Tuesday, June 19, 2007


My P sent me the link to this post by Fonzy today and asked me if today, June 19, really is Kuwait’s “independence day” (which it is). Being a historian, I of course wrote a long comment on that post about the history of the day and what it all really means. I was just about to write another equally long comment but I decided to stop hijacking his post and write one of my own, combining my comment over there as well as what I was just about to write, while giving Fonzy recognition for inspiring me to write this post (since I would have totally overlooked the fact that today was June 19). So here it is.

Although 19 June 1961 is usually classified as the day that Kuwait obtained its “independence”, technically what really happened that day was the termination of the Anglo-Kuwaiti Agreement of 1899 that had established British protection over Kuwait. According to the agreement (see image below), the Sheikh of Kuwait (i.e. Mubarak) pledged that he and his successors would not receive the agent or representative of any power or government in Kuwait, nor cede any portion of its territory to the government or subject of any other power, without the previous consent of the British Government. In exchange, the British offered Mubarak the loose assurance that they would protect him and Kuwait from external interference. It was not until 1915 that Kuwait was made an actual protectorate of the British Empire (meaning that the latter was now contractually bound to protect Kuwait). Although the termination of the agreement in 1961 meant that Kuwait was now free to make its own foreign policy decisions, a new “friendship” arrangement remained through which the British promised to continue offering Kuwait military assistance, something which was needed only days later due to renewed Iraqi claims over Kuwait. (This was the Cliffs Notes version of the story.)

Although it is most commonly used to describe the events of 19 June 1961, the term “independence” can be misleading because it implies that Kuwait was colonized or more formally incorporated into the British Empire than it really was. Rather, Kuwait was a protectorate, and what it had was an agreement with the British that held each party accountable for certain responsibilities towards the other. After the agreement was terminated in 1961, Kuwait was still dependent on Britain for military protection (as it had been for the past sixty years), and it wasn’t until 1975 that the Kuwaiti government took 100% control over the Kuwait Oil Company (which was originally owned as an Anglo-American joint venture between British Petroleum and Gulf Oil, now Chevron, with Kuwait only receiving 13% of the revenues). As such, Kuwait’s relationship with Britain both before and after 1961 was not as clearly defined as the use of the term “independence” implies.

But despite these details and ambiguities, in essence yes, 19 June 1961 was the day that the state of Kuwait obtained its “independence” from the British through the termination of the agreement. It was declared an “Emirate” and the ruler became officially known as the “Emir”. However, June 19 should not be confused with what is considered Kuwait’s “National Day”. National Day was chosen to be celebrated on February 25, which was the day in 1950 that Abdullah Al-Salem came to power, as a tribute to the ruler who actually phased out the British. Rather than simply celebrating the day the agreement was terminated, it was apparently decided to celebrate the reign of Abdullah Al-Salem for all of his achievements (including the creation of the National Assembly, the ratification of the Constitution, and of course terminating the agreement with Britain).

However, it is a bit misleading that in Kuwait we celebrate National Day on February 25, but count the years from 1961. It combines the two events of Abdullah Al-Salem’s accession to power and the termination of the agreement with the British. Furthermore, it does seem strange that June 19 goes by every year without causing so much as a ripple, since the date certainly holds some local meaning considering that the country counts the years of its "nationhood" from 1961. So for example, this past February 25 marked Kuwait's 46th National Day celebration - but in reality "25 February 1961" (counting back 46 years) means absolutely nothing.

Personally, I find all such token celebrations meaningless because most people celebrate without knowing a single thing about why or what they are celebrating. If we're going to honour 25 February 1950 and 19 June 1961 (or, in reality, a combination of the two) - then we should give equal recognition to August 1910 and 24 June 1938, etc. I don't mean in terms of a national holiday or anything like that. What I'm getting at is, the choice of the date of our "National Day" is arbitrary. As a Kuwaiti, to me 25 February 1950 is no more significant a date than 24 June 1938. In fact, I would have chosen the latter, but somebody else thought it more prudent to celebrate the former.

