Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

Wishing everyone a happy, peaceful and prosperous new year. I will be celebrating new year in Melbourne which should prove to be fun.

Normal blogging service to resume later this week.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Christmas

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas. I have to admit having just had a nice barbeque I do not feel very "Christmas" right now in Perth. I am sure that will all change tomorrow when I see my little nephew open his presents.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Perth Out Loud

After a very relaxing flight into Perth - immigration and customs were a breeze. It was great to be picked up by my sister for the short journey back to their "duplex". A bit of an odd name as I usually think of a duplex as a building with two floors (this would be called a town house in Perth). Here it describes a semi-detached home. After a busy day of Christmas shopping I noted again the little differences in day to day phrases i.e.

UK vs. Perth
Pre-Order vs. Raincheck
Credit Counter vs. Layby
Duvet vs. Doona
Chav vs. Bogan

I am sure there will be plenty more - but these were a few that caught my interest.

My main purpose of being in Perth is to spend Christmas with my sister, her husband Keith and my little nephew Julian. I of course think he is totally adorable (but then I would think that as his Uncle):

After a fun filled day with Julian and with his Grand Mom babysitting we drove into Perth City to an area called Northbridge. A lively place with lots of bars and restaurants:

We headed to comedy club called the "Laugh Resort" situated above a pub the "Brass Monkeys" - by some very odd coincidence that night a family friend - Danny had been invited to perform a spot at the club hence our visit there.

I had seen Danny present to a public audience before - that was giving the Best Man's speech at my sister and Keith's wedding some three years ago.

This evening Danny was the first act on, following the intermission. The acts prior to Danny were very middle of the road, this would be the most polite way I could describe them. Danny's ten minute performance was a real breath of fresh air, on what so far had been a rather dour evening of entertainment. He immediately connected with the audience and I noticed a change in people's body language as they leaned in, keen not miss any nuances in his jokes.

I have always found the best comedians to be the ones you could imagine have a beer with and them entertaining you all night with amusing stories. Danny fitted this mould perfectly. He finished his routine with a cracking shaggy dog story which left this author and most of the crowd wanting more. Danny well done mate - the few nerves you had gave you tremendous energy leaving the other acts in the shade.

Overall 9/10 - Perfect - but I wanted more!

Danny giving it "large":

Monday, December 18, 2006

Sven, Sven, Sven Goran Eriksson

The ex-England manager somewhat randomly made a visit to the Dubai office last Thursday. Sadly I was in Turkey as I would have liked to ask the chap a question or two!

Australian Gold

Tomorrow I fly to Australia for Christmas in Perth and New Year in Melbourne with a visit to the Test match in between. I have been planning this trip for some time and am surprised at how quickly it has come round.

The flight down to Perth is my "Golden Ticket" and will earn me Gold with Skywards - Emirates frequent flyer program just before the cut off date of the 31st of December when Tier miles are reset to zero.

The main advantage with being a gold card holder with Emirates is the ability to use the lounges when not flying business. A great bonus as the company I work for enforce a strict economy class only policy (fine for me) - which without lounge access can be pain on long layovers.

Friday, December 15, 2006


Rather than mention the distinctly average remake of the great sixties movie - I thought I would mention the restaurant I recently had the pleasure to visit in Istanbul last week.

With the Pope's recent visit and the Turkish having a hiccup with their EU entry - they have been making world headlines. However on my second trip to Istanbul I only managed to sit in record breaking traffic jams but also eat some rather spectacular fish dishes in a restaurant called "Poseidon".

It was great to have a native Turkish speaker along with us and to my surprise I did not see a menu all night. On my last trip to Istanbul we visited another excellent fish restaurant - but this time I noticed the faux pas me and my colleagues had made. The waiters bring over a large tray with a number of cold starters on - last time we simply got these on the table and started to dig in - this time I find out they are actually for display purposes only - once you have selected they will then make fresh dishes and serve us each could not have been too bad last time as no one mentioned anything to us!

It was with some regret I did not bring my camera with me as the display of fresh fish outside of the restaurant looked like a scene from 20000 Leagues Under the Sea - with all manner of interesting looking fish and other sea food. I am sure through the five course meal we sampled a great deal of it with a rather fantastic Jack Dory served fried and filleted as a main.

