The mall scene would be familiar to most Americans: children
shrieking as they dig into McDonald's lunches, then tracking off
across the cola-sticky floor to "Magic City."
They are drawn to the flashing lights and beeping of countless
video games and carnival rides, where a minitrain packed with kids
cuts through the chaos and disappears into a "cave" made up like a
Robinson Crusoe fantasy.
They emerge again into this brilliant, multicolored world, where
a huge screen shimmers with music videos and adds to the noise.
It could be any mall in New Jersey, complete with JC Penney,
Kentucky Fried Chicken, and a Levi's store. Expensive watches and
designer clothing labels - even designer Arab dresses - sweeten the
Western buying style.
But this monument to mammon is thousands of miles from US shores
and one of dozens that cater to the lavish lifestyle of the United
In the once-bleak desert, where the per capita income is one of
the highest in the world, spending money and easy consumerism in
air-conditioned malls have become a way of life. From world records
to world-class sporting events in the backyard, anything seems
possible with money in this oil-rich land.
Foreign workers clean away cola slicks almost as soon as they
develop, and weary parents take a break from the cacophony by
answering beeper messages with their mobile phones. Some women wear
veils and long black gowns; others reveal far more.
Outside, two new, four-wheel-drive off-road vehicles are
wrapped like Christmas presents to be given away in a raffle, but
so many have been handed out recently that their market price has
The UAE has long had a reputation for cosmopolitan behavior and
deep pockets. But its spending habits - and a national proclivity
for the "big" gesture - scaled new heights in December during
celebrations to mark its quarter century of independence.
No expense was spared to ensure that the UAE birthday party
would make the history books. Ten million lights were strung up in
the capital, Abu Dhabi, and some 4,000 fireworks shells - twice as
many as normally light up the Fourth of July shindig in Washington,
according to one American diplomat - entertained awestruck
The largest cake in the world stretched its 69-ton mass for
1-1/2 miles through the streets, crushing the tables it was laid
upon. It disappeared within minutes - before it could be auctioned
off for charity, as planned - when rumors swept the crowd that
hidden inside was the key to a new car.
A 1,200-yard UAE flag was paraded through the streets, and
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the UAE ruler since independence
in 1971, was presented with the largest bouquet of flowers - 45
square yards - ever assembled.
"They want to put this place on the map, and they are doing that
all right," says one US-educated foreign worker.
That aim is even more evident in the commitment of Dubai, the
most business-oriented of the seven emirates, to bring world-class
sporting events to the country. …