September 08, 2008

Sparking Up a Dubai

So, finally: Dubai.

It didn't really dawn on me that I was going to the Middle East — the real life Middle East! — until about four hours into the flight, when I happened to turn on the flight tracker and realised, with a sobering jolt, that I was directly over Baghdad. That kind of put my five-star resort holiday in perspective. Kind of. (Seeing Baghdad on a flight tracker map is only slightly more meaningful than seeing Baghdad on an evening newscast map, as far as feelings of identification go.) But it certainly did remind me that even a five star hotel in the Middle East is still — well — in the Middle East.

And, sure, as the Middle East goes, Dubai is pretty Westernised: anyone a tourist is likely to run into speaks passable English, and they have consumer capitalism up the wazoo (though not literally, obviously, as that would contravene Islamic law). There are McDonaldses everywhere, and Starbuckses everywhere, and, to be honest, pretty much every Western chain you can think of — from Dunkin Donuts and Second Cup to Applebees and TGI Fridays (that last one I find particularly hilarious, since Friday is, of course, the Islamic day of worship).

But still, it was my first trip to the Middle East, my first trip to an Islamic country, my first real trip to another culture — and, dammit, Westernised or not, I was determined to find it interesting.

Although, actually, my first real thought about the Middle East when I landed was not so much interested as it was inane. I saw a guy in traditional Arabic garb — white tunic, head dress held in place by ring on head — and thought: "Gee! He looks just like something out of a Tintin book!" (I really did.)

And then, after that, to be honest, I didn't find much to get excited about, for a while. The place reminded me of just one, big, Muslim Vegas: big boulevards, glitzy hotels, a lot of desert, and, at night, a buttload of neon lights (again, not literally). The only things missing were the gambling and hookers — which I suppose some would argue is what makes Vegas Vegas — but I really couldn't shake the feeling of deja vu for the first couple of days.

More tomorrow; I'm still fighting the jetlag, and I think it's winning.

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