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Sunday, January 02, 2005



It's hard to generalize about Dubai, except to say that it is one of the most culturally diverse cities I've ever been to. In fact, I think the Dubai experience would be enhanced if everyone wore a helpful tag along the lines of, "Hi, I am from India/Bangladesh/Pakistan/West Africa/Kuwait/Syria/Sri Lanka/China/Kazakhstan etc."

Indeed, people from other places outnumber native Emiratis by a large margin. There is no better place than to sit and watch the world go by, literally, than in the Deira Souk.

Deira Souk at 11 pm

Vegas of the Middle East

Many Emirati men wear immaculate white dishdashas, which are sharp white, ankle-length shirt dresses, topped with crisp red and white or white gutras (translation for red state residents: these as the "rags" that people who live in this part of the world wear on their "heads.") These men's dry cleaning bills must be enormous, since their dishdashas never look dingy or wrinkled or sweaty. They must change several times a day.

Overall, the look has a bit of retro-glamour mixed with noveau riche oil trash. For me, it works.

My Arabic is pretty rusty, but I think this says "use a condom."

Dubai is all about trade and big portions of the city are free trade zones. The modern city didn't exist 50 years ago, until a far-sighted, if un-democratic, ruling-family determined that the oil wasn't going to last forever. On the creek, you can see the old-style wood Dhows that ply the Arabian Gulf (oh, no, not the Persian Gulf) and Indian Ocean, moving cheap goods cheaply.

Ancient dhows on the Creek, the urban center of Dubai

The Creek is the essential feature of the city. It is a 10 km long lagoon fed by the Arabian gulf. Hundreds of small wooden abras ferry people across the creek, from one souq to another, for pennies.

The Dubai Creek

Sure, culture is nice. Fortunately, Emiratis don't distract you with a lot of museums or monuments that you might feel guilty about not going to see because you spent the whole day in the mall.

Not everyone would be as excited to to see this as we were

Some places have opera festivals, others have garlic festivals. In Dubai, January is the Shopping Festival. I'm not clear on the details, but I think the name sums it up.

Cigarette lighters would be but one item you can buy in bulk. Fortunately, there's a store -- or 10 -- devoted to this one product.

When you come to Dubai, you can stay, as we did, in the Deira Souk and be woken up by prayer calls and the metallic roar of vendors rolling up their metal doors, or you can stay on the lovely beach, at the famous Burj Al-Arab, Dubai's singular landmark.

The Producer tries to imagine what a $5000/night room looks like

Alcohol is not served anywhere, except in big hotels, but you can enjoy a fine shee-sha nearly anywhere in the city, along with a cup of cardamon coffee. It was just warm enough to sit outside on New Years Eve, watching dhows strung with lights slipping up and down the creek.

When in Dubai, act like an Arab

The Arabs taught us algebra and how to read the stars. They also taught us how to use fruit as a water pipe.

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