Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Language Barrier

As there are very few Emerati people in the workplace, most of the working population is made up of ex-pats.  A lot of people in the service industries are from the Indian sub-continent.  Many are heavily accented and there are times when it can be tricky to understand them.  Here’s an example from yesterday.  I was trying to send a package with FedEx to Moscow.

“What country you sending package?” (them)
”Russia” (me)
”Al Barsha?” (a local place in Dubai)
”No, Russia” (me)
”Yes, Barsha?” (them)
”No, Russia -the USSR” (me)
”ah, the USA madam?” (them)
”NO” (me)

Oh Lordy . . . . it went on for a while, we got there in the end . . . . nothing quite like the English language!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Ramadan 2009

So, here we are again with another Ramadan.  It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and indulging in anything that is in excess or ill-natured; from dawn until sunset.

From what I can understand from a lot of my friends who have lived in other countries, Dubai is one of the strictest that they have encountered.  Apparently in Egypt, the Muslims fast, while the other religions carry on in a normal fashion.  Yet here in Dubai, during daylight hours, when you wander the great malls, all of the food or coffee outlets are closed, with all of the chairs stacked up on the tables.  Malls can be a very gloomy affair in Ramadan – in my view, the very soul is sucked out of Dubai and it’s a very solemn place to be during the day.

We live here and have chosen to live here, so we have to abide by the rules and not eat in public in the daytime.  That’s fine by me – however, hard it may be.  But one thing I don’t understand – even for Muslims, little children are exempt – so when I let my children (under 6) eat something in public, I feel that everyone is staring at me and that I’ve done something wrong.  I know that I haven’t, but there feels as though there is a tension in the air.

There are a few places which bend the rules and open during the daytime.  The rule which they bend is that they have to be unseen and unheard from the outside, so dark curtains are pulled all around the cafe or the windows are papered over.  When westerners go inside the few treasures that are still open, the place is humming with activity and people eating and drinking without a care in the world!

Given that Dubai is a very relaxed country in the Middle East, where we are allowed to drink alcohol (in certain places) and where there is a great deal more freedom than in many others, Ramadan feels like such the opposite.  I am sure that others will feel differently, but it’s just my view.

Perhaps a very strict Ramadan is the deliberate price we pay for an otherwise very flexible and liberal Arab country. 

Monday, 7 September 2009

Moving into our New Place

We’re now moved into our new place and slowly finding our feet.  It’s in Dubai Sports City and whilst our particular development is quite nice, we are back on a building site.  There are bus loads of builders shipped in and out each day to both finish our development and also to continue to build the remainder of Sports City.  There has been a lot of recent publicity about the plight of these workers, mainly from the Indian subcontinent, and whatever the real story of these folk, I hope they are living somewhere decent and looked after fairly by their employers.

So far, I’m not too keen on living in our particular development.  We’ve had a couple of petty security issues – a few thingswater-cooler-thief-main-copyright1 have been stolen from outside our villa (one from our covered carport and another from an outside cupboard) and a man was also found in our garden doing something to himself that should only be done in private.  I will go no further, suffice to say that I’m happy my children were not there to witness it.  It’s my job to protect them from any weird people out there.

In the UK, it would be rather foolish to leave items in a carport, but Dubai isn’t the UK and it’s quite normal, given that there is no loft space and most garages don’t have doors.  I’ve always felt secure here, and whilst I do still have a sense of personal security, I am now always making sure that the garden gate is completely locked and we are now paying for landscapers to come into our garden and install high trees and obscure any view through the gate.

There’s a chance that people out there will think that I’m over-reacting, but this development was sold to us as a gated establishment, but I guess it was just handed over too soon.  They can’t possibly deliver a “secure” gated compound when it’s not fully built yet.  I’m also not trying to see that we are living in some dreadful place – incidents like this happen in every town throughout the world – sadly, it’s just a few individuals who spoil things for the rest of us.

This is probably my first blog where I have felt rather low and disappointed with my time in Dubai, but I need to be honest.  This blog has to have the good times and also the less good – I need to make it real and what it’s really like for me.  I am still very happy to be here and would still choose to live here rather than the UK, but it’s just been a bit of a shame.

