Sunday, February 1, 2009

Unemployed Porsche Owner

Photo: courtesy of Mason News Service
One blogger called it the "signs of the time" for Dubai. As thousands of expatriate workers are being laid off from their jobs because the financial turmoil has hit our shores (it was inevitable, right?), one man is "profiting" from an other-wise disgraceful (or at least, dreaded) situation.

Publicity Ploy Brings Unexpected Reponse | The National | Jan, 30, 2009.
By Tala Al Ramahi

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Laid off from his Dh395,000 (US107,000)-a-year job after 18 months as a construction project manager in Dubai, Andrew Blair decided to advertise his newly available services in headline-grabbing fashion.

The moment he heard the bad news, the 28-year-old Briton jumped into his Porsche and drove straight to the Mall of the Emirates. Buying a black marker pen, he sat down in his suit in the car park and scrawled his name, telephone number and the following message across the elegant rear end of the white Boxster S: “Made redundant today. Construction project manager.”

“Lots of people just stood around and watched me sitting on the floor with my suit as I was doing it,” Mr Blair said yesterday. “But I didn’t care.”

That was when the power of the internet and the global media kicked in.

The story seems to have surfaced first on Jan 18, on Life in Dubai, a blog run by “Seabee”, an Australian expatriate living in the city. Seabee posted a photograph of the car under the headline “Sign of the times in Dubai”.

The story was picked up in the local press and on Jan 21 made headline news in The Daily Telegraph in the UK. “The scene,” reported the paper, “is a modern echo of the 1920s Great Depression, where jobless city traders walked the streets wearing billboards and placed signs looking for work on their cars.”

Two days later Mr Blair’s fame had spread back to Bristol, the hometown in Britain he had left 18 months before to seek his fortune in the UAE. Mr Blair, reported the Bristol Evening Post on Jan 23, had “hatched a cunning plan to find more work in the tax-free haven”.

Within a week, the cunning plan had gone global, with coverage on the BBC and CNN, which featured Mr Blair’s impromptu act of graffiti in a story headlined “Hard Times in UAE”. Top down, shades on and with a television cameraman riding shotgun, Mr Blair cruised the streets of Dubai, “where a young man can dream of riches, drive fast cars – and lose it all”.

By this week, the story had travelled full circle. Back on the Life in Dubai blog, Seabee reported that, “The interest in the story is amazing” and that it had seized the imagination of the web.

Dubizzle, the Dubai-based trading website, had set up a link to the blog “and I’ve never had as many visitors from Dubizzle as I’m getting for this. Hundreds a day.”

Internet queries that have brought people to the site have come in from around the world, including one Google search from Skopje, Macedonia, but now there are signs the interest is becoming something other than mere curiosity. One large newspaper group in the UK had searched with the words “Dubai police Andrew Blair”.

And that’s not all: the blogosphere is biting back. One sharp-eyed reader of Life in Dubai wondered “why the mobile number on the car is changing from publication to publication”; the number on the original photograph and the one published in The Daily Telegraph were different.

Worse, another blogger visited the website of Dubai Police and typed the registration number of Mr Blair’s Porsche into the traffic fines inquiry page.

As of yesterday, that registration number had accumulated 12 black points and 37 unpaid fines, totalling Dh3,850, and Mr Blair’s highly mobile advertising platform was wanted for impounding.

The offences credited to the Porsche range from illegal parking and obstructing traffic to jumping a red light and speeding – including one fine of Dh1,000, incurred on Jan 16, for exceeding the speed limit on Um Suqeem Street, off Sheikh Zayed Road, by “more than 60kph”.

He will pay the fines, he says, when he re-registers the car.

All this, and he has still not got a job, although he says he has had a few companies asking for his CV – and “lots of calls from so many random people”, including one woman who spotted the Scots flag on his car and called “to ask how I can say ‘I love you’ in Scottish”.

He estimates that cleaning up the back of the Porsche will set him back Dh3,500 – although he says he might try to cash in on the publicity by selling the rear end of the Boxster on ebay.

“The people who have written negative stuff about me and have been giving me grief about what I did are just trying to set me up,” he said.

“I think it’s quite funny, actually. These people should spend more time on their own life than worry so much about mine. But you know, it’s hard being famous, but someone’s got to do it.”

Does he regret the job-seeking stunt?

