Stuff that matters

What really matters? How much is too much? Am I making a difference? Are you?

We go to work, have meetings, create documents, do stuff. Is this stuff really important? What did you do today that really matters?

Over 40 Gallup studies show that 75% of us are disengaged from our jobs. About the same number of people are thinking of changing jobs (which doesn't mean they will, most of the people are too scared to go out of their comfort zone). Generally I see the trend that people want to do stuff that matters (more). Or maybe its just me.

We work hard, compete with other people, have huge to-do lists, get stressed, worry about stuff.. that is not important. Our lives are often unnecessarily complicated. We're getting tired. We want to smell the roses. What to do? Many of us are asked to sacrifice our own needs for the good of the company. Does it really matter if I work harder? Where's the finish line?

The endless pressure won't go away. The change has to come from inside, from the choice we make. About stuff that really matters.

You give a portion of your life to the organization you work for. We've got to make sure this time is used wisely. Time spent is gone forever. Time wasted means you have less time for the real thing.

One might say I work to pay the bills and I do the meaningful stuff outside my work. But work is one important sphere in a rich, full existance. We often spend there most of our time (when we're not sleeping). If you only find joy and meaning from stuff that happens outside, I don't think its enough.

I don't want to do anymore stuff that doesn't matter. Its like selling my soul. I don't want to do that. Do you?

Life, universe and Dubai

The first time I read about the UAE was in the early ninties, when I was reading a magazine on global issues ("Aja pulss") and it had an article about the UAE. How they're building cool stuff in the desert and watering plants to create greenery. I remember being wowed. When I came to know of the possibility of moving to Dubai, I became excited. I had heard magical things about the place. I read more stuff on the internet and it seemed exciting and miraculous.

Now more and more often I come across conversations about how life in Dubai is not the same anymore, and maybe its time to leave. The cost of living is going up in the speed of sound. Rent prices are rising fast (last year on the average 35%), landlords pumping more and more money out of tenants. Even a dump costs a fortune. Companies are hesitant to pay fully for the increased rent prices for their employees. The overall cost of living is going up and up, while there isn't an increase in the quality of life. I guess Dubai is not the attractive place to move to and make money anymore, especially if people consider the cost of living and the salaries. VAT tax will probably be introduced in a year or two, which makes the whole thing even more expensive.

Traffic. Most people killed in the traffic accidents in the world. Traffic jams that make you go hmmm. Getting from point A to point B takes ridicoulous amount of time. Traffic culture is often beyond understanding and has become one of the most talked about topics between the residents and in the media.

When new real estate developments were announced, everybody used to be in awe. The Palm, Burj Dubai and so on. Now when you hear of "rotating cities" and god knows what new things, you just shrug. Great, another useless overhyped development which the world doesn't need. Thank god for real estate developers! Reaction of the people is more sarcastic than welcoming. Nobody cares anymore.

Overall superficiality of Dubai can drain you. Everybody in Dubai has had a conversation about it. The city without a soul. A friend of mine recently said she just needs to get out for some time.

I don't feel the charm of Dubai anymore. Don't even remember if I ever did feel it. Sure I've had fun here. You can have good times everywhere with the right company. But I'm beginning to feel I'd like to go on having that fun elsewhere.

For sure there are nice things about Dubai, life's been good to me overall. Just getting a bit tired. Maybe I need a break.

Mark your calendars

I've done my travel schedule and I will back in Estonia on the 30th of June. I will be around for about 10 days.

I'm eager to see my family and friends again. Thoughts of enjoying a beer at Pirogov, walking around without sweating and seeing real nature make me impatient. Can't wait to smell (real!) flowers and breath fresh air again.

There are so many things I miss about Estonia. Home, sweet home.

Anyway, you better mark your calendars. Better yet, drop me an e-mail and lets set something up in advance.

Want to buy Aladdin's lamp?

Some people seem to believe its somewhere around. Or at least that one can have the power to summon up a genie.

Two men went on trial yesterday for conning a policeman(!) out of 8,200 dirhams in exchange for the ability to control a magical genie. The prosecution said that the two accused told the victim that they could summon up a genie for him, who would follow all of his orders, if he paid them the money.

Having read too many fairy tales, cop paid the money. As the estonian proverb says, "a fool gets beaten up even in the church".


