…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.

4.  The local culture.  I will not miss the local Dubai culture as there is practically none to begin with.  An imported Uzbek bellydancing in the sand alongside an imported Egyptian camel-operator, coupled with a few Henna tattoos and a buzzard or two does not a culture make.  If I were to describe the local culture in Dubai as it is presented to a visitor, it would be one of spending vast amounts of money on showing off and nothing on anything which will not massage an ego.  Artificial islands, luxury hotels, world’s tallest tower – yet unable to keep the toilets in the international airport stocked with paper towels.  Yes, in the same place where Emaar is advertising its latest white elephant for a few hundred grand a pop, you have to dry your hands on your trousers.  And whereas many a local will extend his penis by driving around in a two hundred thousand dollar car, precious few will spend the additional eighty to get a hands-free kit installed so they can actually drive the thing without killing somebody whilst they jabber away on their phone.  Hands-free kits are not vehicles for displaying ones wealth, you see.  No, I will not miss the local culture of Dubai one bit.

5.  The sponsorship system.  This is the law by which any foreigner wishing to do business in Dubai (or indeed anywhere in the Gulf States, with the exception of a handful of free zones) must go into partnership with a local citizen and pay him a percentage (usually around 5%) or all revenues collected.  In return, if you are lucky, he will assist you in registering your business, obtaining licenses, visas, etc.  You will of course have to pay for these services in addition to the 5% sponsorship fee.  Whereas having a good sponsor can indeed make your business run smoothly and be invaluable for such areas as business development, in most cases the sponsor is utterly useless and does nothing but help himself to a percentage of your hard-won revenue by virtue of him being a local who law dictates you need.  So you end up sitting opposite some old fart in a dish-dash who boasts of being chairman of a group of companies that is in partnership with a large western corporation and between them they are very successful and making lots of money, not realising that he is only in that position by order of law, his added value to the business is approximately fuck all, and were the country opened up to proper competition he’d be bankrupt within a matter of weeks, and you have to resist the temptation to punch him in the face when he starts giving you patronising advice about running your business.

6.  Islam.  Now I don’t mean to offend adherents of this great religion, but running a country along Islamic principles is a recipe for disaster and should be sent the way of the ducking stool and the thumbscrew.  When religion becomes anything other than a private matter between willing participants, it takes on a form which is usually a farcical mutation of the original concept.  An American mother of a young child told me just before I left that, having sent her kid to an English school in Dubai, she expected her to receive an education free from the influence of Medieval Islam.  Alas no.  Firstly, having a Muslim surname, her kid was slapped into a Muslim class where she was being taught little but Islamic stuff in the sole company of Muslims.  When the mother tried to complain, the authorities insisted the father be the one they speak to, as seemingly the mother has no say in such matters as her kid’s education.  It took a letter and a personal visit to convince the authorities that depsite her surname, the child in question was not Muslim and could be educated along with the infidels.  It appears that had she been Muslim, regardless of the parents’ wishes, she would have had to endure the brainwashing which passes for education in the Islamic class.  The mother was then rather surprised to find that the child’s schoolbook had been vandalised by a censor, who had objected to a kid in a pictorial book for 3 years olds living in Church Street.  The censor had, with the aid of a large black marker pen, adjusted the fictional child’s address to simply Street.  In another example, children in a book visiting a zoo were each given a balloon with an animal on it, but the censor objected to one such balloon featuring a pig.  So he blacked it out with his marker pen, not wishing to corrupt young minds.  This, I will remind you, happened in an English school with an English principal, but unfortunately all schools in Dubai are regulated by the Ministry of Education, none of whose staff seem to have received a proper one themselves and insist on their version of Islam being applied throughout.  By some mistake at the Ministry of Education, the girl in question is looking like having to take segregated classes past a certain age, despite the school consisting mainly of expat children.  Protests by parents have fallen on deaf ears.  Education is just one example of the intrusion of backward Islamic thinking into the private lives of residents of Dubai.  One could look at the justice system, legal system, or policies of the UAE’s institutions for further evidence that the secularisation of the Gulf cannot come soon enough.

7.  Alcohol restrictions.  I never had a liquor license in Dubai, as I encountered a bureacratic minefield when I applied thanks to my residency visa being from Abu Dhabi but my place of residence Dubai.  So any drink I wanted had to be bought at duty-free or illegally from the off-licenses dotted about, a process which entailed me having to recount a lengthy explanation every time I wanted to buy a crate of Heineken.  Not so in Russia.  I can saunter into any kiosk on any street corner and buy as much beer as I want, at any time.  What’s more, I can sit and drink it in a park, I can take it with me on a taxi ride, or wander round the street with a whole bag of it if I want to.

