Dubai, UAE (12-13 Sept 2015)
Dubai in 32 hours
I was very excited to be in Middle East for the first time in my life! One of the most “tourist-friendly” area in the Middle East, Dubai is one of the seven emirates that makes up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Peace Boat stopped by the most populous city in the Emirates for about 1.5 days after a 3-day voyage from India.
Once we disembarked, we were hit by the suffocating heat of the desert. It was almost 40 degree Celsius! I was advised to to ditch my shorts and flip flops and put on decent pants and shoes in the “conservative” city. At the entrance of the port, we managed to get a cab after being hustled by a gang of cab drivers. We hopped on the cab and headed to Jumeirah Mosque. As we were too early for the tour, we decided to splurge at Hugo Café. We were just too deprived of proper bread so we did not mind paying for the overpriced breakfast, air-conditioning and Wifi.
1. Jumeirah Mosque
Jumeirah Mosque is the only mosque in Dubai that is open to the public. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding hosts visits of the Jumeirah Mosque.
Tour days: 6 days a week (Closed on Fridays)
Time: 10:00 a.m. (No reservation required. Wait at the main entrance of the mosque by about 9.45 a.m.)
Duration: Approximately 75 minutes
Price: 10 AED per person (free for children under 12).
* Modest dress code (traditional attire can be borrowed)
We were led inside the mosque and spent most of the time sitting on the nice carpeted floor as the tour guide introduced the mosque and the history of Islam. Most of the Peace Boat participants looked quite bored during the talk as it was conducted in English. While the talk was informative, I felt that the talk was filled with arguments to justify the restrictions (especially on women) which are enforced by people who interpreted the religion based on their beliefs and ideologies. Some tourists tried to challenge the guide’s justifications and asked why women have to wear specific attire like niqab while men do not have to. It was definitely a thought-provoking session to start the day in Dubai.
2. Burj Al Arab
Like any typical tourist, I wanted to see the iconic sail-shaped hotel, Burj Al Arab, so we took the bus and stopped by Jumeirah Beach Hotel. We tried to pretend to be dignified, rich hotel guests as we wandered through the luxuriously furnished hotel lobby. The plan was to try to get as close to Burj Al Arab as possible. It is not possible to enter the opulent hotel unless you are a hotel guest. Obviously, our plan failed. We checked out the prices of the restaurants in Burj Al Arab but were not really surprised by the exorbitant cost. In the end, we bought expensive drinks at the Dhow and Anchor (D&A) bar in the lobby of Jumeirah Beach hotel and admired the hotel-which-we-can-never-afford from a distance.
We visited the Spice, Gold and Perfume souqs. A souq is an open-air marketplace usually found in West Asian or North African cities. The souqs are large tourist attractions. We wandered around the souqs and bought some typical touristy souvenirs. I was fascinated by the wide range of spices as well as the huge population of migrants.
4. Dubal Mall and Burj Khalifa
As the sun set, we slowly made our way to Dubai Mall. When Dubai Mall opened in 2009, it was the world’s second largest mall. Over 13 million square foot (equivalent in size to more than 50 football fields, Dubal Mall is so big that it has an aquarium with the largest acrylic panel (even bigger than Okinawa’s Churaumi aquarium) and an ice rink. We just walked through the mall to get to our goal of the night – the free fountain show. Set against Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, it is the world’s largest dancing fountain show. Initially, we wanted to visit the Burj Khalifa observatory despite the expensive entrance fee but we could not book a visiting time slot (due to Wifi issues). Many Peace Boat participants were there to enjoy the fountain show and some had the fortune to witness how I was “water-attacked” during the show. The interesting day in Dubai ended with me going back to Peace Boat half drenched by “expensive” Dubai fountain water.
The Dubai Fountain Schedule
Daily except Friday: 1:00p.m. & 1:30p.m.
Friday: 1:30 p.m. & 2:00 p.m.
Daily: 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
(Every 30 Minutes)
Warning: Do not stand too near to the railings. The powerful airborne water sprays beyond the railings.
6. Dubai desert safari ride
The next day, I signed up a desert safari ride tour with a number of GET teachers. We got into the 4-wheels vehicle which were parked neatly outside the terminal and reached the desert in about 40 minutes. We had an adrenaline-filled desert dune-bashing ride by a daredevil driver. He entertained us with an amazing driving soundtrack and patiently answered all my questions about the UAE.We had a hearty Bedouin breakfast in the middle of the desert and took a lot of photos in the desert. The tour ended quite early so most people just stayed in the ferry terminal to use free Wifi (me included).
5 things I learnt about Dubai after 32 hours
1. Dubai’s Heat
It was about 40 degree Celsius when we were there in September. July to September are the hottest months. It is so hot in summer that the bus stops are air-conditioned. Walking outdoors in this desert city can be really exhausting due to the heat.
2. Dubai’s Official Language
I am sure most people know that Arabic is the national language of the UAE. However, as it was my first time in the Middle East, it was very intriguing to see how Arabic operates as the main language. All the signs are in Arabic and English (as English is the second language). In the food court, I was quite disorientated by the Arabic words on the signs of Macdonalds, KFC and even Krispy Kreme! Arabic is widely known as the language of Islam. Islam is the main religion in UAE so Friday is considered “holy day” and the weekend is Friday-Saturday.
3. Dubai’s Rich and Famous
From the abundance of high-end malls to the limitless number of skycrapers to the artificial islands, Dubai is a fantastical playground for the people who can afford it. The richest five people in the UAE, with a combined net worth of $21.7 billion (Dh79 billion), have made it to Forbes World’s Billionaires List 2016. Most of them are UAE nationals who manage a number of homegrown businesses in the country. Unfortunately, most people living in Dubai cannot enjoy the extravagant lifestyle usually depicted in the media. Most things are expensive as they are exported.
4. Dubai’s Foreign Population
The United Arab Emirates has the highest proportion of foreign-born people, who make up around 84% of its population. The largest numbers are from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and the population has grown by nearly 500% in decent decades. As of 2013, the population was 7.8 million, up from 1.3 million in 1990 (information from UN). The society is divided into 3 main groups – the Emirati (locals), expats and migrant workers. The income disparity is so wide amongst them.When I was on the train, I was surrounded by people of different nationalities. I guess most of the rich Emiratis do not take public transportation.
5. Dubai’s Human Rights Issues
According to Human Rights Watch, the UAE often uses its affluence to mask the government’s serious human rights problems. The government arbitrarily detains, and in some cases forcibly disappears, individuals who criticized the authorities, and its security forces face allegations of torturing detainees. The Freedom in the World report in 2013 related the UAE as “Not Free”, giving the country a 6/10 in both political freedom and civil liberties.
It was an eye-opening but thought-provoking short stay in Dubai. It was exhilarating to be in desert city filled with the architectural marvels which are often featured in travel guides. On the other hand, it was difficult not to notice what lies beneath the façade of wealth when I walked through the souqs and talked to the desert safari driver from India. While I was glad to have a chance to visit Dubai, I can’t help but wonder if travellers should have an ethical responsibility and be more informed about their travel destinations. Will I visit Dubai for vacation in future? Hmm…