Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Common sense prevails?

Here's a news item from the BBC:

"A man jailed in the United Arab Emirates after cannabis weighing less than a sugar grain was found on the sole of his shoe has spoken out.

Andrew Brown, 43, from Smethwick, West Midlands was jailed for four years in December but was pardoned last week by the head of Dubai's prison system."

I think only the Ruler can grant a pardon, but that may just be a detail they got wrong.

It seems the story was broken by 7Days but I can't find it in any of our other papers. A few international news outlets have carried it - Sky News and International Herald Tribune both quote 7Days while the BBC seem to be carrying their own story.

Assuming it's true, it's a very sensible decision - for Andrew Brown and for Dubai's reputation.

We're taking a bit of a hammering internationally over the jailing of people for taking Codeine or for having a couple of poppy seeds from a bread roll on their clothing, and in this case for having trodden on something. I posted about that a week or so ago.

I don't have a problem with strict drug laws but I do object to them being taken to these ridiculous extremes. I can't believe it was the intention of the lawmakers for them to be interpreted in this way and for the jailing of innocent people.

Maybe our new Minister of Justice will look into what's been happening. It would seem to need an explanation of the laws and what was intended by them to be sent to everyone involved, from Customs to the courts.

The stories are here:





And while I'm talking about the law and courts, there was another interesting item that caught my eye.

A while ago the police said they were going to crack down on illegal tinting of car windows. Well, they've started the crackdown and it's on their own personnel!

According to the story, more than 50 police employees have been fined for having tinting above the 30% limit. Major Saif Al Mazroui, Acting Deputy Director of Dubai Police's Traffic Department, said the aim of the campaign is to alert Dubai Police employees that they have to be role models for others and abide by the rule.

I'd like to see that sentiment expanded to cover drivers of police cars too - I see far too many of them breaking traffic laws and rules. Talking on mobile phones, speeding, sitting in the wrong lane...

The story is here.

This is a worry...

The lead story in Emirates Business 24/7 today is about the RTA putting out to tender the rights to sell advertising on the Metro system.

In the story is some really worrying information that I haven't seen before.

"Apart from the main contract for advertising inside and outside the Metro cars, separate concessions will be awarded for advertising on the Metro viaduct, pillars and stations...The viaduct will have lights and bright advertising signs. The same applies to the concrete pillars that support the viaduct."

Oh great. Bright advertising signs all over everything, that'll be classy.

But that's not all:

"RTA will offer rights to use Metro stations to selected companies, government and private departments and institutions for design and colour of stations...Civil Aviation Authority of Dubai will design and build two stations near the airport.They will carry the authority’s name. Also BurJuman shopping centre has won a concession to design and build the BurJuman station, which will carry its name. Dubai Holding has got a station of its own as well...Among 42 stations RTA will offer only 23 stations for sponsorship by other companies and bodies, while the remaining stations will maintain their design, which should be in harmony with the national identity of the UAE."

'Only 23'? That's more than half the stations designed and decorated by sponsor companies. Will they be 'in harmony with the national identity of the UAE' or in harmony with the advertising of the prizes for getting the answer right.

Even in a country with a high standard of advertising creativity it would be appalling, but in Dubai I can't even begin to imagine how bad it's going to look.

The story's here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Global Village 2008

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.

And instead of spreading the load, in true Dubai fashion all but one of the car park entrances were blocked off, so even though we'd arrived at GV we sat in a queue for forty minutes to get into the car parks.

Getting out was the same problem, just one exit open so the car parks were full of traffic all being forced onto one narrow lane and one exit. I missed most of that because a helpful attendant moved the cones from one of the blocked exits for me.

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.

It can be quite a walk from the far car parks, particularly for families with older people or with children, and it is very much a family event. The last part of the walk can be avoided if you take one of the trishaws, and there are plenty of them lined up waiting for passengers. Coming back laden down with stuff you've bought the trishaw might be a sensible idea - we walked so I don't know what they charge but I'm sure it won't be much.

