Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bizarre stories make good journalism

I find that a lot of my best fiction writing starts with a question: What if? How? Who?

And that's why the answer to the question "How did a Boulder, Colorado, do-gooder end up charged with murder in Sharjah" is so fascinating.

In 1971, Shannon Morris was born in Boulder, Colorado. In 2006 he confessed to Sharjah police that he had killed a German engineer he met online. On Sunday, he tried to escape from jail. Now he waits as an appeals court considers whether he will be executed.

A blue suitcase weighed down the boot of the stolen white Mazda. At the wheel was Shahid King Bolsen, an American who had been living in Sharjah since 2003.

That evening, Bolsen carried the passport and credit cards of a man named Martin Herbert Steiner. The car belonged to Steiner, too. Miles behind Bolsen were his wife, his three children and a crime scene.

He was heading to Oman on June 14, 2006, prosecutors say, and the suitcase weighed 80kg because it contained a grisly cargo: the body of Mr Steiner.

But Bolsen, police say, was not confident he would make it over the Omani border. So he parked on the Dubai-Hatta Road and dragged the suitcase – weighing more than he did – behind a bush. After covering it with a tarpaulin and some dirt, he drove away, returning to Sharjah. Within days, he would be under arrest.

Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Not really. But life does seem about 100 times busier than it usually is around here in Abu Dhabi Towne. For one thing, the Parents of the Blog are in town. That means showing them around ("look, there's the Emirates Palace! Look, there's a beach! Look, there's a mall! Look, there's... another... mall!") and, more important, planning for our great journey to Egypt and Jordan.

Meanwhile, though, back at the ranch--and by ranch I mean newspaper--news has been happening. And oh, how it has happened. Eleven, I mean 15, people apparently sneaked into Dubai to assassinate someone. And then we had to rush together a big scoop-y project about street planning, and then there was another project about a survey of UAE residents about crime and their attitudes toward the police. A guy hardly had time to think, let alone blog.

And that's not even getting into my latest skirmishes with Etisalat. If that building ever catches on fire, I'm going to be the first suspect they round up.

More to come. I promise this somewhat lame roundup won't be the last you hear before I head for the Nile, which apparently IS just a river in Egypt.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My alibi: I was 16 and living in Kansas City

Mrs. Blog and I spent some time in Dubai over the weekend, eating dim sum and shopping and having dinner with a friend from India. It was the dim sum that got us in trouble.

We parked here...

A beach and some residences.

... at Jumeirah Beach Residences and walked down the beach promenade to our dim sum shop. The dim sum was good, the weather was beautiful. But when we returned to our car, we discovered an atrocity had been committed against it. A parking ticket.

Of course, the ticket was entirely in Arabic, so interpreting what--if any--law we had broken was a little difficult. And we both sighed and ignored the irony (or whatever it is) of literally thousands of dangerous traffic violations taking place every minute, just a few hundred meters away on Sheikh Zayed Road.

But whatever. I have been trying to figure out this ticket. With the help of some Arabic-speaking friends in the office, I have determined that, apparently, we were blocking a highway. I have no idea how that is possible, as we were parallel-parked in a long row of parallel-parked vehicles that had not gotten tickets.

I tried to find a record of our ticket on the Dubai ticket-paying Web site, with almost zero success. No combination of the ticket number... or our license plate number... or my driver's license came up with anything. With one exception.

The system listed one ticket. It was for Dh110 (about $30). It was for speeding. And it was written in... 1993.

At least I was of legal driving age.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The continuing adventures of Etisalat

You've heard this story before.

But this time, with failure has come some small measure of success. No, it doesn't make sense, and no, it doesn't solve my problem immediately... but at least I got someone to explain what exactly has to be done to upgrade my Internet service.

The whole thing will take about three days (I figure five) and will necessitate the Mr. and Mrs. Blog household returning to Stone Age 2mbps speeds for that period. Why? That is the only way to cancel the "promotional" nature of our current speed--a promotion that the customer service guy admits actually ran out in December.

I had my hopes up that it would get done last night when I dropped by the unfortunately familiar Airport Road office--he stamped my form and took my ID and everything--but in the end, there was no joy. At least not until after tomorrow.

*Bonus round: I have been e-mailing the company's customer "care" address once a week since this issue began, without any response... until last night. Maybe, just maybe, after tomorrow will come faster than I think. It's OK to dream, right?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Just Super

As you read this, keep in mind I got like five hours' sleep last night. Probably less.

