Monday, 25 August 2008


I was going to write a bit about the state of driving in the UAE - even before I've received my license (hopefully this week) or even driven, then I read "Luke's Dubai Adventure's" extract from the blogoshere post on Dubai driving and thought I couldn't describe it better than that. Please read this, it describes things amost perfectly (no exaggeration.. honest)

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


I've been trying to teach myself some rudimentary Arabic. I can identify and recognise Arabic numbers, which is a good start. So far my system is:

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

Getting about

There is no door to door postal service in the UAE, all sent to post office box numbers. When you see the street names you begin to understand why.

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


I’m in a bit of a state of limbo at the moment. My passport is away getting my residence visa approved, which can apparently take 3 to 4 weeks. Hopefully I get it back before the month of Ramadan starts in September as apparently everything operates even slower then. The amount of bureaucracy here is quite mind boggling.

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

Here I am

Well, after days of packing and cleaning the house and traumatic goodbyes (mainly to Tombi the cat and my beautiful car) I finally made it onto the plane to Dubai.

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.

The heat is different to anything that I have experienced before. I've been in 42 degree dry heat before but the heat here is 40 deg + and very humid. Apparently this is only for a couple of months in the summer and then it becomes more bearable. However if you work inside as I do, there is no need to worry. Everything is air conditioned, sometimes to the opposite extreme where you actually feel cold. As you'd expect for a town that is essentially in the middle of a desert, it's extremely dusty.

I'd researched the area extensively over the web and had a fairly good idea of what to expect, however the size of the place surprised me. The distances are so much larger than I'd imagined. Possibly because I've become to small city blocks in the UK. You would certainly need a car to get around.

The offices are quite far away from the city, so the company provides busses to bus the staff in and out. It's so strange to see the place empty at 5:55 every evening, I dread to think what happens if there are deadline overruns. Perhaps that never happens here.

Over the weekend (Friday / Saturday) I went exploring in Dubai, Sharjar, Ajman and Umm al- Qaiwain. Taxi's are relatively cheap (compared to the UK) and I managed to hire a cab for about 2 hours for the same price as a cab ride back home from town in Edinburgh. The further away you go from Dubai, the more traditional and Arabic things become. In Um al-Qaiwain there are virtually no buildings over three storys.

The Burj Dubai, currently the worlds tallest building, in downtown Dubai looks a lot smaller than I imagined, mainly because it is surrounded by so many mega towers. Don't get me wrong, it's massive, but extremely slender and probably too high to fully appreciate from ground level.

The Burj al Arab is the worlds only 7 star hotel and was designed by the company that I work for. I've seen the photograph on hundreds of pieces of marketing material over the years and I finallt saw it in person. It will be a few years yet before I get to spend a night there, but it certainly is impressive from the exterior.

I had a couple of beers at the poolside of the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and it was so hot and humid that I was sweating liquid faster than I could drink. I must remember to take something to swim in next time I visit.

My temporary hotel accomodation is in Sharjah which is a dry emirate, which means that they don't sell any alcohol, hence the need to visit Dubai to quench thirst occasionally. It's more much conservative than Dubai, but far more relaxed than Saudi Arabia. Because of the conservative nature it doesn't attract as much tourism and is a lot cheaper, which in turn means that many people who are priced out of Dubai, live in Sharjah and commute to Dubai daily. The Sharjah / Dubai traffic is notorious.
In the local press there is a lot of promotion for massive new tower developments in the neighbouring emirate of Ajman. I though I't take a look as it's forecast to become the next boom town after Dubai. Although many of the towe blocks have completely sold out there is nothing actually built yet. I drove past and it's just plain desert.
I need to find somewhere to stay soon. By a process of elimination, I'd decided that I'll probably try and rent somewhere in Dubai. I's much more expensive, but the more relaxed lifestyle will probably suit me better. Visiting friends and family expecting to be accomodated in the guest suite may be disappointed, I think I'll be aiming for something small initially. Once I'm more settled, I can decide if buying is a good investment.
I'll keep you posted.