x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Is the UAE starting to get silly again?

Living here for six and a half years, I usually get wide eyed-stares and a "really?" that isn't so much of a question, more of a concern for my state of mind.

Is silly season back? I hope so. When meeting fellow expatriates in the UAE, it's only a matter of time - usually mere seconds - before someone asks the seemingly all-important question: "So, how long have you been living here?" Try it. Step outside and introduce yourself to someone, and if it doesn't come up in the first few minutes, I'll give you Dh5 (just phone the reception to claim).

And there are a variety of responses depending on the answer. Under a year = you're a newbie, how sweet, have you been to the Musandam Peninsula/Tea at the Burj/Pierre Cardin's 75 per cent sale? Between one year and three = oh right, and how much longer do you think you'll stay? More than three years = really? (said in a volume that increases with the year provided). As someone who has now been living here for six and a half years, I usually get a few wide eyed-stares, deep breaths and a "really?" that isn't so much a question but more of a concern for my state of mind.

Yes, it is true that I have been here a little longer than the six months I had originally intended way back in 2005. No, I may not have made it on to New Zealand where I was to set up a base in Wellington and pretty much run the show by now. And yes, I have put on a few pounds, thanks to the country's strict high-in-fat, low-in-energy-consumption diet. But to those relative newcomers who arrived in the past couple of years and think they know it all, I say (I don't really, I just think): "I pity you, for you missed the best bit."

While the country may now boast a lengthy list of biggest this, tallest that and goldest whatever, the real fun was taking place around five to six years ago, during what I like to call "silly season". Not a week would go by without a new ridiculous development proudly announced, each upping the lunacy significantly from the last. We had a tower in the shape of a man in traditional Arabic dress. There was a temperature-controlled beach. How about a series of towers laid out to look like pieces on a chessboard? Most of the madness was happening in Dubai, but that didn't stop others from getting in on the act. Ras Al Khaimah was going to build a spaceport. Yes, Ras Al Khaimah. Imagine. There are pictures online, if you search.

Back in those days, I started a small satirical newspaper (think The Onion, but less good) that played up to the development boom, but it was stopped when real-life announcements were becoming more farcical than anything I could dream up (I think the tower in the shape of a man in traditional dress was the final straw).

Sadly, the economic ka-boom brought most of these grand plans crashing to the ground and so began a period of relative normality. Well, OK, the country still welcomed the world's tallest building, a metro, a massive mall, another massive mall (probably) and several gazillion hotels and towers, but there has been nothing quite as crazy as before. Things have been impressive, yes, but bonkers, no. It can make me sad.

But just as it seemed like those hazy days of madness were becoming a distant memory, a period of time we'd never see again and something that would only be discussed in hushed whispers by those lucky enough to have experienced it, along comes a saviour: thank you, Ski Dubai's new penguin enclosure.