Monthly Archives: February 2013

137. World Expo

You may not believe this, but I am a cynic. Not just your every-day “urgh I don’t eat foreign food” cynic, but a real cynic. In fact, my cynicism is my way of life; it is the default of my very nature. I find it far easier to scoff at something I know nothing about rather than turn around and praise something I know equally nothing about. I prefer to ask questions until I understand something and until I do I don’t like it. I like things to be clear, if I have to read something more than three times then it is not worth knowing. It has failed to arouse my interest and therefore has no right being in my brain library.

I also enjoy being negative. Nothing makes me vomit quite like those who gush at everything they see and hear. “Oooh! That’s amazing” they say as they play with the cup holder in your car. What next? Are they going to start chasing shiny things or claiming that Kim Kardashian is actually a good role model for young girls? There are many names for this kind of person, the most politically correct of which is “idiot”.

Those who come to the UAE and see nothing beyond the high-rise leviathans and countless malls are blind. Do they not notice the rusty buses ferrying the labour classes to and from their holiday camps? Do they not look at a road intersection and think “My God, they really f****d that up.” Or is this just me? Do I only see all the negative stuff before I convince myself that there are positive facets out there? Perhaps.

Anyway, returning to the matter at hand; I like to clearly understand the point of something, and when I don’t I like to research it until I do. So today’s question is: what is the point of the World Expo? You can’t have failed to notice that Dubai is bidding for the 2020 instalment of an event that I don’t fully understand.

Since I was not wowed, and even more confused, by Wikipedia’s explanation of the event, I turned to the private internetters for clues and sadly I have reached my fifth paragraph in today’s epistle and am still none the wiser. A World Expo, or World Fair, is an event held seemingly at random in a pre-designated city. The attractions of this fair vary according to what the host city wants. Generally there will be many other countries showcasing their own lands as tourist or investment destinations. There will also be some people walking around saying how amazing the host city is. It sounds like jolly good fun and on the face of it, why not?

Well, we didn't need Crystal Palace anymore anyway...

Well, we didn’t need Crystal Palace anymore anyway…

But let us take a step back and look at things from a different angle. The first ever World Expo took place in 1851 in London. For the event a grand structure was created; the famous Crystal Palace. The giant greenhouse burned down before too long and its only living legacy is the south London football club who bears the name. The Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace was not a success and it financially ruined its owners. One reason was that it was closed on Sundays, the only day people had off work back then.

But things were different in the Victorian era when Britain was at the height of its imperialist ventures. We had men trekking all over the globe, exploring, learning, conquering, and stealing and so on. The British public was craving knowledge of the world after previously knowing nothing beyond those French rascals over the water.

A World’s Fair to showcase the Empire, foreign lands, treasures and different cultures was a sensational idea. It was a chance to show the British people what the imperialists had been up to. This became a regular event with other nations soon joining in.

Today we live in a different world to Henry Kitchener and Queen Victoria. If you want to see what a country is like you can do so at the click of a mouse. You can ask random strangers on Twitter, you can read reviews by Michael Palin or you can simply type whatever you want into Google and you will be presented with all you need.

It is a genius way of doing things that brings the whole Expo business into question: what is the point? Have you seen the plans for the Expo complex? It is insanely big and, obviously, insanely expensive. There is a big push for this to happen but again I do not understand why. My research concludes that the cost of hosting a World Expo far outweighs any financial benefit. They have all been fiscal flops. What kind of business model is this? Don’t forget that Dubai still owes billions of dollars to neighbouring Abu Dhabi after the 2008 collapse. Can it afford to go throwing money around willy nilly?

Why bother going to all the trouble of hiring an expensive architect, finding a builder with some cheap workers, putting together a massive building complex and filling it with things from other countries and then tearing most of it down afterwards? The internet is omnipotent and cannot be beaten, it has all the information. The concept of the World Expo is as archaic as carving out your shopping list on a stone tablet.

Maybe it is just the cynic in me or maybe I am right. But I find it hard to swallow that money should be spent on such things when no benefit will come of it. I can think of many different, better things to spend the money on, such as new buses for the labourers, or a security gate at the airport that keeps out idiots.

Labourers who are looked after a bit better and the extraction of idiots from society: now there is a showcase the UAE could really be proud of.

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136. Generalisation

UAE Uncut has failed. Today is the 25th February and marks not one, but two anniversaries. The first commemorates my being here for five years. The second, and far more important anniversary, marks the first birthday of this esteemed corner of cyber space. Yep, UAE Uncut is one year old today and over the last twelve months I have come before you and moaned, kicked and screamed 135 times about the most frivolous of subjects. That works out to one inane rant every three days.

So what have I learned in this time? Nothing, apart from what a Meta tag is, and I’m still a bit shady on that. What have I given you over the last year? A laugh from time to time, but where is the advice that I promised? Where is the help that I pledged? Going back through my earlier missives there were shreds of useful information lightly sprinkled around mad anecdotes and OCD infringements, but that petered out long ago. So the opening statement is accurate, then: UAE Uncut is a failure. Or is it?

A new opinion dictates that people don’t need help or advice, especially from some two-bob writer with a personality complex. For such things they ask those around them; friends, colleagues, strangers on facebook and so on. No blog can help with this. What people really need is a laugh. They need to let off some steam about all the trials and tribulations that come with living abroad. All the nuances that are different from home, all the idiocy, all the crap. If you cannot laugh off the bullshit, what can you do?

Of course, sometimes the requisite need for a laugh can be called into question. Sometimes you meet someone who makes you angry. Sometimes you may be made to feel pretty bad about yourself. Sometimes you can end up hating an entire country just because of one stupid, narrow-minded ignoramus.

The UAE is a cosmopolitan blah blah blah multicultural cliché etc so on and so forth place. There is no country across the world, apart from Israel, that is not represented here. I scoff at those who want to go off travelling the world to “meet new people” and to “understand other cultures.” Yes it all sounds jolly exciting, but why bother? Why waste the money and the time? Just come to the UAE and you will meet the very people you seek all under one roof and be done with it. We have all the continental foods like sushi and steaks; we have British pubs and even an Alp. We have it all. That’s the UAE, it is like instant coffee, just add water.

Forget raw fish and pretend skiing, when travelling you want to meet people. Meeting new people can be refreshing and painstaking in equal measures. If you still have your heart set on going travelling, then at least use the UAE constructively. Talk to those from foreign lands and soon enough you will work out who you do and do not like. Before too long you will have struck certain countries from your expedia list.

Allow me to introduce my new Head of Diplomatic Relations...Mr. Mart...

Allow me to introduce my new Head of Diplomatic Relations…Mr. Mart…

This week I made a decision that I would never, ever go to work or live in a certain country that resides somewhere in the northern hemisphere. I won’t reveal this nations identity because my readership levels are dwindling and I need the hits from their public. It was a bold pronouncement, even perhaps a knee-jerk overreaction, but what pushed me into making it?

I do not particularly enjoy confrontation. I like to get along with people, to please people and to have an easy life. I carry buckets of anxiety around with me already so I don’t go looking for any more. I do not like arguments but boy, when pushed, can I argue. This week I had the pleasure of engaging in one such debate with someone from the aforementioned undisclosed, “civilised” country. Never have I experienced such irrational behaviour in all my life. No, really. I have seen a lot and done even more but this was something else. My comments in the immediate aftermath of the confrontation were crass, and I doubt that Ban Ki Moon will be on the phone offering me a role as his diplomatic adviser any time soon. I retracted my sentiments but retained that I would never be going there.

My opponent, in their late thirties or early forties could not be reasoned with, at all. It was like talking to a stubborn child who was throwing the mother of all tantrums. What the argument was about is irrelevant, but during the discourse I was accused of being “British”, apparently the most heinous of crimes. I was also informed that I was an “idiot” and that my parents had done a poor job. Oh how I couldn’t wait to share the good news with my fiancé that she is marrying a muttonhead.

The problem is that when you are dealing with a grown up who possesses a child’s mindset you are sucked into the game all too easily. You end up having to resort to hair pulling and name calling and before too long you’re off to tell the teacher. The experience put me in not so much a bad mood, but a totally bemused one. I mean, sticks and stone may break my bones and all that, but thank God I will never be that portly. Nor will I ever be that thick. I can’t be; I have an IQ of 138, according to that Facebook game.

I calmed an hour or so later and during my traditional Saturday night pub visit came to the conclusion that I would opt never to live or work in the country from which this person heralded. I couldn’t deal with that on a regular basis. And that is a shame, because it is a beautiful country and I have several friends who hail from there. In fact, all of them are all so pleasant and friendly that I find myself saddened that I have let one person jade my perception of an entire nation. I am going to need convincing otherwise.

I guess that is the moral of the story, you will meet a lot of people from a lot of countries in the UAE and inevitably some of them will be real nasty pieces of work. So don’t tar everyone with the same brush. If you meet an a*hole then you have met an a*hole, it doesn’t mean they paint a true picture. Don’t generalise.

Hey look at that, a bit of advice. There is hope for UAE Uncut after all.

Oh and finally, to my new friend…you smell.

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135. Overreaction

Unless you have been living in the news-censored environments of China or Iran, or you have been dwelling in a cave, you may have heard about the meat scandal currently taking the British press by storm. Beneath the banner headlines of copious horse puns, you may have also noticed that MI5 busted three not-so-wise men for their mischievous intentions. It would seem that the three “British” men who were recently sentenced for planning a series of terrorist acts need not have bothered to waste their pointless time on such things. The British public have, unknowingly, been chowing down on Princess Anne’s stable residents, licking their lips and unbuckling their belts as they slowly poison themselves with contaminated lasagnes. Obviously it has caused quite a stir, but beyond a case of false advertising I really do not see what all the fuss is about.

Horse is as common a meat across the world as any other. The reason why we don’t eat it in Britain dates back to the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century. The French loved a good Grand National winner garnished in a little garlic with a side of potatoes, but the Brits, simply to differentiate themselves from the enemy at the time, vetoed them as a main course. We ate rabbits and wolves instead. Mmmm. Horses were also a valuable commodity and were required for the battlefield as transportation. Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, would have looked a bit daft had he turned up at the battle of Waterloo on the back of a sheep because he had eaten Silver for tea the night before.

Since that time the Brits have not eaten horse meat. Not for health reasons, but purely because it would be like eating a car today. There is nothing wrong with horse meat, nothing at all. Think what the Hindu’s must think of us when they see us scoffing down a beef burger, we’re eating their God! Ultimately, and inevitably, everyone is over-reacting and now we can expect meaningless legislation that dictates that we are not allowed to eat anything that can run five furlongs in under three minutes. It is, then, of over-reactions of which I wish to speak about today.

Nothing confuses the world and muddies public perception quite like an over-reactive knee jerk reaction. This week in the UAE it was reported that an 11 year old British boy was “taken to a police station” after the parents of an Emirati boy filed a complaint against him. At first it was to be assumed that the British boy had been indulging in a spot of bullying or general horse play, but the truth turned out to be far more alarming. The incident in question happened during a PE lesson. During a game of football the British boy went in for a tackle that caused the Emirati boy to tumble to the ground. This is a common occurrence in football as tackling is a fundamental part of the game.

