Saturday, June 30, 2007

A nice little Salik scam.

I came across an interesting detail with Salik today.

We went to have a look at the newly-opened Lulu Hypermarket in Al Barsha, just behind Mall of the Emirates. There are no signs, so you take a guess where to go - eventually I found it.

After we'd finished looking around we headed back to Dubai Marina. Again I had to guess the route, got back into MoE, around the flyover signed to Umm Suqeim and took the far left turnoff onto Sheikh Zayed Road headed towards Jebel Ali.

Less than 100 metres and I passed under the tollgate, the one that charges you when you leave the freeway toll section. Had it been tomorrow I'd have paid Dh4 to travel less than 100 metres on SZR.

There were no signs to warn of the tollgate, so plenty of people are going to get caught.

Friday, June 29, 2007

RTA proves its incompetence, again.

Just how long will the RTA be allowed to continue demonstrating its breathtaking incompetence before heads roll?

The Salik kits, the advertisements, the TV commercials have all been absolutely clear - the sticker must be placed "1 cm below the rearview mirror post".

In the kit, the booklet has the rider: "In certain vehicles, you may need to install the tag in a special location". It tells you to go to the Salik website. You try - I've been trying for two days and "cannot find server" is all I get.

Now, just two days before the toll is due to begin, they issue a list of the vehicles which must have the tag in a special location, as published in Gulf News.

I wonder how many owners of those vehicles have already done as instructed and placed the tag 1 cm below the rearview mirror post. The tags won't work if they're removed, so they'll have to buy another one.

All the time they've had to think this thing through, to get the information to us, and they leave this critical information until a few hours before start-up.

Gulf News says: "(RTA) has produced a list of vehicles that require a special installation for Salik tags which will be operational on Sunday, July 1.

The RTA also advised motorists to go through the details attached with the Salik welcome kit and read the instructions to install the tag on the car windshield"

It's mind-boggling.

The Gulf News story is here.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The endless digging drives me mad!

"Nothing's ever finished" is a phrase we hear all the time in Dubai, referring to the endless construction.

In fact it's not true. Things do get finished, and very quickly by world standards.

Then a couple of weeks later, along come the diggers, everything is ripped up and a huge hole appears! It's driving me crazy in Dubai Marina.

For months and months I'm driving an obstacle course, amongst & around grubby, dusty, garbage-strewn eye-sores of construction sites. Then one day, suddenly, the fence is taken down, the irritating red & white plastic cones and flapping bits of plastic are taken away. Very shortly after that the pavers go down and on some developments some restful green landscaping is put in.

What a relief for drivers and residents. It's all opened up, there's more space, it looks good.


These are a perfect example. Footpath and driveway finished, garden areas planted. Looking good.

That's the time they dig it all up.

Laying some plastic pipe, some cables, is hardly rocket science is it. Even if the labourers can't get it right surely there's some supervision, someone qualified to check that it all fits as it should - and is paid to do just that - before the hole is filled in and the drive/footpath laid on top.

That obviously doesn't happen. No-one checks, no-one signs off on it.

So the waste of time and money, the obstructions for motorists and pedestrians, the added pollution just goes on and on.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Salik is not designed to ease congestion.

For whatever reason and in spite of the RTA's pronouncements on the subject, the new toll system is not designed to ease traffic on the stretch of Sheikh Zayed Road between the tollgates.

I'm not going to voice an opinion, I'll simply point out the facts.

1/. Vehicles can drive on the section at any point between the tollgates without charge.

2/. Signs outside the toll section direct traffic onto it, for example in Bur Dubai, Jumeirah, Jebel Ali.

3/. Signs on SZR within the toll section tell drivers how to avoid the toll by taking a minor detour around the tollgates.

Our esteemed RTA says the toll is for no other reason than to divert 25% of the traffic from the toll stretch of SZR. The facts say otherwise.

So is the toll a revenue-raising exercise, a tax that dare not speak its name? An example of incompetence by the RTA? An example of their inability to think things through properly?

Government says 'no' to Hooters.

A week ago I said that , regardless of what we think, the government of Dubai would decide whether 'Hooters' restaurants would open in Dubai. That posting is here.

A report in Al Khaleej is picked up by Gulf News in which it says that Ali Ebrahim, deputy director-general for executive affairs at the Department of Economic Development, confirms that 'Hooters' has not even been registered with them. That supports my suggestion that it was a fishing trip by the Kuwaiti franchise owner to gauge reaction before he invested any money.

