Friday, July 31, 2009

Atlantis Pics!

I did promise these... random shots of our weekend at Atlantis...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Weekend at Atlantis!

Well, I am back at work after a long weekend at Atlantis and I have to say I wish I was back!

The hotel is an amazing place and the workmanship and attention to detail in ensuring the "Atlantis" theme is consistent was really amazing.  Every piece of the hotel was in sync with the theme and on top of that it was out and out impressive.

In addition, the facilities were fantastic... there was the massive aquarium tank in which all fish resided together from the smallest bream looking fish up to a huge whale shark that circled around.  There was also a huge chilled swimming pool and a great bar and food options for all tastes.

It was Kate's birthday as well and we went to the buffet restaurant on her birthday night (huge selection) and they also brought out a birthday cake for her and sang her happy birthday to boot!

The main focus however was the water park Aquaventure where we spent three days going down the slides and Kate & I did the "Leap of Faith" in which you drop down a near vertical slide, go through the shark tank in a tube and get spat out the other side at about 120km/h.  Needless to say, it was over very quickly and I didnt see a single shark due to the spray that is generated!  Kate was very brave though and we did it three times.... funny thing was though she screamed louder each time she did it.

Will try and post up some pics soon!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hello Ladies!

Well, learnt something about the local culture today.  Had to go and see a lady from HR about my pay and she was a local Emirati lady.

I have been ultra aware of ettiquette etc and I am "conscious" in a sub-conscious way that Emirati women are not allowed to be alone with a man who is not her husband.  Fairly awkward in the work place and this is not a literal rule because some of the local ladies are Western educated (typically in UK universities) and are fairly relaxed about it.  As long as the office or meeting room door is open its pretty much ok.

So, anyway, I approach the lady I needed to talk to at her workstation.  I walked up, made her aware of my presence and politely introduced myself.  I had already emailed her this morning to tell her I was coming to see her which ticked the box of the other Emirati custom in that you need to make an appointment to see someone (males and females).  So, I was expected and was polite.

I then extended my hand to shake her hand and she almost visibly recoiled.  It was a "soft shake" I was attempting to make as I do when I meet a woman in the workplace but she leaned backwards and said "I don't shake hands".

Mmmm... awkward!

So I retracted my hand, said "oh sorry" and carried on with my issue.

Getting back, I asked one of the local guys if this was normal and was informed that you only shake an Emirati lady's hand unless its offered.  Never knew this and when I thought about it, the Emirati women I have dealt with in the office I have generally shaken hands with but I must confess I think the shake was offered by the lady and not me.  It seems some Emirati women get on the front foot and deal with the western custom and I guess the one I met this morning was not so inclined.

Just another cultural thing I have learnt... and now, so have you ;-)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Long Weekend - Al Ain, Al Jihili Fort & Jabel Hafeet

Well, what a weekend... Due to the Mohammad's Ascension Holiday, we had 3 days and we sure were busy!

On Friday, we went to our local hotel (The Marriott) for what is tradition in these parts for Friday Brunch. All the hotels in the UAE put on an all you can eat and drink buffet from midday to 4pm. Some cater for the younger crowd, but most cater for families and as such there is usually entertainment for the kids etc whilst the adults sit back and relax. This is on EVERY Friday at EVERY hotel... the only difference is the cuisine and the price from hotel to hotel.

So, we sat in the Italian restaurant eating mainly western cuisine and made to order pasta and drank a tad too much wine... the kids were entertained by a clown, facepainting and balloon animals and the girls met up with some of their friends from the local area. So it was very relaxing.

Saturday, after a lazy morning, we went Ice Skating again at Dubai Mall and watched the very impressive water fountain show. Choreographed water spouts and lighting all on the man made lake in front of the Burj Dubai and the Dubai Mall... it was an excellent evening... the kids skated until 9pm.

Then Sunday, the day off, we decided to go for a drive. We drove south from Dubai for 140kms to the UAE / Omani border where the town of Al Ain is and the biggest mountain in the UAE - Jebel Hafeet. It was a great drive on the highway south, in which we took our new car for a spin, and we saw plenty of camels and the town of Al Ain is very pretty.

Sort of, in an odd way, reminded me of Canberra... lots of greenery, roundabouts and the like.

When we got to Al Ain, we went to one of the many old historic Arabic forts (Al Jahili Fort) and spent a fair while in there looking at the exhibits and the old fort itself which had been restored. The Arabs are very proud of their history and it was very interesting.

From there, we drove up Jebel Hafeet and would you believe at the top is a Mercure Hotel!! This massive mountain, jutting up out of the desert had a three lane road up it and at the top a stunning modern hotel with pool, squash courts, restaurants etc etc. We had a very late lunch there before driving home again...

Here are some pics:

The road up Jebel Hafeet

The view from a lookout 3/4 the way up

Niki and the girls walking through Al Jahili Fort

Al Jahili Fort entrance

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Long Weekend Ahead

It was announced this week that next Sunday will be a public holiday (remember, Sunday is a work day here) and that the weekend will be 3 days long.


