Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Two months in and I feel fine

At the end of my second month in Dubai I thought it would a good idea to list the things I enjoy/like/love about being here. For some reason it is easier to write about things that are bad or troublesome here i.e. the traffic, restricted internet, rent costs and inflation.

10 things I enjoy in Dubai:

1. The people and friends I have met here
2. Not having to iron anything myself
3. The view from my apartment - especially at night
4. Delivery everything
5. Gas Station attendants
6. Living two minutes from the beach
7. Having a distinct lack of pikeys/chavs anywhere
8. Zero income tax
9. Having a gym and swimming pool available
10. No more hayfever

I am sure there are many more - but these are a few things that make me smile.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bab Al Shams

A friend of mine was keen to explore a place called "Bab Al Sham" - he saw the sign posted on the large roundabout where Dubailand will be built. At the weekend we jumped into his huge 4x4 (Nissan Armada) and took the short drive of 37km through the desert.

The drive was actually quite interesting as at certain intervals there were large billboards of landscapes of various "world projects" that are being planned...for instance there was "Europa" and "Americas" - it all looked rather impressive.

Soon enough we arrived at Bab Al Shams - it is basically a luxury resort out in the desert. They offer lots of outdoor activities such as horse riding and falconery, also they put on traditional Arabic evening entertainment with Sheesha and belly dancing - sadly I did not get to see any of that on my short visit.

We had a little nose around and saw the very nice pool area but were not able to get into any of the rooms as they were fully booked at the time.

What did get our attention was the smell of grilled chicken kebabs - so my friend stopped in and tried their buffet lunch. It was excellent with a really good variety of food - my favourites being the grilled chicken kebab and the handmade ice cream. At 165AED not including beverages it was a little expensive but in the middle of the desert not many other options presented themselves.

The rack rate for a room starts at 1600AED a night (that is a lot!) but they have special offers at around half that price. I would go there for a weekend break providing the weather cooled down a little. The infamous "hair-dryer" wind was in effect and gave an amazing burning sensation on the toes of my flip-flopped feet. How people were enjoying the pool was a little beyond me in what felt like 50C temperatures.

Twisted Melons

So far in my night spot adventure's in Dubai I have yet to visit a "real" nightclub (other than the Marine's Club - which does not really count)

I jumped at the chance to go to a night called "Twisted Melons" which is at the iBo club at the back of the millenium hotel. I was told it was an indie night and even better it would be free to get in. On arrival at 10.30pm the place was fairly quiet, however after enjoying a couple of Vodka Tonics I turned around to be greeted by a throng of arrivals.

As a former student of the University of Liverpool I was well attuned with the majority of Brit Pop music from its hay day in the mid to late 90s. I was a little worried that in the first couple of hours I only recognized the odd song here and there - by 1am it was a different story. Stone Roses, Oasis, Blur, Killerz and many others streamed out across the packed dance floors. My friends and I danced till the early hours in some vain effort to re-live those glory indie days at University.

At about 3am I called it a night and headed off to find a taxi and a kebab - it was amazing for those few hours I forgot I was in Dubai and was well and truly back in "Madchester"

Overall 9/10 - everything you could want from a brit pop night - lots of classics and a crowd who were really loving it. Once a month to shine on is probably all I could handle though.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


I met some very nice people this Thursday through a long time friend of mine. Like myself they were fairly recent arrivals into Dubai. This led to lots of common ground for some quite amusing conversation as we exchanged "settling in" stories. I did feel a little sorry for one of the chaps who works for HSBC - so he ended up getting some teasing for their "special" customer service in the UAE.

After a few drinks we headed for dinner at Teatro which is situated on the third floor of the Rotana Towers. The restaurant has a very nice atmosphere and tasteful decor. The service was attentive but the most interesting thing was the menu. It was an interesting fusion of western food and eastern cooking styles - with a wide ranging menu.

I ordered a roasted lamb loin - cooked to perfection. I also sampled one of my friend's Ahi Tuna - again really well prepared. We did not opt for any wine but the list looked comprehensive.

Overall - 8.5/10 - great food if a little too "noveau" for me but I will certainly be back.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

It's getting hot in here...

I am glad I was not imagining things yesterday. It was really hot in Dubai yesterday - yes it is usually always hot here but yesterday was extra hot! I emailed this to a fellow blogger yesterday:

"I have experienced my first "blast furnace" heat levels today in Dubai - the car thermometer was at 47C - not so humid though - my ears were burning from the short walk from the car to the office!"

