A week ago, I returned from a long weekend spent with my mother in Dubai. I was expecting many things. I pictured Dubai as a city of skyscrapers interspersed with sand, camels, and golden Lamborghinis. As a Christian, I was expecting to be unwelcome in a Muslim country. Almost all of these preconceived ideas of what Dubai would be were proved utterly wrong.
Contrary to what I had believed Dubai would be, it is a city that typifies that word so popular with travel blogs, brochures, and general puffery – cosmopolitan. While some of the rest of the United Arab Emirates require certain dress to be worn (particularly by women), Dubai will take you as you are. Even if what you are is frizzy-haired, slightly jet-lagged, and pretty unaware of your surroundings.
During our weekend, my mother and I spent the majority of our time on the multiple bus tours that traverse the city. In past travels, we have found that these tours are a good way to get a better understanding of the city that you’re in. Sure, the experience may be pretty reminiscent of a tourist trap. However, as a foreigner with no knowledge of the area or its surrounds, bus tours are a good way to get your bearings.
On our bus tour, we managed to see the majority of the city. This included the skyscraper-laden downtown/business area, the older town, and the marina area.
How would I describe Dubai to those who have not been there? Imagine a small, succulent, perfectly-cooked steak. Now place that steak in a Tupperware container. Then put that container in another one. Repeat this process at least three times. Why this particular analogy?
Dubai is arguably the most plastic city that I have ever experienced. Almost every aspect of the city is engineered to make the visitor consume and purchase to their maximum capacity. Despite this, under the layers of Tupperware plastic, there is definitely a delectable experience to be had. If one can look past how blatantly consumerist it is, Dubai is actually quite a lovely place to be.
But why is Dubai so plastic? This is something I pondered for most of my first day there. I wondered this until the bus tour enlightened me about one crucial fact from Dubai’s history: oil was only discovered there in the 1960’s. I had previously thought that Dubai had long been an oil hub, and its obsession with being the biggest, best, fastest, newest city that it can be was a long-held feature of the region made easier by modern advances in construction and engineering. In fact, Dubai is so precisely calculated because it could be. By the time the Sheiks of the region had money, there was already an abundance of knowledge about town planning and social construction. So Dubai is so plastic because the Sheiks want Dubai to continue to be the central business destination throughout the Middle East. And if the Sheiks want something, they certainly have the money to make it happen.
All in all, Dubai is a baffling, overwhelming, delightful place. It is not surprising that seventy-five percent of Dubai’s population is foreign nationals. You can make money. You can have a good time. Would I recommend Dubai as a travel destination? Not unless you have very deep pockets. Everything is expensive. But if you’re tired of the traditional holidays and you have money to burn, Dubai will not disappoint. You could spend time in the largest mall in the world by area. You could visit a man-made island in the shape of a palm tree. You can visit the tallest building in the world. You could even go skiing. Dubai has a lot, but be prepared to pay dearly for it.