Two Places at Once: Detroit and Dubai

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Detroit, MI–I just returned home from a fantastic vacation and although I’m glad to be back, I’m not quite home yet. My thoughts are still filled with the beauty of Dubai’s skyscrapers, all designed in award-winning fashion; touring Muscat, Oman and being stunned by it’s movie set quality of clean, white-cool buildings, baking in unrelenting 104 degree heat; the smells and colors of Cochine, India, that convinced me that sacred cows and people can coexist on city streets; the bustling city of George Town, Malaysia and the cab driver’s proud comment that their exponential growth is because of China. “No China, no Malaysia,” he said. And the crown jewel of my vacation: Singapore, where everything is shiny and new: buildings, malls, public transportation systems. Can you imagine a mall so big it has a canal inside where you can float from one end to the other? But wait, you’re surrounded by four levels of designer stores that repeat themselves every few hundred feet and at the very end of the mall is a gourmet food court that surrounds a skating rink.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. In the coming days, I’m going to give each country its individual recognition, but first, Dubai. We flew there from New York–a 13 hour trip–my travel buddy, Margo Williams and I, and after checking into our spacious and elegant hotel room, decided to take the public train to the Souk Market, the gold and spice market in Old Dubai.There wasn’t much significance about the train except that it was new, like everything in this part of Dubai, extremely clean, quiet as a whisper, boasted digital signs, maps and a British speaking lad that identified every stop. It was also full of people who, unlike me, didn’t stare out the windows at hundreds of new buildings that took on various shapes and sizes, leaned toward or away from each other and fanned out in every unique style imaginable. However, like me, they exited the train to transfer to Old Dubai, which some people said is the working man’s part of town.

Have you ever been to a gold market? Every store was like sunshine, repeating a yellow bright theme that played out in bangles, necklaces, and rings…carats galore to adorn every part of the human body. Everywhere we turned, merchants beckoned, “Come here, come here.” But my gold buying inexperience and the fear of a no money back guarantee kept my pursed closed unitl I opened it for spices and dried fruit…yum! We handled locally made and Chinese silks, carvings from neighboring villages, and refused invitations to buy caftans that exploded in color and were greatly reduced in price the further along we walked.

It was night time and it was still so hot. It was hot the next day too when we joined the Classic Soul group on a desert tour. You see, Margo knew someone who knew Linda, who has been booking tours around the world for more than 25 years, some of them complete with concerts and theme parties. In fact, Linda used to book the Tom Joyner ‘Party With a Purpose” annual cruise, but she and Tom went their separate ways a couple of decades ago.

Anyway, we bumped along the sand dunes in a Hummer for too short of a time (as far as I was concerned) and that’s where we learned a lesson about citizenship in Dubai. Our driver was born in Dubai, in fact, he has lived there more than 30 years but he’s not a citizen, and he wants to be. Why? Money and resources. Emiratis only make up about 20% of Dubai’s population and in a pretty cool “share the wealth, keep the peace way,” the Royal Family gives all 800,000 Emirati citizens free education and health care, a monthly allowance, and subsidized utilities. Men can claim free land and no-interest loans to build homes and ask for as much as $19,000 to pay for a wedding. At 800K strong, Emiratis only make up 20% of the population. The other 80% are immigrants, who can live in the country as long as they’re working. Once they stop working, they’ve got to go! It kind of messes up a retirement plan.

Our driver also told us that you can tell Emirati men from everyone else because they wear the white thobe or ankle length robe. Many of them do not have more than one wife. He said that the government issues a weekly prayer for the Imans so that fanatical interpretations of the Koran don’t occur.

After a camel ride and having a falcon placed on my head (not by choice but I embraced it), we headed inside the marketplace, where we sat on ground cushions that were pressed against slightly higher tables. We were treated to a feast of Indian food and watched the Tanoura dance, referred to as the Whirling Dancing Man. He whirls and twirls the entire dance, lifts part of his costume, folds it, and continues to twirl, cradling the cloth like a small child. The music also changes to sound like a crying baby.

20150529_112332The next couple of days, I watched Al Jazarra News, which focused on all the growth and philanthropic campaigns countries like Dubai carry out. I met some business people, weathered the heat, marvelled at the ski lodge in the mall (for reals!), and continued to tour this fantastic locale of contrasts and culture clashes that will be the first Middle East country to host the 2020 World Expo.

Look out, world, and behold beautiful, creative, exotic, mysterious, rich, exceptional Dubai. It’s everything you heard about, and more. I know I’m back home, but in many ways, I feel like I’m still there.

Next: Helping the Captain Steer us to Muscat, Oman

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