Tag Archives: dubai

Dubai 2.0

Seeing Dubai through a visitor’s eyes is a rejuvenating process

I’ve been entertaining my Dad in Dubai for the past ten days and it’s been surprisingly wonderful. Whether it’s that we’ve both mellowed enough to enjoy a more extended dose of each other’s company, or whether it’s having T around as the defuser, or much needed pressure valve, I don’t know. All of the above?

I was explaining this to my colleague, Greg, and he said ‘isn’t it wonderful having guests and showing them around and rediscovering all the things you love about the place!’. It hit me that it was exactly what had been happening. Everywhere I’d been going, I was thinking to myself, ‘wow, isn’t this a wonderful place’. I was falling in love with Dubai all over again.

The past year has been levelling. A lot of old friends moved away and the transient nature of this expat hub was drawn into all too sharp a focus for us. I’ve been finding it too easy to fixate on this young city’s room for process improvement and have let myself lose sight of the rich and wonderful parts of living here. Having Dad’s fresh eyes has helped me see through the crap. Not only his fresh eyes, but he managed to bring another set of fresh eyes into my life – kind of. Let’s just say, last week I met a friend he’s known since studying Mandarin with her in Sydney a decade ago, she’s just moved here on her own journey making New Memories and I really look forward to hearing about how she finds her feet and sharing her discoveries.

I’m right in the middle of my Dubai renaissance and I’m going to start talking it up, and shift the balance of this blog to ‘travels’ from ‘travails’. Perhaps you might start seeing a hint of the effervescence of fellow Dubai blogger Britney of Arabia and just maybe on my way, I can even convince the doyenne of all things Shamelessly Salacious to fall in love with Dubai again with me.

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Travels on foot

Dubai is a notoriously unfriendly city for pedestrians. Most areas simply have no footpaths (/pavements/sidewalks). Those wanting to take to the streets are forced to do literally that, and walk along the roadway, or the dirt and rubble beside it. (Manicured verges? I don’t think so.) Yes, Dubai is very good at creating basic working infrastructure overnight, but the finishing touches often take years to complete. Temporary barriers are a permanent sight in every locale.

The opening of the Dubai Metro in September 2009 – and the subsequent roll-out of all stations on the Red Line over the next year – gave hope to wannabe pedestrians too. The stations along Dubai’s main thoroughfare, Sheikh Zayed Road, were built with footbridges, so the metro line could be accessed from either side. Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) assured the city that these footbridges would be accessible to everyone (not just metro commuters) 24 hours a day, as discussed in this Gulf News article.

This exciting revelation would mean residents in Jumeirah Lake Towers could cross over SZR to eat in the Marina. Or that I could walk to work from The Greens to Media City.

I attempted this yesterday for the first time, giving myself a good hour to walk the 3km to work. There was a section of sand for about a few hundred metres, but otherwise, the walk was paved, and easy to manage. I arrived at Nakheel Station, outside the entrance to Emirates Golf Course and approached the stairs, but the automatic doors didn’t recognise my presence. I reversed and approached again, but was denied access, as was the case at each of the entrances.

Friday is the Muslim Holy Day and in Dubai, metro services don’t start until after 1pm (as opposed to 6am for the other six days a week). It would seem that the footbridges are not open to the public for general use, but are only open during metro operating hours. I returned home and grabbed my car keys, for the 7 minute drive to work.

Aside: When looking up the operating hours, I googled “Dubai Metro” and found that the RTA’s official website ranks around fourth in results, after several from a site called dubaimetro.eu. A bit of search engine optimisation needed?

Belt Up!

Not the only dummies I'm referring to

Going for an evening walk in my unusually peaceful neighborhood, I noticed some spectacularly bad parental road behaviour last night. Let it be understood that there is all manner of bad behaviour on the roads of Dubai and that irresponsible driving with children in the car is also, unfortunately, par for the course.

The thing that drew my surprise and ire last night was above and beyond the normal. A 4×4 was cruising along a street with a 60kph speed limit. I was at a pedestrian crossing waiting for it to pass. What drew my attention to it was that it had its sun roof open and two children were standing up, with the roof at their waist height. The SUV approached a speed hump in typical fashion – that is, without slowing down. It attacked  the bump at the same speed and I actually saw the children bounce. They squealed in delight and waved their arms around.

I was so shocked as I crossed the road my jaw was agape. I noticed another woman crossing opposite me bearing a similar expression of horror. We exchanged looks and expressed our disbelief to each other.

