ADVENTURES IN DUBAI: YOUR FAVOURITE NUMBER ONE BLOG BRITISH DESIGNER LIVING IN DUBAI TELLS (NEARLY) ALL
Saturday, October 30, 2004
Theatre in Dubai
Say what? Theatre in Dubai? No such fing.
Well, almost. One thing that Dubai has always lacked is a proper theatre putting on proper shows. There's been a bit of a visiting dinner theatre thing (British Airways Playhouse, organised by various Nimmo's), usually staged in inappropriate hotel ballrooms. And a once-thriving amateur outfit called Dubai Drama Group, which we were active members of until 2 or 3 years ago. Oh, and I have to mention Streetwise Fringe, or I'll get my head kicked in. Owned, operated, managed and whatever else by Dubai legend Phil Duquenoy (former magician and financial adviser), he brings out several pretty good shows a year.
A few months ago a proper theatre opened at Soukh Madinat Jumeirah, but they haven't staged any acting yet - we'll have to wait and see how that goes. And there is a theatre under construction as part of the Mall of the Emirates development - this is the brainchild of Brian Wilkie, actorr of this parish, and is intended to be a community resource for the various non-profit-making thespian associations around town.
Back to the story. We quit DDG for a number of reasons - first and foremost we were tired; the new home of the Group was a lot of hassle (from being able to build and paint sets in air-conditioned luxury at the British Council, we had to try doing the same thing out of doors, no a/c, no shade even); and we had moved to Jebel Ali, so getting to rehearsals, set-building etc was a bit difficult.
So I was surprised to get a phone call about 3 weeks ago from Cynthia, ex-secretary of the Group. She asked me if I wanted to play the dame in this year's panto. Now, you have to understand that I cannot act at all. I've been in a few shows, but basically I just play me. I had to decline, but I did offer to design the set. Cynthia sent me a script, I read it, and made a list of what settery was required. That's as far as I got - I couldn't do any more without meeting the director and finding out what his ideas were. I didn't actually do anything about organising that, and for the last few weeks have intended to call Cynthia and get it sorted. But hey, I've been working, blogging or asleep. So Cynthia called me today, I apologised profusely, and she said it's ok, the director had found someone else. Oh, that's OK then, I say. BUT, says Cynthia, the other guy has fallen through (seemed to think it was a paying gig, hahaha). Dang!
I'll be tootling along to a rehearsal tomorrow night, and I must say I am looking forward to it. I haven't seen most of the current members for a very long time.
OK, here we go. I've been threatening to write something about all the outrageous construction projects going on in Dubai, but it's a bit daunting so I've kept putting it off. Mainly it's daunting because I want to do an interactive map so you can see just where and how big some of these things are. I've decided I'm unlikely to find the time do make that map in the near future, so we'll just go with the words for now.
PROJECTS UNDER CONSTRUCTION Burj Dubai, by far the world's tallest tower (720m).
Dubai Mall, the world's biggest shopping mall (by a factor of 2) .
Downtown Dubai, an urban development surrounding the two projects named above - residential, commercial, entertainment.
Mall of the Emirates, a huge mall (2.4 million leasable square feet) from the owners of Deira City Centre, includes an indoor ski resort.
The Gardens Mall, another monster mall, heavily themed on the journeys of Ibn Battuta. Includes a 20-screen cinema and an IMAX cinema - just down the road from us - can't wait for it to open!
New terminal at Dubai International Airport. This will be purely for Emirates flights, and is similar in size to the Sheikh Rashid Terminal that was opened a few years ago.
Hydropolis, an underwater hotel.
The Palm Jumeirah and The Palm Jebel Ali, (both land reclamation projects in the sea in the shape of palm trees, about 5km square, together adding 160 km to the emirate's coastline) .
The World (300 artificial islands in the shape of a map of the world - measuring 8km x 5km, access only by sea or air).
