As I stand in Dubai's Mall of the Emirates, it is hard to be convinced that concern for the environment has ever entered into the thinking of this desert city, one that makes Vegas look shy about excess.
Ski Dubai – now home to penguins – is the world’s third largest indoor ski slope (but the world’s only indoor black run) and I can see the incongruous sight of snowboarders hitting a 90-meter-long quarter pipe, and skiers in thin Arab robes covered by knee-length padded coats. Lifts carry skiers and snowboarders up, while sleds and toboggans carry screaming kids back down. With outside temperatures of 25ºC in winter and up to 50ºC in summer, the temperature inside is maintained at -1ºC during the day, dropping to -5ºC at night when the snow is made.
Not that skiing is the major sport in Dubai. That accolade appears to be reserved for shopping, with a mall on every corner, all air-conditioned to bone-chilling levels and most open from 10 am right through to as late as 1 am. The Dubai Mall, with its indoor skating rink, giant aquarium and Sega Republic indoor theme park, claims a quarter million visitors each week and holds every brand name I can think of. It boasts the only Bloomingdales outside the US and Candyicious, the “world’s biggest candy store”. (I feel like a kid in a candy store. Oh, wait, I am in a candy store!).
The Mall of the Emirates may have been relegated to second place but remains a firm favorite with visitors, while Dubai Festival City, with its giant Ikea, and the Dubai Outlet Mall, with lots of designer bargains, also have their fans. The malls are a great place to enjoy the usual range of fast food eateries but the serious gourmet action is reserved for the hotels, the only places allowed to serve alcohol with meals. Each of these battles to be more upmarket than the next, from Gordon Ramsey’s Creek-side restaurant, Verre, to Al Mahara (“Highest”) atop the Burj Al Arab, which modestly boasts the “best seafood in the world”.
After a meal, it is time to hit the night clubs which compare with those in any western capital, as do the high prices of drinks and cocktails. Russian girls flirt with Syrians, Iranian women dance with their American boyfriends and the British act as if they never left the bars of home. Is this a melting pot or a tossed salad, a vision of the future when nationalities merge freely, or a nightmare of loss of culture? “Stop thinking and start dancing,” is my friend’s answer.
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