I can earn more money here than at home. I get some nice perks like free housing. I can save money because schooling for kids and other allowances are provided. What more is there to say--earn more, save more.No, these are not my reasons. It isn't so much about money. It isn't even just about money for those coming from, say, a less developed country where the wages for work might be far lower than here in the UAE.
For those who do come for the money there are often other factors at play. For example, if the salary on offer in Saudi Arabia were higher, one would more likely choose Dubai for its liberalism. Many also choose Dubai because they have immediate family, relatives or friends here who precede them. Some also come for the vocational and professional experience that is perhaps more available in Dubai with its more dynamic, diversified economy.
I am not here for the money--I want to make that loud and clear! There are a host of reasons why someone might choose Dubai, which relate to personal factors as much as to economic ones. For me there is on some level a buzz or excitement about Dubai--and I don't mean for getting rich or making more money!
New York of the East
I arrived in Dubai from Sri Lanka in 2000, coming to look for a job--yes, money was a factor. I had not been to Dubai before so had few preconceived notions of what it was like. It was a coolish March when I arrived--just as it is now, the weather was great! What really caught my fancy was how international and vibrant the city was.
In those days--in Dubai years, 2000 was a long time ago--the life and activity of the city were centered around the Creek. All of the color and activity on the streets and on the Creek itself were sort of magical. I spent two weeks in Dubai on that first occasion and loved it. Fortunately I got the job I was looking for, unfortunately it was not in Dubai but in Abu Dhabi.
But it was those two things that hooked me--the buzz and the international flavor. It was also the particularly exotic flavor of the international element that intrigued me. It wasn't just a mini version of New York City, which probably vies with Dubai for having the greatest variety of nationalities represented in a single city. There was definitely something different and special about Dubai.
Luke Skywalker Meets Chewbacca
For those who have seen any of the Star Wars movies, my first visit to Dubai was like when the space travelers enter the crowded bar on this or that odd planet. As a Westerner, even one who had already lived in different parts of Asia, I had never seen so many people on the streets in all variety of dress, wearing tunics, robes and all types of head pieces, in addition to the men having beards, mustaches and all variety of facial features.
Then, there were also all the different languages being spoken, varieties of shops and restaurants, and so on. Two weeks in Dubai and I was sold on a city that was unique and exotic.
During the same trip I visited Al Ain. I had heard this and that about the garden city. I also visited the capital Abu Dhabi, with all of its wide, tree-lined boulevards. But these places did nothing for me. It was Dubai that had caught my fancy.
Now, year 2000 is ages ago. I don't think one can say the Creek is the center of Dubai anymore. I rarely even visit that part of the city now. Still, the buzz and international flavor are here. The once very exotic mix has become more Western, but it is still a mix of everything with even more nationalities than were here in 2000.
If not the exotic clothing anymore, what excites me about Dubai today is how it has transformed itself from an old Singapore-style trading city to an ultra-modern urban experiment on the cusp of 21st century development. Again, there is a kind of Star Wars symbolism here, but of a very different kind. When one sees the cityscapes in the newer Star Wars films, one can sense a bit of Dubai 2008 or 2009.
So Many Places
I have lived in other notable cities, one of these Honolulu, Hawaii. Without a doubt, that city and the Hawaiian islands have to be among the most pristine and beautiful places to live on earth, and Honolulu is also a very international city--mostly Asian and Pacific.
I also lived in Kyoto, Japan--for 10 years. It is a city where all of Japanese history and culture are in a sense preserved and still alive. Even though now overlaid with concrete dwellings and roads, the city is still a treasure trove of the most beautiful gardens and temples and is surrounded by mountains which change their colors with the seasons--from deep summer green, to autumn yellow and red, to winter white and then to bright green with the new growth of spring.
Last on my list of notables is Colombo, Sri Lanka. Now Colombo was--and is--a pot-holed, dusty and smelly-in-places, traffic-clogged third-world city, yet it has its charms. The people are ever so warm and friendly toward Westerners, the green cover, where it exists within the city and definitely on the outskirts, is of a glorious tropical variety, and one can quite simply experience life's simpler pleasures there. One of my favorite of simple pleasures was the shade of a tree--any tree or grove would do, which for Sri Lankans was sufficient to keep body and drink cool. Who needs air-conditioning or refrigeration?
A Personal Choice
Those fascinating and charming experiences aside, Dubai is still my city of choice. It is a city that dares to be first and dares to welcome all of every stripe (well almost every--sometimes in a don't ask, don't tell sort of way). It is in a way no one's real home (the local Emirati population sometimes feel alienated) yet domicile for anyone who wishes to make it so. I am still very much looking forward to the trails Dubai will blaze in the year 2009 and beyond--global economic woes notwithstanding.
Those are my reasons. What are yours?
P.S. Just noticed I had already written a piece entitled Dubai in 2007.