08 June, 2006

Life: Who says Dubai has no culture?

This was the Metrolife headline in yesterday's 7 Days, which I read this morning. I'd link to the article, but all efforts take me to today's issue only. Albob, Woke and BD discussed this very thoughtfully on June 1st Culture & Heritage for AED 50 Billion and I have nothing to add to that. (But here are some email responses in the online edition. )What got me was the comment by Pegah Arzi, of Centre Stage Management, "Shakespeare on the Lawn' at the Ritz-Carlton and nobody turns up. It was dhs400 for a ticket, and that included lovely wine, a full dinner and the show, but people said it was too much. Yet the same people went and forked out dhs600 a ticket for Robbie Williams."

Problem! I'm sure the dinner and wine were lovely, but 400Dhs is too much, and we didn't go to see Robbie Williams at 600Dhs a ticket, because that's too much too! If the Ritz-Carlton had not built dinner into the ticket price, I might well have gone, because I love live theatre, and we don't get the classics here very often. I understand that Food & Beverages is where hotels make their money, but unfortunately, my day-to-day budget does not have five stars. I hope that theatre will become more affordable for us residents when DUCTAC the new Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre opens its doors in the Mall of the Emirates.


Woke said...

Yes, the article does have a point there - that expats who come here with the sole objective of making more money whine about the lack of 'soul' or 'culture'in Dubai.

I believe this is more of an attempt to reflect upon peoples perspectives and to generate discussion rather than for cynically dismissing genuine attempts to address this issue.

"..the place was knee deep in sand, camels and Bedouin tribes - who incidentally, are rich in ancient history and culture" is relevant too. But the question is - Is this the culture that is being reflected in Dubai? Is it what projects like Dubai Culture Village trying to achieve? Or are they defining their own version of Dubai culture to make it commercially viable?

Like a Red-Indian themed restaurant in Las Vegas trying to associate with an ancient tribe?

Woke said...

A very interesting view on the subject..

Seabee said...
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Seabee said...

As the article seems to say, I think the complaints need putting into context. I've done a blog piece on it too, because I hear complaints about lack of culture all the time - amongst all the other complaints! (I think I'll do a blog series on it!)

I think the real problems behind the endless complaints, including culture, are that people are not comparing apples with apples or remembering where they are.

trailingspouse said...

Woke, that's an excellent piece on aqoul.com. So many people I come across says there's something "not quite right" about Dubai but can't explain what they mean by that. This sums it up very eloquently.

albob said...

That aqoul.com article hit the nail on the head and pinpoints what it is that makes people say "dubai is fake". As mentioned in the article, the gated community thing causes quite a bit of these sort of problems. A lot of developments like emirates hills, etc follows the walled-off mall-orientated suburban housing that can be seen all over the US. Not only does this type of development isolate people from the rest of the city, but it also causes loads of traffic problems because of its sprawly nature. I guess there's plenty of evidence of that :-).
The SZR creates a few of these kind of problems by pretty much dividing the city in 2, and acts as another wall of this sort. Take the marina and JLT projects for example. They're both quite similar and should be connected together but the highway cuts through the middle making it pretty annoying to get from one side to the other.

Pity about culture village because although it'll have the facilities like schools and colleges, they'll most likely just be like knowledge village, profit comes before quality of education.

I try to think positively about the future though. The DM has announced that many more public parks will be built and that they'll give people the chance to design sculptures and stuff so hopefully will turn out nice. The metro should be a great help when built, not only will it reduce traffic but also because of the better connections between areas of the city, get rid of some of this social isolation. Am also hopeful the new projects along the creek (including the expansion) will improve the city and create some more vibe. Pretty much all of them seem to be well planned, well connected to the surrounding ones, and are also mixed use. Also I've heard rumours of another lightrail line connecting all of these which would be a great addition

MamaDuck said...

Thanks Woke, firstly because that article crystallised a lot of my impressions and feelings, and secondly because I'd never been to 'Aqoul before. Required reading in future, I think!

Someone - I can't remember who - sorry! - SOMEONE blogged recently on the phenomenon of the complaining expat. Surely when there's absolutely nothing that you can say or do to improve an unsatisfactory situation, the only harmless option is to grumble? It might not help the listener or reader to get through another month, but it surely releases the mental and emotional pressure in the complainer.

It's a shame that there is no mechanism by which the general population - Emirati and expatriate - can be heard; that we are regarded in much the same light as ants or bees, whose sole purpose is to build, and then give way to the next generation.

