Sunday, 19 December 2010

So much fun it could be illegal.

We hired a little dune buggy and went for a spin in the desert out the back of Al Awair.  Saw the usual suspects; camels and donkeys but we also saw a desert fox. The fox stared at us for a while before disappearing down a hole under a ghat tree.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Extravagance or obscenity?

Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi has unveiled a Christmas tree decorated with pearls and jewellery valued at more than $11million and proudly proclaimed this to be a demonstration of 'religious tolerance' in the Emirate. IMHO, this tree does nothing for 'religious tolerance', its an excuse for a crass display of conspicuous excess, in this case, using religion as a means of displaying one's wealth; yet another 'look at how much I've got' moment. Its the antithesis of the religion it purports to represent and has zero connection to the event that it supposedly symbolizes, the birth of a baby into such poverty that his 'first bed was a cow’s lunch box' (to quote another article).
Yes, this irritates me, and I'm not even religious!
PS  Christmas trees aren't 'Christian', the tree was originally a pagen symbol connected with the celebration of the winter solstice.  
Article: Emirates 24/7 16 December 2010
Christmas came in extravagant fashion to the emirate of Abu Dhabi as a glitzy hotel unveiled a bejewelled Christmas tree valued at more than $11 million.
It is the "most expensive Christmas tree ever," with a "value of over $11 million," said Hans Olbertz, general manager of Emirates Palace hotel, at its inauguration.
The 13-metre (40-foot) faux evergreen, located in the gold leaf-bedecked rotunda of the hotel, is decorated with silver and gold bows, ball-shaped ornaments and small white lights.
But the necklaces, earrings and other jewellery draped around the tree's branches are what give it a record value.
It holds a total of 181 diamonds, pearls, emeralds, sapphires and other precious stones, said Khalifa Khouri, owner of Style Gallery, which provided the jewellery.
"The tree itself is about 10,000 dollars," Olbertz said. "The jewellery has a value of over 11 million dollars - I think 11.4, 11.5."
This will probably be an entry into the Guinness book of world records, Olbertz said, adding that Emirates Palace planned to contact the organisation about the tree which is to stay until the end of the year.
The hotel has had a Christmas tree up in previous years, but this year "we said we have to do something different," and the hotel's marketing team hatched the plan, said Olbertz.
The tree is not the first extravagant offering from Emirates Palace - a massive, dome-topped hotel sitting amid fountains and carefully manicured lawns.
The hotel, which bills itself as seven-star, in February introduced a package for a seven-day stay priced at one million dollars.
Takers of the package have a private butler and a chauffeur driven Maybach luxury car at their disposal during their stay, as well as a private jet available for trips to other countries in the region.
And in May, the hotel opened a gold vending machine, becoming the first place outside Germany to install "gold to go, the world's first gold vending machine," said Ex Oriente Lux AG, the German company behind the machine.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Kuwait closes Al Jazeera office

Kuwait authorities have shut down the offices of news channel Al Jazeera and withdrawn the accreditation of its correspondents in a fresh clash between the network and the Gulf state, the Doha-based news channel said.

The network said it was threatened with closure if it aired a live interview with Musallam Al-Barrak, a lawmaker who represents one of the main opposition blocs in the Kuwaiti assembly.

“The network refused to give in to the threat and proceeded with the interview in accordance with Al Jazeera’s policy of giving voice to all sides of a story,” the news channel said in a statement.

“Despite Al Jazeera’s request, the Kuwaiti government failed to provide spokespersons to appear in the same program alongside Mr. Al-Barrak to give the government’s point of view,” said Al Jazeera.

The news channel said it condemned the closure and would continue to report on Kuwaiti affairs.

In a statement carried by state news agency KUNA, the government confirmed it had revoked the station's network licence and blamed the television station for meddling in Kuwait's domestic affairs.

It is the third time the Gulf country has closed down Al Jazeera’s offices in objection to its coverage.

Kuwait first closed the bureau for a month in 1999 when an Iraqi caller insulted Kuwait’s Emir, Sheik Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah, during a live show.

The local bureau was opened again two years later.

In 2002, the network’s offices were closed again after Kuwait officials deemed its local coverage to be biased against the Gulf state.

The Qatar-based network has a record of tense relations with Arab countries over its coverage of sensitive political issues. In May, its Bahrain office was suspended and crew were banned from traveling to the Gulf state after it accused the channel of flouting press rules.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The 3 Little Bigs: A cautionary tale from Dubai

Anyone who lives in Dubai or anywhere in the Middle East will relate to this tale written by a Dubai resident with a wonderful ear for the oddities of Dublish ('Dubai English') the language stew created when people from all around the world attempt to communicate in, what is to them, a foreign language.  My theory is that given a couple of hundred years of fermentation, Dubai English would become its own language virtually unrecognisable to speakers of the Mother Tongue.  Dublish will be a cheerful combination of Arabic, English, Hindi/Urdu and Tagalog spoken with a sing-song accent.  We'll all call each other 'Mam-sir' and have the ability to insult each other 100 different ways in the most flowery language. 
For those who don't live in Dubai, welcome to our daily communication struggle. There are no typos, really. The author, a Dubai lawyer, does know how to spell 'desert'. 
Once ubon a time there were three little bigs. The time came for them to leave home and seek their fortunes. So, they straight going to a wonderful land in the dessert [1] which legend has it, was the cleanest Indian city ever. It was also known as Dewbye.Their mother was at first little worried, because she had heard that this marvellous city had recently become the murder capital of the world [2], but they assured her that they would be safe.

The bigs got onto the blane, bought berfume at the duty free, cleared immigration, had their bassborts stamped, smiled and waved at the security cameras at the airbort [3], and they were ready to starting their new lives. Because of the crazy rent, which was too much exbensive, they decided to build their houses, I mean, villas, by themselves.

The first little big was lazy and built his villa of straw. After six hours, the villa was ready.

The second little big built his villa out of sticks, at the backside [4] of the first little big's villa. The villa of sticks was same-same but different, it was stronger and not too weak also.

The third little big took the longest time to build his villa because it was built out of bricks and cement which coming from the north of the country. It suppose to take two weeks, but six months later, it ready. The villa was this much strong and was bit far away from the other two villas. "Mabrouk!!!" said the first two little bigs to the third, once the villa was completed.

One day, the big bad wolf was hungry. He wanted to eat the fat little bigs for sure. He hailed a taxi, and gave instructions to the taxi driver. "Left before Sbinneys, left before Sbinneys .... I SAID LEFT!!!!! OK, turn right before the signal ... no, BEFORE... no, before and after not same same!!!! No, DO NOT reverse at the roundabout [5]!!!! Wallahi, you trying to kill me?"

Two heart attacks later, he reached his destination, told the taxi to double bark and wait, and knocked on the first little big's villa of straw.

"Hello, how arrrre you?" said the big bad wolf.

"Fine thank you. How arrrre you? How is yourrrr family?" said the little big, looking through the window.

"My family is fine thank you. How is yourrr family, yakni? You living alone or no? Or you have family here?"

This went on for about five minutes [6], until the wolf finally got to the boint - "Let me in, let me in little big or I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your villa down definitely, I swear I am so hungry ... this is top urgent!"

"No broblem sir, I opening the door now. Five minutes, maximum," said the first little big. The wolf waited patiently, until four hours later, the wolf got fed up of waiting like some estupid idiot in the sweltering sun. He shouted in rage at the first little big (but did not use any swear words), and blew the villa down [7].

As the big bad wolf was starving, the first little big was eaten as a raw kibbeh, with some olive oil and onion on the side, too much delicious.

The big bad wolf was still hungry, so he took the taxi to the backside of what was once the villa of straw (about 3 metres away, but because of the one way street system, speed bumps and detours, it was a ten minute drive), to the villa of sticks. He knocked on the second little big's villa of sticks.

"Hello, how arrrre you?" said the big bad wolf to the second little big.

"I'm fine, thanks God. How arrrrre you? And your family?" said the second little big.

"My family is fine thank you ...." And so on and so forth... until the second little big got fed up of the niceties.

"What the broblem is? Tell me," said the second little big finally. He obviously did not hear the commotion earlier.

"Sorry to disturb you, but let me in, let me in little big or I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your villa down, no? You are sin, not too fat also [8], but you'll do."

The second little big tried to stall and lie. "Mamsirrr not in today, sirrrr ...I don't have the keys, maybe they coming back before two hours ..." He tried to shake his head from side to side to look more convincing, but sadly, not having a proper neck, it was a difficult task for the big to berform.

But alas, the big bad wolf was not to be tricked this time. He huffed and he puffed, and the villa of sticks was demolished in minutes, and the sticks were used to thread the kebab pieces that the second little big had been transformed into. With mint tea little bit sugar medium sweet, on the side.

After the tasty, non "shariah complaint" [9] meal, the wolf was still hungry, and no anyone could estop him from taking the same taxi estate [10] to the villa of bricks.

He knocked on the third little big's villa of bricks.

"How arrre you ... " We all know the dialogue by now. So, to cut the story short, the wolf spoke.

"Blease, my friend ... I am hungry, let me come in and eat you, ya habibi ... blease, you look like a good big, do this as a favour to me ... "

The third little big was braver, better educated and had good connections. So he shouted immediately at the wolf.

"Haram!!! Yalah, go away, or I call 999 and make bolice report to Insbector Muhammad Green Eyes [11]. He is the cousin of my bestfriendwife. He is the boss of the First Responed Unit [12]. Bas!"

Of course, no obscenities were exchanged, even though the big's life was at stake (or rather, at steak ... he he he). That would have just been too rude and unacceptable.

The wolf tried to huff and puff, but not even the khamseen winds could have blown the villa down. The wolf tried to break open the door, but in fact, because it was so badly constructed by Babu [13] the contractor, and not because of the strong locks, the door stayed firmly shut. Unbeknownst to the wolf, the third little big had been stucked [14] in the villa for 3 days, waiting for building maintenance team to arrive. The team had been promising him every two hours that they would be there after fifteen minutes.

But the wolf refused to give ub. He climbed to the flat roof to look for a chimney, but there was none there. How strange that a country which suffers 50 degree summers should have no chimneys.

Suddenly, he felt a gun bressed to the base of his skull.
"Thought you could get away ...?" a voice said in Chechnyan.

And two seconds before the unidentified assassin bulled the trigger, the big bad wolf realised that he should never have messed around with illegal firearms in his brevious life.

And the third little big lived habbily ever after. Or rather, up to the point he lost all his life savings in the Great Broberty Crash.

Khalas. Yalah bye!

[1] I challenge you to show me a typo free menu in this country
2] especially JBR ... their carpark looks like a typical Malaysian carpark, badly lit, eerie and rape friendly
[3] think no one in Dubai knows what you're up to? Think again!
[4] I can now say this without laughing
[5] true incident, a cab almost rammed into my car when it reversed at a roundabout
[6] typical conversation, any conversation
[7] none of the villas had back doors
[6] actual pick up line used on me[9] taken from a live Shariah transaction I handled ... I swear. The client also mentioned that the bank will beer all costs ...[10] I was literally looking out for a housing estate the first time I heard this phrase. In case you haven't figured it out, get it straight!!!
[11] Remember him? :)[12] actual writing painted on an official security vehicle. Not to be confused with the equally prestigious Second Responed Unit
[13] cheap shot, but I can't have a story without Babu messing up somewhere
[14] according to Azli and Sab, pronounced "stuckered"

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah dies

Radio stations in the UAE are playing Koranic recitations or sombre music to mark the passing of His Highness Shaikh Saqr Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah.
Born in 1920, Shaikh Saqr belonged to Al Qasimia dynasty that ruled the northern part of the Greater Oman Region, following the fall of Ya’aribah state and emergence of Al Busayidi state in Suhar and Muscat in 1747.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Look at me Mum.

The guys who were filmed driving like drop kicks on Sheikh Zayed Road are, surprisingly considering the risks of their actions, still alive.  You may remember these morons from their antics back in May and you'll probably also remember that their 'slap on the wrist with limp celery' punishment was a 1000 dirham fine, that's around $300.  You could probably be fined more than that for wearing a short skirt in the mall.  One article states "Motoring experts claim levying heavy fines will not have any effect on the behaviour of these kind of drivers." Its now apparent that levying laughable, tiny fines has no effect either. These boys must have wasta by the bucketful.
'7 Days' the local shock-horror English language in Dubai has discovered that the fools have a Youtube channel.  This has caused some comment in the press, but having looked through the channel's contents, let's not get too overexcited.  Most of the clips are taken from tv coverage of the drifting comps which are held in controlled conditions at the MotoPlex at Um al Quwain.  However, they do have a clip which shows why they'll leave their mothers' crying:  

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Changes to visa rules for Saudi Arabia

Anyone who’s ever applied for a Saudi visa will know that the rules change on a fairly regular basis.  It seems that at present Saudi visas are only being issued for 30 days validity.  As a result, its a fairly regular process to prepare all the documents just like you did last time, take them into the typist to be translated and typed up for the KSA authorities, only to find that the rules have changed and now you need a different type of application form, or a pre-registration email from MOFA in Riyadh, or a letter of authority from someone else or the company stamp on a document, all/any of which you didn’t need last month..  This week, we have discovered that no Saudi visa will be issued without a signed copy of a form below which is now required for all applications processed in Dubai (could be the entire UAE but the typist’s English was a bit limited) and it is required for all nationalities.  ----------------I hereby undertake to give my fingerprints and my eye iris pattern images and comply with the laws of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
I, the undersigned, hereby agree to have my fingerprint & iris data (biometrics) captured as part of the application procedure for an entry visa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I further agree and declare as follows:
1. If granted the visa I shall abide by all the laws and regulations of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and respect the Islamic customs and traditions of its people.
2. I am aware that all alcoholic beverages, narcotics and other illegal drugs, pornographic materials or publications, which violate the social norms of decency and all other publications, which are disrespectful of any religious belief or political orientation, are prohibited and shall not be brought into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
3. I am also fully aware that the crime of smuggling narcotics and other illegal drugs into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is punishable by the death penalty.
4. I have never been removed, excluded or deported from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or from any other Gulf Cooperation Council member state or charged with violation of any law or regulation thereof.
5. I agree to depart the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on or before the expiration date of my visa. I am well aware that any violation of the laws and regulations of the Kingdom or any engagement in prohibited activities such as the activities mentioned herein or in the entry visa documentation are subject to the penalties, which are described in the "Dealing with Persons on Entry Visas" statute as enacted by Royal Decree No. 42, dated 10/18/1404AH.
6. I acknowledge and reaffirm my declaration that this application and the evidence submitted with it are all true and correct. I also understand that if I submit any false information or if my name was found to be listed as banned from entering the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia my application will be denied or my visa, if already granted, revoked. Moreover, I may be turned back from any Saudi port of entry at my own expense while I shall have no right to demand compensation.


Thursday, 30 September 2010

Mixing messages as an art form

Anyone who's ever read one of the weekly women's gossip magazines would at some point have marvelled at the double standards on regular display.  As an example, on the front page might be a picture of a rail thin minor celeb, all gauntness and concentration camp-chic with a suitably critical 'shock horror' banner headline.  Yet, if you flick over a few pages you'll find photos of other girls who, heaven forbid, might have a shape vaguely reminiscent of an emaciated woman, and there'll be editorial remarks about how overweight that person is 'porky' seems to be the favourite comment.  Mixed messages.  Meanwhile back in the Sandpit, the business of sending mixed messages has become almost an art form. This week's example is the headline on Arabian Business reporting that Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai has proclaimed "We are back...".  He continues, “All the projects that were there are going ahead,” although some may be delayed for six months to a year.  Which doesn't seem to correlate with what's directly below, another headline stating that a bond prospectus posted on the London Stock Exchange website on Monday stated that Dubai has cancelled almost half of the real estate projects planned in the emirate due to weak demand following the global financial crisis. 
And all the while, back in the real world, the construction industry in Dubai is moribund, jobs are still being lost and so many people I talk to are 'just hanging on'.  Reality doesn't seem to fit with the mixed messages.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Friday, 24 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 8 Tashkent-Dubai

