A Murder in Beirut

Back when I lived in Dubai I spent an evening in my flat in the company of three women: an Australian, a Russian, and an Uzbek (who was staying with me at the time). We were sat around my bar drinking tequila when the Russian, who was in her mid-twenties, started telling us about the problems she was having with her boyfriend, a Lebanese chap. Two nights previously she had gone out for a drink with another Russian woman and started receiving text messages from her boyfriend. As the night wore on the messages got increasingly angry and accusatory – a pattern which many women (and men) will know well. By the time she went home, rather distressed, her boyfriend was openly accusing her of going home with another man. She went to bed and heard a pounding on the door. Then she heard glass breaking. She went downstairs to find her boyfriend had put his fist through a window and was shaking with jealous rage. She let him in and he belted her one, but after much sobbing they both calmed down. She told us she didn’t know whether she should stay with him and try to work through his anger issues. At this point I asked how long they’d been together. Two weeks, she said. I reached for another tequila.

When I lived in Dubai I heard a lot of stories about women, particularly British and Russians, getting involved with Arabic men and things getting ugly. I know a Russian woman who unwisely entered into a relationship with an Egyptian waiter who regularly beat the shit out of her in a jealous rage; she at least had the sense and courage to eventually leave him. Just as Anglo-Saxon men go funny in the head around Asian women, and Frenchmen lose their senses in Africa, European women often get all giddy over swarthy Middle Easterners. (There’s a theory that this explains why white, liberal women vote to allow more refugees and migrants in, and there is probably some truth in it – stories like this certainly lend weight to the theory, anyway.)

I remember taking an English girl out on a date in Dubai and the first thing she did when she got into my car was turn off the bluegrass, switch to the radio, and retune the damned thing! She entered some station called Habibi (love, in Arabic) and explained the songs alternate between English and Arabic and she and her Lebanese ex used to listen to it. Bear in mind we’d barely left the car park at this point. She breathlessly went on about how charming the Lebanese are, and how romantic they can be, but he was shagging anything that moved and she dumped him (or him her, I wasn’t paying much attention). I’ll leave you to guess how the rest of the date went. I also met up with a Ukrainian girl who within minutes handed me a photo album four inches thick. I flicked through pictures of what looked like a group of gangsters in tracksuits stood beside a murky river a mile wide (this was her family on holiday) and found myself wading through a hundred photos of some dodgy looking Lebanese stood beside a pimped-out Camaro. She then rabbited on about how this guy was the love of her life, and very charming, and bought her flowers, and…you get the picture. Only he was “crazy”.

Now I actually got to know some of the Lebanese men in Dubai, one of whom became a good mate of mine (I stayed with him and his family in Beirut in 2010). He told me two things. Firstly, Lebanese men are only interested in serious relationships with Lebanese women, ones who their family will approve of. There are a few exceptions, but it’s a general rule that Lebanese men intend to marry a Lebanese woman (preferably a virgin) at some point, but until then they want to shag as many loose women as they can, regardless of quality. The Lebanese are descended from Phoenicians, and are first and foremost traders. The thing they like selling most of all is themselves, and Lebanese men are particularly gifted at telling gullible western women exactly what they want to hear in order to get them into bed. British men, when viewed alongside, seem plodding and unromantic. Secondly, my friend said a lot of the Lebanese men you encounter are rather low-class, hailing from farms in the mountains rather than universities in Beirut.

There’s something I observed, and learned the hard way myself, in my travels around the world. Working out the class background of somebody is extremely difficult if you’re not from their culture. I can pick out a British chav in seconds simply by the clothes, habits, and vocabulary. I’ve learned to do it with Russians too, but that took some time. Otherwise, if I’m honest, I have no idea who’s who when I first encounter them. This poses a problem for men turning up in Thailand, for example. They have no idea that the girl they met in the bar is actually a peasant from the jungle on the Cambodian border who grew up in hut and has four years of schooling. Middle-class Thai women exist, but they don’t mingle with foreigners on holidays and sure as hell don’t dance on tables in bars in Pattaya and go home with some fat fuck on the back of a scooter. A lot of the guys who turned up in Sakhalin didn’t realise the pretty, seemingly-classy women they fell in love with spoke a rough version of Russian littered with profanity and grammatical errors – something which would mark them out as lower-class in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

