Life in the Desert

Dubai (2007-2010)

January 2010 Sunset at the Deserts of Dubai

I have never even heard of Dubai until I started working for an engineering consultancy firm in Manila, whose major projects were from Dubai. I was a fresh grad and just right about after a month, I started working as an IT Assistant. 10 months after, I was asked if I wanted to work in Dubai. My immediate answer was a resounding "Yes!". At the back of my mind, I just actually wanted to see what was out there. For me it wasn't a work offer, it was an opportunity to travel.

Long story short, after arranging all the paper works and visa, I was already boarding a plane to Dubai. I knew I was excited but I was scared too. It was my very first time to go overseas let alone live overseas! I wasn't sure what to expect. I didn't even made some thorough research about Dubai. I had no time to be honest, everything just went really really fast. I don't think I even got a chance to say goodbye to everyone. 

* Some Facts about Dubai which I later found out:

* Dubai is located in the southern Persian Gulf on the Arabian peninsula, is both a city and an emirate in the UAE (United Arab Emirates).

The word Dubai may have evolved from the word Daba, which means to creep, referring to the process by which the Dubai Creek slowly flows inland. Another interesting version is, the poet Ahmad Mohammad Obaid claims that Dubai got its name from the same word, Daba, which also refers to a swarm of locusts. 

* It directly lies within the Arabian Desert.

* Dubai has a hot desert climate, mostly sunny throughout the year, with the temperature averaging at 41 °C. Summer time is around July-September, August being the hottest month. Winter Time is January-March, January being the coldest month wherein the mercury drops to as low as  18 °C. 

* Weekends are Fridays and Saturdays. First working day of the week is Sunday.

* During Ramadan, most of the shops are closed and working hours are cut short to 2 or 3 PM (depending on the company).

* Buying liquor for home consumption requires a liquor license.

* Dubai is Tax Free. 

(*) Sources: Wikipedia, Fascinating facts about Dubai and personal experience.

First Impressions

I was expecting Dubai to have a lot of deserts around but I was astonished to find out it is a very modern city and in fact home to some of the tallest and magnificent skyscrapers in the world. They were everywhere! And I'm not just talking about ordinary skyscrapers, they were crazy, out-of-this-world architecture! One word I have to describe Dubai is Grandeur.

View of the Burj Al Arab, the only 7-star hotel, from Madinat Jumeirah

Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest man-made structure in the world.

Skyscrapers lined up along Sheik Zayed Road. On the far left is the Emirates Towers

Even their shopping malls were extra ordinary. They always put something extra special on it that makes it look touristy.

Mall of Emirates

Boat ride along the man-made canal in Dubai Festival City

The Dubai Mall Waterfalls

Adjusting to the New Environment

Homesickness is just like being a lone camel in the desert

I think I struggled mostly not on adjusting on living there but rather on battling the homesickness. It was frustrating how many celebrations, gatherings and occasions I have missed to be a part of because I was thousand miles away from family and friends. I was 21 and I should be partying with friends and just enjoying being young! I didn't even need to work abroad because of money. So it was just a matter of reminding myself why I moved there. But I guess it's a constant inner war with oneself between trying to compromise what you think makes you happier (which is home) over opportunities like these. Even before I completed my one year in Dubai, I was offered to go back to our Manila office twice. As tempting as it was, I still decided to stay. Why? Because it felt like I haven't even given Dubai a fair chance yet to be my second home. And looking back, I'm so glad I have stayed.

It took me quite some time to fully settle in. It helped a lot that there was already a huge Filipino community established there, along with colleagues from Manila and a college friend, that really made me feel I am still home with family. One of my friends living there used to tell me when I was feeling homesick that I might me missing a lot of what my friends and families were doing back home but they were missing some things too that I can only experience while living overseas.

Beautiful Sand Dunes of Dubai

The People, Lifestyle, Culture, Cost of Living (Then), Some Rules to Remember, Etc

One thing I liked very much about living in Dubai is the fact that it is a very multi-cultural city. Foreign workers take up a great percentage of the population in this city alone. You'll definitely meet a lot of wonderful people of different nationalities and learn from their culture in small and subtle ways. I used to just stick with talking and hanging out with fellow Filipinos but having lived there for quite a long time built up my confidence and social skills to actually hang out and get to know other culture.

My former colleagues at work. An example of the diversity of culture in Dubai.
Even though the local language is Arabic, all of the street signs and other public signs have English translations. Everyone could speak good English so there wasn't really a "language barrier" difficulty that I had to overcome.

