Ed. Note: No Hamas operatives were harmed during the making of this post.
SMW recently embarked on a supersekrit mission to the UAE but has been waiting to write about it in order to protect the identity of her co-conspirators. The wait is over.
No doubt many of you are familiar with the 'real' Dubai, but if you need a refresher check out Kaffir Kanuck's posts on Dubai here and here.
Dubai is a masquerade. It is a mirage. It is a place where expats turn a blind eye to reality, or where they suspend reality so they do not have to feel guilty about their own complicity. How do they do this? Well, it's not so hard if you choose to put blinders on your conscience, or if you are ignorant of world affairs.
The husband and I went to get on the subway and realized the front carriage is for women only. Apparently having every part of your body except your eyes covered is not enough temptation control, some women just need to be segregated. Everywhere we went there were signs reminding me to cover-up, to hide my evil-inducing shoulders, and to never, ever touch my husband in public! However, if you get past the clothing regulations, all the Islamic garb and the people, Dubai feels a little bit like......America. Actually - like Disney World. I hesitated to make this comparison because I love Disney World, but the thing about Disney is that it is fake, make believe, and so is Dubai. Driving around Dubai felt like driving around a city in the SouthWest US. The husband and I both agreed that going to the malls there felt like being in the States, it felt far more American than anything we have experienced in Europe. Everything in the tourist areas was spotless. Service workers (read modern day slaves) were incredibly friendly, the service was amazing. Everything was ultra luxe and the shopping was incredible. Well, it would have been if I had been willing to spend any money there. This is the Dubai that people choose to embrace, but it is the Disney Dubai, the make-believe-that-we-are-moderate-Dubai. One does not have far to look so see another side.
A contact arranges for us to go dune bashing. Not for the weak of stomach. Our guide, 'Mohamed', is friendly enough, although he seems hesitant. We stop at what I guess is the UAE equivalent of a "rest stop" (that looked like some kind of cover for a bomb making factory pulled straight from the set of The Kingdom) and three well-dressed Indian looking men are standing where our guide wants to park. He all but runs them over, shaking his head in disgust, then looks at us and says 'these idiots should not be allowed on these tours, they are for tourists, they are NOT for workers.' Convinced that these Indian men are not workers, the husband and I conclude that what Mohamed actually meant was, "these idiots should not be allowed on these tours, they are for white people and Arabs only."
Later we head out for a nice dinner, complete with music and a belly dancer. The music was kind of catchy, but before they started playing it the manager announced over a loudspeaker that nobody was allowed to dance. Only the belly dancer could dance, all other dancing is illegal. Illegal. Not only is it illegal, but the government supposedly sends spies (read morality police) to make sure that nobody has a good time, er I mean dances, and if there are any violations the perps are fined and the business is shut down. So we learn that in this particular part of Dubai dancing is very naughty.
Compare and contrast:
Once you leave the beautiful tourist meccas and head towards the souky part of town things change a little bit. The touristy people I know say they like to go to the souk because it is so 'authentic.' I think these are the same people who claim they always find the 'best stuff' at flea markets. The waterfronts are filled with migrant workers, piles of junk, and boats that look like they belong on the Mississippi two hundred years ago. There is laundry hanging everywhere and traffic is at a standstill.
One of my co-conspirators (who henceforth I will be calling Cocon)is researching knock-offs and asks if I am willing to participate in some recon. As we stroll through the souk we are approached by numerous shady characters asking if we want to buy Ipods, Macs, Christian Louboutin, Rolexes, etc. Next thing I know Cocon and I are being led into a back alley. We follow a guy into an apartment building with controlled entry and walk up several flights of stairs. I start to wonder if my participation is a good idea and try to identify possible exits. Cocon and I are led into a room with a massive steel door, we step inside and it is locked. Nobody in, nobody out. I look around the room and see tv screens above the door, showing the stairs that we have just walked up. The room is about half full of purses and watches, and bags full of merchandise. Apprently this is serious business. Cocon thinks something is off, and asks why the inventory appears to be low. Our 'host' tells us that the police are onto them and they are preparing to move to another location. Great. As Cocon goes about his business I pretend to be interested in a Hermès bag while a German couple beside me tries to bargain with a worker. After Cocon finishes his recon I tell our host that the Hermès bag is not my colour and ask to be let out. The door is unlocked (from both sides) and we stroll back into the alley. Later we meet up with an expat who shops at these backrooms regularly. Cocon asks him if he is bothered knowing that the people selling these goods are often trafficked, that the goods are likely stolen or at best illegal knockoffs and that the profits are used to fund major crime syndicates and terrorists? His reply: No, this stuff is cheap.
Update: For more commentary on Dubai from Kaffy click here.
Uppitier update: British tourist beaten to death in Dubai Jail