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Friday, June 20, 2008

Breaking News: Orientalist Dubai Dream Tour Shattered! (Part 3)

By Terry*
Continued from part 2 and part 1.
Anon continues:
* “The miracle of Dubai is also made possible by a largely invisible army of cheap labour: 90 per cent of the population are foreigners, including Western professionals lured by the black gold, but mainly Filipino maids and nannies, and construction workers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh” and “Construction workers are paid a paltry US$100 a month and sleep in huge hostels, where 20 people share a single bathroom.”
Yes, those construction workers, waiters, maids, nannies and shop assistants I talked to every day for years were just a mirage. But the ‘invisible army’ and the mention of mistreatment of workers are obligatory in any story on Dubai that takes a negative stance. I’m starting to feel nostalgic for the old days when it was obligatory to mention the cruel Arabs and the five-year-old camel jockeys

Workers’ conditions and living conditions for the underprivileged is an issue everywhere but If I write about New York restaurants, should I devote a paragraph to the illegal dishwashers from South America without health insurance who help keep America’s economy just above the waterline? Should I write about Maori alcohol and incarceration problems if I write about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc? If I write about Outback Australia, should I always mention the ‘Aboriginal problem’? Is a travel story the place to talk about globalisation and the migration of workers looking for a better life and getting screwed? Sometimes. But if you’re going to do it, be balanced. Oh, and the last time I heard the term ‘black gold’ was on the Beverly Hillbillies theme song. Man, I love me some banjo. Can’t get the song out of my head now.

* “We also check out Little India, swarming with tourist tat touts and shops cluttered with cheap Chinese-made clothes and plastic utensils, which are what real people use”.
What sort of utensils do the people who aren’t real use and what do you have against utensils made of materials other than plastic? (Note: for those shopping for plastic utensils, the author probably means Karama Souq.)

* “Shindagha, the original site from which Dubai grew, is by the river mouth. Sheikh Saeed's house, the former home of the ruling Maktoum family, has been 'carefully restored' and is open to view.”
Why is carefully restored in inverted commas? Are those Arabs trying to trick Anon again with a ‘fake’ house and yet another fake experience? Is there nothing really authentic in Dubai? Not according to Anon.

* “Nearby, the Heritage and the Pearl Fishers' villages purport to offer a glimpse of traditional life - with credit card facilities.”
It’s actually ‘Heritage and Diving Villages’ and the author clearly didn’t visit during the frequent Emirati events (pictured), including traditional dances and singing, as well as our favourite, the rifle-throwing competitions – you don’t need a credit card for those, just for the ‘fake’ souvenirs. You also don’t need a credit card to buy the authentic breads and snacks made by ‘real’ local women, just some small change.

* “In fact, there are few historic buildings left standing. Between the corrosive elements of sun and wind, mud walls don't tend to last long and for the past few decades, Dubai's natives have been more enthusiastic about building comfortable, modern mansions than restoring mud huts.”
We’ll overlook the inaccuracies and horrid sentence construction, but damn those ‘natives’ wanting to live in comfortable, modern mansions when they could live in a ‘mud hut’ with no air-conditioning for the sake of not appearing ‘fake’ to a New Zealand ‘journalist’ who can’t even get his ‘facts’ straight. The cheek of them.

* “A dignified older man offers us dates and coffee spiced with cardamom.”

At last, the Wilfred Thesiger or Lawrence of Arabia moment that Anon has been looking for happens! Luckily, it wasn’t an ‘undignified’ older man that he met. I hear they’re not as friendly.

* “Hospitality is one of the most highly esteemed virtues in Islamic culture. The touching family scene straight out of centuries past is disrupted by the arrival of a giant SUV sending up clouds of sand. The other men of the family are arriving.”

Damn, just as Anon’s Orientalist dream – straight from ‘centuries past’ – is realised, it’s snatched away by ‘fake’ Arabs and their ‘fake’ 4WD’s. Don’t they know anything about authenticity, like, you know, white New Zealanders earnestly doing the Haka? By the way, it’s Arab (and especially Bedouin) hospitality that Anon might be thinking of and Islam is a religion.

* “When we recount our meeting later, our guide is quick to quell any romantic notions of traditional lifestyles surviving into the 21st century. It turns out Bedouin all live in the city these days, and drive to their estates at the weekend. "Camel caretakers", predominantly from Southeast Asia, are paid a pittance to do the actual day-to-day camel wrangling.”

Wow. Sounds like these tour guides are a real downer in Dubai. As soon as you think you’ve found something authentic – baaaaammmm – they’ll spoil it for you!

And so it turns out that the only ‘real’ moment of Anon’s Orientalist Dream Tour was fake as well.

* Terry Carter is my husband and co-writer.

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