Postcard from Dubai

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ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 16 October 2012

Trip to Italy and Sicily, October to December 2012

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Dubai was a surprise. I had expected Bob Marley and the Rastafarians’ Babylon with endless opportunity for cynical comment and mock horror. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if it disappeared under the desert sands during or shortly after my lifetime.

Our friends in Australia suggested we stay and begin at the Arabian Courtyard Hotel (a nice oasis) opposite the museum. Good advice. In October the sun and temperature were hot but not unbearable. Our friends came at the hottest time of year. I can’t believe that British and other European tourists come here in summer for a beach holiday. Even the beaches in southern Turkey are too hot in summer for Australians like us.

We spent our first day outside in the old part of town and in Deira across the river (populated almost entirely by Indians). Here you see the workers from the sub-continent who live and conduct business here. The population of Dubai is well over 2 million and growing rapidly (it may top 3.4 million by 2020). Indians make up 51% of the population, with Pakistanis 16% and Bangladeshis 9%, according to one of our mostly Bangladeshi and very friendly taxi drivers. Local UAE Arabs make up only 10-15% of the population and this is declining.

3066WPWe began with the Dubai Museum across the road from our hotel. In 1971 the more than 200-year-old Al Fahidi Fort, which is the oldest building existing in Dubai, was restored and became the museum. The museum though short on text gives an impressive atmosphere of culture and past lifestyle in Dubai.

We then crossed The Creek and visited the Old Souq (Suq) and spice market, the gold and perfume suqs (or souks) and also some old historical houses and other buildings (carefully restored) — The Heritage House, an 1890s pearl merchant’s house, the Alamadiya School and another residence. The temperature was around 36ºC mid-afternoon, thus hot but not unbearable.

It was only the next day that we ventured into modern Dubai a sort of strange adult Disneyland. Some of the subway stations are named after banks e.g. Noor Islam Bank, which brings it home to you that these places didn’t exist, as anything, were blank and featureless open sand twenty years ago, very like the Gold Coast in Australia in the 1950s — a wilderness of sand and tea tree scrub. The subway, buses and monorail were all astonishingly new, the malls and other public spaces pristine with amazingly expensive accoutrements.

Our excursion to Disneyland began with a trip to floor 124 of the Burj Khalifa —currently the tallest building in the world (168 floors). Again I was expecting ugliness, perhaps like the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia. We were lucky to get the first slot at 8.30 am; lucky to get one at all with 14 hours notice. Our taxi arrived some distance from the building, which was shining like some elegant silvered mirror in the morning sun and the haze. It is impossible to get an impression of its true height from the ground our senses can’t comprehend it. And from the top looking down on tall buildings, it is impossible to compare scales or even get a sense of scale. At night it is dark, entirely different, with small flashes of synchronised lights up the entire length.

The building is extremely well-designed, thoughtful and beautiful. Indeed, very beautiful. When we came down we spent some time in an exhibition looking at the architectural, engineering and construction phases of the building.

At night we went back for dinner to see the over-the-top Dubai Fountains display (every half hour a different pattern and amazing light and water display, some jets the height of a scyscraper). Again it was tasteful rather than obscene but nothing in comparison with the Burj Khalifa.

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We also went through the Dubai Mall and its aquariums, which we did visit; the Mall of the Emirates with the famous ski slope, which we didn’t. Our friend in Australia said to do it, but we only viewed from the outside, even the faintest possibility a broken leg was unthinkable, at the beginning of three months in Italy. We also only viewed Atlantis from the outside, where you can swim endlessly even with dolphins for an entire day.

We took the monorail out of Atlantis, which ended in a nearly deserted multi-storey car park with no means of public transport. We were advised to cross the freeway an impossible task into a building site. Fortunately, some cabs were secured eventually, as it was shift changeover time. (Reminding me of the impossibility of getting a taxi in Sydney at shift changeover on a rainy day.)

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My impressions were that one could live here and not just for the money. It was not as hate-able as expected and most of the people (men) in menial jobs, we spoke to (not unfortunately to labourers or housemaids) seemed not to mind being there. Indeed, under criticism the government (Sheik) has instituted laws to protect the worker slightly.

We house-sat for a couple near Great Missenden in the Chiltern Hills, UK in 2014 who had until a month previously lived in Dubai for 9 and 12 years, respectively. They loved it and found it a convenient location to jet out from when they had time off.

They were fitness focused as a sporting activity, running, cycling, swimming and had pursued these in Dubai as outside activities. Hence all the expats do not spend their lives indoors.

Key words: Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Dubai Museum, Deira, Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Atlantis

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