30 March 2004


Before we arrived in Dubai we read about the horrendous bureaucracy (left over from the British colonial times) that could make life difficult.  There is even a book has been published for new arrivals that tells step by step how to arrange everything.

Well, we have been here a month now and our experience is that it is much easier than expected.  This is partly due to the fact that Stuart’s company has arranged a lot of things, and these things were done quickly as his company is part of the Government of Dubai!

Everything here depends on the residence permit.  This is the root document which is needed for just about everything (except a pay-as-you-go mobile which only needs a copy of your passport).  Stuart got his residence visa within a week of arriving due to the lightning-speed efficiency of the company. To get it he needed to have a blood test at the public hospital. He was taken there by the company driver who then just pushed his way to the front of the large queue and he got done within minutes.

With the residence visa we were able to sign the lease for the flat (a simple one page document – quite a shock after UK leases.  There is only one restriction on what you can do - nailing things to the tiled floor.  What happens here is that the landlord, once you leave the property, gets in decorators to fill holes in the walls and repaints).

We could also get the water and electricity put on (the same company does both and you can even do it over the Internet!), get a medical card, a driving licence (which you actually need just to buy and register a car here), and a bank account.

The bank account opening was interesting.  You call a bank you are interested in and they send a man round the same day with all the documents you need.  He then comes back as necessary to help with anything and you are set up in one day and the cheque books are ready in 3 days.  At the bank itself, if you are an expatriate of reasonable means (i.e. all Westerners) you have a named individual as your account manager.  When you visit her, if you want to make a deposit of cash you give it to her and she calls a man who then stands in the queue at the desk for you and pays the money in.  What is scary for him is, if the amount he pays in disagrees with what your account manager thinks, he has the amount deducted from his salary.  As these salaries are very low, there have been cases of a person losing over a month’s salary.  This does not seem a good system.

We have moved in!

We liberated our furniture (© A.S.) yesterday. We have officially got a home in Dubai.

At 8.30am we arrived at the removal company's premises to watch customs check our possessions. We were told that the official may not show up until 10, but if we were not there, he would not wait and we would have to reschedule. Luckily he arrived soon and was actually quite nice (we had been told to expect the worst, since customs officials can be obnoxious the World over). When he saw that we had paintings in the container he asked to see them, because he wanted to see what Fiver's art was like. In the end he gave up when he had seen some of Anna's drawings.

The container arrived at Capricorn Towers an hour later, where a crew of removal guys proceeded to carry all our gear up to the 31st floor (in the lift, of course). We were so happy to see our things again even if it meant a load of unpacking - again! Fiver has had quite enough of house moves for a few decades.

Our belongings are now roaming the wilds of our new flat with Anna clearing up amid cartons of books still lining the walls (shelving is an issue, as usual)

Here is a comparative view of the container in Ipswich and in Dubai:



29 March 2004

A dunebashing scene

This highly questionable activity took place at our outing to the desert. The movie is 300KB, so should not be too bad even for those with modems.

The driving was in a specially allocated area to minimise damage, since dune bashing is not the most ecologically friendly activity, and we won't be doing it in the wild.

In order for the cars to avoid sinking into the dunes they have to deflate their tyres by about half. This increases the area in contact with the sand and spreads the load. Of course it's necessary to carry a pump or driving on tarmac becomes very dangerous.

28 March 2004

The Office Party

Where we head for the desert for an Authentic Arabian Experience (TM)

DIFC decided to have an outing so all the many new joiners could get to know other staff in the company. We met up on Friday afternoon and were taken to a desert park by 4 wheel drive. This is where the fun began. We went 'Dune Bashing', a highly questionable activity whereby we drive up to the top of a wing-blown dune and launch ourselves off the vertical drop into the valley, and then repeating many times. It was great fun and just a little scary.


We were then taken to a 'camp' in the desert where we were able to indulge in several activities such as sand snowboarding, camel riding or just walking round the most amazing environment. Later, as the sun went down we lay on the warm sand and looked at the stars before dressing up in local costume and having a wonderful Arab feast and traditional entertainment.

