Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Talking on another Blog about the new Interchange 4.5 on Sheikh Zayed Road got me thinking. No-one knows which interchange is which any more - 5 is demolished, 4.5 has opened, others will be built in between the existing ones.
To allow for all this change we need a new identification system. Numbers obviously don't work - put two new ones between, say, #4 and #5 and what do you call them?
I like the idea used in Burjuman car park - name them after fruit and animals. Or even better, fruit and vegetables. Wouldn't it be great! Banana Interchange, Pineapple Interchange, Cabbage Interchange. Imagine the signage they could come up with! Just as we have in Australia, we could have a Big Pineapple, a Big Banana etc. You couldn't miss which intersection was coming up and the 'Bigs' could be tourist attractions.
I must write to the Municipality...

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Changing weather

I lived in Dubai from 1977 to '84, and I don't remember the weather being as cold as it's been the last couple of weeks.
I didn't own a sweater the whole time I was here, in the winter I just wore a suit over a shirt. Luckily I brought my Aussie sweaters with me this time because I've needed them, especially early morning. Plus a leather jacket when that cold wind was blowing!
I wonder if there are records of the weather over the past few decades? I must ask google...

Friday, January 27, 2006

This is a worry.

There's a worrying report today that the Snowdome developer is planning to buy penguin eggs and hatch them in the Snowdome. The Chairman of 32Group is quoted as saying "The reality is that now we will have penguins as UAE (citizens), since they will be produced right here in Dubai." And here's the bit that concerns me: "And customers will then be able to either buy or adopt penguins from us."

As usual, no further information from the intrepid 'journalist' - in this case Shweta Jain of Emirates Today. I wonder if Shweta asked him exactly what that meant - do you buy the penguin but have to leave it in the Snowdome or can you take it home with you?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Lack of information

Isn't it irritating when the newspapers announce something new and don't give us any information. Don't the 'journalists' bother to ask any questions?
Today there are stories about the new e-Health Card and the new national health insurance scheme. But there's no information about how they will work, no detail.
Come on guys, ask the questions, get the details and pass it all on to your readers. Don't simply print whatever announcement the officials make and leave it at that.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


An interesting bit of bureaucracy today. We went to get Mrs Seabee's UAE driving licence, which she should get automatically because she has an Australian licence.

She handed over her passport, Aussie licence & all the paperwork. The lady behind the counter prodded away at the computer keyboard and said "You had a Dubai licence in the past". My wife agreed she had, but that it expired in 1984 when we left Dubai, 21 years ago.

"You can't have a new licence, you must renew the old one".
"That's the regulation".

So she had to pay Dh25 for an eye test, then - and this is the real rip-off - she had to pay for renewal every year since 1984! The licence cost Dh310.


Management of the roads, and particularly the misleading signs, are adding to the horrendous traffic problems in Dubai. Making the problem more acute is the fact that so many new people are arriving every day in Dubai who don't automatically know their way around. Even long-term residents are finding it difficult, with so many new and altered roads appearing.

People are having to do unnecessary mileage to find their way again after signs mis-directed them. Hundreds of us at any one time are driving round and round on this frustrating exercise, adding to the already overloaded roads problem. Signs tell you to turn right when they actually mean second or third right, so you've been directed to turn off too early. Round and round the dual-carriageways you have to go, trying to get back to where you were so you can start again. To make the confusion even harder to solve, sometimes signage will be accurate, sometimes not. You never know which is which.

Lane-changing causes problems, and accidents, with the maniacs cutting across the lanes, often at warp speed. But the signage adds to this problem too, not giving enough notice which lane you need to be in. You're almost at your turning before a sign appears above the road with an arrow pointing you to a different lane from the one you're in. You have two choices - change lane in a hurry or end up in the wrong place and spend time and kilometres adding to the traffic snarl trying to find your way back.

