Occasional Remarks and Tall Tales
I had forgotten my compression socks, so by the time we were touching down my feet were distinctly elephantine. As I hobbled from the cab to the hotel entrance we looked up at the Burj Khalifa which dwarfs everything in Dubai. This is saying something, because this desert city is a high-rise architects wet dream. You can’t help but notice it’s gigantic presence in an already monstrous city. The Khalifa strikes me as a category of madness – an arrogant, priapic and fundamentally ugly building that says drive a plane into me. The Burj Al Arab on the other hand is a beautiful building looking like a sharks egg with it’s blunt end thrust into the shallows of the Persian Gulf.
Ensconced in our enormous suite we stare out of a window taking up an entire wall. We thought we had booked a moderately priced hotel befitting our budget but here, this beautifully appointed luxury, is what passes for 4-star accommodation. We had a view of the Damac building to the left, the Burj Al Arab to the right and in front the giant Dubai Mall with the Burj Kalifa phallus precariously tumescent above. We venture out to have a look around this famous Mall, a shuttle stop away. One could walk their easily but for the massive freeway that intersects the city, and the crushing heat.
The shuttle station is close by. At first glance it looks like the Starship Enterprise spilling tourists and expat workers onto the mile long suspended walkway like M & M’s from a confectionery dispenser. So long is this corridor to the marvel of merchandising that moving foot-ways are provided for our convenience.
Once again we are assailed by the omniscient presence of the eight hundred metre high Burj Kalifa. Below us in the blistering heat are armies of brown skinned men in hard hats dragging up from its foundations what is clearly going to be another unimaginable skyscraper.
The Mall is a garish, glittering prism of wealth and ostentation comprising of shops filled with overpriced goods of dubious origins. on the middle floor a miniature ocean acts as a distraction from the industrial scale shopping experience. The aquarium weaves around the building and for the price of a Hermes knockoff you can enter this Piscine temple and get up close and personal with a Goliath Grouper. We demure as the view is sufficient from the outside.
In what is described as the Kasbah on the ground level, elegant and imperious ladies dressed expensively head to toe in silky black chador, their classy Italian shoes peaking from beneath, hunt for gold. Gold is everything to the Arabian lady, and man for that matter, a symbol of wealth and influence . Diamonds are not cherished as they are in the west. These are the wealthy womenfolk of the Sultanate and Sheiks. Jewellery shops line both sides of this level interrupted by the occasional carpet seller. Here, the ATM’s dispense small gold bars along with the cash if you so desire and desire is what Dubai is all about.
We were told in Granada, while strolling in the gorgeous gardens of Alhambra that in keeping with Muslim tradition the exterior of the citadel was deliberately made with dark stone so that the common people were not offended by the Sultan’s ostentation. It occurred to me that perhaps something was lost in the translation of the precept when the glittering excesses were envisaged for this Sultanate.
Back at the hotel we enter the elevator later in the day, in search of food and cold drinks. We encounter a white robed and turbaned man of haughty presence who questions a Pakistani porter as to why he might be using the guest lift instead of the service one. The diminutive porter is obliged to explain himself to the effect that the service lift is out of order. The persnickety Arab is only marginally appeased and with a graceless sigh returns to his iPhone.
Seventy one percent of the population is comprised of Sri Lankan, Pakistani, Indian, Filipino and Bangladeshi and more. These men and women are provided by lucrative and morally bankrupt agencies for servitude to the wealthy UAE Arabians and expatriate westerners.
UAE citizens are recipients of the wealth that turns black gold into hard cash. All the locals are in receipt of free water (a rather scarce resource in a desert), electricity, health and social security. The expat workers are marooned in hovels out of sight in another city a few miles into the desert. They are transported into Dubai en masse every morning. They are delivered to the construction sites, the hotels, the fast food outlets, the mansions to polish the gold, to clean the streets, titivate the immaculate gardens and sweep the ever encroaching sand from the stoops of the palais des riches.
They work as slaves for a pittance for far too many hours. Exhausted, they are shunted back to their spare domiciles to sleep twelve a breast in small dank rooms with aching bellies. They weep silent, bitter tears for the broken hearts of those they have left behind in faraway places. And yet, of the few smiles we encounter in this desert, theirs are the brightest.