Malls. $50 WiFi. Concrete. Bellydancing. Dubai.

17 Jan

What do you get when you’re jet lagged and put your evening plans into the arms of a teen from India, managing the concierge desk at the Hilton in Dubai? You get a Russian dinner cruise.

Have you ever been in a situation where you knew it will be a funny story, once the story has ended? That was my last night. Arrived from Cape Town into Dubai. Had no sleep. Knew if I took a nap once I arrived at the hotel, my body clock would be whacked. So, I pushed myself through the day.

I was welcomed to the Hilton in Dubai with added costs and fees. They told me WiFi access would cost about $27 per day. Twenty-four hours of WiFi is more than my monthly internet bill at home. Were these people mad? If I wanted breakfast, it would be another $27. OK. Dubai is expensive. I get how they can price gouge you for eggs, bread, a toaster and canned jam, but for WiFi? This city was built yesterday. The airports have automatic scanners for luggage, bypassing a person to put a sticker on your bag. This place is the definition of wired.

Besides that, all the major hardware, software, IT, internet, and media conglomerates of the world have an office here. I bet there is not one land line in the country, and they are charging me $27 for 12 hours?

Fast forward, now they tell me they’re offering me a “deal.” For $50, I will have internet access only at the Executive Lounge, which includes food. Later to find out, the fruit was unripe and pastries were probably bought at the 24-hour convenience store down the street. I hate being ripped off. And, I already had a bad taste in my mouth. I should of seen this as major foreshadowing…

I asked the Hilton Indian concierge teen for tour help. I told him I wanted to see the sun set on the river. I wanted a boat cruise. And, I pointed to which tour I wanted.

Hilton teen: “Mam, I know better cruise for you. Perfect…This cruise no good for you. I know…” I smiled.

Me: “OK…what time will they pick me up?

Hilton teen: “Seven o-clock.”

Me: “But, the sun will have set by then?”

Hilton teen: “This better cruise. You will like. Trust me. Very good. Very fun…”

Fine. Too tired to argue. And, this is the Hilton. I still trust the Hilton brand at this point. I went upstairs to disinfect the bod before I was to jump on the open-air tour bus of Dubai to orient myself. I hear a knock. I ignore it. My phone rings. It’s Hilton teen. He is at my door. I get dressed. PJ bottoms and a tank top. Only thing freed from my zip lock bag.

I pick up the phone.

Hilton teen: “Mam, I stand at your door. I have voucher for cruise…”

Me: “You are where????”

Hilton teen: “Outside your door….”

This is a no-skin showing, cover-up country. I don’t feel comfortable going to the door showing this much skin. Plus, I’m alone. I crack the door. Put my hand out.

Hilton teen: “You need to pay..”

Me: “NOW? Can’t I pay later? ?”

Hilton teen: “I’m sorry mam. But, they ask for payment.”

I closed the door. And, think to myself… Hilton is beyond annoyance. I’m down right mad. I mean, they sent their concierge up to a female’s room and asked for money? I am shocked. Has the Hilton forgotten about guest service training?

Me: “Here is the money. And, they’re are picking me up at 7 pm.”

Hilton teen: “Yes, mam. Is there anything else… like another tour? I know another good tour…”

I smiled. Said no and shut the door. Miffed.

Went downstairs and asked the teen concierge for walking directions to the bus tour stop. He opened a very large map. Why do they make maps so large… It’s hard to open and close when walking down the street. Anyway, I asked for “orientation” buildings and road signs, for this is not an easy walk.

Well, 5 minutes into the walk to find City Center mall, I was lost. Hilton has neglected to train its staff on how to give directions. I knew the mall was East. So, I just meandered through skyscrapers, over highway medians and across asphalt parking lots.

A travel angel appeared, for I was caring the bus brochure. She saw me walk by and called after me. “Are you looking for the Dubai bus tour?” I replied, “Yes.” She said, “You are going the wrong way. You need to go left there and follow the street to the end. You will see it.” I smiled. Did a herkie. And, thanked her.

