Saturday, April 25, 2015

Parts 3 and 4, A New World

Before I really get going.... the best part of visiting Dubai was getting to spend six days with my son and daughter-in-law.  They were the main reason we went to Dubai and they will be the only reason we go back.  Dubai is a place like no other place I have been.  It is a cross between Las Vegas and Disney World with a little Europe thrown in all set in the Middle East.  It is a dichotomy.  On the outside it looks very modern, shiny, fast moving and rich.  If you dig deeper it is a very conservative country with strict rules about public behavior, alcohol, drugs and crime.  Everywhere you look you can see extremes.

Traditionally dressed camel rider next to Speedo man, French Riviera or Dubai? 
The long bridge in the background is the runway for FlyDubai Skydiving, so you can either ride a camel or go sky diving, all within a mile.  Almost everywhere you go in Dubai opposite choices are available. Shop at the souks or at the largest mall in the world?  Wear clothing that covers you from head to toe or clothing that is form fitting and revealing?  Even the landscape is a study in contrast.

The green golf course is an oasis surrounded by skyscrapers!
 Dubai is opulent.  I don't live with opulence so I found myself gawking occasionally and at times I even felt uncomfortable.  You see, I'm not one of those people whose life goal is to stay at the finest hotel, eat the finest food, drive the most expensive car and wear the finest designer clothes (do they even come in my size?).  BUT, there are many people in Dubai who love that lifestyle and actually live it.  Don't get me wrong, I like good stuff just as much as the next person, I'm just realistic enough to know I don't live in that income bracket....and never will.  It was nice to admire/gawk from afar though.

We were treated to brunch on Friday, our first day in Dubai.  Friday is the first day of the weekend in Dubai or the Middle East, it's the new Saturday.  Our brunch was one of many across the city.  It is a "thing"!  Four hours with hundreds of food choices and just about any drink you can think of all set in a swanky hotel, because hotels are one of the few places you can buy alcohol.  It was overwhelming!  I had no idea how we were going to last 4 hours eating and drinking in one place....but we managed!
Brunch....from one end of the picture to the other end, inside and outside!
An interesting tidbit... when we would leave the table my daughter-in-law said we did not need to bring our purses, no one was going to bother them.   I looked around at all the other tables and noticed all of the women left their purses when they walked around.  We were not just going from the table to a buffet in the same room, we were going from building to building!  She said you can even leave all of your stuff on the beach, take a walk and come back and no one will bother it.  Nice!  I found Dubai to be very safe.

After our "over the top brunch" we wanted to watch the sunset from a good vantage point.  There are any number of high rise hotels on the water to choose from for this venture.  We tried to sit outside on the rooftop deck but we were very chilly!  We had not prepared to be chilly in Dubai.  It was windy and cool by sunset and we were all in short sleeves or no sleeves, I did have a scarf but it was not nearly enough to keep all 4 of us warm!
If you look closely you can make out the Palm Island in the distance
 with FlyDubai runway right in front of it.
And the sun sets over the Persian Gulf....notice any oil tankers on the horizon?
Our first day in Dubai was wonderful.  There are several others that were just as great but one day, in particular, stands out to me.  The day we went to Abu Dhabi!  I figured it would be about the same as Dubai... it is and it isn't.  Abu Dhabi is the richer, more conservative sister or cousin to Dubai.  We were meeting an old friend of TJ's in Abu Dhabi and he volunteered to show us around.  It was great to have someone drive us around, especially someone who has lived there for over 15 years and knows where to go and how to get there.  The absolute highlight of the trip was seeing the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.  I expected it to be grand, I expected big, I expected beautiful.  My imagination is so limited, it was all that and more!
From the outside it is very big....but it's what's inside that is amazing!

