Part One – The Resort
This resort, Madinat Jumeira, Al Qasr, is the best resort in which I have ever stayed. And that is saying something. Up until this point it would have had to have been Diani Beach, south of Mombassa, which was a genuine five star. This one, www.madinatjumeirah.com, is five plus. Lee, the clever girl that she is, found it on lastminute.com. Apparently, during Ramadan in the Middle East is low-low-low season, and most resorts shut down and use the month to re-do their swimming pools, etc. So, she got it very cheap. I did not notice any inconvenience occasioned by Ramadan, except that the restaurants were hidden behind partitions and curtains during the day, so as not to offend observers. We thoroughly enjoyed throwing ourselves into the celebrations in the Iftar tents after 7pm in the evenings. I have never had such top service anywhere, not even the Hilton. This feeling of slight amazement started as we rounded the corner to the driveway in the taxi, and spotted the score of prancing golden Arabian horses down the driveway. "Oooer dear, you’ve excelled yourself this time," I couldn’t help remarking.
The days passed very enjoyably, and Lee perked up on my arrival and started giving me cheek, a sure sign that she is happy. I even had a Kenyan doorman to talk Swahili to each morning. What more could you ask for? I also got to run down past the Burj Al Arab and the Jumeirah Beach Club buildings each early morning, in the 40+ degree heat, arriving home dripping at 8am.
Part Two -Old Dubai
We only spent one day in Old Dubai town. It was 40+ degrees, and one had to wear long sleeves and long pants. It was preferable to walk down streets with tall buildings in them, so that one could walk in the shade. Otherwise, a five minute walk in the hot sun would have caused us to expire of heat exhaustion. Despite our dress precautions, Lee still had not covered her head, was wearing a bright blue shirt, and may well have had lipstick on (I can’t remember). This caused one of two different reactions in the average souk-patron. Either to get outrageously angry at the strumpet for tempting them during Ramadan, or else to attempt to touch her breasts. So we retired back to the resort after only one day. You will see from the accompanying pictures of the souk, that the local women wear a type of leather halter across their faces reminiscent of nothing so much as cattle-wear.
A walk around the Spice Souk was fascinating. For a start, I got to buy a paper bag of frankincense, something that I had never previously seen, only heard about from the bible stories. It can be used as an incense, burning it in a charcoal brazier. The higher grade frankincense is also used as Arabic chewing gum. Of course I had to chew some. We met one Indian man with a long black beard and an Oxford accent. He said that he had never been in the West, but his English was better than mine, and he used the word ‘astringent,’ which I’m pretty sure has never passed my lips unprompted. He said that he had been there 18 years. I don’t know whether he just owned that one poky little shop, or whether he was the Dubai corner of an International spice-trading dynasty, some sort of Indian version of the Rothschilds, with a brother in every sphere of influence in the world. I like to think the latter, but only because of my over-exposure to romantic novels of the John Buchan/ Sir Walter Scott type, in my formative years.
The Geo Thing
Now the geo-political/ macro-economic plans of the UAE are quite interesting. They are a very rich country currently, but the oil money will not last forever. The gamble that the Sheik is making is to leverage all that free cashflow by investing to diversify the Emirates into a modern centre of Tourism, Finance, Tax Free Port, Airline hub, etc. They are making great progress, but so are Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Shanghai, Shannon, Rome (same time zone for financial transactions), etc. It will be interesting to see if they can swing it. What I think is a good idea, was the attempt by the Dubai Stock Exchange to take large shares in the NASDAQ (30%), the London Stock Exchange, and one other. The US SEC is considering the bid, but I think that national security considerations in the US will probably scuttle that one.
The population demographics of the UAE are interesting. Only 5% of the population are citizens. 90-plus percent are from the Indian/ Pakistani subcontinent, and are not citizens so much as indentured labour where the employer holds their work permits. Then there is a small leaven of whites (infidels) in the tourist and IT industries.
One sees these Emirati ‘playboys’ for want of a better word, round the airports of the Middle East in their immaculate dish-dashes. One sitting beside me had five SIM cards in his wallet. As the plane alighted, he swapped out the Qatari one, and swapped in the Emirati one. He had marked them up in Arabic. I assume there was a Kuwaiti one, a Saudi one and a Yemeni or Omani one. This man is a frequent traveller around the Middle East. Frequent enough for it to be economic for him to maintain five different cellphone accounts. The government of the UAE has passed a law stating that every business registered within the country must have a certain percentage of Emiratis in decision-making positions. That is what these ‘playboys’ are. They have a good little government-guaranteed sinecure. But now the government has passed another law/ started a new initiative. If you are a citizen, and get to university age, then you can just name your industry and your preferred course of study, and the government will do the rest for you. So, for example, one might say, "Chemical Engineering, Princeton," or "Cross-Border Leasing, Rochester." The government will sort out the details for you, including the job in the chemical engineering company when you get back. I imagine that the complaint has ben voiced that this current generation of state-sponsored decision-makers are making bad decisions. That will not be true of the next generation. Lucky boys. I’d become a UAE citizen if I could. But of course, one cannot, for obvious reasons. Everyone would want to.
Less lucky are the Indians and Pakistanis doing all the building labouring for UAE’s aspirations to re-create the physical landscape. I stood on the shore and looked out at ‘The Palm.’ Ten square miles of multi-story building-site. Dusty, hot, dirty, noisy and dangerous. These labourers told me that the money is good, but that they get bored eventually and need to get on with their lives. One can’t live in an Arab labour camp for more than a few years, no matter how good the money is. The size of The Palm pales into insignificance compared to the amount of building going on in total in Dubai. Miles and miles of cranes on the skyline.
Lee points out that this wealth is not evenly distributed around the Middle East. Yemen and Oman have 70 to 80% of their citizens living below the poverty line. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are top of the heap.
Really glad we went. Lots to interest us both. Lee was already there on work, and I was in the Northern Hemisphere, so it was cheaper to fly there from Raleigh, than it would have been from Melbourne. I was impressed by the religious observance of Ramadan by the Muslims. It is a time of prayer, alms-giving, and family observance, where work takes a bit of a back seat for a month. It all seemed very thoughtful and wise, as opposed to the Al Qaeda images that are always publicised in the US, for example.