Enjoy Dubai’s night life, but try to keep it G-rated
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The candy-apple red Ferrari pulled up to the platoon of valet parkers standing at the ready as guests arrived at the newly opened Atlantis Hotel on the man-made Palm Island.
Attendants scurried to open the doors for the driver and passenger. Out stepped two young women — covered from head to manicured toes in jet-black abayahs.
This oasis on the Persian Gulf reveals one startling contrast after another.
The Burj Al Arab Hotel, well-known to Americans as the site whence golfer Tiger Woods hits the ball from the helipad, touts the largest atrium in the world. Dubailand, the largest theme park at twice the size of Disney World, is under construction.
The tallest man-made structure, the Burj Dubai, towers over the world’s biggest shopping center, the Dubai Mall, which was scheduled to open last week.
The mall, with more than 1,200 stores, includes an Olympic-size skating rink, an aquarium boasting the world’s largest viewing window, a SEGA theme park and a 22-screen movie theater. It doesn’t include the world’s largest indoor ski slope; it’s at the Emirates Mall, down the road a piece.
The Emirates are re-creating the world itself, an artificial archipelago that replicates a scale model of the continents and other major land masses as well as replicas of lost cities from different parts of the ancient world.
For centuries, what was in the water at the edge of the desert was the source of prosperity for the tribes that today comprise the UAE. Long before the discovery of oil, pearls were the main source of income for a people who lived on lands too barren to farm. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, demand for the luminous orbs grew, particularly in India, and the coastal villages of Dubai and Abu Dhabi expanded in size as well as importance and influence.
Dubai’s roots as a trading center still flourish in the 21st century, although the pearls that once were culled from gulf waters have been replaced — by gold.
At any given time, more than 25 tons of gold are on display at the gold souq (also spelled souk), a maze of almost 300 jewelry shops in a half-a-square kilometer area. After walking past a dozen or so, you become almost numb to the opulence of so much 21-, 22- and 24-karat yellow, white and red gold studded with diamonds and other gems. About 90 percent of what is displayed is imported, from Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Italy, Malaysia, Singapore and Bahrain.
A numb look can come in handy. Shop owners scrutinize every face for a hint that a potential customer is interested in a piece of finery in their windows. Let your eye linger for more than a second, or actually point out a particular bobble to a reluctant spouse, and the door opens, the promise of air conditioning and a cold drink is offered, and you are treated to a flood of words about the unexcelled quality and astoundingly good prices in this shop. A "No, thank you" and a turn to walk away is enough to elicit an immediate drop in price by hundreds of dirham.
Night life in one of the most liberal of Arab cities is noisy, smoky and alcohol-fueled. Young men clad in the traditional dishdashas, or thobe, line up elbow-to-bended-elbow with tourists and businessmen at the bars found in hotels and resort areas. The Islamic prohibition against consuming alcohol apparently is not a hard rule for some Muslims — just as it is not for some Baptists and Mormons in the West.
What wasn’t evident were incidents of public intoxication. Of course, the top story of late has been the pair of Brits who met at an all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch, over-imbibed in the complementary champagne and then engaged in a public display of affection on the beach that went beyond what is tolerated under Islamic law even in this most progressive city. (Depending on whose version of the story one hears, what they did on the beach wouldn’t be tolerated in the States, either.)
They were found guilty of engaging in unmarried sex, public indecency and being drunk in a public place. On Oct. 16, they were sentenced to three months in prison, fined 1,000 dirham each (about $350) and will be deported at the end of their time as involuntary guests of the state.
Something tells me that it won’t be anywhere near the pleasant experience that being a guest at the Mina A’ Salam Hotel was.
Jill "J.R." Labbe is deputy editorial page editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.