When I was in Lagos I had a colleague who was British-Nigerian, and he’d married a British-Nigerian woman. She came out to visit for a while and joined us at the pool in the Eko Hotel. There’s a bar area next to it which is a favourite spot for the local prostitutes to pick up expats, and my colleague’s wife saw this and her eyes went wide. What stunned her was that these western men were talking and canoodling with absolute, low-grade peasant women, the types ordinary Nigerians stay well clear of. Being a middle-class Nigerian she could see what class of women they were, but the expat men couldn’t. She was still talking about how shocked she was when she came to leave two weeks later. Similarly, my well-educated and middle-class Turkish friend is absolutely astounded by the willingness of British and Russian women to sleep with Turkish barmen, waiters, and boatmen who come from remote villages in the country’s east and can barely read, write, and hold cutlery. These women would never in a million years be interested in some villager from their own countries, but faced with a swarthy foreigner they can’t pick his class and are blinded by the exoticism. The same was true for the girls who dated Lebanese men in Dubai.

This is all a very long-winded prelude to my comments on this story:

Police in Lebanon investigating the murder of a British woman who worked at the UK embassy in Beirut have arrested a man, a source has said.

Ms Dykes, who is believed to have been in her early 30s, had been working in Beirut as the programme and policy manager for the Department for International Development since January 2017.

It is thought Ms Dykes had spent Friday evening at a going-away party for a colleague in the popular Gemmayzeh district of Beirut, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Martin Patience said.

After leaving the bar at about midnight it appears she was abducted. Her body was found close to a motorway on the outskirts of the city.

What I’m about to say is complete speculation, and I may be completely wrong. It may well be that Ms Dykes was jumped by a complete stranger when alone outside a nightclub in Beirut and murdered, that is indeed possible. But I’ve been to Beirut and it’s not really that kind of place, especially where expats hang out. There is terrorism there, and political violence and kidnappings, but it’s never been known as a place that’s unsafe for foreign women. Your average Lebanese is a pretty decent sort and if a western woman has been abducted and murdered fresh off the street it is a very unusual occurence.

Which makes me think she knew the guy who killed her. Whereas I can’t imagine a Lebanese guy deciding to abduct a stranger, I can well believe a Lebanese guy could fly into a rage and murder his western girlfriend. Let’s do some more speculation, the kind of which her family wouldn’t want to read. She’s around 30 and there’s no mention of a husband or kids, so we can assume she was single. She works for the Department of International Development so she’s probably a bit of a lefty, maybe a do-gooder type. Lefty, do-gooder women in their 30s often have this bizarre belief that the greatest danger to their well-being is from old, white men and foreign thugs won’t hurt them. Indeed, I’d hazard a guess that any sexual harassment training women get in the Department of International Development – even in the embassy in Beirut – talks more about white men making lewd remarks than foreign thugs who view western women as nothing more than sluts.

So here’s my guess. She arrived in Lebanon in January and started frequenting the expat bars and nightclubs. At some point she’s got into a relationship with a local (or perhaps someone from a nearby country) without having any idea what the guy was like, or his history. She’d have been blinded by the initial charm and exoticism, and assumed he was the same as the educated Lebanese she’d met at work. The embassy would – like everyone else – have heard plenty of horror stories about western women who get entangled with the wrong sort of local men, but don’t want to actually warn their staff about it as that would deviate from the approved narrative. The result is a dead employee.

We probably won’t ever hear the truth about this case and I might be completely wrong anyway, but I reckon the smart money is on the killer being someone she was (or had been) romantically involved with and he won’t have a university degree.

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VOIP in the UAE

Further to yesterday’s post on Uber, there’s an interesting analogy with governments banning the service: the UAE government’s ban on VOIP calls.

The reason for this ban is succinctly explained in a comment on this forum:

In Dubai there are only two telecom service providers which are Du and Etisalat, Du has monopoly in Dubai and Etisalat has monopoly in Abu Dhabi, both of these service providers managed to convince government to stop Skype,facetime and whatsapp calling giving security reasons but in actual these service providers want to mint money because in UAE around 80% population is expat so they need ISD service and if these services can be availed through internet then these telecom providers would not be able to mint money.

In Simple terms to mint money they banned these services.

