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!