I am sure things will get better.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Moving out of the Rental House

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My world has been completely taken over of late, with moving out of our rental house.  Only 12 months late, our newly mortgaged, freshly built house is ready for occupation!  It was a shame to see the other place go, but at the same time, we were looking forward to getting into our “own” place and painting the walls red, if that’s what we wanted to do (we don’t want to by the way)!

Our (Indian) landlord, who was if you recall, was an utter pig to us when we moved in, had softened of late, and one day even turned up with a basket of whole-nut chocolates for the children (although given that O has a nut allergy, maybe it wasn’t such a nice move!), but any bad experiences we had experienced so far from him, was nothing compared to moving out.

Firstly, given that we are in a depressed rental market, he managed to secure a tenant as soon as we moved out.  Well, in fact, BEFORE we even moved out!  Jammy man – only he could do this.

Our house rental was ours and paid for up until 23.59 on Thursday 2 July and the new (very nice) lady’s rental period started on 00.01 on Thursday 2 July.  Can you sense a problem brewing???

Oh yes – from 9am onwards on this day, both T and I were consistently being hounded by the landlord, asking when we would be out.  The reply was always the same – as soon as the removal people take the stuff out of the house!  We agreed that we would try to hurry them as best we could, but given that they were packing up my best crystal and all my worldly goods and putting it onto the back of an open truck (which was subsequently going to be driven down a 7 lane highway), I wasn’t going to hurry them too much . . . !

The one thing about Dubai is that it is rather in the dark ages in terms of public services.  In order for us to disconnect our water and electricity, T had to physically drive to their offices about a half hour away, take a ticket and wait his turn to be seen.  DEWA (the government owned electricity and water company) is on a nice little earner.  When you get connected for the first time, you have to hand over a nice not-so-little deposit of 2000AED per villa (about £335).  Apartments give a deposit of 1000AED as their bills are likely to be lower.  This protects them should you decide to skip the country and not pay your bill.  Multiply this deposit by the number of households in Dubai, and you’ve got a nice not-so-little annual interest payment going on  . . . . !!!

So, Tim gets to the front of the line and says that we are moving out.  He gives them an approximate final meter reading.  The chap behind the desk informs him that they will send out another chap to do an official reading, checks his postal address, and confirms that the final bill will be in the post once the “official” meter reading has taken place!  Fine, perfect, although being able to do this over the phone or the internet would have been sooo much easier.

Tim then tries to connect our new house to DEWA and tries to set up a new account.  He has with him, his passport, his residence visa and proof of ownership of our house, but he has done one dreadful thing, he has forgotten some other paperwork that is apparently vital for the connection of our services.  He is told to go away and to come back with the correct paperwork!  (Paperwork in Dubai, by the way, is crucial and getting most things done is often excruciatingly painful – you can’t even buy a SIM card for your mobile phone without a passport.)

Tim comes back to the old house and here starts the standoff with the landlord.  The new tenant has arrived with all of her stuff and we still have a couple more truck loads needed to transport all of our belongings!  We talk to the lady – she is very nice and understands.  We try and move our stuff to one side of the house so that she can start her unloading process.  All fine and dandy.

Then, the landlord opens his mouth. 

He refused to give us our security deposit until we prove to him that we have paid the final DEWA bill.  Now we are in a loop.  You CAN’T pay the final DEWA bill until the official man has come to read the meter.  But to most rational people, that’s not an issue, because remember that DEWA have a 2000AED deposit against the house (so the landlord of the electricity company are rarely out of pocket).  Summer monthly bills are normally in the region of 1800AED, so this more than covers our projected bill.  Add to that the fact that if you don’t pay a bill, you’re flung in prison anyway, is enough of a deterrent to most people!

So, darling landlord is asking us to prove that we have paid a bill that we physically are unable to do until the final bill comes through.  He knows this really.  So, Tim gets into an argument with him and refuses to hand over the house keys until we get our (previously agreed) security deposit back.  But, don’t forget the nice lady waiting to move in . . . . . the landlord then threatens Tim with the police.  Nice move.

