Sunday, August 30, 2009

School's Back...

A general catch up post today... after being away in London, things got a bit busy on the work front but in other news:

The kids start school this week.  The girls seem keen and excited but slightly nervous as well.  Monday is orientation for 2hrs and Tuesday is the first full day.  I will be taking Tuesday off work to see them off and to pick them up as well.  Ramadan sees the school day being reduced to a 1:30pm pick up time as well, so they'll ease their way into it.

Also on Tuesday, our dog Zoe is to have an operation.  They have found a tennis ball sized tumor attached to her spleen and they're going to operate on Tuesday.  We have been monitoring her since we discovered the lump a while ago but she's gotten slower and a bit lethargic and we're having it taken out.  Fingers crossed!  Surgery is the easy bit, the recovery will be tough.

As an early Fathers Day present, I got myself (well Niki & the girls got for me after many hints) a new PlayStation 3.  Got two free games in the box and I have to say highly impressed with the game "LittleBigPlanet".  Its a great kids game and is also fun for adults.  The other game is a very hard "save the world, shoot the aliens" game called "Resistance - Fall of Man".  Its gory and violent so that only gets a play when the kids arent about.  I am hoping that the good little cherubs will surprise me with a copy of Madden NFL 2010 on the weekend (hint hint).

Ramadan is going OK... I hardly notice it on site, not too big a deal.  Weekends are lazy around the house and pool and we actually left the house to go to Dubai Mall on Friday night at 7pm and didnt get home until 12:40am!  So tiring and odd to be out at such a late hour.

Also, finally, to my Dad, glad to skype you on the weekend... hope you're feeling OK and will call you on Monday.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sydney Press For Us in the UAE

Am happy to say I have been working with these guys on their design for the our hotel and convention centre.

Glad to be working with Aussies...


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In London...

so no major posting, but saw this just now...

This is my home airline at the moment and how I am getting about the place on these work jaunts.

Such a hard life!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ramadan has started

Well, Ramadan started over the weekend and I have gone without my morning coffee this morning... I may wander over to the cafeteria and see if its open for coffee but I do know its open between 12-2 for lunch.

The weekend was pretty uneventful for us with Ramadan as we hung around the pool and the TV (damn!  We're losing the Ashes) and didn't go out until last night.

At a totally spur of the moment decision, we decided to go to the local hotel for their "Iftar Buffet".  Iftar is the meal that "breaks the fast" each day and all the hotels in the UAE put on Iftar buffets.  We decided to try the local one first and I rang up and booked a table.  When booking I asked what the go with the buffet was and found out it was from 6:49pm and the buffet will be on until 7:30pm only.  Odd... I had noticed that all the buffet advertisements had a finish time ranging from 7:30 - 9:30pm and this one was 7:30.

Considering the sun didnt set until 6:49, it seemed a very short time.

But we went and was glad we booked because all the tables were filling up very quickly.  We were sat down at our table and whilst we weren't the only Westerners there, it was predominately non-Emirati muslims (Lebanese, some Africans, Jordanians etc).  A TV was playing Arabic prayers and all the glasses were upside down and people were patiently waiting and talking amongst themselves.  Then we noticed that the food at the buffet was there and people were queing and filling their plates.  It seemed that the routine was to dish up the food at the buffet and then eat it at the moment of the setting of the sun.

And then on the TV, a picture of the sun setting was showing and everyone was eating!  The food was good and the girls tried alot of it.  Arabic food has some odd names, but essentially its alot of lamb and chicken cooked in savoury but not spicy herbs and natural juices.  Add rice, some prawns and your regular salads with a dash of hommous and its really not alot different from home.

In 40mins we stuffed ourselves and it was very filling... lots of meat and rice and salad and then the desert bar in which I had creme caramel and the kids had chocolate mousse alonside some sampling of some arabic sweets.  The kids tried a milky white jelly thing and I had a very nice baklava / spring roll styled crepe with cream in the middle and it was all very filling!

The Muslims were piling on the food and one table next to us had 2 men with about half a dozen plates stacked with food and they were going like the clappers.  But a bit after 7:30, we were done and paid the bill and it was all over.  It was a good experience and it was also a good time to tell the kids about Ramadan and to try some local food and show that its not "hot and spicy" which they seem to have a fear of.

And, we'll probably do it again very soon!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

International Ramadan?

