Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The end is nigh

Well it's almost time to leave the Sandlands. Unfortunately the global recession has finally caught up with me and I am, together with the bulk of my colleagues, back in the Job Center queue. I have no regrets about coming out here, it's been a great experience.

The job market in the UK seems pretty dire right now so I've decided to use the recession as an opportunity to take some time out and do some travelling.

I start off with a visit to South Africa to catch up with family and friends and then I'm heading to South East Asia.

I'm going to try and keep a journal of my travels at I hope it will be a bit more successful than this blog.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

It's been a while

Recently a number of people have asked me what has happened to my blog. I must admit I was quite surprised that people were still following it. I suppose I've been here for six months now, what was a big adventure has become a way of life and therefore goes undocumented. Anyway, here goes with a long overdue post:

Rugby 7's

The Dubai Rugby 7's were held in November. They have built a purpose built stadium about 30km outside Dubai in the middle of the desert for it. I think it's just to keet the drunken expats as far out of town as possible. It's a great party. A complete sell out and a two day binge in the sunshine. The World Cup Sevens are being held in a couple of weeks, lets hope for the same atmosphere. On the first day I bought myself a Scotland top to wear, only to discover that Scotland are absolutely hopeless at 7's. The next day I went out and bought myself a South African top. The main competition was eventually won by South Africa, so a good result for me.

It wasn't all about rugby. Here's a picture of my mate Gordon helping to create a DHL banger daisy chain which went right around the stadium:

Festive season

December was a month filled with public and work holidays. Just the sort of month that I like. Unfortunately the Sheik cancelled New Year celebrations on New Years Eve in sympathy with the Israeli / Palestinian conflict. In the end most indoor parties went ahead and only the outdoor festivities and fireworks were stopped. As it turned out there was a heavy fog that came down in the evening and stayed around all night so the fireworks would have been wasted in any case.

Credit crunch

I'd initially come to the Middle East thinking that it would be a pretty good place to ride out the recession that was starting to affect the UK. As it turns out, it's got here too. The timeframe has been incredible. In six months we have gone from a massive recruitment drive, to recruitment freeze and now sadly a number of lay-offs.


This may be the middle of the desert, but when it rains, it can pour. In January we had a massive thunderstorm. Because there is little road drainage, or the drains that are there are filled with sand, flooding is quite common. The road outside my apartment was about a half a metre under water. Cars were driving in it all the same. I saw a mini push a bow wave completely over a taxi coming in the opposite direction. Here are some pictures of the Burj Dubai taking a few lightning hits:

It this the worlds tallest lightning conductor?

Worlds most expensive beer?

Dubai is home to the worlds biggest of plenty of things, but recently I paid 45 Dhirams for a pint (500ml) of Stella Artois (that's 8.63 GBP; 125.59 ZAR or 12.25 USD). Is that the worlds most expensive beer? That's the same as it costs to fill my tank with petrol! I'd dread to know what they charge for a beer at The Burj Al Arab, our local 7 star hotel.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Some excellent photo's of Dubai and the UAE

Winter sunshine

It's been a while since my last post. Dubai comes to life when the weather gets a bit cooler (that's if you consider 22- 30 degrees cooler). There has been so much on since my last post.

Firstly we had Queen with Paul Rogers playing at Festival City. No I've been a Queen fan all my life and I've never sen them live. I'd tried and failed on two other occasions, so i wasn't going to miss out this time. We splashed out and got VIP tickets. It was well worth it. I had an absolute blast. We were right in the front, literally 5 meters from the band. It was like having an intimate evening with Queen in my own living room.

There were quite a few grey hairs in the audience to match Roger Taylor but (Doctor) Brian May hasn't changed his hair in 30 years, we were wondering if he's actually bald. The years have certainly not affected their ability to entertain. I just wish I'd seen them live during their heyday.

Following Queen we had Kylie at the same venue. I didn't go, but by all accounts she was brilliant as well. She was over to perform the opening ceremony at the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm Jumeriah, which culminated in the worlds largest fireworks display. I missed that as well, as I was knackered, however I think you probably needed a helicopter, plane or low orbit space craft to appreciate the scale of it.

The Dubai 7's are the biggest 7's tournament in the world. The tickets are usually sold out winthin days. This year was no exception. The 7's were held in a brand new stadium constructed in the middle of the desert, about 30 km inland from Dubai. If you wonder why, look around Dubai in general and most places were in the middle of the desert at some point. The attitude is, 'build it and the rest will come'.

