In September, 2014, we visited Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Although we enjoyed our time in that glittering city, we will not likely return to the UAE anytime soon. Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly about that Middle Eastern travel destination, from our point of view.
The thing about Dubai that we found most remarkable is that it grew from a small fishing village along Dubai Creek to the glimmering metropolis that houses the tallest building in the world almost overnight. Today, the old fishing village is called Old Dubai, and it is quaint and rather rustic, and quite beautiful.
For less than $1.00, visitors to the city can tour the Dubai Museum to be educated on Dubai's history, from its humble beginnings to its rise to fame.
The rest of Dubai is filled with skyscrapers, with new ones cropping up regularly. Construction sites dot the highways, telltale signs of new hotels, new office buildings, and new malls coming soon. Among these incredible architectural delights are the Etisalat Building, which looks like it has a huge golf ball sitting on top of it; Emirates Towers, which remind me of sentinels facing one another; and Burj al Arab, which is shaped like an unpretentious sailboat but stands apart from the others in a rather "snobbish yacht" kind of way. The most famous architectural wonder, however, is Burj Khalifa, and rightfully so. It is the tallest building in the world, making the Empire State Building look like a toddler, and it is a small city by itself, with offices, apartments, a hotel, a gym, several pools, and, of course, the observation deck, located on the 124th floor. On a clear day, one can see for miles. On a hazy day, it is a struggle to see the ground. Burj Khalifa is breath-taking, both from the ground looking up and from the observation deck looking down.
But high quality architecture is not the only wonderful aspect of Dubai. For one thing, the food is phenomenal. We are foodies, and Dubai offers cuisine from all over the world. We enjoyed stellar pizza, first rate Chinese, delectable desserts, and some of the best sushi we have ever put in our mouths. But it's not just the food that made our dining experiences excellent; the service in Dubai is, by and large, impeccable. "Yes, ma'am," "No, sir," "I'm sorry for the [ten second] wait, Sir," "It will be my pleasure to show you to your seat," "Yes, ma'am, you may follow me to the washrooms," "Please enjoy your appetizer." Servers and hosts take pride in their occupations, and they are professional, courteous, and eager to please.
But Dubai is not utopia. For one thing, there is almost no mail system, as there is virtually no system of addresses. Our hotel was located in al Barsha, near the Sharaf DG Metro Station. So one must hope that the cab driver is familiar with the hotel, or that, upon exiting the Sharaf DG Metro Station, one can either see the hotel or find someone who speaks English to point him in the right direction. Fortunately our driver knew the hotel, and from there we could figure out where the metro station was, since the metro stations all look like giant golden space ships.
As chaotic as driving is in Dubai (remember, no system of addresses and apparently very little road planning), the streets of Dubai are even more dangerous for pedestrians. Crosswalks mean nothing to drivers in Dubai. We quickly came to the conclusion that crosswalks are actually treated more like games of chicken, with drivers speeding up, daring pedestrians to try to make it across.
Dubai wears a captivating facade of exotic cars, endless high end shopping adventures, tall buildings, and multitudes of fantastic dining experiences. But under the surface lies a darker side. This darker side deals with migrant workers, at least some of whom live just outside the city, in rows of shanties lining the highway. We noticed that none of the men working on construction sites in 110+ degree heat were Emiratis. They were from Pakistan, or India, or Indonesia. The living conditions of these migrant workers are certainly a far cry from the luxurious structures they build.
We are not naive enough to think that these things do not happen in other places. But for us, Dubai displayed a remarkably stark contrast, with an exceedingly thin veil between affluence and poverty.
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