Dubai International Financial Centre , a financial 'Free Zone' aimed at becoming the regional epicentre for banking, insurance and other financial services companies.
PROJECTS ON THE DRAWING BOARD Dubailand. This is an enormous sport, leisure and entertainment project, occupying an area as big as all of the existing built-up area of Dubai. One project already announced in Dubailand is Sports City, which looks like nothing less than a fully-equipped Olympic city, complete with stadia for various things, hotels and villages.
Dubai Light Rail System - fully-automatic, trains every 3 minutes running from the Sharjah border to the Abu Dhabi border, and across town from Port Rashid to beyond the Airport.
Jebel Ali Airport. A brand-new airport, primarily for cargo and charter flights.
The Palm, Deira. Following the success of the first two Palms, a third one is being planned.
WHERE'S THE MONEY COMING FROM? Interesting question! Some of these projects are directly funded by the Government of Dubai, some by Nakheel (wholly-owned by the Govt), Emaar (a public joint stock company), and family firms such as Majid Al Futtaim and Al Futtaim Group. International investors are being sought for projects in Dubailand and DIFC.
Dubai is expanding rapidly. When we arrived 10 years ago, the population was less than half a million. Today it is just over 1 million. It is expected to hit 3 million in about 15 years. The thing that makes much of this development viable is Dubai's position as a global and regional tourist destination. There is nowhere in the Middle East or the Sub-Continent (or most of Afrcia and the CIS, come to that) that even gets close to offering the concentration of shopping and leisure activities that Dubai has. But I think the key factor is confidence. 'If you build it, they will come'.
I normally bumble through life being able to explain things quite accurately.
But things sometimes go a little bit awry when you are talking about computers. Many terms used in computing and internetting are borrowed from the real world, and the possibility for confusion is enormous. Words such as virus, banner, model, keyboard all have very different meanings in real life.
A couple of real-world examples...
I had a potential client ask me if we could produce models of buildings and landscapes. I said yes, we could do that. She asked me if she could see some examples, and a few days later I gave her a CD containing some animated fly-bys and walk-throughs that we'd done using 3D modelling software. She looked at them and said 'they're very nice, but where can I see the original models?' Mucho confusion - she was after physical architectural models, we were offering the computer-generated equivalent.
Another potential client contacted us asking for information on banners. We do do animated advertising banners for placement on websites, and asked the guy for a bit more information, such as what sizes he wanted, where would they be positioned etc. He came back and said 'size about 3 metres by .6 metres, for use at village fetes etc'. It's quite astonishing - he had approached us because we have a dedicated page on our website about advertising banners, and we think it's made quite clear that these are digital thingies for use on websites. We passed his enquiry on to a large-format printer chappie, and we hope he eventually got what he wanted.
A hypothetical example...
Doctor, I've got a virus.
I was greatly saddened to hear of the demise of John Peel. If you've never heard him, or even heard of him, you missed one of the most remarkable characters in UK broadcasting history.
John Peel was what you might call a Radio DJ. But he was much more than that. He was intelligent and possessed the dry, witty sense of humour that Brits are renowned and misunderstood for around the world.
He was always a champion of original musical talent, and helped launch the careers of numerous performers by playing music from unknown bands on his late-night radio show. Playlists? Forget it. He played what he liked. And he really did like it!
But for me, his most amazing quality was that he never, ever, lost interest in music until his dying day. At the age of 65 he was still working, still looking for the edges of the envelope.
Auld, OK, 47 and a bit! Hippie, probably not. But I've been listening to what I like to think as Auld Hippie Music this afternoon. Genesis no less (Pink Floyd, Yes, Jethro Tull and ELP also fall into this category). I wouldn't normally admit this in public, but I know nobody's reading my blog so it's OK. 30-odd years ago my fave band was Genesis, the original line-up with Peter Gabriel as frontbloke. Them were t'days, as we say in Yorkshire.
