Archive for April, 2009

Thank goodness for warranty…

30/04/2009

Thanks goodness I bought a third party warranty for Mrs Saul’s Range Rover in January.

It cost 6,000Dhs – so far I’ve claimed around 2,500Dhs on it for ignition coils. Now the alternator has died – this will cost 6,500Dhs, 5,000Dhs of which I can get back from Gulf Warranties…

I’m trying to remember the last time I heard of anyone’s car having a failed alternator? Well done, Land Rover – I don’t think needing to replace an alternator on a five year old car at 103,000Kms is really the sort of thing that suggests you are creating a quality product.

Thank goodness the dreaded battery warning light went on while we were in Dubai, as opposed to being halfway through a trip to the middle of nowhere!

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Sound financial advice

28/04/2009

Dubai’s taxi driver’s often have a very nice turn of phrase.

During a recent conversation on the financial situation –

‘Don’t hanky panky with the credit card. If you do, the bank with hanky panky with you!’.

On a more serious note, my driver was bemoaning the situation some of his colleagues had got themselves into – quite how a taxi driver on 4,000Dhs a month qualifies for a 40,000Dhs credit limit is beyond me.

Liwa Trip

26/04/2009

I spent Friday and Saturday driving near Liwa, where some of the UAE’s highest dunes and most exciting offroad driving is on offer.

There were three cars – me in my Wrangler, Gemma and Nicola in Gemma’s Vitara and Olivier, Julie and Thomas in Thomas’ Prado, plus our guides in their Land Cruiser.

Having Marshal and Dhala as guides made the whole trip completely stress free. These two guys, ‘Tanzanians of Yemeni origin’ make a living taking people out into the deserts of the UAE. They also take care of making lunch, dinner and breakfast, which means all you have to worry about when camping is putting up your tent, which makes things a lot more relaxing!

I wouldn’t be confident leading a trip to Liwa – having a guide meant knowing we were in safe hands when negotiating some pretty exciting dunes a fair way away from civilisation.

I was very impressed with Gemma and Thomas – this was only their second drive in the desert ever and Liwa has some rather hair-raising terrain. There were quite a few stucks and ‘retries’ on certain sections, but they both got to grips with their cars and driving on the sand very quickly.

There was only minor damage to each car – as usual with today’s 4x4s, plastic bumpers tend to come a cropper when driving in the desert. Gemma’s Vitara’s back bumper got damaged as Suzuki fit the rear recovery point at an angle that causes it bend upwards and back when used, which dents the rear plastic. An odd way to design a recovery hook on what is otherwise a very competent offroad car.

The Wrangler was as much fun to drive as usual. I got stuck the once, but a quick tug from Marshal and I was out.

I think these YouTube videos do a good job of showing the fun we had.

Sun readers appear to drink a lot

23/04/2009

I love the suggested amounts in The Sun’s tax calculator.

Pints of beer (eg 10) a day

Bottles of wine (eg 8) a day

Bottles of spirits (eg 6) a day

Sun readers appear to be a thirsty lot.

Happy Birthday, Queen Elizabeth

20/04/2009

It’s the Queens’ birthday today – she’s 83.

Happy Birthday, I say.

Can Britain really justify its Royal Family? That’s something that’s open for discussion and that merits a longer blog post. I predict such a post will emerge during a future business trip to one of the less thrilling countries I cover. I also predict that I will give a general thumbs up to the concept, much to the disgust of my more ‘progressive’ friends and colleagues.

To summarise that future post, regardless of sentimentality and the qualifications of the more junior members of The Firm, does the current Managing Director* do a good job and is she worth the money? Absolutely.   

* Managing Director = CEO, for readers residing across the pond. In the olden days, we used to have directors running our companies with an MD at the top of the pile. These days, we are forced to deal with Chief * Officers, as your American traditions are forced upon us. It sounds ridiculous to me, particularly when you give us things like ‘Chief Gaming Officers’, but such is life.

Oracle will love Sun Ray

20/04/2009

I like this article.

We know what product Oracle really want from Sun – the Sun Ray, which just happens to be what I sell!

Joking apart, there is a good fit for this particular product set. Who knows how things will progress, however.

The article mentions Ellison’s ‘The Network Computer’. My first job out of university was for a London PR company that represented Oracle’s spin-off network computer company. I still have the mousemats somewhere, if someone’s interested in seeing a bit of thin client history. If I remember rightly, I organised a meeting or two for Network Computing Inc, as I think they were called, in London and Holland.

My interview for the job at the PR company also included my presenting about the desktop and ‘network computing’, which meant talking about Oracle and Sun’s plans. I knew nothing about the IT industry at the time, but enjoyed learning a lot very quickly. The ‘thin client’ side of things seemed promising.

I had no idea that, 12 years on, I would be making a living out of thin client computing, working for one of the companies I was talking about during my interview, with the second about to acquire that company. It’s amazing where a graduate job you get thanks to your knowledge of French and German can help you end up…

Sun Microsystems kit = low WAF

16/04/2009

I have finally managed to get hold of some of our own kit for demos and internal training.

At the moment a shiny new U24 workstation and a Sun Ray 270 are installed and sitting in our spare room, next to my desk, ready to help me get up to speed with the latest release of one of our software products.

After getting everything unpacked and set up, I rushed off to find Mrs Saul and show it to her. I think Sun kit looks great – stylish and well put together. I was also excited to show her a Sun Ray, the product that has ensured I have been paid every month for the last four and a half years.

Mrs Saul’s verdict? ‘Urr, that looks awful!’.

The Wife Acceptance Factor for this particular product range is clearly pretty low… I would like to keep everything in the spare room for the coming week, but based on past experience, I expect I will find myself forced to drag it all back to the office in a day or so.

Updation

14/04/2009

Got a call this morning, supposedly from my bank, wanting to confirm various confidential details.

The chap calling knew my date of birth already and then asked for the last four digits of my credit card. We had a short exchange that involved me pointing out that if he was really from HSBC he would know the last four digits of my credit card. He kept saying that he needed to confirm these numbers as they often had data entered incorrectly in their system.

