Archive for September, 2009

Jeep Woes

28/09/2009

My usually rock solid Wrangler has been causing me issues.

It had been running a little hotter than usual and overheated completely whilst being drive to the garage for a service – it had to be towed the rest of the way.

The full service went fine. The overheating was fixed with a new water pump and a full checkover of the radiator, coolant flush, etc. That cost a cool 4,500Dhs or so for everything. Ouch.

Two days later, after driving it for the second time since picking it up after the service, I came back from the shops to where I had parked to see steam coming out of the bonnet and a flood of bright blue coolant next to the kerb – the radiator appeared to have completely drained itself.

Back to the garage on the tow truck. The garage fitted a new radiator assembly after diagnosing a major leak.

I was a bit sceptical about this. Firstly, the radiator’s only a year and a half old, after it had an incident in the desert last March. Secondly, I don’t really see how you can fully service a radiator, but miss a leak. Still, after talking to the garage manager, who I trust, as well as some colleagues who know more about motors than I do, it seems it was just one of those things.

That was another 1,700Dhs. Double ouch.

Now things seem to be running ok. I’m a bit worried I may be losing coolant though – there was some coolant under the engine this morning, but I don’t know if that was there from before. Coolant levels did seem to be a bit lower than I remember. Either way, I’ve topped up the coolant so I can check if it is losing any – I’ve also put some newspaper underneath to catch any new drips.

I’m praying this is the last thing. I want to start taking the car into the desert again, starting this Friday, so I need it working, reliable and running properly.

There’s one final thing that’s different – the oil pressure gauge always used to stay at ‘3’, pointing straight up. Now its position varies a little. Apparently this is normal, although I’m sure it never used to happen before.

Fingers crossed. My fear is that I need a new head gasket or something else that was damaged when the car overheated…

Kabul-Dubai

28/09/2009

A short but interesting article on the joys of operating a Dubai-Kabul air route.

I came back from a short holiday in Beirut on Monday, using FlyDubai, Dubai’s excellent new low cost carrier. They share a terminal with some Afghan carriers.

The mix of people around the baggage carousel was interesting. Lots of very solid looking Brits and Americans, presumably ‘security’ contractors, standing next to poor Afghans, who I expect were labourers. Both groups equally as tough as the other, in their own way.

Too much dishwasher

27/09/2009

What’s a blog for, if not for the odd rant?

Our dishwasher remains unrepaired.

Predictably, the process I had arranged feel to pieces.

Instead of the guy calling me on Weds to talk through what was wrong and then confirming a time when he’d be there on Thursday, the bloke only turned up on Thursday afternoon after my calling the office repeatedly.

He took a quick look at the dishwasher and told me he needed access to the back of it, which meant he had to pull it out.

I was quite happy with that – until he told me that the tiling in front of the dishwasher has to be removed to allow access. He then told me that it’s the same for all of the apartments in the block. The developer’s design has effectively sealed the dishwasher in.

If he’d rung on the Weds as arranged, asked me a few questions to prove there was an electrical fault and told me I’d have to pull the tiles out, he could have fixed it when he was there.

As it is, his entire visit was a pointless waste of time and effort. I was pretty cross, as the entire farce was completely avoidable. When I asked him if he spent every day being shouted at by customers, he told me he did. When I suggested that a lot of the anger could be avoided, he looked bemused.

I now need to get round to pulling the tiles out and rebooking the repair…

Bus thrills

16/09/2009

The Roads and Transport Authority of Dubai have spent millions on buses and a new metro station.

I’m astonished at what’s been spent – aside from the new metro, the streets are full of new buses. There seems to be every type of design – bendy buses, short buses, long buses, normal double decker buses, huge double decker buses. No manufacturer’s been left out.

All this is fantastic.

I do hope the RTA update their website soon, though. At the moment I have no idea info on the new bus that runs near my house. Where does it start, where are all the bus stops, where does it go and what does it cost? I’m not the only one, it seems, as the bus is always empty.

Growing pains, I expect, that will be solved shortly. I’m surprised there’ s not been a bit more information available. The promotion around the Metro, as Alexander points out, was a wee bit strange. We did indeed all notice that a metro was being built – we just needed to be told how to use it, what it would cost and not to press the emergency stop buttons.

