Monday, August 21, 2006

Good ol' Dubai

Dubai seems to me to be a city of "new" wealth. Everything about the city screams newness! We arrived at the airport and it was definitely a lot better kept-up than Amman or Egypt. It was also quite a bit hotter! We were a little worried about finding our hotel since we didn't have an address, but we followed the directions given on the internet site: "tell the taxi driver it is by the clock tower." Andrew and I, thinking that this was an Arab country so it definitely has some history, thought that the clock tower would be some old fashioned tower. We were wrong. And amazed.

As you can tell, the clock tower is anything but old. And once we got to the tower, our hotel was in plain sight. I think we fell asleep almost as soon as we got in our hotel room. The heat, even at 1:00 A.M. was quite oppressive.

The next day we took advantage of the hotel's free shuttle to the beach. As we were sitting in the lobby, Andrew picked up the paper and read that the day before had been the hottest day of the year. It had reached an even 46 degrees Celsius (114 F), there was a nice load of sand dumped on the city from the "empty quarter" during a sand storm, and it had been overall a pretty miserable day. We were glad we had missed it.

We knew that it would be hot at the beach, and that we would probably burn so I insisted that we lather up with sun screen. It's probably expired by now or something since it's the same sun screen I used as a lifeguard when I was like 16...but apparently it still works well since we didn't really burn at all.

Anyway, the beach was beautiful. It was clean, the water was clear. There were no rocks or seaweed. It took us forever to find anything resembling a stone, shell, or living creature. The water was nice and warm. It was perfect. We had 4 hours of ocean bliss. The best part was that the beach was pretty uncrowded! I've never been in a more deserted beach in my life! We didn't figure out why until the next day...but it was definitely a good time at the beach, regardless of circumstances.

At 12:30, we decided that we should probably pack up to leave since the shuttle was coming at 1:00 to pick us up. We were drying off under some palm trees when in the distance we hear some disgusting gagging noises. Not too far away, at the showers, a man was puking his guts out. Like I wanted a shower now. Andrew and I headed to the showers anyway and rinsed off our feet while the lifeguards tended to the poor man.

We left the beach and commenced waiting outside for the shuttle. Soon beads of sweat started forming on our faces. Then those beads of sweat began dripping down our faces. We realized that our shirts we soaked. Our pants were soaked. Our hair was soaked. And we had just dried off. We decided to go to a near-by cafe and buy some AC. This was done by purchasing the cheapest thing on the menu and eating it as slowly as possible. Luckily the cheapest thing on the menu was ice cream. We were cooled inside and out! But after finishing our ice cream we had to head back outside to wait. Why was the shuttle taking so long? Why of all days did it have to be late?

We went and waited by the road once again. Drenched in our own sweat. Ringing out our shirts to dab our foreheads. Fanning ourselves with our hands. It was horrible. Finally the shuttle came. We filed in and turned the AC vents to face us. We were exhausted. I saw a billboard, that I wish I had caught on film...but was much too tired to do so, that had the traditional "men at work" sign on it, only instead of working then men were sitting under umbrellas. The sign said, "Men at rest. 12:00-4:00 P.M. Sunday-Saturday." Or something to that effect. I conceded with the sign and quickly fell asleep. It seemed to take forever to get the hotel but we finally made it there.

We somehow stumbled up to our room, drank more water than imaginable, and fell asleep. I slept for six hours, woke up and was still exhausted. I'm pretty sure we were suffering from heat exhaustion. At least it wasn't heat stroke, which I suspect was the level of the man vomiting at the beach.

The next day, a nice Indonesian couple staying at the hotel said that it had been 52 degrees (125 F) at noon the day before. I haven't been able to verify that, but if it is true, that would explain our reaction to the heat. I'm sure I sweated out more water than I had taken in that day. The other days we were in Dubai were all around 45-47 degrees and the heat was manegable...but our first day there was utter insanity. I've never been hotter. Nor have I ever sweat so much in my life! The beach was worth it, but it may have been nice to have done it on a slightly cooler day.

Dubai reminds me a lot of Las Vegas, architecture-wise. That, or a museum of art. It is just amazing the array of buildings they have. And then you go in the buildings and they are just as extravagant. Although I'm sure Dubai has slums, we didn't find them. Everywhere we went was pristine. And boy, did we go everywhere!

On Friday we set out to go to church. We had an address, and although our hotel didn't seem to use the numbering system, Dubai actually has a nice grid-like address system. We gave the address to the taxi driver and set out for our short taxi ride to the church. We ended up in a fancy neighbourhood, which could be right...but we couldn't find the villa the church was supposedly in. We drove all around the neighbourhood and asked everyone we saw if they were familiar with the address...costing us a pretty penny. Alas, we could not find the church and didn't have a number to reach anyone with. At 80 dihrams, we decided to call off the search. It was getting much too expensive. (Not too expensive though. USD outweighs the dihram 3 to 1!) The ride cost us 4 times the amount our trip from the airport cost us! And airport rides are outrageously priced.

Not only did we skip church on Friday, we went to the mall in the evening. We had planned to go the day before but were busy dealing with heat exhaustion. We didn't buy anything though since everything was too far out of our budget range. We did, however, watch an interesting fashion show. A fashion show for hijabs. It was pretty cool. It was a contest for local designers so there were judges for the hijabs. I really wonder how they judged though since all the outfits were black, to the ankle, to the wrists, and hooded. They did add some flair here and there, but really, it was a close call all around. They did a "casual wear" section and a "formal wear" section. Some of the formal wear was pretty scandalous! Seriously, some of the gowns I wouldn't wear...low cut, strapless... They were covered by capes, but I still would not venture out in those gowns.

