Sunday, September 02, 2007

In defence of Dubai

Patrix sent me a link to an article from 'Escape from America' titled "The top 20 reasons not to move to Dubai". With a title like that you can expect an impassioned, biased diatribe and the author doesn't disappoint.

"There are so many things wrong with this place that I have decided to compile a list, a must read if you are considering a potential move to Dubai."

Some of the reasons she lists are laughable, some questionable, and some, well, have a modicum of truth. But I don't think these are reasons 'not to move to Dubai'. Having lived here for a little over 2 years, I don't consider myself an expert on the place. But since this is my adopted home (for now), and since I really do like it, I'm going to challenge some of these reasons.

(I'm just picking sentences from the long rant on each reason. If you want to read the entire article, click on the link above.)

1. There is no standard address system making mail-to-the door delivery impossible. In fact, it makes anything nearly impossible...

There is an efficient address system, which unfortunately isn't promoted as well as it should be. Every street has a sign with a community number and street number displayed on it and there's a number on every building/villa. I've been asked for these details when calling for a taxi, and having supplied them, I've not had a problem at all. I'll admit though that it's not a popular system, and most often one still ends up giving directions of the 'take-first-left-and-then-right-at-petrol-pump' variety.

2. The government blocks all web sites that it deems “offensive” to the “religious, moral, and cultural values” of the UAE. That’s hard to swallow for a freedom loving American, but I get it...

This freedom loving Indian still doesn't get it. I've blogged about this here. It still strikes me as plain unnecessary and Big Brotherly.

I do not understand, however, why all VOIP access and related web sites are blocked.... The government says VOIP is blocked for security reasons...

I haven't followed the VOIP debate, but from what I've heard, the reasons are not so much national interest as economic interests. More specifically, Etisalat's economic interest.

3. It is really hot outside...

Is this even a reason? It's a desert, for crying out loud. What were you expecting?

In the last two years I've been here, I've found people generate more sweat anticipating the summer and griping about it, than they actually spend time in the sun. I'll tell you what's infinitely worse than the heat and humidity. And that's the darned air-conditioning. It's actually quite easy to forget that you live in a desert because of near-freezing conditions everywhere - buildings, malls, cars, even corridors. In an attempt to apologise for the weather, air-conditioners are cranked up to the max everywhere, ironically generating more heat outside. Ever tried walking from a sub-artic mall into a stifling carpark and you'll know what I mean. It ought to rate as a health hazard in my opinion! The only ones to feel the real brunt of summer are the labourers working outside on construction sites, and you don't hear them complaining, do you?

4. There are too few trees, plants, and grass – or living things aside from us crazy humans, for that matter...

It's true. But like I said before, it's a desert. Expecting a rainforest in the middle of the place is a bit unrealistic. There's a certain starkness which one learns to appreciate. If you really want to see greenery, try the oases of Al Ain, try the soothing calm of Zabeel Park, try the expanses of Mamzar Park. Just step off the beaten Sheikh Zayed/Jumeirah road, and you might be surprised.

5. This country prides itself so much on its glitz and glamour that it put a picture of its 7-star hotel on the license plate....

For the record, it doesn't happen anymore.

...Yet, the public toilets in the king-of-bling Gold Souk district are holes in the ground with no toilet paper or soap.

I haven't been to the toilets in the Gold Souk, but most of the public toilets I've been to in malls and buildings (and I've been to a few. Remember the powerful ACs I mentioned above?) are extremely clean and well-maintained. It's unfair to judge toilets all over the UAE by an experience in the the toilets in Gold Souk.

6. This country encourages businesses to hire people from other poor countries to come here and work. They have them sign contracts that are a decade long and then take their passports....

They live crammed in portables with tons of others, in highly unsanitary conditions... Things are so bad that a number of laborers are willing to throw themselves in front of cars because their death would bring their family affluence in the form of diya, blood money paid to the victim’s family as mandated by the government...

Exploitation is rampant. And although there are noises made from time to time about improving the workers' lot, one gets the feeling that it isn't enough to correct the problem. It's a sad life for a labourer, but will not living in Dubai change this problem? I don't know.

7. Things are not cheaper here. I’m sick of people saying that. The only thing cheaper here is labor. Yes, you can have a maid – but a bag of washed lettuce will cost you almost $10.

The cost of living has gone up, for sure. I've heard of times when people could save up to 60% of their salary. Obviously, those times has passed. It's tough if you're a single earning member and have children to raise. Having said that, you only have to take one look at the groaning trolleys at the supermarket checkout queues or at the throngs in malls on any day of the week to figure out that people can obviously afford the lifestyle.