I get a call at the new place to get back to the old place to help.  Whilst I’m driving there, I call a real estate (and Dubai regulated) friend of mine for clarification.  She confirms that it is illegal for him to do this and in addition, he is also not allowed by law, to hold two security deposits against the same house, which he is doing.  She recommends that we call the police to sort the landlord out!!!  Perfect, some ammunition.

I get there and start “talking” to him with Tim.  We tell him that if he doesn’t return our security deposit, we will call the police.  He murmurs and moans a bit, and clearly the threat works as he eventually agrees that he will hand over our security deposit (which by the way is nearly £2000 so worth fighting for).  Victory, but we got absolutely no pleasure out of it whatsoever.  Clearly £40,000 rent per year for a 3 bedroom/2 reception roomed house wasn’t quite enough for him. 

It’s people like him – greedy when it comes to money – that give a lot of other people a bad name. 

We managed to get all of our belongings out of the house by 10pm that night – a complete nightmare of a day, all conducted on a summers day in the Middle East.  Nice (and sweaty)!

However, Tim still had to go back to DEWA to connect us to the new house . . . . .  another story for another day!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Flights – Costs from Dubai

This is a particular bug-bear of mine . . . . why oh why are flights to varying international locations more expensive from Dubai than from London?

There could be a logical argument – in that Dubai might be further away than London.  I appreciate that Heathrow is the busiest airport in the world, and it’s landing charges are lower than most European counterparts, but I don’t believe it explains fully how flights originating in Dubai are so very expensive.  (Apparently Dubai has very low landing fees in relation to most European countries too.)

Let me give you an example – I thought it might be interesting to go to Cape Town.  The cheapest flight from Dubai the equivalent is £700 on Emirates Airways.  Flying from London, on exactly the same dates, via Dubai, on Emirates is a staggeringly cheap £387.  So, £300ish more to fly 7 hours less.

Similarly to fly to the UK in June from Dubai is £401.50 with one stop.  From the UK to Dubai in June on exactly the same days (which is lower season) the cheapest flight is £252.90, using the same airline and the same planes.  Absolutely crackers!

Can anyone explain this?

Sunday, 24 May 2009

School Fee Increases

I’m cross.  I really am.  Let’s think for a minute about the credit crunch, the huge global monetary meltdown, the crashing prices of pretty much everything, INCLUDING here in Dubai, pay rise freezes - - - and what do we get . . . ?

A 12% increase in school fees.

The school got graded this last term and as it did well, they decided to apply for 12% school fees – and they got authorisation from the KHDA.  I am furious. 

It is a GEMS school in Dubai, who already have one of the highest school fees in the country – and yet they seem to find it appropriate to set this price hike.  To justify it in the letter to parents, they said they would be giving us more science labs, extended art room and more classrooms (which in turn will generate more fees at 12% higher than this year).  My kids are in primary – what do they get?  Nada.

Every business that I know (and yes, the GEMS chain of school is a business and not a charity) is having to make-do and stretch their resources even further in times of financial hardship.  Now is not the time to build more science labs, especially as the school is only 3 years old and already has a wealth of facilities.  They can wait, like the rest of the world, until the worldwide economy picks up.

Right, I’ve said it!  Ranting over – now I need to find out how to pay for the 12% increase!!!

Afternoon Tea at the Burj-al-Arab

 

Despite driving past the Burj-al-Arab at least once a day for the last DSC0257418 months, we finally went inside!  You can’t just stroll in – you have to have either a hotel reservation, a restaurant booking or be invited!

We had family in town, including Great-Grannie, so really couldn’t think of anywhere more appropriate and more refined for such a lady.

We booked afternoon tea!

Why hadn’t we been in before?  Well, at 375Dhs a person (£70 per person), it has to be for something pretty special.  But fortunately, we had collected enough points through previous stays at its sister hotel, to get the whole lot for free!  That always makes me smile!