I am off to London next week... the thing I asked myself this morning is how does the airline (Abu Dhabi national carrier Etihad) handle Ramadan?

I have a 1:30pm flight... right in the middle of the fasting period.  I am presuming that the airport lounge will be barren to all food and drink.  You cannot even have water during the day.

And when you get on the flight and I will be in business class, what happens to the complimentary wine before take off and then the nice food and drink during the flight?  They serve alcohol freely despite being a Muslim carrier and Muslims simply abstain, but what about the Ramadan period?

And you can eat after sundown during Ramadan.  Flight lands at 6:30pm in London which is 9:30pm in Abu Dhabi and 2hrs after "Iftar" which is the official time each day you can eat.  Will we be served a meal two hours prior to landing?  Will the plane assume itself to be on London time after take off and hence wont serve a meal at all because it will be fasting time during the entire flight?

Will the airline ignore Ramadan all together and offer full service to non-Muslims?


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Everything gets so hard sometimes!

Am going to London on business next week.  Need to arrange 2 nights accommodation but the cost is on my personal account but I get an allowance for each night away to cover it.

So, I ask the Indian guy in the travel dept to find me a hotel around the St James Park area... and he comes back with a 4 star and a 1 star (yikes!) option but the 4 star is within my allowance so I approve him to book it.

In ALL my trips so far, I turn up at the hotel and give them my card and I pay for the room like any other guest in any other hotel in the world.  When I get back, I apply for the allowance and 2 weeks or so later, I get the allowance.  If the cost is less than the allowance, all good!

But something changed today.  I get offered to have the accommodation arranged and for me to be issued with a "voucher" which I present to the hotel upon my arrival.  I have to however pay for it now and am offered to pay it cash, cheque or card.

I agree to pay via VISA and then am told that it will cost 2% extra in bank charges!  I then tell them to forget it and I will pay at the hotel concierge on the day, I get told that its too late and its done, but if I pay today they can waive the 2% charge.

Confused?  I am!  How can my little Indian travel guy, who is an employee of my company "waive" bank charges?  I am guessing its going into his own pocket more than likely.

So the deal is done, I have a pdf voucher to print and give to the hotel and I said if for whatever reason the hotel rejects the voucher, I will be on the phone to my mate here in Abu Dhabi faster than you can say "dodgy deals".

And all this hassle is apparently better in terms of cost and efficiency than allocating all employees a corporate AMEX card.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Fast Track to Success

Well, yesterday I had to take the day off to get Niki to her medical in Abu Dhabi (some 150kms from home) and go through yet more red tape.

When we arrived at the Centre for Preventative Disease, it was the usual bedlam of a 99% male population of which 99% were Indian / Pakistani trying to get in to do their medicals.  Walking in with Niki, Kate & Brooke (new Nintendo DSi's in hand) we looked, how shall we say, a tad conspicuous.

When I did my last medical, I was whisked away for "Golden Service" which was essentially straight in to a seperate area and was seen by the GP, Blood Sucker and X-Ray person in just 15 minutes.  This extra service was paid for by my company and was a world away from when I queued for 2.5hrs the first time and I was hoping Niki would get the same treatment.

We were directed upstairs to the woman's clinic and when we got to the entry, we were asked to wait outside for an hour before we would be allowed to then take a number.  This is not unusual and I have no idea why they dont allow everyone to take a number straight away.  I then asked about "Golden Service" and they said to go back down stairs and ask.

We go back down the stairs and approach reception again and I ask for the "Golden Service" stamp... "No sir, but you can ask for Fast Track but ask back upstairs."  OK... now I we go back upstairs and ask the same people again for "Fast Track".  We get directed to a different guy 10 feet away who puts a fast track sticker on Niki's paperwork and she's away.

The uniformed security guard at the door (a lady) takes Niki inside and we wave good luck.  Kate, Brooke and I find some seats in the crowded waiting room (full of Pakistani men) and I tell the girls they can play their Nintendo's whilst we wait.  I am expecting that we may be here for about 40mins but in just 15mins Niki is back!  All done, all stamps and a needle mark in her arm.

Apparently, the security lady took her in, past the 200 odd women waiting with numbers for their turn, tells a woman who's number has just come up to sit back down and Niki is sat in front of the desk where her paperwork is processed and the fee (350Dhs) is collected.