“I don’t regret it at all. Life is not about regrets. I have none. Zero.”

We really do, have short term memories.

I wrote the post below a day after the "protest for Palestine" that happened on Abu Dhabi's corniche (Jan 10, 20). My prediction wasn't too far off.

Yesterday’s government-approved protest made me feel uneasy. I attended because I was curious about how people would react there. The last time I participated in such a protest, was during the Second Intifada; I was only fifteen, I believe, and more of a revolutionary that I could ever possibly be anymore.
Al Jazeera Channel called Friday (the day of the protest), a “day of Pan-Arab anger”- in reference to similar protests that were organized across the Arab world. To be honest, I hate the reference. Yes, the images we see on our television screens make us angry. But really, most of us feel sadness, not anger. Sadness that most of the victims of such a conflict are civilians- a large number are women and children. We also feel helpless. Because our leaders do little, and the only way we can ever “support” the cause is by flooding the streets in a government-approved protest. Maybe that is why we become angry.
Nevertheless, I presume Al Jazeera knew what it was talking about it when it referred to Friday the 9th of Jan, 2009 as a day of anger.
Because most of the protesters were, indeed, angry. Most, I know, are angry with their Arab leaders, for complicity. Others are angry because they haven’t dealt well with their own grief. I understand their anger, but I don’t think it serves the Palestinian cause much.
I would have rather called it a day of solidarity, or even, a day of mourning. Because there is so much to mourn for today. And yesterday. And for the past XX days, in fact.
We can mourn for the lives lost in this impasse. It is a pity that we don’t even know their names because we are too busy counting their bodies.
Despite the outcry and the anger I witnessed, I give the Arab street a few weeks, and soon these protesters will resume with their less than ordinary lives as though the situation in Gaza was an excuse for them to create a little organized chaos on the streets- something we can’t do very often had their not been such a significant event.
You see, we, in the Arab world, have short term memories. We also overreact in the heat of the moment, and then stay silent for another few years…until we witness another atrocious attack and another unnecessary war… and ever more silent leaders.
It is a pity that we never funnel that anger into something more productive. Something that would make a difference even after this war is over. Because gazans (and the Palestinians as a whole), have been fighting a 60 year old war to live in dignity. Now that, is something we can all be “angry” about.

Reading a Book? NO WAY

It is so rare to find a young (goodlooking - although that has nothing to do with the subject of this post) man reading a book (in public, at least)- that I had to do a double take when I spotted a late 20's/early 30's man seriously engaged in one (a real one. Not a magazine or a fluffy book) at Marina Mall today.

To be completely honest, my reading habit has deteriorated (though not completely) since I returned to the UAE. I am not sure why that is. I like to blame it on my chaotic busy lifestyle, but I had just a busy a schedule when I was a student at Stanford University. Nevertheless, I always made time to read, or at least skim, a book very often when I was a student.

What is it about this country that makes us so disconnected from anything that resembles a reading culture? Is it the lack of public libraries? Or the plethora of coffee shops that we use for nothing more than socializing. It is so rare to find someone in the city's MANY coffee shops just reading away. I used to do it when I first moved back here after graduation, and was actually teased by many of my friends for being a loner.

But really, there is nothing more relaxing than getting lost in a good book. And nothing more fulfilling than knowing you've learnt something new today.

This post actually reminds me of an interesting conversation I had with a local professor on just that: the lack of a reading culture. He somewhat disagreed with my hunch that the locals do not appreciate great literature. He pointed out that Muslims' awe of the Quran, and their respect for it, is not just because it is their God-given book, but because it is an astounding example of beautiful literature.

He went on to explain that the lack of public transportation and long commutes makes it even harder for residents to pick up a book to read. Which makes sense, I guess, since a long train or bus ride is the perfect opportunity to engage in a productive hobby, like reading. But then again, I know many a person who has replaced the book with an ipod; instead of investing in time to read a book, they "pass time" by watching an episode (or two) of a popular show they have downloaded from the internet (and uploaded to their ipod).

That said, I will leave you guys to ponder whether your own reading habit have also fallen victim to our so-called chaotic lives in the UAE. Are our lives THAT much busier than those who live in the U.S. or European countries?

I believe my conversation with Associate Professor Chris Brown, led him to write a Comment piece on the issue in The National. Check it out.