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16 October, 2005

Sky high Dubai

This month's Storycake award goes to the LA Times, for a superb article describing the sandlands as "a zany boomtown afloat in plastic fantasy, unbridled ambition and rivers of cold cash":

"Today's freewheeling Dubai is a bewildering stew of nationalities, a place where natives make up less than 20% of the population of about a million. It's also a place where politics is seldom spoken of — people are much too busy amassing cash and spending it as flamboyantly as possible.

"Misgivings rumble into the conversation sometimes. People wonder whether the go-go economy has enough real stuff underpinning it to sustain itself, or whether the real estate bubble will pop. Human rights groups have accused developers of exploiting thousands of foreign men who come from countries such as India and Pakistan to toil in the hot sun for about $200 a month."

Very nicely seasoned. A generous dash of sympathy for workers, a good dollop of cliches - "once-sleepy port of pearl traders and pirates", and a liberal sprinkling of traffic - "the Porsches and Jaguars and Ferraris are jostling and crawling along Sheik Zayed Road". And for a wonderful cherry on top:

"Lurching through the liquid turquoise of the gulf, hulking ships power-spray great arcs of sand, pounding it tight enough to make the man-made islands."



Anonymous Anonymous said...


Megan K. Stack's article in the LA Times is quite balanced and reasonable. A fairly lucid precis of the situation, reflecting different points of view - of the optimists vs. the skeptics...

By the way, how about using your blog to raise some contributions for the victims of the recent earthquake. The Government of Pakistan is accepting tents, medicines, blankets, warm clothing etc at the Pakistani consulate in Dubai as well as the Embassy in Abu Dhabi. Tens of thousands of kids are dead and hundreds of thousands of people are injured. The compassionate amongst us should help out in this time of need regardless of our nationality, religion, race etc.

16 October, 2005 18:03  
Blogger Mubeena Mohammed said...

Hai Hai Dubai!

Media sensationalism goes where it wants to with extremes to emphasize the point. In this article, the media point as always has been to plant subliminal messages about people, places, and things that are not of their own. "Us" vs "Them" is the basic criteria for churning out a piece qualified to be published for public readership/viewership.

Even though the journalist may be correct so to speak, there are convenient references to "Them", people and place alien to Americanism.

I guess my point is that journalism utilizes one formula the world over: highlight extreme cases to give the reader the impression that these incidences happen all over the place, like its an everyday affair.. instill fear in the reader/viewer and gain blind customer loyalty as a result.

On a personal note.. my heart does burn thinking about people not being paid for months when they trust their employers to, and toil under the brutal sun every day. All this construction we see can literally be attributed to their blood, sweat, and tears.

anon, I am with you on the donation drive for Pakistan's quake victims. No wonder the common man complains about there being no God because of the 'evil' that WE let happen. If we do something to fight evil, then just maybe people wouldn't be so weak in faith.

16 October, 2005 18:58  
Blogger secretdubai said...

Anonymous@18:03 - I actually like the article a lot. It's one of the best written I've seen - very quirky, descriptive - I genuinely love that last line: "Lurching through the liquid turquoise", I'm very envious I haven't written stuff like that.

For me the best is still Lynn Barber's (try Googling it - you may have to view the cache of it) - the "deluxe sandpit" one. Not because it's negative, but because it's very well-written, very funny, and very, very well-researched.

16 October, 2005 20:18  
Blogger secretdubai said...

how about using your blog to raise some contributions

It's not really a role that I feel this blog has, but that kind of awareness raising is very welcome on UAE community blog, and in fact there have been a few posts there about it.

If you would like anything specific mentioned on there about the famine, do email me [my username here] at gmail, and I can create an entry.

16 October, 2005 20:21  
Blogger John B. Chilton said...

Other US papers have printed the LA Times story under a variety of headlines:

In Dubai, entrepreneurs have odd ideas about tourism - The Boston Globe

Zany, oil-fueled Dubai blasts into the future :: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

16 October, 2005 20:29  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's so fun to see Dubai's blip appearing regularly on America's radar. I saw a mention in our little's town's newspaper this summer describe the Burj as "Versace on acid". Yeah - they know who/where we are!

16 October, 2005 21:16  
Blogger _sublime_ said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

16 October, 2005 21:51  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Versace on acid"
16 October, 2005 21:16

Haha..I like that! Though I think Dubai would better be described as Dali on acid - super surreal.

16 October, 2005 22:35  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the Lynn Barber piece can be accessed here - I remember it caused quite a 'stir' when it was published ... and now the site has been blocked by etisalat.,6903,1334581,00.html+lynn+barber+dubai&hl=en

16 October, 2005 23:37  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You will love it, especially the '30%' bit.

17 October, 2005 01:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

17 October, 2005 01:03  
Blogger secretdubai said...

There you go - a clickable version! (I think Anons may not be able to post URLs clickably - some weird restriction).

I actually wrote about that a while back but did it as cautiously as possible.

I didn't even dare quote the absolute best, best line, it starts: "Naïve tourists..." as I feared it might be a bit close to the line. (So please don't post it for me - I'll only have to delete!)

17 October, 2005 01:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"For me the best is still Lynn Barber's (try Googling it - you may have to view the cache of it) -the "deluxe sandpit" one"

Thanks SD, I managed to read both the articles you mention above. Most interesting indeed. FT has been running articles on Dubai every now and then as well.