Seems that Gulf News agreed with my assesment and yesterday was "officially" the hottest day of the year at 45.9C not far behind the all time high of 47.5C. They also went on to mention the bad visibility later in the day - which I experienced on my drive back from the office:

I really would not like to be working outside or without AC in such weather conditions - sadly many people are...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Grey's Anatomy

As a long time ER and more recently an avid viewer of House I was keen to watch Grey's Anatomy. I ordered the Season 1 on DVD from Amazon and have devoured the first five episodes. Needless to say I have enjoyed this show hugely.

The character development and interaction between the main protagonists is excellent - and "Meredith Grey" is smart, funny and sexy all at once - perfect.

I am looking forward to watching the rest of season one and season 2 is due for release in the US September 12th. Sometimes I wonder why I ever subscribed to cable TV here...

Overall 10/10 - even better than House!

Two for the money

Two for the money is a movie that had all the key ingredients for me to want to watch it:

1. A good cast - I enjoy Al Pacino movies
2. An American sports theme
3. A gambling/spread betting theme
4. Rene Russo

I enjoyed the movie but I had a couple of reservations. The plot just lacked a littel cutting edge to it - it didn't want to be an all out comedy or an all out thriller and consequently kind of missed being really good at any one thing. It had some aspects of the high pressure sales seen in Boiler Room and the comeback kid feeling of Jerry Maguire but ended up being wide of the mark of those two movies.

Overall - 6/10 - Not bad and an interesting premise that does not quite deliver

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

IKEA - Degrees of freedom

IKEA's world dominance is quite amazing. Everywhere I have been recently the blue and yellow signature warehouse has been prominent - especially here in Dubai- their recent relocation to Dubai Festival City has allowed them to create an IKEA of epic proportions which is also nicely integrated into a modest but good looking shopping mall.

In the aftermath of the unpacking with Pickfords I discovered that they had misplaced the screws to two sets of shelves. This currently means I have about 12 boxes of books waiting to be unpacked but nowhere to store them. I decided the cheapest thing to do was to get a couple more matching "Billy" bookcases from IKEA while the insurance claim was processed - I was also in the market for a new bed and despite my best efforts in looking at stores such as Home Center, PAN, Marina and The One - I found nothing to my quite modern European tastes.

It was not without some apprehension that I approached the idea of shopping at IKEA. In both the appartments I have owned in the UK I have had to buy some furntiture from IKEA and in both instances it has been a rather painful experience. Below is re-count based on factual events.


1. Decide which of the three IKEAs in Southern England to drive too
2. Choose North London branch from the Hampshire/Surrey boarders as it probably has te best access
3. Spend one hour 20mins battling the M25 and North Circular
4. Spend a further 20mins trying to find a parking space
5. Another 90minutes wandering around the maze like store to write down the aisle numbers of the furniture I am after
6. 45mins loading up several trollies with heavy flat pack furtniture
7. 20mins in the check out queue
8. Checkout and take it to the home delivery point
9. 20 mins while argument ensues that Basingrad is out of the North London's Delivery area
10. 20 mins getting a refund
11. Drive to Bristol branch - 2hrs
12. Repeat steps 4 to 8.
13. Finally get the furniture delivered 3 days late and having being charged 100UKP for the pleasure
14. Spend the following weekend in pain from self assembling (poorly) flat pack- I am very adverse to DIY

IKEA Dubai Heaven
1. Drive to festival park - about 40mins from Dubai Marina
2. Park next to the entrance
3. Select furniture and note down isles
4. Get a nice chap in the store to help load the trolleys
5. Have a nice checkout lady open a lane for me
6. Have another nice chap ensure I have all the parts for the bed I was buying
7. Take it to the home delivery section
8. Wait a couple of days and the furniture is not only delivered for FREE but also assembled for FREE
9. Enjoy new bedroom suite and shelves

I was really pleased. This type of service is nigh impossible to find in the UK at any sort of reasonable cost.

I for one may even consider shopping there again - unlikely I will ever walk into an IKEA in the UK though.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


This weekend I hosted my first guest in Dubai. Guest perhaps is the wrong word it was my Mom - who stopped over for the weekend on her way down to see my nephew and sister in Perth.

fortunately the flight was not delayed despite the security measures implemented at British airports on the day of her depature - it seems that Heathrow was most effected but at Birmingham it was business as usual but with the hand luggage restriction.

I arranged the Marhaba greet and meet service which made navigation through airport, customs and baggage collection a breeze for my Mom. The same couldn't be said for my attempt at parking in the airport.

My plan was to drive down to arrivals and valet the car. However the traffic on the lower level was awful and a official looking traffic officer decided that the Valet parking facility was "closed" despite pleas from a rather hot looking car valet - so another trip around the airport loop. Mental note to self when picking someone up at Dubai International - drive up to departures and use that entrance to car park A.

