Monthly Archives: March 2012

16. Lanes

A potential issue I see arising with the blog is – despite the matters popularity – that it does bark on a lot about general road usage and driving etiquette.  Some of my readers from across the globe may wonder what on earth is going on over here on the black rivers that makes it such a popular talking point.  It’s definitely a case of “you have to see it to believe it”.

Every now and again we read in the UAE national media that road accidents and fatalities are on a downward spiral, and that’s a good thing, bravo Police, bravo.  However, you are never going to eradicate all of the nonsense and I fear that until the real issue is tackled we will continue to see missing bits of guardrail and lots more rubber 11’s.

So what is the key issue?  What is the cause of the vast majority of road accidents in the UAE?  Is it speeding?  Nope.  Is it drug-fuelled drivers?  Surprisingly not.  Is it people driving the wrong way on the road?  No, guess again.  Give up?  It’s lane abuse.  That’s it; people are incapable of using the correct lane.

A couple of days ago I had to drive over to Abu Dhabi from Al Ain to stand in the sun all day and shout.  My shouting began in earnest as I approached a banged up Toyota Hilux from the aft.  I was in the right lane aka the ‘slow’ lane.  Argue as much as you like but this is the correct one to be in.  To fully comply with the law I was also travelling at the speed limit.  So to recap, I am driving at the limit in the correct lane…

In the middle lane this Hilux-ist was travelling well under the limit…at a guess I would say 80kph.  Anyway I decided that I would continue with my trajectory and not switch lanes.  As it turns out that was a poor choice.  Mr. Hilux man decided he would join me in my lane so without indicating – obviously – began to swerve towards me.  I sounded the horn and slammed on the anchors as he went darting off in the opposite direction wondering what was going on.  I was angry.

Weapon of choice in curbing lane lawlessness. Gatling gun optional

Once my rage had subsided I began to think.  Who was in the wrong?  What if we had collided, who would the old Bill accuse of being the perpetrator?  I mean was it me?  Was I undertaking?  I was in the correct lane at the limit not doing anything wrong.  It’s not my fault if the imbecile on my left was 40kph under the limit in the wrong lane.  But the fact would remain that I was undertaking another car and he was simply cruising in the middle…  A definite brain-teaser.

Whilst you have a quick think about that the rest of us will do some brainstorming.  In an ideal world if I were to find such a lawless driver with all the road courtesy of a cabbage I would fire him off the road into the desert, but since we’re trying to bring road accidents down we need to leave the automotive pugilism to one side.  Do we line up next to a lane straying car and ‘kettle’ them into the correct lane before doffing our cap and saying “don’t mention it chap, just here to help”?  I fear not.

We are powerless to educate these scamps and firing bullets and setting them on fire won’t help.  I was going to suggest just giving them some room, but after close observation a better method has presented itself.  It appears you are best off tailgating Mr. Hilux very closely and flashing your headlights repeatedly to intimidate him.  If he fails to move over then sound the horn continuously as you flail your hands and then overtake him on the outside shoulder at break-neck speed, whilst shouting…loudly.

This seems to work very well for the Land Cruisers…

 

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15. Cinema

As you may have already guessed, today’s missive is about the cinema, or ‘movies’ if you will.  What you may not have guessed is why on Earth I feel compelled to write about it in a blog that talks about life in the UAE.  I charge you to read on…

Yesterday night my girlfriend and I had some time to kill in Abu Dhabi. After a brief symposium we decided it best to take in a flick before I took her to the airport.  We picked a feel-good film; one we thought wouldn’t compete in terms of attendance size with the much publicised Hungry games, or whatever it’s called.

We went through and seated up at the designated time as dictated on the ticket.  The crowd started to increase in mass during the incessant trailers and adverts.  It was annoying as we both generally prefer a quieter cinema, and at 10pm on Tuesday night we thought we would be successful.  Alas no.  As the masses kept on coming I couldn’t help but notice that 25% of the audience were children.  Not young teens, actual children, unattended.

Slightly bemused I checked the ticket to verify the films rating and sure enough it was rated “15”.  I am not yet at the age whereby I cannot deduce young people’s ages; I am not in my 70’s.  They were inescapably pre-teen, and in some cases pre-double figures.  Where did the largest group of youths decide to sit?  Well obviously it was directly behind us.  It was always going to happen.

