Sunday, December 02, 2007

An Englishman in Dubai has moved

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 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.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Fifteen Love

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

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

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"

Sometimes Honesty is a Bad Thing

I spotted the following sign on a restaurant this week in Dubai:

While I appreciate the honesty - I do not think I will be in hurry to visit them once they re-open

Thursday, November 22, 2007

How Does Your Garden Grow?

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

A Tale of Four Cities

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.

The first city was Dubai, and I had the pleasure of presenting in the conference rooms in the Fairmont Hotel on the 33rd floor. The view was glorious:

Though it did make feel a little queasy - not sure how I will manage if/when I move into my 33rd floor apartment in Dubai Marina early next year.

After the meeting was done I had to make a mad dash to the Gulf Air office in Dubai in order to pick up my paper flight tickets. I will be glad when all the operators move to e-ticketing as it took nearly an hour to get the tickets and I certainly was not flying to to KSA without my onwards tickets in hand.

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 was glad to have the hotel limo pick me up - but the travel was heavy and on arrival at the Al Fasilah hotel there was some confusion over the room bookings. The great end result was my and my colleagues each got a nic bedroom serviced apartment for the evening. It was very comfortable and I settled in with room service and a movie on the in room DVD player:

Here is the lounge in the serviced apartment

And here the nice bedroom -

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.

On landing in Bahrain I only had 45 minutes to transit 30 minutes of which were waiting at the transit desk and convincing the airport staff that I could get a visa on arrival at Doha. Again I barely made the gate. The flight to Doha is only 20 minutes so the staff on the place serve the drinks and snacks before the take off. The good thing on arrival at Doha airport is that it was only a short queue at immigration before I was whisked away to the Intercontinental glad that I had made it.

Since my last trip to Doha - they appear to have gone into overdrive on the construction front and the skyline has changed considerably. I have the feeling that they really have the ability to build a fantastic beach front city attracting world class investment both business wise as well as increased tourism.

The constuction in Doha:

After the event it was evident that a whole host of IT companies had chosen that day to also do various events in Doha. It was nice to see my old colleagues and partners I previously worked with - I was not surprised to find they all wanted to work with me even closer than before. Great I thought, and certainly with the growth in Qatar there will be plenty of opportunity for all.

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

Amman is an exiciting city and you can see clearly the influences from its neighbors on the growth of the place. It reminded me a lot of Istanbul but without the awful traffic. On checking into the Grand Hyatt we all got upgraded to suites as the place was full. I got a nice junior suite but I was a little envious of one of my co-travellers who ended up with the nine room, 250 sq meter Royal suite with a wrap around veranda proividing spectacular views of the city. We worked out he got a 91% discount on the rack rate.

Here is a little sample of the view

Again a good meeting in Amman and we were also treated to dinner at Al Hourwazza restaurant who provided some of the best arabic mixed grill I had ever tried. In fact me and my colleague liked it soo much we had it twice.

It was a long week - tired but happy I flew back to Dubai. My only comment on Jordan is that I think their airport is feeling a little old and worn out and could use an upgrade. On refelection on the week I though I would give some awards:

Best View - 33rd Floor Fairmont Hotel, Dubai
Best Breakfast - Grand Hyatt, Amman
Best Room - Al Fasilah Residences, Riyadh
Best Room Service - Intercontinental, Doha

I have a feeling that this will not be the last Middle East tour I will do - and if I continued to get upgraded suites/apartments it will be a breeze.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Oh So Tasty...

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

How Much?

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

Desert Recovery

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

A Sancturary of Efficiency

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

The World Within

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

Touch Me, Feel Me

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 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

Camels to Cheese

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

Virtual Boy in a Virtual World

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

I want one of those

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.

Saudi on Sea

A lot has been happening for me over the last couple of weeks hence a bit of a shortage of posts. I spent last week running around Jo'burg and Cape Town and this week I write this from Saudi Arabia.

I first went to the The Kingdom just over a year ago and visited Riyadh. This time I flew into Bahrain and took the limo across the causeway to visit a very large oil customer based in the city of Al Khobar.

