Saturday, March 22, 2014

And on the 8th day, there was finally light

We hired some 'electricians' recommended by the maintenance manager in our complex to install our newly purchased light fixtures from Dragon Mart. I put electrician in quotes because while they seemed fairly competent with a straightforward installation, give them something that requires problem solving and it gets a bit sketchy.

The goal was to have everything done in one day. That was wishful thinking on our part. These guys are freelancing around the work they are actually paid and hired to do for the complex so we had to flex with their timetable, which meant 4-5 separate trips to get everything finally completed.

They started with the dining room fixture and came by while we were both at work. We got home to find the semi constructed light fixture on the dining room table. Brian, engineer and perfectionist that he is, starting examining the work. A few cuss words later and he was asking me to "hold this" and "give me that" while he assembled the light fixture himself following the cryptic directions written in Chinese. That correct, we assembled the light fixtures we paid the electricians to do. We left it on the table as an example of how to assemble the other one.

Yup, you guessed it, we should have assembled the other one as well because the next day they were both hung and almost working (we needed the correct size bulbs for the living room) but there was a large smudge on the living room fixture (the one they put together) because they forced a piece rather than loosen a screw. Hmmm, something about a screw loose seems appropriate here.

We went into quality assurance mode and thank goodness because in two other rooms, they had put the fixtures together incorrectly - not so much that they didn't work, but just so that they looked sloppy or crooked. The last straw was the fixture in our bedroom. After they finished, there was still a small gap between the light fixture plate and the ceiling. Brian pointed it out to them, helped move the bed and mattress again and they got to work. Luckily Brian stayed with them because at one point the solution was to "drill another hole" in the light fixture plate! Brian helped them see they could bend part of the inside to make things fit correctly. Who knows what we would have had if Brian hadn't been there - another trip to Dragon Mart for sure!

And after about 8 days of this, we finally had our lights up and working. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Adventures in Dragon Mart - Part II

So, we got home with our light fixtures, lamp, shower curtain rod and started sorting through our loot.

Only to learn the hard way that we should have double checked all our our boxes before handing over the cash. We found 2 broken light fixture parts and that we bought the wrong color lightbulbs. There are white and yellow - we bought white, but they make the house look like a hospital corridor, they were so bright.

So back to Dragon Mart we went the next day to make the exchanges. This frequency is really not recommended. One needs time to recover from the trauma of Dragon Mart before returning for another onslaught. But we were determined to get some lights installed so off we went.

After once again battling the parking lot, we again had trouble finding the lighting section - good grief we were just there the day before! You'd be surprised is all I can say. Luckily, all the receipts have the store number on them (the name truly wouldn't help much) so we were able to find the right place for the right item (we purchased lights at at least 4 different shops). We got a little grief for not checking the boxes in advance, but overall, not too much trouble - just a lot of waiting while they went to the warehouse to get the replacement item.

We survived the second trip, got everything home and got the electricians to begin installing the lights. (that's another story!)

Brian ended up having to make one more trip to Dragon Mart the following week as we realized that the two identical light fixtures we bought for the living and dining areas weren't so identical after all! One was slightly smaller and took a different size bulb.

We're really hoping that's the last trip for a while.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Adventures in Dragon Mart - Part I

One not so great thing about the new villa is that it didn't come with any light fixtures. there were enough recessed lights to get by for  a few days, but we had an urgent need to go light shopping. Like any big city, there are loads of places to buy lights, but as is our custom, we wanted something decent but cheap (hey, it's a rental!) And when you want cheap, you go to Dragon Mart in Dubai.

Dragon Mart has been described as "Chinatown on steroids". Located on the outskirts of Dubai, the place is a series of warehouses that carry every conceivable item you can imagine. For those of you back home, think of a combination of the state fair, a Saturday flea market, Wal Mart and Delaney's all in one!

You can see why it's called the Dragon Mart when you look at this aerial view. The photos in this post are actually taken from the internet as I didn't even think to grab some photos of the crazy place (too busy dodging the crowds and gawking at the wares, I guess).

The first challenge is finding parking. We went on Friday early afternoon so that helped slightly, but we still drove around a bit to find a spot. The next challenge is to remember where you parked. The place is huge and there are many doors in and out of the mart so you have to pay close attention or risk wandering around for hours looking for your car. Luckily, all the entrances are marked. The third challenge is to find what you're looking for.

Items are roughly organized into sections, but I do mean roughly. For example, we entered in the hardware/plumbing/tile and flooring section ... we think. But then we'd find a random flower shop or rug shop which threw things off. And, unfortunately, there is no mall directory - you just have to walk around and find what you're looking for. And that's what we did - for about 15 minutes before we finally found the light fixture area.