I sometimes feel rather humble I am able to experience all of this.

Blog Upgrades

Earlier today I took the opportunity to migrate this Blog from the regular application to the new Google Beta Blog application. While this keep the blog looking more or less the same the new version has some really nice features which improve maintenance of the site:

1. Labels - finally I can categorize my posts and I have now labelled all of them
2. Instant publishing - once I have made a post I no longer have to wait for the whole blog to be re-published. Only the latest update is published
3. Template editing - a whole new drag and drop interface for this

A worthwhile upgrade and probably now approaching a Web 2.0 application.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Following the recent Hummer HUB trip I went on, Wheels magazine in the UAE ran a feature on it. I was a little surprised when I picked up a copy of the this magazine to see a little reference to my good self as well as making an appearance in one of the numerous photos:

" We congregated in a rocky valley and stopped for lunch at mid-afternoon. This was the point of the event, when Hummer owners exchanged experiences, stories and accessorisation advice. A fellow H3 owner called Aaron White shared his moment of glory with me as he recounted rescuing a Toyota Land Cruiser from certain death by thirst and starvation, which was stranded in the dunes near Big Red.

As Aaron told his story with a wicked glee, I pitied the owner of the Land Cruiser, who is now forced to live a life of shame — he will no doubt regret accepting cheeky Aaron’s assistance for the rest of his days. Aaron went on to chastise the Land Cruiser owner for being ill-equipped as he proceeded to show me his snatch rope, travel air compressor, air gauge and gloves.

He’s the sort of man you could do with on a deserted island (that is, until you ate him)."

The full article can be seen here. I want to thank Mark for taking the time to listen to my ramblings and I would urge people with the slightest interest in this to pick up a copy of Wheels magazine at a modest 2 Dirhams.

Just to prove I was not making it all up - here is the video of the Hummer performing its first recovery, which happened to be Paul and his Land Cruiser. Probably best with the sound down as there is quite a lot of wind noise:

Shopping, Chopin and Terracotta Armies

I visited Warsaw on only one previous occasion over nine years ago. I clearly remember taking the impression that the old town was beautiful, the people were friendly and it was still very much an "eastern bloc" country. Last week on my visit I still found the old town to be beautiful and the people friendly but now Warsaw has undergone dramatic change and feels like a modern European city which is developing at a quite staggering rate.

On arrival at the new international terminal of Warsaw Frederic Chopin Airport I was surprised at how quick it was to get through - however I still had to go over to the old terminal to find an ATM for some Zloty.

On driving through to the hotel I was startled by the number of new modern buildings and hotels that had sprung up in the interim nine years. The Palace of Culture and Science still dominates the city central skyline:

I was presenting at the quarterly partner "Akademi" - this was held some 150km outside of Warsaw in a resort location called Spala. I can imagine in the summer the forest location would be very nice but in the depths of the winter it was a little bleak. The local team did a great job with the event and had high attendance though like last week in Moscow it can be tough to listen to four hours of presentations not understanding a single word.

On my way back from Spala to Warsaw some of Poland's growing pains became evident. The road system struggled to meet the demands placed upon it and a single accident on the main dual carriageway back to the city sent the Taxi driver on a rather adventurous route across the Polish countryside. A journey that should have taken one and half hours was doubled but I had fun talking to the driver in a strange mix of broken English and German.

A little weary from the journey back, I was determined to see more of Warsaw in its new form. So hopped into a cab and went to visit the newest Mall in Warsaw - Blue City:

I am kind of spoiled when it comes to Malls living in Dubai - but with over 250 shops it certainly had a lot space to have a good window shop. What did catch my eye was the exhibition on the famous Chinese Terracotta army - something I have always been fascinated by. I paid my 20 Zloty and had a fun 20 minutes looking at the replicas:

After that I headed to the Old Town Quarter. I certainly started to feel very Christmas-like when I saw the huge tree outside the Royal Castle:

and the square had a number of the restaurants with decorations on - in the summer the square is packed full of chairs and tables. Winter tells a different story:

With the aid of my Ski Dubai hat on - I kept walking around and took a couple of photos of some impressive buildings. St Anna's church:

Not sure what this building is - but I liked the look of it...

