I Can Only See an Oasis in the Desert

I stepped out of the airplane and got shipwrecked in a sea of faces from many races before I entered the Dubai International Airport train.

After navigating a couple of months through the overly-familiar landscape of the Philippines, my excitement peaked as I plunged into a melting pot of cultures again. My smile brimmed out from my lips.

But because of that same smile, I suffered an embarrassing moment right after passing through Dubai’s passport control. I flashed it at a security officer, who then sharply requested me to put my suitcases into the x-ray for a random check.

Though my smile works with most people, I learned that they don’t get returned by tough-looking security guards who pick the odd ones out in a crowd. This, in part, makes Dubai International Airport the serial winner of numerous regional and international awards.

But, with my wide grin, I did get to cheer up a counter dude, who wore a keffiyeh headscarf and braces. The DXB Airport’s immigration counter staff are one of the most neat and interesting types of people I’ve encountered.

Since they’re all handsome and beautiful Emiratis clad in clean white kanduras and black abayas (with their Louis Vuittons on the side), I think they’re a good first impression of the original culture and classiness of the country.

The malls of Dubai

Our following week was split between hanging out at the Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall while my parents attended a conference.

At the Mall of the Emirates, I people-watched while doodling ladies’ hijabs, traditional Indian and Arab outfits, and several hip teenagers. I also spotted penguins at the Ski Dubai indoor park and dancers dressed up like them under a beautiful atrium.

atrium-mall-of-emirates

The Dubai Mall has the better wow-factor, though, since it is the biggest mall in the world. We navigated it using several apps, while a few of my friends got lost!

There, I accompanied my younger siblings and friends at KidZania–an indoor theme park where kids get to role-play their answers to “What do you want to be when you grow up?”.

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My little brother on the flight simulator.

In KidZania, children try out being employees of world-famous brands. We delivered packages with DHL, flew planes at flydubai, cleaned up hotel rooms in Rotana, and made Kinder Chocolates. My favourite experience was wearing the hat of an Al Jazeera journalist, while being filmed by professional Sony cameras.

kidzania-al-jazeera

Another day, we watched a film in one of the 22 movie theaters at Reel Cinemas. I pretty much enjoyed it–except that the Arab lady beside me had a Samsung phone that kept pinging with notifications.

Instead of being annoyed, I realised that the mysterious Arabs clothed from head to toe – whom I respected and stood shy of – were actually modern like me, in their own way. They’re also family-oriented, which I was glad to observe at the malls.

After the movie, we went to the vast food court and ordered from Jollibee.

jollibee-dubai-mall

It’s the Filipino version of McDonald’s.

While waiting for food, the kids with me played games like rock-paper-scissors and spot-the-CCTV-cameras. I like how we Filipinos maintain our own microcosms all over the world.

Later, we geared up with skates and jackets as we zoomed around the Olympic-sized Dubai Ice Rink. People of all ages and colours zipped past me. I smiled at and laughed with Indian, African, and probably Lebanese newbies, who were thrilled and terrified at the same time.

Some other cool spots in and around the Dubai Mall are:

  • The two-floor Dubai Aquarium. Inside its aquamarine world, you can spot over 300 sharks and stingrays, 140 species of marine life, and a few human scuba divers.

Schools of tuna swim around as passers-by stand and watch.

  • Dubai Fountain. Every thirty minutes during the afternoon and towards the evening, this world-class, techno-marvel fountain plays majestic 5-minute shows and music.

    dubai-fountains-souk-al-bahar

    The stunning choreography of this dancing fountain, coupled with an amazing light show, is a jaw-dropping act amidst the 360-degree view of Burj Khalifa, Souq al Bahar, and dozens of Emaar buildings.

  • Burj Khalifa. It’s currently the tallest man-made structure on the planet and ten times shorter than the 8,848-metre tall Mt. Everest in Nepal, where I lived for six years.
    burj-khalifa-day

    burj-khalifa-selfies

    Even if you don’t get inside or upside it (like Tom Cruise), you can still join the mass of people taking selfies with it outside the mall.

    And, it sparkles in the night! In the evening, you can view it from mostly any part of Dubai.

    burj-khalifa-night

    But–up close, it’s more breathtaking.

Parks popping out from the desert

Next, we’ll zoom in on Dubai Parks and Resorts, which just opened last year. We got into all three main parks: Legoland, Bollywood Park, and MotionGate!

legoland-dubai-entrance

You wouldn’t waste a minute to get through this entrance.

Legoland is every Lego fan’s paradise. My favourite part of it is the mind-blowing Miniland – an indoor exhibit of scaled-down, iconic buildings around the UAE.

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One of the coolest skylines I’ve ever seen.

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(L-R) Burj Khalifa (the tallest Lego building to date), Princess Tower, and Cayan Tower.

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Life-sized Emmett with my siblings!

Bollywood Parks is a beautiful representation of India’s illustrious film industry – which I am in love with, since I lived for six years in what I call my second home, Nepal. The culture there is nearly the same, so our park visit was very nostalgic.

Rajmahal, a movie theatre with 856 seats inside.

We tried renowned actor Aamir Khan’s and superhero Krrish’s rides, and sang the lyrics of a Hindi hit, ‘Tum Hi Ho’, during a live acoustic show, surprising the Indians beside us.

MotionGate is similar to Universal Studios, except that it has more to offer, like DreamWorks Animation (*insert fangirl squeal*), Columbia Pictures, Lionsgate, Smurfs Village, and the moviemaker’s Studio Central!

The ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ rides were still under construction, so I found this sculpture as a consolation.

The third time I saw some penguins.

When we passed by these parks on our first UAE visit in 2015, they were just being constructed. The whole thing is nearly finished now. It’s a colourful stand-out from the desolate, sandy landscape, where it seems to have popped out from! Man, everything is possible in the UAE.

Sojourns in Sharjah

We got used to crossing the emirate border by taxi and foot while travelling back and forth from Sharjah to Dubai. It takes about 30 minutes to one hour.

From Sharjah, you have to reach the Sahara Mall exit, walk across the fenced border, and, when you get out – boom! – you’re in Dubai. From there, you can ride to your destination. It’s 20 dirhams cheaper than riding a taxi across both emirates.

We didn’t get to go around much in Sharjah, since there’s less to see compared to Dubai. But what I did get to glimpse was the multinational worker culture.

At church, I met Senka, a Sri Lankan. She was dressed in a uniform–black suit and golden tie–unlike most of the other people, because she’d just came from work at the Dubai Metro.

A Dubai Metro station Lego-fied.

I also made friends with young Filipinos and Indians who grew up in the UAE and call it their home.

The working class is the framework behind the facade; the cogs that turn to keep the country running. These resilient people can “strike anywhere”, stick together with their families, and blend in with their multinational community. In the Philippines we call them bagong bayani – modern heroes.

They aren’t just heroes in their own mother countries, as we ourselves heard. On our way out of the UAE, the friendly Emirati immigration officer who checked our papers shared how he had a Filipina nanny who raised him up and stayed with his family for 25 years. To our amusement, he even conversed with us in Filipino!

Moonlighting in Abu Dhabi

We stayed in Abu Dhabi for a day. I find it neater and classier than the four emirates I’ve been to (Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, and Ras Al Khaimah). After all, the Abu Dhabi city is the capital city of the UAE.

We rode the 8PM Nol Bus from Ibn Battuta, Dubai, and hopped off to pass by Abu Dhabi’s sleek buildings and the sea.

Come morning, we were invited to a brunch at the sophisticated Leopold’s of London, where they serve mouth-watering meals in an aesthetic ambience. Beside us, Emirati and expat patrons hung out and worked.

I can’t remember my name anymore.

Later, we dropped by the lavish Emirates Palace to hunt for the holidaying Manchester City football team. Sadly, we didn’t meet them. 🙁

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The front view of the Palace.

To make up for not seeing the team, we photo-walked the sprawling exteriors, the golden interiors (including the gold-themed restrooms), and enjoyed pop music pieces rendered in a classical style by a pianist at the lounge.

Come, take a seat with the Sheikhs.

We couldn’t resist the facades of the famous Etihad Towers too!

I can’t forget the scene in which Vin Diesel and Paul Walker drove a rare, expensive, UAE-made supercar through the three of them in Furious 7.

In the evening, we drove back to Sharjah – but not before dropping by Last Exit alongside the Jebel Ali-Sheikh Zayed highway. This fun stop is a must if you’re driving from Abu Dhabi towards Dubai.

It’s a quirky-cute trailer park with several cafes, restos and even a minimart! (Just be prepared to shell out more cash.)

Inside the belly of a food truck.

My favourite part was the restroom because I felt like I just stepped into a Cars scene. They customised it all, from the gas-pump sinks to the wrench bag-hook.

To operate the faucet, you have to step on a gas pedal underneath.

Winding down: Old Dubai and some reflections

Another day, we toured around Old Dubai. We passed by a mosque, a Hindu temple, and a souk (market), and entered the Dubai Museum to learn about Dubai’s desert beginnings.

One of the streets inside the Souq.

Pearl-diving was the main industry of Dubai before modernisation.

We rode water taxis back and forth on the Dubai Creek, while spotting seagulls, passenger boats, cargo ships, and huge yachts.

Commuters riding the abra boat.

The parking lot for cargo ships.

Seagulls perched on a private yacht’s deck.

We relaxed by drinking chiya in a Indian’s tiny convenience store and taking time-lapse videos, until the sun sank below the skyline, leaving golden reflections in its wake.

After three weeks of journeying and enjoying the oasis that is the United Arab Emirates, we packed up our bags again and flew out.

I wistfully looked out my plane window to say goodbye to the manmade Palm Jumeirah archipelago and the glimmering cities separated from me by the sapphire sea and desert air.

As I conclude my musings about this beautiful country, I can only say that the UAE should be part of everyone’s travel agenda.

Be inspired by the creativity, teamwork, and vision used to build its superb seven emirates. Witness and think about how it’s a place where you can rub shoulders with people from all over the world.

Well, this is my first blog post about this Gulf state, and I’m sure a sequel adventure will come up soon. See you all at the next rendezvous!

If I convinced you to visit the UAE, which part won you over? Share it in the comments.

Posted by Issa Adalia

Teen blogger since 2012. Homeschooled rockstar. Filipina globetrotter. Rookie artist. Asian in Armenia. Rescued by Jesus.

4 comments

You captured great photos! Beautifully written too.

Thank you so much, Ma! I inherited my writing skills from you. Hehe! ^_^

Danny van Ommen

Jollibee!!!!!!!

You have to go try it po! It’s a unique experience! 😁 We’d find some foreigners lining up as well. The best time I ate there was when we just came from Nepal last 2015 haha.

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