Saturday, February 28, 2009
Well, Skype worked an absolute treat before I left... skyping the main PC from the lounge room with my laptop worked great and we installed webcams at both mine and Niki's parents places as well. Skyping them worked fine as well.
But over here, sharing one internet connection with a multitude of hotel rooms means that bandwidth is an issue. Sometimes its just slow to bring up normal web pages let alone using Skype. But we persist and thru the many drop outs and freezes, it really has been helpful in helping both me and the girls at home stay in touch. I cannot imagine being here without it... there would be alot more tears at both ends!
The picture quality is fair to good depending on the connection but the best bit is being able to take happy snaps of Niki and the girls whilst chatting to me like these ones below :
Friday, February 27, 2009
The meeting was scheduled for 2:30 and I got busy in the office getting ready for that and trying to get ahead of an already growing "To Do" list because next week would be partially lost to travel. Then about 10:30, I am asked to attend a meeting of my whole department... so I go along thinking I had better things to do but its the monthly gathering where people talk about their projects and its a good chance for me to meet and learn about my colleagues.
An hour in, my mobile rings and its HR in Abu Dhabi. Apparently I need to have my residency sorted before I travel to London otherwise I wont be able to come back into the UAE. To do this, I need to go to the hospital and have my medical NOW. Get in a cab and go NOW is the clear instruction but only after I have taken a copy of my passport and print the UAE Ministry for the Interior document that they have emailed me. Weird seeing an official document with your photo on it but its 100% in Arabic. I print it and take it.
So I grab my gear, my laptop, my time for doing my notes for the meeting are lost and I am being driven into the "Sheikh Kalifa Hospital" to the Department of Preventative Medicine. Arriving at 12:45, I am told that I cannot go in as the 1pm session is full and to come back at 2pm. They stamp my printed documents with a 2pm stamp and I sit in the waiting room. I then notice that I am the only Anglo Saxon in the room as the waiting room fills up with Bangladeshis and Pakistanis who are coming to the UAE to be labourers. I am looking mightily conspicuous in my suit, tie and blackberry.
2pm arrives and people start to file in. I am given a number - 061 - and told to take a seat. They are calling number 950 when I take my seat. I am about 110th in the queue. I pass the time by playing Brick Breaker on the blackberry and answering emails for the next 2.5hrs. I have emailed the office and say I will be there when I can to meet the CFO but I am at the mercy of the hospital. This doesnt seem to be an issue... so I wait and wait and wait.
Then my number is called! Paperwork is processed and the clerk talks to me in great English but is chatting with his colleagues in Arabic. It amazes me how people think and talk in multiple conversations in different languages. I am charged 250 Dhs for the test and they take my photo like your drivers licence. Papers are given to me and I have to go and have bloods taken, a chest xray and a chat to a physician... no need for any vaccinations for me though which was good.
I leave the room and go behind and am in a queue of about 50 Bangladeshis. I am soon joined by an American (who has a Spanish passport for some reason) and we chat work stuff as he's a Mechanical Engineer working as a Project Management Consultant. This conversation keeps going all the way thru the process right up to where we both have to strip off our shirts and stand in a queue for an x-ray. The Bangladeshi in front of me had massive scars on his back as if he had been flogged sometime in his past and that was a bit confronting, but other than that we were chatting amicably with our shirts off in a hospital corridor. Five at a time, we're taken into a side room and we are x-rayed one by one and then allowed to put our shirts back on. My card had been stamped all the way along the process and it was given to me and I was free to go.
I made my meeting, got lost going from the hospital to the corporate office after I flagged down a cheap city cab and the guy couldnt speak English. I showed him the address of where I had to go on my Blackberry, but he couldnt read either apparently! LOL
So, at 4:30, I reached the office and had my meeting... the CFO was very friendly and it went well, no one was fussed I was 2hrs late because this is the UAE and shit happens :)
PS - Medical means residency granted in 2-3 working days (unless I have HIV!) so I will soon be able to embark on Stage 2 of this process - getting a car and a house!
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
bloody hell, not only am I living like a vagrant here (well, a 5 star
hotel accommodated vagrant) I am now off for a business trip with just
a weeks notice.
Because London is only 7 rather than 23 hours flying time away, I am
just going for two days at the back end of next week and its not such
a big deal compared to flying from Sydney. I have no idea what the
flights are like, but I presume it will be some form of red-eye fly in
and straight into meetings, spend one night in a hotel, more meetings
and then be back again.
I guess this is an example of the different mindset you have when you
live this close to Europe... its simply not as big a deal.
