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,, On the tourism front, Dubai is a total scam. Their marketing is great at persuading people that this is a fantastic, must-see destination, but for me it’s overrated. There are loads of big, modern buildings, and even more that are still under construction, but all this generates tons of dust, and when they finish one they get straight to work on another; there seems to be an insatiable appetite for new buildings here. On the main roads there are continual traffic jams, and often you can’t drive from point A to point B at more than walking pace. The air is often polluted and dusty, or else a sandstorm blows in off the desert.

There are lots of shopping malls, bazaars and shops, but the prices are by no means cheaper than in Europe. The fact is, I didn’t find a single thing I wanted to buy which was cheaper than back home. There was a fridge, actually, but you can hardly bring that home in a suitcase! Anything original is absurdly expensive, and if it’s cheap, that means it’s a fake. We wandered aimlessly up and down the enormous MOTE (Mall of the Emirates) and noticed all the young guys in white djellabas looking down their noses at us. I couldn’t help feeling that in their eyes we were just poor, infidel nobodies. Well, we were white, at least, so we weren’t quite such nobodies as the South Asian laborers

At least the local women are interesting, hidden behind their flowing garments. If you come in summer, though, you’ll bake in the 38° heat. Oh, you’re looking for a shady spot? But is that really why you travelled all the way here, and spent all that money? To hide in some dark corner because it’s too hot to go outside? Alright, there really are some spectacular sights, like the palm island. People also enjoy imagining how good it’s all going to look when it’s finished. And how pleasant it will be for the people it’s being built for. It’s possible to spend two or three days in Dubai with some enjoyment, and maybe in a few years it will be a prettier, greener place. But it isn’t that yet. Oh, and beware of the taxi drivers – they con you! It’s best to have a map handy, to check if it’s really the shortest route. They can speak English, because most taxi drivers are Indian, and English is the second language in India. It’s important to plan your trips so you don’t spend half your time in horrendous traffic jams."

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I’ve been to Dubai several times. I’m an intellectual, and in view of my refined tastes it would be logical for me to dislike Dubai for its artificiality, its bling, and its fake, plastic character. The truth is, though, I do like it, or perhaps it would be better to say it impresses me. I’m impressed by the city’s purposeful development. All right, you may say, but with that much easily made money it’s not hard to turn grand plans into reality. The fact is, though, it’s not the lucky locals I admire, but the foreign architects who dreamed up and realized these beautiful masterpieces of modern architecture. I also esteem the ruling family for their foresight in planning for a time when money will no longer flow from plentiful oil supplies. Incidentally, it’s worth knowing that the money in Dubai does not come from the territory of the emirate itself, but from the other emirates, and the revenue from oil production originating across the whole Arabian Peninsula. This means that the leadership of Dubai has been very skillful in maneuvering the city into a strong position. As a tourist destination Dubai far outstrips the other major emirate, Abu Dhabi, though that city has much greater oil resources. Dubai deliberately chose this role for itself, and I like that.


Dubai is a haughty, glittering, ornamental city, without any real substance or value. Empty and superficial. In my opinion it’s probably worth a visit: your jaw will momentarily drop, but you’ll soon realize how little this means compared to how a person actually feels in such a place. Dubai shows the true essence of a consumerist society – that dead-end of selfish self-aggrandizement it’s all leading to. All this display, artifice and pretense perfectly demonstrate that there are some things money can’t buy. Dubai holds up to us a distorting mirror, and makes us think: Is this really what we want? That may be exactly why it’s important to see it. To anyone thinking of visiting, I’d recommend making it only a stopover en route to another Asian destination, with a stay of two nights at most. After this you’ll find in your heart a new appreciation of the ‘poverty’ in some Asian cities, and of those virtues – the truly valuable things in life – which make certain cites so loveable.” (2016)

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Dubai is a fantastic place! It’s strength probably lies precisely in its multicultural values. If you want, you can spend the whole day sunbathing by the Burj al Arab, or in the shadow of skyscrapers. Or you could spend the day out in the desert. If you’re missing Europe, you could while away the time in one of the city-sized malls, or if you’d rather get to know the locals, you’ll find them in the lanes and alleyways of the bazaar in the Deira district. Everything in one place, and a thousand ways to relax and unwind.”

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Everything is possible! A sandstorm blanketed the city, so that we could hardly see, but in the evening they used cloud seeding to increase humidity and generate rain: the air cleared within two or three hours.

Dubai may be most beautiful from above. Seaplanes take off from the waters of the Creek canal and fly a thirty-minute circuit of the city. The palm islands, Atlantis, the Burj al Arab, and the 880-meter-tall Burj al Khalifa are spectacular.

There can’t be many places in the world where it’s possible to play a game of camel polo, but Dubai is one of them. My camel was quick, and a great tactician, but I was simply incapable of hitting the ball!”


Practicals

Transport

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Dubai - taxi

Food

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Dubai - camel milk - d.j. photo

Shopping

“On the way home, we made a detour to visit an alcohol shop – a supermarket-sized warehouse in the middle of nowhere, selling literally nothing but booze. For reasons of both religion and culture, people here don’t really drink alcohol, but the country is also home to many foreign workers. For them, these shops are the only alternative to hotel bars, and the prices here are much less eye-watering. It turns out, though, that you need a permit for this too. Everyone gets some photographic ID, and can use this to buy alcohol. But only a certain amount – only a given percentage of your salary can be spent on alcohol. I’m not saying there isn’t a black market as well, but those are the rules. (f.c., 2019)

Public safety

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Dubai - police car - a Bugatti Veron

Health

“Would you ever have imagined someone catching a cold in Dubai? Well, it happened to us. The mall inside the Burj Khalifa is absurdly air-conditioned, so we spent a lot of our first afternoon shivering. It was worth every minute, of course, but take this advice: however warm it is out there, bring a scarf and cardigan for the periods when you’re indoors.”

