Today was an up-and-at-’em kind of day. My friend/host Tom had the day off from work, so we left around 11am to play tourist. But before we left, I learned some very interesting things about Dubai and the UAE.
When I spoke to my best friend Erin a couple of days ago, she asked me if I had seen any obviously poor or homeless people. I told her I hadn’t thought about it, and I guess that’s the point. When you fly into Dubai, they take a picture of you at passport control and conduct a retinal scan. There are thousands of cameras all over the city, and you never notice them. If you’re a tourist, you can stay for 30 days. If you have a work visa, you can stay for that duration. If either expire, they will actually come find you and send you home. The local Emiratis have money; it’s the foreign workers who make up the service industry, and you basically can’t be unemployed and live here. To get a job here, you have to be sponsored by a company, and all companies here have to have at least 51% Emirati control. Even the lowest paid workers (generally in construction) have housing camps where they’re put up for the season.
As for crime, this is one of the top ten safest cities in the entire world. The #1 city is Abu Dhabi, which is a two-hour drive from here in the UAE. There’s a reason for this. If you get caught driving drunk, it’s life in prison. I kid you not. If you get caught dealing drugs, life in prison and possibly a death sentence. I’m not saying there’s absolutely zero crime here, but it’s pretty damn close. Many of my family and friends were/are worried about my safety due to terrorism concerns. While the UAE provides generous aid to Syrian refugees, they don’t let any in. Or Afghans. Or Iraqis. And I’m guessing no Yemenis either. Try getting away with that in the US :). But between the cameras, crime laws, and border control, the UAE is locked down pretty tightly.
So off we went (with my scooter this time to give Tom a break from pushing, and because we only had one curb to deal with) to the metro and headed to the Dubai Mall. The walkway to get from the metro to the Mall itself is at least half a mile long; it reminds me of the Phoenix airport :). We walked through the Mall to the Burj plaza and I got to see the Burj Khalifa again in its full daytime glory! The day was as gorgeous as it could possibly get–maybe high 70s or low 80s with a cool ocean breeze. We watched the fountain show with an amazing front-row view this time. Tom explained to me that the sheikh of UAE went on a trip to Las Vegas and watched the Bellagio fountain show. He wanted something bigger and better for Dubai, so he hired the people who created that show and paid them a ton of money to make “improvements.” That’s what we saw.
Afterwards I had a craving for Lebanese food, and we had a meal that may have actually topped the steak dinner I had a couple of nights before–tabbouleh, hummus with pita, and shrimp on a skewer almost bigger than my hand. Afterwards we headed back into the mall to see the free part of the indoor aquarium–the second largest in the world I’m told, and I’ve been in the Georgia Aquarium, which is reportedly THE largest in the world. This one was still very impressive.
Then it was back to the metro to hit the Mall of the Emirates. While the Dubai Mall is bigger, newer, and more imposing with nicer shops, the style of the Mall of the Emirates is infinitely more stylish, with high glass domes decorated in wrought iron in a way that made it feel like an old French train station.
But the real reason we were there was not for the design and decor; it was to see the indoor ski slope. Yep, for a mere US$120, you can ski inside a mall for half a day while it’s 120 degrees outside in July. Plus, you get all the gear you need. They also have a little tobogganing and play area for little kids, which was super cute.
After seeing that, we needed to head back because my scooter battery was dying. Fortunately the walk back to the metro station wasn’t that far. However, I did want to stop to capture this cool almost-sunset picture of the hazy Dubai Internet City skyline over rush hour traffic.