Thursday, April 30, 2009

Standing Up Again

I’m always hearing people talk,
like they got all hurt,
and that’s it.

They've turned to stone.
They’re like a rock.
They're unmovable.

But, you know,
people ain’t rocks, man,
they’re more like bags of water.

That's right,
bags of water, man,
like eighty percent or something.

You know what water does?
It flows, man.
it flows.

Water flows -
around rocks,under stones,
down hills, in the sky.

When it gets cold,
water freezes,
and stops.

It's turned to stone.
It's like a rock.
It's unmovable.

But, you know,
when the sun comes out,
that water?

It keeps moving, man.

It keeps moving on

And there ain’t no reason you can’t either.

Novak Nohtche (Part 1)

Tonight, and for the next few nights, I'll be posting fiction. It's one story, Novak Nohtche, broken up into five parts. Here is part one.

It was said in the office that someone new had appeared on the sidewalk; a lady walking her dog. She was fair-haired, of medium height, and wore a white hat. The hat was not a large hat, but not a small one either. It wasn't a bowler, bonnet, or a beret. Indeed, there were so many things that it wasn't, that it was hard to say what it was. The going opinion in the office was that it wasn't even a hat at all. It was more than a hat. It was a chapeau.

Novak Nohtche, looked down from his office window, far above the traffic and noise, and waited for the woman to pass by. In a river of black, blue, subdued browns, and other late fall colours, she stood out. Her ensemble was always head to toe white, including the sunglasses, and gloves, to say nothing of the dog, also white. Of the thousands that flowed past Novak's office each day, all seemed dark, dull, nondescript, except for her.

Every morning, for several weeks, stories below, a small puff of white, dog in her wake, whisked by. She always seemed impervious to the ebb and flow, and noise of the traffic. It took her eight minutes on average, from the time she appeared across Novak's concrete horizon a few blocks down, waited for the signals at each intersection, then passed around a corner and out of sight for one more day.

Novak stood at the window, waiting. Behind him, the sound of footsteps and a polite cough.

"You're vibrating," said John.

Novak turned around and took a mobile out of his pocket. "Sorry. My alarm. It's ten o'clock."

"Have an appointment?" John, asked. "Meeting?"

"In a sense. Just taking a break, really."

John sniffed, and nodded his head. "You know, I was talking to some of the art direction guys, and they were laying bets about you. Any idea what that's about?"

"Possibly," Novak replied.

"They say you got a woman in your life. Is that true?"

Novak looked out the window, searching. He felt a twinge of panic for the space of a breath, and then he found her, waiting on the corner for the light.

John stood beside Novak and looked down through the double paned window. Twenty stories above the ground, neither could hear any of the sound from the tumult below. All that was left was the hypnotic pattern of flowing movement, shifting about. A random gathering of disparate elements, with the collective purpose of a living being, if only for a few moments.

"She there?" John asked.

"In the white." Novak replied. As the light changed, he watched her move through the crowd, a steady elliptical shifting, left to right and always forward. "See? Just across the road."

"I think I saw her before," John said. "Yesterday, when I was going to Starbucks. She looks like she's got some money."

"I wouldn't know." Novak tensed up just slightly. "Never met her."

"She's probably married to an investment banker." John smiled.

"Anything's possible." Novak turned away from the window as the puff of white slipped around a corner and out of view.

"Is that why you're going after her?" John stared at Novak for a good long second, waiting for a response. "The part of a lady-killer doesn't really suit you, Novak."

"Who says I'm going after anyone?"

"Then why are you here?"

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Life is a bitch, really,
then you die.

Or so we've all been told.

I cannot help but laugh,
sitting here,
on an old dark road
for three hours
after the smiling man with a gun
took my car,
and I look up,
and see the clouds open,
and it begins to rain.

It Could Have Been Worse

One thing that is very different about working here in Dubai, compared with Canada or the United States, is the provision that employers have to provide "ticket money" to all employees. That is, once a year your employer has to give you enough extra money, on top of your normal pay, to buy you an airplane ticket to your home country. Two tickets if you are married. Out here it is just a regular part of the pay package, and for most, it's an annual ritual to calculate the amount you are going to get before hand, and work it into your family budget. But for myself, it still feels like a Christmas gift, albeit one in April. And with the distance between Dubai and Canada being what it is, it's not an insubstantial gift either.

As a thoroughly domesticated and entirely boring family, we don't go in for all of that exciting stuff. None of that Osbournes stuff for us. Trips to Rome? Nah. Nice? In our dreams, maybe. But a trip to the supermarket? You bet! So this little April gift usually represents something other than seats on a flight out of town. Something usually very boring and entirely uninspiring, and this year was no exception. Upon hearing that the ticket money had come through, my wife let me know in no uncertain terms that we'd be heading down to Carrefour right quick to get ourselves a really nice washer/dryer combo.

You know, it's a pretty bad sign, as a fella, to actually get excited about a new washer and a new dryer. Were I to pass by the Spike TV offices, I think the doors would automatically lock on the off chance I'd try to come through. My membership in the man club officially revoked. Yes, excitement over a buying a washer and dryer is probably the most undeniable symptom of rampant domesticity. At that stage the domesticity has metastasized, spreading throughout the masculinity, becoming inoperable and terminal.

Still, I got to looking forward to it, and my wife as well. Which may explain our uncharacteristic impatience today, as a chain of events unfolded that had my wife dissolving in tears, and left me having a little laugh at the perverse irony of chance and fate.

You see, before we moved out here, we set ourselves up with a certain very large, very international bank because they offered a very useful service. Through their online setup, we could instantly transfer funds from here to back home. A very useful feature when it comes to keeping up student loan and credit card payments. But once in a blue moon this service abruptly, and for no reason that customer support ever seems to know about, stops working. The last time this happened, and after we figured out how to send money the old fashioned way, we ended up with more than a few late payment fines to cover, and we vowed we wouldn't let that happen again. Today, upon discovering that the online transfer service was down, plan B kicked into action. Only there was a hitch.

Excited about that washer/dryer combo, we decided it would be better to head off to Carrefour straight after work tomorrow. Instead of heading down to our bank, standing in line, and wasting precious time tomorrow, we'd just withdraw what we needed to send and go on over to the remittance place downstairs right away. After speaking with the exchange folks, it seemed that their rates were actually better than what our big international bank offered us, including a far better exchange rate.

What then followed made all those cliche expressions "penny wise and pound foolish," "haste makes waste," "patience is a virtue," etc, all come alive, illustrating for us just why those expressions have stuck around for as long as they have. What happened was the wife went downstairs to make a withdrawal from the ATM. Card went in, number punched, amount selected, then....nothing. Nothing for a while, then the card comes out, and the screen says "thank you." No cash, no receipt, nothing. Figuring there was a problem with this particular ATM, the wife headed off to another one, which informed her that she had reached her daily withdrawal limit.

Come again?

Confused, and more than a little worried, she went to yet another ATM, this time being successful in getting a little money out, only to find, on the receipt, a great gaping hole in what we should have had, but apparently no longer did. She immediately came upstairs, and told me what had happened. But, instead of listening and understanding what happened, I put on my Ned Flanders cape and headed downstairs, two and a half year old in tow, to see about the bank machines. My wife, I figured, probably had gone to the one machine and given up (A thought which, in retrospect, may be a sign of resurgent masculine tendencies). Boy, I had a surprise waiting for me.

Upon seeing that great, gaping hole in the account, I felt pain in places where pain is a really bad sign. I felt light headedness and dizziness. Was I the victim of some scam? Did some Russian hacker have my bank info? I'd checked the account online not a half hour earlier and it was all there. But it all most certainly was not there now. Maybe it wasn't some Russian dude in a basement. What if it was a Chinese hacker, or one of those Nigerian schemes? Had I returned some exiled Prince's email while sleep-surfing? Was my account being drained of funds this very moment?

I made my way as fast as thought, and an annoyed two and a half year old would allow. At home, online, looking at that gaping hole in the account, and talking to a rep on the phone, going over every step of what happened, it hit us.

It wasn't some Russian hacker. Nor a Chinese one, or a Nigerian scam artist. It was a mechanical error. It was the machine itself. An ATM we had used almost daily for years, which operated perfectly virtually all the time, had had a statistical hiccup. Card had gone in, amount for withdrawal entered, amount debited from our account, and then...nothing.

Perhaps the incident is recorded on the machine's error log. Hopefully the video will show my wife standing there, looking, looking, and looking, with nothing coming out? Whatever the case may be, we have to hope there is some way the bank will be able to check our story. As the nice rep on the phone told us, we had to submit an ATM indemnity form. It would take up to fifteen days for the resolution of our issue, and we have to submit the form tomorrow. And that was it.

I'd been so sure our loss was as a result of some human agency, and in the end it was, but not the usual sort. In the end, while the machine was to blame, we could also find fault with the whole sequence of events. So used to depending on the infallibility of the machines we use every day, it never occurred to us that this would happen. When our first remittance option failed, we decided to take a shortcut. Instead of taking the hour or two tomorrow to go to our bank and make a manual transfer, we decided to withdraw the cash and do it right then and there. Instead of walking a few blocks down the way to our own bank's machine, we used the third party machine in our building, just like we always had. As mad as we might be at that hunk of metal, what would be the point? All our friends, our family, we've now learned, have all had something like this happen to them at one point or another. We all had perfect trust and faith in these machines, and while that faith and trust was almost always rewarded, there is always that one time.

In Dubai it will take fifteen days to see about resolving the situation. Back home it takes up to six months, so there is that silver lining. But fifteen days? What would we do? My wife was entirely out of sorts.