Slavery in Dubai is as normal as blue sky and wet sea. And you can't complain about it. Just yesterday a five-day strike involving thousands of construction workers came to an end. Without results.

So what does the government do about it? "Workers protesting over minimum wage issues in Abu Dhabi should understand their demands are illegal according to current UAE labour law", said the labour officials.

There is no minimum wage. So even if you pay a little over nothing, thats perfectly okay. They demanded minimum wage of 1,000 dirhams (~272$) and their request was flatly rejected. Even 1,000 dirhams is a salary which is very hard to get by with, not to mention living a normal life. So its perfectly legal not pay salaries, illegal to complain about it.

These people don't have money to go back home. Before coming to Dubai they are promised a lot of money and god knows what else, and they are charged thousands of dirhams for the "service" to get them to Dubai. In order to get this money they sell much of what they own, spend their savings and borrow money where they can. When they come here they realize they have been tricked into slavery and they can't afford to pay back the loans they took or go back home.

Right now the government has the power to do something about it, but they choose not to (problem has been there for years, if they really wanted to do something about it, it would have been done). Because that would "ruin" the economy. If you start paying human wages to the labourers, the cost of all real estate developments (worth billions) will go way up and the bubble of Dubai is broken.

Yesterday in many parts of the world, including Dubai, there was a march against hunger. An initiative I support. According to a local newspaper nearly 10,000 people attended the event. If only so many people would voice their opinions against the slavery in the country they live in.
Of course, saying something against the government in this country is a risky thing to do...

Things can be different

The government of UAE finally decided that they will change the weekend. Currently the official weekend is thursday-friday, and from first of september onward it will be friday-saturday. Great number of companies already work from sunday to thursday, as do I, but not everybody.

And apart from being in synch with the developed world (different weekends created a 4-day blackout), finally, families and friends will all be off at the same time. Its very normal that kids go to school on saturday while parents have a day off. Okay, some parents might like it, but Im sure most would like to spend time with their kids.

Planning an outing with more than five attendees will no longer need a customized software solution.

Not everybody is happy of course. If this has been the weekend for you all life long, it can be hard to adjust to the changes.

6-day or 5,5 -day working week is also quite common for some companies, whether this changes too, remains to be seen.

Sad but true

Guess whats on the picture? No, its not my shoe collection. Nope, I don't have guests over. They belong to my neighbours.

On the same floor with me there are 2 more studio apartments. Both a little bit smaller than mine (I saw them before I moved in to mine). So now in one of them there are at least 20 guys living. Maybe more. I think I've seen more shoes behind their door. This picture was taken this morning.

The third flat - there are about 6-7 guys living. I've met like 4 of them. They seem nice.

So thats the sad reality of Dubai. Or the whole UAE. Rent prices are so high that low earning people from the subcontinent can not afford it. Companies exploit them as they want, there are almost no laws to protect them, no minimum salary. Such a large number of people sharing one flat is extremely common here. Its everywhere. It might be around 1 million people or more (2?) that are living like this here. Companies that require a lot of manpower (construction companies, factories etc) have even separate labour camps where their employees live. I've never been to one myself (just driven by), but the conditions seem to be rather sad.

UN said recently that there are about 12 million slaves in the world. I bet the number is way higher. A good number of people in Dubai live like ones and are being treated like this. Makes me rather sick.

On the second picture you can see my house. The beige/orange one on the right.

The way we were

I am probably the only thing in my life that will be with me forever... Together with the jazz in my head and memories of the times gone by. But I guess this is also part of my self.

Everybody in this world is going different places, becoming different people. World that is my reality does not exist for so many people. What I see and do now, today, will be reduced to nothing more than a memory, it becomes a recording. And that recording of now plays differently in your memory than it does in mine.

If there aren’t people around who share the same memories as me, idea of who I used to be is only in my head. When I see an old friend of mine whom I met when I was 15, I know where he comes from. I remember the time we smoked those cigarettes, went to school parties and had that hiking trip. I know the good times we shared together and we will to some extent always remain those boys who had some fun at the age of 17.

