First Impressions of Dubai

I didn’t know anything about Dubai when I came here, other than it was the last place my Uncle Russell was planning to go, before he suddenly declined and died at the age of 99.  Uncle Russ has been a great influence on me.  He went to Spitzbergen before it was big (i.e. before Justin went there and when there was still snow).  He once showed up at our house carrying a tiny suitcase and said he’d just been to Iceland.  Small suitcases as a result are my ideal.  I suspect he cheated, though; considering the souvenirs filling his house, Aunt Hansa must have had some crates stashed away in the hold.

Although, OMG, not as many as the Nigerians at Chep Lap Kok.  There is a special desk in the new Hong Kong International Airport for shipping vast amounts of stuff.  It must be a regular occurrence, the elite from the failed states showing up to purchase the 21st century in Hong Kong and accompany it home since part of being a failed state is that the distribution systems are corrupted.  These guys must have had thirty large size luggage carts all stacked way overhead with appliance cartons wrapped in reddish plastic and addressed to Lagos.

After Dave checked his bags at Kowloon Station and departed on the Airport Express (you don’t need to check your bags at the airport, you can do it downtown) I went back to the hotel and tried to take a nap but that wasn’t any fun so I got up and went to see the Big Buddha on Lantau Island.  I also checked my one remaining suitcase at Kowloon, took the airport express to the airport, and then the S1 bus to Tung Chung, $3.50 HKD.  From there, I took bus 23 up to the Po Lin Monastery.  There are signs everywhere telling you exactly how to go.  The fare is $17.20 if you have exact change but I didn’t on the way back and they don’t give change for a twenty.  There is a cable car as well but it was a bit of a walk from the bus stop and the bus was leaving right then.  On the way back, the cable car stops running at 6 PM so I missed it.

The Big Buddha is big.  I am glad they made it.  One of my standing recommendations to modern society is, you know, earthquakes and Taliban are happening all the time, and Buddhas get used up.  You can’t predicate your culture entirely on preserving cool old stuff, at some point you have to make cool new stuff, and shopping malls and casinos don’t cut it because they don’t make Ozymandian ruins, they just look like eroded plastic if they live long enough to collapse in the desert wind.

Do you know the story of Hitler and the ruins?  One of the things he told Albert Speer is, that even though the Reich was going to last a thousand years, eventually it would fall, and when it fell, he wanted the ruins to look good.  So the imperial Nazi buildings should be designed so that they made good ruins.  Foresight.  I don’t think he was particularly successful.  Nurnberg Stadium has all the appeal of a parking lot.  Maybe it needs to be ruined a little more.  But Hitler’s aesthetic was adopted wholeheartedly by the Modern Movement creeps who made the current Mount Rushmore visitor’s center.  Have you been there recently, baby boomers?  it’s not a cute little cabin any more, it has everything but the fasces in granite hero worship.

So, Dubai.  I really had no notion of the place.  My first clue came at gate 60 where there were people from all over the world waiting for the midnight flight I was booked on and none of them seemed like they were going to Dubai.

Emirates Airways and the Dubai airport have got quite a niche picked out for themselves: they are going to be the Heathrow of the South.  Just as your flight from Kansas City to Sofia is likely to connect through Heathrow, so your flight from Hanoi to Accra is likely to connect through Dubai.  That was what the guy sitting across from me was doing.  I’m going from Hong Kong to Athens.  Just wanted to take a day off to browse.  I hate long flights, bad connections, and long flights.  Not taking long connecting flights is a luxury I choose.  Justin took 30 hours to get to Nairobi.  How fun does that sound?

The flight was uneventful, dodging storms over Thailand and dodging Pakistan.  We flew over the Arabian Sea a couple of hundred kilometers from the shore.  Not a straight line, but given the history of US behavior toward civilian aircraft in the Gulf, I imagine that Emirates stands well clear of anything that George Bush in a fit of mania might decide to blow up.  Bush is more difficult to plan around than Putin because he has no global viewpoint, and hence may not be predicted.  Anything can be destroyed at any time in slasher foreign policy world.

The Dubai airport is suffering terrific growing pains.  A bus took us from the airplane park to Terminal 1, transfers, and Terminal 2, Arrivals.  Three quarters of the people got off at Terminal 1.

About 5 AM I was in the hotel.  They didn’t have a room ready, just like every time you arrive in London from San Francisco.  So I read the newspapers and the hotel TV for 4 hours reported every 90 seconds that Gary Glitter had been released from jail and every five minutes Musharraf resigned and the rest Olympics.  The inability of the race to concentrate on the massive problems looming directly in front of us will be regarded as the fatal psychosis of the Enlightenment/Free Market/Technology perfect storm.

At 9 o’clock a room opened up.  For 300 Dirham a night, I am in a space the size of a floor of my house.  Room 405 overlooks the pool.  An arguably cute enough to notice guy was in the pool and later sunbathing.  I did finally take a nap: it’s now 3:21 PM.  I’ve done my laundry and I’m starting to think it’s cool enough outside to declare my siesta over and HE IS STILL THERE.  Lying on a chair with a white cord in his ear.  What a dreadful life iPod external devices must have.

I think Dubai might secretly be a Spanish beach.  I don’t understand British resorts.  Nobody seems to have any fun at them.  It is a mark of Puritan societies that they compartmentalize their fun into tight little boxes.  In the case of the British, fun is confined to two weeks of being blind drunk on some Greek island when you are 19 years old, and the rest of your life including especially the pleasure is a grim, grim, chore.  None of the Brits here seem to be on the verge of cracking a smile.  Of course it was 35 C at 4:15 AM when we touched down.  But it’s a dry heat.  Travelers don’t smell so bad in a dry heat.

What is the deal with the 120 HKD departure tax?  Nobody ever asked me for it.  I had it folded into my passport just like the book suggested and the passport exit interview made a face at me like I was trying to bribe him and handed it back.