I haven’t written a blog post in a loooooong time! We left China months ago and I have started numerous blog posts that still sit unfinished. It’s not that there is nothing to write about. So much has happened. I just seem to have had writers’ block or just a lack of motivation to write.
We flew out of Nanjing back in May and headed to Dubai to visit two very good friends of ours who relocated to Dubai in February this year. Such a huge move! Dubai was never on my list of places I wanted to go, but then neither was Croatia or China and look at how those countries worked their way into my heart. I didn’t know much about Dubai, and what I did know about this desert city wasn’t very favourable, so I really didn’t have very high expectations and was mainly excited about hanging out with Matt and Belinda.
Dubai definitely wasn’t as illustrious as I thought it would be. Maybe because we didn’t stay right in the middle of all the bling. Maybe because my expectations were low to begin with. Whatever the case, I definitely was not prepared for Dubai. I wasn’t prepared for the heat. I wasn’t prepared for the cultural mix of people’s and I certainly wasn’t prepared to like any of it.
Landing in Dubai at 11pm, I was hella intimidated. Call me ignorant and uncultured, but I have never seen so many men in dishdasha’s or women in abaya, niqāb and/or hijāb! (And yes, I had to google those words, such is my ignorance!) All of a sudden my outfit felt so immodest and I felt completely under dressed, despite there being other women who were wearing far less than me! Standing in the queue for customs, I was hot, sweaty and feeling very self conscious. I had been up since 7am Nanjing time and it was now well after 11pm Dubai time (which is well after 3am Nanjing time). We hadn’t slept much on the plane so I was incredibly tired and I didn’t really know anything about Dubai or what to expect on the other side so I was a tad apprehensive. And then to be confronted with yet another world that is totally and utterly foreign to me was pretty overwhelming. Boy was I glad to see Matt and Belinda’s faces as we walked out of arrivals. I barely even remember the drive from the airport to their apartment in Business Bay. I was so tired and spaced out, it’s all just a blur!
The next day I was a little more coherent. The view from the apartment that Matt and Belinda are living in is… Immense. That is the word that comes into my mind to describe the view. Immense. Being up on the 58th floor, you can see for miles if the haze allows you to. From the corner of their lounge, you can see the Dubai Mall and the famous Dubai Fountain. That was the first place I went in Dubai, the mall. I was desperate for some tights, we all wanted to get breakfast, and going from the lobby to a taxi then the taxi to an air-conditioned mall was a nice ease into Dubai’s intense heat. Funny thing is, we could have walked to the metro station in the heat, then walked past the metro station and to the Dubai Mall via air-conditioned walk ways. But Matt and Belinda were kind to us! A taxi meant much less heat and MUCH less walking. Also, Belinda being very organised and knowing where the shops were that I wanted to go to saved on the walking too. Dubai Mall is HUGE!!! I have seen huge malls in China and this was certainly on a very similar size scale with far more bling in every direction. Without Belinda’s guidance, I would have walked for hours, not found the stores, gotten grumpy and still not have found tights to buy. There is a huge aquarium in the middle of the mall which makes me cringe. I just had to not look at it whenever we had to walk by it. And honestly, I was bracing myself to see much more in Dubai that makes me cringe than just an aquarium. So far, to me, Dubai Mall was just a fancier, more high end version of any other iconic city mall, filled with all sorts of different kinda of people holidaying, shopping, eating or just hanging out.
Matt had talked about the city being built in the desert, before they left and again when we talked after they had arrived. I understood on a theoretical level (“Dubai is geographically located in the desert, Dubai is a city built in the desert.”) but I didn’t really comprehend what this actually meant on a daily basis. Pretty much all of the cities I have been to and known have been developed and expanded from smaller cities or towns, added to and thriving on some kind of culture based in this particular spot. Dubai isn’t like this. It’s almost like a city of lights and opulence built on a sandstorm of the past 30 or so years. Of course, Dubai has a rich and complex history, certainly very different from any other city I have ever visited, with trade routes, pearl diving, nomadic peoples, tribal wars, and many, many immigrants from countries such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and the Philippines. And oil. You simply cannot talk about Dubai’s history without at least a mention of oil and the money that came from it. And the power that comes with oil and money. Not really a conversation that I want to get into, to be honest.
We didn’t do much sight seeing in Dubai. Staying at Matt and Belinda’s was pretty blissful in that the bed was comfy, the air-conditioning was heaven and we slept A LOT! Matt took us to a place called the Arabian Tea House Cafe that Belinda found out about. Apparently they did Emirati breakfasts and oh boy did they what! We were totally infatuated with the fabulous breakfast trays (Ummmm hummus and haloumi for breakfast?!?!?! Oh hell yes!) And as a direct result of that breakfast, I got seriously hooked on dates dipped in tahini. YUM!
Matt took us to Dubai Museum and got us an abra up Dubai Creek, which was cool. We are suckers for water craft and Matt knows that! The abra took us from the silk souk, up the creek, back down the creek and then we got off on the other side of the creek to see the spice souk. The Dubai open air souks totally overwhelmed me to be honest. I have never been good at bartering or at the witty banter that Nick is so good at when being sold to aggressively as vendors open air markets usually sell. Also, we had literally no money to spend so anything I saw that I liked was only teasing so I pretty much powered through saying no to everyone that tried to put cloth and scarves and dresses and trinkets in front of my face. The spice markets I was more interested in but, again, aggressive sales tactics make me introverted and awkward so I didn’t actually stop and look as much as I wanted to. Not to mention, that day was HOT. Like, cook an egg on the side walk kind of hot. Matt had gotten us out of the apartment relatively early that day, and it was hot enough when we left. By the time it was lunchtime, we were melting and waning all over the show. Going back to the air-conditioned apartment for a nana-nap was voted as being the best idea!
During our time in Dubai, Nick and I also caught a taxi to Jumeirah Mosque where we were hosted by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding and had the opportunity (for 20AED) to not only enter the mosque but to also ask questions about the mosque, the Muslim faith and anything else any of us may have had questions about. And we checked out the Green Planet, a man-made rainforest enclosure. I am never sure how I feel about these zoo/rainforest kind of places, but I was mesmerised by the amazing birds flying about my head. Nick held a snake and was pretty chuffed about that. I stayed well clear of the snakes! Matt and Belinda also took us to an indoor, air-conditioned souk, which felt so posh and stuck up. We were there early, before tour groups and crowds began to pour in. It was amusing wandering around before most things were open and watching people set up.
If you are looking for other things to do or eat in Dubai, check out Belinda’s blog 58th Floor for more expat recommendations and wisdom. She has some great tips for anyone either visiting or relocating to this illustrious jewel amongst the sand dunes! As well as many other cities she’s been to and reviewed.
And wish me luck as I work through the many other unfinished blogs I have stuck in my drafts folder, in the hope that publishing this blog will fix my writers block!!!