ADVENTURES IN DUBAI: YOUR FAVOURITE NUMBER ONE BLOG BRITISH DESIGNER LIVING IN DUBAI TELLS (NEARLY) ALL
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Dubai's New Theatre
About six or seven years ago, BetterArf and I were at a Dubai Drama Group social evening, at the home of Brian and Sami Wilkie. They are both hugely talented actors, and successful businesspersons. They had just sold a business and were planning to ease off 'work'. Or rather, embark on a new challenge. Brian announced that they were going to start a project to build a proper theatre in Dubai. We were all dead impressed. They were somehow going to raise about Dhs 12 million to build this thing.
After going through many changes of location, design, massive increases in budget, hurdles, hassles, hoops and hullabaloo, the Dubai Community Theatre And Arts Centre (DUCTAC) finally opened its doors just before Christmas last year. It is located on the roof of The Mall Of The Emirates.
I have not had a chance to visit the place previously, but two nights ago BetterArf had a DDG Romeo and Juliet rehearsal there, and I went along to take photos. I have to say I was blown away. The main theatre (CentrePoint) is magnificent. When I heard it was going to be a 500-seater, I thought it would be too big for the kind of shows that were likely to happen there. But having seen it I must say it is one of the best theatre spaces I have ever been in. It is warm and intimate. Sightlines are excellent, acoustics are lovely, you almost feel you could reach out and touch the actors. It is amazing. It's also very red, which I'm sure helps with the intimacy and warmth.
There is a smaller studio space with retractable seating, and the Arts Centre with galleries, studios etc.
SHAMELESS PLUG Get your bottoms along to DUCTAC this weekend to see DDG perform Romeo and Juliet.
There are two shows tomorrow, March 2 (3pm and 7pm) and two on Saturday (same times). Tickets are a paltry Dhs 50. It's an excellent production that combines elements of the traditional and the modern. Don't miss it! You'll also get to see MamaDuck, who, in case you didn't know, is a remarkably talented actor.
But you knew that really, didn't you? I could no more quit blogging than I could climb Mount Everest. I just wish you could blog without having to sit in front of a computer or any other electronic device - maybe scribble your words on the side of a goat or something, and squeeze it's whatnot to send it through the goatosphere. I mean, I spend virtually all of my working day sitting in front of a computer, so really I'm not that thrilled to spend 'leisure' time doing the same thing.
But I expect that's the case for most of my readers.
Being almost quite old, I can remember black and white TV, white dog poo (because dog food in the olden days comprised mostly bonemeal, according to an article I read recently but can't be bothered to look up right now), and the complete absence of computers in the home. I was aware of these wardrobe-sized machines that could do maths, but they existed only in a few universities and really big businesses.
I actually worked in a Computer Centre for six months during a two-year-long 'gap year'. I could have invented that term, but sadly I didn't - I was too busy wandering round aimlessly trying to 'find myself' - we didn't have a phrase for that either. This place had big blue machines (IBM) and big orange machines (ICL). That period of my life is worth a post of its own, but for now I'll just say that I knew a bit about computers and they were bloody big things and there was no way that an individual could ever want or need or afford anything like it in their home.
How wrong was I? About as wrong as some famous dude who said, on the invention of the IBM Personal Computer 'the global market for PCs is about five, or six if the Pentagon buys one'.
Anyhoo, in our house we now have 2 fully-functional laptops, two semi-functional laptops and one desktop PC. Between 2 people. We have previously recycled defunct PCs to a Sri Lankan friend of ours who can actually be bothered to fix them up and send them to his family back home (warm glow of satisfaction).
But I digress. Yes, I do.
To those of you who commented on my last post, looking forward with baited breath to some kind of cataclysmic anti-UAE diatribe when I finally leave this country, I hate to disappoint you. That is not going to happen. If you have a boat, don't burn it. Salutory lesson here. I will still have some business here in this wonderful, surreal country, and I do expect to come back occasionally. Getting a bit mellow in my old age, aren't I?
I mentioned yesterday that BetterArf had bought me a crocodile. No, of course it's not a real one, it's a fairly realistic 8cm-long plastic model. The reason I wanted it was because I was putting the finishing touches to a new website, and what some of the pages really needed were pictures of crocodiles.
By the way, the site in question is called The Joking Cousins Of Xanadu-du, and it combines elements of social networking, blogging and a kind of virtual world. We're calling it 'tribal networking'. It's a project I'm doing in partnership with an old buddy in the UK, and the aim is to raise lots of money for desperately poor communities in Mali, Africa.
You're all invited to visit the site to find out more. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Actual paid memberships even more so!
