Thursday, November 30, 2006

Your Maintenance Charge Is Due

One of the Dubai developers (which will remain nameless) has actually completed several large developments and allowed the 'buyers' to move in (for reasons which escape me). The 'buyers' are more like permanent lessees, rather like the US and the UK were to Panamá and Hong Kong, until they broke their leases, thereby enfuriating their Panamanian and Chinese landlords.

The buyers have to pay the developer a substantial sum each year for 'maintenance charges,' partly to cover the common expenses of each development, and partly to make it clear that they are really lessees, not buyers. This particular developer sent out a notice that the annual maintenance charge (for 2005, but they didn't say that) was due in late 2005, and many owners raced to pay their 2006 maintenance charges. A notice demanding payment of the 2006 maintenance charges went out in summer 2006. Worried owners asked, 'Didn't we already pay our maintenance charges?' The answer, 'We sent the notices out to everybody, whether they had paid or not.' Then, in October, they sent out notices and SMS messages saying, 'Please pay your maintenance charges before 1 December and win a prize.' So owners thought there was going to be a bonus for paying 2007 maintenance charges early. No, this was another request for 2006 maintenance charges. Owners, whether they paid the 2007 maintenance charges (hoping to win the prize) or not, will all get a notice to pay early in 2007, and another notice in Summer 2007, and yet another notice to please pay the annual (2007) maintenance charges late in 2007.

So why, one might ask, don't they just dun the deadbeats who haven't paid? Their answer, 'It's easier to dun everybody.'

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Another Investment Opportunity

Abu Said only speaks Arabic, but he had a friend translate. He is a realtor who knows of several properties for sale, and he also knows people who want to buy them. One would think that he would act as go-between and pocket the 2% commission. But he's much nicer than that.

If we will just put down a 10% deposit on the properties, he will then put us in touch with the people who want to buy them, and we can sell for 10% more than our purchase price. Since we only put 10% down, that will be a 100% profit.

So why, some of us cynics ask, is Abu Said doing this?

Well, (I think the translator translated), this way he gets two commissions, one from us, and one from the second buyer. And besides, he's a friend, and he wants to help us make money.

Personally, I think, rather than a villa, I'll just take the Garhoud Bridge. The Dubai Municipality is putting up toll booths, so it should be a good source of revenue for the buyer.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

DFM, again

The Dubai Financial Market continues to make new lows, almost every day. New lows made the front page of the local papers at first, but now new lows aren’t even news.

The fall seems inexorable.

A few weeks ago, the local newspapers reported (after the market had fallen more than 60%) that the government had been propping it up, but had been ordered to cease. Apparently, the newspapers were reporting accurately. The fall of only 60% seems to have been the result of government intervention, and, now that it’s gone, a mere 60% seems like a small fraction of the amount by which the market will drop.

At current prices, the return is good, price to book is good, price to earnings are good, but everyone wants to sell, not buy.

And the bottom is nowhere in sight.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Anniversary for Cyclone The Club

“The Club changed Dubai’s history on 15th December 1994, becoming a pioneer of independent night clubs in the UAE, with a chain present worldwide, including USA, Europe, South East Asia and the Far East.”

The Cyclone has posters up saying that it will be having a big anniversary party on 15th December with “free” food before midnight. I say “free” because the cover will be around £12. They have also put out brochures giving the history quoted above.

I decided to see if Google could locate any of the other Cyclones, but “Cyclone The Club” only returned two, one in Dubai and one in Mumbai. “Cyclone” turned up a lot of establishments in Iowa, where a popular sports team is called The Cyclones, and many of their fan clubs call themselves Cyclone. But I didn’t see anything like the Dubai Cyclone anywhere else.

For which the rest of the world is probably grateful.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

No More Illegal Activities at The Cyclone

From 12 noon until 7 p.m., the Cyclone is usually deserted, or almost so. It is quiet, and is a cheap place to watch sports on the paid channels.

I was at the Cyclone several years ago, and it remained deserted and quiet until 9 p.m. At that time, there was a cover of about €20 starting at 7 p.m., but happy hour on drinks continued until 9 p.m. Now the happy hour ends at 7 p.m., and prices triple on tipples.

As I left (at 7:01 p.m.) several young ladies were arriving (one offered me a ‘massage’).

On my way out, the security guard (who knows me well) said hello, and we got to talking. He assured me that there is no prostitution allowed at the Cyclone. It is heavily patrolled by the CID. Men and women have separate entrances, and, if an unmarried man and woman try to leave together, one or both will be arrested. He showed me where the CID patrol sets up its observation post around 9 p.m.

