Sunday, November 09, 2008

Travelogue: Dubai

(NOTE: These travelogue entries are not being posted in real time. I'm posting from a ship with a veeeeerrrryyy sssssllllooooowwwwww and very flaky internet connection. Though I am ever mindful that it is an absolute miracle that I can do this at all, posting from here can be quite trying. Also, as you will see, I had a good reason to not post anything until we got out of India. So the next few posts were actually written over the last two weeks.)

Dubai is the furthest I've ever been away from home -- 11 time zones and Google Maps only knows how many miles from LA. (The slow and flaky internet connection makes it an ordeal to actually look it up right now.) It's an 11 hour flight from LA to London, then another 7 from London to Dubai. By the time we get to immigration 24 hours have passed from the time we left home.

Dubai is quite possibly the greatest real estate scam of all time. Geographically, it is an absolutely god-forsaken place. It gets hot enough in the summer, we were told, that the pavement melts tires. Even in late October it was sweltering, and it's not a dry heat. The proximity of the warm waters of the Persian Gulf (which the locals call the Arabian Gulf) keep everything nice and steamy, but not wet. It's humid, but it never rains.

To add insult to geopolitical injury, there isn't even any oil here! And yet in this dusty steam-bath of a place a colossal modern skyline is rising, like Vegas on steroids. It is an orgy of construction whose centerpiece is the Burj Dubai, which is already the world's tallest building by an enormous margin even though it is not yet finished. I'd read about it and seen pictures, but nothing compares to seeing it in the flesh. It is incredibly, audaciously, bodaciously tall. Even looking at it with my own eyes I had a hard time believing it was real. And an even taller building is already on the drawing boards.

"Audacious" is a pretty good word to describe Dubai. In the middle of this steam-bath you will find Ski Dubai, an indoor ski resort with real snow. No need to pack a parka. They provide everything you need, including warm clothing. If that's not audacious I don't know what is.

And that's only the beginning. They are building not just one but *dozens* of artificial islands chock-full of hotels and villas, all financed (again, we were told) not by oil money as we naturally assumed, but by pre-sales. Dubai boasts the worlds only seven-star hotel, The Burj al Arab. Thanks to having a local connection we were able to get a tour of one of the suites. There are no "rooms". The smallest suite is 1900 square feet in two stories. The place is over-the-top in almost every way. There is not a square inch of those 1900 square feet that is not gold or purple or red or blue. It's Aladdin meets Louis XIV. Rates start at $2000 a night. Drinks (which are all we allowed ourselves) start at about $30.

With all this building going on, you'd think that we would arrive at a nice shiny new airport with a nice shiny new jetway. No such luck. Such an airport and jetway are indeed under construction, but we got there a few months too early. (We also booked a little too early to take advantage of Emirates Airlines new non-stop Airbus A380 service from LA. Oh well, maybe next time.) Instead our plane just parked on the tarmac and we walked down the stairs and onto waiting busses which drove us around and around before depositing us at immigration. Despite the fact that it was the middle of the night, the enormous hall was full and the lines were long. The dour-faced immigration officer looked over our passports for a very long time before grudgingly deciding to allow us to enter, all without ever saying a word. We were told later that it might have been because we have entry stamps from a visit to Israel three years ago, and that sometimes people who have been to Israel are denied entry into the UAE altogether and have to turn right around and go home.

Remember that when I get around to telling you about India.

1 comment:

Gautam said...

Interesting read..will follow your blog regularly.

Keep writing.

Cheers!