All this means I may soon do something momentous – take a bus or a train to get somewhere. A friend of mine visited a few years ago and took a bus from outside our apartment at the time – Sheik Zayed Road to Deira. I was astonished – I had no idea that was where the bus that I occasionally saw near us went to. I don’t think he did, either, but it didn’t matter as he was a tourist and not going anywhere in particular. For some reason, finding out where buses go seems to be an integral part of bus users’ lives.

Now, seven years after arriving, I may be able to use public transport for the first time.

Part of the fun of being home in England on holiday is doing ‘normal’ things. I love being in London in the summer, taking buses and trains and travelling on the underground. After a while the novelty wears off and I am perfectly happy to be back in Dubai, driving everywhere in comfort.

Now Dubai will give me the choice, at least.

When we moved into our current home, a friend from England asked me how the new place was working out. ‘It’s great,’, I said. ‘I can walk around the corner and buy a pint of milk and a paper!’. The friend in question was a bit confused. What was special about that?

Now I can take a bus from the stop round the corner and (soon) get on a train to work. How about that?

I just need to make sure that paying income tax and getting rained on all the time aren’t planned for the near future.

Reducing

15/09/2009

After almost a whole Ramadan’s worth of healthy eating and solid exercise, I am starting to lose a bit of weight, finally.

I must do my best to keep this all up after Eid. That’ll be hard if work travel resumes, but let’s see.

I am looking forward to one of my Indian colleagues telling me ‘Chris, you have reduced!’, as opposed to saying things along the lines of ‘Chris, you have expanded greatly since our last meeting!’.

Ice!

14/09/2009

There are lots of things weighing on people’s minds in Dubai. The economic situation, cost of living, job security, regional strife.

I’ve been thinking about these things too. I’ve also been going through a crisis of my own – where to get the best kind of ice for drinks?

Mrs Saul has banned the purchase of an ice cube making machine and plastic ice trays are inefficient and clumsy, so ice has to be bought in.

Twenty Four Seven’s ice is a nice shape – rather like miniature church bells, but I find the they don’t sit so well in a glass. On top of that, the bags they sell are a bit too big, so I end up either having to throw some cubes away, which feels wasteful, or overfilling the freezer, which makes Mrs Saul wrathful. Anyway, the local 24/7’s shut down, so they are now completely out of the picture. Worth putting up with when they delivered, no longer worth considering now they’re not near by.

Choithrams’ ice cubes are too big. It’d be fine if I were drinking Coke out of, say, a one litre German beer mug, but I’m not. Their bags are too small as well. Two bags is a bit too much, one bag’s not quite enough. Plus, every Choithrams’ is laid out in a random and frightening manner, which makes me feel uncomfortable. Strike them off the list, even if they do have the most helpful bag packers and carriers in Dubtown.

Spinneys’ ice is a disaster, at least from our local shop. It should be perfect – the bags are the right size, the cubes nicely shaped. Sadly, at some point between production and purchasing, the average bag seems to sit in the sun and melt before being put in the shop’s freezer room. The result is one huge 5Dh ($1.30) ice cube and lots of shavings. Frustrating, but fine if all you’re doing is dumping them in a cool box to cool drinks. Not good for drinking though, unless you are placing one big cube in, say, a dustbin full of Coke.

Thankfully, I have discovered that Eppco petrol stations sell ice. Perfectly sized bags, lovely clear, square cubes, all for only 4Dhs (just over $1USD). Also, my local Eppcos have their own ice making machines. This means you can get ‘bag ice’ from the freezer if you’re in a hurry and it won’t be too melted together. If you have a bit of time you can request ‘fresh bag ice’ right out of the machine to avoid as much melting as possible. If you’re really lucky, the nice Philipinas at the till will start giggling at you and say you are ‘too much poggy sir!’ (very good looking). This happened to me this evening, much to my astonishment*. I must have been looking particularly dashing, or they must have been a bit shortsighted.

I whizz the ice home in a cool box, drain the water out of the bag, empty into the freezer section Mrs Saul recently allocated for ice cubes (following protracted negotiations and a mass rehousing of frozen peas). Shake them up ten minutes later to avoid unnecessary stickage and Bob’s your uncle.

Hurrah for Eppco. My quest is at an end. Both I and our guests can enjoy iced drinks with minimal hassle, whilst contemplating life’s Bigger Issues.

