Dubai Is Sure Happy to See You

Despite the world’s financial troubles, the press trip is alive and well in Dubai. So that’s where I am — on a voyage bankrolled by Emirates Airlines and Dubai Tourism. After the hullabaloo surrounding horrific tales like this, the miraculous desert city could use some good press, no doubt. So myself and a few other journalists are bundled aboard Emirates business class — they’re the only airline with direct New York to Dubai flights — and landed half a day later at Emirates’ mind-blowingly colossal but eerily empty Terminal 3 at Dubai Airport.

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Idle employees far outnumber travelers at the huge, spotless new facility; we’re told it only gets busy at night, when most of the departures and arrivals take place. We’ll see when we come back for our return flight at 2am on Monday morning.

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We’re staying at the Jumeirah Emirates Tower, a posh biz hotel. My room has an excellent panoramic view of the main skyscraper drag and a large construction project next door. No work going on down there today, as Friday is the first day of the local weekend.

When on a press trip, you’re often a prisoner of your handlers, and such is the case with our first stop — the Madinat Jumeirah resort, which is a perfectly nice place with not much character. Very comfortable though. We nosh on a Thai buffet lunch, foolishly eating outside in the sweltering heat. Dubai has all the benefits of both desert hotness and thick, tropical humidity this time of year. Pretty much everyone we see guestwise looks European, mostly Brits.

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We’re loosed to wander the Madinat Jumeirah Souk, an ersatz (and air-conditioned) replica of a local bazaar done up in mall form. I’ve been here before when I was last in Dubai, so I mostly end up wandering the grounds. I did find a stall selling what appear to be belly-dancing outfits for your eight-year-old Scheherezade back home. I later hear that the other journlists bailed and went to the beach for an hour. I also learn that “hookah” — as in “Anyone want to buy a hookah?” — sounds a lot like “hooker” when pronounced with a Australian accent.

On the way back to our hotel, we drive past the Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building. When I was last here in 2006, it was little more than a giant stump, and already one of the biggest spires ever built. Now, largely complete, it doesn’t even look real, the way it dwarfs everything else here. I’m going to try and get over there if our minders allow. Sadly, I couldn’t escape to see the only thing I’ve ever actually wanted to do found in a local Time Out publication: weekly Fight Club-style wrestling matches between Indian and Pakistani men, held behind the fish market in the Deira section of town. Maybe next time.

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