I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Do Buy

Well what can I say. I'm glad I went to Dubai but I'm happier to be back. Just too bloody hot there, plus there's very little scenery to talk of, next to no history, and it was impossible to spend any time outside. September is a transition month as it starts to get cooler, but according to one of the bus tour guides it was already 10 degrees cooler than it was in August -- and it was 40-42C yesterday.

The Arabic breakfast I started the day with was alright, I suppose. More food than I could eat and I had a bit of everything it came with, but I wasn't particularly taken by the soup-type-stuff, the cheese didn't really taste like cheese, and the yoghurt was way too thick. Who knows what was what though? It included:
  • Zaatar
  • Foul medammas
  • Labneh
  • Haloumi cheese
The last of those I'm pretty sure I recognised, but the others? Who knows. I could look it up on THE INTERNET but to be honest I can't be arsed. I'm not in a hurry to try any of them again anyway.

Checked out and failed to get any cash from reception, but the hotel next door has an ATM so I was told to go there. It was about 1030 and within a split second of leaving my glasses steamed up. Thankfully the doormen are equipped with tissues to offer guests: I assume this happens pretty regularly.

By the time I got back from the Oasis Beach Hotel with 500 dirhams I needed to change my shirt 'cos I was drenched. I have no idea how people can live and work in weather like this, especially the thousands of construction workers. How are they not all dropping dead of dehydration or skin cancer all the time? And talking of construction workers I was given some idea of scale: the single project (albeit a bloody hefty one) going on next door to the Hilton is called the Jumeirah Beach Residence, and that alone employs 20,000 of 'em.

Oh yeah, 500 dirhams. That's about 72 quid at current rates, and given that the bus tour was 150 dirhams I figured it was a sensible amount to get out. After all I wasn't leaving until a lot later and I needed cash to eat, being unable to charge anything to my room any more. What I didn't know was that the machine was going to give me a 500 dirham note. Very glad I was buying the bus ticket before anything else, but FFHS if I'd just wanted a pint or summat that wouldn't have been fun.

The bus tour came on time and -- glory be! -- half of the upper deck was enclosed and air-conditioned! Unfortunately the entire section was full and I had to sit on the first row outside/behind it. 20 minutes later we reached the end of the tour (my hotel is only 2 stops before that) and I was boiling once again; but I'd decided against having a wander around the Mall Of The Emirates even if the idea of snow was massively appealing at that moment. The good news is that most people were going in, so I got to grab a seat in the aircon bit. Mind you there was still only one stop to go, because I was on the blue route, one that isn't a loop. So from MotE they took us to Deira City Centre and booted us off with instructions to wait 15 minutes for the red route.

DCC is a shopping mall. Apparently it has over 200 shops but I only saw about 15, and they were all electronics shops. It was a good job I wasn't there by cab or the day before or I would probably have ended up buying a laptop, or camera, or camcorder, or all three. It was so cheap. Couldn't find any M2s though, which is the only thing I was actually interested in.

When red finally arrived I got a seat in the aircon bit which surprised me, DCC is not the start or end point for that route and I wasn't the first person to get on either. I'd already decided that I wasn't going to bother getting off this bus anywhere: I just wanted to see what Dubai had to offer, and in air-conditioned fashion.

Dubai doesn't have a lot to offer. I learnt a lot about the place from the guides, but what I learn didn't impress-a-me-much. Here's the "highlights"...

Dubai has one of the biggest desalination plants in the world and gets through [some huge number] of litres a day. Petrol in Dubai is cheaper than water. Oil was discovered by a British firm in 1966, exports started in 1969. Before '69 there were just 13 cars in Dubai, now there are 750,000 -- I assume, because the population is 1.5 million and 50% of people have cars. I guess a lot of people have more than one, because they're cheap (apparently). A metro is being built with 59 stations, "some of them underground", in an attempt to make the traffic problems a bit better. Traffic really is bloody awful, we got stuck in a few jams throughout the day and I'd already had that trauma on the way to the hotel on Sunday. 12km away is a bordering emirate called Sharjah; the guide said it would take longer than an hour to get there by road...

Dubai is a very safe city. There are hundreds of dhows -- boats -- docked on the creek with all their cargo piled up next to them, and this all goes unprotected and unmonitored overnight, such is the lack of crime around here. Bafflingly we were told "the crime rate is 1-2%", a standalone statistic which doesn't seem to actually mean anything. Of vague interest was that their law is split into 3 types: civil, criminal, and traffic.

There are 38 shopping malls in Dubai at the moment. There are going to be many, many more. Hence "do buy". Several of the stops on the tours were malls: MotE, Wafi City, the fake market (a market famous for, and revelling in, selling fake goods; watches, clothes, and the like), DCC, I forget where else.

Dubai's population at the moment is around 1.5 million, as I said above. 80% of these people are ex-pats (50% of the population are Indian). In a few years they expect the ex-pat level to be 90%. The reigning family (the al Makthoums) have been canny enough to realise they need a life after oil, which is going to run out inside 10 years, which is why there is so much construction going on. They are attracting businesses and tourists like crazy to keep the income flowing, and already oil accounts for less than 50% of their GDP. Basically Dubai is being turned into an enormous version of Vegas without the decadence. The oil money is all being invested in property development while laws are in place to ensure ownership remains in Emirati hands, and there are decent deals in place for what few locals there are too. For example, a Muslim couple that marries is given a villa and free electricity and water bills (don't forget, water is more expensive than petrol). Westerners aren't allowed to own property outright.