Partial signage is another thing that's adding to the chaos. A sign will point you in a particular direction, then you pass one or more roundabouts or junctions with multiple choices but without another sign to guide you. If you're lucky and choose the correct route you will eventually come across another sign. If you happen to make the wrong choice, well, it's back to the round & round syndrome.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Paperwork in Dubai

A very important part of the decision to allow foreigners to own property was to offer Residence Visas to owners. Prior to this the only way one could live in Dubai was to have a job, with the employer being the sponsor for the Residence Visa. Under the freehold decision, the Master Developer is the sponsor. A slight snag is that they can only sponsor one person, so if the property is in joint names, as ours is, only the first-named owner can be sponsored. The system is that I had to go with ETA Star, my developer, to the Master Developer, Emaar. ETA Star had to show the paperwork and confirm that I was registered with them as the owner. On our previous visit to Dubai we’d spent time with the visa section at Emaar researching what the system was, what we had to do, what it cost, we’d collected the necessary forms and so on. So I was ready with forms completed, money transfer in hand, photocopies of my passport, extra passport photos and all the other paraphernalia they needed.

Inevitably in Dubai, there was a small snag. They said my visit visa should have a hand-written number under it, which Immigration at the airport never bother to add, and it could mean that Immigration Head Office wouldn’t issue my Residence Visa as a result. So that meant a drive to the airport to the Immigration office, explain to the officer what I needed, put up with him grumbling that it wasn’t necessary, wait while he checked the computer and finally wrote the number on my visit visa.

The Visit Visas were for 60 days so I needed to get things moving, but Murphy’s Law was in place again of course. We’d originally been told the apartment was ready to take over in September. I was literally on the internet sorting out flights and hotel when an e-mail came in to say it was delayed a month. That meant we arrived two days before the start of the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset – it’s tough, nothing, but nothing, must pass their lips during daylight hours – food, water, cigarette smoke, nothing. As a result, working hours are cut back to mornings only and very little gets done…and that’s especially true of government employees, just like public servants all over the world. That was going to make it extra difficult to get all the paperwork and services we needed to sort out – Residence Visa being the most vital. Without the Residence Visa you can’t get anything else –not only utility connections which ETA Star had so kindly sorted out for us, but driving licence, without which you can’t buy a car, you can’t open a bank account, get a PO Box (mail isn’t home-delivered), get a credit card, and of course without a credit card there’s so much you can’t do because people don’t trust you, and so on.

ETA Star’s client services person said it would take at least a week for them to process the paperwork which I needed to prove we were the owners. But the manager at our apartment block said leave it to him, he’d sort it out. He did too, he was back the next day with the paperwork and we went to Emaar visa section. We’d been told it would take at least two weeks for the temporary visa, then there’s a medical to be done, cards to be issued, then it all goes back to Immigration for the permanent visa to be stamped in your passport, which was estimated to be at least another week. Add to that the fact that it was Ramadan and you could probably double the time it would take. However, to my amazement, four days after I’d lodged the application Emaar rang to say the visa was ready for me to collect! So off I trotted, found not one person queueing in front of me and was out of the building with my visa in five minutes.

Next step was to go for the medical – blood test for HIV and x-ray for TB – at one of the three government clinics specified. I chose Jebel Ali, which is a small village and vast industrial area with a fee zone and main port only a few minutes drive from our apartment in Dubai Marina. The clinic is in Jebel Ali Village, which I remember from the old days in Dubai. Back then it was way out in the desert - I had a buddy, Sales Manager of Jebel Ali Hotel, who lived there and visiting him was a real drag. Anyway, it now seems just up the road, what was miles of empty desert between Dubai and Jebel Ali is now all built up, with a ten lane freeway all the way. We drove into the village, which hasn’t changed in the twenty five years since I was last there, and went into the clinic to make an appointment for the medical, but the friendly Emarati gentleman said they’d do it now if I’d like to wait. He filled in the forms for me, wanted the inevitable passport photocopies and spare photo. The photo, though, he put on the desk, aimed a camera which was fixed to his computer to it and added it to the card form which was on the screen. He told me he’d print my plastic Health Card direct from the computer and I could pick it up next day.

