Saturday, November 27, 2010

Part 17 - Still in search of the shoe!

Today was my day out - my bro-in-law dropped the Pajaero for servicing and took a taxi to office. On the way he dropped me on the back side of Times Square Center - no, it's not the New York Times Square - this was another mall! I got off at the signal and it seemed like I was just about hundred metres behind the building in a deserted area. The sun was blazing. I walked briskly towards the mall but was met by a fence after 50 meters. Asking a construction worker for how to get to the mall, he said I'd have to walk a long way around or go through a little opening into a construction yard which would take me to the main road. I opted for the shortcut and was guided by some workers to a small tower that resembled a watchpost.
"Uppar ja," they gestured and I climbed up.
It again seemed like a dead end and they made hand gestures to look the other side - there was a ladder! After about 20 minutes of walking I reached my destination - phew; I was exhausted - it was 11:30am.

The mall was relatively tiny according to Dubai standards. It was in the shape of a square (guess that's why the name had a Square!) with just a couple of floors. The biggest shop was Sharaf DG - the electronics giant. Nothing interesting in the food court and no shops of interest either. The only thing useful was a nice complementary map of Dubai with all shopping malls marked. My sister called up and I asked her to check for film timings in the Mall of the Emirates (it had a theatre) and from the map I knew it was walkable. The "Hurt Locker" was running and there was an afternoon show starting in an hour. I walked out of the mall and I didn't really require the map because the dome of Mall of Emirates was visible. There were a few construction workers sitting in the shade of a building, next to which was a construction site. Most of them seemed to be Indian and they were seated in a huddle taking a well deserved break, judging by the sweat they were soaked in. A few of them had small tiffin carriers with rice - they were huddled on the footpath drenched in sweat but enjoying every morsel. Working in this heat for even a few hours would be very demanding - those of us working in an ac are quite lucky.

The road was a highway and to get to the Mall of Emirates I had to cross the highway - there was no pedestrian crossing in sight and no traffic signal either. With the speed at which cars were flying there was no way I could even run across the road - and even when I took a couple of steps onto the road, none of the drivers slowed down. It took 15 minutes for me to get an opportunity to run across the road! Huff...

The cinema complex had many small theatres and there was no crowd - you don't expect a crowd on a working day. It was similar to how theatres were in New York - you can pretty much just walk in anytime, get a ticket and jump into a show - very much unlike Chennai. The movie felt pretty much like a documentary that revolved around a bomb detecting squad. Probably the fact there was no other strong contender and given the fact that this was about Iraq scenario might have given it the edge in sweeping through the Oscars. Junk food was my lunch.

The next day was also my day out; I took the RTA bus this time to head back to the Dubai museum area where I had seen a lot of shops. I felt shopping is a lot of fun when you have something specific you are searching for. I was enjoying the quest to find a good pair of sports shoes; focus is the key and I was prepared to spend upto Dhs 300.

I found a pair of shoes in the first shop I entered but it felt a little tight.
The shopekeeper insisted, "It will expand as you use."
Huh, that's what they always say to make the sale.
"It's expensive also," I commented.
"I'll give 10% off on it."
I nodded my head and as I was about to walk out, I noticed a Chinese lady struggling to communicate with the saleman. Most salesmen could speak broken English but they were all comfortable with Hindi. With the little Hindi I know, I acted as a translator between the two of them and the sale was done!
When I was about to leave the other salesman shouted out, "I'll give it for 300."
He had started with 400.
"It is very hard to find large sizes."

After searcing in a few more shops I found one shop with a board, "Special rates for special sizes" and they had one pair for Dhs. 180 - it was a branded shoe and I wondered if it was a fake. But it didn't feel as if the shop sold fakes. I have the habit of wearing the shoes and walking around for a few minutes before buying shoes. And this felt odd on my left foot - something with the arch made it feel uncomfortable while walking. And so I continued in my quest and came to another shop with a dynamic salesman. He had the exact same model for Dhs 300.
"Left side feels uncomfortable because of the arch."
"No problem; we have Adidas sole pads to make the arch flat."
It did feel comfortable but the shoe price was too high.
"250," he said.
"If you can find it anywhere for less I will buy it from you for Dhs 250"
I was tempted to take the challenge but just walked out. You really had to bargain in this street to get a good price.

Next I went into an Adidas outlet and tried a couple of shoes. The salesman was very helpful but I didn't find a pair there either! The salesman said, "You can try out at the outlet mall. There they will surely have large sizes."
"Outlet? Where?"
"The Outlet Mall," and he gave me a rough address for the place.
The confidence and certainty in his voice made me feel confident that I would find my shoe there.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Part 16 - Atlantis, the Palm

At night, after my brother-in-law returned from office we drove to Atlantis. Atlantis (called Atlantis, the Palm) is a resort on the man-made island called Palm Jumeirah (the structure in the pic is the resort). Most of you would have seen the structure of the Palm Jumeirah - the man-made island in the shape of a palm tree with branches coming out. A beautiful underwater tunnel takes you from the mainland to the island. There were plenty of residential apartments here - all of them looked similar. There was an aqua theme park and an aquarium called "The lost chamber". We headed for the aquarium. Parking was free if you bought merchandise or tickets for some minimum amount. A van took us from the parking lot to the Atlantis resort. The resort had a nice design, as seen in the snap to the left.

(Video showing the apartments on the Palm, Dubai with apartments costing even a million dollars! All the buildings will appear to be the same and you might think it is just like you find in any city - but remember that all these buildings sit on the Palm Jumeirah which is like a man-made island!)

The aquarium was housed inside the resort. The entrance to the resort seemed more like a shopping mall with the ColdStone icecream outlet right at the beginning. The place was ambient - lights were neither bright nor dim. The decorations and architecture inside gave the place a mystic feeling. The entrance rates fee for the aquarium were pretty high. The guy at the counter quoted the rate for us all and my bro-in-law said it wasn't right because he remembered seeing lower rates online. The counter guy said that these were the final rates and said it was the same quoted online. My bro-in-law then asked for discounts and on enquiring found that for a particular credit card they give a good discount. If we hadn't asked we wouldn't have got it for sure! Ask and you shall receive!

The resort room rates start from Dhs. 1600 upto 20,000 for the presidential suite! And the aquarium entrance rate is around Dhs. 100 per head! They claim to have around 65,000 species of marine life inside.

When we entered, the first item on view was a large cylindrical tank with plenty of small fishes. My niece was frightened - she feared to go near the tank. My nephew after some prodding tentatively touched the tank. The lights were very dim inside but the ambience was good - the tanks had enough light that probably made it appear to the fish as if it was still daytime - there were some weird statues and on the ceilings some weird shapes and carvings. The price was probably for the ambience! Don't expect this aquarium to be informative because none of the exhibits have a description about the fishes inside. Strange as it may sound, being present in a room with so many fishes around gave a soothing feeling - the mind felt relaxed watching fishes swimming in the huge tanks. The design was such that at certain places you feel as if you are walking under the ocean because there are fishes swimming above your head!

My favourite fish was the Nemo look alike (from Finding Nemo movie) - the orange and white striped fish looked beautiful. Even in the souvenir shop, it was the Nemo stuffed toy that looked cute. There was one area where there were horshoe crabs and few fishes in an open basin filled with water. You could touch the fishes and feel them - there was an employee present near the basin. I touched a few of the fishes but was hesitant on touching the crab. When i did touch the shell of one it didn't budge an inch. The ambience was great but the price is expensive.

We stepped out into the hotel area; crossed some shops and came across a posh looking restaurant. My bro-in-law stepped in. We were courteously led by a watiress to a table. The ambience in the restaurant was also great - just the right lighting. Going thro the menu, we ordered for a large pizza and a bottle of Perrier sparkling water. I thought sparkling water meant some highly purified water but it tasted sour - it is some form of carbonated water. My bro-in-law had expereince drinking this and he liked it. The rest of us were having it for the first time and we didn't like it. They gave some bread sticks and bread slices which tasted good. These bread baskets were free with all meals - something like the masala pappad we have in Indian restaurants. The sticks were tasty and crispy. The pizza tasted great but again expensive - for the amount we spent on having a snack filler we could have had a full fledged meal for two people elsewhere - poshness costs money!

