Monday, September 14, 2009


Does history in Kuwait have any meaning or significance?

Apparently, preserving elements of the past is not a priority for the government or the people.

Mark from 248AM posted a video from YouTube showing the demolition of the Um Al Aish telecommunications station on the western outskirts of Kuwait City. The station opened in October 1969, bringing with it state-of-the-art satellite technology in keeping with the country's rapid advancement and growth. Along with national skyrocketing businesses and amassing wealth, it served as a key player in establishing Kuwait as a regional pioneer. When August 2, 1990 rolled around, Kuwait fell victim to the artillery-based onslaught of the Iraqi interlopers. Along with other heritage sites, important landmarks and basic infrastructure, the station was reduced to a bullet-riddled skeleton of twisted shards and burnt metal. It remained in its derelict state until May 2009, when the Kuwaiti government gave the go-ahead to knock the remains of the station into the ground.

Why does this bother me? Um Al Aish served as a testament to Kuwait's modernization and the fact that it was once a major powerhouse in the Middle East. In its dilapidation, it became a playground for photographers and graffiti artists. Rather than rebuild, however, the remains of the station could have been turned into some sort of museum or open-air memorial; something to remind Kuwaitis and visitors that a war happened here, that this was once the height of global technology, that this was once something. Clearing the site for redevelopment - what good does that do?

This isn't the first time something like this happens here: 
1. The bombed-out remains of the Sheikh Khazaal Diwan across the road from the Diabetes Research facility near Souq Sharq have recently been cordoned off for redevelopment into a museum. While I am incredibly interested to see the plans for the diwan, I fear that the crumbling exteriors of the old buildings will too be razed to have an ubiquitous, glass-and-stone-clad structure take their place. 
2. The National Museum of Kuwait along the Gulf Road, which was looted and set alight during the Invasion, has been sitting as a hollowed-out shell for the better part of twenty years. A sign was latterly installed indicating that the Museum will be rehabilitated and rebuilt. I'm 100 percent for rebuilding the structure; why it took Kuwait almost two decades to decide that it needed a major museum is beyond me. The only qualm I have is that the building will be turned into yet another jungle of concrete and steel without any hint of its illustrated past.
3. The Ramada Al Salam hotel [before and after images below] in Shuwaikh: not many people of this day and age have heard of it, but this hotel was once a Greek cruise ship that sailed the Mediterranean. It was sold to Kuwait in 1976, where it was dry-docked and turned into a land-based hotel not unlike the Queen Mary in Long Island, California. Known as the Kuwait Marriott from 1976 to 1989, the hotel rebranded as a Ramada shortly before the Invasion, where it was torched and completely destroyed. Its remains sat untouched for a number of years before authorities stepped in and scrapped the vessel. 

I have to stress that we do not need to canonize every last shred of the Invasion, but we at least need to keep poignant symbols of our past [the Bayt Al-Qurain is a good Invasion remnant, but not enough]. The Middle East is taking a tragic turn in wiping away its foundations in a desperate race to build hotels, malls, towers and other structures, turning the region into a bastardized, Arabic-themed Las Vegas. Dubai with its superlatives [the tallest, the longest, the widest, the first, the only...], Bahrain with its paradoxical bars and brothels packed with Arabs, Kuwait with its endless arsenal of retail possibilities... I can go on. 

Another trend we seem to be embarking on is Disneyfying elements of the past to keep with the twenty-first century, the best local example of which is the Kuwait Heritage Village. Currently under construction directly across from Souq Sharq, this massive project is designed around the ethos of old Kuwait, with one- or two-story buildings, narrow streets, winding alleyways and covered markets. The catch? It's all commercial. Upon completion in 2010/11, the project will serve as a mall and collection of restaurants. Where's the culture in that? The ultimate hypocrisy, however, lies in the name: with the word heritage, you'd expect the restoration of old buildings and such. This entire project, however, is a new-build! And to make matters worse, archeological remains dating back from thousands of years were discovered at the construction site. Rather than cancelling the project to turn it into a museum, the artifacts were dug up, transferred to storage and construction resumed. Typical.

We must develop, grow and change to keep with the times, but it is imperative that we remember who we are and where we came from. Without a cultural identity, Kuwait might as well be another cookie-cutter city in God-knows-where instead of a characteristic metropolis in the northern Persian Gulf. Why give up something as precious as the past to become nothing more than a cheap, gaudy, monotonous trend?


Friday, August 28, 2009

The Leaning Tower of... Abu Dhabi?

We all know about Dubai's ruthless expansion into the seas and skies, but neighboring Abu Dhabi has been growing at a more reasonable rate. In fact, Abu Dhabi's developments are generally overshadowed by the more glitzy, Las Vegasesque nature of its steroidal sister emirate. The Louvre, the Guggenheim, the zero-carbon [and therefore environmentally-friendly] Masdar community... Or better yet, Capital Gate.

Move over Pisa, Abu Dhabi's gonna knock you down. Or at least it plans to.

Why? Abu Dhabi-based developer ADNEC is constructing a new tower designed to be the internationally-recognized icon of the city of the same vaunted prominence of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. What makes it so special? It's tilted. Like Leaning Tower of Pisa tilted. [Only this one's tilted on purpose.]

At 160 meters in height and a staggering 18 degrees, Capital Gate will be more than 2.8 times taller than its slanty Italian predecessor and have more than 4.5 times the inclination. Housing a five-star Hyatt hotel in the lower section and offices in the upper half, it's scheduled to open in 2010 and is expected to make a dramatic impact on the skyline.

