The gentleman traveller: Dubai

One must be laconic. For time is short.

One is in the UAE, specifically in the emirate of Dubai.

It is a different world from Iran.

My view of the place is one of ambivalence.

I cannot knock it, though one cannot particularly exalt it. It’s ok, what I expected. It is what it is, and can only be taken for what it is. One does not come here for adventure or depth of culture. That being said, there is much to recommend it.

In many ways, it is impressive. Indeed, Dubai’s transformation from desert backwater to a slick modern metropolis, a city that has the case to rival the world’s greatest, is a marvel. It is quite a feat by the sheiks to effectively build a new city in the space of a few decades.

The first thing that one notices on the journey from the airport is the shiny newness of everything, particularly that of the mighty glass and steel edifices that dominate the cityscape; for there are skyscrapers galore. The roads are wide, smooth and well laid out; pavements are clean. There is a beautiful modernity about everything. Much building work is still taking place. The plethora of building sites and cranes is testament to the boom that the place is currently undergoing. If Dubai had a mantra, it would be “Higher, Bigger and Better”, indicative of its self-confidence.

Everything available in the West is available here, and one would want for nothing. One can partake in every pastime that one’s heart so desires – shopping, eating, partying and a variety of sports. Indeed, one can have much enjoyment galivanting from bar to bar with abandon. It is a very good place to party, with bars and clubs that are most atmospheric and vibrant. The beaches are nice enough, and the weather, at this present time at least, is clement. However, one does not have to go to Dubai for all of this.

Although impressively cosmopolitan, Dubai lacks is a “soul”; that intangible something that should be specific and authentic to the place.


There are remnants of Arabian culture in the Old Town of Dubai, where the architecture has been preserved from the days when Dubai was nothing but a centre for fishing and pearl harvesting. The souks that are present in this part of the city are also a cursory throwback to a bygone age. A handful of museums document the development of the city remarkably well. Old Town aside, Dubai is one big Canary Wharf with nice beaches.

World cities like London, Paris, Hong Kong and New York have history, identity a culture. This cannot be built or confected, and evolves organically. Part of this is down to the visible presence of an arts scene, something, from what I have seen at least, Dubai lacks. One would contend that that the best art – visual, performance, written or music of any given genre – originates from an established population of young and, often rebellious, creatives. The autocracy that is Dubai, does not lend itself to youthful rebellion, neither do its demographics. Much of the population of Dubai is transient. The native population, the Emiratis, are in a minority. Everyone else is from elsewhere, here to do a job – whether it is the South Asians who are virtually constructing Dubai, or Europeans here in some professional capacity.

There really is not that much of note to say about the place. It’s cool, I like it, I guess; but don’t love it. It is no big wow.

Still, one could live here for a while – should there be an opportunity. There are all the Western comforts that one is accustomed to and salaries are tax-free. Life would be rather comfortable.