Leaving Tashkent
Up at 4:30am and driven through the quiet pre-dawn streets of Tashkent. At the airport the entrance road was blocked by concrete barriers so we walked up the entrance. We had to show our tickets to get into the terminal building and once inside we had to put all our bags through an x-ray. The check in was painless once we'd found the right desk then we started running the gauntlet to exit Uzbekistan. First another x-ray then into the queue to explain where our money had gone, the correct answer was rewarded with a stamp in the passport then along a corridor and into another queue to wait for another stamp. I was standing behind some guys who must have been on the vodka most of the night as they were utterly tanked. One apologised to me for pushing in and the vodka fumes when he spoke nearly overwhelmed everyone within a 5 yard radius. Next another x-ray where everyone had to take off their shoes first and once that was negotiated we were directed to gate B3. There's a B1 and a B2 but no B3, so we just had to lurk around listening intently to all the announcements to hear if the word 'Dubai' was mentioned. After about 45 minutes we heard the magic word 'Dubai' and made a best guess where Gate B3 might be. It turned out the plane to Kiev was leaving from the same gate at the same time as the flight to Dubai so there was quite some confusion as passengers for both flights gathered at the door, which was one person wide, questioning each other. Eventually the passengers sorted themselves out and we boarded the A310 for Dubai. It seemed odd that after all the security checks and x-rays, while I was sitting on the plane on the runway I watched as two locals, one on a pushbike and the other on foot, used the runway as a road and stopped on one of the taxiways to have a chat. 

Take off was about 30 minutes late but we made up time and arrived back in Dubai almost on time.

Hayr Uzbekistan!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 7 Bukhara-Tashkent

The Ark, Bukhara, Uzbekistan
The morning started with a visit to the shrine of Sufi saint Baha al-Din al-Naqshbandi then on to Chor Bakr a necropolis developed around the graves of Khodja Abu Bakr and Imam Abu Bakr Ahmed. After lunch of bread, Uzbek salami and two-tone cheese we walked through a maze of small alleyways and lane to see the Hoha Zaynaddin mosque and its surprisingly large pool, then over to see the Ark which is monstrous and imposing from the outside but unfortunately thanks to the bombing by the Red Army in 1920 is mostly in ruins inside. Restoration is underway and the Coronation Hall will be magnificent once work is complete, that's as long as they can control the vendors who have set up business in there. In front of the Ark is a huge public square called the Registan which was a popular site for executions including those of two British Army officers in June 1842.
We had dinner at the hotel and then it was time to head out to the airport for our Uzbekistan Airways flight to Tashkent. Thank goodness UA has stopped using the old ex-Aeroflot Yaks and Antonovs and the flight, which lasted less than an hour, was in the comfort of an Avro RJ85. After landing we walked across the tarmac in the dark to the luggage shed. Despite the luggage being carried from the plane to the luggage area in a truck that I last saw in an episode of 'The Beverly Hillbillies' the system worked really well. Three guys then haul the bags off the back of the truck and threw them through a window of the luggage shed. There is a luggage ramp that runs from the window to the floor but its only a couple of feet long so if you don't grab your bag in mid air or shortly afterwards it just ends up in a big pile at the foot of the ramp. Despite all this and a crowd of army guys who each had a fold-up bed in the luggage pile, we got our bags in record time and within 10 minutes we were on the bus and heading back to the hotel for the night.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 6 Bukhara

Ismail Samony mausoleum,
Bukhara, Uzbekistan
We started the day's sightseeing in Bukhara with a visit to the Ismail Samony mausoleum, a surprisingly simply brick cube shaped building which is the oldest in Bukhara. Once the surprise at the building's squat cube shape passes, the visual attraction is the texture of the brick work which is a basket weave pattern with other geometrical shapes formed out of handmade bricks.  It has special resonance for one member of our group whose great (x 3) grandfather embraced Islam on a visit to this building in the 1820s. We moved on to Chasma Ayoub a mosque erected on the site where according the legend, the prophet Job hit the ground with his sick and caused a spring to flow. Next stop, Bolo Houz Mosque which features an iwan (porch), the brightly coloured ceiling of which is held up by 12 metre high wooden pillars. During Soviet times the mosque was used as a workers' club but now if has returned its original function as a place of religion.

Through the back streets to see Chor Minor, a madrassa gatehouse built in the early 1800s. Its 4 minarets (they aren't strictly minarets, just towers) make it unusual.  The towers have been restored and topped with turquoise tiles.  On two of the towers the year of restoration is clearly defined in red tiles.

From Chor Minor we headed back to Lyabi-Hauz where we watched groups of people having the photos taken with the large statue of a man on a donkey. This mythical figure is 'Hoji Nasruddin'.who in different guises appears in humorous stories and cautionary tales all over the Muslim world. We indulged in a spot of Uzbeki ice-cream then headed to Kukaldosh Madrassa which was at one time the largest in Central Asia and has interesting brickwork inside though the interior is now just a souvenir shop like the next building we visited the Nadir Divanbegi Khanagha. It was impossible to appreciate the dome as the shopkeepers have their wares all over the floor and you can't get near it.

Next stop, and one I'd been looking forward to, was the Iskander Puppet Workshop where the puppet master explained the method for making the paper mache puppets and the roles of the 17 people who contribute to the making of each puppet. Unfortunately we won't be able to fit in a visit to the nightly puppet performance, that'll have to wait for next time.  However, I bought my own Hoji Nasruddin puppet who'll be coming home with me.

We then visited the master knife maker in the bazaar and thanks to Colin I now own a personalised super-sharp titanium kitchen knife that has a lion engraved on one side of the blade and my name engraved on the other. Colin has treated himself to twin hunting knives engraved with his name.

In the evening we went back to Nadir Divanbegi Madrassa to watch the cultural dance performance, which was extremely slick and professional with the music supplied by a wonderful group of local musicians.  All the dancers are skilled former ballerinas, the costumes are glorious.  The manager of the place is possibly the grumpiest person in Uzbekistan but never mind, the show was great.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 5 Samarkand-Bukhara

So here we are on the Sharq train from Samarkand to Bukhara (written Buxoro in Uzbek) passing through what seems to be endless fields of cotton. Uzbekistan is one of the world's major suppliers of cotton but since the breakup of the USSR it has suffered from having an economy based on a single crop.

Earlier in the morning we'd walked around the local area and witnessed an interesting sight at the local bank where a crowd of people were trying to get in while the security guards were pushing them back and only allowing one person in at a time. As the voices were being raised and the jostling on both sides started the scene seemed set for what is euphemistically called in the Western press “an incident” so we left them to it.

While the men wear Western style trousers and skirts the women wear brightly patterned tunics which reach almost to ankle level with matching trousers underneath, then comes the strange part, most wear wildly colourful socks, the sort imported from China, and plastic slip-on sandals.

The Bukhara train station is about 10ks out of town and first impression was a surprise at how many beggars there were, many of them children. As we drove into town we passed long lines of cars waiting for petrol and we were told that over the past 3 months there have been problems with petrol supply in most of the regional areas. One petrol station had high metal gates which were opened to allow individual cars into the bowsers, and we watched as a couple of men pushed their car up to the pumps, it having run out of petrol during what must have been a very long wait in the queue.

Kalon Mosque, Bukhara
Once we dropped our bags at the Caravan Hotel we headed out again to explore the old town area and to my surprise we found that our hotel is a couple of hundred metres from the Kalon Mosque, which is big enough to hold 10,000 people. Built in the 16th century its a glorious building filled with mosaics, intricate brickwork and vaulted spaces. As we left the mosque a martial art display was starting in the central square outside. We walked towards Lyabi-Hauz the centre of the old part of Bukhara, first passing a row of girls selling ceramic tea sets and men selling assorted Red Army hats, assorted army accessories and even a tank commander's helmet alongside fur hats made from fox pelts complete with the paws and eyes, We then walked through the old bazaar then out to Lyabi-Hauz which is a large stepped pool surrounded by tall trees, including a couple of mulberry trees dating from the 1400s, which provide leafy shelter to the many chaikhanas (tea houses) on the pool's edge. We stopped for coffee, possibly the worst I've ever had anywhere, then moved on quickly to have dinner at another place further along the pool's edge. After dinner we headed back to the hotel

Monday, 20 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 4 Samarkand

Hijar Hizar mosque
Today was a full day seeing the sights around Samarkand starting with the Hijar Hizar mosque on a hill top with a view over to blue dome of Bibi Khanym mosque. The mosque was originally built in the 8th century but was burnt to the ground by Gengis Khan. It wasn't rebuilt until the 1850s. The painted ceiling of the aiwan (porch) is colourful and the red and cream minarets make for great photos.

