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Exploring Dubai’s Burj Al-Arab and Souk Madinat

As Westernized and relatively liberal as Dubai is as a city, it’s still located in a Muslim country. Last night for the first time in my life, I heard the public call to prayer. We were in a very crowded public place with lots of noise, and I probably wouldn’t have made much of it if Tom hadn’t mentioned it to me. No one stopped and dropped, so to speak, so we just went on our way. I’m a big Coke drinker, and it was cool to see the bottles Rebecca had picked up for me with Arabic writing on one side. Video streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and even iTunes are restricted here, so you have to figure out a workaround if you want to see any US shows that way.

As for dress, we saw the gamut last night. One thing I didn’t mention about the mall was that the high-end designers have separate stores just for kids’ clothing. Seriously. If you want to dress your 5 year-old daughter from top to bottom in Dolce & Gabbana, this is the place to go. I saw the most beautiful little girl in an elevator, maybe 3 years old, with darling gold earring studs and a lovely dress. After passing by all those stores–and noting the elegant detailed brocade on her mom’s abaya sleeves–I couldn’t help but silently ask her, Who are you wearing?

I tried to do my homework with regards to customs and courtesies here, but I don’t know that it was much use. The people working in the service industry are mostly non-local, and the locals who do work here are accustomed to catering to Westerners. I feel like a fish out of water because I really enjoy being pleasant and charming with cashiers, waiters, door people–whoever. I’ve gotten very mixed reactions to my American-style friendliness–from stone faces to strained smiles. Other people have been more gregarious, but it’s been a crap shoot. All that being said, almost everyone (workers, people around us, etc.) have been extremely courteous with regards to holding doors for us and my wheelchair, and generally making way for us to pass or enter elevators first. And that cute little girl in the elevator? She wasn’t shy about smiling or waving at me :).

This is also not a place I would go looking for high culture. There are few museums here. Big musical acts do come here to perform, and the soon-to-be world’s largest opera house is currently under construction near the Dubai Mall. There are plenty of mosques, and even one that caters to tourists interested in learning more about Islam. However, because the native Emirati population is so small and everything in Dubai is so new, there is very little historical and profound Arab substance here. I think during part of our desert safari on Saturday, we’ll get to experience some of the Bedouin culture, which will be really neat.

So moving on with my day, around 6:30pm we headed by taxi to the Souk Madinat Jumeirah. It’s basically a big indoor market with lots of restaurants, nice shops selling local clothing, rugs, jewelry, and souvenirs. We were hungry, so first we went to went to eat at a Texas BBQ place called P&Bs. I can’t tell you how bizarre it is to walk into a restaurant in the Middle East and see huge Texas flags everywhere. But hey, anything goes in Dubai. Except for pork, of course. Plenty of pulled brisket and beef on the menu, but no pulled pork ;).

After dinner, we went to take some pictures around the Souk, and I honestly felt like I was in the middle of an Epcot country. Everything is so new and clean and perfect tht it feels utterly fake. However, we got a gorgeous view of the lit-up Burj Al-Arab, a beautiful hotel that looks like a sail and is the only 7-star hotel in the world.

From there we did some shopping! I bought some stuff for the boys, some beautiful beaded tunics for myself, and plenty of locally crafted items for family and friends. After shopping was done, we went to Left Bank for some drinks and more awesome conversation before cabbing it back to the apartment.

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