The Sevens was a brilliant weekend. Every Western Expat was probably there. The beer flowed and the corporates were hospitable. I had a day in the cheap seats and a day of corporate hospitality. Both were great. The fact that South Africa won the tournaments against England (I was sitting amongst several Englishmen) was a bonus.

There were big rainclouds hanging over Dubai when we left home on the Saturday but we assumed that they wouldn't follow us 30 km inland to the ground. We got a bit nervous when the sky went black and the wind picked up, but it was simply a dust storm. Fortunately not too bad as I believe that visibility can get down to about 10m. The rain held off and it ended up a fantastic day in the sunshine.

Rain... yes it does rain in Dubai. We've had quite a bit lately. Nice big thunderstorms. The problem is, there's very little road drainage, and where there is road drainage it's probably clogged with sand. So consequently when it rains, it floods. Where I live there is a lot of greenery whih is watered daily so the rain won't have that much impact, hoewver I'm looking forward to seeing the changes in the desert.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Settling in just fine

I'm now a fully fledged resident of Dubai. I'm in a reasonably well established area, where the grass has roots and the palms and trees are established unlike much of the city that is a bit of a building site. The area around me is still a bit chaotic with major roadworks at all exits from the suburb, but at least there seems to be some progress being made. The most annoying part of my drive to work now is the constant beeping of the 120 km/hr speed warning in my hire car once I'm past the roadworks. It takes me about an hour to commute 70 km, whereas it used to take over an hour to commute 20 km when I stayed in Sharjah.

I recently visited the newly opened Atlantis Hotel and Water Park, situated on the tip of Palm Jumeirah. What a place. The attention to detail is incredible. The glass and water sculpture in the main entrance is staggering and the aquarium fantastic. The aquarium has one glass window that must measure 8m x 8m. It seems to be about 300mm thick at the bottom tapering towards the top, there are three panels joined virtually invisibly. It is incredibly clear and has no distortion. The tank holds thousands of fish of many spiecies, I'm just amazed that they can all live together without being eaten.

The water park is great fun too, the water is in fact cooled to make it more pleasant. There are brilliant rides and slides and a circular wave ride with rapids. I still can't quite figure out how it all works, there seem to be more downhills that uphills and yet it all links up somehow. Perhaps the design was based on an Esher work. It's been built by Sol Kerzner, so those of you who've been to the Lost City and Sun City will know what to expect.
I loved the ride through the shark pool. OK the sharks are a lot smaller than they show in the promotional material, but it's great to float inside an aquarium with fish all around you.
I chickened out of the "Leap of Faith" virtial slide though.
The temperature now is quite pleasant. The middle of summer was a bit of a strain, but now I am starting to understand why people may want to come here on holiday.
I was out at the pub with friend on Thursday night (that's the start of the weekend here) and it was mobbed. It was a great outdoor bar on the beachfront on about 3 different levels and hundreds (probably thousands) of expats enjoying the milder outdoor weather. One of my friends made the observation that "this is a country where beer is expesive and petrol is cheap (but doesn't taste as good)". That's quite true, I can fill my car with pertrol for about the same price as two beers in a high end pub. Petrol is about a seventh of the cost of what I was paying for petrol in the UK, and beer probably costs double. If you buy your beer or whisky from one of the bootleg bottle shops in the neighbouring emirates, it's significantly cheaper than buying from a supermarket in the UK.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

It's just like the Wild West

I've finally found myself an apartment in Dubai, so my time as a resident of Sharjah is finally coming to an end. :)

Which brings me to to todays topic. I've had it up to here [indicates the top of baldy patch on head] with Dubai Landlords and Estate Agents. I've been looking at properties for about a month and have walked away from three potential deals so far.

Agent / Landlord No 1:
I'd found a reasonable apartment for rent in Dubai Marina which was OK. I arranged to go to the estate agents office to pay the deposit and sign the contract. Firstly the agent told me that the office was near such-and-such, so I parked about half a km away and walked to the location in sweltering heat and found no such building. I phoned the agent and discovered that it was another half a km away in the opposite direction.

Eventually I arrived at the office and can't find he agency name on the board, or on the door. I go in and there is an office with desks and a few people, but little to suggest that this is an estate agency apart from a few random brochures scattered around. I was a little concerned about handing over significant quantities of cash to this motley crew and asked to see a letterhead or busness card...nothing. I then asked to see the contract and discovered that they had written in an illegal clause placing future unspecified maintenance costs on the tennant. I walked out.

