Jean had to come here. She had to see it - the 7 star hotel and the gold souk. And now I have seen it with my own eyes and it is real - or at least a physical reality. Any other meaning of the word "real" may not apply to Dubai.
We depart Oman just as the nearby Yemeni embassy is cleared of "non-essential personnel", the USS Cole steams in for a port call and the Olympic torch gets set to arrive - good time to leave. We taxi out past a USAF special ops C-130 parked way out back. It must have been abandoned here as the Ambassador assured us no US personal were in Oman. Hmmmm?
We decide against driving to Dubai after seeing Omani road signs giving the distance to the next town as over 900Km, and judging from the air - scenic miles they ain't. The more interesting coast road around the Straits of Hormuz is still under repair from the massive storm 10 months ago that did a Katrina on little Oman - complete with the civil defense chief being choppered off the submerging 4 story police headquarters - yet any remaining damage is hard to see.
The 7 United Arab Emirates cluster along the Arabian Gulf coast trying to get set for a future without oil. The Saudis seem set to live off their royal portfolios and taxing pilgrims to Mecca - as they did pre-oil. Oman attempts to set up a return to its heyday of ports and trade while keeping traditional habits and skills alive. Bahrain wants to replace old Beirut as the banker of choice - but the Emirates, especially Dubai, is rolling the BIG dice - making a whole new world from scratch - a shopping Mecca. Only time will tell. Desalinators burn oil to water golf course grass - while the biggest, the tallest, the most expensive and the highest star rated - all make the city a famous place … a place famous for just being famous!
Massive import of workers to man the cranes and dig the tunnels and make up the hotel beds - each one unhappy to be here and no chance to retire here - but with little better options at home in Bangladesh, India, Chechnya, Philippines, or Pakistan. Giant dredges pull gulf sea beds up to make new desert islands to sell to the jet set - and a new airport (biggest and most expensive in the world) to park their jets.
But even so, Jean has hunted out maybe the only low-rise hotel in town. A re-made traditional "wind tower" house next to the old fort and dock - that once was the little trading port of Dubai.
Pad lock door and Arab chests just like we got for a wedding gift 30 something years ago. The Grand Mosque (with Grand loudspeakers) glares down nearby.
The old style traders are still here. We walk down the wharf lined with wooden dhows and piles of free-trade cargo. A crew from Somalia shows us the load of matchbooks they traded for an old truck and some used car parts. A 7 day sail to Mogadishu, and 7 back. Iran and Iraq are much closer and "embargoed" goods are re-packaged right on the dock to seep back into the world's marketplace. Pirates are out there still, and more are right in town wearing dishdasha and sharkskin suits.
We eavesdrop on deal making at the next table. The Sheikh in shades with a fast-talking agent in a turban, talking millions to another group in Western dress -complete with bodyguard goon standing behind. Wild gestures, "why waste my time" and stomping away from the table to throw a cigarette into the faux Venetian canal running past the restaurant. 6 million was the "don't embarrass me" bid when I chance an under-table photo. Most interestingly - they were all using English. But alas the menu was in Euros - 2 fruit juice = $17.
I can't pick a winning guess for the post-oil Middle East. Mecca could get fried by an Israeli retaliatory strike. Lack of petrodollars could make ports, airports and free trade zones moot - but if the jet set flies away, the Dubai natives will always have magnificent new ruins; a Petra, Pompeii, Pyramids and even Atlantis rolled into one. That's when the place might be of further interest to me - only time will tell.
- Speculator Stew