The reason is for "The Ascension" which celebrates Prophet Mohammed's ascendancy to heaven.  I guess its the Islamic version of Easter.  The funny thing is though is that its not a standing date in the calendar and is only decreed in the week before the holiday and I hear its based on lunar schedules and "first sightings" of the moon in a particular area of the sky.

I guess its not too far removed from the Christian Easter... I have no idea why Easter falls on the day it falls each year from year to year.

Anyways, I guess we'll be eating the Islamic equivalent of Hot Cross Buns on Sunday!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Since my arrival here, there has been an intrigue for local custom and the culture and all things Arabic.  The people are lovely, the place is very different but its generally really good.

At work however, I have had to live with the concept of "Inshallah".  Inshallah means "God Willing" and in a professional working environment, I was surprised how much it was used.  For example:

Me:  "When do you think I can have your report by?  Will it be ready by Thursday"

Emirati Colleague:  "Inshallah"

This doesn't mean, yes, it means literally if God wills it.  And if it doesn't arrive Thursday it means its because God didn't will it.  Seriously.

In fact the use of the word is so prevalent that it has become a standing joke with other Western expats that if an Emirati says it will arrive "inshallah" then actually expect it to not arrive on time.  And so life has gone on like this since I have been here last February and in fact I have caught myself and others using it ourselves... it has become part of the projects language.

Then, last month I hired a person to work for me and he has been really going great and all is well.  He is British, but Muslim and has been in the UAE for over 12mths and has worked on other projects in the region.  Being Muslim, he can speak a little Arabic, but mainly for prayer reasons and is actually very English sounding in his accent. He came to me though today with a peculiar problem...

From his perspective, as a Muslim and from being in other companies in the UAE, he feels that the use of the word "inshallah" is being used excessively.  In fact he said its being used to cover incompetance and that people were using it excessively to get away with not having to commit to things.  He wants to address this as part of his role in the company and take it up with management that people need to start accepting responsibility and stop putting it in "Gods will".  We then proceeded to have a fairly deep conversation about the Muslim Faith, the concept of Inshallah and a story from the Q'uran (sp?) called "tieing the camel"... I wont bore you with it, but it was very informative.

But now that I know this, I am concerned.  What I accepted as traditional Emirati / Muslim custom has been challenged and is being seen by my Muslim colleague as a bit of a "cop out" and he via his role wants to challenge this because its effecting his role.  I agreed that I support his stance, but he needs to take it up with management here but as a westerner, I cannot be getting involved.

I reminded him however that he is still on probation and that perhaps before he challenges the use of the Muslim faith in a commercial project he should consider his words carefully.

Good point he says... "inshallah"

Monday, July 13, 2009

Buying cars... more red tape!

OK, I live in Dubai but my company that sponsors me is in Abu Dhabi.  Therefore my visa is issued out of Abu Dhabi.

But its all one country right?  The United Arab Emirates...

Well, you're wrong!  In all matters such as residency visas, drivers licences and car registration, you have to go back to your "home" emirate each time and for me that's Abu Dhabi.

In Australia, if you're a Queenslander living in Sydney, can you imagine having to register your car in Brisbane.  Can you imagine taking out your insurance policy in Brisbane.  Can you imagine your drivers license having to remain a Queensland one and that you MUST renew it in Queensland?  That is what it is like here.  Even though I live in Dubai, all my official documentation must come from Abu Dhabi.  Now its 1000 kms between Sydney and Brisbane and I can be thankful that Dubai to Abu Dhabi is only 150km but its still a fair hike.

Now I have bought this car off an Aussie who lives and works in Dubai.  Car has Dubai plates, and he's had it comparatively easy because he is all in one Emirate.  To buy the car, I have to buy insurance first and then physically front to the Dubai RTA to transfer the ownership.  In Australia, the purchaser takes the rego papers signed by the seller, but here we both have to front up and fill in the paperwork in the Dubai RTA.  But that's just to transfer the ownership of the car from him to me.

But for me to register the car, I then need to drive the car 150km to Abu Dhabi to the Abu Dhabi RTA and register the car and get a new licence plate despite the fact that the car will be garaged in Dubai and will be Niki's car in which she will drive around our local community.  Only rarely will the car travel to Abu Dhabi.

Its a nightmare bureaucratically but that's the joys of living in the Emirates... they're just not that "United"

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Wow, another week goes by...

My last post was Monday and its already Thursday... another week has sailed by and its been pretty routine.  We've all been feeling a bit flat this week, a bit of a virus I think in which Niki, Kate and I have all felt a bit queasy and achey and tired.  Kate in particular has been complaining of feeling sick and headaches, but she hasn't been physically crook.

But we have not been idle however and we have booked ourselves in for 2 nights at the Atlantis on the Palm Island next weekend for Kate's birthday.  The Atlantis is the big hotel that had the massive opening last year in which Kylie Minogue played and there were fireworks and laser lights.  The place looks magnificent from the outside and they have some great deals going at the moment and we get free entry for both days at the water park next door.

