Sunday, August 15, 2010

Driver's Ed

It's long been a tradition to disparage drivers from other states in the US.  Pennsylvania's don't like Jersey drivers, DC residents don't like MD drivers, etc.  There's active debate about who the worst drivers are...a forgotten turn signal, passing on the right, or changing lanes too quickly usually top the list of offensives.

Drivers in Dubai take the whole enchilada.  The things I see on a daily basis are truly insane.  Driving 100mph on the shoulder, cutting across 6 lanes of high-speed traffic, and my personal favorite - skidding to a halt and putting the car in reverse on the highway and backing down the lane to take a missed exit.  Not surprisingly people die on Dubai highways almost everyday.

According to a 2006 UN report, the UAE’s roads are the third most dangerous in the world, with 20 deaths per 100,000 population. Saudi Arabia is the most dangerous with 23 deaths per 100,000 population, and Oman second with 21 deaths per 100,000 population.  Statistics from the Dubai Traffic Authority indicate that 97 per cent of accidents in the emirate were caused by male drivers.

With the winter rain comes even more chaos than usual. One wet February morning saw 500 accidents of varying seriousness reported before 9.00am, the result of motorists failing to adapt to the wet road conditions, speeding and not leaving enough distance from the vehicle in front. By the end of two days of rain, figures showed there had been an accident every two minutes during that period.

And if that doesn't do you in, there is the local road rage, where if you decide you don't like the behavior of the driving in front of you (typically they are driving 'safe') you follow them with about 6 inches between your bumpers and flash your high beams repeatedly in order to blind and harass them.  Suddenly people who were in such a hurry that they were barreling down the road at 120mph, have the time to abuse you for driving the speed limit.

So, we've got a special little nugget here to show you just how out of control the situation is.  This a group of local boys who decided to have some fun, just a few weeks ago, on the main six-lane road - Sheikh Zayed - that runs through all of Dubai.  And, of course, they took the time to record their fun.  Rest assured this isn't some country road or in the middle of the desert.  It's the most traveled road in Dubai.

Enjoy the mayhem.  Oh, and did I mention that one of the guys is a police officer?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Live Every Week, Like It is Shark Week

To quote 30 Rock's Tracy Jordan when he decides to give NBC page, Kenneth, some inspirational advice, "Ken, just remember - live every week, like it's Shark Week."

Words to live by.

We must have been very good boys and girls in Dubai, because we are the recipients of Animal Planet's Shark MONTH which I am told does not exist in the US. While I've always waited with anticipation for Discovery's week long programing to begin, I must say Animal Planet is putting on a shark bonanza and we are the lucky beneficiaries!

My excitement draws from the fact that a) shark TV is awesome and b) we never get the good stuff here.  When we finally get US programming we are a season behind or have to make do with Arabic subtitles, so a healthy DVD collection is a must.

But now with Shark Month being offered real time, we can give the DVD player a rest.  Last night I took in 2 hours of Shark Rampage 1916, which tells the true story of the events that inspired, Jaws.  The truth is scarier than the movie!  Next up Ultimate Air Jaws tonight.  Oh yeah.

Anyway I don't want to brag but - my Shark "week" is bigger than yours!

Shark Month on Animal Planet from Dan Merry on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dubai Ink

The idea originated with our friend Lynze about a week ago.  "We need to do something cultural" she said.  "I've decided we need to go to a henna parlor, are you in?"  I've only had a henna tattoo one other time and that was 11 years ago when I was in Israel.  It was a simple affair, just a quick design about the size Post-it note, so I told Lynze, "Sure I'm in."  It took more convincing to wrangle our friend Fiona who was adamant that she didn't want one, but with the right amount of peer pressure and the promise of lunch afterward she relented.

So off we went to the "other side" of the city where we could actually find our henna parlor.  Lynze had secured a recommendation from a local lady and when we arrived for our body art the woman behind the counter said "Oh you must be the foreigners that Fatima told us about."  Foreigners?  I don't know if this is a good start.

 Beauty Saloo?  What were we getting ourselves into?

For most local women the traditional spots for henna designs are on the hands and feet.  The three of us all wanted to choose places where it could be revealed or concealed at will so we had to be a bit more creative.  I had decided on my back, Lynze her side, and Fiona her foot.  After slipping off our shoes and entering the room lined with cushions I was approached by one of the ladies who asked if I was ready to begin.  I proceeded to ask if there was a design book that I could look at and she looked at me like I was crazy.  (Stupid foreigner - no doubt).
"You sleep now" she said.  Sleep?  I didn't come to sleep.  After about a minute I realized that 'sleep' meant 'lay down' and before I could say inshallah I could feel the cold gel on my back.  She was going in blind and I had no idea was I was going to get!  Lynze and Fiona gave themselves up to the process (or lack thereof) and then we started with peals of laughter.

 "Sleeping" while our henna dries


It was a great experience and we ended up having alot of fun with the Indian ladies who specialized in the art.  They were warm and funny and despite a few language barriers they were able to educate us on the finer points of the tradition.

The final product is much lighter than what you see above.  The gel takes about 45 minutes to dry and then you have to wait another 90 before you chip off the gel to reveal the final design.  It will last 1-2 weeks depending on how you 'care' for it.  Soap and loofahs being the number one enemy.  We were told on our way out the door to rub Vic's Vapor Rub on it to intensify the color and prolong the life.  Vic's?  Who the heck figured that out?

 Should I make it permanent?
Lynze and I are planning our next trip back, but Fiona still hasn't gotten over her "orange foot" so we'll have to see who turns up for Round 2 in a couple of weeks!

