Add to Technorati Favorites expat Abu Dhabi Dispatches: November 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

In Transit

Again, I apologize with the lack of posts here recently, but I am in the midst of moving to a new apartment. The new place is in a recently completed phase of the same complex I lived in before. I was offered a brand new, larger apartment and I accepted having long forgot the trials and tribulations of relocating in this part of the world.

The physical moving of all my worldly items went smoothly enough. The movers showed up on time and were efficient, careful and polite. In a few hours all my goods were settled into my new place just 300 meters from the old. All that was left for me to do was unpack the boxes and sort things out.

The REAL struggles I knew that were ahead of me would be the shifting of the electricity, TV cable and internet accounts to my new address. I was not wrong! I now have electricity and cable, but after 2 weeks I still do not have the internet due to a screw up by the government owned monopoly that administers online services.

I wanted my web services shifted on the 14th and had to spend 3 hours of my life that I will never get back to go downtown and let the internet monopoly know this requirement. I could not do it online or by phone. As an aside, transferring the cable TV took TWO trips to their downtown offices. I also owe the electricity people a second visit.

So a few days ago I get a knock on the door and there were two guys standing there with electronics boxes under there arms. I was ecstatic that I was finally getting back in contact with the outside world as I had already gone through my DVD movie collection twice and terminal boredom was settling in.

Those two guys were there a total of 10 minutes and after confirming I had a proper picture on the TV and the remote control worked, they were gone. I noticed that my internet modem had more lights lit on it than before and assumed the installers got that going too. I got the PC fired-up and ......nothing. I tried all sorts of things to get that little green "internet" LED to light on the modem, but to no avail.

I gave it a day thinking that the authorization may take some time, but the modem was still dead. I finally broke down and called the customer help phone center. The unusually helpful guy had me run some diagnostics, but in the end we were unsuccessful and he agreed that a technician visit was inevitable. Something was badly wrong. I was sure the installers had forgotten something in their whirlwind visit.

What the phone center guy said next was a great example of the state of customer service in the UAE. I asked when I can expect to get the problem resolved as I had been webless for 2 weeks, he said "someone will call you", I asked "when?", he said "soon". Kind of what I expected, but here is the good part, he followed that up with "if it is not our fault, you will be charged 100 Dirhams ($37USD)" for the service call. I then asked him if the problem turns out to be on his company's end, will I receive the same 100 Dirhams from them for MY inconvenience caused by their slacker installers? There was a long silence and finally he said "That is not our policy."

So there you have it! I thought my logic was perfect....tit for tat, but that is not the way government utility monopolies operate here or anywhere for that matter, you gotta go along to get along. That was two days ago and I have yet to get the phone call that someone will be coming over to take care of the problem.

By the way, in case you are wondering how I am posting without internet service, I am pirating some anonymous stray WIFI signal from some other resident in my apartment complex. Many thanks to those who choose to have there networks unsecured, they are providing an invaluable service to folks like me!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Real Americana in Abu Dhabi

Today I stepped outside for a work break and immediately this beauty caught my eye. It is a 1955 Oldsmobile 98 four door sedan. It was in excellent shape. It had been recently painted as I caught a whiff of dying enamel as a did a brief walk-around. I noticed at the center of the vintage wide-whitewall tires were chrome hubcaps that were labelled "Chrysler" but they fit well and you couldn't tell 3 feet away anyway. I guess the real one were hard to get.

Surrounded by Kias, Toyotas, Hondas and Land Rovers, it looks as out of place in this Middle Eastern country as I do. It seemed as if as I was in the presence of a fellow countryman because these cars are so uniquely American.

These dinosaurs represent a time when Detroit Iron set the automotive world standard. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler were then industrial giants that dominated the American economy and were respected and feared. GM is now partly owned by Uncle Sam, Chrysler is owned by Fiat, but Ford is surprisingly doing relatively well on its own. Hell, they don't even make Oldsmobiles anymore, the brand was retired a few years ago. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

American cars of that era were huge, powerful, fast, reliable, chrome encrusted tanks. They were the ultimate status symbol around the world. Kings and Sheiks drove them. Everyone wanted one!