Inside the mart, each store is very small, packed to the gills with merchandise, and they are all right next to each other so even when you find something, the chances of you finding the store again are slim. And this became a problem because we were shopping around for light fixtures. We wanted to browse what was on offer and then swing back around for a closer look. This was much more challenging than you would imagine.

Despite the challenges and the crowds and the really gaudy stuff in most shops, we managed to find a few things we liked and get everything eventually purchased and stuffed into the car. And like any good trip to "China town on steroids" in addition to what we came for, we also walked out with a lamp, a rug, shower rod and of course, lightbulbs.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Patio installation

One of the first projects we started on at the new place was to get the backyard sandpit turned into a patio. The weather right now is perfect in Abu Dhabi and it will only stay that way for another 6-8 weeks so we wanted to make the most of the time we had. The kitties didn't mind so much as all that sand was pretty inviting, but we wanted more than a huge litter box in the backyard.
 As fate would have it, our first day at the new villa, Desert Dreams landscaping stopped by to see if we wanted to enlist their services. They showed us some of the other projects in the neighborhood that they had completed and after some negotiation on price, we struck a deal. They said they could have things done in a week.

It took more than two weeks, due in part to some rainy weather but I think even more so to them over committing themselves, but in the end, we got there and are very happy with the results. We've already used the grill more in the last month than in our combined last 3 years. The weather has been perfect and the patio area is too!

And now I need to close the computer and go outside while I still can! :)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Apartment Hunting in Abu Dhabi

When our management company first told us we had to move out, I have to admit, I was actually a little excited. Some of you have heard me call our place "the college dorm" due to the size and lack of quality of our current 2 bedroom apartment. But once we started to buckle down and actually look for alternatives, I realized all the things I really like about our current place.

But move we must so we got started with the process. The big challenges here are:
  1. The rent prices are high - at least compared to back home. I suppose they are probably in line with most major cities of this size and GDP, but for us, it's hard to think about paying a lot more for a 1100 sq ft 2 bedroom than what we're renting out our 2400+ sq ft 3 bedroom house for back home. We also have a fairly modest housing budget, which is dictated by Brian's company. Fair to be sure, but modest by AD standards.
  2. The internet is pretty useless here. Apartments get rented so quickly that by the time you see the posting, it's most likely already gone. Yes, supply outweighs demand big time here. So, you have to work through a real estate agent who gets 5% commission even if all they do is arrange to have the apartment open when you want to see it. And, the worst is that they don't work on weekends or past 5pm so you have to take off work in order to see anything. (and no, we're not wasting any precious vacation time to look at apartments! :)
  3. While prices are high, quality is low . . . make that pathetic. There seems to be a complete lack of skill (or maybe pride?) in the quality of construction in most places. Uneven ceilings, cracked tiles, peeling cabinets doors (in a brand new unit) are the norm here so we get frustrated even when we find a place with a nice layout or location.
  4. Layouts are . . . different. Kitchens that we like are the hardest to find. Many are in closed rooms with a door, no window and very small. We definitely treat and think of kitchens differently in the US. Let's just say that over here, your guests don't congregate in the kitchen! We've also seen some really crazy layouts - small long hallways where you could just have an open entry, bathroom doors that you have to squeeze around in order to get in the bathroom and kitchen cabinets you can't open because of the location of the fridge or dishwasher, etc.
So, we had our work cut out for us. The good thing is that we know the city a lot better than when we first came and had a better idea of what we were looking for. The bad thing was prices are just outrageous and we were really hoping to get something bigger and better.

After lots of looking, we stumbled upon a place on the border of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It's a newer development and much cheaper than close to the city. And since Brian works primarily in Dubai and I in Abu Dhabi, it seemed the perfect compromise.

We visited, fell in love with the huge villa (same square footage as our house back home!) and signed the lease. And then the fun started - stay tuned for more about our moving adventures!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ahhhh, High Speed Internet, How We've Missed You

They say you don't appreciate things until they're gone, but I don't agree. I've always appreciated my high speed internet for the connection it gives me. Facebook for my news - everything from the Sochi Olympic sweater commentary to family illnesses and celebrations - it's a lifeline back home. Abu Dhabi Women's discussion board for information - everything from where the new traffic cameras are located to where the best Friday brunch can be found. And of course email and Skype to keep in touch directly. Needless to say, it's been a hard month of limited access and slow connection speed.

And of course, there's a story to go along with it! ;) So, grab a cup of coffee, settle into a comfy chair and let me tell you of the saga I'm calling, "Brian versus Etisalat".

First, let's meet our opponents. In one corner we have Brian, a mild-mannered, rational and logical man with infinite amounts of patience and charm. In the other corner, we have the evil Etisalat, a huge monopoly corporation that controls all telephony service in the region. I'm sure it's run by a bald man with a monocle who carries a hairless cat.

