Wednesday Jan 13, 2010

Strange conversations

I do end up having some strange, circular conversations here.

- Hello, I'd like to book at a table for Friday evening at your restaurant.

- No need, sir, you can just turn up.

- But what if it is full?

- No problem sir, they will give you a table.

- What if there are no tables?

- Hmm. There will be a table for your sir.

- Can I make reservation so I know for definite I will have table?

- No, sir, just come.

- Not possible reservation?

- No sir.

- So not possible reservation?

- Yes sir, reservation possible.

- Ok. Can I make reservation.

- Yes sir. Call at 5 when the staff are there, they can take all details and make reservation for you.

- Erm, thanks. I will again at 5.

Monday Jan 11, 2010

Call to prayer

I can hear the azaan from where I sit in the Sun office, these days. It seems the imam at the recently built mosque in Dubai Internet City has either turned up the volume or changed the speakers' positions.

I like hearing it. DIC is new, modern and shiny. Hearing the call to prayer is a reminder I'm in the Middle East - a bit of local colour in the midst of global, mostly Western, brandnames on the office buildings.

Sunday Jan 10, 2010

Two interesting new blogs

Well, new-ish.

One is Peter's Place - excellent insight and commentary on Dubai and UAE related issues.

Secondly, A Lady Among Ye Men - a young American lady teaching in Yemen for a year.

Yemen's a place I've been to for work and would love to learn more about - this blog's a fascinating insight from a Westerner living and working there. Particularly topical, what with Yemen's unfortunate rise to prominence in the world news over recent weeks.

How to fix your cooker hood

Yes, we should have noticed it ourselves and yes the switch for the cooker hood's extractor and light were hidden behind various kitchen related bottles, but...

On second visit (when he came back with the right tools) the repairman noticed the switch, switched it on and everything worked.

I am placing the blame 50/50 here. Not sure how we missed it - baffled that the repairman did too.


Top tip - look really carefully for all the possible switches that are hiding out there before you call the repair people.

Wednesday Jan 06, 2010

Sorry to rub it in, but...

...the weather here is rather better than it is back home.

I will be working from home on my balcony this afternoon. Do feel free to drop by it it's too chilly in London.

Monday Jan 04, 2010

Burj Dubai/Khalifa opening

The Burj Dubai - or Burj Khalifa as it has been renamed - was formally opened on Monday.

The event was truly spectacular. Mrs Saul, two friends and I grabbed a spot as close to the Burj as we could get, just across the lake in the Souk Al Bahar. We got there at five and the public event started at eight, but it was well worth the wait.

The video I took using my little Sony camera is below - it seems to capture things quite well. The sections that go dark are when water from the fountains returned to earth, soaking us all! Part two has the best of the fireworks.

The mix of fireworks, fountain and music was perfect. The Burj's light display was fantastic too.

The whole area is turning out beautifully. I am biased, as I live here (see the picture below for where we are), but Emaar have done an incredible job. It could have been tacky and mismatched, but the development looks good, is well planned and is starting to be real joy to live in. The Burj itself could have been a monstrosity, but it looks very stylish as well. I much prefer this part of Dubai to the Palm, for example. Hopefully the independent, surrounding towers that are going up in Business Bay will be more cohesive in style than, say, the variety of architecture that makes up Jumeirah Lake Towers.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the event was the mix of people that were there. There were lots of local Emiratis in the crowd, along with expats from all over the place and from various levels of society. This was a real first for me - we were all together, enjoying a common spectacle. I hope Dubai has more moments like this in the future.

The naysaying in the British press has already begun - extravagance, Ozymandian dreams, towers of Babel, the usual yawn. I would like to see an article that truly recognises the engineering achievement here. We'll be hearing rumours about cracks, sinking, windows falling off and all sorts of horror stories over the coming months and years I expect. People still claim that the Burj Al Arab is subsiding, years after its completion, despite the complete lack of evidence that it is.

Yes, the Burj Khalifa was built with the expertise and hard work of people from hundreds of nations. No, I don't think I would like to live in one of the apartments on the 3,000th floor and yes, I am still a bit worried about the traffic generated by all the people coming in and out of it is going to be handled.

Despite that, the project has been headed up by Emiratis and built in the heart of Dubai - it's a Dubai and a UAE achievement and it's already in the black, according to Emaar.

I do use this blog to enjoy a whinge or two about the way things can work in this part of the world and, like anywhere, there are things that could be done better. At this point, however, I have to give in to pure admiration of what's been achieved. I'm also grateful that I've been privileged enough to see the project go up from start to finish.

Here's where we live, as viewed from the Burj observation deck, courtesy of Bujassem.


Opening, part 1.

Part 2.

Passport renewal again...

I need to renew my passport as it's completely full with stamps and visas again.

The main problem is Saudi visas. They are only ever issued to us here on a three month basis and require two full pages. Typically I go to Saudi about once... every three months. The visa also has to be applied for in advance, which usually takes three or four working days. Strangely, visitors from Europe coming on one-off trips have told me they usually get a year long multiple entry visa. I'm sure every Dubai based business traveller who has to go to Saudi would welcome the same privilege being granted to us here, considering the frequency with which we visit.

