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Friday, April 29, 2011

Kate & Wills - A Proud Day for Britain???

There are certain defining moments in one’s life that coincide with other events to ensure they stay fresh in the memory for a very long time. In my case there was Kennedy’s assassination (I was at the first performance of Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana in London’s Royal Festival Hall); Germany in the final of the World Cup (I was mooching through Dubai’s Bur Juman listening to the roar of the crowds watching a giant screen as the call for prayer over the loudspeaker system hopelessly struggled to make its mark); and today’s Royal Wedding of Will & Kate (I was stuffing my face in an Indian Restaurant, downing roast pork and glasses of red “beverage” in this supposedly Moslem country).

I have to admit that it makes a nice change when the broadcasters finally decide that everyone is totally fed up with hearing about Arabs shooting at one another. And for one blessed day we realise that there is absolutely nothing going on in the rest of the world save for the British Royal Wedding.

My day starts as I log on to the web and find that Google has joined the spirit of the day with its own little doodle to mark the celebrations in London. It also reports that the wedding has overtaken all other search results for April, with people checking in on every possible detail, from the carriages to the wedding cake.

A reported 2.1 million tweets have flown across the Internet thus far. A live-streaming video company reports that all records for concurrent viewer-ship have been broken — with an expected two million people expected to log on to one of the streaming videos of the day.

I switch from radio station to radio station as I cruise along Al Wasl Road and find there is absolutely nothing else to listen to. Ever the patriot, I switch over to BBC World Service and am appalled by the trash they are putting out: a programme called World-Have-Your-Say which is so pathetic it would put the UK’s local radio stations to shame in its banality (and believe me, that is really saying something!). Does the world really want to listen to an American tourist in London linking up with her mother in Ohio telling her the place is awesome? I mean, not just for a minute or two minutes, but for what feels like hours.

I press the button for Dubai Eye (yes, I really am that desperate) and am pleasantly surprised to find an interview with Filipino haute couturier Michael Cinco – the Dubai-based Filipino designer who has been dressing up Tyra Banks’ aspiring supermodel-wannabes in the current season of America’s Next Top Model. Here is someone who actually has something interesting to say about what Kate might be wearing when she leaves her hotel en route to the Abbey. Well done Dubai Eye (though I fear you will still be on my B-list of must-listen-to-radio stations).

I arrive at my lunch date a full hour before the wedding is due to commence. We walk in to the dining room where photos of Bollywood starlets crowd the walls for space. On the TV is playing a Bollywood movie – and decide this will go well with the meal. As it’s a buffet style lunch, we wait for our red beverages to arrive and then go next door to attack the hors d’oeuvres.

But what’s this? While our backs are turned, one of the waiters has had the foresight to please his British guests by switching channels to BBC World News and we find ourselves sitting down at the table to see various cars rolling through the streets of London. Oh well – maybe on this occasion we can join in the special day from afar.

There is a report that Legoland, just a gnat’s whisker from Windsor Castle, has made its special tribute by modelling what they imagine the royal day will be like – even down to lego’d corgis and a lego’d wedding dress. Oh, you guys at BBC World Service (Radio) could learn a thing or three from your erstwhile TV colleagues.

Posh and Becks arrive on the red carpet at the Abbey as some unknown sneezes his head off behind them. Maybe he has caught a whiff of Posh’s scent? Might it be the equal of her hat, I wonder. The BBC commentator – ever the expert in filling air time – informs us that Victoria Beckham is said to have lent Kate Middleton some of her dresses – “not that she probably needed them, but there you go...” he adds wryly.

The excitement mounts. Kate emerges from her hotel in a Grace Kelly type of dress which looks OK. But I have to say, in my eyes she is well eclipsed by her younger sister - maid of honour Philippa Middleton, who arrives at the Abbey along with the bridesmaids and page boys. Apparently Philippa was named the No. 1 Society Singleton by Tatler in 2008, and while tradition dictates that guests should never wear white to a wedding, she does just that and looks fabulous.

Charlie arrives with Ugly Camilla – OMG doesn’t he look old! Yet again I am convinced that the only reason he married this old bint is because here is someone who looks even more awful than he does.