8. There are traffic cameras everywhere. I consider this cheating. Where are the damn cops?... Speeding even just a couple of kilometers over will get you fined....

There's enough rash driving, so I don't get the problem about 'traffic cameras everywhere'.

Forget to pay the bill and your car will be impounded....

Not true, unless you've done something stupid like jump a red light or drive on the hard shoulder.

9. The clothing some of these women wear makes no sense to me. I understand that as part of your religion you are required to dress in a particular way, but a black robe over your jeans and turtleneck and cover your head when it is 120 degrees outside?...

Live and let live, I say. And be thankful that you're not in Saudi Arabia where everyone has to wear a veil outside the residential compounds irrespective of their religion.

10. People stare at you. I’m stared at by men who have never seen a fair-skinned blue-eyed woman before, or who have and think we are all prostitutes so it’s okay to stare. They stare at me when I am fully covered or with my husband, and even follow me around.

Yes, there are men who will stare, and there's a fair bit of harassment on the public beaches. But, given my experience of Bombay, I find Dubai to be a much safer city for a woman. I've been able to walk down roads well past midnight and haven't been accosted. (It depends on the area too. I wouldn't go walking in areas I didn't feel comfortable in.) I've taken taxis home late at night, and sometimes I worry that I've let down my guard too much and taken safety for granted.

The staring is not limited to men, either. I’m stared at angrily by female prostitutes who think I am running in on their territory by having a few drinks with my husband at the bar.


11. Prostitutes? Oh hell yes, there are prostitutes. Tons of them. So, let me get this straight, I can’t look at a naked picture of a person on the Internet in the privacy of my home, but it is okay to go out in public and buy a few for the night?

Paradox, thy name is Dubai.

12. Alcohol can only be sold in hotels and a handful of private clubs. A person must own a liquor license to consume in the privacy of their own home....

This can be a serious bummer, I tell you. But then, there are ways around it... :)

13. Not only do you have to get your boss’s approval to obtain a liquor license, but you must also get the company’s approval to rent property, have a telephone, or get satellite TV.

Like there's no red tape in other places...

14. If I see one more kid standing up and waving to me out the back window while flying down the road at 160 kph…whatever happened to seatbelts?

This rant is beginning to run out of steam, don't you think?

15. When is the weekend again?... Anyway you slice it, Sundays are workdays and little business can be accomplished Thursday through Saturday.

It takes a while getting used to weekends on Friday and Saturday, and a work week beginning on Sunday, but a weekend starting on Thursday night - a whole day ahead of the rest of the world - is a joy beyond compare. Everything's a matter of perspective, I tell you.

16. There are few satellite television operators:. The movie channels play movies that are old and outdated.

Try the cinemas. Or video libraries. Heck, if nothing else, there's always 'Wang' - the goot carpy deeveedee (good copy DVD) guy around the corner.

The TV commercials are repeated so often that I am determined NOT to buy anything I see advertised on television here just for the principle of it.

No, please please don't do this. Unless you want to see me out of a job!

17. The roads are horribly designed. Driving ten minutes out of the way to make a U-turn is not uncommon... Miss it and you’ll likely end up on the other side of town before you are able to turn around and go back.

Heh. This reminds me of the time I drove halfway to Abu Dhabi before I could figure out the exit to Dubai. Like I said before, I know there's a method in the maze of roads. The exits are numbered, the direction signs are in place. Except that the RTA hasn't campaigned extensively to explain how it works.

18. Taxi drivers are dangerous and smell... Many of these drivers have just as much difficulty finding their way around as you do, but add to this a third-world country driving style and extreme exhaustion and, well, remember to buckle up for safety...

Well, you get all kinds. I've come across charming taxi drivers and cantankerous ones, silent ones and garrulous ones, those who'll pour out their woes, and those who'll attempt to counsel you about life in Dubai, especially if they find out you're a newbie. If smell is a problem, keep a tissue handy.

19. Speeding is an Emirati sport and Emirates Road is just an extension of the Dubai Autodrome.... Local nationals are somehow able to get the sun-protecting dark window tint denied to us lowly expats and use it to hide their faces as they tailgate you incessantly at unbelievably high speeds, their lights flickering on and off and horn blaring repeatedly.

The UAE has one of the higher road accident rates. Despite speed radars, heavy penalties and threats of deportation, the problems continue. To be honest, I've heard stories of bad drivers and bad driving more than I've experienced it. So, I'll just take this lady's word on it.

20. Dubai is far from environmentally friendly... Consider the waste that occurs from erecting buildings on top of these sand monsters and from the people that occupy them coupled with the lack of an effective recycling program and you have an environmental disaster on your hands. Add to this more gas guzzling SUVs than fuel-efficient cars on the road and the need for 24-hour powerful air-conditioning and its evident that the environment is not high on the priority list of the UAE.

