Posts Tagged

Dubai

Bedouin

Bedouin. No, it isn’t something from Star Wars. The inhabitants of the desert and forefathers of the hyper-city that lies before us was no more than a nomadic tribe diving for pearls only 100 or so years ago. Before the discovery of oil in the 1970s and the mass development of Dubai, it started off from fairly humble beginnings. I was convinced before I came here that Dubai had no history at all – it was one of the reasons that I avoided coming here, but there is a heritage. It isn’t something that you are going to find in Dubai Mall or in a 5* hotel (of which there are many). You have to dig a little deeper.

The city tour that we booked ourselves onto this morning was to settle us in. After resting our swollen feet from the floors of the Burj Khalifa, we decided that it was time to sit on a bus. The national museum had told us the brief story of this place, and now it was time to see the effects. Bur Dubai, where the old gold souks (markets) lay were noticeably empty – it was the quietest street market I had ever seen. However, it had a character that did not shine with the veneer of the imported marble that we had seen everywhere.

Jumeirah. You have heard of it. It means chandelier and relates to the most expensive part of Dubai, probably the wealthiest street in the entire world. A road filled with the emirati, descendants and loved ones of the royal family, that own the UAE and its rich contents. Whilst the oil may have dried up, the wealth has never left. Only the distant descendants of the Bedouin tribes are able to open businesses and own property in this country – which means that the only thing that we can take away is what we can carry in our Prada bags – the real wealth in estate and citizenship don’t go any further than the Arabian Gulf.

What struck me about this place is the sheer size. It is like an enormous Monopoly board in which someone has put hotels on everything. From the breathtaking Atlantis hotel as a window onto the ‘Gulf; to the familiar sail of the 7* Burj al-Arab hotel on the Palm Jumeirah; the word ‘luxury’ is ripped out the dictionary and replaced with a map of Dubai. The only place for modesty here is in clothing, with its unspoken yet strict Islamic laws.

However there are contradictions. The pork aisle in the Waitrose supermarket labelled “non-Muslim”. The variety of cigarettes and alcohol on offer to any tourist willing to pay the tax-deductible price. The emphasis on greed and spending, and the absence of humility and humanity. There are thousands that build these buildings and maintain this 24/7 tourist attraction, but they do not exist in the minds of those who come here. The backbone of the populace is almost invisible outside of their uniforms and duties – it is as if they are the ghosts that prosperity left behind.

It is easy to get caught up in the hype. The thousands of shops, crystal white beaches and unimaginable luxury, but it is not real. It can’t be real when 80% of it is dependent on foreigners and there is no incentive to work for the vast majority of residents. Yet, the destructive circle continues. More skyscrapers are built. The world’s largest zoo is in construction. Companies continue to pay no tax. And investors continue to pour talent into this man-made oasis.

For me, a society built on this level of consumerism is a recipe for disaster. Imagine how many people in Syria could be saved if the King sold his solid gold Rolls Royce. Perspective is a very damning indictment. And it doesn’t seem to exist here.

A Massive, Fucking Queue

I blink and four days have gone by. I kept telling myself that I would get back to writing, but it has been a few long days and very little time to get my thoughts together. We have now left India and moved onto Dubai. It is the first time that we have been here and it is safe to say that we have avoided coming here in the past. Not because it isn’t an exciting place, but because there doesn’t seem like there is much to do except to shop and sunbathe. Well, if Mumbai was a huge traffic jam, then Dubai is a massive, fucking queue.

I’m British. We are fond of queueing when the result of the queue is worth it. Going to a gig, getting some food or catching a bus are all acceptable reasons to join a queue and they are generally well organised and routine. Not in Dubai. Here, there is a queue to enter buildings, to leave buildings, to get into elevators, to get out of elevators, to get into taxis, to get out….you get the gist. There are only 3 million people that live here, but it seems like they all are standing in front of me.

Our first impression as we reached the hotel is the sort of thing you vaguely remember from that George Clooney movie about tomorrowland. Incredibly flat and fast, as soon as get onto Sheik Zayed Road, the various skyscrapers and hotels pop into view as if you were driving on a car simulator in a service station. Slowly but surely, the tall isolated skyline is visible like an oasis in the middle of the desert. Well, it is an oasis in the middle of the desert. All of the grass is imported from Brazil and it is maintained by fountains – the water has to be imported because the climate is too dry to sustain plants.

You would think that this is unnecessary. However, this place is built for the preposterous grandiose. From gold Rolls Royce cars to the tallest building in the world, nothing is done by halves in this live-in amusement park – a haven for the über rich, a plaything to be moulded by the gold-plated Emirati. The 600,000 citizens here (no one is allowed citizenship anymore) are provided with free healthcare, education, housing, amenities and jobs, with the bill being paid by the millions of tourists that visit every year. That’s right, you. When you check into your hotel here, you have already paid your dues.

The sparkling attraction is the Burj Khalifa, named after the current president of the UAE. Standing at over 830m in the air, it is a spike in the every growing skyscape of the Dubai horizon. Taking over $1 billion dollars to build, it offers amazing views of the entire city as well as housing luxuries like the Armani hotel. God, I sound like a brochure. What they don’t tell you is that the £25 ticket includes a complimentary set of queues and checks totalling two hours. Before you have even got in the world’s fastest elevator (are you seeing the pattern here?) you are so tired and your feet feel like lead. Then you see the view and whilst stunning, it really doesn’t live up to its name. Oh and there is a queue back down too.

I forgot to mention the 45 minute walk through the Metro station, through the Dubai Mall that would make Marx turn in his grave. If there was ever a monument to capitalist consumerism, then this would be the high temple. I like a mall as much as the next person, but this place stands like a giant at an ant’s view – apparently it takes three visits (15 hours) to conquer the mall – we swiftly exited for the first time.

If this place is an oasis in the middle of the desert, then for me it stands as a mirage. Not a good start, we hope for a better (less expensive) day tomorrow.