I am certain this was a scam, but I wouldn’t put it past my bank to ring me up to confirm information that they already have or which they should already know, without going through basic security procedures. The sad thing with this organisation is that you can never quite tell…

So, if you get a call from HSBC’s ‘updation department’, my advice is to hang up the phone immediately.

Yet another Gulf bashing article

14/04/2009

The British press seem to be continuing to bash Gulf states at every opportunity.

Here’s a piece from The Sunday Observator’s bumptious columnist Gerhan Hankins, covering his visit to the nearby state of Bahdobian.

I look at myself in the mirror, sullen face staring back at me, wide, empty London smile fixed to my face, hiding the torment within. I have the faded look of the once-objective.

What’s causing this? A meeting I have just had with my editor.

‘Gerhan’, he told me. ‘I want you to go to Bahdobian and write about how rubbish it is.’

‘I thought we loved it,’ I asked. ‘The last five features this paper ran said it was the best thing since sliced bread?’.

‘Good point,’ said my editor. ‘The pendulum swings both ways though you know. We decided it’s rubbish now. Because we can.’

‘Fair enough, but why do I need to go’, I asked. ‘I already know everything there is to know about the place from my friend Germaine Greer – she spent four hours on the bus there only the other day.’

‘I know’, grunted my editor. ‘But we’ve got five days’ free at one of their best hotels, provided we give them a mention in the article you’ll write. File your piece before you leave, if you like – take the week as holiday.’

I’m still in shock. How can I, with my values and example-setting lifestyle, manage to survive five days in somewhere so awful as Bahdobian?

At home I spend an hour looking for my passport, which I haven’t had to use since my last travel article. The mental scars of that particular piece still haunt me. Images of interviewing drunken tourists at four in the morning at nightclubs in Ibiza fill my mind. None of them seemed to care in the slightest that they were in a town that lacked an opera house or in a country that lets people fight bulls. And that used to be a dictatorship and had some kind of civil war a while ago. Or something. These people just wouldn’t talk to me. They simply carried on drinking Aftershock and vomiting.

I fly in on Bahdobian’s national airline. 150 years ago this counry had no aeroplanes – camels were used for transport. Now they operate a fleet of carbon-belching planes, allowing people to flit from continent to continent in search of instant gratification. Whilst I feel this kind of form of travel is unethical, it is very useful for helping journalists such as myself to get to important destinations quickly. I refuse to watch Top Gear playing on the in flight entertainment. The works of Lenin and Marx shall be my only companions on this journey. I settle into my first class seat.

‘Are you a slave?’ I ask the smiling stewardess. Katy Framione from Essex looks at me blankly as she offers me a glass of a particularly cheeky Chablis, her wide, empty Bahdobian smile beaming up at me as she crouches, shamed at my elbow. ‘I’m sorry?’ she says, clearly not understanding what she is part of. The poor woman doesn’t even realise that she is an indentured worker, forced to slave her life away at 40,000 feet, never to return home. Behind her smile I read her mind – she knows, but cannot admit what she sees and feels. I smile at her. ‘Take courage,’ I say, ‘I hear you – I hear you.’ I pat her on the head encouragingly. I write down her innermost thoughts on my notepad as she backs slowly away from me. The look of fear on her face is thanks to me, I congratulate myself – I have opened her eyes.

As I fly into Bahdobian, the clear air of the Gulf of Mexico provides me with a clear view of the city. It rises from the desert like a [insert turgid metaphor here please, sub editor]. I wish I had gotten off as lightly as my colleague Simon Jenkins, who managed to file his piece based simply on flying over the city. I, alas, must venture into its portals of doom.

Bahdobian takes it’s name from the ancient Arabic for ant, the ‘dob’. This is an undisputed fact. As we fly in I see people on the streets below. They look like ants from up here. Later, sitting on my hotel balcony, I see an ant. The sympbolism overwhelms me.

As we land at the airport, skyscrapers surround us. Every window, every free piece of space on every building, absolutely everywhere is taken up with pictures of a Sheikh. Sheikh [insert name here – subs, please make sure you spell it right] is the absolute ruler of Bahdobian. Just 35 years ago he lived in a desert. Now he has made of the desert a city. But of this city, a desert shall once again rise. I predict.

I enter the airport, its ceiling hung with more images of the Sheikh. Looking more closely, however, I realise that there’s one small image of the Sheikh and that the rest of the pictures are actually adverts with people wearing local dress. I remind myself to get some new glasses. It’s so hard when they all look the same.

‘Passport please,’ asks the smiling Bahdobian at the desk, clothed in cool, crisp white robes, his beard neatly trimmed. 70 years ago these people dressed in sackcloth. Tradition, it seems, counts for nothing here. He is drinking a Coke, I notice. I shudder.

‘I know your game,’ I snap back. ‘You just want to imprison me here for ever, forcing me to write press releases for a living, paying me a pittance and never allowing me to return home.’

He looks at me blankly, but I read his true thoughts – he agrees with everything I say, but he cannot admit so in public. This, he senses, would be a transgression too far. ‘May I have your passport please, sir,’ he asks again, hiding his shame behind a face filled with mild confusion.

I know we’ve connected, sensed his guilt. I hand my passport over. He stamps it and wishes me a pleasant stay in Bahdobian.

As I buy four litres of vodka at Duty Free I wonder how I will manage to get through the next few days in this oppressive atmosphere.

60 years ago this place was desert, filled with nothing but Red Indians and cowboys. And tumbleweed too I expect, like in the Clint Eastwood films. Now, as I drive to my exclusive hotel, there is nothing but 18 lane motorways. Everywhere. Even the side streets have at least 10 lanes. Every car I pass is a gas guzzling 4×4, not a bicycle in sight. I weep silently.

‘Are you a slave?’ I ask my taxi driver, a bearded man from Baziristan. He looks confused. ‘I work hard here, yes, but there is little for me back home and this is what I need to do to support my family.’

I look into his eyes as he tries to avoid my gaze. He pretends to be focusing on the road, but deep inside, I know what he really feels, but he cannot admit it. It’s Bahdobian’s fault there is no work for him back home, this is clear. For him to say otherwise would be, he senses, a transgression too far.