So I wonder why all the young women pay €10 to get in, or what would have happened if I’d accepted the masseuse’s offer?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Getting to America

Fahad and Jabbar are best friend. They met in a mosque in Connecticut. Fadad, a Sunni, never discusses religion, and didn't know Jabbar was a Shiite, he just knew he wanted him to come to the UAE for a visit.

Fahad wasn't sure how to get Jabbar here, so he asked Farook, who promised to take care of everything. Farook told Fahad that the fees for a visa were €400, which Fahad paid. Farook then issued a visit visa from his own company, which is illegal, since Jabbar wasn't coming for a job interview. Farook warned them that the visa was only good for 60 days. After 50 days, they gave the visa (and another €100) to Farook who got them a 30 day extension. So, 86 days after Farook handed them the visa, Jabbar tried to return to the US. He was pulled out of line by the immigration officials. Fahad was worried, but no one would tell him what was happening. Frantic, Fahad remained at the airport for three hours, asking what had happened to Jabbar, to no avail.

The next day, Jabbar called from the US to say that the visa had, in fact, expired, and he'd been fined about €60. Once he paid the fine, they let him go to the boarding area. It had only taken a few minutes.

For some reason, Farook had kept the visa for a week before giving it to Fahad, and neither Fahad nor Jabbar had actually looked at the expiration date on the visa.

But at least they had a very nice visit for 86 days.

Gitex 2006

The local newspapers claim that Gitex is the third largest exhibition of its kind (whatever kind that is) in the world. I try to go every year, and every year I’m amazed by something.

This year it’s colour laser printers—the price of colour laser printers, for the last year, has followed the Dubai Financial Market—straight down.

Colour laser printers were about $1,000 at last year’s Gitex. This year, they are about $300. I tried to ask about cost per page for the cheaper lasers, but no one at Gitex seemed to have an answer. So maybe they're giving away the printers to sell the cartridges, like they've been doing with ink-jet printers.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Dubai: The US's Iranian Connection

On the front of today's New York Times is an article that that Dubai is the new location of a special office of the US State Department to keep an eye on Iran.

Trying to get to the US

Today, I had been working with Fahad and Jabbar. Jabbar had a flight from Dubai to the US at 3:00 a.m. this morning. We worked until 12:30 a.m., skipping supper, then raced to the airport to make the 1:00 a.m. closing of the flight. We followed Jabbar to the sign that said, in Arabic and English, ‘Passengers ONLY Beyond This Point!!!!!’ Fahad is from Saudi Arabia, and, coming from an oral culture, doesn’t read (he can, he just doesn't). He’d told me to follow him, no matter what, so I did.

The security guard asked to see our tickets. Fahad, dressed in dishdash, explained in Arabic that we all had e-tickets, would pick them up at the counter, and were in a big hurry. The security guard asked to see our passports. Jabbar produced his, but Fahad and I had a bit of a problem, since we were only there to see Jabbar off. More shouting in Arabic. The security guard explained, in perfect English, that I had to leave, so I tried to leave, but we had come through an entrance-only opening. I was stuck for five minutes before Fahad got ejected and showed me the secret exit.

Then Fahad went up to an official-looking dishdash, handed him the local equivalent of €4, and was handed €2 back. I thought this was baksheesh. I was wrong. Fahad said he was sorry, but the dishdash had said they could sell Fahad an escort ticket, but not me, so Fahad asked me to wait in the airport lounge. Fahad said every UAE Citizen could tell at a glance that Fahad was a Saudi Citizen, and would discriminate just as if he were an ordinary ex-pat, in spite of the GCC agreements, so nothing Fahad could say would get me into the ‘Passengers Only’ part of the airport. I went to the lounge, and Fahad walked back through the ‘Passengers Only’ door.

At 3:00 a.m., Fahad called to tell me that some officials had taken Jabbar out of the line into a special room. This had happened shortly after 1:00 a.m., and Fahad had tried everything to get Jabbar on the plane, but to no avail. No explanation, no idea if Jabbar had been released to the gate (where Fahad couldn't go, even with an escort pass). I stayed in the lounge.

Finally, Fahad was asked to leave, so he called me and told me to met me at the airport exit. Still no idea if Jabbar had made it out of Dubai, but nothing more we could do.

So Fahad drove me to a late supper, then home.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Carbon Dating in Dubai

(Carbon Dating is about the only kind of dating that is legal in Dubai. I refer, in this case, to dating bi-pedal carbon-based life forms.)

On November 2, 'GrapeShisha' posted a link to 'Dubai Dating Chronicles', the Chronicles of a man who seems to have the problem of women wanting nothing but physical gratification, no scintillating conversations, no romance, just straight to the chase.

