Archive for October, 2008

Dear Bus and Truck Drivers of Dubai

30/10/2008

I’m sure I’ve written to you all about this before, dear drivers of heavy vehicles in the UAE. Maybe you have simply forgotten my request over time, or maybe you don’t read my blog when you’ve finished your long shifts.

I appreciate that you have a difficult job and I do appreciate the work you do.

That said, may I permit myself to make a small request?

Stop using your hazard lights, all the time, all day, every day.

For example, driver of the number 22 bendy bus. I am well aware that you are driving a bus and that you are driving along the road in front of me. I know this because a bus is a large vehicle that I can see with my eyes. You don’t need to switch on your hazard lights in order for me to notice you. When you pull out of the bus stop at high speed, right in front of me, I can see you with or without your hazard lights flashing.

The same goes for the gentleman driving the large sewage truck that randomly lurched in front of me on the Sheikh Zayed Road the other day. I could see you because you were driving a large sewage truck. If you were to switch off your hazard lights, your truck would still look like a large sewage truck with a nice picture of an eagle and some mountains painted on the back.

You may have noticed that there are two ways of controlling those little flashing lights. You can either have both sides flashing at the same time. Or you can have just the left side flashing or just the right side flashing.

When you have just one side flashing, it means you would like to move to that side – change a land maybe, or turn off the road. This is called ‘using your indicators’. The idea behind it is to let other drivers know what you want to do. The idea behind that is to make it easier for everyone on the road to see what other people are doing and to drive accordingly. That way, accidents are less likely to occur.

When you drive along with your hazard lights flashing, noone is able to know if you are about to switch lanes or turn off the road. This makes it somewhat surprising when you pull out of the bus stop right in front of me. Or career across the road to ensconce yourself in the middle lane, two feet in front of me.

So, please stop leaving your hazard lights on all the time and start using your indicators.

Many thanks. Next week we’re going to discuss how to use the shiny things attached to the side of your bus and lorry, commonly know as wing mirrors. The week after that we’ll talk about how you’re not really supposed to be driving in the middle lane at 80Kms per hour.

Dubai Mall Delays

29/10/2008

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I live twenty minutes’ walk away from what will be the largest mall in the world.

Considering it looks half built to me, I was surprised to read in this article, that it was supposed to open tomorrow.

Whilst it looks amazing and will be a great place to have on our doorstep, I’m a little worried about traffic. With only 30% or so of the apartments nearby occupied, gridlock around the area is becoming more and more common. Having this mega mall open before all the other roads are finished is likely to mean Mrs Saul and I will be barricaded in our apartment for most of each weekend, unable to get in or out…

I am so connected

28/10/2008

I left a voicemail for a colleague today, but wasn’t sure if he’d get it – it might have been his office voicemail, rather than his mobile phone voicemail. SMS wasn’t going through either.

So, I sent him an email via my mobile phone and a Twitter Tweet as well.

He got all three messages at the same time.

You cannot escape me, because I am totally connected. Providing my phone battery doesn’t die out, I will force you to meet me in Vienna and enjoy a schnitzel, wherever you are.

Pump it yourself

26/10/2008

Some interesting views in this article on Dubai’s new self service petrol stations.

Based on comments from colleagues who’ve used them, I’m in no hurry to pump my own petrol myself, for several reasons.

1. The current payment system is in its early stages and awaits streamlining – you get out of your car, go to the counter, pay for the petrol you think you might need, go back and fill your tank. If you don’t use all your credit, you go back to the counter and queue to get a refund. This is all a bit time consuming – if there were an automated payment system, I’d be more willing to use it.

2. It gets hot in Dubai. Standing in your suit in 45C heat and 90% humidity, surrounded by jostling SUVs and pickups is not fun. Getting in and out of your car and spending longer with the AC off is also going to heat up your fellow passengers. ‘What about the poor pump attendants then?’ I hear you cry. Well, that is their job – a job they’ll no longer have if the new system becomes widespread.

3. I don’t like pumping my own petrol. Given the option of sitting in your car and having someone else do it, whatever the weather, is a fantastic Dubai luxury. In line with most people, I don’t want to give up luxuries I’m used to!

Articles in the press on the subject have often mentioned that the new approach is not being implemented to lower costs. I expect there will be some clarifications in future that will explain the motivation behind the move.

Travelling amateur

26/10/2008

Today’s trip made me feel like a complete business travel amateur.

