Before the discovery of black gold in Dubai it was but a small fishing village on the coast of UAE. One of eight Emirates it was unspectacular. When oil was discovered, it started a growth spurt at a phenomenal pace. It is still the fastest growing city on earth and has now established itself as contender for one of the world’s greatest cities.
A couple of years back demand for hotels far outstripped supply and getting a room for less than £100 per night was difficult. This meant that Dubai became a playground for the rich and famous. It is one of the driest places on earth and temperatures during the day often exceed fifty degrees.
Then the bubble burst, now rooms start from around £30 with the top end hotels charging in excess of £1000 per night.
Dubai is one of those places inhabited by people that dream big. It is still young and already it is home to many of the world’s greatest construction achievements. For example, not content with building on land it was decided that the now famous ‘Jumeirah Palm’ would be built. It is manmade islands built in the shape of a palm with top class hotels and restaurants on it.
Every time a building that claims to be the world’s tallest is built it usually beats the previous holder by a few metres. Not in Dubai. The Burj Khalifa completely blew away every other building by topping the next closet contender by over 300 hundred metres. The building stands at almost a kilometre tall.
The most luxurious hotel on the planet – Burj Al Arab stands sail shaped off the coast on a private island. It is probably the most distinctive building in Dubai.
Some of the best hotels in the world, most prestigious restaurants and richest people on the planet all call Dubai their home. But for me the place is hard to fathom. It is probably the most diverse places I have ever been, it is so easy to forget you are in an Arab country. Dubai’s spiralling economy has attracted people from all over the world all keen for a slice of the action. And whilst Dubai is extremely charismatic for me it doesn’t feel like it has much of an identity. By that I mean you don’t look out over the ocean and think to yourself ‘This is Dubai’ In fact it could be anywhere in the world. Everyone speaks English, every sign is in English. Occasionally you will see the cliché Arab wearing full robes.
The streets are full of Rolls Royce’s, Porches, Range Rovers and Ferraris. Behind the wheel of most of them are Westerners, it is clear that we in the UK have missed out on something huge. The good news is that despite the faltering of the economy a few years back Dubai is still growing at an unprecedented rate.
When we left Sri Lanka we had eaten only a chocolate muffin. We were really looking forward to Dubai and the fact it has more Western Restaurants than the West. In fact it makes Britain look feeble in comparison. Knowing there was a McDonalds at the airport we boarded the plane with a huge appetite.
The pilot made his announcement “we will be flying over India and then will turn left below Mumbai and head straight out over Oman and then into Sharjah – There will be monsoon clouds along the way so expect a bumpy ride” He wasn’t joking. The Air Arabia flight was thrown all over the sky and I am convinced must have been completely uncontrollable at times. I had to abandon reading Tony Blair’s autobiography and both kids were struggling to watch their IPod/phone. It was all in all not a very nice flight. When I told Bekkie of the flight she responded “That’s what happens when you fly on cheap airlines”… Had we flown Emirates perhaps as the plane approached the clouds they would have simply dispersed.
At Sharjah Immigration the guy said “welcome back to the Emirates” and stamped us straight in for 30 days. All that stood between us and a Big Mac was baggage reclaim. It was by now around 2pm and as we walked into arrivals I looked anxiously for the hallowed restaurant. Gutted – It was shut. In fact everywhere was shut. Our hopes and dreams came crashing down and then I realised – Ramadan. After a bit of investigating I found out that it is illegal to eat, drink or smoke during the day, in public – Which means in any public place, whether there are public there or not.
Dubai is a Muslim state and though it is less restrictive than other countries it is fundamentally based on the principles that Muslims follow. Ramadan happens every year in August and lasts for thirty days. During day light hours Muslims refrain from eating and drinking as a way of helping them understand the plight of those less fortunate who do not have access to food and drinks. They donate to charity and take it extremely seriously and you have to agree that to spend one month each year punishing yourself in recognition of those less fortunate, it’s actually quite an admirable thing to do. But the thing that bothers me is that Dubai is not wholly Muslim, in fact the immigrants here that aren’t Muslim must really add up and so what you get is a religion (the fact it is Muslim is irrelevant) that is forcing its beliefs on non believers. That is where me and religion clash. I believe every person has a right to believe what they want to and no one should judge them for that. Acceptance in society is vital to all our futures and successes and when a religion forces something upon you, whether you are non religious or follow a different religion then that in my book is hypocrisy. It is a failure to accept the fact that through the day I want to eat – If you don’t want to then fair enough. But I do.
And so I was pissed off. Everywhere that sold food or drinks was closed and it was 48 degrees. We were dying of thirst and despite my best efforts at offering someone a backhander we just could not get our hands on water in Sharjah. (Sharjah is the Emirate next to Dubai)
We were staying at a top end hotel in Dubai city and so took the bus toward where we needed to be. It took around twenty minutes to get to the metro. The bus was air-conditioned and had wifi and the Metro must easily be one of the best in the world. Both are a world apart from the feeble effort of Sri Lanka and really can be used with absolute ease and both are extremely cheap and straight forward.
Once at our hotel they refused to sort the drinks situation out and the mini bar had been raided. But they did tell me that if I went to a supermarket we could buy food and drinks.
We found Waitrose and headed straight for the Deli stocking up on Chicken Lollipops (deep fried Chicken legs in batter) and Chicken Tikka. We then sorted the drinks situation out and then bailed to hide behind some cash machines I had seen on the way. And so, in arguably the most modern city in the world, in the world’s biggest shopping mall (Dubai Mall) at the foot of the world’s tallest building we were hidden behind some cash machines eating chicken lollipops and drinking Gatorade. I later found out I had risked thirty days in jail, but I did find out that kids can eat during Ramadan no problem. In fact at the food court many fast food outlets were open for kids and get this – Takeaway! You can get food to take away and eat in the privacy of your home. Yet more hypocrisy, still I guess when you are a guest in another country you have to abide by the laws whether or not you agree to them. It doesn’t mean they don’t completely baffle you and fly in the face of common sense. Though in many ways I suppose you have to respect the Emirates for their stance on Ramadan, it is after all an extremely admirable and respectful thing they do. Though thankfully we only have to put up with two days of it.
So as we sit now eating Taco Bell and looking out over the stunning Dubai Skyline I have to say – We do actually love it here, all three of us, and whereas I will retire to Florida, I could live here now. I will write about what we did in Dubai in the next post but let me just make one thing clear – We love Dubai, want to live here and this is already one of my favourite cities in the world – Even though I can’t get a beer to enjoy it with.
Dubai might not have an identity but it has been built to be the perfect city, it looks like it’s just been unwrapped at Christmas and in many cases we have felt like we have had the place to ourselves. In parks we have been the only ones there, walking streets almost abandoned and looking out over the empty creek. The three of us are already united in thinking Dubai offers the best variety of food we have ever known anywhere in the world and for a place perched on the edge of a desert under the ever oppressive heat of the sun, we think we might just have found the perfect city.