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The answer to everything in Dubai is money
March 13, 2011 10:31 PM   Subscribe

"The plan was money. The architect was money. The designer was money and the builder was money. And if you ever wondered what money would look like if it were left to its own devices, it's Dubai."
posted by vidur (69 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
There are many good articles on Dubai out there, and this isn't one of them. I made it through the undergrad-psych penis envy section, struggled with the "new money" snobbery, and then absolutely checked out when it referred to Asians as "the drones." Do not want.
posted by mek at 10:38 PM on March 13, 2011 [14 favorites]


"The Arabs live in their own ghettos, large, dull containments of big houses that are half garage behind security walls, weighed down with satellite dishes."

There's a ridiculously negative tone to that description.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:40 PM on March 13, 2011


Do buy.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:43 PM on March 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


An indoor ski-resort in the middle of the desert.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 10:43 PM on March 13, 2011


...now THAT'S what we call florid prose. Also utterly devoid of any substantive facts to support the ridiculous language.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:43 PM on March 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I have to say, I was surprised at how little description there was in this article -- the entire piece was given over to moralizing.
posted by creasy boy at 10:44 PM on March 13, 2011


... but as Dubai was unable to make their payments, they were forced to go to their Gulf neighbor, head towel in hand, to get a loan. ...
What the hell?
posted by aaronbeekay at 10:48 PM on March 13, 2011 [18 favorites]


It's a vacuous waste, surprisingly small but with delusions of giganticism, hiding its emptiness beneath florid constructs that hint at the repressed envy inspiring them.

No, the article. Yeah, Dubai too I guess.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:51 PM on March 13, 2011 [26 favorites]


The author of this article fails both Journalism 101 by failing to include any substance with the sniping and Hunter S. Thompson 101 by failing to snipe effectively.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:51 PM on March 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


Man every time I think "A.A. Gill can't be as thoroughly repulsive and hackish as I remember" stuff like this happens.
posted by The Whelk at 10:52 PM on March 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, I thought is was dreadfully slanted. People who leave home and family to improve their earning prospects as described as "white mercenary workers who come here for tax-free salaries to do managerial and entrepreneurial jobs, parasites and sycophants for cash." Awful.
posted by milkwood at 10:52 PM on March 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


There's a ridiculously negative tone to that description.

Hah, you didn't let anything get past you. The entire article is a non-disguised negative rant, at best.

This stuck out more to me:
Then there is a third category of people: the drones. The workers. The Asians: Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, and Filipinos. Early in the morning, before the white mercenaries have negotiated their hangovers, long before the Emiratis have shouted at the maid, buses full of hard-hatted Asians pull into building sites. They have the tough, downtrodden look of Communist posters from the 30s—they are both the slaves of capital and the heroes of labor.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:53 PM on March 13, 2011


Also utterly devoid of any substantive facts to support the ridiculous language.

If you have spent any time at all there this article rings very true. It backed up my anecdata and preconcieved notions and I loved it.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:56 PM on March 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


I must be in a cranky mood because I thought that was kinda fun to read.
posted by scrowdid at 10:57 PM on March 13, 2011


I did not hate this as much as the comments told me I would! While the article lacks solid facts, I think the author was trying to build around this (from the last paragraph):

Dubai is the parable of what money makes when it has no purpose but its own multiplication and grandeur.

Can you build a culture (erm, excuse me, "brand") based upon that? Time will tell...
posted by antonymous at 11:02 PM on March 13, 2011


I must be in a cranky mood because I thought that was kinda fun to read.

Sure, but I would've had a lot more fun if he'd included some examples of the "titanic rudeness" of the indigenous youth, for example. I mean, if his rant is justified by facts, I'd enjoy knowing what those facts are.
posted by creasy boy at 11:04 PM on March 13, 2011


A.A Gill is the parable of what privilege makes when it has no purpose but its own multiplication and grandeur.
posted by fullerine at 11:09 PM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sure that article had something important to say about the intersection of money and vacuity and mistaking excess for excellence, but I got distracted by the link to the Vanity Fair Oscar Party gallery on the same page.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:12 PM on March 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


Those looking for longer, most substantive writing on Dubai than this can have a look at this detailed HRW report or this Johann Hari article. VF also did a longer article back in 2006.

