Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jebel Ali Village - gone.

I'm sure I'm not the only one with fond memories of Jebel Ali Village.

A small hill with villas dotted around, mature gardens, a couple of schools, a small shopping centre.

In the old days we had friends who lived there and it was considered a bit of a trek out from Dubai because it was way out in the desert then.

I've always liked the country village atmosphere...

Here it is this morning:

The construction, or is that destruction, fences are up all around, gates barring access.

I knew that redevelopment was planned but I didn't realise it was under way already.

What a shame.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The dreaded T word rears its ugly head

The six Gulf nations have agreed in principle to implement corporate and individual income tax by 2012 and are now discussing ways to bring the deadline closer, people close to the matter told Emirates Business yesterday.

The front page story in today's EmBiz247 has hit the radio news bulletins and attracted plenty of comment from listeners throughout the morning.

It's the final confirmation of something I've talked about in the past, that Dubai will become just one option among many on the expat job circuit.

We're almost there now, with the increasing rents, inflation, less generous salary packages, fees & charges for so may things.

The days when Dubai, and the other Gulf cities, were places to go to earn heaps of money to set yourself up for life have gone. They went for most people probably four or five years ago.

Personal income tax, even though it's likely to be as low as say Hong Kong or Singapore, is the final step.

So the Gulf cities will lose their edge and simply be another option for expats to consider. Hong Kong, Singapore, KL, London, New York, Dubai, Bahrain...

And that's when they'll really have to compete at a facilities and lifestyle level.

If your net salary would be the same in, say, Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai, your decision will be based on which city offers the best lifestyle. And that covers a multitude of issues, not only leisure facilities such as beaches and restaurants but things like personal freedoms and equitable laws.

There's a lot of work to be done.

The full EmBiz247 report is here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Tall building or low clouds?

Gaza: it was inevitable

Others are commenting about the massacres in Gaza, for example Moryarti has photos here which give a sense of what's happening.

I'll just say that it was entirely predictable. Huge onslaughts were inevitable before the end of the most pro-Israeli US administration in memory. The Israelis know full well that world opinion led by the US will support them whatever they do. But they weren't prepared to take a chance on the same level of support from the incoming administration so they were always going to attack at this time.

I think they were wrong in that uncertainty. Given the reality of the political equation in the US regarding Israel I don't expect a much different approach from the next administration. That scepticism has been supported by President-elect Obama's postures on the subject during the election run up and by his appointment of Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff.

This is a man described by Israeli newspapers Haaretz as "Israeli Rahm Emanuel" whose father, previously a member of the Irgun terrorist group, said of the appointment; "Obama is a pro-Israeli leader and will be a friend to Israel." Maariv newspaper headlined the appointment "Our man in the White House"

Had I been American I would have voted for Obama. I believe he'll do a good job, and even has the potential to be a great president. He's the kind of inspirational leader the US needs after the disasters wrought by eight years of BushW extremism - although I'm not sure that even two terms are long enough to repair so much damage.

But I don't agree with everything he's doing, the appointment of Emanuel and Clinton being two decisions I'd prefer he hadn't made.

I think the Obama era brings much to look forward to, but a fair and equitable outcome in the Israeli/Palestinian catastrophe isn't one of them.

The Haaretz article is here.

'Our man in the White House' is here.

For reports from inside Gaza, check out Sameh Habeeb's blog Gaza Strip, the untold story.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Taxed in tax free Dubai

The outdoor smoking cabin in my last post was next to the restaurant we stopped at for lunch, La Moda at Media City.

What a great setting it is too, in what was empty desert five or six years ago:

Quite amazing I think, and a great location for a leisurely al fresco lunch on a gorgeous winter day.


Inevitably it has the same problem that so many of Dubai's ethnic restaurants have. Apart from Lebanese and Indian that is.

I'm sure the problem is that whatever the cuisine offered the chef and kitchen staff are from the Philippines or India.

La Moda is an 'Italian' restaurant, the menu has Italian dishes but the flavour is anything but Italian.

We had two of our Italian favourites. A Pizza Margherita, the original pizza which is, or should be, basically Italian tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil to give the red, white and green of the Italian flag. It should also have some oregano, parsley, onion, garlic, seasoning. We also had Spaghetti Putanesca, one of the tastiest sauces in my opinion with Italian tomatoes, anchovies, black olives, capers, plus of course some olive oil, garlic, seasoning and red pepper flakes.

Incredibly, they'd managed to make both dishes tasteless. The pizza was undercooked while the spaghetti was overcooked and very, very oily. Tomatoes were orange instead of red and with the lack of taste you get with bog standard supermarket tomatoes. The cheese was of indeterminate type, the green ingredients were notable by their absence.

What a shame, it would be a great place to take visitors but I really wouldn't offer them food like that.

Then there was a surprise when the bill arrived. In tax free Dubai there was a 10% "DM Fee", which I assume means Dubai Municipality.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

No outdoor smoking

I posted back in August about the proposed ban on outdoor smoking in public parks.

It looks as though it's happening in a serious way because walking through the gardens of Media City the other day I came across a smokers' cabin...

An outdoor area beside the lake in a commercial zone, not a place where families with children would be likely to congregate, yet there's a cabin almost ready for smokers to crowd into for their nicotine fix.

I find it very strange.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Return to Dubai Airport Free Zone Authority Station please"

Snappy name isn't it, for one of the Metro stations.

What about Sharaf DG Station.

And GGICO Station.

Mr Mattar Al Tayer, Chairman of the Board and Executive Director of the RTA, is quoted as saying these are: "...national projects and will preserve the national identity. We will not give up the national identity for money."

Just so.

The fascinating list of station names is in the Gulf News story, here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dubai Marina Mall opened today

Dubai Marina Mall opened earlier today, the first part of the complex that will include Gourmet Tower, a hotel, an office/residential block. The others aren't ready, so as usual in Dubai it's a bit of a construction site all around.

However, the mall building itself seems to be pretty much complete even though most of the shops are still doing their fit-out.

It's circular and here's the basic shape from the guide:

Plenty of uniformed staff all over it to guide visitors around, including staff at the car park and taxi entrances waving traffic in. They also seem to have all the signage in place and there are information panels with a store guide and floor plan plus the little pocket size versions to take away. These simple things all too often aren't done in time, so well done Emaar.

The main entrance is on the road with no name which runs round the Sheikh Zayed Road side of Dubai Marina, and the main circular part looks like this:

And looking back towards the entrance:

The food court is on the top level (only Cinnabon is open at the moment) which has an outside balcony area overlooking the marina and Jumeirah Beach Residence. Very importantly, Baskin Robbins will have an outlet so we'll be able to sit on the balcony enjoying the view and a scoop or three of ice cream.

More than half the outlets are not ready yet, including what will be a cinema complex and a kids entertainment area, both of which will be on the top level alongside the food court.

The majority of outlets have signs like this:

There's a worryingly high number without a store name though, just the generic 'store opening'...

...and with the current downturn maybe they'll stay boarded up for a while.

There will be a Waitrose supermarket, otherwise the names are the usual suspects, the brands we see in every mall. A random sample from the directory: Al Jabar, Areej, Mothercare, Sharaf DG, Arabian Oud, Rivoli, Billabong, Monsoon, Tommy Bahama, Reebok. And inevitably, Starbucks, KFC, TGI Friday etc etc.

Getting it right too late

It's the Dubai way.

Make an announcement without having given the subject any thought, create confusion, make a series of different but equally confusing statements which 'clarify' and modify the original one.

Later, go back to the beginning and give the subject some thought.

Make a new announcement.

There's an advertisement in today's Gulf News, and I assume in other newspapers, on the ID registration fiasco.

At long last there's a list explaining the categories. If you click on the image to enlarge it you should be able to see where you fit in.

There's also a calendar showing when each category should register.

Naturally this should have been done at the start of the saga, the website should have been working properly and the registration form distribution system should have been in place before the announcement was made.

There would have been no confusion, no frustration, no massive queues at the registration offices, far less workload for the staff in the offices.

It isn't rocket science, it's just basic administration.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Driving Dubai style.

Just another complaint about something I've posted about several times.

The one way system at the Jebel Ali end of Dubai Marina has been made even more obvious to the morons who ignore it.

See, two big international No Entry signs on the left side, two big international directional arrow signs showing drivers they need to go to the right.

Even a new learner driver can work out that you follow the arrows and go to the right. There are more arrow signs further along too.

So having negotiated this bit you know that to get back out you simply continue, following the road round in a circle.

I don't suppose that anyone who uses Dubai's roads would be surprised at the number of drivers who don't so that.

This morning I had three of them.

The first one ignored the arrows and cones and was coming in past the No Entry signs, head on at me. When I pointted out that it was No Entry and he was going the wrong way along a one way street he replied "I'm only going there" and pointed to a building a hundred metres along the road.

So No Entry doesn't apply if you're only travelling a hundred metres or so past the signs?

Coming back in I met another one coming the wrong way down the street on the right, sqeezing his way past a taxi and past me at the cones. His response to my complaint was "It doesn't say one way."

It doesn't say you're a bloody idiot either, but that's equally obvious.

Then just a few seconds later at the far end a Range Rover was going the wrong way. By this time I had my camera out:

This one couldn't take my advice that she reverse to the sandy area a few metres behind her and turn round because she said "It's too dangerous."

My suggestion that if she couldn't reverse her car then perhaps she shouldn't be driving it didn't seem to go down too well.

So she merrily carried on taking what she thought was the less dangerous option of driving the wrong way along a one way street into incoming traffic.

Hello? Anyone from the police or RTA reading this? If so, could you do something about this, it's a daily problem and there's going to be an accident.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Another strange sign

Desert turf. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn't it, but we get used to things like this in Dubai.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

This year's Global Village

Here's what I said about last year's Global Village :

Sad to say, I was disappointed in this years Global Village. It wasn't anywhere near as interesting as last year I thought.

What I liked about it in previous years was the souk-like arrangement and atmosphere, with hundreds of stalls selling anything and everything. There were less country pavilions this year and far fewer traders.

The usual Dubai problems are the first hurdle - hardly any road signs to the event so confused motorists were adding to the chaos on the roads leading to it.

Nothing much has changed with those complaints.

I also said:

Even just after opening at 4pm there were big crowds pouring in and I assume visitor numbers are looking good for the organisers. It's still only Dh5 entrance fee, which is good value for money I think.

That's changed. For a start, the entrance fee is now Dh10. And the numbers were way, way down.

We went on Saturday and got there just before opening at 4pm. The traffic was by Dubai standards very light, the car parks were empty, we parked right ouside an entrance.

The signage is still up to, or is that down to, Dubai's usual standards of course. All over the city, tens of kilometres away, for example on Al Wasl Road, there are signs to Global Village. But when you get out of the built-up areas there aren't any. Arrive at the ever-changing roadworks around Arabian Ranches, which must be totally confusing even to people who live there, and you're on your own. In true Dubai road signage fashion, if you happen by accident to take the correct road you'll eventually see a sign that confirms it. But signs to help you take the correct road in the first place? Not a hope.

I fear the souk-like atmosphere of the original GV has gone for ever and it's turning into just another theme park.

As you'd expect, Pakistan, China, Iran have big pavilions:

The biggest is India of course, and it's probably the best presented. It still has the jumble of stalls inside so it retains some of the souk-like atmosphere missing almost everywhere else.

Once again our favourite pavilion is Yemen. That's stayed as it was before and it's a great place for sights, sounds and smells. There's some excellent produce to buy too:

So parts of GV still have the old magic, but not much of it does.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Changing times

A sign of the times. Dubai, the UAE in general, isn't isolated from the economic problems of the world.

I'm sure we won't be hit as badly as many other countries. In fact to me the world seems to be dividing into two...countries such as the US, UK, the Euro zone into deep recession while others such as China, India, UAE, even perhaps Australia, will see a slowdown but their economies will still grow.

I'm sure the recession hit areas will have a long deep recession and the massive government borrowing to fund their injections of capital will take a long long time to pay off. They'll be affected for many years to come, in fact may never be the same again.

It makes you wonder why in the decades - hundreds of years in many cases - they were the world's economic powerhouses they didn't create sovereign wealth funds.

Only a few months ago they were ranting about SWFs, how they were A Bad Thing, how they had to be controlled, dangerous foreigners buying up their assets. Now they're pleading for handouts from them, and I bet they're wishing they had their own to call on.

What an astonishing lack of good business and good government over the decades. All that wealth generated, from the Industrial Revolution to the European empires plundering wealth from so many colonies and on into the post colonial era when they were still the big economic powers, and they didn't save a cent. Didn't think to establish a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

I find it quite amazing that governments such as the US and UK actually don't have any money. They don't have the trillions of dollars they're throwing into their economies, they're having to borrow it. To be repaid by future taxpayers of course.

We're very much part of the global economy so naturally we're being affected here. Money's tight, jobs are disappearing, projects are being delayed and I'm sure some will be cancelled. The talk is all about real estate jobs and projects but it's much wider than that. Jobs will disappear in all kinds of businesses because a recession affects the entire economy across the board. In fact I'm hearing about job losses in all kinds of companies already.

There's always a ripple effect from any action and economic problems are no different. People in Europe are losing their jobs, they buy less goods so manufacturing is hit in China. They travel less so airlines, hotels and tour operators in the UAE are hit. Hotels have less guests which means they buy less food, have less laundry to be done, and that hits small local businesses.

But if you think it's bad here just check out the situation 'back home' and you'll realise we're actually not too badly off.

In fact as I said in a recent post, I think it's a blessing in disguise for Dubai. A slowdown, a chance to stop and think, a chance to plan properly, a chance for infrastructure and laws to catch up with what's already happened.

It's also an opportunity to get back to sensible buiness practices. And that applies not only to Dubai but to the world in general.

People here are complaining that banks have introduced new lending criteria, such as a minimum salary of Dh20,000 a month and giving mortgages of only 50% or 60% of the purchase price. In fact that's good, sensible business. We wouldn't be in the mess we're now in had basic good business rules been followed over the last fifteen or twenty years.

