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Published: November 10th 2013
Burj al Khalifa
The tallest building in the world and pretty amazing architecture!
Two weeks ago, our business partner David who runs our offices in Asia, Australia and the Middle East asked me whether I wanted to co-present with him at the International Conference on Psychology Dubai
. Of course I wanted to 😊.
I arrived in Dubai on Wednesday shortly before midnight. Luckily I got out of the airport (which is usually very busy during the night because it is a great hub for international flights) quickly and caught a taxi to my hotel. The hotel was located close to the conference venue, the Heriot Watt University, and thus a few kilometers from the city centre.
The conference did not start until Friday, so I took Thursday off to do some sightseeing. I caught a taxi into town and went on a hop on hop off bus tour that took me around the city. Dubai is really a city of superlatives. There is the Burj al Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. There is the Burj al Arab, the only seven star hotel in the world. And there is the Palm, the man-made palm-tree-shaped island that is visible even from outer space. And Dubai has the largest shopping malls I have seen in my whole
Wafi City Mall
No, we're not in Egypt - this is a shopping mall in Dubai!
life. And by large I mean enormous. They are so huge that there are signs telling you where you are at the moment and giving you directions.
I was very impressed with the city. It is a piece of desert that was turned into a vibrant, modern, clean, and safe international city. Its rulers, the Sheiks, have invested the money they got from the oil into infrastructure, education, and healthcare and they are doing their very best to have other businesses besides the oil industry in the city. Education and healthcare are free of charge for Emiratis and there are no taxes (this is why some goods are a lot cheaper there than in Europe or other countries). There are a lot of international companies that have subsidies in Dubai and, consequently, have sent their employees to the city. Dubai is very international. Only around 15 percent of its population is Emirati, the rest come from all over the world. Taxi drivers, as in many other cities, all seem to come from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Sri Lanka. Dubai is one of seven Emirates that constitute the United Arab Emirates. Moreover, tourism plays an increasingly important role.
Old & New Dubai
Modern skyline with a water taxi in front on Dubai Creek.
gets very hot in Dubai in summer, consequently people there try not to go outside during daytime at this time of the year. All the buildings are, of course, air conditioned. But there are also air-conditioned alleys leading for example from the metro stations to the malls or buildings so that you do not have to step outside. The city is definitely not made for walking. There are pavements that you can use, but often it is difficult to cross a street because there are no traffic lights, and sometimes it is difficult to find your way to a building, although you can see it. At times, I felt a bit like in a maze. You can see where you want to go, but you can’t find your way there.
Dubai has many luxury hotels and resorts, for example the Atlantis on the Palm, where one can swim with dolphins. Close to the hotels, there are usually private beaches hotel guests may use. There are often separate beaches for men and women. Of course there are the palaces the Royal Family lives in. And there is the old part of the city, close to Dubai Creek, a channel of
A Dhow on Dubai Creek with old(er) buildings in the background. In this area of the city, there are e.g. the famous Gold and Spice Souks.
sea water that reaches into the city. In this part, there are the Gold and the Spice Souk, and on Dubai Creek, one can still see the Dhows, the traditional ships that transport goods into other countries. Furthermore, there are the traditional water taxis people can catch in order to get from one side of the Creek to the other. Finally, there is Dubai Museum which is located in an old fort.
The city is very big and it took me all morning and afternoon to ride along the two bus routes and to go on a little Dhow cruise. After sunset, I got off the bus at the Mall of the Emirates, where I had boarded it, and caught the metro to Dubai Mall. The Mall has four floors and is simply huge. There are all kinds of shops. My favourite ones were a toy shop and a bookstore that was so huge that you could easily get lost in it.