On the matter of earthquake - thanks for the input on the community blog.By the way it's not per se a famine, but a devastating and disastrous earthquake.


17 October, 2005 03:39  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there. Congratulations on your blog, I am a fan and read it every day.
I have been an expat for about 20 years, living in countries as different as Morocco, Italy or the US. I am about to relocate and open a business in Dubai; I know no society is perfect, but the reading of everybody's comments ultimately raises a question to my mind: Are you guys living in DXB happy to be there? would you recommend it to your friends? I know old times always seem better, but are the changes happening to the city also changing drastically your lifestyle?
I have also read posts on "privileged" -or not- expats, but when in Dubai, from what level of income up are you considered to be having it easy?

17 October, 2005 12:51  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That all depends of course on your personal definition of 'having it easy.' In my opinion, having it easy means I am able to save money. Here in Dubai I am saving money. My rent is currently 10% of salary, which is excellent. However, my rent is about to increase by 18%, so that will change a bit. As long as I keep that perecentage from growing too much more, I am doing well. So, as rent will be your highest expense, I think you need to think about it in terms of percentages. We all have different defintions of happiness and 'having it easy.' I personally think a place is what you make it. Overall, I'd say I am happy in Dubai and I am one of these whiners!

17 October, 2005 15:02  
Blogger _sublime_ said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

17 October, 2005 15:43  
Blogger secretdubai said...

Are you guys living in DXB happy to be there? would you recommend it to your friends? I know old times always seem better, but are the changes happening to the city also changing drastically your lifestyle?

I have to honestly admit that I am not as happy here as I was two-three years ago. Salaries have obvoiusly plummeted because of rising living costs and the desperately weak dollar, but money isn't the issue for me - I'm not a sports cars/diamonds type person, and am privileged enough to have a western income and cheap enough cell to lurk in.

So why the reduction in happinness? Three things:

1. The endless construction and worsening traffic: quite apart from the physical obstacles it presents, it's really psychologically distressing. Living in an endless building site is truly horrid.

2. The sense of "tackiness" - for me, the pinnacle of this is Dubailand. I can appreciate why they are doing these mega projects, that there is a marketing strategy behind it, and a need to grow tourism. But so much that they are doing here seems ill-advised, overblown, ecologically catastrophic and just downright tacky. There were so many lovely beaches four years ago: now, there's just The Palm construction, dirtier water, less accessible coastline.

3. Growing realisation of desert - there's no countryside here. There are no hills, meadows, lush forests, rivers, lakes. There are some beautifully landscaped parts, but everything is artifically irrigated. If you want to take a dog for a walk there is really nowhere to go - they're banned from parks and the beach.

There are many more things that I rant about, but they're things I can put up with: un-freedom of speech, bureaucracy, discrimination, corruption, lack of rights. These are actually more important issues, so it might be seen as ironic or hypocritical that I can tolerate them.

It is the three (possibly less important) issues above that are probably going to hasten my departure.

17 October, 2005 16:13  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you folks for answering my question about happiness in Dubai. One matter which obviously comes back constantly is the cost of rent. Now, from afar and through the net, the only rentals you can find cost at least AED 75,000 per year (USD 1,700/month); Is this the present price reality, or are real estate brokers looking for the newly arrived suckers? SD, thanks for your opinion, my question did not only cover the financial aspect. Let's say that your departure from DXB would leave the UAE Blog scene a bit of...a desert.

17 October, 2005 16:40  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

75,000 dhs a year for rent is average, unfortunately. Thankfully, I am one of the few paying 36,000, but that's rare (and that's one bedroom)...MOST of my friends are paying closer to 75,000-100,000 for nice places. Dubai is more expensive than the US in most aspects (tech products, clothes, food, rent) but cheaper in other aspects (petrol, cars) and of course your salary is tax-free...although that tax-free thing has lost its shine too when you add up the other expenses.

Money aside, and I even agree with SD, I still like it here. Just two days ago I drove the beach and watched the sun go down. It was great sunset and it reminded me that this is still a nice place.

Plus, the sporting scene is excellent. Plenty of team sports for all. Health care has been good although it's not like I have a disease and have truly tested the docs here.

Once I have kids that are school-age, we will leave. The word on the street is that the school's you can afford are crap.

The construction thing is SD's most valid complaint. It is stressful, ugly, loud, annoying and never-ending.

17 October, 2005 17:14  
Blogger marwan said...

Interesting what some people consider 'average'. I pay over 50k for a relatively unreasonable neighbourhood. But if it ever went anywhere near 75k, buying a property would suddenly make sense.

Except, oh snap, no middle class person can afford to buy a property any more.

17 October, 2005 18:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

10 - 15 yrs ago DUBAI was the best place to live, not anymore. I would not recommend by friends or family.

Lived in Dubai for 19 yrs

17 October, 2005 21:31  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the last poster here, you say you would not recommend Dubai. Can you please explain why?

18 October, 2005 11:06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Early 90s were the best, defnitely!

18 October, 2005 14:16  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, anons can post clickable links. They have to use the html tags < a > and < / a >. Without the spaces of course.

Like so

19 October, 2005 01:27  

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