Friday, 30 January 2009

Dubai: Living history

Just around the corner from where we stayed with friends in Dubai, we could see The Burj Dubai, the tallest building in the world. A little on the skinny side to be impressive, I still think our Twin Towers are prettier and take a better picture. Construction is everywhere, and provides stark contrast to the pristine shopping malls all over the city showcasing elaborate and creative architectural design.

The mall concept is family-based with activities for all. The main attraction in the Mall of the Emirates is Ski Dubai which features the only ski slope in the Middle East. In fact the line grabber in tourist blurbs is that Dubai is heavy on achieving Guinness world records. It's not surprising that the Mines and Sunway Resorts of KL are favourite destinations of our Middle Eastern tourists.

Variety is the spice of life, for shopping that is, and Dubai offers all that it claims. The Dubai Shopping Festival does promise real sales of up to 70%-90% discounts. As a defender of the Malaysian shopping scene, in general prices are better in Malaysia. Don't go near the cosmetics counters as products maybe 10 - 40% dearer. Ouch! Counter service is, however, more professional, attentive and international. The City Center Mall Bobbie Brown regional make-up artist was from Slovenia, Dubai Mall cashier from Uzbekistan, Madinat Jumeirah waitress from Ukraine, and many from the Philippines, Egypt, and Lebanon.

The Dubai Museum, housed in Al Fahidi Fort prides itself in a comprehensive array of exhibits ranging from old dhows, lifestyle tableaux and archaeological artifacts from the third millennium BC of the small human settlement of Al Qusais discovered 15km from Deira.

A small temple (worship of snakes) and fields of graves with almost intact skeletons, including intertwined skeletons of a husband and wife are the important discoveries.

Deira, the heart of old Dubai, is where the early traders and merchants set up shops along narrow alleyways. Trade still goes in much the same way in this antiquated settlement with modern trimmings.The Arab flavour of the souk is distinctive but it seems like 99% of the traders are from the South Asian subcontinent. From spices to gold to hubbly bubbly or shisha, you are spoilt for choice. The Dubai Museum gives a good video presentation of the development of Dubai over the last 80 years starting in Deira and Dubai Creek area. The aerial view reveals the magnitude of the estate development achieved. As the seagull flies, daily life goes on as usual for the water taxis, the merchants, workers and tourists. Crossing the Creek in an abra, was easily the highlight of my Dubai experience as it conjured up for me visions of life in this exotic place, then and now.
Dhows fringe the Creek side, forming an interlacing pattern of bows and sterns. The history of Dubai stems from the dhows that plied the seas between the Arab peninsula and South Asia and East Africa, hence explaining the demographic profile of the country. The lateen or triangular sail is the hallmark of these traditional Arab sailing vessels and was the inspiration for the design of the Burj Al Arab. As evening sets in, the call to prayer reverberates in the air, as the voices of the muezzin echo each other from mosque to mosque. Heading home, still tingling and satiated after this explosion of culture, I soaked up the twilight breeze and sights. We returned home to the villa on Al Wasl Road. Our gracious hosts had acquired a household full of Malaysian guests who happened to zero in on them, all in the same week, so much so that a close relative had to find alternative accommodation. Sibuk sampai demam . . . kesian!
I hear from our hosts that they are now relaxed enough to watch movie reruns and babies are having withdrawal symptoms from being pampered by the numerous aunties and uncles the whole week.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Dubai Dubai

KL-Bandar Seri Begawan-Dubai return on Royal Brunei costs RM2400 compared to RM4400 by MAS or Emirates. The service was excellent in economy. The meal was well presented and even tasty compared to one of the afore mentioned airlines (I'm sure you know which one I mean). A touch of class makes all the difference when coffee and tea is served with milk as opposed to sachets of caked up creamer. Steel cutlery was used on the flight to Dubai. It was a dry flight and without offending any one's religious beliefs, it was announced that the flight would be blessed (with Arabic text and English translation simultaneously displayed on the video monitors) as we taxied off the runway. Of note, the announcements in English, made by flight and ground Royal Brunei staff was fluent, with perfect intonation and pronounciation, reminiscent of the days when English was the medium of instruction in schools. If you've noticed, Air Asia announcements in English are more intelligible than those of MAS.

How did they get it right? More importantly how did we get it wrong?
Our last visit to Dubai was some 9 years ago. Apart from the much publicised Burj Al Arab the impact was less than memorable. I recall a Little India-like community of shops, restaurants and shopping malls that remind me of Ampang Park in its hey day.In all respects, Dubai is undoubtedly an over achiever, developing by leaps and bounds from its humble desert plains to the ambitious skyline of today. It's a Las Vegas of the Middle East, with loftier goals, if I can make such an analogy.

