Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
25° 21' N 55° 23' E
Mar 03, 2008 03:35
Distance 144km

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Text written in: English

My New Home Town

Monday to Wednesday, March 3rd to 5th.

Left Abu Dhabi on Monday morning. The bus was like the ones that do short routes within a city, but none the less this was 140 Km, and it cost only $4. The taxi to my hotel was many times that for a short distance (but cabs are cheap, like under a dollar a Km).

The bus dropped me off across the street from the Canadian consulate, so I was able to pick up my passport easily and quickly (around here you think traffic and gridlock if you are going into the centre of Dubai). Checked into the hotel I stayed in when I first got here, felt like home. Had the afternoon free, so I took a dhow boat cruise around Dubai Creek. A neat harbour, full of boats from one hundred years ago and modern buildings all around the shoreline.

Also visited the Dubai museum. You do not want to go with me to a musuem, as I read every caption except ones that describe broken pots or old jewellery. Interesting museum that describes the history of Dubai. In the 1950's, there were 50,000 citizens, now 1.5 million, impressive.

The following are some closing thoughts on my stay in the Emirates, as I reflect on having been in Islamic countries for almost two months now. 

One thing you notice is the use of U-turns.  The major streets are all boulevards or divided roads.  Therefore, if you want to cross the road you must pull a U-turn at the next intersection, if it has a stop light.  In fact, there are U-turn signals and U-turn lanes at the major crossings with stop lights.  Most intersections in the Gulf are traffic circles.  You enter and depending on where you want to go, you get off at one of the next three possibilities.  It is amazing how well they work.  It is going to take some time to get used to them, for the first while I will avoid them during busy times.  

Mosques, they are everywhere.  As there is no real distinction between church and state, the rulers/state and influential people build beautiful mosques to show their gratitude to Allah.  It is said that in Dubai there is a mosque within 500 metres of any spot. I could believe it.  And when it is the call to prayers, the air rings with the chanting of the imams. It is so peace instilling and makes everyone mindful of the role of Islam in this society.

In the Gulf, compared to anywhere else in the world I have been or lived, the presence of police is noticeable in its absence.  In the Middle East, there are armed soldiers and guards everywhere.  Sitting on a bus with someone next to you with a machine gun is normal.  In North America you see police and police cars regularly.  Here, I have seen only a few police cars and about that many police officers or soldiers.  The wonderful thing is there is almost no crime here.  For expatriates, it is a swift and stiff trial and jail term, using Islamic law and penalties followed by immediate expulsion.  For nationals, they have it so good (they say it is like winning a lottery to be a national) that they don't mess it up. The embarrassment to the family and its name if you are a criminal is enough to put an end to that idea.  To the extent alcohol is available (have not seen anywhere to buy it, but it is available in Dubai), you do not walk about drunk or act stupid due to alcohol, it is simply not tolerated.

There are very few non-national women here.  Most of the work is in the construction business, or doing entry level banking tasks, or driving taxis.  It is a struggle for the African, Indian and Pakistani men, but they must do better than in their native land, as they jump at the chance to come here and stay for many years.  And they do not seem to mind being here, in spite of the hardships they experience (which says something about the countries they are from). Learned from the cab driver what the Asian workers earn. A taxi driver makes about 3,000 dirham or ($900), and an unskilled construction worker makes 1,200 dirham (or just under $400), plus housing. I am very impressed with the skill and quality of the construction work here, it is well done and well finished.

Islamic finance.  The Koran forbids the charging of interest on loans and giving interest on deposits.  Yet there are soooo many banks here.  So how do they do it?  For loans, it is often done by using lease-to-own financing.  If you lease or rent an item for a certain period of time, then you get to keep it after your last payment.  Another way is for the bank to buy the item from the retailer and sell it to you at a higher price.  The higher price would include an implicit interest cost.  For example, assume an item can be purchased for cash for $10,000.  The bank will buy the item from the seller for $10,000 and sell it to the end users for $13,000, being 13 payments of $1,000.  The $3,000 higher price would be a cost for advancing the funds to the seller, and the bank's profit (income) on the arrangement.   For depositors, rather than getting interest on your deposit, the bank invests your money in the above arrangements and your profit is a part of the net gain of the bank in advancing the funds.  If a "loan" goes into default as the end user cannot keep up payments, the imam will visit the "borrower" and see if he is living irresponsibly, and if not, the item is returned and that is the end of the story.  There is a lot of honour and face in this arrangement, so few arrangements go wrong.

And you know what; I really do like it here.  It will not take much for me to fall in love with it.  And knowing how I pour myself into what I do at work, this is going to work out very well.  Only thing I am going to do differently is put more effort into leisure activities, and avoid outside income earnings opportunities this time around.  Already planning my travels for the next few days, doing 100 countries from here is doable.



Photos / videos of "My New Home Town":

This is the desert between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  For most of the 150 K there is some development. A large dhow in the creek.  These boats go between Dubai and Iran, India and Pakistan. Doing a dhow boat tour of Dubai Creek. Dubai is a busy harbour for these dhow boats. Taking a dhow water taxi across the creek. It is much faster than a car or taxi.  By boat it takes 10 minutes, by car with traffic it would take over an hour. Interesting view looking up the creek and harbour, definitely not the port of Vancouver. Note the writing on the HSBC building, "Islamic Financial Solutions".  The Koran forbids the charging of interest, so other ways of collecting rents from the advancement of money are required.  Tell you more in text of this blog. There is a large lagoon in the centre of Sharjah.  Walked around it, all 10 K.  Very pretty.  Wish they rented bikes to go around. One of the many mosques along the Corniche.  Counted at least five, likely more if I had looked harder. This is a nice mosque, but it is by no means spectacular.  Some of the mosques are huge and extremely impressive with their many minarets.  The ruler builds many of these mosques. Another mosque. Birds on a railing along the corniche. I will likely be living near to this beach in Ajman.  Water a pleasant 80 (27) degrees. Almost every cıty I vısıt that ıs on water has a fısh market so thıs one ıs not unıque but they are always ınterestıng to vısıt. The world certaınly eats a lot of fısh. To ımagıne that every day thıs many fısh are harvested for thıs market tımes all the markets ın the world equals a lot of fısh.  I have heard rumours that we are overfıshıng whıch ıs a worryıng thought for our food supply. Thıs ıs a full servıce market - (there are no commas on the Turkısh keyboard so) have not seen the Cleanıng Department before.