living in dubai

Ejo #48 – Dubai Expo 2020: Let’s All Celebrate Together


Two nights ago I was sitting on the toilet when I heard an explosion! (Ahem… from outside, thank you very much!)


“What the hell’s that?” I shouted out to David.


“Fireworks!” he shouted back.


Fireworks spewing from the Burj Khalifa.  Pretty!

Fireworks spewing from the Burj Khalifa. Pretty!


I hurriedly finished my business and rushed out to see the Burj Khalifa aflame with pyrotechnics. “Oh,” I said. “I guess this means we won.”


Two years ago, the city of Dubai made their bid to host the 2020 World Expo, a global fair lasting up to six months, where countries from all over the world showcase themselves in national pavilions. Two nights ago, it was announced that they were successful.


Yesterday, work was abuzz with the news, and I was keen to find out people’s thoughts on the announcement.


Gotta love the enthusiasm!  My colleague Pauline dressing in the national colours!

Gotta love the enthusiasm! My colleague Pauline dressing in the national colours!


The overwhelming response was positive, coupled as it was with the upcoming National Day celebrations. When probed about why they were happy that Dubai had won the right to host Expo 2020, here’s what a few of them had to say.


“It’ll show Dubai as a true international city and how diverse it is. It’ll open the city up for other international events, like the Olympics.”


“Al Maktoum International airport will expand. Increased development will lead to more job opportunities opening up. It will lead to a good life.”


“There will be more development, more jobs. It’ll be good for the city.”


“People will have the chance to learn more about Arabic culture and tradition.”


It sounds good. There certainly will be a great deal of development, with an estimated $8.4 billion dollars to be injected into infrastructure such as new roads, hotels, Metro expansion and the 438 hectare site of the Expo itself. It is expected to create close to 80,000 new jobs – mostly in travel and tourism sectors.


An artist's impression of the impressive Expo 2020 site.

An artist’s impression of the impressive Expo 2020 site.


Interestingly, of all the people I asked, only one had ever been to an Expo before. Originally from New Zealand, Kim T. attended the 1988 World Expo in Brisbane (which I vaguely remember, as a high school student, coinciding with Australia’s Bicentennial celebration). She said she’d absolutely loved it, and when I asked her to elaborate, here’s what she said:


“It was spectacular, with exhibits from around the world, commemorative events throughout the city – not just at the Expo site – marking it as a very proud and special time for all of Australia. We only had two days in Brisbane but could easily have spent more than a week to experience all that there was. I expect that Dubai will spend the next six years promoting and trumpeting this event and I’m sure the occasion will be even more special with the resources the government has committed to it, ensuring another spectacular showcase.”


Expo 2020

Expo 2020


I have no doubt that Expo 2020 will be an incredible extravaganza. Even a card-carrying Dubai-basher like me can admit to feeling a little bit of pride and admiration. But (as always) wanting to keep things in perspective I wondered if it was all good, or if there might be a downside to the Expo being held in Dubai. I certainly had a few concerns, and wondered if others did too. So I asked people to tell me how they thought it might negatively impact the city and its residents. The consensus?


“Everything will become very expensive.”


“People are afraid of what it’s going to do with property prices in the next few years.”


“Rent will go up.”


“Everything is going to get crazy expensive. The cost of living will explode, affecting everyone. Rent, fuel, food, everything.”


So, the prevailing view is that Expo 2020 will drive prices up making it even more expensive to live in Dubai than it already is. Kim T., who has lived here for seventeen years, expounded:


“On the down side, six years is a long time for residents, particularly expats who must grapple with the very real possibility that rents will increase, as Dubai has a legacy of greedy landlords who overcharge and under-deliver. The country will risk losing people that have helped to build this city up to a position where they could confidently bid for such an event.”