If there was no tackling allowed then they would just be playing cricket instead and would probably end up dying of boredom. But still, the boy was alleged to have been arrested. I went to an all boys school in south west London and, being of a weedy frame, I was floored on more than one occasion. I weighed 55kg and had a 26inch waist, how do you think I faired when we played rugby during PE? I would fly for miles. By the logic adopted in this case, I could have had 20-30 of my classmates arrested for grievous bodily harm. But through it all I got up each time, only to be floored time and time again.

Hey ma! Look what I gone caught for dinner! It wasn't as big as what the other guys got but I sure did try!

Hey ma! Look what I gone caught for dinner! It wasn’t as big as what the other guys got but I sure did try!

Anyway, it was rumoured that the British boy spent a night in the cells, and that his incarceration was covered up. Whatever, this doesn’t detract from the main point: the boys were playing football in a PE lesson, one got hurt. Big deal, this happens in every school all over the world on a daily basis. Do we pick ourselves up and move on? No, what we do instead is come up with a mad set of rules and regulations that govern the activity so that all competitive and risk elements are eliminated. This includes the introduction of a code of conduct that insists on fair play – duh – and parental consent forms that will give parents the right to ban their offspring from taking to the field in the first place. That will help the diabetes levels over here. Super, just what we need to toughen people up.

The UAE cannot be singled out as the only perpetrator; the US, the UK and the rest of Europe are also notorious for such crimes against reality. Mediocrity cannot be considered an acceptable goal. Kids need to learn from a young age that they can be good at a thing that others are not, whether that is sport, music, art, writing or even making fart sounds with their armpits. This improves self esteem and creates determination, something the people of the future are going to need to survive the uncertainty that looms on the horizon. Risk and competitiveness is what makes us human and makes us smart. It teaches us limits, self control, and so many other valuable assets that I cannot be bothered to mention. Stupid, over-reactive measures irritate us, neuter the young and leave no hope for the future.

If you stop the kids being able to take part in sport and learning the limits for themselves then all we will have is a future generation that is overweight, ignorant and who enjoy nothing more than tucking into a big, fat, greasy McBlack Beauty.

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134. Bicycles II

Last year I regaled you all with the tale about the time when I was driving to work and encountered a bearded man in pyjamas cycling towards me on the wrong side of the road. As I was driving at 80 Kommunists per hour, the limit on the road in question, I sounded my horn to alert him of a) my imminent presence and b) his total, utter stupidity. He fell off. Ah. No matter, he was fine, but I was angry. I very nearly killed him and he did not seem to mind at all. In fact, he seemed relatively upbeat despite being within a stones throw of eternal darkness.

I adore cycling. It is perhaps the most entertaining of all the exercises and I truly do miss it. I have considered cycling here but there have been three key factors that have put me off the idea. The first is the fact that, according to the word of the law, cycling is illegal. Cycling may only take place on private land or in pre-designated cycling areas. It is obviously one of those numerous, mad laws that exists solely to make the law-book more girthsome. But law or no law, the bicyclists pedal on. We see them everywhere, usually cycling against the flow of traffic on what are basically motorways.

The second facet that has put me off cycling is that my life expectancy would be severely reduced. It is dangerous enough out there, on the roads, when you have four feet of steel and engine to protect you together with a sturdy side-impact protection system. Take the NCAP crash tested safety features away and I don’t fancy my chances against a speeding Land Cruiser when I all I have in my arsenal is my face and a witty last remark. I would be safer cutting my own head off.

But the third and final reason why my cycling dreams sit there gathering dust in the corner is that for nine months of the year it is simply too hot. Yes, this reason puts me off getting the Raleigh out more so than certain death. The moment it hits 30 Celsius you are finished. You will get 25 yards down the road before you either die of dehydration or are as wet as the hull of HMS Conquerer.

Nothing in the UAE is nearby, nothing is within walking distance. Therefore should you wish to cycle to work or to the mall then you will arrive looking like a Christmas turkey; moist on the outside, dry on the inside and certainly missing some vital extremities. You might look at your beer-bellied co-workers with a smug grin that implies you have done some exercise and that they will die of scurvy, but, and believe me, you will stink to high heaven. That will make you about as popular as George Osbournes’ austerity measures.

Al Ain isn’t really the party capital of the UAE and more often than not people would choose to live in either Dubai or Abu Dhabi before they do the garden city. But Al Ains’ trump card is that it does not have to deal with ambient humidity, unlike the capital and its enemy. Still, when it is 55 Celsius outside and getting hotter just peer through the window of the nearest automobile and look how comfortable the occupants are. The humidity in the flagship cities however, well, that is hell on Earth in the height of summer. You can barely walk the six feet from your front door to your car without needing to rush back upstairs for a shower and a change of clothes.

Why is it, then, that a German company has decided to set up shop in Dubai providing hire-bicycles to those who wish to die too young? Who in their right mind would want to get off the Metro and then make the rest of the journey to the office on a bicycle? In December or January, go for it, but July? Are you out of your mind? If I went for a meeting and met someone who looked like they had just been wrestling Mike Tyson for three hours, and also carried the distinct aroma of manure about them, then I would request that we reschedule.

Watch out, Beadles' about.... and he's trying to get you to cycle in the Dubai summer sun...Punk*d.

Watch out, Beadles’ about…. and he’s trying to get you to cycle in the Dubai summer sun…Punk*d.