We then drove out of the city a short distance to the Afrosiab archaeological site so see the ruins of early Samarkand. The small museum is worth a visit for a timeline of the work done on the site, but the ruins are very disappointing. They are indeed 'ruined' and while there seemed to outlines of houses and possibly roads, without any information being given or even names on signs, for untrained eyes its impossible to know what you're looking at.

Next stop was the tomb of Daniel. Legend has it that Tamerlane brought the body of Daniel (the one in the lions' den) back from Susa in Iran and interred it in Samarkand. The tomb is 18m long as, legend also has it, Daniel's body continues to grow at half an inch a year. The length of the tomb is covered in green velvet cloth embroidered with Koranic verses and it looks exactly like the long tomb in Salalah, Oman which is supposedly that of either the Virgin Mary's father, or one of the original pre-Islam inhabitants who were at least 20 feet tall – depends on who you ask. From Daniel's tomb we went back to the Registan and visited the Uzbekistan League of Artists' gallery then to a local chaihana (tea house), then back to the bazaar to chase down more bargains.

The evening was spent at a local restaurant where a birthday party was in full swing in the next room. Every type of music was played loudly, Uzbek, Arabic, Persian, Turkish and some local Tajik songs that had the crowd cheering. Babies were thrown into the air, some seemed to also come down again. Shisha is smoked here though not as frequently as in Middle Eastern countries. Meanwhile as Party Central raged next door, we were working our way through 4 courses including giant plates of shashlik (kebabs) chosen from a menu that included such dishes as “Hen in a Fur Coat”, “Mother in Law Language” (a type of salad apparently), another salad that the menu proclaimed included “carbonate”, there was “Herring on Peasant”(poor girl) and, dare I say it, “Luxurious Balls” for dessert. I bet Samia a whole 1000 sum to ask the waiter if he had luxurious balls, but, once she'd stopped laughing, she demurred.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan: Day 3 Samarkand

Shakhi Zinda, Samarkand
We started the day with a trip to the bazaar. Vegetables of every type were displayed for sale; fruit, herbs, carrots (both orange and yellow), eggs, and dried fruit. I went to take a photo of one of the yellow carrots and the shopowner indicated that I would have to buy the carrot for 1000 cym before I could photograph it. It was a nice carrot, but not *that* nice so I moved on to the next stallholder who was happy to let me photograph one of her carrots for free. There were huge watermelons, saffron at bargain basement prices, pumpkins so big that they'd win hands down at any Kumeu Show and pomegranets galore. The dried fruit section revealed a new wonder in the form of dried apricots stuffed with walnuts, yummo. In another aisle there were hats for men and women including “Cossack” style fur hats (not a lot of call for these in Dubai) and hats made from sheep pelts. I wished I was still dancing as there were crowns for sale in every shape and colour. I bought some music cds ($1 each) including one by an Uzbeki singer named Samir who was on one of the dvds played on the train from Tashkent.

From there we walked a short distance to the Bibi Khanym mosque which was built built in the 14th century by Tamerlane. Elephants imported from India were used to haul loads of marble around the site during construction. The interior courtyard was a nice place to sit and watch the shopowners as every hujra or student room around the inner courtyard has been turned into a souvenir shop. From there we walked around the local residential area behind the mosque and we were invited by a local family to go into their house and see the renovations they were doing to their main courtyard and also to see the painted ceiling in their reception area. We continued our walk around the local area in the process meeting several others of the group. As we came round a corner we found a wedding feast in full swing on a broad porch outside the local mosque with the remaining members of our group seated at a table as special guests. A wedding gathering like this is usually for men only but there was no problem with the women of our group attending. The hospitality was wonderful and we caught a glimpse of the bride as she arrived in her finery and went into her home across the street. The call to prayer was heard and most of the men went into the mosque to pray. After prayer we were invited into the mosque to admire the painted ceilings. Interesting that the mullah said I had to perform wudu (ritual washing) before entering the mosque . It would be almost unheard of in the UAE for a non-Muslim to do this, but the style of Islam followed in Uzbekistan appears very relaxed and also, within his own mosque, what the mullah says, goes. So I trailed after my friend Iman to the mosque bathroom, and, once it had been cleared of men, I followed her lead through the ritual. After using the toilet (roughest toilet paper on the planet) the ritual involves an invocation in Arabic “I wish to perform wudu” then washing hands, mouth, face, neck, ears, head, arms and feet each a proscribed number of times (apologies if I have the order wrong). After completing the ritual I was able to put on my hijab and go into the mosque which, in its heyday, must have had a very colourful ceiling.

Earlier in our trip I'd asked Bahador whether Uzbekis were Sunni or Shia and he said he didn't know, “We are all Muslim, that's all.” The relaxed attitude sees vodka flowing freely on all occasions, pork is not unusual on restaurant menus, there are no directional arrows to the qibla on hotel room ceilings, nor are prayer rugs routinely provided in hotel rooms. I've only seen a few women in hijab, even in the country areas. The main head covering for Uzbeki women is a brightly coloured scarf tied behind the neck which indicates that the wearer is married.

The senior ladies gather to celebrate the
wedding.  Note the bride's dowry clothes hung
on the wall.  NB: There is no problem showing
this photo in public as the Uzbeki women in the
family do not 'cover'.
Meanwhile, back at the wedding, the sound of car horns indicated that the groom's procession was approaching and he was escorted by his brothers and friends into the porch area while the musicians played (drum and accordian). The women in our group were invited over to the bride's house to socialise with her female family and to congratulate her. The bride was in one room having her photos taken. She was a very young women wearing an explosion of a wedding dress but she was in complete control bossing the photographer around. It was good manners to stay and watch her for a while before moving into the next room where the senior female family were seated on the floor around the edge of the room with a spread of food in front of them. The room had been cleared of any other furniture to make room for a display of the bride's dowry which included several person-high piles of blankets, floor cushions and rugs and an enormous silver glory box. Hanging on the walls on 3 sides of the room were the dresses the bride had been given as wedding presents, there were easily 20 or 30 including highly decorated evening gowns and a few Western style women's business suits. Meanwhile, the bride's assorted female friends and not-so-close female relatives were enjoying their wedding spread at a table in the main courtyard. After a short visit it was time for us to move on after a wonderful experience.

Next point of call was Shakhi Zinda which is a necropolis dating back to the 14th and 15th century. The largest tomb in this avenue of the dead is that of Kussam-ibn-Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet. His grave is at the end of a series of cool, white walled rooms.. Each mausaleum is of a unique design and the small size of each gives an intimacy lacking in the larger though more imposing buildings we'd seen earlier. Despite having fallen into disfavour during Soviet times and at once stage even being used as an anti-religious museum, Shakhi Zinda is again a place of pilgrimage. Adjacent to the complex is a huge modern cemetry which stretches across acres of hillside. The graves here range from grandiose family vaults, looming black marble constructions featuring pictures of the deceased engraved on huge slabs of marble that look like plasma tvs, through to humble graves marked only with a few small tiles. Some couples have purchased joint plots and when one dies they're buried there and their picture is engraved on one half of the marble slab, the other half is left blank for the surviving spouse which might be a bit disconcerting for some. There are 'picto-graves' of old people, couples, whole families with the faces of several generations portrayed above a single tomb, many gents in Soviet era uniforms with acres of braid and medals, and most poignant, small graves with a picture of a sad eyed child engraved on the headstones.  I can only imagine what caused the death of the gentleman who is pictured, cigarette in hand, on his tombstone.

