This is the third in a series of repeated posts (e.g. published elsewhere before) from outside of China, detailing the start of my expatriate life. There will always be a post a day about China so if you’re not interested in other material – you can stop reading now.
The next day, I arrive at 9, and wait again with my new colleagues, we have no desks, no PCs and our boss is absent again. He turns up at 2, gives a 5 minute welcome speech and disappears for the day. By this point I am considering getting on a plane and going home again.
Again we don’t see him again for the rest of the day. But, on the bright side I finally have keys to an apartment provided by a lovely person in HR, the bad news is she doesn’t know where the apartment is except it’s in Dubai Marina somewhere… there are over 200 apartment buildings in the Marina, this does not instil confidence. But never mind, surely a taxi will know where to go?
Not a chance, the taxi driver angrily berates us for being idiots and spends 3 hours driving around to find the building. By which point I am contemplating suicide as the solution to my career and money issues.
But the apartment is wonderful, it’s on the 18th floor of a brand new building, it has one bedroom, a kitchen and a living room, with brand new state of the art furniture, and a TV, DVD Player, Internet Connection and Sound System. I almost weep, this is an amazing place, how highly must they think of us to put us up here, it’s better than my house in England.
There’s also a brand new gym with all the latest and greatest machines (I lost 2 stone in my first two months living there, and got to see a lovely bottom every morning bouncing up and down on the running machine in front of my preferred exercise bike, and I will always be grateful to that lady she incentivised me to use a gym far more than any of the cool stuff in there…), and a rooftop swimming pool which is superb.
It takes us a week and a dozen angry tirades from taxi drivers to work out the route to work and back.
We do not see our boss for the rest of the week and we still have no desks and PC’s. This is fine, we have now established the traditional method of Arabic working, come into the office late, talk rubbish with your colleagues for 30 minutes, and then disappear off to the coffee shop for 2 hours (espresso, cigarettes and if you’re really lucky Cinabon for breakfast), return to the office for 30 minutes talk some more rubbish, head off for a two hour lunch break (food is excellent, cheap and bountiful in Arabia, there are always at least 10 restaurants within 5 minutes’ walk), come back for another 30 minutes of talking rubbish, go for another 2 hour coffee break and come back to the office to say goodnight, leaving at least an hour early.
There a few other challenges that we face that week, we have to go and do our medicals, everyone is praying they do not have AIDS (if you are HIV+ on your medical in any Gulf state you will be arrested in the office and deported immediately, there is no appeal). Then we have to surrender our passports for the visas we need (this will take a month, so you’re committed to not fleeing the country for at least that long at this point) and opening a bank account (insanity, we are all on 6 month fixed term contracts, we are all immediately given credit lines equivalent to 3 years’ salary, I wonder why so many expats leave without paying it back?). This is not as stressful as it seems, as each activity is conducted at our office, except the blood test for which we go to a state of the art medical centre (which is better than anywhere I have ever been in the UK).
Finally in the second week the boss stays for more than 10 minutes, he arranges our desks and our PC’s and Internet connections. He then slopes off again and we won’t see him another 3 weeks, we stop feeling bad about doing no work in the second week and get into the swing of things, this is better than any job in the world.
The company is a fantastic place to work, they pay for nights out all over town (no alcohol but always next to a pub), we come in to find chocolates on our desks in the morning (not quite as good as on my pillow but very wow nonetheless), we get free t-shirts, we get free memory sticks, and we are given very expensive Cross branded pens.
We have still done no work whatsoever. What will it be like when they finally ask us to contribute? Who cares? We are now all leaving the office at lunchtime and going shopping or to the pub and not coming back, we have got our local mobile numbers (the ultimate challenge in the region, back account easy peasy, pre-paid SIM card equivalent to completing all the hassle of applying to Oxford Uni) and are prepared to return in an instant if anyone should care. They don’t. We love it.
In the mornings we are on the Internet researching more cool stuff to do in Dubai. It was by far the most bizarre start to a job in my life, but a lovely one, who could complain? Certainly not us, we weren’t in the office for long enough to see anyone to complain to.