I had a very pleasant trip to Warsaw marred slightly by the fact that it is a long journey from Dubai with a three hour layover in Vienna. It is hard not to draw a comparison between Warsaw and Moscow - as a English speaking westerner, Warsaw wins on the user friendly side of things as English is widely spoken, it feels safer and is much cheaper. Either way I look forward to return trips to both cities.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Light Fantastic

While sitting in my lounge last night watching a movie - a glinting of light caught my eye. This was not unusual as Dubai Marina is lit up well at night, with the various construction projects and towers - this one was slightly different.

Upon inspection there are now three rather magnificent beams of light marking out the development of a new building development. A little research on the web found this to be Bay Central a hotel and two residential towers. I do recall seeing an intriguing ad in the Gulf News and coupled with this makes it one of the best marketing launches of a development I have seen in a while.

Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Dubai Rugby 7s - and the heavens opened...

On the 35th Anniversary of the UAE's creation as a recognized country it was the final day of the Dubai Sevens. As an avid rugby fan I (like many others) had been looking forward to this for some months. It was a little sad that unlike the glorious weather last year the heavens opened and torrential rain was the order of the day.

I usually would not mind too much - but the combination of no proper wet weather gear, no shelter in the stand, no seats to sit on and most of the ground simply turning to mud made it feel more like Glastonbury than the Dubai sevens.

The covering on the stand was really only meant to keep the sun off and not the rain:
Posted by Picasa

After watching a few matches and getting very wet - I retreated to the beer tent. But too little too late - me and my friend were simply too cold and wet so ventured outside to get a cab home. This proved to be more of a challenge. First we had to negotiate a bit of a lake:

Then some heavy machinery:

Not to mention a water pump:

and an hour long stand in the taxi queue:

I at least got to see England beat Australia which I think just about made it a worthwhile trip. My friend ruined her favourite pair of "Geox" shoes and I can probably be labelled a "fair weather fan".

I am looking forward to the next Dubai sevens with excitement and will be packing both sun glasses and a cagoule.

Congratulations to the Arabian Gulf team for making to the finals of the Shield and to South Africa for winning the overall competition.

Monday, November 27, 2006

From Russia with Love

My first trip to Moscow was a certainly a mixed experience for myself. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that would be working in Russia if you had asked me maybe only six months ago - it is amazing how quickly circumstances can change.

Domodedovo airport is fairly modern and user friendly. I am assured that it is far nicer than Sheremetyevo to the north of the city. Either way I was glad that the local office had arranged a pick up and for the next 90 minutes I held on tight while the driver wended his way through the busy Moscow afternoon traffic. I was surprised that while the driving was quite fast road manners were polite and efficient. However I have spent the last three days queued in traffic all over Moscow and would say it rates above London but below Johannesburg. These three cities have traffic problems that Dubai has yet to dream of - however it is catching up fast.

While I did not get much opportunity to explore Moscow I did see plenty of architectural sites that were impressive by their sheer nobleness and Stalinist influences. For me this was typical of my impression of Moscow. Strong, proud and resolute. Sure the western influence is there - every street corner it seems is punctuated with neon and there are some of the largest billboards I have ever seen adorning city center streets. The one thing exactly like other large cities is that it is very expensive i.e. the hotel was $350 a night. It was odd to hear a local guy complain that Russian petrol prices were the same as in the US.

There were two things I found a little difficult initially. The weather although mild for Moscow for this time of year was grey, cold and wet - exactly like London! It almost immediately gave me the blues as I think I suffer from a mild form of SAD. The other is the language - nearly all the taxi drivers I met spoke next to no English. I would speak to them in slow, clear and loud English, they in turn would respond to me in slow, clear and loud made me smile. I think I will be compiling a bluffer's guide to Russian in the near future. However its usefulness in Dubai is probably only limited to a couple of venues.

