Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nurses can't drive. Nor can bakers.

It's another of those bizarre announcements that has me shaking my head in amazement.

Maybe tomorrow it'll be 'clarified' by another official, but as it stands today there are 100 categories of workers who can no longer apply for a driving licence.

According to today's report in Gulf News the list includes nurses, cooks, carpenters, housemaids, watchmen, tailors, cafeteria waiters, unskilled labourers, gardeners and bakers.

People belonging to other categories, which do not require a university degree, will not be able to open a driving licence file at traffic police departments all over UAE.

What a bizarre list.

Not for the first time, I do not understand.

By the way, I don't suppose that taxi drivers or bus drivers need a university degree, but I assume they'll be excempt?

Gulf News reports the announcement here.

Mumbai. I don't understand any of it.

I simply don't understand anything to do with the obscene killings in Mumbai.

I don't understand the mentality of people who randomly take innocent lives. The vast majority of the dead and injured are Indians, hotel workers, train travellers, people simply going about their daily business.

We're told that Americans and British tourists were specifically singled out in some instances. Yet many of them may well have opposed their governments' policies, so what does the simple fact of citizenship have to do with anything?

I don't understand how a country which has had so many terrorist attacks over recent years can have been so unprepared.

Mrs Seabee was in India at the time of the attacks, fortunately in Kochi so well away from the trouble spot. She was in Le Meridien hotel, a popular business & tourist hotel. She's also stayed in the Taj hotel in Mumbai in the past.

There is no security, no preventive measures taken. People simply wander around as they please. Only after the news from Mumbai reached Kochi was a hotel security man stationed on the entrance to check incoming vehicles and ask guests for ID.

In Cairo, which has seen terrorist attacks too, hotel security is strict, as it is around all tourist areas. Road barriers, sniffer dogs, metal detectors and ID checks on all entrances. Sharpshooters on bridges and high points keeping watch. Guard posts on bridges.

I don't understand how the intelligence services can be saying 'ten or a dozen' attackers were involved.

How could no more than twelve people have simultaneously attacked so many sites with so much firepower and caused so much death and destruction?

I don't understand the reports that say At least three gunmen battled India's best-trained commandos for two days in the maze of corridors in the Taj Hotel, setting fire to places as they moved from floor to floor.

How did they move from floor to floor so easily? Isn't the first thing to do sealing all exits? The stairs must have been left unguarded for the gunmen to be able to move from floor to floor. Or maybe they used the lifts. And they moved around at will for two days!

I don't understand how such a large, sophisticated attack, which apparently began with the hijacking of a trawler on the high seas, could have been planned with no intelligence being picked up. They couldn't have done it all by delivering messages by hand!

There was the financing, surveillance of the target areas, the training, the purchase and distribution of a large amount of weapons and ammunition, transportation. A lot of people involved over a long time, yet no word was picked up by any of the world's intelligence gathering agencies.

I don't understand how so many men - many more than the official dozen - carrying what must have been heavy bags of guns, ammunition, explosives, could move about the city to so many targets without arousing suspicion.

I don't understand how there is no trail to the many people who must be the brains, the finance, the trainers behind the attacks.

I don't understand how the Indian intelligence service and politicians can be saying it's all over, they've killed all the gunmen. There must be dozens of them who simply faded away and will strike again.

I simply don't understand any part of it.

TV news reports show people hero-worshipping the elite 'Black Cat' commandos. Sorry folks, the true heroes are not highly trained, heavily armed professional going about their jobs, even though some of them tragically lost their lives. Here are the true heroes, ordinary people showing extraordinary bravery. Untrained, unarmed, unprotected, ordinary hotel staff doing what they could to protect others:

They were heroes in cummerbunds and overalls. The staff of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel saved hundreds of wealthy guests as heavily armed gunmen roamed the building, firing indiscriminately, leaving a trail of corpses behind them.

Among the workers there were some whose bravery and sense of duty led them to sacrifice their own lives, witnesses said.

Prashant Mangeshikar, a guest, said that a hotel worker, identified only as Mr Rajan, had put himself between one of the gunmen and Mr Mangeshikar, his wife and two daughters.

“The man in front of my wife shielded us,” Mr Mangeshikar said. “He was a maintenance section staff member. He took the bullets.” For the next 12 hours, before Mr Rajan was finally taken out of the hotel, guests battled to stop the bleeding from a gaping bullet wound in his abdomen. It is not known if he lived.

You can read that story here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ads add to jams

One thing the RTA could do to ease drivers' inconvenience is to ban the convoys of mobile advertisements which add to the congestion on our roads.

Three of them have been cruising around New Dubai in recent days - I got stuck behind this one when he peeled off from the other two to have a break.

Another thing they could do is to stop the street sweeping trucks from clogging up the roads during peak hours. There's one regularly around Al Sufouh Road near the Tecom area during the morning peak traffic. It crawls along the inside lane, as it must, effectively preventing traffic from using that lane and forcing it to merge into other heavily congested lanes.

The RTA website says Customer Centricity and their vision is Safe and Smooth Transport for all. That would be helped by the removal of these two little unnecessary irritations.

A smaller Christmas?

Christmas isn't as big in Dubai this year, or not so far anyway.

Not a bad thing in my opinion, the commercialism was getting to be way too much and the mall decorations were way over the top.

Wandering around Mall of the Emirates earlier today I noticed that the majority of shops have no Christmas decorations. But not all...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Poo Lagoons

An iconic new development folks.

The Poo Lagoons.

In another of our Great Moments In Planning, the planners forgot to include sewage treatment plants in Dubai's Master Plan.

As has been extensively reported, tanker drivers have been unwilling to queue all day at our one and only treatment plant and have been dumping their unpleasant loads anywhere they could.

Beaches have been closed, boaties have been unable to sail and Dubai's vital tourist trade hasn't been helped by the international coverage of it.

But now we have a 'medium term solution' - a big hole in the ground where 500 tankers a day can discharge.

No, sorry, not a hole in the ground. It's 'a temporary lagoon which has been engineered, with contractors working on it'.

