It couldn't have been more of a cultural slap in the face flying from Japan into Abu Dhabi to spend a day in Dubai. Gone were the giggling girls with pony tails and knee high socks, reading their cartoons on the subway. Turbans replace 'Chicago Bulls' caps and the 'arigatougozaimas' hymn [so commonplace in Japan I'd nominate it for national anthem status] was also long gone. In Japan respect is everything. It's one of the many incredible aspects of the country to observe from an outside perspective. I was continually amazed at what lengths strangers would go to assist you without ever asking a thing in return.
I read somewhere that Dubai is separated into two classes, the have-nots and the have yachts. Agreed. Gucci clad young money boys peel around town in their Aston martons or range rovers, guzzling the same oil that has provided them with their seemingly limitless wealth. It seems a bit unfair to generalize given I was only in Dubai for less than 24 hours, but I got feeling that if you didn't have anything in this city, you're nobody. Throughout the day I witnessed multiple acts of inconsideration that would make most onlookers uncomfortable, but in Dubai the pecking order has been established- and accepted.
At the top sit the Arabs and UAE locals, flush with cash and material wealth to flaunt. While someone had to have worked to acquire all this money, I'd be surprised if the younger generation lifts more than a finger on their busiest of days. The Filipinos are there to wash their dishes and do the laundry (there are 450,000 Filipino workers in Dubai- over 20 percent of the population) and the Indians build their mansions and sweep the leaves off their driveways. Social pecking order isn't something exclusive to the Middle East, but I was extra sensitive to the change coming from Japan. After walking around the dubai mall (one of the main tourist attractions of the city) and witnessing all the wrongs that these consumption dens represent- corporations without individuality and a reliance on the importance of an external image- I had seen enough.
I remembered reading about an Indian bazaar on the north side of the city near the Dubai creek so I hopped on the metro with hopes of inspiration. The fact that I was surrounded by pungent bodily odors instead of Georgio Armani's latest fragrance was an encouraging sign. I followed this car full of south Asians to what I eyeballed as the closest stop to the Bazaar. When I walked out of the station and saw hundreds of men and women sitting cross-legged on the grass engaging in real conversations, I immediately felt at ease. I could actually breath again. When I looked across the street and saw a Bollywood theatre with all the latest hits, I knew I had made the right choice. Time to wander.
Groups of 20 something year old men with their uniquely Indian plaid button-up shirts strolled through the streets, arm in arm or sometimes hand in hand. There's something so approachable and genuine about the demeanor of a native Indian fellow. Those sparkling, inquisitive eyes. Always curious yet rarely aggressive. I strolled around the block in search of an iPhone charger. It took about 45 seconds to find a small electronic shop pedaling new and used wares manufactured solely in the republic of China- obviously for a fraction of what they were charging in the aforementioned Dubai mall. I agreed to the first price the man offered for the charger- something unheard of in India or Southeast Asia. I was feeling good. Outside I grabbed a piping hot cup of 30 cent Chai. Aromatic and delicious. I was off to find this dosa restaurant the shop owner had recommended.
The streets were lined with sweet shops displaying various fried and syrup-doused treats, kitschy clothing stores and their $6 trousers, pint-sized barber shops where lightning-speed scissors turned out the latest hairstyle of the subcontinent and of course the ubiquitous neon flashing lights advertising any and everything to the casual passerby. Almost like the real India, minus the roaming cows snacking on piles of fermenting trash. After a few loops around the neighborhood I made it to the restaurant to eat the dish I had been craving. The cafeteria style eatery smelled sublime upon entering, and nary a fork or knife was to be found at any of the tables. Score. I ordered my dosa. The waiter wagged his head. A few minutes later my lentil crepe arrived with a trio of sweet and savory chutneys. The dosa was on par with many of the South Asian renditions I sampled during my trip to India. If downtown is the skin then my subway ride took me to the heart of Dubai, where blue collar workers spent their well-deserved time off from building this billionaire city to live, laugh, and breathe.