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Watering Hole

When it's a balmy 110 degrees at night with 60% humidity you'll do pretty much anything to cool off!  This usually involves relaxing inside and taking advantage of the frigid air conditioning that you'll find in every mall, bar and restaurant.  The Nasimi Beach people at the Atlantis had a stroke of inspiration when it came to their latest promotion.  An adult pool party with all the swimming, drinking, dining, and dancing you could hope for. 

After a successful 6 week run we finally had the chance to go check the scene out for ourselves.  I had been told that it was an all around 'chilled-out' affair, but when we arrived the place was teaming like an African waterhole.  Apparently the entire city had turned out to capitalize on their last party weekend before Ramadan and the scene was crazy!

Thousands of people turned out to run around in their bathing suits and alternate between cannonballs and Corona's.  MTV's The Grind had nothing on this party.

The day started out innocently enough.  With some pool side snacks, but when I remarked to Matt that the watermelon tasted funny, a friend who had been there before said 'that's because there's half a bottle of vodka in it'.  Oh.

Our little group managed to carve out an enclave of a few chairs and some highly desired pool-side real estate while the rest of the crowd literally vied for any spot of available pavement.  If there were rafters, they'd be swinging from them!  The only thing missing was the Discovery channel crew - if you wanted to observe the finer points of primate social interaction this was the place to be!

The dance floor
The watering hole
 An intense splash fight...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Saga Continues: Gulf States Proclaim Blackberry Users to Cover Phones With Tiny Burqas

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this post, while extraordinary hilarious, are not necessarily the views of the writers and editors at Dubai Diary.  Now that we've cleared that up, enjoy!
New laws in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will require that every Blackberry user dress their phone a miniature burqa and face veil.

‘The Blackberry burqa means that people can still use their phones,’ said a Saudi government official, ‘but the tiny niqab that covers the screen will stop them from reading emails or accessing the Internet.’

The introduction of the burqa is intended to conceal the Blackberry from unwanted attention. With the veil in place only a tiny slit remains revealing just the time and date, thus preserving its modesty.

‘This is not about censorship or oppression,’ said UAE telecommunications regulator Mohammed al-Ghanem, ‘this is about preserving the essential purity of the Blackberry and protecting it from being corrupted.’

Some businessmen believe that making their phone wear a burqa can be very liberating. ‘It’s great,’ said one, ‘with the veil in place I am free to walk about with my Blackberry in public without the feeling that people are staring lustily at my multimedia application. It also covers my shame for not owning an iPhone.’

Some religious groups have welcomed the policy. ‘If Allah had meant us to freely access the Internet He would have given us web browsers in our heads,’ said a local imam, adding ‘There is absolutely no mention of instant messaging in the Koran and at no point did Muhammad, or any of his eleven wives, ever saying LOL, ROFL or TTYL.’

If the Blackberry burqa is successful, it may spread to other countries. However, experts say that dressing your phone in a burqa could result in poor reception, especially in France and Belgium.

The British government has yet to declare an official line on phone burqas although Immigration Minister Damian Green said that to ban them would be ‘very unBritish’. He went on to explain that, ‘the British thing to do, as always, is to grumble and tut.’

The Saudi government have promised that anyone who refuses to dress their Blackberry in a burqa will face harsh punishment. ‘I am not saying exactly what we will do,’ said their Minister for Justice, ‘but suffice to say that it isn’t so easy to text with your toes.’

Saudi Arabia Gets In on the Blackberry Ban, Claims Trackballs Gave It "Hurty Thumbs"

Et tu, Saudi Arabia?  Not to be undone by its GCC cousin, Saudi Arabia has decided to get itself some of that international media coverage by banning Blackberries as well.  Apparently, Saudi plays for keeps - they have said that they'll be banning email, BBM, and web starting THIS FRIDAY.  For those of you playing along at home, that's about 4 days before Ramadan starts.  Cutting off loved ones from messaging each other over a month-long holiday is a tough call, but if that's what it takes to keep people from blowing up the world, I suppose I can get on board.

I would love to let the Chief IT officers of these countries know that there are tons of other ways to send private messages on a phone, and perhaps blocking a technology isn't the best way to keep a population above the law.  Sadly, they both use blackberries - I tried to both email and BBM them, but there's no response...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Full Moon Over the Burj Dubai

In this week's installment of "Pretty Things With Matt", we're bringing you a scene from Dubai with a little dose of religious edumication.  The night two weeks before Ramadan is marked by a full moon, and named Lailat al Barai'ah ("Night of Forgiveness" - thank you Google).  Not that I knew any of this when I decided to take pictures of a big bright moon and a really tall building. 

It was a royal pain to find the right spot for this shot - it turns out that is was in a dust bowl in Jumeirah, just outside of the Bur Dubai jail.  The real trick isn't finding the spot or taking the pictures - it's convincing the police that the guy parked outside the prison wall, shooting in the direction of the inmates with a high powered lens and a tripod, is really just trying to get a shot for the cover of his new coffee table book, "Phallic Symbols of the World". Enjoy!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Have a Blackberry? Type quickly, for the end is near!

Arthritic thumbs around the world, rejoice!  Research in Motion, makers of the very Blackberry I'm typing this on, are getting all sorts of busted up by the Telecommunications and Regulatory Authority here in Dubai.  It seems that the UAE doesn't take too kindly to the security that Blackberries use to encrypt emails, messages, and web browsing (don't worry, I bought this one in the UAE, so there's a poor soul in the government who can and probably does read my 300 incredibly boring daily emails). 

The TRA is de-activating and blocking the email, BBM, and web-browsing features on Blackberries, effectively making them the world's most sophisticated pocket dictionary, on October 11th.  It really hit home when someone came into my office immediately after getting the news (on her Blackberry, of course) and said "Wait - does this mean we can all have iPhones???"

Oh great, just what I need - in one hand, a Blackberry that can't do email, and in the other, an iPhone that can't stop dropping calls!