Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Do Buy! - A fresh insight

The contradicting emotions or the detachment you feel about Dubai, no matter which part of the world you are from, is almost impossible to express. Which is what makes Omair Barkatullah, a recently graduated documentary film maker based in UK, stand out from the typical 'dish-dash shake hands with a grey suit' films made my well-established film studios.

'Do Buy!' is an independent film made by Omair with a Canon XM2 miniDV camera which captures the true essence of Dubai and how people relate to it. Rather than being openly negative or brazenly appreciative about the city's new found metropolitan status, the film offers a fresh insight into what the city represents and leaves the rest to the viewer.

The film uses real people and some very interesting sound clips from an FM radio station to make a point. Listen to the Pakistani security guard who talks more sense than Dubai Holding's PR manager.




Monday, October 30, 2006

Breaking Fast the Tonic Way

Tonic Dubai's attempt to break away from the Moon & Zapfino Ramadan cliché turned out to be an insipid effort. So uninspiring that even the Danish cartoon paranoids did not find it interesting enough to be considered offensive.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Brief History of Dubai

Back in my schooldays, my 5 year long and tedious struggle with Indian history text books containing names of ancient cities, civilisations, kings, battles, religions, world wars, colonial powers, the league of nations, freedom struggles, presidents, prime ministers, chief ministers and what not left me a dazed man; and perhaps a 'dozed' man sometimes - which did not please Rev. Fr. J P, my history teacher, at all. Unconfirmed reports from my classmates that his remarkable pot-belly could be attributed to the disappearance of a globe in the staff room only brought mixed emotions to my face during his classes and kept me fascinated, or atleast awake more often.

I am sure I would have had a much better time with him in Dubai, if we had dealt exclusively in the regions history, considering most of the historical accounts in Dubai runs for a couple of paragraphs before it degrades into a fairy tale of artificial islands, cranes and skyscrapers. Walter M Weiss' 'The Bazaar: Markets and Merchants of the Islamic World' which otherwise is an excellent read about ancient trade and markets in the Middle East, does not fare much better in terms of Dubai's history. But it certainly lead me to gather some interesting facts.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. United Arab Emirates, 1948 - 1949 Photo courtesy: Wilfred Thesiger
  • In 1833, 800 men from the Bani Yas tribe under the Al Maktoum family from Abu Dhabi settled in a tiny fishing village in Dubai and setup an independent sheikhdom which lead to the emergence of Dubai as a politically significant region. The British, constantly under attack from the settlers entered into a treaty with the tribal princes in the region which made way for a transformation from the notorious Pirate Coast to the Trucial Coast, a reference to the treaty itself.

  • Excavations in Al Qusais and Jumeirah has unearthed evidence of the Creek being a trading centre for desert caravans and seafarers 3000 years ago. But only a few ruined fortresses and rusty canons survived a Portugese onslaught in the 16th and 17th century.
    At present there are hardly any buildings in the regions which dates back more than 100 years.

  • In the early 19th century Dubai experienced the 'Pearl Boom' reminiscent of the current real-estate boom when more than 7000 local divers equipped with bone nose clamps, wax ear plugs and lead weights(to pull them down the water quicker) could be found 65 feet below the Dubai waters risking their lives in search of pearls.

  • The emergence of Japanese cultured pearls destroyed the Dubai market in the late 1920's. However by then, Dubai had become a major port in the Gulf region with a population of atleast 10,000. The Deira Bazaar, with more than 350 shops was the biggest in the region.

  • The collapse of the pearl market paved way for the more profitable gold 're-export', a more respectable term for smuggling. The precious metal, imported from Europe were cast into gold bars and exported to the subcontinent in dhows at night, bypassing the authorities.

  • The oil boom, not just confined to Dubai, happened in the 1970's and funded the later infra-structural developments like the free-trade zones and the airport.
Not surprisingly, the local media and the official version conveniently ignores aspects like gold smuggling and the notorious power struggles which shaped the emirate.

Recommended online references:
UAE - A Walk ThroughTime
20th Century's Greatest Explorer -Wilfred Thesiger
The Future of Federalism in UAE - J E Peterson

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

How to create a Ramadan Ad in 4 easy steps

Step1: Create a dark blue-black gradient taking up half of your work space.