Overall I had an interesting time in Moscow taking in the scenery and culture. I am keen on my next visit to make some time to see the Kremlin and Pushkin Square - though I will need to bring some more sensible shoes and full cold weather gear. I also felt a lot safer here than in Johannesburg but I was warned on a number of times to have my wits about me - making sure I avoided Sushi restaurants on this trip.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


While lazing around the Sandy Beach Motel last week I received an intriguing phone call inviting me to a Hummer off-road event. I thought nothing more of it until I received the Fedex package containing an official invite on expensive stationary this gave me the feeling it could well be worth turning up.

This morning I arrived at the Courtyard Marriot to be greeted by a large number of Hummers and a very well organized event:

It was also really nice to get some goodies on arriving:

In fact the best gift was a Hummer tire cover - something that I had been looking for since I purchased the car.

HUB or Hummer Base is the name of the Hummers owners club with "chapters" across the Middle East. This gathering was the inaugural meeting of the Dubai Chapter. The attendance was good with in total 25 Hummers participating in the drive - 6 H2s and 19 H3s. The demographic of drivers was very wide - from local Emaritis to European Families. It was nice to get to meet everyone and discuss Hummers and off-road driving.

After a short presentation on HUB, the route and safety we set off for the journey to a rocky trail. Sadly with a 25 vehicle convoy and a lot of industrial traffic we got separated in no time and spent 20 minutes waiting to reform.

After about an hour we arrived at the rock trail which started just south of Al Dhaid and finished just shy of Hatta Fort. The drive was rated a a novice trail and required no deflation or use of Hi or Lo 4WD lock.

Hummers forming up for the start of the 40km rock trail:

During the break for lunch the convoy leader took his H3 on some slightly more extreme terrain for some photos. I doubt I will be doing this with my car anytime least not on purpose:

As we moved out from lunch - one of the H2s took a poor line over a rocky patch and needed to be dragged out:

The drive was without any real incident but fun nonetheless. The major difficulty was the limited visibility created by leading cars kicking up large amounts of fine sand. It was a fun day and it was great to see a lot of Hummers all in one place together. I will certainly attempt to make future HUB events.

While the H2 is a large car - we had a ride along which made them seem more a normal size. I have no clue what this is - other than it is was huge! Answers on a postcard please...

Pink Rock

With the lads over - it was really good of Chris to take us out for a dune drive around Big Red and up to Pink Rock. He has also blogged this trip here.

As it had been a few weeks since my first desert drive I was a little rusty and in a matter of minutes I managed to have a stuck with a poorly chosen line over a dune:

It was a nice introduction for the UK lads into desert driving and they all mucked in when required:

I was keen that some of the boys got first hand experience of driving in the sand so I let them take the wheel - with the rather predictable outcome of another stuck or two...

and Paul in the midst of some rather over-enthusiastic driving left the Land Cruiser with a small modification:

It was a really memorable day being able to share this exhilarating past time with good friends. It is so hard to describe to them what it is like over the phone or by email - the experience is like "nothing else" to coin a phrase.

We spent all day laughing, screaming and clinging on for dear life in Team Hummer...and the grab handles have since been re-named "Jesus Handles" in respect to the words uttered when going over some particularly challenging dunes.

I personally learned a lot from the day. First, even after just a couple of drives I am starting to really find my feet with desert driving. Secondly the Hummer is perhaps a little short of power and as such is unforgiving if the tyre pressure is not right or the line you pick is not spot on. To this end the Hummer can do it - the only question is can the driver? I think a couple of small modifications to said car to mask driver inability may soon be happening!

Lastly - I have the utmost respect for Chris whose unending patience, unerring attitude toward safety and continued encouragement not only made the day memorable but has got me well and truly hooked into this new hobby. I am looking forward to the day when I get a chance to recover his Wrangler....

Team Pink Rock:

Friday, November 24, 2006


With my friends visiting for the week it gave me a perfect excuse to go and check out some of the more swanky hang outs in Dubai and also a chance for the UK lads to escape Wetherspoons.

So a little thumbnail of each of the ones we went to:


Located on the grounds of the Le Meridien - Mina Seyahi is Baristi. A nice open air bar where one can have drinks in front of multi-million dollar Sun Seekers and watch them construct the Palm Jumeriah. When I visited, one of said yachts was having a rather large private party with a powerful sound system and a better choice of music than Baristi. the other half live....

