Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I found some more...

Secret Dubai left a link on the last post to a great Dubai Christmas photo, and that got me searching through my own photos for my particular favourite. I came across a few others too, so here they are first:

And then away from the luxury of Madinat Jumeirah into beautiful downtown Karama:

Over to Deira to Naif Souk:

And here's my favourite. That fat man in red gets everywhere - I think this was around Al Faheidi Street.

Oh, and the link to SD's photo is here. I think it's Mary Christmas...or perhaps a working girl who'd wandered into Jumbo Electronics by mistake?

Christmas in Dubai

A couple of posts back I put a photo of Christmas decorations already on display. Our blogger friend DownUnder, LDU, asked about Christmas in Dubai.

I rummaged through my thousands of photographs and came up with these, taken last year in Mall of the Emirates and Wafi Mall:

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rights for domestic workers.

Reports today that the Federal Cabinet has set up a taskforce to to 'regulate the relationship between domestic workers and their sponsors.'

A proposed new law will, it is said, ensure the rights and duties of both sides are guaranteed.

It's another of the catch-up laws, of which there are so many in most areas of our lives. What has been accepted in the past is no longer acceptable, but so often we don't yet have laws to cover the problem areas.

The UAE Human Rights Organisation recently demanded, according to the Gulf News story, that domestic workers be covered by the Labour Law.

Why they weren't is a mystery to me.

The watchdog said that the domestic helpers' contract regulating the relationship with employers falls short of the minimum human rights and international labour standards.

There are thousands of domestic workers here and that's some indictment. It's obviously something that couldn't be allowed to continue.

Recommendations from the organisation are common sense and I can't see one good reason why they wouldn't be adopted in full and written into law.

They say the contract should include:
*A minimum wage.
*Working hours & duties for each job.
*System to transfer wages to banks regularly & on time.
*Proper accommodation ensuring privacy.
*Specific daily working hours and weekly rest.
*Annual leave as for other workers.
*Contract to be translated into languages known by domestic helpers.

And finally, a Hotline to be set up for complaints from domestic workers against any abuses.

Even though it's late the move is to be applauded. Let's hope it doesn't all get bogged down and delayed for months or years.

I do have one sceptical comment though. Assuming the law is passed, how is it all going to be enforced?

Very difficult when the domestic helpers are often poorly educated, if at all, they are strangers in the country with no network, are hidden away inside villas or apartments, maybe don't have the means to communicate, don't in any case know their rights.

There's a large responsibility on the home governments I would have thought, to inform and educate their citizens before they take domestic jobs overseas.

More on prices

It keeps going, this prices in Dubai thing.

To recap, in my earlier posting saying that Dubai wasn't as expensive as many western expats claim, there was a comment about Spinneys here in Dubai selling New Zealand rib-eye steak at the 'rip off' price of Dh65 a kilo.

A New Zealand friend sent me the prices there - which range fom Dh45 for rump steak to Dh84 for fillet.

Now a friend in Australia has just sent me the local butcher's price for steaks in Sydney...where T-bone is Dh50 and fillet is Dh89 a kilo.

While I was in Europe a couple of weeks ago I did the usual 'BigMac Index'.
Here are the comparative prices of a BigMac, converted to dirhams at today's exchange rates.

Amsterdam Dh15.80
Munich Dh16.60
Lucerne Dh34.32
London Dh25.80

Dubai Dh10

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dubai prices

The other day I was talking about the comparative prices of things in Dubai and whether overall it's less or more expensive to live here than in, say, western Europe.

A couple of things have cropped up that are relevant.

I was in Debenhams, the UK store, in Mall of the Emirates over the weekend, passing the time while Mrs Seabee looked for something to spend her money on.

A lot of the labels on clothing had the original £ price printed on them, with a dirham sticker on top. Careful peeling revealed that, at 7.5 exchange rate:

*some items are more expensive here.
*some items are the same price here.
*some items are cheaper here.

I guess the advice has to be that if you're visiting here from Europe, or visiting Europe from here, and you plan to buy a particular item, then you should check your home price before you leave. If it's cheaper at home, buy it when you get back. If it's cheaper 'there' then buy it there.

The other thing was an anonymous comment left on my posting about the 'rip off' price of steak in Dubai. The 'rip off' price is Spinneys selling New Zealand rib-eye steak at Dh65 a kilo.

