After more than 18 months on blogger I have decided to give my blog a little refresh and a new home.
The blog has been migrated and now lives at:
I hope you like the makeover.
EDIT :I have also registered the domain englishmanindubai.com which is now working - so I have for the first time in my web career I own a dotcom - well of some description at least.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
After more than 18 months on blogger I have decided to give my blog a little refresh and a new home.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Despite living on Wimbledon Park Road for nearly two years when I was working in London, I had never got the chance to actually ever watch any live professional tennis. When I got a call from a good friend last Saturday afternoon asking if I wanted to go to the "The Legends Rock Dubai" tennis tournament I jumped at the chance.
The tournament was held at the Irish Village and I always wondered what it would be like inside the tennis stadium. Upon entering, I was greeted with a nicely presented, intimate arena. With the weather a perfect 24c and a cool breeze, it was a wonderful evening to sit outside and watch some tennis.
The first match was Thomas Muster playing Michael Stich in the third place playoff. I had admired Stich's service for many years and vividly remember him dominating Wimbledon on the fast grass surface with his power serves. While some of the flat out speed might be gone the same graceful action was evident and it was great to watch:
Sadly Stich lost in a competitve yet friendly match. Then after, we were all in a for a real treat, with the doubles exhibition match with Pat Cash and Mansour Bahrami versus Cedric Pioline and Mikael Pernfors.
For the next hour or so Mansour really stole the show, with lavish through the leg shots, cheeky jokes with his opponents and often some quite outrageous tennis shots. It was excellent fun and I would have loved to seen a double match with both Mansour and Nastase. Here they are at the end of the match and Pat Cash was wearing his trademark headband - which you can buy online with proceeds going to charity.
The atmosphere at the tennis was really family friendly with an MC between matches, rock music between sets and some great entertainment between matches. My favorites were two opposing dance troupes who put on a great show for about ten minutes:
Following the light hearted previous two matches the final between Jim Courier and Paul Haarhuis was a much more intense and serious affair. Quite rightly, considering there was $50,000 on the line for the victor. While Paul Haarhuis easily won the match it was a real treat for me to see Jim Courier in action. He really is a legendary tennis player of the modern era and to see the unusual whipping service that he produces was a treat. I managed to get a shot that I thought really encapsulated the energy he puts into it:
It was a really entertaining evening and something I would highly recommend going to at least once. It is especially family friendly and even better for me - I got in gratis thanks to my friends. A perfect way to unwind after the hectic Rome party at the start of the weekend. Tomorrow is the final of the Dubai Sevens - more live sport - I can't wait.
Friday, November 23, 2007
The time of year has come around for one of Dunk's rather infamous parties. I had the pleasure of going to the last one which was themed on the Circus. Now a flat mate at the villa I had good fortune of being involved in the preparation for the one we had last weekend.
I had always fancied having a toga party but to give it a people wider range of options we decided on "Rome" as a theme. Rupert let his creative juices flow and came with an excellent invite:
And with the power of Facebook we had soon sent out over 200 invites. This was a great tool for organizing an event as it easily tracks the RSVPs, lit et us build more hype with further photshopped romanesque pictures and as we got closer to the event we even put up some teaser video trailers which provided us all with endless entertainment.
One of the main reasons people make a big effort with their costumes is that typically 90%+ of people will also be dressed up and the villa will be sympathetically decorated. There was no exception this time and with 175 yards of material, some genius inspiration and a couple of late nights with everyone pitching in we made a mini "Rome" for the night. Here is the entrance:
Upon walking through the garage it really set the mood and it was continued throughout the garden with billowing deep red and white fabric surrounding the bar, walls and trees of the garden.
Though for me, the party mood was set off with a couple of special extras we got for the night. For a start we had our own Chicken Shwarma man for the evening who was cooking up delicious savory kebabs which the mostly inebriated crowd ate with gusto. It was a good job we all ate at least one as they seemed to be made with garlic and the covered in jus d'garlic - but they were very tasty.