This is totally fine by me though as I am sure to take advantage of it
in our holiday time and take Niki and the girls to Europe on "quick
trips". This was one of the big incentives for taking this
opportunity, so I guess I will just have to get used to the expression
"pop over to London" as they say here.
I have to say, a trip to London sure will break the monotony of life
here in the hotel...
No real news today... nothing too exciting... but tomorrow I am off
site for an all day Risk Workshop with about 30-40 people... I am not
facilitating it, just making an introductory speech and then
participating, however the down side is that the "off site" is
actually here at my hotel! So, I get to walk to work tomorrow... and
walk home again!
Monday, February 23, 2009
Work is very busy, and I am getting to know the people, the departments and the internal politics that all companies seem to have. I am using my "newbie" status to punch down some of those political hurdles which is good.
As for the non-work stuff, I have made contact with the potential school that the girls will be going to and have filled in the initial application forms, supplied them with birth certificates and report cards. I had to ask Niki to scan in the reports and email them to me... modern technology is a wonderful thing!
I have just moments ago signed my application form for my HSBC credit card and will be receiving my ATM card tomorrow. HSBC have a guy who travels out to site and looks after all the expat needs without us having to venture into town to do it on our weekends... a great idea from them and hence I would say nearly all expats here are now HSBC clients! Australian bank marketing departments take note!!
My residency is "being processed" and I have no idea what that means in terms of time... 2 days? 3 weeks? Who knows! I am told once I have been called and had a medical, it is only a matter of a few days... but I am not sure when that call will come.
And we had a little drama here on site yesterday with what I can only describe as a mini-tornado coming through the sandy desert and ripping into some solar panelling outside my office. It uprooted these panels up and tossed them a few metres before travelling across the road and I watched it physically hit the date palms on the other side. The palms shook and swayed and then it was gone... quite extraordinary!
And Niki will be coming for a visit! I am very excited about that, and it will be good for her to see things and get a bit of a real sense for what she is in for... I can only tell her "its nice, but different" so many times! Its simply a case that she should come and see for herself!
That will be really good, she can come and see where I am living and working, I will take a day off work, she can meet the school teachers and we can drive around Dubai and Abu Dhabi and give her the tour... plus I miss her to bits anyway!
Sunday, February 22, 2009
So, it was "do nothing" and whilst I enjoyed the downtime of sleeping in (sort of) and having breakfast in the hotel followed by lazing on the lounges by the pool and on the beach, I have to say I was quite bored all weekend.
But as I type this before going to bed on a Saturday night (which is a school night here!) I have to say I am glad for the chance to recharge some. My flu is there, but not too bad and I have chilled out doing nothing. The only reason I am up so late is that I went to the movies (100m from my room) and saw my first movie in the UAE. It was the Benjamin Button movie (nothing to get too excited about, some women actually gasped in the theatre at Brad Pitt - tsk tsk) and the experience was a little odd sitting in a theatre with Emiratis who seem to enjoy eating Nachos in the theatre and playing with mobile phones.
However some things remain an ever lasting constant and that was there was actually Val Morgan cinema advertising in the theatre as well! I thought Val Morgan was an Australian company (I could be wrong) and that seemed odd. There was also an add for NZ tourism... and then a patriotic UAE ad asking people to take up the UAE's official .ae on the back end of their websites. Eclectic mix of ads for sure!
So its back to work in the morning... I shall be getting my ATM cards this week and hopefully will here how my residency visa is progressing...
Thursday, February 19, 2009
So on the work front, things are coming together nicely.
On the settling front, I am still hamstrung without a drivers license, but my bank details look like being sorted out today (hopefully!) and I am mailing away back to Australia for an international drivers permit. That should allow me to hire a car on a month to month basis.
The hotel had a glitch this morning though... I have been having an occasional smell of sewerage in the bathroom but this morning the ceiling had sprung a leak (slow drip, over the vanity) and the smell had become consistent and stronger. I asked to be moved but they claim they're full, so I will sort that out tonight.
The weekend is tomorrow, and to be honest I need a break... I have been a bit run down and am taking the weekend to relax around the pool / beach and maybe have a swim or two. I am not going to hire a car and repeat my cross country efforts of last week... and besides, without formal residency, I cant get a car and I cant make any commitments to renting a villa.
So, I am looking forward to a weekend of relaxing! I do have a dinner appointment arranged with a consultant who is flying in tomorrow, so thats my only formal plans.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
I can only imagine what its going to be like in the summer here!
