Hong Kong of Eastern Europe..

..is Estonia, according to an article in today's 7Days, a local newspaper. In today's real estate section you can find an article about Estonia and its property market.

Among other things it mentions that the real estate prices are low over there. During the last year I've been hearing my friends telling me how expensive it has become and how the market is booming. Well, I guess its what you compare it to.

Direct link: http://www.7days.ae/2006/10/31/the-est-is-the-best.html

Developments in the property market

Prices in the propety market of Dubai never stop rising, being more than 30% a year. Almost every day you can read in the papers new forecasts, summaries of pasts quarters and so on telling the same story - property prices soar.

It is not unusual to read how government is demolishing older building and how its current inhabitants have nowhere to go as they can't afford anything in the market. People live on rooftops, abandoned buildings and where not. Even if they have a job!

For property owners Dubai is a great business. More money pouring in than ever before. Even though the law prohibits to raise the rent prices more than 15% a year, landlords just evict the current tenants for whatever reason ("I wanna lived there myself" etc) and then raise the rent however much they want. Since the market has far more demand than supply, they can do that.

A couple of days ago there was an article saying how landlords have new tricks - they are offering cheap rooms in return for sexual favours. Different websites that have adverts for flat shares - including several for one bedroom and studio apartments - are attempting to lure young, single European women with the promise of discount rents in exchange for sex.

I'm not sure whether they really do get "lucky" as Europeans are (usually) in quite well-paid positions and can afford housing. If the same offer would be made to girls with Asian origin who don't get paid much at all, some desparate women might even consider this. But I hope not. Its like become a sex slave on your free will. And your home security will be forever in the hands (or some other body part) of your landlord. Quite sick huh?

CV wisdom

I am currently hiring a new salesperson. We advertised in 2 different places and I got literally hundreds of CVs. Going through each of them and paying attention to each of them is a tough job. You get tired. You feel tempted to pay attention only to some of the most important criteria. I understood why some companies don't reply to received applications (I did, to each one of them) - there's just so many of them and it could seem to be a hassle. I also understood what "your CV has to stand out" really means. They all look the same, they have more or less the same structure, the same business jargon sentences. There was 1 CV that did stand out and I really stopped to read it through in detail. It was different in appearance. The content was the same as in any other CV, but it made me curious, made me pay more attention. I think anyone would have more chance of being invited for a job interview when they could make their CV stand out more.

Now there's some advice I want to give. Often there is a question: whether to put the picture on the CV or not? Several standards recommend "yes", its more personal etc. Here's what I think: when it comes to a job where you have to interact with (potential) clients, looks are important. People do business with people they like. Every time I saw a photo I was thinking what kind of an impression might this person leave to our potential clients? What kind of prejudices might they invoke in others? Can it lessen the chances of business deals?

I am sure there are so many (recruitment) people out there who make their first impression of you based on your picture. My advice is this: if you are after a sales job (or any other client focused job) then add the picture to your CV only if you have above average looks. Be self-critical. Yes, you might have a charming personality and charisma, but you won't get to show it if people are put off by your looks. It takes 3 seconds to form first impression. If you don't look that good, don't add the picture - just hope you'll get invited for an interview and then use your charm, wit and other nice qualities that you have to convince them you're the one. If you are a data analyst, biologist or server maintainance guy, looks are not important. But in some jobs it matters.

Aah, one more thing. Most of the CVs I got had a picture. A large number of the pictures were horrible. Just horrible. Even if some of you look good otherwise, make sure the photo is of high quality.

Government PR

One thing about this country is that the media is not free. How much is censored and controlled, I don't exactly know. I have heard different rumours. From time to time you can see quite brave stories, but you can't write anything against the government policies usually.

The funny thing is the government PR. Some (very) highly paid people who have to show that they are doing something. And government is building its image as caring, loving and always there for the citizens. Like good 'ole Soviet times.

So more often than not (almost every day) you will find pictures of the leaders of the country on the *front* page of main newspapers and some important headline. "Khalifa receives Islamic scholars", "Mohammed meets journalists", "Mohammed meets the citizens", "Sheikh meets more citizens". Very, very important news that everyone should know.

Yesterday there was a big article titled "Government employees will receive salary tomorrow". Who cares! Maybe internal memo could have been enough?