We particularly liked the Yemen pavilion, it has a real souk atmosphere with the most amazing looking and smelling spice stalls right by the entrance. There's a whole row of stalls selling many different types of honey in bulk too.

As part of the future plan to have GV as a year-round permanent attraction a waterway has been added between major pavilions. There's a canal with several bridges over it and a couple of small lake areas, people sitting and resting at the waterside. And the reflection of lights on water always looks good.

While I'm sure the water will work in future the problem is that with the crowds going to GV now because it's still only a one month event, the waterway has taken out much-needed walkways. The crowds packed into either side of it and on the bridges are absolutely awful.

The crush isn't simply the huge number of people but the added facts that many have children in pushchairs, most are those huge things which are the pram equivalent of a Toyota Landcruiser, and many more are struggling with bags of their purchases.

As in previous years the Indian pavilion is the star of the show. I'm sure it's the biggest, it's full of traders and has a great atmosphere.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A better deal for Indian maids

There's regular comment about the wages of lower-paid workers in the UAE, and the conditions in which some - especially labourers in the construction industry - are accommodated.

The wages and treatment of housemaids is also a subject of conversation and media reports. Exploitation has been all-too common so it's an area that governments have needed to be involved in. Fortunately that is happening.

The Indian Embassy in the UAE has just issued new regulations for the employment of maids from India.

With immediate effect, housemaids from India must be paid at least Dh1,100 a month plus food and accommodation plus return airfare. They must be a minimum of 30 years of age and it seems that some kind of check into the employer is carried out. The announcement from the Embassy is here.

The new wage is US$299 a month, or at today's exchange rate £152, Euro200.

When you convert it into western currencies it sounds appallingly low doesn't it.

In spite of an 80% increase, is it still exploitation?

The ongoing discussion about lower-paid workers' wages has popped up here again, on the UAE Community Blog and then on Bss & Brn in Al Ain blog.

It's a highly emotive issue, but it's also highly complex.

Just look at a couple of the economic issues - putting aside bad treatment of people, which is unacceptable for anyone under any circumstances.

We live in an economy in which the majority of people are guest workers. Many of the workers are from countries in which their remittances have a huge impact on the economy. Indian remittances last year were nearly US$30 billion. The Philippines economy received remittances of over US$14 billion last year. Remittances are some countries' largest foreign exchange earner.

The average wage in many labour supplying countries is around a dollar a day. The cost of living in many of them is low enough that a person sending back just a few dollars a month is supporting an extended family.

It's highly complex, encompassing everthing from the individual to entire economies. To relate the wages of workers from these countries to western wages & costs of living is meaningless. To say there should be a wage for the job regardless of where people come from is naive.

Compare the wages in your country with the official minimum wage rates declared by the Indian government through its Embassy in Abu Dhabi for its citizens.

For example, the lowest wage is Dh600 a month (US$163, £82, Euro109) for unskilled workers including labourer, cleaner, messenger, Grade II Waiter, cook on personal sponsorship, farm workers.

For 'Office Staff' the minimum wage is Dh1150 to Dh1200 a month (US$312, 157, Euro209). For 'Highly Skilled' people including X-ray Welder, Nurse, Accountant,a minimum wage of Dh1400 to Dh1700 a month (US$380, £191, Euro255).

In the context of India and Indians, the Indian government says those are fair minimum wages.

You can read the full list at the Embassy website.

As I said, it's complex.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More on old Dubai today...

This is the second post, which I meant to do much earlier than this, on Dubai's older shopping areas that I so much prefer to the new malls.

The first one was about Satwa and today it's the area in Bur Dubai around Al Faheidi Street.

The shopping district is between Bank Street and the Creek, with Al Faheidi Street running parallel to and in between them. Bank Street, by the way, has a big concentration of computer stores, especially clustered around the junction with Mankhool Road.

This part of Bur Dubai is another area of mainly small roadside shops with a bewildering variety of things to see and buy. From designer clothing to the cheapest clothing, souks, supermarkets, hardware, household goods, name it and it's almost cetainly here.

It's also a residential area of course, and it's quite different from the over-the-top opulence the world thinks all Dubai consists of.

These local shopping areas are attracting little clusters of gold shops selling the traditional Indian and Arab jewellery now that the gold souk is catering more for western tourists. I've always thought it makes the most stunning window displays.

The area is full of little cafes, restaurants, juice bars all adding to the atmosphere, especially with the hunger-making smells coming from them.

It also has dozens of the little lanes and alleyways, most with tiny shops both sides. And they're perfectly safe to walk down - a side of Dubai that often gets forgotten or we become blase about. It really is astonishingly safe for a city of its size.

You can start up in Bank Street and just wander in the direction of the Creek, checking out all the little streets and lanes and eventually you arrive at the souks.

Down by the Creek there are some household goods shops, crammed from top to bottom with kitchen gadgets, cutlery, pots & pans and stuff I have no idea what it's for, sweet shops, spices, pharmacies, travel agencies - as I've said before, if you don't know where to find something just go into one of these older shopping areas and you'll find it.

This Creekside area is where the textile souk is located, wholesale and retail, and there's more material on offer than anyone could ever need. The materials, the designs, the countries of origin, the vast choice is amazing.

There's also the more general souk with a lot of touristy stuff but also amazing bargains for the rest of us. For example, a Pashmina shawl for Dh10 is great for tourists, but it's also not a bad buy for residents considering the cold weather we've been having.

And of course there are watches and shoes and bedsheets and hats and T-shirts, antiques, leather belts, jackets, snacks, juice...

Then you eventually arrive at the Creek, my favourite part of Dubai. The sights, the sounds, the smells of the Creek - that's Dubai.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Rape case appeal rejected

A rape case that has attracted international attention and condemnation of the laws and sentences here, is back in the news.

A reminder. Three Emiratis, one HIV & hepatitis positive, were charged with 'having forceful sex' with a 15 year old French schoolboy. That's the way homosexual rape is described by our law.

It has been not only all over the internet, the boy's mother started a website called, but in the mainstream media as well - if you google you'll see the extent of it. There's a lot of highly critical stuff, very damaging to Dubai's reputation in major international media.

The expectation in many quarters seemed to be that justice would not be served in the case.

To the surprise of the sceptics the two adult men (the third is appearing in a juvenile court) were each given 15 year sentences.

A Dubai Government spokesman said the sentence was in accordance with the practice in most countries in respect to similar crimes.

The defence lawyer at one stage said that as the boy had not developed HIV it proved his client was not guilty. That quite rightly attracted a huge amount of derision.

On that laughable suggestion an Appeal Court judge is quoted today as saying:

"Although the victim's results came back negative, this has nothing to do with the crime, charges, litigation and court proceedings".

The convicted rapists appealed, but yesterday the Court of Appeal upheld the initial ruling.

The court also upheld the referral to Dubai Civil Court of the victim's Dh15 million compensation claim.

Of course, the appeal will now be taken to the highest court. Let's hope they show the same good judgement as the earlier courts.

Change of sentiment

I don't know how long the mother's website will be accessible, because on it she has posted:

I am pleased to be able to tell you, all around the world, that Dubai is committed to the enforcement of its rule of law in a fair and just manner...

...I consider my demands for positive redress of the situation, to the UAE, have been met. I have therefore withdrawn the civil cases filed in Dubai, Paris and Geneva respectively.

For all these reasons, I will now close down this website which was established to raise the public and media attention of this case.

I don't suppose for one moment that the international media will pick up on that.

So, things are moving in the right direction.

We have a new Minister of Justice too. Maybe he will look at other laws that are getting us a bad press internationally - those relating to drugs.

The question of people with over-the-counter drugs being so harshly treated, the jailing of people who took (even prescription) drugs outside the UAE, the jailing of people with the tiniest microscopic speck of a drug on their clothing - the laws and their implementation need to be looked at.