I checked earlier with a friend in New Zealand and today they're paying - for their own meat which hasn't been airfreighted halfway round the world:

*Fillet steak Dh84 a kilo
*Porterhouse steak Dh73
*Rump steak Dh45

And remember that the best quality product is always exported. As I've been suggesting, many things are still a bargain in Dubai.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Depressed in Dubai?

Browsing through the visitors to this blog reveals some interesting things.

One is the number of people living in Dubai who use search engines to find answers about life here.

Another is the interesting questions they ask.

Today a visitor living in Dubai typed into google: Dubai will not last.
S/he obviously isn't feeling confident about the place.

Another wants to know: private beach, Dubai+topless.

An interesting question to Yahoo: minimal wage in dubai uae.
Many labourers, and others, would surely agree they get a 'minimal wage'.

And another who sounds fed up with life here wants the following information from google:
dubai irresponsible.

Christmas already?

Already, in Mall of the Emirates...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

California wildfire tragedy.

I talk about the horrors of the Aussie bushfires every southern summer, and a few months ago the terrible fires in Greece.

Now it's the USA's turn to suffer again, or at least California, from their regular wildfire season.

I remember a couple of years ago when Aussie firefighters went to the US to help fight very bad fires, they came back amazed at the amount of equipment, people, resources their colleagues there had at their disposal.

Even with that it seems they're in danger of being overwhelmed in Southern California. The conditions are familiar to us down-under with the driest year on record, high temperatures, then the high winds. It then only takes a lightning strike, a carelessly dropped cigarette or a campfire not extinguished properly - or an insane arsonist - to start the inferno.

The winds are what firefighters fear the most and meteorologists are saying the worst winds are still to come over the fire areas.

Sadly, one person has been killed and four firefighters seriously injured, plus over a dozen other people injured. Over 200,000 acres have burnt already, while the LA Times is reporting over half a million residents have been ordered to evacuate and Reuters says over 700 homes have been destroyed.

Fire is a terrible, terrible thing.

LA Times photo

Many more photographs plus the ongoing story at LA Times.

Addition on Wednesday...the LA Times is now reporting nearly half a million acres burnt, 1155 homes destroyed and five more deaths 'linked' to the fires. The good news is that winds are slowing, temperature is dropping and humidity is rising.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dubai expensive?

I've talked about this before - expats from UK & Europe in particular whingeing about Dubai being expensive.

Just going through bits & pieces from our holiday has prompted me to revisit the subject.

For example in London the single journey tube fare from Waterloo to Kings Cross, a short distance of only six stations, was £4 each. Crowded, uncomfortable, dragging luggage up & down stairs, no air-conditioning, and a short journey was Dh30 each.

In a little local Thai restaurant in a small country town the standard dishes were between £6 and £8 each, thats Dh45 to Dh60 per dish. Here we pay around Dh25.

Real estate? My brother recently bought a very small end-of-terrace bungalow in a town about 30 miles from London. Not in the city, it's worth stressing, but 30 miles away in a country town.

One bathroom, two bedrooms, one reception room (as they call them in the UK). The rooms are tiny - for example the master bedroom is 13ft6in x 10ft (4.16 x 3.12 metres). The one and only living room is 13ft x 13 ft. Here are the real estate agent's photos of it:

He paid Dh1,450,000 and had to spend Dh225,000 on necessary repairs and renovations. Total cost Dh1.7 million. And of course he had to use after-tax salary to pay for it, so in Dubai terms you could add about 25 percent.

Here's a photo of it now. Not much for the money is it:

I know rents are high in Dubai, and rising unacceptably, but employers still very often, if not usually, provide accommodation or an allowance to European expats. And salary is tax free, meaning an advantage of somewhere in the region of 25 to 40 percent over European taxed salaries.

All the other items such as food, travel, clothing, eating out, cars, fuel - if you compare like with like, which most of the whingers don't - are much cheaper in Dubai.

I have examples from other European countries we visited, which will be worth posting here when I've sorted it all out.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Death of the innocents.

We had more terrible road crashes at the end of last week, with babies and children killed.

I always think it's a worse tragedy when children are involved. Helpless to protect themselves they have to rely totally on adults to care for them, to keep them safe. It's so often a misplaced trust.

Three children and an unborn baby died in two accidents on Thursday.