We took a few snaps, explored the mono-rail station and headed back to the Pajero.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Dubai Part 15 - Get, set, skate...

There's nothing too late to learn

We were supposed to leave home by 8:45 to give ourselves enough time to make it for the 10am public session at the Dubai Mall ice rink. But as it often happens, we started only at 9:30. The route was to go to Airport Terminal 3 and then take the metro to dubai mall. After 15 minutes and asking 3 bus drivers we discovered that most of the buses went to Terminal 1 and from there we could go to number 3. It took a 10 minute ride to reach the airport and there we found a free shuttle service to Terminal 3; we hopped onto the metro and off we went. It took exactly 22 minutes to reach Dubai mall metro station. From there we have to take a free feeder bus to the Mall - the time we reached was 10:50! It didn't seem a good idea to pay for two hours and use the rink for less than an hour.

But since we had come so far we didn't want to return back home. It took another 10 minutes to navigate through the mall to reach the ice rink. The next slot was from 12:15 – I observed the few skaters who were practicing and learning ice skating - there was a young girl who was holding on to the railing of the ice rink - it wasn't exactly a railing but it was something you could hold onto with your fingers. She was finding it hard and was gingerly walking on the ice. Another elderly lady was skating slowly with the help of the railing. She fell over when she dug the toe of her skate into the ice - a mistake that will topple you head-first. I had read about it in the morning while browsing through websites about ice skating. Don't land on your knees - try to slide over and fall on the side they would say. I was still impressed by that lady; even at that age she was eager to learn something new and even after the fall she continued skating.

Get set

It was around 11:45 when we returned to the ice rink after buying a bottle of water. We saw some new faces on the ice; a group of locals were also inside skiing - the next time slot was obviously open now. We dropped our bag in the locker and there was a Japanese lady at the counter who helped us with our skating shoes. Fortunately I didn't have shoe size problem here - they had sizes even bigger than mine! We gave our sports shoes and took skating shoes.

The lady explained to us how to strap the shoe securely; it had an odd locking mechanism. The safety cushion in ice skating is that the skating shoe is like a boot with a long collar - the collar is rock solid and ensures that you can never twist your ankle; it is one of the fears you have before you step onto the rink, "If I can't balance will I twist and break my ankle?" We tried walking on the rubber floor a few times to get comfortable in our new shoes - it felt odd each time we took a step because you kept feeling that perhaps the ankle might still twist! Mind games, really!

The ice rink was closed for ten minutes for resurfacing - they drove a huge machine (called a Zamboni) to smoothen the Olympic sized rink. At 12:15 the rink was reopened. The best part was that there weren't many people since it was a weekday. A couple of staff were inside the rink wearing a black and white vertical striped shirt with a black pant.

First step

My nephew stepped in first and I followed. First step - grab the railing! Holding on to that, we tried to walk. My nephew pushed a little and started sliding slowly. I was just trying to get comfortable standing still - the surface was so smooth that I felt like slipping - widen out a little like duck feet I told myself and slowly started walking. My nephew in his enthusiasm had already left the railing and was walking without support. I tried pushing myself a little and slid quickly - the railing helped me avoid falling and I was scared of letting go! The local guys were now skating pretty comfortably - they were even racing with one and another. After 10 minutes or so, I reached the stage where I could skate by holding the railing by my right hand; after another 20 mins. or so my right hand ached and I switched to my left hand but the staff told me that we should skate around the ring in anti-clockwise direction. So back I was to using my right hand - I was now able to pick up some speed as well but i feared leaving the railing. I practiced braking - turn your heels outward and toes inward to brake is what I had read; i initially didn't get it but after a few attempts it came - I had to put a little pressure on my legs when doing that braking manoeuvre.

The atmosphere was great - there was a large led screen way above the arena that we could see; there was music being played that added to the atmosphere; all English songs and only one I knew - "Show me the meaning of being lonely"

It’s all in the mind

I slowly tried to leave my right hand while skating for a few seconds and finally I was able to avoid holding it. But I still stayed close to the railing while skating because it gave me a sense of comfort. With more confidence I picked up speed. There was a little boy standing outside the rink watching us keenly through the glass; each time I went past him I'd smile and wave and he'd respond back. Later it was a little girl who took his spot and she also responded happily.

After a few laps I ventured to the centre of the rink - walking first and then skating slowly. When I increased my pace I fell while trying to stop but fortunately I didn't fall on my knees. My nephew fell a couple of times when he came close to the railings. A middle aged lady fell in her first few minutes and went off the field while another guy who was skating pretty well bumped someone, fell down head first and hurt his mouth - he started bleeding and the staff immediately rushed to his aid. He was taken off the rink for treatment. With 20 minutes to go and me trying to speed faster I made the cardinal mistake - i didn't lift my right shoe fully off the ice and the toe portion dug into the ice; the first point of impact was my left knee and I slid across on my knees over the ice; the staff came racing towards me but i was quickly up. My left knee hurt a little and I didn't attempt to speed skate after that - I don't think my knee would have liked to have another knock today!

While returning the skates, the Japanese lady asked how it was and I said it was great. She complemented us saying that for a first time skater, we did pretty good. We were the only ones who made use of the full two hours.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Poor Trisha

Very interesting day it has been - 10:33pm and I'm finally back at home after an eventful day. Morning went in some regular household work and then on a ride with my colleague to inspect a couple of places on ECR to check whether they were suitable for an office outing. The first place which was the unanimous choice in our team turned out to be a flop - why would you want to pay money to play games on a public beach? The second one was an amusement park and at least you get to go on a few rides for the money you pay! I wonder how amusement parks in Chennai make money - they wouldn't have repeat guests and on weekdays they'd probably not have any. Wonder how much profit they can generate considering the amount of people they have to employ to maintain the place. My colleague took the extra pain to come over and pick me up from home and drop me back home - he's done over 100 kms today.

Next up was driving over to a hotel for a function hosted by a magazine (a magazine for which I had written a few articles a year ago). I handed over the car to the valet - my first time and I was quite hesitant to give away the keys. On enquiring at the reception I was told that the function was being hosted at their new branch and not here! The staff told me different routes, all of which seemed familiar but I really wasn't confident about any of them. Finally I realized that the route he was talking about was the route I had taken to reach this place! And off we went in the reverse direction but just because there was no right turn at a signal junction we had to go a kilometer down the road to take a u-turn. Since I wasn't sure of the location and didn't want to get stuck going back and forth on the main road, I parked the car on a side street and started enquiring. After 10 minutes of walking we reached the hotel. It was 7:10pm, ten minutes past the scheduled start time.

The show begins

The chief guest was a famous South Indian director (Gautam Menon) and I was reminded of a forward email that proclaimed that he hasn't done original plots. The event was a small one; with around 100 seats available. Even though we were late we did get a couple of seats (but within the press area!). A small band was performing on stage and the lead singer was trying desperately hard to get the crowd to sing along - after five or six attempts, one section of the audience responded to him - Thank God else the guy would have been embarrassed. After four songs the show began with the announcement of results for some contests. A little later, while a video clip was being played amidst the dimmed lights, Trisha stepped into the hall in a pink dress with perfectly straight hair. Now it made sense as to why there was so much press in the small hall. Around 10 to 12 cameras went to the front and started flashing at Trisha for ten minutes. And the first thing that popped in my mind was, "Poor Trisha - can't she have a little time out." She wasn't the chief guest and yet there was so much of flashing on her. It must be so hard to do even normal things because cameras will be following her everywhere. And to add to it, she was wearing a bright pink dress whose bottom was like a skirt but seemed like it would be quite uncomfortable. In the afternoon ride my friend was saying that she was the most beautiful actress in the South; and from my seat she did seem pretty. But I did feel sorry - sacrifices for popularity - sacrifices for being a celebrity - can't even vent out feelings in public and need to be extremely cautious outside.

