by Ben Best
I spent November 8-11, 2012 in Dubai, . I spent November 10 & 11, 2012 attending an A4M Symposium, so I was able to spend November 8 & 9 as a tourist.
In preparing for the visit I mainly attempted to learn Arabic, while also obtaining the Lonely Planet DUBAI & ABU DHABI book and reading the Dubai entry on Wikipedia. For spoken language I learned from Pimsleur Arabic (Eastern), Conversational while doing my daily stairmaster exercising. I have settled on the Pimsler method as being the best way to learn a spoken language. The written language book I used was mainly The Arabic Alphabet: How to Read & Write It, with a bit of ARABIC FOR DUMMIES. The latter was useful for "cultural" background concerning the language, but the former was far better for learning the written language. I made index cards of the Arabic letters and certain examples of Arabic words given in the book. For counting, the YouTube lesson I preferred was ARABIC NUMBERS because it minimized the chatter and indicated both the written numbers and the number pronunciation.
Written Arabic is very phonetic. The Arabic alphabet has 28 consonants and no vowels. Vowel-sounds are mostly indicated by short strokes applied to the letters. The most challenging aspect of reading Arabic is the fact that the letters are connected (like English longhand) — even when printed — and the shapes of the letters can change significantly depending on which letters precede or follow — or if the letter appears at the beginning or end of a word.
Dubai features itself as the foremost commercial and tourist center in the Middle East. That being the case, I would have expected much less hassle to get into the UAE. A visa was required for most visitors, but for Americans, Australians, and Europeans a visa is issued upon arrival. Not for Canadians, however. Visas are issued by consulates rather than by embassies, but I was not able to get through to the UAE consulate in Canada. I would leave a message on their answering machine, but was not called back. I finally got through to one of the UAE embassies (in the US or Canada). I was told I had the choice of mailing my passport to the consulate or flying on a UAE airline and getting the visa through an online application. The online application process was not simple. Tedious processing was required of my scanned images and documents and a passport photo. Trial-and-error with several rejections and retries were required.
Emirates Airline was more expensive than an American airline would have been, and required departure from New York City. I had my laptop in my backpack at the New York airport, but Emirates told me it made my backpack too heavy so they gave me a separate bag for the laptop.
Conferences are usually held in expensive hotels, and the A4M conference in Dubai was no exception. Typically I go to HOTELS.COM, enter the address of the conference hotel, and find an inexpensive hotel that is not far from the conference hotel. In this case, however, I realized soon before departing the US that HOTELS.COM had gotten the distances very wrong — my hotel was in a different section of the city from the conference hotel. Nonetheless, it appeared that I could ride the metro train to get to the conference hotel. From a cultural point of view, theis was an advantage — my hotel was in the center of "Old Dubai", whereas the conference was in the new business district.
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All of my Arabic study proved to be of marginal benefit. I spoke to many kinds of people — taxi drivers, retail clerks, etc., and did not speak to a single person in Dubai who did not speak passable English. Most signs and text I saw were in both Arabic and English, and the rest included a number of other languages. I met a Muslim woman who had moved to Dubai from the United States. She told me that she knew almost no Arabic, and that everyone in Dubai spoke to her in English.
After a 12-1/2 hour flight from New York I took a taxi from the Dubai airport (which is close enough to "Old Dubai" to make a taxi economical) to my hotel. I arrived at about 9:30 A.M.. It was much too early to get a room, but I was able to check-in, leave my luggage, and head for a bus tour — BIGBUSTOURS.COM.
There were two routes, covering mostly different sections of Dubai, and it took me several hours to see most of the city by riding on both routes.
At mid-afternoon I was eager to get back to my hotel so I could get a room. From the bus I saw a taxi sitting alone, so I decided to seize the opportunity and left the bus. Once in the taxi, I soon realized that there was no taxi meter. It quickly became evident to me that, despite the "taxi" light on the car roof, this driver was an unofficial free-lancer. I asked him how much it would cost to get to my hotel. He quoted me 60 United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED), which I would later learn was about four times what a metered trip would cost. A counter-offer of half the price would have been reasonable under the circumstance (half the asking price is what BIGBUSTOURS recommended as the starting bidding price in bartering), but I hate haggling prices so I agreed to his quote and was willing to pay it. At the end of the trip I gave the driver a 100 AED bill, and as change he gave me two 20s in Saudi Arabian currency (which I did not recognize at the moment). (He held the bills so as to make the numbers most visible, but not the rest, when he handed them to me.) Only when I tried spending the money in a shop did I discover he had given me the somewhat less valuable currency.