The small waiting room had perhaps half the population of Bombay milling around, construction workers just arrived in the country and brought in en masse for their medical. They had to be dealt with immediately because their buses were coming back at a certain time to take them back to the labour camp, so I had to wait. But not in with labourers. Oh no. I was told to go to the ladies waiting room. After fifteen minutes or so the security man came and said he was sorry I had to wait, he was doing what he could to get the labourers moving so that I could go in to see the doctors. Somehow they cleared them all in a few more minutes, the fleet of buses arrived and suddenly the place was all but deserted. Five minutes later I was out, having had blood and x-ray taken and with the results due the following day.

Sure enough, I went next day and it was all ready, Health Card plus the certificate to go back to Immigration giving me the all-clear. Of course I couldn’t take it back into Emaar because it was now afternoon…it was Ramadan remember. But I took it all in the following day, again no queue, and gave it to the visa section. Another amazing four days later they called to say the visa was permanently stamped in my passport and I could collect it any time, which I did the following morning.


We read somewhere that some of the foreign banks would allow non-residents to open a bank account, so we found where the nearest HSBC branch was – again it’s Jebel Ali, but this time in the industrial area just outside the gates to the port and free zone. We had a bank draft plus Aussie dollars with us and we wanted to get them into a bank rather than carry them around with us. The bank, like all these sort of places, was packed with people but the Customer Service area wasn’t too bad. The old take-a-number-from-a-machine game and fifteen minutes later we were talking to an Emirati lady in black abaya and shayla, the black robe & headscarf, who spoke excellent English and sorted out the bank account for us. We asked for ATM cards and she fed all the info into the computer, telling us the PINs and the cards would be couriered to us separately for security reasons and to expect them in four or five days.

They weren’t, so after a week we went back to the bank where another Emirati lady checked and said there was nothing in the computer so we obviously hadn’t applied for the cards. Great! We repeated the earlier process, she entered all the info into the computer again and gave us the same story about couriers in four or five days. This time it did happen and, after several calls over several days from the courier company saying they were on the way, the PINs did eventually arrive one day, the cards the next.


Meanwhile, we’d been running around trying to sort out what we had to do for me to sponsor Mrs Seabee for her Residence Visa. Our Marriage Certificate has to be included with the application but it has to be attested first. We were married in England so off we trotted one day to the British Consulate alongside the creek in the centre of Dubai city to get it done. Time-consuming security checks, mobile to be checked in and all that and eventually we got to see an official…who told us that Immigration sometimes rejected their attestation and required it to be done in London by the British Foreign Office. Not always, he said, but often enough to make him recommend that we send it to London. Mrs Seabee decided we should check with Immigration because her visit visa is for 60 days and we really need to get her Residence Visa sorted out.

Getting things done in Dubai is never easy and is always time-consuming. Massive bureaucracy, paperwork, dozens of people involved in the simplest transaction. But before you even battle that inefficiency there’s finding out where the office you want is located, finding your way to it, finding a parking place, fighting the crowds in the offices, trying to make people understand what you want, and trying to understand what they’re saying. Then realizing that they tell you things just to get rid of you rather than giving you the correct information.

The office we had to go to was “in Deira near the Creek next to Etisalat Building”. I knew the Etisalat building so we thought it wouldn’t be too hard. As it’s in the absolute worst part of the city for traffic we decided to go on Friday, the weekend, when the city’s quiet and parking is easy, to find it so that when we came in during the week we’d at least know where we were going. No such luck. Not a sign that we could see on any building to tell us where it was. So the next day Mrs Seabee rang them again, but got the same directions – although this time we got the additional information that it was a white building. Off we went again, fought horrendous traffic, couldn’t find a parking space anywhere so Mrs Seabee wandered off to find the place while I drove slowly round and round the car park for an hour.

Finally she came back, having found the office, which wasn’t “next to” but half a mile away and across a dual-carriageway, found the right department, found the right man and found out that he wouldn’t accept the Embassy’s attestation for love nor money. We had to send it all to the UK to be signed by a Notary Public, then submit it to the British Foreign Office in London for attestation, then get it to the UAE Embassy in London for them to do the same and finally get it back here for me to put in with the visa application.

What did I say about bureaucracy?

