September 20, 2013 7:02 pm

Richness isn’t about wealth

New York is a great city because it is a tapestry of everything, warts and all

David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

What balderdash you wrote. As a Briton who lived and worked in Dubai for five years, I can see you clearly know little about Dubai. There were excesses but Dubai is now on a sustainable growth path. How you can describe the skyline as monotonous with its iconic Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, surprises me. And Dubai has great beaches. Time you visited Dubai again.

I do know a little about Dubai. I have been there many times, the last of which was three months ago. And I will be there again next week. I know people there: some in djellabas, some in suits and some with Essex accents. On every visit, I have carefully observed the legend of Dubai, first propelled by the impressive showers on the Emirates flights, then by fabulous skyscrapers and virginal white-sand beaches, mega-hotels, gleaming supercars with black windows, and musical shopping malls.

The problem with all this is that wanton materialism seems to be on turbo charge and everyone is desperate to flaunt successes. Take your adulation of the skyline and Burj Khalifa. It is clear that it was specially built to be the tallest building in the world, with no other purpose. Doesn’t this make you sad? Before long, someone with a greater amount of testosterone, probably in the UAE, will come along and “order” another building to exceed the height of Burj Khalifa. It all screams of the human insecurity and vanity that seem to underpin Dubai.

As for the beaches, the water is as clear as Evian but in its utterly filtered form, it looks artificial. They might have dyed the sands to make the water turquoise, which is what swimming water should be at its best. It all goes to show again that money doesn’t necessarily come with the magic of style and elegance, still less knowledge. Neither is richness properly understood. Richness is not defined by Michelin stars and ostentatious crystal chandeliers nor floating islands in the shape of a giant palm on which expensive mock-Georgian mansions are built. Rather, richness requires a spectrum of the good and the bad, the rich and the poor and the clean and the dirty. That’s why New York is a great city, because it is a tapestry of everything, warts and all. Yet Dubai, anaesthetised and a model of cleanliness with an apparent zero-tolerance on moral turpitude, has some way to go to achieve what might be called great city status. It takes a lot more than a hurried concatenation of concrete slabs and billions of tons of white sand and white water dumped on what was a barren landscape of dunes.

. . .

I have two friends ‘consulting’ or ‘advising’ by profession but who essentially never fully got back on their feet after 2008. They continue to ask for referrals and introductions, which remains awkward. Any advice on how to handle them?

Why not offer to introduce them to Mr Bernard Madoff? For maximum effect, you could do this in a mock whisper while turning your head from side to side to look furtively. You could say you are consulting for Uncle Bernie to help him recruit a group of financial advisers for a new fund, which you could even name the Porridge Fund. I suspect your friends would get a handle on the prospects of all this fairly quickly and that you wouldn’t need to handle them.

. . .

My husband and I have put our feet up here in the Algarve, with the perfect climate as you described. Imagine our horror to find that David Cameron had descended on us with his trail of newspapermen, together with David Beckham and family (ditto), plus the Rooneys et al. The beautiful little village of Luz can give testament to what happens when the British gutter press arrive. Thank you for declaring the place ‘boring’. Please do keep passing that message on. We and all the other expats who live here permanently – in paradise – will thank you for ever.

I doubt you would need to thank me. I would bet you that the Camerons, who chose Portugal probably for its political correctness and public modesty (just a notch more wholesome than a Cornish village but safely below the envy of the Dordogne), won’t return. Didn’t they look totally bored even when they were posing? The Beckhams and the Rooneys will certainly not go back because their wives couldn’t have found anything expensive enough. I believe that Portugal will remain safe as Bore-dot-com.

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

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