Saturday, 6 December 2008
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
Tuesday, 7 October 2008
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 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.
Sunday, 14 September 2008
It looks great until you notice the tower crane about to start building the next tower, slap between my potential view and the Marina. So it was a no. I've decided that the Marina is still too much of a building site and isn't quite ready for me yet. It's also about 70km from my office. It's a shame, the view fom the other side is fantastic, but unfortunately well outside my budget.
I'll end up paying about double the rental for a one bedroomed unfurnished apartment in Dubai as I'll get for renting out my three bedroomed detatched and fully furnished house outside Edinburgh. I just can't understand what's driving this property market. Rentals here are generally required to be paid a year or six months in advance as well. It's madness.
I've had my licence for just over two weeks now and I've been an incredibly restrained driver up till this morning. Today I used my hooter for the first time, whereas the rest of the population use it about as often as they use the brake pedal!
The traffic was impossible this morning, it took me two hours ten minutes to drive the 20km to work. If it wasn't 40 degrees and 80% humidity outside I could probably have walked it quicker. I'd travelled about 50m in half an hour and this huge black 4x4 with totally blacked out windows forced his way aggressively in front of me from a side street, but because his vehicle is such a behemoth, couldn't turn within a single lane, so was trapped in my path at about a 45 degree angle for about 5 minutes. I lined him up in my sights and let rip on the hooter. While it made absolutely no difference to the traffic situation, it made me feel better. Have I just become one of THEM?
The bus driver who takes the other staff to work from the same hotel left 40 minutes after me and arrived at work 15 minutes before me. He drives like Michael Schumaker and getts a regular hooting at. Perhaps it's me that needs to change.
The main street in Sharjah has been blocked off and dug up and will be closed for 2 years. I have a SatNav which insists on directing me back to this main street that you cannot travel on or cross. It's hopeless. Why don't SatNav's allow you to program in streets to avoid? The roads / diversions change here on a daily basis with diversions and new construction changing continuously. SatNav mapping can at best give you a rough idea of the direction you should be heading.
Wednesday, 10 September 2008
At the moment there are hundreds of thousands of Expats working here to do all this construction work (myself included) and we need place to stay, but who's going to live in all these properties when the construction industry slows down.
Burj Dubai (under const.) currently the worlds tallest building.
We are also in the process of constructing the worlds largest traffic jam. The transport infrastucture around all these tower cities is limited to say the least. Most towers have sufficient basement parking for the occupants, but in my humble opinion, the service roads seem totally inadequate (apologies to any Dubai Transport Planners reading this). An ex-colleague of mine used to tell a story that 'Elisha Otis', the man who invented the safety elevator, was also responsible for inventing the traffic jam, as high density accomodation became a reality.
Jokingly the other day I said to colleagues that I hoped that Dubai wasn't in a seizmic zone or else we could be in for the worlds largest game of toppling domino's. What happens today... we had an earthquake. OK, the epicentre was across the Gulf in Iran about 120 km away, but we cerainly felt the tremors. Fortunately there's been no damage that I've heard of, but it does make one think.
Tuesday, 2 September 2008
I was concerned about driving on the right hand side for the first time, but it's been a breeze. Í've probably racked up 500 km in the first weekend and can't imagine what I was worried about. I can now drive almost like a local, although I still haven't picked up some of the local habits such as changing lanes randomly to gain a miniscule advantage, while talking on my mobile phone and hooting randomly at anything and everything.
The one error that I have been making is trying to leave a two second space between me and the car in front. When the local drivers see such an extrordinary sight they just can't help but change lanes to fill the gap, forcing me to slow down and leave another gap, etc. etc. I could end up going in reverse if I'm not careful.
I was invited out to my first Dubai Friday Brunch last Friday. What a brilliant concept! You go to a swish hotel, pay up front and eat and drink as much as you like from 12:30 till 4pm. I had the privelage of being invited join a party of 42 at one of the top Dubai hotels, the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. The food, drink and company was absolutely superb! I look forward to the end of Ramadan when such cultural activities can resume.
Monday, 25 August 2008
Saturday, 23 August 2008
I think I mentioned before how cheap UAE taxis were when compared to those in the UK. I am now forming the opinion that you get exactly what you pay for.