There was a fashion show in which we had some more celebrities appear - like Arya and Deepika (the squash player). It was the first time I was viewing a live fashion show and it was a little amusing - the way each model walked the ramp twice, the way they had to stand like a statue for a while, their unnatural walk, their smile at an empty corner of the room when they came close to the cameras, 200 eyes gazing intently at them and at least 10 cameras recording each of their moves. Modelling is also tough to do - having to put on so much of makeup, changing costumes in 5 minutes etc. One of the masters of ceremony for the fashion show, in his over enthusiasm to spontaneously crack jokes, made a sudden comment that was quite vulgar. I really don't think he even dreamt of saying what he did! But the words were spilt and he had to move on.

The suit that Arya wore didn't seem to suit him; looked partially informal and something seemed odd; I'm not a fashion conscious guy but something looked odd - perhaps the colour combination. On the other side, if not for the celebrities we wouldn't have had so much press people out here. If they were to call for a press meet you can rest assured that the place would be houseful. There were a few speeches before the fashion show along with the release of the anniversary edition. The dinner was sumptuous with even some Mexican food that I tried out (made fresh and served - some form of bean burritos but the cook called it something different) after having desserts - sugar free carrot halwa and chocolate mousse. Before we left we saw the models having dinner; they were probably more pretty with the glossy makeup now washed off their face! Actor Parthiban and the hero of the Tamizh Padam were also around - they were giving interviews to a couple of TV channels - NDTV was also present; wow - talk about Star Power! Inside the hall Deepika was giving interview to another channel and a couple of anchors from SS Music channel were also present.

Fortunately our car was in the same condition as we left it in, near the main road - no one had bumped it and there was no traffic police lock on the wheel for parking in the wrong ! The drive back home at 10pm was fun with hardly any traffic and even a couple of traffic signals not working; beautiful weather, beautiful ride and a beautiful song - ...In dino, dil mera, mujse hai, keh raha...tuuuu khwaab sajaa...tuuu ji lae zara...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Part 14 - A hectic day in the park

At the point where Bur Dubai and Deira Dubai meet, was the Dubai Creek park - there was a water body surrounded by land. The park had a dolphin show at specific timings daily. The ticket rates varied - we picked the day on which it was the cheapest. Having travelled on buses and metro, we opted for the bus instead of a taxi since taxis would be quite costly for such a distance. A couple of bus changes took us to the park and we were just in time for the dolphin show. You can make an online booking and pay at the counter.

The place wasn't crowded since it was a weekday. We went straight to the indoor stadium. The show duration was for an hour - seals and dolphins stole the limelight; there were plenty of school children to fill up the seats and the dolphins added to the fun by splashing water on the audience. We picked up a couple of cute dolphin souvenirs from the stall outside the stadium. My niece took a ride on a pony followed by which we headed to some building located at the center of the park. We headed here after enquiring about a little notice board which said there was a planetorium in the park. The structure was called "Children's city" for which the entrance ticket was separate. This 'city' had even fewer people - it seemed as if most people were hardly aware of what was present inside. Even my sister had never been here before. Since we had time for the next planetorium show, we had our junk lunch and visited the various areas within the building. It was quite awesome - reminded me of the Birla Planetarium in Chennai; the only problem out there was that they never maintained the equipment; but here it was relatively well maintained. Each exhibit demonstrated some science concept - you could try the experiment, see the result and then read the short theory to understand the concept - electricity, force, pressure and what not. Wonderful place for inquisitive students. Going through everything took well over two hours; there were even ineresting exhibits on the concept of how aeroplanes work.

After that we took a 4 seater cycle and went roaming around the park - it was nice initially but quite tiring after a few minutes; two people cycling with 4 people sitting is very taxing on the legs (the bicyle itself having a considerable weight). The cable car ride was not operational because wind speeds were too high for safety. My nephew and I took the cycle on short cut routes cutting across lawns and even on the mud close to the Creek. Not many people new that there was an abra (boat) ride in the park. The place was almost like you had to figure out what facilities were present. We had gone one entire lap around the park to locate the abra ride!

Next stop was the Dubai museum; I had been there only once when I was a kid but always remembered it as a pretty good museum. We went through the Bur Dubai shopping area to reach the Dubai museum. I noticed a few shoe shops on the way and decided to come back later to this area to check them out. For now our mission was getting to the museum. To our good luck, the museum would be open for another hour. Just after we entered, a large group of touristers entered the museum - they were part of a tour trip and the tour organizer was rushing them through the museum (the drawback of being stuck with the tourist guide!). I'd have to say that the museum did seem fairly similar to what I had in my memory. After zipping through the museum we took a cab to the nearest metro station. From there we headed to the Airport station and from there took a bus home. One nice feature of the RTA was that they didn't charge for each switch over; in case you jumped from one bus to another within the space of a few minutes then it would be considered as a continuation of the original ride and you won't be charged a fee on the second leg of the ride. Same was applicable between metro and bus. At 10:30pm, we reached our stop and hopped into a Sangeetha restaurant for dinner - had a mini tiffin plate that was tasty. We were dead tired when we reached home.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dubai part 13 - Back to school!

My sister gave me a missed call to signal that food had arrived. As I scurried back, I couldn't see any signs of a restaurant that my Pakistani friend's dad was running; it used to be a regular place for us to snack on a free samosa daily - and that was one of the best samosas I've ever had; large in size and stuffed with potatos. After having lunch, we drove by the Corniche - from one end to the other. On the way I could see the building of Commerce which was exactly the same as it had been when I left the place. My sister and bro-in-law showed me the building where I stayed from 9th till 12th grade but from such a distance I couldn't make out much.

We headed to the Abu Dhabi Marina Mall. Again another large mall - it had an ice rink. My nephew was adamant to step into the rink; it was a lot smaller than the Dubai ice rink but the charge was the same. When I checked for skates for my size, guess what? - you know what happens for my size! No skates for my size! And so we didn't step into the rink.

The future is here

There was a revolving restaurant but you had to pay Dhs. 100 to get to the top to experience it; they basically wanted us to place our order to eat something and only then could we sit inside. There was a shop with Mercedes and Ferrari cars. There was also a bowling alley but the guy refused to let my nephew and me share one lane. Most of the shops were for the upper class except for some of the regular ones like Carrefour (a hypermarket). In every mall there was something interesting I found and over here there was this seminar by a road traffic cop that I found fascinating. "Hey, traffic rules and fascinating," you ask. Just look at the video below. Do you think a guy is actually standing on stage?

My sister, nephew and I were wondering if he was there but he wasn't! Look again - it's 3d projection for which you don't even need to use 3-d glasses; the key factor is that you should be a little away from the screen - the closer you go the more obvious it will become that the 3d image is just a superimposition of images; the farther you are, the more it feels like stuff is really there on screen live! We watched the session 3 times - the future of cinema was right in front of our eyes!

After clicking some snaps, we decided to head back to Dubai since it was getting late and would take a couple of hours to drive. But when we came out we saw a glittering double decker bus. On enquiring with the driver, he said it would go around the city and return back to the same place. We hopped onto the top of the bus which was uncovered at the back. It didn't seem like many people knew that this was a free ride! The ride was less than an hour and it covered some interesting places. It passed by the Emirates Palace which was glittering in lights. It is a luxury hotel decorated in marble and gold. Room rates vary from Dhs. 1000 upto Dhs. 30,000 (that's around Rs.3.6 lakhs for a night)!