So, here are some photographs of the inside and some facts about the building itself.  Named Burj-al-Arab, meaning Tower of the Arabs in AraDSC02003bic, it stands on an artificial island 280m out from Jumeirah Beach.  It is connected to the mainland by a private curving bridge – you have to go through security before being allowed to cross the bridge.

Needless to say, it’s rather expensive to stay here – I think that rooms start at the US$1000 a night, which probably suits some people’s budget, but not mine!

DSC02004Inside, it’s all rather brash with a lot of gold and swirly patterns.  Not really very restful and tranquil in my view, although I’m sure some would disagree!  You can see here in the picture of the atrium looking towards the top, the garish decor.  Here is the fountain in the lobby.

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The tea itself was very nice.  7 courses in all, which includes a glass of champagne, sandwiches, salmon-en-croute, scones, sorbet, fruit, followed by French pastries and petits fours/chocolates.  Here’s where I get rather picky – I was looking forward to a French pastry, but I got a stick of shortbread that resembled the size of a Cadbury’s chocolate finger.  DSC02007Since when is shortbread a French pastry?  I was expecting an ├ęclair or a tartlet . . . . I was specifically served one piece of shortbread, by a delightful lady with a platter and serving tongs!  No more, just one!  When the chocolates arrived, there were four of them for four of us.  Shockingly tight.  Yes, we had eaten “enough” but at £70 a head, I want the DSC02011works – and if that means two French pastries, then I would like them.  Similarly, a plate of chocolates would have been appropriate, rather than the stingy four . . .  The service was good and attentive, but staff seem to have forgotten, or were never taught, the etiquette of serving from the left and taking away from the right.  Yes, I know this is really extreme, but in a self-awarded 7* hotel, I expect the very best.

After the tea, wDSC02020e took the glass lift right to the top of the hotel to look at the view.  On one side, there was the most amazing view of The Palm Jumeirah – we were so high up that it resembled more of a pop-up book!

Similarly, the marinaDSC02021 was pretty impressive from a distance.  Hard to believe that when we first came to Dubai 10 years ago for a holiday, the marina or The Palm didn’t even exist!

 

 

So, my afternoon at the Burj-al-Arab . . . . .  did I enjoy it?  Yes, very much so, but that was probably more for the company than the “exquisite culinary delights”.  I enjoyed being nosy and finally going in the place.  I’m especially more happy since I didn’t have to pay for it.  Had we parted with nearly £300 for the four of us, I suspect it might have stung a little . . . !!!!!

St George’s Day in Dubai

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I am very aware that the Patron Saint of England is St George, but when someone asked me when St George’s Day was, I am ashamed to say that I stumbled . . . . “April the something”, was about as far as I got.

It is, in fact, April 23rd.

So, why, as a fully fledged relatively patriotic Brit, do I not know this date? Probably because no-one I know actually celebrates the day. To my knowledge (and apologies to my parents if we used to celebrate it as a child) I do not ever remember celebrating St George’s Day. Why not? The Irish always celebrate St Patricks Day and the Aussie's have their ANZAC day.

However, my second year in Dubai provided something rather special to commemorate the day.

We were invited to attend a picnic in the grounds of the British Embassy, to watch and listen to the Royal Marines Band, and what a treat it was.

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We arrived, the staunch British, with passports in our hands, ready to go through the metal detectors which would allow us into the Embassy grounds. Temperatures were around 38 degrees that day, yet that did not deter us. We lugged our picnic hampers, coolers, chairs and picnic blankets onto the lawns and set up for the afternoon. How lovely it was – there were lots of sandwiches, strawberries, Pimms and ”tally-ho” British accents in attendance. Little girls called Arabella and boys called Tarquin ran around waving English flags having a fine time – happy to just run around in the grass, while their parents read The Times.

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The band struck up with their opening tune – the theme tune to Star Wars. Not quite so British, but Oliver loved it (Star Wars and Indiana Jones being the hot topics in our house). It wasn’t long before we were singing along to Land of Hope and Glory – I felt as though I were transported back 40 years into a scene of England past. The band started marching around the grounds, while the children revelled in it, following them and playing tambourines and pretending to be soldiers. Nothing relating to modern England existed in
this little pocket of Dubai for these three magical hours.

