Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Call for Care

Honestly, every country and city around the World has a dark side. Every place has a sad story, and every story has an ending. This is not about criticising or trying to find a solution for another one of the plethora of problems rising in our community in Dubai. This indeed can happen anywhere, but since it happened here then it's our concern. This is about a man, a man whose picture struck me as that of my father, a retired Austrian man who gave this city and country so much over more than 40 years, and with a small twist of fate and a not-so-rare financial difficulty faced an 18 month stint in jail and is now in endless limbo.

This is an age of reflection and pride not stress and humiliation. Can you help spread the word? Can you help directly to pay his debt? I don't know how but my guess would be to contact 7 days. The amount is silly compared to the millions dumped on real estate ornaments and special license plate and mobile phone numbers, and there's hardly a better deed than settling a person's incarcerating debt. If the man is given a dirham for every thousand people who marveled at those Dubai icons, he would be flying home a millionaire by now.

Please read the story if you haven't, and think of something to help with.

Dubai Warrior

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Three things that cost 50 dirhams, when it shouldn't!

When I saw them I was simply speechless, and I decided to create the three-most-inflated products today. These three things cost around 50 dirhams, a seemingly worthless bill these days, but still they shouldn't. They didn't just a short while ago, and they still don't outside of Dubai. Presenting in reverse order:

3- Glycerin soap: A herbal glycerin soap bar was a basic home item for decades everywhere around the World. Village women could make a ton from some rendered fat and a decent garden pick. Costs about a couple of dirhams for unscented basic ones on the market streets of just about anywhere, but can go into MAYBE 5 or 6 dirhams for a decent herbal one in a nice market. Why would this Jordanian soap bar salesperson standing beside his stall in a mall, selling the exact same 5 dirham bar that we were picking from grocery shops for the occasional dry-skin-moisturizing moods of a sister, in a smaller size and a badly made wool purse (supposedly organic natural feeling inducing), for the clean-cut asking price of a flat 50 dirham bill? US$15 for a bar of soap, with ingredients list as flat, known and commonly devoid of any special herbs (Two basic olive and palm oils, with glycerin and basil, that's it!) things are getting a bit silly.

2- Miso soup in Festival City: Please don't comment by saying there is a 100,000 dirham dessert dish in a Malaysian business hotel, or a US$1000 burger in a New York hot spot. Those are signature dishes by world-reknowned artists making a gimmicky dish using jewellery and gold. The Miso soup in question is a basic item made of soy and a dash of spring onions and... well water. It costs an embarrassingly low 2.50 dirhams in any outlet in Asia, equivelent of 7 dirhams in Singapore higher end deli (with a wierd pudding that i didn't like), 6 dirhams in a New York Sushi bar, and around 10 dirhams in a hardened high-rent high-scale Tokyo restaurant. I need to add that it's considered a value added item in most places anyway, like french fries at Burger King. It was a separate item however on a normally inflated menu of a food court outlet here, weighing in at 35 dirhams for an eight ounce (single cup, half-pint or around 235ml) bowl. 5 quids for soybean and water is a bit rich, don't you think?

1- The winner of the list is..... Wait for it....... apricots at Carrefour!: Apricots are a basic nutritious fruit that many people like fresh and many like dried. Egyptians in specific have a taste to drinking a Ramadan mocktail of apricot concentrate with almonds in it. Even though apricots are seasonal and are hard to find outside of its limited summer release, it usually sells for the equivalent of 3 to 5 dirhams per kilo anywhere. A fair price for a regionally produced fruit, right? Carrefour however is proudly selling it at a 5 star hotel cake price of 52 dirhams per happy kilo. In case you're thinking that Salmon fillet and tiger shrimps are as much, you're close, those are around 59 per kilo, up or down slightly depending on the outlet.

There you go, ladies and gentlemen. I remember the days when my son would enjoy 50 dirhams throughout the whole fortnight as allowance and it would more than suffice. This is 10% of a labourer's monthly salary here, do they expect that those guys will continue working at a salary that they can't use to walk into a common cheap hypermarket like carrefour and buy 10 kgs of fruit for the whole month?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Back from the Orient

After a brief recent visit to Singapore, I realized that it's what Dubai should have been, especially considering how much Dubai copied from there. You can understand certain shortcomings, especially that innovators are always ahead of imitators. But the one thing that still does not add up about Dubai, is real estate.

There you had Asia's international hub of business, finance, and trade, wrapped up in a city-state governed by fully enforced republican law, enjoying excellent transportation facilities and civil infrastructure, great tropical weather, and a municipal management unmatched all over the continent. Literally billions of Asians are competing to get a spot or an office in this limited island, and yet they have a healthy real estate market where 60% of the units costs LESS than Dubai's cheapest offerings. The other 40% that cost more (granted some are significantly more) than Dubai's more expensive units, had a lot more to offer for that kind of money that it actually still made sense.

Yes I found many real estate units there that surpassed 4000 dirhams per square foot, but the quality on offer was superb, the facilities included were comprehensive and more than luxurious, and the location slash exclusivity were supreme. Exclusivity there meant a street corner of the top commercial and shopping district, in short, only ONE BUILDING would have that advantage, and therefore would advertise that it's exclusive in that way or location. Dubai's every other tower claims exclusivity, which is an oxymoron now honestly - 100 towers in the middle of nowhere looking at each other's swimming pools and all are branded as exclusive thanks to having central air conditioning or a silly voice activated lift.

Condos there were found thriving being offered for S$700 per sq ft, that is close to 1800 dirhams, and that is with full facilities of parking and entertainment, access to mass transit stations and convenience stores, security and all the usual bells and whistles, but more importantly were ALREADY BUILT!

Still, people here are either still oblivious to the market woos and claiming huge growth and "investment opportunities" still existing, or are now turning sour and unhappy and starting to find places to lay blame like those shopkeepers on the JBR strip Apparently they don't seem to understand or comprehend as to why is it that JBR is a ghost town or why is it that people wouldn't be walking in an OUTDOOR shopping street in JULY, or why wouldn't there be high traffic in a compound they DON'T LIVE AT.

Unless the Dubai developers and current "investors" come to grips with reality, and realize that 3 bedroom apartment rents of over a quarter of a million dirhams per year and prices above 3500 dirhams per square foot that they are dreaming of are probably not going to materialize, JBR will continue to be a ghost town and this market will face a long period of silence, followed by panic sales forced by bank payment pressures and a complete bubble burst.

Kuala Lumpur was even a bigger reality attenuator for me, as beautiful condos were being offered at as little as 250 dirhams per sq ft, and that is including swimming pool, security, car parking and a good view!

With those countries offering foreign owned business licenses and residence visas under even a better system than the dodgy 51% sponsorship system found in the GCC, the whole Dubai offering now makes no sense at all, and this is extremely dangerous for the economy and the total population with both its expat and local sides. Dubai used to be like this great well made Mercedes being offered as a limo at a great price, but over time it started rusting and getting old and all they did was add chrome to it, and in the end began charging enormous money for the ride, claiming that it's a classic. People now are saying "It's not, it's just an old beat up badly maintained and badly renovated taxi", but they're the only people who can't see it yet.