Mr Ebrahim also confirmed what we all know, that anything in violation of the religion, traditions & culture of the UAE are not permitted.

Gulf News story is here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Advertisers need to lift their game.

7Days comes in a plastic bag today, the bag containing a colour brochure for 'The Royal Breeze. Private Golf & Ocean Estate', offering 88 Golf Chalets for sale.

It wouldn't have been a cheap exercise, the renders, photography, design, printing, advertising costs all add up.

So you'd think that whoever put it all together would have thought to say where the development is located. The nearest they get is a note on the resort map that tells us it's '45 minutes to Dubai'.

You might also think they would have taken the trouble to check the English.

No need to bother with such trivialities, obviously.

In difficult-to-read white on a silver background (I thought designers had learned not to do that years ago) it breathlessly tells us:

"Located at the 12th hole of the Middle East's only seaside golf course, you are only a few meters away from the sparkling Arabian Gulf while the picturesque lagoon right on your door steps, where your yacht rocks gently in the private marina. Address you shot, feel the breeze in your face and wave to your family, watching from the balcony of your potential home."

Getting it right isn't rocket science is it. If I have something to appear in Arabic I have it written and checked by Arabs.

So what is it? Arrogance? As in "I speak English as well as anyone". Incompetence? Don't give a damn?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Bizarre story

Not your everyday story this one, reported by Gulf News from Abu Dhabi's Western Region, and it sure makes a change from all the development stories:

16 camels killed by lightning

Published: June 24, 2007

Abu Dhabi: A bolt of lightning killed 16 camels near a farmland off Ghayathi in the Western Region yesterday.

The herd owned by Mohammad A'sheer Al Mazroui was stationed near a sand dune behind his farmland, 20 km from Ghayathi.

The local Arabic daily Al Khaleej quoted Al Mazroui as saying that the camels were grazing at the pasture when the sky suddenly became cloudy. Soon it started to drizzle and a small group of camels broke away from the herd and climbed the sand dune nearby. Lightning and thunder shook the area and lightning felled 16 camels.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Petitions work? Gimme a break!

There's an online petition complaining that salik is not a good idea, at least for the time being. It's not very clear but I assume it's asking the RTA to postpone the July 1st start-date.

What amuses me is that people, many people, are claiming that the earlier on-line petition to 'save our beach' was hugely successful and was the main reason Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid ordered the work to stop. They think the latest one will have the same effect.

What arrogance. What self-importance. What a dream world they live in.

Sheikh Mohammed will do what he believes is the right thing for Dubai, for its future growth and prosperity. You can bet your life he will not be swayed from that by the complaints of a few hundred transient expats, here for a short period then back to their home countries.

If he thought it was in Dubai's best interests to develop the beach it would have gone ahead. He didn't, it didn't.

The petition would have had no influence on the decision.

If he cancells or postpones salik at this late stage it will be because he has the advice of experts such as Brig. Mohammad Saif Al Zafein, Director of Dubai Police's Traffic Department, who is vocally opposed to the plan.

Once again, a petition by a few expats will not influence government policy. Sign it by all means, blog about it - I do endlessly, write to the papers about it, be vocal about it. But don't think for one moment that if the government thinks it's the right thing to do you will be able to reverse the decision.

And if it is reversed, please don't claim credit for it, like the beach petitioners and their supporters.

The salik petition is here.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Plenty of good news...

...well, sort-of good news, it depends how you look at it. And, as ever, whether what's promised will be carried out.

The stories are all in Gulf News today.

First, the labourers labouring in 50 degree heat and high humidity.

Although not officially announced yet, a ministerial decision is apparently scheduled for next week, it seems that last year's 12.30 to 3pm break will be repeated this year. Minister of Labour Dr Ali Bin Abdullah Al Ka'abi is reported as saying that no major changes are likely and that the inspectors will be out in force to ensure companies obey the rule.

The fines, Dh10,000 for a first offence, are not too daunting, but company transactions will be suspended for between three months for a first offence and one year for a third offence. That's the part that may force them to rethink their practices.

Last year nearly 25% of the 3,000 companies inspected broke the rule.

You can read the story here.

Second story is from Abu Dhabi and is on animal welfare.