Did the bus tour of Dubai. Took about 2 hours. Funniest thing I heard in some time. Thanked the travel angels for reminding me to bring a pad of paper to this gig. I usually forget.

So, on these bus tours, they normally give you headphones whereby the recorded voice gives you a brief history of the surroundings. Dubai is new to the scene so her history is more like 1980 than 1480. Also, the government wants to position Dubai as the most progressive, cosmopolitan, sophisticated city of all the Emirates. So, it is safe to assume, all war, sex, ethnic violence, extremist talk is a “a no comment.”

We head down the road. All I see is concrete….. Great transport. Great roads. And, great concrete. The place is dripping in the big C. The bus’s first stop was a mall, as was the second, third, fourth…

I quickly found out that Dubai’s scenic bus tour sites are all malls and skyscrapers. I laughed openly. Joke is on me for I loath shopping. Nothing ever fits, for pants, shirts or fabric in general is made for little people, not 6-foot girls.

And, the recorded description of the malls, was better than a Seinfeld episode. At every mall we passed or stopped, the voice told me how many seats were in the Food Court, whether or not they have KFC or sell scarfs. Loved this!

Below are some of the highlights…

First stop: Mall……  Built in 1995. 500 seated Food Court. All ethnic cuisine, like KFC, Pie Face, Sushi….. There’s a kids area in the mall.

Second stop: Mall…… Modern mall with food court. Couture lines and upscale retail. Sell items like sunglasses, shoes, scarfs, stuffed toy camels.

Third stop: Market……Reasonable priced restaurants like Little Ceasers Pizza, Burger King, Baskin Robbins. There’s a super market in walking distance.

Fourth stop: Metro

Metro opened on September 9, 2009 at 9:09 am. First mass transit in Dubai. Two lines, red & green. Train has air condition.

Fifth stop: World Trade Towers…… Opened in 1979 by Queen Elizabeth. Restaurants on the ground floor. Go to 51st floor for cocktail bar.

Sixth stop: Mall…..   Designers at a discount prices. Food court. 200 retail outlets. 25 restaurants. Walking tour of the mall offered to bus riders.

Oh, there were so many mall stops. It was frightening. Did stop at the Gold market. The recording said you can bargain and purchase gold at reasonable prices. Define reasonable in today’s’ market.

When the recording was not talking about Food Courts and the KFC menu, they were giving the soundbite of Dubai culture. When they describe Islam religion, this is how they positioned it:

Islam is the second largest religion, next to Christianity. Islam believes in one God and share the same principals of honesty, justice, truth and tolerance with Christianity. In Dubai, there are catholic and protestant churches. The world Islam, means submission. It’s the duty of a Muslim to believe God’s word and obey Him. The holy day in Dubai is Friday.

Here are some more fast facts learned on the bus tour:

United Arab Emirates (UAE) comprises of 7 states. There are 1.2 million living in Dubai. UAE was founded in 1971, whereby they gained independence from Britain.

Dubai consumes 205 million gallons of water per day. It is the highest consumption rate in the world. It is important for tourists to wear sunscreen.

The UAE legal system is divided into three parts – traffic, criminal and family. Traffic and criminal follow Egyptian law. Family follows Islamic law.

The Dolphin Aquarium is air conditioned…

Life before oil, consists of date farming and pearl cultivation.


I’m in the lobby at 7 pm waiting for cruise dude. He arrives about 7:30 pm. I’m about to fall asleep. I’m the first on the bus, assuming it is just me. Don’t assume.

We had ten other people to pick up and we didn’t get to the bus until 8:30 pm. By this time, I had fallen asleep in the bus in route to the cruise. The car was full of Russians and one couple on their honeymoon, from Ireland. We arrived to the dock – walking distance from my hotel. And, boarded the boat.

The boat was decked in tables, chairs, white table clothes, wine glasses and candles. OMG. It truly was a sit-down dinner cruise, as in SIT DOWN. I shook my head. I know what’s coming.