When done, the security lady takes her to the next stage, the GP and Niki retells the story that the security lady rudely pushes Niki in to the GP, telling everyone else to get back and the GP asks her some banal questions (including the critical medical question - "Are you Married?") and she gets her card stamped.

Same again with the blood and a woman is basically told to get out so Niki can sit down and her blood is taken and then she is placed in the front of the queue again for the X-Ray.

All over red rover and the key was to a) ask for Fast Track and b) the cost was an extra 100Dhs.  The only issue is you get to be made out to be a right royal bitch of a princess as you get rudely advanced through the waiting hordes.  Niki wasnt too happy about it as she felt bad for everyone she was forced by, but the reality was if she didnt go down the "Fast Track" we'd have been there for a long time and heaven help us if the Nintendo's ran out of battery.

I was happy though, Niki now has her first story of UAE government process and is now no longer "a rookie".

When the medical test results are back, she'll get her residency and then she gets to go back to Abu Dhabi to get her UAE drivers licence.

Dubai Vs Abu Dhabi

Perusing the Sydney Morning Herald tonight and I find that there is a story on the differences between Dubai and Abu Dhabi... given I live in Dubai and work in Abu Dhabi (across the road from the Yas Island F1 Circuit to be precise) I tend to agree.

Dubai is huge and magnificent in a man-made way... Abu Dhabi is quieter, more wholesome.  But beware the sleeping giant. I know that there is approx US$40Bn worth of capital works going into Abu Dhabi by my company alone over the next 3 years.  Abu Dhabi is about to hit the world stage as a mecca for culture and tourism and world events, but it will be so much more tasteful than the Dubaians up the other end of Highway 11.

Enjoy the read...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Last Weekend Before Ramadan

Dawned on me this week that this weekend is the last weekend before Ramadan!  Not that I know what Ramadan will actually mean for us, but I am guessing it will be all about keeping low and not eating out doors.  Work is weird... some people say it really slows down and others say its business as usual for westerners. I find that hard to believe because all Muslim staff will be leaving at about 2pm everyday for a month... you just cant be as efficient.

But they also say that at night, the place is buzzing as the Muslims take on "Iftar" each evening and the restaurants, malls and hotels are packed with revelers... I am intrigued to say the least.

At the end of Ramadan, there is a 3 day holiday called Eid and we get half a week off with a rumour yet to be confirmed that the government will decry the last two days of that week as Government Holidays.  This means "government workers", which include me as my company is govt owned, will be given the whole week off.  But as usual, official confirmation is slow.  So, we may get 3 days or a week off in late September.

So, what to do?  Well we're considering going to Oman for a look, but we're suprised how expensive it is... we thought we'd go away for a week, but the costs are prohibitive... pretty much nearly A$1000 a night for any hotel... and thats not a special rate for Eid... thats the going rate!!  Someone today suggested going to Jordan as its cheaper and cooler and very historic (Petra etc, birthplace of civilisation etc).

Who knows!

On a local level though, I finally got my new residency visa to match my change of company (if you recall I was transferred from my original company to the parent company and then seconded back to the same job... means I had to re-do ALL my paperwork) and now Niki is ready to do her Medical for her residency visa.  We'll look to do this Sunday.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The approach of Ramadan...

One thing I haven't really discussed here is Ramadan... the month (thereabouts) of religious fasting in the Islamic calendar is reportedly, according to more experienced expats, a real pain in the arse.

But for some reason, I dont see why.  OK, so I have to eat my lunch in the cafeteria where the windows will be blocked out and the glass wall that extends across the cafeteria entry way will also be 'darkened'.  My only worry is that I wont be able to drink at my desk and with the heat here we have free water on our desk every day.  I guess that will change as well.

And then outside of work, well we wont be able to eat out during the day.  Our kids are old enough to understand so I dont see a huge hassle for when Niki goes to the shops and the kids want an ice-cream or something... they will just eat at home.

And I *think* the restriction on eating doesnt 100% apply to kids either so I think Kate & Brooke will be OK when we drive around as they have developed the habit of taking their vacuum sealed thermos' with them and I think they will be OK to have water in the car.

So, its going to be interesting, and I am taking the attitude of it being another aspect of the Islamic culture and not something to be fretting / dreading about.

And apparently, all the evening meals in restaurants for the evening feasts - called "Iftar" - are apparently massive. So I guess we may go out for dinner and check it all out!

Bring it on I say!

As an aside though, Ramadan starts Aug 24 and I have to be in London Aug 26 for work, so I may miss the beginning anyways!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A very quiet weekend...

