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THINK TALK: Notes from Dubai

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MATALAM, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 23 March) – I had a chance to join a group tour to Dubai on March 15-21, 2023. I love the experience because it was both educational and fun. 

Educational, because there are a lot of things to learn in Dubai, especially how its Ruler, Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, transformed this barren land into what it is today, the fastest growing city in the world. And fun, because for sure, there is a lot to enjoy in a city full of structures, places and events describable only in superlatives.

In the early 1960s Dubai was just a desert, but its Ruler changed the face of the place at an amazingly rapid phase. He made Dubai one of the best cities in the world. Now Dubai is so popular that some foreigners think it is a country by itself. 

Dubai is just one of seven Emirates (minor kingdoms) that federated in 1971 to form the United Arab Emirates. Each Emirate has an autonomous government. The seven Emirates are: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Umm Al-Quwain, Dubai, Fujairah, Sharjah, and the seventh Ras Al-Khaimah which opted to join the federation a year later. Bahrain and Qatar did not join the federation when they were invited. 

Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. It is the largest Emirate in land area and the wealthiest among them, but Dubai is the fastest growing city in the world.

It was said that Dubai is the biggest construction site in the world. There is a local saying: “In Dubai do not sleep for eight hours because tomorrow you get lost.” Dubai loves to be first in everything. It has Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world (152 stories); Dubai Frame, tallest and largest frame in the world; Global Village, the most beautiful shopping center in the world; Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world; Museum of the Future, the most beautiful building on earth; Burj Al-Arab, the only 7-star hotel in the world, Palm Jumeirah, the largest man-made island in the world, and a lot more others which can only be described by superlatives.

We were billeted at the Royal Continental Hotel, a 4-star hotel, conveniently located between the Dubai International Airport and downtown Dubai. We visited the Global Village first where we had our dinner. Inside these shopping centers are iconic buildings representing different countries of the world. Thus, there is Egypt building, Pakistan building, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) building, and so on. Each representative country has displays of their famous products and cuisine. We (my wife and I) chose Thai foods that lined along a wide magical fountain that displays majestic colors in the evening.

On the second day, we visited the famous Dubai Frame, the largest and tallest frame in the world. It has a height of 150.24 meters (equivalent to a 45-storey building) and a width of 95.53 meters.

In 2013, Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the Absolute Ruler of Dubai, sent out invitations to submit bids for a unique design of a building that could add to the rising number of skyscrapers in Dubai. 

One of those who responded was Fernando Donis, a famous Spanish architect. He said: “Your Majesty, you already have the tallest building here. Maybe what you need is a unique building with a rectangular shape, and therefore, there is a bridge that connects the two vertical structures. The lower base of the rectangle could serve as the ground floor and basement.” Architect Donis’ entry won in the bidding and was paid US$100,000 for his design.

Next, we toured the oldest village in the city. The houses were obviously renovated without changing their architectural designs to earn more aesthetic values to tourists. 

At about noon time we took a motorized banca, crossed the Dubai Creek (a wide river) and went to the flea market where one can buy gold, dates, ready-to-wear clothes, and almost everything that you see in Divisoria, Metro Manila. Here, you will find the spice called saffron, the most expensive spice in the world which Dubai imports from Argentina, Brazil, and Iran.

We had lunch at Hyatt Jumeirah followed by an adventure in the desert called “Desert Safari.” Here, we had an experience of a lifetime. 

I was amazed by the driving skill of our Bangladeshi driver who whizzed us through high and low sand dunes, passed through steep sides of the sand dunes making us feel like we would fall to the side. With the vehicle climbing up and down, tilting to the sides, and swirling around like drifters skidding to the sides and everywhere, we had enough of that adrenaline surge. But Dubai is such a rich city that the government can afford to risk those luxury vehicles for tourism and money.

There were six of us (three couples) in one vehicle. All three ladies were laughing and shouting at the top of their voices while we (three males) had been silent and calm. Later, we had a good debate of who was more scared: the silent ones, or the noisy ones. You be the judge!

In the evening, we had our dinner in the middle of the desert inside a fenced structure which they call “The Camp.” While having our dinner, we were entertained by fire and belly dancers who performed on an elevated open space in the middle of the camp..