Someone’s identity is not just who you are today. If I’ve known you for 15 years, this is who you are. This is why when 50 year old guys get together are still those same old boys they were 30 years ago. They know who they were. If I'd meet them now, for me they’d be just 50 year old guys. When a couple that has been together for 25 years looks at each other, I bet they also see each other the way they saw each other when they were young. They remember.

So when you lose the people you knew when you were young, you will always be the person you are now. You will only be who you were in your head.

Sometimes gaps in geography or lifestyle will keep you apart from your friends. And people change in time. Your friends will think of you as you were the last time they saw you.

I haven’t been home for almost a year now. I have changed. When I’ll meet my friends again, there might be a silent voice whispering in their head „you are less than the person that I think you are”. Probably my friends have changed too. Sometimes we don’t want our friends to change. Or we don’t want to admit they have changed and refuse to change our paradigm. Because we might not like the changes, we like the memories of what the person used to be like. So we stick to that.

I am a bit afraid that when I come back and meet my people, there is that voice. And although we won’t say it out loud, we feel something has changed. And we might not like the changes we have gone through. And I will miss you as you were and you will miss the old me.

Or maybe its all the same. I'll see you in July.

Work in progress

This post is about my office. I'm gonna show you some pictures so you can get a glimpse of what it looks like.

This is the entrance to the building. Al Murooj Plaza!
On the rooftop there's a pool and a gym, where I go work out.

This is my desk. The chair is really comfortable. Some dude cleans the desk every day, so I can create all the mess I want and its all nice and tidy the next morning. Yeah.

Me pretending to work. I'm already quite good at it.

Team mates Janek and Meelis, sharing the room with me.

Conference room. This is the place where all the good ideas come to existance.

The table gets dusty very quickly.

Biggest room in the office. This is were all the flirting takes place. There's a really comfortable couch as well (even 2).

Music provided by Dubai 92.

There's also a kitchen (fridge full of cold beverages and apples) and my manager has a room for himself as well, but I won't show you what they look like.

Customer service and stuff

I think its fair to say that in Dubai service companies pay attention to customer service. Especially hotel staff is usually nice and friendly. Just last week when I went to Fairmont hotel one of the staff members said something like "Hey I remember you, how are you sir?" which felt pretty good. BUT often the quality or the way they offer this service has (a lot of) room for improvement.

One of the things that bothers me is the fakeness (of course its Dubai - everything here is fake!). "How are you, sir?" is a question (which is not really a question) you will hear everywhere. Sometimes it can be really annoying. You wanna do your thing or whatever, and somebody steps up to you with how-can-I-help-you bs. I know its their job, but if you encounter that in every step it can be frustrating. I happened to read one dudes comment on the same:

For instance, when at the breakfast buffet, my hand will be an inch from the cornflakes dispenser when some dickhead will fun up and say:

"Cornflakes, sir?"

And I will reply:

"I know they're cornflakes you stupid fuckwit!!! I was trying to get some to eat before you intervened with your inane commentary on everything I am doing!! Now, fuck off!!!"

This is too much, but I can see how one loses its nerves finally. Plus I think Dubai spoils people. I've seen expats acting the way they wouldn't in their home country.

Fake greetings on the phone make me wanna puke sometimes. "Hey, how are you? Good! Thanks I'm fine!". They don't even listen what you reply, they just go on and on with their program. Mostly I don't ask in return how are they doing cause I'll hear "thanks I'm fine" anyway and they feel I did ask. Even if I won't ask and they do notice I'm sure they don't mind 'cause everybody knows its stupid anyway. I might as well tell them that "I'm about to die and I wish you were dead too!" and they'd say "Good! Thanks I'm fine!".

At restaurants its the same thing quite often. "How is/was your meal, sir?". You could easily reply "tasted like wet dog with some vomit" and they will just smile "Very good, sir".

Sometimes restaurant staff has been trained to respond in a certain way, to give you some speech, repeat your order and god knows what - which could be nice if delivered in an authentic, sincere way. But no! Never seen that in Dubai. All the "thank you"s and "very good"s are as real as the three Taj Mahals, two Eiffel towers, and a Pisa tower in Dubai (why travel anywhere else!). I don't know whether this fake customer service speech works on anyone, but not on me. I think the money spent on their training (although probably they won't invest in "low" class people, so nothing lost?) is a waste of money. If you seek customer service excellence, then do it right.

