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Dubai or Bust ?

Dubai Marina  looking Sth WestDubai the City State in what used to be the Trucial States on the Gulf of Oman, the land of Sun, Sand, Sea, 7 Star Hotels, Every type of Exotic Car and chunky motor bike one can imagine, the World’s fastest growing International Airline, Emirates, routinely flying the new A380 double decker planes to London, Australia, USA. Gold plated cars, Air conditioned bus stops, mobile phone aerials built to look like Palm Trees , Endless spectacular shopping malls, what is claimed to be the world’s biggest with 1300 stores opened in December 08 (as did three others in December! Joining the many already in existence yet another opens next month) Claims to have one fifth of the worlds construction cranes and pile drivers in use building remarkable tower blocks including when it opens in September The World’s tallest building the Burj Dubai (which it is claimed will have a telescopic spire at the top to ensure it retains the title as long as possible or least until the next to be built in Dubai and already announced, the Dubai City Tower at 2,400metres or in English 1.5 miles high!) Aside the Burj Dubai readers will be familiar with the iconic ships sail shaped Burj Al Arab Hotel, Burj incidentally is Arabic for Tower, the World’s tallest hotel the whole building being hotel accommodation unlike many other tower blocks where only a portion of the floors maybe given over to hotel space. The Gold Souk where it claims to have 2.5 tons of gold on display at any one time in the form of jewellery and small bars for those that want to secure their savings. Trays of cakes in many of the top hotels come with a sprinkling of real gold leaf as part of the trimmings.

But...................... The reality is slightly different certainly everything above does exist and can be seen as the City is not that large but Dubai is not without its problems. It is a town of extremes those that have and they really do have and those that do not living out of town in labour camps, a real third world existence surrounded by this glamour.

A little over thirty years ago Dubai was a small pearl fishing port when the various Sheikhs who led the seven Trucial States decided to band together and form the United Arab Emirates with the Capital being Abu Dhabi. Dubai as one of the smaller City States, with a limited amount of oil reserve decided to commit to developing Dubai as a holiday destination and international financial centre. With only ninety kilometres of coast there was an immediate problem but the solution was to build more so The Palm Island Jameriah with the Jabel Ali Island under construction and an off shore development called the World, a grouping of manmade islands set out in the Shape of the World and its various continents. These developments as they complete will extend the coast line to several hundred kilometres offering almost endless water side development. Complementing this if complementing is the right word are newly excavated inland water channels referred to as canals again surrounded by spectacular housing towers, I have a very nice flat on the 29th floor in one of these fortunately, as property is very expensive be it purchase or rental , supplied by my client, looking out on the canal, Dubai Marina and views across the Palm Island to the Atlantis Hotel of spectacular firework display fame when launched in October 08.

Realistic figures in the land of hyperbole are difficult to come by but at a simple level Dubai has a total population of +/- two million of these 80% are expatriates of which the larger part are Asian and Philippino who provide the labour force either as building site labour or fronting the service sector as house staff, maids, restaurant waiters etc. The town was full pre the financial crash, contributing to dreadful traffic problems, aggravated by the endless very basic white bus’s ferrying the Asian male labour force between massive labour camps out of town and the many and various building projects where these men labour twelve hour days in temperatures that can in the summer exceed fifty degrees and rarely drops below thirty degrees in the winter.

As a consequence of this huge and rapid expansion, I am constantly being told by locals where ever I am that a few years ago where I am now standing was desert. Dubai is full of dichotomies, the infra structure has not kept up so mains sewage is limited resulting in tanks requiring pump out and the truck drivers providing this service having to Q for up to twenty four hours to discharge their loads at the one sewage plant. This Q being one of the Dubai sights when leaving town for the sand dunes and one of the tourist activities, Four Wheel Drive Dune Bashing. What about fresh water I hear you ask, well strangely there is no limit, just along the coast out of town are gigantic sea water desalination plants, the salt, a side product being one of Dubai’s export activities. Roads are difficult, as with any seaside town the set-out is linear and consequently the traffic runs north south. Currently this net work is undergoing huge change to try and alleviate the traffic jams. In conjunction with the road works and further adding to the problem a comprehensive driverless Metro system is being fast track developed at a cost of 9 billion Dirham (5.5 dirham approx to the £) Driving standards are questionable particularly from in my experience and local press reporting on the part of the Asians and speeding despite mass’s of speed cameras is derigueur. As a consequence road deaths average almost one a day with crashes being very spectacular. Many of these crashes are Emirate Youths who have and drive cars way over their capability. It is said that the Labour Buses race one another to benefit on board gambling with the periodic crash adding to the thrill?.

Dubai Marina looking NthSo why am I here? Having a background that has taken in the management of theatres, concert halls arenas and stadiums I have one of the most diverse building management careers and an interesting Little Black Book of contacts as a consequence. Some years ago I branched out on my own offering that experience and my contacts to the benefit of others business’s. So I undertake Interim Management, Programming, Marketing, all sorts of operational issues and business planning. I don’t advertise my services but rather rely on word of mouth and recommendation which I am glad to say has been more than enough to keep me busy on a wide variety of leading venue activity in the UK and occasionally abroad. Even as I write this in Dubai I have two other projects running which I am able to deal with electronically but it does make things difficult some times as sods law will apply there will be time/delivery clashes. In that curious way but fortunately for me that the grapevine works, last summer I received a call from a Lebanese gentleman in London researching experienced expertise that could aid his development of a new events venue in Dubai. We met in a Mayfair office, the base for a well known promoter, the next day and agreed terms and the necessity for me to meet the completion of what I was doing at the time and a month later I was in Dubai on a research visit and have been here apart trips home ever since.

The UAE does have theatres there are two in Dubai seating around 500 and in Abu Dhabi three more, one seating 1200 plus two 500 seats. All have fabulous no expense spared auditoriums but rather restricted stages. Programme consists of a mixture of UK tours such as Birmingham Stage Company and Shakespear4Kidz plus shows that are produced in the UK just for the Middle East market. Pop and Rock does visit the UAE, Iron Maiden were here last night, Fatboy Slim two days ago, James Blunt and Cold Play will be here soon and there are of course lots of Asian Bollywood and Philapino shows. All the large scale shows take place outdoors but the available sites are very limited and because of the heat have to be seasonal as from Mid May to Mid September it is too hot.

The Dubai Palladium will open shortly and be the first purpose built large scale events venue in the Middle East. With full air conditioning the Palladium in different formats will offer tiered seated concert capacity up to 3,000, a standing capacity up to 6000 supported by a double purchase full flying stage tower of twenty-five metres with an adjustable stage floor area 25metres x 60metres. Dressing rooms and other necessary support space for a full range of staged performances. The seating on three levels can be electrically stored offering a clear span floor area of 2,500 sq metres for niche exhibitions or social functions with a dining capacity up to 1500. Other facilities include three restaurants, one Mediterranean themed, one a more casual cafe and the third a fine dining experience all individually staffed and operated by the Jabel Ali Hotel group. Further FOH space accommodates two exhibition/hospitality/meeting rooms. There is a mezzanine floor below the auditorium and above the underground car parking that holds a full suite of rooms that will operate principally as a conference and meeting centre. Ticketing in the UAE is rather basic and due local tax regime unnecessarily complex, we hope that the Palladium will be able to introduce a western ticketing service with a full range of purchase routes and fully auditable sales records.

The programme will be everything and anything that can fit the technical capabilities and which has an audience potential that makes it viable, with a various diverse population that is likely to range across western artistes and productions as well as Arab, Indian and far Eastern shows as they surface. To further aid the Palladiums financial performance there are a range of high quality offices for lease by local business.

As the Palladium opens I will return to the UK and other projects, give me a call if you need my unusual expertise.

Oh! And I forgot to mention the jeweller s I walk by every day which has a ladies evening wear waistcoat knitted in 24 carat gold! Rather at odds with the man I also pass sweeping sand, surely out here, a job for life!

RWE March 09

Footnote

Roger wrote this in early 09 in response to a request from a UK Industry Association on noting his email address for some observations on his Dubai experience for inclusion in a members newsletter. During his time in the UAE he saw the fantastic Dubai boom up until Christmas of 08, followed in the New Year by very rapid close down of the very many speculative building projects and huge reduction in the labour force as the World Crash took hold. Despite the crash Roger’s project continued its build until he returned to the UK in mid 2010 having completed his role in the development of the Dubai Palladium. He says that he enjoyed his time in the UAE, found it a very interesting experience in third world development but that he has two words of advice for anyone interested in Dubai “don’t bother” It is an over hyped destination full of pretence, doubtful standards with everything overpriced, and the Palladium? As with so much in Dubai proved unsustainable and soon closed to be sold but has remained closed . 