The Federal National Council apparently agreed to the Animal Welfare draft law in its session on Tuesday and the 17-article law will be referred to Cabinet.

The law calls for violators to be fined between Dh5,000 and Dh20,000 with the possibility of jail for not less than one month. It says animal owners must take care of their pets and not cause them any harm...I'd like to see the stupid bimbo who walks her dog around Dubai Marina on the scorching footpath late-mornings made to walk barefoot on it herself!

The law also talks about the nutrition of animals and their transport, not crowding animals of different species together, sale of sick or injured animals postponed until they have fully recovered, written permission required for exhibitions of animals for sale and so on.

I wonder whether it will apply to Dubai Zoo...

As Mahatma Gandhi said, you can judge a society by the way it treats its animals.

The story is here.

Next we have what seems to be a reasonably successful blitz by Dubai police to stop improper behaviour on the beaches.

In May & June 1,461 people, we can assume that means men, were caught for improper behaviour on the beaches. That ranges from swimming in unsuitable clothes, which I assume means underwear which becomes almost transparent after a dip in the sea, to taking photographs of women or otherwise harassing other beachgoers.

For a minor offence they have to sign an undertaking not to do it again, for a serious offence they are prosecuted.

It's another welcome move towards a more civilised society.

You can read the story here.

Finally, reckless pedestrians are being held accountable for their own stupidity.

Crossing roads at undesignated areas is illegal, irresponsible road crossing causing an accident will be punished by a fine of Dh500 or jail time. Unless they're killed, presumably, which happens to far too many of them. We're told that up to 40% of our horrendous road fatalities are pedestrians. So now the police say they will get tough on 'reckless pedestrians'.

Throwing drivers in jail because an idiot ran across Sheikh Zayed Road in front of six lanes of 120kph traffic is obviously not the right thing to do. So this is a good move, a necessary one, but it's only part of the job to be done.

Let's be fair to pedestrians, we need crossings, particularly bridges or underpasses on major multi-lane highways. And we need to educate drivers to stop at the road-level pedestrian crossings when people want to cross. As it is now, if you stop to let pedestrians walk on a designated crossing you're more than likely to be shunted in the rear by another driver, who simply doesn't expect the driver in front to stop. Or he blasts the horn and swerves round you at speed, just as the pedestrian is moving across.

The story is here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

To hoot or not to hoot.

Reports say that 'Hooters' is opening in Dubai.

My feeling is that this is a fishing trip. The Kuwaiti franchise owner is "...trying to secure a location to open..." and I think he's floating the idea publicly to see what the reaction is. (Much like the ludicrous 'Emirati-in-national-dress' building design, that it transpired had not even been submitted for planning approval).

I'm deeply suspicious of a restaurant that promotes itself not on its food/price/ambience/service combination but on the chest measurement of its female staff. As a result I've never bothered to eat in one of the many 'Hooters' I've seen overseas. If they do open in Dubai I won't be a customer.

I also believe there's a 'time & place' for everything. A leisurely drink in a bar or a social evening in a pub doesn't require topless barmaids, as I've seen in Hong Kong and the UK. If anything it spoils the evening.

Likewise, scantily clad females on the beach or around the pool are fine with me - but not in a shopping mall. And not just here either. I'm not talking about Muslim sensibilities, I'm talking about what's appropriate, and what I see too many western women wearing in Mall of the Emirates would offend me equally in an Australian mall.

So I would hate to see 'Hooters' open here. However...

Back in about 1978 I remember a conversation with friends. A Brit commented that we shouldn't be drinking alcohol in a Muslim country, that it was wrong. An Emirati friend replied that it was his government that made the laws and if they said it was OK, then it was OK.

The same applies to 'Hooters'. The government of Dubai will decide what's acceptable and what's not. If they give the approval to 'Hooters' I guess we should all stop complaining.

If we don't like it we can always leave!

Salik becomes clear.

Don't worry about the salik toll system, I've just realised that it's all a joke, a Monty Python script.

On July 1st the RTA will say whatever the Gulf's equivalent of 'April Fool' is and we'll all have a good laugh at how they fooled us.

It has to be, surely. It can't be for real, it's just all so incredibly stupid. Even for the RTA.

I've just driven from Bur Dubai, following the signs to Jebel Ali/Abu Dhabi which directed me onto Sheikh Zayed Road. You know, the toll-zone stretch that they say salik will clear of 25% of its traffic.

