Archive for November, 2009

The neighbours’ new place

28/11/2009

Some nice pics of our neighbours’ place.

We can see the Burj from our balcony and it’s looking stunning, particularly at night now that it has a rather random – but surprisingly stylish – lights display showing it off.

Quite how everyone’s supposed to get in and out of it, considering the current state of all the roads around it, I don’t know. Still, it’s nice to look at, even if it ends up staying empty!

Which meeting was better

23/11/2009

Following on from the Twitter theme of my previous posts, Sheikh Mohammed’s feed tells us that he met with Gordon Brown today, as well as the Queen.

I wonder which meeting was more productive and enjoyable?

I can imagine Gordon waffling and fawning inappropriately, whilst the Queen enjoyed meeting an old acquaintance.

Spill the beans

23/11/2009

My last post mentioned that I had just learnt, via Twitter, that Sheikh Mohammed met recently with David Miliband, Britain’s Foreign Secretary.

I would love to be a fly on the wall in these kinds of meetings. Britain has a long and close association with the UAE, something that I clearly have a personal interest in. Let’s hope Mr Miliband did a good job. British foreign policy clearly needs to have close relations with Gulf states as a high priority. Seeing Sarkozy marching around promising co-operation on nuclear power and muscling in on military relations should be a motivating factor here 🙂

I would like to see Gulf nationals studying in the UK as a preference over the US, for example. The US seems easier, as well as culturally more attractive a place to go. We need to address that as best we can.

I would love to hear Sheikh Mo’s feelings when it comes to the British statesmen he has spoken to over the years. They have come and gone over the years and he will have met many leading figures.

What would he think? Are the current bunch better than previous incumbents of power? Does he see a general decline? Where things better way back when, or better now? Or are things very much the same, with a fair sprinkling of outstanding candidates amongst the general dross?

I don’t know if it’s because I am simply getting older or because more transparency in government reveals the foibles and farces that used to stay hidden, but the current bunch of British ‘leaders’ do very little for me.

I would also love to hear Sheikh Mo’s feelings on the various Brits he has known who have played a role in the development of the UAE – those who have helped build the armed forces and police, for example. He should be able to provide some fascinating insight on the calibre of individuals who have come to work in the UAE and Dubai in various capacities over the years.

The joys of Twitter

22/11/2009

I’m really starting to enjoy using Twitter. After a year and a half of being ‘on it’, its appeal and possibilities are starting to shine through.

It’s been interesting to see its effect on my blogging. A great deal of the appeal of blogging, for me at least, is getting things off my chest. Expressing things quickly and easily that annoy me, interest me, or that I think might interest others, all written for noone in particular. A vast Letter to the Editor, that always gets printed.

Twitter lets me get things off my chest very efficiently. If I’ve twittered about the nincompoop crashing headlong into another car after he jumped the light, by the time I get to my laptop the desire to blog at length about the incident has faded. Coupled with less travel, which is when I blog the most, Twittering has definitely affected my blogging mojo. I’m hoping that blogging frequency will improve over the coming weeks – I know I have some regular readers and I know I enjoy a good blog post, so I will be trying to up my game a bit.

The immediacy and intimacy of Twitter is also great fun. I subscribed to Paris Hilton’s feed for a while whilst I wrote my article on her visit to the UAE. It was bizarre knowing when Paris was going to bed, whilst not really knowing what lots of my friends back home were up to – something I would be much more interested in.

On the other hand, it’s great fun seeing what my twittering friends are up to, both those I know well and those I never met but would like to meet one day. Sometimes it’ll be a laugh out loud moment, as someone tweets about a Cairo cab journey, for example. Other times it’s just nice to know what people are up to – people I would like to see more of, but simply aren’t able to.

I’ve particularly enjoyed seeing Sheikh Mohammed embrace Twitter. Just now I learnt that he has just been chatting to David Miliband about relations between the UK and the UAE, as well as other weightier matters. I hope Mr Miliband did a good job impressing Sheikh Mo. I also hope Sheikh Mo enjoyed the art exhibition he visited last night.

There’s an art to a good tweet, just as there is to writing a good novel, essay, email, blog entry or other written missive. I am not interested in ‘I’ve just eaten a croissant for breakfast’, but I can skip past that sort of thing when viewing my ‘feed’ of people I follow. A good tweet should, in my opinion, contain something mildly interesting or entertaining. Rather than ‘I’ve just eaten a croissant for breakfast’, ‘Emirates’ limp, soggy croissants don’t do French cuisine justice’ might be more fun. But who cares? I don’t have to read what other people write, just as they don’t have to read what I write.

The whole thing is fascinating – a brand new way of communicating, with an immense following, but noone can quite put a finger on what its appeal really is. Equally fascinating will be whether anyone can make money out of millions of people burbling their nonsense to all and sundry. I would miss Twitter if it went away, but I wouldn’t pay for the service.

If you are interested in following my rantings and burblings in 140 characters or less, you can do so here.

What’s the fuss about?

18/11/2009

There’s been a lot of fuss about a recent edition of Oprah that featured an Emirati lady speaking about her life. You can watch is here.

Here are a couple of articles covering people’s reactions.

