Tag Archives: dubai

Dubai: Revisited

So my last big trip to Dubai involved a long fabulous week of yoga, ladies nights, and touring the must-see sites. Jumeira Beach, Sattwa, the Burj Al Arab, a Dhow Cruise on Dubai Creek, the Dubai Museum and Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum’s House – a venue which boasts the lamest collection of sun-damaged photographs this side of the Tropic of Cancer. I left the city feeling like I’d done quite a bit, but hardly scratched the surface of what real Dubaians experience as life there.

Life on Jumeirah Beach . . . fake as the picutre?

Seeing as the last several weeks have been full of company-sponsored trips out to Dubai, I decided to make an effort to see more of the world’s latest addition to the ‘Cities You’ve Gotsta See’ list, even if it did mean a four-hour commitment on a less-than luxurious bus. And besides, after all the hard work for Japan Aishteru, I was ready to get out and enjoy some creature comforts again!

The Epicenter of City Life in the UAE: The Mall

But not just any mall. Dubai Mall. The fourth biggest shopping center in the known world. “Come find everything” reads the mall’s fairy-tale promise. As though you’d just rubbed the right bottle, and out pops a mustachioed genie, dancing behind eye watering oud smoke, cloaked in a musky cologne. Everything, you say?

Just 50 dirham for an all-day pass out of the desert heat!

Well, if it takes three visits before you even feel right writing a blog on the subject, then yes, the mall has just about “everything.” An Olympic-sized ice rink, twelve banks, a travel agent, a gold souk, an aquarium, a dancing fountain, and the tallest building in the world. Yes, that’ll do.

Coming from America, and having lived in Thailand and Japan, I thought I’d seen most of what the shopping world has to offer. Huge malls are common in Asia, and the boutiques and markets in Paris or London are unparalleled as far as I’ve seen. But Dubai Mall is hardly a mall at all – it’s more like a ‘consumer life center,’ an ode to indoor leisure.

My word, dahling, is that an aquarium in the mall, or did I lose my shit somewhere?

My first experience here was brief – and I was thankful for it. The crowds descend upon the AC-megalith at 7pm sharp, making a leisurely stroll about as enjoyable as an obstacle course in a military training yard. Groups of abaya-ed women float down the aisleways in wide rows, like slow motion Rocketts. German tourists sip espresso at the mid-aisle Italian-style standing café. Indian families, eight people strong, crowd onto escalators, mouths agape at the circus we’re all a part of.

I refrained from random mall shots of people to respect the Muslim rules against photographing women’s faces that some, though not all, women follow

I put on my game face and booked it from the front of the mall where my taxi dropped me off all the way to the opposite end of the monster. I wanted to catch the dancing fountain in full effect, even if it did sound an awful lot like the Belaggio fountain in Vegas.

The dancing fountain, pumping out moves to pop, marching tunes and arabic music all day long.

The second trip was much less hectic. We arrived at the civilized time of 2pm and had a nice little shop before indulging in some Japanese soba noodles – served cold with a simple sesame green onion garnish – and a few plates of kaitenzushi. Oh, how I missed eating off a conveyor belt!

OISHII!

Perusing the shops, I saw many of the same shops I would back home: H&M, Forever 21, New Look, Top Shop, as well as a quite a few Middle Eastern and luxury names in fashion . .

Alexander McQueen
Center of Fashion Walk, Versace in the background

I found myself particularly enamoured by the candy stores. Not simply because of my infamous sweet tooth – what’s left of it – but the artistry of the wrappings and the clever interior design of the spaces. Is this a chocolate store or a jewelry boutique?!

Just a few of the many fancy candy stores dotted throughout the mall.

My third and probably last visit to the mall was more of a functional endeavor. Preparing for a two-week detox, I wanted to hit up the organic supermarket to stock up.  A big group of us also took the opportunity to head over the Burj Khalifa and make our way to the top(ish) of the tallest building in the world.

The view was pretty damn mint.

An impromptu urban mass, built on the blood of oil . . . in the middle of just about nowhere.