Then at Al Barsha I'm confronted by an overhead I'm directed to drive on the road, then have to pay to get off it!

Look, I've done a quick sketch of the toll gate...

Having directed us onto the stretch they're trying to keep us off, they then give us directions to exits that help us avoid the tollgate.

So at Exit 39 Al Barsha you turn off SZR, go a very short distance and come back onto SZR the other side of the tollgate.

Of course, if you come all the way down the toll stretch from Garhoud to Al Barsha you don't pay Dh4 as is claimed..."the toll will be Dh4"...but Dh4 to get on and another Dh4 when you get off.

I told you, it's a Monty Python script.

I do hope Sheikh Mohammed gets back from his very successful trip to Royal Ascot in time to stop this nonsense.

My earlier piece on the toll fiasco which talks about some of the other problems.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Welcome, if overdue.

A press release in Gulf News today announces that Civil Defence stations are to be built in 'New Dubai' with work already started.
Inevitably the information is confusing but I think it's saying that we will have a total of six new stations including one at Dubai Marina and another at Jebel Ali. Others will be in Port Saeed, Umm Al Sheif, Leseily and Al Barsha.
The cream-bun shaped thing on the roof is an observation tower so that they can keep an eye on things.
A very welcome addition to the vital infrastructure even though it's years late - things like this should have been in place when the first occupants started to move in.
We have a strange mixture in Dubai - visionary thinking and planning for 50 years ahead at one end of the spectrum and events on the ground playing catch-up years late thanks to no planning at all.
The story is here.

More tragic similarities

A couple of news stories in the last two days, thousands of kilometres apart but, as with the storms, similar backgrounds - this time it's construction site accidents.

Today the papers are reporting scaffolding collapse in Dubai in which there were deaths and injuries. Gulf News reports one dead while 7Days says two dead and twenty-three injured.

Photo: Tracy Brand. Gulf News

A similar accident to Dubai's was reported in London on Tuesday, when a building undergoing renovation collapsed. It seems there were injuries but no deaths.

Photo: BBC website

For decades cynics here, especially Europeans, have joked about building standards, with the implication that it only happens in Dubai.

I've heard over the years that the Trade Centre was tilting, Al Ghurair Centre's foundations were not good enough and the building would collapse, Shindagah Tunnel was going to leak and then collapse, and the same old stories are being trotted out about the new developments.

As the London event shows, and many others around the world, cutting corners, shonky builders, disdain for safety measures, lack of serious inspection and non-enforcement of rules can and do cause tragic accidents - not just in Dubai but just about anywhere.

Gulf News story.

7Days story.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Power of storms

An excellent photograph showing the power of the storm battering the Hunter Valley & Central Coast areas of Australia.

This is the 40,000-tonne, 225m bulk carrier, Pasha Bulker, currently parked almost in the city of Newcastle:

Photo: Jamie Wicks. The Australian

Dontcha just love it!

From today's Gulf News.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Storm devastation around the world...

We've been reading the stories of the devastation and deaths caused by Cyclone Gonu here in the Gulf, with Oman particularly badly hit. It seems that tragically the death toll will be around 75.

There's a similar story from the other side of the world too, although deaths are much fewer.

The area around my home town in Australia has just been hit by wild storms and the pictures are much the same as those we're seeing from Oman. There have been deaths there too, seven as far as I can find out including children which I always find particularly sad, sisters aged just 2 and 3 and their nine year old cousin. Their parents died as did a retired couple, all in cars which were washed away by floodwater.

What struck me is how similar the photographs are:


Photo: Brian Espinosa. Gulf News

Photo: Dallas Kilponen. SMH


Photo: Sunil K Vaidya. Gulf News

Photo: Jenny Evans. SMH


Photo: Brian Espinosa. Gulf News

Photo: Sydney Morning Herald reader.


Photo: Gulf News reader.

Photo: Richard Gosling. SMH


Photo: Brian Espinosa. Gulf News

Photo: Stefan Moore. SMH


Photo: Ravindranath. Gulf News

Photo: Phil Hearne. SMH

Friday, June 08, 2007

What meaningless garbage!

The PR industry here has a well-earned reputation for being a long way from the professional level that it needs to be.