Dubai is frequently discussed on the Blue, so I didn't put the older links in the FPP. Perhaps I should have.
posted by vidur at 11:17 PM on March 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


That whole article was just an excuse to use the phrase "the Viagra of credit". Meh.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:33 PM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ok, so it's a one sided article. But much of what's said is common knowledge in Dubai.
posted by Fezzer at 11:37 PM on March 13, 2011


I don't know, it lacks tang tangs.
posted by grapesaresour at 11:45 PM on March 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


A.A. Gill may be an ass, but Dubai still sounds like a right shithole.
posted by bardic at 11:57 PM on March 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Its a good article and what isn't quantitively observed or cited is well supported by other other reliable sources(except for the shit about rich nobles covering up embarrassments). Do you enjoy 100°F weather?
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 12:02 AM on March 14, 2011


Hah, you didn't let anything get past you. The entire article is a non-disguised negative rant, at best.

It was a hilarious way to describe a house. You could probably say this about any gated community: "their own ghettos, large, dull containments of big houses that are half garage behind security walls, weighed down with satellite dishes."
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:06 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


And here I thought purple prose usually only crops up in bad fanfiction.
posted by Xany at 12:13 AM on March 14, 2011


It's about time someone got down and dirty
about Dubai. The writing is shallow...but this
is exactly the crude slap in the face Dubai needs.
...also the slap I desired so much.
posted by quazichimp at 12:20 AM on March 14, 2011


I realize this post / discussion is about Dubai, but I'm currently living and working in Doha, Qatar; which is pretty much Dubai, but 15 years behind schedule.

Quotes like this

"The Arabs live in their own ghettos, large, dull containments of big houses that are half garage behind security walls, weighed down with satellite dishes."

are ridiculously negative in tone, but ring equally true for a large majority of the expat workers coming from western countries, where spending $6000 USD plus for an annual gym membership, $100 Friday morning brunches, and often having a live-in maid and driver are the norm.

As for the laborers, the most recent report I've seen on salaries comes from Qatar Living

Labor foreman, salary 800 Riyals (approx $220), working hours 5am to 5pm.
Builder, salary 700 Riyals (approx $190), working hours 6am to 6pm. No off day.
Builder, salary 700 Riyals, working hours 6am to 4-5pm.
Road builder, salary 500 Riyals (approx $137) , 11 working hours a day. No off day.
Road building foreman, salary 800 Riyals (approx $220) includes 4 overtime hours/day at 4 Riyals/hour. 2 off days a month.

I don't think I need to comment on the squalid living conditions of these workers, or Qatar's "let wait and see what happens in the future" policy on sponsorship reform, or the policy of Qatarization which, while good in theory, reminds me quite a bit of this article from the economist

The Economist. 1997. “Gulf Citizen, No Qualifications, Seeks Well-Paid Job,” Vol.
343, No. 8012, 12 April



I could go on and on about some of the things I've seen in my short time here (such as the family leaving the plastic on the driver's seat of their new Mercedes SUV, but on none of the other seats because that's where their Nepalese driver sits, or how people who work in shops will skip over expats with brown skin to serve me, and skip over me to serve Qataris) but I'm going to leave it at Qatar is a heavily, heavily stratified society that is quite literally drunk on money.
posted by FunGus at 12:20 AM on March 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


I was actually in Dubai earlier this weekend (well, Friday, I guess). Just the airport. I'd heard so much about the place, good and bad — the good mostly during the boom, the bad since the bust — that I was curious to see it, even if from a few miles away, or from the window of a plane flying over.

I'm not entirely sure what I expected. Manhattan-in-the-Desert, I guess. And some of the buildings are impressive; the Burj Dubai (which is now the Burj Khalifa, after the guy who bailed the project out) is truly phenomenal. But in general the city was smaller than I expected. It's like a few square miles of downtown highrises airdropped in the middle of a lot of empty space. Which is odd, because normally you don't see those sorts of buildings unless space is at a premium. And yet there they are.

Anyway, it struck me as a city that clearly has not grown organically, but that has been designed.

Not really a value judgement one way or the other, and I didn't spend any time in the place outside of the airport, or interact with any of the people aside from the staff, so I can't really make any sort of judgements (although their toilets do flush with hot water; kind of strange), but that struck me.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:22 AM on March 14, 2011


although their toilets do flush with hot water

Often, water tanks are kept on the roof in the Gulf. Which means that in summer (April-October) there is nothing but hot water for everything (so everyone washes clothes in the early morning when the water temperature is a bit lower).

Not sure if that's true for Dubai airport, though.
posted by FunGus at 12:27 AM on March 14, 2011


Possibly Dumb Question* How do you know the water is hot?
posted by meta87 at 12:40 AM on March 14, 2011


The same way he knows it's deep, presumably.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:57 AM on March 14, 2011 [12 favorites]


bardic writes "A.A. Gill may be an ass, but Dubai still sounds like a right shithole."