And just for fun: Kuwaiti National Anthem: 1978-present / Kuwaiti "Amiri Salute" and National Anthem: 1961-1978 (apparently). I've never heard the older one before and never even knew we used to have an old anthem before the 1978 one. I like it - it's cheerful! And the very first bars sound like the opening of "Le Marseillaise". But for some reason I thought our "Amiri Salute" sounded different. I'm trying to imagine those old scenes on KTV of the Amir landing at the airport and walking down the red carpet with the salute playing - it sounds different in my head. Or what am I thinking of? Anyway, I like this one. I keep playing it over and it makes me smile.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A song for my P

Saint Etienne - "Shad Thames" (download)

This just says it all, doesn't it?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Let it go

Yesterday, after a nice long day spent on the south side of the river Thames - first at the Tate Modern then across Southbank and down to the County Hall building - my friend nibaq, who is in town for a few days, and I crossed the Westminster Bridge and began walking towards Covent Garden. As we passed by the Victoria Embankment Gardens he stopped to take a photograph of a group of about three balloons that were stuck up in a tree. As he did that I wandered into the gardens, which I had never actually seen open before as the gates are usually closed when the weather is bad, but the weather has now finally become glorious. It had a nice lazy afternoon crowd of people lying in the grass or on deck chairs, and it was quiet and peaceful with a low murmur of voices and the slightly louder snoring of one man fast asleep under a tree. As most of the other parks are quite full these days with children and large groups of merry summer revellers, I made a mental note that this is a great place to come to when I want to escape the crowds and read quietly and enjoy the weather.

Anyway, as I rejoined my friend at the gate and we turned to make our way up towards the Strand, he turned to me and said something that I just really loved. He said that every child loses a bit of their innocence the moment they lose their first balloon. I thought about it, and it made great sense. It is so true. You remember what it was like when you were a child – you might have had a balloon tied to your wrist but slowly the bow came undone and the next thing you knew it was flying away from you and although you jumped in the air to try and grab the end of the string, it was too late. Most children in that moment are in a momentary state of shock. You remember – it was oddly traumatizing. The initial instinct was to cry, and to just look up and watch the balloon fly away, up, up into the sky, staring at that point until it was no longer visible. I had never thought about it before, but that must be one of the first moments in life that teaches you, at a very young age, a very important life lesson: sometimes you just have to let things go.

And I think it is a lesson that I need to learn again. Sometimes, you just have to let things go. I don't mean the big stuff here. I mean the trivial day-to-day stuff that can weigh you down unnecessarily. In other words, I have to stop sweating the small stuff.

I have written before about the fact that I am an obsessive perfectionist, and while it is something that can often benefit me – in my work, for example – usually it is something that is extremely exhausting, emotionally and mentally. A big part of the problem is that sometimes I just really need to let things go, and I don’t (or won’t). This applies to trivial day-to-day things, all the way up to more significant ones. I analyze, and over-analyze, and overthink, and just simply obsess over so many different things – big and small – to no end, and with no purpose. This has certainly gotten much worse with age, and since I’ve moved to London. In fact, I think it has hit a peak this year. And it is certainly for obvious reasons. Most simply, as a PhD student I spend huge amounts of time totally on my own, and it can be overwhelming. I am always very busy with my work, and what happens is that I sometimes end up going for days without any face-to-face human contact other than with the checkout person at Sainsbury’s. Of course I will speak to people on the phone or online, but it’s not the same as real human interaction. Not all weeks are like that of course. For most of this year I attended seminars at least twice a week and spent endless hours in various libraries. So the human contact was certainly greater. But this past month has been very much spent in isolation, for various reasons (not least of which was writing my first chapter), and it is therefore not surprising that my psychological state has also hit an all-time low this month. And that great a lack of human interaction is not healthy for anyone. You get so used to being on your own, that when you combine it with your already existing obsessive-compulsive tendencies, you can almost become your own worst enemy. You have too much extra time to think. And not in the good way – to think about the things that don’t really warrant thinking about. I think only those of you who have suffered through this can really get what I mean here.