He asks me if I can help him to get to Britain. I shake my head in disbelief. How naive he is. I only have a three bedroom flat in Islington. How could I manage with him staying there for weeks on end?

I check into my hotel, a gorgeous understated place well worth staying at – apparently its minibreaks are great value and come highly recommended. You can book your stay there via my newspaper’s website.

Checked into my room, I decide to stretch my legs, the cramps caused by the conditions in first class still causing the pain to jab through my calves.

Naturally, as a first class investigative reporter, my first destination is the hotel car park. It is here I see my first signs of the shocking truth that fills Bahdobian. A truth that no Essex expat may dare speak of.

Mohan shakes his head in disbelief at me. He repeats the same thing over and over – he is a driver for a local businessman and he is waiting for him to return from a lunch meeting. But I know what he is really trying to say, deep down. He cannot say it though – this, he senses, would be a transgression too far.

Mohan is clearly living in his Rolls Royce in this car park. Maxed-out, in debt, he has nowhere else to go. No choice but to spend his days sleeping in the car with the AC on. Afraid to go home, he is destined to spend his life here, in a Rolls Royce, in a hotel car park. His story isn’t unique. Across Bahdobian, maxed-out expats sleep in their cars, not thinking to sell them or to live somewhere more practical than a hotel car park, not possessing even one friend with a couch to spare in their hour of need. No, sleeping in their Rolls Royce is their only option. I know this – I can read it in Mohan’s eyes.

But it’s not only sleeping in cars. The desert, 40 years ago nothing but tumbleweed, lions and tigers, now resembles a refugee camp, as expat middle managers huddle, with nothing but a Rolls Royce, Range Rover (HSE or Vogue) for shelter, nestled amongst the dunes. with nowhere to go.

That evening I set off for my first bout of real research. Although I already know what I am going to write, I feel I should pay some lipservice to journalistic standards.

I look at the list of meetings arranged for me by the local government’s media relations office, the British Consulate, a business group, local charities, educational institutions and the like. I decide to take a stand. Throwing these contacts to one side, I head to the only place I will get objective, honest, in-depth feedback on what it’s like to live here. I resolve to visit a local pub hosting a long lunch for a visiting rugby team from the UK.

I arrive just before closing time. People, I am astonished to note, have been drinking. In a pub!  Not able to decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing, I sit alone in a corner, trying to make up my mind if I should comment on the fact that despite the fact that this is an Islamic country it’s pretty generous of them to allow expats to be able to drink. I decide to ignore this point.

I talk to two old ladies, just the sort of people you would expect to find in a pub aimed at the under 30s. They too, have been drinking. Drinking beer, I notice. Hiding my disgust, I order a cheeky glass of rose and engage in conversation.

‘It’s great here,’ says Aliciana Frackmouter. She works at a local school for disabled children, teaching them skills that will enable to live as normally as possible in society. ‘After a hard day at work I had nothing that would really help me relax when I was back in England. Here I relax by going to the market and buying maids to lock in my basement. Everyone does. It’s the British expat way.’

There is a common echo I hear in every one of the imaginary conversations I have with myself during my visit. Everyone has staff. Even maids have maids. Fifty years ago, there was nothing here but desert, roamed by dinosaurs. Now the desert is filled with runaway maids, sleeping under maxed-out expats’ Range Rovers, with noone to look after them but slightly more junior maids.

I leave the pub, my head spinning from one too many glasses of Jacob’s Creek – there is no quality wine available here, sadly. Feeling tired and emotional after the day’s onslaught of awfulness, I forego a night in my comfortable hotel and, in solidarity with those maxed-out expats, climb into a nearby car in the car park. I will sleep here tonight, shoulder to shoulder with the millions of others doing the same thing. Going back to my hotel, would be, I sense, a transgression too far.

The following morning, I wake up around midday when the car’s owner rudely turfs me out of the backseat. ‘Are you a slave?’ I ask him. He shouts at me rudely, not realising I am on his side.

I visit a local shopping mall. Shopping malls are everywhere here. Glittering domes of consumerism, rising out of the desert like the cactuses which filled the area just 20 years ago.

As I approach this brand new building, I am struck by something so few others seem to have noticed – it’s new. This new city is filled with new buildings. There is not a single Anglo-Saxon era church, no Roman remains, no Georgian terraces. Nothing built here over the last twenty years is older than twenty years. How can British people sink so low as to live here? Why have they not built anything older?

Once inside, I wander, dazed, from dress shop to dress shop. I am a man and don’t wear dresses. With each salesperson’s pitch, my spirits sag further. Why are they trying to sell me dresses?

I approach a 17 year old girl wearing a miniskirt, walking through the mall. She walks briskly away from me. ‘Are you a slave?’ I cry out, but still she walks away. To talk to me, she senses, would be a transgression too far.

Finally I corner here between an ice cream shop and a fast food joint. I lower my head before talking to her, overcome with disgust that people in this country might want to eat fast food or ice cream.

I know what this young girl thinks, as I can read her mind, but before I can ask her again, I feel a firm grip on my shoulder. The authorities have clearly caught up with me – it took longer than I thought, but the secret police were bound to be on my tail. The presence of a campaigning journalist such as myself was bound to become an open secret eventually.

The secret policeman is disguised as a security guard and speaks only rudimentary, broken English. ‘Good afternoon, Sir,’ he mumbles, in halting, disjointed sentences. ‘Would you please be so kind as leave this young lady be? You seem distressed. May I recommend that you proceed forthwith to your hotel, where a cold refreshment and a lie down might server to revive your spirits?’ I struggle to interpret his attempts to communicate, but, finally understanding, I agree that a quick lie down might be a good idea.

He leads me, brtually, to the taxi rank. I sense he would like to cuff me, but he holds back, aware of my vaunted status as an international newspaper columnist, standing a little ahead of me, smiling encouragingly. As I climb into a my cab, I see the 17 year old girl looking at me from across the marble floor of this temple of consumerism. She is talking to a friend. ‘Weirdo, freak’ are the words I can read on her lips. I smile at her in agreement. She is clearly referring to the disguised secret policeman who has treated me in such a degrading manner. She wishes to speak to me, I can tell, but is afraid to. That, she senses, would be a transgression too far.

