Coming up to 24hours in the UAE and I can’t help noticing it’s most definitely Dubai.
I mean obvs, it’s not Delhi. But seeing as that was the last long haul city I visited earlier this month… it is, therefore, an accidental yardstick. Even if this is a work trip. I have had the luxury of a day to normalise after arriving in the small hours. Unfortunately, this has had the unintended effect of rocking me on my heels.
If you’ve not been here, then a written description is going to fall short. As a scene setter how about we take the following ingredients:
- 1 X Las Vegas – scale, desert climate, sheer chutzpah. (Discard the gambling.)
- 1 X Emirate – muslim heritage, laws, huge oil wealth, middle eastern culture and a taste for bling
- A big bunch of apparently every flavour of extreme architecture mankind can currently muster, with some radical, comic-book structures. (Like CGI of an alien, technologically utopian planet from a Marvel movie.) A Shanghai/Manhattan/Singapore mashup.
- 1 X blind eye: for the origins/conditions of labour that built it all, means of electricity generation, the amount of pollution and waste. (Where does all the water come from?Where does all the sewage go?)
Mix well, leave to marinade against the backdrop of whatever meandering trajectory the global economy is heading on.
Wandering is a great way to learn a new place, don’t-cha-think? I have walked and walked today. In 35C? Well, outside it may have been, but the Dubai Mall and walkways to the metro are all air-conditioned. (Plus the desert heat is less oppressive; now it’s late October. Bearable, even at midday.) From the chilled metro carriages raised above the city sprawl we barrel along a full 25km to Dubai Marina. Huge roads pass beneath us. So very many cars. So many high end motahs: Rolls’, Lambos’, Ferrari’, McLarens and – heavens – even the occasional Porsche. Ringed by vast condos, the marina itself is filled with glistening motor-yachts. Pausing for a delicious Lebanese lunch, I get a mini-lecture from the proprietor about the evils of sugar in Pepsi. (Imagine if it was beer I washed the shwarma down with!?) I stand at the head of the carriage on the return trip – no driver to block the view – and boggle at the cityscape as it envelops our train. (Have seen Tomorrowland with Clooney?)
The overhead corridor to Dubai Mall is hundreds of metres from the station. It is cool, wide and thronging. If you kneel at the temple of retail, this place is surely a global shrine judging by the vast number of disciples herein. Outside – 8PM – the Dubai Fountain dances to pulsating music with light and the backdrop of the Burj Khalifa. (The structure manages to look impossibly tall and unimposing at once. It will visually rhyme with the coming-soon Dubai Creek Tower which is similarly nuts. Dial crazy settings to batshit.) How many thousand marched in London today against Brexit? Well, many thousands marched here too, firm in their intent to oooh-ahh at fountains, get dinner and buy expensive impractical shoes.
Rocked on my heels then by jetlag, arid heat, scale, unhindered consumerism, architectural egotism and conspicuous wealth. Worlds away from Delhi in one direction. A world away from rural Wiltshire in the other.
Hey ho, off to work tomorrow. How long before this all feels normal?