Naturally, as the commenter above says, the UAE government cited security concerns as a justification for the ban, claiming the VOIP services provided by the likes of Skype, WhatsApp and Facetime are not “secure” and don’t comply with the national telecoms regulations. This is why when you buy an Apple product in the UAE it doesn’t have the Facetime app loaded and it’s not accessible from the Apple store. I don’t know how they block users who already have it loaded, but they managed to block Skype over the fixed-line connections by detecting when it was in use. Most people I knew who lived there simply signed up to a VPN which bypassed all these restrictions.

As far as I can tell the ban is still in place but it’s becoming increasingly embarrassing for a country that is trying to present itself as ultra-modern and forward-thinking:

Internet restrictions in the UAE, especially banning video and voice calling through social networks such as Snapchat and Whatsapp has not only reportedly angered users living across the country, but also pushed Saeed Al Remeithi, the UAE Federal National Council’s (FNC) youngest member to query the country’s internet restrictions.

Remeithi voiced his opinion openly during an FNC session yesterday, saying that the UAE representatives were “embarrassed in the international federation by this issue,” citing the United Nations declaration that internet use is a human right.

However, Hamad Al Mansouri, the head of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority attributed these restrictions to state security and cyber-terrorism concerns saying: “The security factor is important in the country. If we neglect it, online calling will impose risks.”

And put a huge dent in the revenues of those with vested interests in the status quo, much like taxi drivers the world over.

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The Laws in Dubai

I meant to comment on this earlier:

A British woman has been charged with having extra-marital sex in Dubai after reporting she was raped, according to a UK-based legal advice group.

The Detained in Dubai group said the woman was arrested after she claimed she was raped by two British men.

The woman, who is in her 20s, was reportedly attacked by two men from Birmingham while she was on holiday.

And according to the Daily Mail:

Last year, Ms Waterman Smith waived her anonymity to reveal how she was raped when her attackers tampered with her drink at the Rock Bottom Bar in the Regent Palace Hotel.

Here’s a thing a lot of people don’t know about Dubai: the laws there can not only be very strict, but they are also flouted so brazenly people forget they exist.  For instance, it is illegal to drink in Dubai unless one of the following is the case:

1) You drinking in the bar of a hotel in which you are resident, i.e. a paying guest.

2) You are a resident of Dubai or one of the other Emirates and you hold a liquor-license.

In other words, if you are drinking in a bar at a hotel in which you are not resident, you are breaking the law.  The problem is, everyone does this, and the whole place is set up to allow this.  At least one bar – the Irish Village under the tennis stadium – is not attached to any hotel, yet is packed with tourists.  Provided there are no problems, the authorities turn a blind eye.

Also, it is illegal for a man and woman to share a hotel or residence in Dubai unless they are married.  Enforcing this law would destroy the tourist industry overnight, but that is the law nonetheless and if you live in one of the smaller hotels you will sometimes be asked by the hotel staff to prove you are married if you’re trying to bring a girl home.  Which can be a bit difficult if you don’t know her name, as I have seen once with an Arab trying to sneak a prostitute into his quarters.  So if a British woman turns up with her boyfriend in Dubai for a weekend stopover on the way to Thailand and they check into a hotel together, technically they are in breach of the law.  Again, none of this is a problem – until something goes wrong.  Then, usually for the first time, somebody finds out what the law actually says.

Islamic laws apply in Dubai, and they say that a woman is not allowed to be alone in a hotel room with a man who is not her husband.  This is based on the belief that a woman who is alone in a hotel room with a man who is not her husband might have sex with him, and that is prohibited in Islamic law.  Now this might be a bit backward, but that’s how they think.  And the law is also there because they believe a woman alone in a hotel room with a strange man or men might be subject to an attack, and to prevent this they simply make it illegal for her to be in that position in the first place.  It might be illiberal, unfair, misogynistic, etc. but it is not inherently stupid, and it avoids them having to get into the “he said/she said” arguments which plague all such cases everywhere else.