Places lacking freedom for citizens and non-citizens alike tend to be that way.
posted by Mitheral at 1:05 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh my god. That writing is awful. And overwrought. It is the typical dreck you get from someone looking for a prize. A pulitzer prize. For writing.

Dubai is the parable of what money makes when it has no purpose but its own multiplication and grandeur.

The author might be right in his estimation of Dubai, but not for lack of trying. It's just that Dubai is so bad that almost anyone can start with almost any misconception and still hurtle into truth. It is tourist journalism: going to a conceptual place that lots of other people have been to and taking the same photograph, completely unaware that the trick with the Eiffel Tower coming out of the top of your head has been done.

The problem isn't money. If they actually HAD the money they wanted to think they had, it wouldn't all be so fake. They would have done expensive things like dig sewer systems. Their buildings would actually be made of marble, not just drywall with a quarter inch of gaudiness electro-deposited all over everything.

It isn't unique- it is an absolutely typical, cargo-cult response to an economic bubble.

Or at least a typical "third generation" response. First generation has nothing and builds, and is eventually 90% comfortable. Second generation sees that and tries to continue the trajectory, but runs into issues of scale and works far harder for that last 10% than their parents did for the first 90%. Third generation never saw anything but relative comfort and has no concept of just how perilous life is. They are free in one respect, that they can make their own decisions and have easy access to funding, but trapped in another more tragic reality: if "great" is your baseline, "normal" is awful.
posted by gjc at 4:03 AM on March 14, 2011 [14 favorites]


gjc - in high school a Singaporean friend of mine was fond of quoting a Chinese proverb: "Wealth does not pass three generations." Or his more long-winded translation: "Your grandfather was born into poverty, and works hard enough to buy land for his family. Your father works the land that his father bought because he grew up when your grandfather was still struggling and was taught the value of hard work. You and your siblings grow up prosperous and squander everything."

I don't think Dubai is a third generation response. I can see an argument for second generation -- laying the foundations for a third generation that squanders everything. However, this metaphor is very micro in scope and tends to breakdown if you try to apply it to nations as a whole. Like, it is tempting to overlay the "three generations" proverb on American decadence with the: "Greatest Generation" > "Baby Boomer" > "Gen X" progression, but the real problem in the US isn't one of wealth creation but wealth distribution.
posted by bl1nk at 5:33 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well I quite liked the article, and I actually like living in Dubai.

The problem with virtually all writing about Dubai (even by people who have lived there rather than just dropped in) is that there are so many non-overlapping worlds here that you can easily write what seems to you an accurate account without taking into account other people's reality. For instance, all these stories posit a hierachy where Emiratis are at the top (no-one ever interviews them because God knows Arabic is too hard for lazy hacks), European expats are in the middle (always portrayed as braying drunks because the reporters meet them in bars), and Asian labourers at the bottom.

This is an extremely eurocentric view, the truth is that Europeans are a small minority, we are not important to the story of Dubai.The majority of businessmen in Dubai are Indian and Pakistani, the majority of mid-level managers, of book-keepers, and of accounts-payable clerks likewise. The majority of the miserable labourers are of course also from the Indian subcontinent.

Of course when Americans lose their jobs to outsourcing, the sympathy from Metafilter is nearly infinite, why should Americans be expected to work in the harsh conditions and for low pay. When American workers are underpaid it's an outrage. But when Emiratis refuse to take low paying jobs, they're lazy, when they enjoy government benefits, they're entitled and spoiled. Metafilter is sure that oil companies everywhere should be nationalised and the proceeds distributed to the people, but when that actually happens suddenly we're all Stakhanovite stalwarts!

How do Emiratis feel about the fact that their country doesn't need them to run? (trust me, they know)
How do they feel about an education system that is not fit for purpose and often leaves them almost unemployable outside government work? No-one ever asks, because that would be hard.

Much easier to just repeat the cliches, include some "local" colour which ends up being based on some English guys drunk and out of control in a bar (definitely limited to Dubai, that!), and you've trousered a nice cheque. While his description of a particularly vile subclass of white expats is correct, those people are engaging in the exact same behaviour that they would in their home countries.

Of course when England spends billions of pounds it doesn't have on an athletic wank-fest, that makes sense. When Dubai builds a race-track, that's them getting uppity!

The WTC, Tapei Towers, and Sears Tower are all great (even if they were prestige projects that never made any money). But the Burj Dubai/Khalifa is a vulgarian eyesore!

