Dubai Consumer Mirror

Monday, July 28, 2008

Five laws i'd like to see implemented in Dubai

Creating a Nation-wide credit system:
Banks are making a killing while many of the country's young, ambitious national and expatriate workers are getting caught in a thorny credit trap. And most are either in thrown in jail or default and runaway from the country.

Thanks to poor governance, banks are virtually giving away credit cards, personal loans, mortgages... and every other form of "financial services", to anyone who walks through the doors of banks, and -mind you- without any proper historical credit analysis or rating to the applicant. It reached a point where banks hire housewives and door-to-door credit card sales men. This plain wrong.

Making it Illegal to Disconnect Power or Water off ANY Residential Facility:
This is the case in many countries in the world. But sadly, not here. Living without water or electricity in a county like the UAE is, without a question, fatal. And I am not being over dramatic. Tempreture here often crosses the 50C mark during the summer. This the temperature internationally recognized as fatal to human beings. There are better ways for water and electricity agencies to coerce their customers to pay up. For example, Freezing bank accounts or imposing travel bans.

But not leaving women and children in the scorching heat of the summer without water or air conditioning. Its not only inhumane, its disgraceful.

Government Employees Working for Private Sector:
This is quite common in several GCC states. Especially in KSA and Saudi. Government employees are not permitted to run any private business. No matter what happens, you will always ALWAYS have conflict of interest. Today's Gulf News headline story is a pure example.

Readers: I would really like your thoughts on this one.

Imposing an Emirate-wide Quiet Hours:
Living almost anywhere in Dubai today is becoming a real annoyance. Dubai Municipality is giving away 24hrs construction permissions to contractors, right, left and centre, with out any regulation to the level of noise emitted by these construction company nor consideration to the noise pollution and what it is doing to thousands of families across the emirate.
Don't believe me, pass by next to my house anytime at night and see for yourself.

Making it illegal not to fully stop at Stop sign or at pedestrian zebra lines:
I was very impressed how in the US, they take these 2 regulations extremely seriously. If you do not stop at a STOP sign, or at a pedestrian crossing, you simply go to jail.
When you think about it, it does, significantly help reduce accidents. Stopping so frequently, especially when in residential areas, will result with fewer, almost no accidents.
We seriously need that here in Dubai. Just read the paper everyday.

Friday, July 25, 2008

First Impressions: Tunisia

I was told there isn't much to do in Tunisia. To a point, that is true, sort off. But on my way out, it actually hit me. If you are looking for a place to relax, enjoy great weather, friendly people and amazing scenery, Tunisia is a winner.

The most annoying thing about a trip to Tunisia is probably the VISA procedure. It takes a minimum of 2 weeks, and the embassy keeps the passport with them through out that duration! The embassy is not that generous on granting visitng days. For example, on my passport I have all sorts of 5 years, multi entry visas (UK, USA, Schengen...etc). The Tunisian embassy gave me a visa that's valid for 3 months, a single entry that is valid for a maximum of 7 days visit only.

There are direct flight on Tunisian Air and Emirates flies to Tunis via a 1hr stop in Tripoly (Libya). Your trip might end up being a 6 to 7hrs stretch - a business class seat is highly recommended.

Carthage Airport is okay. Getting thru passport control took me about an hour - only 4 of the 20 passport control points were active. Nonetheless, staff was friendly and efficient. Customs people didn't bother me at all. I just walked out of the green (nothing to declare) gate.

I had an airport pick up waiting for me. I did notice though that no one sneaked up to me whispering the "taxi" words in my ear or tried to snatch my bag as if they want to "help me" carry it. It was a very chilled out experience.

I stayed at the Sheraton - if you are coming for business, I wouldn't recommend this hotel at all. Service wasn't that impressive; not for the amount of money I paid for at least. Internet service was abysmal and -digg this- when I wanted to book an airport drop, concierge told me that I had to book it 72hrs in advance. I was like "but I haven't been in Tunis for 72hrs yet!"