And the hats! This is worse than a bad hair day at Ascot FGS! The Daily Mail’s web coverage summed it up for me:  “Leading the way in the fashion faux pas were Princess Eugenie and Beatrice, who wore almost comical outfits. The girls are known to love experimenting with fashion, but perhaps today wasn't the time. Beatrice's taupe Valentino Haute Couture dress and matching coat were elegant, but her headpiece was a ludicrous addition, perching on her forehead at an impossible angle, detracting from her sophisticated outfit. Her hat, which celebrity bridal stylist Camilla ridley-Day suggests was the wrong shape for her face, has already sparked a Facebook group named Princess Beatrice's Ridiculous Hat, with members mocking up pictures of the Princess with monsters on her head.” (Actually the Mail article is a definite must-read if you want a good laugh!) Maybe Bea and Euge were getting their own back for the snubbing given to their mother.
The wedding went predictably well – the Brits are good at ceremonies. I saw HMtheQ nodding off only once, which can’t be bad, given her age; and Phil the Greek looked almost alive (though you’d think he could have afforded a new set of teeth for the occasion).

As for the Bishop of London – someone should tell him not to appear to enjoy the sound of his own voice too much. (But there again, I suspect many a clergyman has entered the profession having first been rejected after auditioning for RADA).

For me the most touching story of the day was about a group of three orphans in the south west of China who had written to Will & Kate asking for an invite to the wedding.  Though unlucky in this request, the British Embassy in Beijing flew the happy trio to the Chinese capital to join in their celebrations there. Nice one Mr Brit Ambassador!

And the nicest “music” of the day? Yes, it just had to be the peal of ‘Spliced London and Bristol Surprise Royal’ rung on the Abbey’s 10 bells as the couple left the church.

There’s no doubt about it – there are some things (admittedly not very many) that Great Britain plc does extremely well. Today was one of those days.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bangladopian Maid Arrested for Doing a 'Bobbitt'

The news that a housemaid “did a Bobbitt” on her Arab employer has got many people here in Dubai coming out in sympathy for the maid.

According to The National, a 35-year-old Bangladeshi maid was arrested after getting fed up with being sexually harassed by her 70-year-old employer ‘who is from an undisclosed Gulf country’ and used a kitchen knife to perform the corrective surgery.

Hang on a moment – according to 7 Days, it was a 20-year-old Ethiopian woman and her boss was 76, while The Daily Mail refers to a 26-year-old Ethiopian emasculating a 78 year old Emirati.  The AFP and PTI agencies, too, refer to the guy as being an Emirati.

Well, as they say… don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story!

What we do know is that this 27½ year old Bangladopian ‘lashed out with a knife’ at the GCC-Arab-who-may-or-may-not-be-from-the-UAE, slicing off his private parts, and the guy was taken to ‘Dubai Hospital’ (wherever that may be) … or perhaps Rashidiya Hospital, as speculated by some of the papers.

It is alleged the Bangladopian flipped after being sexually harassed by him for many days. According to another newspaper, the maid was raped the first day she arrived and her employer continued abusing her. On the day of the incident she claims he asked her to give him a massage. She got angry, went to the kitchen to get a knife and attacked him, a police official is quoted as saying.

Some of the media, short of a good picture to go with the story, reconstruct the implement of destruction, ranging from simple kitchen knives…

To a picture of a knife with what looks remarkably like red currant juice dripping off it….

The Boston Speakeasy takes a different, more uplifting approach…

The UK’s Metro added further excitement for its readers with links to other stories including “Penis graffiti on St Petersburg bridge dropped from Russian art competition”, “Man has ‘mini’ tattooed on penis to win car” and “Penis-shaped rock discovered” just to whet their appetites.

Worldwide reaction has been pretty heavily on the side of the maid. ‘Absolutely brilliant. Well done to the maid’ sums up the majority of writers to media sites.

‘We always hear cases of maids being sexually abused by their employers, yet the sad part is that they have no recourse to justice at all. This lady did what she had to do, because in her situation, this seemed the only solution out of her misery’, commented one person; while another said ‘Very well done... hats off to the maid.. Now he will regret for the rest of his life... That’s what we call KARMA!!!’.

