Saturday, 26 October 2013

Crisis, what crisis?

The BBC news website is a constant reminder of the high profile that environmental matters have back home. Whether it's British Gas putting their prices up again, the cost of petrol, or alternative sources of energy, there is no doubt that one way or another everyone is being effected on a daily basis by actual or perceived actions based around guarding natural resources.  So how does the UAE see these issues?

We don't watch the national news over here and the content of bulletins on the radio are very different to what we're used to in Europe ('man drowns in sea while washing camel', tragic but true).  Stories tend to be UAE centered and if the wider world is mentioned it's only in the sense of whatever impact the situation could have on the GCC nations.  So I can only base my impression on what I experience.  From that angle, re-cycling is virtually non-existent. Most public spaces have three coloured wheely bins so people can separate their plastic from paper etc.  But in our block of flats there is no re-cycling possible at all, everything goes in to one bag then in to the rubbish chute, which I can't use as I have developed an aural vertigo from hearing the bag crash to it's final resting place!

In England, every other dwelling in our village had photo-electric panels to generate electricity, here in the land of 365 day sunshine, I've yet to see one.  I was reading an English language newspaper yesterday and saw the Dubai is aiming at becoming the conference centre for the Emirates.  To that end it is planning a sustainable transport system including an extension to its light railway and a new tram system.  I applaud that foresight and hope that RAK tries to emulate the lead that Dubai is taking. Here there is a large workforce of foreign labour but no public transport at all.  As a developing Emirate it can only be a matter of time before someone realises the benefit of a integrated bus system that can only help with the country's development.

Casual littering here is as bad as anywhere, with people happy to throw rubbish from cars safe in the knowledge that the cleaning gnomes will come along and pick it up.  Unfortunately, that is exactly what happens.  There is a band of guys in hi-visibility clothing who patrol the roads in all weather picking up the litter.  I don't know what they get paid but I'd guess at not very much and they do an outstanding job.  You could argue that if they stopped picking it up, people would see the results of their selfish littering and stop doing it, but I doubt that.  No different here to anywhere else then I guess?

Enough of the serious stuff, let's talk about driving again!  Friends and family will know of my 'cruise control' game that I used to play on motorways.  Set your cruise control then see how many times you overtake certain cars that firstly overtake you then slow down so you have to overtake them.  How the nine hours driving down to St. Germain-Laparade used to fly by..  Here, there are other games.  The 'I may be in the left hand lane but actually want to turn right' game, or the fun we have with the 'it may look like I have indicators but they're only for decoration, let's see how long I can go before I use them' contest.  It wouldn't surprise me if I looked at a second hand car one day and found the indicator stalk had seized up due to lack of use.

It appears that I may have some full time work coming up and lasting the next month or so.  I will endeavor to keep the blog rolling along if my timetable allows it.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

As camp as a row of tents.

As our shipping has now arrived we have a television set again (when was the last time anyone used 'set' after 'television'?  Probably during the coronation in 1952) having gone for six weeks without it.  As we had been pretty busy, we hadn't missed TV at all, so we didn't bother connecting it up and decided to talk or just read in the evenings...  That's a lie, we immediately bought a programme package from OSN, one of the two suppliers over here.  The next day a team of three engineers arrived and connected up.  It took them three hours and they had to put a new dish on the roof, trace the aeriel cable down 5 floors and similarly connect it to the internet by pulling the wire through the wall cavity.  Amazing service.  This means that like in the UK, we now have about 900 channels, however 850 of these are in languages we don't understand, although they do sometimes offer English subtitles, which sometimes work.

To compete with Eastenders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale, there is a wide choice of Arabic and Indian soaps.  Some are based in a contemporary setting and they really put the drama in dramatic.  You could never complain that there wasn't enough acting going on, they are all giving it everything they've got with an overload in the 'smoldering look' department surpassed only by an excess of 'looking really sad', all to a background of continuous and moving music.  Very little dialogue, which is just as well because you couldn't give it everything in the' staring wistfully in to the distance' shot if you had to concentrate on talking too.  One thing I can't quite understand is that most of the locals here wear traditional dress but in all the soaps the actors dress like they're in London or Paris?!  Imagine watching Eastenders and seeing everyone dressed like a Jean Paul Gaultier model?  As for the period programmes, things you'll never hear on set would include: 'do you think we've overdone the make-up' or 'these costumes are too lavish'.

My favorite is an Arabic series based in the 18th century and centered around a Sultan and his harem, I say favorite but I only watched it once for about five minutes.  Three things sum up this programme:  false beards, big hats, dried grapes.  For the Sultan's women are called Sultanas and every time a minion (not the Despicable Me type)  says 'the Sultana is here to see you sire' I expect to see a velvet cushion with a raisin sitting on top.  If they had made a Carry on up the Middle East this is what it would have looked like, although Kenneth Williams may have struggled a bit as machismo oozes from all the male players.  One character has a stick on Freddie Mercury mustache, how he can resist saying 'it's a kind of magic' or 'I want to break free' whenever he has the chance defeats me, it would be too tempting.