For God's sake, what is wrong with this region? We have heard of bloggers being arrested, Mahmoud in Bahrain is facing a defamation case, and now an Egyptian blogger has been sentenced to four years in jail for 'insulting Islam and [Egyptian president/dictator] Hosni Mubarak'. Egyptian Blogger Gets 4Years
What the hell is wrong with Middle East governments? Are they so weak that they cannot stand a little criticism? Is it the end of the world when somebody points out that Egypt's Mubarak is a dictator? This is not exactly news, now is it? As for 'insulting Islam', why is that considered a crime? People everywhere have different views of various religions, not all of which would be welcomed by the followers of those religions. But to throw people in jail for speaking their minds is just totally barbaric.
I'm sorry, people think what they think, and you cannot stop them from doing it. Governments cannot legislate that people must think what they think. Not real governments, anyway. I have always been unable to understand why such a populous country as Egypt, supposedly a democracy, has allowed Mubarak to continue in power for so long. They have the political mechanisms to get rid of him, don't they?
But here's the point. Nobody, in any place or at any time, should be threatened with jail time for simply saying what they believe, unless they have actually slandered, libelled or defamed someone. Journalists, bloggers, the average Abdul on the street should be free to say what they like: how can it be otherwise?
Throwing people in jail, blocking blogs, closing down newspapers, imposing censorship. These are all, ultimately, pointless, inhumane, barbaric activities. They show lack of respect for individual God-given rights. No Government can legitimately take those rights away from people. I am disgusted by the actions of the Egyptian government in this case.
You'll be pleased to know I've almost recovered from the spectacular hangover that I woke up with this morning. And I can remember a fair amount of last night's events.
My plan yesterday was to get a taxi and arrive at Media City for the Roger Waters gig by about 6pm. The gig was scheduled to start at 8.30, and I had little doubt that it would do so. There was a slight problem with BetterArf - she had to be at a photo-shoot for the Dubai Drama Group's upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet. This was at the Mall of the Emirates and was due to finish at 8pm. So, just about enough time for the several cast members who were also attending the concert to get down to the venue.
However, during the afternoon, BetterArf called me to say she wasn't feeling great and was going to give the gig a miss. But she had arranged an alternative wife to accompany me for the night, as long as I promised to behave myself. Alternative wife was then put onto the phone. Sounded a lot like DubaiBilly to me! Hah.
As the day went on, our plans to meet up changed several times, and eventually he arrived at my house at 7pm. I ordered a taxi, we drank a beer or two and waited. Taxis normally arrive in about ten minutes, but by 7.30 there was no sign. So we decided to walk down to Ibn Battuta Mall - there are always stacks of taxis there, but they never ever respond to calls for bookings. I guess we arrived at Media City a bit before 8pm. Plenty of time to get in and get a few beers and then enter the arena where we found a nice place to stand near the back of the huge crowd. I'm told there were 15,000 people there: this is big for Dubai, but it is actually the smallest venue that Waters is playing on this tour.
I have to say at this point that I'm always a bit wary when attending gigs in Dubai - the organisational skills, or lack thereof, of the promoters can make or break the experience, no matter how good the performers are. Fortunately this one was organised by Richard Coram's 'The Talent Brokers', and they certainly know what they are doing. Service at the bar was rapid, the toilets were clean and plentiful, the queue to get in was rapidly processed. Actually the bar was amazing. As is normal at these kind of events, you have to buy vouchers for your drinks first. Then you queue again to actually get the stuff. But at this bar there was no queueing - there were about twenty Filipina girls, each standing behind a Fosters font. We were spoilt for choice of which one would fulfil our order! Marvellous.
In the arena itself, the stage was set. At the back of the screen there was a huge LED screen showing an image of a table top with an old-fashioned radio, an ashtray, and a whiskey bottle and glass. At 8.30 on the dot, a hand appeared on the screen, twiddled the tuning dial (soundtrack: white noise, a snatch of Abba, a bit of a news broadcast, and then: Pink Floyd). The lights came up, the band were there, and off we went! The stage was flanked by two massive video screens showing close-ups of the action.
The small print on the tickets said that photography was not allowed and cameras would be confiscated, so I left my camera at home. Actually I might have got away with bringing it - security at the entrance was fairly lax, and within the arena it was either very discrete or non-existent. But everyone and his dog was recording the show on their phones. I took a few totally terrible photos with my phone: here's one of them...
The first song concluded with a kind of Mexican wave of fireworks in front of the back screen - left to right at the top, then right to left from the bottom, and repeat.
Here's the set list (stolen from somewhere else - I was too entranced to take notes myself).