The main prayer hall,
home to the largest hand knotted rug in the world, over 60,000 sq. ft.
Glad I'm not the one who has to vacuum this!
My favorite room!  I loved the inlaid marble flower walls!  The colors were so lovely.
The ceiling in my favorite room.  Beauty everywhere you look!
I really can't say enough about the grandness of this mosque.  We were there during one call to prayer.  At first I didn't know what was going on, there was a soothing, calm voice doing a chant on the loud speaker.  Later, I noticed all around town you can hear various calls to prayer during the day if you are near a mosque, and you are always near a mosque.  It was very cool to hear the call to prayer in such a peaceful beautiful place.  I prayed....and the walls did not fall down!  I also got to wear an abaya for our visit.  The rules to enter were clearly posted and if you were not loosely covered from head to toe you were given a black abaya to wear, free of charge.  I always wondered what it would feel like to wear one, especially in the Arabian heat.  I wondered if I would suddenly feel oppressed or hidden or just plain hot.  I felt like a girl in a Catholic school wearing a uniform just like all the other girls but I can in no way imagine wearing one in the summer heat!  I was more than happy to shroud myself out of respect.  It is not my religion but I can respect it while I am in their place of worship just as I hope others would do in a cathedral or basilica.
The on the picture to see a closer view.
Me...following the rules
Enough about the mosque...the rest of the visit had a lot to live up to!  While we were in Dubai, I played the most expensive (did I mention that almost everything is very expensive in Dubai?) and decadent round of golf in my short lived golf life.  I noticed at the golf course there was a crew of men setting up for an event, an event my son would be attending later in the week.  It was going to be quite the extravaganza!

Everything is a big deal in Dubai!  Lights, fireworks, music!
 We started talking about the laborers in Dubai.  There is a lot of construction going on in Dubai and I noticed buses on the highway full of workers.  Men are bused to their work site every day and then bused home at the end of the day.  The buses have curtains on the windows, presumably to shield them from the hot sun or to block light and let them sleep!  I had heard that these workers do not make much money, cheap labor has helped to build such a big city so quickly.  For some reason this troubled me.  I am not so naive to think this is a unique situation.  Still, it disturbed me that these men, and yes, they are all men, work tirelessly to build all of the grandeur.  Many of these men have left oppressed countries in search of work.  Their life, however hard and unfair, is better than the one they left behind.  Many have sacrificed their passports and are stuck.  The ones with families have left their families behind.  I felt almost guilty, must be the Catholic in me, enjoying the luxurious surroundings.

One day we visited the souks and Old Dubai.  Very different from Jumeria beach and the Marina area we had been enjoying.  I even did my first haggling at one of the souks.  I successfully bought a silver bracelet for half of what the shop keeper had it listed.  The key, in my amateur opinion, is to start walking out of the store and say you are going to keep looking.  The souks felt more authentic, even a bit cheesy but you had the feeling people go there regularly to buy spices, nuts, gifts and of course jewelry.

Water taxi ride!
need spices?
After our trip to the souks, I rode home with my son, a rare and special moment for just the two of us, and he showed me the "other side" of Dubai.  The side that is not on any tour map.  He drove me through the machine shop area; rows of large warehouses and metal shops.  He said he buys equipment there on occasion.  We talked about the working and living conditions of the laborers again.  I am constantly amazed by the person he has become.  He deals with all types of people, all nationalities, all income and education levels and seems to be able to do it with grace and confidence.  I always knew he was a people person.  As we drove farther into the area he told me, "Mom, whatever you do, do not get out of the car." .  OK.  He showed me where the laborers live and it surprised and saddened me.  Five to six men per apartment.  No women.  No families.  I think this may have been what bothered me so much.  It wasn't the obvious crowded conditions or the simple conditions,  but the fact it is all men.  I find that sad.  It is one thing to be poor but to have no family is even sadder.  Their life is work and only work.
A far cry from the swanky hotels and skyscrapers
Yes, I guess all those shiny tall buildings, Maseraties, designer shops, lavish hotel lobbies, and expensive meals eaten outside looking at crystal blue water made me think of the disparity between the labor force and those of us fortunate enough to enjoy the fruits of their labor.  I guess every country has their rich and their poor, but for some reason it just seemed different here.  Our ride together ended with two heavy hearts.
We needed something to cheer us up after our drive.

On the opposite end of the spectrum of hope I have a small world story.  My daughter-in-law kept saying that Dubai, in spite of its size, was a small city.  She said you run into the same people all of the time.  One night we went to dinner a bit late, 9:00, which is late in my book.  The restaurant was relatively empty.  Around 9:30 a family came in and sat right behind us.  I noticed this family, they were an Arab family and one boy was in a wheel chair and appeared to have no lower body.  He was smiling and joking with his brother and mother and father.  My daughter-in-law also noticed how happy the family was and how the boy kept joking and smiling.  Later that night I was checking my Instagram page and as I had just started following the Dubai crown prince, per my son's suggestion, I saw none other than the boy in the wheelchair receiving an award from the Sheikh himself earlier that same day!  The next morning he was on the front page of the newspaper with the Sheikh!   What an a small world.
Front page news in Dubai
We also celebrated St. Patrick's Day in Dubai.  Who knew there was an Irish Village in Dubai?  There is everything in Dubai!  It was a legitimate Irish celebration with great music, plenty of beer, lots of green and orange and white and even real Irish people.  We absolutely enjoy sitting outside for a few hours enjoying the weather, the music and the beer.