Step 2: Put some white brush spots (stars) , create an intersection of two circles (the crescent) and add outer glow effect.

Step 3: Type 'Ramadan Kareem' in Zapfino Linotype font (or Monotype Corsiva if you are bit more outdated) preferably in 18 pointsize.

Step 4: Put your product on the other half of your workspace, preferably under an decorative arch to give it that 'Ramadan touch'.

Congratulations, your Ramadan advertisement is now ready to use. Dont forget to replace the 'year ' and the product picture next year if required.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Is it going to be a 2016 Dubai Olympics?

The past week, I have been trying to examine Dubai's chances of making a successful bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics against other candidates. Being the self-proclaimed sporting capital of the Middle East, Dubai is planning to make a strong bid for the Summer Games hoping the $2 Billion Dubai Sports City will impress the IOC.

But is Dubai ready to host the Greatest Show on Earth? Here are some postives and negatives to ponder.

+ Olympics or not, Sports City is scheduled to be completed in 4 years which means the basic infrastructure will be done to an extent.

+ Money - Even the IOC would like to believe that Dubai has a few money-trees hidden in the desert. No paranoia about looking for funding and investors unlike what happened for Athens - even it means absorbing huge financial losses. And money has won over the Olmpics Committee a few times. Think Atlanta 1996.

+ The Middle East has never hosted an Olympics - which will ensure Doha and Dubai will be given due consideration against the U.S cities which are tipped to be favourites.

+ Dubai's more cosmopolitan outlook compared to Doha will most likely win a few votes in its favour in the event of shortlisting one city from the region.

- Local participation- will be very limited considering the number of sporting disciplines(under a dozen disciplines on an average) that athletes from the region are considered competitive. 'The nominee must have a realistic chance to win against international candidates' is one of the criteria upon which the IOC will make a decision.

- The weather - The Summer Games will probably be held during the month of November which will not be a comfortable for the athletes unless someone here has a bright idea like conducting the marathon inside a shopping mall.

- The UAE Olympic Committee is a complete joke. According to their website, the Athens 2004 games is an upcoming event, using underage boys for camel races is a heritage sport and cites '1 participant only' as an international level sporting achievement.

- Dubai Sports City seems to be a project conceived solely on reeping profits out of selling residential apartments with sports facilities dangling like a 'freehold carrot' rather than showing some real commitment on encouraging sporting talents in U.A.E.

Big corporations in UAE treat sports as a past time of the rich rather than about finding talent, grooming them and converting them to world-class athletes. So sports like golf and tennis where there is little or no representation from UAE gets plenty of support, supposedly with the intention of attracting investments. Football gets a look-in because of the huge amount of followers, but has not materialised into anything productive. Cricket gets some mention here and there because of the sub-continental and British population's interest.

None of these are considered as a major Olympic sport. Besides having an oddly-shaped golf ball as the logo and boasting about a golf course being constructed does little to suggest any commitment towards sports in UAE.

This is when the very few who achieved Olympic glory is being portrayed as a contract killer in Bollywood movies.

Meanwhile, here is an analysis of the other possible bidding cities.

Doha, Qatar
+ Infrastructure and facilities in place for 2006 Asian Games for which they have reportedly spent a massive $4 billion.
+ 50,000 seat Khalifa Stadium built for the Asian Games which will probably be upgraded to the level of an Olympic stadium.
+ No Arab/MiddleEast country has ever hosted the Olympics or a major international event for that matter. IOC will be keen to explore new avenues to widen the appeal of the games - whether it is Africa or the Middle East.

- Summer Games typically need to sell 4 million to 9 million tickets—and Qatar's population is less than 900,000. Crucial for the campaign in terms of volunteer support.
- Qatar's reputation buying athletes instead of grooming them in their home turf is not going to help them. But it will definitely make it easier for them to figure in the medal tally unlike UAE if it becomes the host.
- Location - IOC will always be wary of holding the Olympics in the Middle East because of terrorism concerns.
- Not exactly pleasant for the athletes, a problem for Dubai as well.
- Local participation will be limited.

