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Arab Culture - And I don't mean yougurt

October 30th  

So, I'm sitting beside some pine trees, browsing the internet while a nearby waterfall makes soft gurgling noises.  Obviously, I'm at the Eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula.At the Dubai clock tower. All the water in the fountain is desalinated odean.

In this case I'm at the airport in Dubai and this is one of their smaller waterfalls.  The one by the elevators is 30 feet high.  But I'm not going back there to get a picture because it's on the other side of Duty Free Hell.  The airline requires you to arrive at the airport 90 minutes before your flight and I'm convinced the reasons have more to do with commerce than security.

I'm only in town for 14 hours between flights, but of course that's enough time to do some exploring.  Dubai is a city of two and a half million people of whom only 17% are locals.  The rest are mostly Asian.  You encounter the Emiratis (as the locals are known) in a few offical capacities, but most of the people a tourist is likely to meet are Indian.  There are a surprising number of women in offical capacities, including police officers who wear an odd looking police cap with a built in head scarf.  

 Five years ago Alex and I visited Egypt, during the last days of the Mubarek regeime.   That was our first exposure to the Arabic culture. Cairo was noisy, chaotic and dirty.  Travel lanes were usually not marked on roads and were ignored anyway.  Stop signs were considered optional.  People drove old beat up cars steering with one hand while the other continuously beat out a staccatto rhythm on the horn.  Side streets were impromptu commercial districts with people offering merchandise or repair service from the curbs.  In Cairo you can get a transmission changed on a street corner.

Dubai is more like Las Vegas, without the naughty parts.  Okay, that doesn't leave a lot.   But it has the same, somewhat tacky "overbuilt because we can" sense about it.   Dubai is home to the Burj Kalifa, the tallest building in the world which dominates the harbor.  There are also underwater hotels, the largest shopping mall on the planet and an indoor ski resort.  I didn't see any of those - except the Burj Kalifa, it's kind of hard to miss.

What I did encounter was a society in every way different from Cairo.  There is a lot of traffic, but all the cars are new and everyone obeys the traffic laws meticulously.  In Egypt there were forty foot tall portraits of the president hanging on the sides of buildings; here there are small photos of the king inside most offices.  There is no litter or graffiti anywhere, but because we are in the desert there is a thin layer of sandy dust that forms on top of everything. 

 Arabic has become sort of the unofficial second language.  Asking someone if they speak English gets about the same "well duh" sort of reaction it would in PeoriaBack home, Americans have spent several years in a state of perpetual anxiety about the economy, the federal debt and housing prices.  Those problems aren't going away soon. But it's kind of refreshing to visit a place where those aren't really concerns. Dubai has an overwhelming sense of economic optimism.  In the last 20 years they have built hundreds of new high rise buildings.  Yet this country produces no oil;  it's economy is built entirely on banking, tourism and real estate.  I don't see how this can be sustained in the long run.  It's sort of like America in 1999 when we had that sense of a new economy that would keep growing and getting better forever. View from a Dubai metro station.

It might not last here either, but that's no reason not to enjoy a vibrant society.  Pessimists might be more accurate in the long run, but optimists are a lot more pleasant to be around.

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