible that it was ingenuity directing raw muscle power that built the pyramids; no cranes in those days. We also went to see the Solar Boat which was housed in a special museum behind the second pyramid. The boat, which is 43 metres long and 6 metres wide, is believed to be at least 5,000 years old and is constructed of cedar wood from Lebanon. It was found in pieces, like a kitset, in a large pit behind the Cheops pyramid. There are several theories about the use of the boat; whether it was used to carry the pharaoh's body up to the pyramids for burial or whether its use was strictly symbolic. The boat has since been reconstructed from the jigsaw puzzle of pieces that were found in the pit. The reconstruction uses only ropes to hold the pieces together as would have been the way in the ancient times, and is well worth seeing.

Next was a quick stop at the Sphinx which is the smaller than expected but magnificent. We went back to the hotel briefly and then headed back to Giza to watch the Sound and Light Show.

Wednesday started with a short flight to Luxor, followed by a short drive to Karnak Temple. The temple is on a 250 acre site which once was covered by religious sites, temples, tombs etc. The temple is breathtaking, the carvings awesome and like the pyramids, raises the big question "How did they do it?" Some of the carvings are in solid granite and modern scientists have been unable to figure out how such a hard stone has been carved with such delicacy. There are colours imbedded in the granite carvings but how this was done also remains a mystery. As Assem our guide remarked, "There are papyrus which have survived from those times listing what the pharaoh had for breakfast and noting facts such as "The Queen enjoyed smelling flowers today" but nobody considered it important enough to record how the pyramids and temples were built!"

At this point Assem (who's a qualified Egyptologist) warned us to hurry along because the "Red Sea day trippers are coming". And he wasn't joking! About 20 minutes later I happened to glance towards the entrance only to see a heaving mass of sunburnt humanity exiting a fleet of buses and bearing down on the entrance gates to the temple. These were the Red Sea day trippers, tourists mainly Russian, who stay in the Red Sea resorts to sunbathe, drink and party. They only have one "culture" day so they rush through the sites like a horde of locusts (a bit of a Biblical allusion there) and then return to the resorts.

Having survived the human tsunami, we boarded our cruise ship the Ms Miriam which is home for the next 7 days and within a short time we were underway. The banks of the Nile are lush and green with agriculture still the main source of income, as was the case thousands of years ago. Round every bend in the river is a photo waiting to be taken; people working in the fields, donkeys and cows grazing down on the riverside, kids waving, guys fishing, women doing the washing in the Nile, visual overload - almost. I took some good photos of the sun setting over the Nile last evening too (even I couldn't mess up that scene.) After 4 hours of sitting on the top deck watching the world go by, we arrived at Dendara where the boat docked for the night.

Yesterday started with a visit to Dendara temple which was dedicated to Hathor, a goddess with the body of woman and the head of cow. The carvings in the temple, while now devoid of colour were very impressive.

After an afternoon of travelling back up the Nile the boat berthed and we visited Luxor Temple. Luxor Temple is an extension of Karnak Temple and was once linked to Karnak by a 3 mile long causeway lined with 1,000 small sphinx. Over time Luxor temple was buried by Nile mud and eventually people built a town right on top of the temple complex having forgotten that it was ever there. Now that restoration has started the buildings that were constructed overhead are being demolished as they come free and the free land which is now at least 50 feet above the temple floor, is removed revealing the temples, statues etc below. However one building, a mosque, remains in place, now seemingly perched on top of the pillars of the old temple and accessible only from what is still street level outside the temple complex. As the sun set the temple was lit by carefully positioned floodlights. On board the boat last night there was a floorshow with a bellydancer (local girl), live music (keyboard, riq and tabla and they weren't too bad either) and a tannoura (whirling dervish).

Today there was a 5am wake up call for an early start to visit the Valley of the Kings. We visited 3 tombs: Ramses IX, the tombs for 50 or so of the sons of Ramses II and the tomb of Tawosert and Setnakht (Tawosert built it first then Setnakht usurped it). The colours and the carvings are truly amazing. I didn't go into King Tut's tomb as the things worth seeing from the tomb are all now in the Cairo Museum that we'll visit next week. Next stop was Hatshepsut's funeral temple which is built into the cliffside in the next valley over from the Valley of the Kings. Hatshepsut was Egypt's first female ruler and despite the fact that her successor attempted to remove all evidence of her, the funeral temple remains. It seems very modern in design, three terraces linked by a series of wide ramps the entire building blending in with the surrounding hills. Strangely enough, in the past the building was used as a Christian convent. It was at this site that in 1997 fanatics killed 59 tourists in an act that crippled Egypt's tourism industry for years afterwards.

Final stop for the day was the Colossi of Memnon, which are two 18 metre high statues of Pharaoh Amenophis III. The statues, which are believed to be at least 3,000 years old, served as guardians of the entrance of a huge temple. The temple was destroyed in an earthquake about 27 BC leaving only the two statues.

We're now back on the boat heading up river towards our next overnight stop at Edfu. Shortly we'll be entering the locks at Esna which should be fun.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Yes, we have no petrol.

This was one of the last things I expected to happen in Dubai: Last night I was driving home with fingers crossed that I wasn't going to run out of petrol as Madame's fuel gauge was showing below empty. I pulled into a petrol station only to be told that, incredibly, they had run out of petrol "No Madame, khalas, feeneesh". How could a petrol station in Dubai run out of petrol? That would be like a NZ butcher running out of mutton. Brings to mind "The pub with no beer" but that would be soooo inappropriate wouldn't it?

Sunday, 5 October 2008

The car they say isn't here, is here.

If you've read September's 'AutoCar Middle East' you'll no doubt have seen the review of the new Dodge Challenger SRT8. To quote the article in the latest issue the SRT8 is "....not due on sale here (the M.E.) until November/December." Well, nobody's told the boys at Al Awir about the car not being available until the end of the year because not only is there a drool-worthy SRT8 in bright orange out there for sale but there's a second one in black too, and the evidence is above. The reporters at 'Auto Car' went all the way to London to test drive the Challenger when they could have stayed in Dubai and done the test drive down the Dubai truck road on a Friday morning.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Eid mubarak!

