Saturday, 26 July 2008

Swimming

The children are doing very well with their swimming.  It's fair to say that they were both non-swimmers when we came out here, but after 6 months of swimming a few times a week in our pool, they are now quite proficient.

They have very little technique, apart from what comes naturally, but they have the confidence to now dive in and out of the pool - and with a snorkel, they can both swim under water for a length. 

Here's them saying hello!

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Monday, 21 July 2008

Fun City, Dubai

Last week, Tim had a well-earned day off, so we decided to take the children to Fun City.  We had heard that it was worth going to, yet we couldn't really find any details on what it actually was!  Internet sites here in Dubai are not that great - even for common attractions.  So, off we set on a very hot dusty day for Airport Expo (the exhibition centre where it was being held in the summer season).

IMG_2195We paid about £2.50 to get in, which was a good start - and we walked through the doors.  All I can say is . . . . . . "what do you go for a fairground in Dubai when it's too hot to be outside" . . . . simple answer . . . . you build one indoors!  And that, in a nutshell is Fun City.  It is themed around an Arabic character called Modhesh - who is the Dubai Summer mascot.  Our children think he's great!

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We spent time on the fairground attractions, along with indoor playgrounds, Playstations, bumper-cars - then having lunch at the international food-court.  IMG_2199

All in all it was a most enjoyable day - the children loved it and for those parents out there, you will know that if the kids are happy, generally the adults are happy!

 

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A great day out.

Big People

It has emerged in the last week, that my daughter has a pathological fear of big people. No, I don’t mean overweight or those who are particularly tall – I mean the people who dress up in outfits – life-size cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse or Spongebob Squarepants!

Last week when we were at the exhibition centre, three such characters appeared – Dora the Explorer, Spongebob Squarepants and some jellyfish that I’m not familiar with. Oliver was terribly excited and shook their hands and tentacles, but when I looked around for Ella, she had vanished. We looked everywhere that we could think of and I was starting to panic. Dubai is pretty safe when it comes to child safety and there are relatively few weird people here, but nonetheless, it only takes one person . . . . .

About five minutes later, when the panic was clearly in my throat, I heard this distraught screaming and crying – my daughter was being carried towards me by a lady – the closer Ella got to me, the more she screamed and tried to get away. It must have looked pretty strange to the lady trying to return her to her mother. I grabbed Ella who was practically hysterical by this point – “get me out of here”, “get me out of here” she kept screaming, tears streaming down her face with a look of blind panic on her face. She tried to run to the outside door.

It was then that we realized what the problem was – behind me was a full-size grown up version of Spongebob who was getting closer and closer to Ella. She was utterly terrified.

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We moved as far away as we could and sat her down on the floor trying to calm her down – she eventually stopped trembling, but her eyes were constantly scanning the exhibition centre searching for these characters. The strange thing is that she really wants to see these people and talks about them non-stop . . . that is, until the moment they appear and then she runs away, as fast as her little legs will carry her.

I know where this all started and I really thought that now she is 4, the problem would have gone away. When Ella was 2, we visited Disneyland – we were sitting in a restaurant and Ella had her back to the inner part of the room. Without warning, a lifesize Baloo (of Jungle Book fame) came up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder. She literally jumped out of the chair and you could physically see the panic in her eyes. For the remainder of the Disneyland experience, she stayed as far away as she could possibly be from any of the large characters, although after about 3 days she started to tentatively wave to them – albeit from a safe distance of about 10 metres.  Even in this photo of us with Goofy, she wouldn't open her eyes and remained rigid in Tim's arms

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She is adamant that she still wants to go to Disneyland next year – despite us telling her that there will be lots of big characters there . . . now that she is bigger, she can run faster and further away. We have tried to explain that she mustn’t run away or she will be lost, but when the faced with her fears, any rational ability she may have, will understandably desert her and she will just run.

