Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Dubai Diaries

Last week I was in Dubai for a few days to see for myself the exciting new developments in this city-state in the middle of the desert, and to learn more about the enigmatic culture of the Middle East. Dubai is a cosmopolitan city -- how can it not be, when the majority of the population are expatriates? -- with lots of money and foresight to plan and build an impressive modern city for itself out of virtually nothing.

Of course, not all of Dubai is beautiful. There are some areas that could certainly use sprucing up, particularly as the desert environment tends to take the shine off pretty quickly; and not a few neighborhoods I passed by in the Deira district reminded me of outposts from an Indiana Jones movie, for some reason.


But many districts in Dubai are certainly breathtaking. They're beautifully designed and well-planned to maximize their potential. The Burj district, for instance, is an area out of anyone's plan book for an ideal city. It's very modern and convenient, but it's also still retained a lovely Arabic style that I found so charming. It's easy after all to build a modern city; but you certainly want one that still gives you a grounding of its roots and its culture.

On my last day in Dubai, I took a cab to the Burj district again to check out the souk one last time. On my way to the souk from the Palace Hotel, I chanced upon this scene from a bridge and I thought it was incredibly peaceful and pretty. Who would think you're in the desert, seeing a photo like this?

The Jumeirah and man-made Palm Jumeirah districts are also very nice and, I heard, fabulously expensive. But these areas certainly impress visitors and give them a very favorable impression of Dubai.

Here are some photos from my Blackberry, which I thought I'd share with you.


I took this photo on my way to my meeting with a senior executive of Emirates. I think it captures wonderfully the excitement, wonder and freshness that should accompany every journey. Not a few people travel so much that they now find it a bore to do so. But I believe that life and people are not static so there's always something to appreciate about every place you go, and there's always an opportunity for an interesting experience. I believe that real travelers are never jaded because they're always on the lookout for new experiences.


I took this from a Lebanese restaurant on the second-floor of the souk next to Dubai Mall. The Dubai Fountains are a major attraction in this city, and I think they're simply wonderful and such an amazing sight that makes the heart lighter. They come on at intervals every evening, each time to a different song, and they shouldn't be missed.


This is one of the lobbies of the Dubai Mall. It's really nice to shop in stores offering 30% to 70% off, that are located in shopping malls designed to look like entertainment centers/ museums/ art galleries. The planners of Dubai Mall certainly got this one right. I had such a pleasant experience here that I ended up spending more than I'd planned.


This is one of the best ice cream places in the Dubai Mall. It's an outlet of a gelateria that's been around since the turn of the 20th century in Italy, so you can be assured that they really know their ice cream.


Eric Kayser has repeatedly won awards for his croissants. I never fail to eat a couple at the JAL lounge in Narita Airport just before taking the Tokyo-Manila morning flight. I was so happy to see a branch in Dubai on the day I left for Manila. So naturally I bought a box to bring back home.


Are we in Bangkok or the Middle East? A beautiful Thai lady was waiting at the entrance to welcome us and escort us up to the 24th floor, where the Thai restaurant Benjarong is located (yes, they have Benjarong in Manila's Dusit as well). Benjarong in Dubai, by the way, is a beautiful restaurant of dark woods and graceful furniture.


I took this photo with my Blackberry. It's our dining table for our open-air supper in the middle of the dessert. We'd gone on a desert safari that had first involved an hour's drive from Dubai on the road to Oman, and then about 30 minutes of heart-stopping jumps, twists and turns in a 4WD on golden sand dunes. It was just like a rollercoaster.

We all screamed merrily, and this encouraged our driver to be even more of a daredevil. After we'd literally screamed for our supper, we were taken to a desert camp of dusty tents and carpets, and here we had a wonderful al fresco dinner of roast meats and curries. But perhaps the best parts were the Arabic dancers who literally twirled hundreds of times in a colorful outfit, pushing us to breathlessness in our fear that they would tumble from dizziness or exhaustion.

It was really quite a feat, and it reminded me somewhat of Turkey's whirling dervishes; although the whirling dervishes are very solemn and spiritual, while the Arabic version we saw in the desert was merry and celebratory.

I'd sat down at our table immediately upon entering the camp, and while waiting for dinner to begin, I took this photo because I was attracted by the colorful designs of the bedouin fabrics, which reminded me a bit of our Ifugao fabrics. They really made quite a splash in the midst of the earthy desert.



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