Wishing everyone a happy and peaceful Eid.
Kul 'am wa enta bi-khair
عيد مبارك

Friday, 26 September 2008

And back in Dubai....

A concrete pump with a bit of a problem. Surely there's an easier way to check the diff?

Taken today in Garhoud, Dubai.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Meanwhile, back in the Wild West

This from today's NZ Herald :

Western line running as usual after collision
2:58PM Thursday Sep 18, 2008

Trains are running as usual on Auckland's western line after a collision between a car and a train earlier put a halt to services.

Sharon Hunter of the Auckland Regional Transport Authority said reports the line would be disrupted for the duration of the day were incorrect.

She issued a plea to motorists not to park on train tracks.


Good Lord, people need to be instructed not to park on train tracks?

Monday, 15 September 2008

The key to it all

Only in Dubai: Did you know that its illegal to have house keys copied without a Letter of No Objection from the Dubai Police? Neither did I. Apparently the law has been on the books for ten years but from today it is being enforced.

A quote from The National: “If [a customer] wants to copy a car key, he has to present the car registration,” said Col Hammad al Hammadi, based at Khalidiya police station. “In the case of a house key, he has to show proof of ownership or rent. In the case of a key to a company’s safe, the person should present a letter from the company.”

Here's a typical situation, maybe you have visitors coming from overseas and you want to give them a house key but you haven't got a spare so you think "I'll get a copy key cut". Then this is what you must do:

1. Present yourself at your nearest police station, show them a copy of either your rental agreement or the mortgage papers for the property you want the key for. No doubt a copy of your passport will be required to prove you are who you say you are.

2. The Police will issue you with a Letter of No Objection (being Dubai that'll probably take 10 days).

3. You take the Police letter to the key cutting shop and have your key cut.

Each time you need an additional key cut, maybe one for the maid, or for overseas visitors staying at your home or of course repeat copies for those dingbats who loose their keys every time they go to Longs Bar, then that's the rigmarole you'll have to go through.

Surprisingly, this announcement provides the answer to the question so many Dubai drivers asked during that complete traffic fiasco yesterday : "Where are the Police?". The answer is that they are at their offices writing Letters of No Objection so you and I, and everyone else in Dubai, can have our own front door keys cut. A possible solution is that you give the key you need to have copied to someone going overseas and get them to have copies cut for you. But then, will there be a limit placed on the number of keys one can bring into the country with the excess being confiscated by Customs.

Friday, 12 September 2008

NZ Election date announced

The New Zealand Government has just announced that the General Election will be held on Saturday, 8th November 2008. As the published electoral roll closes on 8th October, make sure you're enrolled to vote:

(photo courtesy

Thursday, 11 September 2008

All shook up: Dubai earthquake

So there I was at work sitting at my desk when my chair started moving from side to side on its base. "Hmm", I thought, "Gotta stop drinking at lunchtime" then logic took over and I knew that wasn't the cause of the movement. People came out of their offices where blinds had been banging against the windows by the movement of the building, and looked at each other. Earthquake! Earthquake? In Dubai? Still not a time for discussion, the building was shaking and it was time to leave, instant decision, evacuate and ponder the cause of the shaking later.

On our way down the emergency stairs which at least were well marked I found that as the building is still being prepared for tenants, the stairwell had no emergency lighting,fortunately there was lots of natural light from the workers lights and the open doors to each floor. The emergency stairs at one point were covered in plastic that could be slippery and there were no floor numbers so it was only the fact that the ground floor has lovely, but slippery-when-wet, marble flooring that we knew that it was the exit. The labourers working on the fitout floors just looked at us as we passed by on the emergency stairs they were told nothing, they just kept working.

Outside on the lawn it took only a few phone calls to learn that there had been a 6.1 quake in Iran which had caused the earth tremor in Dubai. One of my workmates who's lived in Dubai all her life remembers that there have been earthquakes in Dubai previously including a 'big one' just 3 or 4 years ago. At that point, I looked up at the Burj Dubai (tallest building in the world) and thought "If it seems to be getting closer, its time to run."

Our office is in a brand new building, supposedly "state of the art, all mod-cons" and yet despite there being an earthquake, no emergency alarms went off, there was no evacuation announcement, there was absolutely NOTHING to ensure that all occupants of the building to leave. At least building management have their priorities right, there's been a huge fuss this week and a stern email to all tenants that if anyone is caught smoking in the basement...heavens forfend....there's a 3,000 dirham fine. Pity they don't direct their energy into more important things like tenant safety. Pfft, there's probably a 10,000 dirham fine for causing an earthquake.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Satwa: Update

Went for a quick drive round the Satwa area last evening. Destruction continues apace but the main interest was that the villas at the Masafi Compound where we used to live are to become the site offices for the development. The fences have been pulled down, gardens tidied and all new air-con units installed.

Monday, 1 September 2008

The First Iftar of 2008

The first day of Ramadan ends and we have been to iftar at the Khan Murjan at Wafi. The restaurant is large and in a courtyard open to the sky which was clear with only a couple of stars. The restaurant was a bit quiet as I guess many people will spend the first iftars at home with family and will go out later in the month. The food at the Khan Murjan buffet was delicious, starting with 3 types of soup then starters, a wide range of mains and fresh fruit to finish. There were a few interesting Lebanese specialities including stuffed baby marrows in a cheese sauce with toasted pita bread at the bottom, can't remember what its called. Anyone know? Nadia? And of course shisha ruled by the end of the evening.

I'd recommend the Khan Murjan both for the food and for the interesting setting and atmosphere though unfortunately its so incredibly hard to find. Go to the new part of Wafi, find Pauls and take the 'down' escalator directly in front of Pauls. This takes you into the souk and you just have to wander round and you'll find the restaurant. The souk's been really well done, lots of alley ways and little shops but its not cheap unfortunately. The souk is over two levels and there are a number of shops selling gorgeous Bahraini dress and abayas and lots of other places selling art work and there's lots of other interesting stuff to look at.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Down by the (Business) Bay

We went for a look around the development at Business Bay today. Like most people, I've been over the Business Bay Bridge but I've never been exactly sure where Business Bay itself really is. Now I know and the photos are here.