As an aside - the original Baristi is is currently under renovation. Having had a peek through the hoardings, looks like it will be a great venue once complete.

Buddha Bar

Attached to the Grosvenor House hotel and one of the "coolest" places to hang out in Dubai - if you are rich and beautiful. Sadly me and my mates don't fit into either of these categories but it was kind of fun looking. The Buddha Bar is visually an impressive venue with a large restaurant, a terrace, a mezzanine level and numerous nooks and crannies to share an intimate drink - or to simply hang out looking cool.

Not somewhere I would go regularly but still good to have experienced it.

Bar 44

Occupying the majority of the 44th floor of the Grosvenor House is Bar 44. Here you can get a table offering fantastic views across either the Marina, Jumeriah Palm or the Sheik Zayed Road. It was one of the few places (other than Vue Bar) that offers views to rival that of Las Vegas. The ambiance in this venue is cool and relaxed - if you don't choke on the astronomical price of the extensive champagne list. A classic cocktail or two was plenty enough to enjoy Bar 44.


Located within the maze of the Medinat souk is the cookie cutter Baz Zar - with its highlight being a nice outside terrace that blends into the Amphitheater. With the a wide variety of places to drink within the Medinat - this place seemed as good as any of the others.

Barhi Bar

Sat in the Mina A'Salam is the Barhi Bar. When we visited, female vocals entertained the crowded bar interior. Whilst on the terrace we enjoyed simply breath taking views of the Burj Al Arab:

A very nice place to spend a relaxed evening with friends - sadly the classic Margarita was a little pricey at 95AED!

It was certainly fun to visit a smorgasboard of bars in Dubai and from glancing in Whats On or Timeout is certainly only the tip of the Dubai's nightlife. I think I will need more research into this area...

Snoopy hang on

I have had a busy couple of weeks since my return from LA. the last 8 days I have been hosting some good friends of mine from the UK. It has been nice to look at Dubai through tourists eyes. One of the highlights over the last week was a mini-break and a road trip down to the Sandy Beach Motel in the Emirate of Fujariah. It was about a leisurely 2 hour journey that takes you through a rugged mountain range that reminded me a lot of Death Valley.

We rented a couple of two bedroom chalets - that while offering fairly basic amenities had the added bonus of having some outdoor chairs/table and the all important barbecue grill. In order to work up a bit of an appetite we first indulged in some snorkelling which this area is famous for. The Sandy beach motel is in the fortunate positioning of having Snoopy Island directly opposite its shoreline. I think why it is called Snoopy Island is fairly obvious:

Just around Snoopy Island is some nice coral which comes as a bit of a surprise when you first swim out. There is plenty to see there and a friend of mine recently captured some marine pictures on his last visit.

Once we had built and appetitive snorkelling we retired back to the chalet and proceeded to cook up a large barbecue. I was a little surprised to find that we got a rather large (and hungry) audience of cats who joined us:

Overall we had a very relaxed time in Fujariah and it made a nice contrast to being in the busy city of Dubai and a chance to see Marine fish and coral. While not the final word in luxury - it was a certainly a fun and activity filled 48 hours.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Been around the world

To say I have had a hectic schedule over the last ten days or so would probably be a fair statement. Early November saw my parents visit Dubai for a week followed by a trip to Los Angeles for an IT show namely VMworld held at the LA Convention Center.

Through my travels I have typically been flying with Emirates and on the whole have found their service to be good. This time I found myself flying on my old adversary British Airways. I posted a little while back that I found the BA Executive Club hard to get any "status" with - and sure enough after 34 hours flying with them I had earned exactly zero "tier" points. Whereas a similar journey with Emirates would give enough a substantial boost toward the next tier level.

It was also hard not to compare the travelling experience between BA and Emirates:

- Emirates always provide a pre-assigned seat which I can change when I check in on-line
- BA no pre-assigned seat despite having all details registered with their Exec Club - remedied when I checked in online.

