Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Time is flying!

We're nearly at the end of February... One sixth of the way through the year!  Scary huh!

Work is interesting at the moment as the company is going through a restructuring process and the reality is that there is some downsizing to take place... I am safe given I am seconded to the company by the parent company (and hence not on the downsizing company's payroll) but nevertheless it is distracting.  I personally think the change is needed and the new direction is the right direction in my mind, but at the same time some people I have enjoyed working with are leaving.

My two ex-bosses who hired me are gone... the Managing Director and the Finance Director are both out the door with the latter announcing his departure today.  It is odd because they hired me and they saw the need for what I do and now they have paid the price for this change.  Mixed feelings I guess...

But its not like I am a stranger to all this... I have been made redundant three times in my life and in all cases it was because of "company restructure".  The difference is that this time I am on the side of the change agents and not a drone in the org chart that is to be snipped off at the trunk.  Kinda refreshing!

All this change however doesn't mean I am idle.  Work is moving forward with gusto and projects are proceeding and my services are needed in many more pots... A lot of these projects are being driven out of Europe - be it because the project is physically occurring there or because the financing is driven from there and as such, like tonight, I will be on the phone to Europe which means my day will be extended a tad.  Not great, but its not the norm so it remains on the side of exciting rather than tiresome.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Am here in Amsterdam on a work conference... not much to tell as I have been in a hotel conference room for most of the time, but I did get to go and walk around a bit last night and see some sights.

Amsterdam is alot smaller than I thought it would be... it is basically a big, very compacted, village with wall to wall townhouses.  No real CBD, nothing but canals and small streets.  The streets are mostly paved and it was hard to judge when you were on the road, on the cycle ways or on the footpath!

Big highlight for me as an Aussie who doesnt go to the snow is that I was able to walk the streets whilst a light snow fell.  Very amazing for me as I have never seen snow fall like that before.  It was very cold, but I really enjoyed it.

As for the sights, we were walking and it was freezing so we didnt go far, but we saw lots of monuments and old cathedral like buildings but I didnt really know what they were history wise.

Today has been very grey and cloudy and it may snow heavily tonight (fingers crossed) and I am about to go out for dinner tonight across town a bit, so will see some more of the town (its not really a city) by taxi.

Its very pretty, would love to spend a day (which is all you really need) to explore and I must admit its nice to have a bit of cold weather after all the heat of the UAE.

Am flying back tomorrow night... so back to the grind next week after only a one day weekend at home.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Into the snow...

A quick note... I am off to Amsterdam tonight to attend a conference.  Will be back in Dubai on Saturday morning, so no posts of meaningful note until then.  Forecast for Amsterdam is top temps of 2 degrees and snowfall predicted for Thursday.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Frustrations of Shopping

Shopping in the UAE is an interesting but frustrating experience.

In Sydney, we had a choice of shopping malls but in general each shopping mall always had the same major and mini-major department stores.  Myer / David Jones and then shops like Rebel Sports, the super markets, K-Mart / Target etc.

But in Dubai, each shop tends to be more unique and the common stores are not necessarily common to every mall in the city.  This means you have to think about what you want before you go and then select the mall where you need to go to.

Yesterday, we needed to get Kate some clothes and a small amount of gear (a backpack and a sleeping bag) for her upcoming school camping trip.  And the clothes included a specific item - decent boardshorts for swimming.  The school requested that all girls wear swimming costumes that "ideally go to the knee" in length because the camp was in the more religiously conservative Sharjah.  So we thought board shorts.

So the mall selected was the Dubai Outlet Mall.  We drove out there and the mall is biggish without being too massive.  We went to the sports clothing outlet store and were able to find soccer boots for Brooke (which weren't on the list) and some bikinis at ridiculously cheap prices but no girls boardshorts and no camping gear despite the store having every other bit of sporting equipment you can poke a stick at.