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China a Personal View: by Dr John Crowe

chinaChina was an exotic destination that I gave very little thought to as I escaped my childhood. When the ‘Cold war’ was at its hottest in the sixties and I had turned 13, I began to notice increasingly frenetic headlines in the national press in the UK.

As an intense very politically aware youngster in the sixties I would want to start my journey to enlightenment, apropos China in those very sixties; an era of confrontation and much ‘sabre rattling’ between the cold war contenders. A little background to my mindset at that time may be of interest. I would go as far as to say that I seemed to be the only student, at age 14, in 1962 at the height of the Cuban Missile crisis, who felt deeply worried in the school playground whilst others were enjoying themselves. It was during this era by the way that the quote (below) emanated from. All I could envision then were the scenarios I had read on my daily newspaper round where we were all going to be wiped out with our passports firmly clutched in our perspiring hands whilst standing at the entrance to oblivion.

Anyway that slight digression aside China and what it was in the sixties fascinated me especially the imagery created by the ‘Great Leader’ in the shape of ‘chairman’ Mao. It certainly struck a chord with my friends and I in the 6th form when the little red book was waved around in areas as obscure as Basingstoke. Its pithy offerings gave us much merriment especially when we could quote some the sayings verbatim. A favourite was ‘paper tiger’, when Mao referred to the USA.

China faded somewhat from our collective radars when we entered our respective colleges and universities. I arrived at Madeley College a somewhat raw and bewildered student but one who still had a deep interest in politics albeit at a relatively low discourse level.

My interest perked up however, when I undertook a first degree in one of those new universities where Marxism coursed through their Social Science faculties like hot streams (of political invective) attacking, unrelentingly, an oblivious status quo. It was there that China really took root and became an interest of mine in a purely theoretical way. I had occasion to meet the Guardian’s China ‘expert in the early eighties, John Gittings, whose insights provided me with much ammunition in my discourse with others. I had read in addition several tracts on China and I became increasingly intrigued by some of its practices and conceptions. It was at that time when a television programme on Chinese nursery education became a ‘hot’ topic. We saw these children setting up their tables and chairs, getting out their lunch things and feeding themselves. When they finished any of their activities they would tidily clear up. This of course was in sharp contrast to western practices where the young demanded attention and almost subservience from their teachers and carers.

Having been contracted to teach in China in the 21st century the China I found was somewhat different. Amy Chua (famous for her ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother ‘ and ‘World on Fire…”) sees ‘parents who hover over their children, doing their work for them…….investing all their dreams – not to mention money – in their only child”. However Chua goes on to say that this is all done in a ‘distinctly Chinese way’, where these ‘spoiled children often study and drill between 7am and 10pm every day’.

Here at our school that incidentally caters for the ‘better offs’ we see some of the above in action. The self-centredness of our students is not as apparent to us as foreign teachers. Keep in mind that most of us have taught in Britain and by comparison our Chinese students are incredibly well behaved and well adjusted. Certainly, as far as our school (student) hours are concerned Amy Chua is on track. To those in Britain or elsewhere these hours may appear to be horrific.

Students by and large live on campus where they share dormitory style accommodation of up to 8 students per room. We see much evidence of fresh air concerns and traditional medicines influencing their perceptions of healthcare. Yet days are often taken off to visit hospitals that treat colds as infectious diseases!

Their day starts at 6.15am and breakfast is from 6.45 until 7.10am in the school canteen. Prep in class is from 7.10 until 7.40am when our international curriculum commences.

We teach the Cambridge International syllabuses encompassing IGCSE, AS and A Level. Our students are around 14/15/16 when they undertake the IGCSE’s in one year followed by AS (one year) and A Level (one year). What is a little extraordinary perhaps is that when they enter our school they will need to quickly adjust to the teaching medium of English, and it is only after the month or so in our school, that they realize the IGCSE syllabuses in the sciences and mathematics are far too easy for them. The speaks volumes for the Chinese education system but there are a swathe of systemic problems, hence our over-subscribed ‘international’ school. To date most of our students have received A* or A’s for those subjects. As a result all our students now start their A Level mathematics course in their first year of our school’s 3 year programme.

