Monday, July 31, 2006

Mid-Day Break in the UAE

The newspapers have reported that some companies have been violating the mid-day break rule, but, at least where I live, it is honoured.

Work starts promptly at 6:00 a.m., right outside my window, and continues until 12:30 p.m., when it stops for the mid-day break. I haven't seen a single violation at this site.

The company had the workers build themselves a wooden covering, which provides most of the workers with shade; a few more sleep inside the garage of a nearby building.

All are able to rest out of the sun, though they do not have any air conditioning, and the temperature is sweltering, even in the shade (but is much more endurable than in the direct sun). The workers are resting on cardboard from containers that held the building materials.

When I first arrived in the UAE, workers were hauled around in the beds of pick-up trucks, usually with cages over the beds to keep the workers inside, and outdoor workers had to work through the hottest part of the summer days.

The Ruler of Dubai put a stop to transporting workers in trucks, and the Ruler of the UAE ordered a stop to workers slaving away during the hottest part of the day.

Whether this was for the benefit of the workers, or for the benefit of the more sensitive Western tourists isn’t clear, but the new rules benefit both.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Dubai Main Post Office

When I first arrived in the UAE, I was told to have all mail sent to my employer. Like most Westerners, I had been accustomed to having mail delivered to my home, but it was convenient (if somewhat lacking in privacy) to have all mail delivered to my place of work. I was fortunate to have a job where I was only expected to work five days a week, and for those five days, I would find my mail as I passed the mailroom on my way to my desk.

That job lasted a year; then I came to Dubai. I asked a friend from my former employer to pick up my mail and hold it until I could come by and pick it up, so my mail continued to go to my former employer, and I tried to visit my friend every weekend or two.

Shortly after I arrived in Dubai, I was talking to my new supervisor, and he told me he had to go to Sharjah to pick up his mail. I asked him, ‘Why do you get your mail in Sharjah?’

He answered, ‘When I first came to the UAE, I stayed with friends in Sharjah and got my P.O. Box there, and I never bothered to change it.’

‘You drive to Sharjah every day?’

‘No. Here you only need to check your mail once a month or so.’

So I got my own P.O. Box at the main post office in Karama, sent a change of address to all the people I wanted to hear from, and now I go by once a month or so to check my mail.

Today, I went by. Construction is everywhere. What used to be the main entrance is now blocked, so I had to go to the new front, which used to be the back.

P.O. boxes must be renewed before 31 Jan, and I renewed mine on 30 Jan. Today, I found in my box the notice that they had received my renewal, in case I was worried. Since they hadn’t changed the lock, and have continued to deliver my mail, I thought they didn’t bother to inform the owner that his renewal had been accepted, but, in fact, they do inform him. In July. For a January renewal.

Still, I can go pick up my mail.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Still Falling

The Dubai Financial Market broke through the 400 level today. Since Jan 1, that's a 60% drop; though Jan 1 is a rather artificial day on which to start counting.

Since its peak of 1303, the DFM has dropped 70% to 393. Some of this is a vicious circle: several of the stocks listed on the DFM are bank stocks that invested heavily in the market, so, as the market goes down, they drag it even lower. The largest stock in the market, EMAAR, keeps dropping, as rumours fly of future problems: they have now arranged financing, so the buyer need only put 5% down and not start paying until completion. Before, they demanded 30% down. Does this mean they are running out of buyers, and are desperate to take such a small down payment, or does it mean that the recent announcement that foreign ownership is legal makes it much easier to borrow money for a construction loan, so the number of potential buyers has just greatly expanded?

Meanwhile, the DFM is one of the very few markets in the world where anyone who can get a tourist visa is allowed to fly in and invest. But, of course, who wants to fly in during the summer, when it's 45 degrees out (or 113 for American investors)? Perhaps if they allowed investors to do everything over the Web, as the US markets do?

UAE stocks seem fairly valued now, or even bargains, but, with a crash, stocks usually drop well below fair value as investors sell in panic, just as, during the boom that preceeded the crash, they rose well above fair value as investors bought in panic.

Several commenters to my postings have promised that, once summer is over, all will be well with the DFM.

May their promises prove correct.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Selling Used Cars in the UAE

I was invited by Faysel to go with him to the office of a shipping agency, located in Dubai. The conversation was in Urdu, but, apparently, he gave them permission to hand four cars over to a licensed importer. The cars had been shipped to Faysel, and could only be released to him or to his designated representative. Faysel has no license to import cars into the UAE, so he uses an importer. Hence the release.

A copy of the release in hand, we drove to Sharjah, where we met the importer. The importer required that Faysel pre-pay the import and shipping fees. Faysel was short of cash, and asked me for a loan: ‘It’s only for a couple of days. I can only withdraw $300 a day from my bank in the US, but I need to get the cars today or I’ll have to pay extra charges. Within two days, I’ll give you your money back.’

I’d seen Faysel withdraw the US$300 earlier that day, and had also seen that his account had been drawn down to zero, but a) Faysel was a friend; so b) I felt too obligated to heed what Polonius said about loans to friends.

The importer said he could use all four cars if Faysel would give him a good price, so it appeared that Faysel would have no trouble paying me back, since he said he could sell the cars for at least €12,500, perhaps more. And I could see that he had a buyer ready to take all four cars.

As it turned out, the cars were all more than 15 years old, and none of them actually ran. The importer decided, after seeing them, that he didn’t want them. Faysel took all four to a shop in Sharjah, not one of his own this time, where the cars were to be restored to running condition, repainted, and detailed so they look almost new. I was at the shop, and most of the cars needed body work, engine work, and transmission work. Just for starters.

Today, I saw an ad in the newspaper for the cars, asking €2,500 each, ONO. I called, and Faysel’s wife answered. Faysel, who is nowhere to be found, had asked her to try to sell the cars, but she told me that no one has called so far. She said Faysel has been importing cars, having them fixed up cheaply, and then selling them, for more than a year now, and, every other time, there were lots of calls and the cars sold quickly. At first she said she doesn’t understand why no one is calling this time, but then she decided it was just the summer slump, and demand would pick up as people return from vacation.

Meanwhile, she’s pregnant and desperate to leave the UAE so she can have her baby at home, but she doesn’t have any idea when (or if) that will happen.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Nasty Spam

I have two (maybe three) spam filters, but I don't really trust them. I am on several mailing lists to which I am rather attached, but the filters say, 'Oh, this e-mail was sent to lots of people: it must be spam.' So I set the filters not to delete anything before I've reviewed it.

I saw, caught by one filter, an e-mail that said, 'An e-postcard from a friend.' I get quite a few e-postcards from friends, and some of these friends send them out to everyone on their e-mail list, so I thought the spam filter was mistaken, as it so often is. Some of these e-postcards are quite amusing, and, even if it's a boring holiday greeting card, I like to respond with a note of thanks.

In short, I opened the e-mail, and my anti-virus went wild. The e-postcard was a virus. And there are some viruses that do not require that the recipient do anything really stupid, like clicking 'This program might be a virus, do you really want to run it?'

