‘What exactly do we call these Abu Dhabian, Dubian people?’ asked my friend Gordon brightly one morning. ‘Arabs,’ I replied.
In the spirit of Las Vegas, Arab princes compete with each other to see who can build the tallest tower, importing foreign culture wholesale. In the case of Dubai, the West is best and Stetsons can be seen amongst the dish-dashes and kanduras. The architecture is stunning, hotels monumental. This is where money lives.
One of seven Emirates or states, Dubai is relatively young and has little in the way of history or local museums. Which is fine, because most people who travel here are businessmen, or tourists with a taste for ostentatious displays of embarrassing wealth. Some say it’s just another empire built on slavery, and there are some human rights issues which have no place in the modern world.
Politeness is an art form, and expect an immaculately groomed Asian hostess to serve you wonderful food in sumptuous surroundings, beaming with happiness and attentive beyond the call of duty. Win her confidence and the smile slips ever so slightly, and she might whisper that she shares a room with twelve other people on the outskirts of the city, with no bathroom. Workers can’t afford public transport, so they travel in open cattle-trucks, cruising the busy freeways full of sleek limousines.
Click on the pics to ride the magic carpet…
As we flew towards Abu Dhabi airport, a vast grid of streetlights appeared beneath us in the darkness, reminding me of Los Angeles – but with no lights from buildings in between, just great squares of blackness. ‘Is there a lot of wasteland in the Emirates?’ I asked Gordon earnestly. ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘It’s called Desert.’
Abu Dhabi has a strict culture in contrast to the more relaxed paradox of Dubai. People knelt in the streets to pray and I made the mistake of exposing my forearms. To a man. I had no idea that my stunning beauty would provoke such uncontrollable reactions and society would collapse. I was told to cover myself, after spending such a long time getting dressed in the first place. Luckily, inside the hotels you can drink alcohol and strip down to your trunks for a dip in the infinity pool. It’s all iPods and french fries, and you can behave like a true Westerner as I demonstrated by gamely rolling up a prayer mat under my arm, thinking it was a beach towel! East meets West! Priceless. It’s called culture shock, okay?
If you can ignore the politics, Dubai is an incredible experience, from indoor skiing with real snow in the largest shopping mall in the world, to luxurious beaches and excellent food. Step outside your comfort zone and experience something a little different: broad strokes, grand gestures and high kitsch. It’s an education.