The film began and as I sat there enjoying reading all the names of some of the people who had made the film possible the chattering shouting failed to subside.  I started to twitch but had to think my tactics through carefully.  They were behind me so had the advantage of having the high ground, all I had in the bank was the possibility of turning around and bludgeoning them with my oversized cinema-only-super-large Coca-Cola cup.  I was best off leaving them be, hoping someone else would tire and intervene.

A quarter of the way through the film and yet more nonsense presented itself.  After clearly having ignored the quite blatant message at the start advising you to turn your phone on silent, the two older teens on my left engaged in some phone-ism.  Obviously they were messaging their other friends telling them that they were missing a great film.  If I ever see anyone with an iPhone in the cinema again I shall take it and insert it somewhere dark and windy.

There was more phone-ism going on in front.  This time some impudent individual was doing gaming.  I kept monitoring his high score and took solace from the fact that he was utter crap.  All the while those pesky kids behind me kept chattering shouting.

There were some 16-18 year olds sitting near the back and at halfway decided that they were hungry.  With about as much subtlety as a drunken Rhinoceros they proceeded back to the lobby shouting “Bam, bar, bof” to appease their hunger.  The point they made of being as loud as possible made me thankful that I was stuck in front of the youths who were still chattering shouting.

By the time the film was drawing to a close and after all the distractions I had absolutely no idea what Eddie Murphy was doing, or why he couldn’t talk, and why there was a tree there.  I whispered to my girlfriend quietly “sorry hun, why can’t he talk again” to which the person on her right looked at me and said “SSSHH!!! I’M TRYING TO WATCH THIS!!!”

It was at this point the security guards came and evicted the alleged troublesome person who had been making all the noise and ruining the experience for everyone else.

Can someone tell me how the film ends please?

An example of some ancient hieroglyphs... We have been unable to translate its meaning so far...

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14. Manners

As previously noted in the blog the UAE is a monstrously cosmopolitan place where several million different cultures are all thrown in the bag together.  Once in the bag we are all expected to get along just fine and automatically understand the customs of others without let or hindrance.  I must say it’s a jolly exciting concept being all knowing, but is it really possible to understand all the customs?  Can some be misinterpreted as rudeness?  Yes.  Very much so.

The other week I found myself staying in a 5 star hotel for a few nights.  Be under no illusion, this is not something I can generally afford but through various means I found myself being there and treated like a dignitary.  After a 17 week drive to reach the hotel and after a short boat ride we were checking in at the front desk when the happy man in the smashing waistcoat took our bags.  We were led up to the room and shown around, and then the man in the waistcoat went back downstairs for our luggage.  He returned in a jiffy so I thought I would flex some western muscle by giving the man and his waistcoat a reasonable tip.

I held the folded note between my fingers and went to offer my hand, as if to appear über cool.  I extended my hand to the waistcoat; he took the money avoiding eye contact and continued to walk to the door.  I heard a murmur that could have been interpreted as “thank you” but I couldn’t be sure as the door closed behind him.  I was slightly shocked to say the least.  I thought what an ungrateful bastard he was.  Ok the man brought my bags upstairs for me, a task for which I had thanked him, and then tipped him also for good measure; I expected thanks in return.

G' morning chaps! Don't mind if we drop in do you?

Now, I may be an un-educated oaf from the capital of the late British Empire, but where I come from not looking someone in the eye as they tip you whilst saying thank you is appallingly bad manners.  Maybe my heritage is the problem, maybe he was still angry that we invaded 200 years ago and therefore I am solely responsible?  Maybe he thought I was a neo-colonial overlord and he had to rush to his friends to warn them that the British were at it again?  Was my tip insultingly small?  Or maybe where he comes from is it a sign of respect to not look your tipper in the eye?  After some digging it turns out the latter is indeed correct.  He was merely being respectful to me, as dictated by his own interpretation of good manners.

It got me thinking, how are we to know what’s right and what’s wrong?  How do we know if we are insulting someone?  Neither the waistcoat or I could lay claim to the UAE as our homeland, we are both expatriates so who is right and who is wrong?  Hell, is there even an answer to that question?  I fear not.

I suppose what we should all be aiming to do is learn some tolerance and maintain the decent manners that we were taught when we were growing up.  Ok, if someone bumps into you in an alley, stabs you and takes your iPhone then the odds are that they have no interest in good manners at all.  But if you tip someone and they don’t look you in the eye then they are likely being respectful to their own upbringing, so refrain from berating them; even if they’re wearing a silly waistcoat.

So just to clear the air with the former colonies, invading your land and taking all your gold is just a British way of saying “good morning”…

 

 

 

 

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13. Boredom

I have been living in the UAE for over 4 years now and in that time have met a rich array of people from every conceivable continent across the globe.  I’ve met architects, civil engineers, footballers, buyers, journalists, doctors, professional moaners, teachers, and company directors, travel operators, racing drivers, contractors, hoteliers and even a recycler.  But one type of person I have never encountered is someone who is immune to the occasional spot of boredom.

The other day I spoke to a dear friend of mine over the phone, still living in south-west London he is yet to make good on his promise of coming out here to get drunk with me.  Anyway our conversation came to head when he asked me how my weekend was, to which I retorted “dunno, I was bored”.  “Bored!?” he cried “bored?!” he said a second time for good measure.  “How can you be bored out there?  There’s skiing, and beaches.  Water parks, boats, desert…quite literally everything!”  He could plainly not understand how I found myself in a state of boredom.

I asked him in retaliation what he had done with his weekend, he responded with “dunno, I was bored.”  I then proceeded to strike back by saying

Bored eh? How about a beer at the pool? Nah, Jon Stewart's on in a minute

“but there’s the London dungeons, Buck house, Madame Tussauds, Thorpe Park, glorious foot-hills and some pretty smashing pubs.”  Silenced he began to understand.  It’s a classic case of ‘it’s for the tourists’.  When you’re in the daily grind you struggle to find your local cities attractions appealing.

When I still lived in England I never went up toLondonto see the sights.  I know what a red phone box looks like and more so I know what they’re really for…  What about the Tower of London?  I admire its historical value but can’t be bothered to go there.  It’s the same with the UAE.  I have seen the Burj Al Arab, the Burj Khalifa, Yas Marina, the funny place with all the people, so it stands to reason that there are going to be days where I won’t be doing anything.

Boredom is born out of frustration and usually occurs when you can’t think of anything to do or can’t afford to do anything else.  So what can we do on those days where the tourist attractions won’t cut the mustard?  Well, what did you do back home that you cant do out here too?  We can read books.  We can watch hour upon hour of TV.  We can pop along to the pool for a mere pittance.  We can sit at a bar and gently spiral into alcoholism.  But, then again maybe you can’t go to the pub with your friends because they’re all at home without you.  You can’t go to the pool because it’s too hot.  You can’t watch TV because you watched it yesterday and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is still no funnier, and you finished your book 6 months ago…

I’m tailing off the optimistic trail I had intended here.  But look, you’re as guaranteed to get bored out here at times as much as you’re guaranteed to sneeze when you have a cold.  But wasn’t it the same back home sometimes?  The only difference is that it’s easy to blame the UAE for it, when really it’s done nothing wrong.

My emancipation?  That one day my mate will get his arse in gear and book a flight over and save me from Jon Stewart.

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12. Bicycles

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to willingly drive your car on the wrong side of the road?  I’m not talking about the debate between the left-side-drivers of the former British Empire nor Napoleons right-side-driving rest of the world, I’m talking about willingly wishing to drive against on-coming traffic on what is effectively a three-lane A-Road.  No, I thought not.  If however you woke up one morning with the desire to experience what the sensation may feel like – out of curiosity – then your vehicle of choice would likely be a tank, something that would stand a head on crash at the very least.  Unless you woke up in a padded cell with your hands stapled to your clothes, you would certainly not choose a bicycle.

When I first started driving over here I had a shock.  I was bombing down a road at a certain speed that was not too far off the designated limit.  There were three lanes and naturally I was in the correct one, on the right.  I was approaching a roundabout and from afar I saw a cyclist.  He was over to the right on the shoulder which seemed normal enough but when I got closer I realised I could see his face.  “This shouldn’t be so” I thought.  “Why – or how – on Earth is this man riding his bike backwards?”  The answer soon became clear; he was in actual fact coming towards me.