After that the bus passed by the Khalidiya area and I did recognize my 9th to 12th grade home - it was one of the grandest homes I've lived in - a spacious four bedroom apartment in which i even used to play my own squash using a tennis racket! A lot of pleasant memories - the long walks from home till the Cultural Foundation, hanging out with my buddy Joseph, buying Young Times from a newspaper guy who used to sell magazines near the traffic signal... And it all just seems like yesterday! Traffic was horrendous in some junctions.

Back to school

We picked a few Shawaramas and falalel (part of Middle East cuisine which are like chapatti rolls) on the way to my school which was on the way to Dubai. I hardly remembered much about the route to school; neither did my sister - she had also studied in the same school! Every turning made me feel like I was on the road to school but I was wrong - the area had plenty of villas and all of them would appear the same! One major problem with driving over here is that you don't have autorikshaws or roadside tea shops where you can ask for directions. On traffic signals you had to catch the attention of fellow drivers - if lucky, they will notice you! When our Pajero came to the school gate at 9pm, a school boy anxiously came running out expecting to see another vehicle; probably waiting for his parents and the watchman at the school was a touch disappointed on seeing the Pajaero. Memories, black and white and color, came back one after the other. The area was silent since this was kind of like the outskirts of the city and the only illumination was from the street lights and lamp-post near the security guard room. The gate was the same and the school bus stationed outside also seemed the same as it was 10 years ago; days of playing tennis football during class breaks, dissecting imported rats and playing soccer on the football field. Thinking back at such times, you start wondering whether you missed a few chances; a few opportunities and some extra effort if taken which perhaps could have altered destiny - isn't destiny a culmination of all our efforts? Even though you might have led a good life, you still feel that perhaps, just perhaps you could have done something different or better. I felt nostalgic thinking over school incidents.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dubai part 12 - Dowry and memory!

My nephew was quite impressed by Avatar but my bro-in-law wasn't. And after a long day in office, it is pretty tough to sit through a 3 hour movie without a break and without having proper dinner.

As we drove back, the topic of discussion drifted into dowry in arranged marriage with regard to things that had happened in our areas. There was a case where just purely by money a marriage was fixed and I wondered whether marriages have also been commoditized like everything else. There were a few cases where at the last minute the marriage broke off because the money matter was not settled - bride's family says they will give the extra dowry demand after marriage happens and the groom's family says that they want it beforehand. And finally on marriage day, the groom doesn't turn up at the marriage hall because the dowry demand wasn't met. And I heard that the boy involved was a software engineer – isn’t education supposed to change this? And it seemed even more ridiculous on knowing that the guy was earning 1 lakh per month - guess it is related to the ego portion of our psychology which says 'that guy got so much in dowry, so I should get more'! Uh - we talk of the goodness of modernization and the goodness of education but we somehow seem to be stuck to stereotype behaviour; guess even when people are educated these traditions take a lot longer to fade away; or maybe they never do - aren't we all still superstitious?

The next day we joined our bro-in-law on his way to office. When kids are around, it is pretty hard to stick to timelines! Anyway, we finally left home and my bro-in-law went to do some office work while he dropped us in a furniture store. He dropped us on the opposite side of a highway actually; and it took us time to cross the road - highway crossing is pretty difficult and here you can't expect vehicles to stop for pedestrians because they are travelling at high speeds. The furniture shop was grand - we were the first customers today but we only wanted to do window shopping. When we went to the section on sofa sets and dining sets, we were trying to find the one with the highest price. There were sofa sets for Dhs. 30,000 and higher - the shop was across 3 floors and it also had a play area where my niece played for a few minutes. After spending around 45 minutes in the shop we moved out towards Lulu hypermarket - after 10 minutes of walking back and forth we discovered that the entrance was far away and so we headed towards the Mall of Emirates. This part of the city still had vast expanses of plain sand and walking in that reminded us that we were in a desert!
At around 1:30 we were almost into Abu Dhabi - the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, considered to be Dubai's rich brother. Abu Dhabi came in the spotlight recently because they were the one to financially help Dubai come out of their debt crisis. There was a slight tinge of nostalgia as we entered the city with the Corniche on the right. The word Corniche in Arabic means the geographical border formed by a waterline. You could say it is like a beach in Abu Dhabi. The lamp posts
along the footpath were just like they were 10 years ago. We headed to Kwality restaurant for
lunch. My bro-in-law was complaining all along about how bad the parking in Abu Dhabi is and I realized it when we were trying to find a spot for the Pajaero. Not only had cars parked on both sides of the parking lot, they even parked in the middle of the two sides; 10 years back you would never find such congested parking lots - not even in the main souk (souk in Arabic refers to a marketplace) - the parking streets looked awful now and I felt Chennai parking was better from a driver's perspective! Check out the pic and the video.

Kwality restaurant was a regular place where we lunched on weekends back in the good old days; the place was still the same, the building was also the same but the surroundings had all disappeared. What was once a main road was now blocked from view by large boards with cranes in the middle. There were a total of 8 cranes in operation along the road. After placing the order for dishes, I ventured to roam about what was once my home till the 8th grade. Opposite to Kwality, the music shop where I learnt playing the piano was still present though it appeared that the building was next in line for demolition. The building where we stayed was replaced by a new skyscraper and the play area between two buildings was now under construction. Plenty of good memories related to that playground - hanging out as a gang with friends across states and nations: Bangladesh, Somalia, Pakistan, Goa, Kerela - playing football, cricket, seven stones, hide and seek, top trumps, hurting my hand playing with glass pieces, hanging out in each person's home till my mom would call and ask me to come back for dinner; wow - those were among the best days of my life!

The Sheraton Hotel was still in the same place near one end of Corniche and the Corniche hospital, my birthplace, was also still standing strong amidst the construction happening all around it. The abruptness with which I left the city 10 years back, didn't give me a chance to even note down contact numbers of my friends. I crossed the road in search of an audio shop where I had 3 friends - but the building was no longer present and there was no sign of that audio shop nearby. Instead there was only a Indian night club or something of the sort. I was in a foreign land but still felt as if it were a part of me; having spent years in a place you do develop a soft corner for it - even though it might have changed drastically over the years!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Dubai Part 11 - A sea of red!

The Chinese court was equally fascinating - the dragons and red color used all over gave that Chinese feel. Apparantely, Ibn Battuta while in India took the opportunity offered to him to be ambassador to China. He was robbed on the way, storms wrecked his ship and he nearly lost his life in the journey to China. They say he came across the use paper money when he reached there. Some of the construction in the Chinese court was done using wood imported from China! The main attraction in the Chinese court, apart from the ceilings and dragons, is the Junk! Not junk but "Junk" - a Chinese sailboat that was used to travel across oceans. They say Junks designed in 200 AD could carry 700 people! Ibn Battuta also traveled in a Junk.

The video attached was taken in the Chinese court - a sea of red (the Imax that you see is the cinema complex entrance).

There was a internal mall shuttle service vehicle running around the mall - the driver said it cost Dhs. 5 per person for a ride to any point in the mall. The vehicle had a specific route which was marked on the floor using direction stickers. We decided to walk since taking it for four of us would turn out to be costly; we arrived at the Chinese court 20 minutes ahead of the show time. After taking a few snaps and sending off my bro-in-law and nephew for the film, we decided to have dinner before exploring the mall. I surveyed the options available: there was a full fledged Indian restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, a pizza shop and an Iranian one. After examining all the menus and cost of dishes I picked the Iranian one. Most of the dishes came with Iranian bread (again similar to our Indian naan with a few seeds sprinkled on top) and potato fries (french fries) or rice. I also ordered an orange juice. We ordered only one dish and the waiter asked, "Are you sure one dish is sufficient for both of you. We stuck to one dish. The waiter brought 3 pieces of Iranian bread along with orange juice first. Taking a little bread along with hummus and a sip of orange juice tasted delicious. The bread was very soft and fresh. The main dish took more than 5 minutes to come and when we started eating I wondered how one person could eat so much - 3 pieces of bread was too much for one person; maybe even for two persons! Both of us together couldn't finish off all 3 breads and we asked them to parcel the food! I loved the food; so far I had tried out Lebanese, Chinese and now Iranian. Should try Japanese next time.

