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And there were limbs…

My friends and I were wandering the alleys of Bastakia Quarter in the dark, peeking in at every opportunity when there were open doors, curious of what we may find. It was a breezy evening and the salty air of Dubai Creek was never far, making it pleasant for aimless stroll after a substantial dinner.

We turned a corner and spotted another door. We stood outside for a minute or two. The face of a screaming woman adorned the low settee for one, and on the wall, a turban-wearing man with haunting eyes and disfigured face stared at us intently. As we stepped across the threshold, above our head, something didn’t quite fit in…

Happy Halloween everyone!

Dubai: not miniatures

I visited Eve and Pras today, and my do they have apartments with views! One on side, there’s the skyline of downtown Dubai and a slight shift to the right, Burj Al Arab stands proud of its own and a little further afield, Atlantis at The Palm. On the other side, the view of Bur Dubai and beyond, and another slight shift later, the floating hotel aboard QE2, now permanently docked, yet another luxury sleep in The City of Gold.

However, with the changing season comes an unavoidable feature – fog. It makes it just that bit harder to photograph the city. The position of the sun at that time also meant it was hard to see Burj Al Arab (gotta squint a little) and Atlantis was hidden from sight, so photographic attempts for these buildings failed rather miserably.

So far, I have only explored a small part of Dubai given limited time and opportunity (Eve and Pras did take me out on a city-wide introductory car tour one night), but there’s always something to be discovered. I’ve been to and visited some of the landmarks including Dubai Mall (next to Burj Khalifa), Atlantis and The Palm, Madinat Jumeirah (to peek at Burj Al Arab), Dubai Creek, Dubai Museums and Bastakia Quarter.

However, there are more things that I’d like to do, such as a visit to the Jumeirah Mosque, the various souqs (I’ve only been to one), have a traditional Emirati meal at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding… but so often, they’re time restricted. E.g. a tour of the mosque begins at 10am, but to try to travel from Sharjah to Dubai in the morning is just asking for sitting in the traffic for 2-3 hours. Not ideal.

I could try to stay over in Dubai one night with Eve, but magic time scheduling will be required, since we have wildly different kind of timetable to observe. I was lucky to have nabbed both of them on the same day to hang out a bit today! In any case, the next day we are all free, we reckon we should go to Oman together. Road trip!

The question is, will that happen before I fly back to Europe?

Don’t you mind the taxi driver…

To get from one place to another in the UAE, unless you drive (or have a host/ friend driving you), you’ll most likely be travelling by taxi. Public transport like buses can be infrequent and irregular, and the last thing you want is to wait out under the hot sun without knowing for certain when the next bus will come along. I have been using taxis to travel within Sharjah and Dubai, and between Sharjah and Dubai.

I am quite a chatty person and I’d quite happily talk to anyone, even random strangers. Taxi drivers? Sure. There’s nothing wrong with making some small talks and discuss the weather. Normally, that’s not a problem, but in the UAE, it can be. It can be misconstrued for something else altogether, e.g. you’re interested in him.

My first couple of taxi rides, the drivers tried to engage me in conversation and I obliged, being friendly like I normally would back in Europe. As a result, I have taxi drivers who were very interested in knowing when I would be free and if I would like to (a) go shopping with him – he promised to buy me a present(!), (b) see him when he’s off work, and (c) tour and sight-see the city with him.

Of them all, the last is quite possibly a genuine and innocent proposal – as I was obviously a visitor, naturally this would be an opportunity for the driver to make a bit more money by offering taxi tour. Fair enough. But the other suggestions, downright dodgy.

I learned quickly that I should be courteous but never friendly with taxi drivers. In a firm and no-nonsense voice, I conveyed my destination and checked that the driver knew where he was going (you’ll be surprised at how some of them can be quite clueless – by chance or by design, I have no idea). Then, it was staring out the window and not engaging in conversations at all. On arrival, I paid, said my thank you and got off. Khalas. No funny propositions, no ambiguity of intention. And also, I was cautioned by a friend to never ride at the front of the taxi when I was on my own.

There is also something called Ladies’ Taxis available in Dubai (I’m not aware of it in Sharjah). The fleet is pink in colour, of course, and should be booked ahead as they don’t normally drive around looking for fares. However, they are present at the airport and some malls where females frequently visit. They do cost a bit more though but if that’s what you’re more comfortable with, go for it.

First impression: Dubai

Just because I say “I am flying out to Dubai on [insert day/date]” it doesn’t mean I am actually going to be in Dubai. In fact, in my recent trips to the UAE, the only time you’ll find me there would be (a) to meet up with a good friend of mine who does live in Dubai, (b) to shop, usually at Dubai Mall and you’re most likely to find me in a corner somewhere inside Kinokuniya, and (c) to eat – I was invited to a couple of high-end dinners and the food was amazing.

Dubai feels almost like Las Vegas in parts. Both cities flourishing in the middle of arid desserts, stretches over miles of land with gigantic buildings, wide avenues to accommodate multiple car lanes, opulent (if not clichéd) display of wealth, and in cities where imagination is the limit, spectacular feats have been achieved.

However, in Dubai, big casinos with neon signs are not lining the avenues. You don’t get married here by Elvis impersonators. Alcohol consumption is uncommon whereas hubbly bubbly won’t be missing from the table side. The main driving force of the labour market is an enviable troop of expats from India, Pakistan and Arabian Peninsula, so numerous are they that less than 20% of the population are Emiratis. Not only that, men also outnumber women at a ratio of about 3:1.

Identifying the locals is not difficult as they normally adhere to conservative dress code. The men wear kandura (white ankle-length shirt) and ghutrah (headdress, also in white) which is held in place using agal (accessory of black cord). Some also wear ghafiyah (prayer hat) underneath the ghutrah.

The women typically wear abbaya (black over-garment robe) and hijab (headdress) – mostly shayla rather than niqab or burqa (which I admit to not have seen here so far). If you think the ladies’ garments are boring, think again. Often, the abbaya have beautifully embroidered sleeves, collar and hem, and even styling the shayla is an art of its own – check out this article on the latest hijab fashion! In addition, underneath the abbaya, they’re likely to be wearing chic designer offerings or top and jeans combo that you and I are accustomed to.

I believe the skyline of modern Dubai can give Manhattan a run of its money (I’ll let you know for sure what my view is when I get to see it for myself). Burj Khalifa towers over all structures and can be seen miles away when travelling towards Dubai. At 828m in height, it is no wonder the other buildings seems dwarved in comparison, even when over 50 of these are each taller than 200m – that’s at least 126 of me stacked one atop another. As I’ve said right from the start, this city is built based on a very large scale!

Don’t count on admiring the famous sail-shaped Burj Al-Arab from most part of Dubai city. It is located off the coast of Jumeirah, to the west of Dubai. Unless, of course, you’re driving out to The Palm Jumeirah and wanting a peek at The Atlantis Dubai, or taking a tour on the hop-on, hop-off buses (blue route, folks). Then, you simply can’t miss it, to your right when travelling towards Jumeirah from downtown Dubai.

Personally, I have not yet been on the hop-on, hop-off buses so I can’t tell you if it’s worth taking. It doesn’t come cheap, at USD60 (~AED210) for 24 hours, adult ticket. However, do consider that this is a city that’s hard to get from one place to another without a car if and taxi fares are not going to be cheap either if you’re darting all over the greater Dubai area.

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