Welcome to the Transformative 30! If you want a little info about what that means and why I’m doing it, here’s a quick mind-blurb.
Now this is a toughie, no doubt about it. Many of the facts that are associated with the United Arab Emirates are already well known. And yes, I consider Sharjah, the lesser known sister emirate of Dubai, my hometown. That’s where I grew up and, for the longest time, that’s all I knew. Total culture shock when we finally decided to live here in the Philippines, so you’ll pardon my #ofwfeels.
I’ve been reading a few fact lists on the internet, and they seem to be painting a very different view of the Dubai I remember. I mean, people who have lived there can take it with a grain of salt, because there is truth in those amazing claims (gold ATMs, anyone). But what about the people who haven’t lived there? It isn’t all glam and opulence over there; the Middle East has its share of seedy places and sad stories, an OFWs know that side more. But there are some gems that make living away from your family bearable.
SO, after that long-ish intro, I’m going to write about what I remember about the UAE, hopefully painting a more realistic picture of my hometown for those who’ve never been there, and bringing some nostalgia to the OFW brats like me.
1. There are shawarma stands on every corner
In Dubai, you are always within walking distance from a piping-hot roll of deliciousness stuffed with your choice of spit-roasted chicken or lamb, each mouthful bursting with spices and freshly chopped vegetables and thick crispy french fries. Any kid who has grown up in the Middle East knows the smell of an authentic shawarma stand. Those who hate it don’t like the flavors; those who love it are cursed never to forget.
Shawarmas used to cost two/ two and a half dirhams anywhere in town. That was fifteen years ago. Now they cost around ten dirhams, I hear. It’s like a joke- a terrible, horrible joke. But that’s the reality of inflation, kids. Let that be a lesson. Eat all your favorite foods now, before it’s too late.
2. You can cook an egg on the hood of a car
Because the temperatures can reach upwards of fifty degrees centigrade and parked cars start heating up as soon as the sun rises, voila! A portable kitchen! Scrambled eggs, anyone?
3. Dubai has all the malls and they are beautiful
I’m not kidding, a walk through a mall there is like walking through an airconditioned Ali Baba’s cave. Everything is clean and sparkling and wide. Like ‘drive a car through the hallways’ wide. Even the ceilings have gold filigree. In Dubai Mall, there’s a two-floor aquarium with a walkthrough tunnel. Ugh.
4. The streets are not overrun by exotic animals
In the ten years that I lived there, I never once saw a lion in the backseat or a monkey being taken for a walk. They’re kept in zoos, which are seriously gorgeous, or in the personal compounds of the very rich, which are seriously guarded. The most exotic animal I ever saw on the side of the street was a camel, and it’s not strange at all over there since we are at the edge of a desert.
5. We got them cars
This bit of gossip is true. There are some beautiful cars in the UAE. Lambos, Ferraris, Aston Martins, Bentleys, H3s- they’re a dime a dozen over there. You name a high-end automobile and you can bet your butt there’s one cruising down Sheikh Zayed road right now (with the top and windows up and the AC on full blast, because doing otherwise would be asking for heatstroke)
6. There is a champagne machine in the lobby of the Emirates Palace Hotel
I’ve only been to a few Kempinski hotels, but the Emirates Palace shines bright like a diamond (sorry, sometimes my Rihanna just comes out). Normal places have the Coke machine, the Palace has its champagne and wine machine. There are also miles and miles of ballroom with Swarovski-encrusted chandeliers, and the suites. I can’t even talk about the suites. I just can’t, because it was so beautiful and perfect, and if I ever want a condo styled like that, I’d have to sell a dozen of my organs.
Can you live without a dozen organs? Wish I could but I don’t think so, so it’s best not to think about it.
7. Winning at soccer results in parades
You think EDSA traffic is bad? It totally is, because it doesn’t have flags, blaring radios, and people running alongside blinged-out cars whooping and shouting and singing the national anthem. That’s traffic with personality.
8. Sandstorms are a fact of life
That scene in MI:3, where Tom Cruise is hanging out at the Burj Khalifa and he sees this rolling wall of darkness starting to blanket the city? Yeah, that’s no joke. You don’t mess with sandstorms, because they will try to blind you, flay your skin, strip your garden and flip your car.
9. Them portion sizes be like o.0
Now this is a rant-worthy subject. Dubai is sand. It rains once or twice a year. Nothing grows there but dates and sidewalk foliage (thanks to their awesome water recycling system). They import nearly everything.
Our country, on the other hand, is beautifully, wonderfully, amazingly fertile. We can grow anything.
So why is it that their meals are actually worth the price, while ours leave you wondering whether we ate or not?
10. We take our summers seriously
Kids who’ve grown up in the UAE know that summer hasn’t begun until Modhesh arrives. Modhesh is the mascot for the Dubai Summer Surprises, and his sunny yellow face pops up everywhere you look. Thanks to DSS, every week is full of programs and experiences for the whole family. All the malls pimp out, the streets have banners and all the LED lights in the world just shine at you. It’s an experience that just sums up Dubai for me.
I really miss being back there, and there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m bringing my kids over for a visit one day. The vibe of the city is so different: fast-paced, colorful, all-inclusive, and all crammed into a slice of oasis at the edge of the desert.
Any other OFW brats out there? Where did you grow up? I’d love to hear about it.
This challenge was originally posted here.