Sunday, March 14, 2010

"Assassination of Prices": Macabre, Hilarious, or Both?

ATLANTA -- We're back in the USA! During a layover in CNN's home city, we pause to ask this question about a recent Dubai-related piece that also has great potential for debate in our business-school classes.  Two supermarket entrepreneurs spoofed the recent assassination in a commercial: Macabre, hilarious or both? You decide.

Friday, March 12, 2010

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – After a week in the Epcot-esque cities of the Emirates, today we explored a theme more familiar to GlobeGators readers: Actual History

For historic architecture, Dubai has really only one option: The Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House. And a fascinating option it was, as it showed how far the emirate has come within a generation. Grandfather of the current ruler, Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum lived in this traditional house at the mouth of Dubai Creek in the early half of the twentieth century. The house, spacious for its time, consists of two floors around a sand courtyard, and today exhibits photos of what life in a hot, dusty fishing village was like in those days, when pearl divers scoured the seabed with only a noseclip for gear, and This week, we’ve driven by the family’s current homes – plural – palatial estates gated off from the public, peacocks wandering the grounds, guards at the front drive by the collection of luxury vehicles. The scale of Dubai’s growth is difficult to fathom even for visitors in the thick of the metropolis. Comparing the sheikhs’ old and new homes breaks it down to a level a brain can handle.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates --- Today we ventured to the oil-rich, conservative capital of the Emirates two hours from Dubai. The seat of the federal government, Abu Dhabi plays DC to Dubai’s New York, “older brother” to the young, free-spending city.

We had been told opportunities abound in Abu Dhabi even as Dubai slows to a more reasonable pace of growth. The superlative-studded view from the highway appeared to confirm this: Amid the construction we could see the world's largest indoor theme park, Ferrari World, also home to what will be the world’s fastest rollercoaster. Residential and tourist developments take shape on man-made islands and cranes put the finishing touches on downtown skyscrapers.

Since Abu Dhabi already has a very important superlative – some of the world’s largest oil reserves -- the mad growth here continues.

Abu Dhabi also hosts the world’s third-largest mosque, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. In the spirit of education and tolerance, the mosque allows non-Muslim visitors. But women must don abayas – black floor-length robes – in order to enter. In the service of this blog, GlobeGators put on one despite the white-hot desert heat and took some photos for you. Thanks to our sacrifice, you can now enjoy, from the comfort of your air-conditioned home or office, the mother-of-pearl designs decorating the walls, crystal chandeliers all the colors of the rainbow, and a digital clock flashes prayer times in three languages.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Biggest Little Emirate in the World

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates --- Dubai does not do “subtle.”

Everything here has a superlative attached to its name. To date, we have seen:

a) The World’s Tallest Building: The 2,684-foot Burj Khalifa. You might remember this as the Burj Dubai. Not anymore. The building was renamed for Sheikh Khalifa, President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, after Abu Dhabi bailed Dubai out of economic bust (story). We have uploaded photos, but it does not do justice to the Star Wars-esque building that dominates the skyline day and night.

b) The World’s Only Indoor Desert Ski Dome: Located (where else?) in a mall, specifically the enormous Mall of The Emirates. The dome, kind of like a life-sized snow globe, even has a ski lift. A trip down the slopes will set you back a little less than US$100. We snuck a peek through the window, then went to the valet line to count the Porsches and Bentleys.

c) World’s Most Expensive Cocktail: In the Burj Al-Arab, Dubai’s iconic sail-shaped waterfront building with a helipad seemingly suspended in midair. The bar here, which looks like the one on the Starship Enterprise, offers a cocktail for AED 27,000 (about US$7,700). The reason for the hefty price tag: Macallan single-malt scotch whisky that has aged 55 years. The opulent Burj awarded itself seven stars – two beyond the five possible under most rating schemes – when it opened, but has since backed off this claim.

d) World’s Only Man-made Palm-shaped Islands: What do you do if you run out of beachfront? If you are Dubai, you build more. That’s not one, not two, but THREE palm-shaped islands of sand and rock plunked out in the Gulf off Dubai’s coast. Construction has halted on some projects, including a Trump hotel, but a Pepto-Bismol-pink Atlantis – a facsimile of the one in Nassau -- caps the canyon-like rows of hotels and residences on the original palm island. We have been assured that these islands are not disrupting the environment, the buildings are not sinking, and the sand is not eroding. Right …

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Tale of Three Malls

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates --- Followers of this blog may have expected to read about life on the cheap, 27-hour bus rides, youth hostels, backpacking and street-vendor lunches.

