Sunday, January 23, 2011

Exploring New Dubai; The Palm Jumeirah

One day we hired a private guide and explored the remaining areas in Dubai. It was convenient, as the tour guide basically drove through all the major attractions, but at the same time it was not really a "tour" "tour". The most interesting thing was the Palm Jumeirah. It is an artificial archipelago shaped like a palm tree in a big shell. The neat thing is that the structure of fronds each surrounded by water means that all the houses are on the waterfront.
I heard there are three such islands in Dubai (Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Deira), and Palm Jumerirah is the smallest one, but believe me it is big enough. The island is about 5km x 5km in size. You can drive around the island, or you can take a monorail which goes through the middle of the island. The monorail ride is nice, as you can see the fronds on each side that are filled with good-sized residential houses built tightly next to each other. Eventually, the monorail drops you off at the tip of the island where the Atlantis Hotel, the world's premier hotel, sits.

The Atlantis Hotel became an attraction for the tourists. The hotel is attached to a huge shopping center, lots of restaurants including the famous Nobu, and a huge waterpark. It reminded me of those hotels in Las Vegas but on a much larger scale.  The strange thing we found out about the hotels in Dubai is that their list prices are ridiculously high like $1000/night or higher in many cases, but all of them have special deals and the actual price you have to pay is much less. 

Due to the economy, some of the construction is still underway. I also learned later that there was a problem with the way the island was built which caused the seawater to stagnate within the island. They seemed to be able to fix it by putting more gaps in the breakwater. It is also said that the island is sinking 5 milimeters (approx. 0.2 inches) every year.  The island looks nice but sounds like a badly planned project. :(

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hyper localized mobile phone in Dubai

This is an interesting ad for a mobile phone/service that we found as we were walking around the area of Deira. I remembered this picture as I wrote about the prayer time in my previous blog

As you can see, it looks like it is a standardized offering for the foreigners there (btw, 85-90% of Dubai population consists of expats) to have a set of translated Quran, Prayer Time and Qibla Direction. And 2 sims?!?!

Once you have this, you get a notification of prayer time, and you know exactly which direction to pray in!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Exploring Bur Dubai; Western bank of Dubai Creek

The opposite bank of the Dubai Creek from Deira is called Bur Dubai, which is a historic district of Dubai. Bur Dubai Souq, the textile souq, is rather nice, as it is covered with the wooden arcades and goes along the creek, so you can enjoy the waterfront view from some of alleys and restaurants. The souq is full of souvenir shops and lots of people trying to sell you counterfeit designer goods. :) We bought some handmade pillow covers for our friends, and the persuasive Arabian shopkeeper also succeeded to sell my hubby a kandura (he failed to sell him a Ghutrah, though). It was just fun to see him turning into an Arab man :)

As you go through the souq towards the Bastakiya Quarter, you will notice more and more Indian looking stores. The area seems to be callef "Hindi Lane" or Little India. Some of the very narrow alleys that only one person can walk through were filled with small Indian shops (the entrance to each shop being 1m wide) selling cheap souvenirs, sweets, or saris and playing Bollywood music.

A lot of the stores close during prayer time, which happens 5 times a day at predefined times measured according to the movement of the sun. In other words, it seems that the praying times differ each day.

Anyway, you cannot ignore when the praying time is, as you will hear rather loud calls to prayer all over the city. But, even if you can't do shopping, there is a walkway along the creek which is perfect for a stroll.

Also, Dubai Museum is in this area, where you can learn Dubai's history, culture, and tradition. The museum is entertaining enough with lots of lifesize mannequins but also will give you a sense of the city's speed of evolution from the time that used to be a small fishing and pearling village. The museum building is also the oldest in the area that was built around 1787. It used to serve both as residence to Dubai's rulers and the seat of government until 1971.

Just before the entrance to the main museum, you also get to see a primitive house called Al kaimah in which the inhabitants of the Gulf coast area resided that is typically made of palm tree branches, and a summer house Al Arish with traditional wind-tower (barajeel) which served as a natural air conditioner, as it is designed to effectively get in breezes of air blowing in whatever directions. Sit under the wind tower, and you can definitely feel the breeze coming through the cloth tubes.

Exploring Deira; Northeast side of Dubai Creek

Unlike the Czech Republic, which is a landlocked country, Dubai sits along the coast of the Arabian Gulf, and Dubai Creek runs northeast-southwest through the city. Being raised near the ocean, I was so happy to smell the sea and feel so close to the water. Dubai has 5 different areas: Deira, Bur Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Rd, Jumeirah and New Dubai, and all areas except Sheikh Zayed Rd, which only has the exposure to the creek, has an exposure to the gulf.

Deira is the only area which is located east of the creek. The Dubai Airport is located in this area. A lot of the souqs (markets) including the Gold Souq are also in this area. Once you step into the center of Deira, you see lots of local electronic shops, clothing stores, restaurants and cafes with people sitting outside and enjoying the sheesha time with a big water pipe called hookah. Rather narrow streets surrounded by an array of oldish looking concrete buldings are not too rich-looking but vibrant and you would hardly ever see women.