Whoever thought that a trip to Disneyland would scar a child for life!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Friday Brunch

Friday in Dubai is the rest of the western world's Sunday.  So Sunday lunch is transferred in Dubai to Friday brunch and it is big business out here. 

In the international press, you will probably have read about a foolish young lady drinking far too much champagne at one of these affairs and getting into some serious trouble with the Dubai Police.  But for the rest of us, we do manage to get up and stagger home without incident.

Dubai brunches range in price and nearly all of them take place at one of the large international hotels in the city and along the coast.  I don't know exactly how much the most expensive one is, but we were invited to one at Al Qasr (a hotel on Jumeirah Beach) and it was a staggering 385 Dirhams per person (US$104) - albeit including alcohol.  Children are charged at half price - even my four year old - but in my view, chicken nuggets, a few chips and a scoop of ice-cream isn't worth $52 (£26) and there's only so much booze you can drink when you have to look after young children without being interviewed by social services.  Our family would have paid £158 for the privilege of eating there.  We declined the invitation.

However, we have stumbled on a real beauty and that is the brunch at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi - right on Jumeirah Beach.  For £20, you can sit in their delightful restaurant overlooking the beach, palm trees and the sea.  You then move from food station to food station - everything from breads, sushi, salad, smoked and poached salmon, roast meats, curry, pasta and even more before finally committing to the chocolate fountain, miniature desserts, ice cream, fresh fruit and finally a cheese-board.  What makes it even better is that food for the under 6's is free.  The cherry on top is that once the children have finished their lunch, they can be booked into the children's club and be looked after and play while the adults are still munching (and drinking). 

Perfect!

So perfect in fact, that we have a booking for 16 people next month - our brunch will probably take 4-5 hours out of Friday's crazy schedule of eating and swimming.  It's such a social thing to do - even with the children!

Having said all that, when we return to the UK for our holidays in August, we have requested meals out in the great British institution - the pub!  Ploughman's and a pint please!

Monday, 14 July 2008

It's getting hot out here . . .

Today, temperatures his 46 degrees C and my sunglasses steamed up the moment I stepped outside the house or out of the car.  It's the first day this summer 2008 in Dubai where the temps have hit this number. 

They will probably start to climb even higher as we approach August, but in Dubai, the temperature never hits 50 degrees.  The reason - because that's when all the hotel and construction workers have to down tools and stop working. 

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To give you an idea of what 46 degrees is, the following ideas simulate the current climate:

1 - turn on your hairdryer and stand in the blast; or

2 - turn on the hand-dryer in your local public conveniences;

3 - open the oven door.

Fortunately, we have working air-conditioning in the house and car, but spare a thought for my friend today who had her hair cut and blow dried in a salon . . . where the air con wasn't working.

That's just not funny.

I'm off to jump in the pool . . .  the only way to survive!

Friday, 11 July 2008

We've bought a house . . . !

It has taken us months.  Months of worry and months sitting in the front of the computer looking at numbers, but we have finally done it.  We are back on the property ladder . . . !

When we arrived, we became acutely aware of rising prices in Dubai.  Not only on the rental market, but also in the buying of properties too.  Houses that we looked at six months before had shot up nearly £100,000, leaving us well and truly behind.  Doing a search on real estate agencies web-sites were relatively useless, as by the time we called them about a property, it had already been sold.

We hit the phone - maybe this would be easier.  Not really.  We were met with "what's your budget?"  we replied.  "Mmm", they said, "I don't think we can help you".  Crazy stuff, when an agent tells you that you are unable to buy anything with your budget - and we thought our budget was quite good . . . . but not by Dubai standards.

We soldiered on, and we happened to stumble upon a new development just around the corner from us in Dubai Sports City.  There we found a town-house for within our budget (just).  Out here, there is an incredible shortage of villas, driving the price up even more.  Dubai is expanding both in terms of residents and building.  You will all know that it is probably the building capital of the world. 