My time in Bahdobian over, I forego a normal cab back to the airport and choose to take hotel transport to the airport. I ask for a bicycle, but am met with blank looks. Clearly, environmental sensibilities have not made much of a mark here. The concierge points out that a bike may be unpractical, given my three suitcases. I give in and grudgingly accept a lift in the hotel Bentley. To my surprise it is being driven by Mohan. I congratulate him. He has clearly stolen the car and is hoping to escape this hell hole. He tries to deny this, telling me, in halting English, that he has a new job driving for the hotel. I smile knowingly, understanding what he is really saying. He is telling me that he has given up on life and has agreed to become a slave. To admit that openly would be, he senses, a transgression too far.

At the airport, I take my last chance to speak to an expat of the horrors they experience, daily. I signal to a cleaner, beckoning to him from where I sit on the toilet, pleading with him to join me. He hangs back, hesitant. He speaks no English at all, but I know what he’s saying. He’s trying to create a poetic metaphor about mirages, deserts, oases and that sort of thing, but can’t quite find the words.

‘Do you feel this place is like a mirage?’ I ask him. ‘A brittle rose of the desert, apparently whole, yet so delicate, crumbling when touched, yet so perfect to behold, as if buried in time, but ready to shrivel like a date in the midday sun?’.

‘Yes, sir’, he answers. I congratulate myself on pinpointing his thoughts so accurately.

My flight back is uneventful. I sit, drained, in First Class. The habits of expats have rubbed off on me, leaving me no choice but to numb myself with cheap liqour. Sharon from Manchester feeds me glass after glass of Moet. I look into her face, frozen as it is in an empty Bahdobian smile. I sense a feeling of utter revulsion coming from her as she looks at me. I know what she is thinking about – the desperate awfulness of the sweltering desert city we have left behind. ‘Another glass, sir?’ she asks. I know what she’s really saying though. She turns her heard away from me, shamed that she has chosen to live anywhere other than London.

I whisk through Heathrow’s VIP fast track. All around me I see pictures of the Sheikh. They are everywhere. Or am I getting confused with advertising boards again? Who knows – Bahdobian has left me dazed.

I pick up a copy of the paper on the way through. My Bahdobian Hell, the headline screams, my name and photo just below. Once again I’m filled with joy at seeing my face and name in print. The article I filed before leaving on holiday has been printed. Wikipedia and a quick phone call with Germaine were all I needed – she went on the Big Bus tour when she was over, after all. With contacts like these, my visit was superfluous. I had the material I needed to print straightaway, but five days’ paid for holiday is five days’ paid for holiday!

Finally reaching my bijou pied-a-terre, I collapse onto my sofa. Looking around, I am pleased to see that the cleaner’s been while I was away. Everything is spic and span, my underpants ironed, bedclothes neatly made. That nice plumber form Poland has also popped around and fixed my blocked toilet. I write cheques to pay them their monthly wages. Should I give them a little extra, considering the great job they do? Maybe pay them the same amount I am paid for writing my in-depth reportage?

I decide not to do so.

That, I sense, might be a transgression too far.

Comments on Johann Hari’s ‘Dark Side of Dubai’ article

11/04/2009

While I was on holiday last week, Johann Hari of the UK Independent had an article on Dubai published.

Journalists seem to fall to pieces when it comes to Dubai. Context and balance tend to be thrown to one side and the results tend to be fawning pieces that describe Dubai as the most wondrous place on earth, or sneering hate-pieces filled with stereotypes and dubious quotations. There seems to be little in between.

Dubai really needs to get itself a professional PR company to help with its image abroad and Western journalists that write about Dubai really need to base their articles on more than a quick visit. At least Johann managed a few days here – better than Germaine Greer’s drivel based on taking a bus tour for four hours.

Journalists will write positive articles about Dubai. They will write negative articles about Dubai. What particularly irks me is an article that may make some otherwise valid or interesting points instantly losing all credibility by getting basic facts wrong. I also find it disappointing when the response by Dubai based writers is not to address the issues raised in a particular article, but simply to respond with facile comments about leaving if one doesn’t like it, or saying something along the lines of ‘well, your country’s not too nice either!’. Simplistic responses to simplistic articles aren’t the right way forward.

Johann Hari is gay, left wing and makes a living writing opinion pieces. Columnists are supposed to provoke and challenge. If Hari’s article had appeared in ‘Left wing gay opinion monthly’ his piece wouldn’t be worth commenting on. As it appears in The Independent, which markets itself as a quality British broadsheet, I think it’s worth looking at his claims a little more closely.

I have lived my sheltered, privileged, expat life in Dubai for nearly seven years. I think that puts me in a position to comment on Johann’s claims, which he made after a short, sheltered, privileged holiday here. I believe that the inaccuracies in his article invalidate any interesting points he might have made.

I have quoted parts of the article here. Obviously all content is copyrighted, owned, etc, etc, by the original publishers and can be read in full here.

“The wide, smiling face of Sheikh Mohammed – the absolute ruler of Dubai – beams down on his creation. His image is displayed on every other building, sandwiched between the more familiar corporate rictuses of Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders.”

Utter nonsense. If you do see a picture of Sheikh Mohammed, it’s the one you see on the main page here. As you can see, his face in the picture is neither wide, nor smiling. You see this picture when you leave the airport – it’s on the side of one of the hotels. Other than that, you may see it, or a picture of one of the other members of the ruling families of Dubai or Abu Dhabi, on one or two buildings around Dubai.

On Sheikh Zayed Road, you see a few pictures of Sheikh Zayed – this image can be found here.

In some hotels and offices you typically see the official portraits of various rulers hanging on the wall behind reception. Government buildings will have similar pictures hanging up, rather like images of the Queen that can be seen at British Consulate.

Whilst the average Brit is not used to seeing photos of rulers around the place, the picture Hari paints is wholly inaccurate. He seems to imply that everywhere you go, Sheikh Mohammed has placed pictures of himself that beam down upon you like some Arabic Big Brother. This is simply not the case.

