Dubai skyline

A Tale of Two Cities: Dubai v.s. Sharjah

Time is on our side but our side is not on time.
Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, What Everyone Knows (2006)

The centre of the world is shifted when you are in the Middle East. It is the hub connecting the East and West. Then again, I shouldn’t be surprised because the name says it all – Middle – East.

Chinese Muslims can trace back their ancestors coming through the Silk Road; and the British can feel nostalgic about the old empire after seeing the Al Mahatta airport, the oldest airport in the Middle East, where the first flight was from Croydon to India, stopping over in Sharjah.

Admittedly I had a very stereotypical view of the place, one of cultural and religious conservatism. On the surface the dress code where women are rarely unveiled enforces this idea. And yet underneath the culture code, I was pleasantly surprised to see how open minded people here are. They are merely trying to retain their cultural identity and religious belief in a world where things all seem to be too easily homogenised.

The skyline in Dubai, in contrast to Sharjah, is completely modern and striking. When I was driven across the bridge from Sharjah to Dubai during sunset, I couldn’t tell where I am – judging by the city landmark, I could be in Shanghai or Manhattan. I was dazzled by the magnificent Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world built by Sir Norman Foster. Perhaps it is at the moment, but not until the Sky City to be completed in 90 days in Changsha, China.

It, however, reminds me of the story of Aladdin: you can build an artificial city overnight, but I wonder who lives there? I was told 30% of the buildings in Dubai are hotels. The transient audience can certainly enjoy a Las Vegas style holiday here, but it would be their loss, if they come to the UAE, without visiting  some of the more traditional emirates, such as Sharjah, because what they see is simply a mirage.