The City of Gold
Trip Start Sep 28, 2005
103Trip End Jun 24, 2006
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Miles travelled: 23139
We're back in the Middle East, this time on the Arabian peninsula on the coast of the Persian Gulf. Dubai is the commercial capital of the United Arab Emirates, a federation of 7 Emirates each ruled by a royal emir.
We have been traveling through some of the poorest countries in the world for the past 5 weeks, and suddenly we're in one of the wealthiest areas in the world. What a contrast. A few days ago, we saw chickens and goats roaming the streets, beat-up Peugeot taxis, dirt roads, open sewers, corrugated tin roofs on small shacks, and hole-in-the-floor squat toilets. Today, we see 10 lane freeways, brand-new minivan taxis, Ferrari dealerships, super-clean bathrooms with automatic sensors for the faucets, rows of 30-story skyscrapers, malls with 300 stores, the only 7-star hotel in the world, and no goats in sight
- I'm in an area that gets only 5 inches of rain a year, holding a vanilla latte from Starbucks, watching people snow skiing. At the "Mall of the Emirates", one of 38 major shopping malls in the city, they've built an artificial ski slope with a 30-meter drop and 100-meter length, complete with snow making and a ski lift, so you can go skiing when it's 105 degrees outside.
- At the same mall food court, I see blond teenagers with trendy clothes walking by a woman who is completely covered in a black robe and burqa mask so you can only see her eyes.
- At a store, another woman covered in a robe and burqa is shopping for colorful clothes that she can never been seen wearing in public.
- A man with a traditional dishdasha (white robe) and headdress held with rope cord pulls back the headdress so that he can fit in his earpiece and headset for his cellphone
- 4 teenage boys cruise by wearing white dishdasha robes with long hair and baseball caps.
Hey, it's Dubai. Once a backwater place based on fishing and pearl-diving, Dubai is now a capitalist boomtown founded on oil and free trade. The best way to describe it is a combination of Hong Kong, Las Vegas, and Cairo. Arab culture and dress and Islamic religion underpin the society, but overlaid on it are a huge amount of influences from both West and East. In fact, only 20% of the population are native Emiratis, the rest are expatriates from the West, India, the Far East, and other parts of the Middle East. Shopping is the number-one activity here -- with 38 shopping malls and a ton of shops in the "souks" (markets), you can buy just about anything here, especially gold, fabrics, spices, and electronics.
Dubai has no income or sales taxes, and only a small import duty, so businesses are flocking here, as are the white-collar workers to staff them and blue-collar workers to support the construction boom. We see skyscrapers going up everywhere, in one residential project alone I counted more than 30 buildings under construction over 20-stories high
And Dubai loves to have its superlatives: they've got the worlds tallest residential building (21st Century Tower), world longest "nonsuspension pedestrian bridge" (between 2 towers of the Marriott), and are already constructing the world's tallest building (Burj Dubai), which at 950 meters will be 40% taller than the proposed Freedom Tower in New York.
There are many 5-star luxury hotels, which while not quite as glitzy as Vegas, come pretty close. The 7-star Burj al-Arab is the sail-shaped hotel which has become the icon of Dubai. It has 200 rooms which are all suites, each with its own butler, and run from $1000 to $20,000 per night; and an underwater restaurant where you can dine while fish swim above your head. No, we're not staying here. BUT, we did get in for breakfast, which was quite nice. Unfortunately, we were restricted to just our restaurant and lobby, so we couldn't check out the underwater one.
Also under construction is "The World" -- a complex of 300 manmade islands (and luxury villas, of course) which will be in the shape of the countries of the world
Some of this seems excessive, but actually, after being in West Africa for 5 weeks, it's really nice to have some of the luxury, cleanliness, sanitation, and convenience that we've had here. We went to the beach today and it was relaxing, though still a bit strange to see people in beach attire while simultaneously hearing a call to prayer and seeing other people covered head to toe in black.
Now we're off to India, where I'm sure we'll see more juxtapositions of the first and third world.