I live in Dubai.
I’m having three days off, what recently hardly ever happens, so I really feel like I do l i v e here.
“Here” probably means million different things to different people. To many, it probably doesn’t mean anything too, as Dubai is quite a mysterious place. I’m trying my best at exploring it, so I knew at least a bit about where do I live, but I suppose that my point of view, the one of a girl who serves chicken and beef, is probably quite a limited one.
You know, I just serve chicken and beef and, o my Lord, sometimes I do run out of chicken. Than I just serve beef trying to convince people that it’s not really my fault and that hating me won’t get us anymore chicken. And hey, it’s not easy. It’s not a good feeling to be in the plane full of people who hate you, so I work hard.
They say Dubai is a place of the most amazing experiences, of perfect holidays, they say it’s a Gulf’s hub for sex, alcohol, it’s were girls will go with you for money, where people do more.
Let’s start from how you see Dubai. Probably you’ve never been there, nor really thought about coming here. Maybe once you saw tickets on some website, and the idea came to you head, so you put “Dubai” in google and you felt amazed for a while. Maybe some of your friends have been there for their honey moon, or you saw it on some “fashion tv” program, or in some fancy advert.
This is the thing about Dubai: it is w e l l advertised. I’m not judging whether it’s true or not true what these adverts say, but let’s face it: you’re not going to read about Dubai in some bad taste magazine, you’re not going to come here for some cheap holidays.
Dubai is about money, and not a small one. “Do, buy” that’s how some call it. Dubai is being represented as an exclusive product, as a dress from a very fancy shop. You could go for a shopping anywhere, but why not to go for a shopping to the biggest shopping mall? You can go to the Eiffle Tower, but why not to go on the biggest tower on the world? That kind of thing.
People say it has no soul.
The thing is, doesn’t matter how much money you have, you just can’t build Burji Khalifa like that, it’s just not that simple. There’s money here, right, but money didn’t build anything by itself. Who did, is poor Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian workers. And believe me, they didn’t build any villas with the salaries they got.
Once I got a bit drunk with a crew. I was chatting with the first officer. I ask him where is he from, he says “Dubai”. He had a bit of an Australian accent, and I couldn’t really figure out what kind of nationality does he look like, so I just give him a look, “come on, don’t bullshit me, you’re not from Dubai”. He asks why.
Well, nobody’s from Dubai, that’s why. Poor boy was trying to convince me he actually is from there for some 20 minutes, getting a bit frustrated I guess, and I only believed him once he showed me his passport.
What am I trying to say is, n o b o d y is from Dubai. You don’t just meet these people on the friend’s party. They are somewhere, but when you ask somebody where, nobody knows.
How does this refer to Dubai as a city? Well, what I believe is, the culture of the place is mostly based in its citizens. You can’t really find an identity of the city, which is basically a transit place.
Is it anybody’s fault?
Am I able to say I like Dubai?
Not really neither.
The First Officer I told you about, he went to school in Australia for a few years in the 90’s. Once he came back he was a stranger in his own city: he didn’t know where to go for a dinner or where do people party. The buildings just grew out of the sand and suddenly you lost the horizon’s line out of sight.
This is why you just can’t be from Dubai. Dubai we watch today in the fancy catalog is nothing like Dubai that was there 20 years ago. There’s no a right one and a fake one. It’s a strange thing, especially for us Europeans, who are so used to all these medieval dates engraved on churches and old houses, but it is how it is.
Who is there? Who is working in the biggest world shopping mall, and who build it? Who is carrying me to work and back and who is driving this city? People who miss their families. Tired people I see in the newest technology city’s metro. They are from Philippines, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh. Some of them managed to come here from Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Sri Lanka. There’s a long queue in front of the visa issuing building. This queue goes a way out, people sit on the sand waiting for their turn, the day is unbearably hot.
There are special schools providing the courses of keeping a hotel room in Philippines. I suppose in many different places too. Some girls will go there and learn, they are going to move to Dubai, the city of dreams. Their babies and husbands are back home, and while it was such a hard personal decision for the most of them, feeling sad about it here feels almost inappropriate: it’s common. It’s a thing they will chat with colleagues during the lunch break, all of them have a similar story to tell. What sounds to you like a romantic drama is a reality here. You hear it more often than a story of a happy family living in Dubai and buying a dog. There’s no dogs in Dubai: nobody buys a dog in a place he’s not planning to settle down.
I met this taxi driver, he tells me his wife and two babies are back in Sudan. He haven’t seen them for two years, but he couldn’t find a job back home and he’s happy he can send them money every month now. There’s no drama in his voice. We could be talking about what did he have for breakfast as well.