Remember the bubble burst? It was inevitable. We were putting a share portfiolio together then and we wouldn't touch companies with a bargepole. The supersmart new kids on the block were ridiculing the 'old world' saying this was a whole new world we didn't understand, the old rules simply didn't apply.

They did. They always do and they always will.

Stupid people believed the hype, poured billions into companies with no assets, no turnover, no profit. The companies spent a lot of the money running multi-million dollar advertising campaigns which said nothing whatsoever. I kept looking at them and asking what they were selling. The answer was of course nohing, because they had nothing to sell. The rest of the investors' money they used to buy other companies which also had no assets, no turnover, no profit.

One day it all just disappeared. The great bubble burst because the basic rules of business were ignored.

More than a few of us were predicting the implosion of the world financial system five or six years ago. It was unsustainable and was obviously so. We were in a spiral of ever increasing debt, personal and government, that one day would have to be paid. In Australia we had motor dealers offering new cars at no deposit, no interest and nothing to pay for two years. White goods retailers had similar offers.

Money was being thrown at people by the banks, with very little checking on the creditworthiness of the borrowers. Salesmen on commission for granting loans or giving out credit cards were earning fortunes.

The government of John Howard was buying votes by giving regular handouts from the budget surplus to voters, instead of investing in much-needed infrastructure - or even setting up a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

The trouble was that no-one was thinking about the day when the bills would have to be paid.

So this crisis is also hopefully the end of unfettered capitalism of the style of the American right, with no government regulation or oversight and total reliance on self-regulation.

It's as extreme as communism and can only end in the same way.

Neither extreme takes into account human nature, so neither can work in the long term.

It started as far as I'm concerned with Thatchernomics and Reaganomics. Give the markets complete freedom, remove oversight, sell off essential services such as water and power generation to private enterprise. Trust 'the markets', which means people, to do the right thing.

Astonishing naivete. People do not do the right thing. People don't think ahead. People do what is good for them in the short term.

Alan Greenspan, who is as responsible as anyone for the disaster we now have, admitted at a Senate hearing that he hadn't taken human nature into account when he formulated his disastrous policies.

He believed that people in the financial markets, in business, would do the right thing, the honest thing. They'd think about the long term viability of their companies, run things in a professional businesslike way.

What they actually did was think only of their own immediate future. That was entirely predictable because it's what people do. They gave no thought to the long-term health of their companies but simply created short term profits and share price increases - often by creating worthless 'assets' - so that they could pay themselves vast bonuses. Wall Street bonuses amounted to, literally, billions of dollars a year, and other financial centres such as London, and even Sydney, paid multi-million dollar bonuses.

The thinking is still with us unfortunately. Almost weekly we're getting stories of huge bonuses being paid or having been promised by banks, including those already bailed out with taxpayers' money.

We had the Big 3 car company bosses flying to Washington to plead for money in their private jets. That's another example of bad business - badly managed companies with overpaid greedy workers, overpaid greedy management, producing badly designed products which are poorly made. They had to hit the wall sooner or later.

But the dinosaurs will have to change because surely the world has changed. After two or three decades of reducing regulation, reducing oversight, governments surely cannot afford to continue with the experiment. It's costing trillions of dollars already and who knows how much more is to come. Those trillions are a debt which has to be paid by future generations.

I'm sure that not only do we have to have a completely new model for the world financial system, the power of the players will change too. A report a few weeks ago said that the G7, who set themselves up as the all-important financial arbiters, actually have only 20% of the world's currency reserves. BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India, China, have 40%. The Middle East can no longer be ignored either.

So there's another change coming, surely. The west is asking countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE to put more money from their SWFs into organisations such as the World Bank and the IMF. But they were set up by and run for the benefit of the western countries. Surely no-one expects developing countries to simply hand over money without being offered a say in how it's used, without being offered a seat at the table.

BRIC and ME countries will be expecting involvement in all the world organisations I'm sure. Not only the financial institutions but the UN Security Council will be on the agenda, and long overdue in my opinion.

So we're living in momentous times. There will have to be huge changes to the way our world works and to the relative influence of the players.

And it was caused by the excesses of the last twenty or thirty years. The USSR tried extreme left wing politics and that collapsed. The west has tried extreme right wing capitalism and that's collapsed.

In just about anything I can think of the middle road is the one that works. A mixture of freedom and regulation. We accept it as necessary in many aspects of our daily life and areas such as business or the financial markets also need it.

We have, because we need them, road rules, speed limits, consumer protection laws, criminal laws. We need them because of human nature. Remove regulation and oversight and you have anarchy.

Ignore human nature and you create a disaster. We did and we have.

Only in Dubai

On Beach Road, what seem to be new villas, one of them a medical centre with an 'opening soon' banner...and they're being demolished.