In the Flesh? Mother Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun Shine on You Crazy Diamond Have a Cigar Wish You Were Here Southampton Dock The Fletcher Memorial Home Perfect Sense 1 & 2 Leaving Beirut Sheep
Dark Side of the Moon: Speak to Me/Breathe On the Run Time The Great Gig in the Sky Money Us and Them Any Colour You Like Brain Damage Eclipse
Encore: Another Brick in the Wall (part 2) Vera Bring the Boys Back Home Comfortably Numb
Highlights for me were 'Leaving Beirut' and 'Perfect Sense 1 & 2'. 'Leaving Beirut' was very cleverly done. In the recorded version Roger does a voiceover that explains the story. On this tour, he doesn't do that, but there is a wonderful cartoon-style video on the big screen that explains the story and highlights some of the lyrics. The line 'not in my name Tony, you great war leader you' got the biggest cheer of the evening. 'Perfect Sense', from 'Amused to Death', is one of my absolute favourite pieces of music, especially the verse that is sung by P.P. Arnold:
When you add it all up The tears and the marrowbone There's an ounce of gold And an ounce of pride in each ledger And the Germans kill the Jews And the Jews kill the Arabs And the Arabs kill the hostages And that is the news And is it any wonder that the monkey's confused He said Mama Mama, the President's a fool Why do I have to keep reading these technical manuals And the joint chiefs of staff And the brokers on Wall Street said Don't make us laugh, you're a smart kid Time is linear Memory's a stranger History is for fools Man is a tool in the hands Of the great God Almighty And they gave him command of a nuclear submarine Sent him back in search of the Garden of Eden
All I can say is Wow. The performers were faultless, the sound, light, special effects and pyrotechnics were all stunning. I might quibble that the man himself did not connect with audience in any way, but you can't have everything. In fact, come on Keefie, it was the best gig you've ever been to right? Well, yes, says Keefie, it really was. Sensational.
Getting home was slightly problematic. I'd lost DubaiBilly near the end when I went to the loo and couldn't find him again, but we were heading off in different directions anyway and the alternative wife thing was going nowhere. I had expected to see a fleet of several thousand taxis outside the venue, but guess what? Another cock-up by Dubai Transport: not a single taxi to be had. So I started trekking over some fairly rough ground in the direction of the Hard Rock Café - there's usually a few taxis there. In my tired and emotional state I tripped over something, grazed my knee quite badly and acquired a massive bruise on my thigh. But I was feeling no pain: the phrase 'Comfortably Numb' springs to mind. I did eventually get a cab, and I suspect that Ahmad from Pakistan got a gigantic tip.
BetterArf said I was very relaxed when I got home. And I was happy too: not only have I just seen the best gig of my life, but she's bought me a crocodile*.
Tomorrow night, Roger Waters, 'the Creative Genius of Pink Floyd', is playing a gig on the grass across the lake from my office. Instead of just working late and enjoying a free, but invisible, show, I have bought tickets.
I've been an admirer, rather than a rabid fan, of Pink Floyd since, ooh, seems like forever. But I lost the plot a bit when Waters left in 1985 (Wright had already been fired), reasoning that none of them on their own could be anything like as good as all of them together. This was proved to me about four years ago when BetterArf and Offspring got me a post-split Floyd CD, 'the Division Bell'. Not shite exactly, but nothing at all to write home about. I lost interest in them really, so when Roger Waters played Dubai about three years ago I just ignored it. Waters had got such totally bad press from the other members of the band after the split that I might have been more interested in buying tickets for a gig by Satan himself.
What changed my mind was seeing Waters and the Floyd reunited at the Live 8 London gig in 2005. I Limewired a track by Waters called 'Leaving Beirut'. This doesn't appear on any album but is as beautiful and moving as any song that Pink Floyd ever recorded. After that I bought Waters' operatic double-album 'Ca Ira', followed by 'Amused to Death'. He truly is a genius.
So when it was announced that he was heading this way again (and at Media City, rather than the, for me, inaccessible Tennis Stadium), that was definitely a date for my diary. He's gonna do Dark Side of the Moon and other Floyd hits, but I hope he'll slip some new stuff in there too.
I saw the Floyd live once. At the Knebworth Festival in the UK in 1975 (over 31 years ago!!!!!!). A bunch of us from school had hired a minibus for the day. This was in the days before building-sized video screens, and we were sitting about a mile away from the stage, but I do believe those dots on the stage were Waters, Wright, Gilmour and Mason. But hey, the tickets were £2.75! Standing tickets for tomorrow's gig are Dhs 265, about £37. 'VIP' seated tickets are Dhs 595, about £83. The only seats at Knebworth were patches of grass.
