Sunday 21st October, 2007


In the shadow of the Burj al Arab

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Some people know better than others, that financial inequality can more often be related to lack of information rather than the money we hold. Information is a primary lever that creates access to money.

Three trips to the Far East and Middle East this year, and one thing resonates: the “news” doesn’t really tell us what is going on in the world east of Vatican City.

We had dinner at the Burj al Arab that boasts the tallest atrium in the world, and from the 27th floor, we could see the tallest building in the world, the Burj Dubai. The room was full, the prices exorbitant, and the question was: who are all these people here?

Clearly, they had to have lots of money. Or could they be like us? We had lots of information, without the lots of money, trying to figure out how to trade one for the other.

The day before, we drove out on the trunk of the historic palm island, and walked on the beaches of the fronds. The million dollar condos on the Palm are selling like hot bread, and the real estate agents are minting! And somewhere nearby, The Tiger Woods community is on fast track.

We went swimming in the Persian Gulf, with a thick crowd of foreign workers who had gone to the public Jumeirah beach for the Eid holiday. The workers served the construction and the tourist industry.

They had left their homelands: India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand, to make a better life for themselves there and through remittances to their families back home.

Changed lives

Another set of foreign workers had gone to the Marina -- the upscale beach; they would be the techies, the architect and engineer types, who choose to swim in the shadow of the Burj al Arab.

We crossed the Dubai Creek in an Abra, a water taxi, for the price of one Dirham -- the equivalent of 28 cents US. The crossing took about five minutes and we arrived at the spice and gold souks.

We got there after the early afternoon prayer, and the shops boasted mere plastic curtains, with the merchants absent. The shopping alleys of the souk looked dark and lonely, the shoppers all had European accents, and there was an absolute sense of safety.

Stealing is well stymied by Islamic law -- the thief loses his hand; if he is a foreigner he serves a jail sentence and is then deported.

The merchants are patient and helpful. Perhaps they are wise, perhaps they are not greedy. Their paradigms are different! Back on the Abra, one more dirham, and we are back into the world of elevators and escalators. We drive past the old Dubai Tower, it is two stories high, and that once was the tallest building!

Back along Jumeriah Beach road we see the condos of the fishermen. They used to live on the coast in the shadow of the Burj al Arab. Their humble homes were torn down and they were provided, gratis, with upscale dwellings along the beach, on prime property. They are a class of landowners and they continue to be fishermen!

These fishermen now reside on the cutting edge of urban development, and the billboard says it all: Buy me, I will change your life forever.

Next week: Real estate markets

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