SYNOPSIS:  Nisreen took me on a driving tour through Dubai.  I visited two of the most famous hotels, rode the metro, and visited Emirate Mall.


Dubai is like Versailles.  Louis the XIV was the greatest ruler of his time.  He knew it and he knew how to show it.  An unusable swamp outside of Paris was drained at the cost of thousands of workers working and hundreds of workers dying of malaria, to create suitable grounds for Versailles.  A small hunting lodge of a couple of dozens of rooms was turned into a palace city of thousands of rooms housing thousands of nobles attended to by thousands of servants, cooks, gardeners, guards, soldiers.  After draining the ground, Louis wanted fountains and a grand canal in order to embellish the gardens, so water was pumped back into the palace – the most expensive day to day operating cost of the whole palace!   The emperor wants it, the emperor gets it!

France’s climate could not support citrus fruits, so green houses were built and orange trees planted in wooden boxes which could be lugged in and out as needed by hundreds of gardeners.  Shrubs and trees that were allowed to grow naturally anywhere else in the world were willed and forced into shape by “Edward Scissor-Hand” trained gardeners, hence the term “French Garden”.  Nothing was built or grown according to natural laws; all was but forced into shape by the will of the king.  And it all came about in record speed and it stunned the world.   If the emperor wanted it, he got it!

Dubai is like Versailles.   I don’t know whose vision it was, but the last Sheikh of Dubai is credited and loved for it.  Dubai seems to roll into one all the skyscrapers of New York and Chicago.  Instead of building them over a 150 year period, they were built over a 15 year span.  Everything here is new.  The roads are spotless, the buildings are shiny and clean; the cleanliness is haunting.  There isn’t a cigarette butt on the street, not a streak of dirtiness, not a shred of paper, not a speck of graffiti, no nothing.  How is that possible?!

The city seems unreal.  Not only for its cleanliness and newness, but also for its emptiness.  There are cars running on the wide 6 lane avenues, but hardly any parked cars.  A few beach promenades, and a few residential areas have parked cars.  But each high rise has at least 5-10 floors of parking built in, so nearly all the cars are absorbed off the streets when not in use.

Where are the people?  In the hotels, the malls and at the beaches.  Three places, I hate with a passion.  There are some beach promenades where people hang out, sip coffee, and go shopping at boutiques.  The malls are full.   But there is no ordinary street life that I could see.  Mind you, I only had ½ a day to observe all of this and I may not have seen it all.  The beaches are full of foreigners getting a tan – this is winter here, so the temperatures are good:  25-30 degrees Celsius versus the 45-55 degrees in the summer.  If there are no people out and about now, I cannot imagine that they would be coming out of the woodwork during summer times.

The air conditioned, marble, brass and glass malls are full of people.  There seems to be a mall in every part of the city.  Forget the Mall of America!  Malls here are everything from cinemas to indoor skating rings, to shops, shops, shops, cafés, and restaurants.  Sounds similar enough to the American concept and I am sure it’s based on it.  But here everything is four times as large and each mall seems to prove at least one impossible point:  The Emirate Mall I visited had an indoor downhill ski slope!  No kidding.  I only pressed my nose against the glass and did not go in.  I watched kids sledding, throwing snow balls, ski lifts going up, and people skiing down.  There was frosty, the snow man and of course, it was snowing.  You rent a snow suit and off you go.  3 degrees Celsius below zero.  This is insane!  But it surely makes Louis XIV’s point.  If the emperor wants it, he gets it!

I asked Nisreen to ride the metro with me.  This is for you, Christoph – just to report a bit on public transportation and trains.  I commented on how expensive the short ride was which we took – Nisreen replied – I got us the gold car so we don’t have to sit with the Indians…  Gulp!  I am swallowing any comment.  This hurt.  But there we were – in the gold car.  It allowed me to look out the back.  Comfortable first class seats and only a few people in it despite the rush hour.    The Metro system is not finished yet, but it is a step in the wrong direction.  If it would extend beyond Dubai it may be able to relieve some of the traffic jams.  If you know the Detroit monorail, it is very similar.  Automated cars.  No drivers.  One comes by every ten minutes.  In Detroit it goes in a circle.  Here, it connects one end of Dubai with the other.  I had some great views into high rises and residential, low-rise neighborhoods.

We visited two of the most notorious hotels.  The Burj-Al Arab –  the sail ship-shaped hotel, built on an artificial island; and the Atlantis Hotel.  The minimum pay per night is around $1500.  They cherish their privacy, that’s why a visit by nosy people like me – who come with a car which needs to be parked – is charged a $50 parking fee.  You can apply that towards your $200 lunch if you want to go to the roof top restaurant.  No thank you!  I got very lucky with Nisreen, who had an expired VIP parking sticker from her work on her car and charmed her way into the premises despite the expiration date.  Most other visitors get there through tours organized by local hotels.  The famous water/fire fountain was not showing off its magic while I was there.  🙁    The Atlantis hotel is slightly less famous, but nonetheless pricy.  Nisreen drove her car around while I was inside to avoid parking fees.  Most notably alongside all the glitter was a Chihuly glass sculpture in the center of the lobby.

I was impressed.  But I was not moved.  This just isn’t my cup of tea.  I am not sure if I had the money to spend on a place like this, I would.  But perhaps, outlook on life changes when you actually do have so much that you don’t know what to do with it any more.  Among the designer-styled women in the lobby of these places Nisreen in her stunning local clothes with pearl earrings, a glitzy watch, and gold embroidery all over her dress, fit right in.  I looked more like a displaced Cinderella in my “Iranian outfit” – baggy, gray, and shapeless – and with my 25 year old trusty backpack which has been with me half across the world.  I was trying to picture what I would do all day if I would have a week of vacation here.  The point is that there is nothing in the world that you could not buy in Dubai and there is nothing in the world that you could not do:   going to the water park, zipping down the ski slope, diving with the whales, tanning at the beach, skating on the ice, swimming in the pools, shopping at the malls, drinking at the bars, visiting the circus, hanging out at the amusement parks and more…

Get me out of here!

Good night.