Thursday, 18 February 2010

Dubai - Day 2 - Souks, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Mall

Seek & Soak in the Sensational Sights, Soothing Sounds & Fishy Smells of Some Six Souks & More Massive Malls

sunny 29 °C
The hotel wasn't a convenient place until its Dubai Internet City metro station starts its operation.
Just when I was looking for lunch, the hotel's free shuttle bus pulled into the kerb. On queried, the driver told me that its first stop is the Mall of the Emirates. Great timing, no problem finding some grubs there. It's a large mall that houses an indoor ski slop (Dubai Ski). We were thinking to do some skiing there, but after a looksee at the place, we gave it a big thumbs down. Good enough only for kiddies, and people who have never hit a real ski slop. It feels too much like a snow globe, trapped and claustrophobic.

I cruised into the mall's food court, and unfortunately, just like Bahrain, this joint is stuffed with fast food fares that inspired - ok, copied - the Ford's innovation (assembly line production). Not my cup of tea. Alas, the choice of slow local traditional food was nowhere to be seen. I reluctantly ordered a teriyaki noodle soup. Not my 1st choice, I was so hungry, I can eat turkey.

Probably because I don't care much about shopping, and those loud and red 50% flashy sales signs are dead to me, the best part of the mall to me was that the metro station right next door, connected by sky-bridge corridors completed with air-cons and travellators (I'm travelling in style). From the sky-bridge, the Burj Al Arabs rises up from the sea horizon like a vision of some alien spaceship (not all spaceship are saucer shaped, so I'm told. Some look like cigar). It hogs all the limelight because it was surrounded by only low-rise village housing compound, and it was the tallest building in ME and Europe when it was completed. Location, location, location.

The Metro was opened only a week ago, another great timing on my part. So new that not all stations are fully operational. Sometimes, you get lucky, not Murphy's law. The station design is sleek and space-aged. The Metro has two lines: Red & Green. Only major stations are operating. The Red Metro Line runs literally alongside Dubai's main artery - the 12 lanes Sheik Zayed Rd (photo below) - that runs parallel to the shoreline for much of Dubai.


In the middle left photo is the metro station with a sky walkway connects to the other side of the road. With 12 lanes highway, this is the only way for a pedestrian to cross the street. Like Manama, Bahrain, there're no pedestrians on the road, and so very little thoughts are given to them. It isn't so much that the Metro is considering the public pedestrians' convenience (as public pedestrians doesn't exist), this overpass is a way for the Metro riders to get to the station from the other side of the street.
At the moment, Mall of the Emirates is acting as a bit of a transport hub while the Metro is trying to get up and fully running. The Mall runs a fleet of free shuttle buses that drive hotel guests to their mall, which has one of the first operating metro station on the Red Line (R32) attached.

The Metro also offers a Gold Class, but the Great Unwashed like myself can only afford Regular Class ticket. The damage came to AED 6.5 (about 2.5 bucks SGD) to travel between The Mall of the Emirates stn (R32) to Union stn (R18) for a total of (32-18)=25 stops (of course, it only stops at major stops atm).
The Union stn is the closest stop to the various souks in Deira - the other side of Dubai Creek. I caught a cab to get to my first stop, which was the Fish souk. It cost less than 10 Durhams. Cab fare is quite cheap here relative to the cost of everything else, so it should because of the cheap petrol and tariff-free cars. If you have a few travel companions (lucky you), it's much easier, and not much dearer than using metro if you just hurl a taxi. Although when travel greater distance, say more than 8 kms, Metro is probably a better choice. The cabbies don't seem very knowledgeable When travelling outside their own locality. Most cabbies are expats and may just arrive the country. In their defense, very few cities on earth changes at this breakneck pace (Chinese cities would be comparable).

I got to the Fish souks about 15:30, so there aren't much actions to be seen. There was still some last sales carried out for the day. I snapped a few photos of the fishermen bargaining, and weighing some large king fishes on scales with metal weights. The Meat and Veggie souks are just right next to it, and also quiet at that fronts too. I crossed the busy Al Khor St to get to the famous Gold souk. I don't know the actual number of jewelleries here, but there're more blings blings per square inch here than on the chest (his body, not his box) of Mr. 'T' in The 'A' Team. Even with the sun in my back, one needs to wear shades to avoid the blinding reflective glisters when looking at these shop windows. A bus load of Chinese tourists were being shoved into one of the bigger jewellery store. Excited with glee, they were like kids in a candy store. The gold was obviously cheaper here to attract the savvy Chinese gold bugs in droves. And they are.

