Dubai 2010

A place of superlatives, tallest, biggest, most expensive, most beautiful etc etc. My immediate impressions was that it was really hard to see any of that. Take the beautiful skyscrapers replete with gold and silver trim and tall as tall can be….but so close together that you couldn’t actually see just how beautiful they were. You could see them from a distance but the detail was only visible when close.

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All those beautiful creations jam packed together in one corner of a vast desert. It made Le Corbusier cry when he saw New York. He invented the concept of the skyscraper but he envisaged each tall building surrounded by acres of parkland that would serve as the recreation and “nature point” for the inhabitants. When he saw what the Americans had done with his idea by placing them cheek by jowl he literally cried.

The other kind of vista was one of a vast open space not yet built on with a few buildings in the distance.
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The foreground was one of sand not unlike a British seaside beach complete with a bit of rubbish.

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The odd thing about these vistas was that the background was erased by airborne dust. It was like there was nothing beyond what you could see, like Dubai was some kind of surreal giant film set with a swirling grey backdrop. In some places you could see vague building outlines that would gradually disappear as the wind got stronger like a true desert mirage.

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The mix of styles goes the whole range from Wall Street type glass and gold blockhouses

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to Post-Stalinist Mass Housing
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which incidentally was the hotel we stayed in.

Outside of these first impressions Dubai IS a very impressive place.

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There is order, means and method in everything there.

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Taxis are very cheap because petrol is around 40 NZ cents a litre (about UK 1 pound a gallon) and taxi drivers are honest, I kid you not. There is a metro and bus system that costs NZ$5 (2 quid) a day for unlimited travel. The metro stations are both beautiful and air conditioned. The driver-less trains stop at exact alignment with doors on the platform so you go from one air conditioned environment to another.
There was a clear hierarchy of jobs with the top jobs going to the Arabs but not always. The taxis are driven by Pakistanis and Indians and all of them said how good it was to work in Dubai and how they had not found any racial discrimination, in fact they said the UAE Arabs treated them consistently with respect all the time. 4 out of every 5 people are immigrants brought in to do the basic work that runs the country, Filipino maids were very visible. Of the UAE Arabs, they walked along in their white flowing robes with their bungy cord headdresses and looked incredibly graceful. The ladies mostly wore the  niqab  so you could only see their eyes. Most, but not all. At the entrance to the malls were the rules of behaviour.

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More on that later.

There is no crime and safety is pretty much guaranteed everywhere you find yourself. We found everyone courteous and respectful and by and large helpful too. There is none the culture of broad smiles and “have a great day” or “enjoy the rest of your day” bullshit. Some people in service roles were quite stoical but efficient and helpful nonetheless. In the Dubai Mall which sits under the Burj Khalifa I saw what was probably a school party of young arab men in their white robes (called a dish-dash)

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and as they descended the escalator I took a photo of them. They immediately reacted by waving and cheering with such good humour and, dare I say it, an overt display of affection.

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I am ashamed to say that I did witness some bad behaviour and racial insults towards the desk staff in the hotel and my shame was because it was by an Englishman who obviously missed the empire somewhat and was calling them ignorant $%#@&^! I was impressed by the impassive way that they responded to him. It was obvious to everyone but the him where the ignorance lay.

We did walk around outside in few different places and bear in mind that it was around 38 degrees outside. Staying outside for any period of time was an achievement in itself. Nonetheless, we walked around the “Old Souk” which was as close as it got for tacky tourist attractions

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for in reality all this is for them not us, we are incidental to all this. It is purely through their own efforts that in less than thirty years all this has come from what appears to be nothing, the story of Dubai is worth a read check out this page and look for the pictures of

“Sheikh Zayed Road in 1990 and 12 years later!”
Especially relevant in these times of the New Austerity for us.

We visited a park where they have “models of the planets” laid out in a huge array complete with a flying saucer. The vegetation in the parks is so lush that you can easily forget that you are in fact in a sandy desert……
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except for the 38 degrees of heat.

But we always found ourselves back in a mall or hotel to get cool again. We went to the Dubai Mall which is at the foot of the Burj Khalifa the tallest building on earth right now. Also worth noting that mall shopping was expensive when compared to almost anywhere else. Probably the major difference was in the quality of products available. Top labels and really, really expensive stuff was everywhere.

It was in this mall that we sat at a coffee stall and I read a local paper printed in English. There were 2 things of note.

1. Headline in paper “Man Bites Dog” not really but almost, as it said “Woman Granted Custody Of Children”, yes that was news as it is still an uncommon event. The husband appealed against the decision but his appeal failed because it was revealed that he physically abused his wife and the appeal court ruled that he was not a fitting man to raise his children.

2. Letters to the Editor about Pakistani labourers swimming in their underpants at the public beach on a Saturday. Most of the letters were short and to the point that it was disrespectful for them to be so skimpily clad. However the longest (and featured) letter said that these guys are the backbone of the labouring force that built and continues to build Dubai and they only get one day a week off and why shouldn’t they swim in their underpants as they had been doing it for years, and maybe, instead of complaining these people should be writing letters demanding the employers provide decent swimming gear. Besides which, right next door to the public beach were Russians running around almost naked in full view and that if anyone was being disrespectful it was these people and not the hardworking Pakistanis who probably sent all their money home to support their families like any self respecting man would do. This intensely humane appeal letter was signed by an Arab.

What is there to do in Dubai apart from shopping?. We wanted to go to that beautiful sail shaped hotel call the Burj Al Arab but we got too hot and found it later that unless you are staying there you are not allowed to enter. That tallest building costs around NZ$130 to go up but it is booked into the future so if you are planning a trip get that booked in first.

Desert safaris with overnight stays were popular outside of that everything involved sweating copiously. We were told that in January the temperature drops to around 20 degrees so I’d recommend researching the best time to go for your personal heat tolerance. The food was good everywhere. The supermarkets had huge spice stands that you could smell enticingly from afar. There was top quality food from all over the planet and all of it was cheap.If you have the chance, go there but not for too long as this can happen to you too.

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