Tuesday, March 31, 2009
My little pocket-size digital camera makes it easy to record and share them, so here are a few from last weeks trip.
We have some bizarre buildings in Dubai, but we're not alone in that. How about these examples of architectural art at Bugis Street:
The description of food always fascinates me. Unlike westerners who come up with fancy names for animal body parts used in cooking, the Chinese tell it like it is for the ingredients:
Pig's Stomach Soup or Spine Meat Soup. Boy, they make it sound appetising.
One thing that mystifies me - they list liver, stomach, kidney, spine meat etc, so I wonder what goes into Pig's Organ Soup?
And on the subject of food - Wife Biscuits?
I came across this poster extolling the virtues of a career in real estate (!!) in the local area of Toa Payoh. I loved this section of the message in particular:
And something that I often complain about on Life in Dubai - inevitably the use of 'solutions' has hit Singapore too:
The Final Solution TM (how can they trademark that?) for those who must write something despite having nothing to say.
A classic in the world of solutions.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
In spite of the name, Carol was a male. He put up with a lot of ribbing and a lot of confusion from people over the years because his parents had burdened him with that name. I remember being with him on a business trip to Hawaii and he was questioned endlessly whenever he produced his airline ticket: "You sure this is your ticket buddy? Show me your passport."
We were different generations, not only in age but also in thinking, in our ideas and beliefs. But we also had a lot in common and shared many values which kept us as good friends for over twenty years after we originally met through business.
Once in a while he posted on his blog Why Is It? but more frequently he left comments in response to my posts here, using the nom de plume Caz
A while ago he had a stroke but was so fit he recovered one hundred percent and as recently as three months ago he was fit as a fiddle, playing tennis three times a week. Then suddenly cancer hit him just about everywhere, all at the same time, out of the blue.
Nothing could be done to stop it but the doctors managed to keep the pain at bay and thankfully the end came quickly.
We talked several times a week even after we moved to Dubai, sharing jokes, chatting about trivial things, keeping up with the news of what we and mutual friends were up to. As you do with friends.
Carol was well-travelled and we often chatted about places we both knew. I took some photographs in Singapore the first couple of days we were there, planning to e-mail them to him to show him how places he used to visit had changed. Then a mutual friend called to give us the news.
We regularly had more serious discussions about politics and current affairs too, agreeing on some things and having very lively debates on the things we saw differently. The debates were often the catalyst for things I posted about here.
I'll miss those chats and I'll miss a very good friend.
In Dubai Media City at nine this morning.
A week in Singapore - the heart of the wet tropics - and only one rain shower, which we missed because we were indoors.
Back to Dubai - the heart of the arid desert - and we have thunder that keeps us awake though the night and non-stop rain today.
Good to be back though. As usual, plenty of photographs to go through and of course if I find any which I think are particularly interesting I'll post them over the next few days.
Here's one to get me started - I have no idea what the product is or why they should call it a blog, but I thought I might use the photo as a new header to Life in Dubai..
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
I've just been reading the Sydney Morning Herald and came across this about a flight from Dubai to the UK:
An Australian man has been charged after a bomb hoax sparked an emergency evacuation of an Emirates flight at London's Gatwick Airport on Sunday.
I've talked about this kind of crass stupidity before and I'm sure I must have said that no prison sentence is long enough. People like this need to be removed from society.
The story is here.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
See y'all in a week.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I liked this one, which someone in Jaipur, India put into Yahoo search,:
Amazingly the enquirer got: 306 for crossdressing withsaree-bra - 0.32 sec
Before you ask, the reason s/he was directed here was one of my 'great moments in court' posts.
Before we go I thought I'd indulge myself by posting some pics of the road trip we did a few weeks back in Oz, from Sydney to Queensland's Sunshine Coast.
It's a total return journey of about 2,500 kilometres. It seems a long way for a few days, but it's not really by Aussie standards. And anyway, except in Dubai, I enjoy driving, I enjoy road trips, I enjoy the countryside.
There's a lot of this through the windscreen..
You also go through a banana growing area, then through sugar cane plantations...
There's a lot of rolling countryside too, cattle farming areas...
But always you get back to eucalyptus trees...
In the Sydney basin a lot of sandstone...
Each type of countryside lasts for a hundred or more kilometres, which can get a little boring, but there are typically Aussie country roadside shops every so often to break the monotony...
