Thursday, May 31, 2007

Inter-Emirate Travel

When I first arrived in the UAE, I was told horror stories about the time before the UAE fenced all the major motorways. I was told that it was common to find a camel crossing the motorway at 0.2 km/h, while Citizens were proceeding along the same motorway at 200 km/h. Ex-pats caught between the camels and the Citizens were like job applicants who, during a coffee break at the interview, took a large mouthful of boiling coffee: no matter what they did next, it was certain to be wrong.

Today, those fences are in disrepair in a certain Northern Emirate, so, once again, camels and goats may be seen, leisurely crossing the major motorways.

Consequently, part of the adventure of inter-emirates travel is the joy of watching my poor driver, desperately swerving to avoid the dire consequences of hitting either a camel or a goat.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Internet Telephony in Bur Dubai

When I first came to the UAE, I had read about some people sentenced to four years in gaol for providing Internet telephony. The story was in the newspaper to ensure that everyone knew that Internet telephony is illegal throughout the UAE, and that punishment is swift, severe, and certain.

About four years ago, an Internet café opened up on a small alley or sikka in Bur Dubai. The proprietors understood that most Internet cafés make most of their money from telephone calls, so they put up a large sign, in English and Chinese, saying they offered International Telephone Calls. I naturally expected the café to be out of business rather quickly.

All that happened was that, about two weeks after I first noticed the café, I saw that the English sign was gone, but the Chinese characters advertising phone calls to China were still prominently displayed. The café has continued to operate for the last four years without any problems.

I was back in Bur Dubai last week, and noticed a large sign, prominently displayed in the café window: 'No internetwork phone.' No such sign appeared in Chinese characters, but the old Chinese characters promising Internet telephony to China had been taken down.

Inside, I saw a large number of Chinese customers with headsets and microphones, but non-Chinese need not apply to use Internet telephony at that café.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Bindi Masala (2)

A number of readers (3 to be exact) have tried to tell me that bindi is okra. Or, if one is British, ladyfingers.

In my youth, I tried to feed old, dried okra to cows (I suppose goats might eat it, but I'm from cattle country where we don't allow any ovines.) The cows wouldn't touch it until we soaked it in water, after which it turned into green, slimy snot. Such are ladyfingers (or okra).

Bindi masala, on the other hand, is coloured the colour of, well, masala. It does have some black chunks of bindi in it, but no one had better try to tell me that those black chunks are okra. I refuse to belive it.

I have also eaten calimari. Calimari is a sort of round, white noodle. However, while I was trying to enjoy my calimari, a supplier came to the restaurant struggling with a squid. I'm not sure why he was bringing a squid into the restaurant, since no one in his right mind would ever eat such a thing.

Finally, I had a cousin who used to frequent a Mexican restaurant where he would always order lengua Lea. This was little cubes of meat in a spicy tomato sauce. One day, he saw someone bringing a large tongue into the restaurant and foolishly asked, 'Why?' They told him the Spanish name for tongue, and what he was eating. I don't know if he's ever been back to that restaurant.

Which is why I never ask, 'Why?' about food. And why I refuse to belive people who try to tell me that bindi masala is okra or ladyfingers, or that calimari has anything to do with squid. I suppose, if I were convinced that calimari is squid, I'd stop eating it and switch to Karalan kalava.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bindi Masala

It was many years ago that I had answered an ad for a job in a large city, and was granted an interview. When I arrived, I discovered that they wanted someone much younger (and this was 20 years ago), but they said they'd give me the job until they could find someone more suitable. After the interview, it was late, and a Hindu Brahmin (just so no one thinks it was a Whitehall or Boston Brahmin) was ordered to take me to dinner. He was a young, very junior member of the organization, since I wasn't important enough for anyone else to take me to dinner.

The Brahmin said he would watch me while I ate. He was a very thin young man, and he looked very hungry.

I can't eat with hungry people watching me. If I'm in a restaurant and see homeless, hungry people watching me through the window, my first choice is to ask the waiter to draw the blinds. My second choice is to get a doggy bag and eat at home. My last choice is to order the cheapest thing on the menu and ask the waiter to take it out to them. So I asked why I'd be eating while he sat there staring hungrily at me.

'They ordered me to take you to a chop house, but I am a Hindu, and I cannot eat anything there, so I will just watch you, but don't mind me, enjoy your meal.'

'Where do you eat?'

Fortunately, he was young and still unmarried, so he didn't say, 'At home with my family.' Instead he said, 'I always eat in an Indian restaurant, but they said I must not take you there. You wouldn't like it. They told me to take you to the chop house, then to your hotel, and after that I can eat.'

