Archive for June, 2012

Martin the Armenian


‘This colony needs some silkworms.’

‘It does. Know anyone who could help?’

‘Bloke I know knows a bloke who knows someone called Martin‘.

What did we do before Wikipedia?

It’s a joke


The comments are even funnier than the article.

How much?


Alexander has a piece of spot on commentary about the price of eating out in Dubai here.

We practically stopped going out at all for a while – it was just getting so ridiculously expensive, it was just not worth the money. Or even half the money. I just don’t understand who is paying the prices being charged at many places in Dubai. Even going out to a pub-like place has become outrageously pricey – $12 for a pint? $25 for fish and chips?

If we did go out, it was to somewhere very cheap, usually serving Indian/Pakistani food. Great value and delicious, but not a dining lifestyle choice extravaganza. Other than that, we’d have people round to ours or go to friends’. Less expensive and lots more fun.

I’m sure no one will have any sympathy for us poor expats in Dubai, but it was an odd feeling, effectively being priced out of the market in your own city.

Recently though, some better value options have begun to spring up – we went to a birthday brunch the other week, which was perfectly decent and cost around 200Dhs. Service was good, food was good, drinks came regularly. It was at a Rotana hotel, which got me thinking…

Years ago, Mrs Saul and I had a ‘Rotana card’. You got 50% of food (for two people, 33% off for three and so on), as well as 15% off drinks. During May and June, I remembered that we’d also got vouchers for 50% of the cost of the discounted meal. You could then use these vouchers in conjunction with the card, to get an even better deal the next time you at at a Rotana restaurant.

We stopped renewing our Rotana card as we found that if we went out it was always to the same places. Mrs Saul Mandated Change and we duly found ourselves trying some other restaurants, getting sick of being ripped off and generally staying in a lot more.

As I usually stay at the excellent Rotana Gefinor in Beirut, I decided to get myself a Rotana card so that I can collect the points when staying there. It’s still great value – 800Dhs for the card, which then arrives with a 250Dh voucher. They’re also doing the same voucher offer deal this year.

Since then we’ve had some absolutely fantastic meals and paid very reasonable prices – we even ended up using our vouchers and card and spending 31Dhs on a meal for two that came in at 553Dhs!

Rotana’s places aren’t the flashiest in Dubai, but that doesn’t mean they are not excellent. They are simply very good rather than being over the top ponce-fests. There’s lots of choice and the hotels are always well put together, with good service and so on. Even the list prices are reasonable – with the card you can eat out at some very good places and actually pay not much more than you’d pay at a Karama taximan joint.

I’d be fascinated to see how the restaurant industry works here. If Rotana can give you 50% off and still be profitable, are the other venues raking in huge profits, or are they putting their prices up so as to make as much as possible from a small number of customers?

And who is going out every Thursday and spending 50Dhs on numerous cocktails, followed by 500Dh brunches every Friday?

Not quite so bad


I’ve had a couple of taxi rides recently where the drivers have had similar stories. It’s interesting to hear first hand some more down to earth success stories from Dubai.

Each of my drivers had nearly forty years in the UAE under their belts. Each was from Pakistan and was finishing his career driving cabs after having had two or three other fairly humble jobs over the years. Despite ‘only’ having worked as fruit sellers or office clerks and finally taxi drivers, they spoke excellent English and had raised and educated a family and extended family. The taxi driver dads in Dubai had sons in the UK studying accountancy, brothers set up with their own business in Pakistan, a daughter in the US studying to become a lawyer, other daughters married to ‘very good boys’ some of whom were also ‘computers selling’ (ah, very good business sir!). Their hard work and sacrifice had moved their families ahead.

Whatever its faults, the Gulf has provided employment, safety and freedom for lots of people, something the Johann Haris of this world don’t tend to recognise.

I expect many of the kids leaving these schools will also end up in the UAE.

Whilst detailing his CV, one driver embarked on a very complicated story about a British family he had once driven for. The father was a ‘big boss’ of some kind and, whilst he was away on a business trip, his elder daughter had taken their poodle to a pet shop and spent about $150 having its hair cut. The moral of the tale seemed a bit confused – on the one hand, the driver wore the wealth of his former employer as a badge of pride – ‘such a wealthy family sir, but so nice and I was their driver!’. On the other hand spending so much money on a dog was deemed to be extravagant and foolish in the extreme – ‘imagine, sir, paying such riches for a dog haircut!’. Such contradictions in Dubai.

More Lagos pics


Some pics from my last, very productive, trip to sunny Lagos.

My hear sank when I saw the melee around the gate while leaving. Someone actually punched me in the ribs. EK really need to up their game in manning the queueing process from certain locations…


Lots of traffics jams, as usual, especially when it rained.


