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Last updated : Nov 2009
Dripping in Gold and Bored to Tears
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
May 18, 2003 12:22

Pros: friendly people, nice experience
Cons: none

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 of tea!?

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 credit's due!

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 feminist.

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 woods!

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!