The trouble with suppressing and ignoring the popular voice is that resentment and cynicism eventually supplant contentment and optimism. It is hard that expatriates are so readily castigated as materialistic, grasping and self-centred, with no personal investment in the development of Dubai, when in fact we are actively discouraged from feeling that we belong here.

When I first came here, there were institutions created by expats on land generously given by the ruler. These institutions were about community, not profit, and so they continued year after year, charging modest subscriptions, and relying on volunteer or basic wage workers: individuals came and went, but the cricketers, the rugby players and the sailors continued, uniting adults, occupying and training children, entertaining the city, supporting charity.

Other groups - the animal charities, the charity challenge group, the choral societies, the drama groups, the bands and orchestras, the art centre, the social clubs, the lending library - have rented space for years.

Individuals of all nationalities, not just expats, but ordinary Emiratis too, volunteer in charity shops, prisons, special needs establishments and schools; organise and participate in the Terry Fox Run, the Walk Against Hunger, and raise funds or donate goods to relieve the suffering caused by natural disasters in the region.

All of this activity, the good will and energy that engenders it, and the satisfaction, the friendships and the ethos of organic community arts, sports and humanitarian action engendered by it, constitutes a vital part of 'Dubai, The City That Cares'. Dubai Centre for Special Needs, Rashid Paediatric Therapy Centre and Al Noor School have all benefited enormously, for decades,from the activities of expats who believe in 'putting back' into the community. BCAF (The British Community Assistance Fund) and support groups and organisations from other nationalities - Filipino, Sri Lankan and Indian cultural and charitable societies, the churches, the Russian School, the Japanese School - all these organisations, and others like them, help us foreigners to maintain our identity, but also enable us to contribute to the diversity and humanity of this place we live in.

Culture begins with community, and a community is a living organism, its parts interconnected and interdependent. Destroy the connections by shutting down or bankrupting socially beneficial organisations and visibly stratifying and segregating the population by income or nationality, and you get umpteen variations on 'us and them'; hardly the best social model.

Now we have blogs and letters pages, but no-one's listening. Gifts have been taken back, and living groups cut off, cut out, because there's money to be made, and there must be no obstruction to the making of money. Who's materialistic, grasping and self-centred, with no personal investment in the development of Dubai? What a betrayal of goodwill and decades of selfless effort. What a waste of human resources.

Perhaps the fundamental problem is one of scale. The old, small Dubai was run by the ruling family, and individuals could bring issues, concerns and suggestions to the majlis, knowing that they would be heard thoughtfully and treated fairly. It was a paternalistic social order, in which father and children had a direct personal relationship; it might reasonably be called quite democratic.

It certainly worked as well as, if not better than, many another system.

However, as the family has grown, and all the foreign cousins have moved in, the father, though admired and loved by many, appears to have become more remote.

It has not happened by design. In terms of community, Dubai has become a victim of its own success. The analogy of the over-achieving executive comes to mind: working so hard to give his family the life and opportunities he dreams of, that ironically they start to feel that he only cares about his job. His children reach adulthood, surrounded by the things he's bought them; fit and well, with straight teeth; enriched by education and experience; but resentful of his preoccupation, his apparent assumption that they are not sufficiently responsible, intelligent or imaginative to know what's good for them.

Meanwhile his doctor is talking bluntly about over-exertion and blood pressure. So much effort, such good intentions: how did he end up being the bad guy with the heart problem? It's not fair.

End of apparently endless analogy.

Hissy fits in newspaper interviews and letters about ingratitude, subversion and disloyalty will not silence the complaints or settle the discontent they reflect, nor will PR, however stylish and ubiquitous.

Eventually there has to be a system of conference, a mechanism for sharing ideas and points of view for the general good. Not an off-the-shelf import of an Nth generation system which has evolved to suit an entirely different culture. (None of those systems are perfect anyway, and transplantation would only magnify the flaws.) On the other hand, studying the successes and failures of others, and applying the lessons, is the Dubai way.

A new majlis for a new era?

Woke said...

albob.. Is DM really building public spaces to encourage scultpures/artists? I hope they will have much more than multicoloured horses.

Every time I have tried to make sculptors/artists contribute something to an establishment here in Dubai, they were all evaluated based on their brand value and not their skillset. Once an establishment even denied an artist because of his nationality and his profession in Dubai because they thought it would not fit into their 'brand positioning' even though the artist perfectly fit the requirement. Ofcourse most establishments in Dubai would welcome a Picasso to do a painting if he passed by- but Dubai will never produce a Picasso or Rodin if it follows this attitude.

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