DOWN AND OUT IN DUBAI-revisiting article in 2016!

I've just returned from my second trip to Dubai (April 2016)-The first being 3 years ago now. I haven't yet written about this last trip but I have a sneaking suspicion I will be including a description in my next book! In the meantime I'm just republishing this piece for those who never read it first time around first published on here in 2014. Actually It's interesting for me to revisit my feelings of my first experience of Dubai
  A brief reflection on my 10 days in Dubai...

  It’s not every day that I get the opportunity to take a trip for free, particularly a trip of such magnitude; In one way we could call it the trip of a lifetime. I call it such for a number of reasons and not just the fact that everything was free, or the opportunity to stay in a billionaire’s property on the infamous ‘Palm’ or the fact we were given a glimpse into a world far removed from our own. Actually, it is all of those and many more.

In all honesty, it would never have been on my list of choices as a trip of a lifetime. In fact, if there is a God, he or she has a somewhat random and ironic sense of humour; Dubai probably represents everything I abhor: Ostentation and decadence to

the extreme just to name a few. Particularly leaving behind a country that can only be described as being on the brink of economic disaster (actually no it already IS an economic disaster) where just about everything is failing and an entire generation may never work again, well I kind of felt like Cinderella climbing out her pumpkin (My old Fiat Punto) and into my carriage (Emirates airlines!) and jetting off into a fantasy world. (This is the point where I should point out that primarily the reason for our trip was to visit my sister who has been living and working in the region for over a year now and through her friendship with said very wealthy person the trip materialised: Free air miles and free accommodation and so forth. It was also a bit of a mission with regards to potential work for me.) And so the journey begins…let’s just say the flight in itself was an adventure. Outstanding customer service from the crew at Emirates (no they didn’t pay me to say that!) attention to detail was amazing, almost too much attention: Air hostess one; “I love your curly hair I wish I had hair like that” Air hostess two; “Wow! Great tan-You don’t need to go on holiday.” Hmm, either I’m having a particularly good hair and tan day, or this is customer service like I’ve never experienced it before. Whilst my parents and I, technophobes that we are, grappled with the in- flight entertainment system, my ten year old daughter irritably showed us the ropes. With great food, fab films and excellent choice of music, the dreaded 7 hours flew by (excuse the pun) Upon our arrival I suffered from a mild form of culture shock: I was unprepared for the glitzy ultra -modern airport, the heat, the blokes in ‘Kandura’ or also known locally as ‘Dishdasha’ (dresses to you and me!) the women in ‘Abaya’ and just about everything quite honestly-I’m aware I’m sounding dangerously like a country bumpkin on a first visit to the big city but yes it was an assault on the senses. East meets west with one almighty bang. I became a Japanese tourist in disguise, unashamedly snapping away at everything that fascinated me. And that was pretty much everything. Dubai seems to have the biggest or tallest or the one and only of everything…so if you like them big, tall and unique, Dubai is the place for you. As we sped through the city, sorry let me rephrase that, crawled (it was the ONLY time we crawled due to an incredibly thick fog that cloaked the city making the journey somewhat frightening to say the least-every other journey was more like the Grand Prix.) My sister attempted to point out some of the sights whilst dodging some of the insane taxi drivers and Ferrari drivers, of which there are MANY, who evidently had NO FEAR! Despite the fog I was able to make out some of the incredible skyscrapers so brightly lit we could have been in Las Vegas. Kitsch but impressive was my initial observation. The Palm Jumeirah, where we were fortunate enough to be staying, is for those of you who don’t know; an artificial island (Palm shaped obviously) apparently four times the size of Hyde park, once termed ‘The eighth wonder of the world’, that adds another 40 miles to Dubai’s coastline, is filled with luxury villas and hotels and has many famous residents. It also has the famous hotel resort ‘The Atlantis’ another impressive structure (just for a change!) which seems to have everything including a famous aquarium and its own famous international music festival on one of its private beaches-Interesting stuff. The villas are located on “fronds” in other words, the branches of the palm. It was attractive, tasteful and I was more than happy to spend 10 days there. So, what is all the fuss about I hear you asking? Well for the observer like myself, who does not just look but SEES, it is quite something to see; the Dubai skyline with the tallest building in the