Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dubai- The Land That Oil Made Green

The seatback screen on the Emirates flight from Islamabad showed a map of the world below us. The northern part of the United Arab Emirates was displayed as green, but looking out the window I could see only endless dunes dotted with scrub brush. The wadis (seasonal river beds) looked dry, but one or two had water in them. As we approached Dubai roads appeared and indeed, they were lined with green.

The Gulf States were inhabited by nomadic pastoralists for thousands of years and if it weren't for the sudden wealth created by oil this would still be a backwater. But Dubai has seen an incredible explosion of growth in the last fifteen years. The city now looks as modern, perhaps more, than any in the world. A twelve lane highway cuts through town, the world's highest building lies here and expensive and architecturally unique hotels line the beach on the Arabian Gulf.

Landing in Dubai the temperature was 108 degrees, but Dubai is made more hospitable by an abundance of air conditioning. The airport is cool and comfortable and full of fountains. This seems to be a theme throughout Dubai. Whereas oil made this country rich, water seems to be the real symbol of wealth in the desert.

I have a layover here, so after catching a shuttle to the hotel I decided to see a bit of the city. I caught a taxi and headed for Jumeira Beach. Modern cities interest me only mildly and since there's not much to do that isn't expensive I figured this was my best bet for passing the afternoon. The air that blows in off the Gulf is hot and humid and a haze obscures the horizon. In the distance I could see the Atlantis Hotel, built on a man made island. They are quite fond of these man made islands here. There are several off the coast here in what must be rather shallow water. One of them has attracted a bit of media attention as it is in the shape of a map of the world.

Walking along the beach the contrasts of life here were quite apparent. Bikini clad westerners laid out in the sun while women covered from head to toe in black walked into the water with their children. There are a lot of Westerners here working in the many huge towers that populate the landscape. Dubai is quite liberal and one sees attractive western women wearing just as little as they would anywhere else in the world. There are also a lot of people from other Islamic countries. For instance, both of my taxi drivers today were from Pakistan. Dubai has a shortage of native workers and so imports huge numbers of people to build the towers, drive the taxis and work in the hotels.

After my walk on the beach I went into the Jumeira beach hotel hoping to find a beer to drink. But because of Ramadan no one serves alcohol until after 7:30PM. So instead I sat for awhile watching the elites walk by, then headed back to my more modest accommodations (though they're still the best I've had this entire trip.)


  1. Great writing Dave. I can really see your personality in this.

  2. I hear the Dubai economy to having serious trouble. I would be interested to see if your experience changes on some future trip. Great write-up BTW!