I'm typing this on a dusty, wobbling morning in Dubai, on my way from Sydney to NYC where I'll be working on assignment for the Daily Mail for a while.
As the plane pushed through a hazier sky than any I remember (is desert dust any different to ash clouds?), I had a familiar feeling, first compounded when I landed in India years ago: any fool can step onto a plane in comfortable familiarity and emerge, just hours later, into something far removed - a different culture, climate and time.
Dubai, with its perplexing take on both Islamic and western ideals and crude monuments to ecological folly, is a jarring contrast to Sydney's streets. But where travel-induced systematic shocks may initially bamboozle, there are some strange and avoidable similarities between the land Down Under and the Gulf. In fact, a land that at first seems so foreign, musky, muezzin-songed and 'oriental', faces many of the same worrying socio-economic issues that Australia, with its beautiful bodies and land of milk and honey image, does.
The heat, the few and far between solar panels, the water shortages and the fondness for gas-guzzlers for a start. The absolutely dominant reliance on diminishing resources, oil and coal, that lie under the sunburnt ground, millions of years in the making. New South Wales, with its biggest new-build houses in the world, is home to some Florida-style villas that would no further look out of place in the Emirates as they would in Sydney's western suburb, Campbelltown. The waves of immigrants - Australia's sad boat people worth a mention - who look to the desert and harbour cities for hope and salvation.
The differences, though, are what people focus on - for many of the right and wrong reasons. And the truth is, it's been a shock to be reminded so plainly of the social inequalities here. The Sri Lankan maids neatly tucked into cupboard-sized rooms, their plastic sandals lined up outside front doors hidden behind villa kitchens. The young Keralean men, rocking on their haunches in snatched shade, waiting for a labour bus to dispatch them to their next suffocatingly hot building job. The maids who leap to their deaths from glinting glass towers on an almost weekly basis to escape their masters' hushed lechery. The prisons of bootleggers, western drinkers and sex tourists. In these respects, it's a far cry from the (mostly) classless transparency of Australia.
They're both lands of fortune, opportunity and mineral-heavy boom. Thousands of miles away from Bondi's perfect beachy arc, as the rumble of 4x4s on scorching asphalt on Sheikh Zayed Road is muffled by the hum of the air conditioning system, the reality of Australia's place in the world is as striking - and in some ways, improbably familiar - as ever.