In early January, about a month before our planned move, Brian began the arduous process of trying to change our phone, internet and TV service to our new location. He started this early for two reasons: 1) he read somewhere that if you didn't advise them a month in advance, they would charge a penalty (we're still not clear on whether that's true), and 2) we moved to a new development and had been warned that the Etisalat service wasn't yet up and running. The woman at the counter couldn't quite understand why we were there so far in advance of our move, but took down our information and told us a technician would contact us closer to the move date. Great - settled.

A few weeks later, Brian checks in with our Property Management and Etisalat and finds out that service still isn't available in our area. We brace ourselves for up to a month of no high speed internet or TV and decide this is a great excuse to start an exercise program.  (yeah, that didn't really happen, but we did have good intentions)

About two weeks ago Brian received an email from the Property Management company that Etisalat was ready and there would be a representative on site to help us with the installation procedures. Brian got pretty excited (I would say giddy, but I know that those of you who know Brian think I exaggerate when I use that word) and called within minutes of receiving the email and was told we could probably get the service installed the next day (which was Friday, our weekend).

On Friday two weeks ago, Brian got even more "giddy" when he saw an Etisalat truck in the compound. So giddy, in fact, that he tracked them down to find out when they were coming to our villa. That was the first of many disappointments to come - they didn't have us on their list.

But our hero was not deterred. He called the contact person, he called the Etisalat call center and on Saturday, he made another trip to the office (a 50 minute drive) to get answers and a date for installation. The challenge, apparently, was that the others were new installs and we were a service move. After a few days and many calls later, Brian received a text saying the technician would arrive to install service between 10am and 6pm the following day. (I know, telecom time frames are truly universal, aren't they?)

Luckily, Brian has a relatively flexible work arrangement, plus, he had come down with a horrible cold and cough so he decided to stay home, work offline a bit and be available for the technician. ... Yes, you guessed it, after 5 phone calls to the call center, Brian was told that the technician tried to call, but no one was at home so they didn't come. Tried to call? Brian was next to his phone all day and right there at the house, so there is no way the technician couldn't have reached him! This was now starting to get irritating.

Next day, Brian is working in Dubai so he asks me to go the Etisalat office after work to try and get things moving again. Now this was a flawed plan. I am not mild-mannered, patient or charming and after battling Thursday evening traffic for 40 minutes, I was in no mood to "kill anyone with kindness". Loaded for bear, I approached the counter and explained what had happened.

"I'm sorry madam, all the system is down so no one can help you. Come back Sunday morning at 8."

I leaped over the counter, grabbed her by the throat and squeezed.

No, that's only what happened in my head. In real life, I strongly asked to speak to a supervisor. Got the same response from him and joined the chorus of other customers begging for help. At one point, I was sitting in the Etisalat office and talking to the Etisalat call center on the phone (ironic, I know) and didn't get much farther except to open another complaint and stress the urgency of the request. I then went home and shared the sad news with our hero who wasn't anything close to giddy that night.

We tried a bit on Friday - called the call center again - but knew there wasn't much hope as things just don't really happen on Fridays around here. On Saturday, we were up at the crack of dawn to reach the office by 8am. That was a brilliant move as we were third in line and only waited about 20 minutes (while we watched about 10 agents slowly get their computers started, and their morning coffee and chit chat - seriously, if you open at 8am, shouldn't that mean you start WORKING at 8am?) Brian suggested I let him handle the conversation.

We didn't get a technician, but did get some additional information on the hold up. Apparently, there were a few technical issues which were slowing down the installations in the development. We were promised a call within the next few days to schedule a time for installation. We were also told to flag down any technicians we saw in the area, give them our service number and ask them to help. Our hero was again hopeful.

And clever. When we got home, Brian gave the security guards at the gate our names and numbers and asked them to call us if they saw an Etisalat car or truck enter the development. We'd gotten to know them since moving in and they were happy to help. He also brought them cookies.

On Monday, Brian got a call from the guy who put in our patio. The security guard had lost our number, but knew we had used this guy for garden landscaping and figured he might have Brian's phone number. The Etisalat technicians were in the compound! We rushed home (Brian was in Abu Dhabi that day so picked me up on the way) and drove around looking for the Etisalat logo. Success! The technician was super nice even though he'd been there all day with no food (there aren't any nearby amenities yet). It was after 6pm but he and his crew came right over and got things set up. (We gave them some sodas and snacks for their trouble.) 15 minutes later, we had high speed internet, phone and TV and the technician told us it was the easiest installation he'd had all day. Our hero had prevailed and I kid you not, did a happy dance in the middle of the living room as soon as the technicians left.

And what did our hero do first online? Pay the Etisalat bill, of course!