As a matter of fact, most of the people I met there gave me the lifted-eyebrow-look when I told them I am staying at the Sheraton. Turned out that there are far more better hotels like The Residence or The Abu Nawas . Maybe next time.

Taking cabs in Tunis was actually easy to do and trouble-free. Cabs charge by meters and all the cabbies I met were very friendly and nice(!). For instance, I took a cab from the hotel to our office. At first, I noticed that the cab driver didn't start the meter. Then, he started a conversation on how expensive things were becoming.

I rolled my eyes and was thinking to myself that its gonna be another one-of-those rides. I started preparing myself for a big argument over why didn't he start the meter and why should I be charged more just because I am non-Tunisian.

Half way thru the trip, the cabby realized that the meter was off and quickly started it. He looked genuinely annoyed. He turned to me and started apologizing till he dropped me off! He insisted that I pay nothing over what the meter was showing. I gave him double the amount.

I wasn’t 100% sure if where we stopped was the right place. So, I wandered around the place asking people for the location of our office. Our receptionist must’ve been doped out or something – she never picked up.

What I didn't noticed was that the cab driver stayed behind. He didn’t want to drive off before making sure I got to my destination. It turned out that he did actually drop me a far away from where I was supposed to be. He called me into the cab again and dropped me at the right place. He didn't charge me extra and repeated his apologies and gratitude. Very nice indeed.

I didn't see anything or visit anywhere in Tunisia. But I met up with many people there. They all said that I HAVE to see places like Hammamet, Sidi Bou Said and a few other sites I don't recall their exact names.

Food there was ok. I felt it was heavily influenced by the Moroccans. Try the traditional Tunisian soup – it’s like Moroccan Hrira soup, but with a spoon of Kouskous in it. Very nice. Non the less, there are plenty of Syrian and Lebanese resutrants in Tunis – so, you won’t feel far away from home.

Try the ‘Shai Bel Bondoq’. Its basically tea with a pinch of pine seeds. Its nice. Though it took me a minute to realize that Tunisian call pine seeds Bondoq. Everywhere else, its what we use to call Hazelnuts.

Another thing you should try there is Olives. At one meal, I didn’t realize that finished a whole plate of juicy green olives with fresh backed bread.

Everyone I ran into the in streets was nice. Weather was fantastic and on my way out, not a single airport staff hinted or implied that they wanted a special treat or anything of that matter.

Bottom-line is, if you want a nice place to chill out and relax in the hot summer months, somewhere not very expensive and Arabic is -comparativly to Morocco and Algeria- easy to understand, head out to Tunisia.

I know I will again.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Anything to do in Tunis?

View from my hotel room, where I will be for a couple of days.


So, we came back from the supermarket this evening to find this waiting for us in the middle of the living room.

The building is less than 2 years old... this is what you get for Dhs 12,000/- per month in Dubai these days ...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dubai eGovernment systems are working .. but

We just arrived home from London. And thanks to the flexible capabilities of Emirates Airlines business class seat, I managed to have a good night sleep onboard.

I was hoping I could complete the sleep in the comfort of my own bed at home. But Dubai's construction boom had other plans.

About 6 weeks ago, a construction site, located quite next to our building, started working on 24/7 basis. And I do mean 24hr a day, 7 days a week.

And the work that goes at night is hardcore construction works. 10s of workers banging, dinging, machines growling, hammering, things thrown, debries falling, boards slamming and of course topped off with the shouting and yelling of workers in languages I can't recognize nor understand.

When this whole thing started to affect our sleep 6 weeks ago, I called the police. Once, I called them 4 times in one week. And every time they come, they tell me that they can't really do anything about it but ask the construction Forman to keep it down a bit.

"They have a 24hr work permit from Dubai Municipality. Your best shot is to complain to the municipality," said one officer. "Tell them (Municipality) that they (contractor's workers) are too loud and you called the police several times and we already logged your complaints."

So, I googled Dubai Municipality to get their phone number and was happy to find that they host an an E-complaint system on their website. In all fariness, Dubai Municipality has always been a pioneer in eGovernment (process automation, online services...etc)..