His coordination left much to be desired as his front wheel zig-zagged all the while as he constantly threatened to fall off.  I feared that I had to act quickly to stop this man from being killed.  All I could think to do was to sound the horn; it was all I had in the bank.  I hoped that he would understand and translate the loud thunderous sound into “Aha!  I must be doing something wrong, that surprised looking Englishman in the big white 4×4 has just verified it for me, I must act to correct the situation post haste!”

It was wishful thinking and didn’t work out that way.  Instead of getting off the road to safety he panicked and wobbled and as if it was happening in slow motion fell off to the left and hit the ground in a bundle of metal, beard and pyjamas.  I quickly pulled over, got out and ran over to him thinking what I would have to say in court later on.  By the time I got to him he was getting up and dusting himself down.  I asked him if he was OK, and thankfully he seemed fine.  He smiled at me and said “Shukran habibi (thank you my friend)” It didn’t sound sarcastic and he appeared totally unaffected by what had just happened, so carried on about his business with a smile and a ring of the bell.

I was ultimately shocked but not surprised.  As it transpired – despite it being illegal to cycle on the road full stop here – this kind of thing happens all over the UAE.  Back home in Blighty it is illegal to cycle at night without lights on, it’s a social faux pas to cycle without a helmet, you’re mad if you’re not wearing something reflective and damn right idiotic to cycle on the wrong side of the road, especially on something like the A406.  But here the cyclists on their rusty Raleigh’s seem to think that nearly being killed is all part of the daily grind; a mere occupational hazard.

Here you go mate. If you insist on cycling on the wrong side then take this just in case something goes wrong...

It’s perfectly normal to cycle the wrong way around badly lit roundabouts.  Apparently its fine to cut laterally across three lanes on a 60mph road and it’s quite fun to fall to the right under a cars chassis and be painted across the tarmac.  That could have quite easily been the last day of his life; it was after all a near death experience.  What if he had fallen to the right and not the left?  Had that been me I would have needed a day off to calm down at least, followed by lots of counselling.

So what is to be done?  Do we all need a passenger riding shotgun to take them out as we find them?  Sadly not.  We can’t take their license plate numbers and report them to the authorities since a) they don’t have license plates and b) the person you called wouldn’t understand anyway.  Do we stop next to them and show them an instructional video?  Nope, can’t do that either.  What about carrying equipment around with us – like helmets – to donate to the madmen?  It’s a nice idea but not really feasible.  The best and only thing to do is to give them as wide a berth as possible.  Get over to the far left lane, as far away from this bearded, banzai bicyclist as soon as you can and stay there.

But for the love of God, whatever you do, don’t sound the horn

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11. Visa run

The UAE is a super place.  Yes it is.  No really, there are more positives than negatives.  It’s known for its oil, its fantastic weather and its wonderfully tall buildings, but it is not known for its urgency when it comes to administrative procedures.  One of the trickiest issues that people face when they first get here is getting their residency visas sorted.  It is a facet that is completely beyond your control yet totally your fault if it goes wrong.

When I first came here it took a while for my residency to be processed, a long while.  I wont say how long because it may compromise my position but there were some squeaky bum moments for sure.  In order to avoid the moniker of “illegal immigrant” I had to do the visa run.  This meant that I had to go to Dubai airport; catch a plane to Muscat,Oman, sit alone at a bar for 5 hours getting drunk and then fly back to Dubai again.  I had to do this twice before my residency was completed.  I even accidentally went to the airport on the wrong day and managed to get to Oman without a valid ticket!  It was infuriating since it was totally out of both mine and the companies hands.

Recently a friend came to stay with us for 2 months; this meant that at the halfway point we were going to have to extend his visit visa.  Nowadays you can cross the border in a car, and this is something we have had to do for other friends in the past.  Dropping them off and watching them walk through the fence like it was a hostage exchange.  It’s perfectly legal but such a drag.  So the other option is to pay a visit to the immigration office.

I took my friend to the Ministry of Interior with our companies PRO.  The man behind the desk was very helpful.  After waiting in the line for only 3

WANTED: for hindering efficiency

hours he told us that there was nothing we could do unless we had some documents that we weren’t sure even existed and continued to throw birds at things on his iPad.  Irate and slightly confused we agreed that we would go back the following day to try again.  We did so and spoke to another helpful man who made no mention of any documents but implied that it was early in the afternoon and therefore wasn’t enough time for him to be bothered to do anything.  He did say however that our PRO could try tomorrow, and promptly went back to playing Angry Birds.

