Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008...11:04 pm
36 Hours In Dubai (Friend Post)
A buddy of mine wrote this very interesting and insightful email to a group of friends on his business trip to Dubai. Dubai often catches my interest in the News but until reading this I didn’t really understand what’s happening over there. The extreme wealth seems almost comical and US news reporting on anything Arab often feels contrived. I edited down his email to keep his post anonymous but if you are interested to learn more or have any questions I’d be happy to hook you up with him.
I don’t normally write emails about the places I’ve been for work or pleasure, but I probably should, especially for the more exotic locations like this one or Beijing, Singapore etc, but it’s too late on those. This stop in Dubai, albeit for 2 days, is worth writing a little something about; as someone who’s addicted to traveling and fortunately to have a job that allows me to see some great places, I feel obligated to at least shed some light on what its like on the ground here, not just what you read.
The United Arab Emirates is the second Arabic country I’ve ever been to, Morocco being the other, but let me be clear, this is NOT Morocco. Morocco is probably the only true third world country I’ve ever visited and an experience I’d never take back though I could have done w/o the stomach issues and the sickness that ensued thereafter. The UAE is an “emerging market” and then some – it’s modern, expensive and the people tend to be very sophisticated and western educated and VERY wealthy (nice to be sitting on oil). You come to Dubai and you see what wealth derived from the abundance of oil can do to a country that invests back in its own infrastructure. Is surreal to see these huge buildings, incredible hotels and highways that link it all together…in the middle of the desert. I was told that temps reach as high as 130F during summer here, no exaggeration.
Quick observations: The local dress; more so than in Morocco, the woman who are “more” religious are fully covered, they wear sunglasses b/c its eternally sunny here (85 degrees today) so you literally see none of them which is cruel to the heterosexual male tourist; the men wear white robes, for the most part, with the kiffiyeh covering their head. Mostly the red/white checkered kind that you saw Arafat wear (though his was black/white). It was explained to me during lunch yesterday by an ex-pat from NY running a new start up hedge fund out here, that each of the robes and headwear differs based on where you are from: Quatar, Bahrain, Yemen, Oman, Iran, UAE etc. In Morocco, the poverty was evident everywhere you went, people were dressed in scraps in many places in the inner cities I visited, here the woman will be wearing nice fabric and have huge rings on their fingers which I found funny. The men are all well groomed and neatly dressed; quite a difference.
They refer to Israel in the news here as the “Zionist” entity, never using the word “Israel” and Jerusalem is referred to as “Occupied Jerusalem.” Can’t say this is very surprising but something you notice when reading “The Gulf News.”. As a Jew with a very Israeli name I thought I might see some resentment, I haven’t.
My meetings: I’m here for business and yesterday, after a 6.5hr flight and a little delay from Heathrow, I arrived at the airport, was escorted by the Marhaba (or welcome service; marhaba means “welcome” in Arabic) through customs and had a car waiting for me provided by the first fund I was to visit. I had no issues getting through customs, I thought that maybe my Israeli stamps might matter, but I don’t even think they checked. This was good as I didn’t want the headache of going through a Q&A with customs officials. My meetings took place at Emirates Towers and the DIFC which you can view here.
I met with about 7 people there, 5 of which were Arabic, and all very intelligent and obviously hard working and successful. Western educated, perfect English for the most part and a pleasure to sit with. 3 hours go by and the MP takes me to lunch at a Lebanese restaurant where I was the only one not dressed in the outfits I mentioned above. I thought I stood out when I was in China! Interesting experience, great food. Any suggestions I made to the MP was greeted with: “consider it done!”. You don’t get this in the US or UK very often. Second meeting was with a South African and a Brit (not too cultural) and the final meeting, which ended at 7:30pm (mind you I arrived that morning on about 3 hrs sleep on the plane) was with a Brit and a local. All very interesting, I’d ask lots of questions and get very direct answers. As meeting were winding down I’d ask questions about the local economy, growth and other things just as a curious outsider. Nothing like talking to people on the ground and that’s why I’m here for my firm and why my boss was here three weeks ago doing much of the same. There is no substitute being “onsite” as we like to say; a big reason I have traveled so much this year and will continue to do so going forward.
Growth: I’ve never seen so many cranes in one place in my life – 25% of the entire world’s are here in Dubai, that’s not a lie (my facts come from the Big Red Bus Tour I took this morning). It’s unreal to see how this place is building itself up. Skyscrapers that you thought only existed in NY and Hong Kong are popping up here, everywhere. The Burj Dubai Tower will be the tallest building in the world when complete, a European company (not disclosed) just bought the 158th FLOOR and apparently the interest is sky high for more. They are building it so that, should anyone else try to build higher, they will easily be able to build even more floors. 30% of the building has already been sold/rented I believe its now 159 stories and won’t be open in 2009. There are 3,000 workers working 24/7 to get this done at the order of the King. Burj el Arab, the worlds only self-proclaimed 7-star hotel is built on a man made island. I’m sure you’ve seen this before, its so exclusive that you have to pay $150 just to walk in (I took some pics, but didn’t need to enter). They have created other man made islands here, one of which you can see from space; the only other man made thing you can see from space is the Great Wall of China (another place I was fortunate enough to see this year). You get the point, this place is exploding. 80% of the people here are ex-pats; 20% are actually from the UAE. There is such a need for workers that you see a lot of people coming in from neighboring countries, India and many other places. The royal family, in order to try and grow the local population gives people 50,000 dirham ($13,000) to marry local to local, 70,000 dirham per child from local family and payment for education going forward. Those who work here have no income tax, the royal family pays all taxes, that would be nice.
Religion: the work week here, for those who don’t know, is Sunday-Thurs, Friday is the holy day – today. From 1-4pm everything is closed except the hotels; TV’s show the Imam’s (their version of a Rabbi/Priest) at the local mosque on every channel; the only time we see this is in the US is during the State of the Union (or other significant event when the President speaks); this is how it is every Friday here. Pretty interesting to be here on such a day.
Safety: I’ve never once felt in danger here, that was not the case in Morocco as I got into some hairy situations. In fact, the locals have been extremely hospitable and the service is excellent. This morning I get into the elevator and in comes three fully dressed Arabic men in a very tight space. They all smiled, said hello, and wished me well when I got out. They probably didn’t think I was Jewish, but just another of many situations I’ve been in here where I was pleasantly surprised by how the situation went. I’ll be the first one to admit how anti-arab I can be, but that really relates more to the terrorist pieces of sh*t all over the world, their sympathizers and sponsors. Trust me, I’m not booking a trip to Tehran any time soon.
Off to Israel tomorrow and can’t wait; the tour of the Middle East continues. See most of you sooner or later…