Saturday, 23 November 2013

By bus to Dubai from Muscat, the world's tallest building and biggest shopping mall loom up from the dunes..........

The bus from Muscat is a bone shaker from the 1970's - we were travelling with the people, well, a couple of Indians and an Omani woman or two. The conductor was exhausted by his labours of checking the passengers' tickets and soon fell asleep, abandoning his main job of keeping the driver awake with conversation.

The Omani desert and scrubscape is littered with half started motorway projects and half finished houses.

An embryonic freeway flyover stands starkly over an intersection, its angry steel support joints snarling at the indignity of being left naked and useless, with no sign of its connecting companions.

Oman aims to tarmac the desert and recreate Los Angeles' in the Arabian Peninsular. They will get there in the end as they seem to be as determined as los Angeleans to create a car based world of lonely isolation in which every human feeling is mediated on four wheels and all the public spaces are roads.
We fall asleep as the bus grinds and growls forward on the eight hour trip.

When we awake, we are in Dallas, Texas, or Houston, but as our eyes find their focus we realise our mistake - an easy one to make - we are in Dubai, which is Dallas or Houston or any number of US cities, transplanted to these Arabian sands. Maybe it's all the oil, but the Emir must be suffering from the same sort of affliction that has blighted America - Giantism, or mine is bigger than yours syndrome.
But we must concede - in its gleaming glass erectile style, it has an eirie beauty and efficiency that is a pleasure to experience.
The taxi's arrive as swiftly as yellow cabs in New York City, but they are cleaner and the drivers' are polite.

We arrive at the world's biggest shopping mall and, despite ourselves, we are seduced immediately, even buying a jumper for Elena, and a bag of souvenirs in a gift shop.

The fountain display comes up like a ballet and we eat a delicious spaghetti pesto and miso soup in a strange hybrid restaurant of Japanese and Italian food.

From the top of the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, we are humbled by the engineering involved and the almost impious achievement of this recreation of the west as an oasis for global trade in the middle east. This is globalism, and it's for making money. It represents an Arabian vision and was realised by a global collaboration, which itself must be a hopeful sign.

Here comes everyone, you might think, and they are all well dressed and well off. But globalism floats on a sea of human struggle as men and women are separated from families by the necessity to find work thousands of miles away from home. Pockets of unemployment and poverty drive millions across the skies to staff the service army recruited by Dubai and other pockets of posperity in the Middle East and around the world.

Our waiter Leo Bonillo is a charming young man from Manilla, where there is no work. His children are at home with his mother. And this story can be found over and over again, in Shanghai or Dubai, London or Moscow, New York or Mumbai. If home is where the heart is, there is a lot of heartache in Dubai.

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