Dubai - February 11, 2008
Ahlan wa sahlan (Hi!). So I've been in Dubai for about 14 hours, and, while that's certainly not enough time understand a new city, it is definitely enough time for first impressions. This place is one large advert for luxury; fancy cars, nice hotels, luxury homes. Even the clocks at the airport look like watch faces and say ROLEX. Arriving at night was a treat. The Dubai International Shopping Festival is going on right now so many of the roadways and buildings are decorated with light displays (palm trees, camels, etc.) Driving though the city, I was amazed to see so much neon. Not necessarily gaudy flashing neon signs (though there are some of those) but mostly neon stripes along buildings and rooftops and neon street signs. The gas stations here are not just lit up at night, but glow in the darkness. Bright, glowing neon green and blue like some sort of phosphorescent sea creature. At least that's what they seemed like in my exhausted, jet lagged delirium.
I miraculously managed to get up early this morning to do some sightseeing. First I went to the Mall of the Emirates and checked out Ski Dubai. It's a bit surreal to watch people skiing on one side of the corridor and people buying shorts and sandals on the other. Then I took a taxi across town. The amount of construction in this city is incredible. Unlike anything you could imagine. I have never seen so many cranes in my life! There is one stretch along Sheikh Zayed Road where I tried counting the new skyscrapers that are being built. I lost track at about twenty. Traffic is pretty insane, especially when my crazy Pakistani cab driver was yelling angrily into his cell phone and gesturing wildly with the one hand he should have been using to steer. I went down to Bur Dubai (the old town) and wound up getting lost and wandering aimlessly through an old Souk. It was amazing (and I read it isn't even the best one in town!) Being in this souk, surrounded by beautiful silk textiles and wonderful smells of incense, and hearing the call to prayer from the Grand Mosque nearby was magical. Tonight I was planning to go to dinner in the Global Village where the shopping festival is. That was before I accidentally gave my cab driver a tip of a 100 dirham note instead of a 5 dirham note (so $27 instead of $1.30). Now I think it's best if I just stay in tonight and relax (and study the various denominations!)
There are a few cultural observations I must make. I find the Emirati style of dress very interesting. The women wear black Abayas and sometimes cover their faces. But the men are also covered from head to toe in stark white robes called Dishdashas. It's not just the women who cover their heads. I wonder if life is easier if you can just get out of bed, wrap yourself up in what looks like hotel sheets and be on your way? I guess life might not be easier...but getting ready would be.
So the French have their bidets, but here they have what I can only describe as a kitchen squirter. You know...the gun like sprayer attached to a retractable hose that sprays a powerful shot of water. Except here they are next to the toilets and I don't think they're for washing dishes.
I work in export, so clearly I'm a fan of international trade and commerce. But is it really necessary for us to export the likes of KFC and Applebee's? The architecture here is beautiful. These tall, elaborate sky scrapers (that still somehow seem small and compact) with beautiful signs with Arabic writing...and a KFC at the bottom.
Anyway...it's about 3:30 here now and I think it's time for a siesta. Then I'll send some pictures.
'ilaa al-liqaa (until next time)