My regular choices one, two, and three were clearly out of the question, so I firmly ordered him to take me to his restaurant. He was nervous, since he would be in trouble if he presented a bill from the restaurant against the express orders of his boss, but hunger got the best of him, and the cost of dinner for two at the Indian out of his own pocket seemed preferable to the alternative.

At that time and in that city, the Indian community kept themselves segregated, so we entered a section of the city where all the shops had signs in Hindi and English. When we got to his favourite restaurant, all the patrons of the restaurant were Indian, and the menu was in Hindi. I told him to order for both of us, and he ordered bindi masala, rice, and some kind of bread (I forget which one).

I then lectured him on agriculture: that ladyfingers are a very useful crop, that they prevent erosion and improve the soil when used in a crop rotation scheme, and that they are an excellent animal fodder. The text where I'd read this stated, though they feared no Westerner would believe it, that in some very remote, primitive cultures, ladyfingers are even used for human food.

It was my first experience in an Indian restaurant, but was hardly my last, since I quite enjoyed the bindi masala. It was many years before I could try an Indian restaurant again, since I declined the job offer, and, in my village, all the restaurants offer a uniform presentation of meat and potatoes.

But, after I made it to the UAE, I found it was no longer difficult to find Indian restaurants, and I've had many different Indian dishes. Including bindi masala. Which look remarkably like ladyfingers, but I'm sure they aren't, since I never really believed the agricultural textbook about their being used anywhere as human food.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Getting Around Dubai

On 15 April 2007, exactly one year to the day after The Desert Weasel predicted its demise, The Cyclone closed. For a month, the guards who formerly collected the hefty entrance fee remained standing outside, promising a rapid re-opening, but now they, too, are gone.

However, as I was on my evening constitutional, I saw a taxi pull up to The Cyclone, and three young ladies emerge. I had seen this frequently before The Cyclone closed, as quite a few young ladies came by taxi every night to ply their usual trade. These ladies, however, spoke with a British accent, and I couldn't imagine why three British ladies would be coming to The Cyclone.

But then I understood.

The Cyclone was one of three establishments with the same owner, the remaining two being an upscale Indian restaurant and a 'Chinese' restaurant (into which, I believe, no one of Chinese extraction has ever set foot). Since few taxi drivers know the restaurants by name, the easiest way to get to the restaurants is to ask for the Cyclone. So, after getting out directly in front of The Cyclone, the three ladies wandered into the 'Chinese' restaurant, thereby ending my state of bewilderment.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

L. Paul Bremer's Op-Ed piece

In yesterday's Gulf News, Paul Bremer had an op-ed piece titled "US made the right decisions in Iraq." It is some of the most self-serving, arrogant nonsense to ever appear in print.

In Korea, with the support of the Western press, the US could say that the Allies strictly followed the Geneva convention, that they never mistreated prisoners or killed civilians, and no one reported anything to the contrary. Most of those brought up in the West believed what the US was saying, since there was no hard evidence to the contrary, and there were good reasons to disbelieve the claims by the Communists, 'the enemies of freedom and democracy,' that the US had slaughtered, in cold blood, entire villages filled with women and children.

In Iraq, we watched public videos of the US abuses and mismanagement, we continue to watch new videos of continuing abuse and mismanagement, and now we have to read nonsense like Bremer's.

The man has no shame whatsoever, and assumes that if one lies long enough, people will somehow come to believe the opposite of what they've seen with their own eyes.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Blogging Problems

I tried to check this blog yesterday, but got the message, 'This blog not on this server,' and 'This attempt to contact seems to be a worm or a virus. Please check your computer with an anti-virus software program.'

I have no idea what that was about, because it isn't happening today. And, if I do have a virus (in spite of having anti-virus installed and running), it was me, not the virus trying to contact this blog.

I could contact any other blog, but not this one. So it wasn't all of that was the problem, only dubai@random.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Venus Restaurant

In the West, an establishment named 'Venus' might possibly be a respectable establishment if it operated as a woman's salon, promising that patrons would leave looking like a Greek goddess. Other establishments using the name tend to be less respectable, and cater to male clients.

In the Northern Emirate is a restaurant called Venus, which offers North Indian, South Indian, Tandoori, Chinese, and Continental (but it doesn't say which continent) Cuisine. Almost all for less than €2.

How they came up with that name is a mystery.

