After two years of getting to know Dubai from the inside out, I have finally moved on with mixed emotions and a perspective that I feel most people may never get to truly appreciate. I offer you 7 lesser-known reasons why Dubai is truly a great place, whether you believe it or not.
Blood-Orange Saturated Sunsets
Come to Dubai if you want to see a giant blood-orange sun dipping into the Arabian gulf. For that miraculous moment, witness an interplay of rich magentas and oranges bring time to a standstill in the thick and quiet air which only defers to a polyphony of adhans, the Islamic call to prayer that will impregnate the heavy air. To some it is a religious experience. For anyone else, it is a matter of reflecting on how the sultry aura of the gulf will make your spirit feel. It can be. incredibly. relaxing.
If you watch the scene unfold from the elevated platform of Dubai’s Metro, then you are in essence watching a high-definition movie unfold horizontally, across the long, dramatic residential stretch of Jumeirah, the home of endless Arabesque villas, and marbled minarets jutting into the sky as far as the eye can see.
The sun setting over Iran. The moon in queue. The prayers filling the sky. The gulf has a surreal beauty to it that will constantly remind you that you are not even close to home.
Gliding by with The World’s Longest Unmanned Metro System
I don’t want to know what Dubai was like before the metro, but life post-Dubai metro simply makes too much sense.
Where else can you ride in the gold class section of a wifi-equiped, driver-less metro that always comes on time for around $2-5? In Dubai you float through gleaming metro stations, swiping magnetic cards that blip and bleep.
That’s really it, in fact. In Dubai you blip and you bleep from place to place, with settings that change as if you had a remote control in some techno futurist movie.
To me all the polished marble floors, airy dishdashas, and exhalted living standards for the fortunate are like a constant reminder that in Dubai, somehow, you are allowed to glide through life, never once being encumbered by washing a dish, throwing away your tray at the food court, or serving your own coffee in your place of work (if you’re really fortunate).
While many of Dubai’s biggest detractors would want to associate the city with some illusionist Disneyland at this juncture, I must dissent by suggesting that this type of Dubai I am now referring to is more semblant of a luxury spa than it is an amusement park. And I really enjoy spas. And just like all spas, there should be a beginning and an end to it, by the way. Which brings up:
The Months of November through April
Don’t worry about what happens during the other months not mentioned above. If you play your cards right in Dubai, you won’t have to be there for a large part of the year, anyway.
Or, just go to the airport and take a quick 3-hour flight to the Seychelles, or Istanbul, or Tunisia, or Beirut, or Nepal. It’s all equi-distant and all equally fascinating.
But no, really. The reason why I was immediately seduced by Dubai is because I landed in January, a month that is meteorologically perfect: just think balmy zephyrs playing against your linen pants on the beach.
Because Dubai is so horizontal, it is not difficult to find an isolated stretch of beach that you can enjoy with a friend or loved one without fear of being bothered. Also I hear that shisha smoking and good weather also go well together.
The Crime Novel Atmosphere of Dubai’s true old town: Deira
Deira, although sounding like someplace other than Dubai, is actually the 1800′s era birthplace of the city, a place that to me harmoniously balances its old trade route history with the 1970′s vibe that never quite left.
It is what to many others might actually resemble a “real” city, with sidewalks and your typical urban chaos one is to expect from an arab metropolis.
Dubai is really perched on the edge of both the Arab World and modernity: thus making it a venue for seedy Russian fur coat vendors to visually mingle with Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Sudanese, Yemeni and assertive Nigerian business women checking their shopping lists of electronic wholesale items. Everything seems to be entering and exiting at once in what is a pretty specific feeling. Try it while buzzing on some turkish coffee, and maybe you’ll be inspired to write a mystery crime novel featuring shady russian oligarchs and spies. No wonder a part of the latest Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol movie was filmed in Deira.
Most of all I enjoy Deira — the forgotten heart and soul of Dubai -because it is secretly an extension of India. And just when you start thinking that too much, you’ll end up on Murraqabat street and walk past an assortment of Arab restaurants: from Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Iran, Palestine and Syria.
Walk a bit further down to the tip of Deira, where the creek meets the Arabian gulf, and you’ll be in the midst of antique vessels, denizens of the Indian ocean, still packed to the brim with odd cargo being transported by sun-dried, shirtless sailors who just lay on their boats all day long as if they were lazy cats.
In case anyone is wondering, Dubai provides very little transition between the modern part and its older parts — which can be a fun thing, since Dubai is blippy and bleepy, and you can just change the channels with your Dubai metro remote control.
Dubai is an open access city of entrepreneurs, dreamers and optimists, and lovers of knowledge
Non-existent taxes, economic freezones that make incorporation a snap, under-developed markets, and a relatively lax bureacracy when compared to other parts of the world, means that Dubai is a place where anyone can land and practically start doing business.
At the risk of over-romanticizing the chances of success in Dubai, I must caution that just because it will seem very easy to reach the CEO of a huge company by his or her office phone, that doesn’t means that it’s so easy to close a deal.
Still, anyone with a bit of brains in Dubai tends to be highly welcomed and supported in some way, inevitably. It has a lot to do with the respect. When I was an English teacher, for example, my adult students would often invite me to the poshest cafes just to have conversation and casually tell their friends (via BB messenger, of course) that they were hanging out with their English “mu’allam”.
I’ve been gone for almost 4 months now and am still shocked every time I receive an inquiry for my services, which happens about once every 10 days. While I cannot speak for all industries, I offer myself as evidence that in the fields of education, marketing and communication — Dubai is still a very fertile place that wants to raise and support talent.
Courteous police force
I can only speak to Emirati courtesy within the police force as a privileged male, Arab-American. However, I have to say that police in the United States make law enforcers in the Emirates seem like hotel concierges. I remember I was once summoned to a police station because a cousin of mine had a business dispute over some money. The whole matter was settled inside the coronel’s office, over cardamom coffee.
This may sound like a small thing, but when it comes to police matters, it is those small touches of respect and hospitality that make the difference between sanity and rage. I love the fact that the conservative values of Emirati society translate into an outward display of courtesy toward strangers.
Credit is based on your employment record in the UAE, not on your financial past in the West
What some people find asphyxiating about Dubai — the omnipresent surveillance and monitoring — I find to be an opportunity. Because the UAE is so small and it does business with so many people who come in and out the emirate, it was forced over time to develop increasingly sophisticated safeguards minimizing the amount of fraud and theft being perpetated by those viewing the oil rich state as a quick, fly by night location for a heist. And to this day, you still hear about many con artists who develop elaborate plans for sneaking out of the country with millions of dollars.
What we end up with, in the end, is a stable marketplace, full of severe penalties meant to stem the tide of crime. Credit flows easier in this environment as the penalties are stiffer, which also forces regular folks to use their brain more when making important financial decisions. While defaults and bankruptcies have been a growing problem across the UAE, credit will never quite attain such a level mockery as it has in the United States.
Thus good lines of credit are simply another tool that will allow the entrepreneur and dreamer to set roots in this economically fertile soil.
Dubai is a place to reinvent yourself, lay the groundwork for plans that people in large, Western cities could only dream of, and to feel like you’re floating on top a cloud of surrealism which will have you pinching yourself day after day. I highly encourage those with big dreams to seek out the gulf as a place to make something of yourself. Life is too short to wait in line with the people who are better connected than you in the West. You can do something great now if you are willing to leave your comfort zone and play by a different set of rules.
Of course, this is not to say that Dubai isn’t loaded with negative aspects you will be dealing with. But, as Sultan Al Qassemi, the chief captain of UAE’s twitterati once argued, what place isn’t?