Thursday, May 8, 2014

From PRC to UAE

Mandarin spoken here.

The UAE, led by its crown jewel principality of Dubai, is a jaw-dropping place. It’s a country that should barely exist, situated as it is where a bone dry desert meets a salty sea, with no fresh water for hundreds of miles around. However, money and cheap petroleum, if poured in with sufficient abandon, and a few rip-roaringly big desalinization plants can change anything. Once a series of trading posts between Arabs and the Indian subcontinent, the Emirates are now home to the ultimate in man-made superlatives and oddities. The world’s tallest building, by a huge 300 meter margin. A “seven-star” spinnaker-shaped hotel with enough gold leaf to fund a country's central bank. The world’s largest mall. The world’s biggest indoor ski facility. The world’s tallest hotel. The list goes on and on. And yet its population demographic is a throwback to a society from the nineteenth century: a small fraction of hyper-wealthy locals, dressed either resplendently in white thobes or ominously in black burkas, which lords over millions of foreigner workers (mostly from Southeast Asia or the Philippines) who live with few rights and close to the poverty line. The principal aim of the place? To attract wealthy foreigners with the lure of trading financial assets and living the good life in a sun-drenched, tax-friendly, first-class accommodated living environment. Over the years, Brits, Saudis and Russians have come in droves. And more recently, particularly since an inflated asset bubble burst in 2008, so have the Chinese. There is now a Dragon Mall especially catering for them. Mandarin language use has expanded. Festivals feature dragons, lion dances and firecrackers.
Not wanting to feel left behind in the paper chase for Chinese wealth, Dubai’s neighbor to the west – Abu Dhabi – has thrown off its more conservative, understated cloak and swung open its doors. As summarized in this
 report in the Jing Daily, the efforts, like a pomegranate tree, have been bearing lush fruit. Over 32,000 Chinese visited Abu Dhabi in the first quarter of 2014, resulting in the best first-quarter tourist figures ever. Furthermore, in April, a massive group of 16,000 employees from the China branch of the Nu Skin direct-sales beauty company visited the UAE on a 10-day boondoggle. Such numbers are big enough to impress even those used to witnessing outrageous excesses.
Potential constraints to the future growth prospects for Chinese in the UAE? Booze and casinos are still severely limited. But who knows going forward. After all, the UAE has already shown that, in a place where big money can transform anything, anything is indeed possible.

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