As the photos below show, the entertainment was more photogenic than Stuart in local costume!


27 March 2004

Anna is here

Where Fiver's mum arrives to organise yet another house move - and fits right in

Anna flew in from Germany on Thursday in order to complete the cycle of house moves she has helped Fiver with: to Nottingham, from Nottingham, to Ipswich, from Ipswich, to Dubai. Luckily she is good at making herself right at home:


26 March 2004

A proper resident

Fiver received her residence visa today.

So now she can apply for a liquor license, use the hospital and set up a bank account (not in that order). Stuart's company has kindly agreed to organise the visa, which involved lots of standing round in queues. The one thing she had to do herself was to have a blood test. Yuk! The most embarrassing thing was the fact that Ahmed, who drives people to their blood test, walked her straight past a long queue of people waiting in line. fiver spent enough time in the UK to learn the value of queuing, and was very embarrassed to be able to jump the queue, just because she has connections.

Things we still haven't got used to

Things we still haven't got used to

After three weeks, it is still amazing to us that...

★ Petrol is so cheap

★ It gets dark so early, and still it is hot!

★ There are no English-language bookshops that are any good

★ To get across the road we need to walk for 20 minutes (to the underpass under the 5 lane motorway)

★ Shops show no street address in the phone book, only PO boxes

★ The strange dichotomy between complex bureaucracy in the public sector with efficiency in private enterprise

★ People are so friendly!

25 March 2004

Things we have got used to already

We have been here a few weeks now, and there are things we are already getting used to...

★ Homicidal and suicidal local drivers

★ The sun shines every day

★ The call of the Muezzin five times a day

★ Living in the desert and still having perfect lawns to walk on

★ No public transport to speak of

★ 5 minute commutes to work

★ Taking a cab to a place a few minutes down the road, because it's too hot to walk

★ Men in Dishdasha and women in abayas

★ Shopping as a hobby

Boomtown Dubai

Every day the papers are full of stories of expansion and building

Dubai airport is investing $41 billion into expansion with a new terminal. Along the coast South of Dubai 120 high-rises are being built for housing. Dubai is planning to increase its resident as well as its holiday population three-fold in the next years. Car registration has doubled in the last 5 years. According to locals we spoke to this is a recent boom, and it has only just begun.

24 March 2004

The car is (was) here!

We took receipt of our new car yesterday and spent a happy few hours driving round trying to find the local Apple shop. But it's back to the garage again today...

This is it:


And lovely it is, if it weren't for the annoying rattle that starts somewhere round 80km/h. So it's back in the shop to hunt for the source of the noise.

A word on driving in Dubai. It's crazy! Everyone here drives like a cross between a Parisian and a Roman with a bit of the Cairo driver thrown in. Bumper to bumper, using the hard shoulder to overtake, tooting the horn incessantly with a complete lack of patience. It's a little scary, and not for the faint-hearted, but I am sure we will get used to it and be mad like everyone else soon enough.

Strangely, the local equivalent of White Van Man - the Indian guy with a decorated pick-up - is quite tame, it's the locals with the flash American cruisers that are most likely to change their mind at the exit at the last minute and cut back onto the motorway across lanes of traffic, or park three-deep on a through-road during the school run. Cab drivers, while experts at close bumper contact, are also quite safe, if a bit too reckless for our liking. They also have the bad habit of just stopping in the middle of the road to pick up fares (what's new?), but at least they are friendly and know the town.

We are keeping in mind that if we kill a pedestrian we will have to pay blood money to the family and if we injure a camel we become responsible for it, and hope that neither of those things will befall us.

22 March 2004

Camel Update

There is so much more to know about the camel statues exhibited along the road. Today's paper has a three-page spread in the supplement, since the exhibition is almost at an end. Here's more than you ever want to know about fibreglass camels...

They are made from fire-resistant fibreglass with steel rods in the legs set into a 300-pound slab of concrete. They are 6 by 9 feet big. The artist paint on a primer and after the design is done the camel is covered with a clear car finish to withstand the sand and heat. The original camel used for the mould is called Lulu (which is 'pearl' in Arabic) and is based on a design by an American sculptor.

