Monday, June 25, 2007

The Liquid/Laptop Interface, and Other Stories

The last couple of days have not been the most wonderful. This morning, for the first time in my life, I managed to spill a few good slurps of hot tea onto my laptop keyboard. Suppress your mortification, it's not dead, only wounded. I can switch it on, but the keyboard just types any old drivel (not unlike me then), and the steering of the mouse is wildly erratic. Tomorrow I shall purchase a miniscule screwdriver and invalidate my warranty. Can't hardly wait.

Yesterday morning was blighted by a phone call from a Pakistani gentleman who said he wanted to buy our telly, as advertised on a posterette at Jebel Ali Choithram's. 'What brand is it?' He asked.
'I don't know - it's just some Chinese junk.'
'How much is it?'
'What it says on the poster.'
'It's too much.'
'OK, bye.'
'No wait. What else you selling?' Like a moron I told him. He insisted that I leave work and meet him at my apartment an hour later. He'd said he wanted stuff because his wife and daughter were arriving in Dubai tomorrow. Yeah, right. He was a dealer and he was interested in every appliance in the place. It was almost impossible to get rid of him. So, he's buying/bought: the fridge and cooker; the TV; the satellite decoder (won't work in Europe); the surround sound system (won't work anywhere); an old mobile phone; a broken bed and an exercise bike (crikey where did that come from!). I'm too ashamed to tell you how little I've let him have all this stuff for.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

ImbeSalik - I Dare You To Give a Better Option

The once challenging and brave Emirats Toady would have derided the new road toll scheme with the venom it deserves. But since its new management team took over about a year ago, it is desperate to put a positive gloss on the entire fiasco. That is a really hard thing to do, and Assistant Editor Hakam Kherallah shoots himself in the foot trying to do it. He says, basically, all you whingers out there, suggest a better alternative. If this guy was genuous, he would know that every single critic of imbeSalik has already done so. The alternative is: wait until the Metro is up and running, and the RTA have figured out how to run a useable bus service. That's all. Once these things are in place I doubt you would hear much protest against the toll scheme. But to introduce imbeSalik at a time when the viable transport alternatives are ABSOLUTELY ZERO just tells me that the RTA either has no clue about what it is doing, or it does have a clue and does not care one iota about the expense, pain, frustration and chaos that this scheme is going to cause. I suspect the latter is true.

If the aim of this insane project is simply to raise money for the RTA then I don't think most people would object to a serious rise in vehicle registration costs. But they insist on presenting this as a way of reducing congestion. I'm sorry. The way this scheme is designed will only shift congestion onto other roads that are completely unable to cope with it. RTA chief Mattar Al Tayer insults his customers by saying we are not traffic experts. I happen to know several critics of the scheme who are traffic experts, and I think the rest of us have a pretty good idea of how things work simply because we use the roads every day.

If it looks like a dog, smells like a dog, it's probably a dog.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

It's Really Happening!

Yes, folks, it's true. All of our talk over the last few years about us leaving this miracle of unsustainable wonderfulness in July 2007 is true. I mean, it's always been true. But a week ago I actually got in touch with a couple of removals companies, and two days ago I awarded one of them the job. Within two hours they dropped off a load of cartons, which BetterArf is dutifully filling with books (I would help but a) I don't think we should take all of these books, and b) I'm busy writing my own book). We have thousands of books and CDs and DVDs, and that is mostly what we are taking with us.

We plan to sell most of our furniture. I think it's a shame that IKEA has not introduced a library service whereby you deposit the furniture that you bought from them at your local store, and they give you a voucher. And when you get to where you're going you present the voucher and can withdraw more or less the same furniture that you had deposited in Dubai. IKEA is being slammed a bit for its apparent lack of greenness - I think this would be a really good thing for them to do. But hey.

We actually put some unwanted, unsellable stuff outside our building this morning: 4 steel-framed rattan chairs whose rattan has gone to ratshit, a sofa-bed and two cushions. When we headed out the door for a luncheon engagement, the chairs were gone, and when we returned from our extremely long lunch, the cushions were gone, but the sofa-bed remained.

A bit like Tony Blair, we are now engaged on a succession of farewell do's. We had one this afternoon. An extended South African Christmas Lunch, hosted by the biscuit-dropper John. Marvellous, it was. We had roast lamb that he got from a farmer/butcher friend in SA. Two days ago this lamb had been trotting around a field where the grass was interspersed with rosemary and other herbs. Dee-licious! The concluding biscuits were served on a high-lipped tray.

I have to say, I am really looking forward to a complete change of lifestyle. It's already starting to happen. I have virtually finished all of the work that I have to do for my lovely clients. I am not taking on any new work until I get settled in Spain. But really, I plan to focus on Web 2.0 projects (or as the Spanish would say 'red dos punto cero') of my own, and writing outrageous novels. The current novel is storming along - 45,000 words so far, all of them good.

Moving house is supposed to be one of the most stressful of life's little events, but I'm not feeling it yet. Quite the opposite, in fact, this feels like a release!

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Friday, June 15, 2007

The Omars

The what? I hear you all ask. 'The Omars' is Dubai Drama Group's version of the Oscars, in which awards are given for Best This, Best That and Best T'other. It's a tradition, or an old charter, or something.

The first Omars were held about 10 or 11 years ago, and every year thereafter until the group got sick 3-4 years ago. Now in its resurgent splendour (which has happened largely due to us being able to use DUCTAC rather than previous wildly unsuitable venues), the DDG is back, big time. We fully expect TV coverage from CNN and BBC World for tonight's ticket-only, sold-out, secret-location event.

The dress code is 'look divine'. BetterArf, therefore, is going as herself, a Goddess. And I may be going dressed in elegant swathes of exotic cloth รก la Muammar Gaddafi because the Tux rental shop on Diyafah Street, Satwa, has disappeared without trace. Grr.

Anyway, Keefieboy is looking forward to a terrific evening of fun and silliness. And the resurgence of the DDG is one of the things that we will definitely be missing about Dubai as we pack up our troubles in the old 20-foot-container bag.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Salik Day Approaches

Much has been written in the press and in the blogs (Grumpy Goat, Half Man Half Beer, Secret Dubai) about the impending launch (and hopefully rapid sinking) of 'Salik', the imbecilic road toll scheme that is due to start operating near Garhoud Bridge and Mall of the Emirates on July 1st. There have been public spats between the Police and the RTA about it. Gulf News in the last few days has reported the unanimously unfavourable opinions of many Dubai residents. In the keep-your-head-down-and-don't-rock-the-boat culture of Dubai, this is not far from open rebellion.

I enjoyed this comment:

Salah Bu Farousha, Traffic Public Prosecutor, said he supports Salik, but has reservations.
"It is a trial and we should not make premature conclusions. If people do not cooperate, it will be a problem. I am sure RTA has approved this project after thorough studies. Recently traffic police were asked if they are ready in case of traffic congestions and they said yes they are ready," he said.

Do I detect a note of irony in the above? And this is the first time I've heard the scheme described as a trial. Nice one Salah - hopefully the RTA will adopt this terminology so they won't be too embarrassed when either Sheikh Mohammed or the sheer unworkability of Salik forces them to postpone the damn thing.

Not wishing to gloat or anything, but I will be out of Dubai about a week after the chaos mayhem bedlam scheme starts. But I do feel that every word of justification uttered by the TRA on this subject is disingenuous tosh. The object of this scheme is nothing more or less than to extract more money from drivers. If it were otherwise then the scheme would only operate at peak times, rather than the proposed 24 hours a day. There are zero viable transport alternatives available. Having recently tried to use the 8A bus 'service' from the Gardens to Media City, I have found the timetabling to be a cynical work of fiction. If you use a taxi, you'll have to pay the toll. The Metro is still two years away.

The saddest thing about this disaster-in-the-making is the blinkered attitude of RTA management. It will cause much more congestion at peak time as thousands upon thousands of cars try to get off SZR before going under a toll gantry. Once you've passed the toll gate, you will be able to hurtle along at 120 kph. But before you get to that you will be stuck in the queue of people trying to get off the road because they do not want to pay the toll - at Mall of the Emirates this will mean SEVEN lanes of traffic trying to organise itself into TWO lanes for the last free exit. There will be chaos like you've never seen before - and we've all seen some chaos on Dubai's roads. Many roads in Bur Dubai which are already overloaded, will grind to a complete halt. Al Wasl Road, Jumeirah Road and Al Sufouh Road will all be jammed solid. Emirates Road and Al Khail Road are already over capacity.

And yet the TRA will claim a great success because the stretches of road immediately before and after the toll gates will show a huge reduction in traffic.

If this is indeed about money, why not slap a few hundred dirhams on the annual vehicle registration fee? I don't think people actually mind paying a bit of money extra if they know it helps to improve the infrastructure. But to have to pay extra money to join a scheme that is ABSOLUTELY GUARANTEED TO INCREASE CONGESTION is madness, pure and simple.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

You Know You've Been in Dubai Too Long When...

...the Government announces another amnesty for illegal residents. This is the third amnesty during our time here. They seem to be happening about every five years. There are two reasons for people being here illegally

1) They entered the country without any kind of visa, in which case they deserve everything they get, and

2) They had some kind of visa, but it expired and, for whatever reason, they did not leave.

We know lots of people who were caught in situation 2. The policy has always been that once your visa has expired, you are liable to a fine of Dhs 100 per day of your overstay. This very quickly builds up into a fine that nobody in this situation can pay. For example, say you had a job, but you were dismissed or the company closed down. Your residence visa gets cancelled. You have 30 days in which to leave the country. But you have bankrupted yourself to get here and you really do not want to leave just now. So you bust your guts trying to find a job. You have some good interviews and a couple of verbal offers. But you have to wait for those offers to turn into written offers.

This will always take time because the owner of the company or whoever is responsible is too busy/out of the country/too lazy. Your deadline comes and goes. You are taking a flyer, but you feel it is justified because very soon you will have a job offer, and that will turn into a job, and everything will be fine. Except, when the person responsible for making your written offer finally gets down to it, he decides he doesn't want you at salary xx,xxx per month, he's giving the job to the tea-boy at xxx per month. Now you are trapped. You have virtually no money, and you are already on day 15 of your overstay. You now have no choice but to hang on until you do get a job.

You (well maybe not you, but I) hear all kinds of stories about people who have surrendered themselves to the authorities. Of people (typically Asians) who are fined the full Dhs 100 per day for their entire overstay period, and are accommodated at HH's pleasure until they deign to pay the amount. Which of course they do not have, an so they languish in jail until somebody pays their fine or they get pardoned as part of a Ramadan clean-out. And others (typically westerners, but I'm not saying there's any racial bias here) who just get fined an admin fee and are able to sort themselves out for about Dhs 1,000.

I know of one Brit who had overstayed for about 15 years. He took advantage of the last amnesty, and the Immigration officials all wanted signed copies of his documents because they had never seen such an extreme case!

The daily fine policy has exactly the opposite effect to what it should have. You very quickly reach a point of no return, not out of malice, and not deliberately; but very quickly you find yourslef so deep in the mire that you cannot even dream about how you might get out of it. It forces people not to come forward and try to get their status sorted out. It discourages employers from hiring people with an overstay problem. It actually causes many more problems than it solves. And it makes it necessary to hold an amnesty every five years.

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