Sunday, August 10, 2008
it's like Vegas, on crack
I left the rich, dark soil of Ethiopia and landed hours later in the steamy desert, pearl-diving village of . . . okay, scratch that and jump forward 40 years . . . I actually touched down on some of the highest priced sand on the planet.
My first time in the Middle East, if you don't count Cairo, so I slept three hours and got up in time for the once-a-day mosque tour and discussion of Islam.
It was well presented, and I learned quite a bit, and certainly feel more comfortable now vising a mosque than a did a few years ago when I went to the one in my home city.
I only have the day to see as much as I can of Dubai, so after the two hour lecture/tour, I headed straight to the museum of history. There, I noticed the similarity in jewelry design to what I've seen in Ethiopia. I also got to see the early and later wind tunnel construction, which, living where I do and not using AC in the summer, is something I'd like to try building - wondering if the chimney is wide enough for a vent into the house.
From there, I grabbed a cab to the spice and gold souks, where I felt like I was back in Delhi, treated like a tourist. Top favorite phrase is "where are you from" followed closely by, in second place, "excuse me ma'am, purses-handbags-Gucci-Prada?". I did barter for a piece of cobalt (fabric dye), henna in powdered form so Sarah and I can try doing designs, some saffron (for rice), some sulpher (for skin allergies)and a crystal deoderant thing.
I also walked around where the normal people (mostly expat Indians, Pakistanis and a mix of Asians) live and shop. I took a water taxi with some of them. Picturesque old boats and hand carts are used here to move goods around the city. The local currency is pegged to the dollar, so everyone had a complaint about the rising cost of living. Especially maddening to the cab drivers was the price of fuel - now over ONE dollar per gallon!
I felt I should go see something insane, so I took a cab to the Emirites Mall to witness the indoor ski slope. In case you have trouble believing such a thing exists in the 112 degree, ultra-flat desert, this is their web site. Here, one can sip coffee in the lodge while watching the flat screen fires in big stone fireplaces, then go shop for some new mittens at the ski pro shop before snowboarding down one of the four slopes.
After the mall adventure, I went to the area of town where the Burj Al Arab, an exquisite building that resembles a ship's sail, looks out to sea. I wanted to take a photo of what many say is the world's best - seven star - hotel. It stands on it's own island, built just for the hotel, but you can reach it by car or by the helicopter pad at the top if you prefer a more discreet entrance. Here is a link for more info. You can also send postcards to your friends from their website. I took a cab that direction and ended up in a hotel next to it, where I got some nice shots, and then I decided to go to the beach, but got stopped by security because it was a private beach, and he said there is a public access after the hotel, you can walk there.
Well, he must have meant, after EVERY SINGLE HOTEL on the beach, because now I feel very sorry for whomever has to sit next to me on tonight's flight because I sweated through everything I own walking to it. It was worth the walk, though, to put my feet in the Persian Gulf surf and take pictures of people swimming and playing soccer and women wearing head to toe black playing with adorable kids, and shoot the big hotel and find a cowrie shell.
It seems like most of Dubai is under construction. I believe the idea is to make it a tourist destination so when oil money evaporates, there will still be ways to live well. The newest version of the world's tallest building is going up behind the new metro system (see photo to left).
I had some good talks with taxi drivers about the city and also what it is like to live far away from family in order to make good money. Most of the drivers work six months here, then go home for one. One cab driver from way "out" in Pakistan told me about how he had to fly home recently for a week because the Taliban came into his village and demanded that all the girls quit school and everyone smash their tvs, radios and cell phones. The village elders met up and asked the army if there would be reprocussions if they just killed the Taliban if they got aggressive with their demands and the army said, "no, go for it." No way were these guys giving up their cell phones, tv's and radios!
My final stop was to visit a grocery store, a family tradition when we visit a new country. A bag of dates for the trip and I was off to home.
First class, of course, how else can you leave Dubai??