Monday, March 12, 2007

Dizzy Dubai

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Sometimes when I travel from one place to another place in a short amount of time I feel a wave of vertigo come over me. It is a combination of dizziness and disorientation that lasts about 24 hours, and then goes away, but as I type these words 72 hours after landing in Dubai, I still feel confused as to where the hell I am. If an alien were to travel from New Zealand to Dubai, the alien would think he had accidentally ventured to another planet. That is how I felt the past couple days in Dubai. New Zealand’s essence is the supreme mastery of nature over man. Dubai’s essence is the supreme mastery of man over nature. New Zealand is an outdoors culture. Dubai is a shopping mall culture. New Zealand is the epitome of modesty. Dubai is the epitome of ostentatiousness. New Zealand is a memento of the past. Dubai is a mirage of the future.

In 10 short days I went from walking on the ice of a real glacier in the fiord lands to snowboarding in a shopping mall in the desert. I was told at my hotel that “Ski Dubai” would provide us with all the equipment we would need to ski so I showed up to snowboard in shorts and a t-shirt. They basically just give you an outer layer of clothes and of course the board, bindings, and boots. I bought a 2-hour lift pass and, needless to say, I was freezing my ass off after 5 minutes. It was -2 degrees Celsius and I was basically wearing beach clothes and a waterproof shell. I considered asking them to raise the temperature but I didn’t want to risk melting the snow. I braved the conditions and snowboarded nonstop for 2 hours. The lift takes about 6 minutes and the run takes about 30 seconds at a moderate speed, so I rode up and down exactly 18 times. Check out the vid (and my “big air” jump at the end).





This place is really rich. They struck oil in the 60’s and have tons of money to throw around. They have built their own islands, one shaped as a palm tree, and are in the process of building an entire fake world which will be modeled exactly after the real world. It will be built to scale, with most sovereign nations chopped up into little islands, and each island will be sold to private home owners or turned into resorts. I wonder if they’ll institute wild animals, deadly diseases, criminals, and poor people into this world so it is more like the real thing.

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It’s a small world after all.

Emirates are especially proud of this building, called Burj al Arab, or Arab Tower. It is on their postcards, propaganda, and even their license plates. It is known as one of the best hotels in the world and is a 7 star hotel. I thought 5 stars was the most a hotel could have, and I learned that the only real difference between a 5 star hotel and a 7 star hotel is that they provide guests with a complimentary ass wiping service. For a thousand dollars a night at the Arab Tower, I decided to try my luck at the 2 star Eureka Hotel for a relatively modest 100 dollars a night.

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The Arab Tower

I decided to check out this city, one of 7 Emirates in the United Arab Emirates, because my flight from Australia to South Africa stopped here. I was somewhat surprised to learn that it is hardly Arab. They should consider changing the name to the United Indian/Philipino Emirates because the majority of residents here are either Indian or Philipino. They do all the menial jobs that keep this place running. They drive taxis, do construction, operate the ski lifts, clean toilets, and do basically everything for the wealthier Arabs. There definitely is a sort of caste system in effect here that is quite palpable. The Arabs walk around in their white robes and fancy watches, flaunting shopping bags and fancy cars, keeping their women hidden behind black burkas.


Living under the shadow of the 7 star hotel, I found this group of Indian fishermen. They are here without their families and work for a fixed number of years according to their contract. The guy in the photo below hasn’t seen his family in 3 years and has another 2 years to fulfill on his contract before he is free to return to India with his relative riches.


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They live in those white huts that are just meters away from the fishing boats. Migrant workers are the majority in Dubai, and in fact, all of the Emirates. I read in the paper that migrant workers are fighting for basic rights such as minimum wage laws. I wondered what leverage these workers have over a government that doesn’t have to answer to them. The UAE is an autocratic regime controlled by a small number of wealthy sheikhs. Due to the overcrowded Indian labor market, if one cheap laborer is unhappy with his salary or conditions, there are a thousand more to replace them. They come for a better life, if not for themselves, for their family. It is the ultimate 21st century sacrifice.


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Subliminal message to friends and family



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Someone’s car is missing a seat



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The skiing slope is that silver structure protruding out of the shopping mall.



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Yes, there are even fake trees in Ski Dubai.



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A real sunset over the desert

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