So after some lunch, we drove to Dubai Mall.  I kid you not, this place is massive... its the biggest Mall in the world.  It is hard to measure, but it has 8 levels of carpark, has 4 levels of Mall, is extremely long and wide.  It is oddly shaped and you walk around the perimeter in an arc like pattern and it has a crossing lane across the guts of the mall so that it looks Phi symbol but also has some side arcades... anyway thats a crap explanation, check out the website and maps.

We went to Dubai Mall because we knew that they had a Roxy and Billabong surf shops.  Aussie surf shops always stock board shorts and we weren't disappointed.  We also went there because it has an Etisalat (the UAE's version of Telstra) and I needed to see someone about my mobile phone account.  In addition, we tried to find a camp store or sports store that sold camping gear but we were unfortunately out of luck.

But the whole expedition took hours and after leaving the house at 11:30am, we returned home at around 5pm with some items but not everything. I think the whole problem was that we were exhausted and spent so many times at the public display maps and concierge desks and being directed to a shop 3 levels up or down and about a kilometer away as the crow flies.

To put this mall into perspective it has:
- a full size olympic ice rink
- an indoor theme park (Sega Republic) including a couple of roller coasters
- an indoor aquarium including the worlds largest fish tank
- a massive cinema which includes an IMAX
- a kids theme park called Kidszania
- about 5 centre courts

It's an amazing place to visit and is a beautiful mall, but its not a great place when you want to just duck in and grab a few things... Murphy's Law was having a field day sending us this way and that!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A year ago today...

Today marks the first anniversary of my move to the UAE.  It feels very odd that a year has gone past already!  To say that time has flown is a massive understatement.

I left Sydney on the 9th and arrived on the 10th and started work on the 11th... straight into it with barely anytime to get over the jet lag.  My desk wasnt ready, I didnt have a phone either and I didnt have a mobile.  The project / company was much different then and I had no idea where anything was.  I was living in a hotel which I initially thought was great but soon came to detest.

From there, I bought a phone, got my residency and visa sorted out... then came a car (leased) and I was mobile.  Looking for a house, I moved from the Abu Dhabi hotel into a villa in the Green Community Dubai.  I had a piece of foam to sleep on and a towel, a few plates, glasses and cutlery.  I borrowed a pair of bar stools to sit on and also bought a camp chair.

That was the time when it really got a bit heavy and the "newness" wore off and I was really missing Niki and the girls. 

I bought a TV and a DVD but couldnt watch TV until the pay TV network came out to install it... same with Internet and I spent some very lonely days in my massive villa with no furniture.

Slowly things progressed and I remember the day the Internet was finally connected... many tears over the Skype that day!

All of the above was the first 2 months... I would remain alone in Dubai for a further two months and in that time I got curtains, furniture, landscaping etc.  In addition, I was keeping abreast of the dismantling of the household in Sydney as Niki sent all our furniture and clothes on a Chinese shipping container.  They were very emotional times.

By June, Niki and the girls arrived to 45 degree temps that would soon soar to 55 in their first month.  A quick trip to London was a great highlight and an effective way to escape the heat.

Then it was waiting for the shipping container and it wasnt until July I suppose that we could finally consider ourselves "moved in".

Then the social things... Niki met the neighbours (as I really was too busy working and shopping on weekends) and the kids met the neighbourhood kids.  School was on the horizon for September and we went shopping for uniforms and stuff... we were also doing tourist things and got to know where the malls and attractions were.  By the time school started, we were ready but the kids had had alot of time off and were basically living like it was a holiday camp.

So homework was the painful item in September but the kids found the school to be really enjoyable and their social circles expanded as did ours.  We became good friends with a number of families here and started holidaying and day-tripping together.  Ramadan also came and we learnt to become squirrels with our food...

October saw our first visitors from home and we were able to entertain Niki's parents and our nephew Scotty from London.  It was good for everyone to have that family contact and we were very proud in showing off our new place and what lifestyle we had put together.  Work was busy, but was now manageable... family life was a greater focus and we were enjoying being together on weekends and having real family meals at night.

