04 November 2015

Dubai, United Arab Emirates 2013, 2014

Approaching Dubai from the Persian Gulf; the mist often precludes a good, distant look at the skyline.
A couple of brief visits to this preeminent Arab city covered a few major attractions, but the lasting impression is of NEWness. Twenty-first century new. Like many cities in the Gulf area, Dubai sprang to life suddenly, it seems, with the advent of oil riches. Its "modern" history dates back only about sixty years.

I don't care for the skyline architecture, what I see as mainly a competition for outlandish design and dubious taste, but of course other progressive cities do the same (Shanghai comes to mind).
There's little in the way of history among the prevalent business power and super-consumerism. The town existed previously as a fishing village, gradually becoming a central trading point for the Gulf region. Dubai "heritage and diving villages" show something of its pearling history and craftsmen at work - oddly not featured on most tourism websites. Outside the city's flourishing progress and standard of life, the arid desert does not change.

The souks are not the mediaeval warrens of ages-old Middle East cities elsewhere. Here, all is fresh and sumptuous, like the gold souk.

Mind you, camels are evident in one form or another (breeding and racing are big business). Runaway camels are known to disrupt highway traffic but all I encountered were these sculptures at a roundabout. Alas, a tour of the racetrack or a farm was not on our schedule.

A visit to the beautiful Jumeirah Mosque was a tranquil moment in a busy city.

Two things stood out for me. I loved the museum, especially the life-size tableaux of Bedouin life. It sits within the city's oldest building, the (1790s) al-Fahidi fort. A small museum by any standards, it carefully showcases some archaeological finds and cultural arts.  

Where are the women, eh? ;-)

My Number Two highlight was something I felt I should do rather than something appealing or interesting. Even with a pathetic, whimpering fear of heights, I went up the tallest building in the world. Burj el-Khalifa. It's barely visible in the first skyline pictured above. It was the tallest in the world then; maybe an ambitious architect somewhere has surpassed it already. My tactic was to latch onto a friend as sturdy as a Brinks truck who wouldn't notice if I stumbled dizzily into him or who would surely break my fall should I pitch a faint.
Into the here and now:
Our guide is a communications failure. She does not have the voice projection for the job and we find ourselves in puzzled clusters after the bus unloads us. Where we are, we don't know. What we know for sure is: we have tickets for 11:30 to ride to the top of the famous building. Are we here? Or is this a temporary stop? Are we at the aquarium, is that something she mentioned? After being hustled along the sidewalk and up numerous escalators we enter a large building. Then discover that thanks to dear guide's misinformation, several people must race back to locate the bus and their backpacks because this is indeed our destination. She taps her watch pointedly; we are in danger of delaying the schedule.

It dawns on me about this time that we are in the famed Dubai Mall. The entrance to the Burj tower is here, deep within its glitzy bowels. Hello, we are passing an aquarium. A couple of gigantic viewing windows. Otherwise of course the mall is enormous with all the ridiculous high-end shops that could be Bloor Street in Toronto. The schedule allows for a bit of shopping so we dive into a souvenir shop, just the thing for gifts.

Then I spy a Tim Horton's and explain its significance to my fellow travellers, all of whom are Brit and rolling their eyes.
Our 11:30 timing comes. Just whisk us up and down and get it over with, I think. The strict procedure involves lining up for a security check, word filtering back that no lighters are allowed. Lighters like the ones several of us just purchased as souvenirs. More confusion, holding up the line. Our dithering guide collects the lighters for safekeeping, then returns them because she remembers she is going up in the elevator with us. Thank goodness a sensible person learns a bag can be stowed at the security point to pick up later. This lineup and fuss occupy almost an hour of painfully slow inching toward the security people. Like airport scans but no hint of body searches.

Once approved to enter, are the elevators just around the corner? No. The same long line is in front of us, shuffling through endless corridors. At least they show scenes and videos of how the edifice was constructed. Somewhere way ahead, the elevators are taking small groups at a time, people relieved to be finally moving. Am not letting myself get separated from Brinks truck.
Move we did. Up 189 floors! In contrast to snail's progress on the ground, we shoot to the top in sixty seconds, so the flashing digital readout tells us. Popping ears. Stepping out, clutching my companion's shirt, when I have the nerve to look up, it's not scary after all. We are on a wide enclosed platform and thankfully not a glass floor! Photo opps galore, although it seems like taking pictures from an airplane window, not quite real. Then we have to line up in a slow march again to descend. The entire process for a sixty-second ascent was almost two hours.

Oh, wait. A third thing! 
The best thing about the Dubai Mall is the outdoor dancing Fountain (yes, capital F). We have a brief taste, catching the end of the first show. Classical and world music accompanied by the incredible water performance. Very very pleasing. Even in the blistering heat. In the evening dusk with added lights and colour projectors, it would be thrilling.
The beam of light shining upward from the fountain can be seen from over 20 miles away, and will be visible from space making it the brightest spot in the Middle East, and quite possibly in the entire world. [1]

                    ~ Dubai does not do anything on a small scale ~

And this. A trash can for recycling. Because I like it.

POSTSCRIPT: I note a recent climate change report warning that this region, already in one of the planet's most extreme heat zones, could become uninhabitable for humans in less than ninety years at the rate we are going now.[2] Ironic: the air conditioning that provides relief is powered by fossil fuels, source of Gulf riches, and the burning of those (not inexhaustible) fuels contributes mightily to global carbon emissions. With all the riches and technology at its disposal, will the U.A.E. apply itself soon to that problem?

1] "The Dubai Fountain," The Dubai Mall (http://www.thedubaimall.com/en/Entertain/TheDubaiFountain.aspx).
[2] "Space + Science," CNN (http://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/27/world/persian-gulf-heat-climate-change/index.html?eref=edition).

© 2015 Brenda Dougall Merriman

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