Checking into my hotel room and unpacking I made the horrifying discovery that I had left my laptop in the airplane. Having been forced to remove the laptop and put it in a separate bag caused me to forget about it completely. Fortunately, I got the bellhop to phone the airline for me, locate the laptop, and arrange for me to pick it up. I took a taxi round-trip to the airport and got my laptop.
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Friday and Saturday are the "weekend" in Dubai, with Friday being the day of worship. On Thursday I became apprehensive that I would be unable to do much of anything on Friday. The metro/subway did not begin to run until 2 P.M. on Friday, but I was reassured that BIGBUSTOURS would begin at 9 A.M., as usual. But I decided I would spend Friday morning walking around "Old Dubai" (Deira), which I did.
There is supposed to be a "call to prayer" five times per day, but not once did I hear a call to prayer or see anyone praying. I must have missed it. I should have asked about this when I was in Dubai. Only 20-25 percent of the population of Dubai are UAE citizens. But the great majority of foreign workers are also Muslim — coming mainly from India, Pakistan, Bengladesh, and Indonesia. The large number of foreign workers also accounts for the fact that about 80% of the population of Dubai is male.
I used a Google map of the area around my hotel to get me started, and my Lonely Planet guidebook map to give me a bigger map of the area. I did a bad job of correlating the two, however. Even though it was Friday morning, I found a few convenience stores were open. Looking for some xylitol gum the only one I found was an Orion "Dr. Xylitol",
manufactured in Vietnam, and carrying the message (in English) "Officially Approved by the Iranian Dental Association (I.D.A)" (sic — last period omitted) There are two sections in tiny letters — one in Arabic and one in Persian, I believe — but most of the script on the container is in English.
After several hours discovered I had gone in a very different direction than I had intended to go. I flagged a taxi off the street and had the driver take me to the City Center Shopping Mall — which I believe is the biggest shopping mall in Diera. In this case, the taxi had a meter. Taxi travel is very common in Dubai, and with metered taxis can be reasonably economical, although the metro/subway is also very economical.
I had two main objectives in the mall (1) buy a camera and (2) find all the vitamin/health food shops and try to find their suppliers in hopes of finding a Middle East distributor for Life Extension Foundation products. The latest issue of CONSUMER REPORTS fortunately had a section on cameras, and I was able to find one of the models listed in a camera store in the mall. The only shortcoming was that the instruction book was entirely in Arabic, and that the electrical outlet was not North American. (The UAE uses British sockets — understandable given that they were a British Protectorate until the middle of the 20th century.) But I already had a similar camera (so I didn't need the instruction book), and have plenty of adaptors. I got the store attendant to implant the battery and memory card. The battery surprisingly had enough charge to give me a few hours of photography. But it would have been nice if it had been more because I missed lots of photo opportunities on my second day of BIGBUSTOURS.
I took too many photos of modern-looking buildings. Dubai is awesomely wealthy and very new. I'm sure most of the city is less than 20 years old, and there is much evidence of current construction. An Austrian woman told me that she comes to Dubai about every six months, and it is a new city every time. Not satisfied with having the highest building in the world (Burj Khalifa), the largest shopping mall in the world (Dubai mall), a huge artificial island complex shaped like a palm leaf (Palm Jumeirah), and the world's only "7 star hotel" (Burj Al Arab) — Dubai had plans to build an entertainment complex similar to Disney World (Dubailand), but expected to be twice the size. The project was suspended due to the financial crisis of the 2008. Modern highways and artistic creations are everywhere — with adjoining areas of greenery that are immaculately manicured. Dubai is a hopeful contender for the 2020 World's Fair.
The BIGBUSTOUR is "hop-on-hop-off", but I mainly stayed on the bus — the major exception being a one-hour boat tour on Dubai Creek. I did not see much from the boat that I had not seen on the shore — mainly lots of big modern buildings from a different vantage-point. I did see sea gulls, which looked smaller than the North American variety. I ended my afternoon with BIGBUSTOURS by hopping-off at the Emirates Mall — the second largest mall outside North America (Dubai Mall is the largest).
The most novel thing about Emirates Mall is the huge indoor ski resort. Looking through the windows I could see how fascinated the locals seemed to be with the snow, and what a novelty the experience apparently was for them.