world, The ‘Burj Khalifa’ towering above the city at 829.84 meters, the biggest shopping mall in the world, The only 7 star hotel in the world ‘The Burj al Arab’. It is a shopaholic’s paradise. It is the business and shopping centre of the Middle East. And then there are the Kandura clad Arabs racing around the city in countless luxury vehicles, indeed never in my life have I seen so many Ferraris, Maserati and oh yeah, a Bugatti, Aston Martin etc etc. ( We come from Surrey darling, we are used to seeing a few top notch vehicles don’t you know) To the extent that you’d be better off trying to count the amount of ‘normal’ (that word appears a lot here as you’ll see) vehicles being as they were in the minority. I had the feeling I was time travelling. I tried to imagine myself back in the former Dubai, Dubai the desert, with its nomadic Bedouin tribes, The Oasis and Okay so I digress but maybe you catch my drift-what I’m trying to say is; it was all totally SURREAL to me.-this Disneyland in the desert. I’m aware it was my first time in this part of the world and after a time it may well begin to appear MORE normal but in any case, I’m pretty sure Dubai is not an accurate representation of the Middle East; it is pretty much unique. As I attempted to sit back, observe, enjoy, absorb and just be, there was still a slight nagging feeling that there must be something more, something more normal ( that damned word again) going on here beyond the obvious opulence, glitz that I was unable to capture in a mere 10 days as a tourist. The haunting call to prayer, was a daily reminder of the fact that we were in The Middle East, In an Islamic culture and I wondered how they were able to align their spiritualty with the superficiality around them, or indeed was that THE answer? That was what kept their feet on the ground in this Dubai Disneyland? It was a relief to discover the old quarter; the hustle and bustle of the souks, the creek with its old dhows (flat wooden vessels which seem to balance precariously on the water ) some authenticity amongst the plastic. Another memorable moment was when we discovered a gallery representing the works of young people with special needs (outstanding, quality works of art I’d like to point out) one such piece read ‘Everything happens for a reason’. Hmm- think I was being told something there. So, we can see I’m struggling with the overt decadence; I have nothing against people enjoying their well -earned money, but this was becoming a bit much, a bit distasteful dare I say it. I tried not to stare at the immigrant workers and wonder…wonder how well they are paid and treated. So Instead I tried to sit back and enjoy and disconnect and what a great way with the joys of shisha! Just like the locals, including the well covered ladies, as I puffed away on the Hookah pipe. Now as a non- smoker the flavoured tobacco was quite tasty and I got quite a ‘rush’ maybe due to the fact I later found out they can contain so much tobacco, up to the equivalent of 200 cigarettes! So when not getting a rush on the Shisha we continued our sightseeing and I continued snapping away at everything, including the face of the Sheik, (Sheik Bin Rashid Al Maktoum the much revered leader) which seemed to be everywhere. I amused myself with the thought of Rajoy’s face on every street corner and concluded that no, not in my lifetime at least! The ‘local’ cuisine was tasty, though it seemed to mainly be Lebanese and other Middle eastern cuisine as what would have been ‘typical’ Bedouin fare was quite simple stuff including dates, camel milk and meat and fish. I’ll pass on the Camel Thanks! (one fact I noted was the fast food- KFC, McDonalds etc was cheaper than here and relatively larger portions.- Yes, am guilty of eating KFC once whilst away.) As we reached the end of the sightseeing, including beautiful parks, museums and galleries (my mother and I must have been the only female tourists in the history of Dubai that refused to visit the biggest shopping mall in the world) I began to conclude... Fascinating indeed; yes, as long as my sister is there I would return to continue investigating (it’s the nature of the beast) Did I leave my CVS in case things deteriorate further here? Yes. Can I imagine living there? With difficulty- I’m aware there is still so much I haven’t seen or learnt, or yet to understand but living somewhere is oh so different to being a tourist as I know from being resident in sunny EspaƱa for so long. I’m not at liberty here to discuss the person who showed us so much hospitality and generosity, just that his behaviour and attitude equally fascinated me; I’ve seen people with not even a tenth of his wealth behave in a more arrogant and ostentatious manner, just to begin. But the small glimpse into his life was indeed something most of us won’t see every day. But that is another story. On that note, whilst we listened to ‘Pink Floyd’, on came the track ‘Money’ I joked that it should be the national anthem of Dubai-He asked why! Doh! Or is it just me?

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