By the way: this blog has not been produced as part of the Roger Waters marketing campaign. I only mention that because about a month ago Cliff Richard played in Dubai at the Tennis Stadium. A few days before the gig I received an email from the Netherlands(!) Cliff Richard fan club, hoping that I was going and would blog about the gig before and after(!). Nice try but no cigar. I have no opinion on Cliff Richard - not a very positive one anyway.
But I'm looking forward to tomorrow night like a kid looks forward to Christmas.
BetterArf disappeared into the kitchen early yesterday evening, ostensibly to get herself a glass of vino tinto. Little did I realise that she had really gone to carry out a scientific experiment into fluid dynamics. It was only as the experiment approached its conclusion that I became aware my services as a research assistant were required, but quick.
The papers today are awash with stories related to telecoms: Emirates Toady headlines with a story about rumours of a third entrant into the retail market in the UAE. TRA denies all knowledge.
Gulf Snooze carries a couple of stories, one that says conventional telecoms companies need to embrace VOIP or die (I paraphrase). The other brings us the good news that du (the new telco, soon to start mobile operations) will be connecting TECOM to the proxy any day now and therefore that Media City's tagline 'Freedom to Create' becomes even more meaningless than it has been up till now. Interesting to note that du, the monopoly-breaker, will still have a monopoly within TECOM, Emaar and Nakheel properties. Du is 20% owned by TECOM Investments, who about a year ago took over SahmNet, Emaar's own telco. As TECOM is wholly-owned by Dubai Holdings (who also own propery developer Nakheel), they are given preference in supplying telecoms infrastructure to all new Nakheel developments.
Of course, it is not fresh news that the Broxy will be imposed on TECOM (collectively Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City and Knowledge Vamlet). But what is interesting is the disingenuous tosh used to justify it. Gulf News says:
Asked why users were not free to choose what sites they visit, Mohammad Al Ghanem, director general of the TRA, said the TRA was not out to "police" the citizenry of the UAE.
"We are not inventing a procedure or a process," he told Gulf News. "This is implemented in every single country but with different limits and different categorisations."
Mr Al Ghanem, that is not an answer...
Al Ghanem said the TRA desired to avoid any negative impacts on businesses residing within the free zones, and promised exemptions for companies with a legitimate interest in keeping unfettered internet access.
Breaking with the commonly perceived notion that the free zones had their own sets of telecommunications laws, [Mohammad Al Gaith, the TRA's manager for technical affairs] said the reason the free zones weren't previously covered under the filter was technical, not jurisdictional.
New telecom operator du provides Internet service in the free zones, and problems had arisen over implementing the proxy filter over du's network.
Mr Al Ghaith, I have been a tenant at Dubai Media City since shortly after its inception 6 years ago. I can tell you that the reason these free zones were not previously proxied was neither technical nor jurisdictional. It was a deliberate decision by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who, in his wisdom, realised that these entities would not be very attractive to potential international clients if their Internet access was censored. That reason is still valid today
Can somebody please explain to me why the Telecoms Regulation Authority thinks it is fit to tell me, or any other Internet user, what sites we can and cannot visit? I know there is a cultural thing with the locals and some others, but surely if they want a restricted Internet then they can request and be given that. For everyone else, we pay more than twice as much for Internet access than anywhere else in the real world, and I think you, the TRA, should respect that and let us have (more or less) unfettered access.
I am sick to death of being treated like a child by these people. Apart from anything else, their obsessive, frequently unreasonable, often illogical blocking of millions of websites, including some of the world's most popular (Flickr again) makes me cringe with embarrassment. We are supposed to be the most free of all Gulf States, but we block Flickr because some wastafarian tells us to.
I despair. And my FTP and HTTPS are still not working.
OK, Keefieboy, try to be calm. Don't bash those keys too hard, you'll be needing them when you leave this wonderful country. Deep breath .................. innn....................... outttt ...................innn ....................... outtt.
OK. I'm calm. I'm CALM!!!
For the last week I have been having a problem with my Etisalat Al-Shamil ('broadband') connection from my mansion. The problem is that I can no longer use FTP. You don't want to know this, but FTP is File Transfer Protocol - a thing that allows you to upload and download files to and from web servers. It's pretty essential if you design websites like what I do. The problem is that I can connect to various servers, but once connected I cannot change folders or upload/download files. Why? Well, some of my research on the web suggested this was symptomatic of a firewall problem. Somewhere in the chain of computers between my labtob and the web server, a little pox is saying 'computer says no'.
So, with the greatest reluctance, I called the Itisalot Call Center in Ajmaaaaan. I say reluctance because many years of experience have taught me that they have a very limited range of responses available to them, namely: 1) 'Your computer is misconfigured, please format your hard drive.' or 2) 'There is something wrong with your server.'
