Sunday, 17 October 2010

X Marks The Spot

Sheikh Zayed Road, Circa 1991

It used to be called GITE, you know. It was a one-hall show, dwarfed by the much more serious Saudi Computer. Carrington, of Spot On fame, used to run the thing and swore it would grow to  be bigger than Saudi Computer, which always had me hooting gleefully in disbelief. He got the last laugh, of course.

I can't remember when some bright spark added the X to make it GITEX, thereby saving the world from the awful SEO ramifications - everyone looking for French holiday homes being presented with a Dubai-based computer show rammed full of salesgeeks in suits.

GITEX is 30 years old this year, so it just begs for another 'I can remember when this was all sand' post. I didn't get to the show until 1988, although I had been travelling a lot to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region since 1986.

As I've said before, I met Mrs McNabb during that first GITEX trip. That weekend, we drove out together with friends into the depths of Wadi Hatta in our hire car, which was a reasonably crazy thing to do at the time (Honda Civics and steep, rutted gatch tracks aren't really matches made in heaven) although now, of course, the track is smooth black-top all the way. We got as far as Shuwaya and back, which is pretty mad.

I went on to Jordan from there, where my publisher was speaking at an IBM regional conference. The ad agency was presenting a new regional campaign which featured nighttime footage of the Dubai World Trade Centre with all its lights out except the IBM floor, and had the tag 'Because Machines Alone Are Not Enough'. This caused much distress among the assembled distributors as it had the word 'not' in it and everyone thought that was negative.

At the time, DWTC was a real icon - at 33 floors high it was the tallest building in the Middle East. Writer of 'fly-by' Middle East memoir Arabia through the looking glass Jonathan Raban once mistook it for the Hilton, which shows just how clueless tourists can be.

IBM's ad agency had spent tens of thousands of dollars using leading edge (ha!) digital technology to paint out the lights in the Trade Centre to leave just that one floor awake. I didn't make many friends by pointing out that next time they could pay me half what they'd blown on the digital stuff and I'd turn the lights off myself.
I had dealt with all of these disties for months as a journalist, listening to them bad-mouthing and generally doing each other down. In Jordan I watched, slack-jawed, as they all chummed up and socialised together, obviously the very best of pals. It taught me an important lesson about this strange part of the world that was already working itself under my skin so thoroughly that I'd end up making it my home.

For the gala dinner, we were bussed out to a remote castle (looking back on it, I think it must have been Ajloun) where old women were making koubiz in the light of blazing torches and we ate surrounded by ancient battlements.

I had taken lots of photos of this girl I had met, snapping away while we were in Hatta. I had them developed in Amman, only to find that I had loaded the film in the wrong way and the whole lot of them were blank. I was devastated.

A year later, again on a trip out from the UK for GITEX, I drove with her up to Sharjah gold souk where we bought the engagement ring.

I tell you, that show's got an awful lot to answer for...


Stained said...

Interesting...never knew someone would have met their better half at GITEX out of all the other places possible...

Curious...when did they get the Gitex shoppers idea or was it always there??

Macthomson said...

What a lovely story! And the photo is one I have never seen before, even more expressive than the well-known colour shot of SZR in '91. Did you take the snap?

alexander... said...

1992 was the first GITEX Shopper, held in the 'new' Hall One, which is no longer part of the exhibition centre - I think it's DFM now or some such.

I published the catalogue for it - we gave away a 1.44" disk of software (ancient geek, no?) on the cover, every one of which the duplicator thoughtfully infected with a virus. I went into hiding for a while after that... :)

alexander... said...

No, Mac, I nicked it.

I must look at my old pics of DXB file, actually. I have a feeling I might have a few 'I remember when it was all sand' gems in there!

Media Junkie said...

that is an awesome story. :)

Mita said...

Though I have been here since 1989 (DWTC was pointed out to me 'head nodding' as the 'taalest erection in the Middle East') my first Gitex was 1992 and I remember shopper in a tent that was such a terrible squeeze!

nzm said...

You loaded the film back-to-front in what type of camera? Do tell, please!

alexander... said...


It was a borrowed Nikon D1 as I recall, although quite why I was using one I don't know as I had already given my heart to my beloved Canon EOS - the 1000F was my toy of choice back then, but I've owned a series of Canons ever since right up to today's 300D.

You can't goof up the film in a 300D... ;)

nzm said...

A fellow Canon-ite! That's all I've ever shot with, even though I did a stint selling (film) Nikons for a while. That time reinforced why I love Canon, but I was good at selling Nikon!

rosh said...

Aww..teary eyed, with that picture, and the story! Cool stuff :)

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