This enterprise is one of two things; diabolical market research or pure exploitation of the daft classes. If a bike-hiring man approached me on a sultry summer’s day and asked me if I would like to complete my journey to Mall of the Emirates on a Raleigh Chopper, I would do pugilism on him, and then wait for Jeremy Beadle to jump out. But he is no longer with us, so maybe Rio Ferdinand instead. Punk*d.

I think the whole rent-a-bicycle idea is, in actual fact, a really good one. It is tremendously popular in Europe, but chiefly because the weather is far more accommodating. Ok, Boris Johnsons’ ones get covered in pigeon shit, but I think that is more of a statement against Barclays Bank than anything else. It is a good idea but sadly not workable in the UAE. It is simply too hot, and when the human body is dehydrated it cannot think properly. That is when accidents happen and that is when the undertaker is called to spring into action. Just look at the guy with the beard who came at me on the wrong side of the road. Don’t tell me he was firing on all cylinders in the brain department.

When summer comes, stick to your air conditioned car. No one wants to meet someone who smells like a landfill site. It may upset some environmentalists but at least you won’t be killed.

And if, even after my rallying cry, you are still considering renting a bicycle, then I implore you to think of your family.

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133. Buildings II

When I was a young boy, my family used to go holidaying in Devon, south-west England, each summer. These were perhaps the happiest moments of my childhood. We used to stay on a holiday farm that is, without any shadow of a doubt, the greatest place on the entire planet. When I have my own family in the future I will insist on taking them there. My sisters and I would spend all year looking forward to going back; the stunning coastline, the steam train railway, the rock pools, the model village, the abandoned windmill where the Green Giant lived and of course the beaches. We loved the beaches.

There was one beach in particular – Broadsands – that was especially magical. There was a railway that ran around the top of the cliff and the steam trains were magnificent to behold. The rock pools were the source of many an adventure as my sisters and I would look for shells. The sand was soft, the buckets and spades were colourful, the plastic windmills spun majestically in the breeze and the sea was as clear as the sky. Dad used to tow us around in an inflatable dingy and we would pretend to be pirates. But one day, it all changed.

Give me horse meat!

Give me horse meat!

At some point during the early nineties I opted to walk downstairs in my Rambo pyjamas to investigate what my Dad was watching on TV. Back in those days, kids, we didn’t have remote controls so Dad couldn’t just flick the channel over. It was a film about a giant fish who was in a very bad mood and who had some very pointy teeth as well. Obviously, something had got its back up and in retaliation he decided to swim around local waters and eat people. He began with a nude woman, then a young boy and then Robert Shaw. To this day I have never returned to the sea. Boats are no problem, but to have nothing between the sea and my flesh than my own leg hair? Nah, you’re alright.

It was that one simple moment when the boy on the inflatable lounger went for a burton that traumatised me and completely changed the way I saw the world and the risks that really existed. So here, 22 years later, I find myself in the same position. Once more my perception of the world and its risks is altered and I am to go through the rest of my life with one eyebrow raised.

Today it was announced that a new set of building regulations are to be introduced to ensure that everything built from 2014 complies with a new code. It is reported that until now, the Abu Dhabi International Building Code was an amalgamation of German, French, British and American rules that, apparently, are deeply confusing and no longer suitable.

Is it, then, being implied that every single building in the UAE, including famous landmarks such as the Burj Al Arab, The Coin and the tallest building in the entire world – Burj Khalifa – are unsafe?! This is a genuine major concern. If the building code that gives directives on how the bricks and mortar should be stapled together has been updated, that suggests that there is a problem with existing buildings.

Come to think of it, I am beginning to understand what they might be on about. I live in a new complex and every night am awoken by some alarming creaking noises. Cracks have appeared in some odd places, I know that new buildings obviously need time to settle, but I sometimes feel that the living room wall is about to fall off. When I walk down the stairwell to the car park and look out the window into the impenetrable hollowing, I see cracks the size of the St. Andreas fault line.

There’s more, too. Obviously skyscrapers need to flex, this is so they don’t fracture, but did you know that the top of Burj Khalifa can sway up to 10 feet each way in high winds? That is a massive distance. What if it snapped in half? And what about the Burj Al Arab? It is shaped like a sail and it is on the beach. What if the wind picks up and it blows out to sea?

I like architecture very much. I enjoy looking at buildings and trying to fathom what the inspirational desk object was. The UAE is an architect’s playground and there is no shortage of interesting buildings to peruse. But the new building code is a game changer. Is everything that you see towering the sky today about to come crashing down? Was that courtyard in Abu Dhabi that collapsed just the beginning of the end?

It is too late for the new building codes. All the good stuff has already been constructed. This is just like the Great British/Romanian Horse Meat scandal of 2013. You thought you were safe with your once-mooing bovine; happily chomping away on what you thought was a prime beef quarter-pounder. You were blissfully unaware that you were, in actual fact, chomping on the remains of a former Grand National winner. Ignorance is bliss and I bet you couldn’t tell the difference; until you were told that Daisy had been replaced by Red Rum.

As far as the buildings are concerned, I can never enter one again. Before, I didn’t give it a second thought but now, knowing that the safety regulations have been changed because the preceding ones were unsuitable, I will never stop imagining Burj Khalifa’s top falling off or the Burj Al Arab being blown out to sea.

It is Jaws all over again.

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132. Misery

We all view the world in different ways and we always have done. Some of us look around and see promise, hope, prosperity and bikini-clad rollerbladers where as others see pestilence, doom, conspiracy and fat men in Speedos. Who you are and where you come from has an overwhelming impact on how you see the world. Put two people from different parts of the world in the same place and they will both come to very different conclusions.

