Filtering by Tag: UAE

A Day in Abu Dhabi

I meant to go to the bus station this morning and drive up to Abu Dhabi to see what that town has to offer and to link-up with Richard, an old friend from my Antarctic and Kazakh days.  He has been working in AD for 2.5 years and still is with Raytheon.  I took a cab from my hotel and meant to go to the station, but the cab driver convinced me that he could drive me to Abu Dhabi for less than the bus ticket.  He was right.  And, he stuck around AD for the day and drove me back this evening.

What a difference a year makes.  A year or two ago, cabs were all engaged in Dubai and these other world nationals made about three times what they earn today.  Now, any of them is glad to get any business and they are willing to make personal sacrifices in order to earn a living.  I paid my driver, Muhammad Nasir, a bonus because he was willing to sacrifice that which I was willing to pay for -- personal convenience.

I found that I liked Abu Dhabi very much.  While parts of it are too modern with lots of skyscrapers, the city itself was much more laid back, had green parks, a great marina, and even had an IKEA.

A view of the marina and some of the skyline.

The Marina Mall with an IKEA anchor store.

Richard had just arrived a couple of hours ago from Kuwait, a stopover from a month back in the States.  Fortunately, he wasn't jet-lagged and was able to pick me up and drive me around.  He had to go to the Supermarket for some items.  I went with him.  An interesting experience.  The only market serving pork to non-Muslims is in his neighborhood.

Here is the sign posted above a secluded area of the market where they had all kinds of pork products.  And the only place to buy marshmallows was in this same area.  What's up with that?

Richard buying ham from Hindus.  I guess if we were in India, we'd have to buy beef from Muslims.  It's all so confusing...

We next tried to enter the Emirates Palace Hotel.  This is a magnificent facility that the UAE claims is seven stars.  It probably is, but there is only a five-star rating.  It simply means that the UAE is very proud of this hotel, and they ought to be.  We drove up the driveway headed to the hotel when we were stopped by security.  They wouldn't let us in because we didn't have reservations at the hotel and the hotel was preparing for a large alternative energy conference.  So, Richard works his magic and bullshits with the guards.  They tell him no reservations, no entry.  Richard then tells them that he has reservations.  When asked what his reservation number is, he blurts out "7."  It didn't work and we were turned away.

Next stop was the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, this huge and gorgeous mosque that makes all other mosques pale into insignificance.  It makes the Taj Mahal look a second-hand effort.

Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque

Walking around this mosque is like walking through a living piece of art.  It's knock-you-dead gorgeous.  We were able to walk around and take a look in between prayers.  Some photos follow:

This carpet is supposed to be the largest single-piece carpet in the world.

Richard wouldn't take no for an answer, so when we completed the tour of the mosque, he called the Sales Manager for the Emirates Palace Hotel, a man he knew from many Raytheon business meetings that Richard had booked at this hotel.  This guy made the arrangements and we breezed through the guard post at the hotel.  We spend the rest of the afternoon sipping coffee and whiskey while listening so a trio playing some kind of Arab music.  It was a fine end to my stay in Abu Dhabi.

Richard drove me back to the Marina Mall where Muhammad Nasir was waiting for me to drive me back to Dubai.  I really don't want to return to Afghanistan or the Army tent city at Ali Al Salem. 

Dubious Dubai

When one is living in a war zone and deprived of the ability to travel around freely, burdened with the requirements to wear heavy body armor, staying alert for signs of trouble, scanning for IEDs, and missing the comfort of home, one dreams of warm vacation spots where women mingle without burqas and alcohol flows freely.  Dubai is one of those spots where civilian contractors go to let their hair down, relax, refit, and drink.  Nearly everyone on my contract who has been in Theater for longer than a year has been to Dubai.  It's easily accessible by commercial air from nearly any location in the Middle East.

After I received permission from my management to go on R&R while I was in Kuwait, I returned to my work apartment, got online, booked a cheap flight on Jazeera Airways, booked a hotel room on, and five hours later found myself at the Novotel World Trade Center Hotel in Dubai.  In five hours time I went from sitting on my couch in a dry (alcohol-free) desert country to drinking with Dutch businessmen who were former Dutch Special Forces.  And I drank a lot.  Ahhh...beeer!

I arrived late at night, but Dubai's clubs really don't get going until 2200 hrs.  I arrived fashionably late.  I talked with the Dutchmen and drank until 0100 when I got a little wobbly and went to bed.

Today I headed down to the central mall where everything seems to be.  The Burj Dubai (now renamed the Burj Khalifa to honor the Abu Dhabi Emir who bailed Dubai out recently) looms over this portion of the city.  The mall and surrounding buildings have got to be the most modern and cleanest facilities I've seen in years.

Looking down into the center of the mall.  There was a Guinness World Record attempt going on.  This guy was bouncing a tennis ball off the tops of his feet.  When we last passed him, he had been doing it for over four hours -- with no breaks.

For all the money that Kuwait has, it's a shit hole.  Afghanistan is a shit hole with no money.  Dubai is a modern marvel with no money -- at least for the moment.  While I was sitting at an outside table sipping coffee, I watched as crowds flowed past me.  Dubai is a central crossroads of humanity in this part of the world. 

The lower half of the Burj Khalifa, at the moment the tallest building in the world.  They wanted over $30 from me to go up to the observation deck.  I balked at the cost.  I'm no Emir.

There's two realities here in Dubai, and to a lesser extent, in Kuwait.  The native Arabs here don't work -- or if they do, they do it behind closed doors.  The entire infrastructure and all services here are provided and supported by other foreign nationals.  Dubai is run by Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis.  Well, throw in a few Filipinos too.  These folks provide everything from taxi drivers, hotel clerks, shop keepers, street sweepers, security details, restaurant workers, to construction workers.  Except at the mall, there were no Arabs to be seen.  The Dutchmen last night told me that they give Dubai five years.  This entire charade will end then.  It's a hollow shell.  A country without a soul.  Dubai is a featureless desert adorned by empty modernity.  Its days are numbered.

A view of the other Dubai.  Indo-Pak shops and restaurants supporting the real population of Dubai.

I went down to the old center of Dubai, away from the modern hub(bub).  I wish I had gotten a room down here.  This area of Dubai I call Delhi.  I saw the same shops and back alleys in New Delhi years ago.  The area was saturated with Indian food shops and restaurants.  I would have eaten down here but I've been eating Indian food since I've been in Kuwait and I need a break.  There were other areas that reminded me of downtown Los Angeles.  I felt at home down in this section of the city and wandered into an Indian barber shop in one of these alleys where I received a great haircut and scalp massage, complete with hot chai.

Okay, I've been here.  It's time to go.  Tomorrow I'm off to Abu Dhabi for the day.  But tonight, more drinking.