Looking over the numbers, I realized, that in all our hyperventilating, we'd missed a salient fact. That big, gaping hole? It was just the ticket money, and not even all of it. We weren't going to suffer this month, not in the least. From my wife's perspective, we had lost a large amount of money, money I had worked for and earned. The sort of money whose loss, when she was growing up, would have been ruinous. For us, even two years ago, we would have been firmly s-o-l. But right here, right now, that wasn't the case.

From my perspective, it was like free money had fallen out of my pocket. Like when an uncle gives you a twenty on your birthday, and it gets stolen, but you don't really care, not that much, because it had been a surprise, a gift. Easy come, easy go. For my wife, it was something terrible, and she blamed herself, for being impatient, incautious, thinking "if only...if only...".

But it wasn't her fault. It wasn't my fault. It wasn't even our fault. It was capricious chance. Sure we could have gone to our own bank's machine, but whose to say it wouldn't have malfunctioned? Everything else at that bank seems to. And even if we had gone the next day to our bank to do the remittance, who is to say the teller wouldn't type an account number wrong? It could happen. It could all happen. What happened to us, may or may not have been preventable, because no matter what, there is always the chance that something else could have happened. In our case, the chance that something much, much worse could have happened.

So, as I sit here and type this now, I am profoundly thankful. I'm giving thanks in prayer. To God, to the universe. We had a little scare. It wasn't so much as scares go, but it could have been. Which is why I'm smiling right now. My wife isn't, yet. But in two weeks time, if...when this situation is resolved, one way or another, I think she'll start to see it my way. She'll start to smile, she'll see the irony too.

We didn't have to go anywhere for some excitement. We just had to stay right here

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Seventy-Five Days

It's two-thirty-six
in this *something* place.

After lunch/dinner (linner?),
coffee, toast,
getting ready's coming fast..

Stuff to do -
dishes, laundry, sweep, vacuum...

Thinking about it...

(The maybe doing it now)
(The what would be first?)
(The maybe when I get home)

...takes a good thirty or so.

Check the email, just for a bit,
something about Jacko,
click the link, and Google it.

Then it's five past getting ready.

No need to hurry, not just yet
Shower takes ten, not fifteen,
and the carpet needs nailing down,
it'll only take a minute;
bugger of a thing, it keeps on shifting.

Hayzoos! Christo! Got. To. Go!
Sniff test says "shower not needed,"
just Old Spice.

Run, bus, train.

Slow people in the way.
(I'm trying to get down the stairs)
Elevator door, second floor,
bell rings, s'okay.

I got there five minutes ago.
Five lessons to go.

I'm not a teacher, but I'll say I am -
It sounds better.

Final bell, punch out,
really dark, night.

Time to walk,
home, five K one way.


Upstairs, open door, shoes off, light,
think about cleaning the place.

(Maybe in the morning)

Phone rings, talk,
just for a bit.

"Can you wake me up in the morning?"

Warm blankets, cold pillow,
reach over, click.

A clock rings twelve.


Seventy-four to go.

Fumble on the Play

As I said before, I'd warn you when I had some fiction coming up. So consider yourself warned. As I was writing up tonight's post, continued from yesterday, I either got tired, or my kids got me tired. I'll stick with the latter story. So tonight, a little voice piece I wrote a few years back.

* * * * *

The Marianos weren’t really a laughing type of people. More like a yelling and hitting type people, you know? And the father, Rico, well he really wasn’t a laughing kind ‘cause he was dead, and today the Marianos aren’t laughing so much ‘cause they have to bury Rico, 'cause like I said, he's dead.

You know I remember how he’d always get red in the face like a strawberry when he was yelling, but that’s just what Coaches do, you know. He’d been my Coach for so long I didn’t notice nothing about that. But then one day in mid-season, when we were playing against this big name preppy school, Coach was yelling like usual. We had the ball at the thirty and there was an offside called against us, but Coach Rico thought the other team jumped first, so he got yelling at the refs. We didn’t really notice, because yelling was just what he did, but after the whistle went on the next play all the guys looked over, and we felt something was wrong, but we didn’t know why. Seeing Coach on the ground, we realized what was wrong, ‘cause we didn’t hear him yelling. He was dead. We lost that game. Coach Rico’s four boys were all on our offensive line. They left and the ref's called the game. We were down by six, so we lost.

Today was the funeral, and the team was here. We all sat in church and sang a few songs, and the four Rico boys, and their mother came out and talked about Coach. Then when it was all over. The boys got Coach Rico’s coffin and we started walking outside of the church. It was raining as we walked down the stairs, and I turned my head back to watch as the Marianos carried the coffin down the stairs. It was a big staircase, and pretty steep, but they’re big guys.

It was raining a bit, and my brother was nagging me about my umbrella, telling me to open it ‘cause his glasses were getting wet. He's such a wuss, and plays, like, back up left tackle. But he's my brother, you know, so I tried to open it, but the button wouldn’t push. I turned the umbrella over and smacked it hard on the ground, but the thing wouldn’t open, so I smacked it harder and it still wouldn’t open. Bro tried to grab it, but I told him I’d get it open. Then he said “Give it to me,” and I said No,” and he said “Give it to me,” and I said “No,” again, and he said “Give it to me,” again, and I said “No,” and then he grabbed it. Well there was no way I was letting him get his hands on my umbrella, so I pulled back, and his hands slipped. Well it was pretty slippery, so we could have guessed that would happen, but then I fell back and lost my feet, and fumbled the umbrella. It flew up in the air away from me.

A couple of hands reached up and tried to intercept it, but it had a good spiral going. It flew at the Mariano brothers, who were only halfway down the stairs. I remember yelling “Fumble,” and the Mariano boys looking up. Vito, the one closest to it reached out and caught it. He was smiling ‘cause I think he doesn’t usually catch things so good. Then his brothers yelling things like “You dumb effer,” and “What the eff are you doing,” and “You effing idiot.” Anyways, Vito dropped the umbrella, and reached for the coffin, but it was too late. All he could do was stand there big and dumb when the coffin smacked the stairs and the lid flew open.

Coach fell out, you know, and rolled down the stairs. He made a thump sound as he hit each step. Actually more like a squish. Everyone heard it so you can ask them. The Mariano brothers went after him, and Michael, the oldest, tackled Rico before he hit the bottom, and the other brothers landed on top of him soon afterwards.

I didn’t really see anything else, ‘cause Bro was all red in the face, and looking really pissed. He grabbed me and dragged me to the car saying things like “You idiot,” and “You stupid, stupid idiot.”

But I don't think it's really a big deal though. Actually I think the Coach might be smiling down from somewhere. He taught those boys to smother a fumble, and boy did they.

Monday, April 27, 2009


There was a time once,
sitting in Ronald McDonald’s Caboose
with Grimace,
I wanted only a plain cheeseburger,
no ketchup, no mustard,
nothing -
just cheese,
and meat, and bun.

Three times my birthday burger came
with the works,
and I cried,
and ate the cake instead.

It seems funny today,
as I stand at the counter
asking where the mustard is.

The New and the Old (Cont'd)

Yesterday I spoke of missing greenery, and of learning how important it was to me through the effect its absence has had. Today I want to move on to a different hue, and a different shade. Grey, specifically. For, you see, grey is one of those colors we either never notice, or notice too much, neither of which is indicative of anything positive. But grey is a positive color. It's a very positive color.

Before I go on, I have a confession to make. I am a lover of walking, and have been for a number of years. In the past, when I wasn't out on a mountain bike going from one end of the city to another, I was out on the toe-heel express. I'd strap on a Walkman, listen to tunes, and just lose track of the world as I went along. In retrospect, I realize this may not have been the wisest course of action. At times I would walk for a couple of hours, and all of a sudden find myself somewhere, yet have no memory whatsoever of the journey I had taken. Had I stopped at intersections? Or had I plowed blithely through them, leaving a snarled mass of skidding tires and honking horns in my wake? I had no idea, and that scared me, but it didn't stop me.

At times instead of listening of listening to music, I'd read a book while I walked. I can only imagine how odd it must have seemed to onlookers, with some fool boy, nose deep in a book, heading off who knows where without showing the slightest hint of noticing the world around him. From my perspective, however, it was all good. I could see enough with my peripheral vision that I didn't worry about banging into anybody, and I'd see intersections far enough in advance that I'd make sure to stop, and at least check the walk signal. But at times, when that deep reading mode descended, I lost even this minimal awareness of the world. Looking back, I can only see it as the hand of providence, or some protective spirit looking out for me, as too many times to count, I would cross a street, and only realize what I had done afterwards, or, stepping out onto the road, a blaring horn would help me snap to, and duck back on the curb. One day after not noticing a substantial obstacle in my way, I tripped and fell off to the side of a path I had been walking along. I took a smallish tumble, thirty or so feet down into a creek bed, getting all my clothes, and all my things, wet. It took days to dry off that book, and after that, I swore off reading and walking, seeing it as a teetotalers corollary to drinking and driving.

About six or so years ago, a friend of mine came down from Ottawa to spend a little time in Toronto. We were visiting my father's house in Etobicoke, closer to the north end of Toronto, when we decided to head out for a walk. We hadn't thought about were, exactly, we'd go, just that we would go...somewhere. It just so happened that after stepping out of the house and walking down a street, we found ourselves facing south. So southward we went.

When walking by your lonesome, time can drag. Every ache and pain makes itself felt, and time often drags interminably. When walking accompanied by music or a narrative, time moves at a faster clip, and you're less aware of your physical limitations. But when you walk with a friend, talking about everything and more besides, time doesn't just move at a faster clip, it whips by. And as for physical limitations, the strangest thing happens. You barely feel anything at all.

