Monday, July 30, 2007

Across from the Cyclone

There was once a cricket pitch. It was on a sandy lot, but there was a small, cement place labelled as 'cricket pitch.'

For the last several months, the pitch has been covered with huge piles of dirt.

At one edge of the piles of dirt a very short cement kerb has been constructed, as for a car park, but, after the initial effort, work stopped.

What this is all about remains a mystery.

Meanwhile, The Cyclone remains closed, but The Cyclone was only the ground floor, and the Chinese and Indian restaurants on the first floor remain open. A number of (female) friends have highly recommended both restaurants.

But not The Cyclone.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cheap Sushi

The New York Times recently had an article about neighbourhood sushi restaurants. Unlike the up scale sushi places that cater to businessmen on expense accounts, the neighbourhood restaurants send their buyers out to find good but reasonably priced fish, then serve it at a reasonable price. The author was shocked upon returning to New York to find that all the sushi restaurants in New York were very up scale. At least in price.

Today, I found the Ichiban restaurant on bank street, which promises an 'all you can eat' sushi buffet for less than €9. The stated price does not include a 10% Dubai tax, but, even with the tax (and €2 for tea) the meal was less than €12.

The Ichiban restaurant has never, to my knowledge, had a single Japanese employee or patron.

It is a Philippine (or Pinoy) restaurant.

Still, there are very few sushi places where one can dine for €12.

There were only two kinds of maki. I assume those were two of the cheaper kinds.

There was teppanyaki beef, chicken, fish, squid, vegetables, and fried rice.

All in all, €12 for an 'all you can eat buffet' of this calibre is something I've never seen outside of Dubai.

So, for those of you on bank street, I can recommend (within limits) the Ichiban Restaurant.

Though Japanese it is not.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Avoiding Chills

Where I grew up, summers were in the 30s. Sometimes the 40s. I was very happy when my parents finally purchased an air conditioner. It was a primitive model that only cooled one room down to the high 20s, but life was vastly better after my parents purchased it.

Or would have been.

My mother thought it unhealthy in the extreme to go from the high outside temperatures to the (relatively) cool room with the air conditioner, that it would cause chills. She insisted we stay in another, un-air-conditioned room so we could gradually cool down.

Now that my mother (rest her soul) is no longer around, I try to freeze myself until I'm numb before stepping out into the Dubai heat, so I can't feel it for 15 or 20 minutes, and I try to re-numb myself upon re-entering my flat.

But there are still those who wish to cool down slowly.

I can observe a pool where people lie beside it to absorb the sun's rays, then go into the sauna where they can cool down slowly before proceeding to a regular room where they might catch a chill.

Monday, July 23, 2007


On 30 August 2006, the Gulf News listed the British Prime Ministers of the 20th century. The top three were Thatcher, Attlee, and Heath.

Another British PM has just, justly, been expunged from British history books. Since his removal, I shall, of course, not mention his name.

He was concerned that German Barbarians from the East threatened Britain, and allied Britain with the Barbarians from the West. The Eastern Barbarians were defeated, but then the Western Barbarians ordered the dismantlement of the British Empire, and the reconstruction of the British language. By law:

the word 'corn' has ceased to include wheat; and

the word 'billion' has lost 99.9% of its value.

But, when the new Harry Potter book came out, the word 'marquee' still had its British meaning in most of the on-line dictionaries.

The word started out meaning the canopy covering the walkway leading to a hotel or theatre. Theatres typically put the name of the play and the actors on the marquee.

In American, marquee now means the sign over theatres that gives the name of the play or cinema and the actors, and no longer refers to the canopy. By extension, it refers to electronic signs with moving messages, and, by further extension, is a tag in HTML.

But, when I checked the on-line dictionaries (in response to the latest Harry Potter book), I found that the word is listed, first, with its usual British meaning of a marquee for a festivity (like a wedding or garden party), and then as a canopy for a hotel or other public building. The American meaning is either absent, or listed as a colloquial Americanism.

