9 December 2010
I was motivated to undertake a secondment in Dubai by the prospect of experiencing a professional, cultural and religious environment completely different to anywhere I have lived or travelled before.
Preconceptions and misconceptions are abound regarding the Middle East and its conservative culture and about Dubai in particular, with its much decried flaunting of wealth and excess. However, I was keen to expose these judgments and gain a more personal experience of the region. I have found that Dubai is in fact a city of contrasts, a city which absorbs all of the preconceptions and mixes them to produce an incongruous melange of culture which is at once traditional yet evolving, conservative yet liberal, aspirational yet frustrated in achieving its potential.
The scars of the recent financial crisis are indeed here to see, the unfinished construction projects a testament to the Emirate’s recent struggles, however lessons have been learned and the shoots of new growth are emerging: there has never been a more exciting or fascinating time to be in Dubai! The most prominent example of this is the towering Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building that dominates the city skyline from vantage points across the city and desert alike. While the name of the stunning, glass fronted tower may have been changed at the last minute to take the name of Sheikh Khalifa, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, in recognition of the neighbouring Emirate’s financial assistance during the crisis, the building is more a testament to Dubai’s relentless race to place itself firmly within the estimations of the international community as a land of talent, enterprise and the courage to push boundaries to the limit.
These attributes are clear to see from the many rooftop cocktail bars dotted across the city and offering not only incredible cocktails, but also a spectacular vantage point from which to plan the weekend’s activities. Dubai has a veritable treasure trove of activities and experiences waiting to be discovered and caters for every taste. From watersports, skydiving, desert safaris, dune-bashing and skiing (yes, you did read that right), to taking up resident beach-bum status on one of the many pristine beaches and dancing the night away at one of Nasimi’s full moon beach parties on the Palm, an unrivalled example of engineering ingenuity, it is simply impossible to spend a dull moment in Dubai. The city has a vibrance that never ceases and occupies the epitome of a city that never sleeps. Should you wish, you can wander around the old town area of Bur Dubai to have a hair cut at midnight, or venture into the capitalist colossus that is the Dubai Mall in Downtown Dubai for a late evening massage.
In the unlikely event that you tire of the world class restaurants and sun-soaked sands, Dubai is the perfect hub from which to explore the wider Middle East. Oman, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are all a stone’s throw away and offer the opportunity to venture into the Middle East of old, meandering lost among the alleyways of ancient souks or high into the Omani mountains far beyond the bounds of Blackberry reception. Travelling in these countries serves to emphasise Dubai’s character as a juxtaposition of East meets West and highlights the opportunities available to the city as a gateway for the international business community to access the wider Middle East.
Working in Dubai truly does enable you to appreciate and embrace the nature of global business. International banks and law firms operate side by side with national Emirate businessmen and women in the Dubai International Financial Centre, while the many regulatory ‘Free Zones’ throughout the Emirate host many more specialist industries, such as telecommunications in Dubai Media City. Once in the office you could spend your morning on a call with your Australian counterparts as they are finishing up their day, and your afternoon liaising with clients in New York as they arrive at their desks: it is a fascinating insight into the global nature of the financial markets and deal-making.
Dubai is a city re-emerging from the global recession with a more sophisticated approach to business and how best to develop its economy. This re-emergence brings many opportunities and a tangible sense of excitement at the chance to start afresh and face the world with a renewed vigour as the hub of the Middle East.