Sheikh Zayed Road 1991 & 2005

Not only has the skyline sprouted a concrete jungle, but the coastline has artistically drawn palm trees into the ocean where the city of Atlantis rises forth at The Palm Jumeirah.

Source: Metropolis Magazine, November 21, 2007
"More than just a spectacle, Dubai is positioning itself to become one of the world's preeminent cultural and economic capitals . . . in the six years since the Twin Towers fell, a thousand skyscrapers have been rising on the Arabian Gulf."

Dubai Creek, Deira

"The megacity of Dubai will be the new economic and cultural capital of the world, spanning its neighboring emirates of Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and beyond in one urbanized mass, rich in the biggest source of renewable energy-sunlight-..."

Jumeira Beach Road

Dubai Marina

" . . . you have to look beyond the spectacle of its thousand skyscrapers, malls, resorts, islands, and theme parks to the scale of its land-use patterns as manifested in the hundred or so indiv­idually master-planned residential, commercial, financial, and industrial ­districts."

Jebel Ali Port & Free Trade Zone

"The more than $310 billion in total construction under way or planned over the next decade includes not just mountains of curtain-walled skyscrapers and the over-the-top theme parks that have become patented clich├ęs of Delirious Dubai, but a financial center, an academic hub, an information-technology center, a free media zone, and a minicity devoted to the worldwide distribution of humanitarian aid, as well as environmentally friendly projects such as self-­powered buildings, a solar water-desalinization plant, a subway, and a light-rail system."

Dubai Internet City
Dubai World Central International Airport
Dubai Healthcare City
Dubai International Academic City
Dry Docks World - Dubai
Ski Dubai - Mall of the Emirates

Dubai Global Village

Heavy investments into the Dubai Sports City make this the world’s first integrated sports city and cornerstone project of Dubailand. There are two sporting venues planned, initially a 60,000-seater multi-purpose outdoor stadium and a 10,000-seater multi-purpose indoor stadium.

The model

The Dubai World Cup, a huge event not only in Dubai but in horse racing circles around the world, is one of the richest, most glamorous events in the sporting calendar. The Dubai World Cup is one race on the 2km (1.3 mile) sand and dirt track which is flood-lit at night and crowded with thousands of cheering spectators. A further five thoroughbred group races are included in the day's programme plus another group for purebred Arabian horses. The races attract some of the best horses and riders in the field, eager to compete for millions of dollars that are at stake in prize money.
The Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club, known as the crown jewel of the European Tour’s three-stop Desert Swing, commonly attracts a stellar cast and is currently being played from 26 January to 1 February.
Camel racing is supported by the highest levels of UAE society, with former President Zayed owning a personal stable consisting of 14,000 camels and 9,000 workers for their upkeep.The UAE has 15 racetracks across the country with spacious and well-kept stadiums for viewers. They are located on city outskirts, complete with rest tents, connecting roads, electricity, water, telephone lines, equipment for live television and radio broadcasts, a team of doctors, stand-by ambulances, and print transmission capabilities.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

This and That

With the old lunar year drawing to an end, the hope is that adverse events recede and better times flourish.

In Malaysia, we once again hear the cry that Barisan needs a "Wow factor" after yet another loss in the Kuala Terengganu by-election. The claim is that this is only a setback and has no impact on the national political landscape. The Prime Minister said Umno accepts the decision of the voters with "an open heart and mind".

Having said that, it's off travelling on an official visit to the Middle East. No images of the visit are available on The Star or The New Straits Times websites. Even Al Jazeera was least concerned with this visit and has left it unreported.


Gaza destroyed

Al Jazeera does however report Malaysia's former prime minister as blaming the US for backing Israeli military aggression against Palestinians in Gaza, saying it makes the US "much more guilty than even the Israelis".


Excerpts of President Barack Obama's Inaugural Speech

. . . "we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord".

. . ."What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them—that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small but whether it works . . ."

An astute observation. Hello Malaysian politicians wake up to a new day please!

. . . "For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus—and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth . . "

Hey Malaysia was the original melting pot template or model. Who pulled the rug from under our feet? Did we botched that up too!

. . ."To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history . . ."

A call that falls on deaf ears in our fair country!

. . . "Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations . . ."

Can we claim we did not falter . . . for the safety of future generations?