Don't believe me? Click on the pic to enlarge it...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The fun things you see

Spotted these at Global Village.

Something lost in translation but you get the general idea...

A whole row of jars containing different honey but this one had me wondering what was in it...

More about Global Village later.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's time to dig out the sweaters.

It's been almost a year since the last cold wet weather so the sweaters were at the back of cupboards or the bottom of draws.

Rummaging around to find them was the order of the day though, it's been decidely chilly the last week.

It's been wet too.

According to the Dubai Met Office we've had colder, wetter than average weather for December already.

Over 40mm of rain has fallen, half of it on Thursday, we've had five days of rain already while the average for the whole month is only 3.6. Temperatures have been no higher than 22ºC on some days in Dubai and parts of the emirate went to a night-time low of 12ºC.

But it looks as though it's going to improve. They say that from today it will warm up again, to a pleasant 26ºC or so daytime. Still a chilly 17ºC at night though.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Only in Dubai

One of the nice things about Dubai is its cosmopolian nature and tolerance.

It's said that two hundred nationalities are represented here, and certainly many religions are.

But those facts do throw up some strange sights.

How's this for an odd mixture. The ultra-modern Burj Al Arab, the traditional Arabic architecture of Madinat Jumeirah, a Christmas tree and a fake Alpine village with fake snow.

All next to a man-made lagoon in the desert.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Well you gotta go somewhere...

There's a lot of rain and nowhere to shelter. So find some old tyres, a couple of planks of wood, a sheet of blue plastic and you've got a great place to run to keep dry.

Last time I drove past it was bucketing down and there were six labourers happily sitting inside.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Trains on view

If you haven't seen them - and if you're interested - the Metro trains look like this on the elevated section of the track:

These were on the stretch right outside Ibn Battuta Mall this morning.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Al Wasl Road waterfront villas

Some rain overnight, so suddenly property values along parts of Al Wasl Road could have improved as they were direct waterfront villas at about 9am.

The Al Thanya Street junction was a lot of fun, four lanes of traffic all edged over into the one slightly less wet left-hand lane, then doing the Dubai Dash across to the far right at the last moment to turn right.

Yesterday evening I drove along Al Sufouh Road and Al Wasl Road with the National Day traffic.

That was an interesting little journey.

Lots of drivers obviously in celebratory mood, having lots of fun weaving from lane to lane, overtaking, undertaking, jumping red lights or generally just travelling at way over the speed limits.

I fully expected today's headlines to be 'Carnage On Dubai's Roads' but I've seen no reports of death and destruction. No photographs of burning vehicles, overturned 4x4s, unrecognisable sports cars.

I'm amazed.

The standard of driving even by Dubai standards was appalling.

Then this morning's light rain brought the hazard light morons out in force.

I photographed this one sitting at the lights in a lane which was for straight ahead or left turn. It wasn't raining at this point either. The rest of us had to guess his intentions of course, because all his indicators were flashing in unison.

He turned left.

The one consolation was that he waited until the light turned green.

Upside of the downturn

I'm not minimising the individual problems caused by the economic meltdown such as people losing their jobs, with all the ramifications of that. But for now concentrating on the bigger picture, there is a huge upside to the downturn as far as Dubai is concerned.

It means a slowing down of the frantic growth, so much of it with apparently no integrated plan and far too many individual projects with no apparent planning.

The economic crisis is a blessing in disguise. It brings time to take stock. To consolidate. To plan.

It means that maybe some of the vital infrastructure - sewage treatment plants, water, public transport, police, fire brigade, health care, laws even - can catch up with the growth in size and population.

Dubai will be the same as the rest of the world. Badly run companies will go to the wall. Cowboys, in all industries, will go. Overstaffed companies will get sensible about staffing levels. Banks will do credit checks and demand sensible downpayments. Businesses will be, will have to be, run in a businesslike way.

All of that is good news.

The economic world needs this kind of shock every so often. It's like bushfires, they're needed to clear the deadwood, to allow regeneration. That this is worse than almost all preceeding economic slumps simply mirrors the fact that what lead to it was worse than we've seen before.

Human nature left to its own resources with checks and balances removed. People trusted to do the right thing. What naivete.

Naturally and inevitably personal greed, short term thinking, irresponsibility took control. To the point that the deadwood was choking the healthy.

So we have an economic bushfire. It was inevitable.

Doubt is now being expressed over Dubai's target of 15 million tourists by 2015, with the huge ramifications that brings.

Developments in Dubai are being scaled back, postponed or cancelled.

Looking just at Nakheel, they have announced that the master plan of the multi-billion dollar Jumeirah Garden City, what is currently my favourite old Satwa, is being "revisited and pockets of the development are delayed".