Click here for a little clip of the afternoon.

It was such a fantastic day – I was proud to be British!

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Friday, 8 May 2009

Fujairah – a weekend away!

I have neglected this blog of mine of late.  We have been supremely busy with me collapsing on the sofa at the end of each day.  I will do better!

We recently headed out of the Dubai Emirate for a weekend break.  Fujairah is one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE and is situated on the Eastern side of the peninsula overlooking the Gulf of Oman, rather than the Persian Gulf.

It takes nearly 2 hours to drive there, through the mountains and is a really very lovely drive.  Easy roads, once you negotiate the typical bad driving which is inevitable on the roads out here!

What was really interesting is the country when you get outside Dubai.  I don’t mean the scenery, I mean the way of life.  Everyone thinks that the UAE (with Dubai and Abu Dhabi) is this glitzy modern place, but that is so wrong – once you get outside the city, you find dusty little desert towns, with old men on bicycles and little markets selling – well, anything!

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This particular shop sold loads of inflatables (why and to whom?) and fruit!  Other sold carpets and this one had some beautiful plants in it (which I will remember when it’s time to plant things in the garden).  No glitzy stuff here.

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But for the most part, the countryside is just desolate and harsh and gets more mountainous the further north and east you go.

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We were heading for a place called Dibba, a coastal town and we spent a good hour surrounded by this beautiful scenery – the start of the Hajjar Mountains which continue into Oman.  (Hajjar Mountain means stone mountain in Arabic.)

 

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About 1 hour 45 minutes from Dubai, we arrived at our destination, the JAL Hotel.  Very nice indeed.  Rooms were nice and spacious with plenty of space for the 2 children’s beds, but why waste time indoors – the sun was shining so we hit the beach!

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We’d gone with some friends, so the children ran off to play in the freezing cold swimming pool.  Why they hadn’t heated it I really don’t know, but apparently in a month it will be beautifully warm (ironically before it gets far too warm to swim in, when summer hits)!

We had a great night – sitting around with a gorgeous barbecue – as always, we ate too much.  But with great weather, food and great company, it’s hard not to!  There was a band, which the kids jigged along to, up on stage!

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One of the fun things about this hotel is that they have inflatables in the sea – inflatable slides, trampolines – great fun.  Good old-fashioned pedalo’s were also available – the children loved those – but probably because the grown ups did all the hard work!

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There was enough for the children to do and frankly, if the children are happy, then so are we!  The children spent hours playing fooz-ball!  But even if you don’t have children, it’s a very nice place to go for a cheapish weekend out of Dubai!

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Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Camping in Oman

This month, before it got really really hot, we tried something new.  Something that I haven’t really wanted to try in the last 20-odd years.  We went camping!

Camping is HUGE over here – the desert near Dubai and in neighbouring Oman has some beautiful places to camp and in the spirit of new experiences, it was something that we just HAD to do.  Not only is it a good experience, it’s cheap and camping has moved on a lot since I last went.  In the “old” days, I remember a separate groundsheet and many many bugs coming to visit me in the night – to be met with the end of a mallet!  Not only that, in the UK always seemed to rain when I was under canvas, so everything got that wet, muddy smell!

So – our experience……  Tim and I went to Carrefour to buy all of our kit.  We bought an 8-man tent (no separate groundsheet here), thick blow up mattresses, a portable barbecue and some lanterns – all for less than 500Dhs (£100). 

We loaded up the car with all of our purchases, and a cool box stuffed full of goodies and off we went.  We went with another family who had been before, so they could show us the ropes.  We drove an hour towards Hatta and then turned off-road into Oman, where we drove for about another 45 minutes, eventually driving up a dried up Wadi (river bed) to our home for the night.  It was a bone-shaker of a ride along rocks and stone and I’m glad The Beast (aka my car) got there in one piece!DSC01775 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We made our campsite home, complete with chairs, tables, a camp fire, duvets, pillows and teddy bears for the children.  As you can see from the photographs below, we certainly made it feel like home!  We had pretty much everything we needed at our disposal!  Thank goodness for very large cars, in which to lug it all!