The site will be aerated naturally with only preliminary treatment. Reeds and bamboo will be planted to transfer oxygen to the sewage and help break it down.

'Aerated naturally'? That means leaving it open to the elements doesn't it? As I commented on Alexander's post on the subject, several trillion flies are likely to call it home.

Five hundred tankers a day, each with thousands of litres to discharge. These are going to be big lagoons folks.

But nicely landscaped with greenery.

And I must say I was amused by this comment from the director of the treatment plant.

He said "this technology is commonly used in countries that cannot afford proper facilities or infrastructure."

The story is here.

Is there a solution to solutions?

The trend of companies using the word 'solutions' instead of telling people what they're actually selling does annoy me.

There's an example in Dubai Marina:

Middle East yacht solution?

Solution for what?

Having a solution means there was a problem. So what's the problem they've solved?

And what are they selling? Yachts? Finance for those of us who can't afford a yacht? Are they boat chandlers? Do they repair damaged boats? Do they sell insurance for yachts? Do they provide crew? Berthing? Painting?

Not good marketing is it, avoiding telling people what it is you want them to buy from you.

There was another classic in a press release I read in Gulf News the other day.

In just five sentences they managed to get 'solution' in four times:

etisalat...has developed an innovative solution...first of its kind solution in the world...The solution...a pioneer in launching customer centric solutions.

What was the problem for which they've found a solution?

Apparently mobile broadband subscribers had a problem watching multiple TV channels on their laptops while browsing the internet.


The full five sentences are here.

And just as an aside - instead of offering me multiple TV channels plus websites to clutter up my screen, I'd like the customer centric Etisalat to come up with a solution to the basic speed. Or more accurately, lack of speed.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

ID Clarification Day

Gulf News has a 'your ID card questions answered' feature this morning.

I'm now listening to the radio, which has a full hour (apart from playing music in between the questions) with the EIDA Planning Director & Project Manager explaining the whole thing.

Is it all explained? Is it now clear? Are the problems solved?

You didn't really expect that it would be did you?

My favourite highlights from the Gulf News feature:

I am on vacation and unable to access the website due to heavy traffic. I cannot return before the deadline. What are my options and will I be fined?

"It is your responsibility to register before the deadline".

It has become impossible to find registration forms, or register on the website? Will I be penalised?

"It is your responsibility to register".

And I thought this was a very strange question:

What happens to the ID card if one dies after obtaining it?

Would you care?

And so on to the radio interview.

That's started with the fact that EIDA was completely ready in plenty of time and the chaos is all our fault. They "understood and anticipated the challenges" in introducing the system.

The details were: "Announced in July 2007 with ads in papers and information on the website" and that statement was simply accepted. Inevitably the obvious question wasn't asked: "Where did the ads appear? Where did you advertise the website details?"

It's confirmed that the ID requirement was originally announced as I remembered it: "All residents must register before the end of 2010"

(Then a few weeks ago the 'deadline' for professionals was suddenly given as December 31 this year, with threats of sanctions).

There was the question so many people are asking, in the last three or four weeks the website couldn't cope with the volume. "We were not surprised that people waited until the last minute"

Question. Exactly who are the 'professionals' who have to register by year end? Still no clear answer, just "degree holders and professional career people such as marketing/sales supervisor etc". But not a secretary in an office or a salesman.

So in other words, I think, a white collar worker at senior level. Still a bit vague isn't it.

Half way into the programme the claim that it's all our fault for not registering early has come up several times.

It's exactly as I assumed it would be. I can't be bothered with it any more, I'm getting more and more irritated so I've switched the radio off.

You can read the nonsense in Gulf News here.

Beach romp saga ends

The tabloids, especially in Britain, were initially screaming that Michelle & Vince were facing six years in jail.

In fact they got three months and didn't go to to jail as they appealed the sentence.

Now the Appeals Court has suspended the jail term, so they just have to pay Dh1,000 and they're deported.

From the hysteria at the beginning it kind of fizzled out.

There's a small report in Gulf News here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

ID Card update

As I said last week, my ID Card arrived with no family name on it, just my first name and my father's name.

A problem? Dunno, so I went back to the Al Barsha EIDA office to ask.

The receptionist seemed unfazed, as though others might have asked a similar question before.

She said 'everything is in the card, so it doesn't matter that your family name is not printed on it'.

I'm going to leave it at that.

When I have to produce it for something, say like hiring a car for example, and the company presumably doesn't have a reader to read what's 'in' the card, I'll sort it out then.

Getting very angry, shouting, jumping up and down with rage usually seems to work so I may try that.

Or maybe I'll carry with me the piece of paper I printed out from the EIDA website which shows all the names as they should have appeared.

Or perhaps I'll do both.

Incidentally, a word of praise for the counter staff at the EIDA office.

They get a fair bit of stick in the media, on blog comments and in general conversation - arrogant, unhelpful, dismissive.

That hasn't been my experience.

When I arrived at the reception desk there was a crowd in front of it, a well-behaved crowd it must be said but an untidy side-by-side queue rather than a behind-each-other queue.

The Emirati receptionist was looking harrassed but was polite and helpful to everyone.

Also bear in mind that she was not conversing in her own language, nor were many of the people asking questions.

A couple of times she said 'Sorry I don't understand you' and she wasn't alone in that, I hadn't understood the question either.

Actually I often have that problem. While I understand the words being spoken they don't make a coherent sentence and so I don't understand what's being said.

English is my mother tongue, so an English-language conversation between people both having it as a second or third language must be very, very difficult.

Anyway, full marks to the lady.

It's obvious there are still many problems with the whole ID registration question and I came across this ad this morning.

It could be helpful or it could be a comedy show. Either way it'll be worth listening to.

Will the right questions be asked and accurate answers be pressed for? Or as I've complained about so often, will it be an official denial that there are any problems, which will be accepted without question?

If you're out of range you can listen to it all online here.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Changing times

It's been a case of catch-up, it still is, with laws lagging behind the frantic pace of Dubai's huge development.

