Friday, October 29, 2010

Ras al Khaimah In Turmoil?

Further to yesterday's blog post about the death of Sheikh Saqr, all seems at peace here in Dubai and it was a surprise to stumble on this article in today's Sydney Morning Herald.

The contents of this article are not mentioned in local press here and this is all a surprise to me.  Not that I am saying it isnt true, but it is clear that the local media does not report such "scandal" and to everyone here who reads the English language press, there has been nothing but a smooth transition of power.  Maybe the Arabic language press may be being more direct, but for me this is totally new.

Having said that, I am aware that in Sunni controlled Abu Dhabi, that there is a concern that Sh'ite muslims in the northern part of the country (Dubai, Ras al Khaimah and Ajman) need to be monitored for ties to Sh'ite governed Iran.  After living here for nearly 2 years I cannot tell the difference between a Sh'ite and a Sunni but apparently it is possible by subtle differences in the collar of the white robe Khandoura and the way the head dress is worn.  I can pick a Kuwaiti from an Emirati, but I cant pick the difference in religion affiliation.

On Saturday, we're going with friends to Mussandam and we will have to travel through Ras al Khaimah to get there but its still perfectly safe and its hardly believable that it was over a year ago that we went to Ras al Khaimah for a holiday.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

National Mourning...

The ruler of the Emirate Ras al Khaimah, Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, passed away this morning at the spritely age of 92.  He was, according to wikipedia, the worlds oldest ruling monarch and had been the ruler of Ras al Khaimah since 1948 after taking over in a "bloodless" coup.

Yes, I can read wikipedia and regurgitate all this but what does it mean on the ground here in the UAE?

Well... for starters, there has been a period of National Mourning declared.  It varies from Emirate to Emirate with Ras al Khaimah declaring that they will be in mourning for 40 days.  The rest of the Emirates are plumping for generally three days of mourning but what is interesting to me is that the largest Emirate - Abu Dhabi - has actually not declared any official mourning period with the Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nayhan only passing on his deepest condolences.

Which is disappointing because "National Mourning" includes the closing of government offices and businesses, which would have been a day or three off work for me because I work for an Abu Dhabi government company.

Other than closed government offices what National Mourning means that all radio stations now only play "mourning music" which is at best soft classical music but is typically recitals of the Holy Q'uran and Arabic poetry.  This extends to ALL radio stations, which means when the kids want to listen to Virgin Radio Top 40 in the car, its sorry, but we only have Arabic poetry.

Also, all public events and celebrations are cancelled.  The opening of the multi million dollar Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi has been postponed which would have involved a huge number of celebrities and big wigs cancelled / rescheduled but also even our kids school cancelled their "International Day Parade" out of respect for the Sheikhs death.

So, it impacts everyone from the big events in town down to the kids and schools... but I have to say that the reaction has been sombre and respectful without being hysterical in the media.  It is by no means a "Princess Diana" event, but then again he was 92 and it was hardly unexpected.

Rest in Peace Sheikh Saqr.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

God Parents!

Well, after being here for 18mths we reached a nice milestone this weekend with Niki and I becoming god parents this weekend.

We were very chuffed to be invited to be god parents to baby Olivia who is our friends and neighbours Trevor & Sam's newest addition and its a bit of a feather in our caps to be asked to be a part of their family.

Whilst I am not religious at all and to me the name is a bit of a misnomer, it is still a great honour.

So there we were on Friday morning, in Christ's Church Jebel Ali Dubai, being part of the ceremony along with two other babies to have Olivia baptised and us along with our fellow friends John & Deborah to be God Parents.

It just goes to show how much we have come along here in Dubai!  To think I could be a god parent to a little girl from English parents 18mths after landing in this strange country, well I wouldnt have believed you!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Welcome Back Mum!

Niki comes home tonight!  After her being away for two weeks in Sydney, I have come to the end of my run as "Mr Mum" and I think if I can blow my own trumpet, it has gone well.

