A World of Differences

This week saw me land back in Dubai after a whistle-stop trip back to my home of the UK, primarily for the wedding of two very close friends. Its amazing how quickly the visit swept by – always the case with holidays I guess – although I did manage to pack in it, so it was to be expected. One thing the trip back, after nearly five months living and working in the UAE, allowed me to do was reflect on some of the key differences between Dubai and the UK. Some are obvious whereas others seemed less so until I was actually faced with them. So, in no particular order….

Roads & Driving

I opted to hire a car during my stay back in the UK, much as I currently do in Dubai, and so booked one online with a well known car hire firm. The first difference was obvious the minute I climbed in to the little car I had rented – standards of cleanliness. In summary, whoever had been tasked with the job of cleaning the interior hadn’t done a great job, with sticky marks over the dashboard where I assume someone had spilt some kind of sugary drink or set up a family of jelly babies or the like, and general crud just sitting in the drink wells and other nooks and crannies. I had never really thought about it before but the cars I have picked up in Dubai have always been spotlessly clean, inside and out. So, Dubai scored highly on that front for starters.

Driving out of Heathrow and on towards Guildford I kept thinking to myself that I would “be on the M25 – that behemoth of a UK road and one which I had always been a little intimidated by – shortly. When I spied the junction for the M3, however, it suddenly dawned on me that I had in fact been on the M25 already although I had been casually feeling as if I was still on one of the small, provincial roads leaving the airport. Wow! The fact is that the road leading up to where I live is a three lane highway, with the actual motorways all being six lane monsters. As such, the M25 actually felt, effectively, like my driveway! Add to that the fact that the driving was significantly less stressful, almost verging on relaxing, given that people tend to adhere to the Highway Code on UK roads, and what used to be a bit of a stressful experience pre-move now felt like a pleasant amble.

One very clear motoring difference between the two countries is petrol prices. How much for petrol in the UK?! Its insane that it costs me in dirhams what it did in sterling to fill the tank of my little hire car and considering that the last time I checked the exchange rate it was about 5 dirhams to the pound, this means it costs five times – yes, FIVE TIMES – what it does here in Dubai to be a motorist. No wonder people have to think long and hard before grabbing their car keys in the UK. And you have to fill up your petrol tank yourself! What hardships! That last point was quite funny actually as it was quite surreal having to yet again step out of my car to fill my own tank before venturing in to the petrol station to pay. Here in Dubai we are afforded the rather lazy luxury of being able to simply pull up, get the tank filled and pay without ever having to leave the driver’s seat. See, told you, I am being spoilt 🙂

Size and Spreading Out

It’s perhaps no major surprise that in a city that is ever expanding and where one can simply build on more undeveloped land (ie the desert), the sense of space is palpable in Dubai. The houses are bigger, the rooms are bigger, the roads are definitely bigger, everything, in fact, is just bigger. Consequently much of what I experienced back in the UK felt smaller, more snug, comfortable, like a homely hug, including the cities that I found myself in. Given the fact that most of the major cities and towns in the UK have medieval roots their centres have this sense of intense density which I quite enjoy, in contrast to Dubai, which a) doesn’t really have a city centre per se and b) is just so, well, big. Single lane 1-way systems are just something you don’t see here in Dubai and the idea of being able to walk from one side of the “city centre” to the other is simply laughable, not least because you’d probably collapse from heat exhaustion before reaching your destination.

Green & Pleasant

Shropshire, Country, UKEveryone that has lived in a hot, arid environment mentions that the first thing they notice about home is how green and lush it is, something that I know we often take for granted when actually living in the UK. And so it was for me, as I couldn’t help luxuriate in the fact that everywhere you looked in the UK there was a wonderful palette of greens and yellows, with fields of arable crops contributing to the latter. The air also felt less heavy, less oppressive, as it is starting to in Dubai with the intense heat and humidity of summer rapidly building. One of my favourite moments of the trip was stopping to take in the stunning rolling hills, pastures and picture-postcard perfection of the Shropshire countryside during a run when I was in the county for my friends’ wedding. Don’t get me wrong…. I love the fact that I get to look at stunning beaches, enchanting dunes and futuristic landscapes, but nothing can quite match the breathtaking beauty of rolling English countryside on a sunny summers day. In fact it is this fact that I am sure temporarily offsets many peoples’ vocal intentions to emigrate, usually forged during the dark, wet winter months. If only we saw a little more of the sun in the UK then with scenery like we have it truly would be glorious.

Still, on the one hand we have rolling green pastures in the UK, Dubai rules supreme when it comes to stunning beaches. I visited the North Norfolk coast during the trip home to see my folks and although it is always great to venture to the coast, I rather fear I have been spoilt when it comes to what I now expect from a beach. The shingle peppered damp sand and murky grey-brown waters of the beach and sea, coupled with the dated and somewhat delapidated appearance of the town itself just cannot compete in my mind with the soft golden sands, azure warm waters and picture-postcard beachside paradise that Dubai represents. Although parts of the UK coastline can boast incredible sands and holiday brochure-esque waters, the fact that Dubai can throw in almost year-round guaranteed perfect beach weather means that it wins hands down on the seaside front.