I have been to some pretty epic Super Bowl parties in my day. They are epic for different reasons: Maybe the game was spectacular, maybe there was a massive snowfall during the game that nearly left us stranded at the party, maybe Crystal Pepsi was introduced to the world. (remember that?)


I also have watched some epic sporting events overseas, ranging from the World Cup in Spain to the Elite Eight in Panama. But last night was my first expat Super Bowl.

The most glaring difference between watching this epic contest--where boys become men and the Who plays at halftime--in the U.S. and in Abu Dhabi is the kickoff time. In the U.S., it's a comfortable 5:30 p.m. Central time. In the Dhabs... it's 3:30 a.m. Ouch. Not the best time for beer and cheese dip, especially if you have to be at work seven hours later. My plan was to take a "nap," wake up at 3 and take a cab over to the watch party.

It was a little surreal. If you just focused on the fact that it was dark out and didn't look at your watch, the surreality was minimized, but I have to say that when the sun began to come up in the fourth quarter, I knew the rest of Super Bowl Monday was going to be painful.

But the game itself was a lot of fun. Thanks to a playoff pool (and Manning's interception) I left Dh500 wealthier. I ate junk food I should have ignored and had a great time mocking the broadcast with a mix of Canadians, Brits and Americans. And then I caught a ride home to Tanker Mai in the dawn's early light.

Good times. I just wish I could have stayed in bed longer.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Going meta

This is a blog. Time Out Abu Dhabi is a magazine. In this blog post, I reference a blurb in the magazine that references this blog.

Did your head explode? No? OK, that's probably good. But still... if you happen to have a copy of the magazine around, check out Page 5. Down at the bottom, under the heading "Pick of the Blogs," is a snippet from this post on Read Ink. There is a largish picture of a bowl of spaghetti and a microscopic picture of my head. I wonder why they didn't use my Etisalat rants.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In which the author buys speakers from a guy on the street

Not really on the street, per se. But not in Best Buy, either. In Abu Dhabi, you see, if you want car work done you have the option of getting ripped off by the dealership or going to Salaam Street.

Ah, Salaam Street. A magical place that is equal parts construction dust and Mos Eisley. Various stretches of it will sell you specialized goods for your car, your phone or your home stereo. Everything is hawked out of storefronts marked only by giant, illuminated brand-name logos, and often there is a shortage of actual useful things. By that I mean, if you want a chrome side-mirror, you're in luck. But if you want a headlight lens, you're probably not.

Anyway, Ye Olde Audi did not have a brilliant speaker system when we bought it. (although it certainly did when it was new) So, given the two choices listed above, I did the following... and then wrote about it for the newspaper.

How does one decide where to go in a situation like that? Everyone wants your business. Everyone shouts that they will give you the best deal. And worse, all the shops seem roughly equivalent; window tinting, stereo installation, speakers and GPS systems in equal measure no matter which direction your neck swivelled.

So I fell back on a two-pronged standard: 1) I would look for a sign advertising brands I knew and trusted, and 2) I would look for the shop with the most expensive cars parked out front.

It was a frustrating drive that took me almost to the end of the lot. Then I saw it. “Pioneer,” in big, illuminated letters. Parked outside were two Mercedes, three BMWs, a Hummer and an enormously customised Toyota Hilux. Check and check.

I walked into the shop and introduced myself to the technician, who was just finishing a cigarette. He was Filipino and covered in tattoos. He said his name was Mike. Together, we walked outside to check out the car.

Allegedly there is a place in Dubai that functions more like a Best Buy--you go, you pick out some stereo equipment, you wait for a couple of hours while they install it. But where's the fun in that?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Itty Bitty Kitty Committee

Tanker Mai has some furry visitors, refugees from the Scots, who are off on a haggis-finding mission to Britain.

Let's get this out of the way: They. Are. Cute.


But They. Are. Also. A. Handful. If you're sleeping, and the Committee decides it's playtime, your ears become cat toys. If you're eating, and the Committee decides they want some food, be prepared to have a tiny furball climbing your pants leg en route to your plate. And if the committee decides it's time to run out into the hallway... well... you better move fast before they get into the elevator.

Fortunately, the Committee is easily distracted by a bit of yarn and a sprinkling of catnip.