I don't just mean development in terms of real estate but also the explosive population growth, vehicle ownership growth, the rapid increase in tourist arrivals. And technology that the world's lawmakers are struggling to include in their legislation, such as mobile phones and the internet.

For example the dangerous habit of driving while using a mobile phone should be illegal, but that still isn't written into law in many countries.

In Dubai we have an awful lot of legislation still to be introduced in so many areas.

Anyway, on the real estate front we're starting to see very welcome laws controlling what has been a free-for-all, and introducing much needed protection.

There's a good example in the papers, which shows what a dramatic shift there's been:

If you click on the image to enlarge it you'll see what a remarkable change there's been from what we've seen in the past.

A registered developer has applied for cancellation to RERA (the Real Estate Regulatory Agency) of a project and for resale of the plots.

Written objections are invited to RERA and contact details of the developer are given for anyone wanting more information or clarification.

In the recent past there was no regulatory authority, a developer could be a fly-by-night cowboy who could simply walk away from a project.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wedding lights

Yes I know I complain about things a lot, things like bad planning, traffic, driving standards, bureaucrats...

To be fair, most of those irritations I'd be complaining about wherever I lived. I complained about much the same in Australia before we moved back here.

Overall of course I think the positives outweigh the negatives, otherwise I wouldn't stay.

The positives include nice little irrelevant things that you come across, such as this on Beach Road in Jumeirah last evening.

We were off to China Times for the always excellent food and passed a house celebrating a wedding:

I know it's not environmentally friendly, but I think it looks fantastic.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

There's always a but.

If you read my earlier posts you'll know that I had a relatively easy run getting my ID card.

Frustration with the website, but I eventually got the necessary pages printed. It was easy, almost pleasant, at the EIDA Al Barsha registration office. The card has been delivered as promised.


My family name isn't on the card. Instead it has my first name and my father's name.

Both are correct, it has my photo and I assume it has my fingerprints linked to it. But I'm sure it's going to raise problems when I give organisations my surname, which differs from what they're going to see on the ID card.

So I'm off to Al Barsha again next week to talk to someone.

And while I'm on the subject, the ID card debacle continues for most people.

Once again a fiasco is caused by the two things I complain about endlessly. Bad planning and bad communication.

The syndrome blights so many things, whether it's creating a development like Dubai Marina, introducing the Salik toll system, creating the road network, introducing the national ID system.

The way it works is that the big announcement is made and a deadline/delivery date is given.

The work begins but it was badly planned and the faults start to appear. For real estate and roads that means digging it up and rebuilding to a new plan.

With initiatives like Salik and ID cards various officials start by denying there are any problems, then begin to give contradictory statements to the media. The media plays it's part by simply repeating the confusing statements. This goes on for days or weeks, with ever-changing 'information' appearing each time.

The media doesn't even seem to ask for clarification. You know, stuff like: "Official A yesterday said the opposite, would you please clarify the position. I'll hold the story until you can come back with the definitive answer. Thank you."

The ID card fiasco follows the pattern.

I'm absolutely certain the originally announcement was that the December 31 2008 deadline was for Emiratis. Expats had longer and I'm almost sure that I remember it as being 2010.

It was in the back of my mind and I was waiting for the announcement that we expats should start to register.

Then an official suddenly announced a few weeks ago that the deadline for 'expat professionals' is also December 31. There were dire threats of not being able to access government services and the freezing of bank accounts. (Denying people access to their legally obtained money is an interesting idea).

Officials maintained we all knew months ago about the deadline. In fact it transpires that some ads had run in some Arabic media - which supports my memory of the deadline applying only to Emiratis.

I loved this quote on the subject: EIDA was under no obligation to make announcements in other languages and that it was the responsibility of every resident to be aware of the country’s laws.

That's hardly in harmony with the country's official policy of welcoming expatriate guest workers, whether they can read Arabic or not, is it. Workers who make up at least 80% of the population. If laws are changed how do the expats living here know unless they're told.

In any case, no-one had done the maths because the EIDA offices simply don't have the capacity to process the number of registrations in the time-frame, (Dubai has only six offices) and because the website didn't have enough bandwidth to handle the traffic.

As a result people have been queueing for half a day or more to simply get a ticket which gets them in a queue to make an appointment to be able to register.

People report having gone as directed to get application forms only to be told there aren't any. (It was exactly the same with Salik, remember?)

The website didn't work properly, (again, shades of Salik) arbitrarily changing information which was keyed in, as happened to me and others I know, and refusing to print the barcodes.

The mayhem starts and the frantic catch-up game is played, in place of planning correctly in the first place.

Extra bandwidth for the website, corrections for its faults, the release of CDs containing the forms.

And in the background, continuing confusing messages on an almost daily basis.

Bank accounts will be frozen. No they won't.

Everyone missing the deadline will be fined. No they won't, only Emiratis will be.

Government services will be denied. No they won't.

The deadline is December 31. No it's not, it will simply take longer if professionals register after that date.

Communication you see. And it continues with the difficulty of translation, understanding the meaning of words.

The word 'deadline' is, I'm sure, a key part of the problem.

They don't mean 'deadline' they mean 'should do by'.

Or at least that's what the latest information is saying.

They're trying to spread the load by registering professional workers first, before they begin registering the massive numbers of blue collar workers from early next year. Professionals can still register after December 31 but will be in a long, long queue. So it's not a deadline, but a suggested date to make it more convenient for everyone concerned.

Using the word 'deadline', especially as it was used in conjuction with the threats, predictably caused panic.

The chaos and confusion happens time and time again yet it's so easily avoidable.

Plan it professionally and competently, communicate it clearly.

Have a look at the beginning of the chaos, here.

I've just come across Alexander's excellent posting on the subject, over at Fake Plastic Souks and it's well worth a read.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

That smells good...

Thousands of street cats in Dubai do it tough, but some of them have staked out a good place to live.

I came across this one who's lucky enough, or clever enough, to have ended up in Jumeirah Beach Residence.

He looked well fed, but there was obviously something smelling good in the bin...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Metro station and bridges

A couple of pics of one of the Metro stations at Jumeirah Lake Towers and the pedestrian bridge across Sheikh Zayed Road to Dubai Marina.

