December 16, 2008 / Dubai / Employees from the Kempinski Hotel go around The Mall of Emirates singing Christmas songs  December 16, 2008.  (Sammy Dallal / The National)

 *** Local Caption ***  sd-121608-santa-003.jpg
Employees from the Kempinski hotel singing in Dubai's Mall of the Emirates.

Songs of the season

Seasonal cheer is in the air. It is floating, lilting and crescendoing through the entrance of Bhs department store on Hamdan Street. I push my way out from behind the support tights in the ladies lingerie section and sidle up to the holiday-themed display, chock full of candy canes and Santa-shaped lollipops. At last, I find the source of this festive spirit: the Circle of Hands adult choir and Circle of Angels children's choirs from St Joseph's Parish are singing in the lobby.

The 50-strong Circle of Hands choir is here to sing for the store's shoppers, and Bhs has them arranged in a semicircle, with the children in front. Perhaps this is to remind shoppers that it is time to buy toys for the tots. Wearing simple white shirts and red Santa hats, they stand by a glittering, taffeta-flounced array of women's party dresses. The singers, who are all Filipino, might be small in stature, but their voices are powerful. Even the store's janitorial staff stop sweeping for a while to listen to Christmas favourites.

By the time they hit their final notes they are out of breath and red-faced, but Circle of Hands and their mini-counterparts sound so good that you could easily forget that they are an amateur outfit. In each section of the choir - which is separated into soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass - the individual singers are indistinguishable from each other, as if they were all sharing one voice. Circle of Hands is, like all the best choirs performing this holiday season, perfectly balanced, without any one singer making a go for the descant to draw extra attention to him or herself.

The choir has been around in Abu Dhabi for 20 years, and is regularly asked to sing at functions, private homes, holiday parties and in hotel lobbies. This year is no different, says Dyna Javier, one of Circle of Hands' singers and a long-term organiser. "Just recently we did carolling in the residence of one of the directors of the property developer ALDAR," says Javier, who has been with the choir since the first week she and her husband moved here in 1990. "They were really having fun, saying 'Bravo, bravo!'," she says, her (soprano) voice rising higher and higher with excitement.

Tonight at Bhs is no different. It is surprising to see who stops their shopping to take in some of the merriment. There are single shoppers who stand still nearby, large Indian families, a Palestinian mother and her toddler son, plus a sprinkling of other nationalities. In all likelihood, very few of these people are actually celebrating Christmas at home, but that makes this fluorescent, overhead-lit tableau all the more resonant.

Anyone, no matter who they are or where they are from, can appreciate the harmony of beautiful voices. That's what Javier says the choir is aiming to do. "It's a really good feeling that people like us, ordinary people who sing, just share their talents and bring the spirit of Christmas to each and every family even if we don't know them." For many of us, Christmas music conjures up memories of home - and more intensely so when it is sung in our native tongue.

"At Simbang Gabi, a traditional mass that Filipinos attend from Dec 16 until Christmas, we have Tagalog carols and then some sweet songs like Pasko Na Sinta Ko (which translates as Christmas With My Wonderful One Tonight)," says Javier. "People really like it, especially because we are all expatriates and we miss our families at home. When they hear these songs in our language, they really remember them."

Circle of Hands, however, is far from the only choir on the block. In Dubai, the Kempinski Hotel Staff Choir also brings seasonal flavour, dressed up in Christmas chic, with red velvet mandarin-collared coats embroidered with the word "Kempinski" on the back in gold. Despite their professional-looking garb, this too is an amateur choir. Still, that has not stopped its members putting on a show for mall, hotel and Ski Dubai guests. Every evening at 6pm, the 18 or so members, many of whom work in the various hotel restaurants, will march together from the large Christmas tree set up in the entrance of Ski Dubai's indoor slopes to the absolutely enormous Christmas tree in the middle of the mall's galleria, singing all the way. As they go along, some shoppers freeze in their tracks, rubbernecking as if they had seen the ghost of Christmas past, while other mall-goers dodge quickly to avoid a holiday-induced pile-up.

"We have a Christmas choir each year and this year we wanted to do exactly the same but much better," says Amandine Guinchard, who is both the Kempinski's human resources assistant and the choir's organiser. Guinchard, with her petite frame and pixie haircut, looks charmingly elfin enough to be one of Santa's helpers. No wonder she seems so well suited to leading a Christmas singing session. "They are all volunteers, working beyond their duties, and they all show a real commitment, just because they want to share their Christmas spirit with everybody," she says.

This is the second year that the Kempinski decided to form a staff-only troupe. This year's ensemble boasts members from Kenya, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, and all of them had to audition to get in to the choir. "In the beginning it was a bit of a challenge, a bit hard," says Ahmed Nabil, an Egyptian-born waiter who works at the hotel's Sezzam restaurant. "We had selections and had to try out for it." In order to raise the bar, the Kempinski hired an outside choirmaster, Jun de Leon, to help train those employees who made the cut. This involved two practices a week for six months in order to whip their voices into shape.

