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Published: 11 February 2022

By Andy Ross

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Dubai and World Expo 2020

The World Expo 2020 is huge, covering 438 hectares or 1,080 acres of desert.

Over the two days we visited we managed to see less than a fifth of the total area and far few stands than that. 192 countries are exhibiting their wares, some more successfully than others. It was an amazing experience to be able to visit countries like Lesotho, Morocco, Fiji and many more besides, and it was exciting to see what counts as worthy of inclusion in a showcase like Expo. It was also a little strange to be walking on roads and tree-lined avenues knowing that all of this was taking place in a desert. The infrastructure must be massive and it also must have cost a veritable fortune to put on. With piped music of the "aquarium" type, friendly and cute robots that you can interact with, and relentless feel-good shows and entertainment, it also felt a bit like being in a film set in an artificially bright future. Definitely odd but good to have experienced. There are some pictures of Expo on the Flickr link here, including the massive figures of Arab philosophers, explorers and a pearl diver, created by Weta Workshops who were also responsible for the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Dubai, in spite of its modernity, also has a rich history. Our hotel was in the old part of the city, along Dubai Creek, and, although newly built, is a recreation of the buildings that lined this part of the river in the 19th and early 20th Century. Some of those older buildings still survive and have been renovated to provide glimpses of what the emirate looked like before the massive development arrived. With tall wind towers that draw hot air out of the buildings and cool air in, and with big courtyards with trees and verandahs with shade, these beautiful structures are a reminder that this area was always an important trading area with wealth. Some of the houses are museums now and these show the perfume industry that existed here, the pearl diving that saw these precious items decorating the robes and jewels of European nobility, and the coffee culture that is still very much in evidence. Again, there are pictures on the Flickr site. 

Many of those we met in the service industries are from Asia and Africa, including Zimbabwe, and it was really good to hear familar accents from my home country. Lots of these young people are able to make a good living to give them some financial security before they head back to Africa to set-up their own businesses; a useful stepping-stone for the diaspora. 

While I cannot say that we felt entirely comfortable here. Dubai is a fascinating place to visit and we enjoyed good hospitality and friendly people. I do however realise that this is a visitor experience and does not reflect what life is actually like in the Emirate for lots of people.