I planned to spend the rest of the day exploring Dubai by metro, but darkness began too soon to make the effort worthwhile. So I went directly to Dubai Mall after exploring Emirates Mall. Unfortunately, the connection between the metro station and Dubai Mall was still under construction, and it was a long walk to Dubai Mall through the construction zone. Despite the hassle, Dubai Mall was chocked with people. Attractions at Dubai Mall include a huge aquarium, indoor ice rink, waterfall, and direct connection to Burj Khalipha. There were a number of vitamin/supplement shops, which were invariably unpopulated. The supplement shop "Dr. Nutrition" had a large staff of "professional" advisors. As with the other shops, I was the focus of attention of the numerous staff because of the absence of other customers.
There was a large organic food market — one of the largest I have ever seen — with a huge selection of products, and more shoppers than in the supplement shops. I could have spent a lot of time and money on all the novel foods, but I settled for some mung bean chips and unusual crackers. Rather than walk back to the metro station, I took a taxi. I did this frequently in traveling to-and-from the metro station and the Dubai Mall (or A4M conference hotel adjoining the Dubai Mall).
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Saturday and Sunday morning I spent at least an hour before the A4M sessions riding the metro and taking photos through the window. Most of the metro is above ground on a "skyway", with only the "Old Town" sections being a below-ground "subway".
At the A4M conference I made a particular effort to introduce myself to the participants. I met a surgeon from Jordan who told me that none of his colleagues in Jordan shared his interest in anti-aging medicine. He was hoping to move to Dubai and practice anti-aging medicine. He became eager to subscribe to LIFE EXTENSION magazine after I gave him a sample copy. Many of the participants were from Europe. A female physician from Sweden had moved to Dubai partly to practice anti-aging medicine, but mainly to put a large distance between herself and her husband. A woman from Germany was practicing stem cell therapy on Oman, reportedly having great success in treating diabetes, which is rampant in the Middle East. (Obesity and consequent type 2 diabetes have been a price of wealth in the Middle East.) She told me that she had improved her cognitive function and generally improved her health by treating herself with stem cells.
I met a man running a compounding pharmacy in Dubai (Antiaging Compounding Pharmacy http://www.apcpharmacy.com/) who was appreciative when I gave him a copy of LIFE EXTENSION magazine. He said he would look for Life Extension Foundation products that he might want to order and carry, but he could not order capsule form because they would not be "Kosher". Islamic dietary restrictions (Halal) are similar to Jewish (Kosher) with respect to the concern over pork products, including gelatin capsules I have seen a food product ingredient list that specified "Kosher gelatin".
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I only saw two men at the A4M conference wearing traditional Arabian dress (white robe, red headdress). One was the deputy minister of health of Dubai who welcomed the participants to Dubai — indicating a positive environment for anti-aging medicine in Dubai. The other was a professor of nutrition from Saudi Arabia who also worked for the Saudi consumer protection agency. He had seen me giving sample copies of LIFE EXTENSION magazine copies of to some of his Saudi colleages, and he approached me at the end of the conference wanting a copy. Unfortunately, I had given-away all my samples. He had some time before he had to catch a plane, so he asked if we could walk through Dubai Mall together. When I told him about the "Dr. Nutrition" shop, he was eager to go there. He did not know the geography of the mall, and I myself was having a hard time orienting myself using my map of the mall. To my amazement, none of the shop staff I asked for orientation information was able to identify their location on my map of the mall. The one person who thought he knew gave wrong information. I finally figured-it-out with the assistance of an information counter (of which the Mall had many).
Once at the "Dr. Nutrition" shop my companion asked for CoEnzyme Q10. I only saw the uniquinone form of CoQ10, so I asked if the shop had uniquinol. They had never heard of the distinction, and they got their biochemist to speak to me. He understood that ubiquinol is an alcohol. In telling the biochemist that ubiquinol is more bioavailable, he said that he would look for it, adding that many of the products they carry they had learned-about from their customers. My companion bought the CoQ10, anyway, but with some doubt. When I noted that the CoQ10 was in a capsule, he told me that only some capsules are made with pork, and that he hoped the ones he had purchased were safe. I guided my companion to the taxi pickup area of the mall.
I had wanted to go to the observation deck of Burj Khalipha, but I would have had to wait another hour to gain entry — and it would have been even longer before I finished. Given that I greatly preferred having a daytime view, and given that I had to get-up at 5 A.M. to catch my flight, I decided to skip it. I went to the taxi area myself to get a ride to the metro, and it was over an hour before I got back to my hotel.
The next morning I thought I would take the metro to the airport, until I got to the metro station and realized that the trains did not start running as early as I had thought. I saw a bunch of taxis lined-up at a gas station, but the drivers I spoke to told me they could not take me to the airport because they were ending their shift. One driver, however, said he would take me, although his day-shift partner would get the income insofar as he had already cashed-out from his night-shift. He was very appreciative when I paid him nearly double the fare.
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