Friday, 29 August 2008

NZ elections: Overseas Kiwis can vote

Overseas Kiwis can vote in the upcoming NZ elections. There's a couple of sites, Every Vote Counts and Elections New Zealand that give all the info plus the links so you can enrol to vote from wherever you are overseas.

Don't roll your eyes and tell me its boring and/or you're not interested in politics.

1. Its our country and even though we're overseas for however long, we have the right to have a say in how our homeland is governed.
2. Ladies, NZ was the first country to give women the vote (19 September 1893). As women voters its our duty to show that the sacrifices made by the pioneering women who fought for our right to vote, weren't in vain.
3. The pollies will run amok if the electorate doesn't slap them around occasionally. Remember the electorate voting for the bizarre and confusing MMP? For better or worse, that was the NZ public in action, drop kicking the entire NZ political sector and saying "We've had it with *all* of you". Its a chance to keep them in line, so let's make the most of it by enrolling and voting.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

A Public Service Announcement

Barracuda at Umm Al Quwain closes for Ramadan at 7pm on Friday 29th August and will reopen on the first day of Eid.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Khasab, Oman

We're back in Dubai after a weekend in Khasab in Oman. The photos are here.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Dubai traffic: It's finally happened, I've snapped!

One man in a white Merc, that’s all it took to finally make me SNAP! Its a regular part of driving in Dubai that people are constantly cutting you off, or changing lanes without indicating (and doing it just inches from your front or rear bumper) but today there was one incident too many.
It started as a regular, for Dubai relatively event-free, drive to work: First I was monstered by a large workers’ bus on Al Khail Road that thought it would just move over into my lane despite the fact that Madame and several other cars were already in the lane exactly where he wanted to go, then a Pajero tried to muscle his way into the queue in front of me on Za’abeel Road. These guys cruise down the queue of waiting cars looking for a driver they think will be intimidated and will let them in. The guy in the Pajero came up beside me, looked in, saw I was female, thought “Easy meat” and moved the nose of his car close to Madame’s front bumper to show he was cutting in. Wrong choice mate! This female in the V8 was annoyed already, so I moved fractionally forward to show that he wasn’t going to force his stupid Pajero in front of me. He gave up on me and moved up the queue, eventually frightening a lady in a little Nissan and cutting into the queue in front of her.
Then, coming along the road outside the Novotel a moron in a white Merc cut me off, missing me by a millimeters, it was so damn dangerous and I was furious, and it happened. My brain fused, SSNNAAPP! Suddenly there was a break in the traffic, Merc Moron put his foot down and accelerated away which was big mistake for him because I'd just had a complete brain-fade and I chased him. Yes I confess I did everything I complain about other people doing. We went through the tunnel under SZR with me right on his tail (and I mean right on his tail with Madame really growling) and as we raced up the ramp at 120 I had a moment of clarity: “For &%*^ ‘s sake, its Dubai, its 7:45am and you’re chasing a bloke in a Merc at 120kph in the peak hour traffic. What are you doing?” Yes, that’s what I thought in my flash of sanity, but did I take my foot off the accelerator? No way!
As a friend at work said later, “You're a free person, it is your right to be foolish.” This is the same lady who, when I arrived at work, was pacing up and down saying that she was going home to the US to get a gun and in the Sharjah traffic she ain’t afraid to use it!
So, that's it, I'm officially a Dubai Driver. God help us all!

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Fire near Burj Dubai Square

These are taken from our office building showing the smoke from a fire in one of the construction sites adjacent to the Burj Dubai. Smoke is billowing across into Burj Dubai Square, sorry new name, Emaar Square.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

A rant about Dubai traffic

The general standard of driving here is unspeakably bad and so, so dangerous. On every trip to or from work, like most regular drivers I'll see someone in the traffic do something so stupid or dangerous that it beggars belief. I've had to throw some basic rules of driving out the window (not literally of course though there's plenty of stuff that gets thrown out car windows here too but that's another story).

1. Don't even think about allowing what we would consider to be a safe travelling distance between you and the car in front, because that gap will immediately be filled by a couple of Nissan Sunnys and a minibus.

2. The concept of staying in your lane is apparently foreign to many drivers in Dubai and it seems that indicators are an optional extra.

3. Speed isn't always the issue, there's at lot of scary stuff happens at 15kph outside Choithrams at Garhoud most evenings.

4. The whole situation is not helped by the constant road changes, the poor signage (probably at any given time at least 50% of drivers on Dubai roads are lost) and of course lane markings that lie! Follow the lane markings and more often than not they'll put you into a wall, a red and crash white barrier or even opposing traffic.

However, on the positive side, cars are relatively cheap, if I was at home, I couldn't afford to run The Lovely Madame. In Dubai I pay in dirhams what it would cost me in dollars to fill the tank in NZ or Aus.

He's alive. No, he's dead. Wait, he's alive again!

You may have read about the Lebanese singer who was murdered here in Dubai a few weeks ago. It was apparently a contract killing and the authorities tracked the hitman (supposedly hired by a "local businessman" for a fee of a million dirham) to Egypt and arrested him. A couple of days later the papers here were telling us that the hitman was dead as either (a) he'd been found hanging in his police cell or (b) he'd died in hospital after suffering a heart attack (it would be so easy to mix those two up and the confusion is easy to understand - this is Dubai after all). But now, hallelujah, today the papers say that in fact he's alive again.

Now I can undersand confusion about the name of the suspect or his nationality but when it comes to being alive or dead I wouldn't have thought there was much room for doubt. I've always understood that a person is either one or the other, there's no middle ground, you can't be "a little bit dead" like you can't be "a little bit pregnant". Who knows? maybe tomorrow he'll be dead again.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

This afternoon's sandstorm

Above is the view from the office window taken last week.

