Friday, March 30, 2007

I'm not here

In Egypt for a week, so TBTB.

Back in Dubai on April 7...see you then.

The Big Boss saves the beach.

Excellent news for beachlovers and for Dubai's future tourism targets.

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid has instructed Dubai Municipality to stop the construction work on Umm Suqeim beach immediately and remove the construction fence which cordons off the beach for the planned project. The beach should be left open for the public, the municipality was told.

This is the beach that would have been lost:

What may be surprising to many is that the project has been stopped in spite of the development company having as a co-director and major shareholder Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid.

Wasta has not stood in the way of a sensible decision. And, not for the first time, Sheikh Mohammed has demonstrated that Dubai is fortunate to have him as Ruler.

Irresponsible reporting - again.

I have to say, yet again, that Emirates Today has stayed at the bottom of the barrel with its mis-reporting of the story.

I complained earlier that they reported this development incorrectly, didn't bother to check their 'facts' and mislead their readers. They continue to do it with this new report.

They repeat: "Instructions to tear down the fencing work on the popular beach, extending from Burj Al Arab to Port Rashid..." It does NOT extend to Port Rashid, that's 20 kilometres away in the heart of Dubai city! It extends to Umm Suqeim Fishing Port, a length of about 600 metres.

The development was announced as being 4.5 million square feet, including new offshore areas. If it extended to Port Rashid it would be a thin strip development 20 kilometres long and 20 metres (65 feet) wide! Hardly likely is it.

Why don't they check their facts rather than mislead their readers? It's not difficult to do.

Gulf News has a report here.

Emirates Today story, complete with mis-reporting, is here.

Scroll down for my earlier postings on the two subjects.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Good news for animals - for once.

Apart from horses and camels, animal welfare isn't high on the agenda in the region.

There are plenty of stray dogs, including many disgracefully abandoned by expats returning home. K9 Friends has been doing what it can for them, but the charity was in danger of closing because they received an eviction notice to leave their premises at Al Barsha.

Now apparently the Dubai Government has stepped in to provide land for a purpose-built dog welfare shelter. The new shelter will be funded by the government, we're told.

Slowly but surely we do seem to be moving in the right direction on a number of fronts. This is another example and the government is to be congratulated for this action.

Now, let's get some urgency into the new Dubai Zoo.

The story is here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The good ol' days. Part 6

At last I've found the time to go through the old slides again and scan a few more.

I took these back in the late seventies on my first life in Dubai and they give some idea of the changes over what is really not a very long period.

Beautiful downtown Deira has changed a bit since 1978 when I took these:

They've done a bit around the Creek too:

Apart from the sunshade awning we have now, the abras haven't changed. However, a big and interesting change of attitude which I noticed as soon as we came back is the flags. Even when we left in 1984 there was only a vary rare glimpse of a UAE national flag, the vast majority were the red & white Dubai flag, as on the dhows in this photo:

Something else that's disappeared - the street photographers with their amazing props. They used Polaroid instant cameras and did big business.

You can find the earlier 'Old Dubai' postings here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Monday, March 26, 2007

The beach background facts

I've previously talked about the fence going up along the beach at Umm Suqeim, here and on the UAE Community Blog, the media has had some stories and there's now a website petition to 'save our beach'.

Here's the background.

The day after the fence started to appear, the newspapers ran a press release from Zabeel Investments:

"Zabeel Investments has begun work on a new 4.5 million square foot coastal development on Jumeirah Beach in Umm Suqeim, a company statement said.

"The unique mixed-use development will comprise residential, commercial and hospitality facilities reflecting a beachfront lifestyle," it said.

Located on the prestigious stretch in Umm Suqeim, the development will cover both existing and reclaimed land and will overlook the Burj Al Arab located just down the coast.

"We are in the early stages of this development and will shortly announce details of the project when finalised," Mohammad Ali Al Hashimi, executive chairman of Zabeel Investments, said."

If you go to the Dubai International Financial Centre website you'll find that Zabeel Investments has two directors and two shareholders listed. One is Mr. Mohammed Ali Ridha Ali Al Hashimi, the gentleman quoted in the press release.

The other is Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

I wouldn't bet on the petition to 'save our beach' being successful.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Life's a beach

We have some fabulous beaches in Dubai, huge stretches of soft white sand with warm turquoise water to swim in. They're part of life in Dubai for many people, especially at the weekend when friends meet there to relax after their hard working week.