It was interesting crossing from Bahrain into Saudi Arabia. First you have to pay the Bahrain Toll, then you stop for the Bahrain customs. Once this is done you take the nice drive across the causeway which I guess can be described as the "neutral zone". On arrival at the Saudi border you present your passport and then finally go through Saudi customs which seemed to involve opening the boot of the car. Oddly enough the first thing you see when you drive out of the border is McDonalds.

My visit to Al Khobar has given me a different perspective on the Kingdom. Situated on the coast and being smaller than Riyadh with a long palm lined corniche running through it - it has the feel of a resort town. Laid back and relaxed.

I stayed in the Gulf Le Meridien hotel which offered spectacular views of the Gulf:

During Ramadan there is "enforced" fasting i.e. all the super markets and restaurants are closed during the day. I had to get room service for breakfast and am currently patiently waiting for the flight back to Dubai where I will be going for a tasty meal. I am rather glad I hid a banana in my bag, from the fruit bowl in the hotel room - it is providing me with the energy to see out the day - though I had to hide in an office to eat it!

I have feeling that I am going to be seeing lot more of Saudi Arabia in the near future.

Note: Part of this post was published in the Gulf News 15th October 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ramadan Kareem

The holy month of Ramadan has begun and to all my Muslim friends and colleagues I wish you peace and happiness.

Monday, September 10, 2007

"I know Gee-tex" - "Show me"

The annual GITEX exhibition is in town this week. Along with it brings the usual traffic chaos, oversubscribed hotel rooms and packed bars and restaurants.

This was my first visit having been on vacation last year. I was certainly not disappointed. I found GITEX to be a large and imposing trade show. While not of the ludicrous proportions of CEBIT in Hanover there appeared to be at least branding from the vast majority of major IT vendors in the world.

I am still wondering on the correct pronunciation of "GITEX" - currently I hear:

and my least favorite:

Whichever way you chose to say it combined with whatever accent you might have leads to myriad of different ways of the acronym GITEX sounding.

It struck me as I walked around that while there were a number of 'Enterprise" IT Vendors exhibiting the show to my mind is clearly focused at the consumer and SOHO user. Nevertheless I had a productive day of meetings with customers and partners.

During my break from "Stand Duty" I got take a little look around and was impressed by the vast quantity of "gadgets" on display at the show. Notable things that caught my attention:

1. The new iMacs continue to look like works of art - but no sign of the new iPods at the show
2. Playing Wii bowling on a 103' Plasma screen is an amazing experience
3. The number of high end gaming PC's on display made me think my year old shuttle at home has all ready dated significantly:

4. There were so many nice PC accessories on display that I have never seen in Dubai - I think a trip to GITEX shopper might be in order for some retail therapy.

5. Similar to the gadgets - where do the bevvy of attractive "stand assistants" come from?

I left GITEX feeling drained, sore feet and with a rather large headache. Still only two more days to go!

Note: Part of this post was quoted in Gulf News 18th September 2007

Monday, September 03, 2007

Hopping Mad

Having now moved into the old Dubai area I am starting to enjoy social life in some different locations. One of them is the very famous Irish and Century Village. I can imagine it would be very nice there in the Winter as you can comfortably enjoy the gardens and lake where there are tables to take in the view and a beer, not to mention a wide selection of restaurants. The most notable of which is St Tropez a french steak house which I would recommend as providing the best value for money steak meal in Dubai ($11 for a Sirloin)

This weekend the “Hopfest 2007” beer festival took place in a large marquee on the grounds of the Irish village. A number of my friends suggested I should attend and seeing as I enjoy a good beer festival I made the relative short journey being careful not to end up in Sharjah with the newly divided lane arrangement on the Gahoud bridge.

On arrival at about 5.30pm we were greeted by a snaking queue from the marquee. It seemed that the beer tent was all ready full and they were operating a one in one out policy. In times like this the great British talent for queuing in quite patience was very evident. However add to this cold beer, humidity at 70% and an air temperature of 39c made it all rather uncomfortable.

After waiting for thirty minutes and moving about twenty feet we decided to take more radical action. I believe the term “blagged our way in” would be appropriate as my friend's press passes came out and I was ushered in as a “photographer”. It is amazing what lengths people will go to have a beer in a cool enviroment.

Once inside I did wonder a little about the huge desire to get in. The sawdust on the floor was the first clue. Around three walls of the marquee were stalls selling various beers from across world, a fun rock band were cranking out classic anthems to which about thousand (mainly expats) staggered around to in an effort to dance.

