30 July, 2013
08 April, 2013
Yep, you read it right - we are headed to Dubai, the beckoning city of the United Arab Emirates that is working hard to make a name for itself.
Well neither of us have been to that neck of the woods before, and since we have decided to go, the friends and family we have told have had a wide variety of reactions. Everything from overflowing excitement to gripping fear... It seems to us that at the moment, the Middle East is quite possibly the most controversial place to travel in the world.
Dubai, a cosmopolitan city state on the Persian Gulf, is nestled right between Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Syria, and Palestine... The Middle East, an area known as a hotbed of violence, upheaval, uncertainty, religious fundamentalism, and ghastly gender inequality. Quite frankly, some people have told us we have to be downright insane for even considering the journey.
Well Dubai, the most liberal of the Arab emirates, would like to send a different message from the Middle East to the rest of the world, to paint a different picture... Having realized back in the 60's that their oil reserves would not go the distance, the Sheikhs (pronounced "shakes") began making strategic moves to open up their borders to international tourism, trade, investment, and enterprise, inviting foreigners to come and contribute to the growth of Dubai's economy. When the seven separate emirates decided to unite to form one country in the early 70's in an effort to support and bolster each other, and the United Arab Emirates (or UAE) was born. Dubai has also long offered itself up as a tax-free port. That's right, there are no taxes imposed on business or personal gains there, only on alcohol. Fair enough.
Today, this flashy gulf emirate is constantly touting it's newest architectural masterpieces and ever cultivating the tourist and expatriate culture that began there decades ago. In fact, the population of Dubai is now comprised of over 90% expatriates from approximately 150 different countries around the world. Some even estimate 200.
If you haven't heard much about Dubai yet, chances are you soon will... It is officially the fastest developing city in the world. 25-30% of the world's construction cranes are there on any given day, working on its non-stop projects in efforts to impress the world. And apparently it's working. Business is booming. Foreign investment is robust. In a city with a population of only 2 million, 27 new hotels have just opened in the last year.
"The plans for Dubai Inc are as ambitious as they are audacious."
Dubai's driving ambition and penchant for glitz are surely producing results - the world's tallest building, an indoor ski slope in the desert, a "7-star hotel" built on a man-made island, which also happens to be the world's tallest hotel, an archipelago of man-made islands shaped like continents of the world, and a massive palm tree-shaped island... Sounds crazy, right?
Well, it sort of is. What with constantly building at a feverish pace, round the clock air conditioning, the ongoing desalination of sea water, the shipping in of food, goods, and building materials from around the world, Dubai earned the title of the #1 most environmentally unsustainable country on the planet for the last 12 years, according to the World Wide Fund For Nature. In just 2012 Dubai made some strides that finally saw it to drop down a short fall to #2. And according to many, the social inequities are dizzying, some even reporting that these grand architectural feats are accomplished by routinely exploiting migrant workers from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and other subcontinent countries...
The accounts of Dubai are starkly contrasting. The tourists who love its beautiful beaches, vibrant nightlife, stunning architecture, adventure sports, extensive shopping and variety of dining options... The expats bragging that the quality of life is superb... The artists and performers who are so well taken care of there that they gladly return again and again... And the countless celebrities flocking to invest...
So what's the story?
Well, we plan to spend some time there. So we will engage with the local culture and see for ourselves... We will blog about our adventures in a land that's sure to be different than any we've ever traveled.
Curious? Stay tuned if you want to read about Dubai through our eyes. The food, the nightlife, the culture, and the expat scene... All that could prove to be fun, harrowing, confusing, inspiring, sobering (no pun intended), and truly revealing.
Dubai according to National Geographic...
This photo essay seems to well illustrate some of the contrasts and complexities of Dubai:
Photography by Maggie Steber