This is not that kind of trip.

Today, GlobeGators went to not one, not two, but three malls. To those of you who think, “Three malls? I could have done that in Boca Raton!” well, clearly you are not familiar with the malls of Dubai. They are spectacular. Tour buses stop at the high-end malls. The three malls we visited today illustrated Dubai culture at three levels. We deliberately sought out two that promised deals rather than designer duds:

Lamcy Plaza: As our Time Out guide said, this is “the mall that time forgot,” which was lucky for us because we were able to buy necessities such as a 5-liter jug of water and cargo pants at very reasonable prices. Families shop at this mall without walls, a five-story edifice with a supermarket in the penthouse and an open floor plan in which one retailer ran into the next. We found the lobby d├ęcor frightening yet intriguing: a mock Tower Bridge ran from floor to ceiling and an Animatronic clown climbed up and down a wire in perpetual robotic motion. Mall motto: “Good feel, Great deal.”

Dragonmart: A cab took us to the low end of Dubai mall culture, a warehouse packed with goods from China. We had hoped to find paper parasols and cheap decor, but the mall was short on cultural artifacts and long on fake designer handbags. Great place to cheaply furnish your Dubai apartment, but nothing that would fit in our suitcase (we have a temporary self-imposed ban on knockoff bags). Mall motto: “Quality. Value. Choice.”

Wafi City: This is mall design on a spectacular level, typical of the over-the top Dubai scale. Wafi has an Egyptian theme: The roof peaks into pyramids evocative of those at Giza, two-story-tall statues of ancient Egyptian gods greet visitors at the door, and, the best part, visitors can rejuvenate at “Cleopatra’s Spa,” an experience so decadent it would have pleased the queen herself (a relaxation room features pools and hot tubs). Stores here run to the designer end; Ferraris, Lexuses and Range Rovers fill the parking lot. The place weirdly reminded us of the Egyptian-theme Muvico at the Arundel Mills Mall in Maryland. Do you still miss the experience of the authentic open-air marketplace? No worries. Wafi has an underground “souk” where vendors sell exquisite textiles and handicrafts -- with none of the inconveniences of an actual souk and at what were most likely vastly inflated prices. Mall motto: “A Rare Collection of Wonderful Things.”

Friday, March 5, 2010

Mystery Destination Revealed!

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- After a 14-hour flight, GlobeGators arrived exhausted but energized at our Mystery Destination! We are in Dubai, jewel of the United Arab Emirates. So far, it’s very dark, because it is night, even though a brain on East Coast time believes it to be mid-day. A dust cloud has settled over the city, restricting visibility. We are going to recharge our batteries before exploring further but will leave you with this highlight: On the flight over, we managed to trade with another passenger for a bulkhead seat in coach and thus sat three rows behind retired NBA All-Star Dikembe Mutombo! The 7’2” athlete obviously sat behind the business- class curtain, so we were not able to gawk at him for the full 14 hours. However, on the way out we did score an autograph for our sister, who has all of his basketball trading cards. Thanks, Dikembe! According to his Web site, Mutombo – who graduated from Georgetown with degrees in linguistics and diplomacy -- has been doing international humanitarian work post NBA: The Dikembe Mutombo Foundation.

Communing with nature at ATL

ATLANTA -- Beyond the obvious charms of Caribou Coffee and the CNN Newstand, the international terminal of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport offers a delightful menagerie hidden in plain sight. A brown hyena with teeth bared, a scaly crocodile, an impala with curling horns (photos here). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confiscated these taxidermied animals and animal products from smugglers caught violating the international convention on trafficking in endangered species. “Buyer beware”, the display warns. Halfway through the E gates, a gargantuan elephant’s femur, about five feet long and covered with carved animal figures, seems like an obviously illegal buy, but others are less blatant, like the women’s black leather wallet that turns out to have been made of elephant skin, or the boxes of traditional herbal remedies that contain rhinoceros horn. Displays like this bring the issue to the attention of people who might otherwise not find out about endangered-species laws until stopped at customs. The taxidermied animals frozen in time send a powerful message. “Can you believe people would do something like this?” one woman marveling at the display commented. “And so much of it!” Yeah, and that’s just the stuff that a small federal agency manages to find at all.