Of course, to file a complaint, one has to apply for a username/password, fill forms and all that stuff. So, i did everything, wrote them a nice emotional letter and asked them a few questions

1. On what basis are these 24/7 permits are granted?
2. What governs these permits and what are his limitation. I can understand if the contractor is doing interior works like wiring, pluming or works that don't really produce disturbing noises, but doing actual construction work ALL NIGHT? In a RESIDENTIAL NEIBROUHOOD?
3. I saw the contractor's 24/7 permit and there were "conditions" - however the conditions were very vague and said things like: Contractor has to keep the noise down. Down in comparison to what? What is down and what is high?
4. What if the contractor doesn't keep them down? What will you do?
5. Since this is a serious issue of "disturbance of the piece," why can't the police do anything about it?
6. Shouldn't there be a mechanism for the contractor to ask permission of the surrounding buildings? Since it will be them who he will keep them awake all night?

And many other questions…

I told them that I challenge the municipality person who granted this contractor the 24/7 permit would bare to spend a night next to this construction site in the middle of this residential neighborhood.

It will only be then he will know how inappropriate, inconsiderate and socially irresponsible his decision was.

To my surprise, i got a call immediately the next day from the Municipality. A lady asked me all sorts of questions and I answered her back and told her I am ready Anytime, day or night, to escort your inspectors and show them proof of this contractor's acoustical violations. She said that someone will call me from the municipality and follow-up on this. She was also really nice and understanding.

No one called, the noise is still at it as i update this post and nothing happened.

So, the Dubai Municipality’s eGovernment systems are working like clock work. But things aren’t happening … can someone tell me where is the missing link?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Not-so-impressive Arabs

If you visit Harrod's in London without dropping by the Chocolate Bar on the 2nd floor, your visit is considered incomplete. Yesterday, the Mrs and I indulged on a mouth watering ‘Chocolate Fondant for 2’. It is simply to die for.

While everyone there was sitting quietly enjoying their chocolate fix, there was a bunch of guys sitting at the bar. They were Arab. They were laughing obnoxiously loud and acting as if they are sitting in some Shisha joint on the outskirts of Riyadh, getting high on shoe polish while watching a local soccer match.

Luckily, and half way through our feast, those guys paid and left. Another group of “Shabab” came in and took their place. The minute they sat down, they started hitting on a bunch of Arab girls that happened to be sitting next to them. They were so annoying to the point the girls changed their seat to another table far away.

Of course, everyone else in the place noticed what was going on. Seriously, why do we Arabs behave that way? There were Birts, Americans and some Europeans customers sitting there. No one was laughing loud and obnoxiously and no one was bothering anyone else. Except the Arabs…

Seriously, why? Why couldn't they just keep their vulgarity back home and enjoy their vacation like everyone else? What a shame...

Do you think I am generalizing or being too harsh?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sexy Dubai [SFW]

So guys... Ever wondered where the sexiest girls in the world can be found?

According to this, we are living on one of hottest ten cities on the planet - and I aint talking about the weather ;)

That’s right, Dubai! It’s not all shopping and golf. With a population drawn from all over the region and the wider world, the ladies of Dubai certainly cause jaws to drop.
As in many predominantly Muslim cities, women find ways of expressing feminine allure in spite of their hair and bodies being largely covered.
Makeup and shoes are rarely worn with such tantalizing effects as they are in Dubai.

Via [digg]

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Personal Experience: Dubai Duty Free

Because of a very extensive travel schedule, Dubai Duty Free (DDF) has become a favorite shopping destination. I end up buying everything from there. Especially perfumes. They are at least 20% cheaper than market.

On my last trip to Paris, my wife and daughter tagged along. Wondering what a 7hr flight might do to a hyper-active toddler, my wife proposed we buy one of them portable DVD players. To me, that was a brilliant idea as we can distract her with Dora, Barney and the Teletubbies.

