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Published: April 19th 2010
Dubai rises out of the desert, all tallest, newest, richest, biggest and most expensives.
The worlds tallest building. The Most expensive hotel. The Newest city. The Largest shopping centre.
Who wants to discover that the worlds tallest building is really tall?
Or that you can shop in a place with lots of shops?
Or spending lots of money on a 7-star hotel provides amazing service?
Dubai excels in superlatives, but fails with surprises. But thats how its meant to be - safe, ordered and predictable. Every shop is a western brand, Starbucks on every corner, Gap clothes in the shops.
Price is the only measure here. Hotel ratings used to only reach 5 stars, so Dubai invented the $20,000-a-night 7th star, cleverly leaving out the 6th star.
Quality here is not measured by that undefinable quality we actually use in the West, cool. Dubai only wants the best of the west. You can't taste any authentic arabic food here, but you can eat in a Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsey restaurant at the Hilton.
But surprises do appear.
Muslim law rules here and Dubai is a 'dry' city. Luckily for a crashpacker, hotels
are allowed to sell booze.
Unsurprisingly, there are lots of hotels here.
Friday is a day off and the local tradition is to go to a hotel for brunch, an all-day affair with fantastic food from all over the world, non-stop top ups of champagne and very alcoholic cocktails, with views over the harbour full of super-yachts.
At about 80 US dollars a head, its not cheap, but its surprisingly easy to get completely drunk as our Indian waiters filled our clean crystal glasses with wide smiles on their faces.
I'm in an dry Muslim state but i'm drinking French champagne and we're scoffing non-halal lobster.
I wake up with a cloudy memory of some glitzy celebrity party in a hotel garden with plastic palm trees, and I stumble out for a hangover relief.
Suddenly I feel like I am back in South East Asia. Chinese eyed, straight black haired women are walking in the shade and pushing prams. My head turns again and again as I notice the prams hold blonde, curly haired, pink cherubic children.
And the next surprise hits me - Filipino nannys.
Filipinos for the children of Europeans who work for American
companies in the towers that were built by Bangladeshis who line up along the roads, waiting for their bus to take them out to the slums.
Every face along the beach is from a different part of the world... Kenyans running car hire companies... Asian girls huddled round a market stall eating noodles... Australians sunbathing on the beach... Somalis dressed as Arabs offering camel-rides... Indians called Ganesh selling Chinese-made arabic souvenirs in the fake souk of the foyer of the Madinat hotel...
Arabic cash amazingly seems to be the only thing that blooms in the desert. The world is here to harvest some of this nectar and now Dubai is possibly the most globalized city in the world.
Like a massive duty-free airport lounge there are people from all over the world, all of them ''just passing through''.
Airport lounges promote expensive Western brands of watches, clothes and cars as the superlatives of style. And all of these visitors, the children of the world who pass through Dubai working and earning and learning, will go home with the idea that money is the only measure.
Yet, for me, the most expensive watch always looks ugly, the tallest building is just boring and the tastiest food in the world is served by toothless old hawkers, not from the faceless, franchised food chains that now circle the globe.
Globalization may be good for big companies turnover, but its bad for the traveller who like surprises.
In the end, the whole world ends up like a giant airport lounge.
And I don't like airport lounges... They just aren't cool.
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