Friday, October 17, 2008

DUBAI | This Post is Brought To You Courtesy of the Free Wifi at Starbucks Dubai

After all this time off-line, I finally managed to catch the free wifi at the Starbucks near my apartment. My grande cafe latte is cold and I still have to catch up on my work related emails -- which have been sorely neglected for these past week.

I wish I can say things have been going well at work; it hasn't. A lot of unforeseen delays, some of which we might have worked around if the Management had listened to advice given months ago. As they say, hindsight is always perfect, and we are left with the "If only". What frustrates me now is the refusal of the Management to learn from mistakes. My old patterns are surfacing, where in a position of frustration and powerlessness, I go into a stubborn, passive-aggressive mode. They have already cut my off-day to one day a week, in spite of the standard Friday/Saturday weekends, because we're rushing for an unrealistic deadline.

My yoga practice has also been neglected, because the air-conditioning at the new apartment is so frakking cold, I wear a jacket to sleep every night. I can't turn the air-con down because the temperature control is centralised (but centralised by whom, I have no idea). It drives me crazy having to live with the cold indoors, and the heat outdoors. Waking up every morning to a freezing apartment with stiff muscles doesn't encourage me to practice. I need to find a way around this soon. Does this mean practicing on the balcony, in full view of all my neighbours and everyone else around the block? Does this mean shorts are out for yoga practice?

A lot of people are excited about Dubai. I've only been here slightly more than one month, most of it spent working, so it's unfair for me to make any fair or accurate judgement on the city. But I'm not sure if I will ever learn to love the city. It's one of the fastest growing city in the world right now, with one of the fastest growing population because of all the people coming into Dubai for work.

For me, Dubai is not like the Paris of my imagination. The City of Lights is a place imbued with a romance, an ideal. Illusion or not, some city has a soul that sings to us; we love the place before we even set foot on it. Some cities however, speak in an alien, garbled tongue. Perhaps it is our fault for the failure to comprehend - but in Dubai, I am a stranger in a strange land.

Many people come to Dubai for work, for an opportunity to cash in on one of the fastest growing cities. Some are fortunate, but many are lucky just to survive in this city where everything cost more than they do back home. The Dubai that I have seen this past month is a place drowned in overt capitalism. I believe there is another side to Dubai that I have not met. A spiritual and compassionate side - a more human side of an ancient city. Alas, that Dubai is overshadowed by its loud, vulgar brother right now.

I'm trying to make the best of my experience here, and trying to accept what the city has to offer. It has at least offered me some educational experiences, not always pleasant.

I am an ethnic Chinese with fair-skin; I have been mistaken for various races - Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, even Filipino. In Dubai, some people don't quite know what to make of an ethnic Chinese from Southeast Asia who speaks English. Since they have a lot of Filipinos in Dubai to fill the lower strata of their service industry, they often mistake me for a Filipino. There has been several incidents where my skin-colour became an issue. At local supermarket near my apartment, the cashiers are obviously more polite and obliging to the Caucasians in the same queue. I can't even ask a cashier to break my 1,000 dirham note for my purchase while there was no question asked of a Caucasian lady who did the same. During business meetings, people talked down to us because of the colour of our skin. As the racial majority in my own country, racism isn't personal, though it exists - for others. Racism is something that we are allowed to ignore back home - smug and sheltered from the reality, pretending it isn't an issue. Here, now in Dubai, I am a minority race, and the cashier down the street looks down on me.

When you travel, the racism isn't always as prominent, perhaps because I usually travel to places where I am perceived as a source of good tourist dollar; the natives usually love my fleece. Living and working in Dubai, while trying to save a few pennies, things are different. I can go back after one year, of course, but this experience has at least been enlightening, for those for whom running away is not an option.

O Dubai. You offer me much riches, though you make me earn them.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

it is certainly interesting to live in a place like this. though all the more it bring out the fighter in me. it speaks alot about them, not us. am sure you are a survivor and will come out fine. we have a choice. treasure all kind of experience you may come across.it is a city of opportunity with people from all over to seek a fortune or an opportunity. recently i read some of your old post and i remember the kiwi experience. how things come in a round circle when you thought you missed the chance to go to dubai. and here and now you got the chance to work and live there. things happen for a reason. enjoy the moment regards what brings to you. you have a choice. there are no right or wrong experience.quietletters ; )

Chris said...

Big hug from overseas! I hope things get better for you soon DO. I know it must be disheartening to be in a new place and not feel totally welcomed. Keep your head held high though.

wil said...

Your hot/cold comment reminds me of summers in Texas -- really hot outside, freezing cold inside. I feel for you. Can you crack a window or (partially) seal off an A/C vent?