On Palm Jumeirah, Frond N villas, Gateway Towers and Trump International Hotel & Tower have all been delayed. Their recently announced kilometre-high tower is now on hold and work on The Universe will be restricted to preliminary engineering studies. The Universe is the vast offshore development planned along much of the coastline.

Nakheel is far from being alone in this scaling back of projects. For example, Limitless said of its Arabian Canal mega-project that it is "reviewing the pace of development in response to market conditions."

Have no doubt that we'll be seeing many more announcements of slowdowns, postponements, cancellations in the coming weeks and months. From the major Master Developers and from small individual developers.

And for Dubai that's the positive side of the economic crisis. Time to think, to re-think. We can hope there's enough time for better planning too.

I don't doubt that the projects will go ahead in the longer term, although there may well be changes from the original announcements. But the slowdown does offer the chance to get them right, to phase in all the facets of the growth sensibly.

Nakheel info is here.

Limitless info is here.

Tourism outlook is here.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Let the clarifications begin!

Maybe tomorrow it'll be 'clarified' by another official was my second sentence in yesterday's post about the ban on 100 categories of drivers.

It was.

Clarified that is.

Sort of.

Today's update is that it only applies to Sharjah and that 86 categories of workers are affected. The full list of banned catagories will be 'issued soon.'

Someone jumped the gun by the sound of it, and also picked a nice round number out of the air. "One hundred sounds good."

They don't even have the list of catagories ready, so stand by for more clarifications over the coming days.

Oh, and now some nurses can apply for a driving licence. But only those with a university degree...what that has to do with driving I can't imagine.

What about bakers? They're still on the banned list but suppose a baker has a university degree in something or other, will he be able to get a driving licence?

You can read the latest episode here.

There's also clarification on the ban-on-twenty-year-old-cars rule, which was due to take effect from today.

It's postponed.

The President himself has stepped in on that one

I quote:

...the decision was postponed in order to give enough time for people of low income who own such vehicles, to continue using them.

"Shaikh Khalifa's decision is timely and aims to allow concerned authorities to conduct more studies and come up with suitable bylaws to put the ministerial decision into effect"

Just so.

The story in Gulf News goes on to talk about which cars are affected, the buying, selling, registering and continued use of them...which I read a few times and gave up on, I simply don't understand (again!) what they're on about.

See what you make of it, it's here.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nurses can't drive. Nor can bakers.

It's another of those bizarre announcements that has me shaking my head in amazement.

Maybe tomorrow it'll be 'clarified' by another official, but as it stands today there are 100 categories of workers who can no longer apply for a driving licence.

According to today's report in Gulf News the list includes nurses, cooks, carpenters, housemaids, watchmen, tailors, cafeteria waiters, unskilled labourers, gardeners and bakers.

People belonging to other categories, which do not require a university degree, will not be able to open a driving licence file at traffic police departments all over UAE.

What a bizarre list.

Not for the first time, I do not understand.

By the way, I don't suppose that taxi drivers or bus drivers need a university degree, but I assume they'll be excempt?

Gulf News reports the announcement here.

Mumbai. I don't understand any of it.

I simply don't understand anything to do with the obscene killings in Mumbai.

I don't understand the mentality of people who randomly take innocent lives. The vast majority of the dead and injured are Indians, hotel workers, train travellers, people simply going about their daily business.

We're told that Americans and British tourists were specifically singled out in some instances. Yet many of them may well have opposed their governments' policies, so what does the simple fact of citizenship have to do with anything?

I don't understand how a country which has had so many terrorist attacks over recent years can have been so unprepared.

Mrs Seabee was in India at the time of the attacks, fortunately in Kochi so well away from the trouble spot. She was in Le Meridien hotel, a popular business & tourist hotel. She's also stayed in the Taj hotel in Mumbai in the past.

There is no security, no preventive measures taken. People simply wander around as they please. Only after the news from Mumbai reached Kochi was a hotel security man stationed on the entrance to check incoming vehicles and ask guests for ID.

In Cairo, which has seen terrorist attacks too, hotel security is strict, as it is around all tourist areas. Road barriers, sniffer dogs, metal detectors and ID checks on all entrances. Sharpshooters on bridges and high points keeping watch. Guard posts on bridges.

I don't understand how the intelligence services can be saying 'ten or a dozen' attackers were involved.

How could no more than twelve people have simultaneously attacked so many sites with so much firepower and caused so much death and destruction?

I don't understand the reports that say At least three gunmen battled India's best-trained commandos for two days in the maze of corridors in the Taj Hotel, setting fire to places as they moved from floor to floor.

How did they move from floor to floor so easily? Isn't the first thing to do sealing all exits? The stairs must have been left unguarded for the gunmen to be able to move from floor to floor. Or maybe they used the lifts. And they moved around at will for two days!