Indeed. Let’s talk about that for a second. Certainly the city has developed as a result of the expertise, skill and hard work of a great number of expats, without which it may very well still be a sandy outpost. I’d like to also bring a little bit of appreciative attention to the hundreds of thousands of people without whom, over the years, Dubai literally could never have been built. The workers and labourers. The men who constructed the skyscrapers and laid the roads and built the Metro. The men who, year after year, labour away endlessly in order to create the impressive, sparkling city which dazzled the Bureau International des Expositions, convincing them that, YES!, we are the best city to host Expo 2020. Can we please, in all the excitement, not forget about them??


Don’t worry, this ejo isn’t about the lack of minimum wage, or the dreadful living conditions the workers endure. This time I’m not going to rail about the injustice of the system – I’ve written about that plenty in the past, and if you want to find out more about that, please feel free to peruse previous posts. This time, I simply want to tip my hat to the men that laid the foundations of this great city. I want to applaud them for their priceless contribution towards our reaching for the sky. I wish to salute them for the greatness of their accomplishments. Simply, I just want to say “thanks”.


The morning after I started writing this ejo, I received an email from my lovely friend, Roshni. As some of you know, Roshni is a tireless advocate for the underprivileged workers here. She has organised food hand outs every single Friday for the last three years, and much, much more. Here’s her email:


“Congratulations! We have won Expo 2020.


But in the midst of our celebration, let us pause a moment to think about the men who built Dubai. No doubt the brain and foresight was someone else’s, but who has toiled through the hot summer days and the cold wintry months, far away from his family, so that Dubai can be noticed by the world?????


So with the intention of wanting to do something special for these men, I write this mail to you. I leave it to each individual, what they wish to give. Please make a little gift packet. It could contain anything from non-perishable food items, toiletries, shirts, trousers, linen, shoes, blankets, cardigans, wallets, watch, whatever you wish. The only request is to make sure that the clothes, shoes, etc. are new. Let’s not give them used stuff for once.


We can make it a Christmas/Expo 2020 gift combo. We go for our usual hand outs on Fridays and will carry your gift packs also to distribute. And if you wish to join us, you are most welcome! Let’s not celebrate alone. Let’s welcome our fellow men to join in. Let’s make them feel special too!”


The Burj Khalifa spotlit in the colours of the Dubai 2020 bid for the Expo.

The Burj Khalifa spotlit in the colours of the Dubai 2020 bid for the Expo.


So, for Xmas this year, I will be putting together gift bags for some of the labourers. If you would like to contribute some money towards this, that would be fantastic. Please let me know. And if you live in Dubai and don’t feel like taking part, that’s OK. How about you spend 2dhs and buy a labourer a fruit juice. Sure, rent might spike up over the next few years, but it’s still a cheap and meaningful way to show gratitude for the workers’ invaluable part in us winning Expo 2020. I can guarantee it’ll mean the world to him to know that someone’s noticed.


Ejo #47 – Things I Hate About Dubai #2 – HAIRDRESSERS


I’m going to cut (haha) right to the chase. I’ve been to five different hair salons in Dubai, ranging from top-end, super expensive “designer” hairdressers to little, back-street joints where the “hairdresser” also waxes legs, threads eyebrows and gives shoulder massages (hopefully not all at once, but I wouldn’t be surprised)! Regardless of the ambience of the place, regardless of how much the haircut costs and regardless of whether the gown they slip on my shoulders is made of silk or more closely resembles a plastic rubbish bag, all five of these salons do have one thing in common. They have, at one time or another, completely butchered my hair.


Now, I’m sure I can hear some of you rolling your eyes* and saying, “Really? This is what you’re complaining about? A bad haircut?!”. To you, I say two things. First of all, phooey!! And secondly, I’d like to tell you a story about two little girls. When my middle sister, Mari, and I were younger we had a particular Uncle (whom I shall name X) whose clumsy attempts to make us feel special and unique probably did more harm than good. He would say to my sister, “Mari, you are so beautiful, such a pretty girl. You should be a model.” And to me he’d say, “Chrysoula, you are so smart, so intelligent. You should be a doctor or a lawyer.” So, is it any wonder that Mari grew up feeling dumb, and I grew up feeling ugly! Thanks Uncle X, thanks a lot.