The UAE is a perfect example of a place that will always divide opinion. I, for example, come from south-west London. I am used to rain, red buses, London accents and the greenbelt middle classes. My take on the UAE is well documented; see the previous 131 blog entries. I see glitz, glamour and ambition in equal measure to poverty, inequality and poor planning; a real mix up if ever there was one. What about someone from Bangladesh? What do they see? A better life financially but at what cost? Do they get to experience Barasti Bar and Burj Khalifa too?

The social class structure that exists here means that every different level of society will have different views on the country. Obviously, for the Emiratis, it is their land and only 50 years ago Dubai and Abu Dhabi were as barren and as lifeless as the desert that separates them today. They have literally gone from rags to riches and why shouldn’t they enjoy the wealth of black gold? That is how Great Britain became so great; we created an Empire and made money from what resources became ‘ours’.

For someone like me, I am in the middle. I have to play by the rules but I am able to indulge in the occasional five star hotel and water park. I earn a modest wage but am able to experience what the UAE is trying to sell. But what about the poor chaps you see wearing blue boiler suits on the building sites? This level of society is ferried to and from one hell to another every 12 hours and live with 100’s of others in unsavoury conditions. How can you ever gauge a clear picture of what people think?

As you will all very well know, here at UAE Uncut HQ we do enjoy a good survey. We love looking at all the numbers and the percentages and sniggering at the incorrect picture that has been painted. True to form, a report was published yesterday claiming that UAE residents are amongst the happiest in the world. By Lucifers’ beard! That is one almighty blow to the rest of the world.

In order to gain as clear a picture as possible as to people’s feelings, the survey asked over 4000 people a series of questions. Of those 4000 participants, 57% were Emirati. That is great news. The native people are happy in their native land and that is a tune we could all dance to. How jealous I am. But what of the other 43%? It doesn’t specify beyond stating that “non-Emiratis share the same positive outlook.” It is the attention to detail that impresses me most.

According to a man called Richard, we all believe that what makes us all so happy in the UAE is a concern for future generations, respect and community pride. Uh huh. Really? I wish I had been asked because I would have come out with myriad other reasons why I am happy in the UAE. It is all so vague. I do not know a single person who honestly puts these three things at the top of their list when asked why they love the UAE so much. Where is the sunshine, the money, the simple rules?

Of course it wasn’t all good news. Apparently 8% of people believe that materialism gives off a negative odour. Are these the same people who have gone out and purchased every incarnation of the iPhone I wonder? Regardless, the people have made it clear that hubris and possession makes them very unhappy. But it is a free market over here so unless the UAE adopts Marxism this aspect will not be going away anytime soon.

He's no Katy Perry...

He’s no Katy Perry…

The total negativity rating that the UAE received was 12%, apparently. What the 12% represents is a mystery to you as much as it is to me. No matter, the result has put the UAE in second place overall in the world happiness league behind arch-nemesis: Bhutan. The Bhutanese are the only people in the world who see their country in a more positive light than the UAE.

Now I may sound bitter, cynical and a touch jealous about all this, and the truth is that I am. Firstly, I do not think for one second that this was a fair survey since I doubt very much the poor sods in the labour camps will have given the UAE such a positive appraisal. Secondly, I think it is just made-up hocus-pocus designed to render a false impression and thirdly, out of 18 countries surveyed, Britain was the unhappiest of them all with a 57% negativity rating. Crime, drugs and uncertainty about the future are the three main reasons why the Brits are all so miserable.

I don’t get it, we are certain about the future; the whole world is f…….. I bet we would all be happier if we too did not understand the real world. Ignorance is bliss, eh?

Oh look, there’s the fat man in the Speedos again.

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131. Round Up II

Today is Sunday, the Sabbath. Sunday is my day off from my usual employment and generally I like to do things. Except at the moment I am trying to save for my wedding in July, and this means that I do not have much disposable income. I am living on a tight budget and this means that I cannot go off to Ski Dubai or Ferrari World on a whim. What I can do, if I like, is go to a Mall and not buy anything. If I do not fancy that then I can go to another Mall and not buy anything there, either. If I am feeling adventurous I can drive to the top of Jebel Hafeet, a 4000ft high mountain that sits alone like a beached whale on the southern side of Al Ain. Once up there I can look at the town in which I live, say “Aha”, and drive back down again.

Och aye the noo; Mish Moneypenne'

Och aye the noo; Mish Moneypenne’

Today I am bored out of my tree. I have done my compulsory reading and had my breakfast. I have walked around the apartment and monitored the progress of the builders over the way. I have played with a few different hair styles and dressed up as both James Bond and James Dean. I dedicated 35 minutes to perfecting a Scottish accent for no obvious reason; this task in particular was a sensational failure. It seemed like today was a great opportunity to do a blog but for the life me I cannot think of what to write about.

If my creative juices were flowing then I would normally fire up the laptop, have a cup of tea and try to thrash out another instalment of UAE Uncut. But what to write about? Topics for discussion come to me in different ways. Sometimes at three in the morning I awake with an idea and pen it down. Sometimes I have to trawl the media looking for stories that arouse my interest. Sometimes I type out a title and by the second paragraph have skewed off on such a tangent that I end up writing over the wall and have become so far detached from the point that I end up in the neighbours bathroom.

I have spooled through the papers and nothing even remotely interests me. Yes there was that business about Abu Dhabi and Al Ain getting a new address system, but really, that is another classic case of the point being missed. It is not the lack of road names and building numbers that is the problem, these exist, it is the fact that drivers just do not bother to learn the roads. Couple this with the fact that there are insufficient road maps and changing the names and numbers will not improve anything.

There were also some lengthy pieces about herding people into the private sector and the challenges that are faced. Again, the point is missed. You cannot expect private companies to pay salaries that match that of a government institution. They will go bust very quickly. The problem is that a poor precedent has been set by allowing public sector salaries and perks to go through the roof. Don’t raise the pay in the private sector, cut the pay in the public sector. Problem solved.

A boat caught fire in Dubai, no one was hurt and nothing was to blame. There was traffic chaos in Dubai earlier on when the Metro broke down. Pah! That happens in London every day. Abu Dhabi grocery stores have been given four months to sort their shops out or they face closure. Why? They were all closed down last month, and then they reopened. What was the original offence, Health and Safety violations? Everything they sell is packaged; they are not trading fresh livestock. Those lads earn nothing so what is expected of them?

A Dubai passport controller has been caught taking bribes from over 5000 people totalling over 2.5 million Dirhams, falsifying documents so that willing participants can remain in the UAE illegally. He faces trial but will probably be acquitted. Dubai Police caught a cross-dressing man when they asked to see his Emirates ID card. As it turned out, the picture was clearly that of a male, but the clothing and mascara begged to differ. The jig was up and Lilly Savage will have to pay a fine.

The bank franchise HSBC will ban Syrian, Iranian and Sudanese customers as of 20th March this year in response to the sanctions imposed by Mr. Obama. While the sanctions are supposed to choke the economies of nations with fiendishly evil governments, you cannot help but feel sorry for the poor civilians who just want to get on with their lives and who have moved to the UAE to escape the tyranny of their own ruling establishments.

It looks like there is plenty going on across the Emirates right now. But I am sitting here looking out of my window at some guttering and my bathroom ventilation fan. I went to a bar earlier for a pint, to read and to just be while my fiancé nearly killed herself in the gym. Writers block is in control here and I cannot even be bothered to finish this sente…

Oh. My. God. I am so bored. Is this what it is like in Europe every day?

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130. Prison Swap

I like Star Trek. There, I said it and I am not ashamed. Ask me who I think was better; Kirk or Picard and I say Kirk, obviously. Why? He was a renegade in his own right and sometimes bent the rules for the greater good and would never give it a second thought. Picard would always need time to mull over any potential regulation violation, and then call a meeting between a Klingon, an Android, a mad telepathic woman with no military experience and a man with a beard. Kirk did not give a damn; he would jump in without looking and always emerge unscathed, apart from at the end of Generations, when he died.

Stardate; 1302.14. We have stumbled across a strange planet, unlike any other. Their attempts at unity always seem to end in financial ruin...

Stardate; 1302.14. We have stumbled across a strange planet, unlike any other. Their attempts at unity always seem to end in financial ruin…

One of the key themes of the Star Trek franchise was the so called Prime Directive; an instruction that foreign worlds were not to be tampered with in any way. So when the USS Enterprise found a new planet, the crew checked to see what the life down there was doing. If they were cave dwelling Neanderthals who only ate moss yet coincidentally also spoke English then the Enterprise crew were not allowed to give them weapons, food, books or whatever else could potentially contaminate their natural evolution. Kirk, in his brash way, screwed up on multiple occasions. He tried to help rectify the problems on the Gangster planet and failed, he tried to fix the issues on the Nazi planet, and failed, and he brokered a massive arms deal so that a load of blonde-haired cavemen could kill all the brown-haired cavemen. Then there was the famous episode, Wolf in the fold, where he and Mr. Spock repeatedly tried to undermine the Egyptian-based hedonist world’s judicial system. They were right in the end, but that’s not the point.

Kirk violated the Prime Directive on so many occasions that it was not even noted as being unusual. He had to, if he had just orbited a planet and not interacted then each episode would have only been five minutes long. The one time Picard did it we ended up with a God-awful motion picture called Insurrection. Still, whichever crew of the USS Enterprise were exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life forms, they all had to play ball with the planets own law. The same is true on a sub-planetary scale; take Earth for example, the most famous life-bearing planet of them all.

Unlike every planet ever encountered in Star Trek when the planet is a united country with one law for the whole world, Earth is broken down into 197 different countries. More if you include land disputes… Anyway, each one of these countries has its own rule book on how things should be run. In some cases this is based upon religious texts, in others a business model and then there are those ruled by a madman in a volcano lair. There are general trends; things like murder and grand larceny are generally illegal in most, if not all countries. But there are many hundreds, if not thousands of country-specific laws that are confined within their own borders.

Unless you have been living in a cave this week you may have heard that a prisoner swap deal has been brokered between the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. British citizens who are being detained here will be allowed to serve the rest of their sentence back home in Blighty. Conversely, those Emiratis who are doing porridge on Her Majesty’s pleasure will be allowed to serve the time back here. The only clause is that the crime must be illegal in both countries. Writing a rubber cheque, for example, will put you on death row over here whereas in the UK Mr. Mervyn King, chief of the Bank of England, rubs his hands together with glee and says “thank you.”

One of my close friends from back home is a defence lawyer who I know has had to try and find every conceivable technicality to get a defendant off the hook. Being a professional he cannot divulge the details but we all know how hard it is. The British judicial system is a bit of a running joke. All the red tape, the technicalities, the EU influences and so on makes it jolly difficult to send people to our already overcrowded prisons. Unless someone is proven guilty of murder or tax evasion then usually they are given a suspended sentence, which translates into “promise you’ll be good next time.” If they are inside then rest assured the Playstation, the 54inch plasma TV, the roast pheasant dinner and the shares in Microsoft will make the time fly by.