Yet another mused ‘Well well......Now she will have her own Wikipedia page like Lorena Bobbitt’; while someone else helpfully suggested ‘Next time cut and dip it in boiling water. The owner might need some soup after discharge from the hospital. Well done Ethiopian’.

A blogger to the Random Forest site said: ‘I wrote this with my legs well and truly crossed, wincing in pain as I tried not to think about it. I bet he will think twice before pushing things this way in the future!’

On the other side of the consensus were the likes of Boston Speakeasy: ‘I don't know what the punishment for this kind of crime is in Dubai, but you got some comin' to ya. Payback's a bitch, bitch.’

What no-one seems to have thought about, however, is what the old guy was doing as the maid went to the kitchen, took out the knife and presumably then undressed him to the point where she could actually do the wicked deed. Did he just sit and wait, hoping for a spot of S&M with her? I mean, if some woman started wielding a knife close to Junior and his friends, I can assure you I would move pretty damned fast.

And how easy is it to sever a man’s penis? And is it easier done when erect or flaccid? I mean how many of us have really sharp knives in the kitchen? Did she just slice through with one fell swoop or did she have to saw away at it? I think we should be told.

According to Dubai-based plastic surgeon Dr Luiz Toledo, if the penis had been kept iced and there had not been too much of a time lapse, it could be re-attached and function again, at least partially. Now that statement begs a lot of questions, doesn’t it? Did the Emirati go place his penis in the ice compartment as he was calling the police? (There’s a lesson to be learned by us all!)

The surgeon who performed the reattachment said it took several hours and that phallic reconstruction involves the use of skin tissues and soft bones from the patient's forearm and leg. More questions come to mind – I think I will have to scour the pages of Wikipedia for an answer!

Seriously though, the UAE and other Gulf countries have come in for repeated criticism from human rights groups over their treatment of millions of foreign workers, mostly Asians. The watchdogs have also sharply criticised the sponsorship system, still in force in most Gulf states, by which workers must be sponsored by their employer and which has been likened to modern-day slavery.

Police have been reported as saying that maids committed 665 crimes in Dubai last year, including ‘113 illegitimate relationships’.

"We always warn bosses about abusing maids in our police campaigns because bad treatment might backfire on them,” said a police spokesman. “People need to treat maids well because they are also human and have rights.”

Oh really?

Take the recent case of a Filipina maid whose employers refused to let her resign after she was mentally abused and forced to work for 16 hours per day, seven days per week for three years. The maid, a mother of-one, had attempted to resign at the beginning of 2011, giving her employers a one-month notice. After her employers wouldn’t let her quit, the maid escaped and fled to the Philippines Overseas Labour Office. Her employers responded by declaring her as an absconder at the Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department.

She was  arrested and taken to the Dubai immigration prison and is set to be deported. Foreign labour is regulated in the UAE under the Sponsorship (kafala) system, which ties the legal status of the migrant workers to their employer, making it illegal to leave their sponsors without the consent of the sponsor. Sponsors, however, are free to fire (and thus cause the deportation of) their workers whenever they please. Even in cases of abuse, if the worker leaves her sponsor without permission, she loses her legal status. The absconding charges result in a visa ban, meaning the worker will be forbidden from entering the UAE again.

Consul General for The Philippines in Dubai, Benito Valeriano, has said there is nothing he can do to help the woman: “She has been listed as an absconder... we can’t do anything - this is the system here.”

But back to our Bangladopian once again. A fitting end piece (cod piece???) to our story:

In the same month that this news broke, appeared another story which got scant attention over here in the Emirates. We all know that the world’s only Phallological Museum is located in Iceland, don’t we?

What? You don’t? Perhaps you should visit www.thepenismuseum.com which boasts ‘The World's Greatest Penis Site - New way to look at tons of penis pictures. Quality penis photos can be browsed using our penis search tool.’

The museum, run by Sigurdur Hjartarson in the tiny Icelandic fishing town of Husavik, has just received its first human penis to join the extensive collection of phalluses from whales, seals, bears and other mammals. Several people had pledged their penises over the years — including an American, a Briton, and a German — but Pall Arason’s was the first to be successfully donated, Hjartarson said. The 95-year-old Icelander's pickled penis will now be the main attraction. "I have just been waiting for this guy for 15 years," he told The Associated Press in a brief telephone interview.

