We hear about the money here in the Gulf. And sure, there’s tons of it. When we see pictures of Tiger Woods hitting a golf ball off a multi billion dollar hotel in Dubai it looks clean and crisp.
However reality is that this place is one big construction site. The individual buildings, those that are finished, are beautiful, but they are surrounded by frankly the world’s largest building site. The infrastructure is in mid debauch, the older sections are reminiscent of Cairo, Delhi, or Saigon.
I’m told there are a million and a half people in Abu Dhabi, but only half a million are citizens, native Arabs. The rest are imported to provide workers in hotels, shops, and construction sites. In many sections it’s more common to hear people speaking in the clipped English of Mombai than the lighting speed of Arabic.
The city is very clean. There are teams of workers who do nothing but pick up trash. I would say I never saw a candy wrapper or Big Mac box on the street.
My hotel is one of the nicest in Abu Dhabi. It’s where the symposium is being held. Connected to it is a shopping center that rivals any you will find in the US. Probably 300 stores, fully air-conditioned, and food courts with MacDonalds, KFC, Hardees (Carl’s Jr), Pizza Hut and the rest. The stores are the same ones you will find an any upmarket mall in the US (Tiffany, Gant, Nike, Pierre Cardin, you name it, its here.)
Everything here is in two languages, Arabic and English. Street signs, billboards, and all markings on menus, food, and on goods in stores. If you read English, you have no problem getting along in the United Arab Emirates.
Although these are technically separate countries, once you have entered one, you can move between them like you would in US states.
There’s no question there is money here. I went to the “Gold Souk” in Dubai and it was incredible.
There must have been 75 or 100 stores in this shopping center every one having more gold the last. Unlike the malls, a souk is a place where you can bargain. In fact you must bargain. I bought some Myrrh (Don’t ask me why), and it was marked for 15 Dinars (about $3.50). I gave the guy 15 and he looked insulted, and handed me back five.
I watched another tourist bargaining, and got a piece of gold jewelry for $250 that started at $500.
My only concern with all this is that when the deal is struck, you never know how much you left on the table. Could he have gotten the bracelet for $200? This is a cultural thing that it outside my comfort level.
The famous sail shaped hotel (of Tiger fame) is so exclusive that you have to have a reservation for lunch or dinner or you can’t even approach the place. I used my cell phone to call for reservations while parked outside and then the guards let me through. The place is worth the price of admission.
Here’s the hotel –
Prices here are higher than at home. Hotels are expensive, but you can find food that is pretty much the same price as in the US for like quality. However remember one thing, prices in the US are, on balance, much less than anywhere on earth – I would say by 25 to 50%. Don’t complain about it, live with it. It’s certainly better now than in the summer when the dollar was down, but in the Emirates the Dinar is pegged to the dollar so nothing changes as the dollar and other currencies move up and down. The dollar is always worth 3.65 dinars.
If you have a chance, spend a few days in the Gulf. Its kinda neat begin awakened at 5 AM by the songs from the Mosques, calling the faithful to prayer. Every other car is a Rolls, Mercedes, Lexus, or Hummer. The people are very friendly and you feel safe here. If you are in the UK, the roundtrip airfare from Heathrol if you plan ahead is less than $500 and it’s really worth it. The Airline to fly is Ehihad which is less than five years old and is terrific.