Firstly a bit of background information:
- There are three Emirates adjoining each other. Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman
- Dubai is expensive to live in and more fun
- Sharjah is cheaper to live in and deadly dull
- Ajman is furthest from Dubai
- The traffic between Sharjah and Dubai is horrendous.
- Taxis from one emirate are not permitted to collect fares in a neighboring one.
- Taxi’s regularly refuse to take you to a neighboring emirate as they get stuck in traffic returning to their home Emirate.
- Taxi drivers are poorly paid and often don’t speak English or Arabic.
Today I wanted to travel to several locations to look at possible accommodation, so a very lucrative fare was in the offing.
I queued patiently outside the local Mall and eventually got to the front of the queue. The first driver point blank refused to take me to anywhere in Dubai, ‘feigning’ being unable to understand English. I’ve now learnt that the best way is to get in, make small talk about the heat and only give directions once under way. I managed this on my second attempt although this time the driver really didn’t know where he was going and spoke rudimentary English at best.
I decided that I needed another driver, so got dropped off at a Mall in Dubai and was fortunate to find a Dubai taxi driver that could speak reasonable English so I decided to use him for the rest of the journey. We did well together and travelled around for nearly three hours Mirdif, Dubai Marina, Jumeirah Lake Towers and finally Ajman.
My very last port of call was the Hole in the Wall in Ajman, a liquor outlet for non-Muslim expats. While I was inside shopping, my driver was outside being harassed by a local Ajman taxi driver who was threatening my driver for collecting a fare in Ajman even though the meter was still running. He seemed like a nasty piece of work so I decided it would be best to simply pay off my original driver and take my chances and get a ride back with him.
Ajman taxis are not metered and you have to negotiate a fare. I only realized this once travelling but he said, “Not to worry”. I knew the last I’d had a metered fare to Ajman, it was about 20 Dh which is what I’d planned on paying him, he demanded 35 Dh. I didn’t want any trouble seeing as I was in the process of lugging alcohol around a dry emirate, so I paid up. He knew that too!
At least I have a few Heinekens to calm me down now. The sooner I get my visa sorted, get my own wheels and move to Dubai the better.
P.S. (The househunting was disappointing too.. you dont get a lot for your money in Dubai!)
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
1 = like a one
2 = backward seven
3 = backward seven with a squiggly top line
4 = backward three squiggle
5 = tear drop (this would be by favorite shape of number)
6 = like a lazily drawn seven
7 = like a fancy V
8 = like an inverted fancy V
9 = just like an squiggly nine
0 = like a big full stop in the middle of the line
What seems odd to me, and nobody has yet been able to properly explain this, unlike Arabic text which is written from right to left, numbers when written in Arabic, are written from left to right. How did that happen?
The Greeks had a number system, but didn't understand the concept of 0. It was the Persians who gave the world 0. So how come their numeric system is opposite to the way of writing?
The Arabic character for 2 and the Arabic character for 3 seem very similar to me, so I'm going to be taking particular care when I check my finances.
As someone who has a bit of a lisp, I should get on fine here. There is apparently no true 'S' sound in Arabic.
Sunday, 17 August 2008
In Sharjah, with street names like "Sheik Khalid Bin Khalid Al Qassimi Street" and "Abdullah Salem Al Sabeth Street" and "Sheik Rashid Bin Saqr Al Qassim Street" you can imagine it's not easy addressing letters or giving directions. Most streets are suffixed with numbers as well although the writing on the signs is so small trying to fit the names on, it's virtually impossible to read, especially when driving past at 50 km/h.
I suspect this may be the cause a few of the frequent accidents. while craning your neck to read the street name you've just driven past.. oops sorry mate, I didn't see you.
Dubai seem to have given up on street names completely, particularly for suburban streets, they are simply numbered 33rd St, 33B St, 69C St etc. Odd streets run in one direction, even streets at 90 degrees to the odds.
Before arriving in the UAE I'd seen that cars are sold as either American Specs or Gulf Specs. I assumed that Gulf Specs meant diamond studded gear knob and gold plated dashboard. In reality I think it means a bigger air con, and radiator and an industrial strength hooter. I've never heard so much hooting, often for what seems like no apparent reason.
Saturday, 16 August 2008
Because I’m working here I can’t hire a car with my international license, I have to get a UAE license (which is a straight forward issue if you have a UK license). However I can only get my UAE driving license when I get my passport back. I also can’t rent property, or (horror of horrors) get my alcohol license, until I get my passport back. So everything pretty much revolves around me getting my visa back. I’ve been told that I can pay 500 dirham’s to get my visa fast tracked, which will speed it up the final process from 10 days to 8 days. It hardly seems worth it.
Fortunately compared to the uk, taxi's are relatively cheap. Last weekend I hired a taxt and we drove around Sharjah, Ajman and all the way up the coast to Umm al-Qwainn. It took nearly 3 hours and the fare was about the same as my usual trip home in the UK.
This weekend I've been touring Dubai. I eventually found a taxi driver who had a reasonable grasp of English and got him to take me on a grand tour of potential living locations. Although it has been a bit of a white knuckle ride at times, he has tried very hard to point out all the significant landmarks to me and advised me on the type of clientelle he's collected and deposited in each district.
I went down as far as the Dubai Marina and the Palm Jumeriah, which is about 40km from work and very nice, but I don't think I'd be able to afford anywhere with a half decent view, and without a view the travel isn't really worth it, so I'll probably stick to something a bit closer to Sharjah. Mirdif is looking quite appealing. Smaller buildings (2/3 story) in a relatively new clean and tidy suburb. I'll have to see what's available when I get my documents back?
After two weeks here I’m starting to get a better feel for the place. It is one huge construction site. The scale of the construction is mind boggling, I just can’t imagine who’s going to live and work in all of these buildings, but most of them are sold off plan. Unfortunately I've not been taking photo's, I will when I get my own transport.
During our travels, my taxi driver, and now self appointed unofficial tour guide asked if he could have a 5 minute prayer break, so I arranged for him to drop me off at the Jumeriah Beach Hotel and I had a beer at the pool while he went off to the local mosque for a prayer. We both felt a lot better and more relaxed after our respective rituals. It's coming up for Ramadan in September so he explained that he's starting to be extra good about his prayer times. I explained to him that I was good all year, and not just for the month of Ramadan, but I don't think he believed me.
The traffic between Sharjah and Dubai can be an absolute nightmare and the taxi's often refuse to take you to Dubai from Sharjah or vice versa. I've learnt the trick to get in the cab, make small talk and only announce your final destination once in motion. I do have some sympathy for them as they are not allowed to collect fares in the neighbouring emirate so it can waste an hour of their time just getting back to where they can operate. They probably need a central rank on the border where you could change taxi's. This will all become immaterial once I move to Dubai. I'd hate to know what a Dubai Taxi driver would do if he was asked to go all the way to Ajman.
Monday, 11 August 2008
Unfortunately I only got as far as Frankfurt and the connecting flight was cancelled. I'm afraid I cannot recommend Frankfurt airport as a suitable place to kill 12 hours. I was so bored with wandering around I checked in as soon as I could to get to see what was on airside in Terminal 2 - answer, nothing. You couldn't spend a cent!
Anyway, I finally arrived in Dubai 24 hours later at daybreak, after a sleepless flight. My neighbour insisted on poking me in the ribs continuously throughout the flight. I was quite surprised that even though it was quite overcast when we arrived, it was still 32 degrees and very humid - at 6am.
Sunday, 6 July 2008
Firstly a bit of background information about me:
- Born, raised, educated and worked in South Africa till age 33.
- Emigrated to the UK. Well I went on a working holiday and stayed for 14 years. I now think of myself as being Scottish.
- I've just accepted a new job in the Middle East and will be moving there in July 2008.
I was in the extremely fortunate position to be considered for two similar positions in the same company. One based in the UK, the other in the Middle East. After much indecision and mind changing, I've finally decided to head for the Middle East.
I will be based in Sharjah in the UAE and travel between offices in Qatar and Bahrain as well. The company is a large international consultancy which has some of the most prestigeous projects in the Middle East.
I am in the process of packing up the personal effects from my house so that I can rent it out while I'm away. It's incredible how much clutter I've managed to collect over the years.
I've spent the past two months slaving away in my garden, digging it up to install underground drainage, building raised beds... and now I'm leaving it to strangers to enjoy! Sods law!