Model Future City?

View from the 62nd floor

Dubai is becoming a model city for city building. Wide, multi-lane, self-regulating roads and a boom in construction bringing well planned living spaces is making it attract new residents from across many countries. We landed on the Sunday afternoon after a hour’s delay taking off from Bangalore. The Dubai airport is known for its duty-free shopping, but its baggage handling can be better. It took over 45 minutes to get all our baggage. The immigration officer almost seemed envious that a brown-skinned Indian had an US passport. He didn’t even respond to a hello – so much different from the American immigration officials who make you feel welcome in the States. Once past immigration, it was pretty different. Arriving at the tallest hotel in the world, we felt home in the familiar Marriott setup. We had a first glimpse of the city from our 62nd floor room. Looking from that height, seeing the vehicles cruising by on the highways and the sky scrapers sticking out, it felt that the vision of the future city that is portrayed in Hollywood movie is actually a reality. The part that would be missing is the vertical vehicular traffic.

Gold display at a shop in Gold Souk

The Gold Souk or marketplace as it is known is a grid of about 250 gold and precious metal shops. Ornaments hang by the thread and assault the visual senses. Unlike the western world, be ready to bargain away on prices. While the material cost is pretty much fixed, what is negotiable is the labor cost. This varies from 15-18% of the weight in gold. We spent a good four hours walking by on these streets. The shop-wallahs make you comfortable by serving you chai now and then! This is for the men-folk, of course while the women are busy customers. Many of the shops are setup by expatriate Indians and from the sub-continent. I was estimating the inventory alone in one shop could run in several 10s of millions of dollars. We found a Gujarati restaurant for dinner, the setup was typical of my homeland – a small space with sparse furnishing, almost crammed. The focus is on food and value for the money. Food was good though.

Attractive marketing and daily winners

The next morning, we got up early on our supposedly vacation day to head towards Burj Kalipha – the world’s tallest building. This sits atop the world’s largest mall – the Dubai Mall. The Mall itself exudes wealth and the retail spaces are very appealing to the shoppers. The mall also houses a huge aquarium into which one can take a dip. It is truly amazing how it has been housed in such a retail atmosphere. Surely the mall is built to attract the wealthy spenders. It took about an hour to go up to the 122nd floor and look around. Once you have been up on a high space and have looked down, any tall building’s observatory won’t make much of a difference unless the landscape is very unique. City landscape from high atop appear similar to me, hence going up the tallest building wasn’t as exciting as it could have been. After coming down, we spent 30+ minutes in the line at a Thrifty to book a car. We had decided it would be more economical to drive to Abu Dabi to look at the palace and the Grand Mosque. The reservation agent took so much time that it was very annoying to just stand in line or even get the paperwork done for our car. Once you are used to stepping off a plane and picking up a car and driving away, even five minutes in  a line appears ridiculous.

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