As soon as I saw what it was, I clicked 'Stop Download,' and (I'm 99% sure) I managed to stop it: a virus scan showed no infection. Some viruses are smart enough to disable anti-virus software, and some are so new that anti-virus software that hasn't recently been updated can miss them, but (I hope) my anti-virus was up to date, plus I clicked 'Stop Download' before a working form of the virus could be downloaded (I use dialup, so even the simplest programs take a long time to download).

To summarize, it is now necessary to be very careful with e-postcards. Needless to say, if the e-postcard demands that the recipient run a program, it is suicidal to run the program, but this one seemed ready to run itself.

So, again, please be careful.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

End of July Visit to Faysel

I went to visit Faysel last week, and had tried to call and thank him for the lunch he’d provided, but his mobile was switched off. All week long. Finally, I had some free time, so I thought I’d drop by, see if he was in, and thank him personally. I called his number, and his wife answered, saying Faysel had left his phone when he’d gone out to work, but he should be back shortly. So I took the bus to Faysel’s, arriving around noon.

When I arrived, his wife let me in, and said Faysel was still at work, but I could wait for him. She is pregnant, and had an appointment with her obstetrician at 5:00 p.m. I waited until 4:00 p.m., when she said she had to get ready to leave. No sign of Faysel. His wife repeated that he was out working, but that she’d have him call me as soon as she saw him. I’d heard this before.

Last February, Faysel called and said he needed to see me on urgent business, so I went to his shop about 4:00 p.m. that afternoon. He said he was tied up, but we could talk about the business at midnight. I couldn’t wait, so I left. When I called the next day to reschedule, his mobile was switched off, and remained off for two months. I called his wife several times, and each time she said he was working very hard, but he’d call me when he got home.

Finally, in April, Faysel called and asked me to join him at a hotel in Deira. He said he’d been on the run from the police, but he thought the search must have cooled off by now. The next day, his mobile was again switched off, and remained off for a week.

When he finally called, he explained that, in fact, the police had still been looking for him. His shop had been entirely staffed by workers holding tourist visas, or workers who arrived, late at night, on boats that skipped the usual formalities associated with an international maritime arrival. This happens regularly in the West, of course, but in the US only the workers are arrested. Here, the owner of the shop can be arrested as well.

He said the police had come by his house, but he’d told his wife to refuse entrance, so the police just waited for him outside. He said they’d knocked on his door a few days later, so he’d gone out a window, stood on the ledge, and told his wife to let the police search the place. They made a cursory search and left.

Unfortunately, he’d eventually felt a desperate need to visit his favourite hotel, and had been apprehended leaving his flat. Then, after a couple of days in gaol, he’d been released after posting bail plus his passport. Of course, his wife had known where he was the entire time, but felt safest telling me he was working at his shop and would return my calls ‘as soon as he gets home.’

So, since Faysel wasn’t home and isn’t answering his phone, my guess is that he’s either hiding out somewhere, or ‘helping the police with their inquiries.’ I asked his wife if there was anything I could do to help, but his wife’s official answer remains, as it was the last time, ‘he’s at work selling cars, but he’ll be home soon, and as soon as he gets home I’ll have him call you.’

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Air conditioned bus shelters?

Last February, The Gulf News reported that a company was designing air-conditioned bus shelters for Dubai. According to that esteemed publication, by May 2007 there should be 500 of these shelters installed, with more to be added.

Actually, all winter all the bus stops were air-conditioned; now, however the A/C seems to have stopped working. It's 45 (113 for Americans) in the shade. Of which there may or may not be any.

Many stops have a red steel awning which provides a little shade, and someone has put yellow parasols on several of the benches which lack the awning, but many of the bus stops have no shade at all.

Still, as soon as winter arrives, all the Dubai bus stops will once again be air-conditioned.

As for 500 remaining air-conditioned during summers, beginning in 2007, whether this will actually happen, and when, is still shrouded in mystery.

But as a confirmed bus rider, it's certainly something I'd like to see.

The Park Bench

Key of G major.

Sitting on a park bench by a roach.
I know I must have used the wrong approach.
So now I’m sitting here, steeped in self-reproach:
No one to talk to but this roach.

Sitting on a park bench by an ant.
Thinking I should go and just recant.
Thinking that it’s better to be a sycophant,
Than sitting here just talking to this ant.

Sitting on a park bench by a spider.
I know I’ve always been too much the derider.
So now I sit here, sipping too much cider:
I’ve got no one to talk to but this spider.

Sitting on a park bench all alone.
The bugs that crawled beside me squashed and gone.
If I had a place to go to, I guess that I’d go home.
But tonight I'll have to sleep here all alone.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Al Ain Oasis and Andrew (2)

Al Ain Oasis (1)

When I started work in Al Ain, I was warned of Andrew’s near escape from the Oasis the year before I arrived, and that, should I venture into the Oasis without a large crowd of Westerners for protection, I would never emerge unscathed, if I emerged at all.

Andrew was no longer present at the company, so I couldn't get his version of what had actually happened. Only Andrew and I had dared to venture out alone without a crowd of Westerners for protection (and then told anyone about it); all the rest of the Westerners working for the company remained inside the Western compounds or the workplace, where all the Orientals were quite tame. (By Oriental, I mean anyone from east of the Hellespont.) Both Andrew and I were informed after six months that our contracts would not be renewed, because we did not fit in, Andrew having received his notice one year to the day before I received mine. Each year, about 1/3 of the new hires received such a notice.

The year Andrew was employed, shortly after the notices came out of who would be terminated at the end of the year, the Director ordered everyone to work 5 weekends so that they could have a week’s leave. Andrew had booked a non-refundable vacation for that week. Then the Director announced that the week’s leave was cancelled, and anyone who did not report for during that week work would be dismissed.

Andrew did not appear that week until Friday (the weekend in the UAE), when he confided to the Director’s spy that he had spent a delightful week in Thailand. (Obviously, he didn’t realize that he was bragging to a spy.) On Saturday (the first day of the week in the UAE), Andrew arrived back at work and said he had been too ill to report to work. Normally, this excuse would have been accepted, but this time his supervisor told him he was dismissed, and would be deported in a few days, giving him just time to pack.

Andrew went to the bank, and found his account closed. Western employees were given a sign-on bonus of about £5,500, but, should they quit or be dismissed for cause, this had to be repaid. Andrew’s bank balance was less than £5,500, so the company not only took all the money; they confiscated all the furniture in his villa and sold it. Andrew was sent home with only the sum that was in his pocket when he returned from Thailand, and any cash he might have had stashed away in his flat.

I got this story (and the warning never to go outside the Western compounds except in the company of a large group of other Westerners) from the Director’s spy, and from several others. I believe most of it: Andrew’s trip to Thailand, the dismissal for cause, and the deportation with nothing but the cash in his pockets, but I wasn’t there. About the dangers of the Oasis, I found all those I had been warned about to be quite baseless.

But I probably shouldn't have said this to the Director's spy.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Dubai Metro (1½)

Near where I live there used to be a roundabout (traffic circle, for Americans) that had a few palm trees, grass, flowers, and, usually, several birds. The municipality regularly replaced the flowers, and ran an irrigation system to keep the roundabout green. I rode past yesterday, and the roundabout contained nothing but sand and rubble.

I understand the new Dubai Metro will be going somewhere near the roundabout, and it should greatly improve traffic flow when finished.

