The commercial hub of the Middle East. With good fortune, work prompted me to spend this past week in one of the hottest places (take that however you like) on this side of the globe. Actually weather-wise, it’s been quite pleasant, shirt sleeves during the day, light jacket (maybe) in the evening. It’s certainly not that way in the summer months when sitting outside at midnight can be like a sauna.
Since I lived here in the late 90’s, it’s changed immensely. Add a couple of million people and billions of dollars and any city is bound to change. But Dubai likes to do things big, including harboring the world’s tallest building. When I first came to Dubai, somewhere around 1990, there was a one-lane road connecting the city of Dubai to its newly established and relatively massive free zone in Jebel Ali. The 35 km drive was nothing but desert. Today, there are five lanes each way and if you don’t time your trip correctly, it’s a parking lot. That same drive is now lined with high-rises, malls, and commerce. There is also a new parallel road with at least as many lanes — always full.
Enough has been written about this city and Emirate that no expounding is needed here. The three years of living in Dubai filled my desert-living quota. Visits suffice without pangs of moving back. Why wouldn’t I want to spend most of my time here? For one thing the weather is too damn hot for half the year. For another, it’s not a walking or bicycling friendly area. You go places in a car, and there are just too many of them. Thirdly, it’s not cheap. A small unfurnished one-bedroom on the edge of the desert averages about $2,200 per month.
Still, there are millions who have transplanted themselves and call Dubai home. Fortunately, that’s what keeps the world buzzing — different strokes for different folks. By far the largest segment of Dubai’s population are Indians. Without them, Dubai would collapse.
The UAE, of which Dubai is a part, turned 43 last week on December 2, having gained its independence from Britain in 1971. The city closed down that day (except for the malls) and celebrated with enormous fireworks at the seaside, among other celebrations across the seven emirates.
The long and short is that I’m lucky to have been connected to developing business with one of the largest retailers in the Middle East, which was the reason for this trip. It gives me the opportunity of returning and witnessing the evolution of a booming and surreal oasis, once a lazy seaport and fishing village consisting mostly of sand dunes, turned into a playground for the well-off, and an opportunity for those bound for a better life.