Sadly, American is rapidly replacing English as the latest lingua franca, and, as George Orwell warned, is rapidly politicizing the language.

But, at least the marquee is holding its own.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Bedu and the Jinn

An old bedu was leading his flock of goats along the beach in a Northern UAE Emirate when he found a bottle with a seal that had the insignia of Sulayman. Of course, the old bedu did not recognize the insignia of Sulayman, so he broke the seal. When he did so, a huge and terrible looking Marid appeared (a marid is the kind of jinn often found in bottles). The old bedu was terrified, but the marid did the old bedu no harm. Instead, he said 'You have freed me from the bottle. I will give you one wish.'

'I have never been to Europe, but I've heard the summers there are fair and pleasant. Could you make the UAE summers like the Europe summers?'

The marid replied, 'I'm sorry, but I cannot violate the laws of physics and meteorology. Please ask me for anything else.'

The old bedu thought for a long time. Finally, he asked, 'Sir, could you please enable me to understand women?'

'Your wish is granted,' replied the marid, who then disappeared.

And that is why today, Europe has summers where the temperatures regularly rise into the 40s.

News of the Day: Harry Potter & etc.

1. Today, the last Harry Potter book arrived worldwide. I plan to read it. In order to refresh my memory of where we're supposed to be in the series, I'm reading Book #6 first, which means I'll start the last book in a day or two, and finish it by the end of July (inshallah). Professional critics received the book more than a week ago, and the critics liked the ending.

2. Two days ago, the #5 Harry Potter film arrived in Dubai (a week late). And I was two days late going to see it, due to prior engagements. The cinema was packed, but all the other members of the audience were much shorter than I, so I was able to watch the film with no problems. Which was fortunate: I donated Book #5 to a library as soon as I'd finished it, and I'd forgotten the details of the ending. Basically, it is based on one of the world's greatest stories, that of Winston Churchill in 'The Gathering Storm.' Book #5 in the series starts a new cycle, that of war, which is always a good story. The original cycle, that of school, was fairly well exhausted after book #4.

3. I went to see Farook today. He has a young lady, Jenna from Kazakhstan, whom he hopes to separate from her Tenge (the currency of Kazakhstan). Personally, all I know about Kazakhstan is 'Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan' by Borat. Jenna assures me none of Borat's description of Kazakhstan has any semblance to reality (which I knew, since it was obvious), though she herself has avoided the movie.

4. Farook has several sons, one of whom is hard working, one of whom is quite small, and one of whom is like Fahad. As I wrote previously, Fahad has an income of about €100,000, which makes him rich in my book; however, Fahad spent more than €300,000 each year, which landed him in Al Aweer gaol. I am trying to convince Farook to try to teach his son to spend less than his income, but Farook says he has tried, but has no idea how to accomplish this. So the son in question takes his allowance from Farook, borrows the allowance of all his brothers and sisters, borrows from his mother, and manages to spend even more than he manages to solicit. Just like Fahad.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Harry Potter

The new Harry Potter movie (based on Book 5 of 7) arrives in Dubai today (only a week late).

The last Harry Potter book arrives worldwide on Saturday. It will début in Dubai synchronously with it's début in the rest of the world, i.e. at 3 a.m. Dubai time (and most Dubai book stores will be open at 3 a.m. for devoted fans).

At least three versions of the last book are already on bittorrent on the Internet. As of current date, it is absolutely clear that at least two are fakes. Possibly all three are fakes.

Two may be downloaded from inside the UAE, but one (possibly the real one) is blocked by the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.

There was a TV show in the '60s about an incompetent police department which had, through no fault of their own, accidentally captured a gang and reduced the crime rate in their city, thereby winning an award of tickets to a play for every member of the department. The women (female workers and wives of male workers) were concerned that the play might be pornographic, as many plays were in the 1960s, and sent the policemen to check. Having verified that the play contained no sex whatsoever, the women agreed to go. However, having seen police investigating the play, some right-wingers had condemned it, and, as a result, the play was sold out, so the police department could not get a single ticket.

