I flew to Dubai on an Emirates Airlines Boeing 777. For the most part, the flight was comfortable even if a little long. I must be more used to intercontinental flights than I thought, though, as the fifteen hour flight really didn’t bother me all that much. If anything, the only real drawback to the flight was that my iPod Classic malfunctioned, preventing me from watching or listening to any media on it. Fortunately, the airplane’s media system had more movies than I could have possibly imagined, so I entertained myself by watching Watchmen and Disney’s Atlantis… when I wasn’t sleeping, that is.
Going through immigration and customs was a breeze, and fortunately there was someone from the hotel waiting outside of customs to pick me up and get me to the hotel. The hotel is located in an area called the Green Community, which is a bit distance outside of the city proper and kind of in the middle of nowhere. As we drove to the hotel, I was amazed by the sheer amount of construction that was being done; it was as if they were building a completely brand new megalopolis. I even saw the Burj Dubai in the distance. I tell you, even from far away that building is highly impressive.
Once I got checked in at the hotel, I decided to have some dinner (as it was around 6 PM local time when I landed), and checked out one of the hotel restaurants. I ended up sitting outside right by the pool, availing myself of the barbecue on the buffet, and especially the chicken and lamb. That’s where I realized just how hot it got in Dubai; it was around 8 PM and the sun had set, yet it was still at least 90 degrees outside. I ordered some water with my meal, and sweated as I ate and drank. As soon as I was done there, I wandered over to the hotel bar. In the United Arab Emirates, alcohol is only allowed to be served in hotels, so I figured I might as well have some there. I ended up sitting on the balcony with a cold Heineken, adjusting to the heat, and communicating with friends and colleagues back home via my iPhone. After I was done with my drink, I headed to bed.
The next day was a Saturday. The people at the facility I was going to be working at were going to be there that day working, but I felt I needed a day to try and recover from what jet lag I had. It turned out to be a good thing I was, because I ended up sleeping for most of the afternoon. I also encountered a rather unpleasant shock that showed how much more expensive Dubai could be: while internet access is generally free at US Courtyard by Marriotts, here it was $20 or so a day(!). Needless to say, for the most part, unless I was at the work facility I ended up using my iPhone for internet access for most of my trip.
Now, before I go any further, I suppose I should describe what the culture was like there. If it wasn’t for the lack of clouds and the signs being in both Arabic and English, for the most part I could have sworn I was back home. In fact, I saw more signs that were English-only as opposed to Arabic-only. The range of cars one would find there was about the same as one would find here, including even Dodges. The food available to me was pretty much the same as one would find here, too. Sausage and bacon wasn’t a problem, as places would serve beef or turkey versions as opposed to pork. Men wearing thawbs (called kanduras there) and women wearing hajibs were commonplace, though not all women kept their face completely covered. Finding Arabic books was a bit interesting, as I had intended on getting a copy of Twilight in Arabic for friends, but in the bookstores I went to most of the books were in English.
After having lunch at a Chili’s Too in the shopping center connected to the hotel and resting for the afternoon, I decided to take a free shuttle to the Mall of the Emirates. To say the place is huge is an understatement. The entire place was two to three levels, and had at least two food courts (one with full-size restaurants), a movie theater, an entertainment complex, and of course Ski Dubai. At least one part of the place was set aside of traditional Arabic wares, while many sections were nothing but Western stores, including places you’d expect to see in the States like Marble Slab, TGI Friday’s, Border’s, Virgin Megastore, and the like. I spent a full two and a half hours looking around, seeing what they had compared to us, and overall being very impressed. A friend asked me if I stood out like a sore thumb (as an Arab in a thawb would here), and the answer is, “Certainly not.” There were about as many Westerners as there were Arabs that I could see, and even many Arabs were wearing Western clothing.
Another thing that one notices over there is how many foreigners there are working there. For example, most of the “working class” grunts I saw over there were primarily Indians, working to send money back home to their families in India. In restaurants, that I saw, the women working as waitresses were primarily Asian. As for the “working girls” in Dubai, well… believe it or not, I never saw any. They mostly congregate around the hotels in the city, and the Green Community is far enough out of the way they apparently don’t consider it working hanging around.
After two and a half hours of wandering around the mall and taking in the sights, I headed back to the shuttle pickup area to head back to the hotel. Once there, I went straight to the hotel bar and had a Heineken and people-watched, while communicating to friends/family back home via iPhone. I ended up going to bed early, but didn’t sleep too well as jet lag was still being a pain.
The next day was the big day for me, as I had to get to work at the facility. Posts about that will be forthcoming in the next couple of days. :-)