Saturday, January 24, 2009

a note from the office

Before posting my part 2 Dubai entry, I feel compelled to write a bit about what's going on at my workplace right how. I am sitting in my office at the college. For the second day in a row, there are no students. Yesterday was the first day of the second semester, but everyone's still at home. Despite similar happenings last semester, it still shocks my western sensibilities to experience such a laissez-faire attitude to education. This is supposedly one of the top colleges in Oman, and no doubt, there are some stellar students here. But how can a country hope to really bolster its international reputation and encourage the success of its young generation if there are no consequences for delinquent behavior? The students decide when school is in session and when it’s not. The students decide the dates of their final exams, and often their final grade itself. The power is in the hands of those being educated. This seems like an progressive, avant-garde approach to education, but it only works if the students are motivated en masse to succeed and move forward. The fact that the majority of the women here will graduate and promptly get married and start families, and the majority of the men will follow in their father's footsteps, means that their years at college are something of a blip on their life tracks. I do not mean to generalize. Many students here use this opportunity to their best advantage and go far. Many study late into the night, and accept a bad grade as a result of their failings, not as a typo to be changed with a bribe. This being said, there are a lot of things that definitely need to change around here before top-tier education is offered at local Omani colleges.

The Emerald City: Part 1

This past weekend my husband and I packed our backpacks and headed to Dubai. It was an overwhelming experience that demands a lot of commentary. So as not to overwhelm you, I’m splitting up my thoughts on this fantastical city into parts. Here’s part one:

So you think you saved up enough money. You think you’re ready for the traffic. You think you’ve already been impressed by the pictures. But Dubai kicks you in the teeth, to say nothing of the knock your wallet will take.

At first I was hesitant to go. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. I didn’t want to deal with the stress of a big city, having turned into something of a home-girl here in our rustic mountain town in Oman. But I figured you just can’t live a four hour drive from Dubai and not go. So off we went bright and early, ready with two cameras and plenty of cash on hand. The border crossing was a trial enough, necessitating a back and forth run between the Omani and Emirati sides to get car insurance, a visa stamp, or whatever the other side failed to tell us we needed last time. But eventually we passed out of the Omani mountains and into the rich, rust-tinted Emirati sands. The constant desert landscape leaves you unprepared for the drastic view in the distance. The horizon gets hazy. And then, pushing above the clouds and the pollution, we can see the Emerald City. Dubai’s whole skyline is bizarre and remarkably creative, however, the crowning feature is the 162 story Burj Dubai. I remember several years ago I saw a digitally created image of the final product (construction began in 2003 and still isn’t completed), but I didn’t take much notice. It looked fake and impossible. Cool architecture, no doubt, but only possible on a computer program. At least that’s what I thought at the time.
(a picture similar to the one I scoffed at 3 years ago)

Today, almost finished, its utter grandeur slaps you in the face. The Burj Dubai is mythic (and it really does look like that photo-shopped picture).
(nearing completion)

Its fairytale proportions take you into a land of fantasy and magnificence that can’t be matched. This tower, the tallest in the world, represents Dubai. It glitters, seduces, terrifies, and looks down on you. You don’t take on Dubai, it takes you.

If you are a normal person with moderate urges for consumerism and with even the slightest desire for glamour, Dubai will make you spend more than you brought. It devours your cash like no other place I’ve been, and gives you in return anything you want to buy (and can’t get anywhere else in the region), showers you with luxury and overwhelms your best efforts at modest living. That is to say, take a weekend trip to Dubai and exercise what you thought was some serious window-shopping and bar-hopping restraint; and you will look at your receipts on the drive home and wince painfully at the damage done by a mere night and two days. Nevertheless, it was definitely and experience to have. And perhaps have again, once my bank account and country sensibilities have returned to normal.