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The Land of Hits & Misses

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | Monday, 5 April 2010 | Views [551]

A few snapshots from some of the craziness and chaos around here.

It's a game of hit or miss with taxis around here. They're relatively cheap on account of bargain basement fuel prices, though you're lucky if you find one who actually knows where they're going. At our hotel, the concierge won't let you get in the car until they confirm with the driver that they know the destination. If you're at the mall, or somewhere random, you may not be so lucky. On our first house-hunting expedition, we were taken on an hour long journey through construction and roadblocks for a twenty minute trip. Granted, the driver turned off the meter as soon as he realised he'd gone the wrong way, and apologised profusely, begging us not to report him to the traffic authority, but still it took FORTY minutes more than it should have, and there wasn't even any traffic! We also came across a driver who just didn't want to take our fare on a Thursday night (equivalent of Friday night), so pretended he didn't know where the hotel was, and had to do a loop of the mall again. Stupidity aside, they're pretty tight on their taxis here. There are lots of rules about what they can and can't do legally (not that they're always followed) and many drivers have a neat little electronic device on the back of the passenger seat to report your satisfaction with the service. My recommendation: take the train. That is, if your stop is actually running.....

Similar to the tram system in Adelaide, there are twenty-two stops running through the main drag of Dubai, three of which run near our apartment in the Marina. Only ten are open. The rest are a semi-constructed mess that the train runs straight through that you can see Indians and Pakistanis working on by day. The fares are reasonable, trains run every ten minutes on the only line in town (they hope to get to four lines, but are flat out finishing one), but you've gotta be lucky to be living near a stop. At the moment they don't run to get to the outer regions of the city, where Andrew works. Train fail. Not only do current news reports explain that the remaining train stations due to open in February may well not open in time, they also speculate that they may not open at all, following the trend of oft-started construction projects that simply cannot be completed with the allocated resources. There is one very big positive about the trains though - and that is the provision of a women and children only carriage. It's now become very important to me that this exists, though I'll tell you more about that at a later date.

Following on with the transport theme, I’d like to talk about buses. But the buses I want to talk about are not the RTA Public buses run to get residents from place to place. They’re a special type of bus. Here in Dubai, there is a massive class and race distinction. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but it’s reality. Jobs here are often divided by race and one of those major groups consist of the workers from Bangladesh and Pakistan working on the general construction around the city (and those lagging train stations). There is no minimum wage here in the UAE, so they can be paid whatever a construction firm likes, and by offering more than these people would be able to earn in their home country, the companies can get away with paying only dhs400-2000 a month (US$150-$720), housing them in ‘camps’ for accommodation and giving them food. It’s enough for these workers to send home to support their families, but they work gruelling 12-16 hour days, six days a week, and are transferred from their ‘camp’ to their construction site and back daily by chartered buses. These buses filled with sad eyes that stare at you from the road. No wonder the Emirati are rare pedestrians.

If you’ve ever been to Thailand, you understand the chaos involved in trying to cross the road. It was one of the first things I mentioned in my ‘things I’ve learned’ blogs over there – that you simply have to commit yourself to crossing in front of traffic and expect them to slow down and stop for you. Here, the traffic is four times faster and you’ve got NO chance of them stopping. You have to precisely calculate the exact moment at which you can cross the road and conduct yourself like a cheetah to race across the road. It’s like taxis, you’re taking your life into your own hands. By summer though, we won’t be outside walking anyway. No wonder the Emirati are becoming the population with the highest rates of Type II Diabetes and heart disease on account of their lifestyle – they CAN’T walk everywhere like we do in Melbourne.

Apartment Safari
There's a reason why (sans today) all has been quiet on the Facebook front of late, and no it's not the stupid cost of internet in these parts. The hunt for the amazing house has been an epic one filled with one or two ups, and a whole lotta downs. I'm could not be more thankful than I am right now for the economic downturn here in Dubai making apartments in the Marina affordable for Andrew and I. Otherwise I fear I'd be living in that dusty craphole known as International City (or, the compounds). Everyone we talk to can't help but drop their jaws in amazement on hearing about the deal we got on our apartment, something that would have cost double what we have agreed on just 18 months ago. At the peak of the rental boom, we would not have gotten change out of US$40,000, completely outpricing this little black duck even without income tax. Now I'm happy, and I get to see all the sparkly lights at night! I've gotta say though, as horrible as Dubai looks by day in its haphazard construction and dusty haze, it's absolutely stunning at night with it's outrageously constructed buildings and over-the-top lighting. The Burj Dubai (the tallest tower) just sits there and sparkles into the evening. Just for fun. It's like Tim at the Christmas Party, but without the wine and elf hat :P

I've got many more little snapshots of everyday life to come...I've gotta keep you hanging! Future topics include the postal service, alcohol, staring men, and New Zealand's portrayal in the Gulf News. Good times!! x

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