So we decided to send it by courier to my brother in England and try to explain what we needed him to do to get all the nonsense done. The Post Office does a courier service so we decided to use them. Another example of how time-consuming things can be. Mrs Seabee had been meeting for coffee with some friends she’d made on internet forums before we came to Dubai. All expats, most recently arrived, most with husbands working here and they’re trying to help each other settle in, make friends etc. Anyway, she asked them where our nearest Post Office is, as they’re very thin on the ground.

A word of explanation. Dubai is a working city, it’s all about trading and working and very little else. Eighty percent of the population are expats who are here to work. They work in offices which all have an office boy who does all the running around, including sending the private mail of the office workers and collecting their mail (they all use the company’s PO Box for their personal mail). No-one but these office boys has any idea what the post office situation is – I didn’t until I tried to do it myself. There are very, very few Post Offices and they’re small, many are very grubby and they're unbelievably crowded. Think Bombay Central railway station. They’re jam-packed with hordes of men pushing and shoving, waving bits of paper about, squatting on the floor sticking stamps to thousands of letters which their company is mailing, and a couple of uninterested clerks behind the counter doing very little to get much work done. It helps if you’re a woman though, so I stand back and let Mrs Seabee push her way to the counter where she gets served a little more quickly.

Anyway, one of her friends said the nearest PO to us is in the Al Quoz Industrial Area, turn off Sheikh Zayed Road (the ten lane freeway that’s the main artery into Dubai city and passes by Dubai Marina) at intersection three, go past the petrol station and pest control building, do a U-turn, ignore the dirt roads but take a right along the made-up road and the PO is up there on the left. We found it at the first attempt, but it took about an hour to do so, push through the crowds and get the forms. Then we had to come back home, complete the forms, put all the various letters, envelopes and stuff into a package and go back to the PO the next day to send it off to my brother. All of this ran into Christmas and New Year, then the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, died and a period of mourning was declared, which ran into the Eid al Adha public holiday. Murphy's Law again.

Finally, after two months, the duly attested Marriage Certificate arrived. Now I could do battle with Immigration to get Mrs Seabee'sResidence Visa.

Thoughts & impressions.

Mrs Seabee and I lived in Dubai from 1977 to 1984, in fact it's where we first met. We weren't Mr & Mrs Seabee, we had both come to Dubai to work.

We had a few holidays back here since we left and when the government decided that foreigners could buy property we decided to do just that and to move back. Before the new property rule of course you could only get a residence visa by finding a job and the employer being your sponsor. Now the visa comes with the property.

It's been an interesting exercise, one which a lot more people will go through as the huge number of new properties are handed over. There's talk too of northern Europeans retiring here instead of places like Spain. So I'll write my thoughts and impressions, the hurdles we have to jump, the problems, the easy bits. Maybe they'll help someone one day.

We arrived in Dubai at about 2.40am. We arrived and two of our three suitcases arrived. I cut a lonely figure watching the carousel chug round and round with the same three or four bags on it, none of them ours. I found an airport worker and asked if any more were coming. Some hope! What you don’t need after nearly 24 hours of traveling and a few minutes catnapping is to have to try to think clearly to explain to people who speak English as a second or third language that your bag is missing, find the right bar code for the missing bag rather than the two which did arrive, describe the bag – which inevitably looks nothing like any shown on the chart they give you – fill in forms, remember which hotel you’re booked into, find the phone number of the hotel.

Surprisingly, they were helpful (maybe they’ve learned that tired, irritable passengers are dangerous if you don’t handle them with care) checked the computer, traced the bag and found it had missed the connecting flight and was still in Singapore. We’d booked two nights in the hotel and planned a meeting to complete the ownership transfer of the apartment later the day we arrived and move into it the following day. The bag missing was the one with the inflatable mattress, pump, pillows and sheets which we needed when we moved into the apartment. Naturally. Murphy’s Law.

At the airport Mrs Seabee bought a SIM card so that we were contactable. We finally staggered out of the airport into the very warm very humid night air and another surprise greeted us, an Emirati female taxi driver. At four in the morning the roads are almost empty and speed limits can be totally ignored so we made good time to the hotel.(He said, tongue firmly in cheek).