I’m not trying to criticize Dubai, but I’m trying to say that it’s not necessary what you think it is. These magazines and photos are not lying: it is an impressive, surreal place. But they don’t show the faces I see in the metro, don’t tell stories of the taxi drivers and shop assistants. This is not the matter of blaming anybody. Is it Dubai’s fault that we miss our countries?
And I miss mine too
What is China about?
The moment I put my feet out on Beijing massive airport, surrounded by hundreds of Chinese faces I realized I know nothing about this place. It was grey, cloudy, it felt faraway, but from the first glimpse I felt quite confused. It was a long, busy night flight, and I didn’t know whether the way that my exhausted brain interprets this first impression made any sense, or not really. My first impression was “It could be Eastern Europe”. It felt so ridiculous, but the nature looks so similar, the buildings remind me of square communist architecture we have back in Poland. Even the cars seem the same. And it’s grey.
Why is it grey in China, while the weather forecast was saying “sunny, no clouds”? Because it’s dirty. It’s polluted. It’s busy.
You can see small plants of the trees everywhere around, this is how China tries to get some air to breath. But these little trees, they don’t seem very happy.
China is happy. People know how to smile and they smile a lot. They smile because of things that make me laugh: cup of noodles, glass of hot water (I still haven’t figured out what is this “hot water” cult about. I suppose it’s because it’s clean, the heat kills all the bacterias, and this is probably what you want to drink in the country with pollution that China has).
I went out with another girl and a pilot who is quite crazy about China and knows a lot about its history. We passed the street food market where you can buy scorpions on a stick, or bull’s testicles (yes, COW’S BALLS. yummy) and other things like this. And those who sell it, they r e a l l y sell it, trying to make you buy all these weird things. Or at least try. (Well, I didn’t try any. I’m not brave enough).
China is a strong communist country. You’re not going to check your facebook messages there: it’s blocked. People carry their small red books with the wisedom of Mao Zedong, the guy who is responsible for bringing the communism to the country. It’s quite a controversial topic, but he’s also responsible for massive famine, for death of around 40 millions of people and other things too. But this is probably not what you’re supposed to talk about once you’re in China.
We had a dinner in Beijing Hotel: that was a funny thing, we were wandering around and looking for the hotel once we got hungry. We went out from the place we ate, but from different doors, and that was it: we were eating inside famous Beijing hotel, and we didn’t even knew. It’s interesting, because in the past it was the only place where the foreigners were allowed to stay in Beijing, so the government could control and decide who is in the country. So it was a bit worse than no facebook back these days. The hotel is nothing amazing: it’s big, square and grey. What a surprise.
Chinese people don’t speak English. They just don’t speak English at all. No conversations with taxi drivers, no chats with ladies in the shops. Back at the hotel you’ll get a small card with all the places you may want to go written in English and in Chinese right next to you. What you do, you find the place you want to see in English ad you show the Chinese version t the driver, this is how you move around the city. The thing is that while the language barrier is almost complete, Chinese people, they are very willing to communicate. They will talk to you, shout to you and smile at you, wave at you with what they try to sell you too, even though you can’t understand a single word.
We ended up after midnight trying to get a taxi, which seemed impossible and founding out that metro is closed too. It was a bit stressful, but not for long, the group of tuc-tuc taxi drivers have spotted us and came to us shouting something enthusiastically in Mandarin and literally putting us inside tuc-tucs. Our tuc-tuc driver, a lady was pedaling her electric bicycle, and it seemed ages, and once I was starting to feel quite bad about her and thinking about jumping on that bicycle myself, she asked us in Mandarin whether we are sure that we want to go home, because she can take us to the party too. It made me laugh.
I was feeling like a zombie on the next day morning trip to the Great Wall. I’m not going to write about the Great Wall though. It’s an amazing place and it feels very special, but it’s a G r e a t W a l l, and I’m pretty sure that everything that can be said about it have already been said.
What I’m trying to say, is that China shocked me. It’s not what you expect to see. It feels so so far away, you expect some crazy people eating scorpions and cats and singing songs that sound crazy to you and do crazy dances, and it’s that too, but what it is first of all, is a communist country of beautiful cheerful people who struggled a lot. And who still struggle, even though their faces are so smiley. We don’t know much about a real China, and it’s because we are not supposed to know some things. It’s not an incidence that you can’t use facebook, twitter etc there. It’s no an incidence that you can’t communicate in English neither.
I think I’m feeling in love with this place. It’s so different, and we laugh at this differences sometimes. It’s nobody’s fault: differences like this makes us laugh. Sitting in a cabin with 270 people eating noodles will probably make you smile, and there’s nothing wrong with that, we all have our funny ways of living the life. But this place seem both fun, and taught. It seems exotic, you feel strong Asian atmosphere there, smiley faces, beautiful tradition. But you also see the system that ruined many things and killed many people. It doesn’t suit this place very well, but I suppose it’s what makes it too.