Monday, April 28, 2008

Beniyas Square?

I saw my first blooming flame tree about a week ago. This happens as the seasons begin to turn. Dubai has four seasons: warm, hot, unbearable, and summer, and we're moving right along in the general direction of summer, as indicated by the blooming flame trees.

Today, I had lunch with a friend at the DNATA office near the Clock Tower, an excellent meal for about €2.60. Then I proceeded to what the sign says is Beniyas Square. Most people call it Nasr Square, but most streets and squares in the UAE have at least two names, just like the songs in Through the Looking Glass.

In English-speaking countries, most of the inhabitants speak English and most signs are in English, but in the larger cities, there are always neighbourhoods with other alphabets and ideographs. I wandered through several such cities, through neighbourhoods where the signs were all in Cyrillic letters, or all in Arabic letters, or all in Chinese characters (but, of course, once I left those neighbourhoods, the signs returned to 100% English).

In the UAE, though, the majority of the inhabitants are not Citizens, though I strongly suspect it to be the case that the majority use the Arabic alphabet (but complete transparency is as common in the Gulf as snow, so we'll never know the alphabet used by the majority of UAE residents; the Arabic alphabet is used by all Arabs, as well as by all Iranians and by Muslims from the sub-Continent, and I believe these three groups together comprise the majority of UAE residents).

But in Beniyas Square, I saw at least three alphabets and additional ideographs mixed together. There are a lot of Chinese establishments, with signs in Arabic, Chinese, and English. Some have also added Cyrillic, if they expect to deal with Slavic customers.

I found shops filled entirely with imports from China, as one now does throughout the world. And, between those shops, a small Syrian juice and schwarma stand, where I had a very refreshing glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, a glass badly needed after walking too far in the heat with an overweight backpack containing my purchases from several of the Beniyas shops.

Friday, April 25, 2008

'New' Traffic Signals on Oud Metha Road

Oud Metha Road was once a fairly heavily used artery, going by several major clubs and schools. Now it is under construction for the new Metro Line.

Many years ago, Dubai built a pedestrian flyover so that people like Dubai@Random could cross Oud Metha Road without disrupting traffic or endangering ourselves. Now, however, what used to be the main road, the part over which the flyover flies, is closed, and traffic has been diverted to the former access roads.

To protect pedestrians, Dubai installed two 'new' signals (meaning, when I looked, the paint was peeling, but they were new to Oud Metha Road). The first day, I used the two signals. The next time I had to cross Oud Metha Road, one of the signals had been vandalized, but the other one still worked. And the next time that I had to cross Oud Metha Road, the vandalized signal had been covered with burlap that said, 'Rama Brahma,' and the other signal had been turned off.

I am, of course, annoyed at having to fight a rather steady stream of heavy traffic where I once had a flyover, and then (for one day) a pedestrian signal. And I'm surprised that Dubai would put up a burlap sack that said, 'Rama Brahma.' But perhaps I should take comfort at this very public display of religious tolerance, even if it's only in burlap.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Coffee with Farook, April, 2008

Farook asked me to join him for coffee to look over the English of a contract he'd drawn up. He wanted to be sure that the English was OK. In a way, this makes Farook more honest than a lot of people I've met in Dubai, who prepare a contract with a quite reasonable English version and a quite unreasonable Arabic version, and rely on the fact that, in a UAE court, the English has absolutely no standing.

I should mention that, in the West, if the contract were in English and Arabic, and an Arab who'd been cheated showed that the Arabic was completely different from the English, the court might declare the contract null and void. Or it might not, deciding that English is the language of the land. But here, under the law, if the English and Arabic are completely different, it doesn't matter, only the Arabic counts.

But Farook was honest enough to provide an accurate (if not grammatical) English translation of the Arabic.

Should anyone engage him, the contract provides for a non-refundable fee and commission. The fee is payable in advance, and the commission is payable upon Farook's unilateral determination that the mission for which he was engaged has been accomplished.

Farook says he decided to employ the contract because many people engage his assistance, then, after he has done a lot of work for them, decline to pay him.

I started to point out that in the West, vacuum cleaner salesmen (among others) do a lot of work (e.g., clean your carpet), but only collect their commission if you buy the product. 'This is Dubai,' was Farook's reply.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Law Enforcement

The Dubai newspapers recently reported that it is now illegal to leave one's car running. Farook did this a couple of years ago, and came out to find that his car was gone. Of course, when Farook ran in to pick up a package, this was an Oriental transaction that must include, 'How is the life?' with a full report, taking at least half an hour.