We now have some iconic buildings on the beach too, which tourists love to photograph.

Today I took my camera when I went for a stroll along the most famous stretch of beach so that I could share some photographs of our beach culture with you.

First, the view of the beach from Umm Suqeim Park:

Then Burj Al Arab, the building that the tourist buses head to every morning so that the excited tourists can have their photo taken with our symbol of Dubai in the background:

And its sister hotel, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, photographed from the lifeguard tower at the end of the beach:

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Irresponsible reporting.

Irresponsible. Inaccurate. Inexcusable.

The subject is the fence appearing at Umm Suqeim beach.

The culprits are Emirates Today and "Anjana Sankar and Vesela Todorova News Reporters" who claim to have seen something which simply is not there.

I quote: "Upon visiting the beach, Emirates Today found a 17-km iron fencing is being built along the beach stretching from Burj Al Arab to Port Rashid."

I visited it yesterday and today too. The fence is maybe 500 metres, from close to Burj Al Arab to Umm Suqeim Fishing Port.

So maybe that's just the beginning and it will go the full length of Dubai's coastline?

Not according to the press release from Zabeel Investments, the developer. That says they are developing a 4.5 million square foot area and "will cover both existing and reclaimed land and will overlook the Burj Al Arab located just down the coast."

"will overlook the Burj Al Arab located just down the coast" doesn't mean 17 kilometres away.

And do the maths.

An area 17 kilometres long covering 4.5 million square feet gives you a width of less than 25 metres.

So according to our intrepid reporters, who tell us they've seen it with their own eyes, we're going to get a beachfront development 17 kilometres long and 24.5 metres wide.

And what was the Editor of EmTod doing, letting such demonstrably ridiculous garbage into the paper?

The EmTod report is here.

The press release is in Gulf news, here.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

More murky waters.

A report in 7Days tells us:

A Dubai-based menswear store will hand over 11 air tickets to stranded Indians each time cricketer Sreesanth takes a wicket during the ongoing Cricket World Cup.

The clothing chain Snowhite, announced yesterday that the ‘wicket-ticket’ programme would mainly help men who have completed prison sentences but are still stranded in UAE jails unable to afford to return to their home country.

Well, good on Snowhite for the gesture and let's hope Sreesanth gets a bagfull of wickets.

But surely they've missed the real story here. It's in the last few words:"...who have completed prison sentences but are still stranded in UAE jails unable to afford to return to their home country."

What's going on here? Have they been given deportation as part of their sentence? If so, surely the authorities are responsible for deporting them.

If they haven't been sentenced to deportation, then why aren't they out of jail at the end of their sentence and back in the workforce? Why are they still in there because they "are unable to afford to return to their home country."?

And what's the end-game? If they can't raise the fare home do they stay in jail forever?

You can read the report here.

Tell me they're not!

The Burj al Arab beach has a very long fence going up, all the way from Umm Suqeim Fishing Port to beyond Umm Suqeim Park. It looks horribly like a typical construction site fence.

No signs, anonymous trucks, no logos on the workers' boiler suits.

More worrying, a construction site office is in place next to the Fishing Port.

So what are they up to? Not another development surely? We've lost more than enough beach already, from the very little that Dubai had to start with.

Not only residents would be disadvantaged, so would the tourist industry - a hell of a lot of them come for the beaches. It's what city-dwellers do for their holiday, go to a beach. And this one is a real tourist attraction because of the photographs of themselves with Burj al Arab in the background that they take.

I'm sure there will be news about what it's for before too long. Fingers crossed...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ladies & gentlemen, we got him.

So Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has confessed to being responsible for all the terrorist attacks over the last ten years.

That's good then, BushW can declare victory and withdraw - from EyeRak, from Afghanistan, from the very War on Tear itself. The Good Guys won.

I might add that I'm surprised KSM didn't admit to assassinating JFK, pushing Jack down the hill and being the killer of Cock Robin too.

One of the reports is here

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Infrastructure catching up...

Slowly but, hopefully, surely the infrastructure in Dubai is catching up with the frantic growth.
The Metro is pushing on visibly and quickly, a new fleet of buses has been ordered, new water transport is ordered, new roads and intersections are coming on stream. And now the real bottleneck has some relief.