My friend and I moved southward, and before we knew it, we were standing on the lake shore. The vast expanse of Lake Ontario stretched out beyond the horizon, and looking to our left, to the east, we could see the CN Tower. From where we were, the tallest man made structure in the world, at the time, was about the size of my thumb, and the downtown core merely and indistinct mass of darker shades. We had already walked quite a ways, so we decided to continue on, and started making our way downtown.

Eventually we ended up in the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto. Our trip had taken us seven hours, and as we sat and relaxed in a food court, our bodies seemed to come back online with numerous damage reports, and a mounting insurrection should we choose to press on further. A taxi ride home seemed the prudent option.

But what, you might ask, has this to do with anything I started this post talking about? The short answer is - sidewalks.

When I lived in Japan, I always found the time spent on the train riding to work to be the most depressing part of my day. You could travel for hours and barely ever see a speck of green, only an endless mass of grey and black. On cloudy, wet days, that dour scenery looked positively dystopian. After work, though, my spirits always lifted, because, outside of times when it rained, I never took the train home, I walked. From where I worked to where I lived, I listened to music and my own thoughts along an endless series of sidewalks. Like Toronto, Tokyo was a city where you could walk from one end to the other, for hours, even days, on a safe set path for pedestrians. Anywhere in the city you might want to go, you could go by foot without a moment's thought, assured that no matter where you were, you were safe, and a place of safety was relatively near.

It wasn't until I moved to Dubai that I understood how important sidewalks had become to me. Those endless miles of grey concrete seemed to signal safety and opportunity. I could go, wherever I wanted, on a sidewalk. But not in Dubai. In fact, with the exception of a few communities in the core of the city, almost nothing is linked by sidewalks. Inside of a few of the older communities there are sidewalks, of a sort, but the are more haphazard and impromptu in nature. Here the endless kilometers of grey are the sole domain of automobiles. And in this place, even on a pedestrian crossing, the pedestrian is most certainly not king. It's pedestrian emptor - walker beware.

Not having sidewalks at hand from one end of the city to the other really limits your horizons. My family and I can only travel by car, since trip on foot are often fraught with tense moments, and interminable as we are forced to take incredibly circuitous routes to get safely from one area to the next.

Absent those ever present sidewalks, we find ourselves trapped, victimized by infrastructure and unable to make our way on shifting paths the way so many others here are comfortable with. With 90% of the expat community coming from places where sidewalks are an elaborate fantasy concocted by westerners, they do not feel their absence. But just as my wife and I simply cannot put our children in a car without a car seat, and are not okay with cramming ten our twelve people into a Toyota Corolla, we have a hard time dealing with the absence of ubiquitous sidewalks.

Those thin paths of grey, merely an afterthought for us in Canada, have become a key source of unease for us here, are one of the key reasons why, though there is much to recommend this city, we could never call it home.

Tomorrow...a bit more about grey, old things, and new.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Y’ever smelt a drunk?
He smells angry.

Red eyes,
foul breath,
liquor stains on the shirt.

You don’t speak to him,
you speak at him,
and he can’t talk back,
don’t know how.

I’m like that man,
but though I may not got good words,
if you talk to me,
I can speak,
in a way you’ll understand,
‘cause with my fists,
I’m articulate.

The New and the Old

Don't you sometimes miss the "oldness" of Toronto? The architecture of the buildings?... Is everything "new" in Dubai?? Is anything "old"? - Slow Reader

Those are good questions, posed by Slow Reader in response to yesterday's post. I won't answer in full today, as I'd end up droning on far too long. But I will ramble a bit, and see where I get.

In reading the international coverage of Dubai recently, especially that coming out of the UK, it seems the most common criticism I hear of the city is it's newness, which is code for tackiness. Of course Dubai can't possibly escape that criticism, since it is a new city, relatively, and literally speaking. Up until about two decades ago, Dubai would barely have qualified as a city by the standards of most western nations, yet today it has emerged as a true metropolis, a cosmopolitan urban center. It's not much by the standards of large cities like Toronto, New York, London, or Tokyo, but Dubai is not small by any stretch of the imagination.

Regardless of straight comparisons of size and infrastructure, one way to look at Dubai is to examine how far it has developed, as a city, compared to North America's major urban metropolitan centers. Toronto and New York are both about three centuries old. That is, they've grown and developed over the course of three centuries. And where Dubai is today, in terms of infrastructure, would probably closely relate to New York of the 1920s and 1930s. In twenty years, this city has developed to a level that took New York over two centuries. By that standard, it's impressive.

That said, as much as I am impressed so very many things in Dubai, from the efficiency of the municipal offices (far, far better than their counterparts in Toronto) to the reliability of public utilities (in two years I have never lost power or water, which I can't say about Toronto), there are yet so many intangibles that also factor into the character of a city, and how one experiences it. For myself, it mostly comes down to the smallest, simplest things that people like myself had always taken for granted, until they weren't there any more. The first is greenery.

When I lived in Tokyo, the city was magnificently beautiful for about two weeks of the year, during Hanami, when the Sakura blossoms bloomed. And when I say "beautiful" I am talking about that ineffable ethereal beauty that latches onto your memory and never lets go. Unfortunately, outside of those two weeks, Tokyo became on of the ugliest, drabbest urban expanses on the planet. Sitting on the train, at work, and at home, I found myself aching for the sight of grass. I dreamed about lying down on a soft lawn, under a shady tree. But it wasn't until I was back home in Toronto that I got my wish.

Dubai is like that also, While not a monolithic expanse of drab gray extending beyond the horizon in every direction, the city is in a desert. Grass does grow, but only where recycled water can be routed, and laborers available to groom and cultivate it. Each week I play softball on one of two professional diamonds hand built by a group of American expats who couldn't abide not playing ball in a proper ball park. But keeping the grass fresh and well groomed costs a minor fortune and more than a few full time staff. Outside of that ball park, there is little grass to be found, and what grass there is, is often dry, brittle, and suffused with very aggressive, territorial ants. Thankfully, I still have Toronto.

To be honest, Toronto is not the greenest city in Canada. Not compared to Ottawa, or even Vancouver. But compared to cities like Tokyo and Dubai, it's an endless seas of verdant growth. Until I had been away from it, I had never known just how a part of my psyche the nearness to nature was. Not being near trees, grass, even bushes and scrub effected me in ways I never expected. Growing up going camping every summer, playing ball in the part, or just having a picnic by a pond, nature was always around me.

Now, instead of nature, and I find myself surrounded almost entirely by artifice. It's not bad, as a far as it goes, but there ain't no place like home.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Tale of Urbania

heart racing
idly browsing
in storetalk
then not

doorkick exit
cash in hand
a carshout alarms
he runs
through an alley

nobody in sight
a slow lawnwalk
nonchalant and easy
he quietly heads
to the sleephouse

peering eyes
from the darkness spy
glittering Nikes
they speed steathily
through the jumpyard

in the homewalk mode
away with thoughts
of sleep
or scoring the next fix
he does not notice

Signs of Life

The other day I read about the spreading violence in Greece, and the very precarious situation in most of Eastern Europe, and the news looked very grim indeed. Violence is escalating, and the aftershocks of the initial financial earthquake are being felt in very unpredictable ways. Even back in my home, Canada, friends and relatives are quick to tell me not to make plans to head back any time soon. Unless, that is, I am eager to start my new career at Tim Hortons, and even they may not be hiring these days.

But in the midst of all the economic turmoil, and daily predictions of apocalypse waiting just beyond the horizon, I have started coming across small glimmers of hope in my tiny corner of the world. Nothing overly large, just a series of small events that, perhaps, point to a larger trend.

Walking through the Mall of the Emirates today, I saw something that I hadn't seen for some time, not since this whole crisis hit its stride. You see, about a year ago, whenever I stopped by the Mall of the Emirates, making my way from one end to the other was often a perilous journey through tightly packed, constricted walkways. As the economic panic crested, the same walk soon because a casual stroll through those same halls. You could pirouette and throw your arms about in any direction and not worry about hitting a soul. Today, however, I noticed that the crowds were a touch thicker, and the halls a touch thinner. I was so used to the wide open halls, that as I chased my daughter during one of her many fits of laughing mischief, I very nearly knocked over a brand new real estate display. Some building, somewhere, I didn't bother to remember the details, was offering space at the low, low price of a small fortune. Just like old days.

Back a year ago you could hardly navigate the halls of the Mall of the Emirates, what with the overwhelming profusion of real estate kiosks, to a one proclaiming that the entire development was Sold Out!, yet somehow they still wanted you to sign on the dotted line.

So, so many of these dream opportunities, these super-ultra-mega luxury accommodations where your neighbors would be so rich they only fueled their fireplaces with hundred dollar bills, and wouldn't be caught dead puttering around their palatial pads wearing slippers that cost less than a Toyota Corolla. I always wondered just how many of these developments had made it beyond the glossy brochure stage, and when the crisis hit, we had out answer - not many.

By the sudden disappearance of the plethora of real estate kiosks, I can only surmise that developers were in a scramble back then to cut costs, to retreat, and reorganize. That the developers are reaching out again, albeit in a more reserved way thus far, perhaps it is a sign that things are getting better. Then again, it may be that they've decided that some projects were well enough along that the best course of action was to try and fill them up. What could be canceled, I am quite sure, already has. But what's standing, empty and bleeding cash, needs to find a few occupants. Or what may occur, which has already happened in the US, according to NPR, the few remaining occupants may find themselves living in a building with no owner, with no one to pay for power, for water, or even basic upkeep.`

Over the next while it will be interesting to see which buildings get finished, and which seem to stay only partially constructed, day after day, and month after month. With the Emirate demolish them? Or let them stand? Around and about where I live there are more than a few apartment buildings under construction, in an area that looks more and more like a ghost town lately, and yet the projects are all fully staffed and steaming along. Then again, being so close to the Dubai Metro is probably why the developers involved are taking such a gamble. Still, it is an encouraging sign that things may be looking up.