There's a sandstorm blown in within the last 30 minutes and this is the same view. Even the Burj is disappearing:

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Olympic opening commentary in Dubai

Like half the world, I watched the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics last night. I don't know if the Olympics are being shown on free-to-air tv here in Dubai but we are getting it loud and clear through the South African satellite network MNET. Incredible ceremony with fantastic fireworks. I have to ask though: What was with Sarah Brightman's hair? It looked liked a cheap rental wig from a mermaid costume.

It was a total surprise when I heard the opening ceremony commentators: Keith Quinn and John McBeth. I last heard KQ commentating sailing or something like that on TVNZ and John McBeth has commentated rugby in NZ since the Dark Ages (and done it well too.) The commentators for the weightlifting this morning were Kiwis too. Yaaaah -flat vowels rule!

Friday, 8 August 2008

Satwa demolition: Update 8 Aug 08

The pile of rubble in the second photo is all that remains of the mansion I wrote about previously and shown in the first photo. I've updated the gallery with photos taken earlier this morning of the ongoing demolition of Satwa. There is now only one family remaining in the Masafi villas, the demolition crews have removed the satellite dishes from the roofs and simply throwing them over the side of the houses onto the ground, all the doors of the villas are open and the floors are inches thick with dust, a real ghost town. The strangest thing is that there are no cats anywhere.

Shortsighted destruction for financial gain, supposedly in the name of progress.

NZ elections

The NZ elections must be getting close as the polly jokes are circulating already:

Prime Ministerial candidates Helen Clark, John Key, and Winston Peters were flying to a debate. Helen looked at John, and said, "You know I could throw a $1,000 bill out of the window right now and make somebody very happy." John shrugged his shoulders and replied, "I could throw ten $100 bills out of the window and make ten people very happy." Winston added, " I could throw one hundred $10 bills out of the window and make a hundred people very happy."

Hearing their exchange, the pilot rolled his eyes and said to his co-pilot, "Such big-shots back there. I could throw all three of them out of the window and make 4.3 million people very happy."

Thursday, 7 August 2008

We can see the sea!

A clear day is a rare thing in Dubai but today we could see right out to sea. This was taken from our new office looking past Defence roundabout. Out to sea is The World.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

It's getting hot in here

This is what happens when there's no air-con in a Dubai office.
The temperature showing on the gauge is 30.3 degree Celsius = 86.54 degree Fahrenheit!

Saturday, 2 August 2008

It's alive!

I've finally seen the train that will run on the Dubai Metro line. This afternoon as we were on Sheikh Zayed Road out near Jebel Ali the train came zipping along on the track that runs parallel to SZR.

From what I've seen of the track construction so far, the track is such an up and down corkscrew ride, that I reckon they'll have to hand out a sick bag with every ticket.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Satwa: Seen with a local eye

I've posted quite a few updates on the demolition of the Satwa area of Dubai. I'm so glad to have received this email from a local lady in response to my February '08 post, "Satwa: The End is Nigh". As many people won't have read her comments on the older post I am putting her email here as a separate entry because I think its very important to hear all sides of the story and hers is a particularly powerful and relevant comment:

"This is beyond horrifying.

Expats and emirati nationals alike were told that their investments were safe in Dubai, and to this day the city attracts investors on that premise - yet go online and one finds that it is all a farce.

I am part local, residing in Abu Dhabi, my father had purchased a property in satwa some years ago.

Just last year, out of the blue, the government banned buying/selling of property in satwa. We were stuck.

Well, I received that letter that you mentioned, and promptly went to the compensation department.

But surprise, they had no system in order, in fact the chaos was bordering on extreme. No one had any idea what was going on.

I was worried, but convinced myself into thinking that my own government would take care of me!

I expected to get at least the MARKET VALUE OF MY PROPERTY!

Today, however, I was told that we were being offered 3.5 million for a property that is worth twice that amount. Moreover, the last offer we got for the house two years ago was 4.5 million!


And its not just me, its everyone. I have hired a lawyer, but it does not seem to be making any difference.


My father was not originally emirati... he was not born rich, he worked himself to the bone.

Had we taken out our money two years ago, and invested it elsewhere, we would have been sitting on a pretty penny instead of worrying about the rent which is our only source of income.

I cannot buy another villa with that sum, not with the current real estate boom. How am I to make ends meet?

I do not know what to do, I am not fluent in Arabic and am not aware of how I can contact the other residents.

I wish to persuade them to rally behind the cause of fighting for justice and claiming their rights.


Being a woman, I am not allowed to fight my own battles here, and my reception at government institutions is at best cold at worst shocking.


Wednesday, 23 July 2008

No more visa runs

UAE puts an end to visa runs to neighbouring countries

Published: July 23, 2008 in the "Gulf News"

Dubai: People from any part of world wishing to visit UAE can from now on apply for tourist visa, said a top official on Wednesday.

The Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department (DNRD) and the Economic Department met with representatives of hotels, tourist agencies, hospitals and educational institutions at Dubai Police Club on Wednesday to brief them about the new federal visa changes and how it will be implemented.

Visa runs to Kish Island, Oman and other neighbouring countries has also been stopped. People wanting to change their visas must go back to their home countries, said Mohammad Ahmad Al Hammadi, Director of the Department of Entry Permit.

Visa applicants coming back from any of the neighbouring countries of the UAE will have their applications rejected, said the official.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Waiting for the backlash

Not a good week for expats here after the publication in the UK, in that august publication the Sun, of the story of an unbelievable act of expat stupidity in Dubai. In summary, a female expat resident of Dubai goes to a well-known hotel for Friday brunch, gets totally hammered, hooks up with a male expat, they carry on pub crawling and next thing she is seen by a UAE policeman having s*x or as they say in the Sun "romping" with the male expat on Jumeirah Beach. They are warned but let go, then shortly afterwards the policeman sees them "romping" again, he warns them again, she goes ballistic, throws her shoes at him and calls him a "*%&ing Muslim". They are arrested and now both are whinging that they are hard-done-by as they stare down the barrel of a possible 6 year jail term (Western jails are holiday camps compared to the jails here.)