My mom used to worry that I won't be able to go to church any more if I move to Dubai. It is a fact that the country's religion is Islam but I was still surprised to find out they do have a Catholic church. It only shows how much they respect other people's spiritual preference.

In terms of cost of living, Dubai is expensive. But it makes up for the fact that it is Tax Free. I think the only thing I find expensive was housing. Flat sharing is actually restricted, unless you are sharing with families and relatives. But this is hard to comply to given the fact that most of the people who moved there are single and are definitely far away from families or relatives. Or if ever they were married, renting a whole flat would be costly, with no one to share it. Unmarried couples were not even allowed to live together. I used to pay *AED 1,500 (USD 400++) for renting a room (excluding utility bills). This was a shared two-bedroom flat. DEWA (electricty and water) was actually cheap. Trying to recall, over all I think my monthly budget was up to *AED 2,000 including food, transportation (cab) and entertainment.

Food and dining out were reasonably priced. There is a huge variety of Asian and Western restaurants so food was never a problem for me there. There were even some Filipino food restaurants available like Chowking, Max's and Barrio Fiesta. Shopping for clothes, shoes and bags is cheap especially during DSS (Dubai Shopping Festival), which runs for a month, twice a year. It usually occurs before Ramadan and during Christmas time. Gadgets were cheaper. In a span of three months, I was able to buy myself a laptop, digital camera and an iPod.

In terms of transportation, I personally think you will need a car in Dubai. Buses are available but they take a very long route (at least in my one and last experience of it). I took a bus from work going home. I used to live just 10 minutes (by car) away from where I was working. The bus ride took at least 40 minutes! Taxis were very difficult, even trying to book them was crucial, since most of the people without cars are choosing to take cabs over buses. Taxi fare was cheap anyway. Carpooling was another alternative although this wasn't legally allowed. I didn't make an effort to learn how to drive and get a license. I find driving in Dubai a bit scary, as most of the drivers are aggressive, there's always a road accident everyday.  

The Dubai Metro just started operation on late 2009. I wasn't really able to make a good use of it. To be honest, it was mostly used for "tourism" rather than a means of transportation when it was opened. But I am not sure about now, it might have improved over the time I guess.

Khalid Bin Al Waleed Station at Burjuman Centre

Dubai Metro tracks

The dress code is much more liberal, but not to the extent that showing too much skin is allowed (except on beaches and swimming pools). I was very cautious on what to wear in public. I was still able to wear sleeveless shirts, but shorts and mini skirts were very rare, and if ever I did wear it will be at least at knee's length.  For a young lady living in an Islamic country, you just don't want to get the attention of the public. 

Kissing in public is a big no. They are very conservative when it comes to public display of affection, most especially to those who are not married. 

They have strict rules for smoking in public as well. In malls, you should only smoke on the designated smoking areas.

In terms of security, Dubai has a very low crime rate. I honestly felt even safer living there compared when I am in the Philippines. I didn't worry much about going home even late at night. That's how secure I felt when I was living there.

Things to Do/See in Dubai

While most of my weekends were spent either shopping, dining out, laying on the beach or watching a movie, Dubai has quite a lot to offer of places of interest and things to do.

One of the perks of living abroad is it comes with a vast opportunity to see a lot. I've listed those that I have enjoyed the most during my stay there and what I think are definitely worth seeing and trying!

1. Desert Safari

One thing no one should ever miss to do is the Desert Safari! I tried it thrice during my stay there and it gave me the same excitement every time. 

Here's a clip of what it was like. Please excuse all the screaming. It was my first time and it was totally fun!


Camel ride with my brother when he visited me in Dubai

There were other activities to be done after the desert safari ride. Food, henna tattoo and belly dance performances await on the camp site. I think you can also sleep overnight but that is arranged differently.

Getting a henna tattoo
A local performer wearing this colourful skirt/cloth and spins endlessly which creates this effect.

And that's me whom the performer called to try it. I was so dizzy afterwards.

ATV with friends in the desert is a must try! Taken with my housemate and very good friend 

2. Atlantis, The Palm Jumeirah

This is a huge and spectacular tourist destination with three areas: 
Hotel (Atlantis), Aquarium (The Lost Chambers) and Waterpark (Aquaventure). 

Hotel (Atlantis)

Atlantis Hotel
As soon as you enter, the hotel lobby is just magnificent. You'll feel like royalty. This is just the lobby, I couldn't imagine what the actual hotel rooms are like.

