Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ignorance about Dubai

With all the publicity that Dubai's had internationally over recent years it astonishes me that there's still a huge lack of basic knowledge about the place.

While a few people, to their credit, are trying to get the facts by asking questions on forums, the questions reveal this lack of basic knowledge.

On various forums in recent weeks I've seen, for example, questions about which areas tourists to Dubai should avoid because they're unsafe, about whether women can go out on their own, about whether women can drive.

The ignorance about Dubai shows up in some of the answers too. Inevitably there are replies from people with no knowledge, who make no effort to get any. The internet is full of them.

I've seen adamant statements that women can't drive in Dubai, are spat on if they go out on their own, that bikinis can't be worn anywhere including the beach, that it's a place to be avoided at all costs. Spoken with great authority but total ignorance.

One of the very basic misunderstandings seems to be where Dubai actually is. It shows up regularly in the questions. I'd have thought it was pretty clear after all the exposure, but obviously not.

It's just come up yet again on what I think is one of the best forums, Expat Forum, with a question asking whether it's difficult being a single American woman living and working and Dubai.

The reason for the question is explained: " I've just seen a few things that make it seem like you'll need a male co worker with you at all times during meetings."

As some replies pointed out, Dubai is in the UAE not Saudi Arabia.

After all the exposure Dubai's had, people still don't even know which country it's in, whether it's a country in its own right, or perhaps even if there are different countries making up the Gulf region and if they might have different societies.

There's still a lot of work to be done by Brand Dubai.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Meanwhile, back at the coalface...

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid has approved a document setting out standards for federal public employees.

"The document identifies 13 core values which distinguish professional behaviour and the ethics of a governmental job in the federal sector. These 13 core values included excellence, diligence, efficiency, leadership, hard work, objectivity, honesty, sincerity, impartiality, adhering to economy and transparency values, plus integrity, fairness and equality.

The document also clearly pointed out that gaining preferential treatment through nepotism and favouritism in a public post must be avoided, a Federal Government representative said.

Another important principle mentioned in the document is the commitment of employees — it must preserve the professional dignity of public posts, to not exploit a profession's authority due to rank or status, to be committed to using resources in an honest manner and to refrain from practices that result in conflicts of interest."

It's another of the well meaning directives from on high, introduced in all sincerity, that we see around the world from governments.

High flown phrases, laudable principles.

The problem is that it has a long way to go to get to the end of the line, to the public servant who's actually face to face with the enemy - us. The public.

So back in the real world the friction between public employee and public won't change. Nor, I'm sure, will the use of wasta.

They'll continue to be bureaucrats, doing what bureaucrats all over the world do, talking their impenetrable language, tying us up in kilometres of red tape, making life difficult for us.

Gulf News reports here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A classy election

The Australian election is under way, our first female PM having called the election a few weeks after taking power.

The quality of the debate & the candidates and the tactics the parties stoop to never inspire confidence, and this time the bar's been set as low as ever from the outset.

It began with the handling of a TV debate between the leaders.

Demonstrating how seriously it was taken, the original 7.30pm broadcast time was changed to that it wouldn't clash with the cooking show Masterchef.

The choice: to watch the one and only TV debate between the contestants who will set the country's policy for the next few years or a 'reality' cooking show. It was obviously assumed that the electorate would choose the latter.

As for candidates, the Liberal (conservative) opposition party - led by a former trainee priest known popularly as the Mad Monk - put up in a Sydney constituency a 'conservative Christian' (don'tcha love euphemisms) to stand against a self professed "non-practising Muslim", Ed Husic.

Guess where the debate in that electorate was headed.

Fortunately the candidate has been making his views known on Facebook:

The NSW Liberals appear to have had something of a road to Damascus conversion in the lightning-fast decision to dump the conservative Christian, David Barker, as their candidate for the western Sydney seat of Chifley.

Questioned about Barker's anti-Muslim Facebook comments by Laurie Oakes on Channel Nine on Sunday, shadow treasurer Joe Hockey condemned Barker for "trying to use religion as some sort of tool in the election campaign"

Shock, horror! Bringing religion into the campaign!

Obviously it was purely coincidental that a Muslim candidate had a radical Christian put up against him.