As we were wandering around looking for the souqs mentioned in the map our hotel gave us, we ended up going into some alleys so narrow only a couple of people can walk side to side. One alley had a row of small tailor shops one after another, each probably 2x5 meters in size, and 3-5 men were crowdedly sitting inside facing their own sewing machine and sewing kandura like shirts. It was rather a bizarre sight again. They seemed to be treating their job as a labor which they were obliged to participate or something like that. It felt much different than the concept of "jobs" in the western countries.

And, as I passed one of the barber shops along the alley of tailor shops, three men were in the middle of their afternoon naps. I guess this is also a part of the "labor" in Dubai. :)

The gold souq was rather easy to find. It was basically filled with lots of tourists. The souq has around 100 or more stores selling all kinds of gold jewelries. I was hoping to get a big discount on a pair of white gold earings (btw, you can negotiate the price almost everywhere), but I realized that you can only negotiate so much.  After all, like my hubby said, gold is gold.  So, I gave up on the idea of buying something there, and we walked towards the creek. We found another smallish souq right by the creek and went into one of the spice stores. The small store was packed with all kinds of spices. We got a package of saffran, which was much cheaper than the US of course, cinamon sticks, and anise.

After exploring Deira for 3 hours or so, we decided to head back to the western side of the creek by a watertaxi. The watertaxi is one of the most convenient ways to cross the creek.  The simple open-air boat comes every so often to pick 15-20 people up and take them from one shore to another.  The ride was smooth and quick.  Within 5 mins or so, we were on the other side of the creek.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The first visit to the Arab country

I've known people from Arab countries, but had never visited one.  Right before the end of year holidays, my hubby and I all of a sudden decided to go to UAE, as we found out it was fairly close and that there was a direct flight from Vienna.

UAE stands for the United Arab Emirates, and it is located on the southeast side of the Arabian Peninsula bordering Oman and Saudi Arabia.  It consists of 7 states; Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain.  Abu Dhabi is the capital, but Dubai became the business hub and is attaracting lots of tourists with massive resort hotels and shopping centers.

My impression of Dubai can be expressed with the formula below:

Dubai = (Las Vegas) - (alcohol, drugs, gambling, and prostitution) + (lots of praying, smoking, and no lining)

The minute I walked out of the plane, I could feel the warm and dry air.  People wearing kandura; one of those white dress, welcomed us at the customs. Big hairy men wearing kandura sitting in front of the PC and checking everyone's passport was rather an interesting sight for me.  

It was around 9pm, but the airport was full of people still (I later found out Dubai Airport had 4 million visitors just in the month of November, 2010).  Lots of people were at the Duty Free Shop buying wines and alcohol for their hotel room consumption :)

The hotel pickup we were supposed to have wasn't there, so we decided to take a cab to the hotel. It was already around 11pm when we settled in, but we were wide awake because of the 3 hr time difference between Dubai and Czech Republic. We headed to the hotel bar and got us a plate of Arab appetizers and a glass of wine before tucking ourselves into bed. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Murakami is back in LA!

We had a chance to have a very short trip back to our sunny hometown LA this past Dec.  It was a very hectic 4-day trip on which I had to take care of my personal matters such as my greencard and my car which had been sitting in our garage.  What's more, the consulting work that I had been engaged in followed me all the way to the hotel room in LA, so I was pretty much working and had to squeeze in my personal matters here and there. 

But, since I missed so many restaurants in LA, we made sure that we had enough time to experience them, such as lobster and steak dinner at Palm, local tacos shop where we used to love to eat lunch, etc. 

Sushi and seafood was definitely on our list, but to be honest, we lost our favorite sushi restaurant called Murakami way back in 2006 or so when the chef decided to take some time off.  It was a very popular sushi restaurant in West Hollywood where we used to live.  Since we moved to another part of LA shortly after that, we had forgotten about it, but we happened to discover that Murakami was back(!)  when we were talking to a sushi chef in the sushi restaurant which opened up at same location Murakami used to be. So, I did some searches the next day and found it!! It was now operating mainly as a take-out place in Hollywood as "Murakami Sushi". You wouldn't believe how excited I was! 

We missed the chef but mostly his sushi. It is absolutely different from the random sushi places (sorry) in most part of LA. The ingredients are carefully chosen, the amount of vinegar in the rice is just right, and the tightness of sushi is perfect.

They are mainly open during the day until 8pm, so we decided to go for lunch. We each had a bowl of "chirashi", which Chef Murakami-san put together specially for us (you can also choose your own toppings), and our favorite "real" Murakami Rolls. 

It was great to see Murakami-san again, and his sushi dishes satisfied my cravings for sushi to the max. Now it became one of my must-visit restaurants in LA again.

A Happy New Year!

I can already sense that the year 2011 will be another year of changes. But, the most important thing is to stay healthy and to be with your loved ones. Happy 2011 everyone, and hope to see you all again this year.