Shades of Gold

“This is the ultimate in decadence.” I grin at my husband, while licking away a 24 carat gold flake from my upper lip.

“To be quite honest, I am slightly embarrassed by this.” I confess.

He nods in quiet agreement.

Emirates Palace Hotel 2

We find ourselves in the soft, golden glow of an eternal twilight, hovering precariously between dream and reality. The multitude of surfaces making up the cavernous interior of the luxurious Emirates Palace Hotel are all covered in a shade of gold. The staff are immaculately dressed, and have perfected the art of appearing as if falling in and out of thin air, when needed. The overall atmosphere of elegance is accentuated by the music tumbling from the fingertips of a pianist dressed in a puffy pink ball gown cascading from her tiny waste. Tucked away in this opulent space, the mythical ATM machine, dispensing solid gold bars, sleeps undisturbed.

Elsewhere in the city a socialite applies a final touch of lipstick, before stepping out to where a Bentley idles. In other corners business deals are struck in whispered tones, with servants hovering discreetly in the background. Abu Dhabi, although less flashy than Dubai, is still a place where wealth covers the city like a thick layer of dust. Super cars, sports cars and 4x4s roam the streets, whilst brand name stores sometimes band together to fill an entire mall, where security wears a suit and tie, and the rich indolently linger over a cup of coffee, trawl through the merchandise on offer, or rush towards a business meeting.

The image of the UAE is built upon this idea of super-wealth, conning the world into believing that everyone living here has an endless supply of cold, hard cash, and that a lifestyle of indulgence and extravagance is the ultimate symbol of happiness and success.

Yet, it is the colonies of workers sweating in the heat or hidden away behind the golden facades of wealth, who oil the economy, by performing the jobs often branded as inferior or dirty, but without which the country would simply not be able to function. From all over the world people come to better their lives financially, but often get lured into a false sense that wealth is available and accessible to all. It is a lifestyle that is actively marketed not only by the media, but countless bloggers enticing people to believe that excess will still the longing of the soul. It leads to many taking out personal loans far exceeding their income to buy into the pursuit of pleasure. A dangerous choice in a country where defaulting on debt or bounced cheques are a criminal offence, resulting in jail sentences.

It is easy to live beyond one’s means, but for those with a dedicated plan and a simple lifestyle, the years toiling away in this challenging environment, are rich in rewards. A steady stream of monthly remittances feed and educate extended families in far-off home-countries, pay off debts, and build a better future and quality of life.

Life here ebbs and flows just like any other place in the world. Dreams are created and shattered. Fortunes are built and lost. Hearts fall in love, and get broken. Laughter fills the air, and tears soak the soil. Births are celebrated and deaths are mourned. People delight in friendships and adventures, and snivel when saying goodbye.

There is ultimately no utopia on earth, no matter how many photographs or tweets on social media do their best to refute the fact. The conundrum of the information age, where so many document their lives on social media, entangle many of us in the question: “If I do not document what I eat or do regularly, does that mean that I am not living? That my life is less important? That I am less happy or fulfilled?”

Right now, sipping at my signature cappuccino, I do not have to fret. My camera has snagged evidence of the gold flakes floating on the white froth, and while I nibble on the feather light scones, I can happily tick off one of the must-do items on my bucket list. It is, after all, only in this country that I will ever glimpse and be able to experience some of the sybaritic indulgences, the truly rich consider normal. I am not opposed to dipping my toes, like a proper diva into the luxuries of life, but my feet would never feel comfortable walking through life in a pair of high-heeled Manolo’s. I am, rather, a flip-flop kind of girl.

Emirates Palace Hotel 1

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