I have returned! As of last night, I’m back from Dubai, still alive, and with my right hand intact. Some time ago, I wrote a few details of my travails and emailed them to several people. I have more or less reproduced these details behind a cut, with a few changes and a few additions. If you got the email, you’ll find a little new and possibly interesting stuff buried within…
Incidentally, it’s actually slightly chilly tonight (albeit that I am in shorts and a t-shirt) and I love it. Makes a great change from blisteringly bloody hot.
Much of the fabled cheap stuff in Dubai is no longer very cheap – the Rand has got better and the Dubai prices are now such that most items are only a little cheaper there. Some electronics and PC games etc are still cheaper, but jewelry, clothing and things like that are no longer dirt cheap.
That said, the answer is that I bought a Sony T5 digital camera on about my 6th day or so there, for the equivalent of about R1800, which is about R800 or so cheaper than I can get it at home. I only got a price that good because Strini, the engineer I’m here with, bargained the price so low – Indian guys have it built in, I guess. I didn’t take all that many photos after I got the camera though – basically we worked at least 9 hours every single day, so the time to explore in the daylight was limited. What photos I did take will be published somehow soonish.
The camera I bought on Al Fahidi street, which is basically jammed with shops selling the biggest load of stuff that fell off the back of trucks you can imagine. The camera salesman was quick to show me the genuine Sony seal on the camera he sold me, which strongly suggests that the guy next door (who was even cheaper) didn’t have a seal and probably had a dodgy ripoff. Of course, it might also mean the sales guy had access to a label printer and a Sony image…
Al Fahidi really has to be experienced to be believed – at every shop you step into a slimy sales guy approaches immediately and starts showing you the incredible bargains you can only get in his shop. Never mind the fact that the same stuff is in the shop on either side. For some electronics, like cameras and MP3 players this can work out quite cheap, but you have to be really careful to make sure it’s genuine. The first guy offered me an 8 megapixel GuangBo camera for less that R1000. Sounds great, but what the heck is a GuangBo? There are other bargains to be had as well – there are a few shops stuffed to the rafters with assorted stuff, mainly junk, but really cheap junk. If you don’t expect whatever it is you buy to last long or be genuine, you can actually get very cheap stuff – I’m sure I saw a very nice pair of Ookley sunglasses, for example. I bought a fire lighter for R2 (so I don’t care if it never works – but it does) and a set of 64 AA batteries for R15 (at about 25c a battery, if they last a day or so each, I don’t care either). I made several similar cheap but useful purchases with no expectation that the products would last, and no real concern either :-).
On the other end of the scale, there are some seriously big shopping malls in Dubai. We spent at least 4 hours at the Ibn Battuta mall, and took plenty of photos. The way the place is decorated is simply amazing, in different styles from different countries in various parts of the mall. The shops aren’t all that different from an SA mall, with a few shops thrown in you’ll see on US TV, but it was really big. For perspective, I’d put it at least 150-200% bigger than Gateway (in Durban, for the non-locals reading this) in terms of floorspace.
While I’m talking malls, we also spent some time in the Mall of the Emirates – this one is a little smaller, and really doesn’t look like much inside. It was nice, much like the Pavilion or Gateway, but not special – but it does have a hotel and a ski slope attached. Ski Dubai is a really large indoor ski slope, that you get into inside the mall, with what I imagine is artificial snow. We didn’t get a chance to ski that night, and I hoped to do so over the following weekend. Unfortunately I reckoned I’d need many hours to get the hang of it again, and really enjoy myself, and I simply never got those hours (consecutively, at least). The ski slope is an amazing thing to look into, especially if a few locals are doing it – it’s the only time you’ll ever see an Arab in a jacket!
You don’t see them in jackets because the average day temperature while I was there was about 36 degrees. This was still late spring of course – in July and August it’ll be 42 to 45 or so on average. We regularly stepped out of the restaurant we ate at at 23:00 or so and got a blast of stifling heat – it’s still easily 30 degrees then. It’s unthinkable not to have an aircon there.
I also spotted a business opportunity I’m probably already too late for – traffic cones. There is so much construction going on in Dubai (and has been for years apparently) that large sections of all the roads are often cordoned off or the lanes closed to allow some work to be done. This is to improve the traffic situation, which is chaotic. We left the mall one night at 23:30, and still got held up for a little while on Sheik Zayed road (the 5 lane main road to our hotel), just like we did if we left work at 17:30. The traffic literally never lets up much. The people I spoke to who’d been there a while say the traffic is the biggest issue – the place is growing so fast the roads haven’t kept up. That might explain why everyone drives like they’re suicidal maniacs. Well, that or sunstroke.
The construction was everywhere – just looking around from the office I’m working in I could see four new giant buildings going up. Similarly, I could see five or so new buildings being constructed from my hotel window. Anywhere you go, there’ll be cranes on any horizon. Cranes and traffic cones – those suppliers are making killings. Damn them…
What surprised me most I think is that every single building going up is huge – 10 to 15 stories at least. I was in a 20 story hotel, and it’s puny compared to its neighbours. There just aren’t small buildings around at all – maybe they knocked them down to make space for the bigger ones. I grabbed a few photo’s of the really big ones to prove my point. Strini has gone to Dubai four times in the last three years, and apparently the construction hasn’t slowed in all that time.
The other thing that needs saying is that I saw maybe 200 Arabs overall – at least, the ones wearing the cloth on the head and a long white robe. There are so many foreigners in Dubai that they easily outnumber the locals by a huge ratio. Every taxi driver and most shop attendants are Indian or Pakistani, and there are also gigantic numbers of Philippino and East Asian people there as well. The bar we went to a few times (Strini has a pool addiction, which he needs to feed every now and then) is apparently a “Springbok” bar – when there’s a Bok game, the place is crammed with South Africans. Indeed, Supersport (a SA satellite TV channel) was on one of the TVs in there one night. DSTV can be picked up in the Middle East with a big enough dish – it’s illegal, but apparently very easy to do 🙂
I spoke to or saw plenty of English and Aussie guys in the bar as well. I started speaking to an English guy who looked at me after a few words and said “South African? From Durban?” That creeped me out a bit – is my accent that obvious? Apparently the SA part is, and the lack of Afrikaans in my accent led him to assume I’m from Durban. To make it creepier, he then asked if I knew Hillcrest at all. I should think so – I live there! Turns out he took some paragliding lessons in Hillcrest once. Small world…
I didn’t met a single local at work – apparently almost all the work is done by foreigners – in the businesses like the one I was at, in the malls, in the shops and in the taxis. Most of the taxi drivers are Indian, and when I mentioned being South African, two things were immediately proclaimed.
– Hansie Cronje was the best captain of all time, and we lost a brilliant man when he died.
– Jonty Rhodes is a genius of unmatchable proportions.
Cricket is something they’ll talk all day, every day…
This missive appears somewhat disjointed, but it tells the tale well enough. If you see me physically from time to time, ask me the details about more stuff if you wish and I’ll happily regale you with them. If you don’t, email, or comment, or send a pigeon, and I’ll do likewise.