So, after a bit of browsing, we bought a Sony portable for about Dhs 800 and 3 kids DVDs, paid for everything, picked up the bag and rushed to the gate after that and into the plane.

After take-off and the seatbelt sign switching off, I reached out to my bag to pull out and plug in the player in the in-seat power socket and get the little one entertained a bit. To my surprise, the DVDs were no where to be found.

I pulled down the bag and looked in every bag we had. My wife told me that most likely the salesman forgot to slip them in with the DVD player. Luckily, there was a cartoon channel on the in-flight TV and that did the trick with the little one.

Upon arrival to the hotel in Paris, I looked for the DVDs again with no avail. So, I called the DDF and asked them about the missing items that I paid for. The woman who answered told me that she will check with Lost & Found gave me a reference number and said that they will call me back. Between you and I, I thought that was the end of it.

Surprisingly, two days after that, they did call us back. The woman said that she didn't find anything in Lost & Found or in the "left behind" files. However, they will look into the case and call me back.

I wasn't too hopeful, to be honest, and didn't think I would see the Dhs 360 (cost of DVDs) back.

But a couple of weeks after that, the woman called me to tell me that they haven't found anything, however, they asked that the next time I travel via Dubai Airport, to check in with the customer service counter and claim any 3 DVDs of my choice!

I had a flight that week and I walked up to the Customer Service desk and identified myself. From my mobile number, she retrieved my file and informed me that if I prefer a cash refund or take ANY 3 DVDs of my choice. I told her I just want the same DVDs I didn't get.

She said to take anything I wish and they are willing to reimburse me the difference if what I take is less than the claimed amount.

She escorted me to the DVD section, waited until I picked the DVDs, processed the transaction on the DVD section cash counter, thanked me and apologized again for the inconvenience.

Hats off!

Seriously, about 15 million passengers from every tongue, shape, color and form, fly via Dubai Airport every year. And EACH and EVERY one of them pass by Dubai Duty Free.

To get such followup, attention and a personalized service like that is nothing but admirable and reflects a world class level of professionalism that can rarely be found anywhere else.

Thank you DDF.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Riyadh - another unforgettable moment

24hrs ago, there was a chance that I may not be with you..

It all started when I went to bed in my Four Seasons Hotel @ The Kingdom tower in Riyadh.

I had an 8AM flight to catch and because of a really busy day, I had a late dinner, hence a late go-to-bed time. And because of the training sessions I held that day, I didn't get much sleep the night before preparing for them.

So I called reception and requested a couple wake up calls. 5:15am, and a reminder at 5:30 – that’s to make sure I don’t miss the flight and gain an underserved additional day in Rio… (that’s Riyadh in case you didn’t make the link)

At around 2 something AM, I opened my eyes the same way one would wake up realizing he missed an final exam or an important Job interview.. but mine was for a different reason. I was coughing lightly and something in the air just didn’t feel right.

There was a burning smell in the room. I got up and moved around. My laptop and cell phone were on charge. I smelled them and they were OK. The sleeping light (it was on) was also fine. The TV set was cold and fine.

As I roamed around the different parts of the room , it looked like that the smell was slipping from the AC vent.

I called the operator and told him that I am smelling something burning. This is the answer I got (I swear to you I am not joking).

“My pleasure sir, let me transfer you to the reception desk please”

So much for emergency escalation protocol, i thought to myself.

“Yeah hi, there is smell of something burning in my room… can you please send someone to check it out?”
“Sure thing sir, I will send someone to your room”

I hung up and kept checking the room’s electrical sockets and wiring. They all seamed fine. However, the smelled started to get stronger and my coughs became more frequent.

No one came up to my room yet.

I decided to take things into my own hands. I packed up my stuff, got everything in my only bag I travel with, quickly got dressed, picked up my ticket and passport and head to the door.

On my way out, I called reception again..

“Hi, I called about 10, 15 minutes ago and informed you about a burning smell in the room. No one came up till now. This is not a joke. There is a strong burning smell and I am leaving the room”

“I am coming up right away sir..”

The room is on the 32nd floor and I don’t want to end up being on the Saudi Gazette the next day as one of the victims Saudis first towering infernos. But again, it could very much be the guy next door to mine, doing his Saudi Jrak (oversized shisha), and his puffs were slipping via the AC ducts.

So, not wanting to look like another over excited Dubai based drama queen, I walked out of the room, closed the door behind me and waited in corridor for the reception guy to come in.

3 or 4 minutes passed, a guy comes rushing through the hallway.

“it’s a very strong smell,” I told him as he walked passed me and slipped his card in the door slot.

He opened the door and the smell hit both of us surprisingly hard. I was shocked myself how the charred odor got so much stronger. Not only that, but the room was hazy. It looked as if someone spent the last 3 hours there, smoking one pack of ciggerates after another.

“I am so sorry for this sir, i will check you in another room”

“Thats not improtnat now, can you please talk to whoever you need to talk to, to find the source of this? It looks very serious.”

“Yes, yes”.. and head toward the phone and reported it. He called to check whether they had any rooms ready for me to move into. By then, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to stay in the entire place in the first place.

“it looks like the AC fan motor is faulty – its burned and caused that smell to spread around ur room. I am very sorry for that sir”

Another man came in.

He immediately opened the hatch in the false ceiling and confirmed the receptionist theory.

“Don’t worry sir, thank God the fire is not serious,” the second guy said. “ Or else, the fire alarm should’ve gone off. Its only the AC fan motor.”

And thank God I am not a serious sleeper, I thought to myself. Or else I could’ve died of asphyxia during my sleep.

"Thats fine," I said. "these things happen."

I was escorted to a new room. But all that excitement kept me up for the rest of last night until it was time for me to head to the airport.

I checked out about 3hrs after the incident. No one mentioned it at the reception desk. Not even a “sorry for the inconvenience”, marking another unforgettable moment in Riyadh.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Riyadh - unforgettable moments

I flew in from Saudi this morning ...

Yesterday I ran three back-to-back 2hr long training sessions to our Saudi sales force. Had about 30 people in each session and man I was drained.. But that was the boring part..

Last night, a friend picked me up to go have dinner. On the way and at one of the red lights, I saw a women sitting next to her husband in the car next to our’s. I noticed that she wasn’t wearing a seat belt but her husband did.

Me: umm.. isn't it mandatory for people to wear seatbelts here?
Friend: Yes…
Me (in a disinterested tone): this women isn't wearing hers .. her hubby will get a ticket.
Friend: neeh... he won't
Me (ok, now I am interested): shme3na? [why not]
Friends: Here, if a woman is sitting in the front seat, she should not wear the seat belt.
Me: And why not?
Friend: Because if she does, the seat belt coming across her torso, will outline her boobs and the religious police might arrest both of them..
Me: (silence)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Oh boy!

If you are in media, Read this ...

UPDATE: It seems that The Sun is not shining on Michelle Palmer anymore :)

She would be over-friendly, grabbing people inappropriately. She would even grab hold of women’s boobs.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Airports you'll love to hate

At work, I cover the Middle East region and bits of Africa. So, you can safely assume that I’ve flown almost every airline to every airport in the region. In the coming few days, I will list the top Airport but hate to fly through. I will start with the most annoying one:
Cairo International Airport.

I LOVE Egypt. I know Cairo inside out and some of my best friends live there. And having lived in Egypt for about 5 years, I know things about having fun in that country, tourists could never find in a million travel guides. Traveling in and out of Egypt, however, is another story.

Flying in:
Terminal 2 (AKA the New Airport) is now quite old and a new terminal is currently being built for international carriers. If you fly through that one, prepare yourself to get jabbed in a bottle-neck type passport control. Sometimes it takes a good hour to clear the passports control area there.

If you are flying Egypt Air, then you will arrive to Building 2 (Arrivals building) of Terminal 1. Its relativly new and is well looked after. The only problem is, there is never enough passport control officers to accomodate the huge flow of travelers sometime.

Once you clear all that, its time to pick up your bags. Taking for granted ur bags arrive ALL in one piece, you will move out to customs area. I have to be fair here. In Cairo Airport, customs people were really REALLY annoying. But in the past few years, they have lightenned up a bit.

They would only check you up if you were alone, pushing 2 trollies with a dozen bags on each.

So, you've cleared customes and moving out. Now the fun part begins.

If you are planning to stay in a hotel, make sure you have transportation arranged. If not, then do whatever you can to have a pre-arranged pickup. Because finding a cab in Cairo International Airport, though easy in theory, can be an aggravating 10 minutes task.

You see, signage in Cairo Airport is not very .. umm.. directive. And once you are spotted, even remotely thinking about looking for an "AIRPORT TAXI" neon sign, tens of guys will pop up out of no where, walk up to you in a small-time-drug-pusher or a pimp-working-his-corner approach a and whisper the words "Taxi ya Basha?", seasoned with the I-have-a-great-deal-for-you wink.

Move along..

Now that you've dodged the shabby cabbies, stay vigilant against the evil virtual bag handlers. I call them virtual because (1) they are not employed by the airport. they just hang around there. (2) in most cases, they don't carry anything. They barely touch your bag for split seconds.

These guys are one of a kind species. Usually, they are lurkers around exit points of the arrivals hall. The minute you step outside, they jump in your path, try to snatch your bag - not to steal it, but to presumably carry it for you. And if you, God-forbid, demonstrate any kind of resistance, you will end up creating an awkward looking formation of you dragging your bags, and a handler tagging along with his hand or two on your luggage, like they were divine objects of heavenly pleasures.

After about 15 seconds, when you and your pick up reach your car. The handler stands next to you expecting you to happily handover a hundred Egyptian pounds note or something.
I honestly don't mind help when I need it. But here is my problem - i ALWAYS travel with one cabin sized bag. But somehow, someone thinks that i will not have the power to take that small 60cm by 40 cm across the street.

And just when you think you are done with all THAT and in the comfort of the backseat of your airport pickup, your driver pulls over at an awkwardly randomly located security booth at the exit point of the airport parking lot. An officer walks up to your window, taps it with his pen and asks for your name and destination. Then he starts repeating the magic words: "Kol Sana wenta tayeb" and for those who don't know, thats Egyptian code word for "pay up" - especially when said in times other than any publically known holiday such as Christmas, Eid or any notional holiday in Cairo.

Flying Out:

Flying out of Cairo International Airport varies from one nationality to another. Egyptians, so I’ve been told, don't have to deal with a lot. Westerners, on the other hand, are treated in most cases like celebrities. Now, if you are a non-Arab Egyptian then brace yourself to hear the "Kol Sana wenta tayeb" phrase at least a couple of dozen times.

It all starts when you enter the Check in area. You get a guy standing in front of the metal detector, frisks you lightly, glimpse over your passport to determine his "kol sana wenta tayeb" strategy. And holds on the your passport and tickets and starts repeating his "Kol Sana wenta tayeb." Occasionally, he would add "don't you have anything for your friends", "Anything in that bag for us?"

Most tickets today are E-tickets. And in most cases, I show the check in counter my reference on my mobile phone. But never in Egypt and not with me, at least. It happened a couple of times when I try to explain to the security guy at the metal detector that my ticket is electronic. I ended up having to why i didn't have a ticket print out to at least 3 officers. Since then, I always make 3 print outs of my e-ticket.

On my last trip to Egypt just a couple of days ago – One of the guys had a novel approach. It was the final check counter before the boarding gate. While frisking me, though the metal detector didn’t beep or anything, he felt my side pocket and asked:
- "is that Egyptian money?"
- "It’s a mix of Emarati and Egyptian."
- "Then you leave me the Egyptian money and Keep the Emarati"

Knowing, deep in my gut, that he wasn't really joking, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and burst into the most authentic-looking fake laugh. It worked and he reacted back with an eyebrow-less laugh himself and let me pass.

Can't blame a brother for trying I guess.