Friday, September 29, 2006

Ramadan Kareem

Ramadan started nearly a week ago and I was keen to post my impressions of the holy month and its effect on life in Dubai. However the majority of the UAE Blogging community have done this very eloquently. I personally keen to abide by the local practices - fortunately there were numerous articles in What's On, Time Out Dubai and the local press clarifying the background and behavior during the Ramadan period.

A few observations:

1. The traffic at certain periods during the day - is really, really heavy - even more so than usual
2. I need to be sensitive to my colleagues who are fasting - as they can get a little distracted as they head towards Iftar
3. The more relaxed pace of things (when not stuck in traffic) makes a nice change

It certainly has given me time to reflect and think which is a precious commodity in an often hectic lifestyle that Dubai can offer. However I will only be able to enjoy about a week of Ramadan in Dubai as I will be traveling constantly through October.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Turkish Delight

Another week draws to a close and I have visited another country for the first time - Turkey. I have to admit to having absolutely no preconceived ideas about what it might be like.

Upon arrival at the airport there was the usual 300 meter race from the place to immigration only this time if you were a non-national you had to pitstop at the Visa on arrival desk get a 15/10 euro/pound stamp in your passport before presenting your passport. I thought it would be like the long wait I had at Qatar airport but both queues moved quickly and my and my colleagues were soon through.

Our next challenge was the local currency - I had no idea what the exchange rate was - so with some judicial choosing of "the amount in the bottom left option" of the ATM soon armed us with sufficient amounts of Turkish Lira to get a taxi.

Having had some quite "entertaining" Taxi journeys in Dubai I thought I would be experienced for mostly anything - this was soon put straight. The majority of cabs in Turkey are bright yellow Tofaz's which are locally made. They are rather basic and lacking in space to say the least - but this did not stop our Taxi driver do his best Aryton Senna impression to the hotel some 30km away. It would have been OK if I had the option to use a seatbelt in the rear - however the receiving end for the belt was conveniently hidden from sight in the boot of the car. Cue - 40 mins of hanging on for dear life.

I stayed in the business center of Istanbul so sadly did not really get to see the much more beautiful and historic old center of Istanbul. However we did go out for an excellent sea food meal (salt roasted Sea Bass - was simply amazing) at a restaurant with a great view across the Bosphorus.

I could not agree with people more who coined the phrase that Turkey is the gateway to the East. However I was really surprised just how the "European" and the "Asian" side differed greatly in atmosphere and architecture. One of the local Turkish guys (who did an excellent job looking after us) described the industrial area we were in as "sorry about this - it looks like Bosnia here".

I had a nice time in Turkey - the customers and local guys were warm, friendly and very keen to help. The only reservation I had was the Princess Hotel I stayed in is in urgent need of a refurbishment. I will be staying in the luxurious Movenpick next time.


I took my car off road for the first time the other day. However it was up a kerb on to to some and to park at the office. Fortunately it gave me the opportunity to park next to Chris's Wrangler. It as quite fun seeing them parked together for the first time. I am sure that this will be a regular event when I go on my first desert drive next month. The Wrangler will almost certainly be called into action to drag me out of "stuck" situations.

In preparation for this I have dubbed his Wrangler the "HRV" or Hummer Recovery Vehicle.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Saudi Syndrome

I made my first visit to Saudi Arabia - my third visit to a new country for me in as many weeks. I flew to Riyadh on Saudi Arabian Airlines - which was more "east end" than "west end". It did give me a chance to read the Saudi Arabian English newspaper the "Arab News" - I was quite taken by the green colored paper on the front and back pages. Also Saudi Air provide a prayer area at the rear of the large 777 plane - a nice touch for the majority of their customers.

I stayed in the very nice Al Faisaliah hotel - the room was really impressive with a simply huge walk in shower and bath tub in the elegant bathroom. The service was also excellent with each floor having a dedicated "Butler" - it was late and I was in urgent need of an ironed shirt. The Butler arrived quickly and took my shirt and asked me when I wanted a wake up call - I replied 7.30am. Sure enough at said time, the room phone rang and not 60 seconds later a chap was knocking on my door with a crisply ironed shirt. Service to make me smile.

