Dubai – City Extraordinaire
Dubai City is a major trading centre. It has loads of Malls. In fact, one of the biggest Malls has a full-sized Aquarium with an amazing variety of sea life, large and small. When I was there, I saw divers descend into the aquariums to work with the fish and marine life.
Everything in Dubai is larger than life even though it is not one of the largest states of The Emirates in the Middle East. Nonetheless, Dubai has the reputation of having the most Malls, the tall buildings, an extraordinary architectural feat in a 7-star peninsular hotel and the most organised holiday venues. Not being the richest state – an accolade handed to Abu Dhabi as the richest of the Emirates – it still boasts the most Malls. It claims to have the tallest skyscraper in the world not just of the Emirates, but of the Middle East, Asia, China etc. Besides the highest buildings, it boasts the most tourist facilities. Apparently, anyone of any nationality is allowed to start a business in Dubai.
I found Dubai is a city which seems to be complete in its building plans, No half-finished edifices, no street litter. One does not see goats and donkeys and other aspects of traditional life of the Middle East in the main streets or even in the suburbs. There are brilliant roads, many being multi-laned.
The only horses I saw were at a riding school although the head of Dubai Prince Maktoum, known in England for his horse racing interests, no doubt has his own stables somewhere in Dubai. Yes, many women cover themselves in black scarves or abayas and the men look extremely correct in their white Thobes (long white garment) with their traditional headdress. The cityscape is enhanced by the uniform elegance of the local population.
I have visited other Arab cities in many decades past and have watched them evolve spasmodically, but it seems that Dubai has not passed through that awkward stage of part modern, and part broken down. Maybe I have missed that stage in Dubai, for it seems to me to be a very smooth city, incorporating the best of modernism scattered through its city and malls with a sense of sophistication and grace. Incredible sculptures and water features throng the main Malls including a full-size aquarium. Gardens, gyms for kids, fashion displays, shops and cafes abound. There is even a British style fish and chip shop without a whiff of the usual smell you may get in some British High Streets.
There are highly sophisticated closed compounds with individual two- or three-bedroom air-conditioned cottages by the sea. A young army of helpers uniformed in red shirts serve the visitors in the compound. There are swimming pools in these compounds with access to the sea for water sports plus, if one is lucky, one may see turtles in the water. In addition, there are some very good restaurants. Somehow Dubai is providing a lot of services effortlessly using the necessary manpower imported from all over the world.
I was not there long enough to learn of the difficulties of life in Dubai, if there are any. Despite having lived in a desert village in the past where the water had been cut off because the locals refused to pay the charges maintaining that their old King had promised free water, it was a pleasure to not have a water shortage in Dubai. Whether the water charges are free to the population or not, I did not discover but at least there appeared not to be a water shortage and/or unpaid charges, which make life easier for all, citizens and visitors.
Next door to Dubai is the small state of Sharjah. Once dismissed by visitors as a mere 12-mile length of empty desert, it is now a highly sophisticated city state with a multi-minareted mosque, markets, hotels and modern restaurants. There is also a harbour and seaport. As one of the main ports of Sharjah, Mina Khalid is built to handle cargo including containers. There is a very deep sense of serenity in Sharjah, so that even the markets have very modern facilities and are laidback and elegant. We were lucky to be able to buy a few rugs. The problem was having to leave early to get back to other appointments in Dubai.
Once back in Dubai, I found myself rubber necking at the many sites of statuary and monuments. To my surprise I found an interesting branch of a well-known Paris steak house as well as some hamburger and taco units. The most interesting piece of design for the comfort of bus passengers that I saw were oval shaped bus shelters with air conditioning! Well, I have seen some London bus stops with heaters at half covered draughty bus stops in the dead of winter but only a city with a large income, as far as I know can lay on such an amenity as air conditioners for their bus travelling public in closed elegant oval shaped domed bus waiting units.
Although there are malls for the well-off top earners in Dubai, I also visited lower cost malls with facilities and imports for minority lower paid workers in Dubai, who come from countries where the cost of living is minimal and therefore the income they receive although high in relation to the standards of their country is low in relation to the salaries of other nationalities in Dubai. Malls that serve them tend to import from Asian and African countries where costs are lower compared to Western malls. But there is a wonderful feeling of contentment and pleasantness in these mostly Asian malls. People smile and are willing to help, not something to be witnessed in the clean well organised expensive malls.
Visiting the compounds housing European expats, I experienced a very good sense of community. The children whether from the UK, Serbia, Russia or Arab backgrounds played well together, most due to the fact that many of the children went to the same international schools and were not only used to mixing together but generally spoke English which appears to be the language most used at the schools they attended. Generally, every compound tends to have a communal swimming pool and a play area although the children often visit each other´s homes.
It was sad finally leaving Dubai. It felt as if the music stopped as I stepped onto the plane to return to the UK. Yes, it has to be admitted that the Dubai authorities have done well in connecting so many nationalities into their work force in relative peace.