I know Rock Bottom Bar, it is an absolute shithole with a sticky carpet – or at least it was when I was there in 2003-6.  It is chock-full of wasted tourists, and it is a meat-market for those looking for a pick-up.  The bar is well named, which is more than can be said for the hotel itself: there is little that is regal or palatial about the Regent Palace.  I never knew of anyone who stayed there, and would guess the bar provides the bulk of its revenue.  Those people staggering back to a hotel in the company of somebody they just met are unlikely to be met with a sympathetic hearing from the authorities if something goes wrong.

Of course, if she was raped then an appalling crime has occurred.  But the authorities are in a difficult position here: the law says she should not have been with them in the first place, precisely to avoid unpleasantness like this.  Us westerners might not like this law, but that is how the Emiratis govern themselves, and to be fair they give tourists and expats a free pass on this – until something goes wrong and their hand is forced.  When the woman concerned made the complaint she didn’t know the law, and she has now compelled them to enforce it.  If they turn a blind eye then locals – who are more closely policed on such matters than tourists, especially women – will be entitled to ask why the law is not being applied in such an obvious case, and will likely think her being white and Western is the reason (pity the Bangladeshi maids who have been imprisoned and flogged for minor offences).

This will be the case regardless of whether the men are charged with rape or not: the reports are unclear as to whether the two men will be charged, are on bail, or are free to leave but the two offences are separate as I understand it.  Now it may turn out that the woman gets charged and jailed and the men go free without anyone taking her claims seriously, which would be pretty awful.  But it might also be the case that the police take her seriously but don’t have any evidence except for her say-so that she was raped, and aren’t prepared to put them on trial just to make the country look more modern (as if rape trials in Western countries are not fraught with problems).

The accusations of drink tampering only serve to make things worse: the Dubai police will know Rock Bottom well, and the type of place that it is.  Perhaps there have been other cases of drinks being spiked in there, and if so the police would know about it: more complaints would have been forthcoming, and undercover policemen – who frequent the bars – would see it.  Also, the bar managers and security would be keeping a sharp eye-out: the last thing they want is a police investigation.  That’s leaving aside the issue of where a date-rape drug would be bought from.  Sex isn’t hard to come by in Dubai, the place being rammed full of prostitutes.  Drugs might be easily obtained (I have no idea), but I think the police would take some convincing that she had her drink spiked and wasn’t just hammered.  If the two men were residents, the police might consider it a possibility.  If they were tourists, no chance.  I hope to hell she didn’t make up the bit about her drink being tampered to cover for her being totally wasted on tequila, leading the police to doubt her entire story.

I am not writing this in defence of Dubai or the prevailing Islamic laws, I don’t like either the place or the way it is run, which is why I left.  However, I don’t think berating the Dubai police is exactly fair either: rape accusations are notoriously difficult to deal with anywhere, and they have tried to avoid their occurrence by applying laws which I don’t agree with, but then I’m not in charge.  It might simply be the case there is no evidence that a rape occurred, which of course is not proof that it did not, only that charges cannot be pressed with the hope of a conviction.  One could argue that the Dubai authorities should do more to inform visitors of what the laws are, but had they done so would the woman in question have stayed home with a book and given Rock Bottom a wide berth?  I doubt it.  There are serious issues with the way women are treated in Dubai and the wider Middle East, particularly as regard equality under the law and sexual assault/rape.  I just don’t think this is the best case to put forward as an example of why things ought to change.

If she did go to Rock Bottom, have her drink spiked, and was then raped she has my every sympathy.  If that was indeed the case, I think the Dubai authorities will figure this out and find a way to drop the charges in a face-saving manner, which they may do anyway even if they don’t believe her.  What the British press needs to do is resist the temptation to stand on their soapbox and piss off the Emiratis so that they throw the book at her just to make a point.

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Even More on Carrier Bags

This is the post I know you’ve all been waiting for!  Further to my previous two posts on carrier bags, I now have something more to add.

Back in August I said that my local supermarket had stopped providing free carrier bags and everyone jumped on me by saying you can buy them for only 5p.  Only I couldn’t, because my supermarket wasn’t selling them.  But now they’ve given us an alternative: a strong, American-style paper bag with handles that looks like this:

They cost 23 cents each.  Last night I bought one because I found myself needing a couple of bottles of milk, a bottle of some sugary fizzy shite that I drink, and a bottle of wine and I didn’t have room in my gym bag.  As I was walking the few hundred metres home I noticed the handles were cutting into my hand, and that carrying more than one in each hand would be damned near impossible.  Plus they’d lose all their strength if they got wet.  You know what I did with it when I got home?  I put it straight in the bin.  What the hell am I going to use it for?  It is too big when folded flat to go into a pocket, and it’s useless for lining a bin, wrapping shoes, or any other purpose to which a secondhand plastic bag can be used.

