Maybe it was 6 or 7 years ago when Ana and I were at birthday party when our friend's co-worker mention this exotic place called Dubai located somewhere in the middle east. The co-worker's husband had just returned from doing some consultant work with Zoo Dubai since he was one of the directors at the San Diego Zoo. The stories coming from her mouth sounded like science fiction. Ever since then I became slightly fascinated with this futuristic man-made oasis. The opportunity came up for Ana, Greg (music teacher), and I to chaperon 20 of our students to a Junior Varsity Fine Arts Festival at Dubai American Academy. We didn't know what to expect when we landed, so here is our story.
Getting through customs was a breeze compared with Kuwait. There wasn't the red tape or the dude looking through your belongings to snatch your hooch. It was butter. The only delay we had was playing the "find our bus" game. The good news is that we got some exercise after a four-hour plane ride.
You can say I went into Dubai with a strong prejudice based on hearsay. I was expecting mall culture hell meets Las Vegas on a bad afternoon. There was some hesitation. Once we left the airport parking lot we dove right down the middle of massive skyscrapers-it was almost overwhelming, maybe this is what Moses felt when he parted the Red Sea. I started to think there might be an argument in comparing the over-the-top architecture of Dubai with the Great Wall or even the Pyramids. Perhaps when the oil runs dry and it becomes a ghost town, generations a few hundred years away will marvel at what a great achievement Dubai was and the minimum-wage southern Asian slaves who built them. I can already imagine tour buses and ticket booths at the gate of the ruins. As much as you think I'm being cheeky in my comparisons, I very serious about them. I was impressed.
We didn't get much of an opportunity to explore the city due to commitments at school, but I think I might have observed at least three distinct groupings of buildings spanning over a 20 mile stretch. The above group is from the middle set. There is the older part near the airport and the newest development being near The Palm Jumeira.
I was thinking that there might be more cranes than buildings. Half of what we would see in the following four days was but a blueprint 5-10 years ago. Towards the end of the trip when I was walking to the mall with one of my students through a dirt parking lot he commented; "Mr. Bob, where we are walking there will be air conditioning here next year." Very insightful.
Ana likes this bus, she thinks it could be in a Wes Anderson film.
Lets go to the Dubai Mall to see the sharks at the Aquarium/Underwater Zoo
Lets go to the Dubai Mall to see The Waterfall stretching 4 levels.
Lets go to the Dubai Mall to ice skate.
Lets go to the Dubai Mall to see the Gold Souk.
Lets go to the Dubai Mall to see the Grand Atrium. This is one of the newest malls in Dubai, and makes the massive Mall of Emirates look likes the tag-along little brother. This might be the mall walker's nightmare and our host lost their car in the parking lot awhile back. There are four levels and you might get through a level or two in a couple of hours. All the high end stores you can dream of along with chains like Forever 21 and Banana Republic are here. There is even an indoor/outdoor street scape lines with shops and cafes. Fashion Avenue boasts 70 plus stores of the "worlds most desirable" brands. The Gold Souk has over 200 gold and jewelry retailers. The Aquarium/Zoo and 33,000 aquatic animals and glass bottom boat rides. The favorite among Ana, Greg, and I was Book World by Kinokuniya, though not the Tattered Cover in Denver by any mean (hi Matt!) it was the best we've experienced all year and had us wanting more, and best of all it was books and not partitioned to accommodate movies or music. Our two visits the mall was a joke, we barely scratched the surface.
The 2,717 ft tall Burj Khalifa-tallest building in the world, close to 1,500 taller than the Empire State Building in NYC that overwhelmed Ana and I five years ago. We didn't a chance to visit because tickets are sold out well in advance.
Overlooking the lake fountain outside Dubai Mall.
Tonya tells us what she really thinks of hot dogs at the conference BBQ social.
Bored and sad that game and fun night went on a little longer than anticipated. She wished that she was at the mall.
The harsh realization was settling in that Youssef and Omar's host families weren't going to be taking them to "the mall" that night.
At first it was plane turbulence, then it was the food. One of our students enjoying a bed at the nurse's office. Once he found out that he would have to move out of his hosting family's home and into one of the school's apartment with Mr. Greg, Yassin suddenly recovered.
Adam showing off the tats.
One of the teacher at our host school threw a visiting teacher social catered with some of the best finger foods and beverages to wash them down. Minutes outside her house was Dubai's version of the Chrysler Buildings.
Canned tortilla chips. We were curious on how they were stacked but not enough to buy a can.
The bus driver back to our school was nice enough to drop us off at the Marriott Harbor Hotel and we rode the elevator up to the Observatory on the 52nd floor for a panoramic view of the city. Getting a snap shot at night proved to be a challenge.
The final day of our conference was moved to GEMS World Academy. One of our teaching couples will be moving to teach there next year. The campus is like a resort and let me tell you in the 15 plus years I've been in education I have never seen such facilities. The international schools starts off with a hotel-like reception area followed by a 700 seat auditorium, olympic size pool, tennis courts, 400m athletics track, performing arts facility, squash courts, skate/BMX park, planetarium, soccer filed, recoding studio, AV studio, a black box, smart media center, e-classrooms, teacher business center, cafeteria, library, and more. To all my teaching friends out there, read and weep as I am.
Ana hanging out the the visual arts teachers from Dubai, Muscat, Beirut, and Kuwait City.
The cool looking cover to the menu of a Northern style Indian resturaunt our host family took us to. Our host Sybille and John were the best, they took excellent care of us like we were their kids and spoiled us rotten with conversation, kindness, meals, and drinks. Their house located near a park and minutes from the beach was amazing as were all the relics they've acquired over the years. It was like living in a museum for a couple of days. We are most pleased by our new friends.
Ana and Greg with our Dubai parents.
Our final day was spent waiting to be shuttled off to the airport. And what a better way to wait than a visit to the Mall of Emirates just a short walk from our hosting school. There was shopping galore but more impressive was Ski Dubai, the indoor ski slopes on the top of the mall. You have 100 degree unforgivable heat on the outside and get frost bitten with artificial snow on the inside. Growing up in Colorado this experience is quite an achivement. I can now boast that I've had a hand-numbing snowball fight in the desert. Our students had a blast, it was pricey but well worth it. I did some sledding and tubing.
Skis or snowboarding, take your pick.
The lift. I would have suggested painting some sort of mountain scenery on the walls to help camoflauge the wall fans a little better.
Shameless self promotion photo op with children.
The flight back was easy as pie but one of our girls tried to pull a fast one on us by calling her father so he could call one of his connections to get her and a handful of friends through passport control. Her idea was an epic failure as Greg caught on to the scheme. Many Egyptians don't like to wait in lines and feel entitled to cut in front of others. The best was the 5 hour bus ride home where the students try to stall the trip (by having to use the restroom) and telling the driver to "slow down" as to make it home past midnight so they wouldn't have had to come to school the following day. Another example of a failure as we beat the clock by 15 minutes even with the driver taking some ass-backwards way home. He can thank our students now that he's out of a job! If you think the manipulation is bad at this age you should see the magic their older siblings work. Impressive.