One Year in Dubai

Sunrise behind dubai marina tower buildings
Sunrise over Dubai Marina

I would have never thought I would end up going to Dubai, let alone live there for one year. When I was studying Tourism, the Palm and the ski centre in the Mall of the Emirates were being built. I clearly remember wondering who would do that, and what kind of people would live there. Turns out it’s a lot easier to live there than I thought.

This realization actually occurred to me a few weeks before I left the country. I was coming back from buying my groceries at the supermarket in the Mall of the Emirates and was driving back home, to the house and cat I was taking care of… on the Palm. And the weird thing was, it was actually totally normal to me. I had been doing this for about 6 months at that point.

inside the Mall of the Emirates
Mall of the Emirates, Dubai

Dubai is a fascinating place to be, especially from a sociological point of view. Reality is different there.

At least very different from Canada. Everything has its own rules, like most places in the world. But unlike most places, everything is disposable. Employees, friends, relationships. Everything and everyone is temporary.

Of course, it’s not the only place in the world where one can see massive difference between classes of people or different nationalities, but in Dubai, there’s no attempt to even pretend everyone is somewhat equal like in most western societies. I’m not saying Western countries are actually equal by any mean, but they do try to reach that ideal, or at least pretend to try.

In Dubai, money or passport issuing country is what makes the most impact. Not your actual work. As with every generalisation there are exceptions, but from my experience, whether you are competent or not doesn’t seem to be the main thing employers look for.

Tandem skydivers landing next to Dubai buildings
Skydive Dubai

I was working in skydiving, so of course, any other environment would be quite different, but from what I noticed in most of my friend’s workplaces is that it was expected from them to work crazy hours, have no personal life, especially if they happened to work in sales or in banking and investment. I am aware these work conditions are very similar in most big cities since competition is fierce. But I’ve never experienced such a place where everything and everyone is disposable and can easily be replaced. And this also transpires through friendships and relationships.

view of the World islands in Dubai
Dubai from the sky, including the World and Burj Al Arab

It’s a very superficial environment, of course, this doesn’t come up as a surprise from a country who happened to have built multiple palm tree-shaped islands out of nothing. Dubai doesn’t need to only look good from the ground, but also from the air. Most buildings look fairly new, and they are, but if you look a bit closer you quickly realize they are not made to last.

Dubai Marina view from Marina Wharf building
The view from my first flat in Marina Wharf, Dubai Marina

Take the apartment building I was living in for example, it looked fine from the outside, was finished only a couple of years ago, but every time it rained (which is only a handful of times per year) water would come through the roof and drip in the bedrooms and kitchen. Water infiltration in an older building is understandable, especially after many years of getting beaten up by the changing weather, but on a brand new building I find it hard to accept. All the buildings have to come up quick and cheap, so a lot is botched along the way. But as long as the facade looks good you are golden.

It’s pretty much the same when it comes to people. As long as the facade looks good, we don’t really care about anything else. So many people have plastic surgery, it’s a usual sight. So much so indeed that a friend of mine who’s lived in Dubai for a few years even stopped seeing or noticing when people had had work done. I used to think that was crazy until one day when I experienced something that I found profoundly scary in terms of what was now my normal.

The girls were talking about a new procedure to lift the lashes, and instead of thinking how weird of an idea that was, I actually started thinking I could maybe get more information about it. I didn’t make it to the step of actually going and getting it done, but anyone knowing me would most likely be surprised I would have even considered it. That’s how insidious and prevalent the whole facade culture is. It affects everything you see and do.

Traffic view from shoreline building, the palm, Dubai
Lovely place to have my morning coffee, in the flat I was housesitting for on The Palm, Dubai

There are of course some very good parts of living in Dubai too. Nothing is ever all black or white. But since we can’t really talk about the not so pretty things while living there, we don’t hear much about it. We know there are issues, especially when it comes to human rights, but understandably no one is quite ready to put themselves on the line while living there and stir some shit up. The possible consequences are far from being the same as in the usual free-speech countries I call home (Canada and the UK).

One good side of everything being about keeping up appearances is that if you want to be fit, there’s absolutely no excuse not to be since every single residential building has a gym. There are fitness classes and activities available everywhere. And the offer is impressively varied, from the usual gym and spinning classes to pole fitness and everything in between.

small boat crossing the water in Dubai Marina
Dubai Marina

I did live in Dubai for a lot longer than I had originally anticipated. Somehow, I’ve lived a very comfortable life for a while, but I could see that I was slowly changing. And slowly turning into someone I didn’t like. And that, for me, was reason enough to get away and find somewhere closer to nature to call home.

During my year in Dubai, I have visited every emirate and left the country a few times for long-weekend holidays. I think that’s what kept me sane (somewhat anyway). I will be revisiting those road trips and further expeditions in future posts.

Sunset over the landing area of Skydive Dubai
Sunset over the landing area of Skydive Dubai

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