We hopped into a few shoe shops and a large sports shop - and to my good luck none of them had a sports shoe for me; there were a couple that did fit but were very tight and unfortunately the shop didn't have the next size in those models. The Tunisian court had a village setting along with forts and a different form of lighting that added to the Tunisian atmosphere. The ceiling is made to appear like the sky and you will feel as if the forts are touching the sky. We saw a weird antique shop which was selling broken and damaged articles! None of the items except a large candle was worth the price. By 10, the shops began shutting down. Avatar would end in a few minutes and we returned back to the Chinese court. There was a baby which seemed delighted on seeing me and responded happily to my gestures. Even in a couple of other malls it had happened - the babies, be it European or African or Indian, didn't care about region, religion, caste or creed - they were happy as long as someone was there to make them happy!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dubai (part 10) - Mercedes bus and elephant clock!

(please click on the pics to view in full size)

Next up on our list was using the Dubai bus and Ibn Battuta mall which was on the other side of Dubai! Again it was the friendly RTA helpdesk who told us what bus to take to Rashidiya metro station. All buses had a frequency of roughly 10 minutes and so far I had never seen the same bus number arrive immediately one after the other (something we see often in Chennai!). The door slid open and we stepped inside. The buses had 2 entry points, one in the front and one in the middle. There were 2 card reader machines in both places. We placed our card on the machine and it displayed the current balance along with a beep.

There were 3 TVs in the bus - 2 normal size ones for passengers and 1 mini TV for the driver. In our bus the passenger TVs weren't working - some problem with their input signal. The front portion of the bus was for ladies and families where you had seats facing on both sides - so you had little compartments within the bus. I took a seat in the back and noticed the Mercedes symbol engraved behind the seat (the three-pointed star which they say is supposed to mean domination over water, land and air). It was a pleasant surprise because I didn't know Mercedes had buses! I later learnt that these are Mercedes-Benz Citaro single decker buses with low floor access. The bus, which was air-conditioned, took 45 minutes to reach the main bus terminus but it was a very pleasant ride; odd it was - travelling 45 minutes in the desert under the afternoon sun and yet it was pleasant! Ibn Battuta was pretty much the last stop on the metro; in fact the station hadn't yet been completed and so we had to get down in the last station and take a feeder bus to the mall (feeder buses are regular RTA buses operated between two specific points - no intermediate stops and there was no extra charge for using the feeder bus).

The entrance to the mall had some Egyptian carvings. There was also a large Helium balloon which unfortunately was under repair. Otherwise you can get to go up in the air in the balloon for 15 minutes! On stepping inside I learnt about Ibn Battuta - a scholar who traveled across the Islamic world - through Middle East, China, Africa and India. He is considered one of the greatest travelers in the world – he surpassed the amount of travel done by Marco Polo by a large margin and his voyage lasted around 30 years! He started at the age of 21 (wow – what were we doing at 21?!).

This was a themed mall with the theme being Ibn Battuta's travels and learning. The entire mall was divided into different regions (or courts) - each region being one of the areas that Ibn Battuta visited. So on entering we were in the Egypt area and the entire setting - from floor tiling, walls, pillars, trees, paintings, wall carvings to ceiling had an Egyptian feel (notice the Hieroglyphics on the wall in the pic). The first item we saw was the funny mirrors - a set of 3 mirrors that made you appear comical! Then was the armillary sphere - this is a celestial sphere consisting of many rings depicting the universe and it was used to solve astronomical problems and calculate distances. This was a large scale version of it, almost touching the ceiling. There were little kiosks were you could learn some interesting history and science. (pic of Aramillary sphere below)

Our plan was to send my nephew and bro-in-law for Avatar movie while we would explore the mall and continue our quest for my shoe! So we rushed from the Egyptian into the Persian and then Indian court. On the way, my niece saw jelly and she became adamant over it; jelly stalls were common in all the malls and they had weird types of jellies - from snake jellies to animal jellies! The Indian court had the Taj Mahal feel; it had a huge elephant statute (that looked quite real) standing in the middle. On close examination we learnt that this was the elephant clock - an invention by the Muslim inventor Al-Jazari, somwhere around the year 1206! He wrote a book called "book of knowledge of ingenious mechanical devices". There was a video that gave a brief explanation of how the clock worked: (this is the same video that is present in the kiosk near the clock).

This clock in the mall is said to be a working model! Quite a grand clock and quite fascinating to watch.

And now something might click in your head – you might have seen forwards about shopping malls in Dubai having a variety of architecture; those forwards were about the Ibn Battuta mall!

(The elephant clock pic on the right is from Wiki - I didn't have a good snap of it. Notice the pillar, walls and dome...)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dubai - 9: Recession and shoes!

  Deira city center is another large mall with over 300 stores. Our first stop was in a clothing shop where we found a blue-black shirt that appeared different. After trying it on, we decided to pick it; my first purchase - but not exactly my purchase because my sister paid for it!

  After you visit a couple of malls you can pretty much guess the major shops that you will find in other malls as well. I continued my hunt for a sports shoe but invain - none of the shops had my size; we came very close but the shop wouldn't have that extra 0.5 in size. I was surprised because there were a lot of Westerners living in Dubai.
"We used to have large sizes earlier but last year since they weren't moving we stopped it."
Ah, the recession effect was felt in shoe shops as well!

  Dubai had certainly come a long way in a number of things but I felt it had gone down in one aspect. There was this polite notice I noticed in one of the malls that read something on the lines of "Respect the tradition of the country; ensure your dress covers upto your knees and your elbows." Unfortunately, though most people adhered to the guidelines, there were some who didn't. 10 years back you could never have seen such sights of sleeveless tops and or short shorts! But then, 10 years back Dubai never had these many malls - there were hardly 1 or 2 and even they were nowhere near to these in size. There always used to be a fair amount of Westerners but now I felt there was a lot more diversity and you could see that in these huge malls.

  Petrol was cheap; around one third the price; you'd get around 75 litres of petrol for Dhs. 100 (around Rs.17 per litre!); perhaps the low cost fuel encouraged people buying 4-wheel drive fuel guzzlers. There were plenty of 4-wheel drive SUVs on the road. And another factor was that SUVs cost less in Dubai; they were less than half the price in India because in India we had huge tax on these imported vehicles. A good SUV cost around Dhs. 100,000 (Rs.13 lakhs - for which we can only get a high end sedan in India). Pollution didn't seem as bad as in Indian metropolitans; maybe because all vehicles used petrol and not Diesel in Dubai. Almost everyday, if you went out to the street, you can be sure to spot a few Hummers on the road (Hummers are large SUVs that were originally designed for the US military and are very costly; it was originally called the HumVee and then branded as Hummer when GM reached out to the public).

  Another change I noticed was that there were a lot of good things like the metro design, buses, road designs (with exits on highways, petrol bunks with mini-supermarkets) developed similar to the US. Also imbibed in most drivers was the good habit of respecting pedestrians; most drivers stopped their vehicles when they saw someone about to cross. the road It wasn't up to the extent I saw in New York (where I've seen drivers stop the vehicle when they see you approaching the zebra crossing from the footpath) but  things were certainly changing for the better. It feels good when you see those little gestures. My bro-in-law told me how driving used to be rash a couple of years ago but with increasing traffic police patrol and slapping of fines, people became more disciplined on the streets. Seat-belts for the driver and co-passenger were compulsory and if found without the seatbelt, it would lead to a fine.

