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The Middle East @ Work

The Cultures of the Future

Meaw Mar 14, 2008

I will have to learn how to ski one day. Just to know if I could have lied when the woman at the ski Dubai counter asked me if I knew how to ski. I said, “no, can I take a class and learn?”… “you have to take four classes”… “I don’t have time for four classes”… “then you can just go into the snow park”. That didn’t sound like a lot of fun. But I did it anyway… I have a tendency to only work when I travel for work. So sometimes I just have to force myself to do something else.

The snow park is basically a crazy place. But it doesn’t feel that crazy when you are there. I have not been in a theme park but I suppose the feeling is fairly similar. The guy in charge of the toboggan didn’t object to me riding it 5 times so I could get different video shots. After one hour, it became boring. Probably like any other theme park. I visited the bathroom and noticed that this very serious Asian young waiter was washing his hands. He was the waiter that helped us a couple of days ago when we had dinner at the mall. Back then, he was extremely smiley, extremely nice, in a way that made me feel it could not be fake. He was too nice to be faking it. But now at the bathroom he looks like a different person. It is not that he is not smiling (who smiles in the bathroom?) it is that he looks like he is thinking, like he is worried, like he is in the middle of a process… he looks like a musician before entering the stage, or an athlete before starting a competition. Focused, that’s what it is.

There is a complex story beyond the fairly well known story of these immigrants working their *** off. I could tell you what my experience as an immigrant has been in the US. But I will not. Because as much as I have tried to deconstruct it and understand it… I still think the consequences go beyond my comprehension. And the face of this young waiter in the bathroom is something I will never be able to explain completely on this paper, on a radio piece or on a video piece. It’s a small window to a universe of feelings that come after we uproot ourselves. I would have loved to go up to him and say something… or just look at him with a half smile. He never looked at me.

The common thing to think is that this place looks pretty much like any other place in the US. In the Persian Gulf and there is not much exotic about anything I see here. There is lots of excess. The ski slope, the luxurious hotel on a small peninsula with its 250 dollar brunch (or that’s what I hear at least…), the man made islands, the sky rises, the pairs of sky rises, two here, two there, two more in construction, two about to start construction, two construction workers walking down the street under the sun.

Our hotel is in what’s called “knowledge city.” I walk around and try to understand how one block can house three different universities. In 20 minutes I see people who could come from any place in the world. I suppose all of them have enough money to be able to attend a private university so… I can’t really say that I see all types of people, but all types possible within a certain sector of the global population: the middle classes of the world, all studying in one village, in Dubai.

As soon as I landed in Dubai I started a process of deciphering. I am sure every other person does. What is this place about? Why would they try to build a city like this in the middle of the desert? And why a city so similar to any other big city in the US? I feel gypped. Where are the camels? Every one here speaks English. No one is asking me for a tip and the taxis have a very fancy meter. Apparently this is not a democratic state but no one seems to care about that. It has open markets, it embraces neo liberalism so… we can easily skip the part about democracy. The same way that Scott Jagow told a store owner in Cairo “I actually want to buy something, we can skip the part about the tea and the hospitality”. Democracy is the tea. If you already know you are going to buy something, who cares about the tea?

I heard that some call what Dubai is doing “their legacy”. Comparable to the pyramids in Egypt. History is a tricky thing. I can’t really say whether they are right or wrong. I have no idea. I can’t see the future. If I could I would not be writing this blog. Or maybe I would, because I don’t know what the future is like. But the same way I wondered in Cairo about the authenticity hidden in the bedrooms of the locals, in their cafes, in their private conversations… I wonder in Dubai about the culture coming out of this madness. When nearly everything old is thrown away, when you create the city of the future, with people from all over the world, unapologetically undemocratic… Is there a new kind of authenticity being born here? I can’t see it. I guess no one can see it. If it is happening we will only know in 20 or 50 years. But then, could it be, that Dubai will be the pioneer of the new world authenticity? One that counts on the planes, the visitors, the corporations, the globalization… the cheap labor side by side with the extreme wealth. One that does not talk about the past.

There is nothing more to dislike about Dubai, than there is to dislike about New York, London, Barcelona, Shanghai, Paris or Tokyo… Dubai is a mirror of what we all have turned the cultures of the world into.

— Miguel Macias

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