When one is living in a war zone and deprived of the ability to travel around freely, burdened with the requirements to wear heavy body armor, staying alert for signs of trouble, scanning for IEDs, and missing the comfort of home, one dreams of warm vacation spots where women mingle without burqas and alcohol flows freely. Dubai is one of those spots where civilian contractors go to let their hair down, relax, refit, and drink. Nearly everyone on my contract who has been in Theater for longer than a year has been to Dubai. It's easily accessible by commercial air from nearly any location in the Middle East.
After I received permission from my management to go on R&R while I was in Kuwait, I returned to my work apartment, got online, booked a cheap flight on Jazeera Airways, booked a hotel room on hotels.com, and five hours later found myself at the Novotel World Trade Center Hotel in Dubai. In five hours time I went from sitting on my couch in a dry (alcohol-free) desert country to drinking with Dutch businessmen who were former Dutch Special Forces. And I drank a lot. Ahhh...beeer!
I arrived late at night, but Dubai's clubs really don't get going until 2200 hrs. I arrived fashionably late. I talked with the Dutchmen and drank until 0100 when I got a little wobbly and went to bed.
Today I headed down to the central mall where everything seems to be. The Burj Dubai (now renamed the Burj Khalifa to honor the Abu Dhabi Emir who bailed Dubai out recently) looms over this portion of the city. The mall and surrounding buildings have got to be the most modern and cleanest facilities I've seen in years.
Looking down into the center of the mall. There was a Guinness World Record attempt going on. This guy was bouncing a tennis ball off the tops of his feet. When we last passed him, he had been doing it for over four hours -- with no breaks.
For all the money that Kuwait has, it's a shit hole. Afghanistan is a shit hole with no money. Dubai is a modern marvel with no money -- at least for the moment. While I was sitting at an outside table sipping coffee, I watched as crowds flowed past me. Dubai is a central crossroads of humanity in this part of the world.
The lower half of the Burj Khalifa, at the moment the tallest building in the world. They wanted over $30 from me to go up to the observation deck. I balked at the cost. I'm no Emir.
There's two realities here in Dubai, and to a lesser extent, in Kuwait. The native Arabs here don't work -- or if they do, they do it behind closed doors. The entire infrastructure and all services here are provided and supported by other foreign nationals. Dubai is run by Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis. Well, throw in a few Filipinos too. These folks provide everything from taxi drivers, hotel clerks, shop keepers, street sweepers, security details, restaurant workers, to construction workers. Except at the mall, there were no Arabs to be seen. The Dutchmen last night told me that they give Dubai five years. This entire charade will end then. It's a hollow shell. A country without a soul. Dubai is a featureless desert adorned by empty modernity. Its days are numbered.
A view of the other Dubai. Indo-Pak shops and restaurants supporting the real population of Dubai.
I went down to the old center of Dubai, away from the modern hub(bub). I wish I had gotten a room down here. This area of Dubai I call Delhi. I saw the same shops and back alleys in New Delhi years ago. The area was saturated with Indian food shops and restaurants. I would have eaten down here but I've been eating Indian food since I've been in Kuwait and I need a break. There were other areas that reminded me of downtown Los Angeles. I felt at home down in this section of the city and wandered into an Indian barber shop in one of these alleys where I received a great haircut and scalp massage, complete with hot chai.
Okay, I've been here. It's time to go. Tomorrow I'm off to Abu Dhabi for the day. But tonight, more drinking.