But for now, a once beautiful roundabout has been reduced from floral to silicate; and there is massive disruption along several roads in Deira and by Bur Juman Mall.

The London Metro (Phase I) took 16 years to complete. I hope the Dubai Metro is finished somewhat sooner.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Coffee with Farook During the Israeli/Lebanese War

Note: this is not a comment about the war, but merely a report on what happened when I invited Farook for coffee.

Farook agreed to join me for coffee, but called at the scheduled time to say he had to go to hospital. He’d had a cyst removed and needed to have the dressing changed. He called about an hour later and invited me to come to his office for a visit, so I went. When I arrived, he had his secretary give me tea.

An Egyptian and a Syrian dropped by, and the Syrian wanted to know if he could buy a freehold villa for less than €200,000 (short answer, ‘No.’) After the very brief discussion about buying a villa, the conversation apparently turned to the war. I say ‘apparently,’ because neither the Egyptian nor the Syrian displayed any ability to speak English (I’m never sure about Farook), so the conversations were entirely in Arabic. After awhile, though, Farook turned to me:

‘What you think about war in Lebanon.’

‘I think it’s terrible,’ I replied.

‘He hates Bush,’ Farook said for the benefit of the Egyptian and Syrian, or maybe it was for my benefit, so I’d know what he had just told them in Arabic.

‘Who you think winning?’ he asked me.

I gave Farook as non-committal a response as I could.

‘You wrong. Israel losing. Hezbolla so bad off, they have nothing to lose. They have nothing, so Israel cannot take anything, but this war cost Israel too much. It destroy Israel. Then Israel bring America down with it.’

Farook repeated this for the other two, and I think the Syrian disagreed: ‘No, America give them more weapons and money faster than they use.’

I caught bits and pieces as Farook spoke in Arabic about the Romans, then Genghis Khan, then the Ottomans, then the British rising and falling, with the implication that America’s rise is over and decline is imminent, after which the Arabs will again have the world’s largest empire, as they did in 732 A.D. (or 100 A.H.).

‘When America falls, it should be the Chinese who are on top, if they don’t repeat 1422 when they decided all technology and trade was against the wishes of their gods,’ was my response.

Farook went on: ‘If you have big mouse in bedroom, you sleep OK?’

Of course there is no such thing as a ‘big mouse,’ but Farook didn’t know the English word ‘rat.’

I answered, ‘If I saw a “big mouse” in my home, I would go to the hypermarket and get a trap, and the “big mouse” would be dead very quickly.’

‘Right!’ answered Farook. ‘Hezbollah set trap. Quickly trap Israel, then America.’

Then the Egyptian and the Syrian must have said that they had to go, because, after saying whatever it was (in Arabic), they both left.

Then I left.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Copies for Sale

I arrived in the UAE at the end of Dubai Summer Surprises, and all the malls promised a drawing for a car if one spent at least £15. I had to purchase furnishings for my villa, so I filled out many raffle coupons with my name, address, telephone, and e-mail.

As a result, I now get more than 100 spam e-mails every day. One common offer is for a genuine Rolex copy for $200. Since I’ve declined offers of genuine, authentic Rolex copies for less than €5 in the Dubai souks, I have not been tempted by these spams. Rolex does not allow its watches to be legally sold over the Internet, nor for its licensed retailers to list prices over the Internet, so there is no way to find out how much a real Rolex costs without going into one of their retail stores. I'm sure, however, that I can't afford one.

Yesterday, I went with Faysel to the industrial area of Sharjah where he showed me genuine, authentic Ferrari copies for less than €10,000. ‘They make them in Bangladesh and bring them here.’ Since I could see that the car was under construction in Sharjah, I found the claim of Bangladeshi construction a bit hard to believe. ‘They make everything here; see, over there, that Bangladeshi is making the engine.’ Again, another inoperative statement by Faysel.

The truth is that, for about €5,000, the shop will fit a Ferrari-looking fibreglass frame over another chassis, the chassis to be provided by the purchaser. They also do Lamborghinis if the buyer prefers. Once painted and polished, the vehicles look, to the untrained eye, as if they might possibly be Ferraris or Lamborghinis.

This sort of thing is also provided in the West. A suitably sporty car would cost around $20,000, and the customization would be another $20,000, but, in the UAE, the customization labour is much cheaper, though parts and materials cost about the same as in the West. The copy, based on a new chassis, would cost less than €25,000; based on a used chassis, less than €10,000. Which fits with a news story that China is making genuine, authentic Ferrari copies for $10,000.

It is, of course, a violation of intellectual property rights to stamp the Ferrari or Lamborghini name on the resulting vehicles, but, if the shape is similar but not identical, and no name or trademarked symbol is used, I think the process might be more or less legal. More legal, in any case, than the genuine, authentic Rolex copies. Faysel suggested a legal business of building the €25,000 versions with enough minor alterations to avoid trademark infringement, then selling them for about €30,000 to Western collectors of such things. To be profitable, it is necessary to ship a minimum of four, so this would tie up quite a bit of capital, more than Faysel has available.

Faysel also suggested buying used chassis for about €2,000, having them converted into genuine, authentic fake used Ferraris, then selling them as ‘stolen’ Ferraris for about €20,000. Since Ferraris sell for €400,00 - €600,000 (depending on model and options), Faysel thought this could be a profitable business.

Only a buyer would have to be incredibly stupid to pay Ferrari prices for one of these automobiles, since the engine is, in fact, the one that came with the original chassis, one that clearly shows its non-Ferrari origins.

I also remain sceptical of Faysel’s claim that the workers are Bangladeshi, since they all speak fluent Urdu without a Bengali accent.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Al Ain Oasis (I)

A number of commentators have asked how I met the strange and motley crew I have, in fact, met. I tried, in an earlier post, to explain. But perhaps, for the UAE, I should begin at the beginning.

My first position in the UAE was in Al Ain, where, for the first two months, we were told we could not obtain a driver’s license nor rent a car. We were all assigned ‘buddies’ on whom we could call for chauffeur service. We were all warned to stay in the Western compounds, to use our ‘buddies’ to get to and from work, and to only shop in Western-oriented supermarkets, preferably escorted by our ‘buddies.’ Only my ‘buddy,’ while willing, seemed reluctant to act as my chauffeur, and I didn’t want to impose. So, instead of using my ‘buddy,’ I tried to use the taxis.

Most of the drivers only spoke Urdu, though a few spoke Arabic. None spoke English. I had directions to my place of work written down for me (in Arabic), but that didn’t work. If I could take the direct route, the cost was about €1, but one taxi gave me the ‘scenic tour’ and charged €10.

Eventually, I learned how to direct the taxis in pidgin (a mixture of Urdu and Arabic) to and from my workplace. Then I found the shared taxis. One took me north/south from my flat to the latitude of my place of employment, and the second took me east/west to the longitude of my employer. All for less than €0.40. As a result, I met lots of people no other Westerners would ever meet, people who think all Westerners keep more than €1,000,000 in petty cash.

