Dubai, Dubai!

Dubai, UAE

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, Dubai
Noor Rizvi

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.



  1. Hasan Rizvi · · Reply

    Nice article. Informative, funny and gives a clear picture of what Dubai is like, at least I think so. Personally, I despise Dubai but as the author rightly said..’whatever floats your boat’.

  2. WRITEOFLEFT · · Reply

    Nicely done.

    I think the soul of Dubai is cleary the “opportunity” it provides especially to the subcontinent. Without it however, there is no Dubai. However, opportunity is hard to argue against regardless of the argument for “fake”.

    Hopefully it will bounce back from the crisis and continue bringing prosperity and livlihood to the many it does today and more in the future.

  3. Nicely done! I can totally relate to the astronomical cell phone bills!

  4. Nighat Rizvi · · Reply

    Well written piece Noor …the joy is that you write as you speak! That in itself is hugely entertaining….great to see you in words again…must write some more..thanks, OUH! xox

  5. Zainab Omar · · Reply

    The author writes brilliantly! What a great style! I was totally taken in by his descriptions and sense of humour! I must confess that I don’t like dubai particularly, but by the end of the article i felt a tinge of curiosity and human sympathy. Have I been harsh with my judgement? He has said it perfectly that “the love child of a third world city and a superpower”…who can blame the love child?

    Noor, you must keep writing! We want a regular column on this Blog!

  6. I first visited Dubai in 1975. Have visited very frequently ever since. There was a time when people appeared to be building Buildings for the people who were building them. It had a charm which has of course changed but just as was noticed it still glimmers through. Whilst one is sorry to see that the rapid progress that it was making has almost stopped, I for one hope that the lull will allow some reality to set in and the fun will start again.

  7. Since i grew up in dubai …I can relate to a lot of it .. except the ‘red light’ area part .. haha …
    it’s home for me … and if it was upto me .. I would go back in a jiffy!

  8. A little more balanced than some of the hatchet jobs I ‘ve seen in the last few months.

    Alas this is home.. : )

    Have you guys been here?? It’s not all gloom and and malls still pretty busy!

  9. Great read, OUH! I lived in Dubai for a bit more than two years and although I left on a bit of a bitter note, as time passes by there’s a part of me that hopes that the good side of it, that glimmer of a soul mentioned in the post, flourishes. I definitely think that a pre-requisite for that is to allow more freedom of the press and of expression in general, for the leadership of Dubai to stop the paranoid prosecution of anyone who dares to talk about the emirate’s dark side, so kudos to Noor for this post and to you for your blog. Cheers!

  10. I like it , however it could have had less analogies. Or perhaps it mirrors Dubai’s culture(s) being analogous to many others?

  11. Dubai is a lovely city…and has achieved a phenomenal amount of development over the last 15 years. The infrastructure in the city is unrivaled in the region of 2b people within its proximity. A great place to make money, and of course to spend it too.

    The crisis has been a real awakening for just about everyone who has lived there. With reforms and in time it will surely be much appreciated again for all it has to offer 🙂

  12. Average post yet balanced opinion. To clarify, you aren’t part of the ‘elite’. There are only a few Pakistani families in Dubai who are considered even remotely close to the ‘elite.

  13. Great post minus the stereotyping of the local couple on the beach. The women in Dubai do not wear abayas or hijab because they are oh so oppressed. Also, coming from Pakistan lets acknowledge the UAE’s courage to accept different cultures and create a tolerant society. Other than that this was a really fun read. Would be great if you turned this into a weekly column for ‘Chasing Thoughts’ on life in dxb…

  14. Good post. My sister, who is with CNN, did a piece for Marketplace Middle East on Dubai’s Cityscape conference that you guys might find interesting:

  15. Noor, you are gifted! Keep writing!

  16. Noor – well written. You covered everything about this city and some parts were hilarious! You didn’t do a lot of Dubai bashing, which is pretty much the norm these days. Every city has it’s shortcomings.
    One good thing about the current situation is that all those ‘short term’ or ‘quick buck’ people are now leaving so we are left with quality. (Well, at least the majority anyway.)
    Eventually, when the financial situation improves, we can really benefit as the people who believe in this city will remain.

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