The whole concept of the camel parade is based on the Swiss cow parade which was first held in Zurich in 1998 (no web links available, sorry). A brand-new trend, then. Can we look forward to a llama parade in Peru and a whale parade in Norway, a kangaroo parade in Australia and a bronco parade in the USA (apparently the Americans have gone overboard on the whole cow parade thing)?

The camels (together with a handful of table-top sized versions) are being auctioned off for charity on the 29th. There will be another show at a local park, where we can have a last look at them. Tune in for a report and more pictures after the 29th.

And there's more: You can vote for your favourite camel, put a bid in for the auction and download a Lulu picture to colour it in for yourself.

Interesting Signage of the day #2

IKEA is everywhere

For all of you who have had fond or infuriating experiences at IKEA, you will be pleased to see that, should you come here, you will be able to repeat them.


Btw: Product names are not translated in the Arabic version of the catalogue. Just as well, since written Arabic drops the vowels in a word, which would make guessing Swedish names a bit interesting: TNHM or NTR, anyone (that's TUNHEM and ENETRI)?

21 March 2004

Fiver in Bed

Fiver's favourite bedtime activity

This is how Stuart will always think of Fiver in the Shangri-La: In bed with her wonderful new 12" Apple PowerBook. This new computer has changed the way one interacts with a computer. Its small size and weight, combined with great power (it is the fastest machine we have ever owned) lets it become more of an integral part of life. We use it to write the blog anywhere we happen to be, to do our emails in an Internet cafe and, for Fiver, to do her work in a variety of places. Stuart was hoping to get one as a work machine but there have been problems with the Windows network allowing Macs to see only certain folders and files so he may have to do with a Windows machine for the moment.


Luxury of the day #3

No more ironing!

Living in an hotel for several weeks while waiting for our furniture to arrive is not ideal. However, there are compensations! One of which is the wonderful laundry service of the hotel which returns everything so beautifully (including a little flower). The service is also very good value, especially compared to having a shirt laundered in Paris as Stuart did last week. The cost was €17. One could buy a shirt for that!


20 March 2004

Luxury of the day #2

The health club

The floor at the entrance to the Shangri-La health club is edged with narrow tiled channels flowing with water which has cream-coloured petals floating on it. Very soothing.

Every day someone comes to fish out all the old petals and replaces them with fresh ones.

19 March 2004

Lots of wonderful things

Where Fiver is much happier...

Today Stuart returns from his weeklong trip to Paris, where he sat in cafes drinking Kir Royale and met with old friends (well, he did some work, too). This makes Fiver very happy.

On a less soppy note, we now have a selection of keys to the flat, so it is finally ours to use anytime without having to ask the security guard to let us in. It feels good to have a home here now, even if it is devoid of all furniture until our container arrives from the UK. But the view makes up for it. And the curtains.

On the subject of keys, we have front door keys, bathroom keys, bedroom and kitchen keys, keys to the laundry room and the mail box as well as a swipe card for the car park. All of those in triplicate, they fill a cardboard box. Now we'll be able to lock ourselves in or out of every room separately.

We have also applied for telephone and internet connection and for water and electricity to be transferred to our name. This involves going to an office and waiting in line for quite a long time with loads of photocopied documents such a passport, residence permit and such (Stuart is already on his second dozen passport photos!), and complex application forms to fill in. Eventually a nice man or woman will see you and check every entry and every signature against your papers. The bureaucratic process is almost German in it's job-creation aspects if it were not for the fact that it is then possible to make payments online later, and the fact that the Dubai government uses sophisticated electronic systems e.g. immigration swipe cards and iris recognition.

So it looks like we are almost residents (except for the fact that Fiver is still on a visitor visa until Stuart sponsors her to remain in the country - a little archaic, that).

More from the homestead

A view of our building and next door

This picture was taken on a day last week when the temperature was balmy and we actually had some clouds. The next day it rained, but we missed it (Stuart was in Paris and Fiver in the office). The rain made front page news with a picture of a window spattered with drops and a lady with an umbrella.