The pic is the Burj Al Arab - notice the sail structure of the building; it's a 7-star hotel and it's the one which has a tennis court in the sky, about 200 metres above the ground, where Federer and Agassi played a match;  its actually a helipad that can be converted to a tennis court; I forgot to check out if we can go up to the helipad - will check it out next time! By the way, curious to know the hotel rates? Ranges from around Rs.50,000 to Rs. 2 lakhs per night ($1000 to $4000)! Ahem - SS, become a millionaire soon :-)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Dubai travelogue (8) - Bus stops should be like this!

Next day we didn't have any plans of outing in the morning; with the amount of walking we did yesterday we had to give ourselves a little break. When there are two kids around, it so happens that you will find one in the best of moods when the other is in their best off-mood - maybe it happens with adults as well! We played some PlayStation 2 in the morning trying out a new two player game that I bought; it was more of the shoot-em-up games which would bore you in a very short time - was a reminder that it is good to check reviews of games before buying them! I put aside "The Three Musketeers" book and out of curiosity started reading "Crime and Punishment" (a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky that is considered to be a literary classic).

In the evening we planned to go to the metro station by a bus and then take a train to Deira City Center (another mall!) - my sister called up the RTA and got the list of bus routes we could take; they warned us that the buses will take around 40 minutes since they take a circuitous route. A taxi ride to the station would take just 10 minutes! Long before I had planned for this trip, I had received an email forward about Dubai bus stops. And ever since then I'ev been quite curious to step inside one. The bus stop was hardly 5 minutes from our home. It had a slightly weird curved shape similar to the outline of Burj-Al-Arab (a 7 star hotel which is the second tallest hotel building in the world); the shape is similar to that of a sail.

There was a machine near the bus stop which could be used for checking your Nol card balance and recharging it (the RTA cards are called Nol cards). We placed our red card on the card reader area and the machine said "Invalid card". We tried flipping it around in all directions but the message was the same. Another person said, "You can only recharge the silver cards." But my sister insisted that she saw a couple of guys recharge their red cards yesterday. She called up RTA and they said that red cards could also be used. Finally, since it wasn't working, we tried to get a new silver card which cost Dhs. 20 each; after inserting the money, the machine displayed Dhs. 60 and then said something like ‘insufficient money’. We tried different denominations of currency and different number of cards but the result was the same. A couple of Filipino ladies who appeared to be regular users also tried for us but failed. I had a feeling that the machine probably didn't have silver cards in stock and the error message was wrong - minor bug in the software! There was another bus stop on the other side of the road but that didn't have a recharge machine.

"Maybe we can ask the bus driver and see."
As a bus slowed down to stop, I hurried inside and asked, "Can we use the red card?"
"Do you accept cash?"
"No, only card."
"The machine here isn't giving new cards."
"You can still come but if they check somewhere then it will be a problem."

The bus stop was fully air-conditioned and even though it was very hot outside, I felt chill inside after just a couple of minutes! There was a sliding door that ensured the door wouldn't be open unless you pushed it. Inside the stop was a large RTA map with bus route numbers and a nice bench that appeared to be metallic but was comfortable to sit on. There were a couple of ads and a button that said "Press at night if you want the bus to stop" - the button would light up the bus stop!

20 minutes after leaving home, we took a taxi to the metro station at the airport - this was closer than Rashidiya station. There was one duty free shop at the entrance of the terminal building and we jumped in to see if they had honey roasted cashews – something that all of us loved. The airport here was different from our Chennai airport where only passengers are permitted to step inside - here anyone could walk inside up to a certain extent. We had to settle with a couple of packets of caramel roasted cashews.

We took the escalator up to the metro station and the lady at the counter told us that red cards couldn't be used in buses. She advised us to get the silver cards because they would work out cheaper than the red cards - we didn't fully understand her explanation of how cheap it would be but it seemed that the fares on the red card were costly across zones. We bought 4 silver cards (the cards are just like a credit card) and hopped onto the metro - the familiar voice announced, "The next station is Deira City center."

Inside the train, I glanced at the map and learnt that Dubai was divided into 4 zones. Now it made sense – the rates for using RTA service was based on whether you were travelling within the same zone or across zones. Our trip cost around Dhs. 3 per head.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dubai Travelogue (part 7) - Closing the mall!

I would liked to have stayed for another musical show but it was already past 10pm. We thought of spending a little time in the mall before heading home. There was an area within the mall called "At the Top" - there was no one at the reception but my bro-in-law told me that this was where you had to buy tickets to go to the top of Burj Khalifa. The tickets were cheaper when booked online (around Dhs. 100 per person); buying it on the spot was very expensive (Dhs. 400) - am serious, not joking - 400 for taking a ride up the elevator (which would be pretty fast in skyscrapers) to view the city from above. "At the top" isn't exactly on top of Burj Khalifa; it is on floor 124 (the building has 160 floors). I felt the price was too high and was not keen on going to the top. I believe looking down from any skyscraper is the same - all you see below are toy buildings and blocks - World Trade Center in New York was special because that was the first time I looked down from such a height. I think it would be more fun and thrilling if they would have a glass observatory with glass floor projecting out from the building - it would be safe (as safe as the glass flooring!) and it might make you feel a bit jittery as well!

Coming back to our story... I didn't even have the option of going up because "At the top" was closed for the time being. It seems there was some elevator problem and they closed it down temporarily for a few weeks.

In the mall, many shops were pulling down their shutters - during weekdays shops closed at around 10pm while on weekends they would be up till 11pm or midnight. There was a huge ice rink inside the mall; the Dubai ice rink was an Olympic size rink. It was 10pm and yet the rink was full with people. There were seating arrangements similar to what you would see in a ice hockey stadium. The stadium looked beautiful under lights. Ice skating is something I've wanted to try out for long and I made a mental note that I should skate on this trip. There was this fear of how to balance on a single blade but when so many people are doing it, I should also be able to do it.

We knew that the Pajero was parked in D2 but didn't know where D2 was. All of these malls had multiple parking lots across floors. Each lot was divided into numbered areas and each lot had an escalator leading into the mall. On taking the escalator you would have a machine which would give you a slip that mentioned the parking lot you were in - just push a button and it would spit a small piece of paper with details. The machine was free but when we arrived at the mall, it was out of paper and wasn't spitting anything. Inside the mall, there were directions to parking areas but those were referred to by shop names - like "Carrefour parking", "EMax parking" and so on - the boards didn't contain the lot numbers and even the security staff didn't know which number was in which parking lot! And what fun it was - we walked from one end of the mall to the other end. On the way we crossed the Dubai Aquarium - this wasn'a small table sized aquarium; in height it covered almost 2 to 3 floors! You could see the fish through the glass panel from the outside itself. It boasted of having over 140 species of marine life.

Walking across these huge malls is very tiring and the Dubai Mall is amongst the largest malls in the world. My bro-in-law and I walked in front while kids and sister followed. They took short breaks along the way. At one pit stop, my bro in law also took a break and he seriously said, "If not for me you all would never have walked so much in this mall. See how many shops you get to see"!

To add to the confusion, all parking exits appeared similar. When we were almost at the other end of the mall, one security guard gave us directions to D2. "You have to go that way". He pointed in the direction by which we had come! Great - and once again we crossed the Dubai Aquarium - I even spotted a giant squid inside; it didn't seem like the fish needed any sleep; they were all pretty active inside! By now, almost all shops had closed and there were hardly any people inside the mall except security guards.

What an interesting day it was - we opened the Festival City mall early in the morning and we closed the Dubai Mall at night! At home, I drank fresh strawberry milk, saw IPL highlights for a while and jumped into my dream world.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dubai Travelogue (6b) - Start music!

Continuation of part 6 (previous post)...

The Dubai Fountain videos - split in 2 (first video is part 1) - had to reduce clarity to upload it; both are for one single song. Listen to both. The building in the background is a hotel.

I sat in awe - quite literally! Fabulous isn't it? And it is all just water and lights...

Dubai Travelogue (6) - The tallest man made structure!

