Wednesday, May 16, 2007
If it weren't for the boarding gates, you'd think you'd walked into a high-end mall.
I've just arrived in Dubai, the city that's quickly becoming the financial capital of the Middle East. The Dubai International Airport is massive, with four stories of shops, kiosks, and, of course, check-in terminals. Everything is spotless, polished, and reeking of wealth.
The boutiques gleam with luxury clothes and watches. The travelers are relaxed, strolling from shop to shop, buying gifts, and talking to friends. Unbelievably, even the food looks appealing. Everything is written in English.
You can read about it, hear about it through gossip, or watch the Discovery Channel special, but nothing fully prepares you for Dubai. You're hit with its luxury and hospitality even before setting foot on land.
In Dubai, someone is always giving you something: assistance, directions, a smile. The airport's staff makes you feel as though you're a personal guest in their home. I've never felt so welcomed in all my life. Passing through customs takes all of five minutes. Despite the bustling airport, the lines are at most three people deep.
Having passed through customs, you immediately walk into an unending row of airport check-ins for Dubai's luxury hotels. The gentleman at the Fairmont desk was a Filipino immigrant named Alex. Alex moved to Dubai in 1991. "When I first got here, there were only three hotels in Dubai. Today, there are dozens." He smiled, "Dubai is a great opportunity."
In the United States, when you seek help in locating transport from the airport to your hotel, you're usually just pointed toward a waiting place outside the terminal. In Dubai, the liaisons personally walk you to your ride: a Rolls Royce, a Mercedes, or an Audi.
From the ground level, Dubai looks and feels like Miami if Miami underwent a multibillion-dollar makeover. The land is flat, the weather is beautiful, the traffic is bad, and palm trees and construction cranes are everywhere.
The difference is that, in Dubai, everything is brand new (it was all built in the last 10 years, and the city just oozes wealth.
On the ride to the hotel, the beginnings of the Burj Dubai, scheduled to be the world's tallest building, are visible. Originally planned to be 2,651 feet tall, the Burj Dubai's floor count continually changes as its builder, Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, learns of other planned projects and increases its numbers to maintain its status as the world's tallest building.
The vertical mentality borders on the pathological. Having spent centuries on very flat terrain, Dubai's residents seem almost obsessed with living as high off the ground as possible. High rises and skyscrapers cluster everywhere. My hotel is 34 floors high.
Everywhere you look, there's some new massive building going up, all of its units sold out long before the ground was even broken.
Expensive coffee and groceries take a beating… Whole Foods and Starbucks at yearly lows.
Nokia up 30% in 2007. At new 52-week high.
Transport companies soar to yearly highs: Arlington Tankers, Tsakos Energy Navigation, Heartland Express, Canadian Pacific, Canadian National Railway, DryShips, Excel Maritime, and Guangshen Railway.