Oh, but wait:

In 2004, the party chose another conservative Christian, the Hillsong Church member Louise Markus, as their candidate in the western Sydney seat of Greenway to go up against Husic. That campaign, too, was marred by allegations of religious scare-mongering.

Anyway, you'd be forgiven for thinking the choice of a radical Christian was deliberate, especially as the cat's out of the bag about a deal between Barker and the party powerbrokers to keep his extreme views out of the public arena. He'd agreed "to give the answers they had recommended".

There's still a month to go before polling day so the fun's only just started.

Oh, and some fun trivia. The Libs' leader, the Mad Monk, is Mr Abbott. And the candidate who's replaced the dumped radical Christian is Venus Priest.

Masterchef wins.

Religion & politics.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Crime in Dubai

One of the plus points about living here is the lack of crime. Safety is always high on the list in surveys about what residents like about the place.

That's not to say it's crime free - you can't expect that in any city which has a population of nearly two million. But for a city this size it really is noticeably better than most places.

That was the theme of comments left on Wednesday's post about abandoned cars.

All sorts of cars are simply left on the streets or in car parks by expats who are leaving, including Jaguars and BMWs. But no-one takes them, and it's the same with so much valuable equipment.

Take restaurants for example. Back home the pavement chairs & tables have to be taken inside every night and the whole shop barred and shuttered.

But here the furniture is simply left in place overnight. And it's still there the next morning.

The dhow loading stretch of the Creek in Deira is the same. All kinds of material is left on the dockside, a completely open public area in the centre of the city.

Back in Oz a truck would pull up on the first night and anything valuable would disappear, and I'm sure the same would happen in many cities. But not here.

Our crime rates are also given some perspective in a report in The National this morning.

Dubai police are warning that juvenile crime is on the increase, and that's obviously a concern.

But look at the figures. How many big cities around the world would love to have a problem of this magnitude?

An average of five crimes a week are committed by children, with the figure expected to rise over the summer break, according to police.

Dubai Police registered 110 juvenile crimes carried outby 161 children in the period between January 1-May 31.

Remember we're talking about a city of over 1.7 million people.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Loans threaten residency"

That's the lead story in today's Gulf News, with a related report on page three.

They begin with these paras:

"Residency departments will not renew the residence visas of expatriates if they are wanted by police for financial obligations, Interior Ministry officials said."

"Residency departments cannot punish people who have arrest warrants against them for financial disputes by not renewing their residence visas, legal experts have said."

I'm not going to comment now because tomorrow there's bound to be a 'clarification'.

See what you make of it. You can read the reports here and here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Car dumping

The reality behind that very silly tabloid story of thousands of cars left at the airport by fleeing expats is that abandoning cars is par for the course in this area.

There are figures based on reports from banks, car dealers and the police that about 1400 cars a year on average are abandoned around Dubai.

I guess the reason for the phenomenon is a combination of factors.It's a very transient society with people moving in or leaving every day. People come here 'for a couple of years', or they decide they don't like it and leave, or their contract finishes or, in more recent times, they lose their job.

Then there's the draconian debtor law.

And the time & frustration involved in doing anything like selling a car.

People borrow money from a bank to buy their car. Then for whatever reason they leave Dubai.

The easy way out is to think of the payments as a car rental or lease...and just leave it where you last parked it.

The giveaway is the amount of dust on the car.

Those left while the owners are on holiday get a layer of dust, but it's not too thick and it's cleaned off as soon as they get back.

Others though have a thick layer and they start to attract message writers.

In just over one kilometre in Dubai Marina this morning I saw a few that could still be holiday cars, but there are others in the thick dust category. It's quite a few abandoned cars for a short stretch of road:

But they're not all from Dubai:

And this BMW is a permanent fixture. It had already been there for months when I first posted about it in August 2009.

Here it is this morning...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I'm on a winner here

I've hit on a great new business. It's just so now that it's a dead cert winner.

Can't fail.

We'll be offering contemporary holistic lifestyle concept solutions.

What about that!

Bet you can't wait to place orders with me.

I had the brainwave thinking about a couple of announcements I've seen recently.

The first was from the Jumeirah Group, who are to introduce a new hotel brand. It will be, and I quote, "a contemporary lifestyle brand" and that apparently will "fulfil a clear market need".