Anyway, the point I realized today is, there really is no reason for all of this. There is no reason that I should allow any of this unnecessary stuff to make me feel so mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. In practically every aspect, my life is brilliant. I have a beautiful family who are all in good health, I have a wonderful partner in life who loves me and takes the best care of me even in absentia, and I have a great career and am following my passion. However, I have been through one enormous tragedy in my life and that is something that will always be extremely difficult to get over. But experiencing the worst in life allows you to appreciate and treasure the joys in life that much more. So since I have already suffered the worst sort of pain that any human being could possibly imagine, why should I allow the trivial things that bother me to stop me from feeling that joy that I deserve and have earned the right to experience every single day?

This post is directed more to myself than to anyone else. But what I do want to do here is to say to the world (or at least the five of you who are reading this!) that from today I am going to make a much stronger and more conscious effort to just let the trivial things go. I am going to let the balloons fly and watch them disappear, out of my life forever.

Just out of curiosity, how far up to you think balloons fly before they finally pop? And what happens to the string?

And finally, whenever I walk by the gates of the Embankment Gardens, I sing this Pet Shop Boys song in my head. And interestingly enough, the whole song itself just felt very fitting today.
Cross a windy bridge one winter night
Past Embankment Gardens enter warmth and light
Face the music (It’s never easy)
Forget the chill
Face the future (It’s never easy)
Find the will

If life is worth living, it’s got to be done
One might be forgiven for thinking it’s a life on the run
Many roads will cross through many lives
But somehow you survive

Look around, picture what’s in store
Is this the final edit, or is the subject now a bore?
Don’t shrug your shoulders (It’s always easy)
You can’t ignore

That life is worth living, it’s still worth a damn
One might be forgiven for thinking it’s something of a sham
Many words may make it sound contrived
But somehow we’re alive

The survivors - Our heads bowed
The survivors - At memorials for other faces in the crowd

Teachers and artists (It’s never easy)
And Saturday girls
In suits or sequins (It’s never easy)
Or twin-sets and pearls

If life is worth living
It’s got to be run
As a means of giving
Not as a race to be won
Many roads will run through many lives
But somehow we’ll arrive

Many roads will run through many lives
But somewhere we’ll survive

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Mall of Kuwait: Oh, Dear

The past couple of days of my life have been completely wasted (well, not quite wasted, let's say spent) online just checking stuff out. Hey, I've given myself the week off after the exceptionally hectic month I've had! Anyway, I'm not sure how but at some point this morning I ended up on the Tamdeen Real Estate Company (Kuwait) website. They're the people who brought you Fanar and the Al-Kout/Manshar cluster. They are now apparently working on something called 360˚ Kuwait in South Surra, and the Mall of Kuwait in Sabahiya:

This is getting ridiculous. How many malls does such a small country with less than three million people need? And it's like each new one that comes along tries to outdo the last one. So they're just going to keep getting bigger and bigger. My only consolation with all of this is that at least they've stopped reclaiming land from the sea to build these monostrosities (probably because there's no coastal land left to reclaim - but I won't get into that again).

The reason I'm writing about this is to share with you the blurb on the Tamdeen website about the Mall of Kuwait. The points I would like to highlight here are in bold.

Located between the two main highways linking Kuwait City to the south, the Mall of Kuwait in the Sabahiya area will have a massive retail area of 150,000 square meters. Designed to capture the imagination of the nation, it will be surrounded by gardens, water bodies and some of the most extensive leisure and dining facilities. The mall will have a hypermarket, five anchor stores, the world’s best brands and spectacular entertainment facilities. It will integrate the ethos and culture of Kuwait, making it a cultural hub for the community. When the Mall of Kuwait opens, it will become an iconic landmark for Kuwait and a fitting tribute to the country’s grand vision.

Of course there are the obvious questions that one can ask in connection with the opening of yet another mall of this grotesque size in Kuwait: how many hypermarkets does Kuwait actually need (360˚ is having one too), how many Starbucks' are going to open in this place, how much extra stock does H&M have at the end of every season, etc. Also, how many of those big hideous clown bouncy things are going to ruin the gardens, water bodies, and leisure facilities? But let's forget about all that. They wanna open yet another mall, let them.

