Saturday, March 25, 2006

United Arab Emirates | Dubai | Apocalypse | Perfume

According to one alleged hadith (a saying of the Prophet Mohammad not included in the Koran), one of the signs of the approaching Apocalypse is that "you will see barefoot, naked, destitute bedouin shepherds competing among themselves in constructing tall buildings." According to some commentators, the bedouins who will build the buildings will come not from the Hijaz region of the Arabian Peninsula, that is the western part which contains Mecca, Medina, etc, but from the eastern part, which includes Dubai and the other Emirates. In the days of the Prophet the people of what is now Dubai may have been barefoot, naked, and destitute. They are no longer. The city is awash in money from petroleum-related trade and tourism. And as if in fulfillment of the Prophet’s prophecy Dubai is now constructing the world’s tallest building, specifically designed to outclass every other skyscaper in the world. This is the building known as the Burj Dubai, tentatively scheduled for completion in 2009. It will reportedly be 160 stories—2213 feet— high.

For background on the hadith of the prophecy concerning the construction of tall buildings see Mohammad Hisham Kabbani’s The Approach of Armageddon: An Islamic Perspective:

For another view of Islamic eschatological thought see:

Wanting to see for myself if I could detect any signs of the imminent Apocalypse in Dubai I booked a non-stop ticket on Southern China Airlines. It’s an eight and a half hour flight from Bejijng to Dubai. The big Airbus was completely sold out, but fortunately I had an emergency row seat and was able to stretch out. As far as I could see I was the foreigner on the plane. We flew west over Gansu and Xinjiang provinces of China and then down across Pakistan and Iran. Over Pakistan we got magnificent views the incredibly rugged Hindu Kush Mountains. Somewhere down there in those narrow valleys lined with snow-covered knife-edged mountains was Osama bin Laden and his acolytes. Then across Iran and down to Dubai.

The airport is immense. I must have walked a mile to Passport Control. Citizens of the US and most European countries do not need visas, which is not so unusual any more, but here you do not even have to fill out a form. A partly-veiled woman just stamps your passport. What hotel are you staying in? she asked. I said I did not know. You have no reservations? she asked. Again I said no, and she gave me a very skeptical look. I soon discovered what the problem was.

At eight in the evening it was a balmy 70 degrees outside the airport. I hailed one the brand new and spotlessly clean taxis out front and told the uniformed driver, an Indian from Bombay, that I needed a hotel. Very busy now, he said, lots of Arabs in town, but I will help you. Thus began a long trudge through the Deira district of town adjacent to the airport. We stopped at ten or more hotels only to be told they were full up. Having exhausted the budget places the driver suggested a new up-scale hotel which had just opened a couple of weeks ago. They had one room left, for about four times the price I would pay for a hotel room in Beijing. But I took it, since it was by now after eleven o’clock and the taxi driver was quickly running out of patience and threatening to leave me standing alone the side of the road. The room turned out to be an enormous two room suite, much larger than my apartment in Ulaan Baatar. But there was no in-room internet! What a rip-off! Even the rooms in the humble Yong An Hotel in Beijing have free high speed internet in the rooms. It had been over twelve hours since I had been connected with the internet and I was experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. Even though it was near midnight I hit the streets looking for a quick fix. A half block from my hotel I found a very swank coffee bar with wireless internet for 5 dirhams ($1.36) an hour. I ordered a triple expresso, logged in, and settled back in the huge over-stuffed leather chair to read my latest emails from Beijing and Ulaan Baatar. My withdrawal anxieties quickly subsided. Even though it was after midnight the air-conditioning was going full blast and I was actually quite chilly. Back in my hotel room an hour later I turned on the TV and had the dubious treat of watching the Simpsons dubbed in Arabic. I fell asleep before the show was over.

Before beginning my researches into the Apocalypse I decided to check out the famous Perfume Souk in Dubai, reportedly one of the world’s greatest scent emporiums. I wanted some Arabian perfume for gifts and also some essential oils and incense for myself. If the end of the world comes I want to go out smelling good. The next morning I got a city map from the concierge and headed for the Perfume Souk down near the coast. It turned out to be about a walk of a mile. I sampled perfumes till my nose was satiated, but decided to put off any purchases till another day when hopefully I was a little better oriented. I seemed to be suffering from a tinge of jet lag. Next door was the world famous Gold Souk, whose hundreds of stores and stalls has what is reportedly one the largest—the largest, if you believe Dubai’s relentless boosters—selections of gold jewelry and accessories in the world.

Dubai is divided into two parts by the Creek, which egresses on Gulf of Arabia. On the east side, where I was, the area is known as Deira. The other side is known as Burj Dubai. Near the Gold Souk the Creek is six or seven hundred feet across. A steady stream of water taxis carries people back and forth. Hoping to get an overview of the city, I hired a taxi for a quick spin up the Creek and back.
Bank of Dubai Building from the Creek
Another view from the CreekWater Taxis on the Creek
Cruise Boat and Restaurant: in the evening you can eat dinner in these while cruising along the Creek. Some also go for a spin on the Arabian GulfAnother Dining Cruise Boat