References you may be interested to read:

Gulf News appeal story.

International Herald Tribune.

ABC News.

And in relation to the drug laws that I think need urgent attention:

Fair Trials International.

Ministry changes

Last year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid put various ministries on notice to lift their game.

Then it was announced that 'mystery shoppers' would be used to
check their performance.

Today there is the annoucement of a cabinet re-shuffle. Some ministers have been moved, some have been replaced, new ministries formed, responsibilities of some departments have been moved...and we now have four female ministers.

WAM quotes Sheikh Mohammed as saying that :

...the overall objective of the cabinet reshuffle was enhancing government's efficiency, transparency and teamwork.

"We want a modern and effective cabinet with a greater consistency and abilities to improve functioning of the government as a whole and to accelerate development processes."

All the details are in the lead story in today's Gulf News, here.

Optimistic trader...

A friend has just e-mailed me this photograph, of a product that's been imported by IKEA, Festival City.

Do you think they'll sell many bags of sand in Dubai?

Friday, February 15, 2008

I've been tagged

CG has tagged me I'm afraid, and for once I'll do as I'm told.

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages)

'Cocktails and Mixed Drinks' by Anthony Hogg.

2. Open the book to page 123.

OK, done that.

3. Find the fifth sentence.

Alcohol is a good thing, but, unfortunately, a poison.

4. Post the next three sentences.

Drunk men tell no lies and and an extremely drunk man in a Maltese bar once told me that alcohol always caught up with you; perhaps the same night, possibly the next morning, or it might wait slyly for years to give you a stroke or cirrhosis at sixty.

So far ir has always given me a headache in the morning. Once I consulted a Harley Street Ear, Nose & Throat surgeon saying that I felt the headache's severity was out of all proportion to the alcohol consumed.

5. Tag five people.

OK, here goes - sorry:






Thursday, February 14, 2008

The true face of inflation

I'm sure that there can't be anyone living in Dubai who believes the official inflation figure of around 10%.

I suspect that even the people who come up with them don't actually believe it themselves.

Gulf News has compiled some figures on the real increase in food costs. They say:

"Basic food prices in the UAE have risen a staggering 36 per cent."

Staggering? Isn't it what anybody who buys food already knows?

They give some typical examples:

"*Price of Basmati rice has shot up more than 50% from Dh15 for 5kg to Dh22.70

*A two litre bottle of cooking oil has increased 80%, from Dh10.85 to Dh19.60

*Indian mutton has gone through the roof from Dh13 a kg last year to Dh28 per kg

*A whole chicken now costs Dh17.25 as compared to Dh10.35 last year

*A 30-egg tray costs Dh14.60 today. Last year it was Dh12.30"

It isn't only food prices. Far from it.

We have Salik road tolls that are new. Rents going up by huge amounts, in spite of the rent cap. School fees jumping by very large percentages. Travel costs up with taxes and fuel surcharges.

Wouldn't it be interesting to see the true inflation figures.

The Gulf News report is here.

I don't understand.

I really can't understand how the minds of fanatics work.

Or maybe they don't work, they just blindly stay on some bizarre pathway that my mind doesn't even begin to understand.

There's yet another example in today's Gulf News, from The Magic Kingdom:

"...the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), or the Religious Police, has banned the sale of red roses, often sold on Valentine's Day, which falls today..."


It get's worse.

"The Saudi Gazette reported that CPVPV squads have ordered florists and gift shop owners in Riyadh to remove any items coloured scarlet, which is widely seen as symbolising love."

Flowers banned? Scarlet colour banned?

Not for the first time, I'm speechless.

No, I'm not making it up, you can read it here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The arrogance of ignorance

There are far too many people in the world making adamant statements based on a complete ignorance of the facts. So sure that they're right, they confidently jump on their soapbox and spout their nonsense. No attempt to check the facts.

They annoy the hell out of me.

