Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Second Dubai Report

Well it’s about time. I’d thought I would return to Dubai a lot earlier. It has been over a year since my last visit, which was pretty much a stopover. But in November 2012, another chance to visit Dubai surfaced because the Arabs want another demo, but this time I will conduct more fact finding and requirement gathering. Euphoria aside, just as the deal was nearly clinched middle of January, HQ pulled the plug on my poor some-saw-it-coming project. Had I known of this gloomy outcome, I’d be a little less excited.

So this marked the second and possibly last trip I would make to Dubai. This time I had 3 things to look forward to. One, I was travelling alone, which also meant performing the demo alone, a big step I might say. Two, my trip would be for five days, four nights, so it’s unlike the short layover like last time. And three, A380 baby! I skillfully scheduled myself aboard the A380 from KL to Dubai.

You can’t go wrong with Emirates. But apparently economy class is all the same, A380 or not. I thought there would be lounges, bunk beds, and bars but apparently they were reserved only for business and first class passengers. Passengers travelling coach get the usual cattle herd treatment. To be fair A380 economy class seats are probably an inch wider. And the aisles a couple inches wider or something. Hooray for economy.

Dubai in autumn is a much better place. The air is a lot drier, and temperatures lower than the summer. This time I got to see more of coastal Dubai, the thin strip of land fronting the sea and the manmade ginormous palm island which also cradles the development boom that Dubai is so well known for. From far in the desert inland, the coast is marked by a jagged wall of gleaming pinnacles all arranged along the coastal Sheikh Zayed Road.

I didn’t get much time in the day to visit Dubai’s tourist spots, I was either in the company’s Dubai office or the location is the desert where the client was. My excursions were mostly limited to the night. My hotel was located in Dubai Media City, one of the many ‘city’ developments that are actually industry specific free zones intended to suck in foreign investments like a straw.

There is one observation, or rather fact I’d like to point out. Dubai is not friendly to the budget traveler. Every tourism project is catered to the extremely wealthy. Every taxi I saw was a Toyota Camry. 7 star beach resort hotels mushroom out of every corner. The only place that could be considered cheap is downtown where Dubai’s older character can be uncovered. Old Dubai is kind of like Kuala Lumpur’s Chow Kit with the occasional museum here and there.

In Dubai’s old town, there are Arabian bazaars called souks bearing informal names like Textile souk, Old souk, Gold souk and Spice souk. With the exception of the gold souk which is basically a road full of jewelry shops, the other souks carries that griminess and character that we associate with third world market places. The souks are a great place to visit at night especially in summer when temperatures are intolerable.

Other attractions accessible at night are of course the malls. I visited Dubai mall before (at the base of Burj Khalifah) and I did it again but this time round I managed to visit the aquarium within. Another mall I visited was the Mall of the Emirates, which is the one with the artificial ski slope, SkiDubai.

Also not-to-be-missed is the tacky Ibn Battuta mall which has themed districts like Sunway Pyramid. The mall designers got their inspiration from the travels of Ibn Battuta, a Muslim Moroccan explorer in the fourteenth century. So they distinctly separated the mall into Andalusia (Muslim Spain), Tunisia, Egypt, Persia, India and China zones. What’s impressive is that they have a whole Chinese junk in the Ming dynasty courtyard.

None of these places, I could visit conveniently without the Dubai metro, which is a God send considering the vast expanse of Dubai and that the major thoroughfares although very wide are chock-a-block with traffic at peak hours. As of 2012 there are only two lines, the red line (52km) which follows the coast and connects the airport and the green line (22km) that horseshoes around the airport and Old Dubai. The architecture of the stations is impressive to say the least. Its futuristic curved golden shell like roof wraps the station in air conditioned comfort against the harsh Dubai heat and occasional sandstorm.

If I had time during the day, I would love to have visited Atlantis on Palm Jumeirah, possibly a waterpark, the Dubai creek, maybe take an abra or boat across the creek and definitely museums. But I made good on the time I had. Dubai is definitely a manufactured tourist attraction, but the catch is that it is specifically targeted at high net worth individuals and not the average salaried tourists. Places such as Burj al-Arab are exclusive to guests and are strictly off limits.

Our office in Dubai got downsized from the last time I was there. There are only 5 people supporting an office in charge of the whole Middle East region and bearing in mind the nature of our business, it does not suffice. Anyway I made friends with whoever was there. Altogether three Arabs and two Indians but none of the Arabs were local Emirati, but all three spoke French. It’s always interesting the things that a resident can share with you.

For example, there are many churches in Dubai but only one Hindu temple although there are 1.7 million Indians in Dubai, 85% of the expatriate population are of Indian descent. There are zero Buddhist temples. The churches probably cater to European and Filipino residents. If we compare to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where Islam is also the predominant religion, we would see a startling difference. The ratio of Hindu temples to the Hindu population is highest among the minority religions. New churches in Peninsular Malaysia on the other hand find it hard to get official approval and have to resort to setting up at shoplots or industrial plots. So there exist divergences of thinking in the Malays, who are more afraid of Christianity, in comparison to the Arabs who find Hinduism too pagan to allow for Indian migrants to practice their religion freely. Generally Arab Muslims regard Christians and Jews as “People of the Book” who basically believe in their same monotheistic God. Food for thought indeed!


Dubai is quite Americanized. Little known American fast food franchises, GM pickup trucks, right down to pavement design all contribute to the American inclination. However one aspect is absent, the rigid grid like road layout is sorely missing in Dubai. Despite my Dubai colleagues being longtime residents of Dubai city, I proved my geographical skills once again when I helped them navigate the maze of roads while using GPS. They were of course lost while I’m just a tourist. Score!

And so concludes my second and possibly final report on Dubai. Dubai is an incredible place. Construction is at full swing again, the 2008 financial meltdown was merely a speed bump in Dubai’s race for world domination. A country whose local inhabitants are outnumbered 4 to 1. A country where business is good, tax does not exist and life’s a beach. A monarchial country which, compared to its immediate neighbours, is open and tolerant. Dubai I wish you the best in your future projects and whatever form you may take.



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