Bright lights, big city:

Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

When Vanessa Aber­nethy moved to Dubai in 2005, the con­cept of a wo­man spon­sor­ing her hus­band to live there was fairly new. A cor­po­rate lawyer orig­i­nally from the Bay of Is­lands, Aber­nethy had been head­hunted for a job in the city-emi­rate and was im­me­di­ately cap­ti­vated by its en­ergy and am­bi­tion. Here, she thought, was a ‘‘city on steroids’’ hurtling to­wards a fu­ture vi­sion that oth­ers might deem out­landish or im­pos­si­ble. And she was ex­cited to be along for the ride.

‘‘This was clearly a city that wanted to do ev­ery­thing big­ger and bet­ter than else­where,’’ she says. ‘‘The city was open­ing its arms to so many ex­pats … I felt like I was go­ing to be part of mak­ing this fast­grow­ing city even bet­ter. This was a place I could make a real con­tri­bu­tion to.’’

A poster city for the old adage that ‘‘if you build it, they will come’’, Dubai has grown from a small town de­pen­dent upon pearl div­ing and trade into a mega-metropo­lis within a mat­ter of decades. The dis­cov­ery of oil in the 1960s changed its for­tunes in­stan­ta­neously but it wasn’t un­til the late 1990s that it be­gan to make the ex­tent of its am­bi­tions known.

The open­ing of the seven-star

Burj Al Arab ho­tel on a pri­vate is­land of re­claimed land in 1999 was among the first signs the United

Arab Emi­rates’ now largest city in­tended to ex­pand the realms of pos­si­bil­ity. The world’s tallest build­ing, ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands shaped like a palm tree and world map and the world’s first ‘‘robo­cop’’ fol­lowed – and plans for self-fly­ing taxis are well un­der­way.

The eco­nomic down­turn stalled many con­struc­tion projects and left many ex­pats without work but things seem to be back on track. In 2017, more than 91 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion of nearly three mil­lion were ex­pa­tri­ates, Dubai gov­ern­ment fig­ures show.

Many New Zealan­ders are lured by the high, tax-free in­comes, com­pany pack­ages in­clud­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion and free flights home ev­ery year, sunny cli­mate and the chance to live like a high-roller for a bit (think week­ends spent pop­ping Cham­pagne bot­tles at su­per clubs, danc­ing the night away with new friends at gi­ant pool par­ties and eat­ing out at res­tau­rants run by in­ter­na­tional celebrity chefs). For some Ki­wis though, the re­al­ity proves rather dif­fer­ent.

While some may say Dubai is so dif­fer­ent to New Zea­land as to be al­most in­com­pa­ra­ble, the Aber­nethys found set­tling in a breeze. Of course, this was sig­nif­i­cantly aided by the fact that Vanessa’s of­fice had taken care of their visas and set them up with a ser­viced apart­ment and rental car un­til they could find their own. They’d even or­gan­ised their liquor li­cences.

Within four weeks of their ar­rival they’d found the brand new villa that would be­come their home, bought cars, and were in­un­dated with in­vi­ta­tions from fel­low ex­pats to din­ner, drinks and Dubai’s leg­endary all-you-can-eat-and-drink Fri­day brunches.

‘‘Ev­ery­one was very wel­com­ing,’’ Aber­nethy, 45, says. ‘‘I guess be­cause we are all ex­pats and we have all left our friends and fam­i­lies be­hind. I find ev­ery­one puts them­selves out there to meet new peo­ple and wel­come new­com­ers.’’

Thir­teen and a half years later the cou­ple – who now have two chil­dren aged 4 and 8 – be­lieve their life­style is ‘‘sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter’’ than it would have been if they’d re­mained in New Zea­land.

While Aber­nethy’s high-in­come friends in Auck­land are hav­ing trou­ble sav­ing, she and her hus­band are lead­ing the lives of lux­ury Dubai is renowned for. They have a fivebed­room villa with a pool just eight min­utes’ drive from the main fi­nan­cial cen­tre and em­ploy a driver and live-in nanny/house­keeper.

She earns be­tween two and three times as much as she would in New Zea­land, tax free, so her hus­band is able to look af­ter the chil­dren full­time, and she reck­ons the ed­u­ca­tion and health sys­tems put New Zea­land’s to shame.

Her big­gest con­cerns if they were to move home would be ‘‘the New Zea­land ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and the ef­fect ‘tall poppy syn­drome’ and bul­ly­ing may have on our kids’’, she says, adding that nei­ther re­ally ex­ist in Dubai.

‘‘The ed­u­ca­tion my chil­dren are get­ting here is world class.’’

She says it’s a mis­con­cep­tion that life in Dubai is re­stric­tive, not­ing that al­co­hol is widely avail­able and she dresses the same as she did in New Zea­land.

‘‘I feel com­pletely able to live my

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