Sometimes I wonder whether anyone truly follows this and feels it is all so important? I personally mostly just chuckle to myself.

We're just a couple animals

A song I've been listening to a lot recently - "Animals" by Nickelback. Very energetic and catchy. And the lyrics make me smile every time.

Smells like dead pigeon

No I'm not trying to paraphrase Nirvana. I really have a dead pigeon smelling somewhere in my house. For months I heard pigeons making sounds in the ventilation shaft, so I knew I have birds as my neighbours. Now one of them decided to die and smell really bad.

The only positive thing is that the smell is localized in my bathroom. So if I'll close the door I can pretend everything is fine.

But don't use bathroom at my place unless you really have to.

Yunus wins Nobel Peace Prize

Bangladeshi microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday for their work. A person who truely deserves it.

Being the father of microcredit (very small loans for poor people), his work has contributed to lifting millions out of poverty. Through Yunus's efforts and those of the bank he founded, poor people around the world, especially women, have been able to buy livestock, chickens, tools or other equipment they desperately needed to get ahead. They are able to break free from the poverty trap, educate their children and provide additional value to the community they live in.

I'm not gonna go into what is microcredit and so on, internet is full of information.

I was appalled to read comments on one portal regarding Yunus getting the award. Some said it was a "politically correct decision", some thought "overpopulation must be stopped instead of poverty". I am sad that there is so much ignorance. Somebody said "the last thing that the poor need is a loan!" whereas it might be the first thing they need.

"Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty," the Nobel Committee said. "Microcredit is one such means. Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights."

How right they are.

Overpopulation, infant mortality, health, life expectancy, education, terrorism are largely derived from poverty. In many cases top-down approach has failed and Yunus has demonstrated how microcredit can work. Since Yunus gave out his first loans in 1974, microcredit schemes have spread throughout the developing world and are now considered a key to alleviating poverty and spurring development.

Yunus is an outstanding social entrepreneur who has my utmost respect.


It's Ramadan, my second one.

My previous one was a cultural experience. I was eager to learn the ways of the muslim people and trying to understand the greater meaning of it. You can read what I wrote about it last year here (in estonian).

This year things have changed. Dubai has corrupted me. I am not so culturally sensitive anymore. At times I can be a careless westerner complaining about the fact that I can't eat and drink in public before sunset. But hey - Ramadan is a holy season for muslims and they should be fasting because of the meaning they believe in and seeing other people eat and drink should not disturb them. If the faith is strong enough. A week ago there was an article on the front page of a newspaper, criticizing women who wear skirts and show shoulders during Ramadan. The next day you could read letters from the readers (muslims) where some said that if you are a true muslim, your faith is strong and you will look away, that Ramadan is about you, not other people. I couldn't agree more.

Dubai has sold out too. Last year the cinemas were closed and there was no music in bars. This year there is no difference between Ramadan and other months. Only food outlets are closed in most of the places (but not all, if you paid enough, you could get a special license allowing you to keep the restaurant open). Home delivery still works everywhere which is how our staff has lunch. I overheard one of my egyptian friends saying how in Dubai its hard to notice that it is Ramadan compared to Egypt.

The fast is an exacting act of deep personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised level of closeness to God. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. Another meaning is compassion for the poor people - you feel the hardship of the poor who don't have anything to eat.

This last thing is a bit funny for me. Sure, during Ramadan people don't eat when the sun is up, but when its eating time they mean business. Eating almost never stops and they eat HUGE quantities. Most of you probably know that you feel like could eat an elephant when you haven't eaten for a long time. So usually people dig in as much as they can. And feel bloated afterwards. I've done the same - yes, it can be great to eat that much. I also tried to fast one day, but I have to be honest - it was damn difficult. I cheated and had 3 cups of tea during the day. So definitely it is a test of willpower and requires inner strength to accomplish it. The thing that makes me scratch my head is that poor people can't start feasting after the sunset. So this part seems a bit hypocrite to me.

When asked if I like Ramadan, then I have to be honest. Since there is no spiritual meaning for me personally, I only endure the hardship of being restricted from doing certain things I would like to do. So I have to say "no", I would prefer that it wouldn't be Ramadan. The main good thing for me is that we have Ramadan working hours and I can leave at 3pm. And there is less traffic.