Yes, despite the doom and gloom, and the daily depictions of apocalypse heading pour way, I feel oddly reassured that things will be okay here, in this tiny corner of the world. In the time it has taken for city council members back in my home town of Toronto to decide on what kind of soy-tofu organic pita they want street vendors to sell, the Emirate of Dubai has built a Metro system that is 20% longer and with almost as many stations as Toronto's entire subway system. A decade ago, when I was doing my undergrad at York University, they had been talking about extending the University line by two stops. They are still talking about it today.

Back home, when something needs doing, they talk about doing it. Here, it gets done.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Memory Regained

I had a rain moment today...

Walking, it began to pour, I
could almost see you, mostly
soaked in a brown jacket, water
splashing off your forehead, smiling
as you came to me, I
touched your wet, black locks, I
smelled that soaked hair, felt
the wet smoothness of your cheek, only
vaguely aware you were not there, and
it was raining

What Are Teachers? (Cont'd)

Last night I put out the putatively preposterous postulation that teacher were not professionals. So, before I am forced to reap the whirlwind, it's time for an explanation.

What is a professional? I'm not talking about someone who acts in a professional manner, as in "does their job well, honestly, and efficiently." No, I'm talking about professionals, period. A professional is someone who:

- does not invest themselves emotionally in their work.

- works for hire, on short term contracts.

- is brought in to fix a problem, not prevent one.

- does not have a vested interest in connecting with stakeholders.

- is always looking for a better paycheck, or better opportunity.

If teachers were professionals, they would have a short term, mercenary attitude to their work. They would have no reason to really care about their students, to care about how their actions affect those around them over the long term, about creating an atmosphere of continual and gradual improvement.

In other professions, law, medicine, politics, and engineering, the behavior listed above is generally conducive to improving career prospects. But if teachers were like that, well, they wouldn't be teachers, would they? Instructors, maybe, workshop leaders, probably, university professors, definitely.

Another thing about professionals is that they don't like getting their hands dirty with the grunt work, the boring drudgery that, day by day, is a large component of what they do. Doctors have their nurses. Engineers have their laborers. Lawyers have their paralegals. Professors have their teaching assistants. Politicians have their flaks. But teachers? They're on their own.

Professionals also, with the exception of professors, don't have unions. Professional associations, sure. Accrediting bodies, of course, But unions? No. Yet teachers do have unions (and so do professors, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here).

It is the very fact that teaching is generally a unionized occupation that really puts the nail into the notion that teacher are professionals. Why? Because unions did not originate as a way to help out professionals, they developed as a way to help workers, and, more importantly, tradespeople.

Teachers are not professionals, no, but they are tradespeople. Sure the trades are seen as lowly in our society. I mean, you don't go to university for a trade, you go to a community college or, (how ghastly!) you learn on the job through an apprenticeship.

This fact should disqualify teachers as tradespeople, because you need a university degree, in Education no less, to be a real, certified teacher. But as any teacher will tell you, the Education degree has not been made that is worth the price of the paper it is printed on. Teachers learn on the job, and nowhere has this fact been more empirically proved than through the Teach for America program.

Teachers learn on the job just like anyone else in a trade does. Teachers have to get their hands dirty, and deal with the boring detail and drudgery, just like any tradesperson does. But teachers also take pride in their craft, take pride in the quality of their work, and the satisfaction of their customers, just as tradespeople do.

Teaching is hard work, and while teaching is thought of as work of the mind, it mostly is not. It is work of attention to detail, physical presence, performance, and consistency. And while teachers expect to earn a living off their work, as tradespeople do, they also do not expect to get rich by it. They do the work because they, can, they are good at it, and it gives them a sense of purpose and satisfaction.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


In some red chairs, way off in a corner,
where through a big window shines that old sun,
we all sit down, and get ourselves settled
prepared for a day, filled with great fun.

We let out a breath, quite anxious to start,
with time flowing by, unchecked as it goes
time in this place, has no meaning, you see
as you're sucked in by enrapturing prose.

Wizards and Dragons, great lands from afar,
real’s not real, nor unreal not,
the mind will see, what you tell it to see
and if you know this, you'll see a whole lot.

I just wish, I had in my power
to sit and read books, every last hour.

What Are Teachers?

I got to thinking this morning. A dangerous pastime, as Lefou would note. But it is something I tend to do on the lonely drive to work every morning. And while usually there is a cacophony of thoughts rumbling around upstairs, all of which are easily shifted or re-directed by whatever meaningless noise on the radio, I chose silence instead this morning, with this singular focus as, I suppose, a side effect. I'm going to have to come back to this topic later, because I haven't fully thought through it yet, but the thing I'm beating around the bush about is that of teachers as professionals.

Are teachers professionals? The reflex response is of course they are. Teachers are credentialed, highly educated, operate according to certain ethics and guidelines, and are accountable to professional organizations like the College of Teachers, or the State Certification Board. They dress professionally, and uphold high standards of deportment. Teachers are thrust into situations with limited resources, a finite amount of time, and seemingly impossible goals that need to be met. They wade into these situations with tact and aplomb, and in general make lemonade out of what used to be something far baser.

I could list a thousand paeans, odes, and meditations on, by, about, and for teachers and their professionalism, yet the question still begs - are teachers professionals?

I have known many professional teachers in my time, professional being the adjective describing the noun, and not the other way round - a teaching professional. I know for a fact that there are many teaching professionals all about, who can be hired at any time to conduct workshops and seminars on anything in this world and the next. But I don't see them as teachers, nor as professional teachers. And of the teachers I do know, many have professional qualities, professional attitudes, and professional attributes. But I wouldn't say they were professionals.

In fact, and I know some of you will not like this, and some of you will not like this a whole lot, but I truly think that teachers are not professionals. Not at all, not even a bit. And while I will explain why, I'm not going to do it today, so as to give my thoughts a little time to order themselves, so that when I follow this up tomorrow, what I write will what I mean, clearly, and concisely.

I promise you, however, that if you don't agree with me right now, I may just change your mind on the morrow.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Contra Diction

Traffic signals mutate
people promenade to the other flank
a flock of pedestrians
are quickly proceeding

at employment two men dialogue
they discord with each other
I peep at them as I journey
trying to brain about my occupation

the superior knocks a foot
impatiently anticipating my person
scowls and visages the clock
as he beholds me, grins and cackles

my shirt is not on frontwards


I made a commitment to myself that, for the foreseeable future, I would put up two posts a day, one prose and one poetry. Thus far the prose part has consisted of non-fiction, in the form of commentary, and essays, but that isn't the only kind of prose I write. So from time to time I'll throw a little fiction in there as my prose piece, but whenever I do, I'll be sure to let you know, so you don't start thinking I've gone entirely off the deep end.

The following short story, which I've titled "Seventeen," is actually based, as they say, on a true story.

* * * * *

"Is school going well dear?" My grandmother asked, smiling at me. I didn't reply at first, so she asked again.

"Sorry Grandma. Yeah it is. It's going good. I finish grade twelve soon and I'm gonna hear about universities in a month or so." I tried to smile, but it was hard, and instead of asking a question back, like what you're supposed to do when it's a normal conversation, I just sat there quietly.

"Well dear, I'll leave you alone for a little while. You look like you need some quiet time," she said. Then she stood up, and started heading out of the room.

My Mom, standing against the wall about ten feet away, looked at me and nodded her head towards my grandmother. I knew what she wanted, but I didn't want to do it, so I pretended like I didn't notice, and acted like I needed to straighten out my tie or something. Then there was a shadow in front of me, someone blocking the light that was behind me.

"John." my father whispered a warning in my ear, warm breath passing across the back of my neck, setting my nerves on edge, egging on the rebellion inside me that was just about to blow up. "Get up and get over there," he said, growling. His hand squeezed my shoulder hard, not in a loving way. I knew there was no point arguing, and besides, with everyone pretending to not look at me, it would have been pointless. I looked over at my mother, but even she was looking away, her face set in that stupid "I can't deal with this" expression that I just so totally hated.

"Okay," I said quietly, my teeth clenched. "Just let go of me." I jerked my shoulder forward, and my father released his hand. I stood up, worked my way past sitting relatives and friends, around chairs and couches, darting glances, unasked questions, and into the next room.

As often happens to men my age, not old enough (yet) to live on their own, there ends up always being a lot of time spent in places you just didn't want to be at. It could be a reunion, a family gathering, a Christening, a baptism, first communion, and then all those goddamn holidays, and every time there's a better place to be and some better thing I could be doing, and some plan I totally made weeks ago and even told everybody about, like, a hundred times, but no. No. I have to go.

The door clicked softly behind me, and the quiet conversations were replaced by soft whispers down the hallway in the other room. My feet stood there, rooted, unable to shift or move even an inch, until the scream came. It was a loud, short, piercing, anguished, confused scream, and I just hated it. I hated it and I couldn't take it anymore. Then came the sound of someone falling on the ground, and a moment later the soft footsteps of family friends and half-known neighbors passing by, deciding suddenly to be somewhere else for a while. It was the crying that got me going again, I just couldn't take hearing it.