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The scenery was gorgeous and we all took off for a few hikes in the mountains including some quite steep climbs.  We all had such a great time – even me, and I’m not really a “hiking” person!  Here are a load of photographs – they speak for themselves:

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Night fell, and we lit the BBQ for our dinner and the camp fire.  The kids had a great time with their torches trying to find “things”.  I am not sure what they would have done had they found “things”, but they didn’t and they had fun, which is the main thing.  The adults settled down with some wine and watched the sky, which was full to the brim with bright stars without any light pollution at all. 

Quite simply – gorgeous.

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I was happy – we were safely zipped into our tent, which was clear of anything with more than two legs.  We pulled our duvets up around us – despite being about 35 degrees in the daytime, at night it was surprisingly cold.  I don’t know how cold it got, but we were fully dressed under duvets and we were just about ok!

We woke with the sun, and all thoughts of cold vanished.  The sun was fierce and it got hot again quickly.  Mugs of tea, croissants (but no jam – shame on you Charlotte!) and juice put us all in a good mood before we had to start packing up all of our stuff and try and get it back into the car.  It all fitted – just – including our bags of rubbish. 

We left only our footprints, ready for another time . . .

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

You be the judge

I rarely get involved in the politics of living here.  Ultimately, our family has decided to live here and it is our duty to respect the country and its laws.  I would expect nothing less from anyone moving to the UK.

There is a truly terrible story which is clearly in the British press right now and it relates to a British lady apparently having been adulterous . . . . she is now in prison and will be deported.

However, she has two children who will remain in Dubai with their Muslim father . . .  as she will be deported, it is unlikely that she will see them.  Unless of course, the father does the right thing for his children and encourages contact and visitation away from the UAE.  I doubt she will care that she is in jail, but will be always thinking of her children.

I have put a link into one of the newspaper articles – you can find it here.  Forget the words of The Sun, should you wish (it’s not my favourite paper either), but the photo will be etched in my mind for a very long time.  Personally, having children of the same age, it practically ripped my heart out just to see the picture. 

But you be the judge.

James Blunt at the Dubai Jazz Festival

We have just been to our second jazz festival.  Last year saw Courtney Pine and Robin Gibb perform (not together) and this year we went to see James Blunt.

The jazz festival is held in an amphitheatre in Dubai’s Media City, which is where Tim works.  The lovely thing about this place is that it is right between a load of skyscrapers, surrounded by palm trees, so at night, it’s beautifully lit and you can really appreciate where you are.  And, it’s a licensed event too – nothing like a glass or two of something whilst listening to the music on a balmy evening.

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I stress that I went under relative duress.  Tim is a fan, but I wasn’t that bothered.  The tickets were quite expensive, but Tim has suffered by me dragging him along to enough things, that I thought I should be the darling wife and go with him. 

I was wrong.  James Blunt was fantastic and I realised that I knew far more of his music than I initially thought I did.  It did get rather melancholy in the middle when he sang beautifully tracks like “Goodbye my Lover” and “Carry you home” – if you listen to the words, they are rather sombre, BUT it perked up afterwards and I didn’t feel quite so suicidal!!!  He was great with the audience and at one point, jumped off the stage and into the crowd.  I am sure that his management would have had a heart attack at that one, but Dubai audiences are rather gentle so he was safe!

For those fans out there, here is a link to some video that we found online of his Dubai performance. 

Enjoy.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Rental Renewal – in hard times

We’ve done our year – and a couple of weeks ago, our rental agreement was up for renewal.  Given that we are (still) waiting for our house to be handed over to us, we have had to extend our rental on this place for just that little bit longer.