And the unique signs you see nowhere else in the world...
With those you can only be in Australia, but there are other sights you probably wouldn't expect to see there...
There's a lot of country driving, long, long spells without hitting any built up areas. The country towns are very pleasant to drive into though...
We took the Pacific Highway, as I usually do, which is the north-south coast road, most of it just a few kilometres inland. Most of Australia's population lives around the coast and there are pleasant little towns along the route.
This is Noosaville, which is up on the north of Queensland's Sunshine Coast, as far as we went...
And just under halfway between Sydney and Brisbane is one of my favourite country towns, Port Macquarie...
And of course, just about all the way there are the beaches for which Oz is famous. This is part of Coolangatta on Queensland's Gold Coast just across the state border from New South Wales...
It was a great break, not only the road trip and visiting some favourite places but catching up with friends and family.
The bushfires in NSW were under control by the time we arrived, in fact from the mid-north coast onwards there were floods.
We were visiting friends in a little town called Bellingen . Two days before we started the journey the town was cut in two and the only road in was impassable because of floodwaters. Fortunately by the time we reached there it had subsided enough for the roads to be open so we managed to visit them in their new house.
In fact apart from the first two days in Sydney when it was grey and damp the weather was fantastic. All-day sunshine, mid to high twenties celcius, clear blue sky, fresh air...
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Trundling happily along Al Sufouh Road the car started to pull to the right, followed by the rumbling sound of a flattening tyre.
I tried to make it to my local tyre and battery emporium but the car was having none of it.
Shade? Not a hope.
Getting the over-tightened nuts off the wheel was the main struggle - I wish workshops didn't use mechanical spanners that turn the nuts too far.
Jumping up and down on the wheel brace eventually got them loosened but I was dripping by the time I'd done that.
After another few minutes changing the wheel in the full sun I looked as though I'd been swimming.
Repairs at the emporium took a few minutes and now everything's back to normal - except my body temperature.
Monday, March 16, 2009
When the market collapsed and the emirate’s once-booming economy started to slow down, many expatriates were left owning several homes and unable to pay the mortgages without credit.
"...the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. Dubai is emptying out,” said a Western diplomat.
That's the thrust of many of the recent stories in the international media. And of course at dinner parties, with people competing to pass on the worst doom & gloom rumours.
I do think we need to get some balance into the picture.
Over the last month we've visited friends & family in Singapore and Australia, and we're in touch with others there and in other countries.
The story is much the same everywhere, worse in some countries than others. Unemployment is reaching record highs - in the US half a million workers are losing their jobs each month. Australia is doing better than most countries, but unemployment is reaching the worst in two decades.
In Singapore my sister-in-law is working reduced hours, and therefore receiving a reduced salary. In Australia my nephew, an electrician, is struggling to find work.
In countries which have expat labour a lot of them are leaving to go home, either because they've lost their job or by choice. Eastern Europeans are leaving the UK, Asian workers are leaving Singapore.
Surely no-one could have thought that Dubai would be any different. Of course people are losing their jobs, of course expats are leaving to go home. But that's very different from the economy collapsing, the city emptying out as all the expats flee.
In the UAE it's reported that US$582 billion of construction projects are on hold - but another US$698 are proceeding. That's a huge amount of construction work under way by any country's standards.
We know more than a few people who've lost their jobs, many of them unable to find another so they've left or are planning to. But give it a moment's thought and we know very many more who have not lost their jobs.
The roads are a bit quieter and probably a small contribution to that comes from there being less people about. But there's still an awful lot of traffic on the roads.
Tourist figures are down, but tourists are still coming. Retail spending is down, but the shops are still doing business.
So while there are people being fired, while there may be fewer cars on the roads, while spending may be down there are still plenty of people working, plenty of cars being driven, plenty of money changing hands.
It's a slowdown for sure, but not to the degree many of the reports would like us to believe.
Something that's particularly apparent to me is that if you've lost your job there's a recession. But if you're one of the eighty or ninety percent still working, there isn't.
In Singapore, in Sydney, in Aussie country towns, in Dubai along The Walk at JBR and at many of our five-star hotels, the restaurants are full. At weekends you struggle to get a table.
Reports from all over are that people are spending less, saving more - just in case. Rainy day money. That makes sense. But they haven't stopped spending entirely. Business is still being done. A lot of business.