I'm afraid this sounds like the problem of Cricket as perceived by an American: if, in cricket, the ball goes over the boundary, the batter scores the cricket equivalent of a 'home run' without having to first get to any of the bases.

I once had a roommate who was 185 cm tall who used to have that complaint. He had more than 100 women a year demand service, and he tried to oblige, but he said he hated only being wanted for his body, he wanted a woman who would love him for his mind.

Strange, but true. Not that I believed my roommate when he said he hated it, but he really did say it.

And Haroun of 'Dubai Dating Chronicles' seems to feel the same way as my former roommate, to judge from his blog.

Meanwhile, there’s another view of Dubai Dating from the distaff perspective, called 'Single in Dubai' (actually, that’s my euphemism for the blog, just to be safe), with Layala and Noora.

And, to make things even more interesting, Haroun and Layala got together and both wrote about it, separately.

I, at least, found it interesting to read about one date from both points of view.

(I'd seen it done before in fiction, but never in real life, and in fiction, one of the gender's perspectives is necessarily written by a member of the other gender.)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Creatures of the Night

The high point of my career was when I was required to appear before a UN tribunal trying to adjudicate water rights. Before modern commercial farming, back in the 19th century, a river ran through three arid countries that all used its water to irrigate their crops. By the late 20th century, the upstream nation was using all the water. The middle nation wanted the UN to order the upstream nation to release at least 2/3 of the water. Then it planned to take the entire 2/3. (No point in sending water to its useless downstream neighbour.)

My job was very important. I was something between a gentleman’s gentleman and a personal secretary for the middle nation’s expert witness, one of the world’s leading hydro-geologists, and handed him his notes as he gave his testimony before the UN tribunal.

Where I come from, people breakfast between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., and dine between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Where the UN tribunal met to hear the case, as I ate breakfast with my boss, I saw people having a full dinner (with wine) at 7 a.m., and realized that, in large cities that operate 24/7, there are people whose days and nights are the reverse of mine, so they normally eat dinner while I am having breakfast, and breakfast while I am having dinner. At the time, I was glad I wasn’t one of them.

But now I am.

I am working with some Arabs who are creatures of the night (as Bela Lugosi would have said). They prefer to start work after the sunset prayers, take a short break for the isha prayers, and finish at 4 a.m. in time for the dawn prayers.

So now I get home around the same time as the young ladies who also live in my apartment building, and who are also creatures of the night.

I’m not sure about Mr. Lugosi himself, but I’m sure his character would have been pleased.

How to get from Dubai to Sharjah without Driving

A few years ago, I travelled regularly to Sharjah to visit Ron. There was always a bus (or a line of busses) waiting for travellers at four places in Dubai that I knew of, and the cost was about €1.

Now, the Sharjah terminals for the legal inter-Emirates bus service generally have long queues of passengers waiting for a bus, which is conspicuous by its absence. This leaves three legal alternatives:

  1. Wait for two hours.

  2. Pay at least €10 for a taxi.

  3. Decide that the trip to Sharjah isn't really necessary.

There is, of course, one more alternative readily available from at least one of the terminals: The price is the same as the legal inter-Emirates bus, but the vehicle is far less comfortable, the driving is reminiscent of a ride on a switchback, and there is always the other danger of being pulled over by the constabulary. But if you gotta go, and you don't have €10, what else can you do?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Kids’ Section in the Local Newspaper

One of the local newspapers has a supplement for children every Saturday, and I always try to solve the puzzles. I’m having a lot of trouble solving the one that came out last Saturday.

Along the top of the page are the capitals Tokyo, Damascus, Paris, and Delhi.
Along the bottom of the page are outlines of Syria, India, France, and Australia.
The instructions say to match the capitals with the countries. I haven’t been able to solve it yet, but I’m still working on it.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Strings of Lights

Wandering around, I noticed that Dubai is starting to put up Christmas Winter Shopping lights. The ones I saw were of four-leaf clovers (in various colours).

Last year, they started putting up the lights just before Christmas, but then took them all down after the tragic, unexpected death of Sheikh Maktoum. Previous years, they waited until after Christmas before putting up the lights, just to be on the safe side.

The dates for the Winter Shopping Festival keep moving with the Islamic Calendar, so it won’t overlap Ramadan. My first year in Dubai, it was in March, then Jan/Feb, and now Dec/Jan, so Europeans can be encouraged to do their Christmas Shopping in Dubai.

The malls have put out Christmas decorations, both the ‘Winter Seasonal Decorations,’ now encouraged in the US, and Christian reminders of Christmas, the ones that always provoke lawsuits in the US.