What started as an aimless round of window shopping turned into shopping with a purpose - seeing branded sports shops, I remembered that I had to find a pair of sports shoe that fit me; in India it was pretty expensive, my size appears once in a blue moon and I'd hardly have any choice. But after checking a couple of shops I found that it was hard to get my size even here; it was quite surprising because many Europeans lived in Dubai. At around 9:30 or so we decided to move on.

In the last couple of days, whenever my dad called he would ask my sister and me whether we had seen Burj Dubai - the tallest man-made structure. Since this was on the way back home, we decided to check it out tonight. Actually Burj Dubai is called Burj Khalifa - Burj Dubai was the original name prior to inauguration. They say that the name was changed to honor Abu Dhabi which has helped Dubai during the financial crisis (Sheikh Khalifa is the president of UAE and Prince of Abu Dhabi and hence the name Burj Khalifa). "Burj" in Arabic means 'tower'.

I didn't really feel much of awe when I saw it from a distance - it just looked like a lean stick much taller than its neighbours. But as we approached it, I realized that it wasn't really a stick but much broader. We parked the Pajaero in Dubai Mall after hunting for parking space - they had this interesting concept of keeping electronic boards in each parking lot which indicated the free space available in the lot. And in each individual parking slot there was an LED on top which indicated whether that slot was empty or not - but many of the sensors weren't working correctly because I saw green lights in places where vehicles were present. Dubai Mall was just beside Burj Dubai and Dubai Fountain. This mall also seemed huge - we followed the arrows that led to the Dubai Fountain and landed up in the open space outside the mall. There were plenty of people on the steps and near the railing which bordered around the little lake which contained the fountain. This was a musical fountain which operated only when the music was on. And on our right was the grand Burj Khalifa. We went as close as possible, which was only as close as the security gate that was probably 15 meters away from the building! There was a tall fence preventing people from accessing the building - no one had occupied the floors yet; the interior was all dark. After taking a few snaps and videos (since night snaps didn't look great), we sat down on the lawn between the Burj's fence and the lake.

(Below video is the Burj Khalifa at night; to the right is the mall; I had to reduce clarity of the video to make it small in size)

A few minutes later, the lights on the railing went out and for a couple of seconds silence prevailed. Everyone turned their attention to the small lake. It isn't all that small - they say it is the length of two football fields and the fountain is among the world's tallest and largest fountains.

Lights shone upwards from the water and the music started; there were plenty of nozzles (called shooters) on the lake arranged in circles, arcs and lines. The music was beautiful, especially the build up in the middle, and the jets fired water in certain patterns to dance along with the music. I don't know what song it was but it was beautiful and spectacular. Every 20 minutes from evening till 11 at night the musical fountain would dance to different tunes. Not being satisfied with the first show we waited to see the next one. The memory card in my camera became full and I couldn't record the second one!
(It's time to catch my cab and I got to run - Blogger is taking too long to upload videos; I'll upload the Dubai Fountain musical videos tommorrow - do check it out)

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Dubai Travelogue (5) - Mall no.2 for the day

(Note: You can click on pictures to see the full size)

We skimmed through the Festival City mall for an hour not having anything specific in mind. I saw a Pierre Cardin outlet which had a sale offer. The price of shirts on sale was quite similar to that in India except that the brand was different. My sister asked me to pick up a shirt but I felt it would be better to check prices elsewhere. The mall was quite huge but since we had to get back home for lunch, we decided to return at 11:30. I spotted a ColdStone outlet just as we were searching for the main exit. It reminded me of the outlet in New York and I still remember my friend telling me back then that it was one of the best in ice creams. We hopped in and I ordered my favourite strawberry milkshake. Children don't like it when you buy something and they don't; so my niece got a vanilla milkshake. I won't tell you the price but I'll tell you how they made it! 3 scoops of strawberry ice cream, a few pieces of strawberry along with creamy milk in a blender - pure milkshake that was very thick and tasty. The guy even played with the ice scream scoop, tossing it in the air and catching it!

We hopped onto a Dubai Taxi that was waiting outside the mall - the driver was a Pakistani dressed in a formal suit with tie. This was something new - 10 years back you wouldn't see such professionally dressed drivers. The meter started at Dhs. 3 but there was a note stuck on the dashboard that read "In case meter is not operated, the ride is free. The minimum fare is Dhs 10"! Seeing my niece having a big cup of milkshake in hand, he politely said, "Please be careful. Don't drop it on the seat - the stain won't go". I took almost an hour to finish the milkshake - sipping it slowly and ensuring that I didn't let the chillness hit my throat directly; oh ya, I still did have a sore throat! I could hardly eat lunch - it was so heavy.

Our evening plan was to use the metro to 'Mall of the Emirates'. My sister had never used the bus or metro and so we called up the RTA (Road and Transport Authority) and asked them the route. We took a taxi to the Rashidya bus station from where we could take a metro train directly to Mall of the Emirates. In the station we bought a temporary red card, costing around Dhs 4 per head, that could be used for one travel. The metro was well maintained and clean - it reminded me of the metro at Washington. Even here the train route was called the "Red line". The difference compared to Washington was that here there were more staff and security available to help you in case you had any trouble with the swipe machines or directions. We bought the card, swiped it on a turnstile machine (you need to cross the turnstile to enter the area for boarding the train) and boarded the train. There were around 7 compartments and since this was the first station, all of us got a seat. Seats were comfortable and the entire train appeared relatively new. A pre-recorded voice announced, "The next station is Airport Terminal 3". There was a small TV in each compartment which mentioned what the next station was and there was a map that showed the list of stops on the red line.

(Picture: Mall of the Emirates) (Video: The metro)

Mall of Emirates was at the other end of Dubai - it would be a long metro ride! The train was just full - a few people standing and considering the amount of difference between taxi and metro I could see why; the same drive on taxi might have cost well over Dhs 25 but on the metro it cost just Dhs 4 or so. I enjoyed the ride so much that I actually dozed off for a few minutes! When we crossed over to the other side of Dubai and came close to the Burj Khalifa I woke up. There was a stop here "The next station is Burj Khalifa"; the tallest man made structure ever built. It stood pretty much in the center of the city and was towering over every other building nearby. It took around 40 minutes to reach Mall of the Emirates. There was another set of turnstile machines where we swiped our card and the money for the trip was deducted from the card.

A lengthy passageway connected the terminal station to the mall. We saw some mementos but didn't buy them (I guess I'm better than women when it comes to shopping - I take a lot longer time to assess and buy things!), hopped into a couple of electronics shops (DJ Sharaf, EMax were big players in this area) and also the food court for dinner. There was even a small rollercoaster for kids within the mall! You had a variety of food outlets ranging from McDonalds to typical restaurants. I decided to try Lebanese food. It took well over 10 minutes for the food to be prepared. When they placed the tray on the table, I felt it was a little less - a few pieces of chicken along with some french fries, hummus (it's a kind of cream made using gram seeds and sesame seeds) and some veggie leaves. Just as I was about to pick the tray, the guy at the counter placed 2 huge slices of bread on the tray (they call it bread but it was like naan with sesame seeds on top and very soft). Oh boy, and my bro-in-law and I together couldn't finish it; we ended up packing the bread! But certainly it is a cuisine that you should try out - hummus is yummy!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Dubai Travelogue (part 4) - First outting

Though we were now in Dubai and I had spent most of my years in Abu Dhabi, I still felt nostalgic to just be back in this country. There was still a decent amount of greenery in the city - almost all roundabouts were filled with grass and you could find roads also lined with trees; the place is supposed to be a desert but you would probably find more greenery here than what we see in Chennai! There were plenty of vehicles but no signs of smog in the air - maybe the use of cleaner fuel, efficient engines and petrol instead of diesel helped. My bro-in-law said that during peak hours traffic gets very heavy in certain signals but so far I hadn't seen a traffic jam.