The porter was surprised when I told him “only one.” He did not know what to do with me. He first sat me right next to the buffet, trying to hide me. Then, decided too many people may push their way to the food and knock me over. Really? Was the food that bad? OR, were they embarrassed solo traveler could eat enough for a family of four?

He moved me to the CENTER of the boat to a table by myself. Smacked dab in the middle. It screamed, ALONE. I’m laughing. This was a riot. People around me looked nervous. I could see them whispering.

I sat. Starred. And, thought… It is 9:15 pm. We’re just pulling out. I’m about to fall asleep. I will not be back until 11:30 pm. Can I make it? You know the feeling when you are sooo tired, you just don’t think it’s in you to make it a minute, let alone an hour. And, what was I going to do with myself for 2 hours. I’m really not THAT fun.

To my right was a Russian family. The father seemed distressed I was alone. He said, “You. You. Russian?” I said, “No. American.” He said, “American????” He was shocked. I would love to know why. I could hear him report back to everyone in the boat that there’s “An American on Board.”

He pointed to his son, who “speaks” English. Found out that was not true, but did not want to tell the Father. The father handed me his oversized camera. I lifted it to take a picture. He said, “No. Look…” He was trying to give me something to do, since I was alone and we can’t talk. He wanted me to look at his pictures. From what I gather, they family has some coin and rented a plane or helicopter for his pictures of Dubai were breathtaking.

The man pointed to his family and said, “Moscow..” I motioned to the son, “Me. In Moscow. In September.” The boy smiled and reported something back to his family. The family smiled. They looked like a nice family. No Russian sigh here.

The couple to my right did not talk the entire cruise. All about the Russian sigh. They must have been in their 20’s. She’s tall, blond and Russian. He’s tall, blond and Russian. Wedding rings adorned their fingers. Yet, they never talked. They both had cell phones and, I assumed, texted each other the entire time for they would giggle now and then.

When they started taking pictures of each other eating, is when the entertainment value ratcheted up a notch.

She would pose with a pouty look with her fork full of pasta. Her husband would snap a photo and email it to her. Then it was his turn. This went on the entire meal. Am I missing something in the way the younger generation communicates? Cut out sound. Stick with acronyms. Snap photos. And, transmit via a mobile device.

The food was edible. The cruise was lovely. Seeing Dubai – concrete producer’s paradise – lite up at night was spectacular. Brilliant architecture. Urban planning at its finest. We docked around 11:15 pm and loaded back onto the van. I fell asleep in route to the hotel. And, zonked.

Next day, I finished the bus tour and headed to Jumeriah Beach area, where I gave my regards to the Bur Al Arab, the world’s only seven star hotel. And, I broke down and went to a mall with a ski-slope. Had to take a picture of people actually snow skiing in a mall.

What made me most happy was the Forever 21 store next to the slopes. Bought 2 new long sleeve t-shirts to replace my No-longer Perfect Fit J-Crew T-shirts. Those two shirts were sooo severely stained and scared, a washer machine and bottle of Shout had no chance in killing the dirt disease. I had a ceremony saying “thank you and good bye” to my t-shirts. They did their job in protecting me against skin cancer, sun spots, insect bites and snake venom. Time to say goodbye.

Later that afternoon, I did the obligatory desert, camel and belly dancing tour. You have to do this when in Dubai. That is jump in a four-wheel drive truck and roll over sandy hills. In route to the desert – all of 20 minutes away – the tour driver picked up the most fun, vivacious, Pakistani family. Husband and wife were doctors – gynecologist and laparoscopist – and eldest daughter was attending medical school while the middle daughter was in college and youngest boy in high school.

You could tell they really enjoyed each others company. I mean, they actually liked each other. When the wife told me her husband performed LapBAND (laparoscopy) surgery, I asked if there is a large problem with obesity in Pakistan.