Moving into the villa the famous "ball pool" made a re-appearance that led to the mother of all ball fights later that night. It was hard not to laugh as several Centurion's downed their swords in favor of primary colored plastic balls as their weapons of choice.
Just to make sure we really pushed the bar for this party - we clubbed together and acquired a laser show and smoke machine and for one night only had a dance floor to rival any of the mega clubs in Dubai. Well at least in terms of crazy dancing.
As usual - the costumes were just teriffic. Here are the house mates - both past and present:
Here I am enjoying myself:
I was so impressed with all the ladies - they looked so elegant in their ancient dresses:
It was a stellar night in every sense of the word. I think the kebab man gave everyone some extra energy and the party went on until 5am. I have a feeling it was a legendary party but I am all a bit hazy after about 11pm. One thing I did learn - was that wearing multi-colored stripy underwear is not a great idea with a very see through roman emperor outfit. A brilliant night - we have all ready started planning the follow on next year. Stay tuned for "Rock"
Thursday, November 22, 2007
When I was a kid I use to be dragged around garden centers on a Sunday which was something I was never a fan of and as a consequence I still get a queasy feeling about visiting such places today. So when Duncan (my housemate) asked me if I wanted visit the plant souq my response was "errrr, ok" but as this is is Dubai nothing is ever quite as you might expect.
We took the short trip to Jadaf which is close to Garhoud bridge and seemingly out of nowhere was a verdant strip of green which stood out in sharp contrast to the usual roadside desert.
Mooching around the plant souq was great. The watering of the plants and dense foliage made for a very cool environment that made for pleasant browsing. I probably could have spent hours there rooting around. The choice of plants, tree and shrubs was great. Everything from Bonsai Trees to exotic house plants and all green plants in between:
Of course everything is negotiable and even on just asking the price on a very nice cheese plant I was surprised the chap only wanted 120AED ($30) for perfect specimen well over four feet tall. Two things amused me - one was the "slang" names that are used for the plants that sound like the latin but are spelled phonetically and the way the discounts get much better if you are buying more than one piece.
Here is a little transcript of the conversation we had when buying some Indian Privet:
"Hello, Do you have any Clerondendrons?"
"Yes, we are having Dum Dums."
"Can I see them please?"
"Yes, here - many Dum Dums"
"How much are they please?"
"12 piece Dum Dum ,25 Dirhams"
"I would like to buy 60 pieces please"
- short break while the manager is consulted
"12 piece Dum Dum ,15 Dirhams"
"So that would be 75 Dirhams for 60 then?"
- Laughter "Too much Dum Dum"
Here is the friendly sales guy helps us make the Clerondendron - and he insisted on giving " three piece Dum Dum extra" as a parting gift.
If I knew buying plants could be so much fun - I would have been down the plant souq so much sooner. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to kill a few hours on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Last week saw me make a whistle stop tour around the Middle East. As no stranger to travel I did my regular optimized packing but was amazed to find one of my colleagues only brought with him a small roll-a-long with his laptop and all his clothes in it. Made me think that maybe some further compression of my luggage might be in order.
Flying and arriving into Riyadh was interesting. My trip coincided with the OPEC summit and the Brain Stem Research conference. The end result was all hotels in Riyadh were sold out and it took over and hour to clear immigration where normally it takes an hour.
I would have been happy to stay here all week. Following the event to a packed room in the morning I then made a mad dash to get my flight to Doha via Bahrain. Again the busy airport led to a queue of nearly an hour and a half and I only just made the gate in time for the short flight to Bahrain. It was a relaxing flight though I was a little pertubed that my seat mate was an elderly lady who looked liked yoda's grandmother and due to her oxygen tank sounded like Darth Vader's sister.
