Thoughts on Dubai

I was there for several days in August. It is something like being in the future or maybe what life would be like on another planet with our current level of technology. This is partly because there are so few people outside. It’s as if the air isn’t quite breathable — too much sulfer or Mars dust. In reality it is simply the heat. Near the water it is also very humid, but the air dries quickly as you move inland. Bus stops are enclosed and air conditioned. Being outside for just a few moments is exhausting. You can see it even on the faces of the locals, the heat has worn them down.

The tallest building in most cities would be of average height in Dubai and there are lots of them, especially in the area of Jumeirah. The architecture of the buildings adds to the uniqueness. There are spikes shooting off of them or they are corkscrewed or else there is some other fascinating feature. Everything is presented on a grand scale. Two of the largest malls in the world are in Dubai. A multi-story indoor ski slope with quad chairlift. The tallest building in the world. Billboards that are 20 meters high and as long as an American football field. Manmade islands so big you lose the sense you are on an island. Throughout Dubai are huge business parks: Internet City, Healthcare City, Children’s City (more of an amusement park) and several more. Each one is many, many square kilometeres in size. On a bus tour I heard the city is trying to turn the Jumeirah area itself into a city the size of Hong Kong.

You do get the sense of a bubble. There are very many unfinished construction projects and unoccupied buildings. The malls seemed far oversized for how many people were in them and hostesses stood patiently outside restaurants where no one was dinning. I was reminded of what the Olympic Park in Beijing has become in just four years since the 2008 Olympics. Could this be Dubai in five or ten years? I wouldn’t be surprised. If it does recover and continue to grow, however, this post will be moot as Dubai will be beyond description.

I was in Dubai during Ramadan and the ritual is quite strict there. I have been in Ankara, Turkey for Ramadan as well, but there it created no great problems. In Dubai, however, nothing was open. I made my way to Dubai Mall, which did have open venders in the food court, but this was only complicated by the fact that you can’t eat in public. I asked the information desk if there was anywhere I could eat. The man told me “no.” Well, he told me I could go to the underground garage and eat in my car. I was so hungry it was almost worth buying a car to bring that plan to fruition. (Have I mentioned there is no sales tax in Dubai?). Instead, I was forced to eat in a bathroom stall. Two female friends who were also there, but traveling separately, ate in a baby changing room they told me later.

The city is very international. I noticed a lot of Filipinos and when I asked a young Filipino woman (the one who sold me my food-court sandwich) why this was she simply responded, “There are more jobs here.” There were also a lot of Indians who seemed mostly to be working construction. I did see men wearing Kandura and women in Abaya. I could describe these cloak-like outfits, but then you already have an image in your mind don’t you? Why ruin it. This was the exception, however, almost everyone in Dubai dresses in what is by any measure Western attire.

My most memorable moment was waking up at 5am in my hotel room the first morning and venturing outside. I walked along the boardwalk next to Jumeirah beach. It was already shockingly hot. I found a path to the beach, and though I didn’t plan on swimming and had no bathing suit, I stripped down and ran into the Persian Gulf. I floated on my back for an hour in the warmest water I’ve ever felt as I watched the sunrise over the Dubai skyscrapers. That is a moment I will always cherish.

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