Monday, May 26, 2008

Bright Lights Big City

Dubai Skyline at night
We recently returned from a trip to Dubai. K had some business matters to attend to, so the rest of us decided to tag along. Though K had been there many times, it was the first trip for the children and me.

Initially we had decided to drive since Dubai is only 235 miles /377 kilometers, or a 6 hour drive from Doha. But one has to drive through Saudi Arabia and for this we needed to get a Saudi transit visa. Though it is easily obtained, it would have taken a week to process. So we opted to fly instead. The flight duration is a mere 50 minutes. The visa to enter Dubai is given at the airport (or at the border if driving) and it is for free.

Dubai is one of seven emirates which consist to form the United Arab Emirates, or the UAE. Population wise it is the largest yet it is the second largest in size after the capitol, Abu Dhabi. Under the umbrella of a federal government Dubai shares legal, political, military and economic ties with the other emirates. Each emirate however has jurisdiction over local law enforcement and provision and maintenance of its facilities. Each emirate has its own ruler, and with Dubai being the second largest, its ruler is also the Vice President of the UAE.

UAE map
Dubai can be best described as the El Dorado of the 21st century. The economy is booming, and so is the city, though today it seems to be the world’s largest construction zone. There are however many parts of the city which have been completed and are very much habitable. The rapidly developing skyline has begun to resemble Hong Kong and similar to Hong Kong, it is becoming a hub of shipping, business, trade and tourism (DreamWorks is set to build a theme park there).

But what impressed me the most was how green the city is. The govt. has succeeded in making the desert bloom. It was like a cool drink for my parched eyes, which have become accustomed to seeing mostly sand.

Burj Al Alrab hotel
We did a few touristy things of course, even took the children to Ski Dubai which is a man made ski resort inside one of the largest malls in the world – The Mall of the Emirates.

And although I am not a shopoholic, I can shamelessly claim the best part of visiting Dubai is the shopping. There are many, many malls and shopping complexes, each one better than the next, with stores from all over the world. Here you can buy anything your heart desires and wallet allows. Besides malls there are also many souks and neighborhoods which specialize in a variety of items. Since the expat community is extremely large and diverse (about 80% of the total population) there are also many shops that cater to their needs.

My favorite place to shop I discovered was the Dragon Mart. It is a mall that sells only Chinese made products such as household items, electronics, jewelry, construction items, food, clothes, textiles, home improvement, etc. It is shaped like a dragon, hence the name. It is about one kilometer in length with many stores joined together by many labyrinths and mazes, so one should be prepared to spend the better part of the day there. Also one should wear sensible shoes which one, rather foolishly, did not and now one is paying the price. I did buy a beautiful quilt for 100 dirhams, which would have been for over 100 dollars in the US ($1=3.67 dirham).

Compared to Qatar the prices in Dubai are the same or in a few instances even slightly less, and the choices are 10 times more. I have now decided I will do all my shopping in Dubai, and I am already planning my next trip.

Yet in its quest towards modernity and westernization, I feel Dubai’s rich Arab culture and heritage are slowly becoming diluted. Unlike Qatar, we rarely saw the Emirtati Arabs in native garments. We also did not see many traditional Arabic homes, majlis’ (gathering places for men) or mosques, which we are accustomed to seeing in every block in every neighborhood here. We could have been anywhere. Here in Qatar religion and culture is evident everywhere, and this is something which we cherish greatly.

I have heard people say what Dubai is today; Qatar will be in 10 years. We of course believe it will be better.

No comments: