My last day in Dubai was a half-one. With temps averaging 118° in July and August (and walking thus out of the question), I thought about taking one of those ubiquitous "Big Bus" tours that one sees in all large cities. I'm told it's a great way to see the city, but the cost runs $65 for a hop-on / hop-off 24-hour pass, and it seemed a waste to spend that for three or four hours. So I decided to save that for a future visit. Instead I took the tram to the other big mall in town, the Mall of the Emirates. My plan was to get there early enough to walk all its spaces, and then hit the Dubai Mall again on the way back to the hotel and walk systematically around that place as well. On the plus side, I get a good walk; on the minus side, it's all in Retail Land.
The train system here, the Dubai Metro, is fairly new and seems quite heavily used. Much of the development seems to run along a couple main corridors, and the trains get one fairly close to the big attractions. But walking even fairly short distances is prohibitive in the summer, so there seem to be lots of cabs and shuttle buses that wait at the train stations. In the case of the Mall of the Emirates, the train station brings one right into the mall complex. With the Dubai Mall there is a three or four block walk.
The malls are everything one expects from high-end mall-based retail. Well, except for the indoor ski hill with triple chairlift. Or a full-size skating rink with surrounding bleachers. After that everything seemed normal. Did I mention high-end? I was surprised how few people were in the malls, though. Maybe not the Mall of the Emirates, which was not really open when I was there, but by the time I had walked all of the Dubai Mall it was well into the business day and I saw in total enough people to support maybe 10 of the 1200 shops. I wonder if this was a fluke or of this speaks of the dire economic conditions here.
One thing I saw on the metro made me wonder. I was standing on the full train next to two men, close friends apparently, who were carrying on a quiet but very physical conversation. They were normal-looking guys, but they touched each other quite a bit as they talked, and a couple of times the touching seemed especially intimate--much more a caress than a friendly touch for emphasis. I only wonder about this because this is a place where executions or imprisonment for being gay are in the not-very-distant past, so the consequences of crossing some line (or of being seen doing so by the wrong person) could have dire consequences. I'm told this is a very physical culture, but I wonder if this fact can encompass what I saw. This is supposedly one of the most liberal parts of the Arab world, but it would be hard for me to feel secure anywhere I saw burqas. All of this reminds me of what it is to travel, to be a stranger in a strange land.
Another recurring topic, though another one I wish to treat with a bit of delicacy: everybody has a story about being in a New York cab with a Middle-Eastern driver and noting our different approaches to hygiene. I've never found this aspect of Middle-Eastern culture as bothersome as some of my coworkers, but I'm still broadly curious. The trains here in Dubai are accordingly a more animal affair than we're used to in America, but I have always had a sense that I'm witnessing a cultural norm and not a hygiene oversight. Emiratis are not dirty people, though how animal an individual smells is highly variable. What I find curious about this, actually, is our reaction to it. We were not born with deodorant or anti-perspirant applicators under our arms, and there is every reason to believe that we've evolved to smell exactly as we're supposed to smell. Or rather, we should have evolved a smell and a mutual appreciation of that smell. There is a difference between smelling dirty and smelling, well, like the animals we are. Soap and perfume are logically very recent weapons in our arsenals, and in America (and other parts of the West that I've visited) we have collectively removed any trace of animal smell from our persons. We tend to show disgust to cultural norms that differ from ours (and I've heard all kinds of judgments from my Good American co-workers in this past year), but I'm skeptical that we're right.
Anyway. A jumpseat back to Cologne and, after a 20-hour layover, I'm finally headed for home. Here are some odds and ends from the past two weeks.
(Abandoned / junked airplanes adjacent to our parking ramp. The officials here do NOT want anyone photographing these, even though they're clearly visible in the satellite photos. More Soviet-era paranoia, methinks.)
(Guangzhou, the Pearl River. A collection of work boats, and the TV and Sightseeing Tower in the distance.)
(A holocaust-themed sculpture--I think--in Cologne. One woman carrying a crucifix, another the Star of David.)