I don't understand how such a large, sophisticated attack, which apparently began with the hijacking of a trawler on the high seas, could have been planned with no intelligence being picked up. They couldn't have done it all by delivering messages by hand!

There was the financing, surveillance of the target areas, the training, the purchase and distribution of a large amount of weapons and ammunition, transportation. A lot of people involved over a long time, yet no word was picked up by any of the world's intelligence gathering agencies.

I don't understand how so many men - many more than the official dozen - carrying what must have been heavy bags of guns, ammunition, explosives, could move about the city to so many targets without arousing suspicion.

I don't understand how there is no trail to the many people who must be the brains, the finance, the trainers behind the attacks.

I don't understand how the Indian intelligence service and politicians can be saying it's all over, they've killed all the gunmen. There must be dozens of them who simply faded away and will strike again.

I simply don't understand any part of it.

TV news reports show people hero-worshipping the elite 'Black Cat' commandos. Sorry folks, the true heroes are not highly trained, heavily armed professional going about their jobs, even though some of them tragically lost their lives. Here are the true heroes, ordinary people showing extraordinary bravery. Untrained, unarmed, unprotected, ordinary hotel staff doing what they could to protect others:

They were heroes in cummerbunds and overalls. The staff of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel saved hundreds of wealthy guests as heavily armed gunmen roamed the building, firing indiscriminately, leaving a trail of corpses behind them.

Among the workers there were some whose bravery and sense of duty led them to sacrifice their own lives, witnesses said.

Prashant Mangeshikar, a guest, said that a hotel worker, identified only as Mr Rajan, had put himself between one of the gunmen and Mr Mangeshikar, his wife and two daughters.

“The man in front of my wife shielded us,” Mr Mangeshikar said. “He was a maintenance section staff member. He took the bullets.” For the next 12 hours, before Mr Rajan was finally taken out of the hotel, guests battled to stop the bleeding from a gaping bullet wound in his abdomen. It is not known if he lived.

You can read that story here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ads add to jams

One thing the RTA could do to ease drivers' inconvenience is to ban the convoys of mobile advertisements which add to the congestion on our roads.

Three of them have been cruising around New Dubai in recent days - I got stuck behind this one when he peeled off from the other two to have a break.

Another thing they could do is to stop the street sweeping trucks from clogging up the roads during peak hours. There's one regularly around Al Sufouh Road near the Tecom area during the morning peak traffic. It crawls along the inside lane, as it must, effectively preventing traffic from using that lane and forcing it to merge into other heavily congested lanes.

The RTA website says Customer Centricity and their vision is Safe and Smooth Transport for all. That would be helped by the removal of these two little unnecessary irritations.

A smaller Christmas?

Christmas isn't as big in Dubai this year, or not so far anyway.

Not a bad thing in my opinion, the commercialism was getting to be way too much and the mall decorations were way over the top.

Wandering around Mall of the Emirates earlier today I noticed that the majority of shops have no Christmas decorations. But not all...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Poo Lagoons

An iconic new development folks.

The Poo Lagoons.

In another of our Great Moments In Planning, the planners forgot to include sewage treatment plants in Dubai's Master Plan.

As has been extensively reported, tanker drivers have been unwilling to queue all day at our one and only treatment plant and have been dumping their unpleasant loads anywhere they could.

Beaches have been closed, boaties have been unable to sail and Dubai's vital tourist trade hasn't been helped by the international coverage of it.

But now we have a 'medium term solution' - a big hole in the ground where 500 tankers a day can discharge.

No, sorry, not a hole in the ground. It's 'a temporary lagoon which has been engineered, with contractors working on it'.

The site will be aerated naturally with only preliminary treatment. Reeds and bamboo will be planted to transfer oxygen to the sewage and help break it down.

'Aerated naturally'? That means leaving it open to the elements doesn't it? As I commented on Alexander's post on the subject, several trillion flies are likely to call it home.

Five hundred tankers a day, each with thousands of litres to discharge. These are going to be big lagoons folks.

But nicely landscaped with greenery.

And I must say I was amused by this comment from the director of the treatment plant.

He said "this technology is commonly used in countries that cannot afford proper facilities or infrastructure."

The story is here.

Is there a solution to solutions?

The trend of companies using the word 'solutions' instead of telling people what they're actually selling does annoy me.

There's an example in Dubai Marina:

Middle East yacht solution?

Solution for what?

Having a solution means there was a problem. So what's the problem they've solved?

And what are they selling? Yachts? Finance for those of us who can't afford a yacht? Are they boat chandlers? Do they repair damaged boats? Do they sell insurance for yachts? Do they provide crew? Berthing? Painting?

Not good marketing is it, avoiding telling people what it is you want them to buy from you.

There was another classic in a press release I read in Gulf News the other day.