It would also make life easier if other countries, even those kind enough to give us Brits a visa on arrival, could use smaller visa stickers. Using an entire page for a visit to Yemen, followed by a page for Egypt, quickly fills up my 48 pages.

Algeria and Nigeria take up similar amounts of space, as does Russia, although I do get a year long multiple entry. Russia requires an HIV test, which I absolutely hate.

When I get my shiny new British 48 pager, I will have to travel with it attached to its older brother, which contains a still valid UAE residence visa. My shirt pocket is going to be weighed down for at least the next two years, it seems.

The Burj Dubai opens!

I'm looking forward to the official opening of the Burj Dubai this evening - and have decided to work from home to avoid the expected traffic chaos.

Lots has been said about the Burj but not much about the logistics of living in the surrounding area - apparently access roads are to be closed from 5pm onwards, but there's not been much in the way of warning...

Regardless, it should be a good event. Cue lots of articles from The Times and Johann Hari about wastefulness and extravagance, I expect. What I would really like to read is a clear overview of the financials behind the project. It's apparently already in the black, which is pretty astonishing.

It also looks absolutely stunning, particularly at night. The lighting is incredible. I will try and post some pics tomorrow.

How on earth did I end up living next to all this? Not something I would ever have imagined just over seven years ago, when I left the semi-detached house I was sharing in a London suburb with 4 other people. I need to make sure I count my blessings more often.

Sunday Jan 03, 2010

The sound of teeth gritting

I need to get in touch with my favourite kitchen appliance repair people again - a quick Google search found their customer care website page with the phone number to call.

I was interested in the last item on their list of customer focused solutions:

With the assistance of our experienced team of service personnel we hope to equip you with solutions that match your requirements.

  • Trouble-shoot maintenance issues
  • Verify warranty information and terms
  • Clarify model-specific features on old and new products
  • Help with product operation or set-up
  • gkghkhgk

'gkghkhgk' is presumably a catch-all for the noises caused by the various states of rage they induce in their customers when people don't call back, engineers turn up seven years late, stare blankly and giggle when they realise they have come out with no tools, etc.

Monday Dec 14, 2009


Dubai's back to its normal blue skies and sunshine today after 48 hours of generally awful weather with lots of rain.

After being on holiday in India the week before last, I had foolishly promised that I'd never complain about driving standards in Dubai again. That promise, however, is quickly going to be broken.

Quite what gets into Dubai drivers' heads here when it rains is utterly beyond me. When it's wet in Dubai, it's very hard to see land and street markings, the roads get quickly filled with what seem to be know locally as 'water ponds' (as opposed to, say, ponds of mustard) and the road surface gets very slippy indeed.

Despite this, taxi drivers seem to think the the Toyota Camry is able to be driven faster than in dry conditions. Drivers of large SUVs with tinted windows appear to believe that the Range Rover and Land Cruiser are immune to water-induced skidding as they accelerate around blind corners into deep water.

The rank stupidity on display is utterly astounding. People die, pointlessly, every year when it rains. The whole twice-yearly debacle infuriates me.

Still, hopefully this bad patch is behind us - behind us until it rains again in February, as it does every year, taking people by surprise, as it does every year.

The one positive side of all this was driving past a semi-submerged BMW 7 series that had foolishly attempted to drive through a particularly large water pond. Range Rover air suspension up to wading setting and we ploughed past - slowly and sensibly I may add - with no issues at all through the two foot deep lake that had formed on a main exit. That was fun. We also enjoyed driving through mud, sand and mustard ponds after dropping a friend off in an area where someone had forgotten to build a road. Rangie was in his element - luxury offroading at its best. I was keen on playing around in the area for a while, but Mrs Saul instructed an immediate return to base.

Hmm... Maybe the next deluge could actually be quite fun?

Saturday Nov 28, 2009

The neighbours' new place

Some nice pics of our neighbours' place.

We can see the Burj from our balcony and it's looking stunning, particularly at night now that it has a rather random - but surprisingly stylish - lights display showing it off.

Quite how everyone's supposed to get in and out of it, considering the current state of all the roads around it, I don't know. Still, it's nice to look at, even if it ends up staying empty!

Monday Nov 23, 2009

Which meeting was better

Following on from the Twitter theme of my previous posts, Sheikh Mohammed's feed tells us that he met with Gordon Brown today, as well as the Queen.

I wonder which meeting was more productive and enjoyable?

I can imagine Gordon waffling and fawning inappropriately, whilst the Queen enjoyed meeting an old acquaintance.

Spill the beans

My last post mentioned that I had just learnt, via Twitter, that Sheikh Mohammed met recently with David Miliband, Britain's Foreign Secretary.