Tim went off to sort the contract with our landlord.  Given that the whole world appears to be in financial turmoil – Dubai being absolutely no exception (house prices have tumbled because few banks are lending any money and surprisingly, rents have also decreased to their Q1, 2008 level), you would have thought that it would be relatively easy to renew our rent for 3 months.  Oh no.  Despite Sheikh Mohammed issuing a decree that there were to be no rent increases in 2009, our darling landlord demanded a 5% increase.  He also wrote an amendment to the contract stating that when we move out on 30 April, we are contract bound to leave the “garden infrastructure”.  In simple terms, we are to leave the patio, the garden sprinkler system, the water tank etc – all that we installed!  What a cheeky man.  In all honesty, we weren’t going to rip up the patio or take out the sprinkler system anyway, but that’s not the point.  He is a greedy greedy little man, with no compassion.  If we do need to extend our rental agreement, he has assured us that we will not be able to and that he will take us to the rent courts.  Such a pleasure to deal with!

What I am secretly hoping is that rents will decrease again, so that he doesn’t get as much from his next tenants. 

I will keep you updated with updates on our new house – when it is finished!

Monday, 9 February 2009

Black Points

I have referred to the terrible driving in Dubai many times before.  There are countless stupid drivers on the road – mostly from the Indian sub-continent who just weave in and out of traffic as if it were Mumbai . . . . Abu Dhabi drivers also leave a great deal to be desired and frankly, just drive too fast.

Regularly on the front covers of the newspapers out here are photographs of cars smashed out of all recognition with the title – Speed Kills.  I quite agree.

In the UK, you get points for speeding or doing anything wrong on the roads – the same is true of Dubai.  You are “allowed” 24 black points in a year before you lose your licence.  Black points can be awarded for anything – from driving without licence plates (24 points) to opening the left door or a taxi (traffic side) which gets you 3 points.

You also get informed of any traffic violations via email or text.  As Tim is the registered owner of our cars, he is the one who gets the notifications.

I was horrified the other day when Tim received a text and email to say that my car had been fined for parking with wheels up on the pavement.  I had incurred a fine, but it was a “special” kind of fine because I had to present myself to the fines department and was not able to pay online.  We were informed that if I did not “present” myself, when the car’s registration was due for renewal, my car would be confiscated for a month!  (Yes, I swear this is true.)

I bumbled on down to the fines department with my heart hammering away to find out the detail of what I had “done”.  My crime was to park my car with two wheels up on the pavement.  My defence is that my car is so wide, I believed I was being considerate in letting cars still pass me.  So very naive.

Not only did I have to pay a fine (£40), I received a 10Dhs fine (£2) called a Knowledge Fee, which I can only assume is that now know I must never be considerate to other drivers again.  I, to my horror, received TWO BLACK POINTS!!  Now, in theory, I have absolutely no problem with being punished for my crime – black points included – but I then referred back to the black points list.  It appears that I could be driving up to 50km/h over the speed limit with bald tyres and not receive black points.  In a country where the police admit that speeding is a major problem – this is utterly crazy and disproportionate.

So, I handed over my licence – and my money – and in return I was handed a sheet of paper to sign (one in Arabic and one in English) which basically stated that I was terribly sorry for my crime, I did know better, I respected the laws of Dubai and would not do it again . . . . . As I presented myself, my car will not be impounded upon re-registration.

Tim and I drove away from the fines building and got onto the motorway – only to be stunned to find a motorist, who had taken the wrong turning, reversing down the motorway as he had missed his turning (sadly, something you see quite a lot here).  A police car happened to be behind me so I was quite interested to see what they would do – guess what – the police car just drove on by . . . . .

That’s Dubai.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Ski Dubai

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I thought this entry should be all about the cold, given that the UK is currently experiencing the worst snowfalls for about 20 years. Whether that is true or not, most of you guys are experiencing a harsh winter.

In solidarity, we decided to take a trip to Ski Dubai - a man made indoor ski-slope with real snow and its very own snow park where there are a few children’s snow rides and a great toboggan ride - and general snow activities. We arrived, and were handed our clothes for the session - long ski trousers, a heavy jacket and snuggly snow boots. The children got helmets too. On top of the shorts and t-shirts went all these layers, along with extra hats, gloves and scarves. It felt rather strange, but lovely and cosy.DSC01323

Through the turnstile we went and re-discovered what -6 degrees felt like.  Chilly chilly chilly. 