First off, the taxi I’d reserved didn’t turn up. I managed to find one near the hotel around the corner from us, which then got stuck in traffic leaving our development and which then took me to the wrong terminal. Dubai now has three terminals. Terminal 1, the ‘old’ terminal for general travellers, Terminal 2 for cargo and esoteric airlines and the glitzy new Terminal 3.

Somehow my request to go to the ‘old’ terminal got lost in translation, which meant that the high speed dash Mr Babu subjected me to ended up at Terminal 2. I should have noticed we were going the wrong way, but I was too busy fiddling with my phone. Silly me. Another high speed dash took me to Terminal 1, where I checked in for my Dubai – Vienna Emirates flight and proceeded to the lounge I can get in to with my Amex card. A quick bite to eat and I was off to the gate, only to realise that whilst I had checked into the right terminal, Terminal 1, my flight was actually leaving from a gate in Terminal 3, the new terminal. This involved a speedy walk for what seemed like several miles, getting slightly lost amongst the plethora of cafes and seating areas in Emirates’ wondrous new dedicated launching pad.

We arrived slightly early in Vienna, which meant I had the chance to get an earlier flight to Sarajevo and avoid a seven hour layover. When I went to try to change my flight, I was told that I actually didn’t have a Sarajevo booking to change – despite double checking with my travel agent on Thursday that everything was fine, all I had in Austrian Airlines’ system was an unused ticket to Zagreb. Ouch. I had to pay 950 Euros to buy a new ticket or cancel the whole trip, let everyone down and fly back to Dubai.

Fortunately, I made the earlier flight. I felt like a complete amateur – wrong terminals, misjudged walking time to the gate, no confirmed flights. Thanks goodness my hotel booking was all in order…

What a considerate husband

26/10/2008

Whilst my colleagues are all off to Honolulu for a week, I have just arrived in Sarajevo and checked into the rather prison-like Holiday Inn.

I could have been in Hawaii too, for Sun’s annual sales ‘reward party’, but as Mrs Saul couldn’t get the time off school and I am away so much anyway, I decided that a short trip to Europe would be a little fairer than 7 days away in the Pacific Ocean. Mrs Saul did grant permission for me to venture to Hawaii alone, but I decided to stock up on brownie points instead.

This is my first trip to Sarajevo. Mrs Saul and I visited Mostar during our honeymoon, so this is my second visit to Bosnia. First impressions are that it looks a bit more Soviet than the other former Yugoslavian cities I’ve been to – Llubjana and Zagreb, respectively.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about this job is the chance to visit places that I only know about from watching the news when I was younger. I’d never have guessed, when listening to Kate Adie in the early nineties, that I’d be coming here a few years later to talk about desktop computing.

I’m really looking forward to the next two days. I now have a guy working with me, based out of Greece, who will be focused on exactly the same product set as me. This means that this part of the world, which is showing real potential for my product set, will get a lot more desktop computing related care and attention. We have partner and customer meetings tomorrow and a sales event on Tuesday. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to see a bit of the city. Should be good.

Ornate

23/10/2008

I must get a photo, but have to get the topic off my chest first.
There are several new roads being built near us, all surrounded by very modern structures. The lamp posts on these roads all look like cast offs from a low budget BBC Victorian drama prop cupboard. They’re very ornate and sylised. Dubai’s always had modern lamp posts, leaving odd designs to other emirates. These things might look fine when Dubai builds 1860s Dubai Victoriana City, but they really don’t belong next to a glass and steel skyscraper.
I don’t like them and I don’t want to have to look at them every day!

One ray of light

21/10/2008

In the midst of all this turmoil, there’s one ray of light. That is, if you earn money in UAE Dirhams and want to convert it to Sterling.

Recent weeks have seen the dirham (which is pegged to the US Dollar) strengthen from 7.3 to the Pound.

Time to send some money home. I will put on a pink shirt with wing collar and loud tie and shout ‘woof’ when I hit transfer, standing up afterwards shaking my fists in the air at my colleagues in gleeful victory. After that, I’ll go out and buy a sports car I can’t afford and invest in some buy-to-let properties in Leeds that will never get built, like all good currency traders do, or so I’m told.

We don’t all speak Arabic, Google!

20/10/2008

I’m not the first Dubai based blogger to complain about this.

Google have excellent localisation – their sites are localised into hundreds of languages. That said, just because a user is accessing their services from one country or another, it doesn’t mean they want to access Blogger or Google search in Pashto, Urdu or Arabic.