They're manufacturing the bridges at the side of the road...

...then swinging them into place - the pillars have been in place for some time

There are two station and this one is, I think, called Dubai Marina and it's at the Dubai end. The other is, I think, Jumeirah Lake Towers station and is at the Jebel Ali end.

Or the names may be the other way round.

Or they may be on the list of the comercially sponsored stations, so I suppose they could be Kentucky Fried Chicken Station and Big Mac Station.

Whatever, I'm looking forward to the Metro being up and running.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Better news on California fires

Having seen a few bushfires and the destruction they can cause, the news from California has been terrible.

But today it's a little better. The strong winds which are always firefighters' most feared factor are dropping and humidity is rising. We can only hope that continues.

These are huge fires. Around a thousand homes have been lost and tens of thousands of people have had to evacuate.

There are many graphic photographs in the Los Angeles Times and a lot of them make the hair on my neck stand up.

A wild fire like this is hard to describe. At a distance there's a strange hush in the air, an incredibly eerie redness all around.

Closer to, the noise is deafening. In Australia our ubiquitous eucalypt trees, full of oil, literally explode into flame.

After so many days of battling these monsters the firefighters must be exhausted. I can't tell you how much admiration I have for them.

The word is much over-used, but these men and women are true heroes. Risking their lives to save others' lives and property, going towards and facing a terrifying situation others run from.

Some examples of what they're currently up against in California.

Photo. Luis Sinco. LA Times

Photo. KatRose LA Times

Photo. AA Fisher. LA Times

The full stories and amazing photographs are here in the Los Angeles Times.


My prediction yesterday was wrong, I'm delighted to say.

The rain wasn't to blame for the crashes on our roads. Or at least not in the papers I read this morning.

Most of the accidents were caused by drivers who failed to keep safe distance," said Major Yaslam Mubarak Al Tamimi, the head of the serious traffic accidents department.

Caused by drivers.

Now if only that would get through to the drivers themselves we'd be getting somewhere.

You can read about the chaos here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

We have rain!

Woke up this morning to a strange darkness, peered out and saw gray clouds and wet ground.

We had the first rain of the season.

So here's a prediction.

Tomorrow's papers will report chaos on the roads, including multiple crashes.

The rain will be to blame.

Motorists will be exonerated. Driving inappropriately in the conditions will not be the cause.

The rain dunnit.

Threats to President-elect at all time high

It was inevitable wasn't it, but alarming none the less.

An AP report says:

Threats against a new president historically spike right after an election, but from Maine to Idaho, law enforcement officials are seeing more against Barack Obama than ever before. enforcement officials have seen more potentially threatening writings, Internet postings and other activity directed at Obama than has been seen with any past president-elect...

And I suppose they think this is all good fun. Or something more sinister?

Earlier this week, the Secret Service looked into the case of a sign posted on a tree in Vay, Idaho, with Obama's name and the offer of a "free public hanging."

And in a Maine convenience store, a journalist saw a sign inviting customers to join a betting pool on when Obama might fall victim to an assassin.

The sign solicited $1 (Dh3.67) entries into "The Osama Obama Shotgun Pool," saying the money would go to the person picking the date closest to when Obama would be attacked. "Let's hope we have a winner," said the sign, since taken down.

Not what I'd call a healthy society.

You can read the report here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Here's what we're up against.

A couple of days ago I included in a post a photo of cars going into a No Entry road - driven the wrong way up a narrow one way street in Dubai Marina.

One of the comments said:

My friend lives right where you have the car circled in the No Way lane.

He tells me he has no other way to get home than drive through the No Wy sign.

I wonder whether it was 'friend' who came charging towards me last evening, having ignored the No Entry signs to drive the wrong way along the one way street and into the oncoming traffic.

Most of the people are doing it deliberately because they can't be bothered to drive round the one way system. It's shorter for those who live in the buildings near the No Entry signs to just pretend they're not there.

But it seems 'friend' has a problem understanding signs even though they only have basic symbols on them. Even easy stuff like arrows.

Here's the street I'm talking about:

See - a yellow sign with a black arrow pointing the way, a red No Entry sign. In fact there are three No Entry signs.

Not difficult to follow is it?

But it does demonstrate the problem. A whole bunch of people who decide the rules don't apply to them because they're marginally inconvenient and others who ignore them because they don't understand pictorial, international road signs.

QE Too tacky

The QE2 has left her home port of Southampton headed for Dubai where she'll be converted into a hotel moored at Palm Jumeirah.

Here's what was said when the announcement was made:

The company had given the impression last June, when announcing the deal, that the QE2’s heritage would be preserved. Carol Marlow, Cunard’s president, said then: “There will continue to be a permanent home for her that will enable future generations to continue to experience fully both the ship and her history.”

Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, Dubai World’s chairman, said at the time: “Dubai is a maritime nation and we understand the rich heritage of QE2. She is coming to a home where she will be cherished.”

And here's a computer-generated image issued some time ago of how she would look:

But this is Dubai, so I tend to believe yesterday's report in The Times of what's really going to happen.

QE2 to be ripped up for new life as a Dubai floating hotel.

Little of the interior of the QE2 will be preserved and her famous silhouette will be altered by the removal of the funnel. In its place will be a tall glass funnel-shaped structure containing luxury suites. The old funnel is likely to be taken ashore to become part of a grand entrance to the ship.

The giant engine room, which many QE2 enthusiasts had hoped would be preserved and opened to the public, will become an entertainment complex.

Almost all the 1,000 cabins will be ripped out and larger hotel rooms fitted in their place.

The lifeboats suspended along the open deck will be removed.

Dubai World has signed a gagging agreement with Cunard but has had a team on board for months drawing up plans for the two-year refurbishment, which will cost more than it paid for the ship.

Another opportunity lost in the pursuit of tackiness.

The Times story is here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Telling it like it is...

...or not.

There are what I think are some great quotes in a story in Gulf news today from Mr Ali Al Shihabi, who is CEO of Rasmala Investments.

They're a bit of a diversion but they do they actually lead me in to what I was originally going to post about, which is poor communication.