As mentioned, irresponsible parents abound on Dubai roads. You will frequently see children who ride unrestrained and are permitted to climb around the cabin, from back to front seats and interact with the driver. Sometimes the driver is also on the phone. Often they are also speeding.

I’ve seen many babies placed on laps, in the front passenger seat, with not a safety seat in sight.

The explanations for this stupidity centre around there being no culture of driver education in the UAE, and no law preventing children being unrestrained in a vehicle.

In fact child safety education campaigns for motorists are often left to the private sector. Last year, The National newspaper ran a ‘Road to Safety’ campaign in July, calling on the Government, drivers, and pedestrians to make the Emirates’ roads safer. In March this year, BMW sponsored the ‘Stay Alert. Stay Alive’ program which emphasised the importance of child restraints.

I grew up in a country where road safety campaigns have always taken a large chunk of money from the public purse and thankfully so. Strict policing of child restraint was also consistently applied.

Remarkably, it was only in February this year that the Director of the UAE’s Federal Traffic Department, Brigadier General Ghaith al Zaabi, announced that seat belts for children would become mandatory, and that it wouldn’t come into effect until 2011 when the legislation had been drafted.

Figures for the number of children killed on the roads are not easy to come by, probably because the UAE does not keep those statistics. The Brigadier General said “hundreds” die each year on the roads.

Health Authority Abu Dhabi says 44 children under 17 died on that emirate’s roads alone in 2009.

According to UAE University, that represented  63 per cent of all child deaths in Abu Dhabi.

Here’s one final staggering figure: according to the same research by UAE University, 98 per cent of children are not restrained when travelling in a car.

New to Dubai

It’s a crazy crazy place. I’ve been here just on two weeks now and haven’t stopped to write at all so my first impressions are now, first, second and third impressions.

So what are they? Over-engineered landscapes; lush gardens in what should be desert; building sites, construction; no footpaths; having to drive everywhere; few street names, no street numbers; bling, glitz and glam; mish-mashed cultures; public processes created on top of each other; a lack of forward-planning; gold, marble, diamonds, diamantes…

I’ve been living in a hotel. The Rihab Rotana is a really lovely place but I am tiring of it. The service is stiff and overblown, but well-intentioned and staff are indeed well-trained. I’d just prefer ‘how are you today’ with a smile to ‘how are you today ma’am’ with a bow.

Hotel life is strange, and it’s my first time but I imagine it is weirder here than anywhere. Take the breakfast buffet, for example. I’ve never seen so many tastes catered for. It’s enormous. For Aussies, there’s fruit and yogurt and cereal, but no spoon on the table, so you have to remember to collect one from the buffet table before sitting down. That’s because that’s the only fare that requires a spoon.

On the cold buffet there is a selection of savoury yoghurts (labneh) served with oil and lemon, or rolled into balls, with or without herbs. There are cucumbers, corn, pieces of haloumi and pickled vegetables. Then there is a continental type selection: sliced cheeses and meats (but no pig).

Then there is the warm stuff: an eastern dish called Foul Moudames which I often have: a kidney bean stew which is nicer than the westeren-style baked beans. There is also hash browns and scrambled egg and some beef or chicken sausages and some beef or veal bacon.

Then there is their selection of breads: I usually take the leb bread because it’s fresh and chewy and really nice. They also have small loaves of wholegrain, french sticks, squares of white and brown and some pastries too.

Other highlights? The Rihab has a lovely rooftop pool and gym, and lovely chocolate cake. Unfortunately I’m more familiar with the latter than the former. I’ve just been served a double slice for lunch. I expect it’s because the girls in the restaurant know how much I love it. Light and a little mousse layered into the sponge, with a wicked ganache icing.

I’m told some of the people at work don’t like the Rihab so much because it’s a dry hotel but I’ve discovered that there are too many opportunities to go out drinking so I don’t need access to it at ‘home’. I’ve never been one to need a drink with a meal or in my room on my own at night so I’m happy.

Getting around is supremely difficult. There is no such thing as a pedestrian culture. For starters there are few crossings. Roads are all busy and wide. To cross from my hotel to the Creek Club (maybe 200 metres as the crow flies) would take me 45 minutes to walk I’ve been told, because I have to walk a few hundred metres in the opposite direction to cross Al Garhoud Road then back again.

I say Al Garhoud Rd but that’s quite rare to be able to name it. To catch a taxi to someone’s house I have to describe it by its proximity to landmarks. Very very difficult for newcomers.

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