The judicial system in the UAE is slightly different. If the judge thinks you have shifty eyes and look like the type of person to have done it then you are sent to a shared cell, the horrors of which I could not bear to imagine. According to an obviously dated set of meaningless statistics, there are around 200 Britons in correctional facilities across the UAE. Mainly they are in there for alcohol related offences, like being drunk in public, ess eee ex outside of wedlock in a public place or writing cheques with the same characteristics as an Olympic trampoline.

Here, if you are caught drunk and disorderly then it is three months inside followed by deportation. In the UK we would not fill our prisons with people for such “offences.” If you are caught drunk and disorderly wandering the streets of Clapham then yes, you could spend a night in the cells. But you will be out in the morning after receiving a slap on the wrist and the promise not to be naughty again. This is still technically a crime in the UK but the punishment will be, at most, a fine. So after England win the Six Nations, and you take your celebrations a bit too far, the UAE will give you a free flight home. At Heathrow Plod will charge you £50 and that’s it. Huh?

Looking at it from the other end, it is common in the UAE for Emiratis to be granted pardons and freed, depending on their crime. If Britain sentenced a man to five years for tax evasion and financial irregularities, then he would be freed here instantly. The whole thing is mind boggling. I mean it is good news for Britons who can serve the rest of their sentence with an X-Box in Wormwood Centre Parcs, but for the integrity of the law? How many dangerous precedents will this set? This is riddled with loopholes big enough to allow the USS Enterprise to fly through.

I do not have a problem with the attempt at unity. Strong, healthy ties between the UK and the UAE are valuable. It is quite nice that we want to be friends and that we can put the whole empire business behind us. But I just worry that every single time any countries join together it always ends in disaster. Like the Euro.

The whole thing feels like, on some level, that Kirk is to blame. Someone has interfered here, violated the Prime Directive and left the entire concept open to abuse. We would have been better off waiting the extra 100 years or so for Picard to arrive. He would not have been so hasty.

This bold initiative is indeed where no man has gone before…

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129. Real Estate

What do you mean I only bought a JPEG?! Are you telling me that the my new house won't even be built!??!?

What do you mean I only bought a JPEG?! Are you telling me that my new house won’t even be built!??!?

Over the last year or so, UAE Uncut has touched on every conceivable aspect of the UAE. We have plumbed the bottom of the barrel as far as subject matter is concerned and thrashed out some in depth thoughts from tourism to live bands, from school runs to indicating and from plumbers to the emergence of Chinese industrial supremacy. But through all the gabbling, misguided opinions  and highly questionable facts there is one major talking point that has gone unmentioned. It is the subject that must not be mentioned, the Voldemort of the UAE; real estate.

There are several reasons why I have yet to write about real estate in the UAE, chiefly because I would have more luck understanding the schematic diagrams of the Saturn V rocket. The whole property question in the UAE is mind boggling, except of course, it isn’t. Effectively it all boils down to money and who can make the most. You want it? You buy it for the stated price. You sell it for profit. Easy. Just make sure it is built.

Now, my father is a property expert, it has been his job for the best part of 30 years so I have been brought up to understand the basics about how a property price is defined. Things like the age of the building are important and of course its classification by era, i.e. Victorian, Edwardian, 1930’s or Blair. Then there is the house itself and its condition. Then of course location is the big one, so too is proximity of the nearest shops. Is it on a main road? That can change a house price by thousands. Is it within walking distance of a railway station, where is the nearest bus stop? Does it have a driveway or garage? Was it recently owned by a 1970’s BBC presenter? Are there any celebrities living nearby? There are so many factors that determine a house price in the UK that to understand the full criteria is remarkably difficult.

In the UAE, however, things are far more black and white, as you would expect. Is it on Palm Jumeriah? Yes. Right, that will be one million Dirhams. Is it in Dubai Marina? Yes. Right, that will be one million Dirhams. Is it near the Abu Dhabi Corniche? Yes, right, that will be one million Dirhams. Does it have windows? Yes. Right, that will be one million Dirhams. The property developers and land lords just look at what the guy next to them is charging and charge the same. That is why you will find swanky apartments complete with personal Jacuzzi and poolside bar for the same price as you will find a refrigerator box under an intersection.

It does not matter if your new one million Dirham wonder-apartment sits next to Sheikh Zayed Road, the busiest 14 lane road in the Gulf, all the traffic noise and pollution is what you are paying for. Besides, it is a small price to pay for the pool that you have to share with the other 130 families. You would sooner die than catch a bus and you are banned from riding the Metro because you were caught eating a Snickers last year. The age of the apartment is irrelevant since the builders are still working on it and apart from the highly suspicious grocery downstairs the nearest shops are a 15 minute drive away, through the Dubai traffic. You could walk, but it is too hot outside.

The problem with real estate in the UAE is that it does not seem to conform to any rules and every day in the papers we are told different things. One day we hear the prices are coming down and things have never been cheaper. Then the next day it is the other way around, with all the line graphs going up. Is it just lies? Is there a property market at all? Who is in charge?

I will never buy a property in the UAE for two main reasons. Firstly, I cannot afford it, not even close. Secondly, I am afraid. If in a hypothetical world, however, I did buy a property, then at the very least I would only buy one that had been built. Well, that is an obvious clause I hear you murmur. But you would be surprised. Before the collapse of Lehman brothers in 2008 Dubai was having a massive property boom. People were buying up all these swanky new places as investments at the property fairs and selling the investment on to those behind them in the queue with a 10% mark up. Not a bad way to make money, is it?

