The price of progress

DUBAI — “Twenty-four years ago, people here didn’t even know how to spell the word ‘traffic’,” Jojo de Lima quipped, recalling those early days in this emirate that has, over the past three decades, transformed itself into a bustling international commercial hub.

By Criselda E. Diala

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Published: Sat 8 Oct 2005, 10:18 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:48 PM

De Lima, Managing Director of Timeless Furnishings LLC, an interior decoration studio in Karama, came to Dubai in 1981 when “everything was so flat”.

“Dubai then had less people and lesser cars but the atmosphere was even then purely business. If you went to restaurants, you could hear people talking nothing but business — the oil industry, and the general trading in particular dominated conversation. Most of the people who had settled here during that time were businessmen and entrepreneurs.”

De Lima said Dubai was so alien to him at that time that he did not even know where it was located on the world map. He had come to the emirate after being offered a job in an interior design company managed by a British national who frequented the hotel in Manila where he used to work. “Since then, development of Dubai has been like a bomb going off. Everything’s been happening in one blast, particularly the development of infrastructure,” de Lima told the Khaleej Times.

To him, the progress associated with the emirate speaks of healthy competition, the survival of the fittest. Companies, even individuals, have to excel if they wanted to survive. There was no other go.

De Lima believes that if anyone was able to do business in Dubai, he could do business anywhere in the world. A principle that he has adopted ever since he accepted the bigger challenge and quit his job to start an interior decoration business of his own.

But progress has its price, said de Lima. As people flocked to Dubai for better opportunities, the cost of living also increased by leaps and bounds, by as much as four times in 30 years. “I remember expats then who were working in Abu Dhabi would rent flats in Dubai because the living expenses here were cheaper. Now, people working in Dubai move further north to Sharjah, Ajman, or even Fujairah, because they can no longer afford to live in Dubai,” he said.

He said that progress has also hurt the environment, an observation that has also caught the attention of the government, paving the way for the creation of government agencies and civic sectors involved in environment conservation efforts.

For the past 24 years, de Lima has been practising interior decoration in Dubai. He said his craft, focusing mainly on eclectic style, draws inspiration from Eastern and Western influences, a characteristic that can also be attributed to Dubai as a cosmopolitan state.

When de Lima first came here, he told himself he would finish his two-year contract and move on to another place. Yet, more than a couple of decades later, he still finds himself in Dubai where he, his wife, and two children have found a home.

Asked for how long he planned to stick on, de Lima’s flat statement was, “Only God knows, maybe till the time Dubai runs out of sand!”

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