The most remarkable sight is being able to see women and men walk with a feeling of safety and assurance at any hour of the night or day and not be worried about theft or abuse of a person or personal belongings. Rina talks about her relationship with Dubai where she lived with her husband and son, for 18 months, in the weekly column. A Different Truths exclusive.
It was December when my Emirates flight circled over Dubai en route Europe and I had a glimpse of the growing city with endless high structures. The roads were sprawling and there were visible signs of construction that had been abandoned due to the economic bust from 2008 that lingered on for longer.
Despite all the abandoned cars and building equipment across various sites, the signs of a futuristic city were all there. This was a city that humans could live in to have a glimpse into the future.
In these few years in the city, I got understand better, the feelings of a mostly wealthy but significant minority of the nationals. Emirati citizens are largely among the most progressive in the region that are oriented to modern times and change better than most other citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council. These are citizens who stated they were wary of being protected by the state – they appreciated the protection but knew it couldn’t last forever. They pursued and won education across global universities while the rulers of the UAE brought the world to the doorsteps of the country.
Dubai is a city in the UAE in which the minority walk as strongly as the majority but without the fear and uncertainty that symbolises the term minority elsewhere in the world. It is also the city where the past, the present, and the future come together in great harmony and sophisticated elegance.
The most remarkable sight is being able to see women and men walk with a feeling of safety and assurance at any hour of the night or day and not be worried about theft or abuse of a person or personal belongings. It’s amazing to see how people can walk off a diner forgetting their valuables only to return an hour later and receive their forgotten belongings in perfect condition – mostly! The exceptions always serve as an indication that our society has needs that go beyond perfect living; and of the flaws that characterise human nature.
When people drive onto the roads, you’re mostly watching for the exceptionally reckless driver or situation because nearly everyone has been through a gruelling assessment before driving licenses were handed out. It’s amazing to see how well people mostly behave when the deterrent of fines and expulsion from the country is a realistic possibility. This is true for infamous Asian drivers too known for dumping waste by the side of the roads or switching lanes with little to no indication. The sight of having motorists queue in order to get off at an exit is a most common theme through the day and night. The fact that drivers do not jump signals or begin inching off the line at amber is a hugely welcome sight.
Futuristic concepts and models are being built to encourage residents to view the UAE with a healthier dose of long-term realism instead of a pit stop in the journey of life. The ability of a city to be built high and tightly in a circle versus being broad and widespread is an excellent example of the Dubai method of living. It builds townships in concentrated high rises leaving a lot of space for infrastructure and lifestyle activities.
The summers are the time when Dubai’s incredible city planning manifests itself. In the well-inhabited sections of the city, an individual is perhaps exposed to no more than 5 minutes – 10 minutes of walking or without access to some cooling shade. Malls lead to air conditioned and clean metro stations, car parks are adjacent to office lots, air-conditioned bus stops are growing.
Dubai is also a city making an effort to promote healthy living – pedestrian walkways, bicycling tracks, jogging paths for runners in parks and along the beach. This exists alongside the incredible volume and density of cars on the road. With one of the best disposable income standards of the world, every family owns more than one car inevitably leading to an exponential crowding of the roads and parking spots.
As a leap into the future, however, Dubai is now encouraging residents to use public transport to the best of extents possible and reduce time in being in a traffic snarl or crawling for parking spots.
It’s very noticeable that Dubai constructs an attraction or a major infrastructure project aimed at an entry into the world of records – biggest, tallest, widest, deepest, and the list goes on.
I marvel though that a city like this can be built from the sand mixing a sense of temporary living with a sense of permanence.
In the time being here, I realised that nearly all nationalities agree Dubai is a city that mirrors their sense of ideal living – safety, mutual respect, access to public amenities, and just being responsible residents.
It’s not all hunky dory though. As an expatriate, the cost of living here is expensive unless individuals and families have come in with well-studied and negotiated salaries and benefits packages. Often the complaints of individuals being promised a job and landing up for quite another is commonplace but rapidly diminishing. The UAE and Dubai city has taken great measures to mitigate labour exploitation.
The roads are built to encourage responsible and efficient driving. Accidents are often fatal due to the high speeds and the possibility of tailing crashes.
Only in recent times has Dubai evolved to being a city that thinks of those that aren’t paid as much or earn as much to live the life of Dubai’s opulence. The cost of seeing or experiencing some of Dubai’s marvels is simply too expensive and a deterrent. It makes me wonder if the city is silently but stylishly widening the gap between those that can afford and those that cannot.
The economic crisis causes another issue – that of people that experienced outlandish lifestyles with cars and homes that they would never access in their home nations – suddenly having the taps turning dry leaving them high in debt and stranded. It isn’t possible to live in the UAE and in Dubai city without steady employment. The banking system is built to discourage defaults since most of the population is very migratory. The cost of an economic default often leaves individuals and families in devastation.
Dubai is a very young city and comes with the stress and expectations – without the anchor of responsible living – that younger individuals face. With access to families limited to the vacations, expensive phone calls, younger individuals are increasingly lured by the lights and glamourous projection of the city. An effort to show oneself as part of an economically strong group, young individuals spend beyond sustainable limits with no safety net for the future and often face moments of living by the day financially. The stress to grow rich and lead an opulent lifestyle creates an incredible level of stress in individuals and they miss being moored to the family values and social living in a cultural context.
Until recently, Dubai, and the UAE made people accustomed to a bubble of grand living, no taxes, amenities across the road, and incredibly generous benefits. That’s changing though. As the local population gets a grip on their knowledge enhancement, and as more people from the region seek jobs with the advantage of knowing the local language, expatriates now receive more realistic offers to live and work in Dubai.
Not everyone lives on the Palm Jumeirah or overlooking the Burj Khalifa after all.
This is a city for the now and the future – absolutely.
Can this be called home – not as of now – it’s the stopover en route home.
Photos from the Internet, sourced from the author
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