Now usually I would love this type of thing but I made the fatal mistake of turning up sober with all my friends falling around and having fun.

I think the hopfest could improve in a couple of ways:

1.The tables were always going to be used for standing on to enhance the singing and dancing performance of the beer fuelled bold. Sadly they were not built of the same “fibre” as the ones in the Oktoberfest. By the middle of the afternoon most the trestle tables were flat as pancakes:

2.My fun ended when I decided I needed to visit the bathroom. Please to the organizers of these events – make one door for entry only and the other for exit only. Simple I know but there was just a huge crush at each door. So once I finally got out there was little chance to get back in. I called it a night after that.

I felt it was a shame that simple logistics stopped me from enjoying the event as much as I would have liked too. Next year I must also remember to wear a plain white T-Shirt and bring a magic market with me. This would allow the perfect place to record which beers I drank, in what order and their alcoholic content was. Some of my friends did this and appeared to be apple of many a girls eye!

Overall 7/10 – An event to get in as much beer and live music as possible before the quiet reflection time of Ramadan. I hope they will do better next year.

Back To School

September is here and has brought with it super high humidity which you can enjoy through the super heavy traffic. The pleasant journey I currently enjoy to work can be done in as little as 12 minutes with “summer traffic” however this morning the journey time had tripled. I just put it down to everyone coming back from vacation and some of the schools opening up for the new term.

I can not even imagine what the Sheik Zayed Road would be like without the Salik toll charge but if you get caught in a “rat run” to avoid it you will be there for some time.

Next week all the schools are back, GITEX is in town and it will be last few days before Ramadan. My prediction? Total chaos on the roads.

Full Wash Sir?

The dry, sandy and wind swept conditions in Dubai make for a very dirty car in no time. The nice thing is that there are men to wash it for cheap money at seemingly every corner. For instance park in the right place at the shopping mall ($3), take it to the car wash machine at petrol station ($6), get your gardener to do it ($2) or perhaps take a contract out with the security guards (14 washes $30).

The problem with these methods is that with the guys with buckets in car parks seem to spend most of their time “wiping the sand off” as opposed to “washing the car”. Also while machine car washes do a reasonable job you always end up with fine hairline scratches from the brushes.

I was always a fan of getting a car jet washed back home and I finally found one here in Dubai. I pulled into the large Emarat gas station where as per normal a friendly chap filled my car, then I moved it over the “lube express” station where another chap checked and topped my air pressure. The service was free but I like to tip ($2) and the smile the guy gave me made my day.

I was going for the hat trick and was looking to drive the Hummer through the machine car wash which fortunately under repair. As I prepared to drive out I saw the sign “manual wash” I headed there fast. A very brief discussion between “body wash” or “full wash” left me signing up for a full wash ($12). I sat back in amazement as the Hummer was hoisted off the floor and got a full under chassis jet washing:

Not too mention a full engine bay clean and then a hot soapy soak:

And to finish up four guys gave it an interior detail and a final buffing:

To me it was the best value car wash I had ever had or seen. For one hour the hummer had the time of its life and looked much shinier – well for at least a day or so...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Chick Kiev

When a lot of my friends got married I went on a succession of stag weekends mainly across Europe. These included favourites such as Prague, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Newquay, Nottingham, Las Vegas, Munich and Ibiza. I have not been lucky enough to visit the new vogue stag places such as Tallin or Krakow, I think they are going to need to be very special to beat Kiev.

When six bored Dubai boys chose to go on a lads weekend away the choice of destination is very interesting. We looked at Goa, Cape Town, Larnarca, Moscow and Sri Lanka - but Kiev looked to be a winner on a combination of flight length, cost, drinks costs and accommodation cost.

I think we were all a little apprehensive as to what to expect. While I have been to Moscow a number of times I had yet to go to the Ukraine. So armed with the Russian for:

Yes "Da"
No - "Niet"
Thank You - "Spas-c-ba"
Beer - "Peeva"

and some dollars in our back pocket off we went.

One of the lads had done some research prior to going for places to go and things to see. My own research yielded little so I thought I would write a couple of short pen reviews of the places we went.

