Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lost in Dubai

In Tehran I lived with the dust of history. Lost memories, demolished buildings and drifting nostalgia, among a host of other things, filled the air with thousands of tiny particles.

Every morning I would wake up to find a transparent skin of dust precariously clinging to every flat surface of the house. I spent hours wiping, scrubbing and dusting. But the dust was persistent. Just like the ants, who always managed to find their way back, after I’d zapped them away, drawing a long queue from the bathroom sink, marching out to some well planned destination. I could never figure out the logic of where they were going, as if it was just some old, well-maintained habit they were carrying out. One morning, the bathroom sink was black with the tiny ones; they had staged a coup. It failed of course, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t be back.

In Dubai we live with the dust of the future. Today, outside our apartment window, on the 31st floor, we counted 60 cranes within our view. The first time we turned on the air conditioner, a cloud of dust formed over our heads. Under the bed, the dust gathers into hundreds of little fuzz balls, and if the wind is a bit strong the sand from the surrounding construction blows right up into us. The spectacular view, however, makes up for it. As I was sweeping today, acting out that never ending drama versus the microscopic tumbleweed of desert landscapes, known in this case as my floor, I was reminded of my dust adventures just one year ago, not so far away in Iran. I realized that these disruptive little speckles were all somehow connected, at least in the smooth surfaces of my brain’s memory, and I wondered if we would ever really win the battle against dust. Become one with the dust. Hmmm. That didn't work with the clock's thunderous tick-tocking in the bedroom, and I don’t think it will work here.

We arrived in Dubai a month ago, hunting for a place to live and getting to know this jungle of concrete and glass, which we are to call ‘home’ for the next few years.

Aside from the sun, one of the first things I noticed was the friendliness of people - but it was a different kind of friendly. Unlike the rest of the Middle East this is a true service society, at least that’s what it feels like. Once you dig a bit deeper, you are met with cases inefficient bureaucracy, late arrivals, canceled appointments and confusing traffic. And it’s all a bit more frustrating here, because you aren’t expecting it – with polished surfaces, looks so modern and functional right?

We quickly learned that you can’t buy alcohol in the city until you get licensed, so everyone stocks up in the airport’s duty free, where each person can purchase up to 2 units, which varies depending on the drink (1 case of beer, 2 bottles of wine and 1 bottle of liquor each equals to 1 unit). We already have quite a hefty collection in the ‘liquor cabinet’.

Bars can be found only in hotels, so it’s pretty difficult to find a hole in the wall type place - unless it’s a ‘bring your own’ establishment or a brothel. We asked one guy to recommend us a bar, and he described one that he liked as “Lost in Translation-y.” We liked that description, and he was right - but this whole place has that sort of mood.

'Lost in Translationesque' bar in the top floor one of the "Emirates Towers"

So we finally moved in a week ago, into our new home, right smack in the middle of a giant construction site known as ‘Business Bay’ – a huge development intending to skyrocket (literally) Dubai into the ranks of Manhattan and Ginza in Tokyo. The center piece of Business Bay is the notorious 'Burj Dubai', set to be the highest building in the world with 160 stories, and to be surrounded by an idyllic pool of water once it’s completed – a real castle of the future complete with moat and bridge.

Burj Dubai - view from our balcony (click on images to see larger)

We were told that a few years ago the area around us was nothing but desert, with just one small road trailing through the sand. People who’ve witnessed the transformation can’t find enough words to express their awe at the extent and pace of the development.

"Sheikh Zayed Road" Before (around 1992)

After (2006)

Meanwhile the entire city of Dubai is actually under construction, with huge projects sprouting at every corner of the city. These developments, along with various malls, buildings and free zones, often have an Orwellian chime to their name: ‘Knowledge City’, ‘Media City’, ‘Healthcare City’, ‘Discovery Gardens’, ‘The Greens’, ‘The World’, ‘Dubai Land’, ‘Global Village’, ‘Silicon Oasis’, ‘Nutrition World’, and so on. All services perfectly situated in their propagandized islands, with a designated neighborhood for just about everything. As Mike Davis aptly describes, it’s the concentrate, the ultimate exaggeration, of consumerist culture. Others refer to it as the ‘Las Vegas of the East’. For me it’s the ultimate Post-Modern fantasy, with whimsical lost castles rediscovered, unfathomable sky scrapers, air-conditioned bus stations, snow skiing when it’s 40 degrees Celsius outside….

"Ski Dubai" inside The Mall of the Emirates

"The lost city of Atlantis"

The view of the apartment building across from us is a cross between the film-scapes of Jacques Tati and moody Lost in Translation - vertical rows of big glass windows, each with an identical glowing flat-screen TV and minimal d├ęcor. 30 stories down is our idyllic pool, shaded by umbrellas and palm trees. 30 meters to my left is a giant crane inching towards our living room windows.

A walk in the clouds

Cloudy view from our window - Burj Al Arab in the distance

A famous photo of Dubai taken from the Burj Dubai

One of the favorite pastimes here is reciting random statistics and superlatives about Dubai:

-25% of the world’s cranes are located in Dubai (a big percentage of those just outside our window), with a population of about 2 million and area of just 1,500 square miles

-the biggest mall in the world, biggest man-made islands, the longest man-made shoreline, the biggest aquarium, etc.

Aquarium at The Atlantis Hotel

-Dubai hosts the only 7 star hotel in the world

'Burj Al Arab' - with 'The Atlantis' in the distance, on the right

-80% of Dubai’s population is made up of expats, only 20% are ‘locals’. Of that 80%, 60% are low-wage workers from South East Asia - most of who provide the city with its hard labor and service sector, and many of who live in what are called ‘labor camps’.

A 'labor camp' - and the city they are building

The list goes on…

But what has ceased to amaze me here so far has been the construction, day and night, which seems to never end. Not only is it rampant, but every building has a very unique design, whether it twists up into the sky, is decked out with sparkling glass, or topped off with a cherry of intricate imaginative lines and shapes and dramatic lighting. On New Year’s Eve we took a stroll around the ‘Marina’ area, another eye-candy of sky-scraping development, where our midnight toll was the sound of cranes sweeping across the shiny black sky above us, lit up by twinkling lights which are pinned to the metal monsters dangling from tops of buildings.

Dubai Marina

The malls - where you do anything and everything, from grocery shopping and getting your nails done, to attending court - are getting a bit boring, but I’m sure once summer hits I will be thanking the gods for the air conditioned mammoths.

Neenee at 'The Dubai Mall' - with Olympic size ice skating rink and giant Christmas Tree

I still haven’t had a chance to deal with the dust on my upper lip since we arrived though, the locals must be horrified! Time to hit the mall...

More Photos Here - click on this:

Welcome to Dubai - First Month


i kant said...

one day on the beach
lady, you are under arrest with your hairy long legs - you have right to remain silent.
vice squad

Hairy said... longer hairy! so i went to get my lip waxed, and the lady said to me: "it's been a long time huh?" i said yes. "they so loooong!!" she replied. i told you they'd be horrified :{

eyebrows still on the loose though.

lauren w. said...

so is this where our gas money is going.....?.....

lauren w. said...

theres a big art biennial or something that happens in that you are there...i may have to make a visit...!....your place is beautiful...and you are seems like the ultimate post-mondern dreamscape...maybe bordering would be interesting to navigate the city and the culture.....

Hairy said...

actually, another interesting fun fact: 60-something % of dubai's GDP comes from non-oil revenue. big contributors are tourism, trade, construction, financial's really the business hub of the middle east. abu-dhabi is much more oil rich, they runnin out here - hence the resort to wild ventures!

and yes, the art scene is supposedly booming here. a lot of iranian artists actually...we have much exploring to do...

looking forward to your visit lauren!

marija said...

sooo interesting :)

Anonymous said...

So, I have seen all I need to see in Dubai. It reminds me of that futuristic cartoon "Jetsons." Only the flying cars are missing!

Wrapping Supplies said...

The Burj Al Arab is a luxury hotel located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. At 321 m (1,050 ft), it is the second tallest building in the world used exclusively as a hotel.The Burj Al Arab stands on an artificial island 280 m (920 ft) out from Jumeirah beach, and is connected to the mainland by a private curving bridge. It is an iconic structure, designed to symbolize Dubai's urban transformation and to mimic the sail of a boat.

Kirigalpoththa said...

Just amazing!