I was, however, surprised to see a car parked outside a pharmacy with the engine running, no one inside, and a police car parked behind it with the lights flashing. The young lady who had parked in order to run in and pick up her prescription waved at the constabulary, jumped in her car and drove off. The police followed, lights flashing.

Since Dubai@Random is only reportage of facts, I cannot say how the chase turned out. (It's a pity this isn't fiction, where I could have written a satisfying conclusion to the story.)

In the West, when a professor catches a student cheating, the student begs for mercy (which is seldom given). Here, the student says, 'I wasn't cheating, you can't prove it, it's your word against mine, and I'm a Citizen.' The students try this even if they aren't Citizens, since most professors prefer to err on the side of caution, knowing that they are unlikely to lose their jobs if they overlook cheating, but are certain to lose their jobs if they accuse a Citizen, especially if the Citizen is guilty.

So I'm sure, if the police managed to convince the young lady to pull over, she said, 'I never left my car running! How dare you accuse me. I know the Sheikh personally, and if you don't let me go, I can have you fired.'

I've seen Farook pull this off (for parking illegally). I also know of a young man who was given a year's room and board in the Muraqabat Hotel when he tried it.

So Law Enforcement here is the local answer to casino gambling, which remains illegal.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

DU Blocking makes the Local News

Yesterday, 14 April, a local newspaper reported that du has started blocking websites.

Samurai Sam
reported this back in March. It's good to know that the local news keeps up with what's happening.

Samurai Sam specifically reported the blocking of Secret Dubai.

I first heard of Secret Dubai when a local newspaper reported that her site had been blocked in July, 2005. Once the block had been removed, I naturally looked to see the blog, but the parts she had been told were offensive had been removed.

The blog is mostly a news-clipping blog, taking stories from the local newspapers that Western readers might find 'interesting.' Or just weird.

A Citizen once told me how much all Citizens hated the blog. Although, since it is mostly just stories that have been published in the local English press, it isn't clear why they don't hate the local English press. Or maybe they do, but the local English press is owned by a Citizen, while Secret Dubai is posted on a blog owned by Google. And, of course, I have studied Group Dynamics, where, if one Citizen with wasta says 'Secret Dubai is terrible,' most other Citizens will agree.

Back in 2005, Secret Dubai had some Citizens who were her friends, and who got her blog unblocked, but they no longer seem to be able to help.

Blocking Secret Dubai makes absolutely no sense to me.

It is also unclear from Samurai Sam or the local newspaper if the block applies to all of du, or just to that new part of du that is outside the Free Zone. If the Free Zone must now go through the filter, I don't see how it can continue to attract the world's largest corporations.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Death of a non-Muslim in the UAE

The wife of a British friend died recently. She contracted pancreatic cancer and was told that travel back to Britain would be too dangerous in her condition. I know (a very little) about best medical practices, and everything I know tells me that she received the best possible medical care in the UAE, as good as she could have gotten in Britain or anywhere else. Everyone I know who has needed medical treatment in the UAE has gotten treatment that is in line with the best in the world. I am sure there are specialties that the UAE lacks, but for most people the health care here is excellent.

My friend's problem, unique to the UAE, started after his wife's death. The local newspapers have explained that Muslims will have their estates processed (the English word is probated, but I'm not sure if that applies here) according to Sharia law. Non-Muslims are advised to draw up a will in their home country. So my friend and his wife drew up wills in Britain, and these will determine the probation of his wife's estate in Britain.

But his wife left a car and a checking account in the UAE, and a British will does not apply to the disposition of a person's assets in the UAE. The courts apparently divided up the money in the checking account and dispersed it in accordance with Sharia, but the car is not so easily divided, so they said he must not drive it or sell it until the court issues its final settlement, which will be to divide it up in accordance with Sharia.

My friend plans to leave the UAE and return to Britain in June, does not wish to abandon a car worth about £1,000, and does not wish to spend more than £1,000 in legal fees on a £1,000 car.

I mentioned this to a Muslim friend, who said that Sharia cannot be applied to non-Muslims. However, judges can adjudicate however they like, and judges who think Sharia is the fairest way to divide a car can order the car divided according to Sharia.

And there doesn't seem to be anything my British friend can do about it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Beating the Tree

I am still able to take an evening constitutional (though not for much longer).

Tonight at dusk, I saw some labourers gathered around a tree. One was very vigorously beating the tree with a 5 meter long 1x2. I assumed there must be a reason, and saw that, after each beating, the other labourers scoured the ground and were collecting the seed pods that fell from the tree.