When I told my co-workers what I was doing, they were horrified, and told me about Andrew. Andrew had gone out by himself regularly. Eventually, he had the temerity to go inside the Al Ain Oasis. The cleanest version was that he had narrowly escaped being murdered. The most common version was that he had nearly lost his honour, in other words, that he had almost been gang raped inside the Oasis. The stories were widely believed, though completely false. But at first I believed them.

Long before arriving in Al Ain, I had seen Oases. They all consisted of a small pond, about 10 meters in diameter, surrounded by a few palm trees, a few camels, and a few tents. If one looks carefully, one might see Rudolf Valentino, or hear Bing Crosby crooning to Dorothy Lamour. Like the wide-spread story of Andrew, these Hollywood images were completely false.

The Al Ain Oasis is about 100 hectares, or about one kilometre square. It is surrounded by a high wall, with a fort at one end and a palace/fort at the other (both are now museums). The Rulers of Al Ain have jealously guarded the water, and sold it to passing caravans. For the last 5,000 years.

Inside the Oasis are, mostly, date palms, but also mangos, bananas, and grass for forage. There are a couple of small troughs for watering livestock, but most of the water is kept underground until needed for irrigating the crops. The water is not local, but transported from distant springs through an underground falaj system. The water is cycled on a strict system based on the sun and stars, so each farmer gets his allotment, no more, no less.

I was terrified of the Oasis, but fascinated. I went to a café on the edge and ordered tea. Nothing happened. I was approached by no one except the waiter, and charged the price in the menu. The café had lots of TVs, but all were tuned to Arabic channels, so, when I’d finished my tea, I went home. But the pathway leading from the café into the Oasis was intriguing, and I was tempted.

Eventually, one weekend, I ventured a short way into the Oasis, and then ran out. The next weekend, I ventured a bit further before retreating at a dead run, and the next weekend further still. Finally, I emerged, unscathed, on the other side of the Oasis. I had crossed the entire Oasis, alone. And no one had tried to assault me, or bother me in any way.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Consequences of Spam

I once had a friend I regarded as very close, and we'd telephone each other about once a month, but that was expensive. Then he said he'd gotten e-mail, but he didn't sound very enthusiastic. I understand that he felt having a computer on his desk reduced him from professional to clerk, and he didn't like the fact that all his bosses could now reach him easily by e-mail and assign extra work.

I gave him my address and asked for his. The address he gave me was wrong, and (he said, the next time I phoned) that he'd written my address down incorrectly. I insisted we try again, and we finally managed to exchange e-mails. After that, I wrote weekly (and stopped phoning), and he responded about every two months:

'Thanks for the e-mails, I really enjoyed getting them. No time to write more, because I'm very busy right now, but I'll write you a long letter soon.'

His infrequent replies were always the same, obviously cut and pasted into a reply when, every couple of months, he felt guilty for not writing. I got tired of writing and not getting any response (and strongly suspected that he never bothered to read my letters) so I cut back to once a month. He replied about once a year. It's now been over a year since I wrote, and I wondered how he was, so I sent an e-mail. For once, I got an immediate response:

'Your email is rejected as spam. If this is a private e-mail account of a member of this department, you may request that it be unblocked by seeing the e-mail administrator in person in Room 203.'

So no one outside his department can write to him on his business e-mail. I don't know if he got a private e-mail over the last year, but, if he did, he didn't send it to me. And I've lost his phone number.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Helping Fahad Quit his Job and Start his Own Business

Fahad had a bit of a disagreement with his employer and departed. He's decided to start his own business.

He asked me if I would help him, since some of his prospective clients would be primarily English-speaking, and I might prove useful to the success of the business with those clients. I agreed.

Fahad may be out of work, but he still has a six bedroom villa with five servants to keep up in Sharjah, and another villa in another Gulf country, and another villa in the US, plus several wives and children scattered about the globe, all requiring support. Consequently, he said we need to get the business started as soon as possible. Last Wednesday, as he was leaving for Sharjah, he said he wanted me to come over first thing Saturday morning (i.e., today). We were going to work together until we had completed everything necessary to start the business: apply for a license, an office, prepare documents, business cards, brochures, etc. He said, 'We must proceed quickly. I can't wait. I have been thinking about leaving job and starting business for one year. Too much time wasted. We must finish starting business Saturday. We work very hard, finish everything.' I agreed.

Last Thursday, Fahad called. In addition to preparing all the English-language documents for his new business, he also wanted some help writing letters to the English-language newspapers and to his former employer's English-speaking customers, explaining that he had severed all relations with the former employer. He wanted me to act as editor of the English versions of these letters (he would handle the Arabic versions). I agreed.

'Good. You write all letters and send them to me.'

I tried to explain that we would first have to get together, so he could give me some idea of what he wanted to say.

'No need. Just write letters and send to me. You know what I should say.'

Actually, I don't.

'We're getting together Saturday for your new business, why don't we work on the letters then?'

'We can't get together Saturday, I'm going on vacation for two weeks. You just write letters and send them to me by e-mail. I can get them while I'm on vacation.'

It's a good thing getting the new business started is urgent. Otherwise, this two-week vacation might be two months. Actually, knowing Fahad, it might be at that. Or longer.

And I still have no idea what he wants me to put in those letters.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Fei Hong (Flying Rainbow) Jasmine Tea Description (sic)

Jasmine tea is scientifically fumigated with Mt . tea’n fresh jasmines by traditional.
famous, refined craft, Refreshing’n nice in taste and full of strong fragrance. It contains
theine. tannin, protein. amino a cid. Perfume oil vitamins, etc. which are good for the
human body. It removes vexation’n weariness. clears one’s head. sharpens the eyes,
makes one happy’n one’s head cool. It’s an aid to digesting’n lowers the blood
pressure Often taking it can prevent diseases. render you healthy and endlessly happy.

I found this tea at East Paradise General Trading (across from the Renaissance Hotel) and reproduce the English information on the label verbatim. There is also a Chinese description on the label, but I don't know if the above English represents an accurate translation of the Chinese or not.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Waiting for Md. Said

I was supposed to meet Fahad at his house at 6:00 p.m., and was about to get on the 4:00 p.m. bus to Sharjah when my phone rang. ‘Where are you?’ ‘I’m at the bus terminal.’ ‘Please, do not come to my house, I am at Farook’s office. We wait you now.’

I didn’t actually believe Fahad, but I figured I could wait at Farook’s office, so I went. Farook has a secretary, and I thought she’d let me in, but Farook has her work a split shift. When I arrived, the secretary wasn’t back, and the hall outside his office was about 40 degrees. So I went to see if I could have a cup of tea at an air-conditioned restaurant. ‘No tea. Go to shisha place.’ The standard price of tea at a non-Western restaurant is set at €0.15. At a shisha place, it’s €0.50. Plus, I had to sit in a thick cloud of shisha smoke. But it was better than sitting (or standing) in the 40-degree heat.

After a cup of tea, I returned to Farook’s office. As I was about to enter, my phone rang. ‘I need to talk to you. Can you come by for about 10 minutes?’ I had been hoping to meet the caller, but said I had another meeting. ‘I’ll be here until 8:00 p.m.’ ‘OK,’ I replied, ‘I’ll drop by before 8.’

