Dubai: 20 Cool Facts and Random Observations

1. Dubai is one of seven states that comprise the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country formed in 1971 from individual sheikdoms.

2. Foreigners make up most of Dubai’s population! The local people, called Emiratis, are just 15% of the total!

3. Emiratis are provided with free education, free medical and free housing. However, lately their subsidies have been cut back and they have been encouraged to get jobs (mainly government and tourist positions).

4. Dubai is apparently the fastest growing city in the world! In 1991, Dubai had just one tall building and it was at the edge of the edge of the desert. Now they have over 400 high rises!

5. The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, is in Dubai. It has 164 floors!


Are you afraid of heights?

6. There is no standard address system in Dubai, making delivery services a challenge. Instead of a line for address, there is a space to draw a map or leave instructions such as this: “I live on the street after the airport road, but before the roundabout, Go past the mosque and make a U-turn. It’s the second house on the left.”


We stayed above at the Golden Sands (building 10). That’s Charlie carrying the yellow bags from Spinneys, an international standard supermarket that we loved (after Nepal, especially).

7. Oil was discovered in Dubai in 1963, but today oil accounts for just a small portion, about 11%, of Dubai’s revenues. Tourism and trading are much bigger components of their economy.

8. The Dubai Mall (where we spotted Lionel Richie a few days ago) is the largest shopping center in the world with over 1.200 stores. Many major American stores were among them, including Gymboree, Pottery Barn, Harley Davidson and a bunch of designers.


Here are the rules! No PDA, folks!

9. The above ground metro station opened in Dubai 2009. It consists of 42 stations and was built in just 18 months. Yes, folks, they built an entire system is less than two years!

10. Dubai asked Disneyland to consider building a resort here and Disneyland turned them down, saying Dubai was too small. So Dubai decided to construct its own theme park called Dubailand.

11. When it opens, Dubailand will be twice the size of Disneyworld in Florida and is expected to be the largest tourist draw in the world, with 200,000 people daily. They have signed deals with Marvel Comics, Universal Studios and others.

12. The most luxurious hotel in the world is in Dubai and it’s called the Burj Al Arab. It bills itself at a 7-star hotel and is build on a man-island just off the coast. You can not enter the island without a reservation, so we only glimpsed the outside of the hotel.


The Burj Al Arab is the sailboat shaped building in the background

13. Dubai has many man-made islands. They have one in the shape of a large palm tree and it is home to Atlantis, the Palm, a resort with hotels, restaurants and private residences. We visited a water park, Aquaventure, at the top of the Palm. They have another set of islands in the shape of a map of the world! Crazy!


The Palm from the airplane window


Atlantis, The Palm Resort, at the very top of the Palm Island (on the outer ring). We did not stay here (but plenty of Russians did).

14. During the summer, the temperatures reach 120 and don’t fall below 100 even at night! Even the bus stops are usually air-conditioned.

15. There are hundreds of mosques in Dubai and the call to prayer can be heard throughout the city. Hotel rooms have arrows pointing in the direction of Mecca just in case.


One of the many, as seen from the bus tour

16. Even though Dubai is in the middle of a desert and it is very flat, you can ski indoors at the Mall of the Emirates!

17. Modesty standards are encouraged, but a wide range of dress is tolerated.There is such a thing as a “burq-kini” for those who wish to be covered up – in lycra – on the beach.

18. There are no personal taxes in Dubai.

19. Arabic is the official language, but most of the locals speak English (as their first choice). Our tour guide said that when he speaks to the Emiratis in Arabic, they answer in English.

20. All sorts of American fast food restaurants have branches here including KFC, Burger King, Subway and Dunkin Donuts. There are casual eateries as well, including TGI Fridays, Tony Romas, Chicago Deep Dish, etc.


The fast food strip, Dubai-style


Goodbye to Dubai!

After our day at the waterpark, we only had one full day in town. Our morning was schoolwork, the afternoon a sightseeing trip around part of Dubai.

The emirate has a population of about 6 million, according to one of our cab drivers. It’s a very cosmopolitan city, attracting people from all over for work and pleasure. We’ve met people from Kenya, Uganda, Pakistan and India. The kids with whom A.J. played a bit of soccer in the vacant parking lot next to our building also looked rather mixed ethnically as well. The water park guests were also from everywhere, as I overheard French, Italian, Spanish and a few Slavic languages as well.


A.J. tends goal in the locals’ soccer match

I thought Dubai (and by extension the UAE) was really interesting. We took a city tour, and saw a few of the “sights”, which for a city this new are not really of a historical nature. Apparently most everything on the Sheik Zayed highway has been built in the last 20 years or so, and architects evidently have been given license to channel their creativity into steel and glass.


