July 30, 2017

Our seven deadly sins in Dubai

Larceny trumps lust n’ liquor in the Vegas of the Middle East

On our first night in Dubai I was stuffed with great food, lulled by the warm sunset framing the Palm Jumeirah skyline underlined by the aqua shoreline of the Persian Gulf, and numbed by many cocktails. In my semi-trashed cab ride back to the hotel, the Pakistani driver dispensed his quips about Dubai. One stayed with me: “nobody is ‘from’ here, even the locals. It’s a city of wealth, temptation and excess. And it’s great fun, opportunities abound.” Thus began our trip to Dubai. 
Did I have a good time? Darn right I did. It would be difficult to have a bad time in this city of dazzling buildings, fast growth, and pervasive luxury. But it didn’t take me long to agree with the driver’s view that this was the Las Vegas of the Middle East. To enjoy it, you just roll with that and forsake trying to attain deep understanding or meaning, because either the sand storms or piles of money obscure it from easy view.

But who am I to offer some curmudgeonly thoughts? We were there precisely for Dubai’s sensory pleasures. While there was no sinning, as such, looking back at our four days in this fabulous jewel of a city, it does make you think of the deadly sins, viz:

First night in town. Many restaurant choices. We ended up in The Cheescake Factory for the first time. They subsequently rolled us out of the eatery and bowled us toward our hotel. We are fans of the wide breadth of food choices we experienced in Dubai. I could not imagine that one day I would feast on a delectable Philly Cheese steak sandwich on the edge of the desert in the Persian Gulf. And Dubai boasts a Denny’s or three, which is always a plus for me thanks to my adoration of a good heart stopper breakfast.
Not surprisingly, there is a lack of overt lust here. On the outside, Dubai is tourist-oriented and multicultural, sure, but on the inside I was aware it is wise to respect local traditions, including the clothes you wear. Especially the ladies in my posse.

Gold sports cars, ultra-deluxe hotels, private offshore islands and rumors of Richard Branson sightings, skyscrapers adorned with all the world’s great brands in huge letters—it was hard to escape the pervasive commerce and smell of money floating around in the warm, humid air. Mostly I felt the impact of our wallets being effortlessly vacuumed due to the expensive prices. Dubai ain’t cheap. On the other hand, frolicking at the Wild Wadi water park was a great time, as was seeing the Atlantis Hotel on Palm Jumeirah.

World-record breaking skyscrapers, mega malls and seven-star hotels. Digging canals in the desert. Making petite island paradises with massive land reclamation projects. Dubai wants to make a statement to the world!
On day two, we descended from Burj Khalifa to the world’s largest mall, the Dubai Mall, bursting with superlatives. The view from the Burj Khalifa was terrific of course and lots of desert out there, waiting for more development. The vanguard of global capitalism was well represented in the Dubai Mall. True to form, we enjoyed the Aquarium the most.

Old Dubai, the souks where the host of cultures collide. The street touts didn’t take too kindly to my needling. Nevertheless, there was nothing--and I do mean nothing--that I wanted to buy there.

Mall of the Emirates (home to an indoor ski slope, Ski Dubai), has it all and more. We boarded a double-decker bus for a daylong tour of Dubai’s main sights, for another shot of how quickly the place has grown. First, we went out toward the traditional parts of the old city (the Souk) but it was a tourist trap. I still had fun sparring with the street touts. Very hot on the tour bus. The air conditioning was underwhelming, and it got hot; 37 degrees out there. So we plugged in the tour audio and watched the sites. Mostly amazing contemporary architecture and everything “world’s largest.” Eight-lane highways driving at a fast clip. I had an interesting conversation with a Nigerian guy working for the bus lines and he said he liked living in Dubai, but it was expensive, and time went by quickly because it was all so "sleek." (What a neat word he used to capture the city's gloss.) The tourists keep coming and coming, he said.
My only recall of this was the remnants of our untouched breakfasts. Our hotel room was a budget hotel apartment, just fine for our needs, but the continental breakfasts were left mutilated on the plates in our room every day. Waste, to me, is sloth, but...just plain inedible.

All told, we reveled in the immensity of the city and its supersized persona. It is better than Vegas for me, because what happened in Dubai did NOT stay in Dubai. It left indelible memories on the Rising Family™.

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