From the Shakhi Zinda we moved to the observatory built by Ulug Beg, the grandson of Tamerlane. The park around the observatory is wedding central on a Saturday afternoon with 3 bridal parties vying for the best spots either in the gardens or using the mosaic walls of the observatory as a backdrop for photos. Uzbeki brides seem to know exactly how they want their photos to be taken while shiny wedding suits for men seem to be the rage. I was distracted from the Battle of the Brides by the action on the road below where cars were attempting to do “Tokyo Drifts” during the lull in traffic between light changes. One of 'the drifters' was a Toyota Corolla and the other, you may not believe this, was a Daewoo Microbus. Its a remarkable sight to see a microbus attempting to slide without rolling or at least falling over. The driver also attempted a wheel stand which he completely misjudged resulting in a lot of smoke as the microbus first reared into the air then nosedrived into the tarmac to the amusement of the crowd on observatory hill.

The evening was spent having dinner in the garden at the home of our driver whose wife prepared a wonderful spread which was accompanied by several bottles of vodka. Once a vodka bottle is opened it must be finished say the Uzbekis and after 2 bottles there were the expected results including a rendition by one of our group of the only song in the English language dedicated to the cauliflower. Electricity supply cannot be guaranteed, so all the lights that evening were powered by a small generator. 

Saturday, 18 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 2: Tashkent – Samarkand

Just after midnight there was a earthquake which woke several members of our party. Not me though, I didn't feel a thing.

The main task of today was to travel by train from Tashkent to Samarkand. A bus took us to the station where we loaded ourselves into 12 seats in a 2nd class carriage. The train left exactly on time and shortly afterwards the overhead video kicked into life and showed a series of Uzbek pop video clips and a full concert of various singers performing a mix of modern and traditional songs accompanied by dancers in national costume If you're a dancer you may know of Laurel Grey and The Silk Road Company in the US who perform the Central Asian dance styles. The conductor came round taking everyone's orders for tea (pronounced choi here). The most important question in Uzbekistan is “Green or Black”.

Amir Timur mausoleum, Samarkand
In the front of the carriage was a group of young guys who didn't seem to stop eating throughout the entire 3.5 hour trip, all the while sharing bottles of “Coke” out of plastic bags. The contents of these bottles caused them to become louder and more boisterous as time went on. When we arrived at Samarkand we were greeted by many local women selling large circular loaves of unleavened bread called non. We bought a couple and learned that non weighs a ton! We headed to the Orient Star Hotel our base for the next 3 nights in Samarkand. The Orient Star's main claim to fame is that all the hotel room doors open outwards into the narrow hallway. I think the best idea is to knock before you exit your room to give people in the hallway time to get out of the way.

We headed out to have lunch in a local restaurant and I met plov for the first time. If vodka is the national drink of Uzbekistan, then plov is the national dish. It's like a pilau consisting of rice with vegetables, usually carrots, with chunks of meat on top. Its eaten for lunch mainly and restaurants only make enough to sell and once its gone – that's it until tomorrow. It's common practice if someone is looking for a late lunch to phone a several restaurants to find out which one has some plov left over. Uzbeki's claim there are 100 different ways to cook plov and that the best plov is cooked by men outdoors. Our guide Bahador remarked that an Uzbek man would not be considered a good husband unless he can cook an acceptable plov, which is interesting considering how macho Uzbek society seems to be. After lunch we went on to the the mausoleum of Amir Temir, better known in the west as Tamerlane, “The Terror of the World”. Tamerlane lies beneath a glorious dome, his grave marked by a black-green slab of marble, surrounded by the graves of various of his teachers and several of his sons. The tombstones are markers for the actual graves which lie in exactly the same layout in the crypt underneath.

From there we moved on to the Registan Complex, possibly the most famous of Samarkand's treasures, . The Registan is made up of 3 huge madrassah (schools) and like all of the sites we've been to, there's a entrance charge per person (usually about 4,500 sum) plus a charge for each camera (about 1,500 sum). Construction of the first madrassa began in 1417 by Tamerlane's grandson Uleg Beg. Its a large building with a ribbed turquoise dome in a shape reminiscent of a lemon squeezer. The exterior is covered in ceramic tiles in blue, turquoise and green.

The Registan, Samarkand
The second building, constructed in 1619 was the Shir Dor Madrassa which is almost a mirror image of the Uleg Beg madrassa. The Shir Dor is notable for the depiction in mosaic tiles of lions and suns with human faces above its main entry.

The final madrassa is Tillya Kari with magnificent mosaics covering every wall in floral and geometric patterns. Construction of the Tillya Kari started in 1646. One of the hujara (student rooms) contains a small carpet workshop and Cathy and I watched a couple of nimble fingered ladies sitting crosslegged at an upright loam weaving on a silk carpet.

I've been surprised by the popularity of gold tooth fillings here. These went out of favour in NZ in my father's generation but it seems that in Uzbekistan everyone, even young people, have mouthfuls of gold.. The fillings possibly are like jewellery or an investment, the gold can be extracted and sold if times are tough. Some Uzbek smiles are quite literally 'pure gold' and reminiscent of Odd Job, the toothsome villain in one of the James Bond movies.

Friday, 17 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 1 Dubai to Tashkent

The flight from Dubai to Tashkent on Uzbekistan Airways was smooth and uneventful. There's no in-flight entertainment on UA so make sure you take a book. As there was an unexplained delay in leaving Dubai, the plane arrived at Tashkent 45 minutes late. We were bused across the tarmac after waiting as a forgetful and panic stricken bride-to-be retrieved her wedding dress that had been left on the plane. Once inside the terminal we joined the queue at immigration. As I already had my visa to enter Uzbekistan it was just a matter of waiting my turn but unfortunately it wasn't so smooth for our friends from NZ, Cathy and Stan. They'd been unable to get a visa from NZ before leaving the country and because of Eid it was decided not to try to collect it in Dubai. So the travel agent said that they could pick up their visas at Tashkent airport on arrival, the process would take no more than half an hour....but that only works if everything goes to plan. The first delay was when the airport immigration guys realised that as they had no visas in their passport, they had to call the consular guy to come out to physically insert the visas. The visa itself takes up a full page in a passport, and is then validated with a little blue stamp. For some reason, the consular man didn't like the visa he'd put into Stan's passport and tried to remove it after he'd stamped it with the little blue stamp. To solve the problem he then tried to stick the visa back in the passport. He then stamped it on all 4 corners and handed it back to Stan who walked no more than 5 steps to the other side of the aisle and handed his passport to the airport immigration guys. The airport guys immediately refused Stan's visa because the consular guy had put the 4 little blue stamps in the wrong places and they didn't match up. Consular guy had already left the building and had to be contacted on his mobile and asked to come back. Once he returned, he and the immigration guys had a long discussion which ended with backslapping and hand shaking, Stan's visa was ok'd and we were free to time 1.5 hours. We stayed the night at the Markizay Hotel which was a Sheraton before being nationalised. The bed was comfortable, the door locked, wow, everything worked, what more can you ask for? As we were very late, we went across the road to the Dedeman Hotel and had dinner, very expensive but they had a very good live jazz band. I tried Uzbek manti which is a steamed dumpling containing meat and onions, rather like a dim sim. Its quite a surreal experience to be sitting in a bar in far flung Tashkent, watching Ladas hurl themselves through the traffic lights outside while listening to a band playing the jazz standard “Take 5”.

