Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dubai: Of Gold and Sand Dust


the Burj Khalifa

I was sweating profusely and just downed a whole bottled water that just came from the ice-box. Our guide told us that it was the beginning of summer in Dubai. It was late afternoon and we were in the heart of the city, passing a wide boulevard lined by very tall and modern buildings. The tallest building seemed to sway in the hazy gray daylight. The city skyline covered by smog felt like midway between New York and Los Angles. Our guide said that it was not smog that enshroud the buildings, but sand dust. After the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), our guide continued to name the buildings – Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, etc. It seemed that each hotel brand was represented there.

We stopped at Dubai famous landmark, the Burj Al Arab Hotel, and went to the beach. People go to the beach at sundown to avoid the scorching heat. The hotel provided a nice photo backdrop from the beach, along with the man-made hill on the other side.

I came to Dubai with the knowledge that Dubai has the tallest building in the world, an indoor ski resort and an underwater resort, and malls the size of a city, but I had no idea about the immensity of man-made structures.  We toured the Palm Jumeriah, a place built on reclaimed land, often seen in aerial photos in the shape of a Palm tree and said to have doubled Dubai's coastline.  There was nothing much to see except for hotels and super expensive apartment buildings of the same palm-motif architecture.  After visiting Palm Jumeriah, it occurred to me that only the rich could afford to live in Dubai. Yes, they have oil but what about those foreign workers I saw in the hotels and restaurants. I asked our guide about the demographics. I learned that Dubai was a major tourist destination for people from Europe and Asia. Labor to support the tourism industry came from Asia and from different nationalities - more than one hundred nationalities - topped by Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Ukrainians, Europeans, and Americans. Foreign workers outnumbered the locals who mostly formed the government and administration.

Earlier that day we visited a Souq (market), mainly a Gold Souq. As someone who did not have a budget for jewelry, I could only do one thing: take pictures of the jewelry on display. I saw a couple of drunk men outside the souq. I got confused because the country was supposed to have strict laws about alcohol.

While hanging out at the mall to watch the dancing fountain, I overheard a fellow tourist talked about a Filipino nanny locked up inside the house for weeks while her employers were vacationing somewhere. I could only surmise that racism was rampant there. But the fact is that foreign workers are not allowed to become a citizen.  I also learned that gas is cheap, but the driving laws are rigid. As a Muslim country, gambling is not allowed.

While checking in for our flight home, I thought back to when we first arrived in Dubai. Soon after our arrival at Dubai International Airport, I felt I was in Las Vegas. We stepped into a large terminal lobby with signs in English and Arabic. Asian men and women in blue uniform directed us to get in line for immigration control and customs. The customs officers were dressed in ankle-length white garb and with a head dress as if they were wearing costumes.  After customs, we passed through a very modern-looking and brightly illuminated concourse in palm tree-motif bluish and purplish neon lights.

On the outbound flight, we passed a concourse with glitzy duty free shops that included a Chanel and other high-end designers, Moet & Chandon champagne and fancy restaurants. Dubai may have the biggest malls with the biggest brands but it is fun only if you have a fat wallet and a big credit card limit to match.  So imagine Dubai as ten times the size of Las Vegas without the casinos.

Why where you in Dubai, you may ask? I flew on Emirates Airline on my way to Jordan and the Holy Land.  So blame it on Emirates Airline, among the few airlines with a direct flight from San Francisco to the Middle East.   But my experience on the Emirates Airline flight was another story with a not so happy ending and worthy of a one-star review in YELP.

PHOTO GALLERY

The Burj Al Arab Hotel by the Beach
The Mosque
The Beach
The Gold Souq
The Mall

NOTE:  All photos by the author



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