Then the Pragma Group announced that it was taking over the Palladium building in Media City. That's going to become, I quote again, "a forum for holistic lifestyle concepts".

It's a huge advance on just the 'solutions' that so many companies offer. That's all a bit passe these days, although Gulf News has plenty of them today - a specialist provider of geophysical solutions and an aircraft technical solutions provider included.

To help generate business in the start-up phase - or should that be moving forward - I'll be using the traditional Dubai strategy - a big Opening Sale offering 'up to' discounts until stocks last.

What's that? What exactly will we be offering? I told you, contemporary holistic lifestyle concept solutions.

Jumeirah Group.
Pragma Group.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tell me they're kidding

A cheeseburger pizza??!!

This is one I must bring to the attention of the Italian pizza police.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Croc man speaks

On Tuesday I told you about the man in Western Australia who climbed into an enclosure with a 5 metre saltwater crocodile so that he could sit on its back.

(Measure out five metres to see how big the thing was).

Surprisingly it didn't eat him, just bit his leg.

To that post LDU asked 'what was going through his head'.

Good question.

I think it's all explained when he was interviewed on Perth's Channel 9 television. Einstein he ain't.

Have a look.

A big round of applause for...Michael Newman.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Westin emergency

A short time ago I drove past the Westin Mina Seyahi where there was a big show of force from the emergency services

Police, fire, ambulances, rescue vehicles and plenty of people gathered about.

I don't know what the problem was, although a stretcher was out of the ambulance and there was activity around it.

It's normal in many countries to have a mass turnout of the emergency services when there's a problem in a hotel so I guess that could have been the reason for all the hardware and activity.


It was just a practice run folks - see the comment from the Westin for details.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Brainless morons

It's been a while since I reminded you to never underestimate the capacity of people for utter stupidity. I've come across a couple of new examples in the last few days.

In a Western Australia crocodile park a man wanted to give a five metre saltwater croc a pat.

As you do. They're such attractive, cuddly creatures.

Here he is:

Photo: WA Police/PerthNow

So our hero climbed into the enclosure and sat on its back.

The croc probably thought that if he ate the brainless moron he may get infected so he just took a few chunks out of the idiot's leg.

It might just be the first time anyone's escaped from the jaws of a saltwater crocodile.

Then across to the UK, where two brothers decided to ram-raid a service station shop.

Having smashed their way inside and stolen what they wanted they took their masks off to talk to each full view of the CCTV cameras.

Photo: Al Stewart. Daily Telegraph

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Camel milk to Europe

Camel milk exported to Europe?

The UK Daily Telegraph says:

The European Commission has provisionally approved plans by two Middle Eastern camel farms to export the milk to Britain.

United Arab Emirates-based firm Camelicious says it is only waiting on checks by EU health and hygiene inspectors and hopes to begin exports to Europe next year.

Looks like a small example of how the local economy is diversifying.

While it probably won't be more than a fad, sold in health food shops, it could be good business for Camelicious.

The story's here.

Friday, July 09, 2010

One hour old

Like so many buildings here we have resident street cats.

One is a young female who was born here herself not all that long ago and who's been putting on weight recently.

Today when we came back from lunch ...

Thanks to the immediacy of digital cameras and the Wierd World Web here they are an hour old.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Clampdown on dangerous driving

I don't think I need to comment or give my opinion on this.

You'll probably remember the 'driving stunts on Sheikh Zayed Road' story. I posted about it in May if you want to remind yourself of the details.

Briefly, in a victory parade along the country's busiest road by Al Wasl football club supporters, two drivers were filmed with their vehicles up on two wheels, performing doughnuts and other manouvres entirely inappropriate for a public road.

They've had their support, by bloggers and in comments, who said the road was closed for the official police-sanctioned parade so they did nothing wrong. Their lawyer also said that the road was closed.

While it was a police-sanctioned official parade the fact is that the road was not closed. As you can clearly see in the video, other motorists were using it.

Anyway, the drivers were in court yesterday, charged with reckless and dangerous driving and intentionally endangering the lives of others.

Gulf News says they were convicted of reckless driving while intentionally endangering the lives of others but The National says they were found not guilty of the endangering lives part of the charge.

What they do agree on is that the drivers were fined Dh1,000 each (that's US$272/€212/£178).