Alcohol

Dubai can be a bit confusing when it comes to certain rules, with those pertaining to alcohol being one such. Technically the consumption of alcohol is, as I understand it, illegal, and yet there are literally hundreds of venues at which you can get served a drink, or five, not to mention the option to indulge in a booze-fueled brunch each week. Although you can basically get hammered with what seems like the blessing of the authorities, you have to be careful when out of these licensed premises as simply having alcohol in your system breaks UAE law. As such, the trip home in the taxi can feel like a gamble – say the wrong thing or otherwise piss your driver off and they are well within their rights to drive you to the nearest police station whereby you will be promptly arrested, charged and subsequently face the penalties, including likely deportation. Now it is no secret that I am a massive lightweight – I have often admitted as much – and so I have generally given alcohol a swerve whilst living here. Being able to order and enjoy a drink in the UK without worrying that you’re a law-breaker was refreshing and although I did have a few drinks whilst home, including obviously at my friends’ wedding, I didn’t really find myself thinking, “Wow! I have really missed this!” In fact, I would have happily remained totally off the plonk but its amazing how much of an important aspect of social interaction “having a drink” is, meaning that saying no often feels hard to do, which sounds really silly I know. What I was very aware of, however, is that my overall consumption was very low and even at the wedding, normally an excuse to really let your guard down and indulge, I drank very little. The result was I always woke feeling refreshed and not dreading the day – a feeling that I enjoy far more than the ones invoked by alcohol at the time. The other thing that is, however, unfortunately evident in the UK and not really seen here in the UAE, and related to the rules governing drinking, is the presence of drunken, unruly behaviour in town centres and other such areas. You simply won’t see groups of drunk people getting lairy and causing problems out on the streets. If anyone did dare to then they would very swiftly find themselves sobering up in a cell with further repercussions to look forward to.

The Weather. Obviously.

Last but by no means least, one of the main big differences between the two countries is clearly the weather. Whilst you are guaranteed year round sunshine and scorching temperatures year round here in Dubai, the climatic game of lucky dip that symbolises our summers in the UK mean that it is inevitable that we love to talk about the weather. I actually really enjoyed the refreshing change that having an active, unpredictable sky, complete with the occasional downpour, provided and compared to current scorching heat and sticky humidity that we are currently enduring here in Dubai, the UK ‘summer’ was very agreeable indeed. Having said that, knowing that I was returning to a hot, sunny ‘holiday resort’ at the end of my stay did make dealing with the less than summery conditions all the more bearable, and even enjoyable. I generally felt differently, of course, when I lived in the UK.

 

 

Paddle to the Beach

Paddle for the Planet, Kite Beach, DubaiOne of the very best things about living here in the Middle East is the fact that we get virtually uninterrupted awesome weather all year round. Yes, it gets horrifically hot and humid in the summer months, something that I am yet to actually experience first-hand, but the fact remains that it is excellent weather for being outdoors. On top of that we have some incredible beaches virtually on our doorsteps and easy to access.

I have already discovered a few of the stretches of beach along the Dubai coastline, from Nesnass beach where the kitesurfing crowd hang out, to JBR beach, with the Palm to the right and the towering skyscrapers and apartments of the marina as a backdrop, and where I regularly play Ultimate with other like-minded sports enthusiasts.

Friday saw me check out one of the main beaches here in Dubai, Kite Beach, as I signed up to attend a charity event called ‘Paddle for the Planet’, during which loads of people got together for an early morning paddle out into the ocean in aid of ocean based projects globally. I had just seen the event posted on good old Facebook and figured “why not?” I was due to be off work on Saturday and there was no wind forecast, so no kitesurfing to be done. It just sounded like it might be a laugh, and it was.

Kite Beach, Dubai
Kite Beach, Dubai

Kite Beach is one of those classic stretches of golden sand that you see in holiday brochures, complete with permanent wooden and palm sun shaders, volleyball courts and a range of civilised beach amenities, such as showers. There is even a cool little gym called The Shack, which has the feel of a mini Venice Beach vibe going on. I am actually going to try and attend a session one morning as I can’t think of a better place to pump some iron than right on the beach.

The turnout was impressive, with a whole host of paddlers, from surf-skiers to stand-up paddle-boarders, to kayakers, to Dragon Boats, surfboards and more. There was a big group photo on the beach at about half past 8 before we were all given the go ahead to launch ourselves into the water and paddle. I headed out as far as most people would dare and decided to turn back once I realised that I was, in fact, on my own and didn’t really fancy the idea of drifting off to Saudi. The view on the way back to shore was breathtaking, with the Burj al Arab off to the right, the towering, futuristic spectacle of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, to the left and the low rises of Jumeirah, with the beautiful minarets of the many mosques punctuating the view. I hadn’t really fully appreciated previously just how azure the sea is in Dubai, with this being one of the key things evident on the paddle back to solid ground.