When I got back to Farook’s office, Farook, Fahad, and Farook’s secretary had returned. The secretary set the table. Farook asked me, ‘Have you had lunch?’ ‘Yes, but it’s 5:00 p.m. now. In English, we call this supper.’ ‘Md. Said will be here in a few minutes. We wait him.’ Fahad gave a courier €50 and sent him off to get the food.

Normally, Fahad gets up around this time, but Farook had convinced him to pursue another project beginning around 11:00 a.m., so Fahad fell asleep. Farook kept calling people and talking in Arabic, trying to set up some deals. By 7:00 p.m., I’d about decided that Md. Said must be related to Godot, but then the doorbell rang.

It was a security guard reporting that there was a problem with Fahad’s car. Fahad went out to see about his car, and I said, ‘I have to see someone, I’ll be back in 20 minutes.’

At 7:25, I returned. Md. Said was just about to leave. The table had been cleared, and the dishes and coffee cups were washed, dried, and put away.

Normally, a meal with Farook starts out with crudités, then soup, then a main course, followed by coffee. The entire affair never takes less than an hour and a half. However, Md. Said is very busy, so today, when he arrived at 7:10, the meal and meeting had been concluded within 10 minutes, and the party was in the process of saying goodbye. I just had time to meet Md. Said, say ‘Marhaba,’ and ‘Massalama,’ and the meeting was concluded.

Farook and Fahad said they were going to Sharjah, and I was invited to join them. They promised to return very early, which I know means sometime around 6:00 a.m, so I declined their offer and took the 41 bus home.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Concerned (Viceroy) Father

Farook is not a Citizen of the UAE. I have written about him before, but perhaps have not made it clear that he is a very devoted husband and father, trying to provide as best he can for his family. As part of this effort to provide, he has tried (repeatedly) to separate me from all the lucre I possess, and even rather more than I actually possess. But, when not trying to effect such a separation, he strikes me as a very good, decent man. For that matter, even when trying, I can’t really fault him for trying to provide for his family (but nor have I given him any money).

When I have gotten requests for assistance in the past (from a rather large population of ex-pats), it is usually a prelude. They start by asking for something of non-monetary value which I can give, such as an English translation or assistance in obtaining a visa to a Western country. Then, after I’ve tried to assist them to the best of my (limited) ability, they fawn, thank me, and ask for assistance in the form of cash. Lots of it. So I am always sceptical, when asked for non-monetary assistance, as to whether the person requesting the assistance actually wants my (non-monetary) help, or is just trying to flatter me preparatory to a request for money in the form of cash.

Anyway, today Farook asked me to help him find a school to cram his son for the English test for admission to University. Many universities in the UAE require the student to take either the TOEFL or the IELTS before they can enroll. Some specifically require either one or the other, but most accept both. Farook had no idea what the difference was, or which was better. He had called around, and found that the charges for English cramming vary from about €300 to €700. He wasn’t sure why paying €700 would buy him any more assurance of University admission for his son than paying €300.

I tried to explain, as best I could: ‘TOEFL is an American test of English, using American English; IELTS is a British test, using British English.’ I’d heard an IELTS test where the examinees had to listen to a thick Irish brogue, a thick Scottish burr, a Cockney, and somehow interpret what was being said. I said that I, personally, would have great difficulty passing the IELTS listening examination. If someone said, ‘I’m goin’ u’ th’ apple ta see my blister,’ I wouldn’t have any idea what they were talking about. Similarly with someone reading ‘The kin’si’s i’ Dumfermling toun, drikin’ th’ bluid red wi’e.’

We went to a place that has been teaching the TOEFL cram course for many years, but has recently added the IELTS cram course. The TOEFL cram course lasts longer and costs about €700; the IELTS cram course only costs €400. A lady who claimed to be a Citizen overheard Farook. She said she was from Ras Al Khaimah , and that she’d studied IELTS at the school’s main competitor without learning anything, but that the school where we were at had really helped her learn English. My only problem with her recommendation was that her entire conversation was in Arabic. (She may actually be a Citizen, or she may be like Farook, and only dress like a Citizen. I have no way of knowing.)

Farook said we couldn’t decide without going to the aforesaid main competitor. His son filled out the form given to everyone asking about the courses. (I might add, his son filled the form out incorrectly, since he couldn’t read the English instructions.)

Then we went to the competitor, since Farook wanted to examine all his options. This being Dubai, there was no parking available within a kilometre of the second campus. Farook, dressed exactly like a Citizen, demanded that he be allowed to park. The guard said he would need a letter from the Director of the institute. Farook threatened, and the guard quailed. He said Farook would have to leave his keys, so Farook handed the guard some key, certainly not the key to his car. And we went in to ask about their programme.

The competitor, fearing an attack on any and all institutions associated with the English language, has a scanner, similar to the airlines, situated at the entrance. Farook and I both set the scanner off, since we both had coins and mobiles in our pockets. No one said or did anything. So in we both sailed, potential bombs and all.

The competitor only offers IELTS, and charges the same €400 for the IELTS cram course as the first institution. The IELTS exam is separate, another €140. Farook decided on the first institution, so we left. The guard gave Farook back whatever key Farook had handed over and we drove off. Farook gave his son the money to pay for the course at the first school, then drove us all back to his office, where we had tea.

I couldn’t see a good reason to stay, so I left. Farook was still calling different people asking them about English cram courses.

The Ruler of Dubai promised, last summer, that all the Dubai bus stops would be air-conditioned. As promised, from December through February, especially at night, the A/C was on full blast. Now that it’s July, the A/C seems to be off, and the bus stops are all in the 40’s.

I took the bus to a bookstore in Deira City Centre (more or less on my way home) and found a copy of Waugh’s Vile Bodies, a book I really want to read, only the price (in paperback) was €45. This seemed, to me, excessive for an old paperback, so I refrained from purchase. They also had three copies of Volume I of Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy (I had already purchased the fourth copy).

I ended up buying two novels and a collection of short stories by Henry James for a total of €5. All from another bookstore in City Centre. Then I went home.

I was starving when I finally managed to walk past Wang’s Kitchen. No one of Chinese extraction has ever worked or eaten at Wang’s kitchen, but they have a display of bindi prominently displayed. My Chinese friends agree that bindi is an excellent animal fodder, and have heard that, in some very primitive cultures, bindi is even eaten. Some Chinese feel that this is a ridiculous rumour, but other s believe almost anything is possible among foreign barbarians. So I ordered the bindi, feeling that the South Asians cooking for Wang’s Kitchen would know how to prepare it (and also feeling that they would not know how to prepare any of the nominally Chinese dishes on the menu). I am happy to report that I was correct in my assessment. So, for dinner tonight, I had Wang’s Special Bindi. A dish no Wang has ever heard of.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Law, Order, and DVDs

Back in my hometown, we could watch the 'Seinfield' episode about creating illegal copies of movies, but such things were only on TV, and only happened continents away in the wicked city. Parking violators, sellers of prohibited items, and other violators of the well-publicized laws faced sure, certain, and expensive retribution, so one found few cars illegally parked, and few prohibited items for sale.

When I first arrived here, I read in the local newspapers that the UAE had banned unregistered taxis, and also that they had banned violations of Intellectual Property rights in preparation for admission to the WTO.

