Going from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to various stops in India is about as stark a change as one can imagine. Dubai is a 42-year-new country with unlimited resources and a tiny (indigenous) population of 1 million, while India has been around since well before the birth of Christ and its 1.2 billion inhabitants account for 18% of the world’s human beings.
Our first stop on my recent trip was Dubai, where we visited both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the two richest and most well-known of the seven Emirates in the UAE. India followed, where we visited Mumbai, New Dehli, Agra, Goa, and Cochin. We met a few of the residents of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but I think we met EVERY resident at our stops in India, since they all seemed to be on the streets in mass.
From the moment we arrived in Dubai it seemed we had entered a futuristic Disneyland for adults. It was Las Vegas on steroids. It was New York as Isaac Asimov may have pictured it. It was over-the-top in a way only Donald Trump would fully appreciate. From having four insane water-parks in close proximity to one another to having indoor skiing in 190-degree heat, it was just jaw dropping.
The vision of their first leader was quite incredible. Unlike so many leaders in the Middle East, he actually wanted a country that prospered and supported its people. While he got extremely rich from their oil deposits, he didn’t feel the need to keep his populace impoverished, as is the norm of most dictators and totalitarian regimes. In fact, while he retained nearly total control, he set up a government that was far less corrupt than any of his neighbors (except Israel, the only democracy in that part of the world).
Eight million people live in the UAE, but only one million are natives. The rest are ex-pats. It is a lot easier to be generous with your wealth when you have a population you can easily support. That said, I still was impressed by this man’s vision and care for his people. EVERY citizen of the UAE, including all residents of the five other Emirates that do not have the wealth of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, each get free education (through college), free and real healthcare, and even their own brand-new home.
The details of this “entitlement program” are even more incredible, but suffice it to say it is beyond a doubt the most supportive government for its people the world has ever seen.
Naturally, this kind of extreme wealth also has produced extreme decadence, though I really don’t mean to emphasize the negative connotation that word can elicit. There are more Ferraris and Lamborghinis in this country – I assume – per capita than anywhere in the world. They also have more skyscrapers of awesome size and design than most of the world’s biggest capitals. Take a ride up 124 floors of the world’s tallest building, in Dubai:
Eating on the outside rooftop restaurant of our hotel, we could observe the incredible skyline of Dubai, the Egyptian pyramid-style mall adjacent and below us, and enjoy the finest cuisine and drinks the world can offer.
Going to The Dubai Mall – one of the biggest in the world – and seeing the Burj al Arab hotel – one of the most expensive and exclusive in the world – were just a few of the extravagances we saw. Did I mention the $100 “high tea” we had at that 7-star hotel? And, that it even seemed worth it?
On to India and a slight contrast! On arrival in Mumbai, the city immortalized in “Slumdog Millionaire,” we had opted to visit the Taj Mahal and were whisked off to the airport to fly to New Dehli, where we boarded a bus for a long drive to Agra, home to the Taj.
The roads were all primitive, yes mostly paved, and the taxis were these three-wheeled vehicles called took tooks. The primary mode of transportation for those that could afford transportation was a motorcycle and they were used to carry up to four people and almost every imaginable form of small commerce.
Yes, cows wander the streets as well as all sorts of other animals. My wife, prepared for what India is, was appalled at the filth and piles of trash everywhere. The ethic of littering seems on par with their highest ethics of faith. They simply don’t care.
We did see many beggars included those that are horribly deformed, looking like the intentionally maimed human beings we’ve read about which has been outlawed for decades. But, like so many laws in much of the world, they are ignored. Did you know that 96% of murders in one South American country are unsolved? I can’t imagine who even comes to the site of crimes in India?
It’s clear I’ve just grazed the surface of this story. What I hope to impart is the gratitude we must feel for how comfortable most of our lives are – especially anyone who is reading this column. Our kids need to know – and perhaps by seeing the rest of the world they can really get it – how truly lucky there are!