As I moved into the other room, I saw that everyone else had cleared out. It was a large space, but looked so cold and empty now. These are always sad things, but I mean they could have at least made the room look a little more cheerful. In the middle, in a small pink heap on the floor, my grandmother cried. Her bony frame and sharp angles shaking, gasping, sudden misery making it hard for her to breathe.

I walked over and asked her if she was okay, putting my hand on her shoulder. I fumbled in my pocket and found some kleenex, and passed it down. She took it and thanked me, and kept crying. I didn't want to stand there, bent over like some giant, so I sat down, and listened to her for a while. She didn't understand what was going on, and wondered why nobody had told her that her husband had died. There he was, lying peacefully, as they say, but he didn't look right to me, not like the way dead people look when you watch funerals on TV shows.

Soon her crying died down a little, and I stood up, gently getting her to stand up as well. I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything. I just stood between her and the casket, and helped her to the door, and back into the other room.

A minute later I was sitting down in my chair, the same chair I'd been in all morning. My grandmother was cheerful again, asking me all sorts of questions. She asked about school, girls, my car, and my sports. Then she started to look a little distracted. She looked at her watch, and around the room, searching. "Where's William?" she whispered to herself, looking for my grandfather's face somewhere nearby. She looked for a few moments, then stood up and left, and I looked down at my shoes. When I sensed my father coming my way, I didn't even wait for him to say anything. I just got up and walked after my grandmother.

She'd been quicker this time. When I popped my head out the door, I didn't see her. I waited for a moment, but I didn't hear anything either. It was strange. So I walked down to the viewing room, and sure enough, she was there. She wasn't crying, just sitting on the floor, in the middle of the room, staring at my grandfather, like all those other times today.

I put my hand on her, and felt nothing. I pulled it right back, scared, and got down on my knees beside her. Her eyes were closed, and she wasn't crying because she wasn't breathing. I didn't know what to think, or do. I felt so confused. I knew I should be feeling really sad, that I should be crying, but it wasn't like that at all. I felt, not happy, but relieved. And then I felt ashamed for feeling relieved. I felt so goddamned selfish for feeling that way, but I couldn't help it. And then I think I figured out why.

It was mercy. All day, in and out of this room, I counted seventeen times, including now. I watched my grandmother see her husband die, right before her eyes, again and again. Every time it happened, leading her away, I watched her forget all about the whole thing. Today I hated God like I never hated anyone in my whole life, because it was just the cruelest joke ever imagined. I kept thinking if I saw anyone even crack a smile that day, I'd just go ballistic on them.

I guess it just took a little while for God to listen, but eventually he did. What the mind forgets, the body remembers, and whether it was God or nature, something knew it just wasn't natural. And so there I was, kneeling on the floor, holding my grandmother's hand, and while I knew I had just lost her, she had found her husband again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Domestic No More

The road with winter ice, and snow blasted
With salt covered, with many trucks shaken
Cannot for this with heaven be distasted
Since ice and snow from Canada are taken
Ford, shorn with rust, with all it’s windows blasted
All out of gas, with loosened bearings shaken
Cannot for this with heaven be distasted
Rust, oil, and gas, out of cars are taken
So, Dude, repair your car, those clouds will vanish
For most of life, it’s ugly cars we driveth
Wisdom must bear what wallets cannot banish
The humble drive, the stubborn, carless, striveth
Oh Dude! Forsake thy Ford, to Honda turn thee
Those lines, a mark of stature, won’t forsake ye

In honor of Fulke Greville’s poem #86 “The Earth With Thunder Torn.”

No Cheatin' Allowed

This going to sound like a bit of a puff piece, but as a teacher and an educator, I have discovered over the past year that just the tiniest technological change can make all the difference in the world when it comes to making a difference with your students. The change I refer to is a small feature in Google's Online Apps that has allowed me to demonstrate beyond a doubt to all my students that it is well nigh on impossible for them to cheat when writing an assignment for me. Before I get into the nitty gritty, however, it's time for a little background.

Where I live and teach, for most students the study of writing generally consists of a few points about grammar and a trip over to "the Google" for a quick copy and paste. It was easy to spot the cheating, which popped up in nine out of ten submissions, by the simple expedient that if I could both read it and understand it, it was not their work. That was the easy part. The hard part was going through the exhausting arguments where students would swear (Wa'allah teacher, I swear! My two eyes!) that they had done the work, that they had not cheated, all of which was accompanied by great eye rolling, hand waving, and the propitious beating of chests. With twenty odd cases like this to look at, in a row, caving in often became the default option. Since I hadn't been right there, watching over their shoulder as they did the deed, I couldn't prove a thing. Thus the path was clear to argue until day turned to night, or it was time for the next period. Either way worked for them.

To solve this, issue, I first turned to handwriting only, but that was a bust. not only did the students still copy each other, word for word, regardless of my ongoing protestations, but the entire process slowed down to a grind. Not only did it all take longer, but it was harder to read those essays, and when the arguments started, I couldn't say "you didn't write this," because my literalist budding lawyers knew very well it had been their own hand put to paper, so that was the end of that.

What to do? Well, I went back to the computer only system, but instead of accepting handouts, I had an email only policy, since this allowed me to compare papers side by side, call over the offenders, and demand to know whose paper it really was. I could do online text searches to determine where the copied text came from, but with students used to banding together, it was back with the arguments and the ardent declarations of innocence all over again. Overall this was a little better than what had happened before, but not by much. So again I was left with the same question - what to do?

Well, in a moment of zany impulsiveness, I checked out Google Docs. I don't know what led me there, because the last time I had used it, it was right after the service had been introduced, and it was easily the worst word processor I had ever seen. But I was pleasantly surprised to see things had changed, that the application had become slicker and more robust. The greatest surprise came when I saw two distinct features that I knew, right away, would change the whole teaching writing game. Share, and Revision History.

First, I could get my students to share their documents with me as a collaborator. This meant I could watch their document from my own desk, almost literally see the words moving across the page, and I had the ability to edit, change, and comment on their documents in return. I could give notes to an entire class in the time it used to take me to look over two or three handwritten pieces. Best of all, I could see exactly when the student had last used the document, so when they told me they had been "working on it" the night before, I could pull up the empirical evidence right before their eyes. With no leg to stand on, those arguments stopped before they began. But this was not even the best of what I discovered.

Embedded in the Tools directory, there is a small function called Revision History. You see, as an online app that saves documents to the cloud, and has access to pretty much unlimited storage space, Google Docs automatically saves documents in thirty to sixty second intervals. Ever single version of each document is saved and stored also. This meant that I could click on the Revision History, and see how long it had taken to write a particular document. If the student had done the work themselves, I would see short progressions of added text in each successive version. But if I saw a sudden, massive jump in text? Bam! Caught cheating.

I put this baby up on the overhead, and in each class I showed how I had caught every single cheater in that class. Using those indestructible tools, my students lost all the will to argue their innocence when I caught them red handed. In retaliation, they refused to use Google Apps, went to their parents and told them horror stories of being forced to use "the Google," but to no avail. Because in every case, when a concerned parent came in to see these new inhuman practices, I could calmly open up their child's work, show them the evidence, and rest easy on the side of the angels.

All of a sudden, I saw a remarkable change. Knowing that, like the Terminator, I could catch them every time, my students stopped trying to cheat. And when they protested that their English was not good, I told them clearly that I wanted their not good English. I wanted them to write, no matter what level they were. And with no option but to do their own work, my students fell to the task of actually doing their own work. And the results were remarkable.

In a month I saw more progress in my students than I had over the course of an entire year. In fact, I had never been this effective before, regardless of the tricks and efficiencies I might have tried to teach them, and all of it was thanks to "the Google," or more specifically, Google Docs - the most powerful classroom tool I have ever encountered.

So, like I said, this will, and has, sounded like a puff piece, like PR copy straight from the G-Plex, but it isn't. It's the straight truth, and I'm not in the least embarrassed to tell it this way for one single reason - with this program, I can catch them cheatin'.

Monday, April 20, 2009

On the Way to the Moulin D'Or

20 hours since touchdown,
stepping out for the first time,
through crowded hallways filled
with gold shops and shoppers shopping
for gold, wearing gold, talking gold
"Seventy dirhams per gram, so
everyone is buying."

Through the Cha-Choos one time
for the experience of tiny aisles
in a labrynthine configuration
"Everything is here is fake,
cheap knock offs,"

nonetheless crowded with shoppers
squeezing past, by, and
through to a hall and out
a side door.

Up an alley to the main street
traffic is stopped,
idling Hummers, quiet Mercedes
and impatient Nissans wait for a
change, but stuck for a time,
opening a path to cross over
to the Family Restaurant
"Tea is one dirham, but
bachelors only eat there."

Past a mix of high and low,
disparate stores and shops showcasing
a lack of funds or an abundance,
a profusion of saloons, salons,
hardware stores, dollar stores,
restaurants and bakeries,
"That's Al Damyati. We used to get
shawarmas for two dirhams, but those
haramis charge four dirhams now. What?
We're made of money?"

To a cross walk, something seemingly
familiar, a known quantity,
one foot forward on the white stripe,
and a hand lashes with a scream
"Watch it! This is not like back home,
those lines don't mean cross, they mean
wait until there are no cars anymore.
Trying to get yourself killed?
See, now we can cross, but hurry."

A giant sign in rainbow neon stood overhead,
blinking to life in the encroaching dusk.
"That's the post office over there,
across from it is Mister Baker, but
they're too expensive. Four dirhams
per slice, and they taste like
garbage. You see that? That's Al Reef,
we all used to go there,
but those haramis were so rude,
they always pretended not to understand.
Oh! And before I forget, we have to go to...
Watch it! People drive crazy here, you
have to be careful all the time.
Look! Here we are."

