I am sitting in my apartment at 10:00 p.m. on Thursday night ready to make my next blog entry. I have finished my first week of work in Dubai, and I am looking forward to the weekend. Just a reminder that the work week here is Sunday through Thursday. I actually have been stumbling over that myself. In my head today is Friday so when I talk about two days from now I keep saying Sunday instead of Saturday. I had planned to start writing this blog post about an hour and a half ago, but I kept getting distracted. First I had a quick chat with my sister to find out how my four year old nephew fared at his first day of junior kindergarten. I have had my Outlook open, and for the past hour there has been a constant stream of emails arriving. A couple of them were friends checking in to see how I am settling in here, but most of them have been work related. Many of the work related emails I am just being cc’ed on, but some are being sent to me directly. I think that the email traffic will be particularly high this week and maybe next week as the people on the main UW campus are preparing and starting the fall term. However, I am going to have to decide how to deal with the fact that at the time I am starting my weekend, the people I am working with in Waterloo are starting their fourth work day of the week. On the flip side, when I am back at work to begin the week, I shouldn’t expect any responses until I get home from work at the end of my second day.
On to the non-work related part of this blog post. Last night when I got home, all I did is cook dinner, spend some time on the computer and watch some television. As I was watching television, I was feeling antsy and couldn’t really figure out why. Certainly I have spent many similar nights at home without the same restless feeling. I realized that I should have made an effort to go down to the gym earlier in the evening, and that probably would have made me feel better. But by the time I figured this out it was getting late and I didn’t want to work out just before I tried to go to sleep. I mentioned this antsy feeling I had to my colleagues as we were driven to work this morning. (I should clarify that we are taken to and from work every day in a bus by a driver who is a UW-Dubai employee. There are two shuttle times in the morning and two in the afternoon. Not all faculty are together on every ride.) Someone suggested that the problem might be a lack of exercise, and I agreed. I think part of the problem is that I also feel guilty just sitting in my apartment when I should be adding to my Dubai experience – given that I will only be here for four months.
People who know me can tell you I am not in great shape; however, I am reasonably active. Since I have been in Dubai the longest I have been outside is the time it takes to walk to and from the neighbourhood supermarket, which is less than 10 minutes. I have been driven everywhere. I have been down to the 25m hotel pool twice to do laps, but I definitely would like to be more active. It is especially hard to take since when I look outside all I see is a cloudless sky. Happily, by the end of the conversation I had made plans with two of my colleagues to meet in the gym at 6:30 p.m. to work out. I am hoping this is going to become a regular activity where I am motivated to get to the gym because I know someone else is there expecting me.
Since I came back on the 3:00 p.m. shuttle back to the hotel, I had some time to kill before I had to be at the gym. I had decided to attempt a trip on the metro again. I wanted to go to the Dubai Mall to purchase an advanced ticket to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa.
I did get my ticket for next Wednesday, so I will blog more about the world’s tallest building after that trip. The metro station is directly across the road from my hotel. There is an enclosed bridge that leads from the hotel to the station. This time when I went in the entrance, the escalators were working. There are also moving sidewalks to get you across the road. When I got to the second of the two moving sidewalks it seemed to be moving quite slowly. However, when I stepped on it, it actually was moving quite quickly. I thought it must have been an optical illusion. When I got to the station I went to the kiosk to purchase my fare. I told the attendant that I would be living in Dubai for four months and would probably travel on the metro a couple of times a week. I asked his advice on what to purchase. He welcomed me to Dubai, (people are so nice and polite here) and asked me if I wanted to travel first class or economy class. I had read a bit about this when I was at the station last Friday when it was closed. I know I wanted economy class because it was significantly cheaper. He told me to purchase a silver card for 20 dirhams (about $5.50). There would be a 14 dirham credit, that I could use towards transit trips – the minimum cost for a trip is 1.80 dirhams.
I had to swipe the card as I entered the trains area of the metro. Without question, Dubai has the cleanest metro/subway station I have ever seen in my life. There are raised silver lines on the floor, and rectangles formed by a series of raised silver circular disks all over the floors of the station. The silver lines seemed to be equivalent to the yellow line in the Toronto subway, but I couldn’t figure out what the rectangles were for. When I arrived back at this station, I speculated that this might be for visually impaired riders. I don’t know if that is correct, but I actually think it would be very helpful for those using a cane to get around. There was a glass wall with multiple sliding doors separating the platform from the tracks. Clearly the doors of the train would have to align with the doors on the platform when the train stopped. There was an LCD display letting me know that a train was arriving soon. When the train did arrive, it was reasonably full. As I entered the car, a blast of hot air hit me. This was the outside air that was rushing in since the doors of the train and the platform were now both open. I was actually only traveling one stop to get to the Dubai Mall station. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I wanted to ride the metro, and it is very hot outside. I had to swipe my card to get out of the metro station. From the metro station, we had to transfer to a bus to get to the mall. I had to swipe my card to get on the bus, and I had to swipe my card to get off the bus. On each swipe the display told me how much money I had left on the card. The bus was very crowded, so I couldn’t really take time to figure out if I was going to be charged for the bus ride in addition to the metro ride. I am pretty sure I was, but it didn’t seem like I was charged 1.80 for each of the four parts to the trip. I was surprised that I had to pay again to get on the bus; I had assumed it would be a free transfer. I will have to investigate this more when I have more time, and the bus is less crowded.