Now, with the addition of Arason's organ, he has 276 specimens, many suspended in formaldehyde or dried and mounted on the walls.

It’s enough to bring tears to the eyes!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Emirates NBD - A case of Incompetence, Stupidity or what, pray tell?

I used to think that Emirates Bank was OK. It gave a fair service and in general was quite reliable when it came to the services it offered. But things have changed recently – at least if the Ibn Battuta branch is anything to go by.

Not once, not twice, but three times in the past two months I have tried paying in a cheque to one of their newfangled electronic automatic pay-in machines – each at a different branch – and each time, having religiously followed the instructions given, I have ended up with the machine swallowing the cheque and then had to run around for about half an hour afterwards trying to get some bored bank official to try and put matters right … which normally took up to three days to do.

This morning I had another cheque to pay in and so decided I would not use one of their auto machines, but instead would use a teller. I went to the Ibn Battuta branch and had to go all the way to the far end of the bank to get a pay-in form which I duly filled in. But now I had to go all the way back to the entrance to get a queuing ticket before going all the way again to the far end to wait for a teller.

They used to have a collection of Filipino and Indian tellers who were pleasant, competent and gave one confidence in their service. Alas no more. Emiratis have taken over and despite the fact there were four people on duty, three of them (the Emiratis) were giggling and gossiping among themselves (at one stage even taking  a look at the ID card of an Indian customer and falling about laughing at his picture – unforgivable IMHO) while the fourth teller – an Indian woman – carried on diligently. So I was not surprised that it took ten minutes of waiting to pay in my cheque.

But what was this? I was told you can no longer pay in a cheque at the teller counter, but that you have to use a machine that stamps a time code onto your paying in slip and then post it into a box. One of the giggling Emiratis took me over to show me (back to the front of the bank once again). She had thoughtfully stapled the cheque to the paying in slip.

See how easy it is, she told me condescendingly.
Excellent, said I; but where do I get a stapler to attach the cheque to the slip?
You ask a teller. They will be happy to help.
So I have to queue up for a teller to ask if they will staple the cheque to the paying in slip so I can then post it in your post box?
Yes…. Or you can use one of the envelopes provided.
But there are no envelopes provided.
In that case you can ask a teller for one.

I left the bank wondering if this is a case of stupidity, incompetence or simply that the bank is having fun at the expense of its customers. Given the behaviour of the Emirati tellers earlier on, I suspect the latter. That, together with a touch of stupidity and incompetence thrown in just to make sure the customer is inconvenienced to the max.

Geez! What a bank! Or for that matter… What a country! How come anyone stays in business over here?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Change is Needed

It was a long time ago, but I was always brought up with that age old expression ‘Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’.

Which is why I was delighted to see Gulf News this week kicking off a campaign for retailers to hand back to customers the change that is due to them. Gulf News is not my favourite English language broadsheet in the UAE, but for once the paper struck a chord with me. In a country where cheating or exploiting others has become a national pastime, it was refreshing to see someone standing up for the rights of ordinary people.

I can only think of one shop – the CooP – which always hands back denominations of 1, 5 and 10 fils coins as change. But I am all too aware of the large supermarkets who always round prices up to the next 25 fils level, even if the price is a mere 5 fils over that break point. So, you buy something for 9.80 dirhams and you are charged 10.

After three days of this campaign, the Ministry of Economy has warned that tough action will be taken against businesses that deny customers their rightful change. The banks claim there are plenty of smaller denomination coins in circulation and that it is only the shops who don’t prepare themselves with the correct amount of cash.

What amazes me is that according to Gulf News, so many residents of the UAE are totally unaware that these smaller coins even exist. Mind you, I have to say that I had been visiting the UAE for three years before I ever saw my first 5 fils coin. Others also are quoted as saying they are too embarrassed to ask for change when being ‘served’ at a supermarket.

The Ministry has set up a toll free number – 6005225 – to register complaints against retailers who refuse to hand back small change.

So now I am going to start asking – nay, demanding – my rightful change when I go shopping and see what happens. I suspect there may well be a follow up blog in the very near future.