This happened to Ms. Rowling, as a few strange Christian right-wingers condemned Harry Potter. (As, presumably, they would have condemned Peter Pan, Alice, Willie Wonka, The Brothers Grimm, and all children's literature other than, perhaps, the Children's King James).

This resulted in what folk legend experts call an ostention, i.e. real people reacting exactly as fictional characters had previously done, so that all the Harry Potter books sold out and went into repeated printings until the author became richer than the Queen of England (or Sheba, for that matter).

Still, the books are written with fast-moving plots (I can read about 100 pages in an hour, where it takes me at least a month to read 10 pages of Henry James, or 1 page of Joyce). So Rowling's success isn't entirely undeserved.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Icebergs in the Creek????

Beginning in early July, the Dubai Road and Transport Authority (RTA) began running ads in the local newspapers about a mysterious 'cool spot' in the Dubai Creek.

Dubai initially settled on both sides of a small inlet of the Persian Gulf, and as far back as anyone has written about Dubai, people who needed to cross the inlet ('creek' in British, 'khor' in Arabic) could always find a small water taxi (abra in Arabic) to take them across the inlet.

The only change over the last few centuries is that the abras, once rowed across the creek, are now motorized. (Calling them abras is the usual English rapacious stealing of a word, then Anglicizing it; Arabic does not have a simple plural like English, and certainly does not form plurals by adding an 's'.)

For the last decade or so, the price for crossing the creek in an abra has been fixed at 13 1/2¢. Riding across the creek on an abra has been one of the small pleasures provided by Dubai. The ride is pleasant, even in summer, being much cooler than the rest of Dubai because of the breeze from the creek as the abra plies its way across.

The mysterious 'cool spot' was supposed to be a fleet of new, modern, air-conditioned water buses that would convey passengers across the creek for $1.08 (or $0.98 with a discount for purchasing a pre-paid card) beginning July 15.

For the labourers who must cross the creek, the old price of 13 1/2¢ was about all they could afford, and the RTA announcement didn't say what was going to happen to the old abras.

So today I went to the old abra stand to find out what was happening.

I found huge marquees announcing the new water buses.

I did not, however, find any of the new, air conditioned water buses.

I asked an employee of the RTA, who gave me a blank stare.

I led him to the stand announcing that the new water buses would be running from 6 am until 11 pm.

He said, 'This say you must come at 6 am or 11 pm for water bus. Now no have.'

So I rode across the creek on one of the old abras, formerly 13 1/2¢, but now 27¢. I wasn't going to miss a chance to ride on an abra.

Dating in Dubai

Once, there were two blogs devoted to Dating in Dubai.

The male said that he was looking for 'a meaningful relation,' but Dubai women only wanted sexual gratification, and he wasn't interested in 'meaningless sex.'

Eventually (he said) he met a woman who did want a meaningful relation, and he had to stop his blog. There are some who would say that he had been soundly beaten by a feline, but most understood that the truth was that he had been soundly beaten by a feline.

The other blog was by two women. Both said they wanted sex, but all the men of Dubai were a) incompetent; and/or b) wanted a 'meaningful relationship.'

One of these two women dated the aforementioned man, but (according to both blogs) nothing came of the assignation.

A couple of days ago, the TRA blocked the blog by the two women.

So, unless something happens, I'll have to take them off my active list.

They were, officially, (not to be confused with, a site with a single post against UAE taxis).

And they are listed (for now) as one of my favourite blogs.

Secret Dubai has a petition
to get them un-blacklisted by the TRA, as Secret Dubai herself was once blacklisted (although Secret Dubai's blog had absolutely nothing in it that might be construed as offensive to Islam or the UAE, and the blacklisting was condemned by the local newspapers until Secret Dubai was removed from the blacklist).

So it's not clear what Secret Dubai's petition can do.

