Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Ups and Downs of ExPat Life

I read today a list of pluses and minuses of life in Dubai,which got me thinking. I've made a precis of the original and added my own comments on these:

On The Down Side
  • This is NOT a tax free country.
    My take: The UAE has found all sorts of methods of taxing expats - Salik, hotel services, ID cards, even the compulsory exchange of a UK driving licence for a local one attract charges.
  • Expats are treated as second class citizens, something to be tolerated in order to get the country built. My Take: That is to be expected if you are living in another's country without becoming a citizen.
  • Banking is difficult
    My take: I'd say different to the UK but not difficult once you take time to understand the process
  • Despite local claims, it does not treat male and female equally.
    My take: men and women are different and in Arab culture have very different roles, we are in their country and part of the novelty of expat life is getting to know the culture and people you are living amongst
  • Aside from the desert, there is little beauty.
    My take: Look up - nature does not hold a monopoly on beauty, many of the buildings around you in Dubai would be landmark towers in another city, simply because there are so many so close together does not mean that many are not attractive. And then there are the parks, the sailing dhows, even the wonky concrete artwork that's dotted around The Greens 
  • Forget "great" food establishments
    My take: Yes Dubai is full of clones of famous restaurants & chains from all over the world but if you are serious about your food and take the time to look you can find wonderful food from all corners of the planet. 
  • Blocking of basic internet services such as Skype
    My take: Agree that you can't download some software and that some websites are blocked but a little ingenuity such as downloading when visiting your home country and the restictions are gone.
 The Pluses
(I've left this part almost unedited except to anglicise it as they speak for themselves)
* It is very safe. Because the locals are very well off and the expats are here to work, crime is very low.
* If you love the heat, you will love the weather.
* Cheap petrol.
* Great selection of produce.
* Almost every food service can be ordered and delivered to your front door (me: and almost anything else like bottled water, dry cleaning etc).
* Road systems are outstanding (me: Agree but it comes with a health warning - with over 500 traffic cameras in the Dubai Emirate alone it can be costly driving on the open road! And driving standards are often appalling).
* Easy accesss to the sea.

So to any who are contemplating expat life or are feeling jading with it - be open minded and remember that you are only here/there temporarily. The "UAE Glitz" as the author of the original coined it is something exploit, reach out and embrace. Dubai provides the opportunity to experience many different things that you will never find in one place again including some wonderful fellow expats from all over the world.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Sand Rescues

Being out in the desert is much like being on a boat at sea, preparation and self-sufficiency is key to survival. In both cases you need to take with you everything you require - plenty of water, food, safety gear, plan the route in advance and wear the right clothing. It might sound a bit dramatic for a drive of less than 20 km but this week we had another reminder of how safety and recovery gear are as important as life jackets and dan buoys.

Desert drives are not done alone, it's good practise to have at least one other vehicle with you if you are heading into the dunes. When (and not if) one gets stuck or breaks down then the other can recover you. During a recent trip not one but two cars popped tyres off during the course of the morning but thanks to plenty of experience a team effort ensured these were soon fixed without even resorting to changing the wheel in either case. With the car jacked up to raise the offending wheel off the ground (some digging was also required) the tyre was rinsed in water to remove as much sand from the inside as possible, then reinflated until it was firmly in place on the rim before deflating back to the lower pressure used in the sand.

For this weeks dawn drive we were just two cars. Someway into the huge dunes close to Madam, Martin in his Landcruiser, found himself digging the rear wheels deeper into the sand on the steep slope of a bowl with his front wheels almost over the top. As JJ came back over the top to provide an assisting pull from inside the bowl the sand fell away under her grounding JJ on the crest, front wheels high off the ground. Martin extricated himself by sheer persistance and good throttle control but his next attempt to get up and out of the bowl crested the Toyota on the top too.

Martin managed to get out of this one
Both cars stuck now what? Would Kevin & Martin get to work in time, worse would we actually extricate ourselves before our water supplies ran out? We were too far from the road or habitation to walk easily anywhere, my brain was in overdrive as I took pictures of both 4x4s perched at the top of a huge bowl.

High and dry!
Sand ladders make good shovels.
(Spot Martin's Landcruiser well and truely stuck beyond Kevin)
After a quick assessment out came JJs bright orange sand ladders and, using them as shovels, Kevin & Martin started digging away behind the rear tyres. I joined in with my arms sweeping away the sand from the nearside wheel. Sand ladders are simply moulded plastic boards with lots of studs on them like a crocodile's back. Once enough sand had been cleared a ladder could be jammed under each wheel with the retrieval straps (bright pink so we can find them again) spread out away from the vehicle. Kevin got back into the driving seat, put the gears into reverse and within seconds JJ had clambered over the solid ladders back onto drivable sand. I heaved the now buried ladders out of the sand by their straps and stuck them upright nearby so we didn't forget them.
Sand ladder under the wheel ready to go

Battered sand ladders

Joining the tow straps
Attention now turned to Martin's vehicle. Kevin reversed JJ in front of the stranded 4x4 positioning her about half way up the slope. A couple of towing straps were joined using a soft shackle made of kevlar rope. The shackle is extremely strong but at the same time soft enough not to damage the loops in the towing straps. Then it was simply a matter of JJ heaving the Toyota Landcruiser sufficiently further forward for gravity to take effect. The front wheels fell forward, the back lifted out of the sand and the 4x4 slithered down the sand face effortlessly.

Another cresting later that morning
Phew! The relief all round was enormous, we were not going to be stuck here through the heat of the day dying for want of water. The rest of the drive was less eventful and all too soon it close to 7am, time to reinflate and speed back to Dubai.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Dawn Drives

During the heat of the summer driving at dawn seemed a sensible way to get a fix of desert driving at the weekends without suffering dehydration and or heat exhaustion. Then we realised a drive could be fitted in before work if you are prepared to pack the car the night before and leave the apartment around 04:30. A bit like having to catch the tide out of Southsea if you want a Bank Holiday weekend in France, a little sacrifice has big rewards.

Dawn in the desert is magical. The light on the sand is amazing, the colours all sorts of hues from the violets and blues of the sky to the orangey red of the sand in the new day's sun. The low angle shows up the wind swept tops in sharp relief and even the pylons rising out of the misty distance appear beautified. Here are a few pictures from this weeks drive in which I have attempted to capture some of the magic (click on the pictures for a larger view):

05:45 - Just getting light as we deflate
Between Madam and Schweib the dunes are high

The light seems to hang over the dunes

A sea of sand
Virtually no grass or shrubs - rare in the sands here

A big bowl scoured clean to bare rock
The sand is red in the morning light