Emirates wins

- Emirates - as a Silver card holder I can move quick through check in and security
- BA - fast Baggage drop was quick and efficient


On-board (Economy)
- Emirates - seats only OK, in-flight entertainment great, food is reasonable
- BA - seats slightly better than Emirates, in-flight entertainment average, food - main meal is good, the second meal they give you is truly horrible

Emirates win

In-flight Service
- Emirates - typically friendly, staff young and pre-dominantly female
- BA - staff courteous, average age much older and an even split between male and females


Overall - I prefer the service that Emirates offers over BA. Emirates wins alone for its excellent entertainment system and more modern cabins though their seats could be improved. They also edge BA on the food side of things i.e. the breakfast option on Emirates at least tastes like food unlike the BA cardboard "lunch boxes" which I am sure taste better than the food within them.

As a side note - the recent changes in Security have caused utter confusion with the travelling public. For a start their is simply no standard for the security check in this instance between DXB/LAX/LHR

1. Shoes on or off?
2. Belt on or off?
3. Coat on or off?
4. Mobile phone goes through scanner? (It doesn't at Dubai)
5. Laptop in or out?
6. Liquids/gels - none - but now "some" which must be <100ml in a clear plastic bag
7. One piece of hand luggage or two? at Heathrow people they have a special section when you can re-pack your hand luggage if you have two pieces and check the extra one in

All this led to huge queues for Security check - the worse one being at Heathrow when I transited from Terminal 4 to Terminal 1 which took over two hours. I don't think anyone minds adhering to security requests it would just be nice if they were all the same.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Postcard from Marina

As I replaced my camera phone with a smart phone without a camera I thought I would get a point and shoot ultra compact.

The first digital camera I ever brought about seven years ago was the original Canon Ixus. Looking back at the specs it was 2.1MP, 2xOptical Zoom and had enough battery life to take about 40 pictures. It was excellent for its time and it continues to take a nice photo and has nearly bullet proof construction.

Its modern counterpart the Canon Ixus w850 offers 7.1MP, 3.8x zoom, wide-angle lens, image stabilisation and even movies up to 4gb in size. There is a very comprehensive review here. I thought I would try it out with some rather testing situations.

Dubai Marina at dusk :

and a couple of shots in the evening - which really tests these small cameras:

Could probably use a tripod here to reduce judder on the long exposure at night:

I am suitably impressed. The key thing that this little Canon has over the phone camera and the old Sony T7 ultra compact I had is that it has really good performance in low light conditions.

Overall - small, light, great photos - 9/10 (the battery door is a little flimsy)

World in mp3motion

A little while ago I got the K800i Sony Ericsson phone. It has been a real pleasure to use. The screen was nice and clear, a 3 mega pixel camera has taken some nice photos (a lot of them posted on this blog) and I could even remotely blog using it.

However the other day the curse of the stuck joystick started to become evident. This problem has continued to plague me with previous Sony Ericsson phones I have used. Now while I can go and and get it fixed under warranty it is more than likely it will occur again.

So as "stuck joystick" syndrome as an excuse I got myself the newly released (at least in Dubai) Sony Ericsson w950i.

This phone uses the latest UIQ 3.0/Symbian interface and is very similar to the M600i I considered when I chose the K800i. The main difference with the W950i is that it contains an internal 4Gb of storage. This is enough to make it a very functional mp3 player which is enough space for a healthy choice of albums, audio books and podcasts.

There is a nice review of the phone here but from my standpoint after a couple of days use:

No joystick
Lightweight and slim in size
Walkman branded and 4gb storage means it is a great mp3 player
Much better for messaging email/SMS
Stereo bluetooth headphones are a great boon with awesome sound quality
Usable PDA functions
A wealth of third party applications available - I want to get World Clock and a MSN instant messenger program
Reasonable battery life

No camera
Need to get use to the touch keyboard
Need a new SIM card to take advantage of 3G
Loading applications other than the "Walkman" is not snappy
Need to find a case to protect the large screen

Overall - still getting use to it - but the flexibility of this smart phone is really great. Probably time to ditch the iPod

Monday, October 23, 2006

Eid Mubarak

Today marks the end of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid Al Fitr. For expats like me we get two days public holiday - which I too look forward to enjoying.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Bluffer's Guide to Tagalog

On arrival in Dubai I expected a large multi-national expat work force. What did surprise me was that the majority of the "service" industry workers are Filipinos. Other than Taxi drivers who are typically from Pakistan or India - shop workers, waiters, cleaners and others are Filipinos.