There's a classic example in Gulf News today, in a report on the new Australian Prime Minister's apology for past injustices done to aboriginals. The main emphasis was on the 'stolen generations' of children removed, generally forcibly, from their families and institutionalised or fostered out to white families.

"One female Australian expatriate said: "It's hundreds of years ago, and is there anybody in this world actually alive today who was personally affected by it? No."

Hundreds of years ago? I thought every Australian knew that the country wasn't 'discovered' by Capt. Cook until 1770 and white settlement/colonisation only began in 1788, just two hundred and twenty years ago, with the arrival of the First Fleet.

I'm astonished that any Australian wouldn't know the practice of removing children only ended about thirty years ago in the early nineteen-seventies, given the huge media coverage the 'stolen generations' issue has had for many years.

But here's an Australian telling the world that there's no-one alive who was personally affected by it.

The fact is that somebody taken as a child in 1970 would only be around forty now.

Our 'female Australian expatriate' continues:

"I don't see why Australian tax payers are now wasting money and time on formalising this apology. It distracts from the real issues in Australia today."

Tax payers wasting money? It's simply a statement from the Prime Minister, no money is involved.

The 'real issues in Australia' she's talking about look to me to be education - we obviously need to improve our history and current affairs education when we have Australians talking such nonsense.

The Gulf News story is here.

The Official Report

For anyone interested in history, in the relationship between colonisers and indiginous people, in social issues, the official report of the national enquiry is an astonishing document. Much of it is personal testimony from the children and families affected by the programme. That to me is the essence of any historical event. It's the little individual experiences that together make the big event and it's those that turn it from something intangible into something with colour and feeling and emotion.

Here's an example:

"When I first met my mother - when I was 14 - she wasn't what they said she was. They made her sound like she was stupid, you know, they made her sound so bad. And when I saw her she was so beautiful. Mum said, `My baby's been crying' and she walked into the room and she stood there and I walked into my - I walked into my mother and we hugged and this hot, hot rush just from the tip of my toes up to my head filled every part of my body - so hot. That was my first feeling of love and it only could come from my mum."

The report is called Bringing them Home.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A permanent building site.

People complain all the time that 'nothing ever gets finished' in Dubai.

Not quite true, things do get finished...but then they're dug up again.

And that's why it's a never-ending construction site, with all the traffic, the pollution, the frustration problems that causes. Not to mention a bottomless pit for money.

Most of it is due to the major problem-causing fault here. Either a total lack of planning or totally incompetent planning.

Dubai Marina is a classic.

The original plan had just one way in and out, one bridge across the northern opening which has only one lane in each direction. At the southern end the roads were completed, palm trees and landscaping in. Four bridges across the marina itself finished.

Bad planning!

A new interchange had to go in at the southern end, which meant ripping up all the just-finished roads. An additional bridge is being built across the northern opening. A fifth bridge being built across the marina.

The result is road chaos, huge amounts of wasted money, double the pollution from cement dust, years added to the completion date.

But it's not just those major stuff-ups causing endless problems. Even worse than that is the hole digging.

Buildings are finished, people move in...and a year later the entire front is dug up for cabling.

This is a stretch of the southern part of the marina, where Marina Park, Marina Pearl and Waterfront are the buildings suffering the most. The buildings were finished, people have been living in them, shops and cafes have been operating, for between one and two years.

They were looking good. Then along came the hole diggers...

Why wasn't the original cabling done to cater for the buildings that were planned?

For different reasons, there's another 'will-it-ever-be-finished' saga going on by the access to Palm Jumeirah. There we have the much-vaunted Dubai Pearl, the 'futuristic city' which would be another 'icon'.

That was going to be completed in May 2006 and it was going to look like this:

Here it is today:

Yes folks, almost two years after it was due to be finished the demolition squad is in, knocking down the buildings and digging up the foundations.

Monday, February 11, 2008

More nostalgia

Over on the UAE Community Blog, localexpat has been wallowing in nostalgia about the good ol'days.