Then, trying to go from Dubai to Al Ain via the legal Dubai Transport, the unregistered taxi drivers approached me and whispered about their fast, cheap transport, just like I always imagined vendors of salacious publications would whisper. And, while wandering the streets and alleys of Dubai, I saw carpets covered with DVDs.

The newspapers continued to report that a police crackdown had completely eliminated all the unregistered taxis and illegal DVD sellers. And I continued to take unregistered taxis from Dubai to Al Ain around midnight every Thursday night, and to see carpets covered with DVDs for sale on the more heavily trafficked corners.

Then, one day, after I had moved to Dubai, I was trying to visit a friend in Abu Dhabi, leaving in the morning. An unregistered taxi driver approached me, but said he couldn't pick me up too near the bus station, to meet him two blocks away. I went to the designated rendezvous, met the taxi, and got in. A policeman immediately stood in front of the taxi, sat in the front passenger's seat, and ordered the driver back to the bus station. The driver showed the policeman a piece of paper, which the policeman disregarded, then the driver called someone on his mobile and carried on a frantic conversation as we drove back.

When we got back to the bus station, the policeman marched me to the ticket window, insisted I buy a bus ticket, and told me to stay there and wait for the Dubai Transport bus to Abu Dhabi. Or else. Then he marched the taxi driver to a holding area, where the poor man stood, still frantically talking to someone on his mobile, as my bus came and took me to Abu Dhabi.

Several months ago, the carpets with DVDs (and the East Asian ladies who used to come by my apartment with DVDs every week) all disappeared without a trace.

The newspapers reported that more than 100,000 people, drivers and passengers in the illegal taxis, had all been arrested and deported, along with all the illegal DVD people.

Then, last Sunday, for the first time in months, I saw the carpets on the corners, covered with un-released DVDs, and, as I wandered around the bus station, I heard the unregistered taxi drivers shouting, 'Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi.'

I know, now, that, someday soon, all the carpets and unregistered taxi drivers will once again disappear without a trace, and, some months later, reappear, like some mirage in the desert.

But returning to my home town, we once had a member of the underclass arguing for equality and justice for his fellow underclass members. He was very unpopular with the gentry, and even more unpopular with the lower middle classes. One day, his body was found, face down, in a shallow pond. His hands were tied behind his back, and he'd been shot twelve times with a single six-shot revolver. In some places, the corrupt police would have just ignored his death, putting it down as 'good riddance,' but in my hometown, the entire resources of the CID were turned to the investigation, and the perpetrator found within 24 hours. I recall the next morning, the sheriff made the announcement: 'Worst case of suicide I've ever seen.'

But we never had illegal DVDs for sale, nor any kind of taxi, legal or illegal.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Dubai Metro Construction

As I was wandering by Bur Juman, one of Dubai's many malls, I could see a vast array of earth boring equipment for the new Metro. Only none of it was operating. As opposed to the construction next to my flat, where work starts promptly (and noisily) at 6:00 a.m., 7 days a week, and only stops for the Friday Juma prayer. (Actually, Juma means Friday, so that's redundant, but Juma also refers to the Friday noon prayer, in which case both 'Friday' and 'prayer' are redundant.)

The UAE is planning to switch to a Friday/Saturday weekend soon, which will apply to government workers, which the metro workers may well be. Which might explain why the equipment was inactive Saturday morning.

Non-government workers, such as those constructing the new building outside my flat, are legally limited to 8 hour days and a six day week. With shifts (or voluntary overtime) many establishments manage to operate 24/7. (Work outside my flat does stop for the legally required 'noon break,' the hottest 2½ hours in the day, and from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m..)

However, by Zabeel Park, next to the 'Metro' sign, a few workers were langourously moving their long-handled shovels in the 40° heat. It isn't clear why. Or even if they were Metro workers. But I suspect that they were: using long-handled shovels saves wear and tear on the expensive equipment.

Throughout the Orient, there is the unassailable belief that cheap labour is more cost-effective than capital, in spite of all the economic evidence to the contrary. In the West, they have the name 'Luddites' for the sect who thought capital should be banned if it displaced labour. The West has the name 'Luddites' because they represent a small, failed group. If the word 'Luddite' exists at all in an Oriental language, it only refers to the European sect, since, in the Orient, the Luddite concept represents the majority opinion, and there is no special word, in any language, for the majority opinion.

So, Saturday morning, the state-of-the-art equipment sat idle while workers stood with long-handled shovels working by the 'Dubai Metro Under Construction' sign.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Dubai in the New York Times

A number of Dubai bloggers (see list at right) have been writing about Dallas Austin. Now the New York Times has picked up the story. It seems at least one US Senator (amateur musician and one who voted in favour of letting Dubai buy the US ports) was involved, along with lots of other people. The article also reported that the lawyers stayed at the One and Only Royal Mirage (where I've had a few snacks and Moroccon teas in rather nice surrounding, so I figure a small plug is due, though it's out of my usual price range.)

As usual, I find it a little strange that the New York Times has more details on a Dubai story than could ever appear in the local press. But I guess by now I should know that's normal.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Importing Used Cars into the UAE

Faysel is your stereotypical used car salesman. He had purchased, some weeks ago, four used cars in the US and had them shipped to Dubai. None of the cars run, so he got them for about US$1,000 each. He said it would cost about US$3,000 to get them repaired in the US to the point where they could pass registration: air bags, tyres, engines, and transmissions generally all need to be replaced. In the UAE, he can have all this done for less than $1,000, because labourers here get less than 1/10 what they get in the US, and the quality of tyres, engines, and air bags required to pass inspection is much lower.

Sometimes, Faysel will take a car that was smashed on the driver's side and an identical car smashed on the passengers side, then have his workers cut them in half and join the two good halves together. This is almost impossible to pull off in the US (and costs quite a bit of labour and baksheesh to the inspector), but Faysel says he's done it several times here.

A couple of days ago, he took me along to watch the process. He had the shipment shipped to himself, but he doesn't have an import license for the UAE, so he has to pay an importer to bring in the cars. First, he took me to the shippers, where he signed a release saying the cars could be given to the importer. He got a copy of the letter, and signed it.

Then he was hungry, and asked where I'd like to eat. 'How about a place with falafel and goat shwarma?' 'OK.' But, as we were walking, Faysel saw a pizza place, so we ended up splitting a half veggie, half meat-lover's pizza. Next, we needed to meet the representative from the importer. Faysel hired an illegal taxi. The rear passenger's door was smashed, so Faysel got in from the rear, driver's side door, and the taxi took us, eventually, to Faysel's flat. On the way, the quality of the driving showed us just how the rear passenger's door got smashed.

Faysel called his wife from his mobile, and she stood on the balcony and tossed down the key to one of Faysel's cars.

Then we had to take another taxi to where the car sat. It's a car Faysel hasn't used for six months, the registration has expired, and one tyre was completely flat. The A/C no longer works, and the radio and glove box have been removed. We drove on the flat tyre to a garage with free air, but the tyre had come off its rim. We then drove to a tyre shop that managed to get the tyre back on its rim. Then we drove to a petrol station where the importer's agent was waiting. Faysel and the agent hugged each other, and Faysel handed over the letter and some money. 'I don't have quite enough for the agent, could you lend me a few dollars?' I didn't have much, but it turned out to be enough. After all, the agent would have Faysel's cars as deposit.

