Noor Rizvi has just contributed to ‘Chasing Thoughts’ by sending in this incredible piece on ‘Dubai, Dubai’. Check it out below and share your feedback in the ‘comments’ section above the post.
Dubai. An emerging city, endlessly aspiring to be counted amongst the greatest in the world. Almost bordering on the hope that someday Sinatra, reincarnated as a Kondura wearing, Hardy’s eating local, would re name his eternal song ‘Dubai, Dubai’.
The era of prosperity for this ‘theme-park city’, seems to be drawing bleaker with every passing day. Entangled in the grips of recession and the credit crunch, it has more people fleeing, than coming, almost drawing parallels with the immigrants scrambling across the Mexican border. I for one, feel the city’s plight. I moved here a year and a half ago, during Dubai’s ‘boom’, when the bubble was as big as a ‘Ding-Dong’ bubblegum enthusiastically being blown by a 6 year old at a birthday party. Now that it’s popped, there is an eerie sense of denial amongst residents, almost like Ahmedinijad denying the holocaust.
When I moved, there was that element of a ‘New city Syndrome’. I didn’t know what to expect. Coming from London, I had only stories and images of the cross bearing (apparently that’s been resolved) Burj-al-Arab, resonating in my mind. I sort of felt like a soon to be victim in a dark alley in Harlem, but only this side of Harlem was a Arab Spin off on a metropolitan version of Disney Land. The endless towering Sky Scrapers around me re-kindled images of me waiting in line at Thorpe Park as a kid hoping I ‘was this tall to sit on this ride’. It was a usual sort of a rush. A mixture of being in a new place, but at the same time not. I spoke nothing but Urdu, and the occasional bit of Punjabi slang, from the time I disembarked the flight, all the way to my hotel room, that too courtesy of the receptionist from Faisalabad. It was like being in Islamabad, only an Islamabad on steroids. None of that flimsy stuff, the kind of stuff Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dad was probably on the night he was conceived.
For the first year I lived in the old part Dubai: Dubai’s equivalent to Heera Mandi, minus Cuckoos café, the Badshahi Mosque, and of course the dirt. I know that doesn’t sound too glamorous, but it had its charm. By no means was it shabby. Apart from sections of it being ‘Little-Kerela’, it had everything a single Pakistani guy would need. I could get anything from a bowl of Haleem to triple whopper all in the radius of a square mile. You would have an English bloke named James, living right next door to a Rajeev on the same floor. It was fantastic. Dubai turned out to be a Harlem, which was cosmopolitan and diverse. Immediately the cliché of ‘the best of both worlds’ came to mind. I felt at peace.
As a student, I couldn’t have asked for a better place than London to study. It was a city of eccentricities. A melting pot of history, culture, a crazy night life and even crazier people: the perfect recipe for an insane college experience. It doesn’t take long for one to see London is about much more then the Queen, flake ice creams… And of course Big Ben.
Dubai was going to be more of an acquired taste. That was apparent right off the bat. If a third world city and a super power were to have a love child, it would be Dubai. You have all the advantages of home, yet none of the problems. You have all of the services of the west, but with a twist. A shot of tequila without lemon. You truly have to take in certain elements with a pinch of salt.
Dubai has hypocrisy running through its veins, and schizophrenia is its terminal illness. You can stroll out of a club at 4 in the morning, with David Guetta still blaring in your ears, only to be confronted by the sound of the ‘Azaan’ reminding you of your eventual fate. You can stroll down beaches and see hijaab clad women enjoying an afternoon stroll on the beach with their oh so controlling husbands, trying to wave off the women frolicking in bikinis around them. Sort of what Baywatch would look like if al-Qaeda got its hands on it and used it as propaganda to issue a fatwa against the west, and of course David Hasselhoff’s chest hair.
The double standards run deep here. One of Dubai’s main attractions, along with the Burj-Dubai, the sprawling deserts and the water sports to count a few, is its uncanny ability to have turned itself into the Amsterdam of the Middle East. Not to imply that narcotics are in abundance here, the very mention of it is taboo, on par with blasphemy, but Amsterdam’s notorious ‘Red-light’ culture can be spotted in abundance here. Take for instance ‘hooker row’, the aptly named (by me and a friend) patch of street which was a stones throw away from my old apartment. You would think such ‘services’ would be on display in discreet places, a dark alley perhaps, or a dingy building in the middle of no where resembling the Adam’s family home. But ‘hooker row’ is in a league of its own. Gutsy, open and for all to see. It has a bustling Subway sandwiches on one corner and a Spinney’s (the Dubai equivalent of Tesco’s) at the other end. The odd Lebanese restaurant is snuggled in between. And right in the center of foot long tuna sandwiches and falafels lays a telling sight. If you drive through and observe the activity, it is almost like being a ‘healthy’ man at a buffet line. It starts out with Africans, moves into Filipino’s, then switches course towards Russia. It resembles a cross between an ugly food chain and a Safari gone wrong. These ‘companions’ are by no means shy, in fact they are quite the opposite: assertive, often rubbing against your car and banging against the windows. It can be quite traumatic for a first timer… I almost choked on a shawarma I had gripped in my hands. The part I found most intriguing is that the authorities are not oblivious to any of this. On the contrary, out side everyone of the hot spots is a cop car parked, just standing as if helpless. If Dubai was an insurance pitch, this would definitely be one of its Ultimate Selling Points… and for many, it is.
But all is not bad in this city of dreams, although some may have ended pre-maturely due to the greed and bad policies of few (namely the fat cats of society, of which I have the prestige of being an unwilling member). Dubai has an X factor. Something hidden below that superficial façade it shrouds itself in. Just like trying to find oil in its dry fields… you’ll have to dig deep. I’ve often heard people use words like ‘plastic’, ‘fake’ and even ‘silicone’ once (I know, my reaction exactly!), to describe this place. But once you spend some time here and look beyond the obsession with consumerism, 7 star hotels and fake busts, you may just notice a slight glimmer of a soul. For everyone it may manifest itself differently: the laborers toiling in the heat laying the foundations for this metropolis, the free state provided iftar’s at every mosque in the city during Ramadan, the ability for an abundance of cultures to co-exist, the contrast of old and new, the cheap fuel, or even the dollar being pegged and the tax free environment for the capitalist in all of us. Whatever floats ones boat, Dubai definitely can provide you the current.
Dubai has always sold itself as a land of opportunity; a city searching for an identity, a model for blending traditional values with new technology. And to an extent it has done that. Considering I have just embarked on my (hopefully sparkling) career, I for one could never have had the standard of living I enjoy here, anywhere else in the world. I fortunately don’t live in Zone 6, nor commute from Tooting, leaving my house post ‘fajr’ only to ensure I miss the rush hour. I awake to the comfort of knowing that work is a metro stop away, and return home to a high rise apartment which makes me feel like I am on top of the world.
Dubai is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination. After paying off an average cell phone bill one easily feels like he’s blown all his savings, short of his soul. And the monopolistic nature of the economy does little to help the cause. Despite the odd speed bump, it’s quite a smooth ride, sort of like watching someone gunning a Bugatti down Sheikh Zahid road with zero care for the speed cameras clicking away like a ‘Kodak Moment’ convention. There is that element of a rush, not knowing what the city is going to throw at you next: whether at work or post it. During the boom thousands flocked from all corners of the world, to enjoy that very high and get their hit. With all that is wrong with Dubai, there is a lot that is right as well. As Sinatra would say:
“Start spreading the news, Im leaving today
I want to be a part of it – new york, new york
These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it – new york, new york”
Or should we all sing: “Dubai, Dubai!”… Whatever floats your boat.