The girls have had lunches and dinners without resorting to mass orders of take away food and the dishes have been done and the laundry upkept.

I have been able to get away early from work each day and the girls have been able to get home from school to wait for me really well.

I should also say that with the girls being the ages that they are (11 and 9) that they have been really mature and responsible with what they have had to do and Kate has had a key to the house and she hasnt lost it nor abused it.  I am very proud of them!

So tonight, with Niki landing around 11pm, it will be a dinner out at the kids place of choice - Chili's or McDonalds undoubtedly, but I may try to convince them to go to Fuddruckers and then we will probably look thru the mall and then onto to Abu Dhabi airport late to pick up their mum.

As for Niki's trip, her mum is recovering well from her surgery and I am glad Niki was able to get back to be there.

For us, the next holiday time is Eid al-Adha, and we're booked into the Indian Ocean side of the UAE for a couple of nights at Fujairah.  That's going to be on 17-18 of November!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dubai, the Land of Service.

Dubai is the land of "service".  Everywhere you go, there is someone there to push your shopping cart to the car, pack your groceries and help you with your luggage.  At restaurants and food courts, there is always a "Hello Sir" as soon as you walk in and the service is very attentive.

This is one of the great things about Dubai.  Given that is so cheap for the Emirati's to import service staff and Emirati's also have a very high expectation of service, for us expats its a dream come true.  No 16 year old school girls behind the counter texting her BFF whilst you wait to be served here!

The downside though is that at times the service can be infruriatingly good and the keen desire to provide good service drives you batty.  Today, was a case in point.

We subscribe to the local pay tv company and they're rolling out High Definition boxes and upgrading everyone for free.  (Would you get that in Australia?).  I rang them to ask when I can book them in and they said, dont worry sir, we will ring you personally when your name comes up and arrange a technician to come and install it.

So, two days ago the phone rings and a pleasant voice at the other end told me all about the transition and that they would take care of it and I didnt have to worry at all.  They asked what time would suit on Tuesday and I asked for as late as possible so that I could get home from work to meet the technician.  Given that Niki is in Australia, I had to be there for the technician.  Positively she said "does the 4pm to 8pm slot suit you".  I agreed and she said that the technician would call when he was an hour or so away.

Tuesday comes and I am at work this morning and the phone rings at 11:30am.  "Hello Mr Clayton, this is (insert random name I didnt catch) from Orbit Showtime".  I said yes, how can I help you...  "Well Mr Clayton, I am at your Villa but nobody is home".  Umm... why are you at my villa at 11:30?  You're nearly five hours early I replied!  "I was in area, and my next appointments are at Deira" (which is about 45km across town) "... and I thought you might like early installation".

I replied that I am at work, was an hour drive away and that I wasnt leaving until 3pm to be home by 4pm.

"Can you leave now Sir?"

Um... NO... I have work, I am already stretched for time and you're five hours early!

"OK sir... sorry, I can wait.  When can you be here?" he asks... he is being disarmingly pleasant and this is just him trying to do me a favour but my diary now looks like I need to rearrange things to accommodate his 'favour'.

I said I will see what I can do and call you back when I am leaving Abu Dhabi.

"No problem sir, I will wait".

I in turn, perhaps rudely, didnt leave until a bit after 2pm.  I had things to do and I got caught up in work and worked through lunch.  I rang him as I walked to my car and told him I would be there around 3:30pm.

"OK Mr Clayton, no worries.  Can I ask Mr Clayton... can you drive faster?"

Given I drive at the max speed before the cameras flash (which is 160km/h) I reaffirmed that I would be there at 3:30.

Anyway, I arrive and he is there and he is very friendly and helpful and takes me through all the options as if I had never seen a TV remote before... he also tweaked my junction box to boost the signal and was very happy to install.  I offered him a drink which he declined but almost apologetically he asked at the end if he could use my bathroom. 

It was the least I could do given I kept him waiting for about 4 hours!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Niki is in Oz

Well, after I made my trip to Sydney for my Dad's heart operation, Niki left last night and should be landing soon in Sydney to help her Mum who is having an important back operation.

This means that the kids have stayed with me in Dubai and I am playing Mr Mum for two weeks.  Niki was of course very loathe to leave the girls but it is important for her to go back to help out her parents but I think we will cope nicely.

I am going to have to juggle work alot but given that the official working hours are 8:30 to 4:30 and that I tend to work 2 or so hours a day overtime, I guess I can take "on the clock" time and leave at 4:30 every day.  Our neighbours have all offerred to help out with the girls until I get home each day and the kids with their mobiles are always contactable and in turn they can always contact me.

So for the next two weeks, I am going to be pretty busy with the extra shopping and dinner responsibilities (and I hope I don't make the girls ill with my cooking skills!) but it should also be good fun.

Speaking of mobile phones for the kids, Kate who is 11 is really pestering us for a Black Berry.  Why does a girl of 11 need a BlackBerry?  Well its all peer pressure and with a number of parents with what seems to be oodles of disposable income, a number of Kate's class mates have one or an iPhone.  To me its insane, and we checked out the prices for a BlackBerry and the base model is 1100 dirhams (divide by 3.6 for Aussie) and the base data cost per month is another 189 dirhams a month.  Given I just paid 400 dirhams for a phone for her and I sling her 50 dirhams credit every blue moon on her pre-paid, it seems like a big jump in out goings so that she can email and facebook her friends (and of course the dreaded BBM).  It seems that we're getting the first of the teenage style peer pressure purchase blues!

(Just had to laugh, as I type this Brooke is running around the house looking for her mobile as its ringing... the 9 year old social scene is alive and well!)

Well, better sign off, need to get the kids lunch together... McDonalds of course... but it is the weekend after all!

Monday, October 04, 2010


Well, my football team, the St George Illawarra Dragons won the NRL Premiership!

Today, in steamy Dubai, I took the day off work to ensure that at 10am I was on the lounge ready to watch the game.

After grand final losses in 1985, 1992, 1993, 1996 and 1999 and then 10 years of promising so much and delivering so little, the Dragons have led the 2010 premiership from start to finish and today eclipsed the Roosters 32-8.

I have to say today was an emotional day as I sat so far away watching through the Middle East sports network OSN.  Niki sat with me after we dropped the kids to school, had a coffee and then walked the dog.  We were so far away from the hype and the press and of course my mates giving me a hard time but the tension in my lounge room was huge as we waited for kick off.  With the weather in Sydney clearly cold and rainy, we watched some really crap (and I mean really crap) pre-game entertainment before a really crap rendition of the National Anthem.  A note to Australian event organisers:- Do not f#ck around with the Anthem.  Do not jazz it up, put a didgeridoo under it or muck about in any way shape or form.  Get a solid singer with no pretensions to belt it out so that the fans and the players can sing along.  Jessica Mauboy is not such a person... she remixed it to sound like a B-Side of her "upcoming album" which I will not be in a hurry to buy.

Anyway, the game was on and with Niki enthusiastically cheering as well we watched the first half whilst we both kept connected to people back home via Facebook.  The first half didnt go so well and the Roosters led at half time 8-6 but on the plus side it should have been worse.

Second half however was a brilliant effort as the Dragons in driving rain smashed the Roosters to win the game 32-8.  A nearly faultless display of ball handling in tough conditions and some unforgiving defense saw the game in the bag with 15 minutes to play and we were celebrating.  I couldn't believe it... the team that I have been following for as long as I could remember and yet had lost 5 grand finals in my younger years had finally done it.  The last premiership that we won was in 1979 (when I was 7, yet I can't remember it) and now I found myself 13,000km away watching from afar as the trophy was lifted by a St George team for the first time in 31 years.

It's days like today that you wish you were back at home, but that's OK... I had my St George jersey on today and had a couple of celebratory beers after the game :-)