It would surely make sense, particularly for users in the Gulf and Pakistan, to add a small link to an English version of the page.

It’s great to see an American company caring about local languages, but Google don’t seem to have got things quite right.

Dubai real estate

20/10/2008

I have been consistently wrong about property in Dubai. Mrs Saul has been consistently right. Fortunately, as we are a team and she is team captain, we bought a property.

Owning our own property has insulated us from the problems lots of our friends have had, namely having to leave their villas or apartments, or being forced to accept huge increases in the rent they have to pay. On the flipside, lovely though our apartment is, we have had to deal with increases in service fees and frustrating quality issues. It is not only costing us far more to live here compared to our last place, it’s costing us far more than we had expected. When you’re promised 8Dhs per square foot in 2004 you budget accordingly and add some room for increases. When 2008 comes around and you’re made to pay 35Dhs per square foot, plus 10,000Dhs a year for a municipality tax noone told you about, your costs go up more than you had planned for.

Not that we’d be better off if we’d stayed where we were – all the parking has disappeared and three new towers have been built right next to our old building. What used to combine the advantages of living in a modern tower with a quiet neighbourhood and plenty of space has now become more crowded and, in my opinion, far less desirable a place to live. We’d be saving money, but would be cramped and miserable.

The articles mention problems with supply and demand in Dubai, yet there appear to be hundreds of empty apartments in most of the new developments. I can’t work out why this is – are they owned by investors, simply waiting to sell them on? Are they owned by people in neighbouring countries who need a bolthole should Sarah Palin decide to drop a moose on Iran?

I think part of the reason may be a general desire among landlords to leave a property empty rather than reduce the rental price. In London, I’d expect rents to go up and down, based on supply and demand. Most buy-to-let landlords have mortgages to pay, so have to accept a tenant at some point, even if the price isn’t as high as they’d like. I presume people who’ve paid for these apartments outright in cash simply have no pressure to get tenants in if they don’t like the price.

Another contributing factor seems to be the willingness of certain companies to pay whatever it costs to get top staff over here. That willingness generally raises prices. There seem to be two tiers of new arrivals from Europe at the moment. Top level blue chip types who get paid the full expat-whack and are plonked into lovely apartments paid for by their companies. The other group is single people, as their employers can’t afford to fund housing costs for families, who were living five to a house in London and are happy to do so in Dubai in return for the fun of living here and the chance to move up the job ladder more quickly. Are the latter group financially better off for moving over, as I was when I came here? I doubt it. Still, come they do.

Talk of supply and demand is also distorted by what’s actually available. Whilst lots of units are coming on line, are they something that people can actually afford to rent or buy and are they something potential tenants actually want to live in? How many families really want to live in an apartment on the 55th floor? How many can afford to? Two or three bedroom apartments abound, but if I had children, I’d be far happier in a low rise such as ours, or in a villa. This seems to explain why many apartments appear to be empty whilst rental prices for villas have gone through the roof. Mr Aaron’s place is lovely, but Mr Aaron is too much bachelor. If you’re a couple with a young child, you might manage, but as kids get older or more children arrive, you’d want to be somewhere ‘normal’. Well, I would at least, but maybe I’m not the target customer.

Who are the target customers? Dubai recently hosted Cityscape, a huge property tradeshow. All the adverts are aimed at ‘living the luxury’ and ‘living the dream’. I find this kind of advertising leaves me completely cold. Talking about luxury is all very well, but is pointless if I can’t afford it. Whether I were buying a place to live in myself or 50 units to rent out, I’d be more interested in concepts such as ‘affordable living’, a track record of delivering on time, guaranteed low services fees, guaranteed parking and decent road access.

I have no idea how people can afford to buy where we live now. I have no idea how people are managing to rent here either. Prices have gone through the roof. Even if house prices fall by 10% in 2010, as predicted, that’s a minimal drop when compared to how much they’ve risen in recent times. The increase in value is all very well for us, but it doesn’t mean we can sell our place, cash our money in and rent somewhere for a few years – there’s no guarantee we’d find somewhere that wouldn’t eat up any profit we’d made, or that would charge a steady rent that would allow us to budget properly.

The government is taking some excellent steps to stop some of the crazier aspects of the property business here. There’s a new regulatory body and ‘flipping’ property is being clamped down on.

As with all things in Dubai, we’ll just have to wait and see how things pan out. It’ll be very interesting to see what things are like in five years’ time. I’m sure Mrs Saul’s judgement will stay spot on.