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"Routine Maintainence" in Dubai

Yesterday, I took the afternoon off from work to get a haircut, at a place located in the Dubai Mall. Opened in 2008, the mall is the largest in the world -- it's a beast -- and even has a three-story aquarium, with sharks and fish and occasionally live scuba divers, in the middle of it.

I arrive at one of the mall's entrances to find a busy array of firetrucks, police cars and emergency personnel outside. Sirens are still flashing, the curious and the confused linger and gawk at the commotion. Inside, they've shut off a whole wing: one of the central arteries of the mall -- the part with the aquarium, as it happens -- is dark and ghostly, its stores shuttered.

I find one of the guys from the help kiosks and ask what's going on. "Routine maintenance," he tells me. "Don't worry" -- a phrase I hear in Dubai a lot -- "it's no problem. Just routine maintenance," he says, willfully ignoring the phalanx of emergency vehicles directly behind me and facing him.

It's only later, when I reach the hair salon, that I hear what actually happened. The aquarium cracked. Or, as my Lilliputian French hairdresser put it, "Zee fish, zey try and escape!"

Now I've been in Dubai long enough to chuckle at the disparity between "routine maintenance" and "near-catastrophic engineering failure." These things happen, and when they do, those who run Dubai put out the party line and then brush their hands together, ta-da. I was certain that this incident, whatever it was, probably wouldn't get much attention in the UAE press, or if it did, it would be of the same "routine maintenance" mantra that I encountered earlier.

However, in a brilliant example of citizen journalism meeting technological availability, it turns out someone was there, camera-phone in hand, when the tank cracked. It didn't merely "crack," it split, releasing gushing tides of water (and, one imagines, an unfortunate -- or triumphant -- fish or two as well) onto the marble floor below. With such damning evidence, the national media didn't have much of a choice: the video, in all its shaky, grainy glory, was obtained and posted online by none other than Gulf News, the largest English-language newspaper in the country and a frequent cut-and-paster of press releases (er, stories) from the official state-owned news agency.

Here's the video:

I've watched it about 8 times, because I find it delightful and, like anyone prone to suspicious thinking, supremely vindicating. "Routine maintenance" my ass.

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