So we go through that and then I request a phone number for someone who actually knows something about the Itisalot Interweb network. No can do, says the boy on the phone: 'send an email to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. Yeah, right. So I did.
To my absolute and utter amazement I got a phone call from someone who sounded like he knew what he was talking about. Admittedly he did go through the usual 'it's not our fault' routine, but I feel like we are making progress of a kind. But not fast enough.
In the intervening days I've provided this guy with Traceroutes of my connection attempts to various servers in the UK and US. I have suggested to him that it may be a firewall problem. I have told him that I can successfully use FTP from my office in Media City, so configuration of my laptop and of the servers concerned is absolutely ruled out. So now we are at a stage where they are on the verge of admitting that they have a problem, and he's trying to get a meeting together with various departments to sort it out.
The other day I realised that we (BetterArf and moi) have a related problem, and we've had this one for quite a while. We cannot easily access 'https://' domains from our house. This means that e-commerce transactions almost always fail, it takes forever for me to use Red Triangles' online banking, and BetterArf cannot access her work email from here.
So, enough of the Sherlock Holmes. I just thought I'd try something. Forget about Etisalat's restrictive and ill-configured infrastructure, I'll try my own. I have servers in the UK. I set up a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to one of them. This means that anything I send or receive comes straight from that server without any of the intervening Itisalot stuff getting in the way.
FTP worked straight off! And much faster than it's ever worked through the Broxy. But, the Interweb fell over. So it helps if I need to do an emergency out-of-hours upload, but not if I want to visit my bank or playboy.com.
Itisalot (sorry, Etisalat, you might not recognise our little jokey name for you), I hope you read and understand this post. It tells you two things
1) The Proxy screws everything up and everyone with more than half a brain hates it and
2) Stop your Call Center staff from always assuming that the problem is at the customer's end. Because more often than not, it isn't.
The UAE is having weather. If you don't live here, you might not think this is a big deal. But the point is, we don't normally have weather, what we have is climate. The climate in the UAE goes like this: in the summer, it's chuffing hot (up to but never officially exceeding 50°C). In the depths of winter, it can get as cold as, ooh, 17°C. You can expect 4-5 days when it will rain, and a few mornings when it is foggy. This 'winter' has been unusual, methinks. We have had a lot of rain. Yesterday we had half an inch of the stuff in about 15 minutes - thunder and lightning too. Today has been overcast all day. We had a massive shamal (sandstorm) about 1 pm, following which the air was full of sand, no wind was blowing, and El Sol was starting to come out. Just now (from 7pm really), we've had another thunderstorm, and about 15 minutes of really heavy rain.
This rain creates all sorts of problems, of course. Drivers in Dubai, who, with the exception of GCC nationals and locals, all come from places where it rains a shitload more than it does here, forget how to drive in wet weather. They continue to tailgate, drive too fast, attempt rapid lane changes, etc, and consequently end up upside down in their crushed motorcars. Fortunately they are not wearing their seatbelts so they are able to escape.
Locals and GCC nationals don't stand a chance. They just don't get enough parctice at driving in rain.
Here in The Gardens we have the added bonus of a bunch of speed bumps that have been installed on the perimeter roads. You do see the odd speed bump around town that has a gap between its ends and the kerb to allow water to drain through. Regrettably, the speedbumps in The Gardens do not have this clever little design feature, and so they act as dams, creating quite large lakes on the road on their uphill sides.
And usually, when rain is expected, the Municipality sends workers out to empty the sand filters that are a component of most of the drains: when they have done this, they usually leave the drain cover up, thereby facilitating the flow of water. I have not seen any of this happen in The Gardens this year (or ever, actually), so guess what: floods down the hill. Roads around Ibn Battuta Maul under six inches of water. The Maul itself still lacks waterproof roofs.
Still, it could be worse, we could be living in Sharjah where they have no road drainage whatsoever. And it's still only 1428.
OK, today I migrated to the new version of Blogger. I hadn't planned to, but I wanted to do a post on the UAE Community Blog: that has just migrated and so I basically had to as well. It took hours for my 646 posts to move! But I've spent a happy afternoon adding labels to lots of my posts. And I learnt something new. Have you ever been to Toot and seen the sidebar (tootstream) totally inundated by old posts from one blogger? Now I know what causes that, because today is my day for Total Tootstream Dominance! Aharr.
UPDATE: actually what I thought I learned was wrong - I thought this Toot Domination only happened when you upgraded your blog. Not so. It actually happens when you add a label to a post. Hehehe.