She said, “yes…obesity is becoming a big problem. What’s happening in Pakistan is both husband and wife work and don’t have time to cook. They pick up fast food on the way home from work. People drive everywhere, and not longer exercise. Schools are cutting physical exercise programs because of funding. Kids are staying inside and playing video games, no longer playing outside and being active. And, we’re eating way too much sugar and fat…Diabetes is also a big problem” This is Pakistan? It sounds more like the US… It just reminds me how small this world is and how similar we are.

They invited me to their home in Pakistan. I implied, it was not safe for an American. They laughed. And, said that is not true. But, their tourism industry has not recovered since 9-11. The people of Pakistan are much different than their government. And, remember, Pakistan has some of the best adventure travel and hiking in the world, with K2. They said, if I do come and visit, they will host me and put me in touch with their travel agent who can arrange the best possible tour of Pakistan.

I told them K2 was out of my league, and reminded them I live at seal level in Florida. Our idea of a mountain, is a garbage dump. And asked if K2 has a cable car?

They live in Southern Pakistan. It’s a fertile area near the ocean. I apologized, for I just assumed Pakistan was dusty, dirty and backwards. They laughed, for people of Pakistan assume Americans all carry guns and shoot school kids, politicians and neighbors for sport. How stereotypes both define and frame our realities of each other.

After our desert dune riding, we all were shuttled to a belly dancing and camel riding “luau” in the dessert. It was good fun. Super touristy. While in line for our meat dish, I asked Avril how she met her husband. They’re around 50 and could tell how much they loved and respected each other. It was evident in their laughter, their language, and the way they carelessly touched each other. Both were doctors, so I assumed they met in medical school in Pakistan or England.

Avril: “It was an arranged marriage. My parents knew his parents.”

Me: “What? But, you seem so genuinely happy. I mean, you like each other… How did your parents know?”

Avril: “Know what?

Me: “Know the marriage would work?”

Avril: “Of course it would work. You have to remember, arranged marriages have been in our culture for a very long time. And, both my husband and I were raised with the same ideals, values, rules, morals and respect for education, work, family and God. Our parents knew what was best for us…”

Me: “When did you meet your husband? Were you nervous? And, were you attracted to him?”

Avril: “I met him the night of our engagement. I don’t remember being nervous, for it was long ago. But, I do remember thinking he was very handsome….”

Me: “Will you arrange the marriage for your son and daughters?”

Avril: “Yes. Now, what has changed is if they are interested in a certain boy, then we will go and meet with his family. We’re open. But, it is up to the mother and father – us – to decided who they will marry. Now, how did your parents meet?”

Me: “They met after college. They are divorced now… Both remarried, and very, very happy. Though, I do wonder who they would have considered a suitor, given the talent pool in our home town. I will have to ask them…I can’t imagine who…I bet they would have to go out of state, put an ad in a paper or outsource the whole gig to a pro…”

Avril: “ A western woman would not do well in a Pakistani culture of arranged marriages. Just like it’s hard for a Pakistani woman to marry into a western culture.

It’s too different. You were raised much differently. All you can do is accept and respect each others culture, and not try to change it… Your way. Our way. It’s not right or wrong. It works. Works for us…”

Gosh, I loved them. Great people. Now, I’m adding Pakistan to my travel list. Who wants to go to Indian by way of Pakistan in the next year or two or three? And, if you go into labor, in need of a lap band or a husband for that matter, I know just the family to help us…

Any takers? I’m not kidding. Stephanie? Suzie? Jamie?

3 Responses to “Malls. $50 WiFi. Concrete. Bellydancing. Dubai.”

  1. Susan Gerber 20/01/2011 at 3:28 pm #

    Get some sleep! Things will be fine in the morning!!

  2. Becky 24/01/2011 at 6:15 pm #

    I’m trying to imagine who your mother would have arranged for you to marry 🙂

  3. MaryStuart (sister) 06/02/2011 at 11:46 pm #

    One thing is for sure….slim pickin’s in O-Town….how is New Zealand looking????