I would also contest Hari’s description of Sheikh Mohammed as an ‘absolute ruler’. I am no expert in the political system here, but it is not a dictatorship, as Hari implies. There are plenty of articles online about the history of the UAE and the Gulf in general. A clear theme is that ruler rule with the assent of their people. Whilst this is not a parliamentary democracy, it is a system that seems to have worked well. It is also not a system that Emiratis seem particularly unhappy with. Steps are being made towards democracy – you can read about these steps, particularly the Federal National Council, online in the Gulf News and The National. It will be interesting to see how the UAE moves ahead.

One should also put the political situation here in context with what can be seen around the greater region.

He dominates the Manhattan-manqué skyline, beaming out from row after row of glass pyramids and hotels smelted into the shape of piles of golden coins. And there he stands on the tallest building in the world – a skinny spike, jabbing farther into the sky than any other human construction in history.

Untrue, as mentioned above. As to having his photo on the Burj Dubai, perhaps I live too close to it to notice, but I have not seen his photo on it.

Dubai is a living metal metaphor for the neo-liberal globalised world that may be crashing – at last – into history.

To be fair, Hari nails his colours to the mast here. He’s obviously not keen on globalisation. I thought he was liberal, but this statement seems to imply he isn’t, or maybe I am missing the point. He does ignore the fact that Dubai has been a trading post for most of its history. Yes, the buildings are new. No, trading isn’t.

“Karen Andrews can’t speak. Every time she starts to tell her story, she puts her head down and crumples. She is slim and angular and has the faded radiance of the once-rich, even though her clothes are as creased as her forehead. I find her in the car park of one of Dubai’s finest international hotels, where she is living, in her Range Rover. She has been sleeping here for months, thanks to the kindness of the Bangladeshi car park attendants who don’t have the heart to move her on. This is not where she thought her Dubai dream would end.”

Is there any truth behind ‘Karen Andrews” story? Hari appears to be trying to make some points about the nature of Dubai, but the utter implausability of this section of the article makes it hard to take anything seriously.

Karen is living in her Range Rover in the car park of one of Dubai’s finest hotels, where Hari just happens upon her. This sounds completely made up.

If she were in debt, she would have sold her Range Rover. If she needed to live in her car, she would not be living in a hotel car park. This would be just as impossible in Dubai as it would be in London. It would also be utterly impractical. It would make far more sense to live in your car in numerous other areas of the city, where you would be near to affordable food and drinking water. Also, what is Hari doing wandering around hotel car parks? He would have got around Dubai using taxis or a rental car. Taxis would drop him off at reception, rental cars would be parked by a valet.

Karen’s story appears to be that she and her husband came to Dubai, did no research, got massively into debt and then things went wrong. That is tragic. Getting into debt in Dubai has consequences, as it does elsewhere.

I do not believe the part about a husband being in jail. Hari says she has been living in her car for months and that she has to survive for another nine months until her husband gets out of jail. I don’t understand why she needs nine months more on the back seat of here Range Rover when her husband is due out in six, at the most. If this part of the story doesn’t add up, why should the rest?

She is not alone. All over the city, there are maxed-out expats sleeping secretly in the sand-dunes or the airport or in their cars.

Hari, who generally seems to be anti business, the Market, etc, seems to be sympathetic towards these supposedly debt-ridden expats, which I find surprising. I would have thought he would take a tougher line on people who live beyond their means.

Regardless, the claim is nonsense. You cannot and would not sleep secretly in sand-dunes, or at the airport, or in your car. Maybe there are one or two people doing this – who knows. There are not lots of people all over the place, dossing down in Dubai, as Hari suggests.

“Thirty years ago, almost all of contemporary Dubai was desert, inhabited only by cactuses and tumbleweed and scorpions”

Did Hari go into the desert while he was here, or did he watch a spaghetti western in his hotel room? I have seen scorpions in the desert in Dubai. I have never seen cacti or tumbleweed. Or maybe they were there thirty years ago and have all disappeared now, or maybe Hari is ignoring facts in order to make his article sound better?

“They named it after a local locust, the daba, who consumed everything before it. “

Really? I have never heard this. I don’t remember it being mentioned when I visited the Dubai Museum. How convenient for the general tone of Hari’s take on Dubai that it was allegedly named after an all-consuming locust.

The town was soon seized by the gunships of the British Empire, who held it by the throat as late as 1971. As they scuttled away, Dubai decided to ally with the six surrounding states and make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

It doesn’t surprise me that Hari doesn’t like the British Empire. I completely dispute his claim, however, that the region was ‘held by the throat’ by British gunships. Wikipedia has some excellent articles on the Gulf states that present a more accurate history of the region and its relations with the British.

“The British quit, exhausted, just as oil was being discovered, and the sheikhs who suddenly found themselves in charge faced a remarkable dilemma. They were largely illiterate nomads who spent their lives driving camels through the desert – yet now they had a vast pot of gold. What should they do with it?”

The sheikhs were very much in charge already. If Hari had actually spent some time in the museum, he would have seen some documents discussing oil concessions granted by the Ruler of Dubai at the time to various oil companies, dating from the late 50s onwards, for example.

Hari’s claim that the sheikhs of the time were illiterate camel herding nomads is also completely incorrect. At best, this comment is rather condescending, as worst racist and insulting. Once again, a quick read of Dubai’s history provides a clearer picture – albeit not one that fits in with Hari’s agenda. Any history of Dubai talks about its legacy as a trading post, not as an area where sheikhs drove camels round deserts. It’s pretty clear he made up his mind what to write before he even left London.

Dubai only had a dribble of oil compared to neighbouring Abu Dhabi – so Sheikh Maktoum decided to use the revenues to build something that would last.

It’s sad that Hari can’t even be bothered to get names correct. This is rather like talking about King Charles and Princess Elizabeth.

It is Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, ruler from 1958 to 1990, who is the acknowledged ‘father of Dubai’. It is he that arranged for the creek to be dredged, built the World Trade Center, moved Dubai in the direction it is currently going. His son, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruled from 1990 to 2005. During that time, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was crown prince and a prime mover in developing certain aspects of Dubai with his brother. Sheikh Mohammed has been ruler of Dubai since 2005.