This situation has been widely discussed here in the UAE both in the general media and in expat forums. Now that a glimpse of the less attractive face of expat life in Dubai (the "underbelly" I think the Sun called it) has been revealed to the rest of the world, there will be far greater media interest worldwide and the story itself or reports of the morals crackdown have appeared in papers in Australia and NZ. This is not the sort of publicity the authorities in Dubai like, and my concern, shared by many other residents, is that there will be a backlash against the expats already in Dubai. What form that backlash will take, we will have to wait and see. I wonder if, just as one example, the 'Holes in the Wall' which operate in certain other Emirates and are huge expat favourites, will be looked at more closely?

I would think that the management of the hotel where the brunch was held has their collective arses in a sling - I wonder if the restaurant manager still has a job - and the company's local sponsor has probably received big-time GBH of the earhole!

The Gulf News reports that extra patrols will police Dubai's beaches to ensure appropriate clothing is being worn and to crack down on displays of "indecent affection" between couples. I hope their attention will also be directed at the groups of guys who come down to the beaches to stare at the women while playing 'pocket billards'.

Satwa: Update on demolition

The scale of the demolition in Satwa is amazing/shocking. There are photos taken yesterday (Sat 12 July 08) here. You may recall that we were evicted from our great, and cheap, villa in Al Satwa (not the one in the picture above of course), and had to be out by 1st July, as that’s when the bull dozers were allegedly starting demolition. After a scout around Satwa yesterday and visiting our old compound, which is almost deserted bar only about 2 villas, we find out this morning that apparently the eviction deadline was extended through to 1st September - FREE RENT. As they say “Welcome to Dubai”!

Its worth noting however that its not just the down-at-heel part of Satwa that's going. There are huge mansions in Satwa, formerly the homes of local Emirati families, that are being flattened as well as you'll see from the photos. The Emirati national families receive financial compensation plus a gift of land from the UAE government on which to build a new home but even so, if Satwa's been your home for years and you don't want to move, its a wrench to move to somewhere new.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Peace breaks out in Lebanon.

We're back in Beirut, Lebanon this weekend to attend a wedding. If you want to skip to the photos, they're here. We were in Beirut in January 08 when the political situation was very tense and the feeling of threat and apprehension in the air was almost palpable. In the past six month the political landscape has changed completely as on 25th May, after 18 previous attempts, the Lebanese Parliament elected a President, General Michel Suleiman, and, for the moment anyway, peace has broken out in Lebanon. The airport at Beirut was the first place where the change in atmosphere was noticeably different to January. I remarked to the guy from the hotel who picked us up last night that in January there was 'nobody home' at the airport, he laughed and said that in January 'there was nobody home in all of Lebanon....." In January the airport was deserted with just a few armed soldiers around and our greeter then was extremely keen to get us, and himself no doubt, away from the airport which is seen as a prime target and to our hotel. By contrast, last night Rafic Hariri airport was busy, there was a crowd of people waiting to greet arriving passengers, the coffee shops and souvenir stalls were open, taxis were lined up outside for potential passengers and people are more relaxed. On the way to the hotel from the airport we passed the remains of the huge piles of earth that had been used to block access to the airport in the wave of trouble last month, and while the military is still a visible presence in the city, the tanks and APCs are located only on strategic corners and outside public buildings in January they were everywhere. The soldiers now seem more relaxed where before every soldier we saw was literally on a war footing with his finger on the trigger.

We flew in to Beirut on Middle East Airlines, the Lebanese national airline, which was fine, smooth trip, though an hour late leaving Dubai which meant we arrived in our hotel in Beirut well past 1am. Today we went to the Beirut National Museum an absolute 'must see' with exhibits covering Lebanon's history from the bronze age. We also watched a very interesting video on how the museum encased many of the large statues in concrete to protect them during the civil war in the '90s. From there we went out to the antique area in search of a large decorated platter to hang in our foyer. Found exactly what we, ok I, was after and after another wonderful bit of bargaining by Colin we got it for just over a third of the price originally quoted. Then headed to Monoprix the large shopping mall in Ashrifye to buy music CDs from the Virgin shop there then back to the hotel for a rest before heading out tonight to the wedding at the Sheraton. The wedding officially starts at 7:30pm which means nobody will be there until 9pm - I'm finally getting my head around "Middle East time" - I have the glitzy dress, the clutch purse with fake jewels all over it, the bling, the ultra high heels and the hairdo so I'm prepared :-)

Friday, 4 July 2008

The fickle finger

From the 'Gulf News' of 4th July 08

Judges debate deportation order for indecent gesture in public
By Bassam Za'za', Senior Reporter

Dubai: Flash your middle finger in the face of someone in public and get deported.

Deportation has become compulsory against those who are found guilty of flashing their middle finger in public, warned a chief prosecutor yesterday.

"Expatriates should start having better control over their behaviour in public because, according to the Federal Penal Law, deportation has become obligatory against those who are incriminated of committing an indecent gesture or behaving obscenely in public such as flashing their middle finger, kissing, cuddling or hugging etc.

"Emiratis who commit the same crime face imprisonment, fine or both," the chief prosecutor, who requested anonymity, told Gulf News yesterday afternoon.

Appeals judge Mahmoud Fahmi considers the punishment as stricter than a life sentence and called on lawmakers and legislators to reconsider the compulsory deportation order.

Tight rein

"The recent amendment in the Federal Penal Law is strict. The compulsory deportation order has honestly kept a tight rein on us especially when we prosecute someone who committed an indecent gesture in public such as flashed a finger or had consensual sex ... the suspects who commit such an offence or crime aren't a threat to the society or as dangerous as rapists or molesters who deserve a deportation order," judge Fahmi told Gulf News.


He called on the lawmakers to return to the earlier practice by which judges were given the discretion to issue a deportation order when prosecuting such suspects.

Advocate Khalifa Al Salman, who was a former judge at Dubai courts, told Gulf News: "I am strongly against the compulsory deportation order because it is very stiff against someone who commits an indecent gesture or behaves obscenely in public. Lawmakers have stipulated punishments to deter suspects from repeating a crime or misdemeanour.

