Searching for the “real” Dubai, I wander alongside Dubai Creek, where brightly-painted wooden boats that trade with Iran and other countries on the Persian Gulf are unloaded by hand.
Here, life seems unchanged for decades, with only the cargoes of washing machines, truck tires and widescreen TVs hinting at the modern world. “Abra” ferry boats take passengers back and forth across the creek, while in the souqs nearby haggling for gold is much more fun than shopping in the anonymous malls.
You can glimpse how life once was here and wonder at how the modern city has submerged it. A city has bloomed in the desert to rival the world’s greatest urban centers in a process that has taken decades rather than centuries. Has this speed allowed it time to put down roots that will endure, or is the whole process one giant folly, a monument to greed and environmental destruction of old Testament proportions?
Neighboring Abu Dhabi has provided an alternative model, aiming to build “the world’s first zero-carbon city” in Masdar, a development that combines classic Arab design with 21st-century technology. Its layout encourages walking and street life, something you don’t see much of in Dubai outside the air-conditioned malls.
Even so, local writer Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi says: “There may come a time soon when Emiratis realize that they have exchanged too much, too soon, for too little. By then the old generation would have passed on, and it will be a case of salvaging what is left of Emirati culture in a way like walking into a burned house to salvage what the fire has spared.”
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