On the third day victory was finally achieved.  Our PRO took my friends passport and within a matter of minutes it had been stamped and extended, no documents, no questions, and no angry birds.  I still find it mad that you can take anybodies passport and get it extended without them being there.  How did the person behind the desk know that the passport wasn’t stolen?  Or counterfeit?  What were these “documents” for that we didn’t seem to need?  How is it you are told three different things by three different people on three different days who all work within three yards of each other?  To speculate is to waste time.

Today the blog simply offers peace of mind to those fretting about the matter.  It is very easy to stress about visa expiration and being arrested and water-boarded by the CIA or being thrown in prison for a 100 years but my message is simply “don’t”.  Don’t worry at all.  If you are waiting for your residency visa then there is no law against hopping over the border and back as many times as you need to.  If you are visiting for a couple of months so what, there is no law against that either.  If you don’t want to drive to the border then by all means pop along to those delightful workaholics at the Ministry of Interior and they will legalise you in a jiffy.

Well, if they’ve left their iPads at home they will.

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10. Plumbers

An inescapable fact of being alive is that at least once in your life you will need to ring a plumber.  Whether it’s to sort an incessant drip or replace an exploded boiler you are going to have to call a man in a van.  Well, back home anyway.  Here the situation is slightly more complex…or easy…it depends which way you look at it.

First of all you have to find one.  If you live in a compound or apartment block then there is usually a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none living on site.  If you don’t live in a complex then you would usually ring your landlord – like I did recently.  We needed a new boiler in the kitchen.  Mucky plates and soiled glasses were building up and the smell was intolerable.  I explained to – lets call him Bob – that I needed him to send “the man” over here code red.  He assured me that his “finest plumber” was saddling up the Batmobile right now and he would be there instantly.

Three days went by and I was beginning to think that the Batmobile didn’t really exist.  I called Bob again to ask if he could shine the bat light into the night sky to summon another plumber.  He agreed and assured me that the next one was on his way.  Moments later the doorbell rang and two slightly confused looking men then entered the flat.  I pointed to the boiler saying “this one khallas finish”.  The leader stroked his chin sagely and then proceeded to shout very loudly at his apprentice in what I assume was Urdu.  They then left.

Three more days went by and not a word.  I called Bob once more and explained that two technicians had come to appraise the troublesome boiler and when could I expect a solution.  He seemed upset that I had the nerve to question the methods applied.  Nevertheless I won the argument and soon enough another two plumbers turned up.  They stroked their chins, nodded their heads, shouted at each other, and said they would be back the following day at 10am and left.

Later that day whilst at work the phone rang.  I couldn’t make head-nor-tail of what the chap was trying to tell me but judging by his tone I assumed he was warning me that the end of the world was happening in about 5 minutes.  I put him on the phone to a colleague who shared the same lingo and as it turned out they were outside the flat ready to effect repairs.  I was undecided whether to be happy that they were prompt in trying to sort it or angry that they had completely misled me on the ETA.

12 sugars please mate

I shot home to let them in but couldn’t help but notice all they had with them was the new boiler itself and a plastic carrier bag; apparently this was their tool kit.  They soon began their acrobatics.  I was watching these two lads balancing on a slippery wet kitchen counter top, bare foot using nothing more than an ill-fitting spanner and a shoe lace to hoist the defunct unit down.  Amazingly they did it in no time, and the new one was up in a trifle.

The Health and Safety Executive would likely suffer a massive coronary if he were to observe such work ethics but the job was done in no time and they went on their merry way to tackle their next plumbing adventure.  I walked back into the kitchen to take the new beast for a trial run only to realise what an appalling mess had been left behind.  I considered chasing them both down with a golf club but realised that in the grand scheme of things it was a small price to pay.

In the UK it’s fine to call a Corgi registered man in a Transit, the job will be done and he’ll clean up after himself but you will have to pay a fair amount of moon pie for 100% satisfaction.  Here, 2 men, a shoe lace and a plastic bag will do the same job to an interesting standard but at least they won’t drink all your tea.