Past the rotating shawarma rotisseries,
displays of prepared, and uncooked kebabs,
beside the counter full of baklava,
across from the kebbes and manakish ovens
there cama smile and a request.
"Tell them we want two meat, no
two LARGE meat, or make that ONE large
meat and one large meat and cheese, and
whatever else you want,
but ask if they have Pepsi first,
and how much is the total?"

Outside at a table because inside
the air conditioning was broken
and this being winter it was a chilly
twenty five celsius, still tropical
to bones straight from the snow
and minus thirty. Sweating in
what other saw as deathly chill
attracted no few eyes, as passersby
bundled jackets closer to hold in
the escaping warmth.

"Not bad. Only thirty dirhams.
I thought it would be more."

But four for a shawarma was theft,
when they used to be two.
"Yeah, but this place was always expensive,
and besides, I've waited for you for
three months, so I don't care
because we're having dinner together
and sometimes I thought that would be it
and you'd never get here,
and you don't know how many times I cried,
and Mackenzie doesn't even know you,
and daughters should know their fathers."

The manakish was good.
It was worth the walk.
But I didn't come for the manakish.

"I'm just glad to be home."

An Idea Whose Time Had Long Come

Over the past decade, it has become common practice to depend on a select number of online resources for information. First came the phrase "let's Google it," which was later overtaken by the phrase "Let's Wikipedia it." I was watching ABC's "The Hollowmen" the other day, and that very line popped up when a flak in the PMO's office is asked to give a tour of the premises to a bunch of smarty-pants kids, and the flak, Chris, wants to appear knowledgeable. "Can you Wikipedia the Westminster System for me?" He asks a colleague in a panic. And sure enough, within moments his hands are filled with everything he needs to at least appear not entirely clueless.

Chris's fictional experience is not unlike then experience of hundreds of millions of other who daily or weekly pop onto Wikipedia to gather some factoid or another. Indeed the ubiquity and usefulness of Wikipedia is such that an entire generation of students is currently growing up believing that sourcing work need only mean including the phrase "found on Wikipedia," as a sign of legitimacy. That this grates on the nerves of tens of thousands of educators goes without saying, and the deleterious effects of this practice probably won't be felt for some time, but you can't stop progress.

For all of Wikipedia's success, a success that includes top of the page listing in most Google queries these days, there are yet areas where the average internet users faith in the site falters in the face to the overwhelming utility and authority of other sites dedicated to more limited topics. On of these sites is the IMDb, the Internet Movie Database. Need to look up some factoid on a film or television show? Wikipedia is not the option of first resort, IMDb is, and will probably continue to be so indefinitely. The site is chock full of useful information about all things celluloid that it, and it alone, has become the trusted authority in that area.

Another site that inspires trust and confidence the way IMDb does, and is the option of first resort for it's subject niche, is The Futon Critic. The Futon Critic is a site dedicated to collecting and disseminating everything related to the ongoings of the TV world, from an insider's point of view. There you can find weekly Neilsen ratings, the latest news on upcoming pilots, or on what shows have been canceled or currently sit on the bubble. There you can find not only what is airing tonight, tomorrow, or next week, but whether wahat is airing is a new episode or a repeat. For TV lovers, The Futon Critic is required reading.

Which brings us to another topic, both near and dear to my heart - reading. One of my eternal complaints with Wikipedia is that for a site with millions of articles in English covering seemingly the entire spectrum of human knowledge, pages relating to authors, or their works are either non-existent, or exists as mere stubs of a a bare line or two. The dearth of information is so acute that unless an author has set up their own website, the only way to find them online is to hop on over to or Chapters/Indigo and search for that specific author. If you aren't aware of that author's entire canon, this can be frustrating, especially when you come across very little contextual information that helps you discriminate between authors or books of the same name, or close but false positive results.

So what you're left with is a really hit and miss system, that often leads to frustration, and is entirely unhelpful if what you want is to find something that might catch the eye, and spark your readerly interest. Mind you, you can connect with publisher's websites, who sometimes do a good job of making their book list accessible, but not always. Jim Baen, founder of the Baen imprint, made sure to not only publish his entire catalogue online, but offers a significant number of titles free to readers, with the option to buy electronic versions directly from them at an incredibly modest price. This is fantastic for lovers of trashy sci-fi and fantasy adventure, like myself, but of little help to the rest of the reading world. What is needed is something more comprehensive, and it seems that something may have arrived.

At the moment it seems to be in beta stage, looking basic to an almost Craigslist degree, but nonetheless the new ISBNdb, has stepped in to do for books what IMDb has done for movies. While the service is in its infancy, it looks set to grow and become that very essential tool that will allow the average reader to throw off the tyrannical shackles of shoddy Amazon searches and fruitless online wandering, allowing them to finally find what they want, when they want, with the possibility of encountering a pleasant surprise on the way.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Remember the Future

Remember the future?
It's incredible,
so many possibilities,
paths to take,
and options to explore;
while career paths are not
success stands plainly in sight.

Remember the future?
Maybe a house somewhere,
sometime later on,
but first an apartment
somewhere downtown,
somewhere exciting,
where everything is
happening, and
where everything happening

Remember the future?
Nice, Melbourne, Singapore
and other places to fly
none of that going to Costco
or driving to Best Buy;
everything for the taking,
meeting literati, glitterati,
making a mark,
just not with glitter-paint

Remember the future?
Vacations every summer,
a new adventure every year,
not getting trapped in
the unexamined life,
not pulled along by destiny,
but pulling destiny along
to a place of our choosing.

Remember the future?
Destiny wasn't supposed to live
in the tips of tiny fingers
drawing us forward
to a place not of our choosing;
where vacations fell way
to staycations and play,
theatre forgone for DVDs,
supermarket adventures, where
late night parites fell way
to late nights partly
sleep, partly deprivation,
and going on a trip
meant three blocks down the road.

Remember the future?
It's a lot like the past,
never is, never was,
belonging in a box,
in a closet by the stairs
were all such remembrances

Remember the future?
Looking back,
the future wasn't,
and you realize
the future kind of sucked,
didn't it?

Good thing the future never came.

A Royal Disaster

Over the past three nights I've tried to examine, as objectively as possible, how the state of laborers in Dubai, or at least the popular perception of the state of those laborers, had come about. There is one more installment in that series on the way, but I wanted to touch on a few other matters for the next few nights before I get to that.

A Royal Disaster

Since the end of last year's IPL, with the absolutely stunning finale where Shane Warne and Sohail Tanvir eked out a single run victory on the very last bowl of the very last over, I have been jonesing for it all to start again. As a guy raised on a diet of NHL Hockey, CFL Football, NBA Basketball, and MLB Baseball, I've never had to worry about not having something to get excited about. But since moving to the other side of the globe, and being entirely removed from my native sports culture, and immersed in South Asian culture since, I've had no choice but to succumb to the siren song that is cricket.

Sure football, or what I call soccer, is the big game in town in these parts, but as a red blooded hockey fan, I generally have little patience for the low scoring ballerina antics of a bunch of European prima donnas. If play on the field can qualify you for an Oscar, then it just ain't a sport is all. And that's the gospel according to Don Cherry. So when it comes to European Football, I am a hater...well, maybe that's to strong a word...I am a disliker...ntach also...let's just say I'm an ambivalencer, if that's a even a word, which I don't think it is, but it'll do for now. I'm sure you get my meaning.

Come to think of it, though...strangely enough I do enjoy Euro and the World Cup, and play football/soccer every chance I get, so perhaps there is some hope for me yet? Who knows! But what I do know, however, is that I got to loving cricket, and I don't think there is any going back.

While I have not yet gotten around to reading C L R James' great book "Beyond a Boundary", I do intend to read it when I feel I have the lingo more fully mastered. Until then, a daily diet of will have to suffice. Nonetheless, as a quick study, I've gotten my head around the game sufficiently that I now no longer embarrass myself quite so much when talking cricket in public. Or at least people are waiting until I leave to snicker, which also works for me. On to the tirade.

I waited all year for the IPL to start again. During the inaugural season, I was one of those benighted fools who actually cheered for Rajasthan from the very first game. Seeing as how I tend to root for the destruction and failure of most of the deities of Indian cricket (Down with Tendulkar! To heck with Dravid!), with Sri Lanka being my favorite international team, I decided to choose a team that had picked not one overpaid BCCI endorsed blowhard (Though I do respect MS Dhoni), and instead chose an alcoholic washed up has-been for a captain, and a motley assortment rag-tag crew from the bargain basement of the cricket world. This was a team that the gurus of the cricket world declared would not win a game, a team that came so far under the salary cap they were fined for not paying enough, and a team that had the lowest overall franchise sticker price. This team was the plot of the movie Major League, starring Charlie Sheen. And I am an avowed lover of the under-est of underdogs.

It was love at first sight.

That first season was magic. Shane Warne delivered a masterclass on leadership that you could copy ans paste straight into the textbooks. His players, especailly the youngsters who saw Warne not as a man but as a legend stepping forth from the mists of history into their midst, responded to his leadership to the Nth degree. Rajasthan became a juggernaut, and while Rajasthan did not cruise through,they ended up in first place at the end of the round robin, consistently played some of the most thrilling games I have ever witnessed in any sport. Almost night after night they were staging come from behind victories that were so close to the line, so uncertain and improbable, and so utterly thrilling and captivating, that watching it on TV from a living room a thousand kilometers away, you could feel the bated breath of the tens of thousands of people packed into the stadiums watching the match live. This wasn't sport, it was televised narcotic of a potency heretofore unknown to man.