After some quick photo snaps, I quickly lost interest in this place. I decided to do some walkabout on the bend of Dubai Creek. Because of the late afternoon sun, I sought the shade by taking a small street that runs parallel to Al Khor St, which has no buildings on my right to block the sun being the second street from the shore of the Arabian Gulf (aka Persian Gulf or just 'The Gulf'). This detour into the small Al Ahmadiya St led me stumble onto the Heritage House and the Al Ahmadiya School. At first, I was simply mesmerised by its beautiful, yet simplistic design, and the pleasing stone surface texture and the earth colour in the late golden afternoon sun. I found myself surprisingly spellbound. It's reminiscent of a typical African traditional desert mud-brick dwelling. Gradually, it dawned on me that this place reminds me of scenes from Star Wars where Anakan Skywalker spent his childhood. I think it was shot in Morocco. It was only after a dozen of snapshots that I noticed the signs of the Heritage House. And behind it was the Al Ahmadiya School where old Dubai ruler were trained as future king.

This is one of those weird serendipity that happened to me once before. Weird because it happened in Bahrain (another Gulf State) as I 'accidentally stumbled' onto a heritage fort during one of my random walk (very few heritage sites in Bahrain. It isn't Rome). I seem to have a nose for 'accidental discovery'. Must be something to do with its big size, not Karl-Malden or George-C-Scott big, but not feminine.

As I emerged out of the shade of Al Ahmadiya St and into Baniyas Rd (the street closest to the Dubai Creek), this part of the river is where most of the dhows are moored along with their cargoes heaping on the quayside. The sun begun to set, and this is where I called it a day. Took a taxis back to Union Metro.

Someone in the office told Atta and Chin-Ping that there's water fountain show in Dubai Mall during nighttime, so we headed to see the spectacle. Dubai Mall is the largest Mall in the world (so we were told. At least one of the largest) that housed a skating ring (not to be outdone by an indoor ski slop in Mall of The Emirates. I had no idea who comes first, skating ring or the ski slop). It also has an aquarium that is open to the public. A throng of tourists and local shoppers alike are always gathers around here, transfixed by the artificial aquatic world. I always get hungry watching aquariums, thinking about how do they taste, and what best sauce to use if I were to cook them, steamed? Grilled? or Lightly battered? etc. The trouble was, I can't keep my mind out of the kitchen while in an aquarium. The stingrays are popular with aquarium, and this one is no exception. I imagine they taste like squid and grilling would be the best way to enjoy it, and lemon chili sauce should be a good dip. Oh man, here I go again. Sorry. I must keep my head out of the kitchen. I agree that watching these colourful marine lives swimming peacefully is a tranquil and satisfying experience, and so is eating a good seafood platter. All I'm saying is that one can appreciate nature on more than one level.

Right next to the Dubai Mall is the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa (formerly Burj Dubai, surprisingly renamed during the opening to Burj Khalifa - the name of the president of UAE, the ruler of Abu Dhabi - soon after the sovereign debt crisis of Dubai. Guess who's bailing out Dubai in their financial snafu?). The whole area is known as downtown Dubai. Some of the highway signs still say Burj Dubai. In fact, its metro station is still named "Burj Dubai / Dubai Mall", and its PA also announces its old name.

We shuffled our way into a restaurant around the promenade of the Dubai Fountain where the water fountain does it magic, thinking we're getting the best seat in the Mall. Luck isn't on my side, this time. The fountain jets danced on the other side of the lagoon. We could still see it, just not the best vantage point. The show happened every 20 minutes, and it was spectacular, especially the finale when its jets reached its musical and literal climax. The water jets are said to shoot up at a world record height. This is Dubai, so you will assume it is anyway. And it is. It has to measure up to the tallest building on one side and the biggest mall on the other. Anything less would be anti-climax. We quickly finished our otherwise leisurely dinner (as leisurely as Atta's HK's pace is allowed), and took some not-so-hot snapshots of the fountain show.

The restaurant called Cafe Blanc, but it's neither a cafe nor serving French food, just hip to call it that (or 'ip' if you're french). It was some traditional ME grubs, and it tasted not bad. Can't remember exactly what I had, but I ordered a cup of peppermint tea (not on the menu), and belched out those uncomfy gas that built up in my guts while the fountain performing a symphonic dance of water, laser lights, and music to the tune of Andrea Bocelli's enchanting aria "The Prayer", duet with Céline Dion. It's good to let off steam (or gas) from time to time. The Bocelli's tenor muffled much of my gastric explosion. All tone deaf audience would have lose out on my resounding wind instrument addition to the rendition.

On that high note (or low note), we called it the night.

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