On day three, we dropped by at the Zabel Mosque before going to the grand palace facade of Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the absolute ruler of Dubai. We can only see the beautiful facade of the Ruler’s Palace because nobody is allowed to enter except those personally invited by the Emir. The Palace sits on a 17-hectare land area where the palatial homes of Sheik Maktoum’s children are also located. Sheik Mohammed Bin Al-Maktoum also happens to be the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and the incumbent President is Sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. He succeeded his brother Sheik Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. Burj Khalifa was named after him. “Burj” is an Arabic term for “tower”. Asked by his constituents why the tallest building in the world did not get its name from his clan, Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum answered: “Great buildings should be named after great persons.”

Our next destination was the “Burj Khalifa”, the tallest building in the world with 152 storeys, but for now it is open up to the 125th floor only. Construction of the building started in 2004 and was opened to the public in 2010. It has several high speed elevators but the two elevators that lift guests to the 124th and 125th floors are the fastest single elevators in the world.

We went next to the “Museum of the Future,” the most beautiful building on earth. As the name implies, it contains futuristic plans and designs of buildings, structures, and city plans not found anywhere in the world.

In the afternoon we visited “Burj Al-Arab,” the first 7-star hotel and probably the only one of its kind in the world. I asked our tourist guide who were the more frequent guests of the most expensive hotel in the world. “Before the pandemic, rich Chinese businessmen used to be the majority guests in this hotel,” he answered. He went on to say that the smallest room in this hotel is 100 sq. meters (10m x 10m) and costs US$2,000 per night, and the biggest room is 660 sq. meters (22m x 30m) and priced at US$28,000 (P1.5M) per night.

Then, we had a short tour by train around Palm Jumeirah, the largest man-made island in the world. Jumeira is an Arabic term for beautiful. Palm Jumeirah means beautiful palm. It is called by that name because its aerial view looks like a beautiful palm. Also built on the island are two luxurious hotels, Atlantis and Royal Atlantis Hotels, which also claim to be 7-star hotels. The government of Dubai spent US$12B for the whole island reclamation project.

We spent the evening with state-of-the-art dining on board a luxury yacht in Marina, Dubai, which again, is the largest marina in the world. We enjoyed our dinner on board the yacht. As it sailed around Marina Dubai there were dancers, who I guess from their looks, are Nigerians, performing their native dances.

On the fourth day, we visited the next Emirate, Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. It is the largest and wealthiest among the seven federated Emirates. Abu Dhabi is ruled by the Zayed Al-Nahyan clan while Dubai is ruled by the Rashid Al-Maktoum clan. The UAE and its sub-Emirates are ruled by good, visionary, and strong-willed monarchs who want only the best for their people.

While in Abu Dhabi we visited the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, the biggest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. It cost US$545M to build and took eleven years to complete. The mosque has 82 domes of different sizes and the prayer hall can accommodate 41,000 worshippers. The carpet in the hall is the largest single uncut carpet in the world. It is 5,627 sq. meters big, weighs around 35 tons, and made from wool originating from New Zealand.

There are shopping malls at the basement of the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque.

Our fifth and last day in Dubai was a rest day. It was time for packing and repacking of clothes, arranging and rearranging items bought for people at home, and checking and reviewing things to make sure that nothing would be left behind. We brought home the “memory” as well.

Finally, I am sure you will love this shopping tip. In most countries we imagine the flea market as the place where you have the cheapest buy. True, but not in Dubai. I suspect the travel agents had spoiled the flea market by asking more commissions from their partner stores depending on the number of tourists they bring in.

When you are in Dubai, tell your tourist guide to bring you to “Green House” or “Day to Day” malls. The prices of commodities in these malls are relatively much cheaper. In the flea market, they will sell dates for 90 Dirhams per kilo at the first volley of tourist arrivals. When you are about to leave, they will sell for 25-20 Dirhams per kilo. At “Green House” and “Day to Day” malls you can have a kilo of dates for 11 Dirhams only.

Well, Dubai is not Divisoria, when it comes to shopping. But, except for the prices of commodities and other merchandise, Dubai is paradise for tourists who love superlatives!

Dubai, do bye for now. We’ll see you again.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Maugan P. Mosaid holds a doctorate degree in rural development. He is a planning consultant and teaches Statistics and Methods of Research in the graduate school. He can be contacted at mauganmosaid6@gmail.com).

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