Anyway, neither of us lived up to his lofty expectations. But you know the great thing about being pigeon holed? It’s figuring out that you don’t have to conform to anybody’s ridiculous ideas of who you are and what you’re capable of. Taking a long break after high school, Mari eventually went on to complete a Degree (with Honours) in Sociology. Now she academises me under the table. (See how smart I am? I make up words because it’s fun!)


And no, unfortunately, I didn’t blossom from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. I’ll never be Cinderella in anyone’s book. And that’s OK. I’ve come to terms with that. You know why? Because I’ve got great fucking hair!!! And that makes up for a lot! It’s bouncy and thick and has a little wave in it. And can I quote you a statistic here, for effect? Studies** show that 91% of Australians believe that hair is key to a person’s sex appeal and attractiveness. Ninety one per cent!!! That’s like…. practically everyone!!!!


So, pardon me when I get a little emotional, a little overwrought, a little hysterical at a bad haircut. But c’mon people, it’s all I have to work with! There’s no buffer here, no room for error. And when your whole sense of physical self-esteem is wrapped up in whether or not you are having a good hair day, then a couple of bad hair YEARS can be a blow to the ego.


I have never made the claim that my hair is EASY to cut. In fact, the same characteristics that make it great hair (thick, bouncy, wavy) actually make it really problematic hair. I’m the first to admit it and I always warn new hairdressers of the high difficulty factor. They usually dismiss my cautions with a confident wave of the scissors, probably thinking that THEY will be the one to tame my wild locks, as they start slashing and hacking. And then, when they fail (miserably) I’m the one who has to pay for it, and even worse I’m the one who has to live with it. I have a feeling that a lot of people are going to defend the Salon Inks, the Ted Morgans, the Toni & Guy’s of DXB. Maybe they’ve had good haircuts at these places. But the fact remains that I have not, and if my hair is too difficult for someone to cut well, then as far as I’m concerned that someone is not a good hairdresser. Ergo, in my personal experience there are no good hairdressers in Dubai.


I’m not ashamed to name some names here either. After all, they weren’t ashamed to sabotage my head, so I don’t feel any compulsion to protect them in return! A lot of people throw the name Salon Ink around as the best salon in the city. I remember asking Narelle at Salon Ink to trim my shoulder length hair and, even more vividly, I remember her giving me a lopsided bob, with kinky layers sticking out around my ears!! Not exactly what I requested and it took me nearly a year to grow out. I recall showing Elaine at Ted Morgan a photo of a blunt fringe (à la Krysten Ritter) and walking out with a feathered Farrah Fawcett do which also took about 12 months to grow.


But the ultimate crappy haircut is the one that still hurts the most. I wasn’t joking when I said I measure my bad hair in years. I am still growing out a chop executed in April 2011 by a man called Shadi Nassif at Caritas salon. I walked out of the salon literally looking like a giant mushroom head. And that, ladies and gentleman, was the nadir (and the finale) of my hair grooming experiences in Dubai. After some serious crying, a lot of cursing and even a little bit of melodramatic wailing, I vowed to never EVER get my hair cut in Dubai again. And, despite the inconvenience, I’ve stuck to that vow. And will continue to do so! It does make hair maintenance a bit difficult, but I’m prepared to live with that.


I am lucky enough to have found a wonderful hairdresser in Amsterdam who seems to understand my obstinate mane. Raúl at LysandroCicilia is not only a delightful young man who loves what he does, he’s also extremely bloody good at it. He’s my Hair Whisperer and I simply adore him. I wish I could say that my life was so awesome, so filled with rainbows and unicorns, that I could afford to fly to Amsterdam every time I needed a haircut. But, unfortunately, this is not the case. Through necessity, I have become very comfortable with split ends and annual haircuts. It’s not ideal, but I’m a stubborn cow, and like I said, I am never getting my hair cut in Dubai again. The end!


* And yes, I can hear you rolling your eyes. It’s a curse.
** Yeah, yeah, OK, it was a Pantene study. But it still counts!!!