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The kids had a great time on the rides and in the snow, even though Ella thought snow was more for eating than for playing in!  But, I have to confess that we only lasted in that cold for about 1.5 hours – by that time, our feet were freezing and it just wasn’t fun any more!

Maybe next time, the adults will go back on their own to do some real skiing!

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Monday, 12 January 2009

The Dubai Mall Aquarium

Last week, we visited one of the largest Malls in the world. As always, out here, it just has to be the biggest or break some sort of world record . . . shame though that half of the retail space is still empty. I can honestly say that I have never seen such a concentration of coffee shops in my entire life! It is huge though and you really do need a map to navigate your way around.

The children were moaning about going "shopping" - clearly the dullest thing to do in their world - Ella was stropping and refused to walk. I cajoled and ultimately started to drag her and when we rounded the corner, funnily enough she came to life!

She saw the Dubai Mall Aquarium! It is enormous and fantastic. The acrylic panel is about 38m wide and about 8m high. It's huge! Behind it are some 80 species or marine life including sharks, stingray, beautiful (and ugly) fish! Initially, the children were actually quite scared - some of the fish are quite big and I suppose for a small person, this could be quite threatening. But, given a bit of time, they started to inch closer to the glass and see what they could discover.

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Here are some photographs of the children at the aquarium - which is free to view by the way - always a bonus! I have also tried to put together a couple of photographs which show just how large this aquarium is!

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Interestingly enough, E had a nightmare that night – apparently a shark was trying to get through her bedroom window!!  Who would have thought it would have brought on a bad dream!!

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Happy Moon

We thought we were being a bit stupid the other day when we looked at the moon and it looked totally different from the UK.  Then we realised that we weren’t being stupid, but after 30-odd years of looking at a crescent moon from one angle, given the different latitude and longitude on which we now live, we saw it very differently.

Here is last night’s Dubai moon – a little happy smiling face in the sky!

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New Year . . . Dubai Style

We are notoriously rather quiet at New Year.  Generally speaking, New Year’s Eve is a night where everyone is expected to go out and be happy – generally to a UK pub whilst the designated driver (usually me) drinks far too many diet cokes and has a sense of humour failure whilst listening to the drunkards slurring and repeatedly repeating themselves!  Sometimes, I’m just not in the mood and fancy an early night, especially as the children will always wake up sometime between 6and 7am! 

Now, before you think I’m such a misery, I don’t believe myself to be so, I just think that NYE is so often better for drinkers than non-drinkers!  Last year however, we spent a lovely night with our UK friends, just before embarking on this adventure – and I wasn’t the designated driver!

So, how would Dubai compare?  Well, fortunately, we have found some lovely people here in Dubai and we were invited to New Year at their villa.  They live so wonderfully close to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel that we were planning to go their villa for a party and then go up to their roof to watch the inevitable fantastic fireworks display at midnight.  A good plan!

However, it was not meant to be.  On 31 December, the Sheikh decreed that Dubai would cancel the regular festivities out of respect for the Palestinians.  Outdoor music was to be cancelled with definitely no fireworks.  Whilst it is clearly applaudable to think of others in dire need, I was looking forward to Dubai fireworks, especially as we had slept through the Atlantis fireworks earlier in the year!  But this year, it was just not meant to be and I don’t have any glorious photographs to post.

We continued as planned and had a lovely night with our friends.  Incidentally, at around 10pm, a thick wet fog descended upon Dubai, where visibility was about 20m, so had the fireworks been allowed, no-one would have seen a thing anyway!!

I have decided (although we still have to work out the logistics – both financial and otherwise), that I have to travel to Sydney to see their new year firework display on the harbour – and I am posting a photograph of Sydney Harbour below!  It’s on my “things to do before I die” list.

On that happy note, a Happy New Year to all.

sydney