Aquarium (The Lost Chambers)

They have a rich collection of water life on display on huge aquariums. The area is beautifully and thoughtfully decorated too depicting the name itself "Lost Chambers".

Waterpark (Aquaventure)

I prefer this one over Wild Wadi, which is another water theme park in Dubai. At the end of one of the huge water slides, you'll come out on an enclosed aquarium that really felt like you were submerged underwater.

The daunting, vertical free-fall slide called the Leap of Faith!

3. At The Top - Burj Khalifa Observation Deck

Currently holding the world's title as the "Tallest Man-made structure", this skyscraper has been one of the renowned icons of Dubai, towering with pride at 828 meters with 163 floors. 

2007 - Burj Khalifa under construction
The company I was working for was one of the main contractors, who mainly supervised its structural and MEP (Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing) engineering. I even got the privilege of visiting it even before it was fully opened to the public.

2008 - Site Visit to Burj Khalifa

It was originally named Burj Dubai (Burj means Tower). Then just before its inauguration was changed to Burj Khalifa, in honour of UAE's President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan.

Visitors can get an experience of it via its observation deck called At The Top, located at its 124th Floor. Ticket price is at AED 125 (USD 34) which is dated and timed.

The entrance via Dubai Mall
Shadow of Burj Khalifa from 124th Floor

Dubai's skyline as seen from At the Top

This was even featured in the Hollywood film MI4 where Tom Cruise was seen climbing outside of the building.

These towers look like miniatures from Burj Khalifa.

There's a spectacular fountain display too called Dubai Fountain.  This is set on the 30-acre Burj Khalifa lake and shoots for as high as 150 meters (equivalent to a 50-storey building). 

Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Fountain just before sunset

Spectators gather around Dubai Mall's promenade as Dubai Fountain Show starts.

4. Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah

Classified as the only 7-star Hotel in the world, this majestic icon stands on an artificial island from Jumeirah Beach.  It was built to resemble the sail of a dhow, a type of Arabian vessel.

View from Jumeirah Beach

It's a shame I wasn't able to actually see it from the inside. It was really expensive. The afternoon tea, which most tourists do to get a feel of the hotel, costs AED 300 (USD 82) per person.

Not to worry though, a lot of people can still admire its beauty from different vantage points.

One is through Jumeirah Beach. It's even lovelier at night time, wherein the colours of the lights changes as if it were dancing with the waves of the beach.

Burj Al Arab lit up at night. View from Jumeirah Beach

You can also try to get a glimpse of this iconic hotel through cruises. The cruise usually includes food and drinks. It also stops near Jumeirah Beach where you can take a plunge.

Danat Dubai Cruise with my college friend who also lives in Dubai.

A different view of the Burj Al Arab

Another alternative to see its stunning view is from Madinat Jumeirah.

[Captured on time] A helicopter just about to land at the helipad of Burj Al Arab
View from Madinat Jumeirah

Madinat Jumeirah is a luxurious resort. It was specifically designed  to mimic a traditional Arabian town. 

Visiting this place made me feel like I was being transported back in time, where the Arab merchants were preparing to load their goods to set off and sail to far places. It was like Arabian history entrapped in the modern times.

5. Ski Dubai

Ski Dubai located inside the Mall of Emirates

This is the largest indoor ski slope resort in the world that lets you experience real snow. I have never seen a real one but I'm sure it's pretty close to what they had in there. It is very impressive how they managed to keep the temperature of -1 to -2 °C despite of Dubai's not-winter-friendly-climate.

The ski park looks really equipped with activities such as skiing, snowboarding etc. for guests to enjoy. The entrance fee for the ski activities are different. I only tried out the ski park which was priced at *AED 90 (USD 25) per person at that time.

The suit and boots are included in the entrance fee. They also sell socks, gloves and other winter wear in case this wouldn't be enough. 

The ski park is decorated with creative ice sculptures, mostly animals. There were even pine trees to make it more convincing. As someone who hasn't experienced snow yet, this will have to do.

Penguin Ice Sculptures

Built in igloo at Ski Dubai

I have been seeing from friends' updates who are still living there the changes Dubai has gone through since I left. It is still as ambitious as I remember it to be in terms of creating the most-, the tallest, the largest icons in the world, which I have always admired about this city. It reminds me to always dream big.

If ever given the chance, I would still like to visit it some time. Looking back I have absolutely no regrets of having made the decision to live in one of the most iconic cities of the world, Dubai.

(*) All figures were all based from my experience dated 2007-2009.

Read on >>> Outside and More of Dubai

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