Monday, February 1, 2010

Impressions of Dubai, part 2

'Build it and they will come' appears to be the guiding development principle of Dubai. Beautiful (well, some are) glass, steel, and concrete towers are rising everywhere, almost always adjacent to other new glass, steel, and concrete towers that are in various stages of construction. It's as if the country is allergic to unfilled spaces. Ironic, given the fact that there is a vast open desert to the south and east (well, OK, they're trying to fill that in, too). The challenge for the homeowner who thinks he's just purchased his 3-bedroom with an unspoiled Gulf view is that, two years later, a new tower sprouts up smack in the middle of nowhere and oops, there goes the neighborhood! In Manhattan, there'd be pitchforks and torches surrounding City Hall at such a move. Here, there is no one to call. The line between the developers and the government is paper thin. Dubai is a country that is essentially a corporation.

If you can live with the greed is good, one two three let's build mentality here, then it can be exciting to watch or participate in its unfolding. I had ambivalent feelings, similar to ones I had in Shanghai, also on a tear to become brand spanking new and bulldozing away the old. There are a few sections in Dubai that could be called old Dubai, and they are charming. During a walking tour of one such area on Saturday, I stood on the steps of a grand mosque near the Gold Souk while the calls to prayer from three separate mosques in the area rang in my ears. And it was very cool---what I was hoping to find in Arabia. The rest of the time we zoomed past office and residential towers and the new above ground metro along Sheik Zayed Road, and I wondered whether something vital was being destroyed in all this newness.

The people were fairly open and friendly toward me. Made a few new friends and promising business contacts. Two will be visiting New York in the weeks ahead, including Rashid, one of the charming young twins I bonded with over a late night campfire.

By the standards of the Gulf, Dubai is a miracle state that rose up and up in less than 30 years from a sleepy emirate in the middle of nowhere. Good for them, possibly good for me on a business and personal level, and remains to be seen whether the alliance is good for our country.

In the category of a fine place to visit. The ex-pats who live here claim that the place grows on you after a while. Easy living in a monarchical society where everyone seems to be heave-ho-ing in the same direction. Fascinating.

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