One of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai has seen its fortunes swing in recent times, down during the Great Recession, to its current glory as an ultra-modern cityscape of what some might call ludicrous proportions. With a massive community of expats among its population – there are more Indians in Dubai (at about 45%) than Arabs (30%), for instance – most of the people you’ll meet speak English, if not as a first tongue as a near-fluent second.
A couple of obscure facts.
The climate – a dry heat – is best enjoyed during the winter. At Abu Dhabi, over 100 km from Dubai, it was chilly enough, one morning out of an entire week in the region, to constitute weather similar to Ireland. But otherwise the heat was noticeable and constant. However, some claim that they don’t tan as well under the UAE sun regardless of the time of year. Perhaps the lack of tanning power is a result of the sand in the atmosphere, or some other phenomenon, but people note that their skin colour takes longer to change.
Many of the dairy products in Dubai might not be as big a problem for those who don’t enjoy milk. Given its lack of arable land, anecdotally, people speculate that grain-fed cows often produce the milk, rather than grass-fed. A campaign promoting the grass-fed cows of one dairy producer proved the point to our lactose-intolerant friends. (They didn’t like it.)
You won’t know you’re in the desert if you’re in the city. With well-maintained greenery throughout, it’s only at building sites or at roadworks where you’ll notice the natural sands beneath the concrete or asphalt surfaces.
An old part of the city can be accessed across water. The boat journey comes at a cost of one dhiram (about 30 cents). Given that access to the top of one of the world’s tallest skyscraper comes at thirty or forty times the price (and that’s if you’re frugal and have the time to take advantage of deals or coupons), the saltwater creek journeys (on flat-decked boats called abras) are an awesomely cheap and enjoyable public transport service.
Once you reach this old quarter, a museum there provides details of the history of the region. Fishing, smithing, jewellery-making and pearl collecting have an ancient provenance in the area. Pearl collectors required big lungs, staying beneath their boats for minutes at a time to gather their oysters or gems, and (as with many industries) were paid a fraction of the pearl’s ultimate market or retail value – even a fraction of what the boat owner usually earned. Evidence of blacksmiths and pottery dates back to pre-Muslim and Christian times.
Although sporadic, with the port itself no more than a few centuries old, there has been a human presence around Dubai for millennia. Given its location on the gulf, traders have been selling jewellery, spices, and fish in the area for a long time. There is a pseud0-traditional market (or souk) in the old quarter, and numerous authentic restaurants that are worth checking out. With the exception of this old quarter of the city, which has fewer skyscrapers, there are high rises throughout Dubai.
The Burj Khalifa, among the world’s tallest buildings, was given a bailout during the time of its construction by fellow Emirate and neighbour Abu Dhabi. The building was renamed Khalifa in honour of the then president of the UAE and Abu Dhabi’s ruler. The views from the top floors of this building, which employs high-speed and ear-popping elevators, are astounding
At nightfall (about eight pm local time, running every half hour or so) the water on one side of the structure provides the platform for a music and light show, which – although something of a gimmick, is also very impressive and a wonderful way to spend an evening.