Weekly Drifter: United Arab Emirates

Glitzy, glam, over-the-top and a little overexposed, Dubai lives for attention. On the surface it’s materialistic beyond anyone’s  wildest dreams and by treating every visitor  like a VIP, visitors respond by spending like  VIPs, only to need resuscitating when the next month’s credit-card bill arrives. But this is the  whole idea. We’re talking about a city that virtually invented the ‘shopping festival’ the simple premise of which was to get people to travel to Dubai and spend money. With a myriad of shopping malls, flamboyant hotels, a dizzying array of dining options and hip clubs and bars, it’s all just too easy.  - Lonely Planet 

In light of Ramadan, I thought it appropriate to take this week’s drifter to the Middle East.

Dubai

The UAE is comprised of 7 cities ruled by emirs, which gives it it’s name. Although Abu Dhabi may be the capital, Dubai is indeed the largest and undoubtedly the flashiest. Dubai also blitzes its competitors with the shopping. The Mall of the Emirates is a showpiece of about 450 retailers and an indoor ski slope. Not to mention the Dubai Mall, with its 8.3-meter-high aquarium and underwater zoo. To boot, it’s built in the shadow of the Burj Dubai Tower, the world’s tallest building, which overlooks the world’s biggest fountain… you get the point. 

Upon your visit to Dubai, be sure to head towards the Heritage Village during Ramadan or the DSF and you’ll witness a different Dubai, where local Emiratis take joy in their songs, dance and traditions. Spend a few fascinating hours by the creek, watching the dhow (traditional wooden boat) traffic and theabras weave along the waterway while smoking some sheesha. Walk the streets of the tranquil, restored Bastakia area or take a stroll through multicultural Karama or Satwa. You’ll find this Dubai a million miles removed from the credit-card frenzy of the five-star hotels. 

Dubai and most parts of the UAE is very much a multicultural society. Hearing Malay, Hindi, French, and Mandarin is not uncommon. Although, Arabic is the official language of the UAE and is spoken widely by the locals, English is frequently spoken by most as well.

I’ve found that visitors either love or loath this city. Yes indeed, it’s artificial plants, waterfalls and over-the-top glow in the dark buildings give it a bit of false reality like Las Vegas without the casinos - but the nightlife is incredible. Partially because you’ll be going home broke, but also because Dubai creates such atmospheric experience when the sun goes down and the Arabic moonlight goes up. Club Djs, open roof lounges with Middle Eastern throw pillows, incense, and party people will keep you wanting more.

Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is not a city mentioned in the same breath as Dubai, New York or Paris but that’s all set to change. It might be lesser known but it’s the capital of the United Arab Emirates and, since hitting the oil jackpot in 1958, is the richest city in the world, sitting on billions of dollars worth of reserves. Abu Dhabi is smaller and far more reserved than its show-pony relative. There are far fewer skyscrapers, no glitz and, from the immediate look of it, no glam.What Abu Dhabi doesn’t have, however, it is building. From its rather humble Bedouin beginnings as a peaceful, pearl-diving island, it is rising like a sandy phoenix, quietly evolving into a capital of culture.

One question many westerners ask is, “what should I wear?” Well, thankfully the UAE is probably one of the most flexible Islamic nations when it comes to dress code. You’ll see everything from burqas to hijabs to tank tops and flip-flops; however, bear in mind it’s still an Islamic country and your cleavage may offend many. —tnoëly