On my return home from Jordan last week I diverted through Dubai, because I was “in the neighborhood” and have long been curious about it. Several people that knew I was going have asked me about it, and as it’s such a technology hotspot, I thought I’d do a short post as most people reading my blog are probably curious about it.

My executive summary: “Like Vegas, only more so”. More buildings, more money, more construction, and a very strong drive to be the first/biggest/tallest/fastest/best at everything. It was really eye-opening.

My first experience was on landing we were told it was 44 degrees C outside, and humid (in Fahrenheit that works out to “really really inhospitably hot”, 112-ish). No problemo. I’m a desert person, and I’d been warned by several people (“whatever you do don’t go during the summer”).

I stayed at 5-star hotel, and hung out in the executive lounge for happy hour, so maybe my experience was not a typical cross-section of the population, but the snippets of conversation I overheard were fascinating. Everybody was negotiating *something*, even though it was the weekend. Dubai is a haven for type-A personalities, overachievers that’s don’t have an off switch or pause button. About 80% of the population is non-UAE, many of whom are just working there for a while and moving on. The feel of business in the air was palpable, and was everywhere I went. They’ve taken what I think was once a sleepy trade port and turned it into a technology and financial hub. Everybody who’s anybody wants to be there, all major companies and banks have operations there.

Nothing happens at a small scale in Dubai. They are putting up the Burj Dubai tower (photo below), but for competitive reasons have not announced what the final height will be. Every few months they just say “yup, we’re going up a few more floors”. They’re building a monorail that will serve the entire city, and it looks like they’re doing it all at once. No 5 mile pilot projects here, it seemed like 50 miles or so at once.

Here’s the Burj Dubai tower from afar, with the monorail in the foreground and lots of other cranes (I suspect that the cranes breed at night when nobody is watching :)). If you zoom in you’ll see how many cranes there are, and this is just ONE PART of Dubai.

This was one of the highpoints of my whirlwind tour. Three days a week, and the city’s main mosque, a volunteer group does a 2-hour presentation for anyone that wants to attend on Islam and what it means to be Muslim. The reason why they do this is all about building bridges between cultures, I thoroughly enjoyed it, learned a lot, and am very thankful that they’re doing their part to try to help make the world a better place. I am very glad I went and would HIGHLY recommend this if you visit Dubai.

I visited the “Chill Out” lounge, where everything is made of ice. Inside temp was -6 deg C (21F), while outside was 40+C (105+F). Everything you see is made of ice, and the place was full of ice sculptures. They serve drinks in glasses made of ice.

I went on a “desert safari”, which was “dune bashing”, night in the desert, Arabian BBQ, belly dancing, etc.

Trade has always been an important part of Dubai’s history. I went on a boat ride on the Dubai creek, where a lot of “Dhows” like this dock. They are actively in use, the docks were stacked high with cargo.

I did the mandatory trip to the Mall of the Emirates, which is the largest shopping mall outside the US (I’m not a shopper, I went to 2 of Dubai’s biggest malls, and the week before did both of Amman’s biggest malls, and bought, in all….. nothing). Dubai is not really a walking city, particularly in the summer, so if you want to walk, you go to a mall. And, if you want to ski, you go to Ski Dubai at the Mall of the Emirates. Here’s a picture (poor quality because it’s through a window, I didn’t feel a need to go in having already seen a lot of snow in my lifetime :)) of the ski lift.

And, in case you’re wondering what an indoor ski hill in the desert looks like from outside:

In a place where they build ski hills indoors, what else might they do? Well, how about air-conditioned bus stops (and, they really need them)?

This is the Burj Al Arab hotel, the (self-proclaimed) world’s only 7-star hotel, where you’re assigned a butler when you check in. The round platform is the helipad, they offer a helicopter limo to the airport. This is on the same part of the coast where they’re building all the man-made islands.

I visited a local “souk” or market, a maze of alleyways that most tourists don’t seem to brave. I went in deep, and bargained masterfully with a spice merchant (I think I won because he seemed quite annoyed with me). The photo below shows the entrance, once you go in there, you could get lost for hours.

Here’s another angle of the main downtown. It’s pretty much impossible to take a picture where without getting construction cranes.

Lastly, I got a chuckle out of this, as it pretty much sums up what Dubai is all about. In near where I live in California, we have things like “Stagecoach Park”, and “Dog Beach”. In Dubai? “Gold and diamond park”!