Officially, the ruler plans to raze the block of inexpensive buildings in which the restaurant is housed and replace them with something that looks like Dubai, only more so. So far, the plans remain plans: bad sana, inshallah.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

US Elections

The withdrawal of the US from Iraq is currently scheduled for January, 2009. As of current date, a Democratic victory in November, 2008 seems certain, followed by an withdrawal after the new president takes office.

One can see the current odds for a Democratic victory at the Iowa Electronic Markets.

In spite of the Democrats previously demonstrated ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, an investment on the Democrats at the bookmaker's seems safer than Dubai real estate at this point.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Trying to get home in a Northern Emirate

There are a large number of vehicles in a certain Northern Emirate with the word 'Taxi' written on them in Arabic and English. When I've asked them to take me somewhere, they usually say that they're not going there. Apparently, their business is not carrying passengers about the Emirate, but something else, and, if a passenger wishes to go wherever their business is already taking them, they'll let him ride for a fee.

These vehicles all have meters, but most drivers refuse to use the meters, which I can understand: one can go all over the urban area and the meter will only register between €1 and €2. Consequently, many of the drivers demand €3 to €5 for these trips so they can make a profit. They also pick up other passengers going in the first passenger's general direction, and these other passengers also have to pay €3 to €5, unless they are friends of the driver.

I was waiting (futilely) for a taxi going in the general direction of the place where I sleep when I'm in this Emirate, when a young man parked his car some distance away from me, walked to where I was, and offered to take me anywhere in the Emirate.

'How much?'

'No charge. You look just like my father.'

Actually, I come from a different continent than his father, and my age would be more in line with his grandfather's. Had he asked the metered fare of €1, I would have been delighted to accept. Had he demanded €2 or €3, I would have reluctantly paid it to get to my bed. But I was suspicious. I'm not sure why, he looked like a nice enough young man, but for someone to go so far out of his way to give a stranger a lift seemed a little too unusual. And one hears stories from this Emirate.

I probably wasted half an hour (and €2) out of unnecessary caution, but I couldn't persuade myself to get into his car.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Jebel Ali Club

On several occasions, ADVENTURES IN DUBAI has mentioned the Jebel Ali Club, but didn't give directions. I was finally dragged all the way out there. It is on the 99 and 92 bus routes, near Ibn Battuta Mall.

When we arrived, my friend wanted breakfast, and breakfast was served. They have a lavish buffet, with fresh omelettes, if desired, served from around noon until 3 p.m.

The buffet is around €7, and is much better than an €16 buffet available in a certain Northern Emirate. Mezze, fish, chicken, meat, vegetables, and fruit. Coffee and tea included (other beverages extra).

As with any buffet, I waddled out of the club.

It is well worth taking the 92 bus out from Bur Dubai. Or a taxi for those who can afford one.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Road Beautification

Some of the city streets in a certain Northern Emirate are divided boulevards. One of these divided roads had a median with grass, trees, and a border of 'wild' flowers.

Now the median has only the trees: all the grass and flowers have been removed.

Where the grass was, workers are now laying stones in complex geometric patterns.

In the West, such a project would have appeared in the newspapers, with an explanation of why the new version was going to be a vast improvement over the old version, but here we can only watch and wonder.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

So Farewell Sunny Cyclone???

On 15 April 2006, The Desert Weasel posted that The Lodge and The Cyclone were to be bulldozed. At the time, I was in the habit of lunching at the Lodge, and went by to enquire. The employees of the Lodge hadn't heard anything; however, in July, 2006, the Lodge closed, just as The Desert Weasel had predicted. Apparently, The Lodge management believed in Theory M: the mushroom theory of management.

The Lodge had been three establishments: one Philippine-themed, called 'The Equator,' one Thai-themed, and one British-Pub-themed, with several different areas under different names. I found that an area called 'Cheers' inside the British Pub had excellent luncheons for a reasonable price. But not after July, 2006. However, the Lodge wasn't exactly bulldozed.

On January 21, 2007, the Lodge re-opened with a Lebanese-themed restaurant replacing the Equator, an Asian-themed restaurant replacing the Thai restaurant, and an upscale nightclub named 'Chi' replacing the homey British Pub. Chi doesn't open before seven, so the former luncheon has effectively been bulldozed, even if the building where it was served has not been. So much for The Lodge.

On 15 April 2007, one year to the day after the Desert Weasel's announcement, the Cyclone finally closed. The security guards who used to collect the €20 cover charge are still there, but only to say that the Cyclone is closed, that it will re-open at some point, but they have no idea when that will be. They said that management are making some major changes, and it will be quite a different Cyclone when it re-opens.

Perhaps with fewer empty packages of Cialis littering the sands by the entrance.