That prompted me to dig out a couple of my bits of nostalgia - click on the pic to enlarge if you want to read the wording:

Yes folks, I was an 'Official' at the very first Dubai International Horse Show. I think it was about 1981 or '82 and it was held at the Dubai Metropolitan Hotel on Abu Dhabi Road, as it was called then. I remember they upset their football team by digging up the football pitch at the back to build the horse show arena.

And the brass plate is what several of the hotels used to give away as souvenirs - I have others in a box somewhere - this one from the Dubai Hilton to celebrate its fifth birthday in 1983. That's the hotel that used to be behind the Trade Centre but was demolished a couple of years ago.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Kind deed

On a morning when there's a Gulf News report that at least 14% of pet shops in the UAE are in poor condition with low levels of animal welfare standards, I came across an example of caring.

At Umm Suqeim beach an injured or sick gull had been carefully placed in the shade, some corn placed beside it and a plastic bag of water above it.

It's not the first time I've seen little acts of kindness like this.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Case Of The Bulletproof Sheep

One for Poirot or Sherlock Holmes methinks.

Or Monty Python.

In a case at the Dubai Court of Misdemeanours yesterday the defence lawyer said he would be calling witnesses to confirm his client's claim that a sheep became bulletproof when an onyx stone was placed around its neck.

The defendant shot the sheep four times without harming him.

Now I know what you're thinking - he's a poor shot and missed the animal, but that's not the case.

The sheep was protected by an onyx stone with supernatural powers.

The owner of the stone advertised it for sale in an Arabic newspaper, a real bargain at only Dh1.8 billion (US$490 million). He'll let you test the powers of the stone if you leave a Dh500 million deposit, and what could be fairer than that.

In a statement to the court the defendant insisted:

"I didn't swindle or cheat anyone. I am not a cheat.

I had a stall at Global Village where I displayed precious stones, including the onyx. I asked the police to try the stone before confiscating it and arresting me. They refused. I brought it with me from Yemen."

See, he had a stall at Global Village and he brought the stone from Yemen. Who could question the innocence of a man with those credentials?

But more than that, he offered to let the police test the stone's magic powers. How could they possibly have refused such a tempting offer?

In spite of all the factors in his favour it seems he'll just have to produce the expert witnesses to confirm his claim.

Or perhaps the court will be persuaded by the defence lawyer who said:

"If it necessary then I will demand the court makes an experiment to prove that because he has witnesses who saw it."

Could the final scene be the Clerk of Court bringing a sheep back from the market into court, a police officer draws his pistol...

Reports in Gulf News and

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Satwa demolition.

It's ironic.

I've just been talking about Satwa being part of Dubai's history and Khaleej Times reports:

"The Dubai Municipality, in coordination with the Land Department, will soon begin large-scale demolition of villas in the Satwa area.

'Soon most of the villas in the Satwa area would be demolished. A few of them have already been razed and the process for the remaining ones is on in the Land Department.' "

Can't we renovate and keep what little history we have, even if it is recent history, rather than destroying it?

The story's here.

A change of policy?

There's a very interesting little phrase in today's Gulf News court report about a drug possession case. Almost a throw-away line but potentially very important.

In the past there have been reports of people being sentenced for having banned substances in their system, even though they consumed them outside the UAE. That a drug in your body is deemed 'possession' has raised critical comment about our judicial system.

The phrase in today's report, almost a throw-away line, is highlighted here:

A banned drug was found in his system but no charge was brought. I wonder whether it's a one-off or if it may be the general policy in future.

The paper's website has an edited version and the phrase isn't included. You'll find it here.


After the record rains, the gales, the earth tremors, we now have temperatures way below normal.

The next three days will continue to be very cold across the country, according to Dubai Met. Office, and the mean temperatures in Dubai have dropped six degrees celcius below normal.

We have a beautiful blue sky this morning but the wind has a real chill to it. It's coming in from Iran apparently...Mrs Seabee was in Tehran a couple of weeks ago and here's one of her photos that shows the problem:

Monday, February 04, 2008

Old Dubai today

Something I read over at the blog Liminal Lounge a while ago prompted me to get back to posting about old Dubai.

