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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Executive Bachelor

1 bed space in a furnished room in JVC Building, Bur Dubai - available for a Muslim executive bachelor. Rent Dh 450/- P.M. including W/E. Contact 050-473...

An unflattering look at some of Dubai's other realities.

To those not in the know, the phrase "executive bachelor" is a classic oxymoron. It refers to what is normally a married man living in the most desperate of circumstances.

The "executive bachelor" in the UAE is usually an Indian or other South Asian male, who ranges in age from his early 20's to mid-40's. Some are indeed bachelors but most are married with families back in their home country. The title executive pays homage to the fact that many work in office settings, requiring them to wear neat trousers and pressed shirts. Despite this their status and lifestyle can hardly be referred to as executive.

The real defining characteristic of their lifestyle is one of desperation. A more accurate title might be "bedspace men." Besides their work, the rest of their existence is consumed with eking out a living in the space of an upper or lower-level bunk bed, crammed into a room with as many such beds as can fit, into an apartment likewise compartmentalized.

Somehow, these men manage to exhibit the appearance of being, if not an executive, then at least an up-and-coming junior. They are generally neatly attired and well-groomed. But the cost of maintaining such an appearance is rather horrific.

Somehow they must awaken early each morning and dress, groom and perhaps have a snack, while sharing a normal single-family bathroom and kitchen with 15 or 20 other men. A similarly impossible routine takes place in reverse when they return in the evenings. Somehow they manage to live out of a suitcase and fend their way through the laundry that hangs in whatever clear space there is. Speaking of which, one must wonder how they ever manage to take care of washing and pressing their clothes.

Under such circumstances clutter is clearly the order of the day. The bedspace men are inundated with the clutter that surrounds their tiny bed-spaces and the clutter that seems to spill out onto the streets as well. Laundry inevitably makes its way to the exterior, while crowds of men make their way up and down the streets, whether it be to work, to a cheap restaurant or just to mill about for having no space to do so in their rooms.

The situation for bedspace men has become so desperate that some can not even afford to have the bed anymore. These men pay a monthly fee to a "landlord" for space to keep a suitcase and use what is certainly an already over-used bathroom. The true executive bachelor in such a predicament will have a second-hand car--likely in connection with his job as a salesman or distributor, in which he can sleep. There are countless others who have not yet achieved the rank of executive, for not having jobs at all yet. They are among the multitude who manage to come to Dubai on visit visas, to spend their days looking for work in their supposed promise land.

The miserable plight of the executive bachelor is not new but it has worsened considerably. Not only were there fewer in such a predicament before, but where 8 or 12 per flat were the norm, 16 to 24 have now become more common. Where there were once single or twin-sized beds, there are now upper and lower-level bunks. Their plight is in some ways no less dire than that of construction laborers, who at least don't have to pay out of their own pockets--their companies provide their accommodations, aka bed-space.

Practically speaking the only significant difference in circumstances between the laborer and the executive bachelor is the quality of the workplace. The laborer, of course has to battle the elements both at home and at work, while for the executive bachelor, the workplace might in fact be a reprieve. Even their earnings are not likely to differ significantly. That is, when even getting double or triple the wages of the laborer, the actual margin of difference shrinks once the executive bachelor pays for his accommodations and numerous other expenses associated with living within the city.

What is it that belies the bed-space phenomenon in Dubai?

The housing shortage is one major cause. There simply is not enough rental accommodation available. The market accordingly has dictated that more people will be crammed into tighter and tighter spaces.

A second cause is the obligations the bedspace men have toward families in their homeland. They are in essence not able to use any income for their own comfort which might be at the expense of wife, children, parents and other relatives. In fact, they have always been willing to settle for a bed, but in the past that meant at half the price today and double the space.

Not Welcome in the Dubai Marina

So while Dubai rises as a city with towers galore and the biggest, best and most of everything, the executive bachelor struggles while seeing his plight worsen. When added to the huge number of laborers, and the similarly employed female population--admittedly much smaller in number--you have a city whose majority population lives on the edge. Whatever the exact percentages, whether it be 50, 60 or even 70%, the numbers are all moving in the wrong direction.

As Dubai continues to grow into a metropolis, both the population and proportion of low-paid service workers will increase as well. One might suggest that the demand for housing will eventually fall once the huge number of projects currently under construction come online. Unfortunately, most of what will become available will never be available to such workers.

Dubai Marina will have 200 or so high-rise towers, many rising 30, 40, 50... on up to 100+ floors. Not a single one of these is likely to provide accommodation--or even bed-space--to any of the city's desperate executive bachelors.

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