Same same but different

The Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi is same same but different compared to Dubai. Or at least that’s how I experienced it. In the taxi there – one long ride on a motorway, straight as an arrow. Every five minutes we passed a mosque. When the muezzin calls to prayer, the mosque must be so close that every faithful can make it to prayer before the call finishes.

We lived privately with my friend who now lives there with her consultant husband and their children. She has a job (not many of the “wives” have a job in Abu Dhabi) as teacher at the woman university. Oh my, I just can’t believe what it’s like to teach a class full of women in black black black, veils too. It’s possible though, says my friend.

The MAN in Abu Dhabi is this guy:

Sheik Khalifa al Zayed is the son of The Nation’s Father and seems to be a somewhat more sensible ruler than his counterpart in Dubai. Education, nature preservation and ART are some of the important issues on his agenda. The maddest, craziest, loveliest project is Saadiyat Island, where, in a few years’ time, more art will be on display in the smallest space than ever before. Louvre, British Museum and Guggenheim, door to door. Read about it here (official web page).

There’s also an “entertainment island”, called Yas Island. One of the attractions there is Ferrari World and a Formula One track. In the middle of the track is the Yas Hotel. A design jewel with wonderful restaurants. However, I wouldn’t like to stay there when the racing is on.

All this is made possible by underpaid and overworked immigrant workers from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, etc. etc. They are transported in ugly run-down busses to their workplace in the early morning and they are picked up again at dusk. At the time we were there, the climate was merciful to hardworking people. However, they work in the summer too, when it’s 50 degrees Celsius in the shade. They don’t work in the shade.

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Some, but only some, of my prejudices confirmed

Exactly as foretold by friends who’ve been, my visit to the United Arab Emirates has been a constant journey between Las Vegas and the Orient. Our hotel The Atlantis on “the Palm” (se picture of it in previous post) was opulent beyond description and with so many people serving that it was close to creepy. As a Scandinavian, it’s almost impossible not to be embarrassed when your suitcases are carried, your chair pulled out and the tap turned on for you in the public toilets. But it’s still wonderful to sleep in a perfect bed, bathe in utter luxury, look out at the azure sea when you pull the curtains and eat delicious meals everywhere you go.

Sitting at the pool, studying the most international crowd I’ve ever seen in one place is nothing short of sensational. Most interesting to us were of course the native arabs in their abayas and dishdashas, a good deal of the women with their faces totally covered. We were sick with curiosity as to how these women eat, so took great care to place ourselves so we could see some of them in the restaurants. The great majority of them will place themselves with their backs to the crowd and then simply remove the Niqab while eating. We only saw a few who stuck the food into their mouths behind the veil, which I have to admit looks stupidly awkward, but will work well if you need to lose weight. These people seem to be impossibly rich, which you must be to hire the luxury suite at the hotel at a mere £30,000 a night. But then it covers almost a thousand m2!

We left the hotel a few times to see some of the architectural feats of Dubai. Firstly, the truly amazing Burj Al Arab hotel in the shape of a giant sail. Both inside and out it takes your breath away. I believe that if the Pharaohs were still around, they’d build like this. Great splendour, lots of gold but still stylish. Click the link above to see the Wikipedia article or click here to see my own pictures.

The following day we went to the top of the man-made world, the Burj Khalifa. The elevator to the 124th floor is the fastest on the planet with 10 meters per second. That’s almost as fast as Usain Bolt… There’s a funny story to this fountain pen-like structure. Almost until its inauguration it was called Burj Dubai and signposted as such all over the city and beyond. But as Dubai ran out of money before the completion, they had to borrow a substantial amount from incredibly rich neighbour Abu Dhabi. Suddenly all signs were taken down and when they were put up again a few days later, the building had a new name, the Burj Khalifa. Khalifa happens to be the name of the ruler of Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi is where we went after Dubai – it’s a 90 minute taxi ride which will cost you around £40. My visit here with a dear friend will be in my next post. It is now very late and a taxi is picking us up here at 5am tomorrow morning to go home to windy, snowy Denmark.