I'll start with some of Mr Shihabi's pearls of wisdom.

Communication, unfortunately, is still a weak skill among business, political and economic leaders in the GCC. They have to understand the importance of communication.

The traditional Middle Eastern approach of pretending that everything is fine, when the rest of the world is not, is counter- productive.

He goes on to make another valid and important observation:

Enough of the largest, biggest island the size of Manhattan or Hong Kong and underwater hotels.

That kind of hype is unnecessary because Dubai is a serious business model and by continuing that hype, you've brushed a very serious sector with the Disneyland or Hollywood brush.

This gives the wrong image. It tells the world that these are rich people spending their money and they don't know how to spend it.

Absolutely spot on. Particularly now when the world's financial system is collapsing. As Mr Shihabi says, it scares investors who will be frightened off instead of being attracted.

The world must surely be suffering from Dubai-biggest fatigue by now.

But back to the communication thing.

I was prompted to comment when I heard the presenters on Dubai Eye this morning talking about clarifying something by getting an official on the show.

They've done it before, as has the rest of the media, but getting the official line never clarifies anything. An added problem is the deference of the interviewers, who won't ask for clear answers and simply accept whatever is said.

An official is usually asked to clarify because we, the public, are running into problems with something.

What happens is that the official rambles on in officialese. In amongst it you may get either that there are no problems and never were or there were problems but they're now fixed.

I hasten to add that this is not a problem unique to Dubai, it happens all over the world. I've posted about some of it before, for example here.

You remember the fiasco when the Salik road toll was introduced? Thousands of motorists couldn't find forms anywhere, the website wasn't anywhere near ready...yet we were assured there were plenty of forms everywhere and there was nothing wrong with the website.

There's still a problem with it. I've had payment top-up problems, and Alexander over at Fake Plastic Souks recently posted about his problems with topping up his Salik account.

The latest of course is the ID Card fiasco.

A few short weeks ago we had an announcement that expatriate professionals, identified as white collar workers and specifically university degree holders, have to register by year end.


Officials insist that everyone knew months ago about the deadline because they publicised it extensively. Thousands of us saw no earlier information.

In spite of officials 'clarifying' the situation we still don't know exactly who must register by December 31. For example, what about non degree-holders who are professional white collar workers? Housewives?

We're told that the few offices can cope with the numbers by the deadline , but simple mathematics shows they can't get anywhere near it.

The website was nowhere near ready when the announcement was made and couldn't cope with the traffic. When we did get into it the bar code form wouldn't print for many people. For many more the information they entered was changed arbitrarily by the website.

And there were many more problems with the site. A comment left on one of my postings about it: having the same problem with printing the bar codes. And guess what... you HAVE to enter an occupation. So now my 3 year old son is classified as a sales and marketing professional

Officials have told us there was a problem with bandwidth but that's all fixed and the website is now running perfectly...except maybe a bar code problem or two.

In reality there are still problems with the site.

As for the rest of it, there is no problem. Fill out the form, make an appointment, take your pasport and, bingo, you've registered. There may be a short wait.

Today I received an e-mail with some stories from the real world, which I'd like to share with you.

A colleague arrived at the Al Barsha registration centre at 6:10am this morning… there were already over 350 people waiting outside, many of them sleeping on the floor. It looked like a scene from a refugee camp. He turned around and left again.

Our PRO went to the Karama registration centre this morning, at 5:20am (!)… there was already a queue of over 1,000 people. At around 7am, an official started handing out small bits of paper, asking people to fill in their name, mobile number and occupation. When the gates finally opened, many streamed to the one and only appointment-machine in the centre, to try to obtain an appointment to register for their card. Our PRO was among the first, and laughed when he was given "next available appointment: April 2009"

In the other queue, an Emirates ID employee sat at a desk, collected the bits of paper from everyone waiting, and sent them away (?!), saying "we will call you and give appointment".

See, as the officials are telling us, there is no problem, everything is working well and we'll all be able to register easily by the deadline.

As Mr Shihabi said The traditional Middle Eastern approach of pretending that everything is counter-productive.

The things which are wrong cannot be fixed if the people in charge deny anything is wrong.

By the way, Mr Shihabi's excellent observations are well worth reading and they're here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Stop saying accident!

Just yesterday I was complaining about the motorist quoted as saying no one should be blamed in such a situation, as it was an accident.

He's not alone, far too many people think that 'accidents' simply happen, we're not to blame, and so we can obviously do nothing to prevent them.

There was another example which had me ranting at the radio this morning.

Dubai Eye news had an item on a high profile case in the UK, relating to the death of two young brothers and serious injuries to their father caused by a drunk driver. He is now serving seven years in jail.

They referred to it as 'an accident'.

I do wish the media would stop using the word. It encourages people to think that those who cause these things are completely blameless.

I also said in that post yesterday the inevitable planning incompetence, the recently finished roads were all wrong so they've been dug up. So we have single lanes, cones and diversions everywhere, temporary roundabouts... the roads I was talking about are in Knowledge Village and on Al Sufouh Road into Dubai Marina.

Here's what I'm talking about. I took this photograph in September last year. You can see a completed, landscaped roundabout in the foreground:

Here it is now:

Not the RTA's fault I hasten to add. The RTA didn't exist when the 'planning' was done for this.

We have it all over 'New Dubai'. Roads planned so badly they have to be demolished, re-planned and re-built so that they actually do the job they were supposed to do.

Christmas is here.

Mall of the Emirates.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Worse than usual road chaos

It was bad wasn't it. Yesterday was worse than ever on the roads.

It all started at about 4.30am when a mobile crane working on the Metro station outside Emirates Towers on Sheikh Zayed Road collapsed onto a roadsign gantry.

Police closed the road so that another crane could be brought in to support the collapsed one, which was later cut into pieces and removed. Checks on the safety of the gantry also had to be carried out. It took about eight hours until the road was reopened.

Photo Hadrian Hernandez. Gulf News

I was trying to get along Al Wasl Road but that was jammed too.

As ever, the problem wasn't just the volume of traffic but the attitude of too many drivers.

