Back home, after twenty hours of traveling. Modern jet travel or not, it’s still a big world. Final thoughts from the trip.
- The hotel restaurant in Damascus offered a dish of “fried smashed meat.” With marketing like that it’s no wonder their GDP per capita is 150th in the world.
- The menu of one of the restaurants I ate at in Dubai promised only fresh vegetables, “no industrious canned vegetables.” I kinda admire those hard-working canned veggies, myself.
- Dubai has countless gents and ladies hair “saloons.” English may become the global language, but the globe is going to reshape it interesting ways.
- There’s been much talk about how Dubai has been hit hard by the global recession, but one local observer said to me, “it hasn’t actually hurt us, it’s just slowed our growth down to more realistic levels.”
- The Dubai Metro, which was non-existent when I was there two years ago, is excellent. It’s fully automated, runs very smoothly, and is very heavily used. You can go from the airport to the Bur Dubai area, which is chock full of hotels, and on to the financial district, the Dubai Mall/Burj Khalifa, the Mall of the Emirates, and beyond. There’s a stop right outside the doors of the American University in Dubai, too, not that any of their students would probably ever be caught dead on public transit.
- The fountain show at the Dubai Mall, with Burj Khalifa in the background, is pretty phenomenal. You can find various videos on Youtube.
- The Burj Khalifa (nee Burj Dubai*) is a beautiful building, but at almost half again as tall as either the Willis (nee Sears) Tower or the Petronas Twin Towers, it doesn’t send the message Dubai’s ruler wants to send. He wants to demonstrate that Dubai is a world class city, but the developed world has pretty much opted out of the tallest building in the world business these days. It’s just not efficient, particularly in a place like Dubai, where the massive amounts of glass act to heat up the building, and requires extra energy spent on air conditioning. And Jim Krane, in his fascinating book Dubai: The Fastest City in the World cites a critic who points out that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pump water half a mile up simply to flush the toilet.
- Dubai, for all its oil, is struggling to produce enough energy. It’s looking to coal, from some of the same Asian countries to which, ironically, it exports oil. And it plans to produce 20% of its future power needs from nuclear energy.
- I saw more of Dubai than last time I was there, and have a better sense of the city now (although only what you can gain in a total of 6 days visiting time). It’s famous for it’s phenomenal wealth, and last time I was there I stayed in, and saw a lot of, it’s very old souks, but this time I saw more of its middle class area, as I would tentatively call the Bur Dubai area, as well as more of the Deira area. Critics of Dubai always ask whether it’s sustainable once the oil runs out. Yes, as a city it’s definitely sustainable, because it has such a variety of economic activities going on. The government’s investments of its oil profits in infrastructure and its welcoming of just about any productive economic activity has resulted in more of a real city than the haughty journalists seem to see. (To boast a bit, I spent upwards of 12 hours walking through different neighborhoods, in the three days I was there, and I doubt most fly-through journalists bother to do so.) It’s energy use may not be sustainable, but it’s attraction of the super-wealthy is probably sustainable for the foreseeable future. But most importantly, there’s just a lot of people making money doing a lot of things. Dubai will outlive the end of its oil, hands down.
- If you want a fun city in the Middle East, go to Beirut. If you want an inexpensive place to visit, that’s still fun, go to Damascus. If you want to understand the future of the world, go to Dubai.
* “Burj” is Arabic for “tower,” and Khalifa is a masculine given name. The tower was re-named upon its opening. According to Wikipedia, for Emirates president , Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. However I believe Khalid is also the name of the Dubai ruler’s uncle, the brother of the former ruler who made Dubai what it is, so perhaps there’s a double meaning.