Tuesday, April 24, 2007

It's a Man's World

Dubai is a very strange place. Not only is it a city in the middle of a desert, a city in a constant state of construction, a city which re-claims land to build 7-star hotels and mini-Earths... there is something else a little amiss with Dubai, and it took me a good half hour to put my finger on it. The men! Or, perhaps, the lack of women. Regardless, it makes for an unusual feel to this already unusual place. [Note: According to various websites, men make up somewhere between 70 and 75% of the population in Dubai]

The first time I noticed that something was a little strange was when I boarded the bus from the airport. The first four rows of the bus were "Reserved for Ladies." This meant that even if there were only two women on board, some men (and there were a lot of men) still wouldn't sit down. I also encountered a bus conductor who, having said something to the men standing in line for the bus, caused them all to shuffle out of the way and allow me to board first. I didn't mind the special treatment (especially as it got me out of the stinking hot sun), but there were occasions where I felt a little objectified, so won't miss Dubai and its many men too much.

After arriving at the United Arab Emirates Youth Hostel Association (a fairly swanky hostel, but who would expect anything less in Dubai?), I updated my blog (I have my priorities nice and straight), and then headed out to explore.

[would you expect anything less than a swanky hostel in Dubai?]

I met a nice German lass on the bus on the way to Deira, and though we wandered around together for quite a few hours, I never learned her name. By the time I thought to ask, it had gone past the point of ridiculousness in not knowing it, so I just let it slide. We explored Deira, the eastern half of the main city of Dubai (Bur Dubai is to the west of the Dubai Creek) and though we were, for the most part, looking for a tourist agency for her, managed to see many of the sites of Deira. We accidentally stumbled upon Heritage House and Al Ahmadiya School, two buildings built in the early 1900s and as interesting in their design as their history. We also visited the Gold and Spice Souqs, as well as the surrounding alleyways which contained countless stores selling various fabrics. It was actually very interesting to see the contrast between these places and the shops which surround them. One minute you're looking at store after store flogging gold, silk and beautiful spices, and then you are faced with dodgy watches and even more dodgy (and not even Genuine Imitation) t-shirts. It didn't help this little consumerist, of course, that due to supply-and-demand, most of the clothes stores were targeted at men.

[an early example of Dubai architecture at the Heritage House]

[a fancy name for a "bubbler" at the Al Ahmadiya School]

[the ridiculousness that is the Gold Souq]

[Nuts! I had to buy some... well, a lot...]

[if only this captured the smell - the Spice Souq smelled pretty good!]

I got a bit shirty with The German Girl, as she will henceforth be known, and I blame it on dehydration. I was determined to buy a nice, big bottle of near-freezing cold water, but was mightily disappointed (and somewhat astounded) at the lack of fridges! Store after store seemed to have cans of Coke and bottled water just sitting on shelves - ridiculous! The German Girl was also annoying me because she expected me to lead the way. Most of you reading this know that i have an abysmal sense of direction, and it frustrated me to no end that she kept waiting for me to figure out where we were. But oh well - I saw some places I might not have otherwise. She eventually went off to find the tourist information place on her own, while I wandered down to the creek for a look-see and a yummy falafel sandwich.

[Dubai Creek]

After my late lunch, I headed back to the Gold Souk Bus Station (which, I discovered, was incorrectly labelled on the tourist map I was carrying, which lead to much of GG and my confusion earlier in the day), in search of ice cream before bussing it to the hostel. Would you believe it, ice creameries, like cold water, are also practically non-existent! Of all places, you'd think Dubai, with its 30-something degree averages, cold water and ice cream would be big business. Crazy! I eventually went back to the hostel for a swim (I told you the hostel was swanky), a shower (my first hot shower in weeks - thoroughly enjoyable) and an early night.

I was woken before 6am by one of my room mates blowdrying her hair. Who does that? I got my own back this afternoon, though, when I returned to the room to find her asleep. I re-packed my backpack with not an ounce of concern as to how noisy I was being.

Not only does the hostel have a pool, they back on to a running track, so, for the first time in more than three weeks (due to fear of numerous things - Thai drivers, being attacked by startled elephants...), I went for a run. Boy am I out of practice.

Breakfast was supplied by the hostel, and though it was simple (bean mush, cheese and pita bread), it was just what the doctor ordered. I don't know how traditional Arabic it was, but it was delicious!

I spent my second day in Dubai on a bit of an unintentional mall-crawl. I went out to visit the Burj Al Arab (the 7-star hotel that looks like a sail), and was amused and a little affronted at how over-protected it is. The security guard insisted I stand in a certain area just to take a photo. It's a cool-looking building, but having seen it and all the fuss that surrounds it, I think it's highly overrated.

[a man taking a photo of the Burj Al Arab from the allowable side of the street]

Just near the hotel I discovered the mall that the travel brochures tout as being in a style that is "traditional Arabian." It was actually quite a beautiful place, but the sale of Croc shoes and overpriced designer clothes made it feel a little less authentic.

I then headed to the Deira City Centre (not actually anywhere near the centre of the city) in search of air conditioned comfort. I looked around for a while, and just as I was starting to feel nice and chilly, headed outside again into the heat. The temperature changes dramatically between shady areas and the areas in full sun. You can actually feel your body start to sweat!

I went back to the Gold Souq for a little while, had a lovely dinner of Moroccan salad and bread (after looking everywhere for somewhere selling something more substantial than a burger), and then a delicious “fruit cocktail” at the bus station. I don't know what was in that thing, but it was amazing.

I was so engrossed with “Life of Pi” (a great book – highly recommend it) that I got off the bus too early, and ended up visiting yet another mall while waiting for the next 17 bus to come along. I eventually made it back to the hostel, re-packed my backpack (with a sleeping roommate, as mentioned earlier) and, after spending some time updating my blog, went to bed. Goodnight, Dubai. It was... interesting.

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