Back at the hotel we changed some money, US$ into Uzbekistan sum. As the exchange rate is 1800 sum=US$1.00 changing $200 into sum equals many thick wads of notes. I understand now why most Uzbek women carry large handbags and the men all seem to carry sports bags - they're not actually bags, they're Uzbek-sized wallets.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

New Zealand eases visa rules for UAE citizens

The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that UAE citizens can now travel to New Zealand for tourism or work for three months without the need to obtain prior visas.
The ministry said visas will be given to citizens on arrival in New Zealand. This also applies to UAE diplomats and holders of official passports.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Blackberrys banned in the UAE

The Emirates' looming ban on BlackBerry e-mail, messaging and Web browsing services will extend to foreign visitors too, said the country's telecom regulator, raising the stakes in its dispute with the maker of the popular business tools.
Device maker Research in Motion Ltd. has so far declined to comment on the plan to suspend the services, which Emirati authorities announced Sunday.
The UAE contends some BlackBerry features operate outside the country's laws, "causing judicial, social and national security concerns." At the heart of their concerns is the way the BlackBerry handles data, which is encrypted and routed through the RIM's servers overseas, where it cannot be monitored for illegal activity.
Critics of the crackdown say it is also a way for the country's conservative government to further control content they deem politically or morally objectionable. The smart phones enjoy a following not only among the region's professionals, but also among tech-savvy youth who see their relatively secure communication channels as a way to avoid unwanted government attention.
The Telecommunication Regulatory Authority had left the question of phones run by foreign operators unanswered in announcing the ban, scheduled to take effect Oct. 11.
But in an e-mailed response to questions Monday, the regulator said the service suspension would apply to all users in the country, including visitors using roaming services on foreign BlackBerry phones.
"Roaming for BlackBerry Messenger, BlackBerry e-mail and BlackBerry Web browsing will also be suspended," the TRA said in its unsigned e-mail. "They won't be able to use the mentioned services in (the) UAE as it's suspended (in) the country."
That would put BlackBerry service out of reach for business travelers and others passing through the Mideast's busiest airport in the international business hub of Dubai, which averages about 100,000 passengers a day.
The UAE has singled out BlackBerry devices for scrutiny before.
Last year, RIM criticized a directive by the UAE state-owned mobile operator Etisalat telling the company's BlackBerry users to install software described as a service upgrade. Tests showed the download actually installed spy software on users' phones that could allow authorities to access private information stored on the handsets. It strongly distanced itself from Etisalat's decision and told users how to remove the software.
The TRA says there are 500,000 BlackBerry subscribers in the UAE.
Telecommunication officials in Saudi Arabia have also said they are planning to curtail use of the BlackBerry messaging service, but not other services on the phones.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Where's the justice in that?

So, we now know that doing idiotic driving stunts on a main highway in Dubai is apparently no big deal as a AED1,000 fine (a bit more than $300) without loss of points to the drivers was considered a fair punishment.  However, we should all be aware that the heinous crime of driving the wrong way down an aisle of a Dubai hotel carpark is so, so much worse.  In fact its 4 times worse. A colleague was given an on-the-spot fine by the police in a Jumeirah hotel car park yesterday for 'driving the wrong way' and has this morning received an SMS telling him that he's also lost 4 points on top of the instant AED400 fine.  4 points deducted for a car park infringement!  Somehow this punishment seems a little out of proportion to the crime.  When he gets his licence back (it was confiscated and will not be returned for 3 days) he may head out to Al Khail Road to do handbrake slides and burnouts in rush hour traffic as he can't afford to lose any more points tootling round in carparks at 10kph.

Dubai rejects all-seeing airport scanners

Source: 'The National'
Full-body security scanners will not be used in Dubai airports, it was announced yesterday.
The decision was made because the devices do not correspond with national customs and ethics, said Brig Ahmed bin Thani, the Dubai Police’s director of airport security.
“I do not feel that it is necessary for us to implement such a technology while we are operating different methods and have different avenues that have worked so far,” he said.
“The use of such a device violates personal privacy and it raises a very sensitive issue for passengers, in addition to the fact that it does not complement our national ethics.”
The devices, also known as millimetre wave scanners, or backscatter X-rays depending on which technology they use, have raised privacy concerns because they allow authorities to see underneath clothing to the surface of the skin, although special software normally masks some parts of the body.
The scanners could also affect human DNA by interfering with processes such as DNA replication, a study for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US has shown.
The rejection by Dubai is at odds with an announcement by federal authorities at a regional aviation security conference last month that they intended to introduce body-imaging machines at airports.
Federal officials are reviewing the technology because of the radiation concerns, said Saif al Suwaidi, the director general of the General Civil Aviation Authority.
“We don’t have full information on the side effects of using this kind of equipment on frequent flyers,” he said.
The screening devices have already been deployed in the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Italy, among other countries. Around 1,000 full-body scanners are due to be operational in US airports by the end of next year.
Some countries, such as the Netherlands and the UK, are attempting to further address privacy concerns by digitally blurring the images of passengers’ faces.
Other countries store passengers’ images for only 24 hours before deleting them.
Brig bin Thani said security measures in place in Dubai were sufficient to keep millions of travellers safe. He noted the scanning technology is not required by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
“The acquisition of such devices is based on the decision of every member state of the ICAO and is not a mandatory measure instructed by them,” he said.
“The majority of crimes that we deal with involve forged passports originating from East Asian countries.”
Some 3,700 people have been trained to deal with security threats and public order at the Dubai airports, Brig bin Thani said.
Dubai International Airport is also looking into the possibility of introducing face-recognition technology to enhance safety, said Brig Omar al Amri, the deputy director of airport security. The system has been tested but has yet to be fully implemented. “For the technology to be introduced only a software upgrade is required,” said Brig bin Thani. “We are currently testing it and reviewing its potential uses.”
The airport has more than 3,200 operational security cameras in its three terminals.
Dubai’s airports are expected to process 46 million passengers this year, compared with 40 million last year, after the opening of Al Maktoum International Airport in Jebel Ali last month. Security personnel have been kept busy, dealing with 732 criminal cases thus far this year, compared to 1,382 in all of last year.
Officials have developed a new initiative to deal with the 15 to 20 illegals apprehended trying to enter the Emirates through Dubai airports each day.

Tiger, tiger

Following on from the article in '7 Days' about the two tigers in the Dubailand office, here are photos of these magnificent animals taken in December 2007.  They are in a glass fronted enclosure inside the, now defunct, Dubailand sales office near Arabian Ranches.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The brain dead receive their "punishment"

Do you remember the Sheikh Zayed Road antics of a couple of brain dead drivers?

What was their punishment?  Hold onto your hats!  They've been fined the grand total of 1,000 dirhams each by the Dubai Court of Misdemeanours. That's $321 Aussie dollars! No black points.  And while they get off with nothing more than a slap on the hand with limp celery, stories are coming to light of motorists who have received fines and/or lost black point for incidents that have not taken place.  For example, a man fined for speeding at 3am in Sharjah when he was asleep in Dubai, another story of a friend who has received a fine for speeding on Beach Road.  At the time of the 'offence' she was at work and her car was in a secure parking area all day.  The RTA have told her to pay up. 

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Bullfighting Omani-style

Omani style bullfighting isn't Man -v- Bull, its Bull -v- Bull.  I filmed this clip in Ghadfan a small town near Sohar in Oman last Thursday evening (24/6/10). The bulls occasionally sustain cuts and bruises in what is a contest of headbutting and brute strength. The biggest danger is to the audience who have to get up and run fast when the bulls get bored or one decides to make a quick exit and heads off into the crowd. 
The only way the bulls could be disentangled from each other or moved out of the audience if they'd 'done a runner' was by attaching a rope to the animal then a line of guys formed holding onto the rope.  The men would then start pulling on the rope, a bit like a tug of war.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Ramadan to fall on 11th August 2010 : UAE Astronomer

Source: WAM 22nd June 2010
The Muslim's fasting month of Ramadan will start on Wednesday, 11th August 2010, and the Eid Ul Fitr will fall on Friday, 10th September 2010, according to a UAE astronomer.
Ibrahim Al Jarwan, Astronomy Researcher and Supervisor of Sharjah Planetarium, said the crescent moon of the holy month of Ramadan will be astronomically born on Tuesday, 10th August 2010, at 7:08 am (UAE time) and will disappear after sun set on the same day and Wednesday will the first day of Ramadan.
''The crescent moon of Shawwal will be born on Wednesday 8th September, at 2:30 am local time and sink down 14 minutes before sun set.
''It's impossible to sight the crescent by naked eye at that day and therefore Friday (10th September) will be the first day of Shawwal,''he said.
Citing astronomical calculations, he added that this year's summer season will begin on 22nd June and end on 23rd September but it will start on 21st June in the UAE at 3:28 pm when the sun is directly overhead on the Tropic of Cancer.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Nescafe coffee in Dubai recalled over safety reasons