He would build a city to be a centre of tourism and financial services, sucking up cash and talent from across the globe. He invited the world to come tax-free – and they came in their millions, swamping the local population, who now make up just 5 per cent of Dubai.

Millions seems something of an exaggeration. The population of Dubai is around 1.2 to 1.5 million. The figures I usually hear of the proportion of local population to expats is around 10 to 15%, but maybe Hari saw some more up to date official statistics.

If you take the Big Bus Tour of Dubai… As you pass each new monumental building, he tells you: “The World Trade Centre was built by His Highness…”

The Big Bus Tour is getting a lot of free advertising in the British press at the moment! I have not been on it, but I am sure that the tour guide does not repeat the same line about the World Trade Center every time the bus passes a new building.

There are three different Dubais, all swirling around each other….and then there is the foreign underclass who built the city, and are trapped here. They are hidden in plain view. You see them everywhere, in dirt-caked blue uniforms, being shouted at by their superiors, like a chain gang.

As there is construction taking place all over the city, you do see labourers everywhere. Much of ‘new Dubai’ is one big building site, so this is hardly surprising. They do wear blue overalls, usually. They are not dirt-caked unless the guys have been doing something which covers you in dirt. You do not see them walking around like a chain gang, being shouted at by their superiors. This is just not true.

Every evening, the hundreds of thousands of young men who build Dubai are bussed from their sites to a vast concrete wasteland an hour out of town, where they are quarantined away. Until a few years ago they were shuttled back and forth on cattle trucks, but the expats complained this was unsightly, so now they are shunted on small metal buses that function like greenhouses in the desert heat. They sweat like sponges being slowly wrung out.

Workers have been transported in buses for several years now. They certainly were when I arrived in 2002. Before that they were transported in pickups, not ‘cattle trucks’.

I imagine that the change was made for safety reasons. Hari does not compliment Dubai on making this change – given the way people are transported around in nearby countries, this was a very decent step on Dubai’s behalf. I am glad this was implemented.

Quite where Hari gets the idea that ‘expats complained this was unsightly’ is beyond me. This is clearly completely made up.

A positive move – safe transportation for workers – is completely ridiculed by Hari, for some reason.

The section with ‘Sonihal’ the Bangladeshi labourer…

I have a couple of comments to make on the issues Hari raises here.

Firstly, the UAE had clear laws concerning the well being and treatment of labourers. I am sure the concerned government department is working to enforce these laws where required.

Secondly, Hari does not address the glaring issue that many people who come here are tricked in their home countries. There is very little the UAE can do if innocent workers are ripped off by agents in their home countries. This is something that the UAE has often pointed out and has asked authorities in those countries needs to address. Hari seems to present these occurences as being the fault of the UAE, which they are not.

Whatever points Hari does make in this section are completely invalidated by the aura of implausibility that surrounds the whole story.

He just jumps in a taxi, rocks up to a secure compound, waltzes in and just happens to meet up with a Bangladeshi who speaks excellent English and spends the afternoon chatting. I don’t think you can do this.

I don’t know what normal journalistic guidelines are on quoting someone who doesn’t speak very good English. I would assume that you would use reported speech – ‘Sonihal tells me…, Sonihal explains his situation…’.

I find myself stumbling in a daze from the camps into the sprawling marble malls that seem to stand on every street in Dubai. It is so hot there is no point building pavements; people gather in these cathedrals of consumerism to bask in the air conditioning. So within a ten minute taxi-ride, I have left Sohinal and I am standing in the middle of Harvey Nichols, being shown a £20,000 taffeta dress by a bored salesgirl. “As you can see, it is cut on the bias…” she says, and I stop writing.

Given the date this article was published, Hari must have been in Dubai when the weather was rather pleasant and would have known that walking around outside would be perfectly doable. Whilst I would love to see it being a little easier to walk around certain areas of the city, there are plenty of pavements.

Earlier Hari has told us that Sonihal lives in a camp an hour out of town. Despite this, it has only taken Hari ten minutes in a taxi to get to Harvey Nicks. The timings are completely wrong.

I have no idea why Hari would walk into a shop and look at a taffeta dress.

Time doesn’t seem to pass in the malls. Days blur with the same electric light, the same shined floors, the same brands I know from home. Here, Dubai is reduced to its component sounds: do-buy. In the most expensive malls I am almost alone, the shops empty and echoing.

I’m not sure what Hari’s point is here. Malls aren’t very nice places? Dubai is bad because it has lots of malls?

I’m not a big fan of shopping and shopping malls in general. I have no desire to visit Bluewater in Kent, for example. Malls here are a little different. It is too hot to shop on a ‘normal’ high street for much of the year. Some malls are rather dull, but some are beautifully put together – Mall of the Emirates, for example, where Hari would have gone to look at his nice dress. Colleagues of mine who have children find malls very convenient.

I approach a blonde 17-year-old Dutch girl wandering around in hotpants, oblivious to the swarms of men gaping at her. “I love it here!” she says. “The heat, the malls, the beach!” Does it ever bother you that it’s a slave society? She puts her head down, just as Sohinal did. “I try not to see,” she says. Even at 17, she has learned not to look, and not to ask; that, she senses, is a transgression too far.

Yet another utterly implausible situation. 17 years old wandering around shopping malls don’t usually provide much useful comment to help a roving reporter, I would imagine, but Hari chats to this young girl, who speaks excellent English, like his other interviewees and is able, mysteriously, to see into the depths of her soul and understand what she senses. This paragraph is probably the most ridiculous of the entire article.

Despite claiming elsewhere that most malls are rather empty, this one is described as being filled with swarms of gaping men. I would imagine that a 17 year old girl in hotpants would probably suffer from a fair amount of gaping in London as well. I am not sure what Hari’s point is here. She shouldn’t wear hot pants? Men gawp at women in Dubai? The remark seems utterly unnecessary.

Between the malls, there is nothing but the connecting tissue of asphalt. Every road has at least four lanes; Dubai feels like a motorway punctuated by shopping centres. You only walk anywhere if you are suicidal. The residents of Dubai flit from mall to mall by car or taxis.