But who else is hanging their heads in shame right now at the thought of being part of a nation whose "imagination" gets "captured" by the sight of 150,000 square meters of retail space? Who else is humiliated that the "ethos and culture of Kuwait" is defined by shopping, coffee, and food? Does anybody else find it troubling that the "cultural hub" for our "community" is going to be a shopping and entertainment centre that probably won't even have a bookstore? An "iconic landmark for Kuwait"? Landmark in whose eyes? The tourists who will come flocking across the southern border to shop in Sabahiya?

And finally, it will be a "fitting tribute to the country's grand vision." Sadly, I think this statement is actually true. This is Kuwait's grand vision. It's all about shopping malls and satiating the short attention span of its population. You know, this mall will probably be completed around the same time as the new National Library on the Gulf Road in Kuwait City. I bet that for every one person that enters the National Library, 500 people will be walking into the Mall of Kuwait. We all know which one I'll be living in!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

London 2012

So the logo for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games was unveiled this morning. I'm not going to get into the official details of the actual logo and branding concept - you can read all about that on the official website and in today's BBC article on it. I will give one official piece of information on it though - this cost £400,000!

What the...? Suffice it to say, practically everybody that I have encountered in London, both in real life and on the radio/TV, is unhappy with it. My initial instinct is to hate it. The logo itself comes in four colours: fuschia pink, light blue, orange, and kind of a fluoride green. You can see all four variations here at the bottom. It's very 80's, and I'm not sure in the good way. In fact, it's more early 90's, in a sort of "Saved by the Bell" kind of way (watch the video on this link and then compare with the video on the official website linked above, particularly the part after the dive into the pool, to see what I mean). Anyway, the point is, all this money, all this effort, and this is what they came up with?

The chairman of the London 2012 organising committee, Seb Coe, admitted that the logo wouldn't be to everyone's taste, but he insisted that it put across the message that he wanted the London Games to deliver, namely that they are "Everyone's Games". By being everyone's games, they're hoping that they will inspire people, particularly young people, to take part in the many sporting, cultural, educational, and community activities surrounding the Games, and to achieve their own personal goals. In the words of Tony Blair, "When people see the new brand, we want them to be inspired to make a positive change in their life."

I wouldn't hold your breath if I were you, Tony. This is hardly an "inspirational" logo. I am not an artist or designer by any means, but I do know a lot about art and design and I do think I have pretty good taste. Sometimes you see things that might not be aesthetically pleasing to you personally, but you kind of get it. Something about it works - especially when it comes to branding and logos. But in this case, I just don't see it. What am I not getting? What are my eyes not seeing? I'm all for taking a risk and doing something edgy and innovative. That is what London itself is all about, after all. But the logo should capture the city and its people somehow - it should define what London and Londoners are all about. Not in a cliché London Eye type of way, but in terms of the energy that emanates off the logo. This simply doesn't.

As I said, my first instinct is to hate it, but I have decided that I am going to give this logo the benefit of the doubt for a little while longer. A part of me really wants to believe that there is something that I am missing and that this really was worth the £400,000 they spent on it. I will wait and see what they do with this concept which, according to Coe, is not a logo, "it's a brand that will take us forward for the next five years." It wouldn't really matter what this logo looked like except that this brand is going to be taking over London over the next five years! The venues of the Olympic city are going to be built around this design concept. If Londoners don't like it, that's a problem, because they're the ones who are going to have to live with it over the next five years, as well as in the future (since the new Olympic site will remain forever).

What does everyone else think?

Update: Good new article about the logo from today's BBC online.
Update 2: The video on the official website has been removed from their site because apparently the part I mentioned above when the guy dives into the pool and there is a multi-colour ripple effect, has triggered epileptic seizures. Read more about it here. I think it's funny how the spokeswoman has to make it clear that it was the animation, and not the logo itself, that caused health concerns. Also, if the whole point of this logo is that it is dynamic and can be animated, this is certainly going to put a kink in their plans!