I don’t really see what the issue is. A very eloquent lady gave a very positive picture about Dubai. Great PR. I do feel she should have made more of an emphasis on the fact that a lot of the benefits she mentioned were for Emiratis and that expats make up 85% or so of Dubai’s residents. She also got her facts a little wrong – I believe local Emiratis get subsidised utilities, rather than getting them for free.*

As usual, the topic of women’s clothing came up and that is what seems to have annoyed people the most. It’s probably dangerous for me to dip my toe into the water here, but she mentioned that her style of dressing was cultural rather than specifically mandated by her religion. I think this point is well illustrated by the fact that we see her mother-in-law wearing the metal burka, something that you do not see younger Emirati ladies wearing. Does that not prove her point?

I like Dr Lamees’ husband’s comments on his clothing. He has a simple, comfy way of dressing that fits every occasion. Noone’s complained about what he said.

* If I understand correctly, everyone’s utilities are subsidised, just to different levels depending on whether you are a local or an expat.

Small Big Bosses

18/11/2009

One of our customers used a great phrase the other day – ‘small big bosses’.

The context was that the Big Boss would decide something, but then the Small Big Bosses would try to delay or avoid implementing the decision in their own sub-fiefdoms.

The customer is not a native English speaker and, I for example, would never use the phrase ‘small big bosses’. In this case however, a phrase which might not be perfect idiomatic English summed up the situation absolutely perfectly. I immediately imagined an office full of people rushing around inefficiently spending their time fighting each other and ignoring the more important tasks at hand.

I will be using ‘Small Big Bosses’ in future!

Travellin’ again

14/11/2009

We’re all on the road again. After four months with some restrictions, business travel in my region is hotting up again for those of us covering SEE (Southern and Eastern EMEA).

I enjoy my job and I enjoy the travel I do, in general. I always say that I enjoy being in the places I go to, but getting there is not something I typically enjoy.

Having four months with no work-related trips has been fantastic, at least on a personal level. Chatting with colleagues who’ve been in a similar situation, we all had the same comments –

– Losing weight and getting fitter.

– Enjoying time at home with family.

– A healthy rhythm of being in one place, seeing friends, doing the same stuff on a regular basis and enjoying it.

I’ve been going to circuit training two to three times a week and am the fittest I’ve been for years. I also fit nicely into all my clothes and feel great. Actually, that’s not strictly true – the Levi 501s I still have from when I was 21 are still too tight round the waist, but there you go.

I’ve really started to appreciate living where I do. Yes, the soundproofing issue is raising its head again now that we’re all leaving our AC off during the day, but I am absolutely loving the Old Town and its ever improving environs.

Mrs Saul and I have spent more time together over the last four months than we ever have since we got married in 2005 – and we enjoyed it! Mrs Saul has always been completely supportive of my needing to go away for work- fortunately she enjoys having me home as well.

Not travelling has been interesting in terms of my own personal finance. You start to notice having to pay for your weekly existence yourself. Car mileage and wear and tear goes up and precious airmiles balances go down or stay static, supermarket bills increase, that sort of thing.

The travel pause and my getting back on the economy class whirlwind has made me think about how much things have changed over the last five years – yes, five! – of whizzing around my region, with occasional US and European trips.

One obvious sign is smoking bans creeping across the world. Even Turkey and Athens now have a smoking ban, with most of the airports I go through restricting smoking more and more. A good thing and a real indication of social change.

Lots of regional airports have gone through some serious improvements. Dubai’s new Terminal 3 is superb. Amman airport, from where I type this, has a fantastic new lounge and more and more cafes and restaurants, sadly most of the junk food variety. Algiers and Ankara have new terminals, as do a fair number of other places. Emirates’ dedicated lounges are often situated right next to the gate.

Even Riyadh airport has a new Costa Coffee – an island of mauve modernity in the middle of a sea of beige.

Technology is improving life.

E-tickets are now standard, it seems. No more worrying about a stupid piece of paper to prove that all the information already in the airlines’ computers is correct.

Every airport I’ve been to recently has a choice of ATMs. No more worrying whether I’d be able to get cash for a cab, or stocking up with wads of $5 bills, just in case.

How did I survive the long hours of idleness when I started out? During my early trips I didn’t even have an iPod – no music and certainly no TV to watch. I had to rely on books and the inflight entertainment. My first trip to San Francisco? Seven hours on Lufthansa to Frankfurt, layover and 10 hours or so to San Fran without even a TV screen in the seat in front of me. I didn’t even have a blog at the time, so couldn’t even pass the time by formulating a rant about the rude way the staff treated those of us in cattle class.

Wifi is now ubiquitous – almost – meaning I can work and be entertained during layovers in the airport. My BlackBerry also keeps me efficient and make better use of my time. In the old days, I’d have to wait till I got to my hotel before I could (hopefully) get to email – and that meant being forced to sit at an uncomfy hotel desk. Now, more often than not, I’ve cleared most of my work email in the taxi on the way to the hotel, thanks to my good old Bold. When I do get to my room I can relax on the bed to finish things off, before watching TV on the laptop or generally surfing whilst safely tucked up in bed.