De Leon, a 35-year-old music teacher from the Philippines, has worked with the Kempinski Staff Choir for two years now. He also helps arrange music for weddings and corporate events at the Kempinski. Music is his passion, so taking on extra work in addition to his full-time job teaching (music, naturally) at a nursery school and managing his church's choir isn't a burden. He says that the easiest song to sing for any type of voice is We Wish You a Merry Christmas. This is one of the tunes that the Kempinski choir is singing. In fact, De Leon reveals that all of the songs the Kempinski's singers are performing this year are less challenging "happy songs".

I imagine that this means they have decided against doing that tragic Christmas classic, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Waiting for the choir to assemble, I see what could be a Christmas mirage. No, it's not the Sugarplum fairy. It's a man dressed as a decorated Christmas tree, his costume resembling a child's drawing - all triangle-shaped branches rendered in green felt with tinsel and felt ornaments sewn on. The tree, to my surprise, is performing what looks like interpretative dance.

I walk up to the tree-man and ask him if he is with the Kempinski choir. No words come from his little green-painted face, which is visible through a hole cut in the front of the costume. Instead he just does some sort of wavelike motion and smirks at me. Considering that he is the one who is covered in glitter and wearing green tights, I find his snub rather impertinent. Will he be singing with the choir this evening? Again, no answer, just a negative head shake in slow motion as he hula dances away from me. Even the children, waiting for the singing to start with their parents, look weirded out and I think I see a toddler run in the opposite direction.

Intrigued by the idea that this rent-a-tree will never break character, I ask Guinchard the name of the performer. She says that she has no idea, though she suspects that he works for Ski Dubai. Now it is time for the Kempinski Staff Choir, like a South-East Asian version of the Von Trapp family, to go forth and make merry, dashing through the crowd, singing all the way. The hotel has also hired a Santa, who leads the troupe towards the blinking blue Christmas tree in the mall galleria. The tree guy follows behind, skipping as best he can in his felt straitjacket.

As the choir starts to sing Santa Claus is Coming to Town, some shoppers join this makeshift Christmas conga line and follow it all the way to the galleria, their children calling out to the front of the line: "We love you, Santa!" Once in front of the galleria's rotunda, the choir begins its medley with Little Drummer Boy while nearly 100 people, all from different places, backgrounds and religions, gather around to hear them. The lyrics, "Come they told me, pa-ru-pa-pum-pum," resound against the marble hall as Santa plays and poses for pictures with the children. Everyone seems to be smiling - it seems as though they, too, have all been touched with Christmas cheer.

UNSC Elections 2022-23

Seats open:

  • Two for Africa Group
  • One for Asia-Pacific Group (traditionally Arab state or Tunisia)
  • One for Latin America and Caribbean Group
  • One for Eastern Europe Group

Countries so far running: 

  • UAE
  • Albania 
  • Brazil 

Pupils in Abu Dhabi are learning the importance of being active, eating well and leading a healthy lifestyle now and throughout adulthood, thanks to a newly launched programme 'Healthy Lifestyle'.

As part of the Healthy Lifestyle programme, specially trained coaches from City Football Schools, along with Healthpoint physicians have visited schools throughout Abu Dhabi to give fun and interactive lessons on working out regularly, making the right food choices, getting enough sleep and staying hydrated, just like their favourite footballers.

Organised by Manchester City FC and Healthpoint, Manchester City FC’s regional healthcare partner and part of Mubadala’s healthcare network, the ‘Healthy Lifestyle’ programme will visit 15 schools, meeting around 1,000 youngsters over the next five months.

Designed to give pupils all the information they need to improve their diet and fitness habits at home, at school and as they grow up, coaches from City Football Schools will work alongside teachers to lead the youngsters through a series of fun, creative and educational classes as well as activities, including playing football and other games.

Dr Mai Ahmed Al Jaber, head of public health at Healthpoint, said: “The programme has different aspects - diet, exercise, sleep and mental well-being. By having a focus on each of those and delivering information in a way that children can absorb easily it can help to address childhood obesity."

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, which can lead to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer.

There are 5 main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E.

Hepatitis C is mostly transmitted through exposure to infective blood. This can occur through blood transfusions, contaminated injections during medical procedures, and through injecting drugs. Sexual transmission is also possible, but is much less common.

People infected with hepatitis C experience few or no symptoms, meaning they can live with the virus for years without being diagnosed. This delay in treatment can increase the risk of significant liver damage.

There are an estimated 170 million carriers of Hepatitis C around the world.

The virus causes approximately 399,000 fatalities each year worldwide, according to WHO.



Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

The specs

Engine: 3.5-litre, twin-turbo V6
Transmission: 10-speed auto
Power: 410hp
Torque: 495Nm
Price: starts from Dh495,000 (Dh610,000 for the F-Sport launch edition tested)
On sale: now

The specs: 2018 Volkswagen Teramont

Price, base / as tested Dh137,000 / Dh189,950

Engine 3.6-litre V6

Gearbox Eight-speed automatic

Power 280hp @ 6,200rpm

Torque 360Nm @ 2,750rpm

Fuel economy, combined 11.7L / 100km

Company profile

Name: Tharb

Started: December 2016

Founder: Eisa Alsubousi

Based: Abu Dhabi

Sector: Luxury leather goods

Initial investment: Dh150,000 from personal savings


Confirmed bouts (more to be added)

Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
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Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
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Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through and

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The number of Chinese people living in Dubai: An estimated 200,000

Number of Chinese people in International City: Almost 50,000

Daily visitors to Dragon Mart in 2018/19: 120,000

Daily visitors to Dragon Mart in 2010: 20,000

Percentage increase in visitors in eight years: 500 per cent

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

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Our family matters legal consultant

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Quarter-final: Beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2
Semi-final: Beat Coco Gauff 6-2, 6-4
Final: Beat Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-2


Jemma Eley, Maria Michailidou, Molly Fuller, Chloe Andrews (of Dubai College), Eliza Petricola, Holly Guerin, Yasmin Craig, Caitlin Gowdy (Dubai English Speaking College), Claire Janssen, Cristiana Morall (Jumeirah English Speaking School), Tessa Mies (Jebel Ali School), Mila Morgan (Cranleigh Abu Dhabi).


Cagliari 5-2 Fiorentina
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Sampdoria 0-0 Atalanta
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- Diriyah’s 1.9km King Salman Boulevard, a Parisian Champs-Elysees-inspired avenue, is scheduled for completion in 2028
- The Royal Diriyah Opera House is expected to be completed in four years
- Diriyah’s first of 42 hotels, the Bab Samhan hotel, will open in the first quarter of 2024
- On completion in 2030, the Diriyah project is forecast to accommodate more than 100,000 people
- The $63.2 billion Diriyah project will contribute $7.2 billion to the kingdom’s GDP
- It will create more than 178,000 jobs and aims to attract more than 50 million visits a year
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Day 3, Abu Dhabi Test: At a glance

Moment of the day Just three balls remained in an exhausting day for Sri Lanka’s bowlers when they were afforded some belated cheer. Nuwan Pradeep, unrewarded in 15 overs to that point, let slip a seemingly innocuous delivery down the legside. Babar Azam feathered it behind, and Niroshan Dickwella dived to make a fine catch.

Stat of the day - 2.56 Shan Masood and Sami Aslam are the 16th opening partnership Pakistan have had in Tests in the past five years. That turnover at the top of the order – a new pair every 2.56 Test matches on average – is by far the fastest rate among the leading Test sides. Masood and Aslam put on 114 in their first alliance in Abu Dhabi.

The verdict Even by the normal standards of Test cricket in the UAE, this has been slow going. Pakistan’s run-rate of 2.38 per over is the lowest they have managed in a Test match in this country. With just 14 wickets having fallen in three days so far, it is difficult to see 26 dropping to bring about a result over the next two.


David White might be new to the country, but he has clearly already built up an affinity with the place.

After the UAE shocked Pakistan in the semi-final of the Under 19 Asia Cup last month, White was hugged on the field by Aayan Khan, the team’s captain.

White suggests that was more a sign of Aayan’s amiability than anything else. But he believes the young all-rounder, who was part of the winning Gulf Giants team last year, is just the sort of player the country should be seeking to produce via the ILT20.

“He is a delightful young man,” White said. “He played in the competition last year at 17, and look at his development from there till now, and where he is representing the UAE.

“He was influential in the U19 team which beat Pakistan. He is the perfect example of what we are all trying to achieve here.

“It is about the development of players who are going to represent the UAE and go on to help make UAE a force in world cricket.” 

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World record transfers

1. Kylian Mbappe - to Real Madrid in 2017/18 - €180 million (Dh770.4m - if a deal goes through)
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3. Gareth Bale - to Real Madrid in 2013/14 - €101m
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6. Neymar - to Barcelona in 2013/14 - €88.2m
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10. James Rodriguez - to Real Madrid in 2014/15 - €75m


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Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

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Starring: Paul Giamatti, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Dominic Sessa

Rating: 4.5/5


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Power: 235hp
Torque: 350Nm
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Price: From Dh167,500 ($45,000)
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UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024


Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).

Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).


Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).


Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).

Mercedes V250 Avantgarde specs

Engine: 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder turbo

Gearbox: 7-speed automatic

Power: 211hp at 5,500rpm

Torque: 350Nm

Fuel economy, combined: 6.0 l/100 km

Price: Dh235,000

How to help

Send “thenational” to the following numbers or call the hotline on: 0502955999
2289 – Dh10
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6025 – Dh20
6027 – Dh 100
6026 – Dh 200


Engine: 2-litre 4-cylinder turbo and 3.6-litre V6
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Power: 235hp and 310hp
Torque: 258Nm and 271Nm
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Profile of Udrive

Date started: March 2016

Founder: Hasib Khan

Based: Dubai

Employees: 40

Amount raised (to date): $3.25m – $750,000 seed funding in 2017 and a Seed+ round of $2.5m last year. Raised $1.3m from Eureeca investors in January 2021 as part of a Series A round with a $5m target.


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