18 March 2004

Finally some camels

Where Fiver is desperate to see camels, being in the Middle East and all, but misses every opportunity to capture them on camera - until now.

Ever since we knew we knew we were coming here Fiver has been driving everyone crazy with her desire to "see camels!!!". They seemed to her the epitome of Middle Eastern exoticism. On the first visit we even saw some on our orientation tour through Dubai, which included a drive past the camel racetrack. There they were, elegant, aloof and leggy, a group of young race camels being led by a trainer along the track. What things of beauty! Golden-coloured, with an arrogant look, they have the same attitude of regality Fiver loves so much in cats.

But there was no camera to hand, and neither was she ready at the next opportunity when we drove past a group of wild camels grazing along the country road towards Fujairah. Very disappointing, specially now that the official camel racing season is over, there will presumably be less chances to see them round Dubai.

The best we have to offer, therefore, is a selection of pictures of fibreglass camel statues which are dotted around the city as part of a sponsored exhibition. Each represents a different business (from Emirates Airlines to Swiss chocolate maker Lindt) and is painted by a nominated artist, with varying success. Some are quite funny (snowboarding camel with big boots, a winged camel disguised as a bee) while others are just pretty.




A short note to reply to the enquiry regarding what kind of animal these camels are: As it turns out the whole issue of dromedaries having one hump and camels having two is a language issue. The animal is called Dromedary Camel (Camelus Dromedarius), while "the name "Dromedary" is properly reserved for the Arabian racing camel such as those used in the various military camel corps." (www.oaklandzoo.org) That should clear it up. All camels we have seen so far are single-humped.

17 March 2004

Local Vegetation (or lack of)

It would be normal to assume that since this is an arid climate, not a lot grows here - not so.

Before we had seen Dubai we had heard it would be very hot and so expected to see little plant life. What we didn't realise was that a display of plants totally unsuited to the local soil and weather is a sign of wealth and status. Therefore the richest areas of Dubai are planted with the lushest lawns and the most colourful flowers. There is an almost complete absence of local plant life along the city roads and around buildings. We haven't been to any parks yet, but suspect that apart from the structural use of palm trees to form avenues there is little local vegetation there as well.

Of course, in order to keep these tender plants going a lot ( a LOT) of water is required. All flower beds are lined with length of water hose feeding a constant trickle to the roots, and lawns have sprinklers set to come on at dusk. This explains why UAE came almost last in a recent survey of ecological sustainability. Water desalination here is a by-product of aluminium processing, but there are still occasional outages in some area.

The upside is that Fiver gets to walk barefoot on the lawn along the road, a blissful feeling of freshness.

16 March 2004

Interesting Signage of the day #1

Seen outside a hotel toilet


No comment.

15 March 2004

More Weather Thoughts

This is going to be our great obsession in the next few months, as we get used to a different climate

Is it possible that perception of temperature is related to what we see? When the air is white with heat and every building is layered with a dusty haze, it feels hot. When the eye can rest on green hedges and flowered bushes a minute later, it is as if the temperature drops a few degrees.

Today going outside is like walking into a furnace. Hot winds are blowing from the desert, whipping up the palm leaves and swirling sand flurries across the road where the high-rises create wind tunnels. This, we are told, is a heat wave, but in summer it will be even hotter. Luckily it is possible, and, we are assured, necessary, to go from air-conditioned flat to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned office and on to air-conditioned shopping mall. Another reason why shopping centres are so popular, for promenading, drinking coffee and hanging out.

14 March 2004

Desert Driving: Across the Country to the East Coast

Our first trip out of town took us to Al Fujairah on the East Coast

The drive took us through the desert and the mountains of the UAE. We didn't know what to expect, so we loaded the car with bottles of water and some snacks, in case we broke down in the middle of an empty bit. As it turned out the roads are very good and there are small settlements with fruit stalls and other shops all along the way.


The first part of the journey took us through a desert area with rose coloured sand and a stretch of land that had perfect roads with signs and markings all laid out ready for housing to be built there. We stopped at a row of stalls to haggle for some mangoes and bananas and then drove on to the coast.