Here's where I whole-heartedly agree with the author. I've been to a Recycling Centre on three occasions in the past month to drop off empty plastic bottles. And each time the machine's been out of order, and no one knows when it will be fixed. There are no convenient newspaper recycling centres, and you've got to really work hard if you want to be environmentally conscious. Especially when people scoff at your efforts.

So while I’m sure there are benefits to living in Dubai, tax breaks, multi-cultural environments, and beautiful buildings aside, reconsider your plans to move here if any of the above mentioned reasons strikes a chord within you.

Yes, please reconsider. There are already enough people who come here and whine endlessly and weigh down people who want to enjoy what the city has to offer, and figure out what they have to offer to the city.

Dubai is a city caught in an identity crisis. Struggling somewhere between its desire to be a playground for the rich and its adherence to traditional Islamic roots, rests a city that lacks sufficient infrastructure to support its delusions of grandeur. Visit if you must, but leave quickly before you are sucked into its calamitous void.



Patrix said...

Thanks for responding to the rant. I have visited Dubai albeit as a tourist way back in 2000 and did love it there...stayed with family who never once complained about the state of living although gripes about some racism was mentioned. But like you mention, if you decide to hate a place or overgeneralize over some trivial shortcomings, you are bound to find faults even in paradise.

Anonymous said...


SwB said...

You know Lee, to me living in the Middle East is like being invited to stay in a big grand palace for as long as you want. You see grandeour everywhere, but at the end of the day you know it's not yours - that you can never call it home.

I hated the childhood we had in Bahrain ... how I wish I could have finished school in Bombay. I I loved Holy Name and the Fort area. And now when I see how my younger cousins in Dubai have turned in a bunch of slobs, I know they have missed having a real childhood too.

Dubai and the M.East is fine as long as you're single ... I would never want to raise a family there.

Anonymous said...

That woman that wrote that sounds like a b*tch. Was probably an unhappy Jumeirah Jane who's husband became a summer bachelor.

your response is nice though. I hate the hate that people heap on Dubai - and so much is misinformed.

Regarding the man-made islands - they have actually increased the marine life - I have seen evidence.

Leela A said...

Patrix: It took a while to grow used to the place, but once I stopped comparing it to Bombay, I found it much easier. I've found that most of the unhappiness stems from moving to a new place and desperately trying to find the old or recreating the old place in it. Dubai isn't perfect, but I find there's a greater alacrity to dismiss it than to appreciate what's working.

Cherie: Hmm?

Saltwater Blues: There's so much to debate there. I know what you mean. I missed growing up with cousins because they all lived in the Middle East and we only met them briefly on holidays. I don't think they ever missed living in India though. For them, India was the legacy they got from their parents, but Canada is home.

Also, I'm beginning to see people's ideas of home are more fluid than static. My own idea of home has grown to encompass where I've lived, where I now live and where I might live in future. A bit of 'wherever I lay my hat, that's my home'. Or as my friend Ro put it, 'Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.'

About raising kids here, I've heard both pros and cons, but no first hand experience, so I'll take your word ;)

Shanty: Come come now. Let's not paint all Jumeirah Janes with the same brush :) I know some nice ones.

And really, what evidence? I'd love to know.

Unknown said...

I like Dubai, but agree with most everything said (especially the useless address system).

As for the response of "Try the Cinema" for #16, that would be my number 21:
"Hope you don't enjoy going to the movies too much, because its extremely difficult to find a single theater in Dubai thats not full of spoiled brat Dashers constantly talking on their mobile phones"

Leela A said...

Ryan: I'm sure there's a LOT more to add to that list.

I'm miffed that nobody warns you about the 'Dubai Stone' - the pounds one piles on by doing nothing more sinful than um.. breathing.

Unknown said...

what about race issue?.. salary difference based on skin color.!

Rhyncus said...

The page on which the article appears has an ad for 'The Insiders Guide to Living in Dubai, UAE', which starts off with "It has spectacular beaches, but is not Australia. It is one of the world’s most secure destinations, but is not Singapore. It has opulent city hotels and superb beachside resorts but it is not Bali. It has world class shopping, but is not Hong Kong..."

Leela A said...

iamyuva: Like I said, the list can run on...

Rhyncus: Yes, I noticed it too. I thought it was part of the article initially, and was wondering about the volte face :)

Anonymous said...

there is also evidence from Nakheels studies before any dredging took place and the result now

Leela A said...

Shantoosie: Thanks for dredging up that info. I wouldn't mind diving there myself :)