"Meanwhile, an obligatory deportation order is inconsistent with such a crime. A deportation order is meant to expel a suspect from a society when he/she becomes more harmful than beneficial to that society."

Al Salman called on lawmakers to stipulate laws that entitle judges to jail or fine a suspect who commits such a crime and grant them the discretion to issue deportation orders against expatriates or not.


A 37-year-old Pakistani worker faces a deportation order in case Dubai Court of First Instance incriminates him flashing his middle finger to a 19-year-old jobless Emirati who has also been charged with flashing his finger to the worker.

"I am guilty for flashing my finger in his face... but I reacted to his and his compatriot's behaviour."

The Public Prosecution charged the worker, J.A., with indecently gesturing in public. The jobless Emirati, S.R., was likely charged with flashing his finger in J.A.'s face.

J.A. and his compatriot, M.A., were charged with leaving the worker with five per cent permanent disability after assaulting him. M.A. was additionally charged with endangering the lives of J.A. and his 35-year-old compatriot driver, M.I., when he surprisingly pulled his breaks and swerved his vehicle against their car.

Violating privacy
Article 121 of the amended Federal Penal Law No. 3, 1987, says it's up to a judge's discretion to order the deportation of any expatriate who is jailed for a crime or misdemeanour.

A deportation order becomes compulsory when a suspect commits a crime against someone's privacy, honour or dignity. According to the same Article, a court can instantly deport a suspect in a misdemeanour crime instead of a jail sentence.

The fifth section of the same Law concerning crimes against honour and dignity, Article 358, stipulates that a suspect who commits an indecent gesture in public faces a minimum of six months in jail, and any suspect who breaches the privacy, honour or dignity of a minor under the age of 15, in public or in private, faces minimum one year in jail.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

It's all in the profile

Picture from 'Xpress'

It won't come as a surprise to anyone who's been in Dubai more than 10 minutes, that the taxi drivers here pick and choose potential passengers who try to flag a taxi in the street. According to the Dubai tabloid 'Xpress' here's how its done, (and there are few places in the world where such an article could even be printed):

How cabbies racially profile Dubai’s passengers

Africans They usually head for Deira, Baniyas Square (popularly known as Al Nasr Square), Naif Souq, Frij Al Murar, Hamdan Colony and Al Baraha.

Indians, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and Pakistanis They go to Bur Dubai, Karama, Old Pakistani Consulate, Oud Metha Road, Al Rigga Road, Al Muteena Road and Al Qusais.

Indian businessmen Great to pick up during business hours as they take business routes. After 5pm, they head back to the aforementioned locations.

Asians The Chinese live in large congregations, either at International City or in various areas around BurJuman Centre.

Filipinos Usually residing in Satwa, Jebel Ali or Al Muteena in Deira. Always take short rides

Emiratis A rarity

Saudis Singles usually stay at hotels in Deira near Al Rigga or Muraqabbat Roads. Saudi families make great customers as they tend to travel to major shopping malls such as Mall of the Emirates and Ibn Battuta Mall

Arabs Risky pick ups. They get upset fast and go to Sharjah a lot

Eastern Europeans Usually stay in Sharjah or Ajman, which means running into traffic.

Westerners Preferred customers. They usually go to new Dubai, from Jumeirah onwards.

Why new Dubai?

Taxi drivers prefer going around new Dubai because there’s less traffic. An evening trip from Madinat Jumeirah to The Springs 3 would cost around Dh25 would take around 12 minutes. A trip between Oud Metha Road and Al Maktoum Road - about the same distance - would cost around Dh13, but would take 25 minutes.

Monday, 30 June 2008

"I'm my own Grandpa"

Can you believe it? There are people in the world who actually doubt the existence of the song "I'm my own Grandpa." So here's the proof:

Many, many years ago when I was twenty-three
I was married to a widow who was pretty as could be.
This widow had a grown-up daughter who had hair of red.
My father fell in love with her and soon they, too, were wed.

This made my dad my son-in-law and changed my very life
For my daughter was my mother, 'cause she was my father's wife.
To complicate the matter, even though it brought me joy
I soon became the father of a bouncing baby boy.

My little baby then became a brother-in-law to dad
And so became my uncle, though it made me very sad
For if he was my uncle, then that also made him brother
To the widow's grown-up daughter, who, of course, was my step-mother.

My father's wife then had a son who kept them on the run
And he became my grand-child, 'cause he was my daughter's son.
My wife is now my mother's mother, and it makes me blue
Because, although she is my wife, she's my grandmother too.

If my wife is my grandmother, then I am her grandchild
And every time I think of it, it nearly drives me wild
For now I have become the strangest case you ever saw
(This has got to be the strangest thing I ever saw)
As husband of my grandmother, I am my own grandpaw.

I'm my own grandpaw
I'm my own grandpaw
It sounds funny I know
but it really is so
Oh, I'm my own grandpaw.

We're engaged.

We spent last weekend at Bab al Shams the desert resort about 45 minutes out of Dubai, cheapo me, I'd been waiting for the summer specials to start. There are photos of the tanoura dancer and the bellydancer who performed at the hotel's desert restaurant here.

On Friday afternoon over our second bottle of champagne, Colin asked me to marry him and once I got over the shock I said 'yes' and we are now engaged (no date or place planned yet).

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Designer Dishdashes come to Dubai

Tom Ford dishdashas to hit Dubai
Legendary fashion designer Tom Ford is creating a signature line of dishdashas for Arab men. Picture for illustrative purposes only. (Getty Images)Tom Ford, who turned Gucci into a global colossus during his ten years as creative director for the fashion house, is creating a signature line of dishdashas for fashion-conscious Arab men.

Rumours of the launch have been circulating since last year, but Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah, owner of Villa Moda, confirmed the news in an interview with fashion magazine Grazia.

Al-Sabah did not announce a date for the arrival of the Arabic men’s line, but hinted that it would be “very soon”.

The range looks certain to create a buzz for Villa Moda’s new multi-brand store, which is set to open within weeks at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) mall.