The other weird thing is that the glare and the brightness of the sun are amazing... the sky is a silver white rather than blue and the sun's glare of the sandy ground is very intense. I generally don't wear sunglasses at work, but I do need them when travelling between the buildings here. Its not uncomfortable or anything, but it is very different! I guess I will get used to it over time, but every time I go outside I realise "hey, I'm not in Australia anymore" because of the sun intensity (never mind the arabs, the sand, the odd left hand drive cars etc).
So, its underway and it does take some time to complete and I will need to go to the hospital to have a medical and a blood test as well. One thing I read about today was that sometimes you may get called in for a second blood test. If you "fail" the blood test with HIV or Hepatitis, you get deported so if you get called in again, the natural inclination would be that you may have a disease - let alone being deported.
But what they do is to save time is that they batch all the blood into one test (not sure how many blood samples are in a batch) and if there is a trace of HIV or Hepatitis in this blood soup, then they call all individuals from that batch for individual testing. Sounds gruesome, but I guess it is a time saver on the proviso that the vast vast majority of people dont have HIV or Hepatitis!
I also need to somehow get my driving license endorsed as a UAE temp license so I can hire a car for more than a weekend... seems very odd that you can drive for a weekend on my Australian passport but I cant drive for longer without the UAE temp license.
Also, on the work front... it is really hotting up and I am very busy. I do have to dedicate a certain amount of time to the tasks needed to get settled here but I may have to go to London for business which may cause a hiccup in all my to'ings and fro'ings here... well, better learn how to juggle then!
Monday, February 16, 2009
And I needed it too because I was inundated with work and became very busy very quickly. Which is good because I hate being idle at work and you always are at the start of a new job because you are finding your feet.
So, I was thrown in the deepend and before I realised, it was 6pm and the day had flown.
On the "living in Dubai" front, the only thing that annoys me is that I have to take a taxi too and from work every day and its costing a bomb because the on ramp near my work to the freeway was suddenly closed on Thursday and my 10min trip is now 20-25mins via a detour. This means the meter runs longer and I am paying in the hip pocket. So I rang up a hire car company to take out a hire car on a monthly rate and it is cheaper by a mile than the taxi bills but the issue is I need to have an Abu Dhabi drivers license. It means I have to go to the local police station and spend hours in a queue getting the paperwork done including having the forms filled out for me by a translator in Arabic!
So I need to find time to do that asap or otherwise I will be a part owner in the local cab company given how much money I have given them!
On a good front, HSBC bank send a representative on site and I was able to chat to him and he is sorting out my banking issues... I should have a savings acct very soon as the one I attempted to open from Sydney isnt the right account. The account is there, but the way its set up, I will get slugged alot of fees.
So other than taxis, its all good! I have taken some videos of my driving exploits but access to YouTube here is difficult... and the hotel net connection blocks files over 5MB so I will try and upload them from work. If successful, I will post some here on the blog.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
I have to say I really enjoyed it and got out and saw the country... in fact more than I thought I would!! (Will explain what I mean by that a bit later)
Firstlty, after 2 days in the office I was kindly invited by one of my new colleagues to go to his place at Al Raha Gardens (not far from my hotel) and have a BBQ with him and his friends and neighbours. That was booked in for Friday night, so on Friday morning I hired a car for the weekend and drove for the first time a left hand drive and drove south to Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi is only 20kms away from where I am at Al Raha Beach and I was a bit freaking out about driving a left hand drive car in a foreign land and driving straight into their capital.
But I did it and am damn proud! I drove all the way thru the city down to the water front (called The Corniche) and parked the car and walked around. Friday being the most religious day of the week meant that all the Mosques in town were blaring chants over loudspeakers calling Muslims to pray. And boy did they ever! It was quite impressive as the Mosques were overflowing with people who had to pray in the street.
Only male muslims were praying... not sure if thats the norm, so whilst they were praying in the street, the women and non-muslims (mostly Indians and us Anglo expats) went about our business.... but thats hard to do with the footpath crowded with 50 men on their hands and knees on their prayer mats.
But Abu Dhabi was good and I enjoyed the new scenery... bought a Chicken Shawarma (sp?) for lunch of a street vendor (dodgy, yes!) which is chicken roasted doner kebab style with hommus and pickles and french fries wrapped in pita bread! mmmm!!
Then the BBQ was in the late afternoon and I got back for that and caught a taxi to Al Raha Gardens... when I got there, there were about 10 couples and their kids (ages 15 down to 4mths) and it was a really friendly atmosphere and I was made most welcome. All the people there had only been in the UAE for no more than 12mths and hence all understood how my head was still spinning. Some of the women there had only been there a matter of weeks as they had just followed their husbands out.
And it was eclectic mix of nationalities too! My host was English and his brother was out on holiday, there was one other Australian family (from Mosman in Sydney), two Canadian families (one French Canadian, one regular variety Canadian), one Belgian family, one family from the US and one Lebanese and a couple more Brits.
And for the first time since I had been here, I saw plenty of alcohol and there was beer and wine (Australian wine actually) and later in the evening the bourbon and Johnny Walker came out! (I politely declined that, didnt want to get that smashed at the first party!) Before I knew it, it was nearly midnight and I called a cab and went home...
Saturday was exploration day and I started by buying a mobile phone sim card - I am now able to call locals! Then I jumped into the car to drive to Dubai, some 80kms up the road and go to the HSBC bank to pick up my new ATM and Credit Cards and then to the Green Community which is where we're thinking of setting up home here.
This is where I saw more of the country than anticipated as I left Al Raha Beach and because of the vaguries of the road system, you have to double back on yourself and head south before heading north. Somehow, I got on the wrong road but thought I was OK because the signs were saying "Dubai, Al-Ain". I didnt know where Al Ain was, but I thought "OK, wrong road, but its still going to Dubai"... and off I drove.
As I went, the signs to Dubai got scarcer but everytime I thought I was heading the wrong way, I saw a sign and I kept going... then I realised that the 6 lane freeway was now going through massive sand dune country and I couldnt see very far because of the 15m high sand dunes around me.... and then the signs started to just say "Al Ain".
I pulled into a service station and asked the local there was this the way to Dubai... the look on his face gave it away and I had somehow gone 90kms too far!! So I back tracked and my 40min drive to Dubai took nearly 3hrs!!
When I got home tonight, I looked up Al Ain on Google Maps.... its right on the border to Oman!! I was so lost I nearly ended up in ANOTHER COUNTRY! LOL!!
Anyway the (long) trip to Dubai took me right into the heart of the city to HSBC - who promptly didnt have my cards - and I took the time to see the sights of Bur Dubai and the Dubai Creek area and got in the car and drove back out to the Green Community.
By the time I got home it was 7:15pm and I am knackered! But I enjoyed it immensely. Now its time to crash and get ready for a work day tomorrow.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
And I think this is an example of the clear "organised chaos" here in the UAE. The building I am in is still having the footpaths put in outside and they are preparing the ground for further extensions between my building (known as SAF2) and the first building (SAF1) where the reception area is. I will take some photos and put them up tonight. Behind us, the construction is underway for the huge Photovoltaic plant that will be used to generate power for the site and then the city and then, hopefully collect enough energy to pump back into the Abu Dhabi grid.
The issue with today is that all day has been a mini-sandstorm day with the breeze up and visibility down to about 100 metres. In Australia, you would have water carts keeping the dust down as earthworks shifted the clay soil around. Here, it is all sand and "keeping the dust down" is a foreign concept. Therefore, today when walking between buildings, its been sunglasses on and mouth shut to keep the sandy grit out. Needless to say, all the cars are a shade of sandy brown.
But I dont want to sound negative... this is what its all about and embracing the differences from back home.
EDIT: Pics from my office window.
These two pics are shot from my office window. The top picture is the testing bed for the future Photovoltaic solar plant that will power the site and then the city. The plant will have a 1km x 1km square area of these things!
The second photo is a bit to the left and shows the other building and the car park and the general dusty / sand storm that was about all day today.
Firstly, my HR dept forgot to set up ANYTHING for my arrival. I sat at a spare desk that was spare because the owner was on a training course. I had no PC, no phone, no desk, no ID card, nothing. On top of this, the HR dept was ALL at the same training course. So it took them an hour to find out what I was supposed to be doing and I spent that hour in the reception area.
By 4pm, I was contacted by the HR guy who recruited me to say that the ball was dropped by the HR people who handle employee relations... they in turn rang me to profusely apologise. It was really a frustrating day, but I have been told again and again that when dealing with the local Emirati people, that you need to have the patience of a saint. So I accepted everything in good grace and smiled but I still don't know where I will be sitting tomorrow! LOL!
My offices are at the construction site and hence they are demountable buildings that are stacked on top of each other like modulated pods or something. Internal staircases are all over the place. There seems to be no planning to the set out and it was a fairly confusing building to navigate around. But I guess I will get used to it!
The people though were lovely and everyone is in a degree of "newness" to the place. 12 months ago, the company had 20 people, today we have 80 and in 12mths time they predict there will be 200+. I just hope their HR / New Employee procedures pick it up a bit!
