Friday, March 26, 2010

Good Morning...

Its a bit after 7am here... I am up early on a Friday morning although Friday here is the Islamic Holy day in which everyone has the day off.  Its like Sunday was when I was a kid in which shops dont open until later (if at all) and everyone is supposed to go to church (or the mosque here).

So why am I awake so early?  Well, my mobile phone this morning received 2 text messages as it lay on the charger beside my bed.  The first at 6:04am said was a message from the Abu Dhabi police to tell me that I was caught speeding on the 16th (see story below) and that I should "remember to obey the traffic rules".  Just a friendly reminder... 

This message woke me up... which meant I had to get up to go to the bathroom and it interrupted my sleep.

I go back to bed... snoozing turns into dozing which turns into sleeping....


7:00am... "HSBC ATM Cards will not work in non-HSBC ATM's from the hours of 2am and 6am on the 27th of March.  HSBC ATM Cards will work in HSBC ATM Machines"

WTF?  OK, I am awake... I am up... so much for the Friday sleep in and here I am at the computer venting about it...

Who thought it was a great idea to send "official" SMS's at 6am and 7am on a Friday morning?!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Only in the UAE

I got an email from Hertz here advertising their new rates for car leases.  I currently pay 2200 AED a month for my Toyota Corolla and yet they're advertising that I can now get a Toyota Corolla for just 1700 AED a month.

CALL NOW they say....

So I ring the number and after going through a highly convoluted and slow speaking voice prompting the phone rings.  And Rings... AND RINGS.  Nobody picks up...

I redial... go through the process again... and same result.

I try again but select the option to report that I have crashed my car and I get a human voice straight away and I ask to speak to someone in the leasing department.  The Indian chap says that this is the Vehicle Recovery department and not the leasing section.  I reply I know but nobody is answering, can you put me through.  "Sorry sir, this is another department I am at a different location".  I hang up.

I then go to their website ( and as you can see, its being worked on and has no information other than the number I have been dialing.

Only in the UAE can you get a such customer service... lol.  Would a company in Australia issue an email offering new prices and then have zero way to contact them??

Its a funny place ;-)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Summer in the UAE

Equates to 9 months of the year... and by summer I mean swimming weather.  The weather here in Dubai at the moment is excellent and even though we're just one month past what passes for winter here, we're already into the swimming again.

We have bought new outdoor furniture now and have a BBQ and last weekend had the opportunity to sit outside in the evening weather and be very relaxed.  At the pool, the water is now the perfect temperature and the sun is shining all day every day.

I noticed last night that Niki and the girls already are getting their tans back and I will have to follow suit and spend more time at the pool to catch up because no matter the weather, you don't get a tan by being at work in a suit.

Also, I am very happy that the rugby league is now on TV here in Dubai and I have enjoyed watching the first two rounds of the season.  Oddly, because of the weekend time shift (Friday and Saturday are my weekends) I get Friday Night Football and FoxSports Super Saturday games beamed live into our place from around 10:30am or Midday onwards.  But because we dont really spend too much time at home on weekends, I have taken advantage of the regions new Pay TV service in which you can record live tv on your pay tv box.  That was just coming out in Australia when I left and it has now reached us here in Dubai and its brilliant!

So, my summer is pool, sun and NRL... happy days!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Broke My Cherry

The above is evidence of my first brush with the law here in the UAE - a speeding fine.

I have written a number of times on this blog and have spoken to people back home about the excessive speeds that drivers drive at here in the UAE. Well last night, I was pinged... for the excessive speed of... *drum roll*

86km/hr in a 60 zone!!!

To set the scene, Niki and I attended a work function at the famous Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi. Lovely evening with my colleagues at work to celebrate a good year. Al Qasr was the restaurant which was an Arabic BBQ restaurant and we were down on the private beach. All very nice but also I was driving so it was bubbly water and coke with lemon and ice for me.

It was 11:30pm, my car was driven up by the valet and we cruised out onto the Corniche which is the beach front of Abu Dhabi to go home... traffic was heavy and we were getting every red light.