Now don't get me wrong, this is a place stuffed to the gills with horrendous vulgarians. Run by an opaque establishment which has little regard for the rights of foreigner labourers, especially if they're poor. But then again, the US is a nation where torture and indefinite detention enjoy wide support, England is full of knife wielding drunks vomiting on each other every Friday night. These things are all true, but the full reality is more complicated than that, and they're not fair and full descriptions, are they?

I guess it says something of my fundamental moral weakness that I enjoy A.A. Gill's prose so much (suck it vermillion haters) that I'm willing to forgive the cliched contents of the article and find my way to liking it.

(also, if you want to know what it's actually like for people to live in this exceedingly messy place, you could do worse than to watch City of Life, which expresses why people choose to live here even in a story which ends poorly for almost everyone.)
posted by atrazine at 5:36 AM on March 14, 2011 [38 favorites]


they were forced to go to their Gulf neighbor, head towel in hand, to get a loan.

Seriously?
posted by nathancaswell at 5:54 AM on March 14, 2011


Also call me crazy but Dubai sounds fun
posted by nathancaswell at 5:56 AM on March 14, 2011


I dislike the how everyone turns into Jane Jacobs when discussing the way expats and arabs live in compounds in the middle east. Look, the society doesn't encourage a lot of mixing anyway.. across gender, language, country-of-origin boundaries, etc. That's why compounds give people a sense of security, and a way to breathe easy behind the wall from the outside laws and regulations to some extent (not to mention services improved beyond the basic city maintenance). These are people's homes you're talking about. Let's not act like everyone in America lives in a community-spirit-affirming context. Have you ever seen an Aerial view of homes in and around Vegas? It's dreary
posted by the mad poster! at 6:11 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


The answer to everything in Dubai is money.

So... just like anywhere else?
posted by Senza Volto at 6:15 AM on March 14, 2011


As soon as I got to ' A. A. Gill' I knew I needn't read any further
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:40 AM on March 14, 2011


... but as Dubai was unable to make their payments, they were forced to go to their Gulf neighbor, head towel in hand, to get a loan. ...
aaronbeekay: What the hell?

A sad attempt at making a cute play on words. See, hat in hand is about humility, showing respect to someone else by taking off your hat when you meet them. But this is not the land of hats, people wear "head towels." Except that's not what the head coverings are called. Search for "head towel," and you find after-the-bath towels for babys. Or you find "towel head," a derogatory term for Arabs. What the author / editor was looking for was keffiyeh or turban, depending on the head garb.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:19 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is what happens when you pay writers $1 a word or more.
posted by warbaby at 7:23 AM on March 14, 2011


Dubai, you're so money and you don't even know it!
posted by adipocere at 7:34 AM on March 14, 2011


Please, tell me more about the fat thighs on the Western women.
posted by Madamina at 7:39 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I found the article, like most of Gill's stuff sort of funny in intentional and unintentional ways, but I quite enjoyed George Sauders' 2005 piece on Dubai.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:09 AM on March 14, 2011


I was in Dubai in 2003 during their annual shopping festival (no, that's not why I went) and on the plane they had this great advertisement that said "So much to do, so much to buy, so much to Dubai."
posted by rmless at 8:23 AM on March 14, 2011


Atrazine has the correct analysis: a shallow rant devoid of subtlety; but appropriate because it's a tasteless time-compressed carnival mirror of what we've done in the west over the last 50 years, delivered with embarassing timing with our dissapearing resources and booming populations, our obsession-on-the-ground with growth (despite our society mouthing platitudes about other values) and our complacency with the very real race and class stratifications that still exist in our own society, and our gleeful exporting of the memes that led to our proud disaster.

Dubai is seeing a video of a child you know taking a bottle of medicine, painting his face with a little of it and pouring the rest down the drain dancing with glee , you tutting and and then having that sickening thought "Where did he learn that from.....?".

.
posted by lalochezia at 8:28 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


It was a hilarious way to describe a house. You could probably say this about any gated community: "their own ghettos, large, dull containments of big houses that are half garage behind security walls, weighed down with satellite dishes."

You wouldn't be wrong.
posted by kmz at 8:37 AM on March 14, 2011


"The first thing you see when you arrive is the airport. . ."

No kidding?

This guy's editor must be off 'reveling' at the Dubai Word Cup.
posted by Herodios at 8:53 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Word Cup is in Dubai?
posted by Mister_A at 9:01 AM on March 14, 2011


The World Cup = a Horserace
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:06 AM on March 14, 2011


Escape from Dubai.
If you come here, you can build it.
posted by clavdivs at 9:11 AM on March 14, 2011


@fungus: For hard labour these sound like low but not preposterous wages, am I being really niave? i.e. The foreman, though forced to work 10 hours a day makes $22/hour...


