Friday, 31 August 2007

and it hasn't even been a month

Before I came to the UAE I read and heard so much about the roads here and how they are wild. Accidents, I was told, are a far too frequent occurence and an inevitable result of too much speed. I haven't even completed my first month here and already I've been involved in a traffic accident.

Two buses, too much speed and then indecision at a red light. Our bus slams on the brakes and comes to an abrupt holt jolting us all forward and then back. Then miliseconds later ... kabang! The second bus runs up the back of my bus shattering the back window and again throwing all the passengers forward and then back. Whiplash and confusion all around. People in shock. People holding their necks, some crying, others limping. Taxis taking people to hospital. New buses to ferry the other stranded passengers to our destination.

And all of this by 11am. The day ended reasonably well and I believe (and hope) that no-one has a lasting injury. It's certainly a day to remember. I hope it's the last experience of a traffic accident for all of us.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

week 3 in Al Ain

What a funny place this is! I'm learning about local time. There've been a few problems with our apartment. There's been a burst water tank (and consequent flood), a tap strategically placed so that we couldn't use the oven and various minor issues. However, as it's a brand new apartment, we can take these things in our stride. Luckily we have contacts to ring and get these kinds of things sorted. The drama in all this though is the constant waiting. The guy to fix the plumbing issues is supposed to turn up at 9am. By 3pm he still isn't here. We ring a few times and are always told that he'll be here in half an hour. He eventually turns up at 11am next day and decides that he can't do much until the guy who fixes the electrics does his thing. The electrian guy turns up 5 hours after the appointed time, does half the job and says he'll be back in the morning. He arrives the following evening and finished the job. Then we have to wait again for the plumber guy and then the guy who's gonna fix the tiling that's been damaged by the electric guy and the plumber. This situation is repeated again and again with each problem that we discover! So we're forever waiting.

Luckily for me, I get to go to work during the day. K is supposed to be working from home, so he gets to do most of the waiting. Of course, K can't actually do much work yet as the net connection which is supposed to be 2mg is less than a quarter of that speed, so the provider is going to pull up the cables which they laid last week and relay them next week. So our net connection is likely to disappear.

Whenever someone turns up to do something at the apartment, there is always one guy to do the job and two who just watch. I haven't quite figured that one out yet. A couple of days ago an Arabic guy turned up with 3 guys who spoke no English. While the Arabic guy was talking to K, I was communicating with one of the non-English guys via sign language. We had a good understanding of what I wanted and what he was going to do. We'd sorted it. The Arabic guy then turned to me and said something quite incomprehensible. I said, 'sorry?' He repeated it. I said 'Sorry, I'm not sure what you mean.' He repeated it looking quite annoyed. I had to tell him that I just didn't understand. He asked me, in a very irritated tone, if I spoke English. I had to laugh.

So far I've learnt about 10 words of Arabic. They enable me to communicate reasonably adequately with most taxi drivers. Most of them seem quite amused at my pronunciation, but that's fine. It's kinda fun and a bit of an ice-breaker.

I daily feel more comfortable here. Tomorrow I'm off to Abu Dhabi to check out the 'bluer than blue ocean' I've heard so much about.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

cigarettes and taxis

The standout items from my first week in Al Ain are that cigarette smoke is ubiquitous and it's challenging to get in a taxi and end up where you want to end up.

In Aus smoking is banned in hotels, restaurants and most work places. It's restricted in outdoor areas. So we've been quite spoilt. Al Ain is a bit of a blast from the past with smoking allowed in most places. Some restaurants seem to have non-smoking areas, but no one has told the smoke to keep within those boundaries and it wafts around as it pleases. Even our hotel room reeks of smoke. I can normally tolerate a bit of smoke, but it is quite overwhelming here as we seem to be subjected to it all day only to retire to the hotel room and inhale it all night.

I'll finish the rant at that point as smoking is obviously something I have to learn to be more tolerant of.

The taxis are all fun and games. We've had some really good taxi drivers with quite good English, but several who have no English, not even 'yes' and 'no.' We can't even show them maps of where we want to go as they are illiterate. They don't understand our poor pronunciation of things like 'jebel bil maya roundabout.' I haven't figured out yet where anything is in relation to anything else, so I don't know my way anywhere and have to rely on the drivers. I even had trouble at one stage communicating 'Hilton Hotel' to a driver. After numerous attempts he eventually got it. He put the stress on 'ton' rather than 'Hil' which explained why he had trouble understanding my prounuciation.

We're moving out of our hotel today and into our apartment. That's a bit scary because at least the hotel is a landmark and it's not too difficult to get drivers to understand. How on earth can we consistently get drivers to and from our apartment? Clearly I'll have to work out where things are myself so that at least I know where I'm going. It's funny to think that in a few weeks this will all be quite easy, but now it's challenging.

Monday, 6 August 2007


Teleporting - when's it gonna happen? How can I invest? How can we make it happen sooner? Long haul travelling ... well frankly, it largely sucks (not that there are any complaints about the staff or service).

We arrived in Al Ain at 3am this morning and were hit with a burst of 37 degree heat as soon as we walked out of the airport. Amusing! We were escorted through passport control and the visa process went through quite easily, though I did feel some guilt at the queue jumping. Scores of people were waiting and we were taken the front of the queue each time.

I've only been here a few hours, but what has struck me so far is the number of staff involved in each service. For example we had brekky at the hotel this morning and each time a plate was emptied or we finished a cup of coffee, someone was at our side offering us more (it was a fixed price smorgasbord, so there was no finanicial incentive for the service). There seem to be scores of staff at the hotel sweeping leaves and sand from paths, polishing floors and doing various jobs. This could take some getting used to.

I'm not sure about the tipping situation. The hotel staff don't seem to expect it, so I haven't given anything. I'd have no idea how much to tip anyway. A website I just checked out said that 2 - 5dhs was a good tip. I'm not sure though and would be interested to hear from others on this.

Oh, and the other point to mention (again) ... it's a bit hot outside!