It was a fairly cool 33C at 1am in the morning at the airport - I realized I most becoming slightly acclimatized to the heat as my Mom exclaimed the weather was like "Central Heating!" or "Like a Sauna"

In the short couple of days while my Mom was here we visited a few shopping malls, some nice restaurants and I made my first trip to the "Old Gold Souk" in Deira. The last time I had visited a Gold Souk was the one in Abu Dhabi twenty odd years ago. It felt like not much had really changed in the interim years. It felt the same with gleaming jewelry in the windows, endless shops and intricate darkly lit side streets where I am sure more ilicit goods such as fake watches, handbags and DVDs could be obtained.

The display of gold and other goods was simply dazzling.....

I am not really one for jewelry myself as I wear and own none - not even a watch. However this changed as my curiosity got the better of me and I ended up purchasing a "genuine imitation" Omega for 200AED. I really should know better - but I found the whole process of being led to a hidden locked room to do the choosing, haggling and transaction fascinating. They even provided a service to remove a couple of links in the bracelet to fit my wrist. I was even more surprised when I actually found out how to adjust it to tell the correct time.

On reflection I wish I had have put the money towards a G-Shock or a nice Seiko - but the experience while clandestine was interesting.

My Mom really enjoyed her visit to Dubai and plans to come back early in the new year when the weather is cooler and outdoor activities such as Wild Wadi are more enjoyable.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Doha go again

I took my first trip to Doha, Qatar two days ago. It is always nice to visit a country for the first time though my first trip to South Africa left me with mix fix feelings. Doha on the other hand could not have been more far removed from Jo'burg.

After a rather torturous wait at the immigration queue - caused by all Non-GCC citizens having to pay 55 Riyals at passport control for the visa - we were through the airport in a flash. It made a nice change from Dubai airport where you typically have to hike for up to 20-30 minutes to get where you need to go. I am sure though the long walks in a Doha Airport will be a feature of the new one that is due to be built soon.

We took a drive along the Corniche and I marvelled at how much it reminded me of Abu Dhabi 20 odd years ago. There is a smattering of modern tall buildings, dispersed with construction sites and the sea looked great as it glistened in the hot and humid weather. I can well imagine in 10 years time Doha will be a spectacular coastal city.

My Father worked in Doha for a year in 2005 - I asked him what he thought of the place - his response was "Not much there son, just some tarmac on the sand". Well I have to agree with him - but it is changing and at a rapid pace.

I made a brief stop at the Intercontinental Hotel to meet a colleague and I was suitably impressed by the pool and beach offering - I took a quick photo. I wouldn't mind spending a relaxed weekend there.

I enjoyed my short visit to Doha - the people were friendly, the driving was civil and the weather was even more humid than Dubai. I am sure I will be back soon.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Shiny and New

Prior to coming to Dubai I was quite a hardcore PC gamer - but with the hectic build up to moving and the subsequent hassles of setting up in a new country has left little time for games - PC or otherwise. The bug has bitten me again as I settle in and I wanted to have a dabble at a few of the newer titles and having brought and played them I was not overly impressed that my "state of the art" system seemed to a little bit of a laggard in its performance.

Marketing people would classify me in the "early adopter" category. Often on the bleeding edge of technology. In search of said technology I went shopping in Dubai for the latest in graphics card technology.

I was not really surprised when my first options in Mall of the Emirates and IBN Buttuta yielded only a small and expensive collection of older cards which did not fit the bill. A quick trip back to the apartment and 20 minutes on google gave me the answer - Computer Plaza in Bur Dubai.

Problem 1 - how in the name of all that is technical do I get there? Without Sat Nav I am a little out of my depth so I decided on the fallback plan of looking at the Dubai Street Explorer. The journey while a little longer than expected and with only two additional u-turns I found myself parked outside the neon of Computer Plaza.

I have been to a couple of places like this in Hong Kong and KL - the difference in Dubai is that there are not loads of people pressing pirated DVDs and software onto you. Computer Plaza consists of twenty(?) or so small independent PC resellers. Needless to say I was delighted and spent a little while window shopping until I found a chap with the largest selection of graphics cards. The conversation went like this:

Aaron "I would like an ATI X1900XTX please - do you have one how much is it?"
Clerk "X1900XT - yes sir - I can get"
Aaron "no an X1900XTX"
Clerk "Certainly Sir - I get for you now"
Pause - while a conversation on a phone happens in an unknown dialect
Clerk "Please have a seat - we get now"

Wait for five minutes - not a problem as the shop is like an Aladdin's cave full of cheap chinese PC peripherals. Sure enough the young lad sent to fetch the card came back with one reading "X1900XT"

Aaron "This is not correct. I am looking for the X1900XTX"
Clerk "Certainly Sir - I get for you now"
Pause - while another conversation on a phone happens in an unknown dialect
Clerk "Please have a seat - we get now"

Sure enough and after another five minute wait - the young lad returns with the card proudly proclaiming to be the "X1900XTX"

I was rather pleased to see this and after a brief bit of haggling I walked out the shop having paid slightly less than the best UK Internet "pre-VAT" price I could find. It is now safely installed in my PC and working like a charm.