Background

Destination in brief

Dubai in brief

Dubai is a city-size emirate in the Middle East, part of a country called the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Neighbors of the UAE: Saudi Arabia (south) and Oman (southeast). Dubai is on the coast of the Persian Gulf and on the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula. 

Dubai’s size is 4114 km² (1588 mi²), while the size of the United Arab Emirates is 83,600 km² (32,268 mi²)

The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven emirates. When compared to the other emirates, Dubai has by far the largest number of incoming tourists.

Dubai is actually a city, not a country. However - and this is where the confusion comes from - Dubai is also the name of the emirate that the city of Dubai is the capital of.

Population: 4.1 million (2019), only 15% (!) are native (Emirati) citizens. 75% of the population is male because practically all immigrant workers (expatriates) are men. 71% of the total population is Asian, about half of them from India.

Dubai has a huge wealth gap. Many of the immigrant workers live and work in terrible conditions while Emiratis have their rents, education and medical bills paid for by the state and Western expatriates earn very good salaries.
Islam is the official religion in Dubai. About 85% of the Muslims are Sunni.

Official language: Arabic- English is widely spoken.

Official currency: dirham (AED)

Dubai is an absolutely safe destination for tourists (less so for construction workers). It would be hopeless for a thief to run away and not be caught. Dubai’s police force has the world’s fastest cars in its fleet (for efficiency, but also to impress tourists and show how high-class the city is). This includes cars such as the Ferrari FF (US$ 500,000), Lamborghini Aventador (US$ 397,000) and an Aston Martin One-77 (US$ 1.79 million).

Kissing or holding hands in public is illegal and can result in fines or deportation. Dubai is therefore quite a suitable destination for couples planning a divorce.

Most frequent surname (among Emirati citizens): Ali

Most famous tourist attractions: Burj Khalifa (total height of 829,8m or 2,722 ft), The Dubai Fountains, Marina, The Dubai Frame, Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, Dubai Museum, Burj al Arab, Atlantis Hotel Complex (Waterpark, The Lost Chambers), Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, The Palm, Jumeirah Beach, Wild Wadi, Arabian Team Adventures
 
 

 

Nowadays

 “All everyday work in Dubai is done by immigrants. We only saw an Arab working when our passports were being inspected. There were a surprising number of working women, all of course in black abayas. The hotel staff were also all foreigners, including many Indians.

Practically the whole city is a construction site, and yet the intensity of work seems lower than in Europe – most workers seem to spend most of the day lazing in the shade.

The hotel staff were all foreigners, including many Indians. If you ask them for something, don’t be surprised if they nod as though they’ve understood, but nothing actually happens. In fact they had no idea what the ‘white gentleman’ was asking for.

The idea that everyone in Dubai drives a luxury car is a total myth. Maybe it’s true of a proportion of the indigenous Arab population, but more than 90% of the Indians, Bangladeshis, Filipinos and Arabs from other states drive the same cars as Europeans. We saw a couple of Ferraris and Porsches, but honestly no more than that.

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 “One afternoon we took a bus downtown from the Jumeirah district. A local woman was sitting on the seat directly behind the driver. At one stop, two gentlemen in snow-white robes and burnouses got on, and when they saw the woman they immediately began berating her with shouts and angry gestures. Soon they had chased her to the crowded back of the bus. Even several minutes after this conflict the men were still angrily discussing what for them was an unbelievable occurrence: a woman with the temerity to sit in a place where (they felt) she had no business. There was no sign or notice indicating that the front seats were reserved especially for men.” (2016)

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Objectively speaking, it’s a winning ticket to be born in Dubai. The locals are well aware of this, and in addition to their healthy natural pride, they look down on foreigners – and especially on those guest workers who do all the manual labor. Every Dubaian family has foreign servants, and these are generally considered a lower order of human being.

The relationship between young Dubaians and Western mass culture, however, is more complex: while they have an almost jingoistic national pride towards their both the United Arab Emirates and their own emirate, and devoutly follow all the precepts of their religion, still they are no less devoted to following the latest trends in western fashion (films, music, shopping malls, new gadgets and phones, drugs, etc.) The older generation and those in power fear that respect for traditional values will further decline in the future.”


Dubai - typical - v.g. photo

Dubai - prayers - i.h. photo

Dubai - Deira - d.j. photo

Dubai - where the South Asian migrant workers live - d.j. photo

People

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Dubai - typical mall scene - d.j. photo

Dubai - citizen - d.j. photo

Dubai - Deira - Fish and Fruit market - ata photo

Tourist etiquette

“A Scottish man, Jamie Harron, was on holiday in Dubai when he touched a man’s hip as he carried a drink through a crowded bar in Dubai. Because of this ‘crime’ – which Harron insists was entirely accidental – he was arrested on charges of public indecency, and was finally pardoned only after three months in jail.

The 27-year-old Scot said he just wanted to avoid spilling his drink, so touched the other man to get past. He was released on a personal pardon from Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid al Maktum.
Harron’s three months in jail meant he lost his job, and he also had to pay $100 in legal costs.

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When someone asks what your religion is, do not by any means say you are not religious – an atheist to them is something less than human.

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“Walking from he beach to the hotel, a policeman told us that it is forbidden to walk the streets in a swimsuit (even at the row of stalls on the beachfront promenade) so I recommend bringing a lot of beach clothes or shawls.” (2018)


Dubai - warning in a luxurious hotel - a.k. photo

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