They seemed to like the material and my presentation style, which is nice. After all, one never knows how one will be taken in a different country and culture.
So, sitting at 4am in the hotel’s 24-hour cafe and sipping on a very frothy cappuccino, it seems appropriate to reflect on my experience of Dubai — especially as I fly back home in 13 and a half hours time.
The mystery illness that has captured my stomach has, courtesy of pharmaceuticals, largely disappeared. Not totally, but certainly it is not debilitating me like it did earlier this week. That was not fun, and kept me confined to my hotel room every evening, so no sight seeing for me.
However, that does not mean I have not got valid impressions of this city in the desert.
It is winter here, which for me is kind of like a mild Spring — temperatures in the mid 20s celcius, a slight breeze, no humidity. Lovely!
I know that I couldn’t cope with summer here, with its 40+ temperatures and raging humidity. Amusingly (for me at least), whilst I have been here heatwaves back in the sunny downtown Adelaide Hills have seen temperatures hit the 40+ mark (no humidity, though) and bushfires ravage a large chunk of the land I love and call my home. My prayers go out to those threatened with or who have suffered loss.
Back to Dubai…
There is a permanent haze here. I don’t know whether that’s from the epidemic of building going on, or whether it’s a seasonal weather thing. But very little clear sunshine and always buildings are viewed as if through a glass, darkly.
The building work is mind-blowing. Every where you look there are cranes hard at work on construction sites, each site seemingly trying to outdo its neighbour by constructing a building wider, taller and generally ‘fancier’ than its neighbour. It’s like a whole bunch of teenage boys have entered into a ‘my cordwangle’s bigger than yours’ contest. (Only readers of a certain [old] age will recognise the word ‘cordwangle’ — it comes from Kenneth William’s Rambling Syd Rumpo on the seminal radio show ‘Round the Horne.)
The need here to reposition the city and protect itself from the eventual loss of revenue from oil reserves sees it attempting to emulate two cities at once: Las Vegas and Singapore. Las Vegas for its tourist and entertainment value (“a vibrant city in the middle of the desert? Who’d have thunk?”); Singapore for its investment in knowledge capital.
The tourist aspect is well covered by many of the attractions here, the most spectacular (and because of my illness the only one I’ve seen) being the snow ski slope. Here’s a pdf of some photos of the ski slope taken when it was first built, before it was opened to the public. It is surreal to stand and watch people ski down a snow slope in the middle of the desert.
I’m not quite sure why, but whereas terrorist activity has occurred in every other country around it, the Emirates seems to have escaped any threat to it. Of course, folks here have their own different views and I’m certainly not going to speculate. But it certainly, at least to this Johnny Foreigner, seems a safe place — even the drivers aren’t barking mad; apparently drivers in other Middle Eastern cities are not so polite, careful or ‘aware’ as they are here.
Naturally, in any city wthat serves as a ‘hub’ for local and international trade, there is a dark underbelly. Despite being a muslim country there are certainly aspects that you would expect to find in any major western city. Just this morning, as I came down in the lift to the cafe where I now type, I was joined by a very attractive Russian woman who spoke very little English. I was going down to the cafe to work; she was just leaving her work and heading home.
Alcohol, too, is quietly tolerated. I have been told of local muslims who befriend westerners so as to get access to alcohol. Knowing the sources, I don’t doubt the veracity of their claims.
The price of alcohol is staggering — the ‘house wine’ here at the hotel is a cheap Aussie red for which I would pay no more than $8 a bottle at home; it’s $50 a bottle here. At least I now know to bring some wine in with me next time I visit, and keep it in the room mini fridge.
As for the client that brought me this opportunity, IIR, what can I say? Everyone I met was exceedingly courteous, friendly, helpful and bent over backwards to help me out. The company is an extremely large one, with offices in London, here and Sydney (that I know of, possibly even more). The whole show is very professionally run and I will hopefully get to forge a long-lasting relationship with them.
Everyone of the IIR staff I met were expat British, which reminds me of another bizarre thing about here. It’s an expat city. There are, apparently, more expats here than indiginous inhabitants. Listening to the breakfast radio in the hotel reminded me constantly of that wonderful scene in ‘Love, Actually‘ where Bill Nighy is being interviewed by the chappy at ‘Radio Watford’. I even heard the theme tune from ‘Please Sir‘! (More details about Please Sir). It’s like being back in England all over again, there are so many British accents here.
Dubai is being advertised heavily in Australia at the moment — all the magazines are running full page ads boasting about Dubai Airport’s Duty Free and how huge it is. They are right — it IS huge! The prices are slightly cheaper than I’d pay for gear in Australia, but for many of the items one can purchase it’s just not worth it. Anything electrical comes with a UAE plug, which is the same as the British plug. Therefore I would need to buy adaptors to convert them to Australian plugs. Most often it is not as simple as snipping off the UAE/British plug and wiring up an Aussie plug — the plug is part of the voltage converter. In the end it’s easier to pay a bit more and buy it in Oz, methinks.
I’m tempted to pick up a new fountain pen on my way out, but as the payment from IIR hasn’t hit the credit card yet I don’t want to risk the dreaded and exceedingly embarassing ‘credit card bounce’. I’ve already racked up about $2,000 in expenses since leaving Australia a couple of weeks ago and Mrs BetterComms, the keeper of the finances, is not best pleased.
All in all, despite the stomach bug, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here — both in Dubai and Doha, Qatar. It will be fascinating to return later in the year (if given the opportunity) and see how both have developed. Doha is preparing for the 15th Asian Games in December of 06, so as with Dubai there is construction work everywhere. The client in Doha is, I believe, ready to move into podcasting and it will be fascinating to be a part of that, if given the opportunity.
And with that I sign off, pack up the notebook and head off to breakfast in my room, thereafter to pack and to check out. Then to the airport and that enticing 23+ hour flight home.