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

Ramadan Nights

Spending the week in Dubai during Ramadan has proven to be very enjoyable. Some of my Lebanese friends invited me for an evening at a "tent" at the Le Meridien. We arrived what I thought was late (9.30pm) but for the people who had been fasting this was the start of their evening. Following Iftar they had slept for an hour or two and now we spent the next few hours playing cards, having some snacks and smoking "hubbly bubbly" or Sheesha. I felt very lucky to be invited a long and had a very nice evening in great surroundings and excellent company - it is also helping my Arabic no end.

The Le Meridien is a very nice hotel and certainly several stars up from the Oasis Beach Hotel just down the road. One of the fun things was the over-size golf cart that shuttled us from the hotel to the tent - the driver was keen to give us a little tour of the manicured gardens and the inviting beach which was well worth a small tip. I would be keen to spend a lazy day or two there.

Iftars are very social events - with many hotels and restaurants holding private parties for them. The company I work for was no different and we held an Iftar at the Al Nafoorah Restaurant at Emirates Towers Mall. It was a very nice event with many of the partners, customers and press I had met since arriving in Dubai attending. The event was so successful that there a number of people sat outside. Still a little warm for my liking at this time of year.

The other thing I have noticed with Ramadan is how busy the malls are late at night. I was in Carrefour at 11.30pm the other day and it was very crowded - almost reminiscent of a busy Saturday afternoon in the UK. The only time you see anyone in a shopping mall in the UK at that time of day is in the last few days in the run up to Christmas. I think to avoid the crowds next time - I will probably go shopping at 11.30am instead.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Going for Gold...

Well not the classic BBC quiz show hosted by Henry Kelly. But rather a startlingly reality that for the first time in my traveling career I have achieved status with an Airline.

On exactly the third month anniversary of my time in Dubai I have made it to Silver on Emirates Skywards program. It was nicely punctuated by being greeted by name of the flight and offered a complimentary drink before departure and just before arrival - a nice touch.

I got close last year to making it to silver with British Airways Executive club - but they seem to use every excuse to not award you with all the important Tier miles i.e. you never booked full fare economy, we upgraded you to business and hence no tier miles.

Skywards has made no such exceptions and has been straightforward - you fly and you get miles and tier miles. The only difference with Silver for me is I can now check in at the Business desk and use the lounge at Dubai airport. However with on-line check-in and a Middle-East issues Amex card you can essentially achieve the same thing.

The main thing for me will be getting to Gold so I can use the lounges whilst flying economy in other airports around the world. Judging by my travel schedule I will be gold before Christmas.

Roll on peace away from the masses.

Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit!

Last week saw me make my fourth trip to the Oktoberfest in Munich. Each time I have been I have had a fantastic weekend. The slight difference this time was attending with work colleagues. It certainly gave a different flavour however was just as enjoyable.

Suffice to say about Oktoberfest - it is a great place to meet people from around the world and party with them whilst wearing ridiculous looking hats.

Considering myself a "seasonsed visitor" to the Oktoberfest I thought I would compile a list of top tips for a successful visit:

1. Reserve a table - each year I go it never ceases to amaze me how busy it can be, remember no table no service

2. Wear clothes you do not mind get dirty and smoke infested

3. Book a hotel early - the prices double or triple around the time of the Oktoberfest. This time we stayed in what I can only be described as an overgrown youth hostel and were charged 200Euors a night for the privilage

4. Look people in the eye while "Prost"ing with them

5. A little German can go a long way

Again I had a fantastic couple of days - but I couldn't imagine a place further from Dubai at this time of year.