The mess they left behind?  No matter, the washing up has to be done anyway, and I’m saving that for the first 2 guys who never came back.

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9. Taxis

As previously noted in this blog, taxis are a fundamental part of life in the UAE.  You will all be relieved to know that things have improved a great deal in the 4 years I’ve lived here.  Once upon a time to get into a taxi was to put your fate in the hands of a complete stranger; a stranger whose personal hygiene was as questionable as his ability to drive.  But it must be said that the UAE has done a good job in improving the experience and overall standards.  But there are still some drivers who fly under the radar of good, upstanding principles.

I use taxis a fair bit, primarily to take me to and from hotel bars; they are an important tool for me.  The other day I went for a beer.  The first step of the challenge was to acquire myself a taxi.  I stood by the main road near home and waited for about 5 minutes.  Like all roads in Al Ain there are 3 lanes on both sides.  I saw from afar that one of the old fashioned Toyota Corolla white and gold taxis was gently approaching on the inside lane.  I never ride in these, too many bad memories.  It’s all well and good reaching your destination quickly, but upside down and on fire?  He drove by politely in case he thought I hadn’t seen him.  No thanks mate, I’ll wait for a silver one.

No thanks mate, I'll get the next one...

Another few minutes past and in the outside lane a silver taxi appeared.  Obscured by heavy traffic I accepted that he a) wouldn’t see me and b) would be unable to get across to the inside lane and stop for me.  I was wrong.  He did see me; seconds later he was swerving across the road sending other cars and even a bus into all other directions, leaving a trail of twisted metal and fire in his wake.  I admired his passion for the job but entered the car with caution, fearing that he would drive off whilst I was still saddling up.

Once I was seated I told him my desired destination and went to fasten my seatbelt.  I had a belt, but unfortunately there was no clip.  We were already travelling at break neck speed, in the wrong lane, I was in too deep.  I had to think fast, faster than he was driving at least. I held on to the plastic handle above the rear passenger door with my right hand and positioned my left leg up against the front passenger seat, hoping it would hold in the event of a collision.  I had planned to use my left hand on the hand brake if the driver passed out; I had to consider all possibilities.  We careered around the first roundabout in the wrong lane, ducking and diving through the other cars, they were everywhere.  The horns; they were so loud.  He continued to floor it seemingly unaware of the carnage he was leaving behind.

As we reached warp speed I felt it was appropriate to begin reciting the Lord’s Prayer.  But there was no time.  I must have blacked out a little as we arrived at the hotel moments later.  I tried stabbing myself with a key to see if I was still alive.  I was.  It was truly a miracle.  Pale faced and quivering I handed Mad Max his small fee and exited the cab promptly.  I have seldom needed a beer that badly.

In hindsight I could have done more.  I could have told him to slow down for starters.  I could have got him to stop so I could get out and wait for another taxi, one with seatbelts.  I wondered what the journey in the white and gold old style taxi might have been like.  But after all I did arrive “safely” with lady luck firmly on my side.

I like to offer solutions or advice to my readers, after all that is the purpose of the blog (or so I like to believe).  So if you’re waiting for a taxi, and he approaches at a steady speed in the right lane and puts his hazard lights on before gently stopping, he will have seat belts and will provide you with a safe trip at a comfortable velocity.  If he swerves across three lanes causing a bus to explode then the odds are that the seatbelts have long since been cut out by firemen who tried to save the life of the previous passenger.  This added with the possibility of arriving at your destination sliding on the roof in a ball of flame will not make for a nice trip. You’re better off letting him go and waiting for another one.

Technically it should be silver.  But use your instincts…

 

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8. Coffee

Today’s short missive offers no help, it is an observation that I’m still unable to fathom.  This morning I went to the recently opened Al Ain Mall extension to enjoy a coffee and read a book.  Usually I am a very decisive person who knows exactly where to go.  But today, albeit a bit bleary eyed after a night out on the beers, I got to the Mall unable to decide what coffee shop in which to tender my custom.

Stupidly I went to see the cheerful young lady behind the information counter and asked for a map.  I still find it sad that Malls – or shopping centres where I come from – have to employ the finest cartographers in the land to produce a map that still fails to define north properly.  Anyway I looked for the coffee shops and to my horror found myself overwhelmed with the variety.  How many do you think there are, in just one Mall?  Guess.  No you’re way off.  26.  There are 26 coffee shops in a very average sized Mall.  How on earth can this be justified?

