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.