Suddenly we were surrounded by quite high mountains, cut through with creek beds and speckled with small farms and palm plantations. The land everywhere was nearly as barren as we had expected, there were always at least some shrub and small trees. We also saw wild camels and goats foraging along the road. They seem to run quite free here. Once Fiver saw a man chasing a white goat across the forecourt of a cafe where it had been looking for leftovers.

We took lunch at the Meridian Al Aqah near Dibba on the East Coast. Fiver went for a swim in the Indian Ocean, while Peter and Stuart lounged with a cup of tea under an umbrella like the proper English gentlemen they are. The Meridien is a perfect place for a weekend of destressing, totally remote with a lovely stretch of beach and a diving school on site. We are already planning to go back.


13 March 2004

Bloggers in Action

Working or not on Friday

We made it to the first weekend! It will take some getting used to the working week being Sunday to Thursday. This is the norm for 'western facing' companies. All the others, and government departments, have a Saturday to Wednesday week.

However, Fiver went to her workplace for a time today. She has struggled to find a place to work as she needs broadband Internet access. The solution is a local cafe which offers free Wi-Fi access. As long as you buy the odd cup of tea they are happy to let you sit there all day.


Fiver went to work since Stuart did; there was a board meeting of the DIFX (Dubai International Financial Exchange) which was held, unusually, on a Friday, that he had to attend. Once it had finished he had to unwind, as can be seen in the photo below. The other reason Stuart felt the need to chill was that he had left his wallet in the cab and spent the morning cancelling credit cards, finishing just i time for the driver to return the wallet. One-nil for the helpful locals again!


12 March 2004

Local Newspapers

We were apprehensive when we first arrived as to what quality the local news media would be. We need not have been.

First we thought we'd get a subscription to the Guardian or Independent, to keep up with European and UK news, but then we discovered Gulf News (we also tried the Khaleej Times, but were put off by its Daily Mirror-style reporting, a bit too sensationalist for our sensibilities). Gulf News is a UAE daily that has an amazing coverage of World News as well as really good local items. It has a definite Middle East perspective, which means more detailed stories about Israel's, Iraq's and Iran's political situation, with little of the knee-jerk reactions the Western newspapers often display. It's good to get a more varied view on these issues.

There is a varied section of opinion and analysis regarding Arab politics and the - sometimes - clash with the West, which often includes pieces bought in from UK and US newspapers.

A few pages every day cover Indian, Pakistani and Filipino issues due to the large ex-pat population from those areas of the World. It definitely makes us feel that we are in another part of the World, where Europe and the US are not the be-all and end-all. Gulf News also has a lovely parochial feel with articles on how to avoid overheating if the temperatures go beyond 40C (which they expect next week) and arguments on the letter page regarding a dangerous dog at the local dog show. We can also get a good feel for local concerns, with traffic chaos (because of the fast expansion of Dubai) and rights for labourers (who are sometimes deprived of wages while dependent on their employers for their work visas) being covered almost every day. Oh, and a Daily Dilbert!

Vegas without the Gambling...

...one of the guide books described Dubai in this way, and last night we really felt we were in Vegas.

We were taken to dinner at the Mina a' Salam , a resort hotel on the coast, just down from the Burj al Arab (billed as the only 7-start hotel in the World in the brochures). The strangeness of the place was only matched by the indoor Canale Grande at the Venetian in the real Vegas.


Dubai seems to lack any historical architecture, since there wasn't much here apart from a small trade port before oil was discovered, so one of the few genuine local architectural features are the wind towers, early air conditioning devices that funnel cold air into a building and hot air out. Those towers were originally two or three stories high. The lit towers you see in the picture below topping the building are replicas of this style. The Mina a' Salam also features an artificial harbour and fake abbras (the local water taxis).