But I certainly hope it works.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Little Mosque on the Prairie"

Al Jazeera News recently had a piece about a Canadian TV show that started last January. The show was written up in major Canadian and US newspapers, but most of the articles came out last year (in anticipation) or early last Spring, and are no longer available.

Being a Canadian show, there doesn't seem to be a problem about posting it on the Internet, so it's currently watchable in the UAE on YouTube.

The writer, a devout Muslim, said on Al Jazeera that her main aim was to be funny, and, personally, I thought the humour was quite good.

The two most sympathetic characters are the Anglican pastor and the Imam.

Most of the other characters, both Muslim and non-Muslim, have comic flaws that are in perfect balance.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Dubai Lifeguard

A few years ago, there was a tragedy at a pool.

Before the tragedy, many of the apartment and villa complexes in Dubai had pools, but few if any had lifeguards. Dubai responded by requiring that all pools have lifeguards. Finding money to pay the lifeguards was not required.

One apartment complex, which I fear may be typical, offered a very low-paying position as lifeguard. The job did not provide a visa or work permit, so the lifeguard is currently in Dubai on a visit visa that someone sold him illegally.

Swimmers enter the pool through an air-conditioned anteroom. The apartment offered the lifeguard bed space with the apartment security guards, but doesn't like the smells of their cooking, so, after the pool closes, the lifeguard sleeps on the floor in the air-conditioned anteroom.

Dubai regularly announces on its TV stations that more than 180 nationalities are living here.

The Spanish would say that the 180 are, 'Juntos, pero no revueltos,' but, since I don't speak Spanish, I'm not sure what that means.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Emirates Airline in the New York Times

Today's Business Section of the New York Times features a long article about Emirates Airline.

Emirates Airline continues to amaze all the airline analysts.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


At one time, Orkut allowed members of many UAE professional and social groups to stay in touch. I noted some high schools that had thousands of students, faculty, and alumni using Orkut.

However, a very few of the Orkut pages offered dates (and certain financial transactions that are euphemistically called 'dates').

The TRA might have blocked the offending pages, but this would have sent the wrong signal.

Knowing that the TRA was going to do the right thing, a local newspaper wrote a scathing editorial saying that failing to block a website that had a single offensive page is totally wrong. The TRA must block such sites completely, in order to demonstrate that they do not tolerate any such pages, or any site that ever allows even one such page to inadvertently get posted.

And that newspaper can take full credit now that the TRA has blocked all of Orkut.

Unlike Canute, who stood at ebb tide and ordered the tide not to come in, the newspaper had the good sense to stand at high tide and order the tide to go out.

I should note that I use a security filter on my computer when surfing, and it also blocked Orkut, even before the TRA did, because Orkut tracks all the groups one views, and may make that information available to people whom one would prefer not know one's on line activities.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

An Internet Café in Bur Dubai

Bur Dubai is a maze of twisty little passages, called sikka, and on many of them are Internet Cafés.

One of these cafés, when it first opened, had a sign that said, in English, 'Internet Telephone.' This sign, being a ticket to four years of room and board at a Dubai Municipality facility, quickly disappeared. A sign in Chinese characters remained saying 'Internet Telephone.'

A few weeks ago, I went by and saw an English sign in the window of the café, saying 'Internet telephone no have.'

There are drawings of two circles, side by side. Each circle has a dot that is really at the exact centre of the circle, but it seems to be above centre in one and below centre in the other, an illusion caused by the way lines are drawn inside the circles.

When I saw the 'Internet telephone no have,' it moved the centre of the window that I saw, and I didn't notice the Chinese characters. They are red characters, almost 50 cm high, but the window is quite grimy, so the Chinese characters are much harder to see than the English, and I didn't notice them the first time I passed the café, so I assumed they no longer allowed Internet telephony. However, when I went in, every computer was in use by people who seemed to be talking to friends back somewhere that Mandarin is spoken. When I tried to ask, they just said, 'No English.'

