This is the first in a series of repeated posts (e.g. published elsewhere before) from outside of China, detailing the start of my expatriate life. There will always be a post a day about China so if you’re not interested in other material – you can stop reading now. 🙂
Dubai is Disneyland for adults, a brand new plastic fantastic city in the desert, still growing up and up and up, it has the world’s tallest hotel and the world’s tallest building both strangely called The Burj even though they are miles apart and owned by different folks.
It’s hot and really humid, I landed at 3.30 in the morning on an August day, it was a measly 38 centigrade and 70% humidity and like an absolute idiot I was wearing leather jeans. I thought I was going to die before I made the comforting air-conditioned interior of the airport. The next day the thermometer in the taxi I took downtown topped 55 centigrade and it was still humid!
Summers are hell, but the good news is everything is air-conditioned to the point of freezing, and speaking of freezing inside the world’s “largest mall outside of America” you can see them throw away millions of pounds worth of energy a day on the world’s only snow covered indoor ski slope in a desert.
Winters are great though (there’s no real spring or autumn to speak of just 4 months of winter and 8 months of summer) and it’s great to sit outside at night with a few beers and watch the world go round.
Dubai makes you feel like you’ve joined an elite club when you arrive. In the UK, my girlfriend and I struggled to make ends meet, suffered from debt problems, and barely went out more than once or twice a month.
3 Weeks after my arrival in Dubai I went to the Ritz-Carlton and sipped champagne on the beach while eating foie-gras and caviar… this is a typical Dubai weekend, someone else said it first (though I don’t remember who) but you know you are tired of Dubai when you find yourself drinking free champagne and start bitching about the quality of it.
When you first get there it’s overwhelming, there’s so many wonderful man made things to see, Ibn Battuta mall (themed as 6 different countries inside, an interactive exhibition of Islamic science and travel running all the way through, and an innovative ceiling that makes you feel like you are wondering about outside), the Burj Al Arab (the world’s only 7 star hotel, at least that’s what the blurb says) where you can take a submarine to a restaurant, or if you can meet the measly $5,000 a night price tag for a room you can have a private butler and a menu of pillows to choose from… and so on.
And if the high-life isn’t there, then there’s always Dolce & Karama (well just Karama really) to go and buy fake designer stuff at minuscule prices. And don’t be fooled most of it is not the usual crap fakes, nip into buy your CK jeans and they are tailored to fit, all for less than 20 quid. Or a ride across the creek on a traditional Abra (small boat thing) for 20 pence, a price which hadn’t changed in 20 years, though it has recently gone up to 40 pence… stop in at the Spice Souq to be assaulted by a million aromas of stuff that looks great but you have no idea what to do with in the Kitchen.
Or the textile souk, where I often bought my shirts when I first arrived for less than a pound each, I was pretty skint when I got here…
And there’s nightlife a plenty, from Trilogy which may be the world’s poshest nightclub, or 360 which is a circular night club floating on the sea just below the Burj Al Arab (seeing the drunk British girls make fools of themselves here reminds you of why you are glad you left home), to the sleazy Phillipino rock covers bands in hotels like the Majestic (my spiritual home in Dubai).
And you never have to be lonely, the ladies of the night come from every corner of the globe to keep you company, and often for less than the price of a bottle of wine in Dubai.
And that’s the trouble, as nice as Dubai is, everything and everyone is for sale. The vast majority of expats are on their first assignment overseas and are running away from something and towards an indefinable something else. There’s no sense of community or togetherness like there is in other expat destinations, you’ll make a few friends, drink a few beers, but they’ll be gone tomorrow and they’ll have forgotten you.
I’m lucky not only did I meet my wife in Dubai, but I formed some wonderful long-lasting friendships, but most don’t and leave feeling cheated. Because underneath all the glitz and razzmatazz, Dubai has no soul.