The people I met in Riyadh were all very warm and friendly - I had to agree with them that Riyadha was quite, more relaxed and a little cooler than Dubai. However it was not until I was on the flight back to Dubai that I noticed a distinct lack of a few things in Saudi Arabia:

1. Booze - I noticed a large number of my fellow passengers joined me in Dubai Duty free
2. Women - I saw none other than on the plane
3. Music - there was none playing in public anywhere I visited
4. Radio - there was none in any of the cabs we took
5. Billboards - none that I could see outside - I did see one in a shopping mall and the woman's face had been digitized out
6. Mannequin heads - they had all lost theirs

A friend of mine lived in Jeddah for almost 4 years - I can see now why he claims it was the ultimate health farm. With no booze and plenty of time to work out he lost a considerable amount of weight. I however found myself suffering from "Saudi syndrome" and all I wanted to do when I got back to Dubai was have a beer and 3G - "Girls, Gambling and Games" - nothing new there then...

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Bluffer's Guide to Arabic

In the office in Dubai unsurprisingly there are a large number of Arabic speakers - they were all keen that I picked up a few "essential" words and phrases that I should know. This was great as I like to know at least the hello, goodbye, thank you and please in any country I am in. I did spend a year learning Arabic when I was small but that was long forgotten. So in essence here is the little cheat sheet that my colleagues agreed would get me going:

Shoukran - thank you

As-Salāmu `Alaykum - peace be upon you - quite a formal greeting but very common in Dubai

wa `Alaykum As-Salām - and on you be peace - the response

Shou? - What?

Yalla - hurry up/come on

Khalas - finished!

Habibi - my darling - but used when you might want something from someone

ya'nni - a filler word - "that means" - I originally wondered if this was the name of someone! I was hearing things like "ya' cousin"

You can also combine these to:

Yalla Habibi - hurry my love!

Shoo Habibi - what's up darling? (which I saw used to a crying baby - very cute)

This is never going to get me an A-Level in Arabic but people certainly appreciate the effort - even though it is small- and has me helped immeasurably in my day to to day life in Dubai.

I think I need to compile a similar list for Tagalog...

Jingle Bells

At rather short notice I made an impromptu business back to the UK this week - hence a rather shortage on blog postings. It was a rather interesting experience viewing the UK from an, albeit recent, Dubai expat point of view.

For a start the weather was really rather lovely - bright, sunny and warm - a nice change from the searing heat and humidity of Dubai. The office and hotel were clean, green and well organized. Also it was very nice to catch up with friends and colleagues whom I had not really had a chance to say farewell to on leaving the UK.

After a busy time in the office I stayed an extra day and went back to my home town of Cheltenham. Again I was struck by the regency architecture and the high aesthetic appeal the town has. It is something that despite living there for 20 years I had very much taken for granted.

I found myself in tourist mode and did something I never thought I would....take a photo of the clock in the Regent Arcade:

In the spirit of tourism I was surprised to see Morris dancing taking place in Cheltenham town center. For those of you who have not come across this quint-essential English activity - it basically consists of grown man dancing around with bells attached to their legs and waving with free abandon handkerchiefs in the air.

Wikipedia has a nice description of said Morris dancing. Though I think this video probably sums up Morris dancing as well as any:

Having see this - I was pleased to donate money to charity to any grown man cavorting around with bells and handkerchiefs in front of hundreds of people.

It put into perspective that things I might think of as odd in Dubai or other new countries for me are merely run of the mill for others.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Life is a beach

I took a few days off last week as I welcomed my second guest to Dubai. It was very pleasant to be able to joy the sights and sounds of Dubai without having to worry about work matters and allowed me to engage full holiday mode.

In between the eating out and shopping - we took one day to visit the beach. While there are a number of public beaches in Dubai for me and my guests' visit to a Dubai beach we thougt it would a good idea to go to a beach club and have use of their facilities.

In the vincity of Dubai Marina there are about half a dozen hotels each offering the option to use their pool and beach facilities for a charge. A few colleagues at work suggested that the best value option was the Oasis Beach Hotel - and good value it was.

The normal rate for a day visit is 85AED but on production of a DIC/DMC card this is cut in half to a very reasonable 42.50AED.

While the Oasis Beach Hotel may not be as salubrious as say the Hilton or Le Merdien the pool and beach facilities were great.

Upon entry they offer a wide range of water sports and climate information:

There was a large jacuzzi pool, a covered kids pool and a main chilled pool with a shaded swim up bar area - great for lazy, boozy days:

The walk to beach is all of two minutes from the pool area and through a nice grassed area:

The beach itself has a football and volleyball courts alongside the usual Sun lounges and water sports areas:

My friend and I had a very relaxing day - I was slightly surprised by the number of Liverpool FC shirts I saw indicating a high proportion of holidaying brits staying at this value hotel. I was also a little worries that the noise from the construction of the JBR appartments would cause a disturbance - but in reality it did not bother me at all and was lost in the the regular background noise.

Overall 8/10 - great value, big pool and quiet beach. I will be a regular.