The verdict
: Has a good chance of becoming a candidate city if the Asian Games is a success, especially in terms of viewership and TV rights. But stands little chance in being the winner. First time applicants rarely did in the history of the games.

Tokyo, Japan
+ An early commitment towards the games campaign after a selection process inside Japan which eliminated .
+ Promises the most technologically advanced games ever. Don't be surprised if you see a robot lighting up the Olympic torch in the opening ceremony.
+ The most compact and efficient games ever is the Japanese claim. The 1964 Tokyo Olympics marked the first television program to cross the Pacific Ocean via a communication satellite. So you got to believe them.
+ Stresses on the environment aspect - a factor which is going to become vital by 2009, I think.
+ Estimated expenditure of 2.6 billion dollars including a 100,000 capacity new Olympic stadium besides renovating the present one.

- 'The most compact games ever' might not sound appealing enough to the IOC. This is the Olympic Games, for Gods sake. Not a freaking digital memory card.
- Has hosted the games in 1964 - and IOC might be keen on a new candidate. Besides, 2008-China and 2016 - Japan? Highly unlikely.
- Potential problems with North Korea. They are already quoted as saying the bid 'is enough to make a cat laugh'. The Japs would be praying that good ol' Kim is in a good mood by 2009.

The verdict : Likely to make the shortlist thanks to it's methodical approach to the campaign but little chance of winning because of the reasons mentioned above.

Rio Di Janeiro, Brazil
+ 2007 Pan Asian Games will ensure that some level of infrastructure is in place for the Olympics. The 45,000 capacity João Havelange Stadium and the 8,000 capacity Games Village for a start.
+ Has a great sporting culture and a high level local participation can be expected.

- Bid in 2004 and 2012, did not make the candidate city shortlist.
Rio is an overwhelming favourite for hosting the 2014 Fifa World cup, which would dampen the possibilities of Rio hosting two major events in such a short period.
- Rio's capabilities in organising such a big event has doubters. The Pan Asian Games would prove to be the testing ground for Rio as the Asian Games is for Doha.

The verdict : If it manages to sort out the confusion about the 2014 Fifa World Cup it has a reasonable chance of making a winning bid. If it does not, it might not even make the shortlist.

Istanbul, Turkey
+ In the best position in presenting the city as a moderate Muslim destination with a
rich cultural heritage.
+ Successfully made the international shortlist in 2000 and 2008 which might see them being given preference over cities like Dubai and Doha when considered in the bracket of a Muslim nation.
+ The 82,000 capacity Atatürk Olympic Stadium designed by Michel Macary and Aymeric Zublena, who also designed the "Stade de France" in Paris. Hosted the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final.

- Has pursued a dubious strategy of offering to bid for every Olympic Games since 1992 hoping that it will be successful one day.
- Much is at stake in how the political situation is like in 2008/2009 and how it's relations are with the EU. Considering that the Europea has minimal chance in bagging the 2016 Olympics, if Istanbul gets it's act right, Europe might rally behind them.
- Bad crowd behaviour in the past during football tournaments.

The verdict : Has a good chance of being selected if it makes a strong bid via addressing infrastructure and security concerns. Seventh time lucky perhaps?

United States of America
Since the last Olympics hosted by a U.S city was in 1996(Atlanta), the chances this time are very high unless there are glitches at the last moment. Security will be a key concern because of terrorist threats and will surely bite into the profit margins of the U.S Cities. Athens had to spend a staggering $14 Billion in infrastructure and security post 9/11 and took in only $3 Billion.

Chicago, USA
+ At the moment, Chicago seems to be the most committed of all the bidding cities, planning to spend a massive $2 billion in privately financed construction, including $300 million for the stadium and $1 billion for an Olympic Village. Revenue expected is between $5 and $10 Billion, creating as many as 80,000 jobs and welcoming 5 to 6 million visitors. The city mayor has already visited Beijing and other cities for inputs and is guaranteed to get their public relations right while making their bid.
+ Never hosted the Olympics before unlike Los Angeles and hence has a better chance of making the shortlist.
+ $300 Million Washington Park stadium with a capacity of 97,000 and a spectacular public space
+ Ambitious masterplan designed by SOM.