The constuction in Doha:
The last city of the tour was Amman in Jordan. This involved heading back to Bahrain - but this time I had the boarding card for the onward flight to Amman so no transit desk for me. The trip up to Amman was uneventful and not a mad dash. It was actually relaxing and I was able to catch up with three episodes of "The Shield" on the flight
Best View - 33rd Floor Fairmont Hotel, Dubai
Best Breakfast - Grand Hyatt, Amman
Best Room - Al Fasilah Residences, Riyadh
Best Room Service - Intercontinental, Doha
Monday, November 19, 2007
I quite enjoy grocery shopping at the moment in Dubai as there is often an eclectic mix of goods ranging from Waitrose juices (I love cloudy apple juice) to a wide range of Indian, Philipino and Asian brands. On a little trip to Choitrams the other day I was delighted to discover Diet Dr Pepper and Tab clear - while costing three times the amount of a regular can of soda (3AED vs 1AED) I was pleased at least to have the option of enjoying something a little different.
Also whilst browsing a range of packet Indian goods caught my eye - with the promise of me simply having to "Heat and Eat" I was put off by the brand name:
Somehow eating "Gits" just does not appeal to me - I am sure it is really good though!
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Over the long summer in Dubai with not much to do but shelter from the blistering heat I was wondering how nice it would be to live in the UK again. Although now with the weather changing I am super happy in Dubai. Never the less it still irked me as to why I missed the UK.
Well after a few days back in the UK this week it was very clear to me that I had been wearing rose-tinted sun glasses during the Dubai summer. I guess I am a little bit detached from day to day living in the UK now but everything seemed super expensive and crowded:
1. Petrol - 103p for one liter of unleaded fuel
That is the equivalent of over $8 a gallon where it is about $1.80 in the UAE
2. I thought the the traffic in Dubai was bad till it took me nearly two hours to drive the twenty odd miles from Reading to Basingstoke one afternoon
3. The average cost of a house in the UK is around the 200,000 pound mark - it was 160,000 when I left.
4. I look at some of the very nice places a couple of my friends have brought and am shocked at not the cost of the property per say but rather at the cost per square foot. The places all seem really tiny now. An example - a nice 2 bedroom character apartment of 900ish square foot brought for 2300 AED a sq. foot or my friend's beautiful town house (1500 sq ft) now valued at amazing 3300AED a sq. foot and even my little place in Camberley fetched over 2000 AED a sq. foot.
I suppose I do not feel so bad paying 1200 AED a square foot for my Marina apartment now. Of course all these places are in different locations with different facilities (there are way more in Dubai) - I feel a dollar is a dollar wherever I am and I am currently getting great value in Dubai from a property perspective at least.
Still - I had a nice time, caught up with some friends and manged to get in a Yorkshire pudding fix and it was nice to watch a little British Television.
If absence makes the heart grow fonder - then I need a few more regular trips back to the UK to help me appreciate Dubai a little more.
Monday, November 05, 2007
The weather has taken a fantastic turn in Dubai now with the days reaching about 35c and a very pleasant 28c in the evening. This has now opened up the desert for a little bit of dune bashing and we made our first trip this weekend to the old favourite "Fossil Rock" scene of my maiden off road adventure just over a year ago.
Over the summer I had picked up a couple more accessories to my recovery kit
1. A couple of high quality shackles - making it much quicker to attach the tow ropes
2. A high quality tow rope
3. A "Super Max Air" type compressor - we timed it re-inflating one of the Hummer tires from 14PSI to 30PSI in about 80 seconds which was excellent
All of which got used on our first trip out. I thought I might pre-empt the stuck the hummer was going to make by poking a little fun at myself and making a small modification to my spare tyre cover:
However as the trip proceeded it was not the Hummer to get stuck - quite the opposite in fact.
We had a couple of first timers with us and myself and Duncan gave the safety driver briefing beforehand. Duncan led the trip which saw taking in some nice dunes to begin with, however it was not long before Celia in her shiny new Wrangler got stuck. I was some distance away - but we could easily see plumes of sand billowing into the air. This was perhaps a sign that it might take some time to get them out - and when they came back - the wrangler had gotten a nice two tone body colour:
As it was Celia's first time in the sand I let Matt drive the Hummer and I jumped into the Wrangler to provide a little tuition and to re-instil some confidence back into her.
