Dubai is super hot and very dusty. The combination of the hot sun, dry desert air, and constant construction dust give the place an overall ‘whiteout’ look. You can tell the sky is blue somewhere straight up, but anywhere near the horizon it just looks like a gray, hot haze.
Dubai has become one of the world’s fastest growing cities over the last thirty years. In fact it’s already tripled in size. Since the discovery of oil here in 1966, the city took off on one of the fastest growing spurts in history. Its oil reserves are actually quite modest, but this ground breaking, industrious city used the quick oil wealth as a springboard to create a market for tourism, real estate, trade, and manufacturing. It’s over-the-top style, ‘in your face’ wealth, and larger-than-life playground for the rich puts it in a class on its own. Five-Star beach resort hotels, year round sunshine, and dozens of modern, humongous, open ‘til-midnight shopping malls keep the tourists coming. Also the incentive packages for employees—including free homes and cars, plus NO taxation, and, of course, rock bottom gas prices—keeps the expats moving in.
This completely new urban landscape rises out of the dry desert with what appears to be hundreds of skyscrapers and dozens upon dozens more currently under construction. They claim that right now Dubai is home to one quarter of the world’s building cranes—and I believe it. This modern city is also home to the world’s tallest hotel, the iconic sail-shaped Burj Al Arab (Arabian Tower), which has proclaimed itself the world’s only 7-Star hotel.
This 1,000-foot-tall hotel (taller than the Eiffel Tower) has become the symbol of the city and sits on a man-made island just off the main beach strip of Jumeirah. The all-suite hotel has 202 duplex suites, starting at nearly $2000 a night, each with floor to ceiling windows giving you a breathtaking view of the city and sea. Well, we didn’t actually get to see this view because when we approached the gate of the hotel we were turned away because we were Jews.*
*Just kidding. We were really turned away because we didn’t have ‘reservations.’ No non-guest can enter the hotel at all without a dinner or bar reservation and those need to be made weeks in advance, of course. Oh, and no blue jeans… that’s what I meant ‘no jeans,’ not ‘no Jews.’ We were out on the street.
Another superlative in the dreamland that is Dubai — the new “Burj Dubai” (Dubai Tower) is going up right now. Yep, you guessed it—when it’s complete it will be the world’s tallest building. And in it? The first ever Armani Hotel. At 160 stories, this modern, sleek needle tower will be twice the height of New York’s Empire State building. Riding down the main drag, Sheikh Zayed Road, we found it hard to miss because it was already towering over tall, wildly-designed buildings on all sides… and it’s only half built. Oh, and, of course, it will have the world’s fastest elevators rocketing up to the observatory decks at 40 mph.
Also coming soon to a Dubai near you—the first ever underwater hotel. Hydropolis will be a complete ‘submarine’ getaway for you to lay your head… or drown while sleeping if there are ever any major leaks. Sweet dreams under the sea.
You may have already heard of these man-made island developments happening just off the shores of Dubai. The Palms are three man-made islands groups resembling palm trees.
And “The World” is exactly that—a group of man-made islands representing the globe so you can buy the ‘country’ of your choice. Prices for the islands range from $15 million to $45 million. In fact, there are rumors that British celebrities Rod Stewart and David Beckham have bought into this project, but neither of these have been confirmed. However, Becks already owns a villa on the nearby Palm Jumeirah development. And, just recently, rocker Tommy Lee announced that he was buying the Greece Island for ex-wife Pamela Anderson. How sweet. Now they can run around naked on their very own island and film videos of the whole thing. All these crazy dreamlands are made of sand dredged from the ocean floor.
It seems here in Dubai that neither the sky nor the sea is the “limit.” It’s 100 degrees outside and you want to cool off? Pop over to “Ski Dubai” the huge indoor ski resort at the Mall of the Emirates. Leave it to Dubai, to build a ski resort in the desert. I think Vegas needs a ski resort about now, don’t you?
It’s hard to miss all the consumerism going on around me here. Abaya-cloaked women stroll up and down the mall corridors with bags from DKNY and Tiffany. Sitting in Dubai traffic (urban planning seems to be an afterthought in “the world’s tallest this” and “the world’s biggest that” city), it’s hard to miss the huge Hummers lumbering past.
As a wealthy nation, the UAE enjoys some great benefits—free healthcare, free education, and even a marriage fund. Overall, the city is more expensive than many other places I’ve been on my trip and seems to hold par with prices in many big American cities. A stay in one of the resorts can set you back at least a couple hundred a night. Budget lodging is pretty tough to find, and without any real efficient public transportation (a Metrorail is currently under construction, like everything else), taxi cabs add up when you have to ride all the way across the spread out town just for dinner.
We spent $5 for a small bottle of water at The One&Only Mirage Resort where we spent the day lounging at the amazing pool and fabulously landscaped and lighted grounds. And then I bought a 1.5 liter bottle of water at the Deira neighborhood grocery for about 25 cents.
The big kicker? One amazing incentive to living here is there are virtually no taxes whatsoever—no income tax, no sales tax, no capital gains tax, and no property tax. That makes living in this desert oasis a much more viable option.
Of the 1.4 million people in Dubai only 10% are Emirates. The other 90% are actually expatriates—Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Lebanese, British, and other Europeans—who make up a good part of the workforce. And many of them are here working in construction. Dubai looks like a utopia, but underneath the surface there are, of course, some dark spots. From what I’ve heard, there are thousands of construction jobs for the taking, but the working conditions are quite poor. It sounds like there’s been some improvement, but just working outside in this heat alone seems unbearable.
Also, it’s been said that a lot of September 11th money may have flown through here apparently unbeknownst to the government. There is no question that the UAE may have a mixed record on terrorism. But they have been our ally and cooperative in other respects.
Do you know Dubai?
Islam is the official religion of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. Non-Muslims are not allowed into most mosques. We even saw a store display of copies of the Koran with a big sign saying “Non-Muslims are not allowed to handle the Koran.” Muslims pray five times a day: at dawn, around noon, when the sun is in the position that makes the shadow of an object equal to the length of the object, at the start of sunset, and finally, at twilight, when the last drop of sun disappears over the horizon. Also, Muslims don’t need to be in a Mosque to pray, they just need to face Mecca, so they will just stop whatever they’re doing, wherever they are, and pray. All public buildings—airports, libraries, shopping malls—have prayer rooms.
In Islam, it is forbidden to eat pork and also to drink alcohol, therefore, alcohol is only sold at hotel restaurants. No other restaurants serve any alcohol whatsoever. You can NOT purchase alcohol from any store or supermarket unless you have an official “alcohol license.” Only non-Muslims can be issued this license by the police department. For a tourist, this makes vacationing here even more expensive—when you want a drink you have to go to an expensive hotel bar or restaurant because there is no such thing as a “cheap beer” here. In line with this, any kind of drunk driving is forbidden—it is completely a zero tolerance policy—you are not allowed to drive with ANY quantity of alcohol in your system. If you drink and drive and are caught, you will go to jail.
There is still no direct service mail delivery as of yet in Dubai (read—no mailmen). All residents must have their mail delivered to a Post Office Box.
Government (see also Religion):
In each Emirate (state) of the UAE, the power rests firmly in the hands of a ruling Muslim tribe. In Dubai the Maktoom family is in charge. There are no political parties or elections.