Thursday, November 21, 2013

[The Life of Shaun #485] Dubai

After the horrible start to 2013, I wanted to do something to end the year on a good note.  I decided to go back to India, which had been calling me back ever since enamoring me two years ago.  Again I had a superb time in Incredible India, and rather than sating my fascination with the subcontinent, this trip has only increased my desire to return and see more.  I'll break down my picture posts, for those who are keen, to avoid an inbox flood.

I ended up flying via Dubai.  Upon researching tickets, I discovered that Emirates was significantly cheaper than any other airline, and I've wanted to see Dubai - once - and go up the Burj Khalifa, so I decided to take the opportunity not to have to make a special trip and extended my layover for a day.

I have a bit of a morbid fascination with Dubai as I imagine it a sister city to Las Vegas, an improbable desert city built on hubris, hyperbole and tourist dollars.  Indeed, take away the neon and replace it with oil reserves and the comparison isn't too awry.  Some people might call it impressive, still more garish.  Very few would say it's endearing.  Layer on top of that legal homophobia, and it's certainly not a city for me.  Once was definitely enough.

Looking towards the city from anywhere, the superlative Burj Khalifa is omnipresent.  Almost every tower in Dubai is on or adjacent to Sheikh Zayed Road, creating a singularly highrise spine up the middle of the city.

Lowrise neighbourhoods with unfriendly wide roads, strip malls, apartment blocks and McMansions spread out East and West from Sheikh Zayed Road. 

Like Vegas, Dubai gets wicked hot.  Unlike Vegas, its bus stands are air-conditioned.

The Burj Al Arab, the world's only "seven star hotel" and Dubai's original icon, is still impressive and imposing.  You can't enter the grounds without a room or dinner/drinks/tea reservation, and you can't get one of those without serious damage to your bank account, so I admired it from the outside only.

The Palm Jumeirah is a luxury development on landfill in the shape of a giant palm tree.  I found it much less than chic in person; its monolithic, barren streets gave it more the feel of an Arab council estate than exclusive enclave.

The overground metro and clunky signage don't do anything to help.  

As you get closer to the Burj Khalifa, its striking design and height really become apparent.

And it puts on a good shine in the sun!

However, once you are up on the observation deck on the 124th floor (39 floors below the highest occupied floor), you see how quickly the city gives way to the shifting sands of the desert (and the economy, one could add).

Another luxury development, The World, can be seen off the coast.  The World will be a collection of private islands, reachable only by boat and helicopter.

This is what I look like after an overnight flight and 124 floors up.

I read an article while there where an expat who'd been in Dubai for four years said "I've never spoken to an Emirati.  They pretty much keep to themselves."  I don't know how genuine that is, but there certainly aren't a lot of obvious locals about town, though you do find occasional packs of them (keeping pretty much to themselves).

I preferred "old Dubai", a less refined and shiny area, with hardscrabble buildings, water taxis and souks, where many of the immigrant workers live.

A large portion of the immigrant workforce is South Asian, and like their countrymen back home, they use all available public space, giving the streets of the area a lively, colourful buzz.

Dubai has a small, two-line metro to help its cleaners, cooks, drivers and builders get to work.

Through it all, there were a few lovely sights to be seen!


Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK |
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