The fourth crossing of the Creek half opened last night, six of the thirteen lanes. That's the Business Bay Crossing which is about 1.5 km south of Al Garhoud Bridge. That should help to relieve the Dubai/Sharjah chaos, obviously easing some of the jams in the tunnel and on the other bridges but also on the approach roads. It all helps to spread the load.
Photo. Arshad Ali/Gulf News
It's part of a road corridor that will join Sheikh Zayed Road & Emirates Road through Bur Dubai and Deira and on into Sharjah.
The story, map and more photos are in Gulf News, here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Sound familiar?

I had to smile when I read this report in the Sydney Morning Herald about driving standards on my local freeway.

The F3: fast, furious and frustrating

Jordan Baker, Transport Reporter
March 12, 2007

IT'S the Australian way: get there first and get there fast. And on our highways we truly outdo ourselves in the winner-takes-all stakes.

Drivers in Europe stick to slow or fast lanes and overtake on the correct side; Australians, however, drive all over the place, and nowhere is this more evident than on the F3 between Wahroonga and Newcastle. Last month four accidents closed the highway in three days, and there is no viable alternative route.

Ken Dobinson, a former Roads and Traffic Authority director who designed the F3, said it was notorious for poor lane discipline. Trucks and cars weave around each other, infuriating other drivers and causing accidents.

"[Eliminating that] wouldn't reduce the traffic jams but … there would be [fewer] accidents if you had better lane discipline. That road [the F3] desperately needs signs that restrict trucks to the left-hand lane and only let trucks overtake in the middle lane. That would go a long way to solving the problems."

Photo: Ben Rushton. SMH

Mr Dobinson said when multiple-lane roads were introduced to Australia little attention was given to developing a culture of lane etiquette. Now poor discipline was a bad habit.

"With a freeway system in Sydney … we should … put this attitude to people that you never overtake on the left-hand side of the vehicle."

The penalty for "lane hogging" was increased from $130 to $231 and from two to three demerit points in 2005. That year 1029 people were fined under three offences of failing to keep left on a road. Last year the figure was 1234, NSW Police said.

The police traffic services commander, Chief Superintendent John Hartley, said motorists were required to stick to the left lane when driving on a multiple-lane road with a speed limit of 80 kmh or more. When they did not, it frustrated other drivers, prompting them to break road rules to get past.

But it was a difficult law to police. "You've got to stop motorists on busy highways where there's nowhere to pull over," Superintendent Hartley said. "Safety is paramount, so if officers can't stop safely they won't proceed."

The driving is as they describe, but it's heaven compared to Dubai's driving. Lane discipline is haphazard at best, but the other problems we have here of excessive speed, red light jumping, hard shoulder driving, the naked aggression to push in front, dangerous and illegal U-turning, are thankfully very rarely seen.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Avoidable chaos

I know I bang on about it, but I have to say it again - the 'planners' have let this city down disastrously.

The roads and parking are the problem of course, they're bringing the city to a grinding halt and depriving businesses of revenue.

The real tragedy is that it was all unnecessary. It could have been avoided simply by a bit of sensible thought at the beginning of Dubai's phenomenal development.

There was no secret about the vision - Sh. Mohammed was quite clear. He even said what you were seeing was only 10% of his vision for the future. So no-one can claim they didn't know the extent of the development that was planned.

It needed a law that said all buildings must have adequate parking for its residents and visitors. It's hardly rocket science that without such a law there will be a parking problem. Make that nightmare. The formula is not hard to work out either , you need a minimum of two parking spaces per unit plus visitor parking based on the number of units and whatever retail outlets the building will have.

We still have no such law.

Back in the seventies when the population was around 200,000 the buildings had no car parks, so we all parked all over the sand around them. Even then it could be a nightmare, so it's not a new phenomenon, not beyond the experience of people.

A good example of the disaster the 'planners' have given us is Dubai Marina. It was built from scratch, from empty land. No old buildings or streets to work around. Just empty sand. The perfect blank canvas. All the problems with traffic that other cities around the world are experiencing could, and should, have been avoided. It could, and should, have been a model for the world.

What did we get?


I had a stroll around on Friday and this is a typical street scene.

Narrow roads, parking both sides, other cars parked all over the footpath, even on the traffic island at the end of the road.

And only a fraction of the towers are complete and occupied.

The Phase 1 area is the same. Plenty of very good restaurants, with seating for hundreds. Just over a hundred parking spaces in the basement of two buildings, the overflow car park now closed because towers are being built on the land. We've simply given up trying to eat there, as I'm sure hundreds of others have.