Perhaps we are able to remember the hardships we faced in grappling with maths in our secondary school days, except perhaps for those who sat in the front row!

Going back to the school day; our curriculum ends at 4.10 pm but not so for our students! After an hour’s break for café or canteen food between 5 and 6pm they are back in their classrooms until 9pm. The same applies to day students! It’s very long day but one that is replicated throughout China and is totally accepted as the norm.

From the mundane to the ridiculous; let’s talk about driving. If you have driven in a manner shaped by fairground ‘bumper’ cars, then you would be eminently suited to the driving styles out here. The outstanding and enacted mantra is: ‘never stop for anything unless it is a red light in whose glow is a watchful officer of the law’. Otherwise do as you please and like the proverbial football crowd entering a stadium, fight for your place and never give it up once attained. If you are unlucky enough to be a pedestrian walk straight and true; avoid deviation since the electric bikes will be aching to make contact with either side of you; ON THE PAVEMENT!

Finally China is all you want it to be. It has modernity in abundance with advertised branded goods prominently lighting the thoroughfares of Beijing and Shanghai interspersed with the sanitized township replicas of old China. If we dig deeper still, we can still see remnants of the real ‘old’ China amidst the towering new blocks and ubiquitous construction sites.

Dr John H. Crowe

Note

I have spent the last 3 years in Ningbo, China as a school Principal

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Spain by Ryanair


ryanairI must admit that I have never been enamoured by Ryanair. I don't like the way they do business as I feel as though I have to be very wary in order not to end up paying far more than I expected. However, I recently made a trip to Spain to see friends. I did the usual trawl of the Internet to find the best prices. Ryanair beat the competition by approximately £100 so I decided to bite the bullet. I was told that  the most important thing with this carrier is to ensure you follow their instructions to the letter. So I did and have to say that everything went very smoothly and flight landed slightly before the scheduled times. I paid upfront charges for reserving my seats, for using my credit card and for checked luggage, all of which were included in the original comparisons. 

I had chosen the particular time to go to southern Spain to see friends as the Andalusian Flamenco festival was taking place in Jerez and it was a great opportunity to see a form of dance completely new to me. Like most people I had come across the usual flamenco of the stereotypical red dressed and matador dancers but I understood tradition flamenco was quite different and so it proved to be. An important part of the performances is the accompanying agonised love songs sung in a style that I had never heard before. The dance itself was truly wonderful with an energy, rhythm and grace that was quite moving. I was so impressed, not just with the movement but also the very clever clapping routines hitting an off-beat. It is very skillful. If you get a chance you must see traditional flamenco, preferable in Andalusia, but companies do tour in the UK.

For those of you that know Sotogrande I have two recommendations for eating. In the port is the Italian restaurant La Toscano in Puerto Duquesa.. An excellent host and very good, resonably priced food. I had one of the very best lasagna that I have ever tasted preceded by an excellent beef, cold meat starter.

P1000081On the Sunday we decided to take the train to Jemena de la Frontera to a small hotel called Hotel Molino del Santo for Sunday lunch. It is run by a British couple who have developed the hotel gradually over 25 years and have made an excellent job of it. It is truly magnificent and situated in beautiful surroundings. The food and wine was excellent and at a reasonable cost given that it is a special place. I will undoubtedly pay a visit again and would even consider staying there overnight. ( hotel link ) One of the best parts of that day was the train ride. The train runs from Algeciras to Granada and stops at Jemena de la Fronterra. It is a beautiful line with each station sporting staff dressed in very smart and colourful uniforms. We have done the trip on this train before when we caught it to Ronda which also makes such a nice day out. 

Whilst in Jerez we stayed at the 4 star Hipotels Sherry Park. It cost €175  for the two of us for 2 nights. Included in the price was a magnificent buffet breakfast catering for all requirements.  (Hotel link)

 

These are a few recommendations in which I feel very confident and would welcome some similar reflections and recommendations of your. Please let us know after all, with TripAdvisor having got itself into such controversy perhaps the Silverlinksnetwork members are a more reliable source.

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