So I've been listening to classique albums like Trespass and Nursey Cryme and Foxtrot. The Return of the Giant Hogweed. Watcher of the Skies. Harold The Barrel. Honestly, nobody writes songs like that any more.
It has been one of those ridiculous weeks where I've been so busy working I've just had no time to think about anything else. At the end of last week we launched two websites for the same client; Naser Collection and John Ford Plastics. We also created an Arabic version of the Naser Collection site which will be launched as soon as the translator has checked everything.
This week we've been going crazy with the Abu Dhabi Camel Caravan and Celebration of the Arabian Horse. Both of these are for a company called Artworks, who organise these public art projects. The projects involve artists painting their designs on life-size fiberglass camels or horses. The camels are then placed on the streets for the duration of the projects, and eventually auctioned off to the highest bidder. The Camel Caravan that happened in Dubai last year raised about US$ 1.3 million for chidren and arts charities in the final auction!
Next week we expect to launch a site for Emirates International Endurance Village, which is all to do with equestrian endurance races. And we just got the final nod on the Marine Atlas of Abu Dhabi CD, which is basically the entire written content of a book, plus videos and interactive maps. So that will go into manufacture next week, and we will then start on the Arabic version. We seem to be having a bit of an animal theme season in the work that we do. Odd.
And I've been so busy that I forgot it's my birthday today! Mind you, when you get to my age you can forget almost anything with no effort whatsoever. And my age is? Forty seven. I've been thinking I was 47 for about the last three years, but now it's true!
The price of oil has hit $54 a barrel. And I'm starting to get worried.
I've lived in Dubai for about 10 years, and one of its big plus points has always been the price of petrol (about $1.50 a gallon). You would think it is so cheap because the UAE is the world's 3rd largest oil exporter, and supplies about 10% of the global requirement.
Apparently this is not the case. The retail price of petrol is set by the Federal Government. The Government has not responded at all to the recent massive rises in the global oil price. Now it seems that two of the retail chains, Enoc and Eppco (both are owned by the same company, which is 40% owned by Caltex), do not have their own supplies and actually import the stuff from as far afield as Singapore.
Yesterday Enoc/Eppco announced that they will progressively stop selling petrol at their 160-odd stations by the end of October. They will still sell diesel, and most of their gas-stations have shops, oil and lube thingies and car washes, which will remain operational. They will shut down 10 stations at a time over the next month unless the Government ups the price. They are looking for a 50% rise.
Here's the thing: Eppco / Enoc have a virtual monopoly in Dubai - the only competition is Emarat, and off-hand I can only think of about 6 of their locations - all of them a very long way from where I live.
Here's the other thing: the Federal Government is based in Abu Dhabi. The major supplier there is Adnoc. Government folk in Abu Dhabi will not be hit by this action in the slightest, and therefore will not quickly respond to the pressure. Also they are going to be pre-occupied with Ramadan, which is expected to start on Friday.
For once, I sympathise entirely with Enoc/Eppoc - they say they are losing over $350,000 a day. They are basically being forced to sell petrol at a price that is much lower than they can buy it for. No business can operate like that. And a 50% price hike is not going to hurt the average motorist in Dubai. It's time for a bit of reality.
As you all know, we are almost in Saudi Arabia, so the possibility that we could attend a pub quiz must be slim.
Our local club has a Quiz every Wednesday. We like to have a go, but have not won anything for several years. But tonight, WE WON! Outrageous, unbelievable and stuff like that.
The club has been through three quizmasters while we've been going there. The first guy had been doing it forever. He was a bit contemptful (is that a word?) of his audience, and very predictable in the format and type of questions he would ask. One week we did the quiz, and realised that he was repeating the questions from the previous week. The irony is that we didn't remember the answers from the previous week, and so we didn't win.