This was the first time we were at the beach, since most of the sea-front in Dubai is private, belonging to the resort hotels. We sat outside for dinner, with the sound of surf behind us (although Stuart maintained that it was probably a wave machine - it's easy to assume everything is fake here after a while) and the Burj lightshow in front of us. The were carpets rolled out on the sand with cushions and low seats under canopies... very Lawrence of Arabia, although, Fiver suspects, not at all like in real life.


11 March 2004

View from Stuart's Office Window

Stuart finally gets a corner office!

DIFX has grown rapidly over the last few months and there is very little space available. The company is moving to large premises in a few weeks but for now Stuart has been given a small office which is little larger than the average stationary cupboard. However, the small size is made up by the view. Here is a photo from his desk. The building site in the foreground is the Gate Building, which is going to be the headquarters of the Dubai International Financial Centre with DIFX as a prime tenant. All the land you can see behind will become the financial centre of the Middle East. DSCF0274-2004-03-11-10-46.jpg

Sheik Zayed Road

Sheik Zayed Road The View from our Guestroom Window We have taken a flat very close to Stuart's new office and we move in next week. The living room faces towards the Gate Building where Stuart will be working and the bedrooms face along Sheikh Zayed Road. This road was built as the main road out of town towards Abu Dhabi before all these buildings were thought of. We therefore have the strange situation of having the main street of this part of town being an 8 lane highway with only one small underpass connecting the two sides! DSCF0277-2004-03-11-10-46.jpg

10 March 2004

Housing and Cars

Where we buy a car and get to see our flat again - man, it's big!

Last night was another hectic evening (they all are at the moment, luckily the town wakes up again after 6pm and keeps going till late), where Stuart dashed off to sign a contract for a lovely racing green Range Rover, which is apparently a great deal, and Fiver spent the evening with a curtain man to choose material. Some may think this is typical division of labour round here, whereas Fiver believes in making sure the home where she spends all her working hours is looking good. Luckily the curtain man works till 10pm, so there was plenty of time to go through piles and piles of samples.
We got to have another look at the flat, too, to remind us how totally stunning it is. The view is something else, and all the rooms are so ...well, roomy with the floor to ceiling windows, that we didn't want to leave. livingroom-2004-03-10-10-46.jpg This is the living room, all 7m glory of it. The fabric for the curtain will cover a small town in the UK, I expect ;-)

We DO get Weather!

Fog over Sheik Zayed Rd         The weather so far is a whole other thing from the kind we are used to. Temperatures change by 10C from day to day, even if that just means dropping from 32 to 22C as happened from yesterday to today. There are clouds, too, so the sky is not blue all the time, more a sort of milky pale colour. Last night the humidity was so bad that we had condensation on the outside of the windows, washing off the sandy desert grime. This morning fog again, but it burns off really quickly. (the picture that was here before can't be used anymore. When we get something of our own that shows local weather, I'll post it here) 040704fogfromCapricorn-6585-2004-03-10-10-46.jpg

09 March 2004

Luxury of the day #1

The pudding dragon
As we are staying in an hotel, and we are are not yet organised, we are eating in one of the hotel dining rooms a great deal. Food here is just amazing, with the freshest salads and sea foods possible and puddings to die for. Sadly, this chocolate dragon (part of the desert buffet at the hotel) was not available to us. ;-( Image%2824%29-2004-03-9-10-46.jpg

06 March 2004

We finally arrived

The trip from hell in fog and night
It only took us 24 hours to get here from Düsseldorf! The flight was 3 hours late leaving (due to fog in Dubai we were told - we did not think there ever was fog in Dubai but it is actually quite common in March!).
The flight went well until we were 100km from the airport. We circled for a while but finally were diverted to Doha in Qatar. We stayed on the plane for 5 hours before being let into the terminal where we managed a fitful sleep.
Once we landed in Dubai (about the same time as a dozen other flights) Stuart had a long wait at immigration as he had to have his iris scanned for future visits. We made it to the hotel 24 hours after leaving Fiver's mother's flat in Germany. We are now staying in a serviced apartment in the Shangri-La hotel - a few hundred yards from Stuart's office.
Photo is from plane in Qatar - a view we came to loathe! Image%2814%29-2004-03-6-10-46.jpg