Dubai: A fantasy wrapped in a dream

26 Sep

We thought Abu Dhabi was surreal but Dubai is even stranger.

Admittedly for us this is only a 24 hour peek into this brashest of the United Arab Emirates but I hope my photos give an inkling of just how strange a life it appears to be.

The oddest reality is just how many guest workers keep Dubai ticking over and growing, four for every local.

From Alab, the young Mumbai boatman who steered us up Dubai’s waterways, to Adat from Chittagong, Bangladesh, who drove us to see the Burj Khalifa (highest building in the world) to Rita from Shanghai, who looked after us in the Hyatt Regency club as we killed time before our 3am flight, we were treated with professionalism and politeness.

All these young people are here to earn money they would only see a fraction of at home. They’re satisfied with the bargain they’ve struck even though it means only seeing family every few years. But as modern and glitzy as Dubai is migrant workers and Emirati alike seem to live artificial lives in this almost entirely artificial place. Witness the empty ice rink in the mall and the indoor ski pistes in downtown Dubai.

Some non-UAE citizens are not as well off. The turbaned old man living in the half sunken cargo vessel, the Indian chap hanging his laundry on his tiny balcony wearing only a towel around his waist doesn’t have AC and it’s 39 to 40 degrees celsius most days, as well as the scores of labourers we see dangling from ropes as they construct ever more skyscrapers – all are in a precarious state.

Those wooden cargo ships with roccoco sterns like Jack Sparrow’s ‘Black Pearl’ are heading to Iran loaded to the gunnels with clothes, appliances and foodstuffs. The same goods go to India on plainer wood vessels painted white with red and green stripes.

In both cases the sailors’ toilets are rounded wood or metal contraptions strapped to the side of the ship towards the stern. Imagine climbing over to do your business with high seas rolling you around.

These freight trips can take months but as Alab pointed out, a fast boat can travel from Iran to Dubai in four hours.

Dubai’s economy appears to have crawled back from the precipice and perhaps their strategy to be the quality education and healthcare providers to the world will work but it still seems hallucinatory to me, like the palms in our hotel lobby.

This is my last blog from the road but not the last post. I’ve been reflecting on what this 13 month travel experience has taught me and will share that soon.

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