The store will be the first to offer Tom Ford fashion in the Middle East.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Visa u-turn in Dubai

An article from the Arabian Business website today:

Dubai risks scaring off investors with visa u-turn

From Tuesday, 24 June 2008

INVESTOR CONFIDENCE: ING said the announcement expat homeowners in Dubai are not automatically entitled to long-term residency could hit property sales. Foreigners could be less likely to buy properties in Dubai after the emirate's real estate regulator said expatriate homeowners are not automatically entitled to long-term residency rights, ING said on Tuesday.

"There is no direct link between owning a property in Dubai and obtaining a residency visa", Chief Executive of the emirate's Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA), Marwan bin Ghalita, was quoted by daily Gulf News as saying on Tuesday. (my emphasis)

The comments were contrary to prior statements from local developers such as Emaar Properties, the Arab world's largest real estate firm by market value, ING said, noting the remarks could trigger "negative sentiment" and impact Emaar's stock.
Dubai, the commercial hub of the Arab world, has witnessed a property boom since the government allowed foreigners to invest in properties in 2002. The emirate passed a real estate law in 2006 allowing foreign freehold ownership in some areas.

Expatriates from neighbouring countries facing political instability, such as Pakistan, Lebanon and Iran, have been lured to Dubai largely on the assumption that owning a property would entitle them to long-term visas, ING said.

"People from politically/economically unstable countries in the region bought residences in Dubai assuming they would automatically be granted residency, a huge asset to have if the situation in their home countries turned sour," ING said.

"Dubai was the only market in the region to offer such a link."

But bin Ghalita's comments on Tuesday raised questions about whether the promise of residency from developers, including state-owned Dubai Properties and Nakheel, has legal backing, ING said.

"Developers should not lure investors to the property sector with a promise of residence visa," bin Ghalita was quoted as saying.

The existence of "safety homes" in Dubai has been a key factor driving demand, and any decision by regulators to review the visa status of existing homeowners would create a "legal minefield" and could hit the emirate's image, ING said.

"Owners will feel they have been sold a worthless investment and what's more by developers that are all linked very closely to the state in Dubai," the bank said.

Shares of Emaar Properties slipped 0.45 percent on Tuesday while those of Union Properties fell 2.68 percent.

The regulator, meanwhile, has submitted a proposal to the government to grant foreigner homeowners visit visas, a rule that could also apply to existing homeowners if it is approved, bin Ghalita said.

Foreigners comprise more than 80 percent of the population in the United Arab Emirates, home to about 4.1 million people, the majority from the Indian subcontinent, Iran and other Arab countries. (Reuters)

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

A sh*tty story

Dubai's struggling to provide the infrastructure required to keep pace with the rate of development here. The challenges that come with the resulting enormous population increase are really brought home by sights like that shown above. All the trucks in this queue, which stretches for kilometres into the distance, are carrying raw sewerage from Dubai and waiting to unload it at the Al Aweer treatment plant behind International City. The queue is there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. According to the Gulf News, the Al Aweer sewage plant was originally designed to cope with 57 million gallons a day, but is currently running at 70 per cent above design capacity and actually processes 101 million gallons a day.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Madame's Revenge

Madame and her Italian friend

Madame came home after her week in the slammer, and she was annoyed, anyone could see that, one look in her headlights was enough to know that this was a 505bhp beast in a Very Bad Mood. First day and Colin had her for the day, "Are you sure you want to take her?" I asked "She's really cross with you." He shot me a look that said, "Get a life, its just a car, a machine, a collection of metal and electronics incapable of independent thought and acts of revenge." At noon I got a phone call from him saying that Madame's air-con was playing up, and that he and his MD were stuck in the traffic with the inside temp in the car heading towards 50+ because, get this, not only was the cooling not working, but the heater had started pouring out hot air too.......just a machine.....totally incapable of acts of revenge........

(I've had her every day since then and she's purring along like a smug little kitten scaring all the little cars and doing what she does best.)

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Skype users beware

Skype is running again in the UAE for computer to computer calls, some people can call landlines but others can't. If a user wants to add credit to their Skype account they are forced by Skype to use a UK site called Moneybookers. I was punted onto the Moneybookers site when I clicked "add credit" on my Skype page only to find that I couldn't get into the Moneybookers site initially because UAE users have to use a VPN to access Skype and Moneybookers won't accept contacts from anonymous proxies. The only thing to do is disconnect from Skype and close the VPN, then go back onto the net and into the Moneybookers website direct. First, you are asked to intially register and you're sent a confirmation email. You then go back into the Moneybookers site and after completing the registration process which includes giving all credit card details, to my horror they immediately blocked access to my Moneybookers 'account' (if such a thing even existed). It was instantaneous: I gave the cc details and immediately I was "blocked". Yes there's sufficient credit on the card. Moneybookers have a complaints "process" on their website so I've filled out the form, probably a completely pointless exercise, if I get a response at all it'll be one of those smarmy "....your complaint will be handled by the first available customer care consultant..." They have the cc details and that's all they wanted. This has been my experience with Moneybookers this morning and all I can say after my experience is 'Beware'.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Facebook and You Tube blocked in the UAE?

Happy to be proved wrong but like a lot of people in Dubai I haven't been able to access either Facebook or YouTube for 3-4 days. I assume that like Skype (see entry below) they've both now been blocked. No luck using a VPN over the weekend and today I can't even access the websites for either H.S.S. or T.C. We're with Etisalat. Friends with 'du', the other comms company here in Dubai, say they can still access Facebook and YouTube, but its "up and down". If Etisalat has barred the sites then du won't be far behind.

Here's what happens:

Facebook: the sign-in page comes up as normal, I type in my password, press enter and get bounced straight back to the sign-in page, repeat ad infinitum.