GN says the 25 year old is a sergeant, The National says he's a policeman.

So one of the drivers is a sergeant in the police force.

I wonder if he's in the Traffic Police division...

As The National points out, the incident coincided with a Dubai Police announcement that they intended to lower the statistical traffic death rate to zero per 100,000 people by 2020. A task force to tackle aggressive driving was created as part of the initiative.

The stories are here: Gulf News The National.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Advantages of clustering

A couple of days ago the Financial Times ran an article on what we call clustering, headlined 'The added value of a group'.

It was talking about the advantages of businesses in the same industry setting up shop in the same location, something that's in its early stages in the west.

The article suggests the idea of businesses clustering has become an increasingly important part of regional development and corporate strategies since 1990, with the publication of a book called 'The Competitive Advantage of Nations'.

It's a much older concept in this region, in fact it's always been the standard way of operating.

Before I came to Dubai I was used to businesses wanting an 'exclusivity zone', wanting to be the only business of their type in the location.

I've been a big fan of clustering ever since I first saw the benefits.

For businesses it makes sense because if a number of companies in the same industry set up adjacent to each other it makes commercial sense for their suppliers to set up there too. A win win. They feed off each other and they're conveniently close for doing business with each other.

Examples in the west mentioned in the article are the financial district in London and Silicone Valley. Here we have them everywhere you look - Media City, Internet City, Healthcare City, Academic City, Logistics City. The list goes on and on.

I'm particularly a fan of the retailers clustering and I wish retailers in the west would follow suit.

Back in Sydney - or any other city in the west - the first thing is to remember where a shop selling particular stock is located. Then if they don't have what I'm looking for I have to go some distance, from long to not so long, to find another shop in the same business. If I know where another similar shop is, that is.

Here it's easy, because of clustering. And, by the way, it doesn't only apply to the souks, such as the gold souk, the textile souk, the spice souk, the perfume souk. Clustering is par for the course in the traditional shopping areas and even in the new malls.

It makes shopping so much easier and more convenient. You need a tyre changed? You know there's a cluster in Satwa, for example, where you can find exactly what you want - and in a few metres you can compare several to get the best price.

The same applies to textiles, jewellery, herbs & spices, gold & jewellery, electronics...

Talking of Satwa, one of my favourite shopping areas, there's a gold souk developing there, which is actually like the Deira gold souk used to be before it changed to rows of largely western-style shops selling western-style jewellery to tourists.

Satwa currently has thirty or so tiny shops, almost all displaying the traditional local and Indian designs.

The last couple of times we've had friends visiting they were instantly enthusiastic about clustering, wishing they had the same convenience back home.

Both shopping trips were to Satwa, one for dressmaking material the other for a particular type of gold ring.

Both visitors were mightily impressed that they had such a huge choice in a short easily-walked area. And both found exactly what they were looking for.

Financial Times is here.

Monday, July 05, 2010

That's more like it

It's back to basics with the official opening of the new Dubai World Central/Al Maktoum airport.

As I've said in many previous posts, Dubai is all about trading and always was. It's the reason for its very existence.

The city's economy has always been based on trading, on doing business. Spurts of growth have come as a result of forward-thinking investment in infrastructure based on growing the business base.

The feverish concentration on residential real estate over the past six or so years, particularly as it was unplanned and unregulated, had nothing to do with what Dubai's all about and it's caused most of the problems we're experiencing now.

In the sixties the investment in business infrastructure was the dredging of The Creek, using money borrowed from oil-rich Kuwait, to allow larger cargo boats to use it as a base.

The then ruler Sheikh Rashid also invested in excellent, for the time, telecoms infrastructure.

For access for business people and cargo he invested in Dubai International Airport and Port Rashid.

That good communications infrastructure led to international companies relocating their Middle East offices to Dubai when they left Beirut because of the civil war in the early seventies.

Then came Jebel Ali Port and money was also put into industrial development, such as Dubal, Ducab, all now highly successful and profitable.

I was here in those days and I remember the scepticism, and ridicule, about it all. They were dismissed as 'a waste of money' and 'ego trip developments'. Jebel Ali Port had no commercial future, it was far too big and not on any major trade routes, it was really for the US fleet to use as a base.