Therefore, the majority of houses are sold off-plan.  Basically, the developer has found the plot of land, put together a master plan and then sells the houses.  They are usually sold out within days of release.  This particular house has been bought and sold twice - we are the third owners  (the previous two owners have each sold at an amazing profit), and I don't believe many bricks have even been laid.  The original price of our house 2 years ago when the plans were released was under £100,000. 

The buying system out here is terrible.  In order to secure a house (built or un-built) you have to immediately part with 10% deposit.  You are then given a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which enables you to approach a bank for a mortgage.  Each house is mortgaged by a particular bank . . . .  in the UK you find your house and then can apply to any bank for a mortgage on that property.  Here, you are told which bank to go to.  We were told where to go (bank-wise) and duly put in the application forms.  It was approved and we signed all of the mortgage paperwork.  We just had to take a photograph of all of the paperwork as I don't think I've ever seen so much paperwork for one transaction.  IMG_1805In the land of no direct-debts, Tim has had to write out cheques for three years worth of mortgage payments, as well as a six-month payment cheque, a twelve month payment cheque and also a cheque for the full amount.  Another 3 cheques for 3 years insurance payments and a forward payment cheque - which is the amount we are paying to the bank until the house is built. 

Ouch.

In the UK you are not allowed to complete on a property which is not built and ready. Something unusual over here is that you have to pay for the house to be built.  We have paid about 90% for the house right now and will pay the final 10% when it is built and handed over to us, which should be sometime within the next six months . . .  or not.

We were then given a date by the real-estate agent for completion (2 months away).

The two months came, with us getting more and more twitchy by the day.  We were getting worried because we could see prices spiralling upwards around us and a deal is not done until all of the paperwork is signed.  We were eventually given a time to all pitch up at the developer's office.  Off we went, and a rather old-fashioned transaction took place.  Sat around the table was the seller, the buyers (us), the realtor, the representative from the bank and the representative from the builder.  We all signed our documents in turn and that constituted "completion".

The real-estate agent then turned around to us and said that - if we wanted to - she could sell the house for us again at a higher price.  In three months (from start to finish) our house has increased by nearly £45,000 in value . . . . .  we declined!  The house should theoretically increase in value a lot when it is ready for occupation.  We will decide what to do then.

victory heights

Here is a builder's picture of our house when it is built.  It isn't big, in fact it is quite small by Dubai standards (2,250 sq ft), but the most important thing is that it's ours!

 

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Hot tap, cold tap . . . . which tap?

I can tell that the weather is hotting up here without even going out of the house . . . .  and that is by having a shower!

In the house, we have water tanks above each bathroom which are heated by a kind of immersion heater.  Tim gets a bit freaked out at the cost of running 5 full tanks (one for each bathroom and one for the kitchen) but it's just the way things are here. 

Anyway, the water in the shower has been getting increasingly warm in recent days.  So, as logic tells me, I've been turning the shower on, using only the cold tap, which is nice and tepid.  Today though it was too hot for comfort.  Not scalding or anything, but just a little bit warm for me.  But considering that only the cold tap was on, there wasn't a huge amount I could do.  The same applied to cold tap when I was brushing my teeth.  It's kind of strange brushing teeth with warm water.

I didn't think any more of it until I spoke to a friend today (a friend who has been here for about 5 years so knows all about these things).  "Oh, she said . . .  what you need to do is to turn off your water heater and then turn the tap to hot when you have a shower." 

"O-k-a-y", I thought, thinking she had just got things muddled, but no.  It appears that the water that is kept in the hot water tank, which when not switched on, is cold.  It is kept cold by the air-conditioning in the house.  If that water is too cold to shower in, then you turn on the cold tap and mix it together.  The cold tap brings in water stored in the pipes under the ground . . . .  which are hot because it's 40+ degrees outside.

Confused?  Makes sense when you think about it, but not when I'm all bleary at 6am.