Here's a perfect example, a press release in today's 'Briefs' Column in the Business Section of Gulf News:

Dubai Duty Free chooses NCR

Dubai Dubai Duty Free, located at Dubai International Airport and the world's third largest airport duty free shop by annual turnover, has selected a point-of-sale (POS) solution from the NCR Corporation that is expected to bring increased innovation and flexibility to the award-winning retailer. Emirates Computers, an NCR RealPartner in the region, is responsible for the implementation and ongoing support of the solution. "We aim to deliver a fast, flexible, and reliable service to our customers," said Colm McLoughlin, Managing Director of Dubai Duty Free.

A 'point-of-sale solution'? 'Implementation and ongoing support for the solution'?

What are they babbling on about?

It tells us nothing. It's of no benefit to any of the three companies mentioned. What was the point of the exercise?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Metro or theme-park ride?

As the overground sections of the Metro rapidly develop they're posing a fascinating question.

It's beginning to look as though it would be more at home in the mega theme park of Dubailand.

The supporting pillars are at varying heights and the horizontal concrete slabs, which I assume is where the rails go, range from almost ground level to seven or eight metres above ground.

Look, ground level...


...higher still...

Some take the trains above the flyovers, others take them below the flyovers.

Is that what it's going to be, up and down? Anybody know?

And I hope the different departments have been talking to each other so they are aware that the Metro has to get past the new Interchange 5.5 or whatever it's going to be called (you know, the one that wasn't originally planned, at the Jebel Ali end of Dubai Marina). It looks as though the roof of the trains is going to be awfully close to the bottom of the flyover...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Welcome to Souk Madinat.

It's about nine o'clock on Friday morning. Planning to spend money on coffee and breakfast at one of the cafes in Souk Madinat Jumeirah.

There's a rope across the public car park entrance. Security man approaches car and demands to know "Where are you going?"

"I'm going into the car park when you move the rope."

"And then where are you going?"

You take that attitude with me, even before I've had a cup of coffee in the morning? I won't bore you with the rest of the conversation, which involved me getting more than a little irate. He eventually backed off and moved the rope.

This is the Jumeirah Group, the luxury hospitality company. This is the welcome the paying public receives when we drive there to spend our hard-earned dirhams.

A public car park of a public retail area which relies on the public for its very existance.

Some demonstration of hospitality. Some demonstration of how staff training is carried out.

Why should I bother to go there again?

Smoking 'ban' ain't gonna work...

They're backing off already.

Here's what Gulf News reports today:

"Dubai shopping malls will be responsible for regulating and enforcing anti-smoking regulations within their premises, under terms of an agreement signed between Dubai Municipality and a group representing shopping malls.

Hussain Nasser Lootah, Director-General of Dubai Municipality, said that under the terms of the understanding, the onus of enforcement would not be on the municipality but on the mall management.

"There will be no fines. Malls will be self-regulating," he said, adding that mall employees would have to tell smoking patrons to stub out and direct them to designated smoking areas."

A month ago when the 'ban' was announced I asked:

"The proof will be in the enforcement, something that Dubai is not very good at. How and by whom they will be enforced is another question.
Will 'security' personnel in various buildings such as malls and cinemas be trained in how to approach smoking-ban violators? How to deal with refusals to 'stub out'? How to deal with being ignored, or abused? And then what? Will they call the police? Can they detain the smoker until the police arrive?
Who will have the power to issue fines? Will they be on-the-spot fines? How will the fines be enforced?
There are more questions than answers at the moment."

Well now we have the answers. Yes, the security people in malls will be responsible. Yes they'll be ignored. No there won't be any fines. Yes the whole exercise was a complete waste of time.

Gulf News story is here.

Friday, June 01, 2007

More sentences don't reflect the crime.

Today's Gulf News has another set of court reports showing sentences handed down that simply defy logic.


Possession of 0.01 gm of hashish:
Four years, followed by deportation.

Molesting a young girl by rubbing against her four times:
Three months, suspended. Deportation.

Attempted rape of young schoolboy:
Life (25 years), followed by deportation.

I'm sure I've mused over this question before - is there a guideline for sentences, are they written into the law? A range of sentences available to the courts depending on the individual circumstances, such as 'between 10 and 15 years for rape' for example.

Or do individual judges have complete carte blanche to hand down anything?

The stories are here:

Hashish possession.

Young girl molested at airport.

25 years in jail.