True, it's yet another hotel/office hybrid, but its design has been executed in a far more daring and unconventional concept. Rather than build a box or something based around something like a flower or another ubiquitous, neck-breakingly tall high-rise, the architects [RMJM Architects, for those interested] chose to go with something new. Can't wait for this one to open, although I can't help but wonder if this one is gonna attract people the way the Leaning Tower of Pisa has for almost 900 years...

Friday, June 26, 2009

First Farrah, now Michael

June hasn't been a stellar month. I mean, Air France flight 447, swine flu, the pandemonium over the Iranian election results, Farrah Fawcett - talk about turbulent times.

And now, the bell tolls for a true legend: Michael Jackson, the talented [and troubled] King of Pop, died in Los Angeles yesterday at the age of 50.

Although his cause of death is presently unknown [an autopsy is scheduled for June 26] but may most likely be attributed to a cardiac arrest, Jackson leaves one million people scattered over 50 scheduled concerts in London between July 13, 2009 and March 6, 2010 behind, as well as eight siblings of the famous Jackson family, three young children and millions of fans.

Interestingly, when news of his death broke, worldwide Internet traffic surged - enough to slow the web down. The celebrity world is in shock, with icons like Elizabeth Taylor being "too devastated" to talk about the death, Elton John singing tributes to Jacko, and Celine Dion comparing his death to those of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.

So sad. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

As Michael would say: Don't stop 'til you get enough. Or in this case, don't stop 'til your heart gets enough.

[Attached to this post are Michael's body being taken to the coroner's office, as well as the last photo of him taken in an ambulance as paramedics try to resuscitate the singer.]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Farrah Fawcett: February 2, 1947 - June 25, 2009

After several years of battling metastasized anal cancer, 1970s beauty and sex symbol Farrah Fawcett died this morning in Santa Monica, California at the age of 62.

Beginning her career with shampoo ads, the actress gained superstardom after her role in the 1976 TV series Charlie's Angels, as well as for her blond locks [which many a female emulated] and the now-legendary poster of her in a red bikini which sold over 12 million copies [Why is it not posted here? Haram, people.]. Now that's fantasy for you.

Her final days were chronicled in the emotional and painful-to-watch TV documentary, Farrah's Story. Involved are scenes of the ailing actress undergoing tests at hospitals, projectile vomiting and writhing in pain. Cancer's a disaster.

Rest in peace, Farrah.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

360 Mall - Opening July 5, 2009

It's all in the title: Kuwait's newest offering to free money from your recession-stricken wallets is opening in less than two weeks.

How do you set 360 apart from its peers? Why, bring new stores in to Kuwait, of course. Expect [individual] boutiques/stores/dining outlets from the following:
- Bebe
- Bottega Veneta
- Dolce & Gabbana
- Givenchy
- Gucci
- Intersport
- Toys 'R' Us
- Wagamama

Then there's the 15-screen cineplex [with 2 VIP theatres and an IMAX screen], the 20-lane bowling alley, the 9000 square meter family entertainment zone, a Marks & Spencer department store, a 1200-seat food court, 36 restaurants and coffee shops... need I go on?

Exactly what Kuwait needs: another mall. You know, because The Avenues, The Marina, Salhiya, Arraya, Al Fanar, Souq Sharq, Laila Gallery, Al Kout, Al Manshar, Sulail Al Jahra, the Muthana Complex and all the others simply aren't enough. 

Better yet, before 2012 rolls around, our retail arsenal will be further augmented with The Symphony, Olympia, the Al Hamra Mall, the mall at the Kuwait Trade Center, the mall at the United Tower, the Avenues' massive expansion and the enormous Mall of Kuwait.

So many malls, so little time.

[360 is located at the intersection of the King Faisal Highway and the Sixth Ring Road in the Al-Zahra district of South Surra. For more information, visit the following link:]

UPDATE: 360 changed their opening date from June 25 to July 5. How unexpected.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Swine flu: it's here

Yeah. The title says it all.

Details: not one, three or five, but EIGHTEEN soldiers on U.S. bases have tested positive for the swine flu virus. As of today [May 23, 2009], 12022 confirmed cases of swine flu in humans in over thirty countries have been recorded, with 86 deaths attributed to the disease.

So far, it is believed that the virus is contained within the bases and has not spread to the civilian populace.

Yeesh. In times like these, I'm sure we're all hoping that nothing major happens. Not that we need any more problems here or anything.

For the full article, visit the following link:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Change in the air?

It's official: we have four female members of parliament. Aseel Al-Awadi, Salwa Al-Jassar, Massouma Al-Mubarak and Rola Dashti will be going down in Kuwaiti history as the first women to ever join the National Assembly. This is truly iconic in any democratic system, seeing that Kuwaiti women were only given suffrage and the right to run for parliament back in 2005.

Four. أربع

Women. نساء

And what's more: the elections have revealed a decrease in the number of Islamists elected into parliament, from 21 in the last session to 11 this time around. An increase in Shi'a Muslim MPs has also been noted, jumping from five to nine representatives.

Is this a sign? Maybe people aren't liking the fundamentalists anymore? Is Kuwait bound to get better from this point?

While I can't stress how much of a turning point this is for us as Kuwaitis and Arabs, I don't think our problems will be solved just yet. According to Reuters, Kuwait still needs to approve a five-billion dollar economic stimulus package which was rejected by the previous parliament, as well as work together with other government figures to push major infrastructural projects forward [including the City of Silk in Subiya and Kuwait's largest hospital, the Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Hospital in South Surra]. Still, the fact that we actually have female MPs this time around should hopefully pave the road to a different [better?] Kuwait.

In the meantime, all I'm worried about is whether or not Aseel Al-Awadi and Rola Dashti will be harassed by the few fundamentalist MPs to wear hijabs.