8.  Ramadan.  I suppose this could be linked to No. 6, but it deserves a separate category.  Although it is in some ways good to be ordered to work only six hours a day before going home to loaf your tits off on the sofa, there is something very grating to me about being dictated to on pain of fine or imprisonment when and where I can drink water or eat a peanut.  Although you can get away with eating and drinking during Ramadan in many companies nowadays, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to the authorities there that non-Muslims, or Muslims for that matter, should not be forced into following Islamic rituals which are detrimental to their health (for all the crap about how starving yourself during the day and stuffing yourself at night is actually good for you, note that this comes from the lazy fat bastards who do nothing anyway; pity the poor Indians who will have to work outside in the heat of the day without drinking water thanks to the religious beliefs of a few who have never done a day’s manual labour in their lives).  Every year some old hag or other writes to the Gulf News moaning that certain residents are not “respecting Islam” by eating before iftar, thus providing confirmation (were any needed) that for some in Dubai, respecting Islam is synonymous with following Islam.  Now I don’t have a problem with Islam itself, just the assumption that everyone – whether Muslims or not – should be expected by law to follow its doctrines.  Personally, I prefer the Islam as practised by the Tatars I met in Kazan.  They drank vodka, gambled, and visited strip clubs yet prayed in the Mosque and carried prayer beads.  Some avoided pork, some fasted during Ramadan, some didn’t.  It was all down to individual choice, not leaders who command everyone starves whilst their families fuck off to London on a private jet and stuff themselves in the restaurant at Harrods.  Damn, I hated Ramadan.

9.  The boredom at weekends.  I’m not exactly a couch potato, and nor am I somebody who makes gargantuan efforts to find things to do, but damn Dubai got boring at the weekends.  In fact, once you’d got bored with the shopping malls we found nothing to do but get completely sloshed at a Friday brunch.  It was too hot to lie on the beach most of the year, and that got boring in any case.  There was nothing by way of nature to go and look at, short of a long drive to the mountains near Oman, which were utterly bereft of any vegetation and could only conceivably be visited a few times a year.  The desert sported nothing but a few scurrying lizards, and the coastline of Dubai was either flat sand or high-rise development.  One thing I really missed from the UK was being able to walk up hills, have picnics beside rivers, go for a run through some woods, have a barbecue in a remote spot, or go for a drive and look at the scenery.  I am really looking forward to getting on my hiking boots and taking my camera with me up some hills and through some forests or along the coast to see what I can see.  And after three days I have already spent two evenings at a barbecue at somebody’s dacha (which involved enormous amoounts of meat, salads, and beer), and I am sure there will be plenty more of these in the future.

On balance, I’m glad I’m out of Dubai.

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14 Responses to …the Cons

  1. Harsha says:

    Hmm, very interesting post.

    Just that, If everyplace ’round the world was the same.. it would’ve been a hell lot of boring place to live it.

  2. W. Shedd says:

    Actually, that just depends upon the version of “same” that you wish to copy. There are plenty of interesting places to live around the world that are never boring.

    I suspect none of them are in a desert though.

  3. Mo says:

    You know, you started the post so well, I was reading along with you with an smile on my face until you went into Islam-bashing mode, – I think it was distasteful. Dont expect European values from a non-European culture, and dont apply European concepts ( its not called ‘separation of mosque and state’ and for a reason ) to Islam.

    On a separate note, ever since I left Dubai I have been looking to fulfill my vow of breaking some locals face the moment I meet him outside Dubai. ;) Those guys so often deserve a punch in the mouth, too bad Dubai Police would apply draconian measures on you for it.

  4. Tim, you sound way too pissed off Man but I’ll tell you even I couldn’t come up with all that you’ve written in this post. Man, I miss my trips to Ukraine and Poland. I’ve been thrice to Ukraine since 2004: Kiev, L’viv, Kharkov and Odessa and miss those spots you cited about having a beer as you walk or in a park or in cafe while having a nice meal. I have fond memories of Ukraine and Poland especially because I’m a music (jazz & classical) freak. We’ve seen shows without paying a friggin buck as opposed to dishing out at least Dirhams 250-500 for a show here, which is not even as classy as the ones I’ve seen in Warsaw, Krakow, L’viv and Kiev.

