Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Dubai:Playground of the Rich & Famous

Like a Hollywood movie set on steroids, Dubai is a city of exotic facades designed to excite the senses and create a faux reality for those who can afford it. Ski hills in shopping malls, manmade islands visible from outer space and rotating apartment buildings are only a few examples of Dubai's "more is more" philosophy. Yet it's a city of contradictions - modernists struggle to make Dubai first in tourism and trade, yet they must work within the confines of social traditionalists trying to preserve local culture amid a constant influx of expats. In a city where law is deeply rooted in the Muslim belief system, unmarried pregnant women can face deportation, alcohol is sold only in hotels and eating and drinking in public is punishable during the month of Ramadan. It is this constant push and pull of conflicting desires which to me, defines Dubai.

Matt and I spend the morning touring the quaint, historic Bastakia Quarter built in the late 1800’s by Persian merchants. Located next to Dubai Creek, it shares little in common with the Trump-inspired tourist section of the city. Women in burkas stroll shaded alleyways, men in dishdashas with briefcases hail cabs while abras (small wooden ferry boats) plow through the water. We marvel at the wind towers, used as an early form of air conditioning on the tops of the buildings. At the nearby Bur Dubai Souq vendors haggle with customers, selling silk saris and custom-tailored suits. After a lovely lunch with Matt’s friend Olivia, we pop into Chandelier to engage in the local pastime of smoking sheesha. Choosing from a glorious menu of flavors (grape, apple, strawberry...) we inhale rose flavored sheesha through the top of a hubble bubble, watching the passersby from the outdoor cafe. Though we had hoped to see the interior of the Burj al Arab, the world's only 7-star hotel shaped like a sailboat (see pic) boasting 8,000 square meters of 22-carat gold leafing, they wanted a cool $60 per cocktail so we head instead for the chic confines of Bahri Bar overlooking the beach (and the Burj!). At only $12 a drink, this seems like a bargain in comparison. Sandboarding, wadi-bashing, camel racing and golf are popular here, activites merely adding to Dubai's cache as a year-round getaway for the rich and famous. Between adventure sports, white sand beaches, shopping and dining, Dubai pretty much has it all. But luxury and glamour doesn't come cheap: this is the place to come roll around on your Benjamins in a $3,000 a night suite. Since I'm no billionaire I'll be rolling on my Washingtons instead...or wallet and I are still recovering from the cocktail bill - oh how I miss the $2 cans of brew in Costa Rica!

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