So to have some fun and interaction when going about my day to day business in Dubai - I thought I would list just a few words that usually produce a smile from Tagalog speakers.
has some more examples and a nice explanation around the history of the language.

How are you?: kumustá (koo-mus-TAH)
Thank you: salamat (sah-LAH-mat)
Yes: oo (OH-oh)
No: hindî (hin-DEH)
Delicious: saráp (sa-RAP) - a particular favourite
Hurry!: Dalí! (dah-LEE), Bilís! (bih-LEES)
Beautiful: Maganda (ma-gan-DAH)
Very Beautiful: Magandang-Maganda (mah-gan-DANG, ma-gan-DAH)

Without fail they are always surprised that an English chap has a grasp of even a few words and it is typically reciprocated by an extra friendly response or service.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Aruba, Jamaica ooo I wanna take you

I am not sure what word rhymes with Mauritius - I guess that is why the beach boys never used it in their song "Kokomo".

After a busy week in South Africa I was fortunate enough to spend a weekend in the flower of the Indian Ocean prior to a business conference. The hotel that was chosen for the event was Le Meridien - and very nice it is too. I had a chat with a holidaying couple who said that in the UK it was rated a four star plus - and I would have to agree that it is an accurate assessment.

The beach was clean and water clear and warm. There was a wide variety of activities on offer - but I went for the "lying on the beach" one.

There was a nice pool area to relax in as well - though over the five days there was quite a strong breeze making it feel fresh:

On the drive from the airport to the hotel - the scenery reminded me a lot of the Philippines - verdent green and lush with rugged mountains punctuating the horizon. Similar to that country there is a lot of garment manufacturing. In search of some cheap clothing we headed into the capital Port Louis. The center shopping district was very nice:

and the shopping area itself is situated along a very scenic port setting:

However despite its attractiveness we found no garment bargains. Even on the way back we stopped at a number of "outlet" stores and were disappointed to find expensive copies of brand clothes. After a discussion with the Taxi driver, he claimed that while they have the manufacturing rights local retailers had to pay for the right to sell these brands within Mauritius, hence a lack of bargains.

I think I will wait for the various sales and summer surprises shopping events in Duabi for purchase of such items where I can guarantee a low price, tax-free genuine article.

I hear the drums echo in the night

Last week was my second trip back to Johannesburg, South Africa. My overwhelming feeling from last visit was I had real doubts about the safety in the city. I arrived back with some apprehension. The was reinforced when I walked into my room to see a little warning card on my TV much along the same lines as I previously posted.

It did not help that throughout my time nearly everyone told me about their experiences of hijacking, robbery, kidnap, shootings and hold ups that had happened to them or close friends. I was frankly shocked. But not as much when I saw a brand new BMW X5 with the number plate "Moolah" - it might as well have said "Please hijack me".

This time around I stayed at the Plazzo Intercontinental Monte Casino in Fourways. I immediately felt at home as I walked around the casino. It feels as if part of the casino floor from New York New York in Las Vegas had been picked up and transported to the very bottom of Africa.

The local team and partner who organized my time during the week did an excellent job. One of the highlights was a visit to the theatre to see a show called "Defending the caveman" It appears to have a cult following and is essentially a comedic one man monologue that examines the differences between men and women founded on the roles of the sexes in the prehistoric era. The performance by Alan Committie was number 1571 of the show and was acted out full of energy and emotion - I enjoyed it however probably not as much as a chap sat behind me who on several occasions was having trouble breathing as he was laughing so hard.

