Huge malls in the middle of the hot desert. Ski-slopes covered with snow, and marinas with boats, in the middle of the malls! This is fact, not fiction in Dubai. And the list of such paradoxes here, is endless.
Every waking moment since I arrived last Thursday, has been spent reversing my perceptions of the middle east. And as I reflect upon them, I see the paradoxes divided into “the expected”, and “the unexpected”.
The Expected Paradoxes: Most of the paradoxes you experience in Dubai are of the expected kind. In the context of making this emirate a great place to be – for the locals, the expats, and for visitors like me.
“After all, who doesn’t want the best things in life – both in terms of the basics, and the luxuries of life. And if you have the money and the space to create what you want, why not?!”
And if you build on this “basic human need” truth, these paradoxes and pleasant surprises are clearly part of a larger plan to infuse the region with new talent, and human resources, followed by international investment – all of which only add up to making the place better, and of course, richer!
The Unexpected Paradoxes: The surprises which are unexpected, are those in the context of being in the middle-east, and being an Islamic nation.
You see men in western business suits walking alongside men in traditional arab robes Agal. You see women in summer dresses alongside women in Hijab.
You can go to a TGIF, you can go to Wafi Gourmet (for traditional arabic fare). You see nightclubs, Stuff and FHM… you see mosques and prayer rooms everywhere.
And all the above seem to exist comfortably with each other.
Is this a paradox? Is this unexpected and un-islamic? I think not. As a Moslem gentleman himself told me, two very important aspects of Islam are “tolerance”, and “hospitality”. And Dubai lives true to these facets.
The Paradox around women – better than the best?
In Dubai, women walk proudly, and fearlessly all around. In the malls, on the roads, or even alone in the evening. In western attire, or in Hijab. And no one stares at them, no one leers at them. The kind of space and respect I see women get in public, I haven’t seen anywhere in the world. Not even in western countries.
To me, this isn’t a Dubai paradox, its a global paradox!
Dare to compare?
Seeing the discipline, infrastructure and style of governance here, I cannot help but compare Dubai to Singapore. Both attempt a squeaky clean image of great infrastructure, an open economy, social tolerance, zero crime, and so on…
I think Dubai wins hands down.
Besides sheer scale and opulance, the key differentiator is what I sense lies beneath the surface. And to compare the two, I will use my favorite “barometers of a nation” – the cabbies. Talk to a cab driver, and you will know what a nation feels. The Dubai cabbie is quiet, efficient, and relaxed. The Singapore cabbie is, well… not the same.
Disclaimer: I don’t claim to know everything about Dubai and what makes it tick. The above are my thoughts based on my own observations and instincts. Having spent just 3 days here, I cannot claim to know what lies below the surface. Feel free to agree or disagree.