Dubai, where the other 0.000001% live

The Palm Resort in Dubai
Click to watch the surreal promo video.

During a recent trip to England I was introduced to a disturbing new development in Dubai called "The Palm". It is an artificial reef/island made in the shape of a palm tree on which are built luxury homes, resorts, spas, theme parks and restaurants. Around the edge are reams of beach front property. It disturbs me because it is such a manufactured experience designed to create a manufactured existence, and also because it is catering to class of people who are so fabulously wealthy that their priorities become secrecy and discretion.

First of all if you are not aware of Dubai, it is a small kingdom-like place in the United Arab Emirates. I spent some time there when I was in the military and, believe it or not, it really is a nice tourist destination despite being in the heart of the Middle East. It is very cosmopolitan and has lots of high-end hotels and gourmet restaurants.

Along with being cosmopolitan, though, is a weird libertarian we-don't-ask-and-you-don't-tell ethos that comes through subtly in the video promo above. My understanding is that a very small percentage of the people that live in Dubai are citizens and if they are, they are the beneficiaries of enormous oil wealth and are mostly related to one another. The majority of the population is extremely cheap labor from India, Pakistan, etc that are allowed to stay there a short period of time (2 years maybe) before being required to leave. In fact the labor doesn't mind because they go there to make money and bring it home to their family. Cheap happy labor means everyone wins.

I also met at least one guy who worked for Sony in Dubai. He was from India and he was trying to do a great job for Sony so that they would transfer him to Canada. Then he could potentially immigrate and settle in a place other than India. This is sort of the business equivalent of the computer science escape-from-your-home-country route. The computer science route involves getting a C.S. degree in the U.S. and being such a whiz-bang-hacker-theorist-bright person that a U.S. company snaps you up immediately and you get to stay in the U.S.. Everyone but your home country wins.


So Dubai also has these extremely expensive resorts and hotels including The Burj-Al-Arab hotel. It is truly a stunning hotel. But to get a sense of what I'm trying to say about Dubai consider this: this hotel has in-room check-in, a separate reception desk at every floor, chaffeur-driven Rolls-Royce services, personal butlers and can cost $3000 a night. Everything that an extremely rich person who wants to remain discrete would need. Who are these people? Celebrities? Multi-national corporate CEO's? Rich Arab oil men/politicians? International criminals? Maybe it's all one and the same and if you care then maybe you aren't the type of person they are looking for. To their credit though they make the lifestyle look attractive.

Now enter "The Palm" development. This is billed as a place for rich expatriates to be as far away from the rest of the world as they want. But if you watch the promo video - it has this really sinister Blade-Runner-in-the-sun feel to it. Extremely high security, sunglasses, families happily playing in the surf. The undercurrent is that they need to be there because they are in danger and they are in danger because they are so fabulously wealthy and/or notorious and/or famous that they can't be out in public.

the world.jpg
Satellite image of "The Palm"
The world

And as a final note, they have a new development in the works called "The World." Same concept but shaped like a world map rather than a palm tree.

Living on an artificial island, in a world full of restaurants and entertainment, protected from all the dangers of the world where every detail is taken care of. A world pre-built to perfection. And yet nothing is organic about this existence. It didn't occur naturally. It's not authentic. It has no substance. There is no community. There is no history. There is no dirt. It is trying to erase or remake reality, but it can't really do that because it's impossible. How long before the pollution in the water makes the beaches unbearable? How long before the displaced ecology causes sea-snakes to jump in the swimming pools? How long before the cocaine use causes someone to commit suicide and someone else to get murdered? How long before the smoke from the burning oil rigs and exploding mosques gives all the kids asthma? You can't escape this broken world with wealth.

"We won't ask if you don't make a scene" - The Palm.

Update (4/25/2005): Just to clarify, for all the people who leave insulting comments to me because they think I hate Arabs, I don't. I also don't think I know everything. Read what I am saying. If you have something substantial to say I'll post your comment. Otherwise go rant on your own blog.

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