After some quick instructions about how to safely descend a dune and advice when to get on the power, Celia was into the swing of it. She went from "I think this is terrifying" to "I really enjoyed that" by the end of the day. I was pleased, as I remember clearly that having a good co-driver to offer advice and also scream in sympathy is a valuable learning aid.
I really like the Hummer as a day to day car - off road on rocks and dirt trails it is fantastic. However I have always longed for more power under the hood as instant on power can really help out in the dunes. On this trip we had along a big Durango with a huge 5.7 litre HEMI engine. I was keen to see how it would get on. Sadly on this day it did not fare to well getting in two serious stucks, complicated by the fact we could locate no rear recovery point.
On both occasions we had to perform up hill tows which was not ideal and involved a lot of digging of sand and numerous attempts at towing. At one point we had about six guys scrumming down behind the Durango to get some momentum into the tow.
The last stuck for the Durango initially had Duncan using the Pathfinder to drag it out - however a gut-sickening wrenching noise came from his car. He then called in the Hummer to help in the recovery - firstly because we had no idea what the noise was and secondly the weight of a bigger car would help.
I spun the Hummer around and two sharp jerks later the Durango was free from the sand. Here we are setting up the tow:
Sadly this day we did not make it down to Fossil Rock as after the recoveries and a late lunch the light was failing. So instead we had some fun on the dunes. Rupert got a great shot of Duncan and Matt getting some serious air:
Again a really fun day - sure we might not have made it over to Fossil Rock, or driven as many dunes as we all might have liked. We still enjoyed a fun day out, teamed together in recovering the vehicles and a number of us enjoyed fruity cocktails later that night at the Roof Top Terrace bar at the Royal Mirage. It offers an amazing vista of the Palm Jumeriah where we re-told our desert tales and whiled away another balmy evening in Dubai.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
There are a couple of things that when you are expat you cling onto very dearly. One is your medical insurance card the other is your passport. A little while ago I went through a small stage about being totally paranoid about the location of said passport - including stopping the taxi that was taking me to the airport so I could jump out open the boot and just check it was where I had left it. Irrational behavior? Perhaps, but every time I am forced to give my passport over to an embassy for a visa or hand it over at a security desk in exchange for an ID card at a company I am visiting I can not help but get anxious until I get it back.
As resident of Dubai - the two things you need to do nearly anything to interact with companies with is a copy of your passport and a mobile phone number. Without these things you become a faceless member of society unable to open a bank account, buy a car, get cable TV or even get basic utility services. The thought of having to replace both my passport and mobile left me with rather more anxiety than is reasonable.
In the UK if I wanted to get a new passport - I would have to go and pay a man a totally unreasonable price for a couple of passport photos. Queue for an age in the post office and pay an extra $10 to ensure I had managed to fill out the form properly then wait patiently for two to four weeks for it to eventually fall through the letter box.
I was so impressed by the British Embassy Passport service in Dubai - I can not really see myself going through the rigamarole in the UK again.
After seeing a friendly man who charged me $5 for eight good quality passport photos I headed down to the British Embassy with forms filled and photos "verified". On arrival at the Embassy I signed in and after a quick security check I wandered through the verdant gardens to the consular section. I was greeted by an empty room and a friendly member of staff processed my application at lightning speed and took the 1080AED from me in a matter of minutes with a promise that someone would call me before my travel date to tell me I could collect my passport.
Not even 48 hours had passed when the embassy called me to come and fetch my shiny new jumbo sized, biometrically enhanced passport. I was staggered. I went down and again I was met with an empty consular service desk. I don't think I actually spent more than six minutes in the Embassy in both trips.
Now for the other crucial bit of Dubai identity - a mobile number. I had to get a temporary Du SIM card which for a bargain 1AED gave me 125AED of credit however a pre-paid mobile with no international roaming is not the best business solution for me.