Also, just today, we have bought a car!  Friend of a friend is heading home after losing their job and they have a Ford Explorer which runs well and the price is a bargain!  So now I have to go about the bureaucracy of registering a car...

This weekend, its finishing up the unpacking with the study still a pile of books and boxes and we'll be out buying odd bits of furniture - bed side tables etc.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Furniture's In...

Our furniture was delivered yesterday!  I took the morning off work in anticipation and were told it'd be arriving between 9 and 10am.  A call later confirmed 9:30am... but of course, the truck didnt arrive until 10:45am... but that was OK.

There were 105 items to come off the truck and basically my job was to check them off the list as they came in the door and give an indication of what room.  The girls were upstairs directing the delivery guys to particular bedrooms and Niki was doing the downstairs directing.  It all went very smoothly and at great pace.

I had to leave for work a bit after midday but by then the boxes were all off the truck and the "unpacking" began.

The removalists were also unpacking and they put together the big furniture items and were opening all the boxes and then folding them and storing them for garbage collection as Niki & the girls stowed clothes, toys, glasses and crockery away.  I got a message at 3pm that all was done and that all the boxes had been opened and taken away!  Very fast.

But I have to say, the poor removalists did it tough.  From what I can gather, in Sydney the packers had trolleys and ramps to get things onto the truck.  Yesterday, the truck pulled up out the front and one man was inside the container whilst two guys did all the carrying.  So everything from a box of books to the refrigerator were passed out of the truck by hand and carried inside.  To make matters worse, we have two stories here in Dubai so two guys alone had to carry up the furniture up 22 steps.  They did it tough but the girls gave away plenty of water and soft drink.

When I got home, the kitchen was DONE and looked fantastic and the kids had stored away all the toys and their clothes.  Everything was in great shape and we went out to Chilis to celebrate.

When we got home, Niki was exhausted and went to bed to watch TV and I set up the Wii for the girls who were rapped to play that again after a 2 month hiatus.  I put the pedals back on the bikes and pumped up the tyres and then went into "my room" which is the study.

All my gaming stuff had made it but I set about putting the PC back together.  After plugging everything in, the PC started up but had an awful mechanical grinding sound (not good) and the mouse wasnt working.  Once started, the PC was humming nicely but I rebooted and got the grinding again.  I am not sure what it is, but something isnt right.  I left it alone with the mouse charging and will tinker with it tonight.

The only casualties of the move was the IKEA table that was in the girls play room in Sydney copped a big crack in it and my mat that runs under my office chair was folded too hard and with the heat in the container became warped.  Other than that, all is good!

We're now starting to feel like a home and I went to bed in my nice bed for the first time since February... my back felt great this morning!!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Some excellent news on the work front...

I dont like to talk work here on Lime Kettles, but my project has just been selected to host a the UN body on renewable energy...

I am being cryptic, but here is the link.

This means this project now has some serious public attention and virtually guarantees the government support for the project.  Excellent news!

Socially Adapting

We seem to be settling in as a family.  I am very happy about this as its always a hard process to move but its also hard to meet new people etc.  For starters, we seem to be getting into a domestic routine with the gardener and the house cleaner coming daily.  The gardener doesnt spend alot of time, but he ensures the water system is running and trims, prunes etc etc.  Its a great relief not to have to worry about mowing lawns etc!  We also have the cleaner come in every day and she will do downstairs 3 days a week and upstairs 2 days a week.  Floors, windows, bathrooms etc are all cleaned and polished!  Very nice.

But outside of that, a few milestones have been reached today... Firstly, Niki is off to have a few drinks with the other mums in the area as a bit of a farewell.  Alot of people (90%) are vacating Dubai for up to 2 months back to their home countries.  School summer break and the heat mean that many wives and children go for extended stays back home and the husbands take 2-3 weeks leave as well to do the same.  We're not doing this because the girls only just got here and it would be a bit of a waste, but this will be a target for us as well in 2010.  In the meantime though, Niki has met some nice people around the pool area and she is off for her drinks tonight.

In addition, I rang home today to hear that the girls were over at another girls house for a play.  This is excellent and I am glad they're meeting friends.  Its also doubly excellent because our house is still a tad empty and the girls do get a bit restless in the house without their 1001 toys, games and DVD's.  That should be rectified next week with our furniture arriving, but it has been hard on them.

And for me, I am hosting a D&D game on Friday night!  Yes, a bit of Geekdom as another Aussie, his Malaysian wife, an Irishman and his fiance and an Englishman arrive for the first session of a new D&D campaign.  Niki may play as well, we'll see how it goes...The group sounds eclectic... I havent met anyone other than the other Aussie (who is an ex-Blood Bowler from Sydney) and is totally experimental, but it will be good to roll some dice again.

So, we're slowly fitting in... which is all good news :-)