Maybe it is because my supermarket is a “metro” style one in a nice suburb that these are on offer and traditional carrier bags are unavailable, but I am still convinced that whoever decided free plastic bags should be replaced by inferior paper bags at 23 cents each didn’t have poor, single mothers with no car in mind when they campaigned for it.  No, like my French acquaintance – who no longer speaks to me following an initial argument over the original post and another row over my mentioning her in the follow-up – they will be wealthy middle-class and living a short walk from the nearest supermarket either alone, or with a car in the basement.  Or both.  The types who buy overpriced organic avocados and wear complete Nike outfits when they go to their gym classes.  Now that’s probably enough snark for today.

Staying on topic, there was a rather revolting story doing the rounds on social media the other day about a camel in the UAE having eaten a load of plastic and dying.  I have looked for it online but it seems to be one of those stories that gets recycled every few years, only the name of the camel changes each time.  Anyway, the premise of these articles goes like this:

1. A camel has died in the UAE by eating discarded plastic, some of which is carrier bags.

2. GLOBAL BAN ON PLASTIC BAGS NOW!!!

Whereas my first reaction, having lived in the UAE, was how’s about they get the ignorant, arrogant, self-centred assholes who inhabit that part of the world to strop strewing litter all over the place?  This would do more for the wellbeing of camels than banning carrier bags in Parisian supermarkets, surely?

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Christians Intolerant of Others at Christmas

This report via the Khaleej Times:

MANY shops and businesses in London continued to withold presents during the days of Christmas at their outlets in violation of the law, John Smith, a resident of Baron’s Court complained to the Khaleej Times Hotline.

“Even after Christmas Eve many of the Iranian and Turkish shops around Leicester Square continued to function as usual. I do not know how they can do it without having any consideration for the hundreds of thousands who are at home enjoying their presents.” “Shops and business’ owners should give presents from their premises. It is not just a violation of law but it is a matter of respect for all those who are celebrating Christmas,” he said.

“With many outlets so openly being mean when they should be giving presents to the public during the Christmas period, the officials should intensify their inspection efforts to curb these malpractices,” he added.

SPEAKING to Khaleej Times, Tony Taylor, Director of Compliance Department, London West, said: “No shops and businesses are allowed to hoard presents on their premises during the Christmas period. The errant outlets will face fines and penalties.”

“During the Christmas period, it is a mark of respect to the faith and belief of those celebrating that others do not refuse to give presents. However, taking into consideration the cosmopolitan culture of London, many shops and businesses have been issued temporary licences to be exempt from the obligation to deliver presents. The public can pick up presents from these places but are not expected to open them on the premises. Outlets flouting the regulation will be subject to fines ranging from £1,000 to £2,000,” he added. Those shops that do not have a licence for witholding presents but need to prepare presents for Christmas Day are permitted to open the outlet but they must not be refusing presents to whomever wants one. By not abiding with the regulations, these outlets can be fined from £2,000 to £4,000,” he said.

Makes me ashamed to be a Brit, that does.

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A Wedding in Dubai

Now that we are in full possession of our marriage certificate….hang on, I’ve made a mistake there.  My wife is in full possession of our marriage certificate, following the advice of my father that the woman should be its custodian as she is unlikely to ever want to deny the marriage took place, whereas the man….

So, now that my wife is in full possession of our marriage certificate, I think it’s now safe to comment on the process of getting married in the UAE.  As you can imagine it was not particularly easy, largely because the information on how to go about it is a bit sketchy and contradictory in places.  Having scoured a few websites and ringing the British consulate, I managed to get a rough idea of what to do.  And as there are probably quite a few Brits wishing to marry in Dubai in the future, I thought I’d describe how we went about it such that it may serve as a useful guide for other couples.  Bear in mind this only applies to a Protestant Brit marrying a Communist Russian, and I’ve heard Catholics have to go through a more complicated process.  Jews, of course, should by now have been put to the sword and have no business trying to get married in Dubai. Continue reading

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…the Cons

Things I will not miss about Dubai:

1.  The weather and humidity in summer.  I might retract this statement after a winter in Russia.

2.  Censored internet.  Blocking anything which is deemed to be contrary to the “moral, political, or cultural values of the United Arab Emirates” is the action of a government which believes it could find itself strung up from lamposts should the population become better informed.  I will be glad when I am no longer affected by this paranoia.