So that’s it, all that bloggin’ dedicated to a big fat mall. There’s a part of me that feels a little shamed by my mall-lovin’ leanings – what can I say, I spent a lot of time at Pearl Ridge, Ala Moana and Kahala as a kid!

Checking out the view at the center of the madness.

Don’t get me wrong, I do prefer supporting up and coming artists and designers at markets, and love a touch of boutique shopping. But these trips were about a lot more than shopping.  These hyper massive centers are fast becoming the dish of the day in countries with a growing middle class – the day trip of choice for most families and friend, especially when the weather is just about as friendly as a desert viper caught between a rock and a cactus tree.

If I had my way, I’d be spending my free time hiking up green mountains, teaching and experiencing fabulous yoga classes, buying local/organic, and sippin’ soy lattes al fresco in the sunshine.  But that’ll have to wait for the next adventure . . .

Beyond Mall Life

More than anything, I wanted to see some art in Dubai. Unfortunately, company trips are always on a Friday, the one day galleries are shut. So, instead of going to a fancy shmancy art gallery, we went to … a rugby game!

 

Japan vs. UAE

Can you guess who I was rooting for?

I’ll give you a hint: I’m nearly half Japanese, I was born and raised in Hawaii, I lived in Japan for 18 months, I speak Japanese, my favorite food is sushi and I recently raised over $2500 for the victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunamis. And did I mention living in the UAE has hardly been a walk in the park?

Three more reasons to support Japan ;o)

Well, the score quite accurately reflects my wishes for the night … 111 to 0. Yup, that’s a zero.

Nihon wa, ichiban desuyo!

Between the three of us, I’m pretty sure we drank the stadium dry, and as if that weren’t enough, we decided to hitch a ride home with a busload of equally tipsied ruggers boys from England. It made for a rather entertaining ride!

Dirty rugby songs, anyone?

Spicin’ it Up

With a few lovely ladies to adventure with, the Spice Souk was another must-see on the final rounds of Dubai-town.  The market is a handful of labyrinth walkways, covered by a wooden roof, lined with tiny shops teeming with tastes from around the world.

Ze Spice Souky Souky Now

Each shop is manned by a pair of salesmen, more than happy to meet your every need, and provide you with an armful of new ‘needs,’ should you give them the time of day.

Most of the shops were closed for our little jaunt, and crowds were non-existent. Translation: hyper-desperate sales approach from the shopkeepers. We meandered our way in and out of most shops until we finally found a spot where we didn’t feel quite so harassed. I got a good deal on some teas for my detox and even found a Cadbury’s to keep me standing til dinner.

Rose petals, anise, and chamomile, oh my!

Next up . . . a 2-dirham (65 cent) boat ride across Dubai’s traditional money-maker, before the oil boon . . . The Dubai Creek

Dubai's trading lifeline.

Pakistani Souk

Though it ain’t no Portabello Market, the Pakistani Souk does have a few interesting shards of shopper’s delight, just behind the crap souvenirs, to the left of the pile of dresses you wouldn’t be caught dead in. Quilt-style hippie skirts, hoochie tops for beach bar flirtations, scarves of every color and quality, baby clothes galore, and just enough people to keep things lively, this long covered walkway of a market is more eye-candy than the average visitor may be prepared for.

See anything you like?

I noticed quite a few Western tourists in unabashed awe of all the hustle and bustle, but relative to markets in India or Nepal, or even Thailand for that matter, this souk is a piece of (date) cake.

Sunset rolls in . . .

Both attempts to visit the Gold Souk were shot down for various reasons, and a trip to the indoor ski slope ended up being another FAIL on my tentative agenda. But you can’t see all of the city, not even in handful of visits.

Man chillin' in a boat.

Boasting 400+ skyscrapers (there was only 1 as of 1991!), 1600 square miles, a sprinkling of man made islands, and only 1.7 million people, Dubai is an enigma you’ll need quite a few days to explore in depth.  It’s a brand spankin’ new city, and its residents are in the process of defining what it means to live here.  No matter how long your visit, I have a sneaky suspicion you’ll be left with the feeling that …  something … intangible …  is … missing …

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Dubai: Part 3/3

The final part in the my first series of travelogues on Dubai – the French-flavored dating scene!

