The Window Cleaner.
His job is to clean the acrylic panel at the Lost Chambers Aquarium--an underwater fantasy land of mazes and tunnels located at the Atlantis resort in Dubai. He cleans it with something close to devotion. The calculated precision of his strokes, such attention to detail, I think, have to be out of love. Love for those he left behind in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan or Bangladesh. Love for that which the pennies he makes in Dubai will buy his family back at home: a door, a fan, a new pair of shoes, a quilt. He doesn't know that when the resort was being built, a complex series of ancient, buried passages was uncovered. He doesn't know that these discoveries fueled the belief that the remains of the Lost City of Atlantis were buried thousands of years ago by the waters of the Arabian Gulf. He doesn't have to know any of this. He gets paid for cleaning the window and that's all he does. He doesn't look at the guide regurgitating her freshly-learned information. He doesn't see the children leaving their finger prints on the panel he so feverishly wipes clean. He delivers stroke after stroke as if his life depended upon it, which it does.
The Muslim couple. I want to say that she is beautiful although her face is completely covered by a black niqab. I also want to say that she is young although what appears to be a taut body moves quietly under her abaya. She sits on a low pillow and stares hard at the aquarium as if recording the times a specific moray eel zooms by, quivering with life. I know the man next to her is her husband, otherwise she wouldn't be in public with him. I know he loves her. I see it in the way that he, out of respect, sits a good foot away from her, points at the aquarium excitedly every time he sees something beautiful, whispers the names of the submarine creatures he knows, like a young boy trying to impress a girl out of his league, and when he is ready to move on, he gently pats her hand. No. She shakes her head and lets him know in no uncertain terms that she is not ready to go. And so he pats her hand again and leaves her, face to face with millions of litres of water, with nothing in between her and 65,000 marine creatures than the large acrylic panel which the South Asian man, for a few minutes, keeps clear as if exclusively for her.
1. If you are looking for nature.
Dubai is a brand new world made
of cold steel, polarized windows, seven-lane highways, and futuristic architecture. It is like New York, London or Miami: inundated with international brand names, from McDonald's to Porsche, from Jean Paul Gaultier to Starbucks. It is unlike any other place in the world: crime is almost nonexistent.
2. If you are looking for local history.
If there is evidence of history or of local culture, it is tucked away in the national museum. Nothing in Dubai speaks of its past. The "old" city was built in the 1970s and this "new" dizzying cosmos of excess and bling has been under construction since the year 2000.
3. If you don't like five-stars hotels, exclusive restaurants, unaffordable shopping malls and canals meant to evoke images of Venice.
Take the Mall of the Emirates: the world's first shopping resort, currently featuring Ski Dubai - the Middle East’s first indoor ski resort and snow park, over 560 high-end stores, 7,000 parking spaces, a food court with over 90 luxury eateries, and upcoming 250 million dollars worth of enhancements, just because. Or, take a look at the Dubai Mall, the world's largest shopping mall, which whether we like it or not, receives more visitors per year than Niagara Falls, Time Square, Central Park and Disney.
5. If you think it is a social Shangri-La.
110F, 95% humidity, the sun hangs high and mean, and the air adopts an un-breathable heaviness. The locals stay indoors, pale tourists venture out in full armor: wide-brim hats, oversized sunglasses, 100 SPF sunscreen, lightweight breathable clothing. The works. Everyone sips lemonades and waits for the sun to set. Everyone, except the Southeast Asian construction workers. To them, discomfort is the norm. They work at dawn, at dusk, when the sun is at its zenith and every hour in between. Dubai is built with Western technology, Middle Eastern money and Southeast Asian sweat. While Dubai slumbers in air conditioned palaces, villas and hotels, the workers toil outside in a miasma of dust, dampness and heat.
6. If you have a problem with policewomen driving Ferraris.
7. If you don't like bling.
Rumor has it that approximately 10 tons of gold are present at any given moment in the Dubai Gold Market. With over 300 shops crammed with gold in all its values (10k, 14k, 18k, and 24k) with 24 carats being the purest form of gold, you almost need sunglasses to go window-shopping. It is spectacular by day and dizzying by night. The excess is vulgar. The designs garish.
It's difficult to imagine who creates gold necklaces so heavy they would most certainly atrophy the wearer's neck. Even more difficult to conceive is who would wear them. But this is Dubai (named after a local locust, Daba, which consumes everything around it) and here, the bigger, the flashier, the tackier...the better.
8. If you don't know how to act rich.
You have to. Trust me. You
have to act like you are the owner of that Lamborghini parked outside (you
arrived by taxi), walk tall across the lobby of the $1,000/night hotel, rearrange your Gucci sunglasses (fakes) as you greet the butler and the concierge (as if you were their guest), pretend not to be wowed by a pool of fresh petals (have your husband take a picture of you all giddy), and gingerly make your way to the beach. Order some exorbitantly priced cocktail and when the waiter asks your room number, tell him you are paying cash. Cash baby. That's how you roll. Then snap a picture of the Burj Al-Arab, the first seven star hotel in the world and one of the most extravagant and luxurious ever built ($10,000/night for a deluxe suite).
Then, think what it would be like not to have to fake it.