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Made a mug of in Dubai and a witness of hatred in Shanghai

The bankers call it "deleveraging"; to ordinary mortals it's called "paying off your debts". But whatever you call it, it makes mugs of us all, writes Frank Kane.

The bankers call it "deleveraging"; to ordinary mortals it's called "paying off your debts". But whatever you call it, it makes mugs of us all.

At the height of the boom in 2007, I accepted an invitation from the finance company Dubai First (part of the Dubai Holding conglomerate) to take out a credit card on what I was told were very favourable terms.

I used the card for a while, then when the crisis hit in 2008 and I stopped. I thought I was being smart and prudent, just paying the minimum each month to keep the account ticking over with the aim of paying it off in full when I had some cash. That process took longer than expected. I did not use the card for three years and I don't think I was Dubai First's favourite customer. I once had a call from them threatening to cash my security cheque if I did not start using the card again.

Recently, I paid off the full debt (about Dh30,000 or US$8,167) and closed the account. I realised to my horror I had paid out something approaching Dh100,000 just to maintain that balance. I'm just glad to have done my bit for Dubai Holding's revenues in tough times.

***

I've been reading and thinking a lot about China over the past week since I interviewed the fascinating Tian Zhiping, the chief of the Middle East region for Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world's biggest bank.

I'm just at that part of Antony Beevor's historical masterpiece The Second World War that deals with the Japanese invasions of China the 1930s, which the author (rightly) identifies as the real beginning of the global conflagration.

Then there was a review by the Financial Times' Gideon Rachman of a new book, snappily entitled Never Forget National Humiliation by the Chinese author Zheng Wang, which argues the "new China" post-Mao Zedong has deliberately fostered a sense of outrage over past injustices - whether at the hands of the Japanese or western imperialists - to nurture the reborn nationalism that has virtually replaced Chinese communism.

I never got round to asking Mr Tian what he thought about the Japanese but, in the week when there were mass demonstrations in Chinese cities over islands disputed with the Japanese, I'm sure his views would have been forthright, in private if not in print.

In 2005, I had occasion to visit Nanjing, the city that suffered one of the worst atrocities, when Japanese soldiers murdered at least 200,000 Chinese civilians in 1937. The huge memorial to the victims of massacre - a granite statue of an unarmed Chinese man raising his arm to shield his wife and children from an unseen horror - was utterly moving.

Later on the same visit, I was in Shanghai, doing a bit of tourism with a Chinese companion in the buzzy Xintiandi district.

We were sitting outside a cafe, watching the world go past, when a low-pitched hissing sound began among the pavement crowd at one end of the street, and grew in volume as a small knot of people walked along the road.

As the group passed, it reached a crescendo like the cries of a thousand angry cats. "They're Japanese tourists," my friend explained. "We don't want them here but they keep coming. This is how we show them what we think." A few people threw paper cups and plastic bottles.

It was a display of public hatred, visceral yet controlled, such as I have never experienced towards a group of people, on grounds of nationality, anywhere in the world.

* * *

Clarificaton (September 11, 2012): In a notebook item a few weeks ago I wrote about my experience with a credit card debt. I also mentioned the company in question, Dubai First, called and threatened to cash my security cheque if I did not start using the card again. Dubai First, having read that column, has written to me to say they have checked their records and found no such actions had been taken. I acknowledge their statement.

fkane@thenational.ae

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