23 August – We were excited to head to Istanbul airport for the first flight of our trip. We had by this time made our way slowly through Europe by train, road and bike all the way from Amsterdam to Istanbul and it was time to embark on the second leg of the trip into Asia; to Hong Kong and China.
On our way to Hong Kong we made an overnight stop in Dubai. We were interested to see this city (although not interested enough to stay for more than 12 hours). Jennifer’s old company had done some branding work for the Burj Kalifa complex which covers a chunk of central Dubai and includes the tallest building in the world. I’m not totally sure what it means to brand a part of a city but Jenn says it’s very important. They came up with the street names and suck like.
The plane landed in Dubai. It was 10pm and 35 deg C (95 F) and very humid. I thought it was supposed to be cold at night in the desert! We left the airport and were directed by a friendly guy dressed in the traditional Arabian clothes with headscarf to a pink taxi with a woman driver which we thought was quite surprising in an arab country. We drove through wide streets of big modern buildings to our hotel. We checked in and although Jenn had booked it in her name, it was me as the man who they dealt with and Jenn was told to go and sit down on a nearby sofa. We dropped our bags in the room and almost immediately took another taxi into the city to get some food.
The service from everyone here stood out as being very polite and attentive and was a shock after coming from Europe. It was ‘Yes Sir’, ‘Certainly Sir’, ‘Sit down and let me hail a taxi for you Sir”. We headed for the Burj Kalifa and the group of bars and restaurants around it which is called the ‘Old Town’ even though it was only built a few years ago. It is also an old town which looks suspiciously like a shopping mall but with smaller shops selling traditional products. But with the Dubai heat we were thankful that they built the new old town in an air-conditioned building.
We went outside and stared up at the tallest building in the world. It was much more beautiful than I imagined with imaginative twists and turns and a subtlety in its design at odds with the image of Dubai as glitzy and ostentatious. Just then a thousand jets of water rose up from a lake in front of the tower and an extravagant fountain sound and light show began. It was very well done and fun to watch. There’s many restaurants on the edge of the lake and we chose one serving mediterranean and arabian food. Sitting outside, we enjoyed good food but even at midnight it was so hot that we were happy that from time to time the door of the restaurant would open and we’d get a blast of cold AC air, but we realised that the heat was something we would have to get used to in asia.
The next day we woke early and took a taxi to the airport. Dubai is very much a city where you have to drive like in LA but it’s so hot that you can’t do much walking anyway. It has mainly been built in the last 10 years and is trying hard to be exciting with extravagant showy buildings. Although it is not really my kind of city I like the fact that the buildings aren’t all just practical and functional. Building man-made islands the shape of the world may seem a whimsical idea which many in the cultured west may laugh at, but it is something that builds a legacy. Imagine if the Romans had done it 2000 years ago. It would now be a huge tourist attraction.