And that's really all there is to Dubai: five-star hotels and complexes, massive office blocks (all glass -- easy to get hold of with all that sand about), development and construction. Dubai is already, or soon will be, home to the biggest and best and most expensive of all this kind of stuff. The tallest building in the world, longest unsupported walkway between two buildings, tallest pair of buildings, most expensive hotel, biggest hotel, largest amusement park, .... in another neighbouring emirate there are plans to build a replacement airport. DXB is not too shabby as it is, but the new one is going to be twice the size of Hong Kong -- the island, not the airport -- and have five runways. Heathrow has 2.

An underwater hotel is being built in the gulf. It's going to cost $5000 per night. In contrast the most expensive one now -- the Burj al-Arab, which is a mighty impressive sight -- costs 4000 dirhams a night currently. At least I think they were the figures.

Dubai has no postmen. One of the reasons I'd arranged return airport transfer directly with the hotel was because I didn't relish the idea of asking a cabbie to take me to the address I had, which is a PO box, but now I know why. There are no postmen, if you want post you rent a PO box. This means actual road addresses just aren't that important, and basically my hotel didn't have one. Bit odd that.

Here's an aside: according to the TV, Qatar has 15% of the world's natural gas resources, and despite being tiny appears to be embarking on a development and marketing scheme even more ambitious than Dubai's: they're going to put in an Olympic bid. Qatar!

So that's what I know about Dubai. The tour itself went past shitloads of construction, a few nice already-built buildings, along both sides of the creek, through a residential area or two, past a couple of royal palaces, and along a few motorways. I saw a mosque or two and we stopped by a public beach. There are photos of loads of this stuff on flickr as of earlier today. I stayed on the red route all the way 'til the end, and then all the way from there 'til DCC where I changed back onto a blue to get me back to the hotel. This was also the route that went past the Burj. Unfortunately this third bus didn't have aircon: the upstairs had windows at the front but the roof was just a big, well, roof. I managed to stay in the shade thanks to the brim of my hat, the angle of the sun, and wearing long sleeves, but by jiminy was I hot come the end. Thankfully I'd bought a shirt at DCC so got changed (again) as soon as I got back to the hotel.

I had a few hours to kill and no room to sit in, so I sat in the bar. Had a lager or two, then another HILTON MEGABITE, and then I thought I'd have a Guinness. OH MY GOD I'm so glad I did. A hotel bar in a Muslim country and that was the nicest pint of Guinness I have ever had. But I wasn't silly, had no more, and got my 9pm cab. Unfortunately the traffic wasn't bad at all and I got to the airport earlier than expected -- earlier than check-in :-(

Dubai airport is a bit paranoid about security, I think. Firstly you go through a small security check to see whether you're actually flying or not; then you go through a proper security thing, with all your bags x-rayed and you metal-detected. Then you check-in your bags, and go through security, having your hand luggage x-rayed and yourself metal-detected. An enormously long walk (worse than Heathrow!) ensues before passport control, and then security. Finally I made it to the lounge and had a bunch of the free stuff listed previously. Got a bit jumpy about not being called for the flight 'cos it was due to leave in half an hour so I went to the gate, panicking a bit at the "final call" that was flashing on all the monitors. At the gate I had my hand luggage x-rayed and me metal-detected. FFHS! It's like the entire airport has OCD or something.

The flight was alright. I was almost falling asleep before we took off, but the food -- a "night cap" rather than full meal, given the timing; I chose a tuna salad which I didn't really like -- must have given me the energy to stay awake 'cos I managed to watch the entirety of Just My Luck. An OK film, not exactly typical me stuff though... then I had a couple of hours kip before waking up to the glorious view as photographed and posted in the previous entry. Breakfast followed, landing soon after.

Arrivals lounge time. I was a bit -- OK, a lot -- more apprehensive about this 'cos it's a lot more fat cat and out of the ordinary than a departure lounge but hey, this is the sort of thing I'm paying for. Turns out I didn't need to be apprehensive at all, I just walked in, gave a bloke my luggage in exchange for a token, and then queued up to be assigned a shower cubicle thing. After cleansing I went upstairs to serve myself a fry-up and just generally enjoy being the only person in the room who wasn't just about to head to work. Got up to leave but remembered that I wanted a massage, which I had no idea how to organise. Turns out you just write your name in a blank time slot on the sheet of paper outside the treatment room and then turn up at that time. 35 minutes spent reading CN Traveler magazine in the quiet 'sanctuary' room occupied me until my time came and Yee gave me a head, shoulder and neck massage for 15 minutes. Got up and could barely walk cos my muscles were all so relaxed.

3 buses got me home and, well, that's that. My next flight has been brought forward a day to Sunday, giving me 3 full days in Sydney before going to Auckland on Friday week. Result. Before that I'm off round me Dad's tomorrow, he's not doing great but there's not a lot anyone can do about it :-( he wants me to help him do some shopping though so I'll be off to Tesco I guess. Was going to go and see Gorgasm play tonight but I'm too knackered. Might see if Wooj or anyone else fancies a pint in Surbiton though. Loz? You reading this? ;-)

1 comment:

Mark said...

Not too sure I'd try anything called a "foul medamma"