On Al Wasl tthere was a front-on crash at a traffic light junction, so obviously one of them had jumped the red light. That didn't help the heavy traffic load.

Then we had the usual arrogant, inconsiderate morons using the service road to get ahead and then pushing their way into the traffic. That slows everything down even more of course.

All of that had me fuming, and it didn't get any better.

In the evening the ten minute drive from Knowledge Village to Dubai Marina took a fraction under one hour.

We have the inevitable planning incompetence, the recently finished roads were all wrong so they've been dug up. So we have single lanes, cones and diversions everywhere, temporary roundabouts. But that's normal so wasn't the cause of the extra chaos yesterday.

I don't know what it was because I didn't see any crashes or new road changes.

But once again the morons added to the delays, using the hard shoulders and closed lanes to get in front, then forcing their way in.

In KV I also had to take avoiding action for a brainless jogger who looked up to see if the road was clear, saw me coming and continued to trot across right in front of me.

And in Dubai Marina, where there's little or no street lighting, construction arclights shining into the eyes of motorists, shadows everywhere, as usual there were labourers in dark clothing wandering in the roads, backs to and completely ignoring the traffic.

It wasn't a good trip.

By the way, coming back to the arrogance of drivers, here's an example.

Clear 'No Entry' signs. There are actually three of them.

And a row of vehicles driving past them the wrong way down a one way road.

One thing I didn't see in all the chaos, the dangerous driving, the jaywalking, was a policeman. Not one.

One more thing which demonstrates the attitude of drivers.

Gulf News quote this motorist. According to Rabiaah Fahad, a motorist, no one should be blamed in such a situation, as it was an accident. "Crane accidents are as unexpected as car accidents," said Fahad. "If this accident is unacceptable then we should not drive at all."

That's the attitude folks. Accidents happen, nothing causes them, just accept it all as inevitable.

Accidents don't happen, they are caused.

The crane collapsed is being investigated but was probably, according to police, due to overloading.

Vehicle 'accidents' are caused by motorists driving into things.

With the driving I see every day car 'accidents' are not, as Mr Fahad believes, unexpected, they're inevitable. High as our crash rate is, I'm amazed it's not much higher.

Gulf News has the crane collapse and traffic chaos story here.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Dubai Marina

Two weeks ago I posted about Jumeirah Beach Residence and within a day or two I had intended to post about the rest of Dubai Marina.

As usual, other things cropped up and I didn't get around to it.

But here it is, better late than never.

JBR is the largest single development of course, but the rest of Dubai Marina is bigger and with more variety. And it's beginning to come together, beginning to look good and is, at a guess, maybe 70% finished.

The first section to open was Phase One, which must go back just over three years.

It looks pretty good at night...

Phase One is where the first shops and restaurants to open are located. A Spinneys supermarket, bookshop, pharmacy, dry cleaner, about twenty restaurants, the all-important Baskin Robbins ice cream and more.

The rest was a construction site until fairly recently, but now there's more finished than is being built so it's starting to look good and you can walk around much of it.

The boats moored on the right of the next photo are in front of the about-to-open Yacht Club...
...which looks like this from the street side...

...and includes restaurants on the water side...

Looking across to JBR, the Marina-front towers break up the monotony of the towers in that development...

The walkway which will eventuall run all around the Marina is almost all walkable now, just the inevitable-for-Dubai construction sites here and there blocking the way.

The bridges are modern, concrete but elegant, and there are now five rather than the original, inadequate four. And the new shopping mall, gourmet tower and offices/residence are well on the way to completion - that's the development in the centre-background of this shot, beyond the bridge...

Even the street running between JBR and the Marina-front towers is beginning to look reasonable, at least there's some space and pleasant landscaping...

And the non-iconic apartment blocks, especially the low-rise at the southern end, are finished, fully occupied and many now have small shops and cafes operating.

The roads were finished, to the completely inept original plan, and they were dug up soon after they opened. The're now nearing re-completion. From Sheikh Zayed Road there's Interchange 5 at the northern end, completed some months ago, and the new Interchange 5.5 at the southern end which has started to open gradually.
At the northern end on the JBR side the roads and bridge were also finished then had to be demolished as the original design would have been just about adequate for a village of about twenty cottages. New bridges and new roads are, I guess, about half finished. They not only have to provide access for several thousand people but also for the Al Sufouh Tram which will circle the Marina.
So if you add this to the previous post about JBR you'll get an idea of what's going on with Dubai Marina.

'Magical powers' trio arrested

Completely out of keeping with Dubai's ultra-modern image we keep getting news about people with magical powers in the area.

We've had the Magic Onyx & Bulletproof Sheep. And of course
The Black Magic Maid and the Arsonist Genie.

Today we're told that last month Dubai police received a tip off about more magicians.

Briefly, they had a pile of money which had been turned black by witchcraft. All they needed was Dh300,000 for 'powder and tools' to reverse the effects of the witchcraft and double the amount. Naturally, the contributor of the money would be handsomely rewarded.

So Dubai's finest set a trap. They sent an undercover officer to meet the gang, who explained the witchcraft problem and asked for Dh300,000, assuring him he would share in the profit.

But our man was clever, as the report shows. He realised that the gang simply wanted to get hold of the money and make off with it.


On the very same day the police arrested the three men.

The report is in Gulf News, here.

Friday, November 07, 2008

More bad news for Brand Dubai

I've just been reading an AFP story in the Sydney Morning Herald, the headline being "Dubai's beaches face a stinking problem"

After the original plethora of positive stories with everything presented in glowing terms, we're seeing more and more of these negative reports. From the living and working conditions of labourers to the whale shark to the beach romp jail sentences to the beach pollution issue.

So much of Dubai's success in future depends on tourism that it must be causing concern in high places.

The story begins like this:

Dubai's beautiful beaches have been making headlines because of a couple who allegedly had sex by the sea, but a more pervasive nuisance from washed up sewage threatens to deter tourists.

For several weeks some of the emirate's fabled beaches have been covered with the stinking contents of septic tanks as Dubai suffers the consequences of its frantic and poorly controlled development.

