Saturday, May 05, 2012

Thoughts on Dubai...

Well I am back from Dubai.   I was there for a week on  a business trip.   First  I have to say  that  Dubai is  frankly,  completely ridiculous.  It's like  Las Vegas and  Disney's  "Aladdin"  had a child.    The over-the top "look how much money we have"  nature of the place  just becomes  funny after a couple days there.

Yet underneath all the  BMW SUV's and  5 Star hotels, each one more  opulent  than the last one, there  lurked  a dark reality.  In the  late 90's and early  2000's expatriates  came to Dubai in droves  with the promise of a tax-free living,  and  a booming  real estate market  fuelled  by the  United Arab Emirates  oil wealth.   But  when the  global economy  took a nosedive  in  2008,  reality hit the Dubai expats, and  hit them hard.   The biggest example of this happened the week I was there, with a massive  auction of  cars and  SUV's  that  had been left abandoned  that the Dubai Airport.   It turns out,  the auction is something of a regular  event there in Dubai.
 (Hat tip to the Sunday Times)

Dubai expats abandon cars at airport car park

The Times, UK, Dubai -- For many expatriate workers in Dubai it was the ultimate symbol of their tax-free wealth: a luxurious car that few could have afforded on the money they earned at home. Now, faced with crippling debts as a result of their high living and Dubai's fading fortunes, many expatriates are abandoning their cars at the airport and fleeing home rather than risk jail for defaulting on loans.

Police have found more than 3,000 cars outside Dubai's international airport in recent months. Most of the cars – four-wheel drives, saloons and "a few" Mercedes – had keys left in the ignition. Some had used-to-the-limit credit cards in the glove box. Others had notes of apology attached to the windscreen. When the real estate market collapsed and the emirate's once-booming economy started to slow down, many expatriates were left owning several homes and unable to pay the mortgages without credit.

Under Sharia Law, which prevails in Dubai, the punishment for defaulting on a debt is severe. Bouncing a check, for example, is punishable with jail. Those who flee the emirate are known as skips. The abandoned cars underscore a worrying trend. Five years ago the Emir, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, embarked on an ambitious plan to transform Dubai into a hub for business and tourism. A building boom fuelled double-digit growth, with thousands of Westerners arriving every day, eager to cash in on the emirate's promise of easy living and wealth.

There are increasing signs that the foreigners who once flocked to Dubai are leaving. "There is no way of tracking actual numbers, but the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. Dubai is emptying out," said a Western diplomat.

Most of the emirate's banks are not affiliated with British financial institutions, so those who flee do not have to worry about creditors. Their abandoned cars are eventually sold off by the banks at weekly auctions. Those recently advertised include BMWs, Porsches and Mercedes. Police have issued warrants against owners of the deserted cars. Those who return risk arrest at the airport.

Still even in this down economy Dubai puts on one heck of a show. The center piece being the world's tallest building, the burj khalifa. Standing at half a mile high. It simply boggles the mind to look at it. But if that wasn't enough. At the base is a massive water fountain display like the one outside the Belagio casino in Las Vegas, only twice the size (of course).

When I remarked to my cab driver from the Airport to my hotel, that having the world's tallest building in your city must create some unique security concerns, he smiled and took great pride in pointing out that the Burj Khalifa was in no danger of being a target for terrorist attack.  When I asked why that was so,  he replied simply that the very top floor of the tower contained a Mosque.
Looking at the skyline of Dubai, you can'thelp but think of the cityscapes from science fiction films.
 It's almost like someone in Dubai saw an Anime movie set in the distant future , and said "let's build THAT!" And then they did.   Not only that, but  once they started  they just couldn't help them selves and just kept  building.  The buildings have no architectural theme, and there appears to be no urban planning that went into the placement. The focus was to put as many skyscrapers up as they could, wherever they felt like it. The resulting skyline is mind-bogglingly impressive to look at, but feels "fake". It seems more like a CGI background shot from a Star Wars prequel than a place people actually live.

Still it was an amazing experience. The view in the video below  is from the bar atop the WAFI pyramid hotel., Where I, along with my  two co-workers, Gary and Neil,  spent our last evening in Dubai admiring the view. We all agreed, that if you are looking to visit an amazing place that you would never in a million years consider living in. Dubai should definitely be on your list.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Obviously I've never been to Dubai, but a friend of mine does recruiting for a private academy here in Mass and he travels all over spending weeks upon weeks in different countries, but he had a very similar take as you did, especially on the backdrop looking like Corusant in Star Wars.

I love the Las Vegas and Aladin had a child analogy.