Then Faysel drove me home, and said he'd have the cars the next day, he'd have them sold the day after that, and he'd give me back all my money. When I tried to call, his mobile was switched off, but he finally called me. 'The tyre went flat as I was driving home, so I had to abandon the car and take a taxi.' 'What are you going to do about the car? Leave it on the side of the road?' 'I don't know. Maybe I'll get someone to go move it back where it was.'

Fortunately, I didn't have much cash on me when Faysel asked, as I haven't heard from him for a couple of days.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Selling Veat® in Dubai

Wandering through the local hypermarket about a month ago, a young lady was handing out free samples of veat® on toothpicks. Veat® is a Western concept: vegetarian meat. A fair number of Westerers were raised on meat, and feel that no meal is complete without a chunk of it; some of these Westerners, however, have heard that a field of soybeans eaten as soybeans can feed six times as many people as it can if it is first processed into meat by a steer, lamb, or pig. So a small percentage of Westerners feel guilty about eating meat.

To allow these people to dine guilt-free for as long as their vegetarianism lasts (usually, not very), various companies have figured out how to process soybeans into something other than tofu, into something that, very vaguely, resembles meat.

In the Orient, people raised as meat eaters are told that it is their God given right to eat meat, and they must never feel any guilt about eating it. In fact, should they feel any guilt about eating meat, they should feel guilty about feeling guilty.

Of the many people in the Orient raised as vegetarians, they have never had any desire to eat dead flesh, or any desire to eat something made to resemble dead flesh.

Which means that veat is of very limited appeal in Dubai, except for the few Westerners of the 'I feel guilty about eating some poor animal that's been killed' school that happened to have wandered far East of their native element.

So, after one week, the hypermarket had all its veat on sale, about a kilo of soy moulded to look like boneless chicken, for about £1. Which is quite a bit less than the cost of actual boneless chicken. So, in the interests of frugality, I bought the lot.

Cooked with lots of onion, garlic, sesame oil, and chilli, it tastes very much like onion, garlic, sesame oil, and chilli. But it was cheap.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Midnight Taxi From Dubai to Al Ain

My first job in the UAE, several years ago, was in Al Ain. They gave me a huge, four bedroom apartment with 3 baths for me and a servant's wing with another bedroom and bath for my servants (lamentably, I never actually had any servants, so one wing of the palace was totally wasted). It was the largest place I have ever lived in in my entire life. The rooms were huge, sqare, and without so much as closets. They gave all new hires £5,500 to furnish their places. We were all given four days in a hotel during which we had to furnish our places or sleep on the floor.

The previous year, a couple of the new hires took their £5,500 and departed the day after arrival. So the year I arrived, we were told, 'There is no bus service from Al Ain to anywhere except out in the countryside around Al Ain, and you are not allowed to drive, even a rental car, until your papers have been processed.' They had taken our passports for 'processing' when we first arrived.

The company took care of everything. They arranged for electricity, and water (a truck that came by twice a week and filled a tank, but the pump system that was supposed to pump the water into my place didn't actually work for the first month). They got most of us land-line telephones, so they knew our home phone numbers (a few of the new hires, but not I, knew about how the system worked and demanded mobiles, and one colleague refused to let them get him a telephone at all, since a) he didn't want them knowing his home number; and b) he didn't want to pay for the phone).

Finally, after two months, we got back our stamped passports, and the company took us all to get driver's licenses (even those who didn't know how to drive), after which we were told we could leave Al Ain on weekends, if we liked. No one was willing to sleep on the floor without a fridge for two months, so the new employees all spent their £5,500 on furniture, and no one who came in with me ran off.

After two months, I thought I'd seen enough of Al Ain, but didn't know how to get out, since I don't drive. 'Take a taxi,' said another confirmed pedestrian. Where I'm from, taxis are not allowed to leave the city, and, if they were, I couldn't possibly have afforded the fare. But a taxi from Al Ain to Dubai was only about £15, and there was a place where people queued to split a taxi five ways, so I figured £3 to Dubai was reasonable.

The taxi from Dubai to Al Ain is, however, rather more than £3. The usual cost is at least £50 (and my £5,500 was long gone), so I explored cheaper ways to return. There was the Dubai Transport Bus, which costs about £5, but the last bus (at that time) left around 10:00 p.m. and arrived around 1:00 a.m.

As I waited for the bus one evening, someone whispered, 'Abu Dhabi?' in the same tone as if he were selling dirty pictures. 'No,' I replied, 'Al Ain.' 'Follow me.' And I did.

The illegal taxi back to Al Ain was just £3, and took just one hour. So I stopped taking the bus.

Normally, I'd have a great meal, then catch the (illegal) taxi around 11:00 p.m. or midnight, and sleep all the way back to Al Ain. Most taxis were more comfortable than the bus, and certainly much more convenient.

So, one night as usual, I had taken an illegal taxi and had just started to drift off on my way back to Al Ain when I heard the driver and my fellow passengers (all compatriots, but I was too new to the UAE to have any idea from which country) talking:

'You know, in our country if strange person like you get in our car, we kill him, take all his money, and leave body on road. In our country, never any problem for us. But here in UAE, that impossible. Police quickly catch, and punishment very bad.'

I didn't get much sleep that trip. And I started taking the bus back to Al Ain. And I'm very happy that the UAE police have the excellent reputation that they do among my fellow travellers.

Monday, July 03, 2006

A Visit at 3:00 a.m.

Sitting in any of the cheap Dubai hotels, when I ask for a cup of tea (or whatever), people tend to notice my accent. Some, hearing the accent of a fellow Westerner, straggle over and sit down, hoping for a chance of conversation with someone who has a similar background and experiences. Others, hearing the accent of a Westerner, straggle over and sit down, hoping to separate someone who is obviously rich and stupid from his money. (The stupid part is fair enough, but I'm afraid they are mistaken if they think every single Westerner in Dubai is rich. This one certainly isn't.)

A., one of the former (he's from Philadelphia, PA, US, but looks like he's from Lucknow), introduced himself to me a few months ago. Since I tend to frequent the same cheap hotels, I kept running into A. When he discovered I don't drive, he offered to give me a lift home, and I foolishly accepted. I also told him my name, another mistake.


Most Dubai hotel outlets for food and beverages close by 3:00 a.m. Those who have made a felicitous acquaintence have departed together long before then. Those who have failed to find a companion, or who have reluctantly settled for whatever was available as the best of a bad lot, leave at closing time, in Dubai just like everywhere else in the world.

And so, at 3:15 a.m., I was awakened by the ringing of my doorbell. When I opened the door, there was my acquaintence, accompanied by a young woman from Senegal. Normally, the security personnel at my building do not admit anyone after midnight, unless instructed to do so by a tenant. In fact, a year ago M., another chance acquaintence, living on the other side of Dubai, but clubbing at a hotel next to my flat, had tried to come up and had been refused. However, A. had more of a presence than M., and, since he knew my name, they let him in and gave him my apartment number.