It was awesome.

The season ended, Rajasthan capped a magical run, and off the players went to their home countries to be swallowed up by the ODI, Test, and County Cricket machines. I had a year to wait, and it was a hard wait indeed.

And then the wait ended.

So last night, after my little one's first birthday party, and after Malinga had lead the Indians with three wickets as they dismissed Chennai in a surprise victory (The overpaid blowhards were earning their keep for once, and proving beyond the shadow of a doubt why they got the big bucks), I sat down for a treat. My victorious Royals were back for round two.

They should have stayed home.

It was hard to describe. The end score, all out for 58 in 15.1 overs speaks volumes in and of itself. But it doesn't state the issue poetically enough. not for a loss like this. Bangalore had not really racked up the runs, and had posted an entirely beatable score by the end of 20 overs, but it was like Rajasthan wasn't satisfied with beating Bangalore. No, they wanted a bigger challenge, beating themselves.

I tried to think of analogies that could explain what I was watching. It was like watching Canada take on Australia. It was like an watching elderly Alzheimers victim stand on a corner half naked, soiling himself because he's scared of the traffic racing by. It was like watching an alcoholic washed up has-been, and a motley assortment rag-tag crew pretend to play cricket.

Sorry, did I say "It was like?" My apologies. I meant to say "It was."

I can only hope that this whole bit was an anomaly, a joke on us die-hards. A little tease before they pull out the big stick and start banging it home. But I fear that may not be the case. Minus Shane Watson, the only really decent batsman on the squad, and absent the Pakistanis, especially Sohail Tanvir who absolutely dominated the pitch last year, I think what's left of that magic potion has fizzled into paste.

I'm always prepared to stand corrected, but something tells me that the most entertainment I'll get out of them this year won't be on the pitch, it'll be off the pitch whenever Shane Warne steps up to the mic with something to say.

Still, one does hope.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The View From

Revenge is not a bad thing
We make it so
through anecdote.

For the sake of a leg,
losing your life to kill a fish.
Etc, &c.

In civilization,
you see,
one rises above,
does not stoop to that level,
does not give in to the temptation.

Perceptions dictated by diction.

As if, as if...

One could not be
to give food to a starving child, only

A victor's history where motive depends
on a difference of two syllables.

Structural Flaws: Part 3

This is part 3 in a four part series examining the situation of construction laborers in Dubai. Tonight we look at the state of overseas recruitment, how employees end up disappointed by wages significantly smaller than had been promised. Tomorrow will look at possible remedies for the current state of affairs, and the nature of actions that are currently being taken.

In parts 1 and 2, I looked at the issue of denial of freedom, and denial of wages, and how the international media uses these two issues as key supports in the assertion that construction laborers in Dubai are slaves. The final pillar on which this argument rests is in the expatriation of labor, how the construction laborers of Dubai, like Eastern and Western Africans three hundred years ago, were tricked or trapped and shipped off to a far away land.

As the construction boom ramped up to insane warp speed levels a few years ago, the demand for labor was acute to an extreme. Companies needed workers, and fast. Companies that had, even only a few years before, either not existed or had only worked on one or two much humbler projects, suddenly found themselves desperate to quadruple or quintuple their workforce as fast as possible. Since that sort of manpower is difficult to get on short notice in many places in the Middle East, these companies looked to where the vast majority of Dubaian labor is usually derived - the Sub-Continent.

Having little experience with the language, laws, and political or regulatory conditions in these countries, most or all of the construction companies look to third party manpower agencies to recruit and send over workers. These construction companies, who are private companies not related to the government controlled developers, do not have the resources to open and staff multiple international recruiting offices, which is why they have to depend on these third party companies. In a perfect world, each construction company would control each aspect of its own recruitment, from meeting the prospective employee, explaining the terms of the contract including wages and and accommodation, and arranging for transportation to and from Dubai. Sadly that is not, and most likely never will be, what happens simply due to the prohibitive logistical and financial costs involved. What remains is the very imperfect system of outsourcing recruitment.

So what do these third party agencies do that is so awful? In a word, they lie. City to city, town to town, and village to village, they move through the most economically depressed areas bringing a message of hope and salvation to the poor, hungry, and desperate. "Dubai, the land of gold and diamonds, beckons" they say. Riches can be yours," they promise. "Two, three, five times your current salary, and only half the work required!" they assure you. In the tradition of the greatest snakeoil salesmen of the old west, these recruiters know their target market, and know the stories heard and told about Dubai. They play upon the credulity of their audience and sell them a rotten bill of goods.

"All you have to do," they say, "is buy your ticket and sign on the dotted line, right here, right now."

Unfortunately for those prospective fortune seekers, the cost of a ticket to Dubai from the the subcontinent, while inexpensive by my and other expats standards, is often prohibitive for them. A few hundred dirhams, maybe one or two hundred bucks for an American or Canadian, translates out to thousands of rupees in India, several month's earnings for many of those who try to better their lot in Dubai. It's money most can't just whip out of their pockets and slap down on a shiny new ticket. SO what to do? Since banks won;t lend them the money, and family and friends don;t have that kind of money to lend, it's off to the local loan shark for some chai and a loan. Once they've signed on that dotted line, the rest, they say, is history.

When the workers arrive and learn that the wages they will earn are far less than what they were told they would earn, they are usually bewildered, confused, and angry. But instead of saying "you know what, this isn't what I signed up for," and heading back on the next flight out, they start having visions of broken kneecaps floating in their heads. Those loan sharks are there, waiting back home, and if the money these workers owe is not forthcoming, while the workers themselves may not have to worry about harm to themselves, they will have nightmares about what may happen to their families in their absence. In effect, the threat of violence towards themselves or their families, whether real or perceived, is a stronger chain than any of iron or steel could ever be.

The irony in the whole ordeal is that while the government, and by proxy, the people of the UAE are explicitly blamed for the situation of the construction laborers, they had no direct part in the tragic chain of events bringing those laborers to Dubai in such desperate straits. A government controlled developer decides to build a building, and they put out a contract for tender. The winning company, a private sector company, and usually the lowest bidder, wins. The winning bidder then has to go out and staff its massive new operation, and needs a lot of labor, fast. The problem is however, that in order to win the contract, the wining bidder had to budget X for wages. Unfortunately X is not a competitive wage, even in the markets where labor is being recruited from. Nevertheless, bodies are needed, and pressure is placed on the recruiters to provide them. Maybe this pressure is just words, threats to choose another agency, or withhold outstanding payment. The again, maybe recruiters are incentivized, promised bonuses for hitting recruitment targets. Whatever the case may be, the recruiters soon realize that telling prospective employees that they will earn X in wages isn't bringing anybody in. So then they promise Y, create a whole song and dance, figuring that most of the laborers will be stuck in Dubai for years, time enough to make a fast buck and get the hell outta Dodge.

One solution is to pressure foreign government to ensure that these recruiting agencies are regulated, accredited and monitored. In the US, Canada, and the UK this happens as a matter of course. But in Bangladesh? Are you kidding? If there is one constant in any of the nations on the Sub-Continent it is that any law, any regulation, and any regulatory authority is far from infallible. And due to the cost of implementing these sorts of changes, costs that would be entirely absorbed by these other nations, which would only benefit the the PR image of Dubai, it's not hard to see why these countries aren't taking the initiative on this.

So what to do?

Ideally, the recruiter would come back to the employer and report that nobody is interested in the salary being offered, that a better package is needed. The employer would go to the developer and say "looks like we'll have to increase the price of the whole show," and the developer would kindly nod and generously open their pockets, and rain money on down the chain.

In reality if the recruiter came back to the employer and reported that nobody was interested in the salary being offered, the employer would find a new recruiter. And if they didn't and went to the developer asking for a vast new infusion of cash outside of what was contractually agreed upon, the developer would find a new contractor. And if they didn't, the developer would go to the group of investors and ask for more cash to deal with unexpected costs overruns. Any guesses as to how that meeting would go?

What we are left with, then, is a very flawed and imperfect system. Even if construction company "A" decided to grow a conscience, double the wages, and pay for each employee's flight over so that they wouldn't have issues with loan sharks, construction company "B" would be more than happy to do none of the above, would prepare a much lower bid, and would win the contract. So that wouldn't solve the problem. But what about a regulatory change? What if the government decreed that these companies had to pay for the flights of each employee, and had to ensure that recruiters were advertising accurate salary levels? It would help the problem, but there is little chance it would ever happen.

By decreeing that a private company has to absorb much higher costs, what the government is really saying is that it will pay those costs themselves, since those costs would be passed up to them through increased development costs. Still, why wouldn't they do that? It's the right thing, after all. Well, the short reason is that because almost nobody would do that. Does the US government fly in planeloads of Mexicans for the edification of private industry? No. Would they ever? No. It is not within their interest and purview to ever do so.

Fortunately there is hope on the horizon. As the construction booms winds down, the intensity of the laborer issue, overall, will also subside. What development happens in the future will contend with a far different labor market, especially since India in particular, in contrast to much of the rest of the world, has an expanding market, with wages rapidly on the rise. As laborer contracts end, and laborers leave Dubai, when recruiting companies come calling again, they will have to contend with those market conditions. And while they may try to sell a whole song and dance again, the may find the opportunity to do so has long since passed.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Any object that has mass exerts a force.
After the Big Bang,
the professor said
object, bodies with mass
were generally small



They never had enough pull,
that is
they couldn't exert the necessary force
to attract any other objects,
bodies with mass
as they passed by.

