As part of my blog I have a series called Traveling with the Travelers in which I recount adventures on my various travels. The blog series name comes from my book – The Travelers. Sometimes I take it with me and even take pictures in fun places. My goal is to provide a writer’s perspective on a location. This time the series takes me far away from the US to a completely different continent and a place I never thought I’d get to go – The Middle East. And this is part 2…
An American Author in Dubai (Part 2):
An Ocean in the Desert
When last we left our adventurous heroine (that’s me), she had just landed in a peculiar place and was bravely fighting the urge to fall asleep thanks to the sleeping spell put on her by an evildoer called “The Time Zone.” (See the first part of this Dubai edition of my Traveling with the Travelers blog series here.)
The Time Zone can only be outdone by two things, sheer willpower and ironically, time. Steeling her resolve our heroine rises from the clutches of slumber and sets out beyond her hotel to a magical place called: The Mall. This is no regular mall, however, this is Dubai Mall, a behemoth, multi-tiered extravaganza of retail riches that could eat all the other malls in the world for breakfast.
This is no regular mall, however, this is Dubai Mall, a behemoth, multi-tiered extravaganza of retail riches that could eat all the other malls of the world for breakfast.
But first, she has another battle with “Desert Heat.” She’s been warned of the dangers of “Desert Heat.” Some have said the fear of the heat is worse than the heat itself because it’s a dry heat. These people who’ve said this obviously never set foot on Dubai soil.
When she steps outside the heat packs in around her. It’s scorching fingers hold her still as it breathes strong, humid air around across her body. Liars! She thinks. This is no dry heat. It’s filled with droplets of the salty Dubai Creek. She notes the distance from the hotel to the air-condition cooled tunnel that will take her over the city and land her in the Dubai Mall. She can make it.
She presses forward, her clothes sticking to her back within seconds. Even through sunglasses the hot rays of the sun, so much hotter here, force her eyes to narrow.
A cold relief sweeps through her as the doors open into a building that reminds her of a spaceship. It arches up and over an escalator like a bed sheet lifted and frozen in the air. She steps onto the moving staircase and feels the heat evaporate off her skin.
During her walk through the meandering mall-access tunnel, she catches glimpses of what she hopes to find in the mall. Peppered with tiny retailers selling flowing gowns, crystal statues of the Burj Khalifa, frozen yogurt and a large display of unicorn material, the tunnel is a tiny tube teasing what’s ahead. But it does not prepare her for the massive let down.
But it does not prepare her for the massive let down.
The tunnel opens up and expands into three layers of floors whose ceilings rise higher than most houses. The large, open expanse feels airy and bright. She looks around, hoping to find stores that reflect the culture of Dubai. (She does, but that’s only because she really doesn’t yet understand the culture of Dubai. It’s a culture that will confound her until she leaves.)
With eager bouncing steps she glides across the marble tile reading the names of the stores, Chanel, Banana Republic, Forever 21, H&M, Chili’s. She feels disappointment sink down in her stomach. She stops reading. Rainforest Cafe? Really? We have all these at home, she thinks.
While beautiful and open with entryways that have soaring replicas of the Burj Kalifa or ornate arches cut with geometric patterns, it’s just a mall. The other thing she notices – there is no bookstore, at least not one she recognizes in the laundry list of store names. (There are 1,200 stores in the Dubai Mall. It’s possible she missed it.) Later, when she’s home, she will look this up and find the Dubai Mall, which was bigger than some cities, did have one single Japanese bookstore. The ratio of bookstores to clothing stores seems out of balance.
Standing beneath a sign for Baby Gap, she refuses to be deterred. She takes solace in the fact that there is one big difference between this mall and any other mall she’s ever been to and it’s not just its enormity. It has other features that set it apart, such as an Olympic-sized ice rink and a towering waterfall sculpture with statues of divers frozen in mid-air. But, what really makes the mall more than just a mall is that it has an Aquarium. Only Dubai would dare to place an oceanic oasis in the middle of the desert.
Inside, across from a Hershey’s store, turtles swim, sharks prowl and stingrays wave. A tiny ticket robot with a fin runs along the external area waiting for people to stop it to buy tickets. Other malls in Dubai have similar unusual sights. (One even has a ski slope).
This is her first glimpse of the confounding nature of Dubai, out of its desire for excessive grandeur spring some of the most interesting ideas and experiences. She forgoes the ticket bot and talks to an actual woman, who sells her a ticket from a tiny machine hooked around her shoulder.
This is her first glimpse of the confounding nature of Dubai, out of its desire for excessive grandeur spring some of the most interesting ideas and experiences
She enters the Aquarium via a half-moon tunnel where the sinister face of a shark looms just feet above her head. A leopard print stingray that’s the size of a picnic blanket waves through the water. Giant fish slide along the sides of the glass enclosure as if staring at the spectacle of people before them. To them, the humans seem to be the attraction.
She enters the Aquarium via a half-moon tunnel where the sinister face of a shark looms just feet above her head.
She gasps at the sight of a strange creature that looks part shark, part stingray and part chainsaw. It lays down on the top of the glass. Its strange white face reminds her of a clown. She can practically touch it with her fingers.
After the tunnel, she follows the directions up to the top of the tank where she gets into a glass bottom boat. She’s opted not to go into the snorkeling tank. But, yes, visitors can put on scuba gear and get in with the sharks and fish.
Against the transparent floor, her feet look as if they will sink down into the water. A large black fish slithers by like a snake. She points at the shark-stingray-saw creature. The guide says its a sawfish. Aptly named, she thinks.
The guide points out other fish and tells them there are thousands of sea creatures in the aquarium. He explains how they keep the water clean and salted and even maintain a current. The aquarium feels, like the mall, expansive.
The boat drifts back into its port and then it’s off to see the menagerie of smaller, unusual sea creatures in their tinier habitats, although the giant alligator is not so small. She steps back from the glass when she’s convinced it’s staring at her. The aquarium has dubbed this the “underwater zoo.”
Seahorses and dragons frolic, a strange platypus meets fish creature splashes. A small, strange fish spits water out of the top of its tank like a porpoise.
The aquarium has dubbed this the “underwater zoo.”
A colorful bird swoops down overhead, landing on the edge of a small water tank full of fish. How birds fit into the “underwater zoo” theme, she doesn’t know nor does she care, especially when she spies the Swiss Family Robinson style rope bridges hanging above the zoo. She walks across the wobbly planks and stops to gaze at two adorable, sleeping owls and continues through the treetops to meet a toucan.
After gawking at the beautiful swiftness of penguins that glide through the water like airplanes and shuddering once more at the sight of the alligator, it’s time for her sea adventure to come to an end and, to exit through the gift shop. Of course, being Dubai, there is not one, but two gift shops.
One is distinctly Dubai, filled with gold and glass materials. The other is a bright room where fish still bubble along the top and stuffed animals, even of the sawfish, hang on walls.
Here she leaves the Aquarium and the mall and heads for the big red bus, hoping to find that there is more to Dubai than just over-sized shopping.
She will find more of that, but in a very different way…stay tuned…