3.  The traffic.  For a small city by international standards, Dubai has a serious problem in this regard.  Unfortunately, there is no way to take an alternative route in Dubai, largely due to there being only a few major arteries and unavoidable bottlenecks at the Creek crossings.  It is also difficult to change your travel times to avoid traffic, as nowadays there appears to be gridlock between the hours of 7:30am and about midnight.  No longer can you nip across town at 10:30am once the morning rush has subsided, it is the same story all day.  By contrast, a traffic jam in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is defined as more than 20 cars stopped at a junction where there are roadworks or an accident.  And after three junctions, you are across town. Continue reading

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Rip-Off Britain

On Sunday I bought a North Face down jacket in preparation for my move to Sakhalin, almost identical to this one for sale in Cotswold Outdoor for £145.  I paid £53 for mine, a saving of £92, or 64%.

I can expect the usual glib replies that the one I bought is probably fake, but I’m betting these will come from Brits who cannot comprehend the degree to which they are being shafted by their own retailers.

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Rip-Off Britain

Yesterday evening I bought this Fujitsu-Siemens laptop, identical except mine has a 200Gb hard drive capacity instead of the 120Gb on the one advertised.

Had I bought it in the UK, as the advert shows, I would have paid £1209 including the VAT.  As I bought it in Dubai, I paid £670.  That is a saving of £539, or 45%.  Yes, I am sure you could get it cheaper than £1209 in the UK by not buying direct from Fujitsu-Siemens, but even so the consumers in the UK are being shafted royally.

If anybody asks you why some of us prefer to live in a 50 degree desert or minus 40 tundra than stay at home, be sure to direct them to this post.  Rip-off Britain is still alive and well.

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The Pros…

Things I will miss about Dubai:

1.  The weather in late Autumn and early Spring.  This cannot be beaten.

2.  The swimming pool on the roof of my apartment block.  I doubt I’ll have one of these in Sakhalin.  Maybe a skating rink, but not a swimming pool.

3.  Multi-screen cinemas.

4.  The shopping malls.  Normally avoided, I will surely miss being able to buy all manner of clothes, household goods, and electronics all under one roof.  The first time I need a new pair of jeans, I know I’ll be wishing the Bur Jamman Centre had a branch in Yuzhno.

5.  Driving about in a Mercedes coupe.

6.  Clean streets.  I know they are covered in litter and sand, but at least it’s dry dirt.  Your car doesn’t get covered in sludge, and your shoes don’t need a polish every day.

7.  Being able to nip out to the grocery store without changing clothes or putting on a jacket.

8.  The abundance of electrical and computer shops, and the prices at which they sell stuff.

9.  The Viceroy bar in the Four Point Sheraton hotel, and one or two other bars and restaurants.

10.  Seing the sun shine every day without fail.

11.  The Fillipino band in the Sea View hotel.

12.  Cans of Pepsi for 1 Dirham.

13.  Proximity to a major airport served by a pretty decent airline, and a superb geographic location for travelling.

14.  Scuba diving.  Although I’ve heard you can do this in Sakhalin, if you bring a pickaxe with you.

15.  Watching live Premiership football immediately after work on a Saturday and Sunday.

16.  MBC2.  I know they show a lot of crap, but I’m going to miss it.  I really liked how they had no watershed for showing 18-rated films.  You could wake up on a Friday morning and find yourself watching an uncut Platoon.

17.  The general benevolance, or laziness, of the police.  They leave you alone, which is good.  I’m going to yearn for this after a year in Russia.

18.  Dirt cheap petrol.

19.  Seeing Dubai’s megaprojects completed.  I know half of them won’t be, and the other half will be white elephants, but I’d still liked to have seen the Burj Dubai and The Palm finished.

20.  The guarantee of doing next to bugger-all at work in the three months of summer and a month of Ramadan.

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