Saturday, January 2, 2010

Holidays Part III: The UAE, or Cath Goes to Swankytown

My flight from Kuala Lumpur to Casablanca included a layover in Dubai, so I decided to profit from the journey by visiting my old college friend, Suaad, who lives in Abu Dhabi. From the very first minute she found me at the airport (sleeping on my luggage. Super classy.) she showed me infinite hospitality, which I hope to pay forward someday.

Let me intro my trip to the UAE by saying that everything in the Emirates is over-the-top opulent. Actually, that’s pretty much all you need to know. Dubai and Abu Dhabi have the biggest and best and most modern everything. Dubai bosts the world’s tallest building and tallest hotel (which also happens to be the world’s only 6-star hotel. Naturally.) There are indoor ski hills and rotating skyscrapers and man-made islands off the coast in the shape of a palm tree. Even the bus stops are air-conditioned. I spit on my hands and look you in the eye when I say this: I personally ate chocolate covered in real, edible gold.
My life is pretty much complete.

Suaad, her sister Hedaya, and their sister-in-law Aicha and I tromped around Abu Dhabi and Dubai for 3 days and took in all the major touristy sights, with the help of the Big Bus. The Big Bus is a double-decker tour bus which you can hop on and off as you are guided around the cities by a pleasant recorded British voice. We saw the Emirate’s largest mosque, one of the most impressive structures I’ve ever seen, with immaculate detail in everything from the mosaic to the carpeting. The mosque also has the world’s largest chandelier (duh). We met a famous Arab actress (who I've never heard of) who was shooting scenes for her soap opera at the same restaurant where we had dinner. We took a cruise on the river that runs through Dubai, and I saw how goods are passed from China and Iran and Pakistan to Africa and Europe and the US: via tugboat long the Emirates’ coast. We in the West usually take it for granted that thousands of brave little computer monitors and car tires and boxes of Corn Flakes make the pilgriamage every day through that waterway.

One of the most interesting visits was to the Emirates History Museum. The earliest exhibit, which showed “primitive” culture in the region, dates to 1950. Living in a city that is 12,000 years old has certianly made me re-think my ideas of ancient history, modernity, preservation, and progress. The UAE has launched forward in the past 50 years, whereas many people in Morocco strive to hold on to ancient history, in order to preserve tradition and culture. In 1950, it was estimated that the region of the UAE had only about 12,000 inhabitants. 10 years later, there were over 100,000. Indeed the country has exploded of the past half-century and everywhere you look there is a construction project. The housing-project high rises for poorer families built in the 60s and 70s are crowded out by the shiny modern towers and the suburbs are now blooming out into the desert between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

We also went to the Global Village. This is kind of like the State Fair, only different countries are represented at different exhibition halls where you can sample exotic foods and buy wares imported from abroad. I even found Tahoe at the Philippines exhibition! Don’t worry, Steve, I ate enough for the two of us. I was able to try out my Tagolog and Wolof and French. Strangely enough, however, there were no individual European countries represented. The “Europe” exhibition would more aptly be called “Turkey” and the United States was nowhere to be found. (Although, all that could really be sold in the US booth would be trinkets imported from China and overpriced health insurance.) Nevertheless, the Global Village was one of my favorite parts of my trip.

Suaad took me to Emirates Palace, another Swanky hotel in Abu Dhabi which often gets confused for the ACTUAL palace of the Sheich. Only it’s probably nicer. They are making a “Cultural Island” off the coast of Abu Dhabi, which will have an opera house, and branches of The Louvre and the Guggenheim Museum. As a teaser, they’ve moved some of the Guggenheim’s pieces to Emirates Palace, so we perused the modern art before sitting down to afternoon tea. We each had a dessert with gold dust or foil on it. (Naturally.) I hope that situations like that never cease to amaze me. May I never get used to such excess.
Before I left, I got to meet Suaad’s family and her wonderful fiancé, Said. I can tell that he has a kind heart and subtle, hilarious humor. I am so happy for them and look forward to their upcoming nuptials. For my last night in the UAE, they took me to a South African restaurant, and told the waiter that it was my birthday. The entire waitstaff brought out a piece of cake and sang some form of Happy Birthday in Swahili (?). It was so kind, and definetly another memorable birthday/Christmas Eve celebration.

Early the next morning, I caught a flight out of Dubai and spent Christmas Day 2009 listening to the only Christmas song I have on my ipod (Sufjan Stevens’ O Holy Night) and eating the candy cane I stashed in my purse on the train back to Fes. It was a lonely Christmas, but I just kept replaying all the memories from the past 2 weeks. I found myself full of joy, 36,000 feet above the Arabian Peninsula, because there is something strangely comforting in traveling to me.
Transience always makes me full of hope and more grateful for home, wherever that may be. I guess I can say that I have made many homes for myself this year: in our crummy apartment in Madison, in my parents’ museum in Milwaukee, in the Red Tent in Fes, and on the couches and floors and at the dinner tables of the homes of many friends, new and old. Home is where you let down your guard, where you have community. Home is the space where you can love and allow yourself to be loved, as corny as that may sound. In this way, I have no home or hometown, only a collection of people and places of memories that I carry with me wherever I go.
I guess that makes me a turtle?


Elizabeth said...

"Although, all that could really be sold in the US booth would be trinkets imported from China and overpriced health insurance."

....Hmm...someone hasn't seen enough of the USA yet to make this assumption! :)

Jon and I made a list of what should go in the booth this morning after reading this post!

-Harley davidson motercycles
- Smoked string cheese
- Omaha raised steak
- Moccasins and leather western wear
- Travel info about the rocky mountains, florida keys, West and east coast metropolises, hawaii, and alaska, among other places!
- MSR snowshoes! Kitchenaid mixers! Ford Trucks! or one of the many other things still made here in the states!
- Maple syrup
- and the list goes on and on and on!

and oh yeah, a freedom of speech booth where people can go in and say whatever they want! :P

molly rae said...

Beth's comment made me smile and remember a time when we laid down on blankets and looked up at the fireworks on the fourth of July and shouted out all the great things we could think of about the good ol' u.s. of a...

Anonymous said...

I like the freedom of speech booth :)

Anonymous said...

I used to think that home is where the heart is. Now I think that my heart is where my home is.

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