Seeing and learning about Dubai

A few weeks ago Denis and I got a lovely opportunity for a short visit to China with Patrick, spending a day in Dubai on the way. I’ll write here about Dubai and follow on with China. Though we needed to get a visa for China, thankfully we didn’t need one for Dubai.


I love learning about new places. I love walking around and seeing what’s to be seen. I also like keeping a good eye on my daily step count 🙂 Here in Dubai we were totally limited by the temperature, I can take heat but here it was much too hot to walk any distance outside. The Sunday we were there the temperature reached 42C – at least we were gone by the time it hit 46C on the following days! Situated in the Arabian Desert, Dubai has a hot desert climate. I could feel what this meant – this has been the hottest place I’ve ever visited.

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Dubai is the largest and most populous city in United Arab Emirates, (UAE), with a population of almost 3 million. Emiratis themselves make up less than a quarter of the population. (Just to give you an idea – Dubai’s nationalities are: 43.3% Indian, 23% Emirati, 17% Pakistani, 7.5% Bangladeshi, 4.2% Filipino, 1.5% Sri Lankan, 0.3% American, 5.2% other countries.)

As with many wealthy countries and with Dubai being so fast growing, it’s mostly outsiders who are providing the labour. One Indian taxi driver told us he’d been working here for twenty eight years. His family are back in Delhi and he visits home every year for two months. He has a visa to work here but he would need a higher monthly income (more than 10,000 AED as opposed to his 3,000) to get a family visa. (The currency in the United Arab Emirates is the United Arab Emirates Dirham, abbreviated to AED. 4 AED = 1 Euro). He plans to finish in Dubai in about two to three years and go back to his family and his farm of two cows and three goats. Another taxi driver had a very similar story. We talked with many other nationalities; Estonian, German, Sri Lankan, South Korean to name a few. Given that Dubai has neither personal tax nor VAT it is able to attract plenty of ex-pats – indeed, many Irish doctors, nurses, teachers have worked in the Middle East availing of this tax free life.

Dubai is a growing economy and trade forms a large part of its wealth. Oil was important in development of the city but now only contributes less than 5% of the emirate’s revenue. Its main revenues now come from tourism, aviation, real estate, and financial services. For example the Dubai Mall is one of the world’s largest shopping malls and is being expanded and soon expected to have 100 million visitors annually. That’s approx 2 million visitors per week, wow! It’s full of  retail and entertainment but given that I have absolutely zero interest in shopping, I didn’t visit it. Obviously I’m in the minority here!

Dubai will host Expo 2020 and already we could see signs already advertising for this.

Dubai has the world’s tallest building – the Burj Khalifa at 2,722 ft. (Carrauntoohill – my mountain of reference for all heights is 3,406 ft!) The building was opened in 2010. Here’s a crooked photograph – the building is perfect! IMG_6368

The Dubai skyline is dominated by many tall buildings. Driving out Sheik Zayed Road, one can see skyscaper after skyscraper.


If you judge how much construction is going on in a city by the number of cranes in the skyline, there are a lot going on in Dubai!

Dubai has been ruled by the Al Maktoum family since 1833; the emirate is an absolute monarchy with no elections. The ruler, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is also the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates. In Ireland we are familiar with that family name from their interest in horses.

In Dubai with the mixture of nationalities, there’s a big mixture of dress. The dress code for women and men is not compulsory and many people wear western or other eastern clothing. I decided to learn the clothing terms – I’m familiar with many of them but decided to list them as a reference.

  • Emirati women usually wear the Abaya, a long black robe with a hijab. The hijab is the head-scarf which covers the neck and the head but leaves the face uncovered. Some women may add a niqab which cover the mouth and nose and only leaves the eyes exposed. A burka is the form of Islamic dress that conceals the most, it’s made of stiffened linen. Thus the hijab is the least head covering, niqab next and burqa is the most.
  • Emirati men wear the Kandurah (also called dishdasha or thawb), it’s a long white robe, and the headscarf (Ghotrah). The UAE traditional Ghotrah is white and is held in place by an accessory called Egal, which resembles a black cord. Younger Emiratis prefer to wear red and white Ghotrahs and tie it round their head like a turban.

Friday is the holy day and the weekend is now Friday and Saturday. There are approximately 500 mosques in Dubai with their call to prayer five times each day. Islam is the official state religion of the UAE but there is no prohibition of other religions nor their places of worship. The government subsidises almost 95% of mosques and employs all Imams. Any person held preaching racism, religious hatred or promoting religious extremism is usually jailed and deported. IMG_6365

Adult non-Muslims are allowed to drink alcohol in licensed venues, typically within hotels, or at home with the possession of an alcohol license. Restaurants outside hotels in Dubai are typically not permitted to sell alcohol.

We visited the spice souk. (A souk is a market.)

And the gold souk.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the pearling industry was important but the industry was wiped out for various reasons including the invention of the cultured pearl.

In the days before air-conditioning, buildings had a structure at the top to try and create a wind draft.

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In the old part we saw many old boats which are still used to ply trade with other neighbouring countries. Though they didn’t look up to it, we were informed that these boats carried goods – not just to/from near neighbour Iran, but also India and the east African coast!IMG_6507

Goods waiting on the pier to be loaded/unloaded.

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Dubai is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, (UAE), a country formed in 1971 after it ceased being a British protectorate. The other six emirates are 2) Abu Dhabi (which serves as the capital), 3) Ajman, 4) Fujairah, 5) Ras al-Khaimah, 6) Sharjah and 7) Umm al-Quwain. In 2013, the UAE’s population was 9.2 million, of which 1.4 million were Emirati citizens (15%) and 7.8 million were expats. Each emirate is governed by an absolute monarch; together, they jointly form the Federal Supreme Council. One of the monarchs (traditionally always the monarch of Abu Dhabi) is selected as the President of the UAE.

Arabic is the official language although English and Indian are widely spoken.

The UAE has a Minister of Happiness, a Minister of Tolerance and a Minister for Youth Affairs. Just to show that they are serious about happiness…

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Having said that the UAE has apparently been criticised for its human rights record.

I was very interested to see little pots of Irish Killowen Farm yogurt on the breakfast buffet at our hotel. Fair play to their marketing people – this was my first time to see these particular yogurts and they are delicious. Though we had just landed, I loved seeing this little bit of Ireland here.

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Our time in Dubai was very short, little over a day, but I feel we got a good overview from reading up about the place, taking a bus tour and chatting with people – taxi drivers, hotel and restaurant staff, whoever we met. I find chatting with people really helps to put flesh on the bones when learning about new places.

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4 Responses to Seeing and learning about Dubai

  1. Jack Hammel says:

    You Collisons have set a single year record for world travel – and Scotland is still on the horizon for Denis!

    Interesting country. In general terms it seems like this country might serve as a model/promise for how the Western world and the Middle Eastern world might learn to get along some day.

    • lilinator says:

      Jack now that you have retired you will be travelling more too – there’s a lot to be said for retirement! I agree with you on Western and Middle Eastern countries living in harmony

  2. Máire Buckley says:

    Thanks Lily,
    I knew very little about Dubai or UAE previously!
    When I was about 10 years old – 1966ish, my best friend went to live in Abu Dhabi for about two n half years – her father was working there- architecture/ construction. Now you’ve just helped me locate it in terms of UAE and its early development..
    I also enjoy your description of Arab local dress for men and women!

    I’m looking forward to the China episode!

    Máire 🙂

    • lilinator says:

      Máire, same here, I really knew very little about the UAE before travelling there. I remember when Tommy started learning Arabic, he did a summary of clothes which I too found very interesting. I’ll post China shortly.

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