Thursday, February 07, 2008

Dubai in the morning

“Ooh” she squeaked. “You’re going to be met at the airport by someone from the hotel.”

“The difference between you and me, Clare,” I said, “is that you think that that’s going to happen.”

To be fair, I had watched my bag make three entire excursions around the carousel before I finally stopped believing BA had lost it - it looked so small there, somehow, against how I had remembered it. As I got out of my taxi at the hotel it must have been half past midnight and I was tired, deaf (the remains of my cold and the descent) and too disorganised even to ask for a receipt.

This morning I threw back the curtains at 7 a.m., eagerly anticipating my first daylight view of Dubai. Here is what I saw.

Advancing on the window, I was able to get the panoramic view.

Dubai, at least from a taxi, is a traffic-clogged set of six lane highways which crawl past giant skyscrapers, most as yet unbuilt, and some whose state of completion is not entirely clear. Around the base of each skyscraper are tired-looking, scruffy shops dealing in furniture, Kodak film processing and carpets.

As I was being driven the 15 miles (well over an hour!) to where we were working this morning, the driver proudly stated “All immigrants, see? Not a single native inhabitant in sight.” And indeed, the Indians were driving the taxis and doing other white collar jobs, the Filipinos were building the skyscrapers and doing manual work, while the east Asians (Koreans?) seemed to have cornered the hotel front office trade.

I wish I could say it’s really hot here, but to be honest I saw the outside world at 7.30 a.m. and again at 6.30 p.m. and both times it seemed rather chilly. Inside it was all air-con, and that was rather chilly too.

Department of infeasible coincidences. As I stood with colleagues outside the anonymous business office in Ali Jebel, south of Dubai City, waiting for someone to find a taxi home, I was hailed by this bloke who had come outside for a smoke. “Nigel? Nigel Seel? Is that you?” It was Jim B., still with Nortel, who I had last met in 1996 I guess, when I was working on a long-forgotten product called the Multimedia Carrier Switch. Amazing.

As I was trying to work out what had gone wrong with the heating in Dubai, Clare informed me by phone that for an exorbitant fee, the plumber had finally managed to make our boiler work. I missed it by a day!

On the way back to Dubai City, as we crawled for an hour through incredibly dense traffic to the accompaniment of the taxi driver’s radio, which was playing the Dubai version of Radio 1 with an estuary English DJ and a soundtrack of gangsta rap, I turned wearily to one of my companions and asked what exactly Dubai had going for it, based on evidence so far.

“The beach and the shopping malls.”

I could add that all the electric plugs are English – a decided advantage. At its commercial cultural core, Dubai is neither Arabic nor American. We made it in our image - it's English.