We took a road trip to see the other side of the peninsular in our mighty Toyota Yaris Hertz rental special, yes I am still prevaricating about which car to buy.  Once again the contradiction in the road system out here raised it's head.  The motorway across the mountains was smooth and very well constructed, but at either end the roads were, as usual, unpredictable.  Sometimes they are so rough you think the car is going to disintegrate and you'll end up like the Flintstones, which is why Amélie has taken to wearing a bone in her hair and you can hear me call 'Domiiiiiiii', when I get home.   Japanese cars, especially Toyota and Nissan do very well here for that reason.  A lot of brands just get shaken to bits after a few years but what the Japanese have learned is that if you take an indestructible chassis, like the Toyota that Top Gear famously couldn't destroy, then build a family car around it you have something that will take on the roads and stand a chance of winning.  As a bonus, you get to keep your teeth and not have them shaken out.

There is a group of people who love to go camping here and claim to enjoy it..  Now when I think of camping it's a scene from the New Forest, with a shower block, electrical hook up, and a pub round the corner to save on the cooking on one gas burner routine.  We passed some campsites today, 'this ain't Kansas Toto' is what I thought...  I wasn't sure if it was a campsite or the set for a movie based on an Andy McNab book.  Devotees say 'ooh but it's getting back to basics, living in at one with nature', but forgive me for being modern, as soon as ancient man started walking on two limbs he started building houses so he didn't have to sleep on dirt.  I'm happy for you if that is your idea of communing with the Earth, but I'll stick to the Hilton Beach Club thanks, although that is getting really busy as it is full of tourists at the moment.  A hotel in a hot country being full of guests, whatever next..

So these are pictures of camp sites, the fenced off area is a private pitch and trust me, when the locals camp they fill an area that big.  Tents, 4x4s, cookers, fridges generators, it's a similar logistical exercise to Glastonbury but without the toilets... (I don't know the answer to the question that's in your mind, let's hope they take it home with them....).

It's the same when they have picnics.  China crockery, cooking ranges, cushions to sit on, the kitchen sink. OK, I made the last one up but you get the idea.  I guess you can take the Bedouin out of the desert but you can't stop him taking a fridge full of desserts on a day out.

You'll gather that the photos were taken from a moving car, this is because it is still on the warm side here. When we moved out to the UAE we promised not to talk about the weather to people at home.  We know how tedious it is when expats drone on about how cold it is when they come back to Europe or about how they are feeling the chill because it's gone down to 35 degrees here (but it does feel chilly, honest..).  We have our own scale, the Amélie thermometer.  It's based on how many minutes we can be out of the car before she reaches boiling point and starts to whistle like a kettle.  Today it was about five minutes, faster than most kettles I reckon, so it was stay in the car time.  She's a bit like uranium, if she's out of water she becomes unstable and  can do more harm than a Japanese nuclear power station in meltdown.

Next week, the UAE and the environment, 'crisis, what crisis'?

Sunday, 13 October 2013

It'll be nice when it's finished..

Sorry for the delay in publishing the blog this week, we had the pleasure of visiting our friends in Sharjah which is an Emirate between us and Dubai.  However it's a lot more like Dubai than Ras al Khaimah!

The first thing you hear when you say you're moving to Ras al-Khaimah is 'where?', no-one has heard of the place, so you end up saying 'it's near to Dubai' and most people have heard of that.  The slogan for the RAK (Ras al-Khaimah) tourist agency is 'The rising Emirate', which is absolutely true.  We've been told by people that have lived here a while that there has been a huge amount of development here over the last five years, some of it aimed at people willing to commute to Dubai or Sharjah and other elements targeted at developing the tourist industry.  Suffice to say that there is a long way to go here before it gets as cosmopolitan as Dubai but you can only admire the effort being put in to finding a place for RAK in the world of the Emirates.

Sharjah and Dubai are incredible to the first time visitor.  If you go as a tourist and get transfers in to the hotel then tours around the city, you'll see the landmarks but miss the sense of the places. There are so many skyscrapers that you wonder where all the people work who populate them?  So many shopping malls that you can't envisage there are enough customers to keep the shops in business, and most of it is new.  Our friend who was acting as a tour guide commented on how when he was at school, a mere twenty years ago, there was only one tall building of note and that they used to have school trips there to marvel at it's presence. Now it is dwarfed by the multitude of buildings surround and rise above it.  Any city that has a seven lane motorway running through the middle has ambitions clearly built around the car as a main form of transport, but Dubai also has a bus service and light railway. RAK has neither which is why it feels like a work in progress rather than a mature city.

Our shipment has arrived, roughly two months after seeing it put in the back of a van in East Preston, it came out of a van (not the same one..) here in RAK.  The boxes had obviously had an interesting journey and some were a little battered and bruised, but nothing was broken and nothing missing.  We had packed a couple of candles which had all but melted but that was it!  This means our flat is feeling more like home now, and tomorrow we get our pictures put up and the TV connected, which means we are just about there for phase one of our arrival.