This weekend I will have the chance to have iftar (breaking the fast) with 2 local (emirati) families, which I am looking forward to. This kind of chances to get to see the local culture are hard to come by. More about that later.

Friedman on Islam and Pope

I came upon this article in Surya's blog by Thomas Friedman about islam and the pope and related. I find it brilliant. I thought it will be worth "re-printing" it here too.

"We need to stop insulting Islam. It's enough already.

No, that doesn't mean the pope should apologize. The pope was actually treating Islam with dignity. He was treating the faith and its community as adults who could be challenged and engaged. That is a sign of respect.

What is insulting is the politically correct, kid-gloves view of how to deal with Muslims that is taking root in the West today. It goes like this: ''Hushhh! Don't say anything about Islam! Don't you understand? If you say anything critical or questioning about Muslims, they'll burn down your house. Hushhh! Just let them be. Don't rile them. They are not capable of a civil, rational dialogue about problems in their faith community.''

Now that is insulting. It's an attitude full of contempt and self-censorship, but that is the attitude of Western elites today, and it's helping to foster the slow-motion clash of civilizations that Sam Huntington predicted. Because Western masses don't buy it. They see violence exploding from Muslim communities and they find it frightening, and they don't think their leaders are talking honestly about it. So many now just want to build a wall against Islam. It will be terrible if Turkey is blocked from entering the European Union, but that's where we're heading, and the only thing that will halt it is honest dialogue.

But it is not the dialogue the pope mentioned -- one between Islam and Christianity. That's necessary, but it's not sufficient. What is needed first is an honest dialogue between Muslims and Muslims.

As someone who has lived in the Muslim world, enjoyed the friendship of many Muslims there and seen the compassionate side of Islam in action, I have to admit I am confused as to what Islam stands for today.

Why? On the first day of Ramadan last year a Sunni Muslim suicide bomber blew up a Shiite mosque in Hilla, Iraq, in the middle of a memorial service, killing 25 worshipers. This year on the first day of Ramadan, a Sunni suicide bomber in Baghdad killed 35 people who were lining up in a Shiite neighborhood to buy fuel. The same day, the severed heads of nine murdered Iraqi police officers and soldiers were found north of Baghdad.

I don't get it. How can Muslims blow up other Muslims on their most holy day of the year -- in mosques! -- and there is barely a peep of protest in the Muslim world, let alone a million Muslim march? Yet Danish cartoons or a papal speech lead to violent protests. If Muslims butchering Muslims -- in Sudan, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan -- produces little communal reaction, while cartoons and papal remarks produce mass protests, what does Islam stand for today? It is not an insult to ask that question.

Muslims might say: ''Well, what about Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo or Palestine? Let's talk about all your violent behavior.'' To which I would say: ''Let's talk about it! But you'll have to get in line behind us, because we're constantly talking about where we've gone wrong.'' We can't have a meaningful dialogue if we, too, are not self-critical, but neither can Muslims.

Part of the problem in getting answers is that Islam has no hierarchy. There is no Muslim pope defining the faith. There are centers of Muslim learning, in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but their credibility with the masses is uneven because they're often seen as tools of regimes. So those Muslim preachers with authenticity tend to be the street preachers -- firebrands, who gain legitimacy by spewing hatred at both their own regimes and the Western powers that support them.

As a result, there is a huge body of disenfranchised Sunni Muslims, who are neither violent fundamentalists nor wannabe secularists. They are people who'd like to see a marriage between Islam and modernity. But right now there is little free space in the Sunni Muslim world -- between the firebrand preachers and the ''official'' ones -- for that synthesis to be discussed and defined.

I had hoped Iraq would be that space. Whenever people asked me how I'd know if we'd won in Iraq, I said: when Salman Rushdie could give a lecture in Baghdad. I'm all for a respectful dialogue between Islam and the West, but first there needs to be a respectful, free dialogue between Muslims and Muslims. What matters is not what Muslims tell us they stand for. What matters is what they tell themselves, in their own languages, and how they treat their own.

Without a real war of ideas within Islam to sort that out -- a war that progressives win -- I fear we are drifting at best toward a wall between civilizations and at worst toward a real clash."