Dubai offers a different world for travellers

In Dubai, for a couple million dollars, you can own a house on the frond of a palm tree. You can buy France, all of it, and then live there, alone if you like. In this small city in a tiny emirate on a spit of land that spikes out into the Persian Gulf, there are 10 supersized shopping malls and others still under construction, each larger and more grandiose than the next: one roughly duplicates the Taj Mahal and Beijing's Forbidden City; another has a black-diamond ski slope in it. Here in Dubai, you can take a submarine elevator down to a restaurant where a discontented shark in a huge aquarium keeps a watchful eye on your dish of foie gras. One hotel looks like a boat, another like a sail. Soon to be built: the world's first underwater resort, the world's tallest building.

I'm a hard-boiled traveler—skeptical and not easily impressed. I'm used to feeling a certain degree of distance wherever I go, and though I'm often filled with wonder and delight in the course of my travels, I rarely feel surprise or cold shock. But Dubai hit me with a thud. It's like another world—not the Arab world and not the Western world. The sheer amount of material, money, and labor that is gathered here is both menacing and exciting. It's the first place I've heard the word architecting used like lawyering, a noun becoming a verb. The scale and volume of construction dwarfs humanity—looking up at the rising skyline from any given intersection, you feel a rush of sci-fi vertigo.

All around, things are going up: the skeleton of the future is already visible in Dubai—stretching out into the sea or rising high into the air—the future with its girders and joists and concrete waiting to be poured, trucks at its feet and cranes surrounding it like bent-backed, worried nannies. On the earth below, people of all nations go about their business, pursuing their amusements and vices, each in his own particular style: Russian, Indian, Saudi, British. But don't be fooled—Dubai is no melting pot, although it is relentlessly international. It's run on an ethnic caste system: among the castes, you might say with some accuracy that the Russians run illicit activities, the Lebanese are clerks and assistants and middlemen, the Indians and Sri Lankans do the manual labor, the Saudis make investments, and the British are tourists (of course, there is some blur among the groups).

Dubai today is a series of parallel universes, and the population of each group is under the impression that it has come here of its own free will to do its own thing. Wrong. The only universe that really matters here is the one that's run by Dubai's sheikhs—and that one encompasses all the others. The sheikhs are the puppet masters, architecting a new capital of the world—Rome for the 21st century.

Read more?


There are 0 comments on this post

Leave A Comment