I would love to be a fly on the wall in these kinds of meetings. Britain has a long and close association with the UAE, something that I clearly have a personal interest in. Let's hope Mr Miliband did a good job. British foreign policy clearly needs to have close relations with Gulf states as a high priority. Seeing Sarkozy marching around promising co-operation on nuclear power and muscling in on military relations should be a motivating factor here :)

I would like to see Gulf nationals studying in the UK as a preference over the US, for example. The US seems easier, as well as culturally more attractive a place to go. We need to address that as best we can.

I would love to hear Sheikh Mo's feelings when it comes to the British statesmen he has spoken to over the years. They have come and gone over the years and he will have met many leading figures.

What would he think? Are the current bunch better than previous incumbents of power? Does he see a general decline? Where things better way back when, or better now? Or are things very much the same, with a fair sprinkling of outstanding candidates amongst the general dross?

I don't know if it's because I am simply getting older or because more transparency in government reveals the foibles and farces that used to stay hidden, but the current bunch of British 'leaders' do very little for me.

I would also love to hear Sheikh Mo's feelings on the various Brits he has known who have played a role in the development of the UAE - those who have helped build the armed forces and police, for example. He should be able to provide some fascinating insight on the calibre of individuals who have come to work in the UAE and Dubai in various capacities over the years.

Sunday Nov 22, 2009

The joys of Twitter

I'm really starting to enjoy using Twitter. After a year and a half of being 'on it', its appeal and possibilities are starting to shine through.

It's been interesting to see its effect on my blogging. A great deal of the appeal of blogging, for me at least, is getting things off my chest. Expressing things quickly and easily that annoy me, interest me, or that I think might interest others, all written for noone in particular. A vast Letter to the Editor, that always gets printed.

Twitter lets me get things off my chest very efficiently. If I've twittered about the nincompoop crashing headlong into another car after he jumped the light, by the time I get to my laptop the desire to blog at length about the incident has faded. Coupled with less travel, which is when I blog the most, Twittering has definitely affected my blogging mojo. I'm hoping that blogging frequency will improve over the coming weeks - I know I have some regular readers and I know I enjoy a good blog post, so I will be trying to up my game a bit.

The immediacy and intimacy of Twitter is also great fun. I subscribed to Paris Hilton's feed for a while whilst I wrote my article on her visit to the UAE. It was bizarre knowing when Paris was going to bed, whilst not really knowing what lots of my friends back home were up to - something I would be much more interested in.

On the other hand, it's great fun seeing what my twittering friends are up to, both those I know well and those I never met but would like to meet one day. Sometimes it'll be a laugh out loud moment, as someone tweets about a Cairo cab journey, for example. Other times it's just nice to know what people are up to - people I would like to see more of, but simply aren't able to.

I've particularly enjoyed seeing Sheikh Mohammed embrace Twitter. Just now I learnt that he has just been chatting to David Miliband about relations between the UK and the UAE, as well as other weightier matters. I hope Mr Miliband did a good job impressing Sheikh Mo. I also hope Sheikh Mo enjoyed the art exhibition he visited last night.

There's an art to a good tweet, just as there is to writing a good novel, essay, email, blog entry or other written missive. I am not interested in 'I've just eaten a croissant for breakfast', but I can skip past that sort of thing when viewing my 'feed' of people I follow. A good tweet should, in my opinion, contain something mildly interesting or entertaining. Rather than 'I've just eaten a croissant for breakfast', 'Emirates' limp, soggy croissants don't do French cuisine justice' might be more fun. But who cares? I don't have to read what other people write, just as they don't have to read what I write.

The whole thing is fascinating - a brand new way of communicating, with an immense following, but noone can quite put a finger on what its appeal really is. Equally fascinating will be whether anyone can make money out of millions of people burbling their nonsense to all and sundry. I would miss Twitter if it went away, but I wouldn't pay for the service.

If you are interested in following my rantings and burblings in 140 characters or less, you can do so here.

Wednesday Nov 18, 2009

What's the fuss about?

There's been a lot of fuss about a recent edition of Oprah that featured an Emirati lady speaking about her life. You can watch is here.

Here are a couple of articles covering people's reactions.

I don't really see what the issue is. A very eloquent lady gave a very positive picture about Dubai. Great PR. I do feel she should have made more of an emphasis on the fact that a lot of the benefits she mentioned were for Emiratis and that expats make up 85% or so of Dubai's residents. She also got her facts a little wrong - I believe local Emiratis get subsidised utilities, rather than getting them for free.\*

As usual, the topic of women's clothing came up and that is what seems to have annoyed people the most. It's probably dangerous for me to dip my toe into the water here, but she mentioned that her style of dressing was cultural rather than specifically mandated by her religion. I think this point is well illustrated by the fact that we see her mother-in-law wearing the metal burka, something that you do not see younger Emirati ladies wearing. Does that not prove her point?

I like Dr Lamees' husband's comments on his clothing. He has a simple, comfy way of dressing that fits every occasion. Noone's complained about what he said.

\* If I understand correctly, everyone's utilities are subsidised, just to different levels depending on whether you are a local or an expat.




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