Luck of the Irish!
A good time was had by ALL!
One more story and then this will be over!  On our last night we went out to dinner, of course!  We sat outside, because we could.  Much to my dismay, one thing there is not a lot of in Dubai is wine.  What wine they serve is expensive and the selection is limited.  It would be hard for me to drink too much there given the limited choices and the prices!  I really wanted a glass of wine with dinner that night and TJ, being the gallant husband he is said to just go ahead and order whatever I wanted.  I looked over the menu and found a glass of wine I'd like.  It was something I would expect to pay $10 or $12 for a bottle at home.  One glass of this wine on the menu was 125 dirham or $35 USD!   I couldn't do it!  I could not pay $35 for a dinky glass of mediocre wine.  We had just come from Croatia where a delicious glass of Croatian wine was the equivalent of $2 USD!  Yes, Croatia and Dubai were just as different from each other as the prices of their wine.  I ordered a $15 gin and tonic.

Dubai was beautiful.  The city is very clean and very safe.  It is a feast for your eyes, everywhere you look you can see beauty and grandeur.  It is like living in the future.  A city that just popped up in the middle of the desert and has become a major center for business and tourism.  About 85% of the population are expatriates.  It is an international mecca.  The population is also very much male, 75%.  For some reason this city fascinated me to the point I was compelled to research it and learn more about it's culture and history.  This does not happen to me everywhere I travel.  To quote Forrest Gump, "and that's all I have to say about that.".

A few more pictures, because why not?

Abu Dhabi
A fountain full of flower petals
That silver tube is the indoor ski slope in the Dubai Mall.  That's as close as I got....
Because Tim Hortons is everywhere!

Burg Khalifa, go big or go home!
The world's tallest building!
Thanks to our most excellent tour guides!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Because Sometimes Life is not Perfect

I thought I'd take a brief commercial break from the travel blogs and catch you up on real life.  This post is so you don't think my life is all beautiful sunsets, clear skies, gallivanting around the globe and eating delicious gourmet food.  Sometimes life is not perfect.

We celebrated Easter last weekend,(yes, I started this a long time ago!) along with the rest of the Christian world.  We also celebrated the 7th birthday of one very special boy.  My daughter and her family were here for the week of their Spring Break, the last time they were here for Easter we did the limbo.  We had a great week together!
We remembered the Alamo!

We went to the aquarium and discovered that Daniel is the bird whisperer.
We were having a great time together and things were seemingly perfect until.... a little stomach bug crept into our house.  Man down!  We did a lot of washing...carpet, sheets, pillows, comforter, and clothes.  I forgot, because that is God's way of insuring propagation of the species, just how much ground vomit can cover!  Our patient recovered in time to enjoy Easter.  My favorite part of Easter happened with my new best buddy, John.  I dressed him in his Easter clothes and told him, repeatedly, how handsome he looked.  After I dressed myself I picked John up and he patted my dress and said, "Gigi, handsome!".  So, maybe my life is perfect!
We are so handsome!
Easter was over and the grandsons and their parents headed back to the cold north country.  I collapsed on Monday.  Some time during the night that pesky stomach bug crept back into our house and struck me.  Three days later I was finally able to drag myself off the couch and join the human race.  That was a rough way to lose a few pounds, which sadly I instantly gained back with my first bite of solid food.

Just when I thought life was going to be normal again I woke up and my eyes looked like I was wearing red eye liner and they felt like wet sandpaper.  That was over a week ago.  Two trips to the eye doctor and 3 prescriptions later I am hopeful my eyes will no longer scare people when I look at them.

All month since we got back from our trip I have felt like there is a force preventing me from living my life.  I have not been able to get any traction on my normal routine.  No regular exercise, no regular diet, no regular golf games, no blogging and I have even had to call in sick twice for my ESL class....first time in 5 years I've called in sick!  Yes, I know, I'm whining a little.  I never whine!  What has happened to me?  8 days of scratchy eyes will mess with your psyche, take my word for it!

Anyway, that's what's new with me....I'll now try to finish my post about Dubai which I've been working on for a month, in between company, stomach bugs and eye infections.  It should be a doozy!

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