I was awoken two days ago by some particularly annoying beeping. In my half-sleep stupor I managed to clear my bedside table of all the important breakable stuff whilst trying to reach for the iphone. I blindly flicked where the snooze button was supposed to be several times but the infernal noise continued. I squinted and looked for the blooming button, and in my daze it probably took me a full 30 seconds (and 30 beeps more) to realise that it was 5:30am – too early even for my bird-like alarm.
I decided I was too sleepy to bother and forgot about it all.
When I left on the school run nearly two hours later I found that the vacant lot opposite had overnight been filled with 6 different yellow construction vehicles, and 100 men dressed in blue overalls, and two wildly gesticulating men dressed in dishdasha (or is it dishdashae in the plural? Dishdashes? Whatever – the long white dresses for very manly arabic men).
|Two days later, the lot looks like this
Now you might wonder what I am harping on about, so I would like to draw your attention to the photo below, which you have probably seen in your inbox attached to an email that talked about the wonders of Dubai. (Dubai is the master of all spam, and I think everybody in the world got this email, even if they didn’t have a computer). This photo was taken in 1990. The road running through the middle is Sheikh Zayed Rd – the main arterial (the skyscrapers on the left are the apartments we first lived in when we arrived. No joke).
Below is a picture that I took from the top of the Burj Khalifa in May. It is looking in the opposite direction, but you may be able to see a dirt-coloured smudge at the back that is the Trade Centre Apartments, which have not last a single grubby part of their charm.
|Now do you feel my concern?
We arrived in April 2008, and the Global Financial Crisis hit in October. My very clever husband didn’t see that one coming! I had just made all these amazing aussie friends through the school, and when I got back from Christmas break, 80% of them had gone. And we also gritted our teeth for 12 months waiting for Hambone to get a tap on the shoulder. But fortunately he is still cleverer than most, and has weathered this economic shamal.
I must admit, I envy the people who came here 10 years ago. For one thing, they really got to see the city grow. And can you imagine the excitement when your architect husband comes home and says: “holy cahunas, there is some crazy guy out there that wants me to build a skyscraper that twists in the wind”. Or when you decide to move house and live on your own private island? Both the hope and greed would have been immeasurable. And what handbags you would have!!!
But when the rest of the world went into recession, Dubai simply STOPPED. It seemed that all the money flying around was actually borrowed, and if the projects couldn’t sell, then the profits couldn’t come. All the expats who had been supplimenting their income with property flipping suddenly found themselves holding the hot potato – and it burnt every bank account they had. They had never really intended to live in the property, or even rent it – they just wanted to watch its value increase by 100% over six months then flog it to the next greedy sod. Most of them didn’t even have the money for the next downpayment, so they defaulted, and the developers were left with incredibly expensive property that wasn’t even close to built. And nobody could afford it – even them.
So we said goodbye to Palm Deira, Dubai Waterfront became a tenth of the size of Hong Kong instead of twice the size, and The Lagoons didn’t even break ground. Night work stopped. Labourers went on extended leave. In fact, by January 2009, it was rare to see a moving crane anywhere in the city. Everybody lost their jobs. Debtees were being thrown in prison willy nilly, and there was rumours of over 1000 cars left at the airport by expats who had simply cut their losses and skedaddled. The feeling was pretty black, and the first words when catching up with a friend would be
“You still here?”
“For the moment. You still working?”… and you would wait for your friend to tell you they had 3 months to find a new job. Which you knew they never would.
But back to my particular sandpit. It is not the only vacant lot in Dubai that has been getting some attention recently. We returned from our summer holidays to find that there are 200 new 3-story dwellings completed on Al Wasl Road. It appears part of the Meraas “Jumeirah Gardens” development is actually going ahead. The Dubai Pearl is back on the drawing board, and there are four very hefty looking cranes on a big block on the beach road in Jumeirah. Dubai appears gradually to be coming out of its two-year hibernation.
I don’t think we will ever get back to the stage where there seems to be a competition to design a building that looks the most like a kitchen implement, but there are jobs out there again. I am meeting newcomers (thank goodness, because I didn’t have any friends left), and the traffic is slowly moving back to the insane level….
…And as I type I look out at my sandpit, and hope that this is just being flattened for a party. Because those massive spotlights mean something is going to be happening in the dark, and the alarm is going to be the least of my waking-up concerns.