Inside the Capitol

Monday, November 03, 2008

11-5 Emirates column

FRI, 10-17-08

THE EMIRATES - These next 10 days are going to be quite an experience. During the first 15 days of this cruise, we saw some of the standards everyone who travels to this part of the world should see - Athens, Rhodes, the Suez Canal, pyramids, Valley of the Kings, Mt. Sinai and Petra, Jordan.
During the next 10 days, we will see countries seldom entered - three of the United Arab Emirates, three towns in Oman, and one in Qatar, Bahrain and Iran. Yesterday an official on this ship confessed our local guides will not be particularly knowledgeable or speak much English. Today the same official admitted we might not get much out of these shore tours except to be able to say we'd been there.
Personally, I'm hoping to do a little better than that. I can surf the Internet and scour the ship's library and visit with a lecturer on board,
The Emirates are a group of small nations on the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf. They gained their independence from England in 1971. Seven of them voted to become the United Arab Emirates. Oman, Bahrain and Qatar decided not to join but to work with the UAE in some areas. One of those projects is Emirates Airlines, which we will inaugurate a flight from Dubai to New York next week.
Best known of the United Arab Emirates are Dubai and Abu Dhabi. They both are large, industrial cities. Dubai has modernistic skyscrapers not seen in the United States. They have embraced western culture in many ways, but still find bare arms and legs offensive. Crooked buildings, however, are not offensive to their eye. Some American architects chuckle at their inability to sell such concepts in the United States.
Like Beijing, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have made the choice to sacrifice their environment to industrialization. Their air pollution falls somewhere between Los Angeles and Beijing.
At least there is some awareness. Abu Dhabi is building a $22 billion zero-carbon city on its outskirts. We chose not to take a helicopter tour over Dubai after being advised that there is much we would not be able to see through the smoke.
The Emirates became rich as trading centers down through the millennia. The discovery of oil only made them richer. Those riches are shared only by the royal families.
There is a well-paid middle class composed of foreign technicians, professionals and managers. But they all know they are only in the country until members of the elite (about 20 percent of the population) can be trained to take over those jobs.
The remainder of the population are dirt-poor immigrants who perform manual labor and send everything they can to their families in poorer countries. At the point they are no longer able to perform, they are deported.
I am told that 50 percent of the world's economy is based on these remittances from people working in rich countries back to their families. It is a worldwide phenomenon and is more effective than foreign aid because it reaches the people who need the help.
Dubai is called the city of cranes. It is said that there are 300 new buildings in the city, 300 more being built and 300 on the drawing boards. Dubai claims it has 15 percent of the world's tallest buildings and the tallest enables a view of the curvature of the earth.
CAUTION: A word of warning about these dispatches from foreign countries. They are written by someone with a keen interest, but not complete knowledge, about the subject. They are based on personal observation, limited research and discussions with guides, lecturers, locals and fellow travelers.
I am sometimes challenged by readers who know more about a situation than I and who have different impressions. I like to think my reports are at least as accurate as travel articles I see about Santa Fe. But please don't use any of this material for your term paper.

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