"Labor foreman, salary 800 Riyals (approx $220), working hours 5am to 5pm.
Builder, salary 700 Riyals (approx $190), working hours 6am to 6pm. No off day.
Builder, salary 700 Riyals, working hours 6am to 4-5pm.
Road builder, salary 500 Riyals (approx $137) , 11 working hours a day. No off day.
Road building foreman, salary 800 Riyals (approx $220) includes 4 overtime hours/day at 4 Riyals/hour. 2 off days a month."

posted by artificialard at 9:59 AM on March 14, 2011


No off days, really?
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:05 AM on March 14, 2011


I think those are monthly wages.
posted by ChrisHartley at 10:10 AM on March 14, 2011


I thought it was a fine and entertaining article. I read Vanity Fair regularly and although I'm not familiar offhand with this guy's work it's a pretty good piece. Not everybody writes like you, and maybe that's OK.
posted by vito90 at 10:21 AM on March 14, 2011


I am capable of liking journalism with some style. Not purely utilitarian and economical. This guy writes like a fucking asshole.
posted by I Foody at 11:08 AM on March 14, 2011


Over the course of his entire sneering, dismissive rant, the author couldn't spare a moment to take himself and other Westerners to task for creating and driving the oil economy that is the enabling device for this edifice of bad taste, vacuity, and gluttony.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 12:14 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think those are monthly wages.

Well, it says "salary" which usually means yearly. But in this case, it might be monthly...

Either way, it doesn't matter since it's salary in Riyals, which aren't necessarily worth anything comparable in spending power to a dollar. Whether or not it's a living wage depends on the local economic realities.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:47 PM on March 14, 2011


MetaFilter: Not everybody writes like you, and maybe that's OK.
posted by hermitosis at 1:05 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: This guy writes like a fucking asshole.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:34 PM on March 14, 2011


Dubai is Las Vegas without the showgirls, the gambling, or Elvis.

Looks like someone didn't get the memo.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:15 PM on March 14, 2011


Also, by contrast, here's a GQ article about an assassination in Dubai. I've lived long enough to see GQ become a good source for first-rate reportage and Vanity Fair the shallow celebrity rag.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:56 PM on March 14, 2011


The salary/wage is indeed a monthly figure. The report I linked above has more figures/quotes:
I work at the Burj Dubai site. I earn 38 AED [$10.50] for eight hours of work daily. My pay is higher than workers who arrived recently because I have been with the company for 11 years. New workers are paid 28 AED [$7.60] daily and they are unhappy about it.
posted by vidur at 3:37 PM on March 14, 2011


The skyline, in the dusty haze, looks like the cover of a dystopian science-fiction novella.

OK, why "novella"? Because it's a "rarer" word than "novel"? The last time I saw a science-fiction novella with a cover was back when Tor was doing doubles.
posted by interrobang at 3:49 PM on March 14, 2011


Should have said:

"...that is the enabling device for this purported edifice of bad taste, vacuity, and gluttony."
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 4:54 PM on March 14, 2011


I often wondered if the "new family friendly" Las Vegas was the apex of consumer capitalism. Perhaps Vegas is sillier than Dubai, with slightly better worker conditions
posted by ohshenandoah at 5:03 PM on March 14, 2011


Coming in very late to this thread:

The majority of businessmen in Dubai are Indian and Pakistani, the majority of mid-level managers, of book-keepers, and of accounts-payable clerks likewise. The majority of the miserable labourers are of course also from the Indian subcontinent.

These are both facts, true. That they are both true produces some interesting behaviour, as well. As one of the brown-skinned people living in the UAE (not Dubai, but close enough, for the purposes of this discussion), I can tell you that it is extremely painful to be one of the people who becomes invisible to the sales staff when someone who is Emirati or Arab or white walks in. It is also incredibly painful to be treated as if I must be the illiterate wife of a poorly educated (and more importantly, poor) labourer or taxi-driver. What's even worse is that even after getting the information that we are well-educated, reasonably cultured (even highly cultured, by some estimates), middle-class residents of the UAE, we are *still* treated as if none of those things were true.

Try applying for a job if you have brown skin. Note that atrazine talks about businessmen and mid-level managers. If you are a professional, and want to be something more than a mid-level manager, you better be beyond exceptional, or move out of the UAE. And you better be willing to accept that even at the higher levels, you are not going to get paid the same as someone who is white.

I have lived in several parts of the world. Never have I ever felt the colour of my skin to be so constantly a factor in how people deal with me on a day to day basis. It's an incredibly unpleasant experience, as I'm sure many many MeFites are personally aware.
posted by bardophile at 4:51 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


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