Dubai is the most contentious place that I’ve traveled to. I’ve met people who have been there and loved it, and others who say that they wouldn’t go there if they were given a free plane ticket. My take on it is this. Dubai exists, for better or for worse, and therefore it deserves to be seen. Further, it’s an excellent soft-core introduction to Arab culture. Having never been to Egypt I can’t say for sure, but I Imagine that it’s something like New York City crossed with Cairo. A sleek blend of an extremely modern lifestyle, blanketed all around by sand dunes. A place where it’s common to see underpaid migrant workers walking past cars worth more than the GDP of Nigeria. You might not like that such things happen, but refusing to look at the problems isn’t going to make them disappear either. In any case, this is why I liked Dubai, and this is why I believe that you should travel there too.
It’s a City That Shouldn’t Exist
Dubai has risen at the edge of two hostile environments. Behind the city is the desert, where the heat can reach 115 degrees in the summer. To the front is the Persian Gulf, a body of water saltier than a meal at McDonald’s. There’s nothing life-giving to hint at the populous city that Dubai has become. And yet there it is. The world’s tallest skyline, built on sand and poking into the rich sky. As if that’s not enough, they built a massive, octopus shaped island into the gulf. Pictures like this one due a horrible injustice to the actual scale of The Palm. It’s massive. And at the moment it’s nearly deserted. Few people have moved in and there’s no restrictions on where you can drive. I imagine that in the future the average person won’t have such a high level of access to one of the most grandiose pieces of real estate ever conceived.
The Locals Would Lose in a Riot
About 80% of Dubai’s population is made up of expats. Think about that when you blame your own country’s problems on foreigners. In Dubai, four out of five people were not born there. As you walk around, or take the metro, you’re exposed to a baffling number of ethnic groups and languages. I walked down to the Dubai docks and took this picture of East Asian workers just getting off their shift. Fascinating. Demonstrations and unions are illegal in Dubai, but imagine if every single underpaid worker got together and decided to strike. The city would be crippled. This is unlikely, but I believe that it’s interesting to visit a place with such a skewed population.
The Food Defies Expectations
Dubai has the best food of any city that I’ve visited. I knew in advance, before I left, that I would miss eating there. The array of restaurants caters to all taste buds. I ate meat with my hands, wiped plates of spicy rice clean, and left a large tip at a restaurant that only served dishes made out of eggs. The grocery stores had an exotic array of foods that I couldn’t identify, and satisfying prices on the ones that I could. I wish that I had bought more figs and brought them to Hanoi with me.
Still Not Convinced?
Some very smart people have said that Dubai will not exist in fifty years. Are they right? Who knows, but it does seem reasonable to assume that Dubai won’t exist, in fifty years, in all the same glory. Today it’s home to the super car, the helicopter executive, and the world’s tallest building. That, combined with its audacity, topped with the food, makes it a city worth visiting. You’ll also be able to get an idea of what it’s like to visit an Arab country. If you like it, you can go full-out and visit a place like Saudi Arabia. If not, well there’s always Southeast Asia..