The same ridicule is not uncommon about the new airport. Why on earth does Dubai need the biggest airport in the world? What a huge waste of money on a grandiose ego trip. And there have been many gleeful posts on blogs and other sites saying with authority that it was one of the projects cancelled when the economic meltdown hit.

I remember an interview a few years back with someone high up in the airport management, I forget who it was. His point was that it wasn't about what we need now but is about planning ahead, anticipating what would be needed thirty or forty years in the future.

His made the points that land is at a premium in the emirate and if it wasn't reserved now for the airport it wouldn't be available when it was needed in forty or fifty years time. The airport wouldn't be the biggest in the world for some years, it would be constructed in stages depending on demand. And of course it was close to Jebel Ali Port to conveniently link sea and air cargo.

Appropriately the new airport has opened with cargo carriers, while passenger traffic is due to begin next March.

Gulf News has a report on the opening of the new airport here.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Sale extended to traffic fines

It's Sale Time in the UAE, which seems to have been extended to the Abu Dhabi Traffic Police shop.

Not a 'part sale' either. Or an 'up to' sale.

It's an across the board 50% discount on all traffic fines.

It's an unlimited time offer too.

Hang on though. As usual, I'm totally confused, I don't understand any of it.

I'll show you why with a few bits from the Gulf News stories:

The reprieve comes after the amended traffic law, which stipulates hefty fines for traffic offences, left many motorists heavily indebted to the government, a senior traffic official disclosed.

Ummmm...motorists ignored the laws ( we see them all the time don't we) and were punished with fines. 'Many' of them are obviously serial law breakers because they racked up enough fines to be 'heavily indebted to the government'.

So the way to deal with that is to...cut the fines in half.


Engineer Ahmad Hussain Al Harthy, Director of the traffic department said:
"Certain types of serious traffic offences will be exempted from the discounts too".

The discount on fines is applicable to all traffic fines issued in Abu Dhabi, regardless of where the vehicle is registered.

Ummm...some offences will be exempted from the discounts but the discount is applicable to all fines.


The discount is applicable to offences accumulated over years as well as fresh ones. don't need to pay any fines you accumulate 'over the years' because no-one follows up to collect payment. You pay when you re-register your vehicle, so the obvious thing to do is to drive an unregistered vehicle.

You save even more money because that means the vehicle doesn't need a safety check. No need to insure it either.


"The total number of traffic violations recorded and the fines accumulated by some individuals are simply unbelievable".

Ummm...the Traffic Police find it unbelievable.


We have some nice comments from offenders too.

"This is a great move. In the current economic situation, the government's decision is a very humanitarian one," said Naseem Faydulla, an engineer.

"I had Dh5,000 in fines collected over few years and did not know what to do. I just kept putting off the renewal of my car but now it's done." didn't know what to do. Here's a radical thought - you could have paid the fines as you got them. Or better still, you could have paid the first fine, learnt a lesson from it and not re-offended.

You could have obeyed the law and re-registered your car, maybe you could also have given some thought to having it safety checked and insuring it too.

(Thought: Where do I get these outlandish ideas from?).

Yajuan Chen, who works for a furniture shop said that their company car had Dh7,250 worth fines slapped over two years. "No one wanted to take the responsibility so the renewal was delayed," she said, after paying half the amount and clearing off the fines.

We simply didn't bother to register the company car. And we got away with it.


There was a report not so long ago about the fines situation from the Dubai Police too.

Dubai police revealed in April that they have Dh100 million in penalties to be recovered from drivers. The highest amount owed to Dubai police is from a company that had Dh305,200 worth of fines. The highest amount owed by an individual is Dh186,900, owed by an Arab expatriate woman who no longer lives in the UAE.

I suppose it's too much to suggest that the entire system needs a serious rethink. And that includes the whole way the roads and traffic are policed.

We have 'unbelievable numbers' of serial traffic law breakers simply ignoring the fines they deservedly get, then driving their vehicles unregistered, which means no vehicle safety checks and no insurance.

Not to worry though, Abu Dhabi Traffic Police are on the case now, bringing down the heavy hand of the law:

...several traffic policemen were deployed to advise drivers to abide by traffic laws and not to repeat offences. Water and juice was distributed as a gesture of goodwill...


I've quoted from Gulf News reports, here and here