As the weather started to cool, BBQ's became the norm and each weekend became a party... Xmas gatherings and birthdays for our friends became important and by the time we came back to Sydney at Xmas time we felt like we were on a family holiday rather than "coming home".

Since then of course, life continues and we really do feel settled.  Just this week, we got a second TV connection for the upstairs lounge and I am in the process of renewing our lease on the villa.  Plans for a European Holiday are being discussed - need to book that! - and my first years performance review, salary review and bonus are being discussed.

And when you read all that back, it makes me realise how far we have come since I left Sydney this time last year.  It was a big decision and one filled with a number of unknowns.  We have had surprises and some unexpected twists and turns but they have been for the better and we can truly say that the decision to take the job and the associated lifestyle upheaval has been the right one.

The Emirates is a developing country.  Yes Dubai has alot of glitz and glamour attached to it, but to live here everyday is not what you would expect by watching the travel shows.  The country is ambitious and proud of its heritage but the people are very generous and welcoming.  The Middle East is a place of contrasts with extravagant architecture such as the Burj Khalifa down to the fact that some of the labourers live in pipes on the side of the road.  For every famous Porsche Cayenne driving Emirati there is a beat up old car being driven by a Pakistani as a taxi.  But there is also a great respect for religious differences and culture.  We have attended a Catholic wedding and have visited the grandest mosque in the entire Middle East.  Every day has been an adventure.

So tomorrow is Day 1 of Year 2 and I am very happy.

Sunday, February 07, 2010


We took the girls to see Avatar last night.  We did the whole 3D IMAX thing and I have to say I think I enjoyed it much more the second time around.  The IMAX was massive too... and we could only get seats about 6 rows from the front!  Its amazing how this movie is still selling.  We went on Friday night and tried to get in to the 7:30pm session but it was sold out.  So on Saturday I called past the mall at 11:00am to get the 4:30pm session and it was nearly sold out too!  It sure does seem to be getting repeat business.

As for Avatar itself, my line of thinking was that when I was young I got to see Star Wars and the experience is something that I have never forgotten.  The event was bigger than the movie itself.  Star Wars wasn't a "kids movie" then either but it was an exciting thing for a 6yr old kid.  With Avatar, I think that is the Star Wars of this generation... a big event, the 3D experience etc etc... and the kids loved it.

Brookie was scared a little when the big Pandoran panther monster attacked but she was OK (she took her glasses off to make it blurry! lol!!) and Kate seemed to enjoy it.  On the way to school this morning they were still talking about it.  Maybe they will remember it too when they grow into adults and how they went and saw a packed blockbuster Avatar in 3D IMAX.  Not sure if the Arabic subtitles made it more memorable though ;-)

Thursday, February 04, 2010

To burst or not to burst...

Kate has been feeling pretty ordinary of late and complained every now and then about a "sore tummy".  But for the past 3-4 days, she has been really specific and has been telling us that her stomach hurts "Here" and points to the lower right side of her abdomen.


So we took her to the same hospital that Niki went for her sore foot and again we got great service.  The problem has been though she does have a specific pain which is clearly in her appendix area but she doesnt have a fever or vomiting that is usually a sign of appendicitis but the doctors cannot determine the cause.

So we did blood tests and an ultrasound and then when they came back "inconclusive" they asked her to come back the next day (today) and do the tests again.  They were looking for an increased blood count or something and yet today the tests were again uncertain.

Therefore its back again tomorrow for more blood taking!

The reality is I am sure (despite my lack of medical degree) that it is "early rumblings" of an appendix and I want her to have it taken out now rather than wait for it to get worse and more painful for her.  The appendix is from what I can tell is a useless organ that has nothing really to do ever since we stopped eating tree branches in the Paleolithic Era and hence lets take it out.

But the doctors wont perform "needless" surgery and hence we wait...

If they keep this up, I bet we will be in the hospital with Kate by the end of the month.