Some balanced reporting would be nice. And even better would be some accurate figures, clearly explained and put in context.
But I'm not holding my breath.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
A couple of days ago there was a short article in the Financial Times commenting on Dubai's current situation and the media stories about it.
It's one of the most accurate, well informed pieces I can recall reading over the past few years.
For several years we had the breathless, sometimes hysterical and often inaccurate articles about the growth, the lifestyle, the opulence, the riches, the excesses.
A few months back we started to get the tall poppy syndrome articles cutting Dubai down, reporting its collapse, again often ill informed and inaccurate and repeating dinner party rumours as facts.
These articles reported that there's nothing underpinning Dubai's economy because the oil has run out and our economy relies totally on real estate. Now the property bubble has burst the economy will collapse.
A quote in the FT article sums up the real situation brilliantly:
"Disneyland Dubai has crashed," as one Dubai-based banker put it, referring to headline-grabbing property projects, "but the core business model of Dubai remains sound."
And that's what all the stories about Dubai don't mention, the basis for Dubai's existence, its history of trading. They're based on the misrepresentation that Dubai began a decade or two ago based on oil income, that real estate is all we now have.
The fact is that Dubai evolved from a fishing village into a trading centre around 1830 and has been an international commercial centre ever since, our location being then and now a critical factor in the city's success.
A hundred years ago Dubai had the largest shopping district in the area with over 350 shops in Deira. It had a huge pearl trading industry and gold re-exporting industry. Shipbuilding was an important part of the economy too. Doing business was Dubai's reason to exist and it always will be.
Oil was an unexpected bonus, not the foundations of the economy - production only began in 1969 - and the economy which was based on trading was thriving without it.
In 1960 the international airport opened and then in the early sixties the then Ruler Sheikh Rashid borrowed money from Kuwait to dredge the Creek so that trade could not only continue but be expanded. Port Rashid began operating in 1970 to develop even more trade.
When Beirut imploded in the early seventies international companies moved out, mainly to Athens and Cyprus. They soon gave up on those cities because of the lack of infrastructure, telecommunications in particular. Dubai had invested in the future and offered what they wanted, so very many of them moved here.
There have always been rumours about Dubai's demise by the way. When Jebel Ali Port was opened in 1979 I remember people laughing that it would be a white elephant, a complete waste of money. It's now one of the world's busiest ports.
They said the same about Dubal which opened the same year, and that's now one of the world's leading producers of aluminium, contributing billions to Dubai's economy.
Also in 1979 the Trade Centre opened, to more derision and rumours that it was tilting and sinking into the sand. At Jumeirah dinner parties they're saying the same today about Burj Al Arab!
Meanwhile Dubai carries on as a commercial centre, with now even more diversification and investment in infrastructure than ever.
You can compare the FT article with the tabloid nonsense being published with these two links.
In another example of the poor and biased reporting I regularly complain about, last week the UK Sunday Mirror ran a story headlined 'Celebs losing £80,000 a week on their Dubai mansions'.
First there's the stupidity of the claim. No-one loses money unless and until they sell a devalued asset.
Then readers with any kind of intelligence can work out for themselves by what's written that the thrust of the article is rubbish.
It claims that: Celebs who bought the properties in their droves over the last few years have seen prices halve, with pads worth £3.2million in October now on the market for £1.6million.
And with the world's superwealthy cutting their losses and selling up, Dubai's bubble has well and truly burst.
It also says that England footballers were some of the keenest buyers. "When the squad stopped off in Dubai on their way to the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, they were shown plans for Palm Jumeirah...(eight of them) put down deposits on £800,000 sixbedroom villas at a special rate.
The article goes on: But last October, amid the global recession, Dubai was hit by a housing market crash, which has now cost investors billions.
Four bedroom villas worth £3million a couple of months ago are now being sold for £1.5million.
So if four bedroom villas are worth £1.5 million, what do you think six bedroom villas are valued at? Remember they paid less than £800,000 for them - so how does the 'journalist' work out that they are losing £80,000 a week? The figures he gives actually suggest their investment has doubled at the very least.
It's a good example of the way the international media is now reporting about Dubai, the thrust of the articles being negative regardless of the facts they include.
You can read the tabloid nonsense here, then you can read the sensible article here.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Let me give you a couple of examples.
Bagless vacuum cleaners. When they had paper bags you simply took them out when they were full, placed them in the bin and clipped a new bag in place.