* This happened the other day at the office too. According to our head cleaning lady, also a Philipina, I look like Brad Pitt and my colleague Gerard looks like George Clooney. I think this is the positive side of ‘they all look the same to me’. Still, it’s nice walking into the office and having someone shout ‘helloooo Braaad!’ at you before collapsing in giggles. I have a sneaking suspicion the joke’s on me though…

Dishwasher rant

14/09/2009

Time for rant number two about customer service.

Our dishwasher has stopped working – this may have something to do with the loud bang, followed by a mains fuse tripping on Friday afternoon, but I’m not sure. Regardless, the Siemens AquaStop, the first ever dishwasher I have ever had since I left home, has stopped.

I called the dealer yesterday and left a message. This morning someone called me back, but I missed the call and they didn’t leave a voicemail – I did recognise the number though. I called back a few times and got a busy tone or went through to an answermachine. Someone did call me back though, much to my surprise, around 1030.

So far so good.

The process that leads to someone actually fixing your dishwasher seems to be unnecessarily complicated, however.

After pushing things, I seem to have come to a reasonable arrangement. The repairman will call me on Weds before 0930 to confirm a time for him to come on Thursday. We will use our discussion on Weds morning to see if we can do some basic diagnostics, so that when the chap comes on Thursday he will bring, if at all possible, the spare parts and tools that he thinks may be needed. Part of our discussion on Weds will also include something quite important – the model and make of the dishwasher that needs repairing. I imagine this fact to be quite important. After the Weds morning call I will know what part of Thursday I need to spend at home, so I can plan any meetings or other obligations accordingly.

If I hadn’t pushed, this is what would have happened –

A man would have called me on Weds morning to tell me if he was coming on Weds or Thursday. This would have meant that I would have had to have kept both days completely clear, just in case. The man would also have simply called me to say when he was coming to look at the dishwasher. He would not have come with any tools or commonly required spare parts. This would have meant that after his visit, he would have had to return at some unspecified point in the future to actually fix the dishwasher.

It seems odd to asking questions along these lines to the repair department of the national distributor for a company like Siemens –

‘Will the man come with some tools?’

‘Is it not important for me to tell you what the man needs to repair?’

‘Is there any way we can manage this process in a manner that avoids me spending two entire days waiting at home, just in case a man pops over?’

Let’s see how this progresses. The last time we had something break, it took the distributor ages to replace a circuit board in our washing machine. A circuit board that had to be ordered over from Europe, despite it being the most commonly required spare part in the UAE’s most popular washing machine. For some reason, the distributor’s service department didn’t keep any common spare parts in stock, so each time one was needed, it had to be shipped over.

I am thankful for small mercies, however – the AquaStop is still under warranty, it turns out.

Rants over for now, hopefully. On a more positive note, the weather’s nice, the pool’s warm and there are lots of lovely tweety birds flying around the Old Town.

Where is Joseph? He’s not there!

13/09/2009

A little unoriginal, but it gets things off my chest – it’s time for a customer service rant, Dubai style.

Firstly, Mrs Saul’s car needs to be serviced. Secondly, our dishwasher has broken down. That can be discussed in another post.

I have to use the main dealer for Mrs Saul’s car, thanks to an extended warranty I have.

This ought to mean top of the Range service, not simply because the dealer represents the car’s brand across a large swathe of the UAE, but also because this company sells high-end luxury cars. I am not one of the owners of the million dollar Italian sports cars being driven in and out of the service area, but I could, at a big push, be the sort of customer who might wish to replace Mrs Saul’s vehicle at some point, a decision which would partly be made based on the levels of service I experience with my current model.

Every other garage I have ever used follows roughly the same process. You ring the garage up and tell them you need to book your car in for a service. They then tell you when they are free and together you work out a time that fits. Let’s pretend that ‘Tuesday afternoon’ is the time in question when work can begin. ‘Fine,’ you might say, ‘I’ll drop the car off in the morning on my way to work.’ The garage would tell you that would be ok, but that work wouldn’t start that morning. No problem there – it’s simply not convenient to drop it off any later.

On arriving at the garage on Tuesday morning, you’d go to the reception area of the garage’s service area, introduce yourself and leave the keys. You might sign a form or have the guy at the desk give your car a quick once over and take down any extra requests or details, but that’d be it.

Not so at this dealer. The entire process appears to have been engineered to annoy customers and to ensure maximum comfort for the ‘service advisors’.