The foul effluent, which threatens to damage Dubai's image, highlights one of the paradoxes of the emirates -- it can build the world's tallest tower and six-star hotels but has not constructed the sewage works it needs.

New apartment blocks and neighbourhoods are rising everywhere at a record pace, but infrastructure is dragging behind.

For example, the city still has no main drainage system, hence the need for tankers to collect the contents of septic tanks and transport the waste to the emirate's only sewage treatment works at Al-Awir, out in open desert.

It is of course all to do with the thing I complain about endlessly. Lack of or incompetent planning.

I was actually intending to start this post about here, with another, much less dramatic, example of incompetent planning. The Herald article was on the same subject so I started with that instead.

My little example is in Jumeirah Beach Residence, along the very pleasant area known as The Walk.

Completed, attractive areas are being dug up by the holescaping gangs.

As I've said many times before, this creates inconvenience, it adds unnecessary noise & dirt pollution, it obviously adds costs.

In The Walk many recently finished perfectly good kerb areas were being dug up, jack-hammers blasting away.

I couldn't understand why, but now I see. They forgot to include wheelchair access ramps. So now they're putting them in...

Other areas, also complete and looking good, have been jackhammered away and huge holes have been dug.

It looks to me as though they'll eventually be water features. Water features they didn't think about before they'd finished the construction.

It isn't just one forgetful or incompetent individual, there's a long line of people responsible for this.

The executives giving the original briefing, the designers, all the people in the chain who approved the designs up to senior executives who signed off on the plans, the people who approved various stages of the work. No-one said "What about the access ramps?" No-one said "We need a fountain at the bottom of the steps."

Only after all the work is finished are these things raised.

The problems we face were avoidable. All of them. It needed, still needs, planning.

But there isn't any.

The Sydney Morning Herald article is here.

PS to 'Hope' post

I wasn't going to post a follow-on to my 'Hope at last' posting, but comments left on it have changed my mind.

In that post I expressed my fear for the safety of President-elect Obama. I put that fear into context by stating the fact that the US is a violent country. I also stated the fact of the extent of gun ownership.

Comments on the post took us into the whole gun control debate, although that wasn't the point of the post.

However, as we were taken there I thought I'd draw your attention to a report I've just been reading on the surge in gun buying in response to Barak Obama's election.

A few lines from it:

"I was selling guns before I even opened the door," said George Horne, owner of The Gun Room. "It's gone completely mad. Everyone is buying everything I've got on the shelves. Sales have been crazy."

One customer left with two new assault rifles and said he had already bought 30 weapons since Obama began his campaign for president. "And look at this," he said, unwrapping a black rifle from a plastic cover. "I'm not talking BB guns."

Jerry Stehman told an endless wave of customers at his Jerry's Outdoor Sports store in Grand Junction to come back in two hours to pick up their firearm purchases. For the past 10 days, Stehman said, customers have been gathering cases of ammunition and multiple guns.

And here's how they view their President-elect:

The Grand Junction pawnshop is decorated with bumper stickers: "Obama 08" with hammers and sickles on each end, "Obama for President of Afghanistan" and "Don't Be a Victim. Buy a Gun."

"We don't know where this character is coming from or what he's gonna do to us," Stehman said of Obama. "But I can tell you it's been good for business."

Buying weapons is almost as easy as buying groceries:

By midday Wednesday, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation's "Insta- Check" background check — required for the sale of a firearm and typically about 8 minutes long — was jammed with waits lasting more than two hours..

The quotes are from this article.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Metro pedestrian bridges

The pedestrian bridges from Metro stations across Sheikh Zayed Road are being put in place.

This one is between Ibn Battuta Mall and Dubai Marina, going across from the station...

This one is across from Media City...

They seem to be constructing them in sections at the side of SZR in and swinging them into place.

Presumably, people not using the Metro but needing to cross SZR will be able to use them too?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Hope at last

Barak Obama is President-elect.

He seems to be full of confidence for the future but in reality it would have been a good election to lose. It's something of a poison chalice because the breadth and depth of the problems facing him must be unprecedented in American presidential history.

The catastrophic George W Bush presidency has left such an unbelievable mess both in America and around the world that it will probably take more than one term, even more than the two terms which Obama may have, to get us all back to where we need to be.

Just think of the problems the extreme ideology of the far right Bush years have generated.

The collapse of the financial system, the world in recession, the US with trillions of dollars of debt, the erosion of liberties with the illegal snooping on Americans, state-sponsored kidnapping and torture, the junking of the Geneva Conventions, the erosion of international organisations such as the UN, the illegal, immoral and counter-productive invasion of Iraq, chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israel/Palestine issue worse than ever, the irresponsible use of robots and drones as weapon platforms which have killed hundreds of innocent people, unilateral attacks in friendly ally countries, the world a far more dangerous place than it was when Bush came to power, the encouragement by divisive wedge politics of racism, bigotry and xenophobia.

And so much more.

And added to the disastrous policies, the breathtaking utter incompetence of the way the policies were carried out, from Iraq to Afghanistan to New Orleans.

A lot of people are not going to like what I'm going to say, but it's not opinion it's fact.

Don't blame it all on Bush.

So many people say 'It isn't America's fault, it's the government'. Well, who put the government there? As unpopular as saying it may be, the American people must take their share of the blame.

As must the media. For example, Time magazine made him Person of the Year in 2004.

Incredible as it may seem, they said: For sticking to his guns (literally and figuratively), for reshaping the rules of politics to fit his ten-gallon-hat leadership style and for persuading a majority of voters that he deserved to be in the White House for another four years, George W. Bush is TIME's 2004 Person of the Year.

After the first four years of seeing exactly what their President was doing, about 100 million eligible voters couldn't be bothered to vote in 2004. Those who did voted to give him him another four years. He won 31 of the 50 states. Over 50% of voters agreed with his policies and the way they were carried out and voted for more of the same.

In 2004 over 62 million Americans voted for a continuation of the catastrophic George W Bush administration.

That's an awful lot of people who must take their share of responsibility for the disasters created by Bush in the last four years.

