Archive for August, 2008

Competition – new word needed for English language


English needs a new word. A new word that I never really needed when living in the UK, but which is simply missing from daily language needed when living in this part of the world, with its mixtures of cultures, standards, rituals and practices.
This word, an adjective, should describe something that’s both completely unbelievable, but which is also completely believable, both at the same time.
For example, you read an article in the paper about Dubai’s development. Something astonishing, such as the fact that a new development will be larger than Hong Kong, yet completed in just five years. ‘Unbelievable!’, you cry. But it’s not really, but it is, but it isn’t – for Dubai it’s normal, yet crazy, yet normal, yet…. You shake your head both in disbelief, whilst shrugging your shoulders nonchalantly, as this sort of thing happens every day.
A project is going wrong and your partner company is jumping up and down, demanding immediate assistance. You ask a set of questions to help diagnose the issue, then wait ten days for an answer, then get a reply saying that the problem is extremely urgent. The response lacks the answers to the questions you asked ten days ago, in response to the urgent problem that you were trying to help solve. Unbelievable – yet also quite normal.
The word can come from any background. Given my lack of a Classical education, I don’t know if such a concept exists in Latin or Greek – that said, if it did, it would probably already be part of English vocabulary.
I’m sure a language somewhere has managed to encapsulate this ying and yang of unbelievable astonishing craziness vs the daily, thoroughly to be expected, norm.
Suggestions please!

Wii Fit fun continues


I’m still enjoying using the Wii Fit. I’m particularly enjoying the yoga exercises. There’s something I never thought I’d say.
The only thing that niggles is the speed it takes to go through a series of exercises – I don’t need to be greeted every time, wished good morning, etc. A speedy workout option would be better if I don’t feel like wasting time talking to the nice Wii trainer lady.
Can’t wait to see everyone trying the skiing after a dinner party.

Wii Fit fun continues


I’m still enjoying using the Wii Fit. I’m particularly enjoying the yoga exercises. There’s something I never thought I’d say.
The only thing that niggles is the speed it takes to go through a series of exercises – I don’t need to be greeted every time, wished good morning, etc. A speedy workout option would be better if I don’t feel like wasting time talking to the nice Wii trainer lady.
Can’t wait to see everyone trying the skiing after a dinner party.

More blood


I need to get an HIV test in order to apply for a Russian visa. This particular HIV test follows on from renewing my UAE residence visa in May, which also required an HIV test.
Not surprisingly, I don’t much enjoy going to the doctor’s, getting spiked and bruised and then fighting traffic and parking problems to go and get the results back.
I should just get a job lot done in one go and keep the blood in the freezer, ready for the next request!

Single point of failure


During Mrs Saul’s absence I’ve been pretty good at cooking for myself rather than ordering takeaway.
Tonight was different – my planned trip to our favourite Indian grill to enjoy their delicious mutton seekh kebabs was put on hold due to an unexpected conf call in the middle of the evening. Since I was all fired up for some kebab deliciousness, I ordered a takeaway instead.
There seems to be a common theme amongst Dubai’s resturants when it comes to deliveries. Even if the restraurant relies on deliveries for most of its trade, the same business plan is always in place. I find it completely baffling.
1. Always make sure the guy on the phone is the least able to communicate in any language. It goes without saying that the person you entrust with a large portion of your revenue should be the most junior and incompetent member of your staff.
2. Make sure that the customer tells at least three different people what his location is. Make sure that whoever’s talking to the customer doesn’t write any useful location information down, however. Simply shout ‘go left at circle?’ or ‘signal straight?’ at random intervals, then pass the phone to someone else with no prior warning.
3. What little location information that has been gleaned from the customer should be kept a secret from the delivery boy (actually a middle-aged man with a moustache who has not been a boy for thirty years or so). This should mean that the delivery boy has to call the customer whilst driving his motorbike, repeating the entire location discussion whilst he drives past each exit he needs to take.
4. Make sure something’s missing or wrong in the order. (No mutton kebabs for me – chicken instead. Poor me).
5. Make sure the delivery boy has no change whatsoever, apart from a torn 5Dh note stuck together with sellotape.
This grill makes fantastic food. It is truly first class and is extremely good value for money. Sadly, despite having been in business since 1971, they still haven’t cracked the delivery side of their business!

