This week’s guest post for the ‘Day-to-Day’ series comes from Rebecca, an Australian expat who’s currently working and living in Dubai.
I live out of the popular expat hubs of downtown and Dubai Marina, in a residential area called Al Barsha. It is less crowded, there aren’t any towering skyscrapers and it just has a more ‘local’ feel about it. From the balcony of my apartment I can clearly hear the call to prayer from nearby mosques each morning and evening, which definitely reconnect me with a sense of place. I also love attending gallery nights and music events where you can see the work and hear the music of really talented people, and mingle with a group of likeminded folks. Most people in Dubai are expats, which is great as I find everyone is especially friendly.
I also love walking around Al Fahidi historic district and the Creek – there is so much life there and that area is where Dubai started. You can see the old wind-tower houses and stop at the many souks (traditional marketplaces) for some local wares. I also always stop at the Arabian Tea House, which is set in a peaceful courtyard of one of the old houses and always has delicious food. I could sit there for hours – and often do.
During the work week, which runs from Sunday to Thursday in Dubai, I work from 9am to 6pm. I work in media in a role that largely consists of discovering new and exciting things about Dubai to promote to the world. All too often, Dubai is portrayed as a glitzy metropolis of larger-than-life buildings and not much soul, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Delve deeper and you’ll find a very strong art and design scene, live music almost every night and fantastic dining to rival any food capital. I work close to the airport, which is about a 40-minute commute on Dubai’s super-efficient metro system from my house. I love the metro because a service arrives every three minutes during peak hour, so there’s no chance of being late! I will usually get home about 6.45pm, so I might cook at home or be sorely tempted by the food court at the Mall of the Emirates, which is a five-minute walk from my house. It’s really hard to stay in an evening because Dubai really comes to life at night, particularly during the summer months.
There is so much to do in the evenings. Malls are open till 10pm on weekdays and midnight/1am on weekends so they are always crowded with people. I like to go out for dinner and drinks with friends and lately have been frequenting The Beach, which is a relatively new promenade that runs along the stretch of beach at Jumeirah Beach Residence, and is packed with restaurants, cafes and shisha lounges. I love sitting along the promenade and people-watching.
Even on weekends, I wait until the evening to go out and do anything, even exercise. Most months of the year, Dubai hits temperatures of above 35 degrees Celcius – 50 degrees during the height of summer – so it can be too uncomfortable to go for a walk around the local park, or go to the beach. It’s funny being in a city where winter is actually peak beach weather, but Dubai isn’t an ordinary city. I do also find that takeaway is pretty cheap and you can get even the smallest thing delivered. I promise, I’m trying not to make a habit of that.
As for food, it really depends on the season. Generally, lunch and dinner are the most common meals – which, on weekends, can be very long, late-night affairs. I do try and cook at home as often as I can but there are so many great places to eat around Dubai, from street food such as manouche (flatbreads smothered in the thyme-based spice mix, za’atar) and shawarma (flatbreads filled with shredded meat, pickles and garlic sauce and rolled up) to high-end dining at the local outposts of global chains like Zuma and Cut by Wolfgang Puck. Takeaway meals cost almost as much as a meal at home and even the smallest order is delivered, so on weekends at home I will usually opt for takeaway.
At the moment, the summer months coincide with Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. During daylight hours, no food and drink are allowed to be consumed in public, as Dubai’s Muslim community is fasting until sundown. Once the sun sets, a traditional meal called an iftar is prepared and the fast is broken with that. Expats are welcome to get involved in this cultural experience as hotel restaurants put on big iftar spreads of heavily-Arabic dishes, which are all delicious and provide a greater insight into the local religion here. If you can’t make it to an iftar, a second feast called a suhoor offers even later dining so people observing Ramadan can fill up before sunrise.
Unlike at home, here I’m amused by rainy days – they are a rarity in Dubai but when they do occur during the winter months, a light downpour can flood streets as the drainage system cannot seem to handle even average volumes of water. As such, schools have been known to close as if it were a snow day! The rain is also considered a novelty so don’t be surprised if you see children playing in the rain and residents going about their day regardless of the inclement weather.
While I love living here, there are still things that irk me. To be honest, I get frustrated at how fast-paced Dubai’s urbanization seems to be but also how ‘behind’ modern services are. I still find it hard to post letters – and many that get sent to me from home seem to have gone lost. The driving also frustrates me here – people tend to be pretty impatient and lax about signaling or staying in lanes. You have to be a pretty defensive driver and not the one always giving way to others, otherwise you wont get anywhere!
Your friends really become like family in Dubai, as 85 per cent of the population are expats; everyone looks out for each other. So once a month or so, we all gather together for Dubai’s legendary Friday Brunch. Almost every hotel and restaurant in Dubai will put on an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of food between the hours of 12pm and 4pm or 7pm till 11pm in the evenings. No matter where you are, you are guaranteed a good feed and an array of entertainment, from magicians to live cooking demonstrations. It is a great experience but unfortunately goes hand in hand with the equally legendary ‘Dubai Pound’ that expats put on from all the brunches…
Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
New places are always calling my name...
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