A moment in Abu
was late afternoon and Abu Dhabi was reasonably busy but not
packed with traffic or people. The city was almost totally
new, modern, and it was immaculate. It was such a contrast
from Kathmandu, an ancient city.
city there were no dirty places or smelly places, no beggars,
no poor people, really. Nobody without shoes, like the old
woman on the trek who might never have worn them in her life.
Probably nobody without indoor plumbing. No old faces etched
by a hard life. The air was clean, the traffic orderly. No
cows wandering, no tuktuks or bicycle rickshaws. No din of
honking horns. No beat up 1978 Toyota Corolla taxis with slipping
differentials and iffy brakes. Instead there were traffic
lights and shiny new cars. No shopkeepers sweeping yak dung
off the street in front of their shops, no street vendors,
nobody standing in front of a shop trying to get you inside.
It was all bright lights and polite service staff.
We walked for many
blocks, passing an interesting mix of shops. A Rolls Royce
dealership. Western chain restaurants, of course, which were
heavily patronized by the locals, the men wearing the traditional
white sharwal kameez and kufiyyah, with the women in burkas.
They drove the nice cars and their children dressed in traditional
garb or western garb as they patronized the designer label
stores and other western outlets. In between these western
stores were sprinkled little eateries that sold Arabic foods
or Islamic clothing. And the teenage children of these Arabic
locals hung out on the streets and in the parks.
Everywhere the service
people were imported from poor Asian countries. Some of the
local kids seemed very arrogant in purposefully throwing their
trash or unfinished drinks onto the sidewalk, with an aggressive
air. As if to say, somebody come and clean this up. The city
was decked out for Ramadan with festive lights adorning the
huge buildings, much like Christmas lights. We stopped at
MacDonald's to use the restroom. There were families and groups
of kids eating there. It was in a building that also housed
a movie theater showing western films. We had coffee at a
coffee shop. Like my assessment of the menu in the hotel pub,
they offer pretty much anything you might want, but prices
Mostly people were
indifferent to us, but on at least two occasions the Arabic
teens were openly hostile toward us. One hit me with a shirt
he was holding, as if by accident, except it wasn't. And walking
by a park, Rob said hello to some passing teens and one of
the boys spat at us. Although I understood the hostility toward
Americans and Brits (although they did not know our nationalities),
the duality of the situation seemed to me contradictory. We
flew on their airline in a Boeing jet and watched an American
film in flight. They were driving western cars, eating in
western restaurants, shopping at western stores, and yet they
were spitting at westerners. They were enthusiastic about
much that came from the west, but not westerners. Not their
politics. But then, as I asked Rob, what else do you do with
money? The west seems to have defined what you do with wealth.
You hire people to do all the work and then, what? You build
a big house and buy a bunch of things and spend more on entertainment.
It would be interesting to see a culture where they do something
different with wealth.
It was strange to
note that in Nepal, one of the poorest countries on earth,
even including the Maoists, I had never sensed hostility toward
us. Yet here in one of the richest countries and one with
much more influence from the west, I felt it over and over.
of this day
The next day
travelogue is part of the subside