YouTube: the site comes up ok, type in subject, maybe something innocuous like "kittens playing", press enter, the little Ouroboros thing comes up in the middle of the black screen followed by the words "This video is no longer available". Also "not available" to protect the public, due to the obviously corrupting nature of the content are tips on propogating tomatoes, my own videos of John driving the Lambo, Crufts Dog Show, bellydance, pro wrestling, and even instructions on textured finishes for painted walls (for some reason this reminds me of Lister's crocheted hat and "Wall-papering, Painting, and Stippling - a DIY guide".)

If anyone's having better luck let me know.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Soccer: Australia -v- Iraq ticket ripoff

Ticket prices have just been confirmed for the Aus-v-Iraq match to be played in Dubai tonight. There is a euphemistically named "two tier" price system in place: 20 dirhams ($US5.45) for Iraqis/Arab nationals and 356 dirhams ($US100) for expats. That's not just a tier mate, that's the whole bloody grandstand!

But this bit of shiftiness and some other unsportsmanlike incidents pre-game have not gone unnoticed out there in the Real World with an article already in the Melbourne Age. I'm annoyed and I'm not even Australian!

Friday, 6 June 2008

Skype blocked in the UAE

Skype is a software programme, created in Estonia, which allows users to make phone calls from their PCs. Calls made to other Skype users are free and there's a small fee for calls to landlines and cell phones. I can make calls to NZ, talk for 15-20 mins and it only costs around 40c US.

Access to Skype is now blocked (again) in the UAE. It was banned previously (2005-ish) but people got around it by using VPNs but now that doesn't work either. Attempts to access the Skype website result in this message:

'We apologize the site you are attempting to visit has been blocked due to its content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the United Arab Emirates.'

I don't understand how making phone calls to family and friends overseas is "inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the UAE". Inconsistent with profit making more like it........

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

How architectural plans are interpreted on site

Another one for the 'Only in Dubai' department.

Madame is not amused.

Madame seems to have her own fanclub :-) The latest news is that she served only 4 days of her sentence and then we bailed her out of the Big House. Up until recently, you could pay the fine plus 100 dirhams per day for each day of impound and keep the car. We were *told* that people could no longer do this, but in true Dubai style that wasn't true at all. After 3 days without Madame Colin asked the question, paid the cash and got the car back immediately.

Madame however, was not amused. To show her displeasure she blew her alternator which means she's now sitting out at the Audi dealers having a nice time with all the other Audis (her peeps) while waiting for a new alternator to be imported from Germany. While she's is out of action I'm tootling round town in a 'loaner' a little Audi A4. Where Madame is a fire breathing tiger, the Baby Audi is a little kitten. So I just 'pull my head in', drive in the right hand lane with the Good Kids and watch the endless display of imbecility and death wish that pass for driving on Dubai roads.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Satwa: الى اللقاء (See you later)

Sadly, we’ve joined the exodus from Satwa and, after we moved out, as arranged, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (“DEWA”) cut off the water and electricity supply to the Satwa villa on 17th May. DEWA produced the final bill on 20th May. Now DEWA are refusing to refund the original deposit we paid as they're demanding that we pay for water and electricity at the Satwa villa from the date they disconnected the power and water, 17th May, to the date the bill was produced, 20th May. Why? According to DEWA their policy is that the amount to be paid by the consumer is calculated on the date DEWA produces the final bill not the date the service actually ceased. So if, for example, a villa in Satwa is demolished before DEWA produces a final bill for that property, and due to the number of Satwa disconnections it takes them let's say, 6 weeks, to produce a final bill, is the consumer required to pay for water and power (non)supply to the pile of rubble for that 6 week period? I'm sure we'll find out the answer when the demolitions really get under way over the next few months.

The keffiyeh kerfuffle

This article from the Sydney Morning Herald just leaves me shaking my head.
May 29, 2008 - 1:15PM

The US Dunkin' Donuts chain has pulled an online advertisement featuring celebrity chef Rachael Ray after critics argued that a scarf she wore in the ad offers symbolic support for terrorism.

Dunkin' Donuts said today it pulled the ad over the weekend because of what it calls a "misperception" about the scarf that detracted from its original intent to promote its iced coffee.

Critics, including conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, complained that the scarf appeared to be traditional garb worn by Arab men. The ad's critics say such scarves have come to symbolise Muslim extremism and terrorism. According to Malkin's syndicated column (which in the UAE is blocked, possibly on the grounds of terminal idiocy), Ray is wearing a scarf that resembles a kiffiyeh. Malkin said the garment was "popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos,".

(If you follow Ms Malkin's logic then the following assumptions must also be true:
1. The Yorkshire Ripper wears trousers.
2. Most men wear trousers.
3. Therefore most men support the Yorkshire Ripper?)

Dunkin' Donuts, based in Canton, Massachusetts, says the black-and-white scarf that Ray wore had a paisley design, and was selected by a stylist for the advertising shoot. The chain said no symbolism was intended.

On her blog, Malkin said Ray's decision to wear the scarf was "clueless sporting of a jihadi chic keffiyeh".

"I'm hoping her hate couture choice was spurred more by ignorance than ideology," Malkin wrote last week.

Acknowledging the "keffiyeh kerfuffle" that had since erupted, Malkin yesterday explained her stance further.

"Anti-American fashion designers abroad and at home have mainstreamed and adapted the scarves as generic pro-Palestinian jihad or anti-war statements.

"Yet many folks out there remain completely oblivious to the apparel's violent symbolism and anti-Israel overtones."

Shevonne Hunt, a freelance journalist, has reported on the popularity of the keffiyeh in Australia.

She said the so-called "dessert scarf" (maybe she's means 'desert') had become a recent fashion craze in Australia, following a similar trend in the US about a year ago that started after celebrities including Jude Law and the Mary Kate Olsen were seen wearing one.

In Australia, versions of the keffiyeh were available at popular fashion retailers, including General Pants, Cotton On and Tree of Life, Hunt said. But retailers said they often sold out of the scarf, she said.

But the keffiyeh's recent popularity as a fashion item is disappointing to many who understand its history, she said.

"Some people used to wear the keffiyeh as a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian people. But now, the people wearing it often have absolutely no idea what it means or its background," she said.

"Many Palestinians are now actually annoyed because it's lost its power, it's lost its impact."