It’s not the bewildering array of man-made tourist attractions, impressive though many of them are. It’s not the economic success either, astonishing though that is, particularly for a city without any hydrocarbon or mineral assets.
What makes Dubai really special is the ethnic and cultural diversity; it is said that people from over 200 countries call Dubai home, and they bring with them all that is unique about their home countries.
Yesterday night, for instance, I felt like ordering in dinner. Options? I could call in Thai, Japanese, Arabic, Turkish, Iranian, Pakistani, Ethiopian, Russian and a dozen odd cuisines from different parts of India. If I was prepared to drive a bit, then another 20 or so cuisines were available to me. Where else can you get such wonderful diversity?
Day before, six people came to see one of my apartments which had fallen vacant. Where were they from? A Gujarati girl who doesn’t speak a word of Gujarati and in fact has never been to India; an Arab girl who spoke with a distinctive American twang (she is American and has lived most of her life in the States); a Kenyan lady who sells industrial machinery for a Finnish company; a Jordanian fitness instructor with a drop-dead gorgeous Ukrainian girl-friend; an Indian who was fluent in an Indian language I had never heard of (Dhundari, spoken in Northern Rajasthan) and a Pakistani who was more British than any Brit I have ever met.
Has any city in history been like Dubai? Not to the best of knowledge. Maybe Cordoba a long long time ago, maybe Salonica, Izmir, Beirut and Alexandria in the previous century. At some point in their history, these cities have shared the traits of modern Dubai – they were thriving business hubs with traders and businessmen from many parts of the world.
But diversity on Dubai’s scale, packed into a small geography, that makes Dubai really special. It’s a shame though that so many of us stay confined to our own ethnic groups. A bit of effort and there’s a fascinating world waiting to be discovered, right here in Dubai.