For Part2 on the Dubai yoga scene, click here.

For Part1 on first impressions and touristy thangs, click here.

As for the Dubai dating scene … well, I was only there for a week, but I can safely say the French contingent is rather determined when it comes to the chase!  There are fifteen thousand Frenchies in Dubai, in a city of four million, and somehow, someway, I managed to meet two Frenchmen in one night.  Both of which are professionals in the city, having lived there for exactly four years.  Both of which grew up 30 minutes from the town where my dad is planning to retire.  Both of which are 28 years old – one born October 21st, the other born October 22nd.  Oddly, one sported a black hat, the other a white one.  Coincidence?  How could it be?

White dudes in Dubai are well dressed, well educated, generally good looking, and very confident.  This all makes sense considering the circumstances.  These guys have been filtered down by internationally successful companies to carry out big business on a global scale.  They’re smart, bilingual, if not poly-lingual (hot!), likeable, ambitious, focused, and being all the way out here in the desert, we can safely say most of these fellows are pretty adventurous.

All this being said, after the initial niceties and charming wooing on their part, I did start to feel a bit like I was in an interview for a position as their VP of Lovin’ Affairs.

Yes sir, I’d be more than happy to debrief you at a future date.  Beyond that, I’m afraid I’m simply not available for any specific positions…


Black hat French dude gave me an interesting perspective on being an investment banker (you’d never guess his job, talking to or looking at him).  He was disgusted by how much he had to watch his back for gold diggers.  And he was quite astonished when I couldn’t remember what he said his job was – apparently, most girls really care about investment bankers.  Go figure.

So he says that women go to this bar at the bottom of his building, a building where thousands of investment bankers work, a bar where hundreds go to take their daily dose of relaxation.  The women flock here to hunt down men with “a bright future” and are relentless in their tactics.  Given, he could have been exaggerating, but I thought about it for a sec, and to be fair, if I were a gold digger, I’d pack my bags and go straight to Dubai myself!  I mean, what better place to meet attractive young men, in an environment where only the brightest have been chosen?

“Yeah,” the Frenchman elaborated, “I can just see her now.  Sitting somewhere in Manchester devising her plan like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna get him.  I’m gonna go to Dubai!!’”  We had a good laugh over the hypothetical gold digger.  And I wondered how much of that was true.

I also pondered how these Frenchman had chosen me, out of a bar full of ladies, to actively pursue on the dance floor and beyond.  Sporting jeans and a tattoo is already rather “hardcore” in this city of cocktail dresses and salon hairdos.  Totally immersed in our “ladies night out” I had no intentions of speaking to men, entertaining their ideas, or even getting much dance time in.  Regardless of intentions, the French charm was irresistible.

White hat Frenchie got my number as I walked out the door of our first venue.

“Please can I have your number?”

“Why?  I don’t live in Dubai.”

“Well, where are you going next? We could meet you and your friends there.”

“I’m not sure where we’re going,” though I most certainly did, “have a good night, though!”

“Could I just have your number then?  I’d like to see you again.”

“Hm.” I had to give him points for persistence.  “Well, I’ll tell you what.  If you can remember my name, I’ll take your call.  Otherwise, you’re shit outta luck.”

We’d had a brief conversation earlier in the night about Plaisance, the town where my dad is moving to for early retirement.  This fella grew up a stone’s throw away, so we had some means of connection; the demi-peche, the Marciac Jazz Festival, a love of wine.  I couldn’t remember if I’d even told him my name, nor did it make much difference to me.  Sure, he was cute, but how would anything of worth ever come from making a connection with some random French guy who lived four hours away?

Well, he got my name somehow and I came to get to know him a bit better later in the week.  He was a salesman for a telecommunications company – which would explain the hard sell at the lounge – and he spent most of his hours playing rugby – which would explain the bulging muscles.  Muscles which, oddly, I didn’t notice at first.  Friends had to remind me later of how “hot” a body he had.  If anything, meeting him the second time, when he wore a skin tight polo shirt, only made me feel a little … intimidated.

What I found attractive about homeboy on our third meeting wasn’t his muscles or his steady job, but the fact that he was a painter – a brilliant painter, actually.  Mostly abstracts, bold with subtly layered colors, harmonious in vibe, touches of mystery sprinkled throughout, well composed … such a beautiful surprise.  A rugby playing painter.  On top of that – he’s the best Salsa dancer I’ve ever been dipped by!  What else could be in store?

At the time of writing, however, I’m pretty sure I won’t be finding out much more about the dude.  After a night of great conversation and incredible visceral fire, he kept playing out this weird hot-cold game.  “Sweety” one minute, not returning calls the next.  Perhaps he’s bipolar – perhaps he’s just French. Either way, I don’t like games, and I’m not looking for a DIY romping partner, so as it stands, I’ve let this one pass.

Good times in Dubai.  Who knows what else lies in store for a single woman like me, on a spiritual path, saving up for my life of yoga and writing, looking for my life partner, living in a land of riches and temptation.  Oh my!

Dubai: Part 2/3

A Dip Into Dubai Yoga

Well, when the external vibe isn’t there, there’s only one place to go – internal!  We hit up one of the best yoga studios in Dubai, Zen, with three locations throughout the bustling metropolis.  With a one week pass, we saved a significant amount of dosh only after three classes – and we would have done more classes, had the studio not been closed for the holidays.  The atmosphere was welcoming and chilled out, though surprisingly small.  And the teachers were pretty good.

As a teacher myself, there are certain things I look out for in a good class – knowledgeable instruction (in terms not just of physiology but the psychology and mythologies behind postures), do-able classes (instructions I can follow without having to watch the model poses the entire time, which can be very distracting when you’re in a groove), and a third-eye vibration in savasana.  That last one’s not easy to hit, especially if I’ve allowed myself to be distracted by some other aspect of the class I would have done differently.  But I try to approach every class with a beginner’s mind :o)

They were lovely classes, a multi-level vinyasa, an intermediate Ashtanga, and a multi-level Hatha taught by a substitute.  None of the classes hit all three ideal points, but the Ashtanga class came closest.  If anything, my Dubai yoga taste test gave me confidence that I could (and will) teach full time in a big city studio sometime in the future.

Actually, the big goal is to have my own studio one day where I can teach yoga to Native Hawaiians for free!  But that’s a long ways down the road…

Check out Part1 of the week in Dubai rundown.

Check out Part3, the bit on dating.

To read more on yoga in Dubai, click here.

Dubai: Part 1/3

Caught with nine days off and no budget or visa to visit Turkey (the schools here wait until days before a potential holiday to tell you whether or not you’ll actually get those days off), me and a few friends decided to hit up our neighboring city, Dubai.  We got a cheap as chips hotel (Thanks, EasyHotel!) for under $15 a night, and spent our days doing things most city-dwellers take for granted: going to cafes, yoga classes, movies, malls, and tourist destinations.  Here’s a an initial impression I got on the touristy features of the city.  Check out parts 2 & 3 for the yoga and dating impressions!

The Touristy Run-down

No one can deny the ambition of the world’s latest ode to capitalism.  Overflowing with shopping options, brand new concert halls popping up all over the city, millions of ex-pats have gathered for business, education and service, the world’s first man-made islands formed and sold – on top of all that, the government is making big moves to attract artists and performers to the desert oasis getaway of the future.  As far as architecture goes, monstrous skyscrapers line Sheikh Zayed road for miles, and where most cities have a specific area for the mammoth, the eye-popping structures of modernity, Dubai’s aren’t confined to the financial district.  The big boys are EVERYWHERE.

All this being said, beneath the sheen of new money’s splendor lurks concrete doubts as to Dubai’s positioning as the international hot spot destination.  Theatre shows have been cancelled due to religious censorship, as just one sign of the many faults with a theory that one could actually import culture.  On top of that, the economic down turn has left scores of buildings empty and leased luxury vehicles abandoned like redheaded stepchildren in mall parking lots across the emirate.

Although the latest headlines here claim a quick recovery of the market, outsider doubts seem to have more solid grounding than the Dubai skyscrapers themselves, erected in the hasty hope, “if we build them, they will come.”  The consecration of desert ground with the country’s newly made oil money has brought nowhere near the reputation or reverence of other destinations with a rich lengthy history and subsequent artifacts of culture.  Dubai’s residential crème de la crème, the Jumeira Palms, have even been called more of an ‘eighth blunder’ than an ‘eighth wonder’ of the world – especially since the reality of closely built homes and practical slave labor became ever more apparent.

Yes, it’s real!

Don’t get me wrong, the UAE has done some incredible things with infrastructure, architecture, education and a massive green movement that will pave the way for a very bright future in the emirates.  Dubai, specifically, however, from the perspective of a young yogi tourist, still has a lot of growing to do!  From what little I’ve seen in one week, and this is still open to debate, Dubai is the perfect city for a day of shopping, pretty good yoga, a bit of beach action and some mainstream clubbing.  And that’s about it.

I sometimes wonder what Mark Twain would have said about Dubai … “Never have so many riches been squandered on so little substance.”  “As though the ghosts of dinosaurs past have been conjured back to earth through the gushing blood oil on these unending sandy shores, the city is haunted by the hallow cry of extinction.  And not necessarily of the dinosaurs’.”  Or something of much more eloquence and hilarity, I’m sure.

To drive down Sheikh Zayed Road, the city’s main artery, the average tourist isn’t exactly handed beauty on a silver platter.  I was expecting each and every building to be a vision of distinction, a testament to the new city’s dedication to humanity’s glittery new future.  But you really need to explore each building in detail for that special feature that made it worthy of such highly coveted – and highly priced – real estate.  A wrap-around layer of ornate metal cascades around the crust of one building, flying arches crown the top of another, giving it a bit of a lotus top vibe.  True, there are gorgeously creative buildings to see … but as with most cities in the world, Dubai’s skyline really only boasts a few gems amidst a sea of mediocrity.  For every feat of modern architecture, there are two glass and steel rectangles that say nothing more than “Hi, I like money.” Uh huh.

Tallest building in the world – pretty damn surreal, especially in the heat!

Architectural expectations smushed, I was determined to find something really stand-out about this city.  Surely there must be something more to this vast man-man atrocity.  There must be some history, some culture, some depth to the story.  I began my journey as a typical tourist, on the lazy man’s BIG BUS TOUR, thinking I could at least get a lay of the land, for future explorations.  Stops included the Jumeira Mosque, the Gold Souk (closed that day *sigh*), the Dubai Museum and the Sheikh Zayeed Al Maktoum House.  They all sounded “worth seeing,” as suggested by the knowledgeable host of our bus tour recording.  But after respectfully stopping at each and every cultural pit stop, I can’t say I quite agree with our jaunty British tour voice.

The Dubai-est thingy on the tour – the Burj Al Arab

The Dubai Museum is a tiny underground reenactment of life in the desert before oil.  The kind you’d see at a natural history museum where plasticy mannequins make traditional jewelry in a cave-like poorly-lit “store” for tea-sipping “customers” sat upon his traditional Arabian rug.  Although my travel homey liked it, for me, its best quality was probably the AC.

The Sheikh’s House was basically an empty smattering of rooms, boasting nothing more than a few sun-damaged photographs.  And the “best souk” in Dubai was actually a brand new indoor mall with cool imports from India and Africa.  Where are the rugs, the spices, the shisha pipes and bartering owners?? I wanna get sweaty and I want a good deal!  Ah well, I probably just didn’t do my Lonely Planet homework properly, but frankly, I wasn’t all too impressed.

On the plus side, the river cruise was relaxing and gorgeous.  Many of the city’s coolest buildings line the river, and we passed by a busy intra-city trading port where small boats of men and goods zipped left and right around us.  I now feel pretty comfy navigating a Dubai map, which was the main goal of the day, really.  As for “vibe,” I’m still not entirely sure…