The sand here is so fine it’s like rouge, like dust. The wind sculpts it very easily into beautiful shapes and it’s possible to find dunes that have no been ruined by tire tracks, though they’re outnumbered by those that have. There’s not a lot for kids to do around here, and it seems that there are no shortage of land rovers, land cruisers, jeeps and other four wheel drive vehicles. In fact, I feel like I’m the only person in town without one. I have a little Peugeot that got stuck in five inches of sand the first time I tried to veer off the road. Fortunately, it was light enough to push it back onto the pavement. I’ve bored all my Facebook friends with too many pictures of sand, but I can’t stop taking them. In Thailand, I took pictures of vegetation, but here it’s sand
I cannot imagine two more different places.
Thailand is inexpensive. It is three to five times more inexpensive than the States. Dubai is easily as expensive as the States, and in some ways, mainly housing and food, more so.
In the Middle East, gas is cheap, so people drive big cars. SUV’s are quite common, as are four wheel drive land rovers, jeeps, muscle cars and luxury sports cars. In Thailand, gas is expensive, and the poor cannot afford cars. Even if they become wealthy enough to buy one, they still don’t properly learn how to drive, but rather get a license and begin the process ad hoc. In Dubai, on the other hand, a drivers license in difficult to obtain without expensive and lengthy training and testing.
In Dubai, people drive fast and honk if you displease them. Even after the moment of danger has passed, they will honk to chastise you, to make sure you learned your lesson. In Thailand, almost nobody honks, ever, for it would display your lack of serenity. Since no one in Thailand really knows how to drive, or what the rules of the road are, they conceive of driving as a group process. Like extremely elderly drivers in the States, Thai drivers slowly drift in an out of traffic, expecting and hoping that those behind them will look out for them.
An aside: in Viet Nam, Thailand’s neighbor the Northeast, everyone honks his horn every two seconds. I rented a motorcycle, and the guy showed me where to insert the key and where the horn was. Otherwise, they drive like Thais, as a big group experiment, like fish in a school.
Women who appear in public here in Dubai are often completely covered, leaving only their eyes visible through a little rectangle cut in the fabric. Some don’t even have that, and peer through somewhat sheer black cloth. There are separate sections on the bus and metro for women only. Due to the large number of Indian men who are in Dubai without their families, men outnumber women in public by five to one.
In Thailand, men are almost invisible. Women are everywhere, shopping, selling, sitting behind desks and counters in offices. I don’t know where they men are. This is especially true after the age of fifty. There are almost no men over fifty visible anywhere. My hunch is they’re all back home in the village, taking care of their grandchildren.
It’s the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the Ermiate just down the road from Dubai. It’s an hour and a half bus ride, but it’s worth it to see the Mosque. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the rug in the main prayer hall: “The carpet in the main prayer hall is considered to be the world’s largest carpet made by Iran’s Carpet Company and designed by Iranian artist Ali Khaliqi. This carpet measures 5,627 m2 (60,570 sq ft), and was made by around 1,200-1,300 carpet knotters. The weight of this carpet is 35 ton and is predominantly made from wool (originating from New Zealand and Iran). There are 2,268,000,000 knots within the carpet and it took approximately two years to complete.”
There’s a whole lot of nothing between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Scrubby desert that’s as flat as a pancake. I hear there are some scenic desert areas, but I haven’t seen them yet. And then you come across the Wizard of Oz stretch of buildings longer than Michigan Avenue in Chicago, but at night, they’re all lit up in the most psychedelic ways…it’s really something.
Sure, not all the architecture here fits my taste, but it is pretty amazing what they’ve managed to do in a short amount of time. And oil wealth is only part of it. There are plenty of countries that have oil wealth who have done nothing but squander it. Nigeria, Venezuala. The Arab Emiriates used their oil wealth as a leg up to do what they wanted to do, which was to create a nation that invites outside investment. It seems to be working.
But this mosque is one of the most amazing structures on the planet.