Let’s talk about something fun! Let’s talk about life in Dubai, the biggest secret East of the Mediterranean. With all the recent hype in the Iranian ex-pat media about this rapidly developing city, second fastest in the world, perhaps a first hand report by a local resident would render itself useful.
I will start by answering the two most frequently asked questions:
1. Is hejab compulsory for women?
2. Is the consumption of alcohol allowed?
The answers are NO and YES, respectively. Although Dubai is only about 1,500 miles from the birthplace of Islam, therefore, instantly assumed to be a conservative place to live in, it is one of the most open and tolerant cities in the world. It is not uncommon to find women in revealing garments walking side by side with others completely covered in a black veil, both being respectful of each other’s choice in personal attire, a sign of true tolerance and freedom and respect.
As for alcohol, it is available to all, regardless of religion, in licensed bars and restaurants in every hotel in town. For home use, there are also several liquor stores that cater only to non-Moslems with a government issued personal liquor license. Moslems may not obtain personal liquor licenses, so they have to make their liquor runs to another Emirate, not far from Dubai, or simply call up a friend and have it home delivered.
While it is located in one of the most volatile and dangerous regions in the world, ironically, it offers a lifestyle that is most serene, safe, and relaxing. Foreigners visiting for the first time are awestruck at what they find, including visitors from other parts of the Middle East who are already pre-informed. Recently I had a first time visitor from Iran who admitted that his first impression was far above his expectations.
Apart from being an absolutely immaculate and safe place, the city enjoys almost eight months of gorgeous weather throughout the year. Morning swim in the pool on the rooftop, in the middle of January, is not unheard of. Yes, rooftop swimming pools are quite common. Dubai has a sub-tropical arid climate characterized by hot humid summers and mild temperate winters.
Here are some statistics from the weather bureau: The mean daily maximum is 25 degrees in January rising to 42 degrees centigrade in August. Rainfall is modest, occurs in the winter months and rarely exceeds 13 centimeters per year. I suspect the most boring job in Dubai belongs to the weatherperson, as it is sunny, day in and day out.
Some more demographical statistics: In 2001, the population of Dubai was estimated to be 971,000. It is a highly cosmopolitan environment and a large part of the population is comprised of foreigners, primarily a mix of other Arab nationals, Asians and Europeans. Eighty percent of Dubai’s population consists of expatriates with Europeans and Asians accounting for approximately 70% of households. Approximately 71% of the population is male and 29% is female.
The official language is Arabic while the working language is primarily English. It’s quite common to find people speaking a different language at home. The only monolingual residents are the British nationals. Well I guess you could include the Canucks, the Yankees, the Ozzies, and the Kiwis too, but there are so few of them around. Most everyone else speaks any combination of English, Arabic, Persian, Hindi, Urdu, Russian, Eastern and Western European languages. It’s very common to find people who speak five different languages. They are primarily employed by the flourishing tourism industry.
And a bit of history for you: Originally a small fishing settlement, Dubai was taken over in the 1830s by a tribe led by the Maktoum family, which still rules the Emirate of Dubai today. A trading empire based on gold, silver, pearls and spices soon began to flourish. A concoction of Arab, Persian and Indian flair established Dubai’s business acumen.
Then came oil in 1966 and along with it, opulence. However, oil is due to run out soon, so long ago Dubai began the task of diversifying its economy to soften the impact of diminished oil revenues on future generations. Tourism is now an important part of the Dubai government’s strategy to maintain the flow of foreign dollars into the Emirate. “Dubai’s attraction,” is that it provides an Arabian experience in a very comfortable, safe and tolerant society.
Continuing on with life in this stunning “village”, Dubai has become a common tourist destination for Iranians from Iran due to accessibility and the recent growth in the Iranian entertainment industry. Many of the travel agencies offer affordable tours including site seeing, concert tickets and more.
Offering all the freedom and luxuries of the West while maintaining an eastern flavor, Dubai is quickly becoming a favorite haven for Middle Easterners, especially for Iranians. Many Iranian ex-pats living abroad are also finding their way to this region. In fact eighty percent of the newly built apartment buildings are sold to this group as well as the ones living in the motherland.
To get a better picture of what life is like in Dubai, I will just describe a typical day from an average ex-pat’s perspective. First of all, normal working days are from Saturday to Wednesday. Most corporate offices operate from 9 am to 5 pm. Some of the more traditional offices, managed by non-westerners, enjoy afternoon siestas and consequently stay open well into the evening.
As for commuting, Dubai is very small and people generally live near their workplace. Nonetheless, automobiles are still a necessity and popular, hence people do commute to work regardless of the short distances. Dubai enjoys a healthy amount of traffic during the morning and afternoon rush hours. At times, it seems like one continuous day of rush hours.
After work, there are many leisurely activities that people partake in, such as spending a few hours at the health clubs, golfing, swimming at the beach, have a few beers at an outdoor bar, shop at a local shopping mall, smoke a “hubbly bubbly” at a local “shishah” shop, or even practice ice hockey at an ice rink. Most of the normal consumer style recreational activities found in the west are also available in this little town too.
While on one edge of the city lies the Persian Gulf and on the other lies the desert, Dubai enjoys a spectacular skyline filled with the most modern skyscrapers, popping up virtually every day. Along with a static population of roughly one million, Dubai hosts about 3 million tourists annually. At the same time the government is planning to multiply this figure by five in the next decade. One can just imagine what a fantastic metropolis will emerge!! >>> Part II