This weekend, we had nothing planned... We thought about getting Niki out for a drive to get used to the Emirati highways and we thought we'd go out for a nice meal at some stage and also given our digital camera died at the Atlantis, we'd look at a new one.

Unfortunately though, Kate came down with a fever and with temps nudging to the 40s last night, we pretty much hung out at the house.  The pool didnt even get a good use.  I took Kate to the GP today - which is an excellent medical centre, totally free once you make the insurance claim, and you can get in same day - and she came home with anti-biotics, nurofen and some ear drops.  She feels a bit better now and has just gone to bed in a better mood.

So, for me... I was lucky that the Ashes has been on and I have watched 80% of every ball bowled this weekend and I also was able to watch the St George game on the net last night via a website called  So quite a boring and home bound weekend, but in all fairness I think thats the first one since I got here 6 months ago.

Speaking of that tomorrow is my 6 mths anniversary since leaving Australia... time has flown!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Small World

A guy rang me today to come and see me about an element of work on the project here and he was from one of the consulting engineering firms on site.  No biggie, but I did note his Aussie accent.

He came by and he opened up with "I have seen you around site and I think we have met before".  So the whole comparing who we have worked for and so forth and so forth drew a blank.  He was adamant that he had met me but to be honest, other than his Aussie accent, he was unfamiliar to me.

So we keep talking and he was getting into technical stuff and apologised if he was getting too technical for me, and I said "Its OK, I'm an engineer by background".

And then it clicked for him... University of Technology Sydney, and the Uni of Western Sydney Nepean... turns out we went to uni together!  I still can't place him, but he remembers me and all the dates, lecturers etc etc all matched up.

I am a couple of years older than him, but because I finished part time, we graduated on the same day and would have been sitting in the same row during graduation because our surnames are not too far apart alphabetically.

He has been working in Qatar, Dubai and now Abu Dhabi for 6 years and is now working on my project... small world.

Still... can't place him!  But we know of similar people.

Monday, August 03, 2009

53 Degrees

Rule #1 in the UAE...  when working on a construction site and you're walking across the site facilities from one building to the other and you cross paths with a guy you want to talk to, don't stand in the blazing sun in 53 degree heat and discuss the issue.

This is what I have just done and I think my eyeballs have shriveled I am that hot!  Navy suit pants, tie, mid-blue work shirt... these are not the items to be wearing when you conduct a 10min discussion on the footpath in such heat.

My shoes feel like they're burning my feet, my eyes hurt when I blink and I can smell the heat still through my nose despite now being in the air con for a few minutes.  My mobile phone feels very hot and the bic biro I had in my hand feels slightly pliable.

Next time all I will do is say "Hey Jack, will call you in 2 minutes" and keep walking...

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Admin Nightmares

Everything seemed to hit a snag this week... I am trying to get a company loan to pay for a car I have bought (the loans are interest free) and the amount of paperwork is cumbersome but the UAE oddity is that they wanted a valuation of the car even though it was a private sale between me and another expat Aussie.  They said "go to a dealer and get a valuation".  So I did this... and went to two dealers who both refused on the basis it was a Ford and they were affiliated with another make of car (Peugeot and Toyota) and directed me to a Ford dealer.  I said who is that and they recommended Premier Motors.

So, 2 and a half hours later after going to three seperate Premier Motors sites, I finally got the cert and had to pay 300 Dirhams even though the dealer didnt get out of his chair (he had the Indian photocopy boy do the legwork).  I have been told this morning that I have been ripped off and the service should have been free.

Then on Thursday, on the way to work, I was sent an SMS message from the power company that I had until that day to pay over 8,000 Dirhams or we will be disconnected from power and water.  Reaching the office I have found that my company for some reason has not paid the last 3 months of bills.  Why?  I am yet to find out but when I was told that to pay via the web would take "three days to process" (WTF!?!) my only alternative was to leave work, drive 150kms to a suburb of Dubai called Al Wasl and pay in person.

I did this and found the DEWA office (Dubai Electricty & Water Authority) and spent 40mins in a ticketed queue and was told to pay by Visa card would mean an extra 1.75% charge.  Joy.

So it is paid and now I have to seek reimbursement from work which is like extracting teeth.

So between the car and the power issue, I lost nearly 2 full working days because of beaurocracy.  At least my weekend was relaxing!