Friday, October 28, 2005

Dubai, UAE

At exactly 3:25 on Friday, September 30 fall break started and I left school immediately. I had a hired driver who was to pick me up behind the school to try to avoid traffic to get me to the airport quickly as my flight to see Castro in Dubai was leaving at 5:30. I waited and waited and finally at 3:45 the black car I was expecting arrived – he stuck his head out the window and asked “Airport?” Yes!

About a mile from the airport he reached his hand to the back seat asking for his money ahead of time. I knew immediately that I was with an illegal driver. Are you Mr. Wang I asked? Nope – and I had gotten in the wrong car with the wrong man. No worries – he got me to the airport in time and before I knew it I had boarded an Air China plane to take me for my first trip to the Middle East.

Nine hours later I arrived in a completely clean and modern city. It was good to see Castro after two months and I was so excited to share stories of my new experiences in China.

As the UAE is a Muslim country their workweek begins on Saturday and ends on Wednesday. So Castro went straight to work the first day I was there. After being in China for a while, Dubai seemed quite easy. Everyone speaks English, the city was clean, there are toilets everywhere, I recognized some of the food, could read the menus, etc. Ahh… back to civilization! Dubai is the second fastest growing city in the world (second to Beijing that is) and they have entire areas of the city already planned to be finished by 2008. Transportation is smooth – and already they are planning to have the tallest building in the world as well as to be called the shopping capital of the world. It’s amazing what a little forethought can do for a city – as opposed to the 24/7 construction happening here to a purpose no one quite knows.

Wasting no time I immediately left in search for the nearest Starbucks. After a cappuccino and some time at an Internet café I ventured on a walk to the creek. This seems to be where everything’s happenin – plenty of people and things to see. This is in the older part of the city – Burg Dubai – lots of character compared to the newer parts.

Once at the creek a man called me over to his water taxi so I took a 30-minute tour. Being from the coast, to be back on the water was perfect and exactly what I had been needing – even halfway around the world, the water still feels like home. After the tour I went to a Thai restaurant for lunch and then to a cloth souk. Afterwards I went to the Dubai Museum for a history of the famous trading city. A quick swim in the pool and Castro was home but not for long as he runs in the park on Saturdays. Later that night I met Castro’s good friends Ellen and Brad – new teachers and neighbors in his apartment building. They are both American and Ellen is from Virginia – so at least with a southern girl around I know Castro is in good hands!
On Sunday I went to the Jumeira mosque for a tour. As I was not dressed appropriately (shoulders and knees were showing) I had to put on a full cover as well as cover my head. The tour was interesting – the tour guide was actually Spanish and had found the Muslim faith in Switzerland. She answered questions and explained a lot about the Muslim faith as well as the culture that typically surrounds the faith. Afterwards I crossed the street for a Japanese lunch and then ventured off to the beach. I have now taken a swim in the Persian Gulf, which has water clearer than Bermuda!

I went to the mall for a while and they had ZARA so I was quite happy there. Once Castro was done with school we took a stroll down to the creek for a nice dinner with hookah pipe and all. Castro decided his outfit needed touching up and bought a full cover along with headgear. I thought it would be just for a joke but he went to dinner that way too and we had the best time laughing at the people laughing at him. Only Castro… he’s always been able to take things to the next level!

I spent the rest of the school days shopping, at the pool or at the beach. On Monday after school Castro took me to the Madinat Jumeirah, which has a large souk, a view to die for and beers almost as big as the Burj Al Arab! This is where he and his friends go for happy hour on Friday. A little different than Tsingtao at the Pomegranate! We watched the sun go down over the coast which was absolutely beautiful before touring by foot another nearby hotel.

On Tuesday after school Castro took me for tea at the Burj Al Arab… hello! Brad and Angelina had just been there last week! Not that we like Brad anymore but anyways – it was so NEAT! It is the only 6 star hotel in the world. Everything inside was beautiful and they greet you at the door with rose water. There are fountains everywhere – gold – marble – you name it they have it. Nothing has gone undone there – they have thought of everything. We went up to the 27th floor for tea and it was delicious – Castro had a Moroccan tea and I had Earl Gray. We had small sandwiches, cakes and scones and again – another beautiful sunset. We enjoyed our time visiting and taking tons of pictures! Outside one of the windows you can see a fake island they are building of a palmetto tree. It is so large you can see it from the moon. They are building another palmetto tree soon and an island with split parts so that it will look like the earth. You can buy one of the islands, travel there by boat, and have your own island getaway in the Persian Gulf. These people are loaded!

It was so nice to be treated like royalty at the Burj and I must say my friends here in China who have heard of the place are quite jealous as they all got E. Coli on a bike trip to southern China. Well, such is life!

On Saturday we went on a desert safari! Traveling in a jeep to the desert we stopped so the drivers could take the air out of the tires so they wouldn’t go flat on the dunes. We then took a roller coaster ride in the jeep through the dunes and I have no idea how we did not tip over. A lot of the teachers went – I think 12 of us in all, and pictures can’t capture the feel of it. We were even sliding sometimes. It was funny though – we were all very scared at first and after awhile, we resumed our normal conversations as if we were on a 2 lane back road in Hampton.

After the ride we went to a traditional Arabic camp where we took camel rides (seriously! – I loved it!!!) and then had dinner, shisha and henna tattoos. Some time looking at the night sky which was so gorgeous to my eyes after not seeing a sky like that in some time, well since Inner Mongolia to be exact. A jeep ride back and then Castro and I went for a beer. A great day – not only did I enjoy the desert, the camel ride, everything, but I also enjoyed the company – I’m glad Castro has so many good friends here.

Friday we took a walk back to the creek and as Ramadan had started on Wednesday we could not eat, drink or chew gum in public. All the restaurants were closed and we tried to see the gold souk but as Friday is their holy day everything was closed. So I packed, we went for dinner and soon we were saying goodbye at the airport. Oh, I can’t tell you how much I didn’t want to leave the comforts of being with someone I am so comfortable with, being in a clean, English fluent city, being in the world as I know it. It was a long trip back to China and to be completely honest, I wasn’t enthusiastically looking forward to coming “home.” But now that I have been back for a couple of weeks, my eyes are used to these sights again, my ears the sharp tones of the language, and my stomach, unfortunately, the food!

Thanks Castro for being such a great host!!! I hope to go back once you have your bike and you and your friends are always welcome in China…


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