As mentioned before, it would be nice to be able to walk around Dubai more easily. I often feel the same way during visits to the States. That said, there are plenty of urban, walkable areas in Dubai. Hari is spending his time driving around in taxis, flitting from labour camp to mall, so he’s more than likely to see motorways.

Not every road has at least four lanes. This is nonsense.

Johann’s interview with Sultan Al Qassimi

Hari makes no comments on any of the points that Al Qassimi makes. He doesn’t comment on the fact that Dubai has grown so quickly, that it is a tolerant society, that a number of cultures live and co-exist here, that Dubai has enabled lots of people to fund their families’ education, build a house back in their home country, etc, etc.

In the 1930s… Sheikh Said bin Maktum al-Maktum

…normally referred to as Sheikh Saeed bin Matktoum Al Maktoum, but Hari cannot be bothered to keep his spellings in synch.

Adbulkhaleq says every Emirati of his generation lives with a “psychological trauma.” Their hearts are divided – “between pride on one side, and fear on the other.” Just after he says this, a smiling waitress approaches, and asks us what we would like to drink. He orders a Coke.

He orders a Coke? So what? Are non-Westerners not allowed to order Coke? Is it not possible for someone to voice concerns about his culture and the expats sharing his country and order anything other than what his forefathers drank? Is Abdulkhaleq only allowed, in Hari’s world, to drink well water or traditional coffee or a cup of tea? Will Hari permit him to eat anything other than goat, fish or rice?

At each point in his article, when someone other than Hari has a point to make, Hari makes comments like these, ridiculing whoever is speaking. What does Hari drink, one wonders?

Beneath a famous international hotel, I clamber down into possibly the only gay club on the Saudi Arabian peninsula. I find a United Nations of tank-tops and bulging biceps, I dancing to Kylie, dropping ecstasy, and partying like it’s Soho.

I know nothing about the gay scene here.

I do know that Dubai is not located in the ‘Saudi Arabian peninsula’. I also utterly reject Hari’s claim that anyone attending a club like this is ‘dropping ecstasy’. I have never seen anyone in Dubai taking drugs of any kind, I have never been offered drugs and I have never heard of anyone being anywhere where drugs have been taken. I would expect my friends and colleagues to say the same thing. Despite this, Hari appears to have arrived in Dubai for the first time and instantly ‘clambered’ into a place where drugs are taken openly.

I believe this claim to be complete nonsense.

…I go to Double Decker, a hang-out for British expats. At the entrance there is a red telephone box, and London bus-stop signs. Its wooden interior looks like a cross between a colonial clubhouse in the Raj and an Eighties school disco, with blinking coloured lights and cheese blaring out. As I enter, a girl in a short skirt collapses out of the door onto her back. A guy wearing a pirate hat helps her to her feet, dropping his beer bottle with a paralytic laugh.

I am not a big fan of Double Decker. I am a big fan of the fact that Dubai allows places like these to exist. This is the Middle East, but there are places where non-Muslims are free to enjoy themselves and drink alcohol if they wish. Women can also wear pretty much what they want, although short skirts or hotpants, something Hari seems rather fixated on, are generally discouraged.

In all my years here, I have never gone to a place like Double Decker and seen people collapsing on their backs while walking out of the door. Anyone walking out of Double Decker would not be allowed to be carrying their beer with them, either. The bouncers would stop them. You see plenty of drunken behaviour, but the excesses you see in the UK are fairly rare. Once again, Hari appears to be exaggerating.

I start to talk to two sun-dried women in their sixties who have been getting gently sozzled since midday. “You stay here for The Lifestyle,” they say, telling me to take a seat and order some more drinks. All the expats talk about The Lifestyle, but when you ask what it is, they become vague. Ann Wark tries to summarise it: “Here, you go out every night. You’d never do that back home. You see people all the time. It’s great. You have lots of free time. You have maids and staff so you don’t have to do all that stuff. You party!”

This is an odd conversation to have with two ladies in their sixties. Ladies in their sixties don’t tend to spend their afternoons in Double Decker. Once agin, Hari seems to be making things up in order to make a point.

They admit, however, they have “never” spoken to an Emirati. Never? “No. They keep themselves to themselves.”

Anyone claiming never to have spoken to an Emirati during twenty years in Dubai is talking utter nonsense.

I am not sure who Hari is criticising with the implication that Emiratis keep themselves to themselves. Is he suggesting that Emiratis should make a huge effort to talk to all the British expats here, or that we should rush up to every Emirati we see and have a good old chinwag?

When I ask the British expats how they feel to not be in a democracy, their reaction is always the same. First, they look bemused. Then they look affronted. “It’s the Arab way!” an Essex boy shouts at me in response, as he tries to put a pair of comedy antlers on his head while pouring some beer into the mouth of his friend, who is lying on his back on the floor, gurning.

I am sure, if Hari had tried, even a little bit, he could have had some more in depth discussions with British expats about what it is like not to live in a democracy.

You can’t lie on your back on the floor at Double Decker whilst your friends pour beer into your mouth. You would be thrown out. It makes for a great image and it helps Hari build a picture of all British expats as beer swilling idiots, however, regardless of whether it’s made up or not.

Later, in a hotel bar, I start chatting to a dyspeptic expat American who works in the cosmetics industry and is desperate to get away from these people. She says: “All the people who couldn’t succeed in their own countries end up here, and suddenly they’re rich and promoted way above their abilities and bragging about how great they are. I’ve never met so many incompetent people in such senior positions anywhere in the world.”

Which people is the dyspeptic expat trying to get away from? The boozy Brits, I presume. I don’t blame her. One of things a lot of Brits like about living here is that you don’t have to live with the appalling drunken behaviour you can see every weekend night across the country. Even if things get rowdy at Double Decker, you don’t have to be near it – it’ s not in your face, UK style.

Hari appears to be tarring every expat here with the same brush. Rest assured that whilst there are almost certainly some people here who are overpaid or incompetent, most of them don’t earn 40,000 quid a month.