It was only chance,
an encounter,
paths intersecting randomly.

Two would meet,
becoming one,
and this would change.

Structural Flaws: Part 2

Before I begin, I just want to give tip of the hat to Seabee, who correctly noted that my argument yesterday was not quite correct. While it is true that only locals can own businesses in Dubai, a foreigner can own a business in Dubai if that business operates in a designated free zone. That said, the free zone work force is generally drawn from a different pool than the laborers of Dubai, as those who work in the free zones are generally well educated professionals. Also, while this is more tangentially related, but factors in nonetheless, companies located in the free zones do not so much do business in Dubai as they are in Dubai to do business. This is why those who work in free zones don't face the same visa restrictions as the rest of the hoi polloi. That said, onwards to part two.

In yesterday's post I took a look into the unenviable situation of laborers in Dubai, examining the issue of employers withholding employee passports, an issue linked with the notion of the denial of freedom, which is one of the three key reasons why Dubai laborers are being called slaves by the international media. Tonight I want to look at the second of three key factors that have led the international media to take this position, namely the withholding of wages.

There were times last year when fantastical figures were being bandied about almost daily. Dubai, it was said, had 20% of all the large cranes in the world. Very quickly that number shifted to a quarter, then a third, finally reaching, according to some wider eyed sources, on a figure of 40%. While the numbers always sounded interesting, I always found them hard to believe, especially considering the fact that the average Chinese suburb has a larger population than the entire UAE. More construction in Dubai than in all of China? A country where the annual number of babies born is close to quadruple the population of the UAE? Hard to take seriously. Still, it couldn't be denied that there was a whole lot of construction going on, and if you stood on Garhoud Bridge, the center of Dubai proper, you could literally see towers springing up in every direction.

In order to raise these towers from the dust, a literal army of laborers was needed. Just to give a sense of just how large this army of laborers is, or was until recently, the number of construction laborers in Dubai was larger than the combined armed forces of the entire British commonwealth. That's a quite a few people.

The key reason I mention this is because there is this persistent meme in the international media that every laborer in Dubai is a slave, meaning that they work, and have worked for years, with no pay. Since you don't pay a slave, the notion goes that if the workers aren't paid, then they are not workers, they are slaves, right?

On that point, they are wrong. Construction laborers in Dubai are not slaves, so that part is not true. Honestly, when I say army of laborers, it is no joke. Remember the movie "Antz" by Dreamworks? They're the ants of the story, who realize, at the end of the film that they not only outnumbwer the grasshoppers, but by a large margin. In the UAE, the construction laborers vastly outnumber not only the UAE Army, but all of the various Emirati police and security forces as well. In fact, at one point there were perhaps twice as many construction laborers in the UAE as actual Emirati citizens. If that many people were truly suffering under Pharaoh's lash, starved, beaten and forced into penury by the cruelty of their uncaring overlords, it is pretty safe to say that there probably would have been little more unrest and disruption over the past two decades.

So, if the construction labor force has been generally restive for two decades, where do these claims of non-payment come from? Are they even true? The answer to the latter is yes, but for a different reason than you might think.

In Dubai, when a massive new building is built, or is about to be built, a government associated company will often spearhead the project. These companies are basically arms of the ruler, and their funds are drawn from him as well. The current ruler of Dubai is one of the wealthiest royals in the world according to Forbes magazine. But that doesn't mean that when he or one of his companies decides to develop a new massive skyscraper they will write a big fat cheque to the Johnny-Build-a-Lot Construction Company (Here you go! Call me when it's done!) and let them at it. No way. They will usually kick in the initial start-up funds, say 20% of the venture, and then finance the rest internationally.

But even when the building is fully financed, that doesn't necessarily mean the construction companies will have a dime to their name, because quite often those initial start-up funds are the entire operating budget for the project. The way development contracts are structured factors heavily in the plight of construction laborers because the companies they work for are often in a tight bind when working on large projects. If a deadline is missed, penalties are incurred, and the vast majority of the funds are not released until completion of a project. It is a way of ensuring that companies stick around to finish their work, but it also means that if those slim start-up funds run dry, there would literally be nothing left in the bank with which to pay the workers. This wouldn't be an issue of every building was built on time and on schedule, since construction companies do make sure they have the funds to pay for labor for a set period of time. But when a deadline is missed, and penalties are incurred, or there is a massive increase in the price of certain materials that was unplanned for, those start-up funds dry up quicker than thought.

The companies want to pay their workers, but due to contractual constraints, find themselves having to ask employees to work without pay for an indefinite period of time, with the caveat that once the building is done and the money is released from escrow, they will all get their owed wages.

Which means that while workers find themselves not receiving wages from time to time, the reason for their situation boils down to, literally, the most benign, boring, dry-as-dust reasons on record - a contractual dispute.

So this is how the workers end up getting a raw deal. It's not due to malice on the part of the employers, or greed, but an institutionalized lack of faith which has developers holding the vast majority of funds over the construction companies as leverage to force them to complete their work, on time, and within budget.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Sticks and stones and all of the rest.
You know the words.

Mother's voice rings crystal clear,
while over and again,
John's meaty hand impacts a lesson

A closed fist pedagogy, unequivocal
but no less so
than the whispers in the desk behind.
Muted laughter,
a crush discovered, supposed,
and the object of affection
making sure to stop by
and take a good sharp tongued stab.

In response, as always,
formulated, thought of, planned,
but nothing ever done
in the hopes that if the head
is pushed far enough down
everything will go away.

When John comes back,
listen to the good Dr. Suess
and carry a big stick,
or two,
then your troubles
will have trouble
with you.

But then...
What if troubles only spawn troubles?
And how do you hit a word?

Structural Flaws: Part 1

The Freakonomics blog was kind enough to point out that a few people had taken exception to Johann Hari's piece in the Independent. Today Life in Dubai pointed to a spectacular bit of satire that not only tears apart Hari's work, but cuts into the whole slasher travel writing genre that seems to be a major British media export these days. Still, in all of this debate, I have yet to see any serious analysis into the "why" of the situation in Dubai, since everyone seems entirely focused on the "what". But simply noting what is happening does nothing to help an understanding of the underlying causes of a situation, and can only serve to entrench vested interests, especially when accusations of suspect morality are being thrown around.

So, to that end, I thought I would take a look at the "why" of Dubai's situation in respect to the expat laborers who have become the focus of the world's media recently. For the first part, which lay at the crux of the "slave" accusation, is the passport issue, that is, the practice of employers holding the passports of employees.

*Full disclosure - the argument below comes from a comment I left on the Freakonomics post I mentioned earlier. I just didn't want to waste it on the bottom of a list of comments.

Structural Flaws: The Passport Issue

One point that has been covered in this debate, but has not been explored, has been the practice of “taking” passports. In Dubai, the law is clear - employers are not allowed to take an employee’s passport. For those who work in a professional capacity, there is never a question about surrendering your passport. I wouldn’t surrender mine, ever, because I know what that entails. But my side is not the only side of this issue. So, then why does this happen? To understand why, it is better to look on the issue with the eye to economics rather than law or morality.

Yes, employers are not allowed to take and hold employee passports. However, employers also directly sponsor any expat employees, and as the sponsor, are on the hook for any illegal action on the part of the sponsored employee. And this plays a big part in why this practice occurs.

Complicating the issue is the way businesses are structured. Foreigners are not actually allowed to own businesses in Dubai, only locals can. Say an entrepreneur comes to Dubai and wants to set up a company. He has money, skill, and connections, but in order to do business he has to find a local, a UAE citizen, to sponsor the business. The local takes a fee, or yearly salary in exchange for putting their name on the business license, and for most sponsors, their involvement ends there. This creates a lucrative sideline for many locals, but it also allows for a weakness in the system.

The business operator, the person who actually runs the business, has to make sure that the sponsor isn’t dragged into any unnecessary mess. If some employee ran afoul of the police, the overall sponsor is on the hook for that person’s actions, just as much as the business operator is. At any time, the sponsor can decide to withdraw his sponsorship, and that company and all their employees will be up a creek without a paddle.

Which leads to the passport holding issue.

Why do so many come to Dubai? The streets are not paved with gold, but they may as well be when you compare this place to almost any other place in South East Asia. The opportunity to escape a life of poverty is possible here, but impossible where many of these workers are from. Plus, the vast majority of expat laborers come from desperate straights. They do not know the laws of the country, and they all come in order to better their situation. Given a chance, more than a few would slip away from their job sites, looking for even better opportunities, opportunities that do exist here. It’s just basic economics - enlightened self interest in action. But by doing so, they would actually be breaking the law, as you cannot just switch employers here. You have to leave the country, and re-apply for a new visa.

Were a number of employees able to slip away, sure a few would find their footing fast, but a number would not. What options would they then have? A chance to become a vagrant? Go begging for money? That is all illegal here. And where do you sleep? It’s a desert. If you don’t have housing, it’s not like you can just hang out under a bridge, and kick back in a cozy cardboard box. In the summer it hits 50 degrees in the day, and often around 40 at night because of the humidity.

Soon enough those newly liberated employees would find themselves in a jail cell. Their employer and sponsor would be dragged in, and there would be a whole lot of hell to pay all around. Which is why a lot of these employers take passports. The practice is frowned upon, but usually overlooked as an acceptable compromise.

What I’ve outlined only includes a few of the complications involved in this issue, because you have to also take into account transportation, food, culture, religion, and sanitation. Dubai has grown faster than almost any city on record, and due to this, comes into contact with issues and difficulties no one had really thought about until they happened.