I can remember when the custom was to start the Christmas season in Advent, which falls in late November, and many people saying that it was bad taste for retailers to put out Christmas items earlier. In Dubai, at least they had the decency to wait until after Halloween.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Shopping via Taxi

Near my flat is a car park. When I first moved in, it was never completely full. Then it became always full, from 9 a.m. until about 10 p.m., with lots more cars prowling for a space.

Now it’s half empty, thanks to the fact that Dubai put up the orange parking ticket dispensers, the notice that they were now required by people parking in the lot, and the availability of a free, sand lot nearby.

Today, parked in the lot, I saw a taxi from Sharjah. At first, it seemed empty, but then I saw the driver sleeping. The meter was running. Apparently a rich shopper had taken the taxi to Dubai and told the driver to wait (and, contrary to popular opinion, the meters charge for time as well as distance).

The meter read (in local currency, of course) about £10. I keep forgetting that, to most Europeans, £10 is a trivial amount of money. Here it could feed a labourer for a month. Assuming, of course, the labourer’s employer is foolish enough to actually pay him.

Dubai Taxi Stands

There is a taxi stand near my flat. When I first moved into my flat, from about 9 a.m. until midnight there was always a long line of taxis waiting for passengers, sometimes for quite a long time. To avoid having to wait, many taxis would drive the side streets next to my flat so I wouldn’t even have to walk to the taxi stand.

Now I seldom see any taxis driving next to my flat, so I have to walk all the way to the taxi stand. And by ‘taxi stand’ is meant that there are always people standing there, waiting for taxis, sometimes for quite a long time.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Arabian Aircraft and Stock Markets

The last time I was at the Ibn Battuta Mall, they had an exhibit showing that an Arab invented the first aircraft capable of vertical flight. It was more than a thousand years before the first Western aircraft capable of vertical take-off and landing.

And the Arabian aircraft managed a perfect vertical takeoff and landing: it went straight down from the top of the hill where it was launched in a vertical line.

Being a very intelligent man, the inventor had selected a rather small hill for his maiden flight. Which turned out to be his only flight, since, though the pilot escaped serious injury, the aircraft was damaged beyond repair.

So it is with the flight of the Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Saudi stock markets: straight down.

So I guess the wives of investors will need to buy their husbands the large, economy sized bottles of Cialis if they want them to have any chance of performing their marital duties.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

SorryDubai's 'Foreign Harlots'

Once, there was a blog called SorryDubai, now extinct (the current blog of that name has no relation to the original).

One of his posts was a somewhat hyperbolic complaint about the tendency of most of the people in Dubai to classify as prostitutes all women who do not wear abayas, headscarves, and veils.

Farook is one of the people SorryDubai was writing about.

Farook said that he would gladly wager €2,000: Ten men could approach his wife and ask her anything--directions, the time, etc.--and she would refuse to answer or he would pay €200 every time she said anything at all to any of the men. He emphatically stated that any woman who did not dress and behave like his wife was acting like a prostitute.

I just listened quietly. I know differently, but there's no point trying to reason with Farook.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Camera Obscura

As a confirmed pedestrian, I don’t really pay attention to the radar cameras posted all along the highways of the UAE, so this report is from a driver I know, and I’m just reporting what I heard.

He said that the cameras in Dubai take a photo of the front of the vehicle, allowing the authorities to identify the driver and also to see who is in the front passenger seat.

But, he said, the cameras in all the other Emirates only take a photo of the backside of the car.

This is due to the culture of the Emirates, which forbids taking a photo of a woman’s face.

Especially if she is sitting next to a high-ranking but un-related person of the male persuasion.

Friday, November 03, 2006


What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She's perfectly well and she hasn't a pain,
And it's lovely rice pudding for dinner again!
--A. A. Milne

I was invited to dinner, and was exposed to an unfamiliar version of a very familiar dish.

According to Wikipedia, rice pudding is found throughout the world, usually sweet and served for dessert.

I got the version from Saudi Arabia, called sereeq, which is savory and served as a main course. It was presented in a large bowl with chicken artistically arranged on top.

So another, rather different version, of chicken and rice.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The DFM after Eid

During the summer months, many investors left Dubai, so the market stagnated and sank.

During Ramadan, many Muslims turned their thoughts to matters more important than investments, so the market stagnated and sank.

But after Eid, investors were expected to swarm back into the UAE markets and end the decline.

And indeed, after Eid, investors did swarm back into the markets. And sold heavily.

The decline has been severe enough to make the front section of the local papers, which explain that investors are selling their stocks to raise money for some upcoming IPOs.