Never in my life have I ever thought I’d go to Dubai. There were only a few times that it has ever crossed my mind. Once, when I was young, my father had gone there and had brought back a tiny gold ring for me (I still have it!). Secondly, I know that my husband has family there. And that’s about it.
Dubai for me was a far, foreign and exotic land. Completely on the other side of the world, with a rich culture that I never thought I would see. So far different from where we live! So, when the opportunity came to go there for business, someone suggested I take a day and explore it. After all, how many times do we in the US get to go to something like this?
The trip was completely eye-opening, and a little scary. Yes, I was meeting a vendor there for a meeting, but I was still traveling alone. There are so many things that you hear about the Middle East, and you wonder – what should or shouldn’t I do when I get there? What can I even afford to do? What’s it like to travel there alone, as a woman?
Once business was over, I did have a chance to look at the \ touristy side of Dubai. It is definitely HOT. As a foreigner, you have to respect the religion there, and be cognizant of what people believe and follow. So, if it’s hot, you can’t exactly walk around with shorts and a tank. Dubai may be less strict than its fellow Middle East neighbors, but it is still expected that women cover up. In that case, it means longer light, but not sheer pants / dresses, and covered shoulders. It was difficult because I was always hot, but it was worth it to experience this part of the world. Their culture and history is much older and different than ours, so it was something to see and experience.
I did what I could in the small amount of time I was there: the famous gold market, the tallest building in the world (Burj Khalifa), Jumeirah Beach, driving through the Palm Jumeirah, going to the Hello Kitty spa, and of course, SHOPPING!
The gold market (Gold Souk) is as crazy as it sounds. There is just about a stall everywhere, in addition to the gold buildings that hold various stores. Yes, you can haggle. I totally did and scored on a beautiful onyx and gold necklace, and a few small earring sets. I only regret that I didn’t buy more. It’s insane to see that much gold in one place. There were gaudy pieces in additional to the spectacular ones, but it was definitely a sight to see. It is very crowded though, and it’s definitely a drive from where I was staying. Be prepared to pay well for a taxi to drive you there. The area is in the older part of the town, and it’s very busy!
The Burj Khalifa was nice – and it’s amazing to see how high up you get. It is definitely a tourist destination and I recommend buying your ticket ahead of time, and the VIP one. I didn’t have a lot of time in Dubai, so I didn’t want to spend my time waiting in line. It can get crowded as well – so plan accordingly. You don’t really stick around there for too long.
My hotel was right next Jumeirah Beach, which is a white sand beach. FLIP FLOPS WERE ESSENTIAL. The sand was so hot, and since I’m sensitive, I felt as if I was running through hot coals. Didn’t seem to bother the locals of course. The water was clear and blue, and it was so very warm. So many different people there enjoying the sun. Yes, you can wear a bathing suit here – probably not a good idea to wear a teeny bikini.
The Hello Kitty spa was a MUST for me. I can’t even explain how much I was really looking forward to this. I got a pedi/mani and bought every single souvenir you could possibly imagine. It was comfortable and not expensive (in relation to US prices). My inner child was jumping with glee.
I don’t want to get into it too much, but OMG the shopping! These malls are insane. The size of them is just overwhelming and there is no way that anyone could get through it in a single day. I didn’t buy so much, but they had every designer brand you could imagine (it IS Dubai….).
I even managed to fit in some time to meet my husband’s family. This was really important to me. If he couldn’t be out here with me, it was the least I could do to see how they were doing. They were all very close when they were younger, so it was nice to connect with that part of his life.
The other unexpected gain from this trip was a perspective on my life – a reminder of how lucky I really am, and that I would not be in this life or have these opportunities had it not been for the sacrifices that my parents made. You always hear about overseas Filipino workers, and what they have given up to help their families. It’s touching, and you think about it every now and then when your family sends a box back home. Speaking for myself, I have become so Americanized, that I easily forget what my parents gave up for this life. I sadly don’t often think enough of what they must have felt to be alone and struggling in a foreign land – missing all those who they “left” behind.
This struggle, this sacrifice resurfaced during my trip to Dubai. There are a lot of overseas Filipinos there. So much, that a few times, before I opened my mouth, they thought I was one of them. It wasn’t until I spoke with my American accent, that people would apologize and say “oh, sorry, I didn’t realize you were from the US”. In some places, their attitude completely changed when they found out that my passport was blue and not burgundy. That simple fact, unfortunately, increased my value substantially as a potential customer.
This was so apparent in the Hello Kitty spa. I got there, and the ladies did not think I was a client. They were embarrassed and they apologized profusely when they realized I was one. The women here was so nice and talented – it was one of the best services I had gotten. I wanted to get to know them, and hear about their stories. Their sacrifices and the life they lived made me sad. The lady who was helping me had a family back in the Philippines, including three very young children. She left them behind because this was where she could afford to support them. She has only but one day off a week, and she sends everything she makes to them so that her children could go to a good school. She only sees them about once or twice a year because it is so expensive to fly home.
The other woman who was helping my companion was not married and did not have any children. She was lonely and needed to find a job, so she moved here. She found herself even lonelier, and was halfway joking that she would marry my companion’s brother if it meant she could go to North America. She promised to be a good wife.
This part of the trip was eye-opening. It’s so easy for us to forget what we have in life when everything can be so instant and easy. Want to go on a trip? Sure, I’ll book it. Oh, I don’t need to visit so and so right now, there’s always later.
It’s easy to forget that many years ago, my father and mother struggled like these women. They too went to a foreign land to make things better for themselves and their family. They were alone – and often went years without going back home. In fact, for my father, the last time he had gone home was in his 20s or 30s. The last time he saw my grandmother was a few years before he passed, and it was she that flew to see him.
Because of this, I’ll always be thankful for the life that I have. I am what I am because my parents made these opportunities possible. Their choices in life gave me the luxury of being able to choose what I want, and provide for my own family. I’ll never forget what they did – it will always keep me grounded and remind me to be humble. As my son grows up, far removed from anything his grandparents experienced, I will always remind him of what they did.
So, Dubai was so much more than a tourist stop – and I’m thankful I was able to experience it!