I tried to ask, but the labourers definitely do not speak a single word of English, probably do not speak any Arabic, and possibly don't even speak Urdu, so communication was impossible, though one tried to use hand gestures to indicate that the seed pods would be heading for their communal kitchen and his broad smile indicated that he expected the results to be very pleasant.

I have, of course, seen people shaking fruit and nut trees before, but this was my first experience of this approach to collection in the Emirates.

I've seen fruits and nuts being gathered on some plantations in the UAE and Oman, but there the workers are sent with sharp implements to remove ripe fruits with minimal stress to the tree.

These labourers, apparently quite fond of this particular seed pod, had little regard for the poor tree, and, after they'd finished, I saw quite a few broken branches.

I cannot begrudge the labourers, who have to live on about $180 a month (if they get paid at all), their seed pods, though I wish they could have obtained them without the necessity of so much stress to the poor tree.

But faecal matter, as they say, seeks the steepest negative gradient.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Lifts in Dubai (2): Express Lifts

A shopping mall has an 'express' lift, one that currently goes from the ground floor to the fourth floor without stopping. This is clearly explained in Arabic and English.

I was on the fourth floor, and saw only two people waiting to use the express lift, so I decided it would be easier than using the stairs.

The lift, when it arrived, was full, but only two people got off. Eventually (after some shouting in a language I did not understand), about half the passengers got off, and I got on.

The remaining passengers frantically pressed the buttons for floors 1 to 3. None of which worked. I tried to explain to them that the lift was an express lift that only stopped on the ground floor and the fourth floor, but the passengers do not read Arabic or English, and I know they do not understand spoken English (and I doubt they understand spoken Arabic, but I have no way of testing that hypothesis).

The lift proceeded to the ground floor, and I got off, while the remaining passengers pressed the buttons for 1 to 3 again, hoping they would work this time.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Tangled Web of Zirconium

According to the New York Times, the US is 'alarmed' about Dubai.

Dubai is considered a very good friend of the US, with a strange, complex web of interconnections between the two economies, and can consequently buy all but the most sensitive items (such as ports) from the US. Countries considered potential enemies of the US are banned from purchasing a long, almost exhaustive list of items from the US, and, in many cases, from nations that have signed trading agreements with the US.

So Dubai is doing what it has always done well, acting as a middle-person in complex multi-national trade arrangements.

The US, having just discovered this, is now 'alarmed.'

Dubai responded with a front page story of a man arrested for trying to trade in zirconium, a substance used (according to Wikipedia) for jewellery, surgical instruments, and nuclear devices, thereby showing that Dubai will not allow any dangerous, unauthorized transactions.

But the New York Times says that the US military has found many unexploded IEDs containing US parts, and thinks Dubai may be responsible.

My own opinion is that, if Dubai is selling defective detonators to the terrorists, the US should be grateful that the terrorists wasted a lot of their time assembling IEDs that had no chance of working.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Air-Conditioned Bus Shelters Progress Report

I saw in the local newspapers back in early 2007 that Dubai would have air-conditioned bus shelters for summer, 2007. When I asked a representative of the RTA, he assured me that two had been put up, so that Dubai indeed had air-conditioned bus shelters for summer 2007.

Early in 2008, a shipload of bus shelters arrived and were distributed throughout Dubai. A few shelters have air condition units installed, though most only have a slot where, at some point, the A/C will be installed.

The shelters all said, 'Work in Progress. Do not enter,' and were packed with people waiting for their buses. A newspaper report said that the shelters were works in progress, and Dubai bus riders were asked not to enter them until they were completed. The shelters remained packed.

Then all the new shelters were surrounded by plywood, except for a narrow opening. Since the inside would have been dark and airless, I assume no one entered, though it was impossible to see inside (and I wasn't going to crawl through the opening).

Next, plywood doors appeared, covering the openings, and all these doors were locked.

But Dubai does not want tourists staring at plywood, so colourful plastic covers for the plywood were the next development, announcing that the new shelters were still works-in-progress.

No completion date has been announced.

But already people are writing letters to the editors of the local newspapers complaining about the shelters: for one thing, each stop only has one shelter, and many feel that men and women must have separate shelters. Others complained that the shelters have only eight seats, and will not be adequate.

But the RTA has announced a massive increase in the size of the fleet, promising shorter waiting times and fewer people waiting, and the air-conditioned shelters still sound very appealing to this regular bus rider.

So I'm willing to wait at least until summer before I start complaining.