I think it would have been much more enjoyable for me if I could have got a little more of the South African/Afrikans sayings and nuances. In fact the South Afican slang from the show has permeated through to everyday conversation in Johannesberg. Below are a list of my favorites

1. Lekker - nice! (the same as Dutch)
2. Oke - pronounced "oak" shortened version of bloke meaning man/dude/guy
3. Kougle - one step up from a "Yuppie"
4. Ciao - bye - odd the use of Italian
5. Ja - Yes
6. Pooble - Afrikans for a bum
7. A robot - context traffic - meaning traffic light
8. A circle - context traffic - meaning a roundabout

Also one of the guys I met there used a phrase that I had to hear twice before I belived he said it - while ordering coffee "Two Hurry Ups and No Back Chat". However I am not sure I would use it when eating at nice restaurant called Adega which is famous for their king prawns. Not wanting to miss out I duly went for their special:

A lot of wealthy people live in gated communities with the promise of "Armed Response" - for me the best of them appeared to be a place called Melrose Arch. A self contained area for business, restaurants and swanky apartments.

It is certainly somewhere where I could see myself living if I chose to work in Jo'burg. I also saw where I would hang out on a Friday night at a very nice bar called "Mybar, Mygrill". There a lot of young South Afrikans were partying and hanging out.

This time despite the threat of violent crime - I enjoyed myself and caught a glimpse of what it would be like to live and work in Jo'burg.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

On a dark desert highway

With the weather cooling to only 36C in the day - I was told it was time to get the 4x4's off the tarmac and into the desert. So today I took my maiden voyage of discovery in the H3 on a "newbie" trail to Fossil Rock - led by Chris.

Chris has been a member of the ME 4x4 club for a while and appeared to know the route through Fossil Rock like the back of his hand - having been a number of times. However the very best thing was that Chris was all about safety first. To this end he made me go out and buy/check a number of things before we went anywhere:

1. Shovel
2. Tow rope (I ended up with a snatch rope)
3. Tire pressure gauge
4. Gloves
5. Tools to open the shackles of my car
6. I knew how to get the spare wheel off
7. Bring a lot of water, a GPS and a mobile phone

In time I will get a nice max air compressor as well. Once we had reached the end of the tarmac we deflated the tires down to 14 PSI:

Once this was done Chris issued a number of instructions:

1. Keep our vehicles in the correct gear and 4x4 setting - (4 Wheel Hi for me)
2. Keep the person behind you in sight at all times - wait for them otherwise
3. No braking going down dunes - let the engine do it
4. If you need to stop - do so at angle - up or down
5. Leave a good gap from the vehicle in front - in case you need to rev hard for some go forward
6. Follow the leader!

With that we set off into the dunes. The trip to Fossil Rock is nicely graded for beginners - starting off with some gentle trails and bouncy roads which the Hummers suspension brushed aside with ease. After a little while we got into the desert proper and tried our hand at some gentle dunes which were fun. It is an odd sensation driving on sand - similar to snow but more fun...the best however is the dune descents. The sand bunches under the front wheels to act as a natural brake - but you have to be right on the steering to keep the vehicle on the straight and narrow.

Fossil Rock itself is a good looking natural monument:

and it provided a perfect spot to have a break and a chat with the rest of the convey about our experiences so far. Here we are at the top of Fossil Rock

Following this we had to make the descent down and it quite literally took my breath away...I got the instruction "for those in autos - lock yourself into first gear for the descent" and the next thing I knew I was on some crazy incline at the start of a very long descent with only engine breaking, a steering wheel and a muttered prayer to get me to the bottom. It was simply exhilarating (once I was down).

However this was not the most excitement I had in the day. This was on a dune where I did not give the car quite enough gas to reach the top of the dune. So I reversed it back down in order to give myself a little bit of a run up...and then gave it "full beans" and headed up and over with quite a thump. Once I had come to a rather abrupt halt the message came through.

"Wow Aaron - that was awesome - you were fully airborne" - from an American friend of mine. I had not realized what had happened and in my eagerness to get up and over I had taken off. I wondered why I was looking through the sun roof and at the sky at one point. Not ideal.

Having learnt my lesson I was too cautious coming up to another dune misjudged the crest and had the classic stuck.

Chris soon came to help with the HRV and dragged me clear with little problem. Shortly after this it was time to re-inflate and inspect my newly bent number plate:

It was a brilliant day out and made a really good change from the city. Overall 10/10 - I want to go again!

Quote of the day - edited for a family audience:

Chris - "Jesse where are you?"
Jesse - "I am stuck in the freakin' sand"
Chris - Laughter
Jesse - "Bring a freakin shovel"
All - Laughter