Monday, February 1, 2010

Impressions of Dubai, part 1

At the BA lounge in Dubai airport, waiting for my 2:30 am flight to London, and then a connection onward to JFK and a Monday afternoon and evening at home. Will miss Didier, Monica, and adorable Baby N, but there were enough hopeful developments in the media contacts arena that I can see myself coming back here again before the end of the year. Though not, let us hope during the summer months, where from April through August, daytime temps regularly reach 105-110 F with 70% humidity, described as an unrelenting wall of discomfort.

People I met kept asking, of course, what I thought of Dubai. So, here goes:

1. Surprise, basically good one: The most ethnically diverse city on the planet, I wager. The single largest segment of the population is Indian, and they are ubiquitous in professional, managerial, and working classes in this country. Pakistanis are #2, followed by Filipinos, and then all the rest. Emirati locals constitute less than 10% of the population. Sunday afternoon at coffee at the Mall of the Emirates with my friend Phil was like watching the global village strolling by. Every shape, size, color, outfit imaginable, some women fully veiled and others with head scarves or no head coverings at all. Wow.

Only Emiratis are allowed to be citizens here, however, so if you have lived here and worked here most of your adult life, there is no path to permanent residency or citizenship. If you lose your job, no matter how long you have been here, you leave. There is a mercenary, hired help mentality here among all the non-native locals---you've been brought here or allowed to remain because we have a job for you to do. And when we no longer need your services...well....

2. The real estate bubble was bigger and thinner here than in the US, housing prices going up 20, 30, 40% per year during the height of the boom. The crash hit them here much as it did back home, except the impact here is more visible: the Silence of the Cranes. And Neutron Bomb glass and concrete towers without human inhabitants. The forecast recovery timeline: 3-5 years before this economy really gets back on its feet again. The Abu Dhabians are tossing out financial lifesavers and chuckling to themselves all the way to their oilfields....

3. Surprise, not so good: The building boom, now slowed, goes on somewhat, though there are regions in what was once desolate, desert territory, in which lofty residential developments have been stopped dead in their tracks, though the detritus of delayed fruition---unlaid pipes, ugly barricades, and mounds of earth and sand, litter the landscape---everywhere. and eventually add up to an eyesore of tremendous scope. The joke is that some parts of Greater Dubai are simply best traversed at night, when you can't see the dusty, disheveled, half-finished new so-called communities on the outskirts of town.

4. Not as surprise, but not at all good: Internet censorship, alive and well. Though was able to log onto the NY Times and other websites without a problem, the government is selective about social networks, particularly those designed for dating and other liaisons----esp. of the non-hetero variety. No way, gents !

More to come.....

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