Christmas Eve 2009

Hi all well its the day before Christmas 2009 and here is a snapshot of the year in Dubai ~ a lot of this has been copied and pasted from an email received but it gives you an idea of the year:)

Still enjoying the sun and sand in a slightly deflated Dubai.
Contrary to the alarmist headlines in the UK press (leading to The Times being removed from sale in Dubai for a number of days) Dubai has not crumbled into the desert sand. The stories about cars being abandoned at the airport are exaggerated (they were lease cars…think about it) and expats aren’t living in fear of being arrested for being in debt.

Certainly there’s more doom than boom at present, but day-to-day things are still much as they were; save that you can now get a taxi without a long wait and you don’t need a restaurant reservation… and rents have almost halved. Actually, it’s sounds quite good. Long live the doom.

The other good news is that the precipitous fall in property prices has wiped the smug look of the faces of the interminable bores who, only last year, were bragging about the (unrealised) profits they’d made on the villas and apartments they’d bought off-plan using borrowed money. To expand on Gordon Gecko’s wisdom in Wall Street “Greed is good, but only if you remember to cash-in the paper profits. Otherwise greed just makes you look foolish when the paper profits evaporate”. Doh!

Despite the down-turn Dubai acquired some new sights during the year;

· Dubai Mall fully opened (World’s largest… 1200 shops. That’s a lot of shoes). It has an ice-rink, aquarium and hospital (how dangerous can shopping be?).

· Dubai Metro (World’s longest automated transit system) opened on 9/9/9 (at 9 in the evening – rather inconveniently for those of us who like an early night) to much deserved fanfare. 36 months from idea to open. In Bristol they’ve had an idea about a tram system for 36 years.

· Airport Terminal 3 fully opened… and now they have started on Terminal 4; designed exclusively for the A380 “double decker” of which Emirates has ordered 58 (Making it the World’s largest A380 operator).

· The Burj Dubai just missed opening on 2 December (UAE National Day) and is now scheduled for January 2010. But they did open the Dubai Fountain at its foot which is (you’ll never guess) the World’s largest “dancing” fountain (a slightly suspicious caveat… making me wonder if there are any other dancing fountains).

· Yas Island Grand Prix circuit and Grand Prix. Well that was in Abu Dhabi, but we’re all brothers under the UAE federation, so we’ll claim a share of that too. Sheikh Mohamed (Ruler of Dubai) parked his yacht slap bang in the line of sight for all the filming of the course. It’s the World’s largest yacht, naturally; with two helicopter pads. (Oh that my life was such that to avoid helicopter congestion we had to have a second heli-pad built for visitors). The yacht is called Dubai, and the name stood out in all the filming. So I expect many of those watching on TV thought Abu Dhabi is part of Dubai (that would be the same people who – this is true – when asked what Hitler’s first name was answer “Heil”)

Mind you, an awful lot of projects that were planned have been quietly shelved and many that were under construction are on the “long-finger” as the Irish would say (that means making very slow progress. I don’t know if the logic of the idiom is that the length of finger is related to how long it takes you to pull it out). The good news is that if you visited this year and come back in, say, five years time you won’t be saying “blimey it’s all new. I hardly know my way around”. People who visit today and who first visited 5 years back spend much of the visit in a “blimey” state of mind and I think that creates a dissonance that is probably quite unhealthy. In a odd sort of way the downturn is good for you; most people hate change.

There is also the small matter of paying back the loans on the cash borrowed to fund the projects. This has featured big time in the (foreign) press. Not least because it is a bigger issue outside of Dubai than inside. It was the MBA-savvy bright sparks at, for example, RBS who leant the money. Local exposure is more limited. It turns out the now-clearly-not-so-bright-sparks at RBS had leant to anyone who rocked up with a half-an-idea and some fancy PowerPoint presentations. The problem isn’t the banks it’s the idiots they employed. All braces, MBAs and no brains. When you let in one idiot the first thing he does is hire his idiot-friend and so it goes on. It’s idiots-ville in no time. There is a (slightly tongue in cheek) article by McKinsey about the “No Jerks Rule” in recruiting which everyone should read.

It has been, however, a bit a roller-coaster of “we will, we won’t” when it comes to repayment of some of the bonds. At present the lorries are coming down Sheikh Zayed Road with a $10bn “gift” from Abu Dhabi to pay off the most immediate troubling debts. Doubtless this loan will have conditions. Hopefully not that Dubai “tones it down” on the nightlife and general gaiety front. That would rather take the edge of an otherwise hospitable tax-free lifestyle. If it’s a choice between gaiety and tax I vote for sombre. Of course in Dubai there is no voting. A recent survey showed that Dubai ranked amongst the lowest for democratic institutions; in the bottom 10% world-wide. Interestingly it scored in the top 10% for satisfaction with public institutions.

Well that’s about that really. Hopefully 2010 won’t mean so many redundancies (dammed unpleasant), but not the return of queues for taxis. A bah-humbug festive season greeting to you personally and a crabby New Year to all. I hope you get what you deserve for Christmas, I know I will.

… And Finally

Some wisdom and wit to share over the Xmas dinner:

Q: What’s the difference between pea soup and roast beef?
A: Anyone can roast beef.

A vulture boards an airplane carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, “I’m sorry, sir, only one piece of carrion allowed per passenger.”

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