Sam's Steak House:

Lonely planet call this place the provider of the best All Day Cooked breakfast in Kiev. Our visit proved that they no longer do this and we waited for more than one hour for our food. This was to become a trademark of the trip. Food and Drink service in restaurants is slow - in fact - incredibly slow. Though the burgers were quite tasty upon their eventual arrival.

Overall 6/10 - Tasty food but slow service


A large complex in the city centre offering shopping, casinos, restaurants and the obligatory night club. We chose to eat at the Sports Zone and were treated to a great view across the central plaza. yet again incredibly slow service but tasty food when we finally got it.

Take your pick:

Overall 7/10 - A little something for everyone


A raucous anything goes night club. No dress code seemed to attract a mixed and fun clientèle all fuelled by the free vodka and red bull on arrival. The music ranges from Timberlake to Techno House and crazy dancing is positively encouraged. No need to get their early - it is open till 6am.

Overall - 9/10 Party Heaven though the free Red Bull vodka was a bit strange tasting


Seemingly a throwback to the hard core techno dance clubs in the UK from early 90s. Everyone with raised hands to the DJs, dancers in strange masked costumes and underlying "edge" to the whole place. This was punctuated by two brawls in the space of five minutes. This and the a lot of chaps with mullets and muscle tops made the decision that this was not the place for us to hang out. If you are 18-23 you will probably love it - otherwise there are plenty of other places to go.

Overall 5/10 - I left behind hard core techno house music and brawling in bars a very long time ago


A hip and trendy bar/restaurant. A great place to go and warm up and with a funky pre-party set of patrons. The bar attracts a very good looking crowd though for some reason the local boys here were wearing Sun glasses and naval captain caps. The girls however all looked they had just come off a fashion shoot.

Overall 9/10 - Chic venue with tasty drinks and food. Docked one point for lack of English menus


An ultra hip Sushi restaurant with a name I can not pronounce. It seems that eating sushi in Kiev is the height of sophistication and this is certainly a great place to do it. We encountered the best service yet though were disappointed that their steak dishes were off that evening. Interestingly this place stays open late and it is possible to get raw fish at 4am in the morning should the desire strike you. The restaurant is also situated close by a number of other up market clubs and restaurants.

Overall 8/10 - Great food and decent service thought the cigar smoke from other patrons was a little off putting


I have saved the best for last. The most exclusive night club in Kiev marked by a $30 entry fee. However this seemed positively the best $30 any of us spent over the weekend.The club's decor is luxurious with mood lighting and rich leather sofas. Ladies looking like super models lazily ate sushi before dancing like show girls. This is the only nightclub I have ever been to where the number of "hot" girls out strip the number of guys present. It was hard not enjoy it as a red blooded male. It also helped the most of the Ukrainian guys in this placed looked they had come directly out of a Karama clothes store with crew cuts and dance moves from the eighties. Drinks were reasonably priced and their was a very relaxed mood in the club - certainly the place to be seen and to see. This was without doubt the best night club I have ever been too and was a little sad when it petered out at only 4am. Shame. This place is like every man's fantasy. You wont believe it until you go. This club is everything "The Appartment" wants to be in Dubai but fails to deliver.

Rating 10/10 - The zenith of night clubs

After one particularly late night I was too "ill" to move. While I was lying in bed some of the lads went to see Dynamo Kiev play. Here is Quintin's prose on the trip:

"Some of the boys managed to catch a game at the local stadium which is a nice mid size arena set in a small park. The fellas were expecting to see a large amount of raucous fans and get involved in some serious booze fuelled chanting. This was not the case! No booze allowed in the stadium which a had a crowd of no more than 1500 fans mostly family and old gents with packed lunches. The game however was very good with Kiev running out 7-0 victors thanks to their Brazilian play maker, Diogo Rincon. Apparently the mascots look like conkers with green spiky hats, no idea what that is about, and the only refreshment was cheap Irn Bru out of a 3 litre bottle and mushroom flavoured crisps. The worst flavour in the world. All in all great game, nice stadium and all for only four dollars however don't expect mad fans and crazy chants. A Sunday league football game has more atmosphere although at that price to see some quality football I would recommend you take in a game. "

Other than night clubbing and watching Football, Kiev offers a wealth of attractions to visitors. Our favourites over the weekend were:

1. Chernobyl Museum - preserved eight legged dogs and primitive protective clothing bring a haunting reality to this terrible accident that happened only 20 years ago
2. Saint Sophia Cathedral - a stunning building rivalling the Moscow Kremlin
3. Monastery of the Caves - a site containing numerous historical buildings and displays

Uspensky Sobor of the Cave Monastery in Kiev:

4. The Hydro Park - a relaxed river front beach with numerous bars and BBQ's
5. The Olympic stadium where they held the football qualification matches in the 1980 Olympics is worth a look.