In just five sentences they managed to get 'solution' in four times:

etisalat...has developed an innovative solution...first of its kind solution in the world...The solution...a pioneer in launching customer centric solutions.

What was the problem for which they've found a solution?

Apparently mobile broadband subscribers had a problem watching multiple TV channels on their laptops while browsing the internet.


The full five sentences are here.

And just as an aside - instead of offering me multiple TV channels plus websites to clutter up my screen, I'd like the customer centric Etisalat to come up with a solution to the basic speed. Or more accurately, lack of speed.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

ID Clarification Day

Gulf News has a 'your ID card questions answered' feature this morning.

I'm now listening to the radio, which has a full hour (apart from playing music in between the questions) with the EIDA Planning Director & Project Manager explaining the whole thing.

Is it all explained? Is it now clear? Are the problems solved?

You didn't really expect that it would be did you?

My favourite highlights from the Gulf News feature:

I am on vacation and unable to access the website due to heavy traffic. I cannot return before the deadline. What are my options and will I be fined?

"It is your responsibility to register before the deadline".

It has become impossible to find registration forms, or register on the website? Will I be penalised?

"It is your responsibility to register".

And I thought this was a very strange question:

What happens to the ID card if one dies after obtaining it?

Would you care?

And so on to the radio interview.

That's started with the fact that EIDA was completely ready in plenty of time and the chaos is all our fault. They "understood and anticipated the challenges" in introducing the system.

The details were: "Announced in July 2007 with ads in papers and information on the website" and that statement was simply accepted. Inevitably the obvious question wasn't asked: "Where did the ads appear? Where did you advertise the website details?"

It's confirmed that the ID requirement was originally announced as I remembered it: "All residents must register before the end of 2010"

(Then a few weeks ago the 'deadline' for professionals was suddenly given as December 31 this year, with threats of sanctions).

There was the question so many people are asking, in the last three or four weeks the website couldn't cope with the volume. "We were not surprised that people waited until the last minute"

Question. Exactly who are the 'professionals' who have to register by year end? Still no clear answer, just "degree holders and professional career people such as marketing/sales supervisor etc". But not a secretary in an office or a salesman.

So in other words, I think, a white collar worker at senior level. Still a bit vague isn't it.

Half way into the programme the claim that it's all our fault for not registering early has come up several times.

It's exactly as I assumed it would be. I can't be bothered with it any more, I'm getting more and more irritated so I've switched the radio off.

You can read the nonsense in Gulf News here.

Beach romp saga ends

The tabloids, especially in Britain, were initially screaming that Michelle & Vince were facing six years in jail.

In fact they got three months and didn't go to to jail as they appealed the sentence.

Now the Appeals Court has suspended the jail term, so they just have to pay Dh1,000 and they're deported.

From the hysteria at the beginning it kind of fizzled out.

There's a small report in Gulf News here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

ID Card update

As I said last week, my ID Card arrived with no family name on it, just my first name and my father's name.

A problem? Dunno, so I went back to the Al Barsha EIDA office to ask.

The receptionist seemed unfazed, as though others might have asked a similar question before.

She said 'everything is in the card, so it doesn't matter that your family name is not printed on it'.

I'm going to leave it at that.

When I have to produce it for something, say like hiring a car for example, and the company presumably doesn't have a reader to read what's 'in' the card, I'll sort it out then.

Getting very angry, shouting, jumping up and down with rage usually seems to work so I may try that.

Or maybe I'll carry with me the piece of paper I printed out from the EIDA website which shows all the names as they should have appeared.

Or perhaps I'll do both.

Incidentally, a word of praise for the counter staff at the EIDA office.

They get a fair bit of stick in the media, on blog comments and in general conversation - arrogant, unhelpful, dismissive.

That hasn't been my experience.

When I arrived at the reception desk there was a crowd in front of it, a well-behaved crowd it must be said but an untidy side-by-side queue rather than a behind-each-other queue.

The Emirati receptionist was looking harrassed but was polite and helpful to everyone.

Also bear in mind that she was not conversing in her own language, nor were many of the people asking questions.

A couple of times she said 'Sorry I don't understand you' and she wasn't alone in that, I hadn't understood the question either.

Actually I often have that problem. While I understand the words being spoken they don't make a coherent sentence and so I don't understand what's being said.

English is my mother tongue, so an English-language conversation between people both having it as a second or third language must be very, very difficult.

Anyway, full marks to the lady.

It's obvious there are still many problems with the whole ID registration question and I came across this ad this morning.

It could be helpful or it could be a comedy show. Either way it'll be worth listening to.

Will the right questions be asked and accurate answers be pressed for? Or as I've complained about so often, will it be an official denial that there are any problems, which will be accepted without question?

If you're out of range you can listen to it all online here.