A Mirage in the Emirates

In the Emirates, the sun reaches far into any form of shade. Sunglasses are so much more than an accessory (Seriously, you CANNOT leave home without it.). The slightest hint of rain is a freak occurrence. Water is more expensive than petrol. Black figures floating about mustn’t be stared at. And something grand, humongous, luxurious, and/or opulent greets you in every corner.

I found myself in a whole new world, with a new (fantastic?) point of view. This would be my first long project for work and I ended up spending a month in Dubai, occasionally driving to Abu Dhabi.

What to do? What to see? There’s the tallest building in the world right next to the largest shopping mall and the biggest fountain show (in the middle of the desert). There’s the indoor ski slope and a few crazy, big water parks to choose from (in the middle of the desert). There’s a desert safari with dune bashing and a cultural show (naturally, in the middle of the desert). And a bunch of other things to see and do in this land of infinite sand! (Watch out for my posts on travel tips and places to see in Dubai.)

I found myself drawn to the Bastakiya Quarter, a restored historic district. It’s next to the Dubai Museum and the Dubai Creek and is the only place I found teeming with history and character. Get lost in the alleyways and walk into art galleries or pretty courtyards. Stroll along the notable Khor Dubai and listen for the chants from surrounding mosques. Take shelter from the heat at the Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Café. And if you’d like to try something new, just next door is the Local House Restaurant that serves camel burgers!

Hands down, my most awe-inspiring moment was visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. I’m not certain I’ve ever seen anything so massive and so beautiful. I could’ve stared at the structures in my burka for hours. I will admit, though, that I was more impressed with the exterior than the lavish rugs and golden fixtures inside.

 

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Here’s the thing about Dubai – it overflows with extravagance. Sports cars, palaces, gold and diamonds, designer brands… These are things that many aspire for. But from where I stand, there is no place for this level of excess in a world where over 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty (living on less than $1.25 per day).

Another issue that bothered me was how many Filipinos work in Dubai. It was comforting for me, in a way. You walk around a mall and every store has a Pinoy employee. Hearing the Filipino language is not at all surprising. Plus, I sometimes get perks like better service or an extra refill of my drink just because I’m Pinay. But when I stop to think about it, I can’t help but be both sad and angry about the state of my country. A lot of Filipinos leave the Philippines not because they want to travel or experience what it’s like to live elsewhere. They leave because the so-called opportunities back home cannot provide them and their family a good life. They can do the same work abroad, and get better pay.

Overall, I’m glad I experienced Dubai for as long as I did. I got past the WOW factor. It gave meDesert time to see through the mirage… Not that it was all bad! They’ve built beautiful and functional cities, a strong economy, and thriving businesses. I must also give credit to how they’ve managed to somewhat break out of the strict Islamic religion; somewhat allowing alcohol, pork, and for people (women) to dress as they please. While they still remain shackled to religious tradition, at least they don’t strictly impose these traditions on those of varying beliefs…

But could this be yet another mirage? That’s certainly a possibility. I’ve heard a number of stories that lead me to believe so.

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