Compare it with Singapore. Drive into the main business/tourist area and whichever building you're visiting you simply drive into its car park. They all have ample underground parking. You pay, but that's infinitely better than not being able to park. Added to which they have superb public transport options anyway.

But Dubai still has no law about parking space, there's still no planning. Thousands more towers are going up and none have adequate parking space.

It's the city's major negative and one that will seriously affect it's commercial success.

Monday, March 05, 2007

More Brand Dubai promotion downunder

Couple of friends in Australia e-mailed to tell me they'd watched a '60 Minutes' report on Dubai. Overall impression was that it was a good promotion for the City of Dust.

I've read the transcript (which you can too, if you go here) and it looks like one of the less inaccurate reports. There are some oddities - for example Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed is "a Crown Prince of Dubai". A Crown Prince? He's not even the Crown Prince.

And the gushing new expats who've got a package like we used to get but very few people do get these days.

But it also gives some coverage to the other end of the salary scale, without getting into details, so it sort-of balances the story a bit.

Just on that subject, Sheikh Zayed Road was blocked the other day by 400 labourers demanding a pay rise. They want a Dh2 increase to their Dh25 a day wages. I'll do the conversion - they're getting US$6.80 a day and they want US$7.34.

Just pause and think about those figures for a moment.

The Gulf News story is here.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Dubai buyer sets Aussie real estate record.

How's that for a tabloid headline then?

Friends on the New South Wales Central Coast, where our home is, sent us this earlier today. A record price paid for a property in one of the neighbouring suburbs and it was paid by a buyer who flew in from Dubai.

That's about eleven and a half million dirhams by the way.

It's in a great spot, around a one hour drive from Sydney, plenty of facilities in the area. The arrow points to the beach it's on.

Scroll down to the post before last and you'll find a couple of other photos of the beach & bay.

Let me tell you a story.

When we decided to move up there from Sydney, about 12 years ago, we thought about buying one of the houses on that stretch of beach. Then they all needed renovation but were hugely underpriced - the one we looked at was less than A$500,000. (About Dh1.375million). Then we heard stories about a King Tide, back in the seventies I think, which washed away some of the houses there. The story was confirmed by several real estate cowboys agents.

Then we saw a house we preferred, back from the beach and up on the hilltop overlooking the bay. No regrets about the decision really, although the capital gain we've made would have been double or triple if we'd bought on the beach.

That would have been nice wouldn't it?

The local council is planning to build a sea wall to protect the properties, but the owners will have to foot the bill. No-one is saying how much that may be. I assume the new owner was made aware of that by her solicitor and the real estate agents.

Out of interest, anyone know the new owners?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Chinese New Year in Singapore

I've organised a few more of the 500 or so photos we took on the tiny, basic but very convenient digital camera. Being a fan of SLR cameras and 35mm slides and sceptical about the digital I'm amazed at how well they've come out.

So here are a few of the Singapore part of the holiday, which coincided with the first few days of the Year of the Golden Pig. Rather than being too 'arty' I try to get some of the atmosphere of the places in my photos, so they end up as just street scenes or close-ups of bits I like such as windows or roofs. I get nagged about it all the time - according to my wife/self-appointed art director I should take shots of people. Well I do sometimes, but not a lot.

The temples were decorated for the festivities and were busy all day long.

Changi is a great airport, deservedly winning endless awards. Clean, efficient, well-designed. There are now two main terminals plus a budget airline terminal. In the departure lounge of Terminal2 there's a beautiful restful area with palm trees and hundreds of orchids around a koi carp pool. Inevitably you have to sit around an airport, waiting, and this is as good a place to relax for a while as any.

Plenty of fruit stalls around the local areas of course with a good selection of quality fruit available.

Durian, The King of Fruit - an obsession with Singaporeans - which you can smell from kilometres away. It's banned from hotels and on public transport including taxis because of the smell.

It's a very modern city of course, but it's good to see older places still exist, many of them now renovated and preserved.

Herbal tea - they swear it's good for you but I'm not game to try it, it smells like medicine.

As is traditional for New Year there were lion dancers all over the city perfoming in the streets, the housing estates, the shopping malls.

The 'music' is just clashing cymbals and thudding drums. There's a distinct rhythm to it and obviously a 'tune' of sorts because you hear the same thing from different troupes. In the closed space of shopping malls with the noise bouncing off the hard surfaces it can be just a little uncomfortable!

So that's it for Singapore, now on to sort out the photos from the Aussie part of the holiday and I'll post some later.