bigger and bolder

Everything seems bigger in Dubai. Even though I always tell myself that I need at least 2 weeks to truly get to know a city, there's something about the energy here that screams: FULL SEND OR BUST.

I'm not convinced that just because something is bigger and bolder, it's necessarily better. This sounds obvious, but for the longest time, I was submerged in the sinkhole of perceived glamour. I've written about my obsession with shiny toy syndrome before, and this sentiment has a similar taste: simple and sustainable can be just as fruitful.

I'm reminded by a philosophy that I adore: start with the smallest unit of creation and work your way up the tower, one small choice at a time.

More musings on Dubai itself: it's a big city where both GDP and immigration are primarily driven by lavish tourism and even more lavish lifestyles. There's no shock to see the number of grandiose amusement park-scale attractions that entice you with the booming flashes of colour and culture: Global Village, Dubai Mall, Garden Glow, and of course the topical EXPO 2020. The Emiratis are world-class experience designers; it takes a sharp sense of psychological aptitude to cater to a wide swath of potential customers, yet still maintain the same ethos of awe. So fascinating, so admirable.

The reference point I default to as my “Big City Index” is (unsurprisingly) New York. You might ask: “Sam, doesn't NYC suffer from the same problems like Dubai? I could copy and paste your analysis above, replace ‘Dubai’ with ‘New York’, and probably get the same result, right?"

Well, yes, and no. It's hard for me to take a strong stance in favour of Dubai when 90% of the people are foreigners, of which maybe 40% are just here for a poppin’ good time. While the setup is ideal for a sunny winter getaway, I think it dampens the cultural draw of its Arabic roots. The desert mirage is extended: the number of third-wave coffee shops, artistic spaces, business centres, green parks, and culinary diversity exists, but in a fashion that feels a bit artificial. I'll admit that I've found cool moments of appreciation and inspiration — hearing 8 different languages being spoken at one time, basking in the post-yoga buzz by a studio at the marina, and finding a well-oiled improv studio in a hip district!

I've been thinking a lot about transience lately. As I migrate parts of my life from the spontaneity box to the stability circle — especially choosing a place to settle down soon — I wonder how the personality of a city shapes the way I grow and mature. The piece about NYC that continues to live rent-free in my mind is the balance between technical progress & potential with the creative free-spiritedness that it offers. That means I can lean in and out of my many identities, while still feeling a sense of attachment to the city as a cozy home. Oh, and it's also waaaay more walkable, so that always helps.

Disclaimer: To be fair, I've only been here a few days, and I think back fondly to the beginning of Cairo in December —mixed feelings at the outset, but a loving appreciation by the epilogue. My inner voice: Be patient, Sam).

. . .

Aside: Literally one second ago as I got into snuggly position on a beachchair next to the water, a random staff comes up to me and tells me: "Sorry sir, these are for paid reservations only". Geez, they've really architected every touch point to get you to spend money. As if the glitzy nightclubs and decorated resorts didn't already dominate your share-of-wallet.

This week's piece is scattered by design, almost as a parallel to my mind and body wandering in all different directions while in this multi-faceted city. If there's one takeaway, it's the idea that the bigger and bolder principle does have its time and place. I can't deny that I'm still a dreamer by default, fully acknowledging that my hero's journey won't stop leaping to higher heights. The most important thing with deciding life direction is to aim for harmony; to recognize when being bold is a boon and when simplifying is best way to go. When it comes to my life's work in a creative setting, showing up consistently in small doses is how I'll always win, regardless if it hits some arbitrary “boldness threshold" or not.

So here's to embracing both big and small — after all, it's the fit that counts :)

Published by Sam (samwong) 4 months ago on Saturday the 22th of January 2022.

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