I’ve spent the most part of the past four years abroad. In twenty-two countries, I studied linguistics, cybersecurity, journalism, and mass communication. There were moments of utter serenity, like floating on my back in the salt-water lake of Faaker See in the Austrian Alps. There were moments of sheer panic, like when I was in Paris during the terrorist attacks or almost kidnapped in Egypt. Moments of happiness, like having brunch with my best buds in Egypt. Moments of wonder, which was more common than not. Point being, I’m going to look back on these times a lot in my life. I’m even doing it now.
Yesterday, a co-worker brought up Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, and it brought back a lot of emotion.
When I was living in Egypt, I got a call from my dad. He told me that my grandma had bought stocks in various companies and that if I wanted to cash them in, I could get a fair amount of money. Long story short, I got the cash and booked a ticket to Dubai on our four-day weekend in Egypt, which was to remember the revolution.
What Makes Dubai So Surreal?
From the moment I stepped off the plane, I noticed it was different there. First off, the air was clean. That was strange, coming from smoggy Cairo. Taking my fancy Uber, a sleek 2018 Lexus, to my Airbnb, I had this surreal feeling. Something about this city was strange. At one point, my Lexus had stopped at a light next to a lime green Maserati with a leopard sitting in the passenger seat. I’m dead serious.
Looking back on it, I realized what it was. It was completely artificial. Everything around me was built in the past few decades. It was pure luxury, from the Burj Khalifa (the world’s highest building) right down to the glass water bottle I bought from the mini-mart in my building.
Every building looked like it had just that morning sprouted up from the ground like a designer tree. Some skinny and tall, some stout, but every building was shiny and new and impressive. I felt like I was driving past celebrities (if that makes sense.) New money apparently makes cool architecture.
I found myself living a five-star life in a five-star country. I went to the Design District, which was simultaneously industrial, minimalist, and modern. In general, the first thing I do (in every single city) is to find the best coffee shop. So, situated in the arts complex that was the Design District, I found myself the first iced-coffee in months. Okay, I’m focusing too much on the iced coffee. Gotta get back on track.
Dubai Miracle Gardens
One of my favorite places in Dubai was the Miracle Garden. Every inch of this strange park was covered in flowers; sculptures, restaurants, bridges, houses, and even a full-sized Emirates Airlines plane. If you had told me that this entire thing was just a crazy acid trip or that I had actually fallen into a portal to an alternate reality, I would not have questioned that one bit.
Dubai was surreal to me for many reasons. The strangest aspect was that very few people spoke Arabic, at least in the main parts of the city. At the Arabian Tea House in Al Fahidi, where I ate one of the best meals of my life, I had an awkward surprise when I ordered in Arabic and the server just stared at me with a blank face.
But then, after taking a small boat to the Spice Souq, every shop owner seemed to speak the strange Emirati dialect. Still, most people spoke English or some other language, not Arabic. I also was frequently referred to as Shakira, which confused me. Maybe I look like the Emiratis’ idea of the Latin-American pop-star. Who knows?
The Dubai Mall
The Dubai Mall was where I spent a huge portion of my time. It was simultaneously a shopping mecca and an inner-city theme park. There was every type of restaurant you could want, a massive fountain that would literally perform at the end of the day, a shop for any designer brand you could think of, a three-story aquarium, a movie theatre, an ice rink, a skate park, a fantastically large bookshelf, and a traditional spice market. It was one of the most insane places I’ve ever been and I don’t regret spending so much time there.
Every time I go on vacation and know that I’ll definitely want to return, I always leave a couple of things to do, so that I can look forward to the next time. On my next trip to the UAE, I plan to go to go to Abu Dhabi, the richest city in the world. I’m also going to skydive in Dubai over Palm Island, go quad riding and sand surfing in the desert, and pretty much just do some adventure activities! But somehow, just walking down the street in Dubai is an adventure.
Dubai was a surreal experience. It hurt my wallet but honestly changed my life. I never knew of a city quite like that. But that’s just what traveling does to you. So if you plan on going to Dubai or the UAE soon, which I definitely recommend, make sure you’re aware of the local customs and laws!