During the last week of term I taught Shelley’s Ozymandias. The self styled ‘King of Kings’, who ruled over ancient Egypt, thought himself so powerful and important that he had an eighty-three ton status made of him in the desert. ‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’. His legacy was meant to be worshipped and admired, but this ancient monument was found over three thousand years later in six huge pieces. All around him was an empty desert.
As you can imagine, this caused quite the discussion amongst the fifteen year olds. Our Gen Z representatives, who are exposed to more news and social issues than ever before, are always interested in the abuse of power; human rights and knowing right from wrong. TikTok, Instagram and the power of Google mean, without knowing it, they are becoming more socially aware than previous generations. With the freedom and platforms to orate on, it is evident that our future leaders have a breadth of social conscience that exceeds their elders. Therefore, Ozymandias appeared to them to be a deluded tyrant. They likened him to Putin, stating that ‘once he’s dead they’ll be nothing but destruction – what’s the point Miss?’
And then they asked me what I was doing over half term…and I explained that I was going to visit my family in Dubai, which caused a frenzy of excitement and questioning regarding ‘Lambos’, ‘tall buildings’ and the show ‘Dubai Bling’. So, off I went with a list of questions they inevitably wanted answering.
Dubai. What can I say about this sprawling metropolis which isn’t orated to you over the eight hours of in-flight entertainment (I switched channels and watched multiple films instead)? This engineering masterpiece, which stands tall and proud in the Arabian desert, is totally unapologetic for its sheer bloody mindedness. Dubai is the King of Kings of cities. Grown from sand, the city is truly a monument to what ‘man’ can achieve.
“The best gift we can leave behind for future generations is teaching them to have the courage to venture where no one has dared to go before; to reach new heights that no one has thought of before.” — His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai
And he’s certainly achieved it. His legacy is bold and brave. It defies the rule book and takes you a step beyond what you ever thought possible. Dubai is indeed built on courage and determination. The Fifth Element world which, like Bruce Willis demonstrated in this 1990s cult film, will have flying taxis within the next three years. It is a billionaire’s playground; an adult Disney World, where you can go to do your food shopping at the mall and have a go on a rollercoaster at the same time.
But as I explored it’s riches, I had to ask: what is the cost?
Obviously, the financial cost is billions. Money is clearly no object and the place drips it. Being brought up that ‘talking about money is vulgar’ this ostentatious show of wealth is both unsettling and rather challenging. We flew a few days after the Turkish/Syrian earthquake and the disparity of situations bothered me a great deal. I wanted to know if, with all their wealth, if they had a social conscience?
Speaking to my daughter, it transpired that some of her colleagues had been directly affected. One friend of hers has a family member who had lost their legs when their house collapsed on them. Living in Dubai meant they could send relief home and help their loved ones – to places already experiencing poverty before the natural disaster. Others come from places where bread and baby milk is too expensive to buy. Dubai has been a lifeline, not just to them, but their families too. But, as well paid as my daughter and her colleagues are, they are only successful as they work incredibly hard to keep the Dubai machine going – they are the worker bees helping make the honey.
Dubai appears spotless. It’s beautiful and calming in the fact that everywhere you go there’s nothing dirty, broken, or ugly spoiling the landscape. To the point that even the public toilets are a pleasant experience. Everything is stress free. Everything is perfect. But as we know, there’s no such thing – Looking closely: the face of Dubai is a mask.
Where all cities endeavour to be progressive and innovative, we are all acutely aware of social and economic issues surrounding their built environment. London has areas of deprivation, homelessness, high crime rates and is heavily polluted. However, community programmes, charity, shelters, and environmental initiatives all create inroads into finding solutions. In fact, the same can be said for many cities. Driving through Sheffield yesterday we were alerted to the fact they too are going to start charging emission charges. But Dubai appears to buck the trend; goes against everything you’ve ever thought possible and challenges expectations – you almost feel like we’ve a got if wrong. But, the irony is, it’s all hidden.
The tiny cogs in the well oiled machine are poorly paid. They live in relative poverty, hidden amongst the skyscrapers they help maintain. Street cleaners, maids and even nannies, come from places like the Philippines with the hope of earning enough money to support their families back home. But when they are paid the equivalent of what is costs to buy a meal out, are they just examples of modern slavery?
Additionally, when you look at the iconic skyline, there is mostly a cloud of ‘dust’ (as they call it) which permeates the entire landscape. This ‘dust from the desert’ can stop the breathtaking views from the Burj Khalifa, putting a stop to watching the super cars move like ants along the six lane highways. Or the yachts cruising down The Palm fronds which stretch out into the Arabian Gulf. And the buildings, which look like Lego when you look at them from two thousand feet…it’s easy to blame the desert and the power of nature when you control it (they make it rain). But what if the ‘dust’ is a development of smog? Carbon emissions don’t seem to register on their radar and judging by the colour of the sea – when I dove into it – neither does water pollution. And f do not get me started on the giant landfill which is ,the Arabian Desert’ …
Ozymandias certainly believed himself to be a King of Kings. Of this I have no real evidence. However, it is believed he was cruel and arrogant – his legacy was almost certainly built by slaves. Dubai, in comparison, certainly does deserve the title King of kings. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has undoubtedly achieved his dream and created a legacy that generates billions and leads the way in innovation and prosperity. His dream is to be admired and enjoyed. But, as the old song goes ‘A wise man built his house upon the rocks’, Dubai built itself defiantly on compacted sand. It’s sinking and so much so that their ‘Millennium Wheel’ copy isn’t safe enough to go on. You have to wonder how long these ‘Mighty works’ can be looked upon? Will the legacy end up in pieces? As Shelley wrote ‘Nothing beside remains. Round the decay. Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare.’ Or, in the modern and futuristic world of flying taxis, weather and tidal control; plus, speedboat super cars (this I did see), will they, as my daughter’s partner tell me ‘they’ll just rebuild’?
I’ve been lucky enough to see ancient wonders, Venetian cities and breathtaking landscapes, in my life. All with their own, maybe shocking, often innovative histories. They were all a product of global change. And they are all valued and protected – all loved by their custodians. Dubai is no different. Maybe, in three thousand years time, from a galaxy far far away, some beings will visit and discover what remains.
Dubai is loud, unapologetic in its wealth and expensive (I will be spending the next few months not spending!). But, it’s a must see. An education and an experience. I got lucky when I visited the Burj, enjoyed a dune buggy ride across the desert and sailed around The Palm. However, for me, the best part was spending time with my family. I’ll go back next year and probably do the same again. And just like my grandson will have grown and changed, so will have Dubai.