We flew from Lhasa, Tibet, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in one day, so the least we could expect was a dose of culture shock. We went from one of the least commercialised and underdeveloped countries in the world to one where retail malls are touted as major tourist attractions and development includes building fake islands.in the shape of a palm. We left Tibet not being able to breathe due to the high attitude and became breathless in Dubai due to the vile heat which a 44 degree temperature produces.
We were excited to arrive in the Middle East and initially were drawn to the one of the older areas of Dubai, the Creek which has served as a minor port for vessels trading from India and East Africa.
We resisted the call of the malls as we are not shoppers but somehow we succumbed to the tantalising air-conditioning in Dubai Mall (the world’s largest shopping mall based on total area) and as we sank gratefully into the plush cushions of the Times of Arabia restaurant in the Souk area of the mall, we embraced Dubai.
This is a city with a population of 2 million but only 10-15% are local Emiratis. The rest of the population are expatriates, chiefly Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshis, Filipinos and Somalis. About 6 million international visitors arrive each year. I get a sense that Dubai expects all expatriates and visitors to spend significant time shopping and staying in ultra-expensive hotels.
Development is around every corner and huge air-conditioned undercover areas where you can shop, snow ski, ice skate, stand in front of a huge aquarium, watch a waterfall and admire the skeleton of a dinosaur all makes perfect sense.
We did two tours on the Big Bus, a hop-on, hop-off bus. First a night tour where we were introduced to the “est” culture of Dubai. Everything here is the biggest, tallest, deepest and widest. On the day tour we stayed secluded in the air conditioning on the bus, admiring the view around us, except of course when we alighted into a mall. We dined with friends, Lyn and Tony, who are living the expatriate lifestyle, were driven by Indian and Bangladeshis taxi drives, served by Filipino waitresses, I lusted over the Emirati men dressed in their immaculate white dishdash and we gorged ourselves on Fattoush, Fattah with Yoghurt and Sujourk.
Dubai makes me think of the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, part of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe series by Douglas Adams….. I loved those books.
There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.