No one back then in the U.S. would think about buying something foreign. Most imported cars were considered to be uncomfortable, ugly, underpowered machines that only ran properly during the full moon. Repairs and parts were impossible to obtain for them. That was a fact!

Besides VW Beetles, the only other imports that were readily available in America at that time seemed to be English sports cars that were usually owned by the weird old guy down the street. He never socialized with the neighbors because he was always working on the car to keep it running.

American cars seemed to run forever. They were crude and could be repaired with bailing wire and chewing gum. If needed, repairs and parts could be had at the corner gas station. They embodied the independent American culture and soul back then.

The reality now is that the foreign manufacturers have more than caught up in the auto biz. Compared to the modern stuff, these old American cars were unsafe, didn't handle well at all and didn't last more than 50,000 miles. Usually folks bought a new car annually because the body styles changed radically every year to "keep-up with the Joneses". The rollout of the new models in October every year was a big event in most communities. Planned obsolescence is also a Detroit invention.

I know that this post is not much about Abu Dhabi, but the reason I wrote it was that the 1955 Oldsmobile 98 pictured in the photo above was same year, make and model as the first car I remember my father owning. He had that Olds for many years and that car may have be responsible for my being a lifelong enthusiast of all things automotive. My eyes got misty when I saw that big old hunk of steel in the parking lot today!

Monday, November 2, 2009


OK, this will be the last time I mention automobile racing this year. I promise. I am an incurable Petrolhead (Gearhead in the U.S.) so I can't help it.

What I am about to say is probably going to alienate me from many friends, readers and coworkers. The Abu Dhabi Formula 1 race I saw on TV was BORING! I was not excited by a race car going by every two seconds on an otherwise empty track. It looked like the qualifying rounds the day before. There was only one instance of overtaking that I know of. These guys weren't racing, they were just driving fast. The race was too short at 55 laps and an hour and a half of action is inadequate for the culmination of four days of festivities. I was hoping for Round 2. It was anti climatic.

The most exciting racing I saw at Yas was the Porsche Supercup. Those guys were intense!!

To be fair, this is the first Formula 1 race I have seen from start to finish as in the U.S. there is not much media coverage and maybe this race was a bad example. I always considered F1 cars to be the pinnacle of technological advancement but I think the track designs that discourage overtaking and head-to-head racing do a disservice to the sport and fans. I understand the F1 hot-shots are considering rules to make the series more NASCAR-like, re: entertaining.

I grew up in the South of the U.S. where NASCAR rules. Many consider NASCAR crude and the drivers lacking in skills, but from a fan's point of view, it is a much more entertaining event in my opinion. You can see the whole track from your seat. The cars are actually within feet of each other for most of the event, door handle to door handle and a lot of "trading paint" is going on. With the cars in close proximity, tactical moves are key and there are many lead changes. Look at the photos above and judge which one you would rather watch as a spectator.

There are usually enough yellow flags during the long races to keep the pack together. The races are much more than 55 laps and it is an all day event. NASCAR races are not all pedal to the metal and turn left, there are a variety of tracks and even some road courses where they get to turn right a few times.

Also, the rumble of 43 big bore American V8's passing by the grandstands at full throttle can't be beat.

Anyway, both types of racing have their advantages. From my initial exposure to F1, I remain a NASCAR fan for now, but I have an open mind.

I found the "celebrity aspect " of the F1 race here somewhat off-putting too. It diluted the intent of the event. Somewhat like the hoopla surrounding NFL Superbowl in the U.S.

Everything seemed to run smoothly and I have heard mostly good reports. The Yas Marina complex was completed just in time for the race and it could have been much worse if not for the massive efforts of the developers, promoters and sponsors. Abu Dhabi finally got some worldwide attention. Good job!