I was as much out of my comfort zone in Dubai as I've ever been in a favela or a third-class Pakistani railway carriage. This is my favourite bit about travel
Weird. Weird. Weird. 'Weird' was the word I found myself muttering to myself time and time again on my first visit to Dubai. In fact, if you don’t have time to read this whole post let me summarize the essence of it for you: Dubai = Weird.
Before visiting Dubai I had a very negative preconception of this glitzy Emirati city on the Gulf Coast. I thought of ski slopes in the desert, artificial islands shaped like palm trees, and botox-ed footballers’ wives and black-swathed rich Saudi women swooning together in the designer shopping malls.
And I am pleased to report that I was right. All of this is true, and much more besides; extravagant madnesses that you can barely begin to imagine. Dubai is absolutely ludicrous.
Dubai is still a fabulous place to visit. Dubai reminded me that, for an open-minded, curious traveller, every single place on the planet is fascinating. I struggle to think of anywhere on Earth that can match my Dubai experience for leaving me awestruck so many times.
In Dubai, I was as much out of my comfort zone as I ever have been in a favela or a third-class Pakistani railway carriage. This feeling of being knocked off your normal equilibrium is one of the most valuable aspects of travel. For it reminds you not to grow complacent about yourself, your values, and what you take for 'normal' at home.
For these reasons, and many more, I surprised myself by loving Dubai. The skyscrapers of the Old Town (built in 2008) were graceful and beautiful to behold. The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, is absolutely staggering. Gazing up at its shiny chrome and glass flank, your eyes are drawn up, and up, and up, higher than you have ever imagined a building to soar. The outrageous imagination that has gone into many of Dubai’s mad schemes is impressive.
As someone who detests any kind of shopping, I felt a masochistic pull to investigate the Dubai malls. I adored the gigantic aquarium in the center of one mall stocked with sharks, fish, and scuba-divers galore.
The big sign on the front of it announcing that the aquarium held the World Record for the largest piece of aquarium glass was a typical example of the boastful, slightly pointless side to Dubai. I had no interest in the hundreds and hundreds of brightly lit, shiny shops in the mall.
But I was fascinated by the crowds of people there. Big boobs and Dish dash. I originally wrote that “the mall was like a miniature slice of the world, with everyone in the world mixed together”. But I realized that was wrong.
The mall was like a miniature slice of the rich bit of the world, with everyone in the world who has cash to flash mixed together. For you do not see poor people in Dubai’s shiny streets, other than the army of hard-working men and women from poor countries who clean and scrub and polish and keep Dubai shiny for everyone else to play in.
It is interesting, and certainly unique, that in my brief visit to Dubai I did not meet a single Emirati person, except for the near-comatose border officials who stamped my passport. I cannot think of another country where you could get through several days without meeting a native.
Taking a positive from this oddity, I enjoyed meeting people from a kaleidoscopic variety of nations all of whom, I suppose, bring their own unique perspectives and ambitions to this mad melting pot perched on the edge of one of the planet’s harshest deserts: the Empty Quarter.