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.