I am cruising in the left (fast) lane and I see a flash behind me... a typical sign of an upcoming speeding Emirati in a flashier car than my Toyota Corolla.

I go to shift into the next lane and suddenly it's red & blue lights of the police. I try to pull across the FIVE lanes to the right side of the road but we're at a red light (again) and I sit with a big police 4WD up my backside with the red / blues flashing. Light goes green, the traffic moves and I get across and into a car park off the 5 lane road.

I get out because that's what you do here, in Australia you sit and wait for the policeman to come to you. Here, its a meeting in the middle of the road (carpark).

"Mahabaa. Masaa Al Khair" (Hello, good evening) I say.

"Massaa al Noor, Keefahlak, aw salaam ali kum" says a pleasant police man.

The Arabic dance of greeting is done... and I say was there a problem?

Very pleasantly he informs me I was doing 86 in a 60 zone and even though I get "20 kilometres free", 86 is too much. I said I didnt know this 5 lane monster roadway was a 60 zone but alas it was.

License, car rego papers are shown and at this point a very young second police officer gets out.

In Arabic, they converse and the young constable (who's uniform looks a day old) is seemingly instructed on getting the booking sheet out and he's shown by the older officer how to fill it in.

"Ismak" (which is a derivative of the word "name") is said a few times and I gather that he's writing my name in the wrong spot. The young constable looks intently at my rego slip, he compares it to the number plate, he looks at my license and comments "Oh, you're Australian... very nice" and the older man keeps him on the straight and narrow on how to book a speeding ticket.

It is clear... I have been picked at random to be a "training lesson" for the young constable and unfortunately its going to cost me.

"How much?" I ask and he tells me "600 dirham" which is about A$170, "but if you go to Abu Dhabi traffic police and pay in person, you can get a discount... 50% if the judge is generous".

I said I didn't want to go to court about it but I was mistaken submit the ticket and "a judge" - probably in a back room - makes an arbitrary call on a discount. Talk about sweet justice!

All in all, I guess I am talking to these guys for about 15mins and we shake hands and he says for me to drive home safely. Very pleasant and I am glad that I helped a young cadet learn the ropes...

Now... about that discount......

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Retail Therapy for Hangover Cure

Has been a hectic period for me of late... work has been taxing as some major projects come to a head and I have had to put in some overtime.  On top of that, we've had Brooke's birthday last week and her party last weekend.  This included a BBQ for the grown ups after the party on the Friday night and hence Saturday was a cruisey day and we ended the weekend by the pool for the first time in ages.  The weather is starting to warm up now which is good!

I did however have to take a bit of retail therapy of the suit buying kind this weekend and replace a suit which lost the arse out of one of the trousers.  In Sydney for me, suit buying is a major pain in terms of time and hip pocket.  In Sydney, my tailor was a high pressure sales guy who would always push me to spend more than I cared for and to be honest in hindsight he was a used car salesman type.  Yet, they had my measurements and it was too painful to go anywhere else.

So, I asked around at work and was recommended I go to a menswear shop in a shopping mall that I had never been too.  Dubai is riddled with large shopping malls that dont have any real customers as they have been superseded by the big malls such as Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates.  However I was assured that "Brands" in the Mazaya Centre was
the place to go for cheap good quality suits.

And yes whilst the mall was spookily quiet with little customers, in less than 30mins I bought two suits made from NZ wool for less than $500.  A huge saving compared to Australian prices.

Given that I was hung over, that was the perfect result!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Mist

Anyone seen the movie or read the original Stephen King story "The Mist"? Well if you have, then you'd appreciate what its like driving in the mornings in Dubai at the moment.

Absolute pea soupers and its been this way every day for a week now.

But the locals here don't seem to care... their only concession to road safety is to whack the hazard lights on and drive like normal and by normal, that's generally 160km/h.