Offices, hotels, who knows- it’s pretty


More pretty buildings: Vegas in Arabic


We visited the Dubai museum, a converted fort which houses relics from the area. There are wooden dhows inside the fort-museum.

We also took a water taxi across Dubai Creek, the enlarged waterway which acts as a trade route for Persian Gulf merchants on their dhows.


Dhows from Iran. Traders moving all sorts of things, from food stuffs and furniture to electronics and cars.

We made a quick stop through the Spice Bazaar, and picked up a few odds and ends.


A.J. and sacks of fragrant and colorful goodies

Overall, I was impressed with Dubai. Like Singapore, Dubai has little in the way of natural advantages (petroleum is a small share of the revenues of the emirate). It has used its proximity, a liberal trade policy (free trade zones were established in the 50’s and 60’s), and a paternalistic yet forward-looking government which pushes everything forward. Take L.A.’s climate, Florida’s flatness, Singapore’s government and Las Vegas’ glitz and shopping, layer in a helping of mosques, and you aren’t far off. I would go back, as we missed the indoor ski slope (different mega-mall from the one we went to, apparently).


Jenn in front of the lagoon by the Burj Al Arab (in back) and another sprawling resort to the left.


Life on Dubai Creek


Couldn’t this be in Florida?


McDonald’s and a mosque…. yup, that’s about right!


Some mosques were quite attractive, in their own way

Night and Day: Kathmandu to Dubai

Well, what a difference a plane flight makes. It is just astounding how a large, winged tube of aluminum can serve as a time machine, moving us from the dusty middle ages to the petroleum-financed Persian Gulf. The transformation was remarkable: even the plane itself (a Qatar Airways Airbus) felt out of place from Nepal (it could have been the USB charging ports next to the LCD monitor on the back of each seat).

Charging up at Doha, Qatar airport.

Charging up at Doha (Qatar) Airport.

I am not sorry to be past Nepal, although, as a tease, the flight west from Kathmandu afforded truly astounding views of the Himalaya, resplendent with their snow and cloud-topping massiveness. Maybe someday I’ll get back, for another long walk.

In the meantime, we find ourselves in Dubai after a layover in Doha. Yes, this is different. The people are an interesting mix from the poorer parts of the world: our cabbie was from Kerala in India, the check-out girl from Kenya. With few native people here, the Emirates import labor from all over to build and staff the growing city. And this city is rich, based on the motor pool cruising the highways.

Um, not Kathmandu. More like L.A.

Um, not Kathmandu. More like L.A.

Our first day was spent catching up on homework, shipping some things home, and in the evening walking around the Mall of Dubai.

The lounge of our apartment- score another for Jenn!

The lounge of our apartment- score another for Jenn!

"Waterfall" at the Mall of Dubai.

“Waterfall” at the Mall of Dubai.

My hip wife.

My hip wife. She doesn’t spell her name this way, though.

The mall is near the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. We got there in time for the daily water show- very nice!

Just another tower, but pretty.

Just another tower, but pretty.

Burj Khalifa- 160 stories worth!

Burj Khalifa- 164 stories worth!

Getting ready for the show.

Getting ready for the show.

Water show- activate!

Water show- activate!

We made our way out to Atlantis at the Palm resort, where one of the world’s largest water parks is found; this park, Aquaventure, was featured on an Amazing Race episode a couple seasons ago. We spent a day, enjoying the 6-story water slide (which was scary enough for one contestant on the Amazing Race that she dropped out), the one-mile long inner tube river, and the kids’ play area. Apart from some sunburn, it was a great day out!

The Ziggurat water slide- 6 story drop down that chute behind me.

The Ziggurat water slide- 6 story drop down that chute behind me (you can hear that person screaming).

Giant kids' play area.

Giant kids’ play area.

One tube goes through the aquarium, in which you can see sharks and rays from your innertube.

One tube goes through the aquarium, in which you can see sharks and rays from your inner tube.

Tomorrow we have our last day here. We’ve got to catch up on homework in the morning and then we’ve got a city tour planned for the afternoon. Then it’s off to Almaty, Kazakhstan, for another jarring transition!

Like little I've seen before.

Like little I’ve seen before.

“Hello” from Dubai

We will have more to say later, but it seems we stumbled into something of a celebrity out-on-the-town event at the Dubai Mall today:

Can you spot the celeb?

Can you spot the celeb?

Tim recognized him as he and his entourage were wheeled around the mall on fancy golf carts; we later saw this out front of the Apple reseller in the mall. Jenn (pictured above in the crowd) also managed to get this shot:

It was me you're looking for.

It was me you’re looking for.

Apparently, he’s something of a phenomenon in the Arab states lately. He was born in 1949, and is still a worldwide celeb.

Can you guess who we saw?

Answer here.