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...