Monday, October 3, 2011

The Golden Hell of Dubai (United Arab Emirates)

Searing heat of 110 degrees (44 C), coupled with the syrupy like stickiness of 100% humidity makes the city a virtual steam room, and walking around it next to impossible. The signs read- “Welcome to Dubai.”
Welcome to what?
All restaurants are closed during the day, and as it is Ramadan, if you are seen drinking or eating in public you can be arrested. I literally hide in an alley, pressed up against a wall, my back to the street, uncapping a bottle of water and taking a swig to replenish my body’s fluids which are dripping all over the pavement.
To replace my electrolytes, I very carefully reach into my pocket, remove a couple salty cashews inside a tight fist, and without exposing them to air or sight, place them in my mouth, chewing slowly, as I furtively glance around to see who might be spying on me. “Pssst, buddy, want some cashews? How about some water?” I feel like a criminal.
There are literally one hundred men per woman walking around, it takes me two hours of searching the streets before I spot my first female. I feel proud at the sighting, like a tracker for National Geographic having spotted an endangered species in a foreboding land.
Of the men, 80% are of SE Asian descent. In confusion I ask someone if I’ve landed in India.

cool architecture in Dubai

The Souqs
The word, Souq” refers to a marketplace, in Dubai generally a geographical collection of stores, selling nearly identical products/ type of commodity. The competition obviously, is intense.
To escape the heat, I dive inside a shop in the Spice Souq run by a couple Iranians. The interior is meticulously arranged, and neatly labeled transparent drawers contain every spice I could name, as well many I had no idea existed, everything from saffron, which costs $1,000 a pound (no joke), to peppers, cassia, and cinnamon.
Like most shop keepers in Arabia, they greet me with cheer, and invite me to sample some of their wares (not saffron though.) I speak with them for upwards of an hour, guiltily sipping my water as they look on jealously. (I did ask permission)
Like many, they've chosen to set-up shop in Dubai because the economic prospects here are far superior to their homelands. There is money in Dubai- oil money; that draws people from all over the world. They inquire whether there are spice stores like this in America.
“Not like here,” I remark, imagining the interior of Walmart as I glance around comparatively and notice the prominently displayed photographs of Iranian Revolutionary Figures.
“What do Iranians think of Americans?”
“We like them,” states my new friend, perhaps trying to cajole a purchase out of me.
Unlike the majority of Persians I’ve met abroad, who don’t like any part of their government, they are actually big fans of the Ayatollah, though they don’t like their reactionary and holocaust denying President, Ahmadinejad. All told, they’d love to visit America, and dream of the freedoms and opportunity it offers. 
The Dubai skyline
Gold Strike
Machine gun toting security guards stand at attention in every store, thwarting any dreams I had of robbery. The Gold Souq is a glittering plethora of yellow shiny metal, Arabs and Indians alike working behind the counters, hoping to earn a nice commission from selling a pretty piece of jewelry. The attractiveness of the lustrous gold, even for someone who cares little for such things as myself, is undeniable.

The world’s biggest ring, containing nearly 64 kg of gold, sits on display in a protected chamber. It’s too big to fit around an elephant, and the reason for this utterly useless creation lies beside it- a Guiness Book of World Records Certificate. Does it really make you feel that much more important?
(also I suppose it helps draw people like me into the store)
The world's largest gold ring
I enter, and speak with a minority owner of one of the shops, a Yemeni named Ali. His English is poor, but he tries his best. We discuss gold, and its rapid ascent in price. Considering most of his net worth sits in front of him, he does his best to convince me that the metal will continue to rise, and would make an excellent investment, and I should hold onto it and sell under no circumstances, but if I'd like to purchase some of his gold, he'd be happy to part with it.
“What would happen if it went up to $4,000 an ounce,” I ask him?
“Then I would sell all the gold I own, even at a discount, and retire,” he replies, his eyes glassy at prospect.

Night Falls
Ramadan, coupled with the day's oppressive heat, makes Dubai feel and look like a ghost town.
When the sun finally sets, and the restaurants, mostly Indian- catering to Dubai’s majority population and imported workforce, open, the establishments are quickly flooded and the day's fast and silence, broken.
I ask what there is to do this evening, and discover that all night clubs and bars are shut down by law for the duration of Ramadan. I'm a little disappointed but I guess it's okay; I’m exhausted from spending the afternoon walking around the steam room anyways.


  1. Any more writings about Dubai? What else did you do there?

  2. Of course I have more coming, just takes time to write them my amigo :)

  3. Not a fan of Dubai then? Do you think it would have been dramatically different had you gone when it wasn't Ramadan?

    1. That's a very very fair question. I was certainly warned I was arriving at the worst possible time (Heat + Ramadan) so I think it's possible.
      However, I still believe I would find Dubai soulless with its overbuilding and ginormous chasm between haves and have-nots


Follow us + like us on Facebook as well --