Dubai: the other Middle East

View of the Marina from a restaurant at Pier 7.
View of the Dubai Marina from a restaurant at Pier 7. Do you find it similar to Hong Kong promenades?

I have been living in Hong Kong’s Kowloon Tong district for about an year now and have grown rather fond of this gentrified district. There is something here for everyone; if you are an early riser it would hard to miss the municipal parks teeming with the elderly doing some interpretation of Tai Chi, during rush hours people of all demographics conceivable traversing through the efficient MTR (metro) on their way to schools, financial district near Causeway Bay or the retail hubs in Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok. The night life is vibrant and secure while the people are courteous, educated and civilised.

But much closer to my home town of Karachi, approximately an hour and 45 minutes away by plane, is another great trade and finance hub in the region, namely Dubai. I always had a very negative association of Dubai; not least due to its strong ties with the oil industries and the political turmoil that the Arab world seems to be perpetually engulfed in. I recall a time in my career when I seriously contemplated traveling here for work but realised that the Communication Industry there is limited in scope. The Arab arrogance is notorious also and those preoccupied with Marx such as myself finds it appalling. So when I did get opportunities to travel I chose Turkey and the United Kingdom instead, in a bid to distance myself from the Pakistan-Arab nexus. (Its ironic though that years later in Hong Kong, an American colleague would exclaim “Hey Ayaz, you are my first Arab muslim male friend!”) So much for my Pakistani identity.

On Sheikh Zayed road in the evening.
On Sheikh Zayed Road the main artery of the city.

Despite my erratic career trajectory and refusal to settle for a tourist trap my first visit to Dubai was quite experiential. Beyond the desert safaris and fancy hotels, I found my friends working their comfortable and well paid. There is also a high sense of security, just what foreigners are looking for. The city is after all a success story of modernity in the Arab world, as it transitions its unique proposition from oil to global trade joining the ranks of multicultural port cities (states). Thus standing out as a model for lesser developed Arab countries to aspire towards. As a British protectorate between 1822-1971, Dubai shares a Commonwealth heritage similar to Karachi and Hong Kong. I comprehend now how little I actually know about this other side of the Middle East. A far cry from framed news stories on CNN and BBC.

But now that I have witnessed the mana unique to Dubai would I consider living their? An year ago it would be a straight off no! I mean the human resource development in Hong Kong, supported by soft power initiatives of China, right now parallels the most advanced countries. It has after all a GDP per capita equal to that of United States. It is obvious that Dubai still has a long way to go in terms of top notch health, affordable education and diversification of selling proposition. But these considerations are in the abstract and I find that my question is not relevant any more. People adapt and make their lives wherever they live and work. That is an adage. I suppose it was a combination of cultural phobias and divergent career paths which held me clear off these castles in the sand. I wonder how my personality and life would have shaped though had I visited much earlier. As I have sung praises of Turkey, United Kingdom and Hong Kong with a progressively loud pomp so too I suspect have the Dubai tour come to pass.

Global Village center, site of the Dubai Shopping Festival and the much anticipated Expo 2020.
Global Village center, site of the Dubai Shopping Festival and the much anticipated Expo 2020.

There is a class of upwardly mobile people all around the world riding the wave of post-modernity as it sweeps away everyone willing to cash it, leaving behind everything that hesitates in its wake. There are many American and British emigrants in Hong Kong who have relinquished their nationalities to avoid taxes and other assorted purposes. So is the large diaspora of Pakistan, Philippines, India and Bangladesh found all over the world that we are too familiar with. As we meet new people in our professions we find similar life stories and narratives. The other Middle East is one such story and there is much still we can learn from it.

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