I have heard a lot about Dubai. I know a guy from Russia who works there. It sounds like an ostentatious place. Even if you hate it, you'll at least be able to tell people that you were in Dubai during the insane capitalist boom times.

Good luck!

Melanie said...

I've been wondering how things have been going for you; sounds like quite an adjustment to make. Does your apt. also have sealed windows? I hope not.
I hear you on the work issues. I have the same response to those kind of management mistakes and I have to continually try to move past it. It is very difficult. Thinking of you and hoping things smooth out for a little for you, soon.

jpderosnay said...

arg... it sounds SO frustrating! especially the racism issue.

and you know, it makes it even worse that you're away from home. if you were at home then it'd be much easier to handle, but away from home things are just so much harder...

i hope things get better soon!

Imani said...

Somehow, I am not surprised by your experience in Duabi. I will think of you and send you a lot of good vibes...maybe a hex on the cashier. Let's hope Dubai proves to be multidimensional.

Dark Orpheus said...

quietletters- I wonder at the reason behind it all sometimes. How I came to be here, and what this place has to teach me - what are the lessons I need to learn to survive here. Right now I am facing some internal politics at work, and there's some tribalism at work. Even this, is a learning curve.

Trying to keep it all in mind, and that the real lesson of yoga is to live with your likes and dislikes.

Chris - Hey Chris, always good to hear from you. I'm definitely keeping my head afloat, but it's such a strange new place, with such people in it.

Wil - We can open the windows, and walk out to the balcony. But it's can't seem to do anything about the air vent.

And oh yes, Dubai is ostentatious - everything is about being Bigger - but not necessarily better.

melanie - I'm surviving. Thankfully I can open the balcony. Surviving is the word. Tension are running a little high these days, and I shouted at my manager yesterday. ;p

But surviving.

JP There are nice people too. Really. The cook at the staff canteen just gave me some vegetarian curry today for dinner, because I am the lone vegetarian among my colleagues. :)

Everything balances out, the good and the bad.

Imani - Thanks for the hex for the cashier ;p But I suppose she's just an ordinary girl trying to make a living in Dubai.

Dubai has exposed me to a larger world than I am used to. It has been enriching. I just wonder if it will make me a better person after all of it.

Doc Martian said...

yeh. racism is a biotch. especially when you're the minority. it has a lot to do with why i am so intolerant of racists. you might wear a full-face when you go shopping just to mess with their heads... cuss them out in chinese sometimes too.

you could probably score some interesting robes for yoga too. a pair of long-handled underwear might be handy too in a cold indoors.

as far as being crabby, maybe its your nature. i mean i tend towards discontentedness myself... not philosophical discontentedness... nor the western gotta have more discontentedness... more the YOU WANT ME TO DO ***WHAT!!!!!*** discontentedness.

my advice to you? listen to some django reinhardt. its hard to be in a bad mood with Romani Swing playing. even if you're dissatisfied with your lot.

you might go communist-garb too. that'd be a challenge to deal with instead of getting stereotyped ethnically. get stereotyped POLITICALLY! smack them with your red book!

Nymeth said...

"For me, Dubai is not like the Paris of my imagination. The City of Lights is a place imbued with a romance, an ideal. Illusion or not, some city has a soul that sings to us; we love the place before we even set foot on it. Some cities however, speak in an alien, garbled tongue. Perhaps it is our fault for the failure to comprehend - but in Dubai, I am a stranger in a strange land."

I just love the way you write :)

I'm sorry to hear about work not going too well and about the race issues. I know what you mean about those less than pleasant learning experiences. Until I went and became a student-who-saves-every-penny in another country for 6 months, I had never thought of myself as a potential victim of racial prejudice. While I didn't have to deal with any major problems, there were a few incidents where my being southern-European-and-therefore-slightly-darker was clearly an issue.

Another hug from overseas coming from here.

Matt said...

The cold indoors and hot outdoors are reminiscent of Hong Kong, where I have to bring an extra layer just for the freezing dim sum restaurant!

I know how frustrating it can be when you're being racially profiled, even in place like Dubai! Labeling is b***h! Why do people have to label each other so frantically? I've been mistaken for Japanese in Bali, Thai in Thailand, Filipino in Malaysia. ABC in Hong Kong. ABC?! What the heck?

I hope you'll get acclimatized to Dubai's ways of doing things, although being a stranger in a strange land can be tough when nostalgia hits you.

Enjoy Starbucks (although I do not endorse it)! All the best to you. Stay connected!

Heather said...

Very interesting post. Great to have insight into you experience. (Regarding the chilly apartment - can you open all the windows up at night? That might help a bit with stiff muscles. Hope that gets worked out soon as I know how upsetting the wrong temp can be - I'm dealing with the opposite problem in my apartment.)