September 7th, 2001

krazy kat

Reflections on my Weekend

Wow, this is turning out to be a big post...

So yesterday I took the bus into Dubai (about 30km from the university, the nearest big town). The university runs shuttle buses there every weekend for shopping. It was an interesting experience. It was funny (I guess that's the word); when getting on the bus I noticed I was charged Dhs10 rather than the 5 everyone else was paying. My first thought was that they were trying to rip off the Gullible White Man, so I confronted the bus driver, to be informed that Dhs10 was the staff rate.

Being one of only 4 or 5 caucasians on campus, and being somewhat older than most students apparently qualifies me as "staff", apparently (who are mostly caucasian).

Actually, to be honest, it's not the first time it's happened... I've been asked by a number of students what class I will be teaching...

On the bus to Dubai, there was the standard battle over what music to play. Usually this battle is between 3 or 4 (to me, largely indistinguishable) strains of Arabic music, however this time there was something new proposed by one of the camps.

I have discovered that the only thing worse than boring, repetitive, clangy Arabic music, is boring, repetetive, clangy Arabic music translated into halting English.

His hair going to be golden honey...
His hair going to be golden honey...
His hair going to be golden honey...
His hair going to be golden honeyyyyyyyyyy...!

Oh yeah, oh yeah, Allah, Allah you are good to him...

Her hair night sky black...
Her hair night sky black...
Her hair night sky.......

...ok, we get the idea. I think I prefer it in the original Arabic. At least then I can delude myself that the lyrics are halfway decent. Speaking of which, I'm taking a class in Arabic as a second language this term (classes start tomorrow). While I know some Arabic, it's largely self-taught, and I've never had any formal training. My grammar is probably atrocious and my vocabulary wanting, so I'm looking forward to this.

My time in Dubai was mostly spent at the Deira City Center mall. Dubai is in love with its shopping malls; this is a new one. "New" in this context meaning something that has arisen from the desert sand since the last time I lived here (I left in 1994). The population has doubled since then and the amount of physical development (buildings, infrastructure, etc) probably tripled. A new mall opens in Dubai roughly every 3 months. Deira City Center is one of the newest.

It's also a definite bastion of capitalism (actually the whole UAE is). While I try to be a good little capitalist, I have to wonder when movies cost $CA30 a pop. While $12 might have been worth it to see "Evolution" in Canada, $30 is a bit excessive. I only went because the friends I was with really wanted to.

One thing that hasn't changed is the Arab love affair with the cigarette. It's like watching a movie from the 60s; everyone smokes. Although the government is beginning to get tough on smokers. Parts of the mall are now designated as "smoke-free" areas. And apparently, Emirates (the national airline) now bans smoking on short-haul flights. You have no idea how much progress this is...

On the other hand, women seem to be a lot more liberated than they used to be. This may be due in part to the proliferation of cell phones -- which are even more common than cigarettes, if that's possible (apparently, Etisalat, the telephone company, is the second largest revenue generator in the country, after the oil industry). I have noticed a lot of women out and about on their own. However, I have also noticed that they are pretty much universally attached to a cell-phone. I have no way of knowing, of course, whether this is to friends, husbands or what.

The thing about the UAE is that by law, men and women are actually accorded equal rights. The subjugation of women here is more of a cultural than a legal thing -- women are kept at home by their fathers, husbands, brothers, etc. So I would expect that if the men are able to "keep tabs on" their women, they would be more willing to let them loose in public.

But also another thing I have noticed is the almost complete absence of the Burqa (the cardboard sheath that covers the nose,mouth and forehead). While many women (I'd say 50%) still have a shawl covering their hair, their faces are largely visible. It is the strangest thing in the world (to me) to see an Arab woman in the flowing black Abaya and shawl, with a nose piercing and barely-visible strands of hair dyed bright pink...

...that sort of thing has a very Goth air about it.

It also may have something to do with the fact that this was Dubai, one of the most liberal / westernized cities in the Gulf, whereas I used to live in Al Ain, which is a smaller and much more conservative inland town. It would be interesting to take a trip to Al Ain, and see how much things have changed there.

Also amusing is the local predeliction for building elaborate parks, etc. inside from the heat. The food court plays double stead as an indoor amusiement park, complete with Merry-go-round, Ferris Wheel, roller coasters and so on. It's an odd juxtaposition seeing the attractions intermingled with McDonalds, Mrs. Vanelli's, Subway, A&W and the remaining pantheon of fast food joints (speaking of A&W, am I the only one who thinks that putting ice cubes in a root beer float is an indication that someone has missed the point?).

Still missing from the mall (or just about anywhere else I've been) are any software stores, however... it's obvious that 99% of all software in the country is still pirated (I'm pretty sure all the software on the computer I'm using now is). Even the big Plug-Ins store (think Future Shop) only has one small counter with about 20 sotware titles on it. Some things still have yet to take root...
  • Current Music
    Simon and Garfunkel -- For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her