There’s two sides to every story
I wasn’t sure what to expect when visiting Dubai. I’d heard a lot of people talk of the sky scrapers, the luxury malls and so forth. What I guess I had expected was a suped-up Mayfair, but on the beach, with a couple palm trees and camels on road. Oh how I was so very wrong.
The city of Dubai as we know it today is younger than me, at only 19 years old. Hats off to the city for growing and advancing so efficiently in such a short space of time; it takes the UK what seems like forever to re-develop a single tube station.
When walking through London, it’s easy enough to not look up. I find myself doing it a lot, forever focused on what’s in front of me. But in Dubai, you can’t help but look up. Skyscrapers tower over the city, the Burj Khalifa dominating the skyline in a manner that manifests style and luxury. Large glass surfaces make up the majority of the taller buildings, reflecting the blue of the sky which gives the impression that the city belongs up in the clouds.
The streets are just as extravagant: marble pedestrianised crossings, and 10km long sponge tracks adjacent to the beach front. It’s as if Dubai was made to make those living and staying there feel like royalty of sorts. It’s honestly unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
The Dubai Mall, for me, summed up the city very well. It was full of the likes of Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent, Five Guys, Cheesecake Factory and Paul. The influence from the USA and mainland Europe is evident in the selection of stores both in the Dubai Mall, and on Sheik Zayed Road. Huge iPhone 7 ads spanning the sides of Skyscrapers, Golden Ms lighting up the road when the sun sets and construction services on offer every few hundred metres. It was scary yet incredible to be consumed by. It’s easy to see why some people get lost in the sauce out there; theres so much on offer, it’s hard for something not to catch your eye.
I spoke about this to a local who worked at the hotel, and they recommended to go to the Old Town get an idea about Dubai’s history. So Aria and I headed to the suburbs to explore it.
The Old Town is beautiful. It’s filled with local grocery stores, kids playing cricket in the street, families eating outside. It was incredible to see such a close-knit community of people from an range of different backgrounds. We met a guy called Karam who was a Sudanese war refugee. He allowed me to take his photo, and then invited me in to his house for coffee and drinks. I honestly was so taken back by the hospitality shown to me by a complete stranger. It was heart-warming. We sat and spoke for what must have been an hour about football, fantasy leagues and coffee. It was the highlight of my trip.
After leaving Karam and his family, we ventured to the renowned Gold Markets. Looking ‘non-Emirate’ meant we were approached by every street seller and their friend to buy replica Rolex watches. I’m glad we went at night, as it allowed us to see the market in full effect, lights illuminating massive windows filled from top to bottom with gold, jewels and (real) watches. If you’ve ever been to similar markets, like the one in Namba Bay, Egypt, you’ll know the vibe you get in there.
The Old Town, for me, was a huge cultural insight into the workings of Dubai. A lot of the people who lived there were immigrants from places like India, Pakistan or Uzbekistan. We were always showed great hospitality and kindness from complete strangers; I’m happy to say I’ve made a friend in Kamaar too.
However, I don’t think it’s fair to say that the city of Dubai is lacking culture completely. I think that Dubai is a huge cultural mixing pot; it’s just 7 hours from London, and 7 hours from Hong Kong. It’s honestly a place that is home to as many nationalities as physically possible. I think the unique side of Dubai is the multicultural aspect in fact. People from all around the world reside there and have all brought parts of their own cultures with them. Whilst it may be easy to state that Dubai lacks its own culture, you need not journey more than 15 minutes into the Old Town to see ‘real’ authentic culture in Dubai – and it’s honestly beautiful.
Words and photos by Tayler Prince-Fraser
Edited by Daniel Hawksworth