Saturday, October 13, 2012


The Road Less Travelled does not go through Dubai.

Dubai? Do buy.

This is a place for making money and for spending it excessively. Go into a shop in one of the gigantic air-conditioned malls and the first thing the Filipina assistant will ask you is, "Which brand are you looking for, sir?"

"Well, actually I was looking for a good quality linen shirt. Preferably one that doesn't have some damn logo on the front."

Blank look.

"But which brand, sir?"

If you're like me and retail therapy does nothing for you, don't expect your jaded spirit to be revived here. This is a city for consumers.

As it is now
It is also a city with a huge immigrant workforce. Ninety per cent of the people who live here are ex pats, and over seventy per cent of those are from the Indian sub-continent - mainly working in the construction industry or driving taxis. For the Western ex pats, life is generally good, with high income-tax-free salaries. But there is a definite racial pecking-order. Remuneration policies reflect this, and if you have dark skin you might have trouble getting into some of the more upmarket nightclubs.

Conditions for some workers here are grim. Over the last few years the statistics show around 900 Indians a year die on construction sites building the Dubai Dream. It has been estimated recently that perhaps 20% of the world's cranes are in Dubai: in spite of the hiccup in 2007-8, the building madness has hardly paused. The epitome of this is the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest man-made structure on the planet. This place fosters excess and the flouting of achievement.

Coming soon to a shopping mall near you
Glass, concrete and steel dominate the landscape. Huge SUVs and sports cars cruise the busy highways. On the vacant lots and at the city's perimeters the desert encroaches stealthily; but saving its main assault for the day when the economics of energy and globalisation move their focus away from the Middle East.

When that time comes, the non-indigenous population will evaporate like oil fumes in a cracking tower. The huge skyscapers will empty, the malls will assume a less imposing and more post-apocalyptic look; and carried by the heated desert winds the sand will finally reclaim its own.


  1. I've watched Dubai with some curiosity over the years - it has always had less oil reserves than most of its neighbours and, unlike most of its neighbours, it has tried to diversify early, albeit it into tourism and consumerism.

    Interesting times are ahead - no doubt the world economy will pick up before the oil wells in that part of the world start to splutter. I suspect jealous eyes from nations who have relied purely on oil will turn towards Dubai and they will not be happy...

  2. Thanks for the comment John.

    You're right: oil and gas is only a very small proportion of Dubai's revenues (round about 5% if I remember rightly). That's why the 2007-8 crisis hit them so hard - property, trade and tourism all suffered badly. But the Emirate has bounced back, and I can now report that the Tower of Babel is back in full swing.

    Watch this space ...

  3. I can smell the air conditioning and new car aromas from here ;)

    1. Neither of which satisfactorily replaces the smell of sizzling bacon or cheap alcohol ... ;-)