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.