Agent / Landlord No. 2
I found a really nice apartment, in a nice block, in a nice area and I was quite excited about it. It was stretching my budget to the maximum, but I decided that it was worth it. While driving to meet the agent (after nearly an hours drive), five minutes before parking the car the agent phoned to tell me that the landlord now wanted an extra 5000 dirhams (nearly a thousand pounds). I said that wasn't on and was about to head back to the office, but the agent persuaded me to meet. When I explained that I was unable to pay the entire years rental up front, but could probably manage two cheques, the rent went up another 5000 dirhams. The landlord also tried to impose a one year non-renewable contract so that he wouldn't be bound by the Dubai 2 year rental increase prohibition laws. I walked out again.

Agent / Landlord No. 3
I went to see another apartment that I liked it was advertised for one amount, however the rent increased by 5000 dirhams while I was viewing. I liked the apartment, but decided again on principal, to walk away from that.

Agent / Landlord No. 4
Finally I found a smaller apartment in the same block as the second apartment and my agent actually negotiated a reduced rent because of the aprtment size. Whoohoo, there are some good people out there afterall. Thanks Carolyn!

Anyway I move tomorrow into an unfurnished apartment. It has a fridge, so the beer will be cold, but nothing else. I'm thinking of buying the camping equipment that I'll need for camping in the desert in the winter and just camp in my apartment for a few days.

The prices of renting property have gone through the roof. I cannot believe that it's sustainable. Housing allowances don't cover rentals any more (at least not in my line of work). I pay double the rent for a small one bedroomed apartment in Dubai as I'm receiveing in rent for a 3 bedrromed house in Scotland. I am also expected to pay a full years rental up front. It's absolute madness. The new property being built here is mostly aimed at the upper end of the market, I have no idea who it is who's buying or renting them.

The people who need accomodation are the expat workers building Dubai. When the building is largely done and the expats leave, who's going to live here. I think it's a pyramid scheme on a massive scale, which will all end in tears. I'm intrigued to see how this market rides out the current "Credit Crunch". The winners at the moment are the estate agents, but in my personal experience, there are a lot of cowboys amongst them. There is no accreditation or legislation for agents and it is a complete free-for-all. Maybe I'm in the wrong line of work.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Bahrain, Qatar and the "big thirst".

It's been a while since I updated here, since I last posted I've been doing a bit of work related travel. I spent a few days visiting our offices in Manama in Bahrain and in Doha in Qatar.

Bahrain is an island in the Gulf and is linked to mainland Saudi Arabia by a causeway. The north of the island is the main town, Manama, the rest is pretty much desert. It used to have a lot of oil and gas, but there is only enough left for their own needs. I'm told that they now generate most of their income as a tourist destination for thirsty and playful Saudi's and refining Saudi oil.

One of our site offices is on the southern tip of Bahrain where they are constructing a palm type structure similar to those off the coast of Dubai. This is Durratt Al Bahrain and will offer island style living. I only went as far as the site office which is in the desert on the mainland and couldn't see anything that might tempt me to buy or holiday there. It was mostly hot and dusty.

The drive down was quite interesting, we took an alternate route avoiding the highway and through the desert. The desert is covered with oil and gas pipes running across the surface, occasionally dipping underground where they cross the road. I expected to see large oil pumping operations, with buildings and compounds, but all there are are occasional unmanned "nodding donkeys" nodding away.
We drove past the Bahrain tourist attraction "The Tree of Life". This is a large tree which has been growing quite happily in the middle of the desert for the past 400 years.

The following week I went to our Qatar office in Doha. Doha is more like a mini Dubai in terms of development. It too is a country with one main city in the north and the rest is pretty much desert. I didn't get to venture out of Doha itself, but we did manage a touristy tour of the old souk [market] which has recently been restored.

The flight to and from Qatar / Dubai was chock-a-bloc and I couldn't figure out what the big attraction was in Qatar. It turns out that most passengers are transit passengers and Qatar Airways offer competative rates.

I didn't pick the best time for travelling and enjoying some of the finer aspects of these more liberal Arabian states. It was the middle of Ramadan. This is the muslim period of fasting. Nothing may pass the lips between sunrise and sunset. The fast is broken with the Iftar meal, which consists of a banquet of treats each evening, however food is scarce in the daytime and alcohol is more limited that usual. Dubai is definately the most liberal of all the states when it comes to alcohol, and while Ramadan is a lot quieter, bars do open in the evenings.