Friday, April 18, 2008

Howdy Dubai

For once there were no problems with connecting flights, and I was well on my 15 hour flight way on Emirates, an airline so classy that they give you all the movies all the time personal video screens way back in Economy. The staff had held me up for 5 minutes in Houston while they 'cleared my name', and I was paging through my brand new passport (They now have sepia toned 'American heritage' pictures on each of the pages; I thought the two gay guys making out on pages 15 & 16 highly inappropriate...) when I saw, stamped on the back page, 'This passport replaces a lost passport'. But it didn't! I hadn't lost one! Now I was really paranoid about what other wrong information was encoded on the new high tech pages, and I started to have visions of being detained at the airport at Dubai, thrown into a cell, transferred to Gitmo.

We landed. I stood in line. I ackwardly said 'Salaam' to the immigration guy and he paged through my passport. And waved me through.

It was around 8 pm and I took a taxi took me past a version of Houston/Miami and into the 'old town' center, which looke like a 1965 version of downtown Houston/Miami, but clean and with lots of neon. And tons and tons of East Indians and Pakistanis and tiny stores and eating places that catered to them. This was the cheap hotel district.

Unfortunately a cheap hotel in Dubai is now $80, inflated past the $60 it was a few months ago. Paying THAT much for a fleabag room was rather annoying, especially because all the other people paying it were from a much lower socioecomic class. But, hey, that's the American dollar these days. And I was also rather tired.

The next morning was Friday morning, which is Sunday morning in Muslim lands, and I walked out at 9 am to relatively uncrowded streets. I cruised on down to the 'creek', which is a half mile wide inlet from the Gulf, and took one of the 'abra' water taxis across to the other side. I was able to already notice the cleaniness and efficiency of the place, not to mention that all the East Indians were not bothering me.

Disembarking, I walked past a large mosque, where all the worshipper were lined up barefoot waiting to enter. Right next to it was the Hindu temple, with all its worshipper lined up barefoot. Nice and ecumenical.

Although that was also just about all that was going on Friday morning. So I walked along parallel to the waterfront, passing the small closed museum, the Sultan's house, large cargo 'dhow' boats, floating 'dhow' restaurants, etc. About a mile into it I noticed how hot the sun was getting and I remembered about forgetting to bring the sunblock. Fortunately I wasn't too far from another 'abra' dock. This ferry was bigger and air conditioned, and, it being Friday morning, I was the only passenger on the way back.

By now I had seen more than was interesting of Old Dubai, so I had a plan to relocate to the Dubai Youth Hostel. It would be cheaper and I might meet some fellow travelers. So I checked out, went down to the street and hailed a cab.

Which was driven by a nice Kashmiri man who spoke no English, had no idea of what a Dubai Youth Hostel was, and wasn't familiar with the major street that it was on. As we drove aimlessly in the direction I couldn't help but notice how Dubai is sprawling, relatively prosperous but not all that exciting, and completely lacking in street numbers. And the Kashmiri guy was hopeless, so we were wandering clueless through all these new and different but nondescript buildings.

All of a sudden I noticed that we were on the major street that he kept saying he had never heard of. Now he started wandering off of it into smaller streets, while I kept talling him to go back. Finally we stopped at a bus stop and a Filipino girl who actually spoke English pointed out that the youth hostel was right over there.

He dropped me off, nicely not charging me for most of the useless kilometers he had driven. The guy at the desk said he didn't have any singles, but I could have a bunk in a dorm for $25. I took it.

It turns out that, although there are a few backpackers, most of the tenants are workers and businessmen from India, etc., looking for a cheap deal. I rested for a little bit and then decided to go to the Deira City Center Mall.

The malls in Dubai are supposed to be huge and over the top, and indeed are just about the only thing there is to do in Dubai. The taxi dropped me at the door, and once in I could immediately see that it was pretty big, with aisles heading off and down to the horizon. But on the whole it was like a medium scale mall in the States, with just about every brand name store you could think of.

And it was packed with people. All kinds. Without setting out to, Dubai has created the most cosmopolitan city in world history, with every conceivable nationality walking around and shopping. And although the dress code is pretty much informal Western, you see everything from the occasional lady in burka to the occasional Danish girl with bare midriff and pierced navel. Escalators went up and down, restrooms were every 100 meters, and the food court alone had 19 eateries, with everything from Krispy Kreme to Burger King. Mmmmm.

But mostly everyone had come to shop. When it came time for me to leave at 5:30 I sauntered over to where the taxi stand was supposed to be. As I neared it I noticed this long, long line of people with shopping carts. As I turned the corner I saw that the line snaked back and forth off into the distance. And I then discerned that this was the line for taxicabs. Which arrived about once a minute.

A quick calculation showed that I would be standing there until 10. I turned around and left the mall at another location and went to take my chances on the street.

I was lucky and got a cab within a few minutes. And by now I knew all the landmarks that the youth hostel was near to. Including a 'hypermarket' that also had an internet cafe, the first one I had seen.

Which led to this.


At 12:34 PM, Blogger PaulS said...

Hi Michael. Just wanted to let you know that I'm participating vicariously in your latest peregrination. Meanwhile, I'm going to New Jersey next week to see Maren in a Mozart opera. Funny to think of New Jersey as an Old World experience compared to Dubai. Cheers.

At 4:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Were there any women in the hostel? Do they have BK Veggies at Burger King? Where do I go to edit? I've forgotten and noticed several typo's in your text.



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