I loved the old Eighties sports symbols - they remind me of an old sports shop in the UK called Intersport. This is the box office at the old Olympic Stadium:

5. and just generally walking around the city centre in which the main past time seems to be looking cool and enjoying a cold beer from one of the numerous kiosks dotted around

Kiev is a wonderful city. I felt very safe the whole time and the city is spacious and green. I think that whoever has the job of Tourist Minister for Kiev simply needs to put street signs in English and their job will be done. A five hour flight from Dubai lives a land that will surely prosper when they move into the EU - I look forward to my next trip with high anticipation.


It is odd when you notice something a little extra in every ordinary things. One of these things is the subliminal "arrow" in the Fed Ex logo. It is kind of like those funny 3D stereo-grams that were really popular in the nineties - once you get the knack seeing it you can never "un-see" it.

For those of you wondering what I am talking about it - have a look at the Fed Ex sign here - you can see the arrow between the E and the x.

I think it is a bit of brilliant design. However the funny thing is that it does not seem to have the same subtle effect when done in Arabic:

It made me double take when I first saw it on a van in Dubai. Some things just don't translate.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Very British Affair

This weeks vacation back in the UK was a lot of good despite Gloucestershire losing its water supply. I really hope if gets restored soon, as just my short stay there proved to be uncomfortable – particularly as my parents had a number of my auntie's visiting. It was excellent to see them again and one of them I had not seen in over twenty years – I plan to go and see them again all next year.

My main reason for heading back to the UK, was a very old and dear friend of mine was getting married. All weddings are unique in their own way, the one I attended this weekend was without doubt the poshest wedding I have been to.

I got a feeling it was going to be something special when on the invite:

Dress Code:

Armed Forces
Please wear number one uniforms with medals and swords.

Boys in black tie and ladies in evening dresses

The venue was nothing less than spectacular. The pre-drinks took place in the Royal Fusilier museum and the ceremony took place in the Royal Fusiliers Chapel. Both of these are situated in the Tower of London – my favorite tourist attraction in London and home of the Crown Jewels.

Having a wedding ceremony in such a historic building brings a real sense of occasion and also one of huge curiosity from the masses of tourists enjoying a fine British summer afternoon. The groom as a serving Royal Fusilier was simply able to request the use of the museum and chapel as this there HQ – it all seemed amazingly simple.

The military theme of the wedding and day was prevalent and made for a very formal occasion. Mr Campion who was lucky enough to be an usher (seen below in the kilt)

Commented that in the 'briefing' prior to the wedding for the ushers was done with military precision. It went something like this:

“At 15.45 hours please take your pre-assigned positions and guide the guests to the Chapel. At 16.00 hours we will all collapse to the Chapel for final preparations”

Mr Campion's response (other than “Sir, Yes Sir) was “Collapse at 16.00 hours? I haven't even had anything to drink yet!”

The wedding ceremony was performed by the battalion reverend who at the age of 85 was retiring that day. Suffice to say he was quite a character and I have never heard a sermon before where he described a story where he was told to “F Off”. Larger than life would not even come close to describing him.

The guests who came in full military number outfits provide the guard of honor outside the church for the guests and happy couple to walk through. It certainly was an impressive site:

It also caught a lot of attention from tourists who joined in the round of applause once they “fell out”

After the ceremony we traveled to the TA base of the Royal Artillery. Which was perhaps the most surprising aspect of the day. I walked through the main gate not really sure what to expect – I was then greeted by a very lush looking cricket field accented by the Royal Artillery's freshly polished cannons:

The reception was held in a magnificent oak panelled drawing room with huge portraits of British Monarchs including Queen Elizabeth II. Despite the surroundings the reception was incredibly fun with heartfelt speeches and a lot dancing to the very good live band.