Another thing you notice in Dubai is the huge number of service personell in places like supermarkets, restaurants and so on. In Carrefour (supermarket near my home) there are so many of them, especially the electionics section is totally overstaffed. You almost have to fight to make your way through the customer service people to see the products. Often they gather into some corner and joke between each other. In Carrefour their favourite hangout place seemes to be between the fridges (probably they have some inside joke like "let's go to the "cool" place. haha!"). When you ask them something specific, a technical question, often they don't know more than "its made in Japan, very good!".

When I lived in my previous place the supermarket I visited the most was Lulu (rumor has it it's the center of the universe). They had huge number of people working there as well. Most of the time doing nothing... When the labour costs are so cheap, nobody bothers about efficiency. Maybe the one place which cares about it in Dubai is Ikea, although I can't swear on it. The only reason how Dubai is building so many skyscrapers so fast is the huge number of indians/pakistanis/etc on one construction site. Coca-Cola invests gazillion dollars in TV advertising, Dubai puts gazillion indians on one construction site.

Don't be surprised when you find a restaurant with 10:1 waiter/customer ratio, it happens. And it doesn't mean the service is fast! There's a shisha place I go to with my friends where each waiter seems to have a different job role: one guy takes the order, second brings glasses, third one water, fourth dude shisha, fifth guy changes the charcoals, sixth brings the food, seventh the bill and eigth (higher rank) takes the money. And there are about 5 more dudes who walk around and do nothing (at least I haven't figured out their role). I'm sure they don't get paid anything and motivation level is below zero, but hey - this is not normal.

Sometimes I feel Dubai puts so much effort on facade (and telling the miracle of Dubai story) that it forgets about the real thing. Once you dig deeper, you can find a great deal of crap. Just the other day I read from a paper how the quality of construction (which nearly always sucks) in a new part of town - Jumeirah Islands - was total crap (residents complaining). And the real estate developer responded something like that oh c'mon, what else do you expect for 2.1 mln dirhams? Nice.

Hell is about to begin

There are two seasons in Dubai - summer and hell. Summer is over, hell is getting closer and closer. No more enjoying outdoors. Now its already about 38 C (in the shade) and 50% humidity (which goes higher in the night). Thats too much. It makes be kind of uncomfortable to know it gets worse. Way worse.

Hearing news about Estonian weather makes me wanna be there.

Lets tango, baby!

Me and Sarah started to dance tango some time back and we love it! Excitment, fun, passion, love, forbidden fruits... its all in tango. Tango is like as much a language, a way to communicate as speech. In the same way as many of us love the poetry and adore its beauty, you can feel and breath life and all its beauty through tango. Its an art that happens in front of your eyes and you can be the art itself.

Yesterday we went to see a tango show (and to dance ourselves), and Sarah noticed that the people on the dancefloor were from so many nationalities - arabs, malaysians, britons, indians etc (ca 10 different), and they were all dancing this latin american dance, having the time of their lives. It was beautiful - like a symbol for cultural understanding, peace and diversity.

Then we watched a lady (about 45 years old), a successful lawyer as we were told, dancing tango, showing off her legs, body and she seemed to forget who she is and what kind of an image she is usually carrying with herself. At that moment, she was just living in the moment, fully dived into the sea of tango, enjoying her self.

I remembered what the CEO of Harley Davidson said, that what they sell is the ability for a 43-year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him. Same thing with tango. When dancing tango, you can be the irresistable vamp, femme fatale or casanova. Sexy and mysterious. Desirable and charming.

One of my tango teachers told me she is going to deliver a speech on "Tango: sport or art?" and then asked everybody (fellow dancers) what do they think about it. Most of them said its an addiction, a passion.

I think I'm close to being addicted. Feels good.

Women rule!

I am pro-women. I think women rock. I've had the pleasure of being surrounded by a lot of women throughout my life. In my high school class there were 8 boys and over 25 girls. In the university most of the people on my course were girls. In AIESEC usually there were 80-90% girls. I've had female team mates, subordinates and bosses. Friends and lovers. Based on this I know (yes, know) that women rule.