- Has to fight the 'Al Capone and Michael Jordan city' tag and has to cultivate a positive image internationally.
- Competition from Los Angeles and San Francisco might see them eliminated in the initial round itself.
- Raising huge amount of money as investment poses a big challenge.

The verdict : Has a very good chance of making the winning bid if it emerges as the best choice among the U.S cities.

Los Angeles
+ Arguably the best placed in terms of infrastructure and facilities already present.
+ Pioneers in many respects, including introduction of the concept of Olmypic Village in 1932.
+ An excellent choice of venues apart from the ones built for the 1984 games.
+ The 92,000 capacity Los Angeles Coliseum to be renovated for the bid.
+ Minimal spending - only $150 million required.
+ Likely to rope in some Hollywood celebrities for their campaign.

- Hosted the Olympics two times before - in 1932 and 1984 which reduces its chances to a great extent, especially considering possible strong bids from Chicago and San Francisco.
- Did not share the $225 million surplus from the 1984 games with the Olympic movement.

The verdict : Very little chance of making it to the shortlist even. However if the other two cities messes up their campaign, LA might still make a winning bid.

San Francisco
+ Has the edge over Chicago as far as international links are concerned.
+ Has the experience of bidding for the 2012 Games with the much hyped 'Ring of Gold', eventually losing out to NY inside the country. It is also planning to rectify the mistakes it commited last time around.
+ 85,000 capacity Stanford stadium exists though no concrete plans are yet outlined in terms of upgradation.
+ Only $200 Million overall spending for the Games.

- Lack of political support inside the city.
- No proper planning and commitment yet.
- Lags LA in terms of infrastructure already present.

The verdict: Solely depends on how Chicago's campaign is. Has a good chance if it shows more commitment and political will to win.

The IOC is very keen to have an African nation host the 2016 Olympics which means any African city which makes a strong bid has a very good chance of not only making the shortlist but winning itself.

Although Kenya, which at the moment has 2 stadiums which are rarely used has shown a fair amount of interest, the country's own Olympic chief is not so sure. Durban and Capetown has far better chances though Cape Town lost out to Athens in 2004. Any doubters of Cape Town's capabilities might do a rethink after taking a look at this website.

Asia's chances are very limited considering Beijing's successful bid for 2008, with only New Delhi, apart from Tokyo having any chance of making it to the shortlist. New Delhi has a good chance of making it to the shortlist especially if they manage to host 2010 Common Wealth Games successfully, for which India is spending a massive $1.2 Billion. Incidentally, the sports minister is not so impressed.
Busan also seems to be in the race

Bangkok was also interested, though their chances are now practically wiped out.

London, having won the 2012 Games has dampened the chances of Madrid, Hamburg, Moscow, Lisbon, Rome and to some extent Istanbul of making a successful bid. Madrid and Hamburg are likely to make strong bids, but despitef a successful Barcelona Olympics, Spain might again have the misfortune of losing after making it to the final round like in 2012.

Rome's chances does not look bright while Moscow's chances depends on it's bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Montréal and Toronto are considering bids, and their chances of one of them making it to the shortlist is very high, taking into account the multi-cultural population and international appeal. Though
Montréal has hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics and Toronto was second placed in the 2008 bid, Vancouver which has bagged the 2010 Winter Olympics might play spoilsport.

Other bids are likely to come from Havana, Montorrey and Buenos Aires.

Final Verdict:
Here is my prediction though it is a bit early to give a fair judgement.

Shortlist : Chicago, Madrid, Cape Town, Rio De Janeiro, Doha, New Delhi, Dubai,

Winner: Chicago
2. Cape Town 3. Rio De Janeiro 4. Madrid 5. New Delhi 6. Dubai

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Tagging Conspiracy

Woke, treads the Prometheus path to be a part of the Tagging Conspiracy - with absolute ignorance on what it is about though.

  1. What is the best thing about my workplace?
    It's got the largest freezer in Dubai.

  2. What do I hate about my workplace?
    And my brain is in there. Or whatever is remaining.

  3. What small irritants at my workplace really annoys me?
    Small irritants? Now, you are kidding me.

  4. Describe the actions/quirks of the weirdest person I work with (can be a co-worker, employer, or a vendor if you are self employed):
    "I am the King here. It is my money. So you all will do what I say."
    No, I dont work for the Roman Empire. Pretty close though.