The thunderstorm we had was pretty violent, came from nowhere and caused flooding everywhere. I drove off to see a customer just as it began. It was quite frightening. You can’t really see it here, but here’s the entrance to the Four Points, just as the rain poured down.


This okada driver’s bike chose just the wrong moment to break down. Poor chap.


The smoke from the small fire you can see on the right hand side of the picture permeated the hotel for a while. It smelt awful.


I love seeing these German signs on the side of so many vehicles here. It always looks like someone’s made a wrong turn in Stuttgart and ended up in Lagos.


Sturdy Series III still going strong.


Emissions test needed?



Public transport.

IMG-20120614-00707.jpg IMG-20120614-00708.jpg


Duty Free were advertising some interesting Marlboro ‘cigarettes’… The joys of using the first photo you find on the web when putting together an advert for your shop!


Construction everywhere


Mrs Saul and I have been looking around to see if there’s somewhere we like that’s a bit bigger than our current two bed apartment.

Everything’s just not quite right. Nice apartment, awful view. Great villa, no garden. Great garden, villa too small. Villa too old and falling to pieces but has nice fittings. Villa brand new but decorated by a blind Chinamen with a Louis XIV obsession.

You get the picture. Fortunately we’re not in a massive hurry, so we can wait to find something that we really like.

Looking around some of the apartments in our Old Town area, I’ve realised how lucky we’ve been to have a ‘finished view’ for the last five years plus we’ve been living there. Although the tops of some surrounding towers have started appearing on the horizon, we’ve been looking out onto something complete since we moved in. So many other apartments are still looking out onto construction sites.

It also saddens me to see construction in our general area continuing apace, with apparently no lessons learnt from other areas. Business Bay, when finished, will probably resemble other new areas of Dubai – a badly planned mishmash of low quality construction, baffling road layout and clashing building designs. It’s such a shame – it’s not going to be bad, but it could have been so good, with just a little bit more planning and forethought.

Biscuit enjoys the view too.


Sleek and Stylish


A fascinating update on our new lamp posts from the community newsletter.

“Stunning new street and pedestrian

lighting will soon be operational and

spectacularly visible within our

communities secondary streets.The

avante (sic) garde design utilizes the same

style for both pedestrian and street

lights, while echoing the shape, scale

and magnificence of the 828 metres

high Burj Khalifa.

The 18 metre high conical columns of

the street lights taper upwards to a

point and are made of brushed steel.

The cross arm that houses the warm,

energy and maintenance efficient

white lighting system is made of

polished steel that provides a striking

contrast to the brushed steel of the


The final effect is spectacular street

and pedestrian lighting that befits and compliments our community.”

No mention of the millions of dirhams spent replacing perfectly good lighting, the fact that they block the view of the buildings, cast a contrasting light, crowd the pavements and provide a great platform for pigeons to create a mess on.

The general theme at the developer seems to be ‘put up something shiny’ when faced with any kind of issue.

Recently, our clear view of the Burj Khalifa when driving out of our road has been blocked by a sign advertising some kebab shops. Apparently, this new sign ‘increases the value of my home’. The sign can only be clearly seen by people who actually live in the development, as they’re the only ones using the road from which it can be clearly viewed – but we know the restaurants are there already… People driving down the road looking for the kebab places won’t see it until they’re level with it, which is then too late. So we have a big, pointless shiny sign that blocks a view. All that was needed was some discrete signs at the side of the road.

Elsewhere we have a new shiny spike sticking up in the air, generally crowding things. Apparently it’s meant to honour those who built the Burj Khalifa, though there is no mention of this in clear sigh. It’s just a big shiny thing, sitting there for no apparent reason.

Another new addition will be a huge walkway for pedestrians coming from the metro station. This is going to snake up from the metro station to the Dubai Mall, crowding the area further and blocking the view of more nice buildings. I feel sorry for the various cafe and shop owners who have rented space in these buildings, presumably to capture some of the footfall from passing pedestrians, who will now lose most of that traffic to people using the walkway.

Don’t worry though, the new walkway will be shiny. And probably sleek, too.

One minor intelligent addition – one of the hotels has a new driveway, meaning that guests are no longer forced to access the hotel by driving into the mall carpark. This has been built quite well, but does beg the question – who designed the original access way for this five star hotel in the first place? Who thought driving through shopping mall car park would be a good idea.

I should also be pleased that the hideous digital signage that advertises the Dubai Maill to people visiting the Dubai Mall only seems to be switched on at certain times (although I notice that the Marina Mall has started distracting drivers on the SZR with a massive new digital sign beaming drivel onto the road users below.

Sorry readers, feeling grumpy again.