    Best wishes Man.

    Stay cool.

    Cheers, Louis

  5. Marwan says:

    So well said, my neck aches from all the nodding in agreement.

    Here’s to hoping you have a good stay in Sakhalin.

  6. secretdubai says:

    Amen – I agree with pretty much everything.

    The pig thing is just ludicrous – there is nothing haram about the animal, it’s just that the meat is forbidden as food.

  7. Liz says:

    I agree with Mo…all your points are valid, except the Islam stuff. You can’t taint a whole religion by the way that some people practice it. It sounds to me like you didn’t do much travelling around the region to meet other Muslims and see that the way it’s done in the Gulf is not necessarily the way it’s done elsewhere. That’d be like tainting Christianity after meeting the Bible-thumping Jesus Freaks I grew up with in the Southern US. For me, what’s most egregious about Dubai is the scale of greed and how that affects everyday life here. I see it manifest in the way people drive and treat employees. Ultimately, it is what will be the downfall of this place. Good luck in Russia — one of the most corrupt — but fun — places I have ever been.

  8. mike says:

    i agree with Liz….no way can everyone be tarred with the same brush…..and regarding Ramadan, Dubai is tame compared to Saudi….

  9. Keefieboy says:

    Not planning to come back then?

  10. Tim Newman says:

    Liz et al, please read what I wrote again. I’m not dismissing the whole religion of Islam, and nor am I tarring anyone with any brush. All I am saying is that I do not like the way that Islam is incorporated into the legislation of Dubai, and how that legislation is then used by the government. As I said quite clearly:

    When religion becomes anything other than a private matter between willing participants, it takes on a form which is usually a farcical mutation of the original concept.

    And when you say this:

    It sounds to me like you didnt do much travelling around the region to meet other Muslims and see that the way its done in the Gulf is not necessarily the way its done elsewhere.

    I lived in Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar during my time in the Middle East, and could not see any discernible difference to how Islam is incorporated into law and subsequently applied beyond a few cosmetic differences. On the other hand, in my post I clearly said:

    Personally, I prefer the Islam as practised by the Tatars I met in Kazan.

    Which would rather suggest I am not dismissing the entire religion, and that I have done some travelling round to see how Muslims practice elsewhere.

  11. Rafa's red army says:

    Tim, I didn’t realise you had any views on the subject of Islam, or anything else for that matter.

  12. Sriram says:

    Great post! Tempts me to write a few accounts of the kind of things I’ve seen in Dubai..

  13. Glag2bGone says:

    Spot on brother, I left that god forsaken sand dune last August. Its great to be back in a country where your not afraid of what might happen to you if you do somethin wrong or are involved in an accident (in Dubai if you clash with a local – dont bother with a lawyer, locals win everytime no matter what). Its also nice to now be living in a place that wasnt built by slaves, I used to live in Dubai Marina, i think thats what pushed me to leave Dubai – I couldnt stand being part of what goes on there, there were construction workers half dead walking around the place, once I seen a guy getting beat up by his supervisor for what appeared to be nothing, another time a gas tank blew up at the site beside our building, within 20 minutes all the main supervisors and head engineers were surveying the damage, over an hour later 1 ambulance showed up to attend to the 6/7 injured workers. Its easy to see where priorities lay.
    Just to leave on a lighter note – ever wonder why no terrosist activty (other than active cells being present) has not taken place in Dubai? Or why the UAE official from Abu Dhabi was ‘released’ last year in Iraq when every other hostage (in most cases) were killed? Ever wonder if money is changin hands to keep out trouble? With 80-85% of the population being foreigners,they would all be out of there in a flash if ANYTHING happened,given how much the government has spent on building this materialistic city how far do you think they would go keep it safe?
    Feel free to dispute anything I have stated here, I can provide useful links to confirm.

  14. RAW says:

    hiya, hey glag2bgone, i know exactly what u & the site owner talking abt mean, well have been here 18 years now..lets say i have friends & know how, on what really is happening here, which most of the new comers dont even know or rather bother!could send me links to refer what ur talking abt & will keep u abreast of any new info i have as well…I THINK DUBAI IF THEY DONT ACT TOGETHER..U WILL SEE PLACE CRUMBLE & WELL I THINK THE DUBAI DREAM IS ONE OF THE WORLDS BIGGEST CONS!!!WILL HIGHLIGHT MORE LATER..

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