'Genuine Fake': The Trials and Joys of the New Dubai

Pakistani workers in Dubai

hide captionPakistani construction workers play cricket at a Dubai construction site. Pakistanis and Indians form the backbone of a workforce that has transformed Dubai into a modern city that now boasts the world's tallest building.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

One of the seven United Arab Emirates, Dubai dreams big — and follows through. Builders there recently completed the world's tallest structure and a series of artificial islands, around which frolic 28 dolphins shipped in on DC-10 airliners. Dubai is also home to an indoor ski slope.

New York Times reporter Danielle Pergament, who recently spent 36 hours in Dubai for a travel feature, says she has always been fascinated by the place.

"You hear Vegas on steroids," she says of the main city, which has 1.4 million people. "It's kind of hard to imagine until you're actually there. And 36 hours seems like the right amount of time that you want to be there."

Not long after she arrived, Pergament found herself at a market where people were selling knockoffs of designer handbags. "All the vendors are outside screaming to get you into their stalls," she recalls. "And they're all screaming, 'Genuine fake! Genuine fake!'

"It just seemed like the perfect metaphor for the whole city."

Among the stops Pergament made on her visit is the China Moon Champagne Bar, which would suit anyone who "ever thought the Great Pyramids were missing tequila shooters and and an observation deck," she writes. Dubai's business opportunities and glitzy nightlife draw people from around the globe.

"Dubai is sort of the place that you can go in the region for all sorts of debauchery," she says. China Moon Champagne will sell you a $60 glass of champagne. For many in Dubai, the price is right.

But for others, notably the Indian and Pakistani immigrants who make up much of its workforce, the experience in Dubai is one of hardship. "When I was there, I actually only met one person born and raised in Dubai," Pergament reports. "When someone's visiting Dubai, they rarely see the not-great living conditions of the Indians and Pakistanis who come to work for very little."

Amid the human drama, Dubai's building boom continues. Pergament says 80 percent of the world's construction cranes purportedly are in Dubai. "Imagine if New York City was being built all at once," she says, "and the tops of every building are not quite done."

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