Non-Voice of Britannia


Most Pakistani taxi drivers here have their radios tuned to one of two AM stations, I’d noticed.
I finally asked a driver which stations they were, expecting them to be stations broadcasting out of the Pakistan. It turns out that one is Voice of America’s Urdu service, the other is the BBC’s Urdu offering.
Which is best? The BBC seems to be preferred, based on a poll of two or three drivers. Not very scientific, I know, but I am obviously somewhat biased. Voice of America’s channel has more lighthearted stuff, but the BBC’s news and other content is trusted more.
But! Voice of America broadcasts 12 hours a day, whilst the BBC only manages a one hour broadcast between 1900 and 2000.
I know that World Service broadcasts have been massively cut back in recent times, cost and the internet being cited as reasons for this. I know too that the BBC have an excellent online presence in many languages.
That said, I can’t help but wonder how radio cutbacks will affect British interests in the years to come.
The average Czech who might have enjoyed the World Service ten years ago has ample access to online content from the BBC.
AM and SW radio broadcasts in Urdu, however, are obviously not targeted at people sitting in front of their Apple Macs looking at the BBC News’ Urdu articles. If the US think it’s worth broadcasting an Urdu service 12 hours a day, they clearly think there’s an audience for the message that’s being sent out.
I suppose the bigger picture here is whether Britain wants to invest time and resources to make its voice heard. The simple answer seems to be that unless the recipient is online, it doesn’t. Does that matter? I expect that will become clear in twenty years’ time.

Taxi talk


Had a great chat with the driver of a Dubai taxi I took today.
He was from Pakistan, as many drivers here are. His English was excellent and we chatted about IT, as he had done an MCSE a few years ago, Pakistani politics and life in Dubai. He was from Jacobabad, a city in Sindh province founded by the British general John Jacob in the mid 1800s. I was interested to hear that Jacob is still held in high regard, despite it being so many years since he died.
My driver told me to Google him immediately as soon as I got home, which I did. There are tantalising links in the Wikipedia article linked to above, mentioning he has an almost ‘saint like’ status for many locals.
Time to do some more research – for someone’s reputation to have lasted so long, through colonial times to 61 years of independence, he must have been quite a character.



I was overjoyed to receive an invoice today from my property developer.
It’s for the year of 2008. It has to be paid in two installments, both falling in September.
When we moved in we were given a verbal promise we’d pay 8Dhs per square foot. We didn’t believe that figure and budgeted for twice that – 16Dhs per square foot. When we moved in, we were made to pay 26.8Dhs per square foot, which I thought was outrageous.
Today’s invoice? 35Dhs per square foot, about 35% more. This comes to around 42,000Dhs per year. Add the 10,000Dhs I have to pay per year in municipality tax (even though I don’t live in an area maintained by the municipality) and I’m paying 52,000Dhs, plus electricity bills. Last year, in my albeit smaller apartment, my total rent was only around 56,000Dhs, including bills.
As you can imagine, I’m not pleased.
I fully accept we have to pay a service charge, but I expect that service charge to be invoiced in a timely fashion so that I can budget for it and I expect it to be fair.
All around the development I see lights left on and cold air blowing out of cracks in door or doors that don’t shut properly. I see badly planted palm trees dying left right and centre. I see roads laid down and then dug up again. We take care to minimise the AC we use. So why should I pay a flat fee for the ‘chiller’? Why should I foot the bill for wasted electricity? Why should I fit the bill for bad planning?
Dubai has been hit by inflation like everyone else, but 35% inflation?
Let’s see how this one ends.

