Dubai: Land of the Mall

48 hours’ layover, Dubai is enticing and repulsive all at once. Like any big city, there is a pull to know it and be known by it–I want to be loved by Dubai. That’s any big city for me, though. I adapt quickly to the atmosphere, which makes me feel like I’m not just cut out for the place, I’m made for it.

But I am not made for Dubai. I’m not even convinced I’m made to visit Dubai, though I did have a great time. There is just so much excess in this city. SO MUCH. Half of the Metro stops on my way to C’s apartment were named for malls and other shopping-related establishments. It’s nearly impossible to walk places; Dubai is long and thin, so it’s cut longways by freeways which are not easily crossed. There is a metro, but it goes almost exclusively in a straight line.

My first day there, I obviously beelined for the beach in order to have my first swim in the Arabian Gulf (embarrassing: only just learned that it’s no longer called the Persian Gulf.) That took up the morning, and early afternoon was consumed with finding even remotely affordable food (which I did, at C’s suggestion, in Zaatar Wa Zeit, aka delicious Lebanese fast food.) After an unintentional sofa nap (these overnight flights are killing me) I covered my knees and shoulders and headed to the Dubai Mall, because THAT’S WHAT THE POOR TOURISTS DO. It’s a whole new level for me, that’s for sure.

The mall is fascinating and cool in its way, but it’s so consumerist and depressing, too. They have both an aquarium and an “underwater zoo.” There is a waterfall, a huge jewelry souk, an ice skating rink, and a Coldstone Creamery (wut.) I’m not a mall person in the States to begin with, and the enormity and lux of this place was just too much. I ate a chocolate chip cookie from Caribou Coffee (double wut,) walked around using the mall’s wifi, and tried not to lose all hope in humanity.

The night life vibed better with me, though it was still intense. I drank a $30 Old Fashioned (and it was SO good) in a bar on the 63rd floor of a hotel overlooking the Burj Khalifa and its fountain show, so that was completely surreal but also very normal for everyone around me. Walking into that bar, I was deeply relieved that I had bothered to brush my hair and trade out my Chacos for Oxfords.

The fountain show itself is one of the cooler things I’ve seen on this trip. It lasts only a few minutes, but it’s absolutely spectacular. The water’s choreography is complex and moves seamlessly with the music. That alone is worth taking a layover in Dubai, par sur.

All in all, it’s not my place, but I’m really glad I went. On my way to the airport, I talked with my Pakistani cab driver about his dislike for the UAE, and his desire to be back in Pakistan with his family. His honesty was refreshing–cabs aren’t typically a place in which I expect to get hit with the truth–and reassuring. I have another day in Dubai on my way from Kigali to Siem Reap, and I’m looking forward to grabbing the Metro to the Mall of the Emirates to drink a coffee while I watch Dubai-ians ski inside of a shopping center, but I’m also looking forward to leaving when I’m done with that coffee.

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