Afterwards, I wanted to go the Burj el Khalifa and go up to the observation deck. Getting from the Mall to the tallest building in the world was, however, not easy. I have already mentioned the
... built in the medieval Fatimid tradition, but with modern building materials.
maze the city can be for a pedestrian. After finally finding my way to the building, I could not find the entrance. There were only a few entrances to the Armani Hotel that is located in the building. Later on, I found out that one has to buy a ticket for the observation deck in Dubai Mall and that this is where the public entrance to the building is. I decided not to go up this very evening. Rather, I found a nice sushi restaurant at the bottom of Burj al Khalifa, where I could sit outside in the warm air and enjoy the view of the artificial lake there. Every 30 minutes, there is a choreography of fountains, light, and music. And I had the view of this super aesthetic building Burj al Khalifa. It somehow reminds me of the buildings around the Star Fleet Headquarters in the two most recent Star Trek films. Anyway, I enjoyed the evening and caught a taxi back to my hotel after dinner.
The next morning, I met our business partner David, who had arrived only a few hours earlier from Singapore. We went to the Congress together, where we met Gisou,
... on the Palm, the island made by man that can be seen from outer space.
who runs our Dubai office, and my colleague Sara from Norway, who works with the Dubai office at the moment. Gisou and Sara had set up a stand to represent our company at the Conference.
The Congress took place on Friday and Saturday. David and I gave a talk on one of our questionnaires and the elaborate measurement model behind it and we also gave a workshop on counterproductive work behaviour (and how to avoid it of course). We needed some time to prepare both presentations, but luckily, we also found time to attend some of the other talks and to speak with other delegates. Most of them had come from different countries in the Middle East. Quite a few of them were expatriates who were originally from Europe or the US, while others were originally from the Middle East. This was the first conference of this kind in the area, and it was interesting to see that work and organisational psychology is still a very young discipline there. Companies seem to struggle to find locals who can do HR work. However, it was good to see that there were many highly competent women from the region who were
apparently in responsible positions in their companies. Quite a few of them wore long coats and had their hair covered, but not all of them. They appeared to be self-confident and talked to men with the same ease as they did to women.
I learned that when you are doing business in the region, it is better to talk to the women there than to the men because the former get things done, they are ambitious, smart, and well-educated. Of course, for the women there it is something totally different to work than it is for us Western women. For them, it really means independence, and it is the only way for them. I start to wonder whether this might also be one of the reasons why there are so few women in leading positions in the Western countries – because they don’t have to. They can be independent and respected even if they don’t make a big career. Of course, there are many other factors, I am not being simplistic here, however, the need to make a career might be a factor.
On Friday night, there was a conference dinner on one of the terraces of the
... leading from the metro station to Dubai Mall. Of course it is air conditioned!
fancy Marriott Hotel that David, David’s friend Mike, Sara, and I attended. It was again nice to sit outside in the warm evening breeze and to learn more about how business and life works in the Middle East. After dinner, we went to “The Address”, a really fancy bar in one of the skyscrapers from which one has a great view of the illuminated Burj al Khalifa. Here again one could see what a melting pot Dubai is. There were many men in traditional clothes, but just as much one could see women in extremely short skirts, tight t-shirts, and high heels.
The next evening, after the congress was over, Gisou took David, Mike, and me to the Burj el Arab. I could hardly believe it. I had already seen so many documentaries about this fancy hotel, but getting in was just spectacular. However, it was not that easy. One cannot simply walk in and look around. One needs a reservation in one of the restaurants (or a booked room, of course). Gisou had made the booking through a friend who has access to the hotel. However, we had to wait at the gate for quite a while until
... simply huge and easy to get lost in.
our booking was confirmed and we could drive in. One of the employees parked the car for us, and we went into the building. It is splendid. There is a lot of gold, and this is not gold colour, but it is real gold. There are huge aquariums on both sides of the foyer and a staircase that leads up to shops and the restaurant, with a big fountain in the middle. Gisou, her husband, David, Mike, and I had something to drink and a snack in the restaurant on the first floor and afterwards took some time to walk around the foyer. It is not possible to get any further because for the bars and restaurants in the other parts of the hotel one also needs a reservation and the floors with the hotel rooms are only accessible with a key card. But anyway, I was super impressed and could not believe I had really been there.
On Sunday morning, I allowed myself to sleep in a bit, then had breakfast and, after doing some work, caught a taxi to the airport and flew back home. The days in Dubai were just great. Thank you David for inviting me and thank you Gisou for looking after us in the very best way.
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