Monday, April 26, 2010

Mum & Dad In Town

Lack of posts due to Mum & Dad being in town.  They've been here just 4 days so far but have already been to the top of the Burj Khalifa, 4WD dune bashing and have seen some of the local sites.  Will be off to Al Ain and Abu Dhabi later in the week.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Charity Begins At Home

My last post was a comedic insight into going to the bathroom in the UAE, but one of my readers seemed to take it that we're taking advantage of the underclass in the UAE.

I can see that point of view, but probably want to share what it's like here with respect to the "workers" in Dubai.

Firstly, yes... there are alot of workers here in the UAE who earn pitiful salaries by Western standards.  The population of the UAE is 4 millions.  800,000 of those are Emirati's - the local people.  400,000 are western expats on good money.  That leaves a further 2.8 million people.

The 95% of those would be workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines.  All of these people earn fractions of what I would and do the work that nobody else does.

For the record, we pay our gardener - a nice Pakistani fellow called Faiz - 300 dirhams a month and he comes six days a week and spends anywhere between 30mins to an hour keeping our garden neat and tidy.  He does a fantastic job.

We have a part time maid (Dammy) from Sri Lanka and her 18yr old nephew who come in 6 days a week and do an hours worth of cleaning, wash the car once a week and will do the odd bit of ironing on top.  We pay them 25 dirhams per hour each and spend about 1300 dirhams a week.

Taking the exchange rate of A$1 is equal to 3.4 dirhams, its not a great deal of money...

But the point is that these people are hear by choice and they're earning better money than they would at home.  They do send most of it back to family in their home countries and hence live meager lives here in Dubai.  It is culturally confronting and for us it was very strange initially but now we have come to understand their home lives better and appreciate that they do actually enjoy living here when compared to the home country.

But Faiz and Dammy are very lucky compared to some of their compatriots.  You hear alot of stories about mistreatment, workers being unpaid for months at a time and alot of general exploitation by employers.  Also, you do meet some westerners who have developed a bit of a racist streak and think because they're in a country that is economically segregated that they can mouth off a bit about "the jinglies" and the "pakkies".  Some people can be very nasty and rude.

We however are not going down that path and we, and Niki in particular, goes at great lengths to help the less fortunate.  She has cleared out her pantry of bread and fruit juice when she found out three air con repair men hadnt been paid in 2 months and were very very hungry and hadnt eaten in days.  She passes out cans of soft drink and also allowed Faiz to sleep in our air conditioned maids room when the summer heat was too much.

We have given Dammy the kids old push bikes and excess furniture we didnt need to send back to her family in Sri Lanka and also just recently we have sent a bag of excess clothes to Ethiopia for an orphanage.  (Some neighbours are adopting two Ethiopian orphans and are heading there this week).

Also, we are renting our maids room out to an Indian worker from the local Vets for 500 Dirhams less a month than what he was paying and when he turned up without a bed, we went to IKEA and bought a new bed and a chest of drawers and a TV receiver so he can watch TV.

The point is, you can be in a country with a wide variety of economic scale and still be decent and generous to those around you.  Language barriers are difficult but a generous gift and a smile is universally understood.

Also, with two impressionable young children, you want to make sure that they realise how lucky they are and for when the day comes that we return to Australia, that they're not first class brats and have a compassion for people less fortunate.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bahrain and Attendants

Next week I am off to Bahrain for a conference... I am giving a short (15min) presentation, but other than that I am listening to 3 days of talk fest.

Never been to Bahrain before, so not sure what it's like, but I guess it will be pretty similar to the UAE.  I will try and post something from Bahrain when I am over there.

But on local oddities, I wanted to raise something that I probably haven't raised before... "the Attendant".  It is local custom here for owners of public places and places of business that have public bathrooms that they're stocked with "Attendants".  Attendants are workers who have a job to do while you're doing your job...

Essentially, and we have them here in the office, you go into the bathroom and there is a guy in there (a lady I presume if you're in the ladies) and they will welcome you.  "Hello sir" is the greeting I get here in the office.  Then you go to do "the business".  They don't assist you (thank god!) and you are left to your own devices, but you can still get performance anxiety if you know that you're alone in the bathroom and there is "the Attendant" waiting outside by the sinks.

When you're finished and you flush, then instantly I hear the paper roll dispenser into action... you may think its automatically connected electronically to the flush, but no... "the Attendant" has pressed the button and has some paper towels waiting for you.  Flashier places like hotels and business class airport lounges will have warm towels, but here at work we have a paper towel dispenser on an electronic roller... and he pre-presses it for you for your "convenience".

On good days, I exit the stall and he will also have the sink running at a mid range temperature (depends how busy he is!) and you wash your hands and he will pass you the paper towel... then if you motion to get a bit more extra towel (for the back up dry) he will reach in front of you and press the button again and again pass you the paper towel.

Then, when drying is done, he opens the door...

Considering that in Australia, you'd be hard pressed to find a company to work for that would buy decent biscuits in the kitchen, here at my work here in Abu Dhabi I am blessed with "the Attendant".

