Exactly 365 days since the day I boarded a plane in Changi Airport, I got on another flight to the Singapore of the Middle East: Dubai. It was so similar only there were less Asians (not much less though) and more Arabs (not much more though). They even sell Tiger Balm in pharmacies and serve Tiger Beer at bars.
There are a lot of impressive structures in the city especially considering the factors that architects need to take into account when working on a project (sandstorms, intense heat, building on sand foundations). According to an episode of Strip the City, the Burj al Arab’s exterior takes 2 weeks to clean after a sandstorm and an entire coral reef was relocated to the Palms by being transported underwater while connected to a barge. Burj Khalifa is insane to see. However, I can’t help but feel like a lot of the architecture are like hybrids from other known monuments around the world. Dubai’s DIFC looks like our ESCWA building in downtown or a less impressive knock-off of Rem Koolhaas’ CCTV building in China. There are rumors that The Address, the hotel of the Dubai Mall, is building 2 more towers that will then have it resemble the Marina Bay Sands of Singapore but, then again, the Singapore flyer is a copy of the London Eye. Oddly enough, there already seems to be a cousin of the MBS in Abu Dhabi.
SG is definitely greener. In all fairness, Dubai is supposed to be a desert so just the mere fact that it’s a constructed city that has more public parks than Beirut is already a step forward. The Greens, appropriately named, has a lake and greenery all around successfully creating the illusion that you’re not in the middle of Nevada. Dubai is a lot like Las Vegas in the sense that it’s a haven in what should be a barren land except it’s on a coast and there’s no gambling or strippers. Safa Park has a weekly farmer’s market every Friday and the Novotel Hotel has a green wall on its building’s facade. SG has the Botanical Gardens, Gardens by the Bay, and a forest between every parking space. Dubai has the Miracle Garden and other parks. Beirut has…AUB.
Weather in February
Unlike the tropically wet & humid days spent in SG, Dubai’s weather was dry & breezy. Not exactly beach weather but you can still suntan without heatstroke. This is short-lived though; Dubai suffers from desert heat starting around the end of April until mid-September. Mall culture is a big thing in both cities since weather keeps residents indoors as they try to avoid rain or sweat. Yum.
Being like the West
Although I had culture shock upon arriving in SG, I was told that it was the most Westernized city of Asia. Dubai, despite being an Arab city, was filled with so many expats from different nations that I never spoke Arabic while there. Like SG, Dubai tries very hard to emulate all things West except you can’t buy alcohol freely or kiss your boyfriend in public. There’s a Tony Roma’s though.
I was thrilled to hear that Dubai had a metro but I never got to use it. Why? Turns out that the metro is made up of two lines that run through the city and the stops are too spread out. Unless one is walking distance from where you live, it is not very practical in terms of getting from point A to point B. The city is quite condensed but since it’s not pedestrian friendly (mostly because of the weather), it doesn’t make much sense to take the metro if you’re just going to end up in a cab to get to your actual destination.
Since speeding limits are pretty high on Sheikh Zayed Road, the main highway into the city, cab drivers like to go Dom Toretto when they get the chance. At some point, one cab driver sped through an intersection and said “many accidents here haha.” HOW IS THAT FUNNY? Never say the words, “I’m so tired” upon getting in because they’ll take longer routes to jack up the meter while you’re too tired to notice. Even if you spent 8 hours in Dubai Mall, pay attention. It’s a small city so it’s not that hard to learn the roads. If it takes more than 20 minutes, you’re being robbed. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED. Drivers in SG have also been inspired by GTA and Need For Speed.
While lost looking for a restaurant in DIFC, a former American resident of Singapore said, “Yup, it’s going to be just like it in 10 years.” I’ll give it 5.