Slack lining
Harder than it is made to look!

After the hard (yeah, right!) work of paddling was done, there were loads of other fun activities to keep people entertained on the beach, from the mobile climbing wall, to a pretty awesome double decker bouncy castle, to a slackline, which I had to have a go at. Actually, several, as it was certainly a lot harder than people make it look. I think I managed about one to two steps each time before wobbling and promptly falling off. Still, it was a laugh and there were plenty of freebies in the form of energy drinks and snacks on offer to keep energy levels topped up.

As far as a cracking start to a day off goes, even if that day off started at 5am, I couldn’t think of a better one 🙂

No such thing as stupidity? Not true!

I am used to seeing examples of simple, innocent ignorance doing the job I do, and it is actually gratifying to a certain degree when you can make a difference to both the lives of an animal and their owners by filling in the obvious gaps in their knowledge. However, there are also occasions when you just despair of people and the fact that they can possibly be so blinkin’ stupid!

Friday at our clinic is mental – no other word for it. The hours, officially anyway, are 9am until 5pm, but considering that during that time, which is normally fully booked with appointments and with at least one or two ‘walk-ins’ plus ’emergencies’ plus repeat prescriptions to attend to, the vet on duty also has to deal with all of the clinic’s in-patients, the day actually has to start much earlier and inevitably ends much later, with lunch but a pleasant idea. As such, by the time you find yourself getting towards the end of the day tolerance levels are waning and the last thing you want to find yourself dealing with is a problem that really shouldn’t exist.

The clients I called in to my room were new to us, having purchased two kittens only the evening before. All fine so far. We see many new puppies and kittens and I actually quite enjoy seeing them for their initial check-ups. What I don’t enjoy however is being faced with underage, underweight, clearly disease-riddled specimens and to then be informed that 5000 AED (roughly equivalent to about £1000) was spent on said kittens. I just wanted to scream at these people and ask them how they could have been so bloody stupid to have parted with so much cash for cats that were, even to an untrained child, clearly not right. I have a deep rooted disdain for the fact that people pay so much for pets anyway, especially when there are so many perfectly good, healthy animals in adoption centres. In fact, we have a clinic full of kittens all looking for homes. The best part? They had purchased the kittens for their young child! OMG!

Needless to say the scumbag who duped these two, not on the face of it unintelligent people, refused point blank to take them back or refund them. As shitty as that is I guess it was to be expected. If you’re unscrupulous enough to advertise and trade in diseased babies, which is what we’re effectively talking about here, and you find someone dumb enough to hand you their money, then of course you’re unlikely to have the moral fibre that dictates you do the right thing by them after they discover their mistake. The fault lies with the idiots who seek out and then pay obscene amounts of money for these animals – they are creating the demand for such a disgusting trade.

Anyway, I thus had the pleasure of informing my clients that they had paid a lot for two kittens who had, in no particular order, ringworm (a fungal skin disease that is zoonotic – ie, we can get it), worms, raging upper respiratory infections, with one of the kittens having awfully gummed up eyes, ear mites, and were both very underweight and in poor general body condition. There may well be additional health issues which come to light, such as the risk of diseases such as giardia (again, something we can pick up) and FIE (Feline Infectious Enteritis, a form of feline parvovirus and bad news). To even attempt to rectify the various health issues they had was going to take considerable time, effort and more money. Oh, and with no guarantee of having healthy, alive kittens by the end of it. Always a fun conversation to have at the end of a crazy Friday!

If anything I would like this post to serve as a wake-up call to those looking to acquire a kitten, or indeed any animal: THINK! It isn’t rocket science. If you’re buying a young animal from a man in a van, with no paperwork, previous history and it clearly looks underweight, in poor condition and has physical evidence of disease – I think we can all recognise a snotty nose and eyes when we see them – then think really long and hard about whether it is a good idea to part with a wedge load of cash, because all you’re going to end up doing is doubling that amount on vet fees and giving the dodgy seller ample good incentive to go out and ‘replenish his stock’ with more sickly specimens to flog to unsuspecting suckers. If you really must get a kitten or puppy then I urge you to, first of all, consider rehoming an animal from a shelter or vet clinic – they will have been vet checked, passed as healthy and probably already wormed, vaccinated and, depending on their age, neutered. If, however, money is simply burning a hole in your pocket or you must have a specific breed (!?) then seek out a reputable breeder, insist on seeing the mother and, if possible, the father too, and go and view the puppies or kittens with the rest of the litter before going back and forking out money. As for pet shops, don’t go near them. Period.

The depressing thing is that I daresay I am going to see many more such cases, especially if the past week has been any guide to future events.