Dubai is one big shopping center.
The airport is one huge shopping center with airplane gates attached.
Once in the city proper, there are so many high-end shopping centers, all filled with shoppers, that shopping and Dubai are almost synonymous.
The shopping centers in Dubai aren’t just ordinary shopping centers. They are a collection of all the most expensive stores you can imagine in one spot, from Hermes to Tiffany’s.
It’s incredible to me that so many people have enough money to support such a large number of malls. But that is life in Dubai. It’s simply glitz plus.
Flying to Dubai, I thought I’d see men in the typical Arab dress, all white with the typical headdress. But I saw zero on the large 757 airplane. I finally saw one isolated man getting coffee in the hotel.
In Dubai, you can tell the “locals” — all members of one of the emirates’ extended Royal families — by their Arab dress. But in the malls, and, in fact, everywhere, you don’t see many locals. Most of the shoppers are from someplace else, a reflection of the United Arab Emirates itself. The Royal family imports foreigners to staff the hotels, man the shipping docks, and run the oil fields. Their families are the ones that comprise the majority of the population of Dubai. The common denominator language is English. Almost everything is in both Arabic and English.
As you drive the sparkling clean streets of downtown Dubai and neighboring Sharjah (near the airport) you pass ultra-modern buildings housing the offices of the companies that make this economy hot. Also, you find the world’s tallest building, of course, attached to a mall, and serving as headquarters for the King’s multiple businesses. Then there is also the world’s most expensive hotel, also attached to a mall, this one open only to guests who pay $2000 a night.
You don’t see where the foreign workers live. Several miles outside of town you have “Little India” and “Little Somalia” and other miniature communities. Almost 1/3 of the population of UAE is from India. These remote bedroom communities is where common workers shop. These areas look like their communities in their home countries. I am told, for example, the Indian area is complete with trash in the streets, just like in India.
Still, there are a large number of foreigners who are managers and participate in the hot economy supporting the expensive malls in the city of Dubai itself. I understand Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s capital city 60 miles away, another emirate with another Royal family, is similar to Dubai.
One mall contains an indoor ski slope, complete with ski lift, ski instructors and a heavy lift ticket price. As you enter, the temperature of the mall falls dramatically. Another mall contains a huge aquarium.
Streets are lined with medical offices run by foreigners that cater to the foreign population of Dubai. You see one called “Swedish Dentist,” another “English Doctor,” etc. Dubai is trying to become a large medical tourism destination, and by the looks of it, it is well on its way to success.
Around the city you find beautiful homes with the national flag of Dubai flying atop them. These are all the homes of the Royal family. As my driver passed one home after another, he’d say, that’s the King’s house. I must have seen six homes that belonged to the King.
Man-made islands form yacht-friendly destinations for the rich. The most famous one, “Atlantis, Palm Island,” has a very expensive hotel at the top of a palm-shaped series of islands. The islands also contain their own monorail to move people around the massive area. The system is apart from the recently-opened subway system that serves Dubai. The Palm Islands also have a golf course or two for those that like to play in more than 100 degree weather.
Surrounding the city are man-made imported white sand beaches on the Persian Gulf for scantily-clad foreigners to use. Between the beaches relatively small commercial boats are loading and unloading goods traded with the UAE, which needs to import most everything except oil.
The closest thing to “old” Dubai is the Gold Souk, a labyrinth of narrow streets with store after store selling gold jewelry. Alongside these stores are stores selling traditional dresses, Indian saris, spices, scarves, dried fruits, diamonds and souvenirs, tucked in with tailors and seamstresses.
If you go to Dubai, bring money. Everything is expensive. Be prepared to face an ultra-modern, well-controlled society where everything appears to work like a finely tuned watch.