19 September 2015

Dub(ai) Steppin'

Sun hitting the Burj Khalifa,
the world's tallest skyscraper
My professional work has afforded me the opportunity to see all sorts of places across this amazing planet. From hitting the ramen shops with Japanese 'salarymen' in Tokyo   to attending a professional soccer match (Go Palmeiras!) / urban riot in Sao Paulo and eating my weight in meat pies at an Australian rules football game in Melbourne, I've seen some really cool things. Even though sometimes all I've seen of a place is the airport, the inside of yet another bland hotel conference room, and the road to and from the airport, this opportunity to travel around the world is not something I take for granted. I've been very fortunate and I try not to get jaded. I still want to be amazed as these opportunities to see the world come my way.

This past week, I traveled to Dubai for the first time. I spent four days there and I was amazed by what I can only describe as a business fantasyland. An emirate populated with 95% expatriates, everything seems engineered to help that population forget that it's 107F outside. Fancy an afternoon of downhill skiing? You can do that at the Mall of the Emirates. Just a word on that mall...it is insane. It is populated with every high-end store you can imagine and yet the busiest, by a long shot, store in the place is Carrefour (think Wal-Mart but owned by the French). As I walked around that mall, I learned that the higher end the store, the surlier the Eastern European salesperson will be. From women covered literally from head to toe to European men in tank tops and man buns (yes, that horrific scourge has made its way to Dubai), the shoppers were a study in the extremes that is Dubai. Another example of the extreme - it's wicked hot in Dubai and the sand along the beaches can get ridiculously hot. One hotel solved that problem by cooling the sand. That's right, cooling the sand. They've built a cooling system under the sand so that their guests can walk on their beach without burning their pedicured feet. They've also placed large outdoor air conditioners at either end of the beach so that their guests feel cool breezes. Is it any wonder that, allegedly, Dubai has the world's largest carbon footprint?

Everything is just over the top in Dubai. At dinner with colleagues one night, a British expat seemed to sum it all up as she talked about her three years in the emirate. She said, "How could I work in London after this? I'll never earn what I do here. I can have a live in maid here for 400 pounds a month. My company will pay for my children's schooling here and it will be a better school than any public school in the UK. Every apartment here has a pool and a gym. Where am I going to find that in the UK? This place is a fantasy land. I know it's not like any other place. It's not reality, but how do I go back?"

She nailed it. It is a fantasy land. Yet like any fantasy, there's reality, sometimes an unpleasant one, behind it. Every morning, I read in the English language newspaper of yet another suicide of an expat worker (a Sri Lankan domestic, two Indians). There would be no Dubai were it not for these low-wage workers. And yet for every desperate worker who ends their life, there are countless numbers of their countrymen waiting to take their place. That is the sad reality.

I'm glad I finally got to Dubai and I'd go back. It's an experience like no other. It's a study in extremes. It's fantasy and harsh reality. It's Dubai.

Fancy a downhill run when it's 107F outside?


Settled into my 'pod' - the Dubai experience
starts on the EK A380

Go big

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