countries
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Middle East | UAE
Dubai / Dark Playground: Luxury at What Price?

a look behind the mega-facade
 

   With long, sandy fingers the manmade palm reached into the sea. Looking back from a window at its outermost point, the mainland skyline was faint as a shadow. Like the mirage of a cement oasis in the desert, Dubai rose tall above its sandbox – a playground for an affluent multinational society that sported haute-couture-uniforms, lived in ritzy apartments on the 100th floor, and drove fine cars to finer malls. From skiing in the desert to doing pretty much anything else in the desert, if you wanted it, it was all there.

"Ever taller came at a price paid in more than dollars. Looking behind the mega-facades, the fantastic narrative got dark fast..."

Hoisted from the dunes at a tremendous speed, modern Dubai seemed almost completely detached from its historic roots. An important port and trade hub, the former fishing village wore but future on its amber desert-skin. It wasn’t a place of old fantasies á la One Thousand and One Nights, not even in the traditional souks, but of new fantasies through and though: decadent, western-style fun in the sun, landmark lust, amusement mania. And how? Ever taller came at a price paid in more than dollars. Looking behind the mega-facades, the fantastic narrative got dark fast: much of Dubai’s facelift is done by modern day slaves who toil away 12h shifts in the desert sky’s furnace for a pittance. BBC’s Ben Anderson and others have shed light on the real costs of these ivory towers: human rights violations and inhumane working conditions.


None of it was for me. It was a prolonged stopover on my way to New Zealand, a curiosity, and an outlier in that it was one of those very few places I didn’t like. My desire to ever go back is sub-zero. To be sure, I didn’t see all facets of this hyper-realm, but the face it presented to me was an appalling, pretentious mask. Every ounce of nuance seemed to cater to the rich: the streets were highways without sidewalks and driving the new walking; the city limits pushed beyond the shore onto artificial islands, fueling the global sand crisis; majestic whale sharks were forced into aquariums and man-made desert winters into malls to satisfy a craving for entertainment that outpaced any ethical considerations.



 


I know people who live in Dubai and love Dubai, and it makes me wonder where to draw the line in the sand between to each his own and how can you? Discussing individual taste – this city or that, this culture or another – is quicksand-hopeless; but raising the question of whether we support condemnable practices like modern day slave labor by visiting or living in places where these methods are prevalent, is solid.




 

 

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