Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Dubai: The Most Overrated Place On Earth

Not since I went to New Orleans a few years ago have I had such a strong dislike for a destination to which I was so excited to go.

Within hours of arrival, KB and I were ready to turn around and go home. The traffic is just as bad as -- if not worse than -- back home in Los Angeles. It is probably worse in that there is only one route to any given place and the giant construction site that is this city does not yield for traffic concerns. Scratchy throat, which I always get within days of arrival in Cairo from the disgusting pollution, set in on Day 1 here and refuses to go away. The city is hollow, shallow and utterly soulless.

We got to our hotel at 8:00 a.m. Monday morning after an exhausting 24 hours of travel. The clerk at the hotel told us that our room was ready, but that we would have to pay an extra 300 Dirham (appx $75) to check in early. Even though we were ready for bed, neither KB nor I appreciates being nickled and dimed, so we said no thanks. As a consolation prize, the spa let us in to shower and change our clothes. By the time we got to the room, we spent the rest of the day asleep.

In the evening, we crossed the Dubai creek to check out the acclaimed gold market, which purports to be one of the biggest gold markets in the world. There were beautiful products on display, but it is hard to get excited about seeing the same bracelet and necklace in store after store after store.

After an hour, we went to the Mall of the Emirates, which is supposed to be the biggest mall in the world. The indoor ski resort makes it worth a visit for the sheer curiosity value but, otherwise, it is a mall. Same stores as at home. Same bleary-eyed shoppers. We didn't spent $1,200 on a plane ticket to go to a mall.

The Big Bus, like the double decker from London, took us around the city Tuesday. We hoped that the city would redeem itself, but is was not meant to be. The majority of the stops on the tour were malls and hotels. More malls. More shopping. Consume and consume more. With the air-conditioners on full blast, malls are literally the center of life, where people spend their days and nights.

In the Jumeirah district, dozens and dozens of high rises-in-the-making pierce the layers of pollution. Each project is more impressive and mind-boggling than the next, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it all. There is no sense that these buildings are meant to address a housing shortage (it is all high end and certainly out of reach to the foreigners who build them) or otherwise meet a need. Rather, the pathological scale of the construction is the crack baby of a megalomaniac emir who wants to prove to the world that there is nothing oil money cannot buy (makes you wonder if he's got some inadequacy issues). We learned that the world's biggest hotel is currently under construction and will have over 1,000 rooms. Because the Mall of the Emirates for whatever reason is not good enough anymore, the next world's biggest mall is also under construction to ensure that anyone with a $1 in his pocket will not remain so rich for long. The world's tallest building, the world's largest airport, the world's largest theme park, another man-made island, blah, blah, blah.

Over crepes and Haagen Dazs ice cream, KB and I articulated our dislike for the city. The bizaaro world where pious-looking Muslim women roam the mall looking for the next Prada purse to buy. As I perused the racks of H&M, a woman covered head to toe except for her eyes was checking out tanktops next to me. I wish my Arabic was good enough to ask "and where do you plan to wear that?" Men wearing white turbans and dishdasha -- the national dress because it is the most effective in keeping you cool in the oppressive desert heat -- carry their snowboards to the slopes of Ski Dubai.

Nothing here is natural.

Dubai is 80% foreigner, largely composed of Indians who are imported as cheap labor to build the next "biggest ____ in the world." The contrast between them and the other imported, but skilled, labor is stark. There is a family of Indians living on the roof of the building adjacent to our hotel. There are Brits partying it up at the pubs, after which they'll probably return to their executive corporate-paid apartment with a hooker of choice. This place is crass. If it is not already, it will be the next breeding ground of discontent in this troubled region.

We were supposed to have afternoon tea at the Burj al Arab, the world's tallest and only 7-star hotel (have you gotten the picture yet?), but we've had enough. So we opted for a well-needed nap and a quiet dinner of Indian food in the hotel. Now at an internet cafe filled with Indians using the internet to call home, we are checking with the airline to see if we can cut short the trip.

Welcome to the land of unabashed consumerism. There is no culture. There is no value. There is no religion. There is only a consumer and a store and the amount of money that stands between them.


At 4:28 PM, May 01, 2007 , Blogger mrsleep said...


what you describe almost sounds like an implausible movie plot gone bad.

maybe you can make a sidetrip on the way back. Morocco perhaps? Rock of Gibraltor. Just be sure to walk to the top, it's good exercise.

At 7:23 PM, May 01, 2007 , Blogger skip sievert said...

That place sounds like a disaster in the making.
I sure like it here in Minnesota.
Its green, there is lots of water, and it has some of the best farm land in the world.

At 8:42 AM, May 02, 2007 , Anonymous ianmack said...

greetings intellectual insurgent! i recently found your blog through random chance. i'm also the editor of an online travel magazine, and wondering if you'd be interested in crafting a blog post about your experiences in Egypt. please use the contact form on www.bravenewtraveler.com to get in touch with me when you get a moment. thanks very much!

At 11:25 AM, May 03, 2007 , Anonymous twistedtory said...

How sad to be so negative and cynical, only to see the negative in everything. I've spent a lot of time in Dubai and have had nothing but positive experiences. But then again, I was open to having them which it really doesn't sound as though the author is...

At 3:08 PM, May 13, 2007 , Blogger Birdy said...

Man, thats quite a review - especially from someone from LA! :)

At 4:34 PM, October 16, 2007 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have got an impression Dubai is no different than Las Vegas. A kitch.

