Arriving in Dubai felt like we’d landed on the moon, such was the dramatic change from Pakistan. Actually, maybe we’d landed on tatooine, because Dubai came complete with Star Wars robe like costumes for the local Emiratis.
The most profound contrast with Pakistan was how constructed Dubai is. I guess that’s what you get for a city that has completed the transition from non-descript pearl fishing village to cosmopolitan metropolis in the span of a couple of decades. There is order in the way it works. The highways curve through gleaming skyscrapers and impossibly green grass marks their verges. Impossible I say because this town has been built from a desert base.
We’re lucky to be staying with dear friends from New Zealand while we’re here and we’re luxuriating in the sense of relative normalcy that makes the life so good here for ex-pats. We’re enjoying little things like fresh towels, reliable hot water and toilets capable of downing discarded paper. We’re also enjoying the air conditioning, without which this Dubai summer would be unbearable. Forty degrees is common and fifty degrees happens.
Compared with Hong Kong, say, or even Singapore, Dubai feels relaxing. It’s like people are just sitting around with their wealth, rather than scurrying about frantically trying to generate it. There isn’t oil in Dubai, which I found surprising, but oil fortunes have spilled across from other Emirates. And beyond that Dubai has built its wealth from money laundering, and as a centre for international trade.
The infrastructure is so well developed that luxury cars glide along eight lane highways to the suburbs rather than lurching between traffic jams. You might think the desert would constrain the city. But it’s easily conquered with money and cheap labour. Villas and apartments are sprawling out with leafy avenues fed by desalinated water. There’s also a big development stretching into the sea in the shape of a palm. We’re staying in an apartment on the stem as I write. Dubai being Dubai, there are two more palms under construction.
There’s plenty to buy. We sucked up the New Zealand comparable prices to get ourselves another replacement day pack from a mall that claims to be the world’s largest. It includes a massive aquarium, a stunning indoor waterfall and an ice rink. Because that goes naturally with the desert. It also has an Emirates A380 simulator which Fiona thinks is too expensive. Elsewhere there are perfect golf courses that only get used when the sun and the heat has gone down, an endless line of beachfront resorts and every international brand you can name.
Asked to describe Dubai in one word a friend of our says this: “unreal”. He’s nailed it because the city is hyper-impressive. But it is so impressive that it doesn’t quite feel real. It’s not fake either, but more surreal.