My experience of the UK was that you had some excellent people, some middling, some pretty useless. My experience in Dubai has been that you tend to have very good or not very good people, with not much inbetween.

With the exception of her, one theme unites every expat I speak to: their joy at having staff to do the work that would clog their lives up Back Home. Everyone, it seems, has a maid. The maids used to be predominantly Filipino, but with the recession, Filipinos have been judged to be too expensive, so a nice Ethiopian servant girl is the latest fashionable accessory.

This is utter drivel. Not everyone has a maid. Ethiopian servant girls are not fashionable accessories.

Some expat families do have maids. Some don’t. My experience of my colleagues is that people treat their maids well. A good maid can often become part of the family. The money she earns allows her to support a family back home, educate children, etc.

Hari seems to be implying that having any kind of hired help is akin to some sort of slavery – it’s wrong, full stop, in his opinion. Whilst I can’t see us having a maid, I see no problem with other people employing someone willing to do the work, as long as that person is treated well. In some situations, not employing someone could be seen as denying someone a job. I have often heard this argument from South Africans, where having domestic staff is normal and not employing someone is neglecting your responsibility to the community around you. Fair enough.

It is an open secret that once you hire a maid, you have absolute power over her. You take her passport – everyone does; you decide when to pay her, and when – if ever – she can take a break; and you decide who she talks to. She speaks no Arabic. She cannot escape.

This is total nonsense. There are various laws in place to protect people employed as maids, but regardless, does Hari think that every normal, decent, expat family who employs a maid suddenly turns into a bunch of sadistic slave drivers?

Mistreatment of maids is wrong. Hari’s blanket statement that everyone here employs maids and then turns them into slaves is ridiculous.

Mela Matari, a 25-year-old Ethiopian woman with a drooping smile, tells me what happened to her – and thousands like her. She was promised a paradise in the sands by an agency, so she left her four year-old daughter at home and headed here to earn money for a better future. “But they paid me half what they promised. I was put with an Australian family – four children – and Madam made me work from 6am to 1am every day, with no day off. I was exhausted and pleaded for a break, but they just shouted: ‘You came here to work, not sleep!’ Then one day I just couldn’t go on, and Madam beat me. She beat me with her fists and kicked me. My ear still hurts. They wouldn’t give me my wages: they said they’d pay me at the end of the two years. What could I do? I didn’t know anybody here. I was terrified.”

One day, after yet another beating, Mela ran out onto the streets, and asked – in broken English – how to find the Ethiopian consulate. After walking for two days, she found it, but they told her she had to get her passport back from Madam. “Well, how could I?” she asks. She has been in this hostel for six months. She has spoken to her daughter twice. “I lost my country, I lost my daughter, I lost everything,” she says.

If things like this do happen, it is clearly wrong. Once again though, Hari appears to be making things up to make them sound better.

Mela only speaks broken English, according to Hari, but he is still able to quote her speaking fluently and expressively.

She was with an Australian family who went berserk and treated her appallingly – something that is possibly believable as a one off, but Hari says this has happened to thousands of others. I find it hard to believe that an Australian family of six would be the kind to beat up their maid on a regular basis. Maybe I am naive.

Ironically, the only family I know who have a maid from Ethiopia are Australian. They have three adopted children (one from Ethiopia, two from Sierra Leone) and employ a very nice lady as their housekeeper. She is treated like one of the family. I would say that, amongst the expats I know who have maids, that this is the norm.

As she says this, I remember a stray sentence I heard back at Double Decker. I asked a British woman called Hermione Frayling what the best thing about Dubai was. “Oh, the servant class!” she trilled. “You do nothing. They’ll do anything!”

Hermione Frayling? What a great name. I wonder if she knew she’d be quoted like this. Or maybe she doesn’t exist, as the sentence attributed to her isn’t something I have ever heard a British expat say. It just sounds totally wrong.

The projects completed just before the global economy crashed look empty and tattered.

They might not be filled to the brim, but they don’t look tattered. They look brand new. Because they are.

The Atlantis Hotel… It is unexpectedly raining; water is leaking from the roof, and tiles are falling off.

I have been to the Atlantis on several occasions. I have never seen water leaking from the roof or tiles falling off.

I check myself in for a few nights to the classiest hotel in town, the Park Hyatt. It is the fashionistas’ favourite hotel, where Elle Macpherson and Tommy Hilfiger stay, a gorgeous, understated palace.

Where else would a man of the people such as Johann stay? Maybe this is where he met Karen Andrews, sleeping rough in her Range Rover.

My patience frayed by all this excess, I find myself snapping: doesn’t the omnipresent slave class bother you?

There isn’t an omnipresent ‘slave class’. The people who come to work here are not slaves. This is simply a gross exaggeration.

On my final night in the Dubai Disneyland, I stop off on my way to the airport, at a Pizza Hut that sits at the side of one of the city’s endless, wide, gaping roads. It is identical to the one near my apartment in London in every respect, even the vomit-coloured decor.

I’m not sure what point Hari is trying to make here. Pizza Hut isn’t very nice? Personally I am not a fan either. I don’t see anything wrong with it operating in Dubai, though.

I ask the Filipino girl behind the counter if she likes it here. “….everything in Dubai is fake. Everything you see.”

I find Dubai is ‘fake’ comments boring. It’s a brand new city in the desert. It’s not going to look like Rome, Johann, but it can still offer its citizens and the expats who live here a life that is far more positive than the one you describe in your article. What would you prefer Dubai’s rulers did? Force the local population to live in traditional barasti huts so as not to offend your sensibilities?

She got into debt to come here, and she is stuck for three years: an old story now. “I think Dubai is like an oasis. It is an illusion, not real. You think you have seen water in the distance, but you get close and you only get a mouthful of sand.”

If Filipinas are getting into debt to come here, their government really needs to crack down on the unscrupulous agents who are cheating them.

Once again, Hari’s quote seems rather implausible. Is he putting his words in someone else’s mouth again? I don’t want to do a disservice to the Filipinas working in Pizza Hut, but this lady’s comment sounds like something Hari came up with whilst flying over, rather than a comment made whilst chatting to someone buying a pizza.