Quick, easy, simple and - here's the important part - no mess.
Some loony had the idea that this wasn't good enough so he or she came up with...drum roll...The Bagless Vacuum Cleaner. Every manufacturer blindly followed the new system.
The result is that all the dust, and we have a lot of that in Dubai, goes into a bucket thing in the cleaner. To empty it you have to upend the bucket into the garbage bin. The result is that half the dust floats back into the room.
Here's another example, which we banged into on our flights to and from Singapore en-route to Sydney.
We checked in online, selected our seats, printed out the documents, went to the appropriate desk which was proudly marked...
It's bloody identical to the NON-internet-check-in-NON-fast-bag-drop desk!
Exactly the same as any other check-in queue, you wait while the desk attendant takes forever to do whatever they do on the bloody computer - which we've obviously already done - prints out a boarding pass, weighs the baggage, puts a tag on it...
What is the point and where's the improvement in the system?
Thursday, March 12, 2009
The D-G said the official figures "...suggests a significant growth in population and that people coming to stay in Dubai outnumber those who are leaving the country by 50 per cent."
He gave the figures behind this as: "...DNRD has cancelled the residency visas of about 44,000 people during February and issued more than 66,000 residency visas in the same month."
As usual it would have been helpful if the 'journalists' had asked the obvious questions to clarify the figures. There are two blindingly obvious questions as far as I'm concerned.
One, were the 66,000 residency visas issued all for new arrivals or were some of them renewals? If it includes renewals, how many new visas were issued?
Two, what are the usual monthly cancellation/issuance figures for residence visas?
Gulf News report in full is here.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
And only minutes from the city centre all the apartment and high-rise buildings have disappeared and you have just individual houses, plenty of greenery and protected national park areas.
This, by the way, is my contribution to Australian tourism. Tourist figures are down, naturally, and as Tourism Australia has stuffed up badly yet again it falls to us as individuals to encourage people to visit. The economy needs your money folks...and you'll have a great time.
I digress, but the film was so bad, and having dealt with, and argued with, Tourism Australia over their wasted ad campaigns for many years, I had to get it off my chest.
Pretty harbour isn't it.
The idea's good but as usual the success or otherwise will depend on the people involved and the way it's implemented.
There's long been a problem that we get information from an 'official' one day only for it to be contradicted by another 'official' the next. A classic has been the ID fiasco, with a whole raft of different announcements being made over a period of weeks, causing utter confusion.
This new move could solve that problem, but only if the spokespeople are given the full facts in the first place and if they explain them in clear unambiguous language. There's also an onus on journalists to know the questions to ask, and be willing to ask them, to get absolutely clear information. That hasn't been the case so far so I'm not hopeful.
Still, it's a move in the right direction.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
There's a restriction on expat residents sponsoring their spouse based on income. Earn less than Dh4000 a month and you can't sponsor your spouse, which to me makes sense and I understand it.
But there's also a long list of job categories which are barred from sponsoring spouses regardless of their salary. Apparently there are 57 jobs on the list.
It was highlighted again because a Filipina bank cashier earning more than Dh6000 a month and with 'proper' accommodation had her application for her husband to join her rejected.
I suspect my rule about dealing with government counter staff might have applied - if the first person rejects your request you go out, come back in and take another ticket and try a different counter. If necessary repeat the process until you find one who says 'yes'.
Discrimination like this based on the job you do is surely indefensible.
The Gulf News website has the story here but it doesn't include the list of some of the barred categories which appears in the print edition.
As strange as the rule itself, the list includes cook (with the very specific catagories of Arabic cuisine cook, continental cuisine cook - does that include the highly paid Executive Chefs in our five star hotels I wonder? - falafel maker, sweets maker, pastry maker), goldsmith, butcher, waiter, tailor, hairdresser, make-up man (eh?) and, get this, salesman.
Time for a rethink?
Monday, March 09, 2009
Here are some of our home town, a small seaside town on the New South Wales Central Coast, an hour from the centre of Sydney.
We have a typically beautiful Aussie beach and as it's a weekend getaway for Sydneysiders we have hotels, motels, shops, nearly forty restaurants and cafes all within about a square kilometre which is the town centre. The tourists are a bloody nuisance but without them we wouldn't have all the facilities we enjoy so we put up with them.
