Cameras in hand, we boarded our SABIS-sponsored bus to Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s capital, and home to most of its more culturally-oriented tourist projects. The city is set to host an extension of Paris’ most famous attraction, the Lourve – though bidding only just finished this year. And come 2013, we’ll be seeing the grand opening of the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim – if we’re still in the neighborhood, of course!
So, it’s a work in progress, this whole Abu Dhabi cultural-hub idea, but what’s it really like, right here, right now, on the ground?
After three hours of driving through the palm-lined desert, we arrived at the Abu Dhabi mall for our first taste of city life in the UAE.
First impressions: men, men, and more men! Far as the eye can see, men were absolutely everywhere! Indian men, Arab men, Filipino men, and a few stray European types, some with their significant others. They walked the sidewalks, smoked their cigarettes, and sometimes just stood around staring.
“Where are all the ladies?” asked one of the teacher crew. Well, as far as I can tell, the weather was pretty damn boiling, and if I weren’t in full on “exploration now!” mode, I’d likely be at home watching the Beeb – in the air conditioning! Come to think of it, when I lived near the Muslim part of London a few years back, there were never women outside on the sidewalks. Just XL groups of rumbling mustachioed men!
So off we went to the Marina Mall, home to thousands of shops of all prices and goodies, from Bvlgari to Steve Madden, Adidas to Forever 21. As you can see from the photos, we spent a good amount of time just people watching. Every culture, from every corner of the world is represented here. Most striking of all: the Emirati women. Decked out in all manner of designer accessories, parading in elegance through the glittery mall, perfectly makeup-ed faces gazing from what felt like extra tall horses. Sometimes with prince and princess children, skipping alongside them, swaying on stilettos in full black abayas, the Emirati women were the uncontested Queens of the court.
Video of the people range below, though I didn’t quite capture the Emirati women, just one in a green hijab at the very end!
We spent a few hours, mouths agape, and eventually made our way to another mall, where our bus would come to pick us up at midnight. Through the 110 degree weather we swam, over the cab center, and off in an air conditioned Toyota we went. Speaking of cars, check the crazy yellow sports wowsa in the photo album above! Say whaaaat?
When we finally got to the Abu Dhabi Mall, we sat down for a bit-o-grub. I fancied a halloumi wrap with fresh veggies (check out the food posting here!).
After a full day of chit chat, travel and making moves with the ladies, it was time for some solo-action. I needed a moment to decompress and just take it all in, relish in some silence. So I took a stroll around the mall – where I had no problems finding a few fabulous stores with big platform shoes and urban casual wear that made my heart (and wallet) go a flutter! Despite the Rhianna remixes (“Can you get it up? Can you keep it up? Tell me are you big enough?” – Daaaaaaamn, talk about pressure!), I bravely made my way out the doors without making any unnecessary purchases!
Walking down to our meeting point, I suddenly felt all the eyes on me – hungry eyes of migrant workers holding down the horn, squinting eyes of Arabic men, judging with their gazes. Suddenly, I felt a bit like a two-bit hooker, and decided to make my way to a directory and avert as much attention away from me as possible.
There I met a girl named Kelly – also a teacher for ADEC (the official government department that’s hired my company), though her certifications back home allow her to teach directly in the city. They make just a few hundred more than us (which I would spend in a weekend, living there!), but their temporary hotel was beyond exquisite.
She took us on a stroll through the grounds, and we spent 20 minutes in the Trader Vics (yes, as in, Trader Joes, but not), where we salsa danced and reveled in the jazz flute accompaniment by the supermodel musician on stage. No time for a drink, but at least we got our groove on!
Come 12 midnight, all us Cinderella teachers made our way to the pumpkin carriage for the 3 hour trek back home. Gazing out the window, at a mosque even more beautiful than the Taj, I wondered how the hell I ended up here. And thanked the divine for the chance.