Good morning, Dubai! For a while, every day for me started at 5:30am thanks to the Mosque right next doors. Dubai wasn’t the place to go out at night anyway, so I always made for an early start which was quite nice.
Having left Melbourne after about a week, my next stop this year was a place I’ve only known from media coverage – I didn’t really know what to expect. And now that I’ve had a few days there, I’m still not sure what to make of the country and whether I like it or not. But let’s start with the obvious: Downtown Dubai.
As I’ve mentioned in my last post, climbing tall buildings has become kind of a hobby recently. So of course I had to check out the Burj Khalifa, that giant beast dwarfing all the other skyscrapers around. A brief lift ride took me up to the viewing platform for an amazing look around. Right next to the biggest mall in the world (including the biggest aquarium in the world) the tallest building in the world is an awesome 830 meters of steel and glass. Quite breathtaking.
To state the obvious, Dubai is a place of extremes and enormous contrasts. The population seems to be divided in 3 groups of people: The rich people from the region, the internationals (also rich) and the workforce (mostly Indian and Pakistani like it seemed to me). None of these groups seem to mix, different parts of the city seem almost isolated from each other, diversity is apparent only when you look at the whole. So walking through the streets was quite an experience.
Once you leave the air conditioned world of glass and polished steel, you realise that everything is indeed built in the middle of the desert including everything that comes with it: dust, heat and nasty smells. Very interesting but quite exhausting as a tourist was the traditional fish market. I didn’t stay long because at that time I was more or less the only visitor (it was early in the morning) so all these hundreds of traders tried to sell me nuts, figs, dates (delicious!) and dried sharks. And apparently, sleeping in public is a thing in Dubai.
Having seen the modern and not so modern bits of central Dubai, I took the chance to see more of the outskirts by going on a desert safari. This “safari” was one of the worst tourist things I’ve done so far but everyone except me seemed to enjoy it a lot. I ignored most of the things everyone was freaking out about (it’s not allowed to hold hands in public but as soon as a belly dancer appears everyone takes out their cameras) and just enjoyed being in the middle of the desert – which at the time of the sunset is an amazing thing to do.
What else? I went to a /r/dubai reddit meetup in one of the hotel bars (in general, you’re not allowed to drink in Dubai except for these few licensed places where you feel like you’re in the middle of Europe). Yes, I’ve had my good share of fun.
After these five days I don’t feel like I understand the local culture in any way. The mismatch between religiously influenced ways and actual behaviour thanks to Dubai’s openness in the Arabic world were confusing to me. Still, I’m glad I had this last stop after a year abroad. Again, I’ve met nice people, had great food, and valuable experiences I wouldn’t want to miss. With these pictures I’ve taken home, it was a nice wind up before setting foot on German ground the very next day.