Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Brown Man's Burden

In 2002, my father and I spent about a month in one of the world's most dazzling destinations. In fact, describing Dubai as merely dazzling is an understatement that is even less accurate today than it was 6 years ago. Everything - from the breathtaking airport to the first-class golf courses and the extravagant hotel resorts - was straight out of a dream. We visited an aunt of mine who lived in a posh expatriate community, where everyone had a pool and lush lawns. Experiencing any one of the many architectural feats - "spiraling towers, man-made islands and mega-malls" - one could hardly notice that Dubai is nestled in one of the world's most arid regions. 


However, there was, as there always is in these cases, a sobering underbelly to this surreal delight. I wish I could say that my dad is one of those conscientious tourists who like to experience the places they visit as a local might, but fact of the matter is that he is as frugal a traveller as one might meet and we often ventured to the less tourist-friendly souks searching for bargains. It was here - in the back-ways of the markets and at the cheap gyro joints that lined them - that we brushed shoulders with the "army of migrant laborers" Ghaith Abdul Ahad writes of, and I was reminded of that old saying that has become cliched for a reason - all that glitters is not gold. 

And funnily enough, it is through this peculiar binary that I guiltily remember my time in Dubai - through the pieces of brilliant gold jewelry my father bought me, and the indelible mind images of those laborers' averted eyes and bowed heads.

In any case, I think it's interesting that Dubai treats the laborers with just as much contempt as it does it's tourists.

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