Entries in United Arab Emerites (2)
I probably spent more time shopping today than I did in all of 2008. We are in Dubai, a pit-stop visit on our flight from Sydney to Brussels, and our final day before reaching our destination.
Dubai is surprisingly beautiful. On the drive from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, Dubai stretches out as 40km of glass and steel along a narrow strip between the desert and the sea. It is a city unlike any I have seen before, with towering sky-rise after sky-rise for kilometre after kilometre. Unlike cities like New York, where the buildings block out the light, in Dubai they reflect and colour the light, as each towering building is only a few years old and is sheathed in blue, green, silver or gold glass. The city is narrow, only a few blocks in depth, so even in a city of sky-scrappers the horizon can always be seen and the desert light filters through.
Many of the buildings are still being constructed, waiting for their glass sheath, as Dubai is a work still in progress. It has grown from a city of 150,000 in the 70s to 1.5 million today, and with annual 7% population growth it will hit 2 or 3 million in the near future. The growth of the city is so fast that a third of all the cranes on the planet are in Dubai, to feed the rapid construction. 90% of this population is due to foreign immigration, with many single men coming to Dubai to find work. This influx of men massively distorts the gender balance of the city, with 75% of the population being male (and this skewing was even greater in public places).
While most of Dubai is new and sparkling, the biggest and the best, parts of old Dubai are still to be found. We stayed in Deira, the old town on the north-east bank of the Creek. Deira is renowned for its old markets, the Souks. We spent a morning wandering through the Deira Covered Souq, the Perfume Souk, the Gold Souk (where we ate magnificent food in a tiny Indian cafe) and the Spice Souk. We visited Heritage House (built in 1890) and Al-Ahmadiya School (built in 1912), allowing us to see the beautiful architecture of the traditional Arabic building style, built from coral and gypsum around a central courtyard. We caught an Abra from Deira Old Souq Abra station, the rickety old wooden boats that are still used as public transport to cross over the creek from Deira to Bur Dubai, the old town on the south-west bank of the Creek. Such a striking contrast to be bobbing on the river in traditional boats used for hundreds of years, but being surrounded by towering glass and steel, a monument to modernity.
In Bur Dubai we walked through the Bur Dubai Souk, past the Grand Mosque, and visited Dubai Museum, where once again the city showed its love of using individually moulded mannequins to display its history in a surprising underground exhibit. In the Bastakia quarter beautiful old houses had been restored and the grey cooling towers made a beautiful contrast to the blue sky.
For every passenger taking a rickety boat across the creek, many more waited for buses in air-conditioned hermetically sealed bus shelters or sped along the main highway at breakneck speeds, so in the afternoon we visited modern Dubai. We saw the famed Burj al Arab, the seven star hotel built on its own artificial island, rising out of the sea just beyond Madinat Jumeirah, a luxury resort and shopping mall built like a Disneyland version of Arabic souks.
Just in case the monstrous mall was missing some luxury we caught a taxi to the Mall of the Emirates - still the largest shopping mall in the world while Dubai Mall is still being built under Burj Dubai (which will also become the tallest building in the world), although it could soon fall to third place as the Mall of Arabia (also being built in Dubai) would outstrip both the Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall.