You say Dubai, and I say hello
Why did I decide to use a Beatles pun as title of this article?
Why did I decide to spend two days wandering around by myself in Dubai?
Why did Dubai spend billions of dollars building islands shaped like palm trees and the world)?
There are no meaningful answers to these questions. But if I learned anything from my time in Dubai, it's this – sometimes you have to do stuff just because you think it'll be cool.
The first day, I wanted to see skyscrapers. After checking out some of the smaller ones (still amazing), it was time to go big. So I made my way to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building the world.
I shelled out a decent chunk of money for a tour called "to the top". At first I felt cheesed because they don't actually let you go to the top, you go to the 124th floor of 150 or so. I guess they gotta leave something exclusive for the rich guys. As it turns out though, the 124th floor is still incredible:
After being blown away by epic views for about an hour, I came back to the ground level with some free time left on my hands. The tallest building in the world also happens to be neighbors with the largest mall in the world, so naturally, I had to check it out.
One thing I noticed about the mall was the uncanny amount of luxury children's clothing stores. There were a lot of them, almost more than there were adult luxury clothing stores. I was baffled at first, but I finally figured it out.
The rich guys who run the country are called Emirates, and they all wear the exact same thing. The men wear a long white robe with a red checkered cloth head sash, and women wear a long black dress that covers all skin except part of their face. But the kids are different. Those little buggers can wear what ever they want. So as an Emirate, you've got a small window of time rock expensive fashion is before you hit puberty. They go all out.
My first night in Dubai, I got an interesting early morning wake up call. At around 5am, loud arabic chanting poured in to my room. It was the first prayer of the day, being broadcast over loud speakers like a tornado siren from the neighborhood mosque.
I thought I might just have been unlucky with the house I was staying at, like a house next to train tracks. Nope. I later found out from my host family that every residential house, by law, must be within hearing distance of a mosque. My American sensibilities were a little shocked, and I cried a single tear of appreciation for the US Constitution.
Fortunately though, in Dubai, you get only get a little taste of Islamic law. They are much more lax on dress code, drinking laws, practicing other faiths, and probably a couple other things westerners like myself are unaware of. Dubai the Las Vegas of the Middle East. I believe this is part because their economy relies on tourists from more heathen countries, and part because some Middle Easterners themselves want a place to let loose while still feeling at home (a what-happens-in-Dubai kind of thing).
Before oil, Dubai used to be just a bunch of markets called souks on a river in a really hot desert. Interestingly enough, the souks, the river, and the desert, are all still there. And besides a couple historical museums sprinkled in, they seem relatively untouched by oil money.
So on my second day, I decided to face the heat and hit these scrappy markets.
The first and most beautiful thing about old Dubai was how cheap and delicious the food was. I got two wonderful falafel wraps and a coke for two bucks. That made my day.
The souks are a different story. Those arabic merchants are sharks – ready to feast on the wallets of juicy, cash-laden westerners. Even a glance at any of their merchandise is like a taste of blood to them. They'll come out to cut you off, and then pound you with as much English as they know to try and get you to bite on something.
Once they've sold you on something, they throw out a heinously expensive price and act like it's legitimate. You feel bad about walking away because they've already gone through the trouble of packaging it for you. Also, you don't know how much a 100 grams of Arabian curry should cost, so they might be right.
I was one of the weak ones. I walked in trying to find some gifts to take back home, and I walked out with over a hundred dollars worth of curry and some aftershave powder that didn't work.
All in all, Dubai was a diverse and fascinating place, and the skyscrapers definitely lived up to the hype.
Next up: Bulgaria,