Even in what is being depicted as an Obama landslide, with at this moment as I write 338 electoral college votes to McCain's 168, a broader look at the figures shows that 21 states have voted Republican. Senator McCain has over 55 million votes, which is 47% of votes counted.

Fifty-five million people, and counting, have voted for a continuation of the disastrous policies of the last eight years and for a possible President Palin.


Hope for the future, and fear.

The hope is that President Obama can at least begin to repair the damage, to start on the work needed to bring a fairer society, to re-establish America's standing in the world, to move away from the extreme ideology that's blighted the world for the last eight years.

My fear, my real fear, is for the safety of the new president.

Here's more that a lot of people are going to froth at the mouth over but again it's not simply my opinion. Here are some facts.

The US is a violent country awash with firearms. It's worse than the 'lawless' tribal areas on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border because the over 200 million firearms (yes, over 200 million) in American society include many state-of-the-art military weapons.

Violent? According to the FBI there are over 16,000 homicides every year. That's about two murders every hour of every day of every week of every year. It's the death toll of 9/11 every five weeks.

America is home to many terror groups. In recent years we've seen domestic terror groups from the far left and the far right and racist groups. And many disturbed, violent, heavily armed individuals.

We've seen the Oklahoma bombing, which killed at least 158 people including 19 children and injured over 850. We see regular mass murders at schools such as Columbine. We've seen anthrax being sent through the mail.

We've seen the shooting of President Reagan and Governor George Wallace, the killing of President John F. and Robert Kennedy and of Martin Luther King.

This cultural violence and aggression has been adopted by the government for at least the last six years, so extremism has been encouraged by government example.

Just last week we saw the arrest of two armed white supremacist skinheads for plotting to murder Obama.

So I have a real fear for President-elect Obama's safety.

He has so much to do, such huge problems to solve and I firmly believe he's the best chance we have. If I were a religious person I'd be praying for his safety and his success.

And to the 62 millon Americans who at last count have voted for him, thank you.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Get ready for traffic chaos.

You think Dubai's traffic is bad now? Just wait until the final work on the Creek extension starts!

The RTA has announced the final extension of the Creek from Business Bay to rejoin the Gulf near Jumeirah Beach Park.

This final stage is only just over 2km long...but it crosses Sheikh Zayed Road, Al Wasl Road and Jumeirah Beach Road.

A report in Gulf News says that this stage will be carried out in three phases and will be compete by the end of 2010. I hope by 'three phases' they mean that only one road at a time will be affected.

Bridges have to be built, which means some major diversions, which in turn means major chaos.

Just think about SZR. Twelve lanes of traffic, six in each direction, with a 100kph speed limit, to be diverted around a massive bridge that has to be built.

Is there room for the diversion? I suppose there must be but I can't picture it.

From Business Bay the waterway will continue across SZR near Dubai Metroplolitan Hotel and the Emirates building, alongside Safa Park to cross Al Wasl Road, then straight out across Beach Road to the sea near Jumeirah Beach Park.

For those last two crossings surely some villas are going to have to be demolished - not just for the waterway but also for the diversions as the bridges are being built. Both roads are dual carriageways, Beach Road being six lanes and Al Wasl being four.

The story, photos and a map are here.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

ID Card update

An update on the ID Card story I've posted about a couple of times.

I went to the Al Barsha EIDA office this morning and it was far from being the unpleasant drama that I've been reading and hearing about. And a far easier experience than dealing with the website!

All I took, as instructed, was my passport and the registration form/bar codes I'd printed out from their website. And cash for the Dh100 per year fee plus Dh20 delivery charge.

I went at 9.30am and found a parking space right outside. Only two people in the queue at Reception, so I was dealt with within a minute or two.

The Emirati lady looked at my registration form printout and passport and asked if I had an appointment. I didn't because all the stories have been that it's a waste of time, you still wait for hours. She asked if I had time to wait, which could be two hours. I said I would, she gave me a numbered ticket and directed me to the waiting area.

What a difference it is these days from the old government offices - Immigration and the like. Actually not so old, it's only two or three years ago that it was a free-for-all in run down buildings that had long ago seen their best years.

This is a new building, clean, smart, comfortable seats, good signage and the number system rather than the rugby scrum system.

My ticket was timed at 9.32 and at 10.04 my number was called.

A pleasant, friendly Emirati lady entered my details into her computer, translating my English form into Arabic and correcting the mistakes the website had insisted on including. Two of her colleagues came through, she showed them my Australian passport and we had a chat about Australia, laughed and joked about them wanting to visit and staying with me there.

Then into the next room to have my photograph taken and on into a third office for fingerprinting. Emirati men this time and as they were as pleasant and friendly as the ladies. And they were using what to my non-tech mind seemed to be very modern equipment - the digital camera set up and linked direct to the computer, the fingerprint machine also linked direct to the computer. None of the old black ink pads to be seen.

One hour after arriving I was told it was all finished and the card would be delivered to me.

And I must add a point about interaction with the staff. There's always a lot of negative comment about Emiratis, particularly those working in government offices, and the way they deal with expats, but I must say that I've very rarely had a problem. My experience has been that the majority are pleasant and friendly, as they were here.

One final observation - the queue at the typing office was fairly long and growing all the time. So although using the website to pre-register is frustrating I suggest it's better than the typing office option.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Colours of Singapore

Going through my photos from our last visit to Singapore for my earlier posts there were these which I thought I'd post because they show the vibrant, happy colours you'll find across most of the city.

It's well known as a green city of course. Being in the wet tropics, and just about on the equator, the plants grow almost uncontrollably.

So many cities have uprooted and replaced them with concrete, but not Singapore - these are in the main tourist area of Orchard Road...

There are also the colours that are very much part of the culture. We were there just after National Day and during one of the many festivals, so there was plenty of vibrant colour decoration, in shops, streets and on many of the buildings...

Even without decoration, the shops are colourful because of the items they display and sell...

The temples are ornate and beautifully decorated

And even without decoration, the streets can be colourful with traders' umbrellas...

Colour is very much a part of the city.