Thursday, January 27, 2011
South Asia Diaries - Dubai
It's been a while since I had visited Dubai, and the city has changed so much in those years. They built a whole slew of new stuff while I was away! Of course, the big thing for me was to compare how much the place I was brought up in has changed and if I would still recognize my old haunts.
We also met a very charming couple here - a blogger whose blog I have been following for quite some time, and her husband. I am of course talking about Nadia and Masood. It was a pleasure meeting two such lovely people who could squeeze some time to meet us very late at night! And thanks for that lovely treat!
Before all of that happened though ... here's the Emirates A380!
14 hours later, Dubai! This was just before they changed the rules for Canadian visitors to the country, but for now, I got a free 30-day visa for the UAE. I would, of course, be staying for just 3 days.
A big difference now is parking. Dubai is a mess (and Abu Dhabi an even bigger mess). Parking used to be free when I was growing up, now it's a cash making machine. Besides, when they were building all those buildings in the 80s and 90s, parking was an afterthought, and it now shows.
But Dubai has a shiny new Metro. We took that to Mall of the Emirates. I put some pictures of the Metro on my Facebook album; I found it to be very clean and efficient (and MUCH better than Toronto's creaky old system). Here's a picture of the Burj Al Arab as taken from the Metro:
The Mall of the Emirates is a HUGE mall ...
... but people only come here for one reason ...
... to see Ski Dubai!
It's pretty amazing when you think about it. It may be 40 degrees C outside and here you are, skiing, inside a mall! Whoever thought of this for the first time ... as they say, there's a fine line between genius and crazy. Sure, it's nothing when you compare it to the real ski hills in Canada or Europe, but think about it. SKIING INSIDE A MALL IN THE DESERT. Now that's something.
Of course, sadly, that was the only thing worth seeing in the mall. Most people in the UAE seem to go to malls just to hang out or to go to the food court. No one shops here. We walked by shops with no one inside.
I guess it's because the locals shop in Karama or Sharjah, where it's much cheaper. And the visitors, well, I could buy the same thing here for the same price, so why would I buy it in Dubai?
On the way back home, on the Metro, we entered the front compartment, so I could take some pictures as the Metro sped ahead.
The view does look like something of a futuristic city in a sci-fi movie!
The next day, we visited the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower.
For all the hype about this tower, and it's a marvellous and beautifully designed tower, the biggest disappointment for me was that they don't take you all the way to the top. In fact, you only go about half way up. So if you have visited Toronto's CN tower and you went all the way up to Skypod, you actually have gone higher than you would from visiting the Burj Khalifa, which is the world's tallest tower.
Here's a snapshop of Sheikh Zayed road and the buildings around that road, which is Dubai's main business hub now. It's amazing to think that these buildings would be skyscrapers in their own right, but they are now so dwarfed by the Burj Khalifa.
Again, for someone who hasn't been to this place, it's really, really, really tall. You realize how big the Burj Khalifa is until you come up close.
After that, it was time to visit Dubai Mall, the world's largest shopping mall (and possibly the world's most emptiest mall too). It's a shame that they built such a HUGE mall, such a BEAUTIFUL mall, and their business plan is so flawed that not many people visit the mall, and even fewer make any purchases here. Or so it seemed to me. We were there on a weekend and it was dull.
Is this, er, the world's gayest Christmas Tree?
We were outside Hamley's (the toy store) and the mall was eerily silent. Look at the escalators, hardly a soul there. It was quite a different experience.
It's a beautiful mall, very well made. We walked through the Gold Souk, a section of the mall filled with bling, and the place really looked dead. Not only were the shops empty, many were boarded up. At others, the guys stood outside looking hopefully at us, or were playing with their cellphones, bored.
It was then time to visit the Atlantis. This is quite some drive away from the city, but it was cool driving up what was the "trunk" of the palm. And this is where we encountered a security guy who would not let us in! No visitors, he said.
Well I just drove away, parked, and then came at another gate, and told this guy I was going to the restaurant. Which was true, I was going there, but er, not to eat, but to sight see! :-)
On the way home it was time for Isha and we stopped somewhere to pray, only to realize later it was the famous Jumeirah Mosque, one of old Dubai's original attractions.
So what was my over all experience of Dubai? The more things change ...
Let me tell you about an incident while I was waiting for my wife to pick up her visa at the Dubai airport. We were in a line, and in front of us was a white couple (they looked British). And in front of them were two guys, brown, who looked Indian, and were most likely here in the UAE as labourers.
Everyone was going by the queue. When it was their turn, those two Indian guys walked to the official. "Wait!" He told them, "Move here." He motioned for them to move aside.
He told them to move out so he could serve the British couple who were AFTER them. When the guys, in broken English, asked: "Why? We are in line before them!" - this is what the Arab immigration officer said, no SHOUTED, at them, in equally broken English:
"Are you telling me HOW TO DO MY JOB?! I CAN MAKE YOUR LIFE HELL! Now stand here until I call you."
So, for all the stories you hear, when something like this happens in front of you ... I was just shocked. When it was our turn, we felt guilty walking past those guys, who were equally dumbfounded. And the rest of the officers were laughing at them.
And everyone we met in Dubai kept repeating one word - "artificial". As in life here is very "artificial". So, what can I say? I love Dubai, and it's a nice place to visit. The rest is your call.
As for me, I was headed to Abu Dhabi after 2 days.
To be continued ...