In Sharjah two little girls, Ayeesha Diya aged six and her sister Dina Ruqiya aged only three, were sleeping in the back of their car. According to a friend their father had stopped on the hard shoulder on the Al Dhaid-Sharjah highway because he was sleepy. That seemed the sensible thing to do, rather than drive on in a dangerously sleepy state.

At 11.30 pm another car slammed into them, killing the two little girls. Their pregnant mother was in critical condition, her baby was delivered in an emergency operation, condition not immediately known.

In Al Ain an eight year old, a pregnant woman and her unborn baby died. Police report that a tyre burst on their 4x4 vehicle when it was travelling at high speed, causing the vehicle to tumble for 140 metres. There were apparently fourteen pasengers in the vehicle, some of whom sustained serious injuries.

Sitting here in a helpless rage doesn't achieve anything and I'm sure there's nothing I - or you - can do anyway.

But this carnage has to be stopped.

It's a huge challenge because of the attitudes of drivers here and the different standards - not to mention the confusing roads and road signs that we have to try to deal with.

The RTA could obviously and easily get rid of the dangers the badly designed roads and signage cause, but I'm not sure they have the common sense or brainpower to do it.

The rest of the problems are much more complex. What will it take? An ongoing educational campaign, including school-age future drivers, a complete re-think about the way licences are issued, with none being issued automatically, every driver being schooled in one system of driving, a complete revamp of the driving school industry, a larger more effective traffic police division, rigid enforcement of the rules and laws.

I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sandstorms in Dubai.

LDU left a question on my last posting, asking whether we have sandstorms in Dubai.

We do, but thankfully not too often. In fact we get thick fog much more often than we get sandstorms. Imagine what that does to Dubai's traffic accident statistics!

So for LDU and anyone else who's interested, here are some photos taken by Mrs Seabee as we drove through a recent sandstorm.

The first two are on Sheikh Zayed Road by Dubai Marina:

The next one is Jebel Ali Village on a normal day:

And the same view when a sandstorm was brewing up:

Fortunately we got home before it became too bad.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Street cleaning, or the lack of...

A small item in the papers caught my eye. It's headed 'Campaign to clean roads launched' and says the RTA launched a drive to clean up, for Eid, roads, pedestrian crossings, bridges, tunnels and pavements. The campaign includes repairing, painting, washing & cleaning road facilities throughout Dubai.

Dubai Marina is obviously not a part of Dubai. Today it looks like this:

I've complained about this in the past, in fact a year ago. Emaar said it's the responsibility of construction companies to keep their area clean. Since then there's been a broom-man on each site trying to sweep, with a normal domestic broom, the sand back from the road.

But there are now many finished buildings with people living in them. There are no broom-men at those sites. And there are common areas such as roundabouts for which construction companies obviously can't be responsible.

But no-one is cleaning these finished areas, so the sand and rubbish just keeps building up.

I think we've established that the new areas such as Dubai Marina are, amazingly, outside the responsibility of the Municipality. I wonder whether the RTA has any authority or is it all down to the Master Developer?

More e-mails to Emaar are in order I think...

You couldn't make it up.

I've talked before about statements from 'officials' being confusing, incomprehensible, contradictory...

How about today's classic, from the CEO of Dubai's Real Estate Regulatory Authority:

"We will have a rental cap, but allow the landlord to adjust the rent based on the market value.

We want the market to be regulated, but also to leave it to supply and demand forces."

I swear that's what the report in Gulf News says. Does it mean that there will be a rent cap or not? Is the market to be regulated or open to market forces?

You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A logical plan...but when?

RTA studies have shown that the sudden breakdown of a vehicle or a minor accident that actually needs only five minutes to clear the vehicle from the spot currently needs at least 40 minutes to remove the vehicle and resume normal traffic movement.

I think those of us who've been stuck in jams might think it takes a lot more than 40 minutes to resume normal traffic movement.

However, the RTA has come up with a logical, and long overdue, plan. Private companies with towing vehicles stationed at various sites across Dubai will be allowed to clear vehicles involved in minor accidents, clearing the roads much more quickly.


The plan is only in the 'consideration' stages so we'll have to put up for a while yet with the unnecessary chaos that every accident causes.

The story doesn't say but I wonder if it will mean the stupidity of having to have a police report for even the most minor of accidents will disappear. What a nonsense that is, police time being wasted having to attend scenes of minor bumps, when no-one is injured, and writing a report just to satisfy the insurance companies.