Imagine my horror last night when at home, I realised that there was no toilet paper left... I had to get it myself!!  May need to get an Attendant for home...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lord of the Rings - A Tale For All Ages

Last week, before we had our friends Julie and Hannah visit, I sat Kate down and we watched the first of the two Lord of the Rings movies.  Kate has on and off again asked to watch it and we resisted because of the "scary orcs and the violence" but in reality it is quite tame when compared to some other movies.  But given she's a 10yr old girl your natural instinct is to say "no".

In the end I relented and we watched the movies and she sat bolt upright through two very long movies and she loved it and this week we will finish off the trilogy.  Its funny though that at the same time this is happening, I read this article on a gaming website I sometimes peruse (and I listen to their podcast) and thought this article was really sweet.

I think maybe, after we watch the movie, I will read the story of Bilbo Baggins to both Kate & Brooke chapter by chapter...

Get Me A Doctor! Spam!!

Spam.  Most of it today is irrelevant as any credible email client will filter it all away... but in the UAE, you get a new invention:  Mobile Spam.

Yes, you get - daily - spam to your mobile phone in SMS format.  Just now, I have been sent a text message.  Answering the beep at work, hoping it would be Niki sending me good news, I get the message that Dr's Ahmed and Wasima are Orthopedic Surgeons and Endocrinologists respectively and that they are available for consultation in Dubai if I call the number below.

Wow... Dr's are now spamming people randomly in the hope that you're sick and you need their specialty treatment services!  Wonder what the hit rate is?

At work, we now play Spam bingo.  We sit there and someone's mobile will beep.  Normally you would be polite and ignore it as you talk to the person at the table whom you're having the meeting with, but now the phone is grabbed and checked in case its a spam.  "YES!  Its Babyshop telling me that they have 20% this weekend!!"  OR "Yes!!  I can buy one and get one free at an Indian restaurant in Dubai!!".

Advertising is big business here in the UAE, but its as if the marketing people have come straight from 1990 and believe that SMS text messaging is the new cutting edge and that people would REALLY appreciate you flogging their products on their mobiles.  Gold Star for that idea!!

On the flipside though, Hertz rent a car keep sending me emails re their new deals and still no one is picking up the phone!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

More Visitors!

We have our friend Julie and her daughter Hannah with us this week from Sydney and we're counting down to when my parents arrive on April 23, but on the weekend in between, my mate Joe will be swinging by for just 24hrs as he makes his way home from a business trip in Europe!

Its a full house!

But it's really good, and I am very happy and grateful that people are taking the time to come out and see us and to see how we live first hand.  It made it really alot easier on us and Niki in particular, when her parents came out last year as they can see how we live, can understand that Dubai isn't this evil place of Islamic fundamentalists and that in reality its a great place to live.  Means that Skype sessions with Niki's parents are better as they understand what we're talking about.

And now, with Julie, Joe and my mum & dad seeing us over the April / May period, that will be more people who will also understand.

But for my mate Joe, it will be a rush job... he's in the country for just 26hrs and I will be certainly giving him the "rushed tour"...

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter in the Middle East

Well, its Easter (Easter Sunday to be exact) and I am in the office and its just another day here.  I had to give a presentation this morning and whilst there were a few "Happy Easter" greetings amongst the westerners, it was down to business as usual.

At home though, the Easter Bunny paid his annual visit and it was a better experience because Niki's friend Julie and her daughter Hannah are visiting us as well so there is a bit of a festive holiday feel at the moment at home.  I should add, it is school holidays here in any event, so the girls are calling them "Easter Holidays" whereas they are simply "End of Term 2 Holidays" in the eyes of the government.

Kate did ask me this morning as I was leaving for work would she have to go to school if it wasn't holidays and the answer is unfortunately yes.

But, this is all part of the experience and given I am in no way a religious person, I don't really care that I am missing Easter itself, but it would have been nice to hang out and eat chocolate with the kids anyway.

But its not like the UAE suppresses Christianity though.  There are Easter displays in the shops, eggs are able to be purchased, the Phillipino's in particular tend to be very Christian and so Easter is alive and well, its just that we don't get the day off.  And you can't complain because I can get holidays when the Islamic holidays occur, so again as a non-religious person, I just go with the flow.

Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Death of a Sheikh

Sheikh Ahmed bin Zayed, younger brother of the Ruler of the UAE Sheikh Khalifa died last Friday in a glider accident in Morocco and his body wasn't found until yesterday.  What happens here in the UAE with the death of such a prominent member of the ruling family is that a period of National Mourning is declared (three days in this case) and essentially alot of events and celebrations are cancelled or postponed and the radio and free TV networks simply broadcast readings of the Quran and in a sign of modernism, classical music (albeit sombre pieces) are actually being played.

We went to the mall tonight and it was strange that there wasnt any music being played whatsoever.  In the mall corridors there would be music, the shops would all have their own music playing but tonight it was echoing and quiet around the mall.

So, from today through to midnight Friday, the mourning period will last and whilst businesses are remaining open it isnt unusual for some government departments to close.