Next week is Eid so there is a four day holiday at the request of the government and no work or school for Domi and Amélie.  We hope to get out and about to explore RAK as well as continue with the things on our to do list including continuing with our project to buy a car, the terms of which change daily!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Hurry up and wait. Or, 'Welcome to the Middle East, more Limbo than the Carribean..'

This is not the blog I had hoped to write. Last week I mentioned that our shipping had arrived, hopefully all 19 cases of it, and was in Dubai awaiting customs clearance. Unfortunately, it is still there, still waiting to be cleared. Waiting is something you have to be happy to do out here, along with being patient, smiling when you want to frown, and it's maybe best not to learn the Arabic for 'What on Earth are you doing?!' lest it slips out.

Before you move out to the Middle East, one piece of advice that everyone gives you is 'don't be in a rush for anything, let things happen when they want to happen', but that is sometimes easier said than done. For example, let's take visas. People who arrive here with a job offer in their pocket pick up a temporary visa at immigration, the rest of us come in on 30 day tourist visas. We then have to wait until our spouses have got their full residency visas before they can start the process of sponsoring us (which local men find hilarious. 'your WIFE is sponsoring YOU?!?!')  So it goes, tourist visa, pink temporary residents visa, trip to Oman to ratify temporary visa, visit to hospital for blood test and to see two other Doctors who look at you, frown, then stamp a bit of paper. Off this lot goes and in the meantime the school apply for an Emirates ID card. Then there are two medical cards, one for the public hospital the other for private healthcare. Once you have all this you have to immediately apply for a UAE driving licence, then your two years are up and it's time to come home...

At each stage you find yourself in situations that amaze you. For example today I had to get a letter in Arabic from Dominique saying she was happy to allow me to drive, yes, she thought that was hilarious too. Now, we've been here six weeks but Domi has not learnt Arabic yet, so off I trot to the typist offices next to the law courts. These consist of a row of about 10 booths, each about 18' x 10' with a desk, computer and typist. After trying two offices without being able to explain what I wanted (I've not picked up Arabic yet either) the third somehow worked it out, typed it up, and £3.50 later I'm off to get it signed by my smiling wife, happy as she is 'allowing' me to be the chauffeur.

So off I go to the big police station that is the DVLA out here. First, queue for the reception policeman, quite a long queue, maybe twelve people all keen to get on with it, 'you from England', 'yes', 'you like football', 'yes' (I lied, I didn't think this was the place for my "I think football has been ruined by Murdoch money and is a game for overpaid pseudo celebrities who would trip over a postage stamp if it was in front of them" speech) so he shows me the photos on his mobile from his trip to Stamford Bridge, where he had the pleasure of meeting John Terry. The twenty or so people that were now behind me found it fascinating.... 'You number 205, go to desk 7 or 9'. After waiting for five minutes, I realise the number was pointless as the system was down and all those people walking past me were queue jumping. So I get to the front and after 10 minutes of the guy checking my paperwork and chatting to his mates he asks 'where your ID card', 'I haven't got it yet, I was told it wasn't necessary by people who have already done this', 'it is.. next...'. I left, quietly sobbing.

Surely nothing else crazy can happen today. So tonight we're waiting for delivery of our new sofa bed. My phone rings 'we outside 5006, open door'. We've had this before from a pizza delivery guy, we live in 506 so 5006 is already ringing alarm bells. I open the door to an empty hallway, 'no, you're not outside our door, you're in the Capital Hotel aren't you?', 'yes'... We live in a block four up from the Capital, a hotel infamous for it's tenth floor massage parlour, allegedly. I didn't ask why they thought someone in a Travel Lodge would want a two piece sofa bed and some bookshelves delivered. So I pop along to the Capital to find Laurel and Hardy (and this is cruelly added for comedic effect, when really I have every sympathy for these guys who get paid the minimum wage and have just a few words of English or Arabic but are thrown in to situations not of their choosing. Hats off to you, I will tip next time.) coming out of a lift with our goods, they were going back for the piano. The lift is in front of reception, did the receptionist wonder where they were going? After re-loading the van they follow me the 100 yards to do the delivery again, this time to the right place.

So I jest about the having to play the waiting game, as things do get done. Driving licences are issued, things do get delivered, so maybe I need to be less up tight and follow their lead? Long serving teachers tell us how things are speeding up, it used to take four months to get a visa sorted, it's now six weeks. I also remember how infuriating it used to be dealing with Government departments back home, this is a developing country, what's their excuse?

Footnote: I returned to the DVLA today and successfully got my licence. Once again he said to me 'you number 205'. What a coincidence I thought. Once again the numbering system for the queue was down so I ignored it, until the issuing police office said 'you pay 205 dirhams for licence', aaaahhhh.....