The bus had two sections, separated by a bar similar to something you would see at a turnstile. The front section was for women and families only – although there seemed to be a couple of men without families in the front. This was the third time I noticed an institutional separation by gender in Dubai. The first time was in the visa lineup when I arrived at the airport and the second time were the lineups for the bar-b-q after the desert safari. I was left standing in the front section, and it the bus was very full. It started to move as soon as another bus pulled up behind us. I felt like I should have been able to walk to the Dubai Mall from the metro station, so I was surprised by having to take the bus at all. It was tough standing without losing my balance, as the bus went around several roundabouts. Once again I lost my sense of direction. I am going to have to check street view on Google maps or Mapquest to figure out if it actually would have been faster to walk from the station. However, this city is definitely not pedestrian friendly.
After I entered the mall I took a picture with my phone of the arrival area in case I got lost trying to get back to this spot to catch the returning bus. I walked towards the main part of the mall and saw an information booth. I asked the attendant where I needed to go to buy tickets to the Burj Khalifa and confirmed that I was to return to this spot to get the bus back to the metro station. The ticket counter was at the opposite end of the mall. I was successful with my purchase, but the person ahead of me was confused by the 400% markup in the price of an immediate ticket for the ride to the top. He was also told he couldn’t go up for 3.5 hours. I knew this would be the case because my colleague Peter had told me to buy the ticket ahead of time and that the times near sunset were the most coveted. I decided to take a quick look at the fountains outside, since they were close. When I exited the mall, my sunglasses fogged up. When I tried to take a picture of the Burj Khalifa, the lens of the camera was fogged up, and I couldn’t fit the whole building into the frame. There was no water running through the fountains, so I went back inside the mall.
Peter had also told me that his wife had found some good prices in stores on the top floor of the mall. I really wasn’t planning to buy anything in this mall, because I believed everything here would be overpriced. However, I thought it couldn’t hurt to look on the top floor as I walked back towards the bus stop. I went up two escalators, and as I came around to the third escalator I saw that it was stopped. I was sad to see that, but I moved towards it to climb to the next level. I as was about to put my foot on the first step, the escalator started to move. I rode up one more level, and as I came around to the bottom of the next escalator, it was also stopped. But once again, it started moving as soon as I was ready to ride it. I thought this was very cool, and it made me think that the moving sidewalk on the way to the metro station might not have been an optical illusion. It might have started to move faster after I stepped on it. Much to my surprise, I actually bought something in the mall – a pair of dress shoes for 65 dirhams (approximately $18, no tax) I need for work.
I guess I overshot where the bus station was when I crossed on the top level of the mall. I went down two levels and saw a sign directing me to the bus stop. I was surprised to see the sign on this level – I expected to have to go one level down. I saw another information booth, and went to confirm where the bus stop actually was. I was waiting for the attendant to finish helping someone, a man in a robe (a dishdasha) with a red checkered headdress (ghutra) approached the booth. He was with a young girl who I am guessing is his daughter and two other women. One woman was wearing a black abaya and headscarf (sheyla); the other woman was also wearing an abaya and shelya, but she had her face covered with a burkha as well. The young girl was wearing what I would call western clothing. At about the same time, two men who were obviously tourists approached the booth. As soon as the attendant finished with the current patron, he immediately turned his attention to the man in the white robe. I am assuming that he is an Emirati. I had been told and/or read that the Emirati have special status in Dubai. After helping this man, the attendant turned his attention to the other two men who arrived at the booth after me. Finally he turned to help me. Before I could say anything he apologized a few times because I had to wait. I said that it was not a problem. I am pretty sure he was obliged to help the Emirati gentleman first. I was not as clear about why he helped the two male tourists next. I think it was because they were being pushy rather than an issue of the attendant choosing to help the men before addressing the women. His apology was a clear recognition that had been pushed back in the queue.
He did send me off with directions to the bus stop. I did end up going down one level and found the spot I where I had arrived about an hour earlier. I just missed a bus, but another one arrived within 10 minutes. Once again it was very crowded on the bus. However this time I entered the rear section of the vehicle. I was going to have to stand again for the ride, but a young Arab man stood up from his seat as soon as he saw me. My first instinct was to decline the offer, but recalling the unsteady ride I had from the metro station, I decided to take advantage. After getting turned around again as the bus drove away from the mall, and expecting a short ride to the metro station, I started to get worried after ten minutes and we still hadn’t stopped. I wondered if I had accidentally boarded the wrong bus. A couple of minutes later I was reassured by the fact the metro station was displayed as an upcoming stop on the LCD screen in the bus. I made it back to the hotel with time to spare before I had to be at the gym. My first attempt to navigate the Dubai transit system was a success.