  5. What is one thing that I would change at my workplace to make life a helluva lot better?
    Find another one. (Not a part of the deal)

  6. Pick five songs that I'd like played at my funeral......
    1. 'Barbie Girl' - Aqua
    2. 'Macarena' - You don't want to know.
    3. 'Mysterious Girl' - Peter Andre
    4. 'Cotton Eye Joe' - Rednex

    Those of you who had wicked ideas to attend my funeral, thou shalt rot in hell.

    5. Pigs(Three Different Ones) - Pink Floyd. (Make no mistake. That is one of my favourite songs. I would just like you to turn up the volume when they say..
    "With your head head down in the pig bin,
    Saying, "keep on digging."
    Pig stain on your fat chin.
    What do you hope to find?.."

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Don't help them to bury the light

Always remember, you are being watched.

Hey you,
Out there in the cold
Getting lonely, getting old
Can you feel me?

Hey you, standing in the aisles
With itchy feet and fading smiles
Can you feel me?

Hey you,
dont help them to bury the light.
Dont give in without a fight.
Hey you - Pink Floyd

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Great Solomon Mupesa of Dubai

Have you ever felt so messed-up that you actually found time read through one of those scam emails?

Today morning, not only did I read through an email from a certain Mrs.Hilda Mupesa, wife of late Ndoga Mupesa of Chiweshe ward in Muzarabani, Mashonaland, but I googled for Mashonaland(Hell it exists!) and Hilda Mupesa as well. That is how I ended up at Africanscam.co.uk. No references to Hilda Mupesha to my disappointment, but her son was definitely within reach according to Craig McAteer – and here is the scoop, in Dubai of all places.

On 20th April 2003, Under the false name, Steve Arthur Thomson, Craig interacted with this Mupesa guy through emails (a must read), promised him the money (and an expensive watch) and even managed to meet him here in Dubai. Refer to the link for photos and details.

Although the Dubai Police was alerted, I presume nothing came of it and as far as I know the Mupesa guy is still at large from the email that I received today. Or perhaps this is a gang using the same method to fool people – not a well laid plan though.

So here is the guy. The Great Solomon Mupesa. If you happen to meet him somewhere in Dubai, you know what he is upto.
Btw isn't that the Dubai Creek in the background?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Busting the Dubai Bubble City

At the height of the Dubai property boom, an advertising agency called The Creative Council proposed an idea to Damac Properties for the teaser launch of their project, Park Towers. The idea was simple enough - to create a spoof of The Gulf News business page using a two-sided page wrap which would serve as a teaser for the launch. Considering that Damac's idea creativity was always limited to putting their buildings in the middle of the Pacific Ocean or to show over-sized golden keys getting morphed into a tower, it was quite surprising that the idea was accepted and implemented.

The main heading in the advertorial was exciting to say the least - "Bubble City: Amazing New Project Launched" with a picture photoshopped badly enough to suggest that it was a spoof. The news items in the page also supplemented the idea with some ridiculous articles.

Little did the agency nor the developer imagine that a seemingly obvious spoof would become the most talked about project in the property industry. Being used to such announcements of bizarre projects, many of them failed to see the whole advertorial in the proper context and no one even remembered the advertised project.

I was amazed by some peoples reactions to this advertorial and how easy it is to spread wrong information in this region. Even today, this refuses to die down, even finding mention in the Washington Post, increasingly associating Dubai with real-estate projects which does not go beyond an artists impression. (Thanks to Grapeshisha for the scan)

Some of the reactions at various blogs, forums and websites regarding the launch of Bubble City..
"Arabian people are selfish guys they just spend money on these unwanted things..."

"Ummm, I think you meant $30 BILLION, not $30 million."

"Heh.. well, I always told people that ruling Dubai is like playing SimCity with the money cheat ;)"

"whoah. i thought that sorta thing happens only with the jetsons."

But this quote is a gem..

"2 words: STUPID" . Yes, you said it.