Not 'old' meaning decades ago that I've talked about in my previous posts, but the 'old' Dubai that exists today.

The LL post said: "Malls are the only place to go. Unlike in the US, where malls are one option for retail — and then only certain kinds of retail — here you go to the mall to do your grocery shopping, go to the movies, go out to eat, hang out, do your banking, go to the gym, get a coffee — it’s all in one place: the mall."

It's something I talk about often. We do have an alternative to malls, for shopping or just for just wandering around. We have real, traditional local shopping districts.

People who don't live here are shown only the new developments and so they think Dubai is nothing but new & opulent. Even many residents are not aware of the older areas because they simply don't go to them.

I enjoy them so much more - I don't like malls in general anyway but the older shopping strips are much more atmospheric, less clinical, more fun - the real Dubai as far as I'm concerned. And you can get just about anything you need, including stuff not available in the malls.

Three particular areas that I like are the old shopping/residential suburb of Satwa, the area in Bur Dubai from Al Faheidi Street down to the Creek and over in Deira the area around Naif Road & the souks on the Creek. There's also Karama but I don't like that area I'm afraid. Plenty of bargains but I think it's a bit of a soul-less concrete jungle.

Satwa is today's subject.

Running from Beach Road, by the giant UAE flag, towards Trade Centre roundabout is Al Diyafah Street, which these days is dominated by restaurants. Plenty of fast-food franchise outlets but there are also individual one-off restaurants.

From the burgers and pizzas to Lebanese, Thai, Chinese, Indian, international, Arabic sweets, ice cream parlours - there really is something to suit everyone's taste.

These days of course a lot of the restaurants have outside dining areas and the outdoor tables all along the footpaths add to the atmosphere, particularly in the evening.

At the end opposite Rydges hotel roundabout there are the two main shopping streets running off to the right.

That's where you'll find traditional strip shopping, a couple of kilometres or so of mainly small shops side-by-side.

You can find an amazing variety of things to buy in Satwa. There are some good nurseries, for example, alongside aquariums, fruit and vegetable shops and a couple of large supermarkets.

You'll find a row of perfume shops, selling the raw basic materials plus all the accessories you need to burn the perfumes to waft the scent through the house.

There's a mini gold souk too, a cluster of nearly thirty gold jewellery shops selling mainly the traditional Arabic and Indian gold designs but also offering a good European selection.

If you need something and you're not sure where to get it - try Satwa. Glass cut, tyres repaired, typing done, plumbing supplies, mobile phones, clothing...

There's also traditional cooking going on all around, and some inexpensive little places to eat it.

One that we like to eat in is back in Al Diyafah Street, called Ruan Thai. A wonderful speciality is the complimentary starter, small dishes of finely chopped lime, ginger, onion, toasted coconut, red chilli and peanuts. Spread some of the sweet chilli sauce on the fresh leaves, add a small amount from each dish, fold the leaf and eat. Delicious.

I'll try not to leave it too long before I talk about the other two areas that I particularly like to visit.

The clean-up.

After the gales a couple of days ago the work gangs are out cleaning up the mess, including some of the newly-planted date palms that took a bit of a battering. Quite a few had to be straightened. I noticed a few of the established palms had snapped off just below the fronds too, so the gusts must have been even stronger than I thought.

I was reminded of something I've talked about before too - nothing but a red flag to protect cleaners on Dubai's dangerous roads...

That really needs looking into.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

It ain't just Dubai

We complain about the traffic in Dubai - and rightly so, I shall continue to complain I'm sure. But some of the complaints I've read give the impression that Dubai's problems are unique, or the worst possible.

We're in a fantasy bubble in Dubai and so many people lose perspective of the bigger world. My home town had problems last week which puts our traffic situation into some perspective.

Commuting into Sydney and out again in the evening is a nightmare, in all directions. There's a toll on Sydney Harbour Bridge and on many of the freeways. Sound familiar? The tolls are much more than Dh4 too.

