in Gold and Bored to Tears
May 18, 2003 12:22
Pros: friendly people, nice experience
Its hot. Its sandy. Its expensive. Its so endlessly and effortlessly
flat that you get altitude sickness on the airport flyover. Its
full of men in white sheets who may, or may not, be rich. Its a
playboys playground complete with requisite toys - yachts, helicopters
and bikini-clad blondes. Plonked in the desert, next to the sea.
Plenty of long straight roads but all clogged by oversized landcruisers
and egos. But maybe I'm just being picky cos its not really my cup
Dubai is nothing if not designer mecca. Designered to the max. Exclusive
shopping malls within exclusive shopping malls. Although I did bizarrely
spot Bhs and Adams rubbing shoulders with the designer names..maybe
they know something we don't?
All the skyscrapers here look like they've been dipped in molten
gold and liberally dusted all over with mirrors and smoked glass.
Glitzy Kitsch or Flamboyant Glamour? Its a VERY fine line. But the
fiery pinks and oranges of a hot desert sunset do look pretty spectacular
reflected in the millions of windows. I normally like my cities
with beauty and history on top and a good dose of sleaze underneath.
Adds character. Scratch the surface of Dubai and you get sand. And
air stewardesses. But that could just be a vicious rumour and far
be it from me to spread gossip.....! I AM taken with the fact that
the over-designed buildings make even MacDonalds from the outside
suggest a gourmet dining experience on the inside. Credit where
If anyones thinking of coming out here, I have to forewarn you that
they forgot to include a city centre in their Big Plan. A tad disorientating
for the virgin visitor. Instead they gave us 7 or 8 areas with similar
sounding names. SO the taxi drivers can now legitimately drive you
to your desired destination by the most circuitous - and expensive
- route and blame it on our poor pronunciation. For me, they did
it twice. From simple design omission to masterful economic planning
in one linguistic leap. Brilliant!
I've actually met more Pakistanis and indians here than Arabs so
far. Although my contact has been limited somewhat to shop assistants
and taxi drivers so probably not a statistically valid sample of
the population at large. They do however all share an overwhelming
obsession with camels. And the racing thereof.
Today I watched a few hundered camels running - in the loosest sense
of the word - around a sandy track in the middle of nowhere ie.
the desert, jockeyed by children barely out of nappies. Thrilling.
I awoke momentarily from my stupor to watch the fastest runner out
there leg it in a death defying gallop (= slow lope) across the
highway. Riderless, making a run for home and out of the 40 degree
blazing sun. And I thought they were all stupid, smelly, spitting
beasts? A trackside camel afficienado, complete with tea towel headgear,
shades and binoculars (I kid you not) informed me that there was
millions of dollars worth of pedigree racing camel flesh out there.
I failed dismally to appreciate this and left.
My Arabic's coming on a treat. Came with no words and will leave
with no words. Its not a language for the faint hearted. TV soaps
are like 1980s Falcon Crest but with more pleghm and black kohl
eye pencil. You also get treated to an Islamic travel prayer chanted
over the intercom when you get on the plane. It includes the brilliant
sentiment "protection from an unpleasant view", which
possibly lost something in the translation?
Dubai is a way of life rather than just a place. Expat heaven with
all the trimmings. The executive housing developments are so expansive
they'd give Basingstoke a run for its money. Ostentatious but I
quite like the fact that all homes come with maids quarters "as
standard". One of the few benefits of being a woman out here.
Dubai would upset the sensibilities of even the mildest armchair
The men are outwardly friendly, although whether to your face or
breasts is debatable. They are keen to give advice. But that usually
deteriorates into a loud free-for-all that any man can get involved
in. You get given directions easily but accuracy is optional. More
of the "send you where I think you should go" variety
than where I may foolishly have asked to be sent. Bitter experience
has shown me that the camera I want to buy will ALWAYS be twice
the price as the man buying the same model next to me. And to buy
a mobile phone I need a letter of authorisation from my husband.
Consequently my random daytime wandering sans husband got more stares
than my stunning Caucasian looks really warranted!
A couple of quick airport stories for you. As I was single handedly
trying to teach the hoardes of men proper queuing etiquette last
night, I spotted a man coming through with a full load of luggage
AND a kitchen sink. Chrome. Very nice. I almost wet myself laughing
(it had been a long day) until I noticed the very large security
guard with a very large gun and no visible sense of humour. Apparently
Hilarity at Baggage X-Ray is a heinous crime, second only to Drug
Trafficking, which the In-Flight magazine happily informs us on
Page 1 "Welcome to Brunei" is "punishable by DEATH".
Quote unquote. Including capitals!
I then had a problem getting checked in on my one way ticket. Even
though I've explained my bus/boat/walk route a dozen times, the
concept of overlanding is lost to them. An elaborate fabrication
maybe so I can stay in the no-alcohol, no-fun, extortionately priced
and strict-Islamic kingdom of Brunei perchance....? I ask you! After
15 minutes of them conferring in Arabic with every official at the
airport, I used my usual defence - indignation, then pleading and
then tears. Sometimes being a woman helps even in this neck of the
And so onwards (3 hours late). From the budget-slaying monster that
is Dubai to the cheap and cheerful mountains, waters and jungles
of Malaysian Borneo. Bring it on!