Firstly, calling up the service centre usually results in a phone ringing, unanswered, for several minutes. If you are lucky enough to get through, you discover that they have chosen the employee with the worst English skills to man the booking process.

Provided you can understand the machine gun speed, garbled English rattling at you down the phone, you will eventually be given a time when the car can be taken care of. This is usually when the fun begins.

You see, instead of having someone who you can leave your car with, who then passes it on to the mechanics, you are assigned one of three or four ‘advisors’. That’s fair enough in principle, but the problem lies in the fact that you are not able to drop your car off with anyone else. You are told to come at a specific time and deal with a specific person, regardless of your own personal timetable for the day in question.

Not surprisingly, this is a little inconvenient for anyone who has a job or who has other plans for their Tuesday mornings.

My conversation went roughly along these lines.

‘You can bring the car in at 11.15 and leave it with Joseph.’

‘Ok, I have to go into work so I’ll drop it at 9.’

‘But Joseph won’t be there until 10.30.’

‘I don’t care when Joseph is there. I have to be at work, I understand that the mechanics will start servicing the car later in the day, but I need to drop it off on my way to the office.’

‘But Joseph won’t be there.’

‘So who can I leave it with?’

‘Not Joseph, he won’t be there.’

‘So who will be there? Any other service advisors?’

‘There are some there, but they are busy and it’s Joseph you are assigned to for this servicing.’

‘Look, I don’t care when you start fixing fixing the car, I just need to drop it off around 9.’

‘Ok, come at 1200 on Weds.’

‘No, I need the car serviced as soon as possible, so Tuesday’s fine. I just need to drop it off earlier than 11.15.’

‘But Joseph won’t be there.’

‘Fine, I’ll just park it in front of someone’s desk, tell them who I am, leave the keys in the car and walk out, then.’

‘But Joseph won’t be there’.

‘So who will be there that I can leave it with?’

‘Not Joseph, sir – he won’t be there.’

And on and on and on and on…

Eventually I was told that I can leave it with security and that Joseph will ring me up when he makes it in. I cannot, however, explain anything extra that needs doing when I leave it with the guard. That info can only be related by phone to Joseph, later in the day, presumably at a time that suits Joseph best.

This process happens every time and is completely infuriating and completely unnecessary. I’m amazed it’s still in place – the only reason for this must be that everyone else using the garage is wealthy enough to have their own servants to drop their cars off.

Surely I’m not the only one driven mad by this process? Has noone else complained?

Frustrations.

Metro challenges

13/09/2009

This article gives a good idea of the challenges in setting up something ‘new’ here.

Forget about the technical difficulties – the human side of things is just as important.

This sort of thing can be extremely frustrating, but it’s also one of the aspects of living in Dubai that can be very interesting. It can sound like a cliche, but this place really is something of a cultural crossroads. You do learn to become a lot more flexible and to start thinking of aspects to projects that you’d never have to consider to the same degree in your home country – this applies to people regardless of where they’re from.

How do you train hundreds of thousands of people how to ride a modern train system, how to queue, how to wait for people to get off a coach before getting on, how not to muck around with the emergency button? This stuff is taken as read when you extend a London Underground line by a few stations. Dubai has rather more of a challenge.

It’s not uncommon to come across people who are frightened of getting on escalators at Dubai airport, for example. I find myself helping Aunty-gees hop on once or twice a year.

I’m sure it can be quite frightening if you’ve got hand luggage, aren’t that mobile and are suddenly faced with a large moving staircase that you’ve either not seen before, or never really had to use. It’s probably also a bit frightening when a large Englishman grabs your luggage and helps you on and off, but at least it keeps things moving. I must learn the Hindi, Urdu or Punjabi for ‘let me help you, respected elderly person’.

Dubai Metro at 818 miles per hour

11/09/2009

I was wondering how long it would take for a video like this to pop up on YouTube!

One of the fun things about living in Dubai is that you are often the first, or amongst the first, ever to visit a building, use a service, etc, etc.

I was the first person to live in our last apartment, we were the first to live in our current place, amongst the first to visit numerous ‘iconic’ buildings here – we just need to use the Metro over the next few days to add it to our list.

If you’re interested, the Sun office is behind the buildings on the left at 15 seconds in. You used to be able to see us and our sign from the motorway, but as with many things in Dubai, someone built five skyscrapers right in front of the office, suddenly.