Today, I wandered back by the café, and this time I saw the Chinese characters, and went in again.

I asked, and the proprietors absolutely, positively will not let a foreign barbarian make phone calls from their café, although they did say that anyone is welcome to use the Internet. I asked about the Chinese characters and was informed that they were left by the previous owners and are no longer valid to anyone, even ethnic Chinese, and they suggested that I read the English sign (though none of the staff could).

There is a chance that it is true that it is no longer possible for anyone to make Internet telephone calls from that café, since there were no customers of any ethnic group using the café, and it always used to be very crowded.

But it may just have been the wrong time of day.

Cast of Characters

Since almost every one of the people in this account have a name starting with 'F,' it might be confusing.

Fahad is a wealthy Saudi. He claims to have a Ph.D. from the US, but, when offered a job paying €43,000, he could not produce any proof that he actually had the Ph.D. I consider Fahad wealthy because, without working, he has an income of about €100,000. However, he tends to spend €300,000 each year. This is a problem. He spent all his 2007 income, borrowed from his uncle an advance of €100,000 on his 2008 income, and borrowed another €100,000 from several Dubai banks, an amount he has no means of repaying before 2009. In Saudi, borrowing from ex-pats was not a problem. In the UAE, a Saudi writing bad cheques can be gaoled. Fahad is now residing at the pleasure of the UAE government in a facility somewhere in Dubai.

Farook tries to promote the adage that a certain rare type of person, a type P. T. Barnum said only appears once in every sixty seconds, should be separated from their money as quickly as possible. Farook has promised to get Fahad out of gaol if Fahad's friends will put up 20%, or €20,000. Once out of gaol, Fahad can then walk across the desert into Saudi, where he will be safe. Fahad says he has the entire €100,000, but that the people to whom he wrote the bad cheques cheated him, and he does not owe them anything, so he will not pay. The consensus is that Fahad will not have a tosser before 2009, and that Farook is hoping to separate Fahad's family and friends from their money.

Faysel was an American gangster who tried to kill me. He only failed because some people still working at midnight knew they would be blamed if a dead body were found on their doorsteps, so they stopped Faysel long enough for me to get away. Faysel was arrested for trying to kill someone else, and is now residing in a government facility somewhere in Sharjah.

Majid is a friend of Fahad who has put up €6,000 to try to get Fahad released from gaol, but without success, given Fahad's debts.


Monday, July 02, 2007

So smooth, so Salik (2)

I got a call and had to meet someone on the other side of the Garhoud bridge. The taxi had a Salik sticker, but detoured to the Maktoum bridge to avoid the hated Salik (and, I think, the detour cost me more than the cost of paying the Salik fee for using the Garhoud bridge).

When I met my friend, he said he'd paid for his Salik five days ago, and, as we were talking, his mobile got an SMS saying he'd finally been registered.

He planned to avoid Salik except in emergencies, since he could take Al Khail Highway. Only traffic on Al Khail was not moving at all, so he broke down and took the Salik route, which was very fast, but it cost him Dh 8 (€1.40).

Which is, of course, the RTA's idea, if not my friend's. €2.80 a day adds up rather too quickly on his salary.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

So smooth, so salik???

As I was wandering out to get a newspaper today, I noticed quite a few Salik tags, and quite a few cars without Salik tags. I was going to take a sample and try to estimate, but then, when I got home, the Gulf News had the story: about 25% of cars registered in Dubai have the tags.

Most taxis have them, but I saw one (out of about 20) that didn't.

Some motorists must be avoiding the toll road, some must be hoping the RTA will back down and not actually enforce the fines, and some may be planning to take advantage of the grace period of several days.

I have an appointment which will require me cross the Garhoud Bridge on Wednesday, which means paying the taxi an extra Dh 8, or about €1.40 (round trip). But there's a good chance my client may cancel (he's canceled more often than he's kept appointments with me), so I may be able to avoid experiencing Salik.