So I went in search of an Etisalat office for a post-paid SIM card with international roaming enabled. I made sure I had several copies of my shiny new passport with me. After locating the office - filling in the form and handing over a 2000AED deposit I was all set. Easy.
Somehow doing both these things made me feel like I was a Dubai citizen again after being in a state of limbo. How very odd, but full marks to both organizations for letting get my identity back so soon.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Continuing the line of having fun with my photography I recently filled a gap in my lens collection with the addition of a Nikon 60mm f/2.8D macro lens. This type of lens is often referred to as the "Flower Power" lens as often reference shots are flower stamen or something similarly botanical. For me I just love the way the detail of every day ordinary objects is brought out that makes you look at them in a new way.
I went on a little spree taking some macro shots of "important" things - do click them for a better look:
1. Room Fan
2. Home Cinema Speaker
3. Liquid Refreshment
I am currently on the look out for the large gecko that lives around the villa. I think a macro shot of him will resemble something out of Starship Troopers
The advent of the iPhone has generated more blog postings and technology column inches than any other single item of technology in recent memory.
Having been in the fortunate position to have a "play" with an iPhone from the lucky few who not only managed to get hold of an iPhone in Dubai but more importantly who were willing to spend hours trawling the web to be able to unlock it to work - I salute you.
It is an excellent device. The problem I have with all phones like this - is that you need two hands to be able to use it. This is an issue in daily use when you want to make a quick call or check that sms that has just come in. Also I know I shouldn't really say this - but how can you make a quick call with two hands if you are driving and your forgot your hands free kit?
To this end - while I will inevitably end up with an iPhone - I really want an authorised product that I can update with all the new features apple will undoubtedly release as firmware/software updates. I put the purchase on ice for now.
I have been in the market for some form of mobile media player - my current video iPod while capacious at 60gb and while it is great for Podcasts, music and audiobooks what it really is not good at is video. The tiny screen, while clear, is just to small to watch anything on for any reasonable length of time - all it ever gave me was a headache. Which is a shame as watching your own selected TV/Movies is a great way to while away the time on a flight.
The PVR market is awash with offerings now - Archos has a wide variety of models as does Creative. Also a host of Far Eastern manufacturers have some very nice offerings. But the choice was easy for me, iPod Touch:
While it might not have the largest capacity, biggest screen or most features. It has a desirability, usability and all round coolness that makes you want to pick it up - play with it. Then play with it some more.
The 3.5" screen is crisp and clear and bug enough not to turn my brain to mush should I choose to watch an episode of heroes on it. The mutli-touch interface that it shares with the iPhone is a work of genius - and like the click wheel innovation on the first iPod - will go down as a miracle of 20th Century interface engineering. Though Apple should really include a handy cloth to keep the finger prints off.
The moment of joy when one of your friends discovers how to zoom out a photo with the "pinching" method is pure gold. The effortless browsing of albums with "cover flow" as you flick it with your finger to select your mp3 of choice. The fully functional, fully zoomable web browser. The instant re-orientation of the screen depending on how your hold it. Built in wireless. The youtube.com application. All go to make this the coolest, most funky media device on the planet today.
Others have tried and give you more functions. But none will grab you the way this does. Beneath its child like simplicity of operation is a sophisticated touch controlled media platform. Without doubt the add on applications coming to it will add to its usability - but for now I just want to play. The prices in the UAE are a little dear - 1399AED for 8GB and 1799AED for 16GB. I am glad I got mine from the US - the 16GB model costs $399.
10/10 - The ultimate iPod/mobile video player/mobile web browser. You touch it. You will want it.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
An action packed weekend has left me with the odd sensation of the the end of week break being entirely too long. To take it in reverse, there were a lot of bleary eyed expats walking around the city this morning in the wake of late night watching the Rugby World Cup Final.
A big group of us headed down to the Barasti Bar to watch the game and despite fears that there would be queues to get in and we would not be able to see anything the opposite was true. Barasti had gone to great lengths to ensure plenty of screens and staff on hand and the only chaos was trying to get out of the car park after the game. From a match perspective - Congratulations to the Springboks they have been the form team during the tournament and equally congratulations to England.
