Commentary: 3 things that surprised me about the UAE

The budget slow travel adventure in early retirement takes us to the United Arab Emirates. Not exactly a ‘budget destination’, but it made financial sense to make it a three-week layover on our way to Eastern Europe. Many airlines go through the Gulf states on their Asian routes. We wanted to see this country, so here we are. And I have witnessed things that surprised me about the UAE.

It’s like Disneyland compared to what we have experienced over 4.5 years in Asia. The vast wealth in this Gulf nation is simply extraordinary.

Public bathroom attendants. Air conditioners pointed at outdoor dining tables. Man-made islands. The tallest building in the world. Air-conditioned bus stops. Polished marble roads filled with cars and SUVs, no motorcycles. Showrooms display cars worth $2 million and up. Small taxis inside labyrinth malls filled with designer everything.

tallest building in the world, car worth $2 million, air conditioned bus stop in dubai, uae

But these are not the most surprising things.

3 things that surprised me about the UAE

The Russians are coming

Russians — everywhere! So many Russians in the UAE! In Dubai, and Ras Al Khaimah, the latter was our first week-long stop. These people aren’t mere tourists. These are the wealthy Russians and they came to the UAE to avoid sanctions that would hurt their finances, and to avoid a war that could kill their sons.

The Russians have set up businesses on special visas. They are snatching up real estate. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reports: “… the UAE is now one of the top five places for Russian companies to open a franchise.” It goes further: “businessmen close to the Kremlin are moving their assets to the UAE.”

The fact that the UAE is so friendly to Russians is more surprising to me than the eye-popping uber-wealth of its privileged permanent and temporary inhabitants. However, it really shouldn’t surprise me at all: everything everywhere is always all about money.

people in dubai mall, russian family shopping, tourists on jbr beach in dubai

US, UK and EU diplomats are working to pressure the UAE to reign in its Russian love.

Overseas foreign workers in Dubai

The UAE is a fabulous place for the casual tourist with money to burn. I am glad we came to witness it, but I feel more comfortable with the “commoner”: the overseas foreign worker.

We went to an attraction called the Dubai Frame and then rented a bike cart to ride around a massive park with thick grass and loads of lovely landscaping in this desert city. I asked the attendant where he is from. India. I asked how much money he makes working in Dubai. He earns 30,000 rupees a month. That’s roughly $365. Multiply that by the five years he’s been here in the UAE: $21,900. In FIVE years.

This is surprising to me. Although it shouldn’t be because I have met former overseas foreign workers in their home countries (Philippines, India, Nepal, etc.) I’ve heard their stories about sacrificing years of their lives to earn ‘good money’ to get ahead. For so many people on Earth, $365 a month is good money!

theo in a rental bike at the dubai frame, a foreign worker in ras al khaimah, foreign workers wait for metro in dubai, uae

The UAE could not exist as it is without these workers. They do everything from bike rental attendant to construction worker, fast food prepper to train ticket sales, and more. Of course, some workers are more highly skilled and can earn a great deal more money. But there are more lower-paying jobs, by far.

What’s even more surprising: how these foreign workers LIGHT UP when I smile at them and ask how they are doing, where are they from, etc. I see them as people. Not brown or yellow menial workers.

In fact, it seems to me this country is more of a ‘melting pot’ than New York City.

Most tourists we’ve seen since pre-pandemic

We have seen more tourists in the UAE in June 2023 than we have for years — since 2019 before the pandemic.

This is surprising to me because the UAE is way more expensive than other countries we’ve visited since we restarted travel in 2022: Thailand, Malaysia, India, Nepal.

I’ll simply continue to observe. It’s all I can do. But it is sometimes it’s tough not to scream/cry/hate over this situation of a lopsided world.

Thanks for reading, “Commentary: 3 things that surprised me about the UAE.”

Commentaries by Earth Vagabonds


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