Anyway, that guy departed these shores eighteen months ago, and the club hired a replacement who was a complete revelation. The new guy would have different categories of questions each week, he would award random prizes for various things, he introduced the idea of the 'joker' round which you could select for a topic you felt you would do well in, and score double points, and also the 'wipeout round' where if you got one question wrong, you lost your entire score for that round. Very slick, a bit scary but very entertaining.
But after the summer break the genius did not get a new contract - apparently he was wanting more money than the club wanted to pay. So now we have a well-meaning and cute guy who is actually a member of the club, as quizmaster. He's not as much fun as the last bloke, and isn't attracting the crowds that the previous chap was drawing in. As an example, the previous guy would typically have 15-20 teams. With the new guy, tonight there were 8 or 9.
But the new guy is quite wonderful, because he asked questions that we could answer. And there wasn't a sports round (our sports knowledge is slim, to say the least). I have to say I did not expect us to win at all, especially after the penultimate round. By that stage we were maybe 10 points in the lead, but 3 teams were playing their joker on the final round, and could have overtaken us easily. But they didn't, and we finished up maintaining our 10 point lead. Stonkin!
We walked away with a voucher worth a free night out (five dirhams more than what we paid for food and drink tonight - not to be sneezed at really).
Our team fluctuates from a core of me and the missis, with an occasional other couple. Our team name also changes, to conceal our talent from the opposition. In the past we have been 'The Fridge Magnates', 'Juan Albert Tatlock' (when I've had to start alone due to late arrival of the rest of the team - there's only one Albert Tatlock...), 'And The Winners Are...' and 'The Table With the Green Ashtray'. Tonight we were 'Tired And Emotional'. Noelle was tired (almost comatose), and I was emotional, especially when we won.
You may have heard about the two Palm Island projects being built in the sea off Jumeirah and Jebel Ali. Well yesterday, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the construction of a third Palm off the coast of Deira. Incredible!
Some time soon I am going to do a series of articles on all the Dubai mega-projects already underway and planned for the future. It'll blow your mind!
I just changed the name of my blog - for the first month of its life it was called 'Adventures in Web Design'. But hey, you don't wanna hear about that, and I don't wanna write much about it either. You wanna hear about how groovy Dubai is, don't you? So now it's 'Adventures in Dubai', and I think that's much more appropriate for the kind of stuff I've written so far, and the things I have planned.
I'm English, so traditionally I only talk about the weather. However, in Dubai we don't really have weather, we have climate. In the winter the climate is very pleasant. In the summer it's viciously hot, at times reaching 49.999 degrees Centigrade.
Now the summer is over, and daytime peak temperatures are dropping. Today, we did actually have a spot of weather. We had serious fog. The reasons for fog are a bit complex, having to do with relative humidity and temperature. But basically what we had this morning was a cloud at ground level. And it was warm.
I don't like fog at the best of times, especially if I have to drive in it. In the Emirates, driving in fog is much more risky than doing it in England for the simple reason that most drivers here are not very experienced in fog and do not seem to know how to do it. I don't claim to be an expert, but I do know that you should limit your speed so that you would be able to stop safely if you encountered a stationary vehicle on the road ahead. And as the fog gets denser then your speed needs to drop correspondingly.
But many drivers here have no concept of that. They believe that because they are on a major highway, they should travel at 120 kph, or more, just as they always do. As a concession to the fog, about 30% of them will do this with their hazard lights on. About 10% of those drivers also think that full-beam headlights are a great idea.
I don't know where these people got the idea that they should use their hazard lights in fog. There doesn't seem to be anything like the British Highway Code here, so I don't know what the official legal position is on the subject. What I do know is that as a British driving licence holder I can get a UAE one simply by passing an eye test. But drivers from most Asian and African countries have to learn how to drive all over again and pass a test. The chances of any of them ever having a lesson in foggy conditions are extremely slim, so I guess they're just improvising.
Anyway, I managed to do the school run and get to the office without incident, and the fog cleared by 9 a.m. But the rest of the day remained very humid. Just thought you'd like to know.