After several days with family in Qatar, we had a one day interlude in Dubai, before heading into full tourist mode for a week or two. A few final observations on these oil rich cities:
The heat is really something. It seems to suck all energy and life out of you – and that’s simply on the journey from an air-conditioned building to an air-conditioned car, or vice versa. The prospect of sightseeing here in Dubai, where we might have to walk a few hundred metres in this heat, was almost enough to convince me to stay and go swimming in the chilled pool. (We didn’t – we found a museum instead.). And it’s only June. Temperatures will continue to rise in July and August. Of course, if we lived here locally we would acclimatise to a degree. But expatriates confirm that in the summer months, they spend their time hiding inside in the safety of air-conditioning. The power demands in these countries must be massive.
That said, they save money on water heating. When we arrived, SIL advised us that when we shower during the day, we should turn the tap first to cold. We could increase the temperature if we needed to, but she didn’t think we would need to. It was with some scepticism that I followed her advice. She was right. Through the cold tap, in the middle of the day, we got a piping hot shower!
In New Zealand, we often hear criticisms of our driving habits and manners. Those who criticise should visit Qatar. I have never seen so many close calls as I did in just over four days in Qatar. My brother-in-law’s car, currently minus a bumper and in need of panel-beating at the rear, is a good illustration of what can happen there. The road designs don’t help, with many roundabouts where it is frequently necessary to cross multiple lanes. Of course, this happens suddenly, without notice, and seemingly without any care. It seems that turning indicator lights are an optional extra, and few locals choose to have them installed. They certainly don’t use them in Qatar. (In comparison, one of our Dubai taxi drivers said they all use them, because fines are high for not indicating, and you never know when you will be snapped by a police camera.). It can be terrifying to watch – and I compare this within the safety of Cambodia on the roads back in the early 1990s when no one had driving licences, and there seemed to be no road rules at all. Qatar makes Bangkok look like a demure, careful, defensive driver. Insanity rules, accident and death rates are apparently very high. So it seems odd that they all slow down when approaching a green light. Apparently there is a 6000 rial fine – that’s about NZ$2000, or US$1600 – for running a red light!
Everyone feels very safe in Qatar. Well, once they’re off the roads. Theft is rare – penalties are harsh. And the local Qataris have more money than they need. BIL and SIL talked of their amazement, when they first arrived, seeing locals hand over their credit cards in shops and restaurants, and give the staff their PIN numbers.
Dubai, our second stop, started life as a fishing village, then the pearl trade grew, only to be stopped in its tracks by the competition from cultured pearls. But it was the discovery of oil, in the 1960s, that set Dubai on the path to being the phenomenon it is today. Fast and flashy, Dubai – like its smaller neighbour Qatar – is shouting out to be noticed. So, like Taiwan and Kuala Lumpur before it, Dubai built the tallest building in the world. To be fair, the Burj Khalifa is very beautiful, an elegant silver spire that gleams in the sunlight. Unfortunately when we were there the humid haze and dust from the wind meant that visibility was low, and at times it was simply a tall grey ghost lost in the distance.
At the base of the building is one of the many malls you find in the Gulf, the Dubai Mall, apparently with more stores than any other Mall in the world. We entered to be greeted with the sight of a three-storey aquarium, containing fish, rays, sharks, and human divers of all shapes and sizes. further around is a skating rink, seemingly the must-have of any modern Mall in a tropical or desert city. (I’ve seen these before in Manila, and of course in Doha) . Another major Mall -the slightly smaller Mall of the Emirates – has gone one better, and has a ski-slope. Once again my mind goes to the power and water resources retired to maintain these facilities in the middle of a desert. Like the thirsty lawns laid on sand in both Qatar and Dubai, the thought makes me shudder.
Ice rinks and ski slopes aside, these malls could be anywhere in the world. Known luxury brand names abound, and department stores included Debenhams, Galarie Lafayette, and Bloomingdales, to name a few. The shoppers (and shop staff) too come from all over the world: Asian staff, locals shopping and meeting friends, expatriates tight their kids in their school uniforms, expatriate workers, and tourists – western and Middle Eastern. I’ve seen more women wearing the niqab (the face veil) in Dubai than in either Qatar or much more open Bahrain (albeit that was back in 2006), but I’m not sure if they were tourists from Saudi Arabia, or local women. Like the rest of us, they appreciate the food and wares on sale, and the cool air-conditioning.
Next stop is Israel, where temperatures, if not emotions, will be cooler.