Monday, May 01, 2006

April 29 – Dubai: A Glittering City in the Desert

I met Reza Abbaszadeh as planned at the Emirates Airline counter in Paris and we proceeded through security to our plane to Dubai. It was a comfortable six-hour flight and we arrived after midnight very early Saturday morning. The walk from the gate to baggage claim was amazingly long, and even more amazing was the sense that we had landed in a shopping mall. The shops were absolutely bustling with people of all sorts in every imaginable dress, from shorts to saris to flowing Saudi robes. I guess this evening was the equivalent of our Sunday night before going to work on Monday. In the UAE, (United Arab Emirates) Thursday and Friday are the weekend and Saturday is a work day.

Arriving at night, it was hard to get more than a sense of a city with many skyscrapers all lit up. It reminded me of Singapore at night especially as the two cities are compact, on the water and have tanker ports. In fact, Dubai is positioning itself to be like Singapore and Hong Kong, places where people meet, and deals are made and financed for global companies.

By day Dubai looks like Las Vegas, a glittering city in the desert, very modern and obviously constructed in a very short period. There is no layering of new and old. There is a Health Care City district, a Knowledge Village area where high-tech firms such as Cisco, Samsung and H-P congregate, and a developing academic district with domestic and international colleges. Everything seems to have its place in a much larger scheme.

Much of Dubai is under construction. It is growing in every direction including up. What is most amazing is that only 15 percent of the population is "Emirati" or locals. The economy is run by foreigners, with many Indians, Phillipinos, Chinese, Europeans and Africans visible.

I have never been to a more international city. If the buildings under construction now are full in five years this will be something of a miracle in the desert. I would love to come back and see how it all works out. People are coming from everywhere to be part of the action, which is why universities are setting up shop here just as they have in China.

I wonder if UC should consider a presence in this part of the world.


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