We managed a few hours much-needed sleep before our 3pm meeting with the developer to complete the paperwork transferring the apartment to our names. A little background – some areas outside the city of Dubai have been declared as zones in which foreigners may buy freehold property, a first for the Gulf. It’s known as New Dubai and is actually many times bigger than the city of Dubai itself. Three Master Developers, government owned, are responsible for the various vast developments. They erect some of the buildings themselves, selling other plots of land within the development area to outside developers. In turn, investors from around the Gulf, the wider Arab world and internationally have bought villas and apartments off the plan with a ten or twenty percent deposit, then on-sold at a huge premium before the next stage payment is due. Multi-billion dollar developments have sold out totally within, literally, hours of being put on sale.

The area we bought in, Dubai Marina, is one of the smaller developments, but even so is planned to have 200 towers built around a man-made marina nearly 4 kilometres long with outlets to the Gulf at either end. Population of Dubai Marina will probably be around 100,000 when it's finished. The Master Developer created the master plan, with building controls, what could go where etc, built the marina itself, the infrastructure and what’s known as Phase 1, which has six high-rise towers and a range of restaurants and shops, parking space and very nice landscaping. The rest of the plots have been sold to other developers to come up with their own tower designs, erect the towers and sell the apartments.

Back to the story – the Master Developer sold our plot to the developer ETA Star who built a seven storey block with sixty-one one, two and three bedroom apartments. A company called 32Group bought half the apartments off the plan and we bought from them. Dubai Lands Department is still being formed and until the whole legal thing is in place the system is that the developer does the paperwork and keeps a register of owners. In due course these registers will be passed on to the Lands Department which will issue Title Deeds. We had to go to the developer ETA Star with the then owner 32Group so that they could transfer ownership to us and we could be registered with ETA Star as the owners. It actually all went smoothly and was done quickly and efficiently. The last time we’d seen the building it was a chaotic building site, not much more than raw concrete. So we asked for someone to drive us to the apartment to show us around, how things worked, where the car park was and all the other boring, vital stuff.

There are horror stories and rumours about the standard of building in Dubai, but we were pleasantly surprised because most of our building was actually better than we expected, especially the common areas. The common garden area isn’t huge but it’s very nicely landscaped, with lawn, gardens, date palms, water features. There’s an open-air pool at basement level, a very well equipped large gym, duplicate male and female changing rooms/showers/saunas/steam baths/spa baths. We have underground parking with reserved spaces for each apartment, electronic security systems with smart-cards, a video visitor entry system, twenty-four hour security guard/concierge, permanent maintenance and cleaning staff, a team of gardeners comes once a week to maintain not only the public areas, they also look after our private garden. We’re on the ground floor, so instead of balconies we have a private garden and patios.

We checked it all out, met the staff and headed back to our hotel just as the peak-hour traffic started. That sure was different from the old days in Dubai. Then the population was 250,000, now it’s a million more than that and the traffic has increased accordingly. Over 500,000 vehicles are registered in Dubai and half of them, according to surveys, are on the road commuting between Dubai and Sharjah each morning and evening. Sharjah is the adjoining emirate and the city of Sharjah is only about 10 kilometres from Dubai city. Rents are much cheaper there so a large part of Dubai’s workforce lives in Sharjah and commutes.

The following day we picked up the hire car, checked out of the hotel and moved into the apartment. Normally the electricity and water would be disconnected at this stage and we couldn’t apply for connection in our names until we had our Residence Visa and that was estimated to take up to a month. However, ETA Star kindly said they’d use their influence to keep the electricity and water connected, have it transferred to our names from the date we took over ownership and split the bill accordingly. So that was one really major potential headache dealt with.

The missing bag was still just that, missing. So we drove to our local shopping mall – and that’s a story in itself, an astonishing place. In the hypermarket we found an inflatable double mattress and pump, a couple of pillows, pillowcases and sheets, so we were all set. After we’d pumped up the mattress the airport missing luggage office called us to say the bag had arrived and they’d courier it to us straight away. We’re in the part of Dubai Marina which is still a building site, no road names, no landmarks and no-one knows it. So the courier got lost, but after a few more calls to the mobile he eventually arrived. We deflated the new mattress, took it and the pump back to the hypermarket and somehow talked them into taking it back and returning our money.

And so to bed.