Okay, my jaw is better now and I can resume normal service. Sorry for keeping you waiting.
Anyway, firstly to the UAE…
That was a nice little trip, my first to the place since I left a-Sakhalin bound in September 2006. Many things had changed, but many things had also stayed the same. We arrived into a new terminal, under construction when I left. Huge, white pillars and white marble floors gave the impression you’d entered some Greek temple rather than an airport terminal. But such misconceptions were soon righted once you saw the impressive bank of twenty or thirty immigration counters of which only four were open, manned by slovenly youths in national dress more interested in talking to each other than processing passports, with large queues of Indians clutching fistfuls of paperwork leaving little doubt you were trying to enter Dubai. Like I said, many things had stayed the same.
As had the drive from the airport as far as the creek. Not much has changed there at all, and most of the development has taken place in the south of the city, leaving Deira and Bur Dubai pretty much how it was. The first major change I saw was that the Garhoud Bridge – for years operating largely as a car park – had been upgraded to one with four lanes running in each direction and we whizzed across it in seconds. As we went further towards Sheikh Zayed Road I could start to see the results of the enormous construction projects that were underway during my time there: a forest of new buildings along the road itself, an enormous shopping mall and residential development, and of course, the Deathspire, the tallest building in the world, more commonly known as the Burj Khalifa (named after the ruler of Abu Dhabi’s wallet). But that wasn’t what made my jaw drop; contrary to what I was expecting, I did not see an enormous difference between the buildings of Dubai then and now, probably because most of it was well under construction even then which rendered the difference merely one of finishing and colour. What did amaze me was the lack of traffic. I went from the airport to the residences under the Deathspire in less than 20 minutes, and the roads just didn’t seem to have any cars on them. Back in 2006 I’d have endured an hour of bumper-to-bumper misery. I asked my taxi driver, who had been in Dubai for 32 years, what had caused the improvements. The answer was several things: much better roads, a lot of people leaving, toll charging on certain routes, a new metro system, and speed cameras preventing people doing the idiotic, breakneck speeds which inhibited the formation of consistent, flowing traffic. Indeed, the roads had improved a lot. I’m glad I wasn’t there during the chaos of their construction, but a few of the worst roundabouts I remember had been replaced with mini, and sometimes not so mini, spaghetti junctions. Sadly, it was obvious that most of the transport routes had been thrown into the plan as an afterthought, rather than the buildings positioned to suit. The metro – which I didn’t ride but it looked pretty neat – threaded it’s way around, under, and over various flyovers and other structures like a snake trying to work its way through an obstacle course, testament to its inclusion coming late in the planning stage of the new Dubai, assuming there ever was a planning stage. Continue reading