There was, however, one small flaw in the plan: the swanky abodes hadn’t been built. The “investors” had merely – and knowingly – only bought pictures. The lucky ones had bought pictures of buildings that had got as far as uninhabitable skeletal structures, but the unlucky ones had been left with nothing, not even the earth had been turned. In some cases, the developers hadn’t even received planning permission.

I would like to feel sorry for the people who bought the pretty pictures, but I don’t. If you trade your cow for a bag of magic beans with a man wearing a jaunty fedora and gold tooth then more fool you. The whole property boom from 2002, when foreigners were legally allowed to buy, to the collapse six years later wasn’t so much a boom, it was a scam. Selling pictures of things that might be built for millions? I’m surprised we didn’t see Matt Allwright and Dan Penteado from Rogue Traders turn up. Hell, because Dubai lost so much money back then I am even more surprised that we didn’t get a visit from Bob Geldof and Lenny Henry.

Property prices, in all their lunacy, were diminished by over 60% after the Lehman brothers killed themselves. But apparently, depending on what day of the week it is and what paper you read, they are climbing back up. In fact, property prices of existing buildings are returning to the height of the boom in 2008.

The last time they were this high it all went belly-up and collapsed and things became cheap. Hmmm…if I wait a few months maybe I will be able to afford a place after all?

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128. Car Registration

This evening I sit here in a rather bad mood. I have stepped through the door to see my lovely fiancé, with whom I never have a day to spend with, and dinner is on the table. I have lost a few pounds, my future is looking all the more optimistic and Wimbledon are about to kick off against Chesterfield in the English Football League 2. The new Formula 1 season is right around the corner and my wedding is only five months away. My family is healthy and my writing, so I am told, is getting better. I am going back to London next month to be Best Man for my friend of 18 years and recently a lot of my other friends have become engaged, too. Life is good and there is so much positive energy about the place that I can barely believe it; so why the grumpy mood tonight?

Is it due to the annoying whistling that I frequently hear? Is it because AFC Wimbledon are sitting rock-bottom of the league? Or is it, perhaps, the fact that I have been trying to get one of my company cars tested? Of course, it is the latter.

When UAE Uncut first graced your screens, one of my first inscriptions was the pros and cons of buying a car and weighing it up against renting one. Renting, I said, was the way to go. There are some who disagree, and if you have the money to buy a new car then go ahead. With dealers warranty and so on you are as safe as houses. Buying a used car is a lottery. There is no such thing as “one careful lady owner” in the UAE so tread carefully. Renting is a hassle free, albeit slightly more expensive way of doing things. Everything is covered, from breakdown recovery to insurance. If there is a problem with the car then it is simply replaced. Most conveniently, and the big selling point for me, is that the hire company also takes care of the whole registration process. That, as far as I am concerned, obliterates any argument against hire.

This, this crap here, is more appealing than getting the car tested.

This, this crap here, is more appealing than getting the car tested.

I would rather sit down and watch an episode of The Hills while talking to a moron about ballet and scooping out my eyes than take a car to a pre-registration test. For three weeks now I have gotten up early and ventured over to the ADNOC test centre but every time, and mean every time, the queue has been of such length that I estimate I would be celebrating my 100th birthday before I would be collecting the certificate. It is beyond a joke and no metaphor on Earth could possibly describe the sheer horror.

In Al Ain we are blessed with two test centres. The main one is in the traffic complex in Muroor, near Zakher. It is a lovely place and the queue that you must join spirals around until you come out in the middle. There are three lanes through the test bay so three vehicles can be tested at any one time. If, however, you do not fancy joining a queue that spirals in on itself, then you must drive out of town and onto the Al Ain-Dubai road. Strangely, there is one at the first service station that has a total of two test bays inside. If you get there and find that that is also snarled up then the best thing to do is drive to the top of Jebel Hafeet and hurl yourself, and your vehicle, over the edge.

No really, I do not know what to do. I have asked the engineers there when the best time to go actually is and I cannot get an accurate answer. Besides, I have been there at every conceivable hour at some point and still the queue time is measured by continental drift and the vehicles age can only be determined by carbon dating. The clock is ticking and soon the registration card will have expired and my boss will be very cross with me.

There are, according to a highly questionable report, 755,000 cars in Abu Dhabi, 300,000 of which are based in Al Ain. Car registration cards will obviously expire every day and when you minus 52 Fridays and a further 10 public holidays that means 990 cars must pass through a total of five bays each of the 303 remaining 10-hour working days; without fail. That means 99 cars per hour, split over five bays, 20 cars for each bay, each hour. In order to achieve this then the mechanics can only spend three minutes on every vehicle. Considering that each vehicle test takes approximately 15 minutes you will begin to see the obvious flaw with the system. This equation does not account for cars that fail and subsequently have to be tested again. That only causes further congestion and as such turns all the Martin Fullards of the world into that angry man from The Fast Show.

Al Ain is a small place with a population of around 800,000, why is it then that we have 12 giant supermarkets, 6 large malls, over 20 parks that most of us aren’t allowed to use, 212(!) franchised coffee outlets, an airport that receives one flight a year and at least five of the same fast-food franchises? No one needs any of this, but we do need to register our cars. For a country famed for its excess and money haemorrhaging, things in this department are sub-standard. The fact that I will have to queue for at least two hours this week, whether I like it or not, fills me with such hate that I am seriously considering my Jebel Hafeet-gravity idea.

The other week, my fiancé arranged for our hire car to be re-registered. They came, they collected and they returned within 90 minutes, all done and dusted. Where the Hell did they go? Anyone know?

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