Wii Fit has arrived


I bought a Wii Fit at the weekend, played with it a little bit on Saturday and had a 45 minute session today.
So, what are my impressions?
First off, let’s get the obvious question out of the way.
Yes, I could just run on the spot in my living room, do some press ups, some yoga things and pretend to hula hoop for forty five minutes without buying a Wii, Wii Fit and a TV. That, however, is missing the point – it needs to be fun and it needs to be easy. If I had a large villa and lots of money, I’d fill a spare room with gym kit. If I were happy to be ripped off by the gym round the corner that was supposed to be free for residents and which now costs over $1,000 per resident per year, I’d go there.
I don’t want to, or can’t do those things though, so the Wii Fit is a great alternative. Anything that tricks me into enjoying myself doing exercise and makes it easy to boot is ideal for me.
My only criticisms at this early stage is that introductions to the different exercises, along with various announcements and warnings, take up too much time. Sure, the first time I do the ‘half moon’* I need some tuition. The next time I do it I want to jump right in without wasting time. I am, after all, a busy Virtual Desktop Solutions Sales Manager, SEE Region.
I’ve switched my trainer from the slightly camp, androgynous male to the wholesome female. I know it’s only a computer game, but the computer bloke came across as slightly sinister. I also felt a bit strange jogging around a virtual park, following a man with a moustache who kept waving at me suggestively, apparently gesturing towards the shelter of some nearby virtual bushes. Fortunately the next run involved a slightly less dodgy looking character.
According to the Wii, I have great balance, great posture, but am overweight and 44 years old. Let’s see if I can stick with it, mixed in with my normal swimming and attempts to exercise when travelling. Hopefully I’ll lower my age to at least 40** in a few weeks.
* A Yoga position, as opposed to the act of pulling down your trousers and exposing only half your bottom.
* I am 33. And just big boned.

Mumbai trip


I thoroughly enjoyed last week’s trip to Mumbai.
The flight over was surprisingly chaos free during boarding at both ends. Mumbai airport is currently midway through being renovated – when it’s finished it’ll be pretty decent. I was impressed – much brighter and more airy than many parts of Heathrow, for example.
I had a driver for the whole week, although I only used him about twice. I’m used to an airport pickup when taxis in the country I’m visiting are, erm, challenging, but I’ve never had a driver at my beck and call. Mr Baiju from Kerala did a sterling job ferrying me through the horrendous traffic. Getting from A to B is a challenge, to say the least.
The stark difference between rich and poor was something I was prepared for, but I was still a little shocked.
The customer we met was very switched on. They know what they want and made it clear what was expected from us. I know that we can deliver what they want and am looking forward to being part of the project, hopefully.
The Sun team I worked with were a good bunch. Most Sun offices look fairly similar – ‘Sun purple’ decor, light wooden coloured desks and pictures of Sun equipment on the walls. There’s also a similar Sun culture wherever I’ve been, but each country has its own feel. I felt the atmosphere in this office to be pretty lively – not surprising considering the growth that this particular Sun region is seeing.
Living and working in the Gulf for six years means I’ve worked with Indian people on many occasions, both as close colleagues, customers and partners. I’ve also been a customer of Indian run businesses, staffed by Indians. It was fun finally to work with Indians in India, albeit only for a couple of days.
My hotel was excellent. Pleasant, attentive service, pleasant room, good internet connection.
The first night I ate in the hotel’s ‘Peshawar’ restaurant, which was serving food from the Northern parts of India and Pakistan. Excellent, but I felt like a bit of a twit trying to eat my food with my hands, traditional style. The plate of sliced onions was particularly challenging. I wasn’t really sure how to eat everything and couldn’t manage just to use the one hand – my knife and fork using fingers aren’t flexible enough to break off bread, dipping it in sauce and wrapping it in kebab. Two hands tucked in to my mutton kebabs. I think I caught the waiters chuckling at the mess I was making. Can’t blame them.
The second evening was similar fare at a different restaurant, but in a more fine dining style with knife and fork. Once again the sliced onions proved difficult. Next time I need to summon up the courage to ask the waiter for guidance.
I’m not usually a buffet fan when travelling as I usually end up eating far too much, but the buffet restaurant was the only option if I didn’t want spicy food. Much as I enjoy spicy food every now and then, two days of spicy pizza for lunch and spicy kebabs for dinner was spicy enough for me, so I headed over.
This particular buffet was excellent – I picked my food, had it freshly cooked for me, ate it, gave in to the waitress tempting me with more food, had it freshly cooked, ate it and ran out before I stuffed myself with even more. I had a first class steak with prawns and stir fired vegetables.
I don’t usually write about food much here, so you can safely assume that the ITC Maratha was top notch…
I will post some photos later.