The name of the town is Terrigal, a word from the local Aboriginal language which translates as 'place of little birds', which I've always thought must be a tongue in cheek name, an example of Aboriginal humour.
Here's why - two pics we took last week of birds which flourish in the town. A bush turkey wandering around the street leading up to our house and pelicans on the beach:
That's what's happening to fix the meltdown in the world's economy and I can't find any sense in it.
The root cause of the problem was ludicrously low interest rates.
The problems we're now facing stemmed from those rates. The access to easy money they presented was the catalyst.
The relaxation of regulation and oversight added to the problem because it allowed human nature, such as personal greed, free reign.
People are blaming the banks and greed for the crash, but they came later. Without the low interest rates none of it would have happened.
As a result of rates as low as zero (Japan) and several other major economies at one and two percent the world was awash with cheap, easy money. Billions of dollars were being poured into the stock markets and as a result listed companies were valued at up to a hundred times earnings. They were never worth that much and it was unsustainable, but fund managers didn't know where else to put their weekly flood of money - the Australian superannuation funds are a good example.
Because money was so cheap and therefore easy to get, retailers of larger ticket items were advertising 'no deposit, no interest, no payments for twelve months' deals.
People could get money easily and looked for things to spend it on. That demand meant that under the rules of supply and demand house prices were pushed to unsustainable levels.
Living on credit, living beyond your means, can only last a limited time. At some stage the bills have to be paid.
The day of reckoning came and suddenly no-one had money, demand for products plummeted...and the old rules of supply and demand came back into play. But this time they drove prices down.
Property, such an important underpinning solid asset of many countries' economies, plunged in price. People, financial institutions, companies now had negative equity - their debts were larger than the assets guaranteeing them.
Companies earlier valued at many times their earnings now find themselves in some cases valued at less than the cash they have in the bank.
So to fix the crisis our leaders have come up with answer. Put the rates back to the levels which caused the problem in the first place.
I believe they're doing it because they simply don't know what else to do. We need a new financial model but no-one's come up with one.
Interest rates need to be in a neutral range, between six and seven percent in my opinion.
That gives a reasonable return on investment for everyone, individuals and companies. It means that people such as the rapidly growing number of self-funded retirees can live on their investments. They don't need to ask for pensions or social security payments from government.
It means that people who are credit risks are less likely to be given loans, including for mortgages which are beyond their real means.
I know there are furious arguments about what the right action to take is. As far as I'm concerned reducing interest rates back towards zero is the very worst action.
Sunday, March 08, 2009
I've picked out some of the stranger things we came across though. Like this shop in Sydney's Chinatown:
Yes folks, it's the same one.
Also in Oz, this time up in Noosaville in Queensland there was something I've never seen before:
Is it like the normal car wash you get at petrol stations I wonder. You walk the dog through the car wash?
Then in Singapore some food delicacies caught my eye:
Saturday, March 07, 2009
The ID card idea been scrapped? The RTA has decided that private cars are an acceptable form of transportation? Public and private sectors will be treated equally?
I guessed not. I assumed nothing much would have changed, although I must say it seems to be much quieter around town.
We arrived back on Thursday evening, it took several hours to walk from the aircraft to the exit, we came through the 'nothing to declare' channel and as always were picked out to have our bags scanned.
I must practice not looking furtive.
The Singapore Airlines flight was the emptiest plane I've ever been on. No-one in First Class, five in Business and perhaps thirty or forty in Economy. On a 777-300 designed to hold 332 passengers - or 'customers' as they irritatingly insist on calling us.
The airport was all-but empty, the taxi driver said business is not good, Mall of the Emirates at lunchtime Friday was very quiet, the restaurants were doing minimal trade, even the checkout queues at Carrefour were only one or two deep. The roads today have very light traffic...I think I might like this slowdown.
In spite of the lack of traffic I was welcomed back by typical Dubai driving. Doing eighty in the Al Sufouh Road eighty zone I had a blonde bimbo in a big 4x4 tailgating me while waving her hands about. Then from Madinat Jumeirah to MoE a taxi driver screaming up behind me flashing his lights. My body clock is still on Sydney time, I'm tired, I'm irritable and it's not easy to sit in the car ignoring them when the alternative of confrontation is so much more appealing.
The holiday was a few nights in Singapore, a couple of weeks in Oz from which I have several hundred photos to be uploaded and sorted through. When that's done I'll post a few, so I'd better get on with it...