My lesson for the day was - in Dubai if you perseverve just a little you can ultimately be rewarded with just what you want....driving home however was a little different - the highlight of which was some guy tailgating an ambulance though heavy traffic so he could get to where he was going just a little bit quicker.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Waxy O'Connor Experience

As a newb into Dubai - when you get an email asking if you want to go for brunch and a "few" beers you jump at the chance. So fresh faced and bushy tailed I turned up at Waxy O'Connors which is located at the Ascot hotel Bur Dubai.

Upon entry I was told to buy "drinks vouchers" and was at first a little concerned when I was offered ten - I went for the safer option of five at a rather cheap price of 50 Dirhams. I joined the lads who were all ready tucking into large portions of English Breakfast. My question was "how much was that?" answer "free". Ideal I thought and got stuck into a generous portion of cooked breakfast myself which was washed down with an ice cold pint of strongbow - hardly an ideal combination but I convinced myself that it was a good replacement for apple juice. I was told that this was included in the price of the original five drinks voucher and that later on you are also entitled to a full roast dinner. I was staggered by the value the only catch was drinks vouchers are only valid between 12pm to 7.30pm - probably a good job.

One of the lads chose to go for a second round on the roast dinner - though I wasn't sure about the bacon and green vegtable combination. I had to take a picture:

Just to review - 50 Dirhams which is about 8 UK pounds - buys one cooked breakfast (as much as you can eat), one roast dinner (as much as you can eat) and five pints of beer. In fact you are free to buy more vouchers and we all duly did - so the total was 100 Dirhams for two meals and ten pints of beer. Nutrion of Champions!

Anway with such an early start and that much to drink and eat I was safely tucked up in bed by 10pm.

Overall 10/10 - great fun with a group of like-minded lads and Waxy's shows a whole lot of sport as well. Heaven.

Friday, August 04, 2006

I can see clearly now...

There has been a lot of hazy days recently which has limited the visibility drastically. Today was much improved so I got a few photos from my balcony with my new Sony DSC-R1. I enjoy taking a nice photo - but am in no way serious about the past-time.

I am starting to like the look of the Jumeriah Beach Residence developement. I envy the people who took the plunge two years ago...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Superman Returns

Decided I needed to get the windows tinted in my car - so I went to see the 3M autocare chaps at IBN Buttuta mall. They said it would take a couple of hours so I took in the new Super Returns movie.

This movie is loooong - well over two hours. Not that I mind a long movie it is just that there are a few points where it was just not moving fast enough. Kevin Spacey was great as Lex Luthor and the Superman had a flawless hair the whole way through the film which was a bit odd. The special effects were great but the story I felt was lacking in places. I thought they could have got Lex Luthor to be much more evil.

Overall - 6/10 - OK - but I liked X-Men 3 better

Rollin', rollin', rollin'

I have just exited the car purchasing experience in Dubai and have found myself to be a fairly happy customer. It is quite different from the UK - the main one being the lack of any real "salesmanship" from the dealers here. Car loans are cheap here and the horror stories I have heard about people buying second hand cars made me chose to buy new.

Typically in the UK if you are interested in a vehicle and if you leave a car dealer your mobile number they hound you to death. Here in Dubai there is more or less a monopoly on a any one car brand i.e. only one official dealer. So they have a really lax attitude - I find it kind of refreshing. I could go to all the brands I was interested in - leave them my details safe in the knowledge that I won't get harassed. Kudos though to the Jeep dealer, who actually followed up a couple of times.

Once you select the vehicle, one most negotiate finance. I chose to go with the red triangles as they had a reasonable rate. I simply gave the regular passport photocopies, license copy and salary certificate to the dealer and he applied for the loan on my behalf. The following day a chap from the HSBC turned up at my office (he wanted me to go to Deira and I work in DIC - it wasn't going to happen) and I signed the paperwork.

Once done - the dealer registered and insured the car for me. It was well worth bringing my No Claims certificate from the UK as that reduced 1200 Dirhams from the price. Two days later I was rollin'

All in all - quite easy.