There are just two roads going north from Sydney through the Central Coast and to Newcastle, which is a commuter area. They are the Pacific Highway and the F3 Freeway. When the F3 was completed the Pacific Highway was allowed to fall into disrepair, which means in reality there are one-and-a-half roads north.

If, as happens all too frequently, there's a major incident on the F3 it's total chaos. Sound familiar?

Last week the papers reported:

Commuters trapped again

TWO days of traffic chaos on the F3 have reignited calls for a second freeway to Sydney.

A truck crash closed the F3 for seven hours and stranded thousands of southbound holidaymakers and commuters on Tuesday. On Wednesday a pile-up northbound at Berowra injured 10 people and caused more delays.

Motorists were stuck for up to seven hours in a traffic jam in soaring summer heat after a fiery truck crash closed the F3 freeway north of Sydney on Tuesday.

The 18-tonne Kenworth semi-trailer, carrying a load of waste paper and rags, crashed into a sandstone rockface near the Berowra exit of the F3 about 6.30am, bursting into flames.

Both southbound lanes of the freeway were closed for most of the day, one opening at about 1.30pm and the other at about 4pm.

Motorists who weren't trapped on the freeway headed for the alternative Pacific Highway:

It's like trying to avoid gridlock on Sheikh Zayed Road by using Al Wasl Road!

And it's the RTA that's to blame. Sound familiar?

The Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) has been criticised for its handling of the incident, with traffic left banked up for at least 10 kilometres in soaring summer temperatures.

'There is a real duty of care for the RTA for the people who were stuck in this traffic jam,' said Opposition roads spokesman Duncan Gay. 'They cannot just put a sign up, walk away and hope that people will be all right. In a case like this they needed to have extra people with extra directions ... this is the sort of thing they should have been prepared for because frankly it's not unusual for this situation to happen on the F3.'

And does the standard of driving sound familiar?

The driver of the truck, Bill Barry, said he had only taken his eyes off the road for a moment. 'I was reaching down to get a drink out of my fridge.I was sort of coming along and hit the gutter there and that's when I'm into the wall.'

At the height of the blaze, six fire units and 15 crew worked to extinguish the fire in the truck and the burning paper, which had to be pulled apart and hosed down.

A HAZMAT crew was also called in to contain a spill of blazing diesel which ran down the side of the road for about 100 metres.

Where Dubai wins

There was another story that also put Dubai into perspective, something that people living here take for granted.

The lack of crime. And particularly mindless acts of random violence.

Hoons pelt cars with rocks and bottles

A RETIRED couple narrowly escaped serious injury when their car was pelted with rocks.

They were driving home from a friend's house at Tumbi Umbi along the Central Coast Highway at 9.30pm on Monday when they saw three males emerge from the bush beside Wamberal Cemetery.

Bob Watson, 65, of Avoca Beach, said the first rock put a hole in the windscreen while another glanced off the passenger-side corner centimetres from his wife's face. A third left a large dent in their front number plate.

Mr Watson said a young woman's Porsche about 150m in front of their car was also pelted with rocks and beer bottles.

'If it had gone through her open window she could have been killed,' he said. 'Her car was covered in beer, it was sloshed everywhere.'

The senseless act bore striking similarities to a rock-throwing incident on the South Coast which left a promising young beauty therapist permanently disfigured last year.

It's a real plus about living in Dubai.

Friday, February 01, 2008

It's a stay indoors day

The Met Office said gale force winds and sandstorms would start overnight, and they sure got that right.

It's awful out there.

Dubai Marina...

Al Sufouh Road...

Burj Al Arab beach...

What amazed me was what people were doing in it - paragliding off Umm Suqeim beach - lunacy in these winds.

A jogger on Al Sufouh Road - any benefit from the jog would be more than destroyed by the kilo of dust she'd breathe into her lungs.

And whether I'm being sandblasted or not, I'm having my day on the beach!