There are many people on this planet who agree with me. Some data to support this argument:

Economist, 15 April. Leader, page 14. "Forget China, India and the Internet: Economic Growth Is Driven by Women.":

"Girls get better grades in school than boys, and in most developed countries more women than men go to university. Women will thus be better equipped for the new jobs of the 21st century, in which brains count a lot more than brawn. ... And women are more likely to provide sound advice on investing their parents' nest egg: surveys show that women consistently achieve higher financial returns than men do. Furthermore, the increase in female employment in the rich world has been the main driving force of growth in the last couple of decades. Those women have contributed more to global GDP growth than have either new technology or the new giants, India and China."

Goldman Sachs in Tokyo has developed an index of 115 companies poised to benefit from women's increased purchasing power; over the past decade the value of shares in "Goldman's basket has risen by 96%, against the Tokyo stockmarket's rise of 13%."

A fact: women buy everything:
94 percent of home furnishings.
92 percent of vacations.
91 percent of houses.
80 percent of do-it-yourself projects.
51 percent of consumer electronics.
68 percent of new cars.
Household investment decisions ... 67 percent. Small business loans ... 70 percent. Health care decisions ... 80 percent. Yet 91 percent of women say that "advertisers don't understand us"; 58 percent of women say that they're outright "annoyed" by advertising.

That's kinda stupid, isn't it?

Judy Rosener, author of, among other things: America's Competitive Secret: Utilizing Women As a Management Strategy, argues that women's strengths match the new economy's imperatives . For example: Women tend to link rather than rank workers. Women tend to favor interactive/collaborative leadership style, believing that empowerment beats top-down decision making. Women tend to sustain fruitful collaborations. Women are comfortable with sharing information. Women see redistribution of power as victory, not surrender. Women favor multidimensional feedback. Women value technical & interpersonal skills, individual & group contributions equally. Women readily accept ambiguity. Women honor intuition as well as pure rationality. Women are inherently flexible. Women appreciate cultural diversity.

BusinessWeek Special Report: "As leaders women rule: New Studies find that Female Managers Outshine their Male Counterparts in Almost Every Measure."

How about sales? Men, we lose again. Selling is a Woman's Game (look for a book by Nicki Joy
and Susan Kane-Benson). Take this quiz:

Who manages more things at once? Who puts more effort into their appearance? Who usually takes care of the details? Who finds it easier to meet new people? Who asks more questions in a conversation? Who is a better listener? Who has more interest in communication skills? Who is more inclined to get involved? Who encourages harmony and agreement? Who has better intuition? Who works with longer 'to do' lists? Who enjoys a recap to the day's events? Who is better at keeping in touch with others?"

A couple of final assertions: (1) It is now agreed that "the single best investment that can be made in the developing world" is educating girls. (2) Also, surprisingly, nations with the highest female laborforce participation rates, such as Sweden and the U.S., have the highest fertility rates; and those with the lowest participation rates, such as Italy and Germany, have the lowest fertility rates.

Hmm. As I said, women rule.

Want to know your natural talents?

Did you know that years of research have found that only 17% of people within the workplace play to their strengths most of the time? This means most of the companies (and people!) are operating much below their potential. For everyone’s sake this number needs to be higher.

I've been reading "Now, discover your strenghts" and this is a book I recommend to everyone. To begin, the authors posit that businesses (and personalities) are built on two faulty assumptions:

  • Each person can learn to be competent in almost anything.
  • Each person's greatest room for growth is in his or her areas of greatest weakness
This faulty paradigm means that people get promoted for wrong reasons, trained in wrong things (which they lack talent for and which makes it useless, a waste of time and money in the end), companies expect wrong things from people (which stop them from exceling) and people commit their life to improving their weaknesses and don't get very far.

Working with data gathered by Gallup, who conducted interviews with over 2 million people, the authors present the reader with thirty-four basic "themes", or strengths. There are hundreds of combinations of these individual strengths, and in order to find out what your 'combination of strengths' is requires you to take a test on their website. When you buy the book, you are given a password and a URL.

The test is serious, extensive, and comprehensive. It isn't short, it takes a commitment from you, but I also think the rewards are significant. I took the test and I think the results reflect accurately who I am. Think about it. Self-knowledge is often hard to come by.

You will get to know your top 5 talents (recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied), how to work with your strenghts and perhaps you can revise your life.