"Dubai Municipality says that the situation is not serious as the product [is] not commonly found in UAE."
Not serious? NOT SERIOUS?  They're kidding.  So there's the remotest chance of bits of glass in the coffee, oh for %^* sake, I'll sift it through my teeth if necessary.
  This is a disaster of Titanic proportions. The reason Alta Rica is not commonly found here is because all us rabid 'Alta Ricans' raid the supermarket shelves and buy all the stock as soon as the Coffee Boat comes in to Dubai. After buying 8 jars from the last shipment, and kind friends also buying jars for me when they saw them, I'm now down to the last half a jar. NOT SERIOUS? Aaaaagh! Does anyone know the baggage allowance for bringing jars of coffee into the country? Can we still get it in Oman? Can I swap my alcohol allowance at Customs for a coffee allowance?
Source: Gulf News 20th May 2010
A range of Nestle coffee has been recalled over concerns that the jars may contain fragments of glass, the manufacturer announced in a press statement.
Products that may be affected are in a speciality soluble range in 100g jars, including the Alta Rica, Alta Rica Decaff, Cap Columbie, Suraya and Espresso types, which have a distinctive plastic sleeve.
Some of the jars may be susceptible to breakage during the delivery process to our customers and consequently may contain small pieces of glass, the statement read.
However, Dubai Municipality said that this isn’t serious.
“This is not a serious issue as the product is not commonly found in the UAE,” Khalid Mohammed Sharif, Director of Food Control department at Dubai Municipality said. 
“The product is produced in South East Asia and is only found in limited quantity and in select stores,” Sharif explained.
He added that the recall is only a precautionary measure and that Nestle had already informed the Municipality of its decision to recall.
“We were informed about it two days ago by Nestle as they wanted us to be in the picture. We have since taken all the necessary action is such situations and made sure the product is removed from stores.”
The Nestle statement continued: “The quality and safety of our products is a non-negotiable priority for our Company. Only products in this specific jar format are affected. We will be changing the packaging format before we reintroduce this coffee range to the market,” the statement continued. It also included an apology to consumers and customers for any inconvenience.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Its no laughing matter in Iran: new curbs

Source: Bloomberg 10th June 2010
“Producing and distributing inappropriate clothes, those not complying with Islamic and Iranian culture, should be avoided,” Abbas Miraei, who heads the Office of Supervision of the Public Sphere for the Iranian police, was cited as saying today by Iranian Labour News Agency. Further details weren’t immediately available.
Iran has set aside $1.5 billion to promote “moral conduct,” including enforcement of its dress code for women, “to solve the cultural and social ills” in society, Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said on May 10. His comments followed the introduction of a code of conduct at Shiraz University of Medical Sciences that bans loud laughter, nail polish, high heels and immodest clothing for women and men.
Since the revolution that brought Shiite Muslim religious leaders to power three decades ago, women in Iran have been required to cover their hair with scarves and obscure the shape of the body with loose-fitting coats. The government, which sees the U.S. and its influence on culture as a threat to Iranian society, also seeks to prevent young women and men from following the West’s pop culture and fashion trends.
The police will “deal firmly” with violators of Iran’s laws on moral conduct, Mohammad-Najjar said last month. A cleric at Tehran’s main Friday prayers, Iran’s largest, said in April that women who dress immodestly cause earthquakes.
Iranian authorities increase their enforcement of the women’s dress code annually to prevent them from abandoning Islamic dress amid summer temperatures that can reach 42 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit) in Tehran.
Under Shiraz University’s code, in effect since Feb. 20, women must wear loose, long coats in subdued colors that go below the knee. Men aren’t permitted to wear jewelry, except for a wedding ring, nor short-sleeve shirts, and their trousers should be loose. Shoes shouldn’t have pointed toes, make noise or have heels higher than 3 centimeters (1.2 inches).

Friday, 11 June 2010

Dubai connection to sacked Oz politican exposed

The Sydney Morning Herald has revealed that Sheikh Mohammed and his horsebreeding company in Australia are linked to a disgraced former NSW politician (honestly, sometimes I wonder if there's any other sort).  The Premier of NSW refuses access to key documents on the matter.  The current Premier is some American woman who seemed to appear from nowhere. I guess either there was nobody else left to do the job or The Boys know they are going to get a hammering in the next election and they want a 'fall-girl'.  In an interesting development, the press is now asking whether Sheikh Mohammed's horsebreeding organisation was allowed to move horses during the equine flu outbreak in Australia despite a total ban on horse transportation being in place at the time.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald
Photo: Sydney Morning Herald (Sheikh Mohammed/Ian MacDonald

Ian MacDonald's controversial trip to Dubai was organised by a company owned by the country's ruler, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, shortly after the disgraced former NSW minister made decisions benefiting the sheikh, who breeds racehorses in the Hunter Valley.
However, key details of the trip - including emails between Mr Macdonald's staff and the sheikh's company - are being kept secret by the NSW government.
The Premier, Kristina Keneally, refused to make key documents public and the head of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Brendan O'Reilly, referred the report of his investigation to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.The report, released yesterday, finds Mr Macdonald and his deputy chief of staff, Jamie Gibson, spent almost $20,000 of taxpayer funds on airfares, meals and accommodation at the Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort and Spa in Dubai, also owned by the sheikh, against the orders of the then premier, Morris Iemma.
It highlights a mysterious expense of $1594.67 charged to the hotel by Mr Gibson, for which he cannot account, and raises questions about an extra room booked by Mr Macdonald ''for no specific purpose''.
The report was ordered by Ms Keneally after the Herald revealed Mr Macdonald, his wife and two friends were given upgrades on Emirates Airlines, also owned by the sheikh, shortly after Mr Macdonald made a decision to allow racehorse breeding to continue in NSW during the 2007 equine influenza outbreak. The Herald also revealed that the upgrades were requested by members of the Hunter Valley thoroughbred community.
Among emails provided to investigators by Mr Gibson are some ''which appear to indicate'' Mr Macdonald's itinerary was organised through an employee of the Darley organisation, Emma Ridley.
''Darley is a global racehorse-breeding operation belonging to [the sheikh],'' the report notes. ''It operates horse-stud interests in the Hunter Valley.''
Ms Ridley also organised hotel bookings for the visit, using details of Mr Gibson's personal Visa card. When she was asked to provide the card's expiry date, Ms Ridley opted to confirm the reservations against Darley's ''credit facility''. However, the facility was never charged.
The report concluded that Mr Macdonald - who quit Parliament this week over the affair - charged the taxpayer $2815.50 for his flight to Dubai without the authorisation of Mr Iemma. He also improperly spent thousands of dollars on meals for his wife, Anita Gylseth, a colleague, Nick Papallo, and his unnamed wife, and Mr Macdonald's daughter, Sacha.
However, Mr Macdonald told investigators he did not know the flight had been booked through the government travel company. This was backed up by his secretary, Selina Rainger, who said he had not asked her to charge the flight to the government.
Mr Gibson told investigators he believed he was given permission by Mr Iemma to travel to Dubai at taxpayers' expense. The report finds Mr Gibson ''had some grounds for his belief'' - information provided to him by Adam Badenoch, Mr Macdonald's then chief of staff who recalled a letter authorising the flight.
However, Mr Iemma told investigators he had no recollection of the letter and it could not be found.
Tabling the report in Parliament yesterday, Ms Keneally said Mr Macdonald's resignation had been appropriate. ''Given the findings of the … report it was the proper course of action. Ian Macdonald would have had no option but to resign.''
She said the Department of Premier and Cabinet would review Mr Gibson's actions and would take disciplinary action if required.
Ms Keneally said attachments to the report would not be released publicly. ''They are being reviewed by the ICAC and contain personal and private information of both public officials and private citizens.
Last night, Mr Macdonald told Channel Nine that he was a victim of ''self-destructive'' leaks within the Labor Party.
He told the Herald: ''I have a clear conscience.''
He said the trip was ''worthwhile'' and any expenses outside of ministerial guidelines were taken mistakenly.
He has repaid the cost of the flight and a portion of the cost of the meals.
Darley said in a statement today: "Darley rejects all suggestions in the Australian media of impropriety regarding its actions relating to former Minister Ian Macdonald’s travel to Dubai in January 2008. Darley acts with the highest integrity at all times. Darley will cooperate with any official inquiry in relation to this matter."