By the way, the report gives figures that show the extent of our problems with driving standards. The number of registered vehicles in Dubai is 780,000. The number of accidents last year was 243,386. One in three vehicles is involved in an accident. An accident every two minutes. Amazing figures.

Gulf News report is here.

Another vehicle fire death

Last week I was asking why there were so many vehicle fires in crashes here.

Yet another one was reported on Emirates Road near Arabian Ranches during the Eid holiday. Two cars collided, one burst into flames and the driver died.

There are high speed crashes in other countries but they have nowhere near the number of fires that we have. So it surely has to be a safety thing doesn't it? Are the vehicles we get here less fire-safe? What are the regulations regarding fuel tank positioning and protection, for example. Are they less than in other countries?

Monday, October 15, 2007

They have jurisdiction?

Part of a short item in Gulf News caught my eye this morning, and it raises a question I can't answer.

Russian 'A.L.' was sentenced for molesting a stewardess on a flight to Dubai. Three months (suspended) and deportation.

That's fair enough. But...

He was also fined Dh2,000 for consuming alcohol. On the plane. Presumably mostly, if not all the time, in international airspace. Where it isn't illegal.

So how does our Public Prosecution have the authority to charge and sentence a foreign national for doing something outside these borders where it is not illegal?

Friday, October 12, 2007


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Why so many fires?

Photo: Devadasan. Gulf News
I wonder why it is that we seem to have an inordinately high number of vehicle fires after crashes.
Monday's reports were of a speeding 4x4 on Dubai-Al Ain road smashing into a car parked on the hard shoulder. The driver of the 4x4 and the two people in the parked car were all incinerated.
There are similar crashes in other countries but it's a real rarity to read of the vehicles burning. Here the vehicles seem to burst into flames far too often. I'm sure that many more people would survive the crashes if the fire problem could be removed.
Something for the authorities to look into?

Friday, October 05, 2007

No kangaroos in the city...

Disappointing for many tourists who expect them, but in Australia we don't have kangaroos hopping down the streets of Sydney or Melbourne.

We do have a lot of other wildlife though as this story in today's Sydney Morning Herald shows:

A woman has been rushed to hospital after being bitten by a red-bellied black snake in her car in inner-city Sydney, NSW Ambulance says.

Ambulance officers were called to a home at Woodcourt St, Marrickville in Sydney's inner west at about 4.20pm today.

An ambulance spokesman said the 60-year-old woman was bitten by a snake that was in her car.

The woman is believed to have just returned from a trip to the Blue Mountains.

Paramedics treated the woman at the scene before taking her to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in a serious condition.


Marrickville is right in the inner city of Sydney. The red-bellied black snake is large, common and very poisonous. Fortunately an anti-venom is widely available.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Myths & Legends in RAK

Great stories come out of Ras Al Khaima on a regular basis, bringing some light relief to the rest of us.

The latest story reports that residents came rushing from different areas of the emirate to Al Muntasir Street, where panic was being caused by...a dragon!

A dragon. No wonder they were panicking.

Several police patrols arrived on the scene - well you'd need a lot of officers to deal with a dragon wouldn't you.

It was a lizard.

Known locally as dabb it's like an iguana or goanna. I remember seeing a lot of them around Dubai in the seventies and eighties.

What do they smoke up there in the northern emirate?

Gulf News have the story, even with a photograph of the dragon, here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A day in Dubai...

On Sunday, after three weeks on holiday I said: Just got back to Dubai - it's nice to be back too.

Then today dawned.

Even before I'd had my coffee - not the way I want to start my days - the day jumped up and bit me.

The car was booked in for service so I drove from Media City to Galadari Mazda on Al Ittihad Road. The traffic was heavy but moving...until I hit the disaster the RTA has turned Al Ittihad Road into. Murphy's Law - Galadari Mazda is slap-bang in the middle of the disaster area.

I eventually got through it and then the usual nonsense - for a simple, mundane, ordinary service: the car will be ready tomorrow sir.

Tomorrow!! Forget it, it's today or nothing.

I've had many different cars serviced in different countries and never has it taken more than a few hours. Not even when extras need to be done, such as new brakes or other parts. But not Galadari Mazda.

Anyway, ranting is the way to get things done in Dubai, so I ranted and eventually 'later today' was agreed.

I eventually got my first coffee of the day at 11am.

Boy, it tasted good.

Afternoon and the taxi I'd booked turned up on time.


Sheikh Zayed Road was jammed.

Emirates Road was jammed.

Al Khail Road was jammed.

The airport tunnel was jammed.

Al Ittihad Road was its usual gridlocked disaster.

Two hours later we were sitting in a jam close to Galadari Mazda so I payed the driver and abandoned the cab. Walking was quicker.

The car was ready, the computer was down so I wasted half an hour standing around the service centre reception.

The drive back was reasonable - again heavy traffic but moving.

And here I am, having done very little today, just logging on to try to catch up with my blogger friends, sort out the rest of the holiday photos, read the papers, and write to Mazda in Japan to ask them to get stuck into the non-service service department of their Dubai representative.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Life & death blogging

Spare a thought for our fellow bloggers in Burma, now on the run from the regime, sleeping in a different place every night because they dared to tell the world what was happening on the streets.

Like all totalitarian regimes, paranoia characterises the military dictatorship. Because they control every part of the process they can easily check what bloggers are saying, their names and addresses.

They didn't like what they saw, so they started to crack down by blocking individual blogs, then blocking all blogs, now they've simply shut off the internet.

Their record of human rights abuses doesn't bode well for the bloggers, which is why they've gone into hiding.

What can we do? Just about nothing effective. For what it's worth we can pester our governments to take stronger action against the regime, but the world has been aware of their excesses for decades and has simply looked the other way.

It's very depressing.

The story is in The Times and you can read it in full here.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Boring holiday photos.

I threatened to post some of our hundreds of holiday photos when I'd sorted them out. Well, I've got some of the work done, so I'm going to carry out my threat and post them.

We flew with KLM to London via Amsterdam. Amsterdam photos to come later, it's the UK ones I've sorted through first.

Heathrow? You can confidently believe what you read about it. Fortunately KLM uses Terminal 4, which is less of a problem to get to and from and is marginally less bad than the other three terminals. But it's still old, dirty, over-crowded, well past its use-by date.

The staff weren't too bad - I expected surly and rude from all the reports I'd read but they were just bored, obviously didn't like their jobs, couldn't be bothered.

There were no trolleys at the baggage collection area, not one. The reason? They were all, all, in the area beyond customs. No-one could be bothered to push them back where the passengers needed them.

Rubbish bins? None. They were removed to stop terrorists putting bombs in them. (Paris Gare du Nord station thought about it and replaced the bins with clear plastic bags. Heathrow can't be bothered to think about it).

Anyway, we got out without being hassled and into central London reasonably well - sensibly, we'd arranged transfers.

We stayed at the Ramada Hyde Park, a hotel that's been there for years under various names & management. It's reasonably priced, in reasonable condition and most importantly is in a good location. You can just stroll across the road into Hyde Park, down Kensington Church Street into High Street Kensington, the other way into Queensway, so there's plenty to see and hundreds of pubs, restaurants & cafes within easy walking distance.

Wherever we are I like to just wander around the streets and I tend to take photos of street scenes as much as anything. I won't bore you with many of them, just one or two.

Around the hotel there are the kind of London streets I've always loved. Terraces of beautiful old houses in classic design, a few trees, all class and style...

All over England the window boxes and hanging baskets are a blaze of colour in spring and summer and I've always been attracted by them. This pub is typical...

...but the Churchill Arms in Kensington Church Street, is exceptional!

On Sunday when there was far less traffic and pollution, far fewer people, we wandered around to have another look at Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, the new statue of Nelson Mandella. It's a classic historic area of course and in spite of the ugly security barriers all over the place it still has a lot of charm and it oozes history.

Just across the road from the hotel is Kensington Palace, where Prince Charles and Diana lived and on the way back from strolling around the park we stopped to check out the gardens...

I also wanted to have a look at Windsor Castle, in spite of the crowds, to see how it was looking after the huge fire in 1992. Fifteen years! Where did the time go?!

They've done a fantastic job, especially in my favourite room St. George's Hall. No photos allowed inside I'm afraid. The cost to go in and look around the State Rooms is £14.20 by the way, which is just over Dh100.

It really is an impressive building, the largest inhabited castle in the world and it stands on a hill dominating the little village of Windsor.

And in Windsor, we're back to hanging baskets of flowers all over the place

So that's a little peep at some of the things we saw while we were in London.