After the mall, Andrew and I went to the Clock Tower to take some pictures. Dubai has a mascot and he is placed all over the city. His name is Modesh and he has a catchy smile! The fountain has quite a few of these Modesh mascots so we decided to pose with them all. It was pretty fun...people thought we were crazy, but Dubai is kind of a crazy city, so I suppose we just fit right in.

Andrew and I had learned our lesson and refused to venture out during the day, leaving our next days (Friday and Saturday) just mornings and evenings. Besides which, Andrew had developed an ear infection from swimming and getting water stuck in his ear so I had to take care of him.

This involved finding the nearest hospital. I went to the front desk and asked where the hospital was. The clerk was unfamiliar with that term in English. He questioned what I wanted. I said, "My husband is sick. We need a doctor." The clerk informed me that what I needed was a "poly-clinic" and said the nearest one was "Sunny Poly-clinic" and was five minutes (insert ambiguous hand gesture here) that way. I was like, "What way?" and he's like (repeat ambiguous hand gesture) "That way." I'm like (mimicking hand gesture), "Oh, that way?" and he's like (repeating hand gesture), "Yeah, that way."

I went up and retrieved Andrew. He was in pain, swollen, and deaf in one ear. Cool things can happen in just a few days. I told him that I found out about the hospital. It should be cheap. It was close. But I had no idea where it was. Then I told him again. And then I told him again. And then I said, "Never mind. Let's go." So we went to the desk. I stopped to ask another person where the clinic was. They gave me the same ambiguous hand gesture saying it was five minutes that way. Great, I thought, Andrew and I have walked these streets countless times. We had staked out all the pharmacies for self-help just the night before. There was no clinic in sight from the hotel. So, we walked five minutes in what we deduced was that way. After walking for a few minutes we saw a fancier-looking hotel and I decided to ask the clerk inside for directions. He had no idea what I was talking about but was really nice about it. He phoned the local directory to get the number for the clinic and then asked for directions from his hotel to the clinic. He then walked us outside and said, "Turn right at the next street, walk down the whole block and it should be the last building. You'll see a pharmacy with a sign saying, "Ben Sina" and it will be right after it."

I was dubious because we had visited that pharmacy and they told us to go see a doctor but had not said that there was a doctor right next door. Plus, we didn't even see the clinic when we were there...but we followed the directions to a tee considering they were a lot better than the directions we received before. We got to the end of the block and didn't see the clinic so we kept walking. I stopped and said, "This is dumb. It should be right here! Why can't we find it?!?" A man on a bicycle stopped and said, in a nice Punjabi accent, "What are you looking for?" I sighed...would he really know where it was? "The Sunny Clinic," I said. "It's right here." He said and pointed to a sign high up on the building we had just passed. Yup. It read "Sunny Clinic." I thanked the man and dragged a confused Andrew to the sign. We looked at all the signs plastered on the apartment complex. That's right, folks. Apartment complex. We found one that said, "Sunny Clinic. Floor M. Entrance E." Cool, a little computer printed flyer telling us where the clinic was. No wonder we missed it.

We found the clinic by walking through completely unmarked doors. We were ushered into a waiting room where we were almost completely alone, except for the company of one woman who stood up and rushed out of the room as soon as we entered. She was the doctor...she was wearing a sari, but that's okay...she was still the doctor. She looked at Andrew and gave him a prescription. We paid the clinic 50 dihrams and went to the clinic nextdoor to get his prescription. We then walked across the parking lot and...into our hotel. That's right. Our hotel was right there. Why they didn't say, "Take a sharp right until you get to the apartment building with the blue balconies and then go into a door marked "E" and go to floor "M." is a question I'll never know the answer to...but we got Andrew the help he needed and he's feeling a lot better.

That evening we were able to go to the suqs downtown and found a clock with Arabic numbers, hurrah! We walked through the long gold suq and were bombarded by numerous people trying to sell us stuff. It wasn't nearly as bad as Egypt or Jordan. They were pretty wimpy, as street sellers go. I think that's because selling without a license is actually an enforced thing in Dubai, so we had people making us offers but then a police officer would walk by and the seller would disappear. It was interesting. But it was nice to not be bothered!

Dubai was nice, but if I had to live there, I would insist on having a few things:
1) a car with AC
2) AC in the house
3) 24 hour access to a pool
4) an ice machine

Excluding #3, I never thought that I would want any of those things. I've always thought that I could do without AC and ice, but in Dubai that's really a death sentence. How did people live before air conditioning, you ask? Simple...windmills. It's true. Without a cooling system you couldn't live there!

Language-wise, if you don't speak a lick of Arabic, you'll feel right at home. 80% of the city's population is foreign. Most people we saw on the streets and roads and everywhere were Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Filipino, Thai, or Indonesian. Andrew spoke Arabic to two people the whole time we were there - our first taxi driver was actually from Syria, and another taxi driver was from Pakistan who spoke mostly English. Andrew started in Arabic with him, so he struggled through the conversation in Arabic the whole time, amazed that a Westerner like Andrew actually spoke the language. He insisted that we must have had Lebanese or Syrian ancestors or something!

Best point of the lack of Arabic: in one of the pharmacies we went to, a native Arab lady came in and asked the pharmacists if anyone spoke Arabic. One of the Indians affirmed, so she stayed. Even in her home country, she couldn't get by on Arabic. Wow!

So, if anyone wants to come out here for a lucrative job offer, we say go for it. It's hot, but it's a cool, organized, modern city, and English is pretty much all you need to survive (plus AC and all that other stuff I mentioned...)

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