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Ras al-Khaimah "coup": The Georgian connection

The 2003 coup in the Emirate of Ras al-Khaimah concluded when the UAE military took to the streets and restored order.  The UAE military would only have been involved if approval had come from the highest level ie the President with the approval, implicit or otherwise, of the rulers of the other Emirates.  Staging any sort of 'takeover' in RAK now would be to take a stand against, not just the current rulers of RAK, but the authority of federal law in the UAE. 
This piece from the Georgia Media Centre makes for interesting reading.
Source: Georgia Media Centre
Events in a small Gulf emirate could be about to turn Georgian politics upside down, with the ruler of Ras al-Khaimah, part of the United Arab Emirates, facing the prospect of being dethroned by the country's former ruler, Sheikh Khalid bin Saqr al-Qasimi.
Khalid was overthrown by his brother and father in 2003 - allegedly because he sought to improve women's rights in the absolutist statelet, whose name means "top of the tent" in Arabic.
Now, reports London's Guardian, Khalid is in the UAE negotiating to return to power - the culmination of a multi-million dollar campaign to return to the throne which, rather incongruously, seems to have been run out of a family solictor's office in the London suburb of Uxbridge.
The significance for Georgia is, following the Rose Revolution of late 2003, the new rulers of Ras al-Khaimah became the biggest single foreign investors in Georgia, through the state-owed Ras al-Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA).
The standard drill has been for RAKIA to get given an asset at a knock-down price (often because it was seized from the owners) and then, at least in theory, invest money. The signs for Rakeen - RAKIA's property arm - are a common sight around Tbilisi (such as Mtatsminda Park - pictured), but often the investment seems to be slower to follow.
RAKIA were also said to have financed the purchase of Imedi TV from Joseph Kay - the controversal US-based businessman who claimed that station founder Badri Patarkatsishvili had willed the station to him (a claim fiercely disputed by the widow and family of Patarkatsishvili, who died in England in 2008 after being forced into exile by the Saakashvili regime).
Joesph Kay, while protected in Georgia by the country's notoriously pliant courts, began to lose case after case to Patarkatsishvili's family and earlier this year the Ras al-Khaimah aithorities, in a less than fully convincing fashion, denied having ever been involved with Imedi.
If the current rulers of the emirate fall there could be profound implications for the Georgian government's finances and propaganda machine.

The RAK "coup": Sheikh Khalid replies

Sheikh Khalid's response to the Guardian article about a possible coup in the Emirate of Ras al Khaimah can be found here.

Abdullah Brothers: Poachers turned gamekeepers

The Abdullah Brothers ran Damas International, a jewellery company, and over time they 'used for unauthorised transactions' ie knicked, $165 million in cash and gold from the company.   They were found out, dismissed and ordered to repay the amount.  They then missed the first repayment but that's not considered a default (it would be for anyone else..) and now, lo and behold, the company they took the money from, gives them jobs as 'advisors'. 
 Source: ArabianBusiness 8 June 2010
Jewellery retailer Damas International said on Tuesday that it had appointed the company founders as senior advisors, just months after they were ordered to be dismissed for $165m of financial irregularities.
The company said Tawfique Abdullah, Tawhid Abdullah and Tamjid Abdullah had been appointed with immediate effect.
In March, Dubai's financial regulator said the Abdullah brothers owed the company $99.4 million cash plus the value of 1,940 kilograms of gold.
They were ordered to repay $165 million in "unauthorised transactions".
The brothers missed the first scheduled repayment of $55 million due in April but Damas said in May that the skipped payment, part of a settlement agreement, was not considered a default.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Damas said the appointments were "in line with the terms of the Enforceable Undertaking signed with the Dubai Financial Services Authority".
A spokesperson said: "Damas International Limited is pleased to announce the appointment of the Abdullah brothers as senior advisors to the company.
"At a time when Damas is going through a period of transition and pursuing a renewed strategy for its sustainable growth, the involvement of the Abdullah brothers in an advisory capacity provides us significant depth of knowledge and insight.
"In their roles, even though the involvement is strictly non executive, the company will benefit from their valuable advice on the unique aspects of the jewellery trade."
Last week, Damas said it expected to reach a debt restructuring deal with lenders by the end of June.
Damas is in talks with banks to restructure $872 million and is operating under a standstill agreement. The lenders, some 20 banks, include foreign names like Barclays and BNP Paribas.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

A coup plot in RAK

Source: The Guardian 6 June
A bloodless coup to take control of an Arab Gulf state is being plotted by an unlikely alliance that includes a powerful firm of US lobbyists and a provincial English high-street solicitor.
Peter Cathcart, a 59-year-old lawyer from Farnham, has been hired by the ousted crown prince of Ras al-Khaimah (RAK) in the United Arab Emirates to co-ordinate the plot aimed at returning him to power after seven years in exile.
Documents seen by the Guardian show that Cathcart has acted as a paid agent for Sheikh Khalid bin Saqr al-Qasimi in a multimillion-pound campaign to "undermine the current regime's standing" and to force the leadership of the UAE in Abu Dhabi, which has powerful influence over the emirate, to "make a change".
RAK is a strategically important part of the UAE, 50 miles from Iran across the Strait of Hormuz, through which 17 million barrels of oil are shipped each day. Sheikh Khalid, 66, was ousted by his father and brother as de facto leader in 2003.
The campaign alleges the regime presents an international security threat because the kingdom has become "a rogue state and gateway for Iran", allowing the shipment of weapons, including nuclear weapons parts, drugs and blood diamonds as well as military personnel and terrorists from al-Qaida and other networks.
Cathcart, a miniature steam train enthusiast and chairman of his local parish council who operates from modest offices in the outer London suburbs, cuts an unlikely figure in the plot, which involves highly paid US PR consultants, Washington lobbyists and former US-special forces strategists hired at a cost of at least $3.7m (£2.6m). They include BSKH, the lobbying firm which helped Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi politician who opposed Saddam Hussein and was widely blamed for providing unsubstantiated evidence about weapons of mass destruction used as justification for an invasion of Iraq.
It is not suggested that Cathcart's involvement is unlawful.
The plotters have claimed the RAK regime is implicated in an alleged terror plot to blow up the world's tallest building in Dubai, and a possible Iranian attack on US participants in the America's Cup yachting race, due to take place in the emirate but later cancelled.
The campaign to return Sheikh Khalid to power comes amid international concern about Iran's nuclear programme, and the deposed sheikh's focus on links between RAK and Iran appears calculated to turn international opinion, particularly in Washington, against the family who rejected him.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, is among the US politicians including more than a dozen congressmen from whom Sheikh Khalid has sought support. In February, he made a speech in Washington in which he stated: "I am troubled that the current regime has allowed RAK to devolve into a rogue state and strategic gateway for Iran. Published reports in the Gulf region have repeatedly indicated that Iran has taken advantage of our free trade zones, using them as a transfer point to smuggle cargo, including arms, electronics, weapons parts, drugs and even humans to Africa, Europe and Asia."
His US communications team insists the claims are "well sourced", but they were rejected by the UAE embassy in London. The UAE also denied the Sheikh's claim that RAK has links to Iran's nuclear programme and that a port in RAK has in effect become an Iranian base, allowing Tehran to avoid international sanctions.
"These appear to be old, scurrilous rumours which Sheik Khalid has made on numerous occasions," a spokesman for the UAE said in a statement. "His claims are baseless and without foundation and should be seen in the context of his long-standing dispute with his family. We are surprised that these old allegations are now being rehashed once again."
Sources close to the plot believe it is now entering its endgame. Sheikh Khalid is understood to have returned to the UAE from exile in London last month and has been in Abu Dhabi meeting officials from the UAE federal government, they said.
The ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, is the UAE president and ratifies changes to the leadership of the emirates.
The plot has been under way since at least 2008, according to the documents seen by the Guardian. They show that Cathcart has overseen the disbursement of several million dollars to fund the plot and acted as an intermediary between PR consultants, lobbyists and Sheikh Khalid. Cathcart has also met congressmen in Washington DC on behalf of the sheikh and oversaw requests for new appointments to the team. On one occasion he was asked to approve win-bonuses for would-be US advisers of $250,000 per person if the sheikh returns to power.
Cathcart declined repeated requests by the Guardian to comment on his role.
Asked by the Guardian if "regime change" was a legitimate goal, the sheikh's communications team replied: "If you believe in the peace, prosperity and security of the region and in protecting US national security interests, of course. If you are pro-Iranian or believe that the questionable activities in RAK should be allowed to move forward without any concern, then you would probably not approve of our activities."