But as I said, the people were very welcoming and in an hour of being in my area, I had been invited to an English guys place for Friday afternoon / dinner. He was having a BBQ with his friends in his housing estate (Al Raha Gardens, just 10mins from work) and he said I was most welcome to join them and have a look around the area. He also said its a great opportunity to talk to other expats and learn from their experiences... so I will do just that!
The other big thing I did today was hire a car for the weekend. I pick it up Friday morning and drop it back on Saturday evening... only cost 322Dhs and it will be my first go at Left Hand Drive. I got a compact car and will - outside of the BBQ - drive it around and up to Dubai for a look around were Niki & I are thinking of living. I will take some pics / videos as well.
I am also keen to go to "Old Dubai" which is where all the markets (called "souqs" here) are and do some browsing... my gut feel is that I will go thru the paperwork of getting a car loan to buy a decent car and until that is the case, will get taxis to and from work and hire a car on the weekend.
At the moment, the lack of a) a car and b) the confidence to drive on the wrong side of the road is hampening my getting out and about... need to get a bit more independence! But I guess, it is only the end of the first day at work!
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
My trip started as a bit of a disaster when my Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi was cancelled due to mechanical issues and I was shunted onto the Emirates flight to Dubai and a car would drive me to Abu Dhabi from there....
Wasn't all bad though, as the Emirates flight was on the new A380 Airbus and flying Business Class made it all the better! I have never had a more comfortable flight and it absolutely shat all over Qantas Business Class.
The flight was smooth, but a bit of turbulence over Indonesia woke me up and I had the dreaded realisation that most of the movies were the same as the ones I had on the flight to Dubai last December for an interview.
But a great seat with no one person sitting to another so everyone had aisles AND windows made the trip very enjoyable.
Landing in Dubai at 6am local time, I was in and out of customs and baggage collection very quickly and the only hiccup was my driver wasnt quick enough and I had to wait 30mins to be driven to Abu Dhabi. The weather is coolish in the morning - it was 16 degrees celcius when I got off the plane, but the day has turned out very beautiful with temps in the mid-20's.
The hotel is good... its five star, but I don't think four star exists in this country and I have been out and about for lunch and had a wander around.
I start work tomorrow and I have the first day jitters, but the jet lag is fine and I will be sure to get a good sleep tonight.
Saturday, February 07, 2009
Apparently, you can have Falcon's on board!!
Pets - Weight Concept (Pets checked as baggage for the cargo hold)
To be accepted as checked baggage, charge for one falcon (which is considered 3 kilos) is 3 times the normal excess baggage rate of the journey.
Dogs to lead the blind and/or deaf
We do not accept dogs to lead the blind or deaf for transportation in the cabin. However,the animal may be accepted as checked baggage in the cargo hold without charge. Any other animals must travel as cargo and are not permitted within the aircraft cabin or checked baggage.
Pets in cabin – Weight Concept
The carriage of animals in the cabin is restricted to falcons only and is permitted on all types of aircraft subject to the following conditions:
Diamond First Class
• Up to 2 falcons per guest (per seat) are permitted. Charge for each falcon (which is considered 3 kilos) is 3 times the normal excess baggage rate of the journey.
• Up to 2 additional falcons can be carried when an extra seat is purchased within same class. No excess baggage charges for the additional falcons will apply
Pearl Business Class
• Up to 2 falcons per guest (per seat) are permitted. Charge for each falcon (which is considered 3 kilos) is 3 times the normal excess baggage rate of the journey.
• Up to 2 additional falcons can be carried when an extra seat is purchased within same class. No excess baggage charges for the additional falcons will apply.
Coral Economy Class
• 1 falcon per guest (per seat) is permitted. Charge for one falcon (which is considered 3 kilos) is 3 times the normal excess baggage rate of the journey.
• 1 additional falcon can be carried when an extra seat is purchased within same class. No excess baggage charges for the additional falcon will apply.
I know my postings have been few and far between and without any great depth, but I hope you can understand why.
I am now flying out Monday afternoon on Etihad Airways for Abu Dhabi. The reason its Abu Dhabi and not Dubai (on Emirates) is because my company is an Abu Dhabi company and whilst I will be trying to live in Dubai I am being based at a very nice 5 star resort near Abu Dhabi until I do. So I will be living close to work at Masdar City but a fair hike up the freeway to Dubai. Given I want to buy a car and find a villa to rent, it will be difficult whilst staying in a lovely resort in the middle of nowhere!
I land on Monday night UAE time and I am expected in the office on Tuesday morning... straight into it!
But whilst I'm nervous like a kid starting school, I will be posting here updates of my travels and experiences... you can consider Lime Kettles now officially "On Tour"!