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Egypt, the entertainment industry and tea towels

It’s hard to think of much beside or above the events in Egypt. If it’s not at the forefront of your mind, take a moment, close your eyes and imagine this huge country, smack in the centre of the Middle East, with a democratically elected government! If you, like me, believed all the propaganda you’ve heard about the Muslim Brotherhood, take a moment to read about them here, here and here. I can’t say that I agree with them in many of their view points, but they certainly aren’t what many rightwing politicians have so successfully tried to tell us, Al Qaidaish madmen who wish to take Egypt back to the Middle Ages. So – even if they win an election, there’s little risk that Egypt will be another Iran. Imagine the whole of the Right without their eternal argument that Israel must be supported in every way because it’s the only democracy in the Middle East. If you wish to REALLY follow the development in Egypt, some media are a lot better than others! Huffington Post (now sold to AOL?!?!) covers it well, as does Al Jazeera. Several of the correspondents from international newspapers currently in Cairo, tweet. By far the best method to follow the development as it unfolds is to find one of these and follow him or her on Twitter.

OK, there are other things happening in the world, most of which seem to pass me by at the moment. I’m going on holiday and feel most deserving of leisure and luxury. My husband’s company is hosting a corporate event in Dubai – as you do – and spouses are invited. I picture myself poolside with a book and half an eye on junior, playing in the pool. Let’s see what it’s really going to be like. After the corporate event we go on to Abu Dhabi to visit a dear friend who has lived there the past few years. I lost a Twitter-follower because I tweeted that many of the Westerners who choose to go and work there do it for money. I know a few people who have gone there or contemplated going because they got fabulous job offers (an architect, a doctor, a consultant), which they for various reasons couldn’t turn down. But I know and know of many more people who go there because there’s NO tax and super-cheap domestic help and giant golf courses. It isn’t quite the same as going to New York, Maputo or Bruxelles, is it?

Besides the really important stuff like politics and holidays there are few things that will enrage me as the entertainment industry and all the barriers they put up around their precious content. Not to mention their whining. Ugh. The other people here at my office know the range of swear-words I’ll fire off when I come across some content that I can’t move from one device to another because of all these stupid barriers or when I want to buy something and am told that “this content isn’t available in your territory”. Argh. The music industry has had more than 20 years to figure out what to do about the digitisation of content and they STILL haven’t figured it out. They spend all their money on lawyers and precious little on developing new ways to make money, but foremost an easy and fair way to pay for content. I believe that most people are ready to pay for content if it’s easy (EASY!) to access, easy to pay and easy and fair to handle once you “own” it.

On FTM (FollowTheMedia) I’ve read an article (and paid for it!!) on the latest developments. Something very interesting is under way from the Pirate Bay people. Stay tuned!

Before I fly off to the Arabic desert I’ll leave you with a few sweet tit-bits. Here’s a company that says We Are What We Do and try to help us with that. Making charity more palatable for us spoiled first-worlders. Check this tweet-towel. Oh, what a must-have for Tweeters. There must be some sort of cross-over you can do with a charity? Speaking of Twitter, here’s why you should probably have a Twitter account even if you don’t have time to tweet.

This is digitally created. I don't own this wonderful thing.

See you pool-side. *takes cover*

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Voices of reason

There might be more than good cause for hand-wringing, exaggerations and “loud” statements over the state of things in Palestine. But I believe that the mellow and calm voice of reason is the one that will get us places. Listen to this woman, Syria’s first lady (read about her here first):

She says the most important things within the first 2-3 minutes if you’re too busy to watch the whole interview.

Ezra Klein points to another voice of reason, Anthony Cordesman. He ends the article published through Centre for Strategic and International Studies like this:

As we have seen all too clearly from US mistakes, any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a meaningful victory. If this is all that Olmert, Livni, and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends. If there is more, it is time to make such goals public and demonstrate how they can be achieved. The question is not whether the IDF learned the tactical lessons of the fighting in 2006. It is whether Israel’s top political leadership has even minimal competence to lead them.

We should also listen to what intelligent people on “the other side” have to say. Here is an interview with Bernard-Henri Levy and here’s one with Israeli soldier and history scholar Michael Oren. With all respect for these two scholars, I think they both grossly underestimate how much Hamas and therefore all the militants in the Middle East gain from this and how much this will harm Israel and then the rest of us in the long run and, no less, how much harm it does to the remaining moderate Arab countries, just as Mrs. Al-Assad says in the interview at the top of this page.

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