They had been written off and the first pool games were dire. However the bulldog spirit showed up for the last three games and I was proud to be an English rugby supporter again. Win, lose or draw last night - I felt England had nothing left to prove and it all looked a game too far considering the amount they had given in beating Australia and France.
The Bokke will enjoy their win and I spent all evening marveling at the basketball style skills that the Boks displayed at the lineout. That was world class.I look forward to the Lions touring South Africa in 2009 to test their worth against the world champions
Early in the weekend I took my guests Anna and Matt out for the classic day trip to Hatta Pools with a stop at the Hatta Fort Hotel for a spot of lunch. It is always nice to get a small break into the rugged countryside surrounding Dubai. On the walk into the hotel there was a nicely decorated camel waiting patiently to take tourists on a short ride.
Following a dip in the Hatta Pools and a quick drive back to Dubai we all headed out for "Cheese" at the nightclub called the Lodge. This was the opening night of the club following the Ramadan break. I had never been there with the full place was open. I was amazed at the size of the venue particularly the huge open air dance floor surrounded by bars and VIP Gazebos. The large group I was with and the accompanying 2500 other guests certainly had a tremendous time that evening. Here are the lads from Villa 16 enjoying themselves:
The winter is now well and truly here and we have all ready made sure we have our tickets for the Dubai sevens. The camping trips, dhow cruises and villa parties are all being planned over the next couple of months. With the weather cloudy and 11c in London - I know where I would rather be.
Note: Part of this blog was quoted in the Gulfnews 23rd October 2007
Sunday, October 14, 2007
A lot can change in a few short weeks. For example:
1. Three weeks ago England had been trounced by South Africa in the pool match - now they are the first team in the Rugby World Cup Final
2. I was wondering if my nephew has a tiny Australian accent - two weeks later I know now that he has when he says the word "cake"
3. Three weeks ago I was working for Sun Microsystems - today is my first day with VMware
Over 15 months ago I came to Dubai looking to broaden my professional and personal horizons doing a job I had lived and breathed for several years. It has been a fantastic experience and I have learnt so many new things and been to places I could never have imagined.
Just sometimes - a thing will happen that turns your world upside down. For me that is prospect of working with possibly the hottest software company on the planet today. They IPO'd in August at $29 and as a type this their stock currently sits at $102.98 in less than eight weeks. Remarkable.
Sun for me - was like your favourite tracksuit bottoms. You have had them for years and you are totally comfortable in them. I guess however there comes a time for a change into something new and exciting. This is what VMware offers me.
In my seven years at Sun I have had a fantastic time and met many good friends. The last 15 months working for them in Dubai have been without doubt the highlight of my career. I will miss everyone dearly and I received a very nice send off - but will continue to work with them in my new capacity.
The next 12 months is going to be a roller-coaster. I am the first employee for them in the middle east region - so it is going to be tough. Of that there is no question. But as somebody wise once told me "Aaron - If the thought of doing the job you are going for doesn't make you wet yourself - you are going for the wrong one"
I guess I had better bring lots of underpants with me.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Knowing a number of journalists in Dubai is often a good thing as I sometimes get to experience the fun of their "fringe" benefits. It was a pleasant surprise the other day when my friend turned up to take us down to the pub in the new BMW X5 rather than her normal Suzuki Jimny run around. Here it is parked outside the villa I stay at:
I have always had a hankering for the X5 though when I test drove one in the UK it did not really do anything for me. The new model is a marked improvement. The lavish interior seems lifted directly from the seven series and the smooth 4.8L engine never missed a tick through the rigors of Dubai traffic. As you might have guessed I liked it, I liked it a lot. Getting back into the H3 suddenly made me realize the quality that goes into the BMW marque. However at nearly twice the price and probably giving a reduced off-road experience I will be holding onto the Hummer (for now at least)
Overall 8/10 - Comfortable, powerful and safe. The new Jumeriah Jane favourite? I think so.