At 4:52 PM, March 10, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been to dubai 20+ times for work, and I couldn't agree more that Dubai is completely overrated and one of the most boring places in the world... I never understood why anyone would want to take a holiday there.. there are much more interesting places around to go to, than an artificial city..

At 9:39 AM, May 11, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree. I'm currently working here and was looking forward to it. Now im here it gets a simple OK rating from me. As a place to work its one of the worst i've ever been to .Disorganized and un trust worthy Indian employers who change the rules as it suits. As a city its ugly hot noisy and boring.

At 8:06 AM, August 15, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the saying goes "there's no place like home". What a place to visit. No thanks, the Midwest is full of green, water, "fresh" air. My neck of the woods is materialistic enough.

At 6:09 AM, October 23, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are from the UK and have been to Dubai 5 times to visit the in-laws. I find it plain and lacking in soul. London is a lot more fun, plus the roads are a thousand times safer(that includes the M25 mumpties). I think a 3 day stop-over before travelling elsewhere will ensure a pleasant trip. Also, avoid April to October if you can't stand the heat! Or just go to Rome instead. You'll have history coming out of your ears!!

At 10:01 AM, December 18, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. Been there twice and the stuff I thought was amazing the first time was yesterday's news the second time. Lots of empty but brand new buildings and malls with lots of lookers but nobody actually buying anything. Now they are building some Dubailand amusement park but it's too hot to stand around outside. If you want a real mid-east expericence go to Jordan.

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At 1:53 AM, June 24, 2010 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stumbled across your blog. As an American who has been living here, I couldn't agree more. I'm not cynical or pessimistic, but you hit the nail on the head.

Its completely overrated and over-priced. Look here, Dubai: You are NOT New York, or Tokyo, or London, or Paris. (And you never will be) Building fantastical buildings with debt money (not oil money--there is none) off the backs of desperate slave labor everywhere. The city is basically Indian Labor Immigrants, Sad Filipino Service Workers, Low-class Brits primarily who don't mind the debauchery and white privilege because they like the sun and getting drunk everynight at the hotel. And lastly the tiny Local Emirati population whom you never see(unless shopping or valeting their Maserati) or interact with living in their McMansions who are dreaming up more childish, unsustainable ways to spend their undeserved money.
Ironically, NO Foreigner I've ever met here wants to live here long term. They want to make their money, have a little fun and get out. Everyone agrees--it's absolutely devoid of culture and completely soul-less. Money cannot buy culture, class, intelligence, or soul. Save your money and travel elsewhere in the Middle East for Arab culture. (Jordan, Syria, N.Africa) or plenty of places with sun around the world for a fraction of the price.

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At 6:54 AM, March 02, 2011 , Blogger Abd Rahman K said...

Absolutely agreeable. Dubai is highly overrated and there is a severe lack of quality when it comes to service. Staff are generally impolite. Everyone is an imported good. And all in all, Dubai, in my eyes, is a Rolls Royce without an engine. All style without substance.

At 4:23 AM, March 05, 2011 , Blogger LenKa leSoleil said...

Bravo! Perfect post, I do agree with everything. As fate willed, have to live in Dubai (for 1.5 already...) feeling like an alien. Hope my country of residence will change in the foreseeable future.

At 9:31 PM, December 05, 2013 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dubai has some cool modern skyscrapers on Sheik Zayed Road. The restored historic centers are around the creek. Other than that, it's aesthetically uninteresting and lacking in art and culture. Can you find these things? If you look hard, yes. If you like to walk you'll probably hate this city. Weather aside, with the two exceptions noted, it's not architecturally interesting. There are not independent shops to duck into. Things are in malls and they are chains. If you like to drink, be inside, eat and shop, you'll like it here. If you like to walk and observe your surroundings, you probably won't.

At 4:25 PM, April 07, 2014 , Blogger ali lary said...

Exactly true dubai is so fake , no soul ,no culture , no rhythm ,it's a place for losers that just want money and nothing else , even with all that oil money and even when you are loaded with money there's nothing to do ,it doesn't feel normal at all , it's like the whole city is self conscious , you don't even see people just hanging out just in the city it has to be in a club or a fancy place and people are always trying to dress up too much I miss meeting ordinary girls wearing normal jeans and T shirt , it makes me sick to my stomach how dam fake people are here .
I have a better time riding the subway in Toronto than riding a Ferrari in dubai no joke, If your in a normal civilized free country it feels so different so much more stimulating to your brain you can see people acting out infront of you in so many different ways that you never see in dubai and even if you did you'll find that everyone is starring at them , it's like almost everything is awkward except buying and paying for stuff , it's too quite in dubai no one is loud everyone keeps quite that to me after a while of living in dubai when I remember when I was back in Toronto like I was in a heightened reality where there's more of everything , I don't know how you can be happy in dubai and I think that you can't and even if you think your happy your brain is probably numbed up by the lifestyle that is not stimulating that you don't even know how a normal person's environment should be.
I hate how there's servants all around me , you go in a toilet in a mall and you see guys just standing there telling you wear is the sink or the paper towels , you dine in a restaurant and the waitresses are acting too nice it's uncomfortable and almost all the people around you working it doesn't even feel that their people just that their workers or servants that don't have almost anything else to do except work , I'm not mocking them it's just how the system is in the UAE your nothing your simply like a battery that will run out and be left with nothing , nothing is permanent everything can be taken away from you with a single opinion of the people in charge and their opinions change overnight which change what they call rules over night , your whole life revolves around them , there is nothing in the desert not even with all this oil money there still isn't and what person wants nothing.

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