Friday, June 01, 2007


I have mentioned before that I live on a tiny little street right smack in the middle of central London. Although it is in the middle of a very commercial area, my street is actually one of London's hidden gems. There are some phenomenally great night spots on it that most Londoners don't even know about, let alone visitors. There is one place that is a couple of doors down from mine that has been closed down for most of this year but recently re-opened. They are on the first floor (in British definition, i.e. one up from the ground floor) and usually have their windows wide open. I'm on the second floor, close by, so I always hear their music wafting into my flat on nights when I have my windows open, which is almost always now that the weather is getting warmer. It has come to the point where I actually know a handful of their most regular nightly songs (Petula Clark's "Downtown", Oasis's "Wonderwall", James Brown's "Sex Machine", Sixpence None the Richer's "Kiss Me", interspersed with live Spanish music - very eclectic, I know).

Yesterday, however, I was walking down my street at around 2pm and I suddenly heard a song blaring out their open windows that made me literally stop dead in my tracks: it was "Joey" by Concrete Blonde. The song came out in 1990 and just defines that year, which I spent in California, as well as the whole of the early nineties to me. In middle school in A.S.K. around 1992 I found out that, by miracle, my best friend (a guy) also knew the song. Barely anybody else I know has ever known it! So finding someone else in those years who knew it...in Kuwait...was incredible. Anyway, so yesterday as I was walking down my street and heard this song, it just hit me like a ton of bricks. I hadn't heard it in years. It was one of those songs that I guess I'd forgotten about once we officially stopped using cassette tapes (which, for my generation, was honestly around 2000), since I'd only ever had this song on a single bought in 1990 from Tower Records in California once upon a long time ago.

So tonight I was out with a group of some the most terrific friends that I have made over the past two years since I've been in London. I personally was celebrating the fact that today was my submission deadline for my first chapter and some other written items for my PhD. Anyway, at one point we were deciding where to go and so since we were in the neighbourhood I recommended the place on my street, since I know that their music is great and the atmosphere is wonderful (despite it being as small as my own living room). I was hoping for "Joey" all night but since I have grown accustomed to their nightly playlist and only heard the song that one time on the street at 2pm, I figured it must have been a random fluke.

But perhaps realising that I really needed this moment, the angels of all that is good in this world succombed, and at around 11pm, suddenly, out of nowhere, I heard a very familiar opening to a song. I had already talked about "Joey" and my moment on the street to my friends there earlier in the night, and when I heard the opening chords I hesitated for about one second, a bit unsure, and then squealed out, "IT'S JOEY!!" And it was..."Joey".

And in the midst of their conversation, my friends respectfully ignored me as I thoroughly wallowed in and savoured the moment. It was brilliant. It was one of those moments in life that you just want to cut out and fold up into a tiny square and hide in your pocket, to pull out in all those inevitable moments when life just gets too hectic.

This will always be one of the best, and most important, songs of my entire life. I know it is such a cliché, but this song just defines so many seminal moments in my life. And for that reason, it will always be mine. (Download)

"Joey, baby, don't get crazy.
Detours, fences...I get defensive.
I know you've heard it all before,
So I don't say it anymore.
I just stand by and watch you
Fight your secret war.
Although I used to wonder why,
I used to cry till I was dry.
Still sometimes I get a strange pain inside.
Oh, Joey, if you're hurting so am I.

Joey, honey, I got some money.
All is forgiven.
Listen, listen.
And if I seem to be confused,
I didn't mean to be with you.
And when you said I scared you,
Well I guess you scared me too.
But we got lucky once before,
And I don't wanna close the door.
And if you're somewhere out there
Passed out on the floor...
Oh Joey, I'm not angry anymore.

And if I seem to be confused,
I didn't mean to be with you.
And when you said I scared you
Well I guess you scared me too.
But if it's love you're looking for,
Then I can give a little more.
And if you're somewhere drunk and
Passed out on the floor...
Oh Joey, I'm not angry anymore."