So, I have now shifted down a gear, cruise at a speed I feel comfortable being at and stay out of the fast lane. Otherwise, you run the risk of being in one of these:

This is a photo taken by my neighbour Trevor who was driving at the back of our suburb and was caught up in it. Luckily for him, he ended up stopped without being hit but people in front and behind were all over the road. One person died, and many were injured but this is typical of a multi car pile up in Dubai.

For me, I ended up having to take a 50km detour (when driving through the desert, there are no back roads!) and was an hour late for work... but I think I'd prefer that to the above.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Happy Birthday

My littlest girl Brooke is 9 today!  Her first birthday to be celebrated in the UAE.

We offered to take her out for dinner tonight anywhere she wanted... and what she has asked for is for us to set up the picnic table in the backyard and I am bringing McDonalds home!!  Classic!  I have never been to a Picnic at Home with McDonalds party before!

On Friday, she's having a birthday party with her school and neighbourhood friends and we've hired a jumping castle and balloons etc etc and we'll be having a bit of a garden party followed by a BBQ for the grown ups for dinner.  So all in all a pretty relaxed birthday without a huge amount of razzamattaz but that is very much Brooke's style.  She loves to be at home and she loves simply being able to hang out and play with her friends.

Happy Birthday Brookie Chookie!

Friday, March 05, 2010


Last night, I attended my first Arabic lesson.  I am very keen to learn conversational phrases and to be able to pick up on things here and not be a virtual deaf mute when dealing with the local people.  I spent three years in high school German classes and still retain odd words but I am worried about how to make it "sink in" with the Arabic.

The teacher, a very enthusiastic Iraqi lady dove straight in and is not going to give us an easy time of it.  After the first 2 hrs of lesson, I know the first 4-5 letters of the alphabet, know that of the 29 letters, 3 of them are vowels and each vowel can be sounded in 2 different ways. 

Its going to be tough... the language (and she was blunt about this) uses parts of the throat and mouth that English speakers don't use.  She even said that alot of Arabs cannot pronounce words "properly" because they cannot physically do the tongue motions.  After going through the alphabet, I found I was the only one of the 5 students who couldnt vibrate the back of my tongue to sound one of the letters so I may be in that boat already.

But, its early days and I am keen to learn!  Each lesson is 4:30 - 6:30pm Thursdays and they're put on by my company at the work site.  Do Australian companies pay for English lessons?  I don't think so...

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

We have a lodger

The culture here in the UAE is to have maids and drivers etc etc... we have never experienced this before in Australia but here it is the "norm" for people to have live in service staff and the houses are built accordingly.  We have a separate building on the side of the house attached to the garage in which there is a (small) bedroom, (smaller) bathroom and a "space" for cooking and washing dishes.

As for us, we felt a full time maid would be too intrusive... you have this lady in your house, at any time, cooking, cleaning and looking after you but we felt we would not be comfortable with that.  It would be like having a "guest" in the house all the time... you couldnt wander into the kitchen in your underwear, you would feel uneasy about eavesdropping and I would also feel uncomfortable leaving cash and loose change around... your house ceases to be your own.

However, having said all that, we have struck up a good relationship with an Indian man Victor who works at the vet clinic.  He is absolutely fantastic with animals and is training to be a vet himself.  He also lives around the corner from us with the vets (an Austrian couple) and he lives in their maids quarters.

Anyway, the Austrians - for whatever reason - are moving out of their villa and into an apartment block and Victor was looking for a place to stay.  So we have agreed that he can rent our maids quarters out on the proviso that he is able to assist in looking after our dogs and cat in particular when we're away on holidays.

With being so close to Europe and Asia and with the regular trips back to Sydney, our annual costs of boarding the animals in kennels is prohibitive and also we worry about the quality of care.  Our old golden retriever Zoe is also getting a bit too old for kennels as well.

So, this weekend Victor will move in, rent our room and be self contained and not in the house like a maid would be.  We get some rent income and we also have peace of mind with the pets and the freedom to travel when we want to.

Of course, its all a trial and I said that to Victor as well... so if it doesnt work out, then at least we gave it a go :-)