Want the full story? Click here to start with Question Authority, Question 3v3ryth1nG! - the post that started this little travel adventure.
I arrived in Abu Dhabi. It is hot, no: scorging and I would not exactly call the place inviting. From the airport I made it to the city center and it is basically a giant mall. I’m open to everything? Uhhm, maybe not. Trying to get local food? Not a chance, so I settle for some chili shrimp rice dish at a KFC, which is expensive enough. All around is high rise buildings, fast food chains and sky high prices. But maybe I just need to open myself up even more?
I’m possibly supposed to stay with Simon, a German guy who lives here. However, I can’t reach him. Checking the local hotel rates actually makes you want to cry. I can completely forget my budget here. It turns out that Simon does not actually work – or live – in Abu Dhabi. He is in Dubai. Miscommunication. Darn. Well, it happens. So I try to get to Dubai.After an hour of sitting in the sun on my backpack with a scarf thrown over my head and shoulders, the bus to the airport finally arrives. The bus at the connection an hour later just left. So I’ve got three-and a half more to wait until I can go to Dubai. I grab a local weekly and read at the airport, finding some article about sustainable city management and organic efforts. Finally, something I can relate to! But reaching Dubai, my jaw drops again from the skyrise buildings plastering the city, even more so then had been the case in Abu Dhabi. Here I meet Simon and his girlfriend Maria in a shopping mall.We go out for dinner and they show me around the marina strip and the beach. In front of us is the beach, in the back rises a wall of illuminated urban madness: banks, insurance companies, real estate offices and apartment complexes in a height of hundreds of meters. Big culture shock! I was prepared for noise and dirt as I had seen it in Delhi, I was prepared for peaceful and quiet villages in Southeast Asia, but I was not prepared for this bustling financial center of crazyness.The jaw-dropping continues as Simon takes me to their apartment. It’s a huge condo in one of 6 towers situated in an area known as “The Greens” – named for the golf course that stretches along the neighbourhood. From the balcony you can see the skyline in a little distance and you look right down upon the golf course.
|“The Greens” earn their name from the adjacent golf course|
To wind down a bit, we hang out with friends and beers in the living room. To obtain the beers, you actually need to apply for a license – like a driver’s license - that your boss and the government have to approve. Talking to people does not immediately appear to be governmentally regulated, or at least I am unaware of immediate restrictions.
So we chat about the character of the city and its people. Dana, a friend of Simon, says something that immediately strikes with my mood and makes the city interesting to analyze. Born and grown up in Malaysia and living in Dubai, she considers Australia her home, where she spent a couple of years. She likes the city, but says “Dubai is not home, Dubai can never be home.” It’s the perfect entry point for me to figure out the city.
Dubai, as I find out the next day, originally started out along a creek where today “Old Dubai” is situated. The area is home to spice markets, fish markets, gold markets.
|The spice market in old Dubai does have a target group!|
The creek once allowed people to settle here and eventually begin to trade from this place, with ships going to the Middle East, but also the northern coast of Africa. Water was the motor for this development. The area is pleasant to stroll, the skyscrapers can only be seen in the distance; it has character and I feel comfortable.
|It looks as if it would fall apart any minute, but it’s going to Iran!|
Along the creek I meet Mouhedin. He stands on an old wooden ship on the creek that carries a net of pots and pans hanging
on deck. Obviously, the ship – despite its shabby look – spends some time in the open waters. The boat belongs to “my father wife”, which I take to mean it is his father in law’s and he explains to me that it will carry orange juice and cables to Iran. That can take between two and ten days, he says, depending on the weather. I refrain from questioning that time measure and ponder rather
what else the ship might possibly be carrying. I feel a sudden urge to join them on their trip to Iran, to be out in the open water for an indefinite time, arriving at a port so strange to me. I’ve already had the feeling that my ticket to Singapore is restricting me in my flexibility. Not cool. Why did I book all these tickets in advance? I don’t know. Not that Iran was my top choice, exactly, still.
|Mouhedin on his vacation time.|
The ship is loading and will be leaving in three days. Do I dare come back with my backpack? No, I probably don’t, but I
still cherish the thought. Maybe I can get on a ship somewhere further along my travels.
Eighty per cent of Dubai’s population are expatriots. The reason: oil! When it became clear that the oil reserves would run out, Dubai started to attract investors by subsidiaries, getting them to build in the city and get a good return, then sell the property. The plan worked. Within a short time, the city boomed, grew immensely – in the middle of the desert – it became an important economic hub
and every larger company wanted to have a branch in Dubai. That infrastructure has come to stay and attracts foreigners from all over the world to come and work there.
However, as Simon, Dana, David tell me: the city’s life cycle is fast. People who come here are looking for good money and good positions. If they find a better position somewhere else, they will leave. This way, each year, about a fifth of the population changes. The overall population does not shrink or increase, but people switch spots. The system is not made for stability, neither in the economic realm assuring loyalty among business partners, nor in the personal realm. Those who would like to stay will forever live on the level of a second class, because you cannot – as a foreigner or even as a Dubai born child of foreigners – become a citizen. And
hence, Dubai will never be home. You work, you play, you leave.
Work? I work out, do some Aikido. For now that seems like enough work around here. So I play. I hang around the pool, doing some thinking about family life when I see a couple with their kid in the water. I shop around and cook a seabream dinner
for Simon, Maria and Dana.
|Seabream about to be baked to yumminess!|
At night we go out to party – Lady’s night. I’ve managed to accept the town for what it is. I can’t say I’ll never live in this place for a while, but only work and (restricted) play would get old pretty fast indeed. This is surely never going to be a home.
|Simon, Maria and Dana lounging|