Spotify, when connected in the hotel, gives me instant access to all sorts of great music that I don’t already own – much as I love the stuff I have on iTunes, Spotify keeps me entertained with any kind of music I might fancy listening to, for free, legally. It’s like having a great radio station always to hand.

All of this makes for travel time being easier, much more productive and a lot less lonely. Just five years’ advances have made life for the business traveller a lot less wearisome. I wonder how my father managed, particularly in the 90s, when he was going to former Soviet and Eastern bloc countries? I remember he used to carry a small can of insect repellent with him. That would have been handy during a flight on a certain North African airline I took last year, but isn’t something I’ve needed on any other occasion.

Let’s see what the future brings. Whilst there are still lots of places that I would like to visit, both for personal and business reasons, a slightly more static existence wouldn’t be too upsetting. Given what I do – and what I need to do to keep being able to do what I do – I think airports will continue to play the same role the 65 bus stop used to when I was younger. I’d also rather be doing this than, say, driving around the UK all week.

Time to get to the gate for my connection…

One day, women’s clothing will no longer be important

11/11/2009

I wonder if future generations will be spared the tedious topic of women’s clothing?

The Middle East, the UK, Brazil recently, the world over – what women wear is endlessly talked about, ruled upon, judged and ordained.

I find it all very boring.

When I was at school, endless form meetings were occupied by discussions on whether the girls could wear hooped earrings as well as studs. And what length their socks could be. And their skirts. And whether they could wear makeup (which falls under ‘decoration’, rather than clothing, but still fits with the theme). What a waste of time – we could have been talking about how the tuck shop kept running out of Dairy Milk.

Out in the real world, the discussion continues, at length, endlessly.

My happiest clothing years were when I wore school uniform, or Scout uniform, or Air Cadet uniform, depending on the time of day and how old I was. We all wore the same stuff and your personality shone through by means other than what your parents could afford or what was supposedly cool or uncool. I quite like wearing a suit for the same reasons, especially now that living in Dubai there are numerous tailors who can provide formal wear that actually fits. The average Brit is forced to put up with clothing designed for the average Brit, who doesn’t exist, which means your shop bought suit won’t fit you. Unless your dimensions are truly average, which – on average – they aren’t.

I’m not proposing that we all wear a uniform all day long, as if we lived in a neo-fascist wonderland – the girls wouldn’t like that and it would take up even more time and newspaper columns. I would also look a bit silly wearing a red blazer, shorts and a cap or woolly trousers, jumper, belt and beret, depending on the time of day.

Life would be a little easier though.

I must admit that I envy my Gulf colleagues in their dishdashas, khandouras, ghutras and other kit. What shall I wear today? Something long, white, comfortable and flattering – particularly the UAE and Omani version free of cuffs and collars – with a simple head covering. What will the ladies wear? Whatever they want, but keep it covered up with an abaya in public so that noone gets upset.

Disproportionate response

10/11/2009

A super article from The National about the British sacking of Ras al Khaimah in 1809.

Dastardly pirates, imperial power plays, this region has it all.

A couple of themes I find interesting when reading about conflict and resolution in this part of the world.

1. The Sheikh offering ‘settlement’ over a particular attack on a British ship.

This concept of financial compensation obviously exists in Britain, but it seems to be more of a standard and accepted concept here. If things had been the other way around, I would imagine that the British would have been in touch with the Sheikh and offered some kind of recompense, but it would have been more subtle than ‘we killed some of your chaps, how much cash do you want’. Maybe I’m misunderstanding what is meant by ‘settlement’, but the implication is that it would be financial.

I suppose a modern equivalent is blood money paid out when someone is killed in a car accident (something that’s calculated into your insurance premium – the number of seats in your car is important, as that’s the total number of passengers you could kill in an accident). It doesn’t bring anyone back to life, but it does help and it’s standard practice. In the UK you’d have to use other means to get some kind of financial recompense and it would be seen as being a little distasteful.

2. Taking hostages and holding them for ransom.

Nothing changes here – to wit, Somali pirates. These sort of incidents can be described as being symptoms of major power struggles and can be directly responsible for shaping history. When you get down to the nitty gritty, however, the ‘pirates’ we just looking for an opportunity to make some cash.

Lucky Chris

10/11/2009

I’m staying at the new Radisson on Yas Island this evening. There’s a dinner this eve and various Sun presentations tomorrow.

I’m completely stunned. Usually Abu Dhabi makes me think of a style of architecture I call ‘Gulf Beige’. Odd – to me at least – shaped buildings that don’t really inspire much. Things are changing however – the Yas Island development is super modern and stylish. All very Dubai, dare I say it.

My room is stunning too, with a great view. Really makes a change from the usual round of dusty Sheraton to tired Intercon. Certainly a better view from the window than my last hotel.

I would post pictures, but have misplaced my camera lead…

My only complaint is that the minibar could do with being a bit colder and the ice bucket I was brought contains that awful hotel ice that melts as soon as you look at it. A proper office chair would be nice too, but now I’m just being ungrateful.

Right, time to put my presentation together and earn my keep – it’s not all fun and games in desktop virtualisation sales, you know.