Sleepily and in pajamas, I let them in and asked if they'd like anything. A. wanted beer, but his young lady declined anything. She just wanted to leave. A. then said he needed to use the bathroom, and his young lady followed him. Then there was crashing. The door opened, and A. was bashing the young lady's head against the floor. 'I'm going to kill you,' he said. 'Make him stop, he's killing me,' she screamed. 'Stop, or I'm going for the security guard,' I said (A. is a lot younger, larger, and stronger than I am). When A. didn't stop, I opened the door and started to call for security. Suddenly, the young lady managed to get free and ran out without her blouse or shoes. Then A. ran out.

The the young lady returned with the security guard, collected her blouse and shoes, and said, 'He stole my purse. I'm not an ordinary prostitute, I'm a student, and I'm only doing this for the tuition.' I hadn't seen A. holding a purse as he left, and said so.

It was a small purse, and A. had taken it for spite and tossed it in the first dumpster he'd seen as he ran out of my apartment building. 'He took my purse. How am I going to get home?' I gave the young lady cab fare. 'When I get home, I'm calling the police and bringing them back here. He tried to kill me and took my purse.' 'If you're going to call the police and bring them here, give me back my cab fare, you won't need it, since the police will take you home.' 'I'm not giving it back, but I'm gonna call the police and bring them here. He tried to kill me and took my purse.' Then she stormed out. I apologized to the security guard, and asked him, in future, not to let people come up after midnight, as I am always sleeping then. 'But he knew your name. That's why I let him up.' 'Lots of people know my name. In future, please don't let anyone up after midnight.' 'OK, sir.'

So now I'm living in dread of another 3:00 a.m. visit, this time an official one.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

A Visit From Faysel (1)

Faysel called to say he was in Dubai, in Karama, and he'd like to meet me in 5 minutes. Normally, when he says '5 minutes' he is stuck in downtown Sharjah, which is about an hour and a half away, so I didn't exactly rush. But this time he called in 5 minutes to ask me where I was. So I straggled over to the Equator, where he was downing double whiskeys about as fast as the bartender could pour them. I've never noticed Faysel slurring his speech or having any trouble walking. How he does it escapes me.

Shortly after I arrived, a gentleman named Shajar joined us. Shajar told us he sells plastic (I was reminded of the movie, 'The Graduate'). Shajar only speaks Urdu, so I had to rely on Faysel to tell me what they'd been saying. Their first conversation was that there's a good profit to be made selling thin plastic as thick plastic (the thick sells for a lot more, but the thin is much cheaper to make).

Shajar then explained to Faysel that his government subsidizes exports, so he can sell below cost, and, in his country, the worker earn less than €1 per day, so the price is quite cheap. In addition, his country has signed a Free Trade agreement with the United States, so there will be no import duties or restrictions of any kind.

Faysel is sure he can import the plastic (used for garbage bags, some construction work, the bags laundries deliver clothes in, etc.), and can get a profit of 20¢ for each box of plastic. Shajar is ready to take Faysel's order and money.

Faysel was hungry, and asked for a menu. Shajar said he'd already eaten. Faysel ordered a sandwich, and I ordered soup. My soup came first, and I was waiting for Faysel's sandwich to arrive when Shajar flicked his cigarette into my soup. Apparently, he doesn't like people who look like me. Not that I can really blame him, it's just that I was hungry, but not that hungry.

Around midnight, I decided to leave. Today I checked on the Internet, and the US (so far) has no Free Trade Agreement with Shajar's country. After restrictions and tarriffs, I strongly suspect there is no way Faysel could make any money importing Shajar's plastics. But there's a good chance Faysel will soon have a large shipment of plastic arriving at a port in Dubai, and that he'll then try to figure out a way to get it into the US without paying the tarriff.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Another Visit to Faysel

Faysel has been asking me to come to his place for about a week. Since he lost his car last weekend, he hasn't made it to Dubai much. Actually, he hasn't made it to Dubai at all. When I asked, he said he'd gotten another car, but, when I arrived at his place (via bus) he said he couldn't drive the new car, because it had accumulated a rather large number of tickets, and would almost certainly be stopped and impounded by the police if he tried to drive it anywhere. So we got around town by taxi.

When I first met Faysal several months ago, he seemed to have quite a bit of cash, and always ordered bottles of Heineken. Once, waiting for him, I ordered him a pint, but he pushed it aside and ordered his customary bottle. After a couple of months, he switched to pints of Heineken. Now he's drinking double whiskeys.

Since Faysel arrived in the UAE, he has made a daily trip to an ATM and withdrawn the maximum allowed by his bank, which (he says) was US$300, but is now US$500. The UAE on US$300 a Day should be on his bookshelf, but I don't think it is. Yesterday, he spent over US$200 on his double whiskeys.

He started by taking me to an inexpensive bar, where he had about 6 doubles (and insisted I join him, so I ordered an inexpensive beverage). The bill was for about US$60, including my beverages.

Suddenly he said he'd rather be drinking at the most expensive hotel in the Northern Emirates (where I once noted that the price of tea exceeds that of beer).

The hotel is within walking distance from the first bar. The hotel wanted US$10 (for each of us) just to get in, since they had the World Cup on. The sign said, with each ticket, we'd get some free beverages. I suggested returning to the previous bar, which had the World Cup on with no cover, but Faysel insisted on going in, saying he 'knew the bartender' and would get far more than the officially allowed 'free beverages' (which turned out to be one bottle of Budweiser, each, a beer Faysal normally refuses to drink).

After another 6 or so doubles, the bill was presented for US$150. Faysel asked about the free drinks, and was given his two bottles of Bud. He offered me one, but I declined. So he drank both, and we took a taxi back to his home where we had a late supper.

I had mentioned to Faysel a comment posted here about taking taxis back through Sharjah late at night (it was after midnight), but Faysel said he'd take care of things. We went outside and flagged a taxi, and Faysel spoke to the taxi driver in Urdu. What he said, I do not know, but I once again made it back to Dubai without incident. When I asked the driver, 'How much?' he said Faysel had already taken care of the fare.

As I walked in, Faysel gave me a 'missed call,' but when I tried to call him back to say I'd arrived safely (and to say 'Thanks,') his mobile was switched off. It seemed he'd managed to make the 'missed call' with the last of his battery.

Faysel called me late this morning to say he'd been up early for his usual trip to the ATM, then he said he'll be off to meet a ship with a container full of cars later today.

Faysel's final comment to me was that he's spoken to his lawyer, and the lawyer said he can 'fix' all Faysel's legal problems back home, so, once all the cars in the container are sold, Faysel's planning to leave the UAE for good.

Thermal Expansion

Everything (except water) expands as it gets warmer. Dubai is no exception. In winter, on weekends, I can walk to the post office at noon and check my mail. In summer, the distance to the post office has expanded so much it is an impossible journey for a pedestrian. So I haven't checked my mail since May.

The local hypermarket, in winter, is right next to my apartment. Now, it is so far away, I try to buy enough that I won't have to go there again for at least a month (but then I eat all the food I've stocked up on, and have to go again after a day or two, but reluctantly, and, of course, I can only waddle).

In winter, Deira is close to Bur Dubai. Now, it's as far away as the moon. Not the earth's moon, some other moon.

So I'm not getting much exercise, but I am gaining weight, i.e., expanding with the heat. And wishing winter would come.