My nose was feeling uneasy. It was probably the effect of alternating between complete AC indoors and heat outside. My throat was also a bit sore - falling sick in travel is really bad; getting treatment in a foreign land pretty much ruins your trip; vacation would then turn into sick leave! Maybe a good rest will do wonders. After a nice lunch at home, I don't know when I drifted to sleep - at night watched a little IPL (on a channel called CricOne), had dinner and went back to bed. Television service was provided through a service called e-vision by Etisalat (the main telecom provider in UAE) - service is similar to TataSky or DishTV out here but I felt the menu looked primitive when compared to TataSky.

In the morning, exercise here seemed a lot better than back in Chennai - maybe it was the centralized ac effect or maybe the spacious room or maybe it was something to do with the mind. The body felt a lot more flexible than usual. But my throat didn't feel any better - there was a slight pain and even a leaky nose had developed. I stayed the whole day at home spending time preparing a list of places to visit by researching on the internet about UAE (people often confuse UAE and Dubai - Dubai is just one of the main cities in the country UAE - United Arab Emirates). The other major cities are Abu Dhabi (the capital), Sharjah (just 20 minutes from Dubai) and Al Ain. Watched IPL, discussed places to visit with my bro-in-law and sister and slept.

Day 3 (Festival City)

By 8am, bro-in-law dropped us in Festival City on the way to office. Dubai Festival city is supposed to be developed as a city within a city. But the main attraction for now is the Festival Waterfront Centre which is like a large shopping mall with a lot of area being occupied by IKEA (an international furniture retailer) and HyperPanda supermarket. Our idea was to have the famous and cheap IKEA breakfast, roam around the mall and head back home for lunch. We thought that eating outlets would open for breakfast but we were wrong - IKEA canteen would open only at 9:30 and all shops were closed. There were a few cleaners, some visitors who probably landed here unaware of mall timings like us and some people who appeared to be regulars in this place - I wonder what they did with all shops closed. Half an hour my sister spent in making my niece eat her packed home food while I read "The 3 musketeers"; carrying a book in my backpack comes handy in these situations! We then took a few snaps in the mall, picked up a trolley in which my niece jumped in and we roamed around the mall looking to see which shops would open first. In the top floor, even the food court was closed. At 9am the employees had opened their shutters but they said they would start serving only at 10! On the way, I saw a 3D tv on display - the future of television; standing too close to the tv made the images appear in double; but if you went some distance back then you could feel the 3d effect - no need of special glasses! But I wasn't too convinced that moving images appeared in 3d; it would probably take some time to perfect the tv.

There was a cinema complex on the top floor and there was also a fitness center. Now it made sense as to why some people turned up so early out here! The mall was clean, large and similar to a US mall. At 9:40 we went to the canteen in IKEA where they served breakfast for Dhs 4 (currency is Dirham and 1 Dirham = Rs 12.5 approx). Well, please don't start converting the money and complain that Rs 50 is too much for breakfast - in Dubai Dhs 4 was relatively cheap. You could pick any 4 items from the tray -baked beans, potato wedges, sausages, omelettes and mushrooms. We picked the veggie items with extra potato wedges (potato wedges is like a large crispy French fry!). Baked beans was the best - its been long since I tasted it (it's basically beans soaked in a form of tomato sauce and it is yummy; you get this as a canned product in US and Europe). My niece and I emptied a few tiny cups of condensed milk that is supposed to be used for tea - condensed milk also tastes yummy but this one was skimmed milk and so didn't have the usual thickness of condensed milk. There were plenty of people in the IKEA canteen - many Westerners having sandwiches, sausages and tea.

My sister said that the mall had an abra ride - Abra is a traditional Arabic boat; the mall had a couple of Abras with motors to provide a free 10 minute ride. I was surprised that it was free. After asking a few people and referring to the signposts in the mall, we reached the abra place (spot the abra in the pic). But there were only a couple of staff over there and they informed us that the service starts only at 3pm since the Abra operators (drivers) were available only after 3. I chatted with an Indian employee, who worked in the Abra service for a few minutes before heading back to the mall. Communication was in Hindi and knowledge of Hindi certainly comes in handy because we can even communicate with Pakistanis since Urdu is quite similar to Hindi.

(This pic is the other side of the water stretch; to left of the pic is the mall)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Travelogue part 3 (Dubai) - Immigration...

We landed well in advance of the scheduled arrival time. It was 5:30am local time (7am Indian time). Temperature was around 20 degrees Celsius - deserts are cold at night! Though we touched down on the runway, there was a considerable delay before the staircase was attached to the flight for us to get down. I took the chance to play another chess game but couldn't complete it. In the first class area, each seat was like a little cabin - not fully covered but designed such that you would feel alone in your seat and you could lie down fully flat like a bed.

We descended down the stairs from the flight onto the tarmac. There were a couple of airport buses waiting to take us to the airport. As the vehicle moved around, I realized how huge Dubai airport was - there were umpteen Emirates flights waiting on the runway, plenty of empty runway space, another airport terminal under construction and the entire place seemed humungous.

Most passengers took the escalator having the sign "connecting flight" while just four of us went to the "arrivals" area. The inside was just as huge as the outside - I took two lengthy escalators to reach the immigration area. Most officials were dressed in the traditional Thobe (also called a dishdasha - a lengthy loose fitting white robe). There were a lot more counters than in Chennai. The lady immigration officer in the first counter scrutinized my passport and visa document and said something that I couldn't follow. I asked her a couple of times and both times I couldn't figure out what she meant - she said something that sounded like "sca" or maybe it was "sta" or "station". It was hard to follow her accent and I didn't feel there was any point in me asking repeatedly. She then said "Go straight over there" - was something wrong with my documents? Or was something wrong with my passport? In a foreign land, you get a little jittery in such situations that involve immigration - you could get deported if the officers feel suspicious!

I went straight past 5 counters beyond which there were 10 unmanned counters. I asked another official, who was walking nearby, where I was supposed to go and he said "Just stand in the queue". He didn't listen to my story and repeated "go back in the queue". I stepped into another queue which moved slowly. And after half an hour when I reached the counter, the guy said, "Why haven't you done the eye scan?". Ah ha, now it made sense what the other lady said! "Go straight and right".

The official here was neatly dressed in a suit, seated beside a bionic eye at the eye scan counter. You had to look into the bionic eye and the bionic eye will take a picture of your eye for official records. The man put a stamp on the visa document and back I was at the immigration counter. This time it was another lady staff and she quizzed me about where I would be staying and the telphone number. And with that she handed me back with the passport and visa document - I was free to enter Dubai.

Next up I had to pick my checked-in baggage from the luggage conveyor belt which would keep moving in a circle till the belt was empty. Every airplane would dump their baggage on a separate conveyor belt for passengers to pick up. Sometimes when only a few baggage remained unclaimed, the staff would put the baggage on the floor and stop the conveyor belt. Surprisingly, even after such a long time the conveyor belt was moving and there were just 7 or 8 luggage left. I noticed that there were a couple of Indian girls as well who were delayed just like me. Unfortunately we never came within hearing distance to strike a conversation! The airport was huge - Terminal 3 is the single largest building in the world based on floor space.

My brother-in-law and family were waiting for me outside the terminal. The parking lot was also huge; spread over a couple of floors. Even the parking lot had changed – we never had parking meters back then. We drove home, which was near the airport on the Deira side, in a Pajero and I was amazed by the width of roads. It's been more than 11 years since I've been here but I don't think Dubai had such huge roads back then - now it was wide 5 lane roads instead of the regular 3 lane roads. The city used to be centered around two areas - Bur Dubai and Deira Dubai which were separated by the Dubai Creek. But now it appeared like the city was spread out on both sides beyond these areas.

We were soon at home and then drove to a bank near the Dubai clocktower - the clocktower on Deira side was still the same. It was around 30 degrees outside while every building, room and vehicle was air conditioned.