Seeing Maria and James take their first dance and watching the delight they were having summed it all up for me.

I wish you all the very best in your new wedded life together.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Shifting and Fixing

A couple of weeks ago my time as a Dubai Marina resident came to an end as my lease expired and it was time to the move into Casa Jumeriah. Packing up and moving house is something that has to be at the top of my “least favorite activities”. I think it has something to do with this amount I had to do as a student, where moving all your gear out at the end of each term was standard.

However Dubai has man power a plenty the pain of this can be eased considerably. A lot of my friends swear by the services of the chaps who hang out in Kuwait Street and for as little has 250AED they can “shift” virtually any amount of possessions.

As I needed to put a lot of my furniture into storage but still have things for moving to Casa Jumeriah this led to a rather more challenging “shift” than usual and required the labelling of everything to either “local” or “storage”. I ended using a recommended firm called Total Moving Solutions (TMS), the chaps from TMS managed to do two things

1.Turn up in force (there was eight of them)
2.Work like demons for 12 hours

Here they are packing the lounge:

And they certainly had no shortage of packaging materials:

Still I managed to end up with ten boxes too many boxes at the villa and for some inexplicable reason I have ever pair of shoes with me other than my favorite snake skin ones. I guess I will have to live without them for the next six months.

The whole day was quite fascinating. The team of movers had a very obvious foreman who directed the other guys with a healthy does of assertiveness and certainly had the best command of the English language. Later that day Ganesh (the sales guy) came over to see how everything was going and issued a few commands of his own to the foreman which were then relayed to the rest of the guys doing the packing. I caught a glimpse of a very interesting hierarchy that I was hither to never exposed. Though this all seemed to disappear when I found all of them sat in one of the empty bedroom floors enjoying a very delicious smelling lunch of curry and chapatis. I would like to extend a big thanks to TMS for making the whole process easy.

Moving into Jumeriah has all ready shown me a different much more residential and dare I say “homely” side of Dubai. In six months when my apartment in Dubai Marina is complete I will have a tough choice to make. In the meantime I will enjoy living with my friends.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Bridge of Troubled Waters

On my vacation back to the UK this week, I arrived on the day of some really bad flooding. (Snow, Terrorism, Flooding - respectively on each my last visits to the UK I am wondering if I should stay in Dubai more)

The following day I was helping a friend rescue her sodden possession's from a ground floor apartment that had received three foot of water over night and mysteriously had all gone the following morning. It had certainly left its mark though and the fridge, bed and sofa had all floated and ended up in different places. The fridge was blocking the kitchen door and had to be "kicked in" to gain access.

It was heart breaking for me to see a good friends worldly belongings become ruined. When she opened up a small jewellery box to see her favourite necklace not there and only half a pint of dirty dank water emptying out, it was really a sorrowful sight.

Still everyone rallied around and have provided her a place to stay while the repairs happen and storage for most of her things. I left feeling a sad but heartened by the community spirit and great circle of friends I have who all pitched in to help.

The following day I spent a glorious afternoon and evening in my old stomping ground of Putney. At night the Putney Bridge over the Thames is really a nice sight and typifies London for me:

It is odd to think that this water looking so serene one night was causing so much destruction such a short time before.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

So Salik Can Stay...

Salik is the new road toll that was introduced at the start of July as has been the topic of numerous posts from the UAE blogger community. As well as being a popular topic of conversations in the pub or over dinner. I have resisted the urge to comment so far while I continue to patiently wait for the PIN to my Salik account to arrive via SMS to me.

However, something did make me smile about Salik. While listening to my favourite Dubai talk radio station - 103.8m Eye on Dubai, they have a little segway which goes something like this:

"Where are you suppose to put your Salik sticker on your bike?"
"On your helmet"

While photographic evidence would suggest the contrary and a nice Salik sticker obscuring a good proportion of the windshield would appear to be the solution:

I trust should other Emirates choose to implement their own road toll systems that they all use the same sticker - otherwise the only view out of the windscreen we will have will be very small indeed.

EDIT: As if by magic this morning I received an SMS from Salik informing me my balance was below 30AED - this was excellent. A quick phone call to the call center had me furnished with a PIN. Now if only their online re-charge was working I would be in Salik bliss.