I dug deeper by asking the young lady – assuming that she was personally responsible for everything – why there were so many coffee shops?  How was that good business?  What was the point?  Is demand that great?  She had no answers for me and suggested that I make up my mind quickly so she could be left alone.

After much um-ing and ah-ing I deduced that I would go to Costa Coffee.  I selected a normal American coffee, black with no sugar, as you should.  I was then asked some silly questions like “do I want vanilla with that?” and “would you like a dandelion leaf in it?”  No.  No no no.  I have already told you what I want so here is the money; I don’t want crap in it.

I sat down and began my reading.  Every so often I lifted the stylish cup to my face for a gulp of warm, bitter grit until I could take no more.  I left thoroughly disappointed that out of the 26 possibilities, I chose the one that left my tongue on the verge of suicide.

So, 25 more risks to take…bear with me tongue, bear with me.

1 down, 25 to go...

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7. Signs

Earlier on today I posted a blog on the perils of ordering a food delivery and the subsequent navigational disaster that ensued.  I feel that the subject can be broadened by highlighting a key issue.  Do road signs mean anything?

Abu Dhabi is similar to Manhattan in its layout, its all grid roads and blocks.  In actual fact it is relatively well sign-posted when it doesn’t really need to be.

I couldn't have said it better

You can’t really get lost very easily.  I also like to liken Al Ain to Milton Keynes, not because they are threatening to steal my football team, but because it follows a similar grid pattern with lots of roundabouts.  Again like driving around in Abu Dhabi its pure maths, counting the blocks or roundabouts as you go.  But in these Arabian sands lurks a monster, a monster that taunts you with signs that have little to no meaning, it’s a monster that feeds on your temper and frustrations, it’s a monster that calls itself Dubai.

No, there is no river of slime running under the city like in Ghostbusters II but layer upon layer of fly-over and metro rails.  I like Dubai, it’s a fun city to go out and enjoy for the day and there are some super places to go, but therein lies the problem, how are these places to be reached without adequate signage?  The first time I tried to go to Dubai Mall was a catastrophe.  I ended up – well to this day I don’t know where.  Then there was the time I went to Dubai airport and got so lost and scared I actually started crying in a lay-by.  The Gold Souq?  Mother of God help us.  Have you ever been driving along Sheikh Zayed Road and just beyond Trade Centre roundabout noticed that there is a sign to the airport in the far left lane and that there is also another sign to the airport in the far right lane?  Go both ways and you end up back on the same road again but in different places, what on earth is that about?  The stories of Martin vs Dubai are numerous.

No one knows Dubai’s roads really.  They may lie and say “it’s easy to find” but I assure you they themselves have been lost in the darkest depths at one point or another.  If you have a sat-nav then things can be achieved.  It won’t help you when you come to a section of road works but you will have the luxury of smugness at times when others think about ending it all.  So, I’m not to one to complain (err…well) but surely there is something we can do to reduce the pain?

I’m not going to start moaning about what the relevant authorities should be doing to tackle the issue – that’s not the point of the blog (sort the signs out cough cough) – but what can we as expats do to make things as easy as possible?

The obvious solution is to palm the problem off to others.  If you’re new to Dubai then the best advice is to get around in taxis.  But don’t waste the opportunity, watch where you’re going.  It sounds simple but time and time again people who travel in cabs have no idea where to go once they start to drive themselves.

Don’t be fooled into familiarising yourself with landmarks.  It’s all well and good thinking that you know how to get to Dubai Mall because it’s next to the Burj Khalifa (which can be seen from miles around), but what about the finite details at the end?  Are you going to crash through buildings and shop fronts to cut across?  No.  You will need to learn patience.  You are going to get lost and you’re going to miss your turn off at times and have to drive 400 million miles doing loops to get back; this is all part of the process.  The more you get lost the greater your knowledge of the city will become, you’ll just need to allow some time.  As far as I know no one has ever got so lost in Dubai that they never found their way out again.

Remember to keep your cool, ignore all road signs, crank up the Radio 2 and embrace it.  And who knows?  Maybe one day you can be one of those smug bastards, but without the sat-nav.

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