Thursday, December 04, 2008


Continuing on the the second leg of my Barack Obama victory lap tour, I flew from Indonesia to Kenya, overnighting in Dubai on the way. Dubai was one of those places, like Tokyo, that I had spent an ungodly amount of time in the airport, without ever actually getting out and seeing the city. This time I had a buddy from grad school to visit, so why not?

The Bank was nice enough to put me up in the Jumeirah Emeriates Towers. It is an uber posh (and uber tall) hotel famous on the Dubai skyline. (The picture of the hotel isn’t mine, I ripped it off from some stock photo website, but I think it serves the purpose.) You should have seen the look on the face of the receptionist when I rock up to a $350+ night hotel wearing busted jeans and carrying only my backpack (rest of the baggage had been checked through). The poor woman looked horrified, but I had a corporate reservation and my credit card cleared, so hey, who is she to judge?

My room was on the 31st floor with big floor to ceiling windows. All the comforts you would expect at a 5 star hotel, plus this really weird and sinister looking overweight rubber ducky in the bathroom. It was a little strange to shower with that thing watching me with its weird sun-glassed eyes. Maybe I am just getting paranoid in my old age.

Anyway, the next day I had a few hours to kill before meeting my buddy for lunch, so I went down to old Dubai. The concierge kept trying to talk me into going to the mall, why would I bother coming all the way to Dubai and going to a museum? He was somewhat right in the fact that the old city wasn’t much exciting, but I have Gucci back home. The museum was cheesy generally a waste of time and three dirham, with two exceptions. The first was the pictures of the city taken from the air every ten years. As late as the 1940s, the whole place was made of twigs. By the 1950s, it had progressed to look like Nouakchott (at least how I remember it when I lived there in 2004 – don’t know what that says for modern-day Mauritania). Then somewhere before the 1960s picture, the whole place exploded. Now it looks like Singapore surrounded by sand dunes.

Couple of fun facts about Dubai that I didn’t know: Oil isn’t a big thing there. Less than 6 percent of their GDP is petroleum and related projects. Conversely, almost a quarter of it is real estate and construction. Which makes sense because they are building everywhere. And according to the census of 2006, less than 20 percent of the population were Emirate nationals, everyone else was an expat. Most were from South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), with about 3 percent being “Western.” And it is a great place to be a chick, more than 75 percent of the population is male.

The second thing that was not a waste of time was the pearl diving exhibit. People have been diving for pearls in Dubai since sometime before recorded time. They had a cute little re-enactment video. (Though I was a little horrified that they just threw away the oysters after pulling the pearls out. Don’t do that! Fry it up with a little garlic. Throw it on some couscous. Really. You eat camel intestines, trust me, this is better.) And of course the video ended with the greedy merchant pouring his sack of pearls out onto the carpet and laughing, um, greedily.

So after the museum, I took the little local ferry boat across the creek to the souk section of town. I went to the perfume souk, and the spice souk, and the gold souk. The gold souk was a little nuts. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold and gems lining the windows of a narrow pedestrian street, with no security in sight. Nothing. I actually priced one of the less ostentatious pearl necklaces in the window. A steal at 15,000 USD. And that was comparatively so cheap looking that I actually stopped to ask what it cost. (My mother had previously asked me to buy her an 8mm black pearl for a ring that she was re-setting. This seemed like a good place to do this. I will spare you the details of me haggling with the gold marketeers, but the story ends with me in the back office of some second-floor shop, waiting for my credit card to run while the greedy merchant behind me is pouring ziplock gallon bags full of pearls onto sorting bins and laughing, um, greedily. Mom has her pearl now though.)

So now I am in Kenya for a couple weeks leading up to Christmas. I am sorry nothing spectacular happened to me in Dubai, but again, the words are just a conduit for the pictures. (And the duck is weird, no?)


Andy said...

That duck looks like he wants to kiss me.

